What’s in the Way?

I’m getting some guidance from an exceedingly wise and savvy master coach. She is tremendously helpful. AND she pushes me. And that’s what I signed up for, but you know how that goes. When you find these people, you know it’s a gift, but oh my. Before she asked me anything I promised myself I would go “all in” on this relationship. In other words, no half measures, no diddling around. Everything she suggests will be attempted. This is not the way I usually operate, which is the point, right?

alcohol-alcoholic-drink-1484So she stepped right out of the leading gate and wondered if I would consider giving up alcohol while we work together. It is a four month commitment. The potential health benefits alone (improved sleep, less peri-menopausal interference) of such a move should be enough for me to immediately get on board with that experiment. But I wasn’t on board. I was not at all on board. In fact, my resistance was pretty strong.

And THAT gave me pause. There was an initial panic: “Am I an alcoholic? Why is this a big deal? Why am I even hesitating? Do I have a problem?” This line of inquiry proved rabbit-hole filled and so I shifted my lens. I moved from fear and judgment – the need to discern and neatly categorize myself – into curiosity.

Why IS this a big deal? What am I getting out of my relationship with alcohol? Am I resisting because it is change? The tenor of these questions was very different than that initial panic reaction. It was genuine curiosity, like looking at the patterns of veins in a leaf or growth rings on a tree stump. “Wow. Look at that. Huh.”

And so I sat with her suggestion overnight, just being with my discomfort at my discomfort, noticing it, seeing it, working not to judge and just notice. Taking this stance, of curiosity and observation, made it a lot easier to really consider what was going on and figure out what I wanted to do about it.

Ultimately I decided to follow her suggestion (with a one week exception when I am on vacation with some food and wine oriented folks who always combine those nicely) in part because I promised myself to be all in, but also because of the reaction it caused. It was pretty clear to me that my attachment to the bottle was stronger than I wanted it to be (and here’s where my mind can go crazy with that and make it MUCH bigger than it needs to be) and I thought about what it does, the wine (my drink of choice).

I can say I drink it for the taste, and I do, but I’d be lying if I said that was all of it. I enjoy that warm feeling. I enjoy the softening of the edges it brings. I like the mellow relaxation it ushers in. THAT is truth. And I know that constantly warming myself, softening my edges, and finding the mellow zone is keeping me from some experiences, some realities, some feelings, and some thoughts that could use my attention. I’m not sure I know what those are, but the attachment/the resistance tells me that they are there, waiting for my attention.

And so I have embarked on this four month experiment. It has only been a couple of days and I can already say that skipping the glass or two in the evening has produced some physical differences. I am sleeping more deeply. I also don’t seem to need as much sleep. I wake up more quickly with a clearer head. The morning caffeine that had been on the rise now seems excessive. My body is noticing and appreciating the break.

My mind? That’s going to take longer I’m afraid, as it usually does. But the process of considering this change and ultimately making this decision in the interest of commitment and authenticity, reminds me to ask you what might be getting in your way. What are you using to avoid, delay, ignore, or subdue how you feel about things? What habits are keeping you from living more fully, in a more engaged way, with more consciousness and clearer choices? What change are you resisting with everything you’ve got?

bed-blanket-female-450056Listen, I’m not suggesting we all go monastic here. No sleeping on pallets or hair shirts required. I do, however, think there’s value in looking at what we use for comfort or distraction and asking ourselves what it’s really doing for us. What is under the desire for comfort, for numbing, for relaxation, for soothing? They are uncomfortable questions to be sure, but looking at them, seeing them, noticing what arises when we actually sit with that discomfort, THAT is a part of the path to freedom, the place where you know you can handle any feeling, the place where you know yourself and make clear decisions about what does and doesn’t work for you, the place where you actually address the things that bother you rather than just telling the dissatisfied part of yourself to hush.

I’d ask you to join me out of solidarity and turn this thing into some kind of  120 day challenge, but I don’t feel comfortable being that specific, and frankly 120 days is a long time to for me personally to maintain a cheerleading posture. What I do want you to know is that I am here, noticing my stuff, seeing what I’ve been hiding from, feeling whatever comes up. I am here working at my authentic humanity because it is safe to do that, even when it feels scary and super uncomfortable. If you’re ready to give up a warm fuzzy or two, I can be there for you too.

 

Our Whole Selves

I have twin eleven year olds. We are entering middle school next year, and yes I say “we” because I see it as a shift in all of our experience, individually and as a family. Admittedly I see this upcoming event as a shift because of my own experience in middle school – well, junior high then.

Belonging versus authenticityThese were the years where I most clearly remember beginning to experiment with how I expressed myself explicitly to get different reactions from other people. It sounds so manipulative when I say it that way, and I guess it is, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one. Okay, I’m more than pretty sure, I KNOW I wasn’t the only one because we talked about it, didn’t we? Groups of girls talked about what to do, how to behave, WHO TO BE in order to get the desired outcome, whatever that was on that day. I remember needing to fit in, to do it right, to not stand out in any way that would draw attention. I remember wanting to be just like whoever the “it” girl of the week was.

As my kids approach this time, I find myself thinking about our core selves, what my teacher and mentor Martha Beck calls our essential selves, and the struggle we put that essential self through. It seems to me that little kids totally get the essential self. There is no other self. They just do them until consequences make themselves apparent, but even with the usual learning about good manners and how not to upset their parents, kids keep being themselves, expanding, exploring, trying things on.

At some point, there is a shift, and that expansion reverses. And we begin to contract. Our practicality demands that the exploration and freedom we were allowed as children be curtailed. Our responsibilities make us believe that the vestiges of childhood must cease, must be cut off, no longer suit or show us at our best. We slowly cut away at ourselves. We separate ourselves into tiny pieces, only a few of which get regular air time in the world. The rest are left to suffocate or starve.

And then we wonder why we feel bad.

We wonder why we feel dissatisfied.

We wonder why we don’t enjoy the lives we’re building or why we can’t seem to make any headway.

We wonder when everything got so hard.

We feel bad.

We feel bad because we aren’t being ourselves.

We feel bad because we abandon ourselves.

We feel bad because we’ve forgotten that we are the only ones on the planet who are exactly like us.

We feel bad because we’ve been so busy trying to be the same enough to “succeed” that we forgot to be ourselves.

We feel bad because we’ve lost sight of the fact that when we are not ourselves, nobody fills in that gap.

We feel bad because we are in a constant battle with the parts of ourselves we’ve deemed unacceptable.

We fight them.

We say mean things to them.

We close them in little mental closets and don’t let them out.

We bury them in obligations, booze, and snacks.

We feel bad because we are not whole and we’ve allowed ourselves to believe that we are wrong, tainted, anything but glorious, anything but real and intentional and made for this world.

We feel bad because we’ve forgotten how to play, how to feel, and how to rest deeply.

We feel bad because we believe we don’t deserve to feel as good as it could feel to allow ourselves to be all that we are. We are afraid of what would happen if we let that out. We are afraid of succeeding or afraid of losing love, affection, or status. We feel bad because we are telling ourselves that we are not good.

So what do I tell my twins as I see this time coming? Let me back up a step, what do I tell myself about middle school? First I tell myself that their experience may be different from mine, even if everything I know about adolescents says otherwise, but it’s important to leave room for a better experience. THEN, I remind my kids that they are spectacular. Because my children were IVF babies, I have told them that they are miracles pretty much every day of their lives. Truth is though, that I would feel that way no matter how they were conceived. I remind them that they are unlike anyone else and trying to be like everyone else will just make them extremely unhappy and will deprive everyone of THEM.

Stop hidingAnd then I take a deep breath, and tell myself the same thing. I am a miracle. There is nobody else like me. When I try to make myself like everyone else, we all lose out. It’s okay to continue to grow. Those parts of me that I’ve hidden from the world, they are good parts. Being whole is how I claim my place, my moment, and my real fun in this world. Being whole is grace, compassion and wealth beyond measure. I’m doing more of it than I ever have, this being whole business, but I still need to be reminded, and maybe you do too. Maybe it seems scary, and well, it can be. And maybe people won’t like it, and that can happen. But I want to reassure you, as someone who has touched the other side, being your whole self is an act of courage for which you will be rewarded deeply every single moment that you come even close to pulling it off.

So Much Love,

julia

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.

The “If…. Then…” of Relating to Other Humans

“If I don’t take care of this…”

“If I don’t get it right…”

“If I decide to just be myself…”

“If I choose what I’d actually like to do…”

“If I say what I really think…”

“If I wear the clothes I want to wear…”

“If I hurt his feelings…”

“If I do anything less that A+ work…”

Then what?

What if they don't like meThen they will all find out who I really am? Then they will all find out I’m not perfect? Then they can choose not to like me anymore? Then they will know the thing I’ve always known, inside, that I’ll never fit in, I’ll never be good enough, that I’ll never be safe just being myself here. Then they will know and I will know that they will know and that will be so painful.

But my dear darling THIS is already so painful. I know because I was a master of the double life. I discovered early in my teenage years that my grades were the barometer that my parents used to discern whether or not I was “okay” in the world. If I kept my grades up, I could get away with a LOT. And the longer I kept my grades up and did all of the things that a high-achieving student would do, the more trust they gave. More weekends away, fewer questions about my destination and my company, more really bad explanations for things accepted without further question. I had parties (big parties). I smoked cigarettes in the car. I skipped classes. Even now I’m uncomfortable writing this because there are family members for whom some piece of that might be new information. I took full advantage of the freedom that was given to me.

And the whole time, and for many years after, I was stunned by the fact that nobody was calling me on it, that nobody was catching me, that nobody actually KNEW what was going on and tried to stop me. I had built a double life. I was really good at it. I tried to fool them, and it worked. So yay! Yeah, not so much.

Not so much because the whole time that I was enjoying my secret life, what I really wanted was for someone to know me. I felt so lonely (maybe just in a 17 year old girl way, but it seems deeper, even in retrospect). I so wanted to be all of the parts and have it be known, even if there were consequences. I so wanted to ditch the fear that if they found out they wouldn’t love me anymore. My double life made me complex and cool to my friends and still allowed me to win gold stars with my family. I got all of the “awards” I was looking for and it just didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter because what I was hung up on was how they felt about me. All of my secrecy and all of the entertainment I provided for my friends was to ensure that they all felt good about me. The entire “If… then…” world that I had built up failed to acknowledge the depth of feeling anyone had for me (like they actually love you kid, even if you screw up or aren’t cool). And to make matters worse, not one bit of all of that effort did anything about how I felt about myself.

imposter sydromeIt’s easy to see this in a teenage story, because we have myths about how insecurity is a natural part of being an adolescent, that somehow just dissipates as our bodies mature. But the truth is that for many of us this “if… then…” way of relating continues long after we reach the age of majority. We make so many decisions based on how other people will feel about us. We act in ways to shore up public opinion, as though we will appear on page 6 if we get it wrong. We fear that we will be fired if we make the smallest error at work. We’re sure that our upcoming presentation might be the breaking point when everyone will find out how unqualified we really are. We just know that if we relax and show our true selves that we won’t have any friends left. If… then…

I’ve been deconstructing some of my if then thinking over the last couple of years. And I want to tell you a few things about that:

  • I’ve never been fired, even when I make mistakes or tell the truth.
  • I still have friends, maybe even more friends, certainly deeper friendships.
  • I’m not so very tired after every social engagement. I’m still an introvert, but I’m not working so hard all of the time.
  • I feel free to try new things, risk things personally and professionally because I’m not so worried about what everybody else thinks.
  • Paying more attention to what I think of me has been the greatest gift I could possibly give myself.

Are you living a double-life? Maybe yours doesn’t have house parties and hidden cigarette butts – maybe yours looks more like putting things off until you’re sure you can get it perfect; maybe yours looks like constantly putting your own needs on the back-burner so you won’t seem selfish; maybe yours looks like waiting for the other shoe to drop at work, at home, with friends. Aren’t you tired of it all?

What would happen if you just decided to be a little more yourself? Dipped a toe into the water of telling the truth and doing what you want? Maybe it’s time to find out.

Are You Hanging Out On the Sidelines?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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