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Shedding Skin (and Wings)

Given the subject matter of this blog post, it would be more appropriate to show a snake shedding its skin, but snakes give me the heebie jeebies for no reasonable reason, so instead, I chose this beautiful photographic representation of the goddess Diana shooting an arrow into the wind.  How often are the changes we make like shooting an arrow into the wind, not knowing how external factors (the wind, the lay of the land, the movement of living bodies around it) might affect our efforts or how our efforts might affect others? This, of course, brought Longfellow’s famous poem into mind: I shot an arrow into the air, It fell to earth, I knew not where; For so swiftly it flew, the sight Could not follow it in its flight. I breathed a song into the air, It fell to earth, I knew not where; For who has sight so keen and strong, That it can follow the flight of song? Long, long afterward, in an oak I found the arrow, still unbroke; And the song, from beginning to end, I found again in the heart of a friend.

When we change, we have always take a chance, not knowing the ripple effects of that change.  Whether subtle or profound, spoken or unspoken, we have an existing dynamic with everyone around us that was born the moment we met them and developed throughout every subsequent encounter. It is a mutually agreed upon give and take based on the energies we seek out and emit.  When we decide to take an active role in changing who we are in either a minor or a fundamental way, we affect every interpersonal dynamic in our life.  Some relationships welcome the change and others do not. When we change an existing dynamic, particular those that are long-held, without the permission of the other person involved, it is not always well-received.

It is very easy to become trapped in a paralysis of inertia because we are afraid of how others will reaction to or be affected by the changes we consider. Granted, there are some changes that cause profound pain to others, such as the decision to divorce or to change jobs or to relocate or to release someone from our life or create greater distance or even to take our own life.  In other cases, we overestimate or misjudge what impact the change will have on others because truly, we can only process ideas from our own perspective when it comes right down to it.

An example that I use in my upcoming book When I Die, Just Bury Me at the WalMart illustrates how often we sacrifice what we want because we believe that the impact to others would be too great.  A woman I know went back to college when her children completed grade school and showed tremendous prospect in the field of criminal justice.  She get her AA and was encouraged by her professors to pursue this interest and talent further.  She had three pre-teen children at home and although her dream was to work as a prosecutor in the District Attorney’s office, she decided not to continue that career path because of the amount of time away from home it would require.  Instead, she left college after her two-year degree and continued raising her children.  When the last of her children graduated high school, she took a job as an office assistant at an elementary school.  Years later, at a Thanksgiving gathering with all three of her now-grown children, the subject of ambition came up.  She encouraged her children strongly to follow their dreams and not allow anything to keep them from achieving their goals.  When one of her children asked her if her dream had been to work with kids, she surprised them by saying, “No, I wanted to be a prosecuting attorney.”  When they pressed her for more information and she told them why she made her choice, they looked at one another, stunned. One of them finally said, “Mom, we would have much preferred that you were happy than that you were always here.  I wish you had trusted us to be able to handle the responsibility of letting you be what you wanted to be.”

Are all children this selfless and would these kids have felt the same way in the moment had she made a different choice? It’s hard to say. What I do know for a fact is that we often sacrifice when no one asks us to do so.  I have often told the story about the time I tried an experiment with my family without telling them.  For thirty days, *I* took the biggest piece of chicken.  *I* took the last piece of cake.  *I* said, “You know, I really don’t want to do that right now” when I was asked to drive a child to a play date that would take more than two hours out of my day.  *I* decided where we would eat for dinner when we went out on a date.  *I* held the TV remote and chose a channel.  For me, these are all big sacrifices and a major leap into taking control in the family.  For years, my answers were “Oh, whatever you want to watch is fine” or “I don’t know, what are you in the mood to eat?” or “Sure, no problem. I’ll get my coat.”  I only helped out if I wanted to do so.  I ate what I wanted to eat.  I watched what I wanted to watch.

The punch line to this?  Get ready: No one noticed.  Sure, the kids had a pout over not getting to do what they wanted every time, but they rebounded very quickly.  The day was not ruined.  If someone came home and found the last piece of pie was gone, they moved on to something else.  My husband was actually grateful to not make all of the decisions all of the time and appreciated hearing where I wanted to eat or what I wanted to watch.

No one noticed that I was doing what I wanted to do and that meant that I was only sacrificing for myself and not for them.

