Friday, January 11, 2008

Moments of Gladness

There aren't many lessons from my childhood school years that stick out as "stand alone" lessons. They all seem to have blended together, and hopefully added onto as I have grown and continued to learn, or discarded in the sale bin in the back recesses of my cerebellum. One piece of learning that visits me from time to time is the idea that a good story always has some kind of conflict in it, and the conflict has the choice of three faces......
Man versus Nature
Man versus Man
Man versus Himself.

The way I see it is that all of these conflicts are with us as we live our own life stories, but by far the most difficult and persistent conflict is the last one; Man versus Himself, because this never goes away. It may have a different twist to it.....the conflict may be brand new from the one you slayed the day before........but we are always tackling our internal conflicts. I see it clearly when I'm counselling. I see it clearly in myself usually after I have resolved the issue.

Me versus Myself

You versus Yourself

We are our own worst enemy as we struggle with our own resistance, as we wrestle with ourselves to find our own way. Sometimes, it leaves us short of energy or optimism to resolve the monster lurking in our psyche. Our own thinking, and our own inability to sort out the internal wrestling match can cut off the oxygen to our creative outlets faster and more powerfully than any mountain climb. Who needs to join an army to fight a war when we can generate our own internal armegeddon and not even leave the couch?! The barriers our imaginations can create in our own personal unending brain maze can render us to the sidelines of the playground pretty darn quickly if we let them. And yes, there are times when we need to sit on the bench to see how the game is being played in order to see things from a different perspective. Sometimes this is all we need...........a new angle, a fresh new look, some breathing space, a sip on some Gatorade and we can resolve things. Our sideline ruminations, away from direct contact with the conflict may be just the ticket to splash the colour again.

The problem is that if we let ourselves remain's easier to remain in the avoidance and denial frame of mind, we may lose our confidence to win the figure out how to exit the maze of self doubt, self slamming, self talk. Our creative juices dry up..........our desire to fill in the blank canvas with our expressive colour, with our own beautiful signature may slink away in the dark of night......... too much of a bother.......why waste the energy?

All of a sudden, our effective coping mechanisms are replaced by the "R" cousins.....Repression and Rationalization. Do you know them? Initially they are helpful in maintaining the status quo of intertia. They keep the conflictual head games at bay. Don't think about it and it will go away. Or It's too much of a hassle and besides is there really any point in dealing with this issue? Who would really care if I didn't resolve it? No one is losing any sleep over it except me, so it doesn't matter.

and yet.......doesn't that energy get used up anyways? Check your voltage meter the next time you find yourself caught in the volley between the "R" cousins. It's exhausting!

We can easily lose our way if the goals we have are too monumental. From tackling house renovations to obtaining a degree, if we don't break down the goals to something more manageable, it can frighten us into submissive inertia. It festers into a series of "Me versus Myself" conflicts which sucks the marrow right out of the originally lofty idea, even if we strongly believe in the GOOD of the plan. Success begets success. Small steps down the path rather than no steps down the path keeps us moving down the path. And if we can break down the task, we lessen the chances that the self talk conflict will niggle away at the potential success of achieving that once lofty goal. Before we know it, lofty isn't a part of the equation. Completion is.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time

How do you paint a house? One stroke at a time.

How do you complete a course? One subject at a time

How do you write THAT book (you know the one that has flashing yellow lights sitting on top of the draft)? One blog post at a time................well that's my rationale what's YOURS?

Life isn't a series of big bombastic moments that shake and rock your world. Thank God. Admittedly there seems to be more than our share of them over the course of the year, I still believe that they are rare in the bigger picture of our lives. In order to deal with those emotionally draining events whether they are joyful or full of grieving sorrow, we need to accumulate confidence and strength by overcoming the daily conflicts and by accomplishing minor successes. Check them off our own to do lists, while recognizing them as overcoming a conflict. More importantly, we need to recognize them as moments of gladness, a term Anne Lamott uses in her most recent book, Grace Eventually, Thoughts on Faith. Cause on most days.........if we don't acknowledge the moments of gladness........however small......our days feel long, and our nights are unending while we remained trapped in negativity and indeciveness.

Interestingly, after i finished reading her book last week, I was struck by a feeling of irritation. I had a conflict with the whole premise of her book........that grace is all around us, and is there in the ordinary moments of life. This is what she writes about.........ordinary, normal daily events that point out how much the same we all are wading around in our imperfections and struggles. I was irritated by the concept that grace isn't kept for really special times.......that it hangs around the house waiting to be picked up like a sock. And yet.......our lives are sock sorting, stain scrubbing, snow shovelling, snot dripping, sneeze covering mundane minutes. It can drive you CRAZY.........picking up stuff, making beds, wiping noses and bums, dusting and doing mindless chores if you don't stop and take in the beauty behind the mess. The moments of gladness.

