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.Read More
Fear has been up for me lately. I'm stepping into new unknowns and therefore a new level of courage is required. And in order to function, I've woken up to a new way of greeting fear. Instead of trying to beat it down, or conquer it, which both contain the quality of resistance, I practiced this: "It's OK, fear. Come on in. You are welcome here. Sit down at my table."Read More
Why is "love" such a hot button word for so many of us? It seems we remain as divided with respect to this word as we are on so many other issues. There are "hopeless romantics" and there are "anti-Valentine's" party hosts. There are those who sprinkle the word "love" over every communication with strangers or friends, and there are those who use it sparingly, like precious strands of saffron reserved only for the finest occasion.
We never said the word "love" in our house, so during my childhood, I formed the belief that something was missing from my experience compared to the outer world of suburban midwestern America I lived in. We didn't talk like the characters on The Brady Bunch. The emotions expressed in my family were much more raw, more volatile, so close to the surface and not easily contained. The love I experienced was unrelenting, filled with the need to protect me from constant imminent danger, and would never let me off the hook.
Over a lifetime of accumulating ideas of what love is - from what I was told, from what I experienced, and from what I imagined - I decided, other-than-consciously, that it was not safe to love fully.
So I made up a definition of love that suited me, protected me, and preserved my belief in what was possible. I chose different outer images to imitate. I tried on many different outfits in my attempts to recreate safety in love. First, it was a white coat in medical school. Then, it was a pant suit that placed me at the negotiating table, equal to men. Next, it was high heels and feminine-looking skirt suits that projected a combination of power and approachability. Finally, I went barefoot and wore "spiritual" clothes (whatever that means).
These were symbols of the stories I made up about love. I believed I had to earn love by being a skilled professional, by being accepted by a prestigious institution, by measuring up to someone else's standard, by performing above all the rest, or by joining in special rituals. I believed, other-than-consciously, that how I chose to present myself on the outside actually represented how much I loved myself on the inside. So I placed my attention on my outer presentation, believing I could come up with the "right" thoughts or do the "right" things to create the outer world I desired, while continuing to avoid the depths I feared most.
The bigger experience of love I have recently awakened to, through the precise application of language, love and presence, has truly gone to the root of all - and that is consciousness. I finally touched and stayed in places I had avoided for so long. I was shown, by experience and not any concept, how to love my fear, love my pain, love my anger, and love even what I had given up on ever loving again. And to allow "loving what I feel" to transform each emotion into a petal of my heart's desires blooming in action. This was an experience of love bigger than my imagination could accommodate. It was beyond the box of my known reality.
Any thought pattern I chose in the past as a way to survive is no match for the power of being fully present and allowing the love contained in presence itself to shine its unrelenting light on my anger, pain, grief, and even apathy. I had believed that by not touching these feelings, I would somehow rise above them. In fact, I was unaware of the energy required to keep them suppressed and avoided. My buoyancy returned only after being willing to touch, stay, and love exactly what I had believed to be untouchable, unworthy of my attention, and unloveable. In the light of love, which I experienced as pure nonjudgmental and unflinching presence, everything I once thought I was not safe to feel became my love, expanded. I found myself forgiving people I was once convinced had really "damaged" me. I found myself spontaneously making lists of the things I love about my mom (how she never let me off the hook, how she unrelentingly saw my highest self already expressed in the world, and how she did it even though it was hard for her so much of the time).
I am now excited when I experience uncomfortable feelings, as they are a chance to expand my capacity for love. I get to love what I feel, and let my love grow. I now reclaim my love as the life force which has loved me into existence, expressing itself in every experience, feeling, and desire that has come through me. I AM my love. And I love my love.
I facilitate this awakening in my Eye Reading sessions and this is the level at which all of my work is offered. It is time to play a bigger game.
This month, you can join me in awakening to your greater depths of love in a free teleclass, "Renegotiating Love", a free Friday talk at Prajna Center in Belmont, "Receiving The Love That You Are", and my ongoing introduction to my program for physicians, "Live Your Medicine: Responding To The Evolutionary Wake-Up Call to Remember Your Love, Your Art, and Your Medicine".
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.Read More
When I was a senior in high school applying to college, I remember one university had as its essay question, "What was your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?". I remember considering not applying to that school because I couldn't think of a failure to write about.
