Labels are for Jars…

 
 

Labels. We use them to order our experience. They help us make sense of our world, and orient ourselves in a seemingly unpredictable world. They provide us a sense of certainty and structure. They mediate our expectations of others and help us to formulate a sense of personal identity. These are all good things, and point to the use of labels in our lives. However, a problem arises when we become too rigid in our labelling. When the connotations of the labels we use perpetuate narrow mindedness and imprison us to a certain set of assumptions, which prevent from engaging in the process of personal expansion.

Labels themselves do not exist. They are social constructions. None of us were born with the labels we carry with us today. Rather, they have had them placed upon us, or we have placed them upon ourselves. Most of the time, they serve us well, but problems arise when labels become too rigid and narrow, for they can foster a sense of personal limitation and interpersonal disconnection. In other words, labels become problematic when we begin to see ourselves as being wholly defined by these constructed labels because we begin to fall victim to their various implications, relinquishing our sense of personal power in the process.

Let’s take for example, the label that has been placed upon me since the day I was born: disabled. Some common assumptions that come along with this label include: incompetent, helpless, powerless, incapable, confined, weak, defective, unable… the list goes on. It is true that I am disabled. My legs don’t move as fast as or work as well as those of others. I have fully accepted this as a fact of my life. However, I vehemently refuse to align myself with any of the assumptions that are typically associated with the label of disabled. In no way do I view myself as weak, incapable, powerless, or helpless. I never have and never will.

Labels require a large degree of fluidity and flexibility. They require a willingness to abandon the barriers perpetuated by assumption and a willingness to approach oneself and others with an open mind. Labels undoubtedly have their place, but when we become too attached to them and their perceived meanings, a sense of disempowerment, defeat and judgement can manifest.

Labels of the human experience are inherently limited, because they can never give you a sense of the whole picture. They can’t be taken at face value, because to do so would be a discredit to your sense of individuality and to ignore the uniqueness of each individual who crosses our path. To adhere to a label is to miss the opportunity for true connection, because they can never tell you what’s going on beneath the surface. Suffice to say, if you are looking for labels to tell you what’s on the inside, they best be left to the jars on the shelf.

Living Outside of the Assumption Box.

 

Life with a disability. Something I wouldn’t change even if I was given the choice. I have said it time and time again, my disability (if we really have to call it that) has been the birth place of numerous insights and reflections for me. It has opened the doors to a sense of personal liberation that has come as a result of the embrace of the imperfection that is this body I live in. It consistently pushes me to examine my priorities, and dig deep within myself to figure out who I am and who I want to be.

That’s the thing about living outside of the realm of “normal”- you often get put into a box built of labels and assumptions. It’s safe that way, because the labels and assumptions give other people a road map. It gives them a vague understanding of the rules of interaction- what to say, what not to say, what to do, and what not to do. Or at least, that’s the intention of the labels and assumptions- they are supposed to be helpful, and keep everything in the realm of the non-offensive.

For the sake of familiarity, let me ask you, what kind of images, words and associations do the words “disabled” and “disability” conjure up for you?

If you immediately thought of things like weak, incapable, to be pitied, unhappy, flawed, helpless, powerless, no social life, victim, unfair, unsuccessful,  no prospect of living close to the realm of “normality” etc., let me assure you that you are not alone. Many of us have been conditioned to think this way. It’s almost natural, and to some degree it is a faultless act. It almost seems harmless, except it’s not.

Labels and their associated assumptions can have severely detrimental impacts on one’s fundamental sense of self, for these labels often become internalized, and subsequently impact one’s thoughts, emotions and behaviours. For example, if a person with a disability is implicitly and repeatedly told they are incapable, through the nature of the interactions they have with those around them, it is likely that they will begin to think thoughts like “I can’t do it, so there’s no point in trying,” “I’m going to fail,” “I am powerless,” “I am a victim of my circumstances,” “There is something wrong with me,” “I’ll never be successful” and so forth. Consequently, that person may begin to experience feelings of helplessness, doubt, hopelessness, shame, defeat, inferiority, and frustration, which then directly impact their willingness to take action. As such, that person will likely begin to act in alignment with their thoughts and feelings by rarely or never taking risks or trying new things, isolating themselves, and so on, thereby never allowing themselves the opportunity to accumulate experiences to counter their thoughts and feelings. And so, a self-fulfilling prophecy ensues.

And here’s the thing, I used the example of disability here because I know it- I have seen this pattern play out within myself and with others. But, even for those of us who are not living outside of the realm of “normal” these patterns still manifest. We all carry beliefs that have resulted from the interactions we have had with others and the assumptions they have placed upon us, either knowingly or unknowingly. And, if we’re not careful, these beliefs can begin to rule us, robbing us of our sense of freedom, and rendering us fearful. Fearful of expressing our authentic selves. And so, we become confined to a prison of our own creation.

