“"What a liberation to realize that the “voice in my head””
is not who I am" ~Eckhart Tolle
I haven’t written a new blog post because I haven’t been inspired to write one. Lots of things have happened in the last two months. I discovered my paternal grandfather was a made member of one of New York’s major organized...
I’m not abandoning this blog, but clearly I have let a lot of time go by without posting. I’ve written several drafts of different posts, but never published them, obviously. Not because I didn’t like their content. I did....
I haven’t blogged these past two weeks because I’ve been possessed by an obsession with wanting a new house, a particular new house. What the Buddha said is true. All suffering comes from becoming ATTACHED (key word: attached)...
I haven’t written a new blog post because I haven’t been inspired to write one.
Lots of things have happened in the last two months. I discovered my paternal grandfather was a made member of one of New York’s major organized crime families for all the years my father was growing up, and at least a decade before he was born, and all the way until he was off into Medical School. I’ve been corresponding with an FBI researcher, an expert on the American mafia, and specifically La Cosa Nostra of which my grandfather was, apparently, a key figure. I have all the facts. I’ve become obsessed by them, actually. I think about them morning, noon, and night, and run over and over in my head the possibilities of how these facts effected the internal world of my father. The father that has been such a tragic figure in my life.
I am ashamed that this is who my grandfather was. I am ashamed that my belief of being the product of hardworking immigrants was a sham. That I am, in fact, the product of a criminal. That all the lying done to me by my own mother and father was simply a continuation of the lying my father’s father did to him, the world, himself, and the United States government.
In 1980, I remember going to Sicily to see this grandfather of mine. He had Alzheimer’s at the time. We took a rented cinque-cento to the apartment complex in which he lived part of the time — “Grandma and Grandpa’s city house,” my parents called it. Later I would find out that my grandfather owned not only the apartment in which he lived, but the entire high rise, PLUS the two high rises adjacent to it. When he died, in 1982, there was a lot of hub-hub over my father and his brothers inheriting this valuable, prime real estate in the heart of downtown Palermo. Millions and millions of US dollars would go to each of the sons of this man. Where did my grandfather, the so-called dressmaker immigrant who raised his four boys in the early years in Bensonhurst Brooklyn, get the millions and millions of dollars — in the form of billions and billions of Italian lire — to pay for such prime real estate? Well, the answer is obvious to me now.
So many answers are obvious.
I remember walking into that dark penthouse apartment in Palermo, that summer of 1980, behind my father, who entered the room, a dining room, around which sat several old men smoking cigars. I remember my father walking up to the old man in the wheelchair. He was stooped over. Only a smattering of thin gray hairs sprouted from his speckled bald head. His mouth hung open, drool spilling from the sides of it. My father walked up to him and knelt before him. My father placed his head on this old man in the wheelchair’s lap. I watched, at the age of five, as my father’s shoulders shook, as this old man’s eyes filled with fat tears, as he kissed the mass of thick, wavy, dark hair on my father’s head.
Now I think — obsessively — about the reasons behind these emotions. The sorrow. The tears. The regret. The inability to take back what is irrevocably one’s life.
I know I must write about this. Write thoroughly about this. I have been piecing together a timeline to understand how my grandfather fell into the role of consigliere of this family. How he became the target of FBI surveillance during the years my father was at Brooklyn Polytechnical High School, then New York University, then University of Lousiville Medical School. How much did my father know about what his father was doing during these years?
I have all the names. I have all the dates. I have all the ACTUAL FBI surveillance documents. I have the actual photograph of my grandfather — the one that I hung on our dining room wall when we first moved into this house in Northeast Portland as a way for my kids to remember their ancestors, their Sicilian immigrant great-grandfather, who had the balls to leave his country of origin, risk it all, and seek the American dream, a better life for his kids; a story that I now know was all bullshit fed to me by my father — attached to the biography of my grandfather from the crime files given to me by this mafia expert. There it is. The guy who made my dad and a quarter of whose DNA runs through my blood. A guy who’s done God knows what.
The best man at my grandfather’s wedding was a well-known mafia assassin.
These facts make me sick. They keep me up at night.
Eckhart Tolle, how does one stay IN THE PRESENT MOMENT when one discovers that one’s past contains dark and terrible secrets? How does one LET GO of the past and just BE without processing the past, without attempting to make sense of the past?
So this is the dead-end to which I’ve come with this blog. The spiritual journey has come to a screeching halt. I have to address this thing somehow, likely through uncovering all the facts and exposing all the truth my father denied me about that side of my family. Perhaps by writing about it. So that’s what I think I’ll do.
A part of me fears writing about this. All the documentation I’ve read about La Cosa Nostra and my grandfather’s associates says that this particular family was remarkably successful at keeping things a mystery. In other words, they were excellent at lying, at covering up, and DENIAL.
I’ve always said my father was the king of denial, when it came to my mother. Now I know from where he learned it.
So it’s late. I’ve just written a post that scares me a bit. And I haven’t written in so very long that I’m not sure it means anything that I’m posting at all. I have basically broken every rule of successful blogging there is. Zero consistency. No themes. No lists. No links. No nothing.
This is mostly just for me. A forum to process my journey, so I can make sense of it.
Ciao. More later…Read More
I’ve written several drafts of different posts, but never published them, obviously. Not because I didn’t like their content. I did. It’s just that I never found the time to wrap up each one, and so each time I came back to an unfinished post, my mind had already moved on to another topic, and, hence, a new beginning to an unfinished post was born. Several times over.
I’ve read that letting more than a week go by without posting on a blog is blog-suicide. A few times, I considered taking it down. Once, I erupted in anger at my husband, out of the blue, when he merely asked me how my day was and my only internal response was, “Yet again, I didn’t write on that new blog of mine,” which prompted me to say, “I’m taking down my blog, you know!” Almost as if I was sticking it to him. What I was sticking to him, I don’t know. And God knows, he had no clue why I was saying that when he hadn’t even referred to the blog, much less why I was so incensed about it.
I should give him more credit. He knows me well. No doubt he gathered that I was frustrated by never having the amount of uninterrupted time in my day to give to creating quality written work. Quality being a relative term, and, as far as his wife is concerned, a term that implies perfection.
Perfection my several unfinished blog posts were not.
And so here I am, a month out from my last post, writing about absolutely nothing other than the simple statement that I am not going to abandon the blog. If there’s one thing I’m NOT going to do, it is to quit this blog.
Quitting has always been a forte of mine. Just as soon as I view myself as going from EXCELLENT at something to MEDIOCRE at that something, I duck and run. I can’t count how many time I’ve done this.
Nobody reads this blog anyway. Especially now, after this long since I last posted. My meager few readers from a month ago have no doubt shaken their heads with disappointment in me upon touching this website — www.attendingmylife.com — and finding nothing but the same old post entitled “The House That Made Me Lost.”
The girl had potential; but now she’s showing her true colors. That’s what I hear them saying. Or that’s what the critical, cynical, judgmental voice in my head hears them saying, anyway.
I’ve been reading a lot of fiction in the meanwhile, you know. And the spiritual journey that led me to dreamily begin this blog has been at somewhat of a standstill. Not that I am still not forever changed by the philosophies of Tolle and Zen Buddhism, but you know how spirituality can come in waves? For a period of time, you can feel “floaty” in the world; and then you sort of drift to the ground and become more a part of the mundane again. Though that “floaty” quality is latent, and you know it, and you can still taste it in your mouth here or there; but you can’t quite summon its fullest intensity by will. And so you just go with the lull. And proceed with life. Trying as you can to lift off onto that cloud again, but knowing that it can’t just happen; it needs to be patiently awaited.
So I have a choice, as I see it: take down the blog because I’m struggling to write a weekly post on the subject of my spiritual journey OR keep the blog and write about my struggles as a temporarily spiritually diminished person?
Life has been fine lately. Great, actually. We had a fantastic Spring Break, the six of us. Went skiing in Hoodoo in Central Oregon. Stayed a couple days at a beautiful resort called Pronghorn, where the kids rode bikes freely and my husband and I had really quality time together as a couple — something we rarely get. The weather was beautiful. Sunshine. Dry. CLEAN — gloriously CLEAN — AIR. Anyone who’s never been to Oregon and breathed in the air here must make that an item on her bucket list. Breathing in air in Central Oregon is a transcendental experience. You feel instantly ten years younger. And the word HEALTHY no longer feels like something to aspire to be; it becomes something you FEEL upon waking. Just by existing.
