Category Archives: vanity

The Dance of the Ego

I’m turning 30 tomorrow.

This bears repeating: I’m turning 30 tomorrow. And my ego has been out in full force over the last few weeks.

First, I had this idea of what I wanted my “big day” to be like. I don’t always have birthday parties, but I definitely wanted one for this year. And I wanted it to be a large party, for me, with 8-9 people. I wanted to get everything on my wishlist (only 23 items, how hard can that be, really?).

The wrinkle began over a month ago, when a good friend of mine told me she couldn’t make it. That wrinkle grew quite a bit, with most of the people I invited saying they already had other plans.

Then my in-laws seemed to forget that my birthday was approaching. Last year, I didn’t get the traditional birthday dinner; they chose to celebrate my birthday on Mother’s Day and picked up fried chicken (which doesn’t agree with my intestines, let’s just leave it at that) for dinner. The chocolate cream pie, while homemade, was made with Splenda, which also doesn’t agree with my intestines. Let’s just say it was kind of a… crappy birthday meal. So, I’ve been a bit anxious about whether this year I’d actually get a birthday dinner that I could really enjoy.

As the weekends passed without any mention of my upcoming birthday or questions about what food I may want for my birthday dinner, I began to get more anxious.

Did it matter that my father-in-law’s mother was in the process of dying and succumbed to death two weeks ago?

It should have, and I knew that it should have, but I’m ashamed to say that it didn’t really matter as much as it should have.

I felt like a 3-year-old jumping up and down while waving my arms and shouting, “LOOK AT ME!!! LOOK AT ME!!! LOOK AT ME!!”

It wasn’t pleasant. I could feel how unusually self-centered I was, but seemed completely powerless to stop the onslaught of ego.

It’s still there, really. It’s kind of hard to contain it. Turning 30 is made out to be such a big deal in American culture, like it’s the “end of youth and the beginning of the slow march into middle age”, as Dr. Bashir stated so eloquently on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. And I honestly have mixed feelings about turning 30, because of my physical issues. I’m used to people being shocked by how young I am to be dealing with these kinds of physical problems, and the older I get, the less shocked people become. It’s like I want the credit of having dealt with these issues for 30 years instead of people assuming they’re a new problem somehow related to my current age. (I know that 30 is still young to be dealing with the level of physical issues I deal with, but it’s not as young as, say, 12.)

The teacher of the meditation group I attended suggested treating my ego with some compassion. This is a good suggestion. I often talk about my body parts as if they have their own thoughts and desires and have found it helpful, e.g., “My left hip isn’t happy with the amount of walking I’ve done.” I will begin relating to my ego in the same way, as if it’s a body part: one that I need to care for, but, like all body parts in pain, one that I need to realize is just a part and not as all-encompassing as it seems.

So, ego, I just want you to know that I know you’re there. And I don’t want to destroy you or harm you in any way. I just want to understand that you’re not the center of everything. Just like if I favored my left hip and completely ignored the rest of my body, I’d end up injuring myself: just so when I favor you above all others, it’s harmful.

Happy 30th birthday, ego.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under daily life, ego, physical pain, practice, vanity

Query on Motivation

There is some conflict/drama in a local organization I’m involved with. This conflict is causing–and is caused by–suffering, and as a bodhisattva, one of my “duties” is to end suffering when I’m able. But even before taking my bodhisattva vow, I’ve always had difficulty in just seeing a conflict and letting it work itself out. I’ve always felt the need to get involved, to help resolve things and restore tranquility to the conflicted party. Growing up, this was one of my family roles, even: to help resolve conflict. And I appeared to be pretty good at it.

This morning, before rising out of bed, I was mulling over the current conflict, wondering what, if any, actions I should take. I found myself daydreaming…

I was addressing the group as a formal “mediator”. I was saying beautiful, heartfelt things that were clearly moving those who were listening. My words pushed against the knot of conflict, unraveling it one heart at a time…

This daydream gave me pause and reminded me of another time where I was considering helping someone. That time, I made use of a query: “Do I want to help her or do I want to be the one who helps her?” I ended up not helping her because I found that my motivation was more of the latter than the former.

So, I’m asking myself now:

Do I want to help resolve this conflict
or
Do I want to be the one who helps resolve this conflict?

And I think that, once again, it’s more of the latter than the former.

Here’s the thing: if I’m more interested in “being the one” who’s providing help, then my actions aren’t going to be about really helping the other person–they’re going to be about me: my pride, my ability to “help”, my dream of greatness. If I’m more interested in”being the one” who’s providing help, my actions very well may be harmful.

So until I’m certain my motivation is not to build up my ego, I will refrain from becoming directly involved in this conflict.

2 Comments

Filed under daily life, discernment, ego, pride, vanity

I am not who I want you to think I am.

[copied from my journal]

It looks like the Meeting is considering opening the “Same Gender Issue” again. Somewhere there must be unity we can find, a balance between not having any convictions and saying people with other convictions are wrong and not worth listening to. I think that maybe the practice of tonglen would help the Meeting with this, but no one seems too interested in that. And maybe what it is most of all is that I want to be helpful to the Meeting. I want to be important and valuable… Somehow what should be about the Meeting community has become about me and what I want. I am struggling so much against this sense of superiority and the resentment that inevitably comes with it. I don’t just want my Meeting to find resolution on this issue; I want to have been instrumental to that process. I want to feel that the Meeting couldn’t have done it without me.

I keep trying to listen more than I speak during Worship and Ministry committee meetings; but whenever I’m too quiet, my ego disguises itself as responsibility and makes me worry that I am not fulfilling my obligations as a committee member. But I do need to listen more. I need to focus more on what I can be taught instead of what I can teach.

I need to take listening to God and doing His will more seriously. I need to let go of ego and embrace that only through God’s love am I anything other than nothing.

