How to Stop Being What Happened to You

I learned something about myself recently that shocked me. I realized I had tied my identity to the trauma I’d been through. In other words I was presenting as a victim. I would NEVER have believed that about myself and I didn’t like seeing it.

I think it mostly stemmed from the “Elephant in the Room” phenomenon. Those of you who have gone through a really intense, traumatic experience that a lot of people know about will get this. When you show up at events, parties, whatever, afterwards and people see you for the first time, “post-trauma” they don’t really know what to say. They’re often uncomfortable and usually lead with talking about the traumatic event. This is especially true if the trauma involves deep loss, shame or humiliation.

I dealt with this reaction so many times I came to expect it. If the person didn’t bring it up I’d bring it up because I was sure they were thinking about it. Even with prospective clients I’d bring it up because I was afraid they’d Google me and see stories about it.

At first I think that was mostly true. But over the last many months each time this would happen I’d feel drained and uncomfortable afterwards. I’d think, “Am I ever going to get to where that issue, that awful thing, doesn’t have to be front and center?

Then I realized maybe I was the one making it so! So I made a conscientious effort not to mention it. After all, what was the worst that could happen if the other person was thinking about it but I didn’t mention it?

Most often the subject never came up. If the person I was talking with did bring it up I’d say, “Well it was certainly the most difficult thing I’ve gone through. And it has also been one of the most profound periods of growth in my life. Grateful that life is moving on.”   Then I’d move the conversation to other subjects.

This shifted my entire energy. It helped me remember all that I was and all that I had to offer.

It helped me remember that we are not what happened to us. The big traumas are just small pieces of the rich, beautiful tapestry that is YOU.

Here’s my advice for reentering society after a life-changing traumatic experience:

  • For a time, it will likely be the first thing that comes up in conversation and that’s probably healthy.
  • But after a while, it’s time to move on. In order to do that I recommend this:
    • Before going into any event that might include people who will know what you’ve been through remind yourself to be relaxed, remember your value, hold your head up and be natural
    • Make a point not to bring up the “Awful Event”
    • Develop a short, authentic, positive response to anyone who does bring it up
  • Even as you move on and make the Big Event a smaller piece of your story, stay open to real connection and concern, to authentic conversations. Healing from deep trauma is a process. Even as we reenter society and return to our old communities and normal activities we are often still healing. It is usually helpful to share the experience with someone who is genuinely interested and has gone through something similar.

And above all else, remember you are so much more than what happened to you.

Cylvia Hayes

I love working with people who are determined to reclaim their careers, lives and place in society after intense, identity-challenging ordeals.   If you are facing such a challenge and would like to talk with me please just send me a notice on the form at http://www.cylviahayes.net/coaching/.

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Reclaiming Your Worth

This story is for any of you who have been marginalized and are now ready to reclaim your truth, your worth and your seat at the table.

Reclaiming your place after you’ve been unfairly judged or marginalized by people who don’t even know you or derailed by events you just couldn’t have seen coming takes courage and is hard work. But if you want to really live you have to do it.

I had just such a challenge at the recent Peoples Climate March. When I realized my business travel schedule was going to prevent me from attending the big march in Washington DC I decided to help organize a sister event in my hometown of Bend Oregon.

I called a couple of fellow activists and joined in planning the events. I put in dozens of volunteer hours, mobilizing people, developing the message and marketing materials, sorting out various aspects of the event itself, even hanging posters around town. I also used my fairly significant social media platform to spread the word.

The organization that took the lead in the event was a local, all-volunteer climate action group. I deeply respected the hard work of their director and she and I worked together beautifully. The steering committee for the event was another story. All but one or two of them had never met me, but they had apparently made a decision about me based on ugly misinformation put forward in the media many, many months earlier. They were happy to have me do the behind the scenes work organizing the event but they didn’t want me to have a speaking role.

I was pissed! I was one of the first people ever to mention the issue of climate change in my hometown area and had been working and speaking as a professional on the issue since before most of those people had even moved here.

