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To be FULLY ALIVE

Living offers more than just “getting by.”

I once knew someone who said to me:  “There has to be more than this.”  And by this she meant a successful career, a loving partner, and a community where she was well-respected.  On the outside, she looked like she was pretty alive, but her question informed me otherwise.  She was seeking something deeper and more meaningful, but what was it?  Even her religion was not offering her the answers she sought.

We all are seeking at our deepest center of being to be fully alive, to move and live from a place of meaning and purpose.  It is innate because it is our birthright.  It is a natural and human longing.  Augustine of Hippo, an early theologian influential in the Western Church, says that “the Glory of God is in the person fully alive.”

The experience of this “glory” is a continual unfolding process.  Trappist Monk and prolific author Basil Pennington delineates the false self  and the true self.  The false self being the aspect(s) of us we usually identify with, but in reality these parts live and move from core beliefs that are out of date and not true.  Pennington says the construct of the false self is made up of what I have or do, and what others think of me, which ultimately imprisons us.  It is what traditional Psychology calls the Ego, and what Cheri Huber, Buddhist Monk and teacher terms “egocentric karmic conditioning.”

The true self is what Martha Beck, life coach and author, terms the “Essential Self.”  Buddhists might say it is the “Buddha nature,” and some contemplative Christian traditions call “Christ Consciousness.”  The true self is the truth of who we are….connected to God, nature,  and to others….connected; not separate.  Pennington says the true self stems from a knowledge of being valued and worthy no matter what.

Learning to access our true or essential self is part of the point of daily meditative practice (Centering Prayer, Yoga, Tai Chi, Meditation).  It is also what somatic psychology has stumbled upon (and neuroscience is now backing up).  Using mindfulness to focus on the body, we access a back door into the unconscious to begin to connect with and dis-identify with “false” selves or aspects of us so that we can live more fully in the place that is grounded and connected, which is where we feel most fully alive.

The rub is that it is still a process–and often painful or challenging as any change or transformation is.

Robert Gonzales, a counselor and proponent of nonviolent communication says:  “When I can live in the presence of compassion with my inner life–this is unconditional acceptance.  When compassion meets the knot of fear, of anger, of disconnection…that spaciousness is something that communicates (an intention) to this life form “whatever you are, whatever you are feeling…I welcome you.”

There is a part of each of us that wants us to “get over it” and make all the unwelcome aspects of us go away.  The paradox is that whatever we fight and try to make go away only gets louder and more persistent.  Compassion and acceptance is the only way I know how to experience being fully alive.  It is not a destination.  Being fully alive is a constant process of inner compassion, where we cultivate space for all aspects of us, especially the ones we don’t like very much.  Compassion and love free us.  It is actually the space where the possibility for transformation resides.

There is a Buddhist teaching:  Just as we know sea water because it always tastes of salt, we know truth because it always tastes of freedom.  The Christian New Testament says that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Being fully alive is a process of seeing the truth of who we are, accepting the things we discover, extending compassion to all aspects of us, and ultimately more and more inner freedom is the inevitable result.

So, to folks who feel like you have accomplished a lot on the outside, but are feeling dead or at least dull on the inside, there is more.  It is a process and it is well worth the journey!

Welcome

 

Why do I do the things I do not want to do??

I often joke that if we could think ourselves out of undesirable behavior or habits, then all we need is a self-help book and positive affirmations and I’d be out of a job.

I wish it were that simple.

Believe me, I’ve tried.  I consider myself a savvy woman:  well educated and strong in my analytical skills; however when it comes to emotional reactions and automatic physical responses in relationships or situations, my thinking brain is of little or no help.

EXAMPLE:  I was at a coffee shop and saw someone I had met once.  I asked a benign question and he had a curt response that automatically sent me to kindergarten and think I had done something wrong.  When I tried to reconnect with him, he quickly ended the interaction and walked out the door.  I have no idea what happened with him or what his experience was, but I can assure you that what happened for me for the next 24 hours was automatic and felt like it was out of my control.

I obsessed.   medium_5631729221

I could not stop thinking about the interaction and I went over and over in my head how I could have said this or if only I had said that.  To the point where my body ached and I could not sleep.  This thinking obsessive part of me would not be soothed by positive affirmations or even deep breathing.  I needed something else….

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All of the experiences, emotions, and beliefs we have ever had up until this point now help not only shape who we are and how we are, but they literally reside inside of us….as beliefs, automatic responses, neurological pathways, and cellular memory.  I prefer to frame these as “parts.”  They are aspects of us that Richard Swartz (founder of Center Self Leadership & Internal Family Systems) says have taken on roles that they don’t want, but don’t know that there is another way to be.

When I began to get in touch with the part of me that obsesses and analyzes and thinks itself into exhaustion, I began to realize that this is a part of me who is very young.  It is a part of me who wants to “get it right,” so I don’t suffer (and no one else does either….which is an impossibility, but kids have magical thinking:  “If I just come up with the right thing to say or do or be, then I won’t hurt and others won’t hurt”).

With the help of my own mentor and therapist, I was able to reconnect with my obsessive thinker in a different way.  I discovered at its root was a painful and unresolved memory of interacting with my mother.  She didn’t have space for my feelings and experience, so I learned to “obsess” my way out of having my hurt feelings too.  Rather than wish this part of me to “go away” or quiet down (i.e. STOP OBSESSING), I started to build a relationship with this younger, vulnerable part of me.  I began to learn that this part of me was exhausted and so ready to let go of its job, but also scared that no one was there to give it a break.

Since my own mother was a worrier, I didn’t have modeling of how to be any different.  So, of course this smaller part of me didn’t trust that the Wiser Essential Me  could take over (and didn’t even know I existed, to my surprise!)  I had to go through a process of constantly reassuring this part that I was seeking support and looking for ways to relieve its job.  This has taken continued vigilance and a lot of waking up.

I continually look at the way I structure my time and see that I can easily (and sometimes still do) schedule myself to the point where I have little or no down time, or play time.  I have discovered that the role that my thinker self has wanted to take on was that of play!  Instead of “getting it right” I remind myself that I have to get it “wrong,” which elicits a playful side of me.  It’s suddenly more okay to make mistakes, have people feel hurt or pain due to something I may or may not have said, and it is okay when people don’t like me.

This is a lesson in process….I have learned that as we get in touch with deeper, hidden part of ourselves that we actually recover more of our vitality and life force (it is so much more fulfilling to play than to obsess and ruminate!)

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When I am in the therapist role, I am constantly called to hold compassionate, mindful space for my clients to be in their stuck, and frustrating places.  It is these places that can teach us the most.  If we can stay with them, study them, feel these places, then what emerges can actually free us.