LESSONS FROM THE GYM: Be Kind, Unwind.
Last week, I came across life coach Christine Kane’s call to action: Pick your Word-of-the-Year (Word of the Year.) (This is a free download, with no call to sign up with your email.)
It’s a cool concept. Our modern culture focuses on action steps, especially during this time of year. Soon we will be making resolutions, setting goals, etc.
Christine believes simply choosing a word that resonates with us manifests our intention. Intention, she believes, comes from the heart. And it’s even more powerful when it unfolds in a more natural, organic way than saying, “I’m gonna do this, and this, and that, and then THAT will happen!” Which starts with selecting a word that resonates, even it it’s not what you think it is.
The idea did resonate with me. But I didn’t even know where to start.
This year has been a clusterfuck, personally, economically, physically, professionally, financially, in addition to the stuff that we see on the national and international stage. Everything right down to how I feel when I get up in the morning and go to bed at night is filled with anxiety, self-doubt, frustration, resentment, and confusion.
So I downloaded the free workbook, and looked over her list of words, dozens and dozens of them. Nope. Nope. Nooooope. Hope? Maybe… Joy? Well, yeah….but no. Expansion? Maybe. Power? Power!
Now why did I pick power?!
I don’t want to be the boss of anything or anyone. Yes, I love to offer advice, but don’t want to be responsible for other people’s actions and life decisions. I don’t want to be “big” or “important” or “in charge” of anything except my own life.
So where did power come from?
I thought back over this past year. Loss. Death. Discord. Grief. Fear. Physical pain.
I thought of where I got to, working through this stuff. I have explored, and almost mastered, true forgiveness. (Okay, in bits and pieces.) Letting go of the need to belong. (Doing okay, still needs work. Still hurts to be told you don’t belong…) Accepting that we may choose to be connected, but that we are also actually alone. (SCARY STUFF.)
Where does power come in?
Following the instructions, I wrote down the words that came to mind:
Brave. Integrity. Stand tall. Move forward. Work hard.
Okay. That felt more actionable. But I still wondered.
Then some incidental acts of cruelty stopped me in my tracks again. OK… I’m reading more of Brene Brown’s newest book, Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution, which is (I think) about elements of The Hero’s Journey. I think I’m in the “rumble stage”: That is, I think I know what I want. But everything seems to be conspiring against me. The stage in the Hero’s Journey where we realize it’s gonna be a heckuva lot harder than we thought. Perhaps even impossible.
With the mean remarks, I thought power might be “empowering myself to set boundaries.” Very important for creative people. We thrive and create by being open to the universe, allowing our pain to show, making our art to heal it, and then sharing it with the world.
When people respond negatively, that hurts. But we have to keep making! Hence, boundary-setting becomes imperative, a way to protect ourselves without shutting ourselves down, and shutting the world out.
So imagine my surprise when the very next chapter I read in Rising was about…..power.
Brown suggests that power has a negative connotation, because “…we automatically conflate power and power over…”
But, she continues, “The type of power I’m talking about is more in line with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s definition of it: The ability to achieve our purpose and to effect change.“
Powerless leads to fear and desperation. We are at our worst when we feel powerless.
She says moving out of powerlessness and despair requires hope. We can soften the experience of failure by asking ourselves, “Were we all in, and were we true to ourselves?” If so, then we can focus on the true lessons of regret: “We regret most our failures of courage, whether it’s the courage to be kinder, to show up to, say how we feel, to set boundaries, to be good to ourselves.”
I do not regret chosing “power” as my Word of the Year.
It’s already started me on a journey of introspection, a journey of hope, a journey of achieving my purpose….
And as fellow narrative artist/writer Teri Sloat shared after we talked in our fledgling artist support group about this, “Do you know who you meet at the end of the “Hero’s Journey?”*
Yup. I think I have the right word.
Wish me luck! (And courage, and perseverance, and most of all, patience.)
