Notes on Courage
Transforming myself to transform the world.
It's been months since I've written to you on this platform. I've tried, believe me. There are half written posts in my drafts folder - ideas still waiting to be shared. I want to share them, but I find myself stuck in this cycle of perfectionism and uncertainty.
My ideas form a complete picture in my head, but I worry my words won't do them justice. Some people write through their ideas to get clarity, but for me, talking through them works best. So, for the next few months, I'm going to be turning this blog into a vlog! Watch for my first post in the next couple days!
I won't be giving up on writing completely, but would like to explore my writing through a more social medium and hope to create more engagement on my Facebook page a la Liz Gilbert and Anne Lamott. If you want to make sure you receive my page updates, check out this easy how-to tip from IAmBaker.net.
This past week, I returned from a 3-day silent retreat at a local hermitage run by the Franciscan order of the Catholic church. After over two years of non-stop going, I knew it was time for me to disconnect so that I could reconnect. Before I was left with myself in the hermitage, I was asked if I had any specific prayer requests (they pray for all hermits during their stay) and simply asked to get what I needed.
A lot of what I needed was space to re-center. I got that. I was also looking forward to diving deep into the writing of my book. I got that too. I painted, I walked, I sat, I slept. It was glorious. During my stay, I had multiple encounters with deer. At one point, I was standing in front of what the Franciscans refer to as the "window to God's creation" and off in the distance saw a patch of brown that didn't look like tree bark. Wondering if it was a deer, I sat and watched patiently trying to attune to what I was seeing. I saw a movement that confirmed it was alive and made a request that it come closer. Within a minute of the ask, the creature moved closer into sight and I noticed a rustle of leaves behind it- a baby! I'm not sure how long I sat with them, the momma keeping fierce watch and the baby playfully scampering away and back again each time bringing them a little closer to my dwelling. No words can describe the absolute awe and delight I felt to witness a few moments of their life.
Open has been my word for 2015.
What do I mean by word? Basically, I chose a word that focuses my intention for the year. The simplest, and most complex of resolutions. So this year, I will open.
Open my heart.
Open my mind.
Open my arms.
Open my house.
Open my everything.
Believe it or not, I struggle with open sometimes- particularly when it comes to my heart. I'm tenderhearted by nature and have also been wounded- in big ways and small.
Our wounds often close us off, because closed off provides protection. (Think turtle.)
There are times when I can almost observe myself from afar - the big hearted me telling the scared hearted me to open up. Reminding me that the more I open, the more I will experience- the more I will live. (A turtle can survive tucked inside it's shell, but that's all its really doing- surviving.)
I knew 2015 would be a big year- and I wanted to open to it, open to life.
One of my biggest openings happened this past month. For much of the last year, I was struggling with my role at heARTS. Long before I had actually started my nonprofit, I assumed that when I did start it (never if, just when) I would be the Executive Director. I knew I had the leadership skills and was well-rounded enough to take on the various tasks. Over the past two years, I have proven that I can do the role of ED, but it has also felt restricting - closing. heARTS always seemed like my mission in life- but what I'm learning and opening to is that heARTS is just part of my mission.
The role of ED is a nice box that fits neatly into this world of ours- but as this year began, it became clear that I didn't fit neatly into it. I wasn't sure what that would mean - but a little voice inside steered me in the direction of co-chairing the board.
Initially, I didn't listen.
Sometimes when you don't listen, the universe takes care of things for you, and a series of events made it clear that I did indeed need to shift from a someday paid position to an always volunteer role as a board member. As soon as I made this decision I felt so OPEN! I saw a future at heARTS that included all of the things that brought me immense joy and opened me up to the bigger, more expansive mission ahead of me (more on that in a minute.)
A couple weeks after that big decision and shift - I felt another opening. This time in the form of a bucket of tears. Something happened- I'm still not even sure what- but I started crying on a Friday night and the tears didn't stop flowing until well into my Saturday.
The sobs came from the deepest part of me and crippled me with grief. There were moments when I wasn't sure if I would ever stop crying. That's the thing about opening, it's scary and filled with uncertainty and why most people don't do it. Instead they stay closed- protected.
So open, I continue.
For the past month, I have been training teenagers from throughout Minneapolis in work readiness skills to prepare them for a summer internship with the STEP-UP program. Each Saturday in March, I spent 7 hours with a new group of 16-21 year olds, talking resumes, interviews and the importance of communication.
One of the things discussed each week is the role that character and attitude play in our success. Part of that discussion includes an exercise about famous failures - Whoopi Goldberg, Michael Jordan, Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Seuss - all folks who experienced failure. All folks whose lives and work have made such an indelible imprint on our culture, our country, our everyday lives, that there's no mistaking their name or how the world is different because of them.