I’ve been reading a lot of fiction…did I say that already?? Anyway…part of my feeling disgruntled about posting on this blog is that I’ve had desires to write fiction, not nonfiction, and particularly not nonfiction about myself…
I’ve also had the unfortunate experience of the woman who gave birth to me (I don’t call her “mother” because she was never a loving presence in my life; not in the least), out of the blue, choosing to disrespect my request that she not contact me or my family EVER. Yesterday, I sent my daughter to get the mail, and there it was: that awful circular scrawl on the front of a large pink envelope, the sight of which made my stomach do flip flops and instilled in me the FEAR OF GOD. Do you remember that Julia Roberts movie about the woman who was married to the abusive, pathologically controlling husband? Do you remember that desperate escape she made from him, willing to do just about anything to flee from his oppressive clutches? Well, just as I imagine her VISCERAL FEAR as she fled him, that is how I feel to my bones whenever the woman whose DNA I must claim is fifty-percent mine in anyway infiltrates my life.
But I was proud of myself. When my daughter, who knows some of my personal history — “Your maternal grandmother was hurtful to her children when they were young, and she persists in lying about the truth of how she treated them” is the general sum of what my children know — approached me with wide eyes, holding the envelope and carefully choosing the words with which to announce its identity: ”Umm…Mom?…I think your…Mom…well…I think this is from her…”
Inside, my first reaction was panic. Heart pounding, head tightening. Then, I went straight to mindful presence. Not letting the frightened child in me take over. ”Oh,” I told her, “That’s too bad” — using the same tone I’d use if remarking on bad weather –”Just rip it up.”
I was sure of everything except that last instruction to my daughter. I guess part of me wanted her to know that I wasn’t willing to open a letter from a person who has hurt me and whom I’d asked NOT to write me; that I wasn’t the sort of person who was going to engage in drama with someone like that. And so: rip it up seemed a symbolic act of that, to myself, and to my daughter. Problem was, as I finished up in the bathroom, my daughter was standing over the kitchen garbage can attempting to rip up a FAT pink envelope, which, it turned out, contained a pile of photographs of my biological forbears with my biological offspring (apologies for my excessive euphemisms…I can’t bring myself to call them parents…), taken in the years PRIOR to my awakening to the ills of having my abuser in my life and the life of my children, PRIOR to my standing up to my abuser and saying firmly that I DID NOT WANT HER or HER PARTNER in my life EVER AGAIN.
The intent with which i knew my maternal forbear was sending this was but a clear sign that she had not changed.
In the ten or fifteen minutes after I joined my daughter at the garbage can and helped her dispose of the rest of the envelope’s contents (swiftly gathering the photographs and stuffing them under a pile of eggshells and orange peels), my daughter and her younger sister began peppering me with questions about the people responsible for this, the ones they’d just been startled to see were in photographs with THEM — my biological parents whom they hardly remember. They were questions whose answers I could not possibly make 100% truthful, as 100% truthful is disturbing even to adult ears, much less those of my tender eight and ten year-olds. Hence, I had to swallow the difficult pill of not having my children understand precisely why I cut out their maternal grandparents from their lives. They sort of do, as they understand that mom’s mother was mean and hurtful to her. But the extent of that pain is not something I want them to ever truly know. And so I must be willing to sacrifice the desperate desire the little girl in me has to have people believe me! Believe me that those two adults were not good to me! Please, please, PLEASE believe me! No one believes me! They will come back and hurt me! People will believe them over little old me! I have to convince others so I can stay protected! I have to convince others so they don’t side with them!
It is the most difficult thing a little abused girl can do: not tell the whole awful truth to convince the ones she most loves so that they will understand her motives and support her and protect her. But with small kids, it is what I must do as their mother. Protect them from my truth. And hope that my daily respect and love for them will one day show them that I deserve their love back. Will one day inspire in them a belief that their mother’s decision to do what she did when they were young — extricate the family from those two people — was the absolute best decision for them and for her.
Time to close my eyes and jump off the blogging cliff. Time to publish this EXTREMELY IM-PERFECT post. Time to change the precedent and stop aiming to make a post perfect; otherwise the blog will commit suicide, and I don’t want that to happen.
Kind of fun writing today because I’m thinking everyone thinks this blog is dead now anyway, so nobody will likely be reading it, which means imperfection is not to be feared that much more by MOI!
Have an imperfectly mindful day. Or at least pay attention to the fact that you are not having an imperfectly mindful day. Either way, at least you’re aware in some way.Read More
What the Buddha said is true. All suffering comes from becoming ATTACHED (key word: attached) to desiring something you do not have.
Which is precisely what began happening in me on the day after Valentine’s Day when I first laid eyes on this home. It had come up during a casual search I’d conducted on RMLS online, when I was just internet-window-shopping for fun, seeing what homes happened to be for sale in a certain rural area west of town that had always interested me. My husband and I went to see it on that Friday, just for kicks, to satisfy a mild curiosity, and we were taken aback by falling instantly in love with it. And I do mean LOVESTRUCK. From that moment to just a day or two ago, neither of us were able to stop thinking about wanting it to be ours. DESIRE dominated our waking moments and grew bigger by the day. Progress on my spiritual journey to be more mindful and slay my egoic voices was stalled. I became singularly focused on wanting that house to be OURS, to moving to that little piece of heaven with our kids, and to making a brand-new life for ourselves — a life I imagined to be different and BETTER than the one we were in now. I felt anything but PEACE within.
We decided to go for it. We called our long-time real estate agent and got the ball rolling, feeling out the owner (there was no seller’s agent) and discussing how to sell our house so we could make a contingent offer. We went on Mapquest.com a million times, trying to map out routes from the house to the many places we would need to go — the kids’ school, their swim team practice, my husband’s work, the grocery store. It was located on eleven acres northwest of the city of Portland, so to get there, you had to drive deep into the woods on winding back country roads. Which is why we kept going on Mapquest.com. We had to figure out how we would make our lives — especially our childrens’ — flow smoothly if we lived there. We wanted this house in the woods on all those acres because we wanted a quieter life, a simpler existence. So if we were in the car all the time, driving great distances to and from school and home, what good would a “Zen” house be?
For a week and a half, we gripped the notion of moving to this house so hard our knuckles turned white. Everything that turned up as a potential roadblock — the inordinate commute, the inevitable need to switch the kids to a new school that was public, the care and maintenance of eleven acres — we knocked down with a good solution. Get used to driving more — everyone in the country does it. Switching schools will be good for the kids — teaching them to handle life changes will build their characters. Teach the kids how to drive a tractor — learning how to work and try new things will help them believe in their abilities. Or hire a landscaper.
We wanted the house so badly, we were willing to make it work, no matter what.
We stayed up late into the night during that week and a half, gearing up to buy this new home. We discussed it ad nauseum. I tossed and turned in bed at night, picturing myself creating an organic garden and my husband lobbing a football to my son across that massive yard. I imagined myself wearing jeans and work boots all the time and writing at a desk with a window overlooking grass and trees and trees and more trees. I saw myself hopping in a pick-up truck and bouncing down the winding country roads to retrieve my kids from their new little school on top of a hill. It was a dream I’d always had, to live in the country, and I could practically taste it.
But we’d only actually seen the house that one time. So it made sense that we should drive out there again before going through with the whole deal, just to make sure we were okay with the location. To get a real-time sense of those driving distances we’d been so obsessively Mapquesting for a week. (Underlying all our excitement, there was the nagging concern neither of us wanted to articulate that we could be getting ourselves into something over our heads.) So, nine days after we’d toured it and fallen head over heels in love with it, we went to take one last look at it. One final test drive–literal and figurative– of this new dream of a life on which we were about to embark.
At first, it was fine –the drive out of Portland on Highway 26; the exit onto Cornelius Pass Road; even the arrival at the intersection of Cornelius Pass and Skyline Road. We’d remembered doing all of that on our first visit. But the jog around Skyline to Rock Creek Road and beyond? That was the part of the drive I hadn’t exactly remembered. Maybe I’d been chatting or thinking about something else the first time we’d driven it, but whatever the case may be, I clearly had blocked out how deep into the woods — and I do mean DEEP — the house was.
