Just Keep Going

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness. Brené Brown

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been struggling with what to write in this blog. Now that I’m teaching, I have less time to ponder, write and revise my entries and after five months of entries, I feel dry, with nothing to write. But, I got the message from several sources, just keep writing. I knew that if I stopped writing this blog this week, it would be easier to make an excuse next week and the next and then stop writing it all together. So, I resolved to write something even if it was bad.

Then two things happened. I asked for help in my journal, because I was stalled on my novel as well, and I watched Dr. Brené Brown on Oprah’s Lifeclass. Ideas about my novel started coming to me and keep coming, and I was reminded why I started this blog in the first place. I started it because of Dr. Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection.

One of the things she writes about in that book is how to practice vulnerability. We think of vulnerability as weakness, but it’s actually strength. When I read that, I knew she was talking to me personally. We moved a lot when I was a growing up and I got used to being the new kid. I didn’t like having all the attention, because I was new in small towns where everyone had known each other since Kindergarten. So I practiced being in the background. Oh, I always had lots of opinions about what was going on around me, but I rarely voiced them. If I did, it felt weird and I felt apologetic, like my opinion didn’t matter. The truth of the matter was, I didn’t want to be vulnerable. I didn’t think what I thought mattered, I didn’t think I mattered.

I’m older now and have done lots of personal work learning to love myself. Interestingly, I’ve sought out careers and situations that have forced me to use vulnerability a great deal. For a number of years I was involved in theatre, often as an actor. Then I was a teacher, I’m still a teacher, and now I’m a writer.

You can’t get much more vulnerable that those activities. I know many teachers who don’t practice vulnerability, but to be an excellent teacher you have to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable allows your students to be that too, and risk asking dumb questions, or exploring and expressing their ideas. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with our educational system. Not enough teachers are vulnerable. I just thought of that as I was writing it. That could be an entire blog post on it’s own.

Having been an actor and now a writer, I can say that the process requires me to dig down into my soul and bring out my deepest experiences to create the work. That’s not easy, it not comfortable and it takes time and effort. I often fail, or at least don’t quite hit the mark. That’s okay. I’ll never hit the mark, if I don’t try. So, I’ve decided to keep writing, even if it’s not my best work. I’ll just keep going.

Why I write

I firmly believe that all human beings have access to extraordinary energies and powers. Judging from accounts of mystical experience, heightened creativity, or exceptional performance by athletes and artists, we harbor a greater life than we know. – Jean Houston

This week, I’ve been thinking about why I write. I write to change myself. I write to change the world. I write to touch the deep, unseen mysteries of life.

When I was a child, I thought I saw a fairy footprint in the dirt. The other children scoffed at me and ran off to play. I stayed studying the foot print and looked out over the vacant lot across from our house trying to see the fairies dancing in the grass and trees. I longed to connect with that invisible world. I thought they had messages that would help me with my problems. To this day my favorite stories are of heroes who find they have courage and strength they never dreamed they possessed, of wise women guiding the young heroine, of super heroes saving the planet, of boy wizards defeating the dark lord, of the stranger coming to town and ending the feud. I need those stories to help me look for my own courage and strength. To me those stories are evidence that some extraordinary energy, or power is guiding us to a happier future. I write to touch the invisible, yet powerful mysterious world.

Like the events of this week, horrific things happen in the outer world. We’re shocked again and again. The problems seem too big for us to solve. When we feel overwhelmed, we retreat into the fantasy world of heroes. They might be ordinary people doing extraordinary things, or they might have super powers. The point is, I’m not the only one who seeks out heroes to help me cope. Those stories sell because they help us gain courage. Because, to become the hero we have to face scary challenges. We have to learn the lessons our trials are trying to teach us. We have to become vulnerable. I write to become vulnerable so others can find courage.

During my teenage years, I lost my innocence and my vulnerability as I watched the news during the Civil Right’s movement. I saw the devastation of the Vietnam war, the shock and sorrow after President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated. My family was watching the news before going to church when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot, on live TV, by Jack Ruby. We talked, as a family, about those enormous events which have shaped history. My father always warned us not to look at the surface events, but look at the effect they were having on the world. And so, I kept looking. I was lucky to see other events, heroic events, like men walking on the moon, or being brought home safely after a life threatening malfunction on their space craft. Because I witnessed the good and bad events of my generation, I write to understand the world around me.

