The Power of Imperfection.

When people ask me about my disability, I am quick to tell them that it has afforded me many lessons, and that even if I could change it, I wouldn’t. But it wasn’t until last week, while I was sitting in a meeting with my supervisor, that she asked me to identify the specific lessons my disability has granted me. Up until that point, these lessons had remained undefined. They were abstract, yet they had a strong presence in my life, for I feel they had guided the many choices I have made. So, as I was sitting there, and as she waited intently on an answer, I stated “imperfection.” Imperfection, and the necessity of it in our lives, is one of the most profound lessons that living with a disability has taught me.

By definition, my body is imperfect. As much as I could try, I will never be able to hide the way I walk- my legs always have, and always will, move differently. My body will always be imperfect, and it was in the process of truly accepting this, that my lesson was found.

If you were to look for words synonymous with “imperfection” you would most likely find words like defect, deficiency, blemish, fault, weakness, limitation, and so on. Words slanted with negativity which tend inspire feelings of “not good enough,” shame, and self-judgement. Words and feelings that foster disconnection, separation, and which give strength to the fear that often makes us retreat and isolate. But here’s the thing: Imperfection comes with being human. We all have unique imperfections, visible or invisible. Imperfection is inexorably intertwined with the human experience. It is universal, shared, and normal, and it is by truly recognizing this, that the negativity we often associate with imperfection is dissolved, and it becomes devoid of its power to keep us small. Instead, imperfection becomes the basis of personal authenticity and connection- it becomes abundantly powerful.

When we recognize that there is nothing inherently wrong with our imperfections (because we all have them), we grant ourselves the freedom to love ourselves for our imperfections. We embrace ourselves fully and allow ourselves to just be, because we recognize that imperfection is the birthplace of beauty, unique perspective, and creativity. Fearlessness is inspired because we give up our preoccupation with “looking good.” Risks are taken, days are seized, and our lives are lived without hesitation.

Becoming fearlessly unapologetic about our imperfections also fosters connection. Being open and honest about our perceived “flaws” makes us relatable. When we are open about who we are, the mistakes we’ve made, and the struggles we’ve endured, we unconsciously give others permission to open themselves up too. It lets people know that they are not alone. Empathy thrives because we become aligned in our likeness. We feel unconditionally accepted and embraced for our imperfections, and true compassion is cultivated.

Imperfection isn’t to be denied or shamed, because there isn’t anything wrong with it. It is to be celebrated and embraced. So… give up the pursuit of perfection that confines you- it’s not attainable. Give yourself permission to accept yourself for your imperfections- they are what make you real, and it is what makes you real, that makes you loveable.

 

 

  

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.

 

 

     

 

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.”

 


 

 
 
 

Confronting Your Inner Critic.

 

 

We all have one. That inner voice that tends to judge, use put downs, and continually tell us that we are not good enough. That voice that tends to control us and severely impact our sense of self-esteem. It tells us that we have no right to “play big” or risk. That we shouldn’t even try because we’ll never make it. It latches onto our perceived flaws, weaknesses, limitations and keeps us stuck in a place of mental and emotional paralysis. It tells us that others are more favourable, that they are better- more talented, better looking, smarter etc. That they would never “mess up” the way we have. That they have it all together. It conjures up illusions of the “perfect other” and keeps us dormant.

Your inner critic typically sounds something like this:

  • “That was stupid!”
  • “You could have done that better.”
  • “You should have known better.”
  • “You’re such a disappointment.”
  • “I am so weak.”
  • “I’ll never be anything.”
  • “I knew I couldn’t do it.”
  • “You may as well give up.”
  • “You’re a failure.”
  • “Look how capable _______________ is.”

 

Shaming, degrading, discouraging, limiting, and usually, completely automatic. The inner critic can take some time to identify, as we are typically not even aware of the voice inside our minds and the profound impact it is having on our emotions and actions. The inner critic is also habitual, learned, and therefore changeable.

It’s in your power to change the critical voice which holds you, but it requires a dedicated willingness, persistence, patience and an abundance of self-compassion.

