12 Invitations for a New Year – Or, How About We Start 2012 Without Shame & Blame?

Recently, I saw an online article posted via Facebook that inspired me to post this blog for y’all.

It was about things to stop doing if you want a life of fulfilling sunrises, great sex, mind-bending career opportunities, oodles of financial security, etc. Or something like that.

Well, no, I didn’t like the blog. But I noticed it was re-posted by many people who – like me – are devoted to self-transformation, being more present, and practicing kindness in the world. And I started to wonder why the blog was resonating for folks.

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t all bad – there were a few good ideas in the blog. Most were familiar, but there were one or two good reminders about self-sabotaging behaviors and thinking patterns.

However, after reading the first 10 or so of the recommend 30 “stop doing this” items, I started to feel oogey. That’s energy-medicine lingo for, “Reading this is making me feel like a bag of poopy-diaper-garbage”.

In other words, reading the article made me feel in my body that sensation I’ve come to associate with the arising of old shame.

Because I try to notice the signals my body is giving me – even when my mind is occupied with, say, reading something – I was able to take this as an opportunity to trace the contours of some old shame that I’d obviously been storing in my body. I stopped reading the stop-doing-blog immediately, and got very still. I asked, “Where in my body am I feeling this shame?”. It was in the center of my chest, radiating downwards and outwards a bit. It made me feel slightly queasy – and a little bit “cold”, energetically speaking.

I observed this silently for several moments.

Then, I asked myself, “What does this particular sensation remind me of? When is the first time I can remember feeling a sensation like this?”.

I waited, and just let the memories arise, while focusing primarily on the feelings – making space for the shame that was still active in me because I hadn’t been able to cope with or process it healthily in those past-moments.

It wasn’t rocket science, really.

As I got still with these questions, I recognized that the tone of the blog – its none-too-gentle, “Stop doing this, it’s bad for you, and you should know better!” approach – activated within me warehoused feelings from the many times in my childhood and adolescence when, all open and vulnerable, I got shamed or blamed instead finding the support and kindness I needed.

Hence, the cold feeling. Hence, the old shame arising.
After I’d thoroughly allowed myself to feel and transmute the emotional charge of the shame associated with those events, I wondered why this particular blog was being reposted all over Facebook.
Why did it resonate with so many folks who I know strive to live consciously and in the present moment? Why would we promote this blog, and others like it?

And I began to speculate that, maybe, just maybe, we are so accustomed to shaming, blaming reprimands to do better, do different, do right, do more…maybe we don’t even notice the stress these kinds of admonishments cause in our bodies – or the old emotions that will try to hitch-hike a ride with their present-moment triggers.

According to Gabor Mate’s book, When The Body Says No (2003), moments of acute or chronic stress in our childhood and adolescence become deeply problematic in our development when “environmentally conditioned helplessness that permits neither of the normal responses of fight or flight…results in stress becoming repressed and therefore invisible (emphasis mine; 2003: 20).

The helplessness Mate is speaking about here – helplessness that arises when there is no possibility of fight or flight – is just like the helplessness of a child who can’t flee from a parent or authority-figure who shames them in order to alter their behavior, or – that old abuse-excuse – “build their character”.

He goes on to state, “Eventually, having unmet needs or having to meet the needs of others is no longer experienced as stressful. It feels normal” (emphasis mine; ibid).

Concurring with more recent work such as that of Brene Brown, Mate also points out that, “Shame is the deepest of the negative emotions, a feeling we will do almost anything to avoid” (2003: 12).

Is this why we don’t notice when a blogger, politician, or partner shames us?

Is it because our inability to deal with this highly stressful emotion in childhood has hard-wired us to such an extent that we repress shame before we even notice it arising in our bodies?

Let’s take these questions a step further:

If most of us are hard-wired to instantly repress shame, is this why marketers and businesses are able to mobilize shame discourse so effectively to sell us products and services that will supposedly make us better?
Products and services, not coincidentally, that will feed our starving child-self’s innocent need for approval, recognition, validation, love, warmth, guidance, etc.?
Indeed, as Brene Brown suggests in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection (2010), “When the shame winds are whipping all around me, it’s almost impossible to hold on to any perspective or to recall anything good about myself. I [go] right into the bad self-talk of God, I’m such an idiot. Why did I do that? ” (2010: 9).

Considering the implications of our shame-response deserves thoughtful reflection and treatment. I will certainly ponder it at greater length in the months ahead, but for now, I want to make you a promise. I am not going to tell you to stop doing anything. Pick your most destructive habit. I will not tell you to stop doing that thing, thinking that way, or being like that.
Because there’s a very good chance that, like me, “Stop doing x, y, and z!” is only an effective approach to putting you right back in your childhood shame. And I firmly believe we can take better care of each other than that.

