Friday, January 3, 2014

Tools for the Journey #31 - The Courage to Disappoint

                     "There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love."                                                                                    - Martin Luther King, Jr.

I've always had a fondness for cairn stones and due to the corresponding symbolism with some recent hard-as-rock life lessons I decided the first 'tool' of 2014 should have a picture of a cairn rock formation.

Cairns are found all over the world from moorlands to mountaintops and from desert to sea to tundra in the far north. The word cairn comes from the Scottish Gaelic: càrn. Historically there were practical, mystical and mythical reasons for cairns to be built. One of my favorite bits of history is this: An old Scottish Gaelic blessing is Cuiridh mi clach air do chàrn, "I'll put a stone on your cairn". In Scottish folklore it's believed that before the Highland Clans fought in a battle, each man would place a stone in a pile. Those who survived the battle returned and removed a stone from the pile. The stones that remained were built into a cairn to honor the dead. This was done to relate the longevity of stone to the eternal nature of the soul.

In North America and Europe the most common use for cairn rock piles is to mark trails especially in mountain regions at or above the tree line. Placed at regular intervals, cairns can be used to indicate a path across difficult terrain and are often placed at junctions where the trail direction is not obvious, and may be used to indicate an obscured danger or a point of interest.

Recently I followed my heart from New England to Alaska with the intention to live in Anchorage. I planned and worked and sacrificed to accomplish this goal and it took tremendous courage to walk across the myriad stepping stones to get there. Before I arrived many people I care about worked extremely hard to make my transition to Alaska as smooth as possible, however within a short time after I arrived I realized there was no way this was going to work. I was as certain of the necessity to leave as I had been about the desire to move there. The challenge became finding the courage to disappoint the people I love who worked so hard to prepare a place for me there and who wanted me to stay. I sure could have used a cairn formation to warn me of difficult terrain ahead.

I sat in my apartment in Anchorage in the wee hours digging deep for the courage to take the steps I knew I needed to take even though taking those steps would cause pain for myself and others. I was feeling the intensity of my own disappointment and knew it was only a matter of time before I would also have to feel the powerful disappointment of the people I love. The cairn stones of my life were teetering precariously and about to come crumbling down around me.

Rocks can be broken to pieces when hit hard enough, like your self confidence or your heart.When thrown, a rock can hurt or protect us. Rocks can be both weapon and tool just as they can be used to build a gate or wall. Rocks in rivers direct massive flows of water; with enough water flowing around them over time they change shape and become polished and beautiful as the rough edges get smoothed away. Stepping stones can help us move forward, but we alone must be brave enough to take the necessary steps to reach the other side physically or metaphorically.

The other day someone asked me what I was most afraid of and my reply was: 'not being brave.' The desire to be courageous runs soul-deep in me and has for as long as I can remember; it's a driving force pushing me across the stepping stones of life. I've never wanted to drink at the water's edge, I want to step out, I want to dive all the way in to the rocky, deep water - I want to be brave as I walk, run, climb, dance and swim out to my life. But in order to do this there are times when it's necessary to have the courage to disappoint others in order to be true to myself. And it also means sometimes I make larger than average mistakes.

I don't know if moving to Anchorage was a mistake but it was the receipt of new information after I arrived which made it clear even with the best of intentions (on everyone’s part) this was not going to work out. Once I understood this I had to get down to the business of setting things to rights, and if I was going to be true to myself I needed to find the courage to disappoint my loved ones. This has been one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do and it has not been without painful disappointment all the way around.

Life doesn’t always go as planned and things don’t always work out the way we want. People we love let us down and expectations come crashing to the ground. From there disappointment can rise up inside with an intensity that can knock the wind right out of us. It is with humility I write this blog post. My heart is heavy because even though I found the courage I needed to do what had to be done, there's also the painful awareness that people I deeply care about are now upset with me and disappointed with my decision to leave Alaska.

When I returned to New Hampshire one friend said to me: "No one is immune to disappointment but when we get stuck in regret and resentment then we're bound to miss the lesson. So, what's the lesson?" I'm still looking for the answer but I believe it lies somewhere among these 'cairn stones' strewn at my feet.

The stones:

*There are lives we lead and lives we walk away from and both can be joyful and painful in turn.
*If we seek growth then we must be willing to endure growing pains.
*Greater views comes from greater heights and this requires climbing.
*With the walls we scale and the mountains we climb there will be some falling.
*The pain we suffer often has resulting scars.
*Being true to oneself is an honorable and courageous endeavor though not always easy.
*Moccasins can only be worn by one person at a time - don't judge if you're not the one wearing them.
*The depths and heights we reach come at a price but are always worth it in the long run.
*The struggles we overcome shape who we are as people.
*The losses we've known and the losses we've caused can be painful, but pain passes.
*There is value both in the old we let go of and in the new we bravely seek.
*Success is not final and failure is not fatal; it's the courage to continue in the face of our fear which counts.
*The choice to forgive (self and others) is a high-road worth traveling.
*Sometimes it's scary to reach out into the darkness - reach anyway.
*The greatest power we possess is the love we embrace, the love we give and the love we share.

There's a line from a favorite song which keeps coming to mind these days:
 "It's a funny thing when your world falls down; it's got a way of showing you what you're all about."

At the moment it certainly feels like my world, my cairn has fallen down, but the blessing is I didn't hit rock-bottom. With the loving support of many precious friends I'm slowly but surely getting back on my feet, dusting myself off and one by one picking up my cairn stones. Yes, I've got some scrapes and bruises but they'll heal. I'm praying with time those who are disappointed in me about my decision to leave Alaska will come around and open their hearts and arms to me again because life is short and none of us is guaranteed tomorrow.

Happy New Year!
Blessings on the journey!
In-Joy and Gratitude!

Song mentioned above: The Heart of Dixie by Danielle Bradbery


  1. *Sometimes its scary to reach out into the darkness - reach anyway.

    Can so relate to this!

    I have found that in the last few months of reaching and walking through the darkness that it has been a little less scary knowing that I don't walk alone and that it is very comforting to know that my friends and family are brave enough to hold my hand and help guide me when I am reaching blindly.

  2. May those who are disappointed in Alaska find their own blessing in all of this and may they be gentle with you. I feel your pain and heavy heart as I read what you wrote. Its a testament to your depth of self love that admidst the countless challenges this experience brings, you're honoring your truth. I'm so grateful our paths have crossed. May there be so much goodness and light headed your way!