By the time we finally reached the house, my heart had sunk to my feet. I knew there was no way I could regularly drive those roads and get the kids to where they needed to go unless I conceded to live in our Suburban for the greater part of my day. EVERY DAY. And when I imagined those chunks of time when my husband needed to go away on a work trip? My GOD. I couldn’t swallow the idea of being holed up in that deep pocket of the woods, that far from civilization, with the kids, all by myself. It frightened me, honestly. There were houses not too far up the road from the house we wanted which reminded me of the movie The Deliverance. S-C-A-R-Y. Think abandoned cars. Think possible meth labs. Suddenly, the idea of being all alone there with the kids and some emergency happening and my husband being out of state was freaking me out.
“So…can you see yourself living there?” My husband asked me, as we made our way around the circuitous route back to Skyline and human civilization.
Sadly, I said no. No, I knew I could not. Too Deep. If only the house weren’t so deep, then it would be perfect.
I felt a bit of a lump in my throat when I told him that. Yet I knew it was definitive for me. I’d become so attached to the idea of living there, the idea of NOT living there HURT.
We drove back to our home of the past twelve years — a 1923 bungalow in the heart of an urban neighborhood in Northeast Portland — in silence. Everything we’d been talking about the past nine days felt kaput. It stung. We’d wanted the dream. We’d ridden the wave of excitement, imagining all that would change and the beauty of living in that oasis of perfection — the log-cabin-like home, all newly remodeled with cedar and spa-like bathrooms outfitted with stone and tiles; the huge great room with the cook’s kitchen; the sunroom off the back of the house, which faced South, with its floor to ceiling windows; the two decks; the many skylights; the two sheds spaced well away from the house, which my husband and I had fantasized about someday turning into a cozy guest quarters and a yoga studio; that freaking beautiful yard, with the five acres of perfectly manicured grass and the six acres of forest beyond, all that would belong to us. Just us. And now it was all gone. Burst like a bubble, with a painful “POP!”
We called our agent and put a stop to the offer she was drawing up to submit to the owner. We told her we’d driven out there once again, just to make sure the location was doable for us, and we’d realized it just wouldn’t work for our family, not a busy family of six. She made the call to the owner, and just like that, we went back to the reality that we lived in the same house we’d been in since 2001, and we weren’t going anywhere.
Since then, I’ve tried to write a post for this blog about this whole subject, and I’ve written pages and pages of NOTHING. I threw them all away. Everything sounded forced. I couldn’t find my real self’s voice. It was just an ego writing, trying to jazz up my descriptions of the house and the story to make it more interesting than it actually was. This afternoon, I spent two hours trying to edit and revise one of those drafts — the longest one — and still didn’t have the heart to publish it. Something was wrong with it. I didn’t like the way I sounded in it. Whiney. Contrived. Trying too hard. No point.
Tonight, I did what I do every evening after dinner, and took Whitey, our dog, for a walk around the neighborhood. I put my headphones in my ears, as I always do, and turned on an episode of Tara Brach’s podcast. In it, she talked about how we sometimes seek comfort in false refuges such as material wealth or a sense of control. I thought about the house and my attachment to it. I thought about how sad I felt when it slipped through our fingers, when we knew it wouldn’t work. I thought about how I’d been stuffing my food in my mouth without tasting it these past nine days. How I’d been looking in the mirror more these past nine days, finding things about my body to criticize. How I’d spent precious time I could have been reading my novel or talking to my husband or playing chess with my son searching the internet for a new handbag; then checking mapquest again; then looking at the house on RMLS again; then looking to see what boots were on sale at Nordstrom; then back to mapquest and RMLS; and so on and so on. The Monkey Mind in command. EGO at rule.
Somehow, when the idea of buying that house fell from the sky of fate, all my work of being present and mindful and fully accepting of all that is NOW had gone out the window. WANTING that house had put me right back into the SUFFERING the Buddha talked about. Now I was suffering from all ends because wanting had piled upon more wanting upon even more wanting.
I turned off Tara Brach’s gentle voice, pushing pause on my iPhone, and relaxed my brow. It, too, had been furrowed almost on a constant basis these past two weeks. There was my dog. There was the perfect night sky, deep blue, but light enough for the outlines of the trees to cut intricate silhouettes. There was the air — I breathed it in. It was cool and fresh. There was the sound of the pitter patter of Whitey’s gait. A man was exiting his car in a long overcoat, carrying a cumbersome instrument case of some kind — a bass? a cello? — into his home. Back at our home — the cozy bungalow we’d fallen in love with when we were 26 and 27 and the parents of only one child, a 10-month old — my four children were reading in their beds with their lamps on, their stuffed animals at their sides, their teeth brushed, their minds at ease. All was well in their worlds; and so, therefore, was mine.
Instead of seeking refuge in material wealth, Tara had said, we can find shelter through the gateways of TRUTH, LOVE, and AWARENESS. My Truth is all that I’ve said on this blog. Who I am is not my name or my outer appearance or my age or my education or my role as a mother and wife or MY HOUSE. My Truth is that which I am as I breathe in this air and listen to my dog sniff and see that neighbor enter his home and take in the night sky. My LOVE is those children in those beds and that husband tidying up the kitchen after dinner–as well as all beings with a beating heart with whom I share this world.
I am AWARE of the moment, and the moment feels HUGE. Funny how SMALL the moments of my life had felt when I took the dog on the same walk during these past two weeks. My attachment to wanting that house had literally SHRUNK the moments of my life. And I wanted them to feel HUGE again. Huge and in technicolor. Here is MY LIFE right NOW.
The rest of my walk tonight felt almost sublime. I felt humbled by the realization that I’d lost my way — that the wanting of that house had made me lose my way. And humbled that I had been wanting a new life when the one I have is so perfect, just as it is. By the end of the walk, I spoke in my head a promise to myself NOT to look for homes again, not for a long, long while.
How easily and insidiously the ego can creep up on you when you least expect it. For me, a cursory search of RMLS online just “to see what is out there when we eventually move” had resulted in an ignition of my EGO at full throttle.
There was a lightness in my step as I reached the gate of our driveway and unfastened Whitey’s harness and leash. I forgave myself for the pages of crap I’d written in an attempt to create a fabulous blog post about the amazing house that was going to change my life. Philip Roth, whom some say is the greatest American writer alive, has said that one of the worst things about being a writer is all the writing you have to throw away. I used to agree wholeheartedly with him on this. But not tonight. Tonight, I felt grateful for all the hours of frenzied effort I’d undertaken to write run-on-sentence after run-on-sentence as I tried to force a plausible and flowery excuse for why I hadn’t written a new post in so long. An excuse which said, in a nutshell, that I was too busy to write a post because we were about to buy a house, and let me tell you all about how fabulous it is and why life is going to rock once we buy it! All those multi-tangential, nonsensical drafts were the work of my EGO, not mine. And now they existed as undeniable proof that I had failed to step back and witness my ego’s WANTING and so got swept up by its allure. I’d lost my way.
Tara Brach says, “If we can learn to open to the aliveness within us, we discover that we can love this life no matter what.”
Have a mindful day, in the home you are in.
Okay, I am no longer hoping people read this blog. Seriously. I am over it. I just want to go back to how I felt the day I sat down to write the “About Me” page, when not a soul knew I was blogging, not even my husband. When everything seemed clear, and when I sat down at the computer to write, I felt serene. Without expectations. With zero concern about what people might think.
What happened between then and now? A span of only ten days? How had I gone from last Monday’s fearlessly calm and super heroic self-assuredness to today’s frantic desperation to gain influence over others’ perception of me?
These were the thoughts running through my mind this morning as I was scrambling eggs for my kids before school. I could hear their chattering voices in the background, but they sounded distant to my ears, and I could only ascertain pieces of what they were saying — something about Valentine’s Day, something about their upcoming swim meet this weekend, something about a book report. I stood there, robotically shoving the uncooked eggs around in the pan with the spatula, utterly inattentive to my children because of the many screaming voices of fear — of my EGO–in my head. The voices had legitimate FEARS ABOUT THIS BLOG, past and future. The past? The three posts I’d already written and published. The future? The millions of possible negative scenarios that would come of those three posts–essentially, every conceivable critical judgment those who had read my blog could be making about WHO I AM.
