The Journey Continues

I was pretty much done with the “should I become Mormon again?” thing, but it wasn’t done with me.

I’m really starting to think that this is my path. First I encountered the outer limits of my knowledge, the ultimate blank despair, and as I reel/try to recover from that, I keep coming across people uniquely positioned to get across to me right now, and to answer my very specific concerns in a satisfying way.

Yesterday, despite my self-reassurance that God is love and all I need to do is follow love, I felt incredibly fearful all morning. This fear drove me to finally face up to something I’ve been carrying around for a long time.

When I was fourteen I was babysitting a seven year old boy (this adorable seven year old who just loved everyone and told me all the time that when he grew up, after he finished his mission, he was going to marry me…despite the age gap). He was sitting in my lap and, horny, repressed little teen that I was, I sort of…masturbated against him. Very subtly. I tried not to let him notice, and I don’t think he did.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t see this as a “sin” and I don’t feel bad for it abstractly. In fact, I fully blame the confusing teachings of the LDS church, which say that masturbation itself is bad and you should repress those feelings until you’re married. If I had felt comfortable with my body and the desires that were so irresistible at the time, I would have taken care of my urges in a much more appropriate way.

My big problem was, I dated a man at one point who was touched inappropriately by a camp counselor, and it messed him up, big time. I know that kids can be confused about what’s their fault and in a puritanical society, they can feel dirty or impure just for being a target of someone else’s sexuality.

I’ve been worried all of these years that this kid noticed and that he internalized it in a negative way. I’ve been trying to get up the courage to talk to him, and I sent him a Facebook message which he never answered, and I thought he had ended his mission early and maybe that was my fault, tracing all the way back to that one time when I babysat him.

So this fear built up and my brain was looking for something to attach it to, and I fixed on this kid. I needed to talk to him ASAP, because what if he committed suicide or something, and then that was hanging over me forever, when I could have done something about it?

I called his mom, pretty terrified of her reaction. You know, mama bear, aforementioned puritanical society, what is she going to say to this. Her reaction? “It is so brave of you to come forward with this after all these years! God bless you! I’m so glad you were able to finally lay that burden down at Jesus’ feet! You know, I’m pretty sure he never knew about it.” She said he was very open with her about everything and she never saw anything that would make her think he was affected. I asked her to think about whether we(/I) should talk to him about it anyway, just in case. He actually did finish his mission, and he’s super happy and coming home soon.

Finally, after all of these years, peace on this matter. Peace I was driven to by fear. Hmm.

So I keep going through my day, feeling better, but still fearful. Still this powerful fear eating me up for no obvious reason. It starts to attach itself to my meeting with a man who could possibly help my career, who I’ve never met before. I start wondering if he’s going to hurt me, maybe. I take some minor precautions, like telling several people who I’m meeting with and texting a friend with our meeting location and time, and he picks me up and we go to dinner.

I like him right away, and the more we talk, the clearer it becomes that our world views are very, very similar, especially in terms of the way we believe in treating other people and why. Our approaches to life are similar, we have similar personalities–although he has a more aggressive streak, and whenever I hear a hint of it, or something that could be a subtle warning, my fear rises in me again. The whole time, I’m trying to figure out—is he going to hurt me, or help me?

We’re talking about our mutual friend who introduced us, and existential crises come up. I laughingly mention how I almost was driven back to Mormonism by this recent crisis, and…turns out he’s Mormon. He doesn’t believe in evangelism, but by now I’m curious to see how this very intelligent and compassionate man reconciles his worldview with an LDS one, because I’m still seeing some important incompatibilities.

Over the course of our discussion, in the way he explains things to me, I’m seeing hints of a patronizing viewpoint towards others that kind of bothers me. An investment in hierarchy, in some people being “more equal” than others. But the more we talk, the more I begin to see a picture emerge, and though he hasn’t quite said it in this way, I can begin to see a valid reason that the LDS church, as a whole, might be a little bit behind the curve instead of leading the way.

