What I just won't buy anymore

[singlepic id=444 w=320 h=240 float=center] 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.

And that's what I'm here to sell, all day long.

Photo credits: "Buy More Stuff" by Michael Holden

"This Is What Recovery Looks Like" by Portland Prevention

"You Are Free" by Chris Metcalf

All photos used under a Creative Commons license.

Solving the Puzzle of the Universe

A few days ago I solved the puzzle of the universe. It came in a box. There were 500 pieces and a neat image of the final product - what the solution was supposed to look like.

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I had a partner while I was doing it. We didn't discuss how we were going to tackle the problem, we just started working on it, each in our own way. There were no words. Things just began when they began, and ended when they ended.

I noticed that I wanted to follow some instructions that were somewhere in the back of my head about "how to" solve a puzzle like this.

"Start with the edges and corners," was one set of instructions.

"Find the colored pieces first," was another.

I tried both of those, but the puzzle was just so big, so complicated, with so many parts, that I quickly got frustrated with each of those approaches. I made a tiny bit of progress, but immediately got stuck following those two paths.

So I just looked at the pile of pieces, sifted them around a little so I could feel them. I began to notice certain things stood out to me - a pattern of white squares. Letters and words. Colored lines and arrows.

Then I turned to look at the final image. I started to notice that the pattern of white squares was specific. The numbers in the squares corresponded to exact positions on the circle that defined the boundary of the universe. Above those squares were the months of the year, spelled out in large, colored letters.

I would start by finding each of the twelve months of the year. As I proceeded this way, I experienced the excitement of completing one word at a time.

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“Aha!” I would exclaim as I saw the letters of "OCTOBER" come together from three different puzzle pieces. I wasn't paying attention to the shapes of the pieces, only the emergence of the word itself.

I attacked the puzzle in this way, building one identifiable word at a time, choosing not to worry about how these twelve words would form a complete circle, or how the center of the circle - which was a detailed map of the constellations - would come together.

I just focused on those words, one "Aha!" at a time.

After about six of these, I looked up to notice my partner working on the puzzle silently, without disturbing me at all, in his own way. I noticed that he wasn't looking up nearly as much as I was. I noticed that he had lined up the pieces in front of him, and was looking more at the pieces themselves than referring to the picture of the final product we were supposed to be building.

I didn't want to take my mind off my own puzzle solving, and what he was doing was not interfering with what I was doing, so I just kept going.

I built the ring first - the pattern of white squares and numbers, representing the calendar days, and the twelve months of the year distributed evenly around the circle.

The rest of the pattern of constellations and their names were still too overwhelming for me to tackle, so I just kept working on the ring, matching what I was creating with what was printed on the box, noticing one tiny detail at a time adjacent to the ring I had put together.

By the time I had about three quarters of the ring assembled, I looked up, to find that my partner had constructed all four corners of the puzzle, which were mostly solid black, with no words at all. He had done this by looking at the shapes of the pieces, and fitting them together based on matching their edges. This was a completely different approach than mine, as I didn't even notice the actual shape of each puzzle piece - I only saw the images formed after they fit together.

A New Model of Team Work

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Miraculously, these two completely different approaches were resulting in a beautiful "team effort" that was getting the puzzle solved! My mind would not wrap around this subject because I was so engrossed in my particular approach, but I remember feeling such relief that we were not arguing or debating about what the best way to solve the puzzle - "as a team" - would be.

We were not weighing the pros and cons of each approach, trying to get each to adopt the best practices of the other. That was always my biggest nightmare about working "on a team" - that I would have to work in some way that was not optimal for me, in order to accommodate someone who was slower, weaker, or less competent than me.

I never considered the possibility that we could each retain our own styles of working, and accomplish things in our own way, while also contributing to a larger group effort. How liberating!

This was easy, peaceful, fun teamwork, that required no negotiation whatsoever. There was just a huge puzzle to be solved, and each of us was sincerely interested in approaching the solution in our own way, at the same time, together. It wasn't a competition. There couldn't be one. There were two many pieces, it was too complex, and no one could have predicted how the solution would finally come together.

It was an example showing that setting each person free to work in their own best way could also be in the best interest of the group effort. Imagine that!

