Monday, May 7, 2018

Living Your Best Life

The hashtag #liveyourbestlife has been used on Instagram nearly 600,000 times and the hashtag #livethelifeyoulove has been used more than 870,000.  How do I know this?  Because I use these two hashtags frequently when I post.  I decided to become a life coach several years ago and recently made that dream a reality.  I decided to become a life coach because I have always been drawn to the human emotional and spiritual experience.  Since I was a little girl, I have been very empathetic toward others who are in pain.  I remember attending my sister's cheerleading competition when I was in 3rd grade.  At the end of the competition when the winners were announced I was, of course, happy for the winning team, but my attention was engrossed by the disappointment and sadness of the team that came in 2nd place.  This was the New Jersey State Championship and, undoubtedly, this team had worked hard in hopes of being crowned the victors.  As the members of the team wept and hugged each other, I stood nearby feeling every single emotion that these 7th and 8th grade girls were experiencing.  When I went to college, I chose to get my degrees in Psychology and Communication.  Unraveling and understanding how human beings processed and communicated emotions was fascinating to me mainly because I believed that understanding these things would help me to understand how people can live a life of happiness.  However, college courses are tedious and I soon came to realize that living life was far more enriching and fulfilling than studying it.    Its true that life is a classroom and that our experiences teach us more than any college course or textbook could ever teach us. 

My desire to become a life coach was ignited by my own life experiences combined with my empathetic tendencies.  When life got turned on its heels for me a couple of years through a series of unexpected life events, losses, disappointments, and painful experiences, I turned inward.  I needed to understand what had happened, why they had happened, why I had made some of the decisions I had made, why others had, and what these experiences were meant to teach me.  And while I do not claim to be an expert at life, I believe that I have a responsibility to share what I have learned with others and to empower them to embrace life fully even when life is hard and scary and unpredictable and confusing - which is pretty much every day!  The hashtags #liveyourbestlife and #livethelifeyoulove may seem cliché to some.  They may seem like an overly optimistic way to live.  They may even seem like a mask to hide behind in order to not reveal the challenges that we face in life.  So I decided to explain what living your best life and living the life you love have come to mean to me:

  • They are NOT mastering life or being perfect.  No
  • one is perfect and no one has life figured out.  Living your best life means acknowledging and accepting that being human means being imperfect.  It means instead of striving for perfection we strive for real. We strive for being genuine and authentic.
  • They are NOT being strong and stoic all the time.  Living your best life means that you give yourself permission to be vulnerable.  To admit that life is hard.  To actually give yourself permission to be imperfect.  To be honest when things are scary and confusing and uncertain.
  • They are NOT pleasing everyone or living up to other people's expectations or fitting into society's ideas of "normal".  Living your best life means having the courage to look within your heart, honor your feelings, and explore life beyond the surface of what is expected, easy, popular, or assumed to be right by others.
  • They are NOT shrinking for other people's comfort.  Living your best life means acknowledging your unique gifts and letting them shine for the world to see.  As Marianne Williamson said in her book A Return to Love, "Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.  We are all meant to shine, as children do."
  • They are NOT playing it safe in order to not disturb the status quo.  Living your best life means to step beyond your comfort zone to experience everything that this world has to offer us and to open our hearts in order to give and receive love. 
  • They are NOT "keeping up with the Joneses"  or living in comparison.  Living your best life means honoring everyone's path.  It means seeing everyone through the eyes of compassion instead of judgment.  It means not engaging in conversations that seek to belittle another or judge their path.  It means offering empathy and to understand that everyone in life wants the same things - to be loved, to be happy and to be safe.
  • They are NOT denying your feelings.  Living your best life means speaking your truth and honoring what is inside your heart.  You will never live the fullest expression of who you are if you do not express the love that dwells within you.  You will never respect yourself if you are not honest with others about how they hurt you.
  • They are NOT acting "grown up" or "acting your age."  Living your best life means grabbing every opportunity for fun, laughter, adventure and curiosity by the reins and allowing yourself to enjoy every minute of those experiences.
  • They are NOT holding grudges or spending your entire life apologizing for past mistakes.  Living your best life means forgiving others and forgiving yourself.
  • They are NOT about living life by a checklist or being in control all the time.  Living your best life means accepting that life is unpredictable and that things change.  It means not resisting change and learning to have faith and patience.
There is so much more that I could write about what living your best life means.  But this list covers the lessons that I have learned over the past several years pretty thoroughly.  The final lesson that I will share with you is that living your best life does not mean one day arriving at your best life.  It means waking up each day with the intention to be as loving, compassionate, understanding, adventurous and filled with grace as possible.  If you do those things, the Universe will handle the rest.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A Cabin in the Woods: Running from Solitude

