Navigating Growth: Extending Your Branches

I have always liked maps. I love to look at them, to imagine traveling with them, using them to find new and more interesting or pleasing ways to get somewhere. GPS is seriously useful, but not the same. There I said it; judge away. I like to hold and touch and SEE the big picture.

adventure-beautiful-bright-243597.jpgAnd I see that I have always believed that having that big map – the big picture with all of the details for how to get there – for all of my decisions was absolutely necessary. I mean how can you decide which direction to turn if you don’t know where you are going?

My recent experiences fly directly in the face of that idea and all of its conventional wisdom. It has thrown me for quite a loop.

You see, I’m building a community. The idea for my private FB group came to me in stillness (that’s meditation for those of you not allergic to the word – allergy sufferers forget I said anything). I got more inspiration on a walk. I got other pieces in the shower but it didn’t all add up to a map, a detailed plan. It was a little more loosey-goosey than that. So I held onto it, wanting to get the destination firmly in mind, perfecting the path.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think there’s good to be found in working on your vision, but sometimes we (I) can get stuck there, moving pieces around mentally and never getting to the trip. It’s like planning a dream vacation your whole life and never actually packing a bag. For many of us the dreaming is the safe space. It is where we can try to imagine how it should be without taking any of the risks associated with trying to make it so.

The dreaming space is where my son hangs out in preparation for Halloween. He LOVES Halloween and he spends months thinking about his costume. He wants it to be whatever he wants it to be: one year scary, another year clever and literary, this year I think he’s going for political satire (yes, that’s my kid) and he works at that vision. He sees the big picture – him going to the door, the adult GETTING it, the candy, the pride. He sees the impact he wants to have. He begins to think of the details associated with the costume. We talk about those details and invariably when we get to about 2 weeks out, he begins to have doubts. He begins to think maybe his idea isn’t so great after all. This year his big worry is: “What if they don’t get it?” Oh honey, I know. Then he moves into the familiar. Maybe he should dress up as something easy, something that comes in a bag with all of the pieces, something everyone will recognize right away. Maybe he’s got the destination all wrong. It is only the time pressure (and maternal nagging) and the siren call of the candy payoff that forces his hand, that moves him out of dreaming and self-doubt into action.

I began to feel this same thing happening with the idea of this community I wanted to build, but with no candy payday to push me forward. I was sort of sitting still fondling the vision, and the longer I looked, the more I noticed the self-doubt that was creeping in around the edges. I began to hear internal message and all of those messages boiled down to some version of “Who are you to do that? Who do you think you are?”

I began to wonder if maybe I needed some training. I began to compile a reading list. I thought of some other things I would probably need to do before getting started in order to be “ready.” Let me interrupt myself (again) by saying there’s nothing wrong with training, reading, or otherwise preparing yourself for a new venture, unless you are doing all of that as a way to 1) delay action indefinitely OR 2) feel good enough to pursue something to which you feel called right now. That’s exactly what I was doing.

The fix wasn’t in more school or a more specific vision. The fix wasn’t in reading the “right” books. The fix wasn’t in preparation. The fix was in releasing the need to perfect the big vision long enough to take the next small step. The way I chose to do that was to change the conversation in my head from “What do I want to do?” which is a super important but LONG conversation that gets all of those internal naysayers in full screech mode TO “What small step should I take next?”

WHOLE different question, right? Reflecting on what small step to take next is far less daunting and while it tends to generate its own mental obstacle course, that tends to look more like confusion than self-abuse which I would argue is easier on the spirit.

“I don’t know” feels better than “No you can’t” AND it can be answered by a question perfectly grounded in possibility and shared with me by a friend who learned it from Iyanla VanZant. “Well, what if you did know?” Pretend you do know what to do next. Now what’s the answer?

It’s such a wonderful question because it sidesteps the fog that our brains use to keep us still. It’s a wonderful question because it brings us back to stillness, to what we DO know, what we can know, what we ARE capable of and out of the hunting and overwhelming picture of the perfection we’d like to create.

I believe the answer to that question, the question of what to do next, is usually quite simple. It is almost always something we already know how to do, and if we can quiet our minds enough, we can access it – either right there in stillness or sometime after like on a walk or in the shower.