Trying to understand, explain, justify, control, or influence another person's way of working would not have been productive for either us as people or for reaching a faster solution to the puzzle.

Asking the other for help was also futile, since we were arriving at our own answers in such distinctly different ways - it was as if we were decoding the puzzle into our own particular language, which could not be translated in the moment.

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Ultimately the puzzle of the universe took about five hours of work to solve. Not bad for a day's work (with a dinner break!). We kept it out for our own mutual admiration for the next four days.

Taking the Pieces Apart

Today I decided it was time to take a picture, tell the story, and take the puzzle apart again.

I noticed that there was a tinge of that feeling of regret when we adults have to take things apart. Children - ones who are younger than school age - don't seem to see the sadness of knocking over towers of blocks, messing up a stack of cards, or taking apart a train set. They love the destruction as much as the creation, if not more. They laugh and smile as things fall apart, just as when they get built.

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Children are great teachers in the nature of impermanence and non-attachment. When is it, in the course of our "maturation" and "growing up" that we become so attached to the building, and so afraid, so avoidant, of the taking apart? Or the letting things fall apart? When does the story become a tragedy in our minds?

I tried to take the point of view of a child when I took the puzzle apart today. I tried to enjoy the process of crumbling the sheets of cardboard back into their factory-cut pieces, rubbing them between my fingers to encourage them to separate and fall. I took on the task with as much zeal as a child might swing their arm against a tall stack of legos, and watch with glee as they tumble down to the floor.

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The pile of pieces fit neatly back in the box. The pieces - all 500 of them - awaited their next chance at being put into place, reconstructed into the same picture of the universe.

I took a moment to appreciate their alternate form - as just a pile of pieces in a box.

I took a moment to notice that there is as much beauty in chaos, as much opportunity to experience joy in the "falling to pieces" as there is in the building.

We just have to be willing to see it.

Photo credit: Baby with legos by Pink Sherbet Photography, used under a Creative Commons License

All other photos by the author

The Difference Between Being Organized and Uncluttered

You can be both organized and cluttered at the same time. Have you ever thought about that? A friend sent me a link to an article discussing the difference between organization and uncluttering. It arrived in my life at a time when I was open to receiving an "aha" moment.

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:

Part 2 of 3:

Part 3 of 3:

Creating Your Vision for 2011

What's your theme for the new year?

I've never been a New Year's Resolution person, but every year on December 31, I take time to reflect on the previous year and write down what I remember. I focus on things like what I learned, how I grew, and the events that were most meaningful for me.

This past year was a particularly abundant year of growth and change for me. Last December 31, I finally felt clear and took the step of writing a letter to the thirty families in my violin school, announcing to them that within two weeks, the school would come to an end. While I had no idea what would unfold as a result of that action, I was absolutely clear about my intention of letting go in order to move into the next phase of my life and accept whatever it would bring me.

It was an act of trust. My self-proclaimed commitment, or theme, for 2010, was to live from my Core of Peace. To experience life, perhaps for the first time, from a new, unfamiliar place called Peace.

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This year, as the end of 2010 approaches, I face another opportunity to grow in my trust. I realized, slowly over the past several months, that it was time to face letting go again. This time it was letting go of a lease that no longer makes sense for the business and life I am creating. It took me an entire year of holding on, experimenting and playing, believing that I would "make it work", and avoiding the dread of everything I was making it mean to let go.

And now I am in a place of clarity again. The feeling in my body is freedom, expansiveness, lightness. The energy in my body is purposeful and focused. And from this place, I am taking the actions - those mundane steps that my mind had made to be so unpleasant through its thoughts  - that are necessary to create the physical space that is reflected in my mind and body.

After months of dragging, feeling heavy, dreading what I had to do, I have spent the past two days steadily working my way through those previously dreaded actions.

And you know what? They are not so dreadful after all!

In fact, when approached with clear energy and a feeling of purpose, they have no negative or positive charge whatsoever. They are just items that get done. And what remains is the pure joy of SPACE.

Letting go of material items has always been a challenge for me. It's beyond my current comfort zone. It doesn't energize me to clean or organize or think about the arrangement of physical items. But in the past year, life has handed me these opportunities to exercise that muscle, little by little. And to experience the reward of the empty space left behind...a reward I had never truly experienced before, because I was simply too afraid to allow it.

