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Braving the Wilderness - Personal lessons

True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.

 

Gosh, I love Brené Brown – like BIG love. This woman to me speaks truth. Period. For those of you who haven’t read any of her work yet, go grab yourself a book – any of her books. For me, they always feel like home, which is an interesting statement as her latest book Braving the Wilderness is all about belonging. A topic close to my heart for many reasons, have a read of my last post on belonging here.

Brené’s new book Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone is as the title suggests all about the desire that we all feel to belong to something that is bigger than just ourselves. The main message of the book is really this:

True belonging is found within yourself – not in any other place. It’s exactly the things that you do to try and belong that will, in fact, keep you from finding true refuge.

The book opens with this quote from Maya Angelou:

“You are only free when you realise you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great. “

Ultimately, this beautiful book is all about encouraging you to be true to yourself and to speak up – and allow others to do the same. Brené emphasises there is a shared humanity and spirituality that brings us all together despite our differences, and offers us a pathway into how we can truly engage with each other from a place of trust.

There is so much wisdom and insight in this book that I almost feel that whatever I write will not do it justice – and frankly, it won’t. It is one of those books to be read and then reread again – and I encourage you to do so. Here are some of my main take-aways from the book that I thought were particularly helpful.

Brené makes a clear distinction between belonging and fitting in:

“Belonging is being accepted for you. Fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else. If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in.

If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in.”

What she’s saying here is that it is precisely the behaviour that we engage in to try and belong – fitting in – that takes us away from finding true belonging as we mould ourselves to be who we believe we need to be. Therefore hiding our true selves and essentially saying to ourselves: this part can be seen, but this part must be hidden from others. It is only when we can come to accept all of who we are that we can find belonging.

When we can come to accept all of who we are and be courageous in standing up for what we believe in that we find belonging. When we allow ourselves to be truly seen, it is only then that we can find real acceptance and belonging. And the funny thing is that we actually need to find this in ourselves first and foremost rather than looking for it with others.

In order for us to feel safe to do so, we must then work on a culture of trust as essentially we ask:

Is it safe to show who I truly am here? 

In many ways, Brené’s book is really a call to action to create a world that is emotionally safer for us all. She points to the spiritual crisis that the current state of the world is in, where division between groups and people is running strife. We have lost our sense of common humanity, finding it easier to separate ourselves from others in a bid to find belonging with the group that we have chosen to identify ourselves with. It’s us versus them. Yet it is precisely this behaviour that separates us even more from each other.

She offers up the acronym BRAVING as a way of creating trust – both with ourselves and with others:

Boundaries: I maintain my own boundaries and I respect yours.

Reliability: I do what I say – always.

Accountability: I take responsibility for whatever I say and do.

Vault: I keep confidential what you tell me.

Integrity: I stay true to myself and I choose courage over comfort.

Non-judgement: I don’t judge myself and others about asking for help.

Generosity: I am generous in my interpretations about your actions. Intentions and words.

For those of you interested in learning more about this, have a look at her talk on The Anatomy of Trust . Highly recommended!

She continues to outline 4 ways that we can reclaim human connection and rekindle the spiritual connection that exists between us all. I’ve briefly highlighted some of the personal lessons that I took from these:

  1. People are hard to hate close up. Move in.
  • Only base your judgements of people on your own experience.
  • Have the courage to be vulnerable and express your pain rather than lashing out.
  • Truly engage with others and listen to their perspective – especially when you’re in conflict with each other.
  1. Speak Truth to Bullshit. Be civil.
  • Don’t just say something when you don’t know. Have the courage to say “I don’t know”.
  • Stop thinking in “you’re either with me or against me” paradigms.
  • Be inclusive in your language.
  1. Hold Hands. With strangers
  • Show up for collective moments of joy and pain. Think concerts, think funerals, think World Cup games.
  1. Strong back. Soft Front. Wild Heart.
  • Hold strong to who you are, yet be open and vulnerable to others.

For those of you who have ever struggled with finding a sense of belonging, I can only give you my highest recommendations for this book. My personal experience has also been that ultimately we can only find that sense of home within ourselves, continuously tuning into ourselves and navigating life on our own compass. There is an immeasurable strength and confidence that comes from making this journey within. It requires us to show up with authenticity, courage and vulnerability. As Maya Angelou said, the price is high yet the reward is great. I will leave you with perhaps one of my favourite quotes from the book:

“Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don’t belong. You will always find it because you’ve made that your mission. Stop scouring people’s faces for evidence that you’re not enough. You will always find it because you’ve made that your goal. True belonging and self-worth are not goods; we don’t negotiate their value with the world. The truth about who we are lives in our hearts. Our call to courage is to protect our wild heart against constant evaluation, especially your own. No one belongs here more than you.“

A Sense of Belonging - Cultivating home within

It took me by surprise the literal ache that I felt in my chest. The need for belonging: the ache that was lodged in my chest, that shouted, you are alone. No one sees you. No one hears you. Your life is insignificant. I wanted to share my pain, but I couldn’t find the way. It felt like there was a wall between myself and the rest of the world. I could see it, I could touch it, but I couldn’t move beyond the wall that separated me from them.

The Need to Belong

We don’t talk about it often do we? This need to belong, to be part of something that is bigger than just us. The need to be seen. The need to be recognized.

