the end of people pleasing

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Diana Krall, the honey badger of blues. She gets up there and does her thing , totally not giving a rat’s hiney if you like it or not.

In this post I wrote about a part of me that I was estranged from for many years: my carefree, bold, unconventional, independent, fun-loving, rebellious, flapper girl. Now that she is back in my life with a vengeance, she occasionally raises hell.

This past year as I’ve increasingly embraced this side of me, I’ve been less and less interested in pleasing people. As is to be expected, this has resulted in people becoming.. DUH DUH DUUUH…displeased. When this happened before, I would always rush to fix it, sometimes bending over backwards to make sure someone’s nose didn’t get out of joint. Well, lately noses have been getting out of joint all over town, and guess what? I find that life goes on. In fact, I admit that for a little while I was taking perverse pleasure in displeasing people. I wasn’t going out of my way to do it, but when it happened, I enjoyed the spectacle. I think I’m over that phase now, but I can’t imagine ever being a people pleaser again. It’s exhausting! I have so much more energy now for other things, like doing what pleases me.

Pleasing people is the enemy of loving people. The compulsion behind pleasing people is a lame need to be liked. To really love people powerfully, you have to let go of the need to be liked. You have to stop being nice and start being real. Also, pleasing people makes it difficult to respect and love yourself, an absolute requirement for loving others. Being able to say and do what I like without regard for what others think is liberating, but a much stronger motivator for me personally to stop pleasing is the ability to love more truly and powerfully.

How is it that we become people pleasers? We certainly are not born that way! And I was an especially displeasing infant and young child. We become people pleasers if we think that’s what we need to do to be loved. Or if we internalize limiting beliefs, like that we need to be everyone’s friend or that it’s not ok to dislike people. If we don’t feel free to dislike people, we get upset if someone dislikes us, so we try to please them into liking us. It’s slavery.

I don’t trust people who are universally liked or who try to be universally liked. The people I most admire, respect, and find attractive are those who are brave enough to think, say, and do what they like, even if it’s controversial. People who try to be controversial are a bit tiring, but if controversiality is just a result of people speaking their truth, I think it’s cool.

 

Daring Greatly

IMG_1830I finished Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly about a week ago while in London for Stoicon. I saw one of Brown’s TED talks years ago. I haven’t re-watched it recently. Many friends and even people I barely know have recommended Brown’s books to me so I thought I’d give one a try. Daring Greatly seemed the most appealing for what I want right now in my life. I would love to be more courageous and daring. Brené Brown makes a killing from her best selling books and also rakes it in as a popular keynote speaker. I was curious to see what she offers.

My initial reaction to this book was confusion. I had seen it marketed as psychology and self-help, neither of which I found here. Brown is a self-described shame researcher, but if this were a psychology book about shame, the Super-Ego would be mentioned at least. It’s not self-help because there are no practical suggestions or tools given for actually becoming more vulnerable and thus, courageous. I was also confused about what constitutes “shame.” For Brown, the shame tent is nearly all-encompassing. Self-loathing, fear of rejection, embarrassment (even though she says not), anxiety, overwhelm, discouragement, feelings of unworthiness, and perfectionism are all “shame” for Brown.

I also found myself wincing as I read. Brown’s constant reference to her credentials and popularity is off-putting. She seems to have an overpowering need to establish herself as an expert. It’s as if she were constantly asking, “Do you believe me know? And now? How about now?” On a related note, in the book she talks about how we wince when someone overshares. She attributes the compulsion to overshare to shame (of course) and justifies her own oversharing as acceptable because she only opens up about personal issues she has already worked through. I have not seen Brown on tv and barely remember her TED talk, but I imagine her to be a very charming and engaging speaker in person. She likely has an attractive personality and that’s why she gets away with oversharing and, well, neediness. Because she is so vibrant she comes off as being real and authentic in her neediness rather than tedious.  I should clarify that I didn’t flinch so much at her oversharing since she brings a lot of self-awareness to it, but to her need to convince readers that she is an expert.

Her book appears to be a description of the results of a sociological study rather than psychology or self help. However, as far as her research methods go, I am left with the question: How is this any different from someone talking to a lot of people and finding her own personal issues in other people’s stories? It’s a very human response for sure, but I’m not sure I’d call it scientific or research or data. Also, the entire tone of the book seems to be, “Did you know there is this thing out there called shame? and I have personally discovered  and uncovered it as the source of all of society’s ills!” There is zero historical context or mention of past shame researchers.

The truth is, a week after reading this book, very little of it sticks with me. There was a lot about the paralyzing effects of perfectionism. That is something I became aware of in myself and started dealing with in my early 20s. I couldn’t relate to many of her personal anecdotes. I did like the paragraph about Kristin Neff, self-compassion researcher but I had already seen Neff’s TED talk. In fact I had recommended here her website and self-compassion exercises as practical and useful.

