Be Your Own Life Coach

I have found myself on the exhilarating loop of the self-help hamster wheel — all the books and masterclasses you can imagine.  I get a high from it, from believing something external and tangible can solve my life’s dissatisfactions.  Buying books is easier, less vulnerable, less time-consuming, and less ‘outcome unknown’ than sitting with myself in silence, and working through The Stuff.  There’s something to the belief that I need fixing and that a fix is possible that has me excited everytime I begin a new self-development book.

It’s obvious by now, isn’t it?  That we can all become our own life coaches?  The steps have been laid out for us, that’s for certain.  Everyone from Wayne Dyer to Gabby Bernstein, from Brene Brown to Liz Gilbert have gone the way and recorded their trail for us.  If wholeness is what we are after, those of us addicted to the path of healing instead of the place of Healed, then we have been shown and told how to do it.  From Rumi to Glennon Doyle, we know the way.  Are we now ready to be honest with ourselves that maybe all this time of reading and listening and watching has been because we haven’t been ready to heal?  Because maybe we were addicted and comfortable with our own suffering and repetitive stories?  Or maybe because we thought Healed would look/feel different than it does.  We can continue to project all of our hopes and dreams of an easy fix onto the pretty woman on the stage with the microphone in her hand, or we can start to walk the path she’s laid for us.

It’s actually quite simple, in that the steps are pretty straight forward.  Deciding to and committing to the work is the part that gets so many of us caught up in the loop of seminars, workshops, talks and book signings. Don’t replace your addiction to diets and workouts with self-help. Really, all the best authors have something to offer — and we’ve already read all of the best ones, haven’t we?  Now, the point is, are we ready to commit to our own healing and fulfillment?  Do we want change for ourselves more than we want the safety of what we already know?  Are we ready to do the work instead of just talk about the work, finally?

Becoming Your Own Life Coach: A How To:

  1. Seek out space and solitude
  2. Practice detachment
  3. Be Curious
  4. Be Committed

Space and Solitude

When you are ready to start being honest with yourself, because of how uncomfortable it will likely be, it’s best to go there alone.  Remove the distractions, overpower your desire to run, and sit quietly.  There is no other way or place to start, there is no way to avoid this, you have to learn to be alone with yourself — quietly.  And then, you’ll have to do it the next day.  And the next.  And the next.  It does get easier, but it’s rarely easy.  Start where you are, do it badly, close the door, and try again tomorrow.

Detachment

The next part may be the trickiest, it is to become the observer of your own experience.  You are not your patterns and feelings, you are the witness to them.  When you begin to separate yourself from your circumstances and emotions, you may try to respond swiftly with action.  Don’t.  Do not try to invoke your will just yet, do not try to invoke change without having properly observed, for then you are just swinging to equal and opposite sides of the pendulum, and truth is at neither end.  It is incredibly hard to train your brain to see feelings and emotions as separate from you.  This, of course, is where meditation comes in.  Feelings and emotions, from your seat of witness, become distinct weather patterns to be observed and separated from.  They are not to be ignored, they are excellent sources of information, but they are not the truth and they are not you.  This is difficult but not impossible, and is very similar to training a new muscle group.  It feels unnatural at first but gets easier with continued deep practice.  Sit still.  Watch.  When you tell yourself you’re doing it wrong, watch that.  Continue to sit.  

Curiosity

When you’ve watched, be curious — meaning ask why with a  genuine desire to understand NOT to judge.  Your entire life and how you’ve lived thus far has been about keeping you safe.  What about the current behavior that you wish to change has been motivated by fear?  What are those fears?  Where do they come from and what underlying beliefs do they reveal about how you see life, yourself, others, love, money, art, happiness, etc?  What about your current life was the result of a desire for safety?  What were you avoiding, perpetuating, denying, rebelling against, that landed you here?  The separation from yourself that you learnt through detachment will help here, as you go deeper you’ll likely uncover beliefs that grew out of painful experiences.  To heal, you have to identify the traumas that are motivating you, the wounds you are protecting unknowingly.  Use curiosity and detachment to see your story as a story.  Follow it to its end point, keep asking questions to determine its beginning.  Then, you can start to rebuild.

Commitment

Your buy in is required — this is not optional.  It’s embarrassing, committing to yourself, because it implies caring.  And still, even after the Obama years, caring generally makes you vulnerable.  So instead of a personal investment, you have done what’s been deemed an acceptable alternative: you’ve paid.  You’ve thrown money at the problem instead of your time and passion.  It seems to be viewed as more legitimate (and definitely less risky) to pay someone to solve our problems than to  sit with them ourselves.  If we aren’t ready to sit with ourselves and ask what is not right, how did we get here, what is it that we want — then how much help can another person provide regardless of their skills or the money we are willing to pay them?  

