Finding What You Think You’ve Lost

Last weekend, I attended a lovely—and challenging—workshop on authentic expression. Lovely, because of the wonderful people I met, and our supportive workshop leaders. Challenging, because it involved talking in front of the group about my business—on video—and watching the recordings afterward.

I learned a lot about facing my fears and being vulnerable. I learned that when I’m playing and being creative, it’s easier for me to be myself. And when I speak from my heart, the words flow. I’ve learned this over and over in my life, and now I’m relearning it again.

Spiral staircase

Sometimes, growth feels like walking up a steep, spiral staircase. You wind upward and around, only to find yourself close to where you started, but at a different vantage point. It’s like pushing up into the dark unknown, only to discover an insight waiting on a landing, whispering to you like a figure in a dream.

Then often, the insight fades beneath the routine of daily life, and waits for you to find it again. The unexpressed parts of yourself—your unlived gifts—are like that too. They’re still there, waiting for you to reclaim them.

Edmund Spenser expresses this beautifully, in this quote from the Faerie Queene:

What though the sea with waves continuall
Doe eate the earth, it is no more at all…
Nor is the earth the lesse or loseth aught,
For whatsoever from one place doth fall,
Is with the tide unto another brought…
For there is nothing lost, but may be found, if sought…

Shell on beach in ocean wave

Is there a blueprint for spiritual growth? A kind of DNA of the soul? If there is, I believe it involves losing precious parts of ourselves, struggling, and then finding them again. But when we find them again, we are different. We’re older, and we (hopefully) know ourselves more. We bring our hard-earned consciousness to our gifts, making them even more precious.

There are a myriad of reasons why we leave parts of ourselves behind. The life pressures and circumstances vary, but the result is the same: some essential part of ourselves remains unexpressed.

We’ve all had the experience of interacting with someone who felt inauthentic. And we’ve all had the experience of being inauthentic, ourselves. It can be scary to embody who we are, because we risk rejection. Most likely, you buried parts of yourself because you didn’t feel safe enough to express them. But your strength is in your authenticity. When you’re being who you are, doing what you are called to do, you can inspire others. You can make a difference.

Something we were withholding made us weak, until we found it was ourselves.
– Robert Frost

It takes energy to hide parts of us. Holding ourselves back from what we are called to do—from painting, to working in hospice, to coaching a little league team, to any type of gift we have—is exhausting. We are complex, and mysterious, and deep. You are complex, mysterious, and deep. And you can develop your unlived gifts and dreams.

Urchin shells on beach

What treasures from your depths do you have to bring to the world?

And what are you waiting for?

Being Stuck is Just a Pause in Your Journey

Woman standing and pushing against wall

Being stuck can be difficult to deal with. I often think I “should” be able to keep moving through sheer will. But that is not only exhausting; it distracts me from what I could learn in a situation that is uncomfortable for me.

Last weekend, I watched the wonderful film The African Queen again. It’s a classic hero and heroine’s journey, set in Africa in World War I. Through a series of events, Charlie and Rose find themselves on Charlie’s boat, the African Queen, on a mission to sink a German gunboat on Lake Albert.

If you look at the story metaphorically, Rose represents our higher selves—our inner wisdom—that not only knows what to do, but is an inner catalyst calling us to make the journey we must make.

As in any hero’s journey, Charlie initially refuses the call. He’s like the part of ourselves that thinks of a dozen reasons why something “can’t work.” Yet each step of the way, Rose is there guiding him, helping him see possibilities, and most importantly, teaching him how to believe in himself again. He keeps pushing through his own doubts, moving toward the goal. Pushing through your own resistance builds resilience.

After struggling and failing to free the boat from a muddy marsh in the Bora River (which flows into Lake Albert), Charlie tells Rose he must be honest with her: they’re stuck. At this point, Charlie and Rose believe they have failed in their mission. But a bird’s-eye view reveals that the lake is just beyond the marsh. They are so close, but they can’t see it. Accepting where you are does not mean accepting you have to stay stuck forever. It simply helps free up your mental and emotional energy to rise up over the “mud” and view the possibilities available to you.

