WHEN YOU SHOW SOMEONE THEIR SOUL, YOU SET THEM FREE.

Dear Mind

By Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

As this journey through a second awakening continues, I’ve been sharing here and on social what I’m discovering and experiencing. One of the gifts (said with only a slight amount of sarcasm) of a spiritual experience is that it brings the unconscious into the conscious; what’s been secretly influencing in the dark into the light. My work this weekend was focused on bringing into the light the stories my mind is telling about the current experiences.

The mind tells stories. Especially about anything that feels painful. And a spiritual experience is always painful. The mind is just doing its job: to create a framework to attempt to understand a painful experience. This is a survival mechanism and an evolutionary trait. The mind is a problem-solving, meaning-making machine.

We’d like to think we are sane and rational beings. But look at how the mind can turn a piece of input and either twist into the shape of an ogre or inflate into a magical unicorn. The stories of the mind are consistently and shockingly wrong.

The mind will tell stories about the standard experiences of life. But something different happens in the mind during a spiritual experience. The mind can not comprehend it. So it treats it all as trauma and makes up stories about it. These stories produce an incredible amount of mental anguish. They are exhausting and constant. Thus, my motivation to divorce myself from them.

There is always a catalyst that causes my mind to make up a story. It could be an external thing like a strange noise outside at night. Or one of the thousands of internal triggers that we simply call thoughts and feelings. I have no actual control over the stimuli (catalyst) or the response (the story). Past experiences have set these deep in my mind.

But listening to the stories of the mind is a habit; an unconscious impulse.

And we now know that you can’t eliminate an old unhealthy habit — you have to replace it with a new healthy habit.

So how do I break this habit and what do I replace it with?

It starts with this …

I can refuse to participate in the story. I can be a witness to it, not a character in it. That is 100% my choice.

This allows a new healthy habit to emerge … to live a true story.

The true story is the spiritual experience. It is whatever my body, heart and soul are experiencing. NOT how the mind is processing those experiences. Further, I’m learning that I can’t be in the spiritual experience and also be in the story my mind is telling at the same time. I have to choose which story to be a part of.

Much of the habit of listening to stories of the mind comes from unprocessed or suppressed emotions. So when I can stop thinking about what I’m feeling and just feel, I discover the true story. You know you’ve found the true story when you feel it all in this present moment; when the spiritual experience and the true story have no distinguishable separation.

Another helpful tool in breaking this habit …

I’ve been listening to Sarah Blondin’s “Coming Home to Yourself” series on Insight Timer. One of the exercises she recommends is to change your relationship with your mind and the stories it tells. She used the example of writing your mind a letter. So I did the same thing …

Dear Mind,

I love you. Thank you for being such a loyal friend and constant resource. I’m here in large part because of you. But pain has distanced us; making us suspicious of each other. I don’t want you to be an enemy. I want to be friends again; allies again. In order to do that, I must ask that you stop defining my story as pain. I must ask that you not seek information to soothe your fears. I must ask that you not fill the unknown with false stories. I know you are here to catalog information, to solve problems, to strategize, to keep my body alive. Please use all of these skills to be the guardian of the true story. Please be a faithful soldier to my heart. I still need you. I just need you to catch up and align with where the rest of me is. 

Love, Justin

Breaking the habit of listening to the mind’s stories is producing even great sensitivities in my being. As I think less and experience more, the emotions I’m feeling around love, grief, yearning, absence are even more pronounced. In an effort to protect me from these feelings, my mind suppressed the flavors of living a true story.

Most of my life has not been living a true story. I don’t judge myself for this. I did not know then what I know now. And I know that pain separated me from my soul and became much of my identity. I know that I exiled myself repeatedly in order to seek validation and legitimacy. I know that I often pretended to be something I wasn’t. And I know that I believed the stories my mind was telling.

This second awakening is also a second opportunity to live a true story. A trusting, tender, vulnerable, evolving story full of Love, radical honesty and intimacy. This is the story I want to participate in.

Heart Work Sucks

By Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

Credit: Reuters/Dwi Oblo

 

At least my mind is telling me that. More on that in a bit. 

