What I Allow

22 06 2017

“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/

 

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Double Nickels

28 07 2016
 Today is my birthday.

I’m 55. Double nickels.

Birthdays naturally call us to reflection, to assessment, to accounting. “What, I wonder, should I celebrate on this birthday – a life well spent or a future where more needs to be done?”(Doug Thompson’s 2002 article, “Dealing with the Double-Nickel“)

I could focus on the past, where there have been adventures and loves and moments of “glad grace.” I could spy, scattered among the litter of years left behind, all of my greatest experiences and best impulses. It seems only yesterday…there was nothing under my skin but light. If you cut me I could shine (see poem, below).

Or, for a different take on the past, I could remember the first time I gambled, at a casino in Colorado. I played the nickel slots all night, plugging my winnings back in, over and over. The coins turned my fingers gray, then black. When I left hours later, they poured all those shiny silver nickels into a counting machine – and handed back to me the same ten dollar bill I started the evening with. Sometimes my life, on reflection, feels like that night – plugging my nickels in over and over only to end in the same place I started. Breaking even; a lot of change with the only visible difference being the grime left on my fingers.

Or I can forget about both sorrow and cynicism, and instead of parsing the past look to the future as if there is much yet to be lived and gained and created; as if my life has been neither gloriously squandered nor tediously labored at with little to show – but instead spent (nickel after nickel) preparing for this day. And the next, if I am lucky.

Ah, birthday angst. What are you good for, huh? Perhaps a little perspective?

Last night, discussing the annual birthday funk, a friend shared the Billy Collins poem, below. The ten year old narrator in the poem laments the loss of his single-digit years, remembering their magic while recognizing that the sad realities of adult consciousness are upon him. The poem points to both the pathos we feel at the passage of time AND the absurdity of lamenting it at each mile-marker.

Last night also brought lessons in how to approach looking forward on the eve of another birthday. President Barack Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention was moving and inspiring – reminding me that hope is never wasted. We – every single day – get to choose our stance. In the minutes immediately after the speech I thought of Viktor Frankl, whose words have so often pointed me in a positive direction: Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. And into that moment of profound reflection, my dear friend Molly tweeted this: “Emotional re-set. Let’s all wake up tomorrow and be better. Do better. Lead better. Speak better. #goals”

So, that’s where I’ve landed this morning, smack dab on my double-nickels birthday: with perspective on the past and goals for the future. That feels about right. Here’s to believing that 55 is my lucky year – because that’s how I plan on using my personal power to choose.

On Turning Ten by Billy Collins

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.
You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.
But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.
This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.
It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

 

 

 

 





Dare to be powerful.

9 08 2012

When I dare to be powerful…

Mostly, I forget that I have power. I forget or stop believing that I have volition, choice. What I remember is what we were all taught to remember: to follow the rules, to play nice, to do what I’m supposed to do or have been told to do. I don’t take issue with having been taught these things – they are one part of the equation of being a person with character and integrity. But there is another piece we should all have been taught – that part of being an adult of character is knowing when and how to break rules that are inappropriate, to play hard when it is called for, to say “It is MY responsibility to decide what I’m supposed to do”. The rare occasions when I dare to be powerful truly require every ounce of emotional strength I can muster, to go against the programming of my youth. However, I’m beginning to learn something important – like all muscles, it gets stronger when used. The more I exercise my power, my choice, my voice, the more powerful I become.

To use my strength in the service of my vision…

My vision? To use anything in service to my vision, I need to have a vision. Friends, for so many years I confused “vision” with “fuzzy daydream about the future”. They are, unsurprisingly, NOT the same! What differentiates a vision, for your life and/or the world you hope to live in, from a daydream? One, steadfastness. You have it and are able to hold it in front of you. Two, actions. You are able to identify – and TAKE – steps necessary to achieve the vision you steadfastly hold before you. Three, a convicted heart. Each step you take convinces your inner being that you are moving in the right direction, no matter how hard or how much it requires you to exercise your power.

Then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.

Because I AM afraid. Afraid I’ve made the wrong choice, chosen a vision that wasn’t my highest calling. When I exercise my power in service to my vision, I stand alone to bear responsibility for the consequences of my choosing. I’d rather blame someone or something else if it doesn’t turn out well. (But she told me to do it! I was only following orders. That’s what we were instructed to do in training. Its in the policy manual.) I like having someone or something else to blame, it feels more secure, less exposed. Really? Accepting responsibility for my own life is what makes me afraid? (Until I wrote that, I didn’t know I felt that way. Now I have a mental picture of myself, the “cheese” standing alone, quaking in my boots.)

