Butterfly Dream (Dedicated to Elizabeth October 09, 1969 – March 27, 2014)
My daughter and I
Her hand in mine
She led me through a buoyant crowd
Passing the popcorn stand, red stripes
Loudly beckoning to anyone to
Savor this moment
At the bouquet of balloons
I saw you
Mesmerized, I watched as
You flitted up to me
To see you
You smiled and nodded
So glad to
See you healed
You smiled and nodded
Then, I felt the warmth of
My tears streaming down my cheeks
And I awoke
Once upon a time there lived a very unhappy Queen. She was the Queen of WAOPF…
I’m interrupting this fairytale to give you some background. For Lent, I commited myself to write a little each day. I intended this small act as an impetus to get back to work on my book which I have been working on for some time now (we won’t discuss for how long). As part of this exercise, I decided to use an inspiration card deck to guide my topic. My fingers nimbly touched over the edges of the cards in my Danielle LaPorte #Truthbomb deck. And boom! There it was again. For the second time in a row this week, I pulled the card that states “the only thing that you really have control over is your feelings”.
I think to myself, “Uh, not this lesson again!” Looking around to see if anyone was watching, I contemplated stuffing the card back in the deck. But here I am writing about the idea that “the only thing that you really have control over is your feelings”. I ponder about what I possibly can say on this topic that no one else has ever written or considered. “NOTHING.” My inner gremlin smugly confirms. I imagine me petting this smug lizard-like gremlin on the head, handing her a water bottle and gently telling her to go take a hike. Okay, the coast is clear so here we go.
Once upon a time there lived a very unhappy Queen. She was the Queen of WAOPF. Actually, I was that Queen: Queen of Worrying About Other People’s Feelings. It still says so in my iPhone ‘nickname’. Actually, it just says Queen. It’s a momento from having clever children who hack into my phone and tweak with my life. I liked the sound of it so it has stayed as such. Nothing is more delightful than hearing Siri respond, “Hello there, Queen” with an English accent. But back to the story.
Being Queen of WAOPF has it upsides. People were always telling me how nice and considerate I was. Rarely, did I experience a ruffled feather. My kingdom on the outside can be described as incredibly peaceful. Day in and day out as Queen of WAOPF, I might strive out of my way in order to appease all those around me. Making other people happy was my calling! It was my way to feel like I was valued. And, I was a very good Queen of WAOPF.
My days would be filled with me commanding things like this: Where ever you want to go for lunch is fine with me. What color do you think it should be? Yeah, you don’t think this looks good on me too? I’m okay with whatever you want to do dear. Yes, I think that she was certainly rude. I know, she is so annoying! I could be seen scurrying about taking on other people’s problems from the minute I awoke, working long into the night completely exhausted.
This worked for quite a while before I became aware that being Queen of WAOPF has a very, very dangerous side. I learned this the hard way. Being Queen of WAOPF made me very, very ill. Doctors and scientist diagnosed it as breast cancer. I prefer to call it something else: it’s a symptom of being the Queen of WAOPF. (Yes, I know that genetic cell mutations are common culprits of cancer because I studied pre-med biology in college. These days we are discovering more and more how poor emotional states in addition to environmental factors can also help trigger genetic tendencies but I digress.)
It was futile. The Queen of WAOPF could not make everyone happy. The impossibility isn’t because congeniality doesn’t work. Kindness is a virtue. Concern for others and endeavoring to help others are qualities that make this world a better place. Queen of WAOPF just didn’t think that applied to her. This is the curse of being the Queen of WAOPF. She forgoes kindness for herself, fails to tend to her own needs and ultimately suffers. She gets angry, she feels tired, she feels resentful and she feels unsupported. Ultimately, she feels she is never enough and is un-lovable. When she suffers, her kingdom suffers. This causes her to use her husband as a punching bag, yell at her children and resent that the people around her who don’t seem to care about her needs. It was a very sad kingdom in which to dwell.
The curse is not an easy one to discern. More often than not, the curse is a covert belief system that has been portrayed by parents or other trusted family members or friends. Seeing extreme self-sacrifice being modeled, rewarded or praised, we might be compelled to give it a try. Having been a Queen of WAOPF, I can easily see the signs when a woman picks up this crown. Perhaps she is miffed because she feels ignored by other moms at her children’s school. Or she complains over and over about how her husband never helps out. Maybe she even disparages a good friend for being crazy for going for her dreams. These are all signs that the sparkle as Queen of WAOPF has blinded you and taken over your life.
