Authenticity

 

Be yourself. Just be who you are. Sounds good, right? Like a great hashtag or something catchy printed on a t-shirt. Who wouldn’t want this experience? But the truth is, this will absolutely be the single most difficult thing you will ever attempt in your life. If you even make the attempt.

Maybe it seems downright ludicrous to even be discussing being yourself as on some level who or what else could you possibly be? As it turns out though there are lots and lots of facsimiles, cheap copies and low-grade versions of ourselves that we take on. We do this for all kinds of reasons, but the result is always the same; our real self left out of the equation, MIA, downgraded, degraded, ignored, drowned and left for dead. Being who you actually are is not for the faint of heart; those unwilling to take responsibility for themselves, or those favoring an easy way out. Instead, it is for the whole-hearted. The bold-hearted. The brave-hearted.

Why? Because if you make the choice to be who you are, you must pass through all that you are not. This part alone is why so many of us stop. Or do not even begin. It is just too painful. Too arduous. Too complicated. Too confusing. Too demanding. Too provoking. And right along side that, too magnificent, too out of the box, too empowering, and too liberating to bear; with either side of the equation feeling like too much to be with. And so, we choose lessor versions of who we are.

I once had a practitioner I was working with say to me, “You are honest and you are transparent, but you are not always authentic.” She hesitated in the delivery of this observation, cautious and wary of my reaction. But I knew instantly and exactly what it was she was talking about. More than that, I knew it to be true. Instead of feeling hurt or defensive, this comment brought light to something that had always lived just beneath the surface.

That being, the regular and daily ways where I was most decidedly, not myself. Not authentic. Not true to who I was. Not true to my experience of being in the world. Maybe it was in the ways I pretended to like something when I did not. Or be interested in something when I was not. Maybe it was in the way I would smile that tight, forced smile when I was really upset. Or said yes when I knew the answer was no. Maybe it was in all the ways I pleased, placated and performed to appease another, to belong, to fit in, to feel safe, to avoid rocking the boat.

To be yourself is to choose and to choose and to choose again. Each and every day in ways large and small. In ways easy and seemingly impossible. In ways obvious and in ways hidden. Given the magnitude of this, how do we begin given all of the habits we have gotten into around who we need to be? How do we begin given how tied we are to what others expect of us? We do it by getting clear, courageous, and firm with ourselves, not others, that this is our one and only life. Our one and only chance to be our one and only self.

And then, we begin to practice. Every day. How might that look practically? One idea to try is something you can do while lying in bed right before sleep. Go back over your day. Not obsessively or critically, but in a curious-about-you kind of way. Locate a moment where you were definitely not you. Put a little circle around it in your mind. A red one. And then place that red line through the middle of it. This is not a judgment or a punishment. It it an awakener. A marker to help you remember what it feels like to not really be yourself. Something you want to become aware of so that you can catch yourself before you go in too deep.

Next, find a place in your day where you really felt at home in yourself. A moment where you were genuine, true to your feelings, authentic. Put a circle around that one. Let it be whatever color feels most true to you. Notice how that moment felt. Choose to remember it in any way that makes sense to you. And then, build from there. There is absolutely a very distinct feel to the real you. One that you want to memorize, get comfortable with, call in, and grow as often as possible.

As silly as it may seem, we really do have to consciously choose to build our way back into the truth of our authentic selves. One experience at a time.

Longing

 

Longing: a strong desire, especially for something unattainable.

Sometimes I am unexpectedly brought back to dreams and longings I had as a child. Feelings which some might categorize as idealistic. Maybe even naive. And yet, somewhere deep inside of me knows that those yearnings are something to be on the lookout for. Something I can trust.

I don’t know about you, but there are so very many things that I long for in this world. And maybe it will turn out to be true that these strong desires of mine will never be attained. Somehow though, I do not think that matters.

Lately, I am caring less and less about that part. Caring less and less about how I might look attempting to do something that may not happen. Embarrassed less and less by how foolish, naive or ridiculous even I might appear. Less and less afraid to go all out; willing, instead, to take the risk that I may not be met.

I am feeling this way because I cannot bear the thought that I will leave this world without at least trying. At least believing. At least taking a chance that what my heart longs for might just be possible. And so I pray for the courage to not only open to these longings, but to take steps in the world on their behalf. For they want to be born. Allowed a chance to live. Allowed a chance to be felt, seen, recognized and experienced.

Here are some of the things I long for:

A world where it is safe to be fully and completely who you are.

A world that protects children.

A world that puts real human needs first.

A world that loves the planet and acts accordingly.

A world where corporations are in service to Life.

A world where we can believe different things and still get along.

A world where telling the truth is the gold standard.

A world where any and all of our most basic survival needs and rights are fully and lovingly met.

A world where those doing the most valuable and precious work for the good of all are the ones most heavily rewarded.

A world where we lift one another up.

A world where individual expression and group affiliation are in harmony.

