How was Experiment #4 for you?This week's meeting was all about finding the intention that aligns the most with true desire, and then filling every cell of our body with that desire.
But not in the way you might normally think of desire, as "I want".
This kind of desire is the experience of living as if your intention has already come true.
So if you "want" a new car, picture yourself in vivid detail enjoying every inch of that new car. Feel the leather seats, play with the sleek console, experience the punch of the gas pedal, see your hair whipping in the wind if it's a convertible.
Now feel the sensation in every cell of your body as you imagine this scene.
THAT is the feeling of having a laser-focused intention.
If you're at all like me, when you finally get clear enough to name something you really want, your mind starts to think and plan about how it's going to get it done, make it happen, arrange all the pieces of the puzzle to bring it to fruition.
Sometimes this works, but often it can feel so overwhelming or impossible that you just give up (at least on a subtle level) on your original desire, figuring it's too hard or can't happen.
The essence of this experiment is to see what happens when you let go of all the thoughts that oppose the one clear intention you set. And just bathe yourself in that feeling of laser-focused intention. You don't entertain any of the doubt, or thoughts about how it's going to happen. You just picture it already happening, and then you live your life as if it's happening.
For me personally, it was challenging to focus on one single intention for the duration of the experiment. I found my mind scattered by many "things to do". But during the period of the experiment, I began to notice many instances of gifts arriving that I didn't have to ask for, pleasant surprises and offers to get paid when I hadn't expected to. I was being shown that it's not all about what I "do" but more about how I "am".
Pam talks about prayer in this chapter, and how it's impossible not to pray, because we are constantly "praying" every single thought we have in every moment. We "are" our prayers, and we are constantly inviting in all the experiences we need to fulfill our deepest beliefs about life.
That's an interesting one to experiment with.
I hope you'll share your results from Experiment #4 in the comments. I love hearing your stories!
At Quarry Park today, Tammy and I repeated the "magic wands" from Experiment #3, with some pretty dramatic results. When she held the intention of manifesting a new door, while also thinking about how she was going to get all the logistics to line up and make it happen, the wands turned inward right away. When she held the feeling of already having the new door, enjoying its presence, seeing it in detail, the wands swung out like a pair of butterfly wings!
We walked the labyrinth and held our intentions by savoring and imagining them already happening. I noticed a big smile on my face as I pictured Tammy's new door, and my own intention of being peaceful, playful, and prosperous while sitting at my art table making Beauty to share with the world.
Wishing you many moments of this kind of joy...until next time!
P.S. Here's a link to a brief audio recording I made about Experiment #4, with some questions and journal prompts.
We discussed the results from Experiments 1 and 2 this week, and when we met at Quarry Park by the labyrinth, we did Experiment 3 together.
And can I just say "WHOA!".
Since I have the unique position of being with both in-person and phone groups, I just have to share what's happening with everyone.
Miracles BIG and small
One of the common observations from Experiment 1 was that our expectations were high. We each began to notice "small" miracles in our lives immediately after setting the intention. Examples (you be the judge of how "small" these seem):
getting the bills paid with ease
thinking of a movie and then having your husband call to say you're going to see that movie
having your 4-year-old walk into your bedroom while you're sleeping, kiss you on the hand and say, "I love you mommy" before crawling into bed with you
seeing a dolphin doing backstroke
receiving an offer for a free piano
being in a restaurant, having one of your kids meltdown, and looking over to see a grandmother at the next table, who lovingly sends you a verbal blessing.
Two different Book Clubbers described having thoughts that maybe what they were noticing during the experiment "wasn't big enough". Tammy described repeatedly asking for "something big", all the while receiving many small blessings and gifts during the 48 hours. During the final hour of the experiment, her "big" message came in the form of a scary near-miss incident while in the car. Her husband turned on to a one-way street headed in the wrong direction, with a car following behind him. They faced four lanes of oncoming traffic, and every single car stopped without a single collision.
Miracle? YES! Big? YES!
Tammy's takeaway: she's perfectly happy with the small gifts, thank you very much.
Experiment #2 seemed to get all of the Book Clubbers a little bit stuck on what color cars to start counting. Some described "sunset beige" as a color they couldn't picture. Others wondered whether it was OK to choose a different color than suggested in the book.
My read on this is - just choose something specific that is unusual for you and start looking for it. Decide you are going to start counting. Then let go.
