Listen to my podcast on Self-Confidence with Sheena Yap Chan

Sheena Yap Chan is creating a valuable resource for women everywhere, with her podcast The Tao of Self-Confidence.She recently interviewed me, and I hadn't thought about the topic of confidence for quite some time. It had never occurred to me that I lacked self-confidence, because I had always been a high achiever. But in the interview, I realize that my source of confidence has shifted from outer accomplishments to an invisible inner source.

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Touching The Place of Enough

My friend Lydia Puhak, coach and creator of The Sensitive Idealist, recently interviewed me as part of her series on Self-Care. You can listen to our sweet conversation here. Funny how sometimes the most important lessons we learn are the quiet, gradual processes that unfold out of necessity.

That would be the case with me and my learning about self-care.

Back in late 2010, I burst on to the scene with my "5 Principles of Self-Care for Caring Professionals". I wrote a blog post, hosted a series of calls, then turned the material into an online course.

And then I left it at that.

I got "busy" with the work of living these principles in my own life. I came face-to-face with my own version of workaholism, and started on the path of recovery. I unplugged from the computer and went outside. A lot.

I got back in touch with a slower way of doing things - growing a garden, cooking meals instead of heating up trays of food, forming more real relationships in the real world.

The biggest (and smallest) change I've remained committed to during this entire almost-three-year period is how I start my day.

Before 2010, I was a slave to my Blackberry, not because I was working such an "important" job that I needed to be available at all times, but out of habit. A habit that developed initially out of a need to feel important, and that continued because I never considered other options.

I began each day by waking up to the alarm on my Blackberry, and immediately checking my email.

I experienced a slight deflation in my chest if there were no new messages. I quickly found out that I could fix that by subscribing to more newsletters.

I felt a rush of adrenaline when there was evidence of "things to do" - meaning, when I got email messages that required me to respond.

My whole life was a series of transactions. My motivation for getting out of bed in the morning was my list of "to do"s.

I was very skilled at this game, so I never ran out of things to do. My mind always found a way to create more.

What was missing in this way of life was a felt sense of enough.

When your feeling of importance comes from what other people ask you to do, or how busy you are on a given day, there is no endpoint to the doing. More is always better, because more to do equals more feelings of worthiness.

Until the "to do" list goes away.

Or when your ability to do goes away.

So, as you might imagine from a benevolent Universe, I was given the gift of not being able to do any more.

My body reached its limit.

I was not hospitalized or injured, but I was in pain. Immobilizing physical pain that definitely did not match my vision of "living my dream".

I met many teachers from that moment on. Teachers who encouraged me to speak the truth of my heart in front of strangers. Teachers who showed me a whole repertoire of sounds that I had never made before. Teachers who had broken the prison bars of their own minds, and freed themselves from deep-rooted childhood beliefs. Teachers who pointed me to the wisdom of my own inner authority above anyone else's teaching. Teachers who taught me how to sit and stand and sleep in ways that preserve the natural anatomy of the spine. Teachers who embody grace and loving kindness in the practice of their art. And the teachers in every moment of everyday life.

But the linchpin - the common thread, the consistent practice - throughout all of this learning has been paying attention to how I start my day.

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I no longer read my email in the morning. I no longer consult a list of things to do.

I wake up and I give thanks. Either silently or out loud, I open my eyes and give thanks for this day.

I then dedicate at least one full hour to my breath and body. Either on the beach or in my home studio, I visit the place within me from which all is created. I breathe and move consciously. I feel my breath move through my body. I treat my body with kindness and gentleness. I use this space and time to listen carefully.

And I sit. I sit with whatever arises on a given day. Sometimes I notice my mind is very active, wanting to insert thoughts throughout my practice. Sometimes I notice that I can descend into the waves of feeling, watching my breath make its subtle patterns throughout my body. Other times I am simply grateful for the practice, and nothing more "significant" occurs.

