Inner Strength: Depending On Independence

Roughly an hour ago, I dropped eight quarters into a parking meter and then strolled into a coffee shop that I (intentionally) haven’t been in since sighting the beautiful girl three months ago. As I walked in, I quickly glanced over to where I knew the sofa would be and then rejoiced that it was vacant. I led my friend (who is visiting from New York) over to the couch and we both settled down onto it; plugging our laptops in, walking away briefly to order our iced mochas (he went with soy-based and I opted for almond), and then returning to the couch to officially launch our morning writing party.

“Man,” he commented as we both sat back down, “you would never want to leave your laptop sitting on a couch, unattended, in a New York cafe.”

“Really?” I laughed a little. I couldn’t help but feel just a tiny bit proud of this evolving southern state that I like to consider my home.

I watched as he plugged his earbuds in and then, after connecting to the WiFi, I reached into my backpack to retrieve my own earbuds. A blind search procured nothing, so I furrowed my eyebrows and leaned over, looking down into the backpack as I searched through it with my left hand. I still couldn’t find them.

Huh.. I ALWAYS keep them in the FRONT compartment with my wallet, I assured myself. Yes.. you do, I agreed. Okaaaaaay, I acknowledged my own confirmation, then where the hell ARE they?

I didn’t really think they’d be there, but I went ahead and checked the “main” compartment of my backpack anyways (where I typically keep my laptop, journal, library-novel and bottled vitamins). No luck. So I re-checked the front compartment, beginning to feel desperate and feeling silly for feeling desperate over a pair of earbuds. My search resulted in – big surprise – no results. I had to accept the fact that they just weren’t there.

Well shit. As I sat there, considering the idea of running out to the car and checking the insides of sticky cup holders and the dusty floors underneath the seats, I reminded myself that, on a Friday morning, eight quarters only bought two hours’ worth of parking time. So why waste even two minutes searching for those damn things? You already know that they aren’t in the car.

But can you write without them? I queried, sounding skeptical.

There was a pause.

I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever really tried to write WITHOUT listening to music. 

I simmered on the response. For a single second.

Now that’s STUPID, I decided. If you can’t write without listening to music, you’re an idiot.

I looked around the cafe. There were three people in line placing orders.

A dude wearing a green Tame Impala t-shirt and a red ponytail had seated himself at a two-person table near the front counter and was peering down at his laptop.

Near the cafe’s exit, a 20-something-year-old girl (who was also wearing a ponytail) had taken her seat at a rectangular table that could sit four. A camel brown Coach bag rested against her chair, and beside the bag, her almond brown heels were sticking to the concrete floor. Raising my gaze so that it was eye-level with the table, I noticed that she was wearing a silky green vest and a black pencil skirt. She appeared to be interviewing the person who was sitting directly across from her; an elderly woman wearing a firetruck red blouse and who had her hair clasped into a careful ponytail by a gigantic silver barrette. The young journalist would look up at the woman every thirty seconds or so, holding her gaze for a moment and looking intensely interested as she did so. The old lady seemed to be vocalizing her thoughts slowly, and I watched as, time and time again, our journalist would return her attention to the notepad lying submissively on the table. She used her right hand to jot down notes.

I blinked and looked away. To my left, a man wearing a blue, short-sleeved shirt and brown, strappy sandals was sitting parallel with the brick wall. He had a glasses case, a card, a magazine, and a book titled “Soap, Sex, and Cigarettes” all laid out on the table in front of him. He was presently writing in the card with his left hand.

Closer to home, a small group of business men were seated at a circular table that was situated just a few feet in front of me. The table supported a single mug of coffee and three disposable cups of coffee. Three of the men were wearing grey suits; one man, who was unsuited, wore a black and white button-up shirt. No tie. Here’s your question: Which man had the coffee mug? Just kidding; schoo000ooooool’s out – for – the summerrrrrrrr!

I looked up; there were world maps hugging the walls, eclectic lighting fixtures dangling from the ceiling, and indie music was whining lightly in the background; some of the instruments and guitar riffs were coming through the speakers clearly enough, but the vocal lines were too pitchy and hushed to decipher. Will I really be able to think clearly without being able to block all of this unpredictable noise out?

The cold and giant room smelled like coffee beans, flour, and chocolate chips.

Just start writing, I instructed myself warily.

***

I had a dream earlier this week.

It began when I stepped outside of a doorway. I looked down and there was a snake on the ground. Charlie, who must have been standing right behind me, quickly picked me up and, carrying me, moved us both past the snake. As he continued walking out onto the street, I was surprised and alarmed to turn my head around and see that the snake was keeping pace with his movements, quickly slithering along after us. Instinctually, I wanted to jump down and run, but Charlie couldn’t put me down because I was barefoot. Only he was wearing shoes. So he continued cradling me in his arms and carrying both of our weights; I could feel small jolts of pressure with every step that he took. Feeling heavy and helpless, I watched over Charlie’s shoulder as the snake bounced in and out of my vision. It never trailed far behind us; it only grew closer.. and it seemed like we weren’t moving nearly as quickly as we needed to be moving.

And then, of course, I woke up and asked myself: What now? What is my subconscious trying to communicate to me this time?

Obviously, at first glance, the dream is about the danger of dependency. We’re all, to a degree, dependent on things (like alcohol and soap operas, or coffee and burritos), but more than things, we’re dependent on people, and we have varying relationships with (and different needs satisfied by) those people. Here are some common examples:

  • You’re dependent on your employer slash manager for money to live somewhere, drive something, eat food, and survive. Many of us are also dependent on our employers for health, dental, disability and life insurance.
  • You’re dependent on your family members for unconditional love and support. They’re the ones who will encourage you to tryout for American Idol.. even if your voice sounds like complete shit. They’re also the ones who will compliment a new haircut that never should have happened.
  • Should you have one, you’re dependent on your significant other for affection, encouragement, inspiration and friendship. This person should strike a balance between challenging and grounding you. You count on this person to be loyal, present, and stable, and while you don’t require all of their time and attention, you consistently and confidently request some of it.
  • You’re dependent on friends for fun times, stress relief, and emotional support.. because who else is going to listen to you bitch about your family, significant other, and work life? As far as fun is concerned, there are some adventures that you’ll want to go on solo, and that’s healthy, but there are certain adventures and activities whose fun become greatly enhanced with company, and some days, you just really need to have a friend around; someone with a listening ear and a smiling face who will serve as a living, breathing reminder that you are important and cared for.
  • You may even be dependent upon a god for moral guidance and hope for the future.

So, with this intricate, external support system in place, how much do you need to depend on yourself? That depends entirely upon one thing: How strong do you want to be?

 

I think that, compared with this time last year, I am far more dependent on myself than I used to be. In the past, I relied very heavily on others for my sense of worth and happiness. To a degree, I still do, but not nearly as heavily. Once upon a time, the ideas that others had about me – the way they approved or disapproved of my decisions, and the presence of either their admiration or criticism of my  work and character – affected both my mental and emotional state in a massive kind of way and determined not only how I felt about myself, but also what kind of day I would have. Now, I don’t look to outside perspectives to construct a clear vision of myself. I’m still affected by opinions, of course; I’m open to constructive criticism and I appreciate compliments like anyone else would.. but I’ve found that I experience a greater sense of stability when I consistently stay in tune with myself, and I’m able to stay in tune with myself by setting aside special time each week where I temporarily disconnect with everyone BUT me. During this time, I mentally and emotionally “unpack,” and by this, I mean: I think about the things that have made me sad and that I’ve just stuffed away all week so that I could continue to function. I pull apart, flip over and rotate the things that have confused or intrigued me. I’m honest with myself about things I’ve done or said that I disapprove of — intuition is the most HELPFUL guide — and I also stop and compliment myself on the things I know I’ve done well. I don’t need someone else to do any these things for me. But I do think that we all have an inherent tendency to run wildly in one direction or the other when it comes to our self-image; we’re either absurdly negative about ourselves (our appearance, character, worth and abilities) or generously (delusionally) complimentary, and sometimes, it DOES take an outsider’s perspective to peg and then point out which side of the road you’re on. Whether you figure all of that out on your own or someone else helps and points it out for you, when you discover which side of the road you’re on, pull up Google maps and navigate to a healthy midpoint. Strike a balance between the two extremes. On one hand, OVERLOOKING your flaws is unwise, and on the other, recognizing and then lamenting your flaws as INSURMOUNTABLE is irrational. Make it your LIFE MISSION to find the creamy center of that Oreo (the creamy center being your true, best, happiest and most wonderful self). You CAN do it.

