Saturday, September 25, 2010

Beauty Breathes, Day Six: Self-Compassion

Beauty Breathes, Day Six: Self-Compassion

This is a day-late (and possibly a dollar-short) post because of my visit to the women’s prison yesterday, and the fact that I spent all day today fen-shuiing my home computer space, which was dull and utilitarian. Mr. Typist and I share "The Computer Room” and space is tight, to say the least. With the addition of the gigantic terrarium, (see "Containment"), my space shrank to about four feet by four feet, and remained adorned for the last six years with nothing but a ratty bulletin board and a boring calendar. Today, I bought a purple and gold scarf, a hanging plant with curvaceous yellow and green leaves, a still life of roses and milk pitchers, a mirror, and a purple lamp. I framed a card a always liked, and put up a shelf above my (tiny) computer desk for some of my journals and poetry books. I draped the scarf around the mirror, (I know, very college-dormy, but I like the effect), then hung the plant, the still life, and a gorgeous print by my talented friend Robin Maynard-Dobbs. It's an entirely different space now—warm, vibrant, and inviting. With all the time I spend at my computer working on poetry and creative projects, I can't believe that it's taken this long to occur to me that I should make it a pleasant and visually pleasing space. A shocking oversight for a Libra, but I guess that's what comes of ennui and over-acceptance.

When Dana I discussed joining together in this project, we talked about occasionally switching off so that she would write about beauty, and I would write about compassion. Today, compassion is up for me. Each year, my organization runs an event at the state womens prison centered around heart disease prevention. I always leave this event deeply affected, often in ways that I find hard to give voice to. Being with these women for even a short period of time is intense and emotional, and my compassion for what they are going through is full and present, even through the more difficult or uncomfortable interactions.

Full disclosure here: I'm disturbed by the fact that while I feel this compassion towards women easily, I could never feel the same compassion for the male prison population. Part of this is because of being a victim of violent male crime, but part if it is because I can more easily extend empathy to women for their mistakes, for being victims of their backgrounds and circumstance, for doing things that they shouldn't because they want love and approval. Male prisoners are there for many of the same reasons, of course, but I have an unshakable tendency to view them as aggressors rather than victims. (And then of course, there is of course the issue of locking people up for drug use, which victimizes both women and men needlessly, in my opinion.)

We always try to provide an activity around self-esteem, because so much of what has driven these women in their lives is the need for approval and love. The self-esteem facilitator ran lovely little bite-sized sessions in a private room, and I sat in on one of them. She said that we could learn to breath, to think and speak ten percent slower. She said we could learn over time to be calm, confident, and self-compassionate. She took us through a breathing exercise in which we were asked to offer ourselves self-compassion. This was a very difficult one for me. I was only able to offer my self compassion for a few seconds, after a mighty struggle. But when I did, more space opened up around me. I felt the air thin and become lighter, I felt a flow and a sweetness surrounding my body, and my throat softened as though my words, too, would be gentler and more eloquent.

A broad, round-faced woman with braids sat across from me. Whe I looked at her, there was enormous amount of pain in her eyes. For some reason, I recognized that exact type of pain, that particular depth and quality. I connected deeply to her brand of sorrow because I, too once felt it--for years on end. I think it was the pain of a deep, baked-in shame, the feeling of being beneath love or redemption. Our eyes met several times, but one or both us of kept looking away. If I lingered too long on her face, I would have started crying, I would have tried to comfort her and tell her that there is something on the other side of this, I promise, just hang on. But I didn't want to call her out on her pain. I didn't know how to approach her without being invasive, and in spite of what this Oprah-ized culture tells us, people deserve to have boundaries around their personal suffering.

One of my favorite songs is by Mary Fahl, called “Redemption”:

Redemption
can be granted to us
or be granted by us

but I believe it's due us, anyway.


I will keep this woman in my thoughts. and hope and hope that one day light breaks open for her.

--Kristen McHenry


Artwork "Reverence" by Robin Maynard-Dobbs

9 comments:

Frank Moraes said...

Let me work on pissing off another person tonight...

Drug laws do indeed victimize both women and men needlessly, but they most certainly do not victimize them equally. Among drug addicts, roughly half of all women are "free riders": people who do not pay for their drugs. This is why there are far more male drug addicts in prison than women. Men are responsible for the thieving and drug dealing that are the foundation of the drug addicts' lives. Even many people in for violent crimes such as assault and even murder are there because they were stealing money for drugs and things went very wrong.

I applaud your admission of your limitations in this matter, but I hope that this information will help you to work on it.

On the other hand... The worst thing about prison is boredom. Because there are fewer women in prisons they are often not allowed to have jobs in the prison system. As a result, their time inside can be painfully slow.

