Why is it that the very people who really show up for their personal-growth work are also the ones who love to lay trips on themselves about how they should be further along than they are? The more they get a handle on the equanimity thing, the more they believe they should be unflappable. The more they clear their judgments and divest themselves of should, the more they believe they should never judge. They're downright horrified when something really throws them off, especially if any reaction on their part makes them feel mean, judgmental, disconnected, unforgiving, sad, hopeless, despairing — go ahead, name your ugly. The shame they then feel (and doesn't shame feel bad enough?) packs a double wallop because they're ashamed of feeling shame. They've been completely bamboozled by this crazy thing they tell themselves, “I should be beyond this.”
If you have any capacity for questioning your negative, critical, judgmental thoughts about others, then please don't believe the thoughts that would dictate a list of shoulds requiring you to move consistently through whatever life brings in the most serene and blameless way. If you've eavesdropped on your thoughts, you know how your version goes. I'd like to make a case that you shouldn't be beyond anything (except, of course, whatever you're actually beyond, and you may forget what that is because it won't be showing up anymore). And if you're capable of ever laying the I should be beyond this trip on yourself, join me now in considering it carefully so that next time you find yourself there, you may see how to show up differently and actually benefit from the experience. (It really helps to look at what we do while we're not doing it.)
It's my belief that life's job is to throw you off and push you to your walls. It will use all manner of creative innovation and maddening redundancy to do this. Listen to yourself go over the evidence (out loud or in your head, again) of all that happened before you lost it. (And then I was going to run back in to get it, even though there wasn't a second to spare, and that's when I learned I'd locked myself out. Of course, this was the moment he had the gall to say. ...) Didn't it take a fascinating sequence of happenings or several things rushing in all at once for you to blow your fuse or let something so important fall through the cracks or go back to feeling depressed or otherwise forget yourself in such a spectacular way? Didn't it involve people or events pushing up against some major button — otherwise stated, something unhealed inside you that's tender and vulnerable and oozing with something ugly that you don't know — haven't yet known — how to clear?
Life's job is to clear your unhealed places. It will do this by creating whatever situation or sequence of events you need in order to have it all brought right up to the surface. When this happens, chances are very good that you'll sometimes React. You'll sometimes behave as the worst version of yourself — the one you may have thought your spiritual practices or personal-growth work or even the simple fact of time made obsolete. This is where you might feel horrible about your response and take it as evidence that you're a bad person after all, that you're not worthy of being a parent (friend, lover, spouse, teacher, mentor, therapist, boss, coach — whatever), that you're a complete failure.
Here's another possibility: welcome the whole experience. This includes catching (but not believing) the thoughts that judge your behaviors and emotions and tell you you should be beyond this. Please don't confuse welcome as meaning bright smiles and joyful feelings. This is not a Tupperware party or a picnic of any kind. But it could be your liberation.
To welcome it, start by simply saying, “I am willing.” If you're not there yet, make it a question: “Are you willing?” Here it is, like it or not. There's not a thing you can undo about this moment or the ones that preceded it and landed you right here. It's good to get to I'm willing in those moments when there's nowhere else to go. And I'm willing can certainly coexist with I hate this and This is not what I wanted. Still, it acknowledges, Here I am.
(Here's a quick illustration in case you need one: If you're walking in the snowy cold and you're not home yet and there's no one stopping to offer a ride, what good does it do to tell yourself the lie that you're not willing? Of course you're willing: here you are, walking in the snow. I am willing puts you back in alignment with reality, it's honest, and it reconnects you to choice — because it certainly is an option to choose that moment to lie down and die.)
Why should you be willing? Because when life pushes you to your walls, those are the moments you get to move closer to the very thing you most want for yourself, speaking on the soul level. It's interesting and maybe ironic that those are also the moments when you feel farthest away from that, and the times you potentially like and believe in yourself the least and see a bunch of evidence accruing all at once for the likelihood you'll never get there. But will you take in this radical thought? This very scenario, all of your reactions and self-judgments included, is precisely the thing to get you where you want to be.
