It’s hard to believe that I made it thirteen days before I introduced a poem by Hafiz, the masterful, 14th century Persian poet and Sufi mystic. I knew once I started I would never want to stop. Thirty days of Hafiz would be a pleasure for me.
Hafiz can make me laugh and cry, feel totally understood and totally bewildered, but never, never bored. The Gift, a collection of his poetry translated by Daniel Ladinsky, is my frequent companion. It sits on my bedside table and goes on just about every trip I do, dog-eared, penciled, highlighted, and full of mementoes from various locations. Hafiz’s mystical playfulness resonates deeply with me; I am always looking for a way to joy, to fun and laughter, to companionship with the people around me and with God. I love how Hafiz refers to God as “Beloved” and “Friend, “and calls his readers by those names as well. We’re all in this together his poems seem to say.
In this poem, I love how Hafiz portrays himself as an ancient real estate broker, looking out for a special client who has fallen upon hard times. (Who among us hasn’t?) “Fear” has become their habitat and Hafiz can’t bear to see it and is confident God will feel likewise. We cannot “witness” when we are in fear, rather only when “love and playfulness” radiate from our eyes. Can we trust Hafiz to get us relocated? I think so; after all, our souls once played footsie in the “Beloved’s womb.” Having just seen pictures of a friend’s newborn baby, I can honestly say, I believe that’s exactly where she came from.
Something that might be missed in a quick reading of the poem is the line that Hafiz delivers, almost sotto voce, a little secret about prayer: “If you/ Pray/ Somewhere in this world –/ Something good will happen.” In these little lines, in the middle of this little poem, he upends everything we’ve been taught about prayer and at the same time, redeems it. From our very first moments, we are taught petitionary prayer, to ask for things, or for things to happen. Inevitably, we are disappointed when they don’t, but what if our prayers were answered, somewhere and for someone? What if the energy, intention, love, devotion and faithfulness we put into our prayers enter the Divine womb to heal and help in ways we never know about?
That’s what my friend, Hafiz, does so well: offer encouragement, wisdom, compassion and love, each and every time.
Yesterday was a day for writing love letters, which was convenient, since today is Valentine’s Day. But I don’t mean I was writing obligatory cards. Rather, my heart was just full – full of love and gratitude for a bunch of people in my life. Some of them probably expected to get a card from me, but I imagine at least a half dozen didn’t. I hadn’t written to them before and I don’t know if I will again, but this year, for some reason, I just thought, “I Love them,” so I went ahead and did it.
I think it’s because of the big Love I’m feeling these days for my youngest daughter Molly Grace. In about a week’s time, she will be having surgery to treat scoliosis with a procedure called “spinal tethering.” It’s a couple days in the hospital, followed by a couple weeks at home, followed by a couple months in a back brace. Though it was a difficult decision, we are confident it’s the right plan and that we have the right doctor. Still, as the date approaches, a low-grade anxiety is permeating our home. And when that happens, whenever Fear appears, I try to double down on Love.
Which is why I am so grateful I encountered this yesterday in the center of a book on my nightstand:
I don’t remember where I got the card, but I’m glad I kept it. It surfaces every once in a while, seemingly just when I need to be reminded of the Love I need to give or receive myself. In this case, it’s both. I need to help Molly feel ultimately protected, and safe “in the hollow” of my arms, but I also need to trust that I am being held in the same way. We cannot offer to others what we do not have ourselves. So each morning, as I sit in Centering Prayer, I return my attention over and over again to Love, the ultimate source of my existence. I get up knowing that it is the ultimate action I can take, however it manifests itself that day.
It’s pretty easy to know how to Love on Valentine’s Day, a card, a heart, a bunch of flowers, but on other days, those answers aren’t so clear. How can we act in Love when we’re afraid of (and for) the people we encounter, the decisions we make and outcomes that are beyond our control? But today and every day, I try to come back to this:
Fear does not get to have the final word.
Next week, when I watch my girl go into surgery, I know I will be afraid. Fear will be sitting in the waiting room with me, making small talk with Tim and pacing the halls. But I also know we offered ourselves the antidote to that fear when we named her fifteen years ago: Molly Grace.
Outpouring Love. Undeserved forgiveness. Divine presence and strength. Inner beauty.
Love stronger than Fear.
Today, Love in a way that is easy and light, but tomorrow, try to Love into a place that has been dominated by fear. You don’t know where it will take you, but I promise it will be better than where you are.
I can’t believe that what took only one day for Liz Gilbert and Rob Bell to unpack at a creativity conference has taken me two months to write about. Call it laziness; call it summer vacation; call it what you will, but we are in the home stretch!
TRUST is hard to come by these days. The world doesn’t seem like a trustworthy place. Presidential politics and police brutality, terrorism and terrible news dominate our airwaves. If you’re paying attention to the outside world, it seems there is little we can place our TRUST in.
But according to LG and RB, there is one thing you can TRUST, today and always. You can “TRUST that your life is always talking to you,” but not in that masochistic, “Everything-happens-for-a-reason” kind of way. Absolutely not, but what they would argue is that everything that happens is saying something to you.
That something might be really loud and clear, or it might be a whisper you have to listen closely for. It might not even be obvious right off the bat. It might take ten days, or even ten years before you smack yourself on the head like someone in the V-8 commercial and finally get the message.
But you know what? If you look back over the last ten, twenty, or forty years of your life, it has probably been giving you the same message all along. I know that’s true for me. Throughout our lives, we keep asking the same questions and our lives keep giving us the same answers, albeit in different ways. The problem is that we aren’t listening; we don’t TRUST our lives, as much as we TRUST the louder voices – those of media and culture and the ads on TV.
Let’s be clear though, even if we TRUST that the Universe is talking to us, we cannot expect that nothing bad will ever happen, because it will! We will fail; the people we love will get sick; we might lose everything. The Universe is not a particularly safe place, but what I do TRUST is that my life means something and that humanity is going somewhere. We may have evolved physically from primates, but we are evolving consciously, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually from that place too! It is a slow and painful process, but it is “in process.” On this day, Rob Bell claimed, and I have to agree, that the Christ mystery affirms that there is an animating force that holds the universe together and is always evolving towards greater wholeness. If we TRUST in that, the rest of the pieces fall into place more easily.
The question, then for Liz Gilbert becomes: “Are you TRUSTWORTHY?”
Can your life TRUST you to listen, or are you like a grumpy old man, turning up the TV set to tune out his wife of fifty years?
Can your hands be ENTRUSTED with your life’s work?
Can your ENCHANTMENT TRUST you? (If you forgot what ENCHANTMENT is, that’s my bad for taking so long. You can review the definition here.)
That’s the crux of the matter and the topic of the next letter LG asked us to write. Our ENCHANTMENT may have shut up, or shut down, because it was tired of being ignored. Who keeps talking when no one is listening? (That’s a rhetorical question by the way. We all know someone!) So, LG asked us to write a letter to our ENCHANTMENT, promising that it could TRUST us.
