You and I become the sum total of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, our personal narratives. Here are four steps to developing the right, most empowering narrative.
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.
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?
Sleepwalking Did you see this Coca Cola commercial that aired during the 2010 Super Bowl? It's titled "Sleepwalking."
Have you ever sleepwalked? Maybe not literally—but perhaps you weren’t fully present in a situation or time of your life?
I remember years ago when my kids were very young visiting San Francisco and staying one night in a motel right down town. We were awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of the door being opened. I looked up to see my daughter trying to pull the door open but the chain was keeping it from opening all the way. I called to her but she didn't respond. I got up and pulled her from the door--still no response. She was sleepwalking. And I my heart started pounding with fear at the thought of what could have happened had she been able to open the door and sleepwalk outside!
There are two sides of the same coin of sleepwalking: the potential of danger (the guy in the commercial walked through all kinds of situations with dangerous animals and didn’t even know it) and missing out on life (he was missing the beauty of the African Savannah). Both sides of the coin are sad and unnecessary.
Sleepwalking is a metaphor that mirrors so much of what happens in our culture. We are constantly being bombarded by ideas and concepts that burrow themselves into our brains and result in thought patterns, narratives, and stories we end up telling ourselves and then subconsciously acting upon. Right? Those paradigms and stories end up becoming second nature with us to the point of not even evaluating them anymore. We simply drift through life without thought. Analyze our culture’s evangelism: wear this, look like this, drive this, act like this, own this, be like this … and if you do, you’ll be happy or powerful or popular or fulfilled or successful. And the messages are endless of what is being promised to us to make us who we or "they" want us to be.
Ultimately we should be evaluating these messages: Are they true? Is this real? Am I what I wear or possess or accomplish, or is there something more fundamental and foundational and true about who I am? Or are they illusions, just dreams that I fantasize are true? Am I asleep or am I awake in this reality?
In fact, the concept of dreaming and waking have been used in spiritual traditions for thousands of years as a metaphor for spiritual consciousness and enlightenment. For example, the name “Buddha” translates as “the awakened one." And what was Buddha awakened to? He began to see with clarity what the causes of human suffering were. His awareness led him to develop a path of enlightenment--the way to waking up--to being present in the world in such a way that one sees the truth about self, about others, about life and what it is that brings contentment and happiness.
In the Gnostic “Hymn of the Pearl” from the Acts of Thomas, the son of a King is sent on a mission to retrieve a treasure, but falls asleep and forgets who he is. His father sends a letter to remind him:
“Awake and arise from your sleep,
and hear the words of our letter.
Remember that you are a son of kings,
consider the slavery you are serving.”
The spiritual process of waking up is remembering who you are--being clear about your true identity as a son or daughter of royalty. And then using that identity to measure all other messages and stories we're told by others or ourselves.
Jesus’ name means “Jehovah saves.” And during his life Jesus was called “The Word”—the revelation of God, God’s voice in human flesh. God saves us from ourselves by the inception of a new thought and idea lived out in his life—that we belong to God, God loves us with an eternal love no matter what, we are children of the King. Jesus comes to wake us up to this truth and reality because we tend to sleepwalk and dream, becoming confused into thinking that our dream is reality. So we’re not as aware and fully present as we could be in this life, always running after the wrong dreams.
It's significant to me that central to Jesus' life mission was the clarity he had of his identity. God’s voice and message to him were very real--“This is my beloved son; I am pleased and proud of him.” The Dark Side’s primary goal was to try to call into question that identity and Jesus’ awakened consciousness of it. The Shadow’s continual temptation was to get Jesus to think his identity was a dream—that he wasn’t who he said he was—to keep him from being fully present.
Unenlightened consciousness is indeed very much like dreaming. Our stories we tell ourselves and others, our personal narratives, are often based upon untruth. “I am what I wear or do or have or how others think of me.” “I am my failures or my successes.”
We become entranced with the little details of our lives and the stories unfolding around us. We forget and become unconscious to a larger context around us. We forget our connection to our highest self and become attached to the particulars. Many enlightened teachers have confirmed that the process of enlightenment is like waking up from a deep and not very nice dream.
So the journey of spirituality is the process of waking up to our true reality about who we are. We are daughters and sons of the King; we are containers of the Divine Presence, covered all over with the Divine Fingerprints on our souls, hearts, minds, and bodies. We belong to a Higher Power. We are called to a Higher Purpose.
Truth is, God is continually in us whether we’re awake to it or not. God is continually working all around whether we’re awake to it or not. That’s reality. But how much more effective and transforming our lives become when we awaken to that truth—to be able to embrace it, accept it, know it, see it, be enveloped by it, bathe and bask in it is to really live life fully.
No wonder the Bible says, “As a person thinks in his heart, so is he.” Our thinking, what we consider to be true and real, radically impacts our lives.
Parker Palmer once wrote: “Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.”
Do you know who you really are? Are you living the truth about you? Would you consider yourself a fully awake person? What tools do you have to help you remember your identity?
Spirituality is about awakening to the truth about who we are, who we belong to. It’s becoming grounded in the Center of our Being by embracing who we are in God. And from that grounding and centeredness, we live as awakened, enlightened, aware, fully present people boldly living out our identity as God's children. We move from sleepwalking to awakening.