Wide Awake 7 Day Challenge

These are challenges I give myself.  Most of them have evolved from my frustration with inadequate word choices, which create the experience of disconnecting from the potency of my own story and keep me from being fully integrated with  my life.  It’s amazing the power our words hold. It’s rarely ever just semantics…

These practices facilitate a deeper connection to life and to the people in my life.  They keep me conscious and thoughtful, challenge my perspective, and keep me engaged and open.

They are listed in the format of Day 1, Day 2, etc., however they can be done on any interval.  Maybe a day doesn’t feel like long enough to practice.  Instead of moving from one to the next, add each day’s challenge to a growing repertoire.  I practice all of these regularly, except for the Day 7 challenge.  It’s the newest practice I’m challenging myself to incorporate.

If you decide to take one or all of these challenges, I would love to hear about your experience!!

Day 1:  Make a list of at least 5 qualities you admire about yourself.  Look in the mirror and say, “I am a [read your list] wo/man and I honor who I am.”  I like to challenge myself to find even more admirable qualities to add or exchange as days go by.  I also list qualities I’d like to see more of in myself, maybe they don’t feel true to say in the moment – so I say them until they feel true.  Often I feel awkward and embarrassed, so I remind myself to be courageous.  I remind myself that no one is watching or waiting to refute my statements (except maybe me).  Resisting the urge to minimize or discredit my statements can be the biggest challenge of all.

Day 2:  Eliminate the word try.  When I find myself less than 100% successful, I give myself credit for the level of success I’m experiencing – even when my conscious effort is the sum total of that success.  When I am having difficulty expressing my effort without the word try, I substitute the word practice.  We practice to increase our skill level, and the word practice honors the effort, forward movement, and room for improvement that I experience.  It also eliminates the not doing implication of the word try.

Day 3:  Eliminate the word just. I don’t know if this is a southern thing or a widespread epidemic.  What I do know is that I hear and say the word just so much I want to scream!  Why do I feel the need to minimize or justify myself and my behavior?  Eliminating just and try are probably the two hardest challenges for me.  It feels so much more powerful when I leave these little words out of the sentence.

Day 4: Eliminate all forms of the words good and bad.  These vague  words disconnect me from the potency of my experience  Why do I think this feeling is bad or this day is good?  Why was the movie good?  I am much more integrated with my life when I take the time and attention required to get in touch with and express why I am judging something as good or bad.  And then, rather than judge the experience, I like to say “I prefer” or “I don’t prefer”….that is more honest for me.  My feelings and experiences aren’t bad.  They are what they are.

I’m much more free when I let them be what they are and identify my experience as my experience.  

I’ve also found that my relationship to that which I don’t prefer has shifted from one of avoidance to one of acceptance.  I no longer have to avoid certain feelings or experiences because they are intense.

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Day 5:  Notice something beautiful, wonderful, or inspirational in everyone and everything.  I override my tendency to notice the negative with an intention to see only that with which I can connect.  My experience has shown me that I will find whatever I look for.  Today I choose to look for beauty, inspiration, and ways to connect rather than isolate or disassociate.  This is a powerful practice because I see beauty everywhere.

Day 6: Eliminate the expression “I love you”.  I do this intermittently.  It is my challenge to do it more and more.  When I feel the urge to tell someone I love them, I notice what I’m experiencing about them that I appreciate so much it must be expressed and tell them that instead.  I love you is another vague and disconnected phrase like the words good and bad.

Instead of generalizing my intense, beautiful experience of you with three simple words let me tell you exactly what it is I love about you.

Day 7:  This is a new challenge for me. Reach out to 3 people that aren’t in my immediate circle of friends or people I am most comfortable calling.  Tell them why I am glad they are in the world.  Tell them the difference they make.  Let them know they are seen and that what they do is worth it.

Feel free to shift and shape these in any way – make them your own.  I would love to hear about your adaptations and experiences!!

