This week, school is back in session. One of my daughters started today and the other two start tomorrow. Two are now in university and one is in grade 8, her last year before high school.
I can say all of the clichéd things, and mean them… My how time flies! Wasn’t it just yesterday I was changing their diapers? How did it all rush past in the blink of an eye?
The return to school always reminds me of the relentless and dependable forward motion of time. Tick, tick, tick goes the clock. Flip, flip, flip go the pages of the calendar.
Today I was rushing out for last minute school supplies, haircut appointments, musical instrument rental, etc., and in the middle of it all, I wanted to hit the pause button. I wanted to slow down the pace of time, enjoy a few more summer days, and cling to my daughters’ fleeting childhood before it all disappears.
From my daughters’ perspective, still in their formative years, this is the way life is supposed to be lived – growing each year, advancing one grade after the other, stepping always forward on the straight line of time guided by the clock and the calendar. It’s the way we’re all raised – to believe that there is always meant to be forward movement. That’s not a bad thing – we want growth to happen.
But that’s only part of the truth and there’s something else I really want my daughters to learn that they probably won’t be taught in school.
Life is to be lived along the spiral and not simply the straight line.
When I was at the beach this summer, working on my book, I spent a lot of time watching pelicans. One of the things I love about pelicans is that, often, they fly across the sky in giant spirals, round and round, adjusting the arc of the spiral just enough each time so that they end at the far side of the sky from where they started.
They do this to conserve energy, riding thermals (updrafts of warm air that rise from the ground into the air), so they don’t have to flap their wings as often. They look so content and relaxed up there, circling round and round with very little effort on their part. High in the sky, they look like mythical creatures, as if they’d climbed out of ancient legends of magicians and shamans. Their shape and the way they move holds both mystery and myth.
That’s the path that I have come to believe is the most true way of seeing our lives. We go round and round, coming back each time to nearly the same place we’ve been, but always with enough of a difference to help us progress forward over time.
How many times have you been in this place you’re at right now? Like the seasons, our lives come back again and again to the harvest of Fall, the dormancy of Winter, the rebirth of Spring, and the growth of Summer. And, like the seasons, we live through the long dark spells, the slow sunny days, the rain, the wind, and the snow. We cycle through grief, through growth, through joy, through surrender, and through ease.
None of the seasons lasts forever. All of them change us a little before we begin the spiral again.
If you are in a place you feel like you’ve been before – whether it’s another cycle through grief, restlessness, waiting, or fear – don’t despair. You’re simply spiralling through the sky, learning what you need to from this trip around the circle, and moving a little further each time.
If you were traveling up a mountain, you’d be best to take the spiralling path, adjusting to the altitude, not tiring yourself out too quickly. Like the pelicans floating on the thermal air, you conserve your energy by not rushing straight ahead. You also learn more and see more that way. This is the way life is meant to be lived.
Don’t rush through, even though the path might seem hard right now. Take what you need from this time, and let it unfold in the fullness of time.
If you want to take a closer look at your own spiral path, I invite you to join us for the October offering of The Spiral Path: A Woman’s Journey to Herself.
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“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
Last night I went for a walk in my favourite neighbourhood park, Henteleff Park, a long narrow strip of native grasslands and forest along the Red River. Just after entering the park, a movement at the edge of the woods caught my attention. I glanced over to see a dark animal, and because I could only see the top of its back and because I am mostly accustomed to seeing deer in that park, I thought it was an unusually dark deer.
I stepped off the path I was on and ducked through the trees to get a closer look and it was only then that I discovered that it was a bear. A BEAR! Within city limits! Just 5 minutes from my home! Just 20 feet from where I was walking!
Now, for many people, that would have been a rather terrifying discovery that would have sent them quickly back home. For me, though, it was quite exciting. I wanted more! Though I stepped back onto the path and didn’t go directly into the woods were I saw it disappear, I wandered the park for another half hour, hoping I might spot it again. I never did.
What occurred to me after wandering through the woods by myself (there are rarely other people in that park), slightly nervous but not overly concerned for my safety, is this…
Courage looks different for each of us.
After reading my story of bear-seeking, your thought might be “Wow! She is really courageous!” But the truth is, it didn’t take a lot of courage for me to keep walking in the park. I grew up wandering in the woods by myself, and I have always been a camper and hiker, so it didn’t feel like foreign territory for me. It felt familiar, with just a touch of adrenaline. Black bears are not particularly dangerous unless you provoke them.