Belonging – it’s an innate need we have closely linked to our survival. Back in the day when we were still cavemen and women, we needed to be part of the tribe, otherwise, our chances for survival were slim. While we no longer have to watch for sabre tooth tigers and other predators (luckily for most of us), our desire and need to belong, to be part of something, to be part of an “us” still dominates our way of thinking and being.

It was the same feeling that I had so often come to know as a child growing up. Why did I look different from anyone else? Why wasn’t there anyone in my family who looked just like me? As an only child from a mixed race background, I grew up very dominantly white areas and I always looked like the odd one out on both sides of my family. Why couldn’t anyone look just like me? I truly longed to have a sibling who would just be like me (never mind my romanticized ideas about siblings and family). Birthdays and Christmases were spent asking my parents for a brother or sister, yet unfortunately, it was never to be.

I compensated my lack of a feeling of belonging by trying to fit in, achieve and be perfect. I even went as far as choosing to study in the UK to see whether I could fit in there (I was born in the UK and for some reason, I thought this could be ‘home’ as well. Never mind that my British citizenship was purely a formal matter…). I chose to study Japanese (surprise!) and went on to spend my second year of university in Tokyo, again boarding the plane with the desire to find myself there.

While I really enjoyed my time in Japan, it was also a painful and confronting experience of realizing this was not my home either. While things are improving in Japan, it is still far removed from being a multi-cultural society and I had quite a few experiences where I very much felt the outsider. Hafu, the Japanese term for people of mixed Japanese origin, literally means half. While I don’t mind the term, it confirmed the feeling that I had within, that I was part this, part that, not really part of anything completely.

While I take pride now in my mixed background and very much consider myself a citizen of the world, this took a long time. There’s still that ache within sometimes that just wants to fit in and belong. To not be asked where I’m from, to not have to explain why I look the way I do, to explain again that “no, I’m not Chinese, Indonesian, Vietnamese or Siberian for that matter (and I’m not kidding on that last one…).

There are so many of us who miss this sense of belonging. More and more of us live outside of our home countries. Multi-cultural relationships are increasing each day. A feeling of separation isn’t just limited to race and ethnicity, we can each feel our separateness from others in so many different ways. It’s been eye-opening to speak to people who have been adopted, friends who come from different social backgrounds, others who have been the victims of bullying, members of the LGBTQ community that in so many places around the world still need to hide their sexuality, women who feel a sense of separation because their bodies do not fit the social image of what is considered beautiful. The list is endless.

In the end, human beings have so many crafty ideas on how to separate us from them. It’s a dangerous practice this continuous boxing in of people, us versus them, you versus me. The invisible walls that are being built up, hiding our shared humanity from each other. Yet funnily enough, we all want the same: love and belonging. Paradoxically, it is those very desires and needs that make us separate ourselves from others. As if the separation from one, will act as the glue that holds together the other.

So how do we even begin to move through this sense of separation?

 

• Treat yourself with kindness and compassion. I’ve literally gone through times where I’ve had to write up a list of things I could do for myself to soothe the soul. It’s as basic as lighting incense, taking a bath, putting on calming music, curling up on the sofa with a book. I was reminded by someone the other day that books often provide a gateway to belonging as we find companionship in its pages. The more I can love myself, the more I can truly love someone else, continuously adding more glue to the social fabric of this planet.

• Reach out to someone close to you. The biggest antidote to a sense of separation is finding companionship. This can be tough as we are often unwilling to show this vulnerable side of ourselves. Yet is often exactly what we need to do. This doesn’t mean that you have to share your feelings with everyone around you, but find that friend that you can open up to. Vulnerability truly creates intimacy like nothing else.

• Realise that we are all humans. Each one of us with many of shared feelings and experiences. It’s so easy to separate yourself from others, thinking that you must be the only who feels this way. You’re not. You are not the first person and you will not be the last. The truth is that we often have no idea what someone might have been through. I still find myself surprised when I speak to clients and they share some of their life stories with me. We never know what is being kept hidden inside. Sometimes it can help to seek out like-minded spirits. While I don’t necessarily contribute directly to the interactions, I very much enjoy being part of a Hafu Facebook Group.

• Stand by someone else. Truly take the time to listen and care for someone else. The greatest gift we can often give someone else is our time, love and attention. If you notice someone who is being left out, speak up and include them. Give the gift of care.

• Develop more courage to stand alone. I’ve pondered the question of belonging for a long time until I eventually came to realise: I belong to me. I belong everywhere and nowhere. Ultimately there is only one of me as there is only one of you. Some journeys we can and will only ever make alone – and that is how it should be. Try to let go of the need to be liked. It is an impossible task anyway and don’t you want your life to stand for something?

• Say yes to yourself. Each time we choose others over ourselves, trying to fit in, what we essentially say to ourselves is: no, you do not belong. No, you are not worthy. No, you are not loved. So I ask you, to say yes.

Yes, I belong.
Yes, I am enough.
Yes, I am loved.
Yes, I am love.

This has always been the truth of who you are. How could it be anything else?

This journey more than anything else begins with the journey to the self, thereby creating a sense of belonging within yourself. Unveiling layer by layer who you truly are at heart, what matters to you most, how you want to live your life – and ultimately putting that into action, creating step by step a life that is yours.


If you’d like to read a little more on my personal journey of belonging, please visit: https://naomisaelens.com/about-me/

Photo by: Greg Rakozy

Reclaiming Confidence - A personal journey

It’s been a couple of big weeks for me as I’ve been working on a topic that is very close to my heart: confidence. It’s so meaningful to me because in so many ways my journey has been one of finding my way back to confidence and truly gaining a deeper understanding of what it is and how to reclaim it for yourself. I’ve shared a lot about this in my presentation and workshop at The Practice earlier this month. The article below is an attempt to share part of my own story for those of you who were unable to join in the hopes that it will serve you.