 

Death of Ego

The Hanged One asked me to hang out for a while on the World Tree. He asked me to see life, time, and fate from a different perspective. He flipped me upside down and suddenly everything was dissimilar, unfamiliar. The vision that I acquired betrayed what seemed to be everything I had known and held dear. That betrayal made me look again, re-spect, what I thought I had seen before. As I contemplated the nature of that betrayal, I wondered, “Who is actually betrayed here?” Further reflection helped me see that it is my ego that is betrayed, and not my Self. When someone I have been helping or teaching finds her own legs, when a friend’s life takes a different turn and he is no longer in my life in the same capacity, or when I realize that a value I have been standing on is something I now find inappropriate, I can feel betrayed. But it is really my sense of ego, of importance and fulfillment, that is betrayed.

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My ego has a desperate fear of non-existence. That fear is the one thing that keeps me most tied to the safe and comfortable, or at least familiar, places in my life. When I say ego I am not talking about that arrogant part of me that makes me egotistic, or that psychic part of me that Freud explored…the ego, the id, and the super ego. I’m not even sure I know what that means. What I am talking about when I say ego is the piece of my knowing that tells me that I am separate from all of you, that I exist in space and time, that I have a past, a present and a future. It is the part of me that wears clothes…and masks. It is the part of me that thinks it needs to be something. It’s the part of me that tells stories so that I can know who I am, who you are, what happened yesterday, my place in the world, and what I hope, or maybe fear, will happen tomorrow. And…it’s that part of me that keeps me from being the all that I am.

The all that I am. What is that? Eastern religion might call it the void; physicists might agree and say that I am mostly just empty space. Some might even call it transcendence. I call it dissolution: when every fiber of my being is no longer my being, but the universal Being. It is in those moments that I check my ego at the door. It is in those moments that I can exist as the pure spirit that I inevitably am…nothing to define me except the spaciousness that I feel when I am in my center. No stories. No ego.

I have heard it told that we need that ego. I’ve argued that myself. I say, “How can I have a relationship to my life if I don’t tell stories about it? After all, isn’t that why I incarnated – to have experiences, to feel the broken heart of true love gone awry, to know that I am me and you are you so that we can relate to each other, to feel the sunlight and the rain?” These are things I struggle with, answers I do not have. What I do know is that darn Death card asks me what is essential? and I find myself standing in front of a closet full of dreams, deciding what to wear.

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The stories in that closet hold me in so many ways. They keep me feeling in response to them, and confirm my weaknesses, my strengths, my friends and my foes. They confirm my past and create my future with an assurance that a place for my past will be held. They tell me what to expect and what to fear, what to look forward to and when not to hope. They keep me dancing in the safe embrace of my ego, skirting the edges of the all that I am.

It is said that once you stand for something, you can no longer stand for everything. Quantum physics proposes that a ‘thing’ is not a ‘thing’ until we define it as such. Until we limit objects by saying “tree, dog, person, chair,” they exist as swirling, ambiguous potential…pure energy. When something is nothing, it has the possibility of being anything. I wonder if that’s what I am when I stop identifying myself with my stories. That’s the part that scares my ego, scares it so much that I run back to that closet and quickly find my favorite, comfortable sweater.

So here’s a handy little trick I have learned. I ask myself, “And what would it feel like if I don’t tell this story?” Whatever that story may be…maybe it’s the story of my life’s purpose. Maybe it’s the story of what I need from you; that I am OK if you will tell me I am. Maybe it’s the story of my childhood, the one that carries forward into my future and what I expect from people. There is a plethora of stories that I use to walk through the world; they hang in the closet as I contemplate which one looks right with these shoes.  At any moment, I can slip the current story on or off, like my favorite pair of faded old blue jeans…you know, the pair with all the holes. I can slip them down over my thighs and step out of those jeans, those stories. I can take off all those comfortable, familiar garments and stand naked with mySelf. That is what  my ego is worried I will do.

