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The truth is almost always personal

I recently read Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir, by Beth Kephart. On the back cover are these words: 

It is almost always personal – and consequential – to tell the truth. 

And . . . right alongside the risk of truth-telling, is the possibility, the benefit, and our hope:

“Every word a woman writes changes the story of the world, revises the official version.” ~ Carolyn See

I’m back and forth between these two bolded statements because of my own writing of late: the final edits of my manuscript. It’s not memoir, but still, personal – and consequential; not memoir, but certainly compelled by my dogged desire to “change the story of the world.” (Or at least the way we have been telling the stories . . . )

On the one hand, I am reminded that it’s not truth OR consequences (a reference to a very old TV game show – if you are too young to remember); it’s truth AND consequences. On the other hand, I am compelled by just how important it is that I write, that I speak, that I trust the ways in which my words, my truth, do change the story . . . my own and others’.

Writing and me aside, the same is true for you. All women sit in the tension these two statements elucidate.

We are caught between the risk of our truth and its impact, its cost and its significance, our fear and our yearning.  

*sigh*

*****

Another recent read has been The Book of Essie. I stumbled across it while looking for an epigraph quote — a couple relevant keywords in Google, plus “quotes” and this is what showed up:

“It’s men who trust they will suffer no consequences for their actions, while women suffer no matter what they do.” ~ Meghan Weir

No surprise: I immediately went to Amazon for details, then my online library app for the audio book. I won’t spoil it for you, but again – no surprise – it deals with exactly what I’m naming here: Women reside in the impossible tension between telling the truth and changing the(ir) world.  

It shouldn’t be impossible.

As I was lost in the pages of Essie’s story, I thought back on my own — the places where I knew my truth, but wouldn’t take the risk and couldn’t bear the consequences (or so I thought). I thought of other times in which I spoke my truth, how everything changed, how it was impossible to go back, how most of the time I wouldn’t have gone back even if I could, and how painful it was to move forward. And I thought about how this is the reality for most every woman. Past and present. Not just once, but over and over again.

If we weren’t so familiar with it, we would feel crazy (and often do)! It’s become par for the course, second nature, what we know how to do extremely well.

Weigh the costs
Consider the outcomes
Put ourselves second . . . or last
Compromise
Comply
Long for change
Wonder if it’s even possible
Speak up
Take it back
Apologize
Wish we were stronger
Get stronger
Step forward
Risk everything
Survive

I’d be elated if we could jump directly from “weigh the costs” to “step forward,” “risk everything,” and not only “survive,” but thrive.

There’s no simple “answer” to this conundrum, but I do have some thoughts.

We alleviate the consequences of our truth (or at least our fear of such) by telling it, by building our capacity to do it even more, by trusting ourselves.

The way in which this messy and excruciating world will change is by women being unswervingly committed to their truth – and its out-loud expression.

Our courage to tell our truth and change the world is exponentially increased when we are surrounded and supported by stories of other women who have done the same – whether Essie, Eve, or countless others.   

I had “maybe” at the start of each of the three sentences above. A dilution of my own truth. A fear of being misunderstood or too bold or too outspoken. And a way in which the change I long for on my behalf, yours, and the world’s, is slower to occur, harder to imagine, and that much further away. I guess it feels important to acknowledge that even though I am the one writing all of this, I am often stuck in the same bind – over and over – in the most insipid of ways.

And then there’s this:

I know telling your truth is hard. I know it is scary. I know there are consequences. And I’m sorry. 

I also know that your truth, the know-that-you-know-that-you-know voice within, is worthy of being heard, that your story is, that you are. Written. Spoken. Allowed. Celebrated. Lived. And when that happens — as it should and as it must — it’s definitely world-changing, story-changing, life-changing . . . changing everything. As you deserve.

As I’ve written this today, I’ve wondered how it will land for you — whether you will feel desire or tension, a deep knowing or a shoulder shrug; if you will be proud of where you’ve boldly and bravely told your truth or lost in your memories of truth-avoided.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I long for you to trust your truth and your power to change the story of the world . . . of your world. If I could wave a magic wand or say a prayer or cast a spell or maybe all three in one, this IS what I’d wish, hands down, every. single. time.