I'm always amazed by the discussion this exercise evokes. Some are quick to point out that it wasn't Elvis Presley who failed when he was told he wasn't good enough for the Grand Ole Opry, it was actually the guy who didn't see his talent in the first place. That all 23 publishers who first rejected Dr. Seuss probably went to the grave kicking themselves for not signing a deal with him. The lesson from this exercise is keep going, keep persisting, keep practicing, keep making ends meet, because eventually the right person, the right time, the right opportunity will come along and all that rejection, all that unrealized potential will be seen and valued.
The art of failing is to hold on to the belief that each failure will lead to success. Actually, that each failure is a success.
If Abraham Lincoln had won one of the first eight elected offices he ran for, he probably wouldn't have been the 16th President of the Unites States. He wouldn't have been the president who signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing African Americans from slavery. At the end of the day if he hadn't succeeded at losing those earlier elections, there may not have even been a Civil War, let alone an Emancipation Proclamation.
We are all meant for greatness. We are all meant to contribute our gifts in our own unique ways, at our own pace and timing. The art of failing is to know that your gifts are your source of greatness, to trust that your greatness will come, and to persist until you find it or it finds you.
I've often wondered what I would say if I were asked to tell someone about a time when I failed. In the midst of all the talk about failing, I couldn't really think of a time that I've failed. I've been disappointed many times, I've had countless proposals rejected, lost out on promotions, made other people mad or upset, but honestly none of those things felt like failure. They were all learning experiences. They all taught me invaluable lessons about myself, about the world, about life. Without those moments, I'd be a different person, a lesser person. And at the end of the day, they were just moments, just drops in the bucket of a lifetime.
Yesterday marked the third birthday of The heART Center. April 1, 2013 was the day I signed the lease and took possession of the keys to courageous heARTS' first space. By most accounts, the past two years have been highly successful. As a brand new nonprofit with no donor base or community awareness we've managed to keep the bills paid and offer year-round programming with a steady base of volunteers and supply donations. Success! By their accounts, we've already made an impact in the lives of many youth too. Success!
There is so much greatness, so much opportunity and potential just waiting to unfold, but some days I struggle with lack. I wonder about the seeds that I've planted over the last two years and whether they will flourish. I've spent most of my waking hours tending those seeds. So much time in fact that I forgot to nourish myself - forgot to care for my own needs.
I've been making changes, because at the end of the day the only failure I could ever actually experience is the failure to love myself. And loving myself is risky.
Loving myself forces me to create boundaries- to say no while knowing that other people might be disappointed or upset. It requires me to give more thought to how my decisions will effect me rather than my autopilot mode of caring for the needs of others, protecting and nurturing their hearts at the expense of my own. Loving myself challenges me to know my own value, and stand up for my own self-worth.
The art of failing, is the art of flying. It's just a matter of perspective.
Over the past couple of weeks I've gotten a new kind of exposure. It's the kind of exposure that makes my chest tighten and heart race. Yes, 4.4 million people watched my story unfold on the new ABC series, In An Instant, but the kind of exposure I'm talking about is the re-enactment of my lived experience which up until now has only been replayed in my mind.
I've listened to most of the episode and watched parts. Just like all the other exposure therapy I've done over the years, I know that this too will be a gradual, but important process.
The process. That's the piece the show skipped over. One minute I'm physically and emotionally traumatized and the next I'm walking in to my nonprofit, laughing and on the path to healing others. I'm glad they told the story of the collapse, the reason I keep telling it is that there is still a crisis at hand. It's a story that needs to be told and re-told until something changes, but from my perspective, the most important part of my story isn't the collapse, but the path I took to heal.
Water was this everyday thing that had become my enemy. Exposure started by looking at pictures of tranquil seas, then listening to babbling brooks and soft waterfalls. Eventually we took a trip to the site of the collapse so I could smell the river and then, eventually, I worked my way into a pool. See it, hear it, smell it, feel it.
(Lucky for the water, I had already gotten used to tasting it so I didn't die of dehydration.)
All these interactions with pleasant water experiences helped me find a new relationship with water. I no longer gasp for air in the shower, but it's still been 7 years, 7 months and 21 days since my head and body have been fully submerged in water. I don't curse the river quite so often anymore, but I did have my first panic attack (5+ years later) when the boat sank during Life of Pi. The thing about healing is that it's a process - it doesn't end, it just changes.