One sunny day as she lay sick on her bed, a little bird chirped to the Queen of WAOPF: “The only thing that you really have control over is your feelings.” “Wait, what-what?” She murmured. This messenger of God helped her to realize that she needed to be kind to herself. She needed to explore how she was not living her own dream. She needed to speak up for her desires! She realized that she had been ignoring and stuffing down her own long enough. It was time to quit worrying about everyone else and to start examining her own and managing her own feelings.
When Queen of WAOPF realized this, she started paying attention to her feelings and navigating her actions accordingly. Then something magical happened. Her kingdom, err, my kingdom became a joyful place to live. Rather than striving, I began to thrive. I’m still kind. I’m just no longer a doormat for everyone else. I find that the more I take care of myself and my feelings, I am better for everyone else around me.
Centering myself around my needs first makes me happier and more powerful than I have ever been. I recognize that my feelings are meant to be an inner guidance system. Through this act of paying attention to my feelings, I am setting a healthy example for those around me, like my children. Rather than exhaustively catering only to my family’s or others needs and stuffing down my feelings of frustration, I show them the importance of self-care as a parent and an individual in this world. Acknowledging one’s feelings and practicing self-care are expressions of gratitude and love for who you are. These are acts of praise for God’s creation.
It’s the magic spell that will break the curse: “the only thing that you really have control over is your feelings.” Want to rule the world or even just have equal footing? Forget about what others might think for a moment. What is one small thing you can do today that is kind for you? Do you need to say no? Do you need to stop the negative self-talk? The kinder you are to yourself, the kinder your world will become. Go on, give yourself permission. Be Queen of WAYOF, worrying about your own feelings.
“Granny, your tired, let me drive to see Gran’pa.” This is how I turned my excitement of my newly acquired hardship license and need for adventure into a weekly long driving event. I became my Granny’s chauffeur. I adored and dreaded this drive. The drive from Groesbeck to Marlin via the TX-14 N and TX-7 E was about a half-hour commute. It was a pastoral drive that helped me to whittle down the hours of oppressive boredom as a teenager in a town holding just north of 3,000 people. Mostly old, I thought.
Crossing over Big Creek was a signal to start steeling myself for the part of the journey I dreaded: on the way in, seeing Gran’pa; on the way out, heading back home to nothing. I did not know it at the time but Marlin historically had been a popular destination for “taking the waters.” Had I been aware, I might have pulled over my Granny’s light blue Chrysler and jumped in to the creek with the hope that the sparkling brook might wash away my youthful angst.
When we moved in with Granny, Gran’pa Vince was already hospitalized. My father’s stepfather, I recalled him to be a tall, kind, quiet man from my childhood Christmases spent with Granny. He seemed to always be found clad in a neatly buttoned, ochre-colored cardigan napping in the avocado-green vinyl recliner. That was before his severe stroke which landed him at the now shuttered Marlin VA Hospital.
In the hospital, we would walk down the long hallway, greeted by cheerful nurses, “Good morning Mrs. Hunter!” At the end of the hallway, we would find ourselves almost blinded by the well-lit, highly sanitized room. There on a raised hospital bed, upon which rested the wisp of Gran’pa Vince. He lay rigid and curled, like a fallen leaf outliving its autumn glory. Our greetings were always gentle and hushed as if we might blow him away with much more.
Granny would busy herself with making sure he was comfortable, straightening a sheet, moving an tube, and adjusting the blinds. Trying hard to be polite and accommodating, I would hear the tick of the wall clock tormenting me as I allowed her to be the good wife sitting bedside for a generous hour.
She was once a tall woman herself. Her stature seemed wearied by years of hardship. Even so, she was meticulous in her appearance. As a local taylor, she turned out her own beautiful suits with long vests and midi-style skirts. This served to slim her rounded silhouette and show off her narrow ankles. Her hair was a tight mass of silvery curls. I had helped her with those curls. Curious about home-perming, I willingly volunteered to help roll those tight curls and douse her tender scalp with the chemicals that magically rendered a robust, shiny gray ,wavy head of hair out of the that which had been thinned by age.
