I recently returned from a week-long stay in Keystone, Colorado. I was there with a small group of physicians gathered to restore their voice to the practice of medicine.
How I got there was through a series of events I can only call synchronicity.
What I felt was a profound feeling of "coming home".
I showed up as all of me, in full color. My role was to listen deeply and expansively, and I chose to record what I heard in visual form.
It was as if everything I practiced was serving me in my service to this gathering. Each morning I woke early and rode my rented bike along the many trails around Keystone. I listened to the Snake River winding its way through the trees. I inhaled with awe each time I arrived at the vista of Lake Dillon. I clawed my way up a steep hill only to be rewarded with the jackpot of a stunning view of Breckenridge and beyond.
I had learned from these past few years of practicing self-care that these morning steps were my fuel for being present and thinking creatively. I knew what to do - even in an environment away from my familiar surroundings at home - because I had practiced them into new habits. I had my biking clothes, I was comfortable riding, and all I had to do was explore new roads and read new maps.
I also had my daily sketching and art journaling practice in place, something I started only within the last two years. I have experimented with many different formats and media, and I am comfortable drawing outside. On this trip, I brought a small Moleskine Japanese album with accordion pages. It fit in my small travel purse or pocket, and I carried a pouch with pen, markers, and water brushes.
On my morning rides, I often sketched a scene quickly in ink, filling in color later in the day or in the evening. I noticed what I noticed. I took note of the stories I wanted to tell. And by the time I got home, there were three or four panels that needed coloring, which I completed within a few days.
New experiences, new people, new places -- all of these fuel my creativity and keep me inspired.
I am grateful for the daily practices I cultivate at home, so I am well-prepared to stay open when I'm on the road.
For a frame-by-frame caption story of my Keystone travel journal, see my post here.
For an in-depth reflection on the contents of the physician meeting and its impact on me personally, stay tuned!
Today I'm reprinting a blog post I wrote over a year ago, on my Truth Love Beauty blog. It resonates with me right now, which is comforting. The truth has a way of standing the test of time. It also reminds me of a topic I have not talked about on this blog - the observations and lessons I learned from teaching violin to more than 30 toddlers in the Silicon Valley for five and a half years. These descriptions bring me back to a time that was filled with joys and challenges, and ultimately catalyzed a whole new way of being and learning for me.Here it is:
Does all the woo-woo, positive psychology, self-help talk make you feel a little queasy or, at best, skeptical? Does an email with the subject line, “You can do it!”, make you want to “Report spam” faster than you can hit “Delete”?
When I worked with parents and their children in a coaching/teaching environment, I learned that there are many ways we adults try to encourage our kids. We all have a default style of communication that is a product of the various influences in our lives – our own parents, our many teachers, our older siblings, our bosses, our mentors, or even a conglomeration of all the ways we DON’T want to be like any of those people. What I’ve learned about effective coaching I first saw by watching children who were actually allowed to learn. It’s simple: all a kid wants is to know what it feels like to try, and to know that they’ll be OK if they fail. If you give them those two things, they’ll try over and over again with great enthusiasm, and pretty soon (or maybe a lot later) they will succeed.
The second half of this – letting them know they are OK even if they fail while trying – is tricky. I saw so many adults sit beside their child and just watch, hands folded across their chest, while their child tried, making no attempt to help, and remaining motionless in response to anything the child did. Sure, they were “there”, but I would sometimes wonder if they were actually in the same room as we were. I’ve also seen the other end of the spectrum, where a parent would literally lunge forward and want to take over, rather than allow their child to try something that they might not “get” on the first attempt. They preferred not to witness a failure than to allow the child to try.
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I never figured out a way to coach parents to see their own tendencies in these situations. First of all, I was too busy trying to do my job coaching, witnessing, and encouraging the child. Second of all, I was frozen in astonishment at some of the parents’ behavior, not knowing how to address these things in the time allotted, or in front of the child.
