“My Grandmother Got Drunk,” and Other Thanksgiving Stories

You know you have a friend who knows and trusts you when you ask about Thanksgiving and they respond,

“My grandmother got drunk and fell down the stairs.” 

What keeps us from sharing the truth with people? Why, when most of us are asked, do we say, “It was great!” Or “I love Thanksgiving!” Even when that isn’t actually true?

Or maybe you say,

“It sucked. COVID sucks. I hate turkey.” 

It’s all paradox right? Some of us want to be with people who lift us up. Some of us want to be with people who can join us in our emotional realness. But all of us want to be with people who are real and neither of these perspectives offer the whole truth.

How do we get that?   

Presence.

When someone asks you about your holiday, do you immediately wonder, 

“What will they think if I tell them?” 

Or, in my case, I ask myself, 

“What do they actually want to know?” 

Curating my response has become a habit. I think about what they really want to know and then I give it to them. Because my quick mind can do some mental gymnastics pretty darn quickly and it always comes out in a way that they feel satisfied with my answer and I stop being caught up in whether I answered the question “the right way.”

But what if I didn’t do that?

What if I didn’t have the thought, “They aren’t really interested.” 

What if you didn’t think, “They’ll judge me!” 

What would be true then? 

I’ll tell you. 

Without the thought that they are just making conversation, I’d tell them the truth. I’d take a breath. I’d go within and wait for an answer to rise up. It might look like this: 

“You know, it was a really different year. I missed the high school football game and the energy of my extended family, but I really loved hanging out in my PJs, watching the parade, and smelling the turkey all day. Dinner was a loud shit show, but that’s how we are when we are together so I guess that it was like any other dinner that way.” 

When we layer a bunch of thoughts on top of the truth, we get confused as to what is actually true. When we jump out of the moment and into the future when (in our made up story) the person is judging us for our Thanksgiving, we fake it. We put a story on top of the truth so that it isn’t quite a lie, but it is a curated response. 

We aren’t in relationship with one another.

We are in relationship with each other’s stories. 

If we want to be living life wide awake, we need to start shedding the stories and get at the truth. Presence allows us to do that. A quick breath. A turning inward to check in.

An intelligent response comes from all three centers: our bellies, our open hearts, and our quiet minds.

Here is what happened. This is how it felt. This is what I think. The End.

Genuine, intelligent, real; a quality response to the question. 

So on Friday, when someone asks you how your Thanksgiving was, you might answer,

“My grandmother got drunk and fell down the stairs. We laughed away our fears when she stood up and joined us at the table. So I guess it was like any other family dinner that way.” 

Enjoy the holiday, however you spend it, and feel free to share how it went.

Really.

How Do I Know Whether I Need a Life Coach or a Therapist?

My practice has seen an onslaught of beautiful seekers looking for something, many not knowing exactly what. They aren’t happy, and while they may engage in conjecture about the reasons, they just haven’t been able to get out of their own way and move towards a goal. And sometimes, the goal is to have less anxiety. It is a coach-y/therapy-y issue, but which one?

This crossroads presents a choice to the seeker:

“Who can help me?”

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1.   Do you need to see someone?

  • No one actually needs a coach. Coaching is not about treatment. Coaching is about co-creating a relationship that involves helping you to access your own, inner resources that will support the change you want. Coaches help you move from “perfect as you are,” to “always room to grow.”
  • Therapists are uniquely qualified to treat mood disorders, personality disorders, and help those who struggle to function in the world. Therapy involves healing. People need therapists. Some therapists with additional training will cross over to the role of coach, too.
  • Because of this distinction, health insurance does not cover coaching in the United States. It might cover therapy, depending on your plan and whether or not the therapist accepts your insurance. So if cost is a factor, you might look for a therapist with whom you can use your health insurance.

2.   Do you have symptoms, resulting from trauma, that you are looking to get relief from?

  • If you have experienced a traumatic event and are having symptoms like flashbacks, too much or too little sleep, loss of executive functioning, memory issues, or other symptoms, your best bet is to start with your primary care physician, followed by a therapist. The therapist might enlist the help of a coach to help with strategies related to daily functioning, but the treatment of the emotional component related to the trauma is best evaluated by a trauma-informed therapist. 
  • Caveat: Coaches can be trauma-informed but make sure the coach is able to share specifically what qualifies them to identify themselves this way. In fact, the competencies of a credentialed coach fit the model for trauma-informed work nicely, but it is not a given that all coaches are actually trauma-informed. If this is important for the work you need to do, please ask them specifically about this. Frankly, this is true if you hire a therapist, as well.

