How good are you at taking a compliment?

Do you find yourself deflecting with some version of “Oh, this old thing?” or “Seriously? I look exhausted, barely slept last night!”

When you look at yourself in the mirror, what thoughts arise? Do you take time to truly look into your eyes and smile? Give yourself a compliment?

For so many years, I’d look in the mirror or at photos and see only my flaws (as I imagined them to be).

My father always told me I was pretty but c’mon, he was totally biased. And when I began having boyfriends and flings in my 20s and 30s, I felt attractive…as long as someone was interested in me.

But I also often felt lacking; I kind of liked myself, and also didn’t think much of myself a lot of the time. It was a real tug-of-war, and I often fell on my ass in the mud of my unkind thinking.

Fierce self-compassion doesn’t come easy for most of us.

Yet I’ve come to see it as a vital component of a satisfying, soulful life.

I use the word fierce on purpose. It takes a certain level of fierceness to be unconditionally kind to yourself.

What I’m talking about here isn’t self-indulgence or denial. It’s not about giving yourself permission to down that pint of Chubby Hubby or binge watch an entire season of Schitt’s Creek. (Although it might include a scoop or two and a couple of episodes.)

It’s about trusting in the goodness of your own pure heart, and turning that goodness on yourself.

It’s about giving yourself space to tune into what you’re feeling – however you need to create it – and trusting that those around you can manage their own feelings and actions.

It’s about going against the grain of how you were brought up, or what you think makes for being “good.”

As women, we’re raised and enculturated to focus on others, putting their needs above our own. And yes, it’s good to think beyond yourself, but not to the point where you bury yourself. 

It happens more easily and stealthily than we realize.

Fierce self-compassion isn’t automatic; it must be cultivated, tended like a precious garden where you pull out the weeds of negative bias, nourish the soil by letting yourself off the hook more often than not, and water your weary heart and soul with practices of compassion and self-love.

It’s less a Stuart Smiley variation of saying affirmations into the mirror where they mostly bounce off, and treating yourself as you treat your very best friend; being real, yet always turning that mirror of truth and beauty back on yourself.

  • The next time someone offers you a compliment, simply say “thank you.” No editorializing. No deflecting. Soften your breath and take it in.
  • The next time you glance in the mirror and think “ugh,” notice, pause, and take another look. Look into your eyes. Look into your heart. Smile at yourself, and take that in.
  • The next time you find yourself mentally berating or beating yourself up, stop. Take a breath, then another. Place one hand on your heart and say to yourself as you would to your dearest friend or loved one “Sweetheart. You’re having a rough time. It’s OK, but don’t take it out on yourself. Take a moment to simply be present to what’s arising.”

This is fierce self-compassion in action. Noticing. Pausing. Breathing. Being. Shifting.

Please give it to yourself as often as possible.

For years, personal growth and business gurus have been urging us to “play bigger!”

Don’t play small! Go for the gusto! Dream big and reach for those dreams with everything you’ve got! Create your vision board and watch those visions become reality!

I tried playing this game for too long, thinking it’s what I needed to do to have a happier life: if only I could build my practice so I could reach and help more people, and make more money too!

I invested thousands of dollars in programs promising to help me get more organized, learn how to make and promote products that would allow me to “make money while I sleep,” and position myself as an expert and influencer (ugh).

Now, I didn’t necessarily buy into all of those promises and catchwords. But I did often let myself feel like something was missing or I was somehow lacking if I continued along the same path.

I saw healers and coaches who looked like they were hugely successful, saying pretty much the same things, and thought maybe that’s what I needed to strive for to serve more fully in the world.

But much of it never felt right to me. It was like putting on my mother’s 1980s era jacket with the shoulder pads – sure, it was well put together and “fit,” but it never truly fit who I was, who I am.

What I learned over time is that while growth is intrinsic to life, it also has its limits.

Think about it:

  • A tree in a forest might grow huge, but over time those higher branches might get struck by lightening .
  • Every farmer knows that in order to get a better yield on their peach trees the following summer, they need to prune them back at the end of the growing season in late fall.
  • If you leave certain lettuces in the ground into the heat of summer, they bolt and grow bitter.

Not playing big isn’t the same as playing small. It’s about knowing who you are and what truly serves you. It’s saying “no” when that’s your most positive response, and saying “yes” to what feeds and enlivens you, your heart, your spirit.

You only grow bigger when you become right-sized.

When I stopped buying into the rhetoric that I needed to play bigger (which always meant someone else’s definition of bigger), I began to feel more authentic. Or, as I came to call it, more right-sized.

