Like many of us, I went to the gym today as part of my New Years resolution. My usual routine is to pop in my ear buds and retreat into my own world in the hopes of forgetting that I’m actually moving heavy weights around. Generally I don’t really notice other people. Just trying to get in and out as fast as I can. But today was different.
I couldn’t help but notice a man on the elliptical machine wearing what looked like the top part of a Spiderman costume. I don’t think I could have missed that if I tried. After the novelty wore off I tried to refocus on my workout but I kept finding that my attention would go back to this man. I secretly feared that I would be seen as “the creepy guy.” You know, the guy who silently stares at other people working out. But I just couldn’t resist. So while being the self admitted “creepy guy” this thought popped into my head. What if we were all super heroes? Who would we be? Spiderman? Superman? The Hulk?
All super heroes have special powers, what I like to call gifts. I used to love comic books as a kid so I know that Spiderman’s gifts are that he is really sensitive, intuitive and agile. At least the more human attributes. And if those are gifts then I realized that we all have gifts. They might not be as exciting as shooting webs from your wrists or flying through the air but they are gifts none the less, our own unique gifts.
I decided to go over and introduce myself to this Spiderman. With a warm smile he told me his name was Sam. I come to learn that Sam has survived throat cancer, a triple bypass and two hip replacements. And then he made sort of a passing comment, “See, I have a real zest for life.” There it was! One of his gifts. I don’t think he was aware of it but I was. Do you know how infectious it is to stand next to someone with a real zest for life? Try it. It’s intoxicating.
He went on to share some more stories before I politely interrupted him and asked if he knew what his gifts are. He had a sort of puzzled look on his face and then answered, “His wife.” He mentioned a few other external things before I stopped him and rephrased the question. Do you know what gifts you bring to the world? You. Not someone else. You. He stopped. I saw him searching as he mumbled to himself and then said, “No. I don’t.” I was saddened by this. I said, “You survived all of these health issues for a reason…” There was a pause. After searching himself again he basically said, “My unconditional love for my family.” He shared how much he loves his two grown sons, his grandchildren and his wife. How when he heard that his grandchildren were going to go to daycare so young, he immediately retired to take care of them while his sons worked. I was so touched by this. Before I said goodbye I reminded Sam about his other gift, his zest for life.
How many of us even know what our gifts are? If you are lucky enough to know them do you stand in them? Do you share them? Or do you hide them for fear of being shamed or different or rejected? We all have them. They don’t have to look like anything you’ve seen on T.V. or read in a magazine. You don’t have to save the world or invent the next greatest thing in order to have gifts. Maybe you are a great listener. Maybe you’re sensitive to people’s feelings. Maybe you’re good at fixing things. These are all true gifts that touch people’s lives. Next time you feel like you don’t have anything worthwhile to share remember Sam with his unconditional love and Zest for life.
Zest for Life
Radical Aliveness believes that we are born as open spirits that are programed for love, joy and connection. We are expansive. We are a flowing positive system that says YES to everything.
However we are born into an imperfect world, a world with human limitations. In this place we are exposed to these limitations through our primary caregivers at first. Since they are not perfect nor mind readers, even the best of them will inevitably make mistakes. And the level of severity can vary from oversights to neglect and abuse. Even if the limitations set are in the best interest of the child like for their safety, it can be experienced as a negation to the young child.
When our loving open system bumps up against these imperfections or negations of its flows, it shocks us. Feelings of pain, fear and rage will emerge and overwhelm such a tiny system. The system discharges this energy by crying, screaming, shaking etc…
But this can be all too much for the caregiver, especially during certain stages of development. So what happens is when the child tries to discharge the pain, rage or fear they are often met with perceived hostility that stops or suppresses the flow of these feelings. This secondary negation can be annihilating to the tiny system.
*I’m not suggesting to just allow your children to let it rip however and whenever without any boundaries, but this energy can be redirected instead of shutdown.
And here in lies the creation of the NO. It has become too painful to stay that open all of the time so we contract from life for protection and self-preservation. Now there is a no to life, no to connection, to parts of ourselves and parts of our energy.
These two opposing currents operate in all of us and can cause real suffering when unrealized.
So just for fun try this out:
Find a safe private space where you can make some noise.
Throw your hands in the air and yell “YES!” at the top of your lungs. Then push your hands out in front of you and scream “NO!”
How does it feel? What happens for you?
This is a favorite quote of mine that I would like to share with you this month. It feels appropriate with everything that is going on in the world today.
"If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds,
and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"
We live in a complex world. How do we hold such diverse and multiple perspectives without making the other wrong?
If you can stay curious with a non-shaming heart during trying times then there is possibility for new perspectives.
I’d like to talk about looking at one’s self in relation to a system. We are not just one person alone interacting with other individuals. In fact, we are many microsystems interacting with each other in the big cosmos. It starts with each family unit.
