Don’t think. Look.

“Don’t think, but look.”

A quote by Ludwig Wittegenstein, my Dad’s favorite philosopher. I recognize that not everyone’s Dad has a favorite philosopher, but mine did. Dad was a philosophy student as an undergrad at Dartmouth, despite the ribbing he got from the electricians he worked with over the summers who asked if he was going to open a philosophy store. My father went on to Yale seminary where he got to study more philosophy before he left in favor of employment that would better provide for his growing family.

bible-old-bible-historically-christianity-159688When I brought my now husband (and current seminarian – yes I see the echoes and prefer not think about it too much) to meet my Dad, they quickly discovered their common undergraduate pursuit and began the “who’s your favorite philosopher” conversation. I quickly went from being nervous about the meeting to being a little annoyed that they were getting along so well and everyone had lost interest in me, because it is all about me after all.

At any rate, the point isn’t that moment, although I appreciate your indulging me in sharing it. It is one of my favorite memories of the two of them. All of this to say that when I hear the name Wittgenstein, my antenna are up. I am listening, which ironically is exactly what I think Wittgenstein would want. I stop thinking about whether or not I have a favorite philosopher, and pay attention.

Not many philosophers start with: “Don’t think,” but this is where Wittgenstein starts.

And having grown up as I did, in a household where rationality was very highly prized, the command to not think makes me uneasy. The irony of my Dad favoring this particular philosopher is startling to me. In times where the world and the people on it seem to need some serious attention, the command to not think feels almost irresponsible, until you consider the rest of the quote.

Look.

It’s not just don’t think. It is LOOK.

I can’t say that I know what Wittgenstein was trying to say because I was NOT a philosophy student, but here’s what I’m picking up from what he was laying down, my life coach spin on the whole idea.

When we think first, we rely on everything we already know, everything we assume, all of the decisions, suppositions, and assumptions we’ve already made. What this does is that it narrows our vision.

Because this is how the brain works friends. Our brains prefer efficiency. There is SO MUCH information available to us. Our brains have had to develop ways to filter all of that information. It’s a lot like the internet, right? I occasionally remind my husband when he is deeply engrossed online in a way that promises to last into the wee hours that he is not going to get to the end of the internet. There is no way to see it all.

Social media sites know that there’s no way to even see everything all of our friends and acquaintances post, so they filter it for us. They develop algorithms (formulas) to filter what we see. These are based on our preferences, the information they have about us. And this is exactly how our brains work.

We think, we have an idea about something. And then our brains, when faced with all of the information in the world, filter that information based on our idea. We don’t SEE everything. We see the things that support what we already believe, what we assume, what we know. It doesn’t matter whether we’re right or not. We see evidence that helps us be sure that we are. This is called confirmation bias. It’s a real thing. Google it if you don’t believe me. When faced with a situation, when we think first (and bring in all of our old thoughts and assumptions), what we see is limited.

girl-sea-binoculars-vacation-160514The suggestion not to think is not a suggestion to stop thinking for all time, but to prevent that filtering from happening and look. Look to see what is in the world. Notice what is happening. See it with fresh eyes and take in the facts. See the situation as others might see it. See the situation the way nobody has seen it yet because everyone is burdened by the ideas they showed up with.

And THEN, after you’ve seen, after you’ve given the situation fresh eyes, THEN you think again. You use that new information. You access new feelings based on what you saw. And then you think about all of that. You make adjustments. You chart a course. You make demands. You act based on what is actually happening rather than a limited view of reality based on your brain’s attempts to make life easier for you.

Don’t think, but look.

Who knows what you will see?

That Time I Forgot to Have Fun

It’s been a rough time for me the last couple of months. We hit the first anniversary of my Dad’s death, the holidays (which I still haven’t pared down to where I need them to be, but I’m making progress), and then my husband’s month long trip to Chicago for January term. I thought I had a handle on it. I lowered my expectations for work a little (at least in my planner if not in my head, which would have been a really important extra step to take), despite my sense that January is a REALLY important month for life coaches. I called in some backup with the kids so I could have a little adult time. I hired a neighbor girl to watch my kids on choir practice nights. On paper it looked pretty good.

pexels-photo-366063And now my hubby is home, which is nice. But I’ve been really grouchy. I’ve been whipping out old and reliable complaints to argue about. I’ve been feminist ranting in my house while I tidy up. I’ve been snarky and sarcastic and generally less pleasant than I could be. I’ve also been SO unbelievably tired, some of which makes perfect sense, but it didn’t seem to be letting up. My body was speaking to me, but I was paying more attention to the angry story in my head.

