Notes on Courage
Inner work for outer action.
Back in 2009, I had the opportunity to attend a 4-day training in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Since then, I've challenged myself to use the skills offered by Dr. Marsha Linehan in both my work and my life.
This past weekend, while attending the Center for Courage and Renewal's Academy for Leaders, I had the opportunity to integrate my understanding of her work with the work of Parker Palmer.
Dialectical thinking creates space for opposites to be true. It's shifting our minds from either/or to both/and. Parker Palmer uses the language of paradox to describe this same phenomenon as a "tragic gap" between what is and what could be.
Here's the simple word that can make all the difference in how we create space for paradox in our lives:
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.
Yesterday, I guided a painting session with a group of high schoolers. About half-way through the workshop, one of the painters called me over and said that she was stuck. She told me that when I shared my story, it reminded her of her own loss in 2007. She felt inspired to paint about that loss and started her "dark" painting. As she told me more of her story, I observed the black at the top of her page gradually transition into beautiful shades of red and orange-- a sailor's delight surely around the corner.
I could see her delight in the vibrant hues she had started to use, and hear the pain and burden as she expressed concern about what she thought her painting was suppose to be-- dark, heavy, grief-stricken-- but wasn't any more. I asked her if it was possible for both to exist-- the darkness and the light. The guilt she was holding, just beneath the surface, was palpable. When wounds cut so deep that it feels like a betrayal to use vibrant colors in a painting, just imagine what it feels like to live a vibrant, colorful life?
I get it. There have been many steps on my journey that have felt like betrayals. Betrayals that I turned into obligations so I wouldn't feel so guilty.
Surviving felt like a betrayal. I'm alive and thirteen others aren't. I need to make my life worthy of the second chance. I need to prove to the Universe that I was worth keeping, in case there was some kind of mix-up on the way to the other side.
Healing felt like a betrayal. I'm getting better but others are still stuck. We're in this together, but I can't stay stuck. I can't keep reliving the pain, I need to transform the pain. Moving on is a betrayal to the pain and grief and loss, my own and others.
Creating courageous heARTS felt like a betrayal. I'm living my joy by using my deepest sadness and pain. I'm betraying the sadness, my own and others. I'm betraying the horrific tragedy by calling it a gift, by having the audacity to say I wouldn't want it any other way.
I know exactly what it feels like to feel the pull of the dark-- the obligation to it, the muted existence that it creates. I also know what it feels like to find the light-- to live in the vibrancy of the contrast and find joy again.
Recently, I had an Angel Reading with Laurel Bleadon-Maffei, and was reminded that my essence-- joyful and adventurous-- is meant to live a vibrant, colorful life. I was awakened to the fact that the only real betrayal is to live a muted existence-- holding on to the darkness out of obligation and guilt.
So I'm cashing in my gift... Life.
I'm done feeling bad about being alive. They wouldn't want me to- would never have ask me to. I did that to myself.
I'm ready to celebrate my life! (Whoa.)
I'm ready to breathe in deeply, with grateful awareness.
I'm ready to explore the big wide world and all it's vibrant colors.
I'm ready to giggle uncontrollably and feel the drunkenness of joy again.
I'm ready to live a magical, extraordinary existence.
I'm ready to pop the lid off what's possible and keep dreaming-- even bigger.
I'm cashing in, with utmost gratitude.
I'm ready to fly, anyway.
*Image adapted from Tony Webster: https://flic.kr/p/9WBhY5
Part of my bridge story has always been unexplainable. That day, as I sat against the median, I remember saying out loud, on repeat, "I don't know how I got out of my car."
Over and over again. The words fell from my mouth in some kind of controlled hysteria.
"I don't know how I got out. I don't know how I got out."
I didn't know how, but I did know why. Scratch that.
I knew why, and I had an inkling about how-- but the how was wrapped up in all kinds of mystery and magic. It was an explanation beyond my understanding and wrapped up in all kinds of survivor's guilt, so I stuck with "I don't know", whenever someone asked:
How did you get out of your car?
Since I didn't have any answer (at least not publicly), everyone else tried to answer it. And oh the answers!
All I have to say is that it's not fun having the most pivotal moment of your life told through the framework of other people's belief systems. It kind of shocks me how invasive people can be about what I consider to be the most personal and intimate aspect of who we are-- our spiritual centering.
[Side note: It's not helpful to try to explain someone else's life and experiences through your own lens. It's diminishing and self-serving. It can also be really damaging in the case of race, culture, gender... Instead, ask questions and check your assumptions.]
So, do you want to know what I know?
I know that there was magic. Divine magic.
