I worked with a client this morning who has been struggling with the same sense of confusion for the last 6 months or more. Things keep changing in her life, things she thought she wanted, but she finds herself still unsatisfied and confused. So today we wrote down the biggest questions she has, then we went inside her body for the answers. First, we wrote the questions down on slips of paper and tossed them around the room. As she laid down on the floor, I guided her through directly sensing her body, bit by bit, allowing each exhale to allow a possibility for relaxing the tension in the sensations, then descending into the feeling of being inside and held by the ground below. Then she sat up and allowed that relaxation and sense of being held, to come up into her heart. We did an exercise of letting her heart open slowly, then allowing this new sense of calm to join with the room and world around her by open her eyes bit by bit, closing repeatedly to stay connected to the calm. She then picked the pieces of paper up off the floor, and read each question one by one, as she closed her eyes and reconnected to the sense of calm (her words) with eyes closed, and noticed what sensations, feelings, images, and words came to mind. The first word was one her mind has often gone to as a solution - a familiar word. But next came images of people, emotions, a sense of sadness about missing things, a feeling of rejection. I wrote them down for her. Then we went in a layer deeper than these thoughts and feelings, to the sensation in the heart. Tight. Heavy. With a trusted ally sitting across from her, she was able to be aware of these sensations with a sense of space, however tiny it was. This experience imprinted in her that it was safe to feel this. Her homework was to spend just 10 minutes per day sitting down and asking herself ‘What am I aware of?’
The phrase ‘aware of’ is important, because it offers us a sense of space around the emotion. We’re used being aware of what we’re thinking or maybe even feeling. But there’s a very subtle distinction that get habitually collapsed in most of us. We think we know that we’re not what we feel and think, but in our lived experience, we are usually operating from the unconscious assumption that what we feel and think is who we are. The thoughts in our head are often accepted as true (and what they mean about us is also true). By noticing and saying ‘I am aware of….[feeling, thought], we acknowledge and emphasize (and start practicing a new habit) that the one who is aware of such experiences is actually who we are.
Why is this important?
I didn’t always make such a huge point of emphasizing this with clients (or myself), because it seems so simple, almost silly. When I look at a wall and ask ‘Am I the wall, or am I the awareness of the wall?’ it’s like ‘duh.’ But when it comes to our internal world, by default, we often get overwhelmed by emotions, thinking we are them, and the thoughts that come along with them are true. So we put a manhole cover over them, bring all of our awareness up into our linear thinking, and try to solve everything from that place.
But the reality is much more beautiful than that. These sensations, images and emotions that move through us are profoundly intelligent. As awful as they seem, when given the space of awareness to breathe and unfold, something creative and unexpected reveals itself. It is revealed in its own timing, unlike the mental world of direct cause and effect that we’re used to assuming is the only reality. Because it’s a different kind of unfolding, it can take some time to acclimate to. But it’s worth it. And the discovery is so much fun. There is constant learning, experimentation and surprise.
Letting yourself feel the rejection of your ex-boyfriend for 30 seconds is the key to figuring out how to find fulfillment in your job and where you live? Sounds crazy, I know. But try it for yourself: Write your current practical life questions down in pieces of paper and throw them around the room. Sit down and slowly feel through the sensations in your body. Let yourself sink into the ground and feel the sense of space and stillness that opens up when you take time to let your awareness come into the sensations of your body. Then sit up and let your awareness rest on the sensations in your heart. Notice the very quiet, subtle empty space in the center of your heart (more in the center of your chest than the physical heart on the left), and let it expand a little bit. Notice what you’re aware of as you ask your questions from this state. Jot down anything that comes to you. Thoughts, sensations, images, emotions. Then give yourself 10 minutes every day to ask the question: ‘What am I aware of?’ Leave the papers with the questions somewhere around your house, and just for fun, don’t look at them again.
Give yourself at least a week to see what comes to you.
We are profoundly influenced by the world around us, and the ways we are influenced go so much deeper than we realize.
This is the great challenge of being human. We have a capacity and directive within us to self-reflect, and with that comes the ability to know what we’re connected to and embedded within. At their core, our lives are fundamentally creative. When we are able to tap into that, we are a universe within ourselves, completely able to self-create and define what’s possible for our lives. The people and social structures around us help give form to development and enough learning to function within our bodies and the system, but mostly they limit our capacities, and even our knowledge that we have these capacities.
