Trusting the deep pull inward

rowboat

Looking back over the past twenty years of my life, I notice that times of a lot of external change were usually preceded by a deep pull inward: a period of maybe a week, or two, or more, where I needed to become very still, write in my journal more than usual, and detach from the external world.

I remember a period like this in my early twenties where I took lots of long walks in the evening after work for several weeks. And another period years later where instead of going out on the weekends like I usually did, I stayed in and wrote intensely in my journal. I didn’t have the money to actually quit work or take a long vacation in order to go within, but it was like some force compelled me to figure out a way, anyway; it was a taking stock of where I’d been and where I was so that I could move forward in a clear and powerful way.

Except I didn’t really know this at the time. I can only see it in retrospect.

I have a couple of clients right now who are feeling this pull to move inward. And, not surprisingly, they’re having a hard time listening to it.

We often resist this inner calling for a while before we finally surrender to it. I think there are a several reasons for this:

1) We have an increasing number of distractions at our fingertips (the other night I was watching American Horror Story on my laptop WHILE looking up trivia about it on imdb on my iPad — and not fully present for either activity). I believe that our ability to focus — or maybe simply our willingness to concentrate on one thing — is becoming seriously impaired, and we need to take charge of this, STAT. It’s killing our souls.

2) We’re afraid of what we might find if we do go inward and be really present with what’s there. What if we discover that we need to make big, painful changes in order to live the life we want? Sometimes we’d rather not know and live in a murky sort of limbo.

3) We’re afraid of the intimacy that comes from having a relationship with ourselves. Truly tuning in and heeding that inward pull means we actually get to know ourselves on a really deep level. (I’ve had clients tell me that they don’t want to do morning pages for this reason. They aren’t sure they want to know themselves that well. They aren’t sure they’ll like the person who shows up on those pages.) Just as becoming more and more intimate with another person is a risk, so is getting to know ourselves. What happens when we encounter pieces of us that we just don’t want to be with?

The good news is that, whether sooner or later, our intolerance for a disconnect with our essential self wins out, and we do go inward. (It’s just usually better for us when we listen to the call sooner rather than later.) Our souls won’t tolerate the numbness that comes from a life half-lived, and eventually we are forced to listen.

Here are some suggestions, though, for making it easier to trust that pull inward, when it comes:

1) Take a weekly break from the online world. A total break, for a few hours, or more, if it feels workable for you. During this break, pay attention to your body, go out for a walk; remind yourself that you are a physical being in a body with a connection to the earth, not a just fingers and a brain connected to a device.

2) Just as you are allowed to take your time in getting to know another person (in fact, true intimacy with another often develops slowly, over time — the quick kind tends to evaporate), you are also allowed to take time in getting to know yourself. If you have resistance to connecting with yourself, it may be because you’re trying to do too much too soon. You can connect with yourself in small doses, whether that’s through journaling or just being present with what you’re feeling for a couple of minutes at a time.

3) Promise yourself that you don’t have to take action on anything you discover about yourself. Recognizing that you really want to move to Europe does not mean you have to take action on that knowledge, now or ever. You may choose to act on it (and hopefully, if it’s truly right for you, you will!). But, as I so often say to my clients, it’s simply good to know. That’s the point of connecting with yourself — to know the truth about yourself. It is not about forcing yourself to completely overhaul your life. I’ve seen time and again that we are far more willing to know our truth, and own it, when we trust that we do NOT have to take immediate action on it.

Have you struggled to trust the pull to go within and connect with yourself? What made it a challenge for you, and what helped? I’d love to hear, in the comments.

Image is “One Sepia Rowboat” © Tatiana Sayig | Dreamstime Stock Photos

What if you didn’t need a reason?

Happy Fall!

Last week, I was talking with the wonderful business coach Kristin Stevens, and I kept telling her about various things I wanted to do, and prefacing them with, “For some reason.”

“For some reason, I want to move into a smaller apartment.”

“For some reason, I want to streamline and simplify my life.”

Now, some coaches would have gone right to “Okay. Why? Let’s get clear on the reason.”

I would have gone there, if I were coaching someone. And it can be a good way to go.