May it be so.

Saying “no” (out loud) to shame

I’ve been thinking about shame a lot lately.

I know it’s showing up because in the seemingly-endless writing/editing of my book manuscript, the story I’m working right now is all about shame . . . or so we’ve been told. (No, it’s not Eve — though that’s true in her story, as well.)

Here’s the shocking thing: there is NO reference to shame in the text itself. Every bit of it, centuries of it, has been brought to bear by those who have told her story.

She doesn’t feel shame. It’s what has been overwhelmingly applied to her. Blech!

Here’s what I’m struck by: this is what we do in and to our own stories — apply shame to ourselves!

Why? Why is that so often our default?

Yes, there is MUCH to be said about patriarchy, capitalism, consumerism, and then some — cultural and ideological realities that prey on the fact that when we feel shame we stay in line, don’t get too full of ourselves, don’t feel empowered, remain convinced that we’re not enough, spend money to become enough, and never quite hit the mark (which starts the cycle all over again).

But even after we’ve named all this, parsed it out via good and ongoing exploration of our own stories, it still sits there and shows up again and again and again: the burden of shame.

And so I wonder (not surprisingly), had this woman’s story — and Eve’s and so many more besides — been told without shame, would we so easily, unconsciously, and repeatedly apply it to ourselves?

My answer (not surprisingly) is that we most definitely would NOT!

Our work is to discern, in our own stories, our actual life, if shame IS what belongs there, or if its what we (and others) have assumed, applied, and layered on after-the-fact. 

One way to do this, to parse through all of this conflicting story-stuff and shame’s prevalence, is to think about a time in which you considered breaking the rules, stepping outside the lines, following your intuition / wisdom / heart. You KNEW it would create a ruckus, that others wouldn’t like it, that you would be seen as stirring up trouble or not following protocol or being selfish . . .

Or think about a time when you did it anyway . . .

  • What did you feel when you contemplated this choice?
  • And if you went through with it, what did others “make” you feel?
  • Do those emotions (which I’m guessing include shame) mean that you shouldn’t have done it? That you were wrong? That you WERE selfish? (I’m hoping your answer is “no.”)

See?

The insipid presence of shame either keeps us from trusting ourselves enough to make bold and brave choices that are in perfect alignment with who we truly are, what we truly want , and all that we deserve OR we do make the choice and then pay the price. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

Have I mentioned? Blech! So, back to the story and no actual mention of shame . . .

What if there was no mention in our own? What if we erased it? What if we didn’t give it a second thought? What if we understood it to be something that we’ve inherited and been taught to apply, but that doesn’t belong to us at all? What if we could eradicate it from our vocabulary and our lived experience?

What if, indeed!

And how would we do that, exactly?

Well, there are lots of ways, but here are two that come to mind:

First, we become acutely and intimately aware of when shame IS the emotion present (vs. guilt, humiliation, or embarrassment — to use Brené Brown’s vocabulary). We assess if it is REALLY what we feel or if it only seems like it because it’s what we are so familiar with — and/or if it’s what others expect and WANT us to feel (or are applying). And then we say, “no!” We refuse shame’s presence. We deny its power. We separate ourselves from the pattern or habit. We turn on our heel and walk a different way.

Second, not as alternative but as accompaniment, we reimagine and retell the countless stories we have been told about a woman’s shame — as though it were a given, just the way it is, commonplace, and to be expected. We critique our own assumptions and others’. And we re-vision those stories in ways that reveal their inherent beauty, wisdom, and strength . . . so that WE are the ones who come to see, understand, and value the same in ourselves.

Brené Brown says that “the antidote to shame is empathy.” For ourselves! And according to Kristen Neff, self-compassion is the key — which includes self-kindness vs. self-judgment, acknowledging our common humanity vs. isolation, and mindfulness vs. over-identification.

Think of it!! If empathy and compassion had been our implicit and overwhelming response to Eve’s story, to that of the Woman at the Well (the one I’ve been working with), to countless women throughout time, and ourselves?!? Everything would be different. I have to believe it still can be.

This week, maybe start small. Notice when shame rears its ugly head — and how it makes you feel. Then quietly (or loudly!) just say “no.”

