Will the real YOU step forward?


Enough about you already. Let’s talk about YOU.

It’s not that I’m antisocial; I hate useless small talk. It’s not that I don’t enjoy good conversation; I want dialogue that involves some amount of meaning. My head spins when people give me the rundown of their weekend (e.g.: I did this here and then I ate this and did these chores and this thing that has little to nothing to do with anything that really matters to you, or me for that matter, I’m just filling up your time with useless facts about my life because I’m uncomfortable with silence).

Seriously. Enough already. Aren’t we beyond this by now?

I want to know (ala The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer) what is on your heart, burning in your mind, making you want to scream with joy. I want connection. I want authenticity, even when it involves some amount of mess (maybe even especially if it involves some amount of mess). Anything else, when it doesn’t entail matters that I need to know (such as weather patterns that involve a need to run for cover, gather emergency equipment, or make plans to escape to higher ground), doesn’t usually interest me.

 I blame it on the cancer.

After being diagnosed with cancer five years ago, I realized I had little room for crap in my life. In fact, I worked pretty hard to limit the people whose energy dragged me down. As one colleague kindly described it, I encouraged more “net positive” people into my life and limited the amount of “net negative” folks. It’s been quite lovely, actually.

I’m not saying I only want positive folks in my life. “Net positive” is not exclusively positive. It’s not happy go lucky. And it’s not fake. A net positive person is authentic, genuine, willing to admit to limitations, able to sit in silence before giving unwanted advice, and totally, beautifully, perfectly infallible (i.e. very messy from time to time).

When I am around someone who is net positive, I feel whole and lifted and not dragged down.

A net negative person, on the other hand, could be someone who is passive aggressive, painfully phony, or tedious. A net negative person most likely has little insight into their own crap and tends to be one sided and self-centered.

When I spend time with a net negative person, I am antsy, exhausted, frustrated, and often distracted by thinking of ways out of the situation.

Unacceptable. Best to cultivate net positivity in my life.

A few ways I encourage net positivity, wholeheartedness, authenticity, and realness into my life:

 

  • Allow for messy. Perfection makes me uncomfortable and just a little skeptical. I crave a little bit of mess in my life, which means I want to be able to see other people in less than perfect states. Part of asking for messy means that I have to admit to my messy. 
  • Stop doing. Just be. This goes beyond mindfulness where one is expected to breathe into discomfort, be in the present moment, blah, blah, blah.  I love that, too, don’t get me wrong, but what I mean here is to stop trying to do, help, or fix what isn’t broken. Listen more. Love more. Forgive more. But mostly, stop and just be present with another person. It’s a miracle. 
  • Send out love without being prompted. A text, a card, an email, an impromptu hug or appreciation. I work at being grateful for the small and large miracles in my life that come in the form of human beings, and let them know what it is I’m grateful for. 
  • Model authenticity and positivity. As easy as it sounds. When someone is draining my happy juice with their negativity, I do my best to infuse the conversation with as much realness and positivity as I can possibly muster. And when that fails; 
  • Walk Away. It’s ok to pass. It’s ok to decline offers for dinner, walks, coffee breaks, telephone chats, etc. If it’s draining and awful, I pass it up. I make it my own personal responsibility to fill up my own container of happy for when I might need it one day.

 And for inspiration, I refer to someone like the amazing Brené Brown, Ph.D.:

 Authenticity is a daily practice.

Choosing authenticity means: cultivating the courage to be emotionally honest, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable; exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made strength and struggle and connected to each other through a loving and resilient human spirit; nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we let go of what we are supposed to be and embrace who we are. Authenticity demands wholehearted living and loving- even when it’s hard, even when we’re wresting with the shame and fear of not being good enough, and especially when the joy is so intense that we’re afraid to let ourselves feel it.

Mindfully practicing authenticity during out most soul-searching struggles is how we invite grace, joy, and gratitude into our lives.

Be authentic. Be messy. Be wholehearted. Be YOU. And then tell me about what’s really going on.

an open letter to the helpers

 When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.
-Fred Rogers

After learning about the devastating school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, I was at a loss for words. Like so many people, I was stunned and sad, trying to figure out what to do with my sense of helplessness. I went to Brené Brown’s Ordinary Courage blog and found the above quote, and then continued to see it posted on social media sites. It spoke to me.

I was raised with the wisdom of Mr. Rogers, but at the time, I had no idea how profound and wise his words were. I just found him comfortable and predictably steady. I liked that. Life can be so complicated, and someone as calm and wise as Mr. Rogers can provide exactly what a kid from a divorced family needs (or any kid, for that matter).

