What are obstacles you’re facing right now? What might be standing in your way of fulfilling what matters most to you, tempting you with intimidation, striking fear and insecurity in your heart? What is challenging and eroding your sense of identity, impeding your calling, purpose, and mission in your life? Or what challenges are you facing in your pursuit of your Calling that may feel big and difficult? Let me suggest some ways to reframe these obstacles that will give you direction on how to face them with more courage, wisdom, and effectiveness.
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.
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 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.
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 Denzel 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?
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.
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!
46th Session This week I had the 46th session with a coaching client. We started our journey together a year ago. This is the longest I've coached a client - 46 sessions! What has impressed me with this client's experience has been that it's only been in the last month that more visible break-throughs have been taking place. I have seen profound transformation in his way of thinking about himself and life and how he's showing up in the world. He has much more clarity as well as fulfillment these days.
My typical coaching approach has involved working with clients sometimes for a month, most often for 3 months, sometimes for 6 months (all involving weekly sessions). I've helped people through life transitions, establishing personal dreams, developing strategic plans for business or personal issues, helping them achieve clarity about their strengths and life purpose, defining a new personal faith. All very helpful journeys, according to their personal testimonies.
But in this case, we've continued for 46 sessions - mostly at his request - and certainly I've agreed with the value. But significant change has happened lately that has caused me to realize some very significant realities about life growth as it relates to this lengthier journey. Thought I'd share three of them with you in this week's blog post.
Regardless of your view of God and how God operates in the messy human process of growth, God rarely seems to simply "snap his finger" to transform people. Pray as hard as you might, growth isn't based upon a magical formula that occurs in the "twinkling of an eye." Genuine change takes time - it doesn't matter what the personal or relational issue, meaningful transformation simply takes time.
There's a reason why so many spiritual wisdom traditions call spirituality a "journey." Personal growth is a process, a path. Even Jesus called himself "the way." Notice he didn't say "the point" or "the moment." He's the way. He's describing the process of spiritual growth - becoming a follower on a path which involves a journey that takes place over time, in fact over one's entire lifetime. It's as though he's saying, "Follow me. Watch me. Consider me, what I do and how I do it. Walk with me and observe, reflect upon, question, weigh, and wrestle with it all. Practice what you observe with me. Learn how to lean into it. Be a follower on the journey." Those kinds of experiences don't happen over night. There's no simple formula. Personal growth takes time.
Two, personal growth involves developing new ways of thinking.
No wonder it takes time. Our thoughts create our realities. In fact, some experts say there is no difference between cause and effect - our thoughts produce our experiences (and vice versa) simultaneously. What we think, is. So if we want to change our experiences, we have to change our thoughts. Our thoughts are the fabric of all the stories we tell ourselves and others about ourselves, about others, about all of life, even about God. Our stories (what we think and say about all of this) are the sum total of the thoughts we string together to describe what we think we're seeing and observing. Our thoughts create the lens through which we see life. So if something isn't working well or serving us well in our lives, we have to evaluate carefully and honestly our lens (what thoughts we're stringing together to describe what we think is reality).
And if that lens is hazy or dirty or smudged or cracked, that impacts what we see. This is why spiritual traditions describe the journey of spirituality as the process of cleaning the lens or even changing the lens through which we look.
St. Paul described this process: "11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely." (1 Corinthians 13)
He likens seeing through a cloudy lens as being a child. When we're kids, our ability to see and understand the realities of life are limited. Kids have nightmares or bad dreams about things that aren't real. And many of us adults still have that limitation. :)
I remember having nightmares as a kid about gorillas. I would wake up scared to death that the gorilla was in my room ready to eat me up. My mom says she would often awaken in the middle of the night feeling this "presence" beside the bed and when she opened her eyes she would see me standing there (still asleep) but white as a ghost. Rather unnerving for a parent (not to mention this little child). A child's ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy is not well developed. Kids are seeing imperfectly through "a cloudy mirror," as St. Paul put it.