And it finally overwhelmed me, that angry story. So I reached out to a coach friend. And she questioned. She gently prodded. She questioned some more. And as we talked, I felt my old angry arguments step to the side like the distraction that they are (they matter but weren’t the point). As we talked, I found the hurt under the anger. And then we talked about the hurt, because that’s what a great coach can do for you.

And what came out is that with all of this work: my business, my parenting, my husband’s seminary, I just haven’t been having very much fun. I’m not saying I haven’t had any, I’m just saying I’m not having much and given the difficulty of the last few months, I could have maybe benefitted from a little MORE fun than average rather than less. She laughed and said she was picturing that moment in The Shining: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy….” Yeah. Seriously. HERE’S Julia!!! If you don’t understand the reference, Youtube that scene so you know what really not having fun and listening to angry creepy stories can do to you. My lovely coach friend and I talked about a way out. We figured out exactly what I was thinking, how it made me feel, and created a path for something new. I am so grateful to her.

pexels-photo-341520-2I talked to my seminarian about our fun-less time and he agreed. We’ve sort of lost track of planning fun as a couple and neither of us take much time for fun for ourselves. It is draining. It is wearing. It feels like a grind and I KNOW the life that I’m building doesn’t need to feel like a grind. I’m in love with the things I’m doing, but no matter how much you like your job, sometimes you just need to be completely immersed in the fun zone with the people you love the best.

So I’m putting my creative thinking cap on to come up with some options and later today my seminarian and I are going to put some things on our new shared digital calendar so we can make sure we’re making time for that. We will honor our calendar. We will honor our fun and we will both be better for it.

How’s it going for you? Are you remembering to have fun? If you’re not, what are you going to do about it?

Letting Ourselves Off The Wrong Hook

I was uncomfortable even writing that title because so much of the personal work I’ve needed to do over the last few years was to let myself off of the hook (the perfect Mom hook, the perfect student hook, the perfect whatever hook), BUT this particular hook that was brought to my attention this weekend intrigues me.

Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. day in the U.S. Tributes were plentiful. And I do indeed find it right to honor the memory of that man and his work. One tribute got me to thinking. The speaker suggested that there is a danger in making a saint of MLK, of lionizing him too much, of thinking he was so much more than a regular man.

When we make a hero of someone, they become something extraordinary, something above the rest of us, something unreachable, perhaps entirely unattainable. And as we raise them up in honor, we let ourselves off the hook in our own actions, our own goals, our own choices. We can’t possibly expect that much of ourselves for we are just regular people.

WOW. I hadn’t thought about it that way.

There really can be two reactions to our heroes. They can inspire us to action, or they can make us sure that we couldn’t possibly have that kind of impact, be that good, achieve that much. We raise people up so high that we sell ourselves short.

I’m not going to spend the time here to remind everyone that Martin Luther King Jr. was just a man, because I have hero worshipped him for so long that that position is uncomfortable for me. But I can tell you something interesting that I heard in that same tribute. MLK was away from home 90% of the time during the most active part of his organizing career. He was with his family and children 10% of the time.  I say that not to judge his work life balance, but to point to the effort required to achieve what he did, to point to his doggedness rather than his saintliness, to highlight his determination rather than his salvation. The man worked his behind off. He was not merely gifted; he did the work.

happy kid play superhero , boy power conceptWhat would happen if we made our heroes more accessible? If we stopped believing that they are unicorns and started believing that we are just as capable as they are of making change, of creating new and better ways of doing things, of helping people be better, of becoming better people ourselves? What would happen if we believed that we could be as extraordinary as our heroes? What if, as Jung suggests, the things we admire in others are just untapped potential in ourselves? What would you do first if you could be your own hero?