Because of course the first question I ask him is, “Why should I even listen to an intermediary? If god is love, why shouldn’t I just follow love? Especially an intermediary that seems to clearly enact love to a lesser degree than I want to, rather than a greater one?”

Some answers I came up with during/after our discussion, a combination of his explanations and my attempt to make sense of them on my own:

One: if there’s a plan for salvation, it’s for everyone, not just me. The church is suited to the society it’s in—it’s supposed to help people in the current society get where they’re supposed to be (just like the old testament form of governance was suited for a more savage time with people who understood things more physically and less symbolically). This might sound patronizing until you realize that the more advanced lesson, the ahead-of-the-curve version of how to love others, was already presented by Jesus completely intact, and people over the centuries have really, really struggled to follow that lesson in a way that remotely resembles what Jesus told them to do. We’re all hindered by our collective endeavor, and we’re all helped by our collective endeavor.

The LDS church puts Jesus’ teachings at the center of its philosophy. They’re actually called “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” The advanced lesson was always waiting at the center of the less symbolic, more physical “thou shalt nots” so it has always provided the opportunity to keep pushing to love more, at the same time as creating a safe space for people to move forward according to what they already understand. No one says I have to love exactly in step with the church; I can keep doing my thing, trying to love people more and more. There’s nothing stopping me. I don’t have to vote against gay rights, I can support and pray for women to have the priesthood, I can refuse to avoid people, stories, etc. because they might “negatively influence me,” and I can specify that there are certain things I want my tithing to support and certain things I’m unwilling for it to contribute to (like the mall and other financial ventures that promote our consumerist society and the exploitation of people across the globe.)

I’ve got friends who do things like this, who hold onto Mormonism but resist the things that contradict their perception of love and their rational understanding of what the teachings mean  (I‘d always wondered why they didn’t just up and leave) and there’s nothing stopping me from doing the same. BUT. It’s not enough for me to be able to believe what I believe. I still need a better reason to be Mormon instead of just doing my best on my own.

One reason: I struggle to know which feelings to trust. This man across from me clearly means me good and not ill, this is more and more obvious as the night goes on. And yet here I was, spiking with fear every time he made mention of something that could be interpreted as threatening (like saying things about how resisting the system instead of learning how to work within it will get you squashed—my paranoia re: whether scary folks like the Koch brothers might try and squash me for my ideas about ditching our current structures in favor of a truly representative system, or how our currency ought to be a human hour of labor, if we have one at all, or how our financial systems are all a lie, etc. etc. goes into hyper drive…what if he’s about to kill me or something?)

This man describes himself as having total peace of mind and confidence. And he doesn’t blindly follow, and he doesn’t believe in that. (More on this later.) I need help figuring out which feelings to trust. I need help beating back my fear and knowing what is instinct, what is nurture, what is inspiration. Since our conversation last night, my fear has dissipated.

Another reason: my crisis. I trust myself, but I recognize my own limits. If someone has a better plan than I do for how to make this all come out okay in the end…I really want to get on board with that. Seriously. The ultimate conclusion of my personal way of seeing the world leaves me all alone, throwing myself a giant tea party that means nothing. That’s not cool. That’s pretty much hell, actually. Trusting my own logical conclusions, based on my own understanding of the universe, is just not enough. I need other people.

Last: I have been following my own instincts this whole time. I’m here, and these answers are being handed to me, and they are interlocking perfectly with everything I need to know and need to hear. It could be coincidence, it could be wishful thinking, but the more I zoom out and look at the big picture of my life, the more that picture makes sense. But I’m still listening and looking. There are still some serious conflicts.

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Life, the Universe, and Everything. 42. Done.

Why is this universe the way it is? Because it’s this universe. The answer is 42; or might as well be.

I had a very profound experience the other day. Mushrooms have always had the ability to suppress my will —I’ve always felt fearless, calm, and hyper-aware of all around me, which I now understand to be the natural state of being, when separated from will.

