Growing Roots (A Series): Part V

Rooting in Your Gifts

When my children were young I began to search for a family church – not out of faith or a desire to worship anything in particular, but out of a desire to provide them and maybe even me with a safe spot, a community, a place to be at home even when home didn’t feel that good.

activity-adult-adventure-1376960.jpgI held memories of backpacking trips with groups from my my childhood church firmly in mind as I investigated our local options. Ironically my now seminarian husband was less enthusiastic about this quest, so I became the advance team. I made a list of churches to visit based on what I knew generally about beliefs and practices and what I could get down with, and perhaps more importantly what I couldn’t get down with, and I began to visit them.

I went to services to see how it felt, to check out what was being taught and said. If the minimal bar of not offending me was passed, I then asked about their programming for kids. It’s possible that part of my motive as a stay at home parent of twin pre-schoolers was to find just one hour in my week where I could sit and think without being interrupted.

I could say more about the churches I visited – who made the initial cut and why, but that’s not really the point today. Today the point is what I did with church.

I think, even in my older twin mom exhaustion that I knew that many of my core needs were not being met. This reaching out for community was an attempt to shift that balance, but it was, in many ways, an attempt to apply that same old geographical solution to the problem of feeling terribly alone and isolated. If I could just find the right place, I would feel better.

I did find a place, a really great place, and we began (slowly and intermittently) to attend as a family. People were welcoming and friendly enough. We were reserved and rushed. Church became an additional item on the list of things to do, and I (as the one who started it all) became the ringmaster of the Sunday morning circus. In my attempt to find community, I had created a lot of work for myself, had added more tasks to the insane stack of domestic work, childcare, and freelance writing and editing I was already doing.

For me doing all of these things meant doing them well. I was exhausted, and fully retreated into my armor of perfectionism. So when I entered this new space – wrangling husband and children to get there, it became a box to check off (and to be sure to do well) – one more thing on my list – a thing that I sensed could help but that I was really unable to engage with in a way that WOULD actually help.

I had set a trap for myself, and I was caught.

And then, one Sunday, the choir returned from summer hiatus. And they were good! I say this with love: church choirs are often NOT good. Being a musician can make regular attendance at a place with a not good choir a difficult thing to commit to. This choir was good, and it occurred to me that maybe this was a thing I wanted to do.

It had been over 20 years since I had sung in the University Choir at Penn State. I had been in a few bands in the meantime, and occasionally even been paid for that, but even that beer-soaked musical effort was a distant memory, so there was some anxiety about taking on this new musical thing with a group of people I didn’t know.

The director and I sorted out where my voice belonged and I began to attend. And I began, again, to sing. It had been years since I’d sung in front of people who I wasn’t attempting to coax to sleep or to learn the alphabet or just cheer up.

It had been far longer since I’d read notes on a page, and it was tricky. As I continued to attend, I found help all around me. I learned who the great sight-readers were and sat near them for a boost. I slowly went from singing along quietly and tentatively to actually singing along, sometimes with confidence. I began to feel my way back to the space that appears when I sing and I allow myself the pleasure of trusting that I am good enough at it to stop worrying.

Wednesday nights became sacred time, and it was easy to believe that the shift that occurred was a result of finally choosing the right geographical solution. I had finally found the right place. In retrospect, I think something else was at play that created that magic for me.

To participate in choir, I had to set everything else aside. There is no multi-tasking in choir. I also had to face the fact that I would make mistakes. These were two things I was desperate to do but didn’t recognize the longing.

attractive-background-beautiful-756453In addition to that though, to get that soaring feeling I sometimes get when I sing, I had to engage with my gift and trust that it is good enough. Whoa.

I had to plug into something that I knew could bring me joy and let all of the worry about looking foolish go. Whoa.

I had to take off enough armor to let the sound come out, to breathe deeply to support it, and to have the sensitivity to others necessary to work in a group with my, and all of their, gifts. Whoa.

I had thought to turn outward to root myself in a community. I had thought it was a question of finding the right place and then identifying the right people and then, over the course of however long it would take a shy and introverted person to do so, to cultivate relationships with those people.

It had not occurred to me that I could turn inside – to my joys, to my desires, to my needs and my gifts and that turning in THAT direction i could grow roots and find community. i could find more nourishment, confidence, AND kindred souls for care and comfort.

I had never realized that rooting begins not just with soil, but in the seed.