It’s been such an interesting experience sharing my own learning from a path that in some ways still feels vulnerable to me. There is a voice within that says, who are you to do this? To share what you have learned as if you know it all. And the honest truth is, I don’t. I can only share with you what I have learned so far throughout the years of falling and getting back up again with the hope that it will bring you something. I have no doubt that the learning continues each and every day. In no way is what I share with you the only way to go, it has been my way and if it is of use to you, then so much the better.


 

The words I remember were ‘you are not doing a good job, I’m not happy with your performance’ – or something of the sorts. Actually, let me not give you a polished version. What I heard was –

You are crap. Your work is shit.

Honestly, I don’t actually have any recollection anymore about what was precisely said. All I remember is walking away from the conversation feeling broken. I had been working so hard, the words cut into me like a knife. This had never been said to me before. I had always been known as a professional, a hard worker, intelligent.

Pieces of my identity coming off one by one, crumbling into a pile that somewhere was supposed to resemble me.

It was the one thing that I had been most fearful of my entire life – not being good enough – and it was the only thing I heard. I literally fell apart. It seems so strange now to write this and to realize how vulnerable I was. How vulnerable it still feels to put this onto the imaginary paper of my screen for you to read.

But the reality was that I was very open to hearing those words. I had spent most of my life working so hard, trying to be everything to everyone, always wanting to be liked, always pushing myself, the never-ending quest to prove myself and be perfect. Mission impossible of course, but I certainly tried. I wasn’t all unsuccessful either. I graduated high school with good grades while attending intensive ballet training, I went to university in some of the world’s major cities: London and later on Tokyo – both ivy league of course (come on, what else would you expect from an overachiever?) and I graduated from my MA with distinction. I was lucky enough to visit a ton of beautiful places across the globe and after years of perseverance, I managed to get a job working in international development at a reputable organization – it was my dream. And until that day, I had been known to be the warm, kind, pleasant colleague who was smart, organized, got shit done and was good at her job.

Until those few words… and really, the details of what had happened do not matter. Neither does the question of whether it was true or not. (And I’ll be honest, there is still a part of me that wants to prove I was doing a great job, but that is not the point or purpose of this story.) What matters is that I learned some very painful but much-needed lessons during this time. I learned that my sense of self and my confidence were so vulnerable that I crumbled under the words spoken. Most of all, I learned:

If I don’t believe in myself, things can go very wrong.
If I don’t trust and listen to my own voice of intuition, things can go even worse.

I truly believe that there is meaning behind everything that we go through in our lives. I also believe that life is always trying to teach us something. If you don’t listen, it will create experiences for you to finally get the message.

I had been a young teenager when I suffered my first depression, the first in a range to follow over the years. Depression said to me: you are incapable of living. There is something intrinsically wrong with you, you’re a faulty model. On top of that, I am of mixed heritage, which meant that I wasn’t sure where I fit in. As an only child, I felt alone and missed a sense of belonging. It led to a pressure cooker of constant striving and trying to fit in. Forcing myself through life was almost a quest to say, I am able, I am capable, I am worthy, I belong. Yet the underlying current of not good enough stayed with me.

So life delivered what felt to me like an almighty punch in the gut. But it was what was needed to learn that enough was enough. The pushing, needing to be liked, wanting to be perfect. It was never enough. In actual fact, it could never be enough because I felt I wasn’t enough. The only reason that the words spoken to me that day had such an impact was that they echoed what I already believed myself. The fact that I fell so hard and didn’t stand up for myself only pointed to the wounds that needed to be healed.

This wasn’t a journey that just started on that day, nor did it end that day. It was just the kick up the arse that the universe provided for me. I didn’t see it as that at the time, but I’ve come to realise what a pivotal moment it was. It was the moment that I really learned how much I could hurt myself by not believing in myself.

I also learned that the people who loved me did so because of who I was not because of what I did. I had always already been enough. Even if, what I believed at the time, I had failed in a career that defined my identity. In essence, I fell flat on my face, it f-ing hurt, but the world didn’t collapse. And that was a beautiful realization.

The world keeps turning, life goes on and we have a choice to whether we allow ourselves to be defined by the events in our life or we pick up the courage again to continue.

So I chose to continue, yet this time on a different path. I chose the path of staying very close to who I am, listening to my own voice even if it was still shaky, and climbing back up again – legs like jelly and all. Most importantly, I finally had the courage to follow my dream, something I had already been working on for some time: to become a full-time coach and move to Bali. You see, as far as I was concerned, I didn’t have much to lose. The thing I had been most scared of had happened, and the world didn’t collapse even if I had temporarily. I felt I might as well take the leap and attempt what I had quietly been dreaming of anyway. I finally learned that my biggest failure would be to not try to achieve my dreams at all. To stay with a career that brought a level of security but, while meaningful, had not been entirely fulfilling to me. To really be alive meant experiencing life at its fullest, giving things my best shot – perhaps falling flat on my face again – but at least knowing that I had tried.

The biggest failure you can have in life is making the mistake of never trying at all.

