M: The Buddha, The Leaf, and The Importance of Choosing Your Words Carefully

It was a Saturday afternoon in February. Bright, cold sunlight beamed in through our plant-laden living room window, warming Bella as she lay on the floor. Our tiny Buddha sat on the window sill watching us intently– a gift I gave to you symbolizing the peace I hoped we find. Next to him sat a small metal leaf plate with a cone of incense smoking–a gift you gave to me to signify the turning over of a new leaf together in our relationship.

The Buddha and the Leaf–Peace and Love; This is what we wanted for each other, and our relationship.

I remember our conversation that day so clearly, though ‘conversation’ is a generous way of describing what happened. You were standing with your back to me at the sink in our brick-walled kitchen, washing dishes with such vigor that I thought they might break between your fingers. Methodical. Focused. An effort to shut out the noise. I sat at the long wooden dining table that we had build together, white knuckled and fuming. I tapped my foot, my fingers. Impatience. Frustration. Hopelessness. Restlessness.

Leaning back, my eyes darted around the apartment as I tried to figure out what to say next. Something kind, healing. Something that made you understand that I loved and missed you. Something that would just end this fight, and all the fights. Yet everywhere I looked I was met with the memory of past conversations, sparking defensiveness and revealing hurt I had previously swept under the rug. My wall of books were ‘obnoxious’, you said. The couch-‘uncomfortable’. The cats – ‘unwanted’. Too many pots, tea cups, and art that belonged to me. Too much of me, in general.

The reality was that we both were hurting that day, and had been for months–deeply desiring to connect and yet unable to communicate past our personal pain. Each attempt to speak was a superhuman act of love …as well as a textbook case of how limiting stories can blind and deafen us.

This particular morning we flung words at one another with little care to how they landed or the harm being inflicted.

The conversation finally peaked. “You know what, Caitlin?” You stopped suddenly and turned around to face me, a pot in one hand and a brush in the other, soapy water dripping all over the floor. Without flinching or blinking, you said with such certainty that I couldn’t believe it to be anything but the utter truth: “They say that you are the sum of the five people you spend the most time around. I spend the most time with you and I hate who I’ve become.”

I moved out that day, and have never forgotten those words.

“Words are events, they do things, change things,” wrote Ursula K. Le Guin in her book The Wave in the Mind.

I often ask people “What is something someone has said to you that you will never forget?” The answers that come up most often, not surprisingly, are words of critique or harm, echoing the darker shades of shame, sadness, and insecurity that inhabit our hearts. Usually they’re delivered by those we hold closest–friends, family, lovers–and their power often grasps us by surprise and sends us reeling.

Painful, but also pivotal–and frequently sparking significant life change and introspection.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned in that relationship was that there are words that can not be unheard or unsaid. Words that will echo in the dark parts of the night. Words that water the unsprouted seeds of doubt and insecurity planted in our hearts, Words that burrow and fester into something self-destructive, Words that cut to the very pith of who we are. Words that have the power to radically and permanently change how we see ourselves, our relationships, and our world.

The worst part is no amount of introspection and self-awareness can prepare you, because they sit in your blind spots or in hiding spaces, waiting for the right time. In fact, words that would otherwise be innocuous quickly transform into an explosive and destructive force when finally colored by the right time, place, emotion, and speaker. And once you’ve felt them, heard them, uttered them–something has to change. No going back.

Forgiveness?

David Whyte wrote that “all friendships of any length are based on a continued, mutual forgiveness. Without tolerance and mercy all friendships die.

So we must learn to forgive harmful words even if we can not fully forget.
But even in the forgiving, we are changed.

Lessons Learned

Sadly, that partner and I no longer talk. We did have a chance some time after to withdraw our words and issue apologies but the pain inflicted by our lack of love in our weaker moments likely will never be fully healed. We both wielded our deep knowing of one another to inflict harm, leaping past a threshold of no return.

The only way left to honor that relationship is to learn and try again. I carry a heightened awareness that what I say or hear today might result in permanent change. I strive for patience in my communication, curiosity in my listening, and kindness in my responses as I grow new love with new humans.

…and I frequently think back to that afternoon in Brooklyn, especially in my moments of weakness, fear, insecurity, or distress. I recall when, returning a few days after our fight to pack boxes and bags, I found the place looking entirely different (though nothing was out of place). I remember holding my partners hand, kissing his face, feeling all the love that was between us… and yet knowing that love was forever different.

On Having Difficult Conversations→

When facing a difficult conversation, (with partners, friends, family, etc) I learned to ask three questions:

Is what I have to say kind? 
Is it true? 
Is it necessary?

The first two build empathy and emotional awareness, but it’s the last question thats the most illuminating of the three–for the answer reflects how much you value the continuation and growth of that relationship.

Happiness, Risk-Taking, and Being Enough Today For the Challenges You Face→

“If you have the good luck to have found something or someone that resonates with you, that amplifies your happiness–risk it. Life is too short and happiness too rare.”

Over the last two weeks, themes of happiness, love, risk, and readiness have appeared in almost all of my personal conversations with people in my life. Whether we are talking about making career changes, starting up new businesses, moving into new homes, or investing (or divesting) in personal relationships–the most common thread is *fear of not being ready or not being enough*.

🤔From these conversations, I took a little time to reflect on why.

When we experience fear or when risk taking is required of us, we often look for palatable excuses to disengage, delay, pass up, and say no, not now, not yet.

