Now More Than Ever

The Reflection

I’ve been experiencing several of those now-more-than-ever moments over the past two-plus years. You know the kind of situation… where it feels vitally important to finally get some things in order or to make some much-needed changes in certain areas of life. At times, it feels like everything is riding on my ability to follow through. Yet, when I put that kind of pressure on myself, I often end up spinning my wheels and don’t make any meaningful progress. Can you relate?

But in many ways, I’m fortunate. My training as a counselor and life coach keeps me in the conversation, asking myself, “What’s in the way of having what I most want right now?” Mostly, I’m in the way — buying into some limiting belief, either actively or passively resisting taking action, or not taking responsibility for myself in some way. These are the unloving ways I create internal distress or inhibit my progress. Then, I get upset with myself for doing so, and the cycle repeats again.

What is loving to me is to take 100% responsibility for myself — 24/7. This doesn’t mean I’ll feel good all of the time. But if I’m the one in my own way and causing my suffering, I can do something about that. If something is happening externally that is impacting me, whether I like the situation or not, I can still choose to be loving to me. Sometimes, that includes taking action on behalf of myself or another. Sometimes that means just being there with and for myself, while feeling all the feelings about the situation, including my sense of helplessness to change it.

Now more than ever, it is time to learn how to love yourself. I’ve been carving out a path to self-love for over 30 years, and I’ll be sharing more in the coming weeks and months about how you can embark on your own journey to self-love.

Let’s Practice

Start to build a loving relationship with yourself.

The next time someone or something upsets you in some way, ask yourself 3 questions:

  1. What’s my part in this upset?
  2. How am I relating to myself that is adding to the pain?
  3. What would be a loving response toward myself instead?

Then, take the action(s) you discovered.

Self-Love and Wisdom Grow from Life Experience

The Reflection

“I’m growing despite the pain.” I said this recently to a friend while referencing the death of my father earlier this year. We were talking about the difficult circumstances that often accompany these kinds of life passages.

The phrase reminded me that most of my adult life has been spent learning and practicing how to relate to life challenges in a way that furthers my growth and evolution. Sometimes, admitting that I’ve used painful experiences to grow feels morbid to say, but, mostly, this mindset has guided me, and I embrace the opportunity to benefit from the many ways life opens us up to hard-earned wisdom. 

In the early days of my growth path, I would often experience these challenges as intense upheavals accompanied by severe emotional turmoil, or by seeing myself as a victim. Experiences were fraught with amplified suffering — the kind of that occurs at your own hand by adding a dose of shame, blame, judgment, and/or resistance. The circumstances were hard enough. How I was relating to them made them even harder. The distressful states would last days or weeks. And they occurred so habitually, I didn’t believe there could ever be another way to experience them, let alone to be able to recover more quickly.

Things shifted greatly when I prioritized being loving to myself during difficult times and learned how to be more present and caring toward myself… in all ways. The improvement throughout my life shows me why it’s worth the effort to commit to a life lined with inner work, including learning to love yourself as the ultimate focus. Nothing can replace being there for yourself in real time while dealing with the sh*t sandwiches that inevitably show up along the way.

Let’s Practice

Imagine what someone who loved you would do for you if you were in distress. Do this for yourself. ‘Try on’ being there for yourself when life is hard and when feelings come up, no matter what those feelings are.

The Difference Between ‘Highest’ and ‘Only’

The Reflection

When I work with clients around self-love, we talk about the importance of making loving themselves their highest priority. Invariably they ask, “But isn’t loving myself selfish? What about everyone else in my life? What about my responsibilities?”

There’s a big difference between making yourself your highest priority and making yourself your only priority. It is indeed selfish to prioritize only your wants and needs in your relationships. But making yourself your highest priority is actually a generous position to take, because you will never be able to truly give to others when you act from a sense of obligation or sacrifice or just to “look good.”

When you make loving yourself your highest priority, you will come to every encounter already filled with love and know how to stay true to yourself along the way. You’ll share your love out of a genuine desire to be loving. There’s nothing selfish about that.

Let’s Practice

Make two lists:

  1. List 10 ways that prioritizing other things or people (over yourself) negatively impacts you.
  2. List 10 ways your life will improve when you make loving yourself your highest priority.

Words Matter

The Reflection

These days, I’m aspiring to be more present and precise with how I put words to thoughts or experiences. There’s something more genuine and vulnerable about taking the time to do that. For example, we often hear the phrase, “Everything happens for a reason.” Currently, I find myself irritated by that statement. What fits better for me is the notion that the things that happen or the experiences we have are valuable prompts for self-reflection. Maybe that’s what the statement means, but I think words lose their meaning when we overuse them — they become rote sound bites we apply to everything.

