The past few months I learned that the real work is not about trying to control life or creating a “perfect” plan or clear vision for your future. The real work is about apprenticing yourself to create spaces for life to surprise you. Whatever shape or form the space needs to take on in order for you to be able to tune into your inner wisdom and deeper undercurrents of life that is always there to support you. Practically speaking it may mean that you create an external environment where your soul can rest and then to commit to a practice such as meditating or creative exercises to cultivate the silent space within.
Tending to the space is not passive, it requires energy, focus and a daily commitment to be present to life. It asks of us to face our fears and the avoidance behaviour around it. As well as to be accountable, take responsibility for our decisions and to stop projecting our insecurities onto others. As James Hollis said “ When we show up as best we can, then on any given day, we are a grown-up and contribute to carrying the world’s burden, rather than adding to it.”
Creating a space for life to surprise you means to grow up and out of the tendency to want to control life from the fear of not being good enough. In doing that you start to trust that whatever life may throw at you, you will be able to meet amidst your brokenness. Because you know that life is not about striving for the illusion of perfection but about the mystery of love. You realise that your fear-based plan is too small for you and that only when you surrender to love will you step into the bigger contribution that life is eagerly waiting for you to make.
Life is full of surprises (some life-giving and others courageously challenging) – the question is -are you paying attention? How can you create space in 2020 to allow life to surprise you?
Do you have an ideal picture of your life,
partner, job, children or even how you want your body to look like? It is
exactly these ideal images that can create suffering if it blinds other ways of
looking and experiencing the world for us. I recently learned the hard way how I was
still holding on too tightly to an old belief of how my CV must look like for
me to get the ideal job. In doing that I created my own straight jacket. When I realised that I was creating my own
suffering by my way of thinking, I also realised that I have the power to loosen
the buckles of the straight jacket. I can set myself free in letting go of the
picture I had in my mind.
This reminded me of what Mary Parker Follet
wrote about purpose in the 1920’s in a business management book:
“Last summer I noticed a strange plant in our pasture. I did not know what it was, I had no picture in my mind of what flower or fruit it would bear, but I freed it. That is, I dug around it and opened the soil that the rain might fall on its roots, I cleared out the thistles with which it was entangled so that it might have room to spread, I cut down the undergrowth of small maples near so that it could get the sun. In other words, I simply freed it. Every friendship which is not treated in this way will surely suffer; no human relation should serve an anticipatory purpose. Every relation should be a freeing relation with the “purpose” evolving.”
What pictures, that serve an anticipatory purpose, are causing suffering in your relationships or life?
Let go of the pictures, unbuckle yourself and set yourself free to evolve into more than you can imagine.
I can’t remember when my fascination with Gorillas
started but the movie “Gorillas in the Mist” definitely contributed to
that. I only recently read the book (with
the same name) by Dian Fossey on which the move was based. In the book she
shares 13 years of research of the mountain gorillas in the Virunga mountains
A few times in the book I was really touched by what she did and how the gorillas engaged with each other as well as with her. The one was when she and a gorilla (that she called “Peanut”) shared eye connection for the first time. In that moment she felt that she has “crossed an intangible barrier between human and ape” and “finally been accepted by a gorilla”. She writes
“The expression in his eyes was unfathomable. Spellbound, I returned his gaze – a gaze that seemed to combine elements of inquiry and of acceptance. Peanut ended this unforgettable moment by sighing deeply, and slowly resumed feeding.”
The combination of inquiry and of acceptance is so powerful. Through my coaching work I came to realise that those two elements (inquiry and acceptance) are vital in the process of becoming. How can you gaze upon yourself with inquiry and acceptance and also do that in your interactions with others?
There was another beautiful incident with Peanut that Dian described in the book. When they touched hands for the first time. After the incident they named the place “Fasi Ya Mkoni” meaning “the Place of the Hands”. The words moved me. It reminded me that, just like the gorillas, we too have a yearning for connection and to be touched. What or who do you need to touch today to deepen your connection with life?
We all have an inner wild woman or man living inside of us. That part of us that wants to be free, spend time in nature and connect with animals. Yet, in the busyness of life we tend to neglect that aspect of ourselves. Instead of running or meandering freely in the mountains we run around from one meeting to another chasing deadlines. Leaving us exhausted and disconnected at the end of the day.
Ian McCuallum write in his book Ecological Intelligence
“ To be wild is to be alert to the needs of the flesh and the warning calls of distress. It is to be spontaneous – to live one’s Earthiness and one’s notions of God independent of outside approval. It is to dance, to work and to play with passion…”
I get a sense that we assume that if we allow ourselves to be wild it will lead to irresponsible behaviour. To prevent that, we put our inner wildness on a leash and hand it over to our inner critic to hold. In trying to protect ourselves from the possibility of getting hurt by being spontaneous and passionate we are sabotaging our creativity. By always trying to be in control, do the responsible or the “right” thing we limit ourselves, lose our sense of self and authenticity.
When we unleash the wildness inside we open ourselves to the natural flow of life. In doing that we start to breathe more deeply and our capacity to live with an open-heart increase. We are more able to feel and take in all aspects of life (the joy, ecstasy, intimacy, sadness, disappointments, etc.) without trying to control it. We become more aware of the impact of our behaviour on others and the environment. Which open up new possibilities to engage in a more sustainable authentic way. From being more connected with ourselves and others we can make valuable contributions on a personal and professional level.
