Sheena Yap Chan is creating a valuable resource for women everywhere, with her podcast The Tao of Self-Confidence.She recently interviewed me, and I hadn't thought about the topic of confidence for quite some time. It had never occurred to me that I lacked self-confidence, because I had always been a high achiever. But in the interview, I realize that my source of confidence has shifted from outer accomplishments to an invisible inner source.Read More
One way to define love is "sustained, compassionate attention". These words came from John Muir Laws, a naturalist, educator, and artist who inspires stewardship of the land by sharing his practice of nature sketching. When I read these words, I began to see the importance of my own art practice in developing sustained, compassionate attention for myself.Read More
I am in a large group of women artists who have driven up to the ridge of a mountain range and then down a very windy road to a secluded artists retreat program in northern California. All I want to do is stare at the dreamy landscape, watching how the golden green hills go back and back and back, disappearing finally into a fog bank which hovers just above the sea in the distance. I want to watch as the wind blows, the fog clears, and the misty outlines of the hilltops begin to glisten in the midday sunlight. I want to sit and sketch it, and fill in the colors I am seeing, and try to capture the dreaminess, the haziness of it all, the lack of precise outlines which gives it that quality of mystery that makes me want to keep staring.
But we have a schedule. There are ranchers and herders moving us along in this schedule, ensuring that we are on time. I help myself to a large lunch - two servings each of lentil soup and kale salad with some fruit on the side. My idea of a perfect meal. But my stomach feels slightly full after all that, and I am ready to rest and digest.
Having forgotten the schedule momentarily, I’m jarred when it is announced that we now need to move into another room for a “movement activity”.
I take my time walking there, hoping those extra few seconds will give my digestive system time to bring the food down a little more.
By the time I join, the circle has been formed and all the women are bouncing lightly on their bare or socked feet. This being one of only 14% of artist residency programs in the country who have a fully spring loaded dance floor, shoes are not allowed.
Ann Swanberg is the leader. I had experienced her work once before in a large church, where she presented her improvisational approach to life in a humorous show. We kept bouncing - this was Ann’s method for keeping us out of our thinking minds and in some other realm governed by the moving, breathing body - and we did a whole host of games designed to get us to drop our personalities by acting silly and free.
What I noticed is that my recent experiences with becoming present were done in the stillness and silent meditative movement of the Breema Center. Somehow in that setting, where I was truly not a personality and there was absolutely no imperative to show up as entertaining in any way, I could feel my own bodily presence. In this setting where everyone was asked to do something silly, there was slight pressure to be “silly enough”. As if stillness would not have been accepted there. But I don’t know because I just flowed with the energy of the room.
One of the more silent and inward-turning exercises of the day did capture my attention. She called it “The Infinity Box” or “Loving It ‘Til You Know What It Is”. The instructions went something like this: Reaching into an imaginary box from which anything is possible, allowing the “Body First” to lead the improvisation, follow the shape your hands spontaneously take as you reach in. As they emerge from the imaginary box, just be with them. Don’t change them or manipulate them into what you think they might be. Just breathe with the shape, feel it.
"Love it ’til you know what it is."
It was fascinating to watch the different shapes my hands took on when I allowed them to. Fingers apart and curved, palms facing up. Fingers together, joined at the thumbs and index fingers. Palms cupped, joined together, facing up. And then waiting. Breathing. Feeling. An answer or image always emerged. But sometimes I had to stay with it longer than expected. The final one I ran out of time on. So I sketched it, and it is permanently imprinted in my bodily memory. I am still wondering what it is.
It reminded me of painting. How the creative practice for me is staying with something long enough to find out what it is. Not to give up. Not to decide in advance that something’s “never going to work”. So often when I have mustered the courage or audacity or love to stay with it, to keep going, to keep loving it, something else so beautiful and magical emerges right on top of it all.
Chris Zydel sent out her newsletter yesterday too, and I happened to read all the way to the bottom. The article was about "Surrender". How surrender is not giving up or weakness or defeat. But rather a form of full presence. That in order to fully participate, there is surrender involved. As I write this, it occurs to me that the four “No…” principles from Breema touch on what kinds of surrender are involved - No Judgment, No Force, No Extra, No Hurry No Pause. Well that’s a lot to give up in order to get to presence! How often are we drowning in judgment, doing more than is needed, rushing around, or not acting because we feel stuck in hesitation.
