On Owning Your Shit- La Que Sabe

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There’s a passage from the Christian scriptures that over the years has become something that I know to be true, at least for myself, in my own life. It goes, “she loves much because she has been forgiven much.” To me this means that the outpour of love that one is capable of is dependent on the debt they have been forgiven. Moral debt. Emotional debt. Spiritual debt. Another way of seeing it is, the degree to which a person feels freedom in their heart.

In the book of Luke, from which this passage comes, Jesus tells a story to a man named Simon. He was prompted by Simon’s criticism of a woman (a prostitute) who lay at Jesus’ feet weeping, washing his feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. To paraphrase, Jesus tells Simon a story about two men, both whom owe money to a banker. One man owed five hundred pieces of silver and the other owed fifty. Because neither man was able to repay what he owed, the banker forgave the debts. Finishing his story, Jesus then asked Simon, “which of the two men do you think is more grateful?” to which Simon replied, “the one with the greater debt.”

I’ve heard this story several times over the years, with different interpretations, one of which seems to stick with me.

In this biblical passage, Jesus shared a story with Simon in order to make a point that the woman crying at his feet will not be subject to criticism or judgment because of the great love she demonstrated. And her ability to love so greatly was due to the great debt that she had been forgiven.

According to this particular interpretation, forgiven much means that the woman was cognizant (or conscious) of her shortcomings, her sins- what she needed forgiveness from. And in her acknowledgment of these things came a humility that birthed the ability to show great love.

Does that make sense?

She wasn’t just forgiven because she needed lots of forgiveness. She was forgiven because she acknowledged all of the things which she needed forgiveness from. She needed freedom. Forgiveness is freedom. And she got what she needed.

In the deep dark pain of really acknowledging ones shortcomings, comes a humbling of the ego, a taming of it, and that changes a person. Granted, not everyone has the wherewithal to catalyze a heap of heaviness into acts of love and kindness or into a better version of themselves, but for those who do, or hope to, I believe that there is power in acknowledging your shortcomings because then you can begin to forgive yourself, and/or ask for forgiveness, and move on to experience greater love.

I think at times, after we’ve made a mistake, we’re susceptible to our own pride and fear of admitting what we’ve done. When we do that, I believe that a tiny callus grows on the heart, making it hard, insensitive and inflexible. Over time the habit of ignoring what we need forgiveness from creates more calluses, making for a very hard heart. I want my heart to be soft, strong and healthy, so that I can feel all of my life, even the painful parts.

Anyhow, I wanted to share these thoughts because they came to mind as I began to re-read a book called Women Who Run With the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I decided to pick this book off my shelf after I noticed a big group of women posting pictures of themselves and the book on Instagram. Apparently it’s their March book club read, and so I decided to join in.

I started reading the chapter on retrieving intuition (chapter 3 to be exact). The chapter begins by describing that intuition is the treasure of a woman’s psyche. It is a wise old woman inside of her that tells her which way to go. The author calls this inner wisdom, La Que Sabe, or The One Who Knows.

 And that’s just it…

That’s where the magic is- the freedom. It’s in the acknowledging. It’s in the knowing. The ability to feel your own heart and know what it’s telling you. I think that the woman who wept at Jesus’ feet accepted herself. She knew herself. Not just her shortcomings. Of course not. She must of known the good insider of her, too. But she knew. She knew herself. And when we know ourselves, and accept all parts of ourselves, within the cradle of Gods love (or the universe, or Shiva, or Zoroaster, or science, or whomever you believe a higher power to be…) we are able to navigate our lives in freedom, in grace and in love.

So here’s to letting the knowing make us more free. Let’s love much because we are free from much.

Happy Saturday, y’all.

