I had a conversation with a dear friend the other day when the topic of “looking” came up. And then I wondered: How much time we spend looking for things?
We look for new napkins at Target. We look for just the right kind of meat at Costco that can be grilled on a back deck and served to people looking at the new napkins we spent so much time looking for at Target.
We look for mobile devices. We look for the right strollers to push several children around; children whose eyes look blankly into the screens of the mobile devices we made an event looking for.
We may spend a great deal of time looking at Donald Trump and what he is doing. We look at the news, if that’s what we’re still calling it these days. We look for jobs. We look for soul mates on dating Apps. We look for hookups.
We look. And we look. And we … look.
Everywhere—out there. And a lot, it seems. Is it out of balance?
I listened to a conversation the other day between four people. It lasted 10 minutes. All about looking for the right frozen fish to buy in bulk. I didn’t know what to do: Die a little inside …? Or cull from the wisdom of the I Ching, or, say, Martin Luther King Jr., or any quantum physicist, for that matter … and say something lively. Something other than dead frozen fish. Alas, the group I was with could have just found that annoying.
So I wonder: how much time do we really spend looking within?
That may sound cliché. Forgive me. For I have lived in Northern California for 25 years, so, who knows? I may have become a cliché myself at this point.
But I don’t think so. I must be wired in such a way that “looking within” seems to be par for the life course I am on. I just know that when I don’t look within; when I don’t check in with myself, Life, God, My Higher Power, The Universe—whatever we’re calling The Divine these days—will more than likely drag me down to my knees and force to go to the internal places that may not feel so comfortable.
Looking within may not be a repetitive occurrence when we’re feeling groovy (or think we are) and in the flow—with life, with yourself. With your job. With your relationships.
But sometimes, it’s tricky to stay in the deep places within yourself when we’re caught up in life and life circumstances.
And during times of uncertainty and transition … even more curious.
Which is why I am writing this.
I had a conversation with four different people at different moments over the past few weeks. Each one of them shared something similar—they could not stop crying. The tears …. They just kept flowing. For quite a while. No person in their lives had passed away. No one was ill. It was if they were taken over by waves of grief, the depths of which they could not fully understand.
True, the global collective is experiencing a kind of mass disorientation what with has unraveled in world politics. (If you walk into a steam room, you’ll feel the heat. Clearly, something unique is happening energetically around the globe.)
But what happens when we stop looking out there—at politics, our Smart Phones, the right Costco fish to purchase and barbecue? Let’s face it: there’s so much more juicy stuff happening inside of us. Well, aside from Maui, the Grand Canyon, Big Sur, Barcelona architecture, a lake in Minnesota and maybe some homemade food from your mamma. But you get the picture.
Yes, nature is sexy. It’s hard not to be in awe. But our internal worlds are sexy, too. And fascinating. Even the most haunting and uncomfortable parts.
After braving and shining through several years of life-threatening illnesses, leaving my Northern California community after my media company I worked for was bought out, and writing a haunting memoir about how my Polish family survived Stalin during the 1940s—with nary a pill-pop of Lexapro, I’ll have you know—The Universe spit me back out in the Midwest.
I was born and raised in Chicago. My Polish family moved to the quaint western suburb of Elmhurst. I like to call it The Land of Elm.
With limited funds (I cashed in my 401k to TRUST The Universe and follow the rose pedals it kept tossing onto my path for nearly three years) I now find myself in deep transition … moving from one delicious era of my professional and personal life and into another that has not introduced itself to me, or me to it. Occasional confusion, disorientation and meltdowns have occurred.
I mood. Therefore I swing.
On the flipside: I do appreciate how The Universe has co-orchestrated my current circumstances with me in such a way that the irony and haunting beauty of my will not be lost on me.
I’m living back home with my Polish mother and her husband.
More specifically, I am finding shelter in the bedroom where my parents’ marriage dissolved. Dear Lord. What has happened? I mean … I meditate and everything …
Needless to say, my subconscious seems to be thoroughly stoked to have returned to Ground Zero. In fact, it’s strongly suggesting that I maybe I didn’t fully look through all of the emotional windows of my past; that maybe I didn’t clean them enough. Hell, maybe I never replaced them.
Have I been keeping some of them shuttered?
Major clues revealed themselves after two months. Why, I wondered, was I recalling how I felt as a teenager after my parents’ divorce? Hadn’t I worked out all of my Mommy and Daddy issues in self-help groups or meditation? In yoga? therapy? (Is it a sign when your Jungian therapist falls asleep during your session? Please let me know.)
Well, I did what any befuddled middle-aged man-child who spent an enormant of time asking the Universe for signs his entire life only to find solace in the healing rooms of shamans who waved white sage over my auric field: I turned to food. Pizza seemed good. Several weeks and pounds later, it was time to change course.
