It’s a new calendar year and I am wanting to open myself, to tell my story. Mine is an every person story. I hear it told by thousands of other people every where. My story and your story, although so different in context and situation, share a common essence and power. Hearing or reading another’s story creates resonance between us, provides signposts to guide us, and aids us in our own inner enquiry. Knowing this encourages me and makes me bolder. How my storytelling will unwind is still somewhat of a mystery; my story knows and soon shall I.
Picking up Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated, I begin reading and realize. This is my story. It’s my story about how a life bound up in unquestioned beliefs narrows our understanding and possibilities and how when life opens to truth and honesty inner knowing emerges. It’s my story about walking a tightrope between wanting connection with family and knowing that that very connection would swallow me whole, never allowing me to walk my path, to create my own life. There are choices we make. We all choose. I chose. And, so do you.
Even though the events and struggles of my life and Tara’s are so different they yield a common truth. That we each have a knowing inside of what feels right and that betraying that “rightness” is giving our life away to others. That only by opening to that embodied knowing can we really embrace our life’s path.
Robert Frost’s words are here with me now as they have been ever since I was in the fourth grade. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and I— I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference.”
An inner process began working in me early. How it started, I don’t know. Through it what became very clear was that education was key — an essential tool to help me create my life — both my inner and outer life. It gave me knowledge and technique and also courage. Through reading and writing, learning how to think, allowing myself to be curious about everything, and seeing and then shifting perspective and seeing again with everything turned upside down, life’s truths and possibilities have opened to me, guided me, and supported me. Not only did this process shape my mind, it shaped my soul.
As I sit here typing, a smile is on my lips. I am happy here at the keyboard. Satisfied with the daily discipline of writing. Delighted when inspiration arises and creativity flows. Steadfast when it doesn’t.
Another truth. Knowing what feels right isn’t enough. You have to act on it. You have to do the work, not helter-skelter, but passionately and unwaveringly. The routine is as important as the stroke of genius. Your daily work is the foundation on which everything else builds. I give myself to the ritual of noting the hour, sitting at my desk and arranging my objects. The paper butterfly, the tiny replica of Degas’s sculpture, The Dancer, the coppery Buddha head from Thailand, and the ceramic heart given to me by a student as a thank you so many years ago line up on the shelf to meet my gaze when I raise my eyes from the keyboard. The pen here, the paper there. The computer screen lit just so. The task light precisely angled. And, then with my fingers on the keys, I am off and running. This daily habit sustains and excites me. I am grateful for it.
In this year we are embarking on together my wish is that each of us finds and listens deeply to that inner knowing of what feels right; that each of us acts on this truth through our work, by putting one foot in front of the other on the path; and, that each of us takes time to shape the routines that nurture each step along the path and applies them daily. Happy New Year everyone!
When we are curious, we are open to asking questions, to new perspectives, and to mysteries. We welcome rather than shun ‘not knowing.’ When we are curious, the mind is enthusiastic, adventurous, and tolerates stress well.
Curiosity is a wonderful attitude to bring to meditation. Why? When we are curious we are not closed and judging, we are open and welcoming. Being open and welcoming to what arises is a cornerstone of being mindful throughout the day and nourishes our formal meditation practice. Instead of fighting against what arises, curiosity allows us to go with what comes. Going with what is arising for us in the moment is freeing. This doesn’t mean we allow ourselves to get hijacked by thoughts and emotions. Rather, we watch them with an interested focused attention allowing them to unfold without entangling ourselves in them.
A curious thing about curiosity. When we are curious we are not afraid. I have noticed in my own practice when fear arises and I am with it in a curious and non-judging way, the fear passes. I will say inwardly, “ I am curious about this fear arising.” This makes it OK to be with the unfolding fear.
Curiosity fosters a sense of comfort–a kind of ease that allows unattached sensing. And, this ease allows us to be open to wondering. Wondering is open-ended. It doesn’t presume an answer. It appreciates gaps and fuzziness. It acknowledges the unfamiliar and inexplicable. Beginning a question with a sense of wonder helps us let the question drop into space without chasing a cognitive answer.
