The Problem with Directness

What we think the problem is, often isn’t.  “Oh gosh,” you say to yourself, your friends, your co-workers, your mentors, your therapist, “I’ve got this problem and it is XYZ.” We assume that by talking about it, analyzing it, stewing about it, or focusing all our energy on it, we can solve it and everything will miraculously start moving forward toward resolution.

Not so fast. The real problem and, therefore, its solution is in many cases, actually in most cases, not something we’d expect it to be. Rather, what’s smacking us in the face are symptoms. These are reactions we’ve created internally to defend,  protect, or shore-up the original situation. They may present themselves as big emotions, pointing fingers, or an emptiness so profound it scares the hell out of us.

OK, we say, “I am courageous. I’m going in. I can deal with this.”  I remember saying this to myself and others. “I’m going in. I’m resolving this issue now.”

I was emphatic. And, this head-on approach didn’t work.

A curious and often frightening thing can happen (as it did to me)  when we sit down in a comfortable and grounded way, go inside, and focus directly on what is bothering us.

We are greeted with feelings of obstinance or anger, or a sense that what we are focusing on has gone into hiding and doesn’t want us around, or we find nothing there at all except blankness.

The more we focus on it, the worse it gets. It is gone. Putting my direct attention on it drove it away and left only terror in its place. Not a good start. Here’s what to do.

This is the moment to back off and ground your energy.  Feel the earth energy in your feet and up through your body. Feel how your body is supported and held. Put lots of space there. Perhaps, even say inwardly, “I’m putting a lot of space here.” Space is always good thing.

Next, diffuse your attention. Instead of focusing it directly on the problem, divert it to the periphery. Instead of laser-sharp focus, diffuse your focus. Think of this as a kind of seeing sideways. Instead of looking straight ahead, focus your attention softly on the perimeter.  This is a kind of night vision. Have you ever noticed how at night, in the dark, when you look straight at something it disappears from view, but when you allow your vision to settle softly on the edges you can see more clearly.

Something magical happens when you do this. Things start coming forward as bodily sensations, textures qualities, images, words, or even sounds and colors. Now is the time to listen attentively and softly, to acknowledge whatever comes in an empathic and non-judging way. “Just inwardly letting what is presenting itself know, “I am hearing you. I am seeing you,” is all that is needed.

As you go with this process, the unraveling begins and ahas happen.  The thing at the center, eventually presents itself.  Then there is the realization that what the real problem is, the original situation, isn’t what we thought it was after all.

This is the time to continue listening, to holding all with empathy, and acknowledging. Little-by little, you will feel the release of energy until suddenly you are aware that what was there is not there any more. In its place is a feeling of forward energy, a bright, flowing, openness.

Try it. And remember, this process is not whizz-bang. It takes time and space and your whole soft attention. And, remember, sometimes, direct focus of our attention is what is needed. What’s needed is attuning to what’s going on inside and proceeding appropriately with care and non-judging attention.

On Being Authentic

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.

The Edge Between

Have you ever had this experience? You are feeling stuck and frustrated.

You sit quietly, feeling your connection to the space around you and inside of you, sensing the earth energy flowing up through you, and how you are supported by your breathing, the space around you, and what you are sitting on. Now, bringing your awareness inside the body, you invite this whole thing of feeling stuck and frustrated to come forward.

Something comes forward. You feel something is tight somewhere in the body. You go to it. It wants to hide away, or go inward, or it is rolled in a tight knot, or something else. You say hello. You sense its inertia as it goes round and round in a circle. You sense it feels alone, lost or something else. You stay with it, opening to it. It lets you know that it has to dig down deep to protect something. You let it know you hear it.

Then something else comes forward, something or a place in you that wants to go out into the world. It wants action and acceptance out there. You say hello. You sense its bursting energy and anger. It lets you know it is not wanting to miss out on life. You let it know you hear it.

Now you sense that both are here. That place that feels lost and inward and that place that feels angry and wants a life in the world.  You hold both and sense the edge between them. You sense a stalemate there. It might feel as though one foot is on the gas and the other is on the brake. This is a rich place to be.  Have you ever spun a coin and noticed that as it spins, you can see both sides?