The Path of “We” and “Me”

I went to a masquerade ball on Saturday night. Yes, that’s what I said.

I hesitated to go. My husband is away for monthlong classes at seminary. It was EXCEEDINGLY cold (not really conducive for ball-wear). And I had a great lunchtime event that I felt like called for a few hours of putting my feet up.

But my friend wisely said: “Your children are with your sister. My husband will drive us both. C’Mon Cinderella. It’s time to have some fun.” And so I did.

photo-booth-wedding-party-girls-160420And I had SO much fun. I danced like I haven’t danced for YEARS. Got all sweaty haired and disheveled. I felt the freedom of doing something that was fun and doing it exactly the way I wanted to do it. I drank champagne. I nibbled on divine snacks. My girlfriend and I tried to figure out who was who behind all of the masks. And when the songs were right, we tore it up.

People expressed some sympathy that Scot couldn’t join us.

But honestly, he’s having SO MUCH FUN doing his thing. He calls all excited about theology… I try to keep up.

Last year I saw this month long requirement of his as a huge burden. I was angry. Not necessarily at him because that felt mean, but at the school for running things this way, at the extra work I had to do, at the inconvenience of it all.

This year there’s something different happening. A coach friend shared a vision of relationships as a path, and that sometimes there are divergences on the path – like when you’re hiking and there’s a little side trail that avoids the big rock in case that’s not your jam. She said people are often afraid of those divergences – what if we grow apart? But here’s a question I’d offer instead: what if we stop growing at all? What will we miss out on if we never take that divergence – if we always stick on the “we” path and never sidestep for a “me” minute?

When I was at the ball I noticed a young woman (her gown was fabulously sparkly) who very clearly LOVED to dance. She was dancing and singing along with the music most of the night. Her partner in crime was NOT as enthusiastic. And so, she spent a good bit of that dancing in a sort of muted way next to her partner’s chair. When she couldn’t stand it anymore, when the song was just too good ,she’d rush to the dance floor without him. I also saw him graciously concede a few times and join her for a slow song.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd I couldn’t help but wonder if she wouldn’t have more fun if she just followed that side path a little more often. If she wouldn’t feel more like herself, and he wouldn’t love the confidence and magic that comes with that feeling, if she could just trust that the “we” path could survive a few more minutes of unrestrained “me.”

How about you? Which path are you on? Do you like your reasons for being there? Do you feel like yourself? It’s worth a moment to consider.

I’ve done that. I’m going to go dance some more.

Sometimes It Takes A Little Courage

Here we are, one day away from a new year.

2018. Part of me sees that number and just goes: “Wow.”

As in: “How did that happen so quickly? When did we get to 20… anything?” And there’s a little calculation of my age in there too.

But when I interrupt all of that, which is standard new year’s fare, I really can marvel.

When I interrupt all of that and think about what has changed for me in 2017, I am more in WOW than usual.

In my last post I suggested a way to do a mini year in review, and I’ve been playing along as well.

And in some ways the results are predictable. There are big parts of 2017 I will be delighted to let go of. But there are also big parts that I just kind of stare at in wonder. I’m amazed at the changes I see in myself. I amazed at the changes I see in my business. I’m amazed at the changes I see in my relationships. Wow.

chase your dreamsAnd so I enter this arbitrary restart point that is new year’s eve with the confidence and courage that really pushing yourself can bring. I’ve been doing the work (inside and out) and things are changing. And I’ve noticed that even when they don’t work out just the way I expect, they still get better. I see my own growth. I see my own progress. I can note how my learning, effort, planning, and time have changed my life for the better.

So I can come to my vision for the next year with some sense that whatever I’m dreaming up IS possible. I’m coming to this moment with a whole lot more “YES” than I’ve been willing to give in the past. I’m willing to take risks, work hard, and possibly even fail because when I do those things, my life is better. I feel better. Everything gets better.

It was not always this way for me. At some point in the not so distant past, I had to face this moment without the confidence that experience can bring. I had to face having a vision, a new idea for my life, a new hope with huge uncertainty in anything but my inability to accomplish what I imagined. I faced that moment with tremendous fear and a sinking feeling that it would never work.