While the previous letters were written from different parts of our psyches to us, this letter was our opportunity to respond to our ENCHANTMENT. This letter was written to say that if it piped up, we would honor what it had to say. We would work to be worthy of its time and the gifts it had to offer. Here’s my letter:
Dear Ali’s ENCHANTMENT:
You can TRUST me. I read the letter you wrote to me and you’re right! We do our best work together and I promise to do my best to not let FEAR come between us, even FEAR disguised as “good decision-making.” The people in my life, the ones I Love and trust the most, affirm me when I am open to and working with you. You, ENCHANTMENT, Mystery, Holy Spirit, bring me to life, make me whole and give me all I have to offer the world. “Enchanted Ali,” we have some hard work ahead of us to do, but I will try to make sure I am doing it with you. I will let the chips fall where they may. If I am rejected or fail, I will get still and silent. I will return to you, that which brings me Love, energy and joy, the greatest gifts I have to offer the world. Though I may fail and fall, you can TRUST me to try again.
P.S. I will keep pushing my kids towards their ENCHANTMENT too!
After we completed our letter and some people shared their responses, LG wanted to give us a final pep talk about what a creative life, partnering with out ENCHANTMENT might cost us and why we should do it any way.
This was one of her key points. So many of us, women especially, struggle to TRUST ourselves and keep looking to outside and often untrustworthy sources for affirmation and advice. Thanks patriarchy! I know I’ve spent way too long looking for male approval for my actions, often from my father, but also from too many men in clerical collars who purported to speak for the mythical Big Man himself! (That is not to say that God is a myth, but that our hyper-masculinization of God certainly is!)
Living creatively and curiously – for both men and women – means we look first and foremost to ourselves and the lessons from our own life for guidance. It isn’t about rejecting outside wisdom; it’s about not rejecting our own. How much could we learn from our mistakes and the moments when we got it right? What would our instincts tell us if we actually learned their secret language – the one of sinking guts, tingling palms, and fluttering hearts – instead of pretending we didn’t understand? That’s the kind of TRUST we need to live more boldly and authentically.
As I wrote this post, I found myself thinking that it sounded good in theory, but was it actually true? Could my ENCHANTMENT TRUST me to do what I promised in that letter? I started thinking about the times in my life when I have listened to my ENCHANTMENT and we were able to foil the voices of the priests, and principals, and even the loving parents who so frequently dominated my inner dialogue.
I think the critical lesson came when I was 19 and found myself pregnant, accidentally of course. I wasn’t in the habit of sleeping around, but it wasn’t with someone I loved either. Culture called for abortion. Catholicism called for adoption. I chose the latter and at first put on the requisite sackcloth of guilt and shame that accompanied my status. “I am a sinner,” I thought, “used goods. The loss of my child is penance for my profligacy with my body.” While I was pregnant, I planned to hide inside, read books, and develop a love for cats (because clearly I was going to be an old spinster with a dozen of them.) I even moved to a “secret location” to avoid pregnancy detection, but here’s the funny thing. Once I was ensconced in a place where no one knew who I was, or how I was supposed to feel, ENCHANTMENT started to work its magic. I forgot to be ashamed of myself. I made friends; I laughed; I went to the beach in a bikini and I met a bunch of guys who worked at a local surf shop. In fact, I FELL IN LOVE with one of them. I was EIGHT MONTHS PREGNANT and I had a new boyfriend! How do you explain that besides MAGIC?!?!
To be clear, I wasn’t having the time of my life, but my life took this time to tell me something.
Everything was going to be okay – not perfect, not what I had planned – but maybe even better if I TRUSTED my instincts, not my FEAR.
I chose Sarah’s parents, people who had careers and a life I had never imagined for myself. But I was drawn by their open-hearted smiles and their obvious Love for each other and to this day our relationship is marked by patience, openness and gratitude.
Though it seemed like foolishness to many, I married that boy I fell in love with as a pregnant teenager and we’ve raised three more children together. Out of the 9,000+ days we’ve spent side by side, I’ve maybe only regretted it for five of them (and not even whole days at that).
Tierrasanta, the “secret location” I went to run away from my problems, became my hometown. I thought it was a temporary stop, but somehow it became the place I put down roots and raised my family.
When I look back at that time of my life, it feels like it was ENCHANTED, like everything that could happen for my good did happen. And all of it came about because I failed, not because I did it right! I was drunk and careless and I could have died – either of alcohol poisoning or AIDS (early nineties folks!) – but I got lucky and then I didn’t follow other people’s rules. Instead, I got quiet and I let my soul speak and this is what it asked me:
“What would Love do?”
Love would have the baby.
Love would give her up to parents who already Loved and wanted her, before she even existed.
Love would fall in Love despite the circumstances.
Love would keep on Loving, through the ups and downs, the good times and bad, the richer and poorer, the sickness and health.
Love would fall in Love over and over and over again.
Love would honor each person for the best of who they are and forgive them for all they are not – or not yet.
Love would never end.
That’s how I know when it’s my ENCHANTMENT asking the questions and giving me the answers. It always, only, ever wants to Love and then Love some more.
FEAR never tells us to Love, though some people get confused. They stay when they should go; they cling when they should release; they suffer in misery and degradation and call that love. That kind of “love” is really just FEAR in the drag of romance and codependency.
I earned my soul’s TRUST at that time in my life. I heard the whisper of a Love song and turned it into a full-bodied dance, but I haven’t always done it so well. I turn 45 next month and over the course of the last two decades, I have forgotten many times to listen to that Love song. Days and weeks and months go by where I am out of step and off-key, using a lot of jazz hands and pirouettes to cover up my confusion. Eventually, I’m so exhausted by the hustle I have no choice, but to settle down and listen to my heart, which reminds me to Love and let go of the rest. Suddenly, I breathe easier. My moves become more graceful; my smile isn’t forced. Shoulders back, head up, heart open in gratitude, I make a mental note:
I feel a little sheepish to be introducing the third word in this series, PERSISTENCE, after a three-week delay. However, without PERSISTENCE, there would be no #Signs of Love at all, much less this much-delayed post.
I love the practicality of this word. According to Rob Bell, PERSISTENCE is the engine of just about everything. Nothing in the world would get done without it. Books wouldn’t get written; companies wouldn’t last; marriages would fall apart. The fact that we exist at all is due to our evolutionary drive to just keep going. A spark might get us started, but without PERSISTENCE, we’d stay right where we are.
Of course, we need to find that spark in the first place, that particular something worth our time and effort. Rob Bell introduced the word ikigai, a Japanese word for “that which gets you up in the morning” to describe that impetus. Once we find that passion, or purpose, PERSISTENCE will follow. Sure, setbacks make us want to give up, but when we find ourselves lagging, we can return to that original question. What gets me up in the morning? People give up, because they are pursuing something other than their ikigai, or they don’t what it is yet. It is living out of your purpose, that makes you PERSISTENT.