3.   Do you have a goal you want to achieve and just can’t get out of your own way to achieve it? 

  • This is a great time to enlist a coach. Coaches are excellent at seeing your own, unique genius and helping you to access your inner world in order to clear the path towards creating a life you want. They are deep listeners, accountability partners, and have your agenda as their primary focus. What you want is what they want for you. It is an incredibly powerful relationship. 
  • Things you might want to seek help with in this category include executive functioning, business goals, career issues, or parenting help. 

4.   When in doubt, ask. I receive inquiry calls all the time where we have a discussion about what the person is looking for and whether or not I feel like I can help them. I am really clear about the way I work, what I pay attention to, and what circumstances might have me refer to a colleague. Oh, and there’s that…I have colleagues. I refer out. I want you to get what you want in this one, beautiful whack at life you have. If you sense that the professional on the other end of the phone is working from a place of scarcity, that’s a warning sign. There are enough clients out there for all of us. You don’t owe that person anything, other than a yay or nay.

Which brings me to the final point….

5.  If this is something you are considering, go to your own, inner resources. Sit quietly. Imagine yourself working with this person. Consult the guide, Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Therapist or Life Coach. And then leap. This is not your forever family. You are hiring someone to provide a service and can operate fully in choice. To do otherwise, would be to not take that first step towards a better you.

You are the best person to choose your helping professional. 

Life Coaching and Therapy are two distinct helping professions with different codes of ethics and different competencies. Is there overlap? You betcha’. Are there times to choose one over the other? Yup. Do your homework. Ultimately, you are hiring a human being. The connection you find there is often as important, if not more important, than the framework they use. Take a leap. Make the call to the person you are most drawn to. And then bring this question to them. See what they say!

Questions to Ask When Hiring a Therapist or Coach.

You are at a crossroads and have decided to hire someone to help you. But what do you want? There are so many options. No matter which route you go (and if this is a question, read my blog on How to Know Whether I Need a Life Coach or a Therapist!), you want to make sure this person is a good fit for YOU. And you want to make sure they meet some standard of care so your investment ensures you are getting what you pay for.

Read on for a few questions to help you during your inquiry call.

  1. What is your niche, and how do you think you are qualified to help me?
  • Coaches and therapists often specialize in a topic (executive functioning, disordered eating, business development, substance use, parenting, career, etc.) or a demographic (teens, lawyers, entrepreneurs, women, or in my case, Seekers of Something More!). These chosen niches of practice are sometimes about the professional’s specialty or preference, but sometimes, it is really about how they market themselves and their practice is more expansive. Ask about their experience with your particular challenge or diagnosis. Get curious about them. My experience is that most of us love to talk about our work!

2. What is my commitment to you?

  • Coaching takes time. But you should not be held to a contract that requires you to stick with something that isn’t working for you. Make sure that you are signing an agreement, an understanding, or an informed consent, and not a contract. Sometimes, the relationship is just not a good fit and you want to be careful that you don’t pay in advance for something that might not work for you. If you decide it isn’t a good fit, make sure you can part ways without a large financial obligation.

3. What are your policies around confidentiality and other ethics-related issues?

  • Both coaches and social workers are held to strict ethical guidelines around confidentiality. Therapists are bound by HIPAA which are the Federal regulations that protect your privacy. It is legal for anyone to call themselves a coach or a therapist; they are not protected titles in most states. Having said that, there are certain credentials available to both coaches and therapists by regulating organizations. Knowing these might help you to know who to hire. 
    • For coaches, the International Coach Federation is the organization that administers a third party exam to credential coaches. Many coaches are certified through their own educational programs, but coaching schools vary greatly so it is difficult to know what this means. If your coach has an ICF credential, they have passed an exam, both oral and written, and have agreed to abide by a universal set of ethics. They have met an objective set of requirements, independent of their coach training. Further, they are required to complete continuing education and stay current in the field to maintain this credential.
    • There are many, many types of therapists, many of whom have the ability to be granted a license to practice in a given state. Requirements for licensure vary from state to state, but they are rigorous in all states. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a wonderful resource for educating yourself about the different types of therapists. On the NAMI website, the myriad types of mental health practitioners and their accompanying state licenses are outlined. Again, in order to receive a license to practice, a therapist must reach a certain level of education, engage in a specific number of supervised practice hours, pass state exams, and agree to uphold ethical standards. In most states, you can go to the website for the state government to check the status of someone’s license. Obtaining professional licensure is not for the faint of heart, but does demonstrate the level of education and skill set of the practitioner.
  • To be clear, there are probably many wonderful helping professionals who are unlicensed and without credentials who can competently serve you and help you to meet your goals. But buyer, beware. If you are hiring a professional, hiring someone with a credential from a statewide, national, or international credentialing organization, indicates the person has undergone a rigorous process and meets a particular set of competencies and ethical guidelines.

