A New Year

 

So, here it comes again. The cultural practice of starting anew. Of giving up. Of somehow being different. The time of year for creating a newer, better, more improved version of ourselves. On the one hand, there is nothing wrong with this. Nothing wrong with making changes or letting go of what no longer serves our health and happiness.

What does create a “wrongness” though is when the motivation to change comes from a place of lack, unworthiness, fear, external pressure, or cultural fads and mandates. A place that says I will be more loveable, acceptable, worthy, safe, or successful if I just do… Or if I just get rid of… Some deep-seated agreement that we have made with ourselves and the world that says we are not enough. Not OK as is.

When we come from this place in our attempts to change, we have taken an action that might look well-intentioned on the surface, only to find that underneath, we are engaging in yet another opportunity to turn the knife on ourselves. I do believe this is why so many of our resolutions are destined to fail. For there is no love in this. No nourishment. No true support.

The truth is, in order for us to take the life-altering, and often scary step to re-imagine ourselves, we must feel supported. We must feel as though the step we are taking brings us into greater alignment with who we most are, and what it is that we most want. There is no pressure in this. No collusion. No ultimatums. No force. And most assuredly, no unworthiness.

This flies in the face of what many of us have been taught to believe. That being, that change comes through a kind of willpower on our part, and more often than not, a particular type of willpower which uses inner force, control, and shame as its influencing agents. More to the point, that change comes from discovering something about ourselves that just has to go; for one reason or another. Otherwise, we are not enough. Not…Fill in the blank.

But what if we could see this for what it is? What if we took a chance and did exactly the opposite? What if, every once in a while, we just gave up? Gave up trying to be different. Gave up trying to be more of this. Or less of that. This might feel like heresy to those of us committed to improving our lives. To those of us with a health issue. To those of us wanting to improve our financial lot. To those of us wanting something different from a relationship.

But what if it were true? What if any real and lasting change could only come through fully accepting ourselves? As is. Moment by moment. No matter what. Can you imagine what might shift all on its own? Things like weight changes, personality foibles, relationship struggles,health challenges, and more, just by loosening up on ourselves. Just by allowing in, and making room for, what is already there.

What if the simple act of saying “yes” to yourself would dissolve what you exert so much effort in trying to change? Trying to get to be different; other than it is. To be sure, it is a risk to even consider giving it a try given how many of us believe that if we stopped the struggle to improve ourselves that we would just collapse in a puddle of ill health, hedonism, laziness, you name it.

But what if it were true? What if giving up trying to give up anything about yourself was precisely the path to take to get you to where you most want to be? And most importantly, to who you most truly are.

Perfectionism

 

This past semester, in the college class I teach, we were working with ways to challenge some of the negative thoughts and beliefs that we hold. The ones that we do not question; having somehow, unfortunately, become acclimated to them. Even though they drive us, and even though they define how it feels to be alive.

To highlight for the class how this process of challenging an existing belief might look like,  we began by using one student’s thoughts as an example. It seems he was about to play a big event as a D.J.; something he had been thinking about and hoping for, for quite some time. But now, standing on the edge of everything he most wanted, he was so worried that for weeks he had not slept well. He just couldn’t stop thinking negative and catastrophic thoughts about himself and how the night would go. Needless to say, he was in no way enjoying the prep required to get ready for something he really, really wanted.

As we got into it more, it quickly became obvious that something was driving the worry. Some thought pattern that hovered just below his awareness, but that he was able to access by naming out loud some of his fears. The biggest one being, that he was terrified that if he was not absolutely flawless, that if he botched even one thing, then his big chance would be ruined, and he would never again work in his chosen field.

No wonder.

No wonder he could not sleep. No wonder he had no joy in the lead up. How could he given the oppressively high stakes he was living under? How could he given that he had left no room for circumstances beyond his control? How could he given that he had left no room for his humanness? No room for even one tiny, never mind big, mistake. In a word, he was under the intense sway of perfectionism.

Do you know this one? The do or die necessity that it has to be just so? Or else…

As difficult as it can be, one of the most fruitful places to go to is the “or else.” As in “or else what?” Doing this gives us access to that very particular type of survival fear that sits just behind the driven quality of why it has to be just so. That ancient imprint that tells us we are in danger somehow if we do not get it exactly right. The same part, by the way, that most needs, more than anything else, to know that it is safe and loved; no matter what.

