Walking Bravely and In Great Happiness

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As you may know, I declared this My Year of Creative Living. So far, I’ve taught myself to play the ukulele; took a tap dance class; spent a weekend dabbling in abstract painting; and, participated in a three-week blogging course.

What I’ve learned so far from these activities: creativity is the core of feeling really alive. I’m never so giddy, conflicted, anxious, thrilled or joyful than when I’m in creative mode. It’s a definite high, folks… I highly recommend it.

My current endeavour is… writing a book (ahh!). I’ve hired an amazing writing coach to guide me through this process and keep me accountable to the task (which is worth its weight in gold), and I feel like I’m diving into my most personal, meaningful creative pursuit yet. Its exhilarating and terrifying at once, which is the very definition of entering “the arena” of vulnerability, as Brené Brown calls it.

I was listening to Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey speak about creativity in their latest meditation challenge podcast, and their explanation of creativity hit me on a whole new level:

“Creativity is the root of our biological existence.”

Our bodies – each and every cell – are constantly evolving and responding to brand new conditions. Chopra defines creative living as bringing freshness and renewal to each day, each circumstance. In this light, it’s easy to see that we are all – by our very biology – creative beings and the tired notion of creativity belonging only to artists and writers swiftly abates.

Creativity lives in our divine freedom to choose our response to any given moment.  The ability, however, to bring the freshness and renewal of creativity to each moment is, you guessed it, a practice.

The practices of letting go of comparison, staying present and cultivating your awareness for what’s true for you in this moment (and not what your long-standing, self-limiting stories tell you) nurture your creative life. And it nurtures what you are likely seeking for yourself: to feel alive, to feel worthwhile and to feel so very you as much as possible in your life.

I invite you to rebrand yourself as a creative being, starting today. I mean, you already are a creative being… and now you have the choice to start seeing yourself this way and living your life from this perspective.

What would it be like to approach your job, your marriage, your parenting and your personal growth as a “creative type”. As an artist, even? As someone who walks “bravely and in great happiness”, as so beautifully said by artist Robert Henri?

It is, after all, in your nature – in your very cells – to do it.

 

What I’ve Learned About Surrendering

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I wrote about my Surrender Experiment back at the beginning of November, and here’s what I’m learning as I practice letting go of control, embracing what shows up and honouring each moment as sacred:

Surrendering is hard.

At least at the beginning it is. I cannot tell you the number of times (each day) I catch myself with eyebrows furrowed, planning and playing out scenarios, all in an attempt to control the direction of any given thing in my life. Big and small things alike, my mind is kept very busy in future-focused mode.

And, like everything worth doing, surrendering is a practice. So now it’s coming more easily to me to release the worrying, the planning, the playing-out of every possible scenario to find the “best” way forward, and choosing instead to let go and see what happens. I have moments, mind you, where the conversation in my head is something like, “Are you crazy? You can’t just let things go. What if this-and-this happens? Or that-and that?” Anxiety creeps in, and that brings me to my next lesson…

Trust is surrender’s best friend.

Turns out that an experiment in surrendering is also a big experiment in trust. And I don’t mean trust in the sense of “trusting everything will work out just fine”. No, I mean trust in myself. Surrendering control means I must be willing and able to trust in myself, that I will be “enough” – smart enough, strong enough, grounded enough, resourceful enough – to manage, deal and otherwise live with whatever happens, good or bad.

This is a big one for me. A big gremlin message for me is, “are you sure you can handle it?” The thinking behind this is: If I’m not prepared, if I haven’t thought through every possible scenario, if I haven’t set up all my ducks in a row, then when the shit hits the fan, I’m going down. There is so much fear pooled around this thinking that my chest feels heavy just writing about it.

So, letting go of control and surrendering to whatever shows up in my life is really about self-trust. And choosing to trust in myself rather than giving in to the anxiety of not being in control is also huge act of self-compassion. The moment I treat my anxiety with a message like, “trust that you are enough” or “you’re going to be ok” or “you can handle whatever comes”, a huge sense of peace and ease comes over me, and I am brought right into the present moment. Which brings me to my next lesson…

Possibility lives in every moment.

In any moment of surrender, another cool thing happens: it levels the playing field of all my life experiences. There are no moments more important than others. Whatever is here is what life is offering up, and who am I to say that this moment is any more or less valuable than the next?