At the time, I was on the receiving end of a lot of attention and praise for never having failed (publicly at least). But now as an adult, I know the trap of living a life based on avoidance of failure. It's no success to have reached all the goals that have been set for you, to have checked all the boxes other people have laid out as important for you, and then to look in the mirror and not recognize yourself. Or to have your body screaming in pain or exhaustion.
Having been there and done that, I have rediscovered the vital importance of failure. Not "achieving" failure as an identity, but being willing to fail. I gave a workshop on Friday to a group of engineers, coaches, consultants, startup founders, and other change agents interested in how groups of people grow and learn. It was based entirely around sound, voice, and music improvisation - in other words, the most common fears of about ninety-nine percent of the population.
The name of the workshop was, "Play the Wrong Note: Daring Adventures in Learning, Failure, and Creativity". The title actually refers to a specific moment in my life when everything changed for me. Those four words - "Play the wrong note" - were the four most compassionate words ever spoken to me by a teacher. No one in a position of authority had ever said, "Lisa, I want to see you break the rules. And I'll help you." It turned out to be the most loving instructions I ever received, and the framework for an entire body of work.
It was about three months in to my sound healing training program. A weekend workshop dedicated to the art of improvisation. I thought I could just observe and let the others do this improvisation thing, which was clearly for "those people" but not me. So I hid behind the teacher with my violin tucked under my arm, hoping he would not see me or ask me to participate in this bluesy, jazzy jam that was happening all around me.
And, of course, at that very moment, he turned around and pointed right at me. "You! Solo!" he said.
I had no idea what to play. I wasn't into blues or jazz and had no reference point for what sounds to make. He could sense that I needed help so he said, "Play the wrong note."
My facial expression must have communicated the feeling I had, which was, "OK. But...which one?". There were an infinite number of wrong notes I could play. How would I know which one was right?
He smiled and took my finger in his hand, and moved it to a random place on the fingerboard of my violin. "Play that," he said gently.
I heard his instructions, but when I tried to play, my bow arm literally would not move. I was so hard-wired to play only the right notes - after daily practicing from age four - that my entire body would not allow me to play any wrong ones.
It was the perfect timing for me. I was ready. I had had a lifetime of good training, practice, and mastery. I was wired for success. But I had no wiring for freedom, fun, or failure. And in that moment, standing there, stranded, in the middle of a room with forty or so people making sounds, having a great time, and waiting for me to solo, I got it.
I could continue to avoid failure, or I could choose to grow into the unknown.
Later that day, in the same workshop, my violin case fell off its chair and onto the floor.
I took it as a sign and stopped avoiding the failures that were wanting to happen for me. I closed my violin school a little over a month later. I started practicing - first in the privacy of my own home, and using my voice, not my violin - making sounds that were all "wrong" to my trained ears. I started PLAYING again. Something I had not done in a long time, and maybe never on my violin.
The adventure that followed was a list of things I could never have planned for my life. I started playing only improvised music, in public, on a stage. I discovered hiking and backpacking. I went to the top of Half Dome and the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I started working at REI - the retail job I was never allowed to have as a teenager because I could earn more money teaching violin or staying home to practice. I won a gig as a gear tester and reporter for Backpacker Magazine, including a free trip to the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City. I discovered Thai massage and Breema bodywork, which led to traveling to three countries I would never have dreamed of visiting before - Bali, Thailand and Laos. And through my practice of these forms of bodywork, I traded massages for studio days with a couple of artist friends. And I discovered that I could play with paint. Which led to a daily art-making habit. Which has (so far, in the year or so that I've been doing it) led to a juried show, a new blog, and a whole lotta new art supplies in my house.
I could not have written these down on a bucket list because I would never have let my imagination run that wild. Until I was willing to Play The Wrong Note.
And not just once, in a workshop. It was about making a decision to bring the learning from that moment back to my daily life. To find ways to practice that willingness every time the opportunity came up.
It started with music. Being willing to play the wrong note in my personal comfort zone. And then it expanded. Not with planning but as a natural consequence of becoming familiar with the willingness to be "wrong".
So this is my soapbox.
Risk taking is necessary. Being open and willing to fail is necessary. Not knowing is necessary. And these skills are not taught in school. They are not the skills that get you straight A's. They are not the skills that make you look "smart". They are not the skills that earn you the proud distinction of being a Good Daughter (or Wife or Mother). They are not the skills that you use to fill out a college or medical school application. They are often not the stuff of polite cocktail party conversation.
They are the skills of the maverick. The rebel. The free thinker. The one who creates.
