Kick-ass Author #5 Who Writes About Shame, Vulnerability and Wholehearted Living (Who Is Not Brené Brown)

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As I’ve put together this short list of kick-ass writers over the last several weeks, I know I’m leaving out countless other amazing authors whose books also pick up on the powerful themes of shame, vulnerability and wholehearted living. In fact, I could probably make writing about other people’s books a full-time blogging job. I’m an unabashed devotee of books that inspire and nudge people to look inward and move forward. And I love connecting people to books.

But alas, this time around I’m committed to five recommendations only. So here’s the last in my series on Authors Who Write About Shame, Vulnerability and Wholehearted Living (Who Are Not Brené Brown):

 

Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

This book is for you if: You feel you have something inside you that needs to get “out there” but don’t know where or are too scared to start; you have silenced or hidden your inner artist ever since that elementary school art teacher told you, “you’re not doing it right”; you are trying to solve a problem or express an emotion or amplify your life and think creativity might be the way forward. 

If you are thinking, “I’m not creative, this book is not for me” then you need to read this book. If you’re thinking, “I’m too busy with serious ‘real-life’ stuff to concern myself with creativity” then get yourself to a book store pronto and buy this book.

In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert takes a stand for all of us to live a creative life: To live a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear. She explains that creative living is what separates a mundane existence from “an amplified existence” (don’t you love that?) Creative living – in all its manifestations – is for all of us. Do you see how you need to read this book?

Big Magic is a great read, presented in nice, easily-digestable chapter “nuggets” that speak to overcoming the fear of stepping into the creative arena. Her book invites you to find all your “not enough” gremlins, look ’em square in the eye and then promptly kick them to the backseat.

 

She is like the friend who tells you, “My wish for you is that you don’t take too long to get over your fear and do what you really love to do.”

 

Gilbert challenges you to question all the stories you tell yourself about the way things are, nudging you to find a different, better and more daring story to tell. She speaks to self-care and compassion, giving yourself permission, and the occasional, much-needed smack upside the head (e.g. “Fear is boring.”)

What I love the most is Gilbert’s voice in this book: it feels like you’re sitting down with your best friend over a coffee/glass of wine, and she’s telling you the things you need to hear about expressing your creative self. She is like the friend who tells you,  “My wish for you is that you don’t take too long to get over your fear and do what you really love to do.”

As an added bonus, Gilbert launched her podcast, Magic Lessons, to continue exploring her ideas from Big Magic. It’s really worth a listen, especially Episode 12 which features an interview with Brené Brown herself!

Now, if you really want to get serious about exploring your creativity, check out my awesome friend and coaching colleague, Allyson Woodrooffe. Allyson helps people find their voice and live their truth through creative expression, and she is definitely someone you want alongside your journey to find your creative self.

To wrap up, let me say that I would love to hear about your favourite reads that touch on the themes of shame, vulnerability and wholehearted living. Send me your list on my Facebook Page.

And if you end up reading any of the five writers/books I’ve suggested over the past few weeks, please post a comment below or to my Facebook Page to let me know what you thought of it!

 

Kick-ass Author #3 Who Writes About Shame, Vulnerability and Wholehearted Living (Who Is Not Brené Brown)

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Participants often come to my Daring Way™ and Rising Strong workshops because they have read Brené Brown’s books and get the concepts of shame, vulnerability and wholehearted living on an intellectual level, but struggle to deepen that learning and “get it down” into their hearts and souls.

Enter my next recommended author: His poetry and prose take the same messages around shame, vulnerability and wholehearted living and deliver them straight to your heart.

Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening: Having The Life you Want By Being Present To The Life You Have

This book is for you if: You are a poet or poetry-lover; love to read inspiring text; like to read just a little snippet of something wonderful each day;  are enduring or have survived illness, trauma and life’s other hard-knocks.

Mark Nepo is a poet and his writing is simply gorgeous. The Book of Awakening provides short passages to be read daily, over the course of a year. They are his thoughts and stories on compassion, vulnerability, scarcity, fear, pain, risk, courage, and living fully and authentically.

Here’s how I think about the two authors: Reading Brené Brown’s books are like going to a university class on vulnerability and wholehearted living with one of those professors you love because she’s so good at explaining her work in a real way, with wit and brilliance.