Watching the Rush Hour Disaster episode is just another form of exposure therapy. First I listen and watch a little. Then, eventually, I'll watch the whole thing (with my eyes open, the whole time.)
On Monday, I was working my volunteer gig at my church when this lovely Upworthy compilation came through my Facebook newsfeed. Any other week, I would probably have rolled my eyes with irritation and felt a mild sense of hopelessness and inevitability about the state of our infrastructure. Any other week, I would have pushed share, said something snarky, and moved on- it’s already been my problem, someone else needs to take it from here.
But this isn’t any other week.
On Saturday, my story - our story - is going to air on ABC for all the world to see. Just like in the video clip from John Oliver, In an Instant, is going to seem like a movie. In fact they are billing it as a "movie premiere event series." Occasionally I’ll show up on screen to remind viewers that it’s not a movie, that it was real life-- but where will it go from there?
I don’t know how many times over the last seven years I’ve heard the stories of others who were almost there... who had just driven over it... who drove it everyday except that one... who worried from a far about loved ones living in Minneapolis. Those stories matter, just as much as mine does- because it could have been anyone. My story could be your story. I wish it wasn’t so easy for me to say that in the present tense, but it’s as true today as it was then.
An insensitive guy from the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) once chalked up the actual cause of the collapse to a butterfly flapping it’s wings in China. From his perspective, there was just no telling what caused its ultimate demise at 6:05pm on Aug. 1, 2007.
A design flaw was the official culprit. Which, in my world, is also known as a politically convenient excuse to do nothing. Even in our own state, just six months after our collective trust was shattered, the governor thought it was a good move to veto a gas tax increase that would pay for infrastructure improvements. Luckily, our legislature overrode his veto by a slim margin.
As I watched the John Oliver piece this week, it wasn’t mild frustration I felt. Nope, instead what I felt was a primal form of rage simmering just beneath the surface of my skin. I wanted to scream and get it out of my body- but my surroundings wouldn’t allow for that- so I took to twitter, sending notes to my senators and representatives urging them to watch the show on Saturday night and use it to make things right. To remind people that it's not a movie- that it was real life, and will be again if we don't act.
There are lots of other things I want to fight for - would rather fight for - but until this wrong has been righted, I will continue to fight this fight by telling my story. Because it is our story. Few things unite us, but bridges (both literally and figuratively) do just that. No one is exempt from the consequences of a crumbling infrastructure- no race, no creed, no class, no orientation.
There's no getting around it, my story is horrifying. No one should go through what I and others went through. So if you watch on Saturday night, funnel your horror into a letter to your members of Congress. Not sure who they are? Search for them here, then write them a letter, give them a call, or send them a tweet. Nothing will change unless you tell them to change it.
Without even realizing it, D and I had our first (what I hope is annual) Self-Love Day yesterday! Neither of us are super into Valentine's Day and with the whirlwind of special days leading up to the 14th, it's lost its remaining luster. (D's b-day, Christmas, Anniversary, my b-day = tapped out)
This year's Self-Love Day was all about purpose. courageous heARTS has been my purpose for almost my entire life. Before it became real, I figured it was my end game-- the thing I'd spend my life trying to achieve. Given that I opened the doors to the heART Center during my 30th year, I started to wonder what was next-- how else I could use my experiences and expertise to influence the world around me.
I started the day finalizing a grant for heARTS then moved on to other opportunities to influence. I'm going to be a guest blogger for MinnCAN this year and have been developing an idea for my first post. Yesterday I had an aha that moment that could really change the conversations that are happening in the world of education (at least, if people dig it), and spent some quality time further developing the idea.
Meanwhile, D has been dealing with some pretty significant work stress. As he has been processing with me, I've been able to practice the other vision I have for myself as a resilience coach. Yesterday we both felt triumphant when he was able to make meaning and FIND PURPOSE in this really hard situation. By paying close attention to the lessons hidden within the situation [his own strengths and skill sets, the needs that exist in the world, and (probably most important) the *joy energy* that whooshed through his body when all the pieces clicked], he was able to move away from resentment and into gratitude. Not only has he found the purpose, but he also has a plan-- and I'm super freaking excited for him!
My last act of self-love for the day was creating my sacred studio! We've been cleaning out lots of unneeded stuff since the beginning of the year and I had a vision for my studio space in the basement. It had previously been our litter box room along with the place all the stuff that doesn't belong anywhere in particular goes.
It feels so good to be giving attention and intention to my own creativity again! When I started heARTS, ALL of my art supplies went there. Understandable at the time, but looking back I wish I had loved myself enough to keep my own stash of materials at home. I deserve to have my own practice and giving to others shouldn't come at the expense of my own needs. I've been slowly learning that lesson, re-accumulating paints and brushes, and making space for creativity in my life again.