That was a mind-blowing moment for me. Again, is this always going to be the way it rolls out?  Of course not.  When you set up your life around the needs and wants of others and then that dynamic shifts, there will certainly be times that people notice and notice in a big way.  They will, however, get over it.  What they will not get over very quickly is being taught from their formative years that only their needs are important and the needs and wants of those around them are not to be considered.  I am not saying we should let babies “cry it out” and should teach toddlers that their needs are not to be met.  This creates insecure, fearful people who do not trust the world or people around them.  What I am saying is that as our children grow to the point of a certain degree of independence, they should be made aware that other people are also important in the matrix of a family and that the world does not rise and fall around their every thought and wish.  As I told my daughter, Delena, from the time she was of somewhat rational thought (around five or so), “Sometimes, the answer is ‘no.'”  

Sometimes, learning how to say “No” with love is one of the greatest gift we can give ourselves and, interesting enough, to others because it means you care enough about them to want to keep your feelings toward them positive and pure.  Granted, how they react to you saying “No” may change how you feel about them, but the difference is that if you do what they ask with resentment, then you are contaminating the relationship with your choice.  If they behave poorly because you said “No,” then they are the ones who are contaminating the relationship.

Above all, we have to be responsible for ourselves first, both in controlling our behavior and in protecting ourselves.  There is a reason why the airline safety instructions tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, then help others.  If you are depleted and exhausted, you are of little service to anyone.

All of that brings us back around to choices and shifting dynamics without the permission of others who are involved.  It can be a dicey situation where people react poorly or it can be that, as in the case I described above, no one is affected enough to notice.  Regardless, we have to make sure to chose the behaviors that will best serve our own interests.  Sometimes, we have to tell our kids, our parents, our best friends, our employers, and our spouses “No” because it is what is for our own greatest good. It has been my experience that for those who are uncomfortable doing this and begin taking baby steps toward shifting our behaviors into a pattern that serves our own needs better, that it goes better than they expect it will.  Often, the people who we thought would resist most turn out to be our greatest cheerleaders.  Sometimes, the people who we thought would be our greatest allies turn out to be the biggest whiny butts about our choices to improve our lives.  It really is a crap shot.

Why go into this now?  Because we are a good three weeks into those “New Year’s resolutions” and most likely, some of the fallout is starting to roll.  This may be the time when we have to stand up for ourselves and make the tough choices to continue on our path even in the face of resistance.  We have to love ourselves enough to put US first and trust others to manage how they feel about that.  Sometimes, we have to learn to say “No” to them to be able to say “Yes” to ourselves.

There are two things I recently read on the internet that fit right into this conversation.  One is about Diana and her arrow.  In order to shoot an arrow as far as it can go, we first have to pull it backward – in the direction we do not intend for it to go – before we let go and let it sail.  When you begin your path of change and transformation, do not get discouraged if there is some backward momentum.  It too is part of the process.  Let it happen and then let the tension you feel from that step backward propel you forward into your greatest success.

For so swiftly it flew, the sight Could not follow it in its flight.

The second thing I found was a very apt and poignant observation by one of my favorite mentors, Dr. Christiane Northrup, who said, “A snake that does not shed its skin will die.”

We have to let go of the old version of ourselves and allow the newly transformed self to come forth or we too will die.  We must let go of the past and of dead behaviors that no longer serve us and embrace the change or we will become stagnant and will live an unfulfilled life.  It is never easy to expose that vulnerable, raw new skin to the light and to the world itself.  Soon, however, that skin will be the old skin and we will emerge anew once again.  When we let go of the circumstances and behaviors that keep us from progressing, we can have greater faith in ourselves to manage future ventures into change.  When change is thrust upon us by life, several successful voluntary experiences with change increase the ability for us to open our arms and welcome what is happening rather than fighting against it.  By shedding our skins, we learn that change can be wonderful rather than something to be feared.

How can we not be afraid of change if we have no experience with it? If we remain transfixed in one place, never reaching, never growing, never changing, soon everything is perceived as a threat because change is a natural process and will occur with or without our consent.  If we make our own change and push forward past our comfort places to exercise our muscles of change, then change becomes more familiar and we see the many benefits.

Only then will we fly so swiftly that sight cannot even follow our flight.

I added “and Wings” to the title of this blog post only because I just bought several more fairies at the thrift store and true to tradition, one of the larger one dropped her wings the second she was in the house.  This happens with astounding frequency.  I mean seriously, WTF?