Some people can affect change in their lives by triumphing over willpower. I am not one of those people. Beacons of inspiration have overcome illness, disability, obesity, disease, financial ruin, and the like: all through sheer determination. Not me.
My past efforts to feel more alive through exercise, diet, investments, meditation, affirmation, or organization had all failed. It seemed that the only thing I could succeed at was “failing”. Like so many other people, I believed that if I could only overcome my obstinate willpower, I would achieve great things.
We live in a time of unprecedented availability of empowerment advice, yet our society is faced with an enduring sense of powerless at our failure to create lasting fulfillment. The endless provocative testimonials touting the astounding success of each program we purchase only deepens our sense of personal failure when old habits reclaim their seat at the head of the table.
A triumph over willpower is a hard battle of inches, and that battle is never over. The slightest slip can send you right back down where you started from . . . or worse. You have to stay vigil. You may have achieved your goal, but at what cost? Now you have to maintain it.
My hat goes off to those people who have triumphed over willpower: it is not something I have any interest in even trying anymore. I discovered that there is another way. It was quite an innocent discovery. There was no master plan other than to just get out from under the weight of seeming failure.
(If you enjoyed this excerpt from my book-in-progress, email me by 7/31/14 and when it’s done I’ll send you an advance pdf copy for free!)
It all began innocently enough yesterday: My email wasn’t connecting to my server. I ignored the error, figuring the anomaly would work itself out.
A couple of hours later, it still wasn’t working. A couple of hours more: still not working. Finally, I went on the server: my domain wasn’t listed there anymore.
I call my host, Register.com, looking for insight into what in the world happened to my domain. She said it had been cancelled earlier that day, and then asked if I remembered calling and cancelling it.
Ummm, what?!? Of COURSE I didn’t call and cancel it!
Then it sinks in: I must have been hacked or something. Oh…dear…God.
Shock: I am flooded by a wave of emotion as the reality begins to set in. I open my web browser, type in my site name, only to see a generic template with a link to buy the domain. I can’t believe my eyes.
Victimized: Who did this to me?
Devastated: All my most sharable writing in the last five years…gone…
Violated: Who DID this to me?
Idiot: For not backing up my site
Lazy: For having only one password for all my logins
Shattered: My writing…gone…
Naïve: For not changing my passwords the other day in response to “Heartbleed”
Desperate: Does my host still have a copy of my site?
And then I notice a smile arising from the steady calm at the depth of the experience. I saw a clean slate. A chance to start fresh. A hidden doorway within the wall in front of me. I slip excitedly through it, anxious to discover what is on the other side.
First thing I did: change all my passwords, starting with my bank accounts. Next: marvel at the new fallen snow before going to sleep. This morning: reactivate McAfee. And then: back up my computer.
I can’t change “what is”, and the need to do so would interfere with my ability to see and take the next step. I still have no answers. My domain still resides on someone else’s server. Register.com was baffled, and escalated it for resolution.
But somehow I know that only good things will come from this experience. A similar sentiment carried me easily through the surgery I had Monday to remove a spot of skin cancer on my left temple. It’s not about “making lemonade”, it’s more about marveling at how all the pieces fit together so seamlessly, and trusting that this is yet another momentary disruption as the next piece clicks into place.
This moment is all we can affect. Do what is in front of you to do. Take this one step with integrity. String enough of these quality moments together, and the picture of your life will reveal a wondrous story beyond anything you could have ever written for yourself.
So I am taking this opportunity to officially transition to my new site. It’s not fully developed yet, but it has a simple charm. :) The site name is “caremycue.com”, drawing on the name that my friends and coworkers anointed me with a few years back. These days I identify more as Care than I do Carolyn, and it fits so well with my life’s work, so I figured I would make it “official” and bought the domain two weeks ago.
So that’s all the news I have for the moment. Oh, my surgery went well, and I expect a full recovery. Hoping my friends and coworkers won’t now anoint me with a new nickname of “scarface”. (haha!)
Have an inspired day!
“From Philanthro-me to Philanthro-we”
I developed a theory a few months back. It still needs some work, but the bones of it are solid. It builds upon the common theme of our life cycle as a journey of discovering our most authentic self. It includes Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but takes it a bit further. Through this lens, I saw philanthropy as an essential, inevitable step in the evolution of humanity.
