Archive for inner struggle
“And a woman spoke, saying, ‘Tell us of Pain.’ And he said: Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain….” ~ Kahlil Gibran
We are learning to struggle well. Our desire speaks to us of a new place, a place we have belonged all along but for so long believed we didn’t… Wholeness. A place of validity, entirety, freedom, fulfillment, excitement, promise, purpose.
People and events told us we didn’t belong in this place, we didn’t deserve to go there, we weren’t good enough for it, we had to work harder to earn the right to be there. We got broken. And then we got tangled up in trying so hard to make ourselves “righter”, make ourselves more worthy so we could get there. We got sidetracked on our way in all kinds of other places that promised peace but only delivered disappointment and anxiety. We doubted ourselves. We questioned if we should keep trying to get there…But continually burning deep deep down inside, we knew that we belonged there; we wanted to belong there… Even if at first all we heard was a whisper, a longing, a puzzled feeling, the “click” of a moment when we realized, “hey, this and this and this that I’ve believed all along about myself doesn’t really make sense…”
A dawning starts to happen. And the light draws us toward it. The warmth we feel says, “Yes, this is the right direction. You do belong here. You are stepping in the right tracks.”
The tracks are not always easy. Some feel very painful.
Pain feels like something is wrong, and if something feels wrong our old belief system tells us that we are wrong. We try to avoid the pain because of this misconception, one we have suffered under for so long. We avoid the pain because we are afraid that it will tell us that we really are mistakes after all… But now we see the misconception for what it is. We connect with the new truth about ourselves that is gaining life deep down inside. We see the lies woven into the misconception that fuels our fear and we decide that we don’t want to agree with those lies anymore.
Pain invites us to look deeper, to look through. It is not telling us that we are wrong, just that something is wrong. It draws our hands to feel around us, to feel at what confines us. It draws us to open more windows, to let in more light here, then more light there, so we can see more clearly, bit by bit. It says to us with matter-of-fact assurance, “I can’t leave until you really pay attention to me.” It wasn’t our brokenness that was the problem; the real problem was what caused the brokenness. And what caused the brokenness was not of our making.
We work to understand this. We peel back the layers of our past, we uncover the lies that were whispered or shouted to us. We learn the truth. We realize that all the work we have done to earn our worthiness, the crawling and striving we have done towards feigned acceptance, was not required of us. It was work done for other people’s benefit, not our own. We feel the pain of being deceived, of being discounted, being taken advantage of. We feel the pain of disbelief, of sorrow and grief. And sometimes after we have gotten to this new place of wholeness, we feel the pain of learning. We feel uncomfortable because it is so new. We sometimes still slip into those redeemable ruts. And we are invited into one journey after another of rebirth.
Our pain is a corridor. A place of deep movement towards where we truly belong. It is the breaking with the past, the hope of new growth and new life, the acceptance of reality all rolled into one. It is part of the process that helps us to keep moving forward.
Courage and love to you on your journey…
A belief system that says, “I am a nobody, I can’t do anything right, I’m just stupid” wreaks havoc in a few different ways. I believe we were born with an unconscious sense of our own value; deep down, in each of us, there “dwells a beauty”, a person who is loved and can love. But trying to function with a totally opposite belief system creates a swirling, anxious situation inside, as if two rivers are colliding head on into one another and the water is all confused. In my last three posts (1, 2, 3), I’ve been describing my Dad’s belief system and how it was passively handed down to me as a child. His belief system also created havoc in my family, just not the really obvious easy-to-see kind.
Someone with a “I’m a nobody” belief system still wants to be valued, because they are human. Because my Dad didn’t value himself he sought to find his value in other ways. One of these ways was to put a lot of responsibility on his family to do the work of his own failing self-esteem. He believed that he was loved if his wife cooked and cleaned and took good care of him. He believed he was loved if we didn’t say a mean word towards him or be upset with him in any way whatsoever. If he put himself down, we would disagree with him and try to tell him that the opposite was true. Because he didn’t communicate his thoughts and feelings, my Mom, brother and I were forced to try and read his mind. If he was in a bad mood we ALL could tell- we became so skilled at reading his subtle signs and passive communications at the expense of learning to communicate for ourselves. If we sensed he was upset, we would do the work to try and make things better. Though my Mom would try and encourage better communication, he was so extremely uncomfortable and uptight about trying that things would end up more anxious than before. He was the passive King in our home and we learned to treat him with kid gloves. In living this way, my brother and I learned that love was all these things. Love meant compensating for someone else’s poor self esteem. Love meant not making the other person upset. As children who did not know this was so backwards, it also meant sacrificing our own needs to be built up and paid attention to in order to build up our parent. So the cycle continued. My brother and I grew up with this huge sense of lacking and low self-esteem of our own. We naturally lived to please other people. And all the while, the pain was brewing deep inside.
