Fear lives inside of us as a wise messenger, to tell us when we are not ourselves; to tell us when we are in danger. Yet unguided fear, as I wrote about last week, loses her wisdom and becomes a monster in her own right. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Disney’s Moana, so let me give a brief description of an important part. In Moana, there is a scene where Moana herself is at a pivotal moment; she must defeat the monster that has been keeping her island and people from prosperity. In a swift plot twist instead of defeating the monster, Moana saves the monster who turns out to be the lost goddess of life. In our lives fear unguided is the monster. We are the lost goddess of life.
Fear begins with such a kind intention and true wisdom when it first presents itself. Remember the lion I wrote about last week? Fear tells us that we are in danger from either the outside world or from losing ourselves. The problem is, when fear is given free rein over our minds because we have not cared for her, she becomes the danger. We then feel madness and are never at home in our own minds. Unbridled fear drives us to always be at war.
This fear comes in so many ways but is kept alive with shame. Confused and worried that we are in fact in danger (if we don’t know how to guide our fear), we spiral into shame and either destroy ourselves or others. Fear is a monster when it is unleashed and unguided by understanding. Yet fear starts trying to be a wise counsel. When we don’t listen to what we need to stay safe, fear decides to write the narrative. I don’t know about you, but I’m fucking done with fear writing my narrative. She’s is an awful driver.
Fear Needs the Spirit of a Warrior
Over the last few days, I have been falling back into fear. I felt the signs and yet continued on until, at last, I cried with my sister and reached out to a few friends. My signs were that I was shopping, watching TV, scrolling on my phone at night, and drinking a glass of wine several nights a week. While all of these things may sound lovely (this is why I was doing them), they were in fact damaging because I was doing them to avoid discomfort and not because I was me. Fear had placed her hand on the wheel. She wanted to drive again. Luckily this ride was brief and I took the skills I have developed to stop fears reign. I soaked in a hot bath, candles lit, and asked my fear what she needed. Skills. She needs skills.
You see my life still has a lion chasing me. My body is still affected with PTSD from domestic violence and I only know how to prevent symptoms from climbing to a panic attack, not how to expose myself without being hurt. I have the strength inside of me yet I don’t know how to train fear to protect me. Fear needs a fierce spirit to protect me, to give me strength, to keep my heart soft and open. Fear needs the heart of a shepherd and the spirit of a warrior.
Learning to Manage Fear
Too often I’ve spent life just telling myself I’m OK because of the external world I create around me but am terrified at opening my heart. My heart desperately wants to be opened but cannot safely do so because she doesn’t have the skills to navigate pain and attack. My heart needs to know that when danger comes I will be her guardian. That I will listen and honor her sister fear. I am responsible for her and have treated her so badly over the years. There are tiny moments I fill her up when I know we can be safe. In the basement snuggling my boys, on the couch at my sisters, or when I’m at a meeting with my trusted team. I have a small circle where I can open my heart and fully accept love. And yet, when pushed into the world, the battlefield of life, I armor up in fear.
When I look to either my trusted circle, comprised of pretty much the best humans you’ll ever meet, or I look at those who have harmed me/others I see this same being. I believe this has always been my gift and curse. As one of my staff, Toshi, told me (see? best humans you’ll ever meet) when people meet me they give me their best because they see a successful woman in business they want to impress. What I see is all their potential and sometimes blindly look past their flaws. I do this personally and professionally. I am the chance giver. Or so I used to be. Now I openly look at each human in my presence and realize we are all bruised but whole. That it’s not my job to make anyone’s life better or worse but if my gifts can make anyone’s life better I will tell you I’m 100% in… but not at the cost of losing myself. I am responsible for myself, and my life. And you, my darling ones, are responsible for yours.
