“We have met the enemy, and he is us.” – Walt Kelly
Do you have this sinking feeling that somehow you are off your true path?
As I mentioned in the introduction to this series, I am currently wrestling with self-sabotage, or as I call it “Shadow Boxing”. I have (fairly) clear path ahead of me, and suddenly, I find myself spinning my wheels, unable to make progress.
This article deals with Part 1 of this Shadow Boxing process: knowing what you are dealing with. Every good warrior knows that step one is; Know the Enemy. In this case, the enemy is me. What exactly does that mean?
In her book, Finding Your Own North Star, and on her blog, Martha Beck describes people as having two sides: the essential self and the social self. The job of the essential self is to direct you on your true path, while the social self ensures you don’t fall off a cliff on your way.
The essential self can sabotage the best-laid plans of your social self. Like a gifted four-year-old, she can shut down progress with the equivalent of a temper tantrum, if she feels unheard or cornered. Moving away from your true direction, or ignoring pain can trigger a cascade of behavior that requires you to remove the offending (albeit brilliant) child to a quiet space for time out
In my case: my essential self wants to become a professional working actor and writer. My social self is the one that makes me sit down and research drama schools, save money, and buy airline tickets. When I step on stage to audition, my essential self wants to be daring, silly, heartbroken. My social self is worried that I look fat in my stretch pants.
You can see that my essential self is not going to get what she wants if she doesn’t listen to the social self and reserve plane tickets. Conversely, it is disaster for me to step on stage with my social self in charge. Watching a character walk on stage worried about her butt being too big is hilarious; watching an actor walk on stage worried about her butt is painful.
The social self and the essential self balance each other. As long as both are working in proportion, we are functioning in society and moving along our true passion path. Martha Beck maintains that the essential self needs to be the navigator, while the social self acts as an advisor or strategist.
If these pieces are out of whack, we can find ourselves in a self-sabotage spiral.
Having an understanding of the social self and the essential self will help you understand some types of self-sabotage.
I will explore the two selves, and then give you some action items you can use this week to start discerning which of your “selves” is acting and when.
The Social Self
As humans, we are social animals. Children would never survive if they weren’t accepted into their family. The social self defines the rules of our tribe, and ensures that we are acceptable to those important to our physical and emotional survival. We need the social self to be a functioning human being – without it we become at best lost dreamers that never impact the world or allow it to impact us. At worst, we become dangerous sociopaths.
Until fifth grade I enjoyed school, loved my neighborhood, had lots of friends and a relatively trouble-free childhood. In the summer between fourth and fifth grade, my family moved. Enter a new school and new neighborhood.
The new school was economically different, and a demanded more “street smarts” from me than my previous school. I had never been the new kid before, and my fifth grade year was a rude awakening. I somehow ended up on the wrong side of the school bully. More than once I found myself in the center of the taunting playground wolf circles made up of the bully and her gang. I spent the next two years a miserable outcast.
Relief came in the form of junior high. (I bet that’s a rare statement!) The summer between seventh and eighth grade, I re-engineered myself, with my social self at the lead. I debuted my eighth-grade year 20 pounds lighter, with a new haircut and “cool” clothes.
While this “new me” contained seeds of my maturing essential self, it was largely a response of my social self to trauma; a survival instinct kicking in. I watched the popular kids; what they wore, how they styled their hair and makeup, even how they stood and walked. I made myself over in their image.
This makeover was characterized by a lot of self-loathing. I hated my curly hair because I couldn’t wear it the way the cool kids did. I hated my body, because it was chubby. Driven by the need to be accepted, I carved off large parts of myself and put them away. My essential self was muted and gagged.
Characteristics of the social self:
- People pleasing
- Respects the rules
- Tends to be very practical, and literal.
- Thinks in language and logic.
- Is motivated by the desire to fit in
The Essential Self
Your essential self is what knows the true path in life. It is who you are, your legacy, your unique makeup of abilities and passion. If you are doing something that makes you loose track of time, it is a clue to your essential self. The kernel of your essential self can be very high energy. If you are in line with it, you will feel like a “room without a roof”.
Our essential self doesn’t care what is socially acceptable, and is the best navigator to our life mission. The problem is that as we get older, our social self tends to take charge. This is where the roles get out of balance. The social self is meant to be the logistics and PR person, not the vision guide.
Fast-forward two years. I’m now a sophomore in high school, and I’m in love for the first time, with a boy named John. Talk about going all in with your essential self! My world opened up; I connected body, mind and soul with another person. My life took on huge meaning that up to this point, I had never conceived of. I had been known as a “good kid”; I always had good grades, obeyed the rules, and rarely missed school.
Then John and I broke up.
Suddenly, getting out of bed was nearly impossible, and I had a panic attack walking into school. Seeing John in the hallway talking to other girls was just more than my bleeding heart could take. I had no passion, or sense of self to replace the boy that had become the center of my life; so I left.
High school ceased to offer any true meaning to me. My essential self had been “let out” of the cage during my love affair with John, and wasn’t about to be put back in the cage. I could no longer do anything just because it was the right thing to do. Unable to swallow attending high school “just because”, I dropped out, moved out on my own and went to work waiting tables. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I intuitively knew I needed to listen to myself and find my way.
Characteristics of the essential self:
- Passionate, energetic
- Tends to express herself in images, movement and stories, feelings, colors
- When she does use words, they often seem to come from “out of the blue”
- Not very good at short-term sacrifice for long-term gain.
- Knows what she wants, or at least what she doesn’t want.
Odds are, you’ve sensed this duality of the essential/social selves in yourself, and may have even stuffed your essential self into a nice, tight little box with a lock on it. Our society teaches us to value the social self as the “right” one, and our essential selves tend to take a beating in the process of fitting in.
I’ve spent a good portion of my life seesawing back and forth between my social self and my essential self. For years I thought my social self was the “right one” and my essential self is the “crazy one”. In my latest iteration of this cycle, I’ve discovered neither is right or wrong, but I need to understand them and use discipline to balance them.
Immediate action steps for this week:
1) Get Curious.
Ok, if you’re reading this blog, it’s likely you are already an emotionally curious person, but I can’t stress this enough. If you don’t get curious about your feelings, they are never going to get their message through. Brené Brown’s says that the most heart-forward and resilient people are emotionally curious. We have to learn to recognize when our buttons have been pushed, and get curious about how our feelings relate to our thoughts
As a journaling exercise, write down a time when you felt really uncomfortable, engaging in self-destructive behavior. In Rising Strong, Brené Brown list some examples that help you recognize these “hooks”.
- I feel so crappy, I just want to punch something, eat (oreos, Vodka, etc.)
- My stomach is in knots
- I’m yelling at the driver ahead of me, my kids, the McDonald’s clerk.
