April 30, 2018
This is the fourth post in the six-part series, I Can't Get No Satisfaction.
One of the conclusions drawn from my last post is that I feel my best self, my confident self, my most at-ease self with security in general and financial stability, in particular.
The irony is that the commitment to explore my own needs and to live in ways that make me feel good about being alive can be in conflict with Damien's drive to do the same! This is one type of tension I was referring to in a previous post.
At this point in the conversation, I can hear the messages of "self-sacrifice and serve others first". This is the inheritance of growing up in a faith tradition with a big emphasis on sacrifice. That whole Jesus thing.
Service to others is one of the highest callings of humans and it's how we fulfill a desire to love and worship God. But it's a matter of personal responsibility and human agency for the individual to know their own needs and pursue meeting those needs to be a fulfilled human. And ironically, a truly fulfilled human is someone serving family, community, and society. Fulfilled humans serve others, but healthy service depends on healthy individuals.
The beautifully synergistic truth is we meet our individual needs by reaching out for connection, security, significance, authenticity, etc. and finding that others are reaching right back to us to meet their own needs.
I need you to help me meet my needs and you need me to help you meet yours. Our needs are met in the flow between us.
Healthy people own their needs and desires, they are not afraid to identify them, to reach out to satisfy them and find that others are reaching out just the same, seeking to satisfy their own unique needs and desires. And where our hands meet is where we mutually serve and love one another.
Most often, our hands don't meet at the exact halfway point, it's not about finding "the perfect middle" so much as it is about making the connection. And in this way we love and serve, experiencing the give and receive of human existence.
Where our hands connect is where the need is met.
We are still working out, by living it out, what this looks like in our marriage and this stage of family life. And by extension, what this looks like in community and extended familial relationships.
Living in the city helps facilitate belonging to a niche community (homeschoolers) and gives access to the opportunities to help our kids grow and launch into adulthood. And securing better-paid employment (which coincided with our move to Montreal, but was not dependant upon it) provides the stability I need.
Yet life in the city and our commitment to community and employment constricts, circumscribes, puts boundaries around our ability to meet other needs in our lives.
This is a tension, a state of emotional, spiritual or psychological discomfort that arises from the inherent contradiction, complexity, nuance, and ambiguity of living.
Living in the city hasn't been easy for Damien especially. Although we have points of common interest, values, and needs, he draws from a different well than I do, and his well has been running low these last few years.
Having secured a new job this winter, Damien has the energy and resources to actively pursue filling his well, to meet his Damien-specific needs. But it's a constant juggle of the most precious resource - time. Time for work, time for kids, time for us, time for his own needs, time for everything else.
I have a friend at homeschool co-op whose family spends a couple months of the school year living in Prince Edward Island. The otherwise homeschooled kids plug into the local school system, my friend's husband does his work (he has a unique occupation with a clientele in PEI), my friend gets a break from homeschooling her four kids and her part-time work as a nurse, and their whole life takes on a different rhythm and flavor than their life in the Montreal suburb where they usually live.
My friend tells me she's a different person there and I believe it. I know what she means.
Being out in the woods, skiing our bodies tired, being in the cathedral of nature, exultant at the snow and the sun and even at the ache in my legs from the work-out, I am a different person from my city self. I feel like the real me.
I had a deep sense of the "real me" last summer when we were traveling before the anxiety hit. It was an overall feeling that accompanied me for the first six weeks of our journey, a satisfaction with life, a contented feeling of "this is us". This is what we do as a family, we go places and do stuff, we have experiences.
But I had a strong, visceral "this is the real me" moment in a most unexpected place, a sense of being exactly where I'm meant to be, doing what I'm meant to do, feeling content and at-ease with myself.
You might imagine that feeling hit in the pine woods of Lake Tahoe, in the redwoods of Northern California, in Garden of the Gods in Colorado. Those were all fabulous and wonderful in their own way, very positive experiences, but the strongest sense of contentment with self, hit me at a laundromat in Albany, California.
After three weeks on the boat in Berkeley I'd finally discovered the best laundromat in town with free parking, quality machines, and clean work space. I had scored.
I felt secure and confident in my ability to orient myself to new places. I was taking care of my family, we were having a grand adventure in a unique place. I was surrounded by natural beauty and sunny skies, navigating my way around San Francisco, the East Bay and Marin county. I felt free, competent, resourceful, and connected. The feeling was visceral, a flood of contentment and ease. And I remember thinking, this is the "real me" that my friends at home never see.
Maybe this help explains the phenomenon of social media and selfies. Look, here I am doing this thing. I feel great about myself! Can you see me here? Can you see the real me?
Social media is accused as being a false front but maybe we also use these tools as a mirror to help us reflect back to ourselves who we are in that moment. Because we want to remember and find her again. (I didn't take a selfie at the laundromat but I remember the feeling of joy and contentment like it was yesterday.)
Thankfully the real me didn't remain at that laundromat in northern California, or get lost in the redwoods somewhere. The real me also lives right here in this Montreal apartment, writing by the window, making home and putzing in the kitchen. I feel happy here. At ease, content. I love my home, my safe space in the world.
The real me exists in my city-defined relationships with friends, gathering around shared meals and kid-centered activities (she feels a little muted in some of these environments but she's there, under a few layers). The real me thrives meeting with my Spiritual Director, in a decidedly Montreal Catholic context. The real me is happily planning this summer's urban garden. All of these situations make me excited about the possibility of connection, growth, and beauty, expressions of the real me.
Ironically, all this stability and community fans the flame of desire to hit the road, to leave it all behind for open adventure, big skies and big beauty. And sourcing the best laundromat in town.
Let's just accept the irony that for me, stability fosters the desire for new experiences. In part because Damien is always eager for new experiences. It's something we share. I might have grown a different response to stability in a different partnership.
Life. Me. Marriage. Mothering. The whole works is inherently complex and at times contradictory. It's not either/or but both/and. This is the tension of life.
When I feel secure I want to go places. I literally start googling routes and locations, rentals (this winter it was Airbnbs in Norway) and equipment (last winter it was Scamp trailers).
I open myself to adventure.
But adventures lead to unknown territory (that's the definition of true adventure), a certain amount of "leaping out in faith", moving past what you can plan, and all of that feels threatening to my security and stability. The very thing I need to be open to adventure in the first place.
Which means that every time I feel secure enough, and decide to venture out and explore (move, take on the risks of self-employment, hike the AT, go on long, budget-conscious roadtrips, etc.) I will hit a place in which I need to retreat back to safety, to regroup before moving on.
If I can't retreat, re-group, re-center, find my footing, if I can't find security and we still keep moving forward, my well-being will start to deteriorate, leading to anxiety, burnout, and breakdown.
I've learned these things through trial and error.
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