Musings

BE HERE NOW: Letting go of the past to be in the present

be here now 22

“We are human BEINGS, not human DOINGS or human TRYINGS”—Mary Burmeister 

Since I began practicing Jin Shin Jyutsu, I often think about BEING. For me BEING means being present in and to what is right now. BEING is about noticing how and where I am at a particular instant, really noticing. It is the noticing part that sometimes proves challenging. Sometimes my mind is full of all I “have to do”, often with some sense of urgency. I might notice hurriedly, thinking Ok, I am…and now I have to do x,y and z. I’ll really slow down enough to BE later. As it turns out, BEING is the foundation that makes any Doing possible. Over the last few years, through learning to BE with the discomfort of slowing down enough to notice now, I’ve come to realize that the speed and urgency I used to feel more of the time was just a distraction. It isn’t just speed and urgency that get in the way of noticing our BEINGness. For me, watching tv or surfing the internet or any other number of activities can be distractions from BEING in myself. What would happen if you simply noticed your BEING, really noticed? What would you discover there? Of course, sitting still is not the only way we can notice. Simply to bring our noticing into any moment, no matter what we’re doing, to notice our breath, the sensations in our body, our thoughts, our feelings, is possible in every instant.

One of the most profound impacts noticing my BEING has had in my life is in the realm of how I experience my familial relationships. A couple of months ago, I spoke with my brother Terfa briefly on the phone. He was in the States for a few days from Nigeria for a conference. I was hoping to see him and our brother Terhemen, who’d had just welcomed his first child into the world with his wife some weeks earlier. Terfa and I hadn’t spoken in about 2 years—not for any negative reason. We hadn’t had a falling out or anything of the sort. Before I continue, a bit of background: I am one of 13 children on my father’s side, while I am my mother’s only child. I grew up briefly with some of my siblings and then didn’t see or speak with them from age 5 until reconnecting with them at age 15. For a long time, I felt a deep sense of loss in not having spent those formative years with them. I longed for the bond they seemed to have with one another. This had been a quiet but defining longing in me. Don’t misunderstand, we get along well and love each other. While this is true, it happens that years can pass without me speaking with them. In years past, speaking with Terfa would have touched on that old longing, The wound of not growing up with my siblings. I had, at various points, romanticized a childhood I didn’t have and, when possible, aimed for a familiarity not actually rooted in real shared experiences and memories. For example, when I’d see a few of them during a vacation, I’d laugh at inside jokes I had no idea about or feign understanding pidgin or slang I didn’t actually. To have my experience of my family be rooted in memories I long for but which aren’t true, kept me slightly out of the present, out of being able to get to know one another as deeply as possible, which was easier with the two other of my siblings who also didn’t grow up with the clan.

On that March night, in my BEINGness, I felt present to the conversation, to the delight of speaking with Terfa, the delight of knowing we share blood and all that comes with that, the delight of talking about visiting him and his family next time I’m in Nigeria, simply the delight. For the first time, my longing for an imagined shared past took a backseat in a way it hadn’t really done before. I was HERE NOW, talking to my elder brother. Speaking to Terfa in 2013 reminded me of how curious and interested I am in each of my siblings and how much I want to get to know them better, as we are now. What a blessing that this is possible—no family feuds or other nonsense to stand as a wall between us.  I don’t need to hold on to an old wish, a wish to alter a past I didn’t create and cannot change. As most of my siblings now have children, and I grow in my womanhood, I realized that this long and old hankering leaves out the wonderful blessings and potential of now. It only took 26 or so years to understand thatJ It’s never to late to BE HERE NOW.

Musings

Only Grape Syndrome

Only Grape Syndrome

I suffer from Only Grape Syndrome (OGS).  Some time ago I was a talk given by Shayka Amina Al Jerrahi. She spoke about how one of the essential roots of human hurts is the belief that we are alone. “Imagine, it’s like a grape on a bunch thinking it’s the only one.”

OGS is characterized by 4 persistent symptoms:

  • Believing you are the only grape on the bunch, that you are not part of a larger community
  • That you can only rely on yourself—even for small things
  • Forgetting that you are part of the larger bunch of your family, your lineage
  • Intense loneliness

I thought I had by and large kicked it until I began thinking about writing about it. This last week I’ve felt traces of the intense loneliness I experienced for a good chunk of childhood and adolescence. In my teenage years, I endeavored to get comfortable with it, thinking it was my lot in life; loneliness was a fact to be endured. Thankfully, I’m not there anymore. I’ve also seriously questioned whether it would be ok for me to write about something that feels so vulnerable to me.

