What are the stories we tell about ourselves? What are the stories we believe about ourselves. Does the past and its ‘bad experiences’ continue to hold us? Do we give bad circumstances the chance to hold us down? As I muse about this today, I’d like to introduce you to Phiona Mutesi – a girl who rewrote her own story.
Phiona Mutesi – The Queen of Katwe
How Our Story Ends
To be African is to be an underdog in the world. To be Ugandan is to be an underdog in Africa. To be from Katwe is to be an underdog in Uganda. To be an underdog in Katwe. – Robert Katende, a missionary in Katwe who mentored chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi
This young girl re-wrote the story of an African, Ugandan, girl from Katwe. She didn’t allow the story to end in the usual way. She checkmated fate.
What about our stories……
When we are beholden to a narrative that defeats us, (whatever disparages or belittles or shames), we are afraid. And when we live afraid, the script shackles us. We live defensive and angry. So we don’t recognize that we have power inside to say how the story moves forward. – Terry Hershey
The idea of our stories is something I want to continue to look at in the weeks and months ahead. Stay tuned.
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I’ve always wonder how people live without lighthouses? Do you know your lighthouses?
Now before I go on to explain, let me share with you what is purported to be transcript of a US naval ship with Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland, one version of which was used by Stephen Covey to talk about what he called ‘the lighthouse principles’:
Americans: “Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.” Canadians: “Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.” Americans: “This is the captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert your course.” Canadians: “No, I say again, you divert your course.” Americans: “This is the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. The second largest ship in the United States Atlantic Fleet. We are accompanies by three destroyers, three cruisers and numerous support vessels. I demand that you change your course 15 degrees north. That’s one five degrees north, or counter measures will be undertaken to ensure the safety of this ship.” Canadians: “This is a lighthouse. It’s your call.”
Let’s think of our deepest values – integrity, commitment, love, faith as lighthouses. They are the beacons that guide our lives. Our decisions are based on our lighthouses.
Do you know your lighthouses?
Thinking about this today, I realized how important it is for people to first of all know what their lighthouses are. In other words, what are the values you live by?
If you realize what they are and live by them then no threat of attack from outside can shake you. You will remain steadfast. What people say about you won’t matter, you know that you are on the right path.
Looking back on my own experience, I realize that every time I tried to go against my own set of values, it resulted in brokenness for me. When I tried to compromise on things, I found it hard to live – life was meaningless. I was constantly lying to others, but mostly to myself. I couldn’t recognize ‘me’. It was only when I came back to being guided by my ‘lighthouses’ that I began to really live again.
I’ve interacted with people who are extremely confused about what their lighthouses were. They are absolutely lost, with no inner security. Any passing wind can take them away. Being that way must be ever so scary.
Are you aware of what your ‘lighthouses’ are? Are you living by your values?
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“Keep Going. Your hardest times often lead to the greatest moments of your life. Keep going. Tough situations build strong people in the end.” – Roy T. Bennett. Use this quote in your post or as an inspiration for one.
Did 2016 live up to your expectations? Even as I start to answer, I hear my inner voice, rephrasing the question to ask ‘Did you live up to your expectations of all you wanted to be and do in 2016?
And the answer comes back to me loud and clear : No.
Is that cause enough to be disappointed in myself? Yes.
Am I going to wallow in guilt and beat myself up? No.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last few years, it is to accept myself faults and all. I’ve also learnt to live in the moment and be much more forgiving.
Am I making excuses for myself? No way. I don’t need to and don’t want to.
Does that mean that I’m not going to plan and dream for the next year? Absolutely not. Stay tuned for my word of the year linkup.
Here’s something that I found that I keep telling myself.
“Even at the moment of your failure, right then, you are beautiful … you don’t know it yet, but you have the ability to reinvent yourself endlessly. That’s your beauty.” — Lidia Yuknavitch
In many ways 2016 was a hard year for me. It forced me to make some difficult choices. But those choices helped to simplify my life.
