Tuesday, December 31, 2013

leaving 2013, part three (3 of 3)

one must certainly forgive me for having "hopes" for the new year; after all, this is the time of year when the whole world reflects upon the past, and then projects upon the future, learning from what has come before and anticipating a "better" new year.  one must certainly be forgiven for this, if only because the process so often fails in a spectacular manner.  and yet, come the end of december, i, along with countless others, launch once again into an annual inventory of "successes" and "failures"--the two distinguished only by the respective accompaniment of either pleasure or pain.  so please forgive me.

compassion, they say, begins with the self. i don't think it ends with the self, but i would have to agree that this is indeed a good place to start. at least that is what has worked for me, and what i generally tell my clients. when applied to myself, compassion allows me to put aside the whip, as it were, and recognize the innocent aim of my actions, despite the occasionally meandering results.  i used to be so fucking hard on myself, expecting that every decision would be the right one, not only for me, but for those whose opinions most mattered to me.  this is the bane of being recognized as a smart kid early on--adults then heap loads of unrequited dreams upon you and you take on the responsibility of not only your satisfaction, but theirs as well. what a burden! compassion, for my self, looks something like this:  i recognize how hard i have tried to please everyone in the world so that i will feel loved, and then i stop working so goddamn hard, and settle into the new idea that i don't need to prove a goddamned thing (pleasing someone can come from a place or caring rather than obligation).

new years used to be the perfect time for me to reset the clock, as it were. wipe the slate clean, start afresh, auld lang syne and all that, but that changed somewhat once i developed compassion for myself. once i started taking it easy regarding my choices, i found that i needed something else to set the 31st of december apart from all other days of the year. for many years i did not find that replacement--i just worked on the holiday, thereby designating it as a time to make lots of money rather than lots of resolutions.  but i don't work on new years anymore, and i don't beat myself up anymore, so what do i make of it now? well, it is fairly simple, and i really don't know why i didn't just click my ruby slippers together YEARS ago and arrive sooner at this conclusion, but you know how it goes concerning the expediency of life lessons, so here i am now at where i am now. where is that? well, simply put, i am in a space of gratitude.  

before going any further, let me specify that this gratitude is not to anyone outside of myself, but instead for something outside of myself. kind of. that something is life. LIFE. on the days leading up to the new year, what i feel is gratitude for the experience of life--gratitude that it is even possible to celebrate the closing of another year (instead of being plastered against the front of a car). gratitude for the experience of all the choices i have made this year--the ones that were pleasurable and the ones that were painful. gratitude that i am able to now reflect on those choices and narrow down my repertoire of options for living a meaningful and purposeful life.  gratitude that i got through 2013 in a very pleasant way, with big changes and insights, new friends and lovers, soft whispers and loud cries, subtle closings and powerful re-entries. gratitude for the flaws and the brilliance, the in-betweens and the borders, the blurs and the clarity, the sures and the not-so-sures.  i have gratitude for all of it, because this year i have gotten a grasp on how to really be there for all of it, instead of hiding out in the past or the future.

this perspective has influenced how i live in the city as well. my best friend recently shared with me that he felt i haven't take enough responsibility for my experience in the city of los angeles, and i have to agree with him a bit. it is easy to blame a city for one's loneliness or dissatisfaction, or blame a lover, or blame your family, etc. it is not so easy to look at one's role in experience--not from the point of blame (which is useless), but from the point of having the power to make a different choice.  since i decided that i am staying in los angeles, i was faced with making a different choice about my experience in this city. but i could not just create a fantasy view--i have been here too long and lived too much--i needed to differentiate between the aspects of the city that i have no power over and the aspects over which i can exert some control. this aspect is centered around my connection with people--getting the fuck out there and making an effort to be a friend and colleague who people like being around.  and i am happy to report that, boy, have i exerted control in this area this year! i ended last year year feeling somewhat alone, much as i had ended many years. but this year i do not feel alone in the slightest, and not just because i am spending it in palm springs with my best friend. even if i was doing nothing on new years i would not feel alone--my life now feels rich and meaningful due to a remarkable circle of friends and professional acquaintances who matter to me. i built this, it did not drop in my lap, and i am sure my best friend would say that i have taken more responsibility for my experience of late.

so i can end this year with this statement: i have not fallen in love with los angeles, but i have grown to love it. this has been by intention, but i have done the exact thing that i would have had to do in san francisco had i moved there. you see, the city, any city, is nothing without its people, and i populated my life this year with some of l.a.'s most interesting occupants. because i am feeling more loved, it is easier for me to love back. as i end 2013 in southern california, the area of the country where not only did i grow up, but where i have spent the bulk of my life, i can truly say that i feel fortunate to be here, and very glad that i did not move. i did not ditch the relationship--i worked at it and am better off for the effort. i feel like michael caine's character in "hannah and her sisters" when he realizes that he loves his wife far more than he previously suspected. besides, los angeles is a marvelous city at times, it really is. no more so than at night when the smog is hidden and the lights guide one's focus into crevices and shadows, the place where love dwells and waits. los angeles is a city best seen through its shadows--the sunlight is far too obvious and easy--the city holds its heart in its darkness, as do i. so i end with a celebration of l.a.'s shadows--what i love. l.a. and i are good this year. not every relationship is workable, but every good relationship takes work. i had a good relationship that i nearly threw away.

happy new years, lover.