I really can’t think who I would recommend this book to in spite of it being so popular and lauded. In its place I would recommend Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the voice of vocation by Parker J. Palmer if you are looking to feel more centered and grounded in your authentic self. I liked Freeing Our Families from Perfectionism by Thomas S. Greenspon.

I have to say I even question the importance of vulnerability in courageous action as compared to wisdom and discretion. Why was Catherine the Great such a powerfully courageous monarch? Because she was wise. She started reading practical philosophy as a young girl and sought to develop her own personal philosophy of life that guided her every action. She was courageous because after years of seeking wisdom in books and from her own astute observations of court life, she was expert at assessing risk, whether it be in a personal relationship with an advisor or a war with millions of lives at stake. I would like to be vulnerable in the way that Catherine the Great was, to have the ability to dispassionately take stock of my weaknesses and strengths, to be humble enough to take good counsel and yet confident enough to make my own decisions.

I have made some brave decisions in the past few years of my life. Many people have asked me how I got that courage and just now I have been reflecting on that. I think my dad encouraged me to be both wise and daring as a kid. Many times he would see that I wanted to do something, like to ride a spirited horse for example, but my fear kept me back. I remember his voice as he told me, “You can do it and you will be fine. Yes, that’s it. You’re doing great!” Many times these attempts ended in the “failure” of me being thrown from the horse and experiencing physical pain, but my father made me see these instances as triumphs over fear. I learned from him that you have to go for it and that sometimes pain happens. Pain is pain, nothing more and nothing less. As Marcus Aurelius said, “Pain is neither intolerable nor everlasting if you bear in mind that it has its limits, and if you add nothing to it in imagination.”

welcome home… bienvenida a casa

IMG_9434My first glimpse of you was as a child of four or five. One day my great-grandmother took out a box and showed me its contents: two coiled braids of fiery-copper hair. “This is what they cut off when one day in the 1920s, my sister and I snuck out of the house and without our parents’ permission, bobbed our hair,” she said. My great-grandmother played piano at the grange hall dances where she also danced the Charleston in her youth. My mother taught me the Charleston when she and other adults were still giant-size to me.

La primera vez que te eché un vistazo, yo era una niña de cuatro o cinco años. Un día mi bisabuela sacó una caja del armario y me enseñó su contenido: dos bucles de trenzas de color cobre. “Esto es lo que nos cortaron a mí y a mi hermana en los años 20 cuando un día nos dio por cortarnos el pelo al estilo de la época sin el permiso de nuestros padres.” Mi bisabuela tocaba el piano en los bailes donde también bailaba el Charleston en su juventud. Mi madre me enseñó a bailar el Charleston aun cuando ella y los demás adultos me parecían gigantes.

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I next saw you at age eight, when a dance teacher moved to our small town in central Maine and started giving lessons. I started class a couple weeks late for some reason. At my first class we did ballet for a while and then all of the other little girls ran to change into their tap shoes. I didn’t have tap shoes yet, but I still remember the feeling of utter fascination, excitement, and longing I felt watching the other girls clack around in those shiny black shoes. I had seen Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire movies on Saturday afternoons with my mother and I had never imagined that I would have the opportunity to glide around a room looking fabulous and making beautiful noise with my shoes. I was incapable of thinking about anything else until I had my own pair. I don’t know if I have ever wanted something as much in my life as I wanted those tap shoes. I cried when the dance teacher moved away a year later.

La próxima vez que te vi, tenía ocho años. Una profe de baile se mudó a nuestro pueblo pequeño y empezó a dar clases. Yo empecé un par de clases más tarde. En mi primera clase, primero hicimos ballet y después todas las niñas fueron a ponerse los zapatos de claqué. Yo aún no había comprado los míos pero todavía recuerdo la sensación de fascinación, ilusión, y añoranza que sentí a ver a las otras niñas bailar con aquellos zapatos negros puestos. Ya había visto las películas de Ginger Rogers y Fred Astair los sábados por la tarde con mi madre y jamás me había imaginado que allí estaría yo,  deslizándome por la pista de baile viéndome fabulosa y haciendo ruido bello con mis zapatos. Me obsesioné. Fui incapaz de pensar en otra cosa hasta que tuve mis propios zapatos de claqué. No sé si he llegado a desear algo tanto en mi vida. Lloré y me deprimí un tiempo cuando la profe de baile se mudó un año después y mis clases se acabaron.

Later I saw you in brightly-colored dresses with impossibly long fringe in Singing in the Rain. When it came time for me to go to the prom, I designed a black dress covered completely in fringe and a friend’s mom made it. I was disappointed when I first tried it on and saw myself in the full-length mirror. The girls in Singing in the Rain were showing their beautiful shoulders and the material of their dresses was stretchy with room to dance in. My dress was a constricting black sheath with a fairly high neckline, as required for a Mormon girl. I felt encased and upholstered.

