Our wounds are our medicine.

When I was in high school, I had an eating disorder. I was a compulsive overeater, meaning that I binged as a way to help me cope with my feelings.

However, I didn’t consciously know any of this back then; I just thought I was fat and lacked discipline.

As my bingeing habit grew, so did I. I began to gain weight – which, as a teenage girl growing up in the beach-body obsessed culture of southern California, was excruciating. I felt so much shame, embarrassment, and self-hatred at how I perceived myself.

I judged myself as a lazy person who just couldn’t get her act together. I criticized myself constantly, telling myself that if I weren’t so undisciplined I’d be a skinnier (i.e., better).

During this time, I also felt totally alone. I didn’t know how to ask for help. I felt like if I told anyone about my bingeing, they’d just judge me as lazy or undisciplined, too – exactly the same way I judged myself.

CHALKY DIET PELLETS

So instead of talking about it, I put my poor body through an array of strict diets.

I remember one of them very clearly:  it involved eating nothing but 20 large, dry, chalky diet “pellets” every other day for two weeks. On the non-pellet days, I could eat real food, but only stuff like rice cakes and celery. On the pellet days, I could only eat those 20 chalky pills. It was horrible. And while I did lose some weight on that diet (because I essentially starved myself), I gained it all back pretty fast.

THE BULLY INSIDE

However, the absolute worst part of this time in my life was how I spoke to / related with myself internally. It was like a big bully lived right there inside my head, and she would never let me be: “Ugh. You’re so fat and disgusting. No one will ever like you. Why can’t you get your act together? Why can’t you just be disciplined? What’s wrong with you?”

This self-loathing and eating cycle went on for most of high school. It not only affected how I felt about myself inside, it affected my outer life, too. I hated going to school because I hated the way I looked. I even stopped wanting to hang out with my friends because I felt like such a loser. At one point, I even contemplated killing myself because I felt so stuck in a cycle that I didn’t know how to get out of: hating the way I looked, which led to starving myself, which led to bingeing, which led to hating myself even more, which led to starving myself again, which eventually led to bingeing again, which led to hating myself even more.

OVERCOMING OVEREATING

One day, a few months after high school ended, I was in a Barnes & Noble bookstore (during that time of my life, I often found solace and comfort in retreating to the non-judgmental aisles of bookstores). I was looking for a book to help me get out of the hell I felt like I was living.

I happened upon this unpresuming little book called Overcoming Overeating. It sounded appropriate for what I was going through, so I bought it.

I began reading. Nothing life-changing, but it was good. Eventually, however, I came to a chapter in which the authors were talking about cravings. In this particular section, they said that if you loved chocolate milkshakes and just wanted a chocolate milkshake, rather than depriving yourself and then berating yourself for even wanting one, consider instead allowing yourself to have as many chocolate milkshakes as you want, but just don’t berate yourself for it.

WHAT?!?! Now hold up for just one minute there, partner. Did you say not criticize myself?

Now, you have to understand something. Up to this point in my life, I had always criticized myself for something.

I was either telling myself I was too fat, too shy, not pretty enough, not smart enough, not popular enough, not good enough, etc. And, I believed that the only way I’d ever change was by being strict and demanding with myself, using judgment and criticism as my motivation. But the thing was, being critical of myself NEVER got me to where I wanted to be; it only made me less motivated and more depressed.

HEALING FROM THE INSIDE OUT

So, for the first time ever, I entertained the idea of actually being nice to myself.

At first, this was NOT easy. It felt strange, awkward, and totally fake.

But slowly, almost imperceptibly, as I started to soften my attitude toward myself, things began to shift.

I started actually noticing when I was being mean to myself (which was often). Then, after noticing this, I began changing my inner dialogue, trying to say nicer things to myself rather than being so critical. This felt totally fake and awkward at first, too, but I knew it couldn’t be any worse for me than how I had been talking to myself. And as I stuck with it, I actually started feeling differently toward myself, about myself.

In this way, I slowly began to cultivate a different relationship with myself — from the inside out. As a result, I felt less compelled to punish myself, and therefore less compelled to binge.

OUR WOUNDS ARE OUR MEDICINE

My journey with food has definitely been a “teacher” on my path. Because of my challenges with food, I began a 20+ year path of personal growth and inner investigation that continues to this day.

