The Creature

In Brené Brown’s incredible work on shame and vulnerability she talks about the shame gremlins. This is a short, playful piece of fiction about shame, a lady with a frayed bathing suit, a hot summer’s day… and a gremlin. 

She had carried shame so long that she’d come to expect its weight. She unconsciously hunched her shoulders with the expectation of the weight of the world. And the world, as always, obliged. Perhaps she didn’t look as bent over as she felt, but whenever she caught sight of herself in the mirror it seemed as though she was shrinking, height wise at least. 

She always had a niggling feeling that she took up more space than she deserved and that if she could steal a little less of it she might just feel more worthy, more able to fill it.  

To anyone else the swimsuit could have torn because it was old. Its seam could have pulled because of a loose thread caught on the edge of a rock pool or the facets of a beautiful ring. It could have been an invitation –  to laugh, dive into the sea in her dress and let the current ruffle its skirt like coloured waves. An invitation to shop, treat herself to something new in a pattern waiting to be fallen in love with, but she was so accustomed to shame that felt sure it tore because of her. 

There she was, taking up space again.

She noticed the curve of her belly rather than the curve of her smile, the dimples on her thighs rather than her cheek, that one red spot on the canvas of smooth skin. Perhaps the weight of her shame had worked its way under her skin and left it swollen. She felt the pull against the fabric. That was why, it must be. 

But she couldn’t quite make herself move. The urge to hide met the urge not to be noticed, and moving would only make it worse. Moving would make them look. Maybe she could freeze here for just another moment until the burn of the sun on her back grew worse than the burn of shame in her belly.

It was there, lost in the darkness of her shadow that she found something amiss. There was something wrong with the shape, and not the kind of wrong she’d found in her flesh a moment ago. It was as though something was missing. Her dark twin seemed somehow hollow. 

Something moved. She couldn’t place what, or how, but there was a shudder in the shape, like a mirage standing up, and right before her eyes she saw it pull.

A single line of her shadow was being drawn away, like that errant thread that started all this. Pulled by tiny hands, attached to a small shape with long fur. As suddenly as it began it stopped, sensing that it was being watched, and looked up at her. 

Small, round, with enormous ears and tiny eyes.  If it had a mouth it was obscured by fur made of shadow that danced like long hair under water. It watched her curiously. 

There wasn’t a question of it being hers, her body responded with recognition while her mind reeled with shock. 

‘They’re going to see it, what will they think?’ With a sudden lunge she scooped it up and tucked it inside her suit by her chest. 

She grabbed her bag and hurried to her car, fumbling for the key as she walked. She didn’t notice the pulled thread of her swimmers brushing against her thigh. She barely noticed the small hands tugging a thread of shadow from her chest either. She just burned with the urge not to be seen. Not to be judged. 

No one else felt like this, she was so sure of it. She wondered how so many things could make her different while none made her unique.

She pulled her car door open and slammed into a wall of hot air. Sweat prickled her forehead but still she slid inside, hoping that the blast of cool could make her forget the heat that was suffocating her.

She squeezed her eyes shut and took a deep breath. Perhaps she could breathe the creature away. It wasn’t possible that it was there to begin with. Impossible things can’t look up at you while they steal threads of shadow. 

The creature, having no knowledge of its own impossibility, prevailed. She opened her eyes to find it on the passenger seat, scampering to and fro with the jerky movements of a rodent, stopping every few moments to turn one of its oversized ears her way and listen.

To her horror it had grown.

They would see. What would they think of her? What would they think of it?

Had she been focused outward she would have seen that no one was passing the car, let alone looking in. She would have seen that no one had been looking at her at all. Everyone that day had been observing more to catch their own reflection in others expressions than see them in the first place. She didn’t notice of course, because she was doing much the same.

“Go away!” She commanded, not sure if she even managed to say it out loud. With trembling hands she put the car into gear.  

She tried to ignore it as she drove, but still it scampered to and fro, pulling itself in front of the air conditioning. She noticed a murmur coming from it, a faint babble of voices as the air blew the shadow of its fur. She couldn’t make out what was being said, there were too many words layered on top of one another. She only knew that the voice, every voice, was hers. 

As she pulled into her apartment carpark it scampered up her chest. She pushed it down. She wasn’t ready to look at it yet. It was something to be ashamed of, just like everything else. It grew a little more.

