the 2014 recap: what did you learn this year?

First, my best moment. The moment that was everything:

positive c-section experience

meeting Anika Jane. June 2, 2014.

And now on to the lessons:

1. Forget about “being realistic.” This is an oldie, but goodie. I’ve lost count of how many times someone has told me to “be realistic” about something I deeply desired. I lead with this because whatever it is that you desire for your life, whatever it is that you want to create, whatever that thing is that feels so fucking big as to be impossible–well, it’s possible. Some how, some way. And if you want it badly enough, you’ll find a way to get it.

2. “As in the beginning, so in the middle, so in the end.” In other words, those initial red flags? Don’t explain those away, thinking that surely you must be mis-reading something. Your initial hits about a situation or person tend to show up again (in the middle) and the end (when you’re shaking your head and asking yourself how you ended up here). When you sense that something’s not right, there are two places where you end up: Either you’re on target with your perceptions that something’s off (which means the situation is no bueno), or if you truly are mis-reading something, then you’re going to fight the impulses in your body that are screaming that something’s wrong. Either way, it doesn’t feel good–so keep it simple, and distance yourself from what doesn’t feel good. Whether it was hiring contractors, booking hotels, or proposing workshops, 2014 made it clear that while it’s woo-woo to follow the energy of something, woo is where it’s at. When things were easy-peasy from the get-go, I walked away feeling lifted up. Any time I pushed something through, all I ever got was more pushing.

3. “If you don’t feel comfortable asserting your boundaries, that’s your sign that you shouldn’t work with them.” –Rachael Maddox . I was on the phone with my girl Rach, trying to parse through a sticky hiring situation. Rachael and I started jamming on boundaries, and that’s when she delivered this gem. It hit like a perfectly aimed arrow, helping me to understand why I hadn’t spoken up more, or sooner, and why I’d accepted months of flimsy excuses. Note that this doesn’t just apply to who you hire–it works for romantic relationships, friendships, and any other collaboration.

4. Gratitude for the little things will save your life. In the first few weeks with baby, everything was challenging. My daughter went through a brief period of crying every night, off and on, from approximately five p.m. to ten p.m. Finally (!) she would go to sleep. My husband and I would sit on the couch, sip a glass of wine together, and share five things that we were grateful for. I remember clinging to that little gratitude ritual, because we were so sleep-deprived and wrecked from all the crying, and we knew that in just a few hours she would be awake, again. It was a tiny moment of normalcy between us at a time when everything felt upended. It taught me the power of gratitude in a way that nothing else ever has. (Oh, and–some big gratitude that she stopped crying for five hours a night!).

5. “Self-care” is not a buzzword, not a thing that you tick off the box, not something you should “do more of.” It’s a lifestyle. I’m either living a lifestyle that integrates self-care into its very fibre, or I’m not. There’s no in-between. This is another “lesson from the land of bebe.” I’ve learned that if I want to be the kind of mother that I desire to be, self-care is not something to fit in. It’s the way that I need to live.

6. It’s okay to release relationships where there is not a shared vision. Business relationships. Friendships. Collaborations. Doctors. I’m not talking about giving someone the grand middle finger. I’m talking about acceptance that there isn’t a shared vision for what the two of you would come together to create, and releasing the relationship. One of the “hazards” of being a life coach is that with my understanding that shitty behavior is the result of prior wounding, I’ve been hesitant to release a relationship that wasn’t a match. “They’re wounded; I want to be compassionate,” I’d think. “After all, I’m hardly perfect! I’ve got wounds. I wouldn’t want people to ditch me because of my imperfections.” But this was resulting in various connections that weren’t feeling good and in some cases, being totally taken advantage of. A lesson learned: sometimes, the kindest thing we can do in a situation is release it. Side note: Pema Chodron has written about this. It’s called “idiot compassion.” That term pretty much sums it up.

7. Raising a baby exposes you to more extremes. At least, it has for me. The extremes of joy are highs like no other. My happier moments are far more happy than they ever were, pre-baby. I never get sick of seeing my daughter smile. And the flip-side? The irritation can also be an extreme low. There have been times in the past few months where I’ve had the thought that because my husband left out the butter for the umpteenth time, our marriage was in trouble (luckily, then my common sense catches hold of me). Freaking out about butter? Yeah. Freaking out about butter.

8. I struggle a wee bit more with not being liked, than I had thought. In 2014, I found myself delaying making decisions (so as to be liked for just a little bit longer, until I needed to decide on something and cause some upset); grounding in my “no” to requests yet inwardly writhing (because I really, really felt attached to being liked); not speaking up (so that I could avoid an awkward conversation that might result in not be liked). Inevitably, of course, whether or not I am liked is not something that I can control. The surprise for me in 2014 was seeing how often this came up and needing to remember and re-re-re-remember the lesson of giving up control. It’s always someone else’s choice to decide whether or not they like me, based on something I do or say. My job is my open heart.

