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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Choosing to Trust an Untrusted

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CLICK HERE FOR KATU
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

It was incredibly nerve-wracking to sit down with a reporter from KATU, a news outlet that had been part of the firestorm of allegations and speculation about me. 
 
I was so stressed that the moment I actually sat down in front of the cameras I had tunnel vision and it took several moments to be able to speak.  Once I regained some composure and pushed down the tears, the reporter asked me questions for an hour, including many that she knew I couldn’t fully answer because of the ongoing investigation into the allegations put forward by the media.  It has been so difficult not to be able to defend myself.   
 
Although I did my best to manage I was stressed and worried every day until the interview aired because I feared it would be cut and spliced into another sensationalized, inaccurate story.  It was hard to watch once it aired, but in the end I was relieved and I appreciate that the reporter stuck to her pledge not to over-sensationalize or mold whatever I said into a pre-created narrative. 
 
But then, I learned this reporter was going to be interviewed by another media show to give her opinions of what it was like interviewing me!  The anxiety spiked again.  Was she going to stick to her promise to stay fair not spin and sensationalize just to crank up ratings? 
 
I am beyond relieved and grateful to say that she did.  She stayed in integrity.  This feels like a big step in taking back my high-jacked identity.  I am grateful for the opportunity and for fair treatment.  And, I am so, so, so appreciative of all of my friends, colleagues and supporters who are sending kind and loving comments.   Thank you.
 


The Fierce Beautiful Strength of Vulnerability By Cylvia Hayes

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Last week I did something terrifying.  In order to move forward I faced a threat and immersed myself in extremely traumatic memories and experiences.  All I could do was trust the assurances of a stranger that I had good reason not to trust.

It was a place of extreme vulnerability and that is a place in which I have never been comfortable.

I was raised to believe tears were a sign of weakness; anger a show of strength.

But as life has torn and tempered, honed and healed me I have seen how backward that thinking is.

It takes tremendous courage to be vulnerable, to put our tender parts in the hands of another.  To have faith, to trust.

True strength is shown in our willingness to reveal our very humanness, pieces of ourselves we may think of as unflattering.  We look upon these threads in the tapestry of our Selves as shameful, but sometimes, taken as part of the whole, they are among the most beautiful strands.

One thing I’ve learned through this recent difficult season of life is that no one is invulnerable and real strength is exercised when, having had the armor ripped away and our soft, fragile parts stoned, flogged and flayed, we choose not to harden or hate but to soften even more.

A ribbon of lava because of its warmth, fluidity and flexibility cannot be broken or constrained.  It’s only when it turns cold and grows hard that it stops moving forward and can be chipped, cut, blasted and broken apart.
_________

For any of you currently struggling with shame and vulnerability I highly recommend Brene Brown’s work and her TED talk which can be viewed here

Cylvia Hayes

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Freedom through Forgiveness by Cylvia Hayes

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Forgiveness is such a powerful, and powerfully difficult thing.  As I’ve shared in previous blogs, for many months I have worked to forgive my attackers.  I have held the intention, meditated and read books about forgiveness.  I’ve made something of a mantra from the quote attributed to Buddha, “Hating someone is like drinking rat poison expecting that other person to die.” 
 
I’ve made progress.  I can definitely feel an easing in the intensity of anger.  I find myself thinking of “them” far less often.  But I still haven’t been fully free.
 
This past week I think I had a breakthrough.  One of the books I’ve been studying as part of my daily meditation practice recommended an exercise.  It suggested holding in mind the person toward whom we hold a grievance, recalling their flaws and the things that make us angry.  The main target of my ire jumped immediately to the forefront of my mind. 
 
Next, the instructions called for releasing that image, breathing deeply and seeing that person as the unique expression of God/ Spirit/ Creator that we all are.  Breathing and envisioning that person’s flawed humanness falling away to reveal the spark of divine creation behind it all. 
 
It was a bit of a stretch for me to see this person who had done me so much harm as a spark of divinity but I was able to get there.  After all I could feel the divinity in myself despite my flaws and weaknesses.  So I took some time trying to hold the image of that person’s higher self. 
 
The next instruction was to view this person as your Savior. ….   What?!!   Wait!  Screeching halt. … My eyes popped open!  That was just a bridge too far.  This person had tried to bring me ruin and I was supposed to look upon them as a savior?  For God’s sake.  …  Or, perhaps for mine. 
 