When we first moved in with Granny, our circumstances were questionable. My parents had been divorced. My mother had remarried and her new husband, in the army, was given a military assignment in Germany. Suddenly, we found ourselves in my father’s custody.
It was for our own good that we stay in the United States while she went with my new stepfather, Bob. Or so she failed to convince me. My father, now sober for many years, was still struggling then to find his sobriety. And just as abruptly as my mom seemed to have left, we found ourselves uprooted and living with Granny. Initially, shock and curiosity saved me from the the wreckage of abandonment that had not quite sunk in yet.
I yielded to my inquisitive nature and explored Granny’s house. Peering in cabinets and drawers, I discovered endless treasures and oddities, like a small capsule of liquid containing my Granny’s gall stones removed by a previous surgery.
My most favorite objet trouvé: Gran’pa Vince’s faded Levi’s 501s. With a belt and cuffs formed by a couple of rolls, I was able to make them fit. I was in style heaven. Hungry for novelty and comfort, I adored these jeans. Eventually, I allowed the need to fit in and make friends over-ride my personal panache. I discarded the jeans.
And like those jeans, many of my memories from this difficult time were tossed out of my life. Or, so I thought. These days, I am delighted to be able to treasure these gems from my past recollections which I so desperately wanted to forget. I take solace as I linger on this impression etched in my mind, the sight of the healing waters on that long drive and how I felt in my Gran’pa Vince’s 501s.
As I woke up, I could hear the sigh of cars on shuttling drivers on their way to their early morning commitments. A few birds chirped outside my window welcoming the rays of sun rising up into the sky. I stretched for a moment and gave thanks for the calm and I prayed that others can know this sense of peace.
There is a lot of struggle going on right now. As an empathic person, I can relate to the anger, sadness and fear. I have been walked in those shoes many times throughout my life. As a female child from a mixed-race marriage with a Korean-immigrant mother and an American-caucasion father, I am not new to the experience of racism, misogyny and exclusion.
My mother is a victim of a family-massacre during the Korean War. My father faced many battles including the Vietnam War to return to a country that initially did not appreciate the sacrifices he and many of other troops made. Since I was little, I recall rarely feeling that I fit in or belonged to this world. I used to work exceptionally hard to be liked or to be accepted.
Out of this striving effort, I made a lot of personal sacrifices just to feel connected. I learned to be quiet and not attract attention to myself and to avoid controversy. The sad part is that by playing the game in that way, I took a back seat to honoring others in the same boat and leaving them out in the cold if accepting them meant that I was threatening my chance of being included.
Eventually as an adult, I became very ill and realized I had misunderstood a fundamental truth of my existence. It’s a true for everyone: I always belonged by virtue of a greater power that placed me here. I learned to accept myself and give myself unconditional love. Next, I began to work on the grief and sadness and allow myself the space to heal not only my body but my soul. Once I did this, the need and the behaviors to fit in and belong faded away.
I don’t regret my past because so many gifts came from these experiences like empathy, diligence, courage, independence, and loyalty along with several others. Staying present, I know a love for humanity that expands my heart more and more each day, more than I can ever describe.
Now, I am doing well for myself and by my family and I experience a different kind of exclusion. There are people who will judge you and want to exclude you for this, living your truth. Thankfully, at this point in my life, I realize that I can’t please everyone. However, I realize that I can choose how I want to react to life. This has liberated me to live a joyous and peaceful life regardless of what is going on around me.
As a society that is constantly numbing its pain and discomfort, this overt emotional current seems scary. The good news is that these deeply held hurts are now on the surface more than ever before as a friend said, it’s good to know where the hurt is because that allows us to know what we need to heal. We all have a desire for a certain kind of life. I call it an “ideal life”.
What happens when one feels circumstances are threatening her ideal life and others around her? The ability to dig out of this is easier than we know because we each have these tools within us. Whether a person has been living an angry life and feeling frustrated with her/his life for many years or a person is recently saddened and afraid, having these tools makes each of us more powerful than the darkest day.