Now, if you are thinking this sounds a little “pie in the sky,” you might be right, which is why it was helpful to have Elizabeth Gilbert there to hit us with the reality stick.
For her, PERSISTENCE is a total grind most of the time. That’s why we call it PERSISTENCE! If it were easy, we would call it “Fun!” and we would do it all the time. But things are hard, so we don’t. Each of us has a history of not following through on people and projects. Our lives are littered with unfinished things – personal and professional – and we can carry a lot of shame about those things. But when we beat ourselves up over it, we tend to believe that we are undisciplined losers, who have never persisted in anything in our whole lives, which LG assured her audience was NOT TRUE!
The third letter LG asked us to write at the creativity conference was from our PERSISTENCE. “Ask it to give you a pep talk,” she said, “and remind you of all the things you have accomplished together – the mundane and the momentous.” That letter would help us counteract the story we tell ourselves about our ability to follow through: “There are many things you do DO. Look at them all.”
Part Two: The Letter
So here is my letter from PERSISTENCE. Much like the others, I find it embarrassing and if I didn’t believe in the power of vulnerability, I wouldn’t be sharing it with all of you.
I am your PERSISTENCE and this is damn sure what I want you to know about me: I exist! You are fiercely persistent. I may not be bombastic and loud, but I show up every single day! I get you out of bed in the morning to pray, to learn, to stand before God, to make breakfasts and healthy lunches for your family – all before 7:00 am. To kiss and hug your kids, even when they are bugging the crap out of you. You make your family food – you shop and prepare it. You take care of the house and the laundry. You exercise. You raise good kids, the hard way, in ways that no one else sees. You remember other people’s stories, even the details, and you follow up with them to see how they are doing, because it matters to you. You write thank you cards for goodness sake! You read hard books most people haven’t even heard of and then you connect them to your life and try to make them relevant to others. You prioritize your marriage and the romance that sustains it. You willingly choose to hang out with 14 year old girls on Tuesday nights and you do it all with a smile on your face and Love and joy in your heart. You are disciplined enough to know that your own happiness doesn’t mean a damn thing if you can’t contribute to the happiness and wholeness of others.
At the time, I felt proud of my list. Today, it feels silly.
In part, that’s why it’s taken so long to publish this essay. I was all set to go, then Alton Sterling was killed, then Philando Castile, then the Dallas police officers. I didn’t know what to say. What difference in the world does my own little PERSISTENCE make in the face of a world gone mad? Last week, new waves of terror began: Baghdad, Nice, Germany, and then more violence in our own home: Baton Rouge, Kansas City, Miami. Where will it be tomorrow? What could I possibly say?
Almost nothing, except this.
Part Three: The Love
Through obstacles and distractions, victories and heartaches, PERSISTENCE is the virtue of showing up; it is the ultimate act of “keep on keepin’ on” and it doesn’t get nearly enough credit. That is what I re-learned about PERSISTENCE last week while Tim and the kids and I were at Family Retreat.
As I prepared my talk for Thursday morning, I remembered my true ikigai. My purpose on earth (and yours too ultimately) is to Love. Over the course of my lifetime, my ikigai will take a hundred different forms, but currently it means making meals, hanging out with teenagers and writing this blog. And as much as my FEAR and ego like to tell me otherwise, there’s nothing to be ashamed of in that. Thank God PERSISTENCE is there to remind me that I just have to show up and do what I do.
The theme for this year’s Family Retreat was “Love is…” and I had asked them to call my talk, “Love is Fearless,” but with everything happening in the world that title didn’t really work for me, because choosing to Love is actually pretty scary and no matter how much we Love, we will still be afraid. The world is a scary place and bad things happen to good people –Loving and kind people. But Love allows us to face our fears and act in spite of them. Love means doing what is necessary to create more wellness, more wholeness, more HOLYNESS for ourselves and those around us – in our own home and in the world.
Love is what we were made for and Love is what we are here for.
And we know that to create those things – health, wholeness, holiness – we have to show up! Of course, we’re happy to show up for the good things, but we’ve got to stay put for the hard things too – the things we’d rather NOT show up for, the ones that involve pain, disappointment, embarrassment, and hard truths we’d rather lie to ourselves about. There are many things in our lives we’d like to run away from, but that’s not Love, because it lacks PERSISTENCE.
On the first day of Family Retreat, I read the passage from 1 Corinthians 13 on Love. Maybe you’ve heard it before? It goes something like this, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast… It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” If you’ve never read the chapter, dig in, because it is good stuff.
The Love that Paul describes is not the wimpy kind of Love we’re used to giving and receiving. This is next-level Love. This Love is MUSCULAR. It is ROBUST. It is HEARTY. It is PERSISTENT. This Love is COURAGEOUS.
We need look no further than Jesus on the night before he died to see the COURAGE and PERSISTENCE of Love. Was he afraid in the Garden? Absolutely. He sweated blood. I don’t think any of us has ever been that terrified. And what did he ask of God, the ultimate source of Love he had come from, drawn on and trusted in his whole life? In that moment, Jesus asked for a pass! He was afraid, like you and I would be, and he asked to not have to show up. He said, “If it is your will, let this cup pass from me.” And then what did Jesus do?
He showed up! He got up and he walked out – unarmed, and vulnerable – knowing he was going to lose his life, his reputation, his friends – and he trusted in LOVE to see him through it – all the way through the pain and the fear and the trauma of rejection and the hardship that he would face in the following hours.
And Love let him walk through it. That’s the part we wish weren’t true. When Love wins, it can still feel like losing.
Love doesn’t excuse us from anything, but Love allows us face ALL things – with our heads up, even as our hearts and sometimes our bodies are battered. When we choose to Love as Jesus did, all things can be redeemed. I believe that with all my heart.
Thank you, PERSISTENCE, for reminding me what I’m here for.
ENCHANTMENT is a funny word, old-fashioned and otherworldly. It reminds me of fairy stories, and William Blake’s poetry. As soon as Liz Gilbert introduced the word, you could almost feel the room get awkward, and a little skeptical. To go from COURAGE and FEAR, such straightforward, active words to such whimsical nonsense seemed like a non sequitur. But because it was Elizabeth Gilbert and Rob Bell and we had paid a lot of money to hear what they had to say, we tried (and some of us failed) to keep an open mind.
ENCHANTMENT is a concept that we might use other words to describe more comfortably – words like our curiosity, soul, spirit, our True Self, or passion. Ultimately, no matter what we call it, ENCHANTMENT is the part of us that knows we are here to do something more than pay bills and die. ENCHANTMENT knows we are here for some particular reason and wants to do something about it. Unlike FEAR, ENCHANTMENT is comfortable with not knowing or having all the answers. It asks us to take risks.
