Category Archives: Reflection

You Must Be Dreaming

The title of today’s blog is the chapter title from the book Maybe It’s You: Cut the Crap. Face Your Fears. Love your Life by Lauren Handel Zander. As some of you know, I have embarked on a 6-month coaching engagement with the Handel Group, and I am going to be brave and share some of the “resistance” that is coming up for me right now.

Maybe you will have some advice for me. I am not sure. Maybe writing about my resistance to dreaming will help me get through the obstacles that my mind is constructing against the goal.

My first assignment was quite lengthy, a short bio about myself (which was not short, I actually wrote 12 pages) and a chance to dream about 12 areas in my life. This included: self, body, love, spirituality, career, money, time, home, family, friends, fun & adventure and community & contribution.

After writing our dreams for these areas I needed to rate each area and then write out the current reality and to explain why we gave ourselves the current rating. Then I was asked to explain why I have not been able to realize the dream in that area of life so far.

This is not “easy” homework! I enjoyed writing the biography. That was fun, and I have been practicing my writing skills, so though it was quite a trip down memory lane, it felt good. Telling the story of our lives can be very revealing for a coach or therapist. Since we are the authors of our own lives, I am sure that someone reading can learn a lot about what we think about ourselves from reading the stories we tell.

The dreaming part was HARD for me! I started to do it and realized that I am pretty happy with my life overall, and that dreaming seemed indulgent. Shouldn’t I just be grateful for having more abundance in my life than most people in the world? Is it really okay to want more for myself?

I started the assignment, and then when back and read the areas the next day and realized those “dreams” I had written down did not really inspire me. It was much easier to write about where I am currently than it was to risk writing down my dreams. So I re-did that part of the homework a few days later and tried to dream bigger.

I believe that writing down our dreams, really imagining vividly what they look like, sound like, taste like and feel like can be a key to achieving them. Sometimes, as Martha Beck would say, it can be painful to dream. If it has been some time since we actively pursued our dream, we may feel sad or regretful about giving up on a dream.

Or I am finding that I  absorbed some lessons about dreaming that include: “Sometimes you can’t have what you want. You should be happy with what you have. Not everyone can have their dream. Some of us have to work for a living.”

During my first session, my coach picked one of my lower-rated areas and asked me to read my dream out loud. I did. It sounded lame. She asked if that really inspires me. No, not much. So my homework for the session (we meet every 2 weeks) is to re-write that dream for what I envision one year from now. It is supposed to give me goosebumps.

Since the topic is money, she asked me to include specific numbers. I need to also write where I am now, including specific numbers as well. I will talk with my husband about this topic as well, and align on responsibilities about money stuff.

Simple, right?

I wish!

The resistance that comes up for me is all about: shouldn’t I be working the career goal first? What if I work out a money dream and the career aspiration doesn’t follow? Since I make good money now, what if I paint myself into a corner regarding goals and then I don’t make the choices I want in my career? And if buying a home is in the one year goal, what if we do that, and then things don’t work out with my career change goal, and then we have a harder road in the future? What if? What if? What if?

See where my brain goes? Yikes. That’s what dreaming does for me.

do your homework

All those areas of resistance and fear come up. But I am going to stay with it. I am going to write out my money dream for a year out, and then respectfully listen but then ignore those voices for a bit. At least until I finish my homework.

Do you dream regularly? Do you write down your dreams for the future? Do they excite you? What gets in the way of dreaming up what your heart desires? I would love to hear what types of strategies you use to get past any resistance you may have to dreaming.

 

 

Advertisements

Inside Out

What if everything you thought you knew was wrong? 

What if you woke up tomorrow and you saw the world in a completely different way? For example, what if you learned that reality is in your imagination, that you generate your world. It is not some objective truth “out there” but rather constructed by your inner world, and projected outward.

Kind of a radical idea, no?

And yet, what cognitive scientists and linguists like George Lakoff tell us, human beings use mental frames to explain their reality. We can observe facts or circumstances in the world, and when they do not fit our frameworks, our way of explaining the world, we simply dismiss them as exceptions. We cling very strongly to our beliefs about how the world works, and this helps us to live and make decisions.

Sometimes our beliefs are actually wrong. Beliefs are really just thoughts we keep thinking over and over again. They may come from what we were taught growing up. They may be reinforced by societal programming. They begin to seem like reality because maybe everyone around us holds the same beliefs.

