Living in Possibility

When I hear those words: “living in possibility,” it sounds pretty grand and floaty and rainbow unicorn-y.

child-girl-hands-6191And yes, that’s partly my cynic responding, but I think it’s also because in order to dismiss the idea of living in possibility, my brain wants to jump right to the outcome, to see what that looks like as I move through the world doing things I’d never thought possible, doing things nobody ever thought possible, leaping tall buildings in a single bound…. see there it goes again.

But the truth is that living in possibility starts in a way that really isn’t about leaping buildings or leaving a trail of glitter in your wake.

Living in possibility starts small, quietly, and internally.

Yeah, sorry. There are some steps before glitter and unicorns and that’s why we dismiss them, because we’re not sure what those steps are and we don’t know how to do them, and internal – yuck. I’m so with you.

As a life coach I spend a lot of time on the internal, mine and everyone else’s, and sometimes I just have to remind myself to look at the rest of the world because it’s tough in there. Those things on the inside can be pretty dark and full of spiders, but that’s exactly why the notion of possibility can be helpful. Possibility is like a little beam of light breaking in through the canopy into the darkness, encouraging the spiders to continue being helpful and eating pests, but not just run amok everywhere.

When it comes to living in possibility, the only real way to begin is to start thinking in possibility, which means taking a look at what we think when nobody (including ourselves) is looking, examining those underlying, unconscious assumptions about ourselves and the world to see if we’re boxing ourselves in. This has been an… erm… growth area for me.

For me beginning to think in possibility, as a conscious intentional project, began as a practice of noticing when I reacted negatively to positive things people said about or to me, something I did consistently and reflexively.

When praised after a speech or on a piece of writing or after singing somewhere, I would  do my best to dismiss that moment: in the early days by diminishing the praise somehow (revealing that I thought I did poorly or I should have been more prepared). As I started to see that, and to see some articles about how frequently women in particular do that, I made a conscious effort to NOT say those things any more. The next step was to begin to just say: “Thank you,” without extending that sentence with excuses and self-deprecation. This didn’t necessarily change my thinking, but it did bring my attention to my pattern and helped me to stop reinforcing my own unhelpful thinking.

Then I began to just really notice how I would recoil, turn away, internally dismiss those personal comments, and even passages in the many self-help books I’ve got stacked up around here. If I didn’t agree, if what they said was TOO good about me, I would skim past, breeze over, or even dismiss the speaker or author. Wow. I would essentially insult them so I could keep on insulting myself. True commitment.

The next step, after that noticing, was to begin to question myself.

An author and thinker named Byron Katie provides one of the most useful sets of questions I’ve encountered; all of those questions are based on reacting to our thoughts with some version of: “Is it true?” You’d be amazed at how many horrible stories about ourselves we can begin to unravel if we just take a deep breath and ask ourselves: “Is it really, absolutely true?”

So I began to apply that tool to my responses to the good stuff being thrown at me, but did a little wordsmithing, as I do, to make it immediately helpful: “Am I sure it’s not true?” My recoil instinct was clearly due to me thinking that whatever good thing was being said was not true, was demonstrably false, and maybe even demonstrated a little disdain for the speaker. I mean, after all, what would have to be wrong with you to have such low standards? Yes I’m shaking my head at myself too.

And so I began my practice of asking about the truth of that reaction, about my certainty that I was not whatever good thing was being acknowledged.

Sometimes that question was all it took, and I found ease in responding to praise about singing, about writing, about good deeds. The trick was when I got down to the internal worth. The trick was when I dug into some spiritually bent self-help books that wanted me to believe REALLY good things about myself like: “I now declare myself to be whole, holy, perfect, and complete.” (Iyanla Vanzant)

It has never been okay to declare myself perfect or complete. The notion of me being holy would defile holiness because of the mistakes I’ve made. I also assumed that if I believed I was perfect I would stop trying to be better and would naturally become selfish and complacent.

Well, that sort of lays the insides bare, doesn’t it?

And all of that shows the ways that old wounds and improper words diminish my living in possibility. Those thoughts create the cage for what I can do, my estimation of my capacity.

What would happen if I let go of the words and wounds that get in the way, or if I kept them in safekeeping but decided they need not get in the way?

Here’s what happens when we step out of certainty and into possibility:

“I cannot trust” becomes “I find it difficult to trust but would like to learn.”

