It’s Always Courage.

Reaching out for help is never weakness but always courage. Asking for help is a vulnerable thing to do because it requires you to expose your humanity in a world which often equates stoicism with strength. Strength is not about being stoic. It is about giving yourself permission to feel whatever it is that you are experiencing even if you are over come with fear at the thought of doing so. It is about feeling the fear and doing it anyway, remembering that a person who is able to hold your story will simply hold space for you in which you can explore your thoughts and feelings without attempting to offer a solution. They will offer you their compassionate presence as a means to validate and normalize your experience and simply stand in the fire with you as you move through your journey.

Your story is sacred and deserves to be received with the utmost care.

It Starts with You…

 

 

A few nights ago, I was out for dinner with a friend and I ran into a woman who I met before but who I did not know well. We had seen each other around town so we had formed enough of a connection that we greet each other with an acknowledging head nod and a wave. While I was eating and talking to my friend, she approached us and introduced herself. We spoke about the fact that we seem to know each other without really knowing each other. Then came the question that always inevitably arises when I meet someone new: “What happened to you?” I tell her that I was born prematurely which meant that my lungs weren’t fully developed and as I tried to breathe, I acquired brain damage as a result of a lack of oxygen to my brain. I explain to her that I am very fortunate though because my brain damage has only impacted my ability to walk. Following my answer, she said “But you seem so happy” to which I responded “I am. I love my life.” And I really do. I am so grateful for the life I have been gifted, and I am even grateful for the disability I have been gifted. I regularly say that I know at the very core of my being that this was no mistake. I have become the person I am today because of it. Living with a disability has gifted me a sense of perspective. It has helped me find my purpose.

What stood out for me though, was her initial response: “But you seem so happy.” Although I know her words were in no way ill intended, it reminded me that as human beings we need to practice checking our assumptions at the door, if we really want to connect with another. We have to be careful to examine the pre- conceived notions we carry, if we are to ever move toward a true sense of equality within our society. Why is it assumed that because I live with a disability that I am bound to be unhappy? Letting assumptions rule only serves to reinforce stigma and drives disconnection.

Changing the world really does start with each and every one of us. Check your assumptions at the door, and open the space for people to teach you about their experience, knowing that the vastness that is the human experience can never be contained to a series of labels and assumptions.

By suspending judgement we free ourselves and others. Here’s to radical openness and ever abounding love. It starts with you. Never doubt that.

The Practice of Fearless Compassion.

 
 
 

We are often told, either explicitly or implicitly that we must be “better than” and that life is a fight. A fight to be perfect. A fight to outshine. To outdo. To get ahead. To get to the top. After all, we are often implicitly told that it is only through this fight to outshine that we earn the right to feel valued and worthy. The notion that we are not good enough as we are is perpetuated, and the idea that we come to this world as empty vessels void of worth is fostered. Consequently, we often dedicate ourselves to the idea that we must spend our entire lives proving to ourselves and others that we are deserving of love, acceptance and belonging, putting us on a perpetual chase that makes us fearful, separates us from others and paradoxically moves us away from that which we yearn for most. It can lead us to make inauthentic choices, betraying ourselves for the sake of attaining approval of others, because we begin to believe that approval is the same thing as unconditional acceptance. And yes, this pattern can work for a while. It works until the cost outweighs the benefits. Until the burden of confinement and restraint of self becomes too much to bear.  Until we get tired. Until we realize that we only get one life and that it is not be wasted devoting oneself to the constraint of self-judgement and harsh self-criticism. Until we realize sacrificing ourselves to fit our perception of society’s ideal simply isn’t worth it.

Enter fearless compassion. Compassion is a radical and courageous choice. It requires that one suspends the confines of hierarchical thinking- doing away with the notion of separation and disconnection. Inherent in the practice of compassion is the notion of equality. It requires that we devote ourselves to the notion that we are all worthy love, acceptance, belonging regardless of the various filters through which we often judge ourselves and others. The filters of social standing, socioeconomic status, ability, level of education and so on, make no difference, because at a core level we are the same. It requires us to do away the ways that we are conditioned to measure our worth and settle with the fact that worth is inherent in ourselves and others. Ultimately, it requires us to settle with the fact that this fight we have devoted ourselves to for so long is an illusion. We don’t need to fight because we already have what we are so desperately fighting for. It’s okay to disarm and to devote yourself to your truth, because as you do so, you will give others the permission to do so as well.