I’m grateful that I can now honestly say that I feel blessed to have had this challenge as part of my “spiritual curriculum” in this lifetime, because if it wasn’t for what I’ve been through, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

ONE THING I KNOW FOR SURE

One thing I know for sure is that criticizing ourselves is one of the least effective means of changing anything about ourselves or our lives. In fact, changing things on the outer level is actually much easier (and more fun) when we love and care for ourselves first.

As Lucille Ball put it, “Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.”

Amen.

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I won’t work on your problems.

I want my next business card to read, “I won’t work on your problems, but I’ll teach you how to fish.”

It’s not because I particularly love to fish (although I am a Pisces and I do love being outside near rivers and lakes), or that I dislike people with problems. I mean, as a life coach, that’s my daily territory!

You can find plenty of coaches, therapists, and healers who will help you with your problems.

But not me.

Nope. I’m leaving that bag behind, and here’s why:

The more I focus on what’s “wrong,” broken, or otherwise in need of “fixing” in you (or, if I believe you when you say “I can’t because…”), the less close you actually get to standing forward as the fully capable, beautiful, whole and imperfectly perfect human being you are.

Instead, as a Soul-Centered Coach and Guide to Wholing and Self-healing (terms which I’ll unpack shortly), I will and do wholeheartedly support the cultivation of people’s innate human wholeness. And surprise surprise! This approach actually works wonders on problems.

Uh, ok. So what the heck is “Wholing”? 

Glad you asked! Allow me to ‘splain, Lucy.

First of all, the word “whole” isn’t typically used as a verb. However, as I’m talking about creating wholeness here, I am defining “wholing” as this:  The act of creating completeness, integrity, soundness, strength and cohesion in a human being.

In his book, Nature and the Human Soul, Bill Plotkin talks about two different approaches to psychological issues:

“There are two general approaches to alleviating psychological problems: pathology-centered and wholeness-centered (holistic). Using the pathology approach, we ask, “What symptoms of dysfunction is this person exhibiting, and what can be done to eliminate these symptoms and/or this dysfunction?” Common psychological symptoms include anxiety, depression, obsessions, eating disorders, addictions, and mania. A shallow version of the pathology approach simply attempts to eliminate or suppress the behavioral, somatic or emotional symptoms. A deeper approach tries to understand the psychodynamics of the dysfunction and then foster healing by addressing deeper causes.

All pathology approaches begin and end with a symptom focus: you don’t know what, if anything, is needed until symptoms appear, and you don’t know your intervention has succeeded until the symptoms diminish.

… With the holistic approach, in contrast, dysfunction is not a central focus. We ask instead, “What qualities or capacities are missing from this person’s embodiment of wholeness, and what can be done to cultivate these qualities or capacities?” The goal is to encourage and foster something functional and fulfilling rather than to remove something dysfunctional and deadening. Missing psychological qualities might be, for example, innocence, wonder, body awareness, nature reverence, creativity, and the development of values and virtues. Capacities of wholeness include social skills, cultural knowledge, emotional and imaginal skills, conflict resolution, and self reliance.”

(italics are my own, not the author’s)

As a human development professional, rather than focusing on what people feel needs “fixing” in them, I’ve witnessed the emboldening effects that occur while focusing on their innate strengths instead.

In my experience, overly focusing on the former seems to send the message to people that they’re somehow not capable of solving their problems themselves. Said another way, it encourages people to remain in more of a victim position rather than cultivating their innate capacities and strengths (aka, wholeness).

We all see this in other ways, too. For example, when someone comes up with an idea or solution on their own, they’re far more likely to adopt it or embrace it, as opposed to being told what to do.

Learning to Fish (aka, Cultivating Wholeness)

There’s an old saying:

Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. 

Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime.

Wholeness-centered, or wholing, work is about teaching people to fish, which is to say, it’s about helping one become fully resourced in their own innate strengths, capabilities, talents, and skills.

Wholing work, as Plotkin mentioned, can include things like: conflict resolution skills, emotional skills, assertiveness skills, cultivating one’s sense of wonder in and for the natural world, body-centered awareness, self-reliance skills, etc.

