To Be An Untamed Cheetah

Glennon Doyle thinks about life differently from the mainstream population. I think I understand one or two basic ideas about life. Then I read her book Untamed, and she turned them upside down. 

Recent books I’ve read have been a topic of posts lately. This book reminded me that being untamed, even a little untamed, is the way we are supposed to be all along. The chapters are often short segments of storytelling where she makes her point through metaphor. Her style speaks to me as I often use narrative and metaphors to craft my writing. She gently encourages and inspires as she writes, sharing her story and thoughts with readers. There is a lot that resonated with me in Untamed.

One of those ideas is how we become adults and take our chosen place in society. It’s a chosen place we’ve dreamed of, worked hard for, and understand what our role is to be. Glennon draws a parallel between this life and a cheetah at a zoo who has been trained and tamed to mimic a dog rather than act like the cheetah it is.

She defines being tamed as meaning you have made yourself fit. We have been conditioned by the people and life around us. We have learned how we are supposed to act and feel rather than be act like our cheetah selves.

I took my place as a teacher and understood that I was seen as a teacher outside of the classroom as well as in it. Not being wild and crazy, I fit the persona well. Nurturing, well-liked, respected, and all the other positive qualities you would want to assign to a teacher. Underneath all that, there was also an expectation that you would not openly challenge authority too much. It contradicted teaching children to question and think critically. I didn’t challenge anything too much until I was diagnosed with metastatic cancer. It became clearer over time that I didn’t need to (and couldn’t) make myself fit. I do believe age and growing older also causes changes in our confidence and how we see life. I was able to behave more like a cheetah.

Women behave more like cheetahs as we age. Society wants to call us cougars. That label portrays women only one way. No, not sorry – we’re cheetahs. Get out of the way.

Women especially have been tamed to fulfill certain norms that are outdated and antiquated. We take care of others first. We may not reach high enough. We accept put downs from one another. About a month ago I listened quietly as women commented on young women who would never marry or have children because of metastatic cancer. Well, I’m no spring chicken, but there I was with no hubby and no children. The comment wasn’t meant to be hurtful or even apply to me, but that tamed part of me silently took it in rather than roaring. I’m tamed.

She goes even farther with a personal story to emphasize how unhealthy it is deny yourself permission to live how you want. Glennon described the time when she had neurological Lyme disease and was sick for two years. She couldn’t function and spent the majority of those two years in bed or swallowing pills. She felt better when she visited a friend living in Florida and it was then she understood she needed to stay there. Not only did she need to stay there, she wanted to stay there because she always had loved the beach.

We shouldn’t need a brush with death to learn how to live.

We always should honor our true selves.

In many ways, living with metastatic breast cancer has given me that permission to live more truthfully. I won’t say it’s allowed me to live as I want because I don’t want to live with all the suffering and uncertainty that accompanies cancer. I wake when I’m rested most mornings rather than rolling out in the dark to an alarm that sounds way too early. I don’t put in extra hours at a job I love just to feel like I’m barely keeping up. I don’t put myself last. Instead, I have time for me. I can take chances to do things that before cancer I would never have dared. When it comes down to it – no one cares and no one stops me.

We all need to live how we want.

Glennon Doyle wants us to shake things up a bit. Maybe a lot. She writes a lot about learning to be brave and become true to yourself. Our purpose is to live authentically and fully.

Here are a few ways I’ve seen myself becoming untamed:

• I’m an active and vocal participant in my medical care.

• I say NO more often.

• I have control over my own show and I like it. I can get a lot done when I can envision a goal and fully pursue it.

• I ask a lot more questions.

• I express my opinions more often.

I haven’t been to a zoo in a few years. The closest zoo to me doesn’t have a cheetah exhibit. Of course, all the animals are confined. They are there so humans can see wild animals. None of them behave as they should. They are tamed in the Glennon Doyle sense of the word.

Cheetahs are symbols of patience and intensity. As a spirit animal, they remind us to prioritize and set goals. I want to let my inner cheetah run wild. I want to move stealthily and quietly to get what I want.

