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.

The Cold Comfort of Confusion

“I’m so confused.”

I hear people say it and I’ve said it myself.

blur-calm-waters-dawn-395198Confusion. Uncertainty. Fog. Swirling.

I have moments of it, usually when I’m down.

I’ve got tools, and usually I can navigate that space far better and far more quickly than I used to.

But I remember and I’ve heard from quite a few of you about that fog of confusion. I see the way it torments you.

“I don’t know what to do.”

“I don’t know what to think.”

“I don’t know which way to turn.”

I have an answer, but you may not like it.

You may not like it because I think confusion is a lie.

Confusion is a lie we tell ourselves when we don’t want to face what is true, or when we don’t want to accept what has happened, or when we have forgotten how to feel what we actually feel or those feelings are too big and scary to experience. So we slip in a tape, we push the repeat on a loop icon, we create a fog of “I don’t know” to protect us.

It feels better to be confused than to be heartbroken.

It feels better to be confused than to be lonely.

It even feels better to be confused than to admit what we really want in a situation and to try to get it.

It feels better to be confused than to be vulnerable.

It feels better to be confused than to be accountable.

It feels better to be confused than to risk committing to a path that might end up in failure.

Confusion is the ultimate tool of the status quo.

Because when we are confused, when we are spinning, when we are sitting in the fog of uncertainty, we are actively changing nothing. Circumstances may shift in response to our inaction, but we’re not changing anything. We’re not responsible for what happens. We’re staying safe in the fog.

It’s just another trick of the mind, the mind that only knows survival and death.

If you’re alive, the mind says that’s good enough. That’s excellent. Let’s stick with that.

And there are times when just being alive is certainly something to celebrate, to venerate, to acknowledge with gratitude.

But our hearts…

adult-enjoyment-facial-expression-1037989Our hearts want so much more than that. They want to love. They want to give and receive and be thrilled and even crushed if that’s the price. Our hearts want to feel other hearts, touch other souls, experience the depth of really living, not just being alive. They want us to have all of the things we can only have if we let go of that fog, if we choose, if we commit, if we act, if we chase dreams and hope for the best.

The comfort that confusion brings is a cold one.

It comes with the pain of sleepless nights and that gnawing sense that there’s something else we should be doing. Confusion comes with the obsessive need to work at the problem while being sure not to ever actually see through it, and endless stalemate between pro and con.

Confusion is a lie.

Maybe it’s time to tell yourself the truth, whatever that it.

Maybe it’s time to feel how you feel.

Maybe it’s time to admit what you want.

Maybe it’s time to speak your truth and just let the consequences unfold.

If it’s too much, you can be confused again any time.

You can make that choice just as easily as you can unmake it.

It’s your story.

Pick up that pen.

 

xo,

julia

If You’re No Fun Anymore…

I’ve gotten the same message a few times in the last week or so. I may be hard headed, but if you hit me with a board enough times, I will notice.

adult-beard-black-and-white-543The first message came VERY directly from my Reiki master. We were working together and she just paused and looked at me: “When was the last time you had fun – not work on yourself, self-help, progress fun – just straight-up silly time fun?” I grunted in acknowledgement, not really wanting to answer her question. She relented and understood my hesitation for what it was, a need to give that more serious thought. Yep, that’s how I roll.

Truth is while I am FUNNY and can be FUN, I’m a pretty serious person. I spend a lot of time thinking about serious things, working on serious things, helping people with serious things. I have fun with that – I enjoy it, but it is not just straight-up silly time fun.

The second message came from my kids. They graduated from 5th grade a few days ago and while the beginning of the day was dominated by a ceremony that I think nearly bored them to tears, the rest of the day was play. They had a celebration with their classmates. They played soccer and ran around. They played on the monkey bars and played tag. They ate snow cones and laughed. Then they came home on the bus to prepare for our annual last day of school neighborhood water fight. My kids took it upon themselves to invite the youngest kids to our house to teach them the finer points of water balloon warfare without putting them in harm’s way with the middle school crowd down the hill. They played for hours: water balloons, squirt guns, a slip and slide and the next door neighbor’s giant swing. Then they came inside and quickly showered so we could watch our Friday night movie. I’m pretty sure we all fell asleep on the couch at some point. They PLAYED. They played hard. They played without pause. They played until we told them it was time to stop. They played like it was their job. I thought that and decided to hang on to that thought.