If you feel that way when you look into the future, if you see no chance for change in your year to come, I want to tell you that you are wrong. And I’m going to ask you to take action anyway.

I get the impression that a lot of people think that courage is the absence of fear. We think that we need to somehow conquer our fear, banish it, overcome it. I’m going to suggest to you that courage is simply acting even though you are afraid. That’s it. That’s all it is, a decision to do it anyway.

There are lots of ways to go about this. You can imagine that your fear is a small suffering animal that needs you to be compassionate to it before you act anyway. You can imagine a chair where you can tell fear to go sit while you do the scary things. You can imagine that your fear can just exist and that you can notice it and allow it to be without doing anything at all about it. Or you can just be absolutely terrified and just proceed.

Finding courage to chase dreamsAnd then you will be acting, with courage, and creating the confidence you need to do it again simply by making that choice.

What would you do in 2018 if fear wasn’t driving the bus? What would you say yes to? What action can you take today that will give you the confidence to take another action tomorrow?

If you need some help creating courage or acting on your vision, I sure would love to help.

Let Them Be Wrong

A lesson for the holidays and everyday…

In my last post I talked about ways to rewrite our family stories. If you missed it, I strongly encourage you to check it out. For many of us taking a look at those old family stories is absolutely critical to emotional adulthood, to clean functionality in the real world, and to having a shot at really creating a life we love. There are all kinds of stories that are dream life and peaceful holiday killers.

TODAY I want to talk about a particular kind of story.

TODAY I want to talk about the kind of story that involves you knowing what someone else thinks of you.

TODAY I will admit that I used to spend a lot of time in this particular kind of story.

I was pretty sure I knew what lots of people thought about me and I spent a LOT of time and energy trying to either repair/change those thoughts or prevent bad ones from emerging. It was totally exhausting AND it was really lonely because about 85% of the time in that scenario I was not being myself. I missed out on genuine connection with folks and friends, I missed myself. There is nothing quite so lonely as missing yourself.

Over the last few years I’ve stumbled into the necessity of examining what I was believing about how others felt about me. It was not pretty. And it was wrong on a lot of fronts. For example:

  1. when people judge youMany of those beliefs were based on old data. One of my old family stories revolved around me being spoiled. I was the youngest, by a bit of a stretch, and as happens with many families my parents’ financial circumstances improved over time. I was dubbed the spoiled one (and yes, it was said, often with good-humored ribbing but on more than one occasion as a character evaluation – here’s what’s wrong with you kind of thing). I’m 48 now. My parents don’t buy my stereo equipment. Old data.
  2. Many of those beliefs were based on the idea that other people’s opinions of me are static. They said it once, they must always believe that to be true. Yeah, because everything I think has stayed completely the same since I was 12…
  3. Many of those beliefs assumed that people spent a whole lot more time paying attention to and judging me than would really be reasonable. Why on earth was I under the impression that they were so interested in what I was up to?
  4. Many of those beliefs were based on the assumption that if other people thought something bad about me, I had to do something about it.

My spoiled story shows all of these things. What’s interesting about this story is not that I took that assessment in, but that I got real clear on the fact that there were family members who saw me that way and I made that their permanent opinion of me. I never worried that I WAS actually spoiled, but I hated it that they thought I was. And I thought that they thought I was spoiled on a continuous and regular basis, as though they were doctors assessing an injury for healing or further damage. I interpreted so many interactions through this lens, and I was determined to do something about it. I thought that I needed to be good, or make it right, or let them see how I really am – surely they would change their minds if they knew me better. They would feel better about me, and I would feel better about myself if I just let them see the right stuff.

when people are meanAnd then one day it dawned on me. I could choose to stop doing anything about this belief. Whether it was true that they were judging me or not became irrelevant if  I could just decide to let them be wrong. That’s it. Because what they think of me doesn’t do me any harm at all if I don’t agree and I don’t get into their business. If I don’t put time, energy, and worry into what’s going on in their hearts and heads, I can just let them be wrong. And let’s just say they ARE judging me… who loses in this scenario? Not me. Because I’m staying out of it. If they want to miss out, so be it. “Who’s opinion of you matters the most?” I ask my daughter whenever some toxic mean girl crap arises at school. “Mine Mommy, my opinion matters most.” That’s right girl. If my opinion of me is okay, then what they think or don’t think doesn’t matter. If my opinion of me is not okay then THAT’s what I should be spending my time on, not trying to figure out how other people feel about me. I can just let them be wrong.

