I firmly believe everyone should have the experience - at least once in their life - of pooping in the wilderness. Of digging a hole at least six inches deep, dropping trou, and watching their own poop land in the hole. Then filling it with soil, packing it down, and returning the surrounding earth to its original state.
I believe this not just because pooping in holes has become second nature since I started backpacking, but because I experienced real compost in my friend Lydia's yard yesterday. From start to mulch. When you see one too many potted plants or cut flower arrangements in your life, you forget where it all really comes from. Not just the postcard pictures of a farm with a guy in overalls posed casually leaning on a fence that you see from the side of the road. Not the beautiful bins of colorful, washed produce (definitely not GMO and definitely organic) at the farmers' market.
No, I'm talking about what dirt really is. How our bodies - the stuff of our skin and bones - are ultimately the same stuff as dirt. How the plants growing prettily or wildly in the ground are also the same stuff as dirt. How if you have the chance to take a shovel and pull up some plants, move them to the compost heap, then come back a few months later, you might see something that looks nothing like the original plant but a lot like dirt.
We make dirt wrong. We use it to describe the things we don't want on us ("Don't touch that! It's DIRTY!"), don't want to hear ("Don't say that DIRTY word!"), and what we work hard to get rid of ("Wash your hands...they're DIRTY!").
But DIRT is US.
Would you touch compost with your bare hands?
It was a moment of revelation - of Oneness, if you will - when my friend Lydia lifted the tarp covering the fresh heap of compost made of kitchen scraps. It was hard for me to watch all the creepy crawly worms and bugs making their way through coffee grounds, pumpkin skins, paper scraps, egg shells, and leaves.
I didn't want to have to see it. I'll admit that.
But there they were, making DIRT...the vital ingredient that fuels all life, the stuff that IS life in its final form and the source of all living things. The end...and the beginning...simultaneously.
It had been so long since I'd seen, smelled, and participated in decomposition that it woke me up. But of course that isn't exactly true. I'm surrounded by life - and DIRT - at all times, I just ignore the "dirty" parts and focus on enjoying the flowers and the fruits. I let other people handle the dirt - "do the dirty work". Or I separate myself from the "dark" or "dirty" aspects of me. I try to edit them out of my experience, as if it's better that way.
As I stood there, staring at the bustling city of worms crawling in and out, up and down, through the muck, I remembered. I remembered all the ways I have tried to push away the "dirty" parts of my past, to make everything look clean all the time, to live as if the flowers - the things of Beauty I've decided I want to see - don't have deep roots that crawl through that same rich soil, black and moist with powerful fuel for life. I remembered how I've distanced myself from the earth, whenever I insisted on standing tall, head held high, looking towards the horizon of some greater dream, trying to deny the "dirt" that supported me under my feet at all times.
Staring at the pile of compost as it became compost, I witnessed an aspect of Oneness we aren't often presented. If it's true that everything is energy, that every single phenomenon is in the same field of infinite potential, then it surely applies to compost too.
It also applies to pooping in the woods.
Which is why, if you ever have the chance, you should do it. But please don't leave toilet paper in the backcountry. I'm begging you.
Or go look at a pile of compost. Study and observe how life feeds on life.
And be with everything that comes up for you - all the feelings of aversion, disgust, and wanting to turn away to experience "something better" than this.
How is the stuff you consider "dirt" in your life actually the compost pile, rich with nutrients and material for your growth and thriving?
How would you feel differently about your "poopy" circumstances if you saw them simply as compost in the making, as both the byproduct of your process and the source of all that is to come?
By all means, train your eyes to see the flowers, and use your taste to savor the sweet fruits of life. But also remember, they - and we - all need the dirt to grow.
“How you see determines what you see, and what you feel.” – Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with vision boards since the very beginning. My very first one was an assignment for the very first personal development workshop I attended. End of Day One, before we were to break for dinner, we had a few hours to make a board of what makes our heart come alive.
The second one I made was later that year with an ex-boyfriend on a retreat in Santa Cruz. It was my first beach weekend retreat since moving to California five years before. What had taken me so long?