But Kristin said, “You keep saying, ‘For some reason.’ What if you didn’t need a reason?

This stopped me. Because, in this case, I already feel clear. I already know that something in me wants to do these things — but my rational mind tells me I don’t have a good enough reason to do them.

For years, I lived in small apartments and had a great need for more space. In 2005, I moved and got the space I wanted. For the past eight years, I’ve lived in a beautiful space where I have plenty of room.

But now it feels oddly too big, like I’m a kid clomping around in my dad’s work shoes. And I realize I’ve filled it up with things I no longer necessarily want or need.

When I moved here, I had this idea of a life I thought I wanted. But now I realize that maybe that life was about who I wanted to be back then, and not who I actually am today.

My rational mind says, “But why would you want to go back to living in a small space? Isn’t that going backwards?”

Is it? I’m not sure it’s a good question, in this case, because questioning my desire is only keeping me in wheel-spinning mode. A good question sparks curiosity and creates spaciousness and movement.

That’s how I know Kristin’s question — what if you didn’t need a reason? — is a good one for me here.

If I didn’t need a reason, I’d start making plans to move. If I didn’t need a reason, I’d free up my energy to focus on things that are more important to me at this point in my life than having a larger living space and the maintenance that goes along with it.

It’s telling that a while ago on Pinterest I created a board called Cozy Spaces. Something in me longs for cozy right now. Why?

Do I really need to know? What if, in fact, I can’t know the answer to that question until I move toward what I’m longing for?

The nudges I get from my intuition feel simple and straightforward. “Do this.” Or, “Don’t do that.” Or, “Wear something blue today.” “Call about that class.”

Intuition doesn’t explain itself. It lives in the world of trust, not the world of guarantees. And often, when I’m clear but I’m still not taking action on that clarity, it’s because I want a guarantee. I want a guarantee that the direction my intuition is pointing me in will be pain-free, that if I go there, “everything will work out.”

Experience tells me there is no such guarantee. Sometimes, I think I am waiting for clarity but it has already arrived. The truth is, I’m not waiting for clarity — I’m waiting for that guarantee.

“Why?” is a good question if it creates more clarity. But if I’m already clear, I don’t need to ask why. I need to act on what I know.

What do you think? Do you ever second-guess the next step that comes to you from your intuition? I’d love to hear how this works for you, in the comments.

Image ©Jill Winski 2013

Five things I’ve learned about trust

This is my second post for The Declaration of You BlogLovin’ Tour (scroll to the bottom of this post to find out more). This is the final week of the tour, and the topic is Trust.

ferriswheel

I used to think I couldn’t trust others and I couldn’t trust life. It took me a long time to see the turnaround: It was me I thought I couldn’t trust. Once I saw this, I wanted to really know what it meant to trust myself. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned:

1) Trusting myself means that I allow myself to experiment, to stretch, to make mistakes.

I first encountered the idea of trusting myself when I discovered the writing of Geneen Roth in my early twenties. I was a chronic dieter at the time, and Geneen’s concept of trusting myself to know when I was hungry and to stop eating when I was full was a radical thing to me.

When I first tried it, the perfectionist in me wanted to “do this trusting myself thing right.” I thought if I made a mistake, it was proof I couldn’t trust myself.

It took me a few years before I’d integrated the truth that trusting myself is about the way I relate to myself when things don’t go as I want them to — it is about the way I relate to myself, period. It has nothing to do with being “good” or “right” or even wise. It is a way of living in the world. It is a choice.

2) Self-trust is intimately linked to self-acceptance.

If I’m judging myself, you can bet I am not in a place of self-trust. In fact, I’ve found that my intuition will “hide out” when I’m judging myself harshly. Intuition is fierce, but it’s often quiet and subtle in how it comes to us.

My cat usually disappears when someone who speaks loudly and has heavy footsteps enters the house. Intuition is similar — it tends to hide out in the closet when my inner critic starts raging. It’s not that intuition is afraid of the inner critic (intuition fears nothing; it simply is). It’s more that intuition (like my cat) has a very low tolerance for drama. So it goes silent and seems to disappear when that harsh voice within me goes on a rampage.