So, the question becomes, how can we get back to freedom?

  • Examine your thoughts.

Write down the thoughts that tend to dominate your mind. Ask yourself, when did these thoughts originate? From whom did they originate?

  • Recognize that these thoughts aren’t facts.

As difficult as it may be to believe (because we have been attached to them for so long) our thoughts are not facts. They are in fact, changeable.

  • Be willing to recognize humanness.

Once you have determined where and from whom your most dominating thoughts originate, ask yourself why you are giving them the power to define you. What makes their word and perception more accurate than yours? After all, they too are just human. Any power they may have is a result of your decision to give them that power. We are all equal.

  • Choose to live by your definition of you, for that is freedom.

Your definition of you is just as valid as the definition that others attempt to place upon you. Choose to live in the space of authenticity, remembering that you can choose whether or not you buy into other people’s perceptions of you. For example, just because a person is disabled does not mean they are incapable. Aligning with the assumption of “incapable” is their choice. So I encourage you to ask yourself:

  • In the absence of the limiting thoughts which hold me, who do I know myself to be?

Are you compassionate, outgoing, passionate, spontaneous, loving, hilarious, kind, adventurous, quirky, fun, bold, strong, hardworking, witty, etc.?

Choose to make your definition of you the lens through which you see yourself, and welcome freedom.

You Are Your Own Guru.

 

Seminars, workshops, countless self-help books, all intended to open the doors to your best life. Intended to re-connect you with yourself- your dreams long forgotten, your deepest desires and your core values. Intended to motivate, uplift, inspire and push you into action. To push you past the blocks which have stood before you for far too long…the fears, the excuses, the perceived limits of reality etc.

We collect pearls of wisdom from the ones who teach and motivate us- the workshop/seminar leaders, the authors, the speakers. We cling to the words they speak and write, taking notes feverishly, thinking that they hold the answers- the key to those doors. We begin to think that it is through listening to their ideas of how our lives should be- how we should think, feel and behave that we will finally find that freedom we crave. We look to these individuals to show us the way to happiness and fulfillment. Consequently, we often place them on that metaphorical pedestal, and label them “gurus,” and “experts.” We begin to idolize, and re-shape our lives to fit that which they promote. Of course, this is not necessarily a bad thing- they are writing, leading and speaking to help you come into your best life, after all.

It is all well and good, until we become too attached to the voice of the “gurus” and “experts,” clinging too desperately to their words and ideas, because we want to prove ourselves “good students,” committed to unlocking the doors to happiness and fulfillment that they have set before us, losing our sensitivity to our own voice of expertise in the process.

We begin to lose trust in the voice that tells us what’s best for us. We begin to doubt ourselves and compromise on what we truly think, feel and subsequently do, because it may not align with what we have been taught…and that is never a good feeling, because we are actively participating in acts of self-betrayal.

And so, to me, it comes down to this:

The only person to whom we are an expert, is ourselves. We are the expert of our own lives- no one else can or should be, because to give someone else that power is to do ourselves a grand disservice.

Those workshop and seminar leaders and self-help authors? All they can really offer you is what has worked for them. What they offer is not to be received as infallible, for like you, they are students- they too are playing the game of trial and error that is life. We are all learning what works and what doesn’t for ourselves. That said, I do believe it is our duty to share what we learn along the way with those who we encounter, for as much as we are all students, we are also all teachers.

The job of the student (and we are all students) is to both learn and teach. We teach through we are in this world- the energy we bring to every interaction we have with another, in whatever form it takes.

We all have lessons to teach one another, but it is the task of those witness to the lessons we offer, to shape and interpret them as they see fit to align with their unique experiences and needs. That is the thing about lessons- people can draw from them what they require and disregard the rest, for ultimately people intuitively know what they need. That’s why each of is the expert of our own life and experience.

Never doubt that you know what you need at this very moment, remembering that your personal evolution is not a timed process- it is to unfold as you feel ready. It’s simply a matter of trusting your voice, and granting it precedence over those of others.

Take with you what “fits” from that which others offer, but remember that the only answers we really have are those within ourselves.

You are your own guru.

 

 

 

Friends who Bring Coffee.

The Sunday morning hangover. Physically not feeling great, but running through all the events of the night before in my mind and thinking about how lucky I am to have such amazing people in my life. Experiences had and memories made. The stuff that makes life so incredible. I turn over and look at my phone…I see a message from my soul sister- one that I have known for a majority of my life. The one who I shared a good portion of my childhood with. The one who was there for the rough stuff, the lessons learned through all those awkward times, and the countless laughs over something that really, isn’t/wasn’t even that funny (to the rest of the world anyway).  The one who just knows without asking. She asks if I want to get together.

