What Does the Whale Say?

Last weekend, my friend took me to see the movie Inside Out. Being in the process that I am of struggling to recognize and respond to my feelings, this movie was very educational and encouraging for me. There was a scene of the movie in which a character felt sad. The character, Joy tried to distract him from his sadness and “cheer him up,” but the character, Sad(ness) sat down next to him, and she empathized, validating his feelings and sharing in them. Sadness has often seemed to me a big scary monster hiding beneath the water in my heart… I often picture heart and identity matters in landscape scenes.

I wonder if this is why I am so drawn to whales in this season. They’re massive creatures, they keep to themselves, they do their whale thing, but they’re powerful. They’re alone but not lonely. They’re not subject to the water, the water is subject to them. I guess I have been afraid that the sadness sea monster would get angry and chew me up and spit me out just before I died. This, actually, is how sadness has often felt: unmanageable and overwhelming. Perhaps this has so often been the case, however, because the “sea monster,” which was really just a whale, was inviting me in to the water for some company, and maybe, when I rejected that invitation, the whale began to stir up the waters. Maybe it was the crashing waves that ended up bashing me, while the whale kept me from drowning.

For those of you who don’t think in pictures or automatically follow symbolism, I want to try to explain what I am seeing in my mind’s eye. I have begun to think of my feelings as characters representing versions of myself. Sadness is a character, represented to me, by a whale. Imagine a whale that has an entire, empathetic, wise, compassionate personality. The water in which the whale lives is, in my mind, the manifestation of sadness; it is the crying, the puking, the shaking, the restless nights, and the still inability to not stare off into space. If I don’t run away from sadness, I give her the opportunity to sit down with me and say, “Wow, I’m really sorry that happened to you.”

This is where the compassion of Jesus begins to become a concept that I can actually grasp. By learning to get into the water with Sadness (my beautiful whale), I am also learning to value myself with the grace that flows from the compassion of Jesus. I have never before learned to value myself. I have only learned to ascertain the degree to which I was valued by others. I have only learned to tread through the terror and ambiguity of others’ perceptions of me, and whether or not I measured up by those standards. I have recently learned and am still trying to uncover and discover the fullness of this truth about and within myself. Please don’t think that I am making this proclamation with pride. I’m saying this as if I’m reading a newly received telegram containing startling news. I do not invite you to respond by telling me how valuable I am. That would be counterproductive. I’m learning to value myself, and I’m learning to accept the value my Creator has for me in that process. I’ve always felt guilty for not understanding how to let God’s value for me be enough, but I’m finding out (very slowly) that my value for myself acts as a translator for God’s value for me.

 Photo by Wayne LevinPhoto by Wayne LevinPhoto by Wayne LevinPhoto by Wayne Levin

Perfectionism and Liza Hamilton

For as long as I can remember, I have suffered from a compulsion to do things at an unnecessary pace. When I was in elementary school, I tried to finish my entire English book one day while the teacher was teaching the class one lesson. In middle school, well, I skipped 7th grade. I graduated from high school when I was 16 years old. In community college, there was one semester in which I took 21 units and worked three jobs. I cannot fathom what it is that compels me to hurtle myself toward these imaginary deadlines, but I am trying to overcome this destructive habit.

It’s nice for people to have high standards for themselves, to set goals, etc. However, this is not exactly what is happening for me when I throw myself at self-imposed deadlines. I have found that I often not only do not finish well, but I destroy myself in the process of trying to finish things as fast as possible for no apparent reason whatsoever.

This is the working of the lie of perfectionism. It is as if there is an invisible tightrope between two cliffs overseeing a raging river called Healing. In the water, suspended beneath the tightrope is a raft called Acceptance. The perfectionist stands on one cliff, surveys the scene, and logically presumes that the safest method of travel is the tightrope, especially considering that leaping from the cliff, attempting to land in the raft without bashing one’s skull would be impossible. The logical perfectionist, having chosen the tightrope, takes a step, looks at the other side, and quickly finds him or herself halfway across. Upon reaching the other side, however, the perfectionist discovers an unexpected glitch. The perfectionist has been rewound, as it were, and he or she must walk across again! It doesn’t take long for the tightrope walker to question reality and his or her own sanity. This tightrope is a time loop.