I can always reconnect with my intuition, though. I just need to get quiet again. Intuition never fails to show up when I’m in a place of peace. And the more deeply I can accept myself, the more peaceful I feel.

3) Trusting myself means having faith that my intuition is there for a reason, and taking the risk to follow it.

It’s the process of acting on my intuition that makes me feel alive, not the outcome, which will never be completely within my control, and which, I’ve found, I often cannot accurately predict.

The more I trust myself to take action on my intuition, the better I get at it, because I create more and more evidence for the fact that it feels good and right and empowering when I trust myself. It’s like strengthening a muscle. (You may not be sure you have the “self-trust” muscle if you haven’t used it a lot — but you do. Trust me.)

4) No one else’s truth is a substitute for my own.

The best help from others is guidance that points me back to my own inner compass, and reminds me how important it is.

It’s good — and often necessary — to gather information and receive advice from others, especially those who’ve been where we are. But at some point, we need to sift through this guidance, integrate it, and check inside ourselves for what feels right for us.

How do we know it’s time to stop going to outside sources? When the information we’re getting is creating more confusion, not contributing to clarity.

5) “Trusting myself” is a belief system.

There are no guarantees of what the outcome will be if I trust myself.

I may trust myself, take action from that place, and find that things happen in a way I couldn’t have predicted.

I’d love to tell you that the way they happen is always better than I could ever have imagined — but while that is sometimes true, it doesn’t always feel like that. Sometimes, I trust myself and things don’t turn out the way I’d like them to — and I don’t understand why things happened the way they did until years later, if at all.

But regardless of outcome, it’s a heck of a lot easier for me to make decisions — and to live with them — when I operate from a platform of self-trust. It comes down to how I want to live: From a space of doubting myself, or from that solid foundation of knowing I’m worthy of my own trust.

I know this: It feels better to trust myself, and to act on that trust, than it does to spin my wheels in the sticky mud of indecision, doubt, and fear.

What have you learned about trust? I’d love to know — feel free to share, in the comments!

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The Declaration of You, published by North Light Craft Books and available now, gives readers all the permission they’ve craved to step passionately into their lives, discover how they and their gifts are unique and uncover what they are meant to do. This post is part of The Declaration of You’s BlogLovin’ Tour, which I’m thrilled to participate in alongside over 200 other creative bloggers. Learn more — and join us! — by clicking here.

Top image is “Ferris Wheel” © James Hearn | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Pausing is not the same as stopping

stopsign

Sometimes it is incredibly, excruciatingly hard for me to step away from something, when stepping away is exactly what I need to do.

Step away from that phone call that is not going anywhere and sucking up a lot of time.

Step away from my novel when I keep forcing it even though I’m beyond frustrated and realize I have gotten so far away from the heart of the story that I have no investment in what I’m writing.

Step away from the problem I’m desperately trying to solve (when it’s becoming more and more obvious that the mind that created the problem is not the one that can solve it).

Step away from the internet. Because, it’s the internet. And I need sizeable breaks from it if I’m going to remain sane.

I think one of the reasons it’s hard for me to step away is because of the idea that I am supposed to tackle things. Take control of them, wrestle them to the ground, and force them to cry uncle. This is the way I was taught to solve problems when I was very small, and, even though I’ve never been very good at it,  it’s deeply engrained in me.

Only, sometimes — often — it just isn’t effective. There’s a point where I’m trying so hard to control the outcome of something that I am way too emotional to be effective. It’s at this point that pressing the pause button can be so essential.

But there’s another reason it’s hard for me to step away. It’s because of trust, or the lack of it. Allowing myself to step away means I am trusting that I will get back to whatever it is I’m struggling with — whether it’s a phone conversation or a tough scene in my novel.

And this kind of trust takes some practice to cultivate. I’ve been working with this for years and yet I can still go way too far out of fear.

We can never solve an internal problem by changing an external circumstance. If something within me feels out of control, no amount of controlling the external world will change that. This is the recipe for compulsion and, eventually, addiction. I’ve got to get back into balance within myself before I meet the world again.