Mr. Rogers was a helper.

Disasters so often make people focus on what’s wrong in the world; guns, violence, poverty, hatred, ignorance, the lack of social services, etc. And these are all facts. There are lots of things wrong in the world. But there are also some amazing and beautiful and freaking incredible things right with the world, and that’s what Mr. Rogers’ mother was so keen on pointing out. There are always helpers somewhere. In any challenging situation, you can focus on the darkness and the pain, or you can focus on the people who are willing to sift through the pain to go directly to the source of healing. In other words, you can be a part of the solution, or….you can be a helper, neighbor.

I want to be a helper.

And I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who know how to be helpers: People who aren’t afraid to stand in the muck for a cause or be spat at for being or thinking differently. People who are capable of sitting with others who are struggling with despair without trying to make it better for their own comfort. People who get that sometimes helping is letting others suffer, but not having to go it alone. People who drop what they’re doing to bake a pie in your kitchen so you don’t have to cry alone, but who don’t force you to eat a damned thing. People who go to the homes of dying people and offer to read, give a massage, watch TV, sit in silence, pray. People who offer their gloves to a homeless person or give a gift card for coffee. People who work with chronically mentally ill people and are willing to see beyond a deficiency and toward wholeness. People who don’t judge other people because of their past or the way they look or the way they talk. People who teach other people. People who continue to learn about how to be a better person. People who open the doors for other people, not because of gender or age, but because of pure kindness. People who spread love and light and joy.

I have known so many helpers, and I have been honored to be mentored and loved by them. Helpers love. Helpers listen. Helpers witness. Helpers heal.

Thank you to all the helpers.

choose love

choose love

Context

 I was sitting in a coffee shop with a fellow yogi sipping chai and discussing my latest interpersonal frustration. I was feeling discouraged and lost, and I was looking for some honest advice about what to do next. I knew my friend could be counted on to cut through the crap with her laser-like perception and ability to say the right thing. I looked at her over the cardamom scented steam, waiting for some words of wisdom.

“Choose love,” my friend said.

I sat there, feeling stunned by this basic suggestion truth. I knew she wasn’t trying to push my concerns aside or wave some positive thinking bullshit in my face. Rather, she was telling me that the loving path is the path the shows up, faces fear, states the facts (even when they’re hard), and exposes the soul when it’s the right thing to do. It’s the path that Brené Brown describes as the courageous path:

What we know matters, but who we are matters more. Being rather than knowing requires showing up and letting ourselves be seen. It requires us to dare greatly, to be vulnerable.

Perspective

To choose love is to choose the audacious and most daring path; the path that requires being willing to be seen and to swallow the needs of the ego (to be right or to be perfect, etc., etc.).  For me, choosing love demands that I stay present rather than closing off. When I’m stressed or sad or hurt, I tend to defend myself by acting like nothing happened- all along having the expectation that ignoring the problem will cease all conflict (often, however, this creates conflict, in myself and in others).

What I’ve noticed in my week of dedicating to choose love is that showing up and being loving might seem harder at the time, but it almost always makes things easier overall. It’s a basic principle in yogic philosophy, too- the idea of Satya, or commitment to truth. I notice all too often that I hold back telling someone my irritation/ disappointment for fear that I will hurt their feelings or that I would be judged for my own feelings. I don’t give others the benefit of the doubt that they can take care of themselves. I know I’ve said it before here, but it’s worth saying again (and I’m speaking as much to myself as I am to anyone who needs the reminder):

You do not always have to take care of other people. They are more often than not able to take care of themselves.

Agreed- there are always exceptions to the rule, but the basic principle is that human beings are resilient and capable. Most people grow best when challenged to show their radiant selves through hard work and dedication rather than over-nurturing. Think about it: those times in your life when you worked hard at something and had something to show for your effort are often the most pride inducing times. Yes, maybe you had guidance along the way, but you had to strike out on your own and often times had to face fear and failure before success happened (I’m thinking of my most recent love of handstands- never would have happened if I had my legs held up every time or if I didn’t topple over a few times). It takes a loving and supportive person to give us the space to grow.

Moving from Choosing Love to a Guerrilla Love Revolution

One of my yoga teachers, Molly Lannon Kenny, reminded me lately that love can be a revolutionary act- that we can actually step outside of our normal way of loving and being in the world to expand love in the community. She created a Facebook group dedicated to this mission, where people can post their acts of “guerrilla love”, and I took it as a personal assignment to spread as much love as I can through the month of December (and possibly- hopefully– beyond).

