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Life

February 2021 Recap

By LifeNo Comments

Hello friends!

I’ve made a number of changes to how I share content. I will only be posting content on my website on occasion. All of my weekly content has been moved to Substack. You can sign up to be a free or paid subscriber here. Paid subscribers (only $8/month) receive a weekly essay every Monday, plus private podcast episodes, tools, office hours, Q & A calls and more.

Via my website, I will be sending an end-of-month recap of things I’ve written as well as books read, new music discoveries and other nuggets that feel worthy of sharing.

As a reminder, my buddy Juan Kingsbury and I have a podcast called “I Might Be Wrong”. We are up to 16 episodes! Check it out here.

Essays:

Always something to work on.

Inner critique vs inner critic.

The real enemy.

All systems fail.

 

Favorite musing for this month:

“You are a divine being with a powerful mission and a set of unique gifts. The only way to fuck it up is to believe your insecurities.”

Follow me on Instagram for all of my musings.

 

Podcast appearances:

Luke Bricker’s “The Spiritual Nomad” podcast

Angela Hollowell’s “Honey & Hustle” podcast

Little Bird Marketing’s “Ponderings from the Perch”

Books I finished:

“Mary Magdalene Revealed” – Meggan Watterson 

“Experiencing God Directly” – Marshall Davis

 

Favorite new music:

Ian Munsick’s debut album “Coyote Cry”

Ian is a singer/songwriter from Wyoming with an incredible voice and great energy (and great hair!)

My Spotify playlist “Foster the Music” contains all of the new music that I’m listening to.

 

Business shout-out:

Are you a freelancer or have a side hustle? Check out Jolly. Jolly is a platform for promoting your freelance skills and offerings. Imagine if Etsy and LinkedIn had a baby. That’s Jolly!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Garden of Interdependence

By Creativity, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

One of life’s many paradoxes is that we are each sovereign, unique beings while also being community-oriented animals. This paradox causes us to get twisted up in what we can only generate for ourselves and what we can only receive from others.

People more individualistically wired tend to play the part of the “lone wolf” or the “solitary woman/man”. Their ability to be alone with themselves can create a false sense of not needing anything from anyone. This can lead to isolation and walling off of the heart.

People more wired to be pleasers tend to play the part of the “helper” or “martyr”. Their ability to serve others can create a false sense that their identity and value are external of themselves. This can lead to codependency or being taken advantage of.

The metaphor of a community garden fits here. Each participant is expected to grow and care for their own crops while at the same time giving and receiving with each other the fruits and vegetables of their respective and collective labor.

In the spirit of “I might be wrong”, here are two sets of 5 traits or elements — one set of things we can only generate for ourselves and another set of things we can only receive from others.

Self-Generating

  • Worthiness — Others can remind you of your worth but you won’t really comprehend it until you see it for yourself. This is the first work of a spiritual practice. This is the pearl of great price and the treasure hid in the field that Jesus spoke of.
  • Courage — This is a non-transferable trait. No one can give you courage. At best, they can give you encouragement. Courage is not a feeling. It is an action. It is not thinking. It is doing.
  • Confidence — Similar to courage, confidence can’t be instilled in you by someone else. At best they can hold up a mirror and tell you the truth. Ultimately, you have to do the inner work of finding and accepting your gifts and the outer work of building skills and competencies.
  • Creativity — This one requires a bit of nuance. Creating something often comes from being in union with someone else (creating a relationship, creating humans, creating art are all joint-ventures between yourself and another being. But the energy of creating something is self-generated. That is creativity. While you certainly can and should be inspired by someone else’s creativity you must generate creativity for yourself.
  • Wisdom — Wisdom is received through revelation, not installation. At best, someone wise can point you in the right direction but they can’t give you wisdom. Further, there are depths of wisdom that can only be reached through time and struggle — both of which require us to be alone at points in the journey.

Receiving from Others

  • Affirmation — This is to be seen and appreciated by others. It is a gift that one human can give another. Neurologically, affirmation triggers oxytocin production. Which helps solidify the bonds made in the other areas below.
  • Intimacy — Certainly, self-intimacy with our own bodies, emotions, minds is important. But connecting with someone who is connected to themselves is an essential part of the human experience. Intimacy is experienced in many forms: platonic friendships, familial relationships, romantic partners, soul mates.
  • Perspective — No one can see the back of their own head. This is why we need people in our lives to offer different perspectives. And this is why it is important to seek relationships with people who’ve had different experiences and have different views than you.
  • Trust — Trust is the currency of conscious relationships. Without the giving and receiving of trust, we become either paranoid or fragile or hardened and nihilistic. Trust makes room for grace, forgiveness, repentance as well as risk, adventure and experiences.
  • Learning — Being “self-taught” is mostly an inaccurate phrase. While we all have the ability to be autodidactic, the transfer of knowledge still comes from an outside source. Whether it’s formal education, reading books, watching how-to videos, receiving mentoring, someone else generated that knowledge so that you can consume it.

