Notes on Courage
Inner work for outer action.
As 2016 comes to a close, I have been reflecting on its purpose. It's been a mess of a year-- the kind you might want to throw a match to and start fresh. We've had wars and shootings that have rocked our collective sense of self. We've lost beloved souls, whose music and performances have soothed our hearts and inspired our tomorrows. There's been division and destruction of our relationships and our land.
For many of us (myself, included) these public hurts have been mirrored by private heartbreak. The kind that rips us open and asks more of us than we thought possible. The kind that keep us hidden. The kind that fill us with fear.
I could end there, but that's not how I roll...
See, 2016 was a disaster of a year. I've done disaster before, and what I know more deeply than I know anything else, is that disaster also brings grace and hope--if we are willing to see it.
The events of 2016 have awakened many to the injustices that have been perpetrated against people of color, religious minorities, native peoples, our land, our waters, and our children. These injustices are not new-we just pulled them out of the shadows. As painful and persistent as these truths are, we cannot change them unless we face them. 2016 did that for us.
2016 did that for me too. My personal life was filled with awakening. It wasn't pleasant, but it was absolutely necessary. It shook me, turned me upside down and inside out, until I could finally see my life in its truest form. Now I'm doing life differently, and couldn't be more grateful for the shake ups.
Back in my trauma recovery days, when I was feeling particularly raw and messy, a wise friend reminded me of what it's like to renovate a house. There's this stage where everything has been gutted, the inner workings of the house exposed. It looks like a complete disaster and panic and fear can set in. We can't read the blueprints, the master plan, and we want our house back the way it use to be-even if there wasn't room for everyone and we didn't really like it. If we trust our contractors and designers, the ones with the vision and skills for execution, we love the after and can't believe how we could have lived in the before.
That's my hope for 2016. It was our demo year. We smashed holes in all the walls, exposed some mold and pests that had been multiplying in the recesses of society, and now it's time to get to work on the new vision. Trusting that the ones with the master plan know things are right on schedule.
There is no real transformation without the discomfort of exposing the raw, messy underbelly of our reality. It's why I love rock bottom... at least, my own rock bottoms.
One of my awakenings this year, was that I had been trying to play Superwoman and hold up the world to protect others from the pain of their own transformation and the impact of their decisions. The truth is, I wasn't protecting them as much as I was protecting myself from the discomfort of the renovation. So, now I'm a superwoman in recovery and am inviting other women with me for the journey.
For me, 2016 was a year of renovation and recalibration: looking even deeper within to grow and explore my truth. I'm stronger for it. I'm grateful for it. And, rather than hold on to the hard that got me there, I'm choosing to embrace the strength and fierce determination is has awakened within me. My vision is clear and I'm ready to trust the master plan.
That is my wish for you as we close out this year. That you find gifts to embrace, lessons to lean-on, and connections to fortify. 2016, wasn't pretty, but we're getting somewhere. Count me in on the re-construction for 2017. Cheers!
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.
My first vlog (what a horrible word), is a story from my Soul Camp experience a couple weeks ago! Since I loved the experience SO MUCH, I also wanted to do a quick plug for Soul Camp West, which is happening at the end of October in California. Tickets are still available and if you use the code LINDSAYSOUL you'll get a 20% discount!
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.
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.