And you know what? It turned out to be the best decision. While the past years have felt like a massive rollercoaster at times, I’ve never felt more fully alive, happier and on purpose as I have up to now. I feel called to this work. I’ve known it all along, I just didn’t have the courage and the confidence to listen. You see, it’s rather big to go for your calling, the stakes are high. Some would say it takes guts, but you see, there’s no choice – I don’t feel like I would want to do anything else.

This isn’t to say that the last years have been easy. We sometimes make the mistake thinking that to follow your heart and your purpose is easy. It’s not. There have been so many days that I’ve thought that I’ve lost the plot entirely. Who knows how this adventure might turn out, but whatever it is, at least I will know that I have tried and that I have lived. Fully alive, present, sometimes yelling and screaming, but always alive and learning more each and every day.

The path I have been on is one of reconnecting with and trusting the voice of intuition, of learning how to use the prowess of my mind in service of what I want to achieve and in managing the fear that inevitably comes up when we move out of our comfort zone to meet the world. Reclaiming our confidence is a profoundly personal journey for each one of us, and I believe it is deeply connected to meeting ourselves again with fresh eyes.

Who are we truly at heart? What matters to us most? What brings meaning to us? True confidence for me more than anything is making the journey back to our authentic selves.

You see, I believe we are all born as joyful, playful, confident children. Yet at some point, we lose some of this on the way to adulthood as we learn to hide those parts of ourselves that we deem unworthy of being seen (please also see “Why Confidence Matters”).

To reclaim confidence in your life can start small. It can sound and look shaky and feel awkward, to begin with. In fact, it usually does. It is the sprouting of a seed that is trying to make its way through the soil into the expansiveness of the air above. If we create the fertile ground for it to grow, and we water it with new thoughts and experiences, it can and will grow in each one of us. My personal journey has been around cultivating love and acceptance for myself and growing the seed of confidence within. Not the type of confidence that shouts loudly, but the type of confidence that says,

I know who I am and I know what I stand for
I know that I can trust myself
I know to seek my wisdom within rather than externally
I know my strengths and weaknesses
I know that I can learn so many things
I know that I have the ability to handle whatever comes my way
I know that I am supported
I know that I am capable of living fully alive and present to whatever this life has to offer

To all of you who might be doubting themselves, know that that seed of infinite confidence and potential resides within you too. While I am still learning every day and still struggle with self-doubt at times, I’m still amazed at how far I’ve come since that one day. I’ve had tremendous support along the way and I’m eternally grateful for that. I know that if I could do it with hard work, perseverance, love and support, you too can start moving beyond the limits that you impose on yourself. There are beautiful things you can create with your life. In fact, it would be a damn shame if you didn’t, isn’t that what you were here to do?

You see, I know this is not just my personal journey. I know it’s a journey for so many of us, and frankly, it upsets me to see how many amazing people hold themselves back because they don’t believe in themselves. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of not being enough – it comes up so often in coaching conversations or chats with friends. Just ask yourself this:

What have I stopped myself from doing because I didn’t have the confidence?

We allow fear to run the show, but if used wisely, fear can be your companion, a faithful partner in crime, showing you the way to immense growth and potential. So all I ask you to do now is to just believe in possibility.

Believe in the possibility that another way is possible and that you too can reclaim confidence.

 

Why Confidence Matters

It’s just a simple word.

Confidence – at its heart, the belief and trust that we have in our ability to achieve the things we set out to do.

If we don’t have enough confidence, we run the risk of not engaging fully in life. We hold ourselves back from doing the things we truly aspire to do. The new job that you might want. The date you might like to go on. The project you might like to start. The dream that you’ve secretly been sitting on. We might not even start if we feel defeated before we even start. What’s the point? You can’t even do it anyway.

But there is a point. The point is that you were put on this earth to be fully alive and present, to unearth the magical delights of life, to uncover your purpose and live it, and to share your gifts with the world. It’s not talent that determines your success, it’s your attitude and the belief in yourself that determines who ultimately succeeds. You are not only stopping yourself from experiencing all that life has to offer, you are withholding yourself from giving your greatest gifts.

We weren’t born this way you know. Sure, genetics might have a thing or two to do with it, but you weren’t born to live with the breaks on. We are born full of life and potential, joyful and confident – ready to take on the world, quietly or by storm. Our purpose in life I believe is ultimately about uncovering who we truly are and watering the seed of potential within us.

But for some of us, the story changes. Somewhere we might have been reprimanded, scolded for something we shouldn’t have done. Our parents wanting the best for us may have focused on continuously helping us improve, but somewhere instilling the message that we are not good enough.

We are hardwired for belonging, it’s probably one of the things we crave most. And in order to belong, we learn to accommodate others, slowly moulding ourselves to fit in, but also losing touch with who we truly are. And with that, we also lose the belief we have in ourselves, the belief that we are good enough just as we are and that we can set out into the world with the belief that we can be and do great things.

But you see, it’s so silly isn’t it. We believed the story, but it was never true. You can find your way back again. You can reclaim the confidence that was always yours to begin with. I know, because I’ve walked the path of reclaiming confidence and courage.

I still walk it each and every day. Somedays it is effortless. It comes from knowing who I am and what matters to me, it comes from the scars and lessons that I’ve learned on the way, from getting a deeper understanding of who I truly am at heart. It comes from learning more about how our minds work, what messages we need to feed it and understanding that confidence comes from meeting your fears and moving through them.