In addition... There are horrible men in jail, but mostly, they are not the ones that will be allowed to take part in activities like yours—which may sound boring to you, but for the inmates they are something to pass the time and that is always good.

Of course.... There are also horrible women in jail—just not as many.

Enough of that!

Yesterday, I saw a video of a runway model walking on five-inch heals twist her ankle and fall. She looked like a child, which made me think that we as a society are sick. But much more powerful to me was the dignity with which this young woman got up and limped off the stage. I didn't find her particularly beautiful before the fall: just another human stick-finger in a dress that I didn't understand. But after the fall, she was all beauty—all dignity—all us.

At least once a month, my thrift-store addicted friend Andrea sends me a box of books and other stuff. Two or three packages ago, she sent me four Mystery Science Theater 3000 mini-posters and a Crow action figure. They are what surround my work area. Crow is my ideal. I want to be Crow: pure chaotic good. And his mouth is a bowling pin! Alright! He's a robot! He doesn't breath! But if he did, he would breath through it. And that's beautiful.

Frank Moraes said...

PS: I don't believe in redemption. I have written an essay called "No Redemption for David Brock." I haven't posted it yet, but I will soon. Almost everyone seems to think that I need redemption, but I know there is no going back. There is only now and the future. I think redemption allows us to pretend that life is a destination. Phased like that, it should be obvious that redemption is a myth.

In all my life, if I could take back one thing, it would be an unkind word I spoke when I was nine years old. I think that about sums up redemption. For more, read, "Him With His Foot in His Mouth."

Dana said...

Hi,

I've been doing some volunteer work for Books for Prisoners, and they have these great resource guides for people who are in jail. They include all kinds of information about prisoner rights, as well as contact information for various services.

I could get a copy if you would like, and we could make more copies to hand out at this event next year. I know it's not the reason you all are there, but it never hurts to take the opportunity to get important information into people's hands.

I would also like to volunteer in some capacity next year if you need help.

Jo-Ann Svensson said...

“Let me work on pissing off another person tonight...” And so you did, Frank, and so you did.

Forgive me Kristen for hijacking your site here but I need to comment on Frank’s statement: “Drug laws do indeed victimize both women and men needlessly, but they most certainly do not victimize them equally. Among drug addicts, roughly half of all women are "free riders": people who do not pay for their drugs...”

Tell me, Frank, have you ever sold your body for drugs? Acted as a mule? Allowed your body to be used as a punching bag so you could service your addiction? Women pay for their drugs just as much as men do, in fact, some would say more so. There are no “free riders” in drug abuse. The majority of men may do the “thieving and the drug dealing” but the majority of the women pay through violence.

I used to work at a drop in for people who lived in Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside. The membership was for those who had mental health issues but, being where it was situated, the vast majority also had drug addictions. One conversation sticks out. Two older men, wizened to the street, survivors, were talking about a couple we all knew. They were criticizing the man in that while the woman pulled her wait by being a hooker, he did nothing, not even stealing.

There are no “free riders” in drug abuse.

On a brighter note, Kristen, you are brilliant. I am off to check Dana’s site.

Frank Moraes said...

The term "free rider" is a common one in the drug culture. There are male as well as female free riders, but just as there are far more male domestic abusers, there are far more female free riders.

Of the hundreds of active drug addicts I have know, many (both men and women) has been prostitutes. I wasn't talking about winners and losers; I was talking about who went to prison and the need for understanding and compassion for them all. Few prostitutes end up in prison for that "crime"—they end up there for drug possession.

I know nothing of drug mules—I've never known a junkie who was that well connected to the supply chain. Drug addiction is a day by day life. Drug mules are something that I read about in the New York Times. A drug addict is as likely to be able to procure a large amount of dope as a small city mayor. It isn't the money; it's the connections; they buy a gram at a time—because that's all they're allowed.

This isn't a theoretical debate for me. I was emersed in this life for ten years and published three books and hundreds of articles on the subject. My heart bleeds for these people—all of them. And that is the point.

As for violence: you don't need drugs for that! And although domestic violence is certainly overwhelmingly male, my ex-wife abused me savagely for years—to the point of looking like Rocky at the end of the film (she was arrested for that, but spent only two days in jail—I, like a good enabler, would not press charges). I know the humiliation of making excuses at work for bruises, welts, limps, cuts, and sick days. I know the self-loathing of being unable to leave—only a small part of which was economic. I know the terror of living your life on eggshells, afraid of saying the wrong thing like (and this is an exact quote), "I talked to your mom today."

I don't know what any random person knows about "the drug life" or "the domestic abuse life" but we all need to get over our simplistic: women good, men bad. Everyone has limitations of empathy—certainly I do. Our test is whether we give into it or fight it. I say fight.

Frank Moraes said...

