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Hindsight provides new eyes. (Wayne W. Dyer)

One of my greatest downfalls has ever and always been being too future-oriented. In plain-speak, I think way too much about tomorrow, and not enough about where the heck I am right now, this minute. I’ve been making some headway on that lately, and it feels good.

I’ve been doing the ‘work’ of changing that way of thinking, and being consistent in it — when I catch myself in the act of robbing the joy of the moment in thought and deep contemplation of how much further I need to go, I take a breath. And then another. And I think, “You will not pass this way again, Carolyn. Enjoy the scenery. Smell the roses. Savor the moment.” And like a dreamer pulling away from the lingering tendrils of the dream, I look around and discover that right where I am, now, in that moment, is beautiful. Precious.

It’s funny how I always seem to end up saying to someone else just what I need to hear most. Tonight I facilitated another awesome Reiki Share (that’s not me tooting my own horn — it’s me touting the benefits of Reiki Share *smile*). At the conclusion, we were all talking to a newer traveler about her impatience to get somewhere else on her path.

I turned to her, and seeing myself, I told her that I did truly know exactly how that felt. But having trudged a bit longer, I’d discovered something. That, yes, we do continue to long for some greener pasture, some benchmark that we set for ourselves, no matter how stringently we attempt to live in the moment. That’s part of being human — the desire for more, to be more, to have more, to grow more, to feel more.

But that there would come a point for her, when she’d reached her own self-imposed benchmark and looked backward. That someday, she would look back at this self, this now self, and she would be nearly unrecognizable to who she had striven to become, who she had become. And that even though in the doing it felt like it was taking forever, it would happen in a blink of an eye. A moment.

I am my own worst critic — like most people. I am my own nasty whip-wielding slave-driver — like most people. But I had that moment, and it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given. I had that moment, where I looked backward down the path I’d been walking and saw myself at the start of the journey, and felt who I was at this point in the journey. And the self I sprung from felt like a fond stranger.

Meeting myself this way, through time and distance, had an unexpected effect. It let me relax. I could finally look at myself and realize that all of that change and growth happened, and I almost didn’t know it. All that way traveled, and me so intent on where I had yet to go, that I didn’t even see how far I’d come, how much I’d changed.

It made me think about all the selves I’ve had. It made me think about myself at, say, nineteen. (I’ve gotten a new perspective on the nineteen-year-old lately, since I’ve been working with some of them, and the proximity has driven home a few interesting lessons about the gifts of time, age, and challenge.) At nineteen, I had the temerity, the naiveté, and the rose-colored glasses to see the world as this big realm of possibility. Overwhelming, boundless possibility.

In some ways, I still do. But the naiveté has been tempered with wisdom, and the temerity with patience and compassion. I’ve traded in the rose-colored glasses for something with a little clearer outlook, and find that I like the view just fine.

The biggest gift? Knowing myself. Knowing myself so, so much better and deeper than I ever could at nineteen. Loving myself enough to stand up for myself in the way that almost none of us can manage to do well or consistently at nineteen. Respecting myself. Having compassion for myself.

Knowing that it starts right there, with me. I didn’t know that at nineteen — that before you strap on that cape and well-meaning smile, and set forth to save the world from itself, you’d better have saved yourself first.

Walking the path of mastery isn’t for the timid. Not if they want to stay timid. For every flat, even stretch of smooth sailing, there are periods of rocky, uphill climbs. Parts where you fall. Times when you crawl. And the whole time, you’re being given a gift — the one you asked for. To be made new. To be formed by life so that you can shape your life.

I’ve got a lot of affection for that wide-eyed gal I was. I love her to pieces. She was so full of illusion and romance, strutting along with a swing in her step and a chip on her shoulder. A saunter and a smile and the godawful hubris to think that she knew so darn much about so darn much.

Without her, I wouldn’t be standing here, right where I am now. And I love now. I love the possibilities I see from this vantage point, which that girl could hardly have dreamed of. I love that instead of thinking I know so much about so much, I realize how little I do know. That I can accept that it isn’t always necessary to know.

Looking back helped me embrace my now, which in turn, will make my future a whole lot brighter. Funny that it seems to have to work that way.

The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself. (Alan Alda)

Today, I had the opportunity to be a part of something grand and rare and fine – a group of women who came together to celebrate, explore, and rediscover their creative selves. A group of women who were unwilling to play small anymore. A group of women who were unwilling to make the artists within them play second fiddle to duty for one moment longer.

Today was the first meeting of HeART & Soul, a women’s art journaling group that Dani and Martina devised, at Three Sisters’ where I work. I loved watching everyone walk into the back room, art kits in hand – looks of excitement and trepidation on their faces. Art is not for the meek, people. And maybe, the trepidation was appropriate – for some of us, declaring ourselves ‘artist’ feels like stating that we’ve become something dangerous and sketchy (haha) and to be looked at askance. Because, honestly, society says so.

It is a brave thing to open a dialogue with your own beautifully messy soul – because when you open that door, you know that what comes through might not be ‘neat’ or ‘acceptable’ or ‘proper’ – and because you know that in order to do this thing right, to go all the way…you need to, well, go all the way – and that means you need to not care if it’s messy or imperfect or ‘unacceptable’ to anyone but you.

Today, these women were a part of a guerrilla art movement (and not like the surreptitious knitted coverings of trees or murals that appear overnight, which is its own thing) – guerrilla forces move among us, unnoticed. They look like you and me, but they’re agents in a revolution. Today, I had the chance to be a part of that revolution – of women awakening to their own innate creative power.

