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What if There’s a Refuge Built Right Inside Every Human Being?

This week I listened to an episode of the On Being podcast that made me reconsider how we humans survive trauma or hardship.

Krista Tippett’s interview with poet John O’Donohue was profound. I found myself rewinding and replaying segments that rang through my body like an ancient song of wisdom. I’d like to share with you what struck such a resonant chord with me.

Here’s the transcript excerpt of O’Donohue talking about the thirteenth century mystic called Meister Eckhart:

…one day I read him, and he said, “There is a place in the soul that neither time nor space nor no created thing can touch.” And I really thought that was amazing. And if you cash it out, what it means is that your identity is not equivalent to your biography and that there is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there is still a sureness in you, where there’s a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility in you. And I think the intention of prayer and spirituality and love is now and again to visit that inner kind of sanctuary.

This simple thought made me feel like rewriting the story I’d been telling myself about my own life. See, lately I have been reclaiming the idea that none of us are our past, or “our story.” I think for so long I held on to the idea of figuring out my past in order to find answers to my identity. Years into researching and writing my own memoir, I now see that while my past has served to form me, I am so much more than my story.

Let me explain.

Years ago, there was a moment when the course of my life changed drastically. It was 1995; I was fifteen and engaged to be married to a man I wasn’t in love with (long story). Between my fiancé’s absolute joy, my parents’ financial investment in the wedding, and my people-pleasing mentality, I didn’t have the nerve to call things off. I told no one how I felt, but squirreled away my truth into a place so deep within my soul that I soon forgot it was there. I told myself I could do ‘this’—for everyone else’s sake. All it required was some denial and muscling through.

The new me continued in the forward motion of life, getting married at sixteen, pregnant at seventeen, and again at nineteen. I moved across the country with my then husband and children, and was a good Christian wife who submitted to him, and followed where he led. From time to time, my natural verve broke through and I’d challenge him on theological or philosophical assumptions, or what I believed to be my one area of expertise—how the children should be raised. But for the most part, I lived with eyes half-shuttered, ears muffled, and head down.

As the years passed, though I had an eternally deep well of love for my children, I grew numb to most everything. Soon the simple act of continuing to exist became painful. I slipped into a depression and then slipped back out (sort of) while taking Zoloft.

Andrea and kids in Europe

Me at 22, with my kids in Europe; daughter covered in chocolate, son passed out. Summer 2002

About six years into that murky time, we compiled student loans, a little savings, and a lot of credit card debt to fund a twelve-week trip across Europe with our four-year old and nineteen-month-old. It was there in Europe, exposed to a vast expanse of life, history, and culture that I realized there was more to life than how I’d been living. My head raised, eyes snapped open, and my ears suddenly heard what they couldn’t before.

But the problem with understanding that there is more is realizing that you don’t have it.

I began to see that my melancholy was caused by a slow bleeding-out of everything I once was before I got married. And because I had married so young, I had been losing my identity before it had had a chance to fully form. My soul was dying in the marriage we had constructed of silt and toothpicks.

But that secret part of me I’d hidden away almost a decade before began to crackle and glow within me and do its work to bust apart the layers of murky malaise I had lived in so long.

I’ve been working on a memoir for several years now and have always interpreted that “me nugget” I squirreled away at fifteen as a vestige of my former self—the girl I used to be. Through the fifteen plus years since that fateful Europe trip, my children and I have been through multiple serious hardships (more on that another time).

Lately, I’ve been wondering when I’ll run out of energy to weather the next life challenge, when or should it arrive. I have been looking at myself like a damaged warrior. As anyone who’s been through a marathon of personal battles will tell you, what doesn’t kill you doesn’t always necessarily make you stronger. Sometimes it drains you to within inches of your life.

And then this thought came along on the podcast—through the centuries, through Meister Eckhart, and John O’Donohue: what if there is a part of me that is untouched by fear or trauma? What if there is an island of solace in the depths of each of us? What if there is an eye of the storm we can come home to when our lives are whirling in chaos?

What a relief. I don’t have to worry about being strong enough if I can retreat to my untouched soul when I need to regroup.