What is it that you most want? Maybe you want to be and live love. How can you do that unless you're willing to show up and love yourself when you feel hideously ugly after you've screamed and yelled at your kids or your lover? Maybe you want to stand consistently in your power. How can you do that if you don't encounter the person or circumstance that makes you wilt and clam up and fail to draw an important boundary? Maybe you want to be and live peace and practice tolerance and forgiveness. How can you do that if you can't pardon your murderous self on death row? Do you want to be self-sufficient? Then don't you need to face the thing that makes you abandon yourself? Then there are those who actually want to reach enlightenment. Wow. Well, if that's you, if there's even one thing left that could make you drop that intention in favor of attacking someone else or yourself, don't you need to bump up against that thing? Wouldn't you welcome it? Are you willing?
Whatever you're trying to get to in this life, all of life will help you get there. It's a blessed fact that this sometimes looks like loving faces beaming at you, things falling into your lap, helpers showing up right when you need them — that's the good stuff. And it's just as true (and truly, just as good) that it sometimes looks like you weeping on the hard stairs or putting a hole through the wall or speaking hate to the one you most love. Sometimes it looks like you all wrapped up in the cloak of shame with no idea how to peel the thing off, and suspecting you deserve it as a permanent outfit. Maybe you could find some nice scarlet letter to embroider on for a nice splash of color. ...
So when you lose it or behave badly or get hopelessly confused; when you go back to whatever version of angry, jealous, mean, vindictive, clueless, or spineless that you thought was way behind you; when you react in any way that feels mean, judgmental, disconnected, unforgiving, sad, hopeless, despairing—go ahead, name your ugly—can you make space for that, too, instead of then turning all of that on yourself? What if this too is admissible as part of the growth process you know you're showing up for? What if your essential beauty is still intact? And what if exactly what's happening, including the worst of what you feel about yourself in the moment, is your one-way ticket home?
love & blessings, Jaya
Join me, if you will, in a new vision of love. As you read this to try it on, you might put many faces & kinds of relationships to the word BELOVED. I invite you to stretch yourself in love, stretch your ideas around love, stretch into new behaviors in love. I invite you to a love overhaul--a grand experiment, if you will.
My aim, which I may grope toward gracelessly & will only achieve imperfectly, is to love as purely as I’m able at any given moment. I love myself at least enough to let love be pure perfection in the imperfect ways I give and receive it as I evolve. I love others by appreciating and accepting the gorgeously imperfect love with which they grace me. I am willing to grapple with, to keep meeting, what challenges me in the realms of love.
Toward the beloved, I seek to be in a state of ongoing discovery (awe, curiosity, joy!), instead of holding to all I’ve decided so far about who they are (and worse, letting that become an accruing list of here-we-go-again grievances). My love gets to allow their becoming, and to acknowledge the journey that they’re on beyond me and sometimes (I am wowed by this privilege daily) with or near me.
I allow the journey of the beloved to follow its own timeline, not the one I would draw up—as if I had such drafting skills!—and not the one my impatience or discomfort would demand. When I require others to make me comfortable or to pander to my fears or to fix what’s unhealed inside me, I have stepped out of love. I accept this. I must and I will step out of love; others must and they will, too. It’s madness to expect anything else. I aim to witness with no judgment when either of us slips off-track—or to witness the judgment of self or other, and start there, soothe that first. I aim to simply call myself back to love.
My ongoing intention is swift course-correction back to love. I am in love with this very intention!
Maybe I don’t instantly feel love in such course-correcting moments. I know there’s no problem. Sometimes simply reversing the direction of my focus is all that’s needed to get me back to love (and eventually the feelings always follow): I shift the focus away from changing, correcting, instructing the beloved (even with the innocent motive to help them get me!) and bring the focus inward instead, toward soothing and perhaps better understanding myself. (The conversations with the other can follow, from a more grounded and kinder place.)
If something in my interactions with the beloved pushes a button or rubs up against a raw, unhealed place inside me, I am not shocked or dismayed; I do not believe something has gone wrong. I do seek to soothe myself. I do deconstruct the old, wrong decisions I made about myself or about love or about the way life works. I will bring love to myself first. I will love the beloved so much that I will take care of myself first, so great is my clarity that my well-being is no one else’s job and that my purest love comes from a place of self-love, of wholeness within myself. (I also allow my self-love and wholeness to be works in progress, dynamic entities or energies that wax and wane.)
