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.
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.
I think it was mid April when I first heard the story of Ahmaud.
I have been weepy for several days now…unable to place the reasons. It occurred to me yesterday, sitting in my stillness, what was going on.
My outrage was meaningless.
I heard the story. I told my husband about it. I did nothing.
I am complicit in the perpetuation of racism for all sorts of reasons, but what strikes me is that this happened 8 weeks ago. I don’t know exactly when I read about it, but it was not recent. It got filed along with the thousands of other things that I have filed away in my head about racial violence. Awareness without action isn’t enough.
There have been other events since then that have enraged me; most notably, the impact of COVID on communities of color both in terms of access to care and enforcement of laws around social distancing and the wearing of masks. This also got filed away. Alas, knowledge, even rage, does not equal activism.
I actually had a thought last week that I was suffering burnout from reading about all the racial injustice in the world (I subscribe to a number of media outlets that track these events).
Daily. This happens daily.
Not only when white people hear about them.
They. Happen. Daily.
This thought that I could suffer burnout from just knowing about these events is not surprising. It is what I feel. But to put my head in the sand or to shut off social media, for me, equated to abandoning people I love who cannot do the same. Not only can’t my brothers and sisters of color “shut it off”, they actually have to heighten their awareness every single day. I can’t imagine wondering whether I’d get shot if I go out for a jog. Or wondering whether it was safe for my child to go to a prom or a school party. And yet, I know that people of color feel it when they come to my lovely, suburban neighborhood. They live in a state of trauma – a brain chemistry that is focused on staying alive – every day. So no, they cannot shut it off.
If I want to be in solidarity with people of color and learn from people of color, I have to listen to people of color and try to understand their experience, at whatever level my awareness allows for.
So I am here to say that I am exhausted but will never be as exhausted as a person of color.
I can no longer claim to be an advocate for racial justice without taking action against racial injustice.
I am asking for guidance. I am putting out into the universe a need for direction on what action I can take. What is next for me? Please, call me into something. In the meantime, I will seek opportunities on my own. I commit to this.
I did nothing when I heard about Ahmaud Arbery. Thankfully, others did.
1. Everything takes longer than I think it will; and definitely longer than the experts say it will.
When I bought my Insta Pot, they said, “Dinner will be ready in 15 minutes…” which I translated into 7.5 minutes because I am “efficient”. What they don’t tell you is that after food prep, after pressurizing the pot, and before releasing the steam, the dinner takes 15 minutes. Include all those other processes, and we’re at 45 to an hour.
As I spend time at home, I’m acutely aware of all the things I think I can make happen. My expectations are not aligned with the accepted social construct of time. If you lived with me, you might have heard me say we could get the yard picked up, the upstairs painted, the basement cleared out, our closets cleaned, the garage bay cleared, and maybe even get a bulldozer to make a new spot for Kayla’s car. This was a problem before the quarantine and continues to be a problem after the quarantine. It’s the KIDS who don’t have work to do. And even that isn’t true. I actually still work for a living so the quarantine hasn’t actually given me ANY additional time. So riddle me that. Mindset (what we choose to believe or not believe about our thoughts) is everything and my mindset, like the marketers of the Insta Pot, is a big, fat, liar.
2. If I don’t follow the directions exactly, nothing works the way it should.
Have you ever not put liquid in the Insta Pot? Or decided you didn’t have to saute the meat first? Yeah, dinner wasn’t so good those nights. Or didn’t happen at all.
I often think I can “interpret” the rules. Or even that I know better than the experts, despite lots of practice being wrong. Cats don’t have dogs; cats have kittens. Why would I think that my children are going to be any different from me? They are kittens. They ALSO think they can be “interpret” the rules. At the beginning of the “social distancing movement,” we told them they could each see ONE friend. That one friend turned into a party. Social distancing wasn’t practiced. Nothing worked the way we thought it should. Just as we shouldn’t make up the recipe with an Insta Pot, I can’t pretend I know more about a pandemic than the public health experts without also accepting that things won’t turn out well.