When I feel rushed or somehow skip this practice, I notice. I feel heavier, more burdened, plagued by a sense that I am not doing enough, or that there is not enough of something happening in my life. My mind gets snagged in a knot of insufficiencies, buried in thoughts that I need to fix or do or say or be more.

This practice is quiet and generally unnoticed by anyone but me. It is not something I teach to others, not something I have packaged into a product.

And it is my core. It is my way of touching the place from which all of life arises. Call it self-care, call it meditation, call it yoga, call it space.

Call it nothing at all, but know that when you find your core, you will want it as your constant companion, your reminder of what's true and real, your own place that no one can see or hear or feel but you.

And that is enough.

Creating New Rituals: Honor Your Whole Self

I had an Energy Release Ritual this morning. Spur of the moment, totally unplanned, but absolutely inspired. I've been reading a few mind-body healing books ever since attending Dr. Mitchell Gaynor's workshop at CIIS this weekend. Dr. Gaynor is an integrative oncologist based at Cornell Medical Center in New York City and is the embodiment of physician-healer, embracing all of his life experiences and learning from diverse traditions in order to create healing partnerships with his patients.

I don't see myself working with disease, but still find myself fascinated by healing stories. Disease is merely one form of communication, through the vehicle of our bodies, to help us become more aware of ourselves. Some people experience healing through a financial crisis, or a job loss, or the death of a loved one. Any time our expectations about life are challenged or even shattered, we are being handed the gift of an opportunity to heal and grow.

Somehow this morning I was inspired to let go of some of the energies that I am still carrying and am no longer in need of. I knew that I wanted to have a total body experience of this letting go - not just writing it, or saying it, but experiencing it with all of my senses.

I created an altar, which incorporated items representing the five elements - earth, fire, air, water, and ether.

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I also included a symbol of inner peace, which to me is beautifully exemplified in the image of the Buddha.

I turned on music. Two types of background music seemed appropriate for what I was about to do. The first: fiery, warrior music. I imagined drums beating and war cries. I scoured my CD collection and came up with the Brave Heart soundtrack. Perfect!

The second, for the calmer, more healing part of the ritual: healing harp sounds by Diana Stork, a Bay Area healing musician.

I then created small pieces of paper with words to express the different qualities and energies I would honor during the ritual. One group was everything I wanted to embrace about who I am, in this moment:

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The next group was everything I wanted to release. All the old energies I have learned from, I am grateful for, and I am ready to let go of:

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I held a vision of honoring each of these old energies, thanking it for bringing its lessons into my life, and then letting it go, into a flame.

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I started just listening to the music, and invoking the power of the four directions: North, South, East, and West. As I turned my body toward each direction in space, I spoke aloud an invocation, honoring the significance of each of the directions in connecting to nature and the earth.

As the drums beat on the track from Brave Heart, I felt my own strength and calm building within.

I then used my Tibetan Singing Bowl to connect with the Divine Energy within me, my completeness as I am in this moment. As I chanted "Om" and listened and connected with this energy, it was effortless to make a beautiful continuous sound with the bowl, my voice, and my breath. I felt whole.

Next I spoke out loud each of the qualities I choose to embrace in my life in this moment, as I become who I am becoming, as I heal and create my future from this moment. I breathed into the qualities that I know I already possess, that are always there to be expressed when I access them through the openness of a calm mind and relaxed body.

Finally I began to look at each item in the old energies pile. One by one, I spoke aloud, "I honor you, I thank you for your lessons, and I let you go," before putting each slip of paper into the flame.

I could feel the power of watching the words on paper transform, through fire, into air and ether. I could smell the smoke as I breathed in.

The warrior music still played, giving me strength and a constant rhythm with which to keep releasing. After each paper went into the glass jar, I sounded a chime, symbolizing the merging of that quality with the ether, and my own release.

I sat and watched the papers burn, breathing in the smoky air until I had to open a window.