The voice of ENCHANTMENT is subtle, which makes it a little trickier to hear. If FEAR uses a bullhorn, ENCHANTMENT speaks in a whisper. While it is persistent, it is never pushy. And here’s the rub: unlike FEAR, ENCHANTMENT can be silenced, so it needs to be protected from internal and external aggressors, like FEAR, efficiency, and our consumer culture. To gain the wisdom and gifts ENCHANTMENT has to offer, we need to create space in our lives for it to thrive and grow.
LG, a best-selling and award-winning author, has spent the last twenty years of her life learning to listen and play with her ENCHANTMENT. She knows what it wants to do and what it absolutely cannot do. It will fall asleep every time someone talks about money, or market share. ENCHANTMENT doesn’t care about outcome, or failure, or ego strokes. It thrives on experience and risk and joy. Consequences be damned! As soon as we pick ourselves up from our failures, ENCHANTMENT asks, “Can we do it again?”
ENCHANTMENT is the reason writers keep writing, artists keep painting, kids keep creating and we all keep falling in Love, over and over and over again.
Contrary to popular opinion, the voice of our ENCHANTMENT deserves more air time than we give it, so after writing a letter from our FEAR, LG wanted to make sure our ENCHANTMENT got its say. With less FEAR, but still some consternation, here is my letter from ENCHANTMENT:
I am your ENCHANTMENT and this is what I want to tell you. We love our time together. When you are with me, you are happy and immersed in your life and your work. Together, we let FEAR have its say and then it goes to sleep, because when you’re hanging out with me, you know it’s all going to be okay. When we are together, we write, we read, we walk at the beach (and yes! It’s always me who gets you in the car to go to the beach when life is bringing you to your knees and you need to smell the salty air and feel the sand between your toes. I know what you need to be healthy and whole and happy!) Most importantly, together, we fall more deeply into Love. You do your best work for the world and everyone in it when we are together.
Ali, I would always have you with me, but I know, or think, or consider that it might be too much sometimes. Is it? Is it magical thinking to believe that we are our best version of ourselves together? Is this work we do an appropriate use of time and resources for an adult? I hear you thinking this and I don’t know the answer. Is there such a thing as ENCHANTMENT strengthened by realism? How do I find the balance between being who I am and being a “real” grown up?
Just as I recognized the voice of FEAR inside me, I recognized the voice of ENCHANTMENT as well. I KNOW her. I LOVE her. She makes me so happy. My best days on the planet have occurred when she was the only voice I heard. That doesn’t mean I was alone; it just means that there was no static, no noise distracting me from my purpose. On some of those days, I have been alone – reading and writing. On others, I have been surrounded by strangers, speaking and teaching on my favorite subjects – spirituality, literature and life. On some of those days, I have been swimming in the ocean, or lying on the sandy shore. On others, I have been holding the hand of the Love of my life, or hugging as many children as I possibly can. The common theme on every one of those days is that I was immersed in the deepest reality of who I am and what I was made for – to know and serve and be a source of Love (Joy/Freedom/Connection/Insight) to others. That is what my ENCHANTMENT offers me and what I, in turn, can offer the world around me.
Before LG and RB opened up the floor to questions, we had a few minutes to talk about what we wrote. I told my sister, Amy, about my letter and how it changed directions near the end. In the first half, ENCHANTMENT affirmed our work together; in the last half, it seemed worried that we do it too much. I didn’t really know what to make of it, but the concerns seemed reasonable and Amy agreed. However, we shrugged it off and headed back inside for the Q&A.
Right off the bat, a woman got up and admitted that her ENCHANTMENT was actually kind of a Debbie Downer. The letter was snarky, nihilistic, and full of ennui, with no real ideas about what could be new, or fun about anything. This woman’s ENCHANTMENT was a bummer, but HOT DAMN, LG got ferocious FAST.
As Liz struggled to stay in her seat, she asked Rob politely if he would mind if she went first and then she yelled,
“That wasn’t ENCHANTMENT speaking! That was FEAR in disguise! It put on a Groucho Marx mustache and came back in through your subconscious! FEAR will do that! It will put on a million disguises to try to fool you into taking orders. It comes as the voice of reason, boredom, nihilism, perfectionism. ENCHANTMENT knows none of those things!”
As LG’s profanity-laced rant went on, the woman just stood there kind of slack-jawed, like the rest of us, but we got it! Too many of us have no idea what our ENCHANTMENT would say. We can’t even make it up, so we quit before we even start.
We haven’t been taught to listen to the voice of our inner authority about who we are and what we Love. We’ve been trained to submit to the voices of religious, cultural, parental and peer authority. We’ve been taught to view every one of our actions through the filter of FEAR, rationality and effectiveness. We’ve been convinced that every investment of our time and energy should move our personal stock up and to the right. ENCHANTMENT doesn’t give a shit and as LG said those things, I realized that my own letter had also devolved into “FEAR in disguise” when the questions about balance and responsibility took over.
It’s not that they weren’t reasonable questions. It’s that it wasn’t the time for them! I had been asked to let my True Self, my passion, my soul and spirit have her say – for five minutes – and I couldn’t do it.
So this blog is, in part, an apology to my ENCHANTMENT and all she represents – the best, most life-giving part of me. I’m sorry I got scared and cut you off. I didn’t need to. Even when I let you have your say, I am still a rational, reasonable, responsible human being. You don’t turn me into a defunct adult, who doesn’t make good on her promises.
In the few minutes I gave her, my ENCHANTMENT told me the truth: We do DO our best work together! From my morning sits to my ridiculous dance parties, from my creative writing to my contemplative studying and teaching, from my out-loud living to my whole-hearted Loving – that is ENCHANTMENT casting it’s spell on me. And according to the people who love me, they wish I’d listen a little more often.
ENCHANTMENT doesn’t make me flaky; it makes me fun and funny. It doesn’t make me irresponsible; it makes me responsive to the needs of others. It doesn’t make me a loser; it makes me a Lover.
And I bet your ENCHANTMENT does the same thing for you; we just don’t give it the credit it’s due!
If you were willing to write a letter from your FEAR, I hope you’ll be willing to give your ENCHANTMENT equal time. It might not come as easily, but I promise it will be worth it. There is so much negativity, doubt and cynicism in our culture. We have to find a way to hold space for the alternative – for hope and joy and optimism. It is so much easier to know what we are against (our FEAR) than to articulate what we are for (our ENCHANTMENT).
PLEASE, take five minutes to let yourself be enchanted and listen to your heart speak about what kind of beautiful, loving, life-giving work you were made FOR.
Here’s the prompt:
I am your ENCHANTMENT and this is what I want to tell you.
I wanted to include a few image of my ENCHANTMENT and me, doing some of our finest work together.