This is why I suggest to my coaching clients that they not make huge decisions when they’re feeling intense emotions. We don’t know what the truth is for us until we come back to center. Our emotions are messengers, but they’re often not the message. (Extreme anger at your boss may just be saying, hey, let’s take a look at what’s happening here, not hey, let’s quit!)

So we’ve got to make it okay for ourselves to step away when we’re getting into a place that feels out of balance — no matter how important we’re making what we’re doing. Stepping away for now does not mean stopping altogether — in fact, it can mean letting another part of us — our subconscious — take the wheel for a while.

So, how do we do this?

1) If you’re struggling with something you’re creating (a painting, a novel, a website) and you’re ready to take a knife to the canvas or put your fist through the computer screen, know you’ve reached that point where you need a little less perspiration and a little more inspiration.

I know, I know, there’s that awful saying about how creating is one percent inspiration and 99% perspiration. Please. I don’t believe we need to feel inspired all the time to create — inspiration often comes in the course of creating, and some days it doesn’t come at all — but if, in the long haul, you’re only feeling one-percent inspired, you need more inspiration. If the whole thing feels like a struggle every step of the way, you’re forgetting how important it is to fill your creative well.

2) If you’re having a really hard time in several areas of your life (if you’re in what we Martha Beck life coaches refer to as “Square One”, where you’re going through a massive identity shift and you don’t know what the hell is happening), realize you may need to move much more slowly.

You may need to take more time-outs. You need to practice really good self-care during these times. If you’re in Square One, the question is never “how can I get out of Square One?” but “how can I make it okay to go slow?” (I love Kristin Neff’s guided meditations on self-compassion for these times, and all times, really.)

3) Know the point at which you are getting in your own way. See if you can step outside of your emotional self and be the observer. What do you look like when you’re in need of pressing the pause button? What happens with your body, your behavior?

A few years ago, I was walking home in a seriously foul mood, and a car rolled through the stop instead of letting me cross the street. I actually reached out and hit the back of the car as I walked behind it. Feeling the sting of the hot metal on my fingers (it was like a 100-degree day, which was part of why I was ready to maim), I knew I’d crossed one of my personal boundaries into nutso territory, territory I did not want to stay in. It was time for me to stop wrestling and take a time out. Know these places in yourself, and find ways to clue yourself in to when you’re getting into this territory. Hopefully you will not have to slap a defenseless Honda Civic to know you’ve entered “that zone.”

4) Above all, cultivate trust in yourself. Take baby steps. If you’d normally force yourself through something to the point of frustration, try stepping back even five minutes before you usually would.

One of my clients recently made the decision, for a number of reasons, to take a month off from her artwork. (Namely, because it was feeling too much like art-WORK. She said she didn’t want to return to it until it felt like art-PLAY. I love this!) She was afraid a month was too long, but she felt like she needed it. The need for the break felt like it was coming from her intuition, not from a place of fear. It felt deeply right.

A week into the month off, she emailed me. As of today, she said, I am back to my art-PLAY. It turned out she didn’t need an entire month off after all. Something in her was more than willing to return to creating when it was ready. Now that’s self-trust.

For an article on a similar theme, check out Practicing Reverent Curiosity.

Image is “Reflected Stop Sign” © Vladimir Zanadvorov | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Getting clear on “success”

bridge

Too often we are vague about our definitions of success. We don’t really clarify what we mean by “successful,” or we take on somebody’s else’s definition (maybe a family member’s) and work toward it without actually asking ourselves if it’s what we want.

Or, our idea of success is all tied up with money, even though the amount of money we make and the feeling of being successful are very different things.

My current definition of success is “knowing and understanding myself better and better and showing up for others who want to do the same.”

Notice how I can go into literally any situation and be successful based on my personal definition? Can I be this version of success working as a receptionist? Check. Can I be this version of success at a cocktail party? Check. Can I be this version of success in prison? Sure.

For me, a definition of success that works is one that lights me up, one I feel deeply connected to, and one that is NOT dependent on an external circumstance that is outside of my control.

I can live my current definition of success when I’m writing or when I’m coaching a client, but I can also live it when I’m with a friend, at the dentist’s office, or riding the bus. I may or may not choose to act on this definition, say, at the dentist’s office, but it can still light me up while I’m there.