And then there’s the timing of delivering such statements. Despite our good intentions, when we say, “Everything happens for a reason,” the statement can land in a quite unloving way for someone who’s in the midst of one of life’s storms. In my experience, whatever growth or learning we glean from difficult circumstances is often harvested in hindsight — and, especially, after we’ve had time to digest and metabolize what happened.

Let’s Practice

In your communications with others, try slowing down and giving some space to your thoughts as they become words. Allow yourself time to recognize your thoughts so you can say what you mean and become more transparent in your communications. Watch what happens next and consider how that deepens your connections with others.

The Age of Self-Love

The Reflection

It has been a rough couple of years here in Earth School. For many people, multiple areas of life are up for grabs — career, health, relationships, finances. Personal bandwidth is operating at an all-time low… and frankly, what it takes to thrive seems far away and rapidly shifting.

In our current culture, productivity is valued over all else. But from where (inside) are we doing all the doing? Who we are being is often overshadowed in the name of productivity. Our worth is automatically tied to two things: 1) how much we do and 2) what we do. That double pressure sets up and reinforces a mentality of conditional acceptance of self (and others) located outside of ourselves. The measuring stick is found in modern praise metrics such as, ‘likes’ and ‘follows’.

I believe a great transformation around what we value is well underway. The intensity of the last couple of years is reshuffling the priority deck for many. Learning to love yourself in practice, not just theory, is the medicine of the moment.

More than a decade ago, I was talking to a friend about what felt like the emergence of “a new way of being” on the planet… a way of valuing people that isn’t defined by what they can do for us. Knowing that our value is intrinsic — that it can’t be earned or measured by numbers and norms — is part of this shift. And here we are! This new way of being is finally arriving.

So… How are we being with and to one another? Let’s make the most of this new way of being by doing the inner work that will allow us to be more loving to ourselves and, therefore, more loving to each other.

Let’s Practice

Let’s take this on together. Join me for a deep dive into learning to love yourself. Contact me today to join my ongoing Loving Yourself 6-week group program. Because we learn best through experience and in the presence of like-hearted others, come ready to participate and lean into the opportunity to level up your lived experience.

Living a Meaningful Life

The Reflection

Building a loving, reliable and consistent relationship with ourselves is what allows us to show up and live a meaningful life. What constitutes a meaningful life varies among people, but living one is a universal desire. A common ingredient of a meaningful life is living our life with love.

We reach for our dreams and goals not with full confidence that we’ll achieve them, but with full confidence that we’ll be there for ourselves when life gets hard, when we want to quit, or when we fail. With that full confidence, we know we can pick ourselves up and dream again.

A loving relationship with ourselves is a prerequisite for loving others — both those we know and those we don’t. After all, that’s where the love comes from: within our own wise, compassionate heart. How can you expect to share love with another if you have no (or limited) experience of loving yourself? When we don’t love ourselves, we spend most of our energy trying to get love from others. If or when we do get it, there’s no place inside for love to land — like we have a hole in our love bucket. We keep trying to get more because the love never seems to last.

Loving our self is the only way to heal from the wounds we received early in life. We have all been shaped by our early life experiences. From some of those experiences, we created strategies that were protective at the time, but they turned into patterns that continue to play out in adulthood. Those strategies and patterns became unnecessary and maladaptive, ultimately blocking our happiness and negatively impacting our relationships with others. Since we can’t go back and change the experiences we’ve had, we are left with two choices: 1) continue to suffer by reliving the painful patterns, or 2) relate to ourselves NOW in a loving, caring, parental way — by giving ourselves the love now that was missing and needed back then.

Let’s Practice

When you feel triggered by another person’s unloving behavior or by a life circumstance that feels difficult and/or challenging, instead of mentally making your case against the other person or situation, take a slow deep breath. Then ask yourself, “What does this part of me, the part that’s feeling the pain, need from me right now? What would be a loving way I could relate to or interact with myself right now?” Allow yourself to show up for yourself as the ideal loving parent or friend we’ve all wished we had in times of distress.

Sharing Love

As so many other people have expressed lately, I’ve been feeling inundated by the many complex layers of global and cultural unrest bombarding me at every turn. It is increasingly difficult to find respite to connect and recharge, as most conversations about virtually any topic find their way back to the pandemic, the financial crisis, politics, and social justice issues — all very important and relevant topics but highly polarizing and often divisive. It has been draining my battery at times, for sure. Fortunately, I have a high self-care IQ, which helps me navigate the seemingly endless waves of these current choppy seas.