I picked up a magazine the next morning, taking full advantage of a few minutes before we started preparing the house for guests. I’d had the issue for months and had just never gotten around to reading it. I opened it to a random page in the middle and was confronted with the title of an article: “Playtime.” I’m listening.

The final message was from a friend, another seminarian (once you know one you know many). His sermon on Sunday was entitled: “Blessed Be Fun,” and it was all about the conclusion he has come to that there is enough that needs doing in this world that it is okay to pick the part that is actually fun. He describes this notion as part of his “theology of fun,” whereby we stop telling ourselves that the things we enjoy and dream of engaging in aren’t big or important enough. We stop fearing that allowing ourselves enjoyment and pleasure will devolve directly into hedonism. We, instead, learn from children who have the flexibility to follow and enjoy the process they are engaged in without such a keen and critical regard for the results.

I had to laugh. I was actually becoming seriously entertained by the full-scale campaign being waged against my inner-disciplinarian in favor of… fun.

The interesting thing is that I had actually taken this lens to my business in the weeks prior. If you follow the blog separately, rather than waiting for my newsletter to come out, you know I’ve been writing a WHOLE lot more. The reason for that is simple. Of the tasks I do for my business, writing is one of my favorites and I was limiting my writing time in favor of other parts of the business that I truly did not enjoy. During my weeks of physical meltdown, I decided to shift that focus. I decided it was okay to follow the fun. I decided that what I really enjoy actually matters.

So all of these messages confirmed that for me, but they also pushed me to look a little deeper, well, or a little shallower in this case. I look deep as a matter of course. Maybe, just maybe, I could lighten up a little.

So I’m thinking about that… LOL. I really meant that because that’s my reaction, my go-to response to something that I’m really not sure how to do. Sometimes I’m not sure how to lighten up, how to just have fun.

adult-beautiful-blow-156168But here’s the thing. I know people who really truly know how to do that. There are three other souls in this house who are much better at lightening up than I am. So the easy first step is to accept the invitations. My kids are around most of this summer (I planned a few structured diversions so the seminarian and I could get some work done). They will ask me to do things with them. They will ask me to play games. They will ask if we can go to a pool or a park or for a walk in the woods. The answer I hope to make habitual is YES. I want to channel Shonda Rhimes this summer and when my kids ask if I can play with them, I want to say yes.

I also want to follow their example and pay attention to the things that make me feel good, that I enjoy, that are fun to do regardless of the outcome. And I want to shift my energy output so more of it goes right there. I agree with my friend Bob Clegg who said: “If there’s a loving God in heaven (or a universal presence, omniscient spirit, etc), surely it would want us to have fun.”

If you struggle with this and you need me to tell you that play is important, not just fun, I’m going to say that. It’s important. It’s important because it teaches you. It’s important because it frees you. It’s important because humans get to have joy and you are human.

Now stop all of this heavy lifting and go play. Don’t come home until the streetlights come on.

XO,

julia

Facing the Music

I have a phone call with a master coach today.

blank-branding-identity-business-6372It is a follow-up call for training I received.

I am dreading this call.

I am dreading it because I am ashamed.

I am ashamed at my “lack of progress.”

I am ashamed that I haven’t put all of her teaching to good use.

I am afraid of admitting that I am unsure what I’m doing and why.

I am afraid of facing someone I respect with my interpretation of the current facts.

There are so many parts of this story that are wrong (and I hear you being oh so kind about them – don’t worry my self-abuse is temporary and not terminal), including the voice in my head, the old adolescent voice, who is so afraid of facing the truth that she is desperately trying to reposition. “I didn’t do these things because… I couldn’t do them because…”

Excuses.

And I say that not like a personal trainer might while urging me to go to the gym (not gonna happen, BTW). I say that as the wise woman who sees that repositioning is merely a distraction, an attempt to dodge the point, a failure to learn the lessons by avoiding the truth of the matter (which I’m not entirely clear on and that’s okay).

There are things I have not done.

I can sit here and fight with that and simultaneously feel ashamed OR

I can accept that I have not done these things – it is past. I cannot do them all by the time of my call. Those decision moments are behind me.

I can forgive myself, because really, what choice is there? I can keep beating myself up but that is not proving to give me any kind of result other than not being able to act for a new set of reasons. Forgiveness is the only choice that will create space for progress.

I can then pick up that list (color-coded even) and look at the items and be brutally honest about why they are untouched. What have I left undone and why? All answers are allowed without judgment.

