Expanding in a grounded way

I am participating in Jessica Chilton’s brilliant Shine Expansive:  30 minutes a day for 30 days, to clarify our purpose and summon our courage to move past our fears and start to shine – to live out our true expanded selves.  For today’s lesson, she had us write out some of our fears on postits and then post them around a doorway in our house.  She then encouraged us to have a conversation with each of them and see what they might be telling us as we prepare to move into a more expanded life.  Here’s what happened for me as I did this exercise.

What makes me fear a bigger, more successful, more love-filled life? Can getting to know those fears help me be successful in my expanded life?

What makes me fear a bigger, more successful, more love-filled life? Can getting to know those fears help me be successful in my expanded life?

As I posted my fears around my doorway, preparing to confront them one by one and find the courage to move past them to a more expanded life on the other side, I made a realization that amazingly managed to elude me at last year’s Shine Expansive. I have bipolar disorder and for me expansion has become equivalent with mania. Expansion= mania, contraction=depression.

A little bit of mania works good for me. I do manifest many of the characteristics of expansion that we are talking about here. But several of the fears I wrote on my postits are really fears of my own mania: “I fear that if I trust my own judgment too much I will make bad decisions”, “I fear that I will leave my job and not physically survive”,   “I fear that if I have a romantic relationship I will never work.” All of these fears have some realistic basis regarding things I have done when I’m manic. So them asking me to stop at the doorway is not a bad thing. I can see them as benevolent gatekeepers, asking me to get my feet firmly rooted on the ground before I go out into my big life. If I do this, I can retrieve the word expand for a good meaning: “not held back by depression”, “expanding into my big self, with my feet firmly on the ground.”

I’m going to keep those postits on my doorway and practice checking in with them before I leave for my day. Perhaps as some deeper and wiser part of me takes over the role of keeping my feet on the ground, I will have less need for depression to keep me in balance.


Last Sunday at Jubilee, where I go to church, I introduced a poem in this way:

This morning around 8:30, I read a post Howard put on the Jubilee Facebook page about today’s service, where he said that I was going to offer a poem.  Shit….I thought sure I cancelled on that poem.  I went through my recent correspondence with Howard and found no reference to cancelling.  “Well I’m just gonna call him and cancel anyway – I’ve got no poem ready.”  But all that started to feel really lousy, so I pulled out my poetry book and came up with a poem that is serviceable – not great but good enough, not exactly on point for the theme of the service but close enough.  And if you spin the theme to embracing our imperfections, then it’s right on the money..  So here it is, full of imperfections – it’s called “Shit”.

SHIT     (Majo, 11/3/05) 

This morning, shit, my bus was late
It made me late for work
My job today might be at stake
This world did not regard my hurt

I do not only think today
That things are going very wrong
I know it in my bones
Or, where do I know it, actually?
I know it in my mind – that biggest know-it-all
My mind does not only think and think
Mr. Descartes, sir
It thinks it really knows

Talk about a job at risk!
If my mind is not really right
Is not sure, does not know
And know for sure it knows
It fears for life its very self

What if my old mind, day-in, day-out
Is making all its knowing up?
Is maybe seeing nothing as it is?
But perhaps is just a movie screen
Projecting all its weary plots
As if they all were real?
What if I know nothing, not at all?
Save just that this moment here, of time and space
Is tied to every other one
As this breath to my next and last

Today I think that things are going wrong
Because I yesterday saw them as right
The hubris of my mind, my guide
Does bounce me like a silly ball
My thirst to know, to judge the plays
Is the only fatal flaw

Or what if even that is not?
What if this dramatic life I live
With me as hero, villain too
But mostly victim of the script
Is scripted by a bigger brain?
By Life, which sees and is it all
Me, my fellow actors, props and stage

I will insist to tell my tale
Full of fury, idiot that I am
As long as Life gives me that role.
This moment’s glimpse of waking up
Is just as it was meant to be
But no better or no worse
Than the next moment’s fitful sleep

Nothing here is good or bad
Including my persistent dreams
They are all, like this poem, too
With its freedom, flaws and doubts
Just part of the show
Like you and me – and him and her
At least I think it’s so – you know?