I do tend to think of things kind of militaristically – I’ve noticed that I tend to return to combat metaphors a lot in my blogs. I do see myself as warrior. I see each and every one of those women as warriors. Gentle ones, fighting the hardest battle they’ll ever fight against the most wily opponent they’ll ever face: themselves.

We are our own worst enemies. We are the ones who tell ourselves how wrong we are, how broken, how strange, how unacceptable. We are also the ones who have the supreme power to end it. To stop lying down and taking it. To place a flower in the barrel of the guns leveled at us by the inner critic. To scream at the top of our lungs, “ENOUGH!”

We are the only ones who have the power to claim our own beauty, our own majesty. We are the only ones who have the power to claim our own strength, our own imaginative prowess, our own unique vision. No one can give it to you. And no one can take that away, unless you let them. Today, thirteen women came in testament to their unwillingness to go to bed feeling as though a piece of them had gone missing, like a sock lost somewhere between the washing machine and the dryer. They arrived in testament to their unwillingness to move through another day with this part of themselves left unexplored.

It was a beautiful thing to be part of – I am grateful to have had the opportunity to act as witness. Any time someone stands up to an oppressor (even if that oppressor is within), there should be someone to bear witness, to honor them and their experience. Thank you everyone, for sharing yourselves today. Thank you for coming – thank you for choosing to explore the unmapped depths within you. I look forward to the next time when we stand together on the line, and face down our worst critics: ourselves.

There is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. (Martha Graham)

Language…has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone. (Paul Johannes Tillich)

I have always and ever been a study in contradiction – I am always both this and that. That’s part of being human, I think – the complexity and the changeableness.

I have always really identified with the mythos of the phoenix – the cyclical nature of it, the circularity, the rise and the fall. That’s me. I am both outgoing and personable, and reclusive and introverted. I am just one or the other at different times, cyclically. To everything there is a season, and a time for all things under heaven has been one of the strongest ideals / ideas in my makeup.

Lately, I find myself daydreaming about going to a hermitage. I always find myself thinking – at first – that a week would do it, and then the longer I entertain the daydream, the longer my ideal stay stretches. I’ve even scouted out places for hermitages – looked them up online, and priced them out and everything. One day, I’m strongly attracted to the whole no-phone, no-internet, no-tv, cabin-in-the-woods scene, and another day, I want to go up to a nice place I stayed once in Phillips, WI and enjoy all of those things, and the aloneness, too.

If I were a phoenix in fact, I would now at this moment be in the ashes stage of things – having already had a period of great growth and productivity, having allowed all that was unnecessary or outgrown to burn out of me. I have been so content in quiet. I have been so content in solitude.

I go through this cycle frequently – the first part starts with burning enthusiasm, and I just take in, take in, take in – absorbing everything that comes my way. Snapping it up and moving forward and doing so with energy, enthusiasm and verve. This sometimes coincides with the next part of the cycle – where I put out, produce, share, interact, and make things or formulate ideas, write blogs, write in my journal. Sometimes I flip-flop back and forth between these two phases for awhile – and the whole time, it feels pretty good – I feel alive and vital and invigorated.

And then I enter a phase like the one I’m in now. Where I wanna go all Thoreau and retreat to a cabin in the woods somewhere and just be. Not think, not do, not take in, not produce – just be. And I’m finally realizing that this is just a part of who I am – and that it’s a necessary part. Without the solitude, I burn out. Without the ability to just sit and be, I simply flame my way through life without taking things in deeply enough to make them true and lasting parts of who I am.

I’ve given thought to whether or not this is a depressed state – maybe, in a way, it could be considered one. I suppose that my other natural state of ebullience and enthusiasm so contradicts this one that it seems so. But there’s no real sadness, just quietness. There’s sadness when I’m flying high, too. There have been times of my life when lying in the ashes for too long has grown into a depression, but I know what that looks like now, and this is not it.

I like the fact that I can live in both worlds – the outer one of bustle and product and learning and interaction, and the inner one of synthesis and quietness and meditation and peace. I like the fact that I can be both things – and maybe, I am just getting better at putting words to the feelings of each and getting better at honoring each part of the cycle. The time when I haven’t done this, when I’ve denied myself a part of this, I’ve suffered. I’m really not interested any longer in making myself appear to be in certain mood or a state in order to put others at ease. It does me a disservice – and really, I think it does others a disservice.

Where in God’s name did we ever get the idea that we had to be forever happy? That if we weren’t, there would be a pill to “fix” that? Why did we ever move away from just letting things be in their natural state, in the natural progression and cycle? It’s become systemic in this society to “fix” damn near everything with some pill. Ugh. You know, it’s totally natural to be quiet. To not produce. To not be eternally and perpetually connected or available. To just be. To be in solitude. For a while.

To crave solitude and to find ways to embrace that need and fill it are healthy. To step back, to assess, to become still – these are all healthy things. When they stretch on and on, they’re not so healthy – but the need for solitude is something that I believe is innate. The need to engage in a period of rest is innate.

What a commentary on civilization, when being alone is suspect; when one has to apologize for it, make excuses, hide the fact that one practices it – like a secret vice. (Anne Morrow Lindbergh)

If we never stop moving, if we never go inward and engage our own soul, that is unhealthy. If we are unable to or uncomfortable with being alone for fear of what we might just find within, that’s unhealthy.

There’s just so much to see and read, to take in, to learn, to engage with, to be available for, that there are honestly times I just get plain old world-weary of it. We live in the most connected society ever. It’s tiring. I, for one, remember life before the advent of the cell phone – and I loved it. I loved going off the map for awhile without there being this strange and unnatural unspoken expectation for you to make yourself available to all others simply because you are in possession of a cell phone. That is unhealthy.