I do trust in the bigger picture of what we’re ultimately creating together as a planetary community. With any major transformation, there’s necessity for many shifts that will propel us forward collectively to something greater…AND… I’ve been asking myself what can I do? What is my part? So far, these wonderings have mostly remained in the working-question stage and my reflections on them have yet to yield edible fruit. I always aspire to be a good human — someone who cares about others and demonstrates that aspiration through my intentions, words, and actions. I’ve been noticing a growing desire to deepen my participation and contribution toward something more.

One of the things that appears to have gotten buried under the weight of the heavy issues and the flinging-spitballs-back-and-forth climate we’re experiencing is intentionally sharing and expressing our love and appreciation of one another. Partly, that expression has been naturally pruned back by the inability for socializing in person. The rest is likely just a function of prioritizing that which is most pressing…adjusting, adapting, surviving…whatever that may look like for you and your family. As the saying goes, we can’t stop to smell the flowers when we’re running from a bear.

While walking in nature the other day (sans any presence of bears), I had an inspiring idea that felt like a wonderful way to reconnect with my loving heart. I’ve since decided to take it on as a daily practice. Perhaps you’d like to join with me or create your own version. For the next consecutive 60 days, once a day, I’ll be reaching out to someone to share one of the following: an appreciation I have for them, my love for them, or how they’ve made a difference in my life. I’ll mix it up a bit by using different forms of communication: email, text, video or audio message, a phone call, Zoom, a note or a card sent through snail-mail, or, maybe, an in-person connection, as conditions permit.

My hope for this practice is that it will lift our spirits and lighten the load — not to cover up or silence the real challenges of the times — but to breathe some fresh air into them and to invite us to share a moment of spaciousness and connection together, ultimately to cultivate greater unity within our human family. We truly do need each other.

Teaching Someone to ‘Fish’

An old adage says: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” So, how does this idea relate to clinicians in a therapeutic setting?

Well, when we, as clinicians, consider how to work with clients, we have plenty of therapeutic models and approaches to draw upon. Many of us may align with one or two models, using what could be described as a ‘purist’ approach. Others (myself included) adopt a hybrid approach, which flexibly combines several modalities. Whatever way you operate, be sure to choose your approach or model while keeping in mind the human being sitting across from you. No matter what challenge a client brings into therapy, holding the perspective that human beings are inclined to thrive is a helpful lens to acquire.

People are resilient and often need only a nudge to get themselves back on track. As clinicians, one of the best ways we can provide that nudge and help our clients is to recognize that we don’t need to “have all the answers.” We don’t need to give them all the ‘fish.’ Instead, we can hold a broader perspective that empowers our clients to catch their own fish — access their own agency, make their own connections, and find their own answers. Our role is to teach them how to fish.

So, what does that mean?

Remember, people are resilient. Resiliency is baked into us and can show itself in some surprising ways. Protective strategies and patterns — such as wanting one thing but doing another, negatively interpreting others’ intentions, struggling against what ‘is’, and participating in most addictive behaviors — are our efforts to adjust to something we don’t like or something that’s painful. In truth, these are all examples of resiliency, however misguided they may end up being. We can interrupt this ineffective pattern by exploring and, thereby, recognizing how we relate to ourselves, others, and the world.

What’s missing in these attempts at self-protection? Primarily, the awareness of how they’re not truly working.

Why is such awareness important?

Because, once we see what we’re doing — heading in the opposite direction from what we say we want or trying to protect ourselves when we don’t really need to — we can take a step back and say to ourselves, “Oh, isn’t that interesting?” With just that small breath or space of time, we can gain clarity about the situation and realize what’s not working for us. That space gives us the chance to regain our personal agency. And that means we can make a change. We can do the thing we need to do, the thing that will actually work.

Something relaxes inside of me, even as I write this, when I consider both myself and my clients from this perspective: that we are mostly doing the best we can. As the great poet Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.” When we’re curious to learn how we currently relate to the thing that’s bothering us (what’s causing us further suffering or discomfort), we begin to restore our agency over our experience of it. With that mindset, we also find new territory available, which means more possibility, more opportunity. In contrast, fewer options are available to us if we’re attached to having the other person or external circumstance change, because they/it may or may not.

‘Teaching someone to fish’ is about not working so hard to come up with answers for them or even to view what they want for themselves in service of adopting new behaviors. Rather ‘teaching someone to fish’ means assisting them in learning how they relate to themselves and their circumstances as they exist in their current form and then allowing the person to decide what changes, if any, they’ll make.

We can help our clients understand why they don’t already have what they say they want and how they can make changes that will help them get it. By learning to make their own decisions and take their own actions, they can own the ‘fish’ they catch and can continue to improve their ‘fishing’ skills. The outcome? Everyone maintains appropriate responsibility for individual actions and grows in personal agency and resilience.

Self-Care Means Loving Yourself

The degree to which we mistreat ourselves is mind-blowing.

