Growing Roots (A Series): Part VII

Rooting in Trust: The Gifts of Being Uncertain

Yep, there it all is. Trust and uncertainty. Our favorites, right?

I got started thinking about the relationship between these two things in church. Our minister made reference to the Jewish practice of writing God as G-d. I learned that this spelling is a way of signifying that the writer is talking about the god of Abraham (the ONE god for Jews, Muslims, and Christians, yes the same ONE for all three), signifying that entity while being clear that we can only be so specific in doing so. In the words of my minister this practice serves “to show we don’t really know what we are talking about.” I love this admission.

This designation, this way of acknowledging such a big mystery with three characters, speaks to an acceptance of uncertainty that I find refreshing and intriguing. And the impact for the faith that uses this spelling is instructive.

aisle-beach-celebration-169198Acknowledging that fundamental uncertainty about divinity has not prevented the Jewish people from developing a deep and abiding faith both as a group and as individuals as they so choose. That uncertainty has not prevented the Jewish people from referencing, describing, and writing about or praying to God as they so choose. Acknowledging the limits of what is known has not kept Jewish people from developing a shared cultural tradition of celebrations, rituals, food, and music with which to enrich their lives as they so choose.

Accepting this fundamental uncertainty about the exact nature of God has not prevented or hindered growth, love, richness and fullness in living.

My mother told me a long time ago that I “have never been a fan of uncertainty.” As I write that, it occurs to me how much more those words describe her than me, and how universal they seem to be in humanity. But to keep it personal, I admit that I have always felt more comfortable with a clear plan, routines, expected outcomes. These qualities all helped me as a teacher and parent, but haven’t always served me well in times of trouble and stress and during times of fundamental unpredictability (which I acknowledge are increasingly common as I am honest about it).

For years the added discomfort of “I don’t know what will happen” kept me committed to plans that I no longer felt good about, routines that didn’t serve me, and striving for outcomes that my heart wasn’t invested in. That fear of uncertainty kept me caged up.

It seems to me, as I think about this whole G-d thing, that there is an entirely different way to approach uncertainty. It seems to me now, as someone who has entirely thrown off her professional plans in favor of the substantial risks of soul-centered self-employment, and as the partner of someone who discarded a lucrative career in favor of seminary, that our avoidance of uncertainty is based entirely upon the possibility of a negative outcome and our desire to control the process – thinking that our control will eliminate negative outcomes.

I look to the lessons of my own parenting when it comes to this issue. I confess I tend to be on the controlling side of parenting in many ways. We limit junk food, video games and television in our home. I acknowledge that these limits have created some social gaps for my kids and I STILL think I’m in the right. With all of that said, and no parent reading this will be surprised by this, all of that control in no way guarantees how my children will behave, the choices they will make, or who they will become. The uncertainty and unpredictability in human interactions and growth can bring great disappointments, and they can also reveal joy and beauty beyond what we could have asked for.

What I’m seeing through all of this is a fundamental difference in being rooted in control and rooted in uncertainty – which, by the way, means being rooted in trust.

Being rooted in uncertainty implies some basic acceptance of the fact that we can’t ever be completely certain of, or totally control anything beyond how we feel inside. Uncertainty is the fundamental reality. It is our desire for control that makes it so uncomfortable.

back-view-backlit-city-847483What if, instead of believing our actions would result in a particular desired outcome, we chose what we do based on whether or not it feels good, the kind of good that makes us nod our heads when we choose it; The kind of good that, when we are listening, makes our bodies feel the way the have felt during the best of times. What if we used that criteria, of how we feel, and trusted that the way we feel is enough, that things will be what they will be, and we will handle the outcome?

Making choices that way is only possible when we accept uncertainty as a fundamental condition of reality and choose to trust that ultimately we will be well, or well enough. That rooting, that acceptance, opens us up to seeing beyond what we are hoping for, outside of the boundaries of what we have planned for ourselves and what our linear thinking and our logic dictate as the most likely outcome. Acceptance of uncertainty, and the choice to cultivate trust opens a rich and delicious world of choices that can make our lives so very whole, so very full, and so deeply connected to our needs, our gifts, and our desires.