Has this all been effortless? God no. I’ve learned through trial and tribulation, and some days I still struggle. The voice inside my head rearing its ugly head again saying I’m not good enough or some version of the story on repeat. Somedays I still believe it, until I wake up again and realise that I’ve fallen for its grasp again. I struggle, I stumble, I fall, and I get up again. Repeat. Some days the getting up again takes a little longer.

But I always get back up because I know that I don’t want to stop myself from doing the things I so desire. I have dreams to build, things to do, people and places I want to see, adventures I want to have, love that I want to feel within my bones.

And I want the same for you. I’m tired of seeing wonderful people holding themselves back because of a fear that has lodged in their mind that they are not capable or good enough. They are stories that have been created that aren’t based on truth.

I know somewhere you know this too. Confidence can be yours for the taking, in your own subtle or not so subtle way. It doesn’t even have to look pretty. All you must do is to start the journey. And if that first step is believing that you can cultivate confidence and reclaim it then that it is.

If this piece spoke to you in some way, I’d be so pleased to have you join me for my my workshop on 14 October (1-6pm) at The Practice. For further information, please see www.thepracticebali.com/events

 

The Courage to be Authentic

Every time a client shares their story, it strikes me how often it just comes down to the fact that they are scared to simply be who they are. How often a mask is put on, reality and truth not completely shared. The authentic self hidden from view.

What makes it so hard to be ourselves?

Somehow it would seem that it’s the easiest thing to do, just be you. Yet just being you can sometimes also be the most difficult thing to do. What stops us from respecting our own boundaries and truly owning who we are – rather than hiding our true feelings under a cloak of optimism and perfectionism? “Nothing wrong here, don’t come looking. We’re doing just fine!”

It’s not a story that is unknown to me. Being an only child of mixed heritage, the drive to belong has shaped my life for a long time. I simply wanted to fit in, I didn’t want to look different from my family, from friends around me – I just wanted to belong. Yet I often found that people picked up on my differences, sometimes with intense curiosity, other times with malice. I was acutely aware that I did not fit in and so I tried to mould myself: to be kind, to be smart, to be perfect.

My story is only an example, but in fact, I believe most of us hide our true selves in some way because of a deep-seated desire to belong and fit in. Over the years we cover all the sides of ourselves that we feel are not worthy of being seen. Somehow we are not right. For me it was not being white enough, not having straight eyes enough, not being extrovert enough. I can continue the story but this is not about “them”. Ultimately this is about what we ourselves believe to be true about ourselves.

We try to adhere to a set of parental or societal standards that we believe dictates who we “should” be. We create a mental self-image that we feel we have no choice other than to stick to. And we hide our true feelings and what we perceive as weaknesses. Rather than just simply the vulnerability that comes from being a human being. We try to cover up the feelings of not enough, when really what we should have said is you belong and you are loved.

As we grow older, the layers just keep being put on and on, until at some point we ask ourselves: who am I truly underneath all of these layers? We end up feeling lost, disconnected from passion and a sense of purpose because in many ways we have lost ourselves. We run on automatic pilot, ticking all the boxes that we feel we must tick somehow. And if we’re not careful, time will just pass by. Leading us to a moment when we come to realize, I’ve lived my life according to what I thought everyone else wished.

Ultimately, I believe our purpose in life is to become ourselves again as that is when we will shine brightest. The process of finding out who you truly are at your core can be a slow peeling back of the layers. Again and again, seeing underneath and discovering what is truly yours.

Is this my belief or someone else’s?

Is this my dream or someone else’s?

Is this my path or someone else’s?

Is this mine or someone else’s?

So how do you start peeling back the layers and be yourself?

  • At its simplest, by being curious and asking yourself questions. What is it that I truly want in my life? What are my plans for my work or career? How do I want to spend my time and energy? By stepping away from your daily life and bringing in time for reflection. Journaling, spending time in nature, alone time, talking to a friend or loved one, or seeking support from a coach or mentor.
  • By having the courage to get closer to what might not be working for you in your life. Where are you sitting in dis-ease? Where lies your discomfort and what does it have to tell you? Have the courage to listen and investigate. It is only by being honest and looking at what is not working for you that you can then find ways to improve things.
  • Dare to show your true feelings more. This doesn’t need to happen all at once, but catch yourself out when you’re using verbose language to cover up what it is you truly want to say. Be more open and direct. Speak up about your feelings. Wear the clothes that make you feel good. Do the crazy little things that make you happy.

Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.

  • Stop listening to everyone’s well-intended advice and check in with yourself first. What is your experience? What is your body telling you? Form your own opinion first and then consult with a few trusted others. Be the one who decides what you take on.
  • Accept yourself with all your imperfections and quirks. We are all imperfect beings, that is simply the nature of who we are. Bring softness and kindness to yourself in the way that you speak and treat yourself. It is only if you can do this for yourself that you can genuinely treat anyone else with the same consideration and compassion.

This is a process of discovery that requires you to bring in an open heart and mind. It asks curiosity to see what is truly there, compassion to be gentle with yourself and courage to unfold each layer. Yet with each unfolding and each discovery comes a greater sense of who you are, what you are here to do and how you truly want to live your life. And with that, comes a greater sense of happiness and meaningfulness. Take this journey my dear one, it is one of the most important ones you will make.

– Photo by Michel Paz

Life, love and what truly matters

Life is always full of surprises, some good, some not so great. Sometimes life is turned upside down when you least expect it. That is exactly where I found myself some time ago when my dad unexpectedly had life-saving emergency surgery and our time spent back in Europe took a very different turn. Gratefully, my dad survived and while his recovery process will still take some time, I’m confident and positive that he will get there.

