In 2014 I set out to explore versions of my former self through books that had been particularly dear. I hypothesized that by identifying their specialness upon first reading them, I had somehow infused their pages with my contextualized self, creating a permanent shadow of me at that particular moment in time.
This notion of marking time and discovering points of connection between former and present versions of self is an idea that has fascinated me ever since I was very young. In my post, “Marking Time” https://marabhuber.com/?s=marking+time I explained,
When I was a young child I had a strange image that would often come to me. I would see myself replicated in a long line with my present self somewhere toward the back and many more versions ahead of me, extending way into the future. In this vision I -my current self- would be waving furiously trying to get the attention of my future selves, but to no avail. In retrospect it seems much of my young life was spent racing ahead trying to catch up to the me(s) in the front, seeking out experiences and ideas that would propel me forward.
For me, books have been time machines, allowing me to revisit, reflect, and sharpen my understanding. But until now, my journeys have always been solitary. So imagine my delight when my youngest daughter, Natalie, joined me for an unexpected journey back in time.
The trigger was a science video detailing the impacts of reintroducing wolves into Yellowstone National Park. Through a series of before and after sequences, the narrator followed the impacts of a single predator on a vast and interconnected ecosystem, demonstrating the far-reaching effects of a single manipulation that was initially deemed small and unimportant.
As I listened to Natalie try to explain why she found this to be so utterly compelling, trying to get her head around how far this idea could be taken and extrapolated, I immediately thought of a similar story that had captured my own imagination when I was her age. It was a short story by Ray Bradbury in which a group of hunters traveled back in time to the age of the dinosaurs. The hunters were led on an adventure that was closely controlled, with clear instructions to never leave the trail, that any misstep could alter the details of history, leading to unforeseen consequences and implications.
As I found myself recounting this story, which I hadn’t read in over thirty years, Natalie seemed to appreciate the significance of connection. She recognized the specialness of a common theme and idea fascinating both of us. She somehow saw – or felt- herself in me and me in her, and we both reveled in the intimacy.
Through the magic of the internet, I was able to quickly identify and download A Sound of Thunder. And within minutes, Natalie and I were huddled under a blanket, both enthralled, infusing the virtual pages with the essence of us- together- at this single precious moment in time.
Other posts about rereads https://marabhuber.com/?s=reread
Have you ever noticed how a particular life lesson can continue to present itself, not relenting until we finally acknowledge its wisdom?
For me, the notion of scale has been a frequent visitor over the past several months, seemingly begging to be explored and appreciated.
So here it goes…
During my recent Global Explorers trip to the US Southwest (see various posts), our Navajo guide mentioned how small and ephemeral we all are relative to the vast permanence of the Canyon walls. He was speaking primarily to the children, explaining that although their lives and struggles can feel massive and all-consuming, we are here for such a brief time, and should feel blessed to experience the beauty and gifts of the earth. He urged them to follow the rhythms of nature, to find comfort in our collective smallness and to respect the spirits that are much bigger and more powerful than ourselves. I was fascinated by his words and their calming effect on the children. Although in many ways our time in Canyon De Chelly was the least adventurous and exciting part of the journey, it would become one of our most precious memories. And for me, seeing the children (including 2 of my own) snuggled cozily under the blanket of stars, rocked by the cradling arms of the Canyon, was a vision that will stay with me forever.
But when I returned home to Buffalo, I sorely missed the towering Canyon walls and the sense of scale that they imposed. As I spoke with parents and students about the beginning of the school year, their anxiety was palpable. They spoke of getting into the best high schools and colleges, of entrance tests and state exams, career paths and well-paying jobs. And as I listened to their worries I envisioned them expanding in size, inflating like floats in the Thanksgiving Parade, getting bigger and bigger until they threatened to burst from their own pressure and size.
When I consider my own journey and especially my efforts in Tanzania, I recognize a similar distortion in sense of scale and significance. If left unchecked, my yearnings to grow, utilize my gifts, and make a difference in the world can lead to feelings of restlessness and anxiety, in turn preventing me from being my best, and giving the most. It’s only through relaxing my need for control and success that the magic of life can finally take hold.
