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I love blog posts that start with "How To...". They are always so promising, and hold the anticipation of a wrapped present under the Christmas tree, or a package arriving on your doorstep after your recent online purchase.
"Oh I can't wait to open this! And finally SEE what's inside!"
And, just like Christmas, just like opening that package that you ordered online, there's that moment of not knowing, the moment of unveiling, the moment where your expectation rises to greet the present moment unfolding.
When it's unveiled, we deal with the match between our heart's desire - the image of what we hoped to see in that opening - and the reality right before our eyes. Is it everything you imagined? Is it "perfect" (meaning, does it match your idea of what you wanted)?
Or is it a letdown? An unfulfilled promise? A shattered dream?
Notice that whatever happens to be sitting in the box is completely neutral in this scenario. It just is.
And whether we create a Disney ending to this buildup, or whether we concoct an Elizabethan tragedy of epic proportions, is a function of our mind.
We can't stop thoughts. We can't control certain aspects of our mind's nature.
We CAN become the observer, the innocent bystander who sees it all but is often left out of the conversation.
When your mind is chattering, when you feel dissatisfied or unfulfilled, just stop and listen.
Instead of trying to solve the problem with the same mind that created it (thanks, Einstein, for telling us that this won't work!), listen to your thoughts.
Acknowledge what's asking to be heard.
Acknowledge any resistance you are putting up against that asking.
Acknowledge your desperate need to know right now.
Acknowledge your fear of sitting still and doing nothing about it.
Acknowledge your frantic chase to put an end to all the chatter right this minute.
Acknowledge whatever comes up for you.
When you've taken the time to give full acknowledgment, put it on paper, or speak it out loud. Find some way to express it, so you can experience the energy of your thoughts through your five senses. Give them an outlet. It doesn't have to be shared with anyone (but a blog sure feels cathartic sometimes).
And then notice how it feels just to give a little time to yourself and be heard.
So what about the promise of this blog post? To be exactly where you are, try including exactly the parts of yourself you'd rather deny, put away, or hide from the world. Give a little room to these voices, and you may even be pleasantly surprised.
I tried this today. I had to. I was facing a hurricane of thoughts competing for my attention inside my head, and all I wanted to do was lie down in a field of daffodils. I'm preparing for a "big" talk tomorrow at Stanford Medical School, and it's flooded my head with ideas. Deep down I know that the key to a great talk is being fully present to exactly what is going on in the room, doing all the preparation and then fully letting go in the moment. Here is a video blog with my process of getting to exactly where I am (it did feel a LOT better after giving everything a voice):
I recently noticed that I've been fighting against a lot lately. Fighting against complaining, fighting against frustration, fighting against fear.
How's that been workin' for me? Not so great.
Today I went on a hike and happened upon a field of daffodils...in February! Now isn't that amazing?
I stopped to appreciate the surprise of unexpected beauty. And I realized that by sending out the energy of "fighting against", I am actually becoming the very thing I wish to avoid or resist.
A few quotes come to mind. First, from Iyanla Vanzant, "If you want peace, be peace." In other words, don't walk into a room and shout at the top of your lungs, "BE QUIET!!"
Second, from good ol' Gandhi, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." In other words, don't fight fighting by fighting.
Third, from the Tao, "The softest of all things overrides the hardest of all things." In other words, don't try to overcome something powerful with more force. Soften your attitude towards it, practice observing and accepting it, receiving it without fear or need to defend yourself.
If you can actually get that far, you might notice that you already feel better, and the things you've been fighting against don't bother you so much after all. Try it today!
Identify something you've been fighting against. Name it. Say it out loud or write it down.
Now, get very still and breathe. It helps to be in a place that inspires your inner calm and allows you to listen only to the sound of your own silence.
And practice getting very, very soft toward that thing you identified. With each breath, see if you can get softer, gentler. See if you can experience the energy of appreciation toward that thing. Remember that all you are doing is sitting right there, breathing. Nothing has to change right now.
Here's my video blog while sitting in that field of daffodils earlier today. Appreciate your reality! Don't fight it....
I recently took a tour of Stillheart Institute, Woodside, California, where I'll be a guest facilitator for the Whole Person Retreat on April 9, 2011. I'll be joined by Eliska Meyers and Johanna Beyer, the co-hosts of this gathering of women. It will be focused on women sharing their wisdom & questions while nourishing their mind, body & soul.
