Take Heart

IMG_9958What do you think of when you hear the word courageous?

I think of someone being strong, brave, and trembling. They are not without fear; they are just with courage, which gives them the strength to face their fear.

When we are courageous or when we are encouraged we feel inflated, filled up, hopeful, inspired, and strong. When we feel discouraged the deflation is almost palpable.

The word discourage has the French root des, meaning away. The second part of the word, courage, comes from the Latin cor, which means heart.

To feel discouraged is to lose heart or to have our heart taken away.

The things that discourage us are numerous, but here are four that come to mind:

ILLNESS. When we fall ill or become injured we lose our ability to engage in the world in a physically healthy way. We become limited, dependent on others, and can perceive ourselves as weak.

Weakness is not a quality we’ve been taught to embrace. It makes us more vulnerable, more fearful, and requires submitting to the needs of our body instead of pushing our body to meet the demands of our minds.

REJECTION. Rejection discourages us because instead of receiving rejection as an opportunity to reflect and improve if need be, we tend to use it as a mirror from which we think our true value is reflected. Since our self seems to be of no value to the voice rejecting us, we lose heart.

LOSS. Loss feels like our heart is being torn out of our chest. It’s as if we lose a part of ourselves and not just a person we loved or an object we owned. It reduces us to our neediest and weakest state of being and it can feel like we will never recover.

SHAME. Brené Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging.” She explains that “there are specific memories that we can recall that can bring up shame for us, but there are also very insidious quiet messages that we just marinate in over a lifetime.”

Shame does the opposite of encouraging us to love and live freely. It makes us feel like we shouldn’t be taking up space in the world and discourages us from speaking our truth.

At their best these human experiences deflate us. At their worst they crush us. They make us question our worth, our value, and bring us face to face with our deepest needs and fears.

When we feel discouraged is when we need summon the courage from deep within to stay mindful, stay attentive, and stay rooted in our experience.

These experiences might appear to be more shadow than light when we’re in them, but just as a literal shadow changes depending on where you stand and how the light falls, so can the dark times in our life change shape depending on the perspective we choose.

The next time you feel encouraged, notice how your body seems to lift itself up from within.

When you are in need of courage, look within and listen quietly until the sound of your own breath is the only thing that whispers in your ears the truth of who you are; a truth no one can give you or take from you.

You were born with that truth and will die with that truth. The only question is what will you do with it in between.

 

Advertisements

4 Ways to Be More Authentic

“At that moment we are feverish but also porous, so that the slightest touch makes us quiver to the depths of our being.”-Albert Camus

I feel porous lately. Life is sinking in, not just rolling off of me as I rush through it.

I don’t want to lose that porousness. I want to soak up more of life, even though it means I’m opening myself up to great pain as well as great joy. I made this list for myself to remind me to be accountable, vulnerable, authentic, open, and honest. I hope it serves you as well.

1. Stop pretending you have your shit together.

This one always makes me think of a friend of mine who can do anything. She could probably fly if she wanted to. Every time I see her I feel this need to prove I can do anything too. It’s subtle but it’s there. We have a regrettably superficial exchange and I leave wondering why I always fall into the trap of pretending I’m something I’m not.

The backstage of our lives is never as refined and beautiful as the act we put on for the world. When I compare my insides to other people’s outsides I feel inadequate. When I put on pretenses I feel inauthentic.

I’m trying to notice when I feel the urge to prove myself or protect myself and soften a little instead. Soften right where I feel the urge to harden.

2. Become accountable for your life.

When things are going along great, I like to take all the credit. Then things start getting uncomfortable or what I label as “bad” and I want to put the blame anywhere except on me.

I’m trying to become accountable with the small things. When I’m accountable I take back my power to respond instead of react, to participate in my process, and to choose what my next step is. The more accountable I become with the small things, the easier it is to own up to the big things.

3. Speak your truth.

And listen to other people’s truth.

In order to speak my truth I have to know it. Which means I have to listen to that small voice inside of me that too often gets ignored.

You know the voice. The one you tune out because you’re afraid it will ask you why you’re living your Plan B life instead of your Plan A.

These days I’m trying to have the tough conversations I’ve avoided my whole life, with others and with myself.

4. Show up for the people in your life.

Starting with yourself.