In any case, rather than my will being suppressed, this last time I was barely tethered to it. I existed as awareness, with only the faintest shadow of my will maintaining ties with the outside world. Lying in the arms of h, in one of the moments when I was feeling more time-bound, I told him “I am everything.” And it was true. Whenever I floated away from myself, I was the whole of Existence. I just was. And it was good.

The deepest part of ourselves is one with everything. Time and will make us feel cut off and alone, but the whole of Existence is always surrounding us completely and living inside of us at the same time. As I tumbled back into my will and my timeline, as my fears and desires started to assert themselves, I kept having two flashes of thought—first: would this new perspective somehow help me cheat at life? What practical application could this possibly have? And second: would this ruin life for me? How could I invest in my very specific timeline with such a keen awareness of how ultimately equal each possibility is? Knowing how much more I am than this human woman with her fears and desires, how could I care enough about her life for it to feel meaningful at all anymore?

As the knowledge settled in, it became clear to me that this is undeniably a blessing. I learned a long time ago that philosophical investment in or certainty of a meaning has no effect on my personal drive. I had decided that life was meaningless and there is absolutely nothing that can be counted upon, and I was all set to commit suicide. But then I started working out the implications of my internal discovery, and then I was thinking about coming home and writing about it and I didn’t want to kill myself anymore. Will is a powerful thing—especially when we are unafraid to live by it.

Since my experience floating in awareness, I know what my eternal self wants for my temporal self: it wants it to pursue its will according to nature. There are no punishments but immediate ones for our missteps; if we treat others poorly, we will have very little love in our lives. The natural way of things is the give and take of negotiating and weighing our desires and fears against those of others; there are natural consequences when we violate each other. When we are dishonest or coercive in achieving our goals, we are overriding this natural way of things, and even this has a natural punishment: just like any other shortcuts or cheat codes, we cheat ourselves out of the experience just as much as we spoil things for others.

Much of the misery in the world comes from the sense that our desires are at odds with some nobler purpose we embody. It’s quite the opposite. Our desires are the path to our higher purpose.

Why do people feel empty when they pursue only pleasure? Because an eternal being cannot be satisfied by the temporary. Pleasure can only be experienced by something which feels desire–pleasure is not eternal.

What is eternal is harmony–the sense of things aligning with their nature perfectly, the sense of things achieving their innate purpose. Happiness is the sense that all is right with the world, the feeling of being satisfied with everything and everything being satisfied with you.

When we pursue personal and communal growth according to our desires, we feel joy, the combination of pleasure and happiness. This pursuit can sustain us forever. Anything short of that will bring only a sense of frustration that our pleasure doesn’t translate into happiness; frustration that our happiness comes at the expense of our pleasure.

My drive is to document, interpret, and communicate experience, with the ultimate goal of helping humans to find our purpose. There isn’t much keeping us from ending all unnecessary violence, developing forms of self-governance that make any kind of logical sense, and eliminating some of the worst behaviors of humanity—all we need is the confidence that working on behalf of everyone will benefit us all. These thoughts and efforts sustain me, they live in me regardless of how reasonable or unreasonable this pursuit may appear to others, whether or not it brings me rewards.

I am will. I pursue what I love and avoid what I fear. Until time releases me back into the great awareness, I will try and do my tiny job in the universe as best I can. When I look into your eyes, I know the same is true of you: you are all of awareness, wrapped by time into a physical form. I know we are cut off from each other, and we are each other. I know that it is in my interest to support you in attaining your will, and it is in your interest to support me.

Consider the implications of this worldview. Consider the all-embracing love it encourages. I fully advocate this as truth. We have nothing more at stake than our mutual experience here; we are nothing more or less than brilliantly complicated little stories. If we start living this way, the world could get hugely better very quickly.

I’ve tried to break my understanding down a bit more in a series of questions. It’s hard to quantify. My brain isn’t made to hold the sort of dimensions that go into what makes up awareness; mostly what I remember is a feeling of well-being and certainty.  But the general idea of what I experienced filled in a lot of gaps in the philosophy I’ve been working on. A LOT of gaps.

