I went on a retreat this weekend, and in the final hour we did yoga while “Let It Be” played. We’d been invited to move as we desired. I felt happy, flowing from one pose to another. My practice has grown a lot in the last year.

And then this voice started up from within. It said:  “Who are you to be showing off like this? Who are you to be doing these pretty poses? You’re being disruptive and selfish. Everyone will resent you, and it will be all your fault.”

I managed to push the voice aside and keep doing yoga. It felt great, and I knew my body needed it.

But as I lay down, things started coming up. I was on my back, tears running down my cheeks and into my ears. (Literally. It was a strange sensation.) The act of ignoring that voice — the one telling me to hem myself in– did it.

Suddenly, I was thinking about my brother, Willie. And in that moment, I understood something about how I’d lived my life up until that point.

Every time I have wanted to let myself ‘shine’ in a new way, I’ve faced this haunting fear. That fear speaks to me in (barely-audible) words:  “If you do [x, y or z], you’ll put even more distance between who you are and who your brother is. You’ll be abandoning him. You won’t be able to connect. And if you do manage to take a leap, I’ll make every step fraught with guilt, so deep-down you can’t identify it or shake it. Because your brother is who he is, you don’t deserve to be who you are.”

This was not a message I’d received from my family or friends, or from my brother himself. This did not come from anyone who loved me. I know that my brother’s autism doesn’t make him ‘less than’ me. I know I have my own disabilities as surely as he has his. Even so, I faced this fear.

Do you feel as though you don’t deserve a full expression of yourself?

As “Let it Be” was playing, I was able to hear truth. And love, not reasoning, was what broke through the fear.

Truth sounded like this:  “Let it be. Let your brother be who he is. I created him. He is not a mistake. He is a miracle. And let yourself be who you are. I created you. You are not a mistake. You are a miracle. You are my children. Just as you are so proud of Willie when he plays piano, he is so proud of you when you shine. He may not ever find the words to say it in this life, but because he loves you, he is proud of you.

Just as you want him to be free of his anger, he wants you to be free of your fear. Love one another, and be free. It is for freedom that I have set you free.”

Ever since that moment, I have felt as though some small yet weighty stone has been taken from my stomach. And I keep hearing confirmations of my experience in the words of writers I respect.

As Christiane Northrup, M.D., wrote in Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom,”We can’t create a new world if we believe that we must remain small and ineffective on any level in order for others to love us and want to be with us. When we dim our light so that others appear to shine brighter, the whole world gets darker.”

There it is again:  that fear of disconnection if we allow ourselves to be more fully who we are. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling it.

How has this fear (of disconnection as an inevitable consequence if you let yourself be who you are) impacted your life and relationships?

Frederick Buechner says it this way in Telling Secrets:  “This…was a rule I had…devastatingly laid down for myself:  that I had no right to be happy unless the people I loved– especially my children– were happy too.”

Substitute ‘successful’ for happy, and ‘brother’ for children, and you’ve got the rule I hadn’t realized I’d laid down for myself.

What ‘rules’ have you laid down, consciously or unconsciously? Is your rule something like, “I have no right to rest or take a break unless the people I love are asleep”?

Buechner continues, “I have come to believe that this is not true. I believe instead that we all of us have not only the right to be happy no matter what but also a kind of sacred commission to be happy– in the sense of being free to breathe and move, in the sense of being able to bless our own lives, even the sad times of our own lives, because through all our times we can learn and grow, and through all our times, if we keep our ears open, God speaks to us his saving word.”

I like to think of a ‘saving word’ as a truth that sets you free on a deep level. It can be a simple encouragement, or even a ‘wordless’ sense of perseverance in a difficult situation.

If you listen, what ‘saving word’ might you hear today?

I learned recently that a dear friend and L’Arche member likely has cancer. I don’t want him to suffer; I weep at the thought. Yet I’m determined to enjoy the time we have left, to let love focus my heart and soul and mind. I’m determined to be happy in the deepest sense, because I know this friend would want nothing less for me. That’s the ‘saving word’ I’ve heard today.

So tonight, I’m going to visit him. It’s been a long time since we just sat and talked. So tonight, we’ll have a beer together. We’ll clink bottles, and I’ll drink to celebrating life for as long as it lasts.

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  1. Jaleta Clegg March 31, 2011 at 6:46 PM - Reply

    What a beautiful post. We all need to give ourselves permission to be better, kinder, and to grow. On our journey, we can lift those around us to new heights. And some days, we need permission to just be.

  2. […] I’ve been writing to her. I’ve been writing to this woman who believes that she must sacrifice her own success and happiness so that her brother won’t feel […]

  3. blackjack game April 10, 2011 at 9:05 PM - Reply

    Never heard of this before, but thanks for opening up my eyes.

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