Después te vi en los vestidos de colores brillantes con fleco en la película Singing in the Rain. Cuando llegó prom (la fiesta formal de instituto de los EEUU), diseñé un vestido negro completamente cubierto de flecos que me confeccionó la madre de una amiga. Me sentí desilusionada cuando me lo probé y me vi en el espejo. Las chicas de Singing in the Rain se mostraban los hombros tan hermosos y la tela de sus vestidos tenía elástico que les permitía bailar a gusto. Mi vestido en cambio era una funda estrecha sin escote y con los hombros cubiertos, tal como requería mi religión estricta. Me sentí encerrada y tapizada.

I found you in a book about Hollywood stars of the 20s-40s. My favorite by far Annex - Brooks, Louise (Beggars of Life)_04was Louise Brooks. Louise Brooks looked on the outside how I felt on the inside. She had all of that range between boyish charm and sexy siren. I spent many of my days dressed like a boy and Louise-Brooks-31being mistaken for a boy on my father’s farm. But I didn’t always feel like a boy. When I went home to my bedroom and saw my Jean Harlow poster on the wall, which I had mostly hung there to scandalize my mother, I felt like Jean Harlow. I wanted to wear stiletto heels, silky dresses, furs, and feathers, all with a debouched and devil-may-care attitude.

Te encontré en un libro de estrellas de Hollywood de los años 20-40. Me preferida era Louise Brooks. Louise Brooks se veía por fuera como yo me sentía por dentro. Tenía todo el abanico entre sirena sexy y estilo masculino. Yo pasaba muchos días vestida como un niño en la granja de mi padre, pero no me sentía como un niño. Cuando llegaba a casa y veía en la pared de mi habitación el poster de Jean Harlow que había colgado allí para escandalizar a mi madre, me sentía como Jean Harlow. Quería ponerme los tacones de aguja, vestidos de seda, pieles, y plumas, y todo con un aire de chica disoluta y temeraria.

I found you in music, dance, film, books, and the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay, fellow high-spirited Maine girl. I found you driving at 100 mph in my car on a summer night. I found you in my Ecuador adventures at age sixteen. I found you in midnight escapades of high hilarity and daring with my high school friends. I found you in the mirror sometimes in a girl breezily self-confident, free of convention, original, spicy, and fun.

Te encontré en la música, el baile, las películas, los libros. Te encontré en la poesía de Edna St. Vincent Millay, una chica también de Maine y llena de vida. Te encontré conduciendo a 180 km en una noche de verano. Te encontré en mis aventuras en Ecuador cuando tenía dieciséis años. Te encontré en correrías de hilaridad y osadía con mis amigos del instituto. A veces te encontraba en la chica del espejo, una chica segura de sí misma, libre de la convención, original, y divertida.

I got married when I was still a child, and that’s when I lost you. I will tell you how it happened. There had always been this Victorian girl at my shoulder. Victorian-Ladiy-Image-Velvet-GraphicsFairyStern and self-important in her principles and morals, quiet and yet insistent. When I got married she stepped in, in all of her efficiency and righteousness, and took your place. She wagged her finger at you and made you feel judged and out of place. You went far away. I missed you, but the Victorian girl comforted me. She said you were a bad influence and not to be trusted, and that it was for the best. She was not a bad sort. She was a gentle and nurturing mother who loved the bonds of home and family. She felt safe and valued there. She was responsible, self-sacrificing, and dutiful. Her modest dress reflected her modest attitude toward her personal achievements beyond motherhood and wifehood.

Me casé cuando era una niña aún, y fue cuando te perdí. Te contaré como pasó. Siempre había una chica victoriana a mi lado. Seria, rígida, algo pretenciosa en sus principios y moralidad, callada pero insistente. Cuando me casé, ella con toda su eficacia y rectitud, se hizo cargo de mí. Te regañó, te juzgó, y te hizo sentir fuera de lugar. Y tú te fuiste. Te echaba de menos, pero la chica victoriana me consolaba. Me dijo que eras una mala influencia, que no eras de fiar, y que era mejor que te alejaras de mi. La chica victoriana no era una mala tipa. Era una madre tierna y cariñosa que amaba las ataduras de familia y hogar. Se sentía segura y valorada allí. Era responsable, abnegada, y diligente. Su forma de vestir tan modesta simbolizaba su actitud modesta hacia sus hazañas más allá de la maternidad y el hogar.

Things happened. I made choices that frightened and disgusted the Victorian girl. You, my childhood crush, came back into my life to dance with me in the kitchen. I started seeing you at jazz concerts. You re-taught me the Charleston and together we learned to swing. We are all about emphasizing the second and the fourth beat now, you and I. We are never in a hurry, no matter how intense and driving the music may be. That’s how we groove.

