Value in the Valley: A Black Woman's Guide through Life's Dilemmasby Iyanla Vanzant
So you've fallen and think you can't get up!
Is it the job you hate but need in order to pay the rent? Is it that relationship that you gave your all to only to end up with a broken heart...again? Perhaps it's your children, a family member or a lifelong friend doing you in, dragging you down, pushing you to the brink. If you are an honorary member of the/b>… See more details below
So you've fallen and think you can't get up!
Is it the job you hate but need in order to pay the rent? Is it that relationship that you gave your all to only to end up with a broken heart...again? Perhaps it's your children, a family member or a lifelong friend doing you in, dragging you down, pushing you to the brink. If you are an honorary member of the Black Woman's Suffering Society, you have probably been told that it's all your fault. Or that struggling and suffering is your lot in life. Iyanla Vanzant says NO! Life is an Act of Faith and suffering is optional! Those everyday challenges, obstacles, and dilemmas are what Iyanla calls valleys. As bad as they may seem, there is a purpose or, as Iyanla says, "There is so much value in the valley."
Valley experiences open your eyes to the things you know but have difficulty facing and accepting. Valleys challenge your fears, strengthen your will, correct your misperceptions, and give you valuable insights into yourself, the world, and the people around you. Those dark, bleak, ugly experiences that make you most uncomfortable can help you to grow.
Valley experiences let you know it is time to do a new thing in a new way. You may grit your teeth and dig in your heels, but, as you will see, that new thing can be daring, exciting, and even fun. If you learn your valley lessons well, you are bound to shake other people up too. Good! You need to display your brilliance and move into your own grace. You've got the power, and your thoughts, deeds, and actions are your ticket. When you muster up the strength to change how you do what you've been doing, you find the way out of the valley.
As Iyanla says, "Valleys are not one-size-fits-all." In fact, they are custom-designed to teach you how to reach your highest potential -- to be divine, prosperous, and in alignment with your highest and greatest good.
If you've ever been disappointed, betrayed, rejected, abandoned, or just plain old scared to let go, then you've been or may still be in a valley. Iyanla knows -- she's been there, and on a bad day she's still there, but now she shares with you the way out.
Ruby Dee The Value in the Valley takes a great many of the neglected and unexplored areas of our minds and lives and brings them, through racism, sexism, and the challenges of just living, into sharper focus. How to turn doubt to faith, despair to hope, confusion to clarity, and make sure that healthy seeds of consciousness, planted in nurturing Black soil, can grow toward the sunlight and burst forth in glorious flower.
- Simon & Schuster
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Read an Excerpt
Black women do so much work in we do not want to work on life. With the dishes, the laundry, the children, the men, the job, the money issues and other family problems, it is a bit much to ask that we "work" to make our lives better. We do not mind working toward that new home or car, to keep the bill collectors off our butts, or to put the children through school. These things we do not consider "work." They are a part of our responsibility as women. As far as the rest of life goes, what we want is to stride through, enjoying the good times and avoiding any, if not all, of the difficulties we have come to know as part of our lot. We are very simply tired of trying, hoping, struggling, and working.
It is difficult for the average Black woman to accept that life is more than hopping from one mountaintop experience to another. Although it may be perfectly obvious, somehow we forget there is a valley between every mountain. If women know only peak experiences, we become great striders, with high profiles, but eventually we become lousy workers. We must learn to work on life since that is what will be required of us as daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers. We must know how to do the work it takes to get out of those dark experiences called "valleys."
Valleys are purposeful. They open our eyes, strengthen our minds, teach us faith, strength, and patience. These are all essential mountain-climbing skills. Valleys come in many shapes, sizes, and disguises. There are many times we may fall into a valley without knowing how or understanding why. There are also those occasions when we have no idea that we are in a valley. Unfortunately, many Black women have become so accustomed to hard times and bad situations we think that is all life has to offer. In order for a woman to wake up and get the message of a difficult experience, she must realize there is always value in the valley.
Valleys remind us of all the things we "shoulda," "coulda," "woulda" done had there been more time or had we had just a few more hands and feet. The valleys with which all of us are familiar are the pitfalls we experience when we least expect them. Somewhere deep inside we know we are having the experience in order to learn a lesson. There is something we missed "the last time" we were in this or a similar situation. Momma will remind you, "I told you so!" Friends shake their heads knowingly, grateful that it is not them "this time." You -- well, you are down for the count, trying to figure out how the hell this happened! Again!