To be clear, I see philanthropy as being different from charity, though there are times that the two go hand-in-hand. Charity is focused more on addressing the symptoms of dis-ease and devastation, whereas philanthropy aims to address the underlying cause leading to dis-ease and devastation.
When we nourish the fundamental heartache of humanity, we nourish ourselves as well. We give self-fully, because we have tapped into the inherent fulfillment which is our birthright. We are grateful for any opportunity to share that wealth, not simply because it feels good to share, but because it aligns with the fullest possible expression of ourselves, and that alignment feels good. On the other side of that experience, we may look deeply into the heart of the situation to which we have given aide and see our own self looking back. It is the ultimate form of intimacy: the circle completes itself.
As I look around this life, I see clearly how low the bar for humanity is currently set. Growing up in a middle class life in a first world country had certainly spoiled me. The first four decades of my life were spent trying in vain to gain some sense of purpose: I couldn’t see that my very being here was inherently purposeful. In that ignorance, I both experienced and caused greatly unnecessary heartache to myself and others whom I love so deeply.
On the other side of awareness lies great responsibility, and even greater liberation. I can no longer hide beneath the veil of ignorance or fear. It is unclear to me how all of this will unfold, but I feel the inevitability of global philanthropic ventures as clearly as I feel my heart beating within my chest.
This is not simply about my evolution. This is an essential stage in the evolution of humanity. When we realize that self-actualization is not the final stage of evolution for humanity, the story shifts from philanthro-“me” to philanthro-“we”.
“Giving as a Way of Living”
The first three years after moving into my new space was a time of healing. I had discovered that fear, depression, loneliness, insecurity, and the like, were merely conditioned energetic patterns in need of some compassionate “rewiring”. I held steady to the light of consciousness as these troubled demons from my past came to visit me. I’d “invite them in for tea and conversation”, and they would reveal to me their fears. I’d comfort them, and share my light, and the splinter would be healed.
I am grateful for the experiences of my life, for they have served me well and kept me safe long enough to find the answers I’d never known I was looking for. All those colloquial sayings have taken on new, deeper meanings: such as “You cannot love someone who hasn’t first learned to love themselves.”
I discovered that the end of the world as we know it is merely the beginning of a world unknown: A world ripe for exploration and brimming with possibilities never before imagined. When one takes stock in all they have lived through, even death is realized to simply be a new adventure. This realization brings with it a sense of fearlessness, allowing one to step boldly in an inspired direction: To trust their inner voice even if they don’t know why.
As my wiser, compassionate self looks back now at the child I once was, I see how all my giving was done in an effort to receive. The intention of giving was there, but it needed some maturing before I could blossom into the philanthropist I was born to be.
Now I give, but not in hopes of gaining anything. It is unmotivated in the conventional sense. I’m simply aligning with the fullest possible expression of myself.
I give every day: I give my smiles. I give my opinion. I give my support. I give hugs. I give my unconditional attention. I create a safe, compassionate, nonjudgmental space to give to people so they may explore the unanswered questions they have. I bow to the world in each moment, while simultaneously standing tall. Standing clear in my own life bestows a happy byproduct of empowering others to do the same. I give safe harbor to loneliness and fear, releasing them at last from the undeserved bad rap they have been given. I give light to misconceptions so that others can find their own way through the darkness they face.
I give without reason, without expectation, without motivation, and without need. I give out of the abundant wealth that flows through me each day. I give without needing to know why.
By giving, we complete the circle of our lives. We connect with ourselves in a new way, and see ourselves more clearly. In that way, I suppose giving is an act of selfishness, but in a healthy kind of way.
I encourage you to give lavishly to yourself: give yourself credit for having made it this far, give yourself space to heal, give yourself acceptance for the missteps along the way, give yourself a moment to be grateful, give yourself permission to be vulnerable, give yourself trust to know what step to take next, give yourself courage to face uncertainty, give yourself strength to handle whatever comes next, and give yourself reminders to be humble.
In giving to ourselves, we have more to give to the world. We are abundant giving machines when we can set reason aside for a moment and experience life unfiltered.
