On Saturday night we went camping with the hockey team. The hockey team that made our winter feel like a Disney movie–full of warm heartfelt lessons and goodness and hard work paying off. For just under 20 hours we were together again. We parents, working side by side to chop, move, carry, sit, talk, rest, build and the boys to run wild and be free together again. With the whole campgrounds at our disposal I thought for sure they would be running wild all night, visible only as a blur of flashlights and glowsticks. They did some of that–but they also huddled in a tent with a hand cranked radio and told stories and ate stolen marshmallows and chocolate bars and giggled.
On Sunday as we drove home, Max sat in the front seat and sang along with the radio–sang at the top of his lungs with the window open. Until recently, such behavior was reserved for embarrassing mothers. But there was something about being among a whole group of people who understood him that cracked open his heart and let the music flow, gave him the confidence to express his joy. Being among people who see him as he is–who don’t expect him to be anything other –opened a door.
Magic happens when we are valued for simply showing up exactly as we are.
There are so many places where we are expected to show up as someone else–or we are given subtle or not so so subtle messages that it would be so much better if we showed up just a little bit differently. Whether we are teased gently or sternly corrected childhood– adulthood–is full of moments where the people who love us the most are telling us to be someone else: stronger, smarter, cleaner, kinder, faster, more popular, more cool, less whiny, more thoughtful. The list goes on and on. There are no shortage of those who would like to improve us, challenge us to grow into our potential. Its important to be pushed. But its also so important to simply just be–and be loved.
One particularly tough night this spring, Max broke down telling me that at school he feels he needs to change to be liked, that he is valued because of who people think he is–not who he is. Or worse still they like parts of him (his athleticism for instance) but other parts (his sensitivity) need to be checked at the door. We all remember that feeling I am sure–that sinking feeling that we are not OK just how we are. Its exhausting and at times debilitating to wonder what will happen, “when they find out”. Worse still is to hold a private shame around the part of us that doesn’t fit their expectations: Our sensitivity, our sexuality, our vulnerability, our desire to sing off key, our struggles.
And that is why moments like our 20 hours in the woods are so important–when we go among our tribe, when we just show up–messy and imperfect and completely brilliantly beautiful and are just loved in a no-nonsense, no big deal kind of way. No one asks you to change as a price of admission. It can unlock something profound and gives us what we need to grow on our own, exactly in the direction we were meant to go. To become someone who sings at the top of our lungs with the windows rolled down with no worries what the world thinks.
There are seasons in our life where we are gifted with these moments–like our hockey season–the moments from which we are given space to blossom into our best selves. Their appearance feels random and lucky.
But I am learning that if I want to keep growing I need to create these moments myself. Sink deeply into the friendships that allow me to show up as I am. Because its only in their company that I will have the confidence, space and courage to transform and grow as I am meant to. With those friends and cousins, magic never fails to happen in my heart.
The night Max felt so sad, we made a list of the friends with whom he feels completely safe and pledged to make the summer about those kids. He is a lucky boy. Despite his struggles at his school, he has a long list in our neighborhood and among his team. With the summer upon us he can sink into the company of his tribe and grow strong.
The fireflies are just showing up, the summer just being born. The summer of tribe has just begun.
I woke up about an hour ago to a thunderstorm. The rain was heavy in the yard and sounded like it would not stop–not now, not ever. With a swim meet and a camping trip on the horizon this week I tossed and turned trying to go back to sleep, wondering how everything would turn out. But now, just 8 minutes past the official sunset and the sky is blue and puffy insubstantial clouds drift like the remnants of torn up cotton balls across the sky.
Everything passes. Everything passes.
As I looked out the window and say the rainy stormy night turn to bright day, as I listened to the birds, this song filled my heart.
The other day, a colleague asked me how the walk was going on the path to going to school. I confided that half the time I am feeling like a strong warrior-woman, marking bold steps, striding forward and that the other half of the time I was feeling completely undone whether by fear and a sense of “What the hell I am doing?” or just sheer exhaustion from the effort.
“You mean thats not normal?” she commented with a laugh. “Sounds like a regular ol’ day for me!”