I’ve been digging this alone-time thing. I’ve been digging being quiet. It’s not that my head is empty or that my heart is empty – it’s that they’ve been so filled that I need time to discern what gets to remain and what doesn’t. This past year and a half has been so utterly full of changes – and most of them awesome ones – and so full of movement and doing, that I truly haven’t had the time to make meaning into a meal – it’s been taken in snack-sized bites.

I’ve come to a time where it was necessary to sit alone and break bread with myself. To go inward and feel all the feelings I didn’t have time to feel before. To draw together all of my experiences and all the thoughts that go with them and to see them in connection and conjunction to one another. To play with ideas, or to just let them sit there in my mind and see what happens. To dwell. To be quiet enough to hear the answers to all the prayers I’ve prayed in the past year and a half.

It is only when we silent the blaring sounds of our daily existence that we can finally hear the whispers of truth that life reveals to us, as it stands knocking on the doorsteps of our hearts. (K.T. Jong)

I’ve grown adept at staking out my corners and letting the world know that I am okay…that I just need to go off the map for awhile. For the most part now my friends, my family, my loved ones understand it and respect it. It’s not so much that they give it to me, but more that I took it whether they were going to give it or not, and they’ve just gotten used to it. They maybe even see the benefit of it – because just like all work and no play make me a dull girl, all interaction and no solitude makes me a crabby one.

By all means use sometimes to be alone. Salute thyself; see what thy soul doth wear. (George Herbert)

I’ve given some thought to how this might play out if I ever have children. Once you’re a parent, your rights change. There’s a different order to things, and a different set of responsibilities that have to be attended to. One of the hopes is that I’d be able to show my children the value of solitude, and teach them to be calm islands in the river of life around them. To show them the value of all ways of being: the furor of fire, the flexibility of water, the stability of earth, the peace and purpose of air. The depths of spirit.

I grew up in the era before children had online calendars and their parents scheduled play dates and became glorified chauffeurs. I grew up hearing, “Bored? There’s no such thing. There’s plenty to do, and if you can’t find something, just sit there. Eventually you will.” And subsequently, I know how to have and enjoy downtime, as well as knowing how to occupy myself and engage with others. How to do both.

For now, I’m enjoying quiet. I’m enjoying naps. And I’m enjoying solitude.

Tonight, I took a rare night off, and did NO work. Lately, that just never seems to happen and I was long overdue.

I came home from the shop, bagged up the library books from under the coffee table, and piled on the kitchen chair, and next to the bed. I walked the two blocks to deliver them – intending to head right home like a good girl and get to work.

The moment I stepped through the door, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. They called to me like they always do. All the books, all the shelves upon shelves of books. All the stories. And I walked down each aisle, not really on a mission for anything in particular. Just enjoying the silence, and the atmosphere. And I decided to check out only fiction – only completely frivolous books. No philosophical tomes, no spiritual texts. No art books. No books that had anything, whatsoever, to do with work – I haven’t done that in too long.

I meandered home, enjoying the heat and watching the people sitting outside the restaurants and walking from shop to shop.

I plopped the books in a glorious pile on the end of the kitchen table, and made myself a tall cold glass of extra-chocolatey milk. I took my time reading the book jackets, choosing which would be my first.

I curled up on the couch under my favorite blanket – the thin blue one I bought at Summerfest one year, and used as a ground cover for the Tom Petty concert. For once, our cat chose to let me have some space instead of immediately leaping up and demanding attention. I sank into the story, losing all track of time, every once in a while shifting position. Riveted.

I left the book half-read (I’m a fast reader), and pulled out my art supplies. The story triggered something, and I finally knew how to finish an art journal page I’d been mulling over for a week. I yanked stamps out of binders, lugged the ink case onto the table, poured gesso onto a plastic bag, grabbed a brush, and started working. After all the mulling I’d done, it came together quickly now…just how I wanted it to look. Just how it looked in my heart.

I didn’t make dinner. I ate spready cheese and Ritz crackers and a dark chocolate candy bar. I pulled out another art project that just needed a few finishing touches, and added them, trying not to think too much. Just letting it come.

I never really write about this kind of stuff – these small things, small rituals that make up my days – not even in my personal journal. Today, it felt important – I’ve been busting my butt, and immersing myself in the work that goes into bringing a dream into being. Today, it was important to do what I wanted to do for no other reason than I felt like doing it.

When I get so focused, I get so much done, and it feels really good. A line of checkmarks marching down a to-do list is one of my favorite sights. But one of the parts of walking the path of mastery is to recognize areas of imbalance – and all work and no play makes Carolyn a dull girl.

For the rest of the night? I’m updating this blog (cause I feel like it) and my art blog (cause I feel like it), and then I’ll watch the rest of Two Mules for Sister Sarah with Jeremy and the cat, and head to bed. Cause I feel like it.

Here’s hoping that all of you make time for play – too long without it, and the joy leaches out of life!

We are misled from early childhood to think that life is something you get through. Life is something to be in. (Dustin Hoffman)

I am trying to be IN the moment. I am concentrating on it. I am working to be grateful for all of the opportunities that life offers me in each day – whether they’re for happiness or healing, and whether they are comfortable or uncomfortable.

Lately things have been uncomfortable. And that’s okay. I mean, it doesn’t feel great, but I know that stuff is being brought to my attention because it’s a good time to address it, whatever it is.

It seems like the older I get, the fuzzier righteousness becomes. Things just are. I just am. We just are. Morality gets clearer, and simultaneously harder to verbalize. Soapboxes seem ricketier, and look far less appealing, as perches go.