Imagine for a moment, a time when your critical voice took over. Bring yourself to that moment. Immerse yourself in the feelings of that moment, as difficult and as painful as it might be, remembering that you’re safe now, and grounded in this moment. If you can, however, try and reflect on the following questions:

  •   If your self-critical thoughts took on the appearance of a person, what would           this person look like?
  •          What is this person’s facial expression?
  •         Is this person big or small in comparison to you?
  •          What is this person’s tone of voice like?
  •         Is this person directing emotions your way? If so, what are they?
  •          Does he or she remind you of anyone?

(Welford, 2013, p. 40-41).

What have you discovered through reflecting on the questions above? Not surprisingly, the critic can often take on the appearance, stance, and tone of the person who was most critical toward you. We internalize their voice, until self-inflicted pain is all we know and the belief that criticism is all we are deserving of overwhelms us, making it all that more difficult to break the pattern. Plus, as odd as it may seem, there is comfort and security in the criticism for it is familiar, and solace usually comes from what we know, and what is predictable.

Welcome fear and hesitation around the prospect of ending your relationship with your critic. It’s natural. Be patient with yourself.

  •         What’s your greatest fear around giving up your self-criticism?
  •         What do you think might happen if you let it go?
  •         When reflecting on the emotions brought up by your self-critic do you think it          has your best interests at heart?
  •          Does it take joy in seeing you be happy and doing well?
  •          If your self-critic does have your best interests at heart, is it going about it the           right way?

(Welford, 2013, p. 42)

The thing about self-criticism is, it often makes us believe that we need it in order to grow, change and evolve. That without it we are destined to a life of mediocrity. That it is what motivates us to do better and be better. We begin to believe that achievement and criticism go hand in hand, because it is through being hard on ourselves that we are able to strive and succeed. And, this is all well and good…for a while at least. It’s all well and good until it begins to hinder our willingness to risk because we become fearful of the consequences we will surely endure if we fail.

Risk is the birth place of personal evolution.

The mere prospect of failure becomes crippling because we begin to feel that we would not be able handle the messages our internal critic would deliver to us should we not attain or achieve the outcome we desire. And so, we become stagnant, and mediocre.

Personal growth must come from a place of self-love.

Softness and gentleness are imperative mechanisms for change, because they allow us to give ourselves permission to falter and fail without condemning us to a feeling of complete and utter shame if the outcome is not that which we hoped for.

So, I encourage you to get cozy with your inner critic, as uncomfortable as it may be- for it is only through our awareness of its presence that we are able to eradicate it, and welcome the freedom found it unwavering self-love, for that is where your happiness, joy, and fulfillment rest.

 

What’s Driving You? (Some Words on Figuring Out Your “Why”).



Why are you doing what you’re doing?
 
What is the core motivation behind your decision to invest time in certain activities and not others?
 
A few days ago, I found myself reading an article discussing the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Needless to say, the article prompted me into reflection. It got me thinking about the choices I have made in my life and how they have contributed to where I sit today.
 
Extrinsic Motivation: Motivation arsing from the desire to earn a particular reward, validation or to avoid potentially adverse consequences of not completing the given activity. Focus is on the external.
 
Intrinsic Motivation: Motivation arising from a genuine and authentic desire to complete an activity for its inherent enjoyment to you. It’s about personal fulfillment. It’s about what lights you up and gets you excited. It’s about passion. It’s about feeling connected to your truth. It’s about your unique message. It’s about self-love and knowing that you’re worth it. Focus is on the internal.
 
For years, I admit, I was someone who was extrinsically motivated. I did things with the purpose of receiving validation from others. I lived with the idea that my worth was tied up in other people’s recognition of my value. I desperately craved approval and external assurance that I was “good enough.” I molded myself to fit their idea of who I should be. It didn’t feel good, but the risk of not receiving their approval was far too anxiety-provoking, and so I became comfortable with continual self-betrayal. At that time, compromising who I was for the potential “fix” of external approval was a small price to pay.
 
That was, until I had a conversation with one of the people I craved approval from the most. It was an intensely painful conversation, but a life-changing one. I am forever grateful to this person for giving me the hard-hitting truths that he did, because I know that if he hadn’t done this, I would still be that person chasing that elusive carrot. (And this carrot by the way, can come cloaked in many different masks- money, grades, awards, weight, promotions… etc.)
 