I kept up with vision boards for some reason. Maybe it was my determination to see if they would really work for me in my life. I was a total skeptic in the beginning, going through the motions like a good student, but not truly expecting anything to happen.
After several years of practice, now I know that when I approach them from a certain place within me, vision boards can invite in some real magic into my life.
I haven't yet written about the latest example of how a vision board changed my life, and since I’m leading a vision board workshop next week, this seems like a good time to really tell the story in completeness.
From Complaining to Creating
I was living in a tiny house with my boyfriend. It was his house. I moved into it. This was after I had downsized my own belongings by eighty percent. I had moved out of a commercial office space, and then moved out of my apartment after staring at the furniture for months and months, not knowing how I would detach myself from it.
There was really no space that was “mine”, although I had access to everything that was his. We made a garden. We cooked. We adventured mostly outside the house. But we felt closed in because we were surrounded by apartment buildings, a parking garage, an architectural firm, and a daycare center. Our blinds were always closed, and there was only one door to the outside. I had a tiny space in the back, about the dimensions of a single yoga mat, where I did my morning ritual, meditation and chanting. I could see a patch of the sky, and the tops of trees from the windows in there, which gave me a daily dose of spaciousness.
My enlightened self can identify the gifts of that time in my life – the gifts of being outdoors for a long hike every single weekend, the gifts of being in my garden every day in the summer, the gifts of not working so hard on my business, the gifts of discovering REI, and the gift of becoming more open to things falling apart.
But I still found myself spending most of my waking hours complaining about the space, what was missing, how it was impeding my ability to focus on my work.
I realized most of my energy and attention were being spent on what I didn’t want, and what wasn’t working. I was blaming the space for all of the things I wasn’t able to feel within myself.
One day it occurred to me that I was also free to ask, “What if I shifted my attention to what I do want?” Aha! I hadn’t done that in awhile. Complaining was my mind’s way of dealing with the situation, believing that if I complained enough, maybe something would happen differently.
It had been over a year and nothing had “happened” differently, at least with the space.
So I decided to make a vision board.
What It Looks Like versus What It Feels Like
I used google to search for images of places and views and living spaces that felt like what I wanted to experience from my own living space, but had never dared to say out loud. Knowing what I wanted to feel like is an important difference from believing I knew what things were supposed to look like. We’re so bombarded with images these days that we rarely have time to sink into our bodily sensations that come up in response to these images. I've learned that when I connect with the feeling behind images, I am often surprised that what they look like is nothing like what I imagined.
The qualities I wanted to feel were captured with the words gathering space, nourishing space, convertible space, walking space, creativity, honoring earth, peace, reflection, nature, beauty, energizing, growth, inspiration, joy.
Since I wasn’t able to see these qualities in my living space at that time, I didn’t believe they could be part of my reality ever. But I set aside those doubts for one evening, and put myself in the place of the person in my imagination – the “me” who had it all. I found pictures of nature, hiking trails in the backyard, a garden, expansive views of hillsides, trees, big windows, high ceilings, convertible spaces for creating, reflecting, gathering, eating, and seeing nature.
Then I said, What the heck, since I’m doing this exercise, why not put everything out there? The stuff I really don’t believe is possible.
So I put in a recording studio – a picture of a guy playing guitar in front of a microphone, surrounded by windows opening into views of trees and nature. Another secret desire of mine was to have my own creative space, and for my boyfriend to have his own creative space, so that we could come together in each of these spaces but were not forced to work in the same space at the same time. I put in a picture of a home yoga studio with luxurious amounts of open hardwood floor space, literally thinking, “Yeah, right. No one has that!” while feeling in my body the tingles of excitement around the idea of, “What if I did?”
I loved the resulting images, and it was enough for me to make it the wallpaper on our computer so I could dream of living there on a daily basis.
Three magic words: "Thanks, I quit."
Then I let go.
There was a sense of relief and freedom just from having created the vision board. And in my mind, everything about the images seemed impossible – there was nowhere I had ever seen in the Bay Area that would meet all these criteria, be affordable enough for us, close enough to my boyfriend’s work for a manageable commute, and so on. My naysayer mind chimed in again with its list of “no way”s.
I let go but I didn’t forget. I left the vision board on the wallpaper of our computer, and then I returned to the tasks of daily life.