For me, fearless compassion is about:

Owning your authentic truth: Embracing yourself completely, recognizing that what makes you “different” is what makes you awesome. You are the only you on this planet and you were given this life with the sole purpose of becoming who you are. You have gifts to share and lessons to teach. You bring value to this world simply because of who you are.

Vulnerability (Courage): Settling with the fact that you are imperfect and that others are as well. Imperfection is synonymous with being human. We are all fallible, and fragile. Life itself is an act of vulnerability. It asks to risk, to fall, to fail, to make mistakes and then to get up each day and do it again.

Unconditional acceptance: Detaching from the outcome of the many risks that we take. Knowing that if we fail that’s okay. Our failures do not define us. Our mistakes do not define us. Recognizing the pure courage that is tied to each and every risk we take, and that this courage is worthy of praise alone.

Openness: Practicing unconditional openness toward all of our feelings, regardless of the fear they may evoke, remembering that all feelings are okay. We are not supposed to be happy and joyful all the time, and subscribing to the belief that we are only serves to perpetuate judgement. It’s about allowing your experience to be what it is, remembering that they only path to happiness and contentment is through an acceptance and experience of all feelings, not through the denial of the ones that are uncomfortable to sit with.

Recognizing innocence: Recognizing that at our core, we are all just doing the best that we can. We are all tender beings. None of us come into this world with a guidebook. We are all just learning as we go, all striving to be heard and to feel that we matter. We all make mistakes and do things that we’re not proud of, but that does not make us bad.

As cliché as it may sound, self-love is a crucial component to loving others. If we don’t extend compassion to ourselves first, it is almost impossible to give to others, because it becomes act of judgement rather than true compassion. If we don’t recognize that we are the same as every other person on the planet, it implies that we don’t see ourselves as equal. Rather, it implies that we see ourselves as different and disconnected, and feeling this way can pull us into the trap of helping others to ascertain a sense of self-worth which can imply subtle judgement rooted in hierarchical thinking. However, once we recognize that we too need help from time to time (and that this is totally okay), extending compassion becomes a radical act. An act of radical openness, vulnerability and fearlessness. It signifies a willingness to sit with another person in their pain while simultaneously holding yours in your consciousness, using it as a means to connect and foster empathy. It signifies that we are willing to extend compassion to each and every person who crosses our path, always remaining cognizant of the fact that we never know what’s going on beneath exterior.

Compassion is a fearless choice. Compassion is a courageous commitment to recognizing the beauty that resides within each and every person on this planet, including ourselves.

Compassion is love in its rawest form.

 

 

     

 

I Just Want You to Know: A Story of Anticipatory Grief.

 
 
 
 

About a year ago, as I was sitting with my grandmother watching my grandfather, her husband of 57 years, take his last breaths in hospice care, she asked me why anyone would ever want to do this work- caring for people in their last days of life, as she found it utterly depressing and void of hope. My answer to her was quickly and easily given: “because it’s about love.” It’s about free-flowing, unbounded gratitude, raw vulnerability and pure courage.

Hanging in the balance between present reality and future uncertainty, between “have” and “have lost” unites us. It breaks the walls of fear which often surround us and allows us to shed our protective masks. We begin to fearlessly stand in what’s real, unapologetically, for time adopts a new sense of significance when we recognize that it truly is finite.  All things felt, but never said rise to the surface and are expressed with a sense of urgency. Hugs are given. Connection is fostered and love shines brightly.

When I talk to people about my experience of watching my grandfather’s health rapidly decline over a period of about six months, I don’t deny that it is one of the hardest things I have experienced. It was a time wrought with fear of what was to come. I spent many nights worrying about what he was feeling, and how I was to continue living my life without him. At the same time though, those six months were abundantly powerful, because alongside the fears and sleepless nights was a new sense of meaning. Each interaction we shared, we both recognized, was a gift. We were able to have the conversations that we would not have had otherwise, without any sense reservation. Vulnerability was brought to the table in a very real way.

Those six months were about living in the space of fearless authenticity which arose from us both feeling that we were given the permission to engage in those conversations. But here’s the thing,the idea that we need to be given permission to be authentic, and courageously vulnerable with those for whom we care the most, is false. The all-important and life-altering conversations which only seem to happen when time is of the essence, need to start happening without an underlying reason, and without feeling as though we need to be given permission. They need to start happening simply because the people who fill our lives are to be cherished. We need to start letting life unite us, for it is far more fragile than we often care to admit.

