30 Days of Freedom

I’ve been doing a little experiment, 30 Days of Freedom. It was all on Facebook, so if you haven’t seen it, find me and friend up! It has really been an interesting ride and frankly, I can’t recommend my experiment enough. The idea was to consciously choose an action every day that made me feel more free.

Choose to feel freeSome of the things that I chose to do were concrete, tangible, like jumping on my kids’ trampoline. Other actions really brought me face to face with how I think and how that makes me feel. And that’s the real lesson here for all of the freedom assignments I gave myself. The real lesson lies in the conscious examination of what was going on in my head that made me feel constrained, confined, limited. It’s life coaching 101, and I got a thirty day dose. I claim feeling more free as my goal, which means consciously looking in the spaces of constraint and limitation is a must.

Jumping on my kids’ trampoline wasn’t about having fun, although it was, mostly, fun. It wasn’t about looking silly, although that was surely part of it as well. It was about challenging my tendency to dismiss moments of silliness and play in favor of productivity and work. It was about finding the playfulness that I forget is just as important as the other things I feel. It was about firmly telling my inner timekeeper that I really DID have 10 minutes to go outside (without walking the dog) and simply play. This is a thought that I need to consciously practice. I could come up with a neat explanation for why my head works that way, but it’s not really the point. What’s really important is seeing what I’m thinking and challenging it, questioning, asking if it serves me, and if it doesn’t, trying on a different thought.

The importance of the thoughts over the actions I was choosing to take became crystal clear to me over the weekend. My sister and I had cooked up a long weekend at the Delaware shore with our families. My kids were really excited to see and get in the ocean, and I was excited to see it and spend time away with loved ones. As we prepared for the trip I began to think about my freedom challenge, and my recent lack of enthusiasm for really getting in the ocean (beyond say calf deep). It occurred to me that this could be a great freedom challenge. I used to get in the ocean. I’m pretty sure I enjoyed that. At some point I became more aware of large and dangerous sea creatures and that combined with a growing sense of my own mortality convinced me that calf high was just about right. But that policy felt limiting. It felt uncomfortable. I felt like I was missing out. So I hatched a plan to really do it this time, to get in, to share the ocean with my kids the way my Mom shared it with me, fully immersed and jumping over waves.

The first day we were there I sort of used as my prep day. I stared the ocean down a bit, while marveling at the beauty. I felt myself get used to the chilly water. I felt the salt on my skin and in the air. I watched my kids and my nephew and remembered how much fun it was. I prepared. On Friday, I vowed, I would get in. I would challenge this fear to release myself from it. I would be more free… tomorrow.

And so Friday came, and with it came monster waves. I have NEVER seen waves like that in the Mid-Atlantic. They were Hawaii quality waves. They were giant. They were relentless. The undertow was VERY strong. The red flags were up on the lifeguard chairs down on the guarded beach. And so I sat with my challenge. And I felt ashamed. I felt ashamed of being afraid. I felt ashamed of waiting to claim a little freedom. I felt ashamed of the fact that I did not want to get in that ocean. I felt ashamed of reigning my kids in and limiting their experience, afraid I was just foisting limiting baggage onto them. I got myself pretty hemmed in with all of that shame and fear. It felt pretty awful.

And then I remembered. I remembered that my freedom challenge wasn’t about doing things I was afraid of. It was about the reasons. It was about the thoughts. It was about the stories I tell myself about what I choose and don’t choose. Watching grown men and women exit the ocean out of breath and a little scared proved to be all the data I needed to snap out of it. I wasn’t letting fear RULE me, I was choosing. I was choosing for me and choosing for my feather-weight kids. I was choosing based on the information that was all around me, not because of my ancient distrust of sharks. I was CHOOSING. THAT is what it feels like to be free, I just didn’t recognize it. I got so caught up in changing my behavior I forgot to look at what I was thinking. I have been afraid of the ocean because of sharks. This weekend I was afraid of not being a strong enough swimmer to guide myself and my kids through the roughest surf I have ever been in. THAT is different. I looked around and noticed that all of the other Moms thought it was different too.

true freedom is an inside jobThe only thing that was keeping me from being free in the surf this weekend was me. I set myself up and then tore myself down for being a responsible parent. I set myself up and then forgot about the whole point. I forgot that I have the power to choose the story I tell myself. I forgot that I have the power to make decisions as I like, as they serve me, that I can choose to feel shame or I can choose to simply choose presence in the face of the sand and surf. I can choose disappointment for my children or I can choose gratitude for the experience that we WERE having, which was pretty amazing. I can choose what I call freedom for me and choose how and when I push those boundaries. I can choose. Free.

