community educator, writer, herbalist


love school with sumi: choosing our secrets

the secret life of plants.

the secret life of plants.

recently i was watching season 4 of Transparent when a conversation between two characters (sarah and lila) made me pause:

sarah pfefferman: [i] used to lie a lot. my family lies a lot. we're liars. i think it's just because everyone's like in everybody's stuff, so you just tell a lie to have some privacy.
lila: totally. i mean, secrets are kind of like a perfect stand-in for boundaries. right?

there's something in this, i thought. lies don't equal bad. sometimes it's just the only tool we've learned to make a boundary with. is this why we lie? by we i mostly mean everyone else. i'm the opposite of secretive: an open book who is honest to a fault. but this is helpful in understanding those who lied to me. yes - hearing this allows me more compassion for them over there.

just kidding (not really). that was my true, salty, judgmental reaction. in the coming days, in preparation to write this post, i did a fiercer scan of my recent conversations. yes - there was a lie i told. well-actually-yeah that was something i kept secret. lila's idea, that secrets are stand-ins for boundaries, made me notice myself more.

and as the saying goes: if you spot it, you got it.

"remember, love brings up anything that's hiding." - charlotte kasl, if the buddha dated

the first lie i remembered was one i recently told my mom. unwilling to share that i was in an open relationship, i told her things with my last partner ended because i wanted children and he didn't. this was a pretty good lie, in that it reinforced an underlying truth: we had fundamental differences which we couldn't move through. so what scared me about the actual truth? i felt her follow-up questions about non-monogamy would be too uncomfortable and tender for me. i assumed her reaction to non-monogamy would be respectability, sexual shaming, and ultimately miss me inside this decision.

when i shared my truth-ish lie, my mom said, "ah. well, that is an important thing to agree on."

the end. that would be the last thing she'd say to me about it.

weeks later, while walking my dog karuna, i was like - hold on. what? this womxn didn't have *anything* else to say about that? the lion cub in me started huffing and puffing. in my bengali community, introducing your partner, living your queerness within your family's line of vision, is no small thing. for some desi womxn, even introducing your hetero relationship outside of marriage can be a form of coming out. after taking the risk to share more of my reality with my family of origin, a bitch doesn't even get a follow up question?!

i was amused by the effects of my lie because, in some ways, i got what i put out. space, privacy, swiftness, and no intensely uncomfortable conversation after i shared my news. unfortunately, i didn't receive genuine concern or curiosity about my life, either.

my mom had witnessed me in love. me with my venus in leo like a mofo. elf on christmas. she even really liked my partnership - part of the reason i chose to keep the whole truth a secret from her, thinking it would spoil her impression of it.

so then it occurred to me: was the cost of keeping secrets - even ones that seem like good insurance - mean not receiving the support and understanding i actually deserve?

would it be worth going into the emotionally unknown with my mom, knowing that i am grown now and can experience her reaction without it harming me? it may hurt my feelings, but feelings move through us.

in our relationships, when we don't advocate for our wholeness, can we really blame the people we love when they don't ask or understand?

my mom had simply returned to me the very one-dimensional news i had passed on to her.

luckily everything is a teacher. this secret gave me good feedback: how do i soothe the parts of me that know how to be alone, without betraying the bright-eyed, permeable me who longs for deeper connection? while lying (or evading the truth) may allow me to feel like i can control a situation in the moment, it doesn't move me closer to being and breathing freedom.

like sarah pfefferman, my family of origin is one where everybody is in everybody's stuff. in fact, i'm pretty sure our people invented the art of everybody in everybody's stuff. as a child, having time with myself - with my own thoughts and presence - was a way to feel myself inside the web of family life. (it still is.) it's like spending time with myself is where i can be in my own garden - the real, vaster and more diverse me - that feels constricted when navigating others. i was born from the body of scorpio, after all. 

these days i am in the process of clearing the pathway between my gut feelings and my tongue. i feel responsible for communicating myself with more precision. this means balancing my desire to be on purpose while also making room for imperfection along the way. it means laughing at how human i can be, ungrounded and sometimes even flailing, towards the future.

i feel more satisfaction when my interactions accurately reflect me. reveal me. i still meet with my own spirit every day, but now i try to do it in public when i can remember to. i have an intimate understanding of my own texture and complexity when i'm solo - of what it means to be me - and this chapter of life feels more like an adventure of how to share that with others. still, sometimes i walk around like a ripe, juicy persimmon - but i'm the only one who knows the bursting, readiness in here. other people see this right? why don't they ask me about it?? why don't they act like they know??? this is the narrative that accompanies my secret self.

i don't think my secrets should constrain me. i want to choose them.

we all have a right to our secrets. to our private worlds. in romantic love, lies have often felt like a betrayal to me. but there can be privacy without lying. david richo, from my last post, makes a good distinction for us:

"When you give up your boundaries in a relationship you: Believe you have no right to secrets.
When your boundaries are intact in a relationship you: Protect your private matters without having to lie or be surreptitious." - david richo, how to be an adult

it's possible to speak my boundaries and choose my secrets. plants teach us that. they reveal who they are, but they also keep their secrets. some tell us how to be with them based on shape, texture, and color. but i'll never really know why a plant gives the gift of healing a sore throat. why beets came to nourish our blood. and i am content in the not knowing of our relationship. some secrets are where the god lives.


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