As I've grown up, I don't have nightmares about gorillas anymore (thank goodness!). But I do have more sophisticated fears that can equally incapacitate me at times and which sometimes prove to be equally fantastical (not based on reality, not true). My gorillas have turned into fears about my worthiness, my ability to succeed, whether people will accept me or admire me, etc., etc. I've at times gone into situations with other people completely sure that they would judge me or criticize me because of my past, only to end up experiencing just the opposite from them. I almost allowed my "seeing through the cloudy mirror" to keep me from showing up in that group which would have caused me to miss out on a wonderful experience.
Kids don't understand the nuances in human relationships - life tends to be more black and white. Maturation, human development and growth, is about learning the process of seeing more clearly, and sometimes of even having to change the lens because the lens is simply not true.
Notice that St. Paul describes his current knowing as "impartial and incomplete." But he looks to that time when he will know everything "completely" (fully, accurately, wisely, without limitations that are self-imposed or otherwise), which he describes as the way God sees us. The point he's making is that that path between those two times (from unknowing to knowing) isn't bridged instantaneously. Personal growth takes time because it involves learning how to think more maturely and wisely, more divinely. We have to grow up, to develop. "By beholding, we become changed." Are we beholding truth and reality or old "truth" and unreality? Change the lens to behold clearly.
Three, personal growth necessitates personal patience and profound acceptance. I'm getting better at giving myself some slack for the lack of perfection in my life. That doesn't mean I'm choosing not to take self responsibility. In fact, I'm taking more ownership for my life with all its foibles and dirty lens and my determined responsibility to make necessary changes then ever before. But I'm learning to give myself more patience and self-acceptance along the way.
One author I was reading this week said that the most important gift we can give ourselves and others is acceptance. It's a counter-intuitive choice. Contrary to popular opinion, accepting doesn't prohibit or stifle growth, it actually fosters it. "Accepting people as they are has the miraculous affect of helping them improve" (Marianne Williamson, Return To Love, p. 162). In fact, this kind of acceptance is the most divine act we can engage in. That's what Paul was saying earlier - God knows us completely - and as the next verse says, God loves us just as completely. "13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love." (1 Corinthians 13)
The power of divine grace is that God considers us perfectly acceptable every step along the way of our journey into greater wholeness and maturity and development (take a look at one of my favorite bible texts, Hebrews 10:14): Perfectly acceptable to God while we're in the process of becoming more and more whole.
That attitude of profound acceptance toward us is what empowers us with the courage to continue the journey of growth, to keep learning and struggling and becoming, to changing the lens so that we see ourselves-others-and God more clearly and perfectly, to being courageous enough to let go of the old stories we almost immediately tell ourselves when something negative happens to us, to changing our "childish" thoughts into more mature and loving ones. We end up showing up with way more love in all our relationships and life experiences.
Personal growth necessitates personal patience and profound acceptance.
My forty-six client sessions have been such an amazing learning experience for me. My client is not at the same place where he was a year ago. His old paralyzing stories - his cloudy mirror - are changing and being replaced with the truth about himself and the promise of his profound potential. There is tremendous value in allowing someone else into your life for such a long, specifically directed period of time. That's the power of having a coach or other trusted person to help guide the journey.
And the journey has helped to change me, too. Forty-six sessions!
The Pouting Boy SFGate.com ran a brief story today about an incident at the San Francisco Giants home game last evening. Interestingly enough, that story got more press than the impressive hitting by rookie Brandon Belt who belted a two out, two run homer to break the 3-3 tie and win the game for the Giants. The story? A little pouting boy. Watch this 18 second clip that has made the rounds on ESPN.com and all over YouTube.
Now I certainly don't blame the little boy for being disappointed about not getting the foul ball. It is after all every kids' dream (and even most adults') to catch a ball at the park to take home as a "I was there" trophy from your favorite player. And it was also gracious of the Giants' organization, after seeing the boy so disappointed, to make a special trip up to his section and give him a Giants' baseball. Everyone seemed happy in the end.