I forgot about the fact that I was running Experiment #2 until my boyfriend casually mentioned that he had received an offer for a free piano. We were on a bike ride along the ocean. I gasped when he said this and said, "Hey! Are you doing the energy experiments? Cuz that's a blessing if I've ever heard one! That counts! You have to tell me things, because they're EVIDENCE!"
As soon as I said that, I turned the corner onto Kelly Avenue and began seeing beige-colored cars. Fourteen of them by the time I got to the end of the block. I stopped counting when I reached 35 beige-colored cars a couple of hours later that day. I was convinced.
My orange butterfly story showed me again about letting go of attachment and what it feels like for me to be plugged in to the FP.
The day of the experiment, I was a bit stressed. Driving through marathon traffic to get to the finish line, where I would be performing music at the after party. Runners were exhausted, volunteers were working to protect the race course, and I was driving a big ol' SUV full of equipment I needed to set up. It was like being in a video game.
By the time we started to play, my emotions were fried. But at one point in the performance, I remember getting to the point of truly having fun, letting go, and what I like to call "being inside the music". I was free. My eyes were completely closed, and I was facing a window. When I opened my eyes for a moment, I saw one orange butterfly, directly in the center of the window.
That was it. Message received. Hello FP!
(If you haven't read the book, "FP" is what Pam Grout, the author, uses to refer to the Field of Infinite Potential.)
On the phone, Danielle had an "aha" moment about finding the balance point between conscious awareness of an intention and letting go of attachment to outcomes. I think we are all learning about what this balance feels like energetically as we do these experiments. This is for you, Danielle:
Dancing Magic Wands
We ended our meeting at Quarry Park with Experiment #3. I brought two coat hangers and two drinking straws and we went at it.
I learned that the "handle" on the magic wands needs to be free of any kinks. My hangers were a little stubborn at first, but with some fiddling we got them to work really well.
Tammy was the magic wand queen. If you met her you would immediately feel her radiance. And when she stood in the sun for the second part of the experiment, focusing her mind on her love for October sunshine and circles of women, those wands went "Boing!" and flung so far outward I couldn't believe it. Magical!
When I held the wands while doing the first part of the experiment (imagining a vivid and unpleasant memory from my past), I felt my body crumple and almost lost my balance as my weight shifted backward. The wands started bouncing inward.
When Shirley held the wands and did the same exercise, the wands crossed. Talk about dramatic energy movement! We received such a gift with this demonstration that I'm planning to repeat it at the next meeting for anyone who missed it!
What I love about these experiments is that there is no "right" or "wrong" result. It's all information. We are learning so much from each other, and I want to have a place for us to share this with anyone who wants to be involved.
So if you've been wanting to join the club but can't make it to our meetings (see the schedule here), please read the book anyway, and post your results in the comments! We want to hear your miracles, your blessings, your experimental findings as you explore the magic in your life with the eye of a scientific experiment.
Trying to squeeze blood from a turnip is a lot like being at war with reality.
What are the ways we use force against what is, in an attempt to make things the way we think (and thought is the key word here) they should be?
Does it ever really work? And at what price?
When we use force, do we even know that our sanity, our inner peace, our body, exists? Or do we only see the blood we want so desperately to come from the turnip, or whatever we are applying force to?
If we see clearly, we first begin to recognize that we are not getting the blood we want, despite all the effort. If we continue to look, we might be able to recognize that there's a turnip involved, a turnip that is quite innocent, being a turnip. It has no blood to give. It's just being squeezed, and squeezed some more, harder and harder. You (the one who is squeezing) keep getting more frustrated, but the turnip is not doing anything different. Surprise, surprise, it's still a turnip! Your squeezing, your effort, your frustration, your attempts, have done absolutely nothing to change that.
The turnip seems puzzled. It seems to ask, "Why are you angry at me for being a turnip? Why are you frustrated that there's no blood in me to give? You are getting everything you possibly can from me, because I am a turnip!"
If we look really deeply, we might then see that it's not the turnip who has the problem. We are, at some level, insane for being attached to an outcome that does not - cannot - exist. Until we see all of this clearly there is no way we will let go of our grip on the turnip. We will keep squeezing and squeezing, until our hand gives out or our frustration gets the better of us. The turnip won't yield any blood, and it probably won't even change shape. But what will we be left with? A sore hand, and a broken spirit. Time spent in useless frustration, curses thrown at the luck we were dealt. And no blood.
Not a very fulfilling way to pass the time. Or a very good way to use the strength in your hands.