Ah, to be a cheetah is to live more untamed. I will be more unleashed, uncaged, and even more wonderful than I already am.

Largeness

The Book

I highly recommend The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd. It is a fictitious novel set in biblical times about Ana, the wife of Jesus. She is the main character; Jesus is secondary. It does contain historical content, but it isn’t preachy. It focuses on Ana and women’s power, or lack thereof, during this time. I chose it for book club and our discussion was layered and went much longer than our usual time.

Largeness is one of the book’s themes. The reader sees this in the opening pages when Ana reads a prayer she wrote inside her incantation bowl:

 “Bless the largeness inside me, no matter how I fear it. . . . When I am dust, sing these words over my bones: she was a voice.”

Ana was privileged to be a woman who was educated and knew how to read and write. When her marriage was arranged to an older man whom she didn’t love, she was told all her scrolls would be destroyed and she wouldn’t be allowed to write once married. She hid most of her scrolls, leaving lesser ones to be destroyed. I loved her daring spirit. Ana spoke back to men and even argued with them. Against all laws and expectations, Ana took papyrus from someone who betrayed Herod Antipas (also an enemy of hers) and she declared it a parting gift bestowed on her for her departure. The others called it stealing. She caused trouble often. Her intelligence and the fact that she was always underestimated saved her often.

Many attempts were made to silence Ana because she was a woman in a time where women had no power. She lived with great passion during a time, place, and culture where females were silenced. Jesus recognized that Ana was an equal. He didn’t try to silence her.

Way to go, Jesus.

Ana and Jesus separated about halfway through the book while still being married and devoted to the other. Jesus planned to focus on his calling and ministry. Ana needed to flee to Egypt because her actions made it unsafe for her to stay in Galilee. When they were alone together on the morning Ana departed, Jesus looked deep inside her and said, “I bless the largeness in you, Ana.”

She responded, “And I bless yours.” 

This is a simple but remarkable exchange between the two characters. If you’re reading in a hurry, you’re likely to miss it. Where it seems natural for Jesus to recognize the largeness in Ana and know that she has to go boldly to Egypt, Ana’s reply is stunning. Her largeness, her voice, to offer a blessing back to Jesus as an equal, speaks to her confidence and how she sees herself in the world.

Ana’s largeness takes hold in powerful ways in Egypt where her intelligence, abilities, and courage emerge even more. Her largeness and voice shine the most in this part. I fear I have already given away too much, so I will stop and urge you to read the book on your own.

My Own Largeness

The Book of Longings returns to the idea of the largeness within people. Questions in one of the reading guides include: How do you conceive of your own largeness? What inhibits it? Do you agree with Yaltha (another strong woman character) that passion to bring forth largeness is more important than the largeness itself?

First of all, yes, I agree that a person needs passion in today’s world to bring forth their largeness. Finding one’s authentic voice and using it is how I define largeness. Being heard and being a voice challenge each of us. Whether we teach, write, create, solve, research, parent, or something else, there are a lot of voices out there. As a teacher, presenting reading objectives involved daily passion and larger than life moments where backing up ideas about characters with evidence was the most important thing at that moment in time. When I switched hats to writing teacher, including details, actions, and dialogue became the large idea I made ten times bigger to be effective. Number sense and understanding the beautifully logical world of math was a passion with math. Passion and largeness overlap together.

Thinking about my largeness as a teacher holds some contradictions. There was some stifling by school policy and things like class size, standards, curriculum, assessing children, and evaluation of teachers. There were only so many minutes in a day but the expectation that everything got done was constant. I also look back and see my classroom as a home of learning and fun. I had thousands of books. Read aloud was my favorite time of day where we could just relax. Each child brought something special and made our collective whole magical. There was an intangible largeness that I brought there every day. Beliefs about learning and learners, the relationships with children, and what I transformed the classroom into each day are large ideas in action. Small accomplishments became large. Work, perseverance, revising, continuing to use your voice, teaching and learning with purpose, knowing your why, and having fun all contribute to the largeness I remember teaching.