You don’t have to get a clear “solution”, but just be willing to look at these times and ask yourself “how did I get here?”
It’s easier to shut down these emotions and stuff them. The purpose of this exercise is to practice exploring them. A huge step toward resiliency is learning to catch ourselves and develop the habit of curiosity to replace denial.
2) Practice feeling
As a 5-minute meditation, simply sit, breathe, and scan your body. Start at the top, imagine a golden light sinking into your head. Track it down your body, and just notice. Are there parts the light won’t go? Other parts it flows into easily? That’s it. Just getting in touch with your body.
3) Look for joy
Have you ever done something that was so enjoyable you completely lost track of time? Choose one of those times, remember the activity in as much detail as you can, and repeat the 5 minute meditation. Notice the difference in your body, your heart and thoughts. You may feel joy, warmth, energy, or like your head is opening up. These feelings are generated by your essential self. You can train yourself to use these feelings to help guide your path.
If you want some great exercises to work through, get a copy of “Finding Your Own North Star” by Martha Beck. This entire book is in a workbook style, and has loads of “how to” information on recovering your ability to hear and follow your essential self.
If you want a more in depth meditation exercise you can either download my free meditation here – password “ListenToMyDream” OR go to headspace.com and check out their app. They have a free 10-day trial and it’s a great simple app to begin a meditation practice.
Have you had experiences with battles between your social and essential selves? Do you have specific stories to share? Have to worked with these different selves, and figured out ways to communicate with them? Maybe this entire concept is new to you? Comment or drop me a line, and let me know what you think.
Next time: The shadow knows…
My own understanding of my social and essential selves has helped me to make decisions to stay on my true path, and stopped some of my self-sabotage. To these two selves, I would add a third: the shadow. Carl Jung describes the shadow as holding all our unconscious pieces of personality. Next time, I will explore the shadow self; how it is built, the problems it creates, and what to do with it.
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Romans 7:15
One of the great things about a hero’s journey is the wonder of stepping out, exploring new territory, watching the landscape change and feeling yourself grow as you meet new challenges.
Ah… challenges. They are what make us strong, give us purpose and definition, help us grow.
What about when the challenge comes from within?
I have a routine – I get up early, practice writing, acting, do my workouts; then off to work I go. In the evening, either do another workout, or rehearse a play. This schedule is what has allowed me to get this blog online, get my trip to London organized, and squeeze in the training that I do have.
But last month it all came to a screeching halt.
I couldn’t get out of bed anymore, I just wanted to hide, turn inside, and disappear. I have a great ability to disappear into my internal fantasies; after all, that’s what made me realize I might be a writer in the first place. And what better skill for an actor to have? I have an uncanny ability to replace the world around me with an imaginary one, and be IN it.
When I don’t like my real world (and let’s face it, right now I don’t), it becomes a Hurculean task to get out of bed and FACE it. SO much easier to hide, and burrow into my world in my head. And sleep. Oh yes. Sleep.
For years I called it “the nothing” because that’s what I’m afraid I will become; I will dissolve into nothingness. Like a lethal parasite, there is an endless downward spiral waiting to consume me; my days disappear into adventure novels and sugar. My body ceases to exist, and, eventually, I do.
And to make matters worse, people are so willing to hand you excuses: “You’ve been pushing so hard, you’ve earned a rest.” Or “You can’t burn the candle at both ends forever.” Or “It’s good to take some time for yourself once in awhile.”…
Why don’t they understand, this is not restful, and it goes AGAINST my ‘self’. At it’s best, I get a few moments’ peace when my fantasy world is solidly surrounding me. At worst, I hate myself for letting go, for avoiding the one thing that would bring me happiness.
From what Paul says in Romans, this struggle is not unique to me. Statistics and studies abound on substance abuse and fantasy addiction. How many times have you (or someone you know) stopped just short of success? I’ve heard it couched in many terms: self-sabotage, addiction, over-driving, fear of failure, fear of success, pushing too hard, not pushing enough, slipping into old habits… what is it?
As I’ve wrestled with it, I’ve come up with my own term: shadow-boxing. As someone trained in martial arts, there is nothing more frustrating than a non-physical threat. If I could punch it, grab it or dodge it, I could beat it.
But this opponent is much more insubstantial. There’s nothing to land a jab on, and nothing to see, but like a sadistic game of Calvin Ball, the rules are all in its favor. Your opponent can grab you, whisper in your ear, slap you or seduce you.
I am doing what Brene Brown calls “Rumbling” with my shadow. I’ve decided to share this process; after all, that’s what the Sideways Into Crazy is about, a place to share the journey.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be pursuing this as a series. So far I have Four Ways to Box Your Shadow, or in other words, to understand and maybe stop your self-sabotage. They are:
- Understand what you are facing
- Practice Presence
- Don’t judge; instead, understand
- Balance – making your journey sustainable
This series is evolving, and these items may change. In the meantime, I would love to hear from you on these items, or any way you are struggling with a similar issue. I would love to include other’s experiences in this series – either specific stories (with permission) or just knowing what to address to help fellow travelers.
So please, drop me a line, let me know what’s on your mind, and in the meantime, check out these resources:
“It is how we choose what we do, and how we approach it, that will determine whether the sum of our days adds up to a formless blur, or to something resembling a work of art.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, from Flow
Ana sighed. The marketplace was hot, dusty, dirty, and crowded. She had come down here hoping for some fresh vegetables and music to soothe her tired soul, but instead found herself getting increasingly impatient with the crowds and the heat. Not to mention, the farmer’s wares were pathetically wilted in the heat and picked over long before she arrived after her day’s duties.
This remote outpost was not what she and Anton had hoped for when she took the agency assignment. She had hoped to collaborate with other like-minded souls, to help make a difference in the desert, where people were struggling to eek out a living. He had hoped to join a healer’s training program at the local university. Instead, she shuffled paperwork, a cog in the agency’s bureaucratic machine, while Anton struggled to get a job in an area that didn’t have any work.
Turning away from the soggy wares in disgust, Ana pushed her way through the crowd. A flash of color caught her eye, and she followed the odor of cooking food to an artist’s booth. Cheap T-Shirts, bright blown-glass baubles and printed flyers danced in the evening wind.
Disappointed, she was about to turn away, but she felt drawn back. Nondescript amongst gaudy baubles was a plain, dark rock. Picking it up, she was surprised at its weight, which was more like metal. Porous, like lava stone, but heavy as cast iron, its surface gleamed with an oil-rubbed finish.
Fascinated, she turned it over in her hands. She couldn’t decide if it was metal or stone. It seemed almost alive. When the booth owner offered assistance, she held it out. “What is this?” she asked.
Shrugging, the merchant said, “I don’t know. That woman over there gave it to me. I use it to hold down flyers so they don’t blow away.”
