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.

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.”

 


 

 
 
 

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.