You see, life is not without pain. Pain will come. We will all be broken throughout our lives from heartache, grief, bullying, failure, and the like. But pain does not kill us. We can feel all of the pain and still move on. We can still live. We simply need to know how to protect ourselves in the absolute best way from real dangers within our lives and how to care for ourselves when all other pain comes. Fear is screaming at us to pay attention. I do not disagree with her. Yet her actions when we do not pay attention or have the skills to keep ourselves safe and loved are damaging. That’s how fear runs the show.
To provide our glorious hearts with what they need, we would all be wise to pop Wonder Woman in the DVD player (for you cool cats like me that like to watch actual movies, not streaming) and watch the goddesses train. This is what we need. Training. To be ready for the battles of life so we can stay, not become, the god/goddesses of our own hearts.
Aren’t you tired? Aren’t you ready to change things? Don’t you want to live the life your heart tells you is possible? Guide your heart with the partner of your wise mind. Look at the fears running your life and train them one by one. Train on how to let the fears that have no merit go and train on how to conquer the true dangers. Train to find your strength and to be ready for the battles that may come in life. When the next lion comes charging, do not be afraid. Be ready. Never forget, too strong for who?
When I was a child I went through a period where I was obsessed with the Salem Witch Trials. My mom even took me to Salem to see the museum. At the time I think I was just really intrigued by witches. In the Salem Witch Trials, we all know the story (I think), that in the late 1600’s young girls in Salem, Massachusetts accused women in their village of witchcraft leading to hysteria in the town. 19 women were hung, and 150 accused. 19 deaths based on lies and fear. Here we are, over 350 years later, and we still have blood on our hands from lies and fear.
In addition to having a small obsession with the Salem Witch Trials, I’ve had a larger obsession my whole life; understanding how and why we tick as humans. My mom tells everyone I was a quiet baby, I just watched. Fast forward two decades and I was getting a master’s in behavior analysis to formally understand why. Or so I thought.
Looking at Behavior Analysis
Behavior analysis is a wonderful science. It helps us see why observable behavior happens and what can be done to either increase it or decrease it. Applied behavior analysis is widely successful with autism because autism is a neurological disorder. When exterior behaviors are strengthened (like language) neuro-pathways connect and the map of the brain changes. It’s amazing. But what ABA doesn’t do is help us understand the mind because the mind is not observable. Perhaps someday it will be but until then we’re left to psychology, neuroscience, and spirituality to understand our inner world.
I say this to tell you more about ABA and more about me and my work. You see, I’m a woman who when there is a problem I have to fix it. I have both an analytical mind and an artist’s heart. I’ll throw music on to make the best damn spreadsheet you’ve ever seen, but I also paint (badly, but it’s still fun…). Same difference to me, I’m in my own space, I’m creating by putting my mind onto a canvas.
In learning about applied behavior analysis I was able to open my mind and eventually my business to this beautiful science. It helps me as a mommy, a boss, and a friend to understand the behaviors I can observe. Observation, however, does nothing for the inner world behind those behaviors. To my mind, always in search of knowledge, in knowing, I have to go further. I often cite Brene Brown in my work because she is a shame researcher. A researcher of our mind! I also read, almost daily, “A Course in Miracles,” to stay connected to the spirit surrounding me. To fill my heart as my mind wanders.
Fear & Behavioral Witch Hunts
This is my journey, right now that is. To understand the insides of my own mind and how they connect with my behavior. Then to understand how my behavior paints the reality I do or do not want. My understanding is still wobbly like I’m riding a bike without training wheels for the first time. But it feels so incredibly powerful to do. In doing this work I have found so much, and uncovered a simple untruth; we are all on a goddamn witch hunt.
Back in Salem the witch hunts began based on fear and eventually took lives. I could write to you today about every wonderful person I know then write about fears of rape and murder that have taken either part or all of their lives. Why? Why do we let this tiny untruth dominate the way in which we live? I’ll tell you.
Fear tells us not to look at it, to do absolutely anything to ourselves to avoid it, sometimes at the cost of our lives. From the interior of our minds telling us we are not enough, we are bad, we are sick, to the exterior world either validating these fears or us screaming back at the world they aren’t true, we are lost. We are lost in the witch hunt.