Fighting with people at this stage of the game seems silly. Doesn’t mean I don’t still do it. I do. I just try to do it differently. I try not to be underhanded. I try to be as clear as possible, and to leave anger out of it. There are times I think I do pretty well, and there are other times I suit up for battle with the intent to make known how irate I am. That’s being human, I guess.

I’ve had a series of conversations over the past several weeks with someone who is very, very close to me. The reason we’ve had to repeat the conversation is because each time we enter into it, it’s like I am speaking Greek, and they are hearing French. Frustrating. Maddening. Infuriating.

Today, I came to them again, and I needed to just say the things that I’d been afraid to say – I hate hurting people’s feelings (I’m empathic: it just hurts me right back). At the onset, I could see defensiveness in every line of their face and body. I called attention to it, and I said, “I can see that you’re defensive right now. We’re just going to talk. I am not angry, and I am going to work very hard not to get angry.” Calling it out like that seemed to help a little bit.

And I realized something important. I was able to leave emotion outside the door. I was able to be calm and to articulate what I needed to. I was able to honor them and their need to respond in whatever way that they needed to. And, we still did not come to resolution. It seems we are at an impasse. I see green, they see purple – and we’re both looking at the same vista.

It’s frustrating. But a part of me feels very, very clear – a part of me knows that I do need to keep affirming that it is green, because that is my truth, that’s what I see. A part of me knows that if I back down this time, I will betray myself knowingly and without any excuse other than to make the other person comfortable – and this is hard, because I’ve spent the better part of my life attempting to make others comfortable. It’s instinctive.

Part of that realization was that I’m no longer willing to ensure their comfort at the expense of my own. I’m still a big fan of finding the middle ground, and of compromise…I’ve just been able to see the line where bending becomes enabling a little bit more clearly.

So, I’m trying hard not to look at this impasse as something to be gotten through. I’m trying to see it as something that is a part of our lives in the now, and that I should appreciate because it is teaching me some pretty important lessons…even if they are uncomfortable ones.

I’ve been reading Pema Chodron on and off the past few months, and it’s helped. She talks about how we human beings have a very low threshold for discomfort, and that we allow ourselves to follow the impulse to get away from whatever’s causing us that discomfort. This time, I am trying to be IN the discomfort – and I’m trying to use it. I want to see where it will lead me, because I know that this situation cannot remain unresolved, and running away will solve nothing. There is no true escape, only delay.

I don’t want to push things off anymore. I want to follow this rabbit hole to see where it leads. Even if I get a little battered on the way. Wish me luck.

 

My MoonCircle soul collage, "Luscious Flow"

Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music. (Angela Monet) 

In one of my previous blogs, I wrote to the realization that I’d spent the majority of my life actively working to sterilize myself (metaphorically, and somewhat literally). It wasn’t until this bend on my path – and the discovery of my creative self, and my inner, passionate and unrestrained soul – that I was able to see clearly what all of my perfectionism was working so hard to achieve – utter and complete annihilation of my ‘messy’ emotional self.

If there is no great passion in your life, then have you really lived? Find your passion, whatever it may be. Become it, and let it become you and you will find great things happen FOR you, TO you, and BECAUSE of you. (T. Alan Armstrong)

One of the major struggles of my life has been to embrace and rejoice in my femininity. From my earliest memories onward, I greeted and engaged life with a very masculine approach. And, I was very good at it – I very ably ‘wore the pants’ and was better at being the head of household than most men. I was a go-getter, I was assertive, I was forward and direct. I was a very capable linear and rational thinker. I was raised to be my father’s ‘little buddy,’ and in many ways, I was expected to fulfill the role of the ‘eldest son.’ My female self was subjugated, made small – my womanhood was stifled and denied.

My emotionality, my femininity, my creativity, my passion were locked deep in the darkest corner of my heart. I allowed them release in my private journals, or in the bedroom, or in poems I never showed to anyone. I allowed myself to experience the power of them seldomly, and with purpose and control.

We all need to look into the dark side of our nature – that’s where the energy is, the passion. People are afraid of that because it holds pieces of us we’re busy denying. (Sue Grafton)

Smothering those elemental energies is a recipe for combustion – passion is not meant to be kept confined. Deep within, I knew that it would only be a matter of time before one of two things happened – my passions rode free, or I managed to kill them completely.

When I started coming to Three Sisters’ Spirit over a year ago, I sought Reiki training – a modality that is all about bringing balance to the body, emotions, mentality, and spirit. I know, with bone-deep certainty, that my path to becoming a Reiki Master Teacher has been essential in freeing those trapped parts of myself. Reiki has been absolutely instrumental in helping me to find and seek balance for all the parts of myself.

I also started attending the MoonCircle groups facilitated by Dani. I showed up hungry for something I could not name. I found a God who looked like me, felt like me, breathed and sang and danced like me. I found a way to see myself in my own Divinity. I discovered the power, the beauty, and the passion that resides in the Goddess of the trinity. I was able to make the final leap from rejecting a male god, and rebelling against my upbringing (which left me alone, yowling, and bereft in the desert of the Dark Night) to finding a spirituality and conception of God that I could embrace (and one which embraced me back).

Tonight I attended another MoonCircle group. I am a lot further along my path now than I was when Dani first handed me the manna for which I hungered. Lately, I find myself welcoming and helping other women feel at ease in our circle. I am coming full circle. Full. Circle. (Beautiful, beautiful). I have become a handmaiden to the priestess. I have become a Eucharistic minister, of sorts.

