how to be a king

1269171_10202361926753672_109520383_o (1)When I was about ten years old, I found a letter my father had written to someone who had treated him unfairly, even abusively. In my innocence, I asked my father about the letter. I asked him what the person he sent the letter to had replied back to him. It took him some time to answer as he struggled with a variety of emotions. As a child I didn’t understand why my questions had affected him so much, but now I imagine he suddenly felt embarrassed, vulnerable, angry, sad, and unsure of how to explain the situation to a child. “I didn’t send that letter,” he finally said. “I wrote it for myself.”

From a young age, my father had to learn how to deal with difficult people. He was an unusually intelligent child, but also highly sensitive and emotional. He had to find a way to keep other people’s issues from hindering his intense enjoyment of life. As a child he was known for having a terrible temper but by the time he was an adult, I only remember seeing him lose his temper once: Dad had bought a very expensive bull calf to raise for breeding, and an employee unwittingly sent it to the slaughterhouse.

How did my father achieve this dramatic improvement in his character? By practicing self-mastery. Every day he got a little better at not losing his temper. He had a vision of the man he wanted to be and he didn’t lose sight of that vision. He didn’t give up and it took years. Cultivating inner beauty requires diligent effort and constancy. That, and a hell of a lot of self-forgiveness and patience. There is no plastic surgery quick-fix to make your soul beautiful.

My father was not perfect, thank God. He was a mischief-maker and he did all kinds of bad stuff, I’m sure. But for me and for many other people, my father was a king. He was so strong, and yet so tender-hearted. He achieved this by building his inner citadel, by making his soul an inviolable stronghold of freedom. Dad was free of judgement of others and largely, of himself, and he managed his expectations. This allowed him to love others freely and happily, while keeping hurt feelings and resentment to a minimum.

When I was a child I often wondered why my father was so strong and brave and I was so weak and cowardly. I followed him around the farm in hopes that his awesomeness would somehow rub off on me. I was constantly testing myself, daring myself, and taking on greater responsibility. Lately I have those same feelings of inadequacy I had as a child. I lose my temper and I let people get to me. I let others interfere, I interfere, and I’m unable to enjoy life as much. Lately I have failed quite spectacularly at self-mastery. I’m trying not to judge myself too harshly for it because I know Dad wouldn’t. He would tell me to get up, dust myself off, and get back on the horse.

In a few days it will be seven years since Dad passed. People still write to me to tell me how he helped them in some way or changed their lives for the better. If someone reading this has written to me, I want to thank you again for that. It means a lot to me.

ice fairies

DSC03774-1Back on our farm in Maine, there was a little brook that ran beside our house. In fact, I now learn that it has a name: Daggett Brook. It can be seen here on Google Maps, and there also is my childhood home and my father’s farm. After his death the 2000+ acre farm was sold to Maine Farmland Trust to be preserved as farmland. My mother could have made a lot more money if she’d developed the land, but as a family we are grateful she made that decision based on deeper values. Back to Daggett Brook… It was shallow and fun to play in when we were little. In the summer we fished for minnows, caught frogs and crayfish, skipped stones, and played Poohsticks on the bridge for hours and hours. During a drought one summer my brother and I spent an entire day hauling buckets of minnows to safety before the puddles they were flopping around in could dry up.

As entertaining as it was in the summer, in the winter the brook transformed into something enchanted, wonder-inducing, and treacherous. My mother would bundle us up in our snowsuits and send us out the door with our sleds, but somehow we always made our guilty way down to the brook, sometimes tunneling through snow, sometimes rolling down the banks to get there. Though the nearby Piscataquis River was off-limits to us in the winter, the brook technically wasn’t. But I think my brother and I knew that if our mother had known how dangerous the brook was, she wouldn’t have let us go there either.

In the winter the brook froze at the banks and over the top, but always had water running underneath the ice. Where the brook ran more steeply downhill and over rocks from our house to the river, there were openings in the ice where you could see and hear the water running. These openings formed magnificent, if miniature, ice caverns lined with weird and breathtakingly beautiful ice formations. It was like something straight out of Middle Earth. We could easily imagine an ice fairy kingdom in these little caverns. But it didn’t stop there. As beautiful as the caverns were to look at, they were even more beautiful to hear. The sound of the water running beneath was otherworldly. At first it would sound like the brook, only sharper and somehow higher and deeper at the same time. But as you got closer, the sound would change. You could hear people talking. Not people, I imagined, but ice fairies talking in their language.