What a HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE idea it was, writing this blog. I had ruined the carefully constructed image of myself to the eight people with whom I’ve shared it. Eight people whose opinion of me I value. My best friend and female soulmate of 19 years; my husband’s best friend from college, who happens to be an ACTUAL working writer in L.A.; his wife, who is a bonafide TV producer; my best fellow Mom friend who I’m sure thinks I am a complete nut now that she’s read it and realized I am not at all the stable, typical soccer-mom-of-four I’ve always thought she thought of me as; the mom I don’t know that well but who happens to herself be an aspiring writer, to whom I casually mentioned my blog while standing outside on the playground yesterday afternoon–God knows why; the old friend whom I haven’t seen in twenty-five years, whom I reconnected with randomly over email, who happens to also be the first person I ever fell in love with; another of my husband’s friends who has struggled with addiction and similar demons as mine; my dear sister-in-law in Virginia who is an extremely devout Christian and most definitely must have thoughts about how depraved I am after reading it; my only sibling and brother, whose opinion I treasure, and who must be shaking his head that I wrote about our biological family…
JESUS! What was I thinking?!!! (Apologies to my sister-in-law, on behalf of my EGO, for taking her Lord’s name in vain) Not only in writing this blog, but in sharing it with those eight people?!
“Mom, I don’t like these eggs. They’re too dry.” My pickiest eater — my ten year-old — was scraping her eggs into the compost bin and grimacing.
Right. My kids. They’re right here, in the room with me. Amazing how easily I can disconnect from those around me when the voices are that loud.
“Mmmhmm.” I said, trying to regain focus on the present.
But mindfulness was eluding me. I couldn’t grasp the NOW. I was in a frenzied state, obsessing over this blog. I was feeling the overwhelming pressure to compose another post — a future post far more meaningful and SPECIAL than yesterday’s post, or the first two. Especially yesterday’s, though. That idea to make the entire blog post about EARRINGS was embarrassing to me now. It seemed so unsophisticated a subject, so childish. I began to rack my brain, recalling those eight people again, trying to imagine what each one of them probably REALLY thought about that post about my earrings–how stupid they must have REALLY found my extracted meaning in that whole experience, which in retrospect seemed ridiculous to me. Especially in light of starving children in Africa, mothers with stage 4 cancer, medically fragile children who are lucky if they live past 18. How dare I act as if any of my trivial concerns had any meaning?
Stupid. Ridiculous. Trite. I was all that and more. Just HORRIBLE. My EGO was on fire.
I loaded the kids, the lunch boxes, the backpacks, the dog, my purse, and my coffee mug in the car, still dazed by the barrage of fearful thoughts in my head and only vaguely aware of my children’s movements and speech. I turned on the car and let it idle there in the driveway. I knew we were running late, yet I was seized by the urgent need to get out my iPhone and pull up my blog to re-read it, re-analyze it, dissect every sentence from those three posts.
“Mom! It’s 8:05! We’re gonna be tardy if we don’t go now!” I glanced in the rearview mirror at my redheaded 8 year-old, the one yelling at me. Seeing her freckled face, reddened with expression, I was reminded suddenly of my plan to live a MINDFUL life. I’d committed myself to try to live mindfully the moment I admitted my TV addiction to my husband four weeks ago. I took notice of her for the first time that day: she was wearing a headband with a bright pink bow, a pink and red polka-dotted scarf, and her favorite fuzzy pink vest. It’s Valentine’s Day. My third-grader is excited to get to school to celebrate it.
I put my iPhone in my purse and began driving. But I couldn’t seem to hold on to the MINDFULNESS that had fleetingly come into my awareness. A voice in my head — the EGO again–had returned to the previous line of obsessive thinking and was now instructing me to make a mental note to NEVER let anyone know –not EVER — that I am the sort of person who obsessively re-reads what she posts on her blog. I would die of humiliation if anyone knew I was this neurotic about my blog. I had to come across as a nonchalant blogger, the sort of person who can spit out her posts in fifteen minutes time, hit the publish button, log off the computer, and move on to bigger and more important things. If I could craft an image of myself as a casual blogger, then I could ensure the safety my EGO desired. Then if people who read my blog thought it sucked, then I would have the perfect answer for why it did–”Well, that blog is not really a big deal to me…it’s just this little thing I do on the side. I’ve got a million other projects going on, you know.” And if people thought the opposite, then I could come across as that much more brilliant. ”Oh really? you like it? Thanks…but it’s not a big deal to me…just a little thing I do on the side. I’ve got a million other projects going on, you know.”
I had to cover my bases. Someone who DOESN’T try hard to be brilliant and succeeds is far more brilliant than someone who TRIES hard to be brilliant and succeeds.
There, it was settled. Enough damage had already been done merely in the writing of those three blog posts and the sharing of them with those eight people. Now I had a plan for how to clean up the mess and silence my EGO. Step one: give off the impression that I write with abandon and a total lack of self-consciousness.
But of course that’s bullshit. I know that — the REAL ME knows that. The cacophony of paranoid voices holding my attention captive on this Valentine’s Day knows that.
And yet — the voices continued to slam around the walls of my skull like a pack of five year-olds going at it in an inflatable jump house. Why did you have to write THAT? Why did you have to tell HER? Why did you have to tell ANYBODY?
Meanwhile… my kids were exiting the car, headed into school. I’d been too preoccupied to ask them for kisses goodbye. As I watched their retreating figures, I felt the lines in my forehead deepen and my bottom lip split under the pressure of my upper teeth biting down on it. There went those four familiar backpacks, bobbing through the school doors. There went those four swinging fists, clutching Ziploc bags full of Valentine’s for their classmates.
By the time I was home again — by then it was 8:45 am — my monkey mind had grown more frenetic than ever, so frightened and intent on beating me down that it drove me to entertain the thought of bagging all my plans for the day and drawing the curtains shut. So I could do nothing but sit on the couch and stare at BRAVO reality shows on TV, snack on sweet things, and, basically, DISTRACT it. TURN OFF the voices. At some point, I could even disable the blog. Erase it from existence.
Thank God I had four weeks under my belt of mindful meditation and reading of Tolle every night and listening to every podcast on Buddhist psychology I could find on iTunes during my exercise sessions. Otherwise, I could very well have regressed and become a vegetable in front of the TV again. In one day, I could I have regained my former title as the world’s expert on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
Thanks, too, to my dog and my iPhone, who were instrumental — at approximately 9:00 am — in snapping me out of it.
Whitey, our amiable and large 10 year-old bicon frise, had been whining, anxious for me to walk him, ever since I walked through the front door. Dogs are epitomes of mindfulness, and he was more than aware of the beauty of the morning. (It was 50-something degrees, birds were chirping, the sun was even peeking out of the clouds — and in Portland in February, this would make anybody, especially a canine native to California, beside himself with excitement.) I grabbed my headphones and the leash, and set out with him, smiling at his eager, utterly mindful tail-wagging joy. I plugged the headphones in my ears and did what the geek in me always does to pass the time during exercise of any kind: I listened to people talk about things. At this moment, it was the latest Sounds True podcast I’d downloaded from iTunes that morning. An interview by Tami Simon, the SoundsTrue guru, with a guy named Bruce Tift, who wrote a book about Buddhism and Psychotherapy.
Tift knows about NEUROSES. I was intrigued, very much aware of my own neuroses all morning. At one point, Tift quoted Carl Jung: ”All Neurosis,” he said, “is a substitute for legitimate suffering.” Then he went on to explain that those of us with neurotic behaviors are really basically desperate to escape our true feelings — feelings which disturb us and make us uncomfortable in the feeling of them. We develop neurotic behaviors — obsessive-compulsiveness, anxiety, addiction, what have you — to distract ourselves from having TO FEEL THOSE FEELINGS. We are literally terrified of having to FEEL.
That’s when it clicked — the moment I snapped out of it.
It’s not as if the REAL ME didn’t already know what he was saying was true –after all the work I’ve done over the last six years in Jungian therapy and in reading Tolle and Alice Miller. But sometimes hearing something helps us remember what we already knew, but momentarily have forgotten.
