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I could not have learned what I needed to learn without the learning part.
I could not have learned what I needed to learn–without going through the stages of actually learning. No one can.
Everywhere in my life, I have needed to dive in, to go, to see, to try, to do, in order to learn that which was and was not a match for me. There was no other way to learn, without actually experiencing the growing pains of the learning process.
You might think that that is the “duh” statement of the year–but I’d be willing to bet that anyone reading this could find at least one place in their life where they’re hesitating to change something (even something as seemingly insignificant as extending more kindness or compassion to someone or to themselves) until the circumstances are “better.” It happens all of the time, without presence of consciousness.
When you wanting to change something up, try something new, follow a dream, it can be so tempting to just wait–until circumstances are right, the money is “right,” the time is “right.”
But really, there are no “right” circumstances, money, or time in most situations.
We know what we know, and as humans we’ll act on what we believe we know before we’ll act on any other conventional wisdom. We leap when we leap, not when life has decided to hand us that which we desire on a silver platter. And even if life handed that out, there’s a decent chance that in our drama-obsessed culture (yes, the culture that you’ve probably received a decent amount of conditioning around) that something handed over easily would create a big, gaping, lack-of-drama hole that would immediately be filled with more drama (“I feel so guilty that it came easily to me and it’s so hard for other people!”).
When it comes to uncharted territory, there really isn’t a gauge or litmus test for knowing when to take action or when to not take action. Usually when people hesitate, it’s because they’re hoping that they’ll find a space where they aren’t experiencing fear.
That, right there, would be the ultimate recipe for a life half-lived.
There are no free rides where you don’t experience the fear. No one gets out of that part. People might seem to get out of that part, but I promise you that it’s not that they’re not experiencing fear–it’s that they’ve learned to work with it, accept it as part of the process, and not use it as an excuse to not do what they wanted to do.
Courage is: feeling the fear, diving in anyway, and transforming.
If you’re sitting on the precipice of some big change and want certainty and security, here’s what I can offer you: tap into the certainty and security that if you’re committed to framing your life from a point of happiness, you’ll do that, regardless of what comes your way.
I know people who have gone through the worst that life has to offer–rape, molestation, beatings, welfare, warfare, horrific abuse–and even though those were not the “right” circumstances, and probably didn’t happen at a “convenient” time (whatever that would be), and money was either irrelevant in dealing with the pain (cash is not exactly a salve for rape) or just wasn’t coming anytime soon, the resilience that we all admire from people who have lived through those experiences is that there’s a commitment to finding one’s way, no matter what.
Choosing to commit to finding your way, no matter what–that’s better than money in the bank. It’s allowing for the experience of fear, because that’s real and part of life. It’s another way of practicing courage.
You are your own best bet–invest 100%.
This is how change happens : I still remember the first time that I consciously chose to shift a pattern. The pattern that (badly) needed shifting was to be controlling, reactionary, judgmental, blaming.
The challenge: sometimes, knowing that we want to shift something isn’t enough to actually get it to shift.
I was angry with Andy and he was just completely calm, looking at me and saying, “Look, this was an unforeseen circumstance. I did what I could with what I knew. That’s it.”
The mental chatter in my head was running its usual tracks in the mud–He should have paid more attention, or How could he have missed that? or He never wants to take responsibility for his stuff; all he does is make excuses; I’m so sick of arguing over all of this.
But something in me stopped.
I think it was all the zazen–Zen sitting meditation–which I was pretty ravenous about at the time. Somehow, I slowed down enough to notice that those thoughts were the same thoughts I had any time I was upset. I carried a lot of anger, and I was thinking these same sorts of thoughts about drivers who didn’t use turn signals, friends who flaked on get-together plans, students who didn’t turn in homework.
I remember having this sudden flash of, “Do this differently.” I remember holding onto the ledge of this antique dresser that I owned at the time, trying to focus on my breath. My eyes filled with tears but the energy I felt in my body was pure anger, and in fact it was intensifying as I breathed.