What would happen for you if you just admitted that you don’t know what’s going to happen, and if you sat with that admission long enough for the fear to subside? I think I know what’s on the other side, and it feels like freedom.

Letting Go of Plan B

I stumbled across a quote the other day that challenged me.

“Why don’t we stay in the realm of the answer, rather than always returning to the realm of the problem?”

It’s from Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love, which is a challenging book, chock full of challenging quotes, but this one called me out – not called out to me but called me out.

And I say that with some gentleness, rather than scolding.

balance-beach-body-1199588You see, I’ve discovered a variety of practices that make me feel really good, really centered, really effective. I’ve figured some things out about what my body and spirit need most to do my work in the world. And I do them… until I don’t.

This quote is me – my spiritual practices, my beliefs, my faith, my discipline, my will, my self-compassion, my business, most of my efforts really. All of them I handle with a duck-in/duck-out sort of mentality. I rarely go all in and sustain it.

I duck into meditation and then something interrupts my practice and I forget to keep doing it.

I dip into prayer and then forget to use it when I really want help or guidance.

I cherish my budding faith in the universe when I feel good and deride myself for it when things aren’t going well.

I always return to the realm of the problem.

What makes it so difficult for me to stay in the realm of the answer and what would that look like? My mind offers some very practical explanations for my dip in duck out approach.

You can’t, after all, meditate all day long. You do actually have to DO some things.

Wisdom answers: You can bring your awareness to your breath at any time. You can acknowledge your thoughts as transient and consciously choose and respond to them. You can wish for peace for yourself an others constantly.

My mind: You can’t, after all, pray all day long. You do actually have to DO some things.

Wisdom answers: You can converse with the force that binds us all day long, in snippets or treatises. You can ask for things, help, guidance. You can want and ask for more. You can see any action you take as prayer and proceed as though that is your intention. What would happen to your days if all of your actions were a prayer?

My mind: I’ve got too much to do.

Wisdom answers: When you take care of yourself physically, emotionally, spiritually, your effectiveness, your efficiency, and your productivity skyrocket. You know this. Is it really the to do list that’s getting you or is that just an excuse?

And that’s when the bird poop really hits the hair, because it’s not about spirituality or personal development or woo woo practices, it’s about self-sabotage and whatever is getting in the way of feeling and being better.

It’s about being afraid to succeed.

It’s about being afraid to be different.

It’s about being afraid to change (AGAIN).

I see myself and this entire pattern as a desire to not be ALL IN.

I think I do this a lot, hold back, stop myself from being all in. I’m not sure exactly why, but I imagine it has something to do with the vulnerability inherent in being all in.

cards-casino-chips-39856When we go all in, we are clear about what we want. We are claiming and proclaiming (at least to whoever is around) our desires, our intentions, our dreams, our wants. When we go all in we stop hedging our bets, taking half measures, protecting our behinds, busily formulating Plan Bs. When we go all in we let other options go, we release the safety of the status quo, and we step firmly into new territory with unpredictable outcomes. When we go all in, we are risking (and the alarmist in my wants to add… everything).

The fears that get in my way are the same no matter what I’m talking about.

The reasons to play it small are equally consistent.

But the reasons to go all in, those I’m less familiar with as it has not generally been my way… except that one time.

That one time I decided to try one more time. That one time I decided to remove all of the obstacles to what I wanted. That one time I took advice and sought out the best collaborator I could find. That one time I aligned my thinking with the outcome I wanted and kept it there, ditching the fear that it was all a horrible mistake. That one time I trusted that even if I didn’t get what I wanted, I would be better off for having tried – really tried. That one time I quit my stressful job, stabbed myself with needles full of hormones, got poked and prodded and examined and investigated. That one time I did EVERYTHING. That one time I got pregnant and kept the babies. That one time.

And I’ve taught myself the lesson by thinking maybe I had something to say to you about the struggle to be consistent with our self-care. It turns out the lesson I needed to hear today was a different one, a lesson about the gifts of real commitment and some encouragement to jump in the deep end of the pool every once in a while. The question I need to ask myself is a real one about aligning my action to my desires, about honesty and authenticity, about realizing that taking risks has always been the only way to get the things I most wanted.