Eliska and Johanna are heart-full, soul-connected, creative spirits who will be sharing their gifts of facilitation, guided inquiry, and ritual. I will be leading sound healing and music improvisation practices as part of our self-exploration throughout the day.
What: All-day retreat for women, led by Eliska Meyers, Johanna Beyer, and Lisa Chu. Personal exploration in a circle of women will include reflection, writing, verbal sharing, solitude and silence, as well as music improvisation and sound healing fun and play.
Eliska is an organization development consultant and coach. She partners with leaders & work groups in designing a path of their choice in service of business strategy and growth. Eliska facilitates a big picture view enabling discovery and implementation towards a preferred future that honors collective wisdom, results and relevance.
Some of Eliska’s clients within the last 20 years include Hewlett-Packard, Agilent, Levi Strauss, the General Services Administration, Kaiser Permanente & Mercy Corps. She led The Conference Board’s research working group on Growing Talent for Succession & is Program Director for their Human Resources Executive & Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Councils. Eliska’s emphasis in her work is to coach leaders and groups in service of raising capability within complex systems.
Prior to starting her own company, Eliska was an internal organization consultant for Levi Strauss & Company. While there, she worked with the North American Finance and Customer Relations organizations to design and implement “quick start” approaches to new ways of working during a $700 million reengineering initiative.
Eliska holds a BS in Social Work, and an MS in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. She learned to be tough while being raised in New York City & compassion in her life as a San Francisco resident. Her two adult sons and husband of 30 years keep her grounded in communication. In addition to singing in the Glide Ensemble Gospel Choir & connecting with her Czech and Australian relatives, Eliska runs 19 miles a week, swims & practices Bikram yoga.
Johanna Beyer received her Bachelors Degree from UCLA and her Masters Degree in Organizational Development from California Institute Of Integral Studies. While working as a management consultant, she led hi- level teams within business to help them unearth their most innovative strategic thinking for long term success. Six years ago Johanna transitioned from her work with organizations to one on one coaching with individuals using many of the techniques that she applied to Fortune 500 companies. Since that time Johanna has been privileged to work with individuals to help them move past their fears so that they can make contact with the creativity and gifts that are inside. We all have dreams and talents within that are waiting to be acknowledged, released and acted on. By using different tools and processes, Johanna helps people to think about their inner values, purpose and vision.
It's been just over a year now since I stepped with clarity into the next phase of my life by leaving a business I came to California to create, back in 2004. I've told the story so many times that it may seem like "old news" to some of you, but for me, that one decision was a *huge* step. It cleared the way for so much magic that has emerged - through effort and spontaneous creativity, guided by intention and enabled by practice - over the past year.
Last week I went through the embodied steps of letting go - moving all the physical items out of the Cradle of Manifestation after acknowledging that a 1,800-square-foot facility no longer matched the life I am creating. In the process, I've come face-to-face with so many of my deeply held beliefs and default patterns.
I believed that being a "responsible" person - a piece of my identity I held tightly as a symbol of my worthiness to occupy space on this planet - meant putting other people's needs ahead of my own, no matter what the cost.
In my work, this was expressed as taking full responsibility for all outcomes associated with the people I was involved with - which translated into poor delegation, inability to trust other people's skills and ways of doing things, and the result of preferring to do everything on my own, so it would be perfect. Ultimately, I experienced exhaustion and burnout as the destination on this path.
After I crossed the hurdle of actually setting a boundary, saying "no more" to my own business (which, at the time, was the only path I felt drawn to), and risking the disappointment of other people (which, at the time, was my greatest and most paralyzing fear), the same belief expressed itself as a firm resolve in my mind to continue paying rent on my office space simply because I had signed a lease, and that was that. An agreement was an agreement, with no room for discussion. I was a person who kept my word. But living by those old rules under the new circumstance of starting a business from scratch in a new industry translated to prioritizing my landlords' needs over my own, which I did for an entire year. I dutifully and silently wrote each check and made sure it arrived before the first of every month. For an entire year.
I was silently proving to myself my own worth as a "responsible" person (daughter, girl), but in fact I was not honoring myself or my fledgling business fully.
