Are You Aware of Your Mastery?

 

She said: “I’m not an expert” and then told me, as an aside, how she was quickly able to answer a potential client’s question – no hesitation. Her client walked away from that exchange with information that could change her daily life. And my client walked away without the confidence that her training and years of preparation should afford her.

There’s a thing that can happen with mastery. When we study something deeply, or at least repetitively for a long time, it becomes part of who we are. We can act on that mastery without thinking about it. And THAT can get us into trouble.

Acknowledge what you're good atWomen are not always encouraged to reflect on, celebrate, and talk about their mastery. They’ll even give credit for their work away to others (especially to male colleagues at work). So even though they achieve these levels of ability and skill, they don’t share that with others and after a while, they sort of forget that there was mastery involved at all. Let me give you a few examples.

Example 1: This is about yours truly, but I KNOW it applies to others because I’ve heard it. I stayed at home with my twins for 10 years. I did do some part-time work in there, and the amount of work time increased in the last several years as I pursued my coach training and established a practice, but for all of those 10 years I was the chief cook and bottle washer. I was squarely in charge of our entire domestic scene. This was a job I took on willingly, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t wear on me. As our employment picture has shifted, we have worked toward rebalancing the domestic load, my grad student and self-employed husband taking on more and entrepreneur and musician me casting off tasks. And for some time this shift caused a great deal of discomfort. He didn’t do things right. He took forever to complete tasks I could whiz through. He didn’t see the messes and the problems that were screaming out for attention. And it drove me crazy, until I realized that this whole domestic scene was an area in which I had achieved mastery. While I didn’t love a lot of it, I had become extremely efficient. These tasks were second nature. I could execute them quickly, without even thinking about it most of the time. My irritation with him both shortchanged him of the room to grow and learn AND failed to acknowledge the amount of learning and skill that went into my handling of these tasks in the first place. I had achieved mastery. My execution of that role had become intuitive, could be in flow, and was a demonstration of hours and hours of practice.

Example 2: I have a friend who has always been interested in health. She is constantly reading about nutrition, alternative therapies, anything she can get her hands on that describes things people can do to take better care of their bodies. (I actually have a handful of friends that fit this description now that I’m thinking about it). She is also a nurse by trade and is in graduate school. I turn to my friend when I have physical and medical questions, which as someone with an undiagnosable joint problem, I do with some regularity. And I can see the wheels in her mind turn as we discuss whatever I’m asking about. I see her accessing all of those cerebral files. I see her deciding what’s relevant and what’s not with lightening speed. I take her recommendations seriously because they have not yet failed me. And yet, she regularly tells me that she is not as smart as _____________. Her mastery goes unacknowledged internally. Her ego doesn’t even get the boost of feeling proud of all of the value she offers the world on a regular basis, because she doesn’t recognize her own mastery.

Example 3: I have a new part of my practice, helping coaches and other service professionals to create a signature program so that they can serve their clients in deep and meaningful ways. This development is a mastery story in two way. First of all, I had to acknowledge my own mastery of curriculum planning – my deep understanding of how to teach – in order to offer this as a service. It struck me during a conversation with a fellow coach that I had knowledge and skills, mastery, that might be helpful to others. The second way this is a mastery story is that this process requires my clients to acknowledge their own mastery. What do you know about/know how to do that the people you want to work with don’t? Where is your flow and who needs that? Who do you want to work with and what can you offer them? These questions always remind my clients that they DO have mastery, that the skills and knowledge that they take for granted are taken for granted because they’ve mastered them. When they acknowledge that mastery, our work together takes off like a rocket.

How to feel more confidentAnd I say all of this to give you a moment, a chance to pause and really take a good hard look at yourself. Because I’m betting there’s some mastery there. There’s something (probably many things) that you do and do well without even thinking about it, and that you’ve done well for so long that you think everyone can do that (or knows that or thinks that or makes that). You’ve forgotten that your mastery is, in fact, YOURS. You’ve forgotten to remember the ways that you shine, and by ignoring your mastery, your sparkles have grown a little dim. Nobody can see what you can do and learn from you, be inspired by you, find courage to shine themselves when you extinguish your light.

What are you a master at? What can you do without really breaking a sweat? Take a moment and see it, see your own mastery, your own unique blend of skill, learning and intuition. See it and remember that you can shine and others will bask in that light.

If you need some help polishing your glitter, please do get in touch. I’d love to share my shine with you.

Are You Skipping the Hard Parts?

I’ve mentioned a few times here that I have had a shaky relationship with the holidays in the past. This year, even as we approach the one year anniversary of my Dad’s death on December 23rd, has been fundamentally different.

In the past I resisted the hullabaloo of the holidays altogether – partly out of Grinchly attitudes and partly due to being a highly sensitive person in an increasingly loud and lit-up world. It turns out, now that I am reflecting on it, that my resistance to the Christmas hullaballoo (waiting to put the tree up, delaying Christmas music, holding off on the treats) was also a remnant of the Christianity of my childhood. Now, don’t get all skittish on me, this isn’t a piece about religion, so just hang in there. I’m going somewhere that applies to all of us, I promise.

