This is Me

adult-ancient-art-204649I’ve described a few times that I have a morning practice that involves some inspirational reading of some kind, some prayer, a little writing, a little meditation, now sometimes a little Reiki. I kind of go with the flow and see what comes up.

Some days this practice sets me up with clarity and a sort of fresh, clean feeling for the day. Other days it helps me unload something that’s been on my mind. Still other days I get hit between the eyes with something I’m still working on. That’s what happened this morning. Once I got past the annoyance of having the same old story come up over and over again (because why not judge myself while I feel bad), I had an opportunity to see a path forward as pieces that have been all around me assembled themselves.

What set me off? This affirming set of lines:

“There is nothing missing in me. There is nothing wrong with me. There is nothing that I cannot be, do, or have as long as I remember who I am.”

~ Iyanla Vanzant

I couldn’t even get to the empowering declaration in the last sentence because I got so hung up on on the first bit. These sentences were part of a prayer that I recited aloud. In reciting it, I skipped those first two lines. I didn’t even notice I’d done it at first. Let’s just skate on past that bit, shall we? Let’s not call it out. Let’s not challenge that old story. That old path tempts my mind so thoroughly. It is a go to.

When things aren’t going precisely as I want them to – even if everything is okay, the default explanation is that there is something fundamental that is wrong with me, or at least that I am somehow getting this ALL wrong – and the follow-on judgment and guilt.

I see two things here. I see myself wedded to an outcome, a certainty about how everything should go that I never seem to question rather than abusing myself about whatever result I did achieve. I also see self-sabotage in the form of that old thought, that thought that there’s something wrong with me. That old thought has gotten in the way of so much success in the past. I forgive myself for that. I truly do. I forgive myself and I know that I was doing the best I could at that time.

I can’t change what I’ve already done, but seeing that pattern can serve now, in this time and place. I see the thought that I am inherently limited because of some basic flaw. I see the way I gather my failures around me as evidence. I see myself push away the evidence that flies so contrary to that old rotten thought. I accept that struggle within me. I see the fear that my old demon generates and I send a flood of love.

The song from The Greatest Showman has been ringing in my head, not just because it resonates, but because my daughter plays it nonstop. I feel the lyrics in my bones, and I know the sharpest words are the ones I tell myself: “When the sharpest words try to cut me down, gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out. I am brave. I am bruised. This is who I’m meant to be. This is me.”

abstract-background-beach-355288Sometimes I just need to talk to myself. Sometimes saying the words out loud matters. Sometimes speaking the truth we discover when we are wisest helps those old wounds heal, helps those reflexive judgments slow down, helps put those old sharp stories in their place. It’s okay little girl. It’s okay teenage girl. It’s okay reckless young woman. It’s okay Mrs. Kemp. It’s okay not Professor Jones. It’s okay Mom of 2 instead of 4. All of what has already happened is okay. And everything that is happening now? Also okay. It’s okay life coach/writer/whatever else shows up. This is you and you are so loved. Just let me know when you need that flood.

When We Hide Things

In all of this hue and cry for authenticity, it’s fair to question who we should tell what and how often. Vulnerability is one thing; martyrdom another altogether.

I’ve been thinking a bit about it though, and have some thoughts about this very human tendency to hide bits of ourselves from the world.

What I’ve discovered in my recent vulnerability experiments, in which I reveal more than I usually do and wait for the other shoe to drop – very scientific, is that an interesting thing happens when I let more of me up to the surface.

bottle-close-up-focus-905894Aside from the obvious win that I don’t get pointed out and laughed at like some recurring nightmare about a high school play gone wrong (is it just me?), when I bring more of me to the surface, barriers lift. I don’t really understand why it works, but I’ve come to think of it like this. When I hide parts of myself, to protect me OR to protect the other person, what I really do is create a wall. I’m only hiding the details. That person likely knows I’m not all in – if we’re not close they just think I’m reserved (if I’m lucky) or maybe even snobby. If we ARE close, that person knows I’m keeping something from them. They may not know exactly what it is, but they know I’m holding back. They know I am not fully engaged. They may even know what some of those thoughts and feelings are by virtue of knowing me so well, but when I hide them I shut those folks out. I am not protecting them from anything. I am letting them know that I don’t trust them with me. I am not just keeping something private; I am limiting engagement.

So what’s the thrust here, tell everything to everybody? No. Clearly not, unless that’s who you are. First tell yourself. Tell yourself what you’ve got hidden away. Unpack those boxes and bags and filing cabinets. Be honest with yourself about what you’ve put in the attic. Some of it may not really even be worth hiding anymore, kind of like old Aunt Gertrude’s ashtray. Some of it may have been hidden so long that you forgot it was up there; some of that might be things you really could use now, like a small box of keepsakes from your mother-in-law who has since passed away. What do you have in perpetual secret storage?

