I was recently asked what brought me to this path, the one I'm honored to consider my life's work. What landed me here was a challenging journey, and there was one beckoning inquiry that drove the process and kept me going...
What is your truth?
And a follow-up question: What's between you and living your truth?
As I unpack my story a bit, I invite you to consider this question for yourself. Be prepared, because it can be like peeling an onion, quite possibly, a big one. And peeling the onion can require a lot of courage and strength. Very fortunately, what's on the other side is worth every bit.
In the beginning, contacting my truth wasn't anywhere on my radar. I was too identified with my stories to have an inkling about this. But chronic pain drove me to dig deep and understand what was driving it. For starters, stress from a successful and demanding career was misaligned with my inner calling. I made time to get quiet, still, and really honest with myself. I leaned into the pain, what was underneath it, why, and what it needed. Over time, and through all the medical providers my body perplexed along the way, it conveyed to me with crystal clarity why it hurt and what it needed. That was the beginning of my path forward.
Very fortunately, with guidance from revered teachers that the universe miraculously delivered, I began questioning my beliefs, which led to questioning my thoughts...behaviors...stories, and ultimately, my "self".
One of the most revelatory and liberating realizations early on was that I didn't have to believe my thoughts. One teacher described them as clouds passing across the sky. They come, and go, like weather patterns. And so do all the accompanying emotions that they surface.
Actually, it's emotions that give rise to thoughts. We just have to notice them. By the way, guess how long an emotion lasts? A mere 90 seconds (1)! It's the stories we attach to emotions that make them so sticky.
"Reality is always kinder than the stories we tell about it." - Byron Katie
Amen! Where was this wisdom when I needed it?
So after peeling the thick layer of not believing my thoughts, the process just kept going. I kept leaning in to difficult sensations in my body, the places it was holding on to stories of the past, or anticipating the future. I learned to stay leaning in. With dedicated practice, I continue to build strength, stability and resilience.
Through this process, I also realized that it wasn't my career that was problematic, rather, it was my relationship with it. That was true with every other "problem" or aversion in my life. It isn't a situation (or substitute the appropriate "offender") that's problematic, rather, it’s our relationship with it.
In no way am I suggesting this process is easy, quick, or simple. It is the toughest work of my life and takes courage, strength and grit. It’s also my most important and meaningful work.
I feel compelled to call out a few elephants in the room:
1) "It sounds self-indulgent." Perhaps, on the surface. The point is to get honest with yourself first so you can fully show up in your life. For all the people, projects, communities and whatever else you're a part of. It's for the greater good.
2) "I'll lose my edge and soften. I need to stay tough." Again, this is challenging work. Of course, that's all relative, but leaning in to difficulty takes a lot of courage and strength. As you get honest with yourself, you might re-prioritize things in your life, recognizing that every day you armor up for toughness, just to get by.
But in moments of total honesty, it doesn't feel right. You might notice this during rare moments of spaciousness in your life. Maybe on week-ends or vacation. But your body keeps score, and wins. For me, as I began living more intentionally, I felt more fortitude for what I chose to do and protected the space to do it. No edge lost or softening, to be sure. And the upsides trumped the status quo.
The body is a portal to healing. It's not necessary (or encouraged) to start with heavy stuff. Nothing traumatic, for sure. If you feel stuck and want to get to the other side, it's helpful to begin a process of inquiry and skillfully lean in. This builds your resilience muscle and opens the door to living in alignment with your truth.
"Between a stimulus and response there's space, and in that space lies our freedom and power."
I reflected (and still do) on Frankl's quote like a mantra. I'm dedicated to widening that space and enjoying the gifts of it.
A reflection by Rumi, which describes awakening from believing your thoughts:
Are you searching for your true self?
Then come out of your own prison.
Leave the little creek and join the mighty river that flows into the ocean.
Like an ox, don't pull the wheel of this world on your back.
Take off the burden,
whirl and circle,
and rise above the wheel of the world.
There is another view.
There really is another view. It's possible to free yourself from limiting beliefs and stories about yourself. It just takes dedicated practice to do things another way, to break a habit loop.
If you care to explore this topic further, visit the Resources page. The Work by Byron Katie is an excellent resource for skillful inquiry. Tara Brach also offers relevant talks and resources. And you can learn more about Dr. Taylor's 90 second insight.
Bronnie Ware, a palliative caregiver who cared for thousands toward the end of life wrote an essay about the top regrets of the dying. Topping the list: not having lived true to themselves.
May we all have the strength and courage to live our truth, without judgement, for the benefit of all beings.
(1) Taylor, J. (2006). My Stroke of Insight. New York, NY: Penguin Group