I don’t know if this is true for anyone else who has a sister but my sister is part of me and I’m part of her. I can’t explain it but we know each other in our bones. I could spend literal days with her and still get annoyed she hasn’t texted me back within five minutes of leaving. She’s my person and I’m hers.
Last night, I was struggling to see myself. To be honest I feel like I always struggle to see myself, but last night everything kind of hit me at once. I literally have no idea how I come across to anyone in conversations or interactions. I never have. Soon I found myself picking up the phone to call my sister. I knew she would be honest with me, brutally if needed.
At first she was surprised to hear I don’t know how people see me. I was surprised she didn’t know this because she knows what I eat for breakfast every day, how much sleep I get–pretty much everything. I asked her why I felt like others met me with resistance and judgement when I shared my voice with them. Her response was everything I needed to hear. She told me, “you are a strong woman and that scares people. You won’t conform and that makes people uncomfortable.” Holy shit. That’s it.
Finding Your Strength
I often explain to family and friends that I have always felt I’m outside of the world looking in. Honestly, a big part of this is being a researcher, introvert, and visionary. If I only ever talked to the people I loved and never met a new human being I would be a very happy woman. I had a million fears when we went into lockdown last spring during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic but staying home was not one of them.
I’m often deep in thought of what brings me joy and what I think the world needs. At the same time, however, I don’t give a lot of thought to how I come across. But I’m also human and when I’m in social situations, work relationships, and non-intimate personal relationships I’m quite aware I’m on the outside. Take a hometown football game, for example. If I’m at a game and a circle of other moms my age are sitting as far away as possible, I’m not bothered at all. This is nothing against anyone. I’m happy by myself and would feel exhausted having to make small talk. But if I think bigger, like when I need to advocate for myself or my beliefs and am met with resistance or judgement, this is what bothers me. I thought there was no clue why this is. Hence the phone call to my sister.
After the call I took her answer and mulled it over deep within my core and knew it was true. I am a woman who won’t bend. I stand on my own and refuse to make myself small for anyone. This makes the world uncomfortable because I am a woman not bending. My small, sacred circle of friends and family? They give zero shits that I am true to myself and respect me for honoring myself and my worth.
My sister and I spent hours talking about my dilemma. I was stuck. I am a good woman who wakes up daily wanting a better world for others. I want it for myself, my sons, my sacred circle and every human being. I spend time each day in gratitude seeking authentic joy. My happiest place in the world is my basement couch across from the playroom. In the mornings, when I have the boys, I sip my coffee with a book for me and a stack for them. They buzz around me, flittering between reading with me and playing. At night, after dinner, Dametrius joins us in the basement and my boys snuggle, wrestle, and Declan brings us all “tea.” It’s bliss and nothing in the world brings me closer to God. She’s right there.
Perceiving the Good in Ourselves
So how then, when I perceive myself to be a generally good person soaking in the tiny joys of the world to build a better one, do I get painted as someone to fear? The belief system of the patriarchy we live in. That’s why. I am a woman with a strong voice in a world where women are supposed to be quiet. This past fall, when my divorce situation was still new, I was walking the pasture wailing to the sky, screaming “why me? Because I’m a woman with a voice?” Among other things, yes. The path for women with visions is hard and It’s fucking bullshit.
My friend Dana has a daughter named Kahlan. Kahlan is incredibly bright and bold. She’s unapologetic about her worth and comfortable with it. During the pandemic, Kahlan became so frustrated with the disorganization of online learning that she began providing feedback to her teachers at their request to streamline the programs. When a mistake is made Kahlan shoots off an email, “I should not have to be writing this email but…” She’s 13. Kahlan reminds me of myself before the world told me to be small.
Dana often doesn’t know what to do with her fierce daughter and rightfully so. Ask my parents if they knew (or even know) what to do with me. Nope! But here is my wish for Kahlan, my nieces, my darling Olga, every woman alive, and myself. Do not make yourself small. Take up space and use it. Shout to the world, show your worth, and if you’re too strong for someone that’s their problem not yours.
When I thought more about the issue of being small I felt grace for others. Forgiveness, if you will. You see, for thousands of years strength was the masculine feature valued above all others. When a man flexes his muscles it is to show others he can dominate them. I have no time, nor interest in this. To my knowledge no woman or girl I know does either. We’re not showing our strength to put you in your place. We’re showing our strength because it’s who we are and through it we can honor ourselves and the world.