However, as Cheryl Strayed says in Wild, fear is a story we tell ourselves. We can tell ourselves a different story – one in which fear is less significant because we are using our power in service to something important. We can tell ourselves an empowering story. We can tell ourselves, “I’m not THAT afraid.” (True story: I once talked myself out of a panic attack while driving cross-country alone by telling myself this story over and over – ‘The sun is shining. I am well. I didn’t run over the turtle. I will be safe.’ The only parts I knew for sure were true were the shining sun and the lucky, still alive, turtle.)

What is so important that we should practice using our power in service to it? What is important enough to teach ourselves the contours of courage (which, contrary to some inspirational quotes, doesn’t come naturally to most of us). Simply this: to be who we were meant to be. To live the life we were born to live. That is the ultimate personal responsibility we bear – to be fully the unique and sacred persons we were created to be. When we dare to be powerful, to use our strength in service to our vision, fear becomes irrelevant – still painful, still hard – but irrelevant. Because what is relevant is the vision we are bringing to life in our lives and in our world.





Love vs Power?

17 01 2011

In the words of Martin Luther King Jr.:

“…Now a lot of us are preachers, and all of us have our moral convictions and concerns, and so often have problems with power. There is nothing wrong with power if power is used correctly. You see, what happened is that some of our philosophers got off base. And one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites – polar opposites, so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love.

It was this misinterpretation that caused Nietzsche, who was a philosopher of the will to power, to reject the Christian concept of love. It was this same misinterpretation which induced Christian theologians to reject the Nietzschean philosophy of the will to power in the name of the Christian idea of love. Now, we’ve got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love. And this is what we must see as we move on. What has happened is that we have had it wrong and confused in our own country, and this has led Negro Americans in the past to seek their goals through power devoid of love and conscience…

…And I say to you, I have also decided to stick to love. For I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love, I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. And I have seen too much hate. I’ve seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens Councilors in the South to want to hate myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love. And the beautiful thing is that we are moving against wrong when we do it, because John was right, God is love. He who hates does not know God, but he who has love has the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of ultimate reality…”

Southern Christian Leadership Conference
Atlanta, Georgia
16 August 1967





Hear Us Roar!

15 07 2010

Saturday night in July, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  My friends Molly and Sarah and I sitting in section F, halfway up.  The ice arena floor, bare cement with huge florescent pink ovals taped to it.  Women in skimpy clothes, bearing names like Krash, Toxic Angel, and (my personal favorite) Amelia No-Heart, roller skating in circles occasionally elbowing or pushing another skater to the floor.  Yep, the Cedar Rapids Pink Ladies Roller Derby was in town.

At first, we had no idea what was happening on the floor.  But we eventually caught on, and enjoyed learning the strategy and seeing the display of sheer chutzpa.  Molly hoped for harder hits, while Sarah thought about what her Roller Derby moniker might be:  Sarah Lee POUNDcake or Sarah Lee CupCRUSHER?  I was in awe — these women were displaying part athleticism, part showmanship.  And all of them were just putting themselves completely out there.  All body types, no holding back.  (OK, maybe a little holding back — it was an exhibition and they were competing against their own teammates).

In the spirit of the roller girls, I want to talk about power and strength.  Mental and emotional toughness.  Whether and how any of those concepts apply to me!