Instead, I want to kick off this calendar year by inviting you to try some stuff. Consider some stuff. Cozy like. Everyone likes an invitation. It feels like…well, like being included. Which is also something our child-selves very much wanted to feel. Remember? Yeah. Me, too.

And I am making a commitment to you that I will consciously strive to encourage, inspire, and soothe you rather than blaming and shaming you. In fact, I want all of us to develop the tools to surrender these triggers, once and for all. Okay?
So here we go:

  1. I invite you to feel entitled to gentleness.
  2. I invite you to ask for help, and to determine what kind of help is right for you if you feel you need it.
  3. I invite you to ponder the idea that you are not alone. At length.
  4. I invite you to listen to your body. Our bodies are speaking to us all the time, with epic love.
  5. I invite you to consider that you are perfect – that you came into the world  with an unbroken and unbreakable perfection inside you, and that nothing you do, say, or become can change this fundamental grace.
  6. I invite you to consider that the fear of feeling old pain and shame is more draining than finding your way through that old backlog of emotion.
  7. I invite you to be the expert-observer of your life, your thoughts, your feelings.
  8. I invite you to spend time with your younger self – in meditation, visualization, mantra-chanting, you name it – and be your own, sacred witness as you move through old pain.
  9. I invite you to consider the empty spaces in your life as places of fertile opportunity where you can create new relationships, knowledge, inspiration, projects, new…anything that meets you where you are.
  10. I invite you to prioritize long, languorous, hot baths; walks in nature; organic, fair-trade chocolate; and eating deliciously prepared, nutritious foods that warm you from the inside.
  11. I invite you to expand and evolve into absolute generosity of spirit.
  12. I invite you to fall tremendously in love with every single person in the world – before you ever meet them.

Please RSVP below if you’d like to accept any or all of these invitations. I’ll be here, and I’ll put the kettle on for your cuppa’ tea.

With all my love and warmth, Happy New Year!





How That Old Pain Can Be A Pathway to New Joy

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges involved in witnessing for my clients as they work toward self-transformation is helping them to look, unafraid, at the burden of old pain they are carrying around with them.

Old pain is there in all of us.

It’s carried by busy, care-taking moms and business owning divas who run after everyone else’s needs – you know, the ones who exemplify the expression, “If you want something to get done, give it to a busy person”.

It’s couched in spiritual terminology – the shadow, the pain body – by deeply reflective people who meditate and pray, who do yoga or practice qi gong daily.

It’s present in highly intelligent, self-starting folks who can speak eloquently about their ‘trust issues’ – and who will go to great lengths to explain that they really do know what they need to be working on (how’s that working out for you, by the way?).

Think you’re not carrying old pain?

My sweet, beautiful beings, I say this to you with only love in my heart: everyone is carrying old pain. Everyone.

Your pain is whispering, “I’m here” when you can’t sleep at night.

It shouts when you overreact to something or someone.

It purrs when you meet someone whose pain is very similar to your own (Note: this is categorically NOT a sign from God that this person is The One).

It creaks and groans in that old shoulder / knee / back / ankle injury.

It croons, “You need me to know who you are” when you feel small, ashamed, in despair.

It protests (too much), “If you let me go, you won’t ever be safe” when you are trying to give trust a chance in that new relationship.

And as long as we deny that we are carrying old pain – wherever we go, whatever relationship we have – we will play the blame game: projecting our pain outwards onto others while justifying these attacks as the only way to keep ourselves safe.

In this way, we create more pain for ourselves through conflict, judgment, and disassociation.

This is insane – particularly in view of the fact that it’s completely unnecessary.

But we don’t hold onto old pain because we’re stupid, uneducated, or un-evolved. We don’t warehouse old pain because it’s sane or because it’s healthy. We do this because it’s what we were taught to do: repress or squeeze down the uncomfortable emotions until we simply can’t anymore.

In fact, we’ve been told it is normal – even ideal – to deny, ignore, repress, or medicate our pain. Enter the sobbing intern, the raging grocery clerk, the numbed out accountant, the doctor addicted to pain meds, or…you.

And why not?

We’re surrounded by the idea that the way to deal with old pain is through avoidance.

Sometimes, we’ll do anything to avoid it.

We shop to distract ourselves.

We intellectualize about the feelings (without actually feeling them).

Or we drink. Or have an affair. Or eat. Or stick a needle in our arm. Or ask for / accept medications to numb our pain without ever committing to a plan to work through it – a bit at a time – so that, eventually, we won’t need those prescriptions anymore.

But here’s the thing: while experiences of pain, grief, loss, resentment, unforgiveness, etc. are a part of living, it is never necessary to carry them around with us like an American Express card!

Old pain effects every single facet of our lives – and like any burden, it gets heavier over time.

The more we store, the greater our fear of facing it becomes.

But face it we can. We can. You can. You – you miraculous, incredible, beautiful human being…you have it within you to move through it and out the other side. Most of us were never told this. But it’s true.

