I Meet My Greatest Teacher

by Carol Hess on November 26, 2012

(This is the second post in the Star Polisher Authentic Power Series.  The first post was The Leap into Power.)

I met a woman years ago whom I’ve never been able to forget.  She might have been my greatest teacher, even though we didn’t exchange more than a few words, and I never saw her again.

I had been sober about two or three years, when I went on a weekend retreat for people in recovery.  I was going through one of those uncomfortable in my own skin periods that are common to early sobriety.

Actually, they are also common to a path of personal and spiritual development, aren’t they?  My father used to call them periods of disequilibrium.  That always made me laugh.  I call them hitting the wall.  A friend of mine calls them F.O.G.s – fucking opportunities for growth.

Whatever you call them, I was in one of them that weekend.  I was hoping the retreat would provide some answers and some peace, but so far it wasn’t looking good.  I hated everything about the retreat.

It was being held at a boy scout campground that had seen better days.  The cabin I was sharing with my friend Sue and four other women was dingy, none too clean, and didn’t even have a view of the lake.  We had a long, uphill walk to the main building where everything was taking place.

The normally beautiful September weather in Maine had turned gray and chilly and was positively depressing, which suited my mood perfectly.  Everyone knew everyone except me.  And the one person I did know kept leaving me to go talk to her friends.  I can’t imagine why.

The worst part of all was I wasn’t getting the answers or the peace I so desperately sought.  The speakers weren’t telling me anything I hadn’t  heard a million times before.  And the well-worn 12-step clichés were getting on my last nerve in a very big way.  In short, I was miserable and getting miserabler by the minute.  Rather than do something about my misery, I was wallowing around in it the way Cape buffalo wallow in the mud at Treetops.

Come to think of it, I probably looked as short-tempered and mean as those buffalo did.  I certainly felt that way.  While everyone around me seemed to be enjoying themselves and getting a lot out of the weekend, I remained detached and aloof, an isolated island of irritability and discontent.

That left me plenty of time to observe the woman who had caught my interest when she was introduced to me back at the cabin.  I tried to remember what Sue had told me about Janet.  She was a fabric artist who did temporary disaster relief work all over the country.  It paid just enough to cover her bills with not much left over except time to do her art, and apparently this arrangement suited her perfectly.

Janet had recently been awarded a grant to study art for two years somewhere in Central America – Guatemala maybe?  She was due to leave next week.  She had sold all her possessions, including her car and most of her clothes, to generate cash for the trip and her first few months down there.  She planned to pick up a local job to supplement the small stipend from the grant.

I looked around the room and found Janet.  It was break time, and she was standing near the coffee station, talking to someone.  Actually, she wasn’t talking so much as listening.  Every once in a while she would nod her head or smile.  Despite the people brushing by her to get their coffee, she was obviously listening very intently to what her friend was saying.  I marveled at Janet’s focus and the stillness and calm that radiated from her – a kind of self-possession I envied.

When an older man came up to greet her friend, Janet broke away and walked purposefully out to the porch.  She sat down in one of the rickety old Adirondack chairs at the farthest end and stared out at the lake, a small smile on her lips.

She was a still, serene point in the bustling, raucous energy of many conversations, people coming and going, screen doors slamming, and lunch being set up in the large, echoing hall.  Janet was as detached from it all as I was, but in a centered, peaceful, comfortable way that was a stark difference to the inner turmoil I was experiencing.

I told myself not to judge my insides by her outsides.  Given what she was about to undertake, I figured she was probably a mess inside.  Except my intuition told me her outer composure was an accurate reflection of her inner state.  I wondered how that could be.

I continued to study Janet the rest of the weekend.  Since she shared my cabin, I heard more of her story.  She had been sober for 15 years.  There had been a romantic interest for awhile, but he was no longer in her life.  The last couple of years, Janet had been content to concentrate on her fabric art – a passion she hadn’t picked up until she had put down the bottle.  To someone’s question, she answered no, she wasn’t nervous about moving to Guatemala.  It seemed like the next right thing to do.  No, her finances didn’t worry her.  Something would work out because it always did.  No, she didn’t know anyone in Guatemala.  No, she didn’t speak Spanish.