“What woman, where?” Ana asked, turning in the direction the merchant had pointed.
“Over there, selling herbs, next to the roast corn.” With that the merchant turned to another customer and Ana headed across the walkway. Approaching the herb booth, she saw a tall, slender woman with long blonde hair beginning to pack up bundles of herbs. “Excuse me, “ Ana began, “this is going to sound like a strange question, but where did you get that stone you gave the man at the T-shirt booth?”
The woman smiled, “It is unusual, isn’t it?” she asked. “Its just something I had extra, and their flyers were blowing all over the place.”
“Ah.” said Ana. “Um, is it metal or is it stone?” she asked.
Shrugging the woman said, “I’ve never really known. It does seem to be a bit of both, doesn’t it?”. As she looked into Ana’s eyes, Ana noticed that her eyes were a startling blue, and seemed to invite her to ask more.
Ana continued, “Well this may sound a bit, well, woo-woo, but it seems almost alive, like it has some sort of energy to it. I think it resonates with me – so I was wondering if I might find another one like it.”
Nodding the herbalist said, “Ah, I see. There may be others, I can check if you’d like. Would you like to leave your name and contact info for our mailing list, and I can get a hold of you if I find more? I’ll put a call in to my source.”
“Sure,” Ana said and scribbled her name and contact information on the indicated page. “Do you have any white sage?”
The herb merchant said she did, and wrapped it up for Ana. Taking her package, Ana wandered down the isles, bought a roasted ear of corn, and soon forgot about the stone as she munched. The market was winding up for the night. Sweaty and disgruntled, Ana tossed her greasy napkin (noting there were no composting or recycling options) and was about to unlock her car when her phone buzzed.
Hoping it was family or friends from home, Ana paused and dug her phone out. She had a text on it from an unrecognized number. It said simply, “If the stone interests you, meet me on seventh street behind the old theatre. “
“Weird.” Ana thought. “Sounds like a drug deal.” Still, she roughly knew the place the herb woman was talking about, and it was fairly public. No real danger, and she was curious. She got in her car and drove the few blocks to the place mentioned.
Dodging the typical bicyclist with a short rack of beer dangling from his giant handlebars, she pulled into a dilapidated parking lot with an old warehouse at one end. The herbalist was just pulling up in her Prius. “What, no giant truck? I can tell she’s not from around here,” Ana thought snidely. Still, she was having an adventure, and curiosity was getting the better of her. Ana smiled and walked up to her.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“Ah! Pam.” The herbalist replied.
“Nice to meet you – again,” Pam said as she dug out an old rusty key out of her shoulder bag and began to wrestle with the large padlock holding the old warehouse doors shut.
“So, do you have space in this warehouse?” Ana queried politely.
Pam looked over her shoulder at Ana, her blue eyes amused. “You could say that.” The stubborn lock gave up and opened with a squeal. “Ah! There we go.” She turned to Ana. “Now before you go in, I should give you some background…”
“Okay…” Ana was getting a bit weirded out by now.
“So… I talked with the Artist, and he asked me to bring you here. He wants you to see the Art, and if it resonates with you, he wants to meet you.” With that she tugged the rusty warehouse door along its track and stepped through the opening, motioning for Ana to follow.
“Er… what artist?” said Ana as she stepped inside, looked around, and gasped. Inside the warehouse was another world. She was standing at the gates of an old Hollywood-style stucco mansion enclosed by a high wall with open wrought iron gates.
She stepped closer, standing in the open gateway. Upon closer inspection, Ana noticed the gates appeared to be made of the same material as the mysterious ‘stone’. Looking up at a sign swinging from an arm on the gated wall, she saw the words “Cold Iyrn”.
Behind her, Pam slid the ancient door shut. At the ear-splitting screech it made as it travelled back along its dusty track, Ana turned to watch. Puzzled by the surreal transition, she looked from the warehouse door, to the gates, and back again. On one side, she could look through the gates into day lit courtyard with a gaily-splashing fountain. On the other, a darkening warehouse with a bent and rusty door. Pam slid the giant padlock through an inside latch, and closed the hasp. Unfazed by the surreal scene, Pam brushed her hands and set out brusquely through the gates. “Come with me,” she invited.
Trailing after Pam, Ana crossed the courtyard. Around the splashing fountain, and through giant double front doors they entered the mansion. Inside they stepped into a cavernous room that was nearly as brightly lit as the outside. At first, Ana thought she was seeing an indoor garden with bonsai and other sculpted plants. Then she realized she was looking at sculptures.
They were so beautiful in form, so organic, she couldn’t decide if they were grown, or wrought. Spirals, branches, leaves, some crawling along the ground, some towering overhead like trees, metallic-stone sculptures were everywhere. Some of the sculptures had stones in them, which refracted the light in a rainbow of colors. Ana swore they moved as if in a breeze, and the multi colored light dappled the room like sunlight through leaves.
She walked up to one of the sculptures and examined it. The branches had the same lava-rock porous texture and oil finish she had seen on the stone. It was shaped just like a living vine, and as you traveled down the vine, the branches became finer and finer, till they finally ended in leaves so realistic, they seemed alive.
The beauty of it struck Ana to the core. Tears sprang to her eyes, and she tentatively reached out to touch one of the vines. A humming began to resonate through her fingertips and sang through her entire body. It WAS alive! All these sculptures – were alive, they were grown! Her knees grew weak and she began to weep. She felt honored, in the presence of something sacred, something that bonded to her soul.
“Yes.” Ana looked at Pam through brimming eyes. “YES! I want to make these! Grow these, whatever it takes!” And she collapsed onto her knees.
Pam smiled, and offered her hand. Weakly Ana stood, and Pam led her into another room, with a large circular fountain in the center, and to one side, a table with pad, brush and ink. Sitting on the low wall that made up the foot of the fountain, was a man. Ana knew at once that this was the Artist. Her feet moving of their own accord, she found herself in front of him. She reached out, and he took her hands, and looked into her eyes.
He wore mostly white, had brown hair, and brown eyes. He seemed to have some beads in his hair, but most of those details were lost on Ana, because his eyes drew her in. They seemed to look into her very soul, and she was transfixed.
Finally, he looked down at her hands, and said “Yes. You have it in your heart to make this kind of art. In fact you already have made some in the course of your life, you just didn’t know it. I will take you as my apprentice. You can stay with me; I will give you housing, food, and transportation while you work for me. Would you like to see what you have done so far?”
“Yes! I would.” Ana said.
The Artist showed her some rocks that were sitting next to him on the ledge. Perfect little smooth cabochon style rocks, sculpted of the same material. He handed one to her.
Ana stared down at the perfect smooth little egg-shaped stone in her hand. “What is it made of?” she asked.