Who am I?

I am the one who opened my eyes.

What is my purpose?

To exist as nature dictates.

What is nature?

Nature is will and being.

What is will? What is being?

Will is desire and fear. Being is that which exists and knows it exists; awareness, existence, form; the great everything.

What is the relationship between the two?

Being is the eternal self, the part of us that will never cease to be. Will is temporary. The eternal does not will; it is—unchanging, unmoving, permanent. It does not start or end. It does not live or die. The part of us that dies is the will. The part of us that does not die is being; Everything.

There is no separation between the self and the Other. This separation is an illusion of time. Time wraps around awareness, cutting it off from the rest of itself, which allows it to form will. When time releases awareness, it ceases to have will and becomes once more Everything.

What does nature dictate?

Nature directs being through will. Each life builds, or loses, in accordance with its wills and fears, a place in the balance of things. My very reason for being is to exert will. I am desire and fear; I am that I might desire and fear. I need not be ashamed of my fears or desires. I may pursue them without doubt or guilt. The entire everything supports me in achieving my will according to nature; I am everything and it is me.

What goes against nature?

Nothing is unacceptable to nature. Will can only exist in Time and therefore cannot be permanent; nothing can disrupt the eternal. Nothing good or evil is absolute; therefore good and evil are relative and timebound. They exist only in relation to Will. What is good to me may be evil to another; what is evil to another may be good to me. Therefore good and evil exist only in the relation of things to one another; in the relation of me to all that is not me, the Other.

What is the relationship of myself to the Other?

I am that which looks out of my eyes; the Other is Everything Else, being—which includes my eternal self. Each time I harm the Other, I harm myself. We are innately invested in each other.

What should I do?

Anything I like. Nothing is more or less important than anything else. Everything is important because I am will; nothing is important, because I am eternal. It is up to me to negotiate the difference between the two—to temper my will with awareness of the Other; to negotiate with the Other in order to enact my will. I can avoid harm to my temporal self or risk harm on behalf of the things that are important to me. I can pursue pleasure only, or happiness only, or I can seek out joy.

So much of our efforts are directed to criticizing and shepherding one another’s wills; justifying and defending our own wills. Once we turn our focus from all agreeing on the same pursuit to enabling one another’s various unique pursuits in the most harmonious way possible, we’ll be able to solve our problems very quickly and easily.

I’m no longer afraid of death, or confused about my responsibility to myself vs. the Other, or what my allegiance should be to my immediate will vs. destiny. I sincerely hope that you, too, can see what this means: there is nothing to fear. Everything is OK, always has been, always will; you may not see how yet, but you will. The part of you that you are so afraid of disappearing will never disappear–only the fear itself will. It’s ok. We’re all ok.

Fear Itself

This is a diary entry from August. It’s a look straight inside my head and some of my worst insecurities. It’s hard to talk about social anxiety because it has such a stigma attached to it, or at least, it does in your head, if you have it. Which I did.

I finally figured out how to claw my way out of that well about two years ago, but it’s a slippery slope from self-doubt to full-on paranoia, and I spent a panicky couple of days trying to find my confidence again. Here’s the entry:

 

Fear is the enemy of love, and I am fearful right now.

My emotional landscape has been such a clusterfuck these past several years. I just need to keep remembering that life moves in cycles…why is it that despite all evidence I tend to think that each new emotional state is eternal (except happiness)?

I’d been enjoying a state of confidence that relied maybe a little too much on detachment—awesome, everyone here seems to like me great, but I’m probably going to move to L.A. Bye guys. I appreciate you objectively but I am also uninvested.

Now I’m starting to invest. Which is great! I was not enjoying my perpetual detachment. I was starting to feel like I had simply moved past the ability to…well, I wasn’t sure what exactly. Love? I love a lot of things and a lot of people though. Trust?