This I know to be true. Fear does not need to be feared, it needs to be understood. Fear is a messenger that tells you what you need as a human being. When a lion is running toward you, it tells you to run, when you put that Big Mac in your mouth and feel guilty, fear is beneath that telling you perhaps you aren’t taking care of yourself. Fear is so incredibly smart. Fear is your friend and fear needs a lot of goddamn support.
Our Fear of Fear
You see fear breeds the feeling of fear. It’s an endless loop without your loving presence. It comes with a message and then needs your love, following your receipt of the message, not affirmation. Let’s take the lion as an example. A lion is charging at you. You run, you are free. You need to sit down and thank fear for giving you speed you didn’t know you had. If you don’t do this, fear just operates without closure in the open. Now, anytime you see anything remotely lion-like fear wants to run. Fear needs you to thank her and to let her know she can rest.
When we do not tell fear “thank you” and let her rest, we get lost. Fear, without guidance, runs our body and lives. Our body kicks into high gear to protect us (see depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, and the like) and our mind gets exhausted giving into the message. From there we have a few choices. The first is to take that fear out on ourselves and question our worth. The next is to tell fear it’s a liar and then take our shit out on everyone else. The last is to look at fear kindly, listen to the message, and provide validation and safety for ourselves. To give fear our support and guidance.
Fear needs to be heard. That’s why she is there. What fear doesn’t need is an open invitation to run every aspect of your life. Fear needs to say her piece, have you take the wise council, and let her rest. If you don’t do this fear becomes overloaded and confused. Without closure, she becomes the modern-day, “boy who cried wolf.” She is trying so hard to keep you safe but until you understand the root danger fear is trying to tell you about and thank her for it your mind is overloaded because fear is now calling everything a lion and not just real dangers.
Listening to Your Fears
To begin to understand this I want you to try a little formula for me. Ask yourself anytime you do not feel like yourself, “am I afraid?” Then begin to sort through the message to find the original lion and stop chasing wolves.
So, what will it be? How will you live your life? Will you continue the witch hunt for fear inside of you? Take that witch hunt to hang yourself and your brothers and sisters? Or perhaps, all these centuries later are you ready to put the rope down?
Lean in with a soft hand and brush the cheek of fear. Tell her “baby it’s OK, thank you so much for your wise counsel. I hear you. The message is just what I needed, now I’ll keep us safe.”
Over the past several months I’ve been writing to you about the courage and joy that come from walking through pain. About the importance of feeling our feelings versus shoving them down, avoiding them, or taking them out on others. Last week I wrote again about finding true joy; the moments that take our breath away in their simplicity. In writing this to you I’ve been writing from two different perspectives. The first perspective is from my own personal trauma going through a divorce. The second is from the assumption that a year into the pandemic each and every one of us has some level of trauma to unpack.
In writing from the second perspective I don’t mean to assume or project that each person is in trauma. My intention is to honor the humanity in each of us and perspective that, if you are struggling with the pandemic or any other personal trauma, to offer you the grace and compassion I offer myself. You see, I believe we are all worthy of the life we want. We’re far enough along in my writing that you know joy doesn’t come from taking from others or out in the material world. I don’t have to tell you this. When we strip it down to what makes us truly happy we find the God inside of each of us. She’s whispering, “this is the life I want for all my children.”
Will you listen to Her call? Will you listen to your heart? Your knowing? I’ve heard this calling in the wind many times. I’m no longer letting it blow by me or my life. I’m ready to do joy. I’m ready to live.
