“Be the buffalo. Wilma Mankiller, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee nation, once told me how the cow runs away from the storm while the buffalo charges directly toward it–and gets through it quicker. Whenever I’m confronted with a tough challenge, I do not prolong the torment. I become the buffalo.”
~Donna Brazile, rules to live by.
There are a number of people in my world right now who are going through some challenges: challenges in growth, change, health, emotional difficulties, and the like. While I’m no poster child for living wisely, this subject in particular is one upon which I can speak, and maybe it can offer a little guidance or encourage someone who’s on one precipice or another and is afraid. In a nutshell, the fear you feel will not go away until you face it head on.
The quote above from political commentator/campaign strategist Donna Brazile is something I read in Oprah magazine. Its organic truth struck such a chord of authenticity within me that I tore the page out of the magazine. It’s been sitting here next to my computer for many weeks now, while I wondered how I was going to use it. Today it hit me; sharing the example of the buffalo might help some of my friends who are struggling. If you are reading this and know someone who needs to read this and share this post, maybe someone you know can turn a challenging situation into an opportunity to grow, to live honestly, and be finally free of the prison that running from challenge can become.
It took me a long time to become a ‘buffalo gal.’ Before I began to live authentically (which means allowing myself to feel the unpleasantness that discord often bestows), I was not myself. I was afraid of conflict, so I held in feelings that should have been shared. I was afraid I had nowhere to go, so I stayed in a place where I was not safe. I was a broken spirit and spent many a year locked in my room with a beautiful cat (see a previous post), my books, and my stash of Virginia Slims Menthol. I literally lost much of my teenage years to nicotine and self-imposed solitude. Came out of the fortress to go to school and work. I married a man who helped me through some ‘interesting’ times while I was becoming me, supported me as I started counseling, and also let me know that I wasn’t crazy to have the feelings I had. The marriage didn’t last, but my gratitude for his understanding at the beginning of my healing process endures to this day. As well as for the child who resulted from our marriage (see another previous post). I was well into adulthood by the time I first charged into the storm (even though I’ve always loved thunderstorms).
Here’s what, in continuing with the Oprah theme, I know for sure:
*that hiding from problems does not make them go away. Keeping your voice unheard to avoid conflict provokes an inner battle-which causes a lot more damage than any heated conversation ever could.
*That by not speaking up, you are sending a neon-lit message- “I do not matter. You have my permission to take all the power. Go ahead and bleed me dry.” Except you do matter! And you have the right to feel that you matter.
*That pretending you’re okay when you’re not, or allowing others to pretend you’re okay when you’re not, is NOT okay. You don’t have to shriek about your mistreatment from the mountaintops, and don’t under any circumstances martyr yourself (the only one even remotely interested in your martyrdom will be you). If you need to voice your discomfort, you also have the right to do so.
*The lightning will illuminate your path and its spark will ignite a flame of strength-the power to keep going.
*The rain will nourish your spirit.
*The wind from the storm will very quickly be at your back, and you’ll find yourself on the other side, tired-but more at peace.
*That some tasks in life are tough. That old band-aid analogy rings true. You’ve got to just go to work, keep working and get it done quickly. Especially the unpleasant stuff, because pulling life’s band-aid off a millimeter at a time just allows you to feel the sting of each yanked out arm hair-one excruciating follicle at a time, for a very, very long time.
When you charge straight into the discomfort–be it a difficult conversation, dealing with the realities of living on your own for the first time, be it getting the help you need to survive, admitting to and feeling your insecurities, be it standing up for yourself, standing up for what’s right, making an unpopular decision, facing the fact that your way of life just isn’t working for you and there are changes you need to make, or be it just finally allowing yourself to feel the unease or the pain or the grief in a situation–THAT’S when you get your reward. And like Wilma Mankiller said, you’ll get the reward much quicker. The reward? Your peace of mind and heart. Your confidence. Your self-worth. Your Compassion. Your sanity. Your life-in messy, noisy, vibrant Technicolor.
As long as you’re running away from what you have to, eventually, get through, you are not just prolonging the stress, you’re extending the duration of your suffering, and in some cases the suffering of others as well. And if you never turn around and charge into the storm, you will always wish you had.
You do have the courage. You can do this. There are people in your life cheering you on. I’m one of them.
(and once you get into the storm, stop for a second and lift your arms and face to the rain.)