It’s like this: when you surrender control and choose to embrace whatever shows up, then “whatever” is full of possibility. Surrendering makes me pay attention to everything I’m doing, because there could be magic in this moment (and, turns out, there is magic in every moment if I choose to pay attention to it). So walking the dog isn’t a chore that I have to get through just to get on to more important things. It’s the only thing that needs to be done at that moment, and so why shouldn’t I be fully present and attentive to the magic of it? There is no wasted time, no chasing time, no losing time. Each moment matters.

Nobody knows like the body knows.

One thing I couldn’t make sense of when I started out this experiment was, when does surrender turn into boundary-less, aimless drifting? If I surrender to everything, won’t people walk all over me? Won’t I be overwhelmed or run down by saying yes to everything? Won’t I just be going from one thing to another, saying yes to everything without any sense of direction?

Then, of course, I was reminded by my body that it knows better than my brain when it comes to these matters. It’s pretty simple, actually: When I’m in struggle, when I feel the tension in my gut and my eyebrow furrows and my head tilts forward in serious thought, it’s time to surrender. Feeling tense? Time to let go. Replaying thoughts in my head? Time to let go. Feeling my shoulders hunch up? Time to let go.

On the other hand, when I find a sense of positive energy and aliveness bubble up over something I see, hear or think about, then it’s time to embrace. Feeling peace and ease? Embrace. Feeling tickled pink? Embrace. Feeling hopeful and giddy? Embrace.

And luckily, because my body is always living in the present moment, attuned to what’s here now, I can trust what it tells me (if I just take the time to quiet down and listen, of course).

 

In a nutshell, I will say this: surrendering is an exercise in mindfulness that has the incredible power to bring instant peace and ease to my life. My word for 2015 was ease, and this has been an amazing experiment with which to end my year of choosing ease.

I’m excited for the holidays ahead of us, and will take a break from blogging until the new year. I’ve decided on a new two-fold focus for my blog in 2016: exploring and unpacking the Physics of Vulnerability, which is a foundational piece of Brené Brown’s latest book, Rising Strong AND exploring my own vulnerability through creative expression (inspired by my other BFF, Elizabeth Gilbert and her Big Magic). That’s right: I’m challenging myself to a Year of Creative Expression where I will take on a new artistic medium every month and write about my experiences in pushing boundaries and being vulnerable in the arena of creativity. My first stab at this will be… wait for it… TAP DANCING! Nothing like starting off a year of vulnerability with a bang (and a tap)!

Happy holidays, dear readers. I wish each and every one of you love, light, peace, ease and big magic!

 

 

 

My Surrender Experiment

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In his book, The Surrender Experiment, Michael A. Singer recounts the events of his life after making the decision as a young man to let go of his personal preferences and ideas of how life “should” be and, instead, to simply surrender to whatever showed up in his life. For the past forty years, he’s basically said yes to whatever has come knocking on his door. He has surrendered to what he calls “life’s perfection” – the natural, amazing and intricate unfolding of life that happens without any conscious acts of will. He’s allowed life to be in the driver’s seat and has kicked worry, anxiety and fear to the curb.

In addition – and, I think, more importantly – Singer also decided to give himself 100% to everything that showed up. He didn’t make one pursuit or event more important than any other. Whatever showed up, he said yes and then gave it is all. He made every task, every action, every moment sacred. He writes,

“…I had thrown myself into the arms of life. From that point forward, all I did was my very best to serve what was put in front of me and let go of what it stirred up within me. Joy and pain, success and failure, praise and blame – they all had pulled at what was so deeply rooted within me. The more I let go, the freer I became.”

His book describes a pretty amazing journey that resulted in abundance in every form. He set out wanting nothing and at every turn was surrounded by wholehearted people, interesting work, meaningful influence, serene environments and a very generous income.

Sounds a little too good to be true. But it’s a memoir, so we’ll have to take Singer’s word for it.

No matter, I still find the premise of his experiment fascinating, perhaps because I spend a decent amount of time thinking and planning and trying to control outcomes in my life. Of course, no amount of thinking or planning or controlling can make things turn out exactly how I think they “should” turn out, so inevitably I also spend a lot of time feeling the unpleasantness of fear, anxiety and worry.

