It Takes Courage to Celebrate

You should have seen my face that Friday night when I saw the subject line from Spirituality & Practice in my inbox. It said, “Editors’ Pick – The Best Spiritual Books of 2018.” It also seemed to say, “I dare you to open this email without any attachment to what you find inside.”

Since it was only 3 days since The Courage Way’s first book birthday, I was humbly hoping that maybe a birthday gift was inside. But I didn’t want to get my hopes up, because after all, a lot of best books are published each year. I opened the message…

Just the knowledge that a good book is awaiting one at the end of a long day makes that day happier. - Kathleen Thompson Norris
SpiritualityandPractice.com

The editors, Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, said this, “We had in mind the above sentiment from novelist and activist Kathleen Thompson Norris when we chose our Best Spiritual Books of 2018 awards. Whether these books lift your spirits, bring you helpful information, or prod you to consider how you’re being called to face challenges, we trust that they will contribute substantially to your happiness. Through diverse approaches, drawing upon the wisdom and practices of the world’s religions, these titles explore the quest for meaning and purpose, wholeness and healing, commitment and community, contemplation and social activism. These are books you won’t want to miss!”

I clicked the link. I started to scroll. I must admit I didn’t recognize many names. Then there was Anne Lamott, whose book Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year accompanied me in 1993 as a new mom. And two years later, her Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life book got me ready to write a cancer caregiving memoir, knowing on the first day of my husband’s brain tumor diagnosis that my spiral notebook at the doctor’s appointment was the first page of notes for My Book (as it came to be known until it was published, until my next book began to take root). It means a lot to be on the same list as her.

Anne Lamott reminds me that creative courage happens a bit at a time, and we have to be kind to ourselves:

“Hey–lighten up, Francis”
This is not a bad line to have taped to the wall of your office, writes Anne Lamott.
I must say, I love Amazon’s “Search Inside This Book” and the Surprise Me! link for it’s amazing mystic divination as a creative resource. I always find just what I’m seeking.

So back to that Friday night on my iphone, scrolling with my finger. Past Anne Lamott, scrolling scrolling, I saw the Dalai Lama’s latest book, A Call for Revolution, followed by a book with a big question mark on the cover, Can it Happen Here?. And then The Courage Way! There it was! On the list! In alphabetical order by title, not counting the The’s. I scrolled quickly then, to find On the Brink of Everything by Parker J. Palmer, which I knew would be there, too.

I was in the kitchen with my parents. “You won’t believe what I just found out?” I told them the news. My mom hugged me. A few minutes later, shock turning to joy, I looked at my mom and threw my arms in the air, rattled my hands and yelled something like “Wahoo!”

I texted the link to Parker, Both our books made the list at Spirituality & Practice website. 🙂 I forwarded the email to a few friends. I texted a few others who I wanted to share the joy in the moment. I was about to post it to Facebook and then my courage choked up in my throat. I froze.

Would this be seen as bragging? Would this be seen as too much about the book just a few days after posting about the book’s first birthday? Would it be good to take a photo of my book with Parker’s and post that, or share it from the S&P Facebook page? My inner perfectionist was all hung up on aesthetics and the right/wrong of best practice for authors. Besides, it was time to eat dinner. First things first.

After dinner was too dark for a good photo of my book next to Parker’s. And besides, mine is a few inches taller and wider than his and that just didn’t look right to me, side by side. He’s the seasoned bestselling author.

The next morning, I went to a women’s writing group, the local chapter of Women Writing for (a) Change, to soak in the practices that I first learned for giving soulful, trustworthy feedback for women finding their voices by putting their truth into words. Back in 2002, maybe ’03, I first starting writing My First Book in earnest in a WWf(a)C circle of trust. That’s where I first heard about Parker. My facilitator friend from back then is who let me know of the job opening at the Center for Courage & Renewal, which she saw on Parker’s Facebook page. I was going to share my exciting news that Saturday morning, but I only knew the facilitator in this larger circle of mostly new writers. In the small circle of three, I mentioned I was an author and one of the women said, “Oh, that’s intimidating.” I decided then, for sure, not to mention word of the award. It’s important to celebrate with people who know you already, I thought.

Sunday I was sick to my stomach and besides throwing up, I slept most of the day. That wasn’t about the angst over sharing my news, it was a bug.

Monday morning, I was ready to share the news. I sent emails to colleagues, and I posted the screenshot on Facebook, on Twitter, even went as far as sharing the post on LinkedIn as well. It took more courage than I expected. But of course people were happy to Like the good news and share heartfelt Congratulations. I had nothing to worry about.

I had to reframe my worry about bragging into honest rejoicing. Of course we should celebrate the effort that goes into our work. And enjoy recognizing not only the content, but the wordsmithing. I had to remember, as Peggy Klaus says, that it’s okay to toot our own horn!! I wrote:

Thank you so much, everyone! I love the re- words especially — to revel and rejoice in the book’s recognition. It takes courage to even be seen in this way and to remember it’s not a brag-fest, but a celebration of important concepts, hard work and amazing leaders. And a blessing to have been tasked with weaving the words.

It takes courage to create a book, and it also takes courage to have the right amount of pride in your work. We must find that healthy place between humility and hubris. New authors require affirmation. We need to build up our street cred. We need helping spreading the word of good books. We need to take joy in the fruits of our labors, and invite our community to join in the fun. We can create our own celebration.

It brings to mind a few quotes. This one I had taped to my office wall while writing The Courage Way:

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.

Blaise Pascal

Or this one by Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love  (part of which I had attributed to Nelson Mandela as many others have):

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.  

Or the best one, thanks to Anne Lamott:

Look, honey, when it comes to fortifying your creative courage, this is not a bad line to have taped to the wall of your office.