The problem with getting too situation-specific with our definitions of success is not that it’s unlikely we can make whatever situation it is happen. (We’re very often led into the exact situations we want because our interests, passions and curiosities take us right to them.) This is not at all about saying, well, it’s unlikely to happen so don’t dream it! It is wonderful, and necessary, to dream big. But let me give you a little example of what I’m talking about.

Say your definition of success is “becoming an Oscar-winning filmmaker.” First off, winning an Oscar is never going to be totally within your control. (Even if your film is nominated for best picture, you can be snubbed in the director category; just ask Ben Affleck.)

Still, could this definition of success be one that lights you up and that you feel deeply connected to? Sure. The idea of winning an Oscar one day could totally inspire you to make great films.

The problem with this definition of success is that winning an Oscar for your film isn’t really what you want. It’s only the costume your definition of success wears. The real definition of success beneath that Oscar disguise might be something like this: “My definition of success is making movies that affect others in a powerful way.”

But wait: Even that is not really it. “Making movies” is still window-dressing for something else. Let’s try again: “My definition of success is telling stories that affect others in a powerful way.”

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. “Telling stories” is close enough to the essence of what you want to do that this definition of success can work if you’re a receptionist, at a cocktail party, or in prison. You’re not dependent on standing behind a camera with a crew behind you in order to tell stories.

But wait: There’s still a problem with this definition of success. “Telling stories that affect others in a powerful way.”

Do you see it?

It’s dependent on an external circumstance. You do not have any real control over how others react to you. I know that’s not a popular thing to say, but it’s true. You might be able to give me all kinds of evidence that seems to prove that you have some kind of control over others’ reactions, but it won’t hold water. In the end, the way others react is up to them. They are choosing to react to something in a powerful way, by what they’re thinking about it, based on who they are and their experiences.

This is why I can think What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is a beautiful and amazing movie, and my friend’s brother falls asleep twenty minutes into it.

So what’s actually the definition of success we’re really looking for here?

How about this: “My definition of success is telling stories that affect me in a powerful way.”

Because YOU are the only one you truly have any control over affecting. The only person you are guaranteed to inspire is yourself. Which is very good news. Imagine if we all went around inspiring ourselves rather than angsting over whether or not we were inspiring others enough?

Ahhh. So, can you have this definition of success working as a receptionist? At a cocktail party? In prison? In a box? With a fox? Totally.

This doesn’t mean you don’t pursue becoming an Oscar-winning moviemaker if that’s what lights you up. Of course you do! It’s just an invitation to notice that the core essence of what you want doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with getting behind a camera or holding a golden statuette. Knowing this actually frees you up to pursue success — as you define it — in any number of ways. It isn’t out there, when the “great thing” happens — it’s within you, right now.

What might you do differently if “success” were already here? How do you act when you feel successful  right now?

Work With Me: I help writers, artists, artisans and coaches who are feeling stuck get moving again. I have openings for new clients in April. Learn more, here.

Image is “Bridge into the Mountains” © Pat Young | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Creative Ebbs: Not the Same as Stuckness

If you think about any relationship you’ve ever had, you’ll notice that there were phases to the relationship. Sometimes you were sitting on the couch shoulder to shoulder eating cookie dough ice cream and watching Netflixed episodes of “The Office” (British version, preferably) and you couldn’t stop laughing and finishing each other’s sentences. Other times, you were kind of quiet and it was just nice. Other times you went rollerskating and you couldn’t stop falling down, in a good way.

And then there were those times when there was just nothing to say. Phone calls felt heavy; there were lots of long pauses, and not the good kind. You got on each other’s nerves without meaning to; previously endearing odd little habits began to seem like dealbreakers.

Maybe in your younger years, the not-so-good times felt like sound reasons to end the relationship; but as you got older and had more experience, you began to see that it was important to ride them out because the ice-cream-on-the-couch times could always come back.

You have a relationship with your creativity, too. And it needs to be accepted, nurtured and protected just like any other relationship you care about. But a lot of times (and what I see happening most often with my clients) is that we either neglect this relationship or ignore it — or, at the other end of the spectrum, we push it so hard and try to control it so much that it withers or hides from us.

