Authors of our Own Stories

Did you know that each of us is an author, a storyteller? Brene Brown tells us that “the most powerful stories may be the ones we tell ourselves — but beware – they’re usually fiction”.

Do you know that we possess an imagination more creative than we believe possible? Best selling author, Caroline Myss is renowned for her work in the field of energy medicine. She offers very powerful examples of how we use our big wild imaginations to create the most anxiety-inducing worst case scenarios but fail to apply that same creativity to hope, best case scenarios and problem-solving.

The recent 21-day Chopra Meditation Program entitled “Getting Unstuck” echoed similar sentiments — that we are the author of every moment we live. What narratives do we tell ourselves about our life history and current experiences that prevent us from moving forward and expanding our perspectives? Are we stuck in the stories we repeatedly tell ourselves?

Here are some examples of places we can be stuck:

  • complaining about the same things day in and day out
  • self-defeating self talk
  • a wild imagination that only amplifies our anxieties
  • lost in thoughts about the past or the future
  • not accepting reality and relying on magical thinking

A few years ago I was trapped in some serious rumination. I was stuck reviewing a past that could never be changed no matter how much attention I devoted to it. The cycle often distracted me throughout the day and it definitely led to sleepless nights. So, yes I have firsthand experience with being “stuck” and with breaking free.

I credit the psychologist, Dr. Rick Hanson, for teaching me how the brain develops a “reward system” for these habitual but unhelpful mental loops. While we unconsciously retreat to these mental comfort zones, any peace we find there is short-lived. And then that cycle begins again. As he explains, neurons that fire together, wire together.

People can spend years trapped in those negative thought patterns, stuck not by choice, but by habit. Struggles with self-worth, abandonment issues, co-dependency and PTSD are all rooted in the stories we have written around our past and the natural tendency of the brain to spend an extraordinary amount of time and energy on negative thought patterns.

Being stuck, whether it is a small and short term matter, or an over-arching long term life pattern robs us of the present moment, of the love we desperately want but are unable to see or feel, of the connections to others that buoy us through all of life. Unknowingly, our stuck-ness also often creates collateral damage.

From personal experience and both sides of the fence, I can share that others get exhausted from offering support but seeing no real change or break-through from negative patterns. People get tired of hearing the same complaints. Eventually, they are worn down to the point of snapping when they don’t mean to, or growing resentful or even pulling away altogether. These collateral damage responses “feed” the self-fulfilling prophecies of the stories we tell ourselves. They confirm that we are unworthy, that we need to do more, or that we will be abandoned.

Another aspect of collateral damage is the highly contagious effect of negativity. We feed off of each other’s energy. Neurobiologically we are hardwired to find negative energy the stickiest of all. Have you ever noticed how someone’s bad mood can shift an entire family experience? Take a ride in the car with a family when just one member is throwing out some negative vibes and watch what happens. Best real life neuroscience experiment ever.

I recall telling a guy I cared about that I was not going to buy a ticket for the merry-go-round anymore when it was apparent that our relationship was stuck in a pattern of negativity. We just kept having the same conversation over and over. It was every bit as dizzying as an on-going merry go round ride to have the same issue crop up but never change how we handled it. Sometimes we just need to stop. Step back and fully take in the pattern. What is the story that we are telling ourselves and then ask “is it true?” (Thank you Brene for such a great tool.)

Elizabeth Lesser reminds us “tell me where you focus your attention and I will tell you who you are”. In the case of being stuck – either short-term or long term – consider this: “tell me where you focus your attention and let’s figure out where you are stuck.” Surprisingly, sometimes we honestly believe we are not getting what we want or need from others, but we actually are. It is our “stuck-ness” that is blinding us to seeing and receiving the gifts of love, time, attention, and encouragement. Re-writing our narratives can have a powerful transformational effect.

The day I realized that ruminating about the past was never going to produce a different ending to my story, I embraced the breakthrough and began to re-write my narrative. The shift in perspective was the equivalent of moving a giant boulder out of my path. I was free to move on, without dragging the past around. The circumstances could not be changed but my framing of it most certainly could. Yes, I was hurt and yes someone else’s actions caused a lot of pain and suffering. What did I learn from those experiences? Could I have made better choices? Could I have trusted my intuition? Could I have established boundaries? Was I still playing a role I had assumed in my childhood even though I was now decades older? Ah, yes — the answers I got to those questions set me free from rumination. I moved from feeling like a “victim of someone else’s unresolved pain” to a better informed “me”. I committed to regular meditation practice to re-wire my brain and break free from the strong urge to fall back into rumination. This was a gamechanger for me. I began to sleep soundly and I found that I broke the spell of being attached to a very sticky past.

My daughter and I were recently chatting about the day to day routine of life and how especially in the past year of Covid, it all gets so monotonous. The reality is that laundry needs to get done, bills need to get paid and meals need to be cooked and eaten. We can easily get stuck focused only on the boredom. A tool I learned from mindfulness was to “reframe a situation.”

An old memory came to mind and I shared this story with her: I was in my early 40’s and stuck in the hamster wheel of the daily life grind. One morning I realized that on my commute to work, at the very same intersection each and every day, I would rest my head on the steering wheel of my bright blue Achieva and lament “I am soooo tired.”

After several weeks of this, it suddenly dawned on me that I was stuck and I had this little chat with myself:

You have been saying this very same thing every day for weeks, at this very same place — and girl, it is getting you no where but even more tired. Something’s gotta change!”

The next morning, as I put my foot on the brake pedal of my blue Achieva at that very same intersection,I decided to change my self-messaging. I did not lay my weary head on the steering wheel. I looked out at the sunlight streaming through the canopy of trees. I proclaimed outloud “I love my life and my family.” I made a promise to myself that I would state that positive affirmation every day at that intersection.

Little did I know just how meaningful that shift in attitude and perspective would become. Those ongoing daily tasks were contributing in many positive ways to my family and were my expressions of love for them. My relationship to them changed from draining to rewarding — and my energy got in sync with that positive reframing.

As I shared with my daughter, another trick I would occasionally use back then was to imagine someone else having my life. Would they be grateful for the very things I was complaining about? Often giving myself that kind of perspective was all that I needed to put a little gratitude in my attitude.

What I love about these conversations with my daughter is that it reveals how from one generation to the next, little has essentially changed about building independent adult lives and raising children Babies grow through all their stages the same as they have since the beginning of time.

However, so many aspects of our contemporary daily life has dramatically changed. Technology alone has had a major impact, good and bad. My daughter and I both recognize that we can easily get “stuck” to our phones and get caught up in the drama, energy and emotions of news cycles or the latest post. We’ve had some very good conversations about how even the news cycle gets “stuck” and how we see others getting “stuck” based on their social media feeds. Once you become more enlightened about ways that we get “stuck” you start to see the patterns popping up everywhere.

After more than a year of quarantine, when I see people out for dinner, shopping or having coffee meetups, I’m so surprised to find most folks are staring at their phones — not the faces of their friends and family, not looking around and taking in the music, the conversations, the collective energy of others. They are stuck, held captive by a phone that they can stare at all by themselves at home alone. What do we miss when we are not paying attention to all that is around? What fun things could we be taking in if we turned our attention away from the phone. If you have ever drank your entire cup of coffee and then realized that it was empty but you weren’t even aware that you drank it, then you know just what I am talking about. Remember what you long for about the old “normal” and steep yourself in that when you are out and about.

Deepak Chopra shared another compelling example of where we can get stuck. He termed it a “second hand experience”. In other words, we acquiesce the essence of a present moment to someone else. We let another person become the author of our experience. He offers the ways in which this can happen:

  • when we do what someone else tells us to do
  • when we live up to someone else’s low expectations
  • when we do things that are not really true to who we are

Often in these situations, we will feel unsettled, frustrated and pressured. We feel a sense of relief when we can get out of that kind of influence and can just be ourselves. There have been numerous times in my life when I felt this way and now I am aware that the cause was my strong desire to be accepted, or to ensure someone else’s happiness at my own expense. Having boundaries prevents these experiences from recurring. Paying attention to our internal “warning signs of discomfort” helps us to get back on track and to enjoy life firsthand.

Deepak offered this awesome insight: “One reason people are thrilled to fall in love is it feels new, exciting and original. You should have some flavor of that in your everyday experiences too. If you can say, I love this moment even when nothing big is happening, you are enjoying first hand experience.”

There is no one better at first hand experiences than my brother. He is such a positive guy and extremely grateful for moments that many of us take for granted. Being around my brother is like having a magnifying glass to ensure that you don’t miss one drop of the good stuff that life is doling out. Whenever I need a reminder to change my perspective or reset my vision, I just think of him. I’ve come to realize that the reason he is so resilient to all that he has weathered in his life has come from his continual harvesting of gratitude. Dr. Rick Hanson tells us that if we can just hold onto those moments of joy for 30 seconds — in the moment they are happening, then we create a reservoir of resilience for the future.