“I call it Cold Iryn. It is metal, but grown in a natural way, like rock is grown from the earth, or plants from the soil.” the Artist answered.
“How can I grow the spirals, the beautiful trees I saw in the other room?” Ana asked.
“I will teach you,” the Artist answered. “These are what you have created with your life so far – they are like seeds. You have the ability, and you have to train to develop it. But first, if you are to be my apprentice, we must divine your true name.” And with that, he stood and walked over to the table.
Ana sat opposite him. The Artist placed the pad of paper in front of him, and again stared into Ana’s eyes. Without looking down, he dipped the brush in ink and began drawing shapes on the pad. Spirals emerged, as did letters. Some appeared to be English letters, others seemed like Asian Kanji or Arabic script. Finally, he nodded and placed the brush down. Looking at what he had drawn, he nodded again. Ana realized the writing was the divination and he was reading the code he had created.
“First, we need to get you well. You are sick, and you need to be healed before I teach you this craft,” said the Artist. He pulled out a small white tube filled with herbal powder, placed it to Ana’s lips and blew. The powder filled her mouth, and she swallowed. It was bitter and she immediately began to get sleepy. Pam took Ana’s arm, and led her to a chamber where she could sleep.
Ana woke later in a single bed within a small sunlit chamber. On her right was a grimy large-paned glass window, almost as if she was looking out an old warehouse window. On her left was a wooden shelving unit divided into cubes. She still tasted the bitter herbs in her mouth, and wrinkled her nose. “Ugh. I wonder if I can get some water…”
She vaguely remembered being led to this room by Pam, and waking once to see Pam standing looking out the window, but no one was in the room with her now. Ana could still see two cleaned spots on the grimy window where Pam had been looking out. Getting up, she walked over and looked out. Outside was a courtyard of dry, burnt grass surrounded by very urban-looking walls. As if it was an interior courtyard forgotten and built around in downtown San Francisco or something. She thought to herself; “That could be a great greenspace and urban garden with a little help from yours truly.”
That was when she awoke for real. Ana sat up in bed, in her own apartment. Anton, her husband, snored blissfully next to her. The remote outpost and their struggles all too real, the Artist had been just a dream, but the bitter taste of the herbs remained. Ana got up, padded to the living room, sat on the couch, and stared into space. She began crying. She wanted to make the spirals. So badly, she wanted to make the spirals.
There is some sort of underlying silence to the world that seems a living, breathing presence. When you are loud, it stirs, like a sleeping dragon. I’ve lived a good portion of my life torn between fear and longing: terrified that sleeping dragon would wake and see me, and yet longing to be seen.
I remember a dream from when I was four: in the dream, I woke to a moonlit room, and stood surveying my bedroom through crib bars. The light of the moon turned the baby blue walls a pale silver-white, and my cartoon character curtains glowed like a TV screen. As I stood there, my bedroom door opened, seemingly on it’s own. I could see the dark hallway beyond; it seemed to seethe with that mysterious breath, the way houses gain a life of their own when everyone has gone to bed. Shadows come to life, and things creep that we day dwellers would rather not know about.
I should have been frightened, but I felt more curious than afraid. After a minute, some little creatures began a parade into my room. I realized characters on my curtains had sprung to life and sneaked out of my room while I was sleeping and apparently been up to mischief in the kitchen. They tripped in, single file, dancing to little instruments they played as they moved. As I watched, I realized they were carrying something; something big enough that it took two or three of them together to carry it. They brought it over to me in my crib where I clutched the side bars like a four-year-old prisoner. In order to bring it up to my eye level, they jumped on each others’ shoulders, and passed up the burden between two living towers. I reached out my hand and grasped the burden, and realized it was my favorite thing in the world: an Eskimo Pie! Somehow, they had gotten into the freezer, gotten one for me, and brought it to my room!
Miracles of miracles!
Excited, I tore it open and took a bite. Instantly, there was a collective gasp from the little entourage, and one of the living towers wobbled over to my window to lift the curtains. With accusatory cry of, “Now look what you’ve done!” , they pulled back the curtains to reveal a huge harvest moon, hanging at window level, glaring into my room like a planetary headless horseman. The huge eye pinned me to the bed, seeing me in my moment of guilt, complete with chocolate melting on my figures: I was not the good little girl I pretended to be.
Of course, I’m sure I woke crying and my mom came in to comfort me. Who knows how much of the story I was able to relate; it’s likely it was one of those long nights for Mom, trying to get me back to sleep. Perhaps this dream was the catalyst for years of sleeping with a nightlight on. The harvest moon became a recurring symbol for me in my dreams; sometimes all it took was a loud noise of a passing motorcycle to awaken that all-seeing eye in the sky to peer balefully down on the earth and shame us all.
Years later, when I first read the Lord of the Rings, my skin crawled every time Frodo dodged the Eye of Sauron. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve eat the fruit of knowledge and then they hide from God. The Bible says they were suddenly aware of their nakedness. This theme runs deep in the human psyche; we are all terrified of being seen, being vulnerable.
And yet, I long for it. I want to be seen, be heard. I want to see others, hear them, twine our stories, and touch something sacred. There’s an art to this: I’ve seen others do it, we all have, and we instinctively love them. It’s a place where you are not withdrawn, and you are not projecting yourself, you simply ARE.
Brené Brown calls that kind of being seen “wholehearted living”, and her research shows we can’t do it without being vulnerable. As she has noted in her research, we spend years numbing and avoiding being seen – I know I have. Hiding what I wanted from even myself. Alcohol, sleeping, sugar, all are self-demoting strategies to shrink from the all-seeing eye of The Critic.
This is incredibly difficult for me – to just step out as I am, not perfecting, not cleaning up who I am before I let others see me. To do this right, I cannot selectively choose who and what sees me. Sometimes I think that harvest moon is my higher self, sometimes I think it’s a demon sent to haunt me. Maybe it’s both.
Sipping her latte, Jana shuffled around her apartment, weaving through boxes as she packed the last odds and ends of her life. Gathering oddball collections of things she returned time and time again to the garbage bag in the middle of the kitchen floor. Mouth gaping like a suffocating carp to consume the detritus of a busy life, the bag sat next to a box of miscellaneous items. Muttering as she sorted handful after handful, “Garbage, garbage, ooh! Keep…”, and on that word, something would plunk down into the box.
From time to time, she would check her phone for a message from Mel. He was due back any time, and Jana was anticipating the delicious smell of the promised Pad Thai. She stopped for a breather, looking around the apartment. Puzzled that she wasn’t making more progress, she swallowed rising frustration over the sheer amount of stuff still left to pack. She decided to change scenery and ran upstairs to the bedroom to take stock.
