Growing Roots (A Series): Part IV

Rooted in Possibility

Several years ago, I decided it was time to go back to work. The plan had been, and continued to be, that once our twins were in full-time school, I would return to teaching. While I would not be available for the kids in the morning, the relatively early high school dismissal would allow me to be home, even if still working, for their arrival in the afternoon. I would have summers off so we wouldn’t need to pay for childcare. All the bases would be covered. It was the perfect plan.

achievement-adult-book-1043514I proceeded to take the courses I needed to renew my teaching certification and then signed up to substitute teach in my home county with the idea that I could get to know the principals and have an easier time finding a job once hiring season rolled around. Another perfect plan. I am an excellent planner.

I started to receive the calls to sub. The auto-dialer would begin to ring me in the afternoon and continue until the next morning. As these calls came in, I began to notice how they actually made me feel… nauseous. I chalked it up to nerves after staying home for so long and forged ahead with the plan, because that’s what strong-willed and determined people do, right?

But here’s the thing. I went in; I subbed. I did the job and it didn’t make me nervous. I didn’t find it particularly difficult. I wasn’t scared to go. And yet, that queasy feeling persisted. I found myself turning off the ringer on my phone to avoid the feeling rather than digging any deeper.

There have been many ties in my life where I’ve ignored my intuition – my “gut” feeling about something, but when my “gut” threatens to vomit all over everything, I confess I get a lot more attentive.

Right about that time I had a phone conversation with a friend who was in crisis. Her marriage was in a downward spiral. She was filled with fear and doubt and heartache. We talked for a long time and as we did I had the strangest sensation. It was sort of weightless. As she talked about the difficulties of her situation, I seemed to just know what to say. Everything came naturally. While it felt odd to feel good the the face of her feeling so bad, I did. I felt really, really good – and not one little bit like I was going to throw up.

It occurred to me that maybe that’s how work could feel, rather than vomit-inducing. So I began to explore ways that I could become some kind of therapist or counselor.

As soon as I acknowledged the desire to shift gears, the mental barrage began. Any of these new ideas would require more schooling. Already having two master’s degrees made me reluctant to pursue a third. It seemed selfish to even consider more schooling while my husband plugged away at a lucrative job he hated. We had already invested so much time and money in my education; clearly I should just find a job with the skills and training I already had. Besides, starting something new would delay my ability to help financially by years.

I felt completely trapped. I also felt like I’d been caught in this decision-trap before. I’d already changed careers once, twice if you count getting a “real” job after being a musician for a few years.

Given how I felt about the prospect of teaching, I could only conclude that I had made the wrong decisions before. I didnt’ trust myself with this decision at all. I talked it through with friends and trusted family members. I went round and round, never actually landing on a decision.

Finally I did make one decision, that I needed help from a pro to sort this out.

I found a local therapist and presented her with what felt to me like a very straight-forward and practical conundrum – what to do for work. I imagined that a fresh set of well-trained eyes would help me to see it all differently. And she did.

It didn’t involve any personality testing or strengths-finding. It didn’t involved specific career counseling or consideration of my training could be used. What it did involve was rooting myself in possibility.

I had already figured out some version of what I thought I might like to do, but couldn’t even seriously consider it because of the wall of can’ts and shouldn’ts that I had constructed. I had boxed myself in with a host of nos and the only yes I had allowed myself made me literally physically ill.

All of my thinking about my problem was firmly rooted in impossibility, a web of rules and assumptions that I had generated without much help from anyone else. That sticky web was holding me firmly in place. I was steady for sure, but growth was out of the question.

adult-beautiful-girl-blue-875862Growing roots in possibility began with the simple question: “What if you could? What would that look like?” The list of reasons that was impossible emerged and my skilled therapist traced all of them back to their source – thoughts about myself that could generate all of the required negativity to prevent progress.

We began to challenge those beliefs, and as we did, the question: “What if you could” began to feel more approachable, like something I could afford – that I was allowed to ask myself.