So as the current year comes to a close, and I watch items move out of my life and into the hands of those who joyfully accept them and need them in theirs, I am able to create a vision for my new year.

In 2011, my theme is Creativity and Expression. I took some time to create the following vision board for Who I Am and How I Feel While I Express My Creativity in 2011.

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While I was previously skeptical of the vision board process, I now cherish the opportunity to take in these images and read the affirmations each time I turn on my computer. I recognize the value of small, frequent doses of inspiration as I create my life one step at a time.

So, do you have a theme for 2011? Are you curious what would happen if you created one?

Here are some great resources for creating your own vision board, not just for the new year, but any time you're in the mood for taking a look at a new horizon.

Christine Kane's blog post on How To Make A Vision Board>>

Oprah.com's Dream Board tool (you must create an Oprah.com account to access the tool)>>

And here's my video blog from my office on the day my clarity came through>>

Cleaning Up The Crap

Face-to-Face With The Crap

I stopped by my post office box this morning after who-knows-how-long. I was expecting to have trouble turning the key on my box, the folded up magazines and edges of post cards shredded by all the successive stuffing and weeks of piling up. I was surprised to see an empty box, except for a single slip of paper saying, "Please claim your mail at the counter."

I stood in line as a young man with tight-fitting jeans, tortoise-shell glasses, a Members Only jacket, and a black Tumi laptop backpack (this was the downtown Palo Alto post office) put one envelope after another on the scale, each certified mail with return receipt, and then wanted to mail two packages overseas Priority Mail. He was taking forever.

And then it was my turn, finally. I extended my hand with the slip of paper and waited. A few minutes later, the woman behind the counter emerged with a white Postal Service carton (the kind the mailmen use in their trucks) between her two hands, resting against her belly. "Here you go," she said cheerily.

"Wow," I said out loud.

I had to look at the physical representation of several weeks (probably a month) of not attending to my previous ritual of checking my business mailbox. Mostly this ritual was about feeling important for having a business mailbox. None of the mail I receive there seems to be addressed to me personally, and all of the bills I receive online. The energy I spend on my P.O. box is primarily spent shredding and throwing things away. It's mostly crap.

I sighed as I tried to make a bundle out of the assorted items in the carton, then carried them, like an infant against my chest, over to another counter to sort through them. I picked a spot right next to the recycling bin. They were predictable things - all the junk mail and marketing solicitations of having a credit card and magazine subscriptions mailed to a P.O. Box. They were also vestiges of my previous life, which consisted of lots of time spent thinking about furniture, clothes, shoes, and travel destinations. So two Pottery Barn catalogs, two Crate and Barrel catalogs, a Restoration Hardware catalog. And of course, two Shar Music catalogs. Why always two? And then the mailings from Yoga Journal. At least four statements saying the same thing – “Your subscription expires a year from now. Will you pay us now? Thank you.”

I went through as much of it as I could at the post office, then brought the rest home. I opened my home mail box also to be greeted by a fully stuffed space.

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Looking at it, having to look straight at it, reminded me that it was unequivocally time. It was time to clean up the crap. Not the pile of mail in front of me. But what the pile of mail represented in my life.

It reminded me of the central image in Iyanla Vanzant's memoir Yesterday, I Cried, and this quote:

"Some people don't know how, and others never think about going back and cleaning up their crap. Most people want to start today and feel better tomorrow. They want to take a yoga class, listen to a meditation tape, rub a crystal on their head, and believe they have fixed their lives and healed their souls. You cannot create a new way of being in one day. You must take your time remembering, cleaning up, and gaining strength."

It hit me that I have been feeling ready to do some remembering. I had built some strength and rather than running forward, it felt like time to clean up some crap.

The arrival of all that mail - the pile of crap on my counter - showed me that without a doubt.

Crap From The Past

In that pile was a 9 by 12 envelope from my brother's medical practice. I opened it, to find a reprint of an issue of MD News, with a full page cover photo of him. "International Leader in Cataract and Refractive Surgery", it said.

He is quoted inside with a several-page feature on his office, with nicely polished professional "candid" shots of him and his staff in various locations in his office.