So no matter how long ago it was that you experienced your last failure - whether it was just this morning or decades ago or not at all - it is never too late to dive right in. Start practicing the F word.
Take it from a straight A student. Me.
And if you're ready to start practicing Fun, Freedom, and Failure with writing as improvisation, check out my brand new coaching program here.
Wishing You The Fun and Freedom of Being Willing to Fail,
I rarely share client stories, but a recent experience is birthing a whole new way of working for me. I just finished a 30-day writing experiment with a physician client who is just starting out on a brand new path. Having already found the courage to leave his medical practice and head into the open space of the unknown, we worked on rekindling a secret dream he's held for a long time, maybe his whole life: writing.
He always wanted to try writing, but never did because he had a belief it was too impractical and was no way to make a living. Yet he knew he had stories to share, and ones that would help others if he did.
I wanted to hear these stories myself. I was curious what touched him so deeply about his experiences in medicine. I knew that in hearing these stories, we could both experience a healing journey.
So I came up with this idea, which I had never done with a client before: a writing experiment. The assignment was to write daily for ten minutes a day, thirty days in a row. Then send that writing to me, which I read every day. Mostly we let the process run itself, but we had two phone conversations during the month, once to check in and then again to review the entire process.
I knew that a small, daily commitment done over a sustained period of time would lead to something. A new habit at the very least. An awakened sense of hope and creativity I envisioned as possible.
What I didn't expect was the vast territory we would cover in those ten minutes of daily writing each day. Not only did I learn from my client's deep minings that occurred from this type of reflection, but I heard accounts of key moments, important feelings, and long-held beliefs that it might have taken months to get to with traditional weekly phone coaching calls. In timed writing, you get to the heart of the matter quickly. You can try to dance around, squirm a bit, but the hand keeps moving and the clock keeps ticking, and something gets said that has juice to it, even if at the very end.
And when you have a curious, compassionate witness, who wants to hear more, and will ask you questions and deliver you the next prompt to inspire more writing, it unfolds with surprising beauty.
It was so beautiful that we are continuing the process for another thirty days, this time including a few additional daily and weekly practices like meditation and art-making (yes! eek! art!). And now, I want to offer this powerful experience to you.
First, here is the practice, which you can do entirely for free on your own. Form a group of friends and do this together. It could, in my client's words, be a "life-altering experience".
- Choose a start date. Why not tomorrow?
- Choose a time and place you will do your writing every day for the next thirty days. Yes, you need to think about this in advance, or it will not happen.
- Choose a pen and notebook that you LOVE, and that you will use only for this writing practice. You can use the computer too if you must, but I highly encourage the use of pen and paper for this. There are enough reasons we are called to the computer, and not enough good reasons to go manual these days. Here's one.
- Get a timer. Most phones have a timer app. Or use a good old-fashioned egg timer or stopwatch or alarm.
- Set the timer for 10 minutes. When you sit down to write, you start the timer. When the timer starts, your hand starts moving across the page. You don't stop. You don't pick the pen up off the paper. You are not thinking. You are letting your hand move, letting it lead the process. You don't edit grammatical or spelling errors. Don't cross anything out. Just keep writing. Lose control. See what happens. Don't have a plan.
- When the timer goes off, you stop. That's it. Pick your hand up off the paper. Close your notebook. Go do something else. This is important, too. Give yourself an endpoint that is defined.
- The next day, repeat.
- And repeat again and again for thirty days.
The page serves as a mirror to our present state, in a beautifully unedited and raw form. We get to see inside ourselves in a way we probably don't look for on our own. Our minds are too busy arranging things. Or we're reacting or responding to something outside ourselves.
With this form of writing (which is influenced and inspired by several of my favorite creativity teachers), we come into contact with the reality of the present moment, and how raw and fresh and changing it is. With practice, we also begin to create a space for ourselves to witness what is. To be OK with whatever shows up on the page. To not always be meeting some idea of an expectation. To let go of an agenda and trust, even if only for ten minutes a day.
And all of this, again in my client's words, could lead to "a whole new world opening up".
You can totally do this effectively on your own as a practice. There are great books that speak to the depth of what this can uncover, and provide you with pages and pages of prompts to go far and wild.
But if you want to work one-on-one with me, receive weekly written responses to your writing (I am not an editor or a coach or a critic, but a supportive, curious listener who tells you when I want to hear more), and have two phone conversations during your thirty-day process (one brief check-in after week one, and another full-length conversation at the end), then I am offering the opportunity for a limited number of individual clients, starting October 15th.