Watch me now: There is not one single part of your life that is unaffected by the pain you are carrying. And subsequently, there is no part of your life that wouldn’t be improved if you learned how to walk through it to the other side.

That old grudge, unforgiveness, wound, trauma, trust issue is taking up prime real estate inside us.

It’s filling a space that could otherwise be filled with creativity, connection, love, beauty, grace. You name it.

I’ve said it before: when we find a way to let go of old pain, we make a space inside where joy can live. In this way, that old pain can be a gateway to new joy. It takes courage, yes.

But if I’ve learned anything from working with folks who’ve decided to start reclaiming that inner acreage from ‘ye olde pain shoppe’, it’s this:

Our fear of facing the pain is often more difficult to confront than the pain itself.

When we discover this for ourselves, the fear can become what saves us, in a strange way. It’s the red flag.

When we feel that fear moving us away from who we want to be, from the life we want to create for ourselves, this is a sure sign that some remarkable transformation and healing is within our reach.

Once the fear becomes tangible, the jig is up. The curtain is pulled back. The wizard – our fear – is revealed to be nothing more than a little man behind the curtain who’s been pulling our strings all along, Dorothy.

After that, it becomes entirely possible to move through the old pain gently but with persistence; nurturing ourselves while remaining committed to our work; honoring our own pace while held in a loving space created for us and sustained by our witnesses.

Say it with me, beautiful soul: it is possible to release that old pain – and the fear that makes us want to shy away from even acknowledging its existence.

In my own practice, I use guided meditations, shamanic journeying, energy work, and other tools to help my clients as I hold space for them to honor and release their old shame, grief, loss, unworthiness, and a host of other painful emotions and experiences. We go at their pace. But we go.

I have watched my clients take on the most horrible losses, the most painful violations, the most devastating betrayals – and come out the other side lighter.

I am saying to you that it is not only possible for them – but for you, also.

It is possible for each of us. Every one.

I get to be a witness for these transformations – and it never ceases to amaze me how resilient and remarkable human beings are.

In the very depths of our pain, we can find grace. Strength. Insight. Clarity. Purpose.

All things that have eluded us while we pranced and danced around our pain and the fear that kept us at arm’s reach from it for too long.

Whatever your process, whatever healing you undertake, know that you can do this. And that the freedom, the lightness, and the liberation of being emancipated from old pain is so much more than worth the effort: it can feel like being reborn. And that’s a bargain, at any price.




From Cynics to Critics: Transforming Negativity in the World Around Us

Recently, I noticed that a twitter chum had committed to a 21-Day, Complaint-Free Challenge.

I immediately tweeted him with hearty, virtual pat on the back!

This got me thinking about just how much of the content of conversations I hear each day focuses on gossip, complaining, criticizing, cynicism or otherwise filling the air (and our ears) with unnecessary, disheartening, and even downright unkind commentary.

I literally cringe when I hear, “Did you see how fat so-and-so has gotten?”; or “Can you believe that so-and-so did such-and-such with you-know-who?”; or, “I can’t believe she lets her kids wear this-that-and-the-other-thing!”.

This happens on the internet a lot, too.

For example, an e-thug is someone who takes to the internet to ramp up the charge they get from not having to look into the eyes of the person they’re flaming as they spout spiteful, righteous, mean-spirited, wrong-making polemics.

Most e-thugs wouldn’t have the kahunas to do this in person. That said, I’ll save my thoughts about cowards and bullies for another day.

Where do we draw the line between having a conversation where we mention others…and gossip?

For me, there’s just something about the intention behind the words that smells wrong when it’s gossip.

There’s a kind of gratuitous unkindness, a lack of compassion there that just hurts my heart.

I think this is because I know that, most of the time, people who routinely engage in gossip are trying to soothe or silence their own anger, insecurity, fear, pain, shame, discomfort, grudge, etc. with the spiteful, gleeful, power-trip that goes along with anonymously criticizing someone who isn’t present to defend themselves.

That said, I think we need to expect more from each other. Because I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been devastated when they discovered they had been the subject of mean-spirited gossip.

Yet, while we’ve all been there, this kind of conversational pollution is so normalized that we overlook how unnecessary and destructive it is.

I say this, of course, fully aware that I also engage in gossip sometimes – in spite of myself. And I know for certain that I’m most unconcerned about the negative impact of gossip on myself and others when I’m talking about someone I’m holding a grudge against.

So what can we do about habitual gossip-mongers? You know, the folks who aggressively defend gossip because it seems so “normal”?

While I think it would harsh to label all these folks bullies and cowards; and while I know that many of us are working really hard to ignore our own pain when we engage in gossip; I think we can take steps to transform this kind of habitual negativity into something more constructive.