I can get clear about the thoughts and feeling that are preventing me from acting.

I can take those to my master coach because really, like so many others, she only wants to help.

I tend to think of responsibility as meaning I do everything I’m supposed to do, but I think that there is more to it than that, because humans. None of us do everything we’re supposed to do, at least I haven’t met those people. And that’s because there’s an awful lot that goes into the determination of what we’re “supposed” to do.

There’s the whole part where that list gets made. Some of us are really good about being focused and clear during that part. Following our gut-level intuition, using our prior knowledge and experience, thinking about what it means to be love in the world, taking into account the hours in the actual day. Can you tell I’m maybe not so great at this part? Who can think of all of those things at the same time? I frequently rely on some interstellar guidance at those moment because good grief my emo-intellectual cosmic calculating spreadsheet only has so many columns! So that list is the first place where slippage can happen because sometimes the things that make on the list don’t belong there. Sometimes things that do belong on the list get left off. Sometimes we lose the list.

blur-close-up-handwriting-131979Where else does it get messy? Well, with the giant chunk that follows that – the execution. There is a bit of an intermediary step in prioritizing, but I’d say that falls prone to the same problem as I just described in the whole list-making phase. Execution is where the rubber hits the road, or where we stay in park. Maybe we’re in park idling, just not moving. Maybe we keep trying to go and the kids keep hopping in and out of the car needing assistance and snacks. Maybe we’re driving a few inches forward and then backing up, never really completing anything but dipping our toes into all of the items on the list. Maybe we’re just sitting in the damn car with the keys in our fist crying because we remember when we crashed. So many things can get in the way of execution.

Humans are messy. Doing things is far more complicated than it sometimes appears, and far more involved than we give it credit for when we beat ourselves up for inaction. To say that we are irresponsible when we don’t do it all seems unnecessarily judgy and mean to me. I think a human standard, one that acknowledges imperfection and complexity, focuses more on responsibility as being the moment when you honestly face what you have and have not done and what’s going on there; when you look at your decision-process and either make a new choice or sort out what’s going on in your head; when you let go of the crap that didn’t belong on the list in the first place and you add the things that you were crazy to leave off. That sounds responsible and real to me.

Or maybe that’s just a story I tell myself so I can get on with things. And really, that’s okay too.

What do you make responsibility mean? Do you use it as a weapon against yourself or do you let it help you grow? There is a choice there. Every day.

What’s In Your Attic?

I’ve been reading a book by Nadia Bolz-Weber. She is a Lutheran pastor who is down to earth, funny, and unapologetic about all of the ways she doesn’t match the stereotype or the idealized version of a Christian minister. I find her work funny, meaningful, and incredibly inspiring. One of the reasons I like her so much is that she always makes the connection between the theological or the biblical and every day life. Now, I’m not going to do the same here as I have no interest in schooling you on the Bible or claiming any kind of theological authority, but this idea that Bolz-Weber put forward kind of stopped me in my tracks (metaphorically, I was reading on the couch, already stopped).

She’s writing about Advent, and I won’t go into it in too much depth (I do talk about Advent here, if that’s of interest to you), but she and a congregant begin discussing an idea about a practice for Advent, the time leading up to Christmas. She proposes to her friend that they make lists for Advent, you know like a Christmas list, but so not. A Christmas list includes everything you want to bring in, to add, to receive. An Advent list, on the other hand, includes everything that you’d like removed, everything (in her words): “we want Christ to break in and take from us. in the hopes he could pickpocket the stupid junk in our houses, or abscond with our self-loathing or resentment…” I am completely in love with this idea. I am so in love with it I needed to share it with you when the holiday season is half a year away. Patience has NEVER been my thing.

background-bags-bows-1050244This whole idea of the Advent list really got me to thinking about how we see “better.” When we think about things getting better in our lives, we often focus on what would add to them: more stuff, more space, more vacation, more clothes, more shoes, more good food, more time and always ALWAYS more money (me too, yes please).

In my own personal development and growth these last few years, however, I’ve seen that my greatest happiness, my biggest joys, my clearest leaps forward have all been as a result of removing something rather than adding something new. Don’t worry, I’m not about to go all minimalist on you because anyone who’s seen my house knows THAT’s a laugh. The point here isn’t about the stuff, the cars, the house, or even the shoes (no, not even the shoes).