Many people moan and say that things’re going to hell in a hand basket. But don’t despair there is a force moving us toward more peace, more love and care for each other. Gary Zukav wrote in The Seat of the Soul, that we’ve chosen to learn through crisis. For some reason when we became conscious beings, we decided that we’d let the problems around us, get worse and worse until one day, we hit bottom and then we’d take action to change. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I write, because I don’t want to let my life turn to utter chaos before I heal my wounds. I write to make a new decision and learn from my mistakes before they grow into catastrophes.

I write because I have feelings deep inside my being that need to be expressed. The feelings are nebulous. I can’t define them. I don’t know what they mean or what good they’ll do. All I know is I must attempt to express them, even though there are days, like today, when it takes courage to so.

What I’m trying to say, is that there is a wide, stunningly beautiful world out there and we’ve been focusing on the gutter. We need to look for the good in people. We need to look for love in ourselves and share it. We need to trust that the world is getting better. We need to allow ourselves to be the heroes by finding ways to help others feel good about themselves When we do that, we change the world. I’m saying that as Shakespeare wrote, “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” I write to change the world.

Forgiveness and Compassion

“When you forgive, you in no way change the past – but you sure do change the future.” – Bernard Meltzer

“Oftentimes have I heard you speak of one who commits a wrong as though he were not one of you, but a stranger unto you and an intruder upon your world. But I say that even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you, So the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also.…So, the wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all. Life is a procession you walk together towards your god-self. You are the way and the wayfarers.” “On Crime and Punishment” The Prophet – Kahlil Gibran.

When I began the rough draft of this blog, I realized this is the twelfth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. What a perfect time to write about forgiveness and compassion. Then serendipitously, I had an opportunity to revisit an incident in which I’m working on those very things.

Last night one of my college acting students, who was also a high school student of mine, asked me why I was let go from teaching at her school eleven years ago. She knew there was a big hoopla about it, because she was still attending the high school and taking drama classes. Those who’d seen to my demise never failed to tell the students about my faults and even indiscretions regarding money, which of course were not true. Being loyal to me, however, she didn’t believe the stories and wanted to know my side. I told her what happened from my point of view. I also told her that I had recently been working on forgiving the people involved. It was a political situation, and I was made to look like the villain. Funny how wolves can hide in sheep’s clothing and make the sheep look like the wolf. I told her how I’d held onto the pain of that horrible event for ten years, but how freeing forgiveness could be.

I didn’t give her details, but what happened to change my desire for revenge to one of forgiveness was studying A Course In Miracles. As I studied, I was faced with the reality that by holding a grudge, I was in a very real way, attacking myself. I was hurting myself by wanting revenge, so I let go of that anger and hurt. I’m still letting go of it. I had to admit, that were it not for the attack on my character and competence to do my job well, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this post. I wouldn’t be writing a novel. I wouldn’t have found the thing that makes me supremely happy. I’d still be teaching drama and find myself in constant battles. I’d be stressed out.

That brings me back to the 9/11 attacks and my use of the Kahlil Gibran quote.

Any attack, whether it’s personal, or on a group, or on a nation, is not a one sided affair. I wasn’t the innocent victim of an attack on my character and teaching ability. Something in me attracted the attack upon me. Now I understand that it was my soul trying to get my attention. I wasn’t fulfilling my purpose. The only way I’d see that fact was to lose the job I thought was meant for me.

Just like my personal story, the 9/11 attacks weren’t perpetrated on an innocent nation. Something about who we are, called those attacks to us. Maybe we don’t see it, because we live in the most powerful nation in the world. But we’ve influenced the art, fashion, politics, religion and cultures of almost every country in the world with our movies, literature, music, financial aid, and even things like the Peace Corps. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, except that we have the attitude that our way is the best, so, of course, everyone everywhere should be happy to be changed by us. We’re a little bit like Ancient Rome, except that we don’t conquer with armies, we do it with all the things I’ve listed above. The thing is, we don’t open-heartedly respect what other countries and cultures have to offer us. And that makes me weep, because it contributes to more conflict in the world than any of us want. The conflicts that we’re faced with today are our chance to make a new choice, to change our attitudes, and to forgive ourselves and those who’ve transgressed against us.