It is tempting, when we get an answer, when we see a step that is as small as writing an e-mail or making a phone call, to make it bigger, to turn it into more, to consider everything about it, another brilliantly executed stall tactic by the safety monitor in our minds.

child-costume-fairy-127968If instead, we accept that simple step and execute it, we build trust in ourselves, trust in the benevolence of the universe, and trust in the possibility that we can be enough right now. If we just get the costume we envisioned,  create the props that give costume clues, wear the long johns if necessary, the KitKats and Twix bars will flow and MAYBE next year we will remember that it is okay to do it just the way we want.

Growing Roots (A Series): Part VII

Rooting in Trust: The Gifts of Being Uncertain

Yep, there it all is. Trust and uncertainty. Our favorites, right?

I got started thinking about the relationship between these two things in church. Our minister made reference to the Jewish practice of writing God as G-d. I learned that this spelling is a way of signifying that the writer is talking about the god of Abraham (the ONE god for Jews, Muslims, and Christians, yes the same ONE for all three), signifying that entity while being clear that we can only be so specific in doing so. In the words of my minister this practice serves “to show we don’t really know what we are talking about.” I love this admission.

This designation, this way of acknowledging such a big mystery with three characters, speaks to an acceptance of uncertainty that I find refreshing and intriguing. And the impact for the faith that uses this spelling is instructive.

aisle-beach-celebration-169198Acknowledging that fundamental uncertainty about divinity has not prevented the Jewish people from developing a deep and abiding faith both as a group and as individuals as they so choose. That uncertainty has not prevented the Jewish people from referencing, describing, and writing about or praying to God as they so choose. Acknowledging the limits of what is known has not kept Jewish people from developing a shared cultural tradition of celebrations, rituals, food, and music with which to enrich their lives as they so choose.

Accepting this fundamental uncertainty about the exact nature of God has not prevented or hindered growth, love, richness and fullness in living.

My mother told me a long time ago that I “have never been a fan of uncertainty.” As I write that, it occurs to me how much more those words describe her than me, and how universal they seem to be in humanity. But to keep it personal, I admit that I have always felt more comfortable with a clear plan, routines, expected outcomes. These qualities all helped me as a teacher and parent, but haven’t always served me well in times of trouble and stress and during times of fundamental unpredictability (which I acknowledge are increasingly common as I am honest about it).

For years the added discomfort of “I don’t know what will happen” kept me committed to plans that I no longer felt good about, routines that didn’t serve me, and striving for outcomes that my heart wasn’t invested in. That fear of uncertainty kept me caged up.

It seems to me, as I think about this whole G-d thing, that there is an entirely different way to approach uncertainty. It seems to me now, as someone who has entirely thrown off her professional plans in favor of the substantial risks of soul-centered self-employment, and as the partner of someone who discarded a lucrative career in favor of seminary, that our avoidance of uncertainty is based entirely upon the possibility of a negative outcome and our desire to control the process – thinking that our control will eliminate negative outcomes.

I look to the lessons of my own parenting when it comes to this issue. I confess I tend to be on the controlling side of parenting in many ways. We limit junk food, video games and television in our home. I acknowledge that these limits have created some social gaps for my kids and I STILL think I’m in the right. With all of that said, and no parent reading this will be surprised by this, all of that control in no way guarantees how my children will behave, the choices they will make, or who they will become. The uncertainty and unpredictability in human interactions and growth can bring great disappointments, and they can also reveal joy and beauty beyond what we could have asked for.

What I’m seeing through all of this is a fundamental difference in being rooted in control and rooted in uncertainty – which, by the way, means being rooted in trust.

Being rooted in uncertainty implies some basic acceptance of the fact that we can’t ever be completely certain of, or totally control anything beyond how we feel inside. Uncertainty is the fundamental reality. It is our desire for control that makes it so uncomfortable.

back-view-backlit-city-847483What if, instead of believing our actions would result in a particular desired outcome, we chose what we do based on whether or not it feels good, the kind of good that makes us nod our heads when we choose it; The kind of good that, when we are listening, makes our bodies feel the way the have felt during the best of times. What if we used that criteria, of how we feel, and trusted that the way we feel is enough, that things will be what they will be, and we will handle the outcome?