Reading Mark Nepo is like returning home from that university class, pouring yourself a cup of hot tea and sitting with your wise, old neighbour as he tells you lyrical, soulful stories that weave in vulnerability and wholeheartedness in a way that you didn’t even know you were getting schooled. You feel changed just by having listened to him.

Here’s a passage from Nepo on vulnerability that I love:

“No bird can fly without opening its wings,

and no one can love without exposing their heart.

It is perhaps the oldest of inner laws, as inescapable as gravity. There is no chance of lifting into any space larger than yourself without revealing the parts you hold closest to your chest.”

Another of my favourite passages in The Book of Awakening speaks to self-compassion, which I consider to be one of the cornerstones of Brené Brown’s work. In my workshops, the concept of self-compassion is a difficult one for a lot of people to embrace, as they see it as self-indulgent, selfish and being in direct contradiction to how they were brought up (i.e. to put others first).

At these moments in the workshops, I will often read aloud these words from Mark Nepo:

“In deep and lasting ways, when we heal ourselves, we heal the world. For as the body is only as healthy as its individuals cells, the world is only as healthy as its individual souls.”

Sigh. Picture a room full of people nodding their heads, getting the concept of self-compassion in a whole new way, straight to their hearts and souls.

If you’re a Mark Nepo fan, let me know your favourite passage from The Book of Awakening, or let me know which of his books you’d recommend. Post it below or on my Facebook Page.

Happy reading!

 

Sacred Vows

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I’ve been thinking about how, when people get married, they exchange some bighearted and weighty vows with each other. Things like, “I will take you to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health.” And when these words are spoken, we really, really mean them. After all, so many of us grow up being taught how special it is to find someone to love for the rest of our lives, and then we spend years trying to find “the one” to whom we can commit so fully.

Without taking one inch of meaning and importance away from the commitments we make to our partners, I’ve been thinking that it’s too bad we don’t take part in a similar ceremony early in our lives, where we get to publicly announce a deliberate and earnest commitment to ourselves.

Imagine standing in front of friends, families and loved ones, stating out loud your undying commitment to have and hold yourself from this day forward. That no matter what happens – when things are good or bad, when you’re doing well or struggling, when you’re in sickness or in health – you will stand by your own side, fully committed to taking care of, loving and being kind to yourself.

If we all took a vow like this, perhaps instead of spending years trying to find “the one”, we’d spend the same amount of time and energy trying to find ourselves, what makes us tick and what gives us the most joy. We’d commit to our personal growth, our health and our mental well-being for our own sake, not for others.

Imagine the amount of trust you would have in yourself to step into the unknown, live big and be seen. You would step into your “arena,” knowing full well that if you fall, you will be there to catch and comfort yourself.

Imagine the friends you would choose for yourself; the boundaries you would set; and, the care with which you would enter into relationships. After all, if your first commitment is to you, then you’d be responsible for choosing only the friendships and relationships that truly serve you.

If your commitment was first to you, imagine the freedom from judgement you would experience. Imagine the forgiveness you would show yourself for making mistakes. Imagine the lightheartedness you’d feel about your own imperfections… all because you’d know that the commitment you made to yourself way back when meant that your self-love and self-compassion were limitless.

Imagine the life you would rely on yourself to build, if your prime commitment was to you. And imagine how deep our connections, compassion and generosity to others would be, because we’d be living in a world where everyone around us had also taken a commitment to have and hold themselves, for better or worse. We’d know what was our business and what was their business, letting go of any need for external affirmation of our worthiness.

And we’d know that by taking care of ourselves, we’d then be complete and resourced and in the very best position to take care of others.

I’ve painted a pretty lofty picture here, but in the spirit of Mother’s Day – a day when I think about the way I’m raising my kids and what I’d like them to learn from me – I’m sticking with it. It’s my wish for them – and the world – that we all declare a sacred vow to self: a commitment to our own well-being, personal growth and self-care for life.

 

Creativity Needs…

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Ok, I’m a month or so into my Year of Creative Living and I had a big “a-ha” today.

A quick recap: to kick off my Year of Creative Living I started tap dance lessons about four weeks ago, and also picked up a ukulele at the beginning of January to teach myself how to play.