As the women continued to question Janet, it was clear they were as fascinated as I was by her unusual job and lifestyle.  Then there was her dedication to and respect for her art – to say nothing of her aplomb in the face of the giant upheaval she was about to experience.

What fascinated me even more was Janet’s utter confidence in herself.  It wasn’t arrogance or bravado.  She was simply very comfortable in her own skin, to a depth I had never seen before.  I had never met anyone who seemed less interested in what people thought about her, even in the herd mentality of a group retreat.  She was pleasant, engaged, and polite, but she charted her own course throughout the retreat, intriguingly detached.

It’s been quite a few years since the retreat, and I’ve spent most of the intervening time discovering and walking (or attempting to walk) my own path.  These days I better understand what it was I was seeing in Janet that I found so compelling that weekend – what it was I admired so much and wanted for myself.

Janet was her own woman.  She knew who she was and what she wanted.  Her decisions and actions reflected the confidence that comes with that kind of self-knowledge. Layered on top of that confidence was a self-acceptance and self-love that was guiding her to create an unusual lifestyle that suited her perfectly.

In short, she was a woman who had stepped into and was owning her power, a very authentic power.  And, damn, but that is an attractive and compelling thing to observe!  It didn’t require that she take power from anyone else in order to gather it for herself.  Quite the contrary, in fact.  I found myself feeling more uplifted and empowered just watching her.  It’s just like Marianne Williamson writes in A Return to Love, “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

So here’s what I want to ask myself.  And what I want you to ask yourself.  What the heck are we waiting for?  What is stopping us from stepping into our power right now?  What do we need to do to liberate ourselves from our fears?  When will we allow our light to fully shine?

Thank you, Janet, wherever you are.  You will never know how much you inspired me.  I hope you’re leading an amazing life.  I have a feeling you are.

Share in the comments below one thing you will do right now today to step into your authentic power.  It doesn’t have to be big or dramatic.  Just one small step that will take you closer to allowing your light to fully shine.

by Carol Hess


Categories Authentic Power, Personal Empowerment, The Art of Star Polishing

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Sandi Amorim November 26, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Oh my, seems 2012 has been all about F.O.G.s for me and honestly, I’m tired of all this growth! Perhaps an odd thing to say from someone who works in the personal development field!

At a recent silent retreat, I remember sitting in front of a window that looked out onto the forest, but that day it was so foggy it reminded me of a scene from Lord of the Rings. I sat there so long the fog finally began to break up and lift. That’s what’s possible for us too, when we sit in the discomfort of the F.O.G.s…and wishing for time to go faster when we’re there never works 😉


avatar Carol Hess November 26, 2012 at 4:55 pm

I hear you, Sandi! That’s what my 2012 has been like too — the year that just keeps on giving. You make an excellent point — that sometimes we just need to sit in the middle of our fog, however uncomfortable it may be, and trust that the learning is coming and the fog is lifting — just like it it did for you on your retreat.


avatar Doreen Fulton November 26, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Thanks for shining your light and encouraging us to do the same!!


avatar Carol Hess November 26, 2012 at 4:57 pm

Doreen, you have always struck me as a woman who knows and claims her authentic power, which is probably why you shine so brightly.


avatar Mary Dirksen November 26, 2012 at 1:44 pm

That growth just never stops, does it?!
Thanks for sharing this story. I can think of a number of people who have left their mark on me who in turn changed my life — sometimes I didn’t know how much until much later in my life.
Bless you Carol.


avatar Carol Hess November 26, 2012 at 4:57 pm

The world is full of teachers, isn’t it, Mary?


avatar Nikki November 26, 2012 at 2:12 pm

I am waiting for . . . proof, permission, security, stability, certainty . . . I’m ALL about throwing those things off, stepping out + taking a risk, but it’s the HARDEST thing to do. I almost wish someone would give me a push, but that’s not exactly taking the bull by the horns, is it?


avatar Carol Hess November 26, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Yes, it is super hard, Nikki. I think the degree of difficulty is commensurate with the degree of blessing received fdro taking the risk. Kind of like spiritual diving or gymnastics or something!


avatar Sarah | Holistic Hot Sauce November 26, 2012 at 8:39 pm

So ready to step into that power! And ironically the Guidance I’m getting today on how to do it is slow down, wait & listen. How’s that for a baby step?!

