There’s that thing you want to do. You know the one. Maybe it’s a course you want to take (or make and sell online), a skill you want to learn, a place you want to go, a person you want to ask to dinner.
It’s the blog you haven’t started yet.
It’s the half-finished manuscript on your hard drive that you haven’t touched in six months.
It’s the saxophone that you almost – almost – learned to play.
It’s the martial arts studio or dance studio or yoga studio you always pass on the way home and never quite manage to check out – even though you’re curious.
You get where I’m going with this.
We talk ourselves out of the stuff that we really, really want to do.
We think we’re being sensible. We have our reasons. No time/ no money/ no talent/ no obvious pay-off in my career or my love life. Don’t want the commitment, the obligation, the responsibility. Don’t want the humiliation of being really sucky at something I’ve never done before. Don’t want the tedium of being a beginner. We’re afraid of failure. We’re afraid of success. We had some traumatic saxophone/yoga/writing/puppet-making incident in early childhood. Somebody told us — when we were too young to recognize how wrong they were, how full of absolute bullshit — that we are not creative. click here
No one in the world was ever you before, with your particular gifts and abilities and possibilities. — Joseph Campbell
In the movie FIGHT CLUB – maybe you’ve heard of it – a character tells his disciples, in a tone of righteous fury, “You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake! You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, and we are all a part of the same compost pile.”
He got that half-right.
Perhaps it’s a symptom of a narcissistic culture that we seem to equate unique with “be the same as everybody else, just in a better, superior, award-winning kind of way.” When this kind of conformity/competition becomes our main focus, we, perhaps ironically, tend to end up feeling more alone.
We say to each other, If everybody is special, nobody is special! If everybody gets a trophy, nobody gets a trophy!
Not to knock competition – it has its place – but maybe we’re missing the point.
We are lousy at separating essence from ego. We ignore the former. We stroke the latter.
“Among the things I’ve noticed in working with people through the years is that a majority of them never really take the time to discover what is unique about themselves,”
writes author/speaker/teacher Caroline Myss. click here
Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance,
and there is only the dance.
– T.S. Eliot
When I was a teenager I thought about getting a yin-yang tattoo. You know, the kind that looks like this:
(Twenty years on, and I’m still thinking about a tattoo, although maybe an infinity symbol on the inside of my wrist.)
I knew in a vague kind of way that the symbol stood for opposites: the masculine and the feminine, the dark and the light, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, that kind of thing. One side defining the other, balance, “you complete me” and let’s burn some incense while we’re at it.
I began to understand how it’s more complicated than that.
We live in a culture that has its own warped version of opposites: the private sphere versus the public. The former is domestic and feminine, the latter is worldly and masculine.
But unlike night and day, this division is manmade (in the true sense of the word). Although it reaches as far back as the ancient Greeks, separate spheres didn’t emerge as a distinct ideology in our culture until the Industrial Revolution moved the official workplace from in and around the home to the factories.
Women stayed put and men went off into the world. Both genders worked, but only one was paid. click here
The wound is the place where the light enters you. — Rumi
I saw Arianna Huffington give a talk in San Francisco last weekend. She spoke about the day she found herself lying on her office floor in a pool of her own blood (she had collapsed from overwork and hit her face on her desk). She described this incident as more than a wake-up call; it was an “entry point into the journey”.
Maybe you know the journey she’s talking about.
I’ve had some entry points of my own, most notably the death of my infant son and the car accident mentioned in my TEDx talk.
An entry point changes everything.
A hero’s journey compels you out into the world. A heroine’s journey (which men can take as well as women) sends you inward and down to face a difficult truth of your soul.
You’ve been wounded, disrupted, pushed to the edge: your old life isn’t working anymore.
So you’re forced to go deep – because where else can you go? — and integrate some as-yet-unclaimed element of yourself, that allows you to rise again and live in a new way, in a new psychological skin.
There’s a word for this: resilience. click here
The older I get, the greater power I seem to have to help the world. I am like a snowball — the further I am rolled, the more I gain. —SUSAN B. ANTHONY
Not long after I turned 40, a female photographer I trusted and respected (Christa Meola) took some photos of me with a snake. I was wearing fringed high-heeled booties, black leather pants, some false eyelashes, and nothing else.
After Susannah Conway invited a group of us to blog about the positive side of growing older, I found myself thinking of those pictures, the Western mythology they evoke.
Eve was a woman after experience and knowledge, and I could relate to that.
Eve had a rebellious streak, and I could relate to that too.
As I get older I feel my growing sense of space and authority, my determination to live — and love — on my own terms (thank you much). I think it’s this way for a lot of women. Former Ms magazine editor Suzanne Braun Levine refers to the “fuck you 50s”; I would suggest they start earlier than that.
In her book INVENTING THE REST OF OUR LIVES, Levine writes:
“The dynamic that many women are reporting – new outlook, new confidence, new dreams – is supported by scientific research from many disciplines. What we are learning about our bodies tells us that nature has by no means abandoned us at this stage…we are not programmed to fade away. On the contrary, we might be as well or better suited to new challenges at this stage of life than before.