3. If I impatiently rush the process, I’ll get burned.
When I am feeling particularly impatient about my dinner, I manually release the steam on the Insta Pot instead of allowing it to do its thing on its own. Inevitably, I end up getting burned by that steam, making a mess of the cabinets, and don’t enjoy the process.
Ain’t that the truth. I know that if I push my way through this quarantine, bend the rules to fit my needs, and leave before I’m cleared, I’ll get burned. Or worse yet, I’ll burn someone else. I’ll end up feeling bad and making a mess of the world around me.
For today, I’m gonna take out the Insta Pot, read the directions, manage my expectations, be realistic about what I can do and how long it will take, do all my prep work, actually FOLLOW the directions, and if the pressure gets high, I’m gonna do a slow release and not let it all out at once with a blast. I don’t want my paint to peel and I want to keep my environment in tact.
And just like they spend hours every day thanking me for the dinners I cook, my family will thank me for these lessons, as well. A girl can dream, can’t she?
A peek at how your Enneagram type might be leading the way in your thinking and believing with regard to this pandemic and what you might want to pay attention to in order to have more choice in how you respond.
I thought it might be nice to share the Enneagram perspective on coping with fear. To be clear, the Enneagram can be a fun tool; in the most basic of ways, it provides some validation of your experience and identifies places for people to connect. When used as a tool, your type can certainly help you to identify patterns of thinking and believing, but also provide a way to wake up and stop doing what you’ve always done. How are you doing? What have you found to be true about your patterns of behavior? Are they consistent with other times when you have felt fear or stress? We have them all in us, but are usually leaning pretty heavily into one type. I’d love to hear what you find for yourself!
If you are concerned with the rules and regulations, who is following them and who isn’t, you might be a type 1. Your work is to see the places your need for integrity starts to look like criticism (of yourself and others!). You don’t have to work so hard to make it all good, you and the universe are already exactly as you should be.
If you are concerned with how everyone else is faring, who needs what, and how you can help, you might be a type 2. Your work is to ask yourself, “Is this mine to do?” Watch your own boundaries (burnout!) and notice your impact on those you are loving. You don’t need to prove anything. You already are the love you are trying to foster.
If you are concerned with doing all the right things, all that you think is expected of you, then you might be a type 3. You’ll try to be the best employee, the best parent, the best entrepreneur, the best coper-in-a-crisis and in so doing, you’ll have to recognize that in order to be this person, you also might be inauthentic in the process. Your work is to tap into the part of you who knows that you don’t have to bend over backwards to be valuable. You already are valuable.
If you are concerned with showing the world that you are badass and don’t play by the rules, or that you can feel feelings like no one else, then you might be a type 4. Your work is to recognize all the beautiful things that make you uniquely you without having to effort them. You be you. You do you. Your inner beauty has never left you.
If you are concerned with being the expert on the Coronavirus – having all the information (and usually just a step ahead of everyone else!), then you might be a type 5. Your work is to make sure to stay engaged with the world – with the reality of the world – and not withdraw into your mind so you can “think” about the virus and all of its complications. You already have the clarity you need.
If you are concerned with keeping yourself safe and secure by finding “your people”, then you might be a type 6. Your work is to notice the factions that you are creating, the silos of people who enforce your sense of security or take away from it. You already are safe and secure. You know exactly what your next move should be without the input from all your friends and allies. Your inner guidance is always available to you.
If you are concerned with making light of it all, finding the fun in it, at the expense of being real, you might be a type 7. You’ll try to help people see the good in it all, the bright side of things, and in so doing, might not see the suffering and the need others have to be heard. Your own pain might be a blind spot that you cope with by shopping or eating or some other thing (that you don’t even see as coping!). You don’t have to entertain, you are already the joy and freedom you are seeking.