Those teaching days are gone. Where does largeness live for me now? Over the last few years I’ve really come to not care what others think and I might as well do what I want and what I feel needs doing. I don’t have to explain as much to others. There were rules and expectations that I was to observe as an educator and in my family. I’m far from revolutionary or extreme, but I am much more of a badass now that there is freedom from regulations I don’t have to follow. I can ask a school board member what exactly he means by “restoring order” in the classroom because his perception of order may be different from one that has a little disorder but lots of learning happening. I can be as blunt as I need to be when at an office visit or treatment because what’s happening affects my body. Largeness now leaves less rules for me follow.

Rules can prevent largeness.

Cancer Connection

Where is my largeness in the cancer world? In my own way, I use my voice to make a difference for others, to bring awareness, and a bit of light to the world. It’s small, but I still reach people. I blog, I have fundraised, and I’m a patient advocate where I receive cancer treatment. I use social media to continue to grow my largeness. I feel larger with the friends I have made in that world. We share our largeness and our voices for a common cause.

How has cancer tried to silence me? Even though I have largeness, I often still feel invisible with metastatic breast cancer. The multiple ads on TV show thrivers who look amazingly healthy. I’m paler than usual and have lost my glow. I look and feel old. I know MBC isn’t always visible on the outside. But I also know there are a lot of ways we are hidden from the public eye. I’m starting to mull over an idea for October largeness where those with MBC post brave photos where we clearly are not at our finest as part of a reality campaign to raise money for research for metastatic breast cancer. Stage IV always needs more. It may not be pretty, but it would be loud and LARGE.

Maybe I should get a billboard. That sure would be loud and large.

For myself, as I read thoughts from those living with cancer, there often is a common thread from some that they better get out and do something worthy (large) while they have the chance. I have stepped boldly into new roles with my writing efforts, sharing my photography, and through fundraising and patient advocacy. I’m always working to improve my fitness. I’ll continue those and whatever else presents itself along the way. Like Ana, we all want to have been a voice and be heard long after we’re gone. For me, I think my words, my writing, have the best likelihood of my voice being heard and staying large.

In yoga, the thriver pose makes yourself large. How fitting. Your arms are stretched out to the side and lifted above your head to the sky. You literally make yourself as large as you can and feel your power while you breathe. It is good to take up more space.

I will take up as much space as I can. I will use my voice.

Better Breathing and Your Nose

Breathing seems simple enough. I’ve been doing it my entire life and I haven’t stopped yet. It’s one of those innate behaviors we’re born with, thank goodness. And yet, I learned recently that I’ve probably been doing it all wrong.

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, by James Nestor, was a recent book club read. I talked about this book a lot while I was reading it to people who had not. I got some strange looks. When you ask someone out of the blue if they’re a mouth breather, a strange look isn’t that strange. Usually, they’d be talking about headaches or poor sleep. Nose breathing could correct these behaviors.

I am a recovering mouth breather. Nose breathing is becoming more natural.

 James Nestor is more than a breathing enthusiast. He’s obsessed. I’d go as far as say perhaps a nut. He has put himself through periods of mouth breathing to see his health deteriorate and then restore his health through nose breathing. The man crawled through Parisian catacombs to examine how skulls of a thousand years ago differed from those of today. He has spoken with others who conducted disturbing breathing experiments on animals. His experiences go well beyond anyone’s norm. The book also contains fascinating anthropological glimpses of our human development as breathers.

The premise of the book is that nose breathing makes us healthier. Not only would we experience gains in lung capacity and athletic performance, but we’d see benefits in other health areas. Nose breathing can lessen headaches, asthma, halt snoring, improve sleep, and makes other internal organs healthier.

One experiment in the 1990s demonstrated the effectiveness of bikers breathing through their noses. Bikers were instructed to breath only through their mouths as pedal resistance was increased. The bikers struggled and panted as 200 watts of power was reached. When the same bikers repeated it and switched to nose breathing, their rate of breaths per minute decreased. One biker was able to cut his breaths per minute from 47 to 14 even though the intensity was increased. I find that amazing. I sure could benefit from cutting my exertion in half and being fitter by doing so.

