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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I should be strong

This is a spiritual exercise – this is what I do when I’m trying to find my spiritual connection, when I feel lost in some area of my life. When I’m working through something I don’t try to make it all make sense so if you want sensible – stop reading!

Lately I’ve been using the skills I picked up in some evening group discussions back in Salt Lake City based on “The Work” by Byron Katie, but this way of questioning things is more my own way of questioning my thoughts. I believe that suffering is optional and when I find myself suffering I begin by questioning my thinking.

Is it true that I should be strong? That’s what my brain says but I really don’t know.
How do I feel when I think, “I should be strong?” I feel lousy, incompetent, like a failure. Without that thought “I should be strong,” who would I be? I would just be okay - Just me going through my day sometimes strong, sometimes not, either way, okay.

Okay, I’ll turn the thought around and see if the opposites are just as true or truer: I should be strong. The opposite: I shouldn’t be strong? Could that be true? Let me see: I learn a lot more when I am weak and vulnerable and open. Strong sometimes is a front that prevents the world from really knowing who I am. Allowing myself to be weak is allowing myself to experience the lack of power that many people in the world feel.

Let me try out this thought: It’s important for me to be weak right now. It’s important for me to be vulnerable and hurt and feel pain and feel incompetent. I am learning what lack of power feels like.

Look at the lessons you are getting this week. (I think the answers to questions are usually given to me so I look back through my recent life to see what answers I’ve been given, not just questions. Some of this came from a Peace Corps session on Community Development. We looked at Power: 1. Power over 2. Power to 3. Power with 4. Power within.)

When I have no power over my situation – it looks attractive to have the power to do something, to make a change in the external circumstances. Power with a group – I want to share my powerlessness and somehow that will make me more powerful. Creating consensus or having friends really doesn’t give me real power. It feels good and it feels like I am doing something to regain power and it only works temporarily.
Ultimately the power comes from within.

Low power – access to services that can benefit me but not directly involved in the decision making.
Medium power – access to decision making process that is designed by others.
High power – local ability to initiate action, activity benefits the community, shared leadership.

Peace Corps Training is a low power situation. Everything is designed to benefit us, but we have no real choices about where we live, what we do, what we eat, who our friends are, what we must learn, how we will be taught, what we will wear, how we will behave.

It’s temporary. Just a little under 3 months. And it’s preparing us for what we absolutely need. In 2 weeks we will be at our permanent sites, using all the skills we are acquiring right now. We are being trained to live in communities on our own, far from other Americans or the Peace Corps support staff, trained to be English teachers, trained to speak the language and be sensitive to the cultural differences here in Indonesia, trained for the time when many more choices will be ours. So it’s frustrating, intense and overwhelming. It’s also a time to discover a deep reservoir of personal power.

Some power I can have when I am not externally strong and powerful:
The power of acceptance
The power of joy
The power of commitment

So even if a boss gently chews me out and tells me that unless I correct a cultural adjustment it’s possible I will be sent home. So even if I find it difficult to wear the correct attire with the heat. Even if I can’t communicate well. Even if I don’t like the competition aspect of training. Even if so much of what is said goes over my head. Even if I am hot and sweaty and I can’t sleep with all the neighborhood weddings and whatever else is going on with the loud speakers at 2am.

I still have me. And the core of who I am is pretty good. I’m trying, even if I screw up. And I’m trying hard.

Maybe Maggie, Andy, Lukasz and Scott are right. Maybe I am too hard on myself.

Is this Peace Corps training harder than having a baby on dirt floor and feeding the kids with food stamps and living day to day with no electricity or running water?

Is it harder than getting divorced and leaving the place I love and all my dreams behind?

Is it harder than raising my children and discovering that I can’t keep all the pain of life out of their lives?

No, it’s not.

Maybe I’m not strong. Okay, I know I’m not strong. I’m going through this period in my life when I’m not strong on the outside. It’s okay. There’s a well of strength on the inside. I just need to be patient and let it express itself when it’s ready.

If who I am is more than just this bag of skin and bones and thoughts and feelings then I don’t need to be so attached to this particular situation. I am willing to let life use me for its own purpose.

Wow - I’m curious about what that will be!
(And that’s when I stop, when I feel that genuine shift inside. And often for me it shows up with a giggle or a smile:)

I apologize if this spiritual ramble is crazy, offensive or doesn’t represent Peace Corps or its personnel or the people of Indonesia in a good light. I’m attempting to make public the internal dialog that one American woman is having as she walks her Peace Corps path in Indonesia. Peace Corps sent me here to do 3 things: 1) Teach English with a counterpart, so that my skills will be left behind 2) Let the people of Indonesia (and maybe the world through this blog) understand what America and Americans are like and 3) Promote a better understanding of Indonesia on the part of my friends and family back home. That’s the reason I started this blog. I also have a hidden 4th reason for writing this: I hope that someone reading it will think “If she did it, I can do it too,” and will join Peace Corps and the legacy that my daughter gave me when she shared her Peace Corps trails and triumphs will be passed on to someone else through me. Thank you for walking through the chaos and self-discovery with me.

I’m not the perfect representative of America. I’m just a 61 year old grandma who came over here to make a tiny difference in the world. My spiritual thoughts don’t represent any religion or philosophy. I have own crazy way of being me. (Don’t we all.)

I promise I will tell you about all the delightful, enchanting things, the children and men and women and the butterflies and little lizards that make me smile! This really is a marvelous adventure! If I could let you look through my eyes for one day you really would feel something wonderful inside your heart. The word for kiss is the same as the word for smell. I can’t figure out if Indonesia is kissing me or I’m just inhaling deeply!

Love, Colleen

1 comment:

  1. I've been reading your blog from pcjournals, and it's been a real inspiration. I'm currently waiting on my Invite and I was (and still secretly am) really hoping to be sent to Indonesia, and reading your blog just makes me want to go there more, though I don't know if they'll send me there since I can't eat seafood. But I just wanted to let you know that there is someone out in the world who is cheering for you and believes that you are totally going to rock it over there.

    Best of luck to you, and I look forward to reading about the butterflies and little lizards that make you smile.

    And, just as a random addition: you are the absolute perfect representation of America. :)