I met John at a bar near Dartmouth College.  I was the lone Yankees fan there watching their playoff game against the Houston Astros.  He struck up conversation with me asking how I came to be a Yankees fan in New Hampshire.  I told him that I am from New Jersey and that I had come to New Hampshire for a solo weekend getaway – that my plans were to do some writing and hiking and reflecting.  He jokingly asked me if this was like a “Stella Got Her Groove Back” kind of trip.  I laughed and responded that I enjoy spending time alone.  He looked at me with a serious expression and said “I could never do that.” John is a vascular surgeon.  He goes into all different parts people’s bodies, their stomachs, legs, arms to repair blood vessels.  Yet spending a weekend alone in a cabin in the woods in New Hampshire was something that he was afraid to do.  That really struck me - a man who saves lives for a living afraid to spend time alone with his thoughts.  Solitude can be an extremely frightening notion to people.  Even some friends told me on the morning that I was leaving that they don’t think that they could do what I was doing.  So many people’s perception of this trip was that this was risky.  I saw it as long overdue and something that more people should do.  We spend so much time in our lives filling up our days with busy-ness.  We consider alone time curling up on the couch binge watching Real Housewives or scrolling through social media.  However, we never take the time to fully unplug.  To fully disconnect.  Honestly, when I arrived at the cabin an overwhelming sense of vulnerability overcame me.  I was alone in a cabin in the woods (on Friday the 13th, mind you.  Terrible planning on my part!), there was no cellular service, no neighbors, nothing.  Just me at the end of a very long gravel driveway and a ravine running along the side and back of the house.  And so you know what I did?  I left.  I got back in my car and drove around.  Tried to get my bearings.  I drove up to Mount Cardigan but didn’t feel prepared to hike it yet.  It was 2:30PM and I hadn’t eaten lunch.  I drove down to Lake Mascoma and sat for a few minutes thinking about what I should do next.  I decided to drive to Dartmouth.  I walked around the campus.  It was an absolutely stunning autumn afternoon.  The trees were changing.  The sky was blue with not even the hint of a cloud.  The sun was warm and the air was crisp and cool.  Even though I was walking by myself I didn’t feel alone.  I was surrounded by the hustle and bustle of students heading to and from class, of alumni who were visiting for the weekend for a squash tournament giving their families tours of campus, of people shopping in the downtown area.  I felt connected.  Back at the cabin I felt isolated.  I realized that I actually was feeling a little bit scared and extremely vulnerable.  Alone at the cabin felt very different than alone in my car or alone at the mall or alone at the beach.  I felt out of my element and that was very uncomfortable.  So I decided to have dinner at the pub where I watched the Yankees game and met John.  After John left I started to think about the notion of feeling alone and vulnerable.  When the game ended I headed back to cabin.  I hurried from my car to the door – you know, just in case any bears or moose or movie serial killers were hanging out nearby – and I went into the cabin and got ready for bed.  It was dark and the noises were unfamiliar – the occasional sound of the propane fireplace, the creak of the wooden walls settling, the sound of the creek outside.  I drifted off to a sound sleep.  I awoke the following morning around 8AM.  I was no longer feeling scared and vulnerable.  The feelings of excitement and determination that had prompted me to plan this trip had returned. I had some breakfast, drank my coffee, read the first chapter of Pema Chodron’s book Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living and then sat at my computer and wrote.  It came easily.  The experience of the day before was important and I felt compelled to sit down and write about it so I could share it.  To share about how I felt vulnerable and needed to leave the cabin to seek the comfort of community, the familiarity of a city. How I wasn’t really running from the cabin, I was running from myself – my own fears and insecurities.   There is a passage in her book where Chodron writes, “Although it is embarrassing and painful, it is very healing to stop hiding from yourself.”  It was so timely.  So perfect.  Exactly what I needed to be reminded of as I started this new day.  No more hiding.  