On this September 11th anniversary, I hope we’ll focus on forgiveness, not rehashing what was done to us. I don’t mean we should forget those who died. But I hope we’ll give up some our arrogance and open our hearts and minds to the richness of the other countries and cultures of the world. I hope we appreciate the view points of other people at home and far away and consider the wisdom found there. I hope, we’ll be humble enough to give up our arrogance and entitlement. If we do, we can change the future and contribute to peace in the world.

Plumbing the Depths

“I follow four dictates: face it, accept it, deal with it, then let it go.”- Sheng Yen was a Buddhist Monk.

“Your life is an occasion, rise to it.” – Mr. Magorium, a fictional character from the 2007 film Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium and was played by Dustin Hoffman.

Recently, Julie Luek wrote an interesting blog post on She Writes, a social networking site for writers. The title was [MAKING THE LEAP] FIVE REASONS EVERY WRITER SHOULD JOURNAL. It got me thinking about my own journaling experiences, and why I’m driven to plumb the depths of my soul. A journal is one tool I use to do that. It’s been a fantastic tool and over the years I’ve grown from simply whining and complaining in my journal, to seeking it out when I need to get clarity. I ask questions and get answers in my journal. My self deceptions are stripped away in my journal. I face myself in my journal. However, as I look at who I am, I know that I’ve always been driven to strip away the layers of ego and discover my true self.

I’ve used a lot of tools on my quest. Books and movies are among them. Even current events can send me off on a journey of discovery. Today, I’m thinking about Syria. It’s just the latest in an interminably long line of incidents where humans lash out at other humans because they’re frightened, hurt, lonely and think there isn’t enough to go around. I wonder if we’ll ever grow up as a species and turn away from such violence against each other. And that brings me back to one of my self-discovery tools: Movies.

You might think that the tragedy of current events juxtaposed along side something as seemingly trivial as a movie, is ludicrous. Just keep reading and see if you can follow my logic.

Movies can be an immensely powerful way to help change our perspective. One of my favorite movies which does this, is The Razor’s Edge. (I’m referring to the 1946 version. I’ve never seen the 1984 version based on the same storyline.) It’s based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham. It begins right after WWI, and ends during the Great Depression. Maugham based the main character, Larry Darrell, on someone he met after the war. Larry Darrell is a man in search of himself. He’s looking for something that not many of his wealthy friends can see or understand, but Maugham finds him intriguing and follows his journey with great interest. At the beginning Larry is engaged to the most lovely woman of their circle, Isabel Bradley. But something drives him to leave her and begin a quest to find himself. She, of course, can’t understand how he could leave her. She’s vain enough to think that living with her beautiful self should be enough for any man. And that’s the relationship that shows the main conflict between those who desire nothing more than to maintain the status quo and those who are driven to find answers to the big questions in life. Larry Darrell seeks enlightenment. Isabel just wants to be comfortable and admired.

I bring up this movie, because I think it reflects what’s happening in our world now. It’s not that the two sides of the coin haven’t always been there. I think there are just more people on the side of taking the journey of self-discovery, like Larry Darrell did, than ever before. Those people who don’t want change, like Isabel Bradley, are fighting with claws drawn to keep things the way they’ve always been. But nothing ever stays the same. Humans are born explorers, only now the final frontier is inside ourselves.

I don’t have any answers as to how to end the bickering and violence in the world, except to encourage anyone who has the burning desire to discover who they really are, and find inner peace, to follow their heart and begin the quest. The tools, people and experiences will present themselves once you make the commitment. I know that from personal experience. You don’t need a guru, or teacher to guide you. Everything is inside you.Tough times will arise along the way. But in the end, you’ll never regret your decision and as you find yourself, you’ll help all of us find a more peaceful world.