When I realized I had an eating disorder, it was because I realized I’d been fighting the exact same fight, every single day, for more than ten years.  I still believed the answer was out there, and that the solution could be handed to me by someone else.  The same is true with my addiction to  self-help, I finally saw that I was outsourcing my life.  I was wanting someone else to do my sitting, my searching, my healing and as a result, I was missing my life.  If you are on the treadmill: stop.  Allow yourself to feel really uncomfortable as you adjust to not reaching for the Next Great Solution (it passes, I promise, and it passes even faster if you don’t fight it), then sit your ass down.  You are the guru you’ve been reaching for, it’s just that saying that from a stage with a microphone in your hand sells a lot less books.

When You’re Afraid He Was “The One”

A version of this essay was published by Elephant Journal on July 19, 2020 with the title, 2 Things to Help you Through a Breakup with “The One.” at https://bit.ly/30ykiFY.

I’m really bad in relationships and I’m even worse out of them.  When I am in one, I’m generally thinking of everything that is wrong with us (see: Him), and when I am out of one, I’m generally thinking of everything that was right with us (see: Him).

Cut to Act Two where I find myself today: a week since break-up and certain that I have made a terrible mistake.  I am certain that I am a coward, a child and an idiot for throwing what I had with this man away.  Mostly I’m panicking because I am afraid of having made the wrong decision — that I can’t possibly be fit to make decisions for myself that affect other people given my complete immaturity and self-involvement.  Someone ELSE must know how to do this, some ADULT out there must know what the right thing to do is right now, because surely I can’t possibly know what’s best for me given the fact that I am a child who is just really good at acting like an adult.  Just look at my apartment for God’s sakes, there are unicorns on the walls.

This of course has been a running theme in my life — trusting other people’s decision-making skills over my own.  I have stayed in jobs, relationships and apartments that were wrong for me all because the other person involved (see: boss, partner landlord) would have been GREATLY inconvenienced if I left and who am I to make such a weighted decision?  Better to just stay put and be miserable and have no idea why I can’t make a perfectly acceptable situation work for me (see: because it’s wrong for me.).

With this most recent relationship ending, I went into a tailspin of panic certain that the world was going to end because I had made a horribly selfish mistake and was most certainly going to hell for negatively affecting another person with my immaturity.  I wasn’t panicking because I was sad, I was panicking because I doubted myself so fiercely.  When I realized that the only other option I could see was staying in the relationship I realized I had to accept the bed I’d made.

Two things helped me do this.  The first was realizing that if this was a mistake, well people make mistakes all the time and the world does not end.  Remember when Target tried coming to Canada?  Or Gigli?  The world kept spinning for both Ben and J. Lo after that travesty.  I realized I could live with the consequences of my actions even if I had made a mistake.  I was so caught up in whether or not I had made the wrong decision that I was missing the forest for the trees which was: I made a decision that felt right for me in the moment given the circumstances at hand and the experiences in my history I had to draw from.  Right and Wrong are impossible to know until the dust settles, I told myself, and certainly impossible when you’re in the midst of hysterics.  But trusting that I was mature enough to make a mistake and accept the consequences eased the fear of the unknown in me.

The second thing that got me through was instead of second guessing myself every second of every hour post break up, I was going to try trusting myself.  To do that, something I’ve never done before, I had to change the script in my head.  For the first time in my life I decided to try using affirmations.  For an entire afternoon I walked barefoot around the perimeter of a park alternating between thinking, “I trust myself” and, “I trust the process of life and love.”  I chose these two phrases not because they are true but because I want them to be true and because I am ready for them to be true.  Right or wrong, still in love with him or not, I have to let this go now.  I have to get to the next stage of my life now.  Not because I necessarily want to but because it’s time to. Because I don’t think there are any more lessons to learn with this person anymore.

I trust myself.  I trust in the process of life and love.

And somehow, it took.  These phrases said over and over again and my willingness to accept the freedom to make mistakes, got me out of the panic stage of my experience and allowed me to just accept and be sad which is what I knew I needed to be if I was ever going to move on.  I don’t know if I am ready to let go of him (see: Us.), but I do know it’s unfair to hold onto him when I’m this uncertain.  In an odd way, my uncertainty is what’s allowing me to be certain.  I can trust in that even if I’m not quite sure yet what it means.  I trust myself.  I trust in the process of life and love.  I trust myself.