In fact, I think it’s not only possible, but perhaps even necessary that we take on conversational pollution. It’s the very definition of a win-win scenario, you know?

On Being the Change You Want to See in the World (or just around the water cooler)

Since I’ve already said a word or three about gossip, I want to focus my thoughts on three other types of conversational pollution: the complainers; the criticizers; and the cynics.

The complainers: Many of our friends and family move through the world reciting a never-ending litany of all the things they’re unhappy with in their lives. These stories can be about everything from jobs, relationships, or fears about the latest environmental disaster…to the weather.

However, the common denominator here is that we are often using these things as excuses to fix our vision upon the external world at the expense of our internal, authentic needs.

What does this mean?

I’m suggesting that the complaining, winging, whining, and worrying we are doing can have a profound impact on our health, our state of mind, our relationships, and our ability to cultivate peace, joy, and gratitude in our lives and in the world.

Watch me now: there has never been an authentic need to worry or complain.

There is no practical, emotional, spiritual or social ‘up side’ to endlessly rehearsing our victim stories.

Does this mean we shouldn’t talk about the things that are bothering us? Of course not!

There is an enormous difference between talking through our daily challenges with a view to resolving them as best we can; and a habitual, unconscious cataloguing of all the things that we are dissatisfied with.

This kind of talk pollutes our minds, hearts, and spirits; as well as our relationships with those people we expect to listen to our litany of grievances.

In fact, if we look closely, most of us have at least one person in our life with whom the entire basis of our relationship is complaining – about our jobs, our bodies, our finances, our relationships, etc.

This has become so normalized in North American society that it’s practically invisible to us. But if we investigate the content of our dialogues with others, it’s very possible that – if we removed the conversational pollution – we might find that we don’t have anything to say to one another!

Because, here’s the thing: complaining is safe. We do it precisely because we don’t have to think about it. We don’t have to be present. We don’t have to be vulnerable. We don’t have to respond creatively to what people and circumstances are offering us.

One way – one very powerful way – to shift this right now, right away in all of our conversations is to raise our perspective on the day-to-day challenges we face.

How do we do this?

When confronted with a challenge, we can make a choice to see it as an opportunity instead of as problem.

Imagine a coworker is starting up with their daily routine of conversational pollution.

They begin slowly with a haiku about how bad the coffee is, move into a soliloquy about their workload, and finish with a full-throated, full length epic about how their current relationship may be ending (again).

Now, our culture has taught us that it’s impolite to interrupt people when they’re speaking. However, sometimes, interrupting this conversational trajectory is a very loving thing to do – both for ourselves, and for our friends. What if instead of listening politely (read: wearily), we were to summon a heartfelt, loving attitude and say,

“Excuse me, Pratiba, but it sounds like you’re really being overloaded with work. Maybe I can help you to role-play a conversation with our supervisor about adjusting your workload. If we practice a little, you might be able to find some real relief in your workday, while impressing to the boss with your clear commitment to doing excellent work so that the company can be successful”.

The criticizers: Another kind of conversational pollutant is wrong-making criticism.

Now, I really believe that constructive critique is valuable skill when employed responsibly.

Being able to see what’s missing or how things aren’t working is essential to creating evolving relationships, work environments, and societies that can reach higher and higher. However, there is a difference between observing a situation in order to take loving action in the world…and critiquing the heck out of everyone and everything around us.

Oftentimes, the criticizer professes to be content or even happy with their life. Yet they dissect other people’s lives with an eye for minutiae that would make a forensic accountant jealous!

I would argue – as a reformed criticizer myself – that those who pick apart the lives of others are, in fact, not very happy with their lot.

In order to retool over-deployed criticism into something more constructive, it’s important to note that the criticizer generally has one primary objective: to deflect attention away from their own foibles, vulnerabilities, or perceive shortcomings.

Often, they’re not even aware of this. Their edgy, analytical gear is set on autopilot. In other words, when we are stuck in criticism-mode, we are frequently trying to avoid ourselves.

Here is a question I sometimes ask myself or others when periodic critique for the greater good has been abandoned in favor of all-out, both barrels blazing nit-pickery: “Would you rather be right, or helpful?”.

Or, “Would you rather pick things apart, or be a part of putting things together again?”.

Or finally, when confronted with a very determined criticizer, “Well, Jerome, you seem to have a really clear understanding of all the things that are wrong with this situation. I’m sure you’ve also given some considerable thought to how we can make it better. I’m all ears!”.

The latter approach – when shared authentically and hopefully – opens the door to the criticizer to use their powers of observation for the greater good: by identifying solutions, opportunities for change, and practical ways to shift the situation to something more desirable. It redirects the conversation to being solution-oriented – and if we march together down that road, everybody wins!

The cynics: I just can’t say it any better than this dude:

“What passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human.” – David Foster Wallace

The cynic uses cynicism as a means to mask their fears about the world, other people, and themselves.