Working with the body, I've noticed that there is power in the hand when it receives. When you align your entire body, placing your hand in a position where, when it simply receives the weight of your body, it carries the entire universe in its palm. There is no effort in that moment. There is intention and presence in positioning your body to be able to receive. But once those intentions and alignments are in place, the rest is effortless. There is No Force.
However, there is tremendous power. In the moment of No Force, there is space for the power to heal, to release, to discover, to transform. When we let go of force, we merge with reality. Reality is kind, if we allow it to show us what we need to see.
No Force is a way to practice kindness toward yourself. The beneficiaries of No Force will extend beyond you, but if you need a reason to begin, begin with what is kind to yourself.
“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.
Last year I made a vision board for who I am and how I feel when I express my creativity. I had devoted 2010 to my Core of Peace, and I was setting a new intention for 2011.
I didn't know exactly HOW my creativity would be expressed. But by making the vision board I connected with images and words that captured how I knew it would FEEL to be in that place of expression.
I let go of the HOW, because I didn't - and couldn't - know at the time what the exact steps would be.
I breathed deeply into the feelings of my own creativity, and allowed images to attract me without needing an explanation or a meaning or a concept. They were just images that I loved, for no "reason" at all.
Here is the vision board I made:
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I have it as the wallpaper image on my laptop, so every time I open my computer, the images enter my consciousness. Most days, I don't sit and deliberately stare at every image on my screen, but I know they are there.
I haven't thought about that vision board in many months. I have gone about the business of living, of staying in my Core of Peace, of letting some things go, and picking up other things, of planting seeds and watching them grow, all the while noticing that I cannot force growth to happen any faster than it already is.
Last night I looked at it again.
It was with a sense of amazement that I noticed how many of the images had actually come into my reality during 2011. In other words, my visions had come true!
While I was holding the intention to express more of my creativity in 2011, I lived by the mantra, "First Feel Free." The actions that resulted from that feeling included walking away from a commercial lease, and six months after that, downsizing my belongings by about eighty percent and moving out of my two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment, and into my boyfriend's two-bedroom, one-bathroom house, with a kitty and a big backyard.
We started a vegetable garden.
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We climbed to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite, after months of training with progressively longer hikes every weekend.
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I fell in love with the outdoors, and discovered a new interest (er, obsession) in backpacking.
Our band, Chinese Melodrama, stumbled into a new niche combining our love of supporting local businesses and the taste of wine, by providing music at local winery and wine bar events.
I got so busy living that my writing and videoblogging could no longer keep pace with the rate at which I was accumulating experiences. I let go of my need to report on every single learning and observation I had about the world, and began to just fully soak in the experience.
Meanwhile, another dream came true, with the opening of a brand new yoga and healing arts studio just a few blocks away from my new home. It was also another example of letting go of my grief over "not having a yoga studio anymore" and allowing the magic of life to arrive at my doorstep. I now find myself on the roster of musicians for the Sunday evening yoga and healing sound classes (starting in September, I'll be playing the second Sunday of every month), and working with the studio to coordinate events with my community of healing artists, musicians, and poets.
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Looking back at my vision board, I can count the images that have arrived in my reality since that day last year. I have found myself in the woods, on the top of mountains, at the rocky shores of the ocean, standing in awe of a sunset, opening my arms to the expansiveness of the sky, praising the stillness of the forest, celebrating my own beauty, and playfulness, and togetherness with a companion.
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All of this, once just a vision, is now my reality. All of this is who I am and how I feel when I express my creativity, letting go of the HOW and opening to the expansive mysteries of the earth and life.
The old saying goes, "Be careful what you wish for."
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So, for those of you who still haven't read the whole book, and may even find yourself getting sick and tired of all the "Tiger Mom" and "Tiger Cub" stuff being thrown around the web, here's something that might ease your suffering. Amy Chua wrote a column in USA TODAY entitled, "Here's how to reshape U.S. education."
First of all, it's short and very readable in a few minutes, honoring our short American attention spans, a la USA Today.
Second of all, Amy "follows the rules" and wears her academic hat here, citing historical geopolitical examples, statistics, and all those other techniques that make our rational brains feel taken care of. She sounds smart, succinct, and very put-together. To draw a wardrobe analogy, she would be wearing a navy blue suit and high heels in this article, while in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother we saw her with no makeup, maybe some running shoes, and her "fat jeans". In other words, she wasn't so pretty and polished.