That word is perfect though: the word h used. “I am invested in you.” That is the best way to describe what it means to start leaning on someone a little, to allow yourself to count on them in certain ways, to give them parts of yourself that they may or may not appreciate.

So. I’m investing in h. Actually by the time I figured out what was happening I was already invested. I was thinking of him as an interloper into the me & c thing for so long, somehow I didn’t notice his reliable presence, his affection and tenderness with me.

It’s sort of blurry whether the insecurity crept in first…I was feeling a bit vulnerable because of c getting full time at work, though she has more experience, knowledge, and investment than I do. Emotions are really very silly things, when it comes down to it. Not very useful. The only truly useful emotion is love.

I’m glad that I’m falling for h. He’s so good for me. I’m tickled by the way this snuck up on me. Somehow it escaped my noticed long enough to grow to the point where I can’t quickly overanalyze it to death. But I seem to be trying!

It’s just that now that I have feelings for him, I have all of the feelings. I really, really like him. I’m experiencing a pretty intense barrage of affection. He’s the Finn to my Fiona. I’ve always wanted someone who still approaches life with childlike wonder. Who can be sincere but not over-serious, playful but reflective. He’s soulful, youthful, wise, kind, gentle and aggressive by turns. He’s vulnerable but strong. He’s perceptive, careful, funny, spontaneous, discerning. He is very passionate and doing what he loves—so attractive. And he’s well-liked and respected in the community. And he loves my dog and she loves him.

He’s inspiring me to be more, to be better. But somewhere along the way I’ve started finding myself feeling fearful, often, that my anxiety will drive him away. We have nothing to fear but fear itself, indeed. Insecurities feel like they’re there to help but they’re not! They’ve been yelling so loudly all the time lately. I can shut them up but it takes some work, and in the meantime it’s just really unpleasant to feel a sustained and persistent fear that you’re annoying and unlovable and you’re going to drive everyone away.

It’s such a crazy fear, and maybe the best definition of self-fulfilling prophecy there is. Because, see, I make a good first impression, and as many people will tell you, first impressions are the most important, right? So all I have to do after that is…maintain the non-illusion that I am a friendly, interested, interesting person who likes fun and people. Why is this hard?

Oh right, because I spent my entire life (excluding the most recent two years and perhaps some of the early ones) taking other peoples’ reactions to me as the bible truth of how they felt about me, and by extension, how innately loveable (or unloveable) I was. And that lizard brain (as my dear friends l and h call it) has resurfaced. If I’m learning anything in my life, it’s that we never defeat a demon to the point where we won’t have to fight it again. Demons never die. But we do gain the capacity to banish them from our mental landscapes.

So, this one’s back, and it’s proving pretty tricky to banish. I need to revisit how I beat it last time.

Here’s what I did: I figured out that not everyone needs to like me. I figured out that some people get off of on not liking people; these kinds of people get off the most on not liking people who need everyone to like them.

The only way to stop being a target of hatred for this kind of person, paradoxically, is to not give a shit about whether or not people like you. But this is easier said than done (fourteen years later!)

I stopped giving a shit about whether other people liked me when I started respecting my own opinion about myself more than anyone else’s. This is the only thing that makes sense to do, because although I am not objective, I’m the only one with access to my motivations, my pain, my emotional state, my circumstances, my fears, what I can endure, what I cannot, what I have already endured, what is difficult for me, what is easy, the things that have power over me.

The way I recognize a paradigm shift in my life is when I figure out a way of seeing the world that makes my life better in every way. When I evaluated my actions based on what I knew about them instead of what other people thought about them, it didn’t just change my perception, it changed the actions themselves: I was focused on actual integrity instead of appearance. Instead of trying to convince someone else that I had definitely tried my hardest, I took a good hard look at whether or not it was true, and usually it wasn’t, which inspired me to try harder the next time so that I would be more satisfied with myself.

