I was home from college and sitting on my old twin bed, sinking into the neon blue, lumpy comforter that smelled of dust and memories. I flipped open the lid to my treasure trunk and started rifling through the collection of things I had at one time deemed worth saving. A half-smile stretched across my face as I spotted it. I reached for my teenage diary, sprinkling a trail of faded pictures and letters as I brought it to my lap. Settling back into my pillows, I opened the bright pink book and started reading, intrigued by what I might find.
Not ten minutes later I was sitting straight up, eyes wide open, now speed-skimming to see where these accounts were heading. Reading those loopy, heart-dotted sentences was like watching a train wreck. I couldn’t help but advise the young character: Girl, you know he’s no good for you, you just said that on the page before! Then I would remember that this immature and unaware character was somehow me and feel a wave of embarrassment. Not to mention the style of writing (why did I think those abbreviations were cool?!). I slammed my trunk shut on that Pandora’s box of memories. I haven’t made a habit of re-reading my journals since then.
Until about a year ago. With just a page left in my current journal, I decided as a form of a retreat I would read the whole thing and use the last page to jot down major themes. I was once again at my childhood home, but this time I settled into the porch swing with a cup of coffee, while my toddler swung on the swing set in front of me. Flipping through much fresher pages, I still found the experience of conversing with my past self—even recently past—uncomfortable. It seemed like every passage I was saying the same things. Had I learned nothing? As I read the struggles on the page from a few months past, I heard echoes of words I had just been saying that week. Had I not grown at all?
Even though I rarely journal anymore, I still experience this cognitive dissonance periodically. In a moment of a very real emotion or fear or melt-down, I also feel the twinge of déjà vu for having been here not long before. Then I throw the emotional cherry of remorse on top of my hot mess for something I’d thought I’d already resolved. (And when it’s something I’ve already blogged about, then I throw another cherry of imposter syndrome on top of that!).
Sometimes in these moments I remember an image I received almost a decade ago, scribbled on a napkin by my spiritual director and slid across his cluttered desk. He had drawn a narrowing spiral, like a sideways tornado. He explained that instead of the spiritual journey looking like a straight line, it often looks more like this. Then he drew a line along the top side of the spiral and he labeled it “pride,” the recurring topic of our many conversations. He placed his pencil at the start of the spiral and began following its concentric shape. Every time the spiral and the pride-line intersected, he drew a point. I don’t remember his exact words now, but I remember the gist: in our circuitous journeys, we bump into the same planes over and over again.
I used to think of those points I kept hitting as my “personal sins.” Now I think of these impasses more like my defenses, patterns, or wounds. Either way, these “growth-points” are opportunities to smooth down another layer of our false self and spiral deeper. Closer to our naked being.
Ever since I’ve been married, I’ve been bumping into a new plane: blame. When I had negative feelings about something, I’d direct my bad energy at my husband. For a while we just worked on smoothing over the tension I’d created between us. Eventually we tried shifting things in our life to help me not have such negative feelings. But the feelings haven’t gone away and so now, I’m trying a new tactic of just acknowledging them. When I hear the negative monologue starting in my head against the person I love most, I’m trying to pause and ask myself what this is really about. If I can figure it out, I just let myself just feel that feeling for a moment. I’m really sad about….I’m just stressed about… I’m trying to own my feelings instead of spewing them all over my house onto others.
Maybe in a way it’s still a form of pride? Maybe I’m too proud to be the bearer of such negative emotions that I’d rather them be someone else’s fault. Maybe in a few months, I’m going to find myself in this hurtful place again, scrambling to find a new remedy. I don’t know the right answer yet or if I’ll feel like a fraud about this post in a few weeks. But I do know that if we pay attention to these recurring growing points, the swirling, sloppy tornado of our inner lives becomes a beautifully orchestrated spiral into control.
Can you share in one word or phrase your common “bump” along the way?
P.S. I’ll be taking a blogging break through December and will be back in the new year. Happy holidays!