Used sparingly – like critique – cynicism can be disarming, revealing, or downright hilarious. However, we are talking about conversational pollutants that are deeply ingrained patterns, here.

In effect, chronic cynicism is just fear dressed up as intellectual superiority.

The affected ennui and uncaring or disengaged aura the cynic projects oftentimes conceals an almost-paralyzing terror that the future will be worse than the present (all you A Course in Miracles readers out there may be nodding).

Indeed, the close cousin of the cynic – Mr. or Ms. Sarcastic – inspired someone to once suggest that, “sarcasm is the lowest form of wit used only by fools to cover up their own inadequacies”. But I digress.

The cynic and his close friend, Mr. / Ms. Sarcasm, share in common the same spiritual dilemma: they are afraid to hope.

To hope that the things they love and care for deeply won’t be lost;

To hope that they are worthy and lovable, and will be treated accordingly;

To hope that they really are so much more than a clever quip or a detached-seeming sound-bite.

So, the cynic cultivates the appearance (even to themselves) that they don’t care in a pre-emptive strike against loss, heartache, disappointment, inadequacy, and above all, pain.

Know what I do with cynics? I cozy up on ’em. I turn up the volume on my love, my light, and my unswervably deep belief in their beauty and their grace – then I shine it on them until they notice they’re being loved like crazy. Rinse and repeat, as necessary.

In other words, I have found that determined love, civility, kindness, and sincerity are the best response to chronic cynicism.

Taking these kinds of approaches to transform negativity in the world around us requires thoughtful, loving action from us – they ask that we be more than passive recipients of conversational pollution.

This is because loving action begins with us: with being loving instead of simply professing to love.

Loving action is enacting the love we have within us for our friends, family, and yes, even our co-workers (it’s there, I promise you!). It means choosing to gently but persistently challenge ourselves and the people around us to look for the opportunities in day-to-day problems – instead of resigning ourselves to victimhood, worry, criticism, or hopelessness.

Naming the Un-nameable: How Fear of the Unfamiliar Keeps Us Stuck

One of the things I love most about my clients is their commitment to getting under the surface of whatever is troubling them about their lives.

Whatever it is that they’re coming to me with, it’s not unusual that – by the time they find their way to my door – the relationship, job, problem, worry, crisis, trauma, or heartache has become so unbearably heavy…that it far outweighs any fear of what might happen if they take the risk to look under the hood (so to speak).

But sometimes…sometimes it’s not so specific. Sometimes, my clients come in with a general unhappiness, depression, or anxiety about their lives – but they don’t know why they’re feeling this way. When there is something bothering you that can’t name, this can be incredibly frustrating – or even terrifying.

You look at your life and think, “I should be happy. I should be grateful. Am I crazy? What’s the matter with me?”

I would like to propose that we have organized our lives in ways that can make it incredibly difficult to name the cause of the very real unhappiness that sometimes lives inside us.

Yet…the very un-nameability of the source of this discontent is a clue that tells us we have to look in some unfamiliar places for insight.

The dilemma, however, is this: when our unhappiness is rooted somewhere in our lives, somewhere in our everyday, how do we step out of our everyday thinking to find solutions?

In other words, if we’re doing the stuff that we’re supposed to do, and still find ourselves unhappy in our lives…where then do we look for answers?

We don’t.

Uh-huh. You heard me right.

I’m saying that maybe we should stop searching for answers, and start asking different questions.

Let’s face it: searching for answers can be like chasing our tails around and around. And we all know where that gets us: frustrated and dizzy!

Oftentimes, searching for the answer is far less important than reconsidering the kinds of questions we’re asking ourselves. At first, this can be more challenging than it sounds – because the questions we ask have to come from somewhere. They come from inside our life situation.

In other words, the questions we ask ourselves are structured in particular ways by our perspectives – which, in turn, are absorbed from the people we spend time with, the media we consume, our professional and educational socialization, etc.

It’s all fine and good to say, “think outside the box!”. But how do we do that?

One of my favorite philosophers, Michel Foucault, points out that asking new questions requires creating new ‘conditions of possibility’ for inquiry.

I would add that this requires expansion – it requires exposing ourselves to different things, different ideas, different people, different art, different media, different…differences. And I’m not talking about being a tourist, here.

We can’t all eat, pray, and love our way to figuring out what’s troubling us.

No. I’m suggesting something altogether different.

In my work as a sociologist, I have often been struck by the sheer volume of labor that most people perform in order to avoid people, ideas, and things that are outside their everyday experience. Most of us don’t even realize how many choices we make every day to shut down any possibility of encountering circumstances that are unfamiliar.

In other words, people typically dislike – and therefore work hard to avoid – discomfort. This is because not knowing what to say, what to do, or how to react means we have to actually think – hard – moment to moment. It means we have to be present and available to observe, consider, and respond to the situation in front of us.