After I listened to the podcast, I discussed this idea over lunch with my son and daughter, now nineteen and sixteen. They brought up Eastern philosophies which teach not only a sort of untouched place in your soul, but that it is a communal space we all belong to. It is a central universal consciousness where we find refuge and connection with the entire human race and maybe all of earth itself.

We all have our own private struggles, some in the hard work of pursuing our dreams, some in the push of birthing beauty into this world, and others with massive health, economic, cultural, weather, or societal events that threaten to crack us open and bleed us out.

I’m not convinced there’s always a reason for when bad things happen. I mean, tell that to the child imprisoned as a sex-worker, or to the countless families who’ve lost their homes in Hurricane Harvey and Irma, or the refugee who lost his family.

I’m not saying there can’t be purpose in tragedy. But that line of reasoning has only ever comforted me when the stakes are low. Otherwise, it reeks of bullshit.

Still there are some of us who weather tragedy and hardship better than others. Maybe this unwounded soul thing is why.

I like the idea that there is an inner holy refuge built right into each of us, that it is something I can cling to when the storm is raging all around me.

O’Donohue went on to mention that the most direct way to connect with that part of ourselves (and our interior life) is through beauty, whether it is an impeccably performed song, a well-crafted book, the exquisite dance of nature, or a lovingly prepared meal. These corporeal pleasures fast-track us from fear to home (the home inside ourselves).

So maybe I never actually squirreled away that part of me like I thought I did. Maybe that untouched part of me was always there, waiting for me to reconnect. And perhaps that Europe trip came to me at the exact right time, when seeing masterful art at the Louvre, sipping beer in a German beer garden, savoring chocolate in Belgium, and standing in the Roman Forum connected me not only to that stalwart part of me, but bound me to the consciousness of my sisters and brothers throughout history as well.

I felt this while I was there, but never had the concept to wrap around the feeling. Until now.

Maybe that sureness is what has sustained me through my own personal hells. Maybe that is the super power we all have and we all share and need only access.

I choose to believe the beauty we see, the beauty we are, and the beauty we create has the power to truly change the world.

>> Listen to the John O’Donohue episode of On Being. <<

Namaste

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What to Do When Trolls Attack

We live in a new era, one in which anyone can say anything online with often without consequences. Heck, even our “Commander in Chief” knows that.

But what do you do if YOU are the subject of an online attack?

I’ve managed social media for many brands, including BinderCon, a literary nonprofit which advocates for women and gender variant writers. Which, as you might have imagined, has brought its share of sticky troll situations.

Women and changemakers are more often the target of trolls because well, these jerks feel threatened by our very existence. As writers, or artists we often create things that challenge people’s preconceptions, values, or ways of life. Naturally, this breeds asinine responses from rage-mongers, perverts, and just plain nasty souls. And the internet provides the veil they need to hide behind in order to feel powerful.

I’m no lawyer, and I don’t have all the answers, but here are some methods I’ve learned for dealing with said asshats. But before we start, let’s define troll. I include the original meaning as well because I think it adds dimension and context.


troll

noun

1 : a lure or line with its lure and hook used in trolling
: a person who intentionally antagonizes others online by posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive behavior


Now that we’ve got that covered, let’s begin.

First, ignore them

Most trolls are just jabbing you to get a reaction (see definition). Many of them aren’t even people, but bots.  The reality is that they are doing what they are doing to get you to engage (and rage).

Think of them as the old school bully, but hiding behind an internet persona.

Tuning them out and refusing to respond often diffuses the situation. But if it doesn’t there are more steps you can take.

Block and report

Inasmuch as you ignore these jerks, block and report them too. Don’t let a fear of being a whiner keep you from handling these jerks like they deserve, in a matter of fact way.

The harder good people make it for trolls to attack, the less there will be.

Every social platform has a method for reporting, just Google it if you need to report someone.

Prepare

Really, this should probably be the first rule but most of us encounter a troll and only then realize we should be better prepared for them.

Preemptively secure your social profiles and websites with complex passwords that are harder to guess or hack. This is a precautionary task designed to help keep a potentially nasty situation from escalating.