Making choices that way is only possible when we accept uncertainty as a fundamental condition of reality and choose to trust that ultimately we will be well, or well enough. That rooting, that acceptance, opens us up to seeing beyond what we are hoping for, outside of the boundaries of what we have planned for ourselves and what our linear thinking and our logic dictate as the most likely outcome. Acceptance of uncertainty, and the choice to cultivate trust opens a rich and delicious world of choices that can make our lives so very whole, so very full, and so deeply connected to our needs, our gifts, and our desires.

What would happen for you if you just admitted that you don’t know what’s going to happen, and if you sat with that admission long enough for the fear to subside? I think I know what’s on the other side, and it feels like freedom.

Awakening to Joy

I have a confession to make.

It’s about joy.

We have had a strained relationship over the years.

I have eyed joy from afar, from a distance, with trepidation and suspicion, daring only to dip my toes in when the temptation was too strong to resist any longer.

There are a whole hornet’s nest of old reasons for that, some of which I’ve already revealed and some which continue to spill out here in this miraculous digital space, but in some ways the reasons are not important.

The actual wounds and hurts matter far less than my reaction to them, which was to close, to armor up, to prepare myself for the battle that I perceived life (in part because of those wounds and hurts) to be.

Working with my own coach at one point I could actually hear that armor going on, the clink and clank of the heavy weight of the individual pieces as I covered myself up so I could be safe in body and spirit. I could feel the burden of carrying all of that protection as constant exhaustion. And I could sense the fruitlessness of it as the emotional ceiling shrank to the height of “fine” rather than “great,” or “wonderful,” or even just “happy.”

affection-conceptual-connection-256738Joy was not allowed in because in order to block the bottom end of the scale, I had to cut out the top. This is the unfortunate reality of how it works with our feelings. We cannot block selectively. We can only block for intensity and volume, so we either have them all, or we limit ourselves to a narrower band that feels tolerable if not good. Pema Chödrön, Buddhist nun and all around compassion genius, describes this narrowing: “These reactions, strategies, and story lines are what cocoons and prison walls are made of.”

What, then, are we to do if we want to experience joy? This has been a question I’ve been wrestling with for a few years. I have all of the ingredients for a joyful life and yet somehow the feeling still seemed inaccessible to me. Ironically, now that I seem to have gotten a better handle on this whole joy thing, I have stumbled onto a book that describes the very process I’ve been following, although in a much more concise and clear fashion (without all of the bumbling and experimenting). Pema Chödrön describes cultivating joy as working on the mental capacity to celebrate and rejoice in good fortune – even in the smallest forms. To do this we need to be present, to see what is actually around us, and we need to acknowledge and be present when we resist that rejoicing.

When we feel ourselves pull away from the opportunity to celebrate, to rejoice, Chödrön suggests that we: “right on the spot, we can go beneath the words to the nonverbal experience of the motion. What’s happening in our hearts, our shoulders, our gut? Abiding with the physical sensation is radically different from sticking to the story line.” BOOM.

In order to access the joy, we have to actually allow the discomfort we experience when presented with the makings of joy – whatever those might be for us, AND the way to do that and not turn it into some multi-day mind fuck is to feel those feelings in the body. I know this to be true from first-hand experience. Being instructed by my own coach to notice my emotions in my body for the first time was a total revelation, and the way that it quieted the mind was nothing short of miraculous. It is in this miraculous quiet space that we can relax, that we, as Chödrön puts it “train in softening rather than hardening.”

bloom-blossom-close-up-36764Softening, rather than hardening. It sounds risky to many, but doesn’t it also sound so restful? Doesn’t that armor just get so very heavy? Doesn’t “fine” grow so tiresome?

I know it did for me, and as I open this space, as I drop my armor (which is a process by the way and one that is not exactly linear in my experience), I discover that I can be safe in my joys, in my rejoicing, in my celebration because I am no longer so fearful of experiencing the lows. It is all part of the human experience, and I really do want the whole shebang. Don’t you?

 

 

Letting Go of Plan B

I stumbled across a quote the other day that challenged me.