As you may have pieced together from my recent essays and musings on social, I’m smack dab in the midst of a second awakening. I’m essentially live-blogging it all; feeling called to share in words what my soul, heart, mind and body are experiencing. 

Awakenings put you through the wringer, the sifter, the refinery, the crucible. They heal by cracking you open. They lift you up by knocking you down. But in the chaos and reordering, some order does begin to emerge – one of the first being an emerging understanding of the context of the story. This is the “why” of the experience. The point to it all.

As far as I can tell so far, this awakening is about leaving the cozy confines of co-dependency and embarking on a long trek to reach a new place I’m simply calling Intimacy.  I am choosing the term Intimacy quite specifically. Intimacy means becoming close with; touching. I am becoming intimate with fear. And doubt. And uncertainty. I’m also becoming intimate with vulnerability, creativity and resiliency. An awakening of this magnitude is the opportunity to become intimate with my unhealed wounds – even becoming intimate with my trauma responses that are an inevitable part of a spiritual experience. 

And it most definitely means becoming intimate with my own heart. 

Yuck. 

I really don’t want to do that.

Alas, a question from a friend (a young woman with an ancient soul) showed me it was time to do just that: touch my own heart. I was sharing with my friend about how the waves of loneliness were leaving me paralyzed and wrecked. I lamented that loneliness was arriving as “wolves at the door”. You see, trauma responses for me are always about fight – almost never about flight or freeze. So like everything else in my life, I wanted to fight, defeat them, eliminate these wolves. Then she asked: What if these weren’t wolves? What if loneliness is an invitation to examine a deeper part of your own heart? 

Ah shit. 

That immediately rang true. 

So yesterday, I set aside some solitude time in nature to examine her questions. I had some tears-inducing epiphanies in doing this work. If prompted by the Muse, I will share these discoveries at some point. But the point of this essay is not what I discovered – it’s how I did it; how I got into my heart and what that experience was. 

Now for some of you, the idea of getting into your heart is easy-peasy. But not for me. The Fighter in me is both suspicious and terrified of the heart. I’m all cool with getting into my mind and my soul. I’m good at philosophizing about love; about intellectualizing feelings. I was all fine and good with examining my feelings and emotions. And I understand the absolute necessity for an open and soft heart. What I believe I had avoided until yesterday was journeying into the center of my heart. 

Here’s what I’m discovering about deep heart work …

  • The best starting point for heart work is inquiry; of asking the heart the right questions. As such, my friend’s prompt was quite helpful. It sparked curiosity as a counterbalance to the resistance to doing this work.

  • You have to really want to know the truth of what’s in the center of your heart. There’s no guile there. No lies. No illusions. You can’t bullshit this part of your heart. This takes tremendous courage – which is a behavior, not a feeling. In doing this work, I found myself repeating “You are brave. You are brave. You are brave.”

  • The Buddhist practice of Tonglen has been extremely helpful – essentially noticing the pain and suffering in the world around you and breathing it in, then breathing out compassion. On the drive home from my time in nature, I had the opportunity to practice this. I saw an older man with health issues pushing his motorized scooter across the street. Rather than just feel bad for him, I placed my hands on my heart and breathed in his sufferings. I felt his anger, his embarrassment, his fear. Then tears streaming down my face, I breathed compassion out to him. Wow. I remember thinking “so this is what it’s like to love from the center of your being.”

  • Part of the reason why I say heart work sucks is that it left me ragged and exhausted. You know that high you get when you have an inspiration or an epiphany? Yeah. I had none of that. For me heart work is self-traumatizing. The more time I spent in the center, the more my mind fought back. I found myself experiencing trauma responses (stomach ache, hunger, anxiety, vertigo, shortness of breath) all the rest of the day. I had gotten too close to the bananas and now the monkeys were letting me have it. 

The two biggest lessons I’m learning about heart work so far are this:

  1. Whatever feelings you dislike the most are an invitation to examine this deepest part of you.

  2. Once you find out what’s in the center of your heart, the first person to receive it is you. Once you’ve figured that out, you can begin sharing it with others. 

So yeah. Heart work sucks. But I need it. I need to know this center of my heart and love myself and others with it. This center is the key to Intimacy. Which is the whole point.

