Notes on Courage
Inner work for outer action.
Happy New Year!
I hope the first hours of 2016 have been all you hoped for. In the event that they haven't, I want you to remember that today is as special as any other day.
The collective intention to create goals and stick with them can be helpful and I'm a huge fan of taking stock of your life, but we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to change all of our bad habits the minute the clock strikes midnight.
I use to make long lists of resolutions:
- move more
- eat less
- clean more
- watch TV less
- focus more
- and on and on
Frankly, I'm still working on all of those - though TV should be joined by Facebook. (ugh.)
One of the things I've learned over the years is that there are certain things I do want to improve about myself, but rarely do those things show up on a checklist. Usually there's a lot of digging and poking around on the inside before I know what steps to take on the outside.
Instead of creating lists of resolutions I'll almost certainly neglect and usually stress me out, I've adopted two practices to help me envision the year ahead and the way I want to feel.
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:
My husband and I replayed the first interview I did following the collapse last night. It was an interview I did with Dave's best friend, who reported for the local CBS affiliate in Mankato at the time. Because of our existing relationship, this story is the most raw and intimate of any that I've ever done.
The interview was done about 4 weeks after the collapse-- the pain of it all sat just beneath the surface, but Dave could see it in my eyes. The pain struck him, but the audio of the message I left him that day triggered him.
I was just in a major accident on 35W- the bridge collapsed... turn on the TV... the entire bridge just collapsed and my car is in the water. Somehow I got out... My back hurts really bad... probably going to go to a hospital somewhere... I just wanted you to know that I'm alive... I love you.
Last night, it was Dave's turn to get triggered. No sooner had the recording started, than he was flooded with the emotions of that day. BAM! Just like that-- no warning-- no way to stop it. Suddenly we were re-experiencing that day-- but this time, we focused on his experience.
I've always felt like the bridge was a shared trauma, not only between myself and other survivors/family members. It's a trauma that has had rippling effects in my own life and the community at-large. Everyone has a story from that day-- whether it was the near miss (I was delayed at work.... We stopped to use the bathroom... I watched it go down in my rear view mirror...) or the secondary trauma of having your world turned upside down because of the direct impact on someone close.
Dave's story-- his secondary trauma-- always mattered to me. Throughout my recovery, there were many times that I confronted him with it-- craving the connection of feeling the weight together.
It happened to you, too!
Last night, seven years and fifteen days later, he finally admitted that it happened to him too. He confided that the few times he allowed himself to consider his own feelings, they were quickly batted away by shouldn'ts-- by the little voice that told him how selfish it would be to feel his own feelings given what I was going through.
How many other relationships suffer because of the little voice telling us not to care for ourselves in the midst of hurt and sadness? Because it's selfish, or not important, or not "bad" enough.
One of the most startling phenomenons I experienced in the wake of all of this is the complete disregard people have for their own hurts and traumas in the face of a perceived "worse."
Dave isn't the only one who neglected his own feelings or downplayed a challenging experience around me. I know that when someone says, "oh, it's nothing compared to what you've been through..." it's intended to honor my experience, but instead it feels like a giant chasm has been created between us. I feel othered and cut out from the opportunity for connection.
Last night, Dave and I talked about his experience seven years ago. How he felt hearing my message... turning on the TV... driving aimlessly, hoping not to crash... wondering how his life-- our lives would change. His wound broke open last night, and with it comes new awareness of his own trauma story-- and with that story comes connection.
To those who have experienced trauma-- in any shape or form:
It's important to look inward, to be "selfish" and care for your wounds. Don't neglect your own hurts because someone else has it "worse." Your story-- all of it-- matters. Listen to it. Learn from it. Share it.
Even as you look in, don't forget to look up sometimes, and see what stories are staring back at you-- waiting to be heard. By listening to each other's stories and honoring our own we find connection.
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.
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.