The cultures we’ve created have become our prison. But it’s so challenging to break free of this, because from day 1, we’ve been taught to think that our outer world defines everything that life is. What’s funny is that this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Even when we start to realize this at some point, everything set up in our lives fights against this realization. So living into all that we're capable of is quite a formidable challenge.
What does this all have to do with taking your time? Well, when we’re unlearning a lifetime of conditioning to be a particular way, it takes a lot of careful attention. An attentive pace. I don’t mean that it will take a long time to transform and blossom, because when you start to cultivate this kind of gentle awareness, transformation actually speeds up. What I mean by taking your time is more like having a newborn baby who is unable to feed. You might work with a lactation specialist and they will help you to find your baby’s rhythm, to get in sync with her. Ultimately this will ‘speed up’ the process of breast feeding, making is more enjoyable, successful and efficient. The only thing that took more time, was the act of coming out of the world of hurried and worried thoughts, and attending to the magical creature in front of you, created by your body. Allowing your body’s innate intuition and connection to life to take over.
Where in your current life circumstances are you hurried, worried, or maybe even on autopilot, not leaving any room for something new to occur? Take some time here.
Have you ever taken a step toward something that really moved your heart? And then something turned out wrong, or you started to judge yourself in the eyes of other people (whether they were actually judging you or not). Did you follow the breadcrumb trail of something that felt so deeply right inside you, only to have it all crumble before your eyes?
We all have. The error is when we take these twists and turns to mean that we can’t trust the place the impulse came from: ourselves.
We all have an energy flowing through us. It’s not something otherworldly (although it is also that). It’s the most intimate thing. Since the moment of our birth, we’ve been that energy. We are alive, and we know what it means to be alive. Take that in for a moment and ask yourself if it’s true. We know what it means to be alive, and therefore we have everything we need to know in every moment.
Trusting ourselves is as simple as knowing what it feels like to be alive.
Where do we run into grave danger? And I do mean grave… When things ‘go wrong,’ we judge ourSELVES as we sort through what decisions we want to make. When we judge our own being in ANY way, we are completely cut off from life, and knowing what we want. We become cut off from our ability to live with ease.
Learning does not include judgement of worth, or of our wrongness in the past. Anytime we feel bad as we learn from a past decision, or even a thought, it is a sign that we are mixing up WHO and WHAT we are with innocent events and circumstances.
To trust yourself means to relax. To trust yourself means to live your life without feeling self-conscious or doubting. That doesn’t mean that feeling nervous or doubting never happen. These simply don’t get confused with thinking you’ve done something wrong. Or worse yet, that you’re wrong.
You’re always right.
What moves you? What puts you in touch with that child-like joy that you reminds you what it feels like to be you? What keeps you from trusting this and following it?
In the words of the mighty Katy Perry, ‘open up your heart and just let it begin.’
These words were spoken by my spin instructor this morning, and I have to say, I pushed myself harder in those 2 minutes than I have in a long time. I felt a soft fire in my belly, the resource of any inspired effort, and it felt good in its burn. I knew my fellow cyclists were there with me, and this push would carry my body, mind, and spirit through the rest of the day.
At this time in our culture of so much rhetoric about pushing ourselves too hard, needing to slow down and relax, pushing yourself can sometimes get a bad rap. Self care becomes synonymous with resting and maybe even retreating from life. But what my instructor said next really struck me. She said, ‘Care about yourself enough to push yourself.’ In other words, believe in your ability to do something you’re not sure you can do. To prove this ourselves grows us not only physically, but raises the ceiling on what we know is possible. Every once in a while, one of these ceilings seems to open into a level of possibility we’ve not known to exist. This is hard to turn back from, and we probably wouldn’t want to.
Pushing is an innate part of life. In fact, pushing hard is how we come into the world. We’re literally born from this energy. Any mother knows that when she is pregnant and needing to birth her baby, self-care takes on a whole new meaning. She is caring for her environment, which also includes a fierce commitment to caring about the way she pushes that little life-form out. In this case ‘pushing yourself’ is not an option to be considered.
So what is the difference between pushing too hard and becoming burned out, and pushing ourselves in ways that make us proud?
It’s about values, and support.