And when I do this, when I let other people be wrong, I am freed from the tyranny of proving myself. I am freed from the push and pull of faking it the right way versus being myself. I am freed from the endless tension that getting in other people’s business inevitably creates. When I do this I am free to relax and just be, and that sounds like a pretty good recipe for a better holiday, or any day.

What would change if you could let people be wrong about you? How much time, energy, and sleep could you reclaim? Maybe it’s time to find out.

 

The Self-Help Swiss Army Knife

I’ve been thinking about getting Swiss Army knives for my kids for Christmas, and I confess that this is likely a result of some ridiculously romantic notion of them cheerfully whittling on the back porch without cutting their fingers off and in lieu of some other pursuit that I find idiotic, but I’ve been thinking about it nonetheless. I have always been in awe of the massive amount of utility packed in such a relatively small container that is the Swiss Army Knife.

What tools will make me feel betterAnd then I got to thinking about that idea – a group of tools all hooked together and easily accessed, thus the idea of a Self-Help Swiss Army Knife was born. I began to seriously consider what tools in my toolbox I would recommend that people take on an adventure where outcomes are uncertain and pragmatism can be invaluable. And so, as a holiday gift to you all, I’ve come up with my Self-Help Swiss Army Knife (SHSAK) – although as I am a writer and coach and not a bookseller, it is sort of a DIY version (something I think I’d recommend against when it comes to an actual Swiss Army Knife – my Youtube search yielded lots of DIY to do WITH these knives and one actual “melee” weapon made of Legos).

So the Self-Help Swiss Army Knife needs to provide both the basic daily functionality of a plain old pocket knife and the extra bells and whistles (ok, corkscrews and toothpicks) of the real deal. Everybody with me?

Tool #1: A stillness practice. It can be meditation, but that word makes a lot of people anxiously flee (which they could prevent with meditation, but that’s not a helpful observation). The idea of and the procedures of meditation turn a lot of folks off, but there are many ways to develop a stillness practice – here’s one example, for more Google “sit spot”. What’s the point? The point is just like the one for the main blade of that knife. A stillness practice will cut away the crap. It gets you closer to what you actually want and need and gives you a break from the excess EVERYTHING. Sounds pretty good, right?

Tool #2: A body practice. What? Develop rituals, exercise, habits that put you in touch with your body. We spend so much time in our heads that we rarely give these amazing containers the attention that they deserve, and much of the attention we do give them is negative (a list of things we don’t like about them or recognition only when there is ailment). Paying attention to how your body feels and cultivating better physical feeling is both deeply rewarding and revealing about what is going on with you emotionally while you’re thinking about your holiday gift buying list. A body practice, like that nail trimmer on the knife, gets us focused on necessary self-care in a way that can only promote wellness over time.

Tool #3: Some method of journaling – this need not be written. If verbal expression isn’t your thing, maybe art OR maybe you hate to write, but love to talk. Find a way to express what’s going on in there in a stream of consciousness sort of way – no rules, no judgments, no grammar, no erasing, just get it all out there. Journaling is the can opener of the SHSAK. Let’s open it up and see what’s inside.

Tool #4: Now that we’re taking a look. Let’s magnify that vision a bit. For this, I heartily recommend Byron Katie’s The Work, a process of inquiry that she describes in her book Loving What Is. The author teaches us how to ask questions of our beliefs and our assumptions so that we can stop being hampered, tortured, made anxious and unhappy by things that aren’t necessarily true. It is a great tool for taking a closer look at what we think and believe and how it is impacting us.