She shut it in the car, but it appeared behind her as though it had never left, scampering in circles now, running rings around her. She tried to push it behind her but it ran around her leg, then her torso, perching itself on her shoulder. The needles of its claws pinched her skin. 

This is how she walked through the carpark of her building, pushing away this creature of shadows and voices, her feet still bare, her swimsuit still torn. And with every person she passed the shame grew more. She judged herself for them and the judgements were as sharp as the claws pinching her more with every step.

She somehow made it to the elevator with scarcely a breath, hitting the button for the doors to close before noticing the woman already standing in the corner… with a creature of her own.

She instinctively went to push her creature behind her but before she could both the dark shapes had leapt from the women’s shoulders and pressed the stop button.

The elevator ground to a halt. 

There, in the forced stillness, the women realised they were not alone. Perhaps they never had been. They had something horrible and wonderful in common. Something that was suddenly tangible. 

Had she seen the other woman like she saw herself she would have only seen a coffee stain on a white t shirt and a broken heel. She would have seen smudged mascara and half moons under her eyes. But of course didn’t, no one ever does. She saw the sprinkling of freckles on her nose instead, and the golden hue of her hair. Then she heard her giggle.

The blond woman was watching their creatures, and despite her own fear, she chose to do the same. 

She got curious.

The creature’s fur was longer than before, and the voices that came from it louder. This time she didn’t try to push it away – she stretched out her hand to it instead.  It approached hesitantly, its bravado replaced with shyness. She looked at it, and really saw it for the first time.

To her surprise she realised the shadow of its hair was a lithograph made up of every word she’d ever thought in shame. Tiny letters strung together by dark space. She ruffled its hair and felt a few whispered words shake loose. Words she didn’t want to repeat. Words she never would have said to anyone else. They evaporated as they touched the ground.

She lifted her eyes to the woman in the corner. They held each other’s gaze and smiled. They smiled for the absurdity of the moment. The woman ruffled her own creatures fur and the same words whispered themselves away.

“You too?” She asked.

“Me too.” The blond woman grinned. 

At this very moment, the first that the two of them had really seen another human outside of their own heads that day, two little dark creatures began to shake. They shook with the excitement of wet dogs, but instead of water it was words that splashed. Words that flew through the air. Words that weren’t needed. Every one of those words of shame said itself out loud. At first they shouted with the velocity, but as the creatures fur got shorter the words dropped to a whisper. 

She never saw the creature go. It would be easier, perhaps, to pretend that it had never been there to begin with, that she had just somehow ended up in an elevator with another beautiful messy soul one summers day. That her cheeks were wet with happy tears rather than the splash of doubts and fears she didn’t need anymore. Melted words that seemed so solid at the time.

It would be easier, perhaps, but she felt too curious for easy. So when that elevator moved again she pulled herself to her bare feet proud of every broken thread holding her together. 

She didn’t need to check her shadow when she stepped back on the sand. She knew its wholeness and brokenness all at once, she knew its curves and the space it demanded. 

She loved all of it. 

She was not alone. 

Copyright Nirvana Dawson 2019

What did you expect?

Hello, I’d like to introduce you to your expectations.

Perhaps you’ve met them before. Perhaps others have too, or failed to for that matter.

Maybe Christmas met them, every last one of them and they rolled away deliciously fulfilled.

Or maybe not.

There are so many expectations at Christmas time. Big, small, anxious, wild; even those that are tucked away so incredibly well that it’s easy to forget someone is carrying them at all.

Some are small, or at least we pretend that they are, because if we can just make them small enough maybe they wont matter. They hide so well don’t they? Behind smiles, jokes, wine glasses. They can stretch uncomfortably behind silences, or jump out uninvited between words.

Kids often haven’t learned to hide theirs. Should they? The answer is probably somewhere between manners and truth, and how many people they bowl over when they run into a room expectations first.

Adults handle them dozens of different ways. Sometimes they’re as loud as their owners or downright impossible to meet. Sometimes they’ve been let down so many times they expect the worst, pre emptive disappointment might seem easier.

They tug at heartstrings with the ferocity of a candy cane hungry toddler pulling on a parents sleeve.

We can push them aside over and over again… but they don’t really go away, do they?