You might ask, “How do I invite curiosity into my practice?” Setting the intention at the beginning of each formal meditation is a wonderful way to begin as is setting it at the beginning of each day. Like anything, the more we cultivate a sense of curiosity the more it grows becoming natural to us. You might simply say, “May I be curious.” Then just let it go. Don’t think about it. Let the intention drop away like a leaf falling from a tree. And, be open to all possibilities.
May you be curious. May I be curious. May we be curious!
Who among us hasn’t had this experience? There is something we really want to do—perhaps in our careers, family, or creative lives. We see it clearly and then the long list of all the ways things might go wrong, all the obstacles that might arise, and all the negative opinions or judgments that others might make arises. We are left feeling that this is not meant to be.
The glass is definitely half empty, if not fully empty, and yet, the wanting to do this particular thing keeps returning to us.
We, humans, are especially good at getting in our own way. Our brains have been wired from the beginning to get us out of the way of danger and threats—real or perceived. Danger arises and we run for cover, fight like crazy, or freeze into frozen statues.
But, this doesn’t mean that we are victims of evolution; it simply means that to do what we want, what is important, and feels true sometimes requires us to do some skillful work inside. By paying full attention and being alert to our own nature—and being present with what arises we come to know what is true for us.
First, we recognize what’s happening in the moment. Perhaps it is self-talk making a list of all the bad and ugly things that might happen if we attempt to do what we are wanting, or it might be a never-ending movie showing us the same. Whatever arises, the first step is to become aware of it. We might say to ourselves something like, “I’m sensing there is a long list of reasons I shouldn’t do this and I’m saying hello to it.”
This kind of acknowledging is very important. It is not a judgement. It is simply a recognition that we are aware it is here and are acknowledging its presence.
Now, invite in an attitude of interest and curiosity. Curiosity is so helpful! When we are curious we are not pushing anything away; and we are not grasping either. Curiosity is a soft, open, and interested attitude. Sometimes it helps to say, “Oh, I’m sensing I’m curious about this.”
And, if something arises letting us know that it doesn’t feel curious and doesn’t like what is arising, we can acknowledge that too, and be curious about that.
And, sometimes when we do this we feel a settling and flow; or we may feel another quality. It could be something like tensing, contracting, or an emotion like fear. Or, perhaps what is here, let’s say the scary list, may grow bigger! Or, something else entirely. Whatever comes next is OK. We acknowledge that, too.
If what has arisen is strong or grows stronger, we might put some space between us and it. Just visualizing space can be helpful. Or sometimes, instead of having direct laser focus on it, allowing our attention to be soft, and fuzzy and a little to the side–as though we are sitting beside it rather than in front of it. This soft attention also creates space.
We might also invite it to let us know how it would like us to be with it. This allows us to be with it in a way that is comfortable to it. This is the beginning of enquiry. Asking questions is a skillful means to bringing ourselves into relationship with what is arising and from there into wholeness.
Yes! We are building a relationship with what is needing our attention. When we think about it, it makes sense to do this. We build relationships all the time, with friends, family, colleagues. This is how strangers become friends.
Now is a good time to sense which other questions might feel appropriate. Perhaps some of these.
Inviting what is here to let you know what is the worst part of it…
Or, inviting it to let you know what it is not wanting to have happened to you…
Or, in a similarly, inviting it to let you know what it is not wanting you to feel…
After asking… just waiting for what comes… and acknowledging by repeating or reflecting back.
And, repeating the sequence for as many times as feels right.
This might go something like this…
Enquiry: I’m inviting it to let me know what it is not wanting to have happen to me…
Deep attention ((what comes will be different for each person): What comes is a sense of failure and an image, quality, or words of being ridiculed
Reflection (Reflecting back): It’s letting me know it doesn’t want me to be ridiculed if I fail…
This sequence of enquiry might repeat several times. Perhaps, then, an openness, flowing, lightness, expansiveness, or calm and ease will arise…
This is the moment to allow this change, this open space, this ease and calm to be here as fully as it wants and an opportunity to give thanks to all that has arisen…
And, then what feels right… the right attitude, the right actions will occur naturally…
Our understanding of time, of past, present, and future, is largely something we conjure up. We dwell on our notion of time. Another year. Another day. We talk about time marching on and about having time, or more often, about not having time. We await and celebrate the New Year while inside wishing that time would stand still—that we could remain just as we are without any changes; or that we could go back in time—that we could start fresh and not feel the remorse, shame or guilt because we should have, could have, or would have done it differently.
