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"One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began"

- Mary Oliver, "The Journey"

Today is that day for me.

Maybe it was the flyer announcing my talk at Stanford Medical School in a few weeks (finally making it feel real...and making me feel proud of the creative thinking I've been doing on this subject).

Maybe it was seeing the pile of STUFF in my house, moved out of the Cradle of Manifestation, prompting me to revisit what's really taking up the space in my drawers and closets.

Maybe it was the invitation to have dinner this Friday with a couple of doctors who have transitioned out of medicine themselves (making me feel one step closer to finding My People).

Maybe it was finally telling the truth out loud to myself and to a compassionate witness about what I feel in my heart (and experiencing the expansion that came with it).

Maybe it was all of the above.

Whatever it was, I finally know what I need to do, even though I have no idea how it's going to play out or if anyone will even care. But I know enough to trust this particular feeling of knowing. It's not a rational linear mind kind of knowing. It's a whole body energy clearing kind of knowing.

And I can't wait to share the news with you!

So what IS new?

- My monthly meetup in Silicon Valley, "Find Your Own Song" - the first Tuesday of every month at 7pm, at rotating locations. Join the meetup group to get updates>>

- My physician burnout and wellness resources page - I'll be adding to this, but it's a great place to start if you're curious about the problem, the stories of real physicians, and what people are doing about it. Visit the resource page here>>

- All new Name Your Price coaching - I'm most giddy and excited about this brand new experiment, launching next week. I just want to get more coaching love out there. I remember when I had no idea what coaching was, and didn't believe it could do anything for me, until I actually experienced it myself. So I want to pass on that gift to you! For two hours a week, I'll be offering my services on a first-come, first-served basis, and you get to name your own price. Perfect for those of you who are curious about coaching and open to it, but just not ready to make the commitment to one of my other individual coaching options right now. Learn more about it here>>

- The Whole Person Retreat for Women - Saturday April 9th at Stillheart Institute in Woodside, CA. I'm guest facilitating music improvisation and sound healing as part of an enriching day with the wonderful women Eliska Meyers and Johanna Beyer. Find out more details here>>

That's all for now. After some good time and space appreciating the openness, it's nice to witness the arrival of what's next. Hope to see and hear from you soon!

Love Hurts…Is It True? A Few Things I Once Learned About Love...And How I'm Unlearning Them

[singlepic id=373 w=320 h=240 float=center] Have you ever thought about how you learned what love means? What moments in your life explicitly taught you how to love? What examples of love did you observe, and what did you unconsciously learn from them?

For most of my life, I have had a murky understanding of the words "love" and "compassion". They were abstract concepts, which I felt no bodily connection to. They were supposed to be good things that good people expressed and felt all of the time, but I had no clue what they felt like to me.

"I love you" was not something ever uttered in my household. As far as I know, the phrase doesn't exist in the Chinese language, at least as it applies to families.

For most of my life, "love" was a word used by my parents to rationalize their financial anxiety, anger, worry, asking for too much information, and criticizing. "If we didn't love you and care about you, we wouldn't bother to nag you so much," they'd say in defense of themselves.

Well, if love was such a great thing, and that was how love made me feel, then I didn't get why I should center my life around it. At all. It didn't feel good to me. It felt confining. It felt like a minefield, where I never knew if my next step would land me in a sudden explosion of admonishment, shame, and guilt about why the particular thing I just did was the wrong move to make.

I convinced myself that I didn't want my life to hurt. I created an association between love and hurt. So I did everything I could to make sure I was not dependent on love for anything vital in my life. Ha!

"Compassion" was an even more foreign concept. The images that come to mind when I think of "compassion" involve Mother Teresa, Sally Struthers and images of little kids with distended bellies and black flies on their eyelashes, and the Pope. I'm not sure why these people represent compassion, but it's interesting that I've never met any of them personally. (OK, I got within 25 feet of the Pope once, when I was eleven years old, but I was playing violin at the time and was delirious from sitting in St. Peter's Square for four hours in the hot sun of an Italian June.) My point is that "compassion" was an even more abstract term than "love", and I always thought it was reserved for saintly, selfless people who gave their lives to some grand, charitable cause. In other words, it was a luxury I could not afford to indulge in.

I've recently begun to learn that in order to experience the love and compassion I was seeking from everyone else in my life, I had to be willing to explore and discover what love and compassion feel like for me. I had to learn to demonstrate love and compassion toward myself first. This has involved identifying, questioning, and effectively unlearning many of the beliefs I had about love and compassion, which I held onto without knowing, and which were governing my behaviors without my knowing it.