So many people are feeling overwhelmed these days with the ongoing uncertainties that we are collectively experiencing with Covid, quarantine, working from home and more than a year of virtual school. We are all feeling the effects of the strain in one way or the other. It is easy to get “stuck” and it is easy to get writer’s block about our life experiences and the stories we tell ourselves. In a recent Dare to Lead podcast, Brene Brown and her guest, Dr. Angela Duckworth, confirmed that there has been a very sharp rise in mental health issues over this past year.

Take heart that we are not alone when we get stuck, struggle or just become listless. So much honest conversation about what we are collectively feeling is supporting our efforts to break free from old stories and mental loops. Take advantage of the many tools, therapy and friendships that support our efforts to reframe experiences and expand our perspectives.

There may never be a better time to revisit our old narratives and give them a “refresh”. We can use this time as a springboard to write a healthier, honest and evolving life story.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Places I find inspiring, encouraging and chock full of good ideas for perspective taking:

TYPOLOGY PODCAST with Ian Cron

Awesome episode with David Nurse, NBA Life & Optimization Coach and author of a new book entitled Pivot & Go. We can all draw from his coaching and learn to “pivot” when we need a new field of vision.

https://youtu.be/fgSewebQPyw

DARE TO LEAD and UNLOCKING US PODCASTS

–Both are hosted by the dynamic Brene Brown, free on Spotify

Check out the latest Dare to Lead Episode with Dr. Angela Duckworth for a relatable conversation about trying new things and perspective taking:

https://brenebrown.com/podcast/brene-with-dr-angela-duckworth-on-grit-and-the-importance-of-trying-new-things/

DR. RICK HANSON, Author of Neurodharma is my go-to resource for a rare combination of neuroscience and mindfulness. He’s relatable, informative and encouraging. Here’s an endorsement from Lori Gottlieb that captures the essence of his game-changing book:

LOS ANGELES TIMES BESTSELLER • “An easy-to-follow road map for creating day-to-day inner peace in today’s increasingly complex world.”—Lori Gottlieb, MFT, New York Times bestselling author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

In this Youtube video, Dr. Hanson offers the 7 practices that enhance higher levels of happiness in our lives.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aR4y_kX7xI

Oprah Magazine – Brene Brown, author of Rising Strong https://www.oprah.com/omagazine/brene-brown-rising-strong-excerpt

Greater Good Magazine – How Anxiety Hides in Your Habits https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_anxiety_hides_in_your_habits

Inner Child

I’m celebrating another milestone today — I have been blogging for 5 whole years! What initially was a rather daunting commitment to myself has become a source of great joy. I have reawakened my love of creative writing through a blog that I started as a means to hold myself accountable to personal growth.

I’ve written 81 posts over the course of the past five years and admittedly I am proud of that. I’d set myself a goal of one a month and I have met and slightly exceeded that. While I once was a determined over-achiever, the old me would probably have dutifully cranked them out driven solely by that initial goal.

The “evolving” me has come to appreciate that it is far better to be fully committed and stay the course using the goal as a guideline, but not letting it rob me of the joy of the creative process. My approach to writing each of my blog posts has shifted rather remarkably over the course of five years. What initially felt like work and a public confessional, has become a source of pure joy for me. I love writing and I forgot that. I became disconnected from my love of writing and my own creativity that I naturally possessed as a young child. Blogging about my personal growth journey has reconnected me to my “inner child” in ways that I never would have imagined. Trust me when I tell you that I possess a wild imagination….I’ve come to realize that I was not using that gift wisely.

Personal growth work requires a solo walk down memory lane, hand in hand with that very young child we once were, and being courageous enough to revisit the places and events that impacted us in ways we were far too young and too innocent to comprehend. If you are a fan of This is Us, you probably are beginning to see through this current season’s episodes how our childhood experiences and our young child’s perspectives can entangle us and our relationships all throughout our adult lives. It is the perfect real life example of why this personal growth work is so necessary. We carry all those childhood perspectives, immature coping mechanisms, and emotional roadblocks into our adult lives and wonder why we keep treading water as we try to build our own futures. We are bogged down by that baggage and it tethers us to the past. Personal growth work untangles us from that labyrinth and frees us up to embrace the flexibility of being our most authentic selves, making better choices and living with grace and compassion for ourselves and for others, in the present moment.

Over the past five years, one blog post and one emotional layer at a time, that is what I have come to see so clearly.

The reward for all that hard work is feeling at age 69 like the 5 year old I once was — back in touch with the wonderment of an innocent child who marveled at the intricacy of a delicate spiderweb in the morning dew and thought it was the fanciest doily she’d ever seen. I was too young to be afraid of spiders. I saw only the beauty. Today I embrace the paradox of life — and I can see both the beauty of the spider’s craft and his painful bite.

Father Richard Rohr writes about this transformation into maturity and the inherent gift of paradox that comes through learned wisdom in his book Falling Upward. When I first read it, I was intrigued and desired that kind of wisdom. I am now realizing that I am given those opportunities to grow into that maturity more naturally almost every day. The key is to be “aware” and then to be childlike in my “exploration and observation”. Honestly, I am delighting in this fresh approach to life and especially how I show up for others. A small child can touch our hearts in the most simple yet most profound ways. A small child lives in a healthy state of paradox.

Just the other day, my 4 year old grandson was watching his beloved mom struggle with a massive to do list and more than a few things going wrong. He looked at her so tenderly and said “Go ahead and cry mom. It’s okay.” My heart melted into a puddle. He was holding space for her, acknowledging that a good cry will release the tension, is often soothed with a hug, and will pass. This is the very gift she offers to him every day when he is overtired, frustrated, overwhelmed. He mirrored it back to her with a wisdom that comes from the heart. A heart that is not entangled with all the armor we adults accumulate.

If you want to examine this real life example from an unaware adult perspective, think about a spouse that is also juggling a similar overflowing plate and the natural response “We all have a lot to do, get it together.” Or the well intentioned grandmother who says “Oh honey, look at all the good things you have and the stuff that is going right”. Both responses seem benign on the surface. The wisest is the innocent four year old who sees the situation for what it is — the present moment with honest feelings. That’s love and understanding that comes from an open heart, not an armored heart. It also comes from truly living in the present moment and being aware of it. Do you know that my little grandson remained calm through it all. He’s only 4, yet he didn’t let his mom’s emotions override his own. He’s too young to realize what a superpower that is. He just operates that way naturally.

This is the inner child I am reconnecting with myself. I will be completely honest and tell you that it was incredibly hard work and very painful at times. Yet each time I took my younger self back to revisit the past, I accompanied that innocent version of me as a caring, supportive, trusting adult. The one that was missing in my young life experiences. At times I even discovered that there were rather remarkable adults who did show up in my earlier years and offered me guardrails, a beacon of hope and some cliff notes about life. My appreciation for what those guardian angels did for me has deepened exponentially.

These childhood revisits have illuminated the ways I began to sabotage myself with an armored heart and protective but ineffective coping skills as I moved through my adult life. Oddly enough that concept of paradox has proved to be the rarest of clear lenses to view the past. I can now see where my blind spots were and how I contributed to things not going as smoothly as I’d hoped. I can see where I got in my own way often and where I let others take advantage of me. And I learned (with more practice than you can imagine) to let it go. The more I shed the old layers of self-doubt, armor and triggers, the lighter I felt and the more in touch with my true nature.

I’ve often used the phrase “freeing up the real estate” to describe that internal space I’ve gained in my mind, my heart and energy, when I let go of the past, of how others operate and of hoping that reality could be different than it is. What I happily discovered was that when I freed up that real estate, better things began to move in. And that is where I re-discovered my own tap root of creativity.

As a young child, I was quite naturally creative. I made the most elaborate sand castles at the beach and my beloved aunt would marvel at them. They were complex in structure and decorated with the most unusual treasures I could salvage from my beach hunts. I learned to make forests by creating layered sand trees, letting sopping wet sand dribble from my loose palms into the landscape around my castles. Sand and water, shells, driftwood and a feather. Simple raw materials turned into magical kingdoms of castles, gardens, forests, tunnels, and moats. I’d forgotten just how much I thrill to create all kinds of mixed media art from things I find in nature. I’m playfully reconnecting with that now and sharing it with my grandchildren.

Just like my young grandchildren, I loved to sing and I often made up songs as I played. But I only recently remembered how much I did that as a child and I even recalled a song I wrote as a teenager. That song is lighthearted and playful, full of hope that love would always be exciting and fun. I still recall every word and the catchy melody. Today I am infusing my daily life with more music. I cherish the memories that are evoked from favorite songs and I relish in the discovery of new artists and songs. And rarely a day goes by that I am not making up some whimsical little song for my grandchildren as they tidy up a room or wash up for dinner.