Here, she only briefly hints at her own vulnerability, her own flawed human condition, by stating that she "learned her lesson the hard way" when her younger daughter (NB: the daughter who does not yet have a blog, and has not yet gotten into Harvard...she's only a freshman in high school) rebelled. She also hints at the vulnerabilities of her attackers - you know, the parenting bloggers and other self-righteous jumpers-on-the-bandwagon who feel the need to polarize every story into a right-versus-wrong debate - by saying this about parenting in particular, and why it's such a hot-button issue:
"We all desperately want to get it right and never know for sure whether we are. Perhaps it's because the stakes are so high, and it's terrifying to admit a mistake."
Ultimately, in the final paragraphs, she boils down her point of view into a very tidy philosophical statement of "East Meets West", imagining an ideal borrowing from the "best of both worlds" - the structure and discipline required in early childhood to establish a foundation of learning, and a gradual opening in the later teenage years to allow ample exploration of individuality and creative self-expression:
The great virtue of America's system is that our kids learn to be leaders, to question authority, to think creatively. But there's one critical skill where our kids lag behind: learning how to learn.
East meets West
If in their early years we teach our children a strong work ethic, perseverance and the value of delayed gratification, they will be much better positioned to be self-motivated and self-reliant when they become young adults. This is a way to combine East and West: more structure when our children are little (and will still listen to us), followed by increasing self-direction in their teenage years.
When I read these words, they sound familiar. I agree with them.
They were the ingredients I intended to bring into fruition when I started a violin school for toddlers in Silicon Valley back in 2004. With starry eyes and the willingness to put everything on the line (including a partner-level job in venture capital) for the creation of this dream, I set out to provide the ultimate combination of Eastern and Western philosophies. This was to be "more than violin lessons". It was to be "lifelong learning", using the vehicle of violin to teach discipline, teamwork, leadership, collaboration, listening, sensitivity, confidence, and mastery. Everything I could think of could be taught through the journey of learning to play violin and performing around the world.
I actually used the term "learning how to learn" in my parent seminars and recruiting presentations.
And I did attempt to teach people - parents mostly - how to practice. I designed "practice charts", created videos, held evening seminars complete with PowerPoint presentations, hosted summer camps with guest teachers, invited high school seniors as "examples of success" other than myself, traveled with entire families (our peak was 76 travelers and two full-size motorcoaches) from California to Chicago each year to perform at Orchestra Hall.
By trying to put Amy Chua's eloquent words into real-life practice with real-life people, I realized that no one person, no one system, can "make" anyone learn. People learn exactly what they learn, when they learn it. When they are ready to receive a particular lesson, they do. No sooner and no later.
Amy Chua's lessons came to her when her younger daughter was a pre-teenager, when everything fell apart in her tightly controlled, perfectly planned world.
My lessons came when I realized that I could not create THE perfect learning environment for every child, no matter how carefully I honed my interviewing, recruiting and selection process (designed to screen for parents who knew how to learn), or how much energy I poured into the individual dynamics of each child-parent-family system.
I could not teach anyone "how to practice" if they were unwilling or unable to go through the messy learning process on their own, make mistakes and admit to them, ask for help, try things and fail, and be willing to let go of attachment to outcomes. Including myself. In the end, the greatest lesson I learned was exactly how unwilling I was to be open to the outcome that my school would be imperfect, that it might not match up to the expectations and image I had created in my mind for what I would be able to achieve.
And so I gave up. I let it go. I quit. I had given all I could give, based on who I was at the time.
And now, more than a year after letting go, I am saying my first words about it in public, with some level of honesty and self-compassion.
Amy Chua talks about the "perfect" education system as combining lots of structure and discipline in the early years - when the children still listen to their parents - followed by opening and letting go in the teenage years. The challenge I found, when trying to put this into practice with real people, is that the "Eastern" parents couldn't trust the process enough to let go and watch their children learn from harmless mistakes, and the "Western" parents wanted to allow teenage-like behavior to blossom at age seven or eight.
I was at a loss for words, or programs, or activities, to address the diversity and complexity of issues that were playing out in front of me. Everyone seemed to need a different message, a different balance, and yet when the kids were put in front of the parents as a group, no one could stop themselves from comparing and despairing. The insecurities kicked in. The measurement of progress relative to other kids. The need for recognition in terms of trophies and plaques. In other words, all the things that kill learning and stop creativity in its tracks.
Since I had taken it upon myself to try to create one learning environment - one culture - that would meet the needs of every single student, parent, and family, I failed. I failed at an impossible task.
