Sunlight for Survivors
Sweet. Kind. Peaceful. These are the qualities of my personality I have deemed “acceptable” for as long as I can remember. I don’t like conflict; I like harmony. I don’t like pain; I like peace.
But, oh mama, these qualities are not the whole of me. I have fierceness, fire, and strength. I am learning to speak my truth loudly even if it may trigger resistance, judgement, or turmoil in others.
This came to light recently in a conversation with my new soul sister, Catherine. She asked me if I ever worked with the goddess Kali, the skull-wearing, fiery dark mother of the Hindu tradition.
“Ugh, no,” was my response. “I am repulsed by her. I am resistant to the darkness, pain, and struggle of life. I want joy and light, all the time.”
There it was-the story of my life in a few sentences. I knew immediately that something had to change. I could not keep pushing away the pain and darkness that come with human existence. I mean this is a literal way. I have been experiencing intense physical pain over the past few months, and it has made me understand the futility of trying to avoid discomfort.
Even the idea of a fierce, dark mother made me squeamish. Yet I saw that I could not recoil anymore. I listened to an online course called, “Invite the Inner Kali Power.” And in less than 24 hours I was at her feet, inviting Kali to take me over with her bad-ass energy.
Oh, my rational mind was doing flips and contortions over how strange this all seemed. Wasn’t Kali a myth? And furthermore, how could I follow a goddess that many people hate?
But I realized I don’t believe Kali lives in the sky or has any form at all. She is an archetype of a fierce and loving mother that lives within me. I am opening to her fiery power as a source of inner guidance. She represents the wholeness of life and death, light and darkness. She represents the two sides of my being that I am trying to integrate.
Pastel and watercolor artwork by Sara Giita Flores (that's me!)
Channeling Kali’s strength, I can explore the painful parts of myself that I have pushed away out of fear that the sensations would overwhelm me. I can crawl out from under my rock and embrace the turmoil, pain, and destruction in the world. I can show up as a force of healing and wholeness.
I felt the rightness of loving Kali in my soul. I am ready to embrace pain and strip away my fears.
I am ready to be rebirthed by fire.
When we only focus on strength, we are likely to be hard on ourselves or others. Ick, that is not what I want. I spent enough years beating myself up, thank you very much. But when we only focus on compassion, we run the risk of being a pushover in life. Not so appealing either. My intention for 2020 is to cultivate a balance between my inner strength and self-compassion. Challenges arise and I need some warrior courage to confront them. But I wish to let in the kindness and compassion as well; failure and pain will sometimes knock me down and I don't need my loud-mouthed inner critic to pile on the shame.
While 2019 has brought its own pain for me, I feel myself growing and stepping into my power more authentically as I emerge. I am uncovering my inner warrior. She only grows stronger as she overcomes the obstacles. She perseveres.
And I see the strength in you, my friend. May your intentions for the coming year be a guiding light as you step into your power!
I see so much joy in her eyes as she is dancing. Exhaustion in my voice, I tell her, “Let’s practice piano.” I open up her book and point to the song of the week. But she doesn’t hear. Her inner compass points to a more free form of artistry as she hums a spontaneous song and dance.
Often she is still wearing her school uniform in the evening, evidence of how much structure we impose on her childlike joy. But tonight she is wearing her ballet leotard, a tutu made of an old blue bandana, and a purple feather boa that is losing most of its feathers.
She is radiant. She is submerged in the divine flow of the moment.
Photo by Gabby Orcutt on Unsplash
My heart aches, longing to reclaim that endless capacity for joy. For playing and expressing simply because it feels good. I had that once. But one fateful afternoon, my friend’s dad sexually assaulted me. I was only five years old, the same age my daughter is now. And after that playdate, I never again felt quite so free and unencumbered. I could still glimpse my childlike, joyful expression when playing by myself. But in the company of others, I felt a new alertness to ensuring my safety by never upsetting anyone.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I began to face this trauma that had cast a dark cloud over my life. In therapy, I often came up against the feeling of having been robbed. I believed the bad man had stolen my playful spirit, and it was forever lost to me.
But as I watch my daughter’s shining face and expressive arms, I realize my own spirit was never stolen. It was just squashed. Compressed under the weight of fear. But my joyful five-year-old is still inside, ready to play and create and smile just for fun.
Sometimes my inner child pouts because I spend so much of my life focused on responsibilities. And that ain’t gonna change any time soon. If I were to completely renounce adulthood, I think my family would be very tired and hungry and generally drifting through chaos.
“Let’s strike a deal,” I tell my playful, childlike parts. We will still fulfill those adult responsibilities. But we can also join in the dancing and tutus. We can paint and scribble. We can sit down at the piano and let the notes pour out. We can laugh and be silly and go down the slide at the park.
If I play long enough, the adult part of my psyche will eventually look at the clock and say, “It’s time to brush our teeth and go to bed.” As humans, we have the capacity to be both mature and childlike at the same time. We can grow into responsible adults and still remember how to play and create and find beauty in life’s simple pleasures.
I believe we all still carry our childhood joy inside, in spite of the many ways society tries to beat it out of us. The dull dampening into “adulthood” may come from trauma or cruelty, or from something more difficult to spot such as comparison to others, media messages, disapproval, or pressure to conform. Precious few of us arrive into adulthood with our delightful inner child shining proudly.
But whatever may have happened in the past, it is never too late to reclaim our pure, childlike joy. When we embrace all parts of ourselves, resentment and pain softens. We just may discover a little one within who has been patiently waiting for us to reach out a hand and say, "Will you dance with me?”