All throughout elementary school, I sang in the choir at church and for a long while, I used to sing solos on Sunday mornings at various churches throughout Lancaster and Lebanon Counties in Pennsylvania. I recall the highlight of my singing career happening in middle school when I was named the lead mezzo soprano for the school choir. It was a short lived moment of joy and accomplishment since that was also the very day my mom left my dad and we moved. I stopped singing for quite a while after that. Today that memory serves as a reminder to pay close attention to when I stop doing something I love, when I feel my joy or creativity waning. While another’s actions or a life circumstance may be the intial cause, what can I do to return to those parts of me and my joys? That is where my agency lies. It is also an anchor to my true nature — if I give up the very things that fill my heart I won’t be living in the joyful, playful part of me. The reality is that I won’t be able to be my best self. I have doused my inner light when I stop being creative and appreciative of life’s little marvels.

I wrote poetry when I was in elementary school and my grandmother was my biggest fan. She’d read everything I wrote and then she would read it out loud to me. Hearing her voice place emphasis in different places than I did made me aware of how personal writing is to both the writer and the reader. Art in any form is a creative wonder for both the artist and those that are drawn to it — and often it speaks to us in the most profound ways. A painting, a book, a song or a play — all land in our individual hearts where we have space for them. Space to heal, space to feel. I recently decided that I would try my hand at poetry again. The inspiration for this came from a gauzy-feeling idea that came to me as I woke up one morning. I jotted it down in my bedside journal and found myself giggling. It felt amazing to be so aware of the joy coursing through me simply by writing an inspirational short poem. I now have a pretty pale blue notebook dedicated for my poems. As I have expanded my awareness of ideas coming to me, I jot down these fleeting moments as they happen if I can. Sometimes I will write a whole poem, and other times I will just have a framework for something that requires deeper reflection. I imagine that I am feeling the way an aspiring cook feels when she creates a new recipe and delights in savory tastes that linger in her mouth.

My teen years were really hard because of choices my mother made and responsibilities that I assumed. I wish I had journaled then or kept up with writing poetry. I think it would have been therapeutic for me. Looking back, I think I lost my creativity due to the multi-levels of darkness in my family. I turned my creativity toward resourcefulness and resiliency for the pragmatic things in life. So I read instead, escaping from my circumstances and living vicariously through empowering stories.

After hearing the podcast with Brene Brown and Dr. Angus Fletcher about the marvels of literature, I became very aware that the books I read filled the places in my life where I was not getting, but truly needed, some aspiration and a clear path for building a better life for myself. I also realize that my love of “self help” books probably originated from the realization that my family was a Petri dish for unhealthy issues. Even in my early 20’s that’s the section of the library or book store I was often drawn to visit first. That remains unchanged almost 50 years later — I am still a work in progress. What’s changed is my perspective about it. I am not trying to “fix” my imperfections anymore. I am embracing them and learning from them. I am excited that at this late stage in life, I still have room to grow.

To celebrate my 5 year blogging milestone, I decided to reflect on the places where my reconnection with my inner child’s creativity merge with that child-like sense of curiosity. On purpose, I work very hard to replace judgment with curiosity. We learn to be judgmental — of ourselves and others. We can unlearn it and replace it with curiosity. Picture an iceberg and realize that most of us go through life showing only what we want to project out into the world. It is the parts of us that are hidden under the surface that are often guiding our life trajectory and the birthplace of blind spots. Now that I have spent so much time getting to know myself, I have a much greater appreciation and awareness of what others may have under their own surface. There is no doubt that it has organically expanded my empathy and compassion for others.

I now have that beautiful example of my young grandson offering the gift of space, compassion and present moment awareness to use as a poignant reminder to stay in the present moment, to remain grounded and calm, to honor what others are truly feeling, and to hold space for others.

My childhood life experiences created a lot of layers of armor that I brought into my adult life. The armor tethered me to a past in ways that went unexamined for far too long. I somehow got the message that I was on this earth to fix things for others. I am not here to fix things for others. I needed some serious pruning shears to get all those brambles and entanglement cleared away to find that truth. Yet letting go of striving to fix and wanting to fix things for others allowed me to clearly see that the best gift I can give to others in their time of struggle is that of truly being seen, heard and valued. This I learned though over five years of hard personal growth work and over 80 blog posts I have shared with all of you. My 4 year old grandson reminded me that we are born with it. “Out of the mouth of babes,” comes the greatest wisdom — and they live in a constant state of present moments.

Today I am grateful to have rediscovered my inner child and to be delighting in exploring the many ways creativity is beginning to show up in the real estate I have cleared in my approach to life. Let’s just say that the new tenants are so much more fun, energetic and inspiring!

Welcome Change

Its not unusual to get a knowing chuckle from a friend or family member when I announce that I have officially retired from chief problem solver. Don’t get me wrong, I do love to solve problems. I still readily show up when someone needs my help. But now I am more of a ‘guide” helping others empower themselves to find their own solutions. I credit the Enneagram for helping me to discover a rewarding new path for my natural inclination to be a “helper”.

The Enneagram provided a good blueprint for me to better understand my approach to life, and most importantly, my motivations. As a Type 2, often referred to as the Helper, I was motivated to gain acceptance and love by “helping others”. In other words I believed that I had to “earn” love, trust and acceptance.

Looking back over the years, I can most definitely see this pattern play out over and over again. Sometimes it worked. Most times it didn’t. Diving deeper into understanding myself, I freed myself from falling into the trap of “helping too much.”

I’d been blindly operating on the principle that If those I cared about were happy, then I would be happy. Yet it was my over-involvement when problems cropped up that got in the way of others discovering for themselves what that really looked like. And it often left me feeling like a failure in my biggest hopes of making a meaningful difference in the lives of others. Classic “unhealthy” Type 2 paradox.

Beatrice Chestnut, a renowned authority on the Enneagram and also a Type 2, helped me gain a deep perspective on the pitfalls of the “unhealthy” patterns that my Enneagram type can easily migrate to and why. She also came up with a new moniker for “helper” that shines a light on the best part of healthy Enneagram 2’s. She calls us the “befriender.” I liked the sound of that — the “befriender” and it become a good framework for this shift I was seeking to achieve.

I had overcome my fair share of adversities in life and always hoped to be a shining light of inspiration for others. I wanted to be a good friend, a good role model. While I was resilient, positive and always willing to help, I had a big blind spot. There was one critical missing piece to my personal puzzle — the person I need to trust, love and accept the most was — myself.

Brene Brown’s ten guideposts in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, became an invaluable aid to accepting myself fully — embracing my imperfections and becoming rooted in an unshakable belief of my own worthiness. My challenging childhood set me up for simply accepting “being less than” and “unworthy” for a very long time. Brene’s book unlocked the fallacy of this messaging and set me in a new direction.

As I took both Beatrice’s wisdom and Brene’s research to heart, I had an eye opening moment. It dawned on me that in the past when I was jumping headfirst into solving other’s problems, I actually had a very vested interest in the outcome for my own reasons. Let me share a few examples:

I was so uncomfortable in conflict situations that I’d rush to calm everyone down. Instead of letting them blow off steam and get the problem out in the open, I was focused on me achieving peace and a calm environment where I would feel safe.

I’d often feel guilt when something was left undone though it wasn’t mine to do. I’d get right to work and undertake tasks on my own without even asking if help was wanted or needed. It was me that was feeling uncomfortable about unfinished business.

I would often agree to do things that I really did not want to do, or outwardly agree with others just to keep the peace. While others were often happy with that approach, my own internal peace and values were often in conflict.

The Enneagram enabled me to understand the underlying reasons for unconsciously choosing these options. There is no doubt that many were rooted in coping mechanisms related to my childhood experiences. Being the oldest child, I grew up too fast in a volatile environment, always striving to protect my younger brothers by being one step ahead of the impending and inevitable trouble created by our parents.

I became a compliant, responsible, harmonizing peacekeeper, entrusted to care for those who couldn’t defend themselves and diligent enough to cover for irresponsible adults. A perfect recipe for a helper with no boundaries who was comfortable in co-dependent relationships and skilled at people pleasing.

Here’s the rub with this ineffective “comfort zone” I had acquired. It was not serving me well at all in my adult life and it certainly was not beneficial to those I loved and genuinely wanted to help. Once I was enlightened about my problematic “comfort zone of unconscious responses” I definitely started paying attention to them with greater awareness.

Looking at the examples I shared above, I gained a lot of clarity about how my coping mechanisms landed on others:

When I would swoosh in to calm tempers and diffuse a tense situation, I’d actually be derailing getting the real issue out in the open. Some could feel that I didn’t value them because I shut down the opportunity for them to share their perspective. Some could feel a sense of superiority because they escaped accountability. My intervention was not productive and often not welcome.

Doing unfinished tasks could feel like micro-managing to others. Or, give an impression that I viewed myself as more capable and efficient. While that was not all my intention, I can surely see that so clearly now. Not to mention the fact that some people like to have “works in progress” rather than rushing to complete a task.

My lack of boundaries and inability to say no caused a lot of confusion for others. They really did not know just how far they could push me til I’d lose my temper. Neither did I. No wonder others would often tell me I was “too sensitive” when I’d lose it over something minor (because I had stuffed a lot of bigger things for far too long). If I finally found the courage to draw a line in the sand, few people actually believed I’d actually adhere to it.