Practically speaking, when I focus on wholing with my clients, my own center of gravity shifts. I move from a stance of “You need help with this” to “You’ve got this!”, which in turn produces a shift in how they relate to themselves (namely, they too start to feel that they’ve got this!).

As someone who also actively gets coaching and mentorship in this model, I can truly say that it’s incredibly empowering and enlivening to be held as the naturally creative, resourceful and whole human I am.

But what about REAL problems?  Healing vs. Self-Healing 

At this point you might be thinking, ‘Yes, that’s great and all, but there ARE instances when people really do need help and they do need to look at the broken or hurt parts inside themselves.’ Absolutely. I agree 100%.

Traditionally, healing is about tending to what’s broken, hurt or wounded in another. And there are certainly times when we may be in need of this kind of attention and care. That’s traditionally where a great psychotherapist comes in.

Alternatively, in the holistic model, we bring in the concept of Self-healing (with a capital “S” referring to the whole, fully resourced Self… or, one could say the Big Self as opposed to the small self).

Simply put, Self-healing is about tending to ourselves from our wholeness (or from our fully resourced and centered Self), rather than “getting healed” by another. It’s also about learning how to embrace our protective parts (aka, our sub-personalities) when we’ve been hijacked by them, welcoming them back into the fold of ourselves.

Self-healing (as opposed to leaning on someone else’s wholeness in order to feel stronger) has been extremely empowering for me. I’ve grown from the inside out in a myriad of ways, and in ways that I just couldn’t have had I been leaning on someone else for my “answers”.

Self- healing is a simple (though not necessarily easy) way of loving the parts inside of us that feel hurt, scared, scarred, mad, rejected or otherwise protective. And when done in conjunction with wholing work, it can have remarkably empowering effects.

Fishing

As I mentioned earlier, as a Soul Centered Professional Coach and Guide to Wholing and Self-Healing, I won’t work with you on your problems or what you think needs “fixing” in you (although, I’m sure that you can find plenty of people to pay to do that).

Instead, if you’re ready to stop talking about your problems and really lean into your own growing edges; if you’re ready to really know and feel yourself as the naturally creative, capable, resourceful and fully alive human being you innately are, let’s talk.

You’re ready to learn to fish.

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Photo: Boriskin Vladislav

Blessed Unrest

When we become discouraged with what we’re creating (or trying to create) in the world, when we think that no one will care anyway, it’s SO easy to just give up.

But please, just pause instead. Take a breath. Read the words below that Martha Graham spoke to Agnes DeMille…. read them over and over and over again.

And remember… the life force that flows through and as YOU is a unique and never-before-seen thing. It’s not your job to judge it; it’s your job to keep the channel open and to keep listening.

Here is DeMille, recalling what Graham said to her over a soda at Schrafft’s restaurant shortly after Graham’s “flamboyant success” with the choreography of Oklahoma! (choreography, it should be noted, that Graham herself didn’t actually feel was very good compared to other things she’d done):

“I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be.

Martha said to me, very quietly: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have so far used about one-third of your talent.”

“But,” I said, “when I see my work I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.” 

“No artist is pleased,” Martha said.

“But then there is no satisfaction?”

“No satisfaction whatever at any time,” she cried out passionately. “There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

 

THE RETURN, by Geneen Marie Haugen

It’s All Hallows’ Eve here in the U.S, the day preceding All Saints’ Day (Nov 1), and All Souls’ Day (Nov 2). It’s the time of year when we honor the good souls who have passed from this earthly plane into the next realm of being.

As such, I felt called to offer a poem today, written by the gifted partner of one of my mentors.

Each time I read it, I’m returned to my own wild longing. It inspires me to take off the jacket of conformity that I’ve somehow slipped on (yet again), and go out to face my own final frontier. I’m called to let go of what is dying in me, so that I might, one day, return courageously with native gifts and sweet, silent whisperings of that larger conversation that is always happening…

So today, dear reader, I offer this poem to you.  May it feed or un-do you in just the right ways.

 

THE RETURN, by Geneen Marie Haugen

Some day, if you are lucky,
you’ll return from a thunderous journey
trailing snake scales, wing fragments
and the musk of Earth and moon.

Eyes will examine you for signs
of damage, or change
and you, too, will wonder
if your skin shows traces

of fur, or leaves,
if thrushes have built a nest
of your hair, if Andromeda
burns from your eyes.