Another thing? When you see shame being applied to other women — whether on social media, in a book or film, on the news — say “no” again. Out loud. And in its place, apply generous doses of empathy, self-compassion, and yes, grace.

You deserve a story without shame — past, present, and future. Every woman does — past, present, and future.

May it be so.

*****

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If I had a Book Group

I ordered a book a few weeks back, but have basically avoided it since it arrived. Well, until a couple morning’s ago when, reinforced by strong coffee, I opened it up and dove in. Since then, I’ve barely put it down: The Wisdom of Your Body: Finding Healing, Wholeness, and Connection Through Embodied Living by Hillary McBride, PhD

If I were hosting a bookgroup, this is DEFINITELY what we’d be reading and discussing together! Here are at least a few reasons why I’m so taken by what’s within these pages:

  • An appreciation of my body, not to mention any semblance of acceptance, is a long way away for me; it always has been.
  • I grew up in a world that prized the split of body from mind; thinking reigned supreme. Even though I no longer accede to this, it is still what my brain (and body) are used to.
  • In full transparency: I don’t know how to come home to my body. But I want to. I pretty sure I’m not the only one.
  • I have often felt, especially in the last 5+ years or so, that learning of and practicing embodiment is the “final frontier” for women (including me). It seems to me it is what “remains” as it relates to our ability to fully embrace our inherent and ever-present wisdom and strength.

If any of these things sound or feel remotely familiar, read on . . . I’ve included a few of the most poignant quotes I’ve highlighted so far.

Regardless of our circumstances or what we have been told about bodies, remembering and reuniting with our bodily selves is a radical act to undo our need to earn our worth. . . 

. . . many of us have forgotten ourselves as bodies. We did so in order to survive the pain or to be compliant, but in the process we left behind so much of the beautiful. 

. . . body-image research shows that the closer we get to achieving our ideal appearance, the more conditional our sense of self worth becomes, and the more we fear what it will cost us when our appearance inevitably changes.

I used to think that the sacred place where I met the Divine was always somewhere else, somewhere that was not “here” in the rhythms of my daily life. But now I see that the Holy is very much here — my body is a sanctuary, a mobile home of the Divine.

So good, yes?

A quick addendum: I had this written and ready when I happened to see an email that included the transcript of a recent sermon by Nadia Bolz-Weber. I couldn’t not include at least an excerpt for those of you who, like me, have an understanding (or lack thereof) of your body that has been heavily influenced by the church.

“The wildness of human variation isn’t a mistake — it is a sign of the glory of God — and yet we made it a sign for the value and ranking of people. Leave it to humans to take a gift and turn it into a curse.

But your body — your body is not a curse, it is a chariot.

It is a glory and a wonder. An individual container of the holy. It is a glimpse into the image of God. And it deserves so much love and respect for it has carried you through every day of your life — even every day of Jr High. Think of THAT.”

You can read the whole sermon here. It’s brilliant. She is.

Worth repeating: “. . . your body is not a curse, it is a chariot.”

May it be so.

For Days of Self-Loathing

I came across a poem a few weeks back by Nikita Gill. The corner of the page was folded down — evidence that I’d read it before. I have no memory of such, which surprises me — given how worth-remembering it is. I’m pretty sure you’ll agree…

Affirmation for Days of Self-Loathing

On the days you find the mirror hard to look at,
remember there is a myth which says<

the face you have in this life
is the face of the person you loved most

in your last.
I know it’s just a myth

but think of how much more love
you would give yourself if it were true.

No matter how much has changed in my life over the years, how much I have changed, one thing has remained the same: my highly-honed and quick-to-activate self-critique. It’s caustic, harsh, and sadly, seemingly endless. “Self-loathing” is an accurate naming.

I don’t like admitting this.

It’s not all of me, of course. It’s only one voice I hear. Sometimes I can completely ignore it and other times dismiss it out-of-hand. I don’t even agree with it most of the time, but still, it remains — sitting in some dark recess of my mind, waiting for a moment to spring, and muttering under its breath in the meantime.

