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She said, “ I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I’ve learned that even when I have a pain, I don’t have to be one. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget the way you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou

This Maya Angelou quote, in a beautifully rugged wooden frame, was the first thing I bought when I started decorating for myself.  It hangs at the top of my stairs and I read it every day.  There are few writers whose words have a greater impact on me than hers…Ann Lamott might tie for influence in linking the universe with our beautifully imperfect lives with quotes like:

“The most profound thing we have to offer our children is our own healing.”

Maya’s words inspire me to consider every day the impact I have on other people, Ann’s challenge me to stand squarely and believe in the the hard fought wisdom I have gained in my 44 years. We all have different gifts, different ways of being and connecting, and one thing for certain is that the only truth we have a full understanding of is our own. We only get small pieces of the life stories going on around us, and they only get small pieces of ours, so learning to stand strong in our own truth and have confidence in ourselves without outside validation is an integral part of learning to live freely. I wrote my book, a series of quotes than strengthened my resolve to love myself more, and become more courageous and confident.

As a writer, quotes are a roadmap of consciousness for how to leave the path that I travel better off because I walked it.

Being a writer is something that I am just beginning to consider myself. I’m proud to say that I don’t hesitate or qualify my response anymore if someone asks me what I do.  

“I’m a writer.”  

It’s a vulnerable statement. It feels much more vocation than profession most of the time.  Can I support myself with my talent?  Do I have an area of expertise?  I used to think all of these questions needed to be answered before I could claim the title. My book, 365 Days of Optimism, CLICK LINK was published almost two weeks ago and so many people have commented to me, “now for the fun part!”. But one of the ways that I know I am sinking a little deeper into a writers shoes is because those words for me can’t be farther from the truth. The writing and creating is what frees me, the promoting… well, lets just say I already want to write another book.

But as I climb my stairs every day and read Maya’s words, I know that my words can affect how I make people feel. Hopeful, inspired, loved, accepted, optimistic. This is my aspiration.  If I can affect the emotions,  awareness, or positively influence the journey of even one reader with my words, the effort is well worth it, and a lot of the time, that reader is me. Sorting through my thoughts and emotions through my words has been the best kind of healing. If you are (and I find we almost all are) going through something, I highly recommend pulling out a journal or opening a new file, even if its just for you. Clarity flows through both the pen and the keyboard.

Writing is how I communicate best.  The calm in being able to think things through and pour them out into words and the ability to connect the greater universal truth with the specific experiences of life is blissful.  Creativity is a two sided coin, one side freedom, one side discipline.  It seems to me that the best writers master both.  Sometimes the various thoughts swirl and the connections between them don’t come as easily, but writers write anyway, and eventually we discover them again. Exercising the freedom to express your truth takes bravery, but the next step, the part that makes my writing come alive, is the courage to back up my writing with the actions in my life.  Even when other people don’t see the whole picture, or operate from a different mindset than me, I have learned that the way I sleep best at night is when I am standing on my own two feet and being uniquely and unapologetically me, believing in my own mission and purpose. That’s when people feel my calm, a gift I know that I have to give when I’m in the right heart space. I’ve spent a lot of years having my judgment questioned and my confidence has finally risen to a level that I don’t sway with the wind of other peoples desires and opinions. I’m willing to listen and learn, but I am content these days having my feet squarely on my own path.  My faith assures me that I am but a small piece in a huge picture, and this further helps the self doubt to move into a smaller corner of my brain. When I am operating in this space, the sky is the limit, it’s where flow is born.  

I’ve spent the last few years learning to hear my intuition clearly again.  It’s been a daily slug fest with self doubt and worthiness that has been intense.  If you are in this place too, keep fighting through.  There is nothing more rewarding than discovering the deeper layers of ourselves. It can be a gut wrenching process, but there is room for each of our perspectives in this bright and complicated world, don’t be afraid to add yours.

One of the greatest insights I’ve gained through this transformational experience, is to better understand the difference between sympathy and empathy.

Sympathy was there to greet me when I was at my lowest, but empathy is what stuck around, cheered me on, pushed me and wanted to see me grow.

I’ve found that sympathy often wants to swoop in and save me, but on terms or conditions that are not authentic for me. That looks different to many who were around before I found my way closer to my real self. There is always room for more growth, that is what keeps this one journey we’ve been given fresh, interesting and always moving forward, even through the messiness and missteps. But there is no freedom making choices to solely please others and losing yourself in the process. Even if my circle is smaller and path less populated with fans, I will take true understanding of myself and my experience any day of the week. if you find yourself in the position of having to start over again, believe me, the desire, and hard fought ability, to do it on your own terms is a silver lining…and I am always looking for those.

