The Medicine Of Belonging To Yourself


Isn’t there a way that we can find our place in the world while still being true to ourselves? A place where we do not need to make apologies, give excuses, dumb down, tone down or hide? This is always on my mind these days, and as fate would have it I ran across something I wrote a while back  that I would like to share with you. The piece reflects my experience as a mother who chose to strongly limit the influence of the screen technologies in my children’s lives. I believe that it speaks directly to how the process of living the truth of our lives opens the door for belonging.

Making choices that were different from how I was raised, and different from those around me, challenged me down to my very core. I grew up believing that if I did not do it “right” according to others, I would be banished. Kicked out. When I began making different choices than those around me it pulled up all of my fears around belonging and affiliation. I thought I would be driven out of the group for doing things differently. I struggled terribly, and at times still do, with the sense that others might be offended, upset or threatened by my choices.  For a long time I was very defensive and protective about our life, believing that others held the power to destroy what was so important to me. I tried so hard for so long to stay above reproach, in the minds of others, so that I would not be rejected or criticized.

When I became willing to see this about myself, I was able to shift my perspective recognizing how brave it was of me to be doing what I was doing and risking what I was risking. It taught me the power of affiliation and how often, and under what circumstances,  we will betray ourselves and our values to stay in connection with others. It showed me the painful dilemma this puts all of us in regarding the choice between being who we are and belonging. And it showed me that at its best, there is no choice to be made; that when we are fully ourselves, we can be anywhere and with anyone. In the end, it continues to motivate me to stay true to myself, trusting that there is always a place for me when I am at my authentic best. 

It is so easy to believe that belonging lies outside of ourselves. That if and when the outside offers permission and acceptance of who we are and who we most want to be, then we will be given our place at the table. Belonging begins from within and is without condition. Belonging is a state of mind. Belonging arises from the knowledge of who you are and who you are wanting to be. It originates from within and radiates out to include all who we encounter. It is never about whether or not others will include us, but whether or not we will include ourselves.

What Kind Of A World?


It is so very, very easy to look out at the world and to believe that all of the difficult and horrible things that are happening are due to someone else. Some other group of people. Some set of circumstances beyond our lives. So, not only do we find ourselves in the position of feeling afraid and overwhelmed, simultaneously we can feel that it is beyond our control to do anything about what is happening.

Every semester, with the college students I teach, we do a group think exercise at the board. I divide the white board up into the following categories; physical, social, emotional, mental and spiritual. Then, we collectively brainstorm on all of the costs associated with living stressed out. As you might imagine, the list includes things like headaches, insomnia, illness, irritability, anger, isolation, poor judgment, anxiety, depression and lack of faith. Just to name a few. This is nothing new. We know this. What we don’t know or think about is how this personal experience of being so out of balance is impacting the world we live in.

What we do next is to imagine what kind of a world we are creating by living in a state of chronic and habitual stress. Words like “unsafe, unhealthy, unnatural, scary, pessimistic, dark, bad and toxic regularly make the list. It is always a sobering moment to be in a group of people realizing not only what their behavior is costing them, but how it is creating the very things that they loathe and fear in the world. Before our next class, their homework assignment is to catch themselves in a stress response noticing what kind of a world they are creating when they live from a place of tension and overwhelm.

If we have any hope of things changing for us collectively, we must begin to connect the dots between our personal choices and the state of the world. And we must do this not in theory, but in practice. Daily practice. So, what do your stressed out behaviors and choices cost you? What do they cost the world?



“Do things not smell or sound right-even if you can’t define why? Trust those feelings for they will define themselves shortly.”  I have these words tacked up on my bedroom wall. I need to be reminded daily that I can trust myself despite what the demands or expectations of others, or the culture at large, may be. My experience has been that within each of us, there is an urge, an undefined and maybe not yet articulated knowing that rests just beneath the surface. All that it takes is a little coaxing to come forward.

One of the best ways to tune into this internal knowing is to go through the body. It is the home of our most basic instincts, intuitions and urges. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that both degrades and ignores the body. And it shows. Look around at how many of us have illnesses and diseases that are purely choice-related. Look around at the cultural sanctioning of health-degrading habits in the forms of fast foods, the use of stimulants, the disregard for the body’s need to rest along with the expectations of busyness that serve as the agreed upon standard for how we are doing. Having no idea how to take care of our own bodies leaves us bereft of the health, joy and well-being that come from living as a being who understands how to take care of a body. On a deeper level, we miss out on the wisdom and guidance that is available to us from within; a kind of built-in navigational system that is sorely missing and desperately needed if we are to live lives that matter and make sense to us.

