“Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same, but you leave ’em all over everything you do.”
Amen to that, Elvis.
I’ve been thinking an awful lot about values, for while I’m finishing up Brené Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection ecourse, I have also begun her new Living Brave Semester, and one of our first lessons is to get really clear on what we’re made of. “Value” feels like kind of a complex word. I mean, if you look it up in the dictionary, there’s nothing that says “what people are made of.” But that’s always how I imagined values to be… building blocks of our personalities, of our sensibilities, of our desires, of our visions, of our relationships with everything around us, of the very heart of our souls.
So when I was given a list of over a hundred values to read over and hone in on, and then told to pick only one or two, well, I was a bit flabbergasted quite honestly… after all, I’ve always considered myself to be quite a
complicated intricate person, one who puts energy and meaning into a lot of different things. How could I possibly narrow myself down to one or two core values?
That’s when I got out the dictionary.
According to Merriam-Webster, value is, among other things, “relative worth, utility, or importance.” This simplified things in my overthinking brain. So I looked again at the list, and I asked myself, what is most important to me?
Well, even though almost every word poked at me in some way, I was able to narrow it down… to about forty! Still a far cry from one or two!
So I went back to the definition once again for clues. And digging a little deeper, I found myself looking for not just the qualities and principles that I think are meaningful or important, but the nitty gritty essence of what I deem meaningful and important inside myself… and what I am intrinsically worthy of in this lifetime, for without it, I would be lost, and I would possibly disappear, poof, in a cloud of dust.
Brené uses the metaphor of a lantern…. “…if we are clear about the values that guide us in our efforts to show up and be seen, we will always be able to find the light,” she says. What lights the way for me when I am fumbling around in the dark, which we all inevitably are at certain times in our lives?
Yesterday, I found out that a very close friend of mine lost her brother to suicide. I also witnessed another friend struggling with being alive, while knowing, quite painfully, that I was unable to help her in any concrete way. At the same time, my daughter, Zoe, was off taking her third and final driving course to get her learner’s permit… navigating the craziness of traffic hour and what I can only presume to be mercury-in-retrograde-off-the-deep-end looniness (there were accidents everywhere!), and oh my goodness, she even drove herself home in the dark. Needless to say, I was tender. Oh, that’s putting it gently actually. I was TERRIFIED. Things felt incredibly fragile. I was most definitely fumbling around in the dark.
Not only that, but earlier in the day, I had created a “calm map” for The Gifts of Imperfections… ironic timing. I was able to breathe myself through waiting for Zoe to get home, but I realized all in all, that what I was ultimately needing to do was come back to this value thing. How can I shine some light on some truly scary and tragic circumstances? How can my values help me to show up fully to what’s happening around me, and at the same time, save me from freaking out and spiraling down into a bottomless pit of fear and anxiety?
I discovered that the first two things I reached for were creativity and connection. I took a marker and added some things to my calm map– realizing that part of my journey toward calm had to be facing what’s uncomfortable to face, and then starting all over again with the breath. I did a little bit of painting. I called my honey, and I sent my friend a note, asking if there was any way I could help. I wrote what I was feeling on facebook, sensing the need to feel connected to my tribe. I stepped outside, in the chilly night air, and connected to the trees, the mountains, the soil, to the cresent moon, to the stardust my body and everything else is made of.
And then I realized that these two core values were able to bring light to all of the one hundred and fourteen values on Brene’s list, and even to the few that I added myself. They shed light on all of the other bits I’m made of– love, gratitude, grace, compassion, faith, friendship, family, vulnerability, truth, and wildness, amongst other things. And they shed light on other things that I crave more of or wish I could embrace more fully within myself, such as perseverence, trust, courage, patience, adventure.
Today, things still feel fragile. But it’s okay. Because I also feel the warmth radiating from the flame of my lantern, and all of the little sparks it illuminates within and around me. I have a fire within me that can cut through the darkness, even when I’m facing it head on, sitting with it, dancing amongst the shadows, feeling the fear.
I’m marveling at how serendipitous it is that I chose FIRE as my word for the year…