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Today, I choose to share with you what I have learned, and also what I am unlearning. Each of the thoughts below are real beliefs I once had about love, and below them are the turnarounds that I am consciously choosing to practice, notice, and become more and more familiar with.

I could tell you that I am “letting go” of these thoughts, or that I have outgrown them.

But what actually feels more true for me is that I am developing a different relationship with these thoughts. By distancing myself from my thoughts enough to observe them, I have paradoxically become more intimate with them. I am able to look at them without avoiding them or pushing them away or labeling them as “wrong”. I can touch them, feel them, sense them, and know that they are within me, without loving myself less because of it.

I am willing to notice when I am believing one of these thoughts and acting on it and creating stress, and I am empowered to look directly at the source of the stress, without fear or less love of myself.

I am far from being perfect at this. It’s part of my practice to be willing to look at the imperfections long enough to choose something new and act without fear in that new direction. By acknowledging what has been painful for me and what I am growing through, I hope you can acknowledge some part of yourself that needs healing or more loving attention from the simple question, “Is it true?”

Love Lesson #1: The number of items I complete on my "To Do" list indicates my level of productivity, and therefore, my value in the world.

This may not seem to be about love, but it has been such a central belief in my entire life path, that I confront it every day. And every day I ask, “Is it true?” I am starting to get to answers that feel more true for me and set me free to do what’s truly important to me, not to anyone else. But with such a strong cultural message of achievement and productivity as the basis of human existence, this is a daily, moment-to-moment practice. I include it here because I've learned that true self-love is felt and demonstrated independent of how "productive" I am, and that becoming more productive does not help you learn how to love.

Turnaround: I am complete, as I am, in this moment. (notice that “what I do” is not part of the turnaround)

Love Lesson #2. What I am able to afford to buy indicates my level of freedom and status in the world.

This thought originated in my family’s struggle for survival and advancement and was reinforced by the strong consumerism in our culture. Without realizing it, I have created many outcomes in my life based on this belief. What I eventually realized was that ownership and accumulation of things do not equal greater freedom, and the only status that matters is the one you create from your inner world.

Turnaround: What I am able to LET GO of indicates my level of freedom and the status of my self-trust in the world I am creating.

Love Lesson #3. How I look and act in the workplace is more important than how I look and act at home.

This thought originated in so many examples I saw of “putting on a face” to play the game of work each day, and how starkly that outward face contrasted with the true self that emerged in the privacy of the home. It was confusing to me and I never understood the justification for sharing your best self with the outer world, and letting out all your stress and aggressions at home, with the people you claim to love the most.

Turnaround: I am creating a life based on authentic expression and generous sharing of my essential self. (I don’t see a necessary distinction between how I present myself “on the outside” and who I am at my essence)

Love Lesson #4. Love is an obligation and responsibility to another person.

Almost everything in my early life was framed as an obligation and responsibility. It seemed like the only reason to live a life was to be viewed as responsible and duty-bound in every possible way. Joy was not even in the equation of values. I still consider “desires” a luxury and have to practice consciously opening a valve in my mind to allow the flow of messages from my heart to enter into my awareness.

Turnaround: Love flows freely in the space between people. Love liberates.

Love Lesson #5. Loving someone means the right to criticize them in a "loving" way.

This was reinforced in every arena of my life from my family to my teachers to the higher academic training I received. I was trained to thrive on criticism. No matter how good a job I did, I wanted to know how to do better. We call this “drive” and “ambition” and hold it in great admiration in this culture. We aspire to “improve” ourselves in every way. The problem with this is we have no opposing muscle group or internal barometer to tell when “enough is enough”. We forget that by living our lives based on constant striving, we are training ourselves for imbalance and ultimate dissatisfaction, with no end in sight.

Turnaround: Love is truthful, accepting, calm, and peaceful. Love is filled with joy.

Love Lesson #6. Love means the right to hurt someone without having to apologize.

I remember the exact moment in a past relationship when I realized that this was my model of love, and the intense pain it caused me to see it in myself. But that moment of realization was also liberating, because I was able to see clearly where I was in the moment, and to consciously seek out another way to express love.

Turnaround: Love has no fear – neither of pain nor of apologizing.

Love Lesson #7. Love expects a return on its investment.

