When You Just 'Know'

When it comes to my personal toolkit – the knowledge and experience that keeps me from going off the rails in Life (always an option, no matter how ‘together’ I feel) – I’m continually on the prowl for new perspectives on complicated issues and topics. But to grab my attention, whatever wisdom is on offer has to come from someone who’s been doing, feeling, living, and surviving pretty significant challenges. Even better, whatever lessons have been learned through navigating Life’s choppier moments hasn’t caused permanent bitterness, wariness and self-imposed isolation from the rest of the world. It’s pretty clear to me that the wisdom I’m chasing comes from the Wounded Heart; now even more open in its suffering; more determined to not only survive, but to flourish. More receptive and, ultimately, more loving.

There’s a global celebrity who’s parlayed her traumatic childhood and young adult years into what I call a Syndicate of Wellbeing. Her media presence and brand is instantly recognizable, credible, and obviously hugely helpful to people around the world. Especially women who’ve survived abuse. Although I don’t track this mega-star like I used to, there’s a meme — always featured in the first pages of her monthly magazine – that resonates with me daily. The meme’s actually more of a mindset: a gentle invitation to come closer; to settle-in comfortably with the intimate friend who knows you so well, whispering, “What I Know For Sure”. Her revelations about Life –  always unassuming, transparent, inclusive, and offered sincerely – encourage and reassure at the same time.

I realized recently that I’ve incorporated this meme or mindset into my daily ‘process’, as a way of self-checking my own authenticity. Am I being honest with myself and others, especially when it’s super-hard and even painful to do so? Am I being true to Who I Really Am, and to the kind of life I want to live? It’s so easy – too easy – to stumble around in relationships and decision-making without truly participating in the effort. Realizing and accepting that every single thought I have and every single action I take comes from my accumulated ‘baggage’ takes an unwavering willingness to not only look, but to see.

Why did the relationship end? Why didn’t I get the job? Why do some opportunities that I thought were so ‘killer’ turn out to be disappointments? Looking at Life from the perspective of “I got myself onto this particular stage; the other people here with me are really just bystanders” is a tough reality-check. It requires ownership. It means accepting that most of Life evolves from how we think, what we do, and how we do it. The act of living comes together as a whole string of teachable moments and lessons-learned (or not).

Distilling Life’s Lessons down to “What I Know For Sure” is a way of acknowledging that, at the end of the day, it’s up to me – and me alone – to chart my own journey; not rely on anyone else’s compass or coordinates for Bliss. I get to decide what my heart wants, and whether or not I have the courage to go after my deepest desires. It also means that, no matter how black and unbearable in the moment heartache and suffering may be, in the morning I’ll have added new knowledge to my personal toolkit. The journey may feel a little lonely at times, and the new information hard-won, but the ‘knowing’ comes from my own inner being, so it’s mine forever.

Taking, Not Taking the Blame

A million years ago I was an English Lit major and still have a passion for it. Yesterday morning I listened to a scholar discussing the origins of the facts/myths about The Whipping Boy, connecting this historical reference to present-day politicians. The backstory — acted out in The Prince and the Pauper, by the way– of the W.B. is that a princeling who’d misbehaved and deserved the punishment du jour – a whipping – was spared. Another young man in the court was forced to take the beating for him. The belief was, royal blood could not be spilt; royal tears could not be shed. “Noblesse Oblige”.

Later on in this same day, I heard from another woman – a healing practitioner this time –about the same theme (this is how The Universe’s ‘downloads’ come to me:  taps on the head on the same topic):  whipping boys, scapegoats, “being thrown under the bus” by a co-worker. Taking a ‘whipping’ of some kind, because someone else needs to avoid blame for a bad situation or outcome. Not only ‘taking’ it, but allowing it.

About this point in my day, I had an uneasy epiphany. When we start digging-around, searching for reasons why things ‘happen’ to us, we’re faced with an uncomfortable truth. Sometimes we’re betrayed, totally blindsided by a friend, a spouse, a colleague or family member who’s pointing the finger of blame in our direction, without real cause (other than avoidance and denial).

