Pema Chodron

Show up fully, even if it's scary

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Last week I did something I'd been thinking about for a long, long time. I woke up and felt completely discouraged and a little bit hopeless and I posted what was really happening for me in a really long Facebook status. I put it all out there. I shared some really deep details about myself.

I was completely terrified to do this. I was afraid it would leave people with the impression that I was a failure of a human being and most definitely a failure as a health coach. I overcame the fear and was practically brought to tears as the likes and comments multiplied minute after minute. To date, it has 124 likes and over 60 comments! I overcame the fear and chose to open it up and put it out there, and people resonated very deeply with it.

I'd been carrying this fear around with me for a really long time, though. And it was bugging me to see person after person engage with my Facebook wall or blog posts and the whole time I was left feeling like they were really interacting with a cardboard cutout of me, instead of the REAL me. I know a lot of business folks, or just everyday people, who do this and are perfectly content with it.

I wasn't.

See, there's this trend that everyone's aware of but still participates in. A lot of people are going around posting the highlights of their lives and not really talking about whatever else is happening. I know this for a fact, because I know what people are going through and how it compares to what they show.

Welcome to the social media monster, right?

Wrong.

It doesn't have to be that way. In fact, the more I see people do this, the less I feel inclined to engage with them. And I was concerned people were getting that vibe from me, too. After listening to Pema Chödrön talk about "fake spiritual people" one day, I realized it was sort of my worst nightmare to be coming off as fake to anyone. I was talking about my life and the good and not-so-hot parts of it to other people but I wasn't really showing it publicly. I get the point of professionalism, really I do. But what's the point of that when I'm touting authenticity and fearlessness from one side of my face and pretending everything is fine and dandy from the other side.

I don't think I ever gave that impression but was focused on posting positive stuff to inspire and encourage people. Based on the response I received from that post the other day, people don't just want or need positive stuff. They certainly don't need more negative, cynical stuff but they want real. They want strife. They want to know how I struggle and overcome the same stuff they deal with every day.

I realized I wasn't sharing that with my folks and it wasn't serving me, personally or professionally.

I can't relate to someone who only shares smiles and sunshine. It tells me that person can't be present to the grief and darkness that is part of being human. And that isn't who I am or want to be for others.

I've gone through some very difficult times the past few months which included leaving a long-term relationship, moving all my worldly belongings twice in three months and opening a new office for my business. Not easy stuff, I tell ya.

It wasn't easy, but I did it all because I have learned how to take really good care of myself. In fact, those choices and changes are a RESULT of how well I take care of myself. It's all part of the same package. When I share that with people, it is the full picture of what's behind my healthy breakfasts, my personal-record-breaking jogs, my donut dates with good friends, the pink armchair in my new office and my selfies.

There was a time not long ago, several times in fact, where I couldn't stand my own reflection. To take a selfie and post it is a testament to how far I've come to appreciate my own likeness in the past few years.

This is what people need to see.

This is what people need to read about.

They don't need more resentment. They don't need more complaints. They don't need more advice telling them what to do or think or feel or say to be "right" or "wrong".

They don't need more pictures that highlight the good and make the pain or challenge invisible.

I don't believe it when I see it so I know people weren't believing it about me, either. People aren't stupid, they saw the void where a partnership used to be in my life. They saw a new table when I took pictures of my food.

By opening up and letting it all out, I invited them into what real transformation looks like, what real change requires and what real life is like when you're giving it all you've got to do the best you can.

I was afraid to be so real because I thought people would think I had nothing to offer them as a health coach. If my life isn't perfect, what would they have to learn from me?

I realized that wasn't true. The most valuable thing I can provide people is an example. I can show up fully and be a real example of the resilience, tenacity and self-love one needs to be your authentic self, to leave relationships that aren't supportive, respectful and loving, to pursue work that is meaningful and fulfilling and eat healthy food and exercise even when it feels like your life is falling apart.

I can show up fully, even when it's scary, to inspire other people to do the same.