Moving Forward with Value and Compassion
I’ve spent my whole life feeling this way. Strong and judged for being strong. My strength? It is mine to hone and through it my life is full and the world served. There’s nothing scary here, unless a woman with a voice scares you. So I ask you this: Too strong for who?
My answer? Too strong for no one, my strength is not harmful but it is powerful. So is the strength of your daughters and your strength to teach your sons to value power with, not power over. To build a world where strength is used is to build a society where we all thrive and power is no longer misused.
I challenge you this; Ladies, look at all your strength and ways you have held it in. Ask yourself, “too strong for who?” hashtag it. Blow me up. Start a storm. Stand up. We don’t have time to just sit still and look pretty.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve been writing to you about looking underneath the leaves of our psyche and how to slowly start overturning each leaf. As I lift my own leaves I’m reminded of my own worth and humanity. If you’ve been following me you may be thinking, “wait a second, I thought the leaves were our dark parts, how did you find self-worth under them?” I’ll tell you.
You see, as humans, we are all torn between two realities. In the spiritual world, this is often called the light and dark, good and evil, and so on. Whether you are spiritual or not I believe you can break this down by choosing to show up as you were created to show. You can also respond to the pain of the world and hold it as truth. The way we find ourselves is by really taking a good hard look and accepting what is there. If you know there is worth at your core, worth that could bring you endless joy, wouldn’t you want to look?
That is where bravery comes in and if we are operating from a place that does not feel like ourselves it’s time to make a change. The scary part is that when we are willing to look at any single thing keeping us from our true selves we know we are facing loss. There’s this piece of the bible (not to get all spiritual twice now…) about not serving more than one God. I wrote last week about the different things that can keep me from me, so not serving more than one God rang close to home. But to me, God isn’t high in the sky. She is deep in my core. She is me. When I do things in the world as though they have a higher value than me I’m lost. Knowing that my one truth is to never abandon myself again I have to be willing to lose things of the earth if the cost of keeping them is me.
So, how do we know if what we’re serving is working towards our highest good? We need to ask the questions “are we making the best choices for ourselves?” and “are those choices bringing us closer to or farther away from ourselves?”
Working Towards Our Best Selves
For me, it’s twofold. I believe that in our truest form we cannot inflict pain on ourselves or another. That we are all innately good. This is the first piece and hard as hell to learn. Because if we are all innately good, then we need to practice the principles of, “do no harm,” or “not to me, not to you, not to anyone”? This is how I navigate all of my decisions and I believe if we all did this the world would radically change overnight. I know it. In being committed to doing no harm to myself it means I have to honor myself and am unwilling to attack my sisters and brothers who walk this world with me.
Now, please don’t get me wrong. There is absolute evil in this world and not one of us would survive running around with free hugs and forgiveness all of the time. That shit does not work. Holding people accountable for their damaging behaviors and refusing to damage them in return; that shit does work. My sister made a cross-stitch for me for my birthday this past weekend that reads “do no harm, take no shit.” Yep, that’s it. That sums it up. We can absolutely stand up for ourselves and our desires without hurting anyone.
If saying your own truth creates a loss of a relationship, job, opportunity, or the like you aren’t hurting anyone. You are setting a boundary to say what you need and want. If who you are setting the boundary with accepts you they are part of your tribe. If they don’t, they’re not. Plain and simple. This is where loss comes in. In this part of knowing our true form, we have to believe our wants and desires are worth losing almost everything for, so we may then gain everything.
Weighing Our Beliefs and Desires
The second part is incredibly important here; all of our wants and desires need to be measured against, “does this cause pain, anywhere?” This is how we can come to know if our choices are in line with that deep knowing within ourselves because deep inside of us is a God. She would not cause harm (think back to the last section). So, as we’re navigating through coming home to ourselves and examining what really sets us on fire and makes us uniquely joyful we can know if we’ve chosen based on what’s within us versus what we’re being told.
Let me give some examples of this because it’s pretty hard to grasp. For example, say I tell you what makes me wildly happy is fur. I think fur is fabulous or I love the Kardashians, I’m in it to win it with fur! I put myself out there and say, “world this is me! Love me as I am!” You have an absolute right to call my bullshit and I should call my own too because wearing fur literally hurts (or kills) the creature it came from! This is a dramatic example of choosing wisely about what we think makes us uniquely happy.
