March 28, 2021

Finally, in my early 30s I stepped into my girl on fire energy. I moved back towards my essence.


More Myself
By Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys' music is a staple of my early years. But I don't think I became fully conscious to her spirit until recently. I remember viewing the Red Table (Piano) Talk episode with Alicia and feeling so completely seen and empowered as she described herself as a recovering peacemaker and people pleaser who'd awakened to her needs and her power, learning to give herself tenderness along the way. Listening to her read these passages from her memoir stirred something in me. 

"Oprah sat quietly for a moment before answering. 'For many years,' she said, 'I looked for someone outside of myself to dream up and create what only I could. I eventually realized that no one else could see your big picture. Only you know the journey you're on. Others can contribute, and you should definitely surround yourself with smart people who lift you higher and share in your vision, but the truth is, even with wise counsel only you know what your next step should be.' 
All of my best decisions in life have come when I tuned into what felt like the best moves for me. I'd spent much of my life looking at others for answers, allowing their opinions to drown out my instincts. My default was to substitute others' desires for my own. In fact, I'd done that so much that it became a habit, one I'm still unlearning. I've needed a lot of practice at putting my own ideas and intuition at the forefront and Oprah was encouraging me to, again, rehearse. As I sat there across from her, taking in her wisdom, I realized where my anxiety was coming from. I was expecting someone else to fill a space that only I could stand in. I've read a lot about what it means to listen to your inner voice, that whisper in your gut that is always speaking. 
On paper, I understood the idea, but in reality I was clearly still struggling. That afternoon Oprah articulated the lesson to me in a way that turned on the lights. 'You know what a resounding yes feels like,' she said. 'It's undeniable. Nothing's going to stop you from doing it, you're excited, you don't have to convince yourself to move forward. You simply know this is the right thing and that is what I live by.' 
I've made a lot of decisions from my head, I've chosen to go in this direction or that one based on finances, or because something seems like a great opportunity, or because I don't want to hurt people's feelings or disappoint them, or because someone is pushing me towards an agenda that serves them. But when I've listened to my heart, when I've trusted what my spirit is telling me, that yes has always steered me right."

"Rather than basking in the glow of those miracles, I shrank. At certain moments, I even dumbed myself down or chose not to talk about the many blessings I received. I figured that if I shared my experience in its entirety, if I took the lid off my joy, it would push others away or make them feel small. As my career progressed, that tendency took another form in my interactions around the industry. 'I don't need much, nothing has to be too grand, I'm cool with my little piano, my bench and a cup of water.' In a sense, that was true. I'd never been an over-the-top kind of girl, but what's also true is this: some part of my spirit was always signing up for less because that is what I believed I deserved. For so many years I thought I was just being modest. I never wanted to come across as self-absorbed or as someone with a big head. It's how we women are brought up: don't ask for more, don't take credit, don't outshine others. 
But there on the couch it hit me that my alleged modesty was just a disguise, a mask for a lack of self worth. It was a huge revelation. For me, that seed of worthlessness was planted in childhood. As well-intentioned as Craig was, and as much as he was dealing with in his own life, his absence impacted me in ways I'm still uncovering. It left a hole in me. When a child's parent is not there, even if the reasons are completely legitimate, that child interprets the absence exactly as I did. 'I don't matter enough for you to show up for me. I'm not important.' And in those early years, when I was forming my identity, I took on a belief parallel to that interpretation. 'If you don't value me, I must not be valuable.' A big part of my journey has been about changing that view, as well as getting clear on the other beliefs passed on to me by my parents. 
"There are only two people you ever have to deal with," a life coach recently told me. "Your mother and father." As I deal with the man who gave me life, and as we work to create a new story, what I've discovered is this: neither Craig nor my beloved mom is responsible for where I go from here. I am. The price of admission for self-ownership is total responsibility and I can move forward only if I'm willing to ask myself the hard questions and examine my beliefs. 
In life, we don't get what we ask for, we get what we believe. And what we believe about ourselves shows up in our energy. It's how we walk into a room, it's how we communicate through body language. 'I don't deserve to be here.' It's whether we sit up straight or hide out in the back of a meeting. At times, my own energy has been saying 'I'm cool with the bare minimum, don't give me more.' Without knowing it, I stunted my growth because I was scared to be magnificent and doubtful that I was. If you asked me at age 22 whether I thought I was worthy, I would've answered loud and proud "YES!" But it's possible to declare a woman's worth and yet not fully know your own. It's possible to say you want a grand life but then continue to play small. In many ways, I have played big. I've embraced experiences I never dreamed I'd have and I've risen to some enormous moments, but there's still more I can do, other ways for me to grow. 
And as I keep relearning, it's okay to own a desire for more. In fact, it's how we honor those who have paved the way for our place at the table. 'You don't want modesty,' Maya Angelou once said. 'You want humility. Humility comes from inside out. It says someone was here before me, and I'm here because I've been paid for. I have something to do and I will do that because I'm paying for someone else who has yet to come.' When we dim our light, we don't do anyone a favor. It's a disservice because when you're in the presence of someone who knows his or her worth, like the extraordinary Maya did, you want to shine brighter. Self-honoring energy is contagious. 
At the start of my career I thought I was such a novice, but at 19 I knew the one thing that is most important to know. I understood who I was at my center, I was closer to my truth than I'd become during my twenties. It's not that I wasn't authentic to some degree at every stage, it's just that out of a desire to please others or to squeeze into a mold, I made the outside world my point of reference. 'Will they like me if I dress or speak or walk or talk this way?' Finally, in my early 30s I stepped into my girl on fire energy. I moved back towards my essence."