The spin class I’ve chosen to go to three mornings per week has offered both of these. In that room at 6:30 a.m., we hold a shared set of values. Sweating is definitely one of them! Whether someone’s goal is losing weight, preparing for the AIDS lifecycle ride, or (as in my case) getting my body to learn again what it feels like to build stamina and resilience, we share the values of physical fitness, community, and growth. This simple commitment has had enormous impact in my life. I’ve had a lot of change in a short period of time this year, and my life has demanded that I build up stamina and resilience. The physical anchor of knowing when to push and when to rest has bled over and informed my mental and emotional states. It has given me a visceral feeling of being able to push, remembering how well my body felt on the other side of the sprint. When I’ve needed to push through working on a project or staying focused on a piece of writing, my mind is informed by this body memory. ‘It will feel good on the other side.’
But with all this praise of the push, we’d do well to acknowledge that burnout is real. Let’s look at how and why burnout is created. It always occurs when we are mired in resistance. This can happen even when not much activity is occurring. Burnout can also happen when there is more activity occurring than we can handle alone. Or when the activity is not moving toward something important to us. Some people resist action, and some people move quickly through inspired action. The difference between someone who procrastinates their life away, feeling exhausted, and someone who ‘works’ a ton while continually feeling refreshed, is their relationship to the flow of energy.
The natural energy of our life, as it flows uniquely through each of us, is always leading toward what we most want. When we resist this flow or try to push in another direction, or when we don’t have the resources or internal structures to keep up with its natural movement, we experience pain and discord.
It can be helpful to think of this energy flow as a force that pulls us. Inspiration draws us into the flow. Curiosity draws us into the flow. The contrast of unwanted experiences causes us to turn and be drawn into the flow. But we’re always, always drawn by that which is most important to us.
WHY we’re doing what we’re doing matters more than anything. HOW we’re doing what we’re doing comes in a close second.
Here are two examples. Someone feels massive motivation and inspiration to try something new, and doesn’t yet have the avenue or the collaborative support to makes these new things happen. These are my favorite people to work with, because I’ve been this person. All the creativity and inspired action get backed up in their system and eventually become inflammation. This person needs support. Whether this is through having a coach, being enrolled in a program with similar people and an advisor, eliciting feedback from peers or a potential audience, or finding collaborators, the need is for more conduits through which the creativity can express. The second example is someone who starts out moving toward an inspiring goal, aligned with their values. Energy is flowing freely and they love what they’re doing. Then at some point, everything becomes ‘too much,’ and they feel overwhelmed. The path toward what’s important to them has changed course, and they need to re-assess their values and change course, as perhaps their collaborative supporters no longer line up with their shared values.
In both cases, it takes enormous courage to stop and take stock of the situation. In both cases, the cost and rewards are great.
Where are you moving in the river of your life energy, and where are you feeling the cost moving against the flow? Ask yourself: do I need to be more clear about my values, do I need more collaborative support, or both?
And what ways have you successfully moved through these situations in the past?
We’ve all been in school, and know that deadlines are useful. Even for the most productive person on the planet, being responsible to someone in a set timeframe is motivating. So for those of us not currently in school, or for those of us who want to create a life in which we don’t pay extra money for aspects of school that might be unnecessary, how do we create these motivating factors for ourselves?
It’s quite simple, really. Set some future date ‘thing’ that you can’t get out of, and you’re forced to accomplish it.
It could be setting up a meeting with someone you’re intimidate by, but want to accomplish what they’ve accomplished. It could be planning a big gathering or event where you have to present something. It could be committing to meet a friend at the gym. Whatever the goal, however simple or lofty, we all need some accountability to do things that stretch us.
So, what are you avoiding? Ask a friend for a creative idea that’s way out of your comfort zone. Commit to it in a way that other people will be depending on your contribution. Write to me, sharing your goal, and I’ll send you a visual goal-achieving tool for your arsenal.
I had such a beautiful session with a beloved client this morning. She has made some radical changes in her life, and more importantly, has made intentional small commitments to live in alignment with who she is and what’s important to her.
It was a session of celebration, as we sat together and marveled over what she has accomplished. We held her achievements together between us, breathing new life into the birth that has taken place. I asked her what has been most influential in her transformation, and she spoke the answer so easily and clearly, I thought it was something she had thought about previously. Nope. Just a perfect, spontaneous answer.
‘It’s been three things,’ she said.