So why don’t we just bring them out in the open right now, and really look at them. Yours, not everyone else’s. There are too many to meet all at once so let’s be selfish for a minute.

What did you expect at this intense time of year? Did you get it?

This isn’t about gifts, but it can be, they’re your expectations after all, so they can be about anything you want and that’s perfectly fine. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

There’s no right or wrong – just easy or hard.

So here’s a better question; how did your expectations contribute to your enjoyment of this time of year? Did they make it easier or harder?

 

Did you meet your own expectations?

If not, ask yourself; were they kind, within your abilities and truly important?

Sometimes not meeting our own expectations means we need to make better choices, change habits or give ourselves a push. Sometimes the expectations we have for ourselves are so big they forget to allow for the beautiful mess of being human. So if you need a push, good. If you need to stop pushing and cut your expectations down to size, that’s good too. You’re never going to know if you don’t look at them.

 

Did other people meet your expectations? 

If not, let’s start with the obvious; did they know you had them? Did you tell any of the ridiculously busy people who mean the world to you that you were carrying these expectations around and how much they mattered to you? Or were you so in the habit of pushing your expectations aside that no one could meet them because they didn’t even know that they were there.

It’s ok, you know, to say that you want or need something – even if it’s just a hug or to be really truly heard.

 

Did events meet your expectations? 

This time of year is so fraught with doing things how we think we should because of society, religion or family. If the events you went to met your expectations then I’m so glad – you deserve that. But we get this idea of how things should go and sometimes it’s absolutely fine to shake those expectations up a bit, not lower them, just change what they look like.

Your easier, happier, more joyful holiday season does not have to look like anyone else’s. It shouldn’t feel like fake smiles and disappointment. It should make you feel good.

We’re about to start a brand new year and all the goals in the world wont make it joyful if you don’t bring expectations to the table too. Own them. Play with them. Change them. Be bold with them. Maybe don’t hold onto them so tight.

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Less

Consumerism (noun) The preoccupation of society with the acquisition of consumer goods.

This Christmas, I’m falling in love with less.

Less clutter. Less distractions. Less tidying up the same things over and over again. Less piles of clothes or books or bags that aren’t truly loved. Less clothes that don’t feel amazing, less makeup that spends its time in drawers. Less kids stories that don’t make them cry “Again!”. Less toys scattered over the floor like booby traps.

Less wasted time.

I will always love things. I don’t apologise for it. But I’ve realised that the key is in keeping the things I love and letting go of the rest, because ultimately I deserve more.

More writing, more art, more laughter, more music. More board games, more hide and seek. More time spent in inspiration. More adventures outside. More ball games and dancing in the kitchen. More spaces in my home that feel like comfort. More romance, more jokes, more movies watched without my mind on the laundry. More quality.

More ideas and inspiration. More rest.

This year I want to be more of me. So I want less stuff.

It’s not just about removing things that aren’t functional; usefulness is important but beauty is important too. Inspiring is more important still. Minimalism doesn’t mean minimizing that. Ask yourself if you use it, but also ask yourself if it makes you happy. It’s about removing things that take from your life rather than give.

It’s not wasteful to get rid of something you don’t need. It’s not ungrateful to pass something on that still has life in it. That t shirt that you might wear? You don’t. That’s ok.

That book, dress, bag, toy; it’s someone else treasure. Keeping what doesn’t add value to our lives perpetuates a feeling of scarcity even as we drown in stuff. We’re worth more than that.

I think for a lot of us the idea of minimalism still feels like loss rather than gain, and too many of us decide that we’ll never be minimalist because we still have clutter. We still have that back room, that walk in robe, those boxes we never got to; not to mention the drawers in the garage. But what I’m learning is that it’s not about immediately having that perfect space, it’s about the conscious editing of our lives.

It’s about what we own but also what we commit our time to, it’s about honestly assessing the value in everything and what our intention is for keeping it.  Even hobbies, habits and friendships. It’s about doing this without guilt.

Minimalism and honesty are tied, because you can’t declutter without really taking a look at your own bullshit.

I’m not quite there yet. I don’t expect to be. I expect that I will always have a cupboard or two to be sorted, and piles of paper that could make a grand squadron of paper planes.

The meditation of constantly looking at my life honestly will take care of that. There will be ebb and flow. I will declutter. I will be kind to myself as I do. I will not aim for perfection.

