I sat down this morning to meditate. One of my rituals is to choose a card from my “Wisdom of the Crones” deck. I bought it a couple of years ago when I was about to have my hysterectomy, which seemed at the time to be a dividing line between my youth and my old age. I’m only 51, but I’ve wanted to embrace my “crone-ness” for a while now. My long gray hair, my wrinkles, my less-than-svelte figure. I am all about honoring that, some of it being harder than others. At the same time I have cultivated friendships with women in their older years, whose wisdom and humor and insight inform my life in such powerful ways. I want to be like them. And I want to be that to other, younger women, too. This is why I choose a card from my Crone deck. Sage Woman Inspiration. I have used those cards for art journaling prompts and for meditation focus and they always give me something good to consider.
Today I sat down to meditate with this question: Why can’t I make up my mind?
I just returned from three days away from it all: my life, my family, my responsibilities. I went to the beach, solo, to find some clarity. What I definitely found was peace and quiet. The soothing sound of the waves, the warm sun on my skin. The cool sand beneath my feet. I read, I wrote, I napped, I walked. It was a fantastic respite from life as I know it.
I went to find clarity. And while I was there, I had it.
I stayed at the beach house of some old friends of ours, Sam and Ilana, and it is such a haven, all wood that glows, comfy furniture, a view of the ocean. They so generously offered their home to me (they mostly use it on the weekends) and that was such a gift. Taking a break from the non-stopness of my life, the distractions of my life, is so hard to do and so important. It was a true retreat.
After three open and quiet days you think I’d have more clarity about what I want to do, what I want to focus on. Specifically, I was hoping to gain clarity about my new passion for teaching art journaling and my new focus of sharing myself with the world via a new website, classes in person and online, and a gallery of my work.
I went to find clarity. And when I came home, I lost it.
I am in the middle of Megan Auman’s Do/Teach ecourse, readying myself to launch my “signature” online course. It is a class packed with information and opportunities and I’m learning so much, but I’m also falling behind because I can’t seem to pinpoint what the hell I want to do and what people want to learn from me. One of my problems is that I have so many ideas! (Not a problem, Megan says, put them on your list for later.) I go back and forth between them trying to find the perfect one, the one that will entice the most people, the one I am the most passionate about and the most prepared to teach.
As soon as I think I have a grasp on what I want to do, what my next class offering should be, how to describe myself, it seems to slip through my fingers, just like sand, and is lost in the swirl of ideas, fears of failure, and too many options.
Last night, as I continued to stew about the topic for my very first online offering, it actually occurred to me that maybe I don’t even want to be an art journaling guru.
At the beach I thought I’d landed on the one. I got excited about the possibilities. When the questions and niggling doubts surfaced, I recognized that this wasn’t the only course I’d ever teach, my other ideas would have their time, too. And coming home from the beach was sort of a deadline. Time to move forward with that idea. But, actually, coming back home feels more like coming before the Judge and suddenly I don’t feel very resolved after all.
Judge: And Susie, what have you to say about your chosen path?
Me: Um, Your Honor, I think I would like to teach courses in person that combine art journaling, expression and self-reflection. And I’d like to do the same online.
Judge: I’m sorry, Susie, but I don’t know that you have enough experience with that. Have you published your art journal pages in national magazines?
Me: Well, no.
Judge: Have you published books full of beautiful art journaling pages of your own creation?
Me: Um, no, no I haven’t.
Judge: Are you aware that there are many other famous art journalists out there who have over 2000 likes on Facebook and a following of thousands more on their blogs? Are you aware that people pay good money to travel around the world to their art and creativity retreats?
Me: Yes, yes Your Honor. I am quite aware of that. I may have even liked some of their Facebook pages myself.
Judge: They’re famous, Susie Miller. What about you?
Last night I thought, “Maybe you should have spent some time considering the possibility that all of this is a fraud, that you don’t really want to be an art journaling teacher.”
As much as I might think that that is me talking, me being cautious, I realize now that that is one of my Inner Critics. It is the voice that throughout my life has led me away from really pushing myself to achieve greatness. Throughout my life that voice has always been so well dressed that I really always believed that I didn’t want to compete, that I didn’t want to get to that top spot in anything I did. For all my life, Really Goodness is all that I aspired to. Greatness just is not something I was interested in. “I’m not at all competitive,” I’d tell people. “I’m not at all competitive,” I’d tell myself.
It’s only lately that I realize that in fact I’m quite competitive, but I am afraid to put myself out there to really compete. And by compete I mean to be as big as I can be. I’m afraid to lose. I’m afraid to look like a fool. I’m afraid to find out that I’m not enough.
I might even be afraid to find out how big I actually am.
Throughout my life I have developed intricate and convincing strategies for avoiding competition. In junior high, rather than practice my ass off on the flute and compete for first chair in band (against my best friends, in fact, which made the stakes even higher), I decided to play piccolo. My flute teacher was one of the preeminent piccoloists in the world, playing in the Los Angeles Philharmonic, so he was a good person to study piccolo with, no question. And it was really fun. Piccolos had solos, so I got to shine since other kids weren’t rushing out to get a piccolo to compete against me. That lasted all through high school. I was head piccoloist in the marching band and wind ensemble. I never did make it to orchestra (where the best wind instrumentalists would be) because I just didn’t have time. That didn’t interest me. And of course, that would mean stepping up my piccolo and flute playing game to a whole new level…and competing.