Aforementioned Red Piano Talk. Alicia performs "Girl on Fire" at the end. 


Also all of this, starting with a performance of "Show Me Love." 

March 21, 2021

When we see love as the will to nurture one's own or another's spiritual growth, revealed through acts of care, respect, knowing, and assuming responsibility, the foundation of all love in our life is the same.

 

all about love: new visions
by bell hooks

Full circle revelations and a mind expanded. These only scratch the surface of all I highlighted!

"Self-love is the foundation of our loving practice. Without it our other efforts to love fail." 
(p. 67)

"There is no better place to learn the art of loving than in community." 
(p. 129)

"When we see love as the will to nurture one's own or another's spiritual growth, revealed through acts of care, respect, knowing, and assuming responsibility, the foundation of all love in our life is the same."
(p. 136)

"Generous sharing of all resources is one concrete way to express love. These resources can be time, attention, material objects, skills, money etc...Once we embark on love's path we see how easy it is to give. A useful gift all love's practitioners can give is the offering of forgiveness. It not only allows us to move away from blame, from seeing others as the cause of our sustained lovelessness, but it enables us to experience agency, to know we can be responsible for giving and finding love. We need not blame others for feelings of lack, for we know how to attend to them. We know how to give ourselves love and to recognize the love that is all around us. Much of the anger and rage we feel about emotional lack is released when we forgive ourselves and others. Forgiveness opens us up and prepares us to receive love. It prepares the way for us to give wholeheartedly."
(p. 163) 

"When one knows a true love, the transformative force of that love lasts even when we no longer have the company of the person with whom we experienced profound mutual care and growth. Thomas Merton writes: "We discover our true selves in love." Many of us are not ready to accept and embrace our true selves, particularly when living with integrity alienates us from our familiar worlds. Often, when we undergo a process of self-recovery, for a time we may find ourselves more alone. Writing about choosing solitude over company that does not nurture one's soul, Maya Angelou reminds us that "it is never lonesome in Babylon." Fear of facing true love may actually lead some individuals to remain in situations of lack and unfulfillment. There they are not alone, they are not at risk. To love fully and deeply puts us at risk."
(p. 187)

"Understanding that death is always with us can serve as the faithful reminder that the time to do what we feel called to do is always now and not in some distant and unimagined future."
(p. 203)

"Contrary to what we may have been taught to think, unnecessary and unchosen suffering wounds us but need not scar us for life. It does mark us. What we allow the mark of our suffering to become is in our own hands. In his collection of essays The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin writes about suffering in the healing process, stating: "I do not mean to be sentimental about suffering—but people who cannot suffer can never grow up, can never discover who they are." Growing up is, at heart, the process of learning to take responsibility for whatever happens in your life. To choose growth is to embrace a love that heals."
(pp. 210-1)

"Forgiveness not only enables us to overcome estrangement, it intensifies our capacity for affirming one another. Without conscious forgiveness there can be no genuine reconciliation. Making amends both to ourselves and to others is the gift compassion and forgiveness offers us. It is a process of emptying out wherein we let go all the waste so that there is a clear place within where we can see the other as ourselves."
(pp. 217-8)

March 14, 2021

Living simply makes loving simple.


all about love: new visions
by bell hooks

I'm super into love right now. 