Finally, after having this conversation with the potential coach or therapist, ask yourself a few questions, too. 

  • How will this relationship support me to show up and do the work that is called for?
  • How honest can I be with this person?
  • Even thought I don’t know this person well, what 2% of them do I already know, like, and trust?

Want to talk more about hiring someone to help you? Reach out to me by making an appointment for a complimentary inquiry call, here

Creativity as a Practice, Might Save You from the Quar.

Twenty years ago, if you asked me if I was creative, I would have dismissed you with a joke, moved on, and found it entertaining that you had asked me such a thing. No part of me identified as a creative. Sure, I went through a gift basket stage and a collage stage, and when I look back on those times, I wonder if I was trying to access a sense of creativity without really knowing it. I know that I found those things to be soothing to my psyche. 

Today I see creativity everywhere, right down to how I define creativity. I am an “outside the box” thinker. While I want my outer-limits to be defined, I want total freedom to frolic within them as I choose. And I hate a plan. I like to make things up as I go. I am a thinker, for sure, and I love to imagine possibility. For me, creativity and freedom seem intimately linked. 

The Quar has taught me something. People who have a creative practice – handiwork, ideas, interior design, music, or stretching into something uncharted – are doing ok. 

People who come to me exhausted, unfocused, and stuck, are not accessing their creative genius in any way.

I’m no Sandy Cheeks, but it feels like this is more than coincidence.

As is the case with the ‘Rona, we are often powerless over the removal of the thing causing stress (ie: the stressor), but we can control how we manage it.

Bottom line, stress is caused by not acknowledging our emotional response to the thing to which we are responding (sounds like a riddle, huh?). 

For me, this looks like, “It is what it is!” Or “Everything happens for a reason!” The perspective can be helpful, but backfires if I don’t also acknowledge those feelings of frustration or fear or loneliness that accompany my experience of the ‘Rona.  

It is a global human experience to resist difficult emotions. We push them into the darkness of our bodies, where we can no longer see them, but where they continue to live. We don’t want them, so we will them away. But they aren’t actually away, and when under stress, those emotions leak into our conversations, our minds, and our hearts. Our families see them, even if we don’t.

Have you yelled at your kids or husband lately? Leakage. 

Been critical of people on Facebook about how they are managing their beliefs about the ‘Rona? Leakage. 

Reacted to a boss in ways that you wouldn’t have before? Leakage. 

These reactions to seemingly unrelated things, are triggers that show us that we have pushed something into the darkness that is wanting to be seen and dealt with.

What is the best way to do this?

Have an ongoing practice of stress-reduction that help to mitigate the emotions in the first place. 

Because stress lives in your mind, heart, and body, your practice will work best if it comes from those centers, as well. You have intelligence in each of these centers and when you access it, your decision-making, processing, coping, and overall well-being, will always come from your highest intelligence. It will come from the wisdom of your life experience and learning, from your intuition, and from your most authentic emotions. What could be wiser than that? Creativity accesses all three Centers of Intelligence.

Creativity Accesses All Three Centers of Intelligence.

Here are some examples:

Music: I work with someone who made a choice to take some time off from work last fall and when the ‘Rona struck, was completely depleted by the prospect of not going back to work on his timeline. He wasn’t all that social to begin with, but he found himself withdrawing from his family and sitting in front of the computer, playing games or endlessly looking at fantasy jobs. When he took out his guitar, something he hadn’t gone near in months, something opened up for him. He started to spend more time outside and found time to play with his two young children. He actually enjoyed playing with them. He recently found himself planning a backyard obstacle course in the snow and spending time on his computer creating programs. He credits the guitar as the thing that opened this up for him. 

Don’t play an instrument? Take one up. But know that even listening to music, particularly classical music, lowers the heart rate and pours oxytocin into the brain. Simply put, music, however it is accessed, will support a reduction in stress hormones and an increased sense of resilience.

Interior Design: I’ve painted a bedroom and a bathroom during the Quar. I’m about to start on a large family room. The family has had beautiful conversations about what we want, from colors, to design, and how much time is realistic, given my work schedule. Whether you are planning something with your family, or doing it solo, your neural pathways are opening themselves up to possibility as you choose paint colors, imagine the room the way you want it, and engage in the physical labor of repairing walls and painting a new room. 