Do not be surprised by prickly questions
from those who barely inhabit
their own fleeting lives, who barely taste
their own possibility, who barely dream.

If your hands are empty, treasureless,
if your toes have not grown claws,
if your obedient voice has not
become a wild cry, a howl,

you will reassure them. We warned you,
they might declare, there is nothing else,
no point, no meaning, no mystery at all,
just this frantic waiting to die.

And yet, they tremble, mute,
afraid you’ve returned without sweet
elixir for unspeakable thirst, without
a fluent dance or holy language

to teach them, without a compass
bearing to a forgotten border where
no one crosses without weeping
for the terrible beauty of galaxies

and granite and bone. They tremble,
hoping your lips hold a secret,
that the song your body now sings
will redeem them, yet they fear

your secret is dangerous, shattering,
and once it flies from your astonished
mouth, they–like you–must disintegrate
before unfolding tremulous wings.

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Photo: Noah Silliman

The Portal of Discomfort

In the discomfort that sometimes marks this being human thing, I’ve noticed a tendency in myself to want to escape those moments when I feel the dull thud of sadness, loneliness, or emptiness dropping in.

When I’m feeling lost, uncertain, or blue, some part of me (my ego) wants to make sure that something is done about it, immediately. Something, anything, to make the fogginess, uncertainty, or emptiness go away.

Make a PLAN. Figure it out.

“Just do something,” it says, “because feeling this way can’t be healthy or right or good for you.”

However, I’ve always sort of had this theory that if I could slow down even more when I feel that discomfort, and actually try to go into it, that I will find a much deeper, richer place inside.

My thought is that if I can muster the patience, courage and willingness to actually go right into it, explore and muck around in (rather than escape) that deep discomfort, then I will come to a new level of awareness about myself, my situation, and the discomfort itself. And it won’t be as unbearable at all… in fact, it might even be a portal to something new.

photo: Julian Bock

Today, while feeling myself in the discomfort, I was able to slow down enough to catch these words:

“Be with yourself here,  in the discomfort of this place.

Be with your own un-doing. Be with your own dying, in a way, and then, eventually, your own re-emerging. Be with your own SELF in the deep discomfort of your disappearance. Then, maybe, someday, you will re-appear into something even more real and true.

But do not rush it. You cannot rush it. You cannot get there faster than you will. You cannot will yourself into being, just as you cannot make a tree grow faster or a fruit ripen more quickly than it will.

Just be with yourself in THIS moment, and then THIS one. Be in this process…. It is the most true thing you have right now…”

Put this in your cauldron and boil it.

In my meditation this morning, I heard a quiet voice say, “The hardest part is waiting.” 

I’m not sure about you, but for me, the betwixt and between place – that place where you’re neither here nor there in life – is the hardest part.

It’s the waiting place. The not knowing exactly which way to turn place. It’s the intuitively felt but not yet quite clear place. It’s the space of glimpsing something that feels real, but then it’s gone again, the very next second. It’s the liminal place: a place of pure potential, yet no actual direction.

For me, it’s a time when all I can do is tend to the cauldron, keeping an eye on the flame, making sure it’s neither too high nor too low.

It’s a time when it may seem to the outside world like I’m not “doing anything,” yet in actuality, a time when my inner cauldron is bubbling and brewing, cooking and stewing. And to take the lid off prematurely could affect the feast’s flavor immensely.

Therefore, it’s a time of deep, devoted patience and occasionally stirring.

It simply feels like the hardest part to me, especially in the busy, hyper-productivity-focused world we live in (not to mention the fact that my ego doesn’t like slow, patient cooking and stewing one bit).

But today, I will pause. I will be patient. I will tend this cauldron’s contents. I will wait.

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You are not a self-improvement project

We live in a world where many things seem to tell us and sell us on the idea that we’re not good enough as we are.

And sure – there’s ALWAYS more to learn, but we can only do so much.

What if, instead of constantly treating ourselves like self-improvement projects, we approached ourselves as the naturally creative, resourceful and whole human beings we actually are? What if we don’t actually need to clear any more blocks or change one more thing?

You were born perfect, and you still are.

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Photo by Luca Zanon