Learning To Be Human.
I start with frustration.
It’s not the topic I want to write about. I am dead-tired of introspective, self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing writing, yet here I am today, finding myself starting with the self-indulgent expression of my dissatisfaction.
Yesterday at therapy, my (awesome) therapist and I were talking about summer break. About how it’s easy for the kids, harder for the parents. The disruption of daily schedules. The breaking in of voices—finding more demanding ranges as my kids get older, the self-focused expression of teen-hood outranking the earlier experiences of differentiation by leaps and bounds.
My therapist and I got to the point in our conversation where we both agreed that time off was a good thing; that maybe we all deserve a break. A three-month vacation every year.
“Yeah,” I laughed, “I’d like a vacation from bipolar disorder.”
She laughed with me and said, “Yeah, maybe that would make the rest of the year easier.”
To which I said, “Maybe. And maybe not.”
Would it be easier to go back to this nearly-daily struggle after experiencing a few months of life without it? Would it be worth it to live for three months on even seas, and then return to the rest of the year on choppy waters?
Frustration comes in moments, sneaking quietly up, of envy. Watching people in the same work I was in when I was manic, achieving at their full potential.
I get angry at the disorder that afforded me both the energy to strive for my own expression, and caused the tendency to diverge from it.
The projects half completed; book proposals written, and never published because of my incessant searching for the “Next Thing.” Outlines for workshops fully detailed and never executed. Grand plans for semi-communal living dreamed, and then relegated to the burning pyre of human failing.
Myriad relationships come and gone, bridges, and hearts, burned in the offing.
And now, intermittent frustration at the side effect of the mood stabilizers that allow me to live in relative peace and harmony with my daily responsibilities. When desire arises—the desire to create, the desire to express, the desire to teach like I used to teach—I find myself shackled to the need to maintain this steady ship that is my more orderly, more ordinary, more stable life.
I feel limited by choice; that my choice to create stability in my daily life has limited my ability to offer my gifts at my full potential.
This feeling that I have created, or chosen, an inability to offer at my fullest potential, what is that?
What is my fullest potential? What “potential” am I falling short of?
When I was at the zenith of my pre-medicated curve, waves of mania and depression caused a dual life. A life partially hidden, partially revealed.
My persona as the “rising star” in my community, the leader, the teacher, shined with a fevered clarity. Mania is its own magical “glamour.” It weaves its own spell. No one doubts she who does not doubt herself.
When the doubts would start pinging at the pattern, the wobble would set in, and soon nothing made sense anymore.
When the walls started crumbling, I would curl in on myself, shut down, turn off.
It was not out of pride that I hid in my moments of weakness, but out of self-defense. Being that vulnerable is not safe in a world that one has built to expect the world of her.
Over the years, I rode this preternatural merry-go-round hard and wild, and reaped both rewards and losses commensurate with the level of risk I took on.
I won a lot, and lost just as much.
I wasn’t sure how to let both “wounded” and “healer” coexists and inform one another within me. At times I felt a total sham; I couldn’t find my own “pure being” in the brokenness, the fractured, broken-open heart that was the most true me.
So I abdicated the role of teacher. Moved from the front of the room to the back, and slowly, quietly, exited the building altogether.
It’s not that I think—or ever thought—that spiritual teachers need to be perfect. Indeed, it is perhaps more important that they are not. Perhaps it is time for the teachers amongst us to unveil the basic humanity, the insecurities and failings, that are the underpinnings of how we learn to teach.
According to Mohandas K. Gandhi’s grandson, Arun Gandhi, M.K. Gandhi asked repeatedly not to be called Mahatma, a word that basically means saint. To paraphrase, Gandhi said that if he were called a saint, others would feel that being as he was and doing as he did would seem too far out of reach.
So, perhaps in sharing my underbelly, perhaps in continuing to write, and to teach, in all my gore and gloriousness, in my moments of triumph and defeat, actually is offering myself, and my gifts, at my fullest potential.
Indeed, if it’s what I have to offer, it must be so; if I were capable of offering more, I would offer more. It’s in my nature to do so.
I’ve never been one for hero-worship. Even in my most manic moments I never desired a pedestal. Perhaps a soapbox, but never a throne, never a too-trusting and self-abdicating bow of the head at the flow of words that rushed from my mouth or fingertips.
I kill the Buddha when I meet her on the road. Or in the mirror.
Engage with me. Here in the dirt of human experience, among the rough hard rocks and the fleeting, failing flesh of it all, I hope you can find it in you to allow for my wounds. I will, and have, and desire to do that same thing for you.
As a teacher, if I am such a thing, I request that you teach me. In vulnerability and strength, show me not only your best, but bring your worst. Teach me your inner story, share your moments of triumph and defeat, and your moments of broken glory.
Together we will learn what it is to be human. We will learn what it is to be holy and whole. We will learn to be perfectly imperfect, and imperfectly perfect.
Rumi is rumored to have said,
“Out beyond our ideas of right and wrong, there is a field. I will meet you there.”
That field awaits us. The one where there is no teacher and student, or where everyone is both. Where there is no expectation of perfection as a prerequisite for wisdom.
There is no path. That field is only a thought away. In fact, it is here, now.
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Editor: Kate Bartolotta