Write Your Own Story of Strength and Resilience

Yesterday, I arrived at a deeper sort of realization about my own resilience. After all of the restorative work I have done – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – I am not nearly as fragile as I imagine.

dsc00757After years of pushing myself to the limit, I came to accept that my body was screaming “enough!” (An easy message to receive while lost in the exhaustion of the Epstein-Barr virus.) I responded by paying attention to my body in previously unimagined ways and began a discovery process about health and spirit that will continue for the rest of my life.

This heightened awareness was and continues to be amazing. For all that I have learned, however, there is one major drawback: I became more conscious of my limitations than I was of my own strength.

I was obsessed with the food I couldn’t eat, the yoga I was too weak to practice, the events I couldn’t enjoy since I needed such an intense amount of rest. The worst of this illness was three years ago, but the legacy of lack still haunts the edges of my perspective.

Somehow it was largely impossible to recognize the incremental improvements that I was making because I had become so addicted to the story of my own illness. I came to realize how afraid I was to expend any energy for fear I would either crash and burn or feel like a failure and an invalid.

Only in the last year have I been able to step back and watch myself weather one physical, mental, or emotional storm after another. Life has been happening around me with all of its attendant ups and downs, and I am finally coming to realize that I have actually been riding the waves in grand enough style.

We live in a world plagued by contradictions and polluted with mixed messages. We are at once shown powerful women so worthy of respect and emulation (Oprah and Hillary immediately come to mind) and yet we are also barraged with ad campaigns about only finding your true worth if some man buys you a diamond or if you drop a few pounds.

We know in our guts that we need our strength, but the selling of fragility as the way to love and safety infects us all to some degree. I don’t think this is only a woman’s problem – all people, regardless of gender are subject to a market that thrives on keeping us weak. (Give in to you cravings. You know you need that drink/candy bar/trip to the casino. Resistance is futile.)

dsc00749Was my preoccupation with my weaknesses the direct result of a misogynistic media or the capitalist machine? Not likely. But it did help me understand how so many people are constantly unwilling or unable to acknowledge their own power and resiliency and instead become invested in their own limitations. We all get caught up in the stories that society hands us and the ones that we then personalize for our own journeys.

Our stories are vital, personal bits of narrative that connect us to the experience of our own lives. They can be beautiful, epic descriptions of strength that help reflect back to us our greatest traits. All too often, however, they are little scraps of fears and disappointments that have been woven together to become a dark fable of the futility of life.

The nice thing about stories? Someone gets to make them up based on the facts and the dreams that lay before her. Can you look at some of the stories that you tell yourself about your life and choose to turn the tales about resilience and strength into your own lived epic?

Softness and Strength, In the Soul and On the Job

Hanging up the phone, I stretched and sighed and immediately got up to fill the office teapot. I had to get back into my body and find peace in my rapidly beating heart. It had been a success – I had just convinced a vendor whose faulty service had disturbed the smooth flow of a conference I had organized to cut our bill in half. Mixing firmness with resignation, verbal gymnastics with pregnant pauses, I had gotten my way and saved some of the grant money that I badly needed to apply to other causes.

This is one of the things I am good at – making the person on the other end of the phone realize that he is dealing with a redhead who knows what she wants and what her organization needs and refuses be denied. It is a valuable skill in my professional life and was essential when we bought our house, but sometimes I wonder if it is a liability as I search for a deeper connection with my soul.

Swagger and confidence are treasured commodities in so much of the world, and I know that I have cultivated more than my share. These qualities have been a fine shield that have insulated me from that dreaded vulnerability. Thing is, such a shield blocks a lot more than just a few guys who seek to swindle a poor defenseless maiden. Walking around with an acquired tough girl attitude has made too many people believe in my callousness and irreverence. It is awfully hard to convince someone that you are a healer interested in affairs of the spirit when you just threatened (oh-so-hollowly) to make somebody come to the library to fix the leaking pipes.

At the same time, there are rings in this steely suit of chain mail that have their own spiritual purposes. Schools of thought in the world of energy healing differ about whether or not the healer can take on her client’s negative energy, but regardless, it is necessary to establish boundaries between practitioner and recipient. I know that I have an ability to say “no, I am sorry, but that is not acceptable” when I am staring down a contractor, and I can do the same if something comes up when I have someone on my table.

