Tag Archives: staying present

The Challenge to Value Myself Over What Others Might Think of Me

I was inspired to share this experience after reading many heartfelt, courageously written recent posts from my blog friend, Alienora.
I spend a lot of my spiritual life in challenges, most of which I haven’t shared. But in different ways I think we all have to deal with this one, sooner or later. I’m still in the middle of it!

September 3, 2014
To Those in the Otherworld Who Walk Their Journey with Me:

It is Wednesday morning, and I am feeling strangely cut off, like somehow I dropped the thread I was winding through the maze of my journey, and cannot find it again. I am exhausted. My bones ache, as if I have gone a long, long way. I worry I am falling back asleep, and then I might fail or be forgotten. I do not know the word I need to live by. I only know the word yes, not yes to doing more and more, not yes to pleasing people. It is yes, I am.

Lately growth for me has not come with trying, working hard, demanding more from myself, pushing limits, proving I can do what I originally took to not be possible. I have, in the course of the challenges I meet, done every one of these things. But then I can’t do more or I fall apart, or I am frozen in fear, or I just can’t keep going: and then I grow.

I grow because I open and unfold across the barriers I built to continue my false sense of security. I grow because I can no longer maintain the dam holding back emotions, they spill over the sides of the space within which I wish they had stayed. . I give up the need to be in control. I let go. I let myself be seen. And I let change take me by the hand, as if I am a weary child, whispering hush through the dark shadowy bits of mind I might have otherwise disowned. I dissolve into endless belonging beneath coming and going. Suddenly I am not lost but at the center of the labyrinth of living. I grow.

This particular morning, I am trying to rid myself of the belief that what others think of me is often more important than being true to myself. I am terrified to say the wrong thing, to confront anyone and create conflict, but definitely could wait a bit longer before accepting this. I think of ways to hold myself apart from past and potential criticism so I won’t get hurt. I think of the defenses I’ll need to build so I won’t feel small when people try to minimize my ideas or cut me down. I wonder whether I can get away with using indifference as a shield against taking what people say personally, at least occasionally.

And then I realize, unfortunately with an even greater sense of alarm and terror, that if I did this there would be no way for you and I to reach each other. It would plunge me into the invisibility that is my greatest nightmare. The possibility is inconceivable to me, like self-imposed exile. It is a choice I will never make again.

Once, I was so hurt that I cut myself off from any world, and lost sight of my own identity. It was the year I started grad school and my parents were separating. I almost never found my way back home. I know what it is like to allow the desertification of the forest of soul. I hid myself even from me, thinking this was a form of self protection. I almost died inside before I admitted how my refusal to live consciously was only a brutal form of self-betrayal.

Earlier this year, life again began to draw me toward that edge over which we fly or fall. There, unconsciousness called alluringly, louder than the din of my over occupied, overwhelmed mind and raging emotions that were threatening to engulf me and pull me in. I lost myself in sleep, dreaming for hours, unwilling to take the covers away from my face or get out of bed. But that was not the end of it, because the stillness I knew to always be with me, in which I learned my worth, in which I came home to myself, called my name. I heard your voices in the silent cry, I remembered looking into your eyes, and found I was enough.

I came too in the midst of a crowd. You all stood with grave, stern faces, devastated by what I had almost done. And you said, “There is nothing we would have been able to do had you chosen not to return.” That was when I promised you, and perhaps more importantly myself, that it would not happen again. And it has not. It cannot.

Etched into my mind is the picture of the six or so of you I could see, incredible sadness searing lines across your faces. And I understood that had I chosen once again to simply go through the motions, we would search for each other and see nothing, you would call my name and I wouldn’t hear you: all because I would have imposed separation on myself. And so once again my world turns upside down, leaving me dizzy and disoriented with the effort of ridding myself of false beliefs, determined to stay present.

Shaking, I tear down the defenses, I break the facade of indifference, relieved that now, there is nothing between us. But there is also nothing between myself and uncertainty, and what others think of me is quite beyond my control. An icy cold runs through me. I start to cross my arms in front of me to ward off the cold, but remember in time how it will help me instead to stand in the way that reflects how I wish to be in the world. I feel like standing is an impossibility, but somehow it continues. Still, I reach out. This is the only way I know to be fully alive and live with the authenticity that comes from not letting the opinions and talk of others destroy my sense of worth and self compassion. And we all know I could use a bit more of both when it comes to this world, when, inevitably, someone won’t like what I do or say, and might even reject me.

being able to do this in my own world is the whole point. I try hard not to think about that now, though, because when I do the world spins around me in 360 degrees, and I’m reaching out again, this time literally for balance.

