Wednesday Wisdom: Ash Wednesday

Today I wear the mark of the cross on my forehead as a reminder of where I have come from and what I will become, dust.

At the Ash Wednesday mass, I found myself looking around during a prayer spoken in Latin because I didn’t know the words. I have been Catholic for nearly twenty years. It struck me how easy it would have been at an earlier point in my life to chide myself for not reciting the prayer, as if not knowing the words made me less important, less worthy, less good. Back when I was naive about life, I was a harsh critic. It was my tendency to feel that I didn’t belong.

What does belonging even mean? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary app says it is a word constructed from Middle and Old English, formed of two words be (as an intensifier) + long (at hand with). For objects, it means to be the property of somebody. For humans, it is to possess a role within a group, community, or world. Notice how a shift of possession happens when we approach humanity as a living object, something that may vary or shape shift over time but will inevitably remain beyond ownership.

We don’t have to be perfect to belong. There is no box to squeeze into, no rules or practices that must be adhered to for a person to fit in beyond the identity of self. In the real world, there is no referee blowing the whistle on the misfit. I mean, aren’t we all misfits anyway? I, for one, attest to not knowing the words, the rules, the parameters that limit me to one collection. I am fluid and free, and prefer to float between groups and places who consider me as one of them. I am who I am, simply dust.

Wednesday Wisdom: Lonely Winter

Today there is a blue sky against a white mountain when I look out the window to the east. Some days there is no mountain at all, only a haze of low clouds that buries the view in a wet gray funk. Other days, the mountain might have no snow at all, or a dusting that reveals the prevalence of deer trails on the mountain like veins under skin.

Sometimes we see life better in inclement weather. I can see who or what passes my house when snow prints are left on the sidewalk: human, dog, deer, raccoon. These are the adventurers, the scavengers, the prowlers, the lonely. Sometimes I wonder if snow prints even exist in pairs.

Paragliders are often seen overhead, launching off the mountain and coming to a landing just blocks from my house. Today, a lone paraglider hovered beneath a blue parachute, floating mid-sky as if it were summer, as if there was no reason to rush its flight, as if the cold didn’t exist.

I watched it tilt and descend, approaching the earth of snow and trees and men. Sometimes I wonder if the sky is its own footprint, telling us during our loneliest days that we have company.

Wednesday Wisdom: Imperfection

My yoga instructor once said, “I used to be perfect, but life wasn’t very fun.”

I love being in my 40’s because it allows me freedom from the pressure of impossible demands. I missed the past two weeks of blog posts, because, well, I’m not perfect!

Earlier this month, I found myself in the middle of a creative swell, and I spent a lot of time diving deep into the creative work of writing my memoir. It was time well spent because now I’ve reached another tier on the writing mountain, gaining the vision to see it from a new vantage.

Letting go of my self-imposed blog schedule gave me the freedom to reach further toward my life goal of finishing a book. Not that I’m close, but I’m closer.

Guilt holds us back. When we let go of perfection, we let go of the guilt that pressures us to meet small demands, making our large aspirations that much more daunting. But when we let the small demands be insignificant, we free ourselves to attend the priorities that give life meaning.

Everything and everybody in life is a ripple on the lake of our being. I know now to prioritize the inner ripples, to keep myself surrounded by the hearts and souls that lift me instead of pouring their burdens on me, the outlets that inspire instead of drain, and to climb the mountains that celebrate instead of coerce.

Wednesday Wisdom: Creativity

I’ve created good writing the past two days, shirking off exercise and other balancing activities that make me a mostly well-rounded individual.

Creativity requires stepping away from the world to dive deep into the needs of the project. Much like a newborn baby, art demands its needs without a language.

It isn’t until you’ve spent hours and hours agonizing over the possibilities that you begin to understand a project’s needs. Sometimes, the writing wants a detail, the color red to call attention to this spot here, or action, an explosive shift in the plot’s direction there.

I know the struggle and joy of being pulled toward my writing. When we burrow into art, we burrow into servitude. The ebb and flow of creative work requires strong communion with our state of being, opening ourselves to a place of potential and possibility, trusting that we’ve created a sacred harbor for self-expression, no matter how limited in time and space, within our immediate world.

Building the sacred harbor takes courage. You might have to push people away, people who bring toxic and negative energies that deplete you. On the other hand, that space will soon be filled with support and respect for the art that only you can make. Giving ourselves permission to feed creative impulses becomes not just a want, but a need, to engage in communion with our emotional and spiritual landscapes. Often, we are afraid to admit these needs, or, we don’t know how, because we haven’t learned the language.

The art will speak for you. I was forty-two when I began to write. When I allowed my voice to fall onto the page, my world transformed from fear to courage, hate to love, shame to pride. It’s never too late to reinvent a lifestyle based on art or to adopt a new way of living in service of your needs. It only takes courage to try.

Wednesday Wisdom: Identity

Often, our childhood conditioned us with negative messages sent from well-intentioned parents, relatives, teachers, siblings, friends, and acquaintances. Immersed in the world with small bodies and minds, we absorbed the unseen coda via behaviors and patterns that garnered repetitive responses.

“Be quiet” was a common command that came from adults in nearly every arena. Sometimes, it was delivered as a reminder, but most often, as an order.

As an adult, I’m aware how the delivery of our words provides the meaning. I can’t remember the last time somebody verbally told me to be quiet, but usually I’m present enough to follow social cues. Being present is awareness of the setting, tone, and expectations in a given situation. Failure to respond at an appropriate level results in social deviance, or the lack of conforming to social norms.

This lack of conformity implies that the person is seeking attention. A child. I know now that we are all children in the process of growing up for a lifetime. Our unmet emotional needs portrayed by our social skills evolve and change to the breadth of our experiences. Remaining sheltered and holding onto an identity does nothing for maturity.

When I began writing memoir, I had to release myself from the inner child who felt afraid. My childhood years sent me the message of incessant threat, a factor delivered by many people, adults and children alike, who failed to see their own behaviors as hurtful, and myself, who practiced self-destructive behavior as a response to depression. Moving beyond my child-self was an excruciating process, done with therapy and intensive self-care, until my parent-self earned the trust of the inner child.

Often, we are afraid of the world when it is ourselves that we fear. In order to trust ourselves, we must display the emotional and physical attention we would offer our own children. The first rule in medical practice is Do No Harm. Self-talk and toxic energies are often the most destructive barriers to our wellness. Meditation and limiting my exposure to toxic people have improved the quality of my life, and writing has offered me a safe place to voice my experience.

Many avenues exist for finding inner harmony. Former identities don’t have to define us for a lifetime, and we are free to pursue the person we want to be. Respect comes naturally to those with authentic personalities and who have braved the waters of self-reflection with honesty. Change is hard, but it is our adult responsibility to carve away the set-in-stone ideas that hold us, and our children, from achieving our greatest potential. We are more powerful than we know.