Growing Roots (A Series): Part VI

black-and-white-black-and-white-busy-735795Rooting in Goodness

My culture applauds motion.

You must be moving, making, doing.

The measure for “good” is productivity.

You don’t have to have this said to you as a child to intuit it, to infer it, to read it on the wind and digest it with your dinner. It is in the things we say. It is in the way we schedule our time. It is in our satisfaction when we check off an item on the ToDo list. Productivity is good. To be good, you must be productive. Simple.

The problem with this whole cultural idea is that it assumes NOT goodness at the outset.

Yep, I’m going there.

When we need to be productive to feel good, to be considered valuable, to be good, there is an assumption that we are not already, good.

When we really lay that out there it is clear why we would busy ourselves so intensely. Who doesn’t want to be good? I guess I shouldn’t assume this is a thing for everyone, but speaking solely for me and all of the people I grew up with, we all really wanted to be good. And in doing all of the things we individually thought we needed to do to become good, we inadvertently let it slip that we were pretty sure that we were not, in fact, without a lot of work and effort, good.

There is this assumption that we must escape our natural state, who we are without goading, without discipline, without force. We must leave that bad old her behind in order to achieve “good.”

You may be nodding along like, “Yeah, and…” It is a deep cultural norm, the idea that left to our own devices we will NOT be or do good, the idea that if given real freedom we would all be eating fried Oreos and washing them down with classic margaritas (no salt, lots of ice) and reclining on a beach eternally – just me?

Just for the sake of potentially altering your entire reality, play along with a little thought experiment with me.

Imagine that we flip the script so that you are already good.

Just sitting there reading this interminable post, you are good. You were good when you woke up. You were good when you went to sleep last night. You were good before, during, and after yelling at your kids last night because they were singing the song about poop again. You were born good, and you are allowed to believe that, to even say it out loud.

What would you do then, if you believed that you were, are, and will always be good?

What would you give up and stop doing? What would you do that you haven’t allowed for years? What new experiences would you seek out?

How would you deal with stress and strain?

afterglow-backlit-beach-797394-2.jpgIt seems to me that our biggest problems/worries/concerns/tangles/messes in life are likely far better addressed with a few minutes of standing still than with hours of busy rushing trying to be good.

If I am already good, then I can stop, take a breath, look around and really see.

I can see that in spite of all of the problems of daily life, I am okay in this moment.

I can see that a great deal of the drama around my troubles is how I let them get to me.

I can really see I have choices, including the choice not to act in this moment at all.

We spend so much time fixing, repairing, preparing for the worst.

So often a solution is already in the works. So often time is a key ingredient. So often what is missing is the perspective we can take or the awareness we can bring if we just stop moving for a minute.

If we are already good, we don’t need to measure, we don’t need to worry, and we don’t need to fix. We can stand still and let things develop.

We can take the time to see and address problems and troubles in ways that nobody else would – and we can see that perhaps this is why they arise in the first place, as a an opportunity to exercise our unique genius in real time.

When we can stand still it is infinitely easier to ask what we can learn from our troubles rather than reacting out of sheer panic.

If we are already good, we can stand still.

If we are already good, we can pause.

If we are already good, we can breathe first, last, and in-between.

 

Friends, we ARE already good.

YOU are already good: no matter what mistakes you’ve made, no matter what has happened to you, no matter what.

You are good. You are worthy. You are enough.

There is no committee to whom you need to prove it.

There really are no gold stars waiting in a desk drawer somewhere.

beautiful-beauty-brown-eyes-1065084You just need to begin to believe it.

And I know that’s not a small assignment.

So I’ll give you a smaller one.

Stop moving. Breathe. Tell yourself: “In this moment, I am enough.”

I think you’re far more than that, but it’s a start.

With so much love,

j

Growing Roots (A Series): Part III

“Where do you feel that in your body?”

animal-autumn-cute-21259.jpgIt’s a simple question but one that tends to leave people perplexed for a minute or two. The head tilts, the brow furrows. This question was first introduced to me by my own coach; I then learned more about it, and about the criticality of body awareness to my own sense of being rooted in this life.