Eventually, like Grace, I realized that I was reading the book at a time when I was struggling with my own armegeddon going on in my head and I was having a very tough time figuring it out. Her take on "life's stuff" just seemed too fluffy and trite. I wasn't buying it..............why??.........because how am I supposed to see the frigging moments of gladness hiding behind the dust bunnies under my couch when I have BIG conflicts in my head that I have to sort out?? Anger and frustration can really wreak havoc on any fleeting moment of gladness.....

This is where i was at while reading this book........

Just before Christmas, I learned that a job I am qualified for was up for grabs. I was very excited about the possibility, and felt very confident that I had a good chance of nabbing this job. It's a position with responsibilities that I had done a few years back when I was on a project for my department. It looked very very good. It looked like my ticket out of the toxicity I am presently working in and trying to move out of. Just as is a position I would LOVE a chance to tackle. So.......................

I had lunch with the person retiring from the job to learn more about it, contacted the proper authorities and then waited for the position to be posted. That's when the conflict began. The job was exactly as I had expected, except for one new twist. It had been turned from an English only job to a bilingual position. In order to qualify, one had to be able to speak and write in English and French fluently. This is an officially bilingual province and rightly so. I had no qualms with that.

And yet, surely..............I thought............I have 15 years experience and know the business well enough and passionately enough that I could jump right into the job with both feet ready to run. That must count for something. Also, I know that I have an aptitude for french and I would be more than happy to work on my proficiency at the same time as doing the new job. In fact, I had frequently asked to have french language training and repeatedly had been turned down because I was in an English only position. I didn't need it. I wouldn't use it. And yet, I knew I could learn it quickly. I just hadn't used this skill in a long a long since 1984 when I was travelling in France. I'm around it living in this city, so it's not as though I'm living in an environment where french is not spoken.

Give me a year in the job, I asked.......let me work on my language acquisition/proficiency through training (readily available for many in government.........and not for minions like me??) and assess me in a year's time I suggested..........I had never had my language skills assessed before. Why not assess them to see how much potential I have.....I'm confident that this is an area I could learn quickly in. I never heard yes or no......... I never heard back directly, which of course fueled my anger and anxieties.

All of a sudden, I receive notice that I am scheduled for an oral proficiency test and a reading and writing comprehension test. Not knowing if this was scheduled based on my find out where I'm at on the proficiency scale and to see if I have the aptitude to pick it up quickly I contacted the person who had arranged this for clarification. I am told that I have been screened in for the job, but have to pass the tests in order to be considered for the position. No, language training is not an option. One has to be proficient going into the job (mind you the job was not bilingual right now.......and as much as I agree that it should be, no one has complained about it in the past). It's the law of this particular part of the big world. If a position is deemed takes precedence over every and all other skills.

Sadly, and with a big tinge of anger and frustration, I decide to cut my losses. What's the point, I think? If I'm not going to be considered even though I have all of the other qualifications in spades, why put myself through the angst of testing, when I know I'm not going to score well enough to be considered? I'm not good at humilitation? I know my limits, I think..........

Then......................something strange happens..................they schedule the job interviews to happen right in the middle of the testing. What's that all about? I was under the impression that this would happen after the results. More conflict in the head ensues..........all of course happening throughout the Christmas holidays. I couldn't shake was ALWAYS in the back of my mind. I ruminated, postulated, masticated, articulated, and drove everyone crazy with my endless anxieties and indeciveness. In hindsight, I can clearly see how this issue drummed up my insecurities that have accumulated over the course of the year......ones that had never been there before. I realized that I was ruminating over my own decisions more and more because I was being triggered by how I had been treated by others in my work environment.

Do I cut my losses completely, or do I suck it up and focus on doing my best in the hopes that common sense and creative problem solving on their end kicks in?

My decision to take the oral french test last Thursday came right down to the wire, and I am grateful for the help I had from a friend who wouldn't take my "no" as an answer. All of a sudden, the rationalizations turned into helpful coping mechanisms......."how bad is it going to be? I'm just going to try my best......and it will be over in less than an hour......."

Once I started down the road, things picked up. The Me versus Myself conflict dissolved, and kind of morphed into a Me versus "the system" and "Me versus the hill I needed to wasn't a mountain! Far from it! Giving birth is a frigging mountain.........a little french test is a blip of an anthill......."

I surprised myself. I understood 80 percent of what the examiner asked me. I was able to struggle through a conversation........gave him directions from the testing room to my house. I was able to describe what my house looks like, both inside and out. I talked to him about hobbies, my family, even the recent political climate in the United States. I performed a role play where I had to book a trip to Montreal......... I hemmed and hawwed quite a bit, but I found the words and I captured the phrases I needed to get my point across. And in the end? Well, I don't know what level he will grade me at yet, most likely at a basic level which isn't good enough to be considered bilingual, but he gave me some positive feedback......and reinforced my notion that I had an aptitude for languages.