And so I’m going to start to ask myself: “Are you all in?” Not to spur myself to greater levels of workaholism. Not to shame myself into some kind of to do list-making frenzy, but to check my heart, to check my thoughts, to see if I am really committing to what I say I’m trying to do, to what I say I want. The answer doesn’t have to be “Yes,” but if it’s no, then that bears looking at, right?

How about you? Where are you employing half-measures and expecting a full return? Are you all in?

 

Keeping the Door Open

I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity lately. I am both a life coach AND a musician. I have not always been a life coach, but I have always been a musician. In the past I saw the line between my work (my paying work, let’s be honest) and my music work as the line of creativity. In this part of my life I am artistic, creative; in this part I work. I kept it all separate and had a pretty shallow definition of creativity.

I didn’t see the class assignments and curriculum decisions I made as being creative. I didn’t see the writing I did as creative. I didn’t see the decisions I made to gut and renovate a home as creative. They were all just work (notice the “just” there, too). I didn’t really acknowledge my own creativity across the board and in retrospect I suspect that the sharp dividing line caused me to miss out on opportunities to be even more creative in those “work” situations.

A friend shared a quote from Martha Graham and it really helped me to acknowledge what has been a shift in my thinking, and gave me a push to really think about creative force and how I allow, dismiss, and use it in all of my life. Here it is:

There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time this expression is unique. and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it! It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.

You are miraculous.I want it on a poster. I want it stitched on a pillow (a big pillow). I want it in neon lights that only light up when I’m closing up like a sad, finished flower. I love this quote because it has it all in there: you are a unique expression of biological miracles and happenstance; only you can do what you do; comparison with others is a waste of time and should not be allowed; you have to allow inspiration for it to work. LOVE!

Here’s the thing, though, we see the word channel and people get a little iffy. What am I channeling? Where’s it coming from? Is this some sort of new age woo woo whackery? Yeah, I don’t know. You don’t have to believe that the channel is open to spirit, to ancient wisdom, or to universe juice to consider the idea that our being closed or open is what makes the primary difference in whether or not we try new stuff. What if the channel is just a gate to the part of you that is always experiencing, always feeling, always knowing, and always creating when you are busy working? What if it’s all in you and all you have to do is listen? There are a lot of things I don’t know, but I do know this: we are the gatekeepers of the flickers of brilliance that come to us – from wherever.

I also know, from my own experience, and from friends and clients alike, that we spend a whole lot of time and energy reinforcing that closed gate. Why do we do it? Why do we keep the guards at the gate, blocking out new ideas, new thoughts, creative approaches, solutions that aren’t fully formed yet but that are there – flashing at the corners of our attention?

I think we have sort of inflated expectations where creative inspiration is concerned. I think we’re expecting a burning bush, a whole novel, a complete song, a totally clear direction or plan. We think if it’s real inspiration, it ought to look biblical or at least vaguely miraculous. I guess that happens sometimes, but in my experience, mostly nope. Glimmer, work, fail, refine, crash, glimmer, refine…. Yay? That’s not exactly a burning bush but it IS something so long as we notice it.

I think the other big reason (and I think there are many little reasons) that we shut out our creative inspiration is fear. Plain and simple. It displays itself in different ways. It comes out as perfectionism. It comes out as “busy-ness”. It comes out as sheer rigidity and discomfort at changing plans and approaches. It comes out as our desire to fit in, meet social expectations, and not buck the system.

being more creativeWe shut it down. We close ourselves off. We dig into our tried and true routines. Our brains, which are really happy with us surviving and not taking risks, breathe a sigh of relief. But what if letting that inspiration in WASN’T risking everything? What if letting it in could make everything better, more interesting, more fun, and CERTAINLY more you? What if all you’re doing is closing yourself to yourself? Breaking yourself into little manageable pieces that don’t work together to really get fully engaged with anything? What would it feel like to open, just a little?

A year or two ago I was following a guided meditation series (Oprah and Deepak Chopra, they are periodically free and very useful) and the instruction was with each breath to open yourself just a little bit more. I had been working with a coach at the time and we had noticed that I tend to “armor up” at time, lots of good self-protection that was keeping me from being all the way “in” for anything. And so, as I meditated, I consciously pictured removing my armor, opening just a little more with each breath.