I understand that it happens, in love connections of all kinds, in both directions, that buttons are pushed, core wounds are triggered, pain arises. It is not the job of love to prevent this. It is not a failure of love when this occurs. In fact, it’s the opposite at play: the job of love is to expose what needs to heal, so the hand of love will brush against every available bruise without meaning to, without trying.
When it’s my button pushed or my pain prodded, I well know the tendency to make that about the wrongs of the other: what they do wrong, how they don’t show up for me, the maddening way they phrase it, the way they’ve done this before and have failed to hear what I said about the impact on me. I aim to make it about me instead, my greater self-understanding, my healing and evolution, my expansion into greater love.
I aim to hear in my own mind and speech anything that resembles: Correct yourself faster for me, see what you can’t yet see because I insist that you see it for me, do the impossible to please me and make me feel loved, be who you are not—so I can relax. I know how to course-correct. I can come back to I release you to your life; I release myself to mine. I can and will come back to love, even if all that means at first is feeling the pain, soothing myself, loving the beloved for a moment from afar, as best I can, coming close again with nothing understood or just a fragment of wavering light to tender.
I will sing with Iris Dement, Just because I’m hurting, that don’t mean that you’ve done something wrong. I am willing to apply that going in both directions. People hurt on planet Earth. People hurt in human relationships. Sometimes I hurt in mine; sometimes the beloved hurts in relationship to me. Still, I’m willing to love.
I love myself so much that I’m willing to let the beloved be mad at me or disappointed in me --and I won't use that as an excuse to believe there’s something wrong with me. In those moments, I go after my pain to soothe it--I do not go after the beloved to see who they want me to be now. I go after love to embody it. I don't go after the beloved when I’m unclear with myself. I will not abandon myself. I will not think I’m bad or wrong when their pain is called forth, when their buttons have been pushed (as they must be; as they will be).
I am willing to hear them talk when they’re ready and to listen carefully, to listen with love. This does not mean that I rush to fix their reactions—never mind seek to prevent them! I allow the beloved to be in their process. I invite them back to connection, to communication, and to love in right timing. I may get that timing wrong. I’m willing.
I am willing to listen to the beloved and I am willing to look at myself, but I am not willing to automatically think that I’m wrong just because another thinks I am. I will always feel compassion when my phrasing or timing—or whatever—came in the wrong package for them and brought up their pain. I am sincerely sorry when my reactivity or wrong interpretation or personality tendencies got played out in a way that was hurtful to the beloved, and I want to make it right however I may be able to do so.
But I will not grovel. I cannot be sorry that their stuff comes up with me: it must, it will, and I trust they’re equipped to meet it; I trust we’re both equipped to find love again together. I will not be sorry when my stuff comes up with them: it must, it will, and I trust I’m equipped to meet it; I trust we’re both equipped to find love again together.
Love & blessings, Jaya
Invitation to come closer to the breath, closer to your heart, closer to the core of your being. And to walk you that way, I'd like to tell you the story of meeting a drenched little baby bird who ended up coming home with me.
At the bottom of this post, you'll find a 20-ish-minute (19:29) audio meditation that I've made. Its purpose is to take you to the level of connection to breath and heart and self that you may not visit often, if ever. My aim is to give you an actual experience, because ultimately this something to do, not read about: come to the breath with beginner's mind, as if you'd never been walked through conscious breathing before; experience the lived and felt act of dropping in fully to the place that's open to radical self-love—so that you might in fact drop in, drop down some more into deeper and subtler levels, and keep going deeper. Scroll down to the end (just above bottom pics) for this plus a second heart meditation for getting out of any self-recrimination (from the vague sense that somehow you're not doing it right to an acute bout of self-loathing) (21:14).
