story

Going Home for a Fresh Start

Last week I got a text from my friend.

“This might be something you want to do,” he said.

It was an opportunity to share a story on stage at WGBH: Stories from the Stage in Boston. I replied, “UM, YEAH!!!”

And so that’s what I did.

I left at 4:45am in the morning and drove back Home to Boston where I lived from 2006-2016 to tell a story on stage about coming back home to New Jersey this year and what it’s been like for me. I had less than a week to work out all the details and the hardest part was how to navigate the major point of why they invited me to share: because I’m transgender.

I struggled with it, wondering if I was being tokenized or provided an opportunity to share my story. After feeling a lot of feelings and almost not going at all and then processing since leaving the stage that evening, I’ve come to realize it’s always probably going to be a little bit of both moving forward. It comes with the territory of having a marginalized identity in a time of rapid cultural change. I’m choosing to embrace what feels uncomfortable about that and be grateful for what’s wonderful about it. Just surrendering to it being both/and, the Middle Way that Buddhism teaches me to embrace.

It’s the best way to be myself, which is the talk I walk for my readers and fans and followers and friends. I’ve been doing it since becoming a coach in 2009. After spending six years navigating my business “rebrand” by myself, I felt relieved to have words to share in ways I wanted to for the pre and post interviews at WGBH. And I told my story in a way that shared my experience and helped evolve our culture forward a few notches. At least I hope so.

I told a story of going back to a place I once worked and how it felt to be there among people who once knew me. It involved having a major panic attack and calling my mom and was full of really relatable themes and issues any person can relate to. I am really proud of that story and I hope I’m able to share it more widely soon.

Going back Home has been a deeply intuitive journey. I stopped trying to plan or strategize back in 2016 when my Vermont move showed me how wonderful it is when we let go and jump. I lost some of my joy and playful spirit when my sublet in Boston last June coincided with Jim’s sudden death. He was my therapist of ten years and my rock. The shock of that sent me reeling and I struggled to find my feet and know what to do next. I just kept following my gut and ended up right back where I left in 2006.

And wonderful things are happening from this fresh start. I’m reuniting with my mom and forging a wonderful relationship. I’m meeting new people and making new friends and catching up and building new relationships with people I knew before. I’m spending most of my time alone, actually, having become a bit of a hermit these past few years. I don’t mind it and actually prefer it. I’m consciously integrating past and current versions of me and it’s making my brain explode but it is an essential part of my journey so I can help others. I couldn’t have predicted this is how my life would go but as it all unfolds, it makes perfect sense.

I think it’s true for every person. We grow and evolve as much as we allow ourselves to do it. Most people limit themselves more than anything. There’s a safety in staying the same but we stay stagnant to the extent that we let fear ride shotgun.

I spoke to someone in Boston who was born and raised there and has been very successful with his business. “But I’m really bored,” he said. I could see why he said that and I’m anything but bored and actually sometimes crave the consistency other people, like this man, have in their lives. But that quality about me, my literal inability to sit still for any extended period of time, has made me who I am today. I’m constantly seeking and searching for what’s next or the newer version of myself. It’s a gift for the work I do, and I keep this in mind when it feels challenging. It seems to be why I’m here.

And that was the fresh start I shared in my story on stage. I talked about how I’ve had to continually find more patience with the things people do and say to me since I came out as transgender and how much I’ve grown up from that experience. I literally am not the same person from the inside-out. Changing on the outside generated a total transformation and fresh start on the inside. But it isn’t all unicorns and rainbows as it may sound in hindsight. It’s been a difficult adjustment. It’s tested me like nothing else. But from the past six years, I’ve learned the invaluable lesson that we always control our response to any situation, we get unlimited fresh starts to be our most compassionate and patient self.

