Thursday, June 18, 2009
Sunday, June 14, 2009
It isn't often that I use a quote, as the foundation and inspiration for my blog posts, to be as long as the one Nelson Mandela spoke at his inagural address, as the one above. And yet, a great part of me feels that I could simply leave the quote, and allow this space to be empty. The fact is there is very little I can add to such a statement, very little enlightenment I can share and very few thoughts I can pass along to bring this sentiment's meaning with further clarity. The idea of viewing ourselves in this way is both liberating and terrifying. How can we step back and view ourselves as wonderful and meaningful creatures, filled with all the potential in the universe, when we are beset with self-doubt, weighed down by years of criticism and fear of failure? Hypothetically, it is potentially life changing to release all of those chains of bondage we wear in the place of success. And yet, we find comfort in those chains, don't we?
Most of us are comfortable with the familiar. We like to know what is expected of us. We operate well within parameters. This isn't to say we don't have moments of creative inspiration or act as mindless drones all the time. But, we tend to view the world, both our own personal one as well as the wider one, in familiar terms. Over the years we build up our chains, binding our potential and keeping us thinking of ourselves in certain, 'never altering' terms. What do I mean by chains? Surely none of us are physically bound by linked metal. Still, the ways in which we keep our potential locked up can be just as limiting as those ropes of iron. After a while we fail to notice that they even exist. Like Jacob Marley, Ebenezeer Scrooge's doomed ghost of a partner, we rattle our chains and wear them for eternity. While ours may be metaphorically, they are every bit as heavy and oppressive as Jacob Marley's. Marley came back to show Scrooge a different way...a chance to redeem himself from a life of selfishness, hard heartedness and cruelty. What is fascinating about Dickens' portrayal of Scrooge's journey is not the various ghosts that visit him, but rather, the way that Scrooge releases his fears based on past hurts of his own. We learn that Scrooge did not set out in life to be an angry, bitter, greedy man. We understand that he picked up that mantle as a method of self-presevation. He came to see his chains as a way to protect himself.
Most of us pick up our chains through very little fault of our own. We are told by teachers that we're stupid, lazy or undesirable. We internalize peer pressure to conform our very thoughts to the standards currently in vogue. We suppress our talents because experience teaches that putting ourselves 'out there', we risk immense hurt, humiliation and failure. Once we have had our hearts broken and our inadequacies are exposed, we are far more likely to don figuartive bullet proof vests, shutting out even more than chains. When we have been told 'no' enough times, we stop asking. We forget that we loved to sing, or to write, or to dance. We distance ourselves from our passions because keeping them close risks exposing our desire for them. We deny ourselves the pleasure of possibility because of the chance for frustration and defeat. As Mark Twain said, over 100 years ago, "Once a cat sits on a hot stove, he won't ever do it again. But, he also won't sit on a cold one." Like cats in fear of sitting on a hot stove, we suppress our hopes and dreams. We feel deficient and remain uncompleted.
So, what do we do next? How do take that first scary step of releasing our chains? What do we need to do to feel those hints of liberation? We must simply begin with our hearts in our throats and just do it. We take chances, create new prospects and risk embarrasment. For most of us, the fear of dreading humiliation is much worse than the mortification proves to be. We begin by asking for help from people whose talents we admire. We start by taking a stab at something new. We simply aspire to do more, to be more and to experience more than our current limitations allow. As a writer, I'm opening myself up to learning from more experienced mentors. It's terrifying. I'm afraid my mentor will tell me that I am a talentless hack. And yet, even if that's what I'm told, I feel grateful that I have the chance to even try. If the worst case scenario is being unsuccessful, then I will be no worse off than I am...always wondering. My mother once told me not to be afraid: that the worst someone can say is "no". What we all need to do, myself especially included, is to be okay with the possibility of "no", but to prepare for the chance of "yes".
In my yoga classes, I will often begin with an invitation to my students. We will focus on one area in our lives that we would like to improve. We breathe and focus all of our thoughts on achieving that hope. Then, bringing our hands, palm up, to our mouths, we blow those hopes into the universe, asking God to help us find the path that makes those hopes come to fruition. This exercise is not about opening up a fortune cookie or reading a horoscope. It's giving us a mental, tangible way to release those feelings we bind to ourselves, but also embracing the proactive approach to attaining the next step. One of my own mentors has told me that sometimes I need to get out of my own way. In sharing this with my students, not only am I passing this wise life approach forward, but I'm learning to live it as I share it. I have found the best teachers are those who are, themselves, constantly learning to be more open. I hope that, as I learn to release the bonds of insecurity and doubt that plague my own journey, both personally and professionally, I can show my students that they, too, can release...and then begin to soar.
As we meditate on Nelson Mandela's words, I hope that each of you can find one area in which to let go of your apprehension and invite in assurance that all will be well. As you do so, you may find that you encourage all those around you to do the same...or even grow beyond you. To me, the mark of a life well lived isn't what we do ourselves, but what we can inspire in others.