Upside Down View

In a popular book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, one of the first lessons is to turn a picture upside down and use it as a guide to draw the same object. The lesson demonstrated that when you look at something recognizable, your mind interferes by telling you what it “should” look like. It’s almost like having a template on top of the picture, which is deceptively similar to the original. On the other hand, by turning the drawing upside down, it becomes a grouping of lines, abstract and undefinable. Once the object’s label is gone, you can truly see it. I was amazed by how much more accurately I was able to recreate the picture.

I wondered if I could apply that concept in another way. Let’s say the picture represents my true self and the act of drawing is how I express myself in the world. If I look at the picture upside down, it would allow me to take action (draw) in alignment with my true essence (the original picture). At the end of my life, when I compare the original drawing to the one I created, I would hope to find a match — demonstrating that I lived in concert with my higher self.

Over the past few years, in my attempts to identify the best way to earn a living, I have traced a template of what I should be instead of drawing who I am. For example, I have applied the template of “responsible” to my picture. All sorts of adjectives come along with it — safe, practical, self-sufficient. Each one affects the choices that seem available. My job is stable, pays well, provides health insurance, allows me to work from home. I use my skills as a writer, I have built a career in this field. Why do I want to leave? Why doesn’t the drawing match?

The template was covering up the signals from my body. This same job makes me physically and emotionally ill. It affects my quality of life in a myriad of small ways — sleeplessness, depression, poor eating, anxiety, stomach aches, migraines.  I ignored or downplayed how much the job affected these symptoms, looking for a way to keep my template intact. Being responsible is a socially approved template, after all, stamped by authority figures.

Using the template felt safe and familiar. It was so close to the original. I kept hoping with a few tweaks, it could work. But I don’t fit inside it.

Instead of following a template, I will turn the picture upside down. This approach requires a lot of erasing and fixing to get it right, but with the template gone, I can see who I am, in all my confusing but beautiful entirety. Drawing free hand is quite liberating.

Photo courtesy of photographer Heather Hanson


Standing Up


When my internal critic’s voice reaches a shrieking pitch and I can’t bear another judgment, sometimes I imagine myself in a fetal position, making my body as small as possible, willing my cells to disappear. As if the silent prayer “sorry sorry sorry” will be enough to make the words stop. They die down, but the pain reverberates through a sudden migraine or wrenching stomach ache. My mind has no defense and so my body must take the beating.

My natural response is to shrink away from the painful words, cowering and apologetic. Just like when I feel the hot sharp pain in my eyes from a migraine. I retreat to a dark bedroom and try to sleep, to feel the heaviness of the drug and let it take me to oblivion.

I think recent efforts to assert myself have intensified the self-criticism. It feels like my internal voice is realizing that I am evolving — and wants to snap me back into the familiar as quickly as possible. The only way to do that is to cripple me with insecurity and depression. Therefore, the words are cutting deeper. They are getting at wounds that hurt most.

I am admittedly very tired. Lately I want to give in, step back and let the hurtful words take over. Writing all this in the drawing above was an effort to get it out of my head, where it has less power. Even though I keep hearing “shut up!” here I am, sharing this, speaking my truth. I might be bruised and wobbly, but I’m standing up.



Center of Balance

I have felt out of balance lately, trying to find security in a rapidly changing mental landscape. I could feel myself constantly grasping and hanging on for dear life to anything that gave me some momentary sense of stability. As life-long ideas about who am I snapped like twigs beneath me, I felt like I was falling from the top of a redwood, crashing through branches, wildly reaching for something to catch me.

This past week, I was consciously searching for a metaphor that captured the sensation and gave me some direction on how to manage these emotions. Although I am the furthest thing from a rock climber, I imagined myself dangling from a precarious position on a high mountain, scrambling for footing.

Within this metaphor, I began looking for a way to calm my anxiety, sadness and fear. Here is what I have worked out —

Knowing your weight and center of balance on a climb enables you to maneuver the environment safely and efficiently, evaluating your next move with a clear sense of your strength and the capacity for each step to bear your weight.

In the same way, knowing and accepting my inherent value as a person gives me a sense of being centered and in touch with who I am. Instead of having my value rise and fall as defined by outside opinions or circumstances, I have a static value — just  like my physical weight on a climb. With this stable base of perception, I can make better choices, more aligned with my true self — safer steps more likely to hold and carry me forward.

I can finally stop saying there is something wrong with me when I experience failure, loss or rejection. I just made the wrong choice because my center was off-balance or I didn’t evaluate the situation clearly. This does not reflect my value as a human being — that never changes.

So when I feel myself grasping and unsteady, I will remember —

  • Just because a limb is close by and seems like the logical next step doesn’t automatically mean it will hold me if I am too heavy. Even if I grasp tightly, it will still break — probably faster. Reaching for something that is not right for me, even if I really want it and use all my strength to hold on, will ultimately result in a fall.
  • Breaking a limb does not mean I am too heavy. It just means that my weight is more than the limb can carry. There is no judgment necessary.
  • Sometimes a step seems impossible or too risky, yet it really just means I need to build my strength. Once rested, I may find that the foothold is safe. I have to stop pushing myself to exhaustion to please or impress others or because I am impatient. I might be on the right path after all, yet the timing is off.

And when I fall, I will tell myself — Falling is okay. I took a risk. I have a harness. I’ll try again. Nothing has changed. You are the same person.

Photo courtesy of photographer Heather Hanson



Sight Restored

Brief poetic thoughts in haiku on moving grief out of my way so I can see the future without the bias of past hurts.

Eyes slowly adjust
Dimly, a world forms ahead
See what you could have

Light floods my vision
Shield my blinded eyes so bright
Basking in wonder

I grieve the time lost
Comprehending what I’ve missed
Will darkness return?