How much easier is it to avoid the unfamiliar, and continue to just follow the social scripts that have been spoon-fed to us our whole lives?

No decision making necessary. No creative thinking demanded. No thoughtfulness, no spontaneity,  and no vulnerability required.

For many people, this works just fine – until it doesn’t. And it is then that we find there is an un-nameable something troubling us. Keeping us awake. Distracting us at work. Making us unaccountably stressed, anxious, or irritated when there seems to be no reason for it.

Think about it: When was last time you departed from your daily routine…and bought your coffee in a different coffee shop? Or got off the bus in a different neighborhood than the one you live in, just to explore? Heck, many of us will even resist the notion of trying a new restaurant – unless we can buffer the newness of the experience by taking people with us that we already know.

When was the last time you deliberately struck up an original conversation…with a stranger?

Would you even know how to begin?

If the thought of this makes you uncomfortable, that’s okay. I want to encourage you to stay with that discomfort. Sit with it. Look at it. Without judging, without analyzing, just observe it.

Now I’m going let you in on a secret. Are you ready?

Discomfort can be powerfully transformative.

This is because, when we embrace discomfort, we have to switch off our auto-pilot and become attentive to whatever a particular moment, person, or circumstance is offering us.

This is scary.

Stepping outside the box requires that we become friendly with the unfamiliar.

But here’s the pay-off: it can also make us feel more intensely alive than we have felt in a very long time. And that sense of aliveness…is gold!

And then?

Well, now. Then we make a space for newness to enter our human experience – new feelings, new thoughts, new sensations, and yes, new questions arise within us in response to what is in front of us.

In other words, what can be called forth from us changes…depending on the experiences we create for ourselves. If we are locked into routine, the familiar, and the rigorous avoidance of discomfort, then we are closing off the possibility of expansion.


We can move out of our comfort zones – thoughtfully, not vicariously (this should not literally require a parachute!)

As new experiences inspire us to feel, think, and sense differently, something miraculous occurs:  by experiencing contrast, by observing our reactions to new experiences, we can we gradually learn to trace the contours of what was previously invisible to our conscious minds.

This includes the source of the discontent that may have inspired us to face down our fear of the unfamiliar. But it is not limited to that. Oh, no. Not by a long shot.

What we can create by stepping out of our comfort zones can be as limitless as the human soul; can reach further still than our childish imaginations once reached; can explore every meaning of the word ‘possibility‘.




Leveraging the Human Impulse to Change

Every now and then, a new client comes to me and says, “Okay, I’ve read all the self-help books. I’ve watched The Secret. I know every affirmation under the sky. My life still sucks. What can you do for me?”.

I absolutely love it when this happens.

When I hear this from a client, I’m internally saying, “All right! You want to do more than become an expert in the content of books and movies. You want to do more than consume information like it’s fast food. You want real change. You want what I call, epic self-transformation!“.

Then I say out loud, “Are you ready to rock?”.

Well, okay, I only rarely say that last part out loud.

To begin with, though, I want to emphasize that what I undertake with my clients is self-transformation, not “self-improvement”. This distinction is important, but I don’t want to go on about it just now. Suffice is to say, when you’re done here, check out the fabulous Danielle Laporte’s blog, “Why Self-Improvement Makes You Neurotic“, if you’re interested in why the notion of self-improvement is a sneaky, sneaky trap of the ego.

So how is epic self-transformation different from stuff like ‘positive thinking’?


Sustainability. Sustainability means something that can be maintained at a certain pace or level; it’s not temporary. It is not movement which stops and starts, but more like turning lead into gold – and more gold, and more gold, and more gold.

Encouraging sustainable transformation is the best way I know of help someone begin the process of recovering the promise of their life – the promise of who they are.

But this isn’t because I have magical powers (although I just might – you never know!).

Rather, what makes this process work – what makes it replicable, if you want to get all evidence-based about it – is this: we all have within us the answers, the questions, the road-map, the guidance system, the wisdom, and the LOVE to create a life that is as beautiful, delicious, and fulfilling as we can possibly imagine (and then some). Here’s why:

There is something within all of us that yearns towards expansion and change.

We can resist it if we want to (and boy, does this ever come back to bite us!).

Nevertheless, this is one of the most powerful, natural impulses of the human experience – and evolutionary biologists can tell you all about why if you really want to know! But no matter how you slice it – no matter how uncomfortable change makes us – we have built-in mechanisms for adaptation, expansion, evolution, and, yes, transformation.

So how do we leverage this natural inclination towards transformation – particularly when many of us are scared-to-piddling-in-our-pajamas at the slightest hint of change?

How many times have you read a book, listened to a wonderful teacher of meditation, yoga, mindfulness, present-moment thinking, etc.? How many times did you resolve to put into practice what you saw or heard, only to fizzle out after a week or three?