And when I did that, the growth I’d been striving for previously started coming to me naturally.

  • Connections felt more alive and heart-centered.
  • I was able to speak with conviction about what was important to me, and what felt truly helpful to share.
  • People who resonated with who I am happily referred others to me, and encouraged them to seek my help.
  • I began to enjoy the space and time I had to read, meditate, and daydream instead of feeling guilty for not filling my time with meetings and networking and outreach.
  • I found myself speaking up from a place of truly knowing my own mind and heart instead of pushing for what I thought others would want to hear. And, paradoxically, more people are responding to what I have to say.

Where in your life have you found yourself striving to play a bigger game, yet feel like you’re always falling short?

What one or two or even three things can you take off your plate, off your mind, off your heart? Where can you prune back so fresh growth can occur?

What steps can you see yourself taking on the road to becoming more right sized?

When you truly own the size your unique sphere of influence is meant to be, the more you’ll accomplish and the happier you’ll be with what that looks like.

For those of us on a spiritual path (and I believe all humans are, conscious or not), the road is filled with bright neon signs beckoning us to many variations of truth.

Some of them take us down truly helpful paths, and some of them take us down rabbit holes. And they can be huge, deep, “this feels so right, I’ve found my true path, OH NO, crap, how do I get out?!” rabbit holes.

I’ve been down a few of those.

Yes, on one level it’s all grist for the mill, and an opportunity to learn – or as someone cynically coined it, AFGO – another f*cking growth opportunity.

Many of those rabbit holes offer some form of the all love and light, just keep your vibes high, release-everything-that-doesn’t-serve-your-highest-good spirituality. But there’s a problem with that.

It’s neither true nor helpful. It causes a lot of heartache and anguish when we find ourselves vibing in sad, anxious, angry, all-is-lost ways, and blame ourselves for not “being better.” Or when it’s used as a weapon by those who believe they’ve taken the higher path and will get all the goodies by keeping their vibes high and light, and you’re somehow not as spiritually evolved. UGH.

If you’ve been on the receiving end of this, you know how icky it feels. Sad to say I’ve been on the delivery side and over time that doesn’t really feel any better.

When my father was dealing with a rare form of skin cancer, I thought “if only he’d eat differently! If only he’d deal with his emotional wounds from childhood!” I wanted him to use the juicer I offered to lend them. I wanted him to wake up to my point of view so he could reverse the course of his disease. Maybe it would, but then again maybe it would’ve made him even more miserable as he was dying.

When I met the man who became my husband, I loved that he went regularly to yoga classes but was a bit confounded that he wasn’t buying groovy yoga gear or wanting to talk about his practice. “It’s necessary” was all he’d say when asked. “I feel better when I go two or three times a week.” No talk about Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras or his chakras realigning. No interest in dissecting and sharing his inner experience. Huh?

I thought I knew better. I thought I was better.

More evolved, more spiritual, more educated, more…something.

What I eventually realized I was doing was creating separation and letting my ego take the wheel and guide me down some wrong roads.

I was engaging in a form of spiritual bypass rather than being in relationship to reality in its myriad flavors, nuances, and varieties.

Spiritual growth isn’t about being positive all the time (although there’s a place for focusing on the positive).

It isn’t about only high vibes and good feelings, or eating/thinking/doing all the “right” things.

It’s about learning to sit with tremendous compassion smack in the middle of seemingly opposing forces. Of breathing into the space between “let everything have its place” and “working towards my own deepening development into grace.”

It’s the journey of a lifetime. May you keep walking it with humility and humor.

I loved going to the skating rink as a kid, even if it got kind of boring going round and round. And I proudly earned my skating badge in Girl Scouts.

It was even more fun when I rented them and tooled around at the beach while in college in San Diego, so I treated myself to this gorgeous suede pair one year with my big $125 tax return.

Yes, that’s me, shooting the duck while playing around on campus.

I always had a naturally good sense of balance while on skates. I rarely fell, though I’d look like someone out of an old slapstick movie at times, arms flailing about and torso gyrating to help me stay upright after hitting a bump or careening down an unexpected decline.

It was never quite that easy or natural when it came to my emotional balance.

That type of balance often felt elusive, scattered, like moments of grace I could never quite plan for or hold on to.

So many times I’d feel like I was getting a better grip on things, only to find myself undone with a few words or a glance from someone else — usually someone I loved.

I was pursuing my spiritual path, trying new routes here and there, but not finding one that felt deeply true and congruent for me.

Until I was introduced to Kabbalah. It fascinated me as a Jewish woman (who never even heard of it growing up), and also as a spiritual seeker.

But it wasn’t easy finding my way in. Once I did, and began using it as part of my healing practice, I found it wasn’t so easy to explain or guide curious others to begin exploring on their own.

There’s not one book, or a simple, straightforward beginners guide (though there are books out there that advertise themselves as such), so when asked “where should I start?” I honestly haven’t had a clear cut answer.

So, at the request of several clients and colleagues, I’ve put together an introductory class called Find Balance Through Kabbalah: An Introduction to Its Teachings and Practices. There are many jewels to mine in this path to becoming a more whole, integrated human. It’s been key to helping me and countless others deepen self-awareness and better understand yourself in relationship to others, the world, and our Source.

We begin June 25th and you can register to join us HERE.

I was speaking with a dear healer friend this morning in our monthly Zoom visit. Since she’s in NC and I’m in NY, we started doing this before everything in life got moved online.

Our conversations always go deep and wide, but I’d been in such a pandemic quarantine funk this week that I didn’t feel I had anything light or good to contribute. But then, Suzannah’s way of listening and reflecting had me shift unexpectedly into a Kabbalistic perspective on my current low state.

“It’s like being in the agon,” I told her. “In Judaism, especially for religious Jews, there’s secular law and there’s halacha, Jewish law. So if a couple divorces, the secular decree isn’t enough — if a husband for some reason won’t grant his wife a get (the Jewish divorce decree) she is said to be agon, anchored. Stuck. In limbo. Unable to move forward or enter a new marriage.”

I explained to her that in Judaism, each letter of the aleph-bet (alphabet) has a numerical value. Because of this, there are ways of working with words that have the same core letters, giving them the same value, and finding connections between them even if they seem unrelated in translation.

For example, oneg (core letters nun, aleph, gimel) is a word meaning delight. When we’re in a happy, solid, aligned place, we can think of that as an oneg state. Nega, comprised of the same three core letters, means plague, which is a skewed or altered state of being: sad, confused, misaligned in some aspect of ourselves.

And agon also has those same core letters.

As we move through life’s ups and downs, ins and outs, woundings and healings, we embody and experience ourselves in these various states — think of oneg as balanced, nega as skewed, and agon as stopped. Anchored. No movement, good or bad, positive or negative.

We’re always shifting back and forth between the oneg and nega states. Nothing is permanent, even if it might feel that way while we’re in it. These are the natural pulsations, blocks, ebbs and flows of human existence.

And sometimes we are simply stopped.

If we allow and don’t fight against it, that agon anchored place gives us an opportunity to go deep and open to the mystery of what lies ahead, what is not yet known.

“Wow,” she responded, “that’s a profound way of looking at what we’re all going through. Have you written about this?”

Thanks for asking, my friend. Now I have.

Remember the last time you longed for a retreat from the world?

  • Maybe a weekend with your oldest friends, with plenty of great food and laughter.
  • Maybe a yoga or spa retreat with a favorite teacher.
  • Maybe a hiking or rafting trip to a place you’ve always wanted to see.

Now you are in it, unplanned, unexpected, threaded through with tons of worry, fear, and uncertainty attached.

Not exactly the restful, rejuvenating respite you’d envisioned. Not even close.

And yet, even in this time of rampant uncertainty, there are pockets of peace to be found. All of this time at home offers us plentiful opportunity for pure presence and mindful awareness.

With news, advertising, and social media now all Covid-19 all the time, I know I’m shutting off and tuning out more and more.

Which leads to even more time to tune in.

* Tune in to the food that’s right in front of you, breathing slowly, savoring, taking in nourishment on every level. Paying attention and eating peacefully actually allows you to digest and absorb more nutrients.

* Tune in to the expansive signs of spring. Here in the northeast, color is exploding after months of grey and brown. Yellow forsythia. Pink cherry trees. Green shoots and leaves of endless variety.

* Tune into your breath in ways that soothe the nervous system, especially the vagus nerve that runs through your digestive organs and endocrine system — try breathing in to a count of four, holding for four, and breathing out to a count of eight. A longer exhale is the key here.

Don’t aim for normal, or anticipate getting back to whatever normal was.

Now is not the time to go full tilt, or expect others to. Nor can we imagine or foresee what our lives will look and feel like once this crisis has passed (other than the sheer comfort and pleasure of being able to gather together).

