At some point this year, three words began popping up in my mind at random intervals. They were compassion, courage, and creativity. I was drawn to them as a trio, their collective briskness and the way they fitted together with other favorite words like cozy and comfort and connection. Life in the dependable Cs. Consistency. Completion. Consideration. But it was compassion, courage, and creativity that came around most often. I was seeing and using “compassion” a lot as I began trying to make more ethical choices in my style of living, and I picked “courage” as my word of the year back in January; through my work in therapy I began to understand that “creativity” is my constant mode of expression and conversation, my greatest wish for my own life. It’s a sign to myself that I’m doing okay, so long as I’m creating, because that means I’m continuing to grow and learn.
Eventually, I realized that the three words are interconnected and it dawned on me that each one symbolized a part of my life that I wanted to work on. Not just wanting – these were parts of my life that I was just starting to understand the importance of. They were necessary parts of my life – vital, even. And as the fullness of each began to take shape I recognized in them the refuge and the source of meaning each could hold if I would take the time to tend to them like little gardens of the soul. That would be very important, very lucrative work. It required patience and dedication, and a gentle, hopeful spirit.
The compassion element was first to dawn on me. Compassion means some of the hardest work for me, yet somehow I mistakenly thought it would be the easiest. This is the broadest because it includes self-love, and self-love contains a multitude of struggles. Self-love pertains to body image – a saga of its own – as well as acceptance, permission, and comforting the frightened inner-child. That’s powerful work, and it’s profoundly challenging. Compassion also includes my spiritual practice – whatever that may be – and the acts of giving, caring, sharing. The compassion of the self and the selfless alike. How I treat myself and others, essentially.
Courage is its own small-big practice, but it also serves as an umbrella for its other companions, because the fact is it takes courage to be compassionate and it takes courage to be creative (goodness knows). But on its own, courage exemplifies the taking of action – what I think will be the hardest, and so avoid, but what time and again proves to be not so scary after all. It’s taking the chance, exposing myself to a scary situation. That can be literal (anxiety-provoking), but it can also be hypothetical, as hypotheticals are less scary by nature but sometimes just as big of a deterrent. Courage is the commitment to the whole shebang.
Creativity is the letting out, it’s the expressing and the doing. Frightful business. It’s also about reminding myself that every creative doing is an opportunity for mindfulness, for praying through my hands and finding inner-peace in the stitch of a knitting needle, the pen scribbling on the paper, the stirring of a pot of soup, or the colors layering themselves in the intricacies of a mandala. The creativity is also about the sharing; the act of allowing oneself to be vulnerable by exposing one’s most personal possession (one’s art) to the world. Because if you want to do creative work, you can’t keep it in the four walls of your self. You must put it in the window, at the very least. Sharing it allows you to test the waters of the self-kindness you’ve been nurturing. It helps you to build up your vital truth of being okay with who you are and what you can do, however limited.
Their interconnectedness was what I found most remarkable. It takes the openness of creativity and the diligence of courage to be compassionate. And it takes both gentle compassion and creative expression (for tapping into authenticity) to be truly, effectively courageous. And without the sensitivity of compassion or the daring of courage we cannot reach the apex of our creativity.
None can really be accomplished without the others; at least, not to the level of wholeheartedness with which I wanted to live. So without much ceremony my three little-big practices were born; part of it has been writing down as much as I can, as often as I can, and even going so far as to share my journey. What comes next is anyone’s guess, but I’m convinced that it’s the attention you give your practices that make them successful. That makes it all sound much less frightening, doesn’t it?
When you struggle with a disorder of any sort, be it physical or mental, the process of acceptance can be stubbornly blocked by implacable fear. Fear of what others will think of you, fear of how the knowledge will change their perception of you; fear of how it will change your perception of yourself. This block, I think, can sometimes be caused by our fear of the clinical aspect of our struggle. We have been diagnosed. Someone has – as we might disproportionately think – put their signature to the fact that there is something wrong with us. And somewhere between the relief of getting answers and the space where we absorb this new understanding of ourselves is the fearful voice saying we have to keep this secret. Because to keep that part of yourself secret is to keep yourself safe; to make that newly discovered vulnerability as less vulnerable as possible. But as it happens, sometimes the process of harboring that vulnerability makes things worse. Good intentions become fear-based intentions. And as we scramble to keep our vulnerable secret we end up manifesting a whole bunch of unhealthy habits, behaviors, and attitudes along the way. With every protective step we validate what we mistakenly feared from the start: that there’s something wrong with us. We’re so busy protecting ourselves from the rest of the world that we don’t stop to think about protecting ourselves from our own reactions, our own behavior.