The other day one of my parents was talking and I literally felt myself shutting down. I didn’t want to listen to it, let alone deal with it. (This is where No. 3 comes in handy.)

Those moments I want to tune out what’s happening, I’m trying to tune in instead. I use the mantra “Honor the present moment” to help me stay focused on whatever or whoever’s in front of me, no matter how small or unimportant it seems.

This isn’t a recipe for a easy life. It’s a recipe for an authentic life. Season it will love and compassion and feast on your life.

 

Post originally published on elephantjournal.

 

What Song Are You Singing?

I’ve been struggling for some time with trying to find my voice.

You know the voice. Not the one that tells you to give up or that you need to be better. The one that is clear as a bell and won’t take no for an answer. The one you believe, not because of what it says but because you know deep down it’s your voice.

And it’s speaking your truth.

Sometimes I hear what sounds like this voice coming from other people’s writing, words, or life. It’s misleading because it makes me think, Hey, there’s my voice! I just need to say what she’s saying or do what he’s doing or live like they’re living and I’ll have it.

“The hardest journey is from your head to your heart, but once you get there, you’ll know who you are.”- The International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers
“The hardest journey is from your head to your heart, but once you get there, you’ll know who you are.”- The International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers

So I try that. I try subscribing to other people’s ideas, copying other people’s practices, living other people’s lives.

It always dumps me back in the same unsatisfied spot, feeling disconnected and wondering why.

One of the reasons it’s so hard to hear my voice is because there’s so many other voices out there trying to tell me who I should be. They’re so loud and authoritative. They come with bells and whistles. They shout at me from magazine covers and websites and billboards.

It’s hard to block them out without also blocking out my own voice. I try to lower their volume by lowering mine.

If I don’t speak so loud they won’t tell me to be quiet, simmer down, and live like everybody else. If I don’t speak so loud they won’t ask me to back up my words with some action.

I think that’s how we end up living lives of quiet desperation.

Lately though I’ve been hearing my own voice. It’s strong and clear and getting louder. It asks me tough questions and it doesn’t take cop-outs for answers.

It asks me what I’m made of and what I would do today if I was going to die tomorrow.
It asks me what really matters to me and what value I put on every moment.
It asks me to show up and when I don’t it asks me what was more important than being Here right Now.
Then it asks me to show up again.

This is the voice I’ve been trying to hear. This is the voice I’ve been terrified of hearing.

I’m beginning to hear it even through the cacophony of voices media and society throw at me. I’m beginning to listen to it even when it says what I don’t want to hear.

And I’m beginning to use it. To use my own voice that speaks my own truth that was always there that I’m just beginning to hear that has something to say.

It tells me to get ready for the journey from my head to my heart. It tells me it won’t be easy and I’ll want to turn back. It tells me I’ll have to get naked and vulnerable and leave all my shields and defenses behind. It asks me to get up close and personal with my unfiltered, unedited, unbreakable truth.

It asks me to speak that truth, even if no one will listen.

It reminds me that I say I don’t want to go to my grave with my song still in me, so I better get singing.

What is your voice saying to you?

 

photo credit: dullhunk

The Metamorphosis of Motherhood

Baby

Everyone told me having a baby would change my life.

No one told me it would change me.

I knew about the physical transformation I would experience, but I thought it ended when I had the baby. Little did I know it was just beginning. The process feels strangely similar to how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly.

I spun my little cocoon with and for baby. This was the fun part. What I didn’t know is that after a caterpillar spins its cocoon, it has to melt down.

Completely.

It actually turns into caterpillar soup. There’s no remnants left of its prior caterpillar body or being except for what are called “imaginal discs.” These discs contain the information needed to produce all the necessary butterfly parts, such as wings, eyes, etc.

I wasn’t expecting this meltdown.

The meltdown of all I thought I was and all I thought I’d be. The meltdown of the last 37 years of what I like to call progress and refinement. All gone. All turned into mush.

I knew I was still there, but not in any recognizable form. Exhaustion made me irritable and months with little yoga made me stiff and achy. I felt like an old lady when I wanted to feel like a glowing, new mama. Was this who I really was?

Thanks to the imaginal discs a butterfly begins to form in the soup. And here’s the part we all know about: The butterfly grows and struggles to free itself.

Like most of us, I like to focus on the free and flying part, skipping over the struggle part, but a whole lot of struggle was in store for me.

