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Archive for the ‘Courage’ Category

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Today I sold a pair of earrings and I wept afterwards. It is a strange moment to explain, but there I was letting go of one of the last connections I had to my dead mother.

Dead by almost 15 years.

I had held on to these gold earrings for a subconscious last ditch effort to control the world around me. You see, life has not exactly turned out the way I anticipated. I never thought I would lose my childhood home in a wildfire. I never thought I’d move to and live in Las Vegas for 13 years. I never thought I’d watch my mother die when I was in my mid twenties and just finally starting my career, the same she encouraged me to pursue.

Life doesn’t turn out as you plan.

So I stood there, almost shaking, my words jumbled and mixed in my mouth for my mother’s ghost was in my hands in the form of her earrings. I watched closely as they passed from my hands into my buyer’s hands. The money placed in mine felt weightless, meaningless. We parted, and I sat in my car for a few minutes, shaking, a creature pressing into my chest so I couldn’t breathe, a sudden influx of anxiety consumed me.

And I realized why quite quickly. It was just that: flux. An unexpected upheaval of my life again and again. That isn’t to say something awful happened recently, but my mother’s ghost is still with me, and flux seems to follow me ever since. I never let her passing go for I was too busy trying to control my anguish and loss; letting go of her ghost today was the best lesson I didn’t know I needed.

If you defined your life in one word, what would it be? Most days I would like to answer happy or adventurous. But the truth is that underlying all that is flux. Loss is certainly a repeated theme of flux in my life: my house, mom, grandmothers, dog, friend, two students, gone and all in my twenties. Later, I moved from everything stable to a new state and a new life for a job I later lost.

“The art of losing isn’t hard to master,” the poem goes. Yet though I am good at losing, I am not good at accepting loss.

My jobs now don’t pay well- yet- but they are jobs that fill my soul and that I know will soon enough pay what I need: part time English teacher, part time ski instructor, part time freelance writer, part time coach and tour guide. Yet I worry constantly that I won’t be able to cover myself next month. Trying to control the uncontrollable feels defeating.

And so goes the rest of the story, trying to control my life and know where I’m headed. I feel powerless most days, not knowing what my romantic or friend relationships will be tomorrow, or if I will ever have the things I have dreamed about my whole life like a house and garden or family of my own. I worry that the children in my life will somehow vanish at the hands of their parents or disinterest. I wish I could put in Google Calendar the dates I would like all my dreams to happen and magically my stable dream life will appear. But today reminded me that the more I try to control the past or the future, the less power I have. I feel powerless because, ironically, I can’t let go of control.

I take consolation now in knowing I cannot control where my relationships or jobs or dreams will go, but instead that this moment and the next are all I need to care about. It really comes down to just one other word: fear. I fear putting my heart into a world that might take away again. I fear if I do not wrangle with the powers that be, that nothing I desire will come to me. But my lesson is just simply this: less control and being more present will allow me the one thing I want most: to live happily.

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In recent years, I have seen a vast amount of changes both in my external world and my internal landscape. From US politics to the world’s environment, from where I live now to my overall health, change has been the most constant part of my life (as the saying goes).  A year and a half ago, I was just barely packing up a life of 13 years to move out of state…more because I felt like it than anything else. I’ve gotten a tattoo, done a triathlon, started a new job, picked up writing and editing jobs, jumped out of a perfectly good plane, learned to downhill mountain bike, began surfing again–all amazing and wonderful experiences I would never have had if I allowed fear to control me.

However, fear still lurks everywhere. This month, January 2013, my goal is to face and conquer as many of my fears as possible. The reasoning? Let’s take skydiving. My friend, Stacey, invited me to her birthday-skydiving extravaganza. At first I heartily refused, but when I considered WHY I was so eager to decline, it occurred to me it was primarily terror. There was no rational explanation or discussion regarding my hesitance, but the turmoil must have stemmed from the unknown. As we watched the “safety” video, a friend snapped a picture of me…having a panic attack. The attack didn’t abate. I pretended all was well, but once airborne the panic set in hard. Hyperventalating, near tears, and shaking, the jump instructor next to me locked me to him to keep me calm.