How to Come Home

So this week I’ve been talking about coming home to yourself – being who you really are and bringing that sense to all of the difficult spaces you find yourself in: the difficult job, the marriage that isn’t what it once was, the argument with a friend.

antique-art-door-211763And that’s all very well and good as advice goes, but it doesn’t tell you a lot about how to GET THERE. Okay, Julia I can see that being my authentic self could have benefits. I can see that not continually fighting to improve according to some metric and instead bringing my gifts to a problem might bring me some creative solutions AND a whole bunch o’ fulfillment. I am on board, but… what the hell are you talking about? How do I come home.

It’s a fair question.

And it’s not one that there is one specific answer to, but there are strategies, there are things you can do, and things you can stop doing. Maybe we should start with the stopping.

Stop: pretending you like things you don’t, volunteering for things you don’t want to do, assuming that you’re the only one who can ________, believing that you just need a little more/different training/certification, believing that there is a right way to get it and that’s what you need to figure out, hanging on to clothes/books/music that you don’t like/make you feel bad, spending a lot of time with people who leave you feeling exhausted or really negative. This list could get a lot longer, so I’m going to leave it here for a moment because the critical thing is not that you STOP EVERYTHING that isn’t perfectly aligned (at least not right away because that would be really hard), but that you stop enough to make some space for discovery. Stop just one of these things and make room.

You need space for discovery because that’s the START category of this whole proposition.

You need to start paying some attention to what you already have inside you, maybe some things that have been there, unattended and dusty in the corner for a while.

A few suggestions on how to pay attention to those dusty parts. Some of these standalone, and others are multi-part strategies.

  1. Consider a meditation (ugh, I know – okay I’ll do like Martha Beck does and call it stillness – better?) practice of some kind. You don’t need to sit on a mat for an hour and think and do nothing (unless you already can and find it blissful). You just need to carve out some time and space in your head to let go of the junk that fills it up all day long. It’s awfully hard to look inside when there’s a constant influx of information, tasks, sounds, requests, noise, news, and wind-up monkeys banging cymbals (just me?). All of that everything keeps us at the surface, puts us in survival mode, keeps us from connecting to our core, which is (and I would have laughed uproariously if you’d said this to me five years ago) a place of peace. If you’re open a practice like this, check out this post for some suggestions on easy ways to get started.
  2. It feels weird to continue with a bulleted list after suggesting meditation, but such is the way of learning sometimes. The second thing I’d recommend is that you ask yourself what you used to like to do that you don’t do anymore. Any old hobbies in there? Any secret and long packed-away dreams? You may find some things on that list that got packed away for a reason. Like me for example, I used to like to drink beer competitively, as a sport with friends. First of all, I don’t recommend that. Secondly, that particular game got put away for a whole collection of good reasons. When I started asking myself this question about tucked away pieces of myself, I remembered how much I like to sing and how sad I was that I had stopped when the kids were born. I also remembered writing, a lot. Hmmmm…. Yes, I do a whole lot of both of those now, and one is part of my “work” in the world. The other is sheer pleasure, and even pays now and then.
  3. Get real honest about what you need and what you want and no, I’m not going to tell you to stop wanting anything. Check in on those needs and see what you can do to meet them to make yourself feel safe, secure, and like survival mode may be a little minimalistic. Explore those wants to see how they line up with the goals, career path, actions you’ve written down for yourself in your big book of obligations. Check yourself.
  4. Write down all of the reasons that you cannot want what you want, that you cannot be who you are, that you cannot dream what you dream. Write them all down in a flurry of negativity. Be the worst fan you can imagine. Be the anti-cheerleader. Go after yourself; just get all of it out on the page. ALL OF IT.
  5. When you have exhausted the list of shitty anti-support and abuse, read through it and for each one, ask yourself one thing: is this absolutely, irrefutably, totally 100% true? Do I know it for a fact? Would other people agree with me? If your list is anything like mine, there will be a whole lot of “No” in response to those questions. Challenge your reasons for hiding, for pretending, for squirreling big parts of yourself away.
  6. Start to play. Pick something. A hobby, a dream, a want, and play with it. Let it take your imagination on a journey. Let yourself explore the ideas. Let yourself imagine what could be different. Unleash yourself in your mind, and do so without constantly telling yourself why you shouldn’t or how it’s a waste of time. Savor your daydreaming. Get really good at it. Draw pictures about it. Write stories about it. Sing about it. Whatever. Just do it and be in it.

adult-armchair-beverage-846080And that’s it. Wait, what? No, really it kind of is. And let me tell you why. Because when you unleash yourself in your mind, everything else follows. Your beliefs change. Your feelings change. Your actions change. It ALL changes and it changes in a way that lets you be your whole self, that lets you be you, that lets you be at home wherever you are.

