why the "L" word makes me anxious

Leave a legacy of grace. Acts of service are tiny miracles.  www.wakingupinwonder.com

Recently in one of the therapy groups I co-facilitate, one of my clients brought in and read the poem, “The Dash” by Linda Ellis. I’d heard it before, and it’s a great poem. (Out of respect for the copyright, I won’t post it here, but definitely click through to read it if you haven’t.)

Then, this client asked everyone in the group to share about what kind of legacy they want to leave in their lives. Gulp.

Legacy. There it is.

For as long as I’ve really understood what it means, hearing the word “legacy” has given me a nervous feeling. It seems like such a loaded word, literally loaded with the expectation of greatness, of saving the world, of anything but mediocre. Then I get on the train of feeling that it’s self-centered to want to be not mediocre. And the idea of leaving a capital-L Legacy to this world after I leave it seems far too monumental a task. It’s reserved for truly great people like St. Teresa, Martin Luther King, Maya Angelou, Robin Williams. So, usually, I shake off the word and continue going about my day.

When these women shared about the legacy they want to leave in the world, I saw the flickers of joy in their eyes, and I felt my heart soften up around this word. They spoke of wanting to be great daughters, doctors, friends, listeners. To make their love felt in the world. To change one person’s life. And it was a reminder to me that greatness comes in many shapes and sizes (both literally and figuratively, being in the eating disorder treatment world.) I witness courage and resiliency in my work every day, and this was such an example of both. These are women who have been victimized, who have felt lost, hollow, hopeless, alone. And yet in moments like this, they tap into that reservoir of love and possibility, and the risk of hope not just for any life, but a great one.

When the circle got around me to last, I told the women that I have been reading and learning a lot about grace and what it means to be a channel for grace in the world. I’m devouring Caroline Myss’s Invisible Acts of Power (Channeling Grace in Your Everyday Life) and anxiously awaiting next month’s release of Mastin Kipp’s Growing Into Grace. In Myss’s book, she elegantly weaves together acts of service (gifts of grace) and the 7 chakras, my other fascination of late. Going into that is a post for another day, but the bottom line is that different types of service align with different chakras (the energy centers in our body, rooted in ancient eastern spiritual traditions), and that while all acts of service are valuable, the more energy that we put into them —usually meaning it’s a higher chakra gift, like empowering someone with education or self-love, vs giving them money for lunch — the more grace they bring into that person’s life and the world.

I told my clients that while I’m still figuring out the whole grace thing, I have a pretty good feeling that if my legacy were to be that I brought more grace into the lives of others and into the universe (which includes my own life), that I’d feel like I served my life purpose. That’s the kind of legacy I can open my heart to. It’s not necessarily about making a name for myself, or publishing a book, or leaving any “mark on the world” in the traditional sense. Acts of grace are both subtle (invisible) and miraculous at the same time.

Tiny miracles. Small moments of making a choice to pay attention, to listen, to love the hell out of the world. Because there’s no telling the ripple effect of a tiny miracle in one person’s life. Energy is energy, I am you and you are me.

What are your thoughts about legacy, grace, tiny miracles and acts of service? I would love to hear from you in the comments. I’m charging this post up with love, and I hope you can feel it. xo.

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Valerie Martin

Valerie Martin, LMSW, is a Primary Therapist at The Ranch residential treatment center, where she works with eating disorders, addiction, trauma, and co-occurring mental health issues. Valerie focuses on a holistic treatment approach of mind + body integration, using Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT), somatic and bioenergetic therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), psychodrama, 12-step, and shame resilience. She is also a Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist (CSAT) Candidate. Valerie received her Bachelor of Science degree in Communications and Master of Science degree in Clinical Social Work at the University of Texas in Austin. She is an active member of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashville, and emphasizes spiritual exploration in her work with clients.