I will remind myself, as many times as it takes, that less is more.

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Yours to carry

But darling, what if you trusted?

This thing you’re carrying, this weight that’s crushing the breath from your lungs, what if it isn’t yours to carry?

What if there are different kinds of strong?

What if the strength taken to hold onto this thing that is breaking you, is far less than the strength it would take to let it go?

You have convinced yourself that if you try hard enough you can carry not just your own reality, fears and hopes, but lighten the load on your loved ones. You are carrying the problem, how you perceive the problem and how you fear society perceives the problem. You are carrying not just what is heavy, but the weight of everyone.

Your love ends up denying them their own strength. They can do this.

And society? Can go fuck itself.

You’ve been carrying all this so long you’ve convinced yourself that this heaviness is normal. Lightness feels stolen. It feels temporary. It often is. But so is fear and struggle.

Don’t hold on so tight.

There will always be struggle. There will always be joy. Walk lightly with both.

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Today

Welcome to today. Where will you take it?

We are prone to starting the morning with distractions. A screen, a to do list, a scramble to complete perpetual chores. We start it with our mind in yesterday, at that appointment, that meeting, in next week, on Christmas morning making sure all presents are under the tree. It is ferociously hard some days just to open your eyes and breathe.

But today has something for you, and it’s worthy of filling your lungs with the breath of it.

When we feel the calling of something we often switch off. The world seems to validate what we do far more than who we are.

We try to quiet it, because growth feels uncomfortable and we have been taught for so long that discomfort is to be avoided rather than explored. It takes courage to openly wonder. It takes courage to sit in this feeling as it stretches us. To remember that this feeling that feels too big for our chest is happening for us, not to us.

Today life is calling you to growth in some way. It has plans to make you laugh, give you pleasure, fill you with music… and leave you different than the day before.

This day is not an accident; a random flip of the calendar as it moves from one to another. This day has purpose.

You are not an accident; your quirks, desires and dreams that feel too silly to say out loud. This day has a purpose for you.

Ask questions of yourself today. Big questions. Hard questions. Delicious questions.

You have the answers, they’re woven into the fibres of your being.

Listen to them.

What do you want to create in this world? In this life? In your health? In this family or work of yours?

Welcome to today. This is day one.

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Take what you need

Earlier in the week I felt the kind of sadness that feels like it’s crushing you from the inside out.

Nothing was particularly wrong; everything was ok except me.

I felt flat, like I’d let out a breath and couldn’t get it back again. Like everything was too hard. I was trying, I was trying so much and it just wasn’t working. I felt like I could break.

I’ll tell you how it turned out in a minute, but first I want to tell you a story about a woman making a fruit salad…. without having any fruit.

She wanted it. She tried. She read books about fruit salads. She meditated about the fruit salad. She was cheerful. She tried harder. She set goals. She knew she should be able to make this fruit salad happen – other people did every day. She tried even more to make it work. It didn’t work, and anyone can see why.

It seems obvious to say that you need the ingredients for what you’re trying to create.

It’s obvious about the fruit salad, not so much in our own lives. Every day intelligent people are walking around trying to make something happen without giving themselves what they need.

So back to me feeling like crap.

I tried everything. I was eating well, meditating, moving, reading great books, getting outside… but I wasn’t getting enough rest. It was only when I stopped all the trying that I realised I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t down, I was *exhausted*.

When something’s off in our bodies, other things feel off in our lives, and if we look hard enough we can always blame it on something outside of ourselves. Nothing works, and the more we try the more discouraged we become because we can’t make it happen, and it gets harder and harder to see why.

If you’re trying to make a fruit salad you need fruit. If you’re trying to make a healthy, happy life you need nourishing food, good people around you, things you care about, sunshine, movement, and rest – you need to give yourself permission to stop if you’re ever going to get anywhere.

Like thirst can disguise itself as hunger, exhaustion can disguise itself as anger, worry, anxiety, sadness, stress and little problems suddenly feeling too heavy to carry.

When I gave myself permission to really truly rest, do you know what got easier? Everything. The battles i’d been fighting weren’t won – they didn’t need to be – they weren’t even there anymore.