I’m afraid. I’m angry. I’m lonely.

Where do you feel that in your body?

The truth is that when we are consumed by our emotions, we are usually not paying a bit of attention to the body. In that state we are all about the mind and the story about how we are feeling, what caused us to feel that way, our chances for feeling differently, and what we can/should or can’t/shouldn’t do about it.

We never stop to see how we really FEEL. The body can do that for us. It gives us an expression of our emotion that is tangible, concretely experiential without the mental torment of all of the analysis that goes with upset. We can feel the vibration of the emotion in our bodies, observe and experience AND, perhaps with some practice, let it pass through without acting on it at all.

This allows us to experience how we really feel without all of the double-torture of the resistance to it and the suffering that comes with our mental stories about it. In this way we can enter into a conversation with how we feel instead of being in a screaming match with our emotions or constantly playing jailor to the things we wish to avoid.

Unfortunately one of the things many of us wish to avoid is how we feel about our bodies, so its really no wonder that we’ve distanced ourselves from them so thoroughly. I spent years moving with lightning speed from shower to bathrobe to avoid seeing my body in the giant mirror right outside the shower stall.

I couldn’t bear the intense self-criticism that accompanied that moment, the cataloguing of flaws, the harsh assessments of my efforts to get/be/and stay fit, the listing of the shifting physical realities that barred me from enjoying the fitness I had once achieved before arthritis, before twin pregnancy, before I had so very many other responsibilities. So I avoided her, that woman in the mirror.

In truth that act of avoidance was a condemning judgment all its own, a shame-filled retreat into bathrobes and baggy clothes. The price for all of this shame (as if shame weren’t bad enough all on its own) was excruciatingly high.

It turns out that we can’t lob criticisms on just one part of ourselves without feeling it in a more universal way. Our ego responds to those barbs with efficiency. In my brain, if I wasn’t fit enough to be seen by myself in my own bathroom, I was certainly not ready for primetime in any part of my life. I couldn’t feel confident with other women. I couldn’t’ take steps forward with my career. Every path would eventually be blocked by this sense of being so wrong, this overwhelming discomfort with the very fact of who I physically am.

In distancing myself from my own body, I stunted my own development and growth in ways that I couldn’t even begin to comprehend. I didn’t know that the care of the body, the relationship with the body, the willingness to experience myself through the body were all part of a way of being rooted, of having an incredibly strong foundation, of staying steady enough to grow. The body is a channel for deep rooting that our self-judgment and societal pressure has, for many of us, shut down.

The good news is that you have control over that channel, and rooting through the body is something that one can do intentionally by taking specific and concrete steps.

First and foremost rooting through the body requires a certain level of physical awareness, an in-touchness with physical sensation that can be fostered by simply allowing and lingering on the way that we feel in the body (cold, hot, relaxed, tingly) at any given moment, noticing and taking that in.

blur-body-care-161608Once we increase a sense of body-awareness (which really is more like body aliveness), it is infinitely easier to sort out what helps us to feel deeply good – what creates sensations of pleasure, of comfort, of wellness, of connection.

When we are paying enough attention to those sensations, we can actually change the way that we do things – small things like which socks we wear and bigger things like what we choose to eat – out of a clear sense of what feels best to us.

It sounds simple, perhaps too simple, but it was something that never occurred to me. I made most of those decisions based on a need to be efficient, practical, or a need to discipline myself in some way.

Approaching self-care as a way of responding to the body’s signals sends a deep message, a message that says: “You are worthy of attention. You are worthy of care. I am listening.”

THESE messages, just like avoidance and self-criticism don’t go ignored by the spirit. They are messages that inspire confidence, that allow us to imagine that we can have and do what we want, that we can be trusted to care for ourselves and others. They also create a relationship with the body that empowers it to experience our emotions so that we can stop stuffing them down or discarding them as unimportant. We can learn to be ourselves.