My first reaction was to lash out and call them to the carpet for their ugliness!

But I had a dilemma. First I didn’t want to tarnish the event itself – having a good showing as part of this historic action was too important. Second, I knew the director I’d been working with was in a tricky spot. She knew the steering committee was being unfair and counter-productive but she was caught in the middle. Even though I was hurt I didn’t want to cause her grief. Finally, even though it was tempting, I’d made a decision long ago not to fight ugliness that was shown me with more of the same in return.

And yet, I also was not going to allow myself to be marginalized and just sit back and take it. I had in fact been invited to have a fairly prominent role at the big march in DC but here in my podunk hometown I was shunned!

And here’s a word of advice for those of you facing something similar. I really shouldn’t have been surprised by the hometown rejection. I’ve learned from personal experience and the many reinvention clients I’ve worked with, that when navigating coming back from any big, particularly public, trauma the most awkward, and often unkind, places of reentering the arena are those close to home. Sometimes it’s bumping into the very person who lied about or ostracized you. Sometimes it’s an old rival acting on lingering jealousies by kicking you a bit. Some people fear getting too close to someone who has been smeared. And, very often, it’s just plain human awkwardness in not knowing how to act around someone who has been severely traumatized.

It’s hard to face. But here’s the deal, if you want to really heal, you have to get back in the saddle. I’m an old cowgirl! I’ve handled rough horses and rougher character assassins and I know this for sure when you get bucked off you have to get back on! If you don’t the fear and self-doubt grows.

So, what to do with my current dilemma?   How could I stand up to the marginalization and still benefit the event? I reached out to local media. I knew they knew me, would be interested in talking to me and therefore, would give some coverage to the climate march (I also wanted to give some support to the March for Science and pitched that as well).

The plan worked and at least in some small way helped support both events. We had great turnouts for both marches. Here is a link to the interview.  The reporter asks how I could continue doing my work after all that I’d been through and I said

So, my fellow travellers in the journey of “Reentering the Arena after Trauma and Attack,” be brave. Don’t shrink into the shadows but at the same time don’t add to the ugliness. It may take some time but if you stand strong and kind you will find your way back into the sunshine again. Never forget, you are completely unique, with gifts only you and your one-of-a-kind set of experiences have to offer.

Cylvia Hayes

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Rising Up, Emerging Strong — Love Easter!

A little Easter magic for all of us.

I love the symbolism of Easter. It’s not about Jesus’ death, but rather his example showing we all have the ability to rise again and choose life. I didn’t appreciate Easter nearly as much until I went through my own, very intense, identity-“crucifixion” and am coming out the other side with a much deeper spiritual awareness that adds beauty to every aspect of life.

This Easter is particularly special because I am on my way to Spain for the first professional international speaking gig since my “crucifixion” began. On top of that I’m also rolling out a brand new Hour of Power Activist Empowerment workshop that developed as a direct result of the pain and growth of the past two years. I am really excited about it and just shake my head in wonder at how magical life can be when we decide not just to go through, but to grow through the really hard stuff.

John was beautifully loving, encouraging and supportive in making this trip happen — right down to the sweetest send off at the airport. We’ve been through a lot together and my heart is very full and grateful to and for him. Colleagues helped me prep the new workshop. My wonder neighbors/ dog-whisperers are taking great care of Tessa, the rascally cats and my entire little home. I feel very, very blessed.

My prayer this Easter is that everyone who has suffered attack, deep hurts and the death of their old selves will tap into the beauty of the Easter story and their own inner strength to rise up, roll back the stones in their way and emerge strong and healed.

Happy Easter everyone! Here’s to beautiful resurrections!

Cylvia Hayes

 

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Taking Your Power Back with Forgiveness

Me, Soraya Deen and Lawrence Schechter at Central Oregon City Club. Topic a Muslim Woman’s story of life in America.