OGS first came on when I was about 5 or 6. My mother and I moved to Los Angeles from Nigeria. It was major culture shock for me, with my accent and fancy dress. The kids in LA public schools were not impressed with my dresses and ribbons everyday. “Christmas Tree” they called me. I came home one day and told my mother I would no longer go to school dressed that way. With some dedication and many hours spent mimicking tv commercials, I lost my Nigerian accent, allowing me safe passage on the playground. From that experience and others in later years, I somehow internalized the notion that other people were, by and large not safe, even as I yearned for meaningful connections more than anything. Other people could not be counted on. Somehow disappointment always turned up. I remember walking around my high school campus, after some small slight, feeling reaffirmed in my belief about the unreliability of everyone but myself. There were a few exceptions but for the most part…

As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to notice more deeply the ways that friends, family and folks in brief encounters, can be magnificent, kind, loving, thoughtful, patient, funny and otherwise gorgeous, in my direction. I’ve learned to be more understanding and less attached to small disappointments—and to catch it when those disappointments arise because I haven’t actually communicated what I want. You know, that awkward moment when someone doesn’t say/do what you hoped they would and you’re disappointed that they didn’t just know to do it without you having to tell them. Sound familiar anyone?

“Are you mad?”
“No.”

“You’re acting mad.”

“It’s fine.”

“It doesn’t seem fine.”
“It is.”

“…ok?”

“by the way, here’s that scarf you gave me. I don’t need it.”

A week later—maturityJ

Remember last week?”

“Yes”
“I was really hoping you would surprise me by making dinner.”

“Oh! That’s what you were mad about. Why didn’t you just say something?”

“I’m saying it now.”

 

OGS has also seriously impacted my relationship with my family. It’s gotten a lot better in the last couple of years, but for the most part, I really forget that there is this network of people I am connected to, past and present. I don’t call them often. It’s a strange thing really, and it isn’t because I don’t love or care about them. It’s the amnesia of OGS.  I’m working on shifting this because I see the distance it has caused with people I don’t actually want to feel distant from. The irony is that the embarrassment and others ways I can feel bad about not reaching out to my family can become a further obstacle, which only compounds the situation. My cousin has been asking me to visit her for a very long time and I haven’t made it yet. It has actually caused some damage to our relationship.

“Heeey! Nice to hear from you. It’s been a very long time.”
“[slight pause of embarrassment], yes. I’ve been…[what reason can one really give if it’s been months, or years??] you’re right, I’m sorry about that. I’m working on it…How are you?”

Since moving to Philadelphia, I’ve been thinking a lot about connection and community. When I decided to move I knew that I would be leaving the physical proximity of friends it had taken me years to make, and new friends I hadn’t had enough time with. I tried not to think too deeply about it. Arriving in Philly and into the arms of a new relationship, I thought that it would be my entry point into a sense of community, something I’ve not felt very connected to throughout my life. As fate would have it my beloved took on a project that resulted in us not seeing each other very much for several months. Unexpectedly, I was left on my own much of the time. OGS kicked into super-high gear, working overtime in fact. I didn’t know where to begin in getting connected. What I have slowly gotten comfortable with in recent years, is the sense of belonging to communities beyond a physical location. I belong to the Muslim community, to the Sufi community within and beyond that, to the community of educators, the community of artists, and so on. I feel more and more at home in these global spaces, understanding that even within a community there are smaller communities as well. My heart is healing here. A year later, I’ve noticed enough to catch my OGS and put it on the side as I endeavor to build a community of friends in Philly.

 

Though Only Grape Syndrome is serious, it can be remedied through the contradiction of catching it when it flares up, reaching out to folks—family, friends, supporters, mentors/teachers, community. When that temptation to forget the web of connections that are lifeblood, just picture imagine yourself as one grape on a full bunch on a vine with lots of other full bunches. As it turns out, we are not the only grapes. Alhamdulillah.

 

Questions for your consideration:

  • Do you suffer from Only Grape Syndrome? If so, what does that look like in your life? (remember that all or only some of the symptoms may be true for you)
  • What does community mean to you? What communities do you belong to?
  • What would it take to deepen your connections to/with those you love? With those you want to get closer to? Are you willing? Are you able?
  • What do you to do to kick OGS to the curb?