Here's the first heart meditation meditation link now in case you'd like to go directly there. I invite you to follow that link when you're able and willing to drop in fully. I can imagine having spoken the exact same words here with so much silence woven in that it lasted 3 times that long. Or with nothing but silence. So if you're drawn to tend your heart by coming very close to it and simply steeping in love, requiring nothing of yourself or the love (not that these are separate entities), then I invite you to do it once all the way through; let in all the reminders and instructions. Then you may want to do such a meditation more often with or without me to talk you through it. I invite you, even just once, to follow it as is through the layering of instruction. Gently stay with it. Flow along. Then you might take yourself through at your own pace, in your own way, once you hear how this version goes. This could be the stuff of a grand experiment.
Are you willing to come closer to your breathing than you ever have before? Are you willing to meet your own heart? How are you willing to meet your heart? Are you willing to pause to consider what it could look like to tend your heart? Would you do that just to test what's possible, not knowing how it actually works and not requiring yourself to figure that out on the first try?
What if your heart were a baby bird you came upon on the sidewalk, that day in August when the rains were pounding so hard you wondered if suddenly monsoon season had messily blown over to Ithaca? Let’s say the bird was tiny and drenched and crouched on the sidewalk just off the curb in a wretched state, blinking weirdly and sometimes just closing its eyes like it was thinking about shutting down—though it kept accessing some powerful life force inside that allowed it to belt out some strong (LOUD) I-will-survive kind of bird chirps. (And hasn't your heart proven its desire to survive?)
Let’s say you squatted down feeling dreamily dazed and confused, thinking, But feet stomp down here, and dogs go by who are more tuned in and quicker than their people--aw, sweetheart, little baby bird, this will not do. Maybe you spent an hour in the rain on the phone going from the chicken lady to the Cornell vet school, then to the rehab dude. Somewhere in there, you moved the baby bird over 20 feet or so onto some vines that crept up the side of Dewitt Mall bricks, and no matter how much that baby screamed out its sharp little (LOUD) cheeps, all the other sparrows just picked up the ground-level seeds under the feeder somebody once hung there and keeps stocking, but they did not come feed that baby. At some point you started using girl pronouns because you didn’t like how IT hit—wrong pronoun. You also decided (and you didn’t mean to be clueless or offensive) that she was a sparrow because of the company she kept.
At some other point, it was the rehab guy’s best guess that this bird would probably die if you left her there. Later, he would shock you by telling you that even good-time squirrels—while it appears they're all fun and games and squeaky snacks—are not above eating a baby bird if no one's looking after her. But initially, Mr. Rehab was out of town for a couple of days, so yeah, what else, you ended up taking this soggy orphan home. You got to tend her long enough for her to dry and fluff up and generally clean up quite nicely, except for that one weird feathery spot on her head that kept sticking up. It suddenly flashed in on a random bolt of lucidity (day two) that the effects of the rain were long gone and this couldn't be bed head. You followed the impulse to google baby cardinal, and what came up was a picture of her. Didn't your heart grow three sizes that day?
It was kind of cool that she learned to fly in your living room and office, going from here to there pretty gracelessly, landing on cords and chair backs and stool rungs and the upright top of the laptop when you were using it. There was the occasional awkward attempt to land on your head, something you weren't that cooperative with perfecting. She seemed to appreciate the sticks you shoved into mason jars and vases and the brass bell when it struck you there was a serious dearth of perches in your home. She appreciated the red, yellow, and green cat pellets drenched to sogginess and shoved into her beak. (Is it sad you no longer remember her favorite color?)
Then Rehab dude came around and took her away to care for her the right way and reintroduce her to the wild. Thanks to Facebook you learned about the cardinals who kept coming 'round to visit, during the phase in the outdoor cage when she was outside but still closed in, who claimed her as one of theirs when the doors were left open, ready or not. You got to see the video of her flying away. And hey, turns out you were right: she was a she.
What if that sweet baby-girl cardinal were your heart?
What if you valued that heart of yours whether or not you knew for sure it would end up yielding some amazing reddish feathers that allowed true flying? What if you never gave up on it? What if you could stop whatever you were doing, just let it all go and stand there in the rain, because that heart, whatever else it needed in general and for the long haul, at least seemed to want your care, your arrested attention, your focused gaze?
