Walking Bravely and In Great Happiness

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

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

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

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

“Creativity is the root of our biological existence.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Surrendering Justification

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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about taking on my own version of a surrender experiment, inspired by the memoir, The Surrender Experiment, by Michael A Singer. This is what I recall saying:

Practice letting go of my ideas of how things should be. 

Surrender to what shows up and then give it 100% of my attention.

Hold each moment as sacred.

I am practicing all of this, and trust me when I say practice. I notice the crazy number of times my brain goes into planning mode, trying to come up with schemes for this and that, especially when it comes to my work and especially when I look at what others in the coaching world are doing. But I noticed something in particular one day when I caught myself comparing my coaching business to others. My thinking went something like this:

Wow, look at what that other coach is offering to clients. That’s so cool. Why didn’t I think of that? Well, too late now, I guess. Or should I do that too? Wait, no, I don’t have time to do that. Ok, fine. Well, that coach can do it because that’s their full-time gig. Not like me, working a full-time job while also trying build a business on the side. Remember Sabrina, you chose to have this full time job at the same time as building a business. It’s important to you: the security and consistency , especially in terms of the kids. Wait, is it? Hmmm. Yes, it is. Or is it? Maybe I just gave up too soon. Maybe I gave up on myself. Well, no, that’s not true. I’m still doing what I love, just not full time for now. Right. That’s right… I remember deciding that this is a better balance for me, for now. But man I wish I had more time for my business. There are so many things I’d like to do. But I also remember how frightening that could be sometimes. Yes, that’s right. I’m fine to be doing what I’m doing right now…

And I could have gone on and on. Isn’t this how the thought process works for all of us? It’s an incessant back and forth, especially when we’re trying to make sense of something. And that’s when it hit me: I am very invested in justifying my decision to work a full-time “regular” job while also building a business around my life’s work. It’s like my brain NEEDS to know that I made the right decision to work a regular job in addition to having my own business.

There is a reason my brain wants to know I’m making the right decision. Brené Brown talks about this in her new book, Rising Strong. Brown explains that when we go into struggle, our brains automatically make up stories in order to make sense of what’s happening. In fact, our brains reward us with a nice little dose of cortisol and oxytocin when we succeed in connecting the dots and making meaning from a struggle (think of how good it feels when you have an “a-ah” moment).

The problem is, our brains reward us whether the story we make up is true or not. When our brains piece together data to make meaning, there are often gaps in our knowledge. That’s when we start to make up stuff to fill in the blanks. In my example above, I’m making up a bunch of stuff such as a) other coaches can do what they do because it’s their full-time gig, b) I don’t have time to do that, c) I gave up too soon,  d) I need balance, e) there is such a thing as balance, f) there is some kind of strict dichotomy between my day job and my coaching business, just to name a few.

This, I realize, is going to be a huge part of my surrender experiment: Letting go of justification.

I want to let go of all the thinking my brain is doing to justify a decision, since the justification is there only to make me feel like I’m smart enough, hard-working enough, brave enough, thoughtful enough and righteous enough. Reality is, I am enough, with or without the “right” choice. Whether the decision is right or wrong, I’ll never know. When I surrender the need to be right (or smart or hard-working or brave or thoughtful or righteous), I’m free.  And as long as I’m showing up fully and completely as me, with all my values intact, then no decision can be wrong or a waste of time. As I practice surrendering the need to justify my decisions (which, boiled down, looks a lot like justifying my very existence), I embrace my right to be here, just as I am and simply because I am.

 

Meditations On True Refuge

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I am overcome with the stillness, the beauty, the connection, the aliveness. I am all these things. They live inside me. And they crackle and come alive in recognizing themselves in this place.

In this moment – in every moment – there is ease and peace and stillness. It belongs to me, always. It belongs to each of us, always. It’s where we meet and are connected. It’s love.

How can the universe be so kind? So compassionate? What did I do to deserve this? Nothing. It’s mine simply because I am.

I send this peace, this love, this bliss to the world, to all my brothers and sisters, each one of us with breath in our lungs, feet on this earth, sky above our heads. We are all ocean; let’s make peace and be playful in our waves.

The universe is perfect. The universe takes care of me. I am a child in its care, protected and loved and cherished and celebrated. Nothing to fear. Nothing to fear. Stay still and listen. Or just be. Stay open and surrender. Let the ocean carry me.

 

I spent last weekend at Kripalu Centre for Yoga and Health, quieting down for five days of meditation, yoga  and stillness. The highlight was a three-day program led by the incredible Tara Brach, who took us through guided meditations, gentle talks and interactive exercises based on the teachings in her book, True Refuge.

The passages above were the thoughts swirling through my head on my last morning there, as I sat in Kripalu’s Meditation Garden. This post is a bit of a departure from what I normally write, but I wanted to share what I wrote that morning because a) it had just spilled out of me without much thought and so it occurs to me that it’s the most raw, unedited thing I’ve ever shared on my blog, and b) the thought of sharing something so raw and unedited makes me feel nervous and vulnerable (and alive), so I’m daring myself to publish it here.