Learn the alchemy true human beings know. The moment you accept
what troubles you’ve been given, the door will open.
— Rumi

And it’s true. When you stop struggling, you are no longer focusing on what’s not working, but opening up a door for what will work.

While Charlie and Rose sleep on the boat, rain falls into the Bora River until the water lifts the boat out of the mud, over the marsh, and into the lake. They’re free from the muddy marsh, able to continue on their mission. Don’t forget providence. Don’t forget allies. And don’t forget how strong you really are.

Sailboat on water

When you’re feeling stuck, remember it’s just a pause in your journey.

Be curious about what a “bird’s eye view” can reveal about your situation.

The Allure of Dissatisfaction

How can dissatisfaction be “alluring”? That seems counter-intuitive, right? I mean, people put a lot of effort into trying to “feel” happy, satisfied, and content. Or to “not feel” anxious, depressed, or empty.

Dissatisfaction is like a grain of sand irritating the soft body of a clam: it provokes a response. In the case of the clam, the response produces a pearl.

Pearls in oyster

I believe our responses are meant to create something valuable, too. Our moods are messengers; our thoughts are clues. And our “dissatisfactions” are challenges to grow, stretch, and push out of our comfort zones.

So what’s the allure? It’s what’s behind the dissatisfaction: the call to step away from the status quo and toward the authenticity of your inner wisdom.

On the surface, a frustrating situation may seem like a condition imposed on you from the outside. But if you listen more closely, you can often hear a deeper calling for change, or expression, that you need to honor to grow.

Sometimes, I experience dissatisfaction as a vague wish that something was different. Other times, I’m more clear that I’m not happy with my surroundings, my daily habits, even other people. But when I take the time to look more deeply, I can discover something new about myself and others, or deepen my learning about something I already know.

There have been times in my life when, instead of seeing my dissatisfaction as an invitation to make a change, I’ve focused on the grain of sand, not the pearl. And the grain of sand is often what we can’t change. It’s there to provoke us to grow. Focusing on the grain of sand can make you feel helpless, and even more frustrated. But when you focus on the pearl, you’re responding, you’re creating—you’re both responsible and free.

Sometimes, I didn’t want to be responsible and free. I wanted to be comfortable. I wanted something outside of myself to change so I wouldn’t have to.

You can guess how well that worked!

We’ve all known people who complained about their circumstances but did nothing to change them. I’ve been that person at times in my life. Often, those were situations where I was so entrenched in a negative perspective that I couldn’t see my way out.

I had one of my favorite dreams a few years ago when I was working with a life coach. I dreamt that a little hedgehog was in a cardboard box and could not get out. I empathized so much with the little creature that it was painful for me to watch it struggling to climb up the sides, only to fall back in.

Then, in an “ah-ha” moment, my dreaming self gently turned the box onto its side, and the hedgehog was able to escape.

Hedgehog in a cup

Changing my perspective seemed so easy in the dream, but it took a lot of time, effort, and support to change my perspective in my waking life.

Dissatisfaction calls to us to look deeper. But it can be scary to dive so deep that you brush against your own monsters, that you lose your sense of what’s up and what’s down. So we “stay busy.” Or tune out. Or complain. Or focus on everything that was wrong, is wrong, could go wrong.

And often, friends and family give us lots of sympathy in response to our complaints. It just seems easier to blame the world than to grow ourselves.

And for a while, it may be easier. But in the long run, it’s harder, because we keep ourselves stuck, and guarantee that we keep having the same type of experience over and over again.

How we choose to respond to something we are dissatisfied with makes all the difference.

In a challenging situation, when have you focused on the pearl you could create, rather than the grain of sand?

How did that change the experience for you?

What did you learn?