I recognized all the symbols of success that were represented in that article - just one of many he has accumulated in his career, but for the first time I acknowledged that it doesn't really mean anything to me. You see, he has reached the Promised Land - the land of all the promises that were made during our childhoods about how to have a "better" life. I grew up in a household filled with fierce ambition, the challenge of cultural barriers, the intense desire for success, the pride of family lineage, and unwavering work ethic. All "good" things.

But I also grew up in a household with volatile emotional outbursts, occasional threats of physical violence, and constant angst about not doing, having, or being enough. The message from our parents was mixed: on the one hand - go and assimilate and become successful in American society, acquire friends (while miraculously never leaving the house), speak English with an American accent, blend in, be valued for the content of your mind and not the color of your skin. On the other - "be happy" somehow, even though we have no idea how to teach you to do this, since we never stopped to do that work for ourselves. And since we don't know how, we'll just project onto you all the ways we learned to survive in our culture - work hard, get the highest education possible, hold down a job, raise a family, hope for a better future for your children.

So the image of my brother on the cover of that magazine spoke to checking all those boxes. And of course I am proud of him. I am amazed by his ability to achieve what he has in his life. I am grateful for his presence as an influence to me.

But for the first time in my life, he is no longer a model for me. He is no longer the example of How Things Should Be for me. I see myself as on my own journey, and one that he may never be able to name. And that's OK.

It has taken me awhile to feel this way. And still sometimes I don't feel strong enough to stand in my own truth while in the overwhelmingly loud presence of everything my family purportedly valued. It's psychologically so precarious to be at the cusp of knowing two different ways of living, to have stepped out of a pattern enough to observe it, and to have peacefully chosen to let those ideas go. I'm an adult, I say to myself. Loving myself should be enough for me, I say to myself. And it is on most days, until I am faced with the actual prospect of standing there, in front of all the crap, some of it even flying into my face.

Crap Along The Path

I am on a path of recovering my true nature - which is joy. I am on a path of remembering all the ways that I have denied myself in the past, so that I may release those patterns and start choosing a different way of life.

I am on a path of observing the Self. I know that the truth in my heart is valid, and it holds the key to living a life that only I can. I know that things can only change when I truly accept everything as it is right now. "Acceptance" is a relatively unfamiliar term for me. In the past, I've rarely been able to "accept" things if it means surrender or defeat. I was raised to win, to be on top, not to roll over and play dead.

What I've come to realize about "acceptance" is that it actually requires a lot more courage than "needing to win and come out on top". Acceptance requires the willingness to stand tall and look directly into every aspect of a situation as it is, and to allow the process of naming it to occur.

You see, as Iyanla says, "you cannot create a new way of being in one day." So the process of acceptance, and eventually change, takes time.

Isn't it so much easier to put on a smile, start talking positive, and give people advice about how to be happier? Isn't it so much easier to have a project, have a business, and feel important?

Yes, it is. Until it isn't anymore.

The Truth Behind The Crap

What I'm beginning to realize about myself is that I am an artist and a teacher. These are the exact two things that no one in my family ever wanted me to be. In fact, I was instructed specifically not to dare consider these things as possibilities. Why? Too hard. Not enough respect. Not enough money. Not a good use of my brain. Not enough to justify my parents’ sacrifices of moving to this country, giving up everything they could have been.

Now I could go into a whole piece on where those reasons came from. But I'm really more interested in my own business. I can't really know what motivates another person, or how they have come to believe what they believe. What I can inquire into, however, is how I came to accept and believe those thoughts so deeply that it took me 26 years to muster the courage to take a step away, and another 8 years to realize that my life has been governed by a different version of those same beliefs, and another year to wake up to the fact that if I don't clean up some of the crap, I'll be buried in it.

How do I know that I am an artist and a teacher? Because when given total freedom and unlimited time, I create and I think of ways to share it. I don't think about "marketing" or "selling" or social media. I have learned those tools because along with being a teacher comes the task of being a great learner. I am not afraid of trying new things. I am not afraid of practice. I am not afraid of discipline. I am not afraid of starting over. I am learning to channel my practice and discipline into developing the skills of treating myself more kindly, honoring myself more fully, and allowing myself the space to be exactly who I am, complete in this moment.