I know that it wasn't until I surrendered to the situation-- stopped fighting and started accepting-- that the magic happened.
I know there was help. Divine help.
I know there was purpose. Divine purpose.
Because I knew all that, I never looked back. Never wished for another chance to take that first missed exit, or the second. Despite the pain, I trusted it had a purpose-- that I had a purpose for still being here.
Why not just tell people that?
When it comes to the Divine, my knowing is kept in my gut, my intuition. I don't pretend to understand the mysteries of the Universe, but instead try to honor them as such, Divine mysteries. My experience is the kind people want to label with loaded words and place into their own box of understanding. I don't fault them for that-- it's understandable, and in some ways I shared my experience in a way that people could draw their own conclusions, from their own perspectives.
Then, there's the heavy. Thirteen people died. What right do I have to claim Magic? Divine intervention? I thought it was selfish to even think about the magic-- let alone to speak of it out loud. So I didn't.
Now, with some years and distance, I recognize how much worse it could have been. I remember emerging from the water thinking everyone would be dead and instead seeing survivors standing next to their car calling loved ones. There was Divine intervention all over the scene that day. It showed up in mysterious form and human form. It eased pain and brought hope. It Lit up the whole world in one of our darkest hours. (Don't you remember how everything just stopped, how all of a sudden our disagreements and little life stressors didn't matter so much? I could feel it, the collective consciousness as everyone tried to make sense of the senselessness.)
Over the summer, someone finally gave me an answer that honors the magic of my experience in a way that felt good to me.
One of the young women who comes to heARTS watched a news story I was in and she questioned, "So you really don't know how you got out of your car?"
"Nope I really don't."
"I bet I do... MERMAIDS!" she exclaimed. Then looked a little sheepish, as though I would think it was silly.
"MERMAIDS!! YES!" She didn't know in that moment how happy I was, to hear an answer filled with wonder and imagination, instead of dogmatic belief systems.
No one can deny the magic of mermaids.
So now my answer is clear, and on Aug. 1 this year I had an (A)riel tattooed on my arm-- the same arm that reached for the light above the surface of the water. The same hand that holds the physical scars from that day.
I first started blogging back in August of 2012. I had just found out that the "dream" job I thought I was a shoo-in for didn't even want to interview me. I could have taken that as a sign that I wasn't cut out for leading an arts-based youth organization, but instead I took the lessons.
Through the process of preparing for the interview I didn't even get, I learned that I had a clear vision that energized me and lit a fire in my belly. When the call didn't come, I was a little sad but knew in my gut that I wasn't destined to follow down another person's path. I decided to start blogging to get my ideas out of my head and into the world so the Universe could play around with them.
I was amazed how quickly doors started to open! By October 2012 I had a business plan because someone wanted to read it, in November I took a trip to California to learn more from an existing organization, and in January of 2013, courageous heARTS became a fiscally-sponsored project of Springboard for the Arts. (And as of a couple weeks ago, we're officially an independent nonprofit!)
In less than six months, the dream that I had tucked away deep in my heart had emerged into a thriving possibility.
That possibility took over my blogging time and all of my creative energy poured into the real-life mission and vision of heARTS.
I finally started blogging here this past August after realizing how important this outlet has been for my continued growth and healing. I missed having an avenue to share my voice with the world and needed a place to look inward and reflect, with the hopes that my lessons are valuable to someone else.
I don't know what it is about blogging, but since August more doors have been opening. I guest blogged for the Young Education Professionals network for the second time a couple weeks ago and was recently asked to speak at an upcoming EDTalks event put on by AchieveMpls. A look at my Instagram account shows some of the other awesome moments over the past few months. Big and small, these moments have filled me with gratitude for this life that I'm living.
This blog isn't a means to an end. It is a place for me to create connections and find meaning in all the moments of life. It will be the place where personal Lindsay meets professional Lindsay- and where I can come to untangle the two when life gets messy.
Writing- well, creating of any kind really- is where I face possibility, not fear. My energy makes big shifts as I open up to the highest good and leave the day to day worries on the sideline.
I suppose that's why blogging has become my gateway to the good stuff!
For the past two years, it feels like all I have thought about is heARTS. Everything from our philosophy and approach, brand, and messaging, to cleaning the floors and windows. It's been amazing and wonderful-- and exhausting.
From what I've come to discover, it's a lot like being a mom. When you care so deeply for the life of a person (or in my case a mission) it's easy to stop caring for yourself. You become so wrapped up in them-- because they are a part of you, an extension, a reflection.
There are times, during the early days, when the new life that's been created really does need you, depends on you to survive. But then, as it grows, so does the opportunity for you to do the same.
