I was an introverted only child who grew up between three cultures and never felt like I fully fit in, so I’ve thought about belonging my whole life. I’ve explored a deep solitary connection to spirit as well as total immersion in a close-knit community to experience how belonging happens in different settings.
Earlier this year, I landed in an inner sense of belonging that’s authentic and portable. Now, instead of looking to others to determine whether or not I belong, I meet them with my belonging already sourced from within, which has revolutionized how I show up.
Here are five things you can do to create a sense of belonging wherever you go, even when you feel like an outsider.
1) Get curious
When we enter a new situation, we tend to focus on ourselves with a waterfall of thoughts: “How do I look? Do I smell ok? Do I have food in my teeth? I don’t want to look like I’m trying too hard, I’ll just lean against the wall and watch.” But it’s hard to connect with others when our attention is on ourselves. Getting curious is the antidote.
My ex-husband and I used to play a game in spaces where we hardly knew anyone. We’d go up to a stranger and start a conversation. By doing this, I learned a lot about the power of simple curiosity as a bridge to belonging.
The next time you’re hanging back, get curious. Notice something and comment on it, ask people about themselves and how they came to be there. Genuine curiosity can be felt and is an instant ice-breaker.
2) Reveal yourself
This one comes after curiosity because, if you’re like me, you may use curiosity and good listening skills to recede into the background. If being a wallflower is your true nature, great, but it wasn’t mine. For me, it was the survival mechanism of a mixed child who wanted to fit in.
A few years ago, new friends told me they couldn’t feel me behind my reserved exterior and challenged me to reveal myself more. By vulnerably sharing myself, I created belonging, because the emotions I revealed were ones that we all struggle with. Authenticity is a cut-to-the-chase path to belonging.
If you tend to be curious at the expense of sharing yourself, balance your curiosity with being more self-revealing. Look for moments where you can open up first to take a conversation deeper.
3) Don’t piggyback
People piggyback to try to show empathy by sharing a similar experience but it’s not the best way to create connection.
Example: Your friend got a parking ticket. Instead of saying, “Bummer. Tell me more,” or, “Shit. You sound stressed about that, want to talk through how to make it work?,” you say, “That sucks. I just got a ticket last week.”
In the first scenario, your attention is on your friend and you give them room to open up, which is true empathy. In the second scenario, you think you’re showing empathy by revealing that you’ve had a similar experience, but you’re pulling the attention back to yourself and subtly topping your friend, which doesn’t feel good.
It takes practice to change this habit, but doing so will create belonging, because your friends will feel more space and safety to share themselves with you.
4) Remember there’s only one of you in the universe.
YOU’RE A FREAKING MIRACLE!
There’s only one person exactly like you, even if you’re part of a like-minded tribe. How many single-celled amoebas had to divide until sex evolved, leading to the possibility of you?
If you don’t believe in evolution, how about this: God doesn’t make mistakes and God made you. Any negative crap you believe about yourself is a false idea you picked up from family, culture, religion, and education. It’s inherited and not who you really are.
If you walk into a room anchored in the knowledge that your existence is a freaking miracle you’ll be less freaked out about whether or not people like you. They will no longer determine your worth because YOU’RE A FREAKING MIRACLE.
Remember that each person you meet is also a freaking miracle, whether they know it or not. We’re all bumbling along in our inherited ideas of separation until we choose to interrogate and dismantle them. Compassion for the less conscious as we work to become more conscious fosters belonging because we know how much it sucks to forget who we really are.
5) Practice meditation
Meditation isn’t an instant fix, but it’s an important part of the puzzle of belonging. The more friendly you get with the orchestra of voices in your head, the more you realize that there’s no such thing as a singular “I” that people can accept or reject.
The landing in belonging within that I experienced earlier this year occurred at a meditation retreat. All the books, lectures, healing sessions, and meditations of the last thirty years of personal and spiritual growth added up to the moment I saw who I am in such a way that I won’t forget it again.
I still go up and down, but when I’m down there’s still an awareness that my essence is fine, even in the midst of exhaustion and grief.
If you’ve never meditated before, start small. Sit for five minutes and notice your breath moving in and out. When you notice that your mind wandered, bring your attention back to the breath. You don’t need a fancy cushion or even to be able to sit on the floor. Gradually work up to sitting for twenty minutes a day. You could start with a guided meditation app, like Headspace, or attend a meditation class, and work up to sitting on your own in silence.
Meditation is a cumulative practice. You’ll go through periods when you drop in without a hitch, and others when you’re bobbing along on the surface like a buoy in a hurricane. It doesn’t matter. Just sit and over time you’ll discover who you really are beneath the noise.
What struck you in this post? Let me know in the comments! Sign up for my email list to receive more helpful and growing resources. XO
Image by Sarah Treanor
For more of my writing on belonging, click here.
Marie-Elizabeth Mali supports women in shedding their inherited identities. If you want to create a life that reflects who you really are, click here.
A year ago, I knelt in the closet of my elderly mother’s country house going through her things. My partner threw out moth-eaten clothes and I tried to toss some old shoes, but my mother shouted at me to save them. Dirt-stained shoes filled with mouse shit that I, muttering, threw in the “keep” box way too hard.