When growing up in a family system each of us fall into a role. Whether it’s a traditional or non-traditional family system doesn’t matter. We all have our part to play. Like a great Shakespearian actor we own our part in the story except there is no curtain. This story, this role, if unexplored can stay unconscious and may never end. It can and usually does follow us from the theatre of our childhood family onto the stage of our adult lives. And that is how we continue our family legacy.
As individuals we are trying to figure out who we are. And we learn who we are early on by mirroring. We need people to reflect back to us so we have a sense of self. (This may or may not be healthy mirroring.) On top of that there is a system. A group. In this case a family. So we as individuals are also part of this group energy. It is bigger then us. It has it’s own structure in order to sustain itself and know itself. Much like an individual.
All of this can make it really difficult to know oneself authentically. And I’ll venture to say that the role you took on is not always congruent with who you truly are. Without realizing this point, it can cause a fair amount of helpless feelings and suffering in your life.
So what was your role in the family? Were you the good one, the protector, the mediator, the black sheep, the rebel, the caretaker, the victim, the martyr and so on? Who were you and are you still playing out that role in some way? Think about who you are now, at work, with friends, in your relationships. Are there similarities in your behavior now? If so are others reinforcing your role? For example, if you were the victim in the family growing up then you needed perpetrators. So whom are you recruiting out there to be perpetrators in your life now? If you are the hero to everyone then whom are you grooming to be saved by you?
See if you can pull back the lens and take a big look at your life. What might you discover from the place of family dynamics or by seeing your family as a system? What is the story of your life? What was your role and do you want to change it?
I just finished binge watching the show Bloodline on Netflix. It was fun and intense to say the least. It inspired me to write this piece because at the root of this family drama lies a deep and profound truth. It is a truth that is a fundamental reason for why I practice Radical Aliveness and why I find it to be so powerful.
Bloodline centers around a somewhat prominent family in the Florida Keys. As time goes by we learn that this family On the outside they seem to have it all together but behind the closed door, it is highly dysfunctional. Then Daniel, the black sheep of the family comes home to everyone’s dismay. And his return wreaks havoc on everyone’s lives as they all spin out of control.
ATTENTION SPOILER ALERT!
Towards the end of the show Daniel’s older brother confronts him as to why he is destroying everyone’s lives. He responds, “Because I want you to feel what I have felt for years”.
Daniel’s character represents a deep truth for all of us. If you are unwilling to feel your own emotions, then you will make other people feel them for you. In the case of Daniel, he is in so much pain that he brings his cruelty out on his family so that they will feel the pain that is so unbearable to him. Unconsciously this is what we do as human beings. Whatever we are unwilling to feel we will put onto others perpetuating a never-ending cycle of unnecessary hurt.
But luckily, things do not have to be in an endless vicious circle if we choose to. Imagine if Daniel was able to get the help he needed, someone who help him grieve through the accidental but tragic loss of the sister, then he would not need to carry on the guilt, pain and carry the blame for the entire family’s loss. Drugs, alcohol, making others pay won’t heal the real wound, but the willingness to feel our pain and the places where we are powerless to change things beyond our control will.
Although this is a fictional story, the character speaks a deep human truth: When we don’t feel our feelings, we project them onto others so they will feel them for us.
Feeling our true emotions can be so transformational. It actually shifts our reality. When you show up differently, people around you change their perceptions and behavior around you.
Who or what is nagging you lately? What do you need to feel about this person or situation so it no longer needs to continue the dysfunction?
Last month we talked about how interconnected our feelings are. If we want to feel more joy, then we need to be willing to feel everything else as well. Basically by feeling our emotions fully, we are stretching our capacity to tolerate them. This would include joy.
One of the other things that can get in the way of joy is the
fact that we are creatures of habit who DO NOT LIKE CHANGE.
How you ask? Well, if we can agree that the majority of us are striving for more joy in our lives then we must also admit that there is some degree of suffering. And if we are living with some degree of suffering and we don’t like change then where does that leave us? Stuck? Complacent?
So whatever degree you may feel unfulfilled or unhappy in your life is the place you will naturally begin attaching to. Many people numb out, avoid or deny that there is anything wrong. Some people just settle or only focus on how to become happier without taking a deep look into what’s getting in the way. It’s like building a house on sand. And I get it. It can feel daunting or scary to really take a look at what is going on underneath the surface.
As the Indigo Girls so eloquently put it,
“I wrap my fear around me like a blanket.
I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it, I'm crawling on your shore.”
And that is exactly what we do. Better to deal with the devil you know then the one you don’t. In other words we become comfortable in our relative suffering, thus unwilling to change. This creates the illusion of safety that keeps us from venturing out into the unknown. Even if the unknown has great promise. Look at Columbus from instance. Most believed that the world was flat so no one would dare sail past a certain point for fear of falling to their death. Until good old Chris came along and took a risk, sailed into the unknown and the rest is history.
So if we become so cozy where we are and all of a sudden that same pesky genie comes along granting us an abundance of joy, would you dare to say yes?
Hope you enJOY the rest of your summer!
Since it is August, a time most associated with vacation and fun, I would like to talk about the topic of JOY.
