identity

Does Your Self Confidence Ever Take A Beating? Here Are Three Ways to Increase Your Confidence

How would you rate yourself on the self confidence scale--what number between 1-10 (1 being no confidence, 10 being complete confidence)? If you're like me, you find yourself moving back and forth on that scale depending on what's happening in your life.  If I'm dealing with an area of insecurity, I find myself experiencing low confidence.  If I'm dealing with a situation that triggers a past wound, my confidence level decreases.  What about you?

Self confidence is an interesting beast.  We all want it, need it, search for it, wonder if we've found it.  Often it feels like the elusive Abominable Snowman--we hear about some sightings but when we pursue it, we never seem to find it.

As experts tell us, confidence, contrary to popular opinion, is not an attribute that only some people are born with or naturally possess.  In fact, research shows that being shy and cautious is the natural human state.  Our early ancestors stayed alive because of it--they had to be cautious to survive.  So they passed it on in the gene pool.

So all of us have to learn the feeling and state of self confidence.  And the good news is, we can learn to boost it and keep it boosted when we need it most.

Here are  several ways to boost self confidence that I've learned in my own life and in the experiences of the many clients I work with.

1.  Put Your Thoughts Into Perspective

I read a statistic recently that amazed me.  The average person has 65,000 thoughts every day.  And guess what?  Eighty-five to ninety percent of them are negative--things we're worrying about or being fearful of.

Experts state that these worries and fears are warnings to ourselves, left-overs from our cave-dwelling past.  Every time our ancestors stepped out of the cave, they were confronted by immediate threats to their very survival.  So their brains (the amygdala part, to be exact--the fight or flight response) activated all the time.  We have that in our DNA.

What's different now is that, though we don't face bears or tigers when we leave the house, we do face what we perceive as threats to our self confidence, our self esteem, our personhood--the boss criticizes our latest project; the spouse in anger brings up a painful past that hasn't been let go of; we stand up to make a speech and worry how people will respond (will they like us or respect us or laugh or demean us).

The point is to be aware that our brains work this way.  And to be able to put those negative thoughts into perspective.  We are not our thoughts.  They're just thoughts that don't always represent objective reality.

We're wired to anticipate and interpret the worst (like our ancestors had to do).  So we simply have to put our negative thoughts, worries, and immediate fears into perspective.

We have to call on the higher part of our brains (the prefrontal cortex) via contextualizing and evaluation of the threat.  Is this thought-fear-worry really true?  Am I simply being triggered by a painful experience in my past?  Just because people are responding to me like I feared doesn't mean this is a reflection on who I am or a direct threat to my personhood. I can learn to reframe my negative thoughts and experiences.

2.  Remember You Are Not Your Thoughts

I am not my thoughts.  I am not other people's thoughts.  Thoughts do not define who I am.

As Eckhart Tolle suggests, the very fact that you and I can observe our thoughts shows that we are not our thoughts.  We have a higher self beyond all of that that remains unsullied by all of those 65,000 thoughts flowing through our minds every day.  And what's more, not all of those thoughts reflect reality.

The next time you find a negative thought popping up in your brain, remember:  this thought doesn't define you.  It's just a thought.  Whether the thought is true or not isn't the issue.  The truth is, you are not this thought.  So simply acknowledge it.  Observe the thought.  And then let it pass along like the rest of the thoughts.

Our immediate tendency, when we have a negative thought, is to place a value judgment on it.  We label the thought and then file it in a folder of similar thoughts.  And our tendency is to allow that folder to define us.  "I am the sum total of those negative thoughts."

Wrong!  I am not defined by those thoughts.  I have a higher self that can observe, evaluate, and attach meaning to all my thoughts.  My higher self is my true identity.  Confidence always emerges from this true identity.

3.  Know Your Strengths and Activate Them Regularly

I worked with a very competent health professional who came to me with a very low self confidence level.  She wanted to learn how to be a more confident person in her relationships and even in her work.

Turns out she had parents who never acknowledged her personal strengths.  They observed what they labeled as personality flaws and continually warned her that she would never be successful.  She grew up feeling a tremendous lack of self and of confidence.

So as an adult, whenever something happened in her life that was negative, her past wounds were triggered, and she heard her parents' voice in her head telling her she wasn't enough, she wasn't good.

Her self confidence consequently took a beating--a lot.

I had her take the StrengthsFinder assessment.  We spent weeks together unpacking her top five strengths, emphasizing the power of how her brain was wired (her natural preferences), helping her become more conscious of how she was strong, how she was using her strengths, how she could activate them more and more regularly.

Her self confidence began to grow little by little:  she was seeing herself, instead of through a prism of weakness and lack, through the lens of her strength and power  The more aware she became of how she was wired, the more she saw the beauty, and the more she learned to trust herself and affirm her strengths.

Confidence increases with a conscious awareness of how you are wired for strength and competence and your willingness to activate those strengths instead of fixating on lack and weakness.

Self confidence doesn't have to be the elusive beast in the woods.  If you would like additional help boosting your confidence, email me.

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Looking for a Speaker or Coach?

If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for a keynote speaker or workshop teacher for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it.  And interested in strengths coaching?  Feel free to email me at greg@gregorypnelson.com or look at the Speaking or Coaching pages of this site.

 

Part 2 - If You Don't Lean In to Effective Energy Management, You Won't Make It: The Second Way to Move From Slavery to Freedom

Last week's blog post described the hamster wheel kind of life that so many people find themselves caught up in.  It's the vicious cycle that can't seem to stop.  So we live in exhaustion, discouragement, lack of energy and inspiration, and a sense of being victims to our schedules and environments.  A terrible and unhealthy way to live! The good news is that there are two ways to strategically move beyond this painful cycle.  Last week's blog described the first strategy:  get clear on your identity and what your identity is based upon.  Click here to read that post!

I'm illustrating both strategies with the ancient story of the Jews' experience of slavery in Egypt under a cruel Pharaoh and his slave masters.  Here is the second significant strategy.

Strategy # 2:  Get Clear About the Difference Between Energy vs. Time

The Jews were giving most of their time to the Pharaoh via the slave masters.  They were forced to produce bricks, at the risk of death should they stop.  They were in a losing battle if time were the only resource available to them.

But every seventh day, they did something counter-intuitive.  They stopped.  They rested.  It was called Sabbath.  So what?

The way Sabbath was structured for them was that this was a very intentional time to remember their true identity.  they were not primarily slaves to a human taskmaster.  They were children of Yahweh, the God who had called them and claimed them--who had chosen them, not because of how "cool" they were, not because of how good they performed or how much they produced, but simply because God chose them to belong to the God of the universe.

Their identity was based upon a stable truth:

"We are chosen, valuable human beings simply for being.  We are called for a special purpose.  We are not slaves.  We are free.  And we're moving in our history toward the ultimate liberation of living in perfect congruence with our given freedom.  Our task masters can take away our time.  But they cannot take away our mindset, our identity, our humanness.  We control that.  And we choose freedom, even while we're having to work painfully for cruel masters!"

Develop Reinforcing Rituals & Practices

So every seven days, on the Sabbath, they remembered, they realigned their mental picture, they stepped into that reality.  How? By engaging in practices and celebrations and rituals that reinforced the truth about themselves, that re-energized their sagging souls and aching bodies.

The power of this kind of regular ritual and practice is that the emphasis is not on time as much as it is on energy.

Time is a finite resource.  We only have 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

So if we based our experience on managing our time, no matter how important that is, we are in a losing battle.

But energy is renewable.  When we learn to manage it, steward it effectively, we can not only sustain our capacity we can increase our capacity.