Interestingly, the things that we can only generate for ourselves become sources of suffering when we seek them from others. And the reverse is true as well. When we try to generate what we can only receive from someone else, it can create mental anguish and a sense of disconnectedness.

Let’s look at these traits when framed through the spectrum of healthy to unhealthy:

  • Lack of worthiness leads to the hero/victim/villain cycle.
  • Lack of courage leads to being manipulated, used and a collapsing of boundaries and identity.
  • Lack of confidence leads to living life in a perpetually defensive posture (which is brutally hard on the nervous system).
  • Lack of creativity leads to the dullness of the senses; the numbing of life through external stimuli and distraction.
  • Lack of wisdom leads to low consciousness which leads to stunted emotional and spiritual growth.
  • Lack of affirmation leads to chronic insecurity which becomes self-absorption and narcissism.
  • Lack of intimacy leads to physical, emotional and spiritual atrophy.
  • Lack of perspective leads to dogma, narrowness, tribalism.
  • Lack of trust leads to paranoia and risk-aversion.
  • Lack of learning leads to ignorance which invites tyranny.

I want to wrap this essay with a spirit of possibility and optimism …

I fully believe that every human is capable of self-generating these traits and many other positive ones. And I fully believe that every human is capable of giving and receiving that which we need from each other. All of this is fullness of being — the union between the divine and primal within ourselves and with each other. The result of which is a life of joy, meaning and abundance.

Why Every Entrepreneur Needs a Therapist

By Entrepreneurism, Leadership, LifeNo Comments

I was 40 when I went to therapy for the first time in 2011. At the time, I had no idea that going to therapy would transform my entrepreneurial pursuits. I just wanted to gain some insight on my (at that time) self-destructive tendencies and caustic resentment about my childhood that I’d held on to for 20+ years. My work with that therapist opened my eyes to many aspects of my behavior and life. It was my first glimpse of sitting in the witness seat of my own being.

Very people knew I was seeing a therapist. I still saw it as a sign of weakness. That I couldn’t figure my own shit out so I needed outside help. This was also reflective of the conditioning of being part of a fundamentalist church where therapy was – at best – seen as corrective. The general consensus is that if you had more faith or belief, you wouldn’t need therapy.

Over the past 10 years, I continued with a variety of therapists and modalities. I became more vocal and open about therapy – especially for men. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that I began to truly see how therapy was benefiting me as an entrepreneur. I’ve now arrived at the conclusion that every entrepreneur needs a therapist.

Here is why …

Being an entrepreneur is a series of traumatic events and experiences. It is in direct contrast to the social conditioning of safety and stability. Even if you are not a trauma survivor, the stress and grind of being an entrepreneur can greatly impact your mental health. If you are a trauma survivor, the experiences of being an entrepreneur will inevitably be processed as trauma. In addition, the lens on yourself and your business is clouded by fear. And fear makes you either overly risk-averse and/or overly impulsive – both of which are detrimental to your business.

In my experience, the wired fear response of trauma manifests itself in your business in these ways:

  1. Seeing people as abstracts. If you have unhealed trauma, you inevitably have lower EQ and lower self-awareness. This means you are likely seeing the humans that you interact with as either threats or opportunities. This is the hero/villain spectrum being played out in who you partner with, what kinds of clients you work with, who you hire. This is also related to attachment theory (I highly recommend this book for all entrepreneurs) as well as internal family systems/parts therapy – both of which reveal that your wiring warps how you see and respond to others.
  2. Negativity bias. Trauma teaches you a worst-case-scenario mindset. It assumes that everything is negative until it proves itself to be safe. This is reflective of the wiring around threat assessments and forecasting failures. While a very useful tool for actual survival, it is a determinant to your business because it makes you miss that which is actually positive. It makes you blind to opportunities. It hijacks your imagination and turns it into a tool of projection.
  3. Inflation/devaluation. When untreated, the trauma pendulum swings between delusion and despair – often due to one compensating for the other. In my 30s and early 40s, this pendulum swung wildly between illusions of grandeur and valleys of gloom. I did not truly know my own worth, which made me in a near-constant pursuit of outside validation, legitimacy and identity. When you inflate your sense of worth, you still secretly feel like an imposter. And when you devalue your worth, you allow yourself to be manipulated and abused.