You may never wander in the woods where you suspect a bear might be found, but there are probably things that you do quite naturally that would seem extremely courageous to me. Maybe you’ve grown up in a place where there are rattle snakes or tarantulas and they hardly phase you but would terrify me. Or maybe you’re way more comfortable wading into situations where there is conflict than I am. (I am admittedly rather conflict-averse.) Or maybe you’d go spelunking in a dark cave where I wouldn’t be caught dead. (Dark claustrophobic spaces are my version of hell.)
There are no universal yardsticks for courage.
There has been much hubbub lately about Caitlyn Jenner being awarded ESPN’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award after making her first public appearance as a woman. There is at least one meme floating around social media where her Vanity Fair cover photo is seen alongside a photo of soldiers in battle, suggesting that REAL courage can be found on the battlefield, not on the pages of a fashion magazine. Now, I’m not interested in arguing whether or not she was the right choice for the award, but I do want to say that it is a false construct to try to compare one version of courage with another.
What looks like courage for one person may not be courage for another person.
Sometimes, in fact, what we interpret as courage may in fact be the lesser of two evils for a person. A soldier, for example, may be on the battlefield because he is running away from something that really scares him at home. Gunfire may feel less risky than shame, rejection, or family conflict.
For some, it may take more courage to come out as transgendered or gay than it takes to join the army.
For others, the most courageous act might be to take a leap of faith and leave a job in a toxic workplace.
For still others, it might take years to work up the courage to speak their truth in front of people who disagree with them.
Courage is a very individual thing and nobody can define it in your life except you.
If you try to measure your courage on someone else’s yardstick, you will never learn to be true to your own life.
Only you can decide what courageous step you need to take in order to be true to yourself.
Don’t try to take someone else’s step – take your own.
And don’t sell yourself short when you take that courageous step. Celebrate it!
We’ve found a rhythm, he and I. On beautiful Fall Saturdays, he says “let’s go fishing”, and I say “sure”. He grabs his fishing rod and tackle box, I grab my book, camera, and journal, we pack a lunch and drive to his favourite lake.
When we get there, he heads toward the dock, and I head into the woods. At some point, we meet for a shore lunch, but most of the day we enjoy our separate solitudes.
Today after wandering as far as the path would take me, I found myself drawn into the shadows.
First it was a ladder of light climbing the moss on the side of a rock that pulled me away from the shore. Then it was the lichen on a decaying branch. Like a tiny white forest perched precariously on a cliff.
The closer I looked, the more I marveled at the intricate beauty growing in the shadows.
My curiosity drew me further into the woods.
Crouching down in the moss, a whole world unfolded under my gaze.
There were mushrooms that must certainly house mythical creatures at dusk when humans have gone home.
There were mosses in a thousand shades of green.
Each a tiny tree, dwarfed in the shadows of the giant trees all around it.
My knees were soon green and moist with reverence.
There was no end to the beauty, no end to the shadows.
And as I marveled, I knew that I had opened an doorway into a universal truth.
I knew that it wasn’t only in the woods that wonder waits in the shadows.
Once again, the woods were teaching me, tapping me on the shoulder and saying “Pay attention. This is important.
“There is beauty in the shadows. Things grow there that you don’t expect.”
In the darkest of days, the unexpected shows up and offers grace.
Like mushrooms and lichens and moss, there is wonder and beauty and wholehearted life that is available to us when we open ourselves to growth in the midst of shadows.
p.s. If you want to learn more about the gifts we receive in the darkness, that will be the theme of one of the lessons in The Spiral Path: A Woman’s Journey to Herself.
I was raised on a healthy dose of “only a sinner, saved by grace”. Again and again the Sunday School songs reminded me to carry the shame of the sin that had separated me from God. I was nothing without salvation – a wretch, a lost soul, a disgrace.
On top of that, I was a woman – reduced to second class in the eyes of a male (understanding of) God. Not good enough to have my own voice. Not strong enough to lead without a man as the head.
And then, to add to those stories of unworthiness and submissiveness, I was a Mennonite, taught to be a pacifist, discouraged from standing up for myself. Turn the other cheek and don’t rock the boat.
Let’s not forget that I’m also a Canadian, and people in my country place politeness high in our values.
That’s a lot of old stories that contribute to my “I am worthless” back story.