So, I'm making room for myself again. Trying to figure out where I fit in all of this. Just like motherhood, heARTS doesn't end at 5pm-- so it's up to me to make sure I create space to care for my heart, mind, and body and ensure my needs are being met in the process.
Part of ensuring my needs are being met is the creation of this website. I love sharing this journey with others. It's an unexpected gift from the collapse, a) that people are interested and b) that I have the skills to tell it.
Last year, I did my first run at a personal website. I was nearing the end of my rope working for another organization while trying to run my own. I began putting a little energy into promoting myself as a speaker, and thought it could help make ends meet if I decided to make the leap into doing heARTS full-time while leaving behind the safety of a paycheck and health insurance.
That first website was called Falling Into Life, inspired by the words I shared for a public art project in 2011: "Falling taught me how to live."
I'd forgotten about those words until the rabbit-hole that is the internet led me back to them.
It's been about a year since I created that site, and several months since I took the proverbial "leap." I'm still working toward making ends meet, but I've also grown to understand I have more to share and more to do with this life I've been given back.
As I started rewriting the site, I was keenly aware that I needed to strengthen my message.
So what if I have an interesting story? The important question is: Why does it matter to others?
It can't just be about me, the day, the recovery, the growth. What do I want others to do, feel, understand? How can my story connect to theirs?
I took Falling Into Life and added a tag line: From Falling to Flying. I realized that it wasn't just about living, but soaring to new heights. I also realized that the idea of flying, the boldness of it, made me really uncomfortable, which is one of the reasons I need to fly anyway. It's the discomfort and vulnerability that makes it important.
Messages of flight have shown up in all kinds of ways since I first started blogging again last month. There were the flying lessons I got to witness, lots of feathers and even rocks shaped like wings-- but today takes the cake. I'd been thinking about a mural I created with the kids I used to serve, and I thought my message had been something about flying. So I dug through my old photos this morning and sure enough, it did:
Everything about this image amazes me!
To fly, we have to have resistance.
At the time, that was the message I wanted the kids I worked with to hear. I believed they could fly, despite the weights they had to bear. The image came out before the bridge came crashing down. Before I really understood the weight.
My life changed, but the message didn't. It's always been: fly anyway! And it turned out to be the message I needed to hear too.
Two extra a-ha's:
1.) I usually claim there wasn't much artistic about myself until after the collapse, when I was introduced to intuitive painting. This picture (and others of the whole mural) tell a very different story. Somehow, I was able to design and manage an entire mural project without giving any consideration or claim to an identity as an artist! It's really amazing how blind we can be to ourselves.
Something for you to consider: When have you neglected to give yourself credit? It's time to take the blinders off and start owning it!
2.) My second message from the Universe today was the song "This Year I Sing," by Ann Reed (who we had the pleasure to hear in church today). The lyrics for the song are below and are my self-proclaimed anthem for the year. What's your anthem?
Take these broken wings and learn to fly.
When I was 5 or 6 years old, I started swimming lessons. In order to pass the first level, I needed to jump into the deep end of the pool and use the skills I had learned to stay afloat. I was so scared that I wouldn't remember how to swim that I refused to jump. It didn't matter that I had been doggie paddling in the shallow end for most of the summer, that there were instructors there to keep me safe, or that I would fail the class and have to start over. The fear of not being able to touch the ground held me back.
It still holds me back.
It's no longer the lack of confidence about my skills that keeps me grounded. I know that I have the skills to fly. I've studied, practiced, and paid attention. Still do.
These days, I find myself struggling to fly because of the little voice in my head that says:
"Don't be too confident."
"Don't be selfish."
"Don't shine too bright."
We all have that little voice and it can do a number on our sense of self-worth and add weight to our flight.
But guess what?
There's a BIG voice in my heart (in all our hearts), that lightens the load. I know that when I listen to that voice good things happen-- no, no-- great things happen!
In the lead up to the launch of heARTS, I was filled with guidance from that BIG voice. I was following my heart and it felt so right. With each new step in the process, new opportunities arose that felt like Divine encouragement to keep me going.
As my dream became a reality, I had a harder time hearing my BIG voice. The day to day realities of running an organization pulled my head from the clouds and the little voice started to get louder again. As the volume of that little voice increased, my satisfaction with my DREAM JOB decreased.
Exhaustion, confusion about my personal/professional identities, fear about money, and grief over the loss of time for friends, family and even the dishes, caused me to question my heart. Suddenly, thoughts of getting a "real job" ( WHAT?! ) crossed my mind and I had to start doing some serious soul searching and self caring.