I began by chanting “Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu” out loud  on my bicycle all the way home (a mantra meaning, loosely: may all beings everywhere be happy and free of suffering and may my own words and deeds contribute to the happiness in the world). I loved it. It made my bike ride feel joyful and lighter than usual. It also helped me to feel connected more positively with everyone along the route- even the cars felt less intimidating and more a part of my community (that’s really saying something, because I often find myself praying for safety from them rather than wishing peace and happiness for them).

My next act of guerrilla love (also bicycle related) was to wish everyone along my route to work a good morning. I started by smiling at the people at bus stops, but I realized that most people don’t look up at people passing by. I felt a bit deranged, straining to smile at people looking down at their smart phones or staring at the street where the bus would be arriving soon. I also noticed how much of a cultural shift it was for me to try to make eye contact with people in a city where that doesn’t happen a whole lot. I decided instead to say “good morning” to the people I could, and it turned out to be stunningly enjoyable connecting to fellow bike riders, construction workers, and people waiting at crosswalks. A small act, but something I wouldn’t normally do without a nudge.

This weekend, my partner and I enjoyed time away at a cottage on a beach. Because it was just the two of us, my guerrilla love act was to pick up trash as we wandered along the shore. I held the idea of loving the planet and doing my small part to care for the sea birds and animals that live in that ecosystem. I assume nobody will notice the lack of bottle caps or plastic junk that littered the driftwood lined beach, but it felt good to me to know that the next person to walk the beach might not be distracted by trash and could instead focus on the beauty that is naturally there.

Loving is a choice: it’s about connecting, nurturing, and growing as human beings. I like the way Hafiz says it best (translation by Daniel Ladinsky):

Plant
So that your own heart
Will grow.

Love
So that God will think,

“Ahhhhh,
I got kin in that body!
I should start inviting that soul over
For coffee and
Rolls.”

Sing
Because this is a food
Our starving world
Needs.

Laugh
Because that is the purest
Sound.

take off the mask, you beautiful mess.

The Moment
~Margaret Atwood

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.

Yesterday I was running errands when all of a sudden I was saturated with an overwhelming feeling of anger. I felt uncomfortable in my own skin and irritated by anyone who was in my way. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to be in nature. I wanted the library that I was encapsulated in to disappear and for everyone to shut up. I needed silence. And for some reason, libraries are no longer the sanctuary they used to be…

I usually love going to the library, but at that very moment, I didn’t want to be surrounded by library walls and library books and enthusiastic school children. I was suffocating in my awful mood and feeling too large to be held by four walls. I was pissed at the woman in front of me who was patiently teaching her son how to use the self check out, and I was irritated when one of my books didn’t register on the machine. I wanted to scream at the librarian and push everyone out of my way so I could beeline to the park where the trees were undoubtedly continuing to change colors under a hazy autumn sky. I was missing the show.

The funny thing about these moods is that I notice right away just how irrational and awful they are. But there’s a sense of urgency and intensity that is hard to shake off, let alone rationalize. If I slow down enough and utilize my breath, I can instantly notice the judgments that happen in my mind and the ways I want to lash out at other people who are around. Apparently, I want to make everyone else feel just as crappy as I do. Don’t they know I’ve had a hard day? Don’t they know I’ve had cancer? Don’t they know the world is going to hell in a hand basket and that I’m missing the trees changing in the park?

ahhh, the joys of anger

Brené Brown clarifies in her book Daring Greatly  (which I HIGHLY recommend to anyone wanting an amazingly life changing read on tapping into personal courage and living more authentically and wholeheartedly) that anger is a “secondary emotion, one that only serves as a socially acceptable mask for many of the more difficult underlying emotions we feel” (p. 34). Oh, right. My anger wasn’t really anger after all. It was sadness.

It’s true that my outward frustration was more socially acceptable than me melting down in a puddle of tears, but I felt like one of those monsters in Where the Wild Things Are. I was a beast who could have ripped my books apart and busted through the ceiling. I didn’t seem to have any ability to manage myself in that moment and, in hindsight, I should have listened to my gut in the first place and just bypassed the errands to go directly to the park. But I didn’t have that insight at the time. I just had my crappy mood and my sadness masked as anger (is there a Halloween costume brewing, here?).

I suppose the moral of the story (and I’m reaching, here) is that I need to take more time for myself and to notice when I’m feeling sad. Even if it means losing the books I have on hold at the library or not picking up my beloved coconut creamer at the grocery store. It means not checking my email or twitter or facebook to see if there’s anything I’m missing. Sometimes life is more important that the chores or tasks I have imprinted in my brain- those “shoulds” and “coulds”. And the real connection I long for is the one that doesn’t exist inside or online.