I found that the best way to deal with situations was to be honest. Was I being dishonest before? Yes, when I chose to pretend that people didn’t hurt me. Or act as if it was open season for anyone who wanted to play games with me. 2016 was the year of no waffling. You ask me a question and you’ll get an honest reply even if you don’t like it.
“A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.” — Gandhi” ― James Altucher, Choose Yourself!
I still have a long way to go towards complete authenticity but 2016 took me a little closer to it.
An ancient Greek myth tells of the monster, Minotaur, who hides in a labyrinth from which no one can find their way out. To end the constant stream human sacrifices that the monster demands, a young prince, Theseus decides to descend into the labyrinth and fight the monster. It appears that even if he successfully kills the monster, he’ll never find his way out of the labyrinth. Princess Ariadne, who was madly in love with him decided to help him. She gives him a ball of thread, which unravels as he descends. When he kills Minotaur, he is able to find his way back to through the labyrinth with the help of the thread.
The Thread That Leads You Back
Sometimes we can be consumed by darkness. Dealing with the consequences of our bad choices. The crushing of our dreams. Despair. Hopelessness. Our creativity is at its lowest. We’re lost.
Theseus had his thread to take him out of the labyrinth. What’s the thread that leads us out of the labyrinth in our minds and hearts? How do we find our way back to ourselves?
I have no answers for you. Because I need to ask myself this question today? What would your answer be?
I remember my Spiritual Director talking of mindfulness, without actually using the word, over 20 years ago. A wise old Catholic priest, he called it the Sacrament of the Present Moment. He advised me to read a book by the same name by a Jesuit Priest, Jean-Pierre de Caussade. In Catechism we learnt that a sacrament is ‘an outward sign of inward grace’. And truly the present moment can be a sacrament – because grace abounds, we just have to plug in to it.
I never did get my hands on the book, but I did attempt to understand what my Spiritual Director advised me to do. Learn to focus on the present moment and let it speak to me.
Called To Be Authentically Mindful
With mindfulness being the buzzword today, I often see that it is easy to confuse it with some feel-good, positive mumbo-jumbo.
Mindfulness is not some wonderful calm state of mind with piped music playing in the background. I wish it was.
No. Mindfulness is all about being aware. And awareness is all about being authentic.
indfulness is not trying to wish away what is going on in your life.
No. Mindfulness is about being present to all that going on in life.
The present moment is likely to be bring pain, confusion, uncertainty and dark emotions.
Mindfulness helps you to focus on these and deal with them.
It helps you ask the difficult questions. What part of me needs to be healed? Am I using being busy as an escape from what I really need to deal with in my life?
Mindfulness is not some facile ‘happiness potion’. It’s pretty darn hard work, like anything else in life that matters. It demands courage.
There are days
That you don’t want to wake up
Knowing full well what
The day ahead will bring.
Deadlines and chores
You can deal with
Projects and planning
Seem a breeze.
It’s the inner work
That can sap you
Of energy and leave you
Feeling weak and vulnerable.
Facing reality of your past
Admitting that it
Affects your present
More than you’ve realized.
Owning those feelings
Facing those demons
That haunt you.
Fear and anger.
This is bravery
Yet you press on
Going further inward
Daring to face
Your own vulnerability.
Owning your story
Acknowledging the part
You played in deeply
Hurting your soul.
Speaking of your hurt
And learning to let
The light shine on
Those dark places within.
Authenticity is hard
But then so is
Living a life
Of never daring.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” ― Brené Brown
I look in the mirror and see a face different from the one I saw a few years ago. Yes, I have aged, put on weight and changed. But these are changes that can be seen and things people remark about.
The changes that not so many people mention, at least to my face, are the changes in the way I interact with others and how opinionated I seem to have become. When an ex-colleague wished me yesterday and called me a ‘gentle’ wordsmith, I corrected him and said that I wasn’t so sure of the ‘gentle’ part. I was schooled to be gentle. Told not to raise my voice. And in the bargain, I somehow lost my ability to truly stand up for myself. Now the ‘gentle’ woman has given way to a much fiercer version of me – actually, the real version of me. Authenticity rules!