These messages of worthiness, capacity, and trust; these practices that affirm us both physically and emotionally can give us strength and courage to root us, to help us reach higher, spread out and claim our place in this world, to unfurl and feel the sunlight.

The body is a glorious channel, a conduit for growing roots. Are you listening to her?

 

The Frame is Everything

I had a conversation with a client recently.  It was a great session for both of us. I share some of it here not to tell you about him personally, but to use him as an example of a fundamental principle of what I coach about, what I teach about, and what I try very hard to live.

beard-cap-elderly-162547You see, this client of mine is an older man. He is retired and has been having some health issues. He’s been spending a lot of time reviewing his life: looking back at the past, examining and evaluating the contours, the relationships, the activities and events. And the result of all of this examination and evaluation has not been pleasant for him. He concluded at some point in there that he has wasted much of his life. He wanted to meet with me to figure out whether some early childhood traumas were the cause of that waste. His pain was very real and my heart ached for his sorrow.

And as my heart ached I began to ask questions, because that’s what coaches do.

I began by explaining that there’s no way I could legitimately answer the question of whether or not a specific experience was the cause for the mistakes he had identified in his life. I further explained that I wasn’t sure the exercise of pinpointing a a single event as cause was really a valuable exercise if what he wanted was to feel better.

I asked him how things would look if he believed that his life had been a good one, if he was good enough, had done enough.

He sat with that thought for awhile and conceded that he would feel better with that thought.

I asked him if there were things he needed to forgive himself for. He came up with some choices and decisions that have clearly nagged him over the years.

I asked him what things he HAD accomplished in his life. He had a big list.

I asked him what he had done that he was proud of. He had a big list.

I asked him what parts of his life he feels good about. He had a big list. These lists didn’t overlap, mind you, so there really was a lot there.

I asked him if he thought my perspective on his life might be different than his after hearing all of this. He thought it just might.

And then we talked about the brain, and the power of a thought that creates a frame for our understanding.

At some point my client had inherited, created, deduced the thought that his life was not valid, that the things that made him unique were not valuable. This became his frame for the portrait of his life. If we want to talk about it in writing terms, this conclusion about his own worth was his thesis. Each review of his life, his choices, the events that have made up his days was sorted through with the purpose of proving his thesis. This is what the brain does naturally. It likes to help us be right. I mean really, who doesn’t like to be right?

So his brain understood that he believed he had little worth and so it was constantly working on providing evidence for that idea. The brain is incredible. It is powerful. It is efficient. It LIKES to work for us. It likes to sort, categorize, evaluate. It wants to work. The thoughts that we choose are assignments for that amazing machine: “Here, go prove this. Thank you.” It will do it.

And this is how our stories become so entrenched, so convincing, so compelling. The brain will find the evidence for that assertion, no matter how damaging it might be.

Because: human.

We are complicated. We make mistakes. We make choices that in retrospect seem less than brilliant. Human. And for most of us, that’s not a one shot deal. We keep learning our whole lives, so that’s a whole lot of opportunity for choices that could easily be interpreted as mistakes rather than being seen as a moment of real growth. There’s plenty of evidence in everyone’s files for some kind of statement about them being rotten or screwed up or less than worthy. Yes, I mean everybody.

And just as all of us have filing cabinet drawers full of things we might not be proud of, we also have good things we’ve done, moments of rightness/goodness/kindness, excellent choices and graceful recoveries. We have fleeting moments of tenderness. We have times when we felt loved and connected. We have days of wonder. We have moments of pure inspiration. Yes, I mean everybody.

Because: human.

So what makes us able to access those good drawers (and that felt awkward to me because my mother calls your underwear your drawers)? The frame we choose, the big belief about ourselves, the story we have about who we are at the core – that’s what helps your brain decide which files to dig into. And THAT my dear friends, is a choice. The frame that we give our lives, the story we tell ourselves about who we are, the labels we put all over ourselves – those are all choices.