There is a tool I once learned that helps me step out of my stories and into my center. That version of this tool is made of laminated disks.  One laid in the center, aptly called Center, which is the place of no stories, pure spaciousness.  Left and right from center are Self and Other, the places where these stories of who I am and who you are reside.  Forward and behind center are Past and Future, the place of these stories. When I lay out those disks, my ego knows it is in trouble. I get up out of my chair and stand fully in the story I am telling. I feel it…I feel it on my skin, and on my soul. Then I step out of it and into the center of my existence…into a place where there are no stories, not even the ones I am telling that are true. Just because I choose to not define myself with a story doesn’t mean the story isn’t true. I step to the center, a place of pure being where I am not defined, the place of utter innocence and total spaciousness where everything is new, everything is happening for the first time. There is no fetid air to rebreathe here.

The next time you find yourself in a story – a story of your pain, your past, your greatness, your future hopes and fears, or what you think or feel about another – I invite you to try this exercise and see how it feels for you. How does it feel to walk away from that closet of dreams, of responsibilities, of misunderstandings and desire, to be naked with your Self? How does it feel if you don’t tell the story?

 

Image credits:

Hanged One – Pamela Coleman Smith – RWS

Death – Lady Frieda Harris – Thoth

New Photosynthesis

It was summer 2001.  California was suffering perhaps the largest blackout in history, which started late 2000.  Politicians were all over the news talking about conservation.  It sounded more like an empty prayer for political support than real hope. The US was at war in Afghanistan.

I was listening to a lot of Ani DiFranco, working in an extremely conservative environment, and finding hints of mySelf playing peek-a-boo from behind the walls of a paradigm that wasn’t really mine.

In my usual sardonic tone, this crept out the end of my pen…

New Photosynthesis

The parking lots have begun to photosynthesize
And the air out there, well it smells real nice
A better version of grass has taken hold
But the kids don’t mind cutting it as much as the old
We cut trees away from the power lines
The squirrels and the birds are doing just fine
But the folks in Californ-I-A
Can still only see by the light of day

The man on the hill cries conservation
To a crazy, confused, and misled natioin
Captivated by every word,
Believing the truth is what they heard
But the folks in Californ-I-A
Can still only see by the light of day

The White House is still white
And the politicians are too
At least from what we can see
By the liberating things they do
Equality and freedom were the promise
White christian male the default premise

Thank God for those old blues guys from Mississippi
And the generation that invented the hippie
Or we’d  be up to our ears without any soul, brother
And in a war over a war that was fought for another

Oh yeah, we are.

 

Photo credits:

http://www.pintrest.com, Hippie Movement, pinned from tree-nation.com

My Top 3 Tips for Becoming Perfect

You’re still reading. I bet it’s because you’re either entirely skeptical and want to see what sort of poppycock I’m trying to make you believe, or you’re curiously hopeful that maybe, just maybe, you will be able to shed the shroud of ‘not enough’ and ‘only human’ and step in to that exquisite, perfect self you know is really you.

These are powerful suggestions – unorthodox ideas – and they have the potential to impact your state of perfection by the mere reading alone. However, as with most tips, hints, and how-tos, they find their fullest potency when lifted from the page and carried into daily life. I invite you to try them on for size, take them for a test drive, dress in them for a day – or two. Take what you find helpful, make it your own, re-word, re-order, re-shape the ideas so they fit like your favorite pair of jeans, then step on in and walk around.

These tips are presented like a countdown, and without further ado:

Tip #3: [Don’t] Make Mistakes

In Drum! Magazine’s December 1999 issue, drummer Cindy Blackman quotes Art Blakely as saying, “If you don’t make a mistake you’re not trying.” Personally I have an aversion to the word ‘try’, but maybe that’s another story. Instead of worrying about making mistakes, looking foolish, or casting shadows…live from your heart – be courageous.

My understanding of the origins of the word courage [OF. Corage, curage, fr. Cuer (F. coeur), fr. L. cor heart.] has shaped my definition of courage as living from my heart..