Tool #5: Brooke Castillo’s The Model as described in Self-Coaching 101. This book is amazing. In it the author basically describes how to identify and change thought patterns that keep us stuck, prevent growth, and cause misery. Does she promise a totally happy life? No, but she promises a conscious one, where you get to make decisions about how you think and feel. This is the wire cutter and wire crimper of the SHSAK. It can also take care of small annoyances like the toothpick. Now THAT’s a useful tool.

Tool #6: Once you rearrange your assumptions, you may feel a little adrift. Any time you’re feeling adrift Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star makes an excellent compass for finding your way home – or to a new home. Okay, most Swiss Army Knives don’t have a compass, but I think we can all agree that they should, so the SHSAK definitely has one and this book is it.

Tool #7: The Fear Chair exercise as described by Liz Gilbert in Big Magic. The author talks about the power of fear to stop us in our tracks, regardless of how excited we might be about our endeavor. The answer? To put fear in its place. It can be here. It can exist. But it cannot drive. It cannot make decisions. It cannot run the show. This exercise is a great screwdriver. Pull it together, make it functional and go.

Growing and changingTool #8: Recognition and celebration. Growth and change are hard – that’s why so many of us avoid it at all costs. Notice your progress. Notice your accomplishments. Notice the way your life changes as you become more yourself. Break out a corkscrew and celebrate with a glass of champagne, or curl up with your favorite blanket and a book at a time you wouldn’t normally allow yourself such a treat. Give yourself a pat on the back and a big hug.

There you have it; a toolkit for self-transformation. If only I could fit them all into my pocket or yours.

 

Living YOUR Life

I was listening to a conversation between Oprah and India Arie the other day while walking my dog (okay, can we just pause in awe of the miracle of technology in that sentence). For those of you who aren’t familiar with her, India Arie is a musician who had a meteoric rise to fame about 15 years ago, took a break from music, and then returned on her own terms.

Being a perfect daughterIn discussing this time with Oprah, Ms. Arie said that she realized that in her early incarnation in the music business, she was not living her own life, but was rather inhabiting the one her mother wanted for her. She was doing all of the things she knew her mother would want her to do so she could have all of the things she knew her mother would want her to have. She was living her mother’s imagined daughter’s life. BAM. It was a revelation that pointed the way to an obvious set of next steps, starting with figuring out what she wanted independent of all of that.

It was a great conversation and as I listened I reflected on all of the different ways that we can live someone else’s version of our own lives. When I went to college, I was at something of a loss for what to study. My best times in high school were spent on the stage: singing and acting. I told friends I wanted to be a history teacher, but I think I really wanted to keep being on stage.

But somehow, I became convinced that this was not a pursuit I was meant to undertake, and when I let that super secret dream go, I was adrift. I enjoyed my history classes, but not enough. I began to take political science classes, a “more practical” version of history was my justification. In truth, I had grown up in the D.C. suburbs, and my understanding of careers included a lot of folks who likely studied political science, either formally or on the floor of the buildings in the capitol. I began to sketch out a version of myself that I think had everything to do with people I’d seen and admired and not much to do with where I felt on fire. I began to tell myself what people wanted for me, what my parents would respect (I didn’t ask them mind you, just decided for them) and charted a course that worked and got me finished in four years.

I was living someone else’s life – one that I made up for them. I was meeting expectations that were purely fictitious. And over time, the gap between my fictitious life and the one in my heart or the one I had yet to discover demonstrated itself in a variety of ways. I tried jobs on. I tried ideas on. I switched around, moved house, changed coasts. I kept shifting back and forth between doing what felt right and doing what “WAS RIGHT.” And if you’d asked me where that pressure was coming from, the pressure to do anything other than live my own unique life, I would have cited external sources every time.

Finding a pathI didn’t have the maturity or wisdom or emotional honesty to realize that I had done it to myself. A pushy parent or overbearing spouse can only go so far in taking us away from our path, as demonstrated by the fact that I had neither. To really diverge from our path, we have to submit to the desires of others (including the desires we imagine they have) and resist our own inclinations. We have to subvert our internal wiring and discipline ourselves thoroughly. We have to stop living our own lives and live someone else’s. Having a deeper, fuller, more satisfying time on this earth requires us to live our own lives.

These ideas we have about why we don’t do that very thing: other people, practicality, reality, logistics, responsibility… they’re all baloney. They’re all there to keep us from having to face what we really want in the world and find the courage to do that. When we give our choices to other people, when we make them responsible, we give our power away wholesale. We surrender everything we need to be our best selves.

“But,” you say: “I DO have responsibilities…” Yes, you do. Where on that list of responsibilities are YOU?

Boom.

I love you.

j

Deep Authenticity

It’s been said so many times that it has nearly become meaningless. For the last few years I’ve heard lots of people talking about being “authentic.” And it is a fine conversation in the sense that none of us really likes someone who is phony and fake. We generally appreciate people who are straightforward in their dealings with us, whose motives are transparent and intentions are clear. So we strive to be more authentic and we seek out others seeming to do the same.

We try to say more of what is on our hearts and minds, without editing too much to please people. We try to relax and be ourselves around others. We maybe take risks in clothing choices that more accurately represent who we are. We try to become more careful custodians of our time. All of these are worthwhile, and can be challenging, but I would suggest that this is a shallow understanding of authenticity.

Wanting everyone to be authentic?Within the confines of shallow authenticity, I can still ignore a whole lot of my own personal experience and the world, because shallow authenticity focuses on my expression to others – literally how I express myself to others. I can be authentic. I can say real things. This requires things of me. It requires dropping shields. It requires accepting vulnerability. This requires courage. So, when I call it shallow, please don’t hear that as easy or cheap. All shallow means here is that there is another layer – there is a deeper understanding and practice of authenticity that we can aspire to and reach (with practice).

Deep authenticity requires us to face reality within and without. It cares less about our expression in the world and more about our acknowledgement of what IS in the moment. What does it take to practice deep authenticity? It takes a willingness to see that there is good and bad everywhere. It takes a willingness to acknowledge the limits of our own ability to impact every situation. It takes a willingness to admit that our own existence will be filled with moments that can’t be scrubbed clean with a positive affirmation. It takes a willingness, and you have to know this was coming if you’ve been following along, to feel all of our feelings, to stop resisting the dark ones and making them far worse than they are through that resistance. It takes accepting that the dark moments provide us with insight, prompts towards growth, and the motivation to do the work to get where we want to be. It takes accepting that no matter how much we improve ourselves, we will still feel bad sometimes.

Deep authenticity requires us to be honest with ourselves and accepting of reality (which is not the same as not wanting to make the world better, by the way). When we can do that, when we can live in deep authenticity, we are far better prepared for authenticity in our interactions with others. If I can face my fear of being rejected and feeling lonely, I don’t need to hide who I am. If I can face my fear of looking foolish in front of people I admire, I can be vulnerable in front of peers and mentors who can help me get where I want to go. If I can accept that some days will just feel bad, I can let that feeling in and STILL do what I want to do in the world without being phony, just being in a bad mood but productive.

Shallow authenticity seems like an easier place to start, because it allows us to demand the same from others: be real with me; tell me the truth; let me get to know you; let me help you. Deep authenticity means we drop our demands from others because we recognize our shadows in them. Deep authenticity means we believe they should be who they are, their real selves, which may mean that they don’t give and share as much as we want. Deep authenticity means we connect with ourselves and our own spirits so we feel less of a need to make demands of others and worry less about how they receive us.

The truth is that no matter how you slice it, if you live in the world, you’re going to see some things that aren’t beautiful and amazing. You’re going to see some things that are disturbing and dark. The question is whether or not you will engage. The question is whether or not you’re ready to meet those things with the depth of authentic feeling that you are capable of having. The question is whether or not you’re ready to be fully you even when its not pretty.

Deep authenticityDeep authenticity is not a small challenge, and it’s not something that many of us are taught. It is inconvenient and uncomfortable. But through that deep authenticity comes freedom: the freedom of being firmly grounded in reality, the freedom of knowing who you are and being able to follow your inner guidance, the freedom of not being afraid to feel any feeling and be yourself.

If you find yourself craving honesty and connection from others, if you sense that there’s something you want to express in the world but can’t quite put your finger on it, maybe it’s time to be with ALL of yourself. I’d love to help.