Sending love and light,

Sabrina

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

You Can Love Your Job, The Final Truth

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The third and final fundamental truth* I want to share with you is this:

3.   You Create Your Own Life

Of the three fundamental truths (see Truth #1 and Truth #2), this is the one that really rocks my world. And it’s the one that can be the hardest to truly accept. 

Basically, when it comes to your life, you are in charge.

It’s easy not to feel this way a lot of the time. But remember, this is a fundamental truth, not a “nice to have”.

You create your own life by the perspectives/attitudes you take and by the choices you make.

Sometimes it’s easier to settle into the place of ‘stuck’, feeling like responsibilities, external pressures and social influences leave us no choice. We work at jobs we hate because we have family depending on us, or we were obliged to follow in the professional footsteps of a parent, or the media and our consumer culture promised us that money = happiness.

At the end of the day, though, the truth is you are at choice. In all of the unhappy scenarios above, there is a choice being made, and that choice might very well be ‘stuck’.

Each of us has this incredible gift of imagination that allows us to see how things could be and then to make what we imagine into reality, to be the creators of our most fulfilling life. This is not a gift to be wasted! In fact, I would argue that if you use your core values as your guideposts and your imagination as your drawing board, you will begin the holy and sacred work of exploring how you are meant to serve the world.

So what does this mean for creating a work life you love?

It means that finding a job you love, or learning to love the job you already have, begins with a choice to make that happen. It means taking a long, reflective look at your past and getting honest about what lessons you’ve learned along the way about yourself. It means igniting your imagination to dream up every single possibility of work you love and are meant to be doing, and then taking the courageous steps to create it. It means you are in charge.

So, to review… I know you can love your job because I believe in three fundamental truths:

  • You are unique
  • Life is organic
  • You create your own life

The point where these three intersect is where the magic happens. I’ll even go a step further here and add another fundamental truth to this mix, lending an important sense of urgency to my point:

  • You only have this one life to live

So, you can love your job. And what are you waiting for?

I would love to hear your thoughts on these fundamental truths. Which one resonates the most with you or gives you the biggest kick in the pants? Write your reply below!

 

* These truths are borrowed from Sir Ken Robinson who wrote The Element and Finding Your Element. He describes these as principles that apply to each of us and make it possible for us all to find the sweet spot of where natural aptitude meets personal passion.

 

You can love your job. Want to know how I know?

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Three reasons.

Three fundamental truths*, actually.

Truths that apply to each of us, making it possible for anyone to create a work life they love.

Here’s the first:

 1.   You are unique

To begin, you are biologically one-of-a kind. You carry traces of your parents, grandparents, great grandparents, not to mention biological memories of all your forebears reaching back thousands of years. All these biological traces are mixed up together ‘just so’ to make you uniquely you. These traces not only impact how you look but also your personality, temperament and natural aptitudes. Not sure why you keep calm under immense pressure, have a penchant for British classical theatre or are handy with a woodworking lathe? The answers likely lie in your biological history.

Next, you have your own distinct circumstances. You have developed ideas about yourself and the world, your morals and patterns of behavior from the intimate and larger communities of which you are a part. Even if you had siblings growing up with the same parents, each of you would have had your own idiosyncratic interactions with the people and environment around you. What have your tribes, big or small, encouraged in you? What have they discouraged in you? Are they whispering in your ear that you really should  stay in that job you hate so much, or are they roaring “Carpe Diem!” with a megaphone? 

Take your unique biological makeup and mix it with your individual circumstances and you get… ta da! YOU! A person like no other. 

So, what does this have to do with creating a work life you love?

For one, it means that if you can get really clear on the passions, aptitudes and powers that are naturally and authentically you, as well as coming to terms with how your circumstances have and continue to influence your decisions, you will begin the process of discovering what it is you really love and want to spend your time doing.

Secondly, it means you can stop looking at other people as your guideposts. They are not you. Repeat: they are not you! So other people’s definitions of passion, happiness and fulfillment are not and cannot be the same as yours. The good news is, you get to define those things all on your own.

Ok, so now what?

Well, it’s always helpful to begin with appreciation: be grateful that there is no one else quite like you.

Then explore: what exactly makes you uniquely you?

Then own it: courageously accept and step into your authentic self, and see what’s waiting for you on the other side!

To end, here’s my invitation to you: take a moment right now to close your eyes and let go of any notion you have about being more like someone else. Say a quiet word of gratitude for you, just as you are. And then simply leave the words “thanks given” in the message box below to acknowledge you’ve taken a moment to make this important gesture.

Coming up in my next blog post: Truth #2 – Life Is Organic 

* These three truths are borrowed from Sir Ken Robinson who wrote The Element and Finding Your Element. He describes these as principles that apply to each of us and make it possible for us all to find the sweet spot of where natural aptitude meets personal passion.