Now…I’m not going to argue the theology or “rightness” of any of those belief systems – I’m just speaking from my own experience here. I’m just saying that it’s hard to emerge from a history like that with a healthy self-confidence and a belief in one’s worthiness.
It took a lot of personal work to start telling myself other stories. It took a lot to begin to believe that I was worthy of love, that I was equal to men, that I could believe in a God that was both masculine AND feminine, and that I was “fearfully and wonderfully made”.
For awhile the pendulum swung in the other direction. I started to embrace those self-help books that told me that I am awesome, I am powerful, and I can do anything I set my mind to. I started to believe that I was a self-made woman and that I didn’t need faith in a God who made me feel worthless.
But the other end of the pendulum wasn’t comfortable for long either. If I am awesome, than I don’t need other people. If I am perfect the way I am than I can get away with treating people poorly and not cleaning up after myself. If I can do anything I set my mind to, then I don’t need grace and I don’t need God and I certainly don’t need to pay attention to the wounds all of us AWESOME people are inflicting on the world.
And what if I don’t FEEL awesome all of the time? Then do I send myself back to the “unworthy” end of the pendulum because other people have figured out this self-help stuff better than I have? And what about when I do something that is really selfish – do I simply excuse myself with an “I am worth it” mantra? Do I never hold myself accountable for my screw-ups or unkind acts? And if there’s no need for grace, then how do I pick myself up after a particularly horrible failure?
Gradually the pendulum swung back, but this time it landed somewhere in the middle. This time it stopped in the grey area – the paradox.
- I am beautiful AND I have a lot of flaws.
- I am smart and capable and have a lot of gifts AND I need to be forgiven when I make mistakes.
- I am loving and kind AND sometimes I do things that are downright mean and hurtful.
- I have been fearfully and wonderfully made AND I need a lot of grace for those times when I don’t act or feel like it.
- I am full of wisdom AND I rely on God/dess to help me use that wisdom with discernment.
- I am a sinner AND I am a saint.
- I am good enough as I am AND I need to keep working to improve myself.
- I am as worthy as any man on earth AND I want to keep living on a planet where both genders are needed.
The grey area is a good place to live. It feels comfortable, because I don’t need to be perfect, but I also don’t need to believe that I am worthless. It’s the field that Rumi talks about – I want to lie down in that grass with you.
“Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’
doesn’t make sense any more.”
p.s. There is still space in tomorrow’s Openhearted Writing Circle, if you want to explore how your own writing can help you get to an “I am enough” place.
“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” ~ Mark Twain
Tomorrow, after I teach a storytelling workshop for a national non-profit, I’ll be heading out on a special annual pilgrimage. A twelve hour road trip in good company will take me to the Black Hills of South Dakota, where I will gather once again with the women of Gather the Women.
This will be my third year in this circle of women. I can hardly wait to be with them again. When I am in this circle, I feel fed, held, honoured, encouraged, and strengthened. Even though we only see each other once a year, women in this circle have supported me through the grief of losing my mother, encouraged me in the growth of my business, and cheered for me every time I’ve done something brave.
But the primary reason why I keep going back?
They call me into my greatness.
These women want me to succeed. They want me to be bold, strong, and successful. They want me to make a mark in the world. They believe wholeheartedly in my work and cheer with their whole hearts when I do it well.
Why? Because MY work is OUR collective work. And because when I succeed, we ALL succeed.
That’s the way it is when you surround yourself with powerful women who aren’t threatened by other people’s power. We succeed together and we leave the world a better place.
Are you longing to surround yourself with that kind of support?
I can help. What those women do for me, I want to do for you.
I want to call you into your greatness.
I want to cheer from the sidelines as you succeed. I want to nudge you into those places that feel scary but you know are right. I want to help you find your path.
How can I help you?
1. Come join Pathfinder Circle where you’ll find yourself surrounded by other women who are also daring to find their paths and step into their greatness. (It’s an online coaching circle that meets once a week for 8 weeks, starting September 30th.)
2. If you want to step into your greatness in your writing, sign up for Openhearted Writing Circle. (It’s a one-day online writing retreat, on October 4th, that will help you crack open your heart and pour it onto the page.)
3. If it’s one-on-one support you need, sign up for coaching. If you’re a leader/facilitator/teacher/coach, check out this offering.
Many years ago, when I was in my first leadership position, I realized that helping other people shine is just as good as shining yourself. Because we all benefit from each other’s glow.
Let me help you shine.