Decide ahead of time what kind of content you’ll post about, retweet, share. Sometimes, especially in today’s political climate, it’s tempting to post about things we’re angry about. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t. However, it’s worth asking yourself if the post will really make a difference, if it is in alignment with your brand and what you’re all about.

And then if it passes all those tests, is it something you’re willing to take flack for? If so, go for it. If not, maybe reevaluate.

As annoying as it is, you must decide if what you post is something worth fighting for. If not, if it’s just venting or inflammatory–what’s the point?

Create a reporting plan for situations where you feel it is necessary. It can be difficult to think like a troll, especially when you’re a good natured person who doesn’t appreciate online fights. But creating a few “what if” scenarios can be healthy and help you avoid some painful dealings in the future.

If you decide ahead of time, for instance, that you will report and block sexual harassment type posts, you’ll know what to do when or if that happens. This can take some of the emotional side-effects out of the equation.

This helps make the incident more of an annoying task, rather than a traumatic attack.

Document everything

If someone is repeatedly attacking, or harassing you or your followers (or doing other nasty things), document everything.

Even if you just have a feeling like they might do something nefarious, take screenshots and save it in a folder. You’ll have the info, should you ever need it.

Protect yourself

Make yourself less vulnerable online by using fake information whenever possible. Avoid using your real hometown, phone number, address. Make it harder for jerks to find you IRL.

I recall a nasty troll attack a few years ago where some asshole took a video from a mom-blogger’s site (of her children, mind you) and dubbed over it with horrifying racist material. That’s some next level shit that deserved a lawsuit. It made me realize just how easy it is to access anything you post online–even if you think it’s private.

So as you post, always ask yourself: Is this something I’m okay with being completely public?

Set boundaries for the kinds of content you want to share. Do you really need pictures of your kids online? Does that selfie have any identifying information in the background?

You don’t need to be paranoid but you don’t need to feed the trolls, either.

Don’t disappear (or do)

There’s no need (usually) for you to make your feed private in response to a mild attack. You’re online for goshsakes, it’s all public one way or the other anyway. Plus it makes you look like you have something to hide, which you don’t. This is a tactic many abusers use–making you feel like you’re unsafe in the world. Don’t let them.

However, don’t be afraid to shut down and go offline. Sometimes there is good reason to just leave the online platform for a while. Your brand will not fall apart if you decide you need a break from the chaos of the internet. You can still communicate in places where you feel safe.

Don’t defend

In most cases you do not need to defend yourself against false claims or aggressive remarks. Listen, we’ve all been there and responded. I know I have. But it’s not worth it. Responding gives credence to their attack. So vent to your friends, report the trolls, block them, whatever, but don’t engage.

If for some reason you truly need to make an official statement on something, do so as an email to your subscribers and maybe as a well crafted closed-ended statement on social. Keep it general and professional, consult a lawyer if it’s a real sticky situation.

Do not make it a part of your profile. It should only be a post. A day is an eternity online so there’s no need to draw attention to a troll’s claims or aggression on your profile, when most people won’t have even noticed.

If you must respond, and especially if you’re angry give it 24 hours. Unless of course you feel like you or someone else is in danger.

If the attack warrants a response (and usually it doesn’t) give yourself some time to cool down. Unless you’re the president of the United States, your Twitter situation is likely not a national emergency. Ahahahahaha, but seriously.

Take it to the authorities

If things are really escalating, or if you ever feel genuinely threatened or in danger, err on the side of caution and get not only the social platform, but the police and legal authorities involved as well.

Remember who you are

Aside from the unfortunate reality of being attacked just for being a woman, or a person of color, or disabled, or liberal or conservative, or however you exist in the world, often if you’re being attacked you’re likely doing something different and worthwhile.

Some of the most hot button issues are things like human rights, equality, racism, climate change, etc. You know this. These issues are important and so they garner a lot of emotion, sometimes rage, and often troll behavior.

Remember why you’re doing what you’re doing in your work and your life, and stick to your truth. Be a good person; we sure could use more of them.

And remember the wise words from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale: Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum (Don’t let the bastards grind you down)

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Stop Wondering What to Do with Your Life

Last year my daughter, then a junior in high school, was having serious anxiety over impending college doom. See, nowadays they put an insane amount of pressure on kids to decide what they want to do for a career, pick a four-year school, and run headlong into their (often ill-conceived) goals.