I didn’t mean to write about this little bird. I wasn’t going to. I didn’t even want to. But I did find myself using her as a metaphor when talking to young people who were looking away from their own needs because—too busy tap-dancing for others. And she snuck into unscripted meditations I was narrating, as if a blinking baby bird made any sense there at all. And when I tried to forget about her, somebody who lent me their office for the day at Cornell had a little cardinal tchotchke sitting on the windowsill. And then that evening, the dog I was walking crossed the street for seemingly no reason (Marigold instantly wanted to cross right back over), and in the place where we landed momentarily before boomeranging back, two red feathers asked to be picked up. (I added them to the planter I'd already gifted with volunteer blue jay and starling feathers.)
I’ve gotten so serious about coming close to my own heart. I want to invite you to the same: come close to yours. I made a meditation to walk you there if you want a guide just for a moment—not because you need one, but maybe because, like me, you just like someone to hold a structure for you sometimes so you can drop in easily and see what happens. Maybe you like to be surprised, as on that day when the upstate New York monsoon came down hard on trees and nests and nestlings, and you were just trying to walk from point A to point B but had to stop. Because, oh, wow, what? Baby bird? So drenched, so lost, still screaming out a vote for survival. I don’t know about you, but I love to heed the call.
Love & blessings, Jaya
Here's the same Calming Heart Meditation linked above, which you can listen to right here by clicking on the arrow to the left:
Here's the second Heart Meditation for Clearing Self-Reproach:
You can also find the second meditation by following this link: Heart Meditation for Clearing Self-Reproach.
Who Are You to Ask Yourself Crushing Questions?
No such thing as a stupid question? Maybe not, but in the realm of self-talk, questions can certainly be most unkind. Sometimes I tell my clients not to ask themselves disempowering questions. Notice the question is disempowering (self-demeaning, deflating, discouraging, unkind) and DROP IT. Approach what you're wondering about from another angle. But another interesting tactic is to answer the questions you ask yourself—especially when they're mean-spirited or sarcastic. Unanswered, they may leave you feeling stuck with the defeating messages they imply.
Who does that?
Someone told me recently about staying too long in an emotionally abusive relationship, making one excuse after another for her partner. She didn't want to give up on him or to declare him unworthy by leaving, so she hung in there for the ongoing manipulations and verbal attacks that eroded her own self-worth. “Who does that?” she bemoaned.
Uh, short answer? Lots of people. Pause for a quick brainstorm, and you'll find more plausible answers in no time:
Better, right? Leaving Who does that? unanswered only leaves in place the clueless loser who obviously fills in the blank. Answer it, and self-compassion comes in—and even points you to growth and healing.
What was I thinking?
You've asked yourself this one, right—in the realm of work or love or parenting? It's another self-scolding question that can invite kindness and bring insights—but only once it's genuinely answered. This question is interesting in that it's actually more helpful to answer it in the negative. That is, consider what you weren't thinking, or what you didn't have in view.
Just a few answers shed a kinder light already. Now you can better see how to course-correct—make amends, invite deeper communication, forgive yourself.
Do I get to have my cake and eat it too?
My client Marie asked me this recently when she feared she was being entitled by quitting a sought-after job (in which she felt her dignity was at stake—quitting was actually a great call). And now, here she was wanting an even better job! The question itself clearly reveals it's not okay at all, in her current mental framework, to want so very much.
For questions like this, drop the metaphor and consider what's really being asked. Try answering these instead:
Marie's loaded version is a great example of how questions to the self can reveal the deep, unresolved stuff people carry around unconsciously. She'd gotten repeating messages in childhood and beyond that life requires working hard, making sacrifices, accepting that you can't have it all, and so on—until she couldn't want more than two things without calling herself unrealistic and entitled! It's so useful to dig this stuff up, give it a good look, and consider what else is possible.
You won't get to the good stuff by leaving a question hanging, though. Are you kidding me? How's that working for you? Take a breath, please, and take a moment to answer the question. You just may land in kindness and clarity.
Love & blessings, Jaya
P.S. My last example leads me to this: I highly recommend The Big Leap, by Gay Hendricks. This book brilliantly addresses the Upper Limits Problem--those unconscious places where we think we've got as much as it's okay to have in any realm of life; where we get uncomfortable and start to sabotage the expansion and integration seeking to support our ongoing journey of healing and evolution and of becoming all that we're here to be!