Something extraordinary just happened. I had wanted to go to an event today but had expected to be out of town. My schedule changed so I hadn’t had to travel but I’d forgotten all about the event. Then, this morning, two hours before start time, a friend contacted me to say he had an extra ticket if I wanted it.

At first I was going to say no. I had other plans and work I wanted to get to, but something about the event and the serendipitous invitation pulled me, so I went and wound up listening to an extraordinary woman. Soraya Deen is co-founder of the Muslim Women’s Speakers Movement. She was in my hometown, Bend Oregon, to share her story of being a Muslim woman in America. Her message is one of peace, mutual respect, kindness and taking action to make our world a more peaceful and beautiful place.

Me thanking Soraya Deen for her beautiful message of kindness, mutual respect and celebrating diversity.  

As I was listening to her powerful story and wisdom I realized that just a few feet from me at the next table were two people who had piled onto the media attacks against me. One had lied about me to reporters, trying to capture five minutes of fame at my expense. The other was his girlfriend who had also been unkind. Just a year and a half before this man lied about me to the press he had asked me, because I was in a fairly prominent position, to write a chapter and help promote a book he’d been working on. One moment I was good enough to help him write a book, the next he was publically maligning me.

As I covertly looked at him while he watched the speaker, emotions surged and my first reaction was to confront him, call him out on his nasty, dishonest behavior. Then I remembered all the hard work I’ve done these past two years to forgive and to avoid putting into the world the same ugliness I’d received. Just as I was experiencing this, a teenager in the audience asked Soraya what advice she had for the youth. She said, “Be kind. It’s the most important thing. Be kind even to people who harm you.

I snapped back into the present moment. I knew she spoke truth and I knew I was being given a chance to act on it. So I re-envisioned what I might say if the two approached me. I would not accuse or hit back. I would merely say, “I hope you’re doing well and that your wounds have healed.”

As it turned out as soon as they realized I was there, they got noticeably uncomfortable and took off immediately at the end of the speech. Half an hour later after a wonderful visit with Soraya and some of the other guests I was leaving the building just as another woman was coming in. I realized it was the girlfriend. She saw me and flushed. I held the door open for her. She kept her head down, avoided eye contact and mumbled “thank you” as she nervously scurried through. I said, “You’re welcome.”

One of my favorite metaphors lately is that choosing not to forgive is like drinking poison expecting the other person to die. Forgiveness isn’t saying what they did was OK – forgiveness is choosing to take your power back.

My head was high and my heart light as I walked from the building into the sunshine.

Cylvia Hayes 

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Ten Rules to Reinventing Yourself

Oprah’s newest New You Just Ahead road signbook titled, What I Know For Sure, got me to asking myself what do I really know? After these past two really challenging years one thing I really know about is picking yourself up and starting over after things fall apart. I just turned 49 (amazing all by itself!). More amazing is that even now, I am, once again, reinventing my life and career.

This has been such a difficult time but also one of such huge growth that I feel compelled to share it. I know I am not alone in facing abrupt reinvention and I hope my own journey can be helpful to others SO ….. here are my Top Ten Rules to Strong Self-Reinvention.

1) Look for Deeper Meaning in the Mess

Two years ago when my life blew up, again, in spectacular fashion, I was freaked out, angry and absolutely terrified. I was scared to death that maybe I really was so flawed, so deeply fucked up, I was beyond repair and would never be able to achieve a sound, solid career and life.

But, despite the terror and exhaustion, I knew that in order to find a way out I had to go in, deep. The first step to breaking through the breakdown is taking a deep, honest look into ourselves at our patterns, the parts of us that need to improve AND the parts of us we know are good.

In the midst of my brokenness I saw how tormented I’d been by my feelings of unworthiness. I was horrified and embarrassed to realize how much that “not-enoughness” had driven a deep desire to be recognized and validated by others. This was wildly painful and embarrassing to face but as soon as I did I started growing again, and loving myself more. As I got to know myself better I started more truly believing in my own value.