You don’t need to use this time to sit like a monk and attempt to achieve enlightenment either. As Mary Oliver put it in her much loved and quoted poem Wild Geese:

You do not have to be good. 
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body 
love what it loves.

Now is the time to be gentle with yourself and those you live with.

Now is the time to allow all feelings to arise and move through you, and even to collapse into the hardest ones once in a while.

You will get up again. I have faith in you, in myself, in all of us to come through this time intact.

 

Whoa, wait a minute. Do those words even go together? How can compassion be fierce?

What I’ve found is that it takes a great deal of fierceness and awareness to be kind towards yourself.

Think about the last time you got called into your boss’s office, or heard a certain tone in a friend’s voice. I’ll bet your first thought was “Oh crap, what did I do?” or some variation of that line of thinking. That YOU did something that made someone mad, sad, or unhappy with you.

While you might be certain that you didn’t do anything wrong (um, yes, pretty sure?!), this reaction isn’t uncommon. We are trained to look for flaws, to aspire to perfection, unattainable as that may be.

I cannot tell you how many times over my years as a massage therapist that I heard things like:

“I almost cancelled my session today because I forgot to shave my legs this morning, I’m so sorry!”
“Ugh, I know I need to lose 20 pounds…”
“I have to leave my phone on in case the office calls.”

As if any of those things were more important than the relaxation and stress relief they so deeply needed.

As if the world would stop or fall irreparably apart because you took an hour for yourself. AN HOUR.

As if showing up just as you are, perhaps with 1/8″ of stubble on your legs or a body that hasn’t been showered in, oh, 8 hours, isn’t acceptable.

So what does fierce self-compassion look like?

First, it’s not to be confused with the self-indulgence or self-gratification of a glass of wine at the end of the day, or a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, or your favorite Netflix binge. Not that any of those things are bad or wrong; that type of relaxation and comfort is also essential for your mental health, in its own way.

Fierce self-compassion is a turning inward, a way to nourish your heart and spirit. It’s a way to look clearly at what you need, and give yourself permission to grant that to yourself.

It’s taking the time to purposely turn away from the rest of the world and offer yourself the kindness and support you would grant a friend without even thinking.

And it does take practice. It’s not our natural place of refuge.

One of the best ways of doing this is through the practice of metta or loving-kindness. You stop your busyness for a while, sit quietly, and silently offer these phrases of compassionate support:

May I be safe
May I be strong
May I be peaceful
May I live with ease.

It’s an aspiration. It’s a reminder of who you are at your core. It’s a blessing poured into your heart. It’s a respite from your habitual way of being.

It might feel unfamiliar and tender. Good. Stay with it.

That’s a great place to start.

Corona virus, politics, climate change, oh my!

Just when we think life can’t possibly get more stressful or crazy-making, the volume goes to 11.

How are you doing with all of this, especially the fears around this virus that’s spreading across the globe?

It might seem that staying informed, following the news, and keeping up with statistics is helpful, but what I find is that most of that does exactly what we don’t want — raises our stress levels, makes us feel hopeless, and lowers our body’s natural ability to ward off external attacks.

Here’s what is more helpful than keeping up with the fearful images of people in face masks, and maps showing the movement of the virus, and freaking out about what might happen:

  • Stay relatively informed, but take lots of breaks from the news and social media.
  • Follow the excellent advice to wash your hands often and use hand sanitizer when out and about.
  • Spend time in nature, breathing fresh air, tuning into the beauty and wisdom of the plant and animal world. Don’t just be in it, be in mindful relationship with whatever you encounter.
  • Shift your awareness from the fearful thoughts to gratitude — what is right in front of you? Focus on the delicious, nourishing food or drink, taking in the vital energy it has to offer. Switch your lens from panorama to close-up.
  • Spend time in meditation, calming your mind, relaxing your body, and attuning to the moment you are in, the sensations you’re aware of, the sounds and smells around you.

Fear of the virus won’t keep you from potentially being exposed to it. This is fear of the unknown, attaching itself to something specific and scary.

But it’s proven that increased stress lowers immune function. So in the case of something that is basically out of your control, the most helpful thing you can do is focus on keeping your body and mind strong, at ease, and focused on all that is going right rather than what might go wrong. And, if you feel rundown or at risk, lay low and stay away from crowds for a while.

It’s within your power to streamline what information you take in, and to harness your thinking from “oh no!” to “ah, yes, in this moment I am fine.”

Clean your hands and your mind regularly. This is good advice for any time.