If you are concerned with being invincible, powerful, and in charge, you might be a type 8. Your work is to see that your need to protect yourselves and others starts to look like bullying or aggression. Your work is to recognize your own vitality and strength that is there without having to create it. Your presence is enough. It is only by tapping into your own heart, letting down your defenses, and seeing others as connected with you that you will see that you have an important role to play and you already have everything you need to step into it without effort. You are the strength you are trying to create by “acting” strong.
If you are concerned with being easygoing, relaxed, and unaffected by this pandemic, you might be a type 9. You’ll be agreeable, disengage from the frenzy, maybe check out with TV or video games…or nap a lot. Your desire for peace might look like neglect, apathy, and/or disengagement from your family or the needs of your community. Your work is actually to recognize that your presence matters. Your efforts to remain conflict-free and decrease stress actually keep you from connecting with yourself (your body, your heart, your mind) and building community and connection with and among others which is what we all need right now. You already are the peace you are seeking and your job is to unite people by engaging with the world as you were born to do.
Want to learn more? Reach out to me or follow my social media. Lots of opportunities to be in community with your folks without letting your personality get in the way! We’re in this together. Let’s show up for each other with our right minds, our full hearts, and all of our body intelligence. Presence will help us be on the right side of this time in history.
It was on social media. A post. No one meant anyone harm, especially the OP. Really, she posted about the frequency with which she sees women like me; I didn’t feel judged, or criticized. Nothing but mad respect.
But when I read it, I felt a zing that pushed me to check in with myself; I knew it was more about me than about her or her post.
Then the comments came.
I felt triggered (when we are triggered, we often don’t know its about us, but it ALWAYS. IS.). It was then that my inner critic said, “See? I told you so, dumbass.”
The comments were the ones we often see. Where the experience of the person posting must also be the experience of everyone else. Where they state to the OP with awe-like wonder, “Wait, that REALLY happens?”
You know the ones where people want to respond to the OP and make sure they aren’t like the women the OP is posting about (and a reminder, the OP was actually doing a service, not spilling the tea).
And this was about money.
One of the big three.
Sex. Kids. Money.
So you can imagine the comments.
Assumptions about how if one partner doesn’t know the deets of the family financials, it must mean the other partner is intentionally keeping secrets and holding all the power in the relationship.
Or that her head is in the sand. Naive, maybe.
Finally, it might be about blind love and trust and the implication that blind love and trust in a marriage is unhealthy.
The truth is, for me, there is some truth to all of it.
At one time or another, my husband has made decisions about the money and not told me.
Sometimes, I don’t ask about the details. In fact, for years, I didn’t ask much at all.
There were times when I figured that he was earning the money and it was easier to have him hold that bag in its entirety. Why slow things down with conversation?
And finally, I do love and trust him. That has not changed. It actually never occurred to me that there might be other reasons to do things differently.
That is all true.
And, that’s not the whole truth.
There are other truths, as well. THERE ALWAYS ARE.
It’s also true that I had 4 kids in 6 years. I “suffered” the privilege of choice and lived for years with both feet in the world of a working mom and both feet in the world of an at-home mom. I had a total identity crisis and presented myself differently in different places. I don’t actually have four feet.
So my work mom worked a ton, and my at-home mom was with kids and volunteered and joined boards. Instead of choosing one identity, I held both. You would not find one friend or colleague who would describe me as disengaged. I didn’t give myself a break. It was exhausting. I learned so much from that. It, that part of me, eventually became my wake up call.
I did not know how to sit still. I had been working since I was in 6th grade; first as a babysitter, and then by 13, at a farm because I didn’t need a work permit to work on a farm.
As a mother of four, I was knee deep in bedtimes that lasted for hours because I was giving 4 kids 4 baths every night and, since that was my only time with each of them alone, was reading to them each 1:1 almost every single night. I was going to do it all right. And by right, I mean perfectly. Bedtime lasted for hours. And then they’d get up and crawl in with us. Or want us to crawl in with them. Literally hours.