Maybe you’re tired too, or maybe there’s another ingredient missing in what you’re trying to create right now. Openly and honestly look for it – then go get it. You’d never kid yourself into believing you can make a fruit salad without ingredients, don’t think you can get what you want without giving yourself what you need.

fruitsaladCopyright Nirvana Dawson 2018

The List

Tonight, when the house is quiet, I want you to give yourself a gift. I want you to give yourself the day you just lived – differently.

Take the time to make a warm drink, light a scented candle if you have one, put on those pyjamas you’d never be seen it but that are the most comfortable thing you own. Now sit down with a piece of paper…. and tell me about your day.

Tell me about how much you had to spend on yard work when you couldn’t really afford it… and how good it felt to help your mower man build his own business.

Tell me how sore your muscles are from your workout… and how incredible it is to have a body that is healthy and can move, and how happy with yourself you are to have moved it.

Tell me how much your partner pissed you off today… and how wonderful they smell. How much you love the sound of their laugh and the private jokes the two of you share.

Tell me about the mess in your house right now, no matter how much you clean… and tell me about your hot running water to wash those dishes, your washing machine to clean you clothes, and how soft your bed feels with the fresh sheets you wrestled on this morning.

Tell me how anxious you felt doing that thing today… and how you did it anyway, because no anxiety was going to hold you back.

Tell me that you’re tired… and how much life you fit into today.

I want you to think of every single thing that was hard about today. Now I want you to find something beautiful in it. I want you to find as much beauty as you can… then find more. Why? Because you can. Because it’s there. Because it’s yours.

I have had the best and worst days, but they were mine. I had power over those days. When I look back most of the days that broke me were ones where I forgot just how much power I had to rewrite my own script.

It is never to late to rewrite the script.

As you make your list tonight, I want you to take a minute to realise how GOOD you are at this. How easily it flows. The true you, the you that gets hushed when you’re too busy washing the floor or getting to that meeting on time, is naturally happy. She naturally sees the good, the fun, the positive. She naturally manifests good things because she SEES all the good things you have.

So go write this list with her, and give yourself a day lived joyfully.

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When you need to catch them

To all parents, but especially special needs parents, ASD parents, parents of the kids who don’t quite fit the mould, the anxious ones, the quirky ones, the beautifully challenging ones, the ADHD ones; this is for you.

In the moments when you are tired to your bones, when your eyes close as you take that deep breath, trying to steady your response to what has just been said or done, as though you can maybe just breathe deeply enough to undo it, remember;

Your child is not angry at you – they’re angry because in this moment, it is hard. All of it. Life. They’re directing their anger at you because you are their safety. That anger is hurt wrapped in overwhelm and they’re throwing it at you because they know that despite any of this you will catch them when they feel like they’re falling.

Often enough it will pass in a heartbeat, and you have all these years to practice bouncing back as quick as they can.

One day you might feel like you’re moving forward, the next you might feel like you’re going backwards – this is just your dance for right now. Sometimes the music is a little crazy but there are so many memories to be made on this dance floor and one day you’re going to look back on them and only see joy.

Worry about the future if you must, but pause long enough to blow bubbles, to play in the waves, to knock down sand castles, to drink hot chocolate and talk about nonsense. Your job isn’t to raise a perfect person, it’s to find the perfection right here, right now. It’s to make them laugh. It’s to find the beauty in their drawings or finger-paint messes and love them for their quirks not despite them.

Your child is not anxious at you – and sometimes there is nothing you can do in that moment to help. Listen anyway. Tell them you love them anyway. Get them outside. Build them a fort. Do whatever you need to do, because before you know it a day will come when that anxiety is a little less, and they wont remember those moments of stress, irritation or frustration – they’ll remember playing outside with you, or those amazing forts.

Don’t listen to that relative, that friend, that person on the street who tells you how it should be. Do what works for you and your child. Be unashamed of rocking the path that is just right for your child. Listen to them. Listen to them a thousand times over.

Your child’s joy does not need to look like anyone else’s. Don’t compare. If they are lost in the magnificence of pouring sand through their fingers for an hour then just keep the sand coming. Provide all the opportunities, but with the ease that they may not be taken, and thats ok.

Your child is not having a hard day at you – even though it impacts you, your family, the people you pass in the street. Your child is having a hard day, and you’re doing them the kindness of bearing witness. You’re listening, even in the moments you’d rather not be. You’re walking beside them as they feel all the things.