I love Janet’s story…and your reminder of the words of Marianne Williamson. I think it’s hard for us women sometimes to feel comfortable just being in our power – we somehow think it is arrogant or going to make others unhappy or uncomfortable. Yet, in fact, it is just the opposite. Thanks for a another great story Carol!


avatar Carol Hess November 27, 2012 at 6:35 am

I’m getting the same guidance, Sarah. It’s frustrating, isn’t it? But I think it’s the guidance a lot of people are getting right now. I’ll hang in there, if you’ll hang in there! :) I agree. I think it is particularly difficult for women to step into their power because of all sorts of subtle and not so subtle messages we’ve received about power, including the one about being responsible for everyone’s feelings. That particular message really holds us back and is so darned co-dependent.


avatar Ellen Berg November 26, 2012 at 9:39 pm

I’m not accustomed to not knowing what I want. I knew at 5-years-old that I wanted to be a teacher, not as an interest, but as a yearning. I knew it had to be so, and that certainty carried me through many storms.

And now? Now I don’t know. The path is unclear and I don’t know and it’s frustrating as hell. I understand the angst of so many friends and family who never felt a call like I had. What do I know? I know I don’t want what I have in front of me right this moment. What do I want instead? Beats me.

But: I think my step is asking the question, acknowledging that my path needs to be different somehow. Leaning into the discomfort, sitting with it, and making it my friend instead of my adversary. Not that I like it, but it’s probably the surest path to an answer.


avatar Carol Hess November 27, 2012 at 6:38 am

I don’t know what’s more difficult, Ellen — not knowing what your path is for most of your life or having your path change after many years. I think you are exactly right and in exactly the right place — asking the question, accepting your path is going to change somehow, and then just being with the discomfort until you have an indication which direction to go next. Tough place to be, but join the crowd! You are NOT alone in this place — if that’s any comfort. 😉


avatar Susan Johnson November 27, 2012 at 6:04 pm

I love this post Carol and it’s left me with some rather powerful questions ….. what, indeed, am I waiting for?? Thank you, once again, for sharing your gifts with all of us.

ps I adore the way you write!


avatar Carol Hess November 28, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Maybe this shift is what we’ve all been waiting for, Susan. And maybe not. Either way, it seems the time has come to step into our authentic power, grab life by the horns, and shake the heck out of it! I adore that you adore the way I write. :)


avatar Staci Boden November 27, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Beautiful, as always, thank you Carol!!!!

And also interesting to see how many of us are in that place of practicing deep excavation and cultivating patience with the unknown.

For me, it’s not inauthenticity or fear of shining or disconnect from inner power that’s keeping me from acting. What I’m personally waiting for is the urge to move forward, the whisper (or shout) from my intuition that it’s time, a vision of clarity to guide my way.

Until then, I’m going to stay patient, (keep surrendering when patience gets hard, LOL), and do my best to relax into the not knowing. These moments aren’t always comfortable but they’re ultimately worth the wait.


avatar Carol Hess November 28, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Yes, yes, yes, Staci! You are sending us such an important message. Sometimes we’re holding because that’s exactly what the energy requires. And holding frequently seems to involve some kind of surrender or letting go, doesn’t it? You talk about this in great depth and breadth in your book, Turning Dead Ends into Doorways (which I’ve almost finished and used 2 pens up because I underlined practically every word!).


avatar Lori Gosselin December 3, 2012 at 11:13 am

Hi Carol,
This is a beautiful story! The way you just observed her and took all there was to learn from this and from absorbing her energy.
I’ve been focusing more and more on staying in my power lately. It’s an interesting journey!


avatar Carol Hess December 3, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Lori, I’m coming to the conclusion that staying in our power, which I believe is all about staying in self-love, is one of the master journeys. Challenging, rewarding and a whole heck of a lot what personal and spiritual growth is all about. Thanks for stopping by Star Polisher! :)


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