That, in a nutshell, is my story. A bit backwards, but I wound up in that place of being stifled by fear, which seems increasingly common. By the time I was six years old I developed the nervous habit of biting my tongue; before I was seven I bit so hard and so often that I punctured it. It was that early on in my life that I was saddled with the vulnerability: the diagnosis – only, I was too young to know or care what it meant. So I went along in my childhood with my nervous habits, bolstered by one of the most supportive families you could imagine and anchored by my natural introversion, my aptitude for creativity and play. But as I grew into a grown-up mind I grew into a grown-up awareness. I shouldered the grown-up misconception that vulnerabilities are safest when they’re kept locked away, when they’re kept reminded of their status as “weakness”. Now, though, I’ve come to understand the fatal flaw in that practice. It encourages fear – avoidance, shame, all the weighty struggles – and it manifests the perception of not being good enough.
This year, I’ve been on a journey to relearn my grown-up mindset and to correct the mistakes that my fear made in its attempts to do its job (keeping me safe). I stopped smothering the vulnerability; I faced, for the first time as an adult, the clinical aspect of how my anxiety had grown and what it had bred, and I’ve begun reshaping a clinical vulnerability into a vital truth. My vital truth is that I have severe social anxiety. It crippled me, but I learning to thrive.
The perceived nature of vulnerabilities is that they’re weaknesses, but I think that’s wrong. I think sometimes what makes us vulnerable is our greatest source of strength, because it teaches us strong things: like courage and how to love and what it takes to be kind. I’m grateful for my vulnerability because it’s put me on a path of learning self-compassion, gentleness, and living from a place of simple grace. It’s been the motivation to develop practices that let me connect to life in ways I never would have imagined. Even though it can sometimes be hard to leave the house and it’s always hard to make eye contact with strangers; even though at twenty-six big achievements can sometimes be seemingly small things like driving a car or making a phone call; even though it’s easy to feel stunted and fearful and embarrassed, the practices of learning to live in love rather than fear have made me feel just as in-touch with – and part of – the beauty of life as someone who travels the world.
These practices are, collectively, the process of nurturing the courage that was born within and encouraging it to grow large enough to someday become a place to dwell, a place to make decisions from. For me, as for so many people, that’s the journey. And the first step is to embrace our vital, vulnerable truths.
On Saturday I got to experience my first 5k for a wonderful cause. OutRUN 38 works to encourage a fit, healthy lifestyle while also bringing awareness to the fight against cystic fibrosis and raising funds for a cure. The OutRUN 38 community is also a resource for CF sufferers looking for a supportive community and a place of hope. The hope comes in the form of Liz Shuman, whose incredible triumphs over the disease inspired the OutRUN 38 movement.
OutRUN 38 was started by Liz’s childhood friend, Nicole Burke, who was inspired to begin her own life-changing journey of getting healthier after witnessing Liz’s endurance. Despite the severity of CF’s impact on her lungs, Liz is an avid runner and she cites it as one of the reasons she’s been able to live healthy with cystic fibrosis. When Nicole took up running as well, she began the OutRUN the Odds Facebook group as a way for other runners to connect under their mutual admiration for Liz and the inspiration she’s given them. The group became a movement in no time, and now thousands of people across the country are getting active – walking, running, swimming, and biking – and logging their miles in support of Liz. The goal is to reach 3800 miles to commemorate Liz’s upcoming 38th birthday. When she was first diagnosed at 7 years-old, Liz’s life expectancy was only the age of 12; when Nicole began OutRUN 38 the life expectancy for a CF patient was 37 (now it’s 40 – a sign of the strides being made in the fight against the disease). As Liz turns 38 this year, she’s proving that CF patients really can OutRUN the Odds.
Nicole describes the OutRUN 38 movement as “a super positive community of new and experienced athletes supporting each other in fitness and health”. That so accurately describes the experience of an OutRUN event: everyone was energized, enthusiastic, and very welcoming. Volunteers took up places along the course to cheer on both runners and walkers, everyone who showed up to get some exercise, have a little fun, and ultimately raise awareness for this cause. Fellow runners were clapping and yelling encouragements to one another as well, and there was no end to the diversity of the participants: athletes new and experiences, people young and old. One amazing man ran the course at 85 years old. (There was even a little fun run for the kiddies which was the sweetest thing.) No one minded the rain; everyone was just thrilled to be there having fun and sharing in Liz’s genuinely positive spirit. It was a wonderful way to spend a bit of the weekend, and we all left feeling inspired and hopeful for a future without CF.
Connect with OutRUN 38
The event was presented with the help of Vertex and other sponsors, all of which you can see here.
Last weekend I made my first trip (one of many, I hope) to The Metropolitan Museum of Art for an afternoon with my mom. I’ve wanted to visit the Met since before I can remember, and once I was there it was very hard to leave. Being surrounded by so much artwork from all over the world, and from such far reaches of history, gives me a thrill. There’s a sense of being suddenly connected to cultures and artistic ideas that we otherwise would’ve never had any insight into, and just being open to that can elevate one’s own creativity and expand one’s imagination. A lot of people think art is just a luxury, or that it’s exclusive, but I really think its basic importance is that it heightens our ability to feel; it gives us a chance to experience our own emotional reactions to ideas. I think art teaches compassion, and in a time when compassion is so often overlooked how is that not something worth preserving, right?
