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.

 

Sent From?

 

I have come to dread receiving an email where it says at the bottom of the message, “Sent from my iPhone.” Why is that you might ask?

Because I can pretty much count on the fact that what I am receiving will be cryptic; even if a much fuller and more in depth response would be more in keeping with the level of the exchange. I can also count on the reply being hurried as the sender squeezes me into some non-existent space between all of the things they are doing and already attending to. I can also count on more mistakes, more misunderstandings, and more misreads because the person on the other end is actually not present or available enough to put their attention on what it is that I have sent them.

And most of all, I dread these four little words because I can pretty much count on feeling somehow let down, cheated even, in the interaction. I feel this way even though the responses come fast and furious. Even though they get back to me at all hours. Even though they put the “cutest and most heartfelt” of emogees in their message, along with characters from a keyboard arranged in such specific combinations as to convey their deepest or most present emotional states to me. Even though it seems like they are making me a priority by responding instantaneously from anywhere; no matter what is happening. No matter what they are already engaged in.

But I don’t feel like a priority. I feel like a bystander to a kind of obsessive preoccupation to a device where I am a means to an end. That end being that I serve as the justification for why so many of us now need to stay glued to our phones. Of course we do, we would say, because that is what is expected of us now. And so we comply, but often in the most meaningless of ways all dressed up as significant. Momentous even.

How about this? Instead of “Sent from my iPhone” we try “Sent from Me?” Maybe then we would take more ownership of our communications; valuing them in the way they deserve to be valued. Maybe we would recognize that this is an exchange between two people. Maybe the quality and the quantity of what and how we send a message would change. Maybe we could even begin to count more regularly on something truly heartfelt and significant.

Or maybe we wouldn’t even send at all. Maybe we would call. Maybe we would visit in person. Maybe we would wait until we had the time and the space to send something worthy of our relationship.

Have we forgotten what we mean to each other? Do we matter so little to one another now that we have become not much more than initiators and recipients of assembly line relating; a kind of speedy, one size fits all, generic response system where the “better and the more convenient” the technologies make our exchanges,” the worse our connections become?

I Am Here

 

“Am I here?”

I find this question, along with, “Where am I?” and¬† “How am I?” to be about the most important things I can ask of myself in any given moment. It sounds so simple. So obvious. So ridiculous even. Of course I am here. But am I? And if I am here, do I actually know how I am doing?

Too often our bodies are in one place, and our minds are in another. That means that we cannot actually be in relationship to who we are, where we are, what we are doing, and who we are with. Really think about that. If we are not in relationship to any of these things, how could we possibly know who we are and what it is that we need? And if we do not know who we are and what we need, how could we possibly know what choices to make; whether we are on the “right track” or not? Whether we are helping or hurting? Whether we are making it all up or not? Whether we are living our one true life, or playing out some well-rehearsed, habituated fantasy?

We are living as animated objects passing through some artificial background when the body is in one place and the mind another. This leaves us as little more than robots. Zombies. Automatons. It is as if we are actors walking across a stage, separate from the scenery that surrounds us, and the roles that we play. And it leaves us hungry. Yearning. Dissatisfied.

And it is from exactly this place, that it is so very easy to reach outside of ourselves to feel something. Anything. Just to feel. Just to know that we are here.

To be here is to feel. It is to notice. It is to bump up against. It is to take it all in as often as we can. It is to be in a body. As is. And to inhabit that body fully as the surest route to reminding us of who we are, and why we are here. To dive deeply and courageously into flesh and bone is to find out what it is that we truly need, and most important of all, to know that we are here.

Every morning and every evening as you lie in bed, put your hands on your body and say “I am here.” Just like you did when you were a kid and would scribble or graffiti¬† those words on some tree, or desk or sidewalk, with your name attached. A way of announcing to yourself and to the world the most important thing you could ever know, even without knowing, that you are here.