Remember those days in which you knew you could do anything? That one day you’d grow up and do something very important. Be the President of the United States. Discover the cure for Cancer. Eliminate war and hunger. We all thought this at one time, didn’t we? Didn’t you? Maybe not on such a grand scale; maybe you knew you’d get your parents back together, madly in love. Or submit the best paper in elementary that would be heralded as the Best Ever, printed in the newspaper, and put in a frame at the front of the school. Whatever it was, in those days, we knew we were all powerful; if we just worked hard enough, we could make big things happen almost with the swish of a wand with fairy dust following in a magical spell.
I don’t know when it starts to slowly erase from our understanding. When the fairy dust begins to dissipate. When exactly we become jaded. When we find out we’re actually NOT all that powerful. We have little control after all. Does it come with that first disappointment or the tenth?
I think I’ve always wanted to be *significant* in some way. To stand out. Not that I enjoy being the center of attention – how embarrassing – but to shine in some way that makes a difference. To know that I came to this world and had some significant meaning for being here. To leave my mark in some way.
I’m pleased to learn that I’m not as narcissistic as that sounds. Tony Robbins, world renowned motivational speaker, life coach and author, says that there are 6 basic needs for humanity. One of the big ones: Significance. That our lives have some kind of importance and meaning – whether it’s put into action through negativity, competition, or violence, or met by doing great things or even the simplicity that greatly affects another’s life.
What a relief….it’s not just me!!
As that jadedness begins to fall, like a heavy cloak over our magnificence, we begin to shut doors. “I’m not an artist; I won’t be able to sell anything. Artists don’t make money. There’s too much competition for this to make a difference. There’s really no way to be *significant* here. “ So we drift towards something more practical, more of a sure thing. Typically it doesn’t matter that we are not full of passion as we trudge through in our path to attain it. In fact, it’s likely we’ve forgotten that “childish” zest as the cloak of practicality first began to descend upon us.
When I was a child, I knew early on that I wanted to help others. I was very drawn to those in need – especially those with physical disabilities. And somehow, being intuitive from a very young age, I drifted away from the idea of Physical Therapy (too hard core scientific and exercise-y!) to Occupational Therapy because it included my first love; crafts, arts, recreation. Doing STUFF as therapy. That made sense to me!
In school, I loved to learn. And on that same quest for significance, I loved to get good grades. Whether it was for the appreciation from my parents, being recognized by my teachers and friends as “smart”, or the personal satisfaction of knowing that once again, if I did the hard work, I could still wave the magic wand for my desire. So getting into Occupational Therapy wasn’t difficult, though competitive. I struggled through the Math and Physics pre-requisites and later through the “Physical Dysfunction” area – the area of Occupational Therapy that most mirrored Physical Therapy, which interestingly, is the primary existing sub-area of OT today. I easily drifted towards Mental Health, at one time coining group therapy as “mental masturbation” – it was that delicious and stimulating to me to talk about what was going on behind each person’s exterior.
While working in a psychiatric hospital in my early 20’s, I remember senior administrators asking me to do their prescription for what might be more *significant* in the treatment of the clientele. I remember feeling very egotistical and defensive, as if they had no right to dictate my practice. Whether those suggestions could have been heard with a more objective ear was irrelevant to me – it spoke to me that what I offered was insignificant.
Later, that was compounded by a psychiatrist suggesting that I might feel guilty about collecting a paycheck. That all I do is “play with the patients all day.” I righteously quipped back, “And you? You don’t feel guilty for spending less than 5 minutes a day with a patient just to change a medication?”
We’re all competing for Significance. Who really is making a difference?
Not long ago, in therapy, it was suggested that I might want to choose a totem. Why, I’m not sure, but I’m nothing if not outwardly obedient. If I were to choose, I thought, it’d be a tiger. Sinewy force. Sexy lines, aggressive action, show no weakness!
As I said, I’ve always been intuitive….so guess what shows up as I begin to question and listen?
A freakin’ butterfly. Flying around my head. Landing on my shoulder. Seeing them *everywhere*.
Really? I suggest Tiger and I get……BUTTERFLY?! Can you be any more INSIGNIFICANT?!
I mean, sure. They go through that transformation thing, yea. And yes, I’m doing that too in my life. I get that. Sure, if you follow the Monarch butterfly, you see that She carries ancestral knowledge through to future lives to be able to fly the very same flight to practically the same tree year after year. And yea, she’s a major pollinator, a sharer, a connector in that pollination thing. Yep. Cool. But fragile. Easily squashed. It’s wings torn off by little boys like my brother when he was growing up. Short life. (gulp….looking over shoulder…tossing a pinch of salt) Whimsy. INsignificant.
Shortly after, as I continued to listen and question, this time about “What are you going to do after the kids leave home? What do you really want to be when you grown up?” I stumble, really quite randomly, into Expressive Arts. It’s a great add on to my Occupational Therapy degree – one that furthers me into my direction/my passion. And guess what, makes the art/crafts interest I had as a child more SIGNIFICANT. It taps into my love of “mental masturbation”, even taps into this bent I have for the spiritual using my favorite childhood tool of all. ART. MUSIC. PERFORMANCE. All of it wrapped into one. It couldn’t be more perfect.
And yet, old messages keep tripping back. I’ll listen to others about their stories, their tragedies shared in casual conversation and in my head, I’m already thinking of what I’d “prescribe” if I were doing Expressive Art with them, with the immediate reaction,
“She’s just lost her child. Her husband. And you want her to……..make some ART?! Are you freakin’ kidding me?!!” (big smirk)
There’s a message that comes from our culture that says ART is INSIGNIFICANT. Desperate times requires desperate measures! We have to DO something. Talk it out!
And we do our somethings, we do do do….we talk talk talk…..our minds continue that talk talk talk and it often gets us……nowhere.
There’s a shift happening in this world. Our culture. A shift to more simple. Slowing down. Deeper breathing. Meditation. Prayer. De-clutter. Quality not quantity. Finding meaning.
Perhaps ART, Expressive Art, is one of the tools that helps to bring us there. To get out of our minds. To forget about doing something, producing something (a pretty piece for show or sale), using the process to get out of our head the more we practice in it (to erase that normal critic voice) so that we can heal. Lift the cloak. Swirl the wand while sprinkling fairy dust. Remember our magnificence.
There’s not a “perhaps” in this for me. I know. I personally know that by sitting down to write – just to write, or to paint, or to get lost in music….like meditation, it soothes me. It transports me to another place. And sometimes…..sometimes……if I allow it, it speaks to me. Not like a friend or therapist (though sometimes, don’t we wish the answers were that simple?) But it suggests a word or an image or a phrase that speaks to me. Something that’s often surprising that I hadn’t thought of before. And there. It’s one step outside the box in my head of talk, talk , talk.
THAT’S SIGNIFICANT. Because each small step is a trajectory of change. Indeed, like the Butterfly Effect. The idea in Chaos Theory that says that the simple force of a butterfly’s wing on one side of the continent can cause a tsunami on the other.
For me, it’s been like a giant aha that is so elementary simple. As I’ve begun to accept the seemingly fragile, insignificant – even culturally insignificant FEMALE – in me, I’ve begun to fully understand and wield Her Power. And significance.
And yes, that IS significant.