And I emerged with a sense of commitment and clarity. I felt that I had honored myself at many levels, and that I had a sensory experience of letting go of the energies that I no longer to need to carry. They were never mine to begin with. I had just chosen to carry them as if they belonged to me.

I've begun to appreciate the value of rituals, not only in groups, as they were typically performed in indigenous traditional cultures, but for individuals. As I build strength and trust in myself, and choose to honor all of who I am in my life, rituals help me ground into my own commitments, even as I venture into the world.

What rituals will you create to honor yourself this holiday season, or in the coming new year?

You can listen to a recording of the entire ritual here>>

Get Inspired!

"When I talk about “the music within us,” I’m talking about when we connect with that place inside us where our vibration, our energy is aligned with our passion. It’s like music to our ears.  There’s a different sound to how we present ourselves in our lives when we are connected with the music within us, and that’s my metaphor for the essence in our nature coming out.  I’m just inspired whenever I see that, and it speaks to me." - excerpt from my interview for the Get Inspired Project

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with Toni Reece, creator of the Get Inspired Project. Toni is conducting 365 days of interviews with people who are inspired and inspire others.

The transcript and recording of our 15-minute interview are now live on Toni's site: http://www.getinspiredproject.com/2010/06/26/day-269-dr-lisa-chu/

This excerpt I found especially inspiring even for me to read again now:

Toni: How did you come to realize that this essence, this music inside of you, the creativity, the spark, would play a part in your own courage to move you forward?  How did that realization happen for you?

Lisa: Well, I guess the story that I would tell is that I went to medical school, frankly, because I was expected to.  In my family, education was a really high value, it was a priority, and the assumption was after college you go to some sort of graduate school; it doesn’t just end in college.  Just so people know … that’s the base assumption that I was operating on.  I went to medical school.  My brother is a doctor, I’d seen it done, it seemed very doable, but it was not my passion.  It was definitely a path to secure a career route that would do good for society, and these are all good things, but it wasn’t something that I loved.

You know, the first realization was that I didn’t have to go to a residency and do what everyone else around me was doing, and that was sort of my first step of courage when I looked around and said “You know, who says that I have to?”  When I realized that, it enabled me to look beyond the options that were presented to me in that system, and that’s what sort of led me to my next job, which was in finance, as a venture capital finance person working in medical devices.  And that sort of opened me up to the whole business world.

When I was there – and I was really there for idealistic reasons, thinking that I could help to discover the next great medical technology that might change the game or a particular field in medicine — I was having a conversation with a colleague who was also a MD, who had been in venture finance for 15 years, so he was older than me.  I remember talking, and he asked me, “What’s your number, Lisa?”  I said “What do you mean?”  He said “You know, everybody in this business has a number. We're in this to get to a particular number – so what is it?  Twenty million, 50 million, 100 million?”  And he was talking dollars.

I was just stunned, because I didn’t really go into it for that reason.  I was not going after a number.  He said “Because when you get to your number, then you’re done.  That’s what we’re all here to do.”  I just really couldn’t believe it, and I said “Well, you know, what if you don’t get to your number?  How do you reconcile living your life for this thing that might not happen?”

The conversation evolved to the point where we were talking about what we would do if we had the number.  I heard myself say out loud, completely unexpectedly “If I had my 20 million, I would open a violin school.”  It totally surprised me to hear me say this, because I had sort of put away that dream that I had when I was four years old to be like my violin teacher who taught me from age four to 17.  We went on concert tours, and I played at Carnegie Hall when I was eight years old, and the Kennedy Center, and Moscow when I was 14 — just a lot of world-class experiences at a very young age — and yet I was sort of told not to pursue music as a profession because it was not as reliable a way to make a living.