A valley can be a job you hate but need in order to feed the family. It could be inadequate finances with growing basic needs. The valley could be wealth with a diseased body. Or health and wealth with toxic, abusive, and disruptive relationships. There are times when the valley is a person you love who cannot get it together. Very few Black women have escaped the valley of loving a man who turns out to be a demon for the dungeon!
For other Black women, the valley is a child who goes astray in spite of all of your teaching and preaching. The valley can be depression, confusion, loneliness, or a high level of "pissosity." The valley can be an addiction, an attitude, an obsession, or all of the above. The valley is usually dark and bleak. It always feels ugly. Yet no matter how dark and bleak the valley seems to be for you or someone you know and love, there is always value. The key is in remembering that no matter how low you fall, you can always get up.
If we think of life as a twenty-four-hour day, we know to expect twelve hours of light and twelve hours of darkness. The darkness is what we will call the valley experience. Many of us, afraid of the dark, panic when the lights go out. it is difficult to see and we do not know what is going on. Black women instinctively need to know everything, down to the most minute detail. Unfortunately for many of us, the things we know and grab onto in the dark are the very things which throw us, headfirst, into the valley. However, if we know what to do and how to do it, those dark hours of a valley experience will prove to be the most valuable times of our lives.
In the valley, we change because we are forced to grow, to stretch, to reach beyond the limits we place on ourselves and allow others to place upon us. We cannot see through the darkness of the valley, so we are forced to trust our intuitive knowing, our ancestral link. In the valley, we develop faith and strength, the stuff our grandmothers were made of. We realize that something has gone terribly wrong. The "something" is, more often than not, that we have been doing "our thing" -- the same thing we do repeatedly which gets us into trouble. In the best possible scenario, a valley experience forces us to do something new. We are forced by life to do "a new thing."
In the valley, we are not in control. Good! Black women love to be in control. We want to know what is coming, how it is coming, when it is coming, and whether it will wiggle or jiggle when it arrives. Believe it or not, it is usually our attempts to control events and people which lead us right into the valley. Surrender, trust, and patience are some of the valuable character traits we know we need and are forced to develop in one or more of our valley experiences.
Black women seem to have an insatiable appetite for helping and saving people. Of course, we cannot control them, we cannot save them. Many of us cannot control our mouth long enough to save ourselves from a bag of Lay's potato chips -- we cannot eat just one, but we want to save the world. That is how we missed the lessons the valleys are designed to teach. Had we been paying attention to Grandma instead of passing notes to the boys, we would not have missed the lesson, "Mind your business and leave other people alone!" Being in the valley is like being in the womb. It is a dark solitude in which you are bounced around without your permission. It seems so dark and frightening you may not realize that you are actually being protected, nurtured, and provided with all you need. Like a fetus, you must stay in the darkness, the womb, the valley, until the precise moment you are ready to come forth. The valley is a time of preparation. When you are ready, you move forward.
Often, the preparation for that forward movement is hard. It is painful. And it is frightening. You are squeezed and prodded until you are in just the right position. As you are guided into alignment with the forces around you, you begin to relax. When you do, you move ahead, easily and effortlessly. That is what most Black women want: easy, effortless movement in and through our lives. It is most unfortunate that we usually get in the way of the very thing we want.
My experiences have taught me how purposeful valleys can be. The pain and trauma which brought me that insight came at a time when I thought it was more than I could bear. Today, I will be the first to admit that the lessons I learned in the valleys will last throughout my lifetime. Once I got the hang of it, I realized valleys helped me to cultivate the qualities and attributes I needed but continued to resist. The valleys provided me with the time and the opportunity to look at my most resistant, uncooperative self. I thought I was perfect. "One way. My way!" Since I was right, I believed everyone else was out of their mind. As a result, I spent the better part of my adult life going from one valley to another. I wanted my life to change, but I was not willing to change. The valleys taught me that change of life requires change of mind. When I resisted change I nearly lost my mind.
I spent many years in the valleys of Courage and Understanding. I had a permanent address in the Valley of Other People's Problems, Perspectives, and Purposes. I served on the board of directors in the Valley of Knowledge and Wisdom. One day, I found myself in the Valley of Light. Through the dark experiences of that valley, I learned nonresistance was the only way I could recover my mind and change my life. I also discovered that facing the truth about myself was the only way out of the valley.