❓Do you ever catch yourself doing this?❓
👉Convincing yourself that the timing is off, or that you aren’t ready or that you aren’t good enough:
– strong enough
– smart enough
– pretty enough.
– experienced enough
– independent enough
👉Convincing yourself that you are not far enough along in your healing, learning, or growing? 
👉Convincing yourself that you would only do harm, feel pain, or fall short/fail?

🤷‍♀️Well, very few things happen at the ‘right time’, and much does not happen at all. It’s also impossible to be 100% ready for anything in life (probably not even 75%), for nothing is truly predictable, certain, or defined. I promise there will *always* be more you can learn, do, grow, fix.

So, its probably healthier to present in the now. To embrace opportunities — jobs, projects, people — when and as they appear in life. More so, if they have the chance of contributing to our happiness in a meaningful way… being vulnerable enough to take a risk and make a change.

For the truth is: You are ready, and enough, as you are today.
‘Success’ only needs a few things:
🔹The capacity for clean communication
🔹The ability to be vulnerable and ask for help
🔹The willingness to positively and creatively problem solve. 
🔹The trust in yourself and in your ability to learn the things you need, to grow and to love.
…and of course the ability to see success as achieving happiness, rather than the achievement of money, marriage, status, possessions, and so forth.

I know I don’t need to say it but… no matter how prepared you are… mistakes will happen: you will stumble, fall, experience failure, cause pain. This is inevitable. But you have to risk that to open yourself up to all the positive outcomes as well. (Brene Brown once wrote “You can not selectively numb your emotions, when we numb painful emotions, we also numb good ones”–the same goes for experiences, you might be avoiding the risk of a painful experience, but that means you also avoid the potential payout of a positive one)

➖➖➖➖➖➖

Seriously, as I reflect more on this, I really think the best thing I did for myself was to stop waiting for the right place, the right time, the right partner, and to start trusting myself, my vision, and my capacity to listen, learn, and love.

🙅‍♀️👎I didn’t feel ready when I took my job at Parks, or started up the Movement Creative, or launched any of my major projects and events. I actually felt under-qualified, inexperienced, and unskilled. An impostor.

🙅‍♀️👎I didn’t feel ready when I entered the biggest romantic relationship of my life nor when I started dating after it ended. I actually felt unlovable, unworthy. I felt far from ‘healed’, and that I had a laundry list of things I had to ‘fix’ or improve about myself before I was ready, good, worthy, able to be a partner to another.

🙅‍♀️👎I didn’t feel ready when I moved across country, left my family behind, and changed life path–I felt afraid, full of self-doubt and uncertainty. I worried I was unprepared and that I would let people down.

I also often felt uncertain of who I was, where I was going, what I wanted. I held deep limiting stories about myself as well as expectations of what I ‘needed’ to be (ie more educated, more experienced, more whole, more healed, more happy, more etc. etc.)

Yet when I stepped back, I was able to see that each opportunity (or person) resonated with me deeply. There was huge potential for creating positive impact, for crafting deep love and personal connection, for engaging in exciting travel and learning. And wow, it was right here, now, presenting itself to me. Sure I might not feel ready but who knows when I’d get another chance? Or if by saying no, I’d close off that opportunity forever? Or if inaction would actually be the thing to cause me pain? I couldn’t know. And I have had enough life pass me to know that experiences and people that resonate deeply with you don’t come by too often…

So I took some big risks.

And while I certainly failed at times–and still do, and have been hurt, and have hurt in turn… I had so many successes. I launched incredible programs and projects, I met and loved some amazing humans and in turn loved myself more, and I have created a life where I am the happiest I have ever been. Not to mention I have also discovered that I am far more capable than I ever believed.

Plus I learned that almost 
🔹no decision made is irrevocable, 
🔹no relationship marred is irreparable, 
🔹no failure to big to crawl back from, 
🔹no pain that cannot be endured and evolved from.

And finally: Big risk has the potential for big reward–and big fear usually indicates potential for big happiness, growth, and connection (not to mention fear being an indicator of things you actually need to explore–rather than run from)

WRAP UP
🔆I think the ultimate lesson I’m trying to draw up is that we all need the permission to be both imperfect and to believe that we are enough. We need the courage to be vulnerable so that we can take risks on the people and things that resonate with us and our happiness.🔆

Waking Life: On Language, Communication, And Disconnection

“What is, like, frustration? Or what is anger or love? When I say “love,” the sound comes out of my mouth and it hits the other person’s ear, travels through this Byzantine conduit in their brain, you know, through their memories of love or lack of love, and they register what I’m saying and they say yes, they understand. But how do I know they understand?

Because words are inert. They’re just symbols. They’re dead, you know? And so much of our experience is intangible. So much of what we perceive cannot be expressed. It’s unspeakable. And yet, you know, when we communicate with one another, and we feel that we’ve connected, and we think that we’re understood, I think we have a feeling of almost spiritual communion. And that feeling might be transient, but I think it’s what we live for.”

Waking Life- Written by Richard Linklater 

2010.01 On Speaking Your Mind, Standing Up For Your Ideas, and Communicating Your Needs

“I found that when you start thinking and saying what you really want then your mind automatically shifts and pulls you in that direction. And sometimes it can be that simple, just a little twist in vocabulary that illustrates your attitude and philosophy.” — Jim Rohn

If there is one thing most people fail to learn it is the ability to disagree, to stand up for your own opinion, and to stand up for what you believe in. Once you learn how to speak your mind, strategically, and without fear, you will find that you will come to know yourself.