"Exactly who I am in this moment". Now that's another hard one to swallow. I see now that my whole life was driven by the engine of this belief: "There's never enough." It applied to everything. There's not enough time. There's not enough money. There's not enough respect. There's not enough recognition. There's not enough sleep. This was my lens for viewing my purpose in life – No matter what it took, I was going to be, do, and have enough!

With that determination, I set out to achieve my dreams. What I didn't realize was that, since I hadn't sat down to really look at the crap and clean it up, my brain was still operating with the thought, "There's never enough." So every time I built something up to the point where I was able to say, "That's enough for me," and listened to the call to move in a different direction, an old part of my brain tried to save me by saying, "Remember, there's never enough."

This came in different forms. At first it was, "You're not enough." Meaning, just deciding for myself that I wanted to do something was not a good enough reason to do it. Someone else had to be involved. Someone else's approval had to be gained. Someone else had to sign off and say it was OK.

Then it was, "You don't know enough." I got over that one by throwing myself into the fire of improvisation. When you're there in a group and NOBODY KNOWS, it's very freeing. I started putting myself out there and improvising my life into being.

Then it was, "You're not doing enough." The constant undertow of these thoughts would still undermine any attempt I made to follow the quiet voice of intuition and creativity. Whenever I sat down at my computer to do one thing, my mind would trigger the thought, "You're not doing enough," and pull me to start another task, or write another item on my To Do list.

I was done reading tips and pointers on how to change behaviors. Tips on how to organize clutter, how to schedule the day for better productivity, how to set up systems to be successful at marketing...all of these were boring me to the core.

It occurred to me, after disengaging myself from the perpetual machine of marketing courses and self-proclaimed gurus trying to teach others what worked for them, that my deepest desire is simply to tell my story. And a true teacher - or true artist - tells stories in order to illuminate some new way of seeing, new way of experiencing, that leads the student in a new direction. A true teacher - or true artist - holds a light up, but does not presume to know what path the student needs to take. A true teacher rests in not knowing what's best for the student, and only knowing that this acknowledgment can empower the student to find their own true way.

Celebrate The Crap

We so want to see hope expressed as an answer.

We want that "start today, feel better tomorrow" promise.

If someone offers it, it feels so appealing, because it appears to get us "there" without our having to know or do or remember or clean up any of the crap.

But the crap doesn't just clean itself up. It stays, and it starts to smell, and it builds up, until one day you realize you can't even find the door to get out. It's blocked. But this is a day to celebrate, because on the day you can finally see the pile of crap, on the day you finally can't step around it anymore, on the day you just can't breathe because of the stench, it's a birth day. It's a day that you become aware. It's a day that you can finally choose to pick up the shovel, roll up your sleeves, and start cleaning up the crap.

Being Your Own Hero

OK, I admit it. I was disappointed. I was disappointed when Tiger Woods, just a few short months after the "SUV incident" outside his home in Florida, staged a press conference, stood behind a podium, and recited a canned apology written in corporate-speak by the damage-control PR spin doctors at Nike. Like a dutiful boy, he was dressed in a suit, clean-shaven, looking humble and respectful to the corporate sponsors who made his public career that much more lucrative. But beneath the surface was a whole story waiting to be uncovered, spoken, and shared.

I secretly (and not so secretly) cheered Tiger on when he hit the apparent depths of his personal crisis - the extent of his adultery revealed, the intensity of the pain he has kept hidden beneath the socially acceptable, corporate endorsement-worthy veneer of relentless competitiveness and focus.

I saw this as an opportunity for Tiger to deliver his real "medicine" to the world, and to show us how a hero falls, journeys through the abyss of his own self-discovery, and emerges whole in a different way. With a different message about heroicism, with a more solid foundation on which to stand, with a deeper message than can be conveyed merely by counting wins and trophies.

I secretly thought, "Wow, now THIS is Tiger's real moment." I thought he would go into seclusion and embark on a healing journey, away from the limelight, away from golf, away from his lifelong drugs of choice - winning and getting public recognition.

I'm reminded of the David Whyte poem, "The Well of Grief":

"Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief,
...will never know the source from which we drink,
...nor find in the darkness glimmering,
the small round coins,
thrown by those who wished for something else."