This post is Part Two of a seven-part series on Creative Living. To catch up, or understand the context, read “Get a (Creative) Life!” , which I posted just a couple weeks ago.
In her last book, Big Magic, Liz Gilbert tackled the very uncomfortable subject of FEAR – what it is, what it does and how to handle it.
Some of us walk around all day, every day, on the edge of FEAR. We are intimately familiar with what it feels like to swim in the warm bath of constant anxiety, always teetering on the edge of panic and overreaction to everything that might go wrong.
Others of us walk around completely unaware of our FEAR, confident that everything will turn out okay and taking risks that others might call foolish.
Most of us walk the line somewhere in the middle, complacent in our patterns, secure in the knowledge that we’ve got our bases covered, until, that is, we decide to do something new. That’s when FEAR gets us. In any endeavor, which takes us beyond our comfort zone, FEAR is our most ready companion.
But the funny thing about FEAR, LG observed, is that it doesn’t always show up in its most obvious form – the racing heart and sweaty pits. Most of the time FEAR arrives in a fantabulous disguise. It walks into our psyche dressed up like reasonableness, maturity, cynicism, depression, or my FEAR’s personal favorite, perfectionism, which LG calls, “FEAR in high heels.”
While the cultural narrative about FEAR is that we have to “kick its ass,” and “shut it down,” LG takes a kinder, gentler approach. She thinks we should welcome FEAR and appreciate all that it’s done for us over the years, all the ways it’s kept us safe from muggers and rapists and getting into cars with drunk drivers. Our FEAR is the reason we’re alive. But, and this is a BIG but, FEAR is one voice in our head – not the only one and so we shouldn’t give it exclusive decision-making power. LG clarifies that “Fear gives us information; not orders. It is there for risk assessment; not project management.” When her FEAR gets bossy, LG gently reminds it: “No one is going to die if I write a bad poem.” Truer words were never spoken and it applies to 90% of the things we’d try if we weren’t so damn afraid.
According to Rob Bell and Liz Gilbert, the antidote to FEAR is COURAGE.
When they mentioned that word, I cringed. “Darn,” I thought. “I don’t have that. I guess FEAR will be making the decisions forever.” I think of COURAGE as a big, showy virtue, something that manifests itself as you ride into battle, or fight cancer, or save someone from a burning building. There are not a lot of threats waiting behind bushes in suburban San Diego.
But, as RB pointed out, COURAGE can be a little thing too. It shows up in the way we just keep going amidst all the daily failures that take place in our lives and work and family. If we haven’t quit and run by this point, we have manifested COURAGE. “Courage is the thousand little steps you took to get here” – to this moment (RB). The lives we have took COURAGE to achieve, so the least we can do is give ourselves some grace for just getting up off the floor.
I liked that and sat up a little bit straighter in my chair.
LG talked more about BIG COURAGE – about making changes, taking risks, living creatively, more beholden to our dreams more than our fear. “Creative living,” she said, “is any time you make decisions more out of curiosity than fear. Then your life becomes your work of art. You are co-creating with the universe.” The universe is essentially creative – new things are always coming up, growing, arising. Having steadfast COURAGE means you live that way daily – choosing curiosity, possibility, and Love over FEAR.
If that sounded like something we’d like to do, a way we’d like to live, then LG had a task for us – to write a letter to ourselves from our FEAR. What if, instead of denying, or suppressing it, we just said to our FEAR: “What is it that you’d like to tell me? If I promise to listen without freaking out, or shutting you down, what would you like me to know?”
Feeling a little stuck in my creative process, I decided I’d take the challenge and ask my FEAR the question.
And with great vulnerability (and FEAR), I’m sharing (most of) its response here. Remember, this wasn’t an exercise in rationality, or objective truth. This was an exercise in uncovering the subconscious narrative that dominates our psyches and shapes our lives in ways we aren’t even aware of.
I am your fear and this is what I want to tell you:
From the time you were small, you were afraid of being rejected. You felt dorky, unaccepted, unwanted and “less than” in so many ways – mostly from your peers, but maybe even sometimes from your super-sporty dad. But when you approached your late teens and early twenties, you started to come out of that phase and find some acceptance. You felt like the ugly duckling that became the swan. And yet, this is our problem! I am afraid of you being unmasked and being seen as the ugly – stupid, failing, out-of-place, desperate – duckling again. When you send out those query letters to agents and publishers, I can’t stand it. It’s like you are begging for acceptance and affirmation from the “cool kids” again. And so every bit of failure, of non-response, or not being chosen, or being ignored, makes me terrified that the mask is being stripped away and you will end up the ugly duckling again.
All of life these days – the getting older, gaining weight, trying to write a book, get published, get speaking jobs, self-marketing, all the ways you aren’t succeeding, tells me that I’m right. I know deep down that the swan is just a façade and the ugly duckling is the ultimate truth of who you are and I want to protect you from figuring that out! What if you really are the sum total of your failures?
Ali, when you are centered in your silence and stillness, when you stay in your lane, the places where you know you belong and shine – like being a mom, a wife, or even a blog writer at this point – I can calm down. In fact, I hardly notice any danger at all, so I don’t need to act up, but you trying to publish a book, or expand your dreams makes me crazy! Terrified! Please, stop all this striving nonsense and let me go back to napping in the corner! We both liked it so much better when you could just ignore me!
Sigh. I hated sharing that letter here. It feels absolutely humiliating. As a matter of fact, I asked Tim to read the post and tell me if he thought I absolutely had to include it. He rolled his eyes at me and said, “Who am I talking to? Ali, or her FEAR? Because the letter’s where it actually gets interesting.” To be fair, he wasn’t trying to be mean; he had just already heard the set-up in person.
Damn, FEAR’s sneaky ways! It manifests beautifully in the editorial process, encouraging me to remove any signs of weakness.
But after I wrote the letter and reviewed what my FEAR wanted me to know, I understood something new. I hadn’t thought about “The Ugly Duckling” story in years, though I had always loved it. Apparently my subconscious had been waiting for just the right moment to bring it up. The story of “The Ugly Duckling” isn’t just about becoming beautiful. In fact, beauty is never really the issue. The story is about trying to fit in, be accepted and affirmed for who you are; it’s about finding your tribe. No matter where the ugly duckling went, no matter what he looked like, he was ostracized.
Friends who have only known me as an adult frequently express surprise, or disbelief over my insecurities, so here’s a picture. It’s a great snapshot of my “ugly duckling” days in more ways than one.