So far I’ve learned that tap dancing is REALLY HARD! Between trying to remember the footwork (in slow motion) and keeping the rhythm with the steel toes and heels, it’s basically on par with learning rocket science for me. To make matters worse, there is NO glossing over mistakes in tap; if you miss a step, you don’t just see it, you HEAR it!

During my first lesson I swore I could feel the neural pathways growing in my brain (and that brain of mine is not as elastic as it used to be, so it was more like an exercise in bushwhacking the neural pathway than gently laying down new tracks).

And then there’s the fact that there are varying levels of expertise in the class. So while three other women and I quietly whisper “heel-toe-heel-stamp, heel-toe-heel-stamp” to ourselves whilst clodhopping across the dance floor, there’s a handful of other students tappity-tapping their way across the floor at about 3x the speed and style, right next to us.

And do I really need another reminder of my age? Oh, my knees! Oh, my feet! Oh, my hips! Seriously!

But, I confess: I love it. It’s playful. It’s fun. And funny (especially when I catch a glimpse at myself in the mirror looking so very, very uncool). And, every so often I get the steps down for more than 45 seconds and it feels awesome.

I feel the same way about learning to play the ukulele. When I first brought my little Uke home, I was so excited. I showed everyone who came over and played chords for my kids, my husband and for my ungrateful little dog. I even recorded a video of myself just days after getting it. I found my ukulele mentors on YouTube and bookmarked an online ukulele tuner (as instructed by my YouTube ukulele instructors), so that I always ensure my ukulele is playing at its best.

Six weeks in and… well, let’s just say that I thought progress would be faster. I faithfully click onto my YouTube instructors each day to practice my strumming and chords. I play along to videos and sometimes belt out the lyrics while I play. But I thought I’d be ready to serenade my loved ones by now. Instead, I’m still visited by a whining dog begging me to stop every time I pick up my Uke to practice.

But again, I love it. It’s fun. And I never really started out to become expert at this (although I secretly want to ukulele-rock your socks off!) I just wanted to give my thinking-brain a rest and try things that help me let go and play around.

Today, however, I had the a-ah! I was speaking with a dear friend who had seen the video I recorded of myself with my new ukulele and she told me how much she enjoyed watching me be so kind and compassionate with myself in this new challenge. I hadn’t scolded myself. I hadn’t excused myself. And I hadn’t hid my newbie-ness from the world. In fact, I posted the video to my Facebook page for all to see.

I got what she was telling me because I remember feeling that self-compassion when I recorded it, and I still do. I also feel this way about my tap dancing lessons. I’m not frustrated or embarrassed or seeking perfection. I’m just putting myself out there, trying it and having fun.

So here comes the a-ha… as I’m chatting with my friend about the lightness of the self-compassion I’m showing in the video, I thought to myself, “Wait. Why am I not bringing this same level of self-compassion and playfulness and ease to other arenas in my life? How about being that playful with my coaching and workshop consultation business? How about being that light and easy with my desire to exercise more and improve my health? How about showing that level of self-compassion for the mistakes I make at my job every day? And… this is a big one… with my parenting?”

So creativity needs compassion with a playful and light touch. And, I’m coming to realize, so do a lot of other aspects of my life.

Tap and strum on!

 

 

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!

 

 

 

Dancing In This Moment

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I’ve been a bit caught off guard by the month I’m having. It’s way busier than I thought it was going to be and, truth be told, it’s getting me down.

Like most people, I often live in that place of trying to balance what I want with what I have. It’s like me and all the parts of my world are dancing to a song on the radio, and someone/something keeps changing the station. So just when I finally find myself moving nicely in step with my job, my family, my relationships and my health,  the song changes and the different parts of my life start moving to a new rhythm I can’t quite keep pace with.

Then come the tough choices: what is it going to take to get back in sync? For me, it’s usually a combination of shifting my schedule, realigning expectations (mine and others) and maybe even re-evaluating my short and long term goals. Then I sprinkle in several handfuls of self-compassion and mindfulness so that I don’t to compare myself with others and remember that no one is keeping count, it’s all invented and I get to decide what’s important right now.