It seems as if we’ve created a world with a distorted sense of scale, striving to become ever bigger towards some over-inflated goal or vision of ourselves. How ironic that the pathway to happiness and fulfillment lies in the realization that we are so very small, and the comfort of allowing ourselves to be cradled within the vastness of the earth. How thankful I am for our time in the Canyon, and the secrets it continues to share.
It begins with a spark, a current of energy that radiates outward, illuminating the darkness and igniting our collective possibilities.
It exists among us in people of all ages and backgrounds. Although some have achieved prominence it is not about money or power in the traditional sense.
Brilliance is an inner light that shines with clarity and purpose, emanating from within while radiating outward, catching and amplifying the light of others, brightening our world.
To behold it, we must be open and ready. For brilliance is most often quiet and understated.
A taxi driver from Ethiopia who sends his children home every summer to remember what’s important; a homeless woman who feels blessed to sleep in a park that is peaceful and safe, asking of nothing and appreciating the gift of life
Sometimes brilliance is bold and dramatic. A friend who funds medical projects in Africa, or Rotary clubs that together eradicate polio around the world
But regardless of the scope or focus, brilliance includes a heightened sense of purpose and meaning that serve as a driver, activating courage and strength, and mitigating fear.
People who shine brilliantly possess an inherent respect for others, and an ability to experience joy and gratitude that nourish their soul and provide all that they need.
To be clear, the world does not cultivate brilliance, nor does it recognize it as such. In fact the very word is defined as a one-dimensional strength, impressive and rare, but somehow different, as if too much.
Perhaps the notion of brilliance is inherently scary. If we were to acknowledge that it exists and represents a superior state that cannot be bought by money, power, or influence, it would be too jarring to address.
In many ways we are unprepared for brilliance, finding it easier to modulate our light, keeping our expectations low and seeking satisfaction in good enough.
After all, those who dare to shine often find their light weakened or snuffed out by others who fail to nurture their flames.
It is ironic that brilliance is viewed as threatening when it has the power to elevate us all.
By merely recognizing brilliance we connect with what is important and are rewarded with a sense of warmth and promise, a clarity that can guide us toward our own growth and fulfillment.
But how can we nurture brilliance, in ourselves and others?
First we must develop our sensitivity- noting shifts in our own levels of radiance and the radiance of others, as conditions change and become more or less conducive.
As we begin to notice changes we can glimpse the sources of our light, feeling out the edges and boundaries and appreciating our impacts and possibilities.
It is critical that we start with ourselves. For t is only when we are shining brightly and able to sustain our own brilliance that we can cultivate it in those around us.
Yes, brilliance is highly combustible, spreading from person to person, eventually lighting up the world.
And although it begins with any one of us, we simply cannot be brilliant alone.
Two simple questions that can illuminate how we see ourselves and our place in the world
“I am a mother of four and an Associate Dean at the University at Buffalo”
“I am a University leader who works to develop and leverage potential toward the greater good”
“I am a connector, facilitator, and creator of new community models and paradigms”
We all have access to an infinite number of descriptors and frames for characterizing who we are and what we do. The way we define or describe ourselves and our life work can vary with our mood, audience, or area of focus. But by putting ourselves out there in a way that is thoughtful and authentic, we can define our space in and for the world and invite others to engage, share, and co-create.
This morning when I was driving my daughters to school I asked them who they are and what they do. Claire quickly announced that she is a gymnast. And Natalie exclaimed that she is a lover of nature and animals. Obviously their depictions are incomplete, yet they serve as bold announcements of their core interests and passions which are still so beautifully clear and accessible.
As we grow older we often lose the brilliance of our passions, strengths, and gifts. We learn to become more understated in our introductions, qualifying the expectations of ourselves and others. We wear our titles and job descriptions like a yoke, yearning to unburden ourselves yet complicit in our own subjugation.
What is our fear of brilliance? Is it the association with bragging, boastfulness, or conceit?