“Why don’t we stay in the realm of the answer, rather than always returning to the realm of the problem?”

It’s from Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love, which is a challenging book, chock full of challenging quotes, but this one called me out – not called out to me but called me out.

And I say that with some gentleness, rather than scolding.

balance-beach-body-1199588You see, I’ve discovered a variety of practices that make me feel really good, really centered, really effective. I’ve figured some things out about what my body and spirit need most to do my work in the world. And I do them… until I don’t.

This quote is me – my spiritual practices, my beliefs, my faith, my discipline, my will, my self-compassion, my business, most of my efforts really. All of them I handle with a duck-in/duck-out sort of mentality. I rarely go all in and sustain it.

I duck into meditation and then something interrupts my practice and I forget to keep doing it.

I dip into prayer and then forget to use it when I really want help or guidance.

I cherish my budding faith in the universe when I feel good and deride myself for it when things aren’t going well.

I always return to the realm of the problem.

What makes it so difficult for me to stay in the realm of the answer and what would that look like? My mind offers some very practical explanations for my dip in duck out approach.

You can’t, after all, meditate all day long. You do actually have to DO some things.

Wisdom answers: You can bring your awareness to your breath at any time. You can acknowledge your thoughts as transient and consciously choose and respond to them. You can wish for peace for yourself an others constantly.

My mind: You can’t, after all, pray all day long. You do actually have to DO some things.

Wisdom answers: You can converse with the force that binds us all day long, in snippets or treatises. You can ask for things, help, guidance. You can want and ask for more. You can see any action you take as prayer and proceed as though that is your intention. What would happen to your days if all of your actions were a prayer?

My mind: I’ve got too much to do.

Wisdom answers: When you take care of yourself physically, emotionally, spiritually, your effectiveness, your efficiency, and your productivity skyrocket. You know this. Is it really the to do list that’s getting you or is that just an excuse?

And that’s when the bird poop really hits the hair, because it’s not about spirituality or personal development or woo woo practices, it’s about self-sabotage and whatever is getting in the way of feeling and being better.

It’s about being afraid to succeed.

It’s about being afraid to be different.

It’s about being afraid to change (AGAIN).

I see myself and this entire pattern as a desire to not be ALL IN.

I think I do this a lot, hold back, stop myself from being all in. I’m not sure exactly why, but I imagine it has something to do with the vulnerability inherent in being all in.

cards-casino-chips-39856When we go all in, we are clear about what we want. We are claiming and proclaiming (at least to whoever is around) our desires, our intentions, our dreams, our wants. When we go all in we stop hedging our bets, taking half measures, protecting our behinds, busily formulating Plan Bs. When we go all in we let other options go, we release the safety of the status quo, and we step firmly into new territory with unpredictable outcomes. When we go all in, we are risking (and the alarmist in my wants to add… everything).

The fears that get in my way are the same no matter what I’m talking about.

The reasons to play it small are equally consistent.

But the reasons to go all in, those I’m less familiar with as it has not generally been my way… except that one time.

That one time I decided to try one more time. That one time I decided to remove all of the obstacles to what I wanted. That one time I took advice and sought out the best collaborator I could find. That one time I aligned my thinking with the outcome I wanted and kept it there, ditching the fear that it was all a horrible mistake. That one time I trusted that even if I didn’t get what I wanted, I would be better off for having tried – really tried. That one time I quit my stressful job, stabbed myself with needles full of hormones, got poked and prodded and examined and investigated. That one time I did EVERYTHING. That one time I got pregnant and kept the babies. That one time.

And I’ve taught myself the lesson by thinking maybe I had something to say to you about the struggle to be consistent with our self-care. It turns out the lesson I needed to hear today was a different one, a lesson about the gifts of real commitment and some encouragement to jump in the deep end of the pool every once in a while. The question I need to ask myself is a real one about aligning my action to my desires, about honesty and authenticity, about realizing that taking risks has always been the only way to get the things I most wanted.

And so I’m going to start to ask myself: “Are you all in?” Not to spur myself to greater levels of workaholism. Not to shame myself into some kind of to do list-making frenzy, but to check my heart, to check my thoughts, to see if I am really committing to what I say I’m trying to do, to what I say I want. The answer doesn’t have to be “Yes,” but if it’s no, then that bears looking at, right?