And there was the danger. The ice fairies were little sirens, luring my brother and I closer and closer to the ice caverns. We would inch over the ice holding on to the overhanging branches of trees. Or we would wriggle over the ice on our snow-suited bellies, always trying to get closer for a better view or better acoustics. The winter music of the brook filled my entire body and I was possessed.

On one of these occasions my brother slipped on the ice and fell into the brook. He was pulled under the surface of the ice by the current and he thought he was going to drown. He got caught in the next opening and I pulled him out. He remembers more details of this event than I do, which makes sense since he nearly died. What neither of us can explain is how I had the strength to pull him out. His winter clothing drenched, he must have weighed a ton. Maybe the ice fairies weren’t so wicked after all and lent a hand.

Rediscovery

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I must listen to 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.

It takes time and hard experience to sense […] that running beneath the surface of the experience I call my life, there is a deeper and truer life waiting to be acknowledged. -Parker J. Palmer

All parents have the experience of knowing first hand that a baby comes into the world with a unique identity. This fact is made especially clear if you have more than one child and can thus compare how two siblings born to the same parents can be so different, even from birth. Whether you call it a soul, an essence, or what have you, you are born with a unique inner wisdom that can guide you to what brings you joy, meaning, and fulfillment. You also have all the tools necessary to “fix” your life when things go awry.

This essence and this guiding inner voice of wisdom is always there and it is completely unique to each individual. It is also indestructible. What too often happens, however, is that this essence of who we really are gets a bit lost and forgotten. It gets buried beneath the values that society, religion, or our families impose on us, all generally well meaning, but not necessarily in alignment with our souls. Our own fears and insecurities also keep us from recognizing our true power.

What I most love about the philosophy of coaching I practice is how respectful it is of each individual’s unique essence and creative capacity. The very best coaching helps you rediscover that inner fountain, that source of wisdom, creativity, and light within you that can heal, nourish, and give life to your dreams. The best coach will not only help you connect to that, she will hold you there and help you build the life you dream on from that place of clarity and strength.

I have recently started working with some new clients and I would love to add more! Please contact me for a free sample session.

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.”

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.

the untethered soul

UntetheredSoulMech-#1.inddAccording to the reviews on Goodreads, reading The Untethered Soul by Michael S. Singer has changed thousands of people’s lives. I’ve seen this book referenced on many blogs as a must-read. I finally read it. Reading it did not change my life but it did make me want to write a book about my philosophy, become a spiritual guru, and get on Oprah.

This book reminds me of Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, but where I think Tolle’s book could have been easily and happily condensed to about five 500-word blog posts, two would do for The Untethered Soul. Supposedly people are not reading books anymore. They have no time for verbiage, preferring their spiritual enlightenment to come distilled in meme form on Tumblr or the like. Well, I find that hard to believe after reading these two number one best sellers. The Power of Now has 10 million copies in circulation worldwide. If millions of people will read these incredibly repetitive books, they are not looking for conciseness. Strunk and White are spinning in their graves.

To become a spiritual guru, you pick and choose what you consider the best beliefs and practices of the various spiritual traditions, mix them all together, and present them in your own words and as your own philosophy. When you write your book, the more repetitive, the better. The more conceptual and less practical, the better. Throw complexity, contradictions, and beauty out the window. Also, be a tad bit condescending. I suppose that lends a sense of authority to what you are saying. Seems that’s how enlightened people talk.

Reading these books made me long for Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Lao Tzu, Buddha, and Jesus. I wanted Dostoevsky, Thoreau, and my beloved Flannery O’Conner. I wanted Edna St. Vincent Millay. William Blake, please! I wanted something real, vibrant, hot, crazy, beautiful. I wanted to read personal accounts of spiritual journeys that pulse with life. Or that inspire me or take my breath away or shock me.

So, I was kidding about wanting to become a spiritual guru. I wouldn’t say no to Oprah, though.

I started this post with the intention of jotting down what it was I DID like about The Untethered Soul, but it looks like all that other stuff had to come out first. So, here is what I liked. The concept of identifying with the part of you who is an aware observer of the thoughts that are constantly passing through your mind and the resulting emotions that well up in response to those thoughts is liberating. It keeps you from getting caught up in the drama that your mind constantly creates because it needs something, anything, to worry about. I liked the first few chapters of the book that talked about awakening this consciousness. The ability to take a step back from your thoughts and emotions is a valuable skill. However, realizing this is one thing. Developing the habit of practicing it is another, and there are no suggestions for how to do this. I know from experience that your consciousness may be wide awake one day only to go into hibernation the next.

