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!

 

 

Practicing Guidepost #7

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I’ve been struggling for a few weeks to find the time and headspace to write a new blog entry. And this morning it dawned on me: it’s time to take a break from blogging and it’s time for me to start practicing Brené Brown’s Guidepost #7 (of the 10 Guideposts to Wholehearted Living).

Guidepost #7 is Cultivating Play and Rest. I know it’s time to seriously cultivate some play and rest right now, because:

 

  • Summer is here, a natural time to slow down and enjoy the long, sunny days.
  • Things at work are starting to slow down after a crazy busy season of planning, budgeting and forecasting.
  • I’ve been suffering from insomnia for the past two months (yes, in large part from the crazy busy season at work).
  • My brain feels wrung dry of ideas and inspiration – hence the dry spell in writing for my blog.
  • My body came crashing down a week ago with a nasty cold that I can’t seem to shake.

Cultivating play and rest might sound nice and easy to put into action, but it can be a tough guidepost to practice. Why? Because of what’s required to let go in order to truly make this practice have impact: to Let Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth. Yup, it may be easy to pour a glass of wine and put my feet up in the name of cultivating play and rest, but that’s not actually enough. That won’t actually give me the true reset my body, mind and soul need.

Practicing this guidepost means making a deliberate effort to embrace being over doing, which can be especially difficult when my default is to measure my “good enough-ness” against how many things I can check off my to-do list in a day. And don’t even get me started on the trap of comparison! What is there to talk about with my friends if not how tired or exhausted we are from all the demands in our lives, from kids to jobs to husbands to health?

It seems that if we are not busy and not tired from being so busy, something is wrong with us. We are all deeply suffering from a sense of time-scarcity. We wake up complaining we didn’t get enough sleep and then go to bed worried that we didn’t get everything done. And when we do manage to check a lot of things off our to-do list, we feel particularly proud of ourselves. Then we wake up the next morning to a fresh set of to-dos, and the exhaustion builds all over again.

Well, for me, it’s time to take a chance on rest and play instead. So, for one, I’m taking a break from blogging and won’t be posting again until September. My brain is saying “I’m full”. My body is saying “I need a break”. My soul is saying “Slow down and rediscover the joy of not doing.” And my choice is to heed these messages with a deep sense of self-compassion.

My wish for you, dear Reader, is that you will do the same. Take these hot, sunny summer days as your invitation to slow down and cultivate some rest and play into your life. Not everything on your to-do list will get done, and that’s ok: you’re not defined by your productivity, and your exhaustion doesn’t determine your worth. You and I, we are – simply and always – enough.

 

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 #47: Month-end Mindfulness – Practicing The Law Of Least Effort

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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 #47, Month-end Mindfulness: Practicing The Law Of Least Effort

“When you struggle against this moment, you struggle against the entire universe.”

Deepak Chopra

I was listening to a guided meditation by Deepak Chopra earlier this week and in it, he was speaking about the Law of Least Effort. His words hit me like a cosmic ton of bricks. Chopra says,  “when our body-mind is in concert with the universe, everything becomes spontaneous and effortless.”

Effortless? Boy, I could use me some of that. I don’t know about you, but everything for me these days has been feeling hard and stressful, as if resistance is rising up to meet my every move.

Chopra goes on to say that when you struggle against this moment, you struggle against the entire universe. And while you might want change in your life, accepting your life as it is, right now, puts you in the best position to achieve your goals.

What? This very notion goes against everything I ever believed about creating a life I want. Don’t I have to struggle? Isn’t it supposed to be hard?

I was listening to this at exactly the time I needed to hear it: I had just suffered through my third night of insomnia (something I’ve been dealing with for months, and is REALLY getting me down), and my whole body was aching. To make matters worse, my brain was racing from one little stressful thought to another… about my work, my kids, my house, my marriage, my body, my parents. I was UPTIGHT! I was pitted in struggle against almost every part of my life.

So, at that moment, I decided to let go. Let go of the struggle, and release each and every little stressor I was facing. What I did is what I’m going to ask you to do in this week’s Work/Life Lab. This is a mindfulness exercise at its best: coming right into the present moment and releasing your brain’s grip over every little thought about what has gone wrong or what could go wrong, and to just be with what is, right now.

So here’s what I did:

I got out my journal and wrote “Let go of…” and wrote a list of every little thing that felt like a source of stress. I went through all aspects of my life and whenever I noticed my chest get tight or my stomach start to ache thinking about it, I wrote it down under “Let go of…”. It looked something like this:

Let go of…

  • worrying about how my kids are doing at school
  • not doing enough for my business
  • anxiety over Friday’s workshop
  • feeling overbooked
  • worrying about my family’s perception of me
  • not getting things done
  • comparing myself to others
  • feeling like I can’t handle all this
  • mourning the days when my health was better
  • feeling like I “should” do yoga
  • pressure to sleep well (or at all)
  • the need to hang more pictures on the walls in my house
  • feeling bad about missing my dentist appointment

You get the idea. My list was LONG! Every tiny thing that caused stress to rise up went on that list.