In reinvention it’s important to examine the circumstances, feelings and reactions and stay on the alert for those Eureka! moments when a whole new realization pops into consciousness. It’s often in our most tortured moments we learn the really powerful truths that can transform and free us.

2) Make Conscious Choices

Sometimes life blows up and we have no other option but to reinvent. The choices then aren’t if you’re going to do something differently, they’re what and how you’re going to do it. For me, I just made the choice that I wasn’t going to allow my attackers to defeat me. That not only meant figuring out a way to get my career back on the rails. It also meant not allowing myself to harden, to succumb to the depression or the hate. It meant working very intentionally on my inner self and on forgiveness.

Other times the call for reinvention is more subtle. Things aren’t catastrophic but you know they aren’t what they should or could be. In some ways this is even harder because you have to throw yourself out of the nest! You have to overcome the human tendency to stay in the comfort zone even when it’s uncomfortable. Everything we do is a choice. Deciding to do nothing is a choice!

3) Allow Yourself to Wallow in It – Have a Dirty Bathrobe Day

At the beginning of my ordeal I tried everything to fight back against the destruction seizing my life. I fought and flailed to keep my career moving. But at times the sheer weight, fear and hurt took me under. Then I would lie on the couch in my increasingly dirty bathrobe, binge-watch TV ALL DAY and drink too much beer at night. At first, I felt terribly guilty but as time went on I relaxed into these occasional escape days.

A couple of months into my unasked for life-changing mess I told my counselor about my Dirty Bathrobe days and, to my great surprise, she said, “Well, given what you’re going through as long as it’s only a day or so and not three or four and every week, it’s probably pretty healthy!”

When facing extremely challenging, life-changing phases in our lives we need to be gentle with ourselves and make some room every now and then to lay down the burden and take a break from the battle.

4) But Don’t Wallow Long – Get Your Butt Off the Couch!

The reason I was able to begin to relax into the Dirty Bathrobe Days was that I never stayed for very long. After one or two days of god only knows how many episodes of Game of Thrones, Heartland, Orange is the Next Black and countless Lifetime movies I would always pull myself up, reengage, get back to taking better care of myself and start moving forward again. I got to where I could really enjoy a wallow day here and there because I knew I could trust myself even in the midst of awful circumstances to drag my butt up off that couch!

It is critical to find your motivation, your catalyst, the thing you hook into to pull out of the despair. And this is NEVER something outside yourself even though it might look like it.

For me, this came in the form of my beloved dog, who after two days of laying next to my prone, zoned body would become restless and I knew she needed exercise. Or the cat pestered me for food. Or my fiancé really needed to talk. Sometimes it was that I just didn’t want to treat myself unhealthfully for one more moment. It was love that got me off the couch. Love for the dog, the cat, John and even for myself.

So go ahead and give yourself a break, wallow a bit, but for god’s sake don’t lie around until you get bedsores or can’t find a Lifetime movie you haven’t seen!

5) Get Professional Help

If you can’t pull out of your version of the Dirty Bathrobe Day get professional help immediately. And, even if you can, get help!

I am a big believer. The old stigma has it all wrong. It’s not the really fucked up, crazy people who go to mental health therapists; it’s the people who are sane enough and brave enough to realize they are in deep.

When my recent ordeal exploded it triggered so much pain from past traumas that I found myself literally flinching from old memories. I knew I was going to need professional help to cope with the attacks and my own frantic, stabbing feelings. I began working with a therapist, who luckily, was trained in Eye Movement Deprogramming and Reprocessing (EMDR). This turned out to be life-transforming. I am now absolutely certain that had I not leaned into therapy so early in the crisis I would have had a much harder time surviving it, let alone thriving on the other side.

Professional counseling can be especially valuable if your need for reinvention involves shame. Growing scientific evidence suggests that shame is one the most painful and destructive emotions. Guilt is believing that you have done something bad; shame is believing that you are bad. Shame means feeling worthless, rejected, cast out.