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Living on Purpose

If everyday for the rest of your life were to be exactly the same as yesterday, if nothing could change, how would you feel about the rest of your life?  If nothing could change from yesterday what would you be missing out on? What would you be tolerating for the rest of your life?  What would your overall sense of fulfillment and joy be? Would you feel that your life was filled with meaning and purpose?  If today were to be a repeat of yesterday, what would you change to increase your overall life satisfaction?  What would you choose to do differently?  Who would you choose to spend your time with?  What would you think about?  What would you eat?  How would you treat your body differently?

What is your reaction to these questions?  What comes up for you?  In a scene from the movie Groundhog Day, Phil Connors, played by Bill Murray, asks, "What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?"  And his drinking buddy, Ralph, replied, "That about sums it up for me."  The truth is that many people go through the motions of living but don't feel truly alive.  They are doing the things that they think are expected of them rather than fully tapping into their own freedom of choice to live from a place of purpose.  When we do not view life as a blank canvas on which upon we can create our life masterpiece but instead see it as a puzzle with a predetermined image and existing pieces that we are meant to find and put together, we are limiting ourselves.  When we limit ourselves we find ourselves tolerating a lot of things that we didn't necessarily choose or, worse, feel powerless to make any meaningful changes in our lives.

Many people also feel paralyzed by the notion of living with purpose.  They feel lost because they do not know what their life purpose is and so they feel stuck in their current life or a current situation within their life because they are waiting for the inspiration to hit them.  However, living with purpose does not mean having a greater purpose and then turning this purpose into something tangible that everyone can see.  Living with purpose means living purposefully.  It means intentionally creating the experiences in our daily lives that make us feel authentic and fulfilled.  It means having the freedom to choose how we want to show up in our lives - either as victim or as creator.  It means choosing to see each day as a gift rather than a burden.  It means seeing each day as an opportunity rather than a rut that you cannot pull yourself out of.

So how do you do this?  What can you do today to start live life more purposefully?  Start by answering honestly all of the questions above.  Identify the areas that you are unhappy about - that you don't want to be a part of your daily living and then identify one thing that you can do to purposefully bring change to that part of your life.  Are you unhappy with your health?  What one thing can you do today to bring you closer to how you would like to feel?  Are you stressed out all the time?  What is one thing that you can do today to reduce the amount of stress in your life?  Are you tolerating feeling a certain way in your interpersonal relationships?  What is one thing that you can do today to change how you feel?

The beautiful thing about this life is that we are given a blank canvas each and everyday to create a new masterpiece.  We do not need to live the same day over and over again.  And if we do, that is our choice.  Why not use your freedom of choice to step into your power and to live each and everyday like its a brand new chance to be the best version of yourself - to live purposefully.   How would your life be different today if you did?

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Glorification of Miserable

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us. - Marianne Williamson

A couple of months ago I was out and about one morning running some errands.  It was a particularly busy morning for me - I had a flight to catch in a couple of hours and had several things I needed to get done before heading to the airport.  Naturally, my first stop was to get a cup of coffee!  While in the coffee shop I ran into an acquaintance.  I met this person with a "Hey!  How've you been?" and the reply was "tired."  We exchanged some small talk, I grabbed my iced coffee, and headed out to continue the rest of my errands.  However, I kept thinking about the coffee talk that had just taken place.  I couldn't stop thinking about the word "tired" being my fellow coffee shop patron's response to how they have been.  Ever since that moment I have been very mindful to listen for people's replies when I ask them how they are.  The results have been eye-opening.  Responses included the following: busy, tired, exhausted, ok, fine, good, alright.  Very infrequently I would hear pretty good or great.  This made me start to reflect on how people interact with each other on a deeper level - beyond the "Hello, how are you?"  I started to reflect on times when I have been hanging out with friends for a night out or brunch or some other social gathering and the conversations always seem to be mainly about venting, complaining or gossiping.  I recalled times when various people in my life have said that they hate social media because its fake and people try to make their lives look perfect and don't post the "real" stuff in their life (aka their struggles).  Which made me start to wonder, "Do we live in a society that glorifies being miserable and judges people's joy?"