The picture in there was even more dismal: a dresser, bedframe, and a full length mirror kept company with clothing heaped around like colorful, less noisome versions of the cowpies she frequently dodged at work. With a deep breath of renewed resolve, she grabbed some of the bedframe pieces and dragged them back downstairs and stacked them near the front door. Grabbing one of the half-packed boxes from downstairs, she trotted back upstairs with the intent of loading the box with clothing to pad fragile items.
She walked into the bedroom, and grabbed a handful of clothing, revealing an old photo of Jana and her mother. Stopping to look at it, she sat down. Looking up, she stood up in the living room and began to pick up things and put them in the box in her hand.
Time slowed as she gazed around and verified her surroundings: She was standing downstairs in the living room, box in hand. Looking back up the stairs, she shook her head. “I must have dozed off, it’s been a long couple of days,” she thought, and walked up the stairs. Walking into the bedroom, déjá vu set in as she bent down, grabbed a handful of clothing, and saw the picture of her and her mother underneath. For some reason, it drew her like a magnet, and she sat down with it again.
Rubbing her eyes, Jana looked up again, at the walls of the nearly empty living room. Her heart began to pound as she again took in her surroundings. She stood, in the center of the living room, box in hand, right where she had started. The hair stood up on the back of her neck as she got the distinct feeling she wasn’t alone in the apartment. “That was no nap,” she thought, “something is wrong with me.” She walked over to the base of the stairs, and paused, listening. For a moment, she thought she heard a voice whispering from upstairs. Comfort, quiet, and peace it seemed to offer. She was tired; maybe she needed a nap. She could curl up for fifteen minutes on the bedroom floor, and by then Mel would be back with Pad Thai nirvana; fuel for the final push so they could finish the move today.
Jana was only half conscious of her feet walking upstairs, pulled by an invisible thread. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she could hear herself screaming, pounding on a glass wall; trying to get her own attention. She was so close, a few more hours, and the move would be complete, and the first concrete step of her dream underway. Jana stopped halfway up the stairs. Looking back, she noticed something that jolted her awake: the photo of her and her mother lying on the living room floor, glass cracked and a dent in the wall where it had been thrown.
She HAD been up these stairs before, it wasn’t a dream! Turning, she ran down the stairs to the photo, tears rolling down her cheeks at the sight of the cracked glass. The precious photo was still unharmed, but she would have to re-frame it. Somehow, she knew SHE was the one who had thrown it. It was a warning; don’t go back up the stairs.
Adrenaline pumped as Jana looked back at the stairs, all senses on alert. Her instincts screamed at her; someone or someTHING was up there. Swallowing her pounding heart, she catwalked her way to the stairs, and slowly moved up them. Years of martial arts training coming to the fore, she deliberately relaxed her breathing and moved with a balanced, fluid walk back to the bedroom door. Turning the doorknob, she suddenly slammed the door in while releasing it and pivoted to the side of the opening. The door flung backward and bounced off the bedroom wall. From her vantage most of the emptied bedroom and open closet were in full view. There was nowhere to hide; no one was in there.
Feeling a bit foolish, she walked in the room, still on high alert, and checked behind the bedroom door. Anyone standing there would have been smacked by the door, but she wasn’t taking any chances. Finally, she convinced herself that no one was in the bedroom. “I must be under more stress than I realized”, she thought.
She spotted her journal lying on the floor and sat down and opened it. As she did so, her overwrought nerves caught movement out of the corner of her eye and she spun to look: nothing there but another pungent clothing cowpie. She turned back to look at the journal in her hand; blinking, she realized the last entry was today. She didn’t remember making any such entry; she began to read. Venting her frustration with not being able to make progress packing, she must have scribbled down some notes and forgotten it. She reached up to loosen her turtleneck, it was really getting a bit warm to have something so high up on her neck. She turned the page with her other hand and froze: the entry ended with “BEWARE THE WHITE VAMPIRE SNAKE”. Suddenly, she realized the turtleneck fabric under her other hand didn’t feel like fabric at all, and she remembered: it was July, she wasn’t wearing a turtleneck, she was wearing a tank top.
Panicking she reached to her throat with both hands and pulled. Whatever was there was wrapped around her neck and fastened into her skin; she felt skin pull as she struggled to free herself. Catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror she saw a crystalline-white ropelike thing stretching across the floor from under the nearest clothing pile, and she could see it was wrapped around her neck. As she pulled, it flattened out and tightened its grip. Finally, Jana managed to pull a loop of it to her mouth and bite it. It was resilient, like trying to open a plastic package with her teeth. She bit and tore and finally it released her.
She quickly grabbed higher up behind the head of the creature and two small white fangs flashed at her as it snapped at the air, trying to reattach itself to her. The round mouth was rimmed with smaller teeth as well, reminiscent of the leeches she had examined in freshwater biology. Jana whipped the thing in the air, banging the head on the wall and stunning it, buying her time to escape out the door and slam it shut. Scrabbling on the ledge above the door, she found a key to the old-fashioned keyhole lock, and with shaking hands managed to insert the key in the lock and turn it and pocket the key.
She bolted downstairs, feeling a warm trickle down her neck. Running to the bathroom, she looked in the medicine chest mirror: two small puncture wounds bled from her neck in the middle of a purpling circle. Turning her head, she could two other bruises on her neck with neat little scabbed pairs of wounds. Swallowing, as she leaned in to examine the wounds and a sense of calm trickled in. The damage wasn’t so bad. In fact, the wounds began to disappear as she watched. Guilt crept in; she really was a lot bigger than that little snake thing, it was just doing what it needed to do to survive. She might have really injured it; after all, she bit it, tore it, and slammed it into the wall. It relied upon her and her blood to feed it in this hostile alien world.
Pictures came into her mind; promises kept, warm fantasies of a bright future, all comfort and daydream. Jana suddenly remembered: the snake was her friend; they had an agreement. It was the keeper of her dreams and it was the reason she was even getting to move: it gave her the vision and desire to pursue her dream career. Without it, she would be nothing, still a waitress. She would never have pursued the degrees and work that had led to this move. Daydreams of fame, of working side by side with her idols swamped her vision. Sleep lowering her eyelids, Jana began to wander trance-like back upstairs. She retrieved the key from her pocket, and as she put it in the lock, an even stronger image danced in her mind’s eye; one from about three years ago, when she first came to this place to start work. Walking in her new office, she had been so happy, so anxious to fit in. With a pang, she realized she was being ungrateful for all this place had offered. Like cold water dashing over her head, she woke up. This place no longer fit her, and the idea of folding herself back up to fit and stay on was nauseating; like an old dumpy pair of pants that had fit when she was 20 pounds heavier.
