My Contribution to the Red Circle Project

I am adding the following entry I wrote last year on Sept 1, 2012 for The Red Circle Project.  I am sharing today on June 2, 2013..respectfully Renee Baker.

Rising and falling

My breath be not still

And this mind keeps turning

Of its own free will

Hear me my Lord

To you this I pray

That I reach my stillness

Each glorious new day

–          Renee Baker

Dear Traveler,

The Czechoslovakian poet Rainer Maria Rilke said that the only real journey we can go on is the journey within.  To take this journey, we must empower ourselves with courage and energy, and decide we will become alive and awake.  This message of Rilke is easy to forget, so cautious we must be, lest we continue to dream to a lullaby sung by sirens.  Dreams within dreams we have, and we must journey inwards through layers of more awakened states, always assuming there is more consciousness to be had, always assuming there is some pattern of living that we cannot yet see.  And as we go, peeling away layers of our stubborn onion, we must learn to sit with some pain, but with the rewards of a calmer and richer life.  My hope for us all then is to awaken a bit more to greater peace and greater love.

My own journey took me down a transgender road.  I am not a woman in the usual sense, but a woman who once fathered a son.  I live an unusual life, and I once thought this road to be a curse, but have realized with time what a blessing it has been.  Not just for me, but for many in my life.  My awakening has been a blossoming through gender, and it has helped me nurture not only myself, but also others.

We are taught from very early on that we are either male or female, and for most of us, the idea of the world as broken up into mothers and fathers is very comforting.  That is most likely as true for you as it was for me.  So it was very hard for me to find I was not relating solely to the gender role I was assigned to.  And to make matters worse, the mental health profession has not historically treated full gender expression as healthy behavior.  They have so often judged transgender as abnormal – feminine men and masculine women are not allowed – and are to be fixed.  This rigid medical belief that I had swallowed I could not regurgitate because I was isolated from my own transgender community.  I had no transgender role models or feminists in my life, to tell me I was okay.  So I felt broken inside and I suffered deeply.  I wondered what was wrong with me, what happened to me and how I could get better.  But what I really wanted was just to be a girl.  And what is so wrong about that?

I was born in 1964 and married at age nineteen.  My wife and I had a son together and I look fondly on the memories we created as a family.  After twenty-two years though, after a great deal of agony, my wife couldn’t stay with me any longer and we divorced.  My father once asked me why I got married if I knew I was transgender. I told him I just knew that I loved my wife-to-be very much and wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.  In 1984, dreams of any type of gender transition were only dreams, and I never thought I would transition.  Indeed, even at the time of our divorce in 2005, I had not yet made up my mind what to do.  I only knew that hiding in a closet was no longer an option.

Sometimes in life we are faced with difficult questions and difficult decisions to make.  Mine was simply the question whether or not to transition from male to female.  I was an engineer most of my life and I put my analytical mind onto that burning question on what to do.  And all the while, I was coping with the breakup of our marriage and the death of our family dog.  I didn’t really know how bad depression could be until that time.  Our minds can take us to scary places and I was fortunate to have the support of a counselor and many friends.  But my biggest breakthrough came by listening to the teachings of Eckhart Tolle.

The summer of my divorce, I was driving from Dallas to South Dakota to visit my brother, his family and my parents.  I stopped at a bookstore in Oklahoma and was looking at audio books that I might listen to on the way up.  I found Tolle on the shelf, an older teaching of his, but my favorite until this day.  The title – The Findhorn Retreat: Stillness Amidst the World.  That word stillness drew me in.  That is just what I needed.  I had told my medical doctor that I really didn’t care if I was a dog or a cat or a man or a woman, I just wanted peace in my life.  When I saw that word stillness, it grabbed me.  I wasn’t sure what this spiritual teacher knew, but my counselor was guiding me to embrace my spiritual side, so I opened my mind to see.

Tolle spoke so slowly, and for a reason.  He spoke of his own depression.  He spoke of his own endless problems he could never solve.  He got to a point in his life where he said, “I just can’t live with myself.”  And then he wondered just who is this self I can’t live with any more.  He started to pay attention to his own thoughts.  He noticed them and saw them play across his mind like a movie stuck on repeat.  His life dramatically turned when he realized that he was not his thinking mind.  He realized that because he was aware of his thinking, he could not also be his thinking.  It was an “aha” moment.  The problem for most of us is the same, that we are stuck in dreams of thought.  And we don’t pay enough attention to what we are thinking about, so it is reactionary rather than deliberate.  A spiritual awakening then, as Tolle says, is awakening from the dream of thought.

Wow.  I was mesmerized by what he said; especially when he further said that our emotional suffering follows from what we think.  And if we want to reduce and eliminate our suffering, we have to learn one thing – to quiet our minds.   I was desperate and I was suffering, so I put my faith in what he was saying.  I would try to do what he said to do.  I was lost in my own depressive dream and I needed to snap out of it and quiet my mind.  It worked, and this became the most important lesson of my life.

Quieting my mind took several months of practice.  It is a lesson in learning to be present both here and now.  Being here and now means taking our focus and placing it not on our thoughts, but on our physical selves and the environment that we sense.  Learning to be present is learned through meditation.  The challenge for all of us is our resistance to meditate.  Just as children do not like to lie down and take naps, adults do not like to meditate.  We are too busy and our minds tell us not to be quieted.  These are the sirens that sing lullabies for us to sleep by.  Sirens are tricksters – our mind simply instructs us not to quiet it.  When you can laugh at your own mind, at how it reluctantly goes to sleep so you can awaken, then you will understand why Buddha smiles.

This is when I knew transition to female was right for me: in my joy, I discovered how much I loved to dance.  One day while spinning in my bliss, knowing I would no longer have to emotionally suffer in my life, I decided that having gender reassignment surgery was right for me.  I took a leap of faith, knowing all would be okay, and it was.  I think that all of us do come to great crossroads in our lives, where we have to make decisions, but we don’t know what the outcomes will be – so we get stuck.  We have to make choices.  It is risky not to.  These are existential dilemmas for all of us.  The beauty though is that whatever we choose, we can be at peace, if only we learn to quiet our mind and gain control of how we think, so our mind does not have control of us.  This is what salvation is all about to me.

So, my dear traveler, on your journey to find your inner self, I encourage you to do something contrary.  Instead of finding out who you “really” are, I encourage you to un-find yourself.  I believe that our journey within is not so much about who we are, but about learning to create authentically who we want to be.  It is about evolution and change, always becoming and never having to be stuck in the place we were born or once were, always setting our own limits of living.  This is life – empowering ourselves to build lives we love, letting go of the fear of what others think, and accepting all that come our way, especially ourselves.  This is the road to blessed peace and love.  And I wish this for you, for me and all of us.

Quietly yours,

Renee Baker

p.s. If during your travel inward it becomes painful, do reach out to others for help.  See a spiritual teacher, a medical doctor or a professional counselor.  It’s important not to live life alone.  We do need each other.

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