Engaging in Energy Boosters

So my client and I began a conversation that he described as the most important thing he's done.  We identified rituals and practices he could engage in that would renew his energy.  He creatively conceived of "mini-sabbaths" into which he could step and feel a boost, remember his true self, pay attention to his soul, renew his energy.

Energy boosters.  Even if it was taking out his "dusty" harmonica and playing it for 10 minutes.  Even if it was catching up on his New Yorker magazine for 10 minutes, reading what he enjoyed.  Even if it meant going to the bar every week to enjoy Trivia night with his friends.  Energy boosters.

When we neglect positive energy boosters in our lives, when we disregard positive rituals and practices that remind ourselves of who we really are, we degenerate into nothing more than "slaves to a task master" of our never-ending work or the demanding expectations of others in our lives.  We give up control.  And then we slip into a victim mindset.  It's a losing battle, every single time!

Make Your List Now

So make a list right now.  What are activities you can schedule regularly (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly) that give you positive energy when you do them?  If you can actually schedule them into your calendar, then you won't have to waste brain energy by always having to think through when you want to do them.

If you don't do that, I guarantee you your busy schedule will trump your rituals & energy boosters every time.  Put them into your calendar so that they simply come regularly without serious planning and forethought so all your energy can be used in actually engaging and being present when that time comes.

You'll find yourself moving steadily from a "slave" mentality to a liberation mentality.  You'll be in control again; you'll reclaim sovereignty over your time and energy and life.  That's a far better way to live!

Part 1 - If You Don't Lean In to Effective Energy Management, You Won't Make It: Two Ways to Move From Slavery to Freedom

Does it ever feel like your job is sucking the soul out of you?  Is your work environment fueling a sense of powerlessness where you feel you're being mastered rather than the other way around--you've become a slave to the master of your work--you're trapped in a never-ending cycle of demands from everyone around you, urgent needs and To Do's, so you're drained of all energy at the end of the day?  And this habitual pattern has repeated itself for years until you feel like there's no hope for anything better?  Do you feel like you're on the proverbial hamster wheel, running and running and running, expending all your energy but really getting nowhere? One of my clients was feeling this way in deep and profound ways when he came to me.  "What do I do?  Is there anything I can do to get out of this vicious cycle?" he asked plaintively.  "I've lost all of my passion and creativity!  Can I get it back?"

One of the first things I did was affirm his courage and gumption to come see me.  That in itself was a positive proactive step he was choosing in order to take back his life.

So many people get to that hamster wheel space and simply cave in to the feeling of being a victim:  "There's nothing I can do about it.  The never-ending demands are simply not things I have any control over.  I mean, if I want this job, I have to put up with this vicious cycle."

But here's the thing:  you are never a victim to your life!

True, you may work for an awful boss.  Your team members might all act like jerks.  You may never get affirmed and appreciated for your hard work.  Colleagues may steal your ideas and take the credit.  More and more work might keep getting dumped on you when you're already overwhelmed.

But you are never a victim to your life!

Here's what I mean by this.  There are always areas of your life where you can and must take back your power and control.  Let me prioritize the two most important ones:  your Identity and your Energy.  You simply cannot compromise on either of these without terrible consequences.

Identity

Our temptation is to equate our sense of identity with our work.

When someone asks us what we do, we typically say, "I'm a [and then state our job title or type of work]."

But notice that we're using an "I am" statement.  That's a statement of being which is woefully incorrect and unhealthy.

The truth is, our job is simply something we do in our lives.  It's not who we are.  Huge distinction.

Unless we get this fundamental identity issue right, we'll always feel we lack control over our lives since we spend so much time at work under the direction and often control of a supervisor or boss or manager.  Right?  Even if you're a CEO you're still under the direction of the Board--you answer to them, in the end.  Even if you're a self-employed entrepreneur, you're still answerable to your clients.

To take back control of your life, you must be clear on your identity and where it comes from.

Remember the Jews who moved to the land of Egypt in order to escape the terrible famine in their land.  They ended up being subjugated in slavery to Pharaoh for over 300 hundred years.  Their cruel task masters lorded control over their lives by forcing them to build bricks for the pyramids.

So what was their identity challenge?  Their temptation was to view themselves as no more than slaves to another master.  All they were valuable for was production and daily quotas.  They felt powerless because in many ways they were powerless.  They felt victims to their circumstances.  They were slaves.

When I told this story to my client, he immediately resonated.

"That's exactly how I feel--like a slave to another master.  I feel out of control.  My whole identity is consumed around my work and how much and how well I produce.  And so often I don't feel like I'm producing enough or I'm not producing enough quality and creativity.  I feel like a loser or imposter."

Can you relate to that?  I certainly can.  I find it easy at times to slip back into this mindset of, "I don't think I'm good enough.  I feel like a nobody.  I'm not successful enough.  I'm not producing value enough.  Therefore I am not enough."

So the Jews had to get clear about their true identity.  And in their environment, that was a gargantuan challenge!

What helped them get clear?  What did they do to take back control for their lives in the most fundamental area?

Here's the next significant issue.  It's engaging in strategies that empower us to align ourselves with our true identity.

Stay tuned for the next post.  Effective living is all about energy management, not time management.

Here Are Some Reflection Questions for You to Answer (try writing your reflections down on paper or computer):

How would you state your personal identity?  What words do you use to describe who you are at your very core, beyond what you do every day or the work or profession you have?  What gives you your value?  What are your true core values that drive your choices (the North Stars by which you navigate your paths forward)?  Finish this identity sentence:  "My value is in the truth that I am ..."

Be clear on your identity!

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Looking for a Speaker or Coach?

If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for a keynote speaker or workshop teacher for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it.  And interested in strengths coaching?  Feel free to email me at greg@gregorypnelson.com or look at the Speaking or Coaching pages of this site.

 

Are You Experiencing Identity Drift and What Can You Do About It?

One of my clients came to me dealing with deep uncertainty about himself.  His lack of confidence was at an all-time low.  He was de-energized at work and that was bleeding into the rest of his life.  He was having a difficult time making proactive decisions.  He felt stuck, almost paralyzed in his creative work.  And the more stuck he felt, the more he withdrew and didn't give his best contributions. "How do I find my place of confidence and self esteem again?"  he asked me with deep sincerity.

He was experiencing what I call Identity Drift.

What Is Identity Drift?

Identity Drift is when

  • you begin to lose your sense of self;
  • you're not sure who you really are anymore;
  • you're feeling uncertain about yourself, little by little unable to recognize what makes you You;
  • you find yourself trying to take on qualities and attributes that are no longer yours but are someone else's (you're trying to be something other than what you really are);
  • you've lost confidence in yourself;
  • you're becoming more and more satisfied with status quo (not rocking the boat wherever you are for fear that you'll get judged, criticized, or devalued, which is more blows to your sense of self worth--so you prefer to simply go with the flow and not creates waves)--you begin to simply drift along with whatever current you're in;
  • You've lost your center and place of most authentic power.

Have you ever felt some of those things?  If so, you're not alone.  Many of us are caught up in Identity Drift.

What Are Consequences of Identity Drift?

The consequences are painful:

  • living in a state of high stress and anxiety
  • losing your confidence
  • lowering your sense of worth / value
  • feeling lack of energy
  • feeling depressed about yourself, your future, and everything else in your life
  • comparing yourself to others and always coming up short
  • wishing to disengage and withdraw either emotionally or physically
  • experiencing the onset of physiological symptoms and health problems

So what can you do if you find yourself caught in Identity Drift?  How do you stop the drift?  Here are several suggestions.

