Smoothing Our Jagged Character

In a world of unavoidable negotiations, I am a raw, spiked rock, pushing against others, sometimes even scratching or poking them.

I aim to be a tumbled, smooth, shiny stone.

Those rough edges have been with me since I first learned how to engage with others. I learned a lot of bad behavior from those who raised me, and I come by some of it innately, as if my genetics calls forth some battle or an aggression within. But the truth is I don’t really like certain things about myself. Sometimes, when I leave a conversation, I cringe at how I behaved, and it feels like this is who I am. This is a part of me that I cannot help. This shitty person is me.

Well, that is a lie.

I can change. I can consciously remove these poor behaviors, if I am actually willing to admit they exist. I know I can. My spirit is strong, and I believe that rooting out these behaviors will only set me free. Then I can feel better. I can show up better for others, and I can practice the very things that build a more spiritual life.

Consequently, as a woman who wishes to be her best self, to fully self-actualize, and to love myself entirely, I made a plan. I am going to share that plan with you now. It is my own self-induced 100 Day Challenge!

Behavior #1: Giving Unsolicited Advice

I have been around for 56 years. I have been through a lot. I have some hard-earned wisdom. But no one wants to hear my opinions when they are not even asking. When I launch into the varied ways in which they can solve a problem, or improve their situation, I am letting my ego drive the car.

This has to stop. And let me tell you something: This is not an easy thing to change. I have worked on it a little bit for a long time, but I have a long way to go.

When we decide to stop a behavior like this, we must fill the void with new behavior. We cannot work in a vacuum. So my intention is to start doing something else; in place if my excessive sharing, I will now do three other things. I will listen fully, really zero in. I will ask investigative questions – NOT LEADING QUESTIONS like an attorney who is implying one answer – but exploratory questions, to elicit the sort of further understanding that illuminates the speaker’s feelings, facts, and conclusions. Finally, I will parrot back to them what I have heard. When I tell people what I am hearing, they can either say, “Yes! That is what I am saying!” Or they can correct me, “Not exactly.” Then more information is shared and they get to feel heard. Feeling heard is really what most people want. They don’t actually want to know what I think all that often. In fact, saying nothing of my own thoughts is far more likely going to clarify what they really want from me. I would save myself a lot of energy and time if I stopped assuming they are looking for advice when they simply are not.

Behavior #2: Complaining

When I am stressed, or I feel invisible, or my needs go unmet, I tend to bitch a lot. I complain about everything under the sun. The weather. My body aches. My lack of time. Other people. My plans. My food. My furniture. My chores. Everything. How do I stop that? At the outset, I must shut it up. But then where does all that negative energy go? Just stopping it will only bury it in my muscles and stomach. That causes disease. And if you think I was complaining before, just wait until I have a disease.

Therefore, I have to replace that behavior with a question: Is there anything I can do to fix it? If the answer is yes, I guess I know what to do. But if the answer is no, I must ask for what I need. Ugh. Who the heck wants to ask for what they need? Not me. I don’t like counting on others. I don’t like to impose. I don’t like to be vulnerable. I really don’t like to hear a rejecting no either. So, instead of asking, I complain. My new self is going to start telling people what I need. I bet you most of the time I will get exactly what I need. If I am not getting what I need, perhaps I will learn to accept it, or perhaps I need to find some new friends, right?

Behavior #3: Seeking Credit

I like to pull my weight. In fact, I like to make sure no one ever suggests that I don’t do my share. The issue is not that I am lazy, or insufficient. It is that I want credit for all that I do, so I can glean all the feel-goods of people acknowledging my good work. I want approval. I want to be seen. I want to be valued.

It isn’t enough that I know I have value. I want to know that others think I have value as well. I suppose in this way, I am competitive, and perhaps too, I am keeping score.

So that’s gross.

What will I do instead? I will observe. I will remind myself that I like doing these things. I like to be of service. I like to keep order in my home. I like to be productive. I like being actively useful.

At the end of the day, most people do acknowledge my efforts. Most of the time, I am given a thank you or a good job! I don’t want to spend my time wondering if someone will notice. I want to spend my time satisfied with my own willingness to contribute and leave it at that. Thus, no more waiting for the kudos. Now, I will do these things because I like myself more when I do. If no one notices, I guess they must be focused on more important things.

How will I know if I have become a shiny, smooth stone? I will tell my closest people what I am trying to do. This gives them permission to help me, and to hold me accountable. I will journal every day, recording my progress, download the struggles, the lessons, and the observation of my self. I know these behaviors won’t change just because I want them to. It will be two steps forward and one step back. These things are a challenge; otherwise, it would have changed long ago. I have to not apologize for my slips, but ask for do-overs, to try again. I have to balance being gentle with myself and holding myself to a higher standard. I have to practice. It takes time, fortitude, and pride in the fact that I am trying. Part of my spiritual practice is to be honest with myself about how I am showing up. I am confident I can do better, and it feels right and good.

The Hope Dare

My sister and I hit the beach yesterday. We swam in the clear river, ate a tasty lunch from our tote, and spent three hours absorbing sunshine while breaking down every nuance of our lives. We love being together. We love to laugh at life and ourselves. We are thinkers.

