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Your hand opens and closes, and opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
you would be paralyzed.
Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding,
the two as beautifully balanced
as birds’ wings.
If I pause long enough to feel the rhythm of the ocean, I can feel it pulsing through me. My heart beating with the flow.
Like the rise and fall of my breath, I can let myself open to the experience of others. With empathy I can recognize and acknowledge their emotions. Mirror neurons allow us to sense the feelings of someone else.
Because emotions motivate behavior, the feelings leads to an urge to act. If there is pain, I want to help. I want to alleviate the suffering.
That’s compassion. Recognizing the suffering and wanting to help.
But Rumi’s right. If I stay open, I’ll get stuck, feel paralyzed. I may feel like I”m drowning in other people’s pain. That does not help anyone.
I need to close again. I need to step back, reclaim my own energy for myself.
I have to learn over and over again how to do that. How to separate and make sure I’m filling my own bucket, wearing my own oxygen mask.
And I have to remember to do that over and over. Even if I only remember when I’m already a bit overwhelmed, that’s ok. But over and over and over, opening and closing.
I’m starting 2022 with some new ideas on how to do this. Because I have a steady stream of clients, I need to practice this opening and closing over and over. I have some new strategies I’m trying, and I’ll share those in another blog post.
For now, I’d love to know what you’re doing. What strategies or techniques do you use to open and close?
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My life has been exploding with change, and I have fallen farther and farther behind in talking about the changes. But I’ve been busy. And a bit scattered.
For some reason, I thought that once I became a coach there would be a clear path to follow. I envisioned defining my niche, identifying my ideal client, creating funnels and following marketing plans. It was a pretty straight path to success. An uphill path, sure, but one that just required staying on track to reach the goal.
Of course, I didn’t count on the pandemic. I didn’t count on the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, or the protests, particularly in Louisville, where I could watch unlimited hours of live-stream. I didn’t count on grandkids home from school ALL the time. And I would like to blame my fallling off the beaten path on all those things.
But the fact of the matter is that I’m just not good at staying on track. I don’t do well with goals, I don’t follow timelines, I don’t check off objectives.
It’s not that I don’t have goals. I (usually) do. Often, I have timelines and even objectives. I love to plan. But then my actual path looks like this – a tangle of paths doubling back on each other and going sideways.
Most of the time, that’s ok. Most of the time, I’m pretty sure that I’m going to get where I’m going sooner or later, and count on having some side trips along the way.
It has felt like a long journey this time. As if making a life transition were a big deal. An odyssey of sorts, requiring patience, energy and lots of perseverance. I kept plugging along, you know, wandering in the woods, over hills and through creeks and such, with an occasional walk on the beach.
I felt like I’d been wandering forever.
Not that I wasn’t having a good time – at least some of the time. I was. I met amazing people, forged friendships, and worked with terrific clients.
I learned soooo much. Lots of informal, along-the-way learning, of course, but also formal learning, the kind that comes with certificates. I hardly ever turn down an opportunity to gain skills or learn new approaches and the last few months have been packed with opportunity.
I’ll have more to say about what I learned in future posts, but I want to share a glance at the headlines of what I’ve been doing. I’ve posted videos at the end of this post that will give you a bit more information, but here’s a quick look.
I was doing all three of those courses in October. With over 20 hours of classroom time and assignments some weeks, I felt like a full-time student. I loved it.
And I was super busy.
But I finished Mindful Self Compassion at the end of October. I got my certificate for the work in Cognitive Behavioral Coaching with Lyra in mid-November, and Conscious Business Coaching ended yesterday.
Yesterday, I looked around my life and realized that I felt good. My life has the flow I’ve been missing, the flow that I’ve been striving to find.
There’s a picture I often use as my cover photo. You may have seen it. It’s one I took on Zicatela Beach in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, which is where my daughter used to live. The waves there are wild. Surfer waves, much higher than I could swim in. But there’s a rock. In my mind, that rock is “Fausta’s Place to Ponder.” It sits just beyond the water, not so far removed that I can’t see the waves, feel them crashing all around me. I see myself in that space of my own, perched securely right in the middle of it.
Suddenly, I feel like I am where I belong, doing what I need to be doing.
Last week, I had a tough week. Now, let me give you some background. I live with my significant other, Dennis, who goes by Dee, my adult daughter, and my two grandchildren., who are 8 and 5 years old We are fortunate to share a house with enough room for all of us and, even now, when we’re all at home all the time, we can be pretty comfortable. But last week was tough.
On Monday, my daughter’s work schedule changed. Changed for the foreseeable future. And will keep changing for a while. We had worked out a pretty good routine so that she could work, I could work, and the kids were taken care of. “Dee” is retired, and he spends a lot of time with the kids, thank goodness. But suddenly, our system was thrown into a state of upheaval and no one knew what we were doing when or what to expect tomorrow.