You could say that the Enneagram gave me a full 360 perspective about the way I was “showing up” in life. It made me aware of how the armor I was using to protect myself from being hurt was really getting in the way of building healthy, flexible relationships. It was also problematic for actively engaging in life in an authentic, whole-hearted way. While I had good intentions, what I also needed were grounded, healthy emotional tools. I found the Enneagram enabled me to get very clear about where I needed to focus my attention to make positive changes.

The Enneagram is often used in individual therapy and couples counseling. And just like Myers-Briggs and DiSC, it is now being used in the workplace and career counseling. It honestly takes a lot of the emotional attachment and defensiveness out of the equation when it comes to our unique personality traits. Understanding how we are naturally hard-wired and how our “motivations” move us through the range of healthy and unhealthy behaviors is a big key to acceptance. We can accept ourselves as we are. And when we can do that, we are more open to accepting others as they are too.

The heartwarming “aha moment” for me was the realization — and the affirmation — that I could “fully embrace my natural born passion of a helper” and be more in alignment with my true nature and life purpose just by moving toward the healthy spectrum of being an Enneagram Type 2. Honestly, I laughed and cried simultaneously when I made this discovery.

So let’s go back to my three examples and take a look at the work I had to do:

I had to learn to get comfortable with confrontation. I could not let it trigger me anymore. Meditation really helped with this one. It took a long time and lots of practice, but I have a mental image of “dropping my anchor” into my core of calm and I ground myself with three deep breaths. The game-changer for me is not being sucked into my own emotional vortex just because there is confrontation. It enables me to truly be “other” focused and to listen attentively to what is being said. I do have to remind myself mentally turn down the volume if there is shouting involved. Oh and the most meaningful change — if it doesn’t involve me, I stay out of it. True confession here — the more I have practiced this in real life situations, the better I have gotten at it. I keep a few gold stars tucked in my pocket for times when I realize just how far I’ve come.

I am an anal organizer and have a hard time sitting still. If there is laundry or dishes to do, I’ll be on it. But just because I run my household that way does not mean that everyone else wants to. I’m also aware that it was my own undoing as a young mother that taught me how to get more organized and prioritize things. So now, when I find myself itching to becoming the cleaning Tasmanian devil in someone else’s space, I pause and take those three deep breaths again. And I do nothing. And oh my gosh it is hard, but only for a few minutes. My discomfort with unfinished tasks has waned. I’m growing to like this new feeling of respecting others space, the way they like to do things and the control they have over their own life. If I sense that they could use a little help, I ask before jumping in. “How can I best help you?” is my new “go-to” question. I have learned that some people thrive in the most creative ways in an environment that might feel out of control to me. I’m learning so much about consequences and accountability since I stopped doing things no one asked me to do.

This brings me to boundaries. If you read my last blog post, Growth Spurts, you will know that I came to a deep understanding of the value of boundaries and how they actually supported me in becoming a better version of myself. Boundaries are a form of self-care for me. Most importantly, they really clarify for others what is acceptable and not acceptable for our relationships. As Brene Brown has stated, “Clear is Kind” — and my boundaries make perfectly clear what my values are. Here’s the surprising twist — personal boundaries actually give me improved agency to be more flexible with others. I credit Dr. Rick Hanson and Nedra Tawwab or teaching me this.

A big gift of the Enneagram was a deeper understanding of all nine types — what motivates each type, their unique attributes and the places they feel less comfortable. Having some basic knowledge of how others show up in life and why, it becomes a lot clearer to see what their hot buttons might be. Truthfully, it takes a lot of unnecessary emotion and drama out of the equation when you have greater awareness of others basic needs. As I shared above, this is a great opening for “acceptance” of our differences and a bridge to finding creative solutions to recurring disagreements and misunderstandings.

As I have reframed my helping proclivity to that of a “befriender”, I rely more heavily on curiosity, acceptance and non-judgment when interacting with others. The better I get to know myself, the more I want to discover about others. We are all complex human beings with so many stratifications of emotions and experiences accumulated over our lifetimes.

While empathy and compassion come naturally to me, I am keenly aware not to dismiss another’s feelings by reminding them of their blessings. I know I did that in the past and while well-intentioned, it was not helpful. We all feel how we feel. Our feelings are legitimate and neither right nor wrong. We respond differently because we are uniquely different and our life experiences are not the same. We have no idea what another’s history might be and why they are sensitive to things that may never hit our radar screen. I’m learning to listen carefully and talk less. I’m learning to ask questions to gain understanding. I’m also learning to ask questions for which I don’t need the answer, but my friend may want to sit with for a while.

Little did I know when I started my personal growth journey six years ago, I would become better skilled and more effective at the very things I loved so much but that once got me into a lot of trouble and some very dark spaces.

I wish I had learned much earlier in life to look inward first and to remove the obstacles that were no longer needed as I did in fact “come through” an adversity, a setback, a painful loss. I wish I had given myself grace when I was just being vulnerable and healing. I wish I had learned to trust myself and my worthiness. If I had loved myself as I was loving others, I think I would have reached this peaceful, joyful, grateful, grounded space much sooner. The learning and the growing never stops which I find delightful. I feel more in alignment with my gifts and I genuinely feel I am making a meaningful difference in a much healthier way than I ever did.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge by Beatrice Chestnut

The Enneagram Institute https://www.enneagraminstitute.com Great resource for an introduction to the Enneagram and a free test to determine your type

If you enjoy a daily dose of inspiration, sign up for your Enneagram number’s Daily EnneaThought email. I love getting this daily encouragement to stay on my healthy path in my inbox every day.

Typology Podcasts with Ian Morgan Cron, author of The Road Back to You, An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery

https://www.typologypodcast.com

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. Let Go of Who You Think You are Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.

Yung Puelbo’s Book Inward and his new one being released in mid-April, Clarity & Connection

Growth Spurts

One of the things I have thoroughly enjoyed over these past six years, is recognizing when I have had a growth spurt. Not the kind that shows up on the number of candles on my birthday cake, or the way a favorite dress fits differently.   It’s the growth spurt that I feel — about who I am and about how I am showing up in my life — for myself and others.  

It has been quite the journey and I could not have done it without some remarkable support from my family and my most trusted long-time friend, Judy. I’ve recently come to the realization that there has indeed been a big transformation in me.  By turning my attention inward and pulling back all the layers that I have carried with me over my lifetime, I have shed old behavioral patterns like unwanted pounds and I do feel lighter, yet more grounded than I have ever been.

I can tell you what that actually feels like in the midst of most any situation now. 

It feels like I am being the person I always longed to be — calm, respectful, helpful and understanding.  I am untethered from old triggers, of feeling overwhelmed by others emotions or actions, of feeling helpless or hopeless.   I am finally really understanding what Brene Brown has been teaching for so long about how my “armor” got in the way of living my most authentic life.

If you haven’t been around me for a long time, you may not be able to discern this subtle but significant shift. It is true that in the past I put up a pretty effective “front”in the midst of crisis or conflict, but the truth was that I was just very skilled — and far too comfortable — with stuffing my emotions or powering through them.  It resulted in me being numb to my own feelings and needs or becoming a powder keg down the road.  

It has been a few years now since I have experienced either one of those former, very familiar uncomfortable outcomes.    What a relief it is to no longer find myself getting “pulled” into a situation and reacting from a place of bottled up old emotions because my “reservoir” was so low. To come away from a present day tense situation and recognize this positive change in myself is both a reward and an affirmation for a doing the “inside job” of self-awareness work. Awareness is the real key to my growth spurts which I will unravel for you now.

A counselor once told me that I was “too patient.”  At the time, I had no clue what she meant.  I thought being patient was a strength of mine.  However I have slowly come to understand what she meant — I accepted a lot of behaviors from others that I should not have.  She was encouraging me to discover and voice my personal boundaries.  I surely wish I had learned this lesson ten or twenty years ago. I did eventually get there though it was at a turtle’s pace.

Here’s the thing about boundaries that I had to understand. I often showed respect to others even when they didn’t necessarily deserve it, but I rarely respected myself enough to call someone out or to simply say no. I wanted to be sure I was operating from a place of my own integrity so I’d be generous with my respect of others. Somehow I had forgotten that my integrity also served me — as an anchor for self-respect. I had to learn to respect myself enough to pause when I would get that internal nudge and then choose to state my boundary. This is where Brene’s words “clear is kind” really came to life for me. Calmly stating my boundary clearly is the kindest thing I can offer to someone else. There is no mystery or guess work about what is important to me. I free myself to stand firmly in my ground without drama or long explanations. It puts the onus of respecting my boundary back on the other person.

This brings me to anger. Just typing that word can send shivers down my spine. For far too many years, I did not do “anger” well. Like most of us when we are pushed to the limit and anger flares, I’d raise my voice, say things I would quickly regret and be prone to slam a door on my way to anywhere other than where I was. Honestly I have been afraid of anger since I was a child. It seemed that nothing good ever came of it and that was the lesson I took to heart based on a lifetime of personal experiences. Anger might as well have been a lit stick of dynamite in my hands — I was terrified of it and instinctively reacted on that fear rather than what anger was actually trying to tell me.