How interesting that narcissism is on the rise with an insatiable thirst for material possessions and status. People yearn to be beautiful, successful, and powerful yet we cannot exclaim the importance of our mission or the passion with which we work and live.
Several years ago my oldest daughter told me that I am not like other mothers in that I love myself so much.
I could tell that her words were not intended to sting or embarrass, but that she was testing out an observation and trying to put her finger on a quality that she was drawn to but also a little afraid. I explained that I do love myself but even more importantly that I love my life. Every day I have opportunities to make a difference, to connect with people, and to learn.
She assured me that this wasn’t a bad thing…. just different.
Sometimes I have the urge to introduce others to the world and to point out the amazing things that make them so unique and important. In doing so, it is my hope that they will begin to see themselves as I do, and to appreciate the gifts that they have and the power that they possess to make a difference.
So try this… pretend that you are me describing you, and ask yourself…
Who am I, and what do I do?
We all need to feel valued. It’s a fundamental ingredient for growth, fulfillment, and virtually all things healthy and good. And yet despite its universal importance, the state of feeling valued remains elusive and slippery, especially for those who struggle most for its attainment.
We are all familiar with the maddening paradox. The harder we work to prove our devotion and worthiness, the more frugal the appreciation and accolades. And the less we receive, the more we seem to crave, leaving us in a perpetual state of neediness and vulnerability, pulling us into the weeds and further from the growth we desire.
Unfortunately, when we live and work from a place of vulnerability, we become consumed with our own fragile state, unable to focus on the needs of others, thus depriving them of our support and attention.
Although this pattern is self-perpetuating, its cessation is within our control. By addressing our fundamental need for feeling valued, and in essence filling ourselves up with meaningful appreciation, we can replace the cycle of vulnerability with one of strength and support.
How can we accomplish such a seismic shift? I share a deceivingly simple exercise that I adapted from a course on mediation. I have found it to be wonderfully powerful and I encourage you to give it a try…
Assemble a small group of people. It doesn’t matter who they are as long as you care about them and they all know one another to some significant degree. I have done this exercise with my own children as well as a group of friends. Please note that there is no need for everyone to be on their best behavior- in fact I find it to be most powerful when my children are at their worst….
You will serve as facilitator and let the group know that you’d like them to participate in an exercise. The instructions are simple: you will all take turns being the focus of the group. Whoever is the focus will sit in a designated chair and listen, accept, and acknowledge the observations that are offered to them. The members of the group will take turns addressing the person of focus by sharing something about them that they particularly admire or appreciate. All are encouraged to be thoughtful in their offerings and not directly repeat something that has already been said. At the end of the their respective turn, the person of focus will return to their seat and continue sharing their own offerings with the other members of the group as they take their turn as the person of focus. As facilitator, you make the first offering for each of the persons of focus, setting the tone and ensuring that the exercise is treated with respect and thoughtfulness.
As the exercise unfolds, allow yourself to observe the energy in the room and how others react to the feedback they receive. Also, pay attention to your own experiences as facilitator, noting how easy it becomes to offer meaningful observations, and the warmth and intimacy that follows.
Perhaps you will be invited to be the person of focus at the end of the exercise, but in some ways it doesn’t really matter. In fact, you may even find yourself declining the invitation in the interest of time or some other priority, since you will already have received the benefits that you need. I have found that the only thing that can effectively quench our thirst for appreciation is to shift our focus off of our own direct needs and experience the fulfillment that comes with helping others to be their best.
My 6-year old has a workshop in her head. She told me about it the other day. I was so impressed and excited for her that I decided to create one of my own.
Natalie’s workshop has lots of different rooms. Her favorite is a screening room that can play any movie or TV show that she’s ever seen. When she’s bored or not allowed to watch television she lies in her bed or pretends to read, and then watches her favorite shows, either from the beginning or just the good parts.
Natalie also has an animal room. Since she loves all animals, this room is very crowded. In it she cares for and plays with puppies, bunnies, and all the cutest babies, but she also sometimes tames the wild animals that nobody likes or wants.