And so to hear myself say that I would do this, it really woke me up to something that I had been putting off, saying that, you know, I have to just make all this money or whatever it was, do this career, and then do the things that I really dreamed about doing.  And that moment really indicated to me that there was something else that I could be doing with my life that was from a more passionate place.  So actually, within a few months, I resigned from my job and moved to California and opened the violin school.  It was pretty quick after that conversation.

Toni: It sounds to me the way you’re describing yourself and your story is that it really was … your breakout moment was when you realized you had freedom of choice.  And when you had freedom of choice, that created your freedom.

Lisa: Yeah.  Yeah, I think that’s a great observation, and I think it’s been an unfolding, because it’s been sort of small realizations.  It’s like, what’s the next door that I’m going to open?  It didn’t just all open up at once.  This sort of progression that you hear in my story, you know, even continues.

I mean, my violin school was based on the classical training that I got when I was growing up.  It was basically the model of teaching that I had received.  And what surprised me in the school – I had it for five-and-a-half-years — it was successful.  I brought my kids on concert tour every year.  It was a very intense program, just like the one that I came up through, and I realized that it was not giving back to me in the way that I expected, because here I was living my dream, right?

It was supposed to be a dream, and to experience what was essentially burnout from that after five years was really stunning to me, and going through that physical exhaustion that I experienced, which was a result of basically taking full responsibility for everyone and everything that happened in the school, my life brought me two things:  The field of life coaching, which I discovered … it just sort of appeared in my life, there is no other way to explain that, and a program in music healing.  Both modalities I have actually been training in myself for the last year, and that’s really opened me to this other whole realm of freedom that I never knew up until this point.

I started doing improvised music for the first time in my life.  I’m now recording a CD of all improvised music.  I had never played anything prior to last year that was not written down or that I had not heard before.  And so, to even realize that I could create music is this latest opening for me, and it just … it’s brought me another level of joy that I never imagined before.

To read the entire transcript or hear the complete recording, visit The Get Inspired! Project.

5 Principles of Self-Care for Caring Professionals: Recording from Free Coaching Call for Physicians-In-Training

Last night I hosted a free coaching call for medical students, residents, and fellows. I focused on the topic of SELF-CARE. As trained caring professionals, often we think of self-care as "selfish" or something that we do after we've taken care of our other "duties", "responsibilities" and "obligations". In this call, I invite you to think of self-care in a different way. I invite you to consider that your knowledge and practice of self-care is essential in creating a healing relationship with your patients, and creating a healing environment in your clinic, operating room, or hospital.

I have a new mantra as I create my life and offerings to the world: "You've gotta live it to give it." Until we can connect with what is common to all human experience, we cannot be fully compassionate toward our patients and authentically promote the state of wellness and health we claim to be guiding them toward.

The 5 main principles of self-care I discuss on the call are as follows:

  1. Boundaries. Establish personal boundaries between you and the other people in your life. Define who you are and take responsibility only for your role in creating your reality. Byron Katie, author of Loving What Is, says there are three kinds of business - my business, your business, and God's business. Stay in your business. Establish boundaries for work and other aspects of your life. Recognize that your job is not your full identity, and that you are always ultimately a human being on this planet, no matter what your job happens to be.
  2. Move from reactive to creative mode. How? Start with the way you wake up each morning. What do you say to yourself as you open your eyes? What thoughts go through your mind before you get out of bed? Start noticing whether you are reacting from the minute you start your day, or taking time to create an intention and mindset that reinforces your sense of self before you begin to respond to others.
  3. Listen to your body, your intuition, and your felt experience. In a system where you have been selected and trained to trust the power of your mind over all else, and where you have been rewarded for your ability to memorize and recall and answer questions correctly, it is a shift in mindset to begin to listen to the totality of your being, not just your thoughts. How to tune into your body? See the next step.
  4. Find out what restores you. Only you can know the answer to this. No book, coach, friend, family member, or mentor can tell you. When I say "restore", I'm not talking about sleep, alcohol, television, or the internet. These are distractions, designed to get us out of our bodies and escape into illusion. Restorative activities engage your mind and body, AND provide you with a sense of freedom and joy. Maybe it's salsa dancing, or skeet shooting, or golf, or badminton, or singing karaoke. In order to find out what truly restores your body and spirit, it will require some exploration and therefore risk (or as I like to call it, "adventure"!). You might explore something and later abandon it when you find out it doesn't work for you. That means you're learning about yourself! Keep going. Listen to that faint yet definite inner voice that calls gently to you in the silence of being still, and says, "Wouldn't that be fun?" or "Doesn't that sound interesting?". Then see what happens.
  5. Give yourself permission to feel good, and to want what you want. Again, being in a system that has selected and trained you largely for your ability to suppress these feelings, this may seem ridiculous to you. But I'm here to remind you of your wholeness as a human being, and the essential need to acknowledge your humanity if you are truly to be of service to your patients. As you explore the activities that restore you, and begin to experience the feeling of joy generated internally from the connection of mind, body and spirit, you may actually start to feel good! It may feel criminal to you, like you're a child breaking the rules and deserving to be punished. This is your mind talking, not the truth of your felt experience. Allowing yourself to feel good may take some time, but I'm here to give you not only permission to do it, but also to remind you that if you don't know how to feel good yourself, you will not truly be able to make your patients feel better, no matter what technology or intervention you are offering them.

Enjoy this recording of the call, and start on the path of practicing SELF-CARE as a caring professional. The world needs you.

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My Heroine's Journey

[display_podcast] I had been so busy traveling the past weekend that I only listened to this recording a week after it arrived in my inbox. In that moment of listening I was able to feel the clarity and power of my own voice and my own story. Talk about a practice in acknowledgment!

I hope you enjoy Susanna Liller's expert interviewing skills, and some details from my journey that you might find helpful to you on your own hero's or heroine's journey.

The themes:

  • constantly leaving the comfort zone, finding my own edge
  • key conversations with people who catalyzed my "big leaps"
  • advice and (lack of) support along the way
  • following my own curiosity, being willing to learn and get involved in something, before getting paid for it
  • not having a "plan", but pointing in the direction of a desired goal and following a deep intuitive knowing
  • acknowledging what I want to do, versus what "everyone else" is telling me to do
  • from following the rules (and being rewarded for it) to finding freedom (and enjoying it)

Evolution of a Song

[singlepic id=221 w=320 h=240 float=center] One of my deeply ingrained childhood beliefs was the notion that, "In order to be able to do something, you need to go to school and learn how to do it first." In the thinking of my childhood, I was led to believe that there was a very linear, singular path toward any particular destination. That there was a prescribed sequence of things that needed to happen in a certain way if things were going to work out. I'm beginning to unlearn that lesson, among others. Part of why I am sharing all these old beliefs, as I take myself through my process of chipping at and melting them away, is to reveal that our beliefs, once we begin to observe them, are not as solid and rigid as we make them out to be.

We evolve.

So I share with you my own wide-eyed, childlike awe and wonder at learning - in my mid-30s - about whole other worlds that I never knew existed. After playing music nearly every day of my life since the age of three, I played for the first time into a microphone while wearing headphones in 2008. It was my first experience with multi-track recording. I learned a whole other way of "composing" that occurred with a mixing board and the software interface of a computer, when previously my mental picture included images of Mozart, wearing a powdered wig and stockings, sitting at a clavier and writing on parchment paper with a quill pen. The truth is I had never personally known any kind of real live musician other than the violin soloists and symphony orchestra players and conductors I was exposed to growing up.

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I had met the then child prodigy Midori when she taught me in a master class. I had played for legends like Josef Gingold and Ruggiero Ricci. These were the idols and icons of my childhood.

So I never imagined that I would one day learn a new way of playing, without ever going to school for it. I have had plenty of teachers "miraculously" show up in my life. But they came to me by my being open to doing new things, searching actively for ways to reach out, and being willing to receive what was offered.