I also liked some of what was said about managing internal energy. I do believe what he says about the abundance of energy that we contain within ourselves and have access to whenever we need it, and that we block it with fear. However, I have a problem with his overly-simplified solution for removing these energy blockages. He says that every time we feel that our energy is blocked, we must “relax and open.” That’s it. Either that or not allow ourselves to “close” in the first place, that we should allow our hearts and minds to be open no matter what happens. Maybe it’s just me, but I for one need more instruction on how to keep my mind and heart open no matter what life throws at me. That’s the book I would like to read.

keeping it fake

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I write to keep from going mad from the contradictions I find among mankind – and to work some of those contradictions out for myself. -Michel de Montaigne

I haven’t yet read “Keep it Fake: Inventing an Authentic Life” by Eric G. Wilson, but that will not keep me from commenting here on Clancy Martin’s NYT review of it.

Martin cites at the beginning of the review an anecdote Wilson relates about the time when he was trying to be a good father and also struggling with depression, overwork, and drinking too much. Wilson began referring to himself as “Crazy Dad” instead of “Super Dad.” Once he let go of the “Super Dad” ideal of being conscientious, responsible, and square, he discovered other fascinating possibilities for inspiring fatherhood within his reach. He was able to play to his strengths and saw improvement not only in his role as a father, but in other aspects of his life as well.

That reminded me of a time two years ago when I was going through a bad spell as a parent and in every other way. I found out one day that a mother at my daughter’s school wouldn’t let her daughter come to play at our house because this woman didn’t think I controlled my children. She was right. I have never seen the need to control my children. They appear to thrive, in fact, without my meddling. Even so, this woman called me an “irresponsible mother” and that hurt. There is nothing like someone criticizing your parenting skills to fill you with self doubt. Though I didn’t worry too much about what this lady thought of me, I wondered if maybe I was irresponsible and if my children needed more from me. I asked my 11-year-old daughter, “Do you think I’m an irresponsible mother?” She thought for a moment and replied, “You’re… an interesting mother.”

With these words, it was as if my daughter suddenly turned up my resolution. I wasn’t like her friend’s mothers. I wore stiletto heels and sometimes came home at 5 am. I had crazy friends. I ate and slept at odd hours. I danced in the kitchen alone or with my children and made them laugh until they cried. I had boy trouble. I was even invited by my daughter’s friends to slumber parties. I was interesting.

The fact that she didn’t outright deny that I was irresponsible did give me pause and I realized I needed to tighten up the ship a bit. However, she taught me that you don’t have to buy into a certain standard or ideal way of being in any given role. And that not only are there different ways of being a good mother, for example, there are different points of view on the same mother. Seeing myself as the “Interesting Mom” opened me up to “enjoying a more zany, capricious, playful, capacious, love-charged, creative existence,” as it did Wilson.

So all of this is great. What confuses me comes next in Milton’s review. He talks about how we “act our way through life” and that we are different people in different contexts. I’m different with my children than I am with my friends, than I am in my job, with strangers, with my sister… And then he says:

But there is an undeniable tension between that observation and the nagging feeling we all share that behind those masks there is a “real me,” a “genuine self,” some kind of master narrator who stands behind, informs, controls and even unifies these other selves. After all, if I am not one self but many selves, can I ever tell the truth about myself? […] That sounds like a threat to all kinds of things we hold dear. Self-knowledge, telling the truth about how we feel, sharing frightening aspects of ourselves with loved ones, developing intimacy, cultivating a coherent, reliable personhood: These virtues seem to be threatened by the idea that we are merely playing the game of being a person.

I know that this is a thing and that philosophers have been agonizing about it forever. One reason I love Montaigne is the absolute glee he takes in contradicting himself within the same essay. I love it because I identify with it and so do most people. People are infinitely complex and full of contradictions. The more people insist on defining themselves a certain way, the less I trust them, and the more I think they are repressing the part of themselves that is not “that way.” Shouldn’t self-knowledge, truth, and authenticity take our complexity into account?