Visual Art: I walked into my daughter’s room last week and found paper plates covered with paint and canvases with butterflies, flowers, and smiles. She isn’t a lover of the hybrid schooling and misses her friends. She wouldn’t describe herself as an artist, but she is stretching into something intuitively as a way of getting her emotions unstuck. Thinking outside of the box is second nature to a visual artist. They are discovering and stretching their brains and hearts with logic and skill and beauty. And yes, they are moving their bodies as they sculpt, paint, or sketch. 

I could keep going, but you get the idea. I have clients who dance, sew masks, engage in storytelling and writing projects, and who walk without a plan, a phone, or a map and let their natural intelligence guide them. All of these use the mind, heart, and body. 

Tired thinking about this? You aren’t adding something to your plate. You are excavating exhaustion and stress from your body. Creativity is a practice and it just might save you. 

How my “little” Yin practice has become a prescription for Joy.

I’ve been taking some Yin classes with my (high school!) friend, Ellen (@friendlyyogabeans/@ohyesIwouldgirl), and am noticing that this way of accessing the intelligence of my body….is the same way I am dipping my toe into the intelligence of my heart.

Ellen is the only person I’ve ever taken Yin from. I had no idea what I was getting into, but it was early in the Quar and I saw “yoga” and “Ellen Olson-Brown” and had to do it. Plus, she’s fun and funny and the timing worked.

What she says about the body during class is so powerful and I can’t help but compare it to the inner work I am being called to do in my heart right now, too.

Enneagram 7s (that’s me!) are thinkers, which we support with our intuition, but we can forget that our hearts exist. Our hearts are where our deepest longings live. It is where we are in touch with our emotion ~ our pain and our joy. We need all three centers of intelligence to be whole … and I have spent many, many years using about 2/3 of my intelligence.

Ellen says things like, “push yourself until you feel that tug, that edge, and then relax around it.”

My inner work calls me to push myself towards my heart in this same way.

I place some attention on my heart, notice what is there, and relax into it. The edge, for me, is just allowing it to be there. Nothing to do about it, nothing to judge. Just notice it.

And she says things like, “Sometimes the body tells us we feel pain, but it isn’t really pain, so allow it to be there for a bit, and notice what happens; it might shift, but it isn’t used to holding this edge like this and wants you to know.”

Yup. My heart sometimes tells me, “Hells, no. Don’t go there. That’s a danger zone. If you go in, you’ll never come out. You will be feeling for the rest of eternity and there is no way you can handle all that feeling. That’s for other folks.”

But what I do, is try it out for a moment. I put on a recording of a meditation that pushes me a bit, and I allow it to be there. Sometimes, I pull away, like I was touching a hot flame. Boy, I had no idea that was a lifelong habit. I have spent my life being afraid that if I feel too deeply, it won’t ever end. But sometimes I get willing and I allow it. I trust it.

And I hear Ellen saying, “We don’t want to release the tension in our muscles because we are afraid our bodies can’t handle it. But try it and see. Just give those muscles a chance.”

And so it is with my heart. It’s not so much that I don’t like to feel. I love to feel. But I want total control over when and how and how much and when it will all be over. So I just don’t go there, because that is awfully complicated for someone who moves about the world as fast as me. I really don’t have time. Emotion isn’t efficient. It doesn’t make sense (hear me escape to the logic of the 7?).

But when I do, when I allow it, with a recorded meditation, or not, I am teaching my heart that it recovers. It actually opens up. It reveals (literally 100% of the time) something really powerful and true that I’ve kept locked away. It might be a painful truth, and it often is, but it is a truth that frees me up. Something is learned, revealed, explored, or brought out of the shadows. 

Whatever it was, was always there. I put all my energy into avoiding it, resisting it, and being efficient, which exhausted me. Now, my exhaustion is a clue that I need to check in with my heart. I am not tired because of the world, I am tired because I resist allowing the world to impact my heart. Instead, I think my way through it. I make it logical. I reframe it. I look on the bright side. This is all a part of being a Type 7. But this isn’t true. There is pain in the world and we can hold that, too.

So where I was once afraid in my body, my Yin classes offer small, corrective experiences to teach my body what is possible in there. Those muscles don’t have to be tense. Relaxation is possible and healing for all those parts of my physical self. 

And by the way, Ellen always gives us permission to come out of the position if we don’t want to stay there …. Nothing is ever prescriptive, it is always a choice. 

Just like in my heart. If I offer it the opportunity to learn that when I “go there,” I can always come out. I can always decide that it feels like too much today and I can choose to come back to it tomorrow. I have choices here that I had no idea I’d have (and sometimes I hear myself getting stuck thinking I have none again).

Because I offer myself  these corrective experiences to learn that I can handle the heart center, that I can allow for what is there to be seen by the rest of me, each time it gets better. It gets easier to access and I see more. And I feel whole when I do.