Natalie has other rooms in her workshop but they’re not as interesting. She prefers to spend her time with movies and animals, but perhaps someday that will change. Since her workshop is a mansion there are endless rooms to visit, and she can organize them as she likes or add new rooms as she goes.
Hearing Natalie talk about her workshop is a gift in itself. She speaks with such pride and a sense of knowing- both in terms of the reality of her workshop but also the knowledge that I get it, and her, and that I will always share in her excitement and be worthy of her secrets.
I certainly do get the wonderment that comes with appreciating one’s cognitive capacities and the unlimited possibilities they afford. Although I can’t remember when I first came to my own realization, I continue to be amazed almost on a daily basis.
In some ways, writing my blog has become my own mental workshop. I am able to notice patterns or recognize challenges and then delve into drawers of past observations or theories, weaving together ideas and constructs, and sharing as posts. Doing so allows me to clear my mind and be more present, enjoying my experiences and those with whom I interact, at home, at work, or out in the world.
Like my daughter, I am grateful that I can share my workshop with others who are worthy of my trust. I suppose all workshops are inherently intimate spaces, since our minds focus on what is most precious and dear. It is perhaps through our workshops that we play out our dreams and provide our souls with what they crave.
My Natalie knows so much for a six year old. She seems to know that life is magical and that she has all that she needs to nurture her gifts and dreams. She knows that while she can take comfort in her workshop she can play out her dreams within real life, when she is ready, at her own pace.
I hope that I will continue to be invited to Natalie’s workshop. And I hope that you will continue to visit mine.
Today our children sit for more state tests, a practice that has become steeped in controversy and conflict. Although I often turn off the morning news due to excessive violence, ironically today the bullying being alleged was by our own school district, forcing students to “sit and stare” if they (or their parents) opt out of the test.
As I drove my son to school this morning he asked, “Mom, why do the tests have to be such a big deal. Why can’t kids just take them and be done with it?”
His question drew us into a discussion about fear and how anxiety can lead to negative consequences. I explained that many parents are terrified of anything bad happening to their children and that the notion of academic failure sits pretty high on their lists.
Among other thing, fear of failure can prevent one from taking risks and stretching towards opportunities and goals that may- or may not be- out of reach. Fear also prevents us from learning from our failures, making corrections and modifications that can increase our likelihood for future success. It also prevents us from developing valuable coping mechanisms, being vulnerable when things go wrong, and experiencing the intimacy and growth that can result.
But in addition to a myriad of missed opportunities, fear of failure can promote controlling behaviors associated with anxiety and avoidance, or a need for dominance and superiority- characteristics that are neither pro-social nor conducive to personal growth or fulfillment.
As a parent I see one of my major responsibilities as providing a safe and supportive environment for my children to succeed and fail, and all the variations of outcomes in between. I want them not only to survive their failures, but also to get close to them, exploring their many facets toward the greatest growth, empathy, and learning.
To be clear, I do expect my children to take school seriously as their performance says something important about them and their journey. It reflects their strengths and weaknesses, their work ethic, their priorities at that particular time in their life. But it doesn’t have to define or limit them.
Clearly there are serious problems with high stakes testing. But these specific issues are symptomatic of much deeper and more pervasive problems that are bigger than any specific set of tests that our children are forced to endure. If we address our broken education system solely from a position of fear of failure, we are inadvertently reinforcing the fundamental problem- subjecting our children -all children- to limited notions of opportunities for success. There has to be a better and more powerful way to frame the conversation.
I remember when my daughter was applying to a highly competitive high school. In the face of widespread anxiety about the upcoming entrance test, I asked her if she was stressed. After assuring me that she was fine, she explained, “Mom, it’s no big deal if I don’t get in. All I’m looking for is options.”
In the end I guess that’s really all we want for our children, and ourselves- options. Perhaps by confronting our own fears of failure, we can remove some of the “high stakes” associations with education and parenting, and focus more fully on our children’s growth and learning.