At times I hear myself talking, and say, ‘Hey, when did you become so vocal?’ At other times, I have to tell myself to go easy and realize that silence is the best response to a particular situation or person.
I’m balancing my relationships much better and that’s something to celebrate.
I’ll admit, I’ve become more wary of people. I no longer take things and people at face value. From the trusting, open soul I used to be, I’m more cautious and guarded in some ways.
A few people may find that I’ve become cynical, and perhaps I have, if cynical means that I no longer buy their stories or jump to rescue them from the messes of their own creation.
Somewhere along the way I’ve realized that I am an introvert and it takes a lot of energy for me to interact with people, especially in large groups. That’s a huge realization, and it brought about a lot of change. In the past, I’d force myself to attend parties and make visits out of a sense of duty. Now I’m quite happy to skip several social occasions that sap my energy without feeling the slightest guilt.
I’ve also learned to cut off or minimize contact with people who drain me or bring drama into my life or who are just plain mean or jealous. I read this today and it well articulates what I’ve been unconsciously doing: You need to align yourself with people who fit your destiny not your history.
The biggest change I celebrate within myself is that I am no longer apologetic about my choices and my behaviour. Only I know how hard I’ve worked to bring change within myself, to become stronger, to make better choices.
Openess And Gratitude
Another change that I celebrate is that I am now much more open to other people’s choices. For example, I have grown from thinking that homeosexuality is a sin, to being someone who will stand up for the freedom and rights of the LGBTQ community.
Perhaps, the biggest cause of celebration for me is that I’ve learned to be grateful for my blessings and even for things that seemingly go wrong. I see everything that happens as a life lesson. Yes, I might grumble for a short while and then I realize everything works for good and that somewhere down the road I’ll figure out why that particular bump came my way!
It’s the same with all of us. Only the individual knows the battles they’re fighting. Only you know how far you’ve come and where you want to go. Know that I wish you well on that journey.
We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.
– Maya Angelou
Have you changed over the years? I’d love to hear about your metamorphosis.
I’ve been meaning to share this for a while now, but have delayed putting it together.
My Cinderella Story
I was all of three when this incident that I call my Cinderella story took place. A visitor to our home brought a box of chocolates for us. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the chocolates and begged my Mum for one. Since it was close to lunch time, Mum told me I could have one later. I began to fidget with the box. To make sure I didn’t help myself to a chocolate, she took the box and put it on top of the refrigerator – out of my reach.
I always had a smart mouth, and even at that age was completely absorbed by books and stories. So I turned to my mother and questioning her ‘cruel’ behaviour of making me wait for the treat asked her: ” Are you my stepmother?”
Naturally, this story got a lot of laughs down the years. But today I’m musing about another aspect of the story.
Do we all have a Cinderella story?
I think we all have our own Cinderella stories. Times when things happen to us that are for our own good, or people act to save us from ourselves and yet we consider ourselves victims.
Without any insult to the true victims of emotional, mental and physical abuse, it seems that these days a lot of people seek attention by playing the victim. The victim card is flashed even when they are in the wrong and someone has told them where to get off. I remember someone cribbing about the unfairness of a traffic cop who stopped her for being in the wrong lane and fined her. She was breaking the rules, but when he fined her, the cop was in the wrong!
Victim or Creator?
There are stories we tell ourselves about incidents and situations in our lives. Instead of looking at these situations with honesty, we prefer to see ourselves as the victims of people and circumstances. By doing this we often deprive ourselves of learning the lessons life is seeking to teach us.
I know this happens, because I’ve done it too. I entered into a relationship, knowing that it was not good for me, gave that person more than I should have and then when things didn’t work out, I blamed him. Totally unfair, because that person, quite early in the relationship, showed himself for what he was. It was my fault that I chose to think I could change him. Like Maya Angelou said, “The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.” And yet I played the victim about this, only to delay my own growth.
I used to think I was a victim of my story until I realized the truth that I am the creator of my story. – Steve Maraboli
Today I invite you to ask yourself what stories you are telling yourself about your life and what role are you playing in them.