5 Ways to Stop Identity Drift

Know your strengths

Because your strengths are based on your natural preferences (specific wiring in your brain), when you discover them, embrace them, and pay attention to them, you are placing yourself right in the middle of your true Self.  They are accurate descriptions of who you are and how you best live your life.  Leaning into your strengths places you in alignment with authenticity.

Identify how you're currently using your strengths in your every day life

The more aware you become of how you're using your strengths, the more competent and confident you become.  Paying attention and developing awareness are key.

Keep a diary in which you record evidences of strengths-based behaviors you engage in during the day

Increasing awareness and consciousness of your strengths increases exponentially when you keep a record of you behaviors and actions that manifest your strengths.  And every time you write a note describing an action, you're increasing your sense of self and your confidence in your abilities to live well.

Stop comparing yourself to others

Reducing Identity Drift comes about by focusing on yourself not on others.  When we're drifting, we tend to compare and think that we should be more like others (since we're not very clear on who we are).  But we need to stop confusing ourselves.  We need to pay more attention to how we're strong and how we use those strengths.

Intentionalize ways to step into your strengths more frequently

Start identifying specific actions you can take that are genuine expressions of all your strengths.  Write them down.  Look at them every day.  Set one behavior goal each day based upon one of your strengths.  Why?  When you're using your strengths in authentic ways you increase your sense of self, confidence, and personal energy.  You're aligning more deeply with the way your brain is wired.  You're rediscovering some very core pieces of what makes you uniquely You.

When you choose to become the expert of your strengths, you are making the decision to step more fully into who You are.  I have yet to see someone who makes this a priority not recover their personal confidence and core power again.  The drift lessens little by little until it finally stops.

So go ahead, leverage the real You by embracing what makes you unique and intentionally choosing to live that out, expressing it more fully!

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Upcoming Work About How to Build Your Strongest Marriage or Committed Relationship

There is such a thing as Marriage Identity Drift--when two people lose their sense of couple identity--they simply float along without any energy or confidence in their couple presence.  If you want to experience my strengths process in your marriage or committed relationship, check out the upcoming workshop I'm giving on this.  Go to Events for more information and registration details.  Registration deadline is this coming Monday, March 17.  Space is limited to 10 couples.

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Looking for a Speaker or Coach?

If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for a keynote speaker or workshop teacher for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it.  And interested in strengths coaching?  Feel free to email me at greg@gregorypnelson.com or look at the Speaking or Coaching pages of this site.

Three Steps to Choosing Authenticity and Getting Your Real Self To Stand Up

To Tell the TruthTo_Tell_the_Truth_1990-1991 Do you remember that classic TV game show "To Tell the Truth?"  It was one of the longest running game shows ever, airing shows in every season for 45 years.

The premise was that four celebrity judges would try to guess which of the three contestants was the genuine character being described in an unusual and unique life story read out loud by the host.  All contestants introduced themselves by the name of the true character.  The two "imposter" contestants could lie with their answers, the true character had to tell the truth in every answer.  After questioning each contestant, the judges would vote.  The host would then say those famous words, "Will the real [name of the character] please stand up."

I used to love watching the show, trying to guess which was the real character.  I sometimes got it right.  But often I was completely surprised.  And I've never forgotten the host's line at the end of the vote:  Will the real ________ please stand up."

So what was the appeal to such a simple game show?  The drama of trying to figure out who was who?  Deception?  Humor?  Seeing judges voting?  Unusual life stories?  A competition of winning and losing?

Probably all of the above.  But I think there was also something else at play.  We are drawn to that which is true, to people who are able to stand up and truly be themselves.  We call this Authenticity.

Defining Authenticity

I'm inspired by the way Brene Brown, in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, defines Authenticity:

"Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we're supposed to be and embracing who we are."  (p. 50)

The "letting go" of this ideal self we think we're supposed to be (and even that can change depending on which environment we're in at any given time) is really hard.  Isn't it?  Why?

Why Living Authentically is So Difficult

Our external culture.  We live in a world that strongly encourages, sometimes even demands, that we fit in, don't stand out too much, conform to accepted expectations and standards.  Though our country was founded on individuality and the pioneering spirit, our culture has strong ways of limiting all of that.

We're raised to acquiesce to authority---the authority of parents, adults, institutions, people who know more than we do, power, position, status.  We're taught not to trust ourselves or our gut instincts or to look too deeply inside ourselves.  All true authority is outside ourselves, we're told.

No wonder we have in our culture an authenticity challenge.

Our internal Culture.  Compounding this cultural squeeze is the truth that inside ourselves we often have another battle raging.  It's a self-esteem and self-worth issue.  So that whenever we feel shame or unworthiness or guilt that creates self-doubt, we can quickly and easily sell ourselves out and say, "I can be anybody you need me to be.  Watch me!"

So we can allow our self-identity to shift with the winds and tides of our surrounding people---whatever it takes to please them or get their approval so we can feel good about ourselves.

We definitely have an authenticity challenge these days.

So how do we learn to choose authenticity more and more in our daily lives---to choose to be our real Selves in every context, living out the fullest and most confident expression of our true Selves?

Three Steps to Choosing Authenticity

Notice the three actions described in Dr. Brown's definition of Authenticity:

  • Daily practicing

It's unrealistic to think that all of a sudden, one day we can simply declare, "Okay, I'm perfectly authentic now.  I'm good to go."

"Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day.  It's about the choice to show up and be real.  The choice to be honest.  The choice to let our true Selves be seen."  (p. 49)

When you consider that we are making this choice against everything that we've established through the course of life as being "true" about ourselves and what's really important---pleasing others at our own expense, living up to everyone else's expectations, letting every situation determine how "real" we should be, hiding behind masks, or trying hard to be someone we're really not---it's no wonder authenticity is a daily, even moment by moment, choice.  We have to practice it regularly.  We have to develop a new normal.

Authenticity is a process of becoming---a journey into being more fully genuinely ourselves.  So our practice demands:  "In this moment, faced with a choice of how I'll show up in this situation, I choose authenticity.  In this moment, I choose to be real and genuine and honest.  I will not hide myself.  In this moment, I will not let fear of what others might say or think dictate how I show up.  I choose to let my Self be expressed.  In this moment, I will be Me to the best of my knowledge and ability and in a spirit of respect, love, and compassion."

  • Letting go of who we think we're supposed to be

We have to stop living our lives based on other people's expectations and standards.  We need to respect and honor their choices.  But we don't have to emulate them.  We are each unique individuals.  We have to let our masks go.  We have to let go of our attempts to squeeze into someone else's mold.  We have to let go of our obsession with pleasing and seeking approval in order for us to feel good about ourselves.

For a trapeze artist to let go of the trapeze and fly through nothing but empty air takes courage.  It's scary and even risky.

So is letting go of false identities---especially if we've lived them for a long time.  We end up flying through uncertainty, even at times lack of clarity about who we are.  We risk rejection and lack of acceptance.  People close to us might actually like us the way we've been.  We might "fail" at being Ourselves.  Yes, it takes courage to let go.

But we can't grab a hold of the true identity (the other trapeze bar) without letting go of the false.

  • Embracing who we really are

Think of a time when you felt really true to yourself, when you felt completely safe, loved, accepted, honest, when you felt really strong and energized.  What was happening?  How were you showing up?

Chances are you were actually being your true Self.  That's what you have to embrace and grab a hold of.  That's the new trapeze bar you've been flying through space to catch.

That story you remember is a snapshot of your Authenticity.  Remember it.  Relish it.  Visualize it again and again.  Those powerful positive memories will give you courage to choose Authenticity again and again.  Embrace who you really are.