The Secret Governors

By Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

An unaware mind is a banana republic

Even before you are born, life begins to teach you. All of these early inputs are sensory — and possibly energetic. At some point in our development as a child, we began to be taught with words and experiences. These words and experiences then form meaning, mindset and mental structures. In turn, these form our narratives; how we see and approach and respond to the world around us. Some call these loops, stories, inner dialogue. I prefer the term “narrative” because these words are carefully crafted by the psyche.

This is all healthy and normal.

Until it is not.

A childhood that is full of intense and/or chronic trauma hijacks the mind’s meaning maker. It produces a set of narratives that secretly govern the lives of trauma survivors. Or as Jung put it, “That which we do not bring to consciousness appears in our lives as fate.”

Trauma is part of my story. I sincerely thought most of it had healed or been addressed — until some recent experiences once again brought the unconscious into the light. I don’t share this for sympathy or necessarily as part of my own healing process. Here’s why I share … for the past 7 years, I’ve realized that part of my role in this life is to share my own learnings from trauma — both in childhood and adulthood. This is why I have “The Mission is in the Suffering” tattooed on my right forearm. In addition, I am not a certified expert in this field. So while I can empathize with your experiences, I can only share what I’ve learned from my experiences.

This weekend, I began to re-examine some of my secret governors; the negative narratives that have influenced much of my thinking and point of view. As I unpacked these negative narratives, I replaced them with a new narrative. I will write more about these new narratives in next week’s essay.

Narrative: Life is inherently negative.

This is a common narrative for survivors of childhood trauma. In essence, our minds are programmed to assume the worst. While every behavioral style has a different response to this narrative, mine has been about proactively protecting myself — primarily through conflict and aggression. In short, if I think something or someone might hurt me, I’d rather unilaterally fight it.

This narrative also taught me what it thought was an important lesson: better plans = better future. If I had a good strategy and executed it properly, then I would not be hurt by the outcome. This taught me to use worst-case-scenario as a planning tool — that if I could avoid that, then I would be safe and happy.

Further, I was heavily influenced by Christian fundamentalism — which is steeped in anti-self negativity. It teaches us that life is already hard, but our humanity makes it harder. So we need a redeemer, a savior — so that we can have a safe life.

New narrative: Life is inherently good.

Narrative: Relationships are about healing, fixing, completing each other.

Through a lot of deep work and outside counsel, I’m learning how an ingrained fear of rejection has governed me in how I approach relationships. (If you are curious about the impact of rejection, check out this article on rejection sensitivity dysphoria.) For me, life’s purpose was to prevent the pain of rejection.

This narrative taught me that the primary purpose of a relationship is to be healed, fixed or completed. This produced a rescuer/tormentor dynamic that affected how I responded in a number of key relationships. It also produced high levels of unconscious codependency.

Finally, this narrative taught me that being alone was a failure; that it was bad. I’m learning right now how untrue that is.

New narrative: Relationships are about conscious partnerships and friendships.

Narrative: Hard work guarantees success

This is where my “make it happen” mindset comes from. This narrative taught me that effort, intelligence, commitment and competitiveness are where success comes from; that if I have enough of these in the right formula, then good things will happen. And if I fail or don’t like the outcome, it’s because I was missing something. And that missing something is a weakness or frailty. This narrative caused me to impose my own will on my life; to shape it and direct it to what I thought would make me happy. This narrative taught me that relaxation is bad, rest is bad, feeling tired is bad.

This narrative taught me to use “make it happen” in the above two areas. What I thought was decisiveness was really just a way of applying hard work to not being hurt.

New narrative: Discipline equals freedom. (Borrowed from Jocko Willink)

These narratives have overtly or subtly produced a set of behaviors that can be summarized as CONTROL. Control …rejection, feelings, image, time, others.

By examining these narratives, I realize that I no longer actually believe ANY of them in my conscious mind and in my soul. But they still influence me. When I’m hungry, angry, lonely or tired, they still try to hijack my mind. They will unconsciously cause me to doubt and fear. They erode my trust in God, in my own soul. They weaken my sense of worthiness. They make me suspicious of my masculinity.