For example, as far as developing intimacy goes, the closer you get to someone, the more a certain part of you wants to get the hell outta there. I love the Civil War’s “Poison & Wine” lyrics for this truth about all romantic relationships:

You only know what I want you to
I know everything you don’t want me to
Oh your mouth is poison, your mouth is wine
You think your dreams are the same as mine
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
I always will

I wish you’d hold me when I turn my back
The less I give the more I get back
Oh your hands can heal, your hands can bruise
I don’t have a choice but I’d still choose 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.

new moon elegance

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What it is that brings you the deepest joy? What motivates and inspires you? What gives you a sense of rightness and satisfaction? What is essential?

The answers to these questions inevitably indicate something about your values. Your values reflect what you most care about. Your values are not your morals, ethics, or principles, though it could be that you have a value of acting ethically, for example. Living a life in accordance with your values is what brings you fulfillment in life. It may not always feel pleasurable or make you constantly happy like popping a pill, but living your values gives you satisfaction, meaning, and joy.

Yesterday I wrote about my Lady is a Tramp value, which is largely about freedom. The freedom from other people’s expectations and the freedom to fully enjoy life on my own terms without being cool, apologizing, or conforming. When I think of the words “Lady is a Tramp,” all of that immediately comes to mind, but I also feel it in my body, deep inside. In this way I’ve made this little cluster of values tangible. It has much more power and impact than if I just think of the words “freedom” or “unconventionality,” etc.

A leader in my coaching class told us that he calls one of his values the “elegance of the new moon.” For him the image of the new moon represents a certain kind of under-appreciated beauty. Everyone admires the full moon, but no one talks about the new moon with its barely-there sliver of light, promising and hopeful. That really struck me, and I realized that I share that same value. Or at least, the image of the new moon evokes values for me, too. A kind of over-looked beauty that has its quiet, minimalist elegance. A beauty of fresh beginnings that come on gradually and require a careful attention and patience to fully appreciate. Simplicity. “New moon” says all of that to me.

Here are two more of my embodied values:

I value luxury, but not the luxury of a sleek, expensive car or a designer-made dress. I value the luxury of slipping newly-shaven legs between freshly-washed, line-dried sheets. I value the luxury of sitting on my terrace with a book and an herbal tea. A homemade hair mask of honey, egg, and argan oil. A bud vase with a few wild flowers. These several-times-per-day moments of quiet connection with beauty and my senses make life meaningful and lovely.

I value forget-lunch passion. Yesterday I was so wrapped up in my writing that by 3:30 I still hadn’t had lunch. When I’m so interested in what I’m doing that I forget to eat, it must be passion because I love to eat! While exploring my values in coaching class, a fellow student told me, “I can see that passion is the motor of your life.” Passion touches everything that I most care about. I can see it in my relationships when I stay up all night talking with friends. I see it in my appreciation for music and dance. I feel it when I visit museums.

Why does it matter what your values are? Why even think about it? Why not just live your life and let things flow? Just as there are people born with perfect pitch, I’m sure there are people who are born with the ability to live a life in constant and perfect accordance with their values without even thinking of it. However, most of us have to practice to become good at living our values. And in a world where the media constantly bombards us with its values, many of us don’t have our own values clearly defined.

How do you determine what your values are? With the examples I’ve given, I’m sure you’ve already come up with a few of your own. If you dare, ask your friends or family members: What would you say my values are? This exercise could provide useful information about what your values really are, but also ways that you may be acting or spending your time that don’t reflect your true values. Someone could tell you that you seem to value being traditional and conformist, for example, and you are surprised because that’s not at all the idea you have of yourself.

One way to determine your values is to ask yourself what annoys the hell out of you. What is it that just bugs you so bad? What makes you indignant? When I asked myself this, I immediately thought of the lunch program at my children’s school. Buying the school lunch is compulsory. Students are NOT ALLOWED to take their own lunch or go home for lunch. The reason given for this is that the school wants to ensure that the children are getting proper nutrition for their long day of learning. The problem is, the school lunch is dreadful. It’s not made on site. It’s brought in by a catering service and reheated, so the texture is unappealing. My kids will barely touch it, so when they get home from school they are ravenous. We pay A LOT for this stupid school lunch they won’t even eat. The campus and buildings for this school are probably the most expensive and technically cutting-edge in the region, so I was confused as to why they couldn’t provide a proper cafeteria. I found out that the owner of the catering service is the school director’s cousin. Ok, now it all makes sense and it makes me SO FRIGGING MAD. I could not be more indignant, and the covering up of this nepotism with the enraging lie that they are forcing me to pay for this nasty lunch FOR MY CHILDREN’S NUTRITIONAL GOOD… I can not even.

