Archive for May, 2008
Top Three Things I Learned at “Being Fearless”

emergency-exit-by-owenblacker.jpgAs I mentioned in a previous post, I attended the Omega Institute’s “Being Fearless” conference in April. I’ve been turning over the impressions and insights that I collected there. Here’s what I am learning:

1. I can be the space that I seek.

All my life I’ve felt that there is no true space in the world for me, and deep down, this has made me feel unworthy and afraid. I’ve been searching for my Right Place, and over the years, I’ve done some “wild and crazy” things on that quest. But for the most part, I’ve been living like a figure in an Emergency Exit sign – always rushing to the door. Whether rushing to meet the next external demand or to run from it, I’m always trying to be where I am not.

I’m usually earlier than I needed to be, and I’ve usually done more than I needed to do. Where has that gotten me? More demands but not more rewards. And the price is that I haven’t taken care of myself in my perpetual rush to respond. So there is no space for me.

It’s true I don’t like my job. And I don’t like where I live. Neither of these places is a good fit for me. They give me blisters. But does that mean that there is no air for me to breathe where I am? No. Yet I’ve been experiencing these places as if they are suffocating me.

I’ve been chastising myself for feeling this way, but this only feeds the cycle of bad feeling. At the conference, I attended Tara Brach’s workshop and got a glimpse of the way out of the cycle – to be my own Right Place wherever I am, not through superhuman feats of willpower or gut wrenching fortitude, but through radical acceptance.

The idea is not to repress or deny or overcome the pain you are feeling, but instead to PAUSE in it. Fully RECOGNIZE in detail what is happening and how you feel about it, and then to ALLOW it. As Brach said in the workshop, “to hold it in kindness.”

This opens a space where previously there was none.

Brach told a story about a man who in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease agreed to give a presentation to a sizeable audience. Although he had prepared thoroughly, his speech left him at the podium. He went blank — every public speaker’s nightmare, no doubt all the worse for someone who knows that a mind-robbing disease is the culprit. Instead of fumbling for words or racing for the exit, the man stood firmly where he was and proceeded to acknowledge and honor aloud every nuance of what he was feeling in the moment. Brach said he had the audience in tears – not because they pitied him but because he was demonstrating the concept of radical acceptance.

The story moved me.

2. Wholeness means accepting the gift of my shadow.

In a workshop entitled “Discovering the Gifts of Your Dark Side,” Debbie Ford talked about how we learn to repress certain aspects of our personality. She likened these repressed aspects to beach balls that we are forever trying to keep under water and out of sight, lest we appear “bad” in the eyes of others. Of course, the constant beach ball management effort is exhausting, and when a ball gets away from us, it explodes out of the water in a potentially destructive way.

I like the analogy. I’ve been smacked in the face with more than a few projectile beach balls, so I know what that’s about. The alternative to repression is to look for a constructive way to use the aspect, accept it and thereby integrate it.

3. Don’t hide my cracks.

It seemed that everyone at the conference told the story of the Golden Buddha, each with a slightly different take on its lesson. If you haven’t heard it already, this is the story of a 700-hundred-year-old solid gold Buddha statue that long ago was encased in clay to camouflage its true worth and thus protect it from invaders. When the people who did this died, knowledge of the inner gold of the Buddha died with them. So the statue was thought to be a plain clay statue of modest worth for time out of mind. In the 1950s, it was damaged as it was being moved. Someone looked into the cracks and saw a glint of gold within. They chiseled at the cracks until the golden statue was fully revealed and all were amazed. The statue is now known as a national treasure of Thailand.

It is a simple but rich story, so it’s no wonder so many speakers at the conference referenced it. We, too, have gold within us, waiting to be revealed. This is the gold of alchemy — our evolutionary potential. But the key point for me is that exploring the cracks – wounds, if you will – led to the discovery of the gold within. Far from being something shameful, the cracks were the gateway to transformation.

I’m still turning these lessons over and processing. For now, I will focus on standing in the four corners of my feet where I am . . . and breathing.

Emergency exit → image by OwenBlacker, used courtesy of a Creative Commons License.

Writer’s Block & the Curse of the Orange Beads

orange-bead-rose.JPGWhen I was four years old, my older cousins – all boys – came over and my father took us to the neighborhood hobby shop. I suspect that the only reason I was included was my mother wanted me out of the house for a while. My father was taking the boys to get model rocket making materials – model rocketry was one of my father’s passions, and he was introducing the boys to it. Being only four and female, I did not fit into the plan.