Another strategy I’ve employed was becoming Jill of All Trades, Master of None. I’m almost a master of many though. I can knit well, I can sew well, I can write well. But I don’t push myself to go to the next level. Recently, I was outed about my guitar playing. I took up guitar 32 years ago and became a songleader, guitar in hand, almost immediately. For most of that time it’s been easy to do well. I’ve taught at preschools, Jewish schools, led songs around campfires, and noodled around at home. But a couple of weeks ago I was rehearsing with my friend Lorenzo, who I sing with at my new synagogue, Congregation Ner Shalom, and it came up that I didn’t want to, nay couldn’t, play any songs that had bar chords. Now a bar chord is a chord that requires you to press your index finger down across all the strings while using your other fingers to form the chord and for me it’s very hard to do. Whether it’s that my guitars don’t have narrow enough necks for the size of my hand or that I don’t have enough hand strength or I just never tried hard enough to practice it until I got it perfect, I’ve just never mastered bar chords in these past 32 years. I’ve avoided them, transposed songs that had them, and used my capo to change the key. When I play by myself I can get around it. But with other guitarists? I have to either bow out or convince them to play in a key that works for my basic chord skills. “I’ve never needed to play bar chords in 32 years,” I told Lorenzo that night, “and I’m 51 and, dammit, I don’t have to start now.” He laughed, we laughed, and I put my guitar down for the songs we were rehearsing that had bar chords and just sang. Lorenzo is an exceptional classical guitarist. I can’t do any of the stuff he can do on guitar. And he’s also a sweetheart. So he let me be. But a couple nights later, warming up for services, he let slip to one of the other musicians that I can’t play bar chords and I felt exposed. I don’t know Suzanne well. She’s an amazing guitarist and she just looked at me quizzically. Suddenly my years of avoidance seemed pretty ridiculous and I had to cop to having avoided a mainstay of guitar playing.
In January I organized a gathering of women friends. We sat together and talked about manifesting big dreams for ourselves in the coming year. I led them in visioning and meditation, conversation and brainstorming. At one point in the evening, as I led a guided meditation, I thought to myself, "You can be as big as you are. You need to be as big as you can be. Own your bigness." I breathed in deeply and I really felt it. I was expanding to fill my own space in the universe.
Later I posted that thought on a private Facebook community I belong to. But autocorrect autocorrected "bigness" to be "bones" and I didn't notice. One of my friends pointed it out. "I love that! Own Your Bones! I'm going to use that!" she said.
I've needed to remind myself repeatedly to be in my body, to breathe into my bigness. It makes me wonder: Do naturally competitive people have trouble with that? Do they have to remind themselves to stay present in their own space?
Over the years I’ve found competitive people rather obnoxious. Not my type. Now I’m wondering if really, I just find their focus on being the best intimidates me and makes me face my own fear of failure.
This swirling brain, indecision, and my thought that maybe I should reconsider is, in fact, one of my Inner Critics stepping in to save the day. “Don’t put yourself out there! Don’t work too hard on this! You don’t really want to do this! What if no one signs up? What if you fail?”
Truth is, I haven’t failed much in my life. I can do so many things really well and I’ve mostly succeeded with those things I’ve done. I think that if I smell failure as a possibility, I run like hell the other direction, only to other people it looks like I just changed my mind and am off to create in another one of my artistic realms.
But here are a few of the things I haven't done: Submitted my art journaling pages to a magazine for publishing, written a book proposal for my memoir about Ben, submitted pieces from this blog to magazines for publishing...I haven't even decided if I want to self-publish my book or find an agent. But of course finding an agent means being rejected...that goes without saying. And so, you get the picture.
This morning when I sat my butt down on my cold metal stool and put my feet flat on the floor in front of my altar, I decided to ask the cards for some wisdom. “Why can’t I seem to find my focus? Why can’t I choose a course topic?” I asked as I held the deck of glossy cards. I closed my eyes and shuffled them in my hands. I waited until I had the sensation that this was the card to pull out. I sensed it, and pulled, and then I sensed it again, and pulled another. I laughed at myself. Of course, I can’t even choose one class topic, why would I be able to choose one card? When I opened my eyes, I laughed even harder. I’d unwittingly chosen three cards instead of two, my indecision more profound than I was even aware.
The cards were: Acceptance, Summer, and Strength.
Ok, Universe, tell me what they mean.
There are descriptions on the back of each card and here are the lines that resonated:
Acceptance: Love yourself completely and unconditionally.
Summer: Make time.
Strength: Strength is the determination to follow through.
Perhaps I need to do this. Make time to love myself completely and unconditionally. And make time to really follow through on my ideas. Envision myself as the artist and push myself to be the artist. Damn the competition. Be as big as I can be. Own my bones.