These are, of course, excuses. The truth is I did not know how to hold the space for adults to really open up to what was going on. In some ways, it takes more skill and more patience to get an adult to open up than it does for a child. Despite a great deal of one-on-one time and attention for each student-parent dyad, I did not create a structure that allowed me to address holistically all the influences that are at play in a child’s learning. I had annual “review” meetings with parents, but these were perceived as “performance” reviews for the parents, where they would wait expectantly to receive some sign of approval or validation from me. Only rarely did anyone feel safe enough during these meetings to actually share their fears, their inadequacies, or their deepest questions about the purpose of their enrollment. It was mostly a veiled love fest, a hopeful yet sometimes tentative confirmation of everyone’s desire to continue with the relationship as it was. There were always a few cases where I wanted to discuss some of my real concerns about the appropriateness of continuing as the teacher for a particular child. Somehow, it never felt safe for me to voice my truth in these meetings. I would agonize over these for many days and sleepless nights leading up to the meetings, and would search for the right words, which rarely came to me at the right time. Why was it that I had never created that kind of relationship in which the truth could be told without blame or judgment? Why did I not have those skills?
By the time I started waking up to these truths, and learning how to hold this kind of space, I also saw that it was beyond the scope of my work to heal entire families, especially under the auspices of producing a children’s violin performing group. Some might say that I gave up. Maybe. But what I know now is that nothing changes until you accept things as they are. And, healing happens one person at a time, starting with myself.
My discovery of the healing capacity of the mind and the body came not from my medical school education ten years ago, but from a more recent search for my own inner peace and joy, which was catalyzed by my physical body sending me signals of debilitating pain. Something was not working in my lifestyle, and I could have chosen to ignore it and power through, or remain curious enough to explore it. I chose the latter. It opened me to a path of mental clarity and inquiry that I know will continue as long as there are thoughts running through my head. I did not take pills. I did not see a doctor or therapist. I slowed down. I rested. I created space in my life to ask the questions I was genuinely curious about. I tried new things. Simultaneously I recommitted to my yoga practice that had been abandoned during the same period of time that my body developed its pain. The combination of mind and body training, which focuses on gentle, consistent work on flexibility, balance, and strength, is what awakens me every day to the calm energy of joy I have within me. I love this kind of training because it is training for life. Not just “modern” life, or American life, or life as a woman, but being fully alive as a human being on this earth.
Now just because I’ve gone through this amazing shift doesn’t mean I’m going to wave a flag at my clients and say, “You can do it!” and expect everyone to leap into their own states of bliss. I saw the many ways that parents say this to their kids.
The same words – “You can do it!” – might come out of one parent’s mouth, with a crisp, angular tone of voice suggesting something like, “You BETTER be able to do it, or I’ll look like an idiot for spending all this money on lessons and believing you could do this!”
Or another parent’s “You can do it!” might be said without much conviction and with more pleading, meaning something like, “I know you don’t want to do this, but would you PLEASE do it for me?? Just this once?? I’ll buy you anything you want after this if you just do it for me….please???”
Yet another parent’s “You can do it!”, voiced with some disbelief and shock, might be taken to mean, “Don’t make me look bad, because I know I spent all week sitting there practicing with you every day, and you could do it at home! Now DO it!”
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The meaning behind the words changes when it is said from a place of genuine love and compassion, without attachment to outcomes. “You can do it” can also mean something like, “I am not you. But I’ve been exactly where you are, not knowing whether or not I can, not being able to see how I will ever get there, feeling the fear of pain, of humiliation, of not being enough. And having faced all of that and moved through it, I know you can do it. I’m saying it not as a command, not as a way to alleviate my own stress, not to make this all about you, so that I can transfer the blame if it doesn’t work out. I’m saying it so that you hear my belief in your spirit, in your ability to find it in yourself to do whatever it is you need to do, to take whatever time you need to, and to be wherever you are right now. I’ll be right here to witness you – to celebrate with you, and to catch you when you fall – as you learn to trust yourself.”