There were several years when my husband traveled. They were really little then. I spent those nights alone with the kids and it was hard for me (I then came to love those times being alone with them, but hadn’t learned to love it at this time in my life).
The difference was that if I happened to be away, everyone worried about him. They’d invite him and the kids for dinner, offer to babysit (I was never gone more than 2 nights, I think?)….when he traveled, it was radio silent. It was expected that I could manage it all. And the truth is, I gave everyone that impression. I looked like I had it all together. I have come to see this now, but I felt invisible to those people who made sure he, but not me, got help with the kids back then.
I had my girlfriends who took care of me and I, of them. We had dinners together, in and out, we never woke a sleeping child so if a play date was happening with an older child, one of us dropped off AND picked up so that the other didn’t have to risk messing up whatever semblance of a sleep schedule was possible at the time.
We loved and cared for each other (and still do) and since we all felt like we were sort of hanging on by a thread, we wove those threads together and soon we were sharing a blanket.
There were notes from daycare to read, hours of paperwork to do, and Italian language classes (why, yes, we were the only non-Italian family who showed up at the Italian school on Saturday mornings to learn the language and culture!) to take. Soccer, skating, skiing, music hour at the bagel place, cousin time, and yes, work. Remember? I still had two feet in and two feet out. I was loving every bit of my life so much that I couldn’t let an experience get by me. I wanted it all.
Lice and mono and Lyme disease and nutritionists. We’ve never had braces and we’ve never seen an allergist. Throw me a parade.
So, yes, not only did he control the money, but I begged him to keep it that way.
He tried to get me to partner with him, but I. Had. No. Bandwidth. Left.
Yes, he made decisions and didn’t include me because I was making decisions in every other area of our lives and for him to own this, I was so grateful. Decision-Fatigue is a thing, friends. For reals.
I was earning money and had no idea how much I was earning; I didn’t care. I loved my work and was just grateful to be using my mind in a place where people thanked me for working my ass off.
They thanked me. I need to say it again. I felt appreciated and useful.
(Yes, it is a little weird that keeping 4 children alive didn’t make me feel useful).
Did having my “head-in-the-sand-naive-love-and-trust” mindset cost me something (pun intended)?
The four kids are grown and we are facing, literally, one million dollars in tuition costs within a 10 year period. Wrap your brain around that for me, will you?
Do I wish I paid more attention? Yup. Do I think I could have done better? Absolutely not. Like most other things, I would have approached it differently, but I am absolutely sure my mistakes would have been equally as impactful.
Regardless, we were doing the best we could to keep our family functioning. I once dropped my youngest off at school, in my PJs, and the only words I could muster as she got out of the car, were, “Don’t get lice today,” while the principal held the door open for her to get out.
Parenting at its finest, folks.
And there is something else to all of this. I am blind to issues of self-preservation. If it even occurs to me at all, I procrastinate it. Food, money, time, order in the home….it’s not my thing. Really, none of it.
Instead of knowing this (I learned this was actually a thing as I was approaching 50), I judged myself, felt less-than, and just saw myself as someone who couldn’t get out of their own way. I didn’t know that my instincts were different from those of you who are on top of your self-preservation needs.
My instincts lead with social organization. I lean in to groups, am comfortable with navigating the complexities of relationships, I can intuit social hierarchies, and who is likely to move towards, away, and against, others. I spent my time focusing on the social development of my children and keeping my own social needs met through heavy volunteering and community engagement.
In fact, I can’t help it. It’s instinctive. It runs me. Maybe in the same way knowing the details of the money runs you.
Look around. You’ll see. We are all run by something. Self-preservation, social, or intense experiences. We put one on top and will sacrifice everything else to get that need met. And we have no idea we are doing it.
I sacrificed my self-preservation needs for the social needs of my children and myself.
Ironically, I did this to self-preserve. It kept me alive.
So before you judge that mom for not understanding the money, know that she has different instincts and different ways she’s leaning into her life. And she might not even know it.