I seek it everywhere—especially in the stories I consume and in the music I listen to. (Maybe someone/anyone could put me on to some good modern love songs, because the current love songs playlist I've had on repeat is a favorite but super vintage.)

I am reconsidering how I can improve in love and better receive it in all of my relationships, and so am feeling a deep appreciation for this thoughtfully researched & healing meditation.

"Imagine how much easier it would be for us to learn how to love if we began with a shared definition. The word "love" is most often defined as a noun, yet all the more astute theorists of love acknowledge that we would all love better if we used it as a verb. I spent years searching for a meaningful definition of the world "love," and was deeply relieved when I found one in psychiatrist M. Scott Peck's classic self-help book The Road Less Traveled, first published in 1978. Echoing the work of Erich Fromm, he defines love as "the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth." Explaining further, he continues: "Love is as love does. Love is an act of will—namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love." Since the choice must be made to nurture growth, this definition counters the more widely accepted assumption that we love instinctually."
(pp. 4-5)

"Raised in a family in which aggressive shaming and verbal humiliation coexisted with lots of affection and care, I had difficulty embracing the term "dysfunctional." Since I felt and still feel attached to my parents and siblings, proud of all the positive dimensions of our family life, I did not want to describe us by using a term that implied our life together had been all negative or bad. I did not want my parents to think I was disparaging them; I was appreciative of all the good things that they had given in the family. With therapeutic help I was able to see the term "dysfunctional" as a useful description and not as an absolute negative judgement. My family of origin provided, throughout my childhood, a dysfunctional setting and it remains one. This does not mean that its s not also a setting in which affection, delight, and care are present."
(pp. 6-7)

"Living simply is the primary way everyone can resist greed every day. All over the world people are becoming more aware of the importance of living simply and sharing resources. While communism has suffered political defeat globally, the politics of communalism continue to matter. We can all resist the temptation of greed. We can work to change public policy, electing leaders who are honest and progressive. We can turn off the television set. We can show respect for love. To save our planet we can stop thoughtless waste. We can recycle and support ecologically advanced survival strategies. We can celebrate and honor communalism and interdependency by sharing resources. All these gestures show a respect and gratitude for life. When we value the delaying of gratification and take responsibility for our actions, we simplify our emotional universe. Living simply makes loving simple. The voice to live simply necessarily enhances our capacity to love. It is the way we learn to practice compassion, daily affirming our connection to a world community." 
(p. 125)

March 07, 2021

Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness.

 


Daring Greatly: How The Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love Parent, and Lead
By Brené Brown

Instead of written annotations, I have a note on my phone filled with takeaways I typed while listening to Daring Greatly. Over the past few years I've watched her TED talk (below), Netflix special, and other conversations and presentations, so the themes are familiar but they feel more poignant as I get older. Her conclusions on vulnerability, shame, perfectionism, joy, connection and belonging are life-altering. I carry her lessons with me and try to remember to refer to them as often as possible while I move and heal through life.

Here's her take on wholehearted living. I'm halfway there.

"Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It's going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn't change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging. This definition is based on these fundamental ideals:
1. Love and belonging are irreducible needs of all men, women, and children. We're hardwired for connection—it's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The absence of love, belonging, and connection always leads to suffering.
2. If you roughly divide the men and women I've interviewed into two groups—those who feel a deep sense of love and belonging, and those who struggle for it—there's only one variable that separates the groups: Those who feel lovable, who love, and who experience belonging simply believe they are worthy of love and belonging. They don't have better or easier lives, they don't have fewer struggles with addiction or depression, and they haven't survived fewer traumas or bankruptcies or divorces, but in the midst of all of these struggles, they have developed practices that enable them to hold on to the belief that they are worthy of love, belonging, and even joy.
3. A strong belief in our worthiness doesn't just happen—it's cultivated when we understand the guideposts as choices and daily practices.
4. The main concern of Wholehearted men and women is living a life defined by courage, compassion, and conviction.
5. The Wholehearted identify vulnerability as the catalyst for courage, compassion, and connection. In fact, the willingness to be vulnerable emerged as the single clearest value shared by all of the women and men whom I would describe as Wholehearted. They attribute everything—from their professional success to their marriages to their proudest parenting moments—to their ability to be vulnerable."