The time loop tightrope is not real, friend. It is a projection of the perfectionist imagination, constructed by isolated faith in personal logic. Logic is good, but it can be a traitor left to its own devices. It’s like the moon rocks that turn out to be ferocious killer crabs (Apollo 18). The most frightening thing about the perfectionism tightrope or about logic is the idea that in order to heal, the perfectionist must understand everything about his or her pain and healing. There is no water, there is no raft, there is no acceptance, there is only striving and vanity and striving for vanity.

I’ve been reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck, and there is a woman in the story, Liza Hamilton. She is fierce, strong, and resilient. She stood out to me because I am not like her. She accepts things. She reads the Bible and accepts it, she buries a child and accepts it, and so on. No matter what circumstances surround her, she accepts them and moves forward. I don’t suggest she is an unfeeling, griefless robot, but she doesn’t try to change or control things. She is adamant and integrated; she takes things as they come. I think life is easier for people like Liza. I think life is easier when we don’t try to be the centers of our universes.

I don’t want to accept things, let them go, and move forward. I want to know everything, I want to understand everything, decipher everything, and sometimes, I want to be able to control everything. Please understand that I don’t mean these are desires of my heart. These are coping mechanisms developed by natural inclinations of my worrisome and overly introspective personality. Even so, I’m learning from Liza Hamilton in this season of my life, and I am learning float on Acceptance throughout the journey of Healing.

It’s a Plane… Just a Plane

As I sat on an airplane to a new home and a new life, I was aware of mild sadness and fear, moderate excitement and hopefulness, and there was, like an unwelcome companion, the weight of the dread of the past. How can a person dread the past? How can a young, tenacious and seemingly brave woman dread things that have already happened, especially considering that she has obviously survived the past with enough courage, at the very least, to move herself across the country for the simple sake of choosing to live fully.

Part of moving forward for me, must include the mission of traveling through the past, to all the worlds I’ve lived, and gathering all the people I’ve been. Everyone changes constantly throughout their lives. Suffering does that to people, and life without suffering is shallow. Without suffering, there can be no depth of capacity for joy, compassion, trust, or empathy. ┬áThis list of capacities is by no means exhaustive, but these are the primary components of the me with which I at least am currently familiar, that allow me to thank suffering.

Let me pause to point out that in saying that there are components of the me with which I am currently familiar, I do intend to suggest that there are also components of my identity with which I am entirely unfamiliar. Let’s pretend that every event presented to us in our lives with which we may associate suffering is presented by sword. Your classmates are mean to you in first grade, and the suffering comes like a sword and slices off a piece of who you were. You, then, have a choice. You can embrace the amputated slice of you, and through the pain, re-adhere the slice. There may be a scar, but if you allow your cells to do their jobs, even though it hurts, you can be whole again. Or you can banish the slice. You can take it away to another place, build it a home, and make it stay there. Mind you, in banishment, the slice will grow a body to belong to, and you will “grow” a holographic version of the banishes slice.

Are you following me? Just imagine it. So now, there are two you’s. One is in 1st grade in are far away world constructed of whatever “1st grader you” would find comforting in response to being made fun of. The other one is partially holographic and here, pretending to be a whole person, trying to function normally. The catch to the hologram part of you is this: when someone puts their hand “on” a hologram, the picture distorts and blanks out for a second. Okay?

I have been selective about which sufferings I was willing to believe I could bear. There have been a lot of slices that have been re-adhered with depth and compassion, resilience and bravery. There have also been a lot of banished slices. A major part of this adventure will be journeying to the banishment quarters, embracing the reproductions of Allyson from those seasons, destroying their prisons, and feeling the pain that must be felt. I must find the courage to believe I can bear the suffering, knowing it will be worth it to heal.

Five days ago, as I sat on an airplane to a new home and a new life, I am glad to know that I will soon meet my whole self. I will soon find out if I have the courage to grow up and become who I really am, as E.E. Cummings said. However, it is terribly frightening to imagine and prepare for the foreign lands and planets (because I do expect these places to be different distances and require various modes of travel). It is terribly frightening to think that I may find 1st grade Allyson, and I may fail in setting her free or in loving her enough to feel the love, the pain, or the obliteration of long-constructed fortresses. I suspect, though, that my fear is only a result of the frailty of holograms, and when I find the Allyson(s) that is (or are) projecting that fear, I’ll try to let you know.