1. Grace and Beauty
Grace is something I’ve been contemplating recently. In moments of profound humility and appreciation, I’ve realized how dependent we all are on grace. And that’s the funny thing about coaching. There’s a certain amount of action and accountability that surely is a cornerstone of any good coaching relationship. And at the same time, the disposition of humility and receptivity may be what carry us more than anything. The step of asking for a coach, someone to hold you in your greatness and reflect it back to you over and over again, is itself brave and humble. So I was struck that this is the first thing she said has been responsible for her transformation.
Followed right on its heels by Beauty. I believe her words were ‘to just get bowled over by beauty in the small moments and remember I’m held.’ To know and believe we’re supported. Just to notice this, enhanced her feeling of a safety net and a sense of well-being. To turn to beauty and put our attention; even our sweat, there. That’s the real task at hand.
Body. Mysteriously, our bodies have a barometer and pacing mechanism that leads us on a slipstream of the most compassionate series of next steps. This is why I love working with sensitive women. We’re so attuned to relational dynamics and energies, and the more we value this, the better we can be at learning what’s truly sustainable. Inevitably, we help others do the same. It requires an enormous amount of patience to listen to the body, relax enough to calm and heal what needs calming and healing, then quietly and deftly move in the direction of inspiration. All the while saying no to that which our bodies are not yet ready for, or that which is distracting.
My role as coach is to coax out the bold greatness of an individual, while still listening closely to each person’s individual timing, and need for support. In this particular client, I have watched her grow in her own strength, while staying open and vulnerable. The self-compassion that this requires has become a magnetic invitation for those around her to step into their own power and responsibility, while also remaining open; in relationship.
Maturity. I loved what she said about this one the most. ‘To learn how to live here - integrate in the way that I’m here. In my unique circumstance, in my unique compassion and heart. Maturity should be intentional and supported by others.’ Maturity is not a stepping over of immaturity. It is holding that tender, underdeveloped part of ourselves, giving it a chance to explore safely, and then asking it to stand up. Asking for external support and naming intentions is also a vulnerable and courageous act.
Today I was proud to be part of such a courageous woman’s journey, and proud of the way I’ve held my own. I was proud to be a woman. I was proud to be a coach.
One of the most disorienting things about a difficult transition is not understanding why it’s so hard this time. Why could I do this before, and this time it’s such a struggle?
Today I thought of the book ‘My Stroke of Insight,’ in which a neuroscientist walks us through her experience of a left hemispheric stroke. She chronicles her experience of oneness and euphoria, and the subsequent excruciating months and years of coming back into her body to make it work in a linear fashion again. The agony of sucking something so vast into a broken body.
I’ve often thought of this book since reading it many years ago. I remain struck by her acceptance of what was happening, and the quick shift to knowing what to do (although I imagine it didn’t feel quick to her). Because she knew she was having a stroke, she was able to seek the necessary support. She focused on moving forward, rather than blaming herself for what happened.
But sometimes it’s more confusing when the transition you’re walking through doesn’t have such obvious physical symptoms. It can be very tempting to try to scramble and piece together a haphazard bridge to the future, or to the next step. It can also be tempting to cower in shame and fear and never move anywhere. To crumble.
The first step is always the same. Establishing safety. How do you do this? By orienting. Naming the chapters that you’ve just passed through, the one you’re in, and the one you’re about to step into. Cultures for millennia have known the importance of this. It’s why they have rites of passage, and even constructed initiations, in which the young person is taken out into the wilderness and exposed to a measure of disorientation, always with a trusted guide.
In today’s society, we are popped out of our comfort zones and shells of orientation so regularly, it’s enough to makes anyone’s head spin. But how versed are you in finding safety inside yourself, your story, and your community? How often do you scramble forward, looking for new safe ground, without first sinking into the fertile soil under your feet?
Though we can never pinpoint why some transitions and trauma floor us, when others we glide through elegantly, teasing out some context can be useful. To have a guide and an ally to navigate the terrain. This exploration is one of the best things I get to do as a coach. To articulate the factors and players can help situate and orient us. For to access our innate creativity, our bodies and minds must feel safe.
When bodies are relaxed and oriented, they automatically play. People often talk about returning to child-like creativity, but I think we should also learn to love the responsibility we have as adults to take stock of the serious nature of our world and the suffering that is very real. Problems that are complex, which we couldn’t experience the full weight of as children. There is no need to scoff at our difficulty and suffering, idealizing a return to child-like wonder, innocence and ease. But we can find creative ways to honor our own process, and play in the beautiful balance of seriousness and fun. In a way that is absolutely unique to each human being.
