“Cut the Crap.” This month, that phrase and an associated memory came to the front of my mind seemingly out of the blue. More than 30 years ago, in the middle of a voice lesson, my teacher exclaimed: “How can you respond so quickly to my critique when so many of my students can’t?” I responded, “I think it's because I decided to cut the crap.” Immediately, understanding dawned on her face and the lesson continued with no further comment on the matter.
I wondered why I happened to pull this long forgotten story into my mind. After several weeks of noticing and pondering (wonderful Lenten practices as well as tools for spiritual direction), I believe I see grace blooming from that experience.
In college, I studied musical theater. In my studies, particular emphasis was given to receiving constructive criticism well. Certainly, we wanted to behave in a professional manner, but more importantly we knew that receiving criticism well could only benefit us as performers. Therefore, I was taught to identify the gut reactions that classically hinder such progress. In the face of critique, would I feel the need to explain myself? Did I become defensive? Did I feel insecure? I learned to recognize those instincts in myself so well that I could see them coming in time to thwart their progress. My shorthand for this process became “cutting the crap”.
Learning to avoid those tendencies helped me to absorb more information and therefore grow as a singer/dancer/actress. Back then, I saw this as good, common sense. Today, I would call it freedom. Being free from automatically indulging the negative aspects of myself allows me to notice my best self and commit to being her. After all, she is the one created by God.
For me this applies to my No Fear New Year commitment. I began to notice, through prayer, journaling, and faith sharing, little traits in my personality that get in the way of living the authentic joy into which I was created, where little fear exists.
In my first article of this series, I shared about living under the weight of negative thoughts and my conscious choice to open my mind to gratitude. And in the second article, I identified journaling as an excellent tool for this project. Today, I hope to share some more progress I’ve made towards my resolution of conquering needless and sometimes harmful fear.
My journal demonstrates frustration this month. I find myself falling into familiar patterns: beginning with negative thoughts which provoke fear, which in turn elicits more negative thinking and behaviors. However, I have been very open with myself and the Holy Spirit, which has been a tremendous aid. For example, in my journal, I acknowledge this negativity:
I am filled with negative feelings this AM. During prayer time, it was a struggle just to breath without tension. Mantras were changing and ideas were confused. I wasn’t able to sit quietly at all. I did hear “cut the crap” which was a momentary comfort. [I think it was a reminder that I have cut the crap in the past and can again].
Where is this coming from?
As my journal entry continues, I recognize the “crap” that’s in the way of my freedom, but wonder where it’s coming from. This is a common question my spiritual director asks me. Where is that coming from? Basically there are two answers: God and NOT God. My investigation was short. Clearly feelings of fear, insecurity and inadequacy are never from God. I reached out to the Holy Spirit, whom I affectionately call HS:
Please help me HS. Help me reject and resist the temptation to feel afraid, insecure and less than. I want to cling to you, but can't tell if I’m succeeding. Please cling to me!
Name it and Accept it
In the above entry, I named my feelings (fear, insecurity and inadequacy). Such specificity brings clarity in a complex situation. Naming three specific feelings efficiently directs my attention to the problem. I wasted no time beating myself up or complaining about why I am the way that I am. I simply cut the crap by accepting the reality of my situation and brought that to the Holy Spirit.
Naming and accepting sheds light on a dark subject, in this case my negative feelings. In my experience, bringing darkness to light in this way almost always lessens it. This is especially true when I share it with a spiritual friend or director, if not directly with God.
One of my best “cut the crap” moments this month was a morning when I woke with the usual aches and pains and didn’t want to face the day. Basically, I was feeling sorry for myself. The thought occurred to me: “how can I cut this crap”? The answer that came to me was very easy. I can choose to be pleasant anyway.
I’m not saying that I don’t wish and pray for relief from all my physical issues; I do. But when I realized that I can choose to be pleasant while I wait, I felt more free. I, like most people, have negative thoughts several times a day. And several times, I have to make the choice to smile anyway. This sounds over simplified, but one thing I learned in my musical training is that the most complicated problems are often solved with a small, sincere, effort.
More than the rest this month, I favor the grace of choice. I call it a grace because it’s the one I feel frees me the most. When I choose a positive attitude, negativity in all its forms has very little power over me. It also fuels the transparency, naming, and accepting mentioned above. God’s fingerprints are all over this.
Cutting the crap also means facing reality. Sometimes I am just off my game, and all the positive thoughts in the world can’t change that. I take comfort in the reality that God knows this and is still there with me. God is our reality, both pleasant and unpleasant. Some days I choose to accept my unpleasant state and try to trust that the people in my life and God understand that I’m still me and tomorrow is another day.
Playing it Small
Though I have the tendency to hide behind, or even justify, my fears, I keep the below quote close to me as a reminder of the great detriment of playing it small.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.
When we contemplate our greatness, it can paralyze us. In spiritual direction, I have learned to recognize, study, and rest with that light within me.This month, as I cut the crap, I had glimmers of what will be left when I am finished: the light of God. In my mind, even a tiny glimmer of this light is enough to validate Ms. Williamson’s claim.
I pray for the courage to allow that light to shine and thank you readers for sharing the journey with me. I have a dear friend who I imagine, if she were the author, would already have designed a No Fear New Year t-shirt to concretize the spirit of community these articles have generated in me. If only I had her skill! But you get the picture.