I believed that love was a transaction. I believed that I, as a person, was the investment of my parents’ love. I also believed that I owed a debt to them for providing this love, for withdrawing love from their bank accounts and depositing it into everything that I needed and wanted. As I saw the magnitude of their investment growing, I could not see a possible way to provide a reasonable return. So I kept setting the bar higher. Finally there were no more ladders to climb, and I had to come down to the realization that I am love, and that the returns on my love originate from within me and from my connection to the source of all love – not my parents but the universe.

Turnaround: Love is self-renewing, and expects nothing in return.

Love Lesson #8. Love means constant devotion, never relaxing or taking time for yourself. Love is the ultimate act of self-sacrifice.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “It’s because we love you…” or “If we didn’t love you, we wouldn’t…” as the justifications for overworking, overstressing, overdoing, overworrying. There was not one moment in my recollection that the major love figures in my life ever relaxed or took time for themselves. And they took pride in their self-sacrifice, since it demonstrated how responsible and duty-bound they were. It made love look very unappealing to me as a way of life.

Turnaround: Love comes from love. If you are not loving yourself, you cannot truly or fully love another person. Self-sacrifice is not loving.

Love Lesson #9. Love means living up to the expectations of those who love you (and sacrificed to give you your life).

This relates to the “return on investment” belief. I really saw myself as an asset of my family with certain expected returns. Every time I saw myself taking a step outside my “asset class”, behaving in a more high-risk (and high-return) way, I felt the weight of not having managed expectations, and having been at least slightly irresponsible. I had a nagging sense that I was never doing things the “right” way.

Turnaround: Love is free of all expectations about the future and exists fully in every present moment.

Love Lesson #10. Love needs to be earned.

So you might be noticing a theme here. I once believed that I had to earn love, live up to the expectations of those who loved me, pay back the investment of love that others put into me, and sacrifice myself in the name of love.

Turnaround: Love is the joy, freedom, and peace that exists within each of us when we are truly free.

I still don’t see myself using the word “love” a lot. Writing this post was a struggle, actually. I suppose I learned during the writing that I don’t have any obligation to use a word, like “love”, with so many old and convoluted (and false) beliefs attached to it. I prefer the words "peace", "joy", and "freedom", as a three-pronged cluster of words that captures the feelings I experience when I love myself. These carry a more important meaning for me right now - how they make me feel and how they free me to express who I am in every moment.

And it never hurts when I’m loving myself as I am right now.

AHA's "Simple 7"...Not So Simple After All

[singlepic id=285 w=320 h=240 float=center] The other night I read on the back of a friend's T-shirt the following list of guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA)'s latest heart-healthy lifestyle campaign, called "Life's Simple 7":

  • get active
  • control cholesterol
  • eat better
  • manage blood pressure
  • lose weight
  • reduce blood sugar
  • stop smoking

From my medical training, I recognized each of these 7 items as addressing the major risk factors for coronary artery disease and therefore heart attacks and strokes.

However, from my journey of learning about the connection between mind and body, and especially the ways in which our mind dictates the feelings, behaviors, and results we see in our lives, I noticed that these "Simple 7" are not so simple at all.

Four of the seven guidelines involve behavioral changes. Three of the seven can be addressed with pharmaceutical drugs but are also dependent on these behavioral changes in order to have maximum impact. These areas of behavior change - exercise, diet, weight loss, and smoking cessation - are typically the most challenging and frustrating for both patients and doctors in a preventive setting.


Because it's easy to read just two words - like "lose weight" - and to know what they mean. However, it's much more challenging to look at your own underlying thought patterns and the payoffs you are getting for behaving the way you are right now. If you weren't getting any payoff for keeping at your current weight, your mind wouldn't allow you to be at this weight. However, it takes some willingness and openness to really ask yourself what those payoffs might be. The answer may just cause you to want to change. Or it may send you running as far away from that answer as possible.

How many primary care physicians see their patients once a year, and give them this same list of seven "simple" recommendations, only to see them come back the next year with the same results or worse?

Before you start to beat yourself up over your inability to measure up to the AHA's "Simple 7" lifestyle improvements, let's look at each of them from a life coach's perspective.

"Get active"

What does this mean? On the AHA website, three suggestions are provided for "moving more". Parking farther away from the office door, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and doing active fun activities with your children (including an endorsement for Nintendo's Wii).

OK. I can see the logic in each of these small steps. However, it takes energy to want to move. It takes space to even consider putting these small changes into a person's life. It takes a certain amount of inner freedom to even experience fun from doing activities with your children.

