I recently returned from a week-long stay in Keystone, Colorado. I was there with a small group of physicians gathered to restore their voice to the practice of medicine.
How I got there was through a series of events I can only call synchronicity.
What I felt was a profound feeling of "coming home".
I showed up as all of me, in full color. My role was to listen deeply and expansively, and I chose to record what I heard in visual form.
It was as if everything I practiced was serving me in my service to this gathering. Each morning I woke early and rode my rented bike along the many trails around Keystone. I listened to the Snake River winding its way through the trees. I inhaled with awe each time I arrived at the vista of Lake Dillon. I clawed my way up a steep hill only to be rewarded with the jackpot of a stunning view of Breckenridge and beyond.
I had learned from these past few years of practicing self-care that these morning steps were my fuel for being present and thinking creatively. I knew what to do - even in an environment away from my familiar surroundings at home - because I had practiced them into new habits. I had my biking clothes, I was comfortable riding, and all I had to do was explore new roads and read new maps.
I also had my daily sketching and art journaling practice in place, something I started only within the last two years. I have experimented with many different formats and media, and I am comfortable drawing outside. On this trip, I brought a small Moleskine Japanese album with accordion pages. It fit in my small travel purse or pocket, and I carried a pouch with pen, markers, and water brushes.
On my morning rides, I often sketched a scene quickly in ink, filling in color later in the day or in the evening. I noticed what I noticed. I took note of the stories I wanted to tell. And by the time I got home, there were three or four panels that needed coloring, which I completed within a few days.
New experiences, new people, new places -- all of these fuel my creativity and keep me inspired.
I am grateful for the daily practices I cultivate at home, so I am well-prepared to stay open when I'm on the road.
For a frame-by-frame caption story of my Keystone travel journal, see my post here.
For an in-depth reflection on the contents of the physician meeting and its impact on me personally, stay tuned!
Since leaving medicine, I’ve been an entrepreneur and an independent artist. They are similar pursuits, and both have taught me about the experience of living in creative rather than reactive mode.
In the moment you can claim your role in creating the experience you are having right now - as reflected to you by the external circumstances you find yourself in - you begin to take a creative stance. You begin to see yourself differently within the grand puzzle of your world. No longer can you point your finger and your attention outward at “them”, but now you must see the source within you that holds your power to create, choose, and act.
Every artist and every entrepreneur has had to touch this inner place in order to bring a never-before-seen vision into material reality. Whether you name it “imagination” or “vision” or “desire”, every human being has an inner source of creativity. Some of us have placed this in a box in the basement of our consciousness. Maybe we have given up on ever being able to use it in this lifetime. But as long as you are alive, you have this source within you, waiting for you to open the space for it to breathe.
Here are four creative mindsets you have within you, waiting to be awakened and remembered.
Have you ever sought someone's advice, and then realized halfway into the conversation that you really didn't want them to tell you what to do?
Or have you ever followed someone's advice, which never quite felt right to you, but they were in a position of authority or had done it themselves before, and you didn't know how to get out of it?
Have you ever wished you had more trust in yourself, and didn't need to rely so much on advice from other people?
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It's been ten years now since I've set foot in a traditional academic institution. Yesterday I stood inside the walls of a venerable one right here in my own backyard.
And it struck me that there is A LOT of "advising" going on at the formative stages of a lot of smart people's lives. A lot of people who are very curious, very bright, very capable, and very imaginative. But who just don't know. So they ask. They seek advice.
And what do they get? Well, what typically surrounds them in these places of academic prestige are a lot of people who got there by playing a certain game. They navigated a particular system, they overcame their own particular obstacles, and they achieved a certain status. Usually if they are in a position of enough authority to merit students' seeking their opinions, they've hung on to this status over a period of years. They've done the work of making all the right people happy in all the right places. They consulted the rule books, they found out what was expected of them, and they met those expectations.
They have seen the world through one particular lens.
This is perfect advising for someone who wants to experience life through that particular lens, and to find out what hoop is to be jumped through next. If you're asking, "How high must I jump?" and "Where is the next hurdle?", these advisors are perfectly prepared to tell you the answer.
But there's a different kind of questioning that occurs for all of us at some point in our lives. Perhaps even at several points in our lives.
Questions That Have No Right To Go Away
We come up against questions in our hearts, questions that ultimately ask us to test how much we trust ourselves, and invite us to grow into the next version of ourselves.
but frightening requests,
conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.