So I had to change my understanding of anger and my relationship to it. Anger often showed up when I failed to set a boundary. So it served as my warning light to feel the anger and redirect my attention to the real issue — which often was boundaries. Did I make my boundaries clear? Were my boundaries ignored or dismissed? The answers to these questions quelled the anger and gave me footing for a better response.

Anger would also show up when I was overdoing the “helping” I can be prone to do. My exhaustion would be accompanied by my disappointment from the lack of positive results for all my well-intentioned efforts. Anger was telling me I was resentful of working so hard doing things that no one actually asked me to do. It would be the equivalent of showing up with six bags of groceries and two casseroles when a friend needs a plumber for a clogged drain. Yep, that is just how far off base things can get for us consummate “helpers.” Again, understanding that my feelings of anger were actually my own doing became a huge catalyst for meaningful change.

Once I began to understand that anger can be very healthy and that it does have a place in a well-rounded life, I relaxed a bit and even ventured so fas as to invite it in….just for coffee though. My safest place to explore anger these days is on these coffee dates, just the two of us. I find myself saying “tell me more” quite often. Turns out that anger is pretty wise and not nearly as volatile as I once believed. Anger reminds me that I am a woman who values fairness and accountability. Anger makes its case that many a good cause has a been fueled by a healthy dose of outrage. (Consider MADD – Mothers Against Drunk Drivers for starters).

I now have a very deep awareness that I cannot and should not attempt to fix everything that goes wrong in life, especially for others.   Where I once rushed in to clean up a mess, solve a problem or take someone else’s consequence on as my own, I have learned that my most meaningful response is to “hold space”  for others.   Others may need a shoulder to cry on or a safe, soft place to land when they are broken. They do not need or want me to fix things. I respect that now.

The Enneagram has been such a helpful resource for me by shining a big spotlight on how I often “rescue” others in an effort to feel valued and needed. I am learning the distinction between “I need help” and “I am needy”. When someone needs help and they ask for it, I am all in….but in a healthier way now. When someone is needy and just wants someone else to fix the problems they are creating, I am able to recognize it and back away.

The next logical step in this process of self-awareness is an invaluable one — it is simply “letting go”. Yet there is nothing simple about actually doing that. At least not when I was first striving to do it. But with a lot of practice over a few years, I have actually gotten so much better at this.

Early on in my mindfulness journey I learned about “not being attached to the outcome.” While I liked the sound of it in theory, I quickly discovered that I was quite often not only attached to an outcome but I was working pretty hard to get my own desired outcome. While I never considered myself a manipulating or controlling person, I began to see how my comments or actions felt like that to others. Letting go of expectations, letting go of wishful thinking, letting go of control — these are all incredibly hard to part with — and yet, it is so freeing to do so. It is quite simply accepting reality. It is accepting that other people may make choices that might be hard to swallow. Letting go often involves forgiveness, offering grace to others and trusting that they are doing the best they can, and embracing space for reflection and healing.

Letting go and not being attached to the outcome did require a lot of practice. Fortunately life never fails to provide ample opportunities for this needed practice. So I dipped my toes into this concept with minor matters, making the best decision I could in that moment with the information I had at hand, and letting go of any preconceived ideas I might have about the outcome. I found out that no matter what transpired, I could handle it. Often times the result was even better than I might have imagined. When it came to relationships and what I was hoping for, I found that letting out a little kite string was all that was really needed. If the relationship was genuinely mutual, our kite would soar. If the relationship was more one-sided, it was bound to hit the ground. Inspirational life quotes that have long resonated with me began to take on a much deeper meaning:

I began my focused personal growth journey by learning about, and embracing, mindfulness. Mindfulness led me to meditation. Meditation reignited my keen interest in neuroscience. Over these past six years, there has been growing overlap of personal growth tools and the teachers who guide us. And all of it is rooted in awareness.

Becoming skilled in awareness is the best practice of all. It provides a broad and fresh perspective to reframe things that literally are right in front of our eyes, but are often obscured by racing thoughts, rumination about the past, magical thinking, and dreaming of greener pastures.

Awareness of all the places where I was triggered by my past.

Awareness of my weariness or resentment growing to a boiling point.

Awareness of own value and strengths and not allowing others comments to diminish them.

Awareness of how others showed their love and respect for me. (hot tip — sometimes we are actually getting the love and respect we want but we fail to realize it because we want it in a certain way)

Awareness to offer myself grace and acknowledging I will always be a work in progress.

These are just a few of the many insights I gained from awareness. The self discovery journey has allowed me to get untangled and unstuck from experiences and emotions that clouded my vision, muffled what I was able to hear, and it opened my heart in ways I would have never thought possible. I found peace. A peace that I carry with me everywhere and one that I trust I can ground myself in when life gets turbulent.

I also found a deeper capacity for being aware of how others are feeling and reacting. Judgment has been replaced with a genuine interest and curiosity about what is beneath all of that. All of us have stratifications of the anxieties and vulnerabilities that we’ve accumulated over the years. I find myself understanding that about others and it serves me well as I hold space for them and listen fully. So often clues are embedded in those deep conversations. I now focus more on the other person. Its so much easier to do this now that I have cleared my own emotional landmines. My mind, my body and my heart isn’t competing for my attention. Instead, I can lean into what I have learned about myself and find greater compassion and encouragement for others.

My dear friend Judy and I have done a lot of this work together over the past few years, acting as confidantes and cheerleaders for each other. We were so fortunate to be able to compare similar life experiences and learned behavioral patterns we developed as coping mechanisms. We also shared a deep love of helping others and offering encouragement to those who are on a similar journey. What we have noticed in our improved energy levels, our discernment, and the people we are attracting into our lives is nothing short of miraculous.

Our family members and our friends have noticed our transformation and freely tell us all the positive attributes they are witnessing. They are experiencing how we show up differently in our own lives and in their lives too. This concrete evidence of the work we have been doing has become a guiding light for others in a much healthier way than our old approaches ever did.

When my daughter tells her friends that I am the most mindful person she knows, that goes straight to my heart. Who knows me better than her after all these years and who sees the consistency and continuity of all my positive changes?

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Chopra Meditation Center – Getting Unstuck: Creating a Limitless Life (How limitless awareness can help you overcome all obstacles — 21 Day Meditation Program offered for free)

http://www.choprameditationcenter.com

Typology Podcasts with Ian Cron (available for free on YouTube) I’m sharing this episode with renowned Enneagram authority Beatrice Chestnut who is like me, an Enneagram 2.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1T-fP4WMHIQ

Yung Pueblo – check out this youthful wisdom influencer on Facebook and Instagram: https://www.facebook.com/yungpueblo

Greater Good Magazine – The Right Way to Get Angry https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_right_way_to_get_angry

I am a longtime collector and affectionate of StoryPeople — and I bought this one over two decades ago. No matter how much I tried to maintain some sense of control over my busy complex life, balancing parenthood, career and marriage, there were more than a few times that I just enjoyed letting go of the “to do”list and the human “doing” and trust fall into a strong wind like a carefree child. I had no idea just how insightful these words would be to me later in life when I learned the liberating feeling of “letting go” of outcomes and expectations.

The Transformational Wonders of Story

Imagine being able to find just what you need to build courage, heal from grief, or excite your curiosity from literature. What if the elements of story could unlock our imaginations, emotions and even our psyche to improve our quality of life and mental health? Dr. Angus Fletcher will rock your world with his research and insights on the power of story — steeped in both the mystery of human emotion and the logic of science. He was a recent guest on Brene Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast and his dynamic enthusiasm is contagious. He takes a deep dive into the inventions in literature, the technologies that were created to help us understand, unravel — and grow — from the human experience in his recently released book — Wonderworks: the 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature:

A brilliant examination of literary inventions through the ages, from ancient Mesopotamia to Elena Ferrante, that shows how writers have created technical breakthroughs—rivaling any scientific inventions—and engineering enhancements to the human heart and mind. Literature is a technology like any other. –from Amazon.com

Dr, Angus Fletcher takes the blueprints for 25 literary inventions throughout history and explains how each can be viewed as both a narrative and scientific breakthrough. The result is a completely original deep dive through literary history—from Greek tragedy and Shakespeare to Virginia Woolf and Dr. Seuss—examining how each innovation provides us with distinct psychological benefits such as increasing creativity, alleviating trauma, boosting intelligence and elevating happiness. –– excerpted from the Show Notes, Brene Brown.com

As Dr. Fletcher so deftly explained to Brene, stories and especially memoirs, pull us into an intimate and safe space to explore our own complex emotions, perceptions and possibilities. He freely shared the books that had a meaningful impact in his own life and the transformational growth he tapped into as a result. Writers like Maya Angelou and Jane Austen offered insights and wisdoms that gave him agency to explore his own power to evolve in creative, engaging and entertaining ways.