In the name of trying to get what we want (inner satisfaction, love, safety, security, and more), we do a lot of different things that take us in the opposite direction. For example, we may choose repeatedly to put ourselves in the line of fire with people who don’t support us. Or we may judge ourselves harshly with negative self-talk. And we find other options that get us off-track, such as over-working to the point of exhaustion, harming our bodies with too much or not enough food, consuming too much alcohol or too many drugs, avoiding exercise, or using the internet to ‘check out.’ Perhaps we push ourselves too hard (think: perfectionism), try to control outcomes, or give our power away to endless other external things and/or people. We can find far too many methods to derail ourselves. And this is not an exhaustive list, by any means.

Have we lost our way? Perhaps. So, how does that happen?

Most of us — myself included — get side-tracked from self-care because we’re conditioned from childhood to locate our ability to feel satisfied outside of ourselves. As children, we’re literally dependent on the adult caregivers in our lives to provide what we need to survive, whether that’s food, clothing, shelter, emotional care, or acknowledgment, which often comes in the form of praise and attention. If we don’t get those aspects of basic care in our early development, we won’t learn how to be loving adults to ourselves and we’ll continue to look only outside of ourselves for that validation.

Can we change this unfortunate dynamic — our tendency to look only outside of ourselves for validation? Yes. Of course.

First of all, we can consciously fight against the strong current of societal norms and move beyond the expected default settings of faster-faster-faster, better-better-better, more-more-more. It’s kind of ironic to notice that we go balls out to achieve what we think will make us feel better, only to burn out along the way. Even globally, we are so tuned in to and concerned with the sustainability of our planet (and, therefore, our species), yet we’ve got blinders on regarding the day-to-day sustainability of our own well-being.

Then, when we remember Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy-of-needs pyramid, we recognize that tending to our own basic needs enhances our engagement in ‘higher levels’ of participation in life — including our ability to be of service to others and our capacity to practice spirituality.

So, what’s our next step? How do we reconnect with ourselves?

We must intentionally work to change our perspectives and actions, because that helps us stake out important boundaries and preserve our bandwidth for the long haul.

We must also relocate our sense of worth and well-being to the inner planes where it truly belongs. The shift from an outer-identified view to an inner-directed sense of self may take time, but the results are well worth the effort. After all, shouldn’t you be the one who decides if you’re good enough?

Being more present with ourselves — attending to our needs (our self-care) moment to moment — begins to allow us to live in real time with ourselves. These are the kinds of activities that add to our bandwidth rather than deplete it. What could be more loving than that?

‘Trust Fall’ Into Inner Work

Sometimes, doing inner work can feel like stepping into one of those trust-fall exercises. Just thinking about such a leap — let alone doing it — requires courage, faith, vulnerability, and trust in the other person (the therapist), so you feel you won’t hit the ground. At least, not too many times. Whether you’re trying a trust fall or your own inner work, you need to have a hearty appetite for the unknown.

Personal growth — and other paths to inner work — doesn’t come in the form of three easy, comfortable steps, although that’s what most of us desire. Instead, we need to be willing to move without knowing exactly what’s ahead for us. Because the path only opens up when we take the first step — when we show a willingness to shift our view — we can’t fully know what we’re signing up for at the time. Chances are, if we did, we’d probably opt out. But making the effort can bring actual beneficial results.

How can you tell if you’re ready to take that first step? Maybe, something in your life isn’t working the way you’d like. And maybe, you’ve sought professional help. That means you’re on your way. Then, in your therapeutic sessions, when you name what you want for yourself and explore how to have it, you’ll discover new territory. You’ll realize that the once-necessary but now-outdated ways you identified yourself, and the accompanying patterns and strategies you employ to support your identity, are often the very things that stand in the way of having what you truly want.

Your ability to discover ‘new territory’ typically takes two forms. First, you recognize what role you play in the situation. Second, you explore how and what you need to change to have what you want. Then, the process of establishing new territory for yourself means you’re able to increase your threshold for discomfort and remain calm and curious in the face of it.

We make such shifts not just for the sake of changing. We make them so we can live with more agency as adults and improve the way we identify and relate to ourselves, others, and the world at large. As we stretch into making new choices and begin to incorporate different ways of relating to old patterns and issues, we release their hold over us. We also feel more flexibility in our responsiveness to life, with all its challenges and its possibilities.

So… Okay. If creating new territory includes some degree of discomfort, is it worth the effort?

As both a clinician and a lifelong participant in inner work, I say yes. I know firsthand the power of taking the leap of faith when guided by the right person — a mental health professional whose life experiences include an ongoing investment in their own inner work. Even with its discomforts, the effort of discovering new territory within myself has been an invaluable part of my personal growth and has helped to build my own chops as a clinician. You can make that leap, too!