The Blind Leap Back into the Periphery: A Call for Compassion

“What was I thinking?!”  It would be so easy to berate myself.  I could bash my forehead on the wall for doing it to myself again- for settling.

I accepted a job as the editorial director for a city magazine I helped start three years ago.

How is that settling, you ask? Because doing so put me squarely on the periphery of writing, where I have always been, where it is safe and where I will get a regular paycheck.  I could do this job well.  I could help this publication develop into a world-class bi-lingual city magazine.  Or at the very least, I could help make it profitable.  I have the knowledge and experience in project and publishing management.  I believe in the mission of the magazine.  And I know good writing when I see it, and can help writers get there if they need help.

A buzz began in the center of my being  after they made their first offer.  I thought it was a signal to me that this was an “important” opportunity.  After I accepted their final offer, my heart rate and blood pressure  surged whenever I started thinking about the work.  I began to lose sleep and my appetite.  Was it the stirrings of love for a fulfilling career?  Was it the jubilant excitement of working in my calling?  No.  It was anxiety, plain and simple.

Though I did well enough in the first weeks, which involved editing pieces that should have been edited months before and working late night after late night with a  designer who had no time to fix errors, I found my health deteriorating rapidly.  I attributed it to the extraordinary work load of working two other jobs and a full-time course load, plus mothering and wife-ing.  But as one job and the courses ended, blood continued to pound in my ears, my jaw and throat clenched, and the buzz at the center of my being inched towards migraine-status.  It wasn’t simply the momentum of perpetual busy-ness. Something was wrong.

Then one night I was looking at the recommended texts for an upcoming course on The Writer’s Craft.  As I reviewed each book to choose the five I would use, I started to mourn the writing I would have to give up once I graduate.  At some point, the insanity of that notion hit me.  I went in to my husband’s office, sat on the couch, and ranted.

“I’m a writer.  What I am doing editing this magazine?  I’m a writer!  Even if it was the New Yorker, I should not be editing a magazine.  I am a writer!  I am settling again, goddamnit!”

He listened patiently, with compassion, then asked me what I was going to do.

My whole life, I have found convenient, peripheral ways to write – managing the business end of an alumni magazine, writing a staff newsletter, formatting or writing technical documentation, writing copy for websites.  I even found professional pursuits that would be “noble goals” and would allow me to write for non-profits – grants, promotional material, etc.  But as I’ve said before, there are things I need to say.  I have found my voice.  I know it now, and so this blind leap into the next peripheral job nearly strangled me to death. Living close to my truth nearly killed me.

I gave my boss notice two days later.  I am no longer the editorial director of a magazine.  I will help finish up the planning and documentation over the next week or two, and then I am free.  I am breathing easier already, and my sleep has improved.  My heart even flips occasionally for joy as I take my first steps into a writing life.

So I am blogging again.  And will pursue the publication of several essays. My Creative Non-fiction instructor, Jeffery Cahan, wrote of my last assignment:  “Amalia, this outstanding literary analysis written in classy creative nonfiction style inspires me to suggest that you may want to write more of these (analyses) and see if any literary nonfiction websites or print publications would  be interested in publishing your critiques (as well as your essays in the genre).”   I’m going to cling to those words as I receive the rejections that are inevitable, and then submit somewhere else!

This requires compassion.  I screwed up.  I accepted a job that I was ideally suited to based on my previous experience.  I am just not ideally suited to it based on the calling I am finally answering.  And if I were to berate myself for that mistake, I would defeat the “Lush growth with heart/mind” that I have encouraged by this spontaneous attention to the well-being of…me.

Reflecting on Beauty: If I were a planter of trees

A Planter of Trees

Click on the picture to see the story

 

If there is light in the soul,

There will be beauty in the person.

If there is beauty in the person,

There will be harmony in the house.

If there is harmony in the house,

There will be order in the nation.

If there is order in the nation,

There will be peace in the world.

-Chinese Proverb

Last week, I found my voice.  I discovered something about beauty this week.  We all have great beauty to offer to the world.  This digital story is in the form of poem.  I created it using VoiceThread.

My whole life, I have been asking myself, “What should I do to serve humanity?”  There was always a sense of sacrifice there, as though I can’t do what I really want to do, what means most to me.  I should do what will serve most.  But I have been beaten nearly to death by the “shoulds” of life.  Something has been niggling at my soul each time I asked that “should” question.  “What about your heart?  What about your dreams?  What about what you have to say?”  I  have avoided paying attention to that voice by telling myself I was being noble and service-oriented, by wanting to speak for others.  I see now that those are excuses to hide from my fear:  “What if what I have to say isn’t helpful, or beautiful, or meaningful enough?”