Then, I wrote down, “And accept…” and wrote down what it was I chose to accept in my life. It looked something like this:

And accept…

  • it’s ok to be happy
  • everything is as it should be
  • there is no judge and jury
  • things will get done
  • things will not get done
  • there is no finish line
  • people want to help me
  • all is good, and so am I
  • I am responsible for myself, but I don’t have to blame myself
  • there is no right way to do things or live life
  • love is everywhere

 

I am not kidding when I tell you that this is the most powerful thing I’ve done in a long, long time. I felt my body loosen and lighten with every bullet point I wrote down. The pain in my body started to feel more distant the more I wrote. It was like the pain was still there but I was no longer buying into the bigger story around it (e.g. “I shouldn’t be feeling this pain at 45 years old; why can’t I get control of my health?; Am I ever going to feel normal again?”). I felt a kind of peace I haven’t felt for a long time.

So, this is what I’d like you to do: sit down with your journal or a piece of paper, and write at the top “Let go of…” and start listing all of the things that feel like a struggle in your life. Big and small. And as you write these, commit to actually letting them go. Release them and do it the name of the Law of Least Effort. Give up the struggle and let go. Think of it as a decision to stop swimming upstream against all the things that aren’t “right” in your life, turning over and letting the river just take you downstream instead.

Then when you’ve finished your list, flip the page and write at the top “And accept…” and write down some of the deeper truths that you hold. If you can’t think of anything, then just write down this: “Everything is as it should be. All is good and so am I.” (and believe it!)

The trick of course is to truly let each thing go. It’s not enough to write it down; you have to make the commitment to actually release yourself of these struggles and accept your life as it is, right now. That said, you must absolutely write it down, because that’s how you will make this a deliberate act of letting go.

Do this, and see what happens. At the very least, you won’t feel the stress and negative energy in your body anymore, and that’s worth its weight in gold. At most, you might find that everything in your life becomes spontaneous and effortless, as Chopra described. Ahhhh…bliss!

 

 

 

The Work/Life Lab, Week #43: Month-end Mindfulness – Being With The Scary

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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 #43 – Month-end Mindfulness: Being With The Scary

‘Tis the season for all things spooky, dark and scary. So let’s ride the spirit of Halloween and dedicate this Month-end Mindfulness exercise to getting really present to our own spooky, dark and scary stuff.

A popular expression these days is “lean in”. What does that mean? It means choosing to be with — really be with — something, even when it’s uncomfortable, when there’s no obvious solution, and when there is no guarantee of relief. This is not something most people choose. Why would we? It’s a painful place to be, after all.

Instead, when things become uncomfortable and seem unsolvable, we quickly do things that numb us from that pain and discomfort. We reach for a glass of wine. We eat carbs in front of the tv. We go online for hours. We shop. We gamble. We also let our minds go into panic mode: we fret and regret the past, replaying things over and over in our heads. Or we get carried away in anxiety over the future. What if this or that happens? We imagine the absolute worst of what might be; we catastrophize. Or we go to quick-fix, popular affirmations that just keep us operating at a very superficial level. I know for me, I go straight to watching an episode of Downton Abbey or some Jane Austen film, just so I can be carried away to what seems like a light and fancy time period.

So, this week’s experiment might not be your favourite, but it is just an experiment after all (meaning: just try it to see what happens). This week, when you meet a spooky, dark and scary subject for yourself – maybe it’s your tendency toward anger; your habit of gossiping about others; your default of blaming others for your problems; your painful memories of a past trauma; your deeply held belief that you’re somehow unworthy of love and belonging – instead of  doing anything in your power to ignore, deflect or otherwise deny these tough feelings, make a choice instead to lean into them.

How do you do this? Well, once you’re “hit” with the dark, spooky place, breathe. And breathe again. Then move your attention out of your head and away from your thoughts, and move your awareness to your body. Remember that you’re not trying to solve this problem (which is what your head wants to do); you are simply being with it, leaning into it (which is finding out where it lives in your body). Get mindful to your physical experience of this discomfort. Where does it sit? In your chest or gut? Behind your eyes, or just on your shoulders? Breathe and let your awareness find the discomfort in your body. When your awareness finds it, get really clear on what that sensation feels like. Is it a tightness? Is it a burning? Can you give colour or shape to it?

Once you’ve found it and are really clear on the sensation, then just keep your attention there while you take five deep, conscious breaths. Send that healing and life-giving breath to that spot of discomfort.

That’s it.

Being mindful of your dark stuff means not trying to deal with it or solve it. And while it’s not exactly like making friends with the dark stuff, it is definitely about sending some compassion to it. This may sound simplistic (the best things in life are, by the way), but it’s powerful. And, at the very least, it opens a space between action and reaction, which is a huge benefit of becoming more mindful in your life.