What would you name the chapter of your life you’ve just come through? How can you help your body relax more as you come to the next decision you need to make? Share with a friend and ask them the same question. See what you learn. And let me know!
What if I told you I knew of something you could do in 5-10 minutes, that would give you instant clarity in decision-making, decrease negative stress, alleviate pain, and give you more pleasure? Would you want to know what it is?
I’ve recently discovered something magical. More accurately, a tool I’ve been practicing has become more effective and useful over time. The brilliant part is that anyone can do this, and it carries over to so many areas of life. The more I guide other people through this process, the more I learn about the depth and breadth of its impact, and the more I am stunned by how amazing our bodies are.
Luckily, it doesn’t require any money, devices, special circumstances, or specific education to maximize the potential of this tool.
It also directly increases our ability to relax, our capacity to sense and feel, and our ability to make aligned decisions. Start with these simple steps:
Throughout this process, it’s very normal for awareness to loop back to thoughts. This is not a problem. Just keep relaxing back into feeling. Voice guidance can be helpful, as it amplifies the intention and quiets thoughts. Here are some simple guided versions of this practice.
As this is practiced over time, you may find yourself noticing more during the day. Perhaps your shoulders tense whenever you’re concentrating or thinking about a task ahead. Or maybe you lose touch with your legs and feet, and forget about your connection to the ground when you’re stressed.
When you’re giving that presentation? Take a deep breath, feel your feet and your belly, and you can bet the next thing that comes out of your mouth will clearer and more connected to your audience. My favorite part of performing a quick scan is that I can tell what I want to do at any point in time by feeling my body. The more I pay attention to sensation, the more it shows me.
There are many, many benefits to this practice and it can be accessed at any time.
Let me know how it goes.
The morning alarm buzzes like a pest flying into your ear. At first quietly, than with increasing volume. You feel the inner groan before it even escapes your lips. The gravity of the bed is tangible. Somehow being horizontal increases the resistance to any part of you rising. Maybe some super humans fly out of bed every morning, ready to take on the world, but for most of us mere mortals: not so much.
We've also all had the experience of waking up excited about the day ahead of us, pulled by something we've been looking forward to. How we wake up is probably the primary trigger, the starting-gate indicator for how we approach our day; our life. So I want to focus there. But there are many other times throughout the day when we’re taken off track, out of our flow. These little decisions and habits can have surprisingly huge impact in not only how we feel, but how effectively we live out our values; and more importantly, whether or not we’re able to bring the grand visions we have into the world.
Is there nothing more painful than knowing you have so much to give, and feeling thwarted in your efforts? And even more painfully, the thwarting seems to come from unknown forces or drives within us that have so much momentum, they seem to be coming from the outside.
Many of us also know the experience of forcing structures so severely, so as to maximize or not appear lazy, that they become painful and self-punishing. So how do we cultivate practices and structures in our days, our weeks, our years, that come from inner wisdom, rather than external ideas that end up wearing us thin? Killing us in the end.
It starts with love. As cheesy as that sounds, I know it to be true. Passion, zest, intrigue. Love. And I believe it also must involved community support.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone that was so inspiring that it shifted your energy and propelled you into running toward your goals, when you had just been feeling overwhelmed? How can those kinds of conversations and interactions become regular and intentional? Built into the fabric of our schedules as if our lives depended on it.
In my family growing up, intentional time to get together and share was built in. There are pictures documenting our shared boredom and disdain for the (what seemed like) early morning, endlessly boring forced readings and ‘devotions.’ But there was gratitude. Forced gatherings for adolescents, but virtually unnoticed, a gratitude was being cultivated; developed over time and shared space whethere we wanted to come to the table or not. Turns out, it was actually an invitation.
We can offer ourselves this same invitation. Finding ways specific to our unique qualities and preferences, honoring our most deeply held (and perhaps yet clarified and named) values and ways of being. In working with clients, I often find the things they thought held them back; were weaknesses, are actually their greatest strength. So, there must be some small risks we can to create ‘invitations’ throughout our day from beginning to end, so that our inner music can be heard more clearly, and become an invitation for those around us to tune into theirs. To expand what we think and know is possible.
Here is a small repertoire of ‘invitations’ that are likely to enhance your life immensely:
Which of these simple tools might replenish you and fill your life with a new level of inspiration?
What are some goals you're working toward that could really use some community support and encouragement?