In the Episcopal church of my childhood, the season of Advent was well-attended. Advent  is made up of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas and is seen as a time of preparation, of expectation. Most folks would assume that meant getting ready for Christmas, but Advent demands something deeper, as is reflected by the hymns that were saved specifically for this time of year. Advent is a time of quiet, of inward reflection, of questioning, of facing the dark (externally and internally), and of preparing for something new. This changes the whole Christmas and holiday scenario quite a bit.

Living ConsciouslyThese weeks before Christmas can be reserved by anyone of any faith tradition as an opportunity to engage in the deep inner-work of creating new life, because that’s what this holiday season is about. Christian or not, we can all appreciate the notion that there is a time for acknowledging what is past, releasing what is broken, asking ourselves what will be required of us next, and then consider the possibility for change. We can claim the time, space, and quiet to examine the life that IS and then consciously create something new.

The rush to the sparkly parts of the season push us past the dark work of the soul that can be so difficult but so transformative. The rush to the physical preparation for the season and the intensely over-scheduled calendars leave no time for examination, for contemplation, for internal preparation. It is all about the wrapping paper. Just as we rush to the celebrations of the season (and the retailers push the start date earlier and earlier), so too do we try to rush to the trappings/accessories/feelings of a better life without doing the personal and contemplative work that actually promotes the change that is available to all of us.

The Holiday Frenzy Hides an Opportunity for GrowthSometimes the need for change requires action, don’t misunderstand me. I have several digital feeds that keep me on top of political actions I should take without the benefit of deep and lasting contemplation. But the work of the soul, the work of creating an internal and external world that we want to live in, the work of recreating ourselves and our lives? THAT requires more than a cheerful song and a sugar cookie, and in our hustle bustle world, the opportunity for that kind of work must be created by individuals who desire it.

How do we create those opportunities? We say no. We say no to being totally overbooked. We say no to filling all of the space with music and decorations. We say no to filling every minute of our day with the physical preparations for the season and reserve some time for the quiet work of self-examination and the self-inquiry that creates the space to create new life.

I’ve already put my tree up, as it is perhaps my very favorite part of the holiday season. The beauty of it makes me catch my breath. And it makes an excellent companion as I sit, in the darkness of December, and turn my thoughts to what is to come.

xo,

j

BODIES In the News and in the Mirror

I’ve been thinking a lot about our relationship with our bodies. Having 10 year olds enrolled in a sexuality education class and listening to NPR a lot really leaves me no choice but to think about bodies a lot.

alienation and lonelinessOn the one hand I consistently find in my clients (and in others I just ask nosy questions of) a negligence of the experience of the body, how they feel (emotionally and physically). We can talk about how we think we feel. We talk about how we ought to feel, and supply plenty of great reasons for whatever conclusion we come to for that “should,” but we don’t spend all that much time actually feeling it. This is so true that people are often befuddled when I ask them how they actually feel, without all of the thinking around it. We are cut off from our physical experience of ourselves except when illness or injury overwhelms our ability to maintain that disconnection.

On the other hand, we are the gatekeepers of our bodies and our ability to watch and guard that gate varies with our beliefs, our self-esteem, our age, and our physical size, our strength, and it seems our capacity for earning a living. This fleshy container from which we distance ourselves apparently needs our watchful eye, our clear-headed awareness, and our protection. We are in the strange and uncomfortable position of guarding something with which we have little real connection.

And that brings me to the third hand (yes, I know but wouldn’t it be useful?). In the absence of a perpetrator doing violence to these bodies, we will weaponize ourselves against them. We need not be concerned with how these bodies feel but we darned well better be concerned about how they look. We had better heed the call to shrink, to get smaller and more meek, to sit down, to be quiet, to discipline ourselves into a secondary stature, to scold ourselves into submission through the deeply wounding power of hostility toward that which is our first and most personal property (because this is the language we all understand, property), our bodies.

This treatment of the female form, this obsessive self-disciplining based on either disconnection or self-loathing, is oppression embodied. The refusal of how we feel is submission. The shrinking for the purpose of pleasing and matching the model is obedience. The setting of impossible standards and punishing ourselves for failing to meet them is collaboration.

A radical act for the new year? Learning to be embodied love – not for our partners and children, not for parents and cousins, not for community and congregation but for ourselves. Imagine each single body a physical manifestation of pure love that radiates from a foundation of self-cherishing (not just acceptance) and proceeds with self care that is deep and multi-dimensional. THAT is healing. Healing for you. And healing for you WILL BE healing for your family (especially your daughters), for your community, for all of us. As our capacity to love and care for ourselves grows, so too do our demands to be treated with dignity and respect, so too does our fervor to participate in ways that ensure a safe and supportive community for all.

diets don't workSome say that our bodies are temples, but in my estimation this lacks life and dynamism, growth and gloriousness. I say your body is a testimony, a living proof of the power of individual strength, perseverance, and cosmic and biological miracles. I say your body is a demonstration of all that is possible, and often of the nearly impossible. I say your body is a compass, a guide, a healer, and a knower. I say your body holds the treasures of the universe for you while you are making other plans.

What would your body whisper to you if you stopped and listened? What could it tell you if you left a pause in the conversation and the self-abuse? What does your body need? What does your body want? What feels like love for your body? What could you do today to take one small step in that direction? What’s stopping you?