I’m here if you need someone to navigate. I have excellent maps.

And I’ll happily say: “Welcome home, love.”

 

The Angel at the Start and Finish

A couple of weeks ago I was at the Chautauqua Institution in New York. While there, I heard a number of REALLY great lectures. I’ll have more to share about them in the coming weeks, as I sort of process and integrate everything I heard and learned. I wanted to go ahead and share one tidbit with you now because I thought the story was so beautiful AND so instructive.

The speaker who presented this lovely tidbit was the Rabbi Daniel Cohen, whose talk was entitled: “Leading a Life of Legacy: Mission and Meaning in Every Moment.” I’ll have more to say about Rabbi Cohen’s talk later, but this one story was asking to be told.

Now, let me preface this by saying that I am no rabbinical student. My knowledge of Judaism is scant at best, and so what I present here I do with faith that mistakes will be taken with charity. I am happy to be corrected; just know that my intentions are pure, or at least really good.

adorable-affection-baby-826734So, with all of that lead-in complete… the story is about babies in the womb. My understanding is that this is not a biblical story, but one that exists in Jewish scholarly texts. The story says that there is an angel that comes to a baby as it grows in the womb. The angel, Lailah, provides the growing baby with all of the knowledge that it needs, in the form of the texts of the Torah. The angel also tells the growing baby about the history of her soul. Finally,¬†Lailah provides candlelight for the growing baby so she can see from one end of the world to the other. (You can find a very accessible version of this story here.) The rabbi presenting the story referred to this knowledge transfer from angel to child as the light. The angel puts the light inside of the growing child. And then, just as the child is ready to be born the angel touches the baby’s face (slaps in the old texts) just between the lip and the nose, causing the baby to forget all of that knowledge and leaving a little dent on the skin.

What?!

The idea here is that as the child grows and encounters these ideas, these concepts, the light, the child will recognize them, remember them; the light will be more meaningful and held in a more sacred place because of that recognition.

What?!

This idea is so interesting to me because it clicks in with some other things I know and believe.

When I was studying to be a teacher, one of the things we learned is that students need some internal architecture, an intellectual framework, for deep learning to occur. One text referred to this architecture as “hooks,” places to hang new knowledge. One way to develop hooks was to tap into things students already knew or maybe had learned at one time and forgotten. I’ve seen those principles in action and know them to be effective. There is no denying that we learn better in the second, third, fourth exposure to an idea – once we have some hooks, categories, a framework for information.

I add to that my own recent personal growth, which feels a lot like a remembering: remembering who I was before I got completely lost in parenting twins, remembering who I was before a long battle with infertility damaged my sense of hope and wonder, remembering that (despite whatever flaws I might be seeing in myself at any moment) I am pretty freaking miraculous, remembering what it feels like to believe that I am never alone and that who I am matters. Remembering those things feels like finding a light, at first a small flame, maybe like a candle. And as I sit with those ideas, as I allow myself to question some of the thoughts that have kept me “safe,” I feel that light getting bigger, shining into the corners and and onto the cobwebs, bringing a warm glow.

This idea of Lailah imparting the light so you can remember it later feels very real right now, and I touch my philtrum (that’s the super weird name of the dent above your lips under your nose – words are so cool) to honor my own remembering.

The rabbi followed the tale of Lailah with an additional story about an angel, and here’s where I am really off-roading it because the lecture was outside and there were dogs and butterflies to watch. I got a little distracted. I don’t know if this second angel is from Jewish texts or if it is an idea of Rabbi Cohen’s. I did a quick search on the Googles, and didn’t find anything to clarify things, but I’m going to proceed to share anyway because I think the idea is instructive no matter what its origin – just wanted to be honest about my lack of knowledge, and about the fact that my attention span has limits.

This angel (same angel – don’t know – see previous reference to dogs and butterflies) greets us at death.

afterglow-backlit-bokeh-556658And the angel asks us two questions: 1) did you see the light I put into you, and 2) did you share it?

Rabbi Cohen’s focus is on living a life that is meaningful, and these questions really get at the heart of that. Did you figure out who you are and what you believe in? Did you let other people see that? Did you find ways to be seen and heard as your true self? Did you engage with the world in ways that upheld and demonstrated your deepest beliefs?

