A Witness

 

For many years now a car full of Jehovah Witnesses have made their way every so often to my home; taking the 3 mile trek down our dirt road to knock on my door. A section of the road, by the way, which has less than a dozen homes. Not much bang for the buck in terms of spreading the word.

Yet, they come anyway, and for the longest time that was OK by me. I got to know one of them, Patricia, a little bit. A kind, warm, grandmotherly figure. Part of me felt like it was really nothing to give them a few minutes of my time. More to the point, I do respect what they are doing (awkward and weird as it can be when they show up at your door). I also felt for them somehow; what it took to go knocking on stranger’s doors. Then there is the part of me that had a soft spot for them as my own great-grandmother, who I adored, was a Jehovah. And then one last part of me felt like to be the person I most want to be meant being open to these visitations.

Complicated.

Only, at some point, it really, really stopped working for me. The visits that began to increase in frequency, with less and less time in between. How in the beginning I might only see them once or twice a year, but then how that began to shift to every couple of months. And then, at times, even more frequent than that. Patricia started bringing more people to introduce me to. One time they even tucked their literature into my own personal writing and reflections that I had left spread out on a table on my back porch.

It was enough.

I went through all kinds of thoughts and feelings on this one. Many reflections on boundaries, and what it means to set one. There were times when I felt angry about what was happening. At other times I felt trapped. There were the moments when what was happening pulled up other boundary violations and troubles from the past. And then, my own “personal favorite,” the moments when I felt as though there was something wrong with me that I couldn’t just be OK with this.

By the time they showed back up again, I had done a lot of work on this one. When the boundary I needed to set with them came out of me, it came out clear and kind. It came out effortlessly and with grace. It came out in a way where she and I were actually on the same page; with Patricia already having recognized that this was no longer working for me.

In the end, it seems as though beyond all of my struggling with this one, I just needed to name it with her. I just needed to say out loud that it no longer worked for me for them to come by. The whole exchange was so natural that as we parted, and I have no idea which one of us initiated it, we both reached into the space and clasped hands.

I cried afterwards. The reason for my tears was the recognition that a big part of my struggle with this was that I actually and genuinely liked her.

It is so much easier to draw a line when we do not like someone, or when we are absolutely fed up. But oh how difficult to choose for ourselves (and ultimately the other) when we like someone, or when the mind keeps saying, “What’s the big deal, it’s not really harming you.” 

This is what we are left to decide in the day to day with loved ones and others we encounter. Those times and circumstances where sure, we could let it go. We could put up with it. Sure, we could tolerate it for all of the reasons the mind will come up with. But at what cost? At what cost to the Truth within, and between us?

I do not know where the line is for you, but I do know one thing; clear boundaries set the stage for a sense of personal wholeness and well-being, which translates into more harmonious and satisfying encounters with others. Even if that means doing something that feels hard. For whatever the reason.

Permission

 

I have a writing buddy that I regularly talk with by phone. She is at the beginning of writing a book. I am at the end. Even though we are in different places in the process, it never ceases to amaze me that no matter what topic is up for either one of us, there is always much to be gained in a partnership that holds two ends of the same continuum.

Recently, we had gone a month without meeting due to scheduling conflicts and time commitments. We had agreed though to keep working on our projects, despite the gap in our regularly scheduled check-ins. When we finally did talk, what we both discovered was that neither one of us had done much. No submissions had been tended. No chapters edited. No calls or inquiries made. It was easy to see that both of us were feeling like we were coming to the call with not much to speak of.

However, standing in the reflection of the other, it was much easier to see the truth of what each of us had actually been doing, and giving space for. All of the ways that a lot had been happening for both of us. That we had indeed been “working” on our projects on some deeper, perhaps harder to see, below the surface kind of way. Recognizing this in both of us, my buddy proposed that we give ourselves total permission to continue doing the supposed “nothing” of the past month for another two weeks. That we give ourselves over to giving lots and lots of permission to what was already happening. That we, in effect, trust the process deeply enough to let the so-called nothing be a central part of all the doing that is required in getting a book written and published.

This is not easy to do in a world that demands productivity. A kind of “show me the money” mentality. A kind of “you are only as good as your last sale” attitude.  A world that applauds speed and how much you can generate in the shortest amount of time possible. A world that does not often recognize the slower, deeper and more invisible work of creating. A world that is too often blind in its ability to honor the pacing, rhythm and integrity of the process; favoring outcome instead.