I’m not saying it’s easy to make that choice. Your mind will fight you. It wants to stick with what it knows. Efficiency is highly valued up in there. But consciousness and practice really will do it for you.

I see what I am thinking about myself. I see what it does to me. I KNOW there are likely other possibilities (that might be the part you’ll need to take on faith for the moment). I am willing to try on a different story, even if it is only a teeny tiny bit better.

adult-beautiful-face-774866If that feels like maybe it would be a huge relief, if there’s a little internal happy voice/a little tickle/a sort of weird bubbles in your chest feeling as you consider that possibility, I want to offer you this thought: “I am glorious.” Try it on. Try it on without the smirk or the eye roll or anything else you reflexively do to diminish your value. Think it on purpose with a deep breath in and a gentle exhale. “I am glorious.”

How does that feel?

I’d really love to know. Let’s talk about it.

What Are You Cultivating?

My friend was telling a story to the kids at church (that’s what she does for work – cool, right?). It was a story about a boy who made a garden as his summer project. It was a wonderful story about all that was possible if you just pursue what makes you YOU, unique, special. And as with every garden story, it was also more.

agriculture-close-up-depth-of-field-767240In the garden we never question the need to take care. Initially it’s all about preparing the soil – and this ideally happens WAY ahead of time, something I struggle to remember both on the earth and in any endeavor. Next it’s about tending the soil AND protecting that emerging seedling. In my garden rabbits are usually the culprit and this stage – well, and for later summer seedlings, bugs.

As the plant grows there are a host of things that threaten the soil and the plant. Most of these need to be guarded against, spotted and removed, occasionally even eliminated (I confess I have been known to be merciless at times in the garden). If we get really good at this whole gardening thing, there is an additional category of things to do to encourage help in our garden – inviting beneficial bugs, making the area friendly for the right kinds of birds. Even experienced gardeners continually ask themselves what can help that garden flourish – what would bring it more nourishment? How can I prevent and stop weeds and pests from doing damage and inhibiting growth? We ask so many questions and make so many efforts.

What would it take to turn that lens on ourselves?

How do we prepare the soil for whatever we have to offer the world? What kind of nourishment will best serve us? How much water do we need? How much light and how much dark?

How do we protect tiny new shoots of growth and exploration? How do we keep them from being stomped on by careless acquaintances or by our own doubts and fears?

How do we keep a vigilant eye on creating the best possible conditions for growth while shaking off the pestering worries of how our growth will be received by others, master our resistance to our own change, prevent ourselves from self-sabotage and self-destruction?

Because that’s the work. We tend to think that whatever we do for a paycheck is our “work,” and I get that in our real-world economy, some attention needs to go toward that calculation, but our real work is in the garden. Our real work is tending the soil, having the patience for germination, protecting the seedling, nourishing the plant and being persistent enough to get to the day of harvest. In the garden we celebrate on harvest day – the day we finally get the bloom of the flower or the fruit from the tree or the bean from the bush. In our personal gardens, we can celebrate the whole process.

body-clouds-early-morning-823694We can celebrate what we learn about preparing the soil. We can pay keen attention to our bodies and how they feel. We can enjoy the pleasures of a good night sleep and a delicious and healthful meal. We can celebrate the emotional work we do to be ready to grow again. We can provide our bodies with experiences that make it feel well, whole, strong AND peaceful. We can congratulate ourselves as we enrich ourselves for new work. we can take pride in our capacity for self-care and refuse to allow it to be deemed “selfish” or vain.

adult-autumn-autumn-colors-1122280We can celebrate our growing ability to let the harsh words of others roll past us even in our most tender stages. We can acknowledge our increased capacity to spot and work through situations that we know will stop us short. We can appreciate the wisdom of the spirit that continues to grow even as we are uncertain that this is wise, good, or safe. We can give thanks for the ability to ask for help and the love embodied that brings us assistance.

female-girl-muscles-903590We can celebrate the ways in which our growing strength protects us from all manner of threats, the way we develop an ability to not be seduced by thoughts, plans, and actions of others that would take us off course. We can rejoice in the greater feeling of freedom that comes with each new shoot.

