One of the hardest things in life is staying true to oneself.
So much of our early training teaches us to be good, to not demand, not want, not complain, not say our true feelings. Some of this is, of course, good. It helps us to be cooperative, tuned in to others and not overly demanding. However, there is often also a cost to this in the abdication of self.
Recently I became aware how sly and pervasive this abdication is for me.
I was at a women’s retreat in California. We were gathered under beautiful tall and erect redwood trees. Their trunks reached straight to the sky.
We had done some solo movement work under the trees and were now gathered in a circle to introduce ourselves.
As part of our introductions, we were asked to name a tree that we wanted to identify with. When my turn came, I said, “maple wood.” I described its beautiful, bright red and yellow leaves in the fall and identified with it as a tree from the east, the place where I also am from. As I spoke, I could feel that this positive acknowledgement of the maple tree was didn’t sit right inside of me. I knew that I had chosen it because I felt that leader would prefer us to choose different trees from one another and several people had already chosen the redwood as their tree. It is funny to say, but my stomach was not happy.
After everyone had introduced herself, I felt my insides still calling me. I felt I needed to be true to my inner voice and said, “I need to change my tree. I love these redwoods. They are so tall and erect and I want to be like them.” My burst brought a bit of laughter and a shout-out, “Yay!” from my daughter, who was also in the circle.
Her affirmation felt great. Even without it, I knew from the moment I acknowledged the redwoods as my tree, that this was the right choice for I felt within me a surge of rightness and strength. Something relaxed. It was like the cells in my body had been tense and once I acknowledged my true feelings, everything within me relaxed. I felt strong and at peace.
On reflection, I am amazed at my tendency to try to please another person, to try to decipher what another person would want and deliver that rather than tuning in to my own self. I see this happening a lot with friends and clients’, tuning out their own wants in order to placate their significant other or not make waves in the world.
I have quietly decided that I cannot live in this world without making some waves. It is not like I plan to make waves; rather, situations arise that ask me to speak up for justice or speak my truth. It is not easy. But it seems to bring either more connection or more dialogue into situations that need addressing.
Here are two examples from my life:
I was at a political meeting. I saw a friend of mine being shut down as he expressed his experience with running his ward division. I had seen him similarly shut down at a previous meeting and had let that moment pass. But in this meeting, I felt there was injustice on many fronts. The person had the podium, I felt, needed to respect my friend’s input and experience. He was saying things which interested me (and others) about his way of doing things as he seemed to approach the work of a committee person in a broad and humanitarian way. I could also see that he talked too long and could give the woman at the podium some credit for not wanting him to go “on and on.”
My friend was also an African American man with “standing in the community.” He was the head of a good organization in my city.
I felt concerned about the insult he personally experienced and had thoughts about this interaction in a meeting of progressive, African American and white democrats. From my point of view, this was not good.
As my friend had left the meeting, I followed him. When I reached him, he said to me, “Talk with them.” I felt the rightness of his words and went back to the meeting. The leader asked if there were more questions: I stood up and said that I didn’t have a question; rather I needed to say that what had happened didn’t seem right and that my friend needed an apology. I repeated this idea as it didn’t seem to resonate right away, and then, when I felt my words were received, I sat down. I felt I had spoken out on an important matter that did not have to do with the agenda of the meeting but had to do with the overall tone and respect afforded the participants in the meeting.
Later I talked with the leader of the meeting and offered to help her learn active listening skills. I also expressed appreciation of the difficulty in the situation of not wanting someone to talk “on and on,” as he had a tendency to do.
On the personal/professional front, I was listening to a client who felt outraged about something political a friend of hers had said. I felt myself feeling stiff inside as I could not join her in her upset feelings. I listened and thought. I realized that I could not sit there and say nothing about my thoughts on the matter. I also thought that my thoughts might soften her reaction so, with some hesitation, I decided to share what I was thinking.
The effect of this sharing was marvelous. My client’s outrage calmed and she became more receptive to the possibility that her friend was not a complete disaster but rather that she held some profound beliefs about the state of the world, beliefs that she wanted to correct by her choice of elected officials. Beliefs that were, in fact, close to my client’s own thoughts.
Speaking up to my client felt like a small act of courage, as I have been well trained to be a caring and affirming person, but not necessarily to speak my truth. The difference between me now and myself as a young person is that as a child, I was mostly silenced and silent.
I entreat us all, who are raising children, to listen to them. They have important things to say and, often, such wisdom.
I encourage us all to tune into our own truths and speak. The world, I believe, will be better for our true voices and the hearing of others’.