I can’t recall a time when reaching out was harder. Ironically, as I stumble through and decide I am probably failing, I worry about what you are thinking of me. Of course, this only convinces me that yes, most likely I really am failing. Moving beyond concerns of judgment—yours and mine–and that I’ll be found seriously wanting, is like walking through a hurricane. When I try and move through physical space, the room spins around again dangerously. I bump into a few walls. But Silently, spent of doing, I reach out. And for a moment I am there, knowing how it feels to love myself fiercely, no matter what this world’s reaction may be.

It’s only one short moment. For today it’s enough. I decide that, tomorrow, rather than “try,” I will instead just be. I will accept where I am even if I wish I had learned more quickly, and surrender to silence. I’ll open the door that habit and fear have implored me to leave alone, to find my way through a room littered with the tears and isolation, invisibility and insensitivity that haunted my childhood.

Beneath the insecurity I face, I know that, when you see me, your eyes will be kind. You have been here before. If I fall, you will, gratefully, say nothing in the moment, just help me start again. There are many things I know I’d rather not confront, but they are the guardians to the gates, the keepers of the keys I need, in order to be free to say what I long to say, to be truly who I am. And that is what this is all about. It is all I’ve ever needed to be. I start again.

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Brené Brown: “The Power of Vulnerability _ The One-Many (OM) Project

I’ve decided to continue posting, when I come across them, the words and work of others who, like myself, are committed to living and articulating the interdependence of life, and how and why we should live by, among, because of, and even sometimes for each other. If you know of anyone doing related work, let me know and I’ll include them! This is my passion: not only what I am learning from my spiritual companions, but what I’m writing my dissertation on. I’m calling this, in honor of my own experiences, and yes in order to keep my inner word nerd happy, the One-Many or OM Project. We are all one among many, but never separate from each other.

No one walks alone, so I am including the words of those gone before, who walk their journey with me.

The Message From My Ancient Kin:
“Child, the way has not been clear, but Change is always in the making. Even now, each voice that hides inside, could burst at any moment, and from the heart of every silence, rend from it the truth it yearns to cry. This silent cry, breaking in waves upon the world, floods the landscape in its pleading, still aching to begin, speaking wordlessly within. Be that voice, speak your truth, embody that spirit that is all that you are. For our world is starving for love, is yearning for meaning, to hear the song of every life. And our children need us to live life fully: how else can we leave them their beginnings, or guide them to live by the wonder shining out through their eyes even once they’re old? We have always belonged. We need to remember. Our lives are but a single thread. This is love that holds us, even if it can’t be heard or seen. Our raw moments of connection are the knots tying us together, and it’s from the strands of our own song that we spin the story we become into something beautiful and strong, part of the fabric pattern of the world.”

And now here is another OM person and an inspiring TED Talk which she gave in 2010.

Brené Brown: The Power of Vulnerability

Listen to the talk or read the transcript here:

In Brené’s words:

Connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. This is what it’s all about. … (W)hat we know is that connection, the ability to feel connected, is … how we’re wired

If I roughly took the people I interviewed and divided them into people who really have a sense of worthiness … a strong sense of love and belonging … and folks who struggle for it, … who are always wondering if they’re good enough … . There was only one variable that separated (them.) …(T)he people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging. That’s it. They believe they’re worthy.

These are whole-hearted people, living from this deep sense of worthiness.

What they had in common was a sense of courage. … It’s from the Latin word cor, meaning heart — and the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. And so these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others, because, as it turns out, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly.

And the last was they had connection, … as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were

They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful.
They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable, nor did they really talk about it being excruciating… They just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say, “I love you” first, the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees…

Let me tell you what we think about children. They’re hardwired for struggle when they get here. And when you hold those perfect little babies in your hand, our job is not to say, “Look at her, she’s perfect…” That’s not our job. Our job is to look and say, “You know what? You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” … Show me a generation of kids raised like that, and we’ll end the problems I think that we see today.

This is what I have found: to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee — to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, “Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?” just to be able to stop and … say, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.” And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we’re enough. Because when we work from a place, I believe, that says, “I’m enough,” then we stop screaming and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.

The Vision at the Restaurant Table

It was the summer of 2011, and the girl had just had enough. She’d been dealing with inaccessible websites, prejudice from professors, anger, so much anger. Like its own creature, alive in itself, rage, rage against the night
shout and scream, become a child again in the worst, worst way.