What has been most surprising to me is how distant from reality these narratives are. Sure, some elements of life are negative. But that’s part of life. And some relationships bring more joy and self-awareness than others. And hard work is often necessary.

This is the power of awareness; the power of elevating your consciousness. Both produce a sweet aroma of freedom as we begin to release these narratives and the need to control everything. How am I doing that?

#1: Do the inner work of both mind and spirit. For me, this means softening, receiving, responding, waiting, patience. In means discerning between mental anguish and soul yearning. It means speaking up when my soul prompts me to. It means both the faith of perseverance and the faith of imagination.

#2: Bring them to the light here in my writings, on social, on podcasts, in conversations. This is the power of vulnerability that Brene talks about. Ironically, I’m was much more comfortable being vulnerable with strangers and am still learning to be vulnerable in my close relationships.

Thank you for receiving this. I hope that it inspires you to examine your narratives and behaviors. I hope that it opens a doorway of hope. I hope that it reminds you that we all have the power to choose how we respond to life.

The Will to Surrender

By Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

Cory Hart’s Never Surrender Face

Two caveats …

First, my ego doesn’t want me to write this essay. It effing hates the idea I’m proposing.

Second, I’m using the term “context” in this piece. In this case, context is an ontological term taught to me by my very smart friend, Alan Prushan. It is similar to a perspective or a point of view: it’s the meaning we assign to something we see. Everything meaningful starts with context. Context determines mindset, which determines actions, which determines outcomes.

As I’ve written about prior, I’m going through a second awakening. This awakening is freeing me from dependency; from exiling myself in order to receive validation, legitimacy, etc. As I drove to my new place yesterday morning (a move is one of the many big changes during this time), I realized that no known untruths remained in my life. Everything had been swept clean. But it hasn’t been easy. It truly has been a “dark night of the soul.” Over the past two months, I’ve had more white-knuckle moments (especially at night) than I can count. Waves upon waves of fear, doubt, anxiety pummeling my being and sucking me out to the Sea of Despair. This was especially true last night as I tried to sleep.

This morning, I woke up with an epiphany resting gently on my consciousness. Like a gift from God left overnight. I realized that I’ve been treating this entire time as a challenge; a battle of wit and will. This makes sense. I am a D in the DISC, an Enneagram 8, a Scorpio. I am wired to face challenges. I’m wired to fight. So much so that much of my identity has been tied to competitiveness, winning, effort, willfulness, relentlessness, pertinaciousness. Further, I come from pioneer blood and cowboy ethic. We. Don’t. Quit. I was also raised in the American ethos bellowed by the Boss:

Cause we made a promise

We swore we’d always remember

No retreat, baby no surrender

And wailed by Cory Hart:

And when the night is cold and dark

You can see, you can see light

’Cause no one can take away your right

To fight and to never surrender

Back to the epiphany …

What if I saw this time as something different than a challenge? Ok, so what is the opposite of a challenge? In this examination of context, I determined that the more accurate term would be to describe this as an experience.

And what do you do in an experience?

You surrender.

Yeah. There it is. My ego hates that word. Surrender means quitting, passivity, weakness, right?

But this is a spiritual experience. My will and wiring to win are detriments, not determinants. My will promises the false idea that surrender is optional — that with the right amount of cleverness and persistence, I can determine the outcome of this experience. Here’s the reality: surrender is the only option if I want to grow; if I want a relationship with Truth.

Accepting surrender feels like a death. Because it is. It is the death of a level of selfhood that I’ve held on to for 50 years. That’s why my ego hates it. That’s why the idea of surrender causes fear to reach its cold hands into my stomach and twist and tear.

But when I change the context of surrender to being the only option in a spiritual experience, a bright new idea emerges: in the spiritual realm, surrender is the ultimate act of bravery.

So how do you surrender to a spiritual experience? I honestly don’t really know but I think it starts with:

  • Accepting reality; accepting what Michael Gungor refers to as “thisness”.
  • Questioning the context of everything.
  • Lay everything on the altar of your preferred term for a Higher Power.