So go ahead and be generous with your words of love and gratitude. Tell people what they mean to you and how they have impacted your life. Say “I love you” just because you can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Vulnerability Remedy.

A few months days ago, while having a conversation with a good friend of mine, I crossed a boundary. I used a story which wasn’t mine to share, to illustrate a point.  Although the story fit with the nature of the conversation we were having, as soon as the words left my mouth I felt utterly disgusting. I knew, based on the physical reaction I was experiencing that I had made a huge mistake. I immediately went into shame mode. Narratives akin to “I am a horrible person” started to swirl in my mind. I felt that what I had done was in such stark contrast to my core guiding value (fierce compassion) that I couldn’t take it. I literally wanted to crawl out of my own skin and hide. Huge, huge shame.

I let a few more minutes of conversation pass.

The thoughts kept going. “What is wrong with you?” “How could you have been so careless?”  “You are a bad person.”  On and on. And, I knew that these thoughts would continue for days. I would punish myself in this way for hours on end until I felt that I had paid for what I had done. Interrupted nights, and days spent in a bad mood to follow. This cycle was all too familiar to me.

I desperately didn’t want to go down that road. So, instead of condemning myself for days, I decided to purposely break the cycle: I called on my self-compassion. I instantly knew what I had to do. I had to bring this up. I had to get vulnerable. And so, I brought it up. I told my friend, that I was very uncomfortable with what I had said and that I was experiencing some heavy shame about it. I told her about the thoughts that I had been having in the last few minutes of our conversation.  She listened, and I immediately felt better. I told her that I was fearful of her judgment of me, and that what I had done was out of alignment with who I want to be. The more vulnerable I got, the better I felt. She responded with compassion, and assured me that we all make mistakes and that what I had done, she believed was not a reflection of my character.

And, there it was: my ticket to freedom. It was in her speaking those words that I knew that the next few days would not be colored by self-punishing thoughts.

Healing happens in the space of vulnerability.

Yes, vulnerability is uncomfortable. That’s why it’s a reflection of courage, not weakness. But as uncomfortable as it may be, it comes with the greatest rewards life has to offer. It allows us to feel connected, reassured and united. Vulnerability is deeply empowering and enabling. It is the birthplace of freedom, because it is inherently risky, and what is risky is profoundly liberating.

 

 

 
 
 

 

Why it’s Okay if the Metaphorical Glass is Actually Half Empty.

 
 

We’ve all heard them at one time or another, those trite phrases of wisdom intended to uplift and inspire when we turn to others in times of pain. “Every cloud has a silver lining,” “You just need to start thinking more positively,” “Look on the bright side…,” “You need to see the glass as half full,” the list goes on.

Well intentioned? Most definitely.

Helpful? Probably not.

When we turn to others in times of pain and distress, we are not looking for the quick fixes offered by such words. In fact, such words can often increase our pain, and make us feel even worse. Vulnerability is risky, and often takes all the courage we can muster to reach out and let others in, because our most precious, and deeply held stories – those which require the most vulnerability to speak- are typically cloaked in fear, fear that others will not truly understand, will abandon us, and judge us as weak. That’s what makes vulnerability so incredibly powerful, because we know that when we are truly vulnerable, there was a whole bunch of fear that had to be pushed aside. That’s why bearing witness to someone’s most vulnerable stories and experiences is such a deep honor. It takes an immense amount of courage to expose oneself in such a raw and unprotected way. When we render ourselves vulnerable, we are essentially relinquishing control, and placing ourselves in the hands of another. We have no way of predicting how they are going to respond to us- will they nurture, love and respect us or will they disrespect, hurt, and shame us?

Our stories are abundantly powerful, and when they are met with quick fix phrases, it can make us feel that they have been robbed of their power and importance. Such phrases can be degrading and disrespectful because they fail to acknowledge the courage that is vulnerability. They dishonor the sheer valor it requires to let someone else in. Such phrases can make inspire shame and guilt, because they are wrapped in the implicit message that “negative” feelings are bad and therefore should be vehemently avoided. They send the message that we are wrong to have feelings that are not “positive.” Welcome disconnection, isolation and sometimes, self-loathing.

