Monthly Archives: March 2013

Dark places and hard times

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Was listening to a webinar yesterday led by Fabienne Frederickson on the breakthrough mindset of successful people, and she said something about “those times we’d rather not re-live.”  I was struck by her very careful word choice…  We all know the times she’s talking about: those times that squeeze and even pinch us.  The ones where we’re struggling to get a breath.  Where our sources of comfort turn brittle.

The places that show us that we’re still not over those abandonment issues. Where the sense of betrayal is so intense it becomes physically palpable.  I remember one such time, I literally heard my heart breaking.  It made a sound- like cloth being ripped down the middle.

I noticed that she didn’t say “those times we all wished had never happened” or “those times we’d rather forget”.  She said “those times we’d rather not re-live.”

There is an acknowledgment here.  A nodding to the difficulty, of course, but an awareness of the role that difficulty played in making us who we are today.  Like bones that need the muscles to pull on them and create resistance to keep them strong, so too do we need those difficult times to lengthen our souls so we can reach to the sky.

Remaining in that awareness keeps our heart and mind open so that we can effectively navigate the rocks and choppy waters when we’re in them.  In the tale of Vasilissa, the little doll in her pocket often replies “Say your prayers. Get your rest.  The morning is wiser than the evening.”

When we find ourselves in the middle of a crisis, stepping back to surrender to the moment brings us peace.  That peace enables us to see solutions we would be blind to if we let anxiety and fear take over.  When anxiety reaches a certain level, it literally severs dendrite connections in the brain. When the anxiety levels reduce, the dendrites will reconnect- like a game of Red Rover.  Its easy to understand how rising fear and anxiety levels diminishes our ability to find the solutions right in front of us.  We need to find our rest.

Once rested, it all seems to fall in to place.  Things don’t seem as terrible as we’d thought. We’re on the other side; we got past the trolls under the bridge. We’ve made it through the night and find ourselves in the light of morning.

So was all that really necessary?  Did we have to go through all that to get here?  As Joseph Campbell would ask, what is the gift in that dark place?  (I love how this post handles that question!  I mean, what do you do when your hood pops up and smashes your windshield while driving down the road??  I got all kinds of messages from my closet collapsing, I can only imagine how much she was able to mine from that experience).Baba Yaga crashing through the forest

Returning to the story of Vasilissa, at first glance, it’d be easy to say that the work she’s forced to do for her step mother and step sisters and the work she does for Baba Yaga are equally soul-crushing, yet both are freeing her in different ways.  Both are teaching her vital lessons about who she is, who others are, and how the world works.  Both are teaching her about power- though in different ways.

It is because of this work, because of this hardship–not in spite of it– that Vasilissa is able to return home with the light of Wisdom gone before.  Because of having worked through the difficulties that this light- scary though it is- is her helpmate rather than an adversary.

For Christians, today is a yearly reminder of the power of those hard places and dark times.  Easter morning is a celebration of the triumph of the light, the return of spring after a hard and long winter–a theme in religions and cultures round the world and throughout recorded time… yet there would be no celebration had there not been the cave.  No heart-expanding world-shifting forgiveness had there not been such deep betrayal.  This is where the Christ figure paves the way and shows the example– release of bitterness when faced with persecution from those he’d helped.  Forgiveness at the hands of betrayal.  Reaching for connection in times of abandonment.

The tendency to close down and harden in such times is fierce.  To choose instead to open up and soften –after a period of solitude– unlocks a deeply transformative power into our lives and in those around us.

How do we do that?  Release our grip on resentment and bitterness.  See how we contributed to our relationship with the metaphorical step-families in our lives.   Look past our fear of the Baba Yagas to see what they gave us.  Choose openness and dialogue instead of walls and defenses.  Practice looking past what makes us afraid to the Love it has to offer.

Ever after in the real world

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I love folktales.  I don’t just believe- I’ve experienced- their transformative power.  I’ve read Jung’s theories about archetypes and the collective soul. I’ve followed the modern research that shows how the human brain is particularly wired for story.  I do my work to use stories to help people connect to themselves and their world.  I want people to see the real-life applications of what stories have to teach us.

Here’s a twist on real-life application that had me awed by talent and doubled over laughing.  Fantastic!

 

Getting past the gatekeeper

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I’ve noticed that every time I am moving towards the next level, I have this attack of sorbridgetrollts.  I know I am not alone.  Finally make the decision to move on up by sending your CV out there, or get out of a relationship that’s not working, or ask for that raise you know you deserve and here it comes–  the negative head-chatter.  The judgmental family member/colleague that says out loud what you’ve been afraid of.  Self-sabotaging episodes.

“Who do you think you are?”

“What right do you have?”

“You’re just going to screw it up.”

Whatever your committee’s favorite shaming and fear-inducing phrases are, they’re in a near-constant loop.

Yet, push through and do it anyway, and the whole world opens up.  Nothing I was worried about happened, or if it did, it wasn’t a big deal.  Its like there are these boogeymen at each portal to the next level that make all this noise and try to scare me back, but actually have no power.  Harmless.  They’re just waving their arms and making noise, really.

In folk tales, there are no shortage of such creatures.  The reputations alone of these trolls under the bridges of our lives are often enough to keep us from even going near the bridge, let alone daring to cross it.  Yet it is in this daring that we survive.  Dare we not, and it is the fear that held us back that will consume us.  The negative, critical, searing questioning that will intensify and make the next bridge even more frightening to cross.

In the story of Vasilissa, our heroine is the victim of a plot intended to kill her.  She is sent to Baba Yaga’s house deep in the woods to get fire.  Frightened at the prospect of being eaten by Baba Yaga, Vasilissa arrives at the hag’s hut after a few days of traveling through the woods.  Even with all this time to mentally prepare, she’s still terrified when confronted by Baba at the gate.

…”Why are you here?” the Baba demanded.

“I live with my Stepmother at the edge of the woods, and we are in need of fire.” Vasilissa answered.

“Yes, yes.” Baba Yaga sneered, “I know your people.

“Why should I give you fire” she shot back.

“Because I asked.” Vasilissa replied.

 

She’s facing the horrible stuff of legends, and she doesn’t justify.  She doesn’t explain.  She doesn’t try to win pity points.  She simply asks for what she needs.

This takes ovarios.  And it works.

The Baba didn’t eat Vasilissa right there on the spot.  She didn’t eat Vasilissa at all.  But to be able to stand in the face of that kind of Wild Power and hold her own, Vasilissa had to know what she wanted.  Just knowing what we need is half the battle won.

When we know what it is we need, when we’ve connected to what happens if we don’t have what we need, courage comes much more easily.  The fear of going forward becomes less than the fear of turning back- and that’s all you need to get past the gatekeeper.