On Tuesday, I spent hours finishing my taxes. Having my own business, I knew I would owe money. I did not know it would be “that” much money. But that’s ok.
On Wednesday, I got a couple of bills that were more than I expected. And we were still dealing with figuring out new schedules and systems, the kids were out of whack, and we were too. There was more stuff in the house that needed attention. Seemed like everything was demanding my time.
On Thursday, I faced the reality that the kids are not going back to school in person . Not now, probably not for a long time. No, I don’t think it’s safe for them to go back, we probably wouldn’t send them if we could. So in a way it’s a relief to know. But at the same time, the prospect of who-knows-how-long with them home all the time and the on-going support they’re going to need for school to be good seemed overwhelming. I mean, how do you even do kindergarten on line?
So all of that was just weighing on me. But the worst part of it was that even when I had time to spend on my own work, I couldn’t get in the right frame of mind to actually do anything. Yes, I could see clients – when I have a client scheduled, that time is sacred – the door to my “office” is closed and even the kids know to leave me alone. But other work? Blog posts? Making some changes on my website? No. Not even planning – I’d sit down and try to get started but my mind was going in one hundred other directions.
Some of the time, I was thinking, “How am I going to do this? I can’t work like this. Omg, I’ll never be able to build my business the way I want to. I’m going to spend the rest of my life watching kids and doing house stuff and, sigh, nothing will ever get better. I can’t do this!. I just can’t!” I felt trapped, and alone and generally miserable.
But Thursday evening, I got a message from someone I know just well enough to respect them and their work. They wanted to schedule a consult with me to talk about some work I’m doing. And y’all. Suddenly, my world opened up again. Just the fact that they’d reached out to me, and I had the prospect of an interesting, new conversation was enough to shift everything. Like a kaleidoscope. Just one little twist and it’s as if my life had a whole new perspective.
In that moment, with a big AHA, I suddenly remembered that things change. I had forgotten that. For almost a week, I truly felt like things would be the same forever – and THAT is not true. We have no idea what’s going to happen next. Suddenly, I was back to my more usual self, where I can embrace uncertainty on some level and take comfort in the idea that change will happen.
When I look back on it, I have to laugh. As miserable as I was, I didn’t do any of the things that I might tell someone else to do to feel better. I didn’t talk to anyone about how I felt, didn’t challenge my thoughts, I didn’t exercise more, my sleep patterns were messed up, I didn’t journal, basically I did nothing but wallow in my own misery. I was lucky that it didn’t take a whole lot to snatch me back out of that mess. And it was a great reminder for me of what it feels like to “be in the stew.” That’s always how I think of it, when I’m sinking in that sort of soggy, yucky feeling – like treading water, but worse, and just barely hanging in there.
When I do manage to climb back out of it, it’s like a new world. For me, it’s like having a big rock to stand on. The stew is still there, nothing’s changed, but I have a place to stand. I can look at it from here, rather than being directly in the middle of it, about to get pulled under. I have perspective and room to breathe.
Note: I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, to use as the basis for my first “Ten Minute Break” FaceBook Live video. When it was time to do the video, I discovered that I had a technical issue and had to switch to my iPad and couldn’t access my notes at all. So the camera is at a terrible angle, and I had to wing it, which I’m not too bad at, but it threw me off track a bit, and then… well, I won’t go into the rest of it. It was a great exercise in non-perfectionism.
In the future, I’ll be posting the video and the blog post together, but if you want to watch this one, I’ll invite you to visit me on FB here. The story starts at about the 7:20 mark because I do a brief mindfulness practice first. Join me on Wednesdays at noon if you want to catch the new ones live.
A wise friend posted this quote today.
I am of a mind to leave my anxious self sleeping in the summer heat, sitting in a rocking chair on the porch of my life, while I creep down the steps, my younger spirit ready to play, unburdened by the what if’s and why not’s, running out into the wide yard of hope, running in the joy of freedom, chasing the light across the lawn. Come join me. Let your older worries doze in the shade, they will still be there when you return, and stretch your spirit out to the full length of its innocence, the new creation you were meant to be, the child of a brighter day to come.
~ Bishop Steven Charleston, Choctow
I thought about it on my early morning drive to the beach. The beach is my place to reconnect with myself, where I can “stretch out my spirit…” I didn’t go for almost 4 months, early March til late June, and I missed it dreadfully.
This is my second venture back. I’m out of the house and on my way before seven, so I’m confident there will only be a few people scattered around the beach.
Mostly, I go to the beach so I can walk, ankle deep in water, letting the bigger waves wash up over my legs. It doesn’t matter if I get wet, the sun will dry me out quickly enough.
I’ve talked before about why I call my business “Fausta’s Place to Ponder.” It’s my reminder that we all need that space to be able to take a step back and reconnect with ourselves. It’s hard to remember that when we’re surrounded by trauma, our own or other people’s. It feels like we have to be there to help, to manage, to take care of everyone and everything.