So that’s what I had been doing all morning: running from the FEAR OF BEING SEEN FOR WHO I REALLY AM. The feeling of being SEEN as my authentic self was so terrifying to me, that I had created this neurotic line of repetitive and irrational thinking to distract myself from it. The fact was: my three blog posts were written from my REAL VOICE, not my EGO’s. Sure, the EGO played a part in the telling of my stories, but the real narrator was ME. And my EGO now was wanting to protect itself from harm. Not protect ME, but protect IT.
The harm of being seen as weak? As un-insightful? As lacking skills as a writer? As a blogger? As being exposed?
Sort-of, but not exactly. What was really going on was the EGO didn’t want to die. For thirty-eight years, it had worked tirelessly to sculpt an image of Giuseppina Rosanna D’Alessandro Sanger to the world, and it didn’t want its work to be for nothing. Every morning of my life, it had risen and contemplated what Rosanna should wear, do, or say to help shore up the image it wanted to convey to prying eyes. It had coached Rosanna through all of her decisions, in the hopes of achieving a future goal of convincing the world that Rosanna is THIS. NOT THAT. That Rosanna is SPECIAL because of this, this, and this.
It all made sense to me now. When I set out to write this blog last Monday, I wanted it to have a greater purpose than just a regurgitation of my experiences in crawling out of neuroses. I wanted it to help someone who might be struggling with the same things I’ve struggled with — depression, anxiety, compulsive behaviors, repeated identity-crises. If I was to REALLY do this — to really make a difference to other people — I had to be 100% willing to be transparent. I had to be willing to let people SEE ME FOR EXACTLY WHO I AM. I had to be present and honest with every word that I wrote, with no regrets after hitting PUBLISH. No ruminations of how to manipulate future posts to make myself look any particular way. I just had to let it pour out of the most raw and authentic part of me. End of story.
Today being Valentine’s Day, I am drawn to thinking about what all this has to do about LOVE. My thoughts turn to those EIGHT people whom I told about my blog–I must have chosen them for a reason. And it must have been because they were people whom I really wanted to SEE THE REAL ME. Which means they are people whom I love enough to want to love the real me.
Tara Brach says that love isn’t just about seeing someone for who they really are. It is also about LOVING WHAT WE SEE WHEN WE SEE WHO A PERSON REALLY IS. So the bottom line is, I am happy to know the eight of you have read what I have written — every last word of it. Because if you’ve read those three posts — and this one too — then you will see the REAL Rosanna. And if you love what you see, then you really love ME. Just as I want to see the real you, and, hopefully, love the real you.
I’ve been waiting this whole post to mention one last person. The NINTH person whom I told about my blog. Actually, he is literally the first person I told, but I call him the ninth because I’ve only told you that there were eight people. That person is my Valentine of EIGHTEEN YEARS. My husband. My best friend. We met 18 years ago this very month.
The reason I didn’t include him with the other eight is because, unlike the other eight, my EGO never worried about him having read my posts. Why did it never fear his judgment? Because he is the one person I’ve always known SEES THE REAL ME. The one person I’ve always known — for 18 years at least — LOVES THE REAL ME.
Happy Valentine’s day to you, my love. And also to those other eight friends of mine…and Happy Valentine’s Day to all the other REAL YOU’S out there, too.
Have a mindful day.Read More
Last night, at midnight, I couldn’t sleep because the metal posts on the back of my earrings were poking into the side of my head. I had only had my ears pierced for 31 hours, but the discomfort of those posts pressed up against the skin behind my ears, as I tried to lay in my favorite side sleeping position, was so meddlesome that I finally caved, got up, went to the bathroom, and did exactly what the woman at the piercing pagoda the day before told me NOT to do: removed my earrings. I knew this meant the holes would close up and I would not be able to wear earrings again. But the way I saw it, I had no choice. Either I slept poorly for the next 364 days ( the woman also told me I needed to keep earrings in the holes for a whole year, especially while I slept, if I didn’t want them to close up), or I removed the source of my discomfort and slept well. After nursing four newborns in four years and dealing with the nightly wake-ups of toddlers and preschoolers during the eight years to follow, the idea that a tiny pair of inanimate objects — $35 fake diamond studs — could be the source of another year of consecutive sleepless nights was unacceptable. The earrings had to go.
Within five minutes of returning to bed after the tiny offenders were removed, I was nestled happily with my favorite pillow wedged under my ear and neck, ready to drift off into uninterrupted slumber.
But there was a problem. My mind was churning with a multitude of unsettling emotions. I felt a sense of loss and, dare I say, grief. I felt guilt as well. Huge guilt. And a sense of failure. But the loss — that feeling of having lost out on something — was the greatest.
What the hell?! Over a pair of earrings? I had to figure out why I was feeling this way.
I tossed and turned, trying to sort things through in my head. I felt like I had thrown away something important and special when I removed those earrings. But that made no sense! For twenty-five years, I hadn’t worn earrings (I’d had them pierced for a brief time when i was a youngster), and never once had I felt like I was lacking. But now, after barely a day had gone by with earrings in my ears, I was mourning the loss of these material objects as if an old friend had moved away.
MY EGO faced me. You were prettier the day before, wearing those earrings, it said. With those fake diamonds on either side of your head, you appeared more feminine, more polished, and as your 10 year-old daughter told you when she saw you with them in for the first time,”Mom, they are that final detail that you needed!”
I considered, too, that my fantasy of wearing real diamond studs from Tiffany on next Spring’s fifteenth wedding anniversary trip to Paris, the one my husband and I were in the preliminary stages of planning, was now kaput. What a wuss. What a wimp. Really, Rosanna? You couldn’t sleep with them like every other little girl whose had her ears pierced can? Like your own 8, 10, and 12 year-old can? I felt like a failure, imagining what my three daughters would think when they came down to breakfast the next morning to find my ears unadorned–the very daughters whose responsibility it was, I had sternly reminded them, to do exactly what the lady at the piercing pagoda had instructed them to do: twist the earrings once a day, apply the sanitizing solution twice a day, and never, ever — under any circumstances — let more than 12 hours go without wearing earrings in their holes for the whole first year.
So the source of guilt was clear to me now. But what about that feeling that I had lost something? What was that about?
VANITY, I realized. The loss was about feeling that, without earrings, I would be less attractive than I could have been. The moment I made the impulsive, middle-of-the-night decision to remove the earrings, I also took away the opportunity to improve upon the way I looked to the world. Old women look wrinkled and plain when they’re not wearing earrings, the voice pointed out to me, recalling an observation I had made over the Christmas holiday that my sixty-eight year-old mother-in-law looked instantly more attractive when she put on her pearl earrings after the breakfast dishes had been put away. You are going to end up looking older and plainer than you could have looked. Nice job, Rosanna.
I was mortified by the breadth of my superficiality. Was I really that vain?
Plagued by this humiliation, yet convinced by the truth of my EGO’s vanity, I got out of bed and went into the kitchen, where there was a pile of catalogs and fashion magazines on the counter. I began to flip through them like a crazed lunatic, desperate to find proof that my EGO’s voice was wrong or right.
There, there, and there! My EGO pointed out. All these beautiful women photographed on these pages are wearing earrings! See how much better they look with earrings on? The more visual evidence I discovered that earringed-clad women looked better for having earrings on, the more morose I grew, and the more triumphant the voice of my EGO became. It wanted me to feel really bad about what I had done. I slunk back to bed, the weight of defeat on my shoulders. Sure, I had reclaimed my ability to sleep for the next year, but in the process, I had doomed myself to be uglier than I had to be.
Then other voice of my EGO — the guilt monster — entered my head again, remembering that just the night before, I had sat on my twelve-year old’s bed and told her that beauty comes from within, that a person can be attractive on the outside, but if their heart is not warm and compassionate, then the beauty on the outside is diminished. ”Well I think you are pretty, Mom,” she’d said, shrugging her shoulders. ”You have a nice nose and good skin.” The warmth of this unsolicited gesture had touched my heart, making me smile, but the feminist in me had immediately checked herself, resolute to return the conversation to the subject of what constitutes real beauty in a woman, to combat the media’s overwhelming message to young girls that a skinny body, perfect skin, and big boobs are what make a woman beautiful. ”Thank you, Jules,” I’d said. ”But the most beautiful part of me is my heart –not my nose and skin.” To which my firstborn stammered, “I know that, Mom, but I didn’t say you didn’t have a good heart, I just said you had a good nose and nice skin. What’s wrong with that?”