Why We Live the Wrong Lives (and how to find the right one)

A version of this essay was published by Elephant Journal on July 20, 2020 at https://bit.ly/32EITeX with the title, “How we Change the Pattern of Choosing What’s Wrong for Us.”

Why do we live the wrong lives?

Because sometimes, having someone or something to blame for our unhappiness is easier than taking responsibility for our unhappiness.  Sometimes it’s easier to resign ourselves to dissatisfaction than to step out on the ledge of daring greatly and risk being seen trying to be happy.  Some people seem to think happiness comes to the lucky — no.  Happiness comes to those who make it a priority.  After a certain point we have to ask ourselves, if what we have isn’t what we want, why do we still have it?

More often than not we have less than satisfying lives because we want a scapegoat, we want someone or something to blame for the state of things.  We want drama and, sometimes, we want to be victims.  There’s an ease and a righteousness and a lack of responsibility that comes with victimhood — trust me, I speak from experience.  I have a history of choosing the wrong romantic partners.  They were wrong not because they weren’t good men but because they weren’t right for me.  And because our incompatibilities rubbed just the right way, our flaws exacerbated each other and we both wound up hurt.

If this sounds familiar, or if you’re still in a place of blaming your partner or ex-partner or your job or your boss for your current state of unhappiness, ask yourself: If all you really wanted was love and respect, would you tolerate anything else in your life?  There is a safety in staying dissatisfied.  Instead of taking responsibility for the reality of our lives, it’s generally just easier to point a finger and say I can’t be happy until this external thing changes.

So?  Don’t you have your answer?  Walk away from the external thing if you’ve tried to change it to no avail.  Is it really any more complicated than that?  Our shitty circumstances are not what’s blocking us from being happy, but instead it’s our desire to be blocked that is causing us to choose unsatisfying situations. If we were happy, then where would we be spending our time and energy?  What areas of our life in need of our attention does this current distraction allow you to ignore?  Instead of blaming and resenting, be grateful — you have exactly what you asked for: a distraction from whatever it is you’re avoiding.  Drama, malaise and dissatisfaction are the gifts that keep on giving.  They are forever shape-shifting distractions that allow us to continue trying to fight or fix a situation we know, deep down, cannot be fought or fixed, but as long as we continue to stare directly at the specifics instead of the overarching experience of unhappiness, we can continue to blame circumstance instead of recognizing our own inability or unwillingness to take ownership of our own lives.

So how do we change this pattern of choosing what’s wrong for us?  We stay put.  We see the story trying to draw us in and we let it go on without us.  We let the hamster wheel of our thoughts run and we don’t get on the ride.  And when we’ve done that, we look at what comes up for us as we let it go — likely, it will be in the form of fear:

The fear of being alone.  The fear of responsibility.  The fear of being honest with ourselves.

Once we have named what it is we’re afraid of, generally a funny thing happens: we become much less afraid of it.  Something about naming it, identifying the space and shape our fear takes up in our bodies, causes its power over us to lessen.  And then it becomes much easier to either change the way we walk through the world, or become honest about the choice to leave things as they are.  This in itself, this decision to accept our current reality as the result of the choices we’ve made thus far, offers us much more ownership of our lives than the alternative of blaming others for our circumstances, and that is a step towards the happiness we claim we seek.  

Happiness isn’t safe or cool or easy.  It requires work and commitment and exposure, and oftentimes, if we have lived a really long time without these things, this change can be hard and threatening for those around us.  Living a life that brings us joy requires a commitment to ourselves that allows us to better show up for those we love — but not everyone in your life right now is going to see that.  To find the happiness that is each of our birthrights we must take ownership and responsibility of our paths, even if it means identifying and letting go of the things that are wrong for us.  And sometimes that looks like certain relationships.  Once you begin to let go of the wrong things, space will begin to open up for you and, as long as you don’t rush to fill it with something else, you’ll be able to see what will make you happy.  Unconsciously, we choose things that make us feel safe, but there is something better than a safe life, and that is a happy life.  It’s yours if you want it.

Listening for the Truth Through the Noise

From very early on we learn that life is about being at odds with things.  From about ten years old, girls start to wish they looked differently than they do.  It’s at that age that many girls try dieting for the first time.  Then, as one moves into adulthood, not only are we fighting our bodies, but we’re fighting our finances, our news stories, our politicians.  Before too long, the fight seems to become against Time herself.  So we buy spanx to prevent sagging and anti-aging creams to prevent wrinkles.  Why is it we believe ourselves to be wrong for so much of our lives?  Not in need of support but in need of changing, in need of becoming other?  Many of us noticed the redundancy of all that we have been fighting when the rules of being a functioning member of society changed this year–you mean body hair removal is optional?  Shopping every weekend is unnecessary?  Having somewhere to be every night of the week isn’t compulsory?  We’ve been so oblivious to the fact that our values have been fed to us by a machine whose sole purpose is to keep us believing we are wrong as we are.  It turned out, the most important people these last few months weren’t the celebrities and movie stars we idolize, but the grocery store clerks, the bus drivers, and the health care workers.  And it turns out that the economy wasn’t more important than bodies.