But there's something about that blatant pout that speaks to me about life. It's concerning how we deal with disappointment and unmet expectations. How easy it is to be experiencing something in the present and then suddenly wish we had something more, allowing our disappointment to take away our joy in the moment. Just being at your favorite team's baseball game is a pretty special experience for any kid--enjoying a father-son outing, eating hot dogs and garlic fries and a Coke or Sprite, sitting in the stands watching your favorite players on the field, cheering for your team, doing the seventh-inning stretch, singing and shouting the "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" theme song, looking at the big screen and enjoying the view, caught up with thousands of others in the joy. It's all a pretty great experience. That's why baseball is such an All-American past-time.
But like that little boy, we put a little pout on our faces--we allow our desire for more to dampen and sometimes even ruin our joy in the present. We start complaining about something:
"There's too much garlic on the fries!" "I ordered a Sprite not a Coke so why did you bring me the wrong order?" "I was standing up ready to catch the ball--it was coming straight toward me--so why did you have to reach up and grab it instead?" "Why doesn't the sun break out of the clouds and make it warmer for the game? It's always so cold here!" "Why does the guy behind me have to shout so loud? It's annoying!" "These seats are terrible! Why didn't you find us better ones?" "Why can't we make enough money to pay for better seats!"
And before we know it, we've run joy into the ditch and allowed disappointment, bitterness, resentment, complaining, even sometimes anger to take control. We lose the beauty of the moment.
Do you know any people who live like this? Have you ever allowed disappointment and unmet expectations to ruin your moment?
Pollyanna Wasn't Naive
"Many of us do this, but if you get into the mindset of thinking about what you 'could' be doing, you’ll never be happy doing what you actually 'are' doing. You’ll compare what you’re doing with what other people (on Facebook and Twitter, perhaps?) are doing. You’ll wish your life were better. You’ll never be satisfied, because there’s 'always' something better to do. Instead, I’ve adopted the mindset that whatever I’m doing right now is perfect."
Imagine developing that kind of mindset and how that would impact your experience of life. What you are doing right now is perfect. You have everything you need right now in this moment. It's perfect.
Is this too Pollyannaish? Interestingly enough, I was reading a book recently which talked about Pollyanna's story and how misunderstood her experience has been by so many people. Our culture uses her name to describe a negative quality--naive, refusing to face reality, living in a fantasy land, unable to handle the truth, etc. In fact, as her story actually describes, Pollyanna was well aware of the foibles and dysfunctions of the people that she went to live with. She had deep insight into their struggles and keenly felt the pain from their meanness and lack of respect for her. But she chose to look on the bright side. She refused to allow their attitudes to negatively affect hers. She chose to see the good instead of the bad. She chose to step into joy for the moment by looking for and finding and reveling in the positive experiences.
The Divine Nature
I'm reminded of the Bible text describing God which says, "Man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart." The divine nature is about choosing to view people and situations from the best perspective possible. The divine nature chooses to give people the benefit of the doubt, to focus on the inner goodness and inherent value of people and circumstances.
This isn't a choice for naivete. Or maybe it is. Perhaps God chooses to be, like Jesus commended to us, like little children who tend to see the good, who quickly get over the negative and jump right back into relationship, who are quick to forgive, who do so well in living in the joy of the moment, grabbing all the gusto in the present rather than living in the past or the anxiety of the unknown future. "Right now is perfect. I have everything I need in this moment."
God certainly acknowledges lack, failure, inadequacy. God lives with a constant keen sense of incompleteness in the world God created to be perfect. God know what God desires and longs for and therefore what is lacking in the present. But the fact that the divine nature in scripture is always described in the present tense--I AM--shows that God lives in the Now, this Moment. And this truth about God sanctifies, makes holy, every Moment, Now.