The Valley of Light taught me I could no longer deny what I was doing in my own life, to myself. I had made a mess of things and it was bound to get worse. There was no way I could continue to dress up the stories I was telling myself about myself and everyone else. I was forced to look at "me," explore my feelings, and admit what I thought were some pretty god-awful things about me. I resisted the process because I thought it would be so painful and awful I would not survive. I could not admit to what I thought was the truth about me. I certainly did not want anyone else to figure it out. I attempted to fix things that had gone awry in order to hide other things because I believed I was bad. Finally, one day, I fell headfirst into the deepest valley of all, the Valley of Love. Once there, I had to look at myself and my life. There was nothing else for me to do.
The Valley of Love meant the end of a relationship I knew was not good for me; being fired from a job I actually hated; my car being seized for unpaid parking tickets; my son being accidentally shot; an eviction notice being hung on my apartment door; and a boil on my behind. The left cheek of my behind. The feminine side. The side of intuition. Intuitively, we all know the truth; we simply hate to admit it. In the valley, I learned that the only thing that really mattered was what I believed about myself. The other people in my life, the events and circumstances, were merely a reflection of my accumulated thoughts and feelings. Up to that point, I had believed I was ugly, stupid, and incapable of taking care of myself, and that most people were out to get me. In the valley, I came face to face with the truth.
With everything and everyone I thought important gone, I was forced to focus on me. That is what valleys do, they force us to do what we resist. When I thought about the things I had said and done -- and not said and not done -- it became clear who was out to get me. I had been attacking the problems in my life and getting my butt kicked royally. I was attempting to fix the people and problems when I was the principal player in disrepair. I was settling for less than I wanted and telling myself it was all right, knowing it was not all right. I was buying friendship and acceptance because I believed I was not all right. In the Valley of Love I came face to face with all of it when I realized that throughout the entire process, I had been blaming everyone else for what I was doing to me.
In the Valley of Truth, I learned I was no different from anyone else. I was a human being having a temporary human experience, which I was taking far too seriously. I was not at war with the world or life. No one was out to get me. Other people in the world were so busy having their own experience they did not have the time or inclination to worry about me. I learned it would be impossible for me to have a good relationship with anyone else until I had a good relationship with myself. I did not like me. I was not honest with myself. I did not want to be alone with me, so why would anyone else? Truth + Love = Freedom x Power. I had to find my sense of personal freedom and power. In order to do that, I would have to face the truth about me and love me anyway.
One day, in the midst of my self-discovery, I saw a sign which read:
WHEN I THOUGHT I WAS WRONG
AND I WAS MISTAKEN.
You mean I am not wrong? I am not messed up? I am not a hopeless failure? Do you mean to tell me that my biggest issue in life is that I am having a series of temporary human experiences? I am supposed to know each day is a new day, an opportunity to do something new? Do you expect me to believe that I don't need to know what to do about everything, all of the time? You mean as a human being, the only thing I need to know is that there really is a higher power and bad things happen anyway? Somewhere deep inside, a voice said, "That's right!" Well, I started laughing. I laughed at myself. I laughed at life. I laughed all the way up the mountain, down into the valley, and up the mountain again. There are times when I still laugh at my humanness. Hopefully, after the experience of this book, you will develop an understanding of the valleys that will enable you to laugh with me.
When you see yourself in the various valleys (and believe me, you will see yourself or some version of you), tell the truth! Do not make up one of your excuses for doing what you do to create drama or reinforce your fear. Acknowledge yourself and decide what, if anything, you are going to do about you. Do not beat up on yourself with "shoulds" or "should nots." Do not criticize yourself. Do not judge yourself. Understand that we all do what we do based on who we are and the information we have at that time. The information is usually based on our past experiences, perceptions, and fear-motivated behaviors. Whatever the information, whatever our perceptions, we will get what we need to learn in order to do better. That is the universal law.
If you are in a valley now, or have been in the same valley repeatedly, you are not alone. There are thousands of people in the same valley, at the same time you are. Once you realize this you can slap your knee and laugh at yourself. My guess is that if the laughter of all the people in all the valleys goes up at the same time, the energy will create a mighty rumble. If we are lucky, the rumbling will create a shift. The shift is bound to create a breakthrough. If Mother Nature is not too annoyed with us, the breakthrough will carve out a piece of life we can name "the Valley of Fun"!
IYANLA, MARCH 1993
Copyright © 1995 by Iyanla Vanzant
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