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.

 

When We Start to Fall

Last night we watched an episode of Planet Earth II with the kids. If you’ve not seen it, I highly recommend. It’s a series by the BBC, narrated by David Attenborough, and has some incredible footage of animals doing their thing. Really stunning.

Last night’s episode on mountains featured a group of Nubian ibex. I’m going to go with ibex as the plural of ibex because I can’t bear to say ibexes. I hope I’m right because I really should be. In any event, the point is not about the word, the point is about the animal.

Juvenile_Nubian_ibex_(50822)The sequence showed how these ibex live at altitudes of about 8,000 feet on cliffs that offer little in the way of easy travel. They are safe from predators at those heights, but need to descend to get water, and that’s where things get hairy, especially for the ibex kids. We were on the edge of our seats watching a red fox stalk the ibex kids as they nervously and inexpertly navigated the craggy cliff face. If they moved to safer ground they were at risk of being caught by the fox. Climbing further up moved them away from the water that was their goal and from the parents in the herd who waited for them on the bottom (a little Mom judging there on my part I confess).

The ibex kids ran just far enough for safety and then found themselves cornered in a spot where the next ledge down was 30 feet below and the fox was working his way up to them. And they began to slip, lose their footing. We were all holding our breath (except for my son who had his fingers in his ears, his eyes closed and was chanting: “Tell me when it’s over. Tell me when it’s over.”).

And then you know what those ibex kids did? Are you ready for it? Just as they were starting to slip and it looked as though death was certain in one way or another… they leapt. They jumped right into that 30 foot space and flew down to the ground. They were so young that they likely hadn’t used their ibex jumping skills yet, but on this day, they got the lesson swiftly. They felt themselves falling. They felt themselves in peril. They were terrified (the noises made this clear), so they turned to instinct and they jumped.

And they made it!!! We all cheered as they jumped again and again and evaded the fox and caught up with the herd. Go baby ibex!!!

It got me to thinking about the amount of time I’ve spent on those rocks. When I’ve backed myself into a corner through inexperience or uncertainty and I look around only to find that it seems all of my possible roads are full of peril. I look around and see only impossibility. I look around and become paralyzed, bleating and wishing for a wiser human to save me. Paralyzed by my fear. Paralyzed by my perception of inexperience. Paralyzed by all of the what ifs. So much time and suffering on those rocks.

And then I think about the times I leapt.

Twelve years ago Scot and I were on year 6 of our “infertility journey.” I almost threw up in my mouth saying that. We seem to think if we attach “journey” to words describing a shitty time in our lives it will be less awful. That may work for some people – not so much for me. At any rate, we had pretty much given up because our previous attempts had been so heartbreaking and, in one instance, nearly lethal (that’s a story for another day).

We were considering adoption (everyone referred to this as “just,” as in why don’t you “just” adopt – as though that is a small thing, again a story for another day) and we were also wondering just being the aunt and uncle who travel a lot and give great gifts. And it made for a great story. Even now, that’s a life story I can get down with. But I didn’t really buy it. I wanted to be a Mom, and I wanted to have kids with Scot. The struggle that we went through to make that happen was dreadful. And one New Year’s Eve, when I’d had too much to drink and was sitting with a trusted friend, I told her I was standing on the rocks. I confessed that my great travel and gift-giving plan wasn’t working for my heart. I admitted what I really wanted and cried because it seemed impossible.

And she said the thing that my own instinct was no longer able to say: “What if you just try one more time?” We talked about a doctor she had heard of, a miracle worker. To be honest, I’m not sure exactly how things went after that, because it’s all a bit of a blur and it is a blur because I leapt. I stopped letting my fear STOP ME and put myself in the hands of the miracle worker. I put all of my learning into action and made the rest of my life work along with this final attempt. I minimized my stress. I even changed jobs in order to do that. I did the whole thing.

In this case, my leap got me the result I wanted, twice over. I have 11 year old twins who are most definitely my and my husband’s kids. But the point here isn’t really that my dream came true. Because this dream, of being parents, has perils of its own as so many of you know.

child-costume-fairy-127968The point about the leap is that it ended the self-imposed torture of standing on the rocks and trembling in indecision. Even if our final attempt had failed, I think I would have felt better having finally gone to the miracle worker people were talking about. I would have felt like I had given it my all and that I needed to check in to see if there was a new dream I could sink my teeth into. It was the sitting on that rock that was so, so terrible. And my guts knew I wasn’t ready to give up, which would have been a perfectly acceptable choice really – a leap of it’s own in releasing that desire in favor of building something new.

So I guess I’m just wondering how sure your footing is these days. Do you feel yourself slipping? Do you feel like you’re on the rock? What would a leap look like for you? I’d love to help you fly.

SaveSave