Within three weeks, my boyfriend sent me a link to a property for rent in Half Moon Bay. The pictures had windows that looked similar to the images on the vision board. Interesting, I thought. I clicked back onto craigslist and saw that there were two other places in Half Moon Bay within our price range. One of them had very dark pictures, and a very simple description that wasn’t flashy. Yet it just had a feeling that intrigued me, and I wanted to check it out. We scheduled appointments at all three properties for that weekend.
The minute we turned the corner and started driving down the street, I knew this was the one. I just felt this was where we were going to live.
Then our jaws kept dropping. The beach was just steps from the front door.
There was a large room facing the ocean that is now our home music studio and house concert venue. And the front room, with two large windows peeking out to the ocean view, is now my home yoga and meditation space and painting studio!
I even have my own office, which I honestly didn’t even expect. I was prepared to let that go in exchange for the yoga and creative space. But I got it all!
We got it all.
We are both so happy and inspired in this space, as it serves our needs and creative purpose in life right now. We enjoy sharing it with the community in the form of house concerts, my new SoulBodyMind Salon series, and who knows what other forms will emerge.
I tell this story whenever anyone asks “how we found” this place, because I know from experience that the place found us.
By shifting the energy from “what’s missing” and “what’s not working” to “What do we want to create?”, we invited in our own ability to see possibilities in a whole new way.
I never imagined, even at the moment of making the vision board, that we would end up living by the ocean. I was in love with the tall trees, the mountains, the rivers. I thought we would find a little cottage up there somewhere. But my ability to imagine was only based on my prior experience, and the universe had a greater vision and infinite possibilities waiting for my ability – my vision - to discover them.
Try out the experiment of taking an area of struggle in your life, an area where you notice yourself spending a lot of time complaining about what’s wrong or missing, and try asking, “What do I want to create in this situation?”
I’d love to know what you see through these new eyes.
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I was reading the website of a prominent life coach the other day, and was feeling myself getting seduced by the promise of change. For me, this feeling is a little tug in my chest, accompanied by a little voice that says, "You could be like her! Why don't you just try harder? You could be successful like that! You can have everything you want in your life! Just try harder!"
I was getting pulled in by her clarity, and her certainty, and her artfully written course descriptions and "How I Work With You" page. I was dreaming of what my life would like if only I were “as on top of things as she was”. I was reading through her punchy blog posts, which boiled everything down into three simple categories, a numerical scale, and a "toolkit" for achieving the state of bliss that she has apparently created for herself.
In her "About" page, where she introduces herself and tells her story of why she became a coach, she talks about "having been there". Having been broke, miserable, in a rocky marriage, and not living her best life.
Later, she talks about how she finally hit "rock bottom" in her life and made a slow, messy climb out to attain her current dream life that includes financial freedom, working in her pajamas, and answering to no one except her fabulous, perfectly-happy-to-pay clients who just blow her away on a daily basis.
She says that the reason she's put together her current offerings is to "save us the trip" to our own rock bottom, a place she's sure we'd rather skip over and prevent from happening to us. So, sign up before the early bird registration deadline of TONIGHT at midnight, or stay stuck on your path toward rock bottom!
OK, so that last sentence wasn't actually on her website. But this is at least the second time that I've read the words "rock bottom" in a coach's story, and heard a similar sales pitch saying, "The reason I'm offering this program to clients like you is so you don't have to go through the hell I went through! You can just shift right into your own fabulousness without all the hassle!"
I fell for that pitch once.
Twice, actually. I was wholeheartedly seduced into paying thousands of dollars for a program that promised I would "triple my income" and "quadruple my happiness" if I enrolled. It was an “upsell”, meaning I had purchased a lower-priced program from this coach and then was offered a free informational call about the next level program. There was such power, such clarity, and such a personal success story wrapped into the pitch that I fell for it. Hook, line, and sinker.
I actually dropped out of the program five weeks into the ten week curriculum.