But it’s been tougher to practice this over the last few weeks, as I’ve really had to make some hard choices about what gets to rise to the top of my priority list, and what has to be deferred. For example, I regrettably decided to postpone this month’s Dose of Daring call to June, because the week coming up is going to be crazy-busy at my other job (as a learning consultant with the government). And I had to quickly pull back on a bunch of the workshops I had planned for the summer because I realized that between all my existing priorities, I also really wanted this summer to be about relaxing and enjoying the season, as well as connecting more with my family and friends. I’m feeling a bit lighter from these decisions, but the real work is in not judging myself too harshly for not being able to do it all.

In coaching training, we are taught to “dance in this moment” with clients, knowing that we can never be certain what will come up at any given moment and that we need to stay ever-present to our client’s current reality. Of course, this is also a fantastic mantra for dealing with the exquisite tension I’m feeling between what I want and what I have.

The salient point of the concept here is to “dance” in this moment. Notice that it doesn’t say, “stay in this moment” or “be in this moment”? Nope, the instruction is to dance! It may mean different things to different people, but for me this cornerstone is my reminder to stay light, to not take myself so seriously, and to not be attached to any expectation, explanation or story. It’s also one of Brené Brown’s Guideposts for Wholehearted Living: letting go of always being in control.

So as I go into the week ahead with it’s crazy-busy schedule, my mantra will be to dance in this moment. And I invite you to do the same. Truth is, it’s the only moment you and I have, so we might as well dance, right?

P.S. A gentle reminder that there will not be a Dose of Daring call this Friday May 22nd. The next Dose call will be Friday June 19!

P.P.S. There are just a few spots left in my Daring Moms workshop on Sunday May 24th. It’ll be a great time-out for any mom needing to get centred and connected with other moms, reflecting on what it means to let go of expectations and dance in this moment of motherhood! Join me!

 

Shame Happens (or, How I Survive My Shame Storms)

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If you have ever heard me talk about The Daring Way™, you’ve likely heard me say, “I live this work.” Here’s a story to prove it.

Last Thursday morning, my kids’ caregiver texted me to say she wouldn’t be able to pick up my daughter and son that day after school. No problem. Whenever that happens, I’m lucky enough to be able to pick up the phone and call my parents to meet my kids after school and watch them until I get home.

Fast forward to 5:30pm that day: I’m heading out of my office to leave for the day and it suddenly hits me: I never made that call to my parents. Oh. My. God. No one was there to pick up my kids after school. I repeat: no one was there to pick up my kids after school.

If you’re a parent, you’ll understand the instant shame storm that came down on me at that moment. Not to mention the immediate panic and fear.

I called my house right away to find out what had happened between 3:30pm (when school got out) and 5:30pm (the moment I realized that I hadn’t arranged for my parents to meet my kids). What happened was that my 10-year old daughter, realizing that no one was there to pick them up, took charge of the situation: she walked herself and her little brother home (which is right behind the school) and luckily found the house unlocked (we had two workmen at the house installing some doors). My daughter found my parents’ phone number, called them up and told them that they were supposed to pick them up. My parents came right over and all was good. And I guess everything went so smoothly that no one felt it necessary to call me.

I hung up the phone and breathed a sigh of relief knowing that everything had worked out. In fact, it was wonderful to know that my daughter actually put into action exactly what I had told her to do if ever there was an emergency and they found themselves without a pick-up after school. Whew.

And then I began sobbing uncontrollably. My body took over and the tears just came rolling down my cheeks. I couldn’t have stopped if I wanted to.

Brené Brown often talks about how shame is a full-contact sport: we feel it intensely, all over our bodies. That’s what happened to me. My body knew it before my brain did. I wanted to roll up into a little ball and hide away. This is what I thought and felt at that moment:

  • I suck.
  • What kind of mother am I to forget something so simple AND so important, to make sure my kids are taken care of after school?
  • I hate my life and how busy I am! If I didn’t have to work at my stupid job, I would have been home and I would have been there to pick them up.
  • This is all my husband’s fault. If he did more at home and with the kids, I wouldn’t have forgotten this.
  • What will my parents think of me? What will those workmen think of me? And worst of all, what will my kids think of me?
  • I NEED a glass of wine, pronto.
  • I suck.

