“One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.” -Maya Angelou
I understand the struggles that come from doing “the work” through struggle and pain, building a personal practice, and a new life.
What is courage? Is it a mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty, or is it something more?
I believe courage is the strength in the face of pain, sadness, suffering or grief. It is the ability to act on beliefs through criticism and judgment. Courage is moving forward even if the journey seems scary and uncertain. It is finding the strength to ask for help, being vulnerable, and surrendering our will and trusting that the universe has our back. Courage is moving out from what is comfortable and being curious about the possibilities.
I have been reflecting on the events that played out over that last month. I have taken leaps and bounds from the rock bottom suffering that I was enduring in late August. Flashbacks of driving through Blaine that Monday enter my head from time to time, filling my heart with sadness and curiosity. The images and feelings are burned into my soul as a reminder of the place I can never visit again. I was scared that almost fatal day when I planned to end of my life. I remember thoughts racings through my mind as I drove back to my house in Northeast Minneapolis. My single-minded focus was broken by what felt like a gentle hand pressing on my shoulder. I turned my head expecting to see someone sitting next to me, but it was my dog Rufus.
He looked intently at me with his sad golden eyes and took a deep sigh. His penetrating gaze said “Mom, you rescued me four years ago, and now I am going to rescue you.” I snapped out of my helpless daze and turned my attention to driving. When we returned to the house, Rufus led me to our bedroom to lie on the bed. He sighed again and whimpered to get my attention. I lay beside him and we fell asleep.
I know that if I ever visit that place again I will never return. (for more about this storyhttp://whenshifthappens.org/out-of-the-ashes-i-emerge-intermission/ or whenshifthappens.org website is under contractions)
I was lying below smoldering ashes of my life, in shock, mental anguish, brokenness, and fear. I could hear my “crazy aunt,” a character in my negative mind who encourages fear, self doubt and worry, taunting me with her vulgar words. She sneered, “Kamie, you will never be good enough, smart enough, or pretty enough. You have nothing to offer this world or to a relationship. It is obvious that you can’t keep a man happy, and who could love such a pathetic person.” Early in my life she was more of a whisper, but more recently, her voice had become more cruel and resentful.
She is wrong.
“The truth is: belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect.” – Brene Brown
I am well educated in self-care practices. I have many clients and friends who have come to me with their issues and struggles. I have all the resources to get help, yet I put my own self care and self-love on hold. I was failing myself, and I needed to figure out what was missing in my life before it killed me. Since my husband’s affair (now ex-husband), I have been searching for balance and love through staying up late flirt-texting, in relationships with emotionally unavailable men, using drugs, alcohol, and sex to bandage my fragmented and inconsistent life. I was not living my life but trying to survive the pain of living.
I have one foot in the grave. What should I do? So, I prayed. I didn’t know if there was anyone listening, but I did it anyway. “Please help me. I am lost and scared. I am in so much pain and have lost my spark for living. My soul is hungry for peace and love. Please help me. Please help me. Please help me. I am listening. Please help me.”
Something shifted. I was awoken from the shackles of pain and the cackle of my “crazy aunt.” But now I had to do “the work.”
“When we tackle obstacles, we find hidden reserves of courage and resilience we did not know we had. And it is only when we are faced with failure do we realize that these resources were always there within us. We only need to find them and move on with our lives.” -A. P. J. Abdul Kalam
I decided to take time away from everything and begin building a practice of self-love was the medicine. I needed to make some drastic life changes. Rufus and I traveled to the North Shore to find peace. Instead, I found that I had to face the pain and do “the work” to learn from the pain. Pain is our greatest teacher and the courage to face it would be my greatest struggle. I built a self-love practice of devotional reading, journaling, meditation, and physical movement. It was exactly what I needed.
Over the week away, my fragmented and unsettled life became apparent to me. I continued to pray for help and surrendered to the signs of healing and forward movement. I received signs. I encountered nice, motivated people. I met a talented runner and now good friend named Paul who has confirmed my need for a spiritual practice and growth. I was going through the routine of going to church routine, attending on Sundays to hear the good Word and then continued my life, not giving much thought to a spiritual practice. Because of the lack of connection, my mental, emotional, and physical health had finally become depleted.
I came back from my week off with clarity, a self-care routine, and better plan for my future. I minimized complexity in my life so I would have fewer distractions and more rest. I discern that I was suffering in all aspects of my life, my friendships, my family, and my studio. I am now sifting my way through the ashes and have found light, self love, inspiration, courage, and strength that I didn’t know I had. I also have an endurance coming from deep within my soul. All the things I have been neglecting are now taking center stage and, more importantly, I have found my spiritual practice. I wake up at the same time every day, and I start my day with prayer, devotional reading, journaling, meditation and movement. I am gentle with myself during the day. I end my day with readings and a gratitude journaling about three things that I am grateful for. I know that my “crazy aunt” is still alive. She lives in the guest house; she is a teacher. She has taught me that there is more to life than just living. Life is about giving, and in that, giving joy and peace are born.
“This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice. Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in. Be grateful for whatever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.” – Jellaludin Rumi, The Guest House
I know my courage. I see my strength, and I know that I have so much to offer this world. I am content with where I am and curious about life. I have embraced my past relationships as lessons and am thankful for what they have taught me. I invite pain into my guest house as a teacher and guide, rather than seeing it as a means to suffering. I have lived through experiences, and I am ready to share them with all who will listen. I have wisdom that can only come from staring death in the eyes and saying, “I am not ready yet.” I have more to create, more to live and more to love. I have so much love to give. I am going to share my love and kindness with my friends and family and to my studio and clients. I am going to share my love with my dog, Rufus, to people I meet, and maybe someday I will have a partner that I will share my love with.
For now, I am in a relationship with myself and God. It is a pretty fabulous place to be. I still hurt from the losses, but they remind me that I have lived and earned my life. The hurt is there to be a reminder that I have taken chances, and I have had the courage to continue to take chances. I have the scars to prove that I had the courage to love.
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” -Eleanor Roosevelt