This is where you are now.  You are with both sides. This is the time to feel how your body is supported and how whatever comes is ok; that there is plenty of room for what is here. This is the moment to put lots of space around both and be curious!  The stalemate reflects their relationship with one other. Until each feels it is heard with deep listening, the stalemate will continue. Be patient. Sense if one or the other is wanting your attention more. If you don’t get an answer or you only sense the friction between them, turn to each one individually and let it know that you are here and you will give it your full attention. That there is plenty of time and space for both and you will give your full attention to each.

This is the time when your open and neutral attitude, your curiosity and interest, and deep listening is all important to your process. Acknowledge both. Take time with each one. Unraveling takes time.

Sometimes at this point in your process you may or may not be aware of a little hurt thing. If sensing a small one is here, acknowledge it letting it know you are with it. And, remain with the two sides of the coin listening deeply, allowing them to open and release their energy. Only then will the small thing be accessible to continue the process until it, too, unfolds with life forward energy.

Through this open and deep listening, what is right for you will emerge. You’ll feel its forward and bright energy. Go with it. This is your authentic self. Bon voyage.

The Stuff of Happiness

Look around. Do you have a lot of stuff? What kind of stuff do you have? Stuff that you use every day or frequently? Stuff that you use once in a while? Stuff that you never use?

Take a moment and write a list of the stuff you use every day, whatever it is.  You might walk room to room to make your inventory. Maybe your toothbrush, your favorite cooking pot, a pair of summer sandals, a ring, your bed and bed linens, a towel, a bike, a table and chair, a mobile phone. Just write down the stuff you use every day. You’ll probably be surprised that the list isn’t that long.

Now write down the stuff that you use frequently. Maybe you don’t use your bike every day, but you use it every other day, three times a week, or every weekend. Maybe something is seasonal. You use your skis every week during the snow season, but not in the other months. This stuff can go on the frequently used list.  You’ll find that this list isn’t that long either.

Now look around again. Everything else, all your other stuff, goes on the almost never or never use list. Don’t worry about writing all this stuff down. Just take some time, look around, reflect, and make a mental note of everything on this list.

If you find this task overwhelming, then start with just one room in your house or your clothes closet. Write down what you use every day and what you use frequently. The same rule applies. Your winter coat goes on the frequently used list because it is seasonal. If you have five winter coats and only wear one frequently then put one on the list. The other four are out.

Now, you might ask yourself why do I have this stuff?

You will probably say something like this, “I like my stuff.” That’s a start. Now, dig deeper. But why? Especially when you don’t use most of it? Not sure?

The answer is, in large part, because we humans are collectors by nature. Searching, collecting, and storing is in our genes. Pre-agricultural hunters and gatherers sought and collected food to keep alive during hard times, materials, like animal hides, to keep warm and protected in the cold, and other things, like grasses, to make storage baskets.  This necessity of collecting and storing kept our ancestors alive and safe during periods of difficulty and enabled them to pass down their genes to us, the future generations.

We still get a sense of security from having stuff. We feel deep within us that need to search out, collect, and store stuff to be safe. Look at all the stuff we own! We must feel safe, right? Maybe, maybe not. A car may give us a sense of safety because we know it can get us where we need to go: to work, to the hospital, to the food store. But if we can easily take the metro, the bus, or bike to work, hospital, and market, then the car is a nice to have, not a necessity.

The car may give us something more. Acquiring stuff can be the pathway to feeling accepted by a group. If the people over there all have ski jets or cars and I want to belong to their group, then I will be motivated to get a ski jet or car, too. With my jet ski or car I not only identify with but feel accepted by the group especially if my jet ski/car is comparable in features and brand to those owned by the members of the group. This sense of belonging and acceptance also gives us a sense of status, especially when we believe that others in the group already have a high status. The jet ski or car gives us status, too, at least for awhile until it doesn’t give us anything and we feel empty and unhappy again.