“I cannot love or be loved” becomes “I am willing to begin to allow myself to open myself to love in all forms regardless of my past.”

person-road-walk-1605411“I can’t surrender” becomes “I am open to the idea that surrender creates both ease and action and is strength rather than weakness.”

“I am not enough” becomes “I wonder how I would feel if I decided that I am exactly who I should be right now.”

All of that by asking: “Are you sure? Is it absolutely true?”

Thinking in possibility leads to living in possibility. Glitter and unicorns to follow.

 

I Will Not Be Shamed

Someone tried to spank me on Facebook yesterday. I had posted a picture of myself after a haircut, something I do pretty much every time I get a cut as a way to celebrate doing something nice for myself and to continually work on the fear of being SEEN, real pictures of the real me at real (although admittedly well-styled, at least on my head) moments in my real life. I guess there were a lot of posts on my page yesterday, because I gave a sermon at my church and provided the music on Sunday, and folks had posted pictures and recordings of that. At any rate, the spanking…

artist-circus-clown-476Someone commented: “Wow Julia for someone who seems so private you seem to need a lot of attention.” It was followed by the obligatory: “LOL,” as a way to say I’m not really insulting you. Other favorite FB devices that serve this b.s. purpose include: “Just saying…” and the ubiquitous winky emoticon. This digital attempt to use humor to diffuse criticism is something I am VERY well versed in. It’s dishonest. It’s dishonest to pretend it’s a joke and it’s dishonest to believe you are NOT being critical when you do it. Mini-rant over; back to the larger rant.

So wow. Yeah. And I felt it for a minute, because let’s face it, the LOL, the “just saying,” and the winky face don’t really do anything about the words, do they? I felt that accusation. It fed right into old stories of mine about bragging, being too proud, trying to get the spotlight, things that were actively discouraged in my home.

Those stories are things I’ve worked on, but they’re still there, so when I received the FB spank, I had to take a few minutes. My initial response (internally) was not very friendly to the speaker, but it was also tinged with self-doubt. You can tell this is true because I DID go back and look at what I’d been posting that day. Was I asking for attention? Was I showing off? Was I shining too bright a light on the good things that had happened over the last 48 hours? ALL of that is spin, nonsense, garbage, old stuff that’s meant to keep me small.

My retort was sassy, but unnatural. I hid how it made me feel with false confidence: “I don’t actually need it at all. People just keep giving it.” I thought that would be adequate. He persisted. “I almost believe you… Sorta. It’s all good. You’re a babe regardless. LMAO.” Oh, thank goodness he thinks I’m good looking. I continued to respond with my put on self-confidence and he eventually surrendered, which I confess is my goal in these situations, BUT it left a mark AND it reminded me of some things.

It left a mark because it brought up old stuff that I’ve been working on but didn’t particularly want to dance with on a particularly good day. It also left a mark because dammit, can’t a girl just be happy about haircut? Can’t a girl just share the good things that are happening? Can’t a girl just be proud for a minute? Would it have been a problem if a man had posted photos of his recent speaking engagement, his golf score, himself all dressed up for a special night? WHY is this a problem?

It makes people uncomfortable. And to that I respond with a resounding: “Sorry. Not sorry.” I’m sorry if you are not comfortable sharing the wins in your life and if you were raised to believe that you should not crow when something has gone right. I mean that. I really am. That’s the part I’m sorry about.

What I’m not sorry about is that my newly found lack of shame and conscious decision to stop playing small makes you uncomfortable. You can challenge me if you really need to, but I won’t be pushed back into the closet. I won’t.

And I want to ask you to do something, which I acknowledge I have no real right to do, but if you’ve read this far, maybe you’ll be game.

alone-boulders-idyllic-426893If you get uncomfortable when people share their best bits, I want you to take a minute and think of something you are proud of, and even if you don’t feel ready to share it, just sit with it. Feel what it’s like to congratulate yourself, to revel in the good thing you are or did or had or made for yourself. Bathe yourself in praise for just a moment. It’s really okay. Nobody can stop you in your head. Nobody can ask you who you think you are or tell you you’re too big for your britches. You get to just enjoy it. If you’re ready to take it a step further, share it with me. Send me a little note so that I can read it and then say: “That’s awesome. Yay you!”

This is how we rise. Not even a little bit sorry for that friends.

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?