Although I had never consciously thought about this, I found myself recalling the books, plays, movies and songs that made indelible impressions on me throughout my life. I can still vividly remember reading Shakespeare in my early teens, sitting cross-legged on my bed in a shabby second floor apartment we were living in temporarily. Sunlight was trying its best to peek through the dirty windows while downstairs neighbors were arguing. Yet I was oblivious to it all, having been transported far away to another space in time, captivated by the images those written words created in my mind and the characters who came to life page by page. Looking back, I can most definitely see how the books I read in my teen years informed me about life in ways that I otherwise would have never known. Without a healthy, solid family framework, books probably played a more meaningful role that I could have ever imagined.

As a young mother years later, another story touched me so profoundly that I named my middle son based on the main character of a heartwarming TV mini-series. I loved the core values and the affable, grounded demeanor of the lead male character who was always referred to by his last name, Damon. I could almost picture my infant son as a grown man possessing the same virtues. That is how my middle son got his first name, Damon.

There are countless other memories that I have been revisiting, looking for clues as to how stories told through music, plays, books, movies and TV shows contributed to my life now that Dr. Fletcher has illuminated these incredible transformational literary inventions.

Dr. Fletcher is a practitioner on story science with dual degrees in literature (PhD, Yale) and neuroscience (BS, University of Michigan). As you might imagine, my interest was really piqued when he and Brene discussed the neurobiological effects that literature can have on us because of my ongoing fascination with neuroscience. Dr. Fletcher’s research is devoted to exploring the psychological effects (cognitive, behavioral and therapeutic) of different narrative technologies.

The initial discovery of the psychological benefits of literature was made by the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, in 335 B.C The following excerpt from Smithsonian Magazine (March, 2021) succinctly captures Aristotle’s remarkable assessment:

Shortly after 335 B.C., within a newly built library tucked just east of Athens’ limestone city walls, a free-thinking Greek polymath by the name of Aristotle gathered up an armful of old theater scripts. As he pored over their delicate papyrus in the amber flicker of a sesame lamp, he was struck by a revolutionary idea: What if literature was an invention for making us happier and healthier? The idea made intuitive sense; when people felt bored, or unhappy, or at a loss for meaning, they frequently turned to plays or poetry. And afterwards, they often reported feeling better. But what could be the secret to literature’s feel-better power? What hidden nuts-and-bolts conveyed its psychological benefits?

After carefully investigating the matter, Aristotle inked a short treatise that became known as the Poetics. In it, he proposed that literature was more than a single invention; it was many inventions, each constructed from an innovative use of story. Story includes the countless varieties of plot and character—and it also includes the equally various narrators that give each literary work its distinct style or voice. Those story elements, Aristotle hypothesized, could plug into our imagination, our emotions, and other parts of our psyche, troubleshooting and even improving our mental function. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/eight-literatures-most-powerful-inventions-and-neuroscience-behind-how-they-work-180977168/

I have been so captivated by the revelations that Dr. Fletcher enthusiastically shared in the podcast with Brene, that I have listened to it three times. I also bought the book Wonderworks and am currently savoring every page, while simultaneously reading some really good fiction. Now I have a sort of three-D awareness of the connections I am making with the story and the characters. I’d describe it as an Imax theatre experience for books.

Each of the unique endorsements in Wonderworks will whet your appetite for the many intriguing aspects about to be revealed in this remarkable book. The one that really caught my attention was from Dr. Martin Seligman, the internationally esteemed psychologist. It was Dr. Seligman’s book, Flourish, that started me on my journey of mindfulness and self discovery in 2014. Dr. Seligman’s game changing work in positive psychology focused on raising the bar for the human condition through optimism, motivation and character. It was almost like reconnecting with an old trusted friend who was as excited as me about these new discoveries.

“Find one polymath. Take a profound knowledge of world literature. Add a deep knowledge of modern psychology and of neuroscience. Add a cupful of worldly wisdom. Stir in an enchanting prose style. Heat until bubbling. You have just baked unique, marvelous treat: Angus Fletcher’s Wonderworks.”Dr. Martin Seligman, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Positive Psychology Center, University of Delaware.

I will confess that the reason I just had to buy this book as soon as I heard this podcast was the fact that I was totally enchanted with the names that Dr. Fletcher had for these inventions. Here are just a few to tickle your imagination:

  • the invention of the sorrow resolver
  • the invention of the mind/eye opener
  • the invention of the butterfly immerser
  • the invention of the Valentine armor

Just to marinate your imagination in what each invention might offer, consider this. Dr. Fletcher shares that “valentine armor” was the technology invented by Jane Austen to help you bounce back from heartbreak and to also empower you to have friends that are different from yourself. If you find this tidbit fascinating, just wait til you listen to the podcast or dive into the book — or both! Prepare to be amazed. (If you just can’t wait, fast forward to about 48 minutes into the podcast and listen to Dr. Fletcher blow your mind with his fascinating learnings from Jane Austen.)

For all the modalities that are available to us for personal growth, how incredible to know that literature should most definitely be added to that list. Literature is such a unique teacher for both the experience and the emotion of it — a treasured opportunity to explore our own humanity in a rich and safe space. Dr. Fletcher uses Maya Angelou’s book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings as an extraordinary example of how it encourages us to align with our own core values, and find the agency to help ourselves do the work we need to grow, to give ourselves self-care. This makes us more flexible and resilient. By getting stronger in yourself, you unearth the gift that keeps on giving — because you in turn can offer meaningful, empathic help to others.

Dr. Fletcher offers this quote as the heart of his whole book: “For whatever the power of truth may be, literature’s own special power has always lain in fiction. That wonder we construct. It is the invention that unbreaks the heart and brings us into hope and peace and love.

I am thoroughly enjoying Wonderworks, reading it slowly and soaking in the history, the creativity and the sheer wonderment of all that can be learned, healed and transformed through literature, theatre, music. Brew some tea or pour some wine….treat yourself to some upbeat, uplifting inspiration from Dr. Angus Fletcher. Oh and by the way, if you aren’t already enamored with him, just know that his favorite TV show as a young man was Gilmore Girls and he is currently reading Nancy Drew to his daughter for bedtime stories.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

When the Students Become Teachers

I’m pulling a thread from my last blog post about “evolving” and how I witness personal growth blossoming from one generation to the next. My inspiration comes from my daughter and the book she recently gave me entitled Inward by Yung Pueblo as well as the most endearing “present moment” comments from my 3 year old grandson.

My 3 year old grandson, Tank, was in his happy place — a dirt filled construction site with a small mountain of freshly turned soil, a Tonka dump truck and a bright yellow excavator assessing the big job. I overhead his conversation to himself. “You can do this Tank. You’ve got this.” I turned to my daughter who was nearby and said “wow, that is great self-talk.” At that point he looked at me and said — “I am just telling my brain, Gigi.” Out of the mouth of babes, right? It seems so natural and so easy — assess a challenge and feed your brain the positive messages to tackle it.

One day he was playing in the same construction sight, his little leg outstretched in the cool dirt. He was busy digging away, filling a truck with soil, when he looked at me and said “I love the warm sun on my skin, Gigi.” “You know, buddy, that is one of my favorite feelings too,” I replied. That moment really touched my heart since I often share my little present moment delights with him — the happy chatter of the birds, a welcome cool breeze on a hot afternoon, the rich colors of the sky at sunset. Perhaps I have nurtured his awareness of his own little present moment treats. I hope so, because it is the moments when we are not distracted but fully steeped in the experience that enrich our memories. Children seem to learn so much by osmosis — which is really just observing us and where we focus our attention.

My daughter discovered Yung Pueblo a few months ago and read his book Inward while she and her family were on the road for a few months. When we reunited recently, she handed me her copy of the book saying I think you might like this, mom. She was right — I loved it. Yung Pueblo offers wisdom that comes from his own personal growth journey, his activism and life experiences. You’d think he was my age but this remarkable inspirationalist is only 32 years old! For young people like my daughter, he is relatable — and he leads by example. I am so delighted that she has found her very own resource for inspiration and learning. Here are just a few of his insights shared on his Twitter account in recent weeks:

Maturity is realizing there is a big difference between what you think you want and what you actually want. Your cravings can twist your mind and make elaborate fantasies that seem good but in real life they aren’t worth all the trouble. Align with your goals, not your cravings. –Yung Pueblo

Are you being yourself or are you being your past? Immediate reactions are often old patterns. Real authenticity is removing the power away from the immediate reaction and giving it to the intentional behavior that aligns with how you actually want to show up in the world. — Yung Pueblo

Find a partner who realizes how their emotional history impacts the way they show up in your relationship. They don’t need to know themselves perfectly or be fully healed, they just need enough self-awareness to see when their past is getting in the way of loving you right. –Yung Pueblo

A few days ago, my daughter came home from running an errand, eager to tell me about a podcast she had just listened to with Yung Pueblo on “radical authenticity.” Just like the moment with my grandson and his awareness of the warm sun on his skin, I found myself soaking up this moment. I often listen to podcasts while running errands or out walking — and I am usually excited to share some nugget of incredible insight when I return. Now here I was — the benefactor of something remarkable my daughter was discovering through her own resources.