 

So anyways, in this dream, my subconscious was clearly warning me to not become overly dependent on others (again). That doing so would rob me of my own strength. It’s like this:

 

Imagine that you’re kayaking up a river. You’re using your muscles to paddle upstream; it’s tiring, but repeating the motion is getting easier because you’re becoming stronger through repetition as you push yourself; paddling is becoming a habit (and proving to yourself that you can do it certainly doesn’t hurt your confidence level, either). So it’s a win-win.

 

Then, somewhere along the way, a person hops into the kayak with you. They settle into their seat and offer to take over for a while.. to give you a break. It’s nice to have a break sometimes.

 

But if they start doing all of the paddling for you and you’re no longer using your own muscles, they will atrophy. You will literally lose your ability to expertly operate the kayak — an ability you worked so hard to obtain.

 

For kicks, let’s say that THAT happens: They take over and you become way too comfortable with the new arrangement. Crazy plot twist: A shark (they lurk in rivers, you know) suddenly jumps out of the water and eats your friend. They’re 100% gone. Now, you’re devastated, and you’re immediately left to paddle on your own. Can you still do that? Comfortably? What’s your endurance going to be like? If the river is reigning you in and forcefully tugging you downstream — if it’s just about to precariously position you at the very onset of an INSANE waterfall — then you’ll need to RESIST the pull with every fiber of your being and paddle AGAINST the stream like your life DEPENDS on it. But will you be able to do so? Are you practiced enough? Are you confident enough? And here’s the most probing question: Do you trust yourself?

 

Don’t take chances. Stay practiced and you won’t have to guess. Be disciplined and you won’t have to wonder. An experiential knowledge of your own ability will make you feel confident, and then you will naturally view yourself as being trustworthy. Keep in tune with your mind, body, and soul every step of the way. No one will ever know the depth and width of your capacity as well as you can know them (and the best news is this: nothing is concrete.. so if you discover that the ceiling sits lower than you wanted it to, or that the walls are more confining than you intended them to be, remember that everything is fluid and that, with a quick jab of your will and some creative energy, you can elevate and expand the ceiling and walls to whatever dimensions you’re shooting for). It’s okay to take a break from being a badass, but don’t fall indefinitely into the strong arms of someone or something else; do that, and you’ll begin to view your greatest source of strength as coming from something external and someone other than yourself. 

 

 

What’s the lesson in all of this?

A. Keep your shoes (and boxers) on or nearby AT ALL TIMES. You never know when you’ll be standing outside of some random doorway, staring down at a snake and needing to hit the pavement stat.

BRivers are, surprisingly, swarming with sharks. Just.. be aware of that.

 

The journalist and her old lady friend abandoned the table about a half hour ago. In their place, a dad and his kid are now sitting across from each other. The father just stepped away (presumably, to order something else). The little girl is continuing to sit in her chair happily; dangling her legs (which don’t quite touch the ground) and kicking them backwards and forwards with a rhythm that is completely out of sync with the indie music that’s mercilessly droning on in the background. She’s wearing a gray cotton dress with pineapples and strawberries painted onto it. She took the muffin her dad offered to her a few seconds ago, before he walked away, and tore it in half; she’s holding half of a muffin in each hand and has muffin crumbs sticking to the sides of her mouth.

 

I thought about grabbing a muffin when I first ordered my mocha two hours ago, but I decided to hold out for a lunch-hour ritto.

 

And will I be obtaining said burrito from Chipotle? You can depend on it.

Aun Aqui

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