Said from a calm core of peace, love, and patience, there is no greater elixir when we are feeling afraid.
[Originally published on my Truth Love Beauty blog here.]
Maybe it was the flyer announcing my talk at Stanford Medical School in a few weeks (finally making it feel real...and making me feel proud of the creative thinking I've been doing on this subject).
Maybe it was seeing the pile of STUFF in my house, moved out of the Cradle of Manifestation, prompting me to revisit what's really taking up the space in my drawers and closets.
Maybe it was the invitation to have dinner this Friday with a couple of doctors who have transitioned out of medicine themselves (making me feel one step closer to finding My People).
Maybe it was finally telling the truth out loud to myself and to a compassionate witness about what I feel in my heart (and experiencing the expansion that came with it).
Maybe it was all of the above.
Whatever it was, I finally know what I need to do, even though I have no idea how it's going to play out or if anyone will even care. But I know enough to trust this particular feeling of knowing. It's not a rational linear mind kind of knowing. It's a whole body energy clearing kind of knowing.
- My physician burnout and wellness resources page - I'll be adding to this, but it's a great place to start if you're curious about the problem, the stories of real physicians, and what people are doing about it. Visit the resource page here>>
- All new Name Your Price coaching - I'm most giddy and excited about this brand new experiment, launching next week. I just want to get more coaching love out there. I remember when I had no idea what coaching was, and didn't believe it could do anything for me, until I actually experienced it myself. So I want to pass on that gift to you! For two hours a week, I'll be offering my services on a first-come, first-served basis, and you get to name your own price. Perfect for those of you who are curious about coaching and open to it, but just not ready to make the commitment to one of my other individual coaching options right now. Learn more about it here>>
- The Whole Person Retreat for Women - Saturday April 9th at Stillheart Institute in Woodside, CA. I'm guest facilitating music improvisation and sound healing as part of an enriching day with the wonderful women Eliska Meyers and Johanna Beyer. Find out more details here>>
That's all for now. After some good time and space appreciating the openness, it's nice to witness the arrival of what's next. Hope to see and hear from you soon!
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As 2010 came to a close, I realized that over the past year, I have had the opportunity to become part of three brand new communities (without even changing my physical address). As I embarked on life coach training, certification in music and sound healing, and improvisation as a violinist in the local “open mic” scene, I was welcomed into three totally new worlds for me.
As I crisscrossed the Bay Area and the internet interacting with these distinct groups, it occurred to me that no single place brought together people with such wide-ranging interests. What fun it would be if someone could create a space and purpose for gathering that would allow the expression and sharing of all these creative souls! I realized that I could be that person!
I was inspired to create the Essential Self Extravaganza. The name refers to a central concept of Martha Beck's life coaching approach, which guides us to find and follow the voice of our essential self, versus the social self we so readily construct as an identity to show the world and "fit in" with the rules of our families, religions, cultures, professional group, or demographic.
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I had had enough of the typical "holiday party", where the focus is on the display of our social selves. The typical conversations starting with the question, "So, what do you do?" or "Where are you from?" were familiar to me, yet no longer of interest. Instead of complaining or lamenting about these kinds of parties, I decided (in the empowerment I am growing into) to host my own gathering - the kind of party I would want to attend myself.
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That set my imagination free, and, as is always the case when I open up to trust my own creativity, it flowed effortlessly. I immediately formed a picture in my mind of how the day would be presented, who I would invite, and what I would say in the invitation. I sent out personal invitations (no e-vite or Facebook event for this one). I hand-selected the people I wanted to include. I expressed myself from MY essential self.
And what unfolded on December 17, 2010, was perfect in the way that the universe is always divinely perfect and complete.
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The gift of video is the ability to capture some of the magic that happened and share bits of it with you here. When you have some time, grab a cup of tea and enjoy these amazing offerings from the generosity of the spirit.