The last five years have been a process of seeing these things as the truth of my story. In learning the truth that all these subtle “leeching” dynamics between a parent and his children can have just as much damage as more physical or obvious kinds of abuse, I was exposed to a whole new world. I learned that these things were not my fault. I learned that my depression and anxiety has definite reasons and weren’t just symptoms of a messed up person.
Of my two parents, my Dad’s belief system had the most impact on me. Deep down I believed I was a “nobody” as well and I relied on other people to tell me that this wasn’t true. This wreaked havoc in its own kind of way, testing relationships and causing me to miss out on great opportunities that I felt I just wasn’t worthy of. As an adult, the responsibility to live differently is now in my own hands. Now that I know that this belief system is not my real inheritance, not the one I was meant to have, I can choose to embrace a new one. I can choose which river to follow. Today I am working to change my belief system. Today I take on the primary responsibility of nourishing my own self-esteem. Today I am taking another step into freedom and living in the truth.
We are born valuable but vulnerable. We have this inherent sense of value for ourselves. As babies, when we were in pain, we cried. When we were hungry, we cried. When we were uncomfortable, we cried. We cried because there was no thought or experience that disconnected us from the truth of our value. We knew what we needed and had no reason to fear asking for it. We also laughed when we thought something was funny or stimulating. Pleasure, happiness, didn’t require a labyrinth of justification. Our value wasn’t something we knew in our heads. It was something we just knew.
A wise friend once told me that our home life does not define our value, but models it. God has already defined my value for me (no one on earth can actually do this) but the purpose of a home, a family, is to treat each other as the valuable people that we are. It’s a valuing that respects the value that already exists. It models respect for my unique abilities, passions, dreams, and obstacles.
My home life was very predictable, very “secure”, very normal. My parents tried to do everything the right way. We went to church, did family devotions, did chores, got allowance, were disciplined for misbehaving. But… something was missing. My whole life I have questioned my value, never felt like my own feelings and thoughts were really good enough, have struggled to even know what my own thoughts and feelings were!
I was not taken advantage of sexually or physically, but I was valued for the wrong things. The real Carla was not valued or engaged with, not asked “do you like this? Do you not like this? What do you think about this? How did that make you feel?” She was told to be good and was valued for being good. She was applauded for being right more than she was for being herself. So, I was a very good child and decided to continue being very good throughout my life so that I would continue to be treated as valuable. The church loved a good girl, as did the private school I graduated from. I sweat blood and tears to be good and right in order to be valued.
Today it is my quest to be the real Carla, the Carla not boxed in or confined by the labels of “good and right.” Somedays it still feels like a very wobbly path because I get my value mixed up with these old skewed definitions. It sometimes feels foreign and uncertain to know and trust my own real feelings because for so long I have tempered them with what is intellectually “good and right.” But our souls can be nurtured back to life. The seeds that have been dormant for years are still there inside of us. With some loving work and nurturing, they will grow. It is happening day by day, re-bridging the gap between what is really true and what I deeply know to be true about me.
(continued on from my previous post, Beauty and Power in the Struggle)
And after the struggle, I am gifted with a stronger sense of the truth about myself. What I doubted so fiercely in the “tug” has gone through a refining process… like the juice squeezing out of a lemon or a bubbling sauce on the stove reduced to thick deliciousness or rich coffee swirling up from the pressure of a coffee press… Belief emerges on the other side, a bit clearer, a bit brighter, a bit more sure, more real. My effort, my decision to pay attention, to listen for the truth and to believe it, has produced another drop of my purified “identity” essence, created a clearer reflection of my true self for my own eyes to see.
To have this end result in my hands is gold, a treasure that can absolutely never be taken from me. It wasn’t forced upon me or slapped together in make-shift impatience. It was created, brought forth from my very own self, my own pain, my own labor, my own process of acceptance.
I rest and marvel at what has just happened… I feel at peace. I have proven something to myself, that in the intensity of the struggle, I have embraced what is true. I have presented myself with flawless evidence that I do have what it takes for this journey. My heart is good; it ultimately wants what is good; it is able to choose what is true.
It used to be necessary for me to ask someone else to take my hands and place them on the “truth” rope… I do not judge myself for this; I had no practice in the better way. I had survived on other people’s help, on other people doing for me what I didn’t believe I could do myself. I will sometimes need this kind of help at certain points along my journey; sometimes is different than always…
But oh the joy in finding the ability to be able to do this for myself…
I do believe there’s a “blog party” going on around here… Truth gleaning after a struggle is one of my favorite times to celebrate, so I think I’m in the right place. If you have any post-struggle “truth treasures” of your own, please feel free to share them here so we can celebrate with you too!