The girl’s dad told her to just let go, forget about it. But the girl struggles, thinking: but aren’t we here to change the world, But aren’t we here to end this suffering, but aren’t we here? The girl, so here, so agonizingly here, the anger creature within herself with nowhere to go, pounding the cage of her own ribs, cannot be reasoned with, has been ignored for so long.

She tells herself, be sensible, be calm, be strategic, rise above it, be wise. But stronger in her is The conviction that it might all be nonsense and for nothing: look away, look away…

Later that night, the girl goes out to eat, and walks into the restaurant, sitting down at the table her father reserved, trying to enjoy the music with the bird in it. The dad asks, “hear the bird?” And the girl hears the bird, but the fog she’s in makes everything so far away.

The girl thinks, oh no, I made some terrible, terrible mistake, not good not good, why didn’t I listen, why didn’t I know what I already know? She is haunted by the old specs of memories of a loved one.

And then they were there, the man and woman, the couple from the otherworld. They reached out for her, to hold her in their arms, but why now, why her, didn’t she not deserve this kind of love, she had not stopped to breathe, she had not even been rational. Why, why? The girl can’t even look at them.

No words, “there are no words,” she says, and he says, “Yes don’t you trust us, don’t you? We didn’t let you stay lost.”

She had not been lost all day. In fact, it started out well. This morning she had gone for a walk through the tree lined sidewalks of the neighborhood, she had gathered the star leaves off their branches, watched life holding on: the green mixing in with yellow and orange. A season turning in all that leafy rustling, the hands of time. The music at the restaurant is now making a slow, spiral ribbon up to the ceiling, she watches its shapes, grasping after them, hoping for something to hold onto.

No words, no words, but would you trade your words for freedom? But would language give meaning to experience? But that isn’t why she can see them and looks away, cowers hidden within the shaded corners of herself. Even though they still know her, hold her there with flashlight eyes…

So now the girl is sitting still, wrapped in spiraling music and the fog. And he’s still standing there in front of her, that one so tall, who she has only seen several times, and then before that only in dreams, and she does not know his name…

She starts to feel like part of her is wrapped in the fog, so far away, wants to stay there, wants to stay angry, justified, she has a right to be upset, to act like she does not deserve to see Not him, not her. But there, somewhere else, she is already straining against something large and dark, to get away, get away, and she does not actually move at all, but she turns, like a tree toward the light, and barely able to see him out of some terrified eyes, she takes his hand.

He says, it’s the first time almost that he’s ever said anything, he says, “Don’t you trust me, I got you unlost once, and I can do it again. Just let go, jump I’ll pull you through.”

And the girl is there, dumbly, still for a moment. The why whines around her mind, like a wind coiling around itself, waiting. She is holding her breath, wondering whether there will be a storm. Will the sky fall, will she fall, is she just like the sky? But the girl once survived death, quite literally, and this is something even stranger and more baffling, simple and beautiful. This is living, the wildness of truly living, it calls her to return.

She’s not sure if she’s simply no longer afraid of dying, because she’s not, Or is simply no longer terrified to leap into living. But all this goes by in a flash. She is holding his hand, she jumps.

Then a moment passes. She is in the air, is she just going to fall? Will she come apart or telescope back into herself? She wishes she wasn’t so apprehensive. Suspended between worlds, she wonders whether, if he lets go, she’ll be lost forever. But no, the moment of nothing is so very short; and then everything clears, as close as being able to see that she can remember.

The world appears sharply around her, in high definition. She is sitting next to her dad at a table, the music is so clear, the fog is all gone, the room is lighter, the people walking up and down the aisles,
are so vivid, even though she is supposed to be blind she counts every single one. She can see shadows of people across the room.

The people from the otherworld are gone. She didn’t even have time to thank them, or finally ask who they might be. She is grateful and quiet. She has always lived by, with, because of others. She does not do anything alone.

She spends a great deal of time blinking, blinking, blinking. After that, she goes with her dad out onto the floor and then the two of them are dancing.

And now she sits here in the dark, so late at night, because that’s when no one asks her any questions. And she is wondering if it is just as painful to give birth as it is to be born. Because for quite some time, several years it seems, she’s been at doing both at the same time. Neither ever, ever ends.

And all that love from the otherworld people she doesn’t know, blazing away in the dark is enough to melt all that ice away. It is enough to bring tears to her eyes, and stop her gaze for hours, not sure what to do next. But then, why focus on what could go wrong, If to them you are a flawless child, if to them you are whole, and all this talk of shortcomings just a way to make sure people fear living?

We are more worried about shining then burning out, and have all sorts of solutions and programs for failures, but are so wary of success. It would be heroic to conquer the fear of succeeding. But perhaps good enough for them if you jump anyway.