The first most powerful thing I can do is this: maintain my inner-peace. I have discovered that when I allow fear, hate or anger to hijack my focus, I can really get off-track. This is simply because I go where I am focused. Just like riding a bike, if I look away from where I want to be, I find my bike will naturally head off my course.
For me sometimes, it takes falling off my bike, skinning a knee and crying a bit before I can get back on and acknowledge that I am responsible for my own actions. I chose to get off course and my body and mind can’t help but go where my eyes are directed. If I run into an obstacle, I can choose to yell at it and curse at it. Even so, aside from a scratch on my bicycle, the obstacle will remain unmoved and my path sits there patiently waiting.
Often times in life, I can see situations, walls if you will, that I stubbornly chose to look at over and over only to find myself getting no where. It took awhile but I finally learned to stop looking at the walls or where others are going and to focus at my own path. It’s not a selfish path as my intent is to live a life that is mutually beneficial for me and those around me.
Speaking of walking in other’s shoes, I have this quote hanging on a wall next to my closet “Life is short, wear cute shoes.” In keeping with this quote, recently, I bought a pair of pointy-toed, leopard-print flats.
Here is another shoe quote that is credited to designer, Roger Vivier: “To wear dreams on one’s feet is to begin to give reality to one’s dreams.” It reminds me of gratitude.
Gratitude is a key component to the alchemy of creating your ideal life. When we stand in gratitude, we give attention to what we want in our lives. This attention acts as a navigation tool, allowing us to acknowledge the blessings to continue to flourish around us, even in dark times.
Gratitude keeps us grounded in our will to choose to see the good that in turn nourishes more goodness to flourish. Like Oprah says, “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”
And, I can personally attest that after a consistent practice of daily gratitude, life has become very rich for me. For example, I log in my journal at least ten things for which I am grateful before I go to bed. This does a couple of things for me; it helps me to rest in the knowledge that there is good in this world. It gives me the strength to get through situations that aren’t going well in my life. Kind a like a “spoonful of sugar.”
And now about that spoon. Recently, I travelled to California and ended up learning how to bend a spoon. I will get to that in a moment. I was there for attending a life coach training session with Martha Beck and some of her master coaches. One of my wise friends whom I met at the training conference, Jennifer S., decided with the recent outcome of the election that she was going to sit with the pain and anger from friends and acquaintances without trying to smooth things over even though it’s not comfortable.
This is an act of pure empathy. No judging, no shifting the focus, just accepting all viewpoints and not questioning any perspective. This acceptance is not to be confused with the act of condoning or supporting a view. It’s actually a powerful way to defuse anger, aggression and fear. In the art of Aikido, this is a powerful technique in which one can use to move around or redirect energy (ki) from an attacker.
So there I was, just north of San Luis Obispo in my life coach class and I was given a thick-handled spoon. First, I was instructed to just try and bend the spoon that was just handed to me. I was not able to bend the spoon. Then, Martha Beck instructed us to get really quiet. Next, I was invited to ask the spoon to play. When I felt the spoon say yes, I sat still (with my awesome cheetah-print flats) and called upon feelings of unconditional love (like what I feel when I hold my children or that giddy feeling of falling in love or finding a pair of dreamy shoes.) As I sat in this feeling, I transferred that feeling to the spoon. Before I knew it, I began to gently fold the spoon with out resistance, strain or effort. It was miraculous.
A miracle is what occurs when we are able to change our perspective about something. When we change our perspective, the manifestation or the outcome of our desires comes about so much easier. An example of this is my Barbie. When I was a little girl, I wanted so badly to have a doll that looked like me. I wanted that doll to validate my existence.
Well, imagine my thrill when my sister recently sent me a text with a picture of a doll with American-asian features, like me. To me, Amer-asian Barbie symbolizes more than Mattel simply trying to make a buck, this doll in a crazy way is a cathartic experience for me, once I recognized that I belong no matter what, she appeared before my eyes.
Fighting: hating, resisting, attacking: these are the ways of the weakest warriors. Fighting: loving, accepting, and embracing : these are the ways of the strongest warriors. Fear got us here. Fear will keep us here.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” I am most powerful when I know that everyone, including me belongs here, when I keep my eyes trained on where I want to be, and I stand in gratitude of all that I have. My prayer is that we all can know the peace that one experiences in that place.