Pasaron cosas. Tomé decisiones que asustaron e indignaron a la chica victoriana. Tú volviste a mi vida para bailar conmigo en la cocina. Empecé a verte en los conciertos de jazz. Me volviste a enseñar como bailar el Charleston y juntas aprendimos el Lindy Hop. Para ti y para mí, se trata de acentuar el segundo y cuarto tiempo. No nos apuramos en nada, da igual la intensidad de lo que pase a nuestro alrededor. Así bailamos la vida tú y yo.

kay francis 2For a while Victorian girl hated that you were back. She felt threatened. She talked bad about you and tried to get me to fear you. She threatened to leave if you stayed around. I told her that I don’t want her to leave. We’ve had some good times together and I value her, but I made it clear to her that you are back to stay. She has to accept you.

Por un tiempo, la chica victoriana odiaba que estuvieras de vuelta. Hablaba mal de ti e intentó que yo te tuviera miedo. Me amenazó con irse ella si tú te quedabas. Le dije que no quería que se fuera. Hemos vivido cosas muy importantes juntas y la valoro, pero le dije claramente que tú ya estás para quedarte. Le dije que te tenía que aceptar.

She has to accept you because since you came back, I am whole. I am wild and exuberant and free. I am more in the moment. I’m more at ease. I’m more comfortable in my skin. My world has more color, taste, sound, smell. I’m stronger. Ironically, I’m a better Christian. I like myself better now that you are back, and if there is a God, I think He would like me better now, too.

Te tiene que aceptar porque desde que volviste, soy completa. Soy más salvaje, más llena de vitalidad, más libre. Estoy más en el momento. Estoy más a mis anchas. Mi mundo tiene más color, sabor, sonido, y olor. Soy más fuerte. Y hasta soy mejor cristiana. Me gusto más a mí misma y creo que si hay un dios, yo le gustaría más a él ahora también.

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healing

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We are like plants, full of tropisms that draw us toward certain experiences and repel us from others. -Parker J. Palmer

In the last post I talked about Religious Trauma Syndrome and my struggle with it. This post is about how I’m getting better. This is what has worked for me.

  1. I listen to my body. Our bodies contain a lot of wisdom. It was my body that first let me know that my religion was no longer working for me. It felt like I had developed an allergy to going to church. I started getting terrible headaches every Sunday and when I came home I would collapse on my bed in exhaustion and sleep for hours. I was told that the reason I felt this way was because I was sinning, and that’s why I didn’t feel right at church. At the time I was so conditioned by guilt, I actually wondered if this might be true! It wasn’t. My body was trying to alert me to the fact that I wasn’t living in alignment with my true self.
  2. I listen to my life. This is the title of a very helpful book I just read by Parker J. Palmer. Having PTSD symptoms is no fun, but discovering who I really am is turning out to be fascinating and exciting. As Palmer says, “I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live–but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.” There are certain qualities and values that have been part of who I am since the day I was born. I am passionate, sensual, and sensitive. And every day I crave creative expression, beauty, laughter, and meaningful connection with people. What I also needed all these years, a value that was being stepped on, was to listen to and trust my own inner wisdom.
  3. I embrace my dark side. I’m getting cozy with my flaws and weaknesses. No more perfection for me. Perfect is so boring! The other day I was having some professional pictures done and the photographer told me he might try to sell some of them as stock photos. He said that no one wants to see the conventional-looking models anymore, but rather people with odd faces like mine. And I took that as a compliment! I prefer to look at funny-faced people, too. And did you notice that I just bragged there? I did, and I’m fine with it. I like people who occasionally brag. I like people who say strange things. And I really like people who eat with gusto.
  4. I laugh. “He who laughs at himself never runs out of things to laugh at,” said Epictetus. So true! And so healing. Taking myself too seriously bores me almost as much as perfection does.
  5. I dance. The first year after I divorced and left the church I danced almost every day in my kitchen. I needed it. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without dance. Dancing helps me be fully in the moment and connected to my body. I didn’t know this at the time, but dance is a highly-recommended activity for people experiencing PTSD because it helps unstick your body from its immobilization stress response. Long walks in nature help too, as do yoga and other physical activities.
  6. I connect with people socially. I have learned a lot through trial and error with this one. Many of the people I have tried friendships with in the past couple years are no longer in my life. They were bridge people who came into my life to teach me something and then it was time for them to go. I am just now finally learning how to let those people go for my own benefit, and to limit my most intimate circle to only the tried and tested friends I can count on.
  7. I keep trying new things. It’s like going shopping and bringing a big armful of clothing into the changing room. Maybe out of ten items I’ll like one or two, or perhaps none. But how was I to know unless I tried? I try on new books, people, career paths, values, sports, activities. Some of those require quite a bit more of an investment of time, money, or emotions than the 10 seconds it takes me to pull on some jeans in the changing room. So yeah, it can suck when something doesn’t end up being a fit. But that doesn’t mean I stop trying because if I did, what would I have? It’s trial and error with everything. Life is a classroom. Or a laboratory. Or a dance party in my kitchen! Oooooh yeah!

