Monthly Archives: May 2016

Selfie Examination

 

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“I worshipped dead men for their strength, forgetting I was strong.” -Vita Sackville West

When I first read the words that I chose to pair with the above pic, they struck a chord in me that hasn’t stopped humming.

I should share this before I go any further; I’m kind of a weirdo, when it comes to inspiration.

I regularly read writings by peaceful people like Thich Nhat Hanh and VIktor Frankl, but I also gain encouragement and perspective from some other, less likely places.

Hagakure.

The Havamal.

My children can recite quotes attributed to various Spartans, and some of our favorite stories and movies are ones that…well, might make other mothers cringe. (Very fight heavy).

It’s just how we are.

I give all of those examples to show that in my mind, reading thoughts on love by a man who survived a concentration camp is not at odds with gleaning wisdom from some of the most brutal ancient warriors.

They’re simply two extreme examples of two sides of life; acceptance, and action.

True strength is choosing love, to me. No question. But the bravery it takes to look death in the face and run towards it is usually fostered by a solid commitment to living life the way you think it should be lived. Every day. I think that the thought processes of cultures that bolster that mindset are worth looking at. Closely.

Because I need inspiration. I need strength.

This may have been one of the hardest years of my life thus far; I’ve dealt with loss before, and heartbreak, and I thought I’d dealt with not having much, materially. (Absolutely nothing compared to fighting to keep utilities on and a roof over your head and those of your kids).

But this has been a hard year, and I’ve needed help. Reading has helped me learn and grow, spiritually and physically.

I’ve been encouraged and pushed forward by things I’ve read, from both sides of my “Inspiration Spectrum”, and sometimes, the two aren’t as far apart as you would think. While Hagakure writings are definitely still promoting advancement of skill as a warrior, there’s an unexpected advocacy for something not usually associated with the image of a samurai…mercy.

“In the eyes of mercy, no one should have hateful thoughts. Feel pity for the man who is even more at fault. The area and size of mercy is limitless.”

I don’t fight in skirmishes to protect the interests of my feudal lord. But I absolutely have been in a battle this past year, and although I still maintain I don’t have any enemies, when someone thinks they have that role in your life, it’s hard to get around it.

And it’s hard to think of mercy.

But reading the thoughts of warriors has helped me strategize, both for strength, and sympathy.

However, reading and taking in the thoughts of others can only do so much…at some point, inspiration has to become something else. You have to just do what you need to do, and while internalizing ideas that have helped others can give you a boost, it doesn’t propel you.

You have to do that.

It’s okay to begin to put yourself in company with the dead guys whose words you’re taking in. In fact, if you don’t, you won’t be able to put feet to what you’re reading. That may be even more difficult if you’re a woman, and you’re only seeing the words of men, but it’s important to do it. You have to believe in yourself, love yourself, and trust yourself. You’re right there with them.

Some of my fellow Christians might be uncomfortable with all this, because we’re taught that the example of Christ is one of self sacrifice, and I wouldn’t be a Christian if I didn’t believe that selfless love is the answer to every single problem we face. I’m with you.

But one of our key directives, from Jesus Himself, is to “love others as we love ourselves.”

You can’t really love someone else if you don’t love yourself. The best kind of love to give to someone is the kind you give yourself…the kind we’re meant to give ourselves. Sacrificial love is only sacrificial love if you’re choosing it. If you’re acting out of the belief that you don’t deserve any better…it’s just self punishment.

And it’s not a sin to get behind strength and action. One of my favorite verses is “The horse is prepared against the day of battle, but safety is of the Lord.” Do everything you know to do. Get ready, get suited up, and get strong…that’s not mistrust of God, it’s doing your job. If you believe He directs things, it’ll come out the way it’s supposed to, and you can rest in that without resting on your laurels.

I also thought twice (or a few times) about posting this with a picture of me flexing my bicep, because the whole point of the post is inner strength, but I did it anyway, because for me, physical exercise is not only something that helps me, mentally, it’s a good metaphor for inner strength. It’s built over time. It takes work. You have to keep it up. The physical things that help me (yoga, jiu jitsu) require concentration. Mindfulness. Focus on the moment.

And also…I really like my biceps.

I think it’s okay for us to hold up a picture of ourselves from time to time, if we have the rest of our worldview in balance, and if we’re not mistaking looking at a camera lens with looking inward, at our hearts and souls. (They’re not interchangeable). Conversely, we also shouldn’t depend too much on looking to others for the strength that we sometimes need to dig up out of ourselves.

You can still read the words of dead men, in other words, just be sure you’re listening to yourself, as well.