Since I’m an only child, my partner and I traveled across the country to help her put her house on the market. My mother could no longer drive there alone and likely would not return once we left. Tensions ran high because she wanted to ship home as much as she could and we wanted to get rid of as much as we could so the house would show well.
Fast forward a year and the house still hasn’t sold. Last week, I flew cross-country and went there alone for 36 hours to clear it out some more. Then I went to NYC for two days to visit my mother.
I’m still an only child. My mother still keeps too much and resists getting the professional help she needs. But I’m now able to help her more out of love than obligation because I’ve cultivated these five habits in the past year:
1) Notice what you’re telling yourself about what’s happening.
Last year I felt obligated and resentful at being the only child of a stubborn woman. I couldn’t feel how hard it must have been for her to let go of driving, and her house, because all my attention was on how the situation was impacting me, which locked me into victim mode.
Before I got on the plane last week, I decided to handle the house and my mother with flow and joy. I challenged myself to stay focused on how I wanted the house to be and the interactions with my mother to feel.
I hired someone to help me at the house instead of trying to do it all by myself. We had fun while we worked. When I held up three half-burned red candles my mother saved years ago to re-use on some future Christmas, I laughed instead of judged.
A lot happened in a day: We packed two carloads for Goodwill, Junk King hauled away a truckload, someone serviced the furnace, I gifted a friend a loveseat, and we cleaned. I kept my focus clear and the whole day flowed.
What we tell ourselves about what’s happening is ALWAYS more powerful than what’s actually happening. We have more choice than we know. We can use any situation to reveal capacities we didn’t know we had if we look at it as a chance to invite them out.
**Look at a tough situation. Does what you’ve been telling yourself about it serve you? Ask yourself, “How else could I see this?” and/or “How is this inviting me to grow?” and/or “How do I show up differently here than I have before?”
2) Build in fun and rest along the way.
I used to grind until I dropped and needed days to recover. I was afraid I wouldn’t have enough time to finish unless I powered through. Now, unwilling to wipe myself out anymore, I build in breaks to recharge. I still get plenty done and enjoy myself more.
For fun, in 36 hours upstate and two packed days in NYC, I attended a relaxing sound bath, enjoyed a home-cooked dinner with a friend, took a salt bath, wrote for two hours by a window facing trees and land, had dinner with friends at a restaurant I love, and saw a Broadway show with my bestie.
**Especially if you’re too busy, what’s one fun thing you could choose to do this week? Maybe it’s something you already do and want to enjoy more, or maybe there’s something new you could add that would put a skip in your stride through the grind.
3) Practice gratitude
No matter how tough the situation, there’s always something to be grateful for. Are you breathing? You could be grateful for that. Are you reading these words? You could be grateful for sight, literacy, and the internet.
When I get stressed and uptight, I pause, take a breath, and think of three things to be grateful for. Sometimes, at first, my mind says, “F*ck gratitude,” but when I choose to find gratitude anyway my stress level improves.
**Start the day by thinking of three things you’re grateful for and end the day with three different things. If it helps, write them down in a gratitude journal. You’re training your mind to notice things to be grateful for as you move through your day, a handy habit when you hit tough times.
4) Beware of mission creep.
I’m on my way to do a task, but as I walk I see three more things that need handling. I used to stop to do them and end up drowning in mission creep and totally stressed about time.
I’ve learned to stick with a plan. I now have a document where I jot down unanticipated things that crop up. I no longer worry about forgetting them if I don’t stop right then.
I planned five tasks at the house: the junk haul, packing for Goodwill, servicing the furnace, the loveseat giveaway, and cleaning. As other tasks came up, I put them on a list for next time. I left the house feeling successful and complete because I stayed on task.
**Are you a victim to mission creep? Take back your power by creating a list and staying on task.
5) Look for magical moments.
Our minds look for what’s wrong more than what’s right, but we can train ourselves to notice the magic of synchronicity. In this way, we fill our minds with the good in our lives, leaving less room for them to harp on what’s hard.
Upstate, I worked at a friend’s in the morning before heading to my mother’s where there’s no cell reception or internet. Because I “ran late,” I received two calls about the day’s upcoming visits. If I’d been “on time,” I would have missed those two important calls.
That evening, in pouring rain, I met friends for dinner before driving back to NYC. Just when I needed to park, a car vacated a spot in front of the restaurant. I parked there and barely got wet.
I have an “Evidence Journal” where I record these moments. Since starting it, I handle tough times better because I’ve built up trust. When life seems hard, I know there’s more going on than I can see. I’m more able to keep my focus on what to do instead of spinning out in self-defeating stories.
**Start an Evidence Journal. Throughout the day, keep your eyes peeled for magic and write it down.
Add one of these habits each week for the next five weeks. Keep them going over the next year and watch your experience transform.
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Marie-Elizabeth Mali supports women in shedding their inherited identities. If you want to create a life that reflects who you really are, click here.
Do you ever wonder why, even though you swore you’d never date somebody like THAT again, three months later you’re doing exactly that? It’s like you’re a satellite missing the booster rocket you need to get out of the gravitational pull of that particular planet of NOPE.