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what not to say. do this instead

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I know that everyone has had this experience. In fact, everyone has been on both sides of this experience. You are depressed, or maybe going through a rough time, or maybe it’s just a bad day. You confide in a friend or family member, and the response from that person, though well-meaning, makes you feel… violated. Do you know the feeling I’m talking about? You wish you hadn’t said anything. You feel like closing up, changing the subject, not bringing it up again. You recognize this person’s good intentions, and somehow that only makes you feel worse. Why did their response make you feel this way?

Or how about this: Your friend confides in you that she is feeling upset, worried, depressed, etc… Whatever it might be. You really feel for her! You want to help her, and so you say whatever you can think of that might be helpful. And yet you notice a distancing in her eyes, a closing up. She smiles at you and thanks you, but the smile is not genuine. You feel frustrated because you really want to help. But if she’s going to be like that, well…

What happened here? One person is in need and is reaching out, the other wants so much to help. This should be a moment of love, a coming together, an opportunity to give and receive kindness and empathy. What went wrong?

Any number of things. Here is a list of what not to say to someone who is feeling depressed:

  1. “You are a wonderful person who helps a lot of people. You have all kinds of wonderful qualities. Think about that and you’ll feel great!” This makes the depressed person feel like a fraud. What he is thinking is that on the outside he appears that way, but on the inside he is actually bad. He feels like you don’t understand.
  2. “Look at all the beauty that surrounds you! Go out and enjoy this gorgeous day instead of moping around thinking about your problems.” The depressed person may not be in a place where she can enjoy life through her senses. When you are depressed your sensory perception is dulled.
  3. “Maybe this is all because of that childhood trauma you had.” Practicing amateur psychoanalysis is not the way to go. It’s not what your friend is looking for from you, it’s not helpful and in fact, could be damaging.
  4. “I know exactly how you feel because I’ve been through the same thing…” and then you proceed to tell your story. You do not know exactly how your friend feels. You have no way of knowing that because you are not her. What you know is how YOU felt under what you think might be similar circumstances.
  5. “I know what you need to do to solve this. Let me tell you…” What makes you the expert? What makes you think that your solutions, based on your values, would help someone else? What’s more, where does your need to give advice come from? When you give advice, you are getting yourself off the hook. You can go on your merry way no longer troubled by this friend’s problems, because you “fixed” them. If the friend does not take your advice, well that’s up to him and you are free from responsibility. Who is this working for? For you, not for your friend.

I know I have said some version of all of the above to a depressed friend and I’ve had it all said to me. While I have appreciated the intention behind these words and I’ve had the best intentions myself, I recognize that these responses are not helpful to people who are troubled.

What is helpful?

Something that is very simple, and yet very hard to do. What helps the most is being present with the friend through her difficulty. Accompanying her with your care. Resisting the urge to fix, to scold, advise, “inspire,” to make the bad go away. Being there as she struggles. Listening. If appropriate, hugging. Respecting the integrity of who she is, believing that she is capable of finding the best answers for her within. One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is seeing her in her wholeness. Seeing that she struggles, and yet still caring about her.

And maybe realizing something that will help you do that. Like, that depression, struggle, and bad times have their place. As Stephen Fry says:

It’s not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing—they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.

If appropriate, encourage your friend to get professional help and if you are concerned that your friend may do himself harm, read more here about what to do.

weirdness

ET Moon

Mostly, I could tell, I made him feel uncomfortable. He didn’t understand me, and he was sort of holding it against me. I felt the urge to reassure him that I was like everybody else, just like everybody else. But really there wasn’t much point, and I gave up the idea out of laziness. -Albert Camus, L’Étranger

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here and there are several reasons for that. I’m working on a couple other projects that have me very busy. One of those projects is Co-Active coaching, which I love entirely. It’s great to have found a career that is such a good fit for me. However, maybe the other reason that I’m not writing as much is that I’m going through a weird time.

I went to the U.S. a couple months ago to visit, and since I came back to southern Spain I have felt uncomfortable here. When I go to Barcelona or Madrid I feel light on my feet, joyful, carefree. I’m always smiling. I meet all kinds of interesting people with whom it’s easy to connect. I feel like I fit in there. I’m just another person in the throng, with her beauty and ugliness, her passions and her torpidity. Here in southern Spain, however, I usually feel like an outsider. People put me in a little box and slap a label on me. They switch out the label depending on their mood. For a long time I was in denial about this. Once I realized what was going on, I resented it so much I struggled and fought, accused and cried, and in the end hurt no one but myself.

I have to accept that I am not going to connect in any edifying way with most people here. And that’s ok. I don’t mind feeling alienated here. As one friend said to me the other day, looking me squarely in the eyes: “What is it that you really want? To feel accepted by these people, like you are one of them? You want to be like them? Seriously, Lindsay? I don’t think so.”

Not only am I going to accept that I am not like people here, I am going to embrace it. A few of the people I have had issues with have said to me that I should consider that maybe I am the problem, not them. They are absolutely right, of course. My problems have been the following: Trying to force friendships with people who don’t share my values, making myself small so that others don’t feel threatened, and giving energy to people and situations that don’t give me joy.