The Empowering Secret
Reflecting this perspective on the divine nature, the Apostle Paul (one of the most prolific writers in the New Testament) gave his personal testimony with the words, "I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through the One who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:11-13)
There is strength and power in focusing on the divine attribute of the Now, the I AM, the holy Present Moment. God's presence lives in us, empowering us to capture the joy right now, to see the moment as perfect, to choose contentment by acknowledging "I have everything I need right now in this moment. Let me enjoy this present."
It doesn't mean there isn't hardship or difficulties or pain or sorrow in our lives. To deny that would be to short-circuit life. Even Pollyanna, and certainly the Apostle Paul, knew their harsh realities. But to allow unmet expectations and disappointment to run joy off the road is to live an unnecessarily unhappy life, never satisfied, never content, never at peace. Pollyanna and Paul refused to live that way. And their choice for joy and contentment paid them rich rewards. They had the "secret" to strong living.
The Spiritual Practice of Now
Here's how Leo Baubata describes his spiritual practice of the Now mindset: "I’m always happy with what I’m doing, because I don’t compare it to anything else, and instead pay close attention to the activity itself. I’m always happy with whoever I’m with, because I learn to see the perfection in every person. I’m always happy with where I am, because there’s no place on Earth that’s not a miracle. Life will suck if you are always wishing you’re doing something else. Life will rock if you realize you’re already doing the best thing ever."
I don't want to pout my way through life. I can easily fall into that trap--I know myself too well. As a "maximizer," it's my tendency to always want to improve things. That's okay. But if I allow that to never let me step into contentment and joy in the present moment, I rob myself, and my "wanting more" robs those around me of the joy of the moment, too. So when I saw that video clip of the little pouting boy, I was convicted to make a different choice in my life--to learn how to relish the joy of the moment--to practice saying, "This moment is perfect. I have everything I need right now. It's good and beautiful and I'm going to revel in it!"
And besides, who wants to get that "life sucks!" look on your face like that little kid every time something doesn't go your way? Almost embarrassing!
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.
“The King’s Speech” is the powerful, Oscar-winning true story of one man’s quest to find his voice and of those closest to him who help him find it. For a description of the story, read my post. As the red light in King George VI’s broadcast room begins blinking to signal the momentous moment for the royal global broadcast, his speech therapist and friend Lional Logue, knowing how nervous the King is, says to the King, “Forget everything else and just say it to me.”
So I've been unpacking the three parts of that statement--what they say about discovering your unique, personal significance (your voice) and how can you use your voice to put your unique stamp on the world. My last post described the importance of not letting the past define your present and future. Now for the second part of Lionel's statement to the King.
And just say it …
This too is a challenge. One of the problems is, as our internet-based society is showing us, there is no lack of voices shouting stuff all the time. Much of the time it's just noise. People think that because the web gives an instant global platform, all they have to do is shout out and the world listens. Not true. We have to know what we’re trying to say; and to say it so that people truly listen, it has to come from inside us and express who we are so that there's genuine alignment; which means we have to know ourselves, to believe ourselves, to have confidence in who we are.
This is a 3-step process and journey: self-awareness that must be followed by self possession that produces authentic self expression.
I like the way Stephen Covey, in his powerful book The 8th Habit, defines Voice: “Voice is unique personal significance--significance that is revealed as we face our greatest challenges and which makes us equal to them.” (p. 5)
Here’s how he describes finding this Voice. Voice lies at the nexus between four areas of our lives: Talent; Passion; Need; and Conscience.
Talent – your natural gifts and strengths; Passion – those things that naturally energize, excite, motivate, and inspire you; Need – a problem in the world that speaks to you and that you can effectively help solve, including what the world needs enough to pay you for; and Conscience – that still, small voice within that assures you of what is right, truth for you, and that prompts you to actually do it.