Surrender is the sweetness of letting life lead. Of loving whatever life gives you until you know what it is. I am attempting to apply it to my body, my relationships, my work decisions, all of which I apply a certain amount of control, changing, and fixing to. I don’t really know the state of full surrender into acceptance. I am pointing towards it sometimes, but I haven’t sunk to the depths of that pool to say, “Huh. So this is it. I’d like to know how this feels. Really.”
Here’s what Chris had to say about surrender:
When a sunflower turns its face to follow the sun, that is surrender. When a seed planted in a rich soil breaks free of its encasement and pushes its way up to the light of day, that is surrender. When a wild mustang gallops wildly and joyfully across a meadow, that is surrender. When a baby tries to grasp a beam of light, laughing delightedly, that is surrender. When you look at a sunset and feel the peace of simply breathing in and out, that is surrender. When you enjoy a delicious meal, letting the flavors tickle your tongue, that is surrender. When you feel drowsy and begin to fall asleep, that is surrender.
In all these experiences you, or the horse or the sunflower are completely giving into what's right there in front of you. You are simply being in the present moment with what you feel drawn to do.
So in other words, surrender is something that happens daily, hourly, minute by minute in our lives. It's so very common and down-to-earth. It's in the most intimate fabric of our existence. And includes everything from the mundane to the ecstatic.
And tomorrow, with the start of the final Energy Gardeners' Club of the year, I am ready to apply the principle of Surrender. Making things happen is not about controlling in order to get what you want. Making is allowing.
It’s freezing. All I know is it’s 11 miles out and back. The description on the website had said, “Participants must be in good cardiovascular condition. No single track/technical work. Climbing for sure.” I should have known when I saw the fat tires on everyone else’s bikes.
Oh, how we wish that learning would take place in the comfort of our familiar homes! A cozy blanket, a warm cup of tea, our favorite music playing, and the knowing that everything as we have chosen and arranged it now surrounds us.
Learning for me always looked like showing up in a classroom, or privately in front of a teacher, and demonstrating what I knew. I would then get feedback in the form of a critique, the next challenge chosen by the teacher, or a score on a test that told me how much what I thought I learned matched what I was expected to have learned.
What I learned on my first mountain bike ride this weekend is that learning – the fresh, raw experience of aha!wow! that’s new! – can be extremely uncomfortable. It can happen when we are placed (or we find ourselves) in a situation we did not know we chose (but we did) and that every fiber of our being is wanting to fix, alter, escape, or resist. But there we are. In my case, “there” was a guided 11-mile ride on a closed access trail. Turning back was not an option without taking the entire group with me.
There are questions, but none worth asking, because any answer provided verbally in advance would not actually provide helpful information. I could only get answers in the act of experiencing it. How steep are the hills? How will my bike hold up? Am I dressed warmly enough? What gears should I use? Am I in good enough shape for this?
I find out the answers to each of them as I encounter the first climb, and then the first big downhill. The first of many. Each one a little longer, a little steeper. They keep coming. My lungs are burning. My ears are burning from the freezing cold air. I am miserable, I am cursing my bike for not being a “mountain” bike, only a hybrid. I excuse myself from having to keep up with the group because of this. I don’t want anyone to talk to me. I just want to breathe without the burning in my lungs.
At one point I am hurtling down a steep hill. My tires slip a little, causing me to bounce and weave, and instead of trying to take control, I decide to just let the bike do its job. I had no ability – defined as knowledge through experience – to control the bike or determine whether I would even stay on it. Slamming on (or squeezing) the brakes was not going to guarantee any safe outcome. I briefly flash back to skiing, where I’d always tried to slow myself down at the steepest parts, and it wasn’t always the best way – it was resisting the flow down the mountain, and it took a lot of effort to go against gravity.
I see now that I was lucky not to have fallen. But in that moment I had no concept of “luck” or “no luck”. It just wasn’t my day to fall. I let go, and it was my day to witness that miracle.
I keep going only because no one really asks me if I want to stop. I cycle through struggle, resistance, surrender, and then surviving.