February 28, 2021

They had already made each other's acquaintance in the delirium of their noon dreams.


Sula
By Toni Morrison

My first Toni Morrison. I can't wait to dive into more of her works. One wild ride, this Sula

"Which was only fitting, for it was in dreams that the two girls had first met. Long before Edna Finch's Mellow House opened, even before they marched through the chocolate halls of Garfield Primary School out onto the playground and stood facing each other through the ropes of the one vacant swing ("Go on." "No. You go."), they had already made each other's acquaintance in the delirium of their noon dreams. They were solitary little girls whose loneliness was so profound it intoxicated them and sent them stumbling into Technicolored visions that always included a presence, a someone, who, quite like the dreamer, shared the delight of the dream. When Nel, an only child, sat on the steps of her back porch surrounded by the high silence of her mother's incredibly orderly house, feeling the neatness pointing at her back, she studied the poplars and fell easily into a picture of herself lying on a flowered bed, tangled in her own hair, waiting for some fiery prince. He approached but never quite arrived. But always, watching the dream along with her, were some smiling sympathetic eyes. Someone as interested as she herself in the flow of her imagined hair, the thickness of the mattress of flowers, the voile sleeves that closed below her elbows in gold-threaded cuffs. 
Similarly, Sula, also an only child, but wedged into a household of throbbing disorder constantly awry with things, people, voices and the slamming of doors, spent hours in the attic behind a roll of linoleum galloping through her own mind on a gray-and-white horse tasting sugar and smelling roses in full view of a someone who shared both the taste and the speed. 
So when they met, first in those chocolate halls and next through the ropes of the swing, they felt the ease and comfort of old friends. Because each had discovered years before that they were neither white nor male, and that all freedom and triumph was forbidden to them, they had set about creating something else to be. Their meeting was fortunate, for it let them use each other to grow on. Daughters of distant mothers and incomprehensible fathers (Sula's because he was dead; Nel's because he wasn't), they found in each other's eyes the intimacy they were looking for."
(p. 52)

February 21, 2021

If you do your best in the search for personal freedom, in the search for self-love, you will discover that it's just a matter of time before you find what you are looking for.




The Four Agreements
By Don Miguel Ruiz

Will gratefully fill my cup with these words of affirmation. 

Two years ago, Don Miguel Ruiz recorded a soothing guest episode for WORDAFUL, titled "PERFECT." I knew then I'd need to read The Four Agreements someday.

I'm reminded that over the past year I had this revelation while reading old journal entries that I was perfect just as I was 5/10/15 years ago, and I wished I'd seen it then instead of desiring to always be different than I was. So with that wisdom in mind, when I'm feeling down I've started to tell myself I'm perfect as I am to save future me from that regret.

Domestication and the Dream of the Planet
"Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive—the risk to be alive and express what we really are. Just being ourselves is the biggest fear of humans. We have learned to live our lives trying to satisfy other people's demands. We have learned to live by other people's points of view because of the fear of not being accepted and of not being good enough for someone else."
(p. 17)

"If we can see it is our agreements that rule our own life, and we don't like the dream of our life, we need to change the agreements."
(p. 22)

The First Agreement: Be Impeccable With Your Word
"Through the word you express your creative power. It is through the word that you manifest everything. Regardless of what language you speak, your intent manifests through the word. What you dream, what you feel, and what you really are, will all be manifested through the word."
(p. 26)

"When you are impeccable, you take responsibility for your actions, but you do not judge or blame yourself...Sin begins with rejection of yourself. Self-rejection is the biggest sin that you commit."
(p. 31)