(epilogue to follow . . . )
“Giving as a Path to Clarity”
In light of this new perspective, I was filled with such deep compassion. I was brought to my knees in the face of the arrogance I had demonstrated in all the ways I had gotten it wrong. I tried to share this new eternal perspective with my spouse, but he was unprepared and taken aback by my newfound voice.
Within two months it occurred to me that divorce might be the most compassionate solution to our troubled relationship, but I was not entirely convinced. I had been wrong about so much: what if I was wrong about this too? Perhaps we were supposed to be “that” couple who had overcome impossible odds, only to rise as a shining example of what is possible when two people are truly committed to each other. I felt so deeply that divorce was the right answer, but I still didn’t trust my voice. Instead I was left with empty questions.
Withdrawing into the silence, I asked myself why: Why did divorce seem to be the best answer? I couldn’t put my finger on it. I mean, there were plenty of reasons both for and against, but there was no one compelling reason in either direction.
And then the answer came to me. It burst up from inside me like a raging volcano. In the silence of the question, I finally understood why divorce truly was the only viable step! The answer: I needed to stop asking “why”. Instead I needed to simply trust my insights, and trust that I had the wherewithal to handle whatever would happen as a result.
Within six months, the house was sold, my girls and I were moving into a beautiful apartment in the same school district, and my spouse had secured a new space two hours south from us as a result of a job opportunity which he couldn’t afford to pass up.
In the final months of my marriage, I performed my first act of authentic philanthropy. I would compassionately give, but not “in hopes of” gaining anything in return. I would give up needing to know why, and begin learning to trust myself beyond all reason.
(to be continued . . . )
In the days that followed, an excited curiosity took up residence in the space that had once been filled with frustration and self-hatred. I went about addressing the needs of the family without engaging in any mental or emotional drama of what it was that needed done. “Everyday life”, especially the most mundane activities, became a source of fascination interlaced with joy. I found myself one day washing the dishes and not hating that I was the one who had to always wash them. I felt the warmth of the water, the soft playfulness of the bubbles, and drank in the sweet fragrance of the soap, all as if for the first time. What else had I been missing?
I felt as if I’d gone insane, and laughed at myself for how much I was enjoying these basic and necessary activities which I had been grumbling about all this time. Folding laundry, cleaning the kitchen, vacuuming, making dinner: These were all doorways leading to deep experiences of joy and resounding peace which had been unsuspectedly at my fingertips for years.
Three months later, at four in the afternoon, I experienced a radical spontaneous awakening. All at once I saw the perfection and necessity of all things good, bad, and imperceptible. Every experience that had seemed so harsh and wrong was seen and understood for what they were. All the dots connected seamlessly.
There was no longer any need to argue with “what is” because everything was exactly how it needed to be to support the evolution of perception. I had to stop the internal argument first, though, before I was capable of learning that truth. Disengaging from the drama of my personal life opened up the possibility of seeing life from this new vantage point of “all time”.
I saw how in trying to be what someone else needed me to be for them effectively nullified any possibility of sensing any intrinsic worth or value of my own. The thing of it was, in trying to be a source of peace and refuge for someone else, I was unable to be that for myself. This left me with no foundation on which to stand, and the most I could hope for in life was to find someone to allow me to occupy a little space in theirs. “Someone”, however, is an extremely low bar to set.
I could see how my inability to love myself was also the key to my spouses inability to feel my unconditional love for him. If I considered myself to be worthless, even unconsciously, than any love I offered would, by default, be just as worthless. It would have taken a saint to see through the lies I held as truth, and to love me in any meaningful way in spite of my inability to love myself. Perhaps a saint could have shown me how to unfold my love through a more open and safe experience.
But that was not to be part of my journey. Instead, it happened amidst bunkers, bombshells, and the bilge of treasonous warships. It happened, though, and that’s all that really matters.
In a pivotal moment out of time, I would give up ideals and gain a wealth of insight. Compassion became the lens through which I viewed the world, and perfection stood revealed where once I had only seen empty hardship.
(to be continued . . . )
After years of trying and failing to create some peace for my spouse and hating myself for not being able to do so, I surrendered all hope of being a safe harbor for anyone. In other words, my bar which had been set so low simply fell away into oblivion, and I was left with no bar at all.