Is Happiness the Wrong Goal?

“I just want to be happy.” I hear it ALL the time. I read it everywhere. It’s like a moaning mantra. It’s an interesting sentence in many ways. What does it mean to be happy? How different would that definition be for different people? Does this mantra suggest that you mean you want to be happy ALL the time, for five minutes, for some percentage of the day? And how about that JUST – is it ONLY or is it as though this is a small thing to want?

Our dogged pursuit of happiness as a goal has taken us in so many different directions, it seems pretty clear to me that the definition of happiness, or at least what is believed to be necessary to get there, is REALLY different for different people. And I think the thought of being happy all the time, no matter what your definition, is kind of funny. How would you even know that you WERE happy if that was all you felt? There’s a lot of trust there that your mind wouldn’t find SOMETHING to be bothered about, something to mourn, something to struggle with. Maybe your mind is cleaner than mine, but I’m pretty sure that no matter what my circumstances, I’m not going to be happy all the time. And so as for that “just,” if we’re talking all the time, being happy is no small feat. It takes work. It takes mental work. And when we have to do that… well, we’re not always happy. See what I mean?

How to be happy is the wrong question
All of the baggage that surrounds this notion of “just being happy” makes it worth considering that maybe happiness isn’t the best goal. What could we strive for instead of happiness? There’s another question that we’d likely get a variety of answers to, but I want to share what I learned from Sebastian Purcell over the summer. He’s a professor of philosophy who studies the Aztecs (as mentioned in this previous post), and it would seem that the Aztecs thought the proper goal for our striving was, rather than happiness,  something they called “rootedness,” becoming deeply tied to and nourished from several sources. I was immediately intrigued by the idea, and that grew when I heard just HOW the Aztecs suggested one become more rooted.

In Aztec philosophy, the way to achieving the good life was marked by becoming rooted in four different ways: 1) rooted in one’s own body, 2) rooted in one’s own psyche, 3) rooted in one’s community, and 4) rooted in the universe. Oh, okay. Easy. Done. Yeah, no. That sounds like a tall order, so what are we really talking about here?

I have to say I absolutely LOVE that the first principle is becoming rooted in one’s own body. In my work with clients attempting to lose weight, I have seem so many people who only address their bodies with negativity, who have stopped listening to their own bodies’ language, and who don’t even want to look at their beloved spirit shells. For the Aztecs, the body was a source of sacred connection and nurturing. They emphasized this importance by recommending that people do something like yoga every day to be in tune with their bodies and balance “competing energies” within the body. For modern westerners at least, I think we could go a little more basic with some body awareness: cultivating the ability to really feel how your body feels, to pay attention to those signals (hunger, pain, fatigue), to pay attention and be fully present when we do something that feels physically good, to find ways to eat and move that are not just enjoyable for the chattering brain, but that make our bodies FEEL good, so we can become rooted, grounded and nurtured through our bodies.

The second principle is also really interesting in that the Aztecs saw becoming rooted in the psyche as an act of balancing desire and longing with judgment. The believed that good judgment is learned and tempers or informs, but does not destroy, our desire. Boy does that sound healthy! I can attest to the way that some of us use our “good judgment” to completely overwhelm, override, and dismiss our desire. We rely on our good judgment alone to take us toward our goals, losing sight of where those goals were born in the first place. If they are not born of desire, that’s a long row to hoe. To be rooted in one’s psyche, desire and judgment work together to inform our actions and allow us to be both grounded and nourished, rooted.

Thirdly the Aztecs believed that rootedness is cultivated in the community. Social cooperation is critical to the growth and health of a community AND to the rootedness of the individual. In other words, the roles that you play in society, the tasks you take on, are not only for the benefit of others, but for our own individual benefit. We become nourished by participating. We become grounded by interacting and working together with others. It sounds obvious when I say it, but in our 24/7 culture it is all to easy to let these kinds of things fall by the wayside. It is all to easy to let community involvement fall to the end of the list, forgetting that it is part of who we are, that it’s not just part of serving others but in being our best selves, rooted.