On a simpler note, I could say drinking wine is totally me but when I drink I feel fuzzy and like I’m doing it to just fit in. I could say I’m wearing a certain outfit to make more friends. I could give an example of restricting calories to hit a goal weight when I’m really fucking hungry most of the time. All of these are the false idols, the many Gods if you will.
If we expand this thought of worshipping false idols further we become tainted and begin attacking ourselves or each other. The attacks on ourselves may be subtle, or you may have an inner monologue that is so nasty you would have no friends if you spoke your thoughts out loud. The attacks on our bodies and minds come from filling them with content and people that keep us from being home to ourselves. In frustration and out of alignment, we then attack the world by lashing out at others to let them know they are separate from us and therefore less than us. It’s vicious, it’s awful, and it’s everywhere. It also couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Following the Real You
Following these two guiding principles to take us home and “do no harm,” enables us to truly know if the choices we are making are for our true selves and if we are choosing them, are real. Because what is real will cause no harm. You can show up gloriously and easily ask for all you desire for your life and hurt no one, starting with yourself.
In Untamed, Glennon writes about a warm golden feeling she has when she accesses her knowing. Glennon talks about the quiet space beneath the noise of the world that is her holy space. I know this space too. It is inside of me and I know it’s inside of you. To find it you must be willing to go there, find yourself, and pull her back to life.
So what else is there? What else is Beneath the leaves? This is a question I believe we will all be asking ourselves our entire lives as we navigate from our ego to our knowing and back again. The ego is the part of us that is afraid–the shadows under the leaves. The fear and belief from the ego lurk within us until we overturn each leaf one by one.
As we overturn each leaf, we either learn things we do not like about ourselves or feel feelings that hurt. This is why so many of us stay lost. It’s easier to shove things down and move on. It also drains the life out of us.
Walking into our fears and wounds takes incredible bravery. It is not ordinary for a person to wake up and decide to intentionally feel pain. I want this for you; the choice to wake up and decide. This past fall a choice I wanted to make for myself was made for me. The pain came with it. I wish I had been brave enough to make the choice for myself, yet I am so grateful for the universe, God, or whomever you shall call her making it for me. I then had my own choice to make. Run and hide or feel it all. I leaned into the pain and found that it hurts but the reality of hiding would have stolen my life from me.
How many of us are hiding? I read this wonderful little book for my sons, ‘The First Book of Feminism,” and at the end, there is a tree. The little girls are all pulling each other up and it reads, “our job is to remember the women who came before us and pull those up behind us until all women are free.” I change the words and say, “people,” because all people deserve to be free. Free of abuse, trauma, neglect, hunger, pain, and the feeling you don’t have a choice to change your situation.
Yet there is so much in this world that is unavoidable that causes pain. We need to fix the problems we can to have the skills we need to navigate the pain we cannot avoid. Then, once we have fixed what hurts in us and learned how to navigate our own pain, we help others. When we are in pain others will then reach back and help us. It’s a cycle, the good kind.
Learning to Deal with Fear
How do we do this? How do we feel it all and survive it? One step at a damn time, that’s how.
At the core of taking these steps has to be the deep-rooted belief that you are enough and worthy. That there is absolutely nothing in the world that can make you more or less worthy. Not a purchase, not a status, not a salary, not a relationship, not what others think of you; nothing. You are not broken, you are gorgeously whole. But if you are chasing the wrong dreams the world will let you know it through your suffering.
How do you know you are on the wrong path? Ask yourself this, “Do I feel like me? Is this what I want to do?” Then really listen to yourself. I am not talking about trying on an outfit and asking yourself, “Is this me?” I am talking about really digging into your gut and taking a hard look in the mirror and asking yourself if you are at home with you. If the answer is yes, rock on, and please teach us because we need you. If the answer is “no” or “I don’t know,” commit to yourself today to be you. Start overturning the leaves, the dark shadows, and learn to feel.
Taking a Real Look at Yourself
It is much easier to numb out and stay away from our feelings. I am an excellent online shopper, ice cream eater, workaholic, and stress cleaner. I used to be a great wine drinker too. I know how to avoid my feelings easily and I know point-blank when I am lost. If you are moving through your world to keep yourself occupied and comfortable stop. Really, stop. It’s killing the brightness inside of you.