Discovering What You Want
What feels like months ago (but may be further back) I wrote myself a little note. It sits on my desktop where I see it every day. It reads:
I want to:
- Recommit to my own happiness
- Take pictures with a camera
- Turn the TV off
- Lighten my schedule
- Eat real food, drink less, but good wine
- Spend time outside
- Dance to the moon
- Disconnect my boys
- Cherish love every day
- Sink into my family & tribe
When I think about my perfect day it’s one where I’m totally unplugged, surrounded by my children, and enjoying the simple pleasures of life. It could be snapping a picture with a camera because my cell phone is down. It could be a walk in the woods or a fireside chat with Dametrius. Cooking food from the farm to my table. Dancing to the moon. Back down in the grass, eyes at the stars, boys against my chest. This, for me, is pure joy. This is life.
It’s such a simple list. Really. But when I read it to myself I know that when I do these things they bring me joy. These simple things take me home to my own heart. In coming out of trauma I saw these things as unreachable. Each time I reached for any one of them, more trauma came to me. I was told, “this is not for you, this makes you bad,” and slowly but surely I started to believe it. That is where I was losing myself. I was giving away what brings me joy. Sitting here now I know that love never asks this of any of us, and it certainly wasn’t asking it of me. It’s not asking it of you either.
Listening to Love
Love is born in our hearts and glimmers to the world. Love smiles in the sun as it sleepily peeks through the clouds every morning. It kisses us goodnight, slipping into the night light of stars. It says to us that no matter what may come for us on any given day, it will be there waiting for us. We are capable of harnessing the stars and living a life through this lens of love. Mamas, close your eyes and imagine that day when your body erupted and your babies were born. Remember their darling faces, nuzzled at your breast, and breathe that image in. That’s love. That’s joy. It’s been in you since the day you and your children were born.
Late one night, I tapped on Henry’s heart and told him, “Mama lives in your heart. I’m always with you.” He sleepily reached over and tapped my heart, “Yes, and Declan and me lived in your heart. Then you pushed me out & I was born.”
Yes baby, you were. We all were.
The more I take time in the quiet pleasures of life, the more time my heart swells and I realize how precious my life is. I used to think that life meant happiness all of the time. I know now that isn’t true. Hardship and struggle is part of being human. Yet within the same world where war exists, there are tiny baby snuggles and toddler giggles. The moon calling us for one more dance. We are made with strength to endure struggles but we are meant for joy.
So kick off your heels, pour a glass of really good wine, and snuggle up with joy. Make a list. What are your favorite things? No credit card swiped, no status gained, no other person giving or taking it from you–your favorites. Breathe in, breathe out, and chose to boldly live in real joy.
This weekend was a quiet one without my boys. I earned something on Audible called a “Weekend Warrior,” which I guess means I’ve listened long enough to be a warrior by their definition. The book I can’t stop listening to is “The Choice,” by Dr. Edith Eger, who, among other things, is a survivor of Auschwitz. While her tale is haunting, her perspective holds the key to our humanity. The key to joy.
Early in the book Dr. Eger shares a scene at Auschwitz when the Nazi’s had stripped the women and shaved their heads prior to giving uniforms. These women stood naked and bald for hours waiting. Dr. Eger’s sister Magda, known for her beauty in their town before the concentration camp, stood next to her, and asked “how do I look?”. Dr. Eger had a choice to make. She could shatter her sister and tell her she looked like a mangy dog or she could tell her the one truth she saw outside of this. “Your eyes,” Dr. Eger murmured, “they are beautiful. I never noticed them with all that hair.” Magda closed her eyes. “Thank you,” she murmured back. That my friends is the choice. That my friends is joy.
We all have a choice in front of us at any given moment. We can choose to see the negative; we can choose to let the pains of the world swallow us. To be lost. We can choose to believe that the horrible things that happen to us or the words people say to us. Or that the messages pushed down our throats by society should be taken as gospel. This is not true. Yes, it happens to all of us, but it does not define us. We can define ourselves by choosing joy and beauty. By following the truth.
What of Dr. Eger’s truth you say? She went through a hell that no human should ever have to experience. Dr. Eger was forced into the worst situation possible but just because something is real does not mean it is true. It was real that the Nazis abused, murdered, and tortured millions of people but it is not true that the people they abused were less and deserved it. Take this little sentence and apply it anywhere. I promise you will be free.