Doing the deep work of therapy reveals an important nuance for entrepreneurs: the difference between instinct and intuition. If you have untreated trauma, your instincts are going to be a faulty decision-making tool because these instincts were developed in response to emotional or physical pain. As you heal, you will access your heart and soul even more. When you do that, you will learn that your intuition is a much more accurate and powerful resource.

Ultimately, effective therapy returns you again and again and deeper and deeper to your core self. As I’ve written about, your core self is grounded in reality. It is the garden in which you grow compassion, creativity, clarity, curiosity, calmness, confidence, courage and connectedness. All of these are tremendous assets to being an entrepreneur. Any one of them can transform your business. So imagine the power of combining them all together! In my experience, a few magical things happen when you operate from your core self …

  • You attract healthy, whole people to your business – as clients, team members, strategic partners.
  • Your relationship with money is transformed and you have a much more healthy perspective on the financial aspects of your business.
  • You practice kindness with everyone. But you also take no shit from people that try to devalue you or use you.
  • You become more imaginative and innovative – with a steady stream of new ideas pouring out of you. Some will be wildly successful but many will fail, but you will have a healthy response to failure.
  • You will seek out feedback from others. And you discern the value of the feedback in a healthy way.

I continue ongoing therapy sessions. In fact, I had one this morning! Once you connect to your core self and learn to return to it daily, therapy shifts into more of a maintenance mode. It becomes more of a self-care practice than a healing modality. On-going therapy gives you a space to reflect on the influence of your ego, assess your behaviors and responses in light of current conditions, look for drift or exile from core self and much more.

If you are an entrepreneur that regularly sees a therapist, I’d love to hear more about your experiences. If you are an entrepreneur that is currently not in therapy and are curious about therapy’s impact on your business, just send me a message. I’m happy to visit!

 

And Then …

By Creativity, Entrepreneurism, Leadership, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

Photo credit: Me. Bear tracks on the trail in Alaska.

Like many words in the too-much-information age, we often reduce the meaning and power of words. Adventure is one such word. “Adventure” too often means a planned experience. Activities marketed as “adventurous” have agendas, itineraries, safety rules, insurance waivers, name tags. Of course, there are gradients of danger and risk that require these things. And there many experiences that could cause injury or death from poor preparation and planning and brash behavior. But most of the things that we’re calling adventurous are really just scheduled activities that provide a temporary jolt; a respite from boredom.

So what is an actual adventure?

I think an adventure is any experience where you can say “And then …” and have no idea or clue of what’s next.

There is a myriad of options to find these kinds of experiences in the world. The kinds of things that end up on bucket lists. And I want to do many of them! But most of the “and then …” adventures are right in front of us or within us.

Art is like this. You can have all the supplies and knowledge, but every artist knows that what actually becomes art is an enormous mystery. This is why most great art is made in experimentation, failure, iteration. Each piece of output is a blend of the mystical and the material. A real-time example: when I started this essay, I had no idea what would come out. And here it is!

Soulful connections are like this. You can have your preferences and interests and plans. Then someone can enter your life and completely change your trajectory or transform your perspective. Or you can feel a soul connection with someone and begin to craft some assumptions about it or plans for it — only to discover that the “and then …” is that they are experiencing the connection in a different way than you. I am certain most heartache comes from the creating of expectations that disintegrate on impact with mystery and timing.

Entrepreneurism is like this. Too often we use data and systems and plans to remove all the mystery from business. We are told that the unknown is a threat. Yet almost every great invention or lasting business was born in failure or struggle. I’ve been calling this ability to live in the known and unknown at the same time “mystical leadership”. I will be sharing much more on this idea in the next few weeks but here is a summation:

Mystical leadership is a philosophy that holds logic and faith as equally essential traits of a leader. It recognizes humility, compassion, moderation, intuition and wisdom as necessary leadership qualities. Mystical leadership embraces all the dichotomies and paradoxes of being a human — the divide between ego and soul. It acknowledges and accepts the natural volatility and uncertainty of life and leaves room for mystery and possibility.

Inner work is certainly like this. Someone that I was mentoring earlier this year expressed that he was terrified to do inner work because “of what I might find in there.” Here’s the irony … if we don’t do the inner work, life will appear only as fate or luck. When we go on the grand adventure of exploring our inner world, we find the parts of ourselves (the soul) that loves the mystery, that relishes the void. Inner work involves going on an expedition to find your soul and discover its pricelessness. Inner work involves understanding your mind and beginning to master it. Both of these are adventures unto themselves, but nothing may be more dangerous and riskier than going into the heart.

