In my own little world, I am picturing a TV news anchor, on an old black and white TV, taking off his black nerdy glasses and picking up a piece of paper from the top of the stack in front of him, looking down and then looking back up at the camera, saying, “This just in. Kary has stopped fighting herself.”
Now, I can be completely self-absorbed, but I don’t think this warrants world headlines or time on the nightly news, but for me it’s a colossal, life-changing moment. Now, if you’ve read this far, you either know me, or bless you for indulging me, and you may have a few questions, like “When did this happen? How did this happen? What does that mean? Why? What does it feel like?”
My answer, over sips of coffee across the table from you, because this feels like a sit-down conversation shared with someone I love, comes in spurts with pauses for reflection and elaboration. “Last night. This morning. I don’t know. All of a sudden I knew. I’ve been fighting myself and everyone my entire life. It feels light and strange.”
Now if we were still sipping coffee, there would probably be some silence as we both ponder what this means.
First off, I am always a little suspicious when people talk about their life-changing moments, when overnight everything seemed to transform. I have had wake-up moments and spiritual epiphanies, have made decisions that changed my life in big and small ways, and have searched long and high for the boot-rattling answers in periods of prayer and anguish waiting for Moses-like lessons on stone tablets freshly carved out for me, but in all of that searching and seeking, I haven’t had the big answers in an instant. Instead, those lessons are gleaned after times of struggle and questioning, and they sink in after some time, and then I am ready for the next one. Sometimes those lessons take years for me to catch on to and understand, and the teachers are the life moments and scenarios that repeat themselves over and over again, like a version of the movie Groundhog Day (which I still have never seen to this day), where the main character goes through the same day over and over again, seemingly bound to a frustrating set of repeat circumstances no matter what actions he takes.
In fact, a couple of mornings ago, I talked with one of my closest friends on the phone and we pointed to those repeating lessons that he and I were both facing in our own lives. I joked that obviously the repetition was like repeating a grade in school, because my learning curve was steep.
I woke up this morning and it felt like a regular day. I quickly folded the quilt on my bed and put on pajama pants and walked into the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee. I turned the light on in the kitchen and pulled back the curtain and tucked it behind the handle on the sliding door in the living room to let in some light. I drank coffee, talked to my sister, and then waited until she left to get moving. I changed into my clothes and did a quick brush of my teeth, putting on shoes and grabbing the leash to take my sister’s sweet dog for a walk. I let him take the lead, ambling through the neighborhood at his slow sniffy pace and I felt the difference as he smelled summer wildflowers cracking up the pavement in an alley. I realized that I had felt the difference as soon as I woke up, but I needed some time before I could acknowledge it, this “life-changing magic” to borrow a beautiful phrase from Marie Kondo.
There were all sorts of small differences in this walk. I had left my phone behind, but had grabbed my favorite small digital camera. I let Jupiter the dog lead and I followed along. The early hints of summer were all around, flowers blooming in yards and at the park and all along the river and irrigation ditch that meanders through our neighborhood. I didn’t have any scheduled classes to teach this morning (I teach English online), so I wasn’t in a rush to get back by a certain time, and without my phone or a watch, I didn’t know how long we were going. I stopped to let Jupe sniff the things that caught his fancy: the trash can by the sidewalk in the park, a particularly fascinating electric light pole, and some tall grass at the edge of the alley, and he stopped to let me take pictures of things that caught my fancy: the sky, the shape of a fuzzy dandelion, the crack in the pavement where some flowers had broken through to bloom.
On the surface, this morning and this walk weren’t very different from yesterday or last week. Often, I leave my phone behind, I bring a camera, I let Jupe take the lead, I walk slowly because I don’t have an immediate appointment or deadline to meet or rush home for and I enjoy the time to savor and stroll. This was something else. Lightness and knowing is the best way I can describe it. It didn’t feel like the world was terribly changed, but in small shifts and cracks, I could tell I was different.