I fought and wrestled with my process out of fear. Fear of who I’d become and fear of who I’d lose. Fear of the unknown and fear of the uncontrollable.

Through its struggle the butterfly develops the strength to fly. Without the struggle it would never be strong enough to survive on the outside. Intervening with this delicate process can result in a failed transformation.

At my most challenging moments I reached out to a yoga teacher who had also recently had a baby. I wanted to know what she did and what worked for her. I wanted her to give me the answer, to show me the way out of this cocoon.

She did the best thing a teacher could do. She didn’t help me. She let me struggle through it. She shared with me these powerful words:

Really only each of us have the answers because each of our lives are the same and yet unique at the same time.

I knew then I was on my own.

The way through for someone else was not going to be my way through.

I had to rely on my internal compass and trust my process. I had to summon the inner strength to rise to my unique challenges while simultaneously softening enough to let the old me melt away, leaving only my pure essence and the promise of what was to come

I try to remember this when I see my son struggling to roll himself over or grab a toy and I’m tempted to do it for him.

The struggle is how we learn. The struggle is how we transform.

This metamorphosis of the caterpillar is a journey it must submit to and survive alone if it is to successfully transform into a butterfly, and so is motherhood on many levels.

It’s a unique transformation because each of us get to decide what kind of mother we want to become. We aren’t limited by the mother we had or didn’t have. When we are given our wings we are asked a question we will answer daily for the rest of our lives: What kind of mother do you want to be?

This post was originally published on elephantjournal.

photo credit: j. danenhauer

“You Reading This, Be Ready”

Antoinettes Yoga GardenThat’s the title of a William Stafford poem that contains this powerful question:

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? 

I’ve been contemplating how I hold space for others and how others hold space for me, mostly because I’ve recently been on the receiving end of people holding space gracefully and generously for me.

This concept of holding space I find most palpable in a yoga class. There is ambiance, there is energy, there is conscious movement and words. It’s easy to drop into the present moment because there is a safe, supportive space for us to do so.

I find it to be the same in life. When someone physically holds space for me by listening to me, accepting me, acknowledging me, holding me, or just being with me it becomes easier to drop in to my current experience. I feel supported by whatever or whomever is surrounding me, and it turns me from defensive or scared to receptive and soft. I’m guessing it’s not just me who finds this to be true.

I’ve experienced this in the form of a 30-second hug, a 2-hour conversation, and moments of silence. It’s more the intention and energy than the act. I find being patient with someone else’s process, experience, or moment to be a very nourishing way of holding space for them.

The wonderful thing about this is the more we practice it the easier and more natural it gets. I’ve found that while initially it felt awkward to extend myself to someone, even a stranger, who needed a hug, a listen, or sincere word, it also felt natural. At times I’ve felt compelled to reach out by something seemingly bigger than me. The next time I found myself in a similar situation, I trusted myself a little more easily, I hesitated a second less, I reached out a moment sooner.

Holding space for others is the ultimate gift, both to others and to ourselves, as the last line of Stafford’s poem reminds us:

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

photo credit: Robert Bejil

Body & Soul

I’m in search of a little bit of soul lately. The kind you find by going in and not out. It’s an itch I can’t ignore, and it usually grabs me when I’ve been neglecting myself for one reason or another.

This soulfulness I seek feels a lot like groundedness. I know it when I’ve got it and when I don’t have it I find myself walking around in a fog like I’ve forgotten something and can’t remember what it is.

It’s my true self that I’ve forgotten, and when I find it I feel connected, free, and simply alive again, regardless of my external circumstances. It’s like I land again into my own body, into my own soul.

The last few months I’ve been taking care of a new, tiny little body and soul that needs lots of love and attention. This beautiful little baby has flipped my world upside down, and I’m not just talking about my outer world. He’s rocked my inner world in ways I never imagined, much like a wave that pulls you out to sea. You’re grateful to come up for a bit of air, but other than that you are at the mercy of forces beyond your control. Not knowing what is up and what is down feels terrifying. My mind wants to know what’s coming. It wants to be able to control it.

When I stop trying to find a way out of the storm is when I find an inner calm. I find silence, stillness, my ground, my center, my truth, my self, my soul. Here in the solace and shelter of my own soul I can rest.

This going within is a road we all must travel alone. Someone else’s map won’t show you where your treasure lies.