Finally, the Aztecs believed that rootedness can grow by developing a sense of being part of the larger energy of the universe. For them, the way there was either through religious drugs or through the study of philosophy. In my experience, there are other ways. Meditation has, for me, always been an inroad to a sense that I am part of something greater. Standing at the edge of the ocean has the same effect. When I look around at a large gathering of people and take the others in, see them as individuals and see the group, see the purpose they are there for, take in their connectedness I also feel a touch of the divine. It would seem that my willingness to slow down, to be present, to notice my place in the physical world and in my community is a way to be rooted in the universe.

Real happiness comes from being rooted.
The interesting thing about all of this, is that as I think about it, even as I type it all out, I feel pretty happy. Maybe it’s just my definition of happiness, but being that in touch, that connected with myself and the people around me, that sounds pretty great. Maybe the Aztecs knew something we didn’t. Maybe by taking our sights off of “happiness” as a goal and developing our sense of “rootedness,” we get to be truly happy a lot more of the time.

Looking Back at Happier Times…

This weekend we joined a small but loving group in bidding a final farewell to one of our closest friends. He had passed away 6 years ago, and his parents had been thinking about where to spread his ashes for a few years since. They then did a bit of a tour to friends and places that were sacred to their son so we could all lay him to rest exactly where he’d want to be, near the people he cared for the most. It was hard, but peaceful and we were delighted to all be together in his memory and then making new memories as we shared an evening together.

The whole event, predictably, made me think back to our time together. We were friends long before my children were born and we formed a group of 4 couples who had a whole lot of fun together. We traveled. We celebrated. We played. We drank and ate with abandon. We stayed up late and had absurd conversations. We talked quietly about things that mattered. And we laughed, a lot.

It is bittersweet to look back now, having lost a core member of that group. The whole thing got me to thinking about how I often used to look back at some “happier” time, a time where things were less difficult in some way, or perhaps where I, in retrospect, think I had something going that was RIGHT. In my conversations with people, it seems a lot of us feel this way, that there were certain eras in our past where things were just better.

Lots of folks in the personal development world will tell you that looking back is a huge stumbling block, that the present and the future are the proper place to set your sights. I get why they’re saying it, because there can be an awful lot of murk and muck back there to get our feet stuck in. There can be a lot of regret and self-blame and other-blame and family complications and deep sticky tarry complexity. But what about when we think back on “happier” times?

Here’s what I think. Sometimes those times just seem happier because our minds are selective and not so great at saving the whole roll of film (yes, I am old, it used to come in rolls, because there was film… oh never mind). So that’s one thing, but I also think there is a valuable way to look back at the past, at your happier times, even if your memories of that tie are incomplete. This kind of backward gaze allows you to figure out what you’re missing now. Huh?

When we look back at our happier times, we so often focus on the circumstances that surrounded us: a job, a relationship, people, maybe even a different town or city. We mourn our inability to recreate those circumstances and feel defeated, maybe even feel stuck or trapped in our current situation. But looking back at the circumstances is keeping our view restricted in such a shallow way. It’s like looking at one snapshot of a family gathering and thinking you understand the whole event.

I was happier then.
So what’s he best way to look back at happier times? The view that will really help you in your current situation is to look back at how you felt. If you are thinking those days were so much better, it’s time to figure out how you felt then. What kinds of things did you think about? How did you feel that you don’t feel now?

Let me demonstrate. I can look back on those days with my gang of 8 and remember some of how I felt, what made it so special. I felt accepted. I felt included and cared for. I felt a little wild sometimes. I felt free. I felt safe. I felt at home.

So if I’m looking back with longing, the question is, what is the feeling that am I longing for? What feelings am I missing? What am I craving? Which of those feelings could I use a little more of today? Truth is I’m a really lucky woman, and I’ve done a lot of work over the last several years to get a whole bunch of those feelings back. I feel accepted (by myself most importantly). I feel included by friends and family. I feel cared for (again, more so by myself than in the past). I feel safe. I feel at home.