There is an enormity in being there with your child, when the emotions and challenges feel too big to hold, and just holding them. You’re doing it, and you’re doing fine.

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To the girl dancing by the Christmas tree

I don’t know the kind of world you’re growing into baby, but I know it’s going to be good. I know that you’re going to find the best of it wherever you look.

I trust that people will want good things for you little one, because thats what you deserve. You wont have to fight for them, because people will see the strength in your smile, the fortitude in your stance, the wisdom in your words.

You wont have to worry about getting your share baby, because whats yours can never be taken away. There’s enough. Never doubt that there’s enough.

I don’t know what the world will look like when you grow up, but I know there will be beauty in it. I know there will be blue skies and fresh air and birds that sing just for you. There may be turmoil, there could be storms, there will definitely be imperfections, but they will just make the colours more vibrant. Always look for the beauty. It will find you right back.

I don’t know what you’re going to do when you grow up baby, but I’m excited that you get to choose. Don’t ever choose for me or anyone else. Follow your heart song. Surprise the hell out of me.

I don’t know who you’re going to be when you grow up, but I trust that you’re going to be *you*. Don’t ever think that you need to be wilder, richer, thinner, smarter or more powerful. The only thing you need to be is happy. Your power lies in your peace. Your future lies in your joy.

I hope you have big ideas baby, but follow the little ones too. I hope you don’t stop noticing the ladybirds or laughing over the silly jokes.

Never stop being curious little one; all the answers you could ever want lie in that curiosity. Sometimes the best answers lead to more questions. Follow your wonderings, they’ll take you where you need to go.

Never stop exploring, be it a back street in Rome or a different way home. Life hides wonderful things for you to find and every day is a treasure hunt. How exciting that the treasure never looks the same.

Sometimes the world will scare you baby. Sometimes people will seem cruel. Sometimes people will make choices that hurt others. Don’t ever let this dim your light. Look for the helpers, the kind ones, the givers, the compassionate hearts. Listen to them. Take faith in them. Be one yourself.

This is your adventure little one and I’m so blessed to hold your hand while you grow into it. If it ever doesn’t fit you – change it. Change suits you. Change is hard, change is beautiful. Don’t fear it.

Never forget the power of your choices. What you buy, what you eat, the people you smile at, the thoughts you spend so much time with. They not only help shape little pieces of your life, but the lives of others. You may never truly know the impact of buying locally made, smiling at someone having a hard day or doing a meditation in the morning, but you can’t not impact this beautiful world, so you might as well do it well.

Today you are three, and you’re laughing as you dance around the living room to Christmas music, your hair a glorious halo of mess with a little avocado on the side. You are so utterly present in this moment.

I hope you always will be baby, even as the moment changes, even as you grow, even as the world grows with you. I hope you always dance little one, because no one does it quite like you.

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The Fire

Here is anger. A gift to rise your fire. A gift to stir your soul.

Here is a gift too hot to keep, not meant to be held, to wake you up in this moment.

Maybe you hold it strongly, or maybe it shakes you to your bones. Maybe you are rooted to the spot or your feet itch to run away.

It’s ok. You’re ok.

This fire is yours right now. Yours to burn away the weight of sadness, or the stagnation of doubt, yours to remind you how incredibly alive you are as the world turns around you.

It takes strength to feel anger like this, some people avoid it their whole lives, but there you are standing with your world ablaze and your heart trusting even as you feel so much.

Anger doesn’t own your words, anger doesn’t own your actions, anger doesn’t own you. When you’re ready just let it wash over you, it’s a gift too hot to keep for long and you don’t need to keep anything that doesn’t serve you.

And it goes. Maybe because everything is alright, or maybe because you realised that everything doesn’t have to be. Maybe you found peace – maybe it burned away all the stuff that kept you from finding the peace you already had.

Trust it, when it comes, this fire in you is a powerful teacher. But know you are bigger than this anger, than these clenched fists or racing heart. You are big enough to find kind words, even when they seem lost in the heat of this moment, you are big enough to find forgiveness, even when you are hurt, and you are big enough to find calm in the heat of this storm.

Here is anger. A gift to rise your fire. It’s ok to need it from time to time. May it bring you peace.

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