But here’s the thing, the idea that feelings can be labeled as “positive” or “negative” is a social construction. Feelings do not have a positive or negative value. They just are. They are all of equal importance. It’s okay to experience feelings of sadness, hurt, grief and so on because they are all part of the human experience, as much as happiness and joy are. We get scared. We get hurt. We can feel ashamed. We can feel lost. We can feel hopeless. And that’s okay, because it’s normal, and inherently human.

It’s okay that the glass isn’t always half full. It’s not supposed to be.

When we let someone see our pain, what we need is for them to truly honor our story and to meet it with empathy- a compassionate willingness to sit alongside us and delve into our experiences without judgment, as it is though this compassionate presence that connection is fostered. The walls of isolation are effectively shattered because we are made to feel “normal” when we begin to understand that all feelings are universal. We begin to understand that we are not weak because we are scared, hurt, grieving etc. We are in fact, just human, and that all we really need when we are in pain is for someone to sit with us and say, “I get it.”

 


 

 
 
 

Remember Your Humanness.

 




I’m a bit of a compassion junkie. If you have read anything that I have written, you likely have figured out that for me, compassion is my core guiding value. I want my life to be a reflection of it, infused in all that I do and  in all that I say. For me, the practice of compassion is transcendent. It allows me to feel connected to life in an inexpiable way, and functions as a constant reaffirmation of my connection to a greater source. As I have developed as a therapist over the last few years, my relationship to, and interest in the study of compassion has only grown stronger. I have piles of books dedicated to the subject sitting next to my bed, and read nightly to end my day with a little burst of inspiration. Most of the literature I have read speaks about compassion as a deep desire to alleviate the suffering of others, and it is my best guess that this is the definition that most people hold in their minds- compassion is a trait to be focused outward. This is the definition I subscribed to for many years as well, until I read a book titled Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff. This book radically changed the way I relate to the concept of compassion. In her book, Neff asserts that while compassion is to be focused outward, it is also to be focused inward, toward ourselves.
 
Radical right?!
 
At first thought, the notion of directing compassion toward ourselves may seem and feel a bit uncomfortable- after all, the critic within each of us can give us a multitude of reasons why we don’t deserve it. It may tell us that the things we’ve done are far too shameful to warrant compassion- that although compassion is all well and good for those around us, we are the exception. That somehow, we should have known better. That we are disconnected, and separate from the rest. Welcome that all too familiar shame spiral born of self-judgement. Consequently, we often begin to believe that we must engage in self-judgement and self-criticism as a way to keep us from doing that (those) all too shameful thing(s) again. We become increasingly unhappy, fearful and emotionally paralyzed. We condemn ourselves to a life of discontentment because we begin to believe that that is all we are worthy of.
 
And so, here are my questions for you:
 
  •          What really makes you so different from everyone else?
  •          Have we not all made mistakes and done things we are not proud of?
  •          Could it be that you were doing the best that you could in that given moment?
  •          Could it be that you were simply trying to fill some underlying need or void? (i.e. a              need for belonging, acceptance, love, connection etc.)
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that self-compassion is a way to let yourself “off the hook.” Rather, I am saying that, yes, although you may have made mistakes, they do not define you. Imperfection is a part of being human, and past mistakes do not change your worth. Worthiness is to be claimed, not earned. It is a gift that comes with being human. It is unchangeable and constant. You are worthy of love, belonging, unconditional acceptance, compassion, happiness, connection etc. regardless of the things you have done or have not done. It is an irrefutable fact.
 
Self-compassion is a commitment to your long-term well-being, not short-term gratification.
 
The practice of self-compassion asks you to begin to relate to yourself with self-kindness when you have failed, made a mistake, feel inadequate and so on. It asks you to recognize imperfection and begin to speak to yourself more kindly.

Imagine a close friend of yours is going through the same thing you are. This friend has made a mistake, has failed at something, and is right in the depths of a shame spiral. 
 
  •          How would you speak to this friend?
  •          What would you say to this friend to comfort him or her?
Turn those words away from your friend and toward yourself, remembering that at your core, you are no different from your friend.
The practice of self-compassion also asks you to recognize the interconnectedness of all human beings. It operates on the core premise that we are fundamentally the same. Underneath all appearances, abilities and perceived differences, we are all looking for the same things in this life. We really are on this ride together. 
 
