Out with the Mold, in with the True

I recently spent a month in South Carolina helping my mom with her recovery from knee replacement surgery. When it came time for me to return home, I had mixed feelings. I knew I couldn’t stay there, eventually everyone needs to return home, but I didn’t know what I was coming home to. I wasn’t sure how I felt about returning to a place where I hadn’t had a sense of belonging for some time.

After a very full month I was a bit exhausted, which made the 14-hour drive home more difficult than most road trips I take. Finally… finally… finally I pulled into the driveway. It was a “balmy” 12 degrees outside and all I wanted to do was quickly unpack the car, get a fire going, sit in front of it in my soft clothes and do absolutely nothing. Instead, I walked into the house and immediately smelled something wrong. That moment when you think, “Well this can’t be good.”

I walked into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator door, and was assaulted with the most disgusting science experiment I’ve ever seen. You guessed it – the fridge had not been running for quite some time. And judging by the amount of mold, mildew and whatever else was living in there, I’d say it stopped working shortly after I left. This had become a breeding ground for some new form of penicillin. The most vile, disgusting, nasty, fuzzy organisms in every shade of black, green and white had not just taken up residence, but built entire neighborhoods and clearly hired urban planners and developers. I think the condos in the condiments section of the door were selling at a premium.

It was a microbiologist’s dream come true if they were looking for a laboratory to finish research on identifying some new species that would be used for a miracle drug and ensure a Nobel prize in science. To say it was rank, nauseating, and revolting would be an understatement. THIS was a kitchen floor moment. You know those moments when you lean against the cupboard and slowly melt to the floor, head in hands, maxed out, beyond threshold, and knowing a hot poker in your eye swirled around would be better than what was staring you in the face.

There I am, on my kitchen floor, looking at my cat, realizing he will be no help whatsoever (no opposable thumbs) and the thought crosses my mind, “This is all mine. And it’s time to be mindful.” All mine to clean up, all mine to rant about, all mine to cry over, all mine to live with. Yes… all mine. But seriously?!!? What the hell does this have to do with being mindful??!!?

How many times have I talked about practicing mindfulness in my daily activities, being present to the “now moment”… brushing my teeth, doing the dishes, feeding the cat. Yes, mindfulness in all things. Well crap. I slowly stood up, pulled the garbage can over to the fridge, took a deep breath and exhaled a big sigh. And thus began the practice of moldy mindfulness.

Two days later, it was done. Mostly. Every nook and cranny I could get to had been cleaned within an inch of its life, with a knife, toothpick, q-tip, bleach spray, kitchen scrubby, boiling water, the dishwasher, or a bathtub soak. It took me a little while to get over the willies, but I did eventually put food back in the fridge. The moldy squatters were no more, and the condiment condos had been renovated.

So what happens when you have two days of moldy mindfulness? I had lots of time to notice my thoughts. Like I need help with this! That’s what I do for a living, I don’t really think I need help being more self-aware, thank you very much. But there it was, and mostly what kept coming to me was, “This is NOT how I imagined ending my year and starting another one! WTF?!” Yet with every spray of cleaner, every wipe with a paper towel, and every sore muscle twinge, all I could think was, “Out with the mold, in with the true.”

Well that first part made sense, but what the hell is, “…in with the true?” I’m not even sure I know what’s true anymore. But the more I slowly worked my way through cleaning my fridge, practicing “out with the mold,” there were a few ideas that came to mind. Not new revelations, but a few things I could hang my hat on, that I knew to be true. True for right now anyway, as one year ends and another begins.

Number One: Truth is a paradox
Every spiritual truth is a paradox
. Life is precious, beautiful and filled with joy, and it is painful, dark and lonely. A short time ago a vicious predator came into my life and took my breath, and didn’t ask permission. It forced me to surrender the only thing I had. Life. This demon penetrated its way into me, and now I am a troubled stranger lingering between hope and desperation. Yet simultaneously, I sit here demonstrating life in its most simple, precious, gracious, funny and authentic way by laughing and crying about my moldy refrigerator. I think we need both of these experiences -our joys and our sufferings are indeed our wholeness.

Number Two: Be the longing
Simultaneously I am an insignificant speck of the universe, and a unique, unrepeatable configuration of the divine. This means sometimes I have a sense of belonging, and sometimes I don’t. One of the deepest human longings is the longing to belong… to be a part of things… to be invited in… to be safe and protected.

BELONGING holds a fundamental paradox (see number one): BEING and LONGING. Our life’s journey is the task of refining our belonging so that it may become more true, loving, good and free. As a self-reflecting creature, we know what it means to live in exile. Yet the minute we realize we have no sense of belonging, then give words to and BE with that experience, then the LONGING is activated. This allows us to turn our face toward the sun, to the path that will lead us home.

Knowing this has made my path clear – be that which I most long for. Be the longing. The longing is a divine urgency, and it’s not just an internal thing for only me. It’s for all life. If I am to know peace, connection, hope, joy, love, life, compassion, or generosity then I must BE those qualities, especially with those most unlike me. This has been my guiding light this year, in small ways, and I imagine it will only grow as each day passes, which leads me to number three.

Number Three: I’m braver than I think
This past August, after Charlottesville, I knew I needed to do something different. As I watched the events and responses to Charlottesville unfold, I realized how many people also have the experience of not belonging, or a sense of being lost and disconnected from life. So what is that “something different” that I am to do?

I’ve never thought of myself as brave, but I think I’m braver than I think. In fact, I think that applies to all of us. I had known for a long time the idea of following my bliss, and only doing what I really love was not truly serving me. I knew there was more. What is true for me today is healing comes from my doing what is uncomfortable, doing the things I fear and don’t know how to do, like engaging with someone most unlike me. Whether we like it or not, we do this life TOGETHER – really, really.

So I looked on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s website for the list of hate groups – and by the way, there are waaaay too many listed. I was looking for a white nationalist group close to me because I wanted to have a conversation with someone, face-to-face. I decided it was time to talk to someone to understand the lens through which they see this world we share. To listen to another doesn’t mean I agree with them, but I need to be willing to be changed by what I hear. This is our hope.

I wanted to understand how someone reaches a place in life where they believe that white is superior. I couldn’t wrap my head around living an ideology where ALL life is NOT sacred. How does that happen? How does that even work? I wasn’t interested in changing anyone’s mind (well maybe a little), I wanted to connect. Hell, I just wanted to know if it was even possible to connect at a level where I could see that we belonged together.

I found a group that appeared to be a nonviolent one, although their ideology triggered every fiber of my being. I filled out their Contact Us form online, and let that sit for a couple hours before hitting the SEND button. Frankly, I was a little afraid because I had no idea where my message would land after wandering through the ethers. A couple days later I got a reply, and eventually met someone for coffee.

It has taken me months to process the time I spent with this gentleman. It was an hour of vacillating between being judgmental, disgusted, angry, indignant, disheartened and closed-minded, yet paradoxically feeling hopeful, enlivened, open, generous and compassionate. Desmond Tutu says that if you want peace you don’t talk to your friends, you talk to your enemies. So I was a little bit braver than I imagined I could be, met the enemy, and discovered that he and I belong together.

So that’s the gist of the close of 2017 and the beginning of 2018. Part of me would love a little certainty, but the very nature of battling a life-threatening illness for 18 months is there generally is not much certainty beyond what is in front of me at the moment. However, what I do have a sense of certainty with is that being in the mystery is where I belong. Out with the mold: be mindful at the depth of my soul. And in with the true: every truth is a paradox, be the longing, and I’m braver than I think. This is what brings me closest to humanity, this is the path leading me home.

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