Aug. 1 has become a kind of re-birth day for me-- my life day. Last week, I took a reflective journey to the memorial and the river. Throughout the day, the Universe gifted me with reminders that even birds have to learn how to fly. Baby feathers floated into my path throughout the day and when I returned home in the afternoon I received the biggest gift of all-- flying lessons!
A family of hawks, who have been nesting in our neighbor's tree, used our backyard for flying lessons. Three hawks lined our 4' chain link fence and another was on the ground, all appeared to be fully grown. At first we thought the one on the ground was injured, it was flailing about and struggling to fly. We wondered if the other three were watching over it- protecting it. Then we noticed that the hawk on the ground was trying to grasp chunks of woods-- remnants of a tree trunk. Turned out he was learning how to fly with the additional weight of the wood-- mock prey I suppose. Eventually another hawk took to the task and the first flew up to the fence-- assuring us that what we were witnessing was indeed flying lessons. (You can watch the action yourself in the video below.)
The Universe's message to me that day was loud and clear-- permission to fly.
Just like the hawks, I'm still learning how to fly. They helped me understand that I don't have to rid myself of the weight (the grief, the self-doubt, the guilt) in order to fly. I need to learn how to fly with those feelings-- despite those feelings. I am learning to turn the volume back up on my BIG voice and trust my wings.
It's been 7 years since the fall. Since the ground fell out from beneath me and the world changed.
My life changed.
Each year, the anniversary hits in a different way. The first few years were a tidal wave of media requests and interviews. I told my story then because I didn't want people to forget- I was terrified that people would forget. That the day-to-day monotony of life would overshadow the gravity of what happened on Aug. 1. That the lives lost and forever changed wouldn't matter any more- at least until something else fell down.
The story I told then was calm and lifeless. I was a robot, a ghost, a shadow of my former self. During those years, I felt fleeting moments of life, but mostly I felt dead inside. Unable to feel the emotional weight of what happened or grieve the loss of those I never got to meet.
Each year, I thought I was better. Heck, six months after the collapse I thought I was better! The interviews I gave have become markers of time on my healing journey. A journey that included the insistence that I was better- until I finally was.
On the 5th anniversary, in 2012, I finally felt the full weight of the fall. I walked out onto the Stone Arch Bridge until the new, glistening, though apparently already in disrepair, bridge was in sight and began to sob. Anyone who knows me well, knows that public tears and Lindsay have never mixed (this is the girl who sat through Titanic without shedding a tear)- but on the bridge that day, surrounded by strangers, I cried the tears of mourning, grief and loss.
Popular culture would like us to believe that we are "better" when the tears stop falling. I started a new stage of my healing journey when the tears started to fall. Don't get me wrong, I cried many, many ugly cries during those first five years. Tears of anger, frustration, loss, insecurity and loneliness, were a regular part of life. What was different in year 5 was that those tears had dissipated.
There was finally room in my heart and my mind to grieve the wholeness of the day. The new tears helped lift some of the weight of the fall and gave me the wings to fly.
Last year I tried to focus on flying. I wanted to change the story, to focus on life and joy again, rather than sorrow. My organization, courageous heARTS, made it's public debut with a film screening at the Riverview Theater. We invited an Academy Award winning artist to screen her film and hosted a private reception in the mansion of one of Minneapolis' famous families, the Pillsbury's. (I still don't know how that happened, but it did.)
Though amazing, last year's flight was bitter sweet. Pangs of sadness filled my heart throughout the day and I felt ill equipped to attend to them. I tried to honor them briefly during my few private moments and quickly moved back to joy and life.
I thought I was fine.
I had been living out my joy, my dream, my meaning- no days had been lost to tears or anger or disconnection for a long time.
I was "fine", but I've come to understand that these anniversaries weigh down my heart. As much as I want to fly joyfully into this life I've been given back, my heart still feels the weight of the fall.
This year, there's no media and no launch. Just me.
I plan to sit with the tension between falling and flying. Try to find the balance I need on this day, at this time.
I will embrace the solitude I craved last year. I will visit the river that used to haunt me. I will treat myself to simple pleasures. I will breathe deeply and reflect. I will grieve and release more of the weight.
At 6:05pm, I will be sitting in a tattoo parlor, finally embracing the magic of that day and the part of the story I shy away from telling. (Another story for another day.)
As I continue this journey from falling to flying, I am grateful for everyone who has been with me throughout the years- in mind, body, and spirit. Solitude has been my solace these past seven years, but I'm working toward connection.
One of these years, on Aug. 1, I'm going to plan a party for myself. We'll celebrate life and flight.
About the blog:
This space holds thoughts and ideas generated from my personal journey of healing and recovery from trauma, co-dependency, and white supremacy culture. Opinions are entirely my own.