Problem is, many–I’d venture to guess it’s the majority actually–don’t know what the hell they want to do with their lives.

Let’s be honest now and admit that many adults still don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. I think I was like thirty-two, when I finally figured it out.

There are a mess of opinions out there as to whether you should follow your passion, or even have one; just take a steady job and do what you love on the side; or heck that if you find your passion you’ll never work a day in your life.

#truthbomb: No one answer works for everyone. Click To Tweet

But I hope to give you some solid advice that I’ve gleaned from years of research and teaching. Buckle up, Buttercup!

The sky is falling

There’s a real stigma about death and dying, especially in America. It’s often impolite to speak of it. So let me be that a-hole. The truth is, we’re all going to die at some point. Nobody wants to hear it, but our time on earth is limited.

Strip that social moré away though, and death becomes a natural part of life. It’s an integral cycle that ties us in with the history of humanity itself.

What’s truly amazing though, is how much potential we have to live bigger these days. Many of the social constraints, limitations, or disadvantages of previous generations have been stripped away, or are fading into the distance. While we still have a ways to go, we live at a time where we have luxuries like women’s rights, running water, and dentists.

These modernizations potentially free us up to be able to create the life we truly want. Each of us has the option to make an impact; to help others and ourselves. We have the choice to live to our greatest potential.

And yet, how many of us actually do it?

We’re gonna live forever

The thing is, for most of our lives, death feels far off.

It’s like knowing we’ll age, but not realizing it’s happening until those age spots and crow’s feet appear in the mirror. It often doesn’t feel real until it happens.

Most of us suffer from the delusion of reprieve, in which we see the realities of life and death, yet somehow secretly believe that it’s not going to happen to us, and that somehow at the last moment we’ll be whisked away from death.

Obviously, we can’t spend each day worrying about our mortality, that would defeat the purpose of life. But the problem with avoiding it is that so many of us wait until it’s too late to say what we needed to say, or do what really wanted to do.

A deathbed story

So i’m going to tell you a story, one I’ve adapted from Les Brown:

Fast forward your life to the point where you’re on your deathbed (keep reading, it will get better, I swear). You’re laying there and you know there’s not much time left. All of the sudden several people walk in, people you’ve known your whole life yet never took the time to get to know on a deeper level. Each one of them represents one of your talents, passions, and ideas.

Maybe the first represents that book you wanted to write–the one that scared you into paralysis. Maybe the second is learning to dance salsa, and the third is starting that business you always wanted to try.

Whatever they represent to you, imagine you’re lying there and each and every thing you felt pulled to do, the hopes and dreams of your life, staring down at you.

One by one they open their mouths and softly they say, “We were born with you, we were the gifts you were meant to share with the world, but you never used us. And now we will die with you!”

Take a moment and let that scene sink in.

Wait, there’s more to you

I’m willing to bet, that right now you have so much more to give this world than what you are currently are. I’ll even venture that deep down below fears, excuses, and denial, you know exactly what some of these things are that you’re meant to do in your short time on this planet.

When I first heard that story I wept. Who am I kidding? I cry every time I hear it. I cried as I wrote it. And I do because I cannot bear the thought of dying like that, with all of those ideas and gifts left unused.

We’ve all got that gift or talent, or idea we’ve been imbued with since birth. So why the fuck aren’t we using them?

Busy and scared

Lawd knows, there’s so much to do. We’re distracted by our never-ending to-do lists, celebrity drama, stupid world leaders, and an overwhelming amount of information. (Did you know the average person is inundated with 100,000 pieces of information each day?)

And yet, at the end of our lives most of those things will not matter to us.

I know I won’t be on my deathbed thinking, I’m so glad I always paid my cable bill on time, or I’m so glad I spent hours of my life on Facebook.

We live in a corporate message driven world, guided by what we think we should buy to fill the gap of desire in our souls.

Shedding the busy-ness only goes so far though, because at the root of distraction are two best friends: Fear and Addiction.