The quote at the beginnging of this post is taken from A Return to Love: A Reflection of the Principles of A Course in Miracles, a book written by Marianne Williamson.  The notion behind this quote is that we are afraid to shine brightly, we are afraid to offer the truest expression of our love and light because we are afraid that we might offend others in doing so.  We are afraid that our successes, our blessings, our joy may cause others to feel badly about themselves and so we make ourselves smaller than who we truly are to make those around us more comfortable.   For instance, if we have lunch with a friend and they spend 20 minutes venting to you about how much they hate their job and that they are completely stuck and miserable, how likely are you to rave about how happy you are and that you are feeling awesome?  Or are you more likely to commiserate with this person?  How likely are you to say things like, "Ugh.  I know.  Work is the worst." or "Yeah, my boss can be a total jerk sometimes."  We feel more comfortable getting into this person's with story with examples of our less-than-desirable experiences than we do sharing our own joy or empowering them to make meaningful change in their lives.  We are afraid that we will come across as insensitive or that we are bragging.  Meanwhile, as soon as we have jumped on the Misery Bandwagon we have lowered our own energetic frequency. And energy attracts like attracts.  You know the old saying - misery loves company!

And what happens once we have lowered our energetic frequency to be focusing on the "bad stuff" instead of the "good stuff"?  This becomes ripe feeding ground for your Inner Critic.  One of the tools in your Inner Critic's arsenal of self-sabotaging thoughts is comparison.  Your Inner Critic starts to compare your life to the lives of those around you.  When people jump off the Misery Bandwagon and onto the Happy Train your Inner Critic becomes defensive.  Your ego, in order to protect itself, becomes judgmental towards others happiness.  If we discredit other people's happiness, our ego believes, then it doesn't really exist.  And if it doesn't really exist than we don't need to feel like we aren't good enough.  Right?  Not really.  Our judgment of others is entirely a mirror of our relationship with ourselves.  We judge the ways in which others shine because we don't feel that we are good enough to shine, that we don't deserve to shine. As Marianne Williamson writes in a A Return to Love, "We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” 

When we jump on the Misery Bandwagon, we are coming from a place of fear.  We are detaching from who we truly are.  We are surrendering ownership of all that is beautiful and unique about us. We are making ourselves small and we also make others small.   When we board the Happy Train, we are embracing these things.  We are being our most authentic selves.  We are coming from a place of love and light and possibility and empowerment. The more joyful we are, the more we connect with our authentic selves, the more love we put forth in our interactions with others,  then the more of that we attract back into our lives.  Therefore, we owe it to ourselves and to others to stop glorifying misery.  To embrace our light.  Again, energy attracts like energy.   When I asked the coffee-shop patron how they were and they responded with "tired", the rest of the interaction reflected that energy level.  The next time someone asks you how you are trying using more positive language and watch how the energy of the interaction with that person elevates.  The next time you are out with friends or gathering with family or co-workers try sharing what you are happy about or grateful for and see how the energy of the group and the energy within you shifts.  The next time you see someone posting something happy on Facebook or Instagram, choose to be happy for their happiness rather than judging the post as fake.  Even if you know that they are struggling in their life, be happy for them that they have found a moment of joy to preserve and share.  Choosing joy over misery will create a happier life for you and those around you.