I take a rest, at the turnaround point, and just breathe. It feels good to cover my entire face and breathe normally. Now I really have no choice other than to go back along the trail the same way we came.
I become curious, and begin to play. That’s when the true experience of learning begins to happen.
What could I try to do differently to see if it will make my experience any different?
I stop telling myself I have the “wrong” bike and start playing with adjustments. I raise the seat up. That one small move helps a lot.
My mind so wants a binary “how to” on the gears. A set of instructions like, “When going downhill, do this….When going uphill, do that.” But it isn’t that linear. Every hill is slightly different. My ingoing speed determines which gear would match it best when coming out of the hill. I have to play. Constantly engage with what is happening in this very moment, and be open to discovering.
I discover an elaborate, moment-to-moment dance of body, bike, and terrain. Tweaking. Feeling. Being ever present and also facing forward, constantly moving. Listening. Discovering. Adjusting by taking small actions.
During the second half of the ride I am much more friendly with my bike, my body, and the terrain. I am much more involved as a full participant, doing my part of the three-way equation, not trying to resist or control the other elements. I am having (slightly) more fun along the way.
At the end, I feel tired but glad. My body is very grateful for the opportunity to play and be worked. Discovering new possibilities and dancing within the situation, I realized there was only the choice of the moment – to ride it or to stew in a story of misery. I chose to ride.
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.
Here’s my definition of true self-confidence. I’m so over the days of being in a classroom and each of us painting our own “version” of what the teacher wants us to paint. We are told that this kind of imitation – producing something that looks “as good as” what we are told is a “masterpiece” – is what we should be striving for. That we should practice for mastery as it is defined by the experts.
I’m interested in the kind of self-confidence that comes from facing the blank page, the open space, the silence, the void. Where there is no map. Only your body, your breath, your instincts, and your wild-eyed awareness. Only by choosing to “go there” – to show up in territory that is uncharted for you – can you experience what I’m talking about here.
For me, it requires venturing outside my zones of mastery and wondering what it’s like to be a novice. I never sang, so I explored what my voice could do with sound. I never painted, so I played with brushes and paper and colors. I bring back the lessons of these experiences to the areas of my life where I may be stagnating in my attachment to being “good at it”.
When was the last time you stood at the edge of your comfort zone, and faced the open space?
When was the last time you took a step into that open space, truly not knowing where it would lead?
Each time you give yourself this kind of opportunity, you discover your relationship with fear, and you have the chance to see and accept yourself as you are.
I used to be good at making money. I learned all my business skills from venture capitalists, the masters of making as much as possible from as little as possible. Money, that is. But even with a pile of money coming in, and plenty in the bank, I was distant and disconnected from its source. I felt no direct relationship with my presence and the money coming in.
Now I’m exploring a new relationship with money. One that is not so distant or quick. One that asks me to pause, reflect, and give or receive from a place of whole SoulBodyMind participation. With this full participation, I am discovering a new way to define value that is not about what we’re told, but about what feels right, and what sustains and supports life. It goes beyond the transaction, but it begins before the transaction. It infuses money with intention, value, and energy that aligns with the exchange occurring between individuals.
I’m taking a hula dancing class – another novice territory for me. I get to notice that the military precision and emphasis on “getting it right” no longer motivate me. I observe, and patiently wait for the music to start so my eyes can close and I can start to listen inwardly to the grace and fluidity within me. I am not there to perform or perfect any outer forms. I am there to touch the soft and lilting place within me. I can enjoy myself whether I am “doing it right” or not.
True self-confidence. We are told it comes from practice, practice, practice. But it really does matter what you are practicing and how you are as you are practicing. Knowing the what and how you are require awareness and attention.
Do you gain true self-confidence by following instructions and repeating them over and over again, making sure you’re doing it right by matching the people around you or getting the teacher’s approval?
Or are you simply gaining more practice in following, trusting others before yourself, and living in avoidance of the dreaded feeling of “doing it wrong” or “sticking out” from the others?
Believing that this builds confidence is a bit like a caterpillar believing it could acquire the grace and confidence of a butterfly if only it put on a pair of colorful wings and took flying lessons.