When I blink my eyes
The world does not disappear
I can see my way


Searching for Purpose

I feel like my life is an enormous word search, rows and rows of random letters. I was given this puzzle to solve, but no one provided me with the list of words to find or even a theme to guide me. I must find the words on my own and piece together a story of who I am and what I’m supposed to accomplish in my life.

Through the years, words have emerged from the chaos. Perhaps a personal strength or interest, a clue to the direction I should take. These clues were mysterious and confusing, but I made the best choices I could. I’ve also searched in vain for words that just weren’t in my puzzle, no matter how much I wanted them to appear.

However, in all my searching, I’ve never found a word that gave me a true “aha!” moment. Something that spurred me to immediate action and gave me a sense of purpose. I find words that resonate, but I don’t know how they fit together. They are not magically forming into a sentence that says “Here it is! Personal fulfillment ahead!”

Maybe that’s too much to ask.

I remember my favorite assignment in elementary school was when we were given a list of vocabulary words and told to create a story. The words usually had nothing to do with each other, which was the challenge I loved.

Well, my puzzle has given me a challenging list of words. Time to get creative. I need to stop searching for “the word” and instead place the ones I have into the context of a story I write for myself.




Crossword Clues

crossword puzzle

“They say Confucius does his crossword with a pen.” — Tori Amos, Happy Phantom

When I do the occasional crossword, I start with the Across clues and see how many I can answer before moving to the Down column. Usually, when I go back, clues that stumped me the first time are more obvious with a few more letters. In some cases, I realize that I had the wrong answer.

My crossword puzzle “strategy” serves as an apt metaphor for an epiphany I had recently.

For as long as I can remember, losing weight was the prerequisite to any other important goal in my life. “Just get your health in order and then you can begin.” I thought this would give me the confidence, discipline and energy to pursue other personal developments and dreams.

In other words, I wouldn’t let myself move to the Down clues until I’d answered all the Across ones first. Even though “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” I earnestly tried so many times. But without any new insights, it was pointless.

This week, I attended a yoga class for the first time, something I’ve wanted to try for ages. Usually, many fears stop me. What will I wear? What will other people in the class think of me? I only have so much time in the day – shouldn’t I be doing something that would help me lose weight faster?

Yet after the class, I realized that I’d finally switched columns. By getting in touch with my body and relaxing my mind, I will gain new letters to help me work through the entire puzzle. The Across clues (or weight loss) won’t be as difficult or feel as impossible to solve. Each column informs the other; they aren’t separate and linear.

When I’ve exhausted all resources and have those last boxes left, I can ask for help. Every crossword puzzle has those last few that you just don’t know, no matter how many clues you have.

Where else am I stopping when I don’t know the Across clues? All of my professional jobs have led to stress and burnout. What can I do to switch columns and help me see this issue in a new light, with higher level insights from myself or others?

Photo by gajman on flickr


Haiku 2011

In 2011, I began writing a haiku poem each month to intersect my present emotional state with the seasonal changes of the year. Due to the emotional turmoil at the end of the year, this trailed off. Despite this, it was a useful exercise.

I’ve read some truly beautiful haiku that manage to capture both a feeling and a moment in time perfectly. Mine always seem too obvious or too abstract, too cheesy or too forced. Ah well, I’ll keep writing and sharpen my skills…Even if they aren’t beautiful, they help me express a feeling by identifying a metaphor.

No turning back now
You cannot un-realize truth
New year, fresh snow – go

Cover of darkness
Icy layers form a shield

Warmth tentatively
grazes my face, Winds scatter
cool air, uncertain.

water unceasing
wash it away, can’t keep up
No one to hate, love

Senses overwhelmed
Vernal cacophony – stop!
Pause for this moment

Sliver moon soon gone
Clouds obscure, spinning darkness
But you know the way

Should I dance or cry?
Warm rain drops while sun looks on
Bittersweet summer

Deep below the ground
something old and forgotten
is stirring inside


Coming Into Focus

I have a fear of seeing my photograph — a fear much more intense than simply being unpleasantly surprised by an unflattering angle or poor fashion choice. My weight is part of it, certainly. It is always jarring to see yourself as other may see you, especially when the weight gain has been so dramatic and fast.

I realized tonight that avoiding photographs is symbolic of my inability to look at myself — I’m afraid of what I’ll find. I fear nothingness; the lack of something unique to mark me as an independent human being, capable of true, original creativity.

I’ve begun to wonder if I focus on other people as a way of making up for my perceived emptiness. It also diverts my attention from introspection. “I’m sorry I have nothing to offer, let me invest all of myself into you. I can feel worthy in my selflessness.”

A striking scene from the Stephen King film Dolores Claiborne comes to mind — a woman was so overwhelmed with her long repressed memory of sexual abuse, that for a split second, she looked in the mirror and her body was facing away from her. She was looking at the back of her head. It’s hard to explain, but this scene terrified me.

It is a similar feeling — an overwhelming need to turn away and avoid the chaos and pain of feeling empty. Perhaps my weight gain was an unconscious strategy to keep me from looking too closely. It has certainly worked. And although this blog is a means of internal reflection, I don’t take it to the next level. It remains an idea, tentatively waiting for action.

So…I took my picture tonight — a few shots in the mirror. I stared directly into the camera for the first one but it was too much to bear. So I gazed away. Once I viewed the picture enlarged on the computer, I saw someone I didn’t recognize. I blurred the photo as a way to blunt the feelings that arose. When it’s out of focus, it’s not as overwhelming and allows me to keep looking — a good first step.

I want to treat myself as a person worthy of respect, just as I would anyone else. If that strange person looking back at me was indeed a stranger, I would treat them kindly and gently, reassuring them of their value. Why wouldn’t I do the same for myself?