An opportunity to simplify was given to us in 2020, a reason to check out our surroundings and determine if we like where we’re standing and where we’re going.  What I have realized is that I don’t want to be at odds with myself anymore.  I don’t want to be distracted by what I’m told I should care about any longer.  Many years ago I realized that when it came to God, if I could only learn it from another person’s mouth instead of through getting really still and really quiet, then I had no business knowing it.  That knowledge wasn’t the Truth I was seeking — that God was the God of my parents and not the whisper of Truth I felt certain existed elsewhere than the church pews.

That’s what pandemic season has reminded me to look for again: what are my values through all of the noise.  What are the truths and facts that are discoverable to me whether or not I’m reading them in the news.  Some I’ve come up with are: love feels better and braver than indifference, cynicism, and judgement.  It feels good to move my body every day.  I sleep better the less sugar I’ve consumed.  Shopping is often a balm against feeling my feelings.  

It’s so hard to let go of what everyone else around you deems important.  It’s so hard not to second guess yourself, doubt your instincts, follow the loudest voice.  But you will never be certain if you can’t know it for yourself.  You will never be impossible to knock over if your only source of knowledge is having read it on the Internet.  If you couldn’t have known it without someone else telling you, does it still serve you?

My face is changing.  My skin looks different than it did ten years ago.  I see so many aging faces on my TV that don’t look young but are shiny and smooth.  I’ve decided to turn my TV off these days not because the faces I’m seeing are wrong, but because I don’t want to get confused about what an aging face should look like.  When I see my arms with less definition than they had a year ago, I remind myself of the mental struggle I was going through to keep them looking that way, not that they looked that way because I valued and appreciated and moved my body.  I never want “working out” to be one of the hobbies I list on my Tinder profile.  I want to be ok with aging because it’s a privilege not everyone gets.  I want loving myself to be my act of resistance to 30 years worth of information telling me to do otherwise.  I want to ask all those around me, how would you feel about yourself and how would you spend your time if all you’d ever been offered was love and encouragement?

Would you still think shopping for things you didn’t need was a legitimate hobby?  Would you still only eat chocolate when your heart was broken or would your palate know chocolate all year long and thus all that would be left to do in the moment of heartbreak was experience heartbreak?  What kind of jokes would you make?  How would you feel about sarcasm, pessimism, criticism?  Would you feel the need to judge others?  Would you feel in awe of getting another day each morning?  

How would you live your life if no one had ever told you how you should live it?

Intuition and Intimacy

I am someone who has a pretty good read on her intuition (now) but that wasn’t always the case.  I have some conflicting personality traits that have made knowing myself damn tricky — I’m a people pleaser and intimacy craver and conflict avoider but also very stubborn and very independent.  These clashed (trust me, I was super fun to be in a relationship with).  What wound up happening was when I found myself in close relationships, my comfort was based on making or keeping my partners comfortable and avoiding conflict at all costs; all the while slowly, over time resenting them for not knowing the real me, keeping me small, forcing me to be someone I wasn’t.  Then, after a while, I’d explode in a, frankly, astounding display of angst, blame and self-righteousness that no one saw coming (least of all me) and run off to be by myself again, catering to my own wants and needs at last.  

I have spent most of my life either alone or trying to make others happy.  And not because they asked me to but because their wants and needs were so much clearer to me than my own.  I became so used to this routine that I assumed this was being in a relationship.  I started to think that making other people happy was what made me happy.  I feared discord, confrontation and unease so much so that I would bend and fold and backflip my way into shapes I believed would make other people comfortable.  Then I’d become so contorted and uncomfortable that my ribs would be aching, my nails nubs, and my hair thinning, that I’d have to escape.  So I’d blow up the relationship and run for the hills in a fit of tears and dramatics and hyperventilating until, after a few months, my breathing would return to normal and I’d miss being cuddled again.

