Here Be Dragons

stamp.php“Here Be Dragons”, the cartographer warns. Back in the day, dragons stood at the edge of the maps to signify the unknown. This addition was the map maker’s way of saying, we don’t know what’s out there. It was a warning: proceed at your own peril.

Except that much of this is false. There were mystical sea creatures drawn on maps, but of all the old maps we have access to, none of them say, “Here Be Dragons.” There is a globe, which makes this warning in Latin. Except it may not even be a warning. It could be the explorer found some creature formidable and strange enough to earn the moniker “dragon.” Other maps of the time noted where different creatures could be found. One map points out where elephants, scorpions and ‘dog-headed beings’ come from. On others one could find walruses, lions, and hippos. Dragons are not as prevalent as our imagination would tell us.

This is what I am discovering in my practice of going outside my comfort zone. Mostly, I’m finding elephants and hippos. Creatures that aren’t terribly interested in eating people or burning them alive. I have found one dragon. One thing that is still squarely outside my comfort zone. But I’ve met it, introduced myself, spent some time in its company. So next time I visit, I can say, “Oh, hello Alice. Good to see you again.” Though I may never be fully at ease in her company, I can get to know her, perhaps even befriend her.

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Dog Tired

 

dog-3Has it really only been two weeks? It feels longer than that. My intentionally adding stress to my life means using more emotional, physical, spiritual energy than I am used to. Even with my brain’s rock star encouragement, stepping out continually can be tiring. One day in particular this past week, I returned home exhausted. After a few rounds of “why am I so tired?” it dawned on me: I hadn’t eaten well that day. In this journey, I need to take care of myself. For me that includes eating well, getting enough sleep, spending time in prayer and meditation, reaching out for support when I need it, doing things which replenish my spirit. What I do throughout the day, even when I’m not engaged in my lenten practice, matters. This lenten journey is turning out to be helpfully disturbing, disrupting some of the unhealthy patterns of my days. Praise be.

May your lenten journeys, too, be helpfully disruptive and ultimately life-giving. Blessings.

Rock Star

Seven days in. The world is still intact and spinning on its tilted axis. It’s been a good week. Adventurous. You see, I don’t have this all planned out. I don’t know what I will be doing on Day 27. First, I’m simply not that person. Second, the boundaries of my comfort zone are not static. Each day, then, becomes a scavenger hunt, a search for ways to be uncomfortable and stretch myself. The effect of this way of engaging the world is interesting. Instead of being apprehensive, my brain responds, “Yes! Do that!” And afterward, instead of “Phew, we made it through,” my brain rejoices, “Goal met! You are a rock star!” That kind of encouragement is hard to beat. I am looking forward to discovering what adventures are in store for me this season.

Lenten blessings to you.

“Never place a period…”

Writing every day this Lent got me thinking about stories – what they are and how they shape us. Most days the writing was a fun challenge; some days the creation involved wrestling. The hardest for me to write was Day 32:

There was no hope, really. Five years on, she still stuck her finger down her throat and he still “forgot” his anger management classes. They existed together, broken, neither knowing how to heal.

Questions of ethics invited me to wrestle. Here I began a story telling the reader there is no hope, and continued to offer a glimpse into the lives of two stuck and suffering people. It was a story of abuses. I didn’t really believe there was no hope. Was I prepared to put a story out there I did not believe? Was I prepared to put a story out there that was simply about pain and suffering? Are there stories not to tell? If so, what are the criteria? How far does my responsibility to the reader go as a writer?

One thing I have learned working in the mental health field is this: the stories we tell ourselves shape who we are. Because stories shape who we are and who we will become, I believe we have an ethical obligation to be intentional about which stories we tell and how we tell them.

I read a book recently which I responded to with fierce anger. The main characters begin stuck in despair, remain stuck, have opportunities to get unstuck, and return to being stuck. No movement. No growth. No insight into navigating this journey of life. I was angry because I expect from stories something that will enrich or aid my own journey. Something I can digest and that will provide nourishment. It is difficult to journey when fed on despair. Maybe that’s why it can be difficult to listen to someone who is depressed. The satisfying nourishment of hope can be hard to hear or find. I find it easier and more satisfying to counsel someone who is invested in the project of healing and is open to receiving hope. There seems to be something in me, and perhaps all of us, that cannot abide a hopeless story, that knows hope is an essential protein – something we cannot manufacture ourselves, but need to receive through our stories.

There are hard stories in our world, stories of betrayal, of violation, of rampant injustice. Stories of impossible pain and endless suffering. This is a hard world we live in; strife and sorrow our hosts. These stories need to be told in order to affect change. Honesty is the traction for growth. It is the traction for positive change, but not the only thing necessary for it. The book I read was honest in that some people live lives stuck and never get unstuck. Knowing that fact isn’t tremendously helpful. The story ended with a period: no movement. end of story. done. There wasn’t left the possibility of another chapter, of change, of hope. Growth requires being open to the possibility of something different. It requires the humility of the comma¹. It requires acknowledging the story is not truly over, that the author has not written all. I felt able to post my Day 32 story only because I included the suggestion that change might be possible, that they are not at the end of their story. It’s not the case that healing is impossible for them, simply that they do not yet know how to travel there.

I don’t know if there are any stories not to tell. Maybe there are. So far I’ve come to this: the stories worth putting my time and energy and self into are stories with hope. And hope is this: being honest about what is, and trusting that is not all there is.

 

¹The period/ comma language I borrowed from what Gracie Allen once wrote: “Never place a period where God has placed a comma.”

 

Learning to Walk

When crawling no longer satisfies,
she pushes, pulls, stumbles
her way to her feet
teetering on one leg
face contorted in concentration
or stretched in delight.
She falls,
then stands again.
teeters, falls. teeters, falls.

I don’t remember the difficulty
of learning to walk
the risk of destabilization
that is
taking a step,
going all in, setting weight
on a single point,
committing.

Today, I walk “like a ninja,”
quiet, balanced, with grace.
My talent does not lower the risk.
That is the illusion.
Any movement is still an opportunity
to fall,
to fail.

As I take each step,
the movement of my being
etches out a journey,
destination yet uncharted.
My stumbling sets me
on a tangential trail;
the destination I
had my sights set on
no longer fits,
is not feasible,
does not satisfy,
and I learn to walk anew.