Listen to my podcast on Self-Confidence with Sheena Yap Chan

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

Essential Self Extravaganza

[singlepic id=391 w=320 h=240 float=center] 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.

[singlepic id=395 w=320 h=240 float=center]

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.

[singlepic id=389 w=320 h=240 float=center]

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.

[singlepic id=407 w=320 h=240 float=]

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:

Poet Loc Tran performs his piece, "Enough":

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.

[singlepic id=401 w=320 h=240 float=center]

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."

[singlepic id=398 w=320 h=240 float=center]

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.

[singlepic id=393 w=320 h=240 float=center]

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)

[singlepic id=392 w=320 h=240 float=center]

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.

[singlepic id=394 w=320 h=240 float=center]

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.

[singlepic id=396 w=320 h=240 float=center]

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!

To see more photos from the Essential Self Extravaganza: Visit the Facebook album

To see more videos from the Essential Self Extravaganza: Visit the YouTube playlist

Love Hurts…Is It True? A Few Things I Once Learned About Love...And How I'm Unlearning Them

[singlepic id=373 w=320 h=240 float=center] Have you ever thought about how you learned what love means? What moments in your life explicitly taught you how to love? What examples of love did you observe, and what did you unconsciously learn from them?

For most of my life, I have had a murky understanding of the words "love" and "compassion". They were abstract concepts, which I felt no bodily connection to. They were supposed to be good things that good people expressed and felt all of the time, but I had no clue what they felt like to me.

"I love you" was not something ever uttered in my household. As far as I know, the phrase doesn't exist in the Chinese language, at least as it applies to families.

For most of my life, "love" was a word used by my parents to rationalize their financial anxiety, anger, worry, asking for too much information, and criticizing. "If we didn't love you and care about you, we wouldn't bother to nag you so much," they'd say in defense of themselves.

Well, if love was such a great thing, and that was how love made me feel, then I didn't get why I should center my life around it. At all. It didn't feel good to me. It felt confining. It felt like a minefield, where I never knew if my next step would land me in a sudden explosion of admonishment, shame, and guilt about why the particular thing I just did was the wrong move to make.

I convinced myself that I didn't want my life to hurt. I created an association between love and hurt. So I did everything I could to make sure I was not dependent on love for anything vital in my life. Ha!

"Compassion" was an even more foreign concept. The images that come to mind when I think of "compassion" involve Mother Teresa, Sally Struthers and images of little kids with distended bellies and black flies on their eyelashes, and the Pope. I'm not sure why these people represent compassion, but it's interesting that I've never met any of them personally. (OK, I got within 25 feet of the Pope once, when I was eleven years old, but I was playing violin at the time and was delirious from sitting in St. Peter's Square for four hours in the hot sun of an Italian June.) My point is that "compassion" was an even more abstract term than "love", and I always thought it was reserved for saintly, selfless people who gave their lives to some grand, charitable cause. In other words, it was a luxury I could not afford to indulge in.

I've recently begun to learn that in order to experience the love and compassion I was seeking from everyone else in my life, I had to be willing to explore and discover what love and compassion feel like for me. I had to learn to demonstrate love and compassion toward myself first. This has involved identifying, questioning, and effectively unlearning many of the beliefs I had about love and compassion, which I held onto without knowing, and which were governing my behaviors without my knowing it.

[singlepic id=372 w=320 h=240 float=center]

Today, I choose to share with you what I have learned, and also what I am unlearning. Each of the thoughts below are real beliefs I once had about love, and below them are the turnarounds that I am consciously choosing to practice, notice, and become more and more familiar with.

I could tell you that I am “letting go” of these thoughts, or that I have outgrown them.

But what actually feels more true for me is that I am developing a different relationship with these thoughts. By distancing myself from my thoughts enough to observe them, I have paradoxically become more intimate with them. I am able to look at them without avoiding them or pushing them away or labeling them as “wrong”. I can touch them, feel them, sense them, and know that they are within me, without loving myself less because of it.

I am willing to notice when I am believing one of these thoughts and acting on it and creating stress, and I am empowered to look directly at the source of the stress, without fear or less love of myself.

I am far from being perfect at this. It’s part of my practice to be willing to look at the imperfections long enough to choose something new and act without fear in that new direction. By acknowledging what has been painful for me and what I am growing through, I hope you can acknowledge some part of yourself that needs healing or more loving attention from the simple question, “Is it true?”

Love Lesson #1: The number of items I complete on my "To Do" list indicates my level of productivity, and therefore, my value in the world.

This may not seem to be about love, but it has been such a central belief in my entire life path, that I confront it every day. And every day I ask, “Is it true?” I am starting to get to answers that feel more true for me and set me free to do what’s truly important to me, not to anyone else. But with such a strong cultural message of achievement and productivity as the basis of human existence, this is a daily, moment-to-moment practice. I include it here because I've learned that true self-love is felt and demonstrated independent of how "productive" I am, and that becoming more productive does not help you learn how to love.

