In part 1, we explored “quality of presence” as the way you show up in the world. Presence is your particular flavor and awareness, the way you hold space and move through the details of your days. It is perhaps the difference between the way a school kid who is required to take band class picks up his trumpet, and the way Miles Davis lifted his instrument and relished each note. Your life is your art; don’t be afraid to love it. Here is some food for thought…
Love and Fear
There is really only love and fear. (And the very wise ones would say there is only love, but that is a discussion for a different time!) Underneath all our emotions and the stories we create about our experience, only love and fear reside. We are either grounded in love and present to life as it happens, or we are reacting to fear (often subconsciously), trying to keep ourselves, our interests, or our loved-ones safe. We each have preferred methods of protection. Control, addiction, overeating, passivity, frenetic busyness, withdrawal, managing others, needing to be “special,” self-absorption, and obsessive worry are common choices.
How can you tell if you are living in the kingdom of love or the swamp of fear? Check your freedom level. How do you feel on the inside? Are you living with spaciousness of heart, mind, and spirit, trusting in love’s power to hold and ground your life? Do you feel your essential goodness? Or do you feel constricted, small, frustrated, and stuck?
Take a gentle, but firm look at the ratio of love and fear in your life and then choose your address: Kingdom or swamp.
Love and Power
“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.”
–Martin Luther King, Jr.
I confess that I have been in the sentimental and anemic camp at times. Well ok, often. It’s sort of a problem for romantics like me. I have only recently realized that love without boundaries and resolve is just sort of soupy oatmeal—still yummy and nourishing, but it lacks staying power. If you are a lover type, try adding clarity and purposefulness to the mix. And a little bacon (or quinoa, for our vegetarian friends). If you are a power type, your strength and vision must always be in service of something higher than yourself.
Call Your Mentors
Several years ago when my son was in the middle of an epic meltdown I was completely lost as to the best response. I forget the exact details, but I remember wanting to be patient without giving in to his demands, and yet feeling overwhelmed by his energy. As I stood before this small, incredibly cranky, screaming boy, wondering what to do and feeling quite overpowered, all the sudden I had an image of Obi Wan Kenobi and Luke from Star Wars. It was as if Obi Wan’s calm, wise presence settled over my body and I saw a young padawan before me who needed my firm, but compassionate guidance. “Use the Force, Luke!” After years of being a Star Wars fan, this familiar image of Obi Wan arose at the moment I needed it most, bringing me back into my presence and power in the face of a big challenge.
Although it sounds magical, this experience is available to anyone. Who are the people or characters, real or fictional that inspire you the most? Which stories do you love to hear over and over again? Who are the people who live inside your imagination and heart with qualities you want to emulate in some way? Ask them to be your companions when you feel challenged. Call them into your awareness when you feel unsure and yet are required to act. All the wisdom you need is available when you are open to receiving it. Trust that you have invisible companions ready to assist and support you in showing up fully.
Choose a Better Word
We are all works in progress. We are all moving toward greater wholeness, but we are easily caught in the subtle expectation of perfection (ours or someone else’s). Flawlessness is not the goal, not even a possibility. The next time you show up for something new, for a challenge of some sort, for your kid’s preschool party, for your first lesson, for a royal wedding, or your own wedding, for an important conversation, for Monday morning, or for an adventure big or small, don’t make perfection the goal. Choose a different word. Decide to show up in radiance. Or show up in authenticity. Or show up in excellence. Or show up in tenderness. Or show up in integrity. Or show up in confidence. Or show up with a toothy smile. That’s more beautiful than perfection anyway.
Repair Energy Leaks with Truth
When I feel energy leaking away from my body it’s often because there is an inner conflict between competing beliefs or desires. For example, I want to lose weight, but I also badly want the chocolate cupcake in the kitchen. This dissonance makes me feel miserable and I begin imagining every possible scenario for how I can still eat the sweet and lose weight. But because that fantasy is out of alignment with truth I feel disempowered and a telltale lack of internal unity. This is a reality I do not want to accept and I am struggling to avoid it. I am learning in these uneasy moments to check and see if there is a reality I simply don’t want to face. In the cupcake scenario, the truth is that I cannot have both the cupcake and lose weight. Once I admit this fully and feel the force of this truth, I can then make the decision about my highest priority.