The search for stuff gives us pleasure. We seek bargains, special features and functions, or certain brands. Once we have found what we have been seeking, we feel satisfied and happy in the moment but it is not lasting.

So, what’s wrong? The acquisition of all this stuff only gives us a temporary sense of  belonging, and pleasure. We feel happy but it is fleeting. The old insecurities and anxieties come right back. There is a point when we have the stuff we really need and beyond that acquiring more stuff doesn’t give us anything but a momentary flash of pleasure. Then, wham, we feel anxious and depressed again.

What’s going on? Why does this happen? Think about it. Once our basic safety and security needs are met. The searching, collecting, and storing genes have done their work. But, our culture has told us. If you have more stuff you’ll be even safer, happier, and more accepted. Wrong.  Unless the stuff and how we use it aligns with our inner values, there is no lasting effect.

If we acquire the ski jet and use it regularly, improve our skills, share its fun with others, especially those who may not own a ski jet, and spend time having fun and laughing with others in a group who share our values, then it is worthwhile.  If we buy the ski jet, take it out a couple of times, and then leave it sitting in the garage, then it is not serving us. If we buy the jet ski and meet up with a group of other jet skiers who after a couple of encounters we realize don’t share our values, then the jet ski is not serving us.  Time to get rid of it.

When we are honest with ourselves, the amount of stuff that we need, like a cooking pot, and the amount of stuff that brings us together with others and helps us have fun, like, perhaps, a jet ski, are few. A few useful and fun things are all we need. This pile of stuff which we accumulate does not bring us happiness. Cooking a great meal in our favorite pot or riding our jet ski with our best friend does.

So if we really want to align with our authentic selves and feel happy, a good place to start is with our stuff. Getting rid of the stuff that does not serve us frees us to seek out the activities that align with whom we really are. This brings ongoing happiness and joy.

I’m so Tired.

I’m so tired. We’ve all said it. We’ve all felt it. Why are we all so tired? Is it that we are really physically fatiguing our bodies? Or is it that how we are spending our days? Perhaps our actions and thoughts are not aligned with our values–with our authentic selves.  If we are not feeling joy in what we do every day, all day, then we are out of sync with our authentic selves. Being out of balance in this way is exhausting.

Think about this. Ask yourself. What gives me joy? Right now, write down five things that give you joy. If you are finding that difficult, write down four things, or three things, or one thing that gives you joy. You may find that the things that give you joy are also difficult. For example, suppose you are a writer. Writing is difficult. It takes disciple and organization. It takes effort. It takes time. And, it gives tremendous joy. So, most often what gives us joy takes effort, organization, and commitment.

Now, put down your pen and close your eyes. Image you are immersed in doing the first thing (or only thing) on your list and ask, “Why am I doing this?”  The “why question” connects you with your authentic self.  When the answer comes from your core values, it feels right to be doing it and your body and mind will respond with a resounding ‘yes.’  This ‘yes’ is telling you that your values and actions are aligned with your authentic self.

This alignment is beautiful. This is where, if you put your energy and time, in ever widening circles, you will reside in joy.

If you don’t get a resounding ‘yes, this feels right,’ this is a signal that this action, this behavior may not be totally in alignment with your authentic self. Perhaps you are doing it because someone or something else feels it is right. Because they feel it is right you believe that it should feel right for you, too.  Now, that you’re picking up the covers you sense that there is something more for you to explore.

This is a rich place to be. Be curious. In this place you can sit and gently and compassionately ask inwardly, “What about this whole thing?” You’ll be surprised how your body will respond, how it will show and tell you all about how this activity aligns or not with what feels right to you.  It will show you where your motivation is coming from, perhaps from the obligation or pressure coming from family, friends, work, society, or culture. This exploration takes time and a willingness to be gentle and compassionate with yourself. It typically does not express itself like a bolt of lightening. Be patient. It will unwind and open and show you where your true alignment lies.

The Hyper Self-Critic

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.

 

 

 

What’s Hurting?

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.