Over the years I’ve frequently found myself feeling victimized by this, that and the other little thing, often forgetting there are real victims and great suffering in the world (like the four foot snorricane New England is experiencing this weekend, fresh on the heels of Hurricane Sandy). Still, it is our own cross we each must bear.
In the Pacific Northwest I often feel victimized by the weatherperson. It pisses me off that here’s a profession that is really well-paid – averaging almost $90,000 a year (I know it’s bad karma to resent others’ good fortune) – and around here they make accurate predictions probably less than 50% percent of the time! Take yesterday for example: the KUOW weatherman predicted an 80% chance of rain. After a few light sprinkles in the dark of early morning, it was sunny the rest of the day. Or take today: partly cloudy is the forecast. It’s been raining steadily since I got up and now it’s beginning to snow. They’d be better off if they simply said, “Weather. Yes. Step outside.” I’ve cancelled my free subscription to the Weather Channel. Take that, wealthy weather doods and doodettes.
Victimhood as Gift Potential
But it’s in paying attention to this victim feeling and how it shows up in my body and brain I’ve found, that holds some possibility for gift potential. I often treat that feeling as … Step One. My suspicion is that victim feelings are part of the parasympathetic response of my autonomic nervous system – specifically my dorsal vagus nerve. I’ve written a lot recently about my “discovery” of the dorsal vagus and how it seems to lie at the root of so much dysfunction in my life. Feeling like a one-down victim would be one more example.
Too often I take crap sitting down. Bad idea. Better for the vagus nerve is to simply stand up. When I feel like a victim, I feel helpless and immobilized. Initially I can think of nothing to do and no way out other than turning away. I mean everyone knows weather is something to complain about and that we are helpless to gain much mastery over. Everyone of course, except for those folks who come alive at the prospect of dancing in the rain. Oh, and also the folks who invented umbrellas, gloves, skis, sunblock, snowshoes and such. They all took their complaints to the Creativity Department. And therein lies one key for transforming victimhood into victory. Paying attention in ways that take the gift in the wound – the powerlessness in the Immobilization Response – and turning them into something triumphant.
Empowering the Victim
Here’s one more example from my personal life of immobilized victimhood transformed into deliberate action.
I’ve wanted to have a book professionally published since my pre-teens. I enrolled as an English major at UCLA, mad with the desire to become a writer (big mistake – I should have enrolled in their journalism school). One day, after age 50, I decided it would be fun to contact all my spiritual heroes and invite them to contribute to an anthology on the benefits to brain, body and spirit of compassionate listening. Happily, all but Dierdre Blomfield-Brown (Pema Chödrön) readily and willingly agreed.
Next I contacted several “spiritual” publishers and pitched the project to them. Lo and behold, the fifth one I contacted got back to me immediately – Wisdom Publications. But they offered no advance and only an 8% royalty to be split between me and my 18 contributors. They also offered zero money for marketing, and when I objected to the bait and switch they tried to pull with a less costly choice for the front cover, they only agreed to address my dissatisfaction if I would personally pay for the original cover costs upfront. Such a deal!
In a not-so-assertive response, my rationalization bias quickly went into full gear: If I had the book, I wouldn’t have to spend time and money copying all the articles for the Deep Listening classes I teach. Students could buy the book instead. Plus the publication would look good on my resume – something I spend almost zero time caring about. Plus, I would get the work of people I respect and admire further out into the world. And on and on the bias went. Nothing worse than motivated reasoning for a writer wannabe.
Well, needless to say, when the first paltry royalty check showed up after a year (and only once a year thereafter), and the book consistently failed to show up in Wisdom’s annual book list catalog, and it’s almost impossible to get a full accounting of what was sold to whom, when, I began to feel just a little bit like a second-class citizen in their publishing stable. What to do?
Taking the Word to the Street
Simple – self-publish. Which I’ve now done; seven different books worth. Are they all magnificent, best-selling, great works of art? No. Have each of them sold more than the 500-copy average of the more than 328,000 new books published in the U.S. every year? Yes. Have they generated more than the 8% author royalty industry average? Yes. Way more (I just went and picked up a nice check from Anchor Books here on Whidbey Island who likes to sell the works of local authors). Have the books actually been a help to people and made a difference in their lives? Yes. Have they been fun to create and be fully responsible for? Yes and no. Some parts of the successful book creation business are less fun than others – writers typically aren’t crazy-wild about things like marketing, promotion and sales (which you have to do anyway for commercial publishers for your 8% royalty).
But the point isn’t about liking or not liking publishers and publishing. It’s about paying attention to the feelings generated in my body and brain that I typically associate with victimhood. And then stepping up over those feelings and going to work when I can to take intentional, planned creative action in response – to mobilize immobilization. As Dan Wieden likes to say, “Just do it.”
End Note: I’ve recently put together the greatest four-session Webinar in the history of the Internet (or perhaps something somewhat more subdued than that). One or two of you may find it interesting: Life, Art and Neuroscience. Click HERE if you’d like to find out more information. We don’t know what we don’t know until we know it. Just take it.