I realized last night that the people I most identify with, respect, and admire are people who don’t have many intimate friends. Human friends, that is. When I was growing up I felt like my best friends were books, paintings, and trees. I still feel that to some extent.

When I’m in Barcelona or Madrid I take big, deep breaths. I stretch. I feel like dancing down the street. I am going to feel that here in southern Spain, too. I don’t care if it’s the last thing I do. I’m going to feel as wonderful here as I do in other places. So take that, andaluces!

podcast debut

This is the first podcast at philosofina.com. I’m so excited! And nervous, too. For this first podcast I decided to answer some questions from readers, so here it goes.

What are your most popular posts?

My most popular post has been Leaving Mormonism, where I talk about my crisis of faith and my changing relationship with the Mormon church I was born and raised in. The post was controversial and there was some negative feedback, I expected that, but what most surprised me in a wonderful way was the outpouring of supportive messages I received from others who struggle with their faith, as well as words of love and understanding from nonbelievers and faithful Mormons alike.

The next most popular is a post that was simultaneously published on Stoicism Today, a piece called Stoicism for Passionate People. I’ve been pleased with the positive feedback on that post as well and it seems some of the regular readers of this blog discovered it from that Stoicism Today link.

Why is the blog named Philosofina?

I like philosophy. I think everyone needs to have a personal philosophy of life and this blog is where I develop mine from one post to another. That, and I just like the name. I get a lot of compliments on it.

Who is your favorite philosopher?

Michel de Montaigne, 16th-century French nobleman and inventor of the personal essay. I have this vivid mental image of Montaigne sitting down at his writing desk with a serious topic in mind, but once he started scratching that quill across the paper, all hell broke lose because he had this rich, fertile, imagination that would not be contained. It had its way with him every time. His writing is always fresh and organic, interspersed with tangents where he related funny anecdotes and personal stories, like listening to the best storyteller at the party. I love how playful and irreverent he is, never takes himself too seriously, and yet he has these profound insights on the complexity and contradictions in human nature. Montaigne also had a series of major life challenges in his thirties, at the very same ages that I had the same kinds of events in my life. And those events provoked in him, as they did in me, a time of self-reflection that ultimately led him to make some major changes in his life.  I feel like Montaigne and I have a lot in common and he is a major inspiration.

Why do you write so much about relationships and dating?

Since I married when I was still in my teens, I never dated until three years ago after I divorced. When you first enter the dating world at my age instead of at 18 or 20, you have a much different awareness of yourself and others, you look at it all with some distance and perspective, and you can’t help but notice and laugh at all of these strange things we do in our courtship and mating rituals. I have dated quite a bit because I’m always curious to meet new people. It’s sometimes been fun and sometimes maddening, but ALWAYS fascinating, and I love to write about what I’m seeing and experiencing and the insights I have. Several people have told me I should do a talk show about dating and relationships, and I’m considering it. Sounds fun!

What is a life coach? Is that like a therapist or something?

You hire a life coach if you want to transform your life. Life coaches help you to develop a greater awareness than you would otherwise be able to on your own, providing a better perspective from which to make important choices. A life coach can help move you back into action when you are stuck. You hire a life coach to provoke you, to ask the questions you need to be asked and say the things you need to hear.

A life coach can help you identify your values and create a life purpose, find resources within yourself to make the changes you want to make in your life, help you see the blind spots and hang-ups you have that are holding you back from making those changes, and learn to recognize the voices in your own mind that could be sabotaging your success.

As far as how life coaching may be related to seeing a psychologist, for example, I can only speak from my own experience. A few years ago after going through some difficult challenges, I felt depressed and eventually I started seeing a psychologist. After seeing me a couple times, the psychologist told me that we needed to go back into my childhood to see why it is that I have the insecurities and fears that I have. I asked how that would help me feel better, and she said that as we uncovered different layers, I would discover the root of my problems. I asked how THAT would make me feel better, and she said that the knowledge of where my insecurities and fears came from would help me to overcome them. I went a few more times, but I felt bored and frustrated by the process. I didn’t want to focus on my problems. All I wanted was to make my life beautiful again.

I stopped going to the psychologist and started focusing on doing and being those few things that I absolutely knew, regardless of any passing identity crisis, made me feel like me. In other words, I started living my values. I nourished my soul with great music, books, art, and friendships, and I wrote about it all. I got myself into a better place. When I finally listened to my own little heart, it told me how to heal myself. Around that time I discovered life coaching, and I was hooked! Because for me, that is what coaching is, getting the help you need to learn to listen to your own heart and letting it tell you what is best for you rather than taking advice from others. It’s about exploring within and developing new registers you never even imagined were there. While psychotherapy may be more focused on your emotional or mental problems and looking back toward the past, life coaching is focused in the here and now with a view toward the future.