So, my friends, my personal assignment is to become more aware of my own needs in any given moment and to listen to my gut, which happens to be right a good portion of the time. If I need more outside time, I’m going for it. I’m going to (try to) admit my imperfections, even it means looking like a watery mess, and honor that this moment is another opportunity for growth. This is what I love about yoga- it’s all a practice and a journey.

The Yoga Sutras begins with Atha Yoganushasanam, translated as something like “now begins the practice/discourse of yoga”. It all leaves room for improvement. That was then, this is now. The past and the future do not exist. There is only now, and this is my yoga practice.

Daring Greatly- a pledge to live wholeheartedly

taking the wholehearted pledge

My Friday morning yoga book club is currently participating in Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly online read along and we are so freaking on fire and inspired by it. Just reading the preface and intro felt like a much needed kick in the pants to begin living more intentionally and authentically; no more judgment. Well…it’s impossible to let go of judgment altogether, because judgment comes with the human experience…but the idea is to focus less on what others think and more on living wholeheartedly (a huge piece of this book). Brené outlines how to do this so perfectly:

Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.
~Brené Brown (2012, p 10)

Hot fucking damn. That’s exactly what I want more of; courage, vulnerability, and wholeheartedness. So, without sounding like a book report, I offer here my pledge for living more fully and daring greatly (based on the “guideposts” for wholehearted living that Brené offers in the intro):

  • I pledge to be more connected, engaged, and loving in my relationships. The people in my life mean the world to me, and I want to let them know that through my words and actions. I want to tell people why they matter to me, even if I sound like a crazy person.
  • I pledge to take more time for play. Designated time without talk about work, money, or stress. No checking email or social media. No tv. No chores. Opening up to FUN. Stepping into the world and noticing how it feels to just be (insert deep sigh of relief here).
  • I pledge to allow more mess in my life/environment in order to make space for creativity. The laundry and dishes can wait. I have a life to live. Living wholeheartedly and allowing vulnerability means allowing people to see me in my full messy glory. And the more I allow people to see me for who I really am (chaos and messiness included), the more I can be open to deep human connections.
  • I pledge to begin taking more risks and thinking less about what people might think. There’s a lovely fierceness in being bold. I want to do what I feel inspired to do- break into dance in public, sing out loud, practice yoga on a crowded beach, ride my bike through puddles (you get the picture).
  • I pledge to speak my truth, even when it’s scary or leaves me feeling exposed (within reason, of course). This is the whole “speak your truth, even if your voice shakes” principal. My thought is that if my voice is shaking or I’m experiencing fear, I’m closest to my truth. And when I squelch my truth, I’m letting myself down.

All of this, and I haven’t even begun chapter one. Hot damn. I love this book.

I fell in yoga class. Which means I fall in life.

I fell in yoga class the other day. Not in a small losing my balance way, but in a full on fall to my side and rolling onto the mat of the woman next to me way. The class was holding a reversed lunge, and just a few seconds into the pose, I lost footing. I remember thinking that I should steady myself and work at locating the elusive mūlabandha when I completely lost balance. I tipped onto my side and rolled onto my back as though I was in a fire drill. I was mortified. I judged myself. I wanted to crawl to the door and run, not walk, to my car. Instead, I laughed a little and muttered a little apology to my fellow yogi before returning to my mat.

Self-judgment can come up so quickly, and this experience was no exception. I kicked myself in a mental way several times before realizing how funny and human this was. Just another moment in time when I could fall and recognize that falling is just a part of life. In fact, I fall all the time in small and not so small ways; mentally, spiritually, and, obviously, physically. Maybe I’m not better for it, but I’m more uniquely me for it. And I love myself anyway. Because yoga to me isn’t about striving for physical perfection, it’s about seeing the imperfection as a part of me and loving it. Loving me. Becoming more whole. Being authentic. As Brené Brown says, “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.”

 I’m awkward and shy, silly, irreverent and a wacky mix of girly and tomboy. Sometimes I feel as though my heart is going to burst with love for the world, and at other times, I lose my temper and say or do something I instantly regret. I’m human and I have so much room for growth. And I’m mostly open to learning and growing, which is about all I can offer.

 So, to the woman in yoga class who had a complete stranger roll onto your mat, and who ignored that stranger when she attempted a tongue-tied apology after class: thank you. I honor your role as teacher.