It’s okay to turn your back on this tiger

Yesterday morning I woke up at 4:51 a.m. to make a post on Facebook to celebrate The Courage Way‘s first birthday. I didn’t set an alarm. My body just woke up as if my inner-book publicist remembered that it’s already morning on the East Coast and it was time to be brave and go public.

After making the post, I went back to sleep a couple of hours to reclaim more rest. Facebook had a very odd video suggestion for me when I checked again. It was this video, titled “I learned why u don’t turn your back on a tiger.”

wait for it…

I have to argue, aren’t we actually safe to turn our back on this silly tiger? After all, he’s behind a glass wall that is engineered to keep zoo visitors safe. We even get to see his feet underwater. His stalking MO is transparent–there’s no hiding from the camera. But he doesn’t know that. Our fight-or-flight instinct, powered by our pesky amygdala, doesn’t know it either. It tells us that some killer monster is about to pounce.

When it comes to creative courage, how often does our fear of a Tiger cause us to freeze or flee? That’s where writer’s block comes from, right? Or the urge to run away and avoid the public eye? Fear of so many things.

That’s why this video felt like a gift message from the universe, albeit odd, being suggested on a day when I was needing courage to celebrate my book online after six months of prioritizing true self care instead of self- or book- promotion. (As it turns out, it wasn’t scary at all, but joyful.) The other synchronicity is that the video appeared the day after I took myself on an artist’s date where I snapped this photo of a tiger:

This Prismacolor Tiger, ironically, showed up the day after a friend shared advice from a feng shui expert. She said it might be good to wear a tiger charm this year to counter conflict with a snake. It’s hard to know how far to take what some see as superstition and others trust coming from ancient mystery traditions. I refuse to live in fear.

How do you discern whether to trust that fear has valid advice or to trust that fear is false? I like to reflect with some open honest questions. Then see what my inner teacher (or inner artist) says in response.

If your creative courage is being stalked by a tiger, perhaps there is a way to reframe that fear. Is the tiger is behind a glass wall, like the one at the zoo? Is the tiger is in fact your inner wild-voice, ready to pounce on you with amazing ideas to release?

If your creative fear is an animal, which one would it be? If your creative courage has a totem animal that will inspire and protect, maybe it’s time to extend an invitation for it to show up.

If we are going to reflect on — and call on — our creative courage, I propose we consider at the opposite condition: creative fear, anxiety, angst and shadows. I’m inspired by Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, in this article from The New Yorker:

How do you understand memory? You don’t study memory. You study forgetting.

Daniel Kahneman, in “The Two Friends Who Changed How We Think About How We Think” The New Yorker

P.S. That New Yorker article also prompts some thoughts about the power and pitfalls of creative collaboration. More on that another day!

Happy 1st birthday, dear book

Happy birthday, dear book! Today is 365 days since the launch of The Courage Way into the world. So today I celebrate by relishing a slice of cake for chocolate blessings, plus a lit candle to recall the powerful light of a single flame to dispel darkness. I invite friends to join in as a way to rejoice in community.

If you haven’t read it yet, you can find the book, ebook or audio at Amazon.com or from your favorite bookseller. Also visit CourageWay.org for more good stuff. Cake by Helen 🙂

The Courage Way: Leading and Living with Integrity is full of stories and practices that show how to draw on courage in all that you do. In the process of writing this book for the Center for Courage & Renewal, I learned how many types of courage exist. I learned that courage takes trust — in true self, community and in the unfolding of life. I learned that reflecting on paradox of seeming opposites creates a flow of wholeness instead of fear. I decided that courage is code word for finding your “voice and agency.” I learned that self care means caring for True Self, body-mind-Heart-gut-Soul.

I learned that in your moments of courage you meet your true self. That’s because Courage is not only in you, it is you. It often takes a community of people to help you discover and remember that.

As a birthday gift to you from the book, here are two free downloads:

It Takes Courage – the poem I wrote before the book, which felt like the haiku version of the book (way longer than a haiku but more fun than starting to write from an outline). Maybe it would be called the haiku hypothesis.

Touchstones for Trustworthy Space – the practices from the Circle of Trust® approach that the book digs into and that leaders are embodying in their lives and organizations

You can find the book, ebook or audio at Amazon or your favorite bookseller. Online reviews are most welcome.

Thanks Berrett-Koehler for publishing this book! Thanks to everyone with the Center for Courage & Renewal… for the people who developed, share and embody the practices of the Circle of Trust approach. Thanks, Courage!

May your coming year be full of more courage, trust and wholeness!

Love Love Love, says Percy

How should I live my life? Thomas Merton asks that question in a beloved way:

“If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for, in detail, ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.”

— Thomas Merton, born on this day in 1915

Ask me not where I live. (I’m free range.)

Ask me not what I like to eat.  (Gluten-free, dairy-free, yet chocolate or coconut)

Ask me not how I comb my hair. (I have brushes not combs.)

Ask me in detail because curiosity creates forward motion.

What am I living for? What am I fighting for? What causes am I for? What am I doing with my days? What for? Why for? Who for?

For fortitude. For fortifying myself and others with strength of heart. Courage. Creative courage. All kinds of courage.

For love. Love, love, love, says Percy, says Mary Oliver.

I read this poem below the day after Mary Oliver died. It was a reprise post from April 2016. Like an oracle that goes back to your past, I wonder what I was doing on April 29, 2016 and if I was loving, trusting, sleeping, or hurrying.

I_Ask_Percy-MaryOliver-1-8-19

I recall what I was doing back then, thanks to my inbox archive. I was playing with my inner artist along the shining beach in New Zealand. One of the best days ever.

Living for a balance of creativity, adventure and love.