I could go on, but how about you? What do you long for?

It is so easy for us to be embarrassed by our need, conditioned to limitation as we are. So easy to feel laid bare by our desires out of the fear that they will never happen. So easy to feel stymied by old hurts that imprinted us with the wrong information. So easy to be cautioned into submission by what will they think? Or, who am I to be so bold as to long for…?

But what if the whole point here is less about the actual getting, and instead all about what becomes possible when we decide to go for what we long for? It is a daring and bold thing to hold the reality, the rights, and the responsibilities of being an adult right next to longing. A kind of head meets heart. Experience meets hope. Maturity meets innocence.

Can you imagine?

Being The Difference

 

“I will act as if I do make a difference.”  William James

How often do we live our lives as if what we do, does not matter? Resigned to the status quo of our own limitations. How often do we believe that the problems we face in the world are beyond us? Someone else’s issue or doing. And how often do we feel so small and so insignificant that it seems like our actions would never amount to anything worthwhile? Noteworthy. Impactful. Or resounding.  And so, we do nothing. Or worse yet, we blame and complain.

To know that you make a difference is to know that you matter. And to know that you matter is to know that everything you do, and do not do, counts. One way or another.

The ancient yogic seers named the time we are now living in as the Kali Yuga. The Iron Age. They predicted a time of great difficulty and struggle with the prevailing attitude being apathy. As in, lack of feeling, interest in, or concern. Indifference. A kind of inertia of action. A resignation of the mind. A numbing of the Spirit. A disconnection from the Truth of our very existence.

Do not allow it. We cannot afford it.

And while the pull can be great, the cultural conditioning intense, the personal wounds deep, the time is now ripe to step beyond the old apathetic patterning. Everything, everything is calling, cajoling, pleading, begging; Please, step forward. In whatever way you can. Please, Step Forward.

If you resonate at all with this, but are unsure of what it would look like in your life, try saying to yourself each and every day, “I will act as if I do make a difference.” Watch what happens. Watch what happens when you open yourself up to this level of Truth. Watch without agenda. Watch with a curiosity around what might be possible when the irons of the age of apathy are lifted.

Powerful Questions

We live in a world of ready answers. Quick fixes. Immediate solutions. Left brain knowledge of a particular sort. Despite all of this, too many of us do not seem to be doing so well. What if this was because we are looking at it all the wrong way? What if it is not the answers to be sought after, but the questions?

Given how many of us currently live in a conditioned, answer-oriented way, this would be a brave choice to ponder. A bold stroke to choose to pause, to not immediately know. A radical act to live by more questions than answers. And yet, what if cultivating the practice of crafting meaningful questions was at its core life-changing? Powerful. Informative. Healing. What if learning to ask more questions would be the very thing that would help us to not only find solutions, but to frame the larger and most essential issues of our lives in more all-encompassing and effective ways?

I once heard someone say that to wonder about something gives rise to the voice of the soul. Can you imagine? Can you imagine sourcing something truly all-knowing when attempting to solve the dilemmas of your life? If so, what could you specifically wonder about in your own life? What could you wonder about for the life of the world? What could you stop trying to pound out an answer to, and instead, hold a well-placed question to?

Try this. Locate some issue you are struggling with. Something that seems to defy an “answer.” Something you have been working very hard at that just seems to yield no satisfactory solution. Despite your best efforts. Despite even lots of outside help.

For instance, instead of hammering away at that entrenched physical issue, trying to run down the answer, could you ask, ” What is it that my body most needs right now to heal?” Or how about for that “fork in the road issue,” asking “What is it I most need to know at this time to choose wisely?” And for a relationship issue, how about, “What is mine to do/not do here?”

Ask a question, and then, let it go. Drop it. Take the intensity of solving for the answer out of it. Instead, whenever the issue in mind presents, wonder to yourself about it through your question, and then let the whole thing float away as easily as a helium balloon gleefully released from a child’s hand. No need to figure anything out.

Learning to let go like this does take effort. But it is a different kind of effort than most of us are used to. Instead of a pushing and a tense striving, this approach is more of an effortless one; once you get the hang of it. A kind of letting the answer find you instead of working to make it happen. This might not initially feel good to that overachieving part of the mind that will say you aren’t doing enough. It might even feel as though you have given up, or entrusted your life to the wrong things. And that if you aren’t the one in charge, who will be for god’s sake?

And that is exactly the point. If your long-term efforts at finding the answers have not gotten you to where you most long to be, is that not information enough? Is that not feedback enough that perhaps another way might prove more fruitful? That this is not a matter, as the rational mind might say, of just needing to find the “correct” information. Perhaps it is time to entertain the knowing that maybe your efforting has been on the wrong end of the equation. Perhaps your efforts would be better served in learning to surrender, have patience, and practice trust. Which by the way are all very, very significant and meaningful qualities to develop while one waits for an answer.

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.