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 ┬ádo 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.

 

Are You A Heretic?

We don’t hear this word much anymore, despite the significant play it’s gotten in the past. In days of yore (whose?), being called a heretic could end with some kind of jail sentence on a good day. Now? I can’t remember the last time I even heard the word. Well, until Sunday when there was discussion of the anniversary of Martin Luther posting the 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s okay. I promise I’m not about to go all history teacher (even though I was one) or theologian (even though I’m married to one) on you. It’s that heretic word that I’m interested in. And I’m interested in it because my very scholarly minister told us that heretic, translated in the ancient Greek, just means one who chooses. Huh. All of this trouble in our collective history over people who choose.

Are you pleasing people?I started thinking about that yesterday and I was immediately aware of how many of my clients experience discomfort, shame, family conflict and oceans of self-doubt because they are choosers. These are women who have decided that the script that society provides for all of us doesn’t work for them and so they have chosen (as one so aptly put it) to live off-script. They have chosen to consciously do something different. They’ve chosen not to marry. They’ve chosen not to have children. They’ve chosen to outpace their partners financially. They’ve chosen to be the working parent while a partner stays home. They’ve chosen to change career paths, pursue higher education at inconvenient times, become yogis and healers. They’ve chosen to leave marriages that other people think are just fine. They’ve chosen to stop giving a crap about tablescapes (yes, that’s a thing) and perfect dinners and what the neighbors think. They’ve chosen to do them instead.

There is no death sentence awaiting them. They won’t be burned at the stake for deciding not to marry or have children. They won’t be jailed for choosing to pursue the arts as a profession. They won’t be interrogated for having a messy entryway. But they will feel the weight of discomfort. And in my experience, they will believe that the discomfort comes from the judgments that other people will have about them. “My parents really want me to be married.” And maybe they do. I have no idea. “My parents want grandchildren so bad they can taste them.” That’s gross, but I get it. “My family can’t believe I’m leaving him.” Yes, there is perhaps judgment out there.

What matters, though, is what we do with that perceived judgment.

One of my marvelous mentors, Martha Beck, (I almost left out the comma so that marvelous mentor Martha would just flow better – it’s a sickness) has a sentence that I just love for these kinds of situations. Actually she has more than one, and I’ll share the two that are top of mind right now in case one works better for you than the other: “I respectfully don’t care,” and: “They just get to feel that way.”

These sentences represent one way that we, as choosers (I say “we” because I can assure that anyone who has the title of “life coach” is a chooser for sure), can respond to these judgments, complaints and discomfort in others when we encounter it. We can respectfully not care and we can acknowledge that they get to feel that way.

Making Hard ChoicesHow does this help? This helps because it keeps us from confusing their discomfort with our own. It keeps us honest about the location of our difficulties when we walk down the chooser path. In my experience, it is not the judgments that others have of my choices so much as my reaction to all of that that causes me to suffer. It is only when I take their judgment and turn it into crippling self-doubt or insecurity that I have a problem. It is only when I use those judgments as stand-ins for my own self-judgment, self-criticism and fear that I get into trouble.

If I can, instead, acknowledge that they get to feel how they feel and that I don’t have to care about that I save myself one layer of discomfort, and I push myself toward the emotional honesty that comes with saying: “Sometimes being a chooser is hard. I am tired. I am afraid. I worry this won’t work out.” I push myself toward allowing the feelings that come with doing hard things and releasing them. I push myself toward a place where I can acknowledge what I’m thinking and all of the ways I’m getting in my own way. And once I’m there, I can make a different choice, because that’s what choosers do. I can use my choosing skills to acknowledge my own strength. I can use my choosing skills to acknowledge how far I’ve come on my path. I can use my choosing skills to make my own evaluation of how it’s working, knowing that at any time I can make a different choice. I am free.

If you feel like a heretic sometimes, if you’re a chooser and see the holiday season coming at you – full of opportunities to give everyone evidence of all of the ways you aren’t measuring up, take stock. Remember that the opinion that matters most is yours. Work on that one instead of trying to prove to everyone else that you’re okay. They’re going to think whatever they’re going to think. You can still be happy. You can still be free, even if you’re a heretic.