Our non-traditional lovefest was the perfect way to spend a Saturday. As we took care of ourselves, we found connection through our happy hearts. Like I said, I'm looking forward to the many years of Self-Love Day ahead!
I've been wincing a lot lately. Sometimes when I'm laying down, and sometimes while standing up. Other times, the sharp pain that shoots through my back is tied to completely random movements.
Finally, after much procrastination, I went to the chiropractor for the first time in way too long. I told her my "spot" was acting up. This spot in my lower back, just to the right of my spine, that feels like a ball full of sorrow.
Since my back brace came off seven years ago, I've done my best to ignore that spot. It's been this elusive pain that seems inescapable. During this first visit in way too long, the pain was as tricky as ever-- the questions of, does it hurt now? as my body is shifted and contorted, so often answered with no.
How is it that this pain can cause fleeting moments of crippling discomfort and then disappear in the presence of a doctor? They always say they believe me, but sometimes I feel like the girl who cried wolf. So I've spent the last seven years chalking it up to life. Accepting that a certain level of pain is just what life is like now. Penance, perhaps.
This time, when I went to the doctor, they had a new scan machine that showed how my vertebrae were zigzagging down my back. 150% one way, 200% the other--like a pin ball pinging off the sides of the machine. Official diagnosis? Your back is jacked up! (I love my chiropractor for her formal style and unwavering professionalism, it really makes for a much more pleasant experience!)
It's nice to have some validation that the pain is clearly real. I've got this image on my fridge as a reminder that I need to care for my back as much as I care for my heart.
This time my pain feels different. It's alive again, in an excruciating way. There are memories attached with this pain. The physical sensations and the limitations.
I'm pulling out the adaptive moves I learned so long ago. The log roll has been helping me out of bed, and there are some really smooth moves to help with getting dressed in the morning. I'm trying to keep from sitting too much-- which means make shift standing desks and evenings laying on the couch.
I'm trying really hard to care for my spot-- which amounts to some ill placed bones and a sprained muscle (or two).
Since my brace came off, I've spent so much time trying to heal my heart so I could seize the day, that I've neglected a critical element of life--a body that feels good. It's actually a really amazing thing to feel present enough to want a body that can help me live this extraordinary life!
So I'm seizing the pain right now, in order to truly live life to the fullest. Enough with feeling like I'm ninety, at least until I am ninety. (Later than that will do too!)
I'm going to leave you with a post from my old blog. I wrote it as I was transforming my brace into something worth keeping, titled Healing Embrace. Healing is truly a state of embrace--pulling the tough stuff close and giving it all the love you can.
My mom said “get rid of it”. How could I do that? This object represents so much.
Pain. Anger. Tears. Restriction. A bulls eye—a target. Baby steps. "You’re still wearing that?" Security—I am safe in this shell. Healing.
Instead of creating a burden for the earth, with something that will never decompose, I transformed it. It’s still a work in progress—just like I am—but it will tell my story, in ways my words may not.
Between writing grants and ushering in a new session of arts activities at heARTS, I've been re-engaging the world of Pinterest. I used the site a lot before heARTS was a really real thing and it helped me to fine-tune my vision and it inspired action.
In my journey down the rabbit hole, I found a pin from the Arts and Healing Network that quoted ME! I read it and was able to give myself a little pat on the back for the words. Those were good words I used!
For me, painting is a way to look inward, and for others I think art can be an opportunity to express themselves outwardly - something that might not come easily. Either way, I think the power is in the story. Artistic expression offers the opportunity to share parts of ourselves we might not otherwise share.
I'm still in awe of the fact that the Arts and Healing Network recognized me for courageous heARTS' work just 6 months after opening the doors! It's pretty *magical* actually. When it first happened, I was elated! I felt affirmed for all the hard work and it bolstered my heart to keep moving forward.
The public acknowledgement was also a huge wake-up call for me, because as wonderful as I felt, I also became aware of my tendency to shrink. My inner critic was quick to tell me not to be too happy or too open about it. People will think you are boastful and arrogant.
I've spent the past year, grappling with this tendency. Thanks to the loveliness of Liv Lane's Project Light Year (2015 registration ends today!) I've been learning how to shine. My tendency to shrink is quickly diminishing. Like I said in my last post, I'm ready to celebrate my life with abundant gratitude-- and that means all the amazing, magically extraordinary parts of it!
About the blog:
Reflection has been a constant on my journey. This blog is a collection of my thoughts and ideas about my healing and the world.