Shaking her head, Jana’s vision cleared and her heart leaped into her throat. She pulled the key out of the lock and threw it across the apartment into the mess. The creature had made a critical mistake: it had failed to realize her growth, and the seduction it offered held no power anymore. It must have sensed her lost connection, because the visions shut off, and the door shook as something hit it from the other side. Suddenly, Jana realized she was in mortal danger; if it got out, it would finish her once and for all. She vaulted down the stairs, leaping over the rail and ran for the kitchen. Banging continued on the door, louder and louder. Praying the door would hold long enough for her to find her purse and keys she frantically searched the kitchen. There! By the stove – her purse, and keys and phone next to it.
She snatched her things and sprinted to the front door. She could hear the bedroom door splintering as she dashed outside locking the front door. Praying the creature wouldn’t figure out that glass was more fragile and come out a window, she ran to her car in the driveway.
As she threw the car in reverse, she could see the front door push outward. She peeled down the street, manically trying to call Mel and warn him. Just then his familiar blue Honda turned the corner and began heading toward her. Flashing her lights and honking her horn, she stopped him. Mel pulled along side her, and got out of the car. She rolled down the window and began shouting at him, “Get in! Get in here! LEAVE IT!” she screamed, as he turned back to his car, confused. The sound of exploding glass made him look down the block toward her townhouse. The look on his face said volumes and he slapped his hand on door. “Go go go go GO!”, he screamed at her. “Its after you! Don’t wait for me, RUN!”. Knowing it was her only chance for survival, Jana punched the accelerator and the little Toyota leaped down the street. Looking in her mirror she saw Mel reach into his coat and pull out some kind of weapon and square off in the direction of the townhouse.
With a gasp, Jana sat bolt upright in the darkness, heart pounding and bedsheets drenched with sweat. Panting and shaking, she turned on the light, looked at the clock and groaned: 3 am. She had to be up in an hour. After an adrenaline rush like that, there was no way she could get back to sleep.
Jana shakily put her head in her hands and replayed the dream. God, how she WISHED she was moving, and how she missed Mel. She wondered if she should text him: they had spent enough years together that he was familiar with her powerful dreams. He might even have some insight for her.
No, no, he belonged to someone else now. She had no right to intrude. Dropping her face into her hands and drawing her knees up, she sobbed quietly into her hands. She had no cavalry to rescue her, no Mel with a magic weapon to deliver her from the demon that threatened to wring her life and dreams dry. The worst part was she fed the damn thing with her own implicit agreement. This. Had. To. Stop. Her neck hurt, and rubbing it she could swear she felt a welt where it had fastened on.
“Beware the white vampire snake.” Simultaneously strangling her and sucking her dry, it placated her into believing she was making progress, as her life ground to a halt. Difficult to see until its spell is broken.
Jana shook her head, dried her tears, and climbed out of bed. Every day was a struggle. She was trying to build a dream while she drank daily from the dregs of an old stale one. She knew she was self-sabotaging, but couldn’t see how until it had already happened. And somehow the knowledge kept wearing off, so she kept repeating the patterns leaving her stuck. So she did the only thing she knew how to do: Keep getting up and move.
Today, I gave a homeless man outside Costco some money. Little does he know, he has an oak tree to thank for that. Well, the tree and a friend of mine.
In an effort to stay in shape, I frequently run. The other day, as I trotted along a dry irrigation ditch in drought-stricken Central California, my route took me under several beautiful Valley Oaks. I thanked them for their shade as I basked in the cool air they brought my journey. This time of year, my footsteps are very crunchy and the footing is a bit treacherous as vast amounts of acorns are underfoot. In some sort of some sort of Quercian act of faith, the trees fling them out every year uninvited, blind to of what the world does with them. And the world takes them in. Thousands of potential new oak trees hit the ground every year; baking in the sun, getting crunched by pedestrians, eaten by squirrels, or rolling off into pavement and getting run over by cars. Maybe one in a thousand actually gets planted and creates a new tree. But that doesn’t stop the oaks. They provide food for animals and soil building materials. They may not go to their intended end, but they go to a use. Every last one.
I have trouble with this. I have trouble with unconditional giving; especially giving love. I’ve gone to a lot of twelve step meetings to get to the point where I can let someone live their own life without trying to control it, but I still want to control what someone does with what I give. As I mentioned in this entry, I tend to look for acceptance before venturing out with anything, and love is no exception.
A year ago or so, a friend of mine and I were enjoying a late afternoon in San Francisco. Life just doesn’t get much better: coffee shop, a wonderful city, wonderful company, and time to chat. As we sat at a table outside, a homeless man walked up near our table, laid his sleeping bag out, and proceeded to make his bed for the night on the sidewalk. This is a pretty common experience in San Francisco, and I was inclined to just ignore him. He had chosen his journey and he didn’t seem dangerous, just looking for a safe place to rest. As I mentioned, years of counseling has trained me to not try to fix people. With peace in my heart, I felt able to allow him his lot in life and enjoy mine.
My friend, however, was not willing to ignore him. She watched with growing discomfort as he tried to settle into his nest. As we finished our coffee and prepared to move on, she did something that put me to shame: she walked over to him to offer help. At first he jumped as she touched him on the shoulder, but her gentle voice full of love coaxed him into taking the money she held out.
My initial reaction was to mentally discount this bit of generosity from my friend. I thought about enabling: traditional recovery wisdom holds that the sooner someone is allowed to hit rock bottom the sooner they are motivated to turn life around. Odds are, if you give someone like this money, they will just go buy drugs with it. But that just didn’t sit right with me. Her gentle spirit was so true and her touch brought such beauty to an ugly corner of the world that I couldn’t shake what I had seen.
My friend is one of these oak trees. She is able to cast herself into the world, lovingly, with no strings attached. She didn’t hand that money out with restrictions, but she did attach love to it. Who knows what ripple effect she started? I love her for that, and want to be like her. Her action reminded me that I am on this planet to connect – not to dictate what that connection builds.
I think I have confused love with acceptance. I am living in an area that I don’t like, working at a job I don’t like and I somehow have allowed that dislike to creep into contempt. The heat, dust, and dirt of the Central Valley, the conservative political climate, the lack of cultural amenities, the amount of paperwork and bureaucracy at my job, have all become reasons to hold myself back and nurse a false sense of superiority. I am terrified that if I embrace where I am at in life, I will settle. I am terrified that if I accept who I am right now, I will cease to grow. I am terrified of being trapped.
But when I practice self-love, I suddenly see possibilities open up. When I expand that love to my world here and now, I connect, and I understand the only thing that can trap me is my bitterness and negativity. This current place, no matter how difficult for me, is part of the same world that has beautiful places for me. If I accept it all, love it all, it all becomes available to me, and I become worthy of it. After all, how can I be closed off and bitter, and offer anything on stage?