The allure of having a weekly set of assignments, worksheets to fill out, boxes to check (literally), and papers to print out and put in a binder (I was obsessed with binders! I was a Staples and OfficeMax junkie!) lasted about three weeks. Then I started to realize that all this work and structure was speaking to the A-plus student in me, the one who for 21 straight years of my life (from kindergarten through medical school) sat in some sort of classroom environment, where there were grades, tests, papers, projects, reports, and things to finish on time and turn in. Her approach (at that particular time in my life, and given my particular history) fed into the part of me that wanted someone to tell me what to do, when in fact what I needed to practice was my self-trust and intuition.
Having her move from one to-do list to another each week gave me the illusion of control, but what I really needed for me to grow was to trust more in letting go and allowing.
And that program - with all of its promises and success stories (as defined by multiples of income achieved within months of completing the program) - was exactly what I did NOT need at this point in my life. I did not need an authority figure (this coach who, I believed, had everything I did not have, including the answers) to tell me "how to" achieve an assumed outcome of "more money” as the route to greater worthiness, peace, and happiness.
I realized that what I needed was real-life experience in the process of seeing that worthiness, peace, and happiness come from inner work, expression, and practice, which may or may not result in "more money", but will lead to the feeling of having a life of everything I've always wanted. No matter what it is I actually have.
So I learned a HUGELY valuable lesson from the experience, it just wasn't what I thought I had been investing in.
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My journey right now is all about recovery. Recovery of a sense of peace. Recovery of creativity. Recovery of my self-trust. Recovery of my self-love. Recovery of a sense of acceptance. Recovery of my voice. Recovery of worthiness. Recovery of my sense of possibilities. Recovery of my ability to play.
What I’ve learned is that recovery happens gradually. At its own pace.
No one can “save you the trip” of walking on the path of your own recovery.
So what would I like to tell people about the kind of coach I am, the kind of coach I would like to be?
I'm not trying to save anyone from hitting their rock bottom.
I'm not even sure if I've hit my own rock bottom! That's not for me to say. I don't get to decide how long I'm here on earth, or what I get the chance to do, or whom I get to influence. I only get to decide how I show up for myself in this moment. And then the next. And then the next. And if I'm lucky, there's a next. And another, and so on.
After everything I have been through so far - in my 35 short years of living on this planet - I would not trade any of it for anything. It is mine. It is perhaps the only thing I truly have - my own experiences of this miracle and mystery called life. I'm sitting here on a warm, sunny day in March, typing on my own computer, using my own wireless connection, and that is no small miracle. I'm not attached to it, I just notice and acknowledge it for the brief time that these circumstances will be true. In another moment, the sun will change position, the light will change, and I may not be able to continue typing here.
So I keep typing, from a place of gratitude.
I have learned, in my zealous love affair with the idea of "changing my life", that the only effective way to truly change anything is to become more fully present, more fully aware, and more deeply accepting of exactly how things are right now. In this particular moment. Which is gone in an instant, replaced by another.
Once you fully accept, everything begins to change automatically.
This may sound trivial if you haven't tried it. But it's no small task at all to practice being with all aspects of your own life, exactly as they are in this moment. It also doesn’t mean “resigning yourself to the way things are”.
Acceptance is about full acknowledgment. Without the editing and rehearsing that typically goes on in our minds, as we disconnect from our bodies in the present moment.
We all have these escape modes, when we’re not fully accepting our experience.
I myself have found that I spend inordinate amounts of time looking around and noticing what's missing, what I've done wrong, what I should do differently in the future, or what I could be doing instead of what I'm actually doing right now.
Knowing this about myself is no longer a harsh criticism or indictment of my character, but is beginning to take on the lightness of simply being "good to know". That has taken practice.
Which brings me back to that seductive website I was reading the other day. When I caught myself seizing up in the chest, being drawn in, almost clicking on the "Buy Now" button on one of those products, I was able to breathe and watch myself.
I didn't say, "There you go again, Lisa! Falling for the old lines. Won't you ever get over your approval issues??"
I also didn't say, "A lot of nerve that person has for selling those promises! How dare she collect money for the illusion of a temporary fix!"
(Both of these would have been playing the blame game – one of my old favorites.)
Instead, I realized this was a chance to give a voice to what I am about, what is true for me (and perhaps ONLY for me...I'm prepared for that too, though I suspect this will resonate with some).