What are you missing?
So, if I’m missing those days of yore, it mostly has to do with wildness and freedom, and hey, I’m working on it. I’ve been challenging myself, my current older/wiser/parenting self to feel out what freedom looks like now. I don’t need to recreate my freedom and wildness from then; it won’t fit me now. It won’t feel good. I need to just use the feeling as the target and figure out what I need to think to feel that way. My 30 Days of Freedom Challenge that I’ve been doing for the last twenty-something days has shown me perfectly that I can feel so much freer today WITHOUT turning the clock back, WITHOUT changing my circumstances considerably, even WITH my current responsibilities, because freedom is what it has always been, an inside job. It is all about what I’m thinking. When I think differently, I find those feelings. I feel better. I feel more free.

When you look back on an earlier time, what do you see? Do you imagine yourself happier, stronger, more creative, less encumbered? What feeling do you crave from your past, from your youth, from other times? Leave the circumstances as they are. Find the feeling and think your way right into it. I can show you how.

Coaching Is Expensive

I am fascinated by this idea.

Why?

Slide1Because the money that I spend on my own coaching (yes, coaches get coached) is the best money I spend every month. It’s the money I’m happiest about shelling out. It’s the money I would double and still pay, not because I love spending money, but because what I get out of that experience makes it not just inexpensive, but invaluable to me.

Through coaching I have learned to actually honor my own preferences, talents, and desires. Through coaching I have learned to stop imagining what everyone else is thinking of me. Through coaching I have learned to stop beating myself up at the drop of a hat. Through coaching I have learned to love myself – all of myself: the inner brilliant spirit bits AND the physical container for all of that light and possibility. Through coaching I have learned to listen to that body and feed it, care for it, and nurture it differently. Through coaching I have learned how to create actual joy in my days rather than relying on food to do that for me. Through coaching I have learned how to both seek and find myself.

When you spend money, how do you feel about it? Do you think about what you’re getting for it? Paying bills and balancing our books can be really stressful when it just becomes a mathematical exercise that we see draining our resources. How would you feel about your money if you began imagining and acknowledging what you receive for that money with each check you write, with each button you push, or with each automatic payment notification? What if when you saw the power bill you thought about how delightful it is to have electric lights and a refrigerator? What if when you saw the mortgage or rent come due you thought about the good fortune of having a space to live in, to claim, to be you in? What if when you saw the cable bill (or the streaming services bill like I get), you marveled at living in a time when so much choice is available to us?

How would you feel about bills and money if you focused on the value you receive when you spend? How would you approach financial decisions if you considered that value? Would your buying habits change? Would you face a new calculation of the real worth of that Frappucino (just as an example, no Starbucks shade intended… not much anyway)?

I like thinking about my spending this way because it clarifies things for me so much. It allows me to make decisions about what I buy and what I pay for that I can feel really good about and, perhaps more importantly, it makes me feel good about paying for the things I really need to pay for in order to live the life I want to live. For me, that includes coaching.

Slide2I want to live in a way that allows me to stop and ask myself how I’m feeling and to actually use that information when I make decisions. I want to live in a way that challenges me to grow in ways that I never thought possible. I want to live in a way that helps me grow in my compassion, my rootedness, and my capacity to be of service to others. I want to live in a way that allows me to question the messages society gives me and check them with my heart. I want to live in a way that listens to the wisdom of my body. I want to live in a way that feels like freedom.

For me coaching is not expensive; it is invaluable.

 

Are You Denying What You Really Know?

Over the weekend I was reading a short article by Tova Mirvis. She describes how she left both her faith and her marriage over a very short period of time. When I started reading, I wasn’t really committed to the piece. I was just passing the time. And then she said something that REALLY caught my attention. The author asked a question that I thought was a lightening bolt of a question, so I started to pay a little more attention. Are you ready for it? It’s a good one. She asked: “For how long would I try to deny what I really knew?”

Boom.

If that doesn’t go boom for you, you are very lucky, extremely attuned to yourself, or you’ve not really taken a good hard look at what’s going on inside. Let’s unpack this question a little bit. For Mirvis, the question came after the seeds of religious doubt had been sown repeatedly and she cut down the resulting seedlings in order to maintain a harmonious marriage, and to ensure her commitment to her faith. She continuously found the edges of her beliefs, questioning the reasons for traditions, for practices, and for the systems that were in place in her community, in her faith tradition, and eventually also in her marriage. As she noticed these edges more and more often, it became really difficult to deny what she already knew, that she was an outsider, that she neither believed the same things nor (and perhaps more importantly) did she HOPE to believe them. She didn’t see the benefit of working towards those beliefs or living inside of them without sharing them in her heart. She began to feel that she was living a lie. “For how long would I try to deny what I really knew?”