Let’s think about this together. It is real that children are starving. It is not true that they should be. It is real that women are raped, it is not true that they ‘deserved it.’ It is real that transgender people have a suicide rate above all other people, it is not true that their life holds less value. It is real that black people are suppressed and murdered by white police, it is not true that they are less and deserve such treatment. It is real that women are taught to be polite, small and sexy, it is not true that our identity lies in these labels. It is real that men are appropriately taught to ignore their feelings and man up, it is not true that their feelings do not matter or make them weak. These are all examples of issues we face every day that hide the truth in generations old sexist, racist, or prejudiced societal narratives.
It is real that bad things happen to each and every one of us, it is not true any of us are inherently bad and deserve these things. Even if you have done unspeakable things, you have a choice to offer yourself compassion, show mercy, beg for forgiveness, and go back to what is true. If you are a person that has been the victim of real, unspeakable acts, you can also offer yourself these things and find what is true.
Finding Authentic Joy
Don’t you see? Can’t you feel it? Joy is our birthright. It’s not lost in wall street, in bodies carved from money to follow societal norms, in gender roles, sexual preference, skin color, the size of your wallet, or how you have walked so far during your time on earth. If you choose to believe any of this, as Dr. Eger writes, you are lost in the prison of your mind. Dr. Eger reminds us that while she was a prisoner of war, she was more free than any Nazi. She knew joy, she knew her worth, and knew she was not lost.
If a woman who has been stripped, shaved, starved, near raped, and lost her parents and former life to the chambers of Auschwitz can choose her sister’s blue eyes and hold them as joy, we can all find these tiny angels. They are sparkling through the world to remind us that only love is real. I have not been through half the hell of Dr. Eger’s life. I have walked through my own pain and the false belief that because bad things happened to me that somehow I somehow deserved them. I walked through losing the life I wanted to choose. I wrote to you months ago in the middle of my grief about the light in the forest, but didn’t know exactly what I was writing about. I now know I was writing about joy.
You see joy is the candle that tells us. Our world offers beauty, kindness, and grace. It comes to us in a child’s laugh, a dog wagging her tail at the door, a cup of coffee with a friend. As I walked through my own hell this past fall this is what I sought out every day. I was looking for Magda’s blue eyes. I was looking for what was true while what was real attempted to swallow me. The truth has set me free. Joy has reminded me of the possibility of being human. That regardless of the pain that may come in our lives we can all choose joy.
In choosing truth we can ask those who challenge our worth to leave. We can hold abusers and those lost in greed accountable and end damaging relationships. We can stop wars and bring water to the millions of mouths that still need it. To have this strength, we must first fill our own hearts with true joy. That’s the gasoline that will set the world ablaze with a new kind of life. A life where joy is offered for all.
One life at a time. Follow me, follow joy. Choose again. Joy is your birthright, and it’s all around you every day. Put down the lists, labels, and judgement. Shed the hate. Choose love. Choose Joy.
In closing out my last series about struggle, grief, and, and strength I intentionally wanted to write about authentic joy. I wanted to experience and provide an example about how joy can be found anywhere and anytime. Even through hard times. I know that joy is our birthright, I tell this to my sons through my journals all the time. Yet, when it comes to myself, I struggle to honor that truth.
Planning for Authentic Joy
This weekend I did what any recovering over functioning person would do; I crafted the perfect “joy!” day followed by my plans crashing and burning. Over the weekend I kept thinking, “I can make this so much better, I can do joy.” I did everything I could. I invited my sister and her girls over to make homemade pizzas in the middle of the farm yard then did clean up on the first warm day. Warm weather, sweet cousins, boys running, my dad… Perfect right? So much joy to tell you about! But did I mention that between my sister and I we have four children 3 and under? They are very cute but have minds all their own and fast little feet.