And what exactly am I surrendering? Well, that’s a long list:

  • Attachments
  • Timing
  • Plans
  • Outcomes
  • Narratives
  • Ego-based beliefs
  • Illusions
  • Roles
  • Frameworks

A key term in this kind of surrender is “nevertheless” — a term frequently used in various scriptures.

“Nevertheless, not my will but yours.”

“Nevertheless, I will go.”

“Nevertheless, I will be still.”

Nevertheless is a faith-based action word — the act of surrendering it all while continuing on.

For me, faith is surrender’s best and most vital friend. Faith used to be a system I followed. Or what I turned to when my plans didn’t work out. Now, faith is how I am living. Each step a step into the void. Hounded by fear. Step. Haunted by worry. Step. Dogged by doubt. Step. Making a bold decision. Step. Expressing my heart. Step. Healing my wounds. Step. Faith is the sovereign person’s only offensive weapon; the only lantern. Step.

I’m starting to see the promises of surrender slowly emerge. One of them being this …

Everything my soul yearns for is on the other side of total surrender.

So applying my will to try to get what my soul wants is pure folly. In fact, bringing a mindset of problem-solving, willfulness, obstinance, overcoming obstacles — any form of dominance — brought into a spiritual experience is painfully foolish.

There is no “winning” in the Divine. Victory is had by surrender, not by dominating. There is no battle. Only the experience.

And because my ego hates this, it must be true.

And because I have an ego, I will forget this. Please remind me.

Do You Really Know Your Audience?

By Branding, LeadershipNo Comments

Internal Family Systems model

One of the most common questions we get is some form of “who is my target audience?”

To answer that requires some unlearning …

Your ideal audience is not a “target”. They are the people looking for you.

Your ideal audience is not their demographic data.

Your ideal audience isn’t divided up into B2B or B2C.

So who are they? Who are these mysterious humans whose hands you are putting the future of your brand?

To answer this question requires some foundational understanding of the psychological concept of the Core Self. The concept of Core Self has Jungian roots that have evolved into what is often called “parts theory” or “internal family systems”. There is a growing understanding that there is a Core Self but it is surrounded by parts – commonly categorized into three types:

  • Exiles – the part assigned to disassociate the Core Self from intense trauma or pain.
  • Managers – the part that creates systems of security and safety.
  • Firefighters – the part that demands attention.

Each of these parts has a unique role in protecting the Core Self – especially for trauma survivors. Fueled by dopamine and/or serotonin, these parts construct a new reality made up of personalities, biases, preferences, narratives. Further, these parts are activated by inputs or prompts.

Like advertising.

Largely influenced by Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, marketers have spent billions of dollars marketing to the illusory realities that people have manufactured in their minds. They use FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) to manipulate the Exile parts. They use the promise of safety and security to coerce the Manager parts. They use urgency to coopt the Firefighter parts. Marketers do an excellent job of understanding these elements of their audiences.

And that’s the issue. Considering most of these parts were constructed as a response to trauma, to utilize them for your own gain is inhumane and cruel. It is the essence of gaslighting someone.

So how does an ethical marketer approach an audience?

By communicating with the audience’s Core Selves. 

The Core Self is identified by 8 traits:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Creativity
  3. Confidence
  4. Calm
  5. Compassionate
  6. Courage
  7. Clarity
  8. Connectedness

When you understand these areas, you understand your audience. And when you understand your audience, it will change the way you communicate with them.

You will use storytelling and mystery and positive tension to awaken curiosity.

You will co-create with them to make beautiful things together.

You will remind them of their worth and importance.

You will not use urgent, loud language.

You will see them as a whole human – not just a customer or an employee.

You will tell them the truth.

You will understand their vision for their future.

You will connect with them and an oxytocin-based bond of trust will be formed.

And you will not compromise any of these eight traits in yourself or your brand. You will integrate these traits into your behavior as a leader, your culture, your offerings, your human experiences.

You will be in a reciprocal relationship with all the humans that touch your brand. This will produce a force multiplier of ideation, improvement, expansion fueled by mutual love and respect.

This isn’t easy. There are no shortcuts. It’s why we call this deep work “Intrinsic Branding”. You have to go inward to who you are as a person or a brand. You have to know your mission, your standards, your vision. And then you must do the same with your audience. This kind of hard work requires patience, consistency, inquiry, listening. But when you do it, you create unbreakable bonds of love, trust and loyalty.