That conversation was my ticket to personal liberation and fierce self-love. It allowed me the space to realize that what I was chasing all of these years wasn’t actually there to begin with. I had been relinquishing my power, and doing myself a grand disservice. Was a disempowered life really the one that I wanted to live? Is that what I wanted my life to be a testament to? Not so much.
 
It got me thinking about this:
 
What would actually happen if I stopped doing things for the approval of others and just for myself?  
 
Would there be some push back? Probably. There always is when you start asserting yourself and taking a stand for your worth.
 
Would I be happier? Most definitely.
Would I feel liberated? Absolutely. 
Today, I do things because I am intrinsically motivated to do them. I do things because they make me happy and feel fulfilled. It was a difficult shift to make, I admit, but the more I began listening to the call of my true desires, the easier it became to listen to and trust that voice. Trust that you know what is best for you. Trust that the only person you need approval from is yourself. Trust that the more dedicated you are to satisfying the internal yearning that drives you, the more you will be able to give. 

Committing your time to the things that make you shine is the most radical act of self-love there is. 
 
Operating from a space of intrinsic motivation allows us to make conscious and purposeful choices… choices that arise from a feeling of abundance rather than lack. Our focus thus becomes much more centered on what we can give rather than what we can get. It becomes about service and a genuine desire to share what we have to offer (and we ALL have something to offer). Our selflessness becomes infused with a new level of authenticity, because we are no longer concerned about outcome. It’s no longer about how it’s received, because we are no longer yearning to fill an internal void. 
 
Talk about freedom. 

Some Words on Inspiration.

“You’re an inspiration.”
 
A phrase I have heard countless times throughout my life, and one that I have truthfully, come to dislike. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know that when people tell me they find me inspiring it is coming from a well-intentioned place. That it is likely coming from a desire to connect with me. I do truly appreciate it. But the phrase has always made me uncomfortable, and it wasn’t until recently that I put some time and thought into figuring out why.
 
I realized that for me, the word “inspiration” carries the connotation of elevation and disconnection. For me, it signifies that one is different from the rest. Images of looking up and pedestals come to mind. Inaccessible. Not relatable.  
 
The notion of “us” (to be inspired) and “them” (the holders of inspiration). Self-judgement. Striving. Reaching. The feeling of not good enough yet. Not good enough until. Aspiring to be better.
 
Missing your innate greatness in the process.
 
We are all inspiring, because we are all human, and we all have stories to tell. We all have stories of triumph. Stories of failing. Stories of mistake-making. Stories of overcoming. Stories of radical insight. Stories of change. Stories of transformation. Stories of transcendence.  Stories of imperfection. Stories of vulnerability and courage. Stories of generosity and gratitude. Stories of pure love.

We all have unique stories that carry the power to connect us to our neighbour, our co-worker, that guy walking down the street, that girl in the coffee shop, that person sitting next to us on the bus, that person behind us in line at the grocery store etc.
 
Each of our stories is innately unique, but through each story is a thread which connects to the larger human experience. We are all holding it, and it is through our grasp of this thread that empathy is cultivated.

Inspiration is founded in the willingness to be real, transparent, raw, and relatable. It is found on the platform of equal ground. Heart-to-heart connections. It is found in the realization that to be inspiring is an inherent state of being. It is not reserved for a select few.
 
Inspiration is about authenticity. A fearless devotion to yourself- your passions, your likes, your dislikes, your mistakes, your dreams, your missteps, your successes, your strengths, your hopes, your excitement, and an unabashed willingness to share all that makes you, you. Inspiration is about openness.
 
Inspiration is about a commitment to embracing your individuality while recognizing your connection to the collective.
 
Individuality connects. Embracing who you are without hesitation, gives others the permission to do the same. Permission to be raw, radically shifting the nature of human interaction on a fundamental level as a result. No more masks and quickly stated “I’m fines.” Rather, more “I am fantastic! How are you?!” More “Life is amazing, I am so grateful to be alive.” More “I’m actually feeling pretty crappy right now.” More “I need a hug.” More “It’s SO great to see you!”

Commit to the expression of what’s real for you.
 
Reveal yourself without hesitation.
 
Revel in all that makes you, you. Revel in your greatness. Revel in your struggles. Revel in your individuality. Revel in your imperfection. Revel in your inherent awesomeness.
 
 Share it.
 
You’re an inspiration.
 

 

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?