“When you engage in things that tap your talent and fuel your passion – that rises out of a great need in the world that you feel drawn by conscience to help meet – therein lies your voice, your calling, your soul’s code.” (p. 5)
Here’s the truth: there is a deep, innate, almost inexpressible yearning within each one of us to find our voice in life. King George VI (Bertie) felt that yearning. The reason he acted out in such anger and rage often was because he couldn’t understand his Voice – he didn’t think he had a Voice or certainly wasn’t worthy of a Voice or simply wasn’t capable of expressing his Voice if he had one – he was stumped, paralyzed by the many impediments in his life, speech being only one of them. But the longing was there. He had a conscience that was prompting him. He began to develop a passion. He certainly was aware of the need in his Empire that the King was called to meet. And little by little he developed and embraced his talents, his unique strengths and gifts. Until finally he expressed what ended up being a very powerful Voice not only in his Empire but also in the world.
Jesus, who was called the Word, spoke with such power because he spoke with his true voice, the voice that came from his personal truth, his identity as the true expression of God. The New Testament writers referred to him as the Word of God. And when Jesus spoke, people were drawn to him, they listened, they were moved, inspired, and transformed. He wasn't just making noise. He had captured his voice and spoke it with authority because it came from his core identity. "I am the truth, the way, and the life," he said. He not only spoke his voice, he lived his voice. His voice found its highest expression in action. The two were perfectly aligned. And people followed, finding their own voice along the way, too.
So I have to enter into self-awareness – to look at these four areas to see what my unique truth is – what the expression of my core self truly is. Have you ever noticed like I have that the closer we get to this truth, the more our conscience begins to activate – I start feeling strongly in my inner spirit about expressing this truth. I feel dis-ease unless I'm expressing this truth. That’s conscience – that’s the spirit in me that is tapping into the Divine Spirit and Fingerprint within me. That Spirit is calling out to be expressed in my personal, unique way. And when that conscience speaks and pushes strongly enough, I have to do something about it. I have to act.
And the first action is the courage of self possession of that truth. I must embrace myself with confidence. I accept myself for who I truly am. I begin to see clearly my uniqueness and I start falling in love with it.
So much so that then I compelled to the next action - authentic self expression – I have to do something tangible about it. I know--I speak--I act.
The Hebrew prophet named Jeremiah described this undying urge to express his Voice. He was a prophet with an almost impossible task: speak truth to people who had lost their voice and their identity and had wandered far from God. His challenge: they didn't want to hear him speak truth. So they persecuted him, laughed at him, ridiculed him, refused to listen to him, and ultimately killed him. He faced the temptation regularly to give up, to stop speaking his voice from God, and take an early retirement. But whenever he was tempted, here's what happened to him:
9 Sometimes I say to myself,
"Forget it! No more God-Messages from me!"
But then the Words becomes like a burning fire inside me,
deep within my bones.
I get tired of trying to hold it inside of me,
and finally, I cannot hold it in.” Jeremiah 20:9
Once I find my voice, my true voice that comes from deep inside me and reflects my personal truth and identity, I am compelled to speak it, even at great cost. That's my conscience working, nudging me to speak, empowering me to confidence and courage. And that conscience won't stop until you and I speak and live our voice, just like Jeremiah, just like Jesus, and even like King George VI.
PERSONAL REFLECTION: Take some time to define and flesh out what each of those four areas Covey refers to would look like in your life. Where do they all converge for you? How does that describe your Voice – your unique personal significance?
Next post, we'll look at the last part of The King's Speech: what do we need in place to be empowered to speak our voice courageously?
"The King's Speech" is the powerful, Oscar-winning true story of one man’s quest to find his voice and of those closest to him who help him find it. For a description of the story, read my last blog post. As the red light in King George VI's broadcast room begins blinking to signal the momentous moment for the royal global broadcast, his speech therapist and friend Lional Logue, knowing how nervous the King is, says to the King, "Forget everything else and just say it to me."