But too often we allow others to use us as their personal scapegoats, for whatever’s gone wrong. We let ourselves be victimized; we suffer in silence and in guilt; our sense of self-sacrifice is hyper-inflated. To explain-away what, deep down we know is ‘off’, we think of this sacrifice as ‘love’, ‘commitment’, ‘duty’. Our adult children can really do a ‘number’ on us; so can our spouses and other family members. For many years, my ex-husband blamed me for his ‘anger issues’. True to my nature of being compliant (at that time, anyway), I not only allowed it, but internalized the gaslighting. My ‘ex’ eventually ‘owned’ his problems, but I’d already taken-on a boatload of bad feelings about myself.

theguardian.com

Any well-lived life has periods of heartache and trouble. I understand and accept that it’s a natural human instinct to want to avoid – at all costs -appearing responsible for any wrong-doing, or short-comings. But as I grow older and wiser, I’m becoming more discerning and proactive, when certain people in my life actively seek a scapegoat and are looking in my direction. I’m shedding my tendency toward too much self-sacrifice in my roles — especially easy to do with people I love — and definitely watching for big, fast-moving buses.

The Big Relax

netdoctor.co.uk

After week-two of being back at home, I knew that what I felt wasn’t jet-lag. I couldn’t clear my head; I felt drowsy and dreamy; I thought I might be catching what a lot of people on the flight back from Montreal seemed to be passing around. (Is there anything more unnerving for the weary Traveler than a plane chock- full of hacking, sneezing people? Almost – but not quite — up there with the ‘Mechanical Trouble’ announcement.)

womenshealth.com

As soon as I arrived home, I lined-up my natural remedies, hoping to boost my travel-stressed system against whatever was trying to get me. It seemed like I was losing the battle when, three days after landing, I botched my portion of a group presentation. At least, that was my ‘read’ on it – I didn’t press my groupmates for their input; didn’t really need to, sadly. But as I walked away from that particular humbling experience, it was only a minute that I felt bad. (Humiliating myself is one thing, but I hate to reflect poorly on my group.) Before long, I was feeling ‘Whatever !’, in mind, body and soul.

absolutelycultured.co.uk

And then the ‘dominoes’ began to fall in my head:  I didn’t care at all about the topic that I’d presented on. My heart wasn’t in it. What’s more, I was annoyed with the way my colleagues had been fussing with one another about work responsibilities. (Really?) I realized that people and situations in my immediate surroundings were making me feel like, “Enough, already!” Lastly, even my urge to write seemed to have waned. What the…? That never happens.

And it came to me:  What if I stopped trying so hard at everything I do? Having recently completed my doctoral program (a major accomplishment on my cosmic To Do list), I never missed a beat before I was on-to-the-next-thing. Where was my Off, or even Pause button? Do I even have one of those? Where did all of this ‘drive’ come from?

independent.co.uk

Not long ago I was doing my four-mile racewalk and came across a guy riding one of those funny little collapse-able bicycles (they’ve always appealed to me, so small and so low to the ground – packable?). We chatted for a bit (he was quick to tell me he was the proud papa of a local, somewhat famous chanteuse in my city). He asked me about myself and I told him about my doctoral work. “Oh,” he said, “You’re one of those super-ambitious women.” Say what? Rather than get into the whys and wherefores of how ambition becomes a different kind of trait when a woman possesses it, I proudly said, “Yeah, I am.” Did that kill the guy’s interest in further conversation? I don’t know, and didn’t care that he suddenly pedaled-off.

Despite the odd (sexist and judge-y) way he framed it, bicycle man was correct. I do have more than my fair share, it seems, of ambition. But after my recent international trip (celebrating the official conclusion of my doctoral work), my body, mind and soul said Hey. It began with a foggy brain and less than stellar professional moment. Then came the acceptance that it’s probably ‘ok’ to down-shift for a minute. I eased-into what I’ve been calling The Big Relax. Staying up late, sleeping in; ignoring The News of the day, phone calls and texts. Most importantly, ignoring my need (compulsion?) to produce:   the evidence that I’m not just taking up space on the planet but actually making each moment count for something.

The Big Relax is already over, but my takeaway is that I can slow down, without stopping. The sky doesn’t fall if I’m not productive. Bingeing on Netflix and Talenti has mental health benefits that, for some reason, I’ve truly overlooked.

“Just Relax & Breathe Through It”

I hate going to the doctor. Any doctor, any time (even when I’m sick and might need one), for any reason. Even benign check-ups. It’s not quite at the phobic-level, but close. Recall what early American pioneers took note of as they moved out West, and encountered Native Americans for the first time. If a newcomer wanted to take a photograph of an indigenous person, they were refused. As American folklore explains it, these original Americans felt that a photograph would rob them of all, or part of, their soul-essence. Thanks, but no thanks. That’s how I feel about most of the medical profession. Irrational, maybe, but there it is.

telegraph.co.uk

When a person reaches his or her 90’s, even in relatively good health, more and more doctors creep quietly onto the stage. Yesterday, as I do every week, I spoke with my uncle who lives about 2,500 miles from me. He’s 91 and still able to be independent; mentally and physically active. And yet, his health has to be ‘monitored’. As he puts it, “At my age, it’s always something.” So off he went, to one of his half-dozen doctors two days before our talk, feeling fairly strong and fit, considering. But as soon as he was put into a room to wait for the physician’s assistant, my uncle said he began to feel anxious. When the P.A. arrived and did a blood pressure check, my uncle’s was abnormally high. “You know,” he later told me on the phone, “it doesn’t do a damn bit of good for them to tell me to ‘relax’.