That is true freedom. Wholeness is freedom. Welcoming it all is freedom. Seeing truth is freedom. Being able to freely feel pain, allows me to freely feel joy. Real joy. Not the fake, sugary, optimistic joy. But real, wholehearted joy. And like with Yin, if I don’t go to that edge and feel that “tug” of the pain, I don’t get the release into the joy, either.

When you think, “That’s just the way I am,” know that it is not true.

I had a funny experience today as I coached with a team on Zoom. I share this with permission from that group.

We were discussing the possible return to the workplace and what they had learned about their time working from home.

C shared that she stocks up her fridge to give her an excuse to get out of the house and go to the grocery store. She leaves the house to buy food, for the sole purpose of giving it away. She just wants to be seen by people and she wants to do something for others who will then see her as valuable. Without this activity, she said she feels “bad.”

This is what she “needs” because she is “just that way.”

Her words made my ears perk up.

“Say more,” I said.

She went on to describe that in addition to the grocery store outings, she has worked like a dog lately, even with her toddler. She speaks to her supervisor almost daily and has been out and about, doing whatever parts of her job that she can. She stays active and solves problems as a way of dealing with quarantine and her unmet need for validation.

Competency is her Enneagram type’s way of dealing with life. And then there’s the going to the grocery store so that she can give away food.

Self-Deceit is what separates her Enneagram type from reality. If she can feed her ego by being a really fantastic worker and being of service to her friends and neighbors, then she can deny (for now) the feeling, conscious or not, that she is inadequate.

She was doing what her type does. She identifies with Enneagram type 3w2.

With that, T showed us his stocked pantry closet. Multiple boxes and canisters of many items. No fewer than 10 containers of instant coffee (not shown). He shared that he feels anxious if he doesn’t know he has what he “needs.” He, too, says that he is “just that way.”

Last March, the last meeting I had before I no longer consulted on-site in organizations, was with this man. He was telling me to take all of my money out of the bank; we needed to have cash on hand because we’d lose everything if “Coronavirus really took off.” He had a very clear plan, as if he’d been thinking about this forever. 

Because he had. 

He has been concerned about security and safety his whole life. He really wants to know what’s real, so he sugar-coats nothing. He assumes you want the same. He really wants others to meet him where he is; to respond to him with the same level of emotion that he is putting out there. This is his type’s way of dealing with difficulty. His emotional realness was really pushing my positive outlook’s buttons that day. 

He was very clear on what had to be done and was sharing his “facts” with everyone in the office; even those of us who didn’t want to hear it. 

Angst is what separates his Enneagram type from dealing with reality. If he can feel anxious about something happening in the future, he doesn’t actually have to deal with the present. 

He was doing what his type does. he identifies with Enneagram Type 6.

And then there is me. I am no fan of grocery shopping. But I want what I want when I want it. I want to be happy and I don’t want to feel the pain of not having what I think I need.  I want people around me to be happy, too. If they are happy, I am happy. 

One complaint can throw my whole mood off. My desire is not really altruistic; it is all about me. 

Because my type demands “happiness” as a way to feel safe, I can easily assume everyone else has an intolerance for anything less than “wicked happy,” too, right?

As I shopped in March, I told myself that I had to buy everything they want or need,  and with that, “We’ll all be GREAT!” 

Positive outlook is my type’s way of dealing with difficulty. 

All of my fridges and freezers were STOCKED. Before you go yelling at me, I already know. And don’t forget that I had 7 people quarantined with me. Yes, I am a walking COVID meme. 

Gluttony is what separates my Enneagram type (read: me) from reality. If I have enough love, food, furniture, or office supplies, I can deny the pandemic.

I do what my type does. I identify as an Enneagram Type 7w6. 

So all this time, I’ve had trouble describing why your Enneagram type and the tool of the Enneagram is helpful to have.

It isn’t about WHAT is happening.

It is about WHY it is happening.

In our coaching group today, we had lots of laughs, but we also unpacked how our Enneagram type predicts the issues that will come up for us and cause us to suffer. It also predicts the things that motivate us and bring us closer to Presence. As a spiritual tool, it give us something to pray about, to meditate on, and a North Star to set intentions around. 

More than anything, it identifies the lens that, when not present, exhausts us, upsets us, and keeps us afraid.

Once we see that, we can make choices about our next steps. Until we see that, we are walking around the world, unconscious, telling people

“That’s just the way I am.” 

Respond or React? What’s your habit and how can you change it?

In case you didn’t know, most of what I write here, is what I need to hear. 