But the real way that a caterpillar acquires butterfly qualities – which are part of the caterpillar's natural potential – is to make the courageous decision to begin weaving a cocoon. Once it completes this weaving, the caterpillar has created a container for itself where the world it once knew completely dissolves. The processes that occur inside the cocoon are natural, and they unfold according to the laws of the caterpillar’s own nature, which is to transform completely into the form of a butterfly, with the potential to fly and spread beauty.
What I mean by true self-confidence is a sense of trust in the desires of your true nature and your ability to find expression for them in your life. To show up and create experiences for yourself and others that reflect the uniqueness of what only you can offer.
If you feel like you’re standing over here and true self-confidence is somewhere “over there”, maybe you just need to know what to start practicing.
1. Listen. What is your heart’s truth? What is your true nature wanting you to hear? Listen for it. You may have to get very still and very quiet in order to hear its sound. Do it. It is worth it.
2. Decide. What decision do you have to make in order to create the space – weave the cocoon – for the expression of your true nature to take form? You may have to say goodbye to one way of life, and hold only in your imagination the possibility of another. But the decision to create space is necessary to start the process in motion.
3. Explore. Begin practicing the experience of being in expression of your true nature. Explore visual art, movement, sound, voice, and music, contemplative practices, writing, and other adventures that allow you to let go of your thinking mind’s conditioning. Connect with imagination, play, elements of the natural world, and wordless forms of expression.
4. Observe. Along the way, you will encounter all the fears and doubts and obstacles that have ever stood in the way of your true self-confidence. Know that this is all happening as a gift for you. Resist none of it. Indulge in none of it. Observe with precision and gently come back to your heart’s truth, your vision, the feeling of expressing your true nature in the world you are actively creating.
5. Repeat. With each expression of your vision that you experience fully, you will give rise to more visions. More decisions to create space. More opportunities to observe and come back. With more practice, the repetition becomes more familiar, more of a way of approaching your life in any given situation.
With this kind of practice – Listen, Decide, Explore, Observe, Repeat – your muscles of true self-confidence will be getting worked consistently and repetitively, with specific feedback you observe in your own experience.
Steps 1, 2, and 5 are up to you. Once you can envision these steps, it may be easier to accept yourself where you are, and begin moving through it. A coach can help to illuminate the process and help you see where you are right now. You can begin step 3 with your own sense of adventure, exploration, and imagination. Sometimes it helps to have the inspiration of other people’s stories, or a group in which to explore with companionship and support.
Step 4 is where a coach like me can be very helpful. The fears and doubts are often lifelong, deeply held habits of thinking that have not been questioned in many years. They may be the foundation of your identity, and without a gentle but firm and nonjudgmental atmosphere, the ego will put up a fight to its own death to preserve these beliefs.
Once you are familiar with your own responses to fear and doubt, and learn some simple methods to work with yourself in releasing these beliefs, you become your own best coach. You are limited only by your willingness to imagine more, and your curiosity to know the depth and expansiveness of what you can create from your own true self-confidence.
THIS was not a photo on my vision board. I was perfectly content to be performing, showing what I was able to do comfortably, easily, and predictably. I thought I was getting "good" at playing freely, improvising, and creating in the moment. The sound of Chinese Melodrama that matches the stacks of CDs we bring to every gig.
Then THIS had to happen.
By "THIS" I mean: We are at LunarBurn, a three-day outdoor festival and experiment in community living. In my mind, it's a chance to show up and spread the love. We play our first set at the PermaPub, an intimate venue with couches, a bar, and all the impromptu live music one could ask for. We aren’t even finished with a song (Led Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away”) near the end of our set, and a guy appears onstage. He has furry white chaps over his jeans, and a grey hoody. He appears to be maybe under the influence of some substances. But what do I even know about these things? I just thought he was a jerk for interrupting our set.
Here’s my, “Get off the stage, jerk!” look:
Yep, what you're seeing is a whole lotta judgment flowing freely from me in that moment. First he wanted to play my violin. I’d rehearsed this response before, so it was easy to say, “Sorry, I don’t let anyone touch my violin.”
He wasn’t looking like he was going to leave the stage, and this being an open, community-driven atmosphere, I said, “You can play yours, and I’ll play mine.”
Then he wanted me to help him tune the thing.
Seriously??? Suddenly I was flung back to my violin school, “Doctor Chu” days, tuning other people’s violins. Spooky.