I wish that I could say that my appreciation for my woman-self came rushing back to me with trumpets and flames and joy and accolades. It didn’t. I always say that you can choose to do a thing with grace, or you can kick and scream and be dragged along to your fate. Because some things are fated – and we just choose the manner of our acquiescence.

It was more of a slow blossoming – a process that I feel now is really just starting. I had to get past the fear of showing the world my own beautifully messy soul. I had to get past and over the idea that to be feminine is to be weak. I had to discover in minutes and miles the grace, power, and transformative energy of stepping into my woman-self. I had to allow my passion to leak out at the corners, slowly and almost imperceptible. I had to let it dip its toes into the waves, before I could open the floodgates.

There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the passion of life. (Frederico Fellini)

I am coming to a plateau – in the best of possible ways. I really feel that I am coming to a place where I can allow and encourage my masculine and feminine selves to exist in equality within me. I am arriving at the place where I can enjoy my own formidable nature – when I exhibit it with masculine tendencies (for me, very lingual) or with a feminine manner (which I am still discovering).

I want to get to the place where I can wear my luscious, passionate, juicy woman-self on my sleeve and let the world see and marvel at it – without a single trace of shame and fear. I will get there. Now that I’ve opened the doors to the inner sanctum, and experienced how good it feels, I know there is no going back – only forward, into the mystery. (Thank you, thank you, thank you, God).

Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot. (D. H. Lawrence)

Tonight, we gathered in a circle of women. We set the sacred space. We shared our women-stories. We held one another in the grace of the moment. We knew we were safe here. Cherished, and admired and celebrated. That’s part of what MoonCircle is about. Another part, especially for me, is allowing all of that to come into being – to find expression – in our lives (especially this month, with the new moon in Gemini).

We made Soul Collages, clipping hurriedly the things that caught our eye. Snipping bits of sentences, and cutting carefully around the images that spoke to us. I decided to share mine here on my blog – because I can look at this expression, this song of my soul, and rejoice.

Passion, it lies in all of us, sleeping…waiting…and though unwanted…unbidden…it will stir…open its jaws and howl. It speaks to us…guides us…passion rules us all, and we obey. What other choice do we have? Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love…the clarity of hatred…and the ecstasy of grief. It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion maybe we’d know some kind of peace…but we would be hollow…Empty rooms shuttered and dank. Without passion we’d be truly dead.  (Joss Whedon)

"Luscious Flow" 9 June 2010

 

My Soul Collage Poem:

In with the good

Delight at the serenity

Room to grow.

The surprising life,

Some relationships are meant to be.

I write my own magical name,

It’s nature’s secret.

It is a(n)

Evocative, unique,

Truly original

Life.

 

 

Hello there, outside world! I’ve been M.I.A. for awhile – I’ve been in the trenches, but in the best possible way! I’ve been engrossed with my newest pursuit – art. (I figured I’d share some of what I’ve been up to on here!)

 

Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things. (Ray Bradbury)

 

  

Last Thursday night, Jeremy arrived home to find the entire kitchen (and other parts of the apartment…) had been colonized by my forays into the artistic realm. I was blaring tango music (courtesy of Dani – thanks, by the way), wearing an intriguing new kerchief on my head to keep my hair out of the gesso, and having an absolutely fabulous time. 

     

He took one look around, smiled, and said, “I’m so glad to see you doing this babe.” It felt good to hear that, and I quickly rescued some of the stuff I was working on from the top of the stove, so that he could make us dinner.

 

 

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. (Scott Adams)

 

I was at it until three a.m. Happily, wholly engaged. Completely captured with experimentation and the joy of watching my ideas translated into form.

 

Creativity is a lot like looking at the world through a kaleidoscope. You look at a set of elements, the same ones everyone else sees, but then reassemble those floating bits and pieces into an enticing new possibility. (Rosabeth Moss Kanter)

 

I wandered through the house, scouting out things I could “repurpose” (translate: destroy) with impunity, and I tried things, without worrying how they would look or turn out. I just wanted to see what would happen when I went about it in different ways. It was freeing.

 

Freedom is the oxygen of the soul. (Moshe Dayan)

I’ve been breaking out of my shell, and it feels good. It feels good to play, and to create. It feels good not to hear the voice inside that’s always chiding and scolding.

 

Tomorrow, I’ll gather up all my tools and toys and go to play across the street with Dani. It’s like an artist’s play date, and I can’t wait! Life is good – and I feel great.

  

 

For the past few weeks, things have felt really intense. A few different things have been chasing around and through my thoughts – mantra-like – that wanted to be written. And every single time I sat down to write them, the words wouldn’t come, and nothing I felt was translated onto the page. It was obnoxious. So, today, I am determined to expel at least one of these imps into the blogosphere, even if it doesn’t come out quite right.

I keep thinking about my past selves. I keep coming back to the summer I was fifteen. It was a super sucky time in my life – my family life had entered turbulent waters, I was a teenager (‘nuff said), and I was dating a boy two years older than myself who was intensely controlling and abusive. Not a whole lot of bright spots there.

On Mother’s Day, the boyfriend and I were in the car, and we’d had a fight (can you call it that if you aren’t able to rebut anything? Then it’s really more attack-like – or at least that’s how it felt). On the way to an outing with his family, I already smelled trouble – he was in a dangerous mood, and on the road we took to get to our destination, the same set of train tracks crossed three times. He charged the train with the car at each crossing, as though determined to send the both of us to oblivion.

Things did not improve from there, and I ended up demanding to be taken home. On the return trip, I was alone with him and his anger, which poured out of him, came out and spilled over, seething. He sped – he knew it scared me, terrified me. The needle on the little car was buried, and I know that we were going over 100 miles an hour. And then he had a moment of clarity, of sense breaking through the rage. He tried to stop, but it was too late. The wheels on the car locked up, and we were still careening endlessly toward the T-stop, and the field of trees beyond it.