How about you? Where are you employing half-measures and expecting a full return? Are you all in?

 

Brave Enough

I do a lot of talking about fear and getting past it, working around it, not letting it make your decisions for you.

boy-child-clouds-346796And I think sometimes that makes it sound like I want to just see you being super brave all of the time. Like, we identify the fear and then we just leap tall buildings in a single bound kind of brave. Sometimes when I’m listening to another coach or an inspiring human, that’s my reaction.

Like, “Well, I’m glad you figured out how to be brave enough to swim the English Channel, but hells no I’m not going to do anything like that or be that brave EVER.”

My relationship with fear is old and it likes to tell me that I will never be brave enough to do anything worth talking about.

And when I think about bravery and being myself and taking risks as something that I need to don a superhero’s cape to do, it is so much easier to give in to that belief that fear wants me to have. It is so much more tempting to shrug off my preferences and dreams and just stay with caution, nice sweet status quo occasionally soul-sucking caution.

But there’s this thing, something Cheryl Strayed reminded me of this morning.

You don’t have to have the courage of an entire platoon of people liberating a European village in WWII. You don’t have to try to leap a tall building in a single bound. You don’t have to decide to swim the English Channel to take a step forward. You just have to be brave enough to take one step forward.

You have to be brave enough to be honest with yourself about what’s going on with you.

You have to be brave enough to be honest with yourself about what you do and don’t want in your life.

You have to be brave enough to keep wise counsel as you make these considerations and not let other people’s opinions hold TOO much sway.

You have to be brave enough to listen to yourself: not the nattering voice that wants you to grab a bag of chips and the remote because it’s scary out there, but the voice that is calling you into integrity, that is encouraging you to be more yourself. You have to listen to what that is.

You have be brave enough to act on what you discover in the realm of soul truth.

You have to be brave enough for those things, but you don’t have to do them all in the same moment.

beautiful-calm-coast-358480You only have to be brave enough to take one step, whatever that might look like.

Maybe it looks like writing without ceasing for 10 minutes about whatever’s going on in your head.

Maybe it looks like talking to a trusted friend about the things that you’ve been afraid to reveal.

Maybe it looks like getting really, really quiet so you can hear.

You don’t have to take all of the steps at once beloveds.

You only need to be brave enough to take one.

If you need some support, I’d be delighted to walk with you.

XO,

julia

Trust as Your Anchor

In a prayer I read the other day, I came across this simple request: “Let my soul be anchored in trust.”

bare-feet-boy-child-262103I struggle with that idea.

I struggle to trust.

I struggle to feel safe being myself, taking risks.

I struggle to feel secure with who I am and who I might become.

My mind tells me if I work hard enough and protect myself and my family then I don’t have to trust, which is probably best because oh my mercy have you seen what’s going on out there?!

And I know there are people who would tell me that this lack of trust is not a problem, but wisdom, a sign of maturity in a hard world, lessons learned. There is surely plenty of evidence in the world that not everyone or everything is trustworthy. Hell, there is surely plenty of evidence in my Facebook feed alone that not everyone or everything, or some days it seems like ANYone or ANYthing is trustworthy.

If I allow myself to follow that evidence, if I allow myself to see all that is wrong in the world and, more importantly, use it to support the idea that I can’t, I shouldn’t trust, I live in fear and isolation. Fear and isolation feels like shit. Fear and isolation is an internal dialogue that never shuts up. Fear and isolation is being sure that you are alone and that if you screw up the consequences could be dire. Fear and isolation is living without love for yourself or anyone else. It’s enough to make me take up permanent residence in the blanket fort.

It seems to me that the only way to function at all without deciding and learning to trust is to live in fear – to watch, be vigilant, to inspect, to caution, and ultimately to create a container for our lives that is all enough that it may go unnoticed in the cruel world. The partner to that fear is busting your butt every waking moment of every day. This is how we shrink ourselves. This is how we lead small lives. This is how and why we hide the parts of ourselves that are crying out for display like a peacock’s fan. Who has time to be and feel amazing when there is so much to worry about? Who has the gumption to wonder if the things we’re choosing are what’s best for everyone if we think it is THAT scary out there? Who finds it compelling to take the undeniable risk of vulnerability if what we believe is that it is a sure path to our destruction?