And that being flawless is not a criteria for the right to exist.

And so, when perfectionism shows up in your life, instead of falling under its sway, could you be willing to challenge it? To name the fear that drives it by asking the question “Or else, what exactly?” and then being willing to say out loud what you are most afraid of. Better yet, speak this out loud to another person; plain and simple. No rationalizations. No, “I know this is silly.” No letting yourself indulge the fear. Just a naming.

Maybe this sounds too easy, but I will tell you, there is something profoundly transformational about saying a fear out loud, as opposed to letting it fester and grow in strength. Just beneath the surface, and just compelling enough to define our lives in exactly the wrong way.

 

The Consciousness of Inclusion

 

I am driving to take a yoga class one morning and I am suddenly struck by how hard it can sometimes be to be a human being in the world. There’s the traffic. Unmet needs. The information overload. Illness. Pain. Other people. Pollution. Bills. Fill in the blank.

This line of thinking gets drawn into full relief as I walk up the steps to the yoga studio and am met with a strange chemical smell followed by what sounds like an old school dentist drill on steroids. Construction. It goes on below us all throughout class. Great.

How do we say “yes” to what is here, and simultaneously work to change what is not working in our world? How do we see what is possible and let go of where we are needlessly bashing ourselves up against something that is never going to budge? How do we expect from ourselves and others what is decent and reasonable, and maybe even noteworthy, and forgive all the inevitable ways that we and others will not match up to our hopes and expectations? How do we give life the serious intent and commitment that it deserves while holding it as lightly and easily as we would a funny, well-placed joke?

And how do we know what to do, when? As in, in any given moment, which side of the coin “should” we fall to? Further, when we choose a side, can we remember to always remember to include the other end?

As I step out of class, a man is carrying full water bottles into the lobby, and empty ones back out. I hold the door for him and ask,”How’s it going?“Living the dream,” he says to me with what I detect as a note of sarcasm. I respond by saying “I really never know what to make of it when someone says that to me.” To which he says, “Sometimes it all just seems like a dream.” Pause. “Or maybe a nightmare.”

As I walk away I think to myself, “Dream? Nightmare? That’s up to us.” But as I think about it more I also see that not only does it depend upon our level of consciousness, but that it is actually both. That life actually includes it all. Always. The question being, how will we be within ourselves and with one another as we live out our individual and collective dream-nightmares?

Tall Poppy Syndrome

 

Years ago I heard someone talking about “The Tall Poppy Syndrome.” It was described to me as the way that we will make ourselves small; how it is that we will measure out just how far we will stick out beyond others. Always with an eye, consciously or unconsciously, to not get too big.

Why do we do this? Why do we minimize the truth of who we are and what it is that we do, want, or believe in? Why do we fear recrimination when we have done or created something positive in our lives or in the life of the world? Why do we suffer comments made by others, and even ourselves, the very ones that are meant to put us back in our place, without refuting the harmful put down? Why do we allow “what will they think?” to run the show? Why do we submit to the experience of “otherness” in our thinking and let that dictate how much we believe we can be? Or do. Or want.

This has come into full relief for me over the past week during a cleanse I have been doing with others. This is my first experience at this, and as such I was expecting what others had described to me; headaches, skin eruptions, trouble eliminating, cravings, dulled appetite, difficult emotions to wrestle with. And yet, not one bit of that has been my experience. In fact, it has been just the opposite. I have felt energized, clear, and optimistic. Excepting for Wednesday of this week; affectionately referred to by our leader as “hump day.”

It was on this day that I decided to email back the leader describing that surprisingly enough I had been feeling great; really vibrant and aligned mentally,emotionally, and physically. It felt like a good choice at the time to contact her. I, too, wanted to be part of the email exchange, even though I did not have difficult things to report. Prior to this day, I had been holding back because it seemed like maybe there was no place for my “positive” experience. This was my attempt to break through this feeling of self-imposed isolation. Only, shortly after I sent the email, I felt a vulnerability attack come over me. Why did I send that? I should never have done that. She’s going to be mad at me, or think I believe I am better than everyone else because I am not struggling.