I was a mother of two beautiful girls by then, and so taking my own life was no longer the viable alternative that it once seemed to be. Trapped in unfamiliar territory, breathing, but no authentic sense of purpose for doing so, I was compelled to set forth a new understanding of myself in relation to the world around me.
Late that night after my family was asleep, I crept downstairs wrapped in silent darkness and opened a new Word document. With the computer as my witness, I declared my surrender, and set forth the new terms under which I would abide in this life:
“It’s not that what I want comes last, it’s that what I want doesn’t matter at all. I will be here to facilitate the needs and demands of my family with no concern or consideration for any needs of my own.”
I printed it out, trimmed it down to close margins, and tucked it away where only I would find it and could reference it easily should I ever forget my new agreement: Forfeiting my needs in exchange for peace for my spouse and children.
In a moment of despair, I would give up all hope, without hope of ever having hope again.
(to be continued . . . )
“Giving as a Last Resort”
It was in my first college class that I met the man I would spend the next two decades with. His principles and ambition were matched only by his charm. I held my prince in such high regard, and didn’t completely understand what he saw of value in me. Despite some “stress fractures” during our two year courtship, we decided to move in together. After a couple more rocky years, we decided to split up.
Six months later on the eve of my 24th birthday, I felt deeply lonely. The only options I saw from that familiar darkness were to either crawl back to my prince (if he would still have me) or kill myself. I bought a bottle of sleeping pills, and as I sat there in bed staring at them, I imagined the toll it would take on my mother. She had already suffered the loss of two of her five children: could I really be so heartless as to add to her pain? I set down the pills and picked up the phone to see if my prince was interested in giving our relationship another shot.
I asked him to marry me, to which he said yes. I never imagined our marriage would even last five years before he would leave me for someone else. This seemed reasonable in return for a reprieve from my darkest alternative. The marriage was turbulent from the beginning, with hurt feelings on both sides regarding our troubled courtship. Two years into the marriage we found out we were pregnant.
Looking back now, I can see that my energy had shifted at that point. I withdrew from the arguments with my spouse and went about my life on some sort of “auto pilot”. I was terrified of having a helpless being utterly dependent on me to provide safeness, inspiration, and love. I felt unworthy of such a role, but there was no way around the fact that I was going to be a mother. After our first daughter was born, I set about giving her what I felt I could, while simultaneously trying to keep some emotional distance so the infant wouldn’t mistakenly believe I was someone worth loving or depending on.
Suffice it to say that the following ten years of marriage and motherhood were a blur of codependent dysfunction at its finest. My spouse’s unhappiness, coupled with my self-loathing and the birth of our second child, resulted in the tragically toxic societal cliché of outward achievement masking empty despair.
During my second two decades of life, I would give my hand, in hopes of gaining a reprieve. I would give all I had, in hopes of beating the odds. I would give a backwards form of love, in hopes of protecting those I loved most from the illusion that I was worth loving.
(to be continued . . . )
“Giving as a Path to Sanity”
A few months after my 20th birthday, my oldest brother passed away in his sleep at the age of 29. He had been diabetic since childhood, and didn’t care enough to take proper care of himself. Despite the nine-year age difference, he was the sibling I had felt closest to. I think it was his passing that fueled a stunning revelation: I had survived my teen years, and had a full life ahead of me.
(It isn’t until just now that I see the ironical twist of how losing a sister at 10 doused my intention for life, while losing a brother at 20 ignited it.)
That May, I enrolled in a night class at a local college and began my 12 year journey towards a bachelor’s degree in Accounting. My boyfriend at the time was threatened by my sudden interest in life, and told me I had to either quit school or move out. The dysfunctional nature of our relationship was becoming increasingly evident to me, which made for an easy choice. I packed up my few belongings and moved in with my mother.
In a moment of sanity, I would give up despondency in favor of optimism.
(to be continued . . . )
“Giving as a Social Strategy”
Just before I turned 10, my next closest-aged sibling ran away from home. She was 16, and she had somehow managed to make her way from Kansas City to Key West where she fell victim to a bullet which had not been intended for her. I didn’t cry at her funeral, but I also didn’t believe she was dead. Yet somehow that event left me with a very real sense that I would not live to see the age of 20.