Requests to stop what you are doing right now,
to stop what you
while you do it."
- from "Sometimes", by David Whyte
In these moments, some part of us actually knows the answer and knows what we must do.
The questions appear at the most inopportune times. We're "busy" doing something else. There's "not enough time". We're "supposed to" be focused on something we believe to be more important.
But the questions don't go away. They pull at us, beckoning us to pay attention to the part of us we'd rather be able to ignore.
It poses a dilemma. Should we go this way or that? Should we keep going as if everything is "normal" or actually stay with the question and listen to what it brings?
This is when we might seek advice from others.
And this is where knowing the difference between "advice" and "coaching" can save your life.
I've received a lot of advice in my lifetime. I can remember these pieces of advice quite vividly.
Some Advice I Once Received
For example, when I had made the decision in my heart that I would not be doing a residency after medical school, I started to do what all the career guides told me to do: informational interviews.
As I told people what I intended to do, I encountered a lot of advice. "Why don't you at least do an internship? Then you'll have more options, because at least you'll have a license."
These conversations never seemed that helpful to me, because I felt like my desires were being dismissed as naive, and that the risks I felt called to undertake were insurmountable (which I found insulting). As I continued to talk to more people, I heard more advice.
From one person: "Why don't you at least finish a residency in SOMEthing? You know, general internal medicine, something like that. Then at least you'll have the credibility of being able to practice something."
From another: "If you liked cardiology in medical school, why don't you at least get trained as a cardiologist? Then you'll have so many more contacts and you'll be able to get so much more done."
And another: "Well, why don't you at least practice for a few years, get some money and respect under your belt before you go off and do your little dream? Then at least you'll have experience."
And yet another: "Why don't you wait until you retire to do 'fun' things like following your heart and doing what you love? Then at least you'll have lived a full life before you go and throw it all away."
What I realized is that each of the people who gave me advice was only speaking from their own experiences and beliefs. None of them had actually done what I was going to do, for the reasons I was doing it. And none were actually helping me to listen to the voice of my heart, which was the one posing these questions.
I ended up listening to a lot of different advice and following no one's, instead creating my own opportunities through willingness and determination. I am forever thankful for my own intuition that guided me to follow something inside me, despite advice to the contrary.
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Fast forward ten years.
I've created many more opportunities by following my own intuition, and tapping that same willingness and determination, to move in the direction most aligned with my heart's greatest desire. Now that I have opened space in my life, space in my mind, space in my body, and space in my heart, to receive guidance, it just keeps flooding in. I don't ask people what to do. I don't tell people what to do.
I have since also lived the life of trying to gain fulfillment from seeing other people follow my advice. I thought I was doing the right thing, but I would always encounter an aspect of someone else that my experience could not comprehend, that my best knowledge could not penetrate. This was before I trained as a coach. I had no tools at the time to help other people access a deeper part of their own wisdom, to help them find the keys to their own locked doors. I was giving advice, where people were in great need of coaching. I just didn't know how to at the time.
Coaching Helps You Follow Your Own Advice...The Kind You've Ignored For Too Long In Favor Of Others'
The kind of reward I received from advice-giving pales in comparison to the nourishment that is provided by coaching. As a coach, I get to be free, gently observing the process of a person finally doing exactly what their hearts have always been telling them to do. I get to share in their moments of joy in discovering that the answers they sought outside for so long, in so many ways, were already inside them, waiting to be decoded.
In short, as a coach I get to watch people finally follow their own advice!
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There is nothing more beautiful in this world than to witness a person free themselves, and become enlivened by the light inside them, dancing to the music within them.
I recognize the feeling of a person's truest longing spoken out loud. I recognize the pain of staying silent and hidden for too many years. I recognize the joy of meeting yourself again, of looking yourself in the mirror with love and kindness.
This is not what comes from taking someone else's advice. This is true learning and growth. This is the drink of water I'd always been thirsty for, but never knew existed.
So the next time you ask someone for advice, listen to them very closely. And then ask yourself, "Does this feel more freeing? Or more constraining?" Any advice that does not bring you more alive in your heart is not advice for you to follow.
Follow your freedom. It is the voice of your divinity speaking to you.
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.
- 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!
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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":
manage blood pressure
reduce blood sugar
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.