The brain is “generating in ways that are supportive of big achievements after midlife”. In the part of the brain “responsible for making judgments, finding new solutions to old problems, and managing emotions – not sweating the small stuff – there is a great leap forward.”
Maybe, when Eve ate the apple, she had just leaped forward herself. click here
I told a good friend of mine that I was kicking around the idea of a creatrix.
“A what?” she said.
“Like a dominatrix?”
“Yes,” I said, and nodded sagely. “Except totally different.”
My idea of a creatrix was this: a woman who maintains strong relationships with others while cultivating her natural gifts and pursuing mastery, for however long it takes her. She actively uses her gifts in service of herself, her loved ones, and the world. She is grounded, sensual, and comfortable in her body. She recognizes her birthright to pleasure and play. She believes in interdependence and interbeing: she is her own person while knowing that we are at least partly defined by our relationships. She may or may not have kids. Chances are she tried the conventional thing, or came close – the wedding, the ‘safe’ job or career, the house in the suburbs – and it didn’t work out. So now she lives in the country/on the beach/in a loft downtown/ in Thailand.
She is not afraid of power: standing up to it, speaking truth to it, or using it to advance her own agenda.
She is not afraid to have an agenda. click here
I remember standing beside the man I was married to at the time as a woman said, “All this success! It’s like a fairy tale.”
She was talking about our life together. My life.
I didn’t want to disagree, even though signs of the end were already manifest: the good times slipping away beneath the criticism, the way his voice would turn cold before he stopped speaking to me. Are we in the fifth grade? I sometimes asked, trying to make light of it – his mother said that I took him too seriously, that I let him affect me too much, and maybe I did. But he was my husband. And I had yet to read a fairy tale in which the prince sweeps in on a white horse – or midnight-blue Porsche – and then gives you the silent treatment.
It wasn’t until years later – after the ugliness that marked the end of the relationship, the separation that shocked some and delighted others, the obscenely expensive lawyers, the neverending divorce, the emails I sent that I knew I would regret but felt too hurt and furious to care (and I was correct, I would regret them) — after the slow hard climb into my new existence – after our truce turned from hostile to uneasy to peaceful to the faint possibility of friendship – after I realized, with more than a little surprise, that when I encountered him at the preschool, or the hospital when one of our sons had minor surgery, I was enjoying his company again – it wasn’t until after all of this, that I learned the truth about fairy tales.
I only knew the Walt Disney versions. Beautiful girls suffered at the hands of wicked women and pined for the day their man would arrive, with his dragon-slaying heroism and magical kiss. These stories were fluff and romance. They were dangerous. They taught a girl to be deluded, trusting and passive, rewarded for her looks alone (and maybe a bent for emotional masochism).
But this is not how fairy tales started out.
Unless and until they are written down – or recorded in vivid, dancing Technicolor – stories are not static things. They shapeshift from one place or period or culture or social group to another, in order to code certain values and transmit a prevailing worldview.
And as Joan Gould points out in her book SPINNING STRAW INTO GOLD: “The more patriarchal and stratified the society, the more clearly the heroine is expected to rely on the hero to save her.”
Fairy tales were originally female tales, women’s work: handed down from mothers to daughters. In these versions, heroines were not pretty victims killing time and waiting for rescue. Sisters rescued brothers; daughters rescued fathers or lovers. click here
If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.
–John Quincy Adams
Pleasing is something you do to get your own needs met: for approval, validation, control.
Serving is when you get out of yourself and address the needs of someone else (even if they themselves are not aware of them).
Carol Pearson makes an interesting distinction between martyrdom and sacrifice. Martyrdom is a bargain you make in order to save yourself. Genuine sacrifice is higher and more evolved: it is intended to save others.
Pleasing is obligatory. Pleasers often feel they have to be everything to everybody. Pleasing can be its own kind of addiction: people will do it even when they’re resentful, or tired, or on the verge of burnout. They’re looking outside themselves to fill a hollowness within, which is always a losing battle.
Service is freely chosen. Servers know you can’t serve everybody, and don’t try. They know who their people are and trust that others can find service elsewhere (from more capable and appropriate individuals). They also know their own value, and where the needs of the world intersect with what they offer. click here
A dog is wiser than a woman; it does not bark at its master. – Russian Proverb
If you want to be grotesquely fascinated, check out this book of relationship advice that is on bestseller lists across Europe:
Get Married….And Be Submissive
This is not the kind of submissive involving handcuffs and paddles and black silk wrapped round your eyes. The author – who is a woman – states that
“we are not equal to men and to not recognise this is a guaranteed source of suffering”.
“you must submit to him. When you have to choose between what he likes and what you like, choose in his favour.”
And don’t forget that
“when your husband tells you something, you should listen as if it were God speaking”. click here
I once heard one person say about another:
She had a capacity for deep joy.
That struck me. In fact, I thought it was goddamn beautiful.
Could somebody say that about me, I wondered, and a thought rose in response:
Maybe not so much.
I wasn’t an unhappy person. But even back then, I sensed a difference between happiness and joy.
Happiness is related to your circumstances. It ebbs and flows with the external forces of your life.
Joy goes deeper.
Joy is when you’re tapped in to something that threatens to blow up your heart. click here