This went on for a bit and then turned into the wildest mental food cravings; fried food, peanut butter cups, cup cakes, pizza. All the things I was going to eat as soon as I could once the cleanse was over. To hell with all the work. I just couldn’t wait to get to all of this food. At one point, though, a little wondering came in. What happened, I thought. How did I go from no struggle with food cravings to an all out orgy in my mind? Then it hit me. This was my unconscious attempt to dull myself down to fit in so that I wouldn’t be excluded or judged. And behind that was my fear that it was not safe for me to be OK while others were not. Truth be, it went even further than that and right into; Do I have a right to my own brilliance?

As soon as I had this realization, the orgy thoughts immediately went away and I was back to feeling good again. It really does pose a couple of very serious questions for us as human beings living and interacting with one another, as well as human beings here to express the truth and totality of who we truly are. “Just how far will we go to not stick out, to dim our light, to top ourselves off? Just how far will we go to keep others in their place; not allowing them to grow beyond us?”

If we have any hope of being happy and fulfilled individually, and if we have any hope collectively of living together here on the earth in harmony, and with an eye towards making things better for all of us, we truly need to figure this one out. Right now, more than anything else, we need for the tallest poppies in all of us to grow up and step forward.

 

Freedom

I was away at a training last week studying a yogic text called The Bhagavad Gita. It is the “story” of a conversation between a student and a teacher, and it takes place in the middle of a battlefield where the student is stuck; unable to move forward in his duty as a warrior. Essentially, he cannot figure out how to act, or if he should act; leaving him with no clear cut way to see through the dilemma that stands before him. That being that both sides of the battlefield are arrayed with his kinsmen and his teachers, and duty would say he must choose where to fight. And yet, he cannot imagine how to act without causing harm; to himself, to others, or to the code he has established around how to be in the world.

Haven’t we all been there? That place where no matter what you might choose, seems to carry the burden of harm? In these times, who do you choose for? What do you choose? Does choosing for yourself mean you are choosing against another? Does choosing for another mean you are choosing against yourself? This is one of those seemingly unsolvable paradoxes that as human beings, we will all face at different points in our lives. And because it is so difficult to solve, we often try and boil it down to rights or wrongs, this side or that side, as a way of trying to manage something that feels too hard to be with.

But what if, as in the Bhagavad Gita, everyone on the battlefield represents an aspect of the main character? In our own lives, that main character, would be us. From this level of understanding, it can no longer be a case of me versus you. Instead it is really about all of the “me’s” within me. And while our dilemmas with others can feel so real, so external, and so about them, the truth is that when we really go for resolve in our lives, we will often find ourselves at the crossroads of a paradox; something that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense, and yet, perhaps, true.

But don’t take my word for it. Instead, try this. The next time you are in a difficult moment with another person, or even something transpiring on the world stage, label what it is that feels difficult or unsolvable to you. Fear, violence, insanity, insensitivity, unconsciousness, greed, meanness, etc. Then, and the hardest part of all, find it within yourself. Do not be fooled that it has to show up in the egregious form you are encountering outside of yourself. See if anywhere, in any form, you can find something that smacks of you in the battle you find yourself engaged in with what is outside of you.

To do this requires a commitment on your part to step beyond blame, infantalization, and victim consciousness. And it requires a softening of the part of us that could never imagine, never mind admit to, something so horrible belonging to us. But if we could do it, can you imagine the possibilities in our lives and in the life of the world? Can you imagine how things would change for you if you could no longer blame an external source for what you had to… Or couldn’t…

Because if you could, you would find the only real freedom there is to be had on the battlefield of Life.

 

Don’t You Dare…

 

I was at a family gathering last Saturday, and because it was the day before the Super Bowl, and because there were Tom Brady fans in the group, the conversation easily turned to this man and what he has accomplished, and continues to accomplish; despite the odds, his age, the naysayers, or the consternation experienced by those on the other side of him. At some point, someone in the group said, through a thinly veiled layer of contempt, that Tom Brady had gone off the rails believing himself to be immortal. As the person speaking continued with this line of reasoning, a subtext began to form and reveal itself. That being, that it won’t be long before Tom Brady gets his well deserved comeuppance, henceforth bringing him back to where he belongs; on the same level with the rest of us.