The point is that when it comes to our selves – our souls, our personalities, our essence(s) – it is rarely an addition that is needed.

Alright, WTH am I talking about. Let me share a little story.

Years ago, when I began to see my coach (yes coaches have coaches), I had a specific goal in mind. I wanted to figure out what to do professionally. The kids were growing up and I wanted to get back to work in some capacity. It was clear that the previous plan (me returning to the classroom) would not work when I began to feel nauseous (not in a nervous but more like a oh please no kind of way) every time I thought about it or got a call to substitute or did work towards renewing my certification. Every time. I decided to listen to the old God pod and explore other options.

My coach listened intently to my conundrum, the background story, the questions, the circular thinking, the distrust of my own preferences and she said, brilliantly: “I know you have a really specific goal here, but sometimes before you can deal with life on the first floor, you’ve got to clean out the attic.”

I laughed and shook my head, having known this was coming and not wanting anything to do with it. And yet, it was time. It was time to find the way forward by removing the impediments. It was time to find the way forward by dropping the shield. It was time to ask the questions WITHOUT having pre-scripted answers to run into. I needed things to be taken away. My relationship with religion has been somewhat spotty, but I do know miracles from humans when I see them. The work that my coach and I did together was nothing short of magical. She helped me find the junk that was in the way. She helped me clear the road, unclog the pipes, and clean out the attic. How’s that for whole lot of cleanup in a mixed metaphor?

agriculture-box-container-5841If you measure my life in material terms, it’s pretty darned good, and has been for a long time. Since my seminarian and I embarked on our mid-life crises simultaneously, that material reality has changed. We have less. But what we’ve really done is changed the internal landscape so dramatically that the shift in our income matters far less than it would have years ago. We have less in the attic: less self-doubt, less resentment, less certainty about what can’t be, fewer fearful voices, fewer rules, less need to fit in, less desire to compete, less need to buffer ourselves against the dissatisfaction we created. We have less. Those boxes have been sorted through, the gems moved into places of prominence and the tattered dregs tossed to the curb.

We have less, and so we find that we are able to be more, and that’s all we ever wanted.

What’s on your Advent list? What do you want taken out of your head, your heart, your life? You have several months to answer that question. If you’d like, I’d love to be part of your decluttering team.

 

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.

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I Don’t Believe in Laziness

I talk to a lot of people.

We talk about all different kinds of problems – a seriously diverse set of problems: work, relationships, next steps in life, grief, body image, overwhelm, loneliness just to name a few.

Despite this variety, in our topics, I hear one sentence an awful lot: “I’m just lazy.”

It always gets thrown in with a list of other reasons for WHY something isn’t happening or being done, like this is a statement without consequence: “I’m so lazy.”

I have a couple of problems with this “lazy” verdict: the first problem that I have with it is that I don’t believe in laziness as an explanation. I don’t believe that laziness is a root problem, a fundamental characteristic of humans, a fatal flaw. How about that? I bet everyone is thinking of someone right now, someone who makes you think: “No, for real, laziness is a thing. I’ve seen it.” Is there a hammock in that mental picture of yours, maybe a TV, lots of lounging going on?

You aren't lazy.Here’s the thing. When I say laziness isn’t the cause, what I mean is that what we see as laziness is just a result of an internal thought process for a person. For some folks out there, the ones we’re judging from out here on the outside, what we see as laziness may just some straight up acceptance and contentment, maybe even some good planning. There are people in the world who feel good enough about themselves to relax and not have it be about avoiding anything. They allow themselves that pleasure. They allow themselves to experience down time. They allow themselves time off from everything and feel darned good while they do that.

For some of us this laziness label is what we call not being motivated enough to do the thing: the thing we SHOULD do, the thing that we’ve decided will make everything better, the THING – you know that thing, right? What is it for you? Working out? Eating better? Finally finishing that book you’ve been working on? Putting together a resume? What is the THING?

I want to tell you all, the ones stamping yourselves with that laziness label, you are not lazy. The “problem” lies underneath that; there’s something that’s sucking up all of your motivation, all of your energy, all of your will to do the THING. And that something is a thought. How do I know that? Because this is how the brain works. We have a thought, we have a feeling, we act (or don’t act). So if “laziness” is code for not acting, it’s because of a thought you are having. not because you are just this way.

And I’d like to add here that thinking you are just this way – that is some damaging ish right there. “I’m just lazy.” If you ever say this about yourself I want you to take a minute and think that on purpose right now. Just think it, say it out loud if that makes it easier and notice how you feel. I can’t speak for you, but when I call myself lazy, which I did just for a second there so I could share this with you, I don’t feel so good. I feel heavier. I feel slow, but not in a relaxed way, like I’m stuck in molasses. I feel a little sad. I feel like I’ve already failed. I’ve got news for you, none of those feelings are going to help me get anywhere today. Not a one. The thought that you are lazy might be enough, in and of itself, to stop you in your tracks. But you likely judged yourself as lazy when you were already stopped, so we have to go down a layer here.

So what are you thinking, besides that you are lazy, that is stealing your energy? What’s running around in your head that’s making it hard for you to do the THING? Is it that it won’t work anyway, so why bother? Is it that good things don’t happen to you? Is it that there’s something wrong with you? Is it that succeeding at the THING will cause a problem for you or for people you care about? What is that thought? What do you have cooking in your amazing brain that’s keeping you stuck? Wouldn’t it be great to actually have the energy to do the THING?

What are you thinking?
If you’re not sure about all of this, I challenge you, I challenge you the next time you stop yourself from doing whatever it is you are trying to do, to stop and take a deep breath and listen to what’s going on in your head. What are you telling yourself? I challenge you to do this for a couple of days, to see what tapes you’ve got playing in there because those tapes? They are what’s got you stuck; they are what’s getting in the way. They are stopping you from doing the THING.

If you get that far, maybe you’ve jotted a few of those sentences down, I’d love to hear about it. Drop me a line at julia@juliajones.com. I’d love to help you find the energy to do your thing.

If you think you have an idea what you’re telling yourself – if you know what the culprit is, and aren’t sure what to do next, why not try rewriting that story? Just click on the graphic below to dig a little deeper.

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How to Get Out of Overwhelm

Even When You Have to Do It ALL…

You have so much to do, a really big list, and it all feels important and then it happens.

You shut down.

Your brain refuses. Your body refuses. You can’t even imagine what you should do next.

when you have to do everythingIt’s overhwhelm. The big cloud of too much-ness that cuts us off from our intentions and keeps us from getting things done, and usually makes us feel like crap about that. Yep, overwhelm.

Here’s a secret about overwhelm, though. It’s really just a cloak. It’s a shield. It’s a protective device.

And just saying that makes it seem a little different, doesn’t it? Like so many of our thoughts and feelings, overwhelm is just trying to keep us safe. If we can loosen it a little, we may find that we don’t need all of that protection.

So how do we get out of it, without dumping all of our responsibilities (even if that’s what we’d most like to do)?

I’ve got some pretty simple (notice I didn’t say easy) suggestions on that front.

1) Check in with how you feel about that list of things you have to do. Many times overwhelm is your brain’s way of protecting you from becoming angry, afraid, or my personal favorite when it comes to domestic responsibilities, resentful. I don’t like thinking I have to do everything. It gets me all jammed up. Makes things feel unfair, makes me feel like a drudge. When I am overwhelmed, I don’t have to really feel those things – they just percolate gently in the background instead of coming to a full boil.

Overwhelm often protects us from fear as well. When we have a list that will help us make progress on a big project or includes some risks, steps forward, new territory our fear shuts that stuff down. Nope, we’re going to be overwhelmed instead of afraid because afraid – afraid sucks. No thanks.

Ask yourself if there’s a feeling you might be avoiding by being overwhelmed. If you can admit how you feel and maybe feel it just a little, the fog may lift.

2) Check in with what you think about that list of things you have to do. Sometimes our thoughts make forward motion simply impossible. Let me give you a couple of examples of thoughts that might spur overwhelm:

  • I have to get all of this done today – the trick about this one is that there’s usually a second half to it about what it means if you don’t – some version of you’re no good.
  • I have to do all of this perfectly.
  • Nobody else does anything around here.
  • I’m the only one who can handle this stuff.
  • Sure would be nice to have 5 minutes to myself.