Henry wanted to be outside badly with Grandpa and Dametrius but Grandpa was working and couldn’t watch the kids. Declan has figured out his legs are long enough to drive the dinosaur jeep but hasn’t figured out how to steer the dinosaur jeep. My sister brought the girls in their glitter shoes. Gracie was wearing a white shirt. Mud was everywhere. My sister and I tried to get the kids to play inside, which totally didn’t happen. First warm day, remember? So we ended up chasing four children through the mud until I broke down and said, “who wants to watch TV while Aunt Jessie makes pizza?” We sat their little butts down, I still made pizza (perfect day remember?) and then my sister and I crashed. The kids might have had a joyful day, the grownups did not. This is not authentic joy, it’s the Kool Aid we’ve all been drinking.
I was upset with myself for a bit because I know better. I know not to get into perfect planning, I know I can’t juggle a ton right now, and I know how the day looks isn’t as important as how it feels. Yet I’m a woman who was recovering from human-giver syndrome (read Burnout to learn more) and went into default mode. I could have beat myself up, but instead gave myself grace. I took some deep breaths, started a new show on Netflix, and decided to have a reset Sunday. That’s when I got back to real joy.
What is Authentic Joy?
So what is authentic joy and why is it so hard to come by? Authentic joy lives inside of us, it’s what makes us all uniquely happy. Just like the worth we are all born with, joy is inside each of us, not where society tells us. My children show me authentic joy every single day. They find what brings them laughter and go after it with no regard for ‘what people think of them.’ I want this for them. Always. No matter how weird it is (Declan….). But now, at 34 years old, I want this for me too. I wish I had always wanted it but there is no use going back. Moving forward into joy is the only way.
Every year at New Years I write myself a letter with my dreams for the new year and gratitude for the past year. I then leave the letter under a jar for and don’t touch it for the next 12 months. This year I decided my dream for myself was to be selfish. I haven’t been selfish, not ever. I have always been willing to give up what I want and have for someone else. While there is an absolute time for selflessness, that time can’t be all the time. For me for it was. I know a lot of women and some men who struggle with the same. So my question to myself were along the lines of “will I be less selfless if I’m selfish?” I was curious but also in deep need of self-love and care.
I want to pause for a minute and speak to my readers. If you are a person who has deep wants but believes it’s OK to take from others or hurt others this message is not for you. You are being selfish to gain for yourself at the cost of someone else, something that is never OK. For everyone else, we need you to be selfish because through your reclaiming of joy those hurting you or others will be held accountable.
Selfishness, Selflessness, & Authentic Joy
OK, so back to authentic joy and being selfish. What does that look like for me? For you? A hell of a lot of deconditioning that’s what.
We are all inundated from a young age about who we are supposed to be, what we are supposed to look like, and what things make us “perfect.” That’s the Kool Aid we are all forced to drink. Then, when we aren’t able to live up to these impossibly high standards, we experience shame telling us we’re not good enough. It’s a vicious cycle. It’s also a lie. This is hard to process. I know because I’m basically asking you to question everything. But that is the point! I want you to be the one who makes the calls on your own life and joy. Not the world. Not society. I want you to look inside yourself and fall in love. To breathe deeply into your own lungs and exhale joy. To live unapologetically.
So, how do you do this? How do I? We need look no further than our own hearts and listen. That’s it. On any given day we have the chance to choose. To close our eyes, breathe in, and ask ourselves if we’re happy. If the answer is yes, rock on! If the answer is no, question it. If the answer is yes but it’s because I bought these super cool leggings for the gym to fit in with everyone, question that too. If the answer is yes because I bought these super cool leggings and omg they are so comfy, rock on!
It is not bad to want for yourself, to be thirsty, to have desires. It is human. Yet from our spirits we must navigate our desires and ask ourselves if our desires fill our own heart or if they hurt others and/or ourselves. I don’t know about you but I am parched. The Kool-Aid we’ve all been drinking for years isn’t the hydration any of us need. I have a deep thirst for my life and am ready to quench it. Not on the backs of anyone, and straight from my own heart.