9. My priorities are clearer than ever before. I realize that it’s a cliche, but having a baby has brought things into a tighter focus. I had already considered myself someone who just didn’t have time for bullshit. But now? After baby? Now I really (really!) don’t have time for bullshit. Bullshit like endless hours of Facebook or cable television surfing. Bullshit like trying to negotiate peace in relationships where I’m the only one wanting to negotiate. Bullshit like not taking care of myself with exercise or nourishing food so that I can show up for my daughter in the way that I want to. If I want time for family + business + self, then I need to trim away the bullshit.

10. I’m capable of more than I had thought I was (and the mantra, “I dunno, but I’ll figure it out” really helps). I wondered how motherhood was going to affect…everything. But somehow, I delivered. When Entrepreneur Magazine asked if I’d become a weekly contributor, when Danielle LaPorte and her team reached out to me to ask if I’d be one of the first beta testers to run Desire Map workshops before they formally debuted to licensees, and when they followed up by asking if I’d shoot a series of teaching-related videos…I felt a “yes” in my body followed by, “But how am I going to manage that?” followed by, “I dunno, but I’ll figure it out.” And, I did. Or, I should say, we did, since this was a family effort–my husband pitched in with child care (and I returned the favor when a concept he submitted for an art and music festival was accepted for a public art installation). We figured out schedules, coordinated pick ups and drop offs with day care, and I hustled (Van McCoy style) with my work.

That’s my 2014 recap–by far and away the most challenging of my life, but also without question, the most joyful. Want to complete your own? Check out the free 2015 Courageous Living Planner, available until January 15, 2015.

 

how to change the world

freedom-courageous-living

I had just read about a terrible act of terrorism. There are so many of them that sharing which one will seem almost comical to anyone who reads this post a year from now; they all sound so alike that they blend together.

This one involved children. And this year, I became a mother. And these days, when I hear stories about atrocities committed against children, it hits me in a completely new way. I ache for those parents, and for the loss of so much human potential that was loved and nurtured. I think of how, when my daughter is not at home, the house feels empty when her roars of delight or demands to be picked up isn’t the background hum of our life.

Even a second of thinking that I would never hear those sounds again or feel her warm little body against mine or kiss those little fingers and toes that are always in motion?–unimaginable.

* * *

And, then there’s life. I was in a conflict with someone. I was ruminating on things they’d said, things I’d said. Months were passing with no real resolution. I went about my day. I’d hear about some new, more recent thing that they’d said about me, and then feel the anger surging up, again. I’d feel distant and disconnected from myself whenever I thought of the situation.

Things kept amplifying. If I spoke respectfully, it didn’t get better. If I fought back and tried to explain myself, it didn’t get better. If I completely distanced myself to give time and space, it didn’t get better. Tit for tat. You did this, so I’ll do this–oh, you did that? Well, then I’ll do that plus this!

So I’d go back to using my courageous tools. Respecting boundaries. I’d breathe deep. I’d aim for compassion. I’d ask myself what I did have the power to control (me) and what I didn’t (them).

But then, another frustrating conversation or little anecdote would filter over to me, and again, I’d feel frustrated.

* *

It was a surprise to me on a random day of the week when I suddenly thought of, and then began crying for, those children. It was like a dam bursting forth; one moment, I had read about these children hours earlier and simply filed it away in my mind the way we do with most of the endless stream of bad news that we see in any given day, and in another moment, I was aching.

I thought of those parents grieving all the way across the world, and wished that I could hug them tight and close. I wished that there were anything I could do to stop this kind of war and madness.

I felt apologetic, more than anything. I kept thinking, “I’m sorry; I’m sorry; I’m sorry.”

This is the guilt that often accompanies privilege: to know that you have it so good when others don’t, that it’s as if you’re getting away with something. In that moment, I felt sorry for having it so good and not being able to do anything to undo someone else’s pain.

But I knew that this grief was not where I wanted to live. It’s tempting for all of us to believe that if someone else would be different (bosses, friends, family), if those outer circumstances (money, time) would be different–why, if only those terrorists would be different, then we’d all be happy! I know that this belief system is a fallacy.

It’s this fallacy that the people or the stuff “out there” needs to change before we can change, that keeps anything from ever changing.

So I asked myself, “Where am I at war, in my life?”

And swiftly, I got my answer.

* *

The Buddhists say that all war starts within. It’s because we abuse ourselves that we will abuse others; it’s because we’ll go to war within our immediate families that we will go to war with other countries; it’s because we starve ourselves (of love, if not literally of food) that we will tolerate the starvation of our neighbors who can’t afford food.

This is why I don’t think that personal growth work is selfish. We cannot give what we do not have, and anything you do to grow who you are on an individual level can only ever benefit the collective whole. The more you grow, the more it becomes imperative to your growth to raise others up, to bring them with you.

For all of my attempts to listen and speak respectfully, to practice compassion, I was at war–the war of wanting someone else’s behavior to change. If only they’d see my perspective, I thought, they’d realize that I was trying to communicate with love, and that I didn’t want this madness between us.