Of late, I’m thinking more and more about my emotional reactivity and the way that comes across to the person to whom I am reacting. Even saying that makes me cringe; it is not the person to whom I am reacting, I am reacting to what they are saying (and sometimes to their reaction!). I digress…that’s another blog, I think.

Responding comes from presence.

Reaction comes from projection. 

My reactivity is usually something based in fear. I’m in fight, flight, or freeze mode (fun fact: almost always fight, for me); I stop listening intelligently and instead, I spend my time defending. My brain is on auto-pilot, my neural pathways are closing down, and I am in protective mode.

For most people, our reactions when activated are the opposite of how we are when we are going about our daily lives. If we tend to be tactful (putting more attention on the way we come across than on what we are saying) and less frank (saying what we mean in a direct way), we become blunt when activated. If our habit is to be more blunt in our day-to-day, reactivity might look like a withdrawal, avoidance, or refusal to speak. A withdrawal might even look like a blunt outburst with the subconscious goal of shutting the other person up.

Here’s the kicker: If we are strong in both, and can be present enough to notice the reactivity, we can choose our response. We can be frank AND tactful. With that superpower, we can say what we mean and say it kindly enough so that the other person hears it. Now there’s an intelligent response.

When I have the ability to bring presence to a difficult interaction, it is a much different experience. Presence allows me to feel the nudge of discomfort ~ it is always a physical sensation in my body ~ which I then get curious about. In a split second, I feel the nudge, I am aware that I am activated, and that pause brings clarity and higher intelligence (from my gut, heart, and mind). In that moment, I often learn that I am afraid. Or angry. But the anger often leads me back to fear.

Learning to pay attention to this has taken some time. This is not intuitive for me.

So what if I am actually present? The nudge tells me it is time to be curious.

“Tell me more about that. I want to understand your thinking on this.”

“I’m really angry right now and need some time before I respond.”

When we communicate from that place, we are demonstrating that we really want to hear something from this person about whom we care. From this place, there is no attack. I’m not a victim. I walk away with my integrity.

And I might even learn something. 

Shining a Light on the Shadow of My Racism

White Exceptionalism.

There’s a new term for me. 

In Layla Saad’s book, Me and White Supremacy, she uses this term to refer to people who feel like they are finished with their self-examination of racism, have passed the test, and are good to go. As if once they are “woke” they don’t have to continue their awakening. 

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I feel like all the work I have been doing to dismantle areas of my personality, areas I didn’t even know were there, has prepared me to hear from BIPOC in a way I was unable to before.

How do I know?

Because I can’t unsee all the times that I have ignored BIPOC who tried to tell me that I am part of the problem. All the times I said, either to myself or out loud, “You don’t understand me…I’m different.” Or frankly, “You don’t understand racism.” The balls (or ovaries) on me.

I really thought I’d done the work and had conveniently surrounded myself with people who reinforced this belief on my behalf. People who called me to ask me for my thoughts or people who told me “I don’t mean you.” The ego loves to hear, “everyone else but you.” My ego certainly did. I still catch my ego in the act of loving that, despite knowing the truth.

I’ve had this awareness ~ like a big “aha” ~ that the reason I had been led to the Enneagram as a tool and accompanying spiritual work (literally, daily), over the last several years, was to wake me up for this.  Prior to that, I was blind to my own racism. Racism was a shadow that followed me 24/7 and while BIPOC could see it with clarity, my white friends were complicit with my ego; they either did not see it, or did not call me on it. 

{As an aside, the psycho-spiritual work I both participate in and teach to clients, required me to explore some really, really dark places in myself while people I have come to love, acted as my witnesses (which I think, now, is an essential part of this work); they held me accountable and continue to love me through it. I had to be willing to do that work, so that I can now do the work of dismantling my own racism, which, like the Enneagram work, will be a lifelong project for me.}

I must have known, at a subconscious level, that I was being prepared to look at my role in white supremacy because as I reflect, I see that over the last couple of years, I started following the social media accounts of more and more leaders in the BIPOC community. I had always taken an interest in racism and classism, but as an outsider, not as a participant. It was all academic. It was absolutely, as Layla Saad calls it, “white exceptionalism.” This was more of that.

And then Ahmaud Arbery was murdered. 

My heart broke. I felt responsible. Honestly, it was the weirdest thing. I spoke about it with my teacher and my group….it felt egotistical to feel responsible and yet I did. I think I was confused because I was holding on to being a “white savior,” while also holding “white exceptionalism,” along with a deep, subconscious, “inner knowing,” that I am, in fact, part of the problem. I was holding all of those parts of this without the clear awareness or language. These were all shadows and the light was approaching them.