Make a list, take an inventory, and as you step into a fresh day ask yourself what hurts and why? Why am I drinking? Why am I eating? Why am I online? Who am I trying to impress? Asking ourselves why we do what we do and if we like it creates a space once we stop doing it. That space is boredom and discomfort and opens us up to ask ourselves the hard questions and begin to feel. We need this space void of the world’s impressions to make our own.
This sacred space of discomfort is where we begin to be made whole because it is where we shed what does not serve us. We just have to be brave enough to go there and get to know the person inside of the hurt. This past fall my son Henry was brushing his teeth and said these words to me:
“Mama you are brave.”
“Yea, you’re just a person.”
My little prophet. I am just a person and so are you. A person who deserves to live the life you were born to live so the world can be a more kind, just, loving place. Know your worth, give your gifts.
Photo credit: Jennifer O’Leary
Last week I wrote to you about being lost within the forest of life. I believe as humans we all get lost during periods of our life for a multitude of reasons. In the forest, there are both light and dark paths. It’s up to us to navigate them. Underneath the leaves that crunch beneath our feet lie the reasons we are lost. The sun guiding us out is the light within us reminding us that we are worthy of love and belonging.
So what are these leaves that have distracted us from our true knowing, worth, and belonging? On the surface, they look simple and can be seen as harm created by the outside world. The world and humans within it can easily present us with pain. The pain that stays is beneath the surface–beneath the leaves. You see, when we are presented with hardship we have two choices. The first is to let it roll off us and move on and the second is to metabolize it and take it as our own.
Working Through Hardship
None of us are born with a guidebook of what is real and what isn’t. We’re born into this world trusting it and the people around us to guide us. When the world and people around us tell us we are unworthy, broken, or can’t provide for our basic needs it becomes a scary place. We then start to look outside ourselves for confirmation that we are in fact worthy, whole, and deserving of having our needs met. This is true for every human being. If you are measuring your worth by taking from others mentally or physically, however, you are not giving yourself what you need. You are stealing and continuing the cycle of abuse.
As human beings, so many of us stay lost like this. Thinking that our self-worth is out there and not in here behind our beating hearts. I know I get lost like this. I want to feel love just like everyone else and have suffered abuse which still makes me feel small and broken. I tend to overperform and overachieve from a place of wanting to prove my worth versus creating because it brings me joy. I’m lucky that I have an amazing work team who calls me on my bullshit and tells me to go take care of myself when I’m trying to pull that crap at the office. I’m even working on building a tribe at home that calls me out on this behavior. As I reflected this past week on why I do this, I found a common denominator; rejection. Let me say more.
Moving Past Rejection
When I’m looking at myself and when I’m overachieving or over-functioning at home I’m trying to create external worth. This is deep-rooted within me as a woman wanting to please people, a survivor of domestic violence, and my own longing to be loved. When I feel rejected it can hurt like hell because I have so much love to give and want to receive it. As I sat with this thought over the past week I began to think about the rest of the pain of the world and the work of Brene Brown regarding shame. Shame tells us we are small, unlikeable, and there is something to hide about ourselves from the world. Shame tells us we are rejected.
I believe when people feel rejected by the world the only way to fully heal is to love ourselves with our whole hearts despite our shortcomings as human beings. To find our way back to ourselves the only way home is to feel the hurt. If we don’t do this we can hurt other people or deepen our own pain. We must acknowledge that we have a need not filled, a desire not met, a broken dream, or feelings hurt. I believe this is the single most important thing those who are suffering can do: hold the pain and honor it. If we do not honor our pain and cherish ourselves we lash out at the world or inward on ourselves; often both. When we lash out at the world due to pain we hurt other people and make them suffer because we are suffering and running away from our fears of never belonging. When the pain is lashed inward it can create conditions like depression and anxiety.
Acknowledge Your Pain
This I know to be true. Being rejected and having your dreams broken hurts like hell. Yet if we don’t acknowledge that we are hurting we will hurt other people. Hate begets hate. When a person stuck in hate finds a person who doesn’t know their full worth, abuse can set in. Each person feels rejected and one is lashing out while the other is taking the lashing. In a situation like this, both people feel rejected. Don’t you see? If the person lashing out stopped and felt their own hurt they would not hurt another person. If the person being lashed knew their own worth they could gently ask the person lashing out to leave. If each person knew their own worth they would take the time to heal because knowing our worth protects our hearts, spirits, and minds.