She comes over about an hour and a half later, with two coffees in hand, and we spend the next hour talking, like we hadn’t seen each other in years. There is an ease to it, and a comfort in the feeling that neither of us has to be anybody but who we are. Pure and raw authenticity informs our interaction, as it always does. There is an unconditional acceptance of the other that lies at the foundation of our friendship. There is a knowing that even if one of us was to screw up that the other would be right there saying “I got you.”

It got me thinking about the independence myth that seems to inform our society these days…the idea that we must be completely self-reliant, and self-sufficient or otherwise run the risk of being seen as weak or “needy.” The idea that dependence is inherently bad, and that if we depend on others it means that we have failed. It can make us feel that we can’t reach out, even if we desperately want to or need to, for fear of the judgement that might be laid upon us, or for fear of the judgement that we might lay upon ourselves.

But here’s the thing: humans are not wired for complete independence, and to buy into the notion that we are, is to significantly truncate the size of our lives. We thrive on connection. We are literally wired for it. The need for a sense of belonging is as essential to our wellbeing as food and water is.

We need to be dependent to be independent.

It is only through cultivating and maintaining connections with others that we are truly able to commit to what makes us shine. It is through knowing that we have people in our lives in front of whom we can show our authentic selves that we are truly able to risk, and reach beyond our comfort zone. We need to know that we have certain people in our lives who are 100% behind us to facilitate our personal expansion. Without having these people, the risks become too big and too fear provoking, because we run the risk of being completely shattered and deflated if the outcome is not favourable. We need these people in our lives to remind us that a failure or a mistake has absolutely no bearing on our worth and that we are still just as inherently valuable and lovable as we were before we fell on our face.

Life is not meant to be a solo journey.

If you’re about living big, seizing the moment, and living a life of greatness, nurture your connections. They will enable you to shine.

PS:  A note to express my deepest gratitude to all those in my life who have helped and continue to help me be the best that I can be. I love you all deeply, and am immensely grateful to you for accepting me exactly as I am without expecting anything else. You all have supported me in making necessary changes in my life, and have given me the courage to reach beyond what I thought possible. Thank you for being champions of my growth and success, and it is my deepest hope that you feel that I am the same for you. xo

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.

 

Fearlessness: Deconstructed.

 
 
 
Fearlessness. I am all about it. I write about it. I speak about it. And, I try, the very best that I can to live it. But, when I talk about being fearless, I am not talking about the absence of fear, nor am I talking about the denial of it. Actually, I am talking about the embrace of it. To me, fearlessness is all about sitting with and facing fear- understanding that the experience of it is part of being human.
 
 
Fear is not inherently bad. We need it in order to survive and thrive, because without it we would have no way of identifying threat or danger. It protects us- it is needed, normal, and healthy. However, fear becomes problematic when it begins to take on a life beyond our control. When it begins to control each and every decision we make, and thus, prevents us from living life with the zest that we would like to. It can dominate our deepest yearnings by blocking us from fulfilling them, which ultimately truncates the size of our lives, keeps us small, therefore often leaving us with perpetual feelings of dis-ease, dissatisfaction, and discomfort.   
 
 
“Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.” – Les Brown
 
 
But here’s the thing: discomfort is really the name of the whole game. Discomfort will be present in the act of submitting to our fears as well as in the act of embracing them. It’s simply a matter of choice. Discomfort can either function as a mechanism which keeps us small, or a mechanism which allows us to push, embrace, and ultimately shine…and that is what fearlessness is. It is the understanding that we can give discomfort the power to foster growth and personal expansion, and that often, it can be used to serve us rather than to hinder us.
It’s simply a matter of going deep with the discomfort of your fear, and looking at it for what it is.
 
 Asking yourself:
 
 
·         Am I in any real danger here?
®     Could I get seriously injured or die doing this?
®     Am I putting others at risk?
·         What am I really afraid of?
®     Failing
®     Looking stupid
®     Making a mistake
®     Disappointing others
®     Disappointing myself
·         What will it mean if I fail, look stupid, make a mistake, disappoint myself or others etc.?
®     That I am unlovable?
®     That I am not good enough?
®     That I am a failure?
®     That I am worthless?
·         Is this really true?
 
My best guess is a resounding NO. It’s not really true that you would be unlovable, worthless, an outright failure, or not good enough if you failed at something, made a mistake, looked stupid in front a whole bunch of people, disappointed yourself or others etc. You would in fact be just as lovable, worthy and awesome.
 
 
Don’t let your sense of worth be defined by external factors. Understand that your worth is constant and inherent, and welcome true liberation of self. Welcome an increased willingness to grow, expand, evolve, and risk.
 
 
Embrace your fear. Your life is waiting.