All of these thoughts (and others) signal to your brain that you need a break, that the list is not possible, that it would be dangerous to try to complete it (because if it’s not perfect you’re screwed or whatever). So you brain complies with a nice bit of fog. There, break granted. If you can find the thought that’s making the list too awful to do and face it, the fog may lift.

your brain needs a break3) Create your own break. I know, I know! When you are overwhelmed by everything you need to do, the last thing you think you can do is take a break, but let’s be honest, when you are overwhelmed you’re not getting anything done anyway, right? Why not give your brain what it’s asking for, a break? How you do that depends a lot on what feels like a real break for you, but I can make some suggestions to get you started, in case you are wrapped in brain fog at this very minute:

  • Take a short walk outside. The fresh air, the movement, the nature will all help release that fog and help you get some clarity on where to dig in.
  • If you are a meditator, do that even if it’s just for five minutes.
  • If you aren’t, make yourself a cup of your favorite warm beverage and sit somewhere pleasant and just drink it for five minutes. Don’t do anything else. Just drink your drink, look around and take some deep breaths.
  • If you suspect that what you really are is tired and there’s any way to take a power nap, do that. If you can’t, try my favorite trick and set a timer for 15-30 minutes, put your feet up and close your eyes. Trust that the timer will let you know when your time is up.

Giving yourself that time may be all your brain needs to release that fog for you.

Once the fog is gone, you can consider what’s on your list, but I won’t suggest that you edit it because I promised from the start I wouldn’t argue with you about whether or not you really have to do it all…

But do you?

So Much Love,

julia

What’s A Story?

Yesterday I did a workshop on Rewriting Your Story – it’s my thing right now and I have to tell you that this material is transformational at the foundational level. Sounds important, right? It is. I mean it.

We spend a lot of time exploring what our stories are in this workshop and in order to give participants a boost on finding their stories, I offer some categories of kinds of stories and some examples of my own. To be frank, this is also necessary to make this a safe space. I am asking people to think up some of the most painful stuff they’ve got going at the moment, I feel compelled to show them some painful stuff of my own.

pexels-photo-261763At any rate, I offer these categories to you as a way to think about what kind of baggage you might be carrying around. One kind of self-limiting story is based largely on an event in your past. It doesn’t really matter what kind of event. It doesn’t matter how old you were. It doesn’t even, for our purposes here, matter what happened to you (which is not to say that it doesn’t matter at all what happened to you). This story, this event from the past is something that you repeat to yourself, something you return to again and again. You may see it as an explanation for how things have turned out. You have likely identified it as a turning point of some kind. It is an event that led you to some conclusion about yourself that may have seemed logical or reasonable at the time but has now become harmful to you.

The other major category of story that I see is the type that is a general idea about who you are, who you can be, what you’re capable of, maybe even what you could never do or have or know. These are trickier. Sometimes they come from a specific event, but sometimes they are a little harder to pin down. Sometimes they come from family beliefs. Sometimes they come from family roles. Sometimes they are just conclusions we have drawn at some point and just keep fueling up with new evidence.

I had a vague story like that that for all of its lack of specificity, created a great deal of trouble in my life. Somewhere along the way I got the idea that there was something wrong with me. You’re wondering what that means, but you see that’s the beauty of that belief. It can mean anything. What it definitely means is that there is something about you that is inherently bad or damaged or broken. What it also means is that every time something bad happens in your world, you know why.

And guess what? Bad things happen. So when I had pretty normal teenage angst – something was wrong with me. When I had a hard time feeling like I had “real” friends – something was wrong with me. When I struggled to feel connected to family – something was wrong with me. When I struggled to figure out what to study in college and rejected things that I loved and filled me with joy – something was wrong with me. When I struggled to figure out what to do with myself professionally – something was wrong with me. When I married young and made a mess of it from the very beginning – something was wrong with me. When I experienced a 7 year battle with infertility – oh brother was there something wrong with me. You see where I’m going with this. Anything can be evidence when we have a general crappy story about ourselves.

And sometimes we use that story to generate more evidence. If there’s something wrong with me, I can’t really let people see who I am because then they’ll know. If there’s something wrong with me, I might as well give up on big dreams, big projects, big demands because it won’t go well anyway. If there’s something wrong with me, I’d better do everything I can to make things alright for everyone and then realize how annoying and exhausting that is so I can resent them. See how that works? Now THAT’s a great shitty story. It cuts both ways. It gives explanations for why things will never be better AND it fuels the internal meltdown fires. It allows you to both keep your distance and feel the devastation of loneliness. It allows you to self-sabotage at the deepest level.

pexels-photo-261734-2Do you have one of these, one of these horrible generic stories? Do you collect evidence for it? Do you use it to excuse yourself? Is it deeply written in your wiring even though you are starting to see it and your wise self KNOWS it’s the worst kind of b.s?

