Monday, February 16, 2015

Playtime as [Better than] Self-Love

Self-love feels like a chore to me.

Even coming up with ideas of activities I could do for myself that fall in the realm of "self-love" feels like a chore. I come up with a list of chores to be undertaken. Even going to the park for a hike sounds like a chore. There is no spontaneity in these lists, that I get assigned regularly from books and other "personal growth" sources. I keep reading such books, and participating in such workshops, ad infinitum, even though these exercises keep driving me crazy.

Self-love requires spontaneity for me. But spontaneity is not the only ingredient, it is just one. I can spontaneously check Facebook and do homework and clean dishes, and not feel like I'm nurturing myself necessarily. And it's ironic, because if I don't schedule time for "myself," as all the self-help gurus say these days, when will I ever make that time? The standard answer is that I won't.

I do want to hike on Table Mountain. I do want to do yoga. Or dance to music in my room. Or make art. It's just that setting aside time to do these things doesn't feel quite right. It feels forced, contrived. Like praying in church. It is painful to switch from one state of experience directly to another one.

Starhawk puts forth a model of the Three Selves in her classic book, The Spiral Dance. I have my Talking Self. This is my basic personality that helps me survive in lifo, my ego. My Talking Self contains my mundane interests, hobbies, pastimes, and endeavors. My personal Talking Self likes to play Forty Thieves solitaire, watch Sailor Moon, learn LOTS (and is taking about eight online classes at the moment), and "identifies" as an Activist Pagan Polyamorous Witch. She is also on multiple committees and volunteers at nonprofits, but can never manage to stay on top of most of these things. I certainly do not have a Type A Talking Self.

There is Deep Self. This is the profound part of my being, the part of me that awakens--sometimes--during rituals, intimate moments with beloveds, silence, and in wilderness. Or on mushrooms (and that can be a painful way to get in touch for sure!). I think this is the part that self-care is supposed to tend.

The week before last I participated in the opening session of a class series which offers people an opportunity to, as best I can tell, try to drop in to Deep Self, and share and witness this with others. I actually took this class series five years ago, and had some fun. I do remember a niggling background feeling of discomfort though, which I have felt in other "personal growth" (I keep putting that phrase in quotation marks because I am not 100% sure what I mean by it) settings. This discomfort relates to a sense of having to "perform" deep spiritual experience or transformation. I'm sure that this has been a component of all of the personal growth (there, it lost its quote marks!) modalities I've been involved with--Emotional Freedom Technique, Tantra, Ecstatic Dance (that one more than others), and a Healing the FatherWound workshop at Harbin Hot Springs.

This is ironic, too, considering that most of these modalities are supposedly about liberating ourselves from our masks and performances for others sake. And yet, when I show up with my authentic self, I find myself being shut down by facilitators of these kinds of work. I find no authentic way to get into the material. This is painful, because I am receiving a contradictory message: Be yourself, but do it within the parameters of *my* exercise (which may or may not have room for the real Meagan).

I experienced this recently in the class mentioned above. I was in so much pain for most of the session. I had very little sense of trust with most of the people there, and yet I was being asked to be vulnerable with them in a way that I did not trust they knew how to hold space for. This was not a safe container for me, and I wanted to run out. I felt like crying the whole time. I said at the beginning that my intention was to break free of any obligation to "perform personal growth," but this was extremely difficult, and I did not feel that the environment supported me in doing this. This painful experience was partly because of a mismatch for my presence there in the first place--I was attending by personal invite for connection with two of the participants, not because of any strong desire on my part to explore the modality further.

This is how I sometimes feel when I try to do something that is "good for me" when I don't really feel like it, such as yoga or going on a hike. The past few months have been a time of liberating myself from obligations to dogmatic ideas I internalized from various countercultural ideologies. Most of my life I have rebelled against mainstream society (for many good reasons I hope I don't need to iterate here), but at times I have also replaced that with finding an alternative voice to be the guru, the guide, the signpost to the good life. I then feel guilty if I don't live up to those standards, whether the standards are to meditate for such-and-such amount of time daily, or to make sure I celebrate all the Sabbats and Esbats.

In liberating myself from countercultural dogma, I don't want to fall back on mainstream cultural values and assumptions. It is a fine and risky line to tread. There are some ways in which I am not even sure if I am maintaining my balance on that line, or falling back onto the easier side, the side with social momentum. Here is an example. I was part of a program for a number of years that encouraged a considerable amount of time in nature on a regular basis. I never lived up to the goals of this program in terms of how much time I spent 'communing.' I realized a few months ago how damaging it was for me to turn time in nature into a chore, with required times! I had a moment of liberation, where I was standing on the Vallombrosa bridge over the creek with my bike, and remembered that ALL of Planet Earth is Nature. I then wandered through the city with the same attentiveness I try to bring to hikes in Upper Bidwell. Was this me selling out, giving up, and becoming domesticated by civilization? Maybe, but what do you know? I found a cute little square of wilderness behind a shopping center, complete with logs, trees, tall grass, moss, etc. When I gave in to spontaneity, I found something beautiful.

I think Spontaneity is the province governed by the Third Self I haven't mentioned yet: Younger Self. This playful part of me and everyone is, according to Starhawk, the part that links and communicates between Talking Self and Deep Self. This could be seen as our inner child, or past self. This is the little kid that did voice-overs for elaborate stuffed animal conversations, had fights with my imaginary invisible friend, chalked all over the sidewalk, and, nowadays, wants to play Muggle Quidditch or dress up as Sailor Venus. I think that this was the piece missing from the class I dropped out of--there was no intermediary step. And I think that this is the part of me that I need to curate if I want to authentically drop in to my Deep Self and experience Oneness with Existence. So my ideas for self-care are no longer pretentious otherworldly grown-up activities. They are the games my playful child wants to do for fun, rather than for spiritual transcendence or even to recuperate from a stressful week of work. Kids don't play to de-stress or center and ground; we play to PLAY!

I fear there is a risk of triviality in embracing this philosophy, yet I wonder what is worse: being trivial and loving it, or being deep and meaningful and important but in an inauthentic way? I value depth, for sure, and genuine play seems like a plastic playground slide down into that depth of being hidden in the wood chips below. Watch out for splinters!

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