And when it is time to harvest, we can celebrate the miracle of everything we can create from this new vantage point, from this new perspective. And we can look behind us and see everything we were creating all along.

This is the work, and it is gut-wrenching and glorious and we are so blessed to have it. And let’s not forget what comes at the end of all of the work. It’s YOU, it’s what becomes possible if you can find the way to being exactly who you are and cultivating the part of you that can never be replicated. How are you tending your garden?

XO,

julia

Letting Go

Letting go of the chatter,

adult-art-artist-133170Letting go of the measurements,

Letting go of the certainty that I know either the ways or the means,

Letting go of the notion that my worthiness is in any way dependent,

Letting go of the hope that I can be good enough,

Letting go of the need to prove, to show, to demonstrate,

Letting go of my agenda, my goals, my plans,

Letting go of the barriers to my attention,

Letting go of the fear that I use to distance myself from things that feel good, do good, are good,

Letting go of the need to have proof, evidence, and demonstration that all will be well.

adult-beautiful-close-up-773371Letting all of it go, releasing that which no longer serves with intention and ease of heart, knowing it may return and visit but in feeling its absence, I have the chance to glimpse how my true nature and peace.

I am enough and

All is well.

Amen.

When We Are Hurting

Learning Self-LoveAre you hurting today? I am. And so are so many people I know and love. Even in times of lesser tragedy and hardship, there are always people hurting. It is so easy to get lost in the analysis of it, to get paralyzed by the horror, to get stuck in the outrage. On Sunday my minister reminded us that one of our values is an ever-widening circle of compassion. Cultivating that circle may require a break from analyzing, being outraged, and being paralyzed. Nurturing our compassion is a practice.

I’m not sure where it started, but there is a bit of a mantra in the self-help world that says that we have to love ourselves in order to love others. We would have to feel compassion for ourselves in order to feel compassion for others. I get the sentiment, and agree that deeper levels of love and compassion are easier to reach when we have love and compassion for ourselves, but making those things a bar to entry to love and compassion for others? I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure any self-loathing parent will tell you that you can love your children despite how you feel about yourself. Suggesting to that parent that they must start with themselves seems like a great way to stall that growth altogether.

How to Grow Compassion and Love – Even For Yourself

What if, instead, we saw the practice of compassion as one of simply widening the circle, with the center being exactly where it already is naturally for you? Where is the focus of the compassion and love that you feel easily? Is it kids? Is it animals? Is it victims of tragedy or circumstance?

If you’re not sure, ask yourself what gets to you? What makes you well up? What makes you angry? What makes you sad? What makes you feel things even when it’s uncomfortable to do so? Are there news stories or fictional stories you find it difficult to watch, read, or listen to? These are the key to finding the center of your compassion – the place where your heart meets the world. Find that center; this is step 1.

Find Your Edges; Stretch Your Borders

After you’ve figured out where your compassion lives, feel out the edges of that group. Imagine the people on the borders. If you naturally feel compassion for kids, consider teens , mothers, and parents. If you feel compassion for animals, consider animal lovers, nature, the earth. If you feel for people struggling with physical medical problems, consider people with mental illness, consider caretakers. Find the folks on the edges of the community that you already feel compassionate about.

Step 3? Imagine those border folks. Imagine being them for a moment. Imagine part of a day for them. Imagine that they are just people with all of the insecurities, uncertainties and challenges of the group you already feel compassion for. Imagine that they are as capable of love and affection, joy and courage as those who move you. Imagine those border people in pain. Imagine them laughing. Imagine that your loving focus might, even in some small way, be helpful. Believe in the power of your own affection. In your mind’s eye, surround this growing group with light, a glow of whatever color pleases you. Breathe deeply and continue to stretch the edges of that light to include others.