Here are three common mistakes that keep us stuck in unhealthy orbits in our relationships (and lives):
1) We try to get away from what we don’t want instead of moving toward what we want.
As Rev. Michael Bernard Beckwith says, “Pain pushes until the vision pulls.”
There’s no shame in being motivated by pain to change. It’s a compelling motivator! But if you’re only trying to get away from what you don’t want, your focus is still on what you don’t want, which will tend to recreate it.
That’s why swearing you’ll never date THAT type of person again is almost sure to bring someone like that sauntering into your life with an irresistible smile.
Getting clear about the type of person you’d be thrilled to date begins to build the booster rocket you need to shift your orbit. Better yet, becoming the person your ideal partner would want to date gets you lift-off. Without getting too woo about it, if you begin to radiate the qualities you’re looking for in another, the person who resonates with those qualities can find you, like when you buy a teal car and start seeing teal cars everywhere.
The more you put your attention on what you want instead of what you’re leaving behind, the more power you build to carry you through the lag time until it shows up. You’re also less likely to slip back into the old orbit, however tempting the pull, when your focus is on where you’re headed.
2) We ignore our inner knowing.
My ex-husband and I were best friends and created a great life together but were also incompatible in a few significant ways. We worked hard in couples’ therapy and attended couples’ retreats to improve our connection, but always returned to a dissatisfying baseline.
I eventually developed hypothyroid and adrenal exhaustion, ending up mired in self-hatred and exhaustion. I could barely move, had no libido, and slept for ten hours a night. I left the house less and less, withdrawing from much of our social life.
Then I went away alone on a scuba diving trip to Indonesia. While I was there, I had plenty of energy. Instead of needing ten hours of sleep, I slept five or six and was fine, even while doing three or four dives a day. I wanted so badly to stay married that I’d turned my unhappiness inward, ignoring my knowing, and tanked my health rather than admit to myself how broken I felt.
When I came out of the brain fog and exhaustion on that trip, I saw that it wasn’t that I was incapable of being happy in relationship, it was that I was unhappy in this one. Six months later, after we were clear that we couldn’t reconcile our differing needs, we split amicably and went on to find better-suited partners.
When you hit a major roadblock and decide to communicate authentically and vulnerably, you invite the same to emerge in your partner. You may deepen into a new layer of your relationship or end it, but you’ll be true to yourself, which is what matters most.
3) We have a limited idea of what we can have.
Until I believed I was capable of showing up in a relationship at the depth of connection I wanted, I attracted men who wouldn’t go there. Because of the work I’ve done to increase my baseline of what I deserve, I can see the kind of men I used to date coming from a mile away and step aside to let them pass.
All change is uncomfortable for the subconscious. It will do anything, even sabotage, to bring you back to the familiar. Like crabs in a barrel, the parts of you that aren’t on board with change pull you back to the place they feel safe, even if that place is killing you.
If you want something different, figure out what you would have to believe about yourself in order to have it. Then reverse engineer how to develop that belief. It helps to have a coach guide you through this precise, surgical work.
Two and a half years ago, the love of my life demonstrated his willingness to meet me. As we started dating, I respected his need for space. I didn’t freak out and trusted he’d come back if it was right. A few months in, I realized that the shadow side of my giving him space was a fear that he’d run if I showed up with the full force of my love and desire. I said, “I’m going to love you and you’re going to have to increase your capacity to receive it. I’m not going to hold back anymore to keep you comfortable.” He took a deep breath and said, “Okay.” A couple of days later, he expressed a desire to move in together and we’ve lived together ever since.
While our relationship isn’t perfect, it has a foundation of ease that I’ve never had before, even when we’re in a challenging growth phase. It’s as if, instead of walking barefoot on sharp pebbles and cursing at the unpaved road, I’ve learned to put on shoes.
Marie-Elizabeth Mali supports women in shedding their inherited identities. If you want to create a life that reflects who you really are, click here.
This article was also published on Thought Catalog, under a different title.
When my hips started hurting in my early forties, I shrugged it off. After all, soreness was my thing and I’d started doing high intensity interval workouts to lose the weight I put on when my thyroid tanked. But as the decade wore on, I had to stop those workouts because of the hot pokers jammed in my hips. I even stopped doing yoga, which I’d practiced for over twenty years.
I got massage, acupuncture, Muscle Activation Technique, CranioSacral therapy, hypnotherapy and more. I saw everyone but an MD, who I figured would only offer a Band-Aid in the form of drugs. I wanted to get to the core of what this pain was about so I could get rid of it at the root.
A man was trapped in a house by rising floodwaters, praying to God to save him. A neighbor came by and offered him a ride, which he declined, saying God was coming. Folks stopped in a boat and he said no, still waiting for God. Finally a helicopter arrived when he was on the roof and offered him a ladder to climb to safety, and he waved it off, still waiting for God. After he drowned and went to heaven, he asked why God let him drown. God said, “I sent you a truck, a boat, and a helicopter, and you refused them all. What else was I supposed to do?”
Eventually I stopped going out, made excuses, pretended I was busy. When I did go out, I stayed seated, making sure I was the last one to get up after everyone turned away so they wouldn’t see me wince or catch how long it took me to straighten up. A wide-legged shuffle replaced my New-York-paced long strides.