I pointed out that I do not believe that immortality is what he is after, but instead the fullest expression of what he is capable of. And that, yes, he is challenging the status quo and ideas around aging that wrongly decide ahead of time what a person will live like; even before they have lived it.

While in that moment I said what I needed to say, this individual’s response continued to rattle around in my mind, bothering me long after the conversation was over. Something inside of me felt so disturbed that I was unable to drop it. Then, in a glorious moment of revelation, what was bothering me revealed itself under the banner of; Don’t You Dare!

Don’t you dare be extraordinary. Don’t you dare go for the impossible. Don’t you dare challenge my view of reality. Don’t you dare show me up. Don’t you dare do anything that makes me uncomfortable. And don’t you dare make me come up against what I have not dared to do in my own life.

Why do we do this to one another? What are we so afraid of and so angry about that we would be glad when someone got their “just deserves,” bringing them back down to the level of mediocrity?

I’ll tell you why. We are threatened by what it reflects back to us about what we are and are not doing in our own lives. Otherwise, we would only want to see another person be as magnificent as they can be because it would remind us of what is inside of us as well. We would understand that when one person achieves greatness, when one person breaks the limitations of the status quo, when one person dares to reach for their own possibility, we are all lifted up and carried along to higher places.

Too many of us have forgotten this. Too many of us choose instead to attack, mock, or denigrate what is different, outside of the norm, out of the box, outstanding, and daring, in another. Too many of us sit on the sidelines content to watch greatness while we look for opportunities to tear it to shreds; using our precious life force to annihilate what is truly unique and amazing in another for no other reason than because we have not shown up for our own lives; finding it preferable to project our own failings onto the greatness of another.

Can you imagine a world where we support the very best in one another? I can. And I will tell you that I for one sure could use, and could have used my entire growing up, that level of support and protection for my own budding magnificence. And that each and every time I was on the receiving end of Don’t You Dare, it cut me to the core, took me down a peg, and made it that much harder to get back up and do what I came here to do.

Leaving

 

I am preparing, as I have been since April of last year, to go on a vision fast in May; traveling further from home than I have ever gone before. I am intermittently terrified, expectant, and ready. As I get closer, I am being asked by others why it is that I do this. I can see that the questions, and even the skepticism, is serving as a kind of preparation; with the questions posed reminding me, and even schooling me, on why it is that I do this. Why it is that I put myself out there. Why it is that I invite discomfort and risk exposure of all kinds.

I do this because in the safe haven of an environment that is built to support growth and transformation, I am always brought to the very best in myself; despite, or maybe because of, any struggle, doubt, confusion, or fear I encounter. There is just no substitute for being surrounded by outer circumstances that support your deepest work, and therefore your fullest expression.

I do this because whenever I set and then live for a time with a strong and clear intention for my life, without exception, I get whatever it is that I am intending, in the most profound, magical, mystical, and beyond my control of ways.

I do this because in the structure of a retreat experience, I can better allow everything to be exactly as it is; including it all and weaving it in through my intention. Through this level of focus and inclusion, I am made whole through the experience, no matter how difficult it might be. As a matter of fact, quite often the intensity of my emotions and experience is exactly what it is that breaks through the old conditioning, and lands me in a place that is new and ripe with possibility.

For a very long time, I did not understand why I was so compelled to put myself through all of this. Now I know. I do this because this is how I want to live in the day to day; focused on what I most want, embedded in what is real, and guided by the Great Mystery. I do this because in order to reach certain understandings about myself and Life, I must put myself in novel situations; recognizing that the more unknown the better when it comes to breaking away from old thinking and habit patterns.

And ultimately, I leave so that I can return.

Shaping The World

 

My husband recently gave me a card that boldly stated; This is your world. Shape it or someone else will.  He gave me this card as a reminder. He gave me this card because I had forgotten. What had I forgotten? How powerful the force of one person’s life-affirming focus can be on not only their own life, but also on the life of our world.