Finally, I could speak. “Everything in me wants to say that you’re wrong,” I finally said to him. “I’m just… so… angry.”
We stood there together for several minutes, and as I remember it, I repeated that statement a few more times. It was astonishing to me that I had this strong, intense emotion coursing through my body, and the thought patterns that went with it were there, and instead of running the same old pattern, I was just…staying…still…
It was both life preserver and paralysis.
Connecting to my breath, using what I’d learned from zazen, was keeping me from reacting, blaming, and creating a fight in my relationship. But without knowing what the next step was–without yet having good tools for communicating my feelings of upset, without yet being aware that my anger was my armor and that by changing my pattern, I was stripping myself naked and that’s why it felt so difficult–all I could do was stay still, paralyzed and not knowing what to do next.
The moment passed. I could breathe again. I knew that that was my first “lily pad,” my first step.
I had just learned something vital–that when I was in the midst of a pattern and didn’t know what to do, I could stop, pay attention to my thoughts, not act based on them, connect to my breath, and let that pass until clear thinking came.
Once clear thinking came, it was so completely and totally obvious that Andy was absolutely stating a truth in our argument: he’d just had some unforeseen circumstance come up. That’s all. Had I reacted and yelled or blamed, I would have had a shame hangover, later. I would have probably heard my inner critic yammering in my ear, telling me things like I should have paid more attention and How could I have missed that? and I never want to take responsibility for my stuff; all I ever do is make excuses; I’m so sick of dealing with this…
Sometimes I read about someone’s experience of transforming something that has been difficult for them, and it’s all the clouds parting and the sun shining through. I applaud those experiences and invite more of them into my life, while at the same time sharing with all of you that it has not been my experience that change usually works that way. In my experience, shifting a pattern, especially one that’s about your armor, your defenses in the world, is meeting yourself at your core. It’s warrior-work. It takes courage–feeling the fear, diving in anyway, and transforming.
It takes courage again, and again, and again, and again, and yet again, and each time another little lily pad presents itself. For months after that initial experience of not running my usual pattern, I clung to the thought that “If I could do it that time, I can do it this time, too.” Unfortunately, it was not true 100% of the time (nor is it always true, now) that when I’m triggered, I get present and listen to my thoughts without reacting and connect to the breath and then consciously choose to shift.
But I will say this–it happens a hell of a lot more often. Even better? It’s a lot easier. It doesn’t usually involve gripping dressers and paralysis. I leap from one lily pad to the next, not necessarily always seeing the long view, but seeing enough of the next step to find my way.
I first learned about Marc Allen’s book, The Millionaire Course, when it was a recommended resource from the Mondo Beyondo crew (you can snag a copy yourself here, in my own personal Amazon Store). I think that there are books that we run across at certain times in our lives that contain the kernel of something that we need, and in that moment I needed that book–not because of a rabid desire to be a millionaire (tho I don’t knock that desire), but because I needed to really step into the power of believing in what I was capable of, and that’s what I felt this book was bringing into my life. I felt inspired, lifted up, and reminded that life is what I make of it.
In 2010, I stood in front of my bookshelf and made a list of the books that had inspired me the most, the books I was always recommending to clients, the books that I appreciated. I wrote down the authors’ names and then proceeded to start contacting people about doing interviews.
Here’s what I thought: “What’s the worst that can happen? They say ‘no.’ “
Then I thought, “Really? That’s it?” I liked those odds.
For the most part, everyone I’ve asked for interviews from has said yes. There were only three people who I contacted who never responded; everyone else said “Yes.”
I think it’s big and bold and brave to ask–to risk the ‘no’ because you just might get a yes.
I think that Marc Allen’s work–including his new book, The Greatest Secret of All–is part of inspiring that kind of big vision in the world. It was really wonderful to speak with him and I’m so grateful that he was willing to make the time! The full content of our interview is included with Courageous Passion.