If my body were a car, I wanted to key it and shatter the windshield with a baseball bat. I moved to Santa Monica from New York, in part so I could drive instead of walk. I fell in love with and rescued a dog and wept as I hobbled around the block with her, stopping every few steps to gather the strength to continue.
In early 2015, at a retreat, I slowly stood to ask my teacher, Nicole Daedone, how to deal with my chronic pain and she said, “Your pain could be the thing that wakes you up if you use it to get free. It’s up to you.”
Her answer landed like a bomb in my gut. My heart raced, hands got sweaty, and I cascaded through rage, betrayal, hope, confusion, curiosity, insult, recognition. Locked in the effort to get rid of it, I thought getting free meant being pain-free. The idea that I could have freedom in the midst of debilitating pain felt like squinting at Mt. Everest from sea level, blinded by sun on snow.
I knew a loving gauntlet had been thrown. I accepted the challenge and began to ask myself questions like, “Even if this pain were never to go away, what could I be grateful for right now?,” and, “What qualities am I being called to develop through this experience?,” and, “What does this pain want to teach me?”
Instead of treating my body like a carcass of meat and bone to bend to my will (and fume at when it didn’t comply), I began to discover what it wanted and needed. As I opened to listening, my body began to teach me about my real self.
My identity as a fiercely capable and independent woman began to unravel. I began to ask for help, to let others see more of me, including my pain. I began to experience bouts of joy, even when my pain was cranked to top volume, because I had more connection with others.
At the end of 2015 I went to an orthopedist for X-Rays, finally ready to accept that there may be more wrong than blocked energy. Turns out I’d been born with dysplasia and my hip joints had deteriorated and grown sharp bone spurs from the long-time rub of bone on bone. The hot pokers I felt were real. Replacement was my only option. With gratitude, I grabbed the ladder offered by the helicopter of surgery.
By the time I saw the orthopedist, I was in love, living with my new partner and waking up grateful and joyful to be alive, even though I still could barely walk. The mobility I’m gaining now, in 2018, after both replacements are done, feels like gravy poured over a wonderful life, not the pre-requisite for it.
Even as I revel in my renewed mobility, I keep this in mind: “We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart.” —Pema Chödrön
As I emerge from a decade of chronic pain with freedom and joy, the next gauntlet has already shown up: managing my elderly mother’s affairs and growing needs from across the country as an only child. Things come together and fall apart, indeed. At least now I know the questions to ask in order to navigate with grace the shifting terrain.
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Image: Portrait of a Heart by Christian Schole
Marie-Elizabeth Mali is a coach who supports women in shedding their inherited identities. If you want to set up a Powerful Conversation to discover how to create a life that reflects who you really are, click here.
Imagine having exactly the relationship you want. Imagine feeling free in your body. Imagine having plenty of money. Imagine living in your dream house in the city, mountains, or beach. Imagine being fulfilled in your career or parenting. Then, imagine what could happen next.
“But what if she/he/they leaves me,” or, “My body won’t feel this good for long,” or, “The stock market or housing market could crash at any time and I’m unprepared,” or, “I wonder when the next hurricane will hit,” or, “What if I get hit by a car?'” are just some of the things you might imagine if your tendency is to anticipate loss.
When I was sixteen, I sang “When I Fall in Love,” for my voice teacher. I’d practiced all week. At the end, she said I sang beautifully, one difficult phrase in particular. I replied that I hadn’t hit the high note well. She said, “If you spend your life focusing on the one note you hit wrong instead of the phrase you sang well, you’ll never be happy.”
I’m still learning how to let the way I do something be good enough as it is. How to stay upright in the awkward pose of imperfection. How to be happy without waiting for the other shoe to drop, without waiting for disaster to jump and mug me around the next dark corner of the unknown.
I used to say that I was wired for yearning, that it was my homeostasis. Yearning was where my poems came from. Yearning made me work hard to improve in everything I do. When I got what I wanted, my mind would quickly turn to what was still missing or how I could lose the thing I now had and I would quickly be back to yearning again.
But anticipating loss robs me of the enjoyment of what I have and doesn’t mitigate the pain when loss actually comes. I end up staying braced for the next onslaught instead of being relaxed and able to enjoy the good that is here now. I’ve also found that if I’m enjoying my life more when times are good, I have more resilience when the inevitable loss happens because I’ve built up my reserves by allowing pleasure to sink in.
How delicious the chocolate bar found only at the shop in Brooklyn I visit twice a year. How wonderful to savor it, let it melt in my mouth instead of chewing and swallowing before the complexities of the cacao have fully revealed themselves. How satiating it becomes to eat a square each day in this way, making it last, instead of gobbling it up and wishing I had bought more bars.
When my partner’s body is wrapped around mine in the morning in that half-asleep swoony state where all I feel is warmth, soft skin, sheets, his still weight nestled perfectly into mine, a deep sigh of pleasure in my bones, it usually takes about 20 seconds for my mind to jump to what time we have to get up, the dog, breakfast, whether or not I’m in pain, if he’ll leave me. It takes willpower to bring my mind back to my peaceful body, to notice and let the pleasure sink in. With daily practice, the amount of time this peace continues into my day after I get out of bed is getting longer.