Breath is jammed packed with good science that is written in an easy narrative style. If you’re reading this post, you may be more interested in some of the recommended exercises to encourage nose breathing. Below are some of the techniques James Nestor included in his book.

Mini Breathholds

• This practice encourages breathing less.

• Nestor claims it can stave off asthma and anxiety attacks.

• Over time, it is also supposed to happen more naturally when running or doing other physical activity.

• Breathe normally. Exhale and hold for 5 seconds. Breathe normally for two breaths (10 seconds). Repeat for 2 to 3 minutes / about 10 rounds.

Box Breathing

• Use for calm and focus.

• Inhale and count to 4. Hold four. Exhale 4. Hold 4. Repeat for 4-6 rounds.

• You can change the size of the box to 3, 5, or 6 as you’d like.

Sleep Tape

• Encourages better sleep with nose breathing and mouth taping.

• James Nestor suggests 3M Nexcare Durapore durable cloth tape.

• Use a postage stamp sized piece of tape. Nestor says to tape it like a Charlie Chaplin mustache moved down over your lips.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

• Use to improve lung function, lower heart rate, blood pressure, and sympathetic stress.

• Cover right nostril with thumb, inhale through left.

• Cover left side, exhale through right.

• Inhale through right, cover right side, exhale through left.

• Practice alternating for 5-10 cycles.

Nose Songs

• Breathe normally and hum.

• Humming for 5 minutes or more a day increases the nitric oxide in your nasal passages which eventually increases oxygenation.

Breathhold Walking

• This practice increases carbon dioxide in the body which increases circulation.

• It will also help you slow your breath when running, biking, etc.

• Breathe in. Exhale all the breath. Walk slowly counting your steps.

• Stop counting and return to gentle nose breathing while still walking. Breathe normally and repeat after a one/two minute break.

These are just a few of the breathing methods included in the appendix.

Not all is rosy in my breathing world. My personal data is skewed by a slightly faster heart rate caused by my Taxol chemo treatment. It’s definitely an uphill battle to consciously try to breathe slower and breathe less if/when I try to run because a faster heart rate makes me breathe harder. I switch to mouth breathing and I can’t maintain a rate that high. I don’t know if it’s medically possible to make strides in my breathing and running while being on this chemo. I wind up winded and frustrated. As a walker, I’m in my zone. As a runner, it’s a bummer. I’ll keep working on it because the idea of working less to achieve more excites me. I’m tired of working so hard and not ending where I want to be.

The perfect breath is apparently a 5.5 second inhale followed by a 5.5 exhale. I’m not perfect. Never have been and never will be. My breathing won’t be either, but it will be perfect enough for me as long as I keep doing it.

So, are you a mouth breather or a nose breather?

Three Lenses to Braving the Wilderness

Living with cancer has given me the opportunity to spend more time reading for enjoyment. It is a welcomed escape. I recently read one of Brené Brown’s books, Braving the Wilderness. In today’s post, I explore this book’s themes from three different lenses.

Lens One: Braving the Wilderness Brené Style

This lens is a basic introduction to the book’s main message. Brené Brown explains that being brave involves being true to yourself. Being brave means bringing life to your story. You are the only one who can do it.

She says you aren’t going to please everyone. Inevitably, it means you can’t be brave and never disappoint anyone. So true.

If you seek the constant approval of others and people pleasing is more important than your own inner happiness, you are not being brave.

There will be criticism with braveness. There will be LOTS of criticism.

There will be great moments of uncertainty because you are standing alone.

There will be vulnerability as you discover all your truths and how you are discovering exactly how you belong.

These sound terrifying. Going through life not knowing yourself is more terrifying. Braving the wilderness means you stand firm when you face the wind and disapproval of others. When you know yourself, you have the courage to stand firm in your beliefs because you know who you are.

To truly belong, you only need to belong to yourself.

That’s the biggest take away for me in the whole book. In a world where belongingness is sought after in almost every interaction and relationship, we all lose sight that the most valuable relationship we have is the one we have with ourselves. The interactions that matter most are the ones directed at how we treat ourselves.

She writes that “true belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are, it requires you to be who you are.”