After an initial inventory, you might find it interesting to pull some of those things out and take them for a test drive. Gently share some piece of yourself with someone you love. Try on an old hobby or pastime. Find those pieces you’ve kept hidden and see what you can do with them in the light of now.

bonding-daylight-enjoying-708440.jpgAnd as you do, notice what happens to your sense of connection. Notice how you feel being around other people. Notice what it’s like to be in a room without quite so much to hide. Notice what it’s like to have a conversation without checking yourself every 5 minutes to be sure you haven’t revealed yourself. Notice how problems become problems you can tackle with others and grace becomes a divine gift to be shared and enjoyed rather than just a moment of isolated forgiveness.

It is true that not everyone deserves your story. I believe that. I also know that keeping too much of that story inside is like keeping yourself locked in a tower. Are you sure you don’t want the key?

 

Are You Denying What You Really Know?

Over the weekend I was reading a short article by Tova Mirvis. She describes how she left both her faith and her marriage over a very short period of time. When I started reading, I wasn’t really committed to the piece. I was just passing the time. And then she said something that REALLY caught my attention. The author asked a question that I thought was a lightening bolt of a question, so I started to pay a little more attention. Are you ready for it? It’s a good one. She asked: “For how long would I try to deny what I really knew?”

Boom.

If that doesn’t go boom for you, you are very lucky, extremely attuned to yourself, or you’ve not really taken a good hard look at what’s going on inside. Let’s unpack this question a little bit. For Mirvis, the question came after the seeds of religious doubt had been sown repeatedly and she cut down the resulting seedlings in order to maintain a harmonious marriage, and to ensure her commitment to her faith. She continuously found the edges of her beliefs, questioning the reasons for traditions, for practices, and for the systems that were in place in her community, in her faith tradition, and eventually also in her marriage. As she noticed these edges more and more often, it became really difficult to deny what she already knew, that she was an outsider, that she neither believed the same things nor (and perhaps more importantly) did she HOPE to believe them. She didn’t see the benefit of working towards those beliefs or living inside of them without sharing them in her heart. She began to feel that she was living a lie. “For how long would I try to deny what I really knew?”

Slide1When we look back at some of the biggest changes in our lives, we can almost always identify moments of knowing that we had in advance. In a breakup we can look back at the times we knew it wasn’t going to work out or when we became suspicious that things weren’t as they seemed. In a job situation, we can (from the other side) see the ways that a job didn’t suit us or bring out our best; we can identify the moments we wished we’d written a resignation letter. We get these little signals, and most of us dismiss them as anomalies, blips on the radar, one time things. And there are good reasons for that. It is far harder to assume that each of these moments is a little cry from our most essential selves, telling us things are not lining up correctly. Mirvis talks about the struggle to get right with her doubt: “I continued to observe the rules of Orthodoxy, hoping all this activity might eventually take the shape of actual belief. I felt alone in my marriage but warned myself away from the hard places.” This is what we do right? We just keep it up, hoping that the blip was just that and that persevering will allow us to get to something more meaningful.

And hey, listen, don’t misunderstand and think I’m not about a little perseverance, but continuing on a path that contradicts what we really know feels less like perseverance and more like continuing on a path to avoid the pitfalls of the other paths.┬áMaking big change creates, well, big change. We cannot renovate one corner of our lives without changing the rest of the room. Every action has a reaction and all of that jazz.

A big part of why most of us avoid major life renovations is the people part. As we make major changes, we often find that it is harder to relate to/be with the people who’ve become important to us or who make us feel safe in the world. Mirvis experienced this fully as she left both her marriage AND her faith community. She lost friends, lost lots of them. She traded feeling out of synch with her real self for feeling terribly lonely.

Slide2But that’s not the end of the story. Over time Mirvis’ perception of her loneliness changed: “I came to understand that the people who no longer spoke to me were part of one small world; with time, there be other worlds I would discover myself.” When we change things, when we renovate our lives, we sometimes leave people behind or make them so uncomfortable they choose to stay behind. And maybe, just maybe, that’s okay. Maybe in addition to really knowing that we need to change things, we could try really knowing that we’re still okay, that being our real selves, that listening to that tiny voice inside is not just acceptable but preferable and will take us someplace new, where there will be new people and new experiences, and new relationships to start, and grow, and nurture. Maybe the secret of life isn’t in persevering and making it work, but in questioning and listening and making it yours.

What are you denying that you REALLY know? What would it be like to admit that you know it? Does it feel like freedom (even if it’s a little scary)?