“I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope.
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing: there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”
One morning six years ago, I woke up with soreness under in my right armpit and discovered a lump. Brushing away the uneasiness in the bottom of my stomach, I dialed my gynecologist. “Please God…” I prayed, “Anything but that.” “That” meaning: cancer.
Well, it did turn out to be “that.” As the surgical oncologist calmly told me the news, I was immediately sucked from his bright, spare office to a dark and chaotic place. I wondered, “What kind of hell is this where a 43-year old mother of two young children wakes up one morning to discover that she is on the verge of a Stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis? “
Then I began to arm myself for the “battle.” Dutifully, I marched toward the standard protocol. Then, I began to have my doubts. The idea of a “fight” against cancer just didn’t resonate with me. I felt there was a fundamental gap in the way I was viewing my cancer. Questions and statements meant to help me solve the mystery: “Does cancer run in your family?” Or, “You should try eating organics…” only perplexed me. 1 in 8 U.S. women are diagnosed with breast cancer. There is an assumption that breast cancer runs in the family. Well, I had no family history to validate that theory. Additionally, less than 10% of diagnosed breast cancer patients have a genetic link. Eating organic foods and exercising regularly will help you avoid cancer. Did that, so now what? Breastfeeding is a sure fire way to reduce the chance of breast cancer. I breast fed two babies for longer than I may have cared and look where I landed!
In my confusion, I went searching for answers. I scoured the Internet, the books in the cancer research hospital library, and talked to other friends and patients. One day, I stumbled across a theory that stopped me in my tracks: metaphysical causes of disease. It started with a thin pink book by Louise A Hay, Heal Your Body: The Mental Causes for Physical Illness and the Metaphysical Way to Overcome Them. The general posit is that negative emotion is the cause of disease. In my case with breast cancer in my right breast, I was dealing with deep hurt and secret grief and I was feeling incredibly afraid and vulnerable. Intuitively, I knew that this was the information that I was missing. While I went through the allopathic treatment of chemotherapy, surgery to remove my breast and all my lymph nodes, followed by radiation, I realized that I needed to heal on the inside if I was going stay healthy. And so, I began my journey to the dark side.
The dark side is in all of us. Many of are not aware or would care to admit this. We go about our day masquerading as somewhat functional people in a society that tends to dream and shape our world based on outward visions of perfectionism. I realized that I was masquerading, living a false self in it’s fullest glory to hide the deep shame inside of me that I was not worthy of even taking a breath of air.
And as I struggled to take up as little space as possible in this big world, cancer was my messenger. Cancer brought me in front of God’s glory and helped me to face this dark side of myself. Cancer saved my life. Cancer motivated me to drop the façade, to go deep within myself to find the hurt and pain, to face the hurt with God’s unconditional love for my very existence, I was able to began embracing my shadows and finding courage with God’s help, to step into being my true self.
And, just like in T.S. Elliot’s poem, I went within myself to the darkest of places. And I did nothing. Not at first. At first, I wanted to change it all. Then I realized that I needed to just be with it, the darkness. Do nothing other than just be in it. This is an exercise in acceptance. This can be very scary and difficult. If it were easy, we all would be wearing the t-shirt. I just sat with it, the darkness. I didn’t fight it. Zero resistance. And, I wept.Then in the instant that I sat empty, a void, without struggle, the spirit of God brought in the light and I experienced the miracle. I realized how profoundly worthy I am of unconditional love.
We can make cancer the enemy. We can “fight” cancer; we can try to annihilate it. Yet, I believe the truth is that we are just killing the messenger. The messenger is here to tell us about the real enemy. Actually, it’s not really an enemy at all. It’s just negative emotions hiding deep inside of us in the dark: the hurt, the grief, and the fear. It takes courage to be able to journey to this place and see and accept these things that we judge as less than unacceptable about our selves. And when we go there and embrace this darkness within us, we can begin to heal. We can do the chemo, the surgery, the radiation and all the walks and pink fund-raisers in the world. (And, please do if that brings you hope and joy.) But also know that: we need to love ourselves, unconditionally, if we are going to be able to heal in the long run. Cancer is the messenger to shine your inner light.