The day-to-day goal of the campaign was to check in with a blog every day and complete all of the happy practices every day. I did not meet that day-to-day goal. In fact, it’s been eight days since my last post, which was not necessarily a particularly happy one. Now, I have this one last day left before the surgery and still so much to tell you. I suppose this is a good post to begin summing up some of what I’ve learned for myself these past 22 days.
First, I’ve learned that I often set unrealistic expectations for myself. This is not a news flash to anyone who knows me well. Sure, I can blog every single day and post to the facebook page ten times every single day and exercise and meditate and cook for my family and teach and grade and walk the dog and make sure I’m eating healthy and make sure the people that I love know I love them and and and and and and…. I don’t know when I began living my life like this. Maybe this is just how I was born. And I honestly didn’t JUST learn this about myself in these 22 days. I have known it, in some way, for a long time. I think what I learned, more specifically, during Team QueenPrincess is that setting unrealistic expectations for myself is just my way of trying to conquer the world.
There’s a beautiful line in a song from the stage production of Mary Poppins that says, “If you reach for the stars all you get are the stars but we’ve got a whole new spin, when you reach for the heavens, you get the stars thrown in.” Every single time – even right now just writing it out here – I hear this line, I get choked up. I am damn proud of my unrealistic expectations. I have had them my whole life. They are my way of reaching for the heavens. Not everyone reaches for the heavens. Not everyone even reaches for the stars. And this seems to me to be a colossal waste of the very precious time we have on this earth. So many stars have been thrown in to my life while I’ve been reaching for the heavens that as I continued counting my gratitudes this past month, I realized I am surrounded – TOTALLY SURROUNDED – by blessings from the universe. This has probably been true since my birth but without reaching for the heavens, I don’t think I would have ever climbed out of the hole, that some of the events in my life had put me in, to see them. And I believe my continued reaching brings more blessings into my life every day – or at least puts me in a frame of mind that I can recognize them.
So, the trick from here on out will not be to stop setting these unrealistic expectations but to simply (or not so simply) stop judging myself harshly when these unrealistic expectations are not always met. But this trick is already happening when I open my eyes to the stars falling all around me. The beauty about the heavens is that they never budge and no matter how I reach, I will never actually get there because however high I go, they are always above me. Reaching for them allows me to live among, and be aware of living among, the stars. So I guess the trick is gratitude. Gratitude. Gratitude. Even for my silly habit of expecting more from myself than I could ever possibly accomplish because without that habit, I wouldn’t have accomplished anything.
So, the second lesson I’ve re-learned these past 22 days has been Compassion. When I realize that my expectations of myself were too high, I giggle. I roll my eyes. I say, “Oh, you silly JodiAnn, there you go again!” And then I hug myself and get on with my day. Big deal! I set my expectations too high. Oh well. I’m still awesome. Hahaha. I can say this now with confidence because my teammates on Team QueenPrincess have allowed me this sweet look into their own struggles. They all set goals, had “issues” they wanted to deal with. As part of my own work, I promised to try to pay attention to their struggles and send them mojo back. Probably the single most helpful thing in creating a happiness advantage in my life over the past 22 days has been to realize that we all struggle. We all beat ourselves up. We all have something that is sapping our mojo every single day. Some of the sapping is a slow leak that we easily patch ourselves with tools we have learned throughout our lives. Some of the sapping happens in an instant, the way a popped tube deflates a bicycle tire. Bam! (as my daughter would say) You had some mojo but now it’s gone. You never even saw that broken glass coming. But, however someone is losing their mojo, it always feels good – so good – to help them get it back in whatever small way I/you/we can.
The broken glass of this surgery has been a predictable, manageable suck that I can prepare for. Some of what deflates us, derails us, steals our mojo comes from nowhere. And some of what hurts comes from a place so far back, so deep inside, it seems like we’ll never rid ourselves of it. And maybe we won’t. Creating compassion, creating happiness in our lives is not about obliterating sadness or meanness or hardness or intolerance – it is about recognizing when those feelings arise in us and figuring out how to gently embrace them until they melt. Those so-called “negative” feelings are just as much a part of us as all the rest. When we try to obliterate them, we destroy a very real part of ourselves. We refuse ourselves validation. We refuse ourselves acceptance. We just keep throwing away our own mojo. But gently embracing them until they melt means creating more mojo so we have the strength to move on.
Every single one of my teammates (and every single person in this world) is fighting their own battle. And they are working so hard to learn how to create compassion for themselves and therefore, for others. This is important, powerful work. I am so proud of them and of myself and of you for getting up every morning and trying to find your way.
Which brings me to my final lesson: Faith. My spiritual beliefs are a process. I have often shied away from using this word, “Faith,” because it is so tangled up in religion. I thought for a few years in there somewhere this made me an atheist but far from it (sorry, my dear atheist friends). I actually have such a profound respect for and belief in something much greater than us that I can’t believe in any filter of that greatness into any human language that imposes boundaries between humans. But, “Faith” isn’t necessarily about spirituality or religion. It’s so much more humble than any of that. It’s getting up every morning and trying to find our way. It’s movement towards. It’s becoming. It’s process. Faith is putting one foot in front of the other over and over and over and over and over and over again. This movement, this humble act is one of the most powerful gifts we are given and that – no matter who we are or what kind of shit we’ve been handed in this life – we can use as long as we are still living.