The only way to unturn the leaves is to be brave enough to look at what’s beneath them and find out what’s keeping us from our worth. As we unturn each leaf of pain we’re able to hold that pain and provide care for ourselves. Rejection is just the outside world’s way of saying, “I’m hurting myself, I’m insecure, I have pain.” Don’t swallow that. Know your worth and walk on–it’s a bright day outside.
As a parent, there are a million joys that come from getting to know your little humans. I’ve always been fascinated by nature vs. nurture. The thing that has taken my heart by storm, however, is children’s absolute knowledge and love of themselves without reservation. My number one job as a mama? Don’t let the world take it from them as it has taken from me and so many others. Teach my sons to honor their knowing and worth.
Looking at Ourselves
There is an awakening in coming through trauma. It’s like walking through a forest all night and finally seeing the sun slowly peek in to remind us of the love inside of us. The walk is terrifying but deep inside you know the sun always rises; that your worth is real. Yet so many of us get lost in the forest and are never able to guide ourselves back to the sun.
How did we get there, to that dark forest? We get lost and follow the compass of the world instead of the compass of our hearts thinking the answer to happiness is out there. We listen to the noise of the world around us telling us things like, “I’ve got what you need, you are not enough, you are broken.” That noise is lying and pulling all of us away from ourselves.
With the world telling us that happiness is out there and we are inherently broken, our knowing from within gets buried. Materialism, greed, judgment, and power are running our world dry and hearts dry. Yet how many of us have gone through this life thinking if we get the next best car, outfit, house, lifestyle, job, or position we will in fact be happy? That the desires burning in our own hearts are somehow wrong? Then, from the people lost in these lies, we’re also taught what to value and build entire societies based on their belief of scarcity and self-hate. That everyone else must have something that we don’t. That we should all be afraid and protect what’s ours. That right there? That’s how wars get started and Capitals get raided.
This feeling is an emptiness inside of the righteous who are unwilling to look inside themselves and say, “I feel lonely, I feel unimportant, I feel sad, depressed, anxious–like I’m not enough,” and the like. It’s too painful to look inside and see what hurts, so a shield of righteousness is created. Then, those of us who believed the words the world crafted from fear get lost. When we say that our problems come from other people we are simply fleeing from ourselves.
Getting Out of the Forest
If you are of the opinion that your happiness is contingent on someone else giving you something they took from you know this; you are lost in the forest. The world is full of joy, beauty, and happiness but this joy is found in a leaf crackling under bare feet in the fall, not in your new Mercedes. It’s in seeing a child in need of a meal getting to break bread with their entire family. It’s in learning who in the world is without water and then getting water to them. It’s in extending grace to ourselves when we are unkind, then trying again. It is in the pure knowing that inside of our own hearts is more than we have ever needed. That we are all equal. That when a person is suffering the bravest thing we can do is extend a hand not a firearm.
My grandpa was in the navy during World War II. One year, at a family reunion, he brought his trunk from the war and began sharing its contents with us. As he told us the story of his ship being hit by a kamikaze he pulled a spark plug out of his trunk. Grandpa reflected on how as the Japanese fighter lay dying on the ship, his shipmates began shouting and spitting on him. My grandpa recalled telling his fellow shipmates to stop and have respect; this man had a mother too.
So much of humanity is lost in the darkness of the forest believing they will find the path out through hate, force, self-defense, and self-righteousness. If they continue to believe they will find the path this way they’ll be lost their whole lives. Others are lost believing the stories being told by those lost in hate. Remember this; we were all tiny children who knew fully who we were before the world told us otherwise. I’ll tell you all what I tell my sons, “joy is your birthright.” I’m also in need of a daily reminder to myself because joy is my birthright too.
Changing Our Future
Collectively, I believe we are finally shifting within the world to say these fear-based behaviors are not true. It’s a small voice and a loud voice. Behavior rooted in fear is actively damaging to the world. To shift from this behavior, we have to be strong enough to know ourselves and stand up for love and against the damaging behaviors of others; to those still lost in the forest. The only way to do this is to shut down the noise of the world knowing we are enough just as we are. That we are worth love, belonging, joy, and happiness. That we can step away from any path taking us from the sun and choose again.
Through the discomfort of shedding every single thing that takes you from your knowledge, you can be reborn into who you always were before the world told you lies. For you too were once a tiny child fully in love with yourself and the breeze in the trees.