It can feel very threatening when we begin to question our beliefs. There is a biological reason for this. Our brains like to be efficient and avoid pain. So we develop neural pathways that serve as “shortcuts” that help us make choices and decisions about the world. This way we don’t have to evaluate all of our more automated activities, like driving to work, or walking down the hallway. These are automatic skills we develop and practice all the time.

It is a healthy to question our beliefs now and then, and it has radically changed my own life. When I realized that beliefs are a choice, and I can consciously choose new beliefs, my head kind of exploded.

First you have to be conscious of your beliefs. I will use food as an example, because it is easy to understand. I spent most of my adult life, until about 3 years ago in fact, believing that consuming fat in my diet would make me fat or keep me fat. It is easy to understand how I would form such a belief: nearly all the dietary guidelines recommend a low fat diet. The food industry has perpetuated the idea that sugar is fine for us, but we should consume “x” as part of a low-fat heart-healthy diet.

Imagine my amazement when instead of battling my body and brain’s natural inclination to consume fat, I began to add much more of it to my diet. I switched from skim milk to whole milk (gradually of course, going to 1%, 2% and then whole). I started using butter and olive oil liberally in my cooking. I went bananas for avocados (which I have always loved, but thought I should limit because of fat content).

As it turns out, over the past 18 months, I have lost 20 pounds on a high-fat diet. The loss has been sustainable and easy to maintain. At the same time, I cut way back on sugar and flour, because those powdered substances did not make my body feel good, when I started paying close attention. I defied all the conventional wisdom on eating three meals and several snacks a day to avoid low blood sugar.

Snacks really are an emotional event, they are not required for survival. They are not necessary for people in places where food is abundant and obesity runs rampant. Our bodies are well-adapted to periods without food, and our ancestors fasted regularly. Once we add back natural fats to our diet and ditch the foods that give us unnatural insulin spikes (flour, sugar and processed foods) we actually start becoming fat-adapted. Our bodies use ketosis to burn fat stores for energy, rather than just blood sugars.

Imagine my amazement, and my anger, when I realized there is a belief perpetuated that keeps so many people struggling with their weight. Sadly, there are public policies that perpetuate this incorrect belief and help perpetuate obesity and illness in our population. It is not about calories in and out, it is about insulin resistance.

But back to beliefs: what if I had not questioned this conventional wisdom, and had just accepted it as truth? The belief did not serve me. It actually was causing harm to my body and brain health. When I listened to my body, and paid attention to what made me feel more vital and energetic, I began to understand.

So lately I have been exploring other beliefs: what if money is not hard to earn? What if I am capable of certain things I never imagined? What if the ideas I learned by example in my culture were just plain misguided? Do these beliefs serve me? What if I adopted a new belief on that particular front?

Wow. It nearly makes my head explode, to consider about the possibilities. I am working right now on questioning my beliefs about money. I am sure to share what I learn in future posts.

But I challenge you also: What do you accept as true in your life that may not be serving you? Are there some beliefs that need cleaning out in your life? Consider the possibilities. I dare you.

 

 

 

Why Now?

I speculated with my husband a few weeks ago about why the #MeToo campaign has really gained traction now, finally, after all these decades of bad behavior. I have a theory that so many women of my generation watched what happened to Anita Hill, and said, “shit, that is NOT worth it” and remained silent.

There are factors like “social proof” in terms of watching other women reporting harassment and abuse, and having nothing happen. Or worse, you see how coming forward hurts others careers when speak up, so you decide it will not help your career to report.

But then when the Harasser in Chief took office, there was a cascade of old trauma that came to the fore, and women started to think, why NOT now? If we cannot lash out at the most powerful predator, at least let us expose the ones that are within reach. That was my theory, anyway. I also saw a possible tipping point after the Harvey Weinstein story really took hold, an unleashing of all these incidents that could no longer be joked about or contained.

why now ashwini tambe photo.JPG

Photo credit link – article from Ashwini Tambe

When I listened to the Hidden Brain podcast entitled “Why Now?” published on February 5, 2018, I was happy to note there is an actual term for this concept from social science called “horizontal action.” It originates from the concept of “horizontal violence” where it has been found that in colonial regimes, when people cannot lash out against the ruler, they lash out against people in their own lives.