Embrace vulnerability.  Let go of the need for perfection, even in trying to be You.  Give yourself permission to fail, to make mistakes, to not do it really well every single time you embrace You.  That's okay.  You're on the journey of Authenticity.

Embrace compassion for your Self and for others.  Remember that you are made of both strength and struggle, as Brene Brown puts it.

Embrace the truth that you, as your true Self, are always enough!To_Tell_the_Truth_2000-2002

Embrace that your greatest gift to the world---to everyone around you---the gift that God has given you and you alone, is You.  No one else is or can be You.  Stand in your Truth and that truth will set you and everyone around you free.  Only Authenticity gives freedom.  Don't deprive the world of your Authentic You.

So next time, when the situation arises and says, "Will the real You please stand up," jump to your feet, hold your head high, and with joy reply, "Here I am, you lucky people!" :)  And the rest of us will the better because of it.  So will You.

Four Ways to Exercise Your Truth Muscle (and why it's important)

My wife and I recently watched the Oscar-nominated movie Flight.  It's an incredibly powerful and even disturbing story about an airline pilot (played in an Oscar-worthy performance by FlightDenzel Washington) who is forced to come face to face with his own truth--something he's been avoiding his whole life.  Spoiler Alert:  The powerful irony of the movie is illustrated in the final scene where he sits in his prison AA group and remarks that he's never felt this free in his whole life. There is something very liberating that comes from standing in your truth, embracing who you are, owning your strengths and weaknesses, your successes and failures, and being willing to look past your performance to the more foundational issue of core identity.  Where does your true value and worth come from:  the roles you play every day?  The quality of your behavior every day?  Or is there something more grounded and centered and fundamental?

Captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) gets those two realities confused.  He's clear on his performance as an airline pilot--he's one of the best in the industry and the story's crisis reveals that truth.  But he has placed his identity exclusively in that role to the exclusion of admitting another truth:  his alcoholism.  And as long as he refuses to stand in that truth, his denial continues placing people, including himself, in painful harm's way.

Captain Whitaker doesn't experience true freedom until he finally embraces the whole truth.

So here are FOUR WAYS TO EXERCISE YOUR TRUTH MUSCLE:

Embrace the whole truth about yourself.

We all have a shadow side--that place that is trying to get heard in order to make sense of life--which often manifests itself in unhealthy, unhelpful ways.

For example, we lash out at and fight with our partners, not because we want to be jerks, but because we want to be heard, we want greater intimacy.  Unfortunately, we've chosen an approach that goes counter to the very thing we're longing for and instead creates greater distance.  We maintain some addictions, not because we want to imprison ourselves in unbreakable chains and create terrible chaos and pain and suffering in our lives and everyone else's, but because we're hungry for belonging, a sense of worth and value, and we desire deeper, more lasting pleasure and intimacy.  Unfortunately, we've chosen an approach that goes counter to the very thing we're longing for and instead creates greater distance and suffering.  We get hooked on unhealthy ways to compensate for our lack--it's quicker, sometimes easier, but far more deeply painful.

But the whole truth is also that we have a light side in us.  We love others with good motives.  We serve others for their own good not just ours.  We develop healthy intimacy with ourselves and others.  We give with unselfish compassion and caring.  We choose delayed gratification at times for the right reasons, in the right places, in the right ways.  We show honor and respect to people, including ourselves.  We affirm and appreciate others, including ourselves.

As the great wisdom traditions describes, we are this mix of yin and yang, shadow and light, healthy and unhealthy motives, ego and soul.  Both sides are a part of us which make up the whole truth.  To deny one for the sake of the other is to cripple the whole.

Honor your Shadow side.

Our shadow side must be acknowledged and honored for what it contributes to us--the understanding of what is trying to be heard from deep within ourselves.  My cry for intimacy, or for wanting to be seen and heard and honored, or for wanting to feel the depths of life and joy and happiness, or for wanting to feel significant is a deeply human hunger and need.  We have to address these desires.  To deny them is to deny our humanness and short-circuit the goal of being fully alive as God intended.  Our goal is to learn how to dig deeper for the most basic ache inside ourselves and then to choose the most effective, healthy ways to satisfy it.

Genuine satisfaction can not be experienced until the deepest, most true hunger is identified.

How would you describe your shadow side?  How does it manifest itself?  What is your shadow saying about what's most important to you?

By being willing to embrace your shadow and listen to it, your honoring it will facilitate your experience of your whole truth.

Learn from your Hungers.

Hungers are not bad.  Even Jesus affirmed and blessed hunger when he said in the Beatitudes, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied."  (Matthew 5:6)

Having hungers is not bad.  Acknowledging them is a part of wisdom.  Understanding them leads to wholeness.

The hunger that has the most satisfaction and fulfillment, says Jesus, is the hunger for what is right, true, noble, pure, just, helpful, loving, compassionate, hopeful.  Hunger, which is the deepest, truest form of desire and want, is what must be honored and embraced.

So what do you learn about yourself from your hungers and desires?  What values do your hungers reveal are most important to you?  How do your hungers correspond to the above list of what Jesus calls the most satisfying?  What is it that you really, really, really want and how does that specific truth inform you about your whole truth?

Practice.

One of the powerful paradigms in the 12 Step Recovery program is the insistence on standing in your truth, the whole truth, and practicing it relentlessly.  That means refusing to deny the addiction and what it means to you; refusing to live in dishonesty; agreeing to name your shadow daily.  And it also means working hard to embrace the other side of your truth--learning how to feed the light side, live in it more completely and honestly, stepping into regular practices and behaviors that reinforce that part of the truth.

What are the practices you've developed that reinforce and solidify your experience of your truth?  Do you have daily mantras and inspirational readings that reinforce your truth?  Do you pray and meditate on it?  Do you finds creative ways to serve and give to others from a place of unselfish compassion?  Do you engage in self affirmations about who you really are, your true identity as a deeply loved and fully accepted human being by God?

In the end, as Jesus once observed, it is only the truth that sets us free.  Captain Whip Whitaker experienced that in a very dramatic way.  You and I can experience it in our own ways.  The nature of truth is that when it is honestly embraced, it is the most truly liberating and empowering experience on earth.

Hurricane Sandy and Tribalism: How Crisis Impacts Our Sense of Humanity

Hurricane Sandy and Two Symbols The tragedy this week unfolding on the Eastern seaboard of our country has been heart-rending. Not only the property destruction but the human devastation is mindblowing (79 deaths so far, and an estimated $50 billion of cost).  Clearly this has been a storm of epic proportions.

In the midst of this tragedy, there has also been a shining light--a very bright light, my opinion.  Watching the news yesterday and seeing New Jersey Governor Christy and President Obama working so closely together, praising and thanking each other for significant leadership in providing meaningful assistance on multiple levels, was heartwarming.

Here are two powerful symbols of contrast in this country--political opponents in every way--idealogues on opposite poles--both having criticized the other during the political campaigns--Gov. Christy being one of the outspoken surrocates for Mitt Romney, and President Obama running against Romney on almost everything.  And yet, in spite of these profound differences that have manifested at times in vitriolic political spewing, these two men have come together, worked together, embraced a similar vision and goal, and untiringly are working to stem the chaos and bring restoration and peace to that region.  And deeply affirming each other in the process.

And then to hear the stories of neighbors and community people immediately reaching out to each other, working hard to help save and restore lives--cleaning up the mess from flooding and wind damage, giving food and blankets and clothing, inviting people into their homes for shelter and safety.  And thousands across the country have been donating money and blood to the Red Cross.  No one goes through a "What Do We Agree On" checklist to decide whether or not they should help these people--if there are too many disagreements then no help can be given.  That would be ridiculous!  We'd actually label that "inhumane."  [Note:  It's tragic that so many congregations use this approach when deciding to accept or include some people, like gays, into their churches.  They would never do this during a natural disaster.  But when a crisis of spirituality and faith occurs, they exclude rather than include based on their check list.  What a lesson here!]