Get curious about her.
Maybe even ask what she is honoring in her life? It may actually be more important to her. I guarantee you: if she is a mother, she’s not doing nothing.
Be gentle with her. She’s likely hard enough on herself for only being on top of 99.9% of her household and not that additional 1/10 of a percent. She holds herself to a standard to which no one else could hold her. While she is beating herself up for not meeting that standard, she is also beating herself up for not being more loving to herself.
Self-judgment is a place of familiarity for her. She knows things are hard and instead of just knowing that, acknowledging it, being with it, she is attaching herself to all kinds of stories about how it “should” be different.
How SHE “should” be different.
Is it important for her to know more about her personal finances?
Is it important for her to partner with her partner and share the burden? Which might not even be a burden? Couldn’t it just be information? See how we create these stories? I just did, writing this. Caught me.
The answer is, “Maybe.”
But something would have to give, and imaging what that would be, what thing she’d leave to chance, is as daunting as having to think about her financial survival. Giving up an experience she wants to have or changing a habit might be terrifying to her. If she lets go of something, the whole blanket might fray and come unraveled.
She might come unraveled.
So stay curious about her.
She’s probably busy being grateful for a husband who holds the bag for that ONE. THING.
Because it’s one thing she doesn’t have to hold the bag for.
So thank you for the comments. Yes, they triggered me, but they also forced me to look at those triggers and get curious about myself. They helped me to see that I was doing the best I could. That I had other things going on and I just didn’t know any better. And writing this helped me to see that there is not only one way to do things.
But there are better ways to do things. I trust that that that mom, like me, will do better when she knows better.
She’ll deal with the money when she is able. When she is willing. When she is desperate.
Just like me.
And she’ll be met with a kind, empathic, firm, yet gentle accountant who will know exactly what to say and how to help her. And she’ll learn. And she’ll do better. Because it will be the right time. The Universe is benevolent that way.
I recently spent 7 full days out of my home. I missed out on sending two kids back to school, was gone for an out of town family visit, and missed being home to support a child making a big decision in his life. And it was all worth it.
I’ve known for a long time that I need to be writing about my experiences with my own personal development; if my professional life is centered around supporting others to find what matters in their life, it feels like sharing my own path in finding my own higher calling could be helpful. Those 7 days away may have been the most impactful 7 days on my lifetime journey of self-development. It was not necessarily the course that had the impact; the immersion with a group of people who are also searching for something was what was powerful ~ I was with my people and that felt really good. And I didn’t even know I was looking for anything. Again, what to share….
Let me start with a little historical perspective. About 21 years ago, I was introduced to the Enneagram, which at the time, I took to equate with a personality test. I’ve flirted with it over the years, but about 4 years ago, was reintroduced to it as part of a coaching workshop. I then did some studying, attended a weekend workshop, and some answers started to evolve for me. So I dug in and have been studying weekly, in a group with a master teacher, for a year. This past week, was an intensive course at the Enneagram Institute with the man who “wrote the book on it.” Literally, co-authored the book I’ve been studying. It was powerful.
So what the heck is the Enneagram? I could say a lot about this, but the quick and dirty (which isn’t so quick) is that the basis for the types came from the first Christian monastics around 250 BC ~ people who wanted to understand what it takes to create community and who wanted a direct experience of divinity. Over time, what they came up with were the 8 things that distract people from God – they referred to these as the 8 ways one can “miss the mark” in their focus on divine-like living. Over time, literally hundreds of years, these teachings have merged with other traditions, spiritual beliefs, and modern psychological frameworks, to become what we now call the Enneagram.