What am I good at? What do I know? What do I do? Not even a year ago, these questions would bring tears to my eyes because I felt such a deep sense of not knowing, even inadequacy, that the lump would immediately rise in my throat. The incongruent angles and lines that are my life are not easy to make sense of at this point. What I thought I knew continues to shift and change. I know a little about a lot of things, and that left me feeling less than confident. Today I can say that I have been staring down that feeling of less than for the last year and, as I try to do the next right thing on a daily basis, that feeling is fading away.

Today I brought my everyday best friend, volleyball partner (and partner in so many of life’s good things) to spend time in Fresno, surrounded by people from my childhood and my high school years, to celebrate the life of Nancy Taylor (who i wrote about here). 

https://theoptimistsjournal.com/blog-2/2018/11/20/the-paths-that-lead-us-home

The celebration of her life brought the most wonderful people together to tell stories, and to laugh and cry together. We even had those moments where generations confess the crazy stories of the past. As I sat and listened, I realized what I’m good at, and how much of it is a part of upbringing. 

I know how to make things grow.

That’s what we do where I’m from. You pass the signs: “Raisin Capitol of the World” “Cantaloupe Capitol of the World”. You name it, I know someone who grows it.

We are proud to tell you what we grow and show you how we do it. But then, I realize it runs so much deeper than that. It’s generations of people, figuring out what grows in what soil, how to take care of things to make them thrive, how to weather hardships and storms when your livlihood is on the line because no year, let alone a life, is perfect.

I was taught by people who know that growing things is not about perfection, but persistence. It’s about showing up when the conditions are less than perfect, and making the best out of situations you cannot control. Growing is even about getting stuck in the mud and figuring out how to get the heck out of it. It’s knowing that someone may have better soil or a bigger crop than yours, but that you are going to make the very best out of what you have made. It’s about having patience because everything good takes time to grow, and intuition to know that every living thing is going to take a little something extra or different to thrive...and then figuring out what that special ingredient is and taking care of it. 

I am so grateful that even though my feet are in the sand today, my roots were planted in heavy soil, so no matter where I go, I am strong enough to hold on and weather the storms that come my way. It’s what gives me the courage to put my work out there and let it be seen and to embrace this crazy journey that is mine. From good roots comes strong growth and the best way to learn and teach is by doing.

“Your heart will tell you things that your head never will, it’s important to listen.”

This was the last quote I put in my book, 365 Days of Optimism, and I’ve enjoyed the dialogue it has produced. I think it has drawn more comments from readers than any other quote I’ve posted and comments allow me to look at things from different angles. My quotes come from my own life experience and philosophy which I hope is always growing and not afraid to confront new ideas.  I have a true appreciation for the way other people think and enjoy running their thoughts up against my own.

As I was working on this blog, I picked up a new book that I was drawn to because of a post from @theangrytherapist, called To Love and Be Loved, by Sam Keen and within the first few pages my philosophy was pinging with his thoughts.

“But probe beneath the secular surface and you will find a spiritual intuition alive and well - but shy.” 

My heart is so intimately tied to my faith that this quote resonated with me. Spiritual intuition - such good words to describe the wisdom that lies in our hearts, and for so long I was afraid to listen to mine. I’ve discovered that it is where the truth of my own self worth lies, and listening to my heart has revived my belief in myself, challenged me to look honestly at my life and my patterns, and take responsibility for my choices.

I get it, being completely led by your heart, without the rational mind, can sound reckless. Freedom comes with a lot of power though, and human beings make mistakes. We don’t get a free pass from their consequences and have to learn how to move through and grow from our mistakes. But if given the choice to live a buttoned up dutiful life that doesn’t take in the quality of our free spirit, or live freely and learn from our mistakes, I choose the latter. I wouldn’t trade freedom for the myth of perfection any day of the week.

In my mind, we can still be successful, make a positive impact on our world, and follow our hearts if we rely on two other things that ultimately keep our head in the game too: 

  1. A set of core values that are cemented firmly in our hearts, but that are so embedded our brains we automatically believe them to be true. 

  2. The desire to keep perfecting the craft of living - even though we will never get there, the pursuit will lead to better days. 

These two rules take me out of a purely pleasure seeking state, which is what I believe can be the real danger in following just your heart.  As we grow, we have a choice as to how we wrestle with the big self-actualizing stories of our lives, and we have to be brave enough to figure out why we are who we are, and to confront the why’s and how’s of what leads us everyday. If we don’t our pain will follow us and manifest in the form of things like addiction and anxiety that hurt us and those around us and never allow for our best life.