It took me all those months to finally realize it. In the meantime, I learned and practiced other valuable skills - like making up a new offering each month, playing and experimenting without needing to be perfect, and learning to teach from a place of total peace. My default pattern gave me the gift of valuable practice in honing my craft, and discovering more of what I have to offer.
And now I realize that I do not need those particular four walls in order to be who I am or share what I have to give. In fact, I'm excited about the possibilities of teaching in retreat settings and other community spaces.
I'm writing this as I am going through one of those very courageous times - a time when I am sometimes confused, sometimes at peace, sometimes wanting to jump out of my skin, and sometimes wanting to just walk away from it all. And by being in it, staying with it more deeply than perhaps ever before in my life, I see that I never learned how to take things apart. I learned a lot and focused a lot of my attention on how to build things. How to start things. How to keep them going consistently and steadily.
But I never saw a graceful possibility for finishing things. It was always with regret or disappointment or reluctance that I saw the adults in my life let go, move on, or stop doing things. In my mind, I made it mean that these things - letting go, moving on, or stopping - were bad, or at least to be avoided at all costs.
What I'm choosing to teach myself through this experience is that loss doesn't have to be tragic. Loss can be embraced and walked through with the same energy of acceptance and welcoming as that with which we greet our gains. I'm asking and living the question, "What would it be like to walk through loss with the same welcoming smile, to approach it with the same intention of gaining familiarity, to extend it the hospitality we offer so willingly to what we consider the "good" things?" And by "good", I usually mean the things I wanted or believed were supposed to happen, of course.
I am walking through that loss right now, opening up space and freeing myself to serve and share more. But I notice that the opening only happens by being willing to learn. In other words, to do that whole "celebrate your failures", "be prepared to be surprised", "be curious about everything", improvisation thing. And you thought I had already learned this stuff so it should be easy now? Ha! My rational mind would like to avoid discomfort just as much as it always has. Parts of my brain will always be wired to avoid the unknown. The difference now is that I have a deeper awareness to guide me toward those things I once avoided, in spite of what my mind has to say. And I recognize the tiny moments where I get to practice letting go, taking things apart, moving on. I embrace them as gifts to get better at the things I never knew how to do before, and to grow into more of the person I can become.
These videos capture snapshots of the journey I took during the physical part of the process. I could think of these as the final gestures in a year of events I could not have planned, predicted, or even known to ask for. I simply held a vision of what my inner life would feel like, and practiced emptying space in my mind to allow that life to enter, moment by moment.
Or I could think of these as the first tiny expressions of a whole new way of relating to my stuff - the furniture, the obligations, the way my business needs to operate. After a year of practice, I am developing a whole new way of using my precious attention.
And so what once seemed unimaginable, or impossibly hard, I finally completed last week. I did the thing I thought I could not do.
And now I am resting. I am allowing myself to just sit with myself. To remember to breathe for myself and be thankful for every single sweet drink of fresh air I inhale.
Part 1 was shot just after the furniture consignment center came to pick up my piano, desk, credenza, chairs, and file cabinets - the pieces I once picked out by hand and then dreaded having to figure out how to move.
Part 2 was shot after clearing out my two-drawer lateral file cabinet, filled with all the pieces of paper I created during the five and half years of my school. After more than a year of not looking at these, it was amazing (and shocking) to see how much mental energy went into my planning and controlling and accounting for every single detail of every concert my students presented. What looked like a "tightly run ship" or "extremely organized" or "perfection" on the outside, I now recognize as the anatomy of a burnout for me.
Part 3 shows my progress of sorting things into "piles" on the end of day 1:
Part 4 was shot on the morning of day 2:
Part 5 shows the final empty space I left behind:
And finally, a shot of the pile I brought into my home...and am tackling a little bit each day:
Lately I have found that the best "medicine" I can give myself during the course of a day is to get out of my chair and go on a hike. I am fortunate to live within a few minutes' drive of several open space preserves, so there are no excuses! Except the voices in my head saying that I "should" be "working"...a very narrowly defined version of working indeed.
I've found that every time I actually take the action of going on the hike - against the more prudent advice of the thoughts in my heads saying things like, "Breaks are for the weak", and, "Working hard is the only way to survive in life" - I experience a burst of creative ideas and energetic opening, which makes me grateful for every breath and every step I can take. It's not like "working out" at the gym, which I did for many years and with much gusto.
