As you may know, I’m a student of Wayne Muller. His book, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives was a total game-changer for me. In fact, I kept my own non-traditional sabbath for several years inspired by Muller’s words. This practice still influences how I live my daily life and my work in the world. You don’t need to be religious to benefit from this profound book–I’m not.
Muller has a fantastic new book out: A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough. Doesn’t the title just make you happy?! I wanted to share this excerpt from the book with you because it so wonderfully sums up why I coach and what I love about coaching.
“So in order to live well from the inside out, to listen for the right choices and the firmly and courageously act on them we simply cannot do this alone….
Because we are not taught or supported to live in this way, rarely educated or encouraged to listen and act from our own inner wisdom, never told how to follow the firm but invisible thread of the next right thing through the world, we will always need the support of good, honest friends.
We are called to be strong companions and clear mirrors with one another, to seek those who reflect with compassion and a keen eye how we are doing, whether we seem centered or off course, grounded or flailing.
As in all sacred, life giving practices that require a deep and confident faith in ourselves, we need the nourishing company of others to create the circle needed for growth, freedom, and healing.”
– Wayne Muller, A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough
When I run into people I haven’t seen in a while they often remark that while I am still myself, I’m so much more relaxed and at ease than they recall. That’s because for much of my life I lived with a base level of anxiety and for me that manifested as: vague constant dis-ease/worry, insomnia, sporadic panic attacks, being overly controlling of others (as a means to soothe myself), and an eating disorder (also to soothe myself). While I had all these symptoms, I was entirely functional – able to hold down a good job, earn my masters degree, and have close and healthy friendships. And while my anxiety was somewhat normal if you looked at TV or movies, it was also exhausting.
So how did I get to today where life feels pretty easy, I’m at home in my own skin – even when life is hard, and to a place where very little overwhelms me?
I sewed a patchwork quilt. One square at a time of information, experience, aides, and awareness. Each person’s path out of chronic anxiety (or depression) is unique and there ought not be any judgement about one’s choices on the journey. No one road works for all and what matters is that quilt square come together to forms something that works.
I released any shame I had about mental illness. (See Brene Brown’s work on shame).
I worked with some talented and wise psychotherapist that felt great to be in the room with.
I attended a 10-month Dialectical Behavioral Therapy skills group. I seriously think the DBT skills should be a mandatory part of public education.
I practiced and pondered mindfulness. I found sitting groups. I read. I got quiet.
I practiced and pondered compassion and loving-kindness. Again, I found sitting groups. I read. I got quiet.
I connected. I stopped isolating myself with the idea that I couldn’t show others that I was struggling. I reached out. I was real with others. I stopped creating a life where I only let my flaws hang out when I was alone. I stopped pretending like I had it all together, because I didn’t and that kind of isolation will kill anyone.
I paid attention to what worked and what didn’t work for me. I learned I have a lot of HSP characteristics. I learned I do better working for myself. I learned that taking long afternoon naps and putting my needs first leads to happier days, happier friends, and happier clients.
I took a hard look at my family. I saw that the parent I shared so many traits with had depressive, anxious, and OCD tendencies themself – markers that I might have inherited some of what I was experiencing.
I started taking Zoloft (generic name Sertraline). I named this post ‘In praise of Zoloft’ because I think my decision to take medication to treat my anxiety is actually the most unique part of my story. While millions of people around the world are medicated for mood disorders, I was an unlikely candidate. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area where there’s an acupuncturist on every corner. I earned my Master’s degree in Holistic Health Education where I took courses in stress reduction and relaxation, Ayurveda, and nutrition. I meditated. I ate greens. I went to yoga class. I was primed to take an all natural and alternative approach to my anxiety.
But for me, several years ago, the floor finally dropped out of my life and Zoloft got me on solid ground. I’m lucky in that I’ve not experienced one side effect from taking it and I feel like myself, only more even keel. I’m still creative. I still feel all my emotions and cry now and then. I still have worries. I think as clearly as I always have, perhaps more so. It’s just that a tiny dose each day makes my life much better. Anxiety and depression are certainly aspects to spiritual awakening and I wish more people would look there first. That said, I had experienced symptoms my entire life and Zoloft has played a significant role in getting me where I wanted to go.
