Hope in the heart of Kilauea Iki

Hope and fear cannot occupy the same space. Invite one to stay.
– Maya Angelou

When I visited Hawaii in 2010, I took a hike across the Kilauea crater. Kilauea Iki last erupted in 1959 for 36 days. It took 36 years for the lava lake to harden. While the ground is now solid, the core is still hot and you can see and feel steam rising through cracks in the ground.

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Hiking across what initially appeared to be a barren landscape, it surprised me to see small green buds, bushes, and plants scattered about growing somehow between fractures in the rock floor. How had those roots managed to take hold in what seemed such an inhospitable place?

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Those tiny pieces of foliage have been on my mind lately. I’m currently starting my mornings with a meditation practice, with help from Deepak Chopra and a 21-day meditation challenge. The focus is on hope in uncertain times. Quite apropos for right now on many levels, especially a personal one.

Nearing half a century in age this year, I find myself at another fork in the road. Because I’ve spent much of my outer life either doing what I was told or what was expected of me, my inner spirit has experienced its own form of volcanic activity in the form of anger and depression. As much as I like to think of myself as a positive person, when I sink into my heart each morning during that meditation, it feels a lot like that barren crater of Kilauea Iki.

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Essentially, I’ve still no clue what to do with my life. I’ve spent the majority of my adult years making a living at work that has never been a passion or given me much joy outside of a regular paycheck. Though I’ve luckily always had the pleasure and good fortune to work with terrific people, that does not a fulfilling life make.

It’s added a few extra cracks to my already broken heart to meet myself each day doing this exercise and sense how unhappy I’ve been for so long and how hard my heart has become, as if a steel trap door has been clamped shut across my chest and vacuum-sealed for good measure. I went in looking for hope only to find fear had set up shop long ago and built itself a sprawling estate.

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See, here’s the thing: I am the queen of cheerleaders for other people. I’ve had people roll their eyes and tease me about my sometimes Pollyanna-esque persona. I can find encouraging words and a silver lining in just about anything –- when it’s about someone else. I’ve been able to do it for myself at times too, though not nearly as well or as easily. When it comes to me, I’m usually just annoyed with myself. But I get over it and move on, right?

Sure, I knew insecurity and anxiety had been constant companions. And yes, battles with depression, disease, and a host of other disappointments have had years to spill out and leave behind a sea of destruction. But I could have sworn I’d overcome so much of that. I did not know there could still be this much hurt or how deep the damage went. How have I managed to deceive myself for so long?

And most importantly, how do I even begin to invite hope in again?

I’m purposely taking time in my life now to sift through the embers and decide on a new course heading and do some healing. So I’m thinking about those signs of life I saw all across Kilauea’s rocky crater. If they can find a way in a place that seems so hostile, is there a way for hope to open the door and take root in the cracks and crevices of my heart?

Dare I say it? I’m hoping so.

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In the meantime….

You are love(d).

In the company of bees

“Fear can make a moth seem the size of a bull elephant.”
― Stephen Richards, Releasing You from Fear

I used to be scared of bees. And I mean terrified. I’m talking run screaming, arms flailing, there-might-as-well-be-a-swarm-pursuing-me, full-on meltdown. It’s incredible how something so small could cause such a powerful reaction.

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According to my mom, I stepped on a bee when I was a toddler and I suppose that one painful experience was where my fear began. But I got older and figured out my fear was unnecessary and unfounded. I watched with awe as others handled a bee’s presence so casually and calmly, and began to practice it myself. I started to see bees for their gifts instead of their stinger. And I stopped being afraid.

And you know the funny thing? I was never afraid of spiders. Ever. I’d flee from a bee but walk right up to a web. As far back as I can remember, spiders and other creepy-crawly creatures enthralled me. Hold a tarantula? Yes, please! (They did, however, completely freak my sister out. On more than one occasion I was called upon to kill a spider if one was discovered lurking in her room. I still feel kind of bad about that.)

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Fear is fascinating, remarkably individual, and also very deceptive. What one person thinks is cool will make another person’s hands clammy. ‘Fess up, do you cringe looking at that spider picture? I get it. No judgment. (Well, I don’t get it because I think the spider is gorgeous, but still…no judgment.)

I share all this because I’ve been thinking a lot about fear lately. About my own fears and how I have let fear rule much of my life. And I don’t think I’m alone in this.

Some fears are understandably born from bad experiences, situations that stung. But, if I’m really honest, something that isn’t always easy to do, most of my fears are based only on conjecture and the darkly creative imaginings of my own mind over “what might happen.” Cue ominous music.

“Men are not afraid of things, but of how they view them.”
― Epictetus

From fleeing bees to not pursuing my passions and dreams to not speaking up and speaking out, fear has held me back. And don’t even get me started on the seeds of fear planted by my parents and others around me: It’s hard, it’s stupid, it’s not possible, that’s not how it’s done, only the lucky or special few find success, and on and on.

Fear has filled my head and kept me from trying because the possibility that I might be hurt or fail or make a fool of myself was enough to prevent me from living fully, exploring all I am, and allowing others, and my own mistakes, to teach me.

Fear can be a gift; it’s meant to keep us safe. But focus too much on fear and it will turn on you and become a walled fortress of reasons why you can’t and excuses why you won’t.

“Overcoming what frightens you the most strengthens you the most.”
― Matshona Dhliwayo

Once upon a time, my mind took a single sting and blew it into a fear so great that any encounter with a bee was the equivalent of being chased by a monster with a hacksaw. It sounds crazy even writing it, and yet that’s exactly how I remember it feeling. But our minds and emotions are powerful and can send us down rabbit holes of doubt, dread, and despair. And boy, have I let mine play me like a fiddle.

You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.
– Morpheus in “The Matrix”

So what is really true? The truth is a bee is simply a bee. It’s not out to get me. Yes, it may sting if it feels threatened or a need to defend itself, but it’s just as likely that it won’t. And, after all, aren’t we all a bit like that too?

What might I uncover if I allow myself to dig deeper and wonder what else is possible? Is this fear really a threat or is it imagined and based on assumption or misperception? Maybe if I simply stand here and breathe and be calm, the bee will fly off, maybe the right answer will come, maybe I’ll learn something I didn’t know, or maybe, even if I do fall, I will be more than I was before more because I tried.

That doesn’t mean I don’t think or question or allow for some skepticism in life. Just that I have to think and question myself and my deeper motives and assumptions – and fears – as well. At least that’s what I’m trying to do more of every day. Because I’m finding the real danger lurks within me, among the swarm of fears buzzing around in my mind.

You are love(d).

PS – The above “covered in bees” gif is courtesy of Giphy.com and features my favorite comedian, Eddie Izzard. To see his hilarious bit about beekeepers and being “covered in bees,” visit this link and enjoy his brilliantly absurd take on, well, everything: https://youtu.be/Xs-tl6GBOBo