There is a scene in Moana in which she is trying to convince her friend the chicken that the ocean is not something scary. She says:
“Heihei, the ocean is your friend.”
The chicken (as you can imagine if you were a chicken in the middle of the ocean) was not convinced. My little one and I also learned this lesson about the ocean not always being your friend recently. We were boogie boarding in the ocean and my little one got pummeled by a wave. He stood up, crying, with a bloody nose. We got out of the water, rocked and cried in a beach towel for a bit, and then he was ready to go back in. I was surprised. What?! Already? My Mama Bear protective instinct was thinking:
Oh No. You are not going back out there. We are going to stay up here on the beach with SPF 50. Under an umbrella. Making sand castles safe from the ocean for the rest of the day.
Thankfully, he (and my husband) are more resilient than I. They went back in. Eventually, so did I. I even swam out past where the waves break and floated for a bit. For a few moments I was carried by the water. It felt good to let go.
Years ago I worked with a young woman who was recovering from bulimia that called the ocean her Higher Power. She was a surfer, and, like Moana, she knew both the power of the ocean and its capacity to carry her through difficulties. She knew it could carry her. And that she couldn’t do it herself.
Riding the Waves, Higher Powers, and Other Recovery Metaphors
There’s a reason why waves and the ocean are so often used as metaphors. Waves are both separate from, and inextricably connected with, the ocean (your Higher Power/Part-Of-You-That-Knows/Wise Self). “Riding the wave” of your feelings, without attaching to them, is a skill of recovery. In order to be at peace with having all kinds of feelings, you have to acknowledge your feelings, ride them out, and not get pummeled by them. (Or get back in the ocean with new humility after you get pummeled). Some waves are peaceful. Some are fun to surf; some are destructive. They all emerge from, and return to, the ocean. The ocean is vast. It can carry and hold almost everything. So can your Higher Power (Wise Self, Part-Of-You-That-Knows). It can help you let go. It can carry and guide you where you need to be. And, if you’re not respecting its power, it can turn you upside down and pummel you.
One thing I learned from my little one recently? Don’t let fear of the ocean’s power block you from connecting with it. You will get hurt in life. That is inescapable. Don’t let fear keep you from engaging with life on life’s terms. As the great poet Rumi said:
“Don’t move the way fear makes you move.”
Get back in the ocean. In imaginal Psychology they call the wise part of the Self, the part that is based on a vast expanse of compassionate objectivity, the Friend. In that sense, Moana was right. The ocean really is your Friend.
I’m reading Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love author)’s new book Big Magic. It is a fabulous journey exploring the relationship between fear, creativity, inspiration, and life. Here is an excerpt of a letter she wrote to fear.
“Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do. I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job seriously…But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused. And Creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring. There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way…You’re allowed to have a seat, you’re allowed to have a voice, but you’re not allowed to have a vote…above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”
It can be hard to talk back to fear, to allow it, without letting it run the show. Fear likes to be dictatorial. It lives in the land of cognitive distortions, so it is full of globalizing, catastrophizing, shaming, and emotional reasoning. “This will never work,” “If you do this, you will never have enough money to live on,” “Who do you think you are?!” “You are a fraud, and they are going to find out eventually, so why even pretend you’re not?” “This is the way things have always been, so this is the way they should be.”
In my own recovery I had to learn to identify the voice of fear, like a subtle click of the clock, tick tick tick, always whispering in the background of my mind. I had to notice this was part but not all of me. In my work with clients, I help facilitate separating out the voices of fear and also of the eating disorder (sometimes shortened to “Ed”). They are often quite similar in tone. This is an important aspect of recovery, and of cultivating the courage to be your full self, because it allows you access to the other pats of you. Fear and Ed do not like you to be aware that you have other parts to yourself. They speak loudly, and try to run your life. OK, sometimes they speak quietly. Actually, they’re quite sneaky that way: they morph. Sometimes they are so quiet that you can’t even hear them talking to you, because it is more of a niggling, silent belief that colors your whole world view. For example, it might not say this, but rather imply strongly as a silently pervasive belief, don’t even try because you are going to fail. Before you act on this belief, it is important to take opposite action. Jenni Schaeffer, in her book Life without ED, writes about the importance of learning to Disagree and Disobey the Ed voice:
When you are trying to begin your separation from Ed, it is important that you first recognize Ed’s rules in your life. You must be able to distinguish between standards that Ed holds for you and healthy boundaries that you set for yourself. You must realize that Ed’s rules do not make sense. For instance, many of Ed’s rules contradict each other. On one day, Ed tells you not to touch that ice cream or dare drink that soda. Then, the very next day, Ed says, “Eat that entire gallon of ice cream, and drink three cans of soda. Eat as much as you can until you feel sick.” Ed’s rules are designed to harm us.
After you are able to recognize Ed’s rules in your life, you must try to disagree with and disobey them. Even if it seems impossible for you to actually disagree with one of Ed’s rules, you must still try to disobey him. If you are able to break his rules no matter what, you are taking a huge step toward separating from Ed. Disobeying Ed means you are moving in the right direction. Don’t expect it to be easy.
In the beginning of my recovery twenty years ago, I would say this to my ED voice every week when getting ready to attend my recovery support group:
You can come if you want. You are welcome to ride the bus with me to get there, you are welcome to attend the meeting. You don’t get to decide if I go. We are going. I show up, now, regardless.
And then I would go to my support group. Every week. For the record, Ed kept trying to convince me otherwise:
“You haven’t had any eating disorder behaviors in a week (a month, 6 months,…), you don’t need to go!”
“You just had a hard day at work. You already did your job today. You need to rest. Just skip it this one time.”
“You’re fat.” (Ed’s answer to every question and reason for not participating in any and all aspects of life.)
My Ed voice doesn’t do this anymore because it knows it has been banished. It’s not driving the bus, car, or whatever vehicle you want to use as a metaphor for the-part-of-the-Self-that-is-driving-decision-making. However, fear is still here. Fear says
“You don’t need to do your spiritual practice today – just sleep in.”
“You don’t need to write. It is too tedious, it doesn’t pay, your favorite publisher is closing down, no-one reads anymore, anyway… “
But the thing is, writing makes me happy. Not euphoric-happy; but content-happy. Clear-happy. Free of resentments and the cumulative-gunk-of-living-cleared-out happy. My first year of recovery I worked in a recovery book store. Sometimes, when I had to open the store early, I would not have time to write before coming in. The owner of the store (who was also my friend and inspiration for getting into recovery) would know the days I had written and the days I hadn’t. He would say “STEER CLEAR OF HER” and bring me coffee on the days I hadn’t. 🙂
Writing is like recovery, meditation, or any creative practice that you show up for on a regular and consistent basis. It gradually, subtly, integrates the shit (compost, anger, resentments, fears) into new sprouts. And these sprouts grow into plants (or not – some of them die and that is appropriate). And the plant that survives becomes the tree of who you are and who you are becoming. It brings the gift of hard-won persistent and regular work. It makes you more authentically you in a subtle but essential way. It wears down your anxieties, softens your fear. It uses your sadness and grief as a way into the interior of your (and other’s) Hearts. When you show up to the page, day after day, month after month, year after year, you become real. Velveteen Rabbit real. And by the time you become Real, you don’t care anymore what the Ed-voice or the fear-voice have to say. They can’t stop you any more. You have found the Real-ness. That is the Big Magic.That is recovery.