We often learn the most when life takes us down a path we don’t necessarily want to be on. It’s painful and shitty sometimes, but at times we will all find ourselves down in the trenches, a little bruised and weary. We often waste our energy on fighting the reality of what is: wishing it away, which we all know is futile. Once we’ve gone through the initial spasms of fighting what is, we’re better off using our energy on dealing effectively with what lies before us.

If we can find a way to open up to the experience of our life, accepting things for what they are, you will flow more with life and ride the waves – some soft, some hard – and experience the joy inherent in living. Life is constant in that it always changes. The ups and downs are an integral experience of this adventure and present us with huge opportunities for growth. 

I view life as a continuous path of learning, and here’s some of what I picked up on this latest adventure. I hope it will serve you in some way.

  • Life is simple. When life throws you a curveball, your priorities and values often become crystal clear. We meet who we truly are and what matters most to us. While at some level I knew this already, the importance of the relationship with my parents moved right to the forefront. If the situation would call for it, I would drop it all to be with them. No questions asked.

There is something immensely powerful about being confronted with mortality – your own or that of a loved one. But it is a reality that none of us can get away from. It’s something we often don’t want to think about, but I would actually urge you to do so. Why would you wait until the end of your life to look back and see whether you’ve made the right choices? Why not determine first what is most important to you and then live your life accordingly?

  • Time is what you make it – it’s truly a mental construct. I thought I always had to be busy and had to be working. But the reality is you don’t. In Western culture, we have popularized the idea that we need to be busy to matter. We don’t. And many of the things that you think are important, just aren’t. Ultimately you will focus your time and effort on the things that matter most. When we’re truly focused, we get so much more done and in fact work most effectively.
  • Time is precious. Say what you need to say, do what you want to do. We don’t often live our lives with a sense of urgency, and I’m not necessarily saying we should all the time. But living with a sense of passion and purpose for your life is important. What you say and what you do matters. Your life counts. You matter. Live as the biggest version of yourself – otherwise, you’re selling the world short.
  • Be vulnerable. Ask for help. There’s nothing that builds community, friendship and intimacy more than vulnerability. Don’t make life harder than it needs to be. Share your feelings, and allow others to help you when they can. There are always things that we have to do ourselves, but why not enjoy the support and company of friends along parts of the way?
  • Put your oxygen mask on first. Self-love and self-care are essential to your ability to be there for others. They are not selfish acts, they allow you to show up in the world and for others in the best way possible. If life turns really hectic, find small moments of peace and create more breathing space for yourself. Literally – even if it’s a brief minute, feel the ground beneath your feet and take a deep breath – it’s your internal power source.
  • Find gratitude. There is always something to be grateful for. The air that you breathe, the fact that you have woken up to experience another day, the opportunity to learn from whatever you are being presented with now. While I never would have wished for my dad to become so unwell, I’m immensely grateful that I was able to be there during this time, and that the bond as a family unit was cemented in love and care.

These may all seem like generalisations and they are. But we forget.

We forget because we take things for granted. We forget that it is not a given that we have our family and friends around us.  That we wake up each and every day and are able to live our lives. That we have our health, the ability to travel and see the world.

Life is precious. Don’t waste your time with things that ultimately don’t matter.

Focus your love, energy and attention on the people and the things that do. Whenever your time has come up, you will only remember the things that truly mattered: the people around you, the adventures and experiences you had, the legacy of what you left behind in the person that you were.

Live with intention my dear one, because you matter.

 

Mid-year check-in

Summer is officially in full-swing here in Europe. The streets of Amsterdam are packed with tourists, the canals are simply stunning and generally the pace of life here has just dropped a few notches.

I realized this was actually the perfect time of year to review the past 6 months and look ahead. Why not make use of the summer months to reconnect to yourself and see how you’re doing?

Here are some of the questions that were helpful to me. Give them a go one afternoon or evening, and see what comes out. You can also use some of the questions as journal prompts and simply write. It doesn’t have to be beautiful, just simply write and get out what needs to get out.

Mid-year Check-In:

  1. How am I doing? (Physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually) Be gentle with yourself and feel free to use the Wheel of life tool that some of you may have used before. If you haven’t, please do – it’s a great tool to quickly scan the various areas in your life and assess how you’re doing.
  2. Go through each month and note the most memorable moments.
  3. What went well? What went really well?
  4. What didn’t go so well? What can you learn from it?
  5. What has surprised you during the first 6 months of the year?
  6. Are my priorities still the same as at the start of the year? If not, what has changed? What needs more of my attention in the coming months? And what is just not important anymore?
  7. What do you want for the second half of the year? What will you recommit to? What will you let go off?
  8. How do I want to feel by the end of the year?

Give yourself this gift of dedicated time and focus for just you. It really pays off to slow down life for a bit and see how you’re doing. When we can reconnect to ourselves, and become clear on what our priorities are (and why!), it’s like we put a full tank of motivation and energy fuel into the engine again.

Restoration and reflection are crucial to our ability to move forward and achieve our dreams and aspirations. And don’t be afraid to change your priorities and adjust in whatever way is necessary. Your personal success ultimately is dependent on continuously checking in with yourself and following your own path to happiness.

Are you having enough fun?