I didn’t know how to value my own wants and needs on the same level that I placed others’ wants and needs because I didn’t know what mine were.  So rather than figure them out, I just looked for people who seemed confident enough for the both of us.  Often what that looked like was being attracted to arrogance.  For a very long time I hoped to find someone solid enough and sure enough that I wouldn’t have to learn to support myself.  I hoped to bypass that whole part of developing a solid foundation within myself and feel safe and secure because of someone else’s stability.  I thought if I looked for someone who seemed like they knew something that I didn’t, then I’d be ok.  But arrogance, more often than not, is just a mask to appear brave and in control worn by someone who feels neither of those things.  So you see?  I was attracting in others exactly what I was.

The universe was giving me exactly what I knew to be true and would continue to do so if  I kept avoiding my work.  I was looking for someone else to be my strength and my compass and my certainty.  Which would have been fine — shallow and dissatisfying, but fine–if only my heart would stay put.  But she never would (selfish Bitch.).  She wanted to be let out of the cage I was keeping her trapped in.  She wanted authenticity, trust, accountability — in others, sure, but mostly as the foundation to my relationship with myself.  

I didn’t trust my intuition.  Amidst the wants and needs of others, trying to remain centred in myself when I didn’t know where my centre was made me confused and overwhelmed and felt like the whole world was spinning.  So, it seemed safest to hitch my wagon to whomever seemed the most sure.  I might complain after the fact of not being listened to, but the truth was that, in the moment, I was too afraid of being heard to speak up.  And speaking up is damn near impossible when you haven’t found your voice.

When you can’t look away from your patterns anymore, when you’ve simplified to the point of no longer being able to ignore the truth, your options get really simple: adapt or die.  I was sick of my relationships always ending the same way.  And I could no longer look away from the truth: it wasn’t them.  It was me: So, who am I?

I realized that in order to get to know myself, in order to know who I really am and what I really want and need, then I had to rid my life of the superfluous.  For a few years now I have been trying to scale back, get down to basics, find the bare bones of myself — minimalism in every sense of the word.  I’ve found that when I am intentional with my resources — my words, my time, my money, my love — it becomes quite easy to identify when something is out of place; I don’t have to look for it, my life shows me.  

It becomes easy to keep your apartment clean when the only clothes in your closet are the ones you wear, you don’t have excess mugs, or shoes, or shampoo bottles that don’t get used and don’t fit anywhere.  It’s easy to see that the ‘friend’ you keep hanging out with always leaves you feeling bad about yourself after you go for coffee when you’ve identified how you do want to feel, and who in your life does make you feel that way.  It becomes an exact science identifying what it is you’re feeling when your phone is turned off and in the drawer so there’s nothing to distract you from what’s going on inside you.  Minimalism and being intentional with everything you consider valuable are what lead you to  your intuition.

It’s scary to look back on a life with so many risks taken and see how truly dangerous it was given there being no internal compass.  It’s easy to understand how outcomes can be so different for people who perform the same work, take the same trips, have the same (from the outside) relationships, but the only difference is that one person trusts themselves and the other doesn’t.

I wasted a lot of time not knowing myself and not trusting myself hoping that others could do the work for me.  I was very hard on partners who couldn’t possibly know what I hadn’t identified for myself.  I see now that it’s ok to be afraid, but it’s not ok to make others feel bad for knowing what they want and camouflaging your anger as about them never listening to you when what you’re really angry about is you don’t know what you want.  Showing up as an equal in a relationship means first showing up for yourself in the way you’ve been expecting partners to do — knowing your wants and needs, being firm on your boundaries, being confident enough to compromise on the negotiables.  I would love to blame my partners, but ultimately it is on each of us to figure it out for ourselves and that only comes by leaning into our intuition and trusting it at all costs.

If You Want Something Different Than This, Become Something Different Than This or Wake Up!

To have what you want you have to let yourself  become a person who is capable of having it.

Who you are has gotten you to the exact spot you are now.  Or, another way of putting it is, who you are is perfectly aligned with the life you have.  You have exactly what you believe is possible for yourself.  To have something else, you have to become someone else.  I see this failure to align as why so many people become depressed after winning the lottery and achieving their dreams of becoming rich and famous.

When I envision what I want for my life, I can see a clear divide between who I would need to be in order to have it and who I am now.  To have the future freedom and peace I dream of I would have to take responsibility for myself in a way I have failed to do thus far.  There is still a part of me that plays small, a part of me asking that someone else in the room be in charge, a part of me that doesn’t fully trust my abilities to ‘run the show’ (as in my life).  The reasons for this aren’t all that important (youngest child syndrome, maybe?  Victim of the patriarchy, perhaps?).  Who cares.  What matters is that now that I can see and name it, I can work on rectifying it.  