Obviously, something inside of me wanted to heal. What would happen if I looked within? What would happen if I “sat” with some of the feelings that emerged from my current transition … and the feelings that were coming up from my teenage years?
Dear Lord—but this was so inconvenient. Couldn’t all these unsettling emotions just go away. Come back … when I’m feeling like I have my A-Game on? I mean … really. How rude.
So … I sat with it.
My parents divorced several months before my sixteen birthday. I joined forces with my older brother, who had moved out several years before the main event, and together, we moved my father into a third-floor apartment less than a mile away from the home that didn’t quite ever feel like home. My father wasn’t happy about the divorce or the fact that, after 23 years, my mother decided to act upon her gut feeling and dissolve a marriage that had been bumpy from the start. My father drank. My mother didn’t like that. My father didn’t like being uprooted. I didn’t like feeling as if I was in the middle of their storm. I felt vulnerable, afraid, and as if I had no control over life, their life, my life. A deep feeling of helplessness and disorientation sunk in.
What we didn’t realize as a family at the time was that my father’s alcoholism was a cry for help. We were more focused on (and rightly so) how abusive and disruptive the alcoholism was; how my father’s weekend Johnny Walker binges and the subsequent arguments they spawned between my parents, infected every energetic layer of our home. It became the place were two tragic marriages existed: One between my father and mother; the other between my father and his liquor.
The divorce agreement stipulated that my father was to see me on the weekends. But there was no protocol in place. At the time, I’m not sure why I took the initiative, but I did. I must have felt that disturbed me: I felt that if I didn’t take the initiative, my father wouldn’t. And what would that mean? What would have been the take away for the teenaged me?
So I planned everything. I always called my father to make arrangements—so that he could see me. I took us out to the movies. I suggested fun malls to visit or restaurants to dine in. I took my father to the bank to pay for his bills—including the child support check he always reluctantly handed me before I exited his dark blue Chevy Impala in front of the house we all used to survive in.
In many ways, I became my father’s parent. This was a curious position to be in when you’re 16.
After six months, my behavior changed. I felt sad and lonely whenever I left my father’s apartment. He didn’t talk kindly of my mother. Which surprised me at first. For the longest time, I thought my father loved my mother so deeply that he simply couldn’t get over her. But in time, I realized it was something much different: he was obsessed with her. Like his addiction to Johnny Walker, he needed a fix—not of her, really, but of a love he must have never received when he was a child. One figures these things out later. At the time, it was befuddling.
And so … our time together became all about him—and her. And her and him. There was no me to be found—there …. there were my father’s hurt and disappointment lived.
I began looking for an escape.
I had a cousin, my Godmother, Chris, in Phoenix. Perfect. I went to visit her for several weeks over the summer. I took Greyhound busses there during winter break. It was warm. Chris, her son, and her second husband were welcoming. They were kind. They liked me.
Was this my out?
One week, I forgot to call my father and arrange our weekend meeting. He didn’t call. The following week I had a thought: What would happen if I didn’t call? Nothing. Nothing happened. For an entire year. Until, at last, upon graduating from high school, he reached out and came to the ceremony.
Afterward, my brother and I went to dinner with our father at a Chinese restaurant. Everyone was privy to the fact that I had made plans to attend Arizona State University. I was leaving … everything … behind.
Over dinner, my father said something haunting: “I can’t believe you’re leaving me.” What an odd thing to say to a child. I had heard the same line delivered with the same dramatic inflection in an episode of “Dynasty.” After all, my father and I weren’t a couple. Or had we been? Had I stepped into the role of surrogate wife without knowing it?
I moved on. I attended Al-Anon. I went to therapy. I dove deep. I looked at and released a great deal of the anger and frustration I possessed as a teenager. I made peace with the events that occurred.
I looked “out there” …. and carved out a life for myself as an entertainment journalist. I wrote about other people. Told their stories.
But there was so much more of my own I may have been missing.
At my father’s funeral in 2004, I believed that I was at peace with everything. Maybe I was wrong. My current life transition has brought up many feelings I had as a teenager—fear, doubt, loneliness, isolation. Hadn’t I dealt with all that? Wasn’t I free and clear?
Having an opportunity to look at some of those events in my life—now—has given me a brand new perspective of who I was back then. I may have cleared any anger and resentment, but had I really dealt with the impact that some of those events triggered? More importantly, could I stop looking “out there” for a while longer, and look at the teenager inside of me who clearly is calling out for some attention.
What happens when we look at the aspects of ourselves that remain unsettled—the ones we may have kept shuttered. What happens when we actually make a decision to stop and pay less attention to the storm fronts brewing “out there?”
What happens when we just decide to bravely stand underneath the unpredictable emotional rainstorm that has been waiting to pour down over every fiber of our being …
Maybe it’s best to not hold an umbrella.