Belonging is intertwined with I AM.

Lens Two: Braving the Wilderness with Cancer

My opinion and personal interpretation take over with this lens.

Having cancer is a wilderness of its own. Truly belonging to yourself and blending that wilderness with a cancer wilderness is challenging. To own both wildernesses is overwhelming.

I believe if Brené Brown were to speak directly to me, she would say to lean in fully to the loneliness and discomfort of cancer. She would emphasize the need to become vulnerable with it. The personal connection with it would change how I feel about it. At least I think that’s what she’d say.

I also think I’ve had plenty of loneliness, discomfort, and enough of a personal connection with cancer already.

Brené Brown writes a lot about boundaries. The firmer the boundaries, the more respected they will be. It is not okay to be taken advantage of and trampled upon physically or emotionally. You can’t belong to yourself if you are crushed.

Cancer can crush a person as much as someone else can. Being bald makes you look and feel less feminine. Surgeries do the same and you’re left feeling “less than.” Others often confirm it. If you are flat, then you somehow have lost your womanhood. Perceptions around going flat are slowly changing. Treatments take all the oomph out you so there isn’t much energy left for you to object to cancer defining you. Medical labels, side effects, perceptions, and an evolving normal keep shifting. It’s easy for cancer to define someone. It’s much harder to claim belongingness.

Suddenly, you are not you anymore, but the person with cancer. Everyone has a story to share with you because that’s how they attempt to connect with you and now identify with you. It’s important to set boundaries for how you want to be treated.

Firm boundaries support trust. When others respect boundaries, it is safer to trust them. Trust has caused me an ocean of hurt. A lot has become clearer to me in the last few years.

To me, living with cancer and learning to trust more means:

  • I share what I want about my health and expect my privacy to be respected.
  • I do not have to explain or justify my feelings, nor do I need to provide a reason so others understand.
  • I can’t trust a person with the big stuff if someone has betrayed that trust with smaller stuff.
  • I need to feel physically and emotionally safe in order to feel connected to someone.

Strong boundaries enable a person to have more empathy for others. Self-care comes first. Then you know what you can do and not do for others. I still identify as a helper. Taking care of myself first lets me know what time and energy I have available for others.

Living well demands I brave it – it being life – and I’m braving it fiercely these days. The older I get, the more at home I feel in my own skin. I’ve known for some time that my happiness depends on my braving life. I am comfortable with most of the decisions I make. Being brave is both frightening and peaceful at the same time. The uncertainty and vulnerability show up as frightening, but then the acceptance of those parts of my life oddly brings an element of peace.

Lens Three: Braving Well Together

This sounds like an oxymoron if braving the wilderness involves only needing to belong to ourselves and having the courage to stand alone yet firmly in our beliefs and values. The way I see it, there is still room for the support of others who are also being brave. Picture a wilderness scene. I can be standing in my wilderness next to a beautiful mountain lake holding a sign that proclaims my beliefs. Another person can be standing a few feet away near a magnificent tree with a sign that reads entirely different. Part of my wilderness may be accepting and trusting others. This holds challenges for me, but I need to be vulnerable enough to slowly test those waters. The other person may be working on keeping a few more personal thoughts and the confidences of others private. We can give each other the acknowledging head nod to show our support while still recognizing the work is an individual inner process.

The other way I believe we can be brave together is that it’s when we feel alone and are brave that someone else comes along and gives voice that they feel exactly the same way. We may think we are alone, but we are not. It’s very possible that someone was feeling the same way and was beyond grateful to cross paths with someone else giving voice and standing his/her ground in a way they needed. When we are brave on our own, social connections can be found. It’s part of finding your tribe.

Vulnerability has always been tough for me. Honestly, I haven’t always liked Brené Brown’s work. I stopped reading her first book years earlier because I didn’t like what she had to say and I found her too repetitive. Looking back, I wasn’t ready to do some of the work I needed to do.

I still have work to do. LOTS. There is so much I don’t have figured out. I’ve figured out this much: I’ve become more comfortable braving the wilderness.

Consider responding:

  • Have you read any of Brené Brown’s books? What stands out to you?