In growing past striving and pursuing a life of thriving (flying), struggle takes on a whole new meaning. Laboring under what is not true, trying to be perfect, acting only to please other people- these are tiresome and fruitless struggles. But the struggle to grow, to change and embrace what is true, this kind of struggle is what helps me move forward. Even though some days I just want to be “done”, (finished!), no living thing on earth ever is… And my soul’s true DNA is not interested in being a plastic houseplant.
Struggle is painful. Sounds like “tug” to me… There’s a feeling of being pulled in two directions, one back towards the old way and one forward into the new way. I am stretched for this moment of time, during which some life-force, life-changing things happen. I have this vision in mind and I face myself towards it. I am, at the same time, encountering my fears and also gathering up what I need to get to my vision. The fear lives to protect the old way: “You won’t be safe in the unknown. You might fail. Maybe this isn’t really ‘you’ anyways.” The gathering up of what I need is the truth (always present): “This and this and this is what is really true, Carla. This is what you really want. This is who you really are. This is what is ultimately best for you.”
For a time I am held in this uncertainty, confusion and clarity all at once. Sometimes the old way still wins… (but there’s always second chances, glorious second chances!) The farther I come along my path, the more opportunities I take to grasp on to the truth, the forward pulling rope. I move a bit further ahead. Guaranteed, as long as my beating heart is on this earth with a desire to thrive, I will engage in struggles to greater and lesser degrees along the way. Accepting this is so freeing for me. To struggle does not mean I am not whole. Interacting with my struggles means I am growing in wholeness.
When it comes to struggling in the process of fulfilling a vision, my Mom is an inspiration to me. She has been learning how to make pottery over the past few months, a dream she has had for long time. I never knew how much work pottery was until now. She has spent hours in learning the art of making a bowl. Before she could make big bowls, she had to master making small ones. Now she can make all kinds of amazing things. But the process and the struggle to make her vision reality never ends. She attempts her visions again and again. Sometimes the clay gets thrown away. Sometimes the glazing comes out unexpectedly. Sometimes something she thought would be a flop turns out to be her favorite piece… Sometimes a bowl turns into a plate or a mug instead. But for the love of what she’s doing and the joy she finds in her creations, she continues to engage in the process and the struggle.
There is a beauty and power in the struggle. Engaging in it when I need to is my opportunity to grow. Deciding to grasp on to the truth rope gets easier the next time, and the next. This struggle thing is really the magic happening deep down in my soil, that buzz that sparks new things to grow and flourish, the life force that can take what has died and make it into something new.
In this post I was wanting to capture the feeling of learning to fly for ourselves. We are untangling, we are, in bits and pieces, letting go of what we thought was true about ourselves and grasping on to something new, something better. These moments of growth, these little steps, are not so small… Allowing ourselves to see a bit clearer, stepping into the freedom of being more of our true selves each day, choosing to live in the truth even though others may find it hurtful, can feel like leaping across a crevice… There is tremendous courage in these moments.
In an excellent fantasy series by George R.R. Martin (the first book entitled A Game of Thrones), Bran is a curious, adventurous young boy who loves to climb as high as he can, whether it’s in the trees or all along the tops of the castle. But one day he is intentionally pushed from a high castle window, falling far to the ground and becoming physically crippled. Just before he wakes up for the first time, after weeks of being asleep, he has this dream. It struck a deep chord with me and I’d like to share it with all of you. In every moment, we move farther along our miraculous journey. With love ~Carla
It seemed as though he had been falling for years… Fly, a voice whispered in the darkness, but Bran did not know how to fly, so all he could do was fall. The ground was so far below him he could barely make it out through the grey mists that whirled around him, but he could feel how fast he was falling. The ground was closer now… He wanted to cry.
Not cry. Fly.
“I can’t fly,” Bran said. “I can’t, I can’t…”
How do you know? Have you ever tried?
The voice was high and thin. Bran looked around to see where it was coming from. A crow was spiraling down with him, just out of touch, following him as he fell. “Help me,” he said.
I’m trying, the crow replied…
The crow took to the air and flapped around Bran’s hand.
“You have wings,” Bran pointed out.
Maybe you do too.
Bran felt along his shoulders, groping for feathers.
There are different kinds of wings, the crow said…
Bran was falling faster than ever. The grey mists howled around him as he plunged toward the earth below. “What are you doing to me?” he asked the crow, tearful.
Teaching you how to fly.
