Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Opening My Kimono in 2010

I no longer want to write, I NEED to. My life depends on it.

The last eight months have been one of the most difficult periods in my life. My husband Michael and I have found ourselves in the unenviable position of struggling to find gainful employment, shortselling our home in Florida, having to move out of our rented home in Minnesota and into a small, two bedroom apartment, and fighting off creditors that are starting to bang on our door. Long story short, we are running out of money.

When I was in college, I learned about a psychologist named Abraham Maslow and his theory that human behavior is dictated by a hierarchy of needs. On the bottom level of the pyramid, one strives to have basic, physiological needs met, those of breathing, water, sex, food, and shelter. Once those needs are met, one has the freedom to move up the pyramid to the second level in an attempt to meet safety and security needs. Once those are met, we move upward to focus on love and affection. If those are satisfied, we elevate to having our needs for esteem, confidence, and respect of others met. Finally, if all of these areas are provided for, we transcend to the highest level to that of self-actualization.

In other times in my life, I have been blessed to reside on the top of the pyramid. I have spent hours contemplating my own existence (and navel) and worked on core issues that kept me from being the most enlightened, non-judgmental, expressive person I could be. Those were good times indeed! I got the healing work I needed, experienced the creature comforts that a full bank account (or a large credit line) afforded, and had ample time to pursue happiness around every corner. My relationships were rich and rewarding, my body was in excellent condition, I had a spring in my step, and I went to bed every night with a smile on my face.

However, I have also resided at the bottom of the pyramid. I painfully recall the years in my early twenties when I avoided answering my phone -- when I had a phone -- because I knew that a bill collector would be on the other line. (These were the olden days before the invention of the omniscient Caller ID.) Dinner consisted of ramen noodles or easy cheese spread over my fingers. I lived in a God-awful, rodent-infested apartment right next to the El train tracks in Chicago and lived paycheck to paycheck. If my friends and I went out and had a few drinks at the local bar, I would have to find a way to survive over several days without food until I got paid again. Sometimes dinner would be saltine cracker packets surreptitiously acquired from the local Wendy's. Eventually I worked my way out of the shithole I was in and slowly, ever slowly, climbed up Maslow's ladder.

Now, at forty years of age and a husband and daughter later, I find myself back on the bottom. Many nights I have laid awake, asking God why he won't send me the big book deal or the next lucrative speaking contract. My stomach has started to respond with that same, burning sensation I used to feel when I had ulcers. Everything around me is getting tighter -- my throat, my bank account, and my pants. This difficult situation has become even more disquieting given the fact that I am supposed to be the award-winning author of inspirational personal essays and a dynamic motivational speaker!!! I tell myself in the quietest, darkest times that I am a failure because I am so woefully mishandling my life. Instead of being the Bringer of the Mojo, I have become the Bringer of the Slo-Mo. This challenging period has caused me to fill myself with guilt, shame, and anger, both at myself and at God. Why won't you hear my prayers?? What have I done to deserve this?? What did I do wrong?? Am I being punished for some bad behavior I have previously done?? Why, why, why???

In the cold light of day, I realize that my struggles aren't unique or personal. The economic downturn has caused many of us to dramatically alter our lives, and we are forced to re-examine our priorities. Not only are we doing without, but many of us are thrown into the deep end of the survival pool. However, it's important to remember that just because you can't pay your bills, that doesn't make you less of a person. Just because my calendar contains less speaking engagements then I would like it to doesn't mean that I am a bad speaker. Just because my books aren't selling as well as I would like them to doesn't mean that I am a rotten writer. It's not personal; it just IS.

This experience, like every obstacle, has provided a wealth of gifts and lessons to me. I am releasing attachments that have kept me from being truly at peace: attachments to material objects, to ego, and to the approval of others. Through the process of downsizing, I am letting go of anything that no longer serves me. Our basement is filled with boxes of stuff that I thought was important to me, but no longer is -- pictures, paintings, furniture, candleholders, books, and anything else that won't squeeze into our new, tiny abode. In the next two weeks, we will be selling or giving away items that have kept us mired at the bottom level of Maslow's pyramid. In this act of release, I am already feeling myself getting lighter, become less afraid, and, dare I say, becoming hopeful for the future. One of the greatest realizations I have had during this maelstrom is this: I am not my stuff. I am not my calendar, my business card, my house square footage, my piano, my family vacation, or my display of knickknacks.

This morning I realized that there was one final step for me to take to begin the journey upward: I needed to publicly share my story, warts and all. Embarrassment and ego have kept me from telling the gory details of my latest imbroglio. I was afraid of people judging me for not being the powerful woman I present myself to be. I was afraid that I would be seen as a failure, a victim, and a loser. One of the risks associated with full disclosure is the chance for those who may want to hire me or buy my book to say, "She's a nutcase! She's a nobody! Why in the hell would we want to hear anything she has to say?" However, the risk is well worth it. I need to authentically express my truth if I am to step away from the fear and back into power. It is time for me to open my kimono. Again.

I ask that you hold me in possibility, and I will do the same for you. Let's see each other climbing ever higher into that blissful place of self-realization where all of our needs are met and we can be the best of who we are. I am so very grateful for the gift of writing so I can purge the toxic thoughts that have kept me unhappy, unhealthy, and unrealized. The truth is a magical elixir that helps wipe clean all of the dirty little secrets we keep hidden away, and I am jumping back into it with gusto. My physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health are at stake. I must acknowledge, own, and even celebrate my life, even at its gunkiest. Because even at its ugliest, we are all still blessed with untold gifts. Sometimes the most painful times remind us of how friggin' awesome we truly are.

If you, like me, are living at or near the bottom of Abe's pyramid, please know that you are not alone. You are still a beautiful, magnificent, worthy, and divine being, no matter what the numbers on your check register or the credit report say. I honor you and your journey.