So now I practice. It is not my call to decide what the homeless man outside of Costco does with the money I gave him. It is my way of acknowledging that the world is whole, it is generous, and I am grateful. I am casting acorns.
The other day I had a dream. My daughters were younger, probably about 10-14. As was typical during our family years, we were in the living room having a family meeting about something. I was standing in between my eldest daughter and my youngest daughter. My middle daughter was across from me, watching.
I don’t remember what the topic of conversation was, but I do remember how I felt about my eldest daughter in the dream: she was wise, commanded respect. The whole family felt this way; what she said was important, It Was Right. As she sat on the couch making casual pronouncements, we all nodded sagely in agreement with her. After all, she was Right. She began a litany of what she didn’t like. She didn’t like so-and-so from town, so-and-so from church. Oh and her teacher, she didn’t like her. Then came an announcement that jarred me out of my agreement: she said she didn’t like her little sister.
On my right, her little sister, about four years her junior, curled up into a tight ball,arms wrapped around her knees, crushing them to her chest as she tried to be tough and not show how much that announcement hurt her. She just soaked it in, absorbed it as truth. After all, the wiser older sister had announced she didn’t like her; she must not be worth liking. She should just suck it up.
As I stood in the middle watching this I was racked with conflict. The eldest had made an announcement, it must be right. But I could feel the youngest sister’s pain. I was nauseous with the sense of rejection and wanted nothing more to take her in my arms and block her ears. But the damage was done, she had heard it, and no amount of comfort was going to erase the fact that her elder sister didn’t like her.
I woke up crying my eyes out, and the dream stayed with me throughout the day. Now, in no way does this reflect the real women’s relationship, which was part of the puzzle to me. As siblings, my daughters have had their conflicts, but they are all three very close and stick up for each other through thick and thin. I finally realized what was bothering me: I stood by and did nothing while this happened. I was so seduced by the authority I placed in the eldest daughter that I couldn’t decide what was right.
I have a strong respect for authority. I see authority as strong, and expect it to protect the weak. If an enemy announces themselves with a clear attack, I know just what to do: fight. This, however, was a sneak attack from someone masquerading as an authority figure; my inner critic.
Ah, my inner critic, my voice of “reason”. Maybe my inner scientist was offering her opinion. After all, she’s the one with the two degrees and respectable steady government job, shouldn’t we all listen to her? I DO love her. She’s done a lot for me, and gotten my out of some pretty big messes. She is intelligent, and entitled to her opinion and our respect, but when what she has to say is destructive it doesn’t need to leave her mouth.
I stand, paralyzed, in the middle while litany is going on in my head on a daily basis. It became very clear that I still place a huge amount of weight in her voice, and I automatically believe what she says. The damage she inflicts is enormous. My heart breaks anew every time I remember my child artist curling up and trying to be tough. I need to find a crystal clear way to tell the critic “enough is enough”, and at the same time nurture that little artist and somehow restore the natural boldness that she was born with.
I am practicing loving them both.This journey is teaching me that love is a discipline, something to be practiced and strengthened like a muscle. So, as a practice, I am trying this exercise: I look at myself in the mirror every morning, and for two minutes, I say “I love you”.
When I hear a negative thought, I am responding, “I love you.”
We shall see how it goes.
I suspect everyone struggles with their inner critic. I would love to hear ways you have tackled this beast, or even just how you’ve learned to discern his/her voice. Comment below, or drop me a line at CarsonWalker at sidewaysIntoCrazy.com.
For three years, I was in a girl’s fast-pitch softball league. One of the first things I learned was; don’t throw the ball at someone who isn’t looking. After all, you might smack them in the head (if you’ve never played softball, the ball *really* isn’t all that soft) and they will likely miss the ball. If it happens during a game you may give away a base to the other team. Then, when your team comes in to bat, (which of course was delayed by your mistake), your coach yells at you, your teammate glares at you whilst she ices the lump on her head, and the whole team is grumpy because you all are now one more run behind.
If you look around, this metaphor is all throughout life: don’t put something out unless you are sure it will be accepted: In the bible we are told not to put pearls before swine. Us Gen-x ers made it a religion in the 80’s: Its all about you: keep things to yourself, don’t share, don’t risk.
Its like when you shout, “Hi Sam!” to a friend you see across the room, and they don’t hear you, but others do. You smile your best “I really do know them, I’m not a stalker” expression at those looking. Acutely aware of these witnesses to your humiliation, you now have three choices: 1) Yell again even louder and risk Sam not hearing you again, 2) Run up to him and tap him on the shoulder or 3) give up altogether.
The riskiest of these choices is to yell again. It requires you to do something that has failed once, and put more of yourself out there by filling up your lungs and shouting even louder: you have to intrude on the world with your voice, your presence, your self.
Lobbing something out there and not having it caught feels terribly vulnerable. So we wait for an invitation, a connection; some sort of sign that what we have to offer is wanted. We wait for safety.
Now, don’t get me wrong, safety is essential, especially when it involves a potential concussion. But, playing it safe often puts us in a victim mode – especially if all we are risking is embarrassment. We end up passive; every interaction becomes cautious and quiet as we wait for the world to invite us to make noise. The problem is, these invitations are rare. We begin to disappear, to doubt that we have anything worth making noise over.
In acting class, we use an exercise to increase connections between actors. We stand in a circle, someone makes eye contact across the circle, and “tosses” a verbal cue to the other person; such as “Trisha, yellow!” Trisha catches the imaginary ball and says, “Thank you yellow, Dan – yellow!” as she fires it off to the next recipient. Things get really crazy as we start several imaginary colored balls in differing orders. You have to be open, and receiving all the time. The giver also has to be persistent and make sure the receiver is ready. More than once, I’ve stood there, imaginary balls piling up on me as I try to get someone’s attention across the circle. I have to persist and MAKE NOISE: “Cindy! Cindy! CINDY! Green!”
Doing this exercise allowed me to hear the mental messages I have to fight. No one is going to get hurt. The message in my head tells me I have no worth in the world, that I’m meaningless to the person I’m trying to connect with. How DARE I bother them? That lack of reception can feel so personal. This exercise makes it obvious: my receiver is just getting a LOT of input, and I need to verbally elbow my way in there, and toss the ball.
We have to persist; we have to connect. The more I put it out there, the more I find people WANT what I have, but it’s up to ME to get the reception.
How about you? Do you have a message you are trying to find receivers for? Are you auditioning for a role, trying to sell your paintings, seeking a publisher? The list is endless. Clear your throat, take a deep voice, and shout!
Make a comment below, drop me an email, share if this resonates with you! A safe environment is essential to practice raising your voice. The network is growing, and we all can lift each other up and help our messages find receivers.