Solving the misalignments in ourselves requires asking what part of you feels safe with your patterns even when you feel dissatisfied with your life.  Like it or not, believe it or not, your patterns of self-sabotage, poor communication, lethargy, compulsive behaviours, etcetera, are the response to a need to feel safe that you are denying.  You’re not special and you’re not unique.  Maybe your circumstances and back story are yours alone, but so is everybody else’s.  Maybe you have more hurdles than your friends and thus feel disadvantaged by the steepness of the hill you have to climb, maybe you have less hurdles than your friends and thus you see yourself as having less motivation than others to change your life, but whatever story you’re telling yourself it is the same story the lucky ones received before bedtime as kids: it’s a nice trick to lull you into feeling safe and sleepy.

Wake.  Up.

Because once you see that, what your specific story is and how you are using it to guard yourself against feeling too much or being too challenged, it’s harder to act unconsciously by repeating the same patterns you have up till now.  In those moments you have a choice to make that before would have just been habitual.  That choice is what is meant by owning one’s life.  After 25 there’s no one to blame anymore.  Not your parents or your childhood.  There’s just a wonderful opportunity to accept reality and work with it to get somewhere else.  Our past is what it is, but our future is still to be determined, and we each have a say in it if we choose to get really honest about our present.

When It’s Time To Call Bullshit On Yourself

How good are you at holding yourself accountable?  Are you involved in the micro and the macro details of your life?  Meaning, do you zoom in on the day to day as well as zoom out on how those days make up the next 6 months, 1 year, or 5 years of your life?  Sometimes we think life is going to happen for us.  That we can wile away our time with video games and still expect to be someplace else in 5 years time.

Sometimes I am grounded enough to see the choice as if it was as simple as choosing a flavor of ice cream — do you want fear or belief today?  Both are in stock.  

I’ve been doing well.  So well that I can see the creeping in of my self-sabotaging ways:  I lie in bed at night and my brain just runs, resulting in no sleep being had whatsoever.  And then in the morning when it is time to write I think, “This is just your perfectionism speaking.  There is no reason to write when you are this tired.  It’s unfair to yourself and it’s unhealthy.”  Because I am tired.  So writing whilst that tired seems irresponsible but seems is the operative word.  The facts of the matter are quite right: I am too tired to be productive or considered healthy.  But I have to ask myself: why?  Why is it that when things start going well I stop sleeping?  Why is it I’ve allowed one area of my life so much control over my productivity?  Why, if sleep is the number one indicator of whether or not I will be able to call a day successful or not, am I not making sleep my Absolute Number One priority?

Or another beautiful and sneaky pattern I have is letting the emotional  entanglements run amok with my thoughts and energy.  Getting involved with the unavailable really gives me something to think about when I am lying in bed at night not sleeping.  And they also seem equally legitimate to avoid doing my daily work and showing up for myself in the moment.

I don’t know why the fear of success is so common and, frankly, I don’t care (or, I should clarify, I don’t care in this blog post, I’m sure I’ll delve into it in the future).  This article is my way of calling bullshit on myself — calling myself out.  “You said that you wanted to be honest, you said that was what you wanted your life to be about.  Well, is that what you’d call your actions?  Honest?  Is lying in bed thinking about nothing honest?  Or are you avoiding your work and giving yourself excuses and ways out to do so?”  These are the questions I have to ask myself if I want more than having, “I’m so tired,” to say when people ask me how I am.

It is ok to be tough on yourself when it’s appropriate.  It’s ok to give yourself tough love when it’s warranted.  It’s ok to call bullshit on the patterns you have of not really showing up for yourself and your best life.  This is my gentle way of telling you to tell yourself to smarten the fuck up.  Because it’s no longer your mother’s job to do so.  Show up for yourself so you can show up for those you choose to have in your life.  You’ll thank yourself.

Give + Love or All That’s Left to Do

A version of this essay was published by Elephant Journal on July 14, 2020 under the title, How to Know What you were Put Here to Do, at https://bit.ly/2CPX6uQ.

It would seem that I have somehow gotten to the end before the ride has even begun. My meditation and prayer practice have been taking me deeper and deeper down the spiritual rabbit hole as of late.  And I’m all in.  I see the release that comes when you let go of the I, I experience overwhelming sensations of love and gratitude throughout the day, and I experience full body tremors when I commit myself to the idea of something more than I can see.  But one thing I’ve been unable to align myself with is the idea of service.  All of the spiritual leaders say that to live a fulfilling life you must find a way to serve.  I have been unable to embody this.  I want to write.  It feels right to write.  But I do not write because I believe it offers more to others than to myself.  I write because it cleans my slate, because it releases me, because my own lies and hiding places are revealed when I write.  I have been unable to fully embody the idea of service because of this.