A strange thing happened then. I relaxed. I surrendered, knowing that there was nothing I could do to change it. I closed my eyes, and we crashed into the rear end of a van sitting at the corner, waiting to turn.

I leaned my face over the plastic console – I was bleeding profusely, and even then all I could think about was that he’d be furious that I’d ruined the upholstery in the car. It never even occurred to me that the car was demolished. He plucked me from the side of the car, and set me in the ditch.

A woman came, and she put her arm around me. She had a white sweatshirt on, with a pretty lace collar – the kind my mother wore. I never saw her face – too much blood and glass in my eyes. I pulled away, saying, “I don’t want to ruin your shirt.” She made me feel safe, and somehow, I felt no panic, no fear. She tucked me back into her, and said, “Don’t you worry about that now honey.” I didn’t see then or know then what she knew, what the boyfriend knew – that my face looked like hamburger.

The lady called my mother, on Mother’s Day, to tell her what a mother never wants to hear. There’s been an accident.

They strapped me in, and carted me off in the ambulance. I cracked jokes the entire time they scrubbed my raw skin with gauze and antiseptic. I laughed in the dark. They x-rayed my knees and told me the cartilage behind one kneecap was cracked vertically, and would eventually give me problems. That there was nerve damage. That there would be physical therapy. The only time I cried was when the doctor told me that they’d have to stitch up the cut on my eyelid (I sincerely detest needles – and there was going to be one repeatedly heading toward my eye. Shudder – still gives me the heebie jeebies).

I overheard the policeman telling my mother that if any one thing had been different, we would have died. That we should be dead. That it didn’t make sense because when cars hit like that, the engine comes up into the passenger compartment and crushes legs, and that didn’t happen. That we should have flown through the window, since we hadn’t had seatbelts on. That we shouldn’t be here. That somehow, miraculously we were.

They wouldn’t let me go to the bathroom alone – later my mom told me that she was afraid of what would happen when I saw my face. They took me home, and I lay there – a bundle of nerves and pain. I reacted to the ointment they slathered liberally over my cuts, and it burned. I looked like someone had taken a blow torch to that side of my face.

Finally, I went into the bathroom. Alone. I stared in the mirror at the stranger there. Scabs from hairline to jaw line, from ear to nose. Grotesque. Somewhere deep inside, a caged thing stirred. I sobbed, staring at this ugliness on the outside, feeling the ugliness inside. Who will ever want me like this? Who, who? Who will ever want me like this?

I’d had the appropriate amount of teenage vanity – I was no beauty queen, but I had liked my face. I had a pretty porcelain complexion, with rosy cheeks – the kind that turns absolutely crimson and livid with too much sun. I had a smattering of freckles, and my mother’s eyes. I had my mother’s face, reimagined. And now, I was a monster.

The boyfriend was shades of remorse for about two days and five minutes. It took far longer for my face to heal, much less my spirit. The scars stood out fuchsia and angry on my cheek – slashes. My friends said, “They look cute, like cat’s whiskers.” That so did not help, but I knew what they were trying to do, and I let them have that – I let them feel like they could make it better.

Who will ever want me, like this?

At the checkup, my mom asked the doc about plastic surgery. He recommended someone, and we made an appointment. Somewhere in my fifteen-year-old mind was the desperate hope that they would be able to work magic, to make it all disappear.

We arrived at the office and met with the surgeon. He said that if they attempted to fix any of it, it would likely make it worse. I would just have to heal on my own. I was choking on tears, but I thanked him for his time, and we walked out of the office.

I made it to the elevator, my mom rubbing my arm. I couldn’t hold it in anymore – I needed to grieve for the girl I’d been and would never be again. I sucked in hard, and started sobbing, quietly asking, Who? Who will ever want me like this?

The elevator stopped to let a woman on, and I felt ashamed for crying. I felt exposed – and still, I couldn’t stop the hiccupping sobs. My mom briefly told the woman what had just happened. And the woman, this stranger, tucked me into her and held me. Told me that I was beautiful, and that someone, somewhere would see that and know. She held me in all my grief and sorrow. She said the words I could never have believed out of my mother (your mother has to love you, has to see you as beautiful, no matter what happens). She held me and rocked me, and there were tears in her voice when she comforted me.

Years passed, the scars healed and lightened, blending into my natural paleness. I still have to avoid the sun, because that whole side of my face is more sensitive. For more than ten years, I picked small glittering shards of glass out of my cheek and forehead. Tiny diamonds. Everyone who saw me then, broken, thought that I would never look the same. For the most part, I do. But I never was the same, and that was the important part.

I made decisions following this that came from a deeper well of strength and courage than I’d been able to access before. I became more assertive. I wore the scars, for a time, as a warrior’s badge of honor. I wore them in daring, and with a chip.

And then I didn’t need the warrior so much anymore. And I was able to soften. Eventually, I was able to see in this what I was meant to see – that cry, that Who? Who will ever want me like this? had been there before the scars, and lasted far past them. That cry is universal. That cry reflected the brokenness and ugliness I felt inside, about who I was – and my fear that I was far too flawed for love.

I softened. Each time I think about the woman on the side of the road, and how she tucked me into herself, and held me, I cry. Each time I think about the lady on the elevator, and the compassion she showed a stranger, the way she held me tight like I was sobbing for both of us, I cry. And I know that we are angels to one another.

We turn to each other in elevators and lobbies, in checkout lines and on street corners, and say, “I see you. You matter. Someone, many someones, want you – just like this.”

