Small Tells Me Who I Am

Over the past year, a great deal has changed in my life. I’ve added a chi gong practice to my daily meditation, and last summer I joined the Living Room Choir, and sing with them once a week. In addition, I’m seeing an acupuncturist who works on a very deep physical and emotional level. Until recently, it seemed that all of this was contributing greatly to my sense of well-being. But several weeks ago, several disturbing realizations floated into my consciousness. For the first time, I became aware of the anger still simmering just below my surface. And related to this, I could no longer deny how quickly I feel vulnerable, culpable and responsible when anything—anything at all—goes wrong in any part of my life.

Alongside the realizations, arrived the ardent desire to correct these flaws. And the understanding that I had been developing the tools I needed to do so.

All well and good.

But in my optimism, I underestimated how difficult it is to change essential patterns of behavior and response. Not difficult because I kept forgetting that I was trying to change. Not difficult because I was unaware when my patterns surfaced. Not difficult because I couldn’t come up with alternate responses. None of this was difficult for me.

Once I embraced my realizations, whenever I was confronted with any stress, I behaved beautifully—both externally and internally. I let go of whatever had stressed me. I understood that the person who had caused the stress had not meant to hurt me. I accepted that there was nothing I needed to do or say about what had happened. It wasn’t my fault. And if somebody else was at fault, it didn’t really matter. It was over, and we should both move on and beyond.

Life felt really lovely.

Until one evening, when I suddenly became a stranger to myself. I felt alone and confused. Lost. Nothing made sense any longer. Panic exploded inside me, pushing more and more forcefully against my chest, forcing its way into my head and making it pound. Who am I? I wanted to scream. I’m lost and don’t know how to find my way home.

What was difficult—and led me to this evening of near-silent hysteria and breakdown—was being deprived of my habitual defenses. It turned out that for most of my life, anger and culpability had helped me cope with whatever tensions and stresses landed at my feet. And without these defenses, I not only felt deeply confused but I became a stranger to myself.

Until I remembered small. Lying in bed, the question Who am I roiling in my head, I reached out and reeled in small. I know one important thing about myself, I thought. I am attracted to small.

I thought about a series of photographs I had taken on a recent walk near Mendocino. I had come across a meadow of discarded water pipes, full of rust and corrosion, and spent a good half hour photographing scores of rusted pits and surfaces. I remembered how every small moment of rust had thrilled me, each filled with a complex beauty of colors and shades and textures.

Yes indeed, I know something important about myself. I think small is beautiful. And for the moment, that is enough.

Rust, Big River, Mendocino

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