This morning, my eyes opened and I looked with delight at the time on the clock: 8:04 am. For the first time in months, maybe even years, I have been getting seven to eight hours sleep a night. What a relief, when a few years back, I was lucky to sneak in five or six with a work schedule of 12 or more revolutions around the clock. That led to several serious health crises. Even as recently as a few weeks ago, I would be wide awake in the wee hours. I attributed it to being an empath and picking up on all of the chaotic energies on the planet. I had become a repository for the pain and struggle of the people around me as they faced illness and injury, loss of loved ones and financial changes. How can anyone with a heart and mind not be impacted by world events on top of it? Gun violence, bigotry, murder on mass scale, rape, abuse, environmental devastation, addiction, unspeakable loss impacting people on a daily basis. I wonder how those on the receiving end of such acts can function. As a therapist, I have witnessed off the charts resilience among my clients. As a friend, I have listened to stories of atrocities committed and I am honored to know these souls and see what they have transcended.
I kept attempting to push it away and bury it in hustle and bustle. Blessedly, I have my writing skills to get me through the darker times; a candle for me to light my own way. As I am typing these words, the mid morning rain is providing a counter point for emphasis, washing away the sticky humidity that I know awaits beyond my door. I can allow the tears that represented my own inner water works to cleanse me as well. Alone and in the presence of supportive friends, I have let them flow. There was a time when I would refrain from crying, since I wondered if the torrents of tears would ever stop. Of course, they did. They always do. I also denied that I had normal and messy human emotions, subsumed in the service of keepin’ on keepin’ on. After all, how could I hold everyone else together if I was falling apart? What I discovered, paradoxically, is that if I am fully human; strong and vulnerable, I am more reliable and capable.
This past Sunday I spoke at Awakened Heart which is a New Thought church based on Science of Mind teachings. I visit there four times a year or so and I always feel welcomed home when I head down the stretch of highway that takes me the 90 minutes or so door to door. Hugs and smiles abound. This time, I shared on the topic being raw and real. Standing in front of the congregation of kindred spirits, I offered my take on the dynamic of vulnerability and self revelation. Being emotionally naked and baring our hearts to each other is no task for wimps. I pondered the idea of asking for what we want being riskier when we are invested in the answer. I also focused on the concept of self assurance. If I am at ease and peace with who I am and how I present myself in the spiritual, emotional, physical and mental realms of my life, then it almost doesn’t matter how anyone else perceives me. If I am able to nourish myself from the inside out, then I don’t require it from another. Does it mean I don’t still want to be loved and affirmed? Of course not. No woman or man is an island and we are intertwined. I laughingly told them that I live with the paradox of wanting to be loved best of all and being embarrassed about being recognized; sometimes when I am washing up at the ladies’ room sink. “I know you from Facebook, or I heard you speak, or read your writing, or you’re the hug lady,” are some of the statements made when I have my hands under running water. The last time was right after spinning class at the gym and I was red faced and wringing wet with sweat. Another woman in the class knew me from a local Facebook group and the FREE Hugs events I organize. Blessedly, I had the presence of mind not to ask if she wanted a hug.
How do you want to be seen?
I shared with the group that I had two major fears.
- Losing my marbles and memory, since both are essential for writing and speaking articulately. I have noticed that the more deeply I connect spiritually, the more the mundane fades away. Names, directions, what I walked into a room to fetch or do, seem less accessible than once they were. I have learned to smile and laugh it off, attributing it to middle aged/wise woman moments and the proverbial hard drive being full.
- Being incapacitated and requiring consistent care. When I had the heart attack two years ago, I annoyed myself with thoughts that I wouldn’t rebound and would have to rely on others. As a result of changing lifestyle, including cardiac rehab which has now progressed to four to five times a week workouts at the gym, spinning class, and recently at three mile hike on steep and rocky terrain. I have more than proven to myself that I can hold my own in the face of challenges.
I am also awakening to the realization that joined with others, I am more powerful than I ever imagined. Yawning and stretching with y’all as we greet the new day together.