Little does she know, but that brief conversation we had about radical authenticity was such a gift to me. As a parent, I’ve strived to foster all the goodness and potential I see in my children even though they themselves may not fully see it. My 33 year old daughter is now both my child and a mother of her own children. Through her own parenting lens, she is exploring more fully all that she wants to instill in her own children.

Some of my greatest growth spurts happened during my 30’s and 40’s and they were borne of the desire to be at my best for my children. I wish that I had discovered a “Brene Brown” to help me back then. What I know for sure is that I often was not my “authentic self” as I navigated my marriage, parenthood and my career. It took me til my 60’s to realize that people pleasing, conflict avoidance and pushing myself to the point of exhaustion were some of the roadblocks to being my authentic self.

I am elated that my daughter is embracing radical authenticity and allowing that big-hearted personality of hers to shine. She strives to bring her best self to her children every day — the real and honest version of herself. The conversations that she has with her young children touch my heart in a very deep way. They do not shy away from hard conversations and the realities of life. (This past year of pandemic and quarantine made this a necessary part of life.). They honor feelings, no matter what they are. They explore these emotions and how best to respond to them in healthy ways. They work out problems together with respect and understanding. Often when the kids are playing alone, they naturally use these whole-hearted skills to solve an issue with a dispute over a toy. My daughter stays out of it and allows them the space to put into practice what they are all learning through their interactions with her.

I marvel at the self-awareness that my young grandchildren already possess at the tender ages of 3 and 5. They can describe very accurately their body’s responses to emotions and situations. They are being taught to trust their intuition and make choices that are best for them. They recognize their individual differences and are learning to just accept that what causes a strong emotional response in one simply doesn’t hit the radar screen in the other.

When they offer an apology, they also explain what they wanted and how they were feeling. Just this morning I heard my grandson tell his sister that he was sorry for pouring water on her. He explained he was upset because he was excluded from her tea party. She accepted his apology and said very plainly “There are better ways to get an invitation, Tank.” What I love about this interaction is the framework my daughter has given them for a sincere apology. They acknowledge their actions, explain their frustrations and respect how that affected their sibling. It’s often just a matter of minutes til they’ve resolved their issue and are enjoying each other’s company.

In my generation’s childhood, we were often dismissed or even punished for expressing our emotions. As a result, we developed coping mechanisms that were more problematic than helpful. Brene Brown has taught us that all this armor we use to protect ourselves just gets in the way of being our beautiful authentic selves. My generation’s parenting style evolved where we often tried to soothe hurts with ice cream, and rescue our children which often meant they didn’t get a chance to solve their own problems. I don’t think we fully understood that though our intentions were good, we were still impeding the process of living authentically.

My generation did not have the tremendous influence and social pressures of social media to contend with either. Constant comparisons and a high demand to portray a “perfect life” on Facebook and Instagram just create more pressure and roadblocks to being present in the moment and being your authentic self. Brene reminds us that living authentically means embracing all of life — the messy, complicated stuff as well as the happy, lighthearted share-worthy moments.

It is a source of great comfort and inspiration to me and my friends to watch our adult children evolving in their own lives and in their parenting skills. They are doing a better job than we did in many cases and it gives me great hope that future generations will not be bogged down with baggage, armor and ineffective coping skills. Imagine harnessing all their energy in creative, resourceful, compassionate and respectful ways. The future we all hope for begins in the home, with our family and what we teach each other.

Recommended Resources:

Let Your Inner Truth Shine: How the Children in our Lives are also our teachers: click the link below for this Mindful Magazine’s Weekly Wakeup:

https://mailchi.mp/bce14a1eee4d/fww9ui8d7t-169078?e=7cfa105635
Inward is a collection of poetry, quotes, and prose that explores the movement from self love to unconditional love, the power of letting go, and the wisdom that comes when we truly try to know ourselves. It serves as a reminder to the reader that healing, transformation, and freedom are possible.

Every parent knows the importance of equipping children with the intellectual skills they need to succeed in school and life. But children also need to master their emotions. Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child is a guide to teaching children to understand and regulate their emotional world. And as acclaimed psychologist and researcher John Gottman shows, once they master this important life skill, emotionally intelligent children will enjoy increased self-confidence, greater physical health, better performance in school, and healthier social relationships. Yung

Evolving or Revolving?

There has been a golden thread running through my recent conversations with good friends that has really lifted my spirits in the most astounding way. What I am marveling at is this beautiful paradox of acceptance and awareness. As we reflect on our past, we recognize and accept that we were doing the best we could with what we had, or knew, in that moment in time. Now we possess better tools, wisdom borne from experience, and a reconnection with our most authentic selves.

The gift of old friendships is that we remind each other of the younger version of ourselves — and the magnetic attributes of our personality that became the bond of our lifelong friendship…..long before they got camoflaged or diluted by life. The treasure in new friendships is finding common ground through our life stories that help us see ourselves in others. In both cases, we can extend a helping hand and encouragement to help others evolve. As Maya Angelou so wisely expressed – “Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it.”

I have long believed that those who have overcome adversities in life and became good role models for perseverance, resilience and positivity were such guiding lights to all of us. These beacons of hope are not just those who have attained celebrity status or reside in in our history books, they walk among us. They are our family and friends who are survivors and thrivers.

I recently listened to Brene Brown’s podcast with Dr. Edith Eger and found myself captivated by her observation that we are either “evolving” or “revolving”. Dr. Eger is a 93 year old inspirational dynamo, a Holocaust survivor, who drew on her personal life experiences in her career as a clinical psychologist to help others free themselves from the prison of their own minds. Just last fall, she published her latest book, The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life. What I love most about her short, yet oh so impactful book, are the questions she poses in each chapter that really stop you in your tracks and make you take a good hard look in the mirror. Questions like: “would you like to be married to you? You can’t heal what you can’t feel. Are you evolving or revolving?”

In her first book, The Choice, Dr. Eger wrote an inspirational book of overcoming the trauma of her Holocaust experience and healing the pain associated with it. She truly believes her purpose is to provide encouragement and support to help others overcome trauma and live a meaningful enriched life. In this second book, she expands on her message of healing and “provides a hands on guide that gently encourages us to change the thoughts and behaviors that keeps us imprisoned in the past.”

One silver lining that has arisen from the uncertainty and upheaval of 2020, is the deepening of friendships. My friends and I have leaned in, opened up and found so much help and hope amongst each other. Not surprisingly, it has unearthed a lot of the messaging we received from our past experiences that informs our decisions and lives as we go forward.

My friends and I are embracing an “evolving” mantra as we go forward in our lives. We take with us the hard-earned lessons that life has taught us and we are owning the blind spots and old reactive behavior patterns that no longer serve us well. We support each other in this evolution, because it does require a lot of hindsight, insight, hard work and new practices. Oddly enough, for many of my female friends it also requires getting very comfortable with setting boundaries. This is probably the one area where we offer to each other the greatest encouragement.

Dr. Edith Eger offers a touchstone for those of us who struggle with speaking our truth when someone crosses a boundary that is rooted in our core values. She teaches that freedom is having choices. We have the choice to say “no” and we have the choice to say “this response or behavior is not helpful to me”. We can free ourselves from the unconscious choice to ignore bad behavior or poor emotional regulation from others. Dr. Eger makes clear that we sacrifice and suffer when we accept the unacceptable. She encourages us to find our personal empowerment and break free. It is our choice. When she shared that fear and love cannot co-exist, it really resonated with me. We think of love as soft and mushy but it just the opposite– it is the super glue of life. Love is supported with accountability and trust. It forges a strong foundation for all our relationships. We shouldn’t be afraid to tell those who love us what we truly need to heal, to survive and to evolve.

Fear of repercussion kept me from holding boundaries many times in my life. But that fear also meant that I made a lot of sacrifices and suppressed my true self to either please others or avoid their disapproval. The path of least resistance was not the path to happiness or wholehearted, authentic living. How can we possibly be the best version of our true selves if we are operating from fear?

My friends and I have been having some really good discussions about fear and about the power of perspective and reframing things. As we hold ourselves in both awareness of our own behavioral patterns and a renewed accountability to change our responses, we realize that we have more empathy and clarity for others. I do believe that this is one of the greatest insights we gain from our own personal growth work. It truly enables us to “walk in another’s shoes”. We gain a better understanding of other’s “soft spots” and “trigger points”. We can respect that their history has created these bruises, not us. We can then choose to find a more caring approach for challenging discussions. Imagine how it would feel if someone took great care to understand the root cause of your deepest emotional wounds.

In her book, Dr. Eger offers some incredible real-life examples of people who have endured major adversities and chose to shift their perspective to see the silver linings and the gifts that can be found even in our darkest moments.

Here is Dr. Eger’s inspiration for shifting our perspectives:

What a beautiful reminder that the things that interrupt our lives, that stop us in our tracks, can also be catalysts for the emerging self, tools that show us a new way to be, that endow us with new vision. That is why I say that in every crisis, there is a transition. Awful things happen, and they hurt like hell. And these devastating experiences are also opportunities to regroup and decide what we want for our lives. When we choose to respond to what’s happened by moving forward and discovering our freedom to, we release ourselves from the prison of victimhood.” —From the Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life

It’s been cathartic for my friends and I to share our personal stories and hard life experiences that helped us evolve and discover something new about ourselves. Many of us have had similar experiences such as the death of a beloved spouse, a divorce, a job loss, being single moms, and cancer.