Charles James: Beyond Fashion | The Daughters of Catulle Mendès (Auguste Renoir, 1888)
Our first stop was the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibit in the newly revamped Costume Institute. Being a special exhibition at the museum, my understanding was that photography wasn’t allowed (though let me tell you, I was one of only a few people who heeded that rule), but you can see a glimpse of it on the Met’s website. I especially love the second video on this page which shows some of the fascinating ways technology was incorporated into the exhibit. While some of James’s designs look very straightforward and (dare I say it) typical for the 1950s, the exhibit goes beyond what we see (literally, using x-rays and simulated images) to connect the viewer with James’s unique genius. His eye for structure and his imaginative approach to cutting was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. My favorite part of the exhibit was seeing the dresses, suits, and coats beside a computer screen that then deconstructed the garments to show exactly how they were made (and making it look super easy in the process). There’s also a small gallery with samples of James’s hats, from his early days as a milliner, as well as different bits of his history. (One thing I loved was his handwritten list of people he wished he had dressed, among them “Miss Audrey Hepburn, a wisp of steel” and “Mr. Mick Jagger, sexy bastard”.) The exhibit closes on August 10 so if you’re in the Manhattan area I can’t recommend it enough!
Although photography in the Charles James exhibit wasn’t allowed, still photos are welcome in the galleries containing the permanent collection, so when we later traipsed over to see my beloved Impressionists I was in full-on shutterbug mode. I took nearly 100 pictures that day!
Water Lilies (Claude Monet, 1919)
The Boulevard Montmarte on a Winter Morning (Camille Pissarro, 1897)
Young Woman Seated on a Sofa (Berthe Morisot, 1879)
Madame Manet (Édouard Manet, 1880)
The Dance Class (Edgar Degas, 1874)
View of Marly-le-Roi from Coeur-Volant (Alfred Sisley, 1876)
The Organ Rehearsal (Henry Lerolle, 1885)
Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat (Vincent van Gogh, 1887)
Monet was my first favorite artist, and I’ve seen some of his painting in-person before, but the Met’s collection of 19th century Europe’s masters is more impressive than I had anticipated. I loved seeing some of Berthe Morisot’s work (one of the few women who exhibited with the famed Impressionists in Paris – girl power!), as well as the incredible range of work they have from Degas. (Edgar appears in a few collective galleries, but then he has a few rooms all to himself as well.) While there were the classic Degas dancers, the Met also has on view some of his pastel nudes (two of my favorites being Woman with a Towel and Woman Combing Her Hair) which I just find to be so unflinchingly real and beautiful at the same time (it’s nice to think, if life imitates art, that the unflinchingly real can be beautiful at the same time!). The Met also has some of his sculptures, which I was really excited to see, especially this one. There was also van Gogh’s infamous self-portrait, and a gallery full of Camille Pissarro, who I really think captures the essence of Impressionism beautiful.
Do I sound like I have any idea what I’m talking about? I really don’t. I just like pretty pictures. (Also, if you’re a fan of Degas or the Impressionists at large I can’t recommend this novel enough!)
Hello out there to Casee’s lovely readers! My name is Stephanie Shar and I’m so honored to be here today. I blog over at The Loudmouth Lifestyle and Baby Loudmouth about self-help, self-love, inspiration and motivation. I hope you get a little taste of that from this post.
Back in 2011, I wrote, “I want to positively influence women to live loudly. I have an idea in my head of what that means and I hope to exude that personality every day. But what, exactly, does ‘loud’ mean? It’s not about voice volume (though if you’ve met me in person, you’ll know that’s also one of my traits). Living loudly means taking charge of your life, focusing on the positive, filling every day with things you’re passionate about and cherishing every moment. It means giving 110% in everything you do whether it be work, relationships or projects. It means living in the present — not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.”
This movement has been three years in the making, and now it’s finally coming to fruition starting with my first e-book, 7 Steps to Living Loudly: Discover Who You Are, Decide What You Need and Create the Life You Want. After a decade of fighting my own self-doubt, depression and anxiety, I want to show you how to squash your fears and follow your dreams! Anything is possible — you just have to decide to take the steps to get there. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
Today, I’m giving away a copy of my e-book to one lucky reader! All you need to do is fill out the Rafflecopter widget below. We’ll announce the winner next week and you’ll receive the PDF straight away. Thank you for reading, and whatever you do, don’t give up on what you’re striving for! Feel free to come say hi anytime!
Thanks to Stephanie for sharing her work! The giveaway is open to everyone; the PDF is compatible with Kindle and Nook, or if you don’t have an e-reader you can read it right on your PC. You could also print it out (25 pages) and clip it in a binder to make your own print workbook!