That’s just arrogance. The way to stop the war? Short of enacting necessary boundaries for my physical and mental well-being, I could just let them live the way they wanted to live. Not in a dismissive or condescending way, but rather dropping all desires to get them to make different choices.

That meant, somewhat painfully, letting them say what they wanted to say (to me, about me), letting them be as close or as distant as they chose.

Ending the war is really about releasing control. If I find it to be madness that two religions would fight each other because “you don’t believe what I believe,” then it is just as much madness to be locked in conflict with someone else in our luxurious, first-world circumstances, for the same underlying reason.

* *

Sometimes, there is a pop-bonus-surprise! with these stories, where a day or a week later, for reasons no one can discern, the other person in the story who was kicking up so much trouble magically decides to chill the fuck out and then the conflict resolves itself. Then the narrator of the story gets to wrap it all up in a neat little bow.

This isn’t one of those stories, at least not in that way. What happened for me when I realized that I didn’t want to be at war, anymore, was that I found an immediate kind of peace.

“They get to live, how they want to live.” My new mantra. My new rallying cry of freedom.

Also, in a world where the political system increasingly feels less representative of public will, where calling my representatives and asking them to do something is going to be about as effective as putting a sticker on my butt, ending the war within and trying to create communities of people who are willing to practice respect and tolerance becomes the one thing we can do. It’s how to change the world .

There will always be grief in knowing that my little, individual self cannot stop the suffering I hear about on the news. But I’m willing to do what I’m able to do.

I’m willing to start with my own little heart, and hope that a movement springs from there.

we just don’t know (and that’s okay)

we-just-dont-know-courageous-living

It was a busy day, and I had a doctor’s appointment. I was taking the elevator to get to the ground floor of the parking garage, listening to messages on my phone as I walked. A man and woman were standing there, chatting, and we all got onto the elevator, together.

There was a sudden, strange silence as we went down the elevator and upon exiting to head into the hospital, I heard the man behind me, grumbling to the woman about people with their cell phones who couldn’t put them down for even two seconds, and she chimed in in agreement and disapproval.

I felt a curious giggle wanting to arise, since the timing of my cell phone use and their commentary seemed more than coincidental.* I smiled as I walked through the sliding doors of the hospital, thinking: Wow. What an interesting narrative for someone to spin, when they just don’t know.

While sure, I hadn’t been chatty with these strangers on an elevator, the facts were these: That my cell phone is on silent, 99.9% of the time. That my entire schedule pivots around our infant daughter, and I work half as much so that I can spend more time with her. That I’m not on my phone even when pushing my daughter in a stroller, because I want to be fully with her, even though she’s too young to know the difference and wouldn’t be able to see me on a phone when she’s face forward in her stroller, anyway. That I shop and cook for my family more nights of the week than not. That when I drive, I don’t text. That I have no games on my phone. That I don’t even have email on my iPhone, save a junk account. That people routinely get annoyed with me because of how bad I can be about returning texts, emails, or phone calls.

In other words–while I certainly use my phone, I’m pretty conscious about how I desire to use it.

Someone saw fifteen seconds of my life, and an entire narrative cropped up about who I must be, because of it.

How interesting, I thought. And then: Where in my life do I do that, too?

This is why Buddhism and so many other spiritual traditions ask you to abandon all “knowing.” When we think we “know” we become limited. We see one slice, we cling to it, we use it to reinforce our belief systems and identity systems without ever questioning whether it might be reflective of an objective truth. Even the concept of objective truth is one that we are cautioned about (Who determines this so-called “objective truth”?).

Instead of grasping on to some idea or concept and making it ours, we’re asked to release concepts–just as you would release the breath on a meditation cushion, not holding on to it because to do so keeps you from breathing, which in turn keeps you from…living.

I play with this, on the regular. I just don’t know. I don’t need to know. I don’t need to cling to the illusion of knowing. I don’t need to have the answer. I don’t need to figure it out.

When we don’t need to “know,” what I find when I’m successful with this practice is that all that’s left is something open and spacious. It’s a different quality of openness or spaciousness ever time, so it’s difficult to describe–more felt than articulated.

And often, too? When I can release the need to know, it’s a relief. I have spent an exhausting amount of time trying “to know,” trying to quantify and categorize and compartmentalize because I wanted some semblance of control (and I wanted control because that’s what would make me feel safe).

The truth that I keep coming back to is that we just never really know, in an absolute sense. It’s always shifting and changing. And “safety” is an illusion. We are actually all walking around in the world, raw and exposed and vulnerable regardless of whether or not we realize it. Tsunamis and volcanoes and earthquakes, real or figurative, teach us this lesson again and again.

So in the absence of knowing, I like to ask myself: Where does happiness take up residence in my body? Do I give it enough room, enough space?

When I’m not hyper-focused on “knowing” in any absolute way, the answer that arises on its own is this: I am here to be happy, to be joyful, and these states are not things “to be done,” they are not something I can “accomplish,” but rather if I make the room for those states then they will come forth because they are there all of the time.

We just don’t know. We don’t even need to know.

 

*Or not. Who knows? ;-)