But I am listening now, and I realize that my true voice, the voice of my heart, is most beneficial to the world.  When I listen to that voice, it always helps me.  Why should it not be helpful if I share that voice with others?  Even if it helps only one person, I have served from the center of my being, instead of slightly off to the side with the “shoulds”.  And I can be of more benefit to others if I help them find their own voices instead of speaking for them.

I was sitting with my husband  in Cafe Copenhagen, a local European cafe, when I realized this.  It is an elegant and delicately sophisticated place, sparsely but comfortably decorated.  Colorful paintings by Danish artists accent the clean, white surroundings.   I had just eaten an exquisite meal of linguini carbonara.  Soulful music played quietly in the background.  All that beauty was speaking to me.  “This is for you! Share yours!”  The thought that I had to share my voice, instead of bow to the “shoulds” that always swirled in my head, gave me such a feeling of joy and freedom that I was overcome.  Tears spilled from my eyes as I laughed and laughed.

 We all deserve beauty in our lives…the beauty of an orderly, balanced life, the beauty of a true voice, the beauty of a peaceful meal with loved ones, the beauty of a magnificent sunset…

New Mexico,Tramonto Sunset

New Mexico,Tramonto Sunset, by Paolo Motta

When did you last share the beauty in your heart, even with yourself?

What can you do to bring more beauty into your life?  Even if it’s just a few picked wild flowers on your table in the morning, see what a difference beauty makes in your life.  Here are ten things you can do to bring more beauty into your world:

  1. Watch the sunset.
  2. Do the dishes for someone, (including yourself).
  3. When you are eating food you love, chew it thoroughly, enjoy every bit of flavor.
  4. Share what is in your heart with someone.
  5. Dance in the rain. 
  6. Plant a tree or a flower, or just go and be with some.
  7. Look at your child.  Really SEE her at least ten times a day.
  8. Breathe in deeply when you smell something wonderful.  Take the time for roses or cookies or linguini carbonara.
  9. Luxuriate in the sensation of touch.  Let the feeling of something wonderful touching your skin really sink in.
  10. Look for beauty in every moment.  It is there.  Where is it?

Reflecting Assertiveness: Stand Tall

Why was this story so hard for me to make?  Was it that assertiveness has so many aspects?  There is confidence and calm.  There is repect and true expression.  There is the courage to be yourself and stand tall in the face of bullying, peer pressure and the possibility of being “unpopular”. 

No.  It was not that I had a hard time choosing what to focus on.  It is because this virtue is a real challenge for me.  But in pondering all these aspects, in reading and researching their expression, I found myself being inspired to stand tall. I found myself saying, “Yes, I will support you, but not at the expense of my own dreams.  Let’s find a way to work together.”  I found the courage to stick to my detox diet because I am worth it, even if my sugar cravings don’t think so.  I found the voice inside myself that is so quiet I had to get entirely still to hear it. (Hot baths and good music work wonders for that, by the way.)  That voice reminded me that I am never alone, that I always have a fan, someone who loves me, no matter what the rest of the world thinks.  What surprised me most is that it was my own voice. 

“Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.”

 (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words)

 

Reflecting Acceptance: Calm in the face of a storm of rage

Varqa’s story leaped to my mind immediately when I began pondering the virtue of acceptance.  Though some may not see acceptance as a virtue but rather as an action, I see it as a powerful virtue that requires many other virtues to achieve: courage, compassion, love, detachment, discipline, faith.  We must accept ourselves as we are if we are to progress in our development.  It takes courage to look at ourselves honestly.  We must be compassionate with ourselves to break the cycle of guilt and blame.  Love is possible when we are compassionate with ourselves.  With that love, we can find the ability to let go of the constant desire to control our circumstances.  We can more easily accept them for the lessons they are.  Discipline is required to maintain that sense of serenity.  And we must have faith if we are to believe that we are the beautiful, noble human beings God created, and that we can develop, we can advance.  This process applies when we think of those we love as well. 

So pondering Varqa’s story, and that of his son, has been helpful to me to deepen my understanding of the first virtue in this year of reflection.  What are your thoughts?  What lessons has your life taught you about acceptance?  What lessons have other’s examples taught you?