A few days ago, I had to answer the question: “Are you talented?” My first instinct was to answer, “I don’t know, you tell me…”
When I first started acting classes, and then acting in community theatre, I didn’t feel like an actor. In fact, I didn’t feel like an artist at all, and I SO longed to be one.
I dove into training, hoping to feel like an actor. One day my exasperated acting coach told me “I can’t MAKE you want this, I can’t put the desire IN you!”
I wasn’t sure what she was talking about. I was there, wasn’t I? Hadn’t I driven 3 hours to be there? I WANTED to act. What I didn’t realize was that I had gotten sidetracked. I was so worried about doing it “right”; finding the director’s version of the character, pleasing my acting coach, being the “right” version, etc… that my discovery of the character was drowned out by all the others I was trying to please.
A few days later I was looking through some old photos and I noticed an odd phenomenon: Pictures of me for the last ten years all have a “deer-in-the-headlights” look to them. In my five-year-old university ID picture, I gazed through the camera as if I was looking at an oncoming train; frozen, vacant.
I remember that day I had the picture taken. I was new on the campus. A “non-traditional” student, I was old enough to parent 80% of the students I was in class with. In fact my eldest daughter and I were on campus together for a time. I distinctly remember as they took the picture I was thinking,“Can they tell I don’t belong here?” I stayed on campus for over four years, completing two degrees in natural resources, but my pictures never lost that glazed look.
For years, I have punished myself for wanting. I married a younger man, and a voice in my head told me, “You don’t deserve him. How dare you take him away from the NORMAL life he could be living?” We moved to a small, beautiful town, and the voices clamored, “You’re outside the box, GROWNUPS live in suburbia, where the kids can go to soccer games, and you can work in a cubicle!” When we moved again to the college town and I started classes, they whispered, “Oh SURE, go to school with your kids. They all notice it you know. You’re old, you’re frumpy, and you dress yourself funny.”
Somehow, I became convinced that I didn’t have the right to take up space on the planet, that I didn’t deserve to WANT. I steadily gave away ownership of something precious: my deepest desires.
No wonder I didn’t feel like an artist. I was still giving away my power. Like the shy seventh-grader waiting to be asked to dance, I was waiting for others to grant me my place; induct me into the sacred art of acting.
I then recalled the moment that acting and I fell in love. I was sitting in a Tucson hotel room, and as understanding blossomed in my soul I saw that an actor stands in a sacred doorway where fire dances and hearts meld; I want to feel that heat.
As I remembered that heart-pumping epiphany, I realized: you don’t become an artist when other people tell you that you are one. You don’t even become an artist when you produce art. You become an artist when you fall in love with an art. Your relationship to your art is intimate and unique. It is difficult to define, but it is yours to own – no one else can bestow it.
So, am I talented? Yes. Am I an artist? Yes. Do I still struggle with seeking approval? Yes (dammit). I especially struggle with fear of being wrong, or of commitment. This fear is so bad, I often up with four flavors in my ice cream bowl.
If I am going to make it to drama school, and even into professional acting, I have to make brave choices both on stage and in life. It will take laser-like focus and discipline. It may not seem like I have trouble making brave choices, (after all, I wear read Converse hi-top shoes with WAY more outfits than most people think is ok) – but I do.
Sometimes I don’t make a choice because I truly don’t know what I want, and I end up at that “deer in the headlights” spot. Right now, I am working to discern ME. I don’t fully know myself, which means it is really hard to bring the fully-formed human being that is me to my art.
But I do know this: I am past asking permission to belong. I am past waiting for that invitation. Perfect or not, I must press ahead. Like in Junior high, if I want to dance and no one asks me, I shall dance bravely alone.
I suspect many of us struggle with making brave choices, seeking approval, or just knowing what we want. I’d love to hear from people: what tools do you use to know yourself better? How do you make brave choices?
The other morning, I woke up with a burning in my chest. No it wasn’t a heart attack, it was a heartbreak. I jerked awake in a panic; that horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach that you’ve forgotten something hugely important. Or remembered something terrible.
I felt as if there was a glow in the pit of my stomach, a little firefly. Puzzled, I reached my hand over, and cupped it. It felt like a little entity in my hand, a ball of light, like Tinkerbell, pulsing and trying to tell me something.
I curled around it in a fetal position, whispering comfort. It had a very childlike feel as it touched my mind, little alien that it is. I began rocking and cooing to it, calming it as you would a frightened child.
I asked it what was wrong. My little firefly answered, “our family! They’re Gone!” and proceeded to wail a true cry of grief. The thing had roots into my very soul, and my spine felt pulled forward as we cried together. I SO miss my daughters, waking to a house full of family, that little silent time in the pre-dawn when my girls’ soft breathing could be heard as I made rounds to check on everyone. I miss my husband’s breathing next to me as well, his larger weight tipping the bed his direction that I had learned to counter balance as I slept.
Now I sprawl over the entire queen-sized bed. Much larger a bed than I’ve ever slept in alone. Feng shui would have me believe I should keep this larger bed, leaving room for possibilities. I wonder if I should get a twin, just to content myself with my smaller lot in life right now.
We sobbed and cried and grieved. Then I remembered, “Wait, they’re not gone, just far apart from us. And they’ve grown! Our family is bigger now, with grandkids, cats, dogs, boyfriends, husbands, college degrees, military rank; adventures galore! New houses, new states, all wonderful things, they aren’t here, but they are near, and connected in our hearts.”
Little firefly calmed down, but she’s still hurting. Yesterday morning she woke me again, and I curled around her, nurturing her, waiting for her message. This one was, “we’re in love with a man who doesn’t exist, never has, in our life!!”. Another round of panic, crying, heartbreak. This one is a bit tougher to answer. I told her, “We just have to have faith, and believe that he will appear. We thought the last one was, and maybe he was for that time. But he slipped out of that role, not able to see us for who we are, rather some image from his haunted past.”
She’s woken me with several messages, each one I treasure, and honor. Another message was, “We have a heart calling to act and write, not to be a paper pusher. I don’t want to go to work; it’s not heart-work!!” I agree with her on this one. Although mapping a career as an actor at 50 + years old is a terrifying proposition, yet even more terrifying is NOT trying. Then she wakes me with that one, “We aren’t on track, we’re not doing enough! We’ll never get there!!”
Sometimes these messages are truly important, and sometimes they are panic that is not helpful. Either way, they are indicators of a wound. I ask the divine to heal me each time. Heal us.
In the meantime, I live with a little firefly in my chest. I’ve learned not to quench her fire, rather cup it, breathe on it, let her light my passion. I believe she was sent to me from the universe to melt my frozen heart, thaw my frozen dreams. Like frostbite, the process is excruciating, but survivable. Thank you my little firefly. I love you.