Today, I was sitting envisioning the total package coming to fruition.  I was imagining ‘The Dream,’ or what all of the pieces of the life I now know I want will look and feel like when they come together.  You see, about a year ago I said to my mom when she asked me about my career goals that I believed I will have everything I want. I just need to figure out what it is that I want.  I believed that then and I believe it now.  And finally, after many many years, I have figured out what I want.  After years of being numb, years of hiding and running, and years of asking, “is this it?”  I now know undeniably what I would happily commit my life to working towards and feel as though I had lived well just by working towards it.  And then I thought, well, what if I get it?  What then — how will I feel then? 

After a moment my answer was, “Well I guess I’ll feel done.  Like I did what I came here to do, became who I was supposed to be.” 

Ok, I said, and then what will you do?  Theoretically this could all happen by next year, it’s not a complicated dream, so what then?  And that’s when I heard it: “Give and Love.  For that will be all that there is left to do.”

I understand now.  It had never occurred to me to ask what it was all for, all of the self-discovery and exploration, and what happens when you got to the end.  This is where service comes in, this is where others come in: the reason we are seeking wholeness, self-actualization, alignment is because then, at that point, there is nothing left to do but give and love.

Oh.  There is the service.  I am becoming who I believe I am meant to become in order to serve.

So now that I can see the end, now that I can see what I failed to look for before, maybe I can just cut out all of the middle stuff.  If that is what is at the end of the rainbow, then maybe THAT is what I am meant to do.  Maybe the rest, maybe all of the journey thus far has just been the lesson being repackaged over and over and over again in the hopes that one of these times I’ll finally see the answer through the material goods, mental anguish, boredom, and gluten-free cookie dough ice cream.

I can’t say it will be the same for everyone, I’m genuinely curious what others’ responses will be.  If you’re curious about what you were put here to do, instead of asking yourself if you died tomorrow, how would you wish you had lived? Ask yourself if tomorrow you awoke and received absolutely everything your soul has ever wanted, if you were finally whole — what would you do and how would you live then?

Because then I think you have your answer as to what you were put here to do.

Why We Meditate

This essay was published by Elephant Journal on July 4, 2020 titled, “Why Do We Meditate?  Inner Thoughts of a Restless Meditator” at https://bit.ly/38vyOlN

Why do we meditate?

We meditate to burn through.  It’s true, at first you sit with the best of intentions.  You sit with a glow, a light, the light, you are light.  And for the first five, maybe 10 minutes, that holds true.  You are still and you are one.

And then your mind wanders.  And you think about getting a cat.  Or whether or not you’ll do yoga later.  Or how many times you’ve pooped or not pooped today.

“Maybe I should start eating prunes?” you think.  “Eddie Murphy says that’s what he eats first thing in the morning on that episode of Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee.  I wonder if there are any new episodes out?  Though to find out, I’d have to renew my Netflix membership and I have a lot more time for yoga and writing and meditation without it.  Anyways, what was I thinking about before Netflix?

“Oh right, meditating.  How long was I gone for?  How long have I been sitting here for?  Shit my back is starting to ache.  And now my left shoulder is, too.  Why do I even do this?  Who am I kidding?  Oh.  I’m at the 20 minute mark, I can tell because now things are falling asleep.  My left foot and my bum.  God I hate pins and needles.”

You sigh mentally.  You are no longer the glow.  The glow is long gone.  Now you are bored and a little irritated.  And soon you’ll be outright angry, because you’re almost always angry in the last ten minutes because the last ten minutes are the hardest and hurt and feel useless and you feel stupid for even trying to meditate.

But here’s the interesting part: every now and then instead of trying to change your anger in the last 10 minutes, instead of trying to not feel it, to not see it head on, instead of denying that this lesser part of you exists, you just allow it to be.  You let it turn you hot, you attempt to dispel nothing.  And generally this moment right here, this is the reason why we meditate, because somehow it dissipates on its own.

In the anger you are not enlightenment, you are not light, you have not ascended.  You are the worst version of yourself.  The part you keep underwraps from coworkers, the part that only your family can bring out of you.  You are whiny and petulant and entitled.  You feel like you deserve an award for showing up.  You are a feral cat who would claw any hand that got too close — friend or foe.  You are debased.  You are aching back, sore knee.  You no longer care about enlightenment.  You are over it.

And then.

It breaks.

And for the briefest of moments you are not the dark anymore but you are also not the light you sought.  For maybe all of five seconds, there just is.

And then *ding* the timer goes. And most of it is forgotten but sometimes, a feeling remains with you, a lightness, a softening of the noise that is the hustle that surrounds you, and you forget the struggle until the next time you sit.  This is why we meditate.