There’s work to do there. There’s work to do on that thing you’ve decided about yourself. And here’s the thing. That story? The one you’re already looking at with side eye – it’s a choice. It’s a choice you’ve made so many times it doesn’t even require you to participate any more.

So the work involves making a new choice, but that can be a really big step. So what about taking a smaller one. What about just noticing? What about just bringing that unconscious story you’re telling into the forefront? What about REALLY seeing yourself? What about deciding that MAYBE, just maybe thinking on purpose could be helpful and starting with noticing where you are today, right now, how often you have that thought, how often you retell that story, how strong and sure it feels, how ready you are to tell me that it’s a fact. Notice. That’s the first step, and even if you never take another, it will be different.

If that’s too small a step, dive into really changing things with my free mini book. It will tell you how to change that story of yours so you can watch your life change as a result. It really CAN be different.

In a Tower, Like a Flower

This past weekend I had the pleasure of helping put on a (hugely abbreviated) production of Into The Woods at my church. I hadn’t seen the movie that came out a few years ago and to be honest, I wasn’t enthusiastic about the music for a good long while. Sondheim is hard y’all.

For those who aren’t familiar, the musical takes several fairytales and sort of puts them in a blender and adds music. Having ultimately enjoyed our short version, I will now watch the longer movie. Throughout our production, our minister interjected thoughts about the lessons in the fairy tales and it got me paying attention to those old themes.

pexels-photo-620315One of the fairy tales that is woven throughout the play is Rapunzel. It caught my attention especially because I just read a retelling of it last year (Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth, I recommend it). It also caught my attention because of the haunting and extremely repetitive line that Rapunzel sings over and over again. The prince who is in love with her is driven mad by the singing as he attempts to climb her hair.

The whole thing got me to thinking of how Rapunzel’s plight plays out for many folks. In our modern and non-fairy tale world we are not locked away in towers by a vengeful witch. We may be confined by circumstance and society. And we may also be constrained, limited to towers of our own making.

For many of us fear is the witch. Fear of being bigger: fear of being bolder, fear of being more real, more vulnerable, more easily hurt. And so we choose confinement. We choose solitude, isolation, sameness, predictability and routine. We choose these things because it feels safe. The witch acknowledges that there is good stuff out there in the big world, but that it is not worth the enormous risk we would have to take to get there. “Don’t you know what’s out there in the world? Someone has to shield you from the world. Stay with me.” And over time, we forget that our tower is of our own devising. We forget that we created it with choices, thoughts, and assumptions. We think that location (or job, or spouse, or whatever other circumstance you think it’s all about) is the problem and if we could just change THAT, but we can’t change that, so…

So just like Rapunzel we occupy ourselves with maintenance of the tower. Rapunzel’s prince laments the amount of time she spends maintaining her hair, her hair that is both magical gift and the key to her entrapment. The witch uses it to gain access to Rapunzel knowing that Rapunzel cannot climb down her own hair: her hair that makes excessive motion too difficult to think about, her hair that suggests that she must be saved rather than that she could escape on her own, her hair that has magical healing powers. She takes care of it. She preserves it. And waits.

How Rapunzel’s story goes from there depends on who is telling it. In the retelling our young captive has varying degrees of complicity, courage, pluck, and brilliance. What happens to the witch also depends on which version of the story (“original,” Disney, Kate Forsyth) you encounter.

pexels-photo-274886But none of that really matters for the real story here. None of that really matters for your story. None of that makes a bit of difference if you look at your life and you feel trapped. I’ve had that trapped feeling, and while I can’t say it’s the absolute worst, because whatever awful feeling you’re having in a given moment is usually the absolute worst, but trapped ranks up there for me. Feeling like I have no ability to change the circumstances of my life is a killer. Thinking that I can’t change the one thing that would make me happier is so demoralizing.

And then I remember that that is a thought. That notion is like a single stone that I used to create my own tower. That idea is one that adds to the wall every time I have it. And working to change those thoughts, rather than caring for them and carrying them around is the way out. I work towards a thought that allows me to believe that I can change things and that if I believe that, the way to do it will become more clear. I don’t aid and abet those who would help wall me in with limited notions of my capacity. I don’t assist by bowing to convention or tradition. I choose which of my gifts to nurture. I choose where to put my time and energy. And I DON’T wait for rescue.