"Joy is a natural phenomenon.  Misery is your own creation." - Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev

(Disclaimer: As humans, we are all going to experience times in our lives when we are going through something hard.  This post is not to suggest that we don't discuss these things with our trusted friends and family.  A strong support system is a blessing in times of struggle. Struggle is different than misery.   This post is meant more about our daily interactions - our default methods of communicating.)

Friday, August 4, 2017

Meet Your Inner Critic

I should really get up and exercise in the morning.
I should really organize my bedroom closet.
I should really eat better.
I should really be better at saving money.
I should really manage my time better.
I should really call my grandmother.
I shouldn't really share my ideas at work.
I shouldn't be watching TV right now.
I shouldn't buy these shoes for myself.
I shouldn't go out with my friends this weekend.

Do any of these phrases sound familiar to you?  Do you have a mental laundry list of all of the things that you think you should or shouldn't be doing?  How many times per day does the thought cross your mind that you should or shouldn't have done something or said something or eaten something or bought something?  Do you have an inner voice that is constantly telling you what you should do?  If the answer to these questions is YES, then let me take this opportunity to introduce you to your Inner Critic.

"Hi! I'm your Inner Critic.  Originally, I am from your childhood but now I live deep in the the valley of your subconscious mind.  My favorite hobbies include taking long, dark walks down memory lane, cooking up a lot of shame, and hunting dreams down and stopping them in their tracks. I actually have a few hanging over my mantle.  My favorite movie characters are the Dementors from Harry Potter. I really identify with how they can suck the ever-living soul out of a person.  My favorite song is Creep by Radiohead.  Oh!!  And my two very favorite words in the entire English language are should and shouldn't!!" (Just as an aside, my Inner Critic sounds like a valley girl.  Feel free to read this in Morgan Freeman's voice, the voice of Sadness from Pixar's Inside Out, Arnold Schwarznegger's voice or whatever voice your Inner Critic takes on.)

That's right.  Every time the words should or shouldn't run through your head or pass through your lips, that is the voice of your Inner Critic.  But why does that voice play over and over in our brains all day long?  As we have established, your Inner Critic resides in your subconcious mind.  And what exactly is your subconscious mind?  To put it in extremely easy to understand terms, your subconscious mind is a script that contains your life story.  Your script can be broken into three parts: Act I (the past), Intermission (the present), and Act II (the future).  During Act I, we met some characters, the story line was developed, the characters were faced with some conflicts and struggles, there were some fun, upbeat dance numbers and some gut-wrenching solo performances.  None of these things can be changed because Act I is over.  It happened.  For better or for worse.  During Intermission, we take care of business (i.e, wait in line for the bathroom, buy Raisinettes, stretch out because those seats are really tight and the person in front of us is really tall so we need to lean to the side to get a better view of the stage.)  Intermission is when we make the most of the time that we have right in the present moment, all the while reflecting back on what happened during Act I and imagining what might happen, what we hope will happen during Act II.  Act II hasn't happened yet though.  And for all of our imagining and hoping about what will happen, there is no way of knowing and it is completely out of our control.  However, the writers of our script like to believe that they have complete control over what happens in Act II.

So who IS writing your script.  It's your life so it must be you, right?  Well, sort of.  Your script is being written by a team of writers made up of past experiences, societal and cultural expectations, the people in your life, your hopes, your dreams, and your fears.  Imagine that you are sitting in a large conference room with this team of writers.  Everyone is sitting around a large conference table shouting out their ideas for the script.  You are the one at the head of the table holding the pen.  It is your job to take all of the ideas that are being presented to you by the team of writers surrounding you and create an outline of your script.   Your outline of Act II may have looked something like this:

  • Go to college and sow your wild oats while still maintaining a perfect GPA (just like your older sister who had a blast in college, made lifelong friends who were bridesmaids, and was a superstar student)
  • Get a job in finance with great pay (because your parents have made it clear that once you graduate from college they are moving to a condo in Florida so will need to support yourself and your dad told you that finance is where all the money is)
  • Get an apartment in the city and do city dweller type things like eat at cute cafes, shop at trendy boutiques, sip martinis at the swankiest clubs, watch Indie films (just like everyone in every television show or movie you have ever watched)
  • Meet your soulmate and get married in a beautiful oceanfront wedding ceremony on some island somewhere (because you saw this amazing wedding theme on Pinterest)
  • Buy a house in the suburbs with four bedrooms, a sick kitchen, and backyard that is great for entertaining (because from everything you've seen in movies, magazines, social media, and your rich cousins this represents the ultimate success in life)
  • Have two kids who you will feed homemade organic baby food and who will not watch any television and will definitely not ever sleep in your bed or drink soda all while maintaining your pre-kids body  (because you have read a lot on the internet about a lot of stuff about parenting so you are pretty sure that you have it all figured out.  )
  • Live happily ever after (because you have an outline and a script and if you stick to it everything will go perfectly and you couldn't imagine ever wanting anything more)
So the outline of your script is complete and you feel pretty good about.  It feels like a great plan and you are eager to start Act II.  Then Act II starts happening.  And while some of what you wrote down on your outline is sort of happening, there is stuff happening in Act II that looks nothing like what you planned.  Like hating college because it is so hard and your roommate listens to her music so loud every minute of the day and the dining hall food is terrible and you miss your friends from home.  Or finally getting a job 9 months after you graduate which pays you nothing and has terrible hours.  Or living in an apartment that is the size of the bedroom that you grew up in that has a mouse problem.  Or getting married too young and realizing that the person you married is nice and all but definitely not your soulmate.  Or getting that amazing house in the suburbs but feeling trapped in a community where your neighbors' values are not in alightment with yours at all.  Or having trouble getting pregnant and then when you finally do have kids you are so exhausted that you don't care if you or your kids eat as long as you can just be left alone for 20 minutes.

Enter your Inner Critic who is lurking in your subconcious mind screaming, "THIS SHOULD NOT BE HAPPENING!"  Your Inner Critic is like a director of a play who is trying to get a bunch of Improv actors to stick to the script.  It desperately wants to go according to plan and becomes extremely judgmental when things don't.  We live our lives trying to exert control over every aspect of our lives.  We form opinions and expectations based on the messages that we receive everyday from the world around us - our parents, our friends, our children, our bosses, our co-workers, social media, advertisements, movies, television shows, books.  More importantly, we develop our sense of self-worth based on these messages.   Somewhere along the line we started to subconsciously develop the notion that our worth is measured by how closely our lives stick to the script that we have written in our minds about how our lives SHOULD look. Our Inner Critic takes on a much louder voice than our Inner Truth. Our Inner Truth is who we are at our core which is love.  Our Inner Truth is that we are always enough no matter what.  Our Inner Critic shouts inside our brain that we ARE NOT love, that we are not worthy, unless we stick to the script.  When our lives deviate from the script due to our choices or other people's choices or things that are out of our control our Inner Critic becomes judgmental or defensive.  We lose compassion for ourselves.  We start to buy into the narrative that we are not good enough.  We experience shame.  We experience guilt.  We experience insecurity.  We experience fear.  And when we experience these feelings, we cannot experience authentic living which ultimately leads to fulfillment.  We will never feel fulfilled because we will constantly believe our Inner Critic.

How could life be different if we tapped into our Inner Truth and silenced our Inner Critic?  How would our perspectives change if we viewed life through the lens of what COULD happen versus what SHOULD happen?  If we focused on possibility and opportunity rather than judgment?  If we surrendered control so that we can be open to whatever flows into our lives?  What if we silenced our Inner Critic and put down the pen, stop writing the script and have faith that no matter what happens in Act II nothing can make us less worthy of love and belonging and happiness?  If we realized that although we are extremely invested in the script, it doesn't actually exist.  That the script is an illusion and believing in the script and trying to stick to it only places limits on our happiness and potential rather than ensuring it.  How is your Inner Critic limiting you?  What can you do today to flip the script?

Living Your Best Life

The hashtag #liveyourbestlife has been used on Instagram nearly 600,000 times and the hashtag #livethelifeyoulove has been used more than 87...