Accept that your relationship with your creativity has seasons, cycles, ebbs and flows. You can — believe it or not — trust these ebbs and flows. Most of us are afraid to trust them. We love the flow, but the ebb, not so much.

So I won’t talk about what to do when you’re in creative flow. Most of us love that place. I’ll address the dreaded ebb (though you shouldn’t dread it — it’s really simply the yin to the yang that is the flow).

A creative ebb is a period in which nothing much feels like it’s happening creatively for you. It’s not the same thing as feeling stuck — stuck has to do, usually, with your fears around what you’re creating, or when you’ve reached, say, the middle of your novel and you have no idea what happens next and nothing you try feels right. When we’re stuck, it’s important to bring our fears to light and give them voice so we don’t dig our wheels further into the mud.

An ebb is a bit different. You might feel it for a few days or weeks after you’ve had a period of unusually high creativity. I used to create and sell these little paintings, mostly of cats. The way my process worked was I’d get a very clear picture of what I wanted to paint in my mind, often when I was out walking, and then I’d come home and get out one of my little canvases and the image would flow out onto it, usually quite similar to what I’d envisioned.

For a period of time, I did about three of these paintings a week. And the more people bought them the more I wanted to create them. But after about nine months or so of this, the ideas gradually stopped coming. I didn’t rush to my canvases the way I had. The art I created didn’t feel as inspired to me. Some of it wasn’t selling.

I was at an ebb. How do I know it was an ebb? Well, luckily for me, in this case I’d thought of this artwork as pure fun, not at all my “life’s work” or “serious art” — I didn’t have any of those ideas attached to it that can create stuckness because we make it so big and important. So when the “flow” stopped happening, I didn’t freak out. I just kind of noticed. By now I was about to move into a new home anyway, so I focused on that. The part of me that did the paintings rested.

And within about six weeks, I was ready to go again. I starting getting new ideas and now I was incorporating collage into the paintings. I began selling them again and I got my first overseas customers.

Creative ebbs don’t necessarily last for weeks. The ebb can occur, on a smaller scale, on a daily basis, when you do your writing in the morning, say, and it goes amazingly well but by evening you’re wiped out. That evening time is what Julia Cameron calls “filling the well” time. Although it’s true that the more I create, the more creative energy I tend to have, it’s also true that a prime component to our creativity is this resting phase, whether that’s a few minutes, a few hours, or a few days.

So what do you do when you’re faced with a creative ebb? Ideally, not much of anything — putter, water plants, daydream. But I know that doesn’t sit well with you if you make your living through your creativity, or if you’re on a tight deadline. In those cases, let the resting, “be-ing” energy be there as much as you can, while keeping up a regular creative habit. Sometimes this looks like doing the minimum that needs to be done and calling it a day.

Whatever you do, don’t demand of yourself that you reach for the creative high you experience when you’re in creative flow. That, my friend, is a sure-fire recipe for getting stuck.

Allow the ebb. The ebb is your friend. When the flow returns, you’ll reap the benefits of the ebb and see just how much richness that “fallow” period has brought to your creativity.

Announcement: This Thursday, Aug. 2, is the last day to sign up for the next session of Jenna Avery’s Just Do the Writing Accountability Circle. I’m Jenna’s co-coach, and I’ve also been a participant in this group for nearly a year. It’s a great way to develop a regular writing habit and get group support. Check it out here!

Also: I’ll have openings for new coaching clients starting in mid August. If you’re feeling stuck or scared around your creativity, or it seems like life just won’t stop getting in the way, feel free to set up a free consultation with me.

Image is MUD FLATS © Slidepix | Dreamstime.com

A Short Post about Overwhelm

Today’s blog article is short, because it needs to be in order for me to do it.

I’m overwhelmed. Well, I was overwhelmed earlier today. I’ve had family visiting from out of town for the past ten days, and yesterday, they left. Today, have-to’s and should’s about neglected work stampeded through my brain, and the more I added to the to-do list, the less I actually felt capable of getting any of it done.

And in the midst of all that, I had a very unhelpful thought, something in the realm of “What will so-and-so think if I don’t get this done?”