*Teri added a clarification, a lovely one, and I quote: I think my comment about the hero’s journey is a bit off, if people are thinking the the actual Joseph Campbell structure of the hero’s journey. What i should have said is that before the ‘resurrection’ we have to deal with the shadow side of what makes our strengths. Once we accept them we can accept them in others. You have made me think as I read your work that it is only when we acknowledge these shadows in ourselves do we accept them in others and neutralize their danger to us.”
Beautifully said, Teri, and thank you again!
Years ago, an older gentleman using a wheelchair, and accompanied by his wonderful wife, came into my very first booth at the League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair.
He was an artist himself. And when he saw my work, he…exploded (figuratively), in a wonderful, emotional, deeply spiritual way.
He asked questions, he listened carefully to my answers, about the sources of my inspiration, what led me to do this work, where I was heading with it.
He got it. He got every single tiny little thing about it.
As he circled the booth, he kept saying, “You’re a shaman! You’re a shaman!”
His words made me very uncomfortable. Now, I (thought I) knew what a shaman was. If I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s that the minute I think I know everything, life will quickly and surely show me I don’t. (That’s why “eternal student of life” sneaks into almost all my my bios and intros.)
He stopped. He said, “I’m scaring you a little, aren’t I?”
I said yes. I said, “I thought I knew what a shaman was. A wise leader. but I don’t feel that way.”
He shared with me this beautiful, powerful definition of a shaman:
“All shamans are artists. But not all artists are shamans.
All shamans are teachers. But not all teachers are shamans.
All shamans are healers. But not all healers are shamans.”
It spoke so deeply to me, to how I felt about my art: My art healed me, and I believe it sometimes helps others heal. I love to share what I’ve learned, but not in a here’s-how-you-make-a-little-horse-way that so many people expect. More in a “what is the story only YOU can tell?” way.
And yet, even years later, I felt uncomfortable using that word in reference to myself.
Until, just a year or so before we left New Hampshire, I shared that story with a professional shaman. And she said, what I call Definiton of a Shaman Part IV:
“‘Shaman’ isn’t something you call yourself. It’s what others call YOU.”
A day or so ago, I had a teensy emotional breakdown. (In addition to difficult family matters, scary family matters, my most vulnerable pet on the lam, more uncertainty about my studio space, etc., I’ve been demolished by allergies this month. It’s scary, and exhausting, and leaves me fragile and exposed.) I wrote about it, listened to Mary Gauthier (pronounced go-shay. Who knew?? Not me!) singing “Mercy Now”. I had a little cathartic cry, and felt better.
So many people reached out to me, (you know who you are. THANK YOU!!!), including a few old and dear friends.
I get lazy when I’m “out of earshot.” I love catching up with people in person, but I suck at phone conversations, and when I write, I lose track of what I’ve told, and to whom.
But in the last two days, I’ve reached out. And people have reached out, especially a handful of people I call “my wise women”. And each one had just what I needed to hear to start down a healing path again. (Note to self: One quality of a good friend is, they don’t try to tell you your reality. Thank you, Melinda!)
None of these people would call themselves a shaman. (Of course they wouldn’t! See Definition Part IV above.)
None of them believe they have everything figured out. (Of course they wouldn’t! If you meet someone who claims that, run away.)
Some of them, who are going through extremely shitty stuff, would not even consider their blorting to be “wise words.” (But they are. Their words show self-awareness, self-responsibility, anguish with a huge dash of humor thrown in, and incredible strength of character. Not because “they’re doing it right”. Because , even when they think they’re doing it horribly, terribly wrong, because when they are in a hard place and they hate hate hate it, yet they continue to do the incredibly difficult work they have to do. And they are open to the tiny miracles and blessings they find along the way.)*
And so I say to you today, thank you. Thank you, Melinda, Carrie, Amy J., Julie, Deb, Mary-Ellen, anyone I’ve missed because I am a bird-brain this week, and also to those who would have reached out, if they’d known, because that’s what they do…. Even someone I hardly know, who simply validated my experience recently at an Art Trails event that went totally weird. Thank you, Linda! Thank you, Clare, for encouraging me to take some “horse time” today.
You are a shaman.
P.S. Just want to say, most of my issues I’m moping about are third-world issues. Others have it harder. A helluva lot harder. Just sayin’, I’m aware of my privilege here.