Cupcakes are one thing, but truth sometimes hurts, especially when it feels personal and we are dealing with disappointment, rejection and grief. Truth is also powerful. We are not always easily moved. Truth has a way of bringing us back into alignment with ourselves and others, jolting us with force, propelling us forward. Sometimes simply acknowledging and accepting a particular truth, though painful, repairs the leak and restores power to our systems.
Your Body Rules
Much has been said about this in many forums, but it bears repeating. Please be good to your body. It is difficult to show up for life at all when your body revolts. Listen to your body’s needs and wisdom. Honor his requirements. Treat her tenderly and well. Attend to pleasure and delight in addition to the balance of food, exercise, and rest we all know we need.
Skip the Strategies
Strategies are great for the gym, growing a business, or tackling a big move. They aren’t great for living wholeheartedly. This goes back to love and fear. We manage life in particular ways. Needing to be right, making ourselves small and insignificant, being the “life of the party,” talking incessantly, getting lost in TV or entertainment, blaming ourselves, deciding we must help everyone and everything that crosses our path, even cousin Bob who has not asked for help. These are strategies for managing fear. We all strategize and this does not make us inherently wrong, but strategies can be a substitute for real presence. Strategies develop in early childhood as a way to survive a family and a world that we cannot otherwise control. We are wired to do whatever possible to avoid pain. It’s ok. Strategies and the fears underneath need compassion and love too. The trick is to be mindful when you are choosing a strategy over simple, undefended presence and openness to whatever happens next. Notice when it feels easier to fall back into a pattern or habit rather than just fall into reality.
No matter what has happened to you and whose fault it was, it is still your responsibility to create a life of wholeness that feels right to you. You are the only one who can do this. It is your responsibility to show up in all your brilliance and the world is impoverished if you don’t. Call upon grace if that is helpful for you, or ask your deepest Self how to step into freedom. If that sounds a little too abstract, ask for help.
Celebrate, Clear, Desire
I learned these tools from relationship coach Layla Martin. Find a friend and take a few minutes to share what you are celebrating, what you need to clear from your system, and what you desire. If you don’t want to do this with another person, write in your journal, go for a walk and speak aloud to the trees (your car is a great place for this as well!), or pick up your instrument and put your words to music.
What are you celebrating right now? Share your wins, your successes, and what makes you proud of yourself. Far from being superfluous, focusing on your greatness actually retrains your brain to seek more success and celebration. This is a simple, but powerful way to spiral upward into well-being rather than downward into despair.
What can you clear from your heart and mind? Speak your disappointments, your losses, your anger and anything else from which you need freedom. Your intention is important here. You want to speak from the desire to release and clear, not to ruminate and sulk. With that said, don’t censor yourself. Say what you need to say until you feel the relief.
What do you desire? Staying close to your desire is to flow with the energy stream of your life. Desire is powerful and can feel unwieldy, but it is so very important to simply let yourself want what you want. So much time and energy is wasted trying not to want so much, or change our desires, or manage our desires, or deny them, or eat them, or buy them. Before you do anything about it, just let yourself desire. The meaning, truth, and brilliance of your life is tied up in your desire. Desire leads us forward into greater life. (That’s a blog post for another time!)
Attend to your Pain
It is very difficult to be present when you are in pain, whether physical or emotional. I don’t know anyone in pain who doesn’t just want relief. This is completely normal. There are ways to be present even in the midst of pain and sometimes this is called for, but it is also wise to tend to your pain as tenderly and urgently as you would a beloved child who is hurting. Ask for help from family, friends, or a professional. Often simply feeling pain fully and acknowledging it for the force that it is will restore presence and ease the intensity. When you are hurting, don’t place high expectations on your capacity to be your best and brightest. Pain is part of the human experience and has lessons all its own. Consider the way trainers tend to injured athletes in pain. Remember how we are taught to approach animals in pain, with the utmost caution and respect. Offer that same honor to yourself.
Yes, you can. Trust yourself to show up for yourself. Trust yourself to have your own back. Don’t harass yourself by second guessing every thought and decision. Trust the love in your heart. Trust your experience. Trust your vision. Trust that life is infinitely generous and self-renewing, despite the pain. Lean back in trust; step forward in confidence. Trust that if you need to change course, you will be made aware of it in due time. You are worthy of your own trust. Yes, you are.