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I realized that the truth is, I would never deprive anyone of their own journey in life, whether it takes them to "rock bottom" or the moon.
What I've found so helpful - and what I hope to put back into the world - is just witnessing, and creating safe space for myself and others to just be.
I don't need to tell anyone what to do, or how to do it. It's enough for me to pay attention to my own openness, my own self-compassion (so that I can truly say that I feel compassion for others), my own softness, and my own inner freedom.
It’s enough for me to offer myself in this way to whomever I encounter, whether they are a client or not, and whatever I do, whether it is work or not.
It’s enough for me to watch my experience of life completely change when I pay attention to these things.
These, in and of themselves, are precious gifts. They have worked magic in my own life and process, and I remember each and every one of the people who showed these qualities to me when I had forgotten how to recognize them in myself.
Change can be hard. But acceptance may be even harder.
Change can be easy to sell, because we all think we want it. But acceptance - the necessary ingredient for all change - is what we really need.
Even though I have found a place to store and/or organize many items in my home, I have noticed that so many of these items are ones I don't need or love anymore. At one time, they held an important place in my life. At one time, they were useful to me. At one time, they were needed on a regular basis.
But how about now? I have undergone three major career changes in my life, and have lived in five different cities over the past twelve years. I have had an underlying assumption that my life "should" be constantly expanding in size. An unexamined belief that progress and growth means accumulation of things. I have full closets that I haven't touched in several years. And while my mind and body and spirit are trying to move in a new direction, the weight of these untouched contents is becoming palpable.
For most of my life, I've had no model for how to eliminate things gracefully, naturally, and without guilt. Growing up, everything my family ever lost in life - whether it was a person, an opportunity, or a possession - was greeted with some degree of regret and disappointment. I was never taught to see the gift of loss.
Well, as part of my current learning and playing and exploring the realm of creativity, I am discovering that elimination is a necessary part of the cycle of creativity and life. I am learning to embrace the universal law of nature that life is cyclical, not linear. We are taught how to "move up" and "push forward", but we are seldom taught how to rest, renew, and eliminate....in effect, how to create space for the arrival of what's ready to come.
I've experienced this metaphorically in several arenas - letting go of a professional path, letting go of a certain geography, letting go of owning a home, letting go of a wardrobe, letting go of a business I created, letting go of my need to tell other people what to do, letting go of my need to know the answer all the time.
My life keeps teaching me that it's OK - necessary, actually - to keep letting go, because each time I do, more peace and more freedom are revealed to me.
Right now? The lesson is letting go of a lease obligation. Letting go of furniture I chose personally and bought brand new, things I loved at the time but no longer need.
It's huge. So huge that I can't articulate all the lessons I'm learning. To do so would block me from fully experiencing what I'm living through right now.
Someday I"ll have more to say, but for now here are 3 short videos from a recent visit to one of my closets at home.
Part 1 of 3:
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I don't know about you, but I'm finding that I'm easily hooked by the idea that I need expert advice in order to do something "right", and that I need a formula to follow in order to be successful.
With all of my inner work over the past year and a half, you'd think I'd be over it. You'd think I'd have found Nirvana, bliss, equanimity, access to Buddha nature.
Yeah, I thought so too.
What I'm really finding is that life keeps challenging me to keep a sense of humor as I learn to trust myself. I veer off the path (or am I merely on a twisty part of it?) and find myself enrolled in another program, following dutifully along like the great student I've always been. But then I look at the pile of assignments I've given myself, and I wonder, "What test am I studying for? Whose grade am I trying to earn here?"
Lately, life has been challenging me to keep stepping back into observer mode, as I charge forward with every opportunity life serves me. I step into my own power, and then my mind leads me back into the weeds, as if to test my own abilities and force me to validate what I say that I believe in.
It's all part of building confidence, becoming clear, and feeling real in this new incarnation I've been given.
That's what I tell myself as I sort through what feels like confusion.
Today I read a Self-Care card that said, "Peace" on one side, and "Embrace your confusion" on the other. I smiled, because it seemed perfect for me on this day to read that message.
