Sunday, March 30, 2014

Ego is Not a Good Strategy for Success

"The ego is a false sense of self." 
~ Eckhart Tolle

Most of us learned that money, power, position and all that comes with it equals success. I am in the process of finishing a memoir that I have been working on since 2010. For those of you who write, the words "big deal" might roll off of your tongue. The writing process is long, arduous, research laden, and just plain hard, right? But does it have to be? Do any of our so-called successes have to come from a place of struggle? And more importantly, what is that struggle all about anyway? I would dare to posit, based on my own experience, that the struggle comes from the ego and not the work itself. 

What is the ego? Sigmund Freud, the father of the contemporary theory of ego divides the ego into three parts: The Id (primal desires, driven by pleasure, base nature - the wild child), The Ego (reason and control-the grownup self), and The Superego (the quest for perfection - adhering to moral standards by family and society). Carl Jung adds, “The first half of life is devoted to forming a healthy ego, the second half is going inward and letting go of it.” 

In my practice as a life coach, I have heard various reasons for pursing success:
            "I want to be free of my ex-husband paying alimony."
            "I want to make my mother proud."
            "I want to give back to the world."
            "I want to make money."
            "I want to be famous."

These are not necessarily bad things, but they are all things that stand outside of the self and will never completely satisfy our deepest inner yearning to know who we really are. I know many highly successful people who have the possessions and the status that success brings, but they are deeply unsatisfied and frantically continue the search to be whole. My ego created a false sense of why I wanted to write that trapped, paralyzed, and isolated my ability to freely express my deepest yearnings when all I really wanted was to find an expression to help me to fully know the self, or the divinity within me. 

Our work helps us to discover who we are rather than chart a measure of our worth. We find worth in the discovery of the soul's journey not the outer results. So when you're feeling the work is driving you instead of your inner desire to discover your true expression, close your eyes, take a breath, and let go.  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Can You Stand Naked on the Stage of Life?

Michael Port photobombing a picture of his parents with an event guest
“Remember, leave everything you have in the room. No hiding. No holding back. No giving up.” ~ Michael Port

Sunday I attended an event titled “Think Big, Speak Easy” starring Michael Port, author, speaker, and entrepreneur. My hope was to refine my public speaking chops, and as a former actress I will admit I had a bit of the “I already know this syndrome.” I was quickly humbled. I witnessed a man strip naked, metaphorically speaking, on the stage.

The striptease began with an onstage phone call reminding the star that he had not fulfilled a promise. It escalated from there when Michael Port quite graphically shared his struggle with a food addiction—a cycle of binging, exercising, shame and bodily torture. But that wasn’t all. He continued to shed. Through the magic of theater, we literally heard the preying voices of his negative, inner voice berate, denigrate and smash his dreams. Yet with all of his disrobing, I was the one who felt exposed. Why? The answer actually came from a woman in the crowd. This woman belted out, as we all were invited to do as a part of the program, “I stand for the wisdom of my fear.”

Michael Port’s naked vulnerability was a beacon of wisdom into his own “thinking big.” And even though I knew quite well that there is wisdom in our shadow, to see it demonstrated on stage in front of a packed, standing room only house of 200 plus folks, cameras snapping, a cameraman panning, and total strangers gawking, the invitation to me personally pierced that place of comfort that I was hanging on to. I knew in that moment that I, too, had to take off the robe of procrastination, and the layers of contrived safety I had concocted over the years, and expose my beautiful, glorious, wisdom-filled wounds.

Joseph Campbell wrote, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” I was invited by the naked man on stage to step into my own cave and to seek my sparkling treasure. I had resisted entering that cave, had resisted removing my layers of metaphorical clothing that covered up my fear in the name of not hurting anyone as I struggle to write my memoir. What the naked man exhibited on stage is what I have to do on the page.

We all are on our unique paths. We all have stepped off when things got a little rocky and opted to stay in a dead marriage because we feared we were not good enough to take care of ourselves. Or even remained tethered to an ended marriage for the same reason through the safe layers of blame and victimhood. I am guilty of both. It is all too easy to avoid those wisdom-filled muddy spots by cloaking ourselves with numbing and fleeting, quick and easy pleasures. I have spent many teary, lonely nights with Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie and HBO. It takes courage to shed and stand naked on our walk through life.

I thank you naked man on the stage because you have inspired, prompted, prodded and egged on this woman in the audience. So here I go, warts and all standing fearfully but committed to dipping into my cave as I vow to write my truth. I vow to stay on that path no matter what it takes as I muddle through, or perhaps I will stand tall and simply walk the dark passages, stepping carefully, breathing easily, and shedding one layer at a time.  