Soulful Songstress Aletha McGee offers an impromptu song during a break:
Artist and Vocalist Jovani McArdle creates a song for me, inspired by a hand-painted card I chose from her collection:
Writer and Actress Sarah Lau performs a scene from her one-woman show, "Remedial Girl":
Cellist and Designer Chi Chen performs an original composition based on J.S. Bach's canonic cello suites:
Performance artist Deborah Eliezer creates the character Fifi, who offers a song and dance:
Randy Bales and I lead the room in a participatory version of The Beatles' "Across The Universe":
And the final free improvisation, involving everyone in the room...AMAZING! Take a listen:
It reminded me of the first principle of Open Space Technology: "Whoever comes are the right people." Once I sent out invitations, I released my need to know who was coming, or to interpret why certain people weren't. I released any guilt about not inviting certain people out of fear of offending them. I simply stood in my own love and desire to share what is deeply true for me with a group of other souls who I knew would have much to share in a free, open setting.
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The only "structure" I put around the day was the written invitation. Three blocks of time of two hours each were designated for the three types of activities I envisioned sharing: life coaching, music healing, and performances by local open mic artists.
The rest I left open to the perfect unfolding when the right people gather in the right time for them. This reminded me of the third principle of Open Space Technology: "Whatever happens is the only thing that could have."
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It required a trust, which I have been training and growing over the past year, that I did not have to tell people what to do, and that I did not have to know the answer all the time, and that there is absolute beauty in not needing to know.
I felt the profound magic of gathering in sound - the wordlessness of shared energy, the oneness of harmonious voices, the collective, improvisational creation of music in the present moment. I also saw the inspiration that happens when bridges are built, between people whose paths may not have intersected otherwise.
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I have always felt that one of my purposes in life was to be a bridge - a translator of sorts between the various different worlds I have inhabited. The event reinforced that image for me.
I was able to relax and enjoy something I created. (This was nearly a first for me)
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In observing myself prepare for the event and decorate the room, I learned about my own capacity to "overdo" and about the fine line between abundance and excess.
I practiced observing myself with gentleness, allowing myself to receive the information I was gathering without labeling it or criticizing myself in the process.
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Afterwards, I honored myself with rest.
I was surprised and delighted by so many moments that unfolded without my knowing or needing to know. I was simply a witness, wide-eyed, curious, receptive. I released my need to control what was happening, when it was happening, and whether people were having the kind of enjoyment I thought they needed to have.
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I wrote this post as a way to remember the perfect unfolding when we are allowed to be free and to share from what is essential within each of us. May you experience the trust and the unfolding of your own spirit in 2011!
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One of the best pieces of feedback I received from a student in my recent online course was that she felt safe and open to learn from me because I am also a work-in-progress, like her.
So much of our unhappiness, self-doubt, and fear come from the concept that we "need to know". I am beginning to see that my violin school was built upon the false concept that I needed to know how to fix everyone's problems. I can also see how the path of medical training and the system of health care delivery reinforces ideas that doctors "should know" what to do in every situation.
I spent my whole life as the "A student", the "winner", the "leader", the one who was supposed to "know more". We're conditioned to "look up" to people like this, to aspire to be in their position someday. But the truth is that we all share one diagnosis - being human.
In many ways, we have been conditioned to forget one hemisphere of what it means to be human. We have been taught only to acknowledge the bright lights, the shining moments, the things we "ought to be proud of", the items that make it on the year-end highlights list when the holiday cards go out.
The reality is that human experience includes a full spectrum of moments, ranging from intense emotions of rage and fear and inadequacy to completely serene periods of silence and calm. We are carefree and joyful, and we are threatened to our core. We are goal-oriented and focused, and we are desperately lost. We believe in everything we've ever been taught, and we are dissolved into a pool of not knowing.
ALL of this is our human experience. When we begin to deny one half of the equation, either pretending it doesn't exist, or arranging our circumstances by any means possible to avoid acknowledgment of it, our soul begins to hurt. Part of us withers, atrophies from lack of use and attention.