My mind prefers to be out in front of my body scanning for danger, like an anxious dog pulling on a leash. But one thing I know now is that my body knows. It feels out situations quicker than my mind can. The more I show the anxious dog of my mind who’s boss by noticing what’s happening in my body instead of being the prey of my racing thoughts, the quicker I can discern what I want to do.
The next time you’re anticipating loss or anxious about a decision, bring your mind back to your body. Feel your feet on the floor and connect to your breath. Bring your attention to a place in your body that feels good right now, even if it’s the tip of your nose. Let that good feeling spread through the rest of your body as you pause and breathe for a few minutes. End the exercise by thinking of three things you are grateful for right now. You can train your mind to come back to your body and train yourself to let your body inform your decisions. My tendency to anticipate loss lessened and my enjoyment of life increased when I took up this practice and yours can, too.
Please share using the social plugins to the left, join my email list below, and leave a comment with the single biggest insight you’re taking away from this post. Thanks for reading! XO
Marie-Elizabeth Mali is a coach who supports women in shedding their inherited identities. If you want to set up a Powerful Conversation to discover how to create a life that reflects who you really are, click here.
We set up my recovery from hip replacement surgery well this time—food delivery, friends coming over in shifts to relieve Patrick so he could get out of the house and move his body, a new bed desk that tilts for computer use and flattens for meals—and still we ended up in a big fight on day 6.
I wasn’t prepared for how irritable I became. How I needed several things done quickly and didn’t always have clear words to convey that through the pain and haze of meds. How I wished he would anticipate my needs, a skill he has when he’s not stressed out, and got disappointed when he didn’t.
I noticed that as he slowed, caught in the crosshairs of his emotional triggers and less able to respond, I got more impatient. I started making up a story that he was dumb and slow. It felt like he would deliberately not understand me, or turn away just as I was struggling with something, so I would have to repeat myself or stop and ask for help.
He couldn’t understand why I was so irritable, why when I asked him for help there was no love in my request, why he felt disdain coming through my words. He expressed that he felt pummeled, which I couldn’t hear at all. It felt like unnecessary drama to label my words as boxing gloves. Locked in my view, I couldn’t let him have his.
We were triggered and locked in a pattern determined to play itself out like this:
Patrick: “Being in pain doesn’t give you the right to be an asshole.”
Me: “Having a feeling doesn’t give you the right to not have your attention on me. If you had your attention on me instead of snarled up inside yourself I wouldn’t have to repeat myself so many times and I wouldn’t get so irritated.”
Patrick: “That’s not true. You’re irritated whether I do it right or not. Why can’t you be nice to me?”
Me: “Hellooooo, I’m in pain. It’s not about you.”
He went downstairs and left the house. When he returned, he went into our bedroom and slammed the door.
To me, that meant he needed the room to himself, cutting off access to the bed and the only toilet in the house accessible to me because it has the temporary potty over it that makes it high enough. In my anger, all I could see was him blocking me from peeing because he was having a feeling.
I felt my pain had primacy. Why? Because I can only use one damn toilet in the whole house and he can sulk anywhere. The fact that he claimed the bedroom, denying me rest and the ability to pee meant that he was clueless about my needs. It felt selfish.
I got madder and madder until I couldn’t wait any longer and texted him to ask if I could please come in and use the bathroom. Except maybe a bit more resentfully than that.
Come to find out that he was watching funny videos to bring himself out of his triggered state. For him, a slammed door doesn’t carry the same meaning as it does for me. He couldn’t understand why I was so mad and why I didn’t ask to come in sooner. In his view, I made an incorrect assumption around having to wait until he reemerged that served to ramp up my anger and gave me more evidence that he was clueless and insensitive to my needs.
It took a while for me to see that although Patrick was in his victim and I was in the perpetrator role with him with my irritation and disdain, I was in my victim also and making him a perpetrator blocking me from the bathroom.
We both had firmly taken up residence on the victim triangle and it sucked.
I had to admit that I felt my pain from surgery was more important than his emotional state and I wanted him to man up and be there for me, no matter how I behaved. When I read it now, I see how that line of thinking is off-base and will not lead to the kind of relationship I want to have. But I was too angry to see that at the time.
I forgot the most important part: love. We love each other and Patrick responds impeccably to clear, loving requests. If he feels good, he serves like a motherfucker. There’s no one better.
I had to choose: Do I let my competitive need for my surgical pain to be more important poison our relationship, or do I soften and acknowledge that his emotional pain matters, too?
I made the second choice. Ultimately, having a happy, confident man around who skillfully attends to me and our dog is more important to me than my victim jockeying for the upper hand.
All of this went down on Sunday and the massacre in Las Vegas happened on Monday. What kind of pain and isolation would have a man think that mowing down a bunch of people enjoying a concert is a thing to do? Being in pain doesn’t give you the right to kill and injure a slew of people, that’s for sure.
The micro-violence Patrick and I experienced in our fight, if left unchecked, expands to the extreme violence happening all over our country right now. Lately, as a society, many of us can’t get to a place where we can hear and empathize with each other’s pain because we’re so focused on our own.
