Value in the Valley: A Black Woman's Guide Through Life's Dilemmas

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9780684802879: Value in the Valley: A Black Woman's Guide Through Life's Dilemmas
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The best-selling author of Acts of Faith shares an inspirational and practical message on spirituality and empowerment for African-American women on how to cope with the challenges and negative situations of life. 50,000 first printing. Tour.

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About the Author:

Iyanla Vanzant is a Yoruba priestess, an empowerment specialist, and a Spiritual-Life Counselor. The best-selling author of Acts of Faith: Daily Meditations for People of Color and Tapping the Power Within: A Path to Self-Empowerment for Black Women, she lectures and facilitates workshops nationally with a mission to assist in the empowerment of her brothers and sisters.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

The Anatomy of the Valley

It was not unusual for the telephone to ring at eight-thirty in the morning. And it was only slightly unusual for her to be calling him there. Although she worked for him, it was evident by her tone of voice that this call was about something more than business. Two hours into their conversation, she wanted to speak to Ann. The moment the conversation began, Ann knew she was headed for a valley. She could not, however, figure out which one. By the time all three of them were on the telephone, it was clear: Ann was being cut up into tiny little pieces. Those pieces were being strewn across all the valleys at once.

"There is value in the valley," is what Black women must remember when we find ourselves in those tight spots, dark places, uncomfortable situations, we think make our lives so miserable. Whether we accidentally fall into a valley or are shoved in headfirst, the question we must ask ourselves is, "What is the lesson here?" What is the lesson to be learned from those situations we do not like or want to be in? The first thing we must do is realize that difficulties in life are always educational. Art may be easier than history. Gym is usually more fun than math. There is, however, something valuable to be gained from every subject and situation we face if we want to graduate to a higher level of living. Of course, in every class, there is also the issue of passing or failing.

Ann listened intently as the woman on the other end of the telephone recounted the sordid details of her two-year relationship with Ann's mate of one year. With her head in the Valley of Understanding and both feet in the Valley of Courage, Ann had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach that she was on the brink of failure. With a steady hand and unblinking eyes, holding the telephone away from her ear, she quietly demanded of him, "How could you do this to me?" Wrong move! It put her heart in the Valley of O.P.P. and her hands in the Valley of Comeuppance. As fear of failure welled up in her mind, promising to overtake her, Ann had to fight back the tears. He was lying across the bed with his head in his hands. Each time he looked up, it was as if he were seeing a ghost. A big Black ghost. A ghost with one hand on her hip and a frying pan in the other. Ann took a deep breath and braced herself to spend the rest of her days in the dunce corner.

Those dark conditions and difficult situations are like valleys because we get there when we lose our footing. We fall down only to find ourselves alone in a physically, mentally, or emotionally uncomfortable place. Valleys look dark and feel dangerous because there never seems to be anyone around who can help you get up. A fall into a valley means you are in some kind of pain. Throbbing head, broken heart, fractured ego, you are trying to figure out what happened; how you got into this mess and how you can get out of it, fast. The pain intensifies as you remember the details of your plight. You imagine all of the possible, plausible, and horrible outcomes. Now you panic. Actually, you feel frantic as you mentally construct your ultimate and looming destruction. It is pure drama, and as Black women, we do it so well.

When we are confronted by a situation we know we must face but would rather not, we shift into high-gear fear -- fear of failure, rejection, the unknown, and the ultimate fear, the fear of being wrong. No one wants to be wrong. For Black women, many of whom believe they have been overlooked, misrepresented, and objectified by major portions of the population, the fear of being wrong sends the brain into overload. Black women will go to any lengths to avoid being wrong. The fear of being wrong forces us to shut down. We shut our eyes, ears, and ultimately, our hearts. If the situation is critical, very important, or dear to us, we may be frightened enough to shut our mouths. A Black woman in fear, with a numb heart and a shut mouth, is a woman in pain.

He finally spoke to her: "I told you it was over!"

"No, you didn't! You told me we would work it out! Then you kissed me and we made love!"

Ann was able to part her lips: "You kissed her?"

There was total silence. They had all stopped breathing.

"You kissed her! Now just a hog-slopping minute! Are you telling me that you are sleeping with this woman after you told me you weren't?"

Ear-piercing silence. Somehow, in all the drama, Ann had missed the fact that they were still seeing each other. This was quickly changing from a valley to a dungeon. The dungeon of clarity. Then she spoke:

"Why don't you answer her?"

"Are you sleeping with this woman?" Ann had shifted out of fear into indignation.

Meekly he answered, "Yes."

That was the final push. Ann fell fiat on her face into the Valley of Knowledge and Wisdom.

It is hard to think when you are in pain. As you frantically anticipate your destruction, which is sure to result when you confront your greatest fear, pain seeps into every fiber of your being. The fear of making a mistake, of being wrong, descends over you like a cloud. We are not talking here about the kind of pain Midol, Anacin, or extra-strength Excedrin can relieve. We are talking about the pain of having your entire existence threatened. The pain of having what you want, need, and love, invalidated or taken away. You picked the wrong one, again. You did not do it right, again. You are in trouble, again. As a result, your head hurts. Your heart is bleeding. You want to think, but the pain is overwhelming. Sound familiar? I thought so!

When We Think We Are Wrong!

When Black women are wrong, we are not only wrong in and of ourselves, we are wrong for our mothers and our greatest grandmother. It is a genetic wrongness which aches down to the bone. The wrongness of Black women has been studied by physiologists, analyzed by psychologists, proven plausible by genealogists, even become the topic of debate at senatorial hearings. A wrong Black woman might as well be a dead one. The mind is dead. The heart is dying. If something is not done quickly to reconcile the feelings of wrongness, the spirit will die. But wait! Isn't being wrong one of the best ways to get your face on television? Never mind that -- we cannot, will not, go down without a fight! On the way to dying, we have to be angry and hateful because we are wrong and have failed. We strike out at, speak out against, those things and people who "made us" wrong, helped us fail. It is all so wonderfully dramatic. For many angry, wrong Black women, failure means your lifeless body must be ceremonially laid to rest in the Valley of Nonresistance, which gives you exactly the excuse you need to buy that new dress.

Ann decided on the spot, "I will not fail! I am not going to be wrong! I will not fail this test!" In her best monotone, Ann explained she had had no idea that he was still intimately involved with her. Ann had to admit she knew the woman worked in one of his businesses. She also knew they shared an apartment when he was in that state. Ann knew he kept a few of his clothes in that apartment. Ann also knew that he lived, conducted most of his business and spent the majority of his time in another state. Ann knew because she called him there and visited him there. To the best of Ann's knowledge he was in the same state with her one day a month. She politely informed Ann that he came home at least two days every month.

"What kind of relationship is that?"

A good one, she thought. "He had promised me..."

"Well, look," Ann said, "I'm outa here. You've got this! You can finish your conversation with him while he gets ready to get out of my house."

When you find yourself in a valley, the best approach is to surrender control. This does not mean you are giving up hopelessly, admitting defeat in anticipation of destruction. That is drama. Surrender is another story altogether. Surrender means you do not fight or struggle against whatever you are facing. It simply means, sit down, shut up, and listen! Be still until your mind is clear and you truly understand where you are, how you got there, and most important, how you can get out without struggle. Difficult situations such as valleys help us grow because they nudge us into a position where we must confront the things we need to know but hate to admit about ourselves.

The valleys also help us understand how we create the greatest, most damaging thrust of the downward plunge into bad situations. In those rare instances when we do not create our own trouble, our dramatic response to trouble creates more difficulty than the actual situation. Every Black woman knows at least one drama queen. These are sisters, friends, mothers, who are forever clutching their bosoms as they declare how horrible, awful, terrible, whatever it is, is. In response to their hysteria, we go into action doing whatever it is we do. In most cases, it is our consistent, conditioned responses to challenges and difficulties, based on past experiences, which send us directly into a valley experience.

In the valley, we are confronted by all of our past experiences, perceptions, and judgments of ourselves and others. The valley is the place we have stored thoughts and feelings, a sort of garbage dump we must wade through in order to move beyond the fear and limitation we now face. We Black women may tell ourselves that when something is over, it is over. Yet there is a part of us which loves to hold on to tidbits of information, believing they might be useful at some point in the future. Experiences which have caused us pain, fear, anger, or disappointment become our greatest enemies when we hold on to them. If we use these historical tidbits as the barometer by which we gauge the present situations in our lives, the stench of the garbage eventually seeps through. Our senses are altered. We respond to what "was" rather than what "is." When this happens, it means there is something we have not learned. We must go back to school. The valley is school.