My low self-esteem was counterproductive to my misguided attempts to find love. In tenth grade I found kindred spirits amidst the “partying” crowd, and boys began to take more notice of me. I was a master chameleon, adapting myself to what I believed and hoped a love interest would find most desirable. In other words, their interests and hobbies became my interests and hobbies. Ultimately, I was more like an extra appendage than I was a partner: A poser-extraordinaire.
More than anything, I believed that my body was my most significant “offering”, so I pretty much gave it away in my desperate quest to feel like I mattered for a little while. I believed that if I ever got genuinely tired of trying to please other people, I could always just kill myself: a recurring sentiment that paradoxically kept me going in the emptiest of times as far back as I can remember.
Throughout my teen years, I would give up my claim on the future, and try in vain to matter each day. I would give silence, in hopes of being heard. I would give my body, in hopes of finding love. I would give understanding, in hopes of being valued. I would give up hope, in hopes of easing my despair.
(to be continued . . . )
“Giving as a Survival Tactic”
I was born with the capacity to provide safe harbor for humanity, though being so young I didn’t realize it at the time. It would take decades of wandering down dark, merciless roads before I would clearly see this inspired gift of compassion in the seeming face of all-out war.
I was the very last of five children, six years younger than my next closest-aged sibling. Amidst the chaos and ugliness of a family ravaged by dysfunction, abuse, and alcohol, my siblings found some refuge with each other while I was left to fend for myself. Instinctive survival skills were my true guardian, and were it not for that I feel I would not be here to share this tale of abiding liberation born of absolute oppression.
Before I even had words, my sense of self was garnered from the innate process of observing other’s attitudes towards me. This set the unseen bar which shaped the attitude and opinion I held of myself, and directed the undetectable ideals of what I felt I was deserving of in life: ideals which effectively reduced the understanding of my intrinsic capacity from one of providing a source of peace and refuge for those bruised, battered, and war-torn by life, to one of simply hoping against hope to find just one person in this world for whom I could provide safe harbor.
Throughout these formative years, I would give space to my mother, in hopes of somehow making her troubled life just the slightest bit easier. I would give even more space to my father, in hopes he would forget I even existed. I would give careful attention to my siblings, in hopes they might invite me into their circle. I would share my imagination with my schoolmates, in hopes of making a much needed friend. I would give shy smiles to strangers, in hopes they would think well of me.
(to be continued . . . )
Good morning Friends! Two months ago I reintroduced my blog, and expanded my topics from “Self” and “Relationships” to now include insights on “Your Life’s Work” and “Philanthropy”. I realized yesterday that I haven’t shared many insights on philanthropy, and thought I would write about that topic today.
As I started writing, it grew rapidly into a much longer post than usual. I decided to try something a bit different this week by posting a on-going, week-long series on Philanthropy. Not sure how it will all work out since I have only written about 200 words of it so far, but it will be interesting to see how it unfolds.
The thing is, as I started to write about it, I realized that philanthropy is more than just a topic of great interest to me: it is really the story of my life. As such, these posts are going to be quite a bit more personal than I’ve shared in the past, but it feels like it will be a story worth sharing.
I’ll leave it at that for now. You can expect the “official” Part 1 later today. I hope you enjoy the ride!
Each time I receive a notice that some brave soul added themselves to my blog, I get a fleeting rush of stage fright. For just a moment, I feel terrified of writing a single word, and want to shut the blog down entirely. That notice touches the nerve of an old, conditioned worldview of “worthlessness” that carried me through the first four decades of my life.
As this new energy courses through that old nerve, it pulses and feels a bit like labor pains. Having learned to simply allow this sensation without needing to remedy it, I am able to breathe through the discomfort and begin writing anyway. Each time it gets easier, and each time I am born just a bit more fully into the world.
Truly at this point, that initial sense of terror is quickly being transformed into a deep sense of thrill. Having sat with this feeling enough times now, I know it to be a signal of great things to come.
So thank you, Tony, for helping me further rewire those old neural pathways today.
Thank you also to Tom, Robin, Amy, and Don for your roles in this evolution. I am deeply grateful for the privilege of sharing myself and my story with you. You help me see myself more clearly, and I hope that my insights and stories somehow do the same for each of you.