I also rank order my moments, which of course leads to a lot of frustration, blame and judgement. So if I’m sitting in traffic, I tense up because I would rather be at the office. Then, I just want to get through my workday so that I can get home to be with my kids. Then, the kids better not bother me because now I have to make dinner. Then, when I’m making, say, spaghetti again for dinner, it seems like a mediocre moment compared to the roast turkey I made for Thanksgiving dinner a few weeks ago. This puts me in constant battle with what is and results in me not fully showing up for anything.

So what would it mean to let go of my ideas of how things should be? To give up planning and controlling and worrying and fear?

What would it mean to say yes to whatever shows up in my life?

And, what would it mean to show up fully to whatever I just said yes to?

I’m not sure what it would mean, but I’m curious to find out. I’m going to take the next 60 days or so to try my own surrender experiment. I want to practice letting go of control, surrendering to whatever shows up in my life and holding each moment as sacred, as no less or more important than any other moment.

Where do you need some surrendering in your life? What could you let go of? How could you show up 100% to every moment? We have a couple of months left until the end of the year; let’s experiment together and see what unexpected gifts come with surrender.

P.S.  As these thing tend to happen, the universe decided to test me in my own experiment: After finishing my first draft of this post, it got lost in an internet blackhole. Gone, vanished. All that time writing and re-writing…poof! Gone. In an instant, I had to surrender to what showed up: a blank canvass on which to rewrite my thoughts on undertaking a surrender experience. Perhaps life’s perfection was making sure I was serious about taking this on  😉

 

 

 

Sidelined By Scarcity

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I have not been my best-self at work these past few weeks. I’ve been reactive, blaming and cynical, and have even had (I’m embarrassed to say this) my inner-belligerent-child emerge during a few interactions with my manager. Yes, there’s a lot of drama and stress and uncertainty in my work environment these days, but this is exactly the time when I want all of the personal growth work I’ve done around authenticity, courage and values-based living to help me to rise above the drama, so that I can still be my best-self and not succumb to the things that trigger my grumpy “it’s not fair” gremlin.

Then, a few days ago, I was doing my morning meditation with Deepak Chopra (via his Infinite Abundance app), listening to his wise and soothing voice say to me:

“There are those who live day to day concerned about not having enough of whatever they feel is necessary for their happiness and security. Their bodies most likely echo those feeling by sending messages of discomfort in the forms of anxiety, discomfort, worry or stress.”

The second statement hit me first. I zeroed in on his words: anxiety, discomfort, worry and stress. Yup, that sums up how I’ve been feeling lately. Then I considered his first statement: what I am concerned about not having enough of? Then all the Brené Brown wisdom kicked in. Whenever I hear “not enough” I know scarcity is at play. So, I sat with this for a while: What feels like “not enough” right now? The answers came at me fast and furious:

I don’t have enough time. I don’t have enough time to do my job, to organize and offer workshops, to be with my kids, to exercise, to relax, to get the house clean, to pull weeds, to read all the books I keep buying, to call my friends, to reconnect with my husband, to get a good night of sleep, to register my kids for swimming, to buy birthday presents, to pack a healthy lunch for myself, to listen to the backlog of podcasts on my iPhone, to create a vision for my business, to meditate…  

Obviously, I could go on and on and on.

This is nothing new, of course. Most of us feel the pressure-cooker of not-enough-time. But what has taken me off guard was how this was impacting my mood, outlook and behaviour. A sense of scarcity is so settled into our subconscious that it can so easily throw us off our game, and in ways that are unexpected. Take my behaviour at work, for example. Here I was, feeling grumpy and acting out like a toddler in the workplace. I’m not sure I would have connected that back to a sense of time scarcity had I not sat with my anxiety around “not enough”. But there it was.

It makes me think of all those times I’m short and agitated around my children only to realize what I’m feeling is anxiety and fear that has nothing to do with them or their behaviour. This happened recently, after the photo of the drown Syrian boy on the beach was everywhere. You would think that the sorrowful image would make me go home and hug my children. Instead I went home and was uber-stern with them. Again, when I checked in with myself, I realized how much fear and anxiety I had around what happened to that child. And I was acting out that fear and anxiety by being agitated with my children (it doesn’t make sense, but our sense of vulnerability can be overwhelming and trigger some strange behaviour, folks).