My sister silently dared me to swim, she being a far better swimmer than I. I plunged quickly, avoiding my usual rationale to remain on the shore. We are sensitive, passionate women. Our feelings are real, but we prefer to entertain them less than our intellect and mutual dark humor. We come from a long line of thinkers who think that thinking is a very nice compensation for emotional distress.

Still, on this late summer Friday paradise, we considered Hope and its evil twin Fear. I told her that my fears of America under political tyranny were staggering, despite my lifelong determination to keep my political head in the lovely cool sand. Also, I shared that my fears of this election were so profound, that I preferred 4 more years of the current pandemic over any political tyranny of our country.

This implies that I was terrified and willing to negotiate with the gods.

Bargaining is a common part of grief. I was already deep deep into the third stage of the future grief I fully intended to experience, one day soon.

Additionally, the fear within my heart began to grow as we spoke. It was as if my words brought more energy to this wretched fear, and then multiplied like The Blob as I attempted to be understood, possibly even further united with my wise listener.

My beloved and level-headed sister was understandably intolerant of my defeatist tone. She stopped me right there and assured me that my greatest fears were unlikely to be realized.

She prompted me to view recent speeches and their power, and she encouraged me to rise to the power of dignity.

I sat up a bit in my beach chair.

I stared out at the choppy and wide waters of the St Croix river.

Then I felt a wave of hope.

I pictured myself on the morning after the election, with a smile so broad and so authentic, you’d have thought I had just beat terminal cancer. Or gave birth to a healthy child. Or finally found the love I had always wanted. Or really just simply got my way for once.

In my imagination, the tides had shifted and the sun was bright and warm; I’m pretty sure there were bluebirds tweeting as they helped to gather big white sheets from the line!

It was only for a moment really.

But it felt really good, this thing. This hope.

I mean, it actually felt really good. Much better than what I had been feeling just moments earlier. I could see that I was afraid to have hope, since I had hoped before. And it didn’t turn out so well. Thus, I was afraid that if I dared to hope again, and it didn’t go my way, I might not have the resilience to stand up again. It just might crush me in a way that could never be restored. Consequently, I chose fear under the daily guise of cynicism, sarcasm, and a vigilant preparation for the worst. Not even outwardly. But in the quiet thoughts of my inner world, where all good things go to die.

The irony of causing my own current discomfort, even sometimes paralysis, was a surrender to ideas that would certainly bury me alive.

But if I dared to hope for another flash moment, that strange comforting light returned straight away! Then I was once again relieved of the wicked trolls of Doubt, Cowardice, and Passive Aggression.

Hope is a direct sign of courage. Hope is the hallmark of a warrior. I began to remember that I have never ever hoped to be some infantile worrier subject to the beastly authority of any human. If I wish to remain the daring goddess-infused woman that I must choose to be, then I certainly must not choose this putrid, acidic, alarmed state.

I will rise, and I will fight for a vision of glory. I will absolutely dare to hope.

Wind and Windmills

I am fascinated with the modern day windmills stretched out like sleek and stoic giants, lording over the plains of the earth! For some reason they strike me as particularly divine, slowly turning round and round, no hurry, no concern, driven by a force not of them but with them, serving the needs of our human, earthly existence. The sheer size of these titans promotes awe. Communion with nature’s elements is a stellar magic born of human creation.

So it is for the tiny humans as well, pawns to the wind, yet able to wield the wind to our advantage.

This is Fate and Free Will at once.

When I was a younger woman, I was afraid of the power of the Fates. What would bring me to my knees now? What next? How can I possibly endure that which I cannot control? I was in constant vigilance for the inevitable powers of chaos and catastrophe.

I was taught I must manipulate, coerce, prepare, adorn myself in armor, and steel against the winds! This was the only way to obtain what I felt was necessary for survival and ultimately for the things that always seemed to slip from my fingers. To take control. To plot how I can take the spoils of my own war.

It is a futile thing to defy the fates. I had lacked wisdom and had refused to surrender to anything that opposed me. I did exactly what I was taught to do by those who led me there. And it often felt as though everything and everyone opposed me.

It was foolish.

Through the years, I did do one thing that slowly began to work. I sought wisdom by watching the people I admired. In truth, I didn’t admire that many people. I actually don’t think there are that many people that have much figured out. But there were a few, and I locked in on them like a missile.

They showed me that Fate would intervene no matter what, and if I had faith in it, that invisible trust that it would be okay without my willful shove, I might actually enjoy the adventure of it all! In fact – and here is the secret – I could be the willing turbine that allowed the wind to turn me. I could choose just how to stand there and move with dignity, a knowing power of my own impact upon this earth.

The fateful winds blew. Instead of fighting it, I turned with it and generated a union of power. I would do my best to allow the wind to guide my choices. I learned what was immature willfulness and what was divinely led intuition. This discernment was crucial and for me, it only came from the brutality of mistakes.

Opportunity and Choice = Power.

Now I hold the power to love my self, my life and my fellows. Power for positive change. Power to live like a warrior goddess. Power to know joy and even the power to fight for what the fates call upon me to do.

I still feel discomfort. Sometimes I cry out, longing for the wind to bring me that which I can use, instead of trying to churn and grind in a lonely death.

Today, I turn to face the wind; I close my eyes and softly wait.