It is in the shared stories of our grief and recovery that we find footholds for our own journeys in life. Over this past week, I have heard so many touching stories from friends about the words of encouragement that they have given to others, or the space that they held sacred for others in the deepest grief. They are offering to others what they themselves would have most appreciated in their dark moments. And they are doing it better than ever because of their conscious personal growth work.

A meaningful benefit of doing any self-discovery and personal growth work is that you will be a source of encouragement and hope for others who are also seeking to “evolve” through their all their life experiences. Life happens….how we respond is our choice and our strength.

Recommended Resources:

A special credit goes to my son in law, Ted Larsen, for the t-shirt image I used in this blog post today — when I saw him wearing this shirt recently, it brought a huge smile to my face.

Filled with empathy, insight, and humor, The Gift captures the vulnerability and common challenges we all face and provides encouragement and advice for breaking out of our personal prisons to find healing and enjoy life. (excerpted from Amazon.com)

https://brenebrown.com/podcast/brene-with-dr-edith-eger-on-recognizing-the-choices-and-gifts-in-our-lives/

Being Well Podcast with Dr. Rick Hanson and Forrest Hanson How To Change for Good https://www.facebook.com/rickhansonphd/posts/1869119006584107

A Meaningful Gardening Metaphor

Many who know me, know that I am an avid gardener. My love of gardening started early in life and has brought me so much joy over the years. One of my greatest pleasures is taking an overgrown jungle and turning it into a lush, textured and colorful retreat. Years ago, I nicknamed one of my shaded garden paths Nature’s Chapel for it was full of majestic Jack in the Pulpits and large-leafed variegated hostas that held raindrops like sparkling jewels. That graceful garden offered both calm and wonderment. Gardening has always been therapeutic for me. It brings me joy and a deep sense of satisfaction to transform an eyesore into a treasure for the senses.

Over the past few days, I have had to sit with some heavy emotions from my past. The images of my many gardens kept intertwining with my thoughts. Suddenly I realized that there was a meaningful metaphor emerging. I recalled a piece of raw land covered in thorny brambles and thick underbrush. At first sight, it looked like a daunting task to clear it all. But my vision of a lush garden with blushing pink bleeding hearts and emerald ferns spurred me on to tackle the clearing process. It took nearly a week of manual labor, blood (in spite of thick gloves), sweat and even a few exasperated tears. Eventually I was gazing at that thick rich composted soil, eager to plunge my fingers into it and inhale the promise of a dense flourishing garden.

I used this gardening metaphor as my anchoring point to revisit an old emotional wound. It has had a profound impact on my mindset to continue on — digging deep and clearing away thorny emotional brambles. I know that it will be hard work, but in the end I will have a clear, clean healthy space in my heart and life story.

Perhaps one of the most revelational transformations that happened during this clearing is that I am able to use tools I did not possess at the time of origination of the painful emotional trauma. It could have been one of many incidents in my childhood where a parent shred any hope of trust and protection through uncontrollable abusive responses. It could have been occasions when I was pleading for help for myself or my daughter and was completely ignored, even dismissed. It could be the innumerous times a former partner stripped me of self esteem and self-worth in spite of facts that proved otherwise. In those moments, I was not strong, lacked confidence and believed I was unworthy. Too young and insecure, too mired in dysfunctional circumstances others were unconsciously creating for me, for us.

Today when I stand facing the thorny brambles of revisiting those old traumas, I am an older, wiser and more self-compassionate woman. My tools are knowing my own value and self-worth. I recognize that I have overcome some really painful, challenging life experiences and am still standing. I also know that in spite of mean, spiteful and deeply hurtful actions of others, my tender heart remains unchanged. My loving heart may be bruised, scarred and creviced, but it is capable of deep love and true warmth. In fact, I am certain that my brokenness is what allows more light and empathy into the deepest part of my very being. I have an innate understanding of the human condition precisely because of the pain I have endured.

In some ways, it is like having a crystal ball. I envision my crystal ball look as a snow globe. I can look at my young granddaughter as though she is in a delicate glass snowglobe, shake it and watch the fairy dust of snowy white sparkles drift over her. I can hear her laughter and I can wrap her in my arms when life hits her hard, offering comfort and assurance that she is loved, safe and protected. My wish for her, and all my grandchildren, is that this is their true foundation.

My improved self-awareness in my 60’s means that I am a better advocate for my innocent and vulnerable grandchildren. Of course, I will not be able to protect my grandchildren from life’s hardships, but I will hold space for them, I will honor their true feelings and I will be a source of comfort and strength. Awful things happen in life — how we show up for others in there hour of need is paramount. This is how we help our young people grow their character, their values and their resilience.

I am a crusader for my grandchildren. I will never watch silently as an adult carelessly and unconsciously strips a child of their worthiness or their need to feel safe and protected. While much of life’s challenges and heartbreaks cannot be changed, how we treat others is fully within our power. I have zero tolerance these days for adults who expect more from their young children than they do themselves. How can you expect a little one to have emotional regulation and patience if you are not role modeling that for them? Let’s face it, we are all imperfect and we will make mistakes but even then we have precious teaching moments and an opportunity to restore trust and worthiness. Our greatest tools in these moments are personal accountability and sincere apology.

These transformational tools must be used swiftly. I cannot stress this enough. We can circumvent serious emotional damage and development of unconscious protective behavioral patterns by owning our mistakes and hurtful actions and offering a sincere apology. Not just I am sorry, but a true commitment to change.

Imagine a fiesty preteen girl being told by her birth father that she’d be pregnant by the time she was 16. For three years she’d carry this in her heart like a heavy rock weighing her down. On what should be a very happy milestone 16th birthday, she bounds down the stairs and asks her mom if she should call him and tell him he was wrong — very wrong — about her on so many levels. It is caustic, toxic actions like this that plant the seeds of unworthiness in an innocent child. This young woman will carry this with her all her life – it is her emotional baggage packed and handed to her by a careless adult.

This is another example of a sliding door moment in life. That birth father could have realized what an awful thing he said to his daughter and he could have immediately apologized. Perhaps he was angry about something else and directed all that pain at his daughter. But years go by and he’s long forgotten he ever uttered those words to her. Yet she carries them buried in her heart and they will shape her through the years. She will always have a nagging inner voice telling her she is “less than” and there will be days she believes it. When people let her down, she will see it as proof of her own unworthiness. It will make recovery from life’s blows all the harder. When she becomes a mother, she will make every effort to ensure her own child feels completely loved and accepted, just as she is. It will take this woman years to undo the silent messaging that she is unworthy of love and belonging. And this is precisely why swift action is needed when we screw up.

I do believe that each generation becomes better at parenting in a healthy way by learning from our own parents what we do not want to repeat. This has been a guiding principle for me and many of my friends, and we are seeing that unfold with our adult children as they raise their own families now. I am also grateful for the work that Brene Brown has done to bring out into the wide open just how these very real life experiences impact us emotionally and psychologically throughout our lives. Which is precisely why we need to do our own “clearing and excavating” work. In my viewpoint, Brene has been a leading catalyst for making very public the critical need for all of us to dive into self-discovery and to support each other in a wholehearted way when we find the courage to do so.

It is my hope that my gardening metaphor will become a strong visual for consideration should someone ask you to help them as they are pulling weeds and emotional brambles from their own stories.

Almost a year ago, my lifelong friend, Judy Chesters, told me that we still had a lot of deep diving to do into our work of “emotional excavation”. Admittedly she caught. me by surprise because she and I have worked so hard for over 5 years supporting each other through a lot of processing of archived traumas and self-discovery. All I can say now is that she must have had a crystal ball of her own — for after a year of pandemic and unprecedented uncertainties she was so very right. Both she and I have gone much deeper into our own stories. The healing and empowerment that we have gained is almost hard to explain but how we both feel is much more grounded, expansive and light. I shared with her one day that I describe it as “rare air, deep water.”

When I am in that space of “rare air and deep water”, I let my imagination run free and wild. I envision my grandchildren traveling through their incredible lives without emotional baggage and scarred hearts — no limitations on their creativity, worthiness and ability to live authentic wholehearted, free-spirited lives. I imagine a world where we give to each other an enriching environment and nurturing support to be our best selves. Amy Davis

Helpful Resources:

RISING STRONG by Brene Brown.

Check out this overview: https://www.meaningfulhq.com/rising-strong.html

RADICAL ACCEPTANCE by Tara Brach

Read this summary by GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/173666.Radical_Acceptance

Check out this recent Typology Podcast with Ian Morgan Cron for some personal insights on the value of doing your own “shadow work” and the rewarding personal evolvement that grows from doing that self-discovery work. https://www.typologypodcast.com/podcast/2021/11/02/episode04-034/audreyassad