But it wasn’t until my instructor scooted me toward the door that I thought I might die. Sweat rivulets everywhere, hard breathing, a slew of swear words, and then…

…we were out! Dancing through the air, I instantly fell in love. No gravity, no concerns, and no fear. It was the unknown that had prevented my desire to jump, but facing that horrid, sickly panic head on made me feel powerful, confident, strong! At landing, I couldn’t stop smiling. My throat was sore from screams of joy. “Again?” I asked, half joking, but also half very, very serious.

Had fear stopped me, I would never have known this joy, and I would not have this memory.

Years later, this experience still stays with me, reminding me that facing fears makes me stronger. If I can jump out of a plane, surely I can…[fill in the blank].

The Missouri Department of Mental Health states that fear is most common if it includes such things as:

  • Dread: Dying in a terrorist attack tends to seem more frightening than dying of aheart attack in your sleep because it is more “dreadful.”
  • Awareness: Right now terrorism seems more frightening than mad cow diseasebecause it is on our “radar screen.” The media plays a major role in definingcurrent concerns.
  • Familiarity: New risks tend to be more frightening than those with which we arefamiliar.

and continues by saying “We can choose to avoid feared situations (such as riding in an airplane) or we can choose to encounter the feared situation (riding in a plane despite feeling fear).”

So this month, I choose to face the situations that most hold me captive: karaoke (more so being vulnerable in front of a group of people, or just the fear of judgement), icy slopes and big jumps, submitting my writing, surfing “big” waves, and just trust in general. Though I may not conquer all of these, I certainly will become a stronger woman by facing fears each day! Using The Yamas and Niyamas as my ethical guide, I will look into the heart of my fears because “to create a life and a world free of violence is first and foremost to find our own courage.”

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Negative Nelly, Debbie Downer, Billy Blamer. We know them, and we name them, but what if we ARE them? It’s easier to designate nomenclature than to find fault in ourselves, or, worse yet, reasons to agree with those who challenge our status quo.  It is the common lot of modern man to disagree with the world around him in an attempt to prove himself as an independent and uncontrolled being.

Yet that which is most resisted is growth. When one consistently resists (change, advice, even gut feelings), he does not learn the lesson and instead is fated to follow the same destructive path. This can be seen vividly in presidential–and other political–campaigns. Not only the stoic beliefs of far right and far left politicians, but in the extremist ideals held by the common man. To disagree, to resist can create negative energies and opinions toward opposing forces, thus creating friction and unnecessary anger.

In most cases, this opposition to advice and change is reflective of one of the most base emotions: fear. We fear that we were wrong, unnecessary, that our view of the world is being challenged, that we must step outside the comfort zones we create for ourselves. These comfort zones are what define us, and to challenge that is to admit we do not know everything about ourselves.

The transverse, which is just as destructive, is to “agree” or listen without truly understanding. Not wanting to “rock the boat” or cause dissention, some choose a path of least resistance, a path that does not include argument or challenge, but also does not include growth.

So, why learn to agree with others? To disagree uses a great deal of energy, more energy  than calm contemplation could ever draw. It can end friendships and close doors to new opportunities and new ways of thinking. It keeps a person on edge, always waiting for the other to make a mistake and gloatingly point it out without remorse. This isn’t about forcing another to change his mind or for you to give up your position; sometimes its enough to use the old adage of “agreeing to disagree.”

I see this in my classroom regularly. Students, and sometimes their parents, are resistant to unique ways of thinking. When asked to peer inside themselves in journal entries, they balk at the task, demanding that the class instead watch a movie. What that translates to is that to find a new perception of themselves is terrifying, but latent or passive education in the form of movies or lecture is more appealing. They can remain in their “safe zones” and passively resist change. To agree with me that their education is important is terrifying, and therefore they spend more of their energy arguing for “easier” assignments than if they had merely done the original assignment.