The term "free rider" is a common one in in the drug culture. There are male as well as female free riders, but just as there are far more male domestic abusers, there are far more female free riders.

Of the hundreds of active drug addicts I have know, many (both men and women) has been prostitutes. I wasn't talking about winners and losers; I was talking about who went to prison and the need for understanding and compassion for them all. Few prostitutes end up in prison for that "crime"—they end up there for drug possession.

I know nothing of drug mules—I've never known a junkie who was that well connected to the supply chain. Drug addiction is a day by day life. Drug mules are something that I read about in the New York Times. A drug addict is as likely to be able to procure a large amount of dope as a small city mayor. It isn't the money; it's the connections; they buy a gram at a time—because that's all they're allowed.

This isn't a theoretical debate for me. I was emersed in this life for ten years and published three books and hundreds of articles on the subject. My heart bleeds for these people—all of them. And that is the point.

As for violence: you don't need drugs for that! And although domestic violence is certainly overwhelmingly male, my ex-wife abused me savagely for years—to the point of looking like Rocky at the end of the film (she was arrested for that, but spent only two days in jail—I, like a good enabler, would not press charges). I know the humiliation of making excuses at work for bruises, welts, limps, cuts, and sick days. I know the self-loathing of being unable to leave—only a small part of which was economic. I know the terror of living your life on eggshells, afraid of saying the wrong thing like (and this is an exact quote), "I talked to your mom today."

I don't know what any random person knows about "the drug life" or "the domestic abuse life" but we all need to get over our simplistic: women good, men bad. Everyone has limitations of empathy—certainly, I do. Our test is whether we give into it or fight it. I say fight.

Frank Moraes said...

There are male as well as female free riders, but just as there are far more male domestic abusers, there are far more female free riders.

Of the hundreds of active drug addicts I have know, many (both men and women) has been prostitutes. I wasn't talking about winners and losers; I was talking about who went to prison and the need for understanding and compassion for them all. Few prostitutes end up in prison for that "crime"—they end up there for drug possession.

I know nothing of drug mules. Drug addiction is a day by day life. Drug mules are something that I read about in the New York Times. A drug addict is as likely to be able to procure a large amount of dope as a Whole Food clerk. It isn't the money; it's the connections; they buy a gram at a time—because that's all they're allowed.

This isn't theoretical for me. I was emersed in this life for ten years and published three books and hundreds of articles on the subject. My heart bleeds for these people—all of them. That is the point.

As for violence: you don't need drugs for that! And although domestic violence is overwhelmingly male, my ex-wife abused me savagely for years—to the point of looking like Rocky at the end of the film (she was arrested for that, but spent only two days in jail—I, like a good enabler, would not press charges). I know the humiliation of making excuses at work for bruises, welts, limps, cuts, and sick days. I know the self-loathing of being unable to leave. I know the terror of living your life on eggshells, afraid of saying the wrong thing like (and this is an exact quote), "I talked to your mom today."

I don't know what any random person really knows about drugs and domestic abuse, but we all need to get over our simplistic: women good, men bad. Everyone has limitations of empathy—certainly, I do. Our test is whether we give into it or fight it. I say fight.

Frank Moraes said...

There are male as well as female free riders, but just as there are far more male domestic abusers, there are far more female free riders. Of the hundreds of active drug addicts I have know, many (both men and women) have been prostitutes. I wasn't talking about winners and losers; I was talking about who went to prison and the need for understanding and compassion for them all. Few prostitutes end up in prison for that "crime"—they end up there for drug possession.

I know nothing of drug mules. Drug addiction is a day by day life. Drug mules are something that I read about in the New York Times. A drug addict is as likely to be able to procure a large amount of dope as a Whole Food clerk. It isn't the money; it's the connections; they buy a gram at a time—because that's all they're allowed.

This isn't theoretical for me. I was emersed in this life for ten years and published three books and hundreds of articles on the subject. My heart bleeds for these people—all of them. That is the point.

As for violence: you don't need drugs for that! And although domestic violence is overwhelmingly male, my ex-wife abused me savagely for years—to the point of looking like Rocky at the end of the film (she was arrested for that, but spent only two days in jail—I, like a good enabler, would not press charges). I know the humiliation of making excuses at work for bruises, welts, limps, cuts, and sick days. I know the self-loathing of being unable to leave. I know the terror of living your life on eggshells, afraid of saying the wrong thing like (and this is an exact quote), "I talked to your mom today."

We all need to get over our simplistic: women good, men bad. Everyone has limitations of empathy—certainly, I do. Our test is whether we give into it or fight it. I say fight.

Frank Moraes said...

Just to answer Jo-Ann's questions: Yes. No. Yes. I haven't been able to post here. A more thorough, and harsh, answer is available at: www.heroinhelper.com/angry/free_rider.shtml.