If we’re honest, most of us are a little bit (or a lotta bit) addicted to TV, social media, and the internet, just to name a few “busy” makers. But in the end it’s our choice every time. For most of us it’s a choice we’ve come to make on autopilot. Its as if our reptilian brains are in control. Oh wait, they are.

Which brings me to addiction’s best friend, the worst four-letter word ever: Fear.

About a decade ago a colleague from my business women’s group mentioned that she was training to become a life coach. Her training centered around busting through fears to create the life you really want. It was based on the philosophy of the book, Fearless Living.

She said that she was nearing the end of her program and that she was doing 12 week coaching for a few people for free. She offered me one of the spots. The thought of free coaching was appealing, but I told her, “I’m pretty motivated, I don’t think I have a lot of fears left to conquor.”

Kindly and wisely, she said, “that’s okay, even if you don’t, you might be surprised at how many subconscious fears people have.”

So I did the twelve weeks. Boy, let me tell you: it was then that I noticed that pretty much every decision I made on a daily basis came from some fear, whether tiny or huge. Things like:

  • not wanting my hair cut like a “mom” because I wanted to be seen as a cool young mom;
  • letting my ex walk all over me because I was afraid he’d retaliate;
  • not standing up for myself when a client stiffed me, because I feared I’d never be able to replace them.

The list goes on and on. But the point is that we are often unconscious of the role fear plays in keeping us from living up to our true worth and purpose.

Whether we busy ourselves with social media because of FOMO, or we stay in our “secure” boring/comfort zone job because we fear financial ruin, or we don’t pursue that crazy idea because we’re afraid of being judged, or we don’t speak up because we fear we might be wrong, or we don’t write that one book because we don’t want to fail, or we don’t take salsa dancing classes because we don’t want to look like “idiots” or even beginners; it all comes back to fear.

Don’t freak, move

I know how hard it is to face the reality that maybe you’ve been half living your life, or that fear has been ruling it. Obviously, I’ve totally been there. It took me years to realize how I’d squandered my innate gifts and purpose(s) because of my fear of being worthless.

The only way out from the guilt, fear, or sadness is to say, “no more!” And take the risk of really living. Whatever that means for you.

It doesn’t mean you need to run out and do everything on your bucket list (unless it does). It just means that it’s time to begin.

Crawl if you’re not ready to walk. But baby, do something.

Start before you’re ready, and before you have it all figured out. Take small risks because little changes have better, lasting results than drastically trying to change everything at once.

Remember the story about your deathbed? Guess what? It’s time to change the story.

A different kind of deathbed story

This time imagine now you’re lying on your deathbed, but now  you’re basking in the contentment of knowing that you’ve fulfilled your purposes on this earth. You have this sense of peace that you’ve done what you needed to do. Can you feel it? It’s like a warm blanket on a cool night. You’ve done the things that most pulled your heartstrings and now you can rest easy.

  • What are these things you imagined you did? Think about it.
  • Then write those things down on a sheet of paper and put it somewhere where you’ll remember to look at it.
  • Review that list every morning and let those ideas marinate in your brainpan for a few days.
  • Set yourself a deadline to pick the first one you want to work toward. And begin to take small actions.
Little conscious steps down the right path are much better than strides down the wrong one. Click To Tweet

Once you make the decision and commitment to pursue what you’re meant to do, whatever that is, you’ll begin to feel the deep river of fulfillment begin to trickle and flow into your daily life. It’s a feeling unlike anything else.

So here’s the two-ton question: What do you want to be known for? What will you do with this one life you have?

It’s okay to not know. I won’t judge you. But it’s kind of like going on a trip and not having a destination planned. If your goal is to just explore that’s great, but if you want to create a fulfilling career, live up to your potential, or want people to understand what you’re trying to do in your life or business, you need to have vision.

Maybe you like your life the way it is. That’s cool. But if you have a flickering desire for more, if you have some dreams, start taking action.

And if you’re wondering how my daughter is doing, she’s much more at peace knowing she will start community college next year and take a little extra time to tune-in to what she wants. I’m very proud of her.


Three ways I can help you:  Enroll in my personal branding course, book a one-on-one branding consultation with me, or sign up for my weekly email newsletter.