Slide1When we look back at some of the biggest changes in our lives, we can almost always identify moments of knowing that we had in advance. In a breakup we can look back at the times we knew it wasn’t going to work out or when we became suspicious that things weren’t as they seemed. In a job situation, we can (from the other side) see the ways that a job didn’t suit us or bring out our best; we can identify the moments we wished we’d written a resignation letter. We get these little signals, and most of us dismiss them as anomalies, blips on the radar, one time things. And there are good reasons for that. It is far harder to assume that each of these moments is a little cry from our most essential selves, telling us things are not lining up correctly. Mirvis talks about the struggle to get right with her doubt: “I continued to observe the rules of Orthodoxy, hoping all this activity might eventually take the shape of actual belief. I felt alone in my marriage but warned myself away from the hard places.” This is what we do right? We just keep it up, hoping that the blip was just that and that persevering will allow us to get to something more meaningful.

And hey, listen, don’t misunderstand and think I’m not about a little perseverance, but continuing on a path that contradicts what we really know feels less like perseverance and more like continuing on a path to avoid the pitfalls of the other paths. Making big change creates, well, big change. We cannot renovate one corner of our lives without changing the rest of the room. Every action has a reaction and all of that jazz.

A big part of why most of us avoid major life renovations is the people part. As we make major changes, we often find that it is harder to relate to/be with the people who’ve become important to us or who make us feel safe in the world. Mirvis experienced this fully as she left both her marriage AND her faith community. She lost friends, lost lots of them. She traded feeling out of synch with her real self for feeling terribly lonely.

Slide2But that’s not the end of the story. Over time Mirvis’ perception of her loneliness changed: “I came to understand that the people who no longer spoke to me were part of one small world; with time, there be other worlds I would discover myself.” When we change things, when we renovate our lives, we sometimes leave people behind or make them so uncomfortable they choose to stay behind. And maybe, just maybe, that’s okay. Maybe in addition to really knowing that we need to change things, we could try really knowing that we’re still okay, that being our real selves, that listening to that tiny voice inside is not just acceptable but preferable and will take us someplace new, where there will be new people and new experiences, and new relationships to start, and grow, and nurture. Maybe the secret of life isn’t in persevering and making it work, but in questioning and listening and making it yours.

What are you denying that you REALLY know? What would it be like to admit that you know it? Does it feel like freedom (even if it’s a little scary)?

Freedom From Failure

A big part of my job as a life coach is to help people who feel “stuck.” Now stuck can mean a lot of different things. It can mean: “I don’t know what to do next.” It can mean: “I know what to do, but don’t want to do it.” It can mean: “I don’t believe I can do it.” It can mean many, many different things to different people. One of the things it seems to mean pretty regularly is: “I’m afraid if I do the thing (whatever the thing is), I’m going to fail.”

Well boy howdy do I know what that’s all about. If I’m really honest I’m afraid I’m going to fail every single day. Wow. I never really think about it that way and just saying that out loud felt pretty awful, but it’s true. Starting a business is no small thing, and you have to do a lot of new stuff that makes you uncomfortable, and you have to do it even when you think you’re going to fail. The same is true lots of places, though, isn’t it? It’s not just all of us loony self-employed people who face this.

Failure is part of doing something bigger than what you're doing now.Anybody who wants something big, who wants to get to the next level in their own personal and/or professional development is going to have moments where they think they could fail. I experience it as a musician. We try harder songs; we use more complex arrangements. We choose styles we’ve not worked with before. We don’t do that ALL of the time. We have a base of stuff that we do with confidence, and then a couple that are heart pounders until we’ve played them enough that they become part of the base and we choose a new really hard song. THIS is how we grow.

This is how we grow unless we quit before we get anywhere. See growing, changing, being more, feeling better, feeling different, expanding, evolving will ALL lead to fear and discomfort. They will. As evolved as we may be technologically, our primitive brains are still pretty simple and clear about what they’re interested in: survival. How do we survive? Well, we stick with what’s working. Never mind if it is not fulfilling; that is not the question your brain is interested in. For your primitive brain, only one question matters: has it kept us alive? Yes? Great – that works. Don’t change because THAT might kill us. Done.