Did you see your light? Did you share it?

Do you see your light? Will you share it?

Would you like to?

With so much love and nary a slap on the mouth,

julia

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.

 

What’s In Your Attic?

I’ve been reading a book by Nadia Bolz-Weber. She is a Lutheran pastor who is down to earth, funny, and unapologetic about all of the ways she doesn’t match the stereotype or the idealized version of a Christian minister. I find her work funny, meaningful, and incredibly inspiring. One of the reasons I like her so much is that she always makes the connection between the theological or the biblical and every day life. Now, I’m not going to do the same here as I have no interest in schooling you on the Bible or claiming any kind of theological authority, but this idea that Bolz-Weber put forward kind of stopped me in my tracks (metaphorically, I was reading on the couch, already stopped).

She’s writing about Advent, and I won’t go into it in too much depth (I do talk about Advent here, if that’s of interest to you), but she and a congregant begin discussing an idea about a practice for Advent, the time leading up to Christmas. She proposes to her friend that they make lists for Advent, you know like a Christmas list, but so not. A Christmas list includes everything you want to bring in, to add, to receive. An Advent list, on the other hand, includes everything that you’d like removed, everything (in her words): “we want Christ to break in and take from us. in the hopes he could pickpocket the stupid junk in our houses, or abscond with our self-loathing or resentment…” I am completely in love with this idea. I am so in love with it I needed to share it with you when the holiday season is half a year away. Patience has NEVER been my thing.

background-bags-bows-1050244This whole idea of the Advent list really got me to thinking about how we see “better.” When we think about things getting better in our lives, we often focus on what would add to them: more stuff, more space, more vacation, more clothes, more shoes, more good food, more time and always ALWAYS more money (me too, yes please).

In my own personal development and growth these last few years, however, I’ve seen that my greatest happiness, my biggest joys, my clearest leaps forward have all been as a result of removing something rather than adding something new. Don’t worry, I’m not about to go all minimalist on you because anyone who’s seen my house knows THAT’s a laugh. The point here isn’t about the stuff, the cars, the house, or even the shoes (no, not even the shoes).

The point is that when it comes to our selves – our souls, our personalities, our essence(s) – it is rarely an addition that is needed.

Alright, WTH am I talking about. Let me share a little story.

Years ago, when I began to see my coach (yes coaches have coaches), I had a specific goal in mind. I wanted to figure out what to do professionally. The kids were growing up and I wanted to get back to work in some capacity. It was clear that the previous plan (me returning to the classroom) would not work when I began to feel nauseous (not in a nervous but more like a oh please no kind of way) every time I thought about it or got a call to substitute or did work towards renewing my certification. Every time. I decided to listen to the old God pod and explore other options.

My coach listened intently to my conundrum, the background story, the questions, the circular thinking, the distrust of my own preferences and she said, brilliantly: “I know you have a really specific goal here, but sometimes before you can deal with life on the first floor, you’ve got to clean out the attic.”

I laughed and shook my head, having known this was coming and not wanting anything to do with it. And yet, it was time. It was time to find the way forward by removing the impediments. It was time to find the way forward by dropping the shield. It was time to ask the questions WITHOUT having pre-scripted answers to run into. I needed things to be taken away. My relationship with religion has been somewhat spotty, but I do know miracles from humans when I see them. The work that my coach and I did together was nothing short of magical. She helped me find the junk that was in the way. She helped me clear the road, unclog the pipes, and clean out the attic. How’s that for whole lot of cleanup in a mixed metaphor?

agriculture-box-container-5841If you measure my life in material terms, it’s pretty darned good, and has been for a long time. Since my seminarian and I embarked on our mid-life crises simultaneously, that material reality has changed. We have less. But what we’ve really done is changed the internal landscape so dramatically that the shift in our income matters far less than it would have years ago. We have less in the attic: less self-doubt, less resentment, less certainty about what can’t be, fewer fearful voices, fewer rules, less need to fit in, less desire to compete, less need to buffer ourselves against the dissatisfaction we created. We have less. Those boxes have been sorted through, the gems moved into places of prominence and the tattered dregs tossed to the curb.

We have less, and so we find that we are able to be more, and that’s all we ever wanted.

What’s on your Advent list? What do you want taken out of your head, your heart, your life? You have several months to answer that question. If you’d like, I’d love to be part of your decluttering team.