I am confused. There, I said it. And I haven't been able to admit that to myself for awhile. I can tell I'm confused because I'm looking outside myself for answers. I'm asking other people for their advice, opinions, inputs, and when I hear the answers I don't know what to do. I don't know what I want to do.
Correction: I do know what I want to do, but I have not freed myself to just do that one thing in front of me right now - the very thing I know will take me one step closer to where I want to go. I am caught in a feeling of needing to do Something Else, or More, than what I'm doing right in this moment.
Breathing, hiking in nature, and reading the affirmation, "My full attention is always enough" have helped. But my "full" attention is too often spread diffusely across a list of Something Else or More to do, rather than just this one task in front of me right now. I know I need to say to myself, "Never mind whether or not it will sell, never mind if it's "too late" to start marketing it, never mind if I don't know what to call it yet."
"Just do the one thing in front of me right now."
Using that mantra, I finished a whole blog post from beginning to end in less than one hour. Including finding a photo, uploading a related video, and composing all the written words.
How did I do it? I didn't worry about anything else that I could be, or should be, doing. I just wrote the damn blog post. I didn't worry about whether it would fit, who would like it or even read it, or more importantly, who would get pissed off about my being totally honest. I didn't worry about the Rules that say what you should write about, and whether keywords would match search engine optimization for my site.
I just wrote from my heart about what I'm experiencing right now in my life. Not what I think I "should" be experiencing, not trying to be a "role model" for anything, not putting pressure on myself to be "put together" and perfect. But being all of me, who right now is a little confused, a little challenged, a little faced with conflicting messages, a full schedule, a juggling act of balancing personal, professional, and just plain fun in my life.
That's what life is for me right now. And if I'm really calling myself a life coach, it's only fair for me to talk about what's really happening in my life. Right now.
"Truth is living, and therefore, changing." - Bruce Lee
I read that the other day and it shifted my thinking. It hit me like the ring of truth. Could it really be that simple? That living is simply changing? I recalled that the first piece of information that drew me into the field of life coaching was Martha Beck's Change Cycle. It was simple, yet no one had ever presented life as a cycle of change - meaning a continuous circular flow, not a straight line pointing in one direction.
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I also loved the image of caterpillar turning into butterfly. I had read Trina Paulus' little yellow book, Hope For the Flowers, many times over the past fifteen years, and it always resonated with me as the truth. That within each of us, when we are born, is the potential to transform, to fly, to be beautiful. That it also takes a single act of courage on each person's part, at some point in their caterpillar life, in order to make that transformation possible. Here's an excerpt, paraphrased from Trina Paulus' book:
"How does one become a butterfly?" asked the caterpillar.
"You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar."
"You mean to die?" asked the caterpillar.
"Yes and No...Life is changed, not taken away. Isn't that different from those who die without ever becoming butterflies?"
So isn't it interesting that our minds resist change.
Our bodies crave change and movement, but our minds crave solidity. Changing my mind used to be something I considered almost a crime. I stood by commitments with such fierce resolve that I could override most of the signals sent by my body. This made me great at staying up for 36 hours straight on call in the hospital, sitting in a desk for as long as it took to crank out a spreadsheet that satisfied my bosses in the financial world, and doing whatever it took to produce what I considered "perfection" in my violin students.
It did not, however, serve me well in bringing me happiness in my life, or a sense of peace in my heart. It did not help me notice the small things, acknowledge myself for tiny gains, or cut other people any slack when it came to honoring their differences or shortcomings.
The ability to adapt and change, to die many deaths within one lifetime, to flow with the current of our highest self and deepest truth, is simple, yet requires practice in order to become habit.
Today I am thankful for being more familiar with my own internal feelings of peace, joy and freedom than I was even a few months ago. Every day I grow in this capacity to recognize and rest in these feelings in my body. They are part of me now, and they have been waiting for me patiently my whole life. It was just up to me to learn how to access them.
So, ask yourself this: Have you changed your mind lately?
A follow-up to my post on finally taking the action of framing the photo by my friend, Eugene Chan, for the Cradle of Manifestation. It's on the wall! And a lovely addition to my inspirational 1-on-1 coaching room.
Check it out in the video below!
Copyright Lisa Chu, The Music Within Us, 2009-2019.