And while the messages from the outside world - primarily those based on marketing products and services in this wonderfully industrious capitalist economy we have - tell us that our problem can be fixed by a procedure, our pain can be alleviated by a pill, our troubles can be forgotten by a vacation, our image salvaged by the right car or pair of shoes, it becomes even more challenging to muster up the courage to listen to the voice inside our hearts, and to do the work of being compassionate with our whole selves.
In the past two years I have been slowly, gingerly learning to question without fear. I have learned to listen and receive without needing to fix. It is a way of being that I am committed to practice each day, and that I am also challenged to keep practicing in each moment. If I don't pause and become aware, my reflexes are still familiar with old patterns. If I don't get out of my chair and look up at the sky, stretching my body and clearing my mind, I am easily left with the tangle of thoughts that once used to drive my every action and decision.
In my current work, as a teacher and life coach, there is the old temptation to feel like "I need to know". To feel that old sense of being a fraud for claiming to have an answer, when in many cases I did not.
The only difference now is that I am aware. I continue to learn, as I have always done, although I now model my learning process not from valedictorians and Ivy League graduates but from nature, animals, and 3-year-olds. I continue to make mistakes, the kind I previously avoided at all costs by restricting myself to a narrow range of possibilities. I continue to be very observant of myself and of others, as I have always been, although I now judge and label a little less. I continue to encounter situations - every day, actually - where I simply do not know.
The difference now is that I am starting to smile at these moments. I greet them and welcome them with a friendliness and openness that I once reserved only for that dose of approval and praise from others that I lived for. Now I can distinguish between smiling at myself and waiting for others to smile at me. I have glimpsed the sensation of more gentleness and kindness than I ever received from another person. I am becoming familiar with the tenderness in myself - the tenderness I now believe I share with every other human being at their core. I am my own gardener, as someone wisely posted the other day on my Facebook page. It's true.
With the number of "inspirational" people in my world, it's easier to "think positive thoughts" than to smile at my own fear, or to smile at my own judgment of others. The challenge is finding a smile to greet ALL aspects of life - and to acknowledge the wholeness of feeling fearful, doubtful, angry, and just plain crappy. Not to resist or avoid these feelings, or try to eradicate them, or wallow in telling about them, but simply to be with them, allow them their time, and then let them go.
Our suffering comes from resisting. Our suffering comes from turning away, and not wanting to look at what's really there. Our suffering comes from blaming ourselves, or feeling bad about ourselves, when the darker, lower, "negative" sides of our experience show their face.
What would it be like to sit with all of it, calmly, receiving it without needing to label it as "good" or "bad", without needing to find a solution, without needing to know the answer?
I feel relief...and a little smile along with it.
Photo credit: Grant Kwok, used under a Creative Commons license
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It seems to me that there's this game we play around the holidays. We somehow feel obligated to replay the old tapes of the past, gathering together in the same ways, repeating the same "traditions", whether or not they still work for us.
The result? A clenching of the jaw, a tensing of our shoulders, a knotted up feeling in our stomach, as we enter this "joyous" holiday season. Some of us might even roll our eyes without knowing it when we say the word "family".
Since all the messages around us are shouting, "Peace! Joy! Love! Thankfulness! Giving!" we feel downright guilty about our deepest truth: we just don't want to do the holidays the same way anymore.
That guilt gnaws at our energy for a good two months. We conduct our surface actions under the weight of the thought, "This is what I have to do." So we suck it up. We buy our plane tickets, or get in our cars, battling the crowds of people who all seem to be happily going to visit family, but very well could be gnawing away inside too.
Or we buy the new sparkly red dress, the high heels, the purse, the whole deal. We show up at the party with all the people we don't even like. We do it anyway. Why? Not exactly by choice, but because we think "we have to".
Or else what?