Manic work

Cashiering is manic work.  You’re waiting on one customer after another.  You want to really show up for each of them.  You want to be alive, engaging, maybe even funny.  When I am manic, I am magic behind the cash register.  When I am down, I’m often really pretty lousy.

Until recently, my cashiering work has had no power to shift my down mood – if I arrived for my shift depressed I was depressed the whole eight hours.  But something has changed recently.  Several times in the last two weeks, I have gone to work a little depressed and over the course of my shift have moved into a little bit of mania – not a lot of mania, just enough to be functional in my work, enough actually to make me really good.

When I'm up, my checkout line can be an exciting place to be - fortunately, lately, not quite this exciting.

When I’m up, my checkout line can be an exciting place to be – fortunately, lately, not quite this exciting.

I can tell that it’s not true biochemical mania because on days when I am not working I immediately drop back into a light depression.  A light depression! A little bit of mania! You have no idea how encouraging this is to me!

The obvious next question is why – what’s different? I have a theory. I’m actually pretty convinced that I know what’s going on.  Let me put it in another post.


Who am I?

I presented this poem at Jubilee on Sunday.  Audio, with beautiful keyboard accompaniment by Chris Rosser, can be found at http://www.somethingrises.com/WhoamI.html.

Intro: About 15 years ago, I participated in a weekend workshop that was modestly called  the Enlightenment Intensive.  The primary activity in this three-day workshop is round after round after round of sitting opposite from another participant, who for five minutes asks you again and again, “Who are you?’ – and you give whatever comes to mind.  Then you return the question to them for five minutes.  Then you move on to another partner and repeat the same process.  For three days.  Two days after the workshop, this poem came through.

The title of the poem is,

Who Am I?

Who am I?
What the hell kind of question is that?
Do I not know who I am
After all these years of fumbling around?
I might as well give up the ghost….

….No, I don’t have an answer
I don’t know who I am.
Am I this bewildering array of thoughts, perceptions and sensations
Warring within my brain – pulling me this way and that?
Each grabs me and wants to own me –
I hope I am more than them.

You look at me so sincerely and ask me who I am….
Am I the reflection of me I see in your eyes?
I think I might like it better than my own view.
Am I the current I feel flowing between us
As we sit and look at each other?
I feel so connected to you – am I you?
And yet I feel separate somehow….

There are so many things and people that I want –
Am I them?
Am I the wanter?
Am I it that is observing the wanter?
Am I whatever is noticing the observer?
Or is that the same observer, observing itself?
How deep does this go, anyway?

….Am I the calm silence that
Has floated up in me since those questions exhausted themselves?
Or am I the “me” in which it has floated, the field in which it lies?
Or am I the thoughts and questions
Nibbling at the edges of this sweet silence?
Or the gentle mother voice shushing those thoughts
“Later, he’s resting now.”

Am I the sorrow I feel at being so many unharmonized voices
The sadness and shame at being a house so divided
A mind so mindless
A self so out of touch with itself…?

Yet there is still something else
I can’t see it or hear it, but I feel it…
A watcher of the watchers
Yet softer than watching
Not a voice, but a presence
Not words, but a warm radiance.
And now that I notice it, I realize
That it was present in every other level
Obscured by the noise, the action – but there.

I feel joy in its presence
And want only to sit here with it
To soak in the peace, the at-homeness I feel.
For truly, in the presence of this benign, tender something
Which I can only inadequately name “love”
I feel no distance,
No judging of it by me or me by it
No finger-pointing or name-calling – no identifying at all
No need to protect myself
Or to stay separate in any way.
And the question “Who am I?”
Slips easily into dust.
From here I can see nothing that I am not.
I am, I simply am
And will be, even when I forget.

And from here the only thing I want
Is not to forget.

“Nobody wants me.”