Monday, December 23, 2013

leaving 2013, part two (2 of 3)

i have written a lot this year about the idea of control (here).  to summarize, it seems to me that the thing we have the MOST control over is our response to things--outside incidents, our own thoughts, feelings, etc.  buddhists subscribe to the idea that an awakened person is one who has this feat down, but i think that even the buddhists would back away from saying that one can ever have complete control over anything, even our responses, nor that this is even the goal.

2013 has been about control for me, lessening it, specifically, from a thematic standpoint. for ten years i have lived a rather controlled life as a way to move toward a goal--becoming licensed as a psychotherapist in california.  well, i am probably about 6 months away from reaching this goal, and so this year i have had the chance to loosen some of the control around my life in preparation for the final steps.  that meant leaving my day job of eleven years, leaving the counseling center i interned at for five years, and opening a private practice.  my decision in late 2012 to stay in los angeles and not move to the bay area was a way to exert more control over my situation, but this decision enabled me to do the aforementioned actions.  give a little, get a little.

on a personal note, this year i seriously let go of trying to control my sexuality and an "appropriate" expression of the same.  this has resulted in the return of a very healthy sex drive as well as more meaning in my life, more enthusiasm, and more energy. although i would not want to go through the struggle again, i highly value the experience of finding out how powerfully i can "shut myself down", convincing myself that the result is due to biological or environmental causes.  do not underestimate your own brain, friends! to my credit, i was able to locate the source of the shift within, rather than without, which means that i suffered less once the outside stimulus was removed. mind you, the shift was triggered by the outside stimulus, but it was not reliant on this catalyst to happen.  fuck, how can i explain this in an easier way...you know how a car relies on gasoline in order to operate?  well, that is a metaphor for the inaccurate perception i have carried for many years--that as soon as someone or something comes along, a change will occur.  what happened this year is that i found out that i am actually a hybrid vehicle instead of a gas powered one.
the gasoline (outside force) got me started, but then my internal battery kicked in and ran to home base! once i got started, i did not need the gasoline anymore--for a while.  (forgive me if i have just completely bastardized the way that automobiles work, but i hope you get the picture!)  if you want more of the details of the process i am referring to, you can go here.

don't get me wrong, i totally get why the idea of control is so appealing.  we live in a scary as fuck world in which we could cease to exist at any second, and since so many of us find ourselves wandering through it by ourselves more than we would like to, it makes sense that we would find comfort in thinking that we have power over what happens to us.  i totally get it! but here is the "easter egg", if you will, that i have uncovered in my recent exercise of loosening control.  the chaos is SO much more fun and satisfying!  however, i was not able to reach this conclusion until i became more intimate with the fact that there is never complete safety, there are no guarantees outside of physical laws, and sometimes i am going to hurt. and that is okay, because i have finally moved past the idea that any level of hurt equals annihilation. this is also sometimes known as "gay shame", or "cultural trauma". this does not mean that from time to time it is not a tug-of-war between control and chaos.

it feels really good to be moving past this.  really, really good.

so at this time of the year, as we approach a culturally constructed ending and new beginning, it seems fitting that i am able to review my process this year and make the following declaration:  "i am happy".

to be continued...

Sunday, December 22, 2013

leaving 2013, part one (1 of 3)

i often think about the construction of our current twelve month calendar, which should not be too surprising of a fact, given that i am a postmodern sort of guy. you see, in my work as a psychotherapist, i listen for, comment on, and and then tear apart narratives in order to help people uncover what parts of their belief system may be causing them trouble in life.  so when i say that i am thinking about the twelve month calendar, what i mean is that i am "tearing apart" the idea of it in my mind.  the postmodernists would prefer the term "deconstructing", but that does not carry the same vivid visual that "tearing apart" does.

i am thinking about the calendar at this time because it should be obvious to you that, as of publishing time for this post, the twelve month cycle is coming once again to an end.  we are moving very rapidly toward a new year--2014.  i am also thinking about the calendar because i am aware how powerful of a narrative the calendar is on my life--on all our lives.  without it, we would have to rely on the change of the seasons and the aging of our bodies to mark the passing of time. think about that for a minute.  imagine that we had only four different seasonal periods that constantly repeated themselves until we finally reached our last season.  we would not know how old we were, we would not know what to "call" the time that we lived in, and we would not necessarily celebrate the hallmarks that we observe in modern times.

we would celebrate, of course, because when you spend your days hunting and picking food, building shelter, migrating, fighting enemies, and hoping for a fuck, well, you have got to let your hair down from time to time to break the routine. now i am no scholar on the tribes of yesteryear, but i suspect that many of their celebrations centered around the seasons--full moons, the beginning of the harvest, the first melt of spring, and the like.  but i am pretty certain that they did not celebrate new years eve. for these folks, the day that corresponded to "december 31st" was just another day in the middle of winter.  no big.  no big at all.

and yet here we are, in all our modern sophistication and progressive thought, headed for yet another momentous changing of the calendar and all that comes with that feat.  and where am i with all of this perceptual adjustment? well, in the same boat as the rest of you--looking forward while reflecting back.  just for fun i re-read my blog post from last year around this time (here), and i was shocked to read about how i brought in last year alone, with a cold, and with a bedtime of 10:30.  my predictions for the new year were limited to the milestones that i had been planning:  leaving my job, starting my private practice internship, etc., and yet as i look back i am again surprised at how little i actually anticipated happening. perhaps a better way of putting it is that as i look back, i am surprised, more than usual, at what did happen 2013 that i could not have imagined.

simply put, i am just not the same person i was a year ago.  and that is a good thing.

to be continued...