I've learned this about myself during the past few years: I don't do online forums, and I don't do auto-responder emails. I thrive in one-on-one interactions. According to the online marketing experts, this breaks all the rules of becoming a rock-star millionaire business owner. But that doesn't faze me. I'm following the bliss of what I know to be an extremely potent process, which is in alignment with everything I know from experience to be valuable to the recovery of the soul.
Here's how to join me in October.
I packed water, an apple, and an orange, but no extra layers of clothing. This was Christmas Day. A leisure ride, nothing that was going to kill me. I knew the hill on Higgins Canyon Road from having come down it once by car. Winding and barely wide enough for one car and a bike to pass. Spectacular views of Sky Moon Ranch, the sheep and cattle grazing next to large water reservoirs on steep hillsides.
The route we had chosen would not, we decided in advance, include riding up that part of the road. We would turn off and make a loop back to town, way before that steep ascent. After all, this was Christmas Day. No need to kill ourselves.
The turnoff was, according to the map, just after Burleigh Murray Ranch and off to the right. All we passed were private roads with mailboxes and No Trespassing signs on the right. We kept riding because it was a gorgeous day and it was fun.
Next thing I knew, we were headed up the hill.
I was winded, already climbing, when I began to get the words out about checking the GPS. By the time we found a safe area to pull off the road, we had already climbed several hundred feet. I was already in one of the lower gears. The winding road was laid out in front of us, one short section at a time, only revealing the very next turn, not telling us whether this was the last, or second to last, or how many there would be ahead. No tacit reassurance of “one more to go”, like a personal trainer or aerobics class instructors might provide.
Only the half loop spiraling up and disappearing behind the next bend. So in the moment of riding, there is only the decision to make it around the very next bend. Or not. There is no gratification of “knowing” that if you just do one more of these, you’ll be a rock star. Only the decision, between you and your body, whether to take the bike up one more section of the spiral.
It’s the “Do what’s in front of you” part of going toward your vision. Your bike is pointed in the direction of the top of the hill. Your job, in any given moment, is to pedal up this particular section. Your job is not to “get to the top”. Getting to the top is what happens when you make the decision to see what’s around the next bend, over and over again, and then you look up from what you're doing to discover that you’re at the top.
I remember exactly that moment from this Christmas Day ride, actually. I had just powered up about three sections without rest, after a man twice my age wearing blue jeans had passed us. He was sincere and kind when he said, “Merry Christmas! You guys are doin’ ter-RIF-fic!” I thought to myself, “Not as terrific as YOU are!” and kept pedaling because I couldn’t talk. I bore down a little harder, figuring I wasn’t going to rest my way to being in that kind of shape when I am his age (I guessed 80).
But by the end of the third spiral, I had it in my head that this was it. My limit. If the next climb didn’t bring us to the top, I would turn around. It was Christmas. Why was I killing myself?
I stopped and, panting, leaned on the handle bars of my bike, sucking down water from my CamelBak straw between breaths.
“Is this it?” my riding partner Randy asked.
I couldn’t talk just then. I was feeling the simultaneous sensation that my body was being pushed to a limit, and the sense that I wanted to feel more of this. There was a kind of curiosity and delight about seeing what a little bit more right now would feel like. Even though it was pretty uncomfortable.
So I said, “Go!”, motioning for him to start climbing the next portion. To see what was around the next bend.
I didn’t wait for my heartrate to slow down more or my breathing to recover to normal pace. I started climbing, choosing to go deeper into the “zone beyond comfort” and see where it took me. I didn’t care about the top, I just wanted to keep going and feeling this sensation.
The rhythm of my pedal strokes was slow and steady. My lungs were getting accustomed to the slight burning that accompanied each breath. It took focus ot keep the handlebars in line with the edge of the pavement as I climbed like this. I looked only directly ahead of me. Not toward the top.
And around the next bend, we saw the 80-year-old man come coasting toward us, having reached the top and turned around already. I had no focus left to smile, comment, or register this fact but had to keep pedaling. The last piece of road was a bit of straightaway and the top was marked by an old gate at the base of a eucalyptus tree, with an expanse of downward rolling hills stretched out beyond it.
We were there. The top. It wasn’t something we set out to do. In fact, I had strictly planned otherwise. It was something that happened as a result of deciding, one stretch of road at a time, to keep climbing and see what’s around the next bend.