The professional counseling and deep dive inner work not only helped me survive the onslaught, but it actually empowered me to reach a place where I feel more enough than I ever have in my entire life. This feeling is SO WORTH the vulnerability of baring your soul to a trained stranger!

6) Remember You Still Are Even if You Don’t Still Have

In what seemed like a blink of an eye I lost my title, all my current clients, every single one of my active work projects, the home I had lived in for four years and, at least in some circles, my reputation. The sense of loss was devastating and, because I had always based so much of my self-worth on my work and doings, I felt utterly cast adrift and valueless.

The main thing that helped me weather the loss was realizing that even through I may not HAVE those things anymore, I still WAS everything I had been before my fall from grace. Every talent, every skill, every bit of professional and personal experience was still in me.

The same is true of everyone. You can lose things, positions, jobs, titles, homes, lovers. But no matter the loss you still are what you are and all your talents and experiences are right there ready to help you open up the next phase of your reinvented life.

7) Imagine that Maybe You Are So Much More Than You Thought – STRETCH!

Because of the circumstances that led to the unasked for pause in my career my usual work channels were closed to me for over a year. This was so horribly painful. Who was I if I wasn’t a consultant, an advocate, if I wasn’t working on the issues I’d dedicated my life to?

At first I was resentful and terrified and my ego stung. I felt like I’d been demoted in life in general! I really had to scramble just to pay the bills. But I moved forward, took some risks, STRETCHED! I got a paid gig as a writer. I took on some research work. I started teaching personal development courses. I also started volunteering for causes I loved but had been too busy for. And, guess what? I LOVED it!

I realized that by fighting so hard to hold onto my old familiar view of myself I was actually limiting my full identity. Not only was I everything I had been before but I was also a professional writer, a wildlife healer and a great dog-fence builder! By clinging to the old image of myself, I was masking my bigger, fuller, more creative bad ass Self with a capital S!

You can either believe you’ve been lessened by the loss of the old, familiar way of things, or you can find fabulous aspects of a fuller, richer, more multi-faceted YOU.

8) Kiss People Off and Make New Friends

Sometimes one of the hardest things about self-reinvention is the need to cut loose the people around us. There is a reason the old cliché about learning who your true friends are has been around for so long. It really is in our darkest hours we learn who is truly there for us and who isn’t. I was staggered with the pain of abandonment by so many I considered friends and the terrible sense of isloation.

To reinvent strong you have to shed the people who undermine you. Don’t chase after the ones who flee. You can never lose a true friend and abandoners aren’t worth your effort. And don’t spend time with those who tear down your dreams or judge you unworthy. It is easy enough to fall into the trap of doing that ourselves – we don’t need reinforcements!

Instead be very intentional, spending time with people who are positive, moving forward and genuinely want good for you. Sometimes these are the old, dear friends that stick. Other times they’re new friends that appear at just the right moment – don’t overlook or undervalue either of these precious gifts.   And do not, for one more second, spend your precious time and energy on people who don’t believe in you and want you to be your very best!

And remember, cutting someone loose today doesn’t mean they’re out of your life forever – sometimes it just needs a big break. I “divorced” my biological family for years and now we are coming back together more healthfully and lovingly than I ever would have believed.

9) Keep Giving

When I finally let it sink in that it would be months before I could resume my career my self-value plummeted. Some part of me knew that I needed to find a way to feel like I was making a positive contribution. That’s when I started volunteering for causes I cared about. I joined a volunteer organization that builds fences for dogs who were living their lives on the end of a chain.

It was incredibly good for me. Watching a dog run and play freely for the first time in their lives in a fence that I had helped build I knew I’d done something valuable that day. Their canine joy and forgiving natures were infectious. And, being part of the community of fellow volunteers helped overcome my sense of isolation.

Giving to someone else is one of the very best ways to feel valuable and abundant because it proves you have enough to spare, you have something of value.

10) Develop/ Deepen a Spiritual Practice (I don’t mean religion!)