So making the connection between my sense of scarcity and my fear/anxiety and my less-than-ideal behaviour at work was the necessary first step to making better choices. I have to say that time-scarcity is a big trigger for me and I try to be very aware of how this manifests in my thoughts and behaviour. I don’t always catch it, but this is all a practice after all. I remind myself that it is all enough; that everything I do and don’t do is enough. There is no race, there is no finish line, and the only thing I need to do is stay 100% in the moment in order to be my best-self.

 

 

The Year Behind The Work/Life Lab

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Circle Back: I updated this post on Jan 30, 2015, changing a word I used to more accurately reflect my actual experience. When listing out the stressful events of 2014, I mentioned an “addiction” to sleeping pills. It’s been bothering me that I used that word, because I would not qualify what I went through as an addiction at all. What I experience was a dependence on sleeping pills to help me deal with the insomnia I was experiencing. It was careless of me to use a word like addiction, and certainly doesn’t honour the true struggle that those dealing with addiction have to endure. My apologies.

 

I promised myself to take a break from blogging for the month of January, and I almost kept my promise. We’re close to the end of the month, and there is nothing like a self-imposed hiatus from writing to make me burst at the seams wanting to express myself.

I spent some time in late December and early January planning for the year ahead. And in doing so, I couldn’t help but look back at the year just passed. And specifically, I couldn’t help but look back at The Work/Life Lab and the weekly posts I wrote in an effort to inspire readers to shake up their world a little bit and see if a little shift here or there could make a positive difference in their work and personal lives. I loved my year of writing under this construct, as it forced encouraged me on a weekly basis to think up different experiments and to write stuff that felt fun, challenging and meaningful to me.

But as much as I loved writing The Work/Life Lab, looking back I realize that the content of my writing was certainly an arms-length from what my year was really like, “behind the curtain” so to speak. The Work/Life Lab was structured and instructive; my life, meantime, was just plain messy. It was a damn challenging year, but – as all challenging times tend to do – I learned so much along the way about how I want to be in this world.

In many ways, 2014 was my year of “trying to keep my shit together.”

Don’t get me wrong; lots of great and wonderful things happened. I met my hero (and secret BFF) Brené Brown in San Antonio, and learned all about The Daring Way™. I cultivated new and meaningful friendships with some awesomely strong, creative and trailblazing women. I travelled to BC with my family and was completely filled up with the beauty of the west coast. And, we moved to a new home which provided a fresh, new chapter in our family’s life.

But, all the while I was writing those daring, upbeat posts for The Work/Life Lab, I was coming head-to-head with some of life’s biggest stressors:

  • My 6-year old son was diagnosed with ADHD
  • My marriage was seemingly on the brink of kaput
  • I started medication for anxiety and depression (for the third time)
  • I suffered with insomnia for 6 months straight (with a corollary dependence on sleeping pills to deal with said insomnia)
  • We got totally scammed by the movers on our moving day, and not only suffered the financial damages, but the humiliation alone seemed to tarnish any sense of a fresh start in our new place
  • I learned the hard lessons about starting my own business which included:
    • this is damn hard!
    • it takes a long time and a lot of work to see the fruits of your labour
    • you will get your ass kicked, a lot
    • not making money sucks
    • it’s hard to know what to work on first
    • it’s hard to know what to work on second
    • it’s really easy to feel like you’re the only one having a hard time

I’m not sure how I managed to keep my shit together this year, but I did. I didn’t do it all gracefully, mind you. There were definitely ugly moments throughout. But, as I said above, I did learn a lot about myself and the world along the way that I wouldn’t have otherwise. And so, from a deep place of gratitude, I share with you just three key things I learned in 2014:

Never Underestimate The Law of Least Effort

This continues to surprise me. After all, I spent most of my life digging in my heels whenever life’s challenges came up at me. Struggle. Worry. Lament. Ruminate. Repeat.

I wrote about The Law of Least Effort in The Work/Life Lab, because when this lesson hit me, it hit me hard. The lesson? When I feel my body tense up against whatever is happening in a given moment, chose ease over struggle, calm over conflict. Make peace with reality and what is, and start living from that place of acceptance. I have to practice this, over and over. But I slowly feel it’s becoming my default. In fact, I chose the word “EASE” as my theme for 2015.

