Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Making Room for Being Different

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel different, even when I was very young. Being different is as familiar to me as breathing and eating. Last week, as part of the Institute for Sacred Activism I attended, I experienced a major shift in relating to being different. Because the path I am walking is the path of vulnerability, and because I have some hope that what I experienced may be of use to others, I decided to write in some detail about the opening that happened and about what I learned as a result.

Let me start from the end. I have had a storyline for most of my conscious life that says there is no room for me in the world. What I came to see this past week is that I can be different and there can still be room for me. I also had a shocking realization that the idea that there is no room for me leads to feeling separate, and has been hampering my effectiveness in the world.

Being different is not something I can or want to change. My responses to many things are different; what I like and dislike tends to be different; I often want different things from what others around me want; my sensitivities are generally far more pronounced than those of people around me; I see things others don’t see (and don’t notice things that others do); I articulate things differently from how others do. I have complete acceptance of all of that in me, almost all the time. It took years of work to get to where I like who I am and feel at peace with myself about where I am.

The difficulty has always been what to do with my difference. In my habitual way of being, whenever I have had a response that’s different from another person’s I could only see two options. One was to hide my response, suppress my difference, not ask for what I want, and endure the pain of inauthenticity, which is for me pretty excruciating and vivid. The other was to express my response, share my difference, or ask for what I want, and risk (and often experience) the pain of disconnection or conflict.

I already wrote in my previous entry about how I came forward and shared with the group at a time that I felt very separate. When I was writing about it I hadn’t taken in that I was breaking a longstanding pattern. Now I see it: I found a way of being fully authentic that created more connection instead of less.

Then I did it again towards the end of the week. I let people know, again, that I was in a different place from where most were, and that I was speaking in order to make room for myself at the table. Once again the discomfort of feeling so separate and inauthentic melted into tears, and I was back in the flow of life. And once again I heard back from people that they appreciated my doing it.

In this moment I can see the possibility that there can be room for me to express my response, what I want, what I like, what I feel sensitive about alongside the other person with their responses, likes and dislikes, and what they want, however different the two are. Neither of them negates the other. There need not be separation between us just because we are different.

Since then I have also learned how my inner experience of separation reduces my effectiveness. Because I have lived in an either/or consciousness about being different, and specifically assuming that my responses would not be welcome, I have been holding a layer of protection around myself that was invisible to me. When I have chosen to hide, I would become stiff and less flowing. It’s easy to see why that would result in less receptivity to me. Even when I have chosen to express, and despite all the years of working on vulnerability, I know that I have been expressing myself with edges because of the protection. The result is that often people experienced themselves being judged by me, whether or not that was true. It’s my separation, my protection, that came across as judgment. Once again, the result would be less receptivity to me. In both cases my lack of trust acted as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If I can learn and master the possibility I now see for bringing myself forward with much more openness and humility, making room for myself and thereby allowing room for others, I imagine something fundamental can shift in my experience of being alive. I can, perhaps, finally come to a place of true belonging, and thereby reach and connect with more people without separation between or within.