“I KNOW IT INTELLECTUALLY BUT …”
But? But your heart can't rise to such lofty thinking? Your gut's in a wad, like it just got punched, and won't let the message filter down?
I'm fascinated to watch people push the logical mind away from matters of the heart, as if head and heart don't speak the same language. In fact, they do. I want to invite you to bring them both to the table for parley. You're out of whack when you feel this divide, and it's important (and actually not that hard) to realign.
SAY THE WHOLE SENTENCE.
When someone bringing me active pain launches some “I know it in my head” sort of statement, I often hit the pause button and have them find what they're actually saying—and actually say it.
THERE'S NO PROBLEM WITH HEAD-HEART LAG.
So what that you know the truth but you're not feeling it yet? You'll get there. Feelings do come along later—have you noticed? Nobody says, “I know in my heart that it's okay she died peacefully in her sleep at 85, but my head just can't wrap around it.” You're right on schedule if your wounded feeling self is limping along (even dripping a bit of blood) behind the seemingly cold, antiseptic facts. Those facts could actually support your emotional self in its healing (I'll tell you how—read on). So really, truly: there's no problem.
YOU COULD MAKE IT A PROBLEM, THOUGH.
Don't use head-heart lag as an excuse not to budge. When coaching clients tell me, “I know it intellectually, but ...” they're often starting to argue for limitations or declare that they're stuck stuck stuck. Okay, so you see you're not fully aligned with the truth of your situation. Good to notice—actually useful to take in. But don't stop there. Having noticed, now move toward alignment.
WHATEVER YOU DO, DON'T PUT YOUR HEART IN CHARGE HERE.
If the heart leads the head, you'll just get more out of whack. I'm not talking about distrusting the heart or making the head more important. In this specific case, when you know something to be true that the heart has not yet gotten behind, you'll just make trouble if you decide for the uncertain, hurting heart and disregard what you understand as true for you. Have you ever watched in horrid fascination while someone you love talked themself back into the bad relationship? Ay, bolstered by the beating bruise inside the chest, they listed reason after reason why this (perfectly normal, if harsh) pain meant they must hurry back to Way Wrong. What you watched them do was yank the mind into alignment with the heart.
Anyone can find or fabricate reasons those strong, compelling feelings must be telling the truth. The mind is adept at digging up evidence for any idea, true or false. (Remember your high-school self in speech class compiling proof for both sides of the debate?) But you're going the wrong direction if you try aligning head with heart, and this could mean a costly detour. Go the other way. How, again?
DO USE YOUR HEAD TO SOOTHE YOUR HEART.
Make soothing yourself a priority, especially when feelings are raw. If you put your head in charge, this doesn't mean you have to shove down feelings (bad idea!) or treat them like they don't matter in the face of sound logic (odious self-invalidation). Instead, you can actually use your capacity to reason to gently bring the heart along. (It actually wants to catch up.)
Tell your feeling self anything you can believe that's actually true. Let's say you made the short list of job candidates but didn't get the offer. Tell yourself: I was one of three seriously considered out of many. I got their attention. The interviews went swimmingly—I even had fun. I presented well. This is good news, not bad. My experience is solid—I feel great about my resume. It doesn't mean I'm not good enough if someone else was a better fit. That won't keep me from the right job for me. I even see why this wasn't the one (and name those reasons specifically). …
Do carry on. Keep using what you know intellectually to speak sweetly to the heart, and be sure you tell only the truth.
Here's a trick: Don't expect what the head comes up with to make the heart instantly stop hurting. You're just soothing the heart—not fixing it, not making it all better. You're being there for yourself, letting the wiser part of you help you scooch from wretched to bearable, and eventually to total healing. Allow the journey, and trust it. Trust your knowing. What you know intellectually can help your heart find its way to alignment.
TRY SAYING THIS
I know it intellectually and I'm holding my heart kindly while it catches up to the facts. I know I don't need to rush this, and I'll review what I know to be true often so I don't start telling myself lies or yanking my tender heart in the wrong direction. I trust my process and intend to make it as kind as I can.
Love & blessings, Jaya