Stones Into Bread

By Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

The title of this essay is from a story in the bible of Jesus being lead into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. In the story, the devil tells Jesus (who had been fasting) to use his powers to turn stones into bread so he could eat. As with most spiritual scripture, the stories in the bible are not necessarily literal instructions on how to behave and much more often metaphorical stories on the experience of being an awakened human.

I use this example not to make a theological argument or religious statement but as a metaphorical backdrop for a very real thing in our modern lives: the application of our will.

We’ve all heard the phrase “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”. It is a reminder to be resilient, driven, focused. Of course, there are many times in life where we need to exert our will, skills and gifts to accomplish something. But in the spiritual realm, the phrase would be much more accurate as “Where there’s worth, there’s a wait”. It is a sign of spiritual and emotional maturity to held the tension between “make it happen” and “let it happen”

This is a hard lesson I’m still learning at nearly 50 years old.

In a recent visit, a healer friend asked me “Who taught you to never give up?” I said that, although my grandfather was an example of work ethic, I have always been obstinate. But not about everything. The obstinance and never-quit seemed to only apply to get things I wanted. If I wasn’t interested or passionate about it, there was no drive. Or I refused to quit something out of sheer resentment. My relentless will has served me well over the years. From being a very young father (barely 22 at the time) to major moves to commissioned sales to being an entrepreneur. The shadow of all this is that I made a tremendous amount of painful mistakes. Of course, these painful experiences eventually end up being lessons that contribute to wisdom. But I didn’t need to make it so painful!

A real story of obstinance …

I’d always wanted to live in an old farmhouse on some acreage. In 2003, one came on to the market in Greenleaf, Idaho — about 45 minutes from work. It seemed perfect. Other than the plumbing, the interior had been updated. The acreage was well maintained. It was cozy. It was blue with red outbuildings. Everything about it matched the picture in my head. So I made it happen. I muscled through a variety of obstacles and the dream was achieved. Reality was starkly different. Over an 8 year period, I tried to make it work — all in the midst of being a father to two young boys and in the mighty struggle of being a founding partner in a start-up. Thank God for Lynna during these times. Her resoluteness kept us going emotionally and often, financially. In the end, I just couldn’t do it anymore. The cost of living was too high, the pressure and pain too great. So I walked away. Of course, hindsight reminds me of many positive stories from that time. Our boys didn’t really know about the struggle so they have fond memories of the place. I’m grateful for those moments but it was a tough, necessary lesson about not trying to turn stones into bread.

This year, I’ve learned a different lesson about using my will to turn stones into bread. According to the story, it appears that Jesus did have the power to do just that. That’s likely what made it so tempting — especially when hungry. I believe we all have a similar temptation. We all have spiritual gifts that our ego-mind wants to hijack to fulfill an immediate need. And when we are hungry, lonely, tired that’s when we are most susceptible to forcing a “miracle”.

I am in the midst of experiencing a second awakening. The first one in 2014 freed me from conditions and circumstances. This one is freeing me from dependence. And one of the things I’ve been very dependent on over the years has been my will, my obstinance. The first awakening was about going, being decisive, boldly saying yes. This awakening is about waiting, being patient, surrendering. In this phase, waiting is the bold move.

During the past several weeks, I have been relentlessly tempted to determine outcomes, speed things along, change the timeline, force decision points in almost every major area of my life. I make plans and lists and scenarios — but then in the witching hour, I hear “wait” and when my mind is quieted, I hear “wait”. I have been reminded repeatedly that anxiety is the mind’s way of managing an unstable situation. But I’m learning that anything done out of fear does not make things better. I’m learning that Love does not lead you to lack and plenty-ness is the reward for patience. This time is not about being passive. Even in the waiting, we must still know and ask for what we want. The difference is severing any attachments to outcomes and releasing expectations. Or if you will, having faith.

We call it a leap of faith. And that is often true. But maybe this faith is about being still, being receptive. Maybe this is the kind of faith that forces you into the River of Doubt so that you can learn to surrender to its flow. Maybe mature faith is not a leap but a release of control.