Image credit: Photo by Maxime Bhm on Unsplash
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Why Wonder Woman’s Naïveté is Important (for Everyone)

“She was too naïve.” I’ve heard this complaint from so many friends, even my daughter, after watching the new Wonder Woman movie. I get it. It was uncomfortable to see this powerful woman completely unaware of her power, sexuality, and equally naive to the corrosive properties of the dark side of human nature. But to me, it made perfect sense.

So often I think we’re taught to equate success and power with the expectation that we’re innately uber powerful and bold, but for many of us badassery is an evolution. We’re not all born kicking ass and taking names.

It took decades for me to move from wallflower to butt-kicker. Heck, I’m still working on it.  Every. Damn. Day.

I grew up in a strict evangelical-fundamentalist enclave where a woman’s place was in service to her husband and children. Feminism (or any kind of true equality) was a dirty word.

In high school I walked around, head down, watching my feet, with my boyfriend, wearing Christian t-shirts emblazoned with sayings like “No Jesus. No Peace.” I’d wake up at 5:30AM to read my Bible and pray, for fear I’d backslide and lose my salvation if I didn’t work hard enough at it. I began to orient my every move around my boyfriend who would eventually become my ex-husband. My vows to him included a line that I would “follow wherever he led.”

I lived in a constant state of blind fear, utterly unaware to the expanse that my life could have outside of this bubble world.

Over the years, I grew up and away from the strictures of a faith that no longer served me. It took years for a mindset of powerlessness to indoctrinate me, so it only makes sense that it would take years to claw my way out of those limiting beliefs.

Just like Diana Prince, I saw the world through a sheltered upbringing, naive to the realities of modern life–both the good and the bad. But in some ways my upbringing, like Diana’s, prepared me for the battles of real life. The ability to commit to a disciplined life, to share what I believed even though I was scared, helped me for what lied ahead.

I used to call my life “Murphy’s Life” because, for years I felt like I was the perpetual target of a machine-gun firing shit sandwiches at my head. Between divorce, money issues, multiple health issues, deaths of loved ones, and too many things to name here, the experiences that challenged my beliefs catalyzed me to my shift from a lowly servant mindset to that of a woman who takes charge. As it turned out, strength, courage, and wisdom had always been there, deep down. I just didn’t know it yet.

[Spoiler] Throughout the film, we anticipate that Aries will find Diana. The stronger she gets, the closer he gets.

In the final battle scene of the movie, Diana loses a loved one and must face her impossible foe.  She’s on her back, pinned to the ground. It seems hopeless. She can decide to give up, or get up. Our hero breaks through what she thought she believed about herself (and the world) and taps into more power than she realized she had.

For me, that moment came when I had to make the hardest decision of my life: taking my children away from their father. My ex was abusing drugs and mentally abusing our children (and me). The stronger I got, the worse he got. It took me longer than I’d care to admit to patch together the courage to stand up to him. I’m sure I looked like a damned wimp; I sure felt like one. But after so many years of being under his control, pinned to the ground of my own life, I finally realized it had to stop.

For Diana, it took saving the world, to step into her power. For me it was the same, I had to save my world–my children. Les Brown says of being knocked down, that if you can look up, you can get up. And so I finally did. I got up, and strapped on my own villain-kicking boots in order to protect my children from their own father.

The things is, we humans ARE so much more powerful than we believe. We are blind to our own strengths and capabilities. But I truly believe we can become our own heros. And our world needs more of us.

Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman gives us a beautifully faceted hero, one whom we watch evolve into claiming her own latent power.

We’re all a different places in our life’s journey. We were or are all naive in some ways, and definitely–at some point–to our own super powers.

I think superhero movies are so popular right now because so many of us feel powerless against the myriad of injustices in our plugged-in, overwrought, global society. If we’re meant to draw inspiration from superheroes, if these fantastical myths are meant to give us hope and strength then this Wonder Woman is the hero we’ve been waiting for. Because when shit got real, she did not stop.

Sure it sounds cheesy, or even cringe-worthy, but here goes: be the hero of your own life. There’s so much more to you than you realize. You don’t have to feel like a badass to start being one.

Get up and into your life, trusting that you’ve got what it takes, and you’ll see that strength, courage, and wisdom has been there  inside you all along.