Turnaround: I am complete, as I am, in this moment. (notice that “what I do” is not part of the turnaround)

Love Lesson #2. What I am able to afford to buy indicates my level of freedom and status in the world.

This thought originated in my family’s struggle for survival and advancement and was reinforced by the strong consumerism in our culture. Without realizing it, I have created many outcomes in my life based on this belief. What I eventually realized was that ownership and accumulation of things do not equal greater freedom, and the only status that matters is the one you create from your inner world.

Turnaround: What I am able to LET GO of indicates my level of freedom and the status of my self-trust in the world I am creating.

Love Lesson #3. How I look and act in the workplace is more important than how I look and act at home.

This thought originated in so many examples I saw of “putting on a face” to play the game of work each day, and how starkly that outward face contrasted with the true self that emerged in the privacy of the home. It was confusing to me and I never understood the justification for sharing your best self with the outer world, and letting out all your stress and aggressions at home, with the people you claim to love the most.

Turnaround: I am creating a life based on authentic expression and generous sharing of my essential self. (I don’t see a necessary distinction between how I present myself “on the outside” and who I am at my essence)

Love Lesson #4. Love is an obligation and responsibility to another person.

Almost everything in my early life was framed as an obligation and responsibility. It seemed like the only reason to live a life was to be viewed as responsible and duty-bound in every possible way. Joy was not even in the equation of values. I still consider “desires” a luxury and have to practice consciously opening a valve in my mind to allow the flow of messages from my heart to enter into my awareness.

Turnaround: Love flows freely in the space between people. Love liberates.

Love Lesson #5. Loving someone means the right to criticize them in a "loving" way.

This was reinforced in every arena of my life from my family to my teachers to the higher academic training I received. I was trained to thrive on criticism. No matter how good a job I did, I wanted to know how to do better. We call this “drive” and “ambition” and hold it in great admiration in this culture. We aspire to “improve” ourselves in every way. The problem with this is we have no opposing muscle group or internal barometer to tell when “enough is enough”. We forget that by living our lives based on constant striving, we are training ourselves for imbalance and ultimate dissatisfaction, with no end in sight.

Turnaround: Love is truthful, accepting, calm, and peaceful. Love is filled with joy.

Love Lesson #6. Love means the right to hurt someone without having to apologize.

I remember the exact moment in a past relationship when I realized that this was my model of love, and the intense pain it caused me to see it in myself. But that moment of realization was also liberating, because I was able to see clearly where I was in the moment, and to consciously seek out another way to express love.

Turnaround: Love has no fear – neither of pain nor of apologizing.

Love Lesson #7. Love expects a return on its investment.

I believed that love was a transaction. I believed that I, as a person, was the investment of my parents’ love. I also believed that I owed a debt to them for providing this love, for withdrawing love from their bank accounts and depositing it into everything that I needed and wanted. As I saw the magnitude of their investment growing, I could not see a possible way to provide a reasonable return. So I kept setting the bar higher. Finally there were no more ladders to climb, and I had to come down to the realization that I am love, and that the returns on my love originate from within me and from my connection to the source of all love – not my parents but the universe.

Turnaround: Love is self-renewing, and expects nothing in return.

Love Lesson #8. Love means constant devotion, never relaxing or taking time for yourself. Love is the ultimate act of self-sacrifice.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “It’s because we love you…” or “If we didn’t love you, we wouldn’t…” as the justifications for overworking, overstressing, overdoing, overworrying. There was not one moment in my recollection that the major love figures in my life ever relaxed or took time for themselves. And they took pride in their self-sacrifice, since it demonstrated how responsible and duty-bound they were. It made love look very unappealing to me as a way of life.

Turnaround: Love comes from love. If you are not loving yourself, you cannot truly or fully love another person. Self-sacrifice is not loving.

Love Lesson #9. Love means living up to the expectations of those who love you (and sacrificed to give you your life).

This relates to the “return on investment” belief. I really saw myself as an asset of my family with certain expected returns. Every time I saw myself taking a step outside my “asset class”, behaving in a more high-risk (and high-return) way, I felt the weight of not having managed expectations, and having been at least slightly irresponsible. I had a nagging sense that I was never doing things the “right” way.

Turnaround: Love is free of all expectations about the future and exists fully in every present moment.

Love Lesson #10. Love needs to be earned.

So you might be noticing a theme here. I once believed that I had to earn love, live up to the expectations of those who loved me, pay back the investment of love that others put into me, and sacrifice myself in the name of love.

Turnaround: Love is the joy, freedom, and peace that exists within each of us when we are truly free.

I still don’t see myself using the word “love” a lot. Writing this post was a struggle, actually. I suppose I learned during the writing that I don’t have any obligation to use a word, like “love”, with so many old and convoluted (and false) beliefs attached to it. I prefer the words "peace", "joy", and "freedom", as a three-pronged cluster of words that captures the feelings I experience when I love myself. These carry a more important meaning for me right now - how they make me feel and how they free me to express who I am in every moment.