Visualizations, mantras, affirmations and positive “I” statements can be useful tools, when put to use in sustainable ways. However, simply rehearsing these over and over again when we really want something often produces limited results. We then get frustrated or discouraged, and soon drop these from our daily routine.

Rinse and repeat this process often enough, and you have a recipe for some deep cynicism about life.

Contrast this with cultivating sustainable changes in your approach to living. For example, I often encourage folks to examine their perspectives (not just their thoughts!). Thoughts spring from perspectives. Or, if you prefer:

Perspectives are the filters – the lenses – we apply to the incoming data of human experience.

Consider, too, that our perspectives are deeply rooted in the past, and you can see how leaving our perspectives unexamined causes us to get in our own way. How can we meet the present honestly…if we’re interpreting everything through the lens of the past?

Imagine that your thoughts are the software running on your computer, and your perspectives are like the operating system.

After awhile – with all the changes in technology, the volume of data streaming in, etc. – the software starts to malfunction. You can observe your software getting slower and more bogged down for as long as you like. But if you want to transform how the system fundamentally works, just attending to the software won’t get you where you want to go.

In other words, if we only observe our thoughts, it can take a lot longer to notice (if we ever do) that our perspectives – our operating system – desperately need to be updated!

Whenever I explore with a client their perspectives about life, work, relationships, etc., we discover that they’ve inherited some their most influential ideas about who they are, what’s important, what they believe, and what they have come to expect from life.

This is key: we don’t create our perspectives, we absorb them – from our families, from media, from social institutions like schools, churches, etc.

Very often, we discover that we’ve been carrying around incredibly influential perspectives in our noodles our whole lives – ones that we don’t even necessarily agree with!

Given that our perspectives are how we orient ourselves to what we experience, you can imagine how powerful it is to shift the amazing capacity of your conscious awareness to observing – gently and patiently – what perspectives are driving your thoughts, feelings, reactions, etc.

In other words, I encourage my clients to shift how they look at the world, rather than just tacking on a positive affirmation to the things that they are looking at. And this impacts on the whole life of a person – not just the things they want more of or less of in their lives.

Changing our perspectives in ways that are sustainable means raising our perspective, moment to moment.

What’s the pay-off for engaging in this kind of self-transformation?

For starters, in raising our perspective, we recover vital energy, insight, and capacity that we have previously squandered on worry, stress, drama, a personal victim-story, unhealthy relationships and co-worker dynamics, etc.

These unwanted, energy-sapping patterns of thinking can be powerfully made-over when we explore the perspectives that support them.

In addition, there is always, always something generous, something beautiful, something worthy of our notice and our gratitude in each moment. We simply have to re-train ourselves to look for it – because, yes, All Experience is Generous.

When we shift our perspectives, we notice that there are abundant resources, beautiful people, and accommodating circumstances all over the place – and this transforms problems and challenges, difficulties and dramas…into opportunities.

Suddenly, we notice that change has become less terrifying – because we can see all of the things and people around us that are present to support our transformation. These are things we simply can’t see if we stay stuck in the perspectives we absorbed way-back-when.

But…by consciously aligning our perspectives with who we want to be in the world, we build a solid foundation for epic self-transformation that can utilize the resources that have shown up to support us now.

This is when we can really begin to leverage our human impulse to change.

Being(s) of Service & the Right to be Wrong

In the interests of transparency, I want to utter a word or three about being of service. This expression, “being of service” has gotten fairly popular in the circles I move in, so it seems worthwhile to throw my hat into the discussion.

For starters, I do not think that being of service to another person means helping, rescuing, or fixing – as such.

These 3 words all imply some kind of agenda, expectation, or attachment to outcome; and they also imply that I can do something for someone that they can’t do for themselves. In turn, agendas, expectations, and attachments to outcomes have a knack for closing doors that I want to have the option of stepping through with a client. Too, sometimes being of service means knowing something, and just holding the awareness of that knowing – without offering advice, telling my story, etc.

Being of service can also mean holding the space and being a witness for someone as they get clear about where they are – and why they think they’ve arrived there. My approach to being of service certainly involves listening to what’s not being said: listening energetically to what our spirits are saying through our emotions; and looking through the mask of the ego to help illuminate, with my attention, the higher awareness behind the ego.

Perhaps most importantly, though, I think that being of service involves moving out of limited concepts of “right” and “wrong”, and coming into the present moment to see what it’s offering us. Because sometimes, there can be immense perfection in ‘being wrong’. If we tune into the feeling of unquiet inside us that ‘being wrong’ always stirs up, we will realize we possess a tool for helping us do it differently in the future – because that feeling of unquiet is a powerful resource for determining what will and will not serve us as we move forward.

Yup. I’m suggesting that we embrace ‘getting it wrong’.