Whenever I feel opposition, discord or dissonance with anything or anyone, I ask myself, “how can I have ease with this?” Just asking the question relaxes my body and brain. And usually a sense of peace and alignment filter in, and I can make a choice at that moment that, at the very least, doesn’t go against my authentic self. At best, my next move is one that is life-affirming for both me and those around me. I cannot tell you how much this perspective has changed my life. And it certainly helped me get through My Year of Trying To Keep My Shit Together.

I Get To Define Success and Failure

I scheduled – and subsequently cancelled – quite a few programs and events I was offering this year through Sabrina Guerin Coaching. It’s a good thing – and also a tad ironic – that my major offering is The Daring Way™, a program that teaches people the importance of being vulnerable and showing up in your “arena” even when there are no guarantees of success. I live this every day, especially in wanting to share this program with the world. There were times when I sat there thinking, “I am getting my ass kicked with this coaching thing and trying to bring The Daring Way™ to my little corner of the world.” This sense of failure is hard, hard, hard. And sometimes made me fantasize about how easy my life would be if I would just give it all up.

Then I read The Art of Possibility by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander, and I got it. I got schooled, big time. And here’s the lesson:

It’s all invented.

That’s it. So simple. It’s all invented. And, if it’s all invented, then “we might as well invent a story or a framework of meaning that enhances our quality of life and the life of those around us,” say Zander and Zander. So, I promptly sat down and invented my definitions of success and failure. So…. According to moi, success is:

  • serving the world while also being authentic
  • having the guts to put myself out there, again and again
  • honouring the commitments I make to my clients
  • helping and inspiring others
  • showing up
  • doing my best with what I know and what I have at the moment
  • honouring my intuition

And, according to moi, failure is:

  • not trying at all
  • dumping all over myself
  • hustling for worthiness
  • buying into other people’s definitions of how things should be
  • giving up
  • making it all about the money

I like these definitions. They work for me, and they are posted on my wall as my gentle reminders that I get to invent what it all means.

It’s The Ordinary Moments That Count

There are a lot of Brené Brown quotes that I love, and I post them a lot on my website and Facebook Page. But there is one that has been steadily creeping into my consciousness. It’s not one of my go-to quotes; it has never really landed for me… until the last few months. And now it’s almost becoming a mantra:

“Joy comes to us in ordinary moments. We risk missing out on joy when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary.”

This is the essence of mindfulness, which I wrote about a lot last year in The Work/Life Lab. It says to me, forget about the next big thing you are waiting to have happen. Forget the next special event, the next vacation, the next day off… whatever you think is somehow going to be more joyful than the moment you have right now. And stop comparing. Stop looking at what everyone else is doing and thinking that somehow they have arrived in the Land of Extraordinary while you’re stuck waiting on stand-by. And stop thinking about the way your kids “should” be, or the way your marriage “should” be, or the way you “should” look. If you get too busy chasing down the extraordinary, you will miss out on the joy of what is here, now.

Last year was a lesson on Stop, Breathe and Be In This Ordinary Moment. Ahhh…joy. I found how joyful it was to simply to be alive, to be breathing and doing whatever I was doing with whomever I was with.  I released any expectations I had of how things “should” be and stopped squandering the joy that was right in front of me.

 

So who knows what 2015 will be, but it’s off to a pretty good start.

My son is still a whirling dervish, and practicing the Law of Least Effort is helping me deal. My husband and I are in a stronger place now and our marriage feels like a place of warmth and comfort again. I’m sleeping normally (whew!) and I stay present in my moments of anxiety and depression. Our new home is, in fact, a new, fresh chapter and we are blessed to be surrounded by the best neighbours, ever. And, I’m busily making plans for delivering The Daring Way™ in new and different ways in 2015, all of which you will be hearing about very soon!

What were your lessons from 2014? Or, did the lessons I describe above resonate with you at all? Tell me, tell me, tell me! I’m setting an intention to open up more about myself in this blog, and I invite you to do the same. Let’s have a conversation about it! I hereby declare that my blog will be renamed, Daring Matters. This year, I will explore all things vulnerable (like opening up more about myself in this blog), courageous and self-compassionate!