Funneling our energy in this way is not helpful to opening possibilities or making us happy. It’s our ability to go with the natural cyclical flows of moon, sun, and season, and of our very own bodies that’s important. Too often we are caught up in what someone else says, does, or thinks. We forget to listen to ourselves. To listen deeply to our own energies as they flow or don’t flow—telling us what we need.
Our to-do lists are long and tedious. Housework. Home repairs, kids’ activities, and family duties. We don’t have any time, we lament. We have obligations and responsibilities, we tell ourselves. Yes, we do. We have a deep responsibility to ourselves. What we need is to take time for introspection. Time to ask ourselves what are we really wanting? The time is there. All we need to do is ask for it.
I remember the story of a young working mother supporting her kids on her own. She thought hard about what was her heart’s desire. To travel. To travel the world. So, every day she took time to put a dollar in a jar. Day after day. Year after year. Her kids grew up and went out into the world on their own. Now was her time for her journey. She took those carefully, meticulously saved dollars and traveled around the world. The cycle had been long—decades—but there she was fulfilling her heart’s desire from that very first moment she put the first dollar in a jar.
It isn’t about immediate gratification. It is about finding that one thing that is deeply wanted inside of us and then acting on that in a steady and consistent way. In the very process, we find happiness because we know that one day we will take that trip around the world.
Everyone is talking about being authentic, of being our authentic selves, and of leading authentic lives. The talk grabs our attention. It feels right to say, “I want to be authentic.” But, exactly what is authenticity? And, how do we know when we truly are?
When we are authentic, the dictionary says, we are genuine, real, true, and honest. These qualities feel right. Most of us want these attributes for ourselves and others. Once we move from the abstract to our daily lives, however, exactly how these operate in us can be much harder to pin down.
What does it mean to be genuine in our words and actions? How do we know if we are being true? True to what? And, are we really honest? Authenticity is an inside job and there s a lot going on in there.
We ask ourselves what is authentic for us. An answer comes. How do we know the answer is authentic? One way is to look at inner and outer drivers.
Inner drivers include what feels right or what feels true in the moment absent of any interference from our environment. Inner drivers include understanding our reasons for acting in a certain way, acting from our own bodily wisdom, and living courageously allowing our creativity to flow. When we are authentic we decide for ourselves without intervention from external authorities or events. But, the inside is a complicated place. Much of what is happening interiorly is due to externalities that we have taken onboard. Traumas, hurts, slights, and misconceptions have dug deep into the very sinews of our bodies, minds, and souls.
Outer drivers include cultural norms, and/or peer, social, and religious pressures to appear a certain way. Our actions, behaviors and outward manifestation can be driven from external forces. When what drives us is something bound up inside of us as a result of our environment, experiences, or traumas then it is these externalities that are driving us. Even external events experienced by our forebears such as famine, war, prejudice, or enslavement can be passed down epigenetically and drive our living experience.
When we feel pressured to adhere to a certain way of living, dressing, or acting or we ignore our own inner objections (such as ‘this doesn’t feel right’) but we do it anyway because we believe we will fit in better or be able to live more comfortably in our surroundings we are living from outer drivers and not our authentic selves.
Authenticity isn’t about being nice. Authenticity is about being true to our inner knowing about what right for us.
Authenticity isn’t about removing ourselves from our environment or our connections. It is about being creative and courageous to act in a way that is being true to who we are as we also live in our environment and nurture our connections.
Sometimes it is useful to sit with ourselves and ask the question? How does this feel inside? Suppose a friend asks you to do something. You immediately say, “Yes, of course I’ll do it,” because this is your friend asking and you want to please your friend. You don’t want your friends, family, society, or culture labeling you as bad, unkind, or selfish.
But inside something doesn’t feel right about it. This thing that your friend has asked you to do doesn’t align with your inner knowing of who you are, your core values, and what feels right. Realizing this you let your friend know, “This doesn’t feel right for me, so, no, not this time.” This is your authentic self shining through.
So what’s authentic? Acting to please your friend even though the action doesn’t align with your core values is not authentic. Letting your friend know that this action doesn’t feel right for you and so you won’t do it is authentic.
Take note here. It is not about your friend, it is about you. When we are authentic, we are not judging others, we are being true to ourselves.