I believe that medication is not for everyone (though meditation probably is). I believe that Zoloft is not the medication for everyone (consult a professional please). I firmly believe, truly, to each their own. But I wanted to share some of my story so others could see that taking advantage of modern medicine isn’t a failure and it won’t turn you into a zombie. And sometimes, it might just give you back your life.
This is a short story about a long journey.
This is a story about the spiral climb around the mountain of life.
Have you ever found your way through a bramble of life challenges? Have you ever carried yourself through to the sunny side of addiction or abuse or trauma? Do you know what it’s like to overcome a serious challenge?
Unless you are Sidhartha before he left the palace walls, then the answer is most certainly yes.
And what do we do when we come to the clearing? How do we show that we earned our merit badge from triumph over struggle? We tell people “I used to struggle with…” or “There was a time when…but I’m past that.”
Often these are famous last words.
Boom, there it is again.
We relapse into our addiction.
We find ourselves in another abusive relationship.
We wake up one day and we’re back somewhere we were so sure we were beyond.
This is because life isn’t about one summit, it’s about winding our way round and round until, frankly, we die.
We are each given a set of overlooks (challenges/karmic lessons) as we make our unique climb. When we’re early in the climb and we come to an overlook and get past it, we often, naively, think that it’s behind us. Yet as we circle back around to that side of the mountain there it is again, the same overlook. We kick ourselves for being back at a place we were so sure we’d surmounted.
But, for the most part, we don’t surmount. We move up, we learn more, we get wiser, we come to know our hearts, minds, and bodies just a bit more…but we return.
These are our overlooks for this lifetime.
We always return, in some form.
The key is to a) never say never — know that you’ll most likely be back and b) when you return, realize you’re not in the same place anymore. Yes, it’s the same overlook, but take a minute to notice you’re higher up the mountain and you’ve collected more tools on the way to make this visit to the overlook shorter and better.
Life is a spiral climb.
Henry David Thoreau once said “The question is not what you look at, but what you see. ”
Pema Chodron writes “We have two alternatives: either we question our beliefs – or we don’t. Either we accept our fixed versions of reality- or we begin to challenge them. In Buddha’s opinion, to train in staying open and curious – to train in dissolving our assumptions and beliefs – is the best use of our human lives.”
Eckhart Tolle teaches that “the primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.”
In today’s world, so much of what we perceive to be true is simply an illusion. Yes we have eyes and a big frontal lobe, but we are not equipped with eyes that see clearly. Sorry.
It’s crucial that we dedicate ourselves to seeing The True. The ramifications of our blindness can be found near and far. We pour torrential amounts of precious human life down the “self-loathing” drain and our illusions can be found at the core of all that makes us feel separate — all forms of prejudice are based on these skewed perceptions of reality.
There’s good news though. You’re not alone in this affliction, all human beings struggle to see reality as it is rather then their version and it’s workable. We can practice seeing through illusion. We can become intimate with our unique funhouse glasses and begin, moment by moment, to bring life into focus.
What illusions run your life? What stories or beliefs that you are know in your heart are not true run the show?
Perhaps it’s the “I’m not enough” illusion. Or maybe it’s the “I’m too much for anyone to love/handle” version? Or maybe it’s both.
Is it the “I’m lazy” story when in reality you are not? Is it the “I’m not worth people’s money” when in fact your time, skills, or product are indeed of great value? Is it the “I got the short end of the stick in life” when in reality we’re all doing our best to travel an equally hard road?
What are your illusions?
The assignment I’m here to give you is one I give my clients frequently and it’s mighty.
1. Take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle.
2. Above the left column, write one of the following words: MYTHS, ILLUSIONS, STORIES, BELIEFS, or LIES. Whichever resonates the most with you.
3. Above the left column write TRUTHS.
It should look something like this:
4. On the left, begin to write your list of illusions. (i.e. I am not enough.)
5. Now, on the right, write the corresponding truth for each illusion — even if you only cognitively get that it’s the truth. Hint: it’s probably the opposite of whatever you wrote on the left. (i.e. I am enough just as I am.)
