The Road to Resilience

Trauma is the invisible force that shapes our lives. It shapes the way we live, the way we love and the way we make sense of the world. It is the root of our deepest wounds. Trauma cannot always be conquered, fixed, or resolved, but it can be heard, held and loved.

Gabor Maté, The Wisdom of Trauma

The road less traveled…

My road to resilience has been a long one, and still going. At times the smell of burnt rubber from my spinning wheels made me wonder if I had ever gained any ground, or if I dared hope I would one day arrive at wholeness. In those times it helped me to remember that the universe moves in circular motion – that our very hearts beat to the rhythm of daily, monthly, and yearly seasons and cycles. A deepening spiral into the depths of ourselves more accurately reflects life on earth than the idea of a direct route to any sort of destination or end point, and the process of awakening inside 3-D reality has convinced me that growing into the fullness of our humanity may in fact take several lifetimes – both collectively and individually.

Looking back at my movement towards resilience, I would have to say that (in this lifetime, at least) my journey began at age 13 – the year I started thinking seriously about ending my life. This suicidal ideation would continue throughout my teens, and even into my mid-twenties, although the relationship I established with the god of the Bible prevented me from carrying out the deed.

So What is Resilience?

re·sil·ience/rəˈzilyəns/noun

  1. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
  2. the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.

It used to astound me how two people could have virtually the same experience and come away with completely different reactions. My family of origin illustrates this well, actually. Four children raised by the same parents, all assigning their own personal meanings to their childhood. This phenomena makes sense when you understand that the nature of an event itself neither supports nor negates the definition of trauma; rather the subjective experience of the one affected by the event defines that event as traumatic or not.

Perception really is everything.

In college, one particular friendship made all the difference in my perception of the world and my place in it. A late-night conversation in her car stands out in my mind to this day, and while it may not have meant all that much to her, I believe that it literally saved me at the time. My friend’s willingness to not only see through my meticulously crafted walls, but also dare to find a way inside them introduced me to a new resource: vulnerability. To this day I do not do vulnerability particularly well, but she showed me that as painful as it can be to face and reveal the darkness inside, vulnerability also has the power to strengthen, liberate, and connect us together.

To me, resilience means having access to an abundance of resources (inside and out) that can aid in navigating the difficult storms of life, but despite the lesson(s) my college friend taught me, I managed to recreate the pain of my childhood in my marriage. When you are at the mercy whim of a person with narcissistic tendencies, vulnerability seemed like an UNuseful tool, so out the window that went.

I remember in my thirties coming to the stunning realization that amidst the vast number of emotional tools available, I had truly developed only one: anger. For most of my life, anger was my go-to problem solver. Anger helped me survive. At first I kept it in the dark. My childhood taught me in thousands of ways that to reveal a negative feeling about anything led to vilification through guilt and shame. Happy was the order of the day. Every. Single. Damn. Day. Whether I felt happy or not. I learned to build thick walls, and at the same time, stuff my anger deeper and deeper down, making the eventual explosions that much more painful for me and those around me. Much later I learned that anger turned inward often manifests as depression. Despite my moody broody Pisces nature, I never did depression any better than I had vulnerability.

Instead, my body manifested an autoimmune disease.

The Body Keeps the Score

Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.

In 2004, during a routine physical, my doctor discovered nodules in the right side of my thyroid. An ultrasound and eventual lab work dismissed cancer but revealed extremely high numbers of antibodies. My anger-turned-inward had literally caused my body to begin attacking itself. Considering how much difficulty I had in expressing my feelings (remember, crap at vulnerability), it is no wonder that my immune disorder of ‘choice’ targeted my throat, my voice, my self-expression. When the body begins to manifest disease, it’s time to face the hard truths about the source(s) of chronic illness.

Owning up to trauma and its devastating effects does not necessitate blame. Trauma is my response to an event, so facing it makes me response-able, as Gabor Maté puts it.

Taking responsibility requires self-awareness and a willingness to either walk away from toxic relationships or develop the self-care tools necessary to diligently acknowledge, own, and heal our own trigger points. Today my toolbox holds way more than anger inside, although I came to learn that anger properly expressed proves quite useful at times. When we allow our emotions to teach and inform us, true healing and incredible growth can occur, but –

You must feel it to heal it.

Michelle D’Avella

So many events in my life contributed to the building of my resilience toolbox that it would take a memoir or three to adequately talk about them all. Some that stand out in my memory:

I daresay that every experience in life potentially adds to our resiliency toolbox, depending on our perception and level of awareness. The big ones stand out, but the little ones carry weight too. And my teachers – WOW!! Dr. Joe Dispenza, Abraham Hicks, Alan Watts, Bruce Lipton, Michelle D’Avella, Niraj Naik, Marshall Rosenberg, Daniel Quinn, Patrick McKeown, Gabor Maté, Peter Levine, and so many more have expanded my toolbox in ways that I find hard to express. These days Byron Katie’s idea of approaching thoughts with curiosity has become a helpful point of focus for me.

What about you?