Good question. What is wrong with that?
There I was, no more than three hours after standing up for the women’s movement to my twelve-year old, crying myself to sleep because I wasn’t going to get to wear earrings for the next fifty years. Because I had one less tool in a woman’s beauty arsenal to improve upon her appearance.
Hypocrite. Hypocrisy — when a mother sees it in herself, through the eyes of her children — is a painful reality to gulp down. But it is also exactly why I write this blog: to force myself to be brutally honest with myself.
So I am a vain person. Educated and a feminist, but utterly, undeniably vain.
It wasn’t the first time I’d had this pointed out to me, though. My mother had made it clear to me countless times during my pre-teen and teenage years.
“Giusy, stop being so damn vain,” she would chasten me, smirking with disgust as I meekly preened in the mirror before school. ”Look at the prima donna we are raising, Frank,” she would say to my father loudly. “A self-absorbed little princess, your daughter is.”
Naturally, I felt ashamed for caring about how I looked when I heard my mother say those things. Shame for curling my bangs so they sat up in a poof over my forehead, as was the style in 1987. Shame for lining my eyes with pencil and frosting my lips with gloss. Shame for tying a colorful scarf around my waist to serve as a makeshift accessory for the skirt and tank top I had picked out to wear that day. Shame, shame, and more shame–for being a girl who wanted to look pretty. For being vain.
And so was born that voice in my head who now, at age 38, was beating me up with guilt for caring about my looks. For being sad that I couldn’t wear earrings.
If I believed that voice in my head — the offspring of the voice of my disdainful mother — then I would say that the point of this article is to demonstrate how powerfully destructive and irrational a woman’s vanity can be. I would say that the moral of this story is that it shouldn’t matter to us women how we look. People aren’t going to love me more or less just because I have my ears pierced or my hair colored or wrinkles on my forehead or sagging boobs. And isn’t that what we all ultimately want in life, after all, to feel loved and accepted by others? I would conclude that my grief over not having my ears pierced was based on an erroneous idea of how to gain more love from others. And that vanity is an icky quality.
But I choose not to believe those voices in my head, slamming me for being vain, repeating the berating voice of my critical mother from twenty-odd years ago. Instead, I choose to love myself enough to say there is nothing wrong with being vain about my ears. In fact, I am proud to be vain about my ears. It shows that I love myself and want the best for myself. Why should there be any shame in that?
The things we say to our daughters and sons become the things they say to themselves in the privacy of their minds later on in life. That’s what I learned by hashing out my confusing emotions after removing my earrings last night. We mothers and fathers must choose our words carefully when we comment on the things our kids do. We must ask ourselves how our articulated judgments make them feel? They may vocalize resistance to our opinions, but I promise you their subconscious is absorbing them. What we say to them when they’re twelve becomes the voice in their heads when they’re thirty-eight.
I don’t want my kids to feel badly for wanting to love themselves. For wanting to take care of themselves. For wanting to have poofy bangs like every other seventh grade girl in 1987 wanted. Or a piercing in their nose. Or a tattoo on their midriff. If it is clear that these choices they are making are not out of a desire to self-destruct, but simply as a means for self-expression, then why make them feel guilty for making them?
The truth is, I really did feel prettier for wearing those fake diamond studs all day yesterday. I really did get a boost in self-esteem when I passed by a mirror and caught a glimpse of myself with those sparklers on my lobes. They really did improve my feeling about myself for the short time I wore them. And, yes, that is probably vain of me. But “vain” doesn’t have to have a negative connotation, I now see. The scorn I felt for myself last night for feeling vain was merely a value my mother had inculcated in me that my subconscious was believing to be true. But I now I know — from examining the voices of my EGO from afar — that it is not true.
Obviously, vanity taken to the extreme is self-destructive and narcissistic. If it is at the expense of fulfilling our intellectual potential or in any way sours our relationships those we love, then it is obviously an undesirable trait. But determinedly displaying no vanity at all — as my mother did, boasting on countless occasions that she had never and would never be so vain as to have a manicure or pedicure or color her hair — is no more than self-loathing disguised as martyrdom. And giving in to a voice in your head who tells you you are a better human being for not taking care of your appearance is nothing but a denigration of your own self-worth.
So let your daughters feel free to weep over superficial things like their looks from time to time. It just shows they care about themselves. At the same time, you can teach them where real love comes from. You can model for them that worthiness is intrinsic and self-esteem is built by exhibiting qualities that can’t be seen by the eye — integrity, compassion, hard work, responsibility.
And if you catch them preening in the mirror for what seems like a ridiculous amount of time to you, don’t say a thing. Just smile and remind them that it’s almost time for school.
Have a mindful day.
Here goes another difficult confession my EGO desperately wants to keep hidden to preserve its image as a classy, intellectual, well-educated, productive woman. My maternal pride also cringes at the thought of revealing this embarrassing truth about myself, not only on paper where I can’t pretend it away, but in a forum the whole world has access to reading. But this is part of the process I know I must go through to shed that vicious EGO of mine. Unlocking that box of horrors I’ve been so excellent at keeping under wraps, and showing them to everyone with my head held high, my pride as intact as I can muster it to be, my mind resolute to answer all criticisms and put-downs that the unveiling will inevitably illicit.
So here goes: just as I have periodically struggled with an on-and-off food obession (a subject my non-EGO self is more than happy to address in future posts), I have also struggled with TV addiction. Yes, that’s right, this child of physicians, this lover of great literature, this woman whose EGO has presented itself to the world as smart, capable, discerning, thoughtful, political, etcetera, has wiled away hours of her life — at various times since the age of 15 — doing nothing but sit on a couch and stare at a box of moving images.
I know exactly when it started. My fifteenth year of life was unbelievably traumatic. My beloved grandmother died unexpectedly during a family vacation. I am her namesake. She lived with us for six years prior to her passing, and she’d been my most trusted companion during those formative years. I loved her and counted on her to save me from having to be alone with my mother, who terrified me. When Grandma died, a part of my young self died. Grandma had lived in an apartment built onto our house, and when it was empty of her life, I would come home from school and go over to her apartment, open her closet, and bury my face in her mink coat, just to smell her — a baby powder-mixed-with-Woolco-drugstore smell. When at last I would come up for air, I’d wipe my tear-soaked cheeks with the sleeve of my shirt and go sit in her favorite easy chair — a powder-blue, veleveteen arm chair with one of those foot rests that pops up if you lean your body weight back enough. I’d pick up the remote control her dear hands used to grip many times a day during those six years she lived with us, and I’d turn on the TV. Those were the days before On-Demand or Tivo. When you just watched whatever happened to be on at the time. When the verb “channel-surf” was born. I’d sit there until the sun went down, staring at my deceased best friend’s little TV, framed in wood, that sat there on the thick blue carpet in the corner of her little apartment’s living room-slash-dining room. The TV comforted me. It was something she had done to wile away her hours, to distract her from having to remember all the sad things about her life as a young woman, a Sicilian immigrant to this country, uneducated, neglected by her eleven-years-older husband who likely had a putana on the side. It comforted me in the same way, knowing that as long as I sat in her chair and watched those shows, I was avoiding the horror of what would undoubtedly meet me if I went next door where my drunken mother was sitting on the couch watching TV too, imbibing white wine from a jug in her ripped cotton white nightgown.
So that is where my TV addiction began. And then it went away. Briefly. During the three and half years I was in college, when I was happily involved in a brand-new life, thousands of miles away from my mother. Happily focused on getting good grades, knowing that was my ticket to graduating Notre Dame and getting a job to support myself and be self-sufficient (aka not dependent on the mom whose favorite thing to do was control my decisions).
Then the TV addiction reemerged. Ironically, it did so after I landed that perfect job that was going to be my ticket to permanent freedom from dependence on my parents for anything. It was with A.T. Kearney, a strategic management consulting firm. I must have interviewed well. They hired me even though I had zero business background. I had a B.A. in government and Japanese. Well, maybe the Japanese thing didn’t hurt. Anyway, I was ecstatic about getting that job mainly because the job offer letter spelled out in bold that I would have a base salary of $45,000. For a twenty-year old, that felt like a shit load of money. Plenty to take care of myself without being beholden to anyone.