If this was two years ago, before my work in The Daring Way™, these feelings and thoughts would have lasted with me for days. Maybe weeks or even months. I would have blamed my husband. I would have blamed my job. I would have discharged my shame as anger toward my family. I would have numbed myself with wine. And I definitely would have continued to relive those painful feelings through my own negative self-talk.

But here I am, after a lot of Daring Way™ work, and my choice was to practice shame resilience instead. This is what I did:

I got in my car, and let the tears flow. There was no denying how I felt, so I just let myself feel it. I stayed present and mindful.

I then started to unpack what was happening to me:

  • I’m upset because I’ve been triggered. What’s triggering me?
    • Feeling like I’m not enough. I should be able to do it all, and I failed.
    • I am tying my self-worth to an identity I hold for myself as a mother: that is, I want people – especially my children – to think I’m Supermom (an ideal identity for me). I don’t want anyone to think that I am the kind of mom who would forget my children (an unwanted identity for me). The thought of being perceived as a mom who would forget about her kids is extremely painful
  • Deep breath. Ok, so now I know why I’m triggered. What is my truth here?
    • I don’t suck. I don’t hate my life. It’s not my job’s fault. It’s not my husband’s fault. I simply forgot to make a call.
    • I am human and I am having a very human, messy moment. 
    • I am a mom who does a lot of things right and also screws up. I am “every-mom”: I adore my children; I scream at my children; I give, give, give; I laugh and make them laugh; I am strict; I am tired; I forget things (but not as much as I remember); I am grumpy-mom; I am Ninja-mom; I give them vitamins, flax seed and broccoli; I give them pizza, ice cream and chocolate. I love ’em and they drive me crazy. ALL OF IT! 

Then I called my husband. I reached out and shared my story and feelings of shame. He listened, he talked me through it, and he reminded me how great it was that we got to test my daughter’s ability to handle situations like this.

When I got home, my eyes were red from crying, but I was done. I was back to neutral, back to “me”. I drove up to the house, and my kids were having a picnic on the front lawn. They had no sense of anything being wrong or out of the ordinary. When I told my daughter how proud I was of her for the choices she made, she beamed. I told her I was sorry that I had forgotten to call her grandparents to pick them up, and expressed gratitude for her, my parents and that everything had worked out.

Brené Brown explains in her book, Daring Greatly, the four elements of shame resilience:

1. Recognizing shame and understanding its triggers.

This means being able to recognize your physical reactions to shame. I knew when I was sobbing uncontrollably that something had triggered my shame. I stepped back to really look at what I was thinking about at that moment. What did I fear most? What messages was I playing over and over in my head?

2. Practicing critical awareness

This means reality-checking the messages. For me, I looked at what I was telling myself and got real about what I know for sure: I cannot be reduced, defined and measured against a single identity. Forgetting to call my parents does not make me a bad mom. I am much more complex than that.

3. Reaching out

This means owning and sharing your story. My go-to when I’m feeling shame is to call my husband. I know I can tell him, “I’m in a shame storm right now, and I need to talk about it.”

4. Speaking shame

In Brené’s words, shame cannot survive having words wrapped around it. Shame wants us to keep silent so that it can fester. It wasn’t easy, but not only did I tell my husband what happened, I also told him how I was embarrassed and mostly worried about what the kids would think of me. My husband didn’t gloss over it or judge me for having the reactions I was having; he listened and told me he understood why I was feeling the way I did.

Through all of this – every choice I made from the point when my shame was triggered – I had given myself a huge dose of self-compassion. I stayed mindful and didn’t let my emotions get the better of me. I made a choice to examine what I was thinking and to put it in a perspective that was caring and kind. I understood that everyone makes mistakes like this, and that we are all just muddling our way through sometimes. I reached out and asked for what I needed from my husband, which was to let me talk it out. And then, when I got home, I modelled for my kids exactly what I want them to do when they make mistakes: I owned it, but I didn’t beat myself up for it. And I expressed gratitude.