The Second Agreement: Don't Take Anything Personally
"If you keep this agreement, you can travel around the world with your heart completely open and no one can hurt you. You can say, "I love you," without fear of being ridiculed or rejected. You can ask for what you need. You can say yes, or you can say no—whatever you choose—without guilt or self-judgment. You can choose to follow your heart always."
(pp. 60-61)

The Third Agreement: Don't Make Assumptions
"If others tell us something, we make assumptions, and if they don't tell us something we make assumptions to fulfill our need to know and to replace the need to communicate. Even if we hear something and we don't understand, we make assumptions about what it means and then believe the assumptions. We make all sorts of assumptions because we don't have the courage to ask questions."
(p. 68)

"We make the assumption that everyone sees life the way we do. We assume that others think the way we think, feel the way we feel, judge the way we judge, and abuse the way we abuse. This is the biggest assumption that humans make. And this is why we have a fear or being ourselves around others. Because we think everyone will judge us, victimize us, abuse us, and blame us as we do ourselves. So even before others have a chance to reject us, we have already rejected ourselves. That is the way the human mind works."
(p. 69)

"The way to keep yourself from making assumptions is to ask questions. Make sure the communication is clear. If you don't understand, ask. Have the courage to ask questions until you are clear as you can be, and even then do not assume you know all there is to know about a given situation. Once you hear the answer, you will not have to make assumptions because you will know the truth. 
Also, find your voice to ask for what you want. Everybody has the right to tell you no or yes, but you always have the right to ask. Likewise, everybody has the right to ask you, and you have the right to say yes or no."
(p. 72)

The Fourth Agreement: Always Do Your Best
"Action is about living fully. Inaction is the way that we deny life. Inaction is sitting in front of the television every day for years because you are afraid to be alive and to take the risk of expressing what you are. Expressing what you are is taking action. You can have many great ideas in your head, but what makes the difference is the action. Without action upon an idea, there will be no manifestation, no results, and no reward."
(p. 82) 

"Whatever life takes away from you, let it go."
(p. 83)

"If you do your best in the search for personal freedom, in the search for self-love, you will discover that it's just a matter of time before you find what you are looking for."
(p. 86)

The New Dream: Heaven on Earth
"Imagine that you love yourself just the way you are. You love your body just the way it is, and you love your emotions just the way they are. You know that you are perfect just as you are. The reason I ask you to imagine these things is because they are all entirely possible! You can live in the state of grace, the state of bliss, the dream of heaven."
(p. 126)



February 14, 2021

"Thing is, we're a community, and we got each other's back."


Intimations
By Zadie Smith 

Zadie Smith read Marcus Aurelius' Meditations early in the pandemic for practical assistance (her words). A few months later: the publication of Intimations, a series of essays inspired by his musings. In addition to "The American Exception," which was published in The New Yorker last April, her book includes "A Woman with a Little Dog," which she read aloud during a fantastic conversation with Ashley C. Ford. It is so specific, humorous, and a moving reminder of what we've lost and would miss so much: the seemingly insignificant exchanges that made up our lives before everything went down. Ashley describes it as foreboding. I loved it.

"There she sat on that last day—I was passing with my little dog; a final chance for Maud to pee before we put her in the rental car—and I could see Barbara was preparing to bark one of her ambivalent declamations at me, about the weather or a piece of prose, or some new outrage committed by the leader of a country which, in Barbara's mind, only theoretically includes her own city. Already missing New York, I was keen to hear it. Instead she sucked hard on her cigarette and said, in a voice far quieter than I'd ever hear her use: "Thing is, we're a community, and we got each other's back. You'll be there for me, and I'll be there for you, and we'll all be there for each other, the whole building. Nothing to be afraid of—we'll get through this, all of us, together." 
"Yes, we will," I whispered, hardly audible, even to myself, and walked on, maintaining a six-foot distance, whether to conform with the new regulations or to avoid Beck biting me in some vulnerable spot I couldn't tell."
(p. 51)

She starts reading "A Woman with a Little Dog" at 24:55—oh and just before then she describes her relationship with writing. ("I do need it. I'm not particularly proud of the ways I need it, but I need to organize my ideas, I need to set things down, I need to feel like life has meaning. And so that's why I do it. I do need those things.")

Their talk filled me up and it's well worth the watch.