For me, that’s where the heart comes in. As a historically timid rule follower with a traditional set of values, I’ve found that my heart will tell me the truth, while my head tends to conform to what is going on around me. While I need to use both, it takes more courage for me to listen to my heart. It’s the battle of being an original, allowing myself to be different, and being brave enough to stand on my own two feet when it looks different than everything around me, that has given me the most trouble in finding my real truth. It’s about finding that worthiness and knowing that it isn’t tied to conforming. When we don’t feel worthy, we don’t ask for what’s best for ourselves out of this life. Even with good habits and hard work, our spirit gets ignored. When I ignore my spirit, anxiety rises up in me like a scared cat with the fur standing straight up on her back. For more on that feeling, read here, I really enjoyed this article.

https://www.elephantjournal.com/2018/01/why-empaths-highly-sensitive-people-suffer-with-chronic-anxiety/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=The%20Daily%20Mindful%20January%2012th%20-%20MUDWTR%20Banners%20%20Silver%20Fern%20Editorial&utm_content=The%20Daily%20Mindful%20January%2012th%20-%20MUDWTR%20Banners%20%20Silver%20Fern%20Editorial+Version+A+CID_492575e5f6107cad933d2427ead04ff8&utm_source=Email%20Marketing&utm_term=Read

For a long time I thought I could muscle through anything, but when I started listening to my intuition, that’s when I learned how to flow.  The heart is a muscle, and I have been open to a lot of training for mine over the years, both spiritually and physically, and am thankful for all that I have learned. I will keep training everyday and I look forward to a more free and compassionate life because I have learned to listen, in some of the scariest and most challenging times, and know that the truth in my heart is what has brought me through.

Bravery is the focus of the new year for me. As I write this, I’m eating chocolate on a train through the Swiss Alps with one of my oldest and dearest friends who gets me completely (what a gift), taking in a view that I’m so grateful I get to see it brings tears to my eyes. Reality check, pinch me...creation is a miraculous thing and life is feeling pretty great.

As I waited at the train station before I got on, I caught up on some of my reading and, amazingly enough, the Wall Street Journal led me back to my faith. Peggy Noonan writes this week about political correctness and the arts. It’s a good read of course, take it in and let me know what you think. 

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.wsj.com/amp/articles/baby-theres-a-chilling-effect-outside-11546559097

As she talks about the experience of the artist she says:

“All artists are meant to be free and dar­ing. Their job, whether in drama, com­edy or mu­sic, is to ap­proach the truth—to ap­pre­hend it, get their hands on it and hold it up for a mo­ment for every­one to see. That’s a big job, a great one, and you can do it only if you’re brave.” 

Now, brave is not something that I have ever considered myself. In fact when I took the VIA Character assessment, (try it here- it’s fun and interesting) 

https://www.viacharacter.org/survey/account/register

it didn’t register high on my list of character strengths…my top two were fairness and forgiveness. The cool thing about positive psychology though, is that every trait can be improved with dedicated work. The more I write and explore my faith, the braver I get. I have the heart of an artist, a writer in my case, and the pull of my intuition is not something I can ignore. If I do, it leads to the worst feeling of stagnation and deep dissatisfaction. 

Pope John Paul II, in his 1999 Let­ter to Artists, noted some­thing that, when I read it in Ms. Noonan’s column, struck a deep cord of understanding in my heart, and prompted me to read the entire letter. 

Here it is in - just in case:) Pope John Paul II is one of my heroes from as far back as I can remember. He had such a gentle way with wisdom and power.

http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/letters/1999/documents/hf_jp-ii_let_23041999_artists.html

“The artist faces a con­stant sense of de­feat. You’re work­ing, you’re try­ing, but it’s never as good as you wanted, as you dreamed. Even your most suc­cess­ful work only comes close. Artists are look­ing for “the hid­den mean­ing of things.” Their “in­tu­itions” spring from their souls. There is an “un­bridge­able gap” be­tween what they pro­duce and “the daz­zling per­fec­tion” of what they glimpsed in the cre­ative mo­ment. They forge on any­way.”

Oh my gosh, yes. That feeling of never quite good enough and always looking for the hidden meaning…every single day. I love it when something that I didn’t know was “a thing” is so brilliantly articulated. But despite any frustration, the infinite possibilities keep pulling me back to the vision...like “A Million Dreams” from the Greatest showman. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSQk-4fddDI

What I have discovered in my soul searching adventure, is that while I’m not wild, I am free, and free looks wild to many. I think what causes this perception, is when we don’t allow our own souls to be free, and we resort to judging others out of dissatisfaction with ourselves. We all have the ability to be true to ourselves and focus on our own best self, if we are brave enough. That’s the life I want, and the example I want to set for my kids. 

We hold ourselves back from our fullest life for so many human reasons.

My top three:

  1. Afraid of the judgment of others

2. Afraid of failure, which comes in more forms than I can count - broken hearts, financial loss, lost relationships, being misunderstood…(Big scary stuff that only faith can conquer for me)

3. Making the call as a parent that doesn’t produce the smile in the moment, but wisdom and intuition tell me is the right choice for the long haul (so much harder with teenagers than when they were little).

I experience freedom though, as I confront and work through these things, and the experience is equal parts exhilaration and deep contentment and, as always, mixed with a little fear.  As I walk the path, the truth beats the fear when I am brave enough to confront it. Wishing you the brightest and bravest 2019. Here’s to the accepting the challenge of staying brave.

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