The antidote that worked for us was remembering that we love each other and are on each other’s side, even though it didn’t feel that way during our fight. As a country, may we remember to love one another. Love your neighbor, you are your brother’s keeper, and all that. Even when your neighbor is a shit. Even when you think you have it worse than they do. Especially then.
We often come to the work of change thinking that if we could be more disciplined and have a clear list of goals and steps then we could make our lives work. Some people do need more structure and certain types of coaching use this approach. I’m talking here to those of us who are already disciplined and know what we want to do, but we aren’t doing it and can’t figure out why.
The kind of change we need in this situation is internal. Instead of piling on more “shoulds” and making goals that we further stress ourselves out over trying to meet, we need permission to dive in to discover who we are and what we want beneath our ability to produce results.
First, we need to develop integrity and the power to express it. In this case, integrity means being whole and undivided. For example, in the past I wanted to have more clients but deep down I doubted myself, which meant I was out of integrity. I was clear about my skill as a coach but I feared that my many privileges—white, wealth, higher education, mobility—might trigger potential clients. I didn’t trust how well I’d respond if they got reactive and attacked me when I challenged them on their limiting beliefs. In talking with me, potential clients could feel these subtle places where I held back out of fear and chose not to work with me. Maybe they wouldn’t have called what they sensed a lack of integrity, but that’s what it was.
Once I got clear about who I am, what I offer, and developed confidence in my ability to handle people’s reactivity and resistance, I developed the integrity that I had been lacking. At that point, people I met would became curious and would initiate conversations about working with me. The thing that changed the equation and led to having more clients was integrity rather than a strategic implementation of some new, fancy marketing.
We also need to learn how to distinguish when we are trying to make things happen through willpower versus acting in alignment with our deeper desires and values. For ten years I tried to quit smoking using willpower, which always failed. One day I realized that I saw myself as a smoker who had quit smoking. Once my willpower relaxed its vigilance, my smoker identity would reassert itself and I’d pick up a cigarette. I worked as a health practitioner at the time and decided in that moment that to smoke would make me a hypocrite. I could not smoke and have integrity as an example of health for my clients, which was my deeper desire. I never smoked again, with zero struggle. Why? Because my identity shifted and smoking no longer fit who I was. The change stuck because it came from within instead of being imposed on a resistant identity (the smoker) through willpower.
Eight months ago, I saw a neurofeedback practitioner to work with the pain circuit in my brain, since I’d lived with chronic pain for nine years and had developed debilitating reactivity to it. I was hooked up to a computer that read my brain signals while I tried to complete a mental task. Even though I did the exercise twice, it seemed like I failed since I couldn’t consistently do it right. But gradually in the last eight months, I’ve had a dramatic reduction in pain and an increase in emotional stability in the face of the pain I still have. Those exercises, in which it seemed like nothing happened, made my brain start to rewire itself and my life changed.
The way change happens through coaching and other personal growth work is like the rewiring process I went through with my brain’s pain circuit. Sometimes there’s a dramatic shift, a light-bulb-moment that changes everything, like when I quit smoking forever, but more often we coach for a while and one day my client says, “You know that thing that used to happen when I felt rejected? That doesn’t happen anymore.” Or s/he says, “When my partner freaked out last night, I was able to stay centered and stay connected, as well as respond from clarity. I had no idea I could do that.”
Change is often more noticeable in the disappearance of reactivity or a newfound ability to receive and less often accompanied by fireworks. As a coach, I see again and again that our conversations and homework exercises initiate a rewiring process. Two terrific resources that you could use on your own right away are The Work by Byron Katie and this article on The Three Faces of Victim by Lynne Forrest. That said, I recommend eventually working with a coach because it’s hard to see your own blind spots, especially as you get into deeper layers and want to create subtler changes.
At first it can seem like nothing is happening, like the time of waiting after a seed is planted and before the new shoot pokes through the soil. Over time, with the right nourishment, the shoot grows into a solidly planted tree and the landscape is forever changed. This kind of change from the inside out is the kind of change that sticks for a lifetime.
I had my home safety site visit today with Jamie, the physical therapist assigned to me by Kaiser for five visits post-surgery. This was the last of my pre-op appointments before the big day. We practiced getting in and out of bed and the car, going up and down stairs, finding the right height of chair to sit in, and picking up all the rugs so that my walker doesn’t get snagged. She also adjusted the cane and walker so that they’re the right height. The tools are gathered (see the pic below) and the house is ready!
I’m most excited about my new bed desk that can be flat for meals and tilted for reading or laptop use. Last time the incision and swelling made using my computer on my lap impossible. This little desk lifts everything off my legs while allowing me to stay in bed. I can’t wait to watch movies in bed on this desk while I’m whacked out on pain meds!
Last night we went to Pulse Float Studio in Culver City. It was a wonderful way for us both to relax in the midst of all the preparations. The darkness, silence, and sensation of being held by the salt-filled water made my mind completely stop. I slept/conked out for most of the hour and slept deeply last night, waking up later today than usual. My nervous system feels like it got taken down a notch, an unusual and welcome sensation.
I don’t know about you but I tend to prepare for things by pushing through and doing as much as possible without leaving much space for rest. I’m trying something different this time by inserting fun things like a float date, or dinner with friends, into the mix. As a result, the week feels less frenzied and my system has occasional chances to calm down instead of staying in pedal-to-the-metal mode.