“Huh? What? Of course!” you may think. And if that’s you, my friend, I’m not talking to you. I live with someone who will prioritise fun in life over any serious business. In fact, he doesn’t take life too seriously most of the time. And as somewhat of a “serious-addict”, this has given me some much-needed balance in life. Plus he’s quite funny, so lots of smiles to be had throughout the day, even if his impersonations of various characters drives me bonkers from time to time.

No, this piece is for the serious, hard-working (dare I say workaholics?), time should always be spent in a useful way kind of people. Present company included. Now I really don’t mind hard-work, I enjoy it… until I don’t. And then I don’t in a big way. I get cranky, a little resentful, and personal practices like meditation that I know are good for me go out the window.

And all the while, I’m in control. I could say no, I could not take on more, I could just put away the laptop and go do something fun.

And yet I don’t.

It’s easier for me to retreat back into work, there’s always something else to do, another topic to delve into, another book to read, another commitment I have made to someone else that I will hold myself accountable to.

What I’m really doing is being completely absent-minded from the life that is taking place right now, right in front of me. My life is taken over by an endless list of to do’s, commitments that have been made in the past or need to be done in the future. And whatever it is, it keeps me from being present in the moment and the life that is here.

To have pure fun?

I sometimes forget what that even means to me. Spending time with friends is an absolute yes, but other than that? Hobbies? I don’t think I’ve ever really had many. I was recounting this to some friends the other day, until one of them point blank asked me:

“Are you having fun?”

And the reality was that I had to say no.

What a shocker.

Because really, if we’re not having fun and experiencing joy in our lives, what’s the point?

Now fun isn’t the biggest happiness denominator for me, overall meaningfulness still tops the chart. And fun is a very meaningful component of that.

So I’ve made a commitment to myself. To do at least one fun thing a day, big or small. Something that has no other purpose than to bring me joy. Because joy is ultimately the nourishment and food my soul needs to do its best work and live my best life. And because I want to slow down life, so I can take as much of it in as I can.

My life is not a list of action points. My life consists of all the small little moments where I take in what this life is really about for me. The time I spend with friends, the pleasure and yes, sometimes the sorrows I experience on the adventure of life, the places I travel to, the experiences I can have, and yes, also the work that I do.

If you’re feeling a little stuck in a rut, and want to create more fun and joy in your life, try some of the following:

What will really matter to you in the end?

  • Give yourself permission. Understand that fun and taking breaks are essential to your health and happiness. Schedule time on your calendar for fun activities and make these a priority. Once you’ve scheduled this time, you will also focus more on the work that you actually have ahead of you. Knowing that you also have other activities planned, allows you to focus more on the task at hand.
  • Try to remember what you enjoyed as a kid. What things did you consider fun then? Make a list and try these things again. It might take a bit of practice again, but you’ll get back into it. Just give it a shot.
  • Pick up the phone. And no, not to check your social media. To call a friend and say, let’s go do something fun. A walk on the beach, a chat over coffee, a yoga class, or whatever rocks your boat. Friends, family, and community are essential parts of what makes a life meaningful and fun.
  • Go do something you’ve never done before. I love to dance, but it had been quite a while. So I drove myself off to a dance studio nearby and tried something completely different: dancehall! Yes, I shook my booty, I looked rather silly, and I had a ton of fun.

I usually find that when I come off-balance, it’s because I’ve moved away from myself and have started living other people’s priorities or have simply lost track of why I’m doing what I’m doing. Slowing life down to assess and adjust your life again to what matters most is therefore essential. So take that time and take the responsibility, your life is in your own hands! And while you’re at it, don’t forget to shake your booty!

Photo by Kristopher Roller.

How to become more resilient when life is hard

Life can be difficult sometimes. It’s part and parcel of our existence. Our lives are in constant flux, we experience the highs and the lows in a constant ebb and flow that together makes up the fabric of our experience.

Life is change. Nothing ever stays the same, it’s the nature of our existence. So will the days that feel difficult. But what can we do when life feels really hard to move through this and become more resilient?

Resiliency refers to our ability to deal with life’s ups-and-downs, and how quickly and well we can respond to stress and difficult events. All of us will face hard times, sometimes small events, sometimes big life experiences that can leave us gasping for air, wondering whether we will make it through.

There is always a way through and with practice and effort, you can increase your ability to roll with the punches. Sometimes this will happen quickly, yet other times, it will take time and they may even leave us a scarred. Yet it is also exactly these events and scars, that can serve us most powerfully and make us the people we are.  If we choose to learn and if we choose to take responsibility for our own lives.

Some of the toughest times in my life have also allowed me to become a more resilient, stronger person with a deeper appreciation of life.

These are the stories of our lives, the layers of our personality, that if we choose to make them so, can allow us to become our own heroes in the story of our life.

So how do we become more resilient and learn to flow with whatever life gives us?

  • Be kind and compassionate with yourself. When emotions are running high, be patient with yourself, giving yourself the time, space and care you need. Denying that you have been hurt only prolongs the pain that you might be going through. Can you find space to allow these emotions? To express them to others, on paper, or in whatever other outlet you might have? How can you treat yourself like you would a close friend?
  • Take care of yourself. This seems like a no-brainer right? But how often do we allow ourselves to crumble under the weight of what is happening? Not eating healthily, not moving our bodies, not reaching out to loved ones. It’s almost as if we’re saying, I give up. With every act of self-care, you’re saying, I love you, I care for you. This is the time when you need it most. Take care of yourself like nothing else, prioritise your own health and well-being.
  • Take responsibility for your own life. Regardless of what might have caused the event, and it may not be something that is in your control, you will have to take responsibility for your own life. This is one of the most powerful realisations you can have:

your response to an event determines the outcome of an event

You choose whether you will be defined by the events. Will you let yourself be dragged down or will you choose to rise to the occasion?