But the thing I hadn’t taken into consideration was the fact that I was a creative, dreamy bookworm. I was not analytical or in any way someone who seemed well-suited to the cut-and-dry nature of the business world. Three weeks into that job, and my TV addiction had reared its ugly head again.
I worked hours and hours as the peon of a constantly changing cadre of consultants who were older than me and had plenty of business experience. The large majority of them had been to Harvard Business School or Wharton or some such Ivy League M.B.A. program. A.T. Kearney would pay for me to go to one of those same programs to get my M.B.A., were I to stay with them and perform well over the next few years. I knew this was a golden opportunity, but my head and heart were not in synch. My heart wanted to write stories about things that weren’t true, stuff of my fantasies. But I wanted to fit in. I wanted to make it work. I worked hard, learned the ropes of the consulting world, cashed my paycheck, and drove home at the end of each day to my dark studio apartment, where the blessed TV awaited me. My one friend whom I could count on to let me, literally, take my shoes off and let down my guard. There, on my little futon, I sat with that trusty remote in my hand and channel-surfed and stared and channel-surfed and stared and channel-surfed and…well, you get the picture.
Just like when I was 15, here at 20, I was escaping my sadness. Or probably the better word for it is emptiness. Empty of my beloved grandmother, I sought to fill the void with TV. Colorful moving pictures of beautiful people doing fantastic things I could only fantasize about doing. Empty of work that I was passionate about — empty of the sort of creative endeavors I loved, which usually involved the creative manipulation of word combining to communicate things — I turned to the shows on TV. They took away the immense void I felt. TV was my savior of sorts.
Then I got engaged to the love of my life, moved to Portland, and happily planned a wedding. The TV addiction faded. I was happy again. The emptiness was gone. I was able to watch a show with my husband-to-be and then turn it off and engage in life with him — go for a swim at the local Y, take weekend hikes, work on fixing up and decorating our fixer-upper bungalow, and so on.
At 25, I became pregnant. At 27, I became pregnant again. At 28, pregnant AGAIN. And, yes, at 29, pregnant yet AGAIN. That’s right. Four babies in four years. All before I was 30. Overwhelmed doesn’t even begin to describe what my life was during those first six years of motherhood. I was occupied every second of the day with keeping these four human beings alive, with stimulating their brains, with trying to find the time to sleep myself (I don’t recall a lot of that happening, however).
Naturally, there was no time for TV then.
But…fast forward to just last year. And the monster resurfaced. The TV became central to my day-to-day existence again. What was the emptiness about this time? I imagine it had to do with the fact that those four human beings who had taken up every second of my mental, emotional, and physical energies for ten years were now fully enrolled in school together. Now I was left to wonder: who am I now? Sure, I am their mother and still have a thousand things to do each day for them. But are those things enough to make me a worthy human being?
Worthy, according to who? Well, my EGO, of course. My EGO was smarting from the inability to define itself as productive and capable and worthy and…someone whom others would admire. Ahh….again, that EGO with the need to be admired.
Last year marks the worst level of TV addiction I’d ever found myself in. It was despicable. I literally woke up in the morning thinking about how I was going to speed through all the obligations I had to fulfill as a mother and homemaker so that I would have the time to sit on the couch in our basement and watch the plethora of reality TV shows I was now hooked on.
Yes — SIGH — I did say REALITY TV shows. I can’t explain why only reality TV lured me in. I had no interest whatsoever in the sitcoms or dramas everyone was talking about — Parenthood, Modern Family, Homeland, Girls, etcetera. All I wanted was more, more, and MORE shows like the Real Housewives franchise. I wanted to see real people in their real lives. It was the ULTIMATE comfort for me. I just loved it. The Bachelor? Well, it was right up there. I couldn’t get enough. Every Bravo reality show, every MTV reality show (yes, including Jersey shore), VHI, the Food Network, you name it, I was hooked on. I made sure to have them all recorded as series, so I wouldn’t miss an episode. Even during those times when my husband wanted to watch TV (we only have one TV in our house, thank GOD), I would go to our computer — this very computer on which I type now — and download shows on iTunes to watch.
I’m amazed I got anything else done in my life during that TV addiction period last year.
But the thing is — NOBODY KNEW I was doing this! Clearly, the shame ran deep. I didn’t want to be watching TV, yet I didn’t know how to stop. Seriously, it felt like an addiction. Just like a drug addict describes loving the high while it is happening, but feeling as low as can be once the high has faded, so did I feel pure giddiness while wrapped up in my blanket on the couch watching the Real Housewives’ catfights and glamorous dinners, but absolute disgust with myself within a minute after turning off the tube.
I hit rock bottom four weeks ago, and that marked the beginning of this mindful awakening, actually. The rock bottom was a Friday while the kids were at school when I sat on the couch from the time I returned home from dropping them at school all the way to the ten minutes prior to their needing to be picked up. That’s right: 8:30 am to 2:45 pm. On the couch. In my sweats and the same t-shirt I’d worn to bed the night before. Watching recorded reality TV programs. And when 2:45 loomed, I felt like I hadn’t had ENOUGH time to watch all that I wanted to watch.
Then I got up and looked at myself in the mirror. I hated what I saw. I hated the way I felt. I hated that I had ignored the many books by the many great minds that lined our living room shelves. I hated that I was a mom who didn’t let her kids watch TV during the week because of its negative influences on brain development, as opposed to more worthwhile activities such as reading and being imaginative in play, and yet the ultimate hypocrisy played out while they were at school. I mostly hated that my best friend, my husband, had no idea this was going on. We have a marriage wherein secrets are not kept. We have a history –a proud history — of not being a couple who brushes things under the rug. We address them head-on. We are open and honest and keep each other accountable by being 0pen and honest. And yet…I hadn’t been telling him about my TV watching. I’d been engaging in it on purpose when he wasn’t home, when the kids were at school.
I knew — like any addict — that the time had come to come clean to him. To state the words: ”I’m addicted to TV.” The first step. It is harrowing. But, oh so liberating. And so I did.
Four weeks later, here I am, and I haven’t watched any TV since then. Well, if I’m honest, there was one night when my husband was out of town and I told myself I would watch just one show — and that’s it. I did. It was the second episode of the Bachelor. But I turned it off halfway through it. All the mindful meditation I’d been doing over those four weeks sans TV had made me too connected with my REAL SELF, my EGO-LESS SELF, my authentic spirit, to want to continue watching that superficial madness of young ladies blubbering to the camera about not getting a chance to be the future wife of the man they’d spoken maybe twenty words to.
There are times when the TV calls to me, but I know that’s when my spirit needs the most attending to. It’s when I need to find the quiet space inside myself to breathe and meditate on my breath and be FULLY PRESENT. Then the desire fades, and I find a sense of peace.
I’ve started reading again. And I can’t get enough of the words. I was on Amazon just this morning, buying all of Jeffrey Eugenides’ books. An author I’ve always wanted to read but haven’t yet.
So what’s the message here? Well, first: if you are a well-educated person who feels stuck in a TV addiction, examine why you do it. Figure out the emptiness you’re filling. Then try reading spiritual books. I recommend Eckhart Tolle to begin with. You’ll see that it is your pained EGO that sits on the couch and stares. It is the EGO that is desperate to feel good and fill in the empty spaces in her day who turns to the TV remote. The REAL YOU? Well, she is the one who would sit on a rock overlooking a sun-dappled river, alone in a verdant forest, and gaze at the twinkling waters with a feeling of total peace. She is the one who DOES NOT THINK ABOUT ANYTHING, but just experiences the moments in life with a sense of joy that cannot be articulated, only felt.
I promise, the TV can’t do that for you. It can’t replicate that feeling of inarticulable joy. It can only keep you imprisoned in the world of a multitude of EGO’s, all clamoring to get you to lose yourself in their dramas.
I’m grateful for this former TV addiction of mine because it has helped lead me to where I am today –no longer numbed to MY reality, but fully present in it, moment to moment. No longer lost in the vast wastelands of well-edited “realities” of people whose EGOS reign.