I’ve never had a single bad thing happen in my life. Some people would say that’s denial. Some people would say that’s deluded. I don’t expect anyone would believe me.
Don’t get me wrong: There have been things that have seemed bad at the time, but ultimately they led me to a higher understanding of myself and of the universe which I am an inextricable part of. That expanded understanding empowers me to step boldly into new arenas, allowing me to experience myself in new ways and disenfranchise long-held limiting conditioned thoughts and behaviors.
It took some time to integrate that higher understanding. There was some serious resistance and unhinging uncertainty along the way. But I trusted that new worldview more than I trusted my old one. Compassionately over the course of a few years my standing worldview shifted.
I’m in that same boat again right now. My worldview is shifting. It’s happening much more quickly this time, because I have discovered firsthand that the fear of “bad things” is the boogie man standing between me and the fullest possible expression of myself in this lifetime.
We want our lives to count for something. We want our actions to impact the world in profound ways. Yet that notion can undermine our ability to even get out of bed in the morning. Unless we feel we have some ambition or some person to devote our actions to, we often feel incapable of doing anything.
I have been on all sides of that coin (including the edges). There was a time when I felt hopeless and useless, like a target in need of an arrow. Other times I have felt inspired but ineffective, like an arrow in need of a target. It seemed like this unsolvable riddle. I didn’t know what to do, so I wouldn’t do anything, hoping instead to be found: by some person or some ambition.
Then one day, quite unintentionally, the riddle was solved. I was in the midst of a crisis in the summer of 2009. The debilitating quandary at that precise moment: “I don’t know what to do. What can I do?”
The question arose from a place of utter futility. Those words were the last of everything I had. Once spoken, even though it was just to myself, those words emptied me of any hope of finding an answer.
In the pristine stillness that followed, a steady, rather nonchalant question met mine: “Well, what can you do right now?”
I looked around: I was standing in the midst of a kitchen overflowing with dishes and papers and spills and chaos. I answered emptily: “I can clean the kitchen”.
A disinterested reply followed: “Then do that.”
Heaving a sigh at the pointlessness of it all, I resigned myself to the task at hand. As I started hurrying through the dishes, awareness shifted away from the task and onto the rich warmth of the sun on my face. My pace slowed, igniting a spark of curiosity. What other richness was I overlooking?
My actions slowed even more, and I began to notice the wonderful play of energy within and around me. All of life had led me to this one epic moment. The miracle of it all unfolded before me. This was no dish I was washing: this was a pinnacle result of a rather extensive and daunting chain of events.
I felt humbled. My actions slowed even more as I created space to take in the magnitude of it all. As I moved through the kitchen, each area revealed a deeper sense of wonder. Each area served as an opportunity for me to experience and express humility for my prior arrogance of discounting these every day activities as burdensome.
Somewhere along the way I realized: I wasn’t cleaning the mess in the kitchen, I was cleaning the mess within myself. By the time I was done, I felt cleansed and alive. I was inspired: I was an arrow that had found its target. This was something tangible that I could share with the world.
The answer to the riddle: Purpose is not a question of what profound thing we can do, but simply a matter of doing what we can do in a profound way.
So let me ask you: What is one thing you resist doing because it seems burdensome? Is it possible that this task can become a gateway to inspiration? Perhaps our purpose is not a matter of what we do, but a matter of how we do what we do. A far more empowering question than “what can I do?” is the question: “What can I do right now?”
The journey winds its way through me, like a snake in search of a morning meal.
Ultimately, his shadow became the light which exposed me so completely to myself.
The warmth of your coldness is hotter than any sun ever was.
I cannot be released from what I am, and that remembrance is all that is necessary to release from a state of mind which is momentarily (though purposefully) blind to that truth.
Standing in the fires of hell, I look around from a platform of peace. I fully realize my part in the creation of this experience, and I choose not to feed the fire anymore. Instead I choose to love that fire as it burns through my veins, incinerating every shred of who I and others thought I was.
And even though the fire rages on, it too is dying, because now it has one less life to take. In my damnation, perhaps another will be saved. It is a sacrifice I make willingly, from a place of deep compassion and love for all who do not yet know peace, as well as for those who had paved the way for me to follow.
All that remains of me now is the light of eternal life here on earth.