I am beyond grateful that I already had an established practice of meditation, journaling and spiritual connection before my big mess slammed into my life. However, what I was going through was so intense I knew I needed more. For a while every book I read was on the subject of spiritual growth in difficult times. Feeling a bit like the Prodigal Daughter I reconnected with the Unity church I hadn’t attended in ten years! I started working with a Course in Miracles. Not only have these steps helped me cope with the trauma, they’ve opened whole new vistas, opportunities and friendships.

Whatever spiritual path you choose be sure to include gratitude.  It is essential not to let the challenges blind you to goodness and abundance you already have. We attract what we focus on.  What we appreciate appreciates!   And there is nothing better for keeping a hopeful positive outlook than practicing gratitude.

Connecting to our spiritual aspects is essential to shaping a strong self-reinvention. These times of turmoil can break us down but they also hold the promise of breaking us open into deeper, richer more beautiful lives. Getting in touch with spirit, with our true inner selves is key to seizing that awesome gift.

To Wrap Up: Make no mistake, successful self-reinvention isn’t for wimps! But it is absolutely essential to living your fullest life. Here’s to empowering your inner Phoenix Rising and becoming the next awesome version of YOU!

If you fellow reinventors have other tips I’d love to hear them!

Cylvia Hayes

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Resiliency Muscles

One oShe Stood in the Stormf the coolest things developing within me right now is a much deeper appreciation of my resiliency.

For a long time I viewed my dysfunctional, rough poor childhood and wildly redneck family as something that would always hold me down. And I worried my natural tendency to take risks was somehow a block to real success. What I’ve now come to realize is that the challenges and experiences of that particular crazy path have given me extraordinary resiliency.

It’s one thing to stand strong when things are going smoothly but it’s something else again TO RISE UP STRONG after taking a hard hit. I think it’s only when we really have to force ourselves to be strong that we learn how strong we really are.

And those RESILIENCY MUSCLES are quicker to flex when they’ve had a lot of heavy and repeated exercise! And just like after an intense workout, when you towel away the sweat, or in the case of trauma, the tears, and see that you were strong enough to make it through, the memory of the pain start to fade replaced by that delicious feeling of accomplishment.

As the beautiful Maya Angelou said, “I can be changed by what happens to me. I refuse to be reduced by it.”

Here’s to knowing, growing, flexing and loving our resiliency muscles and all the hard exercise that developed them!

Cylvia Hayes

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Where’s the Tragedy?

Not how the story is going to endA well-me­­aning colleague with the very best of intentions has several times described what happened to me as a tragedy.  Each time it made me uncomfortable but I couldn’t nail down why. Until now.

I finally realized that viewing these challenges as a tragedy leaves me feeling like a victim. It seems to suggest that the attacks, the ordeal of being publically shamed has irreparably damaged, derailed and diminished my work and my life. Well, in fact, for the first year or so part of me was terrified and tortured by that very belief. But not anymore.

What I’ve come to see is that the whole painful mess has been something of a spiritual intervention. It was the first time in my life that I really slowed down – because I was finally forced to. Not only was my work abruptly taken from me but I was so emotionally broken and exhausted that I finally surrendered to Spirit. I described the amazing beauty in that experience in one of my very first blog posts.

I feel so grateful, and a bit proud of myself, to realize now how much I’ve grown since those early blog posts nearly a year ago. And that is why I don’t view what happened to me as a tragedy. I have been a spiritual seeker and journeyer most of my adult life, but the ordeal of public shaming helped me to realize that in many ways I’d just been giving it lip service, skimming along the surface.

Though I’ve believed most of my adult life that we are spiritual beings in a physical phase I’d been letting the physical stuff dictate my actions, my thinking, my reality. Only occasionally did I dip beneath that surface and dive into the awesome beauty of deeper truths. Now that I’ve had so much time to explore those waters I realize how much I’ve been limiting myself.

I know it’s not irrational for my friend to view this situation as tragic. I also know it’s not irrational for me to sense the opportunities in the bigger picture and disagree.