 

 

Suddenly there was a great burst of light through the Darkness. The light spread out and where it touched the Darkness the Darkness disappeared. The light spread until the patch of Dark Thing had vanished, and there was only a gentle shining, and through the shining came the stars, clear and pure. (Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time)

By all accounts, I was one of those unsettling children who look out at you from a child’s face, but speak with a tone, confidence, and vernacular far beyond their years. I was what people tend to think of precocious in the classical sense, and not as a thinly veiled euphemism for too-worldly.

I have only ever known what it is to be precocious, and therefore, don’t exactly have the same perspective on many things that others (who weren’t quite as precocious) have. It is now, as an adult woman, that I look and see what that precociousness meant and what it wrought for me throughout my life. It is as I watch children and see them interact with one another, and watch them blooming “on schedule,” or “ahead of schedule,” or “behind schedule” with adult eyes. (Who determines these things, anyhow?)

In retrospect, I see my own journey with some clarity. (Can it ever happen any other way?) I can see how I tended to lack true peers – I could play the game well, and “fit in” with kids who weren’t quite at the level I was, but it felt like a lot of work. I could speak to adults with the maturity of one of their peers, but it came out of a child’s mouth and was often disregarded because of that – and I lacked the experiences of an adult, so that was one more barrier.

You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you. (Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time)

I really wouldn’t say that I technically had a lonely childhood, but in some ways, that was very true. I realize now, that my love for reading and my passion for stories and books was partially inherent (I think we all come here with leanings toward talents and interests), and partially cultivated. I soon realized that having a book in front of your face gave you two things: a barrier and an excuse to not have to socialize, and something to talk about if you were made to interact.

When I was doing my student teaching internship, I happened to bump into one of my high school teachers. She remembered me instantly (having taught 168 kids a year, I now know how rare this is), and said that she remembered that I was never without a free reading book (again, having taught, I now know how rare this is).

Those books were my solace, my inspiration, and my shield. I was never really alone – I had a whole cast of characters holed up in my head. I was never really bored – even when I was stuck without a book, I could conjure one of the many stories I’d read to ponder.

I am going through the rest of the boxes I still have at my folks’ house, and I’ve come across some very old friends. I saved two things for last: my books and my genealogy research. Both are precious to me.

I share Einstein’s affirmation that anyone who is not lost on the rapturous awe at the power and glory of the mind behind the universe ‘is as good as a burnt out candle.’ (Madeleine L’Engle)

As I open these boxes, some for the first time in five years, I am transported. I remember the edition of Tom Sawyer that my mom’s parents gave us when I was about ten. I remember the huge, ponderous collection of Shakespeare’s Collected Works that my former mother-in-law gave me for my birthday one year. It has a maroon cover, and Bible-thin pages. I remember the copy of The Velveteen Rabbit my mom gave me shortly before I got married – a story that carries special significance in our house. The Bible my Aunt Margaret gave me for my confirmation. The canning books I bought when I thought it would be cool to make my own preserves (still planning on it, someday…).

The animal and plant guides I bought when I started to explore the complexity of our world… The poetry volumes I purchased as I discovered new voices… Philosophy… Spirituality… Religion… Life Sciences… My “Beach Reads”… Books from the Banned Books List… Classic Fiction… Eventually, I hope to have enough shelving to store / display them in some semblance of “order,” which will probably only make sense to me (which is fine, since I’m the one who’s into them all the time).

Then, this weekend, I came to some of my very old, very special friends. For Christmas, when I was twelve years old, my Uncle Dave gave me a series of books by Madeleine L’Engle, which I fell in love with. I’ve read my copy of A Wrinkle in Time so many times that I’ve loved the cover to smithereens. I promptly petitioned my parents for the rest of the series, and have read and re-read them repeatedly.

I am reading them again now, as an adult woman, whose precociousness, subsequent experience, and continually developing perspective, give me a new appreciation for the gift of them. These were the first books I’d read then, at twelve, that didn’t try to scrub the ugly things clean, in the way that so many people try to for children. They let the ugly be present, and they let the good and the beautiful be present, side by side, and gave the reader enough credit to make sense of it themselves.

Infinity is present in each part. A loving smile contains all art. The motes of starlight spark and dart. A grain of sand holds power and might. (Madeleine L’Engle)

L’Engle couched truths within fiction. I encountered God there, and science. I met with the age-old predicament of what I think of as can-or-should (as in, just because we can, does it mean that we should?). I entertained ideas of cosmic scope, and eternal reach, of infinite perplexity and infinite simplicity.

I lay on the couch last night, following Meg Murry through her troubles, her struggles, her challenges and triumphs. I walked along the path with old friends for a time, covering territory that felt familiar and brand-new at once. I spotted seeds of later-thought within the story – ideas that fueled the genesis of my spiritual questioning and my reasoning.

I lay there, at once twelve years old again, and brand-new to the world with all the wide-eyed optimism and belief in the possible – and at the same time, as I am now at 31 – older, a bit more cynical, a bit more hesitant, a bit more jaded, a bit less hopeful. I captured, for a bit, that sense of who I was when I’d read them for the first time – the wonder they awakened, the daydreams I embarked on, the debates they encouraged.

I like that girl I was, and there are days when I really miss her. In some ways, she was far braver then, than I am now (it helps when you don’t know all the facts of a situation, I suppose – it’s easier to talk myself out of things, or around them, now). Having got that sense of her – that essence of possibility and dreaming – I carry it forward into today. I marry it to my experience, and in that, I attempt to balance naiveté and experience.