In the same vein, it requires a great deal of strength to be the firm hand that guides people through the places within that scare them. A healer encounters a great deal of resistance when she tries to help someone break their deepest patterns.  Even as she listens to the needs of the client, she must have the confidence to take a stand in the battle against a person’s well constructed – but essentially harmful – defenses.

I fear the extremes – weakness on one side, stridency on the other. If I become a completely spiritual being, will I lose that edge that can be so useful in the world? If I indulge the parts of me that dare someone to mess with me, am I making this endeavor for wisdom nothing more than empty rhetoric?

There has to be a way to marry these aspects of myself, to cultivate supple strength and mighty tenderness. It is a vital sort of balance, one that permits me to revel in my humanity and yet still linger with the Divine. Dancing, always dancing, with these seemingly opposite drives…

Embracing the Need to Heal

Since I have started reading David Edwards’ Burning all Illusions, as I have discussed in the last two posts, it is amazing to me the new lens through which I gaze at my experiences. One of the topics that he has illuminated for me is the uncomfortable degree to which we are forced to bear the mantle of modern society, “the way things are” in that resigned fashion that is meant to excuse all of the excess or the pessimism or the difficulty that marks the age.

In accepting “the way things are” we must stomach living in a state of constant contradiction. We’ve all listed those ridiculous phrases that roll off the reporters’ tongues and only begin to fester in our ears when we take a little step back: “peacekeeping missiles” is the one I find most odious. One of the less neatly packaged paradoxes that we encounter all the time is the celebration of both senseless strength and fragile victimhood in our culture. On the one hand, we are told face the world with an aggressive, competitive stance, to quit whining and arm ourselves with a stiff upper lip (whatever that is – I notice it is my bottom lip that is most likely to betray me when I find myself on the verge of pouting or crying). Yet, at the same time, as Caroline Myss discusses at length, we use our wounds as currency; we let all of the bad things that have ever happened to us be our defining elements and we demand others recognize what we have suffered.

Images of soldiers in distant deserts on one channel and confessional talk shows on another.

A conversation with my chiropractor the other day brought my own struggle between these two poles into perspective. I have been visiting this network chiropractor for over three years for various issues with my back and have been to see him more often lately as I struggle with sciatica. After a month away from his table and almost that much time away from my yoga mat, I returned last week with that same nagging pain in my right leg. After my treatment we chatted for a while – he was telling me that I needed to come more regularly to deal with this issue and I was trying to express the fact that I had spent more than enough time in his office. Thing is, I know that what he does can work for me, but what does it mean that I end up “broken” again after only a few weeks away?

I am a healthy young woman, so how is it that visiting alternative health practitioners has become a pastime that eats up a significant portion of my “discretionary” income? I do plenty of yoga (or at least I do when I am not afraid of a forward bend damaging this cantankerous nerve I never knew I had until this fall) and I know how to breathe healing energy into my body. I’ve been practicing Reiki for years and I understand a good deal about the connection between body, mind, and spirit. What is it that makes me so passive in my healing process? How did I become so dependent on these people with their gentle touch and well-placed needles and singing bowls? I never thought I understood that old adage “physician, heal thyself” until I realized that I was applying “body-attuned creature, sort out your own aches and pains” to myself.

Upon expressing these competing concerns to my chiropractor, I think a moment of true understanding blossomed between us. It was not that I wasn’t committed to healing, it was just that I felt guilty plunking down a $15 copay a couple times a week instead of doing the work myself. As we talked, I realized that placing myself under someone else’s care did not make me weak; it just proved that we are all part of a connected universe that hums along by creating constant webs of interdependency.

The other thing that he reiterated to me, but which finally made some sense, is that the symptoms I experience are just part of my body’s reaction to stress. Previously, this just made me more annoyed with myself – what was wrong with me that I was not using the ample tools at my disposal to deal with this alleged stress? What was I forgetting to do that made it possible for all that stuff to get lodged in my vertebrae?

This was the moment that I recalled all that I have been reading in Edwards’s book. If I truly believe that something is out of joint in terms of how we live in this world, if we are forced to conform in millions of insidious, soul compromising ways, then it only makes sense that my body is under more pressure than a human form was ever meant to bear. Since I believe so strongly that emotions manifest themselves in the physical form, it seems inevitable that my body would find her own way to rebel against the ideas my mind is only beginning to comprehend.

I have spoken of compassion many times before, and it seems time to employ such lovingkindness in the way I treat this body of mine. She is neither soldier nor victim; she is my soul’s home that deserves to be cared for and understood.