It’s been two weeks since the publication of my memoir, Raw: My Journey from Anxiety to Joy, which has created a whirlwind of activity, not the least of which was attending a literary event hosted by Beyond Baroque in Los Angeles. I’ll confess: I didn’t want to go. I was swamped with book business, my launch was two days away, my sister was coming into town, and I’d been working pedal to the metal. I was beat. It seemed like rest would be a saner Sunday night option. But I pushed self-care concerns aside because I wanted to honor one of my writing mentors, Jack Grapes, who was receiving the Distinguished Service Award. A writer I’d never heard of before, Kamau Daáood, was receiving the Outstanding Achievement in Poetry Award. I knew Jack’s reading would be great, but had no idea what to expect from Daáood. Turns out he’s a true bard. As he read with his eyes closed, deeply connected to his muse, I was transported into the depths of my own soul. I managed to scribble the following lines (direct quotes) from Daáood’s poems, and am delighted to share them with you here.
“I want to stand in my own brand of beauty and truth.” This sounds like a prayer. And it’s as good as any intention I’ve heard, especially in the hubbub of publication and beyond. It helps me focus on what’s important and not get lured and distracted by hoopla and hullaballoo. This intention helps me detach from thinking that the success or lack of success of my book defines me. As much as I care about media attention, recognition, and praise, it doesn’t mean anything about who I am or my value. If I don’t allow criticism to take me down, I can’t allow praise to inflate my ego. Have you heard the expression, “The ego is a hungry ghost”? It’s hungry most of the time and will eat anything. And it’s a ghost because it haunts and looms, but doesn’t exist in the world of form. Maintaining clarity, focus, and equilibrium feels important right now.
“The shackles that bind are the ones we accept.” Monsoons of circumstances and thoughts constrain us every day—when we believe and allow them. When we accept—or worse, argue—for our limitations, whether imposed upon us from outside or within, we’re trapped. Going after and achieving a heartfelt dream, such as writing a book, creates freedom. It’s the classic hero’s journey. You have a goal, you encounter obstacles and as you navigate your treacherous path, you grow and learn. You come face-to-face with your fears, your shiny armor tarnishes, and then it gets yanked off, and you are naked, but strong, because, as Jack Grapes used to tell me, “Your strengths are your weaknesses and your weaknesses are your strengths.”
“Find a safe place to examine your heart.” This is a sweet and private matter. We all do this in our own way. I have found it helpful to take a step back and become a neutral observer of my thoughts. When I peer into the misty cauldron of my own thinking it’s helpful to observe with the clear and loving eyes of compassion. With these tools, I am able to shift my perspective from fear to love. I ask, What would love do if it were driving this vehicle that is my life? Love would dismiss the myth of needing to “be special.” It understands that we are all special. Or, put another way, love reminds me to appreciate ordinary, everyday people and events. Love says, All you have to do is show up in service. What you do isn’t about you. It’s about the message that wants to be expressed through you.
“…decorated prisons…” This has happened to me: I found myself stuck in a pit of anxiety and terror. Since I didn’t know how to make my way out of the pit, I accepted it. I even start decorating my pit in an effort to make it more tolerable. We all do this at one time or another, whether we’re conscious of it or not. We decorate self-imposed prisons. I say this without judgment. I point it out because once you see this phenomenon it shifts. The jig is up. The negative thinking that creates painful emotions no longer dupes you into taking things so seriously. I recently read an article about the writing life that focused on how hard it is. I get it. But also, how we respond to any given issue is the issue and we always have the choice to frame things in ways that lift us up or tear us down. It’s up to us. We don’t have to decorate our prisons. We can let ourselves out.
“Humble yourself at the shrine of each moment.” The other day, coming home from running errands, I was about to climb the stairs up to my front door when sunlight lit the leaves of a spindly gardenia plant at the bottom of the stairs. I’ve lived in this house over twenty years. I’m sure this wasn’t the first time the sunlight hit that plant that way, but it was the first time I saw it. I paused. Took it in. It felt like a gift. I let myself bask in the beauty of that moment. The more I do this, the richer my life experience. Life doesn’t pass us by when we’re fully present and paying attention. And there’s an exquisite humility to this because you realize how vast and magnificent our world is—even when we forget.
“Come with your holy water and flame.” Bring it all. Everything you’ve got. Go for it! You will be deterred. You may be frightened. You may think you’re not up to a particular task. You might hear that who-do-you-think-you-are voice creep in. Keep going. Showing up is the best we can do. It’s enough. Let go of trying to “be someone.” You are already someone. We all are. The rest is theater—the jockeying for position and recognition. This is a form of chasing after something you already have. Your treasure is within. Trust that and let yourself be guided by it. It’s easy to ignore your inner wisdom. Easier to look to others for approval, guidance, and direction. But the world is full of distractions and you’ve got that holy water and flame, so bring it!
It turned out that attending this event was the perfect thing to do on the Sunday night before my Tuesday book launch. Who knew I’d be fed a delicious literary feast? Who knew I’d be uplifted and inspired? Who knew a grey-haired, African American poet from Watts would glow from that stage and set the room ablaze with all our beauty. What a send-off into my launch week! And talk about self-care: this brand of nourishment doesn’t happen every day. Daáood’s desire to stand in his own brand of beauty and truth reminded me that as I approach the work of bringing my book into the world, I need to keep things honest, avoid drama, and stay connected with what really matters: my own beauty and truth.