Worst of all, I was alone. I had created no community of support in terms of other practitioners who were "on the same page" as educators, facing the same challenges. I found a non-profit organization, called "Positive Coaching Alliance", that was doing parent and coach education in the arena of sports as personal development. I sponsored a workshop by their organization for the parents in my school, hoping to draw out the many comparisons between sports and music in their children's education.
But it was too late. I was stretched thin in terms of my energy, I was entangled very deeply in some toxic and manipulative relationships with a few very vocal parents in my school, and I had no one to confide in, except my own journals and blogs. I had no outlet for discussion of the harsh truths, the difficult emotions, the tenderness of the situations I was dealing with, the courage I was being asked to call upon - which I could not find.
The advice I got from my own teacher amounted to this: "Well, you just deal with it. That's the way it is. You've got no choice. This is what you've gotten yourself into. And your parents are ten times better than the ones I've dealt with my entire forty-year career, so be thankful."
It didn't feel helpful, and I couldn't find the feeling of "thankfulness", no matter how much I believed I "should" be thankful.
I didn't want to look forward to another x number of decades in this state of unrest, grappling for control, and feeling so responsible for the outcomes of so many lives (yes, I really did think I could make that big of an impact through violin). I knew firsthand - from my own childhood experience - the many toxic emotions that could be cultivated in a violin school, how comparisons, competitions, and insecurities could bring out the ugliness in even the most well-intentioned people. And I did not want to repeat that experiment.
I wanted to part of a solution, not part of a problem.
So I stopped.
My solution was to get to know myself better, to dive into my own vulnerabilities, to explore what was possible for myself when I allowed my own creativity to flow, and to really learn for myself what peace, joy, and freedom felt like. My solution also involved learning to see my own responsibility for creating the situation I found myself in, facing the painful truth that my thoughts and beliefs drove me to act in ways that caused my own suffering.
Reading Amy Chua's seemingly definitive answer for "how to" reform education in U.S., and seeing the many readers who, only now, are willing to acknowledge her wisdom, I'm reminded of our collective discomfort with the unknown, and our voracious appetite for certainty.
Now that I am at some distance from my career as a violin teacher, I feel less certain of what I would say to a parent about "how to" do that formidable job - the one where the stakes seem to be so high, where we seem to be so afraid of "doing it wrong". I feel less attached to sounding put-together and having pat answers to complex questions.
But I also feel more trusting of the process of life. I feel less afraid of other people's (and my own) reactions in the face of uncertainty. I feel more compassionate toward the pain and fear of looking our own vulnerabilities in the face.
Why? Not because I went to Harvard. Not because I made partner in a VC firm. Not because I "followed my dream", and built a business. Not because I now call myself a "life coach".
But because I'm committed to learning. To the complex, sometimes messy, sometimes difficult, sometimes ugly, and ultimately rewarding process of learning.
I'm now discovering, in small steps each day, what it's like to live life for the joy in each moment. I'm walking the talk. For me. I'm making my own mistakes, learning my own lessons, and loving myself more every day.
Have you ever sought someone's advice, and then realized halfway into the conversation that you really didn't want them to tell you what to do?
Or have you ever followed someone's advice, which never quite felt right to you, but they were in a position of authority or had done it themselves before, and you didn't know how to get out of it?
Have you ever wished you had more trust in yourself, and didn't need to rely so much on advice from other people?
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It's been ten years now since I've set foot in a traditional academic institution. Yesterday I stood inside the walls of a venerable one right here in my own backyard.
And it struck me that there is A LOT of "advising" going on at the formative stages of a lot of smart people's lives. A lot of people who are very curious, very bright, very capable, and very imaginative. But who just don't know. So they ask. They seek advice.
And what do they get? Well, what typically surrounds them in these places of academic prestige are a lot of people who got there by playing a certain game. They navigated a particular system, they overcame their own particular obstacles, and they achieved a certain status. Usually if they are in a position of enough authority to merit students' seeking their opinions, they've hung on to this status over a period of years. They've done the work of making all the right people happy in all the right places. They consulted the rule books, they found out what was expected of them, and they met those expectations.
They have seen the world through one particular lens.
This is perfect advising for someone who wants to experience life through that particular lens, and to find out what hoop is to be jumped through next. If you're asking, "How high must I jump?" and "Where is the next hurdle?", these advisors are perfectly prepared to tell you the answer.