In the times we are living in, it can be so easy to forget that everything great that has ever shifted humankind has begun in the mind of one. And then, through association with “a one,” these different ways of seeing and being in the world have gone on to grow in the minds of enough of us that the balance finally gets tipped in a new direction. This has happened in all of our historically great social movements; causes that had to initially withstand ridicule, nay saying, disbelief, suspicion, and violence.

And while each “cause” that has ever moved us has had to make its way through and past what was unjust, unfair, and ignorant, ultimately, each movement has had to come to define itself around what it stands for; what it is trying to build and create and spread in the world. Ultimately, it has had to decide to live by a different truth, no matter what consensual reality is saying or doing.

Pick your pet peeve about the direction the world is spiraling in. What could you do to withdraw your energies and attention from what you do not want, and instead, direct them to what you most want in the world? Could you maybe watch less news? Could you maybe not spend time connecting with others over the injustices and the horrors of the world? Could you maybe not spend your days going over and over and over again inside your own mind all the things that terrify you about what is going on? Where could you be brave enough to stand for what you want as opposed to silently colluding with, or being a victim to, around what you do not want?

Try this: Unless something is working for you, don’t choose it; in any way, shape, or form.

P.S. Notice all the ways that the mind will tell you that to do this means that you will be unsafe, uninformed, ignorant, or naive if you do not link into the current “realities.” This is never about denying what is there. It is instead about choosing to focus your energy and attention on what it is that you most want to grow, be, and stand for in the world. Who will be brave enough?

What Are You Plugged Into?

 

We all have our ways of plugging into the wrong things to “light us up;” to make us feel alive. For some of us its food or alcohol or shopping. For others its screen time, gossip, or working too much. And for others, its dysfunctional relationships or being stuck in the past.

Somehow, somewhere along the way, we stopped experiencing the aliveness that flows within us naturally. A kind of uninhibited vitality of living that does not require permission, cajoling, or anything outside of ourselves.

I recently experienced a profound image around this. I saw a figure climbing higher and higher into the Universe. Wearing a backpack, she was very focused on the climb; on “getting there.” It suddenly occurred to her that it did not matter where she landed in the world, only that she knew her place, and inhabited it fully.

At this point, her place was a star in the heavens. Sitting there she noticed electrical cords coming out of the back of her star and plugging into all sorts of things; what others thought, misguided attempts to create safety, limiting expectations she was living by. While looking at all the ways she had restrained herself, a shooting star streaked across the night sky in a blaze of light and mystery coming seemingly out of nowhere, and moving back into the vastness of the cosmos. She heard the words; “Every time you see a shooting star, know that someone has pulled free from being plugged into the wrong things.”

We are not here to be plugged into false sources of ourselves, but to discover The Source that most allows us to find our place in the Universe, and then, to spend the rest of our lives inhabiting that “star” as fully as we can.

Deprivation

 

Deprivation. The state of something being withheld. Most of us have strong feelings and associations about being deprived. Some of us using deprivation to punish ourselves. Others of us going to great lengths to avoid the experience of going without at all costs.

But, what if there is another way to think about this? What if the act of renouncing something was purposeful, conscious and meaningful? What if it was done for a greater aim or perspective? What if some distance from what we regularly, habitually and unconsciously do might benefit from some separation?

I have been fasting once a month for upwards of 36 hours since April. My plan is to do this until May of 2018 as preparation for a vision quest I will be doing at that time. As so many things go, I got into this for one reason, but have found many, many more reasons, side effects, and benefits along the way. And so, while I am doing this to prepare physically, mentally, and spiritually for a longer duration of fasting, this intention may be the least of what I gain from this experience. In short, fasting has brought me up against my relationship to hunger in all of its forms, how I use food in ways that are not supportive, and what it is that I do when I have needs that the world is not satisfying.

What do you habitually, regularly and unconsciously do that could benefit from some separation? Gossip? Screen time? Criticism? Alcohol? Sugar? Coffee? Judgment? Where do you overindulge? And while yes, there will be discomfort; physical, emotional and mental, and while yes, because of how we have been conditioned it might feel like punishment, it is anything but.

P.S. This is one of those things that you can only learn by doing. Or not doing, as the case may be.