Finally, the practice of self-compassion asks you to be mindful of your feelings related to the various experiences you have had. It asks you to practice unconditional acceptance toward whatever feelings are coming up for you- even the ones that are immensely difficult and painful to feel, for it is in facing them that we allow them to dissipate.
 
 
How do you think your life would change if you were to treat yourself more compassionately? 

Release (Negative) Judgement: Honor the Uniqueness of the Journey.

 

 
We’re all guilty of it, and I’m more guilty of it than I’d like to admit… passing arbitrary, and often unfounded judgement on others. It usually goes something like this:
 
That rude customer service rep?  She’s a bitch.
 
That friend who seems to keep making the same mistakes again and again? She’s stupid, and should really know better by now.
 
That waiter who took “forever” to bring the meal to the table? He’s slow. Lazy. Clearly not suited for the job.
 
That employee who keeps making mistakes? She’s not smart enough.  
 
That guy who is quick to lose his cool? He’s an asshole.
 
And it goes on… the list is literally endless. To judge others, is part of the human experience. We all do it, for various reasons. We do it to make ourselves feel better, to prove that we’re right, to compensate for personal insecurity and sometimes, we judge in an effort to connect with and be accepted by others.
 
To pass judgement signals the creation of a hierarchy in which the individual making the judgement places him or herself above or apart from the individual being judged. It says “there is nothing about this person that I can identify or connect with.” At its root lies disconnection and the notion that we are inherently different from one another. It fails to recognize the commonalities of the human experience. It denies that fact that at the end of the day, we are all striving for the exact same thing: to feel loved, and accepted and to know that we matter.
 
The act of judgement is a failure to recognize our humanness. It is a failure to recognize that it all boils down to this:
 
We are all doing the best we can to make it through this beautiful mess called life, the best way we know how.

 
“Have compassion for everyone you meet, even when they don’t want it. What seems conceit, bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen. You do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone.”
– Miller Williams


The truth is, none of us really know what we’re doing. We are all students of life, and none of us have the answers, and to believe that we do only serves to stunt our personal growth. To believe in the idea of absolutes is to shut ourselves off from the possibility of expansion, and novel insight. It hardens our hearts.

To adopt the stance of not knowing keeps us soft, open, and compassionate. It allows us to give others a break, because we recognize how often we need one too. From this standpoint, the question becomes “what gives me the right to judge if we are all on equal ground?”
 
That customer service rep? That friend? That waiter? That employee? That guy? They are just doing the best they can. They are on their own path colored by a myriad of unique experiences, some of which have been joyous and uplifting and others which have been immensely painful and heartbreaking.
 
Speak with love. Act compassionately. Give generously.
 
We are all in this together.

How Facing my Mortality Got Me in Touch with my Life’s Purpose.


As some of you may know, I have been facilitating grief support groups for three years now. Companioning individuals as they walk the torturous and unpredictable path of grief is one of my deepest and greatest passions. I consider it a true honor and privilege to sit alongside others as they move toward healing, bearing witness to incredibly powerful stories of love and connection. Not surprisingly though, doing this “work” has resulted in a number of monumental insights for me. Most significantly, I have noted that my relationship to my mortality has undergone a palpable shift. Where the relationship was once rooted in fear and anxiety, it is now rooted in gratitude and deep appreciation. I now see that death is a necessary part of life, for it is with the knowledge that each moment is irreplaceable and unique that we can begin to engage with life in a fearless way. Each moment is miraculous and potent. 

I realized that purpose isn’t so much about the accomplishments we can accumulate on our resumes, but more about the values and intentions we bring to every little thing that we do. And so, I now live from a place of being more conscious of my eulogy than my resume.  “Who do I want to be remembered as?” “Does this align with who I am, or who I desire to be?” “What is my message?” are all questions I entertain with each decision I make. My focus has shifted to legacy building and has become about who I want to be, rather than accumulating accomplishments, and what I want to be. Thus, despite common conception, your purpose isn’t necessarily found in your career- although, yes, it sometimes can be.
For me, discovering my purpose has been all about identifying my core guiding value. That is, identifying the one value that drives my actions, my words, my thoughts and my interactions with others.
Fierce compassion.
Fierce compassion is the core guiding value that I would like my life to be a testament to. At the end of the day, that is the mark I want to leave on this world. A legacy is built through who we are, not what we do, and it is in that frame of mind that one’s purpose ultimately emerges.
And so, I ask you, what is your core guiding value?