I believe I was ready for this growth, this learning. Has it been hard? Yes! Life-changing? Yes. Gut and tear-wrenching? Yes.

Rich? Yes. Transformative? Yes. Beautiful in completely unexpected ways? Yes!

Definitions of tragedy include “a disastrous event”, a “calamity” and something that “has a sorrowful, disastrous conclusion.” I’m sorry but I refuse to allow what I am going through to come to a disastrous conclusion.

Did I want the pain, humiliation and bone-weary exhaustion brought on by the public shaming? Hell no!

Do I want to live the rest of my life immersed in this new, richer, deeper perspective on life? Absolutely!

Where’s the tragedy in that?

Cylvia Hayes

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Treasures in the Crap!

I aGifts in Adversity Krista Tippetm finding that during periods of sort of chronic, intense, prolonged challenge it is during the flare-ups, the acute episodes of crap that we can see how much we’ve grown!

It is now twenty months (almost two years!!) that I have been dealing with the corporate media agenda-driven character assassination. Not in a million years would I have seen it coming. And not in two million would I have believed it could go on this long.

It’s surreal to be in a place where battling the major media outlet in the state and never knowing what the next bit of misinformation about me will be spread around has become just the normal back drop of my life, and yet, in the midst of it, I am happy, hopeful and peaceful most of the time. That kind of amazes me.

But every once in awhile in a long, drawn out ordeal, some new twist, a flare up, kicks me in the gut, hits its mark and buckles my knees. That happened on Wednesday when I learned that a judge, with her own political interests, had ruled that I would have to pay the legal fees of the dishonest media outlet that had been the source of much of the misinformation about me. The amount of the legal fees are more than I owe for my house.

For the first little while I actually couldn’t believe it because the whole premise was so absurd that I was sure the ruling would go in the other direction. But then the sense of loss and being so small against the challenge, the attackers and the system settled in.

I came within a hair’s breadth of succumbing to a dirty bathrobe on the couch day drinking beer binge-watching TV – basically collapsing and numbing out. But just as my hand reached for the TV remote control I had a thought – “Maybe this was actually the very best thing that could happen? Maybe this ongoing challenge and the obvious piling on by this very questionable news outlet would be the avenue through which I could help us get to healthier and more honest media and political systems? Maybe I was exactly where I needed to be to do the most good.”

My mood instantly shifted and, even though the entire rest of the day was consumed by dealing with this flare up, I didn’t resist it. I kept breathing deeply and stayed focused on the truth that I had no way of knowing the good that could come from this seeming problem.

Twenty months ago, when my life seemed to be flowing along smoothly, there is no question that if this flare up had hit me I would have picked up the TV remote control and never gotten out of my bathrobe.

I’m beginning to see that something is only a setback if we choose to see it as one.

Just incredible the treasures we can find buried in the crap. I mean just think about what’s in the fertilizer that helps our gardens grow. Here’s to harnessing adversity to fertilize our souls!

Cylvia Hayes

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The Seductive Thief

EGO edging God outEgo is such a seductive thief. I’m not talking about the obvious aspects of ego such as arrogance, pride and insecurity. I am talking about ego with a big “E”. This is the Ego that constructs the appearances, rigid beliefs and false identities we wrap ourselves in trying to overcome the deep core feeling of not being good enough.

Realizing how ego-driven I have been is one of the most embarrassing but also beautiful, life-transforming insights of this past challenging year and a half.

I am someone who has based a huge amount of my self-esteem on my performance, what I was able to accomplish, “out there” in the competitive world. And the somewhat humiliating truth is that I have wanted to be recognized for it. I needed validation from others to feel valuable. Even now it feels unsettling and vulnerable to openly express this.

For someone like me there likely was no hotter crucible than public shaming, being smeared, lied about, devalued over and over again. The powerlessness of not even having a way to come to my own defense clawed and chewed like a wild beast eating me from the inside out.