A Roller Derby Newbie’s Guide to Girl Power

  • Don’t be afraid to let them see you sweat. Its true, powerful women sweat, sometimes profusely.  After riding my bike just over 24 miles the other night, I had a crust of dried salt crystals on my forehead.  Every thread of my clothes was soaked.  My hair was a frightening combination of styles:  Moe from the 3 Stooges (on top where my helmet plastered it to my head) and Medusa (out of control curls with a life of their own where the breeze could reach it).  From now on, I will wear the Moe-dusa proudly.
  • Your body is what it is. Revel in it anyway.  When I mentioned that the roller girls were every body type, I meant it — and every type was dressed in tight, skimpy clothing.  They were an inspiration to me as I struggle with the vicissitudes of significant weight loss.  I don’t know how heavy I was at my heaviest, but the highest reading I saw on a scale was 352 pounds.  The effects on my body of that excess are visible, and I can obsess about them…or not.  Every day I need to choose; and I intend to choose a roller girl attitude!
  • If you want it, fight for it. Ok, this is one that the roller derby expresses in a very physical manner.  They push and elbow and trip and generally knock each other around.  In my life, this is more likely to be expressed in fighting for the discipline, the planning, the effort to achieve the goals I want to reach.  Creating a life that is happy and satisfying can be a joyful endeavor at the soul-level, but it is also hard work.
  • When you get knocked down, pick yourself back up. Notice, I didn’t say “if you get knocked down”.  Because you will, we all do.  People let us down, we let ourselves down, the economy tanks, forces beyond our control refuse to do what we prefer.  I can lay on the ground like a bug flipped on its back, flailing my arms and crying “woe is me”  (and Lord knows I have).  But I don’t want to waste any more time on that.
  • If it hurts, skate it off. I watched several women hit the floor in ways that looked incredibly painful.  There were a few pileups as well.  Each time, they stood up, skated around testing out their limbs, then went back to the game.  I’ve been practicing this physically with my knees — I’ve decided that living an active life means that sometimes my body hurts.  Emotionally, I’ve been practicing this too.  After holding on to hurts or insecurities for years, I’m working on letting them go.  Sometimes, this takes the form of forgiveness and reconciliation, others it is more simply choosing not to invest energy there anymore.  I choose healing over festering.

I’m sure there are other items I could add to the guide above.  I must say, I am looking forward to seeing an actual competitive match.  One other thing about attending the roller derby:  it reminded me how much I’ve always loved to skate.  Anyone care to join me at the local rink for the free skate?






The Oracle

25 06 2010

If you’ve ever visited Pipestone National Monument in Minnesota, you’ve seen him:  The Oracle.  A rock formation that, for all the world, looks like the profile of a wise tribal elder.  I have a postcard I’ve saved for years showing a photo of The Oracle, part of a collection of items and tokens representing places I’ve visited where humans have discovered some special “power” – predictions for the future, healing miracles, spiritual knowledge which arrives via interaction with the place.  I have always felt the pull of these magical sites, and I am not above finding some belief or power in these places myself.

In my late 20s, I visited an astrologer who drew my natal chart for me.  In my 30s, I visited a well-known psychic, who told me, among other things, that no one understands exactly how much I love the odd and unusual.  In my 40s, I had a very powerful experience during a massage with a spiritual healer.  For the most part, I engaged in these interactions out of curiosity and a sense of play.  However, part of me would have been quite happy to receive a little advance glimpse of things to come — if only one of them had been able to chart at least a small part of the future for me!

Most of my life, I’ve tried to predict the future in small ways — if I do this, what will happen?  if I put myself out there, will I get the result I want?  if I try, will I succeed?  As a result I have often opted for the safe path, the path I can predict.  Since predicting the future can only be done with success for the very near future (say, the next ten minutes) my vision has been pretty short. And my choices have been painfully short-sighted.  I have failed to try many things out of fear about the outcome.

I copied a quote years ago from a book called Ecodynamics, which was way above my head, but which contained this scary thought (scary to me, anyway):  “We may have ten possible images of tomorrow and for each one of these there may be ten images of the next day, giving a hundred possible images  of the day after that, and so on, which means that the uncertainty of the future increases rapidly as we move our imagination into it.”

Coming across this quote again recently, I realized that I’m not so frightened by it now.  The truth is, I am in love with today, which makes the future a much less scary proposition.  Do I still dream and fantasize?  Sure!  But I am learning that entering fully into each day means that I expend less energy worrying about what might happen tomorrow.  What will happen will happen — I may fail, I may succeed.  Either will lead to the next experience.  No need to consult an Oracle, or bless myself with the holy mud I carried away from El Santuario de Chimayo.

This new approach is proving to be both challenging and exhilarating when applied to my relationships.  So often, I have tried to take relationships to specific places — sometimes having whole conversations with others inside my own head as if I know before an interaction how it will go.  Imagining that I can create an “if this, then that” equation in my dealings with other people.  Letting go of definitions, of predictions, and of specific outcomes can be scary because it makes you aware of what has always been true:  you have no control over what other people feel or how they respond.  Thinking you can control others is just another form of magical thinking.

The country group, Lady Antebellum has a new song (which I heard on Pandora this afternoon) called “Ready to Love Again”, and the chorus speaks to this lack of attachment to a particular outcome.  It says:  “Yeah, I’m ready to feel now, no longer afraid of the fall down. It must be time to move on now, without the fear of how it might end…”  The future holds lots of endings, and equally as many beginnings.  My current plan is to follow today where it leads, and fall in love with tomorrow when it comes.