And it never hurts when I’m loving myself as I am right now.

Or Else What? Finding Your Own Answer To Holiday Overwhelm

[singlepic id=299 w=320 h=240 float=center] 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?

Photo credit: Used under a Creative Commons license, by Patricia Van Casteren

Cleaning Up The Crap

Face-to-Face With The Crap

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

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

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

"Wow," I said out loud.

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

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

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

[singlepic id=298 w=320 h=240 float=center]

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

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

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

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

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

Crap From The Past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crap Along The Path

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Truth Behind The Crap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrate The Crap

We so want to see hope expressed as an answer.

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

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

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

Being Your Own Hero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All of it disappointed me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here I go...

If You're Not First, You're Last....is it true? What Ricky Bobby Taught Me

Are you on a fast track to nowhere? [singlepic id=282 w=320 h=240 float=center]

I recently watched the movie Talledega Nights again. It's a masterpiece in so many ways, but now, as a life coach, I see a different layer of wisdom in the story of Ricky Bobby.

We live in a culture that teaches us about winning. We worship winners. We are scared to death of losing. We avoid it like the plague.

I'm not sure when the American Dream became inflated to this point, or if it was always like this and I'm just noticing it now. But the fancy ZIP codes, the latest fashions, the plastic surgery, the fitness programs, the high-paying jobs, the flashy cars...all of these toys and amusements, which have become SO glamorous and fun as the demand for them has gone up, are substitutes for the relationships we are seeking with ourselves.

As I look around at our human condition, I see that we share a common need to belong. We share a common need to feel loved. We share a common need to love someone or something, and be able to express it. And we share a common need to tell the truth in our hearts.

The problem is, we're not taught to acknowledge what we truly need. We buy into the concept that if we just keep racing to win, we'll have everything we ever thought we needed.

Well, have you ever gotten to the very top of your game, accomplished the goals that have been put in front of you, and still ended up feeling empty? If you know what I'm talking about, then read on.

[singlepic id=281 w=320 h=240 float=center]

The Hero's Journey

Ricky Bobby is a winner. We meet him at the beginning of the film as the seed for needing to win is first planted in his mind. His absentee father, a race-car driver, shows up for a brief moment in his elementary school classroom and tells his son, "If you ain't first, you're last."

The words make an indelible imprint on the young Ricky, and it leads to a career as a champion race-car driver. He's on the fast track, literally. He lives in a McMansion with a pool and a circular driveway, owns a boat and more cars than he can drive, and has a hot wife and two kids. He has all the trappings of what material success looks like in America.

As long as the prize money keeps rolling in, it's all good.

The problem arises when a foreigner invades his racing kingdom and threatens to dethrone him.

Ricky has a minor injury, but doesn't allow his physical condition to overpower his ingrained zeal to win. He's on the fast track, remember? And he won't be stopped by anything.

He powers through.

When Ricky suffers a devastating crash, and it appears that his racing career is over, he loses everything that once defined him - his house, his wife, his best friend, his career.

The Hero Sits Down

Humiliated, Ricky moves in to his mother's house, takes a job as a pizza deliveryman, and is left to mope around in an unfamiliar, egoless state.

He encounters his father, who has come back to redeem his lifelong absenteeism and teach Ricky a few lessons about winning.

The Hero Learns To Love...Himself

This part of the film is where we watch Ricky get life coaching. His coaches come in the form of his father, his mother, and a former employee - all of whom show him aspects of the love he has been seeking for himself through the substitute of "winning".

He faces his fear by learning to drive with a wild cougar inside his car. He learns to feel by driving blindfolded. He learns the value of clarity and compassion when his own mother takes over the parenting of his two foul-mouthed, defiant sons.

The final "aha" moment happens when a former employee runs into Ricky at a local bar and reveals what she has always seen in him - the love of racing, and the true spirit of a winner, who races for the love and not the prize money.

It's a hilariously cheesy moment in the film, complete with a soundtrack from "White Snake", but it's the melodrama of recognizing your own essential self that's being conveyed. It's the moment we all long to experience for ourselves. It's what we need to keep growing, keep risking, keep living - we need to be reminded of how to really love ourselves. And when we see glimpses of our essential self, it always feels like love.

There Is No Finish Line...

The fact that Ricky's final race with his foreign nemesis ends in a scratch result (both drivers disqualified for leaving their cars) is a beautiful way to convey the ambiguity of what it means to "win" in life, versus being declared a "winner". The only result that matters to Ricky is the acknowledgment of his essential self's true love of racing, and that he is free to be first or last, without fear of losing love.

At a time when our nation is lamenting the loss of teens to senseless suicides, discussing the problems of bullying, and exposing the dark side of our achievement culture, maybe it's also time to ask, "Whose race are we in? And how will we know when we've won?"

Take a moment to remember what you truly love. It will point you toward the only finish line that matters....living a life you can call your own.