That said, preparing for surgery in the midst of hurricanes and earthquakes affecting so many people isn’t the most calm experience. After the shaking we felt the other night from the quake in Westwood, I finally handled getting earthquake coverage today for our home. I also realized that we don’t have a go bag here, so Patrick began putting one together today for us and our dog.
I renewed my medical marijuana card yesterday and picked up supplies for post-surgery. Last time I found that CBD potentiated with a small amount of THC that didn’t get me high worked well as I titrated down the amount of pain medication I was taking. It took a bit of experimentation to find the dosage and ratio that worked best for pain relief, but once I did I was able to wean off the Percocet in 4-5 weeks. It was a relief because my body likes opiates a little too much. I was on Tramadol for four years prior to my first surgery and getting off of it was agonizing. I’m grateful to have been completely off all pain meds, including CBD, for the last nine months since it will make the recovery from surgery easier.
Patrick made a schedule spreadsheet and reached out to several friends yesterday to invite them to pick blocks of time when they can come over. This way he can get a break and not go batty from trying to handle everything himself. Every time a friend chooses another slot, it feels so good!
I feel well-held. Between our friends offering to help, and others who have offered to pray, I feel loved and supported. I’ve reached out to the Agape Prayer Ministry to ask for prayer support. The day before my surgery I get to sing with the Agape choir on choir Sunday, which is so uplifting. Then I’m getting a massage in the late afternoon and going to bed early since we have to be at the hospital at 5:45 am on Monday.
Here’s the miraculous thing about hip surgery: when you come out of it there’s the trauma to heal from, the flesh that has to knit back together, the fluids that have to get reabsorbed, all of which is painful and takes time. But the deteriorated joint that’s been limiting mobility and creating a grinding pain with muscle compensation for years is gone, replaced by a smooth motion when walking and no pain. It’s like stepping out of a cave I’ve lived in for years and blinking in the unexpected, nourishing light. I look forward to experiencing that again.
Lately I’ve been marveling at being able to hold my right (operated) leg in a parallel position with ease. For the first time in my life, I can stand with my foot pointing straight ahead and not work to keep it there. Because of undiagnosed hip dysplasia and muscular development that created a natural turn-out, parallel position has always been hard for me to access. Once my hip joints deteriorated, standing in parallel created searing pain in my hips that often shot down my legs. To be able to point my foot straight ahead is amazing, as is being able to cross my right leg over the left, which I wasn’t able to do for over five years.
Soon, I will look down at my feet and have them both be pointing straight ahead. I wonder how my life will change, what power will be released by having two properly-situated hips for the first time in my life.
Since about a week ago, my mind has turned to preparing for my second hip replacement, which is scheduled for Sept. 25th. I got my medical clearance on Thursday and am chugging through the next round of pre-op appointments this week.
I’m reviewing this brilliant list of surgery recovery tips, authored last year by moi, and implementing the ones that make sense to start doing now. I’m also resuming my work with the book and relaxation CD I used last year, Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster, by Peggy Huddleston.
I feel more relaxed this time because I’ve been through it once already and recovered well. And now that I have one hip already done, my recovery should go even better than last time, since last time I was also contending with pain in my un-operated hip.
I started going to the gym over a week ago to ride the stationary bike and lift weights to improve circulation and get stronger before surgery. It will make recovery easier and also give my body more muscle to draw on to heal itself. It feels really good to have more strength going into surgery this time, thanks to being able to move more due to the right hip already having been done.
But I still have anxiety coming up. Will I have an infection in my suture and painful skin nerve damage like last time? Will I remember what to do if the PT isn’t as amazing as the last one they assigned me? Will the caretaker/patient dynamic affect my relationship for as long as it did last time?
Since we’re living in a vertical condo this go around and the kitchen is upstairs, we’re going to have most meals delivered, at least for the first few weeks. Having to do less grocery shopping and cooking will be easier on Patrick, since now he’ll also have to bring meals downstairs to me.
I’m asking for more help from friends so that the burden of care in the early weeks doesn’t fall entirely on him. He’s going to stay more on top of his practices, like meditation and golf, this time around, so that he doesn’t get batty and overwhelmed like before.
We’ve moved the hyperbaric chamber into the bedroom so that I can access it post-surgery. And we’re switching sides of the bed so that I’ll have a straighter shot to the bathroom while I’m using the walker, as well as having an easier time getting out of bed. That’ll be interesting, to sleep on “his” side of the bed after about two years of sleeping on “mine.” We’ll have to re-learn how to spoon! I’m looking forward to how the shift in position might shake things up between us.
Thanks to a well-timed conversation with my coach last week, I’m choosing to give myself real space to heal instead of rushing back to coaching my clients as soon as I’m not a drooling pain-pill-addled space cadet. I’ve decided to pause my coaching practice for three weeks and give my clients reading and writing assignments to do each week to keep their learning going while I’m resting and learning to walk again. I’m excited for the possibilities of the discoveries they will make while I’m laid up and for the chance to dive in anew when I return well-rested and they return with new skills and awareness under their belts.