There is so much information available nowadays. It’s so easy to go online and find a How-to for anything. How to be happy, how to find peace, how to get healthy, how to live better. We want someone else to give us the answer, to fix us, to tell us what the next step is.

We often exercise or go to yoga to get out of our body, to get out of our mind. It seems so much easier out there, outside of ourselves. Sometimes it is easier out there, but it’s only a quick fix.

Whether it’s tomorrow or ten years from now, through choice, illness, injury or loss, we will all one day find ourselves sitting in a room with only ourself. It might feel awkward and sobering to realize this body and being we’ve lived in for decades is a stranger.

Through this body I inhabit I find my soul every time. Sometimes it’s a pleasant journey and sometimes it’s a painful one, but the one thing I always learn is there is no other way home than through the door to my heart.

The authenticity and vulnerability I find within is sometimes blinding. I’d like to turn away but I know I can’t. If I can’t look myself in the mirror and see the true me, how can I ask anybody else to. More importantly, how can I authentically step out into the world if I can’t authentically step into myself.

That’s my question to myself and my question to you.

Find your treasure. No one else will.

The Art of Shedding Our Shell

lobsterEcdysis is a Greek term used to describe “the art of escaping from the old shell.”

A shedding, if you will.

It’s specifically used in reference to lobsters, who undergo a fascinating transformation process throughout their lives so that they can continue to grow.

Because their shells are hard, in order for the lobster to grow its current shell must be broken open and abandoned.

Throughout their lifetime lobsters are continually preparing for or recovering from this molting process because they have unlimited potential for growth.

Not unlike humans, no?

To prepare for this transformation the lobster prepares a new soft shell that will replace the old one. It withdraws blood supply from certain appendages that will be lost in the molting process and any heretofore lost limbs begin to recreate themselves.

The lobster’s water intake just prior to molting causes the new shell to swell, breaking open and pushing away the old one.

Without its old shell the lobster is soft, vulnerable, and exposed. It hides itself while its new shell hardens, allowing transformation and growth to take place in safety.

The last 10 months have felt like a kind of ecdysis for me, as I’ve prepared for the transformation to motherhood. It is one of many transformations we humans are privileged to encounter during our lifetimes. Although an experience unique to women, the process of transformation is common to us all.

We all possess an exoskeleton; a shell, both literal and figurative, from which we engage with our worlds.

In animals their shell is used for protection, allows for sensation, supports and frames their musculature, and provides defense from predators.

This is much the same for us humans. Our shells protect us, create healthy boundaries and structure, and can be used as a defense.

What often happens is that as adults we are still wearing the shells from our childhood. Our emotional scars or losses we experienced in our younger years have never been allowed to regenerate.

We engage with the world from a place of lack or longing, when really what needs to happen is a healing from within.

We humans are unimaginably resilient. Like our lobster friend we can regrow parts of ourselves that were injured or lost: a broken heart, low self-esteem, fear of failure, or losing a loved one.

In order for us to heal and grow we must be willing to change. We must be willing to break out of our old shell, expose our soft, unprotected insides, and through this process grow into a new shape, a new shell, and a new stage of life.

We lose a part of ourselves in this process. We are never the same again because we are transformed from the inside out.

Honoring this process means we honor whatever stage we are in and whatever stage we witness our fellow human beings in, whether that be grieving, growing, or shedding.

Whenever the opportunity for growth presents itself to us, may we courageously rise to this occasion in our lives. May our transformations allow us to explore our unlimited potential for growth and authenticity and our true capacity for love and life.

photo credit: The Ernst Mayr Library

A Return to Wholeness

When life presents themes to me over and over again, I try to take the hint.

I’ve been witnessing friends returning to their roots both literally and symbolically, as well as navigating a “return” of sorts of myself .

This concept of revisiting a place, emotion, or relationship as the conscious, aware, and present person we now embody can present a unique challenge as we attempt to introduce the new to the old.

The process of integrating what was with what is and what can be requires a tremendous amount of softening, surrendering, and strength.

I find it interesting that the words integrate and integrity both stem from the Latin integer, meaning whole, complete, untainted, undamaged.

It’s as if when we act, decide, or live from a place of integrity, we are proceeding from a place of complete unity and thus optimal strength. A unified mind-body-spirit allows us to better navigate life situations that require a grounded strength to heal, release, or integrate.