There's something about crisis that has the potential of bringing people, even political foes, together.  People are willing to move beyond their deep and profound differences for the sake of a common need.  It's powerful to witness, isn't it.

The Potential of Crisis

All of this has me thinking, why is it that crisis brings people together so often but then when the crisis is over everyone goes back to allowing their differences to create deep, unbridgeable chasms between them?  During crisis we can somehow look at the Other differently than after the crisis?  We see more in common than different during than after?  The fact that crisis brings people together shows that it is humanly possible to work and live together even in the midst of deep differences and disagreements.

What allows this to happen?  Here's one of the reasons.  Crisis causes a re-recognition of common humanity.  We suddenly realize that we're all connected in the most basic, fundamental way:  we are human beings living on one planet facing similar challenges, and so we sense a renewed responsibility for each other.  We are compelled to put our differences beneath our desire reach out to one another in restorative ways.

Typical tribalism shifts during these crisis times.  Instead of focusing first and foremost on our smaller, more immediate tribe (like our nationalism, our political affiliation, our religious belief, our local neighborhood and community, our biological family, and so forth), we are brought to the awareness that our first and most significant tribal affiliation is actually humanity--we are human beings living on the same planet with the responsibility of caring for each other.  We become much more global in these moments.  We prioritize our tribalism more globally.

And what is the result?  People come together, pull together, work together, in order to bring restoration, transformation, and a new normal into their damaged world.  Do they throw out their disagreements and start believing everything similarly?  No.  Do they deny their differences?  No.  But their common humanity takes precedence.  And so they serve each other no matter the odds and difficulties.  And the sense of community that is established is transformational.

A Parallel to Stages of Faith

On a spiritual level, this parallels the stages of faith, the process people go through in spiritual development and how they manifest their spirituality in different stages.  Of the four stages, stage two is the formal, institutional, fundamental worldview.  This is where most people tend to live.  There is a need for structure, certainty, organization--all of this serves to delineate faith and life, to carve out boundaries to help us understand the complexities; all of which help to bring a sense of security to the chaos of life.  So in stage two there is an emphasis on what separates us--our disagreements and differences, a tendency toward an "us" versus "them," an inside and an outside.  This is how we develop a certain basic spiritual identity.

So stage two people can become very threatened by those who believe differently.  And the fundamentalist outcome of this stage is to actually fight against those who are different in order to minimize the insecurity of identity we might be feeling.

Stage four faith is known as the mystical, communal worldview.  Dr. Scott Peck, in his book The Different Drum, describes it this way:  "This awareness leads to a deeper appreciation of the whole, the ability to love and embrace a world community by transcending individual culture and religion and other dividing lines that tend to separate people.  There’s a growing appreciation for the connectedness of all humanity with each other and with God and the awareness that God communicates to all people in equally unique and special ways that are communicated by means of symbols and metaphors and then lived out in meaningful practices and rituals."

So it's fascinating to me, as I watch events like Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath, how people respond to crisis.  On a spiritual level, people seem to move very quickly from a stage two kind of faith to a stage four faith.  In fact, experts tell us that we typically can only move from one spiritual stage to another as a result of crisis.  Without crisis to shake up our little worlds, we tend to be too comfortable to move forward.  Crisis suddenly upsets our spiritual equilibrium.  It often causes us to question our fundamental beliefs.  During and after crisis, we discover that the traditional spiritual answers seem too cliche and non-meaningful (like "God will protect you if you just believe in Him," or "This must be God's will," or "God is punishing the East because of gays," etc.--the point is that for people going through this crisis, those answers hold no meaning anymore, even those who held those beliefs cannot explain their current tragedies adequately through those cliche lens).  They don't seem to work anymore.

That whole series of thoughts and questions is actually a definition of stage three faith.  Says Dr. Peck:  "[These people] have gotten to a stage where the clearly defined paradigms and answers to questions given in stage two no longer satisfy and raise more doubts than can be satisfactorily answered.  They’re beginning to see that life is not as black and white as stage two thinks it is.  So they embark on a journey of dispensing with the orthodox, deconstructing previous beliefs, weighing everything by the scientific method, in order to search for 'truth' wherever it might lead."

So crisis has the ability to laser focus our lives quickly onto that which is most important.  And as I have seen in this week's tragedy, people almost automatically shift their worldview away from small tribalism to global connection.  And they can live and act this way in deeply satisfying ways to help mitigate the painful results of such tragedies.  And the result is that people are profoundly blessed and saved and empowered to keep on living and surviving and moving toward thriving again.

From t-ribalism to T-ribalism

I think this reality is hugely informative to us.  This week we've been reminded how important it is to live in a stage four kind of worldview (which I think is a deeply spiritual issue).  We've been shown how quickly we can get there.  Crisis motivates us and empowers us to almost immediately go global in our life lens.  We lay aside our more local tribalisms (the profound differences and disagreements between our politics, religion, family, community, even nationalisms) in order to step into our global tribe--the lens that reminds us we are first and foremost a part of one human family, all connected to each other, children of God no matter who we are.

We don't deny all our differences.  We don't compromise our beliefs.  We don't forget our smaller tribal identities.  Those are all still a part of each of us.  But we subsume them to a higher identity, a wider connection, a more fundamental relationship that is truly divine:  we are all children of God, family, intimately and eternally connected, heart to heart, body to body, soul to soul.  We have a divine responsibility to honor these connections to each other whenever and wherever we are.  We are called by God to be faithful stewards of our global human relationship.

This week our country has given evidence of this spiritual reality.  Thank you Gov. Christy and President Obama for being positive symbols of a faith that embraces our one human tribe.  Now may the rest of us manifest this stage of spiritual faith in our every day lives, within the circles we move and live--our congregations, temples, mosques, businesses, families, organizations.  Imagine what life could be like if we all pulled together (even in the midst of our disagreements and differences) and truly acted as one human family under God, brothers and sisters forever.

Personal Obstacles to Your Roar of Awakening

What Is the Roar of Awakening? In my last blog, I told the story about the tiger who grew up thinking he was a goat but who finally discovered he was a tiger.  Read the story if you haven't already.  Upon his discovery, he let out a huge "roar of awakening."

The roar of awakening is the discovery that we are more than we think we are; we have taken on identities that incorrectly or inadequately express our essential being.  And when we arrive at this divinely-inspired realization, we experience a totally different reality that expresses itself in a new kind of personal power, passion, and confidence.

One of My Roars of Awakening

One of my roars of awakening came when a highly respected leader in the church I was pastoring years ago deeply yet firmly affirmed my leadership style and effectiveness.  I had just downplayed myself to him, making an observation about myself that I had held to be true for years.  I had been retelling this narrative to myself every time I encountered a difficult, and potentially conflict-inducing leadership moment.

He stopped me and said, "Greg, I never want to hear you say that about yourself again!  Ever!"

"Why?" I pressed back.  "I'm just being honest about myself."

"No!" he countered.  "You're not!  Because it's not true.  You're stating an identity that simply has no basis in fact."  And then he spent the next five minutes describing all the things he had observed about me in my leadership position which clearly countered my own self-perception.

As he boldly and articulately described what he both saw in and believed about me, the light of truth began to dawn in my mind.  I saw it for the first time.  He was right.  I had been living and believing both an incorrect and inadequate picture of my essential being.  I had been living as a goat instead of the tiger I really was.