  • Focus on what you are grateful for. This can be tough when life has thrown you a curveball. Focusing our attention on what is working, on what we do have, on the people that are in our lives, can really change our perspective from what we don’t have to what we do. There are so many things that we can always be grateful for. The fact that we are still alive, that we are still breathing each morning, that each every day the sun comes up.
  • Find meaning in the learning. What can you learn from this event? What is life trying to teach you? What is it that needs to change and how can you do so? Taking time to learn from all your experiences infuses your life with a deeper meaning and direction. Sometimes this can take quite a long time, but often the most difficult hardships in life give you the biggest lessons. If we can allow ourselves to look back at the events with a sense of curiosity.
  • It’s not all about you. What that means is that life doesn’t always happen to you. We are small specks on this vast planet of ours. The events of our lives are not always about us. While that may be difficult sometimes, herein also lies the power of acceptance. Sometimes we have no choice other to accept, but again, we always have a choice in how we respond.
  • Get closer to your fear. Resiliency is like a muscle. If we can expose ourselves to pain and fear, we will become more accustomed to feelings of discomfort, allowing ourselves to grow each time. Develop confidence in your ability to handle whatever may come. This confidence again grows each and every time you expose yourself to whatever it is that you might be scared of. The trick here is to start small. This might not work when we are in the full throttle of hardship, but resiliency can be practised in small ways each and every day.
  • Share with others. When we can share our experiences, receive love and care, we can feel strengthened by the support given by others. Allowing others to see what is going on with us, can bring us closer to each other. This doesn’t mean that you have to share everything with everyone around you, but find that special friend, that small circle of people you truly love and trust, and allow them to support you.

If you’re reading this at a time when life feels so very hard, I feel for you. Know that this too shall pass. One day you will look back and understand the deeper meaning of why this happened to you and what life was trying to teach you. Life is a perfect imperfection, a constant flow, it cannot help but change.

How can you use what life is giving you to become the stronger and more courageous one?

Stay strong beautiful one.

How to receive gracefully

Until we can receive with an open heart, we can never really give with an open heart. – Brene Brown

For many of us, it’s easy to give. We give our time and attention. We find ways to help others, we give money, presents and compliments. And we do it because it feels good and we want to live up to the values that are important to us. There is something incredibly gratifying and fulfilling about helping another.  (If you haven’t done it, try it!)

But so often, it isn’t the same story with receiving. Our first reaction is often to decline the gift of attention and care, or if we are in receipt, to feel uncomfortable with what we are receiving. I’ve been grateful to have many opportunities to receive in different ways, but somewhat embarrassingly I must admit that my ability to receive with grace and gratitude has been quite abysmal.

So what is it about receiving gifts of attention, time and care that can make it hard to accept and how can we do better?

  • Our inability to receive may at its heart come from feelings of unworthiness. We can feel as if we’re undeserving or as if we’re imposing on someone else. Yet what happens when we do this is that we only confirm our own belief about who we are. We believe we are unworthy of this care, so we decline it or push it away in some other way, which diminishes the gift of receiving and confirms what we believe to be true about ourselves.
  • We may perceive the support given as a sign of our weakness and inability to do something ourselves. It can feel like there is an underlying power dynamic at play. We want to believe that we are independent, and do not need help, so we refuse it. The help offered makes us feel weak and vulnerable.
  • We are worried that there might be an expectation of reciprocity, that we somehow might now owe a debt. The way we receive often reflects something about the way we give. Look into the way you give, do you have any underlying assumptions somewhere deep down?

To give and to receive. They are two sides of the same coin. One can’t exist without the other. By not receiving we are out of balance. How can we give truly and freely when we can’t accept with grace and gratitude? How can we do better?

  • Give the gift of giving. Realise that the person who is giving is, may, in fact, be the one who might be receiving more. How great does it feel to be able to support someone else? To be the one who your friend turns to when they need help? When you can ask and accept someone’s help, you are honouring who they are and what they have to offer.
  • Understand and know that you are worthy of receiving. We all need help from time to time. Simply say thank you and feel the gratitude within. The gratitude you can extend to another is a great gift in and of itself. And when it is the right time, you, in turn, can extend the giving in some way to another person and continue the cycle of giving and receiving.
  • Giving and receiving builds intimacy. Help build closer relationships with those around you by showing your vulnerability, understanding our interdependence and accepting the offer of help. When we can share our vulnerability we are saying, we are all at heart the same. By giving and receiving, we build closer relationships. The more vulnerable we can be with each other, the closer we become.

The reality and beauty of our lives is that we are all dependent on each other – it’s the nature of our existence and as human beings, we seek connection with each other.

Look around you now. The laptop or phone you’re reading this on, the chair you’re sitting on, the clothes you’re wearing, that cup of coffee you just had. Just think about all the different people that have worked together to help create this. Look at your family and friends, the loved ones around you who help make up the life that you have.

Our power lies in the fact that together we are so much more than we are alone.

Working together, supporting each other, doesn’t come from a place of weakness, it helps us to do and be more for ourselves and for each other. Learn to accept with grace and gratitude, and from that place of wholeness, you, in turn, can give to another – and build a closer community around you while doing so.