Here’s why: the heart feels what it feels and wants what it wants. And the mind (the keeper of order) has no control over that. When we begin to expand your heart, to operate from your heart center, you begin to see just how much we don’t have control over. That much of what we think is real and solid is, in fact, an illusion created by the mind to make us feel comforted and comfortable. Heart work strips everything down to what it is. It eliminates both wishful thinking and wishful feeling.

I believe it requires a certain level of mysticism to navigate life in a way that produces meaning and joy and growth. A mystic is someone that is in touch with Reality (the spiritual realm) and reality (the material realm) and knows how to create moderation and harmony between those two realms. This balance lets each part do the thing it was designed to do. The body is designed for sensation. The soul is designed to experience. The heart is designed to feel everything. The mind is designed to think and plan. When these four elements are working in equanimity, then mystery arrives as lessons and opportunities. “And then …” shifts from the mundanity of tasks to the magic of the ever-unfolding present moment.

Sitting in Reality

By Creativity, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

Photo credit: The Times UK

There is such great comfort when your life reflects the story your mind is telling. Even if this is a comfortable illusion, the harmony between the story and the perceived reality is a type of peace of mind. It is the root of the old adage “ignorance is bliss.”

But oh the anguish when Reality arrives as truth — a truth markedly different from the story our mind has been telling. There is an intensity to the arrival of Reality. This is why most mystics call it “waking up”. It’s jarring. A cold ice bath, a bright light, a shaking. How tempting it is to tighten the blankets and drift back into the dream.

The mind will treat this abrupt change as a threat. It will become obsessed with returning to the illusion of harmony. It will fixate on creating a different condition than present reality. Why? Because the mind is wired to keep us alive. It does not know to process things like a spiritual awakening, a tragedy or even what it means to truly love. The mind is a perfectly designed survival multi-tool made up of problem-solving, righting wrongs, telling stories and pursuing goals. All of these are not inherently bad or wrong. However, to accomplish any of these, the mind will attempt to close the heart. Again, I don’t judge this. It makes sense. It sees current conditions as a threat to survival so it is just doing its job.

I’m reminded again and again how essential it is to return to my center in these times. Combined with faith and heart-mindedness, being centered grounds me in the present experience. Faith reminds me that everything is at should be (even if I don’t like it) and heart-mindedness reminds me that thinking is a survival instinct — and there’s no survival required in matters of soul and love.

As I wrote about in last week’s essay, at the center of ourselves is where we find unconditional love. It is being fully in our centers and in the present experience where we begin to truly understand the ever-prevailing power of love — and what it means to live and love from a pure heart. From this place of pureness of heart, we can look at an awakening, a heart-break, a situation, a crisis and operate from a brightly different perspective.

We can see that love and reality are meant to co-exist and co-create.

We can see our own core selves and the core selves of others.

We can see true injustice in the world — rather than our own perceived slights and rejections.

We can see that the present moment truly does contain everything we need.

We can see that when the mind controls, the heart closes.

My point to all of this is that being in the experience of any intense thing puts the mind and the soul in conflict with each other. When the mind is in control, the soul is often just a whisper that we shush or ignore. I did this for many years related to avoiding pain, denying that I needed healing, accepting what I truly believe and much more. In these past few months of massive life changes, I’ve found myself on an almost daily basis trying to mediate the power struggle between mind and soul, as well as mind and heart. I recognize that I arrived at this point of life by primarily thinking. I trusted my intellect. I trusted my intelligence. And for many years, I was skeptical of my heart and my soul. Now, the reverse is true. I trust my soul. I trust my heart. I am grateful for my mind, but it is a mostly useless tool in matters of consciousness. It is when I begin to listen to my mind that I begin to doubt; I begin to drift my center. I go back to trying to mix thinking with a pure heart — only to find again and again that a pure heart is one devoid of thinking.