I sometimes hear myself say, “Oh, what I’d give to weigh what I did when I was 20, 30, 40, even 50…” Or I look closely at my 61-year-old face and wish for the skin I had during those same decades. But here’s what is true: I was just as critical of what I saw even then! I was just as unsatisfied. I was just as self-loathing. By sake of comparison, there was nothing to complain about! So, here’s what is even more true:

Self-loathing has nothing to do with our weight or our skin or any manner of things we might wish were different; it has nothing to do with the mirror at all!

We have internalized the belief that we are not acceptable as-is. We always want something to be different, something to change, something to be altered or adjusted or improved. Always! It doesn’t seem to matter if we’re 16 or 61, the pattern persists.

There has to be a better way, a braver way, a way to finally-and-at-last see ourselves as beautiful and whole no matter what.

A few mornings back, I woke up to this question:

What if I WAS the person I loved the most?

What would that mean?
What would that require?
What would I start doing?
What would I stop doing?
How would that feel?
Who would I be?

There are a million more questions that flow from these. I hope you’ll give yourself the time and space to ask them, that you’ll let yourself hear your most honest and vulnerable answers. Not the ones that rise up, unbidden, from the self-loathing voice that natters on. Instead, the ones that barely whisper from deep within. Harder to hear, to be sure; far more reliable and true.

It’s hard to imagine, given how familiar we’ve become with self-loathing, but were we to love ourselves the most, all the voices (and demons) within would be silenced — forever and ever, amen.

Underneath self-love (and an end to self-loathing) is something even more primary:

We must believe we are worthy of love in the first place. Others’, yes; our own, even more.

I wish there was some simple formula for this, some mantra we could repeat, some genie in a magic lamp, some potion to drink, some switch to flip. There’s no such thing. (But oh, the efforts of Capitalism to convince us that there is! We are bombarded by formulas and mantras and magic and potions and switches the instant we open Instagram or Facebook.)

No simple formula, *just* a life. This life. Your life. And mine.

A lifetime to let go of self-loathing. A lifetime to disbelieve and unlearn the lies. A lifetime to hear and trust our heart. A lifetime to allow, even welcome self-love. And maybe, if Nikita Gill is right, other lifetimes, as well.

About “someday”

You know of Lizzo, yes? Her music, her recent show on Amazon — Watch Out For the Big Grrrls, her incredible voice as a singer, but also in the world. I am enthralled by her, quite honestly; taken aback (in the best of ways) by her boldness, her courage, her defiance, her fierceness. 

I recently came across something she said that feels worth sending your way — along with some thoughts of my own and hopefully prompting many of yours! 

“My movement is my movement. When all the dust has settled on the groundbreaking-ness, I’m going to still be doing this. I’m not going to suddenly change. I’m going to still be telling my life story through music. And if that’s body-positive to you, amen. If that’s feminist to you, amen. If that’s pro-black to you, amen. Because ma’am, I’m all of those things.”

Many if not most of us hope to do something groundbreaking, to enable some kind of significant change, to leave a lasting legacy. And right alongside that desire — whether secret or stated — is our lack of belief that such a thing will ever be so. 

Or maybe it’s just me. 

There is so much I’d love to be able to do, transform, create, dismantle, build up, leave behind. I have the greatest visions, the biggest imagination, the strongest hopes and a voice within that says, “Keep it in check. Tone it down. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Who do you think you are?”

Who do I think I am? Well, if I lean on Lizzo’s wisdom…

“I’m all those things.” 

It’s not about becoming more, somehow transforming ourselves into who we yet want to be. It’s about acknowledging who we already are! 


Consider listing out all of the things you most hope for and dream about in your own groundbreaking-ness. 

Now, will you (can you) acknowledge them as who you already are? Not who you might or might not become. Not someday but today! Not what you wish could happen, but don’t dare dream. Not what you visualize or long to manifest. But already within you, part of you, all of you — right now.

Lizzo’s self-acknowledged groundbreaking-ness has to do with being body-positive and feminist and pro-black. “I’m all of those things.” My groundbreaking-ness has to do with redeeming women’s stories and inviting/compelling women into their inherent sovereignty. “I’m all of those things.” 

And your groundbreaking-ness? What is it? What do you want it to be? What would you hope-beyond-hope it could be? What if you are all of those things? (You are, you know?!)