I get all kinds of insights while driving. While en route to the gym, I was creating and polishing a business manifesto. It’s based on values that I hold and things I have learned over the years about what I’ve appreciated that others have done when I have been on the receiving end of their services, as well as what I would have wanted them to do differently. It amazes me how folks are able to remain in business when they don’t provide good customer service. Here goes:
It’s All About Relationships. Business really is about connecting heart to heart with folks I serve as I get to know them and their needs.’
Be available. My schedule varies from day to day, since I wear so many hats, but I make sure that I carve out time to meet with or speak to clients, colleagues and students.
Be reliable. Deliver what I promise on time. As a former magazine publisher (Visions Magazine) for 10 years, I am accustomed to meeting deadlines. Show up early for presentations in order to prep for the event.
Send thank you notes to those who hire me or interview me on their programs. Acknowledgement goes a long way toward maintaining those relationships.
Play nicely with the other kids. More often lately, I co-facilitate or participate in joint ventures with friends and professional colleagues. I want to share ideas with them, so as to enrich both of our treasure chests of tools that we have to offer participants.
Ask for what my services are worth, without stuttering. A wise coach with whom I worked a few years ago offered that instruction, since he felt I was far undercharging for my three decades of experience and education.
Think outside the box and allow my Muse to inspire innovation. Be willing to be silly and spontaneous. Many of the things I am doing now were unplanned at first, but once I had the first spark of insight, I could put form to them.
Give credit where it is due. If a concept about which I write or teach comes from another source, I always quote that person. As a writer, I appreciate when other people do the same.
Network openheartedly; sharing resources and ideas. I share mine because I can. This Rolodex brain of mine has a lot of stuff stored in it. Gone are the days of competition; opening the door for cooperation and mutual support. My wise father used to say “One hand washes the other.”
Be shamelessly self promoting. I know that’s a tough one for some of us who are in the ‘helping’ professions, but I remember that people can only benefit from what I have to offer if they know about it.
See myself as a thriving artist, rather than the stereotypical starving artist.
God/The Divine/Spirit is my employer. Since I work for that ‘company’, I accept that the salary and benefits are out of this world.
As happens often these days, I was awake in the wee hours; in this case at 4:44, which according to many who listen to messages from angels, is a time when they are pretty actively wanting to get our attention. They have certainly been getting my attention. Back in 2013, they needed to do a ton of work to call me to mindfulness. Several health crises became wake-up calls that had me making major lifestyle changes. While some of them involved dietary shifts and medication, much of the morphing came in the form of rest when needed, mindfulness, and emotional freedom- meaning freedom to feel it all, when in the past, I squelched and smooshed my emotions, so as not to seem needy or high maintenance. I also deluded myself into believing that I had to ‘keep on keepin’ on and functioning at ever higher levels. That became the bedrock of my addiction of work-aholism. That is likely the only addiction that is encouraged since most cultures are so driven. In Japan, there is actually a word for it: karoshi, which means death by over work. I was clearly on my way to it.
In this moment, as I am writing these words, I marvel at how I was able to keep up the pace. Now, rather than working 12+ hours at a full time job and then coming home and writing, teaching, officiating at ceremonies as a minister and keeping up with things at home and maintaining a social life, I work from home, penning articles such as this one, for various venues. I have the luxury (although it shouldn’t have to be) of providing good self care by going to the gym at a decent hour, rather than 8pm as I had pre-heart attack. I take naps as needed, without feeling as if I am not being productive. Quite the opposite; I have been able to write more fluidly and fluently.
Back a few years ago, I truly believed that doing was the key that would unlock the door to all I wanted. It meant scrambling to get work done, scurrying about to meet the needs of others; some that they would ask for and others I offered, partly out of love and admittedly, partly as a result of wanting to indispensable.
I reference my two states of being as BHA (Before Heart Attack) and AHA (After Heart Attack)
These are some of my AHA (After Heart Attack) insights:
I do more things because I choose to, rather than thinking that I have to.
I have slowed down enough to let life catch up to me.
I set boundaries more readily.
“No,” has become one of my new favorite words.
I have relinquished responsibility for meeting other people’s needs—whether they are family, friends or clients.
I have almost let go of the attachment to approval and wanting to be loved best of all.