Perhaps even more radically, I want to propose that – if we take something forward with us after examining how ‘being wrong’ has the potential to offer us insight, confidence, and wisdom – maybe we didn’t really get it wrong at all. Maybe we created exactly the circumstances we needed in order to expand our awareness, refine our choices, and move into closer alignment with who we say we want to be in the world.

So why do we fear ‘being wrong’?

In his near-legendary Ted talks, Sir Ken Robinson talks about how schools condition children to fear getting the wrong answer – and how this is completely contrary to a child’s natural inclination to problem-solve, persist, and find novel approaches, interpretations, and meaning in their experience of the world.

Indeed, our schools are increasingly pressured by various levels of government to offer standardized, pre-determined, freeze-dried curricula – all so students’ rightness or wrongness can be assessed via exams. This is just one example of how, as a culture, we’ve institutionalized the aversion to ‘being wrong’.

Kathryn Schultz also takes up this notion in her fabulous TED lecture, “On Being Wrong”. I particularly love her assertion that,

“The miracle of your mind isn’t that  you can see the world as it is – but that you can see the world as it isn’t”.

In other words, our capacity to get it wrong, to see it differently than others, isn’t something we should try to downplay. She argues that the capacity to make mistakes is a source of continual astonishment, creativity, innovation, and, yes, even delight – because “it’s how we rediscover wonder“.

In spite of this, however, because most of us have been conditioned to avoid being ‘wrong’, we tend to become incredibly uncomfortable when we make a mistake. This feeling of intense discomfort signals that the ego is interpreting the situation as a threat to its existence.

Oh, the ego and its need to be right!

The ego loves to make others wrong to affirm its petty superiority complex. Which means that, when we entertain the notion that we have made an error (or that someone has committed an error at our expense), the ego’s self-defense mechanisms come online with a vengeance!

It seems to me that this is one of the most corrosive and destructive barriers to authentic, human connection: the often debilitating shame, remorse, guilt, or defensiveness that arises in us in response to human mistakes can stop us from moving forward – and presents an obstacle to meaningful accountability, if this is required.

But…what would happen if we embraced our mistakes?

How different would we feel in our lives if we tenderly regarded ourselves – and our mistakes – with a view to excavating valuable knowledge of where we stepped away from who we want to be in the world?

How much easier would it be to make heartfelt amends if we weren’t choking on our discomfort about having been ‘wrong’ in the first place?

What would happen if I asserted that I have a right to be wrong, sometimes?

If we gave ourselves just a bit of permission to sometimes step on toes, misunderstand, act out, or just plain get it all ass-backwards…how much time, bad feeling, conflict, guilt, and defensiveness could we spare ourselves and others? Well, for starters, we could redirect all that energy to figuring out what our mistakes can teach us!

Now, I’m not proposing that we deliberately bulldoze our way through conversations or use other people as guinea pigs while we figure ourselves out.


But I am suggesting we extend ourselves some pre-emptive forgiveness for the mistakes we will inevitably make in life. Then maybe we’ll have room to ask better questions of ourselves when we reflect on our errors in judgement, missteps, and faux-pas.

Here’s some examples of questions I ask myself and my clients when walking through the process of reflecting on mistakes:

  • Did I tune into my feelings just before I made that choice?
  • Was my spidey-sense tingling – but I ignored it when I opened my mouth to speak?
  • How did my body feel just before, during, and after I acted or spoke? Was there tension in my body?
  • Was I speaking from my heart, or was my ego in the driver’s seat?
  • Was I somehow performing a role (e.g. the guru, the enlightened one, the healer, the teacher, the parent, the helpful friend, etc.) – instead of authentically responding to what the moment was calling forth from me?
  • Was I paying attention to all the circumstances – not just the ones my ego was highlighting in its never-ending quest to be right and make others wrong?

By focusing on what our mistakes can teach us, I help clients who are grappling with a heavy burden of guilt or remorse about who they’ve been, what they’ve done, etc. And by helping them to step away from suffocating concepts of ‘right vs wrong’, I can redirect their attention to what their higher awareness has to say about it all.

Here’s why this is important:

Awareness does not judge. It rests, patient and accepting, in the warmth of our grace.

In other words, awareness affirms our always-already, connected humanity – our fundamentally entangled, co-existence with All That Is. From this perspective, ultimately, my brother’s mistakes belong to me, and mine to him.

But here’s what’s really cool about avoiding the quicksand of right vs. wrong: if we can be more generous and forgiving of ourselves…are we then also be able to be more forgiving of others’ mistakes?

You betcha!

And guess what? By bringing this radically, pro-active forgiveness (of ourselves and others) with us, we’re being of service, just by bringing this awareness along with us wherever we go.

And then? Then we are doing more than ‘being of service’ in reaction to certain people and situations. By interacting from a place of already-forgiving awareness, we create an immense space for everyone to get it right.

This is when we become beings of service!