But there's a different kind of questioning that occurs for all of us at some point in our lives. Perhaps even at several points in our lives.
Questions That Have No Right To Go Away
We come up against questions in our hearts, questions that ultimately ask us to test how much we trust ourselves, and invite us to grow into the next version of ourselves.
but frightening requests,
conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.
Requests to stop what you are doing right now,
to stop what you
while you do it."
- from "Sometimes", by David Whyte
In these moments, some part of us actually knows the answer and knows what we must do.
The questions appear at the most inopportune times. We're "busy" doing something else. There's "not enough time". We're "supposed to" be focused on something we believe to be more important.
But the questions don't go away. They pull at us, beckoning us to pay attention to the part of us we'd rather be able to ignore.
It poses a dilemma. Should we go this way or that? Should we keep going as if everything is "normal" or actually stay with the question and listen to what it brings?
This is when we might seek advice from others.
And this is where knowing the difference between "advice" and "coaching" can save your life.
I've received a lot of advice in my lifetime. I can remember these pieces of advice quite vividly.
Some Advice I Once Received
For example, when I had made the decision in my heart that I would not be doing a residency after medical school, I started to do what all the career guides told me to do: informational interviews.
As I told people what I intended to do, I encountered a lot of advice. "Why don't you at least do an internship? Then you'll have more options, because at least you'll have a license."
These conversations never seemed that helpful to me, because I felt like my desires were being dismissed as naive, and that the risks I felt called to undertake were insurmountable (which I found insulting). As I continued to talk to more people, I heard more advice.
From one person: "Why don't you at least finish a residency in SOMEthing? You know, general internal medicine, something like that. Then at least you'll have the credibility of being able to practice something."
From another: "If you liked cardiology in medical school, why don't you at least get trained as a cardiologist? Then you'll have so many more contacts and you'll be able to get so much more done."
And another: "Well, why don't you at least practice for a few years, get some money and respect under your belt before you go off and do your little dream? Then at least you'll have experience."
And yet another: "Why don't you wait until you retire to do 'fun' things like following your heart and doing what you love? Then at least you'll have lived a full life before you go and throw it all away."
What I realized is that each of the people who gave me advice was only speaking from their own experiences and beliefs. None of them had actually done what I was going to do, for the reasons I was doing it. And none were actually helping me to listen to the voice of my heart, which was the one posing these questions.
I ended up listening to a lot of different advice and following no one's, instead creating my own opportunities through willingness and determination. I am forever thankful for my own intuition that guided me to follow something inside me, despite advice to the contrary.
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Fast forward ten years.
I've created many more opportunities by following my own intuition, and tapping that same willingness and determination, to move in the direction most aligned with my heart's greatest desire. Now that I have opened space in my life, space in my mind, space in my body, and space in my heart, to receive guidance, it just keeps flooding in. I don't ask people what to do. I don't tell people what to do.
I have since also lived the life of trying to gain fulfillment from seeing other people follow my advice. I thought I was doing the right thing, but I would always encounter an aspect of someone else that my experience could not comprehend, that my best knowledge could not penetrate. This was before I trained as a coach. I had no tools at the time to help other people access a deeper part of their own wisdom, to help them find the keys to their own locked doors. I was giving advice, where people were in great need of coaching. I just didn't know how to at the time.
Coaching Helps You Follow Your Own Advice...The Kind You've Ignored For Too Long In Favor Of Others'
The kind of reward I received from advice-giving pales in comparison to the nourishment that is provided by coaching. As a coach, I get to be free, gently observing the process of a person finally doing exactly what their hearts have always been telling them to do. I get to share in their moments of joy in discovering that the answers they sought outside for so long, in so many ways, were already inside them, waiting to be decoded.
In short, as a coach I get to watch people finally follow their own advice!
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There is nothing more beautiful in this world than to witness a person free themselves, and become enlivened by the light inside them, dancing to the music within them.
I recognize the feeling of a person's truest longing spoken out loud. I recognize the pain of staying silent and hidden for too many years. I recognize the joy of meeting yourself again, of looking yourself in the mirror with love and kindness.
This is not what comes from taking someone else's advice. This is true learning and growth. This is the drink of water I'd always been thirsty for, but never knew existed.
So the next time you ask someone for advice, listen to them very closely. And then ask yourself, "Does this feel more freeing? Or more constraining?" Any advice that does not bring you more alive in your heart is not advice for you to follow.
Follow your freedom. It is the voice of your divinity speaking to you.