With Open Hands, A Mantra For Living

by Guest Author
Michelle Markwart Deveaux

“There can be life and movement only when you no longer accept things as they are now, and look ahead toward that which is not yet.”
-Henry Nouwen


I have this habit of trying to control stuff. And of course, it’s always the stuff that I have no business controlling, like what other folks think of me.

I call this feeling the “Grasp Ghost”, for reasons that will come apparent in a bit.

This Grasp Ghost rears its ugly head most when I am trying to launch a new service or product for my voice students or voice teacher clients. It comes often when I am simultaneously working on a proposal for a workshop while telling my three year old to stop jumping on the coach.  The Grasp Ghost also likes to creep into client emails and try to make me defensive.

The good news is that I am familiar enough with this pattern that it does not shock or scare me anymore. It used to wreak havoc on my soul. It would throw me into a state of perfectionism and defensiveness. It would make me care more about my feelings than my actions, and make me forget that my primary joy is to solve the problems presented to me.

I now have a practice that I use to combat The Grasp Ghost. It’s a thought process and physical action that was deeply inspired by the late Henry Nouwen.

I shared it with Liz when we first met, and she asked that I tell you, her readers, about it too.

The mantra is: With Open Hands.

The action is: Make a tight fist. Really tight. That’s all the stuff. That’s the Ghost. Then…open your hands flat. Palms up.

Henry Nouwen’s book “With Open Hands” is a life changing read on prayer, and I recommend it to any and all. But it’s the opening page that has had the most impact on me, to this day.

On it, Nouwen tells a brief story of an elderly woman, flailing wildly and violently, enough to have everything taken away from her. There was one small coin that she gripped for her life, behaving as though if it were to be taken from her, her very self would be lost along with the coin. “If they deprived her of that last possession, she would have nothing more, and be nothing more.”

It is this need to grasp and grip that steals our ability to see that if we just opened our hands, then the small things that means really very little would have the opportunity to be replaced with something that meant a lot.

The small coins are things that we perceive as non-negotiable, or a threat to our way of doing things. The Grasp Ghost tells us we have to do everything we can to keep everything the way it is. To maintain the status quo.

The trouble is, that while we know change happens, we tend to double down when we feel it coming.  When something is trying to steal our coin, we hold on tight.

The student who wants to quit when we thought the fit was good. A gig that falls through. A parent of a student who is trying to manipulate the way we get paid. The realization we are two months late getting a blog post to a friend. (Did I say that?) An audition for our dream gig comes up. The buzz around our webinar starts to gain traction.

These are examples of things that make us Grasp.  They often trigger deep feelings of failure or incompetence, and create a play area for Imposter Syndrome. (Notice even the GOOD things can trigger! Ah!)

With Open Hands, we operate in a way that allows whatever comes our way to be temporary. We allow ourselves to trust that whatever is in our life is there for a season and a reason… and that when it is time, it will leave our hands, making room for something new.

This is not some “everything that comes is better” speech. Rather, it is an “everything that comes will pass” reminder.

The “good” things can be more treasured, and the “bad” things can be less feared.

The idea that everything is loss is terrifying at first glance.  Choosing to recognize that everything will end often feels hopeless; sad. We are conditioned to believe loss is bad, grief is to be avoided, and pain should be fleeting. I believe that this denial of loss  has atrophied our self-love and self-trust muscles.

My encouragement to you is that it’s worth the investment in yourself to learn to flex these self-love and self-trust muscle. Start small. Give yourself permission to fail. Practice with low-risk situations. Invite yourself to experience and acknowledge the sting that comes with letting go with something as simple as your favorite syrup being out of stock at Starbucks. The tiny things that are of little consequence, but still cause us to feel disappointment, are great things to begin with.

As you gain confidence and trust yourself, you will see that maintaining this posture will come more naturally, if not more easily. And when the Grasp Ghost comes to whisper in your ear, you’ll be at peace greeting it, acknowledging it, then living with Open Hands.

Introducing voice maven and creator of The SpeakEasy, Michelle Markwart Deveaux.  If you’d like to know more about the SpeakEasy, or rather . . . how to get in touch with a community of fellow voice teachers with heart and a love for science based teaching, please reach out using the contact info below.

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