Recently I took a hike and recorded two videos - one before and one afterwards. I set an intention (or actually a "goal") of practicing self-acknowledgment during the hike, since I had spent the better part of the day flogging myself to work harder, falling into the old thought pattern of, "It's never enough."
About halfway through the hike, I realized that in the effort and concentration of pursuing my goal of self-acknowledgment, I had not acknowledged anything that was going on in my immediate surroundings! I had not taken in the particular sights, sounds, and other physical sensations of being on a walk outdoors surrounded by open space and natural vistas. My head was down for most of the first half of the hike. But once I realized this halfway through, and opened myself to experience the present moment, I softened my gaze. I was not working so hard to be on this hike and accomplish rejuvenation as if it were another homework assignment by a teacher. I was shifting into receptivity and noticing everything gently, in real time. I started to look UP at the sky, notice the sounds of the birds, appreciate how the outline of the mountains against the sky, on this particular day, were barely visible because of the misty haze. I started to listen to the sound of my own footsteps on the trail, and how they provided a steady, soft rhythm over which the birds occasionally improvised their solos.
During the second half of my hike, there was a shift into musicality from what had started out mechanically.
This was my experience of coming into the present moment. You hear Eckhart Tolle and Oprah and other teachers talking about "being in the present moment", but what is your own experience of it, in your own body?
I post this as a reminder that we may spend lots of time trying to learn something, or pay someone to teach us "how to" do something, or read blog after blog in search of the answer to the questions in our heart. I believe that learning and growth are the ultimate purpose of our lives here on earth. However, keep in mind that the most important thing to do while learning is to notice yourself as you learn. By developing the ability to notice what is going on inside you, how you are applying the lessons specifically in your life, and honoring your experience as you respond to being taught, you are giving yourself the true gift of learning...and healing.
I encourage you to find the energy of openness and receptivity in your daily life through your own practice....maybe it's a hike, or maybe it's something else. Discover what restores YOU!
Video before the hike (where I set my intention):
Video after the hike (which felt like two different hikes based on a mind shift halfway through):
Even though I have found a place to store and/or organize many items in my home, I have noticed that so many of these items are ones I don't need or love anymore. At one time, they held an important place in my life. At one time, they were useful to me. At one time, they were needed on a regular basis.
But how about now? I have undergone three major career changes in my life, and have lived in five different cities over the past twelve years. I have had an underlying assumption that my life "should" be constantly expanding in size. An unexamined belief that progress and growth means accumulation of things. I have full closets that I haven't touched in several years. And while my mind and body and spirit are trying to move in a new direction, the weight of these untouched contents is becoming palpable.
For most of my life, I've had no model for how to eliminate things gracefully, naturally, and without guilt. Growing up, everything my family ever lost in life - whether it was a person, an opportunity, or a possession - was greeted with some degree of regret and disappointment. I was never taught to see the gift of loss.
Well, as part of my current learning and playing and exploring the realm of creativity, I am discovering that elimination is a necessary part of the cycle of creativity and life. I am learning to embrace the universal law of nature that life is cyclical, not linear. We are taught how to "move up" and "push forward", but we are seldom taught how to rest, renew, and eliminate....in effect, how to create space for the arrival of what's ready to come.
I've experienced this metaphorically in several arenas - letting go of a professional path, letting go of a certain geography, letting go of owning a home, letting go of a wardrobe, letting go of a business I created, letting go of my need to tell other people what to do, letting go of my need to know the answer all the time.
My life keeps teaching me that it's OK - necessary, actually - to keep letting go, because each time I do, more peace and more freedom are revealed to me.
Right now? The lesson is letting go of a lease obligation. Letting go of furniture I chose personally and bought brand new, things I loved at the time but no longer need.
It's huge. So huge that I can't articulate all the lessons I'm learning. To do so would block me from fully experiencing what I'm living through right now.
Someday I"ll have more to say, but for now here are 3 short videos from a recent visit to one of my closets at home.
Part 1 of 3:
Part 2 of 3:
Part 3 of 3:
Copyright Lisa Chu, The Music Within Us, 2009-2019.