I began to feel the truth that we don’t have to judge prior choices as mistakes in order to change course. I began to sense the open territory that came with the idea that I was allowed to explore this world in search of that weightless, good feeling. As each of these new thoughts and feelings emerged, I felt the relief that comes with dropping the burden of impossibility.

And I felt myself begin to grow, beneath the soil at first, but it didn’t take long for those healthier roots to bring changes above the dirt as well. It didn’t take long to feel entirely different.

I couldn’t make a decision about work because all of my thinking was rooted in false beliefs that led me to conclude that anything I wanted to do was impossible. As I cast those beliefs aside, I become rooted in possibility, a playful and delightful anchor for growth.

So I ask you, gently, and with so much love: “What if you could? What would that look like?”

A Soul Walk

I have, at many times in my life, been a planner. This isn’t to say I’m particularly good at planning, as many disappointed friends and family members will attest to, but it does mean that I like to plan ahead for the things I’m trying to do. I like to know what’s coming. I like a certain sense of order, and when presented with spontaneous suggestions, I confess I am prone to a lot of blinking that signals internal processing (or stuckness).

composition-materials-notebook-760720I’ve planned my way through many things. I planned my way through college and two graduate programs. I planned my way through twin babies and toddlers. I planned my way through household budgets and family gatherings and career changes. And while a great deal of that planning has served me well, I know it’s not the only way to get things done. I also know sometimes planning is not the best way to get things done. I know this because I am also a musician.

I’ve written hundreds of songs – including about 20 that I actually like. I’ve also performed with different folks and had spontaneous moments of music magic that we couldn’t possibly have planned for. I’ve had terrible gigs turn into great evenings because of one small moment of inspiration.

And music isn’t the only place this has happened for me. My decision to become a life coach wasn’t really planned out. I had been thinking for a long time about what to do for work when the kids got settled in elementary school, but life coach hadn’t even surfaced as an option. When it did come up, it was like bells going off in my head. There was no need for a spreadsheet and a five year plan. It was time. The choice was clear.

Even having had those experiences of spontaneous beauty, though, my planning self tends to lead the charge. Because I know that I have this tendency and because I’ve seen the wonderful things that can emerge in other more intuitive ways, I’ve developed a practice that helps me stay in touch with that more soulful side, that helps me stay open to solutions and decisions that don’t seem to fit in the flow chart. It’s called a soul walk.

A soul walk is just about the most simple thing you could ever do. You don’t need any special equipment, unless the weather where you are is like the weather here in which case water is always advisable. All you need is some time and a willingness to quiet the internal hubbub.

On a soul walk, you begin walking any way you want. If you take walks regularly, you can even start on your usual path. Take deep breaths as you walk and notice what’s going on in the world around you, suspending judgment if you can. “There’s construction noise” rather than “There’s a whole lot of effing construction noise that makes me really angry” for example. Keep breathing.

daylight-daytime-fashion-906106When your breathing helps to quiet the monkey mind inside, start to pay attention to how you feel when you reach an intersection or any other opportunity to change course. When you see that intersection coming, just ask: “Which way should I go?” and see if you feel a pull. Don’t question it. Don’t fight it: “But that street has no shade. I hate that street. If I go that way I have to walk on the squishy mulberries on the sidewalk.” Whatever. Follow the pull, even if you think you’re only having a pull because I told you there might be a pull.

Let yourself be guided as though you have an inner compass telling you which way to turn at each intersection and keep breathing.

Notice if the pulls get stronger as you follow them. Notice what happens if you don’t follow a particular pull. Notice what happens when you just keep breathing while you walk. My guess is that at the very least you will have a peaceful walk that leaves you refreshed and feeling a little more confident, a little more supported, maybe even a little buoyant.

We make so many choices on any given day. And so many of those choices require us to weigh the pros and cons, do some calculations, negotiate with someone else; it’s easy to lose track of our own knowing, our own internal compass, the guidance that lets us walk with ease through the world.

Sometimes all we need is a little practice.