My partner Randy was way too far away on the other end of the stage, separated from me by a drumset. I was alone to deal with this. But when it was clear that The Guy – Adam, I would later learn, was his name - was there to stay and play, Randy pulled out the right song – like he always does -- and that was all it took.
Adam started to play. All kinds of sounds were flying out of his instrument, no holds barred. Absolutely no judgment.
I’d never heard such sounds before, let alone play with them, try to create with them. But there I was, on a stage, with captive audience, and microphones on. I started to play too. The interplay of sound and listening began to work its magic. Then moments emerged from the chaos that felt like oneness.
Really? With THIS jerk? Yes.
I was listening to all the sounds, noticing, admiring, perhaps sometimes even envying, the beauty that can arise from NOT CARING AT ALL, in other words, no judgment.
You must understand how deeply ingrained it is for me to take GREAT CARE of every sound from my violin. I’ll never forget sitting in a huge auditorium in Chicago watching one of the “big kids” – a high-schooler at the time – in my violin school, receiving a master class with Russian violinist Viktoria Mullova. I was about 10 years old.
“You don’t CARE!”, she said, in a thoroughly Russian, loving way. It was the kind of icy cold Russian love so commonly doled out in violin training. Meanwhile my classmate’s lips trembled, tears beginning to well up behind her eyes. Tears that represented a lifetime, from the age of three, trying so hard to prove that she cared. She was one of the stars, one of the protected ones in the group. No one had ever spoken to her like that. At least not in public. On a stage. In front of other people.
I vowed never to play like I didn’t care, if only to avoid the stinging feeling I felt that day.
So to stand on my stage with this guy – Adam – who had the audacity to walk in on us and just PLAY like he doesn’t CARE was a big moment. A moment either to shut down or to wake up and say yes to life. Shutting down occurred to me for a few moments. Remember this face?
Yeah, I was ready to shut it down. But then I remembered that I could just relax into my own place that doesn’t care so much. The place that knows I can play anything with anyone and I will be OK. The place of trust and surrender.
Because when you don’t care, you really are trusting in something greater than personalities and performances. Somewhere along the way, in our journey of recording and performing and trying to “build” something with Chinese Melodrama, I got caught up (again) in making things beautiful and perfect and acceptable and nice. I got caught up in my idea of what “good” sounds like. What I had to measure up to (in my own mind) in order to be worthy of appreciation, applause, presence, whatever. My idea of what I needed to be in order to be liked and accepted.
What I experienced by not caring so much was another layer of freedom peeled away and revealed to me. The discovery of something workable – beautiful – within the basket of sounds I’d call “dirty”. The sounds I don’t choose automatically because of the depth of my conditioning to play only beautifully. The discovery that he will never sound like me, and I will never sound like him, so there is nothing to fear. We can meet in the oneness of our combined sounds and play. Dance. Listen. See what happens.
“Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.” – Rumi
The next day, I returned to the stage with Randy. No Adam this time. Yet I still had the taste of the experience in my body, my ears, my whole being. I carried the permission of those “dirty” notes with me. They gave me wings to be less careful, more adventurous, more willing to be curious without worrying I would hurt or disappoint anyone. I had fun. I moved more. I felt my own joy. I invited it in. I was inspired by "no judgment".
I noticed that as I became more playful, my entire body began to participate. My feet were not firmly planted on the floor with my legs stable. My knees began to bend. My spine began to twist and turn. My feet were walking (sometimes stomping). My head was leaning. The feelings of the music flowed through my entire being, when my mind was no longer involved in saying, “Now what can I play that will be really beautiful?”.
When the music becomes a dance, when I am truly playing, then it’s not about what the notes are, but what is going on inside me as I am playing them. Even if I play every single note “beautifully”, correctly, in tune, like I was taught, it may not connect with a feeling. Because I may actually be trying very hard to create this state of “beautiful” and “correct”. Within me, I am not playful. I am controlling myself. When I am controlling myself, I radiate the energy of control.
When I lose control, anything can happen. Scary, yes. But on the other side of scary, there is beauty. Not “beautiful”, but beauty. The beauty of anything and everything. The beauty of what is.
P.S. Thank you so much to Adam, Matty, and everyone at LunarBurn who played and listened!