When was the last time you questioned your own holiday patterns of action and so-called "traditions"?
When was the last time you gave yourself permission to even ask the question, "What do I want to do for the holidays?"
Oh I'm fully aware that there are a group of you who are squirming or rolling your eyes or cursing me out right now as a heretic, a threat to the very fabric of upper middle class suburban culture. I hear you. I grew up surrounded by traditions of a very ancient and foreign culture, and I was not-so-subtly shaped into believing that these needed to be the foundation of my life forever. Or else.
The point isn't whether or not the traditions have any value. The point is, I never considered any other options, purely out of fear. I never even dared ask, "Or else what?"
Until recently. Until I started to look directly in the face of everything I had been avoiding, stepping around, exhausting myself while trying to "do the right thing" all the time.
“You do not have to be good./You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting." These words from Mary Oliver's poem Wild Geese might just capture the feeling of dragging yourself through yet another holiday season of obligations. Yeah, right. Easy for her to say. She's a poet.
But can't we all relate to the oppressive feeling of trying to "be good"? Trying to live up to some imaginary ideal of what it means to be a good daughter, a good wife, a good sister-in-law, a good mother?
I know what it's like to feel the threat of literal death as a consequence of disobeying "the rules" of whatever your particular religion is. My religion was family. No one broke the sacred ranks of family. Or else.
Or else what?
Since I never asked, I never found out. Until I actually found the courage to take little steps outward. So my steps weren't that little. I "squandered" an education, for example, by graduating from medical school without a job. Wasting money, wasting time, wasting an education - all of those thoughts, and the accompanying guilt, I confronted many times before and since that decision. And yet, not only have I survived, but I have thrived since that decision. I have, with each decision since then, gotten one step deeper into my own life, closer to my own true self's potential for creativity and service to the world.
Now, after three different careers and many lessons from great teachers, I am less attached to the "outer evidence" of thriving that I used to think were more important than my own feelings. Things like having lots of good shoes, wearing stiff clothes that make me look "important" but are totally confining to my body, and getting the approval of people who have certain credentials and wear those same kinds of clothes.
It took me until I was 33 years old before I was finally able to say calmly, "I will not be travelling anywhere for Thanksgiving this year, and no, I do not have plans to eat a traditional turkey dinner with anyone else." I spent it instead at the beach with a dear friend, sipping hot chocolate and ordering French fries while snuggled in our own corner of a hotel lobby, with not a care in the world nor a restriction on any of our topics of conversation.
It was the most delicious Thanksgiving in recent memory.
I imagined all of my family members, eating off the same dishes, going through the same motions, smiling through the same awkward moments, denying themselves their own true desires, halfway across the country. And I realized that I have now done something they have never done in their lives – I’ve spent Thanksgiving my own way.
I've found my own answer to the question, "Or else what?". It has come to me gradually, and gently, over time. I still notice the old guilt and the old questions coming up, but I know better now. I've experienced something more nourishing than any food I've ever tasted. It's the taste of joy. And the taste of real gratitude, not the obligatory kind.
And isn't that the essense of the holidays we've been trying to create anyway?
I've been teaching and deepening my learning each time I teach. This time it's the lessons of Tibetan Sound Healing, as transmitted by the lama Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. So simple are the sounds of the warrior seed syllables (just 5 single syllable sounds, chanted repeatedly), and yet so deep the lessons, when practiced.
The concept that really stuck with me from Tuesday was resting in the recognition that "I am complete, as I am, in this moment." Without reason. Without condition. Without any explanation.
I breathed it in and felt the power of resting in that energy of peace, joy, and freedom. What power could I manifest if I just rested in that recognition?
Today I practiced again, right after a particularly poignant moment of recognition for me.
Take the time to say this to yourself: "I am complete, as I am, in this moment." Say the sound "Ah" and breathe into the feeling of space opened by the vibration in your body. Repeat and rest.
Copyright Lisa Chu, The Music Within Us, 2009-2019.