Sometimes We Keep Ourselves in Debt Unknowingly

There is nothing noble about poverty and struggle and dissatisfaction when you have an alternative.  So many people seem to be afraid to choose happiness and ease for their lives because such a choice seems too risky when struggle is idealized as noble and the basis of so many of our relationships is commiseration.   I think I believed there was a righteousness and a lack of responsibility that came with being impoverished.  It was very hard for me to undo that thinking.  The belief that true artists struggle, live poorly, drink excessively was deeply ingrained in my psyche without me realizing it.  Deep down, I didn’t want to grow up.  And by grow up, I do not mean sell out, settle, choose stability over adventure; but I do mean, live within my means, pay my bills on time, commit daily to writing, take out my empties each week.  If you have the means and the privilege to get out of poverty (which, though it took me a while to admit it, I did), I believe you owe it to those who don’t have the same opportunities to do so.  It is really, really scary to look at the areas of our lives we wish were different and ask ourselves, “Am I truly a victim of circumstance here?  Do I have any control that I am not executing here?”  We need good, smart, kind people who know what it’s like to not have money making good, kind, smart decisions with their money.  I didn’t want to have the responsibilities of someone who made money.  I didn’t want to have to use my money well, make ethical decisions about where to put it and bear some responsibility for the state of things in my part of the world.

When I started to realize that I made enough of a salary to, though not live wealthily, live easier than I had been living and yet I still never had any more money than when I’d been a student, I had to start looking at why.  What I saw was that when the end of each month came, if there was still $100 in my account, I would feel myself start to panic and get overcome by the need to get rid of it.  Initially, I didn’t try to stop myself.  I just watched the panic come up in order to try to figure out what it was all about.  I sat with my feelings and I tried to imagine what I would feel like if I didn’t throw it away but instead, let it sit there and roll over into the next month.  The idea made me feel uncomfortable, kinda itchy, almost like the pants I had on were too tight and I couldn’t find what the best way to sit was.  When I looked further at that discomfort and what was behind it, I saw that there was a part of me that felt like I’d lose some of my friends if I was no longer poor, or that I’d lose my position of ‘baby of the family’ and not be taken care of anymore (even though I’d been financially independent from my family for many years, I still had an idea that I’d be severing some tie to them if I were financially stable).

I’d been in debt and clawed myself out multiple times, once I was even so arrogant as to say (aloud, to people), “I will never let this happen again.”  But low and behold, I was right back there again.  I could see that nothing was going to change if I remained too scared to look at the underlying issue:  I was deeply uncomfortable with the idea of having and holding onto money.

When I finally sat down and crunched the numbers and really looked at what I made versus what I owed versus what the interest payments each month were alone — I finally had to admit that the hole had gotten too big.  That I couldn’t keep going at the rate I was going, nor could I right the ship without help.  I had to admit I needed help, and I had to (and this was the most important part) decide I no longer wanted to live this way.  I was paycheque to paycheque, with no emergency fund, and a solid reason to decline anytime a non-profit called looking for donations, and I believed that somehow this was more moral than its alternative.  I was behaving like a coward.

I wasn’t ready to look at the facts of my life up until that point.  The continuous spending beyond my means, the rebuilding of debt as soon as one mountain was paid off — this was not rotten luck.  I had privilege and education that I was squandering in order to not have to take responsibility for my own life.  As soon as I was ready, like really ready, I remember saying aloud from the floor of my basement apartment: I don’t want to live like this anymore.  I need help.

And that was all it took.  The next day, I received help before I had even taken time to think who I could ask it of.  Completely unprompted, I was offered an interest free loan from a family member.  I was aghast and humbled and so, so grateful.  I was ready to receive the help because I knew I was ready for a very major change in lifestyle and mentality.  The luck of this is undeniable, I had gotten myself into a hole too big to climb out of, and help arrived because I was finally ready to show up, become an adult, and OPEN MY EYES.  It was a slow climb.  I got a second job, I sold my car, moved into an attic the size of a decent sized closet, rode the bus and shopped thrift.  I was lucky, extremely lucky, but if I hadn’t decided to address the unconscious beliefs that were motivating my ignorant behaviours, then I wouldn’t have been able to ask for or accept help.   The offer like the one I received would have resulted in no change whatsoever, and truthfully, without having been on my knees the night before when I realized that I couldn’t solve this on my own, I probably would have been too proud to accept it.  I first had to make the mental shift before I could receive the help, and that was the only way I was able to avoid repeating all of my past ways.  When I was finally ready, with humility and acceptance, the universe was waiting.  As she always is.