So when we move to change, to grow, to experiment, our brain unleashes every story it can think of to keep us from moving down that road. Some of these are subtle: “But you’re really great at what you’re doing right now.” Some of them are not: “If you do that you could lose EVERYTHING and then we’ll be homeless, and then we’ll die.” We are so afraid to fail that we quit before there’s even the slightest possibility of failing. And as a result, we stay the same. We don’t learn new skills. We don’t learn to conquer (okay, manage but conquer sounds so glorious) our fears. We don’t learn how to be even better than we are.

You get to decide what failure is.The thing about failure is that we can be free from it without quitting. Brooke Castillo recently reminded me (and whoever else was watching) that we each get to define what failing means. You cannot fail anywhere but in your own mind, because you are the one who decides when you have failed. You are the one who decides that what you have done isn’t enough or has no value or isn’t just the rocky beginning to something new and amazing. You get to decide what failing looks like and THEN you get to decide what to do when that happens. Failing is both inevitable and totally optional. You have total control over failure. How’s that for some freedom?

You may decide that failure doesn’t exist at all. You may decide that failing at new things is the best way to figure out how to do them. You may decide that building up some grit by failing a few times will help you get through the work to follow. You may decide that failing is a thing, that you will do it and that when you will do, it will be your job to figure out what did and didn’t work and to see if there’s something you can do different, better, if there’s a thought you can take away from it that will change how you interact with the world. You are totally free from failure, because each failure is our own. We define it. We react to it or embrace it. We recover or retreat. We are free.

What would you do today if you weren’t afraid to fail?

Are You Hanging Out On the Sidelines?

September 5th was the first day of school for my twin 5th graders, and just like all parents on the first day of school, I had a morning full of disbelief and wonder that they are already this age, that time is going just as fast as my parents and grandparents always said it would, and that the work I needed to do this morning to help them get there was decidedly less than it has been in the past. As their needs change, I have the opportunity to notice patterns that have developed, scratch that, patterns that I have chosen over the years. I’ve seen it all summer. I have chosen on many occasions for the past 10 years, to sit on the sidelines.

I noticed when we were at the beach with old friends and the other Mom quickly volunteered to go in with all four, because in the past I have not wanted to. I noticed it at the pool with my fabulous sister-in-law when she volunteered to go play sharks and minnows with our kids because in the past I have not wanted to. I noticed it when my kids were surprised at the amusement park when I went on all but one ride with them – they had forgotten that I actually like roller coasters and expected me to sit this one out as well.

Slide1Now, to be fair, raising kids can be tiring. Raising twins (especially the early years) can be insanely tiring. Raising twins as an older Mom – you get the picture. So I think a fair amount of my sideline sitting was initially an attempt to just grab a few minutes of peace while they were available to me. Everyone is happy, occupied, and cared for. I’m going to just be for a minute. I think maybe this was the intention, but I don’t actually recall ever really doing that. I don’t actually recall ever consciously choosing to make peace in that moment.

I remember worrying: watching the water, noticing their interactions, repositioning umbrellas, watching for sunburn, making sure the lunches were in the shade, wondering if whichever adult they were with was watching (they always were), running through the plans for the rest of the day, being mindful of pitfalls and problems that might arise, looking for lips turning blue, looking for missteps, watching for… This was one popular version of taking a break. I think another popular version involved me reviewing all of the ways I had been burdened.

I do tend to be the planner and preparer in the family, so I could bathe in some resentment about that. I could reflect on the injustice of all of the work I did to get us to that point in the day. I could reflect on the lack of worry on my husband’s part as evidence that I was STILL doing more than my share (my share of the neurotic worry pile). I’m pretty sure the times that I actually used my time sitting back, out of the fray, to REST could be counted on one hand, and that’s a 10 year period we’re talking about. I held myself back and then used that time to make myself feel terrible; sometimes I even just took the simple route and made myself feel terrible about holding myself back.

For the past several days I’ve been doing a freedom challenge. Each day I take some action that feels a little freeing, that makes me feel more free, less constrained, less confined, maybe even a little less tame, and it has made me think a lot about my time on the sidelines. Where were those choices coming from, if they weren’t really about rest and a breather? Why couldn’t I just use them as rest or a breather? What was I doing on the sidelines? Did it all just become a habit? Was my non-participation a default that then made me so uncomfortable I had to be miserable about it?