P.P.S. If you are struggling today, try this: Everything is Awful, and I’m Not Okay
*I’ve just read the book Everything Happens for a Reason (and other lies I’ve loved…) So I want to clarify this. I don’t believe we are sent shit to deal with for a reason. Shit happens. I do think that what can help us through, through the fear, the anger, the despair, is to look for those tiny synchronicities that help us get through another day.
Like me saying to Jon, during his quick visit to New Hampshire last week, and on his way back to Keene from the White Mountains, “I wish we could talk with Jim and Kate (whom we haven’t seen in years) because they went through this exact same thing, and maybe they have some wisdom on how we can get through this, too.” And ONE HOUR LATER, Jon stopped for a quick dunk at the Discount Beach Club (“Bring your own damn towel”) on Dublin Lake, and he heard someone say, “Jon? Is that you?!” And there were Jim and Kate on the “beach.”)**
**The Discount Beach Club was a turn-off on Route 12, which runs around part of Dublin Lake.*** It’s literally that–a turn-off where you can scoot down to the lake. Not “restricted membership”, like some other lake accesses, or the boat launch, or whatever. The chances of finding someone there, let alone someone we know, let alone the exact people we needed right then? Well. That’s my definition of a miracle! So add Jim and Kate to the list!
***Dublin Lake has worked magic before, as these two blog posts illustrate. Cool place.
Need to just cry for a few moments?
Mary Gauthier’s heart-achingly simple and beautiful song “Mercy Now”. That violin! Tania Elizabeth nails it with sweetness and restraint.
It’s been a hard month so far. Family matters, hard and sad stuff with our kids, impossible to solve. “Nobody died”, has been our way of framing things for Jon and I over the past 30 years. Still hard. Health issues (I now have not one, but TWO inhalers). A runaway pet. (Of course, the one who panics once she gets outside, and figuratively goes crazy.) Listening to people blame those dealing with hardship on…guess what? The people going through those hardships.
Where is the kindness?
Many people confuse “nice” with “kind”. I’ve learned to tell the difference.
So I pulled up that video on YouTube and played it loud, three times in a row, this morning.
For the first time, I noticed its date: 09/09/10.
Nine years after 9/11. Two days before my birthday.
And yet, the lyrics could have been written today.
Today, I’m going to donate to three causes. One will be for immigrant children separated from their children at the border. (Of course, there should be mercy, too, for the immigrant woman who was denied entrance because even though her husband KILLED HER TWO CHILDREN, it’s been determined spousal abuse is not a valid reason for entrance.) And btw, I often sign up for very small monthly amounts. Even $5/month adds up.
Today, I’m going to mail presents to my kids. One will love them, one will resent my “pity”.
Today, I’m going to do some journaling, something I tend to forget now that I have a regular writing gig.
Today, I’m going to schedule horse therapy time. I thought the horse needed love and acceptance, & I’d being doing HIM a favor. Doesn’t work that way.
Today, I will look for every opportunity to be kind.
Today, I’m going to take exquisite care of myself. Because like so many others even less fortunate and privileged as I, I need some mercy now.
I’ve seen those old stone steps, worn and hollowed,
Not by footsteps but by housewives scrubbing, scrubbing,
Themselves worn down by careworn chores and drudgery.
I remember the song of women’s work:
Wash on Monday
Iron on Tuesday
Mend on Wednesday
Clean on Friday….
A woman’s work is never done, they say.
Cleanliness is next to godliness, they say.
Well, screw that.
Here is my messy studio.
Art is created in chaos. Deal with it.
Welcome to my messy home.
We only clean for company, so come on in!
You can leave your shoes on.
This is my messy heart,
Still learning friend from foe, “nice” from “kindness”,
“charm” from “danger”.
Loving you for who you are
Instead of who I want you to be.
Here is my muddy soul.
I set down the burdens others put on me.
I wipe away the dirt some thought that I should hold.
My soul shines bright in the moonlight,
Radiant in the dark.
Here is my life, the awkward, stumbling journey,
Waves rolling, crashing,
The sun in my eyes, shoes filled with sand
The waves break, the sun sets.