If, like me, your inner critic is already working over time to convince you of just how impossible all of this is, that’s the BEST news!

It’s evidence that you are on to something, that your groundbreaking-ness is not only imminent but inherent within you! Otherwise, the voice wouldn’t be speaking at all!

The gap between what you desire and what you doubt is the very path to take. It IS the discernment you need to keep moving forward. It’s the direction that’s yours to walk. 

Not easy, but clear. Not without risk or cost, but worth every one. And “when all the dust has settled,” the you-you-already-are you will still be standing — in all your groundbreaking-ness and gloriousness. 

May it be so!

About the quiet and silence.

 

So often, I talk about a woman’s voice and courage and sovereignty. Yours. Mine. Ours. It matters. It is what I’m passionate about and committed to. And. All of these realities, these ways of being, are profoundly strengthened when we choose, revel in, and allow silence.

I was inspired to write about this via an article in the Atlantic and this quote:

“In a world of so many traumas and terrors, I am desperate for silence. It is not escapism, not always. It is about meeting oneself. The way you might encounter yourself in the silence of, say, journaling, is distinct from how you reflect in the public arena. In silence, a certain veil is lifted. We might realize that the rage we feel in public is born from fear or despair in private. Healing is a very quiet thing. In the silence, we can wrap our wounds. There are times when taking shelter is a noble thing to do.” ~ Cole Arthur Riley

(I immediately downloaded her book: This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories that Make Us)

Silence “not as escapism,” but about “meeting oneself.”

How beautiful are these words? 

“In a world of so many traumas and terrors, I am desperate for silence. It is not escapism, not always. It is about meeting oneself.”

We often fear that if we’re not taking a stand and speaking up and constantly talking about all of the “traumas and terrors,” that we must be trying to escape; we are evading what requires our attention and looking the other way. And though that may sometimes be true, more times than not, it’s not.

There is a lot going on: the stories happening in our world and the oft’ excruciating stories in our own personal world. As I’ve named before, it can be difficult to let ourselves feel all of it — to name what we feel, to give ourselves permission to feel, to believe that the sky will not fall when we do. It is far easier to stay busy, to distract ourselves, and to allow “noise” to overtake the quiet.

But in such times, silence is what we need more than anything. It’s how we hear ourselves think. It’s how we name — with honesty and courage — what we truly feel and why. It’s where we actually feel — at least in part. It is, indeed, about “meeting oneself.”

And it is not escapism when you allow this, when you choose this, when you prioritize this. It’s intentionalism. It’s sacred. It’s necessary.

Why journaling matters and why, for me, it gets prioritized above nearly all else.

Again, let’s return to Cole Arthur Riley’s words: “The way you might encounter yourself in the silence of, say, journaling, is distinct from how you reflect in the public arena. In silence, a certain veil is lifted. We might realize that the rage we feel in public is born from fear or despair in private.”

Exactly. We MUST have a place that is ours alone, quiet but for our own voice; safe, secure, and completely vulnerable — with no risk at all. 

Oh, that we could know this in relationship with others, that we could trust that our every thought would be allowed, welcomed, not “fixed,” argued, or requiring defense. I used to believe that such a thing was possible…even mine by right. I also used to believe that it was for-sure my fault that I didn’t have relationships like that. It didn’t occur to me for a very long time that I was the one to give this to myself. 

*****

There was a season in my marriage where I picked journaling back up after a hiatus of a few years because I needed a place to process all that was hard, everything that made me so angry I could hardly see straight (but never acknowledged out loud), the long list of things I wished was different.

I kept a 3-ring notebook just under my side of the bed. College ruled paper. My favorite pen. First thing in the morning, before the girls woke up, I’d pour myself a cup of coffee, climb back into bed, pull it out and write. It never occurred to me that my then-husband would ever read it. But one day, in the midst of another painful conversation, I realized that he had been. I was furious. I was exposed. And most of all, I was ashamed. Ashamed that I had any thoughts or feelings that I wasn’t willing to let him see and know.