I wanted to share this story with you because it wasn’t until a little later on that evening when I realized I had actually “lived the work” that I so often praise. It’s coming to me a little more easily now, but I’m constantly reminded how much this work is a practice. Building shame resilience does not mean that you’ll never feel the pain of shame again. I don’t walk around in a constant state of zen with nothing affecting me. However, I am much more present to what’s going on for me at these moments, and I know what might have taken me days or months to get over now takes less time, and it’s less intense.

And the impact? Aside from my husband not getting blamed for a mistake I made and my children not feeling the wrath of my shame disguised as anger, I’m actively honouring my values around family, courage, connection and authenticity, and embracing a wholehearted life.

 

 

 

I Care About This Suffering

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In my last post, I pointed to the reasons we default to messages of self-hatred over self-compassion when our vulnerabilities, fear and shame are triggered. It’s helpful to understand, as a first step to breaking the cycle of negative self-talk, that our brains are naturally wired to look for the bad and to sort for differences as methods of survival. We can stop beating ourselves up for beating ourselves up, and that’s a good thing. But then what?

Often we hear about replacing negative self-talk with positive self-talk as the best path to self-compassion. We should focus on the positive and talk to ourselves the way we’d talk to our best friend. I think this advice is solid, and an important way to create new neural pathways in our brain that normally default to self-criticism. But I also think there is an important step missing here. What’s missing is the healing.

When we talk badly to ourselves and say words like, “I’m such an idiot! Why do I keep doing these stupid things? When will I ever learn? What was I thinking?”, we are wounding ourselves. Then, if we quickly switch to positive thoughts as the antidote, it’s like we’ve slapped on a Band-aid without any regard for the proper healing the wound. We just put the Band-aid on with fingers crossed that the wound will magically heal without any care or attention.

What I’m suggesting is that it’s important to tend to that wound and ensure its proper healing, even though focusing on the wound sometimes means prolonging the pain. This is a true act of self-compassion. Think of it like this:

Your child comes running to you after falling off a bike and scraping a knee. Without taking a close look at the wound or stopping to console the child, you quickly head for the cupboard, take out a large Band-aid and put it on the wound. You pat your child on the head and say, “Cheer up! All better! Now go back to riding your bike!” and push your kid out the door thinking, “I got this self-compassion thing DOWN!”

What’s missing from this is the tenderness most of us would naturally want to show this child. And even though we know it might prolong the pain the child is feeling, we take time to examine the wound, clean and disinfect it properly, gauge the right kind of dressing to put on the wound, and console the child with the gentle message, “I care about this suffering.”

This is the same kind of care we should take when we realize we’ve been engaging in negative self-talk. Instead of instantly pivoting to positive self-talk, we need to hold our pain a little and let ourselves know that we care about the suffering.

Tara Brach has a beautiful mindfulness practice that she writes about in Radical Acceptance, and I invite you to try it the next time you catch yourself inflicting pain through self-criticism:

  • Pay attention to your body and where the tension, pain or discomfort sits from the emotional wound you’ve inflicted on yourself through the negative self-talk. Is it a tightness in your gut? Is it a tingling heat on your face? Is it a discomfort in your shoulders or neck?
  • Place your hands on that spot where you feel the sensation from the emotional wound. Close your eyes and breathe. It will not be comfortable to be in this place because you will be deeply feeling the pain, discomfort and tension. Just be with the pain and breathe into it. Don’t talk yourself out of it; just stay present to it.
  • Then say the words, “I care about this suffering.” Repeat this as many times as you need to in order to really feel your self-compassion.

You may find that your discomfort, pain or tension dissipates as you hold your hand to your body and repeat the words, “I care about this suffering”. Or you may not, which is likely a sign that this wound has been there a long, long time and hasn’t had a chance to heal yet. Keep going with the practice every time you catch yourself in self-criticism and see how your body and emotions respond over time.

This is a radical act of self-compassion: allowing yourself to be with the pain, holding yourself as you would a child, showing tenderness for the suffering and tending to the wound so that proper healing can take place.

You need this, and the world needs you to do this. On my next Dose of Daring call on April 24th, we’re going to talk more about self-compassion and how it’s the furthest thing from self-indulgence: it’s what you need to do in order to truly serve and contribute to the world in an authentic way. I hope you will join the conversation!