I had to leave Home to become this version of myself and come back Home to apply it. And then go back Home to Boston for a brief stint to see if staying where I am in New Jersey is what I really need to do. It was so tempting, to be back in a place that was familiar and fun and full of things that would make my life much easier than it feels right now. Where I am living, I am really being a trailblazer and I feel self-conscious much of the time. Rural New Jersey isn’t the metropolis of queer-friendly Boston. But it isn’t all that bad, either. In fact, I’m finding surprises around every corner and in people I would have ruled out based on my own assumptions. Isn’t it funny how we can do that? The way we make reasons why we can’t find freedom anywhere we choose to feel it.

Often we’re the very reason why.

And then I look down and see the tattoo on my arm, scrawled in my own handwriting that says, “the true home is within.”

The Ebenezer in everyone.

Everyone has an inner Ebenezer Scrooge. You know the guy in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens?

And it's such an excellent story of personal transformation.

If folks know the story, they often focus on his identity early in the story. If someone's being miserly (what a great word!) we call him a Scrooge! 

It's true that ol' Eb was the perfect example of Scarcity mindset. It's that state of saving, scrimping, hoarding, and withholding. In the story, Ebenezer did this with money as a metaphor for his whole life. He couldn't even hook up Bob Cratchit with an extra lump of coal to warm his office, which expressed his lack of empathy. "My office is warm enough!" said Scrooge, totally oblivious to Bob's request for compassion about his own condition. Ebenezer had a lot of money and over the years became completely focused on that and only that to the point that his humanity took a major nosedive.

YEAHHHHHHH. A poignant story for times such as these, eh?

But Ebenezer had a huge breakthrough! He completely transformed! He literally hurled out generosity and compassion and material wealth into the streets of his local community. How often do we celebrate a story like that?!

Not too often. And I think I know why. Because everyone has an inner Ebenezer. It's called our ego. It's the thing inside us that focuses only on what we don't have instead of what we do have. We can have so much abundance and wealth in so many different forms and yet, what do we do with our time?

Complain about what hurts.

Worry about the future.

Gripe about what others are doing with their lives.

Compare ourselves and what we have or who we are to other people.

Distract ourselves with an endless list of things and post things like, "I can't even," and "omg it's Monday again?!" and "is it wine o'clock yet?" and, well, you can fill in the rest. 

There's a lot of scarcity all around and it's more apparent to someone like me or you, if you have experienced significant loss and tremendous change in your life. The great teachers say that the deeper our spiritual transformation, often brought on by trauma or tragedy, the more clearly we see the world as we never did before. And what we see reveals the truth about what matters and what doesn't. That new lens is the silver lining to the clouds of difficult times.

But until you get there (and often even when you do), people are kind of caught in the matrix of striving and competing and struggling toward something and the result is never feeling like anything or anyone is good enough. You don't appreciate what you have and keep focusing on what's wrong because it feeds that feeling of not having enough. We think if we can fix it (whatever IT IS) then, FINALLY THEN, we can sit and relax. It's a hamster wheel and the Buddhists call it samsara. I wanted to call it the Ebenezer Effect but others got to that phrase first and mean something different by it. 

But we'll get there.

image from Disney's A Christmas Carol with Jim Carrey

image from Disney's A Christmas Carol with Jim Carrey

The Ebenezer in everyone is all over social media and it's in our daily lives with the people we know and work with and hang out with. Whenever you notice someone who really does have plenty complaining or worrying or focusing on what isn't there or what isn't going right or not happening, that's the inner Ebenezer.

And then what happened to him? What's possible for all of us?

He saw it. He got it. He had the epiphany. With the help of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, Ebenezer realized that all the loss he'd experienced and the pain and fear he felt had hardened him into a miserly person who struggled to give and receive love, kindness, and generosity. If he stayed on that path, he was destined to die alone with nothing but his money.

Did you hear that some people are so poor, all they have is wealth? That's another blog post for another time. But that was Ebenezer's fate and he realized it and saw that all the things or money wasn't worth what he was missing out on every day in his life. The ability to help Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim or hang with his loving nephew and give money to the poor. 

He woke up and felt so grateful to still be alive, he changed his whole mindset. He celebrated his wealth and wanted to share it to expand the reach of it. He had the major catharsis that as long as he was alive, he had ONE MORE CHANCE to be the person he wanted to be as best he could.

image from Muppets Christmas Carol

image from Muppets Christmas Carol

And the best part of this story?