My first supporter and encourager to do non-classical music was Erik. After producing my students' CD, he asked if I would come and record some pop music with him.

I said, "I don't play pop music."

He said, "Music is music."

That opened a little window in my mind. So I showed up and tried, not knowing what he meant by "music". I've learned over the course of our weekly sessions - which are part recording, part brainstorming, part therapy (for both of us!) - that music is music. I have played on tracks ranging from Peruvian to American country to blues to pop to homemade percussion grooves.

Erik is an amazing drummer and has a very experienced ear for acoustic detail and timing. He was the only witness to my very first attempt at improvisation ("Johnny's Blues" track) and he gave me such support that I actually came back to do it again! And again and again. I even chickened out and stopped recording for over a year, out of fear for where it might lead me. Then one day I decided to come back, when I knew that I needed to find my own music again.

I've learned that songs evolve just as we do.

Playing from the printed page, the evolution occurs in interpretation: phrasing, dynamics, choices of tempo, articulation and length of notes. The way I was trained involved learning how to produce a particular sound that matched our best guess at the composer's original intentions. Frankly, most of the work involved learning the technical skill necessary to execute what was written. In the classical repertoire, only a very few students would reach the level to be able to express something heartfelt beyond perfect execution of the notes. The narrow gate into classical music artistry was determined by an ability to develop both virtuosic technique and some level of expressive interpretation.

Creating on a recorded track from improvisation, the evolution occurs in a totally different way: choosing melodies, rhythmic patterns, when to play and when to rest, how to arrange the song. Technique is not a barrier but rather a tool. With some songs, I find myself playing performances straight through, not thinking that it will be edited in the future. I try to create a complete performance each time. In other instances, I play with different ideas and fragments, knowing that most of it won't be used. Each take is like a scratch pad of notes to make sense of later.

I never knew that music could be created this way! And I never thought I could be participating in it. I had only ever heard final products on CDs or on the radio, marveling at how they managed to sound so good. I wish more artists would reveal their creative process on their way to producing great work. It might help us all realize that there is an evolution to everything. We live in a time when it's rare to see how things are made or to appreciate how things become the way they are when we acquire or consume them.

So to shed some light on the evolution of a song I'm working on with Erik (which I first posted after our first night of recording), I am going to share the three raw versions of the song that we are playing with on our way to creating a final mix. Please leave a comment to let me know what your favorite parts are!

[audio:http://www.themusicwithinus.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/01-Lisa-Chan-Chan-Take-Two-from-6.6..mp3|titles=01 Take Two from 6.6 Sultry]

[audio:http://www.themusicwithinus.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/03-Lisa-Chan-Chan-Cropped-Take-One-f.mp3|titles=03 Cropped Take One from 6.6 Sultry]

[audio:http://www.themusicwithinus.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/04-Lisa-Chan-Chan-Takes-Overlaid-fro.mp3|titles=04 Overlay Takes from 5.23 and 6.6 Sultry]

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You may have been lucky enough to have a teacher or parent or other mentor who made you feel that every - yes, even the ones your mind may label "ugly" or "forgettable" - step you take is a beautiful one in your own journey through life. If that's the case, I hope you hear their voices of encouragement in your head on a daily basis.

If not, I want to offer this story as a way of saying that you don't need to go back to school to learn what you need to learn right now. The lessons are all around you already. The teachers are not necessarily sitting in classrooms at the large institutions requiring entrance exams and letters of recommendation. They may be in the most unexpected places, waiting to show you who you never knew you could be. They may not even consider themselves teachers. But they could be yours.

There is beauty in every step of your life's journey, no matter how difficult or improbable a particular step seems. Surround yourself with people who will remind you of this as often as possible. You just might find yourself following unexpected paths toward indescribable feelings of joy and wonder.

Bottom photo credit: Rusty Sterling

All other photos - my personal collection