At the shop, I was bored with the squares of balsa wood and tubes of glue they were poring over, but I was in rapture over a huge case of slim little phials containing beads in every color imaginable. I wanted those beads!

The boys were heading for the register. I stopped my father and begged for the beads. No, no, no. There was pleading on my part met by skepticism. But what are you going to do with them? MAKE THINGS! You won’t make anything with them. He was probably thinking I was too young, but I didn’t see it that way.

I WILL TOO MAKE THINGS! My father relented. Okay, you can have ONE color. If you make things with that, we’ll come back and you can get more.

How could I possibly pick just one out of that endless array of color? I hemmed and hawed. My father told me to hurry up while he tried to corral the boys, who were chasing each other in the aisles.

Finally I chose: orange.

I remember the car ride home so vividly. It was late afternoon, probably late summer. It was still warm but the sun had that orangey gold September angle that I love to this day. I was sitting in the back seat, holding my little orange phial before me as if it were a candle, or maybe a chalice. All around was that orangey gold light. I was so excited. This was just the beginning. Soon I would have a rainbow of beads and I’d be making all kinds of fantastic things.

It didn’t turn out that way. I’m not sure what happened. My mother probably didn’t want me to play with them out of fear they’d end up in my mouth, or maybe I just didn’t know what to do with them, I don’t know. But I didn’t have materials to make jewelry. And ultimately I wasn’t inspired by only one color of beads. What had inspired me in the store was the array of color, and possibility.

So the phial of orange beads ended up at the bottom of the family junk drawer. I remember unintentionally digging them up several times in the years that followed. Always they were a symbol of guilt and shame. I didn’t make anything with them. I wasted them. I didn’t follow through.

It never dawned on me to pick them up and make something with them when I was a little older. Instead, I felt I had already failed, which made me feel bad. And feeling bad made me want to push them out of sight.

Meanwhile, my cousins – sons of a high school art teacher – were growing up with all the resources of an art supply store at their fingertips. Oils, acrylics, canvas, cameras, tripods, clay animation equipment, sculpture tools, their own darkroom . . . plus every musical instrument imaginable. I was writing stories on notebook paper and illustrating them with crayons while they were making movies, performing their own music and having one-man art shows at the county art gallery.

I was a little girl with a strong creative vision of my own, and although I didn’t make anything with the beads, I was active creatively in my own right. But I couldn’t help comparing myself to my cousins and feeling inferior. Whatever I did and whatever recognition that brought me seemed rinky-dink next to them. My art was child’s play – it might be good for grammar school but it wasn’t good enough for the real world.

Time passed and I forgot about the orange beads. When I turned forty they came up in a meditation on my creative block. For the longest time, I’ve been feeling guilty and ashamed for “not following through” on my creative vision, for “being unproductive” and basically wasting it. Not for lack of trying, of course. Just not breaking through the wall.

I realized that everything I’ve been feeling about my “failure” as a writer, I felt as a child about those damned beads.

More than that, I’ve been stuck in that hobby shop story — longing for the freedom and array of possibility with which to create grand and fantastic things but meeting only skepticism and relatively meager resources until I prove myself worthy.

I haven’t proven as an adult that I will make things. Somewhere along the line, I stopped believing that I can.

Not that I have given up. Quite the opposite. I’ve been obsessed with the dream of becoming a full-time novelist. Unwisely, imprudently, incorrigibly obsessed. But I see now that my dream is the equivalent of earning all the beads in the case so that I am finally free to express my creative vision. In the here and now, however, I am always trying to make something with the orange beads. I’ve been so caught up in trying to satisfy externally set prerequisites that I haven’t allowed myself the freedom of opening the door to inspiration, allowing fallowness and flow in kind, and expressing whatever comes in. I haven’t allowed myself to enjoy my creative work in the moment and to just BE.

No wonder I’ve been stuck at the gate.

But I can stand now and look into the shadow of shame and self-doubt. My creative expression has been blocked. What has the block given me? Well, it has driven me to look deeper than I would have looked if my expression had flowed into the world without resistance. It has driven me to look within and to seek a transformative path. Maybe I have something more valuable to say than I would have said otherwise. Maybe the block has been an alchemical flame.

I accept the gift of the flame and release the idea that I need to fulfill prerequisites to prove myself worthy of expressing my creative vision in the world. Nevertheless, can we say that I made something with the orange beads by writing this post? ;)