“I can’t fly!”
You’re flying right now.
Every flight begins with a fall, the crow said. Look down.
Bran looked down , and felt his insides turn to water. The ground was rushing up at him now. The whole world was spread out below him, a tapestry of white and brown and green. He could see everything so clearly that for a moment he forgot to be afraid. He could see the whole realm and everything in it…
“Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?” he heard his own voice saying, small and far away. And his father’s voice replied to him. “That is the only time a man can be brave.”
Now, Bran, the crow urged. Choose. Fly or die.
Bran spread his arms and flew.
Wings unseen drank the wind and filled and pulled him upward. The terrible needles of ice receded below him. The sky opened up above. Bran soared. It was better than climbing. It was better than anything.
*Please note, this passage is taken from pages 160 to 163. Though it is quoted word for word, I have left some parts out to facilitate easier reading!*
The lie might at first be spoken directly, verbally, by a parent or a relative, a friend or a preacher or a teacher. It might be communicated indirectly, more subtly, through over-protectiveness or unreasonable discipline. The lie is different than a benevolent guardian saying, “I want you to benefit from some correction and direction from me because I want you to be able to live your life to the full.” It attacks the heart; it plants deep seeds of doubt about the wholeness of simply being human.
It teaches the follower to doubt everything about themselves. Their feelings, their thoughts are never quite right, never quite good enough. They have little sense of how to navigate through their own life because how can they trust themselves? They are a beating heart that believes they beat the wrong way. The Guilty Way teaches them to survive by either following other people or following idealistic “rules” outside of themselves. It creates a constant ongoing checklist in the mind, a constant and fearful battle to figure out the next little step. Sometimes those around us who have labored in it longer than we have cheer us on. Many times they do so in jest… or more blatantly with little comments, facial expressions or reactions.
It can tinge in almost any situation. In making choices about what to wear, what to eat, what to say… who to invite, who to call, who to visit… where to buy groceries, how often to clean the house, how to arrange the furniture… what kind of job to have, what kind of friends to have, what kind of wedding to have… where to go on vacation, what kind of bathing suit to wear, what kind of activities to do… what kind of haircut to get, what kind of makeup to wear, what kind of music to listen to, what kind of movies to watch… who to talk to at the party, where to sit in church, how much to charge your customers [if you’re acquainted with this Guilty Way as I am, feel free to add to this list in a comment!… ]
It can become so insidious and accepted that we live our lives turned inside out. We live to exclusively please others or fulfill impossible expectations because we doubt that it’s good enough for us to make choices with our own happiness in mind. We doubt that paying attention to our real desires and thoughts can lead us towards the good life. The Guilty Way wraps around our hearts like a snake, squishing out our life, our spontaneity, the vibrant, good and healthy us. And it is never quite satisfied.
More on a DIFFERENT way this Friday…
Taking a thinking break, I looked over to my calendar. The saying for February was about growing quietly but persistently… I liked that one. Suddenly I realized that it was time to turn it over to March! Pulling it off my cubicle wall, I excitedly peeled up the next page to read this month’s quote. It read:
“The most powerful agent of growth and transformation is something much more basic than any technique; a change of heart.” ~John Welwood
In a split second, I took my pen, crossed out “heart” and wrote a different word underneath.
A change of heart… My heart has to change? How?…
It was as if I was a little girl in church again and the pastor was telling me that I needed to change my heart. Feet dangling above the floor… innocent eyes and ears drinking in every detail, every voice inflection, every verse read, every song sung. Change my heart? Make it somehow… better?
Does this mean I have to change how I feel? Yes, I guess it must be that. I have to have better feelings. So some feelings are bad, and some feelings are good. Okay… so how do I change the bad feelings to good feelings? Because that “good” heart?- that’s what I want. Oh, and having a change of heart means I need to be good on the outside too? Maybe that will help… Okay, give me the list of what’s good and I will work very hard at it. Very hard! If I can work hard enough at this list, then will I get that good heart? Where do I go for the stamp of approval? What signs can I look for to know that my heart really has changed for the better?
I don’t think the writer meant for his words to be taken in quite this way… but that is how they struck me today. Instead of the phrase change of heart, I’ll be looking at the phrase change of understanding for this coming month.
Understanding. After I wrote it, I thought about that word. I pictured something strong standing up on the inside of me, strong legs and strong arms holding up my heart, holding it in place, letting it breath, letting it pump and flow and give and receive and BE alive. Understanding. Knowing that way before it got so confused with other people’s versions of “good”, my heart was good. It was born that way. It’s not my heart that needs to change. The thing that creates the vitality of transformation is a change in the underpinnings of what I believe about myself and a new understanding of where the faulty underpinnings came from in the first place.