Ann hung up the telephone. It was then that she realized, "I'm not crying! I'm not numb! I may be a bit rattled, but I'm not dead! I was lied to and betrayed, but I'm not dead! I was wrong about someone I truly love, and I'm not dead. I didn't fail the test!" Ann went into the room with him, stared at him briefly, and shook her head in amazement. She repeated her desire for him to leave. She had a brief moment of faltering. She wanted to know "why." She realized, however, that to know why and not understand it would probably kill her. She decided that "why" didn't matter.

It started as a murmur in the deepest recesses of her brain. As it grew louder, the words became audible: "I can do this! I can do this! Yes! I CAN do this!" He was putting on his shoes. Ann verbalized the mantra: "I can do this!" She got a facecloth from the linen closet, took it into the bathroom, doused it in cold water, and placed it on the back of her neck. "I can do this!" He was standing up. Ann could feel his confusion, pain, fear. "I can do this!" Ann left the room. He left the house. Ann wasn't dead, but what she didn't know at the time was that she was in a very deep, dark valley. As his car pulled away from the house, Ann chanted: "I CAN DO THIS!"

At every single moment, we are given the opportunity to choose our future. What we do today will determine what we face next week, next month, or next year. It is at the moment of a particular occurrence that we are called upon to make a choice: Will I do it the way I've always done it, or will I do it a different way? Our ability to choose is based on what we believe about ourselves, the world, and life. If you believe in garbage, you may choose to stay where you are. If you believe in change, goodness, and growth, you will put your butt on the line and choose a new way. The garbage we believe in, the things we fear, and our need to be right form the skeletal framework in the anatomy of a valley.

What Is a Valley?

In order to avoid confusion, the confusion which is bound to well up in your mind as you try to figure out what valley you may or may not have visited, this brief definition is offered. A valley is a life situation designed to teach a character trait or spiritual virtue which has been undeveloped or underdeveloped during the course of your life. These traits and virtues are things we know we "should" practice, but forget or resist incorporating into our lives. Patience, trust, faith, courage, wisdom, honesty -- each of these in some way corresponds to a natural law or universal principle which governs the orderly flow of life, whether or not we recognize it. The universe we call "life" is actually a spiritual process governed by spiritual laws we are expected to embrace and live by. In fact, each of us is charged at birth with the responsibility of doing so in order to realize emotional growth and spiritual evolution. Unfortunately, we do not realize this very integral fact until much later in life.

Evolution is not an easy task when we view it from a human perspective. As human beings, we are trained to resist that which is difficult and to all but ignore that which is spiritual. We abandon the life-fulfilling process of spiritual evolution for intellectual pursuits. We want to be smart and right, not enlightened and evolved. We are encouraged to develop personality, not spirituality. Although we do not recognize it, we have the opportunity to develop personality through the practice of spiritual traits and virtues. Unfortunately, the pressures of the world tempt us to reject spiritual strength at the first opportunity to get to the top of the personality heap.

The valleys help to bring the true purpose and meaning of life back into focus. Life is learning, growing, giving, sharing, and loving ourselves into a state of unconditional, peaceful acceptance. Your spirit needs peace and love, not a BMW and a VCR! Valleys are situations designed by life in response to our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, which are the true indicators of our spiritual needs. Valleys force us to examine what we are doing, why we are doing it, and to decide whether we choose to satisfy the needs of personality or to pursue the evolution of the spirit. The pressure we experience during these growth opportunities in life is what we will call "the valley."

The Valleys Defined

What makes the Black woman's learning experience unique with regard to the experiences of all others? What separates what people learn and how they learn from their experiences in life is how they respond to the experiences. All human beings must develop the same traits, embrace the same virtues, and learn the same lessons. What is unique to a particular group of people, based on race, ethnicity, or gender, is their orientation to the experience of life. What do we expect? What do we want? How can we merge our desires and expectations into a cohesive framework?

Our experience as Black women is unique because of our orientation to the life process. More than half of us believe that everything that goes wrong is our fault. It is our fault because something is wrong with us. The thing that is wrong with us may be tied to our being female. It is often the result of our being Black. Even when we realize and recognize that life's events are not our fault, we still think it is our responsibility to fix whatever or whoever is wrong. Most important of all, Black women are not unique insofar as we are not educated about the universal law...

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