 

 

Why We Are At War With Ourselves

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In preparation for the last Dose of Daring call I hosted on March 27, I had spent some time re-reading Tara Brach‘s amazing book, Radical Acceptance and listening to her podcast episode, Freedom From Fear-based Beliefs. Brach is so inspiring and I love her compassionate, mindful invitation for us to “stop being at war with ourselves”.

Brené Brown always talks about how we’re hardwired for connection, and how this hard-wiring automatically generates a deep, painful fear within us of being disconnected and unloved by others. The thing that is hard to understand is why we opt for self-hatred at these moments of pain, fear and vulnerability, and not self-compassion. It was Tara Brach’s teachings that really helped me understand what this hard-wiring is all about and why we universally default to judging and berating ourselves – instead of showing ourselves compassion and kindness – when we feel vulnerable.

On the one hand, Brach explains that it has been part of our very survival for our brains to have a negativity bias. We naturally pay attention to what’s wrong and not what’s right. Our early ancestors used this negativity bias in order to avoid being killed: if anyone stopped to relax and enjoy what was right and good in their lives, they’d likely be killed and eaten by the closest lion, tiger or bear. Our brains have simply evolved to focus on the negative and make it unavoidable for us to not notice to the bad stuff. It brings to mind the warning cry of Grug from the 2013 animated film, The Croods: “Never not be afraid!”

On the other hand, as another apparatus of survival, we “sort for differences”. This was how our ancestors knew who to trust or not trust as part of their tribe. Those who are like us can be trusted; those who aren’t must be a danger to our very survival. It was as true then as it is today that we also sort for differences within ourselves: those parts of our being that make us different (and potentially unlovable) from others threaten our belonging in a group and must be hidden away lest we get booted out. Better to only show those parts of ourselves that guarantee our membership in the tribe.

You see, people? This stuff is ingrained in us! No wonder we’re all culpable for listening to our gremlins, keeping ourselves small (and safe) and talking ourselves out of Daring Greatly. Brach explains that “staying on top of what’s wrong with us gives us the sense that we are controlling our impulses, disguising our weaknesses and possibly improving our character.” The problem here is that beating ourselves up actually reinforces our insecurities and deepens the neural pathways that generate our feelings of inadequacy. We can’t embrace love and belonging if we continue to question our own worthiness.

And why is important to know this? Because by understanding that a lot of our suffering stems simply from the way our brains are built, we can avoid feeling that extra layer of unworthiness and badness when we catch ourselves engaging in negative self-talk. You know those times when you beat yourself up for beating yourself up? (Psst… remember the crazy concentric circles in my last post?) Don’t do it! Remember that you’re just beautifully hardwired for survival.

So, if we can get over beating ourselves up for beating ourselves up, that’s a good start. But we have to go a little further down the road of self-compassion and mindfulness to really start to heal ourselves and get to that place of truly believing ourselves worthy of love and belonging. That’s what I’ll unpack  in my next blog post.

For now, I’ll leave you with this lovely intention from the Buddha and I encourage you to repeat it to yourself often as a prayer or mantra:

Like a caring mother

Holding and guarding the life

Of her only child,

So with a boundless heart

Hold yourself and all beings.

My next Dose of Daring will be held on Friday April 24 at 12pm (Eastern Time). On this call, we’re going to stay with the theme of self-compassion, and look at how practicing self-kindness is NOT the same thing as self-indulgence and is, in fact, an absolutely precondition to serve the world and live the life you were meant to lead.

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The Work/Life Lab, Week #52: Month-end (Year-end) Mindfulness – Last But Not Least… Meditate

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Welcome to The Work/Life Lab: 52 Weeks of Daring Experiments To Shake Things Up and Learn More About Yourself At Work and Life

Experiment #52: Month-end (Year-end) Mindfulness – Last But Not Least… Meditate

In last week’s post, I mentioned that I’m a sentimental fool. So I’m sitting here, writing the final post of The Work/Life Lab and feeling many sentimental emotions: proud (yes! I wrote 52 posts this year!), relieved (yes! I made it to post #52!), grateful (that my posts have resonated with some of you, so much so that you’ve taken the time to reach out to me to let me know), and concerned (what am I going to write about in 2015?).

