In case you missed the Choice List that prompted this mini-series, today’s musing began with #4 on that list:
I choose love, abundance, patience, and curiosity as my motivators.
I’m not built for long, hard winters. Call it luck, genetics, or super metabolism, but I don’t carry any extra padding. The word tight best described my body during many a midwestern winter lived in old, drafty houses. Sometime in late October, my whole body would begin clenching up to conserve heat. Eventually, it got so cold outside that breathing hurt. Even indoors — dressed in long johns, wool socks and multiple sweaters — it seemed my breathing remained shallow, adding to the tension that grew until May. Unless we built a fire, I which case I sat amidst the flames breathing deeply. Well, almost.
In the same way, I’m not built for long-term worry, fear, anger, and scarcity. I’m not one to brag, but I’m somewhat gifted in each of these. Unfortunately, sustaining one or mixing a cocktail of any of these transforms me in shocking, scary, less-than-flattering ways. My decision-making process shifts. I become suspicious. Needy. Defensive. Breathless. Tight.
Now, I live in sunny southern California. While we’ve seen frost (twice) in the last five winters, I no longer include thermal underwear in my wardrobe must-haves. When we build a fire, I enjoy it from my easy-chair rather than the hearth. In good years, we see snow on Mount Baldy and the San Gorgonio range. One December, we drove to June Lake in the Sierras to spend a delightful week visiting the snow. I like visiting snow.
Of course, worry, fear, anger and scarcity don’t stay on mountain tops or wait for a visit. They find me. I can’t stop them. But I’ve learned a few skills to help me pass through them — or help them pass through me.
I breathe. Deeply. Slowly. This simple move keeps me present, sends oxygen to my brain, and keeps me from doing a full-on, teeth-grinding clench. When I breathe I’m able to remember how often the horrible outcome I worry, fear, and angst about has never materialized. At. All.
When I realize I’m doing the scarcity scramble, I think of the riotous abundance of nature: blades of grass in my yard, drops of rain in the last storm, stars on a clear night. There is enough goodness for everyone. Including me.
I run a HALT-index on myself.
If I am hungry, angry, lonely or tired, I halt. Instead of playing emotional Russian roulette, all decisions and important actions go on hold. Identifying each of these takes patience and awareness, but it can be done. Talking aloud to myself helps.
“Rebecca, you’re a bit light-headed, honey. Stop painting and make yourself an avocado sandwich.”
“Feeling low and lonely, Rebecca? Time to call your delightfully irreverent daughter.” If you don’t have a daughter, call your kind sister, upbeat neighbor, or sit with an adoring pet.
“You seem drained, darling. A bit spent. You have permission to sit down and put your feet up. Or better yet, take a nap!”
After these course corrections, I can move ahead with curiosity, joy, positive passion. But then there’s anger. This takes more than positive self-talk.
I’ve heard the argument that anger can be a motivator for good. Perhaps. It makes sense to feel angry over injustice, violence, inequity, suffering. But to move into a response based on the weight of sustained anger feels exhausting. Tight.
The chilly certainty of righteous indignation doesn’t inspire me as much as the risky business of love.
I’m here for the long haul and want to tap the refreshing, renewable energy of light and love.
But how to deal with anger so I can clear the way for light and love, patience & curiosity?
Here’s something I learned in counseling: expressing and releasing anger — rather than minimizing, stuffing or denying it — is a brilliant life skill. And just because I didn’t acquire it growing up (my family favored impatience and disappointment to out-and-out anger), it’s never too late to learn.
- Roll up the car windows and scream. Just wail away. If you like, crank up the music.
- Grab a thrift-store pillow and stab it with an old screwdriver.
- Punch your mattress.
- Break recycle-able things. I liked jam jars, chipped bud vases, and old plates. I collected a basketful. My counselor found an outdoor dumpster surrounded by a concrete block wall. We opened the gate and she handed me my ammunition. I hurled glass until my arm ached. It harmed no one and released heaps of pent up anger. So cleansing. Then I could talk about it.
- Try depth journaling. In his book, Pain Free for Life, Dr. Scott Brady suggests this approach and offers guidelines and prompts for naming and examining anger and its cousins perfectionism, control, fear, people-pleasing, rigid rule-keeping (aka legalism), and more.
- Explore artistic expression. Work with clay. Grab some markers. Pound a few nails. Some stories can’t be told with words.
I learned this in a painting class. Asked to produce a self-portrait on an object (instead of canvas) I created the piece Flattened and Freed.
I began without forming a desired outcome. Rather, I moved from step to step, trusting the process.
First, I chose the used ironing board at Goodwill and gave it a light coat of gesso. Then, I selected the old black and white family photo. I sketched all my family members, but without eyes. I painted each of them and left myself the invisible girl with eyes wide open. The plaster hands and heart on a plate came next. Finally, I added gray to some of the blocks formed by the plaid on the iron cover and shifted to colors from left to right representing the change from a sad, flat world to one of vibrant texture and color.
The completed piece says so many things I could not. About carefully keeping up appearances, a starched and pressed life, my sense of isolation as a child. It also speaks of the healing and connection that I experience in the family I have formed with Ken.
Like stepping from a midwest winter into a California spring, expressing and releasing anger in healthy ways — opens me up. It’s challenging, difficult work, but oh, so worth it. I move through life fueled by wonder, curiosity, and happiness. I cannot help myself; I create joyful art.
The wisdom tradition I’m most familiar with makes an amazing offer:
…a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light.”
What a wonderful burden. That’s the one I want. Always.
If this article resonated with you,
With gratitude, Rebecca
next time: new pictures from the studio and spring art shows