As long as you're reading this right now, you have the same opportunity. That potential Ebenezer is in everyone. 

 

How Bliss Feels

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I surround myself with a lot of folks who are into health, wellness and spirituality so I see a lot of people talk about bliss. They mention being "blissed out" or "in the flow".

I've known bliss a few times in my life. It is fleeting, not the kind of thing that is a permanent feeling. I don't know that humans can achieve a constant state of bliss--maybe it's possible, but I haven't had it happen to me. But it is pretty awesome when it does happen.

Now that I've experienced it more often recently, I want to tell you how bliss feels. Or how it feels to me.

You may have read my post about meeting Pema Chödrön last year. It was a life-changing moment for me, one of those, "I can die happy now" experiences. Sitting in the same room with her was already cool enough but I actually got to stand at the microphone and engage in conversation with her. Truly extraordinary. And I have it recorded on DVD to watch whenever I want to remind myself of that moment! If you want to buy that retreat on MP3 or DVD, you can click here.

Well, I decided to return to the Pema Osel Do Ngak Choling in Vershire, VT, this year for some much-needed time away. It wasn't enough time, I can tell you that much, but it was valuable for what it was.

I got to see people I had met last year and felt the feelings of overwhelm and pure gratitude when they recognized me. It was equally weird and comforting. I have this weird story in my head that I move through the world relatively invisible--and if I wasn't already addressing the origins of that silly myth, I am doing so more deliberately now. These people remembered me as much as I remembered them. It was intimate and beautiful.

We were led in teaching and conversation by the Buddhist author and teacher, Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel on the topic of the Middle Way. We began the instruction each day by sitting for 30 minutes in silent meditation. I was really looking forward to this because I have hard time making time for this each day in my own life--I find it easier when people structure it for me.

I can't speak about the sitting part without talking about my hips. Of late, I've noticed a growing tension and inflexibility in my hips and legs. I desperately need to address it because it is affecting movement and sitting for meditation. I've tried stretching but need to do more of it more often, I think. Is there an area on your body causing this sort of experience for you?

After the second painful sitting experience, I moved to a chair. I was tired, no doubt about it. I've been burning the candle at both ends and it was catching up to me as I sat there. My eyes began to get very heavy but rather than fight and try to keep my eyes open, I let the sleepy be a part of my sitting. It was part of it, not wrong or unwelcome or bad but just there.

But I didn't fall asleep. I sort of dozed or drifted in and out. I wasn't blaming myself or feeling  badly about my eyes being closed. I was present to those thoughts but didn't get consumed by them.

And then, I decided to open my eyes for a second.

It felt like someone poured soothing hot water through my veins. Every muscle was relaxed. My stomach, which is often clenched, was soft. My throat was loose. I could feel every muscle in my face had softened. My heart was beating slowly, but my mind was clear and then I had this thought, "oh my goodness. This feels sublime."

I don't do drugs--is this maybe what it feels like? I'm not sure. But if I can achieve that with nothing but my own breathing and mindfulness and some sleepiness--sign me up for more!

The only other time I felt this way was when I fell in love for the first time. I don't think my feet touched the ground for a few weeks back then.

This time it was a minute of total bliss, physically and then mentally once I was aware of it. And just like that, in one second, it was gone. I tried to cling to it and make it last and then closed my eyes again because I realized I was grasping.

I drifted in and out like this a few more times to recapture that mellow, blissed-out feeling. It worked and amazed me.

And it's powerful and wonderful to know I can achieve it anytime I want!

You can listen to more about how to get to this state ("shamatha") by clicking here.

More and more I am finding I can achieve moments of bliss off the cushion, too. I find it harder to do now than when I was younger. Life stressors have increased and self-consciousness is more present some days more than others, but I know it's possible. I find that same feeling of bliss in the company of friends, doing work I love and those precious moments when I am about to fall asleep after a long, amazing day.

 

Is this something you want to try or experience? Is it something you know well?

Share your thoughts below. :)