In this photo, circa 1980, I am nine years old and seated next to Anne Ketchersid, the prettiest girl in our age group, which was a real confidence booster. Check out the pale, freckled skin, mousy brown hair and gap-toothed grin. If that visage weren’t enough, I was also figuring out who I was, which turned out to be smart, religious, and overly eager to please my teachers. Those traits earned me all sorts of unpleasant nicknames from my classmates, mostly the obvious ones like Freckle Face, Skinny Bones Jones, Teacher’s Pet, Narc, Goody-Two-Shoes, or Goody Good, (to which my sweet, but utterly unhelpful teacher, Ms. Hobbs, said I should reply with “Well, you’re a baddy-bad!” As unsavvy as I was, even I knew that retort was a terrible idea).
Even though I might have been unhappy with the way I looked, I wasn’t uncomfortable with who I was and I honestly had no idea how to be otherwise. I had no appreciable qualities that a wider swathe of the student body would have found attractive. I wasn’t funny, sporty, musical, theatrical, stylish, or even simply rich, which left me with a quite small, eclectic tribe of other ugly ducklings. (Hi Mary Beth and Jenny T!) In sixth grade, we spent most of our lunches in the library, reading the Little House on the Prairie series over and over again until the librarian, Mrs. Deakers, told us that we weren’t allowed to come in any more. The principal had decided it wasn’t healthy for us and we needed to spend at least some time outdoors.
We outsmarted her though. Instead of embarrassing ourselves by attempting to do something athletic, or foolishly trying to join the scary flock of junior high girls, only to be shooed away, we moved to the outdoor lunch tables out of sight of the office and founded the Uno Club. Yes, it’s as bad as it sounds and no, we never got anyone else to join. For months on end, we played Uno against each other, handing out prizes to the high-point winner when the bell rang. The lucky girl might walk away with a mini-sewing kit, a stick of gum, or stale Tootsie Pop. While our peers hung out in co-ed groups, listening to Spandau Ballet on their boom boxes, we perfected the art of “otherness,” one that has stayed with me to this day, even as I “fit in” more easily.
I will admit, I blossomed, physically and socially, but it was a gradual process. This is one of the first pictures taken of me when I felt confident in my own skin. I was a senior in high school. I was still smart, still religious and still managed to make friends with all my teachers, but I had learned to camouflage those qualities behind a curtain of long blonde hair and a love of laughter. I was funny, it turns out, in a Lucille Ball kind of way. Pratfalls came naturally to me, since I had so many years of practice, tripping and falling over my own feet. If people are going to laugh at you anyway, you might as well seem like you’re in on the joke. I became a good swimmer, got a job as a lifeguard in Huntington Beach, and began to date regularly, though never anyone for very long. It was too hard to keep up the pretense that my insides matched my outsides.
I am coming to grips with the fact that the feeling of “otherness” that my FEAR so desperately wants me to avoid is, in fact, unavoidable. If I want to live authentically, then I’ve got to admit that I am both the swan and the ugly duckling. I can’t separate the two and I can’t control how people perceive me. My FEAR is always going to want to protect me from pain, but it’s just not possible. That is what I need to remind my FEAR: “It’s okay if it hurts. I’m not nine years old any more. I can take it.”
But my FEAR keeps talking, keeps begging me to hit delete, especially on a blog like this one. It is supremely aware that each time I post, especially something like this, I run the risk of “fitting in” a little less. And each time I ask an agent, or a publisher to accept my work, and am told, “You’re not our tribe,” the ugly duckling in me feels pecked away yet again. I get why my FEAR wants to protect me from those feelings, but I have to keep pressing forward.
So, where does that leave me? Where does that leave any of us who hear our FEAR’s impassioned pleas to play it safe and make “good” decisions?
Here’s my take, based on some sage advice from RB and LG:
First, acknowledge your FEAR, the what and why it’s trying to communicate to you. Once you recognize where its coming from, you can feel sympathy towards it and yourself, instead of confusion and shame. Then kindly ask your FEAR to ‘stand down.’ Our lives are not in danger, only our egos and they can take a few more lumps than we’d like to admit.
Then, remind your FEAR that everything is a risk, and NOTHING good comes if we risk nothing at all. You wouldn’t be married, have a child, a job, or even know how to ride a bike if you never risked being rejected, ridiculed, or run off the road. Remember, COURAGE has been present in your journey all along! Give yourself all the credit you need for making it this far.
Finally, remember that FEAR only works in advance. And so, while it’s true that to act is a risk, doing nothing is risky too. As RB so eloquently put it: “There is a risk in denying your True Self, a risk in dying to your dreams and future plans.” Ironically, your FEAR won’t tell you about those risks. It isn’t able to look back and see all the things that went wrong by staying the same, or staying in the same place for too long. FEAR loves the comfort zone, even as it becomes more cramped, less honest and emotionally available. How many dramas and divorces and deaths occur, because we’re too afraid to have the conversations we must and take the actions we can that will lead to greater health and wholeness? Good luck ever getting FEAR to admit when it’s been wrong, but keep pointing it out, because you never know…
When I stand in this place as a woman, a writer, a wife and mother, I have to honor my FEAR. I have to admit how badly I want to listen to it, and then I have to write anyway! I have to live and Love anyway, even as I do it imperfectly. I have to set a good example for my children that FEAR should never have the last word about who you are, or what you do. FEAR is one voice in our heads, but thank God, not the only one and hopefully, not always the loudest.
So, there you go, the first word: FEAR, or rather COURAGE, which is what we’re striving for.
If you are up for it, may I share Liz Gilbert’s prompt for starting the letter from your FEAR?
I am your FEAR and this is what I want to tell you:
I hope you’ll find the time and the COURAGE to hear what it has to say!
Any day now, many of my friends here in California will be getting some big news. The UC acceptance and rejection letters go out in the next week and the ensuing cheers and tears will be heard across Tierrasanta and the state. I imagine it’s just the beginning as the private universities send their letters in the weeks that follow. We got to be a party to the big reveal last year and next year will bring another round for us, but as the nerves build over the next week, this is what I would like to say to all the parents who are waiting…
IT’S GOING TO BE OKAY.
No matter where your kids go to school next fall, IT’S GOING TO BE OKAY.
But I’ll admit, it’s really easy to forget that.
When Keara was figuring out where she would go to school, I had so many hang ups. I was disappointed that we couldn’t afford to send her where she really wanted to go. I felt like I was limiting the potential trajectory of her life by putting parameters on her applications. I felt like a failure as a mom for our financial limitations. I second-guessed every free-thinking decision we had ever made. Maybe some of you will agree with my self-assessment, but Tim didn’t. He reminded me that there is little connection between where you start the fall of your freshman year and where you end up in life! There are no guarantees. I just have to look at my own life to be reminded of that fact.
When Keara began the college search process, I wanted to give her exactly what I had – every opportunity – academically, socially, financially – to go to the school she wanted. My parents said, “Pick out a school and go!” so I picked out a great school and I went, but within a year and a half, I was homesick and partying and pregnant. The “best” school simply turned out to be the “best” place for me to learn some really hard lessons about who I was and how I wanted to be in the world. I still finished my degree in four years by attending summer school, intercession and every semester I could, at five different universities. I graduated at 21, was in grad school at 22 and carried on to get my dream job at a local university as an adjunct professor before 25. But you know what? That didn’t turn out to be “the best thing” for me either.