There are long answers to those questions, and considering them as I do my freedom challenge has really opened up some space for me to move, to feel, and to choose how I WANT to engage. I can still say no – as I did to the last roller coaster of the day when I felt like my head would explode if I allowed it to get rattled around again.

I’ve seen a lot of memes and posts that encourage us NEVER to sit on the sidelines. Be the Mom who’s in the water. Be the Mom who finger paints. Be the Mom playing on the floor. Be the Mom who’s in it. And I think there’s some value to that message for people who need some encouragement, but I think what really matters when we notice that we’re on the sidelines is our reason for being there and how we treat ourselves as we sit. Are you choosing it? Does it feel like freedom, like rest, like a pause rather than a default? Does it feel like a self-imposed sentence, something you “have” to do because…, something that allows you to hide?

Slide2The sidelines exist for a reason, and that’s because we all need to take a break once in a while. We all need to come off the field, hydrate, catch our breath, figure out what’s next. Some need to be there more than others. If you’re spending a lot of time on the sidelines, maybe it’s time to ask yourself if you like your reason. Maybe it’s time to get back in the game. I’d love to help.

The Earth is Slippery: Aztec Wisdom… Yeah, You Heard That Right

A few weeks ago, on our annual nerdy vacation at The Chautauqua Institution, we got to hear some really great lectures. Well, we always hear really great lectures, but this year I was paying extra special attention. I even took notes – yeah, I was serious about the nerdy vacation comment. As the weeks have gone by since we were there, it’s been interesting to see which ideas have really stuck with me. Some lectures seemed really great when they were delivered, but didn’t really have any staying power; others seemed kind of so-so when I was listening, but took root. One of the ideas I heard was both – it struck me at the time and it keeps coming back because I find it just so darned useful.

The speaker was Sebastian Purcell, a professor of philosophy at the State University of New York (SUNY) Cortland. His presentation was on Aztec philosophy as a a guide for happiness in the modern world. I admit I was skeptical, because the idea of looking to the Aztecs for guidance on happiness didn’t really fit with my limited understanding of Aztec culture. So I guess I was ripe for the picking. The idea that got me was this one: The earth is slippery.

You’re like, really? That’s the big idea? That the earth is slippery? And what the hell does that mean anyway? What?

Slide1Yeah. That’s it. It was a core part of the Aztec worldview to believe that the world is slippery, which means we will fall down. We will make mistakes. Things happen that are out of control that will push us over. Bad stuff happens, and sometimes its our own fault, and sometimes it’s not. The earth is slippery. We can only take so many steps without risking a fall every now and then. Can you see where we’re going here? Professor Purcell pointed out that this idea meant that bad or unpleasant things that happen can often be chalked up to error rather than a lack of reason. In other words, sometimes stuff just happens and everyone makes mistakes no matter how hard they try, no matter how good their intentions, no matter how right their purpose.

Is this revolutionary? Well no, if we’re focused on the messages we explicitly give our children when they are hurting because they’ve messed up and we’re trying to comfort them, but ALL of the OTHER messages (that we give them AND ourselves) are pretty different aren’t they? The messages we send and receive say that the world is drowning in opportunity, that all you need to do is work hard enough (well, and harder than the person next to you), and you will succeed. This very American dreamy message is complicated. There’s an element to this lesson on perseverance that I am TOTALLY down with. Pursuing your thing doggedly is the best way to “succeed” at it – whatever “succeed” means. There’s also a dark side to our failure to really embrace the idea that the earth is slippery.

The dark side of not embracing the slipperiness of earth is that when things go awry, it is all our fault. When things don’t pan out, we are flawed. When we’re not achieving what we want, we need to reexamine everything from our actions to the very foundation of the dream itself. These are all versions of the big one, the giant yuck, the grandaddy of all self-abuse: when bad things happen, I deserve them because I’m not good enough. If the earth is not slippery, we fall because we are clumsy, careless, lazy. If the earth is not slippery, we fail because we are not determined, because we aren’t smart enough, because we are unworthy. If the earth is not slippery, our blame can only be placed on ourselves.

Slide2There are times we are at fault. There are times other people make things hard for us. There are times our institutions fail us. There are times when bad things happen that have nothing to do with our worth. There are times when things don’t work out. There are times when the earth is slippery. If we can just acknowledge that, we can get on with the business of our recovery, our work around, our new approach, our get back up and try again without the full on inquisition of our souls. Sometimes we fall because the earth is slippery.