Excerpt from A Clash of Kings, pg 97, by George R.R. Martin
“Sam squinted up at the Wall. It loomed above them, an icy cliff seven hundred feet high. Sometimes it seemed to Jon almost a living thing, with moods of its own. The color of the ice was wont to change with every shift of the light… The Wall stretched east and west as far as the eye could see, so huge that it shrunk the timbered keeps and stone towers of the castle to insignificance. It was the end of the world.
And we are going beyond it.”
In a previous post, I described the process of breaking through the walls that hold us back, how the light shines through the cracks and we can see the lies that these walls are whispering to us, the lies that keep us trapped inside.
There’s this one big wall that I keep coming up against time and time again. Sometimes I break through it. Other times, I give up. I peer beyond this wall. I know there’s so much to thrive in beyond it! It is a place full of opportunity, growth, joy. But when the lies start whispering it looks all the more unsafe, unfamiliar, there’s not as many people, there is too much to learn. When planning to pursue something new, I sometimes take a few steps in but then start believing (what I see now I’ve believed my whole life) that because I find this new thing so difficult, I just musn’t have what it takes to do it. I am incapable; I MUST just be inherently flawed.
This is such a painful lie to be stuck behind. My true heart says “I want to go beyond! That’s where all the good stuff is, the stuff I’ve dreamed about my whole life! I deserve to be there! I must be able to do it!” But the old rut says, “But it’s so hard. You’ll be uncomfortable. There’s pain to go through. People might think you’re crazy. You’ll mess up and look silly.”
The athletes in this year’s Olympics were champions against that lie (and YEAH Canada!!). A friend of mine pointed this out to me this week. They work and work and work towards a goal, going through all the ups and downs along the way. It’s no bed of roses; there’s no official place of “perfection”, of arrival. They embrace the journey and celebrate the progress towards or the achieving of their dreams.
So the simplest truth dawned on me. A thing won’t work unless I work it. Imagine a car sitting in your driveway. A person could look out there and say, “Hm, look at that car. It’s not driving; it’s just sitting there. It mustn’t work.” But… it’s plain that that’s not the whole truth! A thing won’t work unless I work it. A vehicle exists to serve me, but I have to drive it, get in and learn to work the controls, learn to keep moving forward. We work as a team.
In the world of thriving, there are many new things to actually put into practice, and I will fail from time to time. But my inexperience does not define my capability. It is simply inexperience, plain and simple. In the world of capability, I DO have what it takes to travel the path with all its ups and downs. Understanding this truth is totally freeing… The goals I envision for myself inspire hope in me again, and the resignation Wall loses its power.
It’s that stuff that makes us grow, helps us heal, helps us see. It transcends time, weaving its way through our childhoods, our presents, waiting for us in our futures (in the next second, and the next and the next…) It always leaves its candles burning, stars of light dotting our paths in every direction.
The truth leaves us forever changed. It comes and sits down in our living room or our kitchen and has a conversation with us. It welcomes every thought, every feeling, every doubt, every cry for help. It challenges us. It comforts us. It says, “There is a better way.”
Sometimes it is a whisper through stillness, a subtle sense in the far distance that knows if it comes any closer it will scare us away. It stays constant and unchanging. We move and it moves with us.
Sometimes it is a thousand trumpets! It bangs on our door in the middle of the night and says, “HEY! You were looking for me! HERE I AM! (oh, were you sleeping?…)”
Sometimes it runs to us, spanning miles and leaving its enemies conquered in its wake. It is valiant.
Sometimes it is just there. In the words of a friend, in listening to a child’s questions, watching the clouds, beholding a flower or a pet or cooking a meal, in a book or a blog or a song. It speaks out from such everyday things; it surprises us with how close it exists, how readily it speaks… candid, calm. It cries. It cheers. It watches. It sees.
Sometimes it is hidden. The lies we were told and the lies we believed encrusted it, and we pick up a chisel. We have to work at knowing it. Chip away this and this, and we glimpse it and keep chiseling and we sweat and we grow new muscles; we know there’s only one way.
We test it. We mull it over. We chew on it. It becomes part of who we are. Sometimes it tastes so satisfying, and this scares us at first! Sometimes we sit and look at it with hungry eyes for awhile, questioning if… we are worthy of it? Sometimes we can’t accept it because we aren’t ready. Sometimes we wolf it down! Sometimes it lands on us and explodes like fire. Sometimes it’s a seed that takes years to grow.
It reaches out to us in the long rays of a sunny morning and blankets us in the soft light of a night’s moon. It is the light that illuminates our souls and makes us shine.