As I look back now, I can see that that awakening was a watershed moment.  My leadership, the owning of my true leadership capabilities emanating from my unique essence, took on a new kind of power and confidence which resulted in profoundly effective outcomes as a spiritual leader and pastor.  I had found my "roar."

Obstacles to the Roar:  What Is the Narrative You've Been Living?

Have you considered what narratives you've been living in your life that might be incorrect or inadequate?  Have you ever taken the time to evaluate the truth about those personal narratives?

We don't only tell inadequate stories about ourselves.  We also hold incorrect narratives about others--perhaps our spouses or significant others, our colleagues, our bosses, our friends and family members.  The destructive power here is that as we keep retelling these perspectives they grow stronger.  They end up seeming truer and truer.  So this becomes the reality at the center of our relationships.  And we wonder why these relationships can never seem to improve or get better or be fixed.

Painful Consequences of a Wrong Narrative

It is astounding to me how many people are not living their own truth or the truth about others and so have not been able to step into their personal or relational divinely-given power to show up in the world with clarity, confidence, courage, and contentment.

Over the years of living in this unreality, they become satisfied with bleeting like goats instead of roaring like tigers.  After awhile, they actually come to believe that they are goats (imagine believing, for example, that you're in a "goat of a relationship" instead of a "tiger of a relationship"--how would that impact how you show up in that relationship?).

Consequently, they never seem to arrive in a place of alignment and congruence with who they really are or what the essence of their relationship truly can be.  There's a form of timidity or aggressive conflict they end up manifesting to themselves and to the other.  They might not even be aware of it.  But there's this subtle hesitancy they often seem to feel in many situations--an inability to really land and be grounded where they are.

In the religious world, we often tend to label this as humility, on the one hand, or righteous indignation, on the other.  Truth is, ironically we are actually spiritualizing this sense of inadequacy or conflict by giving it this spiritual attribute in order to feel okay about it.

But it never completely works for us--deep inside we long to be free of this timidity, hesitancy, and sense of personal and relational inadequacy.  Without being aware of it at times, we are actually hearing our tiger nature calling out from deep inside us to be embraced.

Our Calling

We cannot allow ourselves to be content with being a goat if our nature is actually a tiger.  We must embrace our tiger.  Only then will we awaken the roar.  Only then will we and our relationships exude a confident, genuinely compassionate presence in the world.  And we will be like Jesus, who with a boldness that comes from unconditional acceptance of his truth, loved others shamelessly and tirelessly.

Next time, What does it take to awaken our roar?

The Roar of Awakening: Are You Clear About Who You Are?

The Tiger/Goat Once upon a time* there was a tigress who was about to give birth. One day when she was out hunting she came upon a herd of goats. She gave chase, and even in her condition, managed to kill one of them, but the stress of the chase forced her into labor, and she died as she gave birth to a male cub. The goats, who had run away, returned when they sensed that the danger was over. Approaching the dead tigress, they discovered the newborn cub and adopted him into their herd.

The tiger cub grew up among the goats believing he, too, was a goat. He bleated as well as he could, he smelled like a goat, and ate only vegetation; in every respect he behaved like a goat. Yet within him beat the heart of a tiger.

All went well until the day that an older tiger approached the goat herd and attacked and killed one of the goats. The rest of the goats ran away as soon as they saw the old tiger, but our tiger/goat saw no reason to run away, of course, as he sensed no danger. The old tiger did not know what to make of this full-grown tiger who smelled like a goat, bleated like a goat, and in every other way acted like a goat. Not particularly sympathetic, the old tiger grabbed the young one by the scruff of the neck, dragged him to a nearby creek, and showed him his reflection in the water. But the young one was unimpressed with his own reflection; it meant nothing to him and he failed to see his similarity to the old tiger.

Frustrated by his lack of comprehension, the old tiger dragged the young one back to the place where he had made his kill. There he ripped a piece of meat from the dead goat and shoved it into the mouth of our young friend.

We can well imagine the young tiger’s shock and consternation. At first he gagged and tried spitting out the raw flesh, but the old tiger was determined to show the young one who he was, so he made sure the cub swallowed this new food, and this time there was a change.

Our young tiger now allowed himself to taste the raw flesh and the warm blood, and he ate this piece with gusto. When he finished chewing, the young tiger stretched, and then for the first time in his young life, he let out a powerful roar--the roar of a jungle cat. Then the two tigers disappeared together into the forest.

The young tiger’s roar is called the “roar of awakening."  This “roar of awakening” is the discovery that we are more than we think we are. It is the discovery that we have taken on identities that incorrectly or inadequately express our essential being. It is as though we awaken from the dream, look around, and become aware of a totally different reality.

* excerpted and adapted from the prologue of Embracing Ourselves, by Drs. Hal & Sidra Stone (1989)

Spirituality and Identity

Every major spiritual tradition has at the heart of its spirituality the process of coming to know your true self, who you really are, your divinely given identity.  I'm inspired in Jesus' story how many times God "roars" from heaven to affirm his true identity:  "You are my son, the one I love.  I'm so proud of you."

And in one of the more poignant vignettes, Jesus looks at his disciples and asks them an identity question:  "Who are people saying I am?"  And then driving it closer to home, "Who do you say I am?"

It's the "roar of awakening" to this truth about ourselves that empowers us to live like the tigers we are (not the goats we think we are).  When we're confused or in the dark about our spiritual identity, we get stuck, we live in the shadows of our truth, and false selves rise up to control us.  We become insecure, uncertain, anxious, fearful, allowing other people and circumstances to control our sense of value and worth and direction.  Our roaring turns to bleating.

In contrast, when you know who you are, you have an internal confidence and courage to live with deep compassion even when it looks like weakness.

Jesus' Radical Example

Jesus reveals this self-assurance and engages in his most radical and unselfish act in the upper room the night before he's executed:

3 "Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. 4 So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, 5 and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him."  (John 13)

Jesus lives in perfect alignment with his essence, his identity as Son of God.  He's completely clear about who he is, why he's here, and where he's going.  So he acts again and again in courage and boldness, even in the face of tremendous opposition which ultimately leads to his execution.

In the next few blogs, I'm going to talk about how we get back our "roar of awakening."  What tends to keep us from seeing ourselves as the tigers we are and instead thinking we're goats?  How can we wake up to our truth, to God's truth about us?  And how does that truth empower us to live boldly?  Stay tuned.

A Year of Awakening the Roar

What do you say you and I make the year 2012 "the Roar of Awakening."  Let's choose to step into all the power of our true essence not just some of it.  Let's do whatever it takes to clear away the obstacles keeping us from being our Truth.  Like Jesus, let's be so clear on who we are that we are radically empowered to live a world-transforming compassion.  Because that's who we really are!  It's time to awaken our roar!

There's Power in a Creative Pause

This week I was pointed to an online article called "What Happened To Downtime? The Extinction Of Deep Thinking And Sacred Space."  The author is Scott Belsky, CEO of Behance and author of the national bestselling book Making Ideas Happen.  He's speaking a very prophetic word to our contemporary culture. Dangers of Living in a Digital Age

Living in a digital-age where we are connected 24/7 through our technologies, the experience of interruption-free space is almost nonexistent.  Even airlines these days are beginning to offer mobile and digital connectivity on flights, that last bastion of forced, no-guilt relaxation opportunity.

But this constant plugged-in existence is doing great damage to our souls and imaginations.

"Despite the incredible power and potential of sacred spaces, they are quickly becoming extinct. We are depriving ourselves of every opportunity for disconnection. And our imaginations suffer the consequences."

Creating Creative Pauses

What this means is that we have to be especially intentional about carving out what Belsky calls "the creative pause"--learning to savor downtime which is one of the most effective ways to enhance our imagination for life.  We have to be willing to shape times when we unplug and disconnect in order to plug in and connect to to a whole different Spirit.

The ancient Jews called this sacred experience Sabbath.  It was intentional, weekly sacred space carved out for the purpose of plugging in to the Divine Life in a renewed and revitalized way.  It was a tool to remind them of their spiritual identity as children of God--"We are not simply consumers and producers (brickmakers for the Pharoah and rulers of worldly empires).  We are children of the God of Heaven who calls us His own and gifts us with love, compassion, and goodness--not for what we do but simply for who we are."

Benefits of Uninterrupted Sacred Space

There is tremendous power in this kind of creative pause and uninterrupted sacred space.  Notice the way eminent Jewish philosopher and theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel describes it:

“In the tempestuous ocean of time and toil there are islands of stillness where man may enter a harbor and reclaim his dignity.  The island is the Sabbath, a day of detachment from things, instruments and practical affairs, as well as attachment to the spirit . . . The Sabbath is the exodus from tension, the liberation of man from his own muddiness, the installation of man as a sovereign in the world of time.”

Notice all the words that describe benefits from observing sabbath:  reclaiming dignity, deeper attachment to the true spirit of life, exodus from tension, liberation from identity confusion, restoring a sense of sovereignty over your time instead of being a victim to time.  Who among us wouldn't want these experiences?

I truly believe that one of the great spiritual practices for our contemporary culture is this intentional choice to savor downtime, to establish a creative pause, to carve out sacred space, to learn the art of sabbathing our time--to use these sacred moments to remind ourselves of our deepest core identity as interconnected human beings, sovereign children of God, loved and valued not for what we do for but for who we are.

My Wednesday Night Speaking Series

This is one of the reasons I have planned this public speaking event for Wednesday nights, right smack dab in the middle of our busy, frenetic weeks.  It's an opportunity to step into a creative pause and sacred space to enhance the depth of our lives as we reconnect with the Spirit.  We need regular appointments like this because we all know the powerful benefits of regularity.  You don't eat a meal only once, saying to yourself that since you've just eaten and you feel full that must be enough.  You eat again and again, with regularity, in order to sustain your life.

If you aren't living close enough to San Francisco to get in on these Wednesday night events but would still like to set aside a creative pause to view them, the videos will be made available soon.  I'll be happy to let you know when and how to access them.  Email me (greg@flyagaincoaching.com).  Here's the information about the series.  Check it out.

Your Intentional Choice

Let's face it:  we live in a world where we're confronted with the sometimes overwhelming temptation to stay connected and plugged in to our technologies and communities 24/7.  Little by little, the life in our souls is seeping out through over-stimulation and nonstop activity.  We're paying a very high price.

Belsky challenges us:  "Soon enough, planes, trains, subways, and, yes, showers will offer the option of staying connected. Knowing that we cannot rely on spaces that force us to unplug to survive much longer, we must be proactive in creating these spaces for ourselves. And when we have a precious opportunity to NOT be connected, we should develop the capacity to use it and protect it."

This is definitely a word to the wise for our generation.  How will you go about sabbathing your life?  What intentionality will you choose to manifest to experience sacred space and downtime?  Why not enjoy the profound life power in a creative pause.

My Offer To You

One of the things I do is coach people on how to develop this kind of deeply personal, meaningful spiritual path.  I have a 7 Day Curriculum called "How To Breathe More Soul Into Your Life"--it's all about developing specific intentional ways to experience the benefits of daily sabbathing your week.  People have found this to be very transformational in establishing regularity to the spiritual habit/practice.  Over a four week process (in four customized phone calls), I help unpack this experience, provide daily assignments, and help bring support and encouraging accountability to this personalized journey.

I'm willing to give a 10% discount to my blog readers for this coaching experience which begins Monday, Nov 7.  Contact me in the next 5 days (by Oct. 26) to take advantage of this discount.  Email me for the details (greg@flyagaincoaching.com).

Fear Comes From a Place of Inadequacy

I just recorded this video clip today to talk a bit about where our sense of fear and worry tend to come from.  The reality is, you and I can't control what happens externally in all the circumstances of our lives.  But what we can affect is our internal responses to what life dishes to us.  And therein lies one of the secrets to developing inner peace in an age of anxiety.  Here's a piece of this perspective: [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSFDALeWeN8]

Here's the way this reality is stated in one of the lessons from A Course in Miracles:  "It is obvious that any situation that causes you concern is associated with feelings of inadequacy, for otherwise you would believe that you could deal with the situation successfully.  But it is not by trusting yourself that you will gain confidence.  It is the strength of God in you that is successful in all things."  (p. 75)

The Point of Spiritual Practices

As all spiritual wisdom traditions emphasize, spiritual practices are designed to focus our attention on our true identity as children of God.  The chaos, busyness, and ear-spitting volume of the world around us tend to divert out attention from who we are.  We are tempted to buy in to the subtle and not so subtle message that our value comes from an identity as producers, consumers, and all the various roles we play in our lives.  And if we play those roles well, we can feel good about ourselves.  But if we fail or are inadequate in any way, we cannot give ourselves permission to feel good.  And this battle is endless, isn't it.

So our intentional choice to regularly engage in practices, activities, and experiences where we are reminded of who we really are irrespective of our roles and what the world says about us is absolutely crucial to being able to maintain a place of calm, centeredness, and internal peace in the midst of life's anxious chaos.  I must come to the place where I put more stock in what God says about me than in what others or even I say about me.  I must choose to believe God's word, "I am enough."

Upcoming 3 Night Series

That's one of the reasons why I'm doing a 3 night speaking series on this topic beginning a week from tonight (Oct. 19, 26, Nov. 2).  The event will take place at Fort Mason Center, the Bayfront Theatre (BATS Improv) in San Francisco.  It will be 90 minutes of teaching, inspiration, centering experiences, even a little music--all designed to reinforce our sense of who we are, that we are enough, and that we have divine resources to ground us in confidence to face our everyday lives.  Check out this INVITE for more information.  If you register, feel free to use the special discount code GregVIP for 50% off.

If you can't be here for these 3 nights, there will be recordings made available.  So leave me a note in the comment section below if you're interested in the recordings so you can get in on these hugely significant spiritual reminders.

We are enough!

One of the important spiritual teachers of our generation made this statement:  “Our whole spiritual transformation brings us to the point where we realize that in our own being, we are enough.”

You and I need this reminder often!  And I can say from personal experience, when I'm living out of that deeply sacred and divine center, my life takes on a profound sense of both calm and confidence as I show up in the world.  There's no better place from which to live.

Click here for more information about this upcoming series and to RSVP.  Only 1 week left.

Attending to the Inner Critic

The Inner Critic We all have one.  It's that voice so often speaking inside our heads that makes judgements about us.  Sometimes it takes the tone and sound of one of our parents or another adult from our growing up years--they criticized us for not measuring up, for failing, communicating clearly that we didn't have it, we couldn't make it, we blew it and we'll blow it again.

Someone recently told me about his Inner Critic's primary message:  "You'll never make anything of yourself!  You'll never amount to anything!"  It always has the voice of his dad who has put him down his whole life and has never expressed any true belief in his abilities.  He's labeled his Inner Critic, "The Chairman of the Board."  This voice has always had the last word, the word of ultimate authority.  And it has prevented him from living his own life in freedom, with a sense of value, and possibility.

I definitely have an Inner Critic.  I got off the phone today after engaging in negotiation over a coaching contract with the CFO of an organization.  I felt really strong.  I was pleased with myself and the confidence with which I had presented a proposal.

And then suddenly my Inner Critic piped up and in no uncertain terms reminded me of a very small but silly comment I made in passing during the phone conversation.  As I listened, the "voice" started berating me and criticizing me.  I was tempted to believe it once again and discount the entire conversation along with my credibility.  I saw my Inner Critic looking at me holding up the big L on its forehead...Loser!  And the irony was, all evidence to the contrary.

Why Is the Inner Critic So Powerful?

Does that ever happen to you?  The Inner Critic is powerful.  Why?  Because we have given it power.  Because we've heard it for so long.  Because it speaks partial truth at times so that some of what it says is believable and we tend to lump all of what it says into that partially believable part.  And because whenever it speaks, it doesn't equivocate or articulate timidly.  It always speaks with authority and clarity.  Right?

The Essence of the Inner Critic's Message

Even Jesus battled this Inner Critic, this Shadow part that showed up in the form of the devil, the tempter.  The Bible elsewhere describes this Voice as "the accuser of the people."  Man, do we know this Inner Critic!

After Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness desert to be alone, to confront himself, his identity, his calling.  The voice of his heavenly father at his baptism was still ringing in his ears:  "You are my son, the one I love; I'm so proud and pleased with you."

Then the Critic showed up.  In essence It said, "So you think you're the Son of God, huh?  You think you're someone special?  NO way!  Not unless you can turn stones into bread.  You think you're someone special?  NO way!  Not unless you can jump off the pinnacle of the Temple and have angels break your fall.  NO way!  Not unless you acknowledge Me, honor me, listen to and believe everything I say.  You're no different than anyone else!  Good try!"

Notice the essence of this Critic's voice which echoes our Inner Critic all the time:  it's calling into question our identity, our sense of value and worth, our belief in ourselves and what God is calling us to be and do. It accuses us of being Nobodies.  It's connecting performance with success and identity.  So if we blow it or act out or fail at times, the Chairman of our Board bellows, "See, you're nothing.  I told you!  You'll never amount to anything!"

Our Inner Critic always connects performance with value.  So we end up only giving ourselves permission to feel good about ourselves when we perform well or are doing something "valuable" and "successful" (and usually we've bought into the ego-culture's definitions of those two terms).

I'm wrestling with this temptation from my Inner Critic a lot these days.  I'm in the middle of a big transition professionally, from spending most of my time pastoring a spiritual community to spending more time being a public speaker and spiritual teacher.  Others have taken leadership with the spiritual community and my wife and I are working hard developing strategic plans to begin speaking and teaching in the City and beyond.  So right now, one thing has ended but the new thing has yet to begin.  I'm in the "no man's land" of transition's middle zone.  And I struggle with a loss of identity and the corresponding sense of current "uselessness."

My Inner Critic isn't whispering It's critique of me, It's bellowing it.  Maybe I won't be able to pull off this transition to another manifestation of my Calling.  Maybe we'll try and it won't work.  What if no one shows up to the public events we plan?  What if no one cares about what we have to say?  What if I've lost whatever mojo I once had?  What if we can't earn enough income to make it?  What if?  What if?  "See, you're really amounting to nothing after all.  You're not good enough.  You won't make it.  You're not who you think you are, you're a nobody."

So how do you attend to the Inner Critic in a way that doesn't cripple you?  Here are several important strategies I've learned.

Strategies to Effectively Attending to Your Inner Critic

Honor the Voice--learn Its wisdom.  This is a counter-intuitive step.  The truth is, our Inner Critic speaks so loudly because It's trying to tell us something.  Believe it or not, it does have some wisdom for us.  Unfortunately, It often couches Its words in negative value statements.  But beneath those devaluing observations, It does have a role.  That role might be different for all of us.  It might be trying to keep us from doing something we'd regret later, like making a fool of ourselves, or biting off something we're not ready to handle, or doing something that might not be safe.  The Inner Critic speaks warnings ultimately to protect us, like oftentimes our parents tried to do. It wants to make sure we're considering all the angles before jumping into something.

I've learned that this process is not about silencing the voice as much as properly attending to it.

If we are willing to honor that Voice by assuring the Inner Critic that we will take Its warning into consideration and will not purposely try to do something dangerous or foolish, that we'll be strategic and wise in what we do, the Voice actually tends to quiet.  It wants to be heard and respected.  And we can listen to what we need to hear in its statements and honor those parts.  And then simply not embrace or accept the negative value judgments.

Say to It, "What is the wisdom you have for me?  What are the cautions I need to pay attention to?  How can I assure you I won't be foolish and unwise here?"  Honor and respect the voice of wisdom in It and then let go of the value judgments about identity and worth.  You're not a Loser no matter what you do or what happens.

Honor THE Voice--don't play the identity game.  Though my client has named his Inner Critic "Chairman of the Board," the truth is, there's only one Voice that we should give that title to.  Jesus got it right.  His first response to the Tempter and Accuser was, "Man should not live by bread alone but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God."

The Accuser had just challenged Jesus to prove his divine sonship by turning the desert stones into bread.  Jesus refused to play that identity game.  "I don't need to prove anything about who I am.  I don't perform my way into an identity.  I accept my identity as a state of being given to me as a gift the moment I was born.   I'm choosing to listen to the words of The Chairman of the Board, the One who just reminded me at my baptism who I am by telling me, 'You are my son, the one I love; I'm so pleased with and proud of you.'  That Voice is the one that counts to me when it comes to my identity, value, and ultimate worth!"

The next time your Inner Critic bellows that you're a failure, a loser, and that you need to do much better at performing and proving yourself otherwise you don't count, don't buy it.  Remind yourself of the Highest Voice who assures you that you're a child of God with ultimate and eternal value no matter what!  Your identity is secure, period.

Can we learn from our mistakes and foibles and even failures?  Of course.  We should.  The Inner Critic has wisdom for us to learn from if we allow ourselves to listen.  And sometimes we have to work hard to catch what It's saying "in-between the lines" of Its judgments and criticisms.

Choose to play the right game.  When my Inner Critic, after my phone call, reminded me of my silly statement, I stopped for a moment, replayed that part, and ended up saying, "Good point.  I was trying to be funny and light when I made that silly comment but I didn't need to.  I could have left that out.  It didn't add any value to the conversation and my point.  Next time, I'll remember and not feel the need to throw something like that in."

But then I chose to refuse the Voice's judgement label of Loser on me and went about my work, celebrating how strong I was on the call and my hope for a profitable outcome.  "I am a divine son who is called by God and loved by God and infused with eternal value and worth, no matter what happens.  Thank you for that secure and solid identity!  Now I'll keep moving forward, being as wise and strategic as I can, and knowing I'm the Man all along the way!" :)

Don't get caught up in your Inner Critic's identity game.  Only allow the true Chairman of the Board to settle that issue for you.

In Jesus' story, once the Critic-Accuser-Tempter crossed this line by demanding worship (an act of bowing to something as ultimate authority) , Jesus did a major push back and rebuked It by saying, "Get behind me!  Be gone!"  He refused to play the identity game.  He refused to give the highest status to It.  Only God is the Chairman of the Board who always pronounces value and worth and acknowledges inherent goodness.

So honor the wisdom of the Inner Critic and learn what you need to learn from It.  But don't mix Its messages up with your identity.  Don't get sucked into that game.  When it comes to identity, choose to play the right game:  listen to and honor the Voice of God who has the most authoritative handle on your identity as a loved and pleasing child of God, forever and period!  Beyond that it's all logistics and strategy.