But now, distance, reflection and healing allows me to understand that I required this type of trauma to get to a place where I can decipher Ego from Truth. I can see so clearly now that all the constructs of my “enoughness strategies” – the busyness, the striving to feel important, the high-profile work and position – were just a house made of glass.

When the stones flew and the shell shattered, Ego was exposed and for a time paralyzed, and there I met Self, the real me behind and beyond all the constructs and illusions. I was stunned to the point of tears the first time I realized that that Self was beautiful, good and enough! Ego had been robbing me of this knowing.

Through meditation, counseling, reflection and study I have been very intentionally developing my relationship with my Self. And here’s the most mind-blowing part. When my accomplishments were trashed, my work and position were torn away, I raged, Ego fighting desperately to keep those constructs and appearances in place, to protect my familiar identity – to no avail. Then, amazingly, standing in the shards and fragments of who I thought I was I realized I hadn’t become less but in fact, could see that I was far more than I ever dreamed. Clinging so tightly to a constructed identity had been limiting my Self. There is a whole new world, a deeper, richer reality that I had been blindly skipping right past.

I sometimes feel like Truman Burbank from the Truman Show movie when he realizes his whole comfortable life had so far been lived in a small, constructed bubble isolated from reality. That is exactly what the Ego does to us when we are blind to it. It robs us of the adventure and splendor of our deeper selves, of the I Am.

I Am and I am so excited to move forward into the rest of my life, the next part of the adventure, with this new and growing awareness.

I truly, truly hope that sharing some of this will be helpful to those of you who are on your own journeys beyond Ego to Self. Imagine what our world could be like if we met one another from such a place?

Here’s to reclaiming our Selves from the Seductive Thief.

Cylvia Hayes

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Of Sows and Selves

Sow and pigletEarly on in my public shaming ordeal, when the frenzied media were spewing speculation and misinformation was spreading like a virus, I began regularly attending services at a Buddhist dharma center near my home. One day the teacher shared a poem that moved me deeply. It is titled, Saint Francis and the Sow, by Galway Kinnell.

The bud
Stands for all things,
Even those that don’t flower,
For everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
Though sometimes it is necessary
To reteach a thing its loveliness,
To put a hand on its brow
Of the flower
And retell it in words and touch
It is lovely
Until it flowers again, from within, of self-blessing;
As Saint Francis
Put his hand on the creased forehead
Of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
Blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
Began remembering all down her thick length,
From the earthen snout all the way
Through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
From the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
Down through the great broken heart
To the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
From the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
The long, perfect loveliness of sow.

The poem stirred something deep within, my own desire to relearn, to be told in words and touch.  I found myself thinking of it often over the next days.  Then, not long after, with the media feeding frenzy still in full force, an organization that I cared about deeply asked me resign from the board because they feared the media would turn on them due to their association with me.

Their abandonment and willingness to throw me away cut me to the quick.  At that moment it felt as though the media assault was taking everything from me — my reputation, my work, my relationships, my identity.   When I got off the phone with my once fellow board members, I crumbled into deep, spine racking sobs.  John held me.  It was the hardest I had ever cried in front of him.  As my tears and shudders began to ease he reached out and stroked my forehead and said, “You’re a beautiful person Cylvia.  You care so deeply about things.”  With his hand on my brow I recalled the poem and “the perfect loveliness of sow,” and I felt a flutter of the perfect loveliness of myself.

I came across this poem again just the other day and now, with all these months of distance, I am deeply and profoundly grateful for the healing that has taken place, for the growth I am experiencing.  I can see, now, that in the process of losing so much that I was deeply attached to, I found truth and a depth of self-approval I’ve never known before.  It is a lovely gift that has taken decades to unwrap.

Right now, in this moment, as I reflect on all that has taken place these past many months, as I am thinking of the long, thick loveliness of sow, I am so deeply grateful to those who saw the loveliness in me when others would not and I, at times, could not.

Cylvia Hayes

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