Ultimately, I have found the “best” place within myself by integrating my body, mind and soul. I ended up in the “best” place of my life, through trial and error, love and commitment, through facing hard things with all the courage I could muster and the skills I had at the time. I created the “best” place I could by surrounding myself with people I could trust and striving to be that for them as well. My “best” place continues to be wherever I find myself fully engaged in meaningful work, surrounded by people I care about.
Friends, this isn’t just my story. It’s your story too. Look at the life you’ve created! Your college experience was a part of it, but only one part. You might have great memories of those years, but you probably could have created them at ten different campuses across the country, or even a hundred. They are specific in details, but not content. You might have gone to one school or three. It might have taken you four years or seven. You might have had starts and stops, dramas and things that derailed you for a while. You probably changed course, at least a couple times and IT’S OKAY. That’s life!
No life is protected, or perfect. We know that, so let’s be clear with our kids about what we most appreciate about our own lives. It might help them know what to aim for.
Aim for wholeness. Aim for goodness. Aim for meaning, purpose and impact. Aim for independence, in the context of loving, healthy relationships. Aim for respect and wisdom. Aim to learn continually and to use that knowledge compassionately and effectively.
Moms and dads, I know you are nervous; I know you are anxious for your kids. I know you feel like you have a lot riding on the decisions these schools make and that a lot is riding on the decisions you make. I know your kiddos have put a lot of time and effort into these applications and into their last twelve years of school. But no matter what happens, no matter where your child goes to school in the fall…
IT’S GOING TO BE OKAY.
I keep writing IT’S GOING TO BE OKAY in ALL CAPS, over and over again, because that’s how I reminded myself to believe it last year, as Keara worked her way through the application process. It’s how I am preparing myself for next year when Finn is waiting for the news. But just because I have to remind myself of something doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Our fears (especially those we share culturally) can sometimes outweigh the facts, make us reactive and get in the way of good decision-making. (Look no further than the success of Donald Trump to see the truth of that.)
At 18, our kids are in process – they are figuring out who they are, what they want to do and what they are capable of. We need to let them figure that out and remember that they can and will figure those things out virtually anywhere. What we’ve given them over the last 18 years of their life is a far greater indicator of their future success than the name on their college degree.
P.S. Whatever happens next fall, CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve successfully raised decent, well-educated, productive members of society, who have a strong desire to continue their education and contribute the world in a significant way. That is truly good news!
P.P. S. Keara ultimately ended up in an excellent program for her major at CSULB, a school about 100 miles away from home. She loves it and has admitted that although she longed to go back east, she doesn’t think she would have lasted for that long that far away from home. Despite my anxiety, it really has turned out even better than OKAY.
A couple of you have seen me since I posted my last blog about fear and loathing in the afternoon. You kindly gave me an extra long hug and asked with raised eyebrows how I was doing, an obvious indication that you are fully aware how not fine I was doing a couple days ago. I’m not complaining; compassion is a beautiful thing. But it did make me think that a follow up post might be helpful. I often want to go back and add a post-script to the stories I tell. The lessons are never over, at least not for me.
So this week, I had planned to publish a blog about the first fear I mentioned – growing older, but then I came across a passage from one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott. She recently published a book with her son Sam, called Some Assembly Required about his first year of fatherhood. While reflecting on her days, she said
Life is mostly okay right now, sometimes lovely and peaceful and when it’s not, it’s hard and weird… and the scary parts feel like they could break you, but then those parts pass against all odds and then things are mostly okay again, temporarily, until they get hard and weird again and break your heart. It’s not a great system. If I were God’s West Coast rep, I’d come up with something easier, something you could bank on.
I read Anne’s words and I smiled, because that is exactly how I feel. One day last week, things were really hard and weird, and I sat and cried because it felt like it was breaking my heart, but by morning, things were okay again and by the weekend, they were really, really lovely. I checked out of reality and went to the beach with my kids for about 7 days straight. We surfed and swam, played with our little primos (cousins) and ate ice cream every day. If I had my own personal dictionary, that would be the definition of lovely and a whole host of synonyms, like bliss, and awesomeness and joy.
But school started for Kiko today; the others follow in a week and then I start a new teaching job. (Did I mention that I am going back into the classroom to teach at a university again? That’s a post-script for my blog on vocation I might need to write.) Everyone will be experiencing busyness and stress and the pressure to perform, so I can almost guarantee that after last week’s loveliness, hard and weird are just around the corner. But I want to do what I can to not get to the heartbreak stage too quickly again.
Instead of going in blind and coming up shocked like I seem to every fall, I am working on a strategy to keep me from going down the rabbit hole of fear and all that entails. I am going to start by being extra diligent about getting up early to walk. The rest of the day is dedicated to going really, really fast, so G (my personal endearment for the Big One upstairs) and I are going to go really, really slow. (God is an old soul after all and doesn’t like to be rushed.)
And what I am going to feel is this (I know that sounds awkward but thinking does me no good at all. My “thinking” is what gets me in trouble in the first place.) For those 20 or 30 minutes, I am going to feel loved. I am going to be God’s beloved. I am going to forget all the ways I fall short of the idea I have in my head of who I am ‘supposed to be.’ I am going to repeat the mantra I learned from Thich Nhat Hahn, the Buddhist monk and child of God, “Dear One, I am here for you.” I am going to say it for myself; I am going to say it for my children; I am going to say it for my students, my family and friends. If I can bring it to bear in my life, it encompasses all that true Love is – a kind, compassionate, joyful presence that brings freedom, not fear to all who experience it.
Now, that’s my plan, but we all know how plans work. We make them and then life breaks them, which was Fear #2 on my list – The Unknown. The only thing I really know is that things fall apart, sometimes in big ways and sometimes in small. I can count on the fact that things are going to be hard and weird and then okay and then lovely again. Saint Anne may not think it’s a great system, but I do think it’s something we can bank on. Even just knowing that’s how it works can help a little bit.
I also know that the more I can believe in Love, stay in Love, allow myself to experience true Love from the Love that never leaves, the more lovely things will be and that sounds pretty good to me.
So to all my readers and friends who are wondering if I’m okay, I am. I am breathing deeply, trying to be present in this moment, fearless and free and in Love.
I’ve sat down to write this blog many times over the last weeks. I still don’t know if I’ll get it right, or not, but I thought I’d try again. I’ve been struggling with writer’s block lately. Half-formed ideas haunt me, but the words won’t come. I’ve been hard pressed to complete a single thought, much less string together a series of intelligent ones. There have been saving graces – an episode of Project Runway, the death of a beloved author, a strange request from my husband – but those happy (?) accidents seems to have slowed.