Ok, on to this week’s post… which is my monthly instalment on mindfulness. When I first posted about mindfulness back in January, I mentioned that I believe so strongly in the importance of mindfulness that I would write about it monthly, encouraging you, dear reader, to experiment with bringing yourself into the present moment in different ways. So much of our stress, anxiety and problems stem from the fact that we are either ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. There is so much peace and ease and wisdom to be found in the moment; right here, right now. And the more we can practice bringing ourselves to the moment — and releasing any judgement of ourselves or our situation (to me, this is the most important piece of mindfulness) — the more we can live in the joy, calm and sense of expansive time that we all crave.

The one mindfulness practice that we have not explored yet in the Work/Life Lab is actually the granddaddy of mindfulness: meditation. There has been a lot of focus on meditation over the last few years, with Anderson Cooper being the latest to “drink the Kool Aid” saying that a visit to a meditation centre changed his life. In fact, there has been so much written about the benefits of meditation that I’m not going to delve too much into it here. Basically, you need to know that meditation:

  • Increases your health (boosting immune function, decreasing pain and inflammation)
  • Improves your intelligence (increases grey matter related to memory and thought, increases brain volume connected to emotion regulation and self control)
  • Boosts your social life (better social connections, improved empathy and compassion and increased resilience), and
  • Helps your mental health (decreases stress, anxiety and depression)

… all of which increase your enjoyment of life. This infographic by Dr. Emma Seppala give a great overview of meditation’s benefits.

Sitting in meditation unnerves some people. For those who have tried it, you know how difficult it can be to get going with a meditation practice. Meditation is not about just sitting in silence. It’s about calming your mind, clearing the chatter. This feels almost impossible when we’ve been conditioned for so long to continually think through our moments, rather than be in our moments.

But this is, after all, the Work/Life Lab and this is about experimenting in your life, right? Ok, so here’s the deal: I want you to try your hand at meditation for seven days straight, only 10 minutes a day. That’s it. Of course, I hope that a taste of meditation over seven days will spill over into a lifetime practice… but let’s just start with seven days.

The basics of meditation: sit comfortably; take a few deep breaths and then just breathe normally; notice tension in your body and release it with your breath; then bring your attention to your breath (and the feeling of the air entering and exiting your nostrils); and, when a thought enters your head, acknowledge it and let it go. That’s it. Do that for 10 minutes and you’re done.

I have two recommendations to make as you undertake this experiment:

  • Use a meditation app to help guide you. My favourites are from Deepak Chopra, and are called Ananda. There are three you can download: Infinite Abundance, Living in Love and Conscious Health. You can download one meditation per app for free. I love these apps because you can choose different types of music to play in the background and also set the amount of time you want to meditate. Then you have Chopra’s lovely, calming voice guiding you through the meditation. There are many more meditation apps out there; try a few and see which ones work for you.
  • For your first foray into meditation, try doing it lying down just before you go to sleep. Read this superb article on How to Meditate Lying Down, by Hwansan Sunim. I think this is a great place to start because it’s easier to fit in 10 minutes of meditation right before you go to sleep, plus it has the added bonus of helping you actually have a better sleep.

If you already meditate (yay you!), then your challenge this week is to mix up your meditation practice a little. If you normally sit for your meditation, try a walking meditation. If you normally meditate 20 minutes, extend it to 30 minutes. If you normally meditate by yourself, try joining a meditation circle at your local yoga studio. Any variation from your normal routine will do. The idea here is to expand your experiences of meditation and see how other forms of meditation serve you.

One important rule: do not judge yourself! Do NOT say you’re bad at meditation. Do NOT say you’re not cut out for meditation. Do NOT say you should meditate better. These are all false beliefs, and they are your inner saboteur’s way of dissuading you from quieting the mind. There is no right way. And the very act of trying to calm your mind and quiet the chatter is meditation. It’s all about the effort and energy of paying attention, of noticing your thoughts and the space between your thoughts. That’s it.

I would love to hear how your experiment with meditation goes, so please leave a message below or leave a comment on my Facebook Page.

With that, I bid you a beautiful New Year full of ease, peace and joy!

 

P.S. Dear Readers… I am taking a short break from blogging! I’ve decided to take the month of January off from writing, and will be back at it in February 2015. Be well!