As this Season of Waiting continues, I continue to learn. I have realized that my role in all of this is to be somewhat of the Wim Hof of spiritual experiences. To sit in the frigid waters of the deepest feelings and learn how to not let the mind take over — then share those learnings with you. Some recent learnings include a fresh understanding that:

  • Feelings are not problems to solve (unless you are in an actual crisis situation, then you can do what Emily says and “feel it later.”). Just be in the feeling. Don’t think about the feeling. Feel the feeling.
  • Other people’s choices are not wrongs to right (unless their choices are truly harmful to themselves, you or others). Let people be. Love and freedom are inextricably linked.
  • Goals are good — until they become attachments, expectations, obsessions. This comes down to context and intention. I am fully certain that heart-based goals/desires are always met eventually — even if they arrive in a form you didn’t necessarily ask for.
  • The true story of Reality is simply the soul co-creating the story with the Divine — not your mind. Participate in the co-creation of the true story through contemplation, acceptance, curiosity, imagination, honesty.

To repurpose an overused adage, if you can’t handle the ice bath, get out of the awakening. But if you do that, you miss all of its lessons. You miss the opportunity to evolve. You slip back into the warm bath of illusion. Yeah, it’s cold in the ice bath but it is Reality. And Reality is where love is the strongest.f

Finding the Center

By Creativity, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

Life is an endless spectrum of dichotomies and paradoxes. The mind can’t handle all the variants. It likes absolutes. So it is wired to be binary and dualistic; to see issues or people as polarities then choose a side. The side we choose often becomes our identity; which informs our beliefs and behaviors. The more strident we are about our “side” the more resistant we are to staying open. This is why I’ve said that idealogy is a low form of consciousness.

Seeing the world through a dualistic lens creates a false reality. This is something all the spiritual masters and mystics throughout time have warned about. They encouraged being grounded in Reality (capital R intended) as an antidote to binary illusions. They encouraged seeing life as spherical rather than linear; allegorical rather than literal. They encouraged connectedness and oneness; of seeing humanity as a mirror of ourselves.

So where is this Reality they speak of?

It’s in the center.

It is in the tension between the paradoxes. It is in the moderated note between two sounds. It is the yin and yang in the dichotomies. It is in the center where we find both equanimity and equilibrium — that elusive balance that so many of us are seeking.

So where is this center?

The first center to find is in yourself. There are many different terms for this center, but I most like Thomas Moore’s term of “Original Self”. This is the original You; the You before life made you a constructed you. Returning to this Original Self is the great inner journey that one must take in order to find Reality. I like to envision this center of the Original Self as a comfortable chair on a high mountain. We fight and sweat and cry and bleed and walk and crawl and climb until we get there. We clamber into the chair and become witness to everything. We see Reality clearly. We are in it. We are experiencing, not enduring. We are receiving, not grasping. We are responding, not reacting.

How do you know if you’ve found your center? In Jungian terms, the traits of the core self are often called the 8 C’s:

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

If you are operating from these, you have found the center of You. You are living a true story; you are connected to Reality.

Another center to find is one I’ve written about previously: the center of the heart. This appears to be a separate but adjacent center from our Original Self. In my burgeoning experience, the center of the heart is where we find Eternal Love. I don’t mean this in a religious context. I mean that the center of our heart contains the present moment and that there is Love in every present moment if we look for it. This reminds me that no past memory or future projection is better than this present moment. No matter what our ego says about that. When you find this center you will see that Love is rooted in Reality.

From this center, you can truly love without attachment and projection — two things I’ve struggled with mightily over the years. From this center, Love is synonymous with Freedom. Anthony de Mello writes in “The Way to Love”: “I leave you free to be yourself: to think your thoughts, indulge your tastes, follow your inclinations, behave in ways that you decide are to your liking.”

The final center to consider seeking is the center of any idea or concept. When something is presented to you as binary, see if you can discern a third way in the middle. This doesn’t mean moral relativism or that everything is non-binary. I posit that ideas tend to be presented as a polarity and that by examining an idea with curiosity and skepticism, we can most often find a third way. This is the spirit at the center of community, collaboration and conscious partnership. This third way becomes a foundation rooted in Reality. It protects us from being gaslit by narcissists, manipulated by propaganda and from believing our own bullshit. It is also in this spirit that my buddy Juan and I are trying to unpack in our new podcast “I Might Be Wrong”. Here is a link to Spotify. It’s also on iTunes and Anchor.

The center of our being, the center of our hearts, the center of ideas are not fixed points. The ebb and flow of life will cause us to drift away at times. Returning to center is almost a daily effort. And when we return, we carry with us the wisdom of new experiences, failures, learnings.

Returning to the center is not easy. It will cause grief, death, loss, letting go. Your ego will fight you every step of the way. But I believe it is in this constant returning to center that we find a joyful, purposeful life. I believe it is where possibility lives. And healing. And meaning. And connection. And ultimately it is where we are in union with Reality.

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.