You may ask so how do I start to connect with my inner wild woman or man? There are endless possibilities of doing this. You can start with making time to just be with yourself and notice what wants to emerge. Take off your shoes and walk barefoot on the grass. Spend time in nature -go for a hike in the mountain or walk along the beach and allow your inner self to connect with nature. Do something spontaneous, dance, play with your children, read poetry. Do whatever will make you feel free.
I would like to end with a poem by Ian McCuallum that beautifully capture that inner wildness.
your soul will call to you
with a holy rage.
“Rise up!” it will say …
Stand up inside your own skin.
Unmask your unlived life …
feast on your animal heart.
Unfasten your fist …
let loose the medicine
in your own hand.
Show me the lines …
I will show you the spoor
of the ancestors.
Show me the creases …
I will show you
the way to water.
Show me the folds …
I will show you the furrows
for your healing.
“Look!” it will say …
the line of life has four paths –
one with a mirror
one with a mask,
one with a fist,
one with a heart.
your soul will call to you
with a holy rage.
This may sound like a weird question but it is not. In our everyday language we regularly refer to our “gut feeling” when we sense that we need to do something. There is an increasing number of research that shows how various parts of the body (such as the gut, heart, skin and vagus nerve) acts as brains of their own, process information and make decisions before we are even cognitively aware of it. Highlighting the importance of being able to connect and sense into the wisdom of the body. The psychiatrist, Bessel van der Kolk, say that you have to be in your body to speak your truth.
Over the years of working with people in a personal development capacity I came to realise that this is a difficult question for people to answer. People tend to be good at identifying when someone else is speaking “the truth” (or not). However, when it comes to knowing what is true for them personally and being able to stand in their truth, they are not as skilled. The catch is that if you want to bring your “whole self” to life, you need to be able to embody all of you.
What is true for you may not be true for someone else. Therefore, asking advice may help in discerning what is more aligned to your truth but it is not enough. Building the capacity to know where your truth lives in your body means sensing into your body. Really tuning into the felt sense of when you do (or don’t do) things. Observing where in your body do you feel moved (or movement) when you read a poem or listen to a piece of music that speaks to you.
Your truth lives in your body. Your thoughts can confuse you by spinning various stories but when you can connect to your truth and trust it. That gives you the courage to move forward in life in the face of uncertainty. In acting (applying for the job, buying the flight ticket, making the decision, speaking up in the meeting, etc.) on that inner wisdom you open yourself to new experiences that can then in return provide “evidence” of why trusting your truth was “the right thing” for you to do. This creates a feedback loop that builds your capacity to direct your life from an embodied stance.
“Don’t let it be a struggle. Make it easy. Let go of the story.”
These were the words that a wise man told me in India when I shared my struggles with him. In these three simple short sentences he captured the essence of what I needed to hear. He was speaking straight from the heart. The simplicity of his words were powerful and touched me deeply.
In life we tend to overcomplicate things. We make it unnecessarily hard for ourselves when we attach to the stories we tell ourselves. It could be stories of who we are or aren’t. How we should have reacted or wishing we could have done more. When we allow the inner battle to continue in our minds we empower the struggle.
However, when we keep our ego out of the way and don’t make it all about ourselves, we make it easy. When we listen to our inner truth and stay connected to it, we make it easy. We disempower the struggle when we let go of the story.
In letting go of the story we forgive ourselves, see our weaknesses and accept who we are now. This opens us to new learnings and love. When we love everything that we encounter directly without expecting any results, we make it easy. When we love directly we love the bond that connects us all.
I don’t know about you but all the hype around a new year can make one feel overwhelmed or inadequate at times. This blog is not about how to make this your best year ever. Nor is it about setting new year resolutions that will last. It is about the act of beginning again.
The simple yet extremely difficult task of taking the first step into the unknown. I specifically use the phrase beginning again rather than starting over. In saying you are starting over there is an underlying assumption that what you did previously was incorrect. That you have to wipe the slate clean and start with a blank page. I don’t believe one can really do that. I believe that our past is part of who we are and will always live somewhere in our bodies. Every experience has the potential to enrich us. How we engage with all the different aspects of it (be it success, adventure, abundance, joy or even fear, loss, sadness) will determine how much we grow and learn from it.
Beginning again is about opening your eyes and allowing yourself to see and feel again as if for the first time. To enter your day with an openness that will enable life to touch you. In order to do that one needs to be present to the moment as it is. Not how you wish it to be. Therefore, it is a decision one makes numerous times a day and not only at the beginning of a year.
Beginning again means picking up the pen to write as if for the first time, though you’ve done it a thousand times before. It means putting on your running shoes to practise for the marathon even if your muscles are still tired from the previous run. It is about pursuing a goal while the voice of the inner critic is saying you are not good enough. Beginning again takes courage and requires trust. It is about opening the door, stepping over the threshold and showing up to who you are in this moment. Just this moment, this breath, this conversation nothing more and nothing less.
We all have the capacity to begin again. As Mark Nepo writes “The world begins anew each day. This is the miracle that makes not a sound, but which changes everything, if we can be quiet enough to feel it happen. When we participate in this, we begin anew each day.”
Beginning again is part of the natural unfolding of life. May you have many courageous new beginnings as you step into this year filled with uncertainty.