Since then............I have written a 3 hour writing and reading comprehension exam, which I think I completed satisfactorily considering I haven't conjugated a french verb since high school in 1978. After my hands stopped shaking from writing non stop........the relief I felt standing in the parking lot again.......looking around while smiling and taking in the fresh air..........gladness most definately.

Yesterday, I walked into the job interview. I had earned the right as far as I was concerned, to be sitting in a boardroom with three interveiwers, to be peppered with what if scenario questions. I wasn't nervous at all..........I was calm, focused and determined to give it my best shot......... I offered up my best shiny ME, the one who isn't fully capable of leading a bilingual meeting without the help of translators (which BTW is the norm)...........but the one who has a deep well of gifts and knowledge perfect for the job that just may be what they are really looking for.

I've done all I could. And I've got to say............Lamott was right. In between the moments of frustration, daily anxieties, between the day to day mundane, or during the times when conflict takes hold of our own thinking, our own lives..........grace eventually shows up. For me, it clearly showed up in the encouragement I was given from my friends and family, in the pep talks I had with a good friend who knows me well enough that I needed to do this.....that I needed to climb this hill or I'd be forever angry over it..........a moment of gladness occured between a colleague and myself who is also one of my references. Just before the written exam, she gave me a "Oneness blessing" in her office................where she pressed her positive energy into me..........and left me feeling more calm and more focused......and more apt to just go with the flow. It helped.

But, I think the biggest moment of gladness came when I returned home. My kids who have seen me in tears over this whole frustrating situation, were now able to see that I found the fortitude to follow through on something I wasn't comfortable doing. In all of my own self centred mewing, I somehow offered them a lesson. That makes me gladder than glad.

Gratitude and grace in the ordinary moments of gladness. Maybe that's how we learn to deal with the biggie conflicts in life. Well, that's how I see it now.

ps. the other irritation after reading Lamott's book? I wished I had written it.

It's in the moments of gladness where we find a moment of awareness. Moments of gladness register stillness, even if it is fleeting.


The Harbour of Ourselves said...

What was it Samuel Johnson said?
Our brightest blazes of gladness are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks...

Awareness said... find the best quotes. I love this one. I guess this is what makes life so just never know where and when a spark will be kindled. The spontaneity of these blazes for me seem to happen more often if i have the guts to put myself out there. Do you know what I mean?
Over the Christmas holidays, I more or less cocooned myself at home. We had lots of company...I was busy, but not overextended and enjoyed it all, but I didn't leave my home very often. This week, I returned to work. Just being in and around downtown, seeing people I hadn't connected with in a while, bumping into familiar folks, counselling, teaching, meeting new people, interacting in the community again after my hiatus from it all reinforced my feeling that I wouldn't be a good "stay at home" all the time person. I thrive on the liveliness and unpredictability of community. As much as bright blazes of gladness happen right in my living room from time to time, the unexpected sparks happen when I put myself OUT THERE.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I need the oxygen of open spaces and interactions to fuel me AND to help me remain confident in being able to do it over and over again.

ps. This post was so long, I didn't think anyone would read the whole darn thing.....thank you for commenting.

Jane Poe (aka Deborah) said...

What a wonderful learning experience for you ... I know that the whatever the outcome, you are on the right path. Peace & love, JP/deb

Awareness said...

Hey are so right. it has been a good learning that produced a whole lot of discomfort while I tried to sort out whether or not I would even make an attempt. I guess sometimes the more discomfort, the more the challenge...I don't know. I do believe I am on the right path. At least i'm moving forward...where this will lead, who knows. but, if this doesn't pan out because I don't have enough french....I gave it my best shot. It's now up to the fate fairies. Having said that, I'm not planning to sit on my haunches and wait it out. I will pursue other avenues at the same time...its such a bitch looking for work

derick said...

what an amazing and inspiring posting on the inner turmoils and the grappling of demons.
every moment is an opportunity and to accomplish what you have done shows the remarkable spirit that is present in all of us, if we only give it a chance, let go of the fears and surrender and find that place of magnificence which just keeps on flowing.
thank you
good luck

Tori said...

Wow!! Bravo to you for following through. You are amazingly brave and what a fine example you set for your children as you live your best life. I think,because of all the choices you made,you will have no regrets no matter what the outcome. Very inspiring!

Awareness said...

welcome derick and thank you for your feedback. yes, it was a demon wrestling turmoil and I am happy to have made it out the other end of it. Once the surrendering thing happened in my thinking (and most definately reinforced by my friend's remarkable oneness blessing....which i felt whenever i could feel the anxiety returning during the test) it did feel much like it flowed.

Tori. Thanks! the regrets like you write, have been tossed aside, most definately. whatever happens......happens.