We are what Clarissa Pinkola-Estes calls “instinct-injured.” We have forgotten how to trust our inner wisdom; that which is natural and innate.  Screen messages, “expert” advice, stress, busyness and the sense that we are not doing enough have created and continue to compound this injury, leaving us vulnerable to the belief that we need a steady stream of outside sources to tell us how to live.Trusting your instincts and intuition runs contrary to the belief that only the rational mind knows the way, and that we must constantly be looking outside of ourselves to keep up in order to know what to do. In this time of information overload, hidden agendas and multiple ways of distorting the truth, we need a way of being in the world that goes beyond the ways that our rational mind can deceived. It is a most empowering experience to know that there are instincts and intuitions within all of us that will take us to exactly where we need to go. It is from this place that we begin to develop the impeccable radar that will serve our lives as well as the best instincts of any wild animal.

When I think of body wisdom, I think of my dog Grace. She lays on the porch until some inner urge says, “get up, get a drink, bark at that person, scratch, roll around, chase that animal.” This is not an exercise of the rational mind. Instead, it is about going below your every day, habituated behavioral patterns. It is akin to following bread crumbs through the forest where you allow yourself to be led from within. Do not let yourself be fooled by the simplicity of this. When we can learn to listen to the needs and the demands of the body, we begin a conversation; one that for many of us is long past overdue. As we begin to tune into and respond to body basics like hunger, thirst, rest, the urge to move, the urge to get away from something, we begin a dialogue with a part of us that cannot be fooled. Cannot be misled. No matter how good something looks. No matter what “they” say. The willingness to really learn what your body needs is what gives this approach its power. For when we learn how to pay attention to what the body needs, we learn to see beyond all the thoughts, demands, expectations, beliefs and busyness that swirl around us and obscure the truth.

When I can tune into what my body needs or is experiencing, two things happen. I take care of myself in the most natural of ways, and everything that actually needs doing, gets done. I have come to discover, over and over again, that there is something within that I can rely on that transcends external pressures, agendas and demands. This orientation to life creates a way of being that allows you to be with the challenges of living while simultaneously experiencing your own  inner guidance, leaving you with the greatest inner capacity of all: self-trust. In my own journey, the supports I ran across gave me the hope and the inspiration I needed to learn another way of being. But more than anything else, they gave me the permission to trust myself. Who or what helps you to trust yourself?  Do you have that in your life?  Carve out more time in the presence of those people, circumstances and places.

The Medicine Of Self-Care


Yesterday was my first day back teaching at a local college after four months of being “off” for summer break. Being back in a fast moving, regulated system with lots of people, and lots of expectations and beats to hit, is always a reminder to me of how difficult it is to take care of yourself. The external pull for how to show up is so great that it often seems like you need an act of God or Nature to break free from the gravitational force of “do more, faster, and more perfectly.” It was only Day One of classes, and yet, many (most?) had already hit the ground running.

There is no lack of information out there on what we are supposed to be doing to take care of ourselves. We are supposed to manage our stress, eat a healthy diet and exercise more. I do not think there is a single person within earshot of the Western world that has not heard that advice. We read about it. There are programs for it. We can download apps to help us be better. Only…we are not better. We are sicker, more stressed, more overweight, more sedentary and more unhappy then we have ever been. We can look to multiple causes for the situation we find ourselves in ranging from the environments we live and work in, to how we feel about ourselves, to lack of direct experience around how to actually take care of ourselves.

Self-care is always a choice. Based on what is all around us though, along with what we have been taught, it is certainly no easy choice. It requires that we go against the grain; the grain of our own habits and beliefs, and the grain of a culture that makes doing the unhealthy thing the automatic, easy, and “right” choice. So what are we to do? Maybe we can get clues by looking more closely at the word “self-care.” The dictionary has many, many meanings for the word “care;” protection, charge, temporary keeping, an object of concern or attention. One definition of “self’ is a person’s nature. I would like to propose that we think of self-care as a way of serving, honoring and safeguarding our truest nature. And while that may seem like a tall order at first glance, it actually is not because what we are really talking about is a return to something that already exists within each and every one of us; the capacity to choose on behalf of ourselves. And how we get there may be simpler than you think.

While I was “off” from teaching this summer, it became very, very clear to me that in any given moment I had a choice to make. On the one hand, I could notice and respond to how I was feeling. On the other hand, I could act on what I was “supposed” to be feeling based on longstanding beliefs or what others expected I feel and do.This is the crossroads we all reach each and every day; will you honor what your truest nature is feeling and needing or will you do what looks good on paper? It is the difference between listening and ignoring. It is the difference between being authentic and automatic. So, what would it be like if you learned to listen way down deep and then chose to act on that? What would it be like to notice when you are hungry, tired, and thirsty regardless of what the environment pulled for? How might you serve yourself by noticing that the way you have your life set up is too fast, too demanding, too inhumane? How might your life improve if you just chose to trust that even though it might not look like anything you have ever seen, or for that matter anything anyone else has ever seen, it is your way nontheless?

I often tell my students that taking care of yourself is not a chore. Nor is it a burden. It is not some dry and obligatory way of “have-to” living. It is not built on guilt or shame. It is not about “being good” or “being bad.” Instead, it is a celebration. Of Life. Of your Truest Nature. It is a way of choosing on behalf of yourself.  It is something you get to do.