 

When We Hide Things

In all of this hue and cry for authenticity, it’s fair to question who we should tell what and how often. Vulnerability is one thing; martyrdom another altogether.

I’ve been thinking a bit about it though, and have some thoughts about this very human tendency to hide bits of ourselves from the world.

What I’ve discovered in my recent vulnerability experiments, in which I reveal more than I usually do and wait for the other shoe to drop – very scientific, is that an interesting thing happens when I let more of me up to the surface.

bottle-close-up-focus-905894Aside from the obvious win that I don’t get pointed out and laughed at like some recurring nightmare about a high school play gone wrong (is it just me?), when I bring more of me to the surface, barriers lift. I don’t really understand why it works, but I’ve come to think of it like this. When I hide parts of myself, to protect me OR to protect the other person, what I really do is create a wall. I’m only hiding the details. That person likely knows I’m not all in – if we’re not close they just think I’m reserved (if I’m lucky) or maybe even snobby. If we ARE close, that person knows I’m keeping something from them. They may not know exactly what it is, but they know I’m holding back. They know I am not fully engaged. They may even know what some of those thoughts and feelings are by virtue of knowing me so well, but when I hide them I shut those folks out. I am not protecting them from anything. I am letting them know that I don’t trust them with me. I am not just keeping something private; I am limiting engagement.

So what’s the thrust here, tell everything to everybody? No. Clearly not, unless that’s who you are. First tell yourself. Tell yourself what you’ve got hidden away. Unpack those boxes and bags and filing cabinets. Be honest with yourself about what you’ve put in the attic. Some of it may not really even be worth hiding anymore, kind of like old Aunt Gertrude’s ashtray. Some of it may have been hidden so long that you forgot it was up there; some of that might be things you really could use now, like a small box of keepsakes from your mother-in-law who has since passed away. What do you have in perpetual secret storage?

After an initial inventory, you might find it interesting to pull some of those things out and take them for a test drive. Gently share some piece of yourself with someone you love. Try on an old hobby or pastime. Find those pieces you’ve kept hidden and see what you can do with them in the light of now.

bonding-daylight-enjoying-708440.jpgAnd as you do, notice what happens to your sense of connection. Notice how you feel being around other people. Notice what it’s like to be in a room without quite so much to hide. Notice what it’s like to have a conversation without checking yourself every 5 minutes to be sure you haven’t revealed yourself. Notice how problems become problems you can tackle with others and grace becomes a divine gift to be shared and enjoyed rather than just a moment of isolated forgiveness.

It is true that not everyone deserves your story. I believe that. I also know that keeping too much of that story inside is like keeping yourself locked in a tower. Are you sure you don’t want the key?

 

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.

Miracles Big and Small

“Shhhhhh,” I say.

“We’re right here,” I remind.

“Maybe you could hum a different song?” I suggest.

“Alright, alright, take a breath and then tell me; it sounds awesome,” I interrupt.

You don't have to fit inI hear myself making them small.

I hear myself asking them to shrink for my comfort.

I hear myself limiting them, insisting that they be aware of how others feel, asking them to read the room.

I hear myself asking them to mind other people’s business rather than relying on other people to tell them when enough is enough.

I hear myself making them fit in better.

And then I stand back and I just look at them.

They are miracles. They are miracles of science. They are miracles of nature. They are miracles of stardust and happenstance, extraordinary timing and good fortune. There will never be another like either of them, much less both at the same time but two minutes apart. “I see two butts Julia. Which shall I take out first?”

They will never be again. They will never be just as they are in this moment again. Perhaps I can do more to face my own discomfort, to inquire of it and release it so that they can just be and grow strong in trusting the universe to hold the magic that they are in every single minute.

I will try harder to let them be as big and miraculous as they are, even if sometimes it takes my breath and makes me cry in the best possible way.

I will try harder to show them that it’s okay to be big. It’s okay to fill a space. It’s okay to trust that others will be themselves. It’s okay to feel like a miracle.

It's okay to be bigAs for you? I want you to know that you can be big too. You can fill a space without shrinking or apologizing. You can repeatedly sing the theme to The Pirates of the Caribbean if that’s your thing. You can pirouette across my kitchen and land on me with a hug because you are a miracle. You will never be in this moment, just as you are, again. Trust me with your bigness and I’ll try to do the same; we’ll spray glitter all over the place.

xo,

julia