We want to please our friends, our families, and our colleagues. We are compassionate and want others to rely on us. We want to feel included in our environment, community, and among our networks of friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances. Something in us believes because we have been told this that this is the way to feeling whole, creative,and full of forward moving energy. But it isn’t. This is what ties us up in knots inside, binds our energy, and dampens our creativity. This is not the path to authenticity.
The process of discovering our authentic selves can have big consequences. It can take a long time and much effort.
So, it was with my own journey to authenticity. As a woman I felt a strong need to be able to make it in life with my own smarts and to depend on no one. After getting an MBA I began working in high tech. I got promotions and made a lot of money but was miserable. I was always trying to fit in, to prove myself, and to succeed according to what my environment defined as succeeding. I had the education, capability, and work ethic. Those were all there. But, something was missing. It had to do with truth, the truth of who I am and the misalignment between my essential true self and the expectations of the environment of my profession. It was all very subtle.
Years went by. Then it happened. On a business trip, my left foot began hurting so badly I could hardly walk. Getting to and from meetings was agonizing. I felt cut off and physically, emotionally, and spiritually drained. Finally the meetings were over and I boarded my cross country flight, slumped into a window seat and fell asleep. On waking, I looked out the window. There, thirty-three thousand feet below, the sparse and rugged southwestern desert was lit in golden light. In a flash, like a pop, it was clear. High tech is not for me. Immediately, I felt energy flowing and the pain subside in my foot. Two days later I quit my job and the unwinding began. My life began opening to me.
Oh, those nagging, hyper-critical voices in our heads! They make us feel so bad.
Sometimes there is just one voice; sometimes many. They go round and round, repeating themselves over and over. They have a rhythm, ebbing and flowing and then rising in a crescendo. When they are in the background, we hardly notice them or ignore them, and then something turns up the volume and they consume our attention and energy.
Their themes are consistent, too. “You are not good enough,” “You are bad,” “You should be ashamed,” “You are wrong,” to “You are not worthy,” “You are broken,” “You are selfish,” and so on.
These voices and their messages are not happy or helpful. They derail us from our work and enjoyment of life. They shut us off from our friends and family. They make us feel small, judged, and useless.
We try to shut them off, bury them forever, and hope to never hear them again. We push and push. The more we push, the more insistent they become. Finally, exhausted from pushing, we succumb. We believe them.
For a moment, consider this. They are very alive. They come from a part of us that got stuck in a moment when we were unable to discern how to respond in wholeness. Often we were children, little children. It is that little child in us who got stuck in that moment of criticism or trauma. And, sometimes, they stem from events in our adulthood.
This happened to me. After an ectopic pregnancy that hemorrhaged and many subsequent and unsuccessful attempts to become pregnant again, I was depressed, defeated, broken, and vulnerable. On a visit to see my mother, she said,” The only reason you are not getting pregnant is that you are too selfish.” This judgement struck me like a bullet in my gut. My whole body froze in that moment. The wound was deep and lasting. And there it was, that voice in my head repeating, “You’re too selfish.” It took me a long time, deep investigation, and much suffering to learn how to release this hyper-critical, damning voice and move forward in my life. This is how to go forward.
Start here. Try this with patient and gentle goodwill for yourself.
Find a quiet place. Your office with the door closed. A bench in a quiet corner of the park. Your bedroom. Or, some place else.
Sitting quietly, bring your attention inside. You might have your eyes closed. This usually helps you to be at home inside your body. If the voice(s) is not active in the moment, graciously invite it to come forward. You might say something like, “I’m inviting that whole thing about feeling judged selfish… or whatever it is to come forward.”
Gently, say “Hello, I see you are there,” in a cordial and neutral kind of way. Perhaps in a similar way to how you might say, “hello” to a stranger passing you on the street.
Pause for a moment too, putting your full and gentle attention right there. You might feel a little space open. Be patient. Let your breathing relax.
Be curious and interested, but not overly eager. This voice has something to say and show you and needs space to unfold and share with you.
Notice your bodily sensations and their texture and quality. You might sense tightness,orals, rose colors, or hear something being said, or an image might emerge.
Sit with it for awhile and listen. No rush. There’s plenty of time. No judgement. There’s not good or bad, right or wrong.