  • What life experiences have helped build your resiliency toolbox?
  • What teachers/ideas influence and inform your growth towards resiliency?
  • What does your practice of self-care look like and what place does it have in your toolbox?

For me, resilience must offer more than the ability to recover from trauma – it also must give me the strength to walk in love day-to-day through a world that at times feels like a mass of painful meaningless chaos.

May you develop within yourself a resilience powerful enough to shine the light of joy into every moment, every trauma, every sorrow, every fear, and become a beacon of gratitude strong enough to anchor you into an inner knowing that the source of this universe truly is pure positive energy love.

Thanks so much for reading!

Namaste,

~Cindy

The Art of Finding a Soul

The pleasant female voice on the radio described the composer as a Renaissance Man. She elaborated with the words “musician, writer, and painter, among other things”. I couldn’t help but think, That sounds like me!

A whirlwind of music blew through the first half of my life. As a teenager, I stood atop my bed belting “I am Woman” out of the open windows, to the chagrin of my neighbors; my senior year in college, I performed a vocal recital in four different languages – none of them English; and for 25 years I led a congregation of worshipers behind a guitar and sometimes a conductor’s wand. Today the only exercise my vocal cords will get is either in what I like to call ‘car karaoke’ or joining my daughter and son-in-law around the family upright. Here is a humorous sample of what I used to do.

A coffeehouse in Johnson City, TN, circa 2010. In the evenings alcohol was served.
The drunk man dancing to and from the bar makes this piece a classic.

I am so passionate about reading that I finally wrote a novel of my own, and should the stars align, a few more to come. Over the years I have engaged in all sorts of arts and crafts, including cross stitch, sewing, gardening, jewelry making and even putting together bird feeders using vintage dishes, wire, and beads. But the 1970’s sewing machine my mother gave me is long gone, I sold all of the bird feeders when I left my yard behind, and most of the other crafts in my life have given way to a new-found passion for acrylic paint. With four family members who are painters in their own right, I often wondered if I would ever create something of beauty on a canvas, especially after the nightmare experience I had at ten. In December of 2018 (while investigating abstract art), I stumbled upon paint pouring and decided to give it a try. Interspersed in this post are some of the pieces I have made (and sold or given as gifts).

12X12 Acrylic on Canvas

We have all heard the saying,

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Margaret Wolfe Hungerford

Today as I scrolled through the Go Make Some Art! Facebook page, it occurred to me that true beauty is in the soul of the creator, kind of like the difference between the technically savvy pianist and the one who can make the instrument sing. You know what I mean. Writers whose words come to life, painters, singers, even cooks who ply their craft with such heart that those who partake of their works are moved to deep emotion. This is the connection we crave, for without it, what meaning can we give to the things we create?

There is something about working with the hands that bridges the gap between body and soul. When I plant a seed, push a needle, or tilt a canvas, my mind is forced to let go its heady thoughts and focus on that space inside where the real life of me lies. As an outer reflection of what the inner eye sees, the visual arts demand the most of a person. But to lay anything to canvas is to subject one’s soul to the judgements of every passerby, and if the artist does not love his or her own heart well, there is the possibility of self-loathing and despair. But judging with criticism what the hands have made diminishes the life of the soul within, even if just a little.

If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then the hands are the expression of it.

I commented on a post in that same forum that perhaps artists (of all kinds) have a unique avenue to discovering their own worthiness. We all know the feeling of ‘not good enough’ – not smart enough, not pretty enough, not strong enough, not thin enough, not, not, not… E N O U G H. But there is something healing in the physical expression of that invisible part of ourselves – at least it can be, if we will let go our judgements of good, bad, beautiful, ugly, worthy, unworthy. Perhaps all that has ever been necessary is connection – the commitment to transform the invisible into something tangible.

Last week my daughter gave me permission to go to India – or anywhere else in the world – if I ever felt the need to ‘find myself.’ As much as I appreciate the freedom she afforded me, the idea makes me laugh! I have learned the hard way that wherever you go, there you are.

Galaxy Rising
9X20 Acrylic on Canvas

As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.

Proverbs 23:7

If you lose touch with yourself, a new address will not suffice to find you. Truly nothing outside of you has the power to discover the you that exists in that mysterious unknown of the heart, where no tangible road goes – except the one that travels outward.

Mystic Garden Spray
8X10 Acrylic on Canvas

Creating a work of art requires connecting with that invisible part. If the artist succeeds in ignoring the critical mind, a true understanding of the self can emerge. With understanding comes a healing of the breach – the chasm between self and other grows smaller or disappears. All that is required is acceptance. When we know who we are and learn to love what we have come to know, then not only can nothing outside of us discover us, but nothing outside of us can ever judge or harm us again.

Today, may you be inspired to create.* Go make some art! ~ and discover parts of you that up until now, you never knew existed. In the making, in the doing, in the expressing, and in the seeing, be kind to yourself, and may that kindness be your road to wholeness. Remember that you are a soul on a journey of self-discovery. A journey that never will never end.

Namaste, and thank you for reading.