The time I used to spend figuring out how to present myself to others in such a way that they would understand my motives and never blame me or think less of me for my flaws or mistakes went to working on bettering myself, improving on those flaws and mistakes.

I was more forgiving of myself. I am who I am right now, and I can’t grow faster than I grow and I can’t learn faster than I learn—instead of focusing on whether I’m good enough right now, I began focusing on learning faster. Being more forgiving of myself made me more forgiving of others as well, less likely to make snap judgments or decide someone’s value based on my perception of them in the current moment.

So yeah, you can see how I have all of the weapons to defeat the specter of self-loathing. Why is it back in force?

I think one reason I’m having trouble fighting it is because I’m using the wrong weapons. When I try to fight it off with things people have said to me that seem confidence-inspiring, like c telling me that the first thing everyone says when they talk about me is how beautiful I am, or h telling me…any number of things…he really likes me! He says so all the time! the demon just laughs. All that could change in a heartbeat, remember? Remember all of the people who started out liking you until you grossed them out with your needy, frightened personality? Remember how in grad school, nobody invited you to things, and you could tell they wished you weren’t there sometimes, and

Except, that’s not really how it happened. What it came down to was, I made myself feel unwelcome. Nobody did that to me—I did that. I assumed my presence was a drag (until it became one.) I read terrible things into every non-invitation. I let tiny things needle me—something I said that no one laughed at, a stern word someone directed at me, someone’s joking insult with a bit of truth to it. I fed the feeling of inadequacy and unwelcomeness. And while my friends’ love didn’t feel very present or available to me much of the time, it was there—they didn’t stop loving me, I just stopped accepting their love.

It’s strange to be so down on yourself that you’re almost entirely self-centered. It’s fucking unpleasant. I don’t like being that way. But I’m back there a bit. It’s ok. I keep having to talk myself through the steps, and I’m wondering how long it’s going to take for me to feel somewhat secure again, but I’ll make it back. I just need to give people at once more credit (the demon says everyone is simply waiting for a misstep to dismiss me from their esteem…) and less credit (they are just people like me, with their own insecurities and deficiencies and areas where they could do better…I remember what a revelation it was to figure out that f’s attacks on me, such as they were, manifested her own insecurities…why be mean to someone if you’re happy with yourself, right?)

Shut up, demon. No one is out to get me, nor is anyone poised to hate me. And if they do, well, it’s their problem, not mine. I’m perfectly loveable. I can do what I feel like and people will still like me. I can be considerate without being ingratiating. People will love me even if I do things wrong. People will hate me even if I do things perfectly. Trying to please everyone will not hold them close to me, it will push them away. They want me to please myself.

This applies to art, too. How good is something going to be that you tried to make good enough for someone else? Not nearly as good as something that you tried to make the best possible version of itself regardless of what people think.

When I get like this I forget who I really am and become just this big fearball until all I can see of myself is this human whine.

What am I, h? I’m falling out of love with me and you’re falling into it so I’m going to try and see what you see (instead of freaking out that I’m going to ruin it.)

I do have a freaking awesome sense of humor. I enjoy h’s personality so much because I’m like him–I like to make a game of life. I don’t take myself too seriously. I make a conscious effort to enjoy and appreciate beauty. I have a big heart. I care about people, the world abstractly, and I make a really good, considerate, conscientious partner. Yes, I can be needy and dorky, yes I try a little too hard sometimes, yes, I’m occasionally lazy and I’m not in perfect shape right now, but none of that is enough to make anyone stop loving me. And even if they did, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. I am always changing and bettering myself.

I may not be fully established yet in my career but that doesn’t mean I’m not good at it. I just need to work harder and stay focused.

This exercise was so good for me. It’s definitely helping me to regain my confidence. It’s also helping me feel more motivated to become what I want to become. So is h. I’m so glad he showed up. I’m so glad he stuck around long enough and patiently enough to let me know I had nothing to fear.

 

So. That was about six months ago. Hard to talk about, but those steps helped me and maybe they’ll help you.