Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘personal transformation’

I have not wanted to write on the Topic of Scars. Why? All the more reason to dig in. I see the tiny nicks on my hands and wrists every day. They remind me of what I was doing when I got them. Pulling the stainless steel blade across a grinding wheel when the dental tool shot into the air, gravity intervened, it landed on top of my hand. Lathering dark brown bees wax across handmade paper and birch bark, drips of scalding wax on my wrists.

The next thing I think about is the stage of life I was in when those things happened. My twenties in Montana. I went from moving cross country and having no job, to working at a gas station for a while, then went to the job center, took a dexterity test, and landed at a dental tool sharpening company on Reserve Street. Looking back, it was a crazy time in my life. The second scar, art school, late nights, living on fumes. I felt alive, on the edge of something.

Last night on the news, there was a woman being interviewed about her daughter. She is a few days away from giving birth and in a burn unit. She was sitting around the fire ring with some teenage friends when a couple of the boys threw bottles filled with gas into the flames. She got up to leave, turned to look back, and that’s when the bottle exploded. She still has not looked at the scars on her face. Scarred for life. Holding on to a past that is not there anymore. Maybe that is what a scar indicates — change. A past event, no longer the present, still impacting our bodies and minds in some unexplainable way.

Scars represent choices we made along the way. More so if they were obtained as adults, while we were undertaking a task that might have been unfamiliar to us. Or maybe we were tired and running a chainsaw, or working around chemicals, machinery, fire. There are deeper scars, emotional, that grip like the vise, unless we work to let go of them. Feelings of abandonment, abuse, uncertainty. Maybe a close loved one died when we were young. Our parents were divorced or in an accident. We moved from California to North Dakota, Georgia to Pennsylvania, where cultures are polar opposites. I learned to run from scars when I was a young adult. Dug in my heels. At some point, I just dug in, and did the work. The work of transforming those experiences into fuel for the future.

That’s the part I like to see in the novels I read. I like to notice where the person took the wisdom of age and transmuted some horrific event in their lives into a spark of passion, into something better. Maybe they became a doctor or nurse and gave back to others. Maybe they raised their children to have a different life than the one they led. I am noticing when I listen to The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich, noticing how she wraps the characters’ lives around them at the end of the book, like a woven sheep blanket, one with an uneven stitch, a place of imperfection where Spirit can enter. I want to study the structure of the book, look for places in her life that might have contributed to the details she writes about.

I do that with fiction. I scour the novel for tidbits of truth, something that relates to the writer’s own life, the scars they may have endured. If I know the writer well, have read their life story, or they have written a memoir, I can get under the surface, read between the lines. Of course, it’s only my take on things. Every reader has her own version of the same story. That’s the deliciousness of writing. And reading. And of living. None of my five siblings ever remember my stories, the narrative of our growing up, the way I remember them. And neither do my parents.

When I went to see The Scottsboro Boys at the Guthrie a few weeks ago, that is what I noticed. That we bring to a piece of art or writing, our own age, history, and experience. And our baggage. We attended the after-play discussion and listened to members of the audience talk about race, prejudice in the North and the South, about the minstrel shows and what they represented, about scars our country has left behind. Scars that slowly heal. And become transformed.

It is slow. And each time we take a giant step, everything splashes back in our faces, knocking the breath out of us. There is a backlash that becomes tempered with time. America is a country of extremes. We elect a black President yet have a hard time looking at the legacy leading up to the moment in time when we elected him. History is behind us, yes. But not really. If you had seen The Scottsboro Boys, you would know what I mean. I was pushed to laughter and tears from the scars. Yet, it opened me. That is what good art does. It opens us. If you can’t look back, you can’t really go forward. At least, that is what I believe. Scars are teachers. What have I learned?



-Related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC – SCARS, and Guest practice, PRACTICE – SCARS – 15min by Louis Robertson

NOTE: Scars is a Writing Topic on red Ravine. Guest writer Louis Robertson was inspired to join QuoinMonkey and ybonesy in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

Read Full Post »

You know what I think of when I think of the word “impeccable”? I see Felix Unger from The Odd Couple. Remember Felix? He was impeccable in his behavior. Tidy and organized, precise. Precision, yes, that’s what I think of.

But the way this first agreement flows, Be impeccable with your word, well, the word “word” modifies the word “impeccable.” Impeccable is the adjective, and yet the object is what seems to modify in this case. We’re not talking about washing a dirty dish the moment Oscar lays it on the table after eating a hot dog. We’re talking words, powerful, meaningful words. Words that we yield.

They can be swords, daggers, a pat on the back. I remember a note from a colleague, not too long ago, that made me cry, a note she sent me by email in response to a note I had sent to someone else. My note was just a short thing, three or four lines giving praise to a new person we’d hired. I wanted the manager of that person to know how impressed I was with the new person’s attitude and performance. The colleague whose note made me cry had seen my feedback and said something like, “Roma, in case no one has told you today, thank you for caring so deeply about the people you work with.”

Just that one line. She was impeccable with her word. It was a reverberation, me being impeccable with mine, then me getting it back from someone else.

Don Miguel Ruiz says that with this first agreement alone, we can transform our lives. It’s that powerful. Don’t criticize unduly. Don’t abuse others with your words. Importantly, say what you mean and mean what you say. Live up to your verbal commitments. Be impeccable with your word even as you use it on yourself. Don’t let your inner critic bring you down. Those are words, too, the ones inside your head.