But, sadly, this is also true of myself. I don’t agree with my own decisions! I resist outside advice! Often, I am the most avid enemy of my life-choices. The hardest lesson I have come across is believing in myself and not putting myself down, but accepting me as I am. Refraining from resistance, from anger is a new lesson and mindset for me. But I would rather take the challenge and the experience of listening, understanding, and agreeing than constantly spending energy that I lose, never to regain said energy through powerful connections to others, and to myself.

 

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Though mothers around the world cringe at the thought of their offspring and “risk” in the same sentence, it has been proven that taking risks in adolescence is “a positive tool in an adolescent’s life for discovering, developing, and consolidating his or her identity”, as per Dr. Lynn E. Ponton. Taking risks is vital to our development, but should we stop taking risks when we become adults?

We have graduated college, found a career, maybe even settled down. The harder we’ve worked, the more we have to lose. Fear of loss, then, causes most adults to risk less, to find safe routines and comfortable lives. Yet this comfort–immediately lounging on the couch after work, rarely stepping out to meet friends unless it’s a special occasion, spending more time indoors than out–can also lead to complacency and later, despondency. We become lazy, overweight, energy-less, and with fewer and fewer experiences to make living worthwhile. However, reintroducing risk to break up routine can solve that!

At learnthis.ca, “Reach Out Beyond Your Comfort Zone” encourages readers to, once a month, take a small, calculated risk to break up routine. Some safe, small risks to try are:

  • Get out of the office at lunch (if you normally stay in)
  • Meet a friend you rarely see for coffee or a drink
  • Do something for a stranger. This can be volunteering or even just complimenting or smiling at a random person.
  • Step out of your normal “media” circle: try a new genre of book, music, or movie
  • Try a new and exotic food
  • Approach and tackle a fear, like skydiving or taking a dance class

Essentially, risk is comprised of four elements: get out of a comfort zone, face a challenge, use innovation, and have courage. Escaping the area of most comfort allows us to explore and re-examine who we are. Too much routine and we lose the definition of ourselves. We do this through facing, embracing, and hopefully overcoming a challenge of any variety. One day it might be dealing with feisty parents, while another it might be hucking off a cliff on a snowboard. When we approach these challenges, we must do so with innovation (new thinking) and courage, lest we turn and run the other way.

That courage element can often be a tricky one. “Life and Business Tips” on blogspot recommends the following to increase courage:

  • Feel and accept your fear, then visualize a positive outcome
  • Practicing daily affirmations can contribute to increased courage as well. Affirmations, such as “I am courageous. I am strong, bold and confident.” repeated regularly help guide our subconscious into a more powerful level.
  • Do a daily “anchor” exercise where you remember and meditate on a moment in your life where you feel particularly courageous.
  • As the song in Beauty and the Beast advised, “be prepared.” Know what you fear and make an informed plan of attack. For example, I once feared skydiving. I researched, learned the process, and went knowing I was ready.
  • Exercise daily. It isn’t enough to be mentally prepared, we must be physically balanced as well.
  • And last, seek examples. We can find courage in everything from uplifting movies to biographies of strong people, or even a personal role model who has achieved that which you desire.

Risk is important at all stages of our lives, but we must remember that the types of risks are what change, not whether or not we take risks. As a teenager, I took risks I know now were seriously dangerous. So as an adult, I have the capacity to make better decisions, and better risks. Dare I say even more fun risks!

Of late I’ve found myself in a routine. Same morning rituals, same afternoons and evenings. This has lead me into the “funk” I currently am swimming in, and might be partially to blame for my current illness. Thankfully, tomorrow I have the opportunity to change. Why wait for tomorrow? Right now I am plotting my revenge against routine, am building a courageous future, and hope you join me on it!

 

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