With lots of love,

Jenn

P.S. I want to be clear that knowing ourselves and growing intuition and wisdom doesn’t just include knowing our shortcomings. I think we must attempt to know all of the things that life brings to us, pain and pleasure, and everything in between. There’s wisdom and freedom to be found in all of the things ❤

Ruins

imgresOf the hundreds of times I sat on the couch across from my therapist in her office, a handful of moments would become life lessons.

It must have been a Saturday morning. The light outside was bright, illuminating the shrubs and trees that grew just outside her office. Instead of walls, two sides of the room stood tall with windows from floor to ceiling, creating the feeling of being in nature as we sorted through my tangled thoughts.

I sat there feeling dreadfully heavy, as though I just received the news that something I loved very much had gone away. And in a way, something had.

My face felt droopy, as though it would take two full-grown men to lift the corners of my mouth in order to fake a smile. I was emotionally spent, disappointed, broken hearted and afraid.

With a damp face from drying tears and a voice hardly louder than a whisper, I shared with Jody what I had just realized. I realized two things actually. But let me start with the first.

I was ruined.

Not my life circumstances or my relationships or my livelihood. Me. I was ruined. Like a pristine white gown sullied with burgundy two-buck-chuck from Trader Joe’s.

Up to that point in treatment, I had already been diagnosed with PTSD and to boot, struggled with depression. I felt ashamed and embarrassed about the condition of my mental health. The troubling thing about living with mental illness is that in order to get better, you need to make good choices. You need to practice good self-care, but the feelings of shame that often accompany mental illness aren’t exactly motivating.

And so I felt stuck. Desolate, even. I felt ruined. I felt like my life was stained by the past that I had no power to change and a present that was doomed on account of my diagnosis.

In the same moment that I put words to the way I was feeling (ruined), another thought waltzed into my mind.

I remembered, Sukhothai (pronounced Soo/kō/tī).

Sukhothai was the first capital of Siam (present day Thailand) and is regarded as the birthplace of Thai history. Although the kingdom of Sukhothai was short lived, its legacy is in its architecture, literature, bronze sculpture and ceramic art. You can still visit this historical province and marvel at the ancient palaces and temples by bicycle or foot. It really is a lovely place.

I visited Sukhothai when I was in college. I remember walking down the meandering paths throughout the park and climbing in and out of partially restored structures. Although no one had lived there for centuries, each year still thousands of visitors wandered its antiquated roads and buildings to explore not only the ruins of this city, but perhaps to explore something inside of themselves, also.

And that’s when it hit me- realization number two.

Sure, maybe I felt ruined, as though something un-take-back-able happened and marred my very existence- but in the end and in the now, what is ruined isn’t necessarily something to hide and become ashamed of.

Something ruined is something that can be restored. Something ruined and restored can become a place that one can visit, to remember what life was like back then or there; it can become something to explore and to learn from, something one might marvel over, like the ruins of an ancient city or the glued-together pieces of a once broken life.

………………………..

It’s been a few years since that day on the couch in my therapist’s office. I don’t feel ruined anymore. I feel restored in most ways, most of the time.

When I started to write this post, I did some research on Sukhothai to refresh my memory and came across something interesting on Wikipedia:

Sukhothai is from the Sanskrit word sukha (सुख ) meaning happiness and udaya (उदय) meaning rise or emergence, and thus, Sukhothai means, “dawn of happiness”.

So after all, perhaps a place of ruins is also a place where happiness may begin to emerge.

With lots of love,

Jenn

 

sources:

article- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sukhothai_(city)

photo- http://wikitravel.org/en/Sukhothai

On Neurotrophic Factors and the Good Wolf

Werewolves_of_OssoryFood.

Aaah, yes. The cornerstone of any important gathering, holiday party, birthday celebration, office meeting… you get the picture. The sites, smells and tastes of a favorite dish are liable to make anyone smile and hum with delight.

But what about food for thought? Literally.

A few months ago while reading my physiology textbook, I came across a passage that gave me a stroke of insight. In its dense scientific jargon, the passage described the survival mechanism by which neural pathways in the brain are maintained- via neurotrophic factors secreted by neurons and glial cells (i.e. cells of the brain).