Sunday, March 16, 2014

3 Surefire Worry Busters

"All pain and pleasure is where you put your attention." ~ Deepak Chopra

Worry, at some point, has consumed us all. We worry about finances, children, partners, health, our careers and even our mortality. It may seem like an inherent human quality, but it is possible to end the seemingly incessant loop of worry. What I tell my clients, myself and my twelve year old son, who sings for a major city choir and is harder on himself than any music director could be, is that where we put our focus expands. If you want to expand that sick to your stomach feeling of worry, then keep focusing your attention on failure, problems, pain and lack. But how do we stop the worry when circumstances feel dire, chronic pain encroaches, or a concern about a loved one keeps us up at night?

1.  Focus.  Focus on what is good in your life. Keeping your mindset in a state of grace eliminates worry. Keep a gratitude journal or joy journal to track where your life is good. The energy of grace cannot coexist with worry. Focus on what you desire instead of the fear of it not manifesting. We are energy beings. Where we put our energy produces an equal energy. Think of it as Newton's first law of motion:  Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it. The external force is our ability to catch the negative thought of worry and put into motion the positive focus of our desire.

Maintaining and documenting what is positive puts me in mind of a story Deepak Chopra tells after spending 30 days in Thailand with an order of monks. Walking the cobblestone streets with bare feet to beg for food from the villagers, Chopra told his head monk that it hurt to walk with bare feet on the stone. The monk replied, put your attention on the foot that is up not the foot that is striking the ground.

 2.  Trust and Action. This could also be called faith. Like a farmer who plants his harvest in the early days of spring, we may not see the bounty our seeds of positive focus will produce. Once we set in motion our positive thoughts and action toward a desired goal, we must trust or have faith that the goal will manifest in the season of harvest. Twenty dollars a week toward our debt will eventually make us debt free, or a practice of exercise or a special diet will keep our chronic pain managed if we trust the process and have faith in our ability to effect change. The key is to take some kind, even a small gesture, of action. Our action plus faith equals change.

 3.  Patience and Nurturing. One of my favorite sayings is: A watched pot never boils. I have planted a garden for years. When I focus on nurturing the soil, pulling weeds and making sure my beloved tomatoes get the water they need, the growth process seems miraculous. When that tender, yellow flower turns into a small green bud of a tomato, it is an awe inspired experience. On the other hand, when I just sit there waiting and watching for the miracle, the wait feels insufferable. When I allow myself to fall in love with the process instead of pining for the outcome, a natural energy of order and patience arises. It is within that space of lovingly nurturing myself, my circumstances, my pains and my dreams that true miracles occur and worry simply falls away.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Lessons from our Inner Toddler

"I celebrate myself, and sing myself."~ Walt Whitman

The intuitive nature of self-love is apparent in the toddler. The love of all aspects of self from the fascination with their toes and fingers to the total embrace of emotions, the young child neither judges nor resists any aspect of his or her humanity. The toddler accepts her tears with the same abandon as her laughter. However, around the age of six or seven, the toddler child develops an awareness of outside, cultural expectations. The intuitive instinct to accept the self unabashedly is stifled by judgments both internal and external. The child now questions their internal voice and looks for validation from parents, friends, and community. The good news: we can reclaim our loving, knowing selves by reacquainting ourselves with the toddler within.
The toddler accepts his intuitive voice wholly and without question - As growing children, the need to, as psychologist and educator Robert Kegan writes, “look into the souls of our neighbors for verification,” begins the act of separating from our inner knowing. What was once innate and effortless becomes a struggle. As we learn to judge ourselves as culture, parents, peers dictate, thus begins an internal battle to bring together the instincts of Self and the learned values of the outside world. We even question our thoughts by polling others. Do you instinctively know the answer but must ask everyone around you how they would act to gain approval before allowing yourself to take action? Discover who you are by remembering who you were as boundless, all-knowing child.
The toddler experiences emotions without judgment  - As toddlers we laughed with abandon and let that laughter shift into tears only to shift again into curiosity. We accepted our full range of emotions without feeling weighted or defined. As adults we question and feel trapped by our emotions. We no longer accept our tears. How many of us apologize for crying, stifle laughter when it is deemed inappropriate, or even quell our joy fearing that our jubilant show will somehow be compromised if we put it on display. We hold joy as precarious by questioning how long it will last, and we may even feel we can jinx ourselves by enjoying life a little too much. Our emotions inform us and guide us. If we resist our emotions, we deny a part of our humanity.
How do we get back the self-love we had as toddlers? Fully accepting all aspects of our humanity, like the toddler standing in proud awe of her poop, is the key. The practice of acceptance is not an easy one. We will have to learn how to love our thighs, our bank accounts, our failed relationships as much as the toddler within us loved her fingers and toes.