In response to my last post about feeling down and deeply frustrated with ongoing pain and limitations, several people contacted me privately to basically say “you are SO not alone”. I want to say a sincere thank you to those who responded. It IS good to know that my struggles are by no means unique —- except in the particulars.
Today is a day with more grace in it. Physically, I’ve been up and down —- make that a little more on the “down” side. This week I have more commitments to be out and about than I usually do, partly because my spouse is out of town for work and my SIL’s cats need care while she and her spouse are traveling. Something big that has helped is reminding myself that I don’t “have” to do it all, and certainly not all by myself. There’s a back-up person if needed for cat care; when I do the cat care, my son is doing the heavy lifting and the climbing of many sets of stairs. So, with these extra tasks, I’m remembering to choose to not do quite a few things I ordinarily do. Like cook, or hassle my son about what he should be doing in his studies, what he should be doing in preparation for Speech Exams, or moving forward this week in some of my long-term projects.
At our last Story Circle, I was talking about the stories we live by. I was encouraging us to examine the story we’ve been living, and see if it still fits our lives as we’re given our lives here and now. Are the stories helping us, opening our lives, making our world bigger, or are the stories giving us guilt-trips, ongoing disappointment, and a smaller life? The last time I did a major examination of the stories I tell myself about my life I was much more physically “able”, and the story had a fair number of heroic elements in it, including the overcoming of challenges and the fighting of monsters (some inner, some outer, some really real).
Whole books could be (and have been) written about these internal stories. Most of the time, unless we’re unusually self-directed, our stories have been given to us by well-meaning families or teachers as well as by the culture and media. One story that I used to live by that I absorbed through my religious heritage was that if I’m not dead yet, then I haven’t given enough. It went like this: You are a talented and gifted little girl. To those whom God has given much, much will be asked. We are to be like Jesus in all things. Jesus gave all, including his very life. I will not have given enough until I, too, have given my entire life.
While it is compassionate to be generous and to share our gifts and our lives, it’s easy to see that the message I internalized, though logical, was a bit off. What happened to the “I came to bring Life, and Life to the full”? Well, I had to fully understand the operating story that I had within myself, challenge it (over and over and over again), and actively choose to live by the “Life to the full” story. By the way, this “Life to the full” story was the one that I described above that has all the heroic elements to it. Who doesn’t love an action story, at least at some times in their lives?
Even this story, as good as it is, hasn’t been serving me anymore. Or, another way of saying it is that this story has not been opening my life or making my world bigger in a good way lately. It’s not been helping me to live with grace, or wisdom, or bringing to fruition my gifts in light of what the rest of my life has been handing me. It’s hard living with paradoxes, and even harder when you’re telling yourself that you have to do something that you don’t even really have to do. Not living up to the story that we believe our life is unfolding is what brings us frustration, guilt, and even dis-ease (not feeling at ease in my own skin).
But the stories aren’t static. We do have the choice to change them. Even if we believe we have a certain mission in life to accomplish, there’s lots of ways to skin a cat (oooh —- what a horrible figure of speech! Especially for me!!!)
We don’t have absolute choice though: today, at least, I can’t choose to lead a political campaign, or run a 10K. So while I can change the story I’m telling myself about my life, I still need to be creative with the paradoxes that reality drops in front of me. I can’t choose my reality, but I can dance with it (from afar, some might think I’m wrestling with it; dance, wrestle. . . it’s not all the same, but sometimes they do come close).
So, the new story I’m telling myself these days has some to do with my day to day reality, with some models from my heritage of Baba Yaga wild forest woman stories of my Polish background and some St. Brigid stories of monasteries from my Celtic ancestors. Instead of going out adventuring, it has more to do with settling in to a place, deeply. Instead of going out to fight monsters (like violence, or sexism, or. . . , or. . . ), I need to stay in. Those who need to find me will know where I can be found; and I can send out letters reflecting on what I’ve learned over the years. . . .
May YOUR story fit your life. May it bring out your gifts to yourself and to us, and help you live your life abundantly, fully.