I can relate. The next day I went to get a flu shot (which I always argue with myself about, but end up doing it anyway). Waiting for the nurse my pulse was amped and my breathing was shallow. When she arrived and was ready to jab my shoulder with her needle, she put her arm down, eyeballed me, and said, “Relax this muscle and try to breathe through it!” as she poked the target on my arm. Easier said than done.

As I was leaving that place (as fast as I could), I began thinking about all of the scenarios in which someone had told me to Just-relax-and-breathe-through-it. Labor pains, and the birth of my son; a therapist I went to, when my entire organization was melting-down and people were literally ‘keying’ one another’s cars and slashing tires out of spite; trying to focus on my attorney’s words, as we discussed my brother’s lawsuit over my father’s inheritance, robbing me of two years of peace of mind.

whitespacestudio.co.uk

Relax. Breathe. Sometimes I play a mental game with myself during stress. I compare what I’m presently going through to the absolute worst-case moments I’ve had before.  Just to keep perspective. Which, I know,  isn’t the same as breathing-through whatever ‘it’ is. Because breathing-through it means allowing the terror to enter my heart, to lie coiled there for as long as it wants (while I try to ignore it), until it gets bored and goes away. Intellectually, I understand that a tensed muscle equals resistance, which equals more pain. But something much deeper, and more primal closes my ears and makes me want to hide from scary moments. When I hear, “Relax and Just Breathe Through It”? Well, the expression “Hold my beer…” comes to mind.

The Daring Life

en.wikipedia.org

Moments ago I was packing my carry-on for my flight (just hours away now) to Montreal, then Casablanca and beyond, when a long-ago memory flashed in my mind. I was a little girl, with friends at a community swimming pool, being goaded into climbing the high-dive:  about 10 meters, or 33 feet above the pool’s surface. Most of my friends were excellent swimmers and divers, but I wasn’t. Nevertheless, I climbed the metal ladder to the diving platform. My friends below laughed, pointed, not believing I’d go through with it. On the platform I was completely terrified. My internal organs felt like jelly – which I was sure they actually would be, once I hit the water. The audience below, now, also included most of the kids and parents at the pool that day.

All my life, as I think about it now, I’ve been taking ‘dares’ to do what others said I was incapable of:  too young, too old, too weak (read, a female). Or, what others said was too risky (read, ‘stupid’). Why, I wonder, have I always embraced fresh dares enthusiastically ? Those patterns were set as a child. Motherless at age 11 and living in a full household of males, I quickly realized that I was going to have to toughen up, fast. Being the baby (read ‘runt’) of the family didn’t endear me to my male tribe in terms of protection. I was expected to fight my own fights – literally.

dailymail.co.uk

One day at school that same year, a boy at school – a very big, heavy kid in my class about three times my weight – started talking trash about me. With the recent death of my mother, my father had gone into complete shock. Ever the little trooper, I dressed myself and made my own breakfast before school. Most of the time, nothing I decided to throw on that day matched, or was even appropriate for the weather. Who cared? I had bigger concerns on my mind.

So this boy started talking and I set him straight with some smart talk of my own. He backed off, but later on that day, I was playing with friends in my neighborhood and he – for some reason – was there. He approached me, pushed me to the ground and then…sat on me. Laughing. His weight made me feel like a bug being squashed. I, of course, was screaming and cursing like a banshee, scratching and trying to bite (he eventually let me go). On that exact day, at that exact moment, I realized that fear was not going to squash my spirit – ever. Despite the odds, despite the risks, I was going to ensure that every single day would involve something just a little bit out of my comfort zone.

travelnation.co.uk

In one of Deepak Choprah’s books (I can’t remember which one), he urges us to “Look to this day:  it is the very life of Life”. My trip to Morocco will be new territory for me. Making the dive from 33 feet above the water was a game-changer for me. Making sure the school bully got his come-uppence after “teaching the little skinny girl a lesson” ? That was just pure, sweet icing on the cake.

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