I know better now. I know that every one of my thoughts and feelings were legitimate and allowed. I know that the shame never belonged to me. And I know that were it not for that silent-and-sacred space (sans it being violated), I wouldn’t have been able to hear me, to make hard choices, or begin to see — with increasing clarity and strength — what was calling to me.

*****

Now, almost every morning, after pouring a cup of coffee, I sit down at my laptop and let myself ramble for an hour. Sometimes it’s just that: rambling. I articulate what I did the day before, what’s coming up in my schedule, a snippet of a dream from last night. Sometimes it’s a response to my inner critic or my fear — letting them speak instead of pushing them away. Sometimes it’s something I’m worried about related to my daughters or money or any number of other pressures I feel at times. Sometimes it’s about my spirituality, my beliefs, my questions, my doubts. Sometimes it’s the way that I work out what I want to write and why I’m even doing it in the first place. And always, with about 15 minutes left, I turn over the next card in my deck and wonder what woman-and-wisdom will show up to speak directly to what I’ve just written and expressed. (It’s amazingly perfect and profound. Every time. I still can hardly believe it.)

I also know this: especially when it is not safe to name and express your deepest feelings, your truest truths, you must have a place that is. Journaling offers that. (With, of course, the caveat that it IS safe. You should know: my journaling immediately switched to a password-protected document on my computer from that point on.)

You deserve and need a place in which you can say any and everything, in which you can rant and rage, in which you can wish and hope and dream. You deserve and need a place in which you can wander without direction and process without answers. You deserve and need a place in which you can, as Riley says above, lift the veil and encounter yourself. 

It’s quiet there: silence that is blessed and expansive and healing…

How “healing is a quiet thing” and enables us to “wrap our wounds.”

Again, how beautiful are these words?

In the context of the story I shared above, it was only in silence that I could hope to heal from that betrayal. Talking about it with him (which is what he wanted) only left me feeling more raw and exposed. Stepping back, choosing silence, and giving myself permission to be quiet, to not speak, was what allowed me to heal (eventually), and, over time, what enabled me to build the strength I needed to leave.

That’s but one example. There are many, many more. But far more important than my stories, are yours.

What reality, experience, or current struggle comes to mind that deserves healing? What wound is waiting to be wrapped — with a steady hand and a generous heart…yours on your own behalf? What spaciousness and quiet are you intentionally giving yourself for all of this and then some? (These might just be questions worth journaling through.)

Inviting the quiet in, letting the silence “speak,” will offer you exactly the wisdom you desire (and deserve). It’s how you hear that know-that-you-know-that-you-know voice within. ‘Promise.

Can we know when to choose silence and when to speak?

My quick answer: Probably not — at least with failsafe certainty.

My longer answer: Yes. Definitely.

I return to exactly what I named above: that know-that-you-know-that-you-know voice within. It speaks to you all the time. It knows of what it speaks. It can be trusted. You can be trusted.

Your own wisdom (which you can hear in the quiet) tells you that silence is the right thing, right now: that your voice does not need to be front and center, that more healing is required (and deserved), that other voices must be given attention, respect, and volume.

Your own wisdom (which you can hear in the quiet) tells you that silence is NOT the right thing; that it is actually preventing you from being heard, seen, known, and yes, sovereign. It’s no longer tenable. It’s no longer tolerable. It’s time.

Your own wisdom (which you can hear in the quiet) tells you that your voice is exactly what is needed and the most perfect-and-powerful thing you can bring and trust and use in this very moment. Definitely.

We can know when to choose silence and when to speak when we’ve given ourselves enough silence, enough space, enough quiet to discern exactly this! I could keep talking, keep writing, but that pretty much defeats the point of what I’m attempting to say, yes?

I’ll conclude with one more paragraph from Cole Arthur Riley (definitely read the article; it’s so good!):

“Audre Lorde famously said, “Your silence will not protect you.” This wisdom has been taken to the extreme. To be silent is to be complicit, people (including myself) have said. This can be true. There is certainly a silence born of cowardice, a silence that emboldens oppressors. But sometimes to be silent is to finally become honest. To halt the theater. In the quiet, we at last hear the sound of our own interior world. The pain or numbness. The guilt. The nothing at all.

And I would add, the deepest, most reliable wisdom that endlessly dwells within. Within you.


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