Despite my discomfort I knew I wanted the freedom of forgiveness so I stayed with it.  I realized the basis of my aversion was that thinking of this person as a “savior” felt like viewing them as powerful and justified in the awful actions they had taken against me.  But as I sat with it longer, I saw that by holding such a view I was still making it about that other person. 
 
There is just no question that I have grown immensely from dealing with the attacks and challenges this person brought into my life.  I know myself better.  I like myself more.  I am closer to Spirit.  I am more loving and more at peace.  I think in many ways these challenges became a spiritual intervention.  They didn’t break me down, they broke me open, and that is the salvation.  The salvation is in realizing what’s truly important and what I really want in my life, in taking time out (even though I hadn’t asked for it) to go deep and better get to know my higher self. 
 
Many months ago, finding profound peace in the midst of deep trauma, I said to my Beloved, “I want to live the rest of my life from this place, but without needing a crisis to get here.”  I recognized then the value of my attackers.  Spirit, the Universe, the Creator presented them so that I could grow.  Being harmed by their un-evolved humanness gave me an opportunity to awaken, grow and become more, and more powerful.  That is why they are my saviors.  It’s not about them at all. 
 
I wouldn’t have chosen to be attacked, to face these painful and   difficult challenges but I do choose to grow, advance and become more and more powerful as a result. 
 
This reminds me of a story that I learned of while reading some of Pema Chodron’s writings.  There was a renowned Buddhist teacher, named Atisha, who planned to go on a long, cross-country trek.  He wanted to bring a companion and many good people from his village wanted to go with him.  They were all friendly, companionable, compatible people.  And that was the problem. 
 
Atisha was afraid that his personal spiritual growth would be stunted if he only spent time with people who agreed with him and were pleasant to be around.  He believed that the people we find most obnoxious, frustrating or contemptible mirror and reflect back to us those very aspects of our selves that are obnoxious, frustrating or contemptible – and so they are invaluable teachers.  So he invited the most obnoxious, unpleasant person he knew, the boy that sold tea in the village.  Everyone, including the young tea merchant was surprised. 
 
For the entirety of the journey, the unpleasant, young tea merchant was a thorn in Atisha’s side.  Many times they wished they were not with one another.  But through it all they both grew. 
 
I can’t yet say thank you to my attackers but I can say thank you for them. 
 
 By Cylvia Hayes
 

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Forgive and Forward by Cylvia Hayes

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Forgiving is no simple thing.  There’s a quote attributed to both Buddha and Ghandi along the lines of, “Hating someone is like drinking rat poison expecting the other guy to die.”  I get it intellectually, but man, with the handful of those who attacked most viciously or professed to be friends but weren’t it is taking serious commitment to move beyond intellectual understanding to real forgiveness.
 
I want to forgive — not because I think they were justified, or were in the right, but because I don’t want to add to the ugliness.  I don’t want to contribute to the anger, the hatred, the meanness and lack of love that is behind so much of the misery in our world. 
 
I want to forgive — not to forget or condone what was done but to find peace.  I’ve heard it said that when we feel anger we’re being human but when we stay locked in anger we’re being prisoners. 
 
I’ve made a lot of progress.  The anger has eased a lot. 
 
One exercise I’ve been working with is to better understand, and even recognize within myself, some of those darker human traits like the desire to tear others down to feel somehow better about our own small lives.  It is humbling to admit I have at times felt a little delight when a certain successful person got knocked down a few pegs.  It is even more humbling to realize those feelings came from my own sense of inferiority and misplaced competitiveness.  I am acutely aware of those types of feelings now and far less likely to harbor them.  For that growth I am deeply grateful.  These insights are helping me to turn the arrows into flowers. 
 
I’ve also been working with the beautiful Book of Forgiving, written by Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho.  The book is written for individuals exploring forgiveness but it pulls from some of the incredibly powerful healing that took place in South Africa, through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, addressing the atrocities of apartheid.  It is a treasure chest of wisdom and helpful exercises.  It drives home the point that forgiving is not about, or for, those who harmed you.  It’s about you. 
 
Forgiving isn’t saying what they did was OK.  It’s saying what they did no longer has control over me.  The number one dictionary definition of forgive is to “stop being angry about something.”  It’s not about absolving the perpetrator; it’s about choosing how you want to feel.  It’s about choosing your power.  I am actively forgiving because I am moving forward.
 
Oprah Winfrey said, “True forgiveness is when you can say, “Thank you for that experience.”  I’m getting there and I’m grateful for that. 

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Cylvia Hayes