Insecurity AND perceived limitS
Insecurity might be one of the biggest internal monsters with which I come face to face. It’s sneaky, it’s snarky, and many times it is both pervasive and invisible. It’s that feeling of being watched when you can’t see the watcher. It’s the bogeyman. And because you can’t see the bogeyman, he is everywhere. The anticipation turns the vast stillness claustrophobic. I am immobilized in space and time - if I move, he will get me. So I must stay very quiet, very small, very still. This is what it feels like to me, to be caught in deep insecurity. Held by something I can’t see or hear or name. But I know that if I move, it will come for me.
What is insecurity though, really? I guess it is not, really. It's not real. It's a confusion I'm working through. It is the dissonance between what is, and what I think about what is.
I think Antonio Machado captures what happens when we can warm up through the freeze. When we can move even though the bogeyman is everywhere: Caminante, son tus huellas el camino, y nada más; caminante, no hay camino: se hace camino al andar. Al andar se hace camino, y al volver la vista atrás se ve la senda que nunca se ha de volver a pisar. Caminante, no hay camino, sino estelas en la mar.
What are we so afraid of, really? How do I expect to get beyond where I have been, and know exactly where I’m going? I don’t know what’s beyond where I’ve been. How could I know the way? We get beyond where we are by fumbling a little. By trial and error. By calculated risk, and unmitigated hope. Sometimes by throwing caution to the wind. Sometimes by having the rug pulled out from under us, and crashing to or through the ground beneath us to the better bedrock underneath. This is the essence of the Rumi quote, “If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished?” It doesn’t mean that we have to take other people’s judgments in quiet stride, though I think that can be an added bonus to this work. In truth, though, other people's judgments don't actually matter at all to the process. It means that we have to take our own judgments in quiet stride. That we have to learn to let those voices in our heads loosen their grip. We have to learn to take our selves less seriously, so that we can continue moving onward to our highest calling - our most polished state.
This is advice that has been given to me over and over again through the years, but it often takes a moment of personal insight for something to really land. For instance, sometimes as a result of fumbling toward the light, all of a sudden I feel way too exposed, and my ego goes on the warpath because of it. It tries to beat me senseless. And when I get caught up in that shitstorm, girl, do I suffer as a result. As I was describing this phenomena to my mentor, she said, “Yea, that happens to me too. You’re a human. You have an ego. Sometimes you have to just let her do her thing until she wears herself out.” At the time that comment just passed by me. But as it happens, I was biking the next day and it hit me that “just letting her do her thing” is literally not taking my self too seriously.
I have learned to expect that my ego will go off, and it still catches me off-guard. The ego is effectively scar tissue, attempting to cover our wounds, our soft spots. One-solid-half of its purpose is protection. (The other half is stretch.) And for most of us, it was taught its habits by people who didn’t know what they were doing. So of course - the ego, too, is misguided in how it chooses to protect. This is the First Point about egos - they form before we have a chance to consent into how they treat us. Certainly my ego has habits that I wouldn't have consented into, had I been given the choice. Which leads to Point Number Two - we don’t have a choice. As humans, we have egos. And most of them were taught by the old guard - by people who believe in punitive punishment. So our egos believe in punitive punishment. They want to beat us up because they think that will keep us safe. That is the old guard talking. Don’t they sound confused and low-key abusive?
The new guard understands that punitive punishment doesn’t really benefit anyone. Beating someone up, so they feel small and scared, doesn’t stop bad things from happening. It just makes the relationship, and all the parties in it, sick and small. It makes us less capable. It uses fear for control, so we never fully comprehend the limitlessness inside us, or before us. The only thing that the punitive punishment of the ego really does a good job of is convincing us that when bad things happen, it must be our fault. Why else would we be getting beat up all the time? We must be doing something really wrong. (That's sending up several red flags, right?) When in fact, the human experience is the human experience whether or not we are afraid of it. It's comfortable, and it's uncomfortable and most of it doesn't have much to do with us, personally. Most of the time - the “bad” things happen because that is how the cycle of birth and death moves on this earthly plane for all living things. And the “good” things too, for that matter.
(Sidenote: The cycle of birth and death does not excuse abuse in any of its forms, including any -ism or -phobia. I am calling in the majority of things that we keep latched onto - things on which we waste a ton of energy, and on which we have no good reason to stay focused - because they happen to ev-ery-one with a human form and are not specific to us as individuals. We could otherwise be using that energy for something way more dope - like dismantling the same punitive system which - through us as individuals - pervades our society in systemic, harmful ways.)
Each and every ego believes that it is static, that it is separate, that it is the sun, and thus all things revolve around it. It is, in a word, the “self’ (or the illusion of one). The more I am under the spell of the ego, the more I suffer. The less I am under the spell of the ego, the less I suffer. I swear I’ve heard that somewhere before…
Still, I watch myself, caught in thought - I am safe in my bed, or safe on the couch, or safe at the table, but I can't move. If move, he will get me. I can say to myself, "Look around, you are safe now. Come on girl, nothing is actually happening." But thought-monsters are here. Boogeymen, built by fear and fueled by trauma- but not in real time. Real fear, from real-time danger, takes hold and scrambles you into a different thing. I’ve been there, too. Thought-fear, on the other hand, is an old friend. It just makes so much sense. It’s like the slow pull of hypothermia into death-sleep. It is seductive. It allows me to stay safe and small. It can be oddly comforting, at times. It tells me, There, there. See, isn't it better here? Who cares what’s beyond the horizon? Just rest now. You must be tired, baby. Then it outstretches a poisoned apple.
But... I do care. I’m curious and excited to know what’s beyond the horizon. That’s what I can access when I’m not limited by my ego. When I can redress my fears like the witch I am. Ridiculous! And suddenly the boggart is wearing Neville's granny’s clothing.
Sadly, we aren't safer standing still. But somehow it feels like we are, so when uncomfortable things happen, it almost hurts worst. Because it feels so unexpected. That’s the same fallacy that pulls kids out of their biological homes to live in foster homes - as if removing someone from one instance of harm removes them from all instances of harm. Harm lives in all places. So does beauty. If we don’t spend enough time consciously dancing with each, we won’t ever know the steps to do it fluidly. Not that we need to go looking for it - both will show up at our doorstep no matter what we do, really. Ups and downs are part of the process. Sometimes we are lost and sometimes we are found; that’s why we have grace, and why it is so amazing. Grit is the part that rubs, and Grace is the part that polishes. Grace is what splines our soul. But we can’t know that from the sidelines. You can’t really see Grace from the bleachers. It is the thing that carries us when we don't know what to do next. So if we always (pretend to) know, we don't ever get to encounter the gifts of Grace.
Caminante, no hay camino. Se hace camino al andar. You make the path by walking it. It doesn't exist while you're dreaming about it. It doesn't exist while you're planning about it. It only exists while you're walking it. There are never guarantees - you just have to learn to dance with Grit and Grace, and you only ever have to know the one next step.