6. Post this list somewhere you will see it daily.
7. Challenge yourself with any of the following:
“May I live the next hour by the righthand side of this paper.”
“May I live today as if the righthand side of the paper were my reality.”
“May I make this phone call/write this letter/work on this project as if the righthand side of the paper were known to be true in every fiber of my being.”
“May I show my children in my actions that the things on the righthand side of the paper are true.”
8. Live increasingly more moments from The Truth until you look at the lefthand side and wonder how you ever thought those things could be true.
I spent my junior year of college suffering from anorexia.
I spent my senior year full steam ahead in my recovery.
One of the most helpful parts of my recovery was reading.
I borrowed every book in entire state of Ohio college and university library consortium on eating disorders (from memoir to clinical manual), feminism, and spirituality. I simply devoured information as if my life depended on making sense of myself – because it did.
Back then I’d go to the pick-up desk at my school’s library nearly each day and sink into my latest arrivals. One of the books that arrived was Patricia Lynn Reilly’s Imagine a Woman in Love with Herself: Embracing Your Wisdom and Wholeness. Reilly takes a astonishingly deep and astute poem she wrote and turnes each stanza into a fully fleshed out chapter exploring qualities that encourage women to love themselves and steer the ship of their lives.
In the song “Killing Me Softly” by the Fugees, Lauryn Hill croons “…singing my life with his words…”
That’s how I felt when I read this poem – like Patricia Lynn Reilly was singing my life with her words.
10 years later my heart feels full when I see that I no longer have to imagine this woman.
I am this woman.
If you’re not familiar with “Imagine a Woman” I’m excited to introduce you…
“Imagine a Woman I”
Imagine a woman who believes it is right and good she is a woman.
A woman who honors her experience and tells her stories.
Who refuses to carry the sins of others within her body and life.
Imagine a woman who trusts and respects herself.
A woman who listens to her needs and desires.
Who meets them with tenderness and grace.
Imagine a woman who acknowledges the past’s influence on the present.
A woman who has walked through her past.
Who has healed into the present.
Imagine a woman who authors her own life.
A woman who exerts, initiates, and moves on her own behalf.
Who refuses to surrender except to her truest self and wisest voice.
Imagine a woman who names her own gods.
A woman who imagines the divine in her image and likeness.
Who designs a personal spirituality to inform her daily life.
Imagine a woman in love with her own body.
A woman who believes her body is enough, just as it is.
Who celebrates its rhythms and cycles as an exquisite resource.
Imagine a woman who honors the body of the Goddess in her changing body.
A woman who celebrates the accumulation of her years and her wisdom.
Who refuses to use her life-energy disguising the changes in her body and life.
Imagine a woman who values the women in her life.
A woman who sits in circles of women.
Who is reminded of the truth about herself when she forgets.
Imagine yourself as this woman.
“Imagine a Woman II”
Imagine a woman who is interested in her own life.
A woman who embraces her life as teacher, healer, and challenge.
Who is grateful for the ordinary moments of beauty and grace.
Imagine a woman who participates in her own life.
A woman who meets each challenge with creativity.
Who takes action on her own behalf with clarity and strength.
Imagine a woman who has crafted a fully-formed solitude.
A woman who is available to herself.
Who chooses friends and lovers with the capacity to respect her solitude.
Imagine a woman who acknowledges the full range of human emotion.
A woman who expresses her feelings clearly and directly.
Who allows them to pass through her as naturally as the breath.
Imagine a woman who tells the truth.
A woman who trusts her experience of the world and expresses it.
Who refuses to defer to the perceptions, thoughts, and responses of others.
Imagine a woman who follows her creative impulses.
A woman who produces original creations.
Who refuses to color inside someone else’s lines.
Imagine a woman who has relinquished the desire for intellectual approval.
A woman who makes a powerful statement with every action she takes.
Who asserts to herself the right to reorder the world.
Imagine a woman who has grown in knowledge and love of herself.
A woman who has vowed faithfulness to her own life.
Who remains loyal to herself. Regardless.
Imagine yourself as this woman.
Somehow Imagine a Woman slipped my mind when I put together my list of life-changing books. It should absolutely be on this list: