Thursday, March 20, 2014

3/20/2014—Being Born Again and Again

This post is special. It's part of a blog hop, where you travel from blog to blog to read diverse ideas on an assigned topic. This blog hop celebrates Ostara, the coming of spring and Easter. The topic is resurrection and rebirth. Use the links below to navigate the posts in the hop. 

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This week, this blog has addressed the stories we tell ourselves about our lives. The topic came up as I recalled an epic canoe trip I took with my dad when I was a girl. Until I recalled that trip, I had always told myself the story that I never had a special connection or memory with my father that was just between me and him. Thinking this was a sad thought. It was also untrue. 

As I look back on my life, I can see a lot of similar unfounded stories I've told myself. Because I grew up overweight, I never had the endurance for sports. So I developed a story that I wasn't good at sports. Many years later I started exercising and lost weight. Then I discovered that I totally have "the eye of the tiger". I compete against myself quite effectively, physically speaking. I found I was good at a lot of physical challenges I had told myself I couldn't do and would even go so far as to say I excelled at power walking—my long stride, focused mind, competitive spirit and newfound endurance fueling the fire. 

Writing this, trying to think of the stories I've bought into, most of them are really sad and pathetic...the kinds of things that undermine confidence and keep me "small". Today's blog isn't about feeling sorry for myself, though, so I won't share those. But I mention them because somewhere in the dark corners of your mind, you probably have similar stories. Whether they were told to you through the thoughtless comments of parents, siblings and teachers, ingrained in you by societal boundaries or produced yourself to explain or assuage places where you might have fallen short at one time or another, chances are good they're simply not true. 

Here's an easy one to tell. I hate peas. I find them disgusting. And if you serve me peas in something, I will go to great lengths to pick them out. When was the last time I ate a pea? Well, maybe 45 years ago. So there's this story I tell myself about peas that may not even be true. What's true is that I love split pea soup. And even now as I think of buttery, salty, mushy peas, I'm thinking they're not all that bad. But I have this story that keeps me from ever finding out for sure. 

The unfounded stories and "lies" we tell ourselves are not absolute. What was true at five isn't necessarily true at 51. And we can just as easily continue stories about things we like or do well long past their expiration date, as we can stories about what we don't like or can't do. 

And what does all of this have to do with Jesus rising from the dead? In every moment of every day of every year of our life, we have an opportunity to be reborn. Somewhere along the line, the atheist inside me died and was reborn as a very spiritual person. The self-conscious, woman was reborn as confident. The fat girl was reborn as a hottie. Then the hottie was reborn as fat again...haha. But none of this is absolute. 

Our stories often exist only to limit us. And sure, we all have limitations. But our limitations aren't nearly as broad as we make them out to be. Just because we're getting older doesn't mean we have to turn into our mothers. Just because we have a physical or mental handicap doesn't mean we can't be agile. And just because we're not good at something doesn't mean we can't pursue it as a hobby or even a career. Those things are stories. Most of the REAL limitations we have are things we don't even care about. Like I will never play for the NFL. Cry me a river. 

Other things, when you really look at them, just aren't true. Like I might tell myself I'll never have children (in reality, I actually don't want children, so this is a hypothetical) but that wouldn't be true. I could adopt. I could end up in a relationship with someone with children. A child might land on my doorstep from some unforeseen source (hey, it happened with Moses, right?). And as my recent female-cycle-that-shouldn't-have-happened-because-I thought-I-was-in-menopause proves, I may very well still have eggs left. God forbid. 

So rebirth isn't just a story you read about in ancient texts. When I think back over my life, I don't even recognize the woman I was at 20...30...40. I feel like I've been reborn, reinterpreted and resurrected countless times in my life. And while we're on the topic of Jesus, being "born again" isn't just for Christians. It's for everyone. And doing so is not "difficult", unless that's the story you're telling yourself. It's just an intention away. 

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

3/18/14—Becoming What You Might Have Been

First, I want to alert everyone that at 1pm Eastern on Thursday, I'll be making a post as part of a Blog Hop here. We've done this before. If you view the post from my blog, you'll have access to dozens of other blogs, all writing on the topic of resurrection and rebirth for Ostara or Easter. 

Next, I've been doing a lot of thinking since Monday's post about the stories we tell ourselves. Unfortunately, I don't have time to write them up because of work. So here's a classic post from 1/7/12 that expands on the conversation. 

The quote on today's image is from George Eliot—"It's never too late to be what you might have become." And who better than Mary Anne Evans (aka George Eliot) to deliver that message? She wrote some of the Victorian age's most popular novels—Mill on the Floss, Silas Marner and Middlemarch—under a male name to ensure her work was taken ensure that she would be what she might have become had she not been subject to stereotype about the kind of literature a woman could create. 

I was lucky to grow up with a mother with a successful "man's" career. Her generation was really the first to take the risks of entering a man's world and it forged new possibilities for women. She never allowed the fact that she was a woman to limit her career, but she *was* limited by the fact that she was the mother of six kids and the wife of a high-ranking officer...a wife that's expected to entertain and lead "the ladies". Put it all together, though, and she totally worked her overall potential...successful career, marriage and family. That's rarely truly achieved today, much less in the '60s and '70s. 

So I grew up believing there really were no limitations based on the fact that I was a woman. But in other areas of my life, my parents and my environment offered clues that there were some dreams that just weren't in the cards for me. And just as I bought into knowing that being a woman wouldn't limit me, I unfortunately bought into believing that there were other aspects of who I was that would. 

I think if you poke around enough, you'll find this is the story of every person reading this blog. Maybe you were too short to be taken seriously. Too pretty to be appreciated for your brains. Too opinionated to play the role of a mediator. Too independent to work for the government. Too poor to get out of the 'hood. Or may just not "good enough" at something to be a success at it. 

I doubt any parent or teacher or sibling or other influential person meant to limit you in that way. But before you got a chance to really even explore your options for yourself, someone or some situation came around to tell you who you were and who you weren't. What you were suited for and what you weren't. They may not have even said it to your face, but you knew it was there. Concern over your grades. Worries about how you never had any friends. Fears about you being too wild. And this became part of your story for however long. 

Childhood psychology and modern thought indicate that the things that happen in your life prior to the age of 8 or 10 pretty much shape everything thereafter. So, for example, the loss of a parent at four might have far more wide-reaching effects on who you are than the loss of a parent at the age 13. Both are tragic and pack impact, but your ability to process the impact in healthier ways grows as you do. 

So these things that happen during those impressionable years have a tendency to stick. And, having lived with those beliefs for decades, we may not ever question them. They become part of our truth...part of our story. We end up believing them as if we'd tried and failed and it were all true. But we really need to take stock at some point and question them, because chances are those beliefs and limitations are a reflection of someone else's fears about us than actual facts. For every limitation out there, there's someone out there, like George Eliot, who bucked it. 

Certainly Oprah heard many times that her weight would keep her from succeeding...or her poor upbringing would keep her from being accepted by a certain part of society. She even tells a story about how her grandmother taught her to scrub floors in preparation for her life as a black woman in American society. I'm sure Oprah's not devoid of false limitations, but she completely defied the most obvious ones. Because she got that they weren't about her. They were about everyone else's fears and limitations.  

So think about the things that are holding you back, whether they're physical, psychological, social, societal, financial or whatever. And really try to trace that belief back to its origins. Is it true? If it was true then, is it true today? And think also about "what you might have been" if it weren't something deemed silly or impractical or impossible at one time in your life. You may find that false beliefs based on someone else's life view could be holding you back from what you might have been. And, like George/Mary Anne says, it's never too late to right that wrong. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

3/16/14—Rewriting Our Story

I was watching Shark Tank the other night—a show where entrepreneurs try to get millionaires to partner with them on a business—and there was a little girl on with her dad. She was six years old and, with her dad, invented a paint-on bandage in tones and colorful colors. Personally, I thought it was brilliant. The sharks didn't buy into it, though. 

As I watched them walk away from the sharks after their pitch, I thought how wonderful it was that her dad took her seriously and believed in her so much. I thought, "what an epic adventure that they'll both always have." I cried because it was beautiful. Then that cry turned into crying for myself because I had nothing like that with my dad. 

The second I had that last thought, however, it was as if someone in the heavens said "wait just one second, missy." Then the canoe trip replayed in my mind. The canoe trip was epic. And it was something just me and my dad shared. 

We didn't set out to have an epic canoe trip that day. My parents were visiting a friend with a house on the Shenandoah River. I was maybe 12...too young to stay at home over night by myself, even with my older siblings around. So I think it was just the three of us on that trip. 

We put in up-river, up above the rapids. The put-in spot was maybe a 4-7 mile car drive from the friend's house, so we counted on a 2 or 3 hour trip. My mom got in the canoe first. My dad had lectured us on the proper way to get into a canoe. So she climbed in carefully while he steadied the boat, then she got herself all adjusted...her big straw hat carefully tied beneath her chin, her book at her side and her hands folded on her lap. Then I got in the canoe and took my seat. Then my dad got in the canoe and toppled all of us into the river. 

My mom stood up without a word, dripping as she moved toward shore. She quietly walked back to the car and drove away. Without saying a WORD...haha. That left just me and my dad. I certainly hadn't planned on being stuck with my dad all day, nor had he planned on being stuck with me. See, my dad, who was such a charming person to strangers, had two modes of conversation with his kids. Either complete silence because he was off in some world you weren't invited into. Or, when he was stressed, terse and brusque. I can't recall ever having many actual conversations with my father. 

So with my only hope now driving off in the station wagon, my father told me to get back into the canoe, which I did. The first hour or so of the trip was fine. Lazy paddling on calm waters. Then we came to a dam, at which point we got out of the canoe and had to carry the heavy thing all the way around the dam. On the other side of the dam, I was told to get in the canoe as fast as possible because water moccasins were headed right toward me. This, of course, terrified me. And thus the scene was set for phase two of the adventure...the rapids. 