Truth is I have been feeling a bit tender lately as I navigate this swing. I have been feeling strange and freakishly fractured even as I felt strong and powerful, and I have been longing to feel whole and solid again. And so it was that her off handed comment caused a warm wave of comfort to envelope me. I had been feeling a bit crazy. But she reminded me that no–I am not a lunatic. This is the way, even if we are private about it. It is. It is. It is how we grow.
I am reminded of the thousands, no millions, of women — soul sisters all– who are right now navigating similar changes and transitions. Rearranging our lives in ways that provoke excitement and anxiety and honest-to-goodness wiped out “sleep for hours” kind of exhaustion. All of us in one way or another can feel splintered and pull apart. Whether we are transitioning into partnership or widowhood, motherhood or empty-nest, setting up a home in a strange land, or learning the curves of familiar terrain when the people we love no longer populate it, navigating career changes or discovering a new power deep inside us we all every day experience a mix of fear, strength, faith, exhileration and exhaustion in different combinations.
Taken together, while moving forward, its called courage. Extraordinary every day courage. And it, and the accompanying tenderness from the rollercoaster ride, well…its normal.
A friend recently send me a link to a post about Akhilandeshvari, the Hindi goddess of “brokenness”. Rather she is the goddess of “never not broken” as in “Broken as a normal every day state of being”. Not the kind of brokenness that leaves us helpless–but the kind of brokenness that happens when our life is shattered and as we pick up the pieces and rearrange them, we create something amazing and beautiful. Broken as in transforming. Broken as in making ourselves and our lives over and over again.
The state of being broken is not a condition of weakness but a condition of transformation and strength. I love that there is a goddess devoted to this state. It reminds me that what I am going through is so normal, so ordinary, so every day and therefor so holy that we need a goddess to help us hold the space, to inspire us and to carry us through. That is it not a negative state but one of profound and positive power. I am part of a chain of women that not only reaches across the globe but reaches back into ancient history. I am one of millions of us who are “never not broken”. It is a condition that is normal.
That knowledge helps dispel fear and helps me stand strong. I anchor myself in the knowledge that “All shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” Sometimes, before I sleep, I feel a long line of wise women touch me on the shoulder, each one of them whispering, “This is how we know strength, when we allow ourselves to be broken. Only then can we rearrange our lives in a powerful way. This, my dear child, this is normal”.
2. Assume success. Take a moment to imagine what success feels like. Close your eyes and let it wash over you. Know that you are successful right NOW and that is all that matters.
3. Clean your office. Throw away everything that doesn’t serve any more.
4. Refill prescriptions. File insurance claims. Make lunch. Take the car in for service. Pay attention to the details that help life run smoothly. Keep putting one foot in front of the other.
5. Take a walk.
6. Camp out at the school silent auction to ensure that the little boys who make your heart sing score the winning bid for a night at the movies with their Math Teacher.
7. Cry when you need to. Cry until you find yourself laughing.
8. Schedule dinner with an old dear friend and be prepared to laugh until you cry.
9. Embrace the fact that the brokenness is what saves you. Revel in the fact that you are never not broken.
10. Go to bed early. Sleep as late as you can.
11. Drink water. A lot of water.
12. Hold a warrior pose as long as your legs will allow you. Channel that warrior energy.
13. Play guitar. Even if its awful and you can’t really make it work because you are so distracted. Keep playing anyway. Come back to the notes. Stay with them. Over and over. Softly. Loudly.
14. Tell a friend everything you have done to make your dream come true. Report the facts without analysis about where its getting you. Know that every step you take is carrying you somewhere.
15. Take a shower and feel the cool water running down your back.
16. Make a list of everything you are ready to let go of. Prepare to let it go.
When I was a little girl, I was often afraid. I was afraid of missing the bus, afraid of upsetting my parents, afraid of not doing things right. I was afraid that the kids who said they were my friends didn’t really like me. I have no idea where it came from. My childhood was far from scary. I am not sure how much people knew how scared I felt. I can’t say whether I hid it well. I just remember fear being a constant companion, an imaginary friend who stuck to me like glue.