When the pressure builds up and cannot blow the top off of a problem, it comes out sideways. Feminist studies professor Ashwini Tambe explains that “the election of Trump has served as a trigger, and it has provoked a great fury and impatience because he represents for many people the ultimate unpunished predator.” Horizontal action is a way that women have channeled in their lives their anger at the misogyny that has been building for far too long.

“It is so unbelievable that we have a president, who is the leader of the free world and does not care about the rights of women” (quote from the podcast). When someone who has bragged about kissing women and touching them against their will as though he owned them becomes our leader, we find ways to bring at men to account who committed other offenses.

This totally makes sense to me.

The podcast also describes other phenomena like “preference falsification” which blinds regimes to their citizen’s growing dissatisfaction. This describes how it seems surprising that the Wall came down, even when it looked like the Soviet Union may have been strong.

Please listen to this episode of Hidden Brain. I think it really helps to explain the psychology behind the secrecy of the abuse, and the reason many women stayed silent. We should not discount the trauma that shut people down who are in vulnerable circumstances.

We also need to keep speaking up and setting new norms around behavior, even though we may be perceived as “ugly” instead of polite. Women have been held back by centuries (perhaps millennia) of intimidation, oppression and violence.

It is time to hold men accountable and call out behavior that is wrong. At least, seeing how many women are doing this around us helps us know we are not alone. It is time to stop blaming victims for their inability to speak up earlier. We can all be a part of the solution to this problem now.

 

Why do we crucify ourselves?

I love early mornings, when I sit with my coffee and write, sometimes with a cat on my lap, sometimes just with a few fresh ideas in my head. After a good night’s sleep, my mind is clear, and sometimes the remnants of a dream come forth. Very often I forget them right away, and that is okay. My subconscious lets me know when I need to remember them.

This morning I had fragments in my head of a song by Tori Amos that I have not hear in years, possibly decades: “Why do we crucify ourselves?” So that was fascinating. It is a good question though. Why indeed?

Isn’t it amazing how some music imprints itself upon us in a way we cannot explain. This particular album was introduced to me by my best friend in college. The Little Earthquakes album was a staple of our music mix in those days.

“I gotta have my suffering so I can have my cross…”

Yeah. I guess some of us were taught to use Jesus as an example of behavior we should follow. I am going to risk offending people in this post, and probably confess my beliefs here and how they have changed over the years.

I wholeheartedly embrace the example of Jesus as a spiritual teacher, perhaps even a savior in a way. But I always puzzled at people who are so self-sacrificing that they neglect their own self care. The Bible says that Jesus died for our sins, that his suffering was our redemption. So why do we insist on suffering more than needed?

Every human being suffers. It is part of our DNA. It is part of what helps us have empathy for others, the understanding of sadness, of grief, of anger, of any depth of emotion. And yet when we are young, some of us are told “don’t cry, it will be okay” or “honey, don’t be sad.”

It reflects possibly our parents’ inability to deal with their own emotions that they asked us not to express our own. Everyone has sadness, anger or loneliness at times in their life. It is okay. Nothing has gone wrong. These emotions help us to connect with ourselves, and with others, and to let us know when things may need to change in our lives.

Anger is how we SHOULD react to injustice. It is something that can motivate action, though not necessarily sustain it. And yet many of us were taught not to express anger, but to fear it. Or we were not shown that it was okay to be sad sometimes. But being angry or sad is part of the human condition, nothing that should shame us.

When we resist or deny our feelings, that is when they cause more suffering. Our feelings are like vibrations in the body. They come, they move through us, and they complete themselves. Probably no other practice has helped me understand this than yoga and meditation. Every emotional state is temporary. Many of these states are a result of our thoughts rather than anything external.

Simply by feeling our feelings, possibly naming and acknowledging them, we allow them to move through us. They can be a guide to let us know we should reach out to friends and connect with loved ones. They can help us know when we are moving toward danger or toward joy.

As more people develop emotional intelligence, they may learn to identify and embrace their emotions rather than “buffer” them away with alcohol, food, Netflix or other addictions. Instead of piling on the guilt and shame over feeling sad or angry, they can release this added suffering and feel more peace.

I certainly have not mastered this, and have had to deliberately practice feeling my feelings, and identifying the thoughts behind them. But it has allowed me to stop crucifying myself over mistakes, or my own shortcomings. That serves nobody. I am pretty sure Jesus would agree with me on this one, and allow me to forgive myself.