I’m lucky that I feel mobile enough this time to go squeeze in a dive trip next week. I’ve been wanting to shoot sea lions for years and finally have a chance to go on a photo trip to the Sea of Cortez! Maybe it’s nuts to go away so soon before surgery, but maybe it’s great to spend a week in the water doing what I love shortly before I can’t go anywhere for three months. And I’ll have lots of shots to edit while I’m recovering!
I’ll be blogging more consistently again as I go through this next surgery. It was fun to share the experience with you last time and it’ll be fun to see what’s similar and what changes this time. If you have questions or just want to connect, please leave a comment. I also have a free, down-to-earth guide to intuition that’s offered below as a gift for signing up for my email list. I’m going to be putting my intuition on overdrive through this process, so join me and learn how to do so for yourself!
Let’s hope I don’t end up like this guy!
Do you think spiritual people shouldn’t be angry? Is your friend still sleeping on your couch even though he said he’d only stay for three days (and you haven’t said a word)? Are you helping out at the weekly event again even though you’re sick as a dog? If you answered yes to any of these questions this list is for you!
Now that we are exposed to many paths through the magic of the interwebs, we absorb spiritual ideas from different levels of consciousness. What’s true at one level may not be true at the level we’re hearing it. Here are ten often misunderstood ideas that can block our deeper awakening.
1. Be a good person.
We don’t have to try to be good. The more we get to the truth of who we are, the more goodness we express. Covering self-doubt or self-loathing with a veneer of niceness makes us untrustworthy. Others can sense the fakery even if they can’t articulate it. For example, when I call my mother because I should, the conversation stays superficial and I can’t wait to get off the phone. But when I call her because I want to, the conversation connects and I’m in no rush to leave.
2. Be selfless.
Trying to be selfless is a recipe for disaster. It’s like walking around with a sign on our foreheads saying, “Use me.” When Bill Withers sings it, it’s hot because the singer feels right with his desire to be used. When we’re trying to be selfless because we want approval, it’s not hot.
3. Your teacher/priest/rabbi/imam/shaman knows better than you.
If your teacher isn’t teaching you how to uncover your own wisdom get away. Teachers are necessary because they are further down the road. They see where you are and what you need for growth, but if they encourage dependency and leave you disempowered, nope.
4. You must always communicate with kindness and compassion.
About fifteen years ago I encountered Non-Violent Communication. While the technique itself has merit, the person using it said the non-violent words while trying to passive-aggressively control the whole room. Spiritual communication techniques, if co-opted by covert needs, don’t make us less of an asshole. In fact, they make us more of one because we’re pretending to be all love and light when we’re not.
5. Spiritual means orderly and calm.
For control freaks (my people!), there’s a fine line between doing every action from a place of devotion and micromanaging our environment to make it perfect before we can get centered. Yes, it feels better when the yoga mats all line up and the bed is made, but the universe couldn’t care less. Let’s stop outsourcing our need for order on God. Have you ever felt the holiness of a Prince concert at Madison Square Garden, every musician playing full out, the crowd screaming with joy? Have you seen the apparent chaos that is the natural world, the way it works without our intervention?
6. Your truth is what matters.
The need to assert our truth can also disguise a need for control. If everyone thinks their truth is THE truth, then we compete to out-truth each other, sacrificing real listening and depth. When it comes from our deepest self that is one with everyone’s deepest self, truth just is. Nobody’s dying to hear what our egos come up with as our truth of the day, but many people are dying to feel connected at that deeper level where our shared truth resides.
7. You’re above messy emotions.
Emotions are not problematic but our reactions to them are. I thought I was chill until I got feedback from a friend that he experienced a painful, high-pitched whine when I got uptight and clamped a lid on it. If we express our emotions in real time they eventually come out less messy and pass like a cloud on a windy day. Down the road we can choose when to express, not because we’re pretending to be someone we’re not but because we can feel what each moment calls for.
8. Do nothing. God or the Universe will bring you your good.
Sometimes it’s right to do nothing and wait for clarity and sometimes it’s passivity and a refusal to take responsibility for our lives. We are not beggars waiting for crumbs from an unreliable universe. Our desires, if they come from our deepest self, are God’s desires. It’s on us to do the work to align with our deepest self and act from there. An external God has nothing to do with it.
9. What’s mine is yours.
In the grand scheme, yes. But if we’re letting folks walk all over us in the name of being spiritual, it’s time to learn to set boundaries. Being generous from a place of overflow is divine, being generous from the need to be liked is not. I once lent someone $5000, though a little voice said not to, because I wanted to be liked. After paying a small portion back, she left town and never paid back the rest, even after getting a large settlement from her former job. I learned a good lesson: to listen to that little voice instead of my need to be liked.
10. Kill your ego.
For all my driven perfectionists (oh hey, tribe!), don’t punish yourself when your ego or shadow shows up. Don’t wield insight like a two-by-four toward yourself or anyone else. Freedom and awakening happen gradually and we are already perfect in our imperfection. When we notice the next thing in an endless series of fucked up things about ourselves, let’s welcome it, ask it what it wants, what fear it has at its core. Let’s celebrate that we now have more freedom to make conscious choices and be less of an asshole, which is more than enough.