I want to be humble because I deserve to be and not because I feel it’s righteous to be so. I want to have the kind of pride that deepens my connection to others instead of weakening it. I want to love others as much as I love myself. I want to want to be used by God not because I deserve it, but because God wills it. Now I want to do His will both for His glory and my own. I want people to think I’m righteous and faithful. I want to be looked towards for guidance. I want the words I speak to be respected and followed. I want to be admired.

Everything I want for myself. It should be about God; instead, my faith is all about me.

Leave a comment

Filed under buddhism, ego, faith, gay love, GLBT rights, God, quakerism, third haven, vanity

A Quaker Belly Dancer?

For about 4 years, I’ve been searching for a kind of exercise that I can on a regular basis that won’t eventually negatively affect my health. It seemed like no matter what I tried, everything would cause some sort of flare or joint damage. About a year ago, I tried swimming. When there’s no one in the pool with me, I love swimming. It’s a great time for meditation and prayer. But most of the time, as I swim at a public pool, I’m not the only one in the pool; and swimming becomes a drone of monotony: stroke after stroke, lap after lap.

For Christmas this year, I got an instructional belly dance DVD that I’d had on my Amazon.com wish list for over a year. I was skeptical. After all, my hips had been giving me trouble for about a year now and surely I wasn’t going to be able to belly dance. The first time I tried it, I thought I’d proven myself right: my right hip hurt so much that I was barely able to walk for over a week.

But I tried it a second time, about 3 weeks ago… and found that I could do it. Yes, I do have to modify some movements, but belly dancing is an exercise that I can actually do. I’ve spent the last 3 weeks belly dancing for about half an hour every day except Sundays and I’m starting to feel better. And there’s another aspect of belly dance that draws me to it: my father’s family is Armenian Lebanese. I’ve been around informal belly dancing my whole life at family functions, whenever the women get up and dance. It’s natural for me and connects me with my heritage as an Armenian Lebanese.

Belly dancing has become more than a way for me to exercise. It’s a celebration of my body: of what it can do, and what it can’t, of being a woman and not being ashamed to flaunt my curves and my overly-large hips.

And you are probably wondering what belly dancing has to do with my being a Quaker. I wondered about that, too: how belly dancing fit in with my Quaker faith and practice. I think about the old Quaker belief that one must get rid of all superfluous activities in one’s life, to eliminate anything that might distract one from the pursuit of God. It seems almost comical to think of a Quaker belly dancer. The vibrancy and outward display of belly dancing provides a stark contrast to the simplicity of the Meetinghouse. I worried that belly dancing was a manifestation of my pride, like wearing makeup, and that I would be called to give it up.

But I’ve felt no such call. The more comfortable I’ve become with the idea of me belly dancing, the more confident I’ve become in my body’s abilities. Instead of feeling confined by my body’s inabilities, I’ve started feeling like my limitations are just that: boundaries that allow me to focus on what I can do, real geometric limits in the plane of my body’s abilities. Belly dancing has freed me from the prison my health has made for me.

Belly dancing is not, as many assume, a dance of seduction (though it can be used in that way). It is primarily a dance of appreciation and celebration of the dancer’s unique form. When belly dancing is at its best, the dancer and the music seem to flow from the same source. The dancing becomes a visual manifestation (not interpretation) of the music, as if both have the same creator. The audience, instead of feeling distanced from the music and the dance, is pulled right in and can’t imagine this music being danced to in any other way.

Likewise, when Meeting for Worship is at its best, the message of the Speaker becomes a manifestation of the faith of all in attendance, with the accompanying realization of all that both the faith of all and the message of the One come from the same Source. The listeners, instead of feeling distanced from the Speaker and the Source, are drawn in and find the message given to be undeniably apt and appropriate.

The apparent difference between belly dancing and the Meeting for Worship is that belly dance choreography is created by a person while the message given during Meeting for Worship is crafted by God and filtered through the person. But I do not think this difference is as great as it appears. For, when I am dancing in celebration of my unique body, who am I celebrating? Did I create this body I inhabit?

When I belly dance, I am not celebrating my vanity. I am dancing in gratitude to God for giving me such a body that can dance like this. For God not only to have given me this body but also to have provided me with a way to celebrate His gift is humbling. I will be ever grateful to Him for these gifts.

3 Comments

Filed under belly dance, God, health, meeting for worship, physical pain, quakerism, vanity

Vanity

There are two sins I struggle with the most: vanity and pride (how different are they, really?). Because I feel that wearing make-up encourages me to focus on my face, I don’t wear make-up. In the same vein, I try to avoid flashy, tight, or form-enhancing clothing. I guess one could call me a plain dresser. My sister would have a hard time believing that I struggle with vanity because I’ve never cared much about fashion, but vanity sometimes threatens to overwhelm me and completely distract me from God.

It is with vanity that I struggle today. My hair has grown past my shoulders. It is pretty, and I love the way it glows in the sunlight, as if lit from a fire within. I love the feeling of it against my neck. But my neck does not love my hair, for my neck, with the weight of my hair, is nearly constantly spasming now, which shoots the pain up to my jaw. I wish I were exaggerating, but for the past 2 weeks, my jaw has been hurting so much that even eating cereal hurts. It’s possible that the length of my hair is not the main cause of this, but it is, at the very least, a factor.

I need to cut my hair. I need to cut it short so that it weighs almost nothing. But I don’t want to. How unfit am I to serve the Lord if the thought of cutting my hair has me balking and trying to find excuses! (Have I mentioned how cold it is and how my hair helps keep me warm?)

How thankful I am that God has given me a pain in the neck as inspiration to better serve Him!

Leave a comment

Filed under God, plain dress, pride, quakerism, vanity