Last week I thought I had finally created that perfect writing storm in the midst of my busy summer day: a few hours alone in my cool, quiet house, my work completed, the chores done. There was nothing to distract me. Surely, I would be able to write now. But I couldn’t focus. I fidgeted; I got up and down; I checked email; I about to jump out of my skin. Ultimately, I knew what I needed to do. Despite the 100-degree heat, I went out on a walk to reacquaint my head with my heart and soul. When my head is in charge, there are things my heart finds it impossible to say.
By the time, I got to the end of my street, the truth had already bubbled up to the surface and I was able to admit what had been bothering me. In hindsight, it seems obvious, but sometimes it’s difficult to see what’s right in front of us.
For the past several months, I have been writing about Love: the power of love, the joy of love, the signs of Love – all the things that keep me going, but what I haven’t written about is the shadow side of Love.
I have been trying (with some success) to keep things positive. There is nothing wrong with ‘positivity,’ except when I use it to mask other truths. If “perfect love casts out all fear” as Bono and the Bible like to say, why mess around with anything else? The Love I have been writing about is that perfect Love. If I know that Love, as I have been claiming to, then it shouldn’t leave room for anything else in my life.
Except that it does. There is plenty of room for the flip side of love. My fears are still here. I am utterly and completely human, so even perfect Love has to go through my filter. I process it imperfectly and end up with something infinitely less than I began with. Somehow, I fooled myself into believing that this perfect, cosmic Love would leave me fearless. I discovered on my walk that it hasn’t, which is why I found myself sitting at the end of my street in the middle of the afternoon, crying my eyes out.
Quite simply, I’m afraid.
Andy Rooney once said, “A writer’s job is to tell the truth” and as I sat there, I realized that I can’t write, because I’m not telling the truth. I’m telling some of the truth – the truth about Love and what it can do. I’ve been holding something back too – the truth about what happens when Love doesn’t win, because let’s face it, sometimes our humanity simply won’t let it. Bono never mentioned that our fears could cast out that perfect Love as well. I kind of wish he would have warned me.
We embrace our fears just as often, if not more so, than we accept the Love that is available to us. It doesn’t mean that Love gives up, or that Love isn’t there. It just means that fear has the upper hand for a while. Fear doesn’t give up either. My life is a dance between Love and fear. Love has been on center-stage and fear wants to have it’s day too.
So for the sake of transparency and to get over my writer’s block, I thought I would share some of my fears with you. It’s a short list. I only included three of the biggies.
I am afraid of growing old.
I am afraid of the unknown.
I am afraid of failing God in some critical way.
There they are.
No, wait, not whew.
More like Aaaahhh! What did I just do?
I thought I would feel better, laying them all out there, but I don’t, not really. Unlike Love, fear doesn’t bring freedom. Basking in fear diminishes us and the possibilities for our lives, but maybe you already knew that. Deep down, I know it too, but sometimes fear just gets the upper hand.
My dear friend Joyce said to me recently, “Don’t make a decision based on fear. What would you do if you were fearless?” Maybe her question is just another way of asking, “What would you do if you were in Love?”
What would you do if you were in Love and it made you fearless?
I don’t think I can answer that question today. Fear is hogging the dance floor. However, Love is waiting patiently in the wings. She knows her turn will come again soon and I know she will leave me breathless with beauty and wonder. Personally, I can’t wait for our song to come on. Fear is not my favorite partner.
If you recall from my post “The Big 4-0,” I decided to give up worrying for 40 days and believe it or not, it has gone well, really well. Almost, I was tempted to think, too well. But never fear, that nirvana came to an end, thank goodness. There’s no humor in “too well,” and no growth either.
A couple of times over the last few weeks, I found myself thinking, “Why aren’t you worrying about that?” The “that” in question could be anything from a big presentation, to a deadline at work, the Lad’s lost basketball game, or an encounter with a cranky teen. Normally, these are things I would worry about: “How am I doing? How did I do? How did they do? Why are they doing that? What should I do about it?” Honestly, these are the thoughts that can dominate my mind on a stressful day. But I had been enjoying my worry-free state.
However, the other morning I woke at 4:30 am, with a familiar ringing in my ear. No, it wasn’t a phone call. It wasn’t my alarm clock, or the smoke detector. It was simply a voice I had been avoiding. It was the siren call of worry and no matter how deeply I buried my head in my pillow, no matter how many times I tossed and turned, no matter how many deep breaths I took, worry had a hold of me. The details are inconsequential, but thankfully, I had a new perspective to manage it.
The first thing I did differently was not worry about how I was failing in my quest to not worry. I forgave myself for having these emotions and for not being able to talk myself out of them. That may not sound like much, but it’s a huge first step for a struggling perfectionist like myself. The second thing I did was resign myself to being awake at 4:30 am. I knew that staying in bed was a recipe for more worry. Instead, I decided that distraction was an appropriate alternative, so I caught up on the latest Project Runway episode. (So long, Jerrell!) And when the dawn finally brightened the night sky around 5:30 am, I went on a walk.
Over the last few weeks, any time worry looms on the horizon my technique has been to visualize myself in the river of Love. Worrying, I stand on the shore, fighting with the Universe to make things go my way. When I am in the river of Love, I am surrounded by a rush of water, of current, of the inevitability of things. I become aware of my stance, my posture. I lean into Love and watch it sweep away the barnacles of worry that cling to me.
So on this early morning walk, I thought about Love and what a powerful antidote it can be to worry and how I wished that I could remember to love and to be in love more. I started singing a line from one of my favorite U2 songs that “Perfect love drives out all fear.” (I know that Bono is quoting scripture, but it sounds so much cooler when he says it.) While I walked, I saw a yellow leaf on the ground and I had to take a second look. It was a heart, sort of, from a certain angle and I found myself thinking, “Wow, you almost had me there, Universe. Almost, but not quite. Nice try.” I kept walking, wishing I had seen a sign of Love as concrete as the sidewalks I was treading.
And then it happened. Looking down at my feet, I saw it. A real sign. A real heart. The Universe was going to get me after all.
If I disdained the first message of Love I was given, as not being perfect enough (Ugh! That is so not my favorite part of myself), Love would try again. I still had to be paying attention, but there it was, Love at my feet, written in stone.
I stopped. I sat. I laughed and then I cried. I must have looked like a lunatic, but I got the message loud and clear.
Love is here. Love wants me. Love is as present to me as my worry is, if I will but open my eyes and see.
And now that I’ve seen it once, I’ve begun to see it everywhere. I see it in leaves and trees and rocks and sand. I see it in shells and dirt and even in places I hate, like the dimples on my thighs. Apparently, it was here all along.
What is worry, but fear with lots of scary details?
And if I trust Bono, and I usually do, then I will keep seeking my entry point into that river of perfect Love that casts out all fear.