Tag Archives: strength

Finding my strength

It has been a testing few weeks, but I have learned some interesting things around the issue of strength. I’ve broken repeatedly. I’ve done a lot of weeping, I’ve watched my digestive system shut down under the pressure, leaving me with no energy and low blood pressure issues. I’m still here. I’ve been overwhelmed with fear, with grief, with despair, and I am still here. The measure of my strength is not my being whole and hale. The measure of my strength is what I can and will do even when I’m broken.

I’ve been broken a lot during my life. I’ve tended to think of myself as weak and fragile for breaking. I’m re-framing that at the moment. I’m seeing my brokenness in terms of my willingness to care and keep my heart open. It’s there in response to a hunger for more from life than I’ve been able to source, as well, and that might be something I can change.

I do not regret being broken. I do not regret the intensity of love that took me to that place. I would not choose to protect myself from the things that hurt me by simply not caring about them. Resilience does not have to been a closed heart or a thicker skin. Resilience can instead mean the scope not to be brought to a halt by having been broken.

There is so much that I love. There are many people that I love. There is so much to keep trying for, keeping hoping for, keep working on. No matter how heartbroken I am. No matter how exhausted. I’ve seen my capacity for hope shatter and I’ve pulled something out of that by force of will, and I’m still here.

I think today is going to be a hard one. I think one way or another, it is going to tear me open. It could define my future life. That scares me, of course. I’d be a fool not to be frightened by that. But, I know I will get through today, not because I am unbreakable, but because I know how to be broken. I know how to weep and howl. I know how not to give up. I also know that there are a lot of people invested in my not giving up, who will help me if I fall.

Tomorrow is never certain. Every day has the potential to be the day that will change everything. It’s just more obvious to me at the moment because I know exactly what’s at stake.


Being broken

The most lovely beach pebbles have been rubbed and battered into smoothness. It’s not the most gentle process. Lovely things so often pass through fire, through radical change. Carved out of their original rock, or beaten and cut into shape, the process of becoming is so often a process of breaking as well.
This can be some consolation when life kicks you about. Just as the blade, or for that matter the ploughshare endures the heat of the forge, so to the mind becomes more than it was, through challenge, endurance, erosion, sculpting and other invasive experiences.

It’s not a one off thing, either. Some people seem to get more experience of being crafted by the universe than others, but it’s hard to tell from the outside. One man’s mountain is another man’s molehill, but without a few molehills, the chances of surviving the mountain unscathed are rather slim. What knocks one person down is merely a trial for another. We’re all different. Some of us show the process of being tested more than others.

There’s always the temptation to not go there. To buy off the problem, do the thing that would be easy, but intrinsically wrong. There is so often a smooth, simple path that lets us carry on as we were. Of course sometimes that one leads right up to a precipice, as we increase the size of the trial by trying to duck it. There’s only so much cheating of system any of us can do of course because in the end we die, everyone dies, the piper is paid and you can’t avoid that one forever.

I’ve met people for whom life has been – either by choice or accident – a pretty easy stroll so far. I also know people who have, out of necessity, and out of love, walked through hell. Sometimes more than once. The people who do it of their own free will, for the sake of something that needs to be done, are awe inspiring. They don’t tend to announce themselves or make a big deal out of what they do, but they work in places of pain, misery and horror, and they keep working, keep facing the hardest things in order to help, to make better. Somehow, the more it breaks them, the more they shine and the more powerful they become.

I recall reading a blog post months back (can’t remember where) talking about how, when you’re broken on the floor and sobbing such that snot comes out of your nose, you are also as powerful as it is possible to be. Because you care enough to be going through that. The only real insulation from pain, is apathy, and that’s a hideous, soul destroying price to pay for the illusion of comfort.

No snot-laden weeping here today. Just pausing to look at the strange and winding path I’ve travelled in these last few years, and to think about the burning beacons along the way. The people who were not afraid to weep. The people who walk into hell on a regular basis because life asks it of them. There’s this collective belief that strength is the absence of tears, the absence of breaking. It’s a brittle sort of strength, a cold strength at best and it can’t do much. The strength that comes in breaking, the power of being snapped open and having bits torn off… is terrifying. But on the dark days, its important to remember this stuff.


Finding Strength

So there I was yesterday, cycling into the wind, the hail in my face making it very hard to see where I was going. My waterproof coat wasn’t equal to the amount of time I’d spent in the downpour, I’m not convinced most coats would have been. Life throws physical challenges my way on a regular basis. Living in a rural area most of the time means nothing is conveniently to hand, many things require significant journeys. I’ve learned how to jump safely from a moving boat to the bank, how to tie decent knots, and lots of other things. These kinds of challenges are good for me. I’m stretched by them, I grow because of them.

 

I’m conscious that without challenges, it would be easy to stagnate. There are days when I think it might be nice to seek out my own challenges for a change, and maybe have a few days off from the process of being stretched though. When times are hard I try very hard to convince myself that this is another opportunity to grow, and to do better.

 

I’m a firm believer in having a positive attitude. I know how to make the best of things. At the same time I’m aware that this is a double edged blade. Knowing how to make the best of things can mean accepting a diet of crumbs while those around you feast. Embracing the challenges can mean not tackling the unfairness underpinning them. A stoical mindset can get you through hard times, but it can also encourage us to tolerate the intolerable.

 

Which leads to interesting questions about how to decide which is which. Some of those challenges are good, they make me stronger and more capable. Some of them are a bit much, and historically, there have been challenges in my life that I look back at and consider hideously unfair. There are times when a challenge is the consequence of someone else taking the piss. I know that I’m not good at telling when to tough it out, and when to challenge the source of the latest trial. No point arguing with the weather, but when the sources are human, there is scope to question what’s happening.

 

Fairness matters to me, and I recognise that fair to me needs to be part of that. Compassion to others can require a stepping up, a shouldering of burdens. Trying to act fairly in an unfair world, to deal honourably with people who have no honour, is an ongoing challenge for me. How much compassion should I show? How many challenges should I take on with calm equanimity, and when is it time to say ‘enough’? My best yardstick is whether my own behaviour remains honourable. That’s not an easy one to apply either, but more manageable than anything else I can think of.

 

Meeting the challenge of a wintery day is all about my own courage, strength and determination. Meeting the challenge of a selfish and unco-operative fellow human being requires similar things of me, but is a very different experience. I’m determined not to have anyone else’s lack of integrity provoke me into responding in kind. More subtle and harder to guard against are those things I am engineered into doing to myself, and when the act of challenging is not about the normal trials of being human, but instead about someone else trying to exert power or manipulate me. Of all the challenges I’m up against, the hardest by far is working out how and when to say ‘you are taking the piss’ and what on earth to do after that point.

 

Give me a hailstorm any day.