Why not look at the thoughts you have about yourself as you're driving to work? Or the thoughts going through your mind as you press the elevator button to go to your cubicle or office? Or the thoughts you hold onto after you get home and you're supposed to be "having fun" with your family?

I've learned that what we say to ourselves about what we do is a much more powerful motivator than what we actually do.

Our unexamined mind clutter is what prevents us from acting in the ways that we "know" we want to. No matter how many times we hear it, or how many suggestions we read, our actions won't change until we change our thoughts. It's the rare primary care doctor who has the training, capacity, and desire to delve into these issues with patients and find out what the patient really needs in order to change. Telling someone they will die early - and asking them if they want to see their children grow into adulthood - is a common strategy, but I'm skeptical that motivation by fear will work in the long term for developing the kinds of life-affirming habits we're talking about.

"Eat better"

What does this mean? "Better" is a term that translates differently in each person's mind when it comes to food. Learning what to eat, when to eat, how to select and prepare food, and creating the rituals around eating are all included in this idea of "eating better". With the typical grocery store offerings, it takes some education, innovation, and motivation to choose "better" foods and actually get satisfied from eating them.

Identifying what drives our food choices and eating habits is another journey into the thoughts behind our feelings and actions. Maybe we're choosing foods because we believe they represent love. Often it's an old memory of love. Maybe we're afraid to let go of those choices because we believe we'd be letting go of our ability to be loved. Maybe we watched a parent eat healthy, choose all the "right" foods, and die at an early age anyway, so we believe a story that "it doesn't matter what I eat, I'll die young anyway." Each of these is a thought that can be acknowledged and questioned, leading to a pattern of eating that comes from a deeper place of awareness.

"Lose weight"

This I suppose goes hand in hand with the two items above. But as Oprah's very public, decades-long journey has shown us, it is not so simple to simply "lose weight". On AHA's website, a great story of holistic life improvement, which resulted in weight loss, is highlighted on this page: "[Jennifer E.] changed her career, left unhealthy relationships, devoted herself to morning meditation, and began volunteering with a local women’s health initiative. Self-care became non-negotiable." Clearly, Jennifer's journey to health and wholeness involved more than losing weight.

I believe weight loss is a result of, not a means to, feeling better about yourself. There are many life coaches whose practices focus on weight loss as an entry point to total lifestyle enhancement.

"Stop smoking"

Again, two simple words, but a lifetime of effort, mostly failed efforts for people who do not address the underlying thoughts behind their smoking addiction. There is no question that the single most beneficial act that will improve a smoker's lifespan is to quit smoking. That knowledge doesn't stop the millions of smokers from continuing their habit.

Chemical dependency is one excuse; social stigma is another. The bottom line is we humans are powerfully driven by the content of our thoughts. And most of us have not been taught to observe our thoughts, or shown that we can train ourselves to believe different thoughts at any time during our lives, through practice.

Not So Simple...

I love that the AHA is acknowledging the whole person in their campaign to educate Americans about heart health. That our hearts are not "simply" the organ in the center of our chest that pumps blood throughout our system, that our vasculature is not "simply" a plumbing system transporting blood to our body parts. The AHA is attempting to get Americans to think about all aspects of our lives as contributors to healthy hearts.

What I see, as a life coach, is that ALL of our behaviors are driven by feelings we have in our bodies, which originate in our thoughts about the circumstances in our lives (never the circumstances themselves). A healthy heart is a symptom of living a balanced life, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. And a clear mind is a healthy starting point.

The "Simple 7" list is a good start for focusing on the most tangible areas of behaviors that impact our overall risk of heart disease. And with our health care system's current toolkit of interventions, drugs, surgery, office visits, and hospital stays, none of these factors will be significantly impacted in most patients.

Already there are physicians waking up to the fact that behavior and lifestyle changes are inadequately addressed in our medical system. If we want to have healthier bodies, we need to start by waking up to our own thoughts. It may be simple, but it's not easy. If you're struggling in one of these areas and don't know what to do, take a breath. Ask yourself, "What hurts?" and "Why?". And follow your thoughts to a treasure of information about what's motivating you. The medical system has trained patients to believe we are passive and largely ignorant about what's happening in our bodies. I believe we need to coach patients back to a greater connection with their own bodily wisdom - the wisdom we are all born with.

To live and feel healthier, you don't need a diagnosis. You need space to discover what's true for you, and the reassurance of knowing that you have the ability to create the healthy lifestyle you desire. It's that simple.