My fear protected me. I didn’t do a lot of dumb things kids do because of a healthy dose of fear. But at the same time my fear held me back. There were a lot of healthy and exciting things I wanted to do but never tried for fear of being bad, fear of looking dumb, fear of simply failing, fear that if I tried I might just drown.
In Chinese medicine they say that fear is the energy of water. Think of wild rapids that make your heart race, or dark murky depths that press on your lungs. Think of rivers that flood, or hurricanes that sweep us out to sea. We can’t control water, no matter how we try. It scares us. Because it is that strong.
The other energy of water is strength. Think of the power of water as it moves, carving canyons, changing coastlines. Water which turns deserts into blooming paradise. Water which sustains life.
Fear and strength are two sides of the same coin. To stand in the energy of water is to know both fear and deep unyielding strength. And we carry the potential for both when we face any great trauma, challenge or transition.
One of the ways to frame the story of my life (and maybe yours too) is a journey of understanding both sides of the energy of water. Sometimes it seems as though in the beginning I only knew fear. But in the last decade or so of my life, I am coming to embrace the quiet, fierce power of my strength, of knowing that no matter what comes I am going to be OK. And that strength is what has been allowing me to transform, to move beyond my fear and into my real potential.
Sometimes I feel nothing short of wimpy. A career change should be no big deal to a woman of my age and experience. And yet as I am readying myself to go part-time at work, to enter school I am feeling wave after wave of fear. Its exhausting. The fear–it is making everything so hard.
You would think that at this point in my rather mature life that I would have the where with all to make this shift without much issue. But, the truth is, nothing can trigger these fears, like money issues.
From the beginning of my working life, I have never made enough to create a cushion, the kind of cushion that I tell myself would help me feel “safe” about making a leap. First a teacher, then a government staffer, then an activist, I have always worked for “just enough”–the desire to help and do something meaningful always trumping my desire for money or material things. There were moments when I felt more comfortable than others, but truth is every raise came just at the right moment as my expenses increased.
While I have never been motivated by the prospect of accumulating money, I am a creature of certain comforts. I like the convenience of having a car (even if it is a beat up 14 year old one). I cherish the protection of my house. I like being able to eat meat when I want to, and to be able to serve a variety of organic foods. I like being able to offer wine to my friends and I like being able to buy new sheets for my bed every few years. Most importantly, I like being able to give Max a chance to do the things he loves–like playing hockey and swimming and camping in the woods. I can’t imagine living without health insurance. And these things, alas, they do require money. And I am afraid, deeply afraid that if I make this switch all this is going to blow up, the fragile balance I created will turn upside down and we will end up homeless or hungry.
When I first became aware of my desire to do healing work, years and years ago, I told myself I needed to wait until I could get ahead, until I could save something–someday. When Juan left me, and my finances took a tumble I told myself I needed to wait until I found a partner to provide a safety net. All of this waiting was born of fear–and my attempts to hold her at bay.
But after years of waiting for circumstances to change, it is clear to me that they won’t. As much as I would like a plan that will allow me to put fear aside, I can’t run away from fear. I am going to need to stand in her. And the only way to do it is to embrace her other side–strength. But I don’t know how to be THAT strong. I don’t know how to be fearless. I never have been.
When I was reflecting on this to Bonnie, my very wise friend she said to me, “Its not about completely dispelling fear for strength…its about moving the line–and you my friend only need to move it a little.” I didn’t know what she meant.
“When you were small,” she told me, “you were like 80% scared and 20% strong and so most of the time that fear stopped you. As you grew up, went to college, as you became a mom, as you lived through your divorce you transformed your fear to strength because you had to. It was the gift of your journey. You moved the line from 80% scared to 60% scared to 52% scared. That’s where you are right now–you are 52% scared and 48% strong. Problem is that 4% differential might just stop you now. That would be the greatest tragedy. So instead you just need to move the line. Not much just a little bit.”
At that moment it hit me. I don’t need to be fearless to do this. I don’t need to be bold beyond measure. I just need to be 52% strong.
I think sometimes when we look from the outside we see women who have moved mountains and assumed that they were fearless. I think, I am beginning to see, that most of them may have been 52% strong when they got going. They had just enough strength to not let the fear paralyze them And that was all they needed.