I am grateful to Madeleine L’Engle for giving young readers enough credit, for having the guts to put it all on the page. I am grateful to Uncle Dave (and everyone else) for the gift of books – the gift of ideas, really. I am grateful to my parents for encouraging my precocity. I am grateful to my twelve-year-old self for having a courageous mind, and a questing heart, and an empathic way. I am grateful to have these thought-worlds to revisit, to rediscover, to recapture all the selves I have been. I am grateful, because they all contributed, and in this latest incarnation of self, I am especially pleased.

It seemed to travel with her, to sweep her aloft in the power of song, so that she was moving in glory among the stars, and for a moment, she, too, felt that the words Darkness and Light had no meaning, and only this melody was real. (Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time)

 

Try not to become a [wo]man of success but rather try to become a [wo]man of value.  (Albert Einstein)

I have never questioned the fact that I am here to be of service to others. I have, at times, questioned where the line between service to others, and disservice to self, lay. But, I have never for one moment believed anything other than that we are to be helpmates to one another. This whole concept has been popping into my screen for days now, and I find myself devoting a lot of time and thought to it. And then tonight, I read one of the blogs I follow, and her post drove it all home for me (http://bonesigharts.blogspot.com/2010/02/payments.html ).

I can remember a lot of times when my father gathered up his tools, and went to build something for one of his siblings. He never expected payment – he only knew that he had the necessary expertise, and willing hands. My mother has spent her life in service to others – to her family, to her extended family, to her friends, to her students. They cast a long shadow. Growing up, we were expected to do for others, and it was taken for granted that helping out is just what you do. Of the many gifts that my parents gave me, for this, I am the most grateful.

I went to Mount Mary College in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, and one of the pillars their entire educational philosophy rests upon is service. Each class seemed to include some service component – in the course of pursuing my degrees, I have done an intense amount of fieldwork and volunteering. And I can remember wondering, when some of my classmates would complain, and argue that there was no educational value in these experiences – if they could see no educational value in reaching out to their fellow human beings in friendship and kindness, what on earth did they believe we were doing here?

I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve. (Albert Schweitzer)

I am no Mother Teresa, I am no Gandhi, I am no great humanitarian. But, I look for the moments where I can be of service in the every day, in the small ways. The other day, I was on my way to lunch at work, and I saw a very elderly lady struggling to get her groceries from her cart and into her car. Without hesitation, I was there, like the stereotypical Girl Scout, with a “Can I help you with that Ma’am?” And she was really grateful. When I first saw her, she looked anxious and she was struggling – and when I walked away, she was smiling.

And afterward, I thought about the fact that I never even considered doing anything else. (I also thought about the fact that elderly people might be wary of offers of assistance, and that this was something that I was going to have to start taking into consideration, even though the entire reason for their wariness makes me intensely sad). And I realized that this was the kind of thing that makes life GOOD, and makes us feel GOOD about being here and being human.

Happiness cannot come from without. It must come from within. It is not what we see and touch or that which others do for us which makes us happy; it is that which we think and feel and do, first for the other fellow and then for ourselves. (Helen Keller)

I’ve encountered all sorts of people who believe that we aren’t here to be of service to others, that God expects nothing from us, and that we are only here to experience happiness. I find that a hard bite to swallow. I find that line of thinking impossible to believe – if that is true, then I am bereft and adrift. If that is true, then why do anything?

I think what I am really getting at here is the concept of empathy. Of being able to feel what it is like to walk another’s path, and to reach out to them based on that understanding. I have always been an insatiable reader, and when I read, I joined those worlds, became those characters – I struggled with them, wept with them, laughed aloud with them. I sank into the experience of what it would feel like to be them. I think that this is what has really helped me grow my already empathic nature.

If you have empathy for someone, you have compassion for them – you reach out to them in a way that preserves their dignity, and honors the bond we share as living beings. This is different than pity – pity puts you on a pedestal, and others somewhere beneath you. Compassion is one person reaching out to another laterally, and with detachment.

In Milwaukee, a twenty-one year old man was shot and killed by the young men who were attempting to rob him, because he had no money to give them. They shot him in the back as he fled. At the trial, one of them turned and grinned at the murdered boy’s parents, as if to say, “This doesn’t touch me. None of this affects me. I have no remorse.”

One of my coworkers was set upon on his way home from work by a group of six young men, and they attempted to beat him – when he wouldn’t go down, they ran off. When they were caught and questioned, they said that they did it because they were bored. Things like this happen every day, and I cannot understand how or why. If these attackers could empathize with others, they would not do these things, because they would know that to hurt another is to really hurt yourself.

Great and wonderful acts of generosity and kindness and compassion happen every day, too – large and small acts of service, performed out of empathy and compassion. That is what I choose to focus on. That is what I choose to spread along my path. The final Reiki Principle states, “Just for today, count your blessings and be kind to every living thing.” This is one of the easiest for me to follow (not always the count my blessings part, but I’m working on that!). This is the one that I wish was indelibly tattooed on my forehead. This is the one that I want to permeate my being – and the one I most want to spread to others.

So, this week, I plan to make a special effort to honor myself by honoring others. By looking for all the quiet moments where I can be of service. By setting my foot soundly on the path with purpose.

Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile. (Albert Einstein)

‘Nuff said.

Come have a look through my kaleidoscope eyes. Come walk with me, as I make my way down the Path of Mastery (complete with fits and starts and pitstops and potholes). Our very impermanence is what makes us burn so brightly, and struggle so valiantly, and feel so deeply – it’s what makes us seize the day, and the moment. Come in, settle in, share a moment with me.

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"Who are YOU?" said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, "I--I hardly know, sir, just at present-- at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then." (Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 5)