Keeping the Door Open

I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity lately. I am both a life coach AND a musician. I have not always been a life coach, but I have always been a musician. In the past I saw the line between my work (my paying work, let’s be honest) and my music work as the line of creativity. In this part of my life I am artistic, creative; in this part I work. I kept it all separate and had a pretty shallow definition of creativity.

I didn’t see the class assignments and curriculum decisions I made as being creative. I didn’t see the writing I did as creative. I didn’t see the decisions I made to gut and renovate a home as creative. They were all just work (notice the “just” there, too). I didn’t really acknowledge my own creativity across the board and in retrospect I suspect that the sharp dividing line caused me to miss out on opportunities to be even more creative in those “work” situations.

A friend shared a quote from Martha Graham and it really helped me to acknowledge what has been a shift in my thinking, and gave me a push to really think about creative force and how I allow, dismiss, and use it in all of my life. Here it is:

There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time this expression is unique. and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it! It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.

You are miraculous.I want it on a poster. I want it stitched on a pillow (a big pillow). I want it in neon lights that only light up when I’m closing up like a sad, finished flower. I love this quote because it has it all in there: you are a unique expression of biological miracles and happenstance; only you can do what you do; comparison with others is a waste of time and should not be allowed; you have to allow inspiration for it to work. LOVE!

Here’s the thing, though, we see the word channel and people get a little iffy. What am I channeling? Where’s it coming from? Is this some sort of new age woo woo whackery? Yeah, I don’t know. You don’t have to believe that the channel is open to spirit, to ancient wisdom, or to universe juice to consider the idea that our being closed or open is what makes the primary difference in whether or not we try new stuff. What if the channel is just a gate to the part of you that is always experiencing, always feeling, always knowing, and always creating when you are busy working? What if it’s all in you and all you have to do is listen? There are a lot of things I don’t know, but I do know this: we are the gatekeepers of the flickers of brilliance that come to us – from wherever.

I also know, from my own experience, and from friends and clients alike, that we spend a whole lot of time and energy reinforcing that closed gate. Why do we do it? Why do we keep the guards at the gate, blocking out new ideas, new thoughts, creative approaches, solutions that aren’t fully formed yet but that are there – flashing at the corners of our attention?

I think we have sort of inflated expectations where creative inspiration is concerned. I think we’re expecting a burning bush, a whole novel, a complete song, a totally clear direction or plan. We think if it’s real inspiration, it ought to look biblical or at least vaguely miraculous. I guess that happens sometimes, but in my experience, mostly nope. Glimmer, work, fail, refine, crash, glimmer, refine…. Yay? That’s not exactly a burning bush but it IS something so long as we notice it.

I think the other big reason (and I think there are many little reasons) that we shut out our creative inspiration is fear. Plain and simple. It displays itself in different ways. It comes out as perfectionism. It comes out as “busy-ness”. It comes out as sheer rigidity and discomfort at changing plans and approaches. It comes out as our desire to fit in, meet social expectations, and not buck the system.

being more creativeWe shut it down. We close ourselves off. We dig into our tried and true routines. Our brains, which are really happy with us surviving and not taking risks, breathe a sigh of relief. But what if letting that inspiration in WASN’T risking everything? What if letting it in could make everything better, more interesting, more fun, and CERTAINLY more you? What if all you’re doing is closing yourself to yourself? Breaking yourself into little manageable pieces that don’t work together to really get fully engaged with anything? What would it feel like to open, just a little?

A year or two ago I was following a guided meditation series (Oprah and Deepak Chopra, they are periodically free and very useful) and the instruction was with each breath to open yourself just a little bit more. I had been working with a coach at the time and we had noticed that I tend to “armor up” at time, lots of good self-protection that was keeping me from being all the way “in” for anything. And so, as I meditated, I consciously pictured removing my armor, opening just a little more with each breath.

And you know what? It felt great. There’s a whole lot to this life that you can miss out on if you won’t let it in. How’s your armor? Need a safe place to take it off? Wait, that sounds bad. Want someone to help you listen? I’d love to help.

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