If you make a mess that needs cleaning up – clean it up. I used to tell my kids “people don’t get mad at you for making messes, they get mad because they don’t want to have to clean it up.” If you clean up your own messes, it’s really ok to make them! Life is messy.

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When the mess leaks in to someone else’s space….it’s ok! Everyone has areas of struggle and often a reaction to your mess is an indicator of those struggles [or successes]. It’s not a statement about YOU. That doesn’t mean we’re absolved from the being able to choose our response1  – from being responsible­ – for our mess. What it does mean is that we don’t have to shrink ourselves down to some very small version that never bumps in to anybody.

The reason we can’t see ourselves as perfect is because we have a distorted view of perfection and inaccurate criteria for determining mistakes.

Understand what mistakes are and how to identify them when they happen. Too often mistakes are defined as some negative outcome, some wrong action, some flawed state of being. According to my 1940 Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, a mistake is a misconception. It’s when we see something other than how it is. It is a mistake to see ourselves as flawed. It is a mistake to view other people as flawed. It is a mistake to judge some situation as flawed. Judgments are that: judgments. They are not the inherent Truth of that which we are judging.

Tip #2 Be Authentic

Bring on your weirdness, embrace your quirks, honor your crazy. JUST BE YOU. You were created by design. Perfection is supreme trust in the Universe – God doesn’t make mistakes…or junk. Bring 100% of who you are to the table.

YOU is what this world desperately needs.

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Percentages are relative – a relationship between the part and the whole. 100% is whole. The whole is WHO YOU ARE; the part is who you are in this moment.  How much of yourself do you bring to each moment?  100%? 72%? All of you…except those parts you think aren’t beautiful?

Giving 100%, doing your best, being authentic, means making the part match the whole.  It means bringing ALL of you to EVERY moment.   You, in this moment, are whole…even if in this moment you are thinking about yesterday or worrying about tomorrow. Even if in this moment you think you are not perfect. And, if 100% today is 50% of what it was yesterday, that’s ok. Lay down the harsh judgments of yourself.

Perfection is the state of ultimate  acceptance, especially self-acceptance. 

Imagine you do what you do – art, write, music, therapy, teach – whatever it is, and you happened to create the best masterpiece of your entire life. And imagine that by some strange circumstance your masterpiece took on a life of it’s own and was able to talk to you…and with its words it told you how flawed it is, pointed out every little detail that you missed, and implored you to fix these shortcomings.  At some point, without a doubt, I know that I would scream in frustration:

“I meant to do that!!!” 

What if our creator feels the same way?

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Be who you are, all of it, even the parts you don’t deem worthy and see as flawed. You were made by design, after all.

And the most important tip I can give you about becoming perfect…

Tip #1 Realize that you already are…

Perfection has been perverted to mean some unachievable, external state of being…something apart from who we are. Human values vary from culture to culture, and with those values so do the measures of perfection, and the standards to which we hold ourselves.

Perfection is finding beauty and meaning – and the possibility of purpose – in our ‘mistakes’ and ‘shortcomings’. 

We’ve been culturally conditioned to believe that seeing ourselves as perfect is arrogant, or some form of megalomania – a disordered mental condition in which the patient has grandiose delusions (Webster’s, 1940). The belief that we were born bad and will never measure up is insidious. Quit buying it!

I love my dictionary, with actual word meanings rather than definitions that reflect common usage.

Perfect, adj.

  • 1. Having all the properties naturally belonging to it; complete; sound  2. Exact; precise; as, the perfect hexagon; pure; utter; as, perfect red.

You have all of you, everything you were given. You are whole. You are exactly who you are and, being authentic, you are utterly YOU.  What could be more perfect than that?

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The only flaws you have are the ones you think you have. Look in the mirror. See the beauty that you are. Be whole – there is no greater perfection than you are right now. Or… right now. Or… right now.

 

Image credits:

Spilled milk klockworkkugler.com

Footnotes:

1. The definition of responsible as ‘the ability to choose one’s own response’ is from The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey.