Updated: May 11, 2020
What does it mean to come into yourself? To claim yourself and your voice? For a long time I didn’t know, and to be perfectly honest in an imperfect and less than honest world, I’m still learning.
The courage to speak out: It’s the finger pause before hitting send or a flutter in the gut before speaking. I’d say something and regret it immediately, or that’s what I would tell myself. Because I didn’t then, didn’t say what was on my mind. I kept things to myself and played it safe, and it didn’t serve me. Not really. It still doesn’t.
The Jiminy Cricket persona that belongs to the voice inside my head yells sometimes. Sometimes it wags a finger. And sometimes, it facepalms itself. I wanted to change this dynamic. I mean, I’m not a rude person. I don’t think I am anyway, but I’m tired of not speaking up. My conscience itches, and I feel like something is stuck in my throat. Truth, maybe.
And so I do speak up and out now, and my mouth gets me in trouble. I am a strong person and speak the truth as I see it, often to my own detriment, but even strong people have limits.
Reaching out beyond the divide, building community, supporting one another: How do we do that in the midst of this pandemic, this social distancing thing, this stay-at-home order? I’ve been thinking about my job and how I want to show up in the world. I’m a teacher by trade, and I want to help my students. I’m working far more now and under greater stress than I did when I was face-to-face teaching, and I’ve always worked long hours. These days, I’m talking 10-16 hours plus weekends. Yesterday was one of those, a 16 hour day, but today only 9. I lie, of course, because I know that after I spend some time writing, I’ll go back for more grading. I’ll tweak my curriculum to meet the needs of my students.
And today? And today? Today I am just tired. I’m trying my best, and I’m worn out. I consider myself a cheerleader, even among the most exhausted of optimists, but everyone needs a positive pat. We are expected to be flexible, and believe me when I say that I am. I’m flexed, pretzeled, and bent just like one of those lucky bamboo plants one sees at the Chinese New Year. But teachers need support too. We’re not immune. We’re human beings, and we are trying our best.
I lost someone dear to me recently, and I will not be the same. Do you know when you meet someone and they change you in unexpected ways? That was Phyllis. P to P is what we used to call our conversations. Phyllis, Phyllis Rawley, P-Raw, Phyllis Serene, Modern Oracle. I will miss her smile, which I could hear over the phone. I will miss her laughter, her wisdom, and her “so far out-of-the-box you forget about the box itself” vision. I will miss her unapologetic inclusion of all parts of herself: spiritual self, sexual and sensual selves, businesswoman, writer, mystic, explorer, lover of people, and one who honored both place and space.
The last time I saw her-- you know, I can’t even remember. Phyllis was a force of nature, and I’m not even sure I’m ready to talk about her just yet. She was my friend, and we led such different lives. Of course we did. Heart connection is what it is and was and still is, a recognition of lives, paths, and curious intersections. She was so full of life, and now it’s weird because she isn’t. Here. Living. And yet here she is.
Phyllis was someone I could talk with about esoteric and mundane things, one of those people full-body immersed in the stream of Right Now Living. And this last time I spoke with her, I was moaning about my work… blech. I’m always moaning about my work. And it’s dismal, it must be, to be on the receiving end of someone always moaning and groaning about work. Too many hours, disconnects between heart and practice, keep my mouth shut, power plays and egos and needing to play The Game.
“But you’re a good teacher,” people have told me. Lots, in fact. I’m not blowing my horn but rather trying to make a point. I’m saying that The Game of teaching doesn’t set my soul on fire. It’s not a game to me. And then something happened. That last time I talked to my soul-surfing, in-the-now, Goddess-Sister-Oracle and fierce, truth telling friend Phyllis, she said: “What are you waiting for, dear one?” We were talking about teaching and ways to re-imagine teaching. We were talking about me writing full time. We were talking about soul work. We were talking about transformational education of the heart, teaching by doing. And although I was listening to her, sharing and engaging, I wasn’t really listening. I was hearing. She opened a door and I stood on the landing.
What is it? Fear? Fear of failure? Fear of being broke? Broke financially? Morally? Spiritually? What is it, I wonder, that keeps me in the doorway, peering out at wide open vistas and adventures of spirit, when others walk right through? “Excuse me. Excuse me. Please step aside.” What is it that makes me back down in the face of confrontation, even now, when I know in my heart of hearts that something is right and true. I hear the voice of my inner critic, the one who keeps me down: Just do the thing and keep quiet. Don’t fly too high or too low. Play The Game, even if it is grossly unfair. Make the concessions. I cling to a safe choice, and I hate that about myself. I break down, pull inside, and after a time, the compass of my inner conviction resets itself to true north, its needle wearing thin.
I look at a picture of Phyllis, one hand pressed to her chest, the other against her abdomen. It’s like I can hear her voice, but it’s also my own. It’s a chorus of voices telling me to move in this world with love, with compassion, with intuitive-gut knowing. Am I moving forward now or standing still? Sometimes the movement of doing is not movement at all. Am I marching in place, a tired treadmill of status quo? To whom am I listening?
And now I’m sitting here, heart aching because innovation and conviction are just buzzwords to some, but not to me. Questions flood like tired tears: What am I going to do about it? Will I do something about it? If not now, when? Why the delay? What’s holding me back? Then the voice of Phyllis rises above the din, strong and clear and yes, serene: “What are you waiting for, dear one?”