Russ Hudson, who, with Don Riso, co-authored The Wisdom of the Enneagram, refers to it as the “nine ways we forget ourselves.” It sounds beautiful, to me. The Enneagram describes the nine ways we leave our own truth, by leaving presence/consciousness and engaging in our “habits of usual” that help us to cope with the perceived loss of our natural gifts; our truth; our essence, if you will. We all do this in varying degrees, but what I have learned, is that through a practice of mindfulness, or presence, I can quickly return to what is real for me. When I am engaging in my personality, I think it is who I am, but really, it is a coping mechanism for addressing all sorts of psychological processes that exist to protect me. But what if I don’t actually need to be protected? What if living in my truth is safe for me?
It is. Paying attention to your essence and noticing when your personality has taken over or is fighting you to take over, is all we need to start this journey; the Enneagram is a framework for helping you to find your essence and your type will help you to see what typically distracts you from it. And while it actually takes a fair amount of vulnerability to live without constantly (unconsciously) defending yourself, paradoxically, I believe it is the safest way to go about living. Having your insides match your outsides is a pretty powerful place from which to operate in the world.
If none of this makes sense to you, maybe you can related to this: do you often feel angst? Anxiety? Worry? Are you longing for something and not sure what it is? Do you wonder why your partner is so amazing but you sometimes want to chase them with a hatchet? Or wonder why everyone else’s kids seem more loving, responsible, and socially competent? Your answers might lie with the Enneagram. I use it to support leaders in the workplace, moms who are longing for something different, and teenagers who can’t understand why their parents won’t get off their backs. In its plainest terms, it makes clear what motivates us and gives us some direction about how to access that. Because really, what we think motivates us isn’t what motivates us at all. Ha! How’s that for mystical?
I realize I haven’t even gotten to what I might want to communicate, so I’m going to do this in parts. Let’s consider this part one. Your teaser is here: My type is 7 (with a 6 wing) and it explains SO MUCH. This explains why I keep making shifts in my career, why I couldn’t sit still for the first 45 years of my life, and why I felt frustrated for much of my day, despite the fact that things were objectively pretty good. It also explains how I manipulate those around me and more importantly how to stop. The flip side is that it also helps me to understand why having a good, genuine belly laugh is my favorite thing in the world. It helps me understand why clients want to share their lives with me, and why I naturally see the bright side of a situation. It’s not just about our pain points, it is also about those things that make us come alive. Waking up to myself has been a powerful experience for which I am better. I’d also argue that my family is the direct beneficiary of this work. We are all better because of it.
The Enneagram is dynamic ~ we move around in it depending on what parts of ourselves we need to call on in different situations. And we have levels that we shift throughout depending on what triggers us or how present we are in a particular situation. I’ve seen peoples’ “center of gravity” change ~ friends who seem to have gotten so much happier and more stable over time (moving up the levels) and others, who have developed personality disorders and really struggled (moving down the levels). There is more…but I’ll leave it here. It has been a game changer for me. The Enneagram explains it all. And more importantly, provides a path towards clarity and fulfillment.
I had no idea I was even looking for something when I started this work; it was an academic exercise for me. And it seems I’ve stumbled across something that has nothing to do with academics and everything to do with wholehearted, authentic, living. Want more? Stay tuned. Want it quicker than that? Give me a call.
When I was a freshman in college, I noticed that one of my floormates was eating alone. She often ate alone. My new-best-friend-because-we-were-both-from-Massachusetts (which was basically the only qualification I had for anyone to be my friend) and I looked at her with awe and amazement. I now see that we looked at her like she was a character from the Land of Misfit Toys or from the movie, The Greatest Showman. We said something that was probably patronizing (man, if I could go back, there is so much I’d do over), but I’ll never, ever, forget what she said to us.
“Its people like you that make this weird. Its people who look at those of us who eat alone like there is something wrong with us or like we SHOULD want something different for ourselves. I love eating alone.”
Let it sink in.