Well, nobody prepared me for this. I was in flip flops and shorts, which meant I couldn't get out of the canoe from that point forward because of the sharp rocks. And, as it turns out, 5 miles by car can be 25 miles by river, depending on the river. Any food or water we had went down when my mom got dumped. And, on top of all of that, I was in charge of steering through the rapids. My dad would call out "shoot right" or "shoot left" and I would comply. But it's a well-known fact that my father, who was a navigator in the Air Force, didn't know his right from his left. So I would inevitably do it wrong. This just upped the stress level and, as I said before, he got pissy when he was stressed. 

So hours of intense rapids go by and the sun starts getting lower in the sky and it's clear we're hopelessly lost. My dad kept saying "I'll know when we're a mile or two away because there will be a general store on the right bank." By now we've been on the river 6 hours...twice the amount of time he said we'd be gone. It was clear to me that he finally realized we'd bitten off more than we could chew. And even though I kept asking him to pull over and call for help, we soldiered on. By this time, though, he finally noticed he had a terrified young girl in the canoe that he'd been barking at the entire trip and she was on the verge of a breakdown. So as the sun and all hope began to disappear, he got calmer and kinder. He realized he had to put his shit aside and be strong for me.

We started our trip at noon. And we finally saw the general store at 8pm. By 9:30, as the last sliver of light left the summer sky, we reached our destination. 

So, as it turns out, I did have an epic experience with my father, one none of my other siblings would ever come close to duplicating. It's a fair bet I'll never do 25 miles of white water canoeing again in my life, so I can now say I've done that. And while neither of us ever would have volunteered to do it alone together, we survived it. And while he never said it, he had to have felt proud (or something) of me because I didn't cry and I gutted it out. I imagine, as a father, he had to swallow hard because he brought a young girl out ill-prepared for the conditions. He miscalculated. He put both of us in danger. He knew it. I knew it. And we never spoke of it. In the end, all we suffered was hunger and sunburn. 

The point of this rather long story is that we have things we tell ourselves that just aren't true. We have stories we make up. As I was watching Shark Tank and crying over the adventure I never had with my father, I was lying to myself. Sure, my adventure was a nightmare...haha. But it was something we survived together. It was a connection. And I saw that my father was fallible. I saw him vulnerable. I saw him, for the only time in my life, having no answer at all...not even a wrong one. I think I saw him scared. A veteran of three wars. A two-star general. Scared and over his head in a situation he couldn't control. 

Anyway, back to the point, we have tales of victimhood and woe we tell ourselves and many times they just aren't true. Byron Katie has a series of four questions we should ask ourselves for when we're retelling our stories of woe in our head. And the first one is simply, "is it true?" Very simple, yet very powerful. 

If you use that question responsibly, you're likely to find that everything other people did to you was really something you did to yourself. A mean person didn't make you feel bad about yourself, for example. They didn't tie you down and attach electrodes to you, refusing to let you go until they had scientific proof that you now felt bad about yourself. No. They said something and you chose to feel bad about yourself because of it. 

The same is true for so much of what we mourn in our lives. They're stories that we tell ourselves, but they're not true. Often they're just about us not taking responsibility for our own role or they're about us failing to see the gift hidden within. And while many of us might not have gotten what we wish we would have from loved ones, that's not an excuse for why we haven't given it to ourselves. It's also not an excuse for why we withhold it from others. I would venture to say that many, if not all of my own hard luck stories, aren't entirely true. 

Here are Katie's four questions: 
1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely KNOW it's true?
3. How do you react when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without that thought?

Even as I told the story above, you can see beneath it a belief that I wasn't quite loved by my father. But also in the story, you see that's not true. We could have all left with my mother, but he wanted to continue on with me. He was actually open to being told he didn't know his right from his there was some openness there. And when he finally awoke to how scared I was, he softened. I was his little girl. And we shared something that I'm not sure if my other siblings ever got to see...his weakness, his vulnerability, his humanity. Even remembering this trip when I did felt like a message from the other side  letting me know he loved me. 

And yet for question's soul wrenching to believe your dad doesn't love you. I would be a different person today if I hadn't held that thought for so much of my life. And at the crux of it all, it just wasn't true. He never said he didn't love me. He never cast me aside. He never rejected me. He just wasn't the warm, affirming father I wished I had. And that's not really his fault now, is it? He met all his own expectations of what a father should be—strong and a provider. That he didn't meet mine begins with my own expectations, includes the fact that I never told him what I needed, and ends with what he was capable of based on what he was given to work with from his parents. He did as much as he knew to do. 

So what story have you been telling yourself? How has it affected your life? And who's fault is it that you chose to tell the story the way you have all these years? How would you be different had you chosen another, more accurate story? Allowing our stories to define who we are when they are, in the end, just stories, is as dangerous and venomous to our happiness as a river full of water moccasins. Best to rewrite the story and just paddle away.