I had had a great day.  Work was super: I was in a good mood; many, many nice things happened; I was in a zone.  It was clear that I am good at what I do and, especially when I was talking up the blog, it was clear that I’m in the right place at the right time.  One fabulous young woman who I did not recognize in spite of her beauty said “I read your blog and I just want to tell you that you have a brilliant mind.”  Now how can you not feel good on a day that you get feedback like that?  And I was feeling good.

Today I really was in the zone - and time flew.  Then there was this evening.

Today I really was in the zone – and time flew. Then there was this evening.

From work I went to Tae Kwon Do.  Now I know that people like me there.  I’m new and lots of people don’t know me.  But I get lots of sweet feedback from people.  Recently the instructor Amy said to me,”You’re the sunshine of this school.” Now I can’t totally swallow that.  It feels a little strong and she can be effusive, but maybe something like that is true – maybe I am a positive presence in the school, that one I can buy.  That same day last Saturday, Diego (a senior student) said to me “When I was sitting up on the judges’ table for the testing, sometimes all I could see was your smiling face, cheering people on.”  Now that one I can totally buy, because that was the truth.  I got very happy watching people succeed.

So how could it be that at class tonight I was recurringly buffeted by wave after wave of “Nobody wants me?”  There were lots of opportunities for us to pair up. I ended up being the last picked two or three times.  I know I was not being super-assertive about finding partners.  And I know that people like to work with higher belt ranks during these drills.  The teenagers go looking for other teenagers.  For one whole section, I was the only one of my low (white-yellow) belt level on the mat and I really had nothing to offer these higher belt levels in the way of instruction.  Why would they not be looking for somebody else?  And why on earth would I want to take it personal?

The anchors of this go deep.  It’s in the human condition.  The Buddhists call it “conditioned mind” – that wants to put us down, wants to separate us, wants to make us feel alone.  It’s human.  So even this is a sign of how much I belong – belong to the human species.

Do even animals go through this?

Do even animals go through this?

Tae Kwon Do is going to be a tremendous vehicle for studying my conditioning – conditioning like “I can’t do this” (https://rlcol.com/2015/02/24/the-i-cant-do-it-voice/) and now the conditioning of “I don’t belong here” or “They don’t want me”.  I want to welcome this as a chance to work out my stuff, a chance to get free.

Amy Dexter is always announcing that the purpose of our classes is to have fun.  I’ll have fun as much as possible – but when I’m miserable I’ll try to be miserable in all the just-right ways.

That’s why we’re here…

I had just had a brief exchange with a coworker who recently experienced a terrible loss.  The exchange itself had not been particularly deep – she was showing me a meditation passage on loss that was meaning a lot to her.  But then every exchange with her on this topic is feeling very deep – and this little conversation gave me goosebumps.

Then I had to pull away to wait on  a customer.  I initiated my usual exchange with “What’s been a highlight of your day?”  I honestly don’t remember Jill’s reply, but when she asked the question back of me, I related what had just gone on with “a coworker”.  I ended by saying “It gave me goosebumps…and now, telling you about it, I’ve got goosebumps again.  I’m really feeling it – and feeling so deeply is a highlight for me.”

Jill said “That’s what we’re here for, is to feel things.  We’re not here to be up in the clouds.”  This felt right on the money, and I felt very seen.

When I googled for photos of feelings, I kept getting things about love.  A Course in Miracles says there are two basic feelings, love and fear.  When we are in fear, we may get so frozen that it's hard to keep feeling and hard to communicate, but maybe there is the chance for big healing if we open our heart to our fear.

When I googled for photos of feelings, I kept getting things about love. A Course in Miracles says there are two basic feelings, love and fear. When we are in fear, we may get so frozen that it’s hard to keep feeling and hard to communicate, but maybe there is the chance for big healing if we open our heart to our fear.

Bipolar disorder can facilitate the feeling of feelings – and can impede it.  When I’m a little bit speedy, I tend to feel things intensely, I am touched by the feelings and situations of others and am moved easily to tears.  I can also be deeply touched by joy or beauty or love.  Similarly, when I am just a little bit depressed, I can feel things strongly – especially sadness or loss or pain.