Would you believe me if I told you that happiness/joy is the hardest emotion to tolerate and sustain? Probably Not.
If a genie popped out of a bottle and gave you your idealized life, you wouldn’t be able to tolerate it. Maybe for a few minutes or a few days but then you would most likely unconsciously sabotage it.
Don’t believe me? Let’s try a little experiment.
Close your eyes and take in a few deep breaths. Then ask yourself what it is that brings you the most joy or pleasure. Notice how many things come up. Is it hard for you to identify? Is your list short or long? Watch out for judgments that may pop up. Next notice how often if at all, you indulge yourself in this place. Watch out for all of the excuses you tell yourself that keep you from doing anything pleasurable.
Surprised by your response? You shouldn’t be. There are unconscious beliefs that hold us back from true joy.
Let me explain.
There are four primary emotions that we as human beings can experience. They are happiness, sadness, anger and fear. Most of us think of sadness, anger and fear as “negative” feelings and do our best to avoid them. We have all sorts of conscious and unconscious little tricks we use to keep those unpleasant feelings at bay. Here’s the thing though, all of our emotions are on one dial. So if we turn the dial down on (let’s say) our fear, then we turn it down on all of them. That means we just limited our capacity for joy!
Most of us go around striving for happiness, which makes a lot of sense because we are a species programed for love, joy and connection. Aka Bliss. At the same time we are actively avoiding those other unpleasant feelings. But in avoiding those other feelings, we are also in essence avoiding our joy. Thus we are now the dog chasing it’s own tail. I know it sounds counterintuitive but the more you are willing to feel your sadness, the greater your capacity for joy.
The path to a life of great joy is nothing more then the willingness to feel everything, all the way.
Here’s my challenge for the month. See how much you can stretch your capacity for joy. See if you can quiet the judgments, soften the resistance and really give yourself permission to do the things that bring you the most pleasure and joy.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Four Score and seven years ago...
Oh wait. That’s the Gettysburg Address. Wrong holiday. (Although did you know that that particular line in Lincoln’s speech was a reference to the Declaration of Independence.)
The 4th of July is upon us. A time where many of us are making plans to bbq, go to the beach and see fireworks. Besides enjoying a long weekend with friends and loved ones, let’s also take a moment to honor those that fought for our freedom from the rule of England.
239 years later with no Monarchy in place, I ask the question, “Do you feel free?”
As we turn in for a moment and reflect, do you give yourself the same freedoms this country symbolizes? The freedom to dare, to risk, to dream, to create; or have you noticed that you are ruled by an inner dictator? A dictator that says “NO” to your impulses and intuitions, one that keeps you small. You don’t have to wait once a year for fireworks in your life. You can say, “YES” to yourself, your aliveness and your freedom everyday if you choose too.
So let’s honor what our forefathers and Lincoln stand for by freeing ourselves from our own inner dictator.
As May fast approaches, here at Radical Aliveness Philadelphia, we are honoring all women this Mothers Day.
Although the joy and rewards of motherhood can be abundant, it can also be very challenging. It takes a village to raise a child yet too often in today’s world we can find ourselves alone. Not only is there the demand to be the perfect mother raising the perfect child, there are also the demands to maintain the family system, have a good career and look great! All of this without breaking a sweat. The illusions of perfectionism that are put on women and/or bought into can add an incredible amount of stress. This stress can wreak havoc on the mind-body-spirit and leak into the family system.
What are the images that you hold about women and motherhood?
Are they true?
Where did they come from?
What was your relationship like with your mother and now?
And your own children?
Please join us on Saturday, May 9th at 10am to 12pm at my office in Ardmore as we celebrate all women and motherhood. You can be new, a veteran or a mother-to-be. Daughters who want to honor their mothers or who helped mother other siblings too. All are welcome no matter the dynamic. We want to honor this sacred community.
People often ask me if what I do is like mindfulness or meditation. Although there are elements of that in what I do, radical aliveness is very different. Often times mindfulness and meditation lead to a more detached or “observer self”-- an awareness of what is happening such as our emotions. Radical Aliveness brings embodied presence. The embodied presence is where you actually not only notice the present feelings but also allow them to flow through you in order to transform. The biggest difference is that the Radical Aliveness process asks you to embody your essence in relationship, with each other and in the world.
I personally find that meditation is very helpful in gaining insight, reducing stress and calming my inner chatter. These are all necessary steps in realizing yourself and reducing suffering. But I often find it is not enough because 1) I need lasting behavior change 2) I find that life is more fulfilling when shared with others. Sharing a laugh always feels better than cracking up alone. Sharing my story in the presence of the other makes healing faster. There is tremendous power in being witnessed and in knowing we are not alone.
So if meditation is a process of going in and finding the gem inside; radical aliveness is a process of blossoming inside out and sharing your gems with the world.
Radical Aliveness process combines movement and consciousness, by hitting, punching and moving your energy so you can gain the unconscious insights quickly without years and years of practicing. When one can embody, express and embrace all of your thoughts, feelings and energy, you are letting your light shine in the world.