But beloveds, it is all a choice. We can choose NOT to shrink. We can choose to act even in our fear. If I choose NOT to shrink, but to be my full self and thereby to trust the world with HER, everything is different. And yes, some people won’t like HER. And yes, some people will demand that she get back in that box. But oh lordy those feathers.

You see trusting doesn’t mean that I don’t see problems. Trusting doesn’t mean I won’t have problems. Trusting doesn’t mean that I don’t notice when things aren’t going my way. Trusting doesn’t mean we won’t have problems with other humans, our communities, our culture, our institutions. It DOES mean not seeing any of these as a signal that we are doomed, flawed, finished, washed up or even cursed.

animal-bird-feathers-148291.jpgI suppose it’s possible that folks are right and that I should be afraid – and believe me I still am more of the time than I care to acknowledge, but having experienced days without all of that fear, days in trust, and days when I act in trust even though I am afraid, I have to say I much prefer to live in a world where I believe I can actually be myself and ultimately I, and everyone else, will be better for that expression.

And oh lordy those feathers.

 

The Cold Comfort of Confusion

“I’m so confused.”

I hear people say it and I’ve said it myself.

blur-calm-waters-dawn-395198Confusion. Uncertainty. Fog. Swirling.

I have moments of it, usually when I’m down.

I’ve got tools, and usually I can navigate that space far better and far more quickly than I used to.

But I remember and I’ve heard from quite a few of you about that fog of confusion. I see the way it torments you.

“I don’t know what to do.”

“I don’t know what to think.”

“I don’t know which way to turn.”

I have an answer, but you may not like it.

You may not like it because I think confusion is a lie.

Confusion is a lie we tell ourselves when we don’t want to face what is true, or when we don’t want to accept what has happened, or when we have forgotten how to feel what we actually feel or those feelings are too big and scary to experience. So we slip in a tape, we push the repeat on a loop icon, we create a fog of “I don’t know” to protect us.

It feels better to be confused than to be heartbroken.

It feels better to be confused than to be lonely.

It even feels better to be confused than to admit what we really want in a situation and to try to get it.

It feels better to be confused than to be vulnerable.

It feels better to be confused than to be accountable.

It feels better to be confused than to risk committing to a path that might end up in failure.

Confusion is the ultimate tool of the status quo.

Because when we are confused, when we are spinning, when we are sitting in the fog of uncertainty, we are actively changing nothing. Circumstances may shift in response to our inaction, but we’re not changing anything. We’re not responsible for what happens. We’re staying safe in the fog.

It’s just another trick of the mind, the mind that only knows survival and death.

If you’re alive, the mind says that’s good enough. That’s excellent. Let’s stick with that.

And there are times when just being alive is certainly something to celebrate, to venerate, to acknowledge with gratitude.

But our hearts…

adult-enjoyment-facial-expression-1037989Our hearts want so much more than that. They want to love. They want to give and receive and be thrilled and even crushed if that’s the price. Our hearts want to feel other hearts, touch other souls, experience the depth of really living, not just being alive. They want us to have all of the things we can only have if we let go of that fog, if we choose, if we commit, if we act, if we chase dreams and hope for the best.

The comfort that confusion brings is a cold one.

It comes with the pain of sleepless nights and that gnawing sense that there’s something else we should be doing. Confusion comes with the obsessive need to work at the problem while being sure not to ever actually see through it, and endless stalemate between pro and con.

Confusion is a lie.

Maybe it’s time to tell yourself the truth, whatever that it.

Maybe it’s time to feel how you feel.

Maybe it’s time to admit what you want.

Maybe it’s time to speak your truth and just let the consequences unfold.

If it’s too much, you can be confused again any time.

You can make that choice just as easily as you can unmake it.

It’s your story.

Pick up that pen.

 

xo,

julia

Who’s Driving The Bus?