Dad was impeccable with his word. Words were important to him. They still are. He still wants to be heard. When I was a teenager and unwilling to listen, he wrote his words down in two or three letters he then slipped under the closed door of my bedroom or left on the kitchen table for me to open after he left for work. He was like Felix Unger in some ways, a tidy man with small and precise handwriting. His handwriting is shaky now, but then his writing looked like a professional cursive font.

The letters he wrote on yellow legal pads, and so he fit a lot of words on them. He told me the things he had tried to say to me but that I would shut down. What was important to him, the things he wanted to pass on, the wisdom he wanted to impart. He worried about me, the friends I had chosen, my boyfriend. He acknowledged that even though I had many bad habits, I was still keeping up my grades, and for that he was grateful.

He did pass something on to me, didn’t he? His honesty with words. That’s a powerful gift. And Mom passed on her love of words, too, the gift of gab, the love of gossiping. And even though don Miguel Ruiz says that gossip is a form of not being impeccable — and what exactly is the opposite of “impeccable”? Peccable? — I don’t believe that gossip is always bad. Not when it binds a family, becomes part of the way they communicate. A network. Stories passed down.

No, I think the opposite of being impeccable with your word is being careless and messy, or being mean-spirited with your precision, using your words like a scalpel. We can cut out a piece of someone’s heart with our words. Or making a commitment and then not meeting it.

And when we’re not impeccable, like I can tend to be at times, that’s human. But for the most part people are good. We just make mistakes, all of us, at different times. Sometimes we go through many years making the same mistakes, and other times, maybe when we’re older, we start to see our patterns and try harder to not repeat them.




-Related to post WRITING TOPIC — THE FOUR AGREEMENTS

Read Full Post »

In 1997, Toltec nagual (shaman) don Miguel Ruiz published a small book called The Four Agreements. The book laid out in practical terms four agreements one can make with oneself, a code of conduct to live by to transform one’s life. The idea is that these four agreements would replace or at least augment the many agreements we’ve carried with us since we were children—many harmful to our well-being—about our self-worth, our abilities, and life in general.

I learned about the book in 2000, after a particularly difficult year. I was on the brink of leaving my career. I was struggling in my marriage and with being a mother. I was unhappy and didn’t know what to do about it. My boss at the time, with whom my relationship was all but broken, gave me the book. She had just returned from a short sabbatical from work. She seemed transformed and credited the change to the wisdom of Ruiz. She handed out copies of the book to members of her staff, and then within a matter of a few weeks or months, she retired.

I remember when she gave me the book, at first I saw it as an olive branch. I had at one point before my boss left on her sabbatical become so enraged at her over matters at work that I let loose with a verbal assault that surprised even me. In my younger days I had the mouth of a sailor, but I rarely let my emotions get out of hand. Not so that year. I dropped the F-bomb on my boss like it was going out of style. In hindsight, it was amazing that she didn’t fire me for insubordination. That she could give me any gift at all seemed hugely generous.

Later, when I opened the book and saw what it contained, I took the gift as an insult. A category tag on the back of the book identified it as Personal Growth / Self-Help. I felt my former boss was trying to tell me that that I needed help; I was immature enough then to believe that I was perfectly fine and that she was the one who needed help. Reluctantly I read the book.


Fast forward to 2010. I think about my former boss now and again. I know now that not only did I in fact need help those many years ago, The Four Agreements was exactly the right kind of help. Had I been living them at the time, I would not have made the assumption that my former boss was giving me the book as way of trying to tell me something.

Recently I had the opportunity, thanks to the generosity of my good friend Patty, to see don Miguel Ruiz in Albuquerque and hear him and his son, don Jose Ruiz, talk about a new book they jointly wrote called The Fifth Agreement: A Practical Guide to Self-Mastery. This was the first time I’d seen either Ruiz in person. I didn’t take notes during the packed talk. I sat in the back of the Unitarian church where they spoke. I listened with an open heart. After the talk, the elder Ruiz left (we learned he had only partial heart functioning after a near-fatal heart attack in 2002) while the younger stayed in the church and signed books.


don jose ruiz and pattydon jose ruiz and roma

light and love, photos of Patty (left) and Roma with don Jose Ruiz, emanating light and love, May 19, 2010, Albuquerque, photos © 2010, all rights reserved.




Don Miguel Ruiz came from a family of healers. His mother was a curandera and his grandfather a nagual. From the book jacket of The Four Agreements, “The family anticipated that Miguel would embrace their centuries-old legacy of healing and teaching, and carry forward the esoteric Toltec knowledge. Instead, distracted by modern life, Miguel chose to attend medical school and become a surgeon.”

After nearly losing his life in a car accident, Ruiz devoted himself to becoming a nagual. He has passed on the knowledge to his son, Jose Luis, and together they are promoting The Fifth Agreement. I am reading The Fifth Agreement now, and already it has hit home for me the wisdom and power of that original small book.

I have in small but perceptible ways been transformed by Ruiz’s four agreements. They’re not easy to live by. Some are harder than others. Some I recall daily. Here they are, with a short excerpt about each:



be impeccable with your word


Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.



don’t take anything personally


Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.



don’t make assumptions


Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.



always do your best


Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.





Perhaps you are familiar with don Miguel Ruiz and his books of wisdom, or maybe this is the first time you’ve heard of any of this. In either case, reflect on the four agreements and think about what they mean to you. Write each agreement at the top of your notebook and then do a 10- or 15-minute Writing Practice on each one. If this is your first exposure to this Toltec wisdom, buy the books or check them out from your local library and take the time to learn more about them and their author. Let us know if your writings about the agreements resonate with the writings in the books.

Read Full Post »