Self-Compassion

Here’s where things can get tricky for a lot of folks. I hear a lot of people talk about how others don’t have compassion. That’s not what I see in my universe. I see plenty of folks who are serving up compassion for others, but who are unforgiving and unkind to themselves. Learning to serve up some compassion for yourself can be an extension of the love you already give to others.

Think about that group you’ve been growing in your mind. Find the way that you might be like them. Where in your life do you feel like a hurt child? Where in your life do you act like a wounded animal? Where in your life do you feel limited or misunderstood? Where in your life are you called on to rise to challenges you’d rather not have to face? How can you connect to the recipients of your compassion?

Learn to Love YourselfFind that link and then return your attention to your mind’s eye – the big glowing group. Draw the edges of your circle of loving focus out so that you are included. Let the light envelope you. Let it connect you to others. Allow yourself to bathe in the light you so willingly shine on others.

Place your hands on your heart, and say: “I hear you. I know. I love you.”

Widen your circle and make sure that eventually it includes you.

Namaste.

 

 

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A Simple, But Not Easy Truth

One of the hardest things for most of my clients to accept is that it is possible to love themselves just as they are.

I understand the difficulty because they’ve come to me at a time of some kind of distress; something is wrong, and more often than not they’ve diagnosed that the thing that is wrong is THEM, like internally, inherently, and deeply. I’m familiar with this diagnosis as it is one I found for myself for many years: “There’s something wrong with me.” I could scoop up all kinds of crap with that cup. It’s amazing what kind of evidence you can find for such a thought if you want to keep it. It’s a great big general crap collecting and destruction generating belief. Vague enough to be right and specific enough to really hurt, just like we them, eh?

Slide1Here’s the thing, I tell them. You can love yourself and fix this or you can hate yourself and fix it. I have opinions about which will work better, but I’d like to know what yours are. It’s interesting because most people seem to go with the hate it and fix it school when it comes to themselves. We believe we have to despise ourselves, or at least the part that’s generating the problem in question. We believe that if we love it, we won’t fix it, that somehow loving it will make us complacent, accepting of the offending flaw, that we will forever carry the extra weight or the bad judgment or the poor career choice. We can only fix it through strict discipline and punishment.

Wow.

This is one of those moments when I am stunned by the way we treat ourselves as compared to the way that we treat others. With ourselves there is no quarter. With others… I’m pretty sure we love in spite of flaws all the time, like every single day. Do we dismiss other people because of one flaw? Do we hate them until they fix themselves completely? Do we have to discipline them into being alright for us? That’s a no.

The only relationship I can think of where one might even be tempted to do this from a disciplinary standpoint is the parent/child relationship and even then there is no hating and disciplining. There is loving and correcting. There is loving WHILE they learn, WHILE they grow, WHILE they change. There is loving WHILE they are imperfect, WHILE they make mistakes, WHILE they do the wrong things.

Slide2Could you learn to love yourself and make change if you pretended for a moment that you were your own child? What if you were raising yourself? What kind of adult would you like to help bring into the world? What kind of human would you like to help create? How would you treat yourself if you were simply raising yourself, taking yourself from one stage of development to the next, monitoring your own growth and change, noting problems as they arise, thinking about them and being encouraging, asking questions when it doesn’t make sense? How would that feel? I think it would feel a whole lot more like love. And I think change that comes from love is the change that works, and it works because it FEELS good. It feels good to accept ourselves. It feels like water on cracked earth. It feels so necessary and so overdue.

But I don’t know how, you say. I don’t know what that means. I say start small. Think of one thing you love about yourself. Sit, with your eyes closed and really focus all of your attention on that one thing. Feel into it. Let yourself delight in it. Allow yourself to feel your own affection for as long as you can tolerate it. See what happens. It just might change everything. Why? Because that kind of feeling expands; it grows and self-acceptance that is taken in as a small seed grows the fruit of love right there in your scared heart. It will be okay. You can still want to change, even after you learn to love yourself. I promise.