I secretly thought, "This is Tiger's 'well of grief' moment. I can't wait to see what emerges from the bottom of this."

Just weeks later, I walked by a television tuned into ESPN and saw Tiger back on the golf course, competing in the Masters. There were casual remarks from the commentators about this "comeback", but for the most part it was "business as usual". He had the emotionless expression of competition on his face, as always. There was no evidence of anything that had transpired in the news just weeks earlier. He was back to "doing his job".

And what message are we, the public, supposed to take away from this "heroic" return to the "job" of business as usual? Has Tiger put the incident behind him now? Should we simply leave his private life alone, and just focus on being entertained by his golf skills? Is this the model of courage that we're expecting from our public heroes, sports or otherwise?

All of it disappointed me.

I have felt for the past several weeks that there is something inside me that wants to find expression. There are words that want to find their way into the world, to give life and breath to the truth in my heart. They get caught somewhere in my chest, my shoulders, my throat. And I've been feeling into the reasons why.

This week I realized it's because I was hoping someone like Tiger would make it OK to be a public figure, someone who has attained legendary status through hard work, competitiveness, and discipline to develop his talents, someone who has achieved beyond anyone's wildest expectations - to acknowledge his own humanness. To show that even a legend shares the tenderness of the human condition. To demonstrate that no matter how high you fall from, you can get up, and you can emerge whole, with an equally powerful message from your moments of weakness as from your moments of strength.

Instead, he took the corporate political entertainment route. He dusted himself off, put on a fresh shirt, and stepped right back out there on the stage. "The show must go on," as the old adage says.

But what I feel we are so hungry for - the show we wish we could see, in all honesty and transparency and without any regard for entertainment value - is the show of even one person's truth, undramatized. Yes, the pain. Yes, the journey of living through the pain. Yes, the fear. And the journey of moving through fear. Yes, the joy and peace and freedom that emerge in the only way that nature works - by going through it.

I am aware that maybe I'm so disappointed in Tiger's choices because I have a deep longing for permission to do what I know I need to do. I've been waiting for some signal that I'll be OK, that it'll be OK, if I start to talk about what I've really learned about myself, and how I've really discovered my own sources of joy and peace. How everything I once thought to be absolutely true has come into question, and how I have been slowly, day by day, setting myself free. How I have had to look at every painful belief I've held so tightly, how I have trained myself to become more familiar with these beliefs, so that I might gently let them go, and love myself for doing so. How I've managed to cycle through this work with curiosity, openness, and willingness to endure whatever I've needed to in order to reveal the next layer of peace.

But there are parts of it that I'm afraid will look ugly, that will brand me as a "bad" person, that will confirm to the world how I failed in some way, that will concede my own defeat.

And yet I know there is freedom on the other side of telling the truth, being able to name not only what brings me alive, but what breaks my heart. I learned this myself last year at a weekend called "Real Speaking", where I stood among 6 important strangers and practiced publicly speaking my heart's truth. Most of my words got caught in my throat, when I got to the really juicy stuff. It was caught there by fear. I couldn't even name the fear at that time, but now I am closer. I am more prepared, strengthened by my daily practice of comparatively new muscles called trust, peace, and allowing. I feel that something is about to be hatched, to be born, from my finding a voice for these words. There is such fear attached to not knowing what will come out, not knowing how I'll steel myself for the response of letting it out for the world to see.

And so I sit with my disappointment in Tiger. Since he didn't become the model I wanted him to be, I am left with finding the inspiration within myself - the knowledge that what my heart has to say is of value in the world. With or without corporate sponsors.

Here I go...

Waking Up To Love

[singlepic id=284 w=320 h=240 float=center] Every once in awhile, I get completely jolted into awakening. It's like the universe taking me by the shoulders, shaking me, and saying, "Wake up to your life. Look! Listen! Pay attention!"

Usually these moments happen exactly when I admit to myself that I just don't know. When I completely surrender to not knowing, and just relax there, it's my way of asking for guidance. I'm opening to the possibility of something waking me up.

Last Wednesday was one of those moments.