So, today, here’s how I dealt with my overwhelm (it might be different on another day):

1) I asked myself, what are the musts? What really feels vital and important for me to take on today? (The answer was: working on my novel; laundry; doing the dishes — the housework wouldn’t usually feel as vital, but it’s really piled up).

2) What part of the musts must I do? In other words, what chunk of each must would feel like enough for today? (The answer: thirty minutes of writing; two loads of laundry; half of the dishes).

3) Where am I getting into somebody else’s business? Byron Katie tells us there are three kinds of business: my business, your business, and God’s business. When I’m wondering what my mother will think if I don’t get my dishes done (even though she lives hundreds of miles away), I’m in my mother’s business, and nobody’s taking care of mine. And I’m adding to my overwhelm by neglecting my own business and trying to control what I can’t possibly control.

So that’s it for today. The writing’s done, half the dishes are done, and that second load of laundry is in the dryer. Tomorrow, if overwhelm creeps in, I will look at tomorrow’s musts. But that’s tomorrow, and tomorrow, my friend, is another day.

Saving the Worms

Two weeks ago I was out for one of my long, long Saturday walks. It had rained the night before. I looked down at my shoes and saw worms wriggling on the sidewalk. Oh, no.

I have this thing about worms on the sidewalk after a rain. See, I have to save them. All of them. I pick them up and toss them back onto wet earth somewhere, next to a tree, under the bushes in somebody’s yard. I tell myself this means I have “saved” them from wriggling on the sidewalk, having to crawl their way back to a muddy spot, and possibly getting stepped on or baked in the sun.

One night, after a day in which I’d been out saving worms on my walk, I had a dream. I was on my walk, iPod clicking away, and I saw a worm near my shoe. So I picked it up and tossed it into the mud. A little ways up, I saw another worm. Picked it up, tossed it. Two squares of sidewalk up, more worms. Picked them all up, one by one, etc.

Except the thing was, as I glanced further up the sidewalk and saw the sun glinting off the cement, there were hundreds, maybe thousands of worms, writhing, waiting to be saved. By me. It was like that moment in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indy and Marion see a snake, then shine a flashlight around them and realize they are surrounded by said-snake times about a million.

So I wanted to save all these worms, and I started to scoop them up by the handful and throw them onto wet earth. But there were too many of them. The further along the sidewalk I got, the more worms there were. Piles of worms, half as tall as I am, rose up and toppled over; I waded through them, wishing I were wearing rubber hip-boots.

So I had to stop. I stood with my head to the sky, my hands in my hair, and had one of those movie moments (except it was a dream moment) where the person yells, “Whhhhyyyy???”

My dream pointed me to one of the recurring themes in my life: It’s All Up to Me. (There is a sub-theme underneath this one which is something like, Nothing Should Suffer or Die, at Least Not on My Watch.)

The It’s All Up to Me theme has several purposes:

 a) it allows me to hang on to the illusion that I have control where I really don’t;

b) in focusing on those areas in which I really have no, or little, control, I excuse myself from focusing on the areas where I actually do have control (i.e., writing this blog post, which I have procrastinated on finishing for two weeks);

c) it reinforces the idea that if I just try hard enough, and if I do everything “right”, I will be granted the gift of certainty in life. (I have never, ever been granted this gift, but I still catch myself working very, very hard for it.)

There’s another purpose to the It’s All Up to Me theme, too: if I buy into it, then I don’t have to ask for help. And I don’t like to ask for help. I’d really rather not. It’s much more comfortable for me to believe I am so powerful, so resourceful, so independent, that I can do it all on my own. But this isn’t true, and deep down I know it.

So for now, I am just noticing. I will likely pick up worms from the sidewalk the next time I’m out walking after a rain. I will probably believe that I am saving them, and it will probably even feel good. But I’ll just try to notice when I cross over into that place of “I’ve got to save them all! It’s all up to me!” I’ll remind myself that it’s really okay — really — if I just pick up two or three worms from the sidewalk and set them gently in the muddy grass. There might even be other kind-hearted souls out walking who notice the worms on the sidewalk. I don’t have to save them all myself.