What issues and topics do you work with as a coach?

I have coached people on dating and relationship issues, physical fitness goals, weight loss, self-confidence, friendships, parenting, pregnancy, writing, self-mastery and forming habits, and other things. Right now I am developing personalized programs to help people:

  • thrive as singles
  • emerge from an identity crisis as stronger, better, new versions of themselves
  • feel confident, secure, and empowered in their sexuality
  • discover their passions

I don’t have a niche, but I think I do have a theme that runs through my work with people, and that is helping people discover and live up to the greatness they have within. I think one of the worst tragedies of life is how we allow ourselves to be mediocre out of fear our own greatness and because we don’t want those around us to feel threatened by it. I love nothing better than working with people who want to let their light shine in spite of these fears.

Marianne Williamson says it well:

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. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. 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.

Have you worked with a coach? What did you work on?

I have definitely worked with coaches and I have a life coach of my own. In the past one thing I have worked on is embracing my sexy side. I’ve found that change isn’t always easy and it takes time, but it happens! I am amazed at the progress I’ve made. It’s also been fascinating to me to see how other aspects of my life have changed now that I have more confidence in this one area. Fascinating and very encouraging! Maybe I’ll talk more about that in my next podcast.

blue moon

20110319-JLB_4506-4041This evening I went for a walk along the beach of Belfast Bay just after the sun had set. The sky was still tinged orange in the west and I started my walk toward the east. I saw that the  moon was just beginning to rise. 2015’s blue moon. It was the palest of whites when it first peeked over the horizon but soon it was a luminous pink and orange, something like this photo I found online. It was much more impressive than this photo. I watched it rise and for some reason I remembered a conversation I had a couple weeks ago.

I was at home in Málaga eating grilled sardines under the stars with a poet who I suspect of being a wise man. I was telling him that my life was very lovely and orderly for many years, and in fact people used to tell me that I had the perfect family and the ideal life, like something out of the movies. I was seldom unhappy or angry. He said, “Well, I think such a life as that is a shit. How are you to appreciate it and really know you are happy if you never suffer, if you just go through life feeling great all the time?” That’s how poets talk. Spiritual gurus are slightly (or very) condescending and poets just say straight out, Your life was a shit.

But I think he’s on to something. For the past couple years my life has been a mess. At first I was embarrassed by it. I was failing all the time and I felt ashamed of these failures and angry at myself for letting them happen. I felt like a loser, like I couldn’t do anything right anymore. The internal work I’ve done through coaching and Stoic meditation has gone a long way in helping me see how wonderful it is to fail. It means I’ve taken a risk, I’ve hopefully learned something, and I’m living my life in a bold way. I can fail quite spectacularly now and feel relatively unfazed by it. It does hurt a bit still, but usually I’m so quickly on to the next endeavor that I’m not down for long.

For example, for the past six months or so I’ve been kissing a lot of frogs. I’m learning that there are many types of frogs. According to this article there are nearly 4000 types, including toads which are part of the frog family. I think I’ve kissed some of those too. I do hope I will find the type that turns into a prince before I get too close to the 4000 mark, but I’m making progress. See, a couple years ago it would have really grossed me out to be kissing all these frogs and it would have traumatized me. But now I take it less seriously and I also see that this experience is helping me to become quite an expert in the herpetological field. I’m now able to identify many types of frogs by their identifying spots or the shape of their nostrils without having to kiss them at all. As in, this is the type who lies, this is the type who doesn’t have a lot going on upstairs, etc.

It’s all good. My life is no longer picture perfect, nor is it a shit. It’s a beautiful mess. I’m a beautiful mess.

 

What can’t you stand?

It was an intense weekend. I did CTI’s Process course which is about expanding into the present moment, having curiosity about it, being able to name whatever’s going on inside of you at any given moment, and slowing down to appreciate and enjoy the journey. It’s about being fully alive.

We also learned how to recognize blocked emotion, bring it to the surface, and help clients be with their emotions. One exercise we did to explore blocked emotion was to name what it is we absolutely can not stand and recognize what it is within ourselves that is causing us to fixate on this issue. For example, people who loathe hypocrisy may have difficulty reconciling contradictory elements within themselves. “You spot it, you got it” is the idea.

After completing the course on Sunday, I decided to text this guy I had been seeing. We were getting to know each other but I started to see things I didn’t like and I didn’t feel comfortable at all the last time I saw him. I think he realized it and maybe felt the same. We just weren’t compatible for a relationship. Over a week had gone by without communication between us and I felt awkward. I wanted us to be friendly acquaintances at least, if not friends, so I started what I thought was a friendly, neutral conversation with him. That was probably my first mistake. I should have waited longer to contact him. Anyway. Somewhat out of the blue he said he was really really sorry, but he just didn’t think it would work out between us, but that I’m a beautiful woman and I shouldn’t let his rejection of me upset me too much or make me feel insecure or inferior.