 

What can YOU provide people? What would you share if you stepped into being fully authentic?

 

Why Some People Never Jump

"Courage is the opposite of cozy. You can quote me on that." -Pema Chödrön

Most people live their whole lives perched on the edge of life, steps away from unbridled bliss (or something close to it). They keep themselves poised, on tiptoes, terrified to take the flying leap into the great unknown.

For many people, the familiar is safer so they stop just yards shy of the dangling carrot. They choose to chase it and never take the flying leap to grab it and chomp down nice and hard.

But not me. No, sir.

Two years ago, I made a decision to change the way I move through the world to identify as a transgender person and pass as male. The process has taught me a lot about how people relate to change.

As with any major life change, some of what I’ve experienced was anticipated or expected and some was not. The parts I didn’t know or anticipate fall into the realm of the unknown—the aspect of change that people fear most, and that’s maybe why so many people never risk living their lives fully or they complain their way through the arduous process of change. They don’t want to risk not knowing. They may feel things they can’t expect or control. Or sometimes, they know how hard it might be and they just aren’t up for it because it’s hard. It hurts. It sometimes involves substantial loss for potential gain.

People have a hard time letting go of their suffering.

Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.

- Thich Nhat Hanh

If someone decides they don't prefer suffering, they must be compelled by something deeper and more powerful than their current existence.

One of the reasons I decided to jump and make the major physical transition was that my physical presence on the planet had simply become too uncomfortable to bear. I craved something different. I knew some of what I was up against, but the scales tipped in favor of the great unknown versus the familiar. The familiar was safe, but not comfortable. The risks were low and the payoff of living as I had lived was high.

But something deep inside me knew that I would never be truly happy.

"To overcome natural inertia, the motivation toward the change must be more powerful than the satisfaction with the status quo (or anxiety about the change)." -Bennett and Bush, 2014

I had a lot of practice with this, which was why this life change was even possible. I’ve sort of lived my whole life taking risks and doing what other people don’t do. I have a lot of experience with how to prepare for the unknown, how to handle myself when the unexpected happens and how to find a way to love this thing called life in the meantime.

My transition two years ago is only one of many, major life changes and choices I've made. It doesn't define me as a person but only helped me understand change and transition, and the relationship people have to it, on an even deeper level.

Here are some of the reasons why I think some people never jump:

They are afraid to change.

People get really attached to who they think they are, even when it isn't working so well for them.

There is no experience on earth like actively choosing to change your entire identity after inhabiting a body for your entire childhood, adolescence and young adult life. Having to unlearn everything you knew about how to move and talk and walk in the world and reorient yourself while still looking out through the same eyes? It’s mind-numbing. Disorienting doesn’t begin to describe it.

I’ve lost partners to new lovers. I’ve lost friends to death. I’ve lost beloved trinkets from my childhood. The permanence of the loss is something you gradually come to terms with. It’s gone, lost, over.

Losing 'yourself' while still being alive? It’s uncanny and surreal.

What I've learned (and loved) about the past two years was how little of myself there actually was that was permanent. And how much I get to evolve and create anew on a day-to-day basis.

They are afraid to be wrong.

What if it's the wrong choice? Well, who defines wrong? I already knew much of society and my family wouldn't approve of my decision, but I didn't want to live my life according to someone else's values and standards.

I think so many people do this, and then regret or resent some aspect of their lives because they chose based on what everyone else does--even when everyone else isn't all that happy.

I finally got to the point where I realized I had to choose and I would live with the consequences of my decision for myself. It meant throwing away the keys to an old reliable car, turning my back and walking away. It would work out the way it was meant to, like so many other choices and decisions had in my life thus far. Sitting on the fence of ambivalence was no way to live. It was a half-lived life and I wasn't about to spend the rest of my years on the planet that way.

They are afraid of the fall.

What would the process be like? There's only one way to find out. All the anticipating and planning in the world doesn't reveal something before it's time. It's like prying open a blooming flower.

I