Have a mindful day.Read More
I recently found out that a girl who used to sit next to me in a government class I took at Notre Dame — a girl who studied ten times as long as I did for tests, yet my grades were always better than hers — went on to graduate from Harvard Business School and is now a vice-president of a major corporation, making millions. She is also a mother of two. Shortly after discovering this very humbling fact (keep in mind, I have been essentially a stay-at-home mother for 12 years), I googled out of curiosity a boy whom I’d forgotten completely until my daughter pointed him out in an old High School yearbook. I remembered him as singularly focused on academic achievement. I remembered, too, that he admired me for my academic prowess. My google search uncovered that he was now one of the country’s experts in deformity, reconstructive, and oncological spine surgery, having gone on from our public high school in rural central Virginia to gaining an undergraduate degree from Stanford, a PhD/MD from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, a residency at the University of Virginia, yada, yada, yada.
While these two former peers of mine — whom, may I remind you I once felt SMARTER and more capable than — were accomplishing all these impressive feats, degrees, titles, etc., I was meanwhile burping babies, roaming grocery stores, reading novels, writing the occasional short story for the occasional writing workshop, and…well, you get the picture. Generally, not doing anything even remotely as impressive as those two.
So what does that have to do with this very first blog post of mine being “THE SCARIEST THING I’VE DONE… MAYBE EVER?” Well, you see, it is this FEAR — this gargantuan FEAR of FAILURE — that has stymied me from doing most things in my life.
A fear borne from EGO. A fear whose voice in my head says, “Why even try? You will probably fail, and that will be too much of a blow. Better to not step over that line. Stay safe. Do nothing.”
And so I did. Nothing. Basically. Or at least nothing scary.
I should state, first, that after college I was hired by an excellent, well-known strategic management consulting company, which I worked for for almost two years before getting engaged to my best friend and now-husband and moving up to Portland. I should state, too, that I did very well at Notre Dame, graduating magna cum laude. I should also tell you that at one time I could speak Italian, French, and Japanese proficiently in conversation. Oh, and you must know that I was awarded the National Council of Teacher’s of English award my junior year in high school for my “superior writing ability.”
But I digress…no, actually, that was MY EGO digressing. Not the real me. You see, my EGO couldn’t stand my painting a picture of myself that was less than impressive. My EGO was shoving the real me aside and puffing up its chest with pride, desperate to have you be impressed by me…not to think, “Egads, all she is done is have babies and be June Cleaver these past 12 years..? Yowzers…”
That damned ego of mine. It never quits.
But that is the promise of this blog. I will not pretend to you that my EGO doesn’t take me over at times. It absolutely does. Often, many times during the day. What I am working on, however — sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much so — is to notice it when it does.
Awareness, they say, is the biggest agent for change. I’ve definitely seen this truism at work in my life over the years. Becoming aware of my EGO when it rises up like a phantom in the dark is exactly how I will find the ease to rise up myself — sword raised — to slay it.
But before I slay it, I must let it speak. Let it be heard. Which will separate the REAL ME from IT. Listening to it from a distance.
And I promise to tell you what it says. Because NOTICING my EGO’S VOICE is how I have discovered I can feel LIBERATED from its grip.
It how you can be liberated, too. Today, simply start noticing when your EGO pounces on you and that voice of judgment takes you over. NOTICE IT. LET IT BE. THEN see how the mere AWARENESS of it allows you to step back from it, locate your weapon, rise up, and slay it.
The slayer is the silent, fearless presence that is THE REAL YOU. It is what finally allowed me — after two weeks of cowering in fear — to sit down and write this first blog post. It is the ME that has been in shackles in the dungeon my whole adult life, staring through the iron bars at all the former peers of mine who were not similarly incarcerated by as vicious an EGO as mine.
That’s not to say that those two former peers of mine who went on to gain all those impressive titles and degrees are not in other ways ruled by their EGOS.
But back to my point: to find the SELF in you that does not quake with self-judgment and fear about anything–that is how you will live a contented life. And the first step is just NOTICING YOUR EGO. It will keep you honest with yourself. Just remember: I mean “honest” in a compassionate nonjudgmental way. Not in an accusatory, shaking-finger-in-the-face-of-a-naughty-child way.
It is what I constantly tell my four beautiful children: be your own best friend. Be kind to yourself. Acknowledge you have an ego that sometimes takes you over. But don’t beat yourself up about it. Beating yourself up for anything never accomplishes anything good. It only makes you more mired in the EGO’s voice. That voice that repeats itself over and over, “What is wrong with you? Why do you have to be so…?!”
Remember that, too, when you parent your children. Speaking to them like that does nothing but repress their power. If you speak to yourself that way, you are more likely to speak to your children that way.
Two weeks ago, I purchased all the bells and whistles to create this blog, knowing nothing about how to make it pretty (which I’m sure you can see by the sparseness of its look). And now, here I am, practically trembling as I write this first post.
The EGO is taunting me: “Wait until so-and-so reads this, Rosanna! They’re going to have a good laugh about it! They’ll call up their friends who know of you and say, ‘Have you checked out Rosanna’s blog? Have you read about what a wimp she is? what a mess she is?…and all your hard-fought efforts to create that image of perfection to the world will be broken to pieces…you will be a laughing stock…the fodder of gossip…the reason for eyes widening as they see you come down the hallway to your kids classrooms every afternoon at pick-up time.”
What the EGO forgets, however, is that this blog is meant to SLAY IT. I’ve spent 38 years as its slave. This year begins my new life NOT BEING RULED BY IT.
If people judge WHO I AM in a critical way after reading my blog, then it is their EGOS trying to tear down my EGO…EGOS enjoying how seeing another as imperfect lifts up their own EGOS’ feeling about ITSELF: “Well, I sure look and feel better now, in light of how flawed Rosanna comes across in that blog of hers.”
But I don’t fault those people. Only their poor egos. Those poor ruling egos that dictate all of our suffering.
Those voices in our heads that are CONSTANTLY ANALYZING how we measure up in terms of our BEAUTY, our FINANCIAL SUCCESS, the APPEARANCE OF OUR HOMES, the SUCCESS of our children, etcetera etcetera.
It is why we struggle every November to produce the most impressively beautiful photograph of our family to publish to each and every human being we have so much as brushed shoulders with in our lifetime. The more perfect a photograph we can conjure of our marriage, our offspring, THE FAMILY DOG, and all the perfect vacations we have had that year, the BETTER we feel about ourselves.
Or the better OUR EGOS feel about themselves.
But the EGO is never satisfied. It wakes up everyday and needs more acknowledgement, more reassurance of its worthiness in comparison to others. And so we look at websites of celebrities and feel better when we find something imperfect about them to laugh about: “Thank God I don’t have an ass like Kim Kardashian’s…”. Or we look at those same websites and feel worse about ourselves when find something about those celebrities that seems so perfect. “If only I could have Victoria Beckham’s thin thighs…”
But we only feel better or worse after these EGO driven impulses for moments…and then we are on to seeking the next thing to reinforce a feeling that we are okay.
Damn that EGO.
And so that’s all this blog is meant to do: be a personal journal of my daily attempts to break free from the curse of the EGO. Why blog it? Why not just write in an actual leather-bound journal that I can close up and put away in my underwear drawer, safe from public consumption? Well…because that would only keep me in my closet of fear. Publicly presenting my struggles, my truth, will keep me honest. Will keep me on top of that monster-EGO of mine. And — hopefully — will keep YOU on top of yours.
How do we locate our TRUE SELVES? The ones that aren’t comparing ourselves to others, striving to be noticed and admired, craving the next thing that’s going to enhance our beauty or stature among a sea of other EGOS all striving, too, to enhance THEIR beauties and statures?
Well, that’s just it. We have to peel of that armor we wear when we exit the privacy of our homes. More importantly, we have to peel of that armor that imprisons us in our own minds–the one that constantly whispers criticisms and comparisons and judgments in our ears, practically unbeknownst to us, at any given moment of our day.
We disarm the ego, and we find OUR SELVES. The Selves we were meant to be. As Eckhart Tolle says, “What a liberation it is to realize that the ‘voice in my head’ is not who I really am.”
It is what Buddha found when he sat under the Bodhi tree. It is what Christ found when he walked the earth, preaching love and compassion for those less fortunate. It is what babies SEE before they are able to judge anything as good or bad. It is the power of PRESENCE.
My many wise teachers (see my “About me” page) over the years have taught me that.
I wish you a mindful, EGO-less day.Read More