~C

Dreaming of Change

Yesterday I drove from D.C. to the end of the Jersey Turnpike. And back. In the rain. Sometimes in fog and sometimes in the dark. But mostly in traffic. Probably about one-fourth or more of that stretch of highway is undergoing some form of construction. The vast majority of it is surrounded by concrete, factories, and high rises. There was a bit of water along the way but very little green that I could see. Yes, it is wintertime, but still. It was heartbreaking. Continue reading “Dreaming of Change”

4 Ways that Yoga can Improve your Life

My daughter, Rachel Bleicken, is 2018’s first guest blogger here at Ripples of Insight. Rachel owns and operates a Waldorf-inspired daycare in her home and is an avid proponent of RIE parenting. You can check out her amazing vision and work by visiting http://www.marigoldchildrensgarden.com. If you’re looking for a yoga mat, Reviews.com can help you find the best one for your needs. Continue reading “4 Ways that Yoga can Improve your Life”

50th Birthday

I turned 50 last week. For many, this event would mark an important milestone. For me it passed by virtually unnoticed. The suitcase I carried to my sister’s funeral still sits in a corner of my bedroom. I have thought about putting it away a hundred times. But putting it away would mean unpacking, and what would be the point? You see, after my sister’s funeral service, my brother-in-law encouraged me to pick out some of her clothes to take with me. I knew it was silly. She and I could not have been built any differently. My sister was a wisp, and me? Well, let’s just say I have always been “solid”. I don’t mind my size (anymore), but the reality is that everything in the suitcase is too small to fit.

Ironically, all of the shoes are too big.

The point of unpacking would be to actually wear the clothes in the suitcase. Instead I am holding onto the items that I hope will fit my daughter. One thing I plan to keep is my sister’s black down vest. I wore it for about a week, but I could not zip it up if I had on more than a lightweight blouse. The Polar Vortex of 2014 made such clothing untenable, so the vest is now on top of the suitcase where my cat, Ian, has taken to sleeping. Looks to me like he found just the right combination of soft and warm.

My kitty at peace ... with my sister's memory.
I get it, buddy.
I want to get as close to her as I can, too.

Grief makes a strange companion for me. Sanguines are not usually given to bouts of depression or morose thoughts. I am not sure what to make of the gentle waves of sadness that roll over me when I least expect it. Other times the pain comes as a swift punch in the gut, knocking the wind right out of me. In those moments it feels like she just died all over again.

Supposedly grief comes in stages but I cannot remember what they are. I only know that last week my 50th birthday came and went without a card or call from my Big Sis. In fact, I could not remember the last time she had been able to send a card or call me on my birthday. This year I had to face the hardest truth: I would never receive a birthday card or call from her again.

Probably the best birthday ever was the year that we gave one other the same card!! My sister and I were both in the habit of purchasing birthday cards and gifts way early. Her birthday was in January and mine is in March. That year I had found her card in probably June. It was such an incredibly funny and appropriate card that I could not resist the urge to tell her how perfect her next birthday card would be. She did not hesitate to inform me that she too had found the perfect card for my birthday. One of us joked about how funny it would be if we had bought each other the same card! She kept the secret for 2 whole months but we laughed about it for years to come. You’ve heard the saying, “Great minds think alike”? Well, that was a case of kindred hearts.

What do you do when a piece of your heart gets ripped out? I find it difficult at times to gather my thoughts together enough to write about anything. I often find myself thinking about my own death. I think about where she is now, too, and what she might be doing. I think about that a lot. My sister was a brilliant artist. Everything in her life was a work of art. From a prepared meal to a painting to her garden, she sought beauty in everything she put her hand to. I remember once hearing her talk about the importance of color to an artist. Her wonder at color was fascinating! As she spoke, I knew that a mystery was being revealed to me but despite her words, understanding remained beyond my grasp. I like to imagine that now she is experiencing color like never before.

In “What Dreams May Come” Robin Williams’ character literally swam in the colors around him.

During one of my last visits with her she could no longer speak in complete sentences. Suddenly, in the middle of a conversation I was having with her husband, she mumbled something. Neither of us could understand what she was trying to say. Frustrated, she left the room. We looked at one another, shrugging. When she returned, there was a small picture frame in her hands.  She pointed to it over and over saying, “This.” I did not have a clue what she meant. In response to her growing agitation, I stood and followed her through the house saying. “This, this,” she repeated, over and over.

We finally ended up in the room that would have been her studio. Satisfied at last, she pointed to the pictures on the dresser and breathed, “this” one last time. She relaxed. She had found what she was looking for. What I saw broke my heart. On the dresser were six unfinished Botanicals – dried flower arrangements in frames. None of the pieces looked anything like her work. They were thin shadows of the depth of her talent. But even with a mind being slowly eaten away by dementia, more artistic ability dwelled in her pinky finger than I would ever possess in my whole body. Even then, my sister’s talent was beyond me.

I envy my cat. I would like to be able to curl up and fit on the back of a down vest sitting on the top of my small red suitcase. I am certain it would be just the right combination of soft and warm.