Other thoughts and sensations may come up. Go with whatever is wanting your attention right now. The process is like peeling the layers of an onion. All unwinds given space and time.
Keep listening openly. And when you hear something, see something, or feel something, acknowledge it. You can say to yourself, “I’m sensing something in me that …” and as it shows itself more you can acknowledge by saying “It’s letting me know …”
If it feels right, find a guide who can support you and your process.
The unwinding happens at its pace, and you will notice little steps, small openings, and energy release like a breath of fresh air. This is your healing unfolding.
My spiritual teacher, Adyashanti, told us a story last week to illustrate a profound “aha” about what it means to live authentically, to let go of the ego mind and all its ‘shoulds,’ and live from our true authenticate selves.
Here’s the story.
When he was a young man in his twenties he worked in a bike repair shop. It was a busy place and everyone scrambled to get all the work done that had to be done that day. The repair manager didn’t pitch in and help. He sat at his bench with his tools in front of him and read magazines. When asked why he didn’t help, he would say, that he was not paid to do anything; that his job was to make sure that they did what they were supposed to do.
This attitude didn’t sit well with my teacher. He suffered watching this able-bodied manager sitting there doing nothing but reading magazines while everyone else raced around to get the day’s work done. It really upset him. The more he thought about it, the more it upset him. This went on for some time.
Then, one day my teacher had an ‘aha.’ It came to him that he was upsetting himself because he had an idea of what his manager was supposed to be doing and the manager was not conforming to it. This idea of what should be happening was making him upset. Then he just let go.
He let go of his judgments about his manager. And, he let go of the endless mental activity around what he thought the manager should be doing.
By dropping into the now, my teacher understood that the manager was just the way he was and wasn’t causing him any difficulty. In seeing this, he understood the truth and let go of the thoughts and ideas about his manager. From that day on he was free and happy.
This is true freedom. The freedom that comes from waking up from being identified with our thoughts and ideas about what should be, what should happen, and how others should behave, think, or believe. Once we let go of all the ‘shoulds’ we are free to live truly authentic lives.
So each time, I catch myself saying, “should” I pause. Ah, that little ego-word is here I say gently to myself. Then I let it drop away as a leaf drops from the tree and I am happy.
When you sit quietly and comfortably and bring your awareness inside, what greets you? Do you feel open and intimate? Do you feel that you can sit down with whatever is there like you would sit with a friend or stranger beside a campfire? Or, perhaps you feel something else.
Something doesn’t want your presence. Something is angry and rebellious. Something disappears into blankness. Something says, “Go away. I don’t want you here.” Or, says, “You’re ridiculous. ” Or lets you know that you can’t do it, that you are a failure.
What to do? Really be there for it. It can be the ugliest, most violent, most condescending thing you have ever encountered.
Really feel whatever it is in your body. Invite your body to show you/tell you something about what’s here with you right now. Invite your body to open to what you are feeling.
What you are feeling is resistance. Experience your resistance. It may feel uncomfortable. It will feel uncomfortable. Start with inviting your grounded, open presence, your whole self to be here right now. And, know that you cannot fail at having whatever experience you are having. Have your experience! Be open to it. Invite it to be here right now.
Know that what is hurting is not your resistance, it’s your relationship to it that hurts. Say, my intention, my energy is here right now to experience what is wanting my attention right now. No holds barred. I welcome this resistance and my experience of it to be here with me now.
I don’t often write about events or activities in my blog, but today I want to share some wonderful news. Perhaps you’re a reader of my blog and have wanted to dive deeper into Focusing but didn’t know how or didn’t feel you had the time. Here’s an opportunity to learn Focusing as well as investigate other topics like Thinking at The Edge.
The Focusing Institute, our professional organization, holds an annual summer school. This year it is being held from August 21 – 27, 2016 on the west coast at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center in Joshua Tree, California.
Why learn Focusing at the Summer School? Perhaps you’re needing time and space away from your daily routine or have vacation coming. Or maybe you prefer in-person learning and never seem to have the time for a once-a-week or weekend class when you are immersed in work and family. Perhaps you are wanting to learn in the safety of a supportive and accepting community of like-minded people. Whatever your reasons, learning Focusing and experiencing how it can be applied in the arts, in deep thinking, and in work with children is what you’ll have the opportunity to do at Joshua Tree. Click here for more information and to register.