How often do you take notice of something someone else is doing or saying and pity them or even empathize with them, without really knowing how they feel about it? How often do you make an assumption about what they are experiencing based on what you experience or are experiencing as you listen to them? At best, this is an assumption or misunderstanding, but often, this assumption comes from our own experience of pain or fear; it is a version of projection (unconsciously shifting our own intolerable feelings about a situation and externalizing those feelings on to someone else). The way we respond to others is a reflection of who we are. Acknowledging that, getting curious about our internal reaction, and then either clearing it before responding or acknowledging it as part of our response, is essential to being of service to others. It is the only way to communicate empathy, connection, and acknowledgement of another’s experience.
So get curious. Get curious about yourself and get curious about those with whom you interact. People want to be understood and the only way to honor that, is to listen without attachment to your version of their experience. It is a paradox of being connected to oneself while also being selfless in the interaction. The willingness to look inside and examine our inner life is the only path that will lead us there.
Start by taking out your coaching workbook or binder; everything you need is in there.
Perspective: Take a moment to revisit the Trademarked Perspectives you came up with. Is there one that you can use for the college search process? Maybe there is one that we already chose? Create a structure to remind yourself of this and maybe even share it with your friends or family. Anything spoken out loud to another person automatically builds accountability.
Accountability!: Ask for accountability partners wherever you think you may need them.
Values: We’ve likely done some important work examining what we call your life themes or values. These are those 3-5 topics that are unique to you and that you need to honor on a regular basis in order to really feel fulfillment. We’ve either strung some words together (ie: freedom/independence/choice) or described something you understand with a catchy name (ie: family adventure). Take a few minutes to re-examine those and see where you are currently honoring them or not;
Process Values: Use the list you have created as examples as you write about the things you want to highlight to the admissions committee. If a core value is “family,” a process value might be “family adventure.” And maybe the structure you chose was a map. If you pull these together, you have great examples and/or metaphors to use in your essay that communicate how essential having family adventure is to who you are and how you show up in your life.
Inner Critic: Be aware of your “buddy” identified in coaching who always keeps you safe, but sometimes too safe. Make sure you are keeping that little one in check. You might want to ask them to stay outside the door while you write. Saboteurs can really get in the way when we are trying to stand out; often times, our saboteurs want us to stay very small.
The “Crappy First Draft” (thank you, Brene Brown): Remember that this is your first draft; it is simply a place to start. This draft will help you synthesize all that you’ve chosen to pull into the essay that makes you who you are. Once you have those bones, there are many options for the other 25%: How have these served you to overcome an obstacle? How will they serve you in your chosen major? How have they allowed you to persevere in the face of adversity? How will you use them to choose your next steps? Remember that the essay is about YOU; not about the obstacle, the major, the career, the sport, the adventure, or the club.
Choose what you want to use from our coaching or other important self-discovery you have done, tell your saboteur to get lost, and get writing. You have absolutely everything you need to write a personal statement that will communicate exactly who you are to the admissions committee!
Lots has been said lately about mindfulness, meditation, presence, being “in the moment”…and if you are anything like I have been for most of my life, you are confused. I had a roommate who set her alarm so she could wake up early and meditate. WTF. Not a chance. I’ll sleep, thank you. Twelve step recovery programs tell us to take “quiet time” daily. I basically fell asleep or used the time to think about things. It was good, it was something, but it still made no sense. I never saw the impact that so many were fawning over. Over the last 30 years, I’ve amassed a distinguished record of failed attempts at meditating by way of studying meditation, buying apps, doing 30 day challenges, taking action on it, reading as much as I could, listening to podcasts, and whatever else. I finally chalked it up to a biological incapability to quiet my mind. Yes, that’s all I wanted. A quiet mind where the list of things to do wasn’t flowing freely and often causing panic.
I remember coming home from an early morning meeting one Saturday and finding my husband asleep. It was 8:30 am. I immediately reacted to the fact that he didn’t have time to sleep because there were curtains to be hung and a lawn to mow. I’m so grateful that he didn’t divorce me right then and there.