The wind is wild and cool.
I take off my shoes.
I see our footprints, side by side, as gulls cry and soar above us.
The beach is full of sticks and rocks,
Dead kelp and screeching gulls,
Clouds of sand flies and salt.
It is beautiful beyond imagining,
And so are you, and I.
If you choose to GO ALONG in order to GET ALONG, only do it long enough to GET AWAY.
I wanted this post to be something happy and bright for the holiday season. But other stuff is in my head, and so you get something a little more sobering today.
Some interesting choices are in my path for 2017.
I’m not here today to talk about them, not yet. But it’s interesting to contemplate the insights and “aha!” moments I’m holding as a result of those choices.
The exploding doormat. People are surprised when I finally blow up at somebody. But it never comes out of “nowhere”. When I first heard the phrase, The Exploding Doormat, I felt like the veil had been lifted from my face.
I still struggle mightily with setting boundaries. But when I do, and it works, it is amazing.
Setting boundaries carries its own hard places, like being accused of being “selfish” and “uncaring” and “a sorry excuse for a human being.” But that’s still a heckuva lot better than trying to scrub shoe prints off my face.
Sitting with uncertainty until clarity presents herself. I first heard this phrase from an incredible woman with deep life wisdom, Sheri Gaynor. It was profound. Sheri and I crossed paths this year, and our journey was filled with insight and miracles. She has since returned to her beloved Colorado, but I have a feeling our paths will cross again someday.
I’ve noticed that when I decide something has to happen, I waste an inordinate amount of worry, and pushing, and hammering square pegs into round holes–which only exhausts me, frustrates me, and ruins the pegs. This simple phrase reminds me that when I let go, many things fall into place–or don’t, but for very good reasons. It may sound New Age and karma-laden, and the pragmatic side of me complains–but it’s true.
I do believe that you can’t just sit still let the universe barge in through your front door, because that rarely happens.
But taking one small step outside your comfort zone–taking a class with a friend, going on vacation, being open to possibility, taking a little chance on some small thing–this is often just enough for something new to cross your path.
Protection through rejection. So many times, the things we desperately want, and don’t get….well, it often turns out to be a good thing. When we look back, we see we narrowly missed walking into a quagmire beyond belief.
Note: This isn’t a reason not to “go” for things. Being afraid to try something new is stifling. But it can help me get on track with “the next thing”, instead of living in the past, and wailing about it. (Some people might say, “Not so much…” but pooh on you. I am getting better.) (A little better.) (Sometimes.)
Going along to get along. (See also: Exploding Doormat) Trained from my infancy to “be nice” and “get along”, I am still addicted to this behavior. And it’s led me down some downright scary paths. I’m getting a little better at this, too. But I will always, always, have to actively think about not doing this. My new mantra is, “Go along to get along, until I can get away.” It’s working.
Suffice to say, this year has been baffling and puzzling, with strange, frightening behaviors in some people who I thought were friends, a lot of pompous posturings from same, many micro-aggressions. (One tip: If someone gets upset and starts making pointed and repeated remarks about “rape” in your presence, that person is no friend of mine. Or yours.)
The last insight has many permutations. This ain’t your first rodeo, you don’t have to be the clown. (Thank you, Melinda LaBarge!) You don’t have to do stupid stuff to be part of the group.) Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys. You don’t have to take on other people’s issues if you don’t want to. And someday, take half an hour to read The Nibble Theory by Kaleel Jamison. You won’t regret it. (Explains why some people behave the way they do, in simple, beautiful, enlightening prose.)
And my absolute favorite, from Dr. Maya Angelou::
When people SHOW you who they are, believe them.
It is astonishing how much bad behavior we accept from others, and the incredible stories we make up to explain it away.
Don’t do it anymore. You are just prolonging the agony. Every single time we look back on our interactions with toxic people, we realized we had willingly overlooked all the ‘tells’.
We’re getting better at this, too.
I really do hope your holidays are filled with love and joy and family and friends. But remember, sometimes you just have to add a lot more rum to that eggnog.