When wandering through the labyrinth of life, may we keep our eyes and hearts open, choosing to walk an old path in a new way.

The Return

sometimes we must find our own legs
before we can return to our roots
and stand over them with enough strength to kneel
and rise again

you reach your hands into that soil
that sprouted you and suffocated you
and ask yourself
can I forgive and embrace
the land from which I came

until you are strong enough you keep your distance
remembering the ground as unstable
as treacherous, barren, and powerful as quicksand

today you return
to stand your own ground
with your strong legs
and your open heart
and your deep gratitude
for your truth
for your past
for your beautiful scars
for your gnarled, twisted, nourishing, clinging, wild roots

that both held you back
and set you free

today you plant new seeds
in the old soil
whose roots will accept your invitation of life
and stretch wildly in ways you never imagined,
becoming the tree you’ve had in you all along
just waiting for the right time to grow.

What It Means to Be Fearless

“Fearlessness is not a state of being without fear. Rather, it is the experience of fully feeling the fear, naming it, getting to know it, taking it by the hand, and even making friends with it.” -excerpt by John Milton in Be The Change

Over the years I’ve noticed that the more I attempt to live my fullest life, the more fear seems to sneak in the back door.

It whispers questions I’d rather not answer.

What if I lose it all?
What if I lose the best parts?

I watch my mind somersault through fear and joy and back again. I remind myself there’s nothing to fear. I will never lose it all because I never had it all. Even when I hold it in my arms, it is not mine. It is not mine to lose.

Our lives are simultaneously meaningful and meaningless.

They hold at once everything and nothing. I’ve seen how the sea of life closes quickly over loved ones who pass and I know it will close quickly over me when I pass.

This simple truth demands that I live fully and fearlessly while I am privileged to walk this earth. It reminds me to fear neither failure nor success, but to marinate in the lessons they offer me.

We are only held back by our mental limitations. We are only limited by our fear that arises from the misconception that we are something or that we are nothing.

We are neither. We just are. Briefly we are. Briefly we hold it all in our arms.

Quickly it is gone, so Love from the bottom of your heart and Speak from the bottom of your heart.

Embrace your fear, examine it, and learn it as you would an old friend that offers you deep wisdom if you are willing to sit with it.

I find facing my fears to be a simultaneously terrifying and liberating experience, allowing me to emerge from the darkness softened, courageous, and more grateful for this life than ever before.

Hearts of Stone

stone

A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream.

The next day, she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation.

The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime.

But a few days later he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.”I’ve been thinking,” he said, “I know how valuable the stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone.”

This story is called “The Wise Woman’s Stone.”

I think the stone in this story is our heart. More particularly, the love we hold in our heart. It is our most valuable possession, and we are daily given opportunities to give it to someone in need or to hold it back.

I see love being withheld everywhere. I hold it back myself at times. When I hold it back it’s always out of fear or some part of my small self trying to protect itself or defend itself by putting up a wall, a shield, or a protective barrier.

Seeing this blockage pains me, both when I see it in myself and when I see it in others, because I know that when we hold back our hearts or withhold our love we are not just blocking love from exiting.

We are blocking love from entering.

There are so many great reasons to blockade our hearts. I’m sure you can think of instances or people in your life that you’d rather not love or let in for one reason or another.

Feel the hardness that creeps through your body when you bring them to mind. I can actually feel a physical hardening happen in my body at times. My muscles tense up, my jaw tightens.

Every time I feel that hardening I remind myself to soften. Not to open right away, or perhaps ever, but just to soften. Soften the tiniest bit to that old grudge, that old wound, that old judgement.

And it’s not for the other person’s benefit so much as it is for my benefit.

Softening my heart allows me to receive more and to give more.

It does wonders for my inner and outer world. It does wonders for my state of mind and my state of being.

Just as the ocean can wear down boulders over time, I am always surprised at the miracles positive reinforcement, repetition, and even the smallest doses of love can effect over time.

It takes radical courage to put down our guard, to forgive, and to expose both our need for love and our true capacity to love.

It is a wise human being that can love unconditionally, without exception, and without judgement.

I am so grateful to the wise beings I have crossed paths with that have shared their precious stones with me when I was in need.

I endeavor to pass it on every day.

photo credit: kittykatfish