After Ahmaud Arbery was murdered, something felt different. It was not academic. I felt it in my heart. It physically hurt. I felt broken. Where I used to treat racism as something I had to learn about but was apart from me, I actually felt like I had participated somehow. I was no longer an outsider to it.

Something opened up. Everything got clearer. What lived in my shadows was clear now. This is what they mean when they say the light shines through those cracks that made us feel broken. 

Like the work of thinning out my ego, thinning out my racism is not “either/or.” I used to think I was either racist or not. Now I know that I am both/and. The paradox of illuminating my own racism while also being an accomplice and ally to BIPOC is clear. 

Being a good ally is not about not being racist; being a good ally REQUIRES me to see my racism. Over and over again. I have to be willing to hold my racism and my anti-racism, my white supremacy and my ally-ship, my need to understand in my brain and feel in my heart all of the pain that comes with this, while not making it all about me. 

What I have learned is that I will always be part of the problem.

For what it is worth, I feel whole. I feel open ~ a bit broken open, but open, nonetheless. The parallels of looking at the darkest places of my personality and looking at the darkest places of my racism are uncanny. Until I wrote this, I didn’t actually see that they go hand in hand. I think that my own racism is a dark place in my personality. To yield to that means that I have to give up the illusion of “better than.” And as I give that up, I see yet another paradox. When I relinquish “better than,” I embrace, “BETTER OFF,” both individually, and collectively. 

Until my white exceptionalism came out of the shadows, I had no choice in it. Now that I see it, I do. Now that I know better, I’m committed to doing better.


We Can’t Hit a Bullseye if We Can’t Even See the Dartboard.

How avoiding certain parts of myself, keeps me from showing up in the world and having the impact I want.

The dog got me up at 4:00 this morning. While we aimlessly wandered around outside, I was reminded of those early morning, semi-awake times with toddlers. Remember? Barely awake on the couch, one eye open to make sure they weren’t playing with knives, but definitely not totally aware to what was happening in the room.

That’s how I feel about my life sometimes now. I’m connected to some parts of myself and completely disconnected from others. I have these shadows that run the show sometimes, but I can’t actually see them.

After Sparky and I made it back upstairs and he had curled up in a ball by my side, I was acutely aware that the world had been moving for three hours while I slept and I had missed it all.

Cuz this is what I do.

There is a pattern I’m seeing about my experience of reality. I take in the world with my mind and decide that I’ll be ok – in fact, everything will be ok – as soon as I “figure it out.”

“I just need to figure this out and then I’ll be all set.”  Or, like today, it might be:

“I just need to figure out generational racial trauma, and then I can be helpful.” 

So here is the pattern: I stay moving, awake, and occupied in my mind because when I am still, and just sitting in the experience of being on the planet right now, I feel all sorts of pain. To see me in a chair without a phone, computer, book, or music, is to see me in a chair weeping.

So I Do. Not. Sit.

Not only do I not want to feel pain, I want you to be pain-free, too. So sometimes, I won’t even let you have your misery, either. Because frankly, when you are hurting, it messes with the illusion of reality I’ve created about the world.

So I occupy my mind with a to-do list, agendas, plans, and anticipating my next great thing. All so I don’t have to feel those primal emotions of grief, shame, and fear.

What I’m learning, though, is that this is the least effective way to get on the other side. Whether I feel the grief, shame, or fear right now is irrelevant. Awareness of pain is not a requirement for feeling the impact of pain. The pain is here, whether we feel it or not. We act it out on our families, our friends, our coworkers, and ourselves.

Instead of feeling it, we put a shit ton of energy into NOT feeling. In my case, my brain is exhausted, thinking and overthinking. Planning and anticipating. Reading, and watching TV, and learning all I can so that I can “figure it out.”

But the reality is, our world, including me, is experiencing a lot of hurt right now. Welcome to the world of reality.

My spiritual teacher reminds me, time and time again, that my denial of reality makes me MORE inefficient in solving a problem, not less. My denial keeps me working really hard to figure it out. What actually needs to happen is for me to experience it in my body, mind, AND HEART.

When we aren’t working with what is, we are ineffective in our attempts to make things better.

It’s like having a dartboard in the basement but I am upstairs shooting darts at the family room wall.

So we keep missing the bullseye. Not only that, we get really, really tired trying. We feel frustrated. We double-down and keep throwing at an empty wall. We can’t even see that the dartboard isn’t there.

All day, I’ve been throwing darts at the family room wall. I connected with my group of seekers and they pointed out that the dartboard is in the basement. Ugh.

They invited me to experience reality. They shined a light on my shadows ~ those beliefs and ideas that are with me all the time, but that my ego structure won’t allow me to see (and hint: we all have these no matter how enlightened you think you are!).