Now, to go back to the night before, it didn’t feel like the eve of an epiphany. My sister and I ate a lovely cheesy chicken pasta bake, purchased from the deli section of the grocery store the weekend before, along with roasted asparagus that my sister had fixed, paired with glasses of red wine from one of our favorite boxed varieties. We ate on the patio and talked and then as the night got darker, we went in, ate more, drank more, and watched a couple episodes of The West Wing on DVD. There wasn’t anything particularly mind-bending or earth-shattering about the evening. The food was good, and I probably over-indulged both in wine and the pasta. I even staved off what I thought would be an expected hangover with an over-the-counter pain killer, taken with a swallow of wine. Yep, I know you’re not supposed to do that. We made popcorn and kept talking, often needing to rewind a scene from the oft-seen episodes of The West Wing. We were just enjoying a night of food and company, with the background of a familiar and well-loved drama playing on the screen before us, and a sweet puppy who migrated between couch and the big chair looking for snuggles and the possibility of shared dinner scraps. What was absent from the evening was tension or argument. As much as I love my sister, and consider her to be my closest friend, there are years of discord between us that can be difficult to navigate, especially while living together.
This morning, there was also a lack of tension, but this time, I knew what it meant. I had finally stopped fighting myself. The only way that I can describe it is a feeling of ease, so maybe the epiphany really began last night, but it took me a little bit of time to realize it. Somehow, somewhere, some way, I declared peace with myself and it feels astounding, wonderful, life-shifting, and yet ordinary.
The best way I can describe it is how it felt when I first learned how to ride my bike at 5 or 6, or when I learned the j-stroke while paddling a canoe at the beginning of college. It’s life-changing and yet it just feels natural and small. It’s like walking down the street with 10 over-filled grocery bags, straining and struggling under the weight and worrying about a bag breaking and spilling out its contents to all of a sudden walking down the street with ease, or like climbing three flights of stairs with three too-heavy moving boxes and at once the burden is gone.
It’s like I finally put down my burdens, realizing that I was my burden. I don’t know about others. I don’t know how many others are at war with themselves, and I don’t have any insight or advice to give. I just know that it feels wonderful to stop fighting with myself. I realize that because I have fought myself for so long, I’ve been fighting others even when I didn’t realize it. It’s no wonder I have often sought solitude, because I was just so tired of fighting. It’s no surprise that I have struggled with money, jobs, choices, and with myself. It’s no wonder why I have been at odds with family members and seen friendships disappear and dissolve, or why I have struggled at work. I can remember a conversation with a close friend a few years ago, and he told me that I made things so difficult for myself. I recall a heart-rending breakup with a boyfriend, when he said “I love you and I think we were meant to be together, but I can’t see you be at war any longer.”
I went through two years of therapy and I have read a lifetime’s supply of spiritual and self-help books. I remember the first time when I realized I loved myself, and that was only about four and a half years ago. Considering that, it took that much longer for love to become peace.
Okay, I’m in my first day of this, so beware any self-aggrandizing pronouncements. I don’t think that I have now become Buddha-Jesus and can go sit on a rock in leg-crossing meditation mode for the rest of my life. Everything is exactly the same, and yet suddenly different.
The sky is still blue. I didn’t float home from the walk. I came home, poured another cup of coffee and peeled a banana. I checked email and saw that I need to redo a video that I sent yesterday to start teaching on a second learning platform. I still don’t have a million dollars in my bank account, at least I don’t think so since I haven’t checked. I scheduled a class and sent an email chasing down a student for an organization where I volunteer. I still need to sweep my bedroom and work on edits for the first draft of a book I’m working on (it might be presumptuous to call it a book when it hasn’t been accepted by a publisher, yet). I need to shower, and I’m still chubby, and yet, there is magic all around me and in me. All of a sudden, resistance is gone. I am no longer at war with myself, and after too-many decades, this peace needs celebrating and acknowledging.
To those reading this, reach out. I hope you’re finding this because somehow you need it from an improbable source. If I can stop fighting with myself, all of sudden, I have no need to fight with others. Self-love can go beyond the source, to love others where once I sought struggle, to find solace where I once looked for disconnection. How weird to find that it was here all along, but I needed an unknown moment to feel it and to surrender to it. Peace is there, waiting.