 

 

 

Going All In

I am about to embark on a 6-month coaching engagement with the Handel Group. There is quite a bit of homework due before the first session which is next Wednesday, and I am both excited and a little scared.

My coach assures me this is a good place to be. We are going to get truthful about some areas in my life where I want to make change, and it will require a commitment to doing the work, and taking action. I will be writing up a biography and evaluating 12 areas of my life, and also dreaming big about where I want things to be.

When I talked with my husband about this endeavor, I explained what it was, and why I wanted to commit some resources to it. I told him that I believe this can get me “unstuck” about where I am now, and that it is great timing because of the changes I plan to make in the next 6 months career-wise. He was understanding, and he said he thought it would be a good use of time and money, but only if I am “all in.”

As someone who likes to do a lot of personal development reading, experiments, habit change and self-help types of efforts, this is my jam. The challenge can come when I am pursuing a few too many different types of efforts, and dabbling a little in each. Then my efforts get diluted over a number of challenges, and no one effort gets real traction.

I recognize that my a.d.d. can contribute to this tendency to bounce around, doing a little of this, a little of that, but never fully committing to one or two BIG projects, or BIG change efforts. Why is this? I am trying to be honest with myself about why I find that hard, but also want to give myself the challenge of being ALL IN with this one.

One of my fears that I have had since being young is that of being bored. I was the kid who *always* had a book on hand, just in case I was stuck somewhere, having to wait and having nothing to do. Whether it was long road trips with the family, or having to spend time in a waiting room, I never wanted to feel like I had nothing to do.

In fact I almost never leave the house without a journal to write in or a book to read, in case I am caught in a place where I will have time with nothing to do. Now that I meditate every day, I do not worry as much about having nothing to do. In fact, I look for opportunities to practice mindfulness, in airports, in grocery stores (though that one is still harder for me).

But I still like to “toggle” in my life, between several different projects, in case I get stuck in one of them and then can switch to another one. That in itself is not bad. In fact, I think it is one reason I have thrived in my current department: we are always juggling a lot of different projects, and while it would overwhelm most people, I enjoyed it for many years, knowing I was sure never to get bored.

But there is a kind of Deep Work (Cal Newport writes about this) that I am missing right now in my work and life. When I have so many different “windows” open, like a computer running a lot of different applications at once, it exhausts me after a while. Sure, I never get bored. There is always something new coming my way. But it seems I sometimes use that to distract me from bigger, more important goals that deserve deeper and more consistent focus.

Do you ever struggle with that problem?

I think this tendency may be endemic to the distraction-filled lives we live today. With technology providing these many gateways to rich content: books, classes, podcasts, blogs, social media sites, YouTube videos and the like, we have a plethora of choices.

Some of it can be nourishing for the brain and the psyche, and I love learning. But that can be a distraction from practicing skills, and really truly embracing change efforts in our lives. I recognize that I am sometimes so intent to fill my brain with concepts, that I do not always put things into practice. At least as a clinical researcher, I have a skeptical eye about claims in books. I tend not to believe things unless I have tried them, or I have some good data to back up what the author claims.

So this time around, I am going all in on this coaching process. The investment is not insignificant, but it fits into my budget. I commit to doing the homework, and maybe even to share some of what I learn on this blog. At the very least, it will help me figure out my next move career-wise. But I think it has the potential to change and improve many other areas of my life also. I am ALL IN.

Happy weekend, friends.

 

 

 

Love over fear

Yesterday, I started practicing a new mantra, as I began to consider my actions in light of love or fear. This came from some reflection on yesterday’s blog and a conclusion I came to in seeing my work situation in a new way.

I started asking: “How can I act with more love and less fear in this moment?” It became apparent to me, when I realized that in leaving my current position in the next few months, I am not leaving my team. I am showing them what it is to be brave and to take on a new challenge. For months, I have been worrying about that, anxious about who would “look out” for them when I am gone. But by staying in department that constantly demands more from them, without providing the resources, I am just keeping a broken system intact. It’s like being a brick in the wall. But it may be a wall that needs to come down. Staying there is not an act of love, on a long-term basis.