I would be honored. Just let me find my feather boa.
I have never labeled myself as a "people-pleaser" but the tendency is there nonetheless. It is no secret that girls are conditioned to be nice and make others happy. And if you have ever been victimized, you may have found yourself with a ferocious urge to be everything to everybody. It is all an attempt to stay safe.
But of course, we cannot make everyone happy. There will always be someone who doesn't like what we are doing. There will always be people who withhold their approval.
So why not drop the people-pleasing and instead let our authentic joy shine through? Why not remind ourselves every day that we are enough as we are? When we are kind to ourselves. we spread far more happiness than trying to fit ourselves into anyone else's mold.
I have been telling myself I have just been too busy to write. Everything else on the to-do list felt much more urgent than this humble blog. But the truth came out this morning, when a compassionate friend told me she enjoys reading every post but noticed the blog had stopped recently. As my eyes misted over I said, "I guess I have been asking myself why I am doing this. What is the point?"
Yes, that was the deeper truth behind my claims of being too busy. In my internal excavation, my shovel ran into another layer of unworthiness. When I feel that hard barrier my first instinct is always to give up. I back away and tell myself whatever I am trying to do is not worth it. In this case, I felt the emotional labor of writing and sharing my feelings was not going to make a difference in the world.
But as I let the tears fall as I spoke the truth to my friend, I saw clearly that I do not need to live forever in fear of that layer of unworthiness. Because once I have rested my muscles and stepped away from my obstacles, I see the shovel is not my only tool. How could I forget the waters of love and self-compassion? My friend's encouraging words reminded me that I can soften any seemingly rock-hard barrier with love. She said, "Don't ask why. Just keep creating. If it helps just one person, you are making the world a better place."
Once again, kindness is what keeps me going.
Photo by James Fitzgerald on Unsplash
As I write this I am on a bus going over the foggy Golden Gate Bridge, at the end of a very meaningful visit with my two dear friends in California. And rather than being seeped in unworthiness, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Because I am surrounded by people who keep choosing kindness and bravery, even in the face of suffering. And we are willing to keep creating, keep giving, and keep showing up for each other to spread love in the world.
“I used to be so certain about everything,” I noticed as I recently pulled up the lyrics to one of the first songs I wrote at age twenty-two. My self-doubts seem to have been buried more deeply back in those days when I felt I could conquer the world if I had the right attitude.
In that exuberant first song, I wrote: “positive thinking will bring victory.” I no longer see life as so black and white- sometimes those “negative” thoughts and feelings have to be felt. Denying our experiences for the sake of pretending we have a positive mindset will only take our growth so far.
Yet I yearn to regain a little bit of that certainty and buoyancy from my early twenties. So today I am singing the refrain from “I Will Thrive:”
I wrote it in a yellow notebook while riding in the crowded backseat of a road-tripping car. And even though I have never managed to completely bid my doubts goodbye, I am reclaiming the certainty that I will thrive.
Sara Giita Flores
My mom gave me watercolor paints for my birthday. At first I was intimidated when I saw they were professional quality. I thought "I don't know how to use these! I'm not a real artist!" Then I reminded myself that only matters if I am attached to the final outcome of my creations. If my goal is to create professional watercolor paintings, then I'd need to be concerned with my skill. But if I let it be about exploring and playing with color, and not caring if the end result is "good enough", then I can reclaim the joy of painting I knew in my childhood.
And what a joy it is! For my first painting, I splashed paint all over the place and mixed the colors together. For the second, I decided to paint a colorful background and write with markers the message of the day:
Leave me a comment about your favorite ways to be playful! And if you don't have any, think about what you loved to do as a child, with no purpose or end result in mind...
I wrote the following post a full year ago, but my fear of rejection made me procrastinate for months before I started this blog. As I still struggle with making myself vulnerable, it seemed like a good time to share the beauty of baby grapes.
Last year, it snowed in May, killing off the crop of budding peaches and grapes in our yard. As I dare to make my dreams reality, I fear I may be met with the same fate. I fear failure. I fear I may not deserve an amazing, bountiful life, and I will be left where I started, feeling small and disheartened.
Yet, nature is not deterred. This spring, the most amazingly tiny bunches of grapes and budding peaches adorn the plants. There is no guarantee of their survival. They may get killed off. Yet the plants are not deterred and attempt to fulfill their destiny year after year.
These are the actual baby grapes from my actual backyard!
When I found myself pregnant at age 24, I thought I had to give up my dream of being a professional musician. Deep inside, I didn't feel that I was good enough anyway, but I covered that up with telling myself I needed to devote all my time to my work and parenting.
On the surface, everything looked fine. I had a beautiful family, we ate organic food, we read books like crazy and often walked to the park. Yet underneath the surface, I felt parched by relegating my creative gifts to the back burner. I still wrote songs, but I rarely performed them.
I was like dry, cracked earth. Without the life-giving water of creativity, I could survive but I could not flourish. Once I started valuing the time I devote to music and writing, everything shifted. My bushy green branches emerged, creativity bringing life to my long-suppressed voice.
Now I must be clear that I still get dry spells. I still get fears. But now I know to honor my creative self no matter what responsibilities or challenges emerge. Just singing for five minutes can change my entire day. I do not know what impact my creative expressions may have on this beautiful Earth. But I know that as long as I can see the sunrise I must keep on creating. I must try, just like those baby grapes that never give up.