The Comfortable Confines of Identity by Cylvia Hayes



One of the hardest aspects of being publically shamed was losing control of my own sense of self-identity.  I had viewed myself as a hard working, deeply committed advocate working every day to try to make things a little better for the environment and people struggling with poverty.  I thought of myself as fairly effective, flawed but basically a good person.  I knew I had worked really hard to get to where I was in life.

And then, BOOM!  I was simply unprepared for the horror of having that identity torn apart and replaced with a one-dimensional, ugly caricature, a me I didn’t recognize.  It shook me to my core and ripped open deep knife wounds of self-examination and criticism.

In the most agonized moments of pain and humiliation I even found myself wondering if the disgraceful image of me, created by click-hungry reporters was accurate.  Who was I really?

The first important answer came during a particularly powerful meditation.  My mind stilled, the fear and anger eased to a point I hadn’t experienced in weeks.  In that stillness I could sense Spirit, could feel the subtle connection between my one small life and the vast, beautiful mystery of life in the big sense.  I touched my deeper, more powerful self, my I Am.

A few weeks later, still reeling, but having many times brushed against the powerful calmness of the I Am, it dawned on me that I still was everything I’d been before being publically dismantled.  I was still a lover of and fighter for this miraculous, small blue planet.  I was still a writer and speaker, a messenger.  Whatever talents and skills, whatever flaws I’d had before were still within me.

Realizing that I was still all of who I’d been, led me to consider that perhaps I was even much more.  What if, by clinging so desperately to the identity I’d crafted and was comfortable with, I was actually limiting my “becoming”?

This past year has indeed been one of becoming – becoming more self-aware, more compassionate and loving; slowing down and becoming kinder.  I cannot see where it is headed, truly a work in progress.  It is scary and uncertain but just in the past few weeks I feel a sense of anticipation.

Recently, on several mornings I woke unusually early, ahead of the alarm, and could not go back to sleep.  As I lay there in the warmth and soft darkness, listening to the deep, calm breathing of the big dog stretched beside me, I realized something profoundly hopeful.  For the first time in a year, I couldn’t get back to sleep not because I was stressed and fearful, but because I was excited about what was happening in my life and what was to come.

​I am most grateful for this step in healing and moving forward.   I can’t describe myself as readily as I could a year ago and in that I sense something deeply powerful and beautiful, a beckoning to become more.

​Cylvia Hayes

Simple Human Kindness by Cylvia Hayes


Sometimes it is the absence of a thing that reveals its true value.  Until recently I had not adequately appreciated simple human kindness.

In the aftermath of my life taking a drastic, unexpected and very public turn, I was embarrassed and nervous about how people would react to me.

My first trip back to the gym I was uneasy.  I was acutely aware of the eyes on me.  In the weight room one man, whose name I didn’t know but had seen many times – a gym ‘regular” – put down the barbell he was hefting and approached.  I steeled myself.  He said, “I just want you to know I think you’re a good person and I’m sorry for all the crap that’s going on.”  I let out my breath and blinked away tears.  Thank you.

I was nervous entering my favorite coffee shop that I hadn’t visited for months.  As usual it was busy.  When the tall, blond woman who had worked there as long as I could remember saw me she set aside her work and asked with genuine concern how I was faring.  In the mist of all the bustle and the demands of her job she listened deeply, fully present.  She did so every time I stopped by for several months.  Thank you.

Feeling the need for spiritual community, shyly, I returned after many years like a prodigal daughter to the little Unity church.  Many people were startled to see me.  I was somewhat startled to be there.  They were all unfailingly kind and welcoming.  Their warmth and fellowship melted over me like a soothing balm bringing comfort to a wound.  Thank you!

Standing in the pharmacy aisle in Safeway looking for migraine medicine I was holding the back of my head muttering subconsciously, “ouchie ouchie ouchie ouchie ouchie.”  I must have been louder than I realized because a man stopped and asked if I was OK.  I said yeah and explained that I was just having a migraine for the first time in years.  He asked if I felt like I was going to pass out.  I didn’t.   We went our separate ways but several times I noticed him nearby.  We “wound up” in the same check out line.  He helped me unload my groceries into my car and took the basket back for me.  Thank you.

I had so many of these warm moments with strangers and they stirred something in me.  It took several months to realize that what I was responding to was simple, spontaneous human kindness.  Not just the kindness one expects from true friends and loved ones, but unexpected, unforeseen kindnesses.

One day I stopped by the coffee shop again.  The same lovely woman smiled warmly and asked how I was doing.  I gave her an update and she listened.  As she handed me my egg and veggie sandwich and cup of coffee I said, “You know one thing I’ve learned is that until very recently I had under-valued simple human kindness.  I really appreciate you and your kindness.”  Tears welled up in her warm, blue eyes and she said, “Thank you for that.”

As I have grown to appreciate kindness more I’ve also seen how, in the past, with all my busyness and sense of importance, always on a deadline or on the move, I often unnecessarily withheld kindness from others.  I wasn’t intentionally mean or anything, just often pretty self-absorbed.  But now that I have personally experienced the comfort and healing that simple kindness brings to a wounded person I will offer it more freely myself. 

 Cylvia Hayes

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People That Stick by Cylvia Hayes


When the first few people said, “Well, you’re going to find out who your friends are,” I didn’t really pay it much mind.

That changed over the next many months.

Going through a prolonged, intense, public ordeal would prove to be like running a marathon.  Some people showed up for me at the starting line.  A few would join for stretches in the middle.  Very, very few would run the whole course by my side.

I was deeply wounded by the disappearance of many people I had thought to be true friends.  I have been deeply touched by the people I hadn’t known much at all who stepped forward with love, kindness and support.  But the ones who changed my life were those that are running the whole course with me.  These are the friends, family and colleagues who didn’t shy away from the starting gun, were gently there to pick me up when I stumbled and fell midway through and who will be there at the finish, whatever and whenever that might be.  They are precious and priceless.

I did not realize how much I needed people that stick until faced with a situation in which so many people fled from me.  I didn’t realize how much I needed people period.  I like more alone time than anybody I know so I was very surprised how much it hurt to be isolated from former friends and colleagues.  I wondered if the fickleness was just human nature or, was it because I hadn’t done enough to build friendships, always making that a far lower priority than my work.

My sticky people loved me through some of the hardest experiences of my life.  They were a refuge.  They fed my body, carrying homemade meals to my front door without saying a word because they knew I was grieving and wanted to be alone.  They fed my spirit, listening to me, gently counseling me, affirming my value in moments when I questioned whether I had any.  They will probably never fully understand how much their unflagging support meant/ means to me. 

I will never take these beautiful relationships for granted again.  I vow to be a better friend and to offer to my true friends what they have given me:

  • Reaching out proactively when we haven’t heard from one another in a while just to see how they’re doing and let them know I care.
  • Listening, deeply, to your joys or sorrows with an open heart and patience.
  • Being fully present, not distracted, when I am with you.  
  • Being there to help shore you up when others are unkind.
  • Putting you first, no matter what I am working on, when you have an urgent need that I can help with.  
  • I’m a pretty bad cook so I won’t promise homemade meals but I will go get you take-out!  
  • Sticking with you when life itself becomes a bit of a sticky mess.  

To my sticky people, thank you.  I hope you know how much I appreciate you.

 Cylvia Hayes

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