I would love to hear about your experience with this experiment, so leave a message below, on my Facebook Page, or even email me directly at sabrina@sabrinaguerin.com. How did it feel to lean in? What happened on the other side of this mindfulness exercise? Could it become a regular practice for you? Let me know!

 

The Work/Life Lab, Week #36: Dare Not To Compare

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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 #36: Dare Not To Compare

I was watching one of the Daring Way™ videos in which Brené Brown talks about comparison. In the video, she quotes a friend who calls comparison “the thief of happiness.” I couldn’t agree more.

I think we’ve all had the experience – whether it be in our work or personal lives – of happily chugging along with things and feeling pretty good about it. You’re moving things along, all is going tickety-boo and you’re feeling pretty good about your progress. And then you take a moment to look up and around at what everyone else is doing and you have that moment of, “Oh man. Look at where they are. They are so much better/ahead/together than I am. What’s wrong with me? Why do I even bother?.”

Yup. Happiness, thieved.

So much of our society’s thinking is built upon competition, constantly looking over your shoulder to keep tabs on what others are doing. Even if you outwardly reject the culture of competition, it’s easy to fall into unconsciously comparing yourself to the person next to you, sizing him/her up to make sure you’re not too off track.

This all comes out of a culture of scarcity; the sense that there is not enough and that we are not enough. I’m not sure how it is that we all bought into this notion that there is some line to cross, some standard to keep up or some appearance to maintain. But rest assured, the line, standard and appearance are illusions, not reality. It’s our own mental construct and it’s stressing us out!

So here’s this week’s experiment: Dare NOT to compare yourself to others. Here’s how:

Begin by noticing when you are making those mental checklists, and ticking them off:  “She’s already a senior director at 30 years old?” “Her kids are always so well dressed.” “How come the couple next door don’t ever seem to fight?” “Toby got that promotion over me, but he doesn’t have the same family responsibilities I do.” All these are examples of how we compare our lives to others, and it’s all nonsense. There is no right way to live YOUR life. There is no right way to live any life. Who you are, where you are and what you have – right now – are all enough.

So once you’ve caught yourself in comparison-mode, take a breath and make a choice to draw on your self-compassion. Begin with some words of self-kindess (“I put so much care and attention into my work.”) Remind yourself that everyone – including the people you are comparing yourself – have their own struggles, frustrations and self-doubt. Feel the comfort in that shared humanity. And bring yourself to the present moment, reminding yourself that right now you are alive and enough.

To deepen this experiment for yourself, repeat the following mantra – another goody from Dr. Brown – to yourself every morning before you start your day,

“No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.”

Don’t let comparison steal your happiness for another moment!

 

The Work/Life Lab, Week #34 – Month-end Mindfulness: A New BFF In 7 Days

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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 #34 – Month-end Mindfulness: A New BFF In 7 Days

The more I facilitate The Daring Way™ program with those brave women and men looking to live more wholeheartedly in their lives, the more I understand how much this one thing seems to be so lacking for each of us: self-kindness.

Practicing self-compassion is a key path to living wholeheartedly. Brené Brown’s definition of wholehearted living is to engage in life from a place of worthiness, knowing that while we are imperfect and vulnerable and afraid, we are at the same time courageous beings who are worthy of love and belonging. Kristen Neff, a leading researcher on the topic of self-compassion, identifies three components of self compassion: self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. Of these three components, it is self-kindness that seems to stump most people. When people try to show themselves gestures and thoughts of genuine, life-affirming kindness (as opposed to superficial affirmations or self-comforting actions that spill over into numbing behaviours), there is a real struggle. It’s amazing that we can’t treat ourselves with the same tenderness, warmth and love that we so easily give to our spouses, children, family members or friends. When it comes time to give ourselves a little kindness, it feels fake. It feels indulgent or egotistical. Mostly, it feels undeserved.

This week’s Work/Life Lab, in celebration of Month-end Mindfulness, is all about giving yourself a nice, healthy daily dose of self-kindness. This is a mindfulness practice because it requires some self-centering and some real attention to your being. Neff explains that self-kindness involves “being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.”

So here’s what I want you to do: this week, pay attention to those times you fall into the default of self-criticism. Notice when thoughts of “How could I be so stupid?” or “What was I thinking?” or “Why am I so tired?” or “Why can’t I just get over this?”… anything that’s harsh and adds another layer of blame, frustration or stress to an already painful situation. When you notice you are going there, take a breath and soften. Soften, soften, soften. And then tell yourself something that is absolutely comforting and kind. My stand-by is, naturally, from Brené Brown’s work: “I am enough.” Or maybe try, “All is well, and so am I.”

This is a practice; not something you just do once and assume you’re good to go. You may not even be aware of just how many negative “mental tapes” you have playing day-to-day. So take notice, take a breath, and then give yourself some kindness. Keep it up, and by the end of seven days, you might even find that you are your own new BFF.

P.S. Curious to know just how self-compassionate you are? Take Kristen Neff’s Self-Compassion Test to find out!