So to back up a moment beginning with neural pathways, what are they exactly and why do I care whether they survive?

I like to use running water as a metaphor to describe these pathways, which are in essence, the physical connections between neurons in the brain.

Think about water flowing down a stream on a hillside. The stream, although perhaps a lovely find, is likely narrow, shallow and weak. Not much to see here!

Now imagine a river- it’s wide, deep, and depending on the time of year, contains waters that are dangerously strong.

Each person’s brain is a network of neural pathways. Neurons (the basic functional unit of the brain) make connections with other neurons to create these pathways (you can also imagine this network as a web). These connections give us the ability to use language, remember names, drive cars and think all of the tens of thousands of thoughts each of us has in a single day.

As described with the running water metaphor, some of these pathways are very weak. Have you ever tried to sing along to an old favorite tune, only to find yourself mumbling the lyrics in perfect pitch? The reason for your butchering is due to pathways that, although still survive, are very weak. You can think about it as a sort of neuronal atrophy.

Following that same logic, think of something that you do on a daily basis, for example driving your route to work. The neural connections here are strong. So strong that you probably don’t even think about what you’re doing while you’re doing it.

So, if using language, remembering names, and how to get places in a car are things that one values, it’s safe to say that the survival of these pathways is important; and if their survival is dependent upon neurotrophic factors, I’d better get me some of those!

Now that we’re familiar with neural pathways (what they are and why they’re important) lets learn about the neurotrophic factors that feed and sustain these pathways. And in the true spirit of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, we must begin with the origin of the word, neurotrophic.

Neuro comes from the Greek word neuron, which means sinew and is defined as “the parts of a structure… that give it strength and bind it together.” Next, trophic comes from the Greek word trophikos, which means to nourish. And lastly factor, is a “circumstance or fact that contributes to a result or outcome.”

Do you see where this is going?

Our brain cells secrete chemicals that literally FEED (and therefore strengthen) the trillions of neural connections in our brains! The same connections that empower you and me to do all of the things we do, everyday.

Can you even? Because I can’t!

You might be asking yourself, how is this practical information? So what if my brain releases chemicals that helps it survive? I kind of already knew that!

 And maybe so!

Which leads me to my final point… my stroke of insight.

Many years ago I heard a Native American story, called Two Wolves. In the tale, a grandfather tells his grandson a story about the human condition. He described that within each and every person there is a war that goes on- a war between two wolves. He told his grandson that one of the wolves is angry, bitter, jealous, ego driven and unforgiving while the other is loving, kind, compassionate, honest and faithful. The boy pondered this for a moment and resigned to ask his grandfather, “which wolf wins?” And the grandfather, in all of grandfathery wisdom, replied, “the one you feed.”

So what does this all mean?

The way I see it is, when a person sets out to make a change in their life, whether it be breaking a bad habit or developing a new perspective, real sustained change happens at the level of the brain; it happens at the level of neural connections. We have to feed the good wolf (i.e. constructive habits, healthy perspectives, etc.) in order to strengthen the connections we want, and starve the connections that we don’t.

How do we create new neural connections in order to facilitate change at this level? By experiencing things that are novel! How do we strengthen healthy neural connections that already exist? By continuing to do and practice the things that work for us!

Our brains change when we break out of our routines and tweak them, just a tad. We can’t change our brains by thinking “positive thoughts”, but we do so by practicing the habits, qualities and characteristics that we desire to have come naturally to us.

So there you have it. Neural connections are important. Their survival depends on being fed. Some of our neural pathways are weak (because we don’t use them) and others are strong (the ones that we use everyday). We can create new, healthy neural connections by trying new things and strengthen existing connections by continuing to use those pathways.

What’s our job?

Practicing the habits that we want our life to be about. Because after all, which wolf will win?

The one you feed.