Acting out of love rather than fear seems to require that we “re-wire” our brain in new ways, because it will probably seem familiar to us. We are used to doing things the way we have habitually learned to do them. Learning a new way requires practice and commitment.

I took a break from my work and headed to the gym for a quick treadmill run, to clear my head and get my endorphins flowing over the lunch hour. I practiced my new mantra: how can I act with more love and less fear in this moment?

What changed: I put my phone away and began looking into people’s eyes, smiling if they met my eyes. I paid attention to my body while I ran, instead of feeding myself mindless distractions with my iPod or phone. I used my run as more of a “breathing meditation” rather than an excuse to check out from my life. (It was a little hard with all of those video screens at the gym to provide distraction, but I focused on my breath and body anyway).

When I got back to my desk, I focused on bringing more love and less fear to each interaction with my coworkers, each email, each phone call. I kept asking myself that question: how can I act with more love in this moment? It kind of radically changed the amount of work I was able to get done, and the purposefulness in which I was able to complete the work.

When my husband returned home, I talked with him about my discovery, and then had a conversation about a topic I had been avoiding. I had not been sure how to talk about it. I was honest about feeling afraid before, and about how that has held me back sometimes. He was very open, and he was hearing me. He did not make me feel ashamed about that. He listened and he supported me. I felt much closer to him than I have in a long time.

It brings tears to my eyes as I write this, because I realize how often I have been acting from fear rather than acting to bring more love to all my interactions. I am extending compassion to myself also, knowing this is conditioned behavior, and it is not a character flaw on my part. I am exceeding grateful to recognize it now, and to be able to start consciously “un-conditioning” that automatic behavior. While it feels familiar, it does not serve me. It does not serve anyone.

When we choose to act to bring more love into our experience, rather than to react out of fear, we radically change the orientation of our lives. We bring different energy into our relationships, and into our spheres of influence. Some people may respond in confusion, as they are not used to this type of interaction. But most are grateful for this approach, and feel our caring.

I will try again today, as I am conducting interviews for an open position on my team, to use this mantra. I will need it as much for myself as for others. But I am eager to see what a difference it may make.

 

 

 

 

Only love is real

I have just finished reading “A Return to Love” by Marianne Williamson. This was after recently listening to her audio book Tears to Triumph: The Spiritual Journey from Suffering to Enlightenment from Audible.

Many of the authors and teachers I admire have recommended Marianne’s work and now I know why. She speaks of a spiritual foundation that I know as truth. She explains that only love is real. She explains that:

“Love in your mind produces love in your life. This is the meaning of heaven.

Fear in your mind produces fear in your life. This is the meaning of hell.”

My soul gives her a big “amen” or a “hell yeah”! when I consider the implications of those ideas. This is a truth we all know intuitively but we lose it along the way when our egos decide to do battle with our inner knowing.

There are some rather profound insights on forgiveness and on living in the present that are quite wonderful as well. And there is a very meaty chapter on relationships that I know I will read again because it was so full of wisdom that landed where I needed it.

This consciousness of humans, being able to spread ideas and wisdom through a book, a blog, a podcast, a video…what an amazing miracle we can witness in our time. It can be a great blessing when it spreads love or it can be misused when it spreads fear.

Last night I was listening to the radio and the Harasser in Chief was quoted in a news story, fear-mongering about the immigration system. He was warning us that we are letting in “bad people” and basically telling people to be fearful of our neighbors. I just had to shake my head and what seems like such an obvious tactic, spreading fear, keeping people from their highest purpose, which is to love one another.

We must start to know and understand that we are meant to love each other. We are all connected in consciousness and energy that is continuous rather than separate. Separation is the illusion, and it is a destructive one. When we begin to see that in a larger sense, we are cosmically connected, we can begin to heal the wounds that exist in all people.

To me, that begins with compassion. I must have compassion for myself, and know that I am doing my best. I must have compassion for others, because they are also doing their best. I work very hard to have compassion for our leaders, especially when they do things to spread fear. I try to empathize with the kind of fear and despair they must feel inside, the wounds that they carry which create their defensiveness. That is very hard, but I will continue to practice.

Only love is real. Everything else is an illusion. This is such a radical idea, and yet it rings true for me. The more I practice love, the more of it is released in the world. It is an infinite resource, and the more that is created, the more it grows. The more it grows, the more we all thrive. The more we all thrive, the more love we are able to share.