I dragged myself to another open mic at Angelica's. After going every week for nearly six months now, I admit that sometimes it's a bit of a chore to get myself there. But I do it because I know that playing music and seeing other musicians play - and frankly, the "you-never-know-who'll-show-up" factor - will feed my soul in some way.

I even brought my computer this time, because I had been on a bit of a writing "roll" before I left the house, and thought I might pass the time by writing.

It was Game One of the World Series, with the San Francisco Giants playing. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. In other words, we didn't expect peak attendance at that night's open mic.

Well, it ended up being proof that quality far outweighs quantity.

A young Asian woman came in, with her father and younger sister standing by the door. She had thick, black hair, with a braid draped over her right shoulder. She was confident yet also eager to please, and approached our table to sign up for the Talent Show. She'd read about it online. She was girlish, pleasant, and in a soft voice told us her name was Kelli.

"Where are you from?" I asked.

"San Bernadino County," she said.

Yes, all the way from southern California. The band was on their way north to Oregon for a gig, and this was a stop along the way.

We were dazed and distracted, already having "written off" the night as a low-attendance, low-energy kind of deal. The sign-up sheet wasn't ready, we had no idea who was going to be a judge for the Talent Show, and we thought it was just going to be a low-key group of friends playing for one another. Meanwhile, we had a computer plugged in so we could get updates on the World Series game that “everyone else” seemed to be watching.

I went onstage with my guitarist/vocalist Randy to "warm up" the room, and we played some songs that I had never played before. The pressure was off, the stakes were low, so the thought was, “Why not?”. I wasn't thrilled with any of the sounds I created, and I frankly wasn't that excited to play. I was doing the closest thing to "phoning it in" that a musician can do onstage.

Across the room, Kelli's table had filled up with two other women, in addition to her father and little sister.

They were last in the sign-up order. And this is what we heard:


A smile spread across my face as I started to bop along with the upbeat, almost Europop/British invasion style groove. They had such an ease, transparency, and joy to their music.

It stopped me in my tracks. I saw a family. I saw togetherness. I saw a proud father, driving his four daughters on a musical road trip up the Pacific Coast. I saw light in their eyes, and a beaming smile on the father's face.

After their three song set as Ramekega, the band, they had signed up Kaira, age 7, to sing her own set.

Here's one of her originals:


Again, I saw the togetherness of a family united by something powerful. I felt it, saw it, heard it, but couldn't name it.

Everyone ended up doing a second set that night. So when I stepped onto the stage a second time, I went inward to acknowledge what I had seen in these girls. They had touched me with their obvious joy and light. They had reminded me of the joy and light I know I have, and I know were once radiating so transparently through my being, but have recently been fogged, blurred somehow.

I played with all the heart I could muster. I was happier. I felt like I had honored myself a little more this time.

And afterwards, I approached the Ramekega girls (Melissa, Kelli, Gabrielle) to know a bit more about their story. Was there another sister? Just one more, the oldest, in nursing school.

And mom is at home? "Our mom passed away. When I was 12," said 16-year-old Melissa matter-of-factly.

"Oh I'm so sorry for blurting that out!" I said as I put my hand to my heart, taking in an even deeper level of what I'd just experienced. I looked from her to her father (still smiling, sitting calmly, beholding all of his beautiful daughters busily writing down email addresses, signing forms, collecting money for CDs). And I really listened to the story. Their mom had passed away. And so this is family. This is it. This is life. This is music. On the road together. Just living the dream. When they could be wallowing in what others call a nightmare.

And then I knew what chord had been struck in my heart. The nameless place inside me that had been cracked open by Ramekega's music came into brief focus for me. It was love.

What I saw and felt in their performance was the pure joy of love when it shines brightly through words, actions, and results.

And that still-incomplete piece inside me is my love. I'm believing that I am getting closer to accessing the fullness of my love for life and everything I have come to life to be and do. And the beautiful girls of Ramekega helped wake me up to what still needs to be done.

Thank you for the wake-up call, girls! Keep spreading your love.

P.S. Ramekega will be back at Angelica's in Redwood City to compete in the final round of the "We've Got Talent" show on Friday, December 17. You can enter too...more details on the competition here>>

Photo credit: Alarm clock by Oscar Megia, used under a Creative Commons License