On being seen.
If you know me, you know that I am an open person. From the way in which I show up in conversation to the things I post on social media, I am vulnerable to a fault. At times I have been told to mind the boundary that exists between private and personal. I see the wisdom in those words of caution. However, I need to feel out borders for myself. After a lifetime inside a cage that was/is all walls, I will not erect anything before I am sure that it will not block out the light.
For, despite my honest words, there is something I am not telling you. Many things actually. For all my openness, I have been clever in the way I constructed the story of me. I have exposed myself in all the ways that I could in order to enchant, entertain and distract you from seeing what is actually there. I learned to hide even when naked in the presence of prying eyes and hands and mouths.
All the while, I never let you see me.
I recently started listening to Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way. Based on the teachings of the Stoics, this book is proving to be ironically soothing. It is filled with stories of remembered people and the pain that they endured on their way to greatness. It is teaching me to view my own struggles and discomfort in a different light. It is not that these stories are new or that these concepts have never been shown to me before. It’s simply that I am ready to embody them where previously I was not.
For the first time in my life, the pain of not being seen outweighs the fear of what will happen when I am.
In November of last year, I began studying with Integral Coaching Canada. At the time, I didn’t know what I was signing up for. I was driven by a longing to understand and connect an almost decade-long process of rebuilding myself. I based my decision on the insight of a good family friend and a conversation with one of ICC’s teachers. I inquired and I pried and I pondered. It felt like a solid framework. From the outside looking in—leaning in—I sensed space to move and also something stronger and more solid. A container.
I was looking for a way to help ease the suffering of others on a deeper level. Something beyond what I had been able to accomplish in the other modalities that I have access to. What I found was myself. And it was not the story that I had created. It was something deeper and softer and more full than I imagined I could ever be. It was a me worthy of love and belonging. A me who could articulate myself and be seen.
It is a rare gift to be able to see yourself anew after years of self-work and self-discovery. Rarer still is to find teachers and peers who are able to hold up that mirror for you. And not in an I-will-break-you-and-remake-you way. There is no fluff or needless filler. No platitudes or pep talks. Rather, in a way that is both gentle and firm, the ICC method and the people invested in its teachings hold you with presence. See you with clarity. Acknowledge you fully.
Because of how this happens, sometimes all that needs to be said in order to feel completely seen is, “Oh, there you are.”
Of course, the Stoics know that lessons learned and lessons integrated are mutually exclusive practices. And so, in the months after first dipping my toes into Integral theory, my life has been a series of challenges and disruptions. Most of them self-inflicted. My current way of being is fighting to the death in an attempt to prevent my new way of being from ever seeing the light of day. Like two gladiators who know each other well enough that they can predict the other’s next move, this clash has been painful and exhausting. Yet, there is progress. I am witnessing changes in myself even as I am witnessing changes in the volunteer clients who I am working with.
So here I am.
In many ways, I feel like I am always starting over. Like the pain of not being seen has not shifted. I know now that it has. While it may be no less intense, it is moving in a way that it did not before. The words are coming more easily and the stories are more vivid and more real. As much as I have been longing to be seen by others there is also a more subtle ache to see myself. Beyond the buzz of social narratives and media constructs, I am longing simply to see me and decide for myself what is there.
Do I see beauty in me?
What about grace?
Does the woman I am becoming match up to a feeling of wholeness in process?
Where is there weakness that can be strengthened?
A hard edge that can be softened?
What song is yet unsung?
What do my thoughts taste like when they are allowed to ripen?
Is what I have to offer the sweetness that our world so needs?
Who is this being when she is able to fully express her potential?
So. I suppose this is where I go back to the work of being seen. I will do my best not to hide from you anymore. To be honest in the way I do not edit my essential self out of the stories I tell you. Which may mean I do not charge forward in life quite so quickly. It may mean I am a bit quieter in my day to day life so that I have the energy to give my whole voice to the practices that will help me be seen. I want to see me and I want you to see me. And then, hopefully, I can help you see and be seen too. As I am learning, though, the process begins first with ourselves. Always.
There is one last piece to this thought. ICC and the Stoics are lighting up my life in ways that I never imagined possible. There is also a very special human who, curiously, has “The Obstacle is the Way” tattooed on one arm. This friend is showing me, in no small way and with no fear of the shadows that lurk in my corners, that being seen can happen always. That beyond the ah-ha moments and complex theories, there is a lot to be said for showing up and seeing what is right there in front of you. Who is right there in front of you. For all the hiding I have tried to do in this human’s presence, they see me anyways.
Please, see me too.