I’ve had something come up in a LOT of conversations lately – both professional and social, so I get this sense that maybe, just maybe it would be a good thing to talk about.

blur-book-girl-373465And because you know I like to make everything about me, I’m going to start with a story. I’ve been a little low in the last month (mentioned it a few times, I know, experimenting with vulnerable transparency – how am I doing?). There have been days when it just feels like a cloud in the sky – a partly to mostly sunny day. I’m still doing most of my things – maybe a little less social, maybe a little more tired, a little more inclined to pick up a book than have a conversation – you know kind of cloudy. Other days have been this swell mix of medical woes and misery that have been full on incapacitating storm conditions – like when all the power is out and you can’t leave the neighborhood, except without the nice part where you discover that taking a break from social media is a good thing.

Storm conditions when it is very clear that none of the things you planned yesterday are going to happen, and you can’t really remember what they were anyway. The ones you kind of remember seem stupid and you feel too sick to do anything about something that seems stupid. Yeah, like that. You’re down to one flashlight with batteries and into the canned goods. THAT kind of bad day.

Mercifully, it seems that both the physical and the emotional aspects of the storm are easing, and that has been an incremental kind of thing, each day finding one more battery, remembering the granola bar I hid for emergencies, reconnecting with one really good thing I wanted to do and feeling its importance deeply. And as I make this transition, I wonder about the difference between these two states. Some of it was purely physical. I won’t go into details, but it seems that everything that bothers me in a low-level chronic kind of way decided to show up at once at higher-levels. It’s been really fun. And the physical stuff certainly fed the emotional component. It’s hard to stay optimistic when your body is basically giving you the finger (and yes, that’s an intended pun for those familiar with my arthritic hands). It’s hard not to let your whole outlook be determined by your physical reality. And so, I gave up the keys.

A few weeks ago I decided to let my discomfort, my frustration, my pain, and my pessimism drive the bus. “I quit. Here you go. You do it. This is too hard. I’m too tired and I feel like I’m losing this battle, so I forfeit. You drive.”

This was not a conscious decision. And let me be clear. I’m not just talking about surrendering to feeling bad, because I think that’s necessary. I think all of those feelings needed to be felt, honored, seen, heard – all of it. But that’s not the same thing as letting them drive.

In her book Big Magic, Liz Gilbert describes how fear can totally inhibit the creative process. Her remedy is to imagine that fear has a seat in the car of your process, but it does not get to drive. Others have expanded on this idea. A 5th grade art teacher worked with her students to create a painted chair that holds all of the fear while they do their work. I have a chair in my office that is designated the fear chair. I send fear there when I have something big and important that I really want to get done. She doesn’t have to leave the room. I hear her. I know she’s there, but she doesn’t get to make the decisions because if she does, I won’t do any of the amazing things that I am here to do.

We can all agree, I think, that fear is something that we sometimes need to put in a chair. What I think we’re not as clear on is the difference between putting something in a chair and stuffing it way down deep (think passenger seat instead of glove box). What I think we’re not as clear on is the kind of route that holding two disparate feelings and opinions sometimes requires. I also just don’t think we pay attention to what part of us is holding the keys. They just get tossed around willy-nilly like a hot potato and whoever has them when it’s time to move, well, that determines what happens next.

abandoned-automobile-broken-53161For me this month it was disappointment, discouragement, general darkness. For so many others it’s fear. And fear drives that car in some really strange ways. Fear can decided to just park it because it’s a big world out there. Fear can decide to give us lots of reasons to do sub-par work so we can blame our lack of progress on something other than finding out if we’re really up to the task. Fear can make us worry so much about what’s coming down the road that we miss seeing the horses running in the field right next to us. Fear is a shitty driver. Disappointment, discouragement, and general darkness really aren’t so great either.

We can have all of those feelings. We can feel them, honor them, notice them, respect them, have conversations with them. We can allow them to inhabit us, feel them in our bodies, notice what they are. We can do all of these things without letting them drive. When we feel them in the quiet, when we honor them but don’t make them all of us, don’t make them everything, we can hear that at any given moment, there is more, maybe a small still voice, maybe just a deep breath waiting to be taken. There is more and the way clear, the road forward will be there, the route will unfold. We don’t need to let fear drive just so we have somewhere to go.

XO,

julia