What I Allow

“The two important things that I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavor is taking the first step, making the first decision.”  –Robyn Davidson

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  • In 1975, Robyn Davidson moved to Alice Springs, in Australia, to work with camels in order to prepare for a trek across the desert.
  • In 1982, Sr. Helen Prejean agreed to be the spiritual advisor to a death-row inmate named Elmo Patrick Sonnier.
  • On December 10, 1997, Julia Butterfly Hill climbed a 180-foot-tall, 1500-year-old California redwood tree in order to prevent it from being cut down.

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Recently, I came across something called the five second rule. No, this is not about dropped food. This rule is used to help get you unstuck and moving forward. The basic concept is this: you have an idea about something you could/should/wish to/want to do (ask a question in a public forum, clean your bathroom, take dinner to a friend convalescing from surgery). Such ideas come to us all the time, but often we don’t act on them. The longer we take to act, the less likely it is that we will take the action at all. The five second rule suggests counting backwards from five, challenging yourself to act on your thought or idea within that five seconds – thereby short-circuiting the tendency to (through procrastination or fear of failure, etc.) forego action.

Since reading of this concept, I keep noticing how many times I think of something to do yet do nothing. It is not only astounding – it is deeply disturbing. It is disturbing because part of the noticing process has been paying attention to the self-talk that keeps me from action. How humbling is it to really hear myself rationalize laziness, excuse sloth, forgive weakness, and cave in to fear.

At the same time as this heightened self-awareness, I have been reading Tracks, Robyn Davidson’s memoir of her trek across the Australian desert accompanied by four camels and a dog. In the final paragraph of her memoir, Davidson shares the thought I quoted, above, about what she learned. Two important takeaways in that one short sentence:

  1. You are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be.
  2. The most important part of any endeavor is taking the first step.

Davidson goes on to say that, like all important life lessons, these two need to be re-learned, over and over throughout our lives.

After finishing the book, I set it down and thought, “I should go for a walk.” Unbidden, my brain began the process of counting backwards from five…four…three…

“Alright!”, I told myself, grabbing my tennies. After changing my shoes, I headed outside, and spent about an hour walking around my neighborhood. Thoughts of Davidson’s trek – the fact that she had an idea but zero skills or experience to back it up, yet did it anyway, blew my mind. And it led me to think of other people I’ve admired who said yes to a thought or idea, not sure where it would lead or how it might turn out.

Sr. Helen Prejean and Julia Butterfly Hill, both social justice heroes of mine, came to mind. Neither of them knew, when they first took action on an idea, that it would become a life-altering choice. The idea came – in the form of an invitation or a creative solution to a problem – and the first step was taken. The path revealed itself over time, just as Davidson’s trek wound its unexpected way through the Outback. For Sr. Helen, next steps took her into the international spotlight as an advocate for those sentenced to death. For Julia, that first choice led to 738 days living in the tree which became known to people everywhere as Luna.

It is easy to think of these women, and others like them, as extraordinary; to think of them as possessing something special with which the rest of us were not gifted. But I’ve had the good fortune to break bread with both Sr. Helen and Julia, and I’ve discovered that this kind of thinking is, mainly, a cop-out. They are lovely, wonderful, fiercely loving individuals – but they are not some special subspecies of homo sapiens. They are not that different from me or you.

If, as Robyn Davidson suggests, we are as strong and powerful as we allow ourselves to be, then these women have opted to allow strength, resilience, individual personal power – love – to flow through them. If Davidson is correct, the biggest difference between them and me is this issue of “allowing” myself to be powerful.

I’m not off on any quests through hostile landscapes, nor will Susan Sarandon be portraying me in a movie any time soon. Still, isn’t it time to seriously consider life’s most important question? Will I continue to sit on my couch making excuses, or will I allow myself to be as strong, as powerful, as I am capable of being?

“The question we need to ask ourselves is not, “Can one person make a difference?”  Each and every one of us does make a difference.  It is actually impossible to not make a difference.  So the question we need to ask ourselves is, “What kind of a difference do I want to make?”  http://www.juliabutterfly.com/

 

I’ve Entered the Long Jump of Faith

“The woman silhouetted in the painting is leaping – with abandon and joy, it seems — across a chasm. She is looking ahead, at her goal, not down at what is or is not currently beneath her feet. Does she know, I wonder, what lies ahead? I doubt it – it seems clear that this is a leap of faith. Faith that she’ll land safely on the other side. Faith that the choice to leap was the right one. Faith that the time for leaping had arrived. And faith that, whatever awaits on the far side of the chasm, will be worth facing and taking the leap.” 
                   —Jenion, January 24, 2013 “Take a Flying Leap”
 
“And with that experience and knowing, perhaps it is time for me to become a person of faith, not just a person of beliefs. Time to close my eyes and take a step, trusting that I will put my foot down in the very place I need to be.”
                    —Jenion, April 4,  2013 “Have a Little Faith”
 

On Monday, April 22, 2013 I finally took the leap of faith that I’ve been working myself up to all year – I resigned from my job without having a clear idea of where I will land when my feet touch down on the other side.

Hopefully, there will be time before May 31, when my resignation takes effect, for looking back and celebrating. But right now, there are so many things that need to be done and prepared. It’s not one of those leaps that happens immediately – it is more like a slow-motion long jump. I pushed off the ground with my resignation, but I won’t actually be out over the chasm of the unknown for a little while yet. I have paperwork, planning, and packing to do before then. Mountains of each. I want to thank the friends and family with whom I endlessly debated my options – your promises that I would never be homeless or hungry went a long way toward lessening the fear of action.

What am I hoping for? I believe it is time to create a different life for myself. One in which I am not as limited by the demands of my job (nearly 20 years as a first-responder, ever on call, others as my top priority) so that I can be free in my off-hours to engage in a variety of pursuits that have been tabled – whether that is creative work or volunteering or exploring. I don’t know what the future holds. How strange is that feeling? I might find right livelihood quickly, or it may take a while. I might stay here or I might go elsewhere. I do not expect it to be easy, but I do expect that I will find my way.

Composing a life is an improvisation, one which calls on us to be clear about what we value so that the decisions we make along the way are made from the right place. Whether we are staying put or moving on, whether we are staying the course or charting a new path, we need to remain centered in what is real as opposed to what is mirage – what is true value as opposed to imposed value (imposed cultural values, such as “more is better” or “busy equals virtuous”). As environmental activist, Julia Butterfly Hill said during her campus address Monday, (serendipitously just hours after I tendered my resignation): “We are all co-creating our world every moment with every choice…Regardless of perceived boundaries. We are not victims, we are co-creators.”

The thing about a leap of faith is that you have to practice actual faith. Faith isn’t the absence of fear, rather it is the knowledge that beyond the fear lies the right path. Faith that, wherever my feet touch ground, I will be walking the path that I am meant to be on.

Dear readers, I hope that you will come on this journey with me – I will certainly be keeping up to date through weekly posts on Jenion! I’m interested in your stories of taking a leap of faith – please feel free to share your stories in the comments section!