When I get too speedy, I get way up in my head and don’t feel my feelings – except for anger, which comes more easily.  When I am too depressed, I also get into my head – ruminating over what I have done wrong or how screwed up everything is.  I get frozen as a defense against the pain.

Moving towards other people can be an antidote to the isolation of mania or depression – or of human life in general.  This includes really showing up when a coworker is sharing her pain, even when the content is a little heady,  It includes  being grateful for feeling feelings, even feelings that include a sense of vulnerability.  It includes opening up to  the comments of customers – to let them be teachers to me.

Back at it – and where I’ve been

I worked at the grocery store today.  I work there again tomorrow.  Tomorrow night I’m committed to Tae Kwon Do.  Friday morning I leave for Louisville, KY for the weekend to see my son, daughter-in-law and grandbaby.  Tonight I skipped my beloved depression and bipolar support group in order to write.  This is my one window in the next several days where I can get some writing done and by God I’m going to write.  I’ve not written on this blog for 11 days and I’m half-desperate to get something written.

I’ve got about five topics queued up, some of which would be short and sweet – but it feels required that I first write about what has been going on while I’ve been offline.  People may be assuming – or at least concerned – that I am super-super depressed, which I’ve not been.  My not writing, however, does involve my mental illness, and I feel a little vulnerable writing about it.  It also has to do with medication, which really makes it sound like mental illness – which it is.

I have been depressed for the last two weeks, but not as depressed as I have frequently been during my depressed cycles over the last many years – and this may well have to do with my new medication.  I changed medication around eight weeks ago, weaning myself off of two drugs (Saphris and Seroquel) and adding in Zyprexa.  My shrink – whom after about two years I like and respect – said he felt optimistic that this might ground me better than the meds I am coming off of.

It was a kind of a funny business, getting started on this drug.  At my regular 3-month meeting with him, I said “My friend Toni says she is taking Zyprexa and Prozac for her bipolar disorder and this combination is really helping her.  I parroted to her”, I told him, “what you and previous shrinks have taught me – that anti-depressants are dangerous to bipolar people, can spike dangerous manias.  But she reported that her shrink says that this particular combination really works well for people, and that he’s having a lot of success with people who didn’t respond so well to previous meds.”

My shrink did not surprise me when he said, “No way I’m going to put you on Prozac when you are cycling as much as you have been.  But Zyprexa – hmm. That’s actually a pretty good idea.  Let’s try that.  If we reach a point when you are level – not cycling up and down – and depressed, we could talk about Prozac, but not when you are going up and down this much.”

This 2014 movie was tanked by the critics.  I have not been impressed by the impact of meds on my bipolar disorder.  Is Zyprexa a hopeful addition?  Maybe if I add Prozac?  Should I rather be aiming to get off of meds altogether?  I don't know.

This 2014 movie was tanked by the critics. I have not been impressed by the impact of meds on my bipolar disorder. Is Zyprexa a hopeful addition? Maybe if I add Prozac? Should I rather be aiming to get off of meds altogether? I don’t know.

So Zyprexa maybe is helping. My last round of ups was not as up, and this round of downs is not as down.  But it’s been messing with my writing even more.  Every time I sit down to write, I doze off.  This has been happening for a week and a half now.  Drowsiness is a common side-effect with psych meds – including this one – but not one that I have ever experienced with meds before.

So if drowsiness has kept me from writing for almost about 11 days, how is it that I am writing tonight?  Am I starting to cycle up again?  Maybe – time will tell.  Maybe my desperation to get back to writing – and to offer stuff to you my readers – is bigger than the drowsiness.

This has been a long down – longer than the two weeks that has for many months been my typical cycle.  It has now been maybe 2 1/2 weeks.  If it goes on a long time, it might not seem like such a good deal.  If it continues to mess with my writing, it might not be such a good deal.  At work – on my feet with a rapid pace of transactions – it doesn’t make me drowsy, but I think it makes me stupid.  Depression makes me stupid – actually about as much – but when I’m up I’m pretty sharp.  If I start being low-level depressed – and drowsy and stupid – more of the time than the half-time that has been typical, it might not feel like such a good deal.

We’ll see.