Now I am hopping mad. What values of mine are being offended here? Tell me in the comments. And what are your values? I’m curious!

how to be a tramp and other words to live by

ba819960237b1bc74cedb0644c6d2bd9.850x521x1Isn’t that a great title for a book? I’m making note of it.

I’ve had a few private messages from readers asking more about the Life as a Tramp post from a few days ago, so I’m happy to write more about it. Being a tramp is something I’m passionate about.

First, let’s look again at the Frank Sinatra lyrics that inspired the post.

She gets too hungry for dinner at eight
She likes the theatre and never comes late
She never bothers with people she’d hate
That’s why the lady is a tramp

Doesn’t like crap games with barons or earls
Won’t go to Harlem in ermine and pearls
Won’t dish the dirt with the rest of the girls
That’s why the lady is a tramp

She likes the free fresh wind in her hair,
Life without care
She’s broke and it’s oke
Hates California, it’s cold and it’s damp
That’s why the lady is a tramp

This is such a fun song! I love it. The lady in question is labeled a “tramp” by the popular women of her social tier because she’s unconventional and doesn’t give a rat’s tush what they think of her. This song really resonates with me personally because of an experience I had a few years ago. I was newly separated and looking for new friends. There was this group of women who were initially friendly to me and they seemed cool. Attractive, smart, funny, talented. However, not long after I met them they started giving me the cold shoulder and then I heard from other people that they were gossiping about me. In fact, they were calling me a tramp! I was shocked because I was one of the least trampy people I knew. I asked a friend what to do about it, and he said: “Nothing. Forget about them. They were only friendly with you so that they could probe your weaknesses and bring you down a peg. Your way of being makes them feel threatened.”

With a bit of time I came to see that it was actually a compliment that these accomplished women felt threatened by me. It made me start to wonder if I was maybe cooler than I thought I was! I don’t especially care about being cool, but what I learned from this experience was that I do care about being free to express myself as I am and do what I want to do when I want to do it, just like the lady in the song. I care much more about that than I do friendship and acceptance, and I’ve always been that way.

However, earlier in my life being accepted and liked were more important to me than they are now, so I often felt that my values were in conflict. I would always do my thing, but then when people didn’t like it, I felt bad. The difference now is that I care less what others think, so I live more peacefully. I’m not as likely to put on the veneer of niceness out of fear of someone not liking me. That’s not to say I can’t pull out that card and play it when I want to. I can make polite conversation with people I don’t especially like or have much in common with if I want to. I can conform to norms in certain situations when I deem it ultimately beneficial in serving a specific goal or my life purpose. Maybe for convenience’s sake I want some government official to like me for five minutes, so I’m nice. Etc.

When I want to remind myself that I value being unconventional me, free to do what I want when I want and how I want, free to say what comes to mind, free to let myself shine, I think: This lady is a tramp. Those words are a trigger that instantly focuses me and connects me deeply to all that the song means as well as my past experience, what I want in the moment and moving forward with my life… There is a lot of power in naming your values and making them tangible. I look forward to writing more about that soon!

In the mean time, here are five ways to be a tramp, if you are so inclined:

1. Wear yourself some bold, red lipstick.

2. Take your sweet time. Yesterday I was crossing the street when a car came along too fast. The driver stopped abruptly, honked at me, and gestured rudely. I tossed my hair and smiled winningly at the man. I even waved and tilted my head at him as if he’d just told me I was the most beautiful thing he’d seen all day.

3. Don’t apologize for having your period or for being cranky about it, either.

4. Enjoy your dessert. In fact, enjoy every damn mouthful of whatever you decide to eat. If you’re going to eat it, enjoy it! Don’t beat yourself up about it after. Savor it. Guilt is not going to help you lose weight, ever. Making the conscious choice to thoroughly enjoy your food is the first step to getting yourself into a slender mentality.

5. If there is something you want to say, speak up. Put it out there. Say it with the absolute conviction that you have a right to say it. If you are expressing a doubt or a question, feel entitled to ask and unembarrassed by not knowing. Good grief, if you are asking that means you are trying to remedy your ignorance, a most admirable action! Speak in a voice that is sufficiently loud and clear.

I wish you happy tramping!