17 Jul 2012, Posted by elizabeth in Blog, 6 Comments.
My new “cyber friend,” Shannon Lell, sent me a link to an essay, Someone To Hold Me, last week. “Read this,” she said, “you will NOT regret it.” Shannon’s work revolves around many of the same themes mine does, and our lives happen to share many quirky similarities (we’ve both lived in Missouri and Seattle, we’re both 34-year-old mothers to toddlers, we got married the same year, we were both in near-death car accidents in our 20s, Six Feet Under is our favorite television series of all time), so I listened. When I opened the article and immediately noticed that it was written by Emily Rapp, the woman who I will taking a memoir-writing workshop from this weekend at Taos Writers’ Conference, I was surprised-but-not-surprised, a feeling I am growing accustomed to. These types of synchronous events seem to be happening with greater regularity these days, and I take it as a sign that I am riding some kind of thread of energy that is stitching its way through the fabric of my life, helping to set my course.
At its core, the essay is about the importance of genuine human connection in our lives, and how becoming a writer helped her to begin leading a more connected existence. Rapp relates a seminal experience which prompted her to detour from the path she was on, studying at Harvard Divinity School, in order to pursue a career as a writer. Like Rapp, my own journey towards wholeheartedness began when I started writing 10 years ago and, ultimately, left behind my work as a career counselor. Although leaving the counseling profession didn’t come to me in quite the same blinding flash that Rapp’s did – it was more like a series of quiet whispers that grew louder and louder – I ultimately reached the same conclusion that she did:
Stories: the only thing we’ve got, the arbiters of this human process of rocketing between hope and despair, and it’s why every person’s is vitally important. It’s why it doesn’t matter if you’re a mess, or put together, or even a success according to arbitrary standards; what matters is that you are conscious of the world around you, in all of its terrible beauty… I decided to become a writer, because I’d no longer be able to hide. And I wanted so badly, from that moment on, to be real, to be seen…and in so doing, to truly see another.
Reading these words instantly transported me back to an experience at The Tribe retreat a few weeks ago. On the last day of the retreat, still feeling the curtain of melancholy that had fallen over me, I found myself standing just outside of the circle of the group. A few women were sitting on the Tiffany blue couch, talking quietly. I was studying my vision board faux-intently when Meghan approached me and simply said, “Is everything alright?” The tears were already percolating just below the fragile crust when I responded, “I don’t know.” She went on to say that she noticed that something had shifted in my general spirit from our first days at the beach, and as she spoke it was clear to me that she had quietly observed what felt like microscopic shifts towards the dark that I thought nobody had noticed. Suddenly I didn’t feel alone in this unspecified pain I had been feeling, and as she held me tight while my tears spilled over in great gasping breaths for the second time that weekend, I felt the curtain lift for good. I had been seen, and Meghan had seen me.
I’ve been thinking a great deal this past week about the Tribe, and what it means to me and all of us who comprise the group. It wasn’t until I read Meghan’s beautiful reflection of her own experience this year, coupled with Rapp’s essay, that something clicked into place for me. At its core, the Tribe is about genuine connection, which can be a bundle of paradoxes: beautiful and affirming, as well as messy and uncomfortable. What Meghan and Rapp both write about is the importance of seeing and being seen in telling our stories, which connects us most profoundly to ourselves, others, and the broader human experience. Although our time together is defined as a “retreat,” it is, in fact, just the opposite: our five days together ask us to journey directly into the heart of ourselves and each other. It offers a rare, precious opportunity to connect in the deepest way I know how. Rapp sums it up best when she says:
We can be something more authentic, and speak from a different place, a different planet. This is why I like being a writer, because what it demands is both simple and incredibly hard. To be a human being. Does anyone even know what that means anymore? Why don’t we allow for mess? Why are we so afraid of it? What do we expect from the veils we pull down over our eyes, our minds, our hearts? How can we possibly connect if we never let people see what we truly are and what it would take to make us free?
“Connect” has become, if not a maligned word, a misunderstood word. We lament that we’re too connected, and often talk about “disconnecting” as the path back to ourselves. And although we’ve never been more “connected,” I also think we’ve never been more disconnected. This paradox exists, I believe, because the ways in which we choose to connect and “plug in” to the world around us often achieves just the opposite effect, closing us off to accessing the deepest parts of ourselves and each other. So rather than go deeper into the fray and risk genuine connection, we pull back and keep ourselves are a safe distance when what we need more than ever, at this time in our history, is to charge bravely forth. Suddenly it is striking me like a bolt of lightning that what I’m really searching for in my life – what I’ve always been searching for – is connection. At the crux of all my flailing is the pursuit of living a connected life. I want to honor both the roots and branches, leading a fuller, more expansive existence while digging deeper and rooting myself to the things that matter most. I want to be conscious of my life, “in all its terrible beauty.” I want to be, in Meghan’s words, “all in.”
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