I wept while I looked clearly at the world. I finally saw it as it is and also FELT IT as it is. I am experiencing the world instead of figuring it out. I’m all in, body, mind, and heart.

Even as I write this, I am dumbfounded by how much clearer I am. When I see things for what they are, without the beliefs about what “should or should not” be, I stop fighting what is and experience my place in it. Having a team of courageous people behind me to lovingly point out what I cannot see, has been essential to my aim.

It is so much less exhausting to shoot darts at the dartboard instead of an empty wall. When I am present to all of my innate wisdom, my gut, mind, and heart, and not just some part of it, I can always see where I want to throw the dart and might even hit a bullseye.

Why COVID-19 is Anything But “The Great Equalizer.”

How we’ve confused our shared vulnerability with a perceived sense of equity.

I’ve written this blog more times than I can count.

For whatever reason, I haven’t posted it. I write and I re-write. It has morphed many times.

I found myself too wordy, or feeling a little bit “soap-boxy”. I have all the drafts in my saved documents.

But I feel angst and I have to say something.

Hearing COVID-19 being referred to as the great equalizer is exhausting. Because it isn’t.

There. I said it (try to think of it as consciousness-raising and not judgement).

“Anyone can get it ~ even Hollywood is quarantining!”

I’m sure you’ve heard this or some version of this.

Don’t get me wrong… I love looking at the insides of peoples’ homes; the late night talk show hosts, the news anchors, the recording artists and the SNL cast.

But no one seems to be talking about those people for whom COVID-19 has made an already marginalized existence even more marginalized.

While the Governor emphasizes mask-wearing and social distancing as best prevention, I know people who are looking at each other, wondering, “How?”

When you are living in an overcrowded home or are doubled up because you’ve lost your housing, social distancing is a privilege for other people. Keeping high risk folks distant from low risk folks isn’t an option. When three or four generations of people live together, COVID spreads like wildfire.

When suddenly schools went on-line, we forgot about those who might not have access to the levels of information that many of us have. When information is disseminated by email, people with no internet service don’t receive the information. If you are someone who attends community college and rely on the desktop computers made available to students at the school, you didn’t have the means to do your homework once the schools closed. Adding obstacles like that to an already complicated life is just what it takes to have students drop out. The Boston Globe reported this weekend that 10,000 students in the Boston Public School system have not logged on once to access their classes.

COVID-19 has prevented many immigrant students from being able to access the one thing they came to this country for: an education. They have lost their allies in the school system. They can’t access their education because of language or internet access, and are among those still working, at risk to their health, because there aren’t other options.

I recently spoke to a social worker who was helping a high school student create a budget. This student, whose hours had been reduced, had to pay their “coyote” ~ the term used to describe the brokers who bring folks to the United States at a very high price ~ under the threat of murder to their family back home. Coyotes don’t really care that COVID-19 has gotten in the way of their payments; they want to be paid. For these young, unaccompanied minors, keeping their families safe is a priority.

Sidebar: these first generation kids who miss out on the ceremony of graduation, be it from high school or college, are still plugging along, doing their thing. Because they have to. HAVE TO. They can’t afford to lament that rite of passage. I’d like to see us lament it for them.

And masks? I would have no idea how to get a mask if I didn’t have Facebook. I know. Embarrassing. And yet, we see people of color being harassed in some areas of our country for not wearing masks.

The rate of gun violence has increased in the City of Boston. People have lost their infrastructure. They are selling their phones, cutting off their WiFi, wondering how they’ll pay back rent. They have lost their social workers and case managers.

People are lonely.

People are scared.

Because people are focusing on survival ~ maintaining an income, keeping their family healthy, and staying fed ~ their brain chemistry is actually changing. This kind of trauma closes our neural pathways and contracts our thinking. Depression and anxiety cause our executive functioning to shut down.

Asking people to jump through hoops to get services or food or medical care can feel as simple as, “This is not for you. It’s for the ‘other’ people.”

And we wonder why people rage. We judge. We separate ourselves.

Or we tell ourselves the lie that the Coronavirus has made us all the same.

It has not. It has revealed an already existing chasm and made it much bigger.

So please, stop. I know you mean well. It makes us all feel better to know we are just like John Legend or Jimmy Kimmel or Margot Robbie.

Let’s not forget about those looking to us. Many of us are the privileged; those who can get on-line and see family via zoom. Who can socially distance, even in our homes. We aren’t wondering where our next roll of toilet paper will come from (although admittedly, I have wondered this) or our next gallon of milk.

When we look to our left and see a great equalizer, but let’s also look to our right. There is a chasm there that needs to be acknowledged. We can’t do anything about it if we don’t see it. Please see it.