I hear the cynical voices of my politically engaged friends saying but what about girls being sold into sexual slavery? What about survivors of tsunamis, earthquakes and other natural disasters? How can they be expected to go on? The gorgeous thing about this humble, simple process called “Faith” is that those who have the best reasons not to use it, are the ones that most often do. It seems to me that it is often those of us in the most privileged positions who have the luxury of abandoning Faith. But, should we tell a girl sold into sexual slavery and trying to find her way out that she should simply “have faith”? Of course not! The first thing we need to help her is Compassion, which I’ve already discussed. The second thing we need to help her is a belief that if she wants it for herself, she can get out – this would be “reaching for the heavens” in her case – some kind of combination between hope and ambition. And she needs Faith. I don’t believe, though, that we give each other faith. Because Faith is a process, we learn it by watching others do it every day. Do some of us have every right to give up our Faith and stop walking? Yes. We all do. Life is hard. Life sucks sometimes. Life will kill you. But life will kill you much more quickly without Faith. Do some of us have every right to lay down and die? Yes. But that is not what the universe wants for us. That is not what we want for ourselves. How do I know we don’t want to lay down and die? Because we don’t. Because survival is our most basic instinct and survival requires Faith.
I can’t help but talk about my brother Mitchell’s death for a moment. In some ways, any of us that were present for his death could say he chose to “lay down and die” but that is totally inaccurate. Until his last breath, he had Faith. Until his very last breath, he stepped into each moment to see what each moment had to offer. When he knew he was actively dying, I believe he knew that his Faith was no longer about stepping into each moment for himself. His Faith became even bigger. It became Faith in us. It became Faith in the fact of what was happening to him and to his body. This made his passing peaceful. This made his passing beautiful. In this way, being with him in his final days was a supreme honor and gift.
I have a friend who has been volunteering in hospice for many many years who recently told me how very individual the experience of death is for each person. Some people are angry, even hateful, and fight every second for the last several days and minutes of their lives. Some people become despondent and flooded with self-pity. Some become deeply concerned about the people around them and avoid talking about their own experience. Others die like Mitchell did, with a grace that is breathtaking, with Faith.
With your help, Team QueenPrincess, I have found my Faith, I have re-learned compassion and I am more fully accepting of myself than I have ever been before.
When I was pregnant with my second child, Lucy, I became terrified in the last few months of my pregnancy about giving birth again. Giving birth is one of those things – maybe like riding a rollercoaster or doing karaoke – that you forget about how scary it was the first time until you get up to the front of the line and are about to do it again. When I felt like that during my second pregnancy, I bought a book about birthing that gave me all kinds of assignments to help me manage my fear. One of the assignments was to draw a picture of a powerful image that I could return to, in my mind, throughout the birth; an image that would help “get me through.” I drew myself in a warm, shallow river with Shakti on one side of me and Serena on the other. Shakti and Serena were two symbols of female power and divinity that spoke to me powerfully during that time of my life. They have since been joined by a host of other heroes.
So, I tried this same concept mentally a few days ago. What would be the image of strength and power I would take with me into this surgery? Well… there’s no way I can draw it but I can imagine it. Instead of mythological creatures or deities, I am surrounded by superheroes. I am standing in front of everyone with my crown on, in Wonder Woman pose, dressed like a superhero (I imagine something between catwoman, wonder woman and the phoenix). But behind me stands a large group of other superheroes, all in power poses, all with capes flying behind them. And they look suspiciously like Amber Adamets, Linda Meloni, Ashton Niedzwiecki, Jennifer Niester-Mika, Sol Smith, Tracy Moross Bailey, Julie Gingrich Hoffman, Shira Lurie, Robin Brox, Kallai Cunningham, Beth Detloff, Charis Urbano, Ray Lacina, John Tuttle, Sir Creole, John Karpuk, Laura Dull, Sheri Bernthal, Danielle Peterson, Amelia Gallagher, Rachel Haley Himmelheber, Jeremy Benson, Rebecca Dopart, Kristin Swedin, Linguamecca, Rebecca Hardin Thrift, Bill Stevenson, Amy Holtman French, Elizabeth Ullrich, Gaylynn Howton, Jules Esse, Sue Deford, Nadine Nader-Davis, Elaine Karles, Chey Davis, Vicki Reidelberger, Michelle Westkamper, Crystal Starkey, Char Inmi, Wendy Baker, Mary Gilbert, Jenna Hupp Andrews, Ashlee Marks, Kathie Bachleda, Amy Rogers, Linda Rector and anyone else I’m forgetting (I hope I’m not forgetting anyone!) who took a minute to send me some of their mojo these past 22 days. And all of these people are joined by the many other people in my life who I know love me and wish me well. Together we are a pretty formidable team. I don’t think a little routine surgery stands a chance of getting in our way!
There is still more I wanted to tell you before tomorrow morning but I don’t know if more writing time is in the day’s plans. Some of it will have to wait until the anesthesia and pain meds have worn off a bit. In the meantime, please…
Be kind to yourself,
Cook and eat with love
And keep putting one foot in front of the other
Namaste & Vaya Con Dios