The truth is if you can’t take a step back and reconnect with yourself, you can’t help anyone, not in the long run. We all need our own “Place to Ponder.”
My favorite place is the beach, that’s what calls to my spirit, but yours may not be the beach at all. My friend, Monika, makes space for herself with adult coloring, especially mandalas. She makes some incredibly beautiful ones.
Adult Coloring by Ms. Monika
Is it an actual place or an activity? Is it a person you can be around who helps you find that sense of who you are? How do you carve out that space for yourself?
I work with people who are nearly overwhelmed with the suffering around them, people who are trying to make the world a better place, but feel like they’re drowning in other people’s pain. I help them reconnect with themselves and find ways to get the support they need to keep doing the work they love. If that sounds like you, email me: Fausta@faustasplacetoponder.com and let’s see how I can help.
What do you think – what comes to mind – when I say “mindful self-compassion?” Maybe, like me, you picture someone on a mountaintop in the lotus position, their arms wrapped around themselves, smiling, blissfully peaceful. Even though I know better, that’s what comes to mind.
We tend to think of self compassion as soothing, nurturing, calming oneself, and feeling better. But that’s only part of the story. Dr. Kristen Neff, originator of Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC), talks about the Yin and the Yang of MSC. The yin involves being with ourselves. That part is comforting, soothing and validating. It’s the part we are most familiar with, even if we’re not very good at it.
The yang of MSC focuses on acting in the world. Protecting, providing, and motivating. It is a long way from our vision of the blissfully peaceful person on the mountaintop.
Let’s look at Sara’s story.* Sara came to coaching because she “just didn’t feel motivated” to do some of the things she thought she should do. Like the dishes. She said, “I know I need to do them, but then I just don’t. I’ll be running late to go to work in the morning, then I come home and I’m hungry so I fix dinner for my daughter and me. By the time we get through eating and I get her ready for bed, I’m exhausted. So I’ll lie on the couch and watch Netflix when I know I ought to get up and do the dishes.”
When that happened, she would get upset with herself. She’d think:
Sara knew those things weren’t rationally true, but it felt like her inner critic was waiting, ready to pounce to tell her how inadequate she was. It felt like she was attacking herself from the inside.
After she’d felt bad for a while, she’d try to add self-compassion. “It’s ok,” she’d reassure herself. “You’re not lazy, and your life isn’t a complete mess.” To distract herself from all the mean things she’d been saying to herself and feel better, she might watch five more episodes of her current favorite show, eat a bowl of ice cream, drink a glass of wine, or talk to her best friend.
She’d promise herself to do better. “I’ll do them first thing tomorrow,” she’d think. “I’m tired. It’s not a big deal. They can wait.” And she would feel ok again.
But the next day, the whole process would start over.
Sara would eventually do the dishes. She’d feel wonderful then, after she finished, and she’d realize, “Oh, that wasn’t so bad, I’ll do them right away from now on.” But then she’d be tired and wouldn’t feel like it… and the cycle would start over. Not motivated > > Don’t Act > > Feel Bad/ Attack Self > > Soothe Self/ Distract > > Resolve to Do It Soon > > Feel better…
Of course, when you’re caught in that cycle, nothing changes. Sara was going round and round, wondering why she wasn’t making any progress. She thought she was being self-compassionate when she soothed and distracted herself, but was she?
What was her goal? Did she want to feel better about the dirty dishes or get the dishes done?
Sara realized that she actually felt better when the dishes were clean. She realized:
If I like having clean dishes, it is an act of kindness and self care to do them. Doing the dishes is a way I can express self-compassion.
It took Sara a minute to absorb that idea. But then she thought:
So why isn’t Sara already doing it? If she likes having the dishes done – what keeps her from doing it? Investigating this question, with kindness and curiosity, is at the heart of the next step.
Sara realized that part of her reluctance to do the dishes was connected to old battles with her ex-husband over housework. Her firmly held beliefs that “We should share housework,” and “I shouldn’t be the only way doing dishes,” made sense at the time. And part of her was still fighting that battle. Of course, her ex-husband was gone, so she was fighting with the part of herself that actually wanted to do the dishes.
When Sara realized she could let go of that conflict, she began to look at what she needed. Applying the yang of mindful self-compassion, she asked herself:
With coaching, Sara found her answers to those question. She decided that she needed to protect some energy to put into this task. She also wanted to provide herself with tools for time management. She was able to problem-solve, and developed a realistic plan to keep herself out of the cycle she had been stuck in. She quit fighting with herself and was able to get the dishes done.
I read what I’ve written here and think, “Wait a minute. How is that different from any other way of accomplishing one’s goals? You identify the barriers to doing it, figure out how to overcome them, and then just do it, right?”
But this approach is different because it changes your relationship with yourself in the process. It’s not just about getting the dishes done. It’s learning to tame your inner critic. It’s learning to befriend yourself so that you can provide what you need for yourself.