I have forgiven myself for what I can’t change from the past and welcoming do-overs.
I am putting down boulders that I had hauled around for decades; such a relief.
I have divorced myself from the memories to which I was married.
I have become more self compassionate, rather than self critical. Work in progress with that one, for sure.
I am accepting that a broken open heart has more room for love.
I count each day as even more precious, since I have become acutely aware that we never know how many will be granted us.
I am nowhere near as eager to pursue success, and instead, am allowing it to come to me, however it shows up, once I set an intention and then surrender it.
I am feeling abundantly blessed.
I am holding my own heart sacred.
When I am in this state of awareness, I discover that I can allow myself to simply BE, rather than buying into the erroneous belief that I have to do so much to be loved and accepted. This morning, it came to me that in the act of putting out there into the Universe what I desire, I am stirring the energetic soup pot and now what I need to do is ahhhh-low it to simmer; stirring occasionally until it is ready to enjoy.
This morning, my friend Phyllis sent me this meme which delighted me no end. The initial reason is that the image is the Hamsa or Shaddai, known as ‘the hand of God’. It’s purpose is protection from evil. The second is that she thought I personified the term inscribed on it. I asked her how she defined the concept:
“Well, a gangsta has swag, believes wholeheartedly in their message, flaunts it, is not afraid to go over board with the badass persona…..all that and a bag of chips. ..lololol….I’m thinking about my clients and their gangsta vibe. For them it’s a cover. ….but they don’t know that. They are committed to the lifestyle!”
She works in a drug and alcohol counseling program and assists people in recovery. In the process, I imagine (having been in the field myself for three decades) she helps them either take off the facade or at least recognize it for what it is and use it for their benefit, rather than to their detriment.
I now claim that persona. I have to admit that throughout my life, I have shunned it in favor of sweetness and light; fluffy faerie wings, glitter and sparkles. While it may have been simpler to live that way, it had me skating on the surface of the pond, rather than being immersed in it, splashing about in its depths. I made it look easy. People thought I was perpetually happy and that nothing phased me. Yes, I have developed resiliency skills as my parents taught me how to bounce back from everything. It came in handy when my husband was diagnosed with Hep C in 1992 and died in 1998 and I raised our then 11 year old son as a single parent. It was useful when my parents died in 2008 (dad) and 2010 (mom). It helped when in short order I was diagnosed with a severe case of shingles, had a heart attack, kidney stones and adrenal fatigue (2013-2014).
There were ways that it didn’t serve me so well, including denial of my own emotional pain, keeping love at arm’s length, having me feel inauthentic and out of integrity. Here I have been teaching this stuff and not walking my talk. I was waiting to be found out. Uncovered as an impostor. The Empress has no clothes. Since the heart attack, which was a huge wake-up call, I have dared to bare my soul, peel off the layers and reveal the real. I recognized that I didn’t have time to waste and began to embrace opportunities to live even more fully. As a result, I have traveled more in the past two years than I had in the previous 20. I ventured to California, upstate New York, Hilton Head, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Phoenix and Las Vegas. I am heading to Toronto and Portland, Oregon in August. I danced on stage with Chubby Checker, dyed my elfin-shorn hair purple, sang with a Billy Joel cover band (“You may be right, I may be crazy….but it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for.”) and recently stood on a diving board 20 feet above the ground that hovered over a pool into which my high school friend Dan Poor was to plummet a few hours later as part of a performance at the NJ State Fair. I didn’t take the plunge myself and his platform was 82 feet over the parking lot, but still, it was a big deal for me.
What is even more frightening than standing atop that diving board, is the emotional bungee jumping I dare to do daily by baring my heart and soul in intimate relationships. Intimacy may not always reflect sexual interaction, although sometimes it does, but rather soul deep conversations with folks I treasure. Those happen with greater frequency, but still they set my heart thumping and stomach churning in anticipation. Once I am engaged in them, I can relax. Saying what isn’t being said, is a stretch, even for this woman who has taught communication skills for decades. Being willing to share vulnerably, not knowing what the outcome is going to be, putting my heart on the line and risking what might feel like emotional obliteration, now that’s pretty gangsta!