When was the last time you listened for direction from that quietest part of yourself? How long has it been since you felt that internal pull?

Maybe it’s time for a walk.

What Feels Like Freedom?

I talk about decisions a lot here in these pages because a lot of people, and I include myself amongst those people, get hung up on decisions. We get hung up collecting information, we get hung up measuring pros and cons, we get hung up with figuring out how we really feel and how much of that is old programmed nonsense that we really don’t believe anymore. We get hung up because we’re terribly afraid that we’re going to make a mistake, do it wrong, fail, look foolish… I could go on. There is a test that helps us get past all of that, at least for the decision-making part. It’s simple, really. Acting after that is a separate discussion, but the test for a decision is remarkably easy.

Martha Beck, the brilliant PhD with whom I trained as a life coach and one of my esteemed mentors, agrees with other brilliant souls that the defining feature to look for in these times is a feeling. WHOA! I realize I may be losing some of you already. If this is not your first time at my personal rodeo, you probably saw that coming. The feeling that Martha Beck suggests we look for is something she calls “shackles on.” Looking for that shackles on feeling requires a couple of things. The first thing you’ll need to do is get quiet; stop the clamor of data in your head; stop the pro and con list (you can have them back later if you really need them). Get quiet and take some deep breaths. Let yourself temporarily let go of all of the reasons you SHOULD choose one thing or the other. When you’ve gotten yourself quieter, imagine one of the possibilities you’re considering, and see how it makes you FEEL.

Slide1Does it feel like you’ve got shackles on? For me that usually means heaviness and a feeling of being drained; my body will actually respond by slumping in my chair and emotions like dread and sadness usually come as well. Does it feel like shackles off? For me that means feeling physically lighter, breathing more fully; my body responds by straightening up, my head drifts upward and back on top of my neck where it is supported. I feel airier, like there’s room for me; I feel unlimited. THAT feels like freedom. That’s shackles off. My body knows where my true preferences lie, without all of the mental gymnastics I torture myself with. When you stop to see how you REALLY feel about options, sometimes the right decision becomes incredibly, even physically, clear.

BUT WAIT you say, I can’t possibly because… yes, I know. You have responsibilities. You have financial realities. You have obligations. I’m not being sarcastic. I TOTALLY get it; believe me. I have them too. Here’s the thing, recognizing what choice feels like freedom doesn’t mean you have to do that thing right this minute. What?!

Here’s the thing about big changes and hard decisions and knowing what makes you feel free, knowing what your deepest desires are; these are treasures, precious cargo, and they deserve to be treated with the utmost respect, and sometimes that doesn’t mean jumping in with both feet into something big. Sometimes that means holding and refining that vision until you know exactly how you want it to go, nurturing it, cultivating it like a tender seedling. Sometimes it means asking yourself: “What are 10 small things I can do to get closer to THAT version of my life? What is it about that vision that works for me? Can I get a little of that while I work on all of this?” and then doing some of that, doing the work that will make it possible to get to where you ACTUALLY want to go; doing the work that will make the voices that tell you that you’re being foolish or that your dreams are impossible have to stop because, look, you’re doing it; doing the work that will make it easier to make a transition that might not be as immediately gratifying as going into your boss’ office and telling her exactly what you think of her. You can start to build your dream with little bricks, little motions, little efforts to tend your garden

Slide2You can do all that, OR you can keep using your spreadsheet and concluding that staying where you are or choosing the thing that most certainly does not feel like freedom is the only possibility, convincing yourself that how you feel about it is immaterial. You can pretend that there is nothing between choice A and choice B because it feels too painful to admit what you actually want. You can pretend that you have no choice because of all of your obligations and you can continue to feel shackled to your current reality.  You can continue to collect evidence for why it’s so awful. You can do that, but I’m not sure why you’d want to. Wouldn’t a little freedom, even if it’s just in the form of a vision and a list of steps, feel REALLY, REALLY good?

If your vision maker feels broken or you’re afraid of what you’ll find if you look for your feelings, I’d be honored to help with that.