Permission is defined as “formal consent.” A type of “authorization.” When applied to the process of giving birth to something, that part feels right. What I would argue with is where that consent and authorization come from. I say this because of how many of us have come to believe that permission is an externally generated bestowal we hope to god to get from another, or perhaps the culture at large. However, this belief has got it backwards. For at its truest and most life-giving, real authorization is granted from the inside out. It something you claim as a birthright. It is something you offer to yourself as a sacred and irrefutable fact of Life.

The permission to be who you are, expressing yourself as you express yourself in any given moment, is not only the greatest gift you can give to yourself, it is the greatest of what you can bestow to another. For in Truth, if each of us had the strength, the support, the inner recognition and the clarity of purpose to give ourselves all the permission we needed, all would be right not only in our own world, but in all the worlds at large.

My suggestion? Find a permission buddy. Someone you make a pact with to show up as you are, while offering them the same. Someone whom you can trust to bring forward ideas, thoughts, emotions, wonderings, concerns and more. A mutually agreed upon consent and authorization that gives the space required for a human being to be in a process, whatever that looks or feels like, where that effort is seen and honored, and where the end game is merely a by-product.

Can you imagine what it would feel like to not only give yourself total permission to be as you are, doing what you are doing, but to also be so blessed as to find that with another?

A Way In

 

Years ago, when I first started making changes in my life, I was looking for a way out. A way out of feeling awful in and about my body. A way out of negative and self-debasing thoughts. A way out of unbearable emotions. A way out of un-supportive and dissatisfying relationships. A way out of work that did not feed me. A way out of all of the habits that I had picked up along the way in an attempt to handle, medicate and get away from all that I was feeling. And while the impulse was to bring ease and greater balance through these habits, an attempt on my part to feel better, this band-aid approach of covering over what didn’t feel good, always left me somehow worse off.

My yoga teacher once said that the first impulse on the path is the urge to feel better. Different. Other than how you are currently experiencing yourself and life. Even if you do not have a clue about what the “better” or “different” is, or even looks like. Even if you do not know what it will take or how you will do it. Looking back, I can most definitely vouch for this sentiment. For it is not easy to be a human being, and there can be much that we are looking for a way out of. There is so much to feel. There are so many physical sensations to move through. So many thoughts and so many encounters to be with. Given the sometimes overwhelming nature of what it means to be alive, it is only natural to want to get away from certain aspects of living in an attempt to feel better.

Enter the choice to commit yourself to self-discovery and self-awareness. The intention and the subsequent grit you must exert to get out from under unhealthy patterns, conditioning, beliefs, attitudes and more. And while it is easy to believe that the way out is the name of the game, at its very heart, any attempts you make in this regard are always about, a way in. But because the suffering can be so all encompassing, this is an easy thing to miss, leaving us to believe that the point is to get away from something, when in fact, we are really trying to find our way back in to something.

And while it can seem like the way out and the way in are two sides of the same coin, which they are, it matters tremendously which one you choose to focus on. For if you try and find a way out of yourself and what you are experiencing, that is a vastly different orientation than trying to find your way back into yourself. The first approach contains within it the underlying belief that there is something you need to get away from; a kind of separation from something, but without giving you a place to land. The second approach implies a moving towards; a kind of finding your way back to something that already exists. A homecoming, if you will; a place that continues to be there whether you choose it or not. A way in that awaits your notice.

Which side of the coin do you tend to live on? Are you trying to get over, away from, or past the experiences of your life? Or do you find yourself moving in and towards something? Watch yourself as you go through your days. Catch the moments where you feel at odds with something and watch your attempts to get away. And if you can, wonder what it would look and feel like to find a way back in towards yourself, as opposed to looking for a way out. Maybe it means softening something that has gotten too tight in body or mind. Maybe it means a gentle smile to yourself as you acknowledge what you are up against as a human being living in a vulnerable body and a mind that just won’t quit. Maybe it means forgiving yourself; making room for all of the reasons and all of the ways that you try and escape yourself and the life you have created.

And maybe, more than anything else, it becomes a decision on your part to choose to recognize that the way in is far more interesting and far more valuable than all of the things you are trying to find a way out of.

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?