So. At this point I should have said, that’s fine, thank you for your consideration of my feelings and just let it go. Right? That’s what I should have done. But his passive aggressive ass-hattery riled me so much that I couldn’t. I fell into the trap headfirst. I had to get into it with him. I will spare you all of the mean things we said to each other. It was not a pretty sight. It made me feel terrible, in fact. Even though I recognized that his attacks were obviously ego-based, the things he said still hurt me. (You know what his answer was a few weeks ago when I asked him what he couldn’t stand? Egocentrism. I think “you spot it, you got it” is right.)

I do not like it at all that I couldn’t just let it go. I felt disappointed in myself after that exchange. I felt like I had lowered myself. Why did it have to bother me in the least that he wanted to feel superior by “dumping” me? Who the hell cares? Well, it seems that my ego did. I don’t want to be the kind of person who let’s my ego dictate what I say and do. I want to love. I want whatever I do in the arena of romantic relationships to be loving and kind. Ego, you are not welcome here, even when sorely provoked! I want to be a big enough person that those kinds of remarks are just water off a duck’s back.

So, what do I do? The next time something like that happens, I need to sit there with that feeling of humiliation and just let myself feel it without striking back. I can see from this incident with this guy that it would have been MUCH better to just let it go. That would have made me feel good about myself. I need to remember that.

Are you thinking about what it is you can’t stand, and what that indicates about you?

sunlit souls

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There are souls that one desires to draw near to, like a sunlit window. -Federico García Lorca

A few days ago I met with an Argentine friend who lived many years in Spain but moved last year to Manchester. I went to visit her in Manchester last fall and she seemed to be adjusting well. When we’ve spoken since then, she’s always been upbeat about the experience. This friend is one I’m always thrilled to get together with because she is unfailingly positive.The shortened version of my friend’s first name means “light” in English, and her last name is similar to “ray.” Every time I see her I think how much she resembles a sunbeam. Yesterday I finally got to see her again because she has come down to Spain to visit. I hadn’t realized that this entire past year she has been unable to leave England because of a visa problem that has just now been resolved. She told me about this and other difficulties she’s faced this past year as well as the measures she took to keep herself in a positive frame of mind. I had been taking my friend’s sunny disposition for granted. Though she does lead an enviable life in some respects, she has difficult trials and fears and disappointments just as we all do. She is naturally good-natured, but obviously some days (or months, or years!) it requires a lot of effort to maintain good cheer. She is always radiant because she chooses to be.

IMG_7469Cheerfulness is not the only way a shining soul makes itself known. I think of my grandmother, Bea. She was a simple country girl, not at all fancy or sophisticated. And yet she had a powerful presence. A neighbor who was raised on a farm next to my grandmother’s house (on the legendary River Road, where I grew up!) once told us about the skating parties they used to have there in the winter. In that group of children there were some quarrels and rivalries that came out whenever they got together. But then my grandmother would arrive (late of course–Bea knew how to take her sweet time), and suddenly all would be well. There was something about her that made everyone want to get along and have fun together. She radiated peace and contentment.

Another sunlit soul I am privileged to know is my friend Mariló , she of the Bridge People wisdom. Mariló is an artist in everything she does. Everything. In her relationships, her interactions with patients as a nurse, her meditations, her paintings, her dinner parties, the decor of her home, and in the way she talks and moves and dresses. She can not help but constantly express beauty and joie de vivre. I first heard about Mariló from some mutual friends and then I kept seeing her comments on their Facebook content. I longed to meet her, but couldn’t figure out how. One day I started chatting with a man on Facebook I don’t know personally, but we had other friends in common. He is a successful and inspiring violin teacher and we were talking about that. All of a sudden he said, “You should meet Mariló. She lives down near you and you have a lot in common.” I didn’t even know he knew Mariló! And I thought it must be fate that she and I meet. We didn’t finally meet in person until about a year later. We’ve had many conversations about how people don’t always make it easy for you to be yourself if you are not like everyone else. Mariló is constantly making the choice to be true to who she is and to let her light shine brilliantly.

When I was in Barcelona recently for two weeks, I felt radiant. I was in a magical city far from my woes and cares where no one knows me. I felt completely free to explore different versions of me and I discovered within hidden talents, ambitions, and strengths that I never knew existed. This post is indicative of how I felt before I went to Barcelona. In this post and this one, I mention some discoveries, though not all. I will write about more discoveries, and some I will keep to myself. Anyway, now that I am back home, I have struggled to maintain that high. Friends have told me that that’s what happens when you come back from vacation. You are faced with the reality and routine of your life and, Hello! It’s not vacationland. Well, I’ve got news for them. I was BORN in vacationland. If I want to feel the same freedom, creative inspiration, and joie de vivre here in Málaga that I felt in Barcelona, then I will, damn it. And no one is going to tell me that I can’t. I will choose to be a radiant, sunlit soul. So there! Put that in your pipe and smoke it.