And you know what? It felt great. There’s a whole lot to this life that you can miss out on if you won’t let it in. How’s your armor? Need a safe place to take it off? Wait, that sounds bad. Want someone to help you listen? I’d love to help.

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Rethinking Rejection

Ugh, the R word, rejection. When I talk to friends and clients, and when I dig down to my own motivations and rationales, so often there is, at bottom, a fear of being rejected, of not being liked, of being left, or being laughed at and thought foolish, or being deemed unlovable, unworthy, or thinking those things ourselves. There it is, right? One of the big ones, the big fears, the ideas that keep us up at night and make us want to stay in bed in the morning, just the same in adulthood as they did when we were in middle school. If I dare to ____________, I will be rejected.

Slide1We don’t want that – and hey, we’re only human. Our need for inclusion in the group is totally natural, evolutionarily reasonable, time tested and thorough. And so when we sense that possible rejection (whether we are right or not), we shrink. We shrink from possibility. We shrink from inspiration. We shrink from the limitlessness of our capacity because we are afraid we will no longer be loved, be included, be deemed worthy, be part of the group, be allowed to sit by the fire when the nights are cold and the days are difficult. We shrink from who we could be. We shrink from who we would be. We shrink from who we ARE already.

I heard a story on the TED radio hour (during a long car drive, so I didn’t get all of the details) about a man who decided he’d had enough of his overwhelming fear of rejection. He set out to intentionally get rejected, as an exercise of facing his fear and reducing the meaning of each rejection because he knew that many more had already happened and many more would come. What he discovered is that rejection was not nearly as wounding as he thought, and that when he was SURE he would be rejected, his request was met with curious agreement. In other words, he got a WHOLE lot of what he asked for, even though he really didn’t expect to. But those surprises really weren’t the point. The point was to reduce the sting of rejection.

Our reaction to rejection is complicated, and it is SO far reaching. She said she wasn’t interested. She didn’t ask me to collaborate. He didn’t call. He didn’t laugh when I thought I was funny. We take ALL of that and we make it mean the worst things we can think of. We interpret their “no’s” as more than just: “No, not that specifically, not now.” There are a variety of problems with all of this interpreting.

Firstly, what if most people are being upfront and honest and what they really mean is only: “No, not that specifically, not now”? What if we took the risk of taking adults at their word so that we can get on with things, so that we can be told “no” without it shaking us to the core, so that it doesn’t have to mean that lack of interest in one project is a statement about worth and value? What if we just decided to ONLY hear what is being said without filling in all of the spaces? If that’s a groundbreaking idea for you, I suggest you run at it full speed right away.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, what would happen if we remembered that, as Brooke Castillo says, adults get to do what they want? What does this mean in this context? It means someone gets to say “No” to you without it being a major drama. And you know why that’s really great? There’s more than one reason: 1) it means you won’t be stuck in some weird relationship or project with someone who doesn’t want to be there; 2) it means when someone says no, that’s the end of the transaction, no leftover trails or wanderings – it’s just a simple no; and finally 3) you also get to say no when you want to and therefore you get to curate the way you spend your time, the projects you are involved in, the e-mails you receive, heck just about anything – without, that’s right WITHOUT drama or interpretation on the part of the other adults involved. If we decide that saying NO doesn’t mean everything when people say it to us, it’s reasonable to conclude that it doesn’t mean everything when we say it to them.

Slide2The interesting thing is that stepping out enough to risk rejection might bring on some rejection – I don’t want to lie about that – but it also brings SO much freedom. You can be yourself. You can see who stays, who goes, and you can take some of those “No’s” as surface, minute, and temporary, just as they are meant.

You can take the chance on showing up, showing you, being seen, and in my experience so far, the people who matter most will not only sill be here, but will be delighted to SEE you. And others will show up; your tribe will find you. You will not have to sit away from the fire, in the cold dark night. You will be at home, as yourself, with people who love who you really are. What are you NOT doing because you’re sure you’ll lose them all? What are you still doing to stay safe and warm, even if it means you are not even a little bit yourself? What would it take for me to get you to try a little rejection? I’ll talk you through it.