So fast forward to 2018, four kids later, when I was introduced to a spiritual mentor who simply said this: get comfortable, breathe, and focus on your breath without judgement. That’s it. What I loved about this is that she added, “don’t change the way you breathe, just breathe.” You mean I don’t have to count to 8 at every inhale and count to 9 at every exhale? And if a thought comes into my mind, let alone whole conversations with people against whom I hold resentments or need to speak with about any number of things, just notice it without judgement and refocus on the breath? Really? Over time, I learned that when I’m focusing on the breath, I have no thoughts, other than the up and down of my belly or chest. As I did it more, I noticed other sensations in my body; I noticed what was painful or where I felt the bottoms of my feet in my socks and my socks on the ground. I felt my butt in the chair, usually sinking into the chair in my office, and the tightness of my forehead or my neck or my shoulders. This time gave me the opportunity to shift and to stretch and to crack the bones and shift the muscles around. Sometimes, I even imagine myself connected to the earth or the sky and whatever else is outside of the sky. Generally, I keep it simple and just breathe.
When I started thinking about this 30 years ago, I had no idea what I was longing for other than a chance to give my brain a break. It needed to rest. Having practiced this way consistently for almost a year now, I notice the impact outside of those moments of quiet. Over time I have seen that when someone pisses me off, I feel a nudge in my body – usually in my back – and it is like an early warning signal to the rest of me. It reminds me to check in and and ask myself a question. Sometimes, it’s “What is true for me now?” The question allows me pause. It allows me to notice that I’m about to lose my shit and so I put space between my feelings, thoughts and reactions. Other times, it is more immediate – but checking in always tells me that my reaction is not about the other person despite how hard I’m trying to make it about them. Almost always, I feel an emotion: sadness or fear. And my sadness is usually about fear. Or loss. Which is also about fear. It’s all about fear. That moment of checking in allows me to pull away from that reaction I was about to have and notice that the fear or sadness have nothing to do with the other person and everything to do with me. Tara Brach says something like “an emotion felt all the way through lasts about 90 seconds.” I have also heard that anger not reacted upon lasts about 8 minutes. It is when we resist the feelings by acting on them and not acknowledging them and letting them just pass through the energy of our body that they last for hours, or days, or years. Really, it’s our resistance that lasts for hours, or days, or years. When practicing this breathing, or presence as I refer to it, for a few minutes a day, I yell less, I listen more, and I relax into my skin in a different way because it brings presence into my day in those moments when I most need to be an outside observer of myself. More often than I’d like to admit, my outside observer says, “What the hell are you doing? Stop making everyone cray cray and just feel what you feel!”
My fears about whether or not things will ever get done if I spend 5 minutes a day practicing this presence are assuaged by the fact that I am happier, calmer, and have pause. I’m more curious and less convicted. I’m more empathic and less a victim. My kids haven’t told me that I have no chill in at least a couple of months.
So what is this? Meditation? Mindfulness? Presence? Who cares? I refer to it as my presence practice because it takes me out of the future, away from the past, and gives me the moment I’m in and then the next moment and the next one and the next one. It’s all a form of mindfulness which is a form of meditation, but my presence practice has no chanting or mantra. I will add that at some point, I assume, but for now, I’m happy with what I have.
I am grateful to have a work life that allows me to practice this with my clients which is good for me, too. It allows me to just release all that I have with me and show up fully, 100% with them and what they have brought to the session. I am a better coach because of it. Teenagers love it. Executives love it. My college aged clients really love it. I never would have understood it at that age. I really didn’t and I tried so hard. Resisting the fact that I had a quiet mind is actually what perpetuated the busy mind. The occupied mind. The frenetic mind. Coming out of the present and into the future is what causes my distress. I wonder what you’ll notice when you try it. I’d love to hear.
I can share some resources from others who practice. I’ll add a recording to my facebook page so you, too, can experience it. I am not great at it outside of doing it with another person, but that’s ok for now. I don’t suck. I am not a failure. I am just a girl on a journey to increase the positivity in the energetic field that I take with me wherever I go, one breath at a time.