In the next 3 posts, I want to unpack the three parts of that statement. What do they say about discovering your unique, personal significance (your voice) and how can you use your voice to put your unique stamp on the world.
1. "Forget everything else."
This first part of Lionel's statement might be the toughest for some of us--“forget everything else." In this context, it’s forgetting all the obstacles and challenges that tend to intimidate you into silence or timidity or hesitation or staying with the status quo, taking the easiest route ahead.
For King George VI it was the huge audience of millions around the globe; it was the fear of not being able to speak, to have his words choke in his throat and not come out; the fear of failure; the fear of not being enough; fear of now having anything of substance to offer his people. These are HUGE obstacles for the King.
Salon’s review of the King's history put it in perspective: “For all the pomp and privilege of his upbringing, Bertie was essentially an abused child, tormented by nannies, plagued by childhood ailments and raised in isolation from the outside world. He barely knew his parents (Michael Gambon plays King George V, his father), had no real friends, wore painful leg braces and suffered from early childhood from a chronic stammer that made his public appearances painful for everyone. Perhaps the last monarch reared in the old aristocratic style, with a father who ruled at least nominally over one-fourth of the globe's population, Bertie was literally a man trapped between worlds. As Firth plays him, the prickly prince (who spent his early career as a naval officer and teacher) is eager to take offense yet painfully shy, fully aware that the monarchy has become a defanged symbolic contrivance in an age of radio and motorcars, yet halfway convinced that divine right is still involved somewhere.”
He's a man of ambivalence and conflict--unsure of who he really is and unsure of what his real role as King is suppose to be in this new era, and definitely unsure of whether he can fulfill it or not. He's a man with a painful past that's still destructively shaping his present.
So when King George VI finally stands in front of the mike to deliver the most important speech he’s ever delivered and the nation has ever heard, his therapist and friend says, “Forget everything else.”
The Christian scriptures echo Lionel Logue with this significant perspective: “12 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which God has shaped me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God is calling us.” Philippians 3:12-14
Considering the author of these words, this counsel is particularly apropos. St. Paul had quite a colorful past on both sides of the scale. He had achieved great religious significance in his Jewish community--PhD in theology, schooled in the most prestigious schools of religion, impeccable family tree, considered at the top of the religious pyramid. He was so zealous for the Church's religious cause that he was point person for the persecution, arrest, and even in some cases, execution of heretics and dissenters of the Jewish faith. Until he had a dramatic conversion experience and suddenly was convicted that he needed to join the very team he was trying to exterminate. A dramatic turn around, to say the least!
So when he writes about the importance of forgetting the past (both successes and failures), not getting locked in the past, in order the speak his voice in the present with authenticity and truth, he knows what he's talking about.
Forgetting the past isn't about denying it. It's not about pretending it never happened. It's actually about being willing to honor your past, to embrace its reality, to learn from it, to grow from it, to acknowledge that it's forever a part of your story and your journey. It's about letting that past inform you and seeing how it has shaped you. And then it's about letting it go enough to keep it from holding you back in guilt or pride, and moving boldly and confidently into your future by finding your true voice and speaking it.
This is my story, too. I have to let go of the chains of the past in order to courageously step into my truth, in order to stand in the power of my unique authority and show up boldly in the world.
There is no one else on this planet who has my voice, who has my unique experiences from the past and present, who has my individual truth learned from those experiences, and therefore who can speak just like I can. Right? If I don't find my true voice and speak it courageously, the world loses out. And if I can't let go of the chains of the past enough to step into my freedom and personal authority, I deprive myself and the world of important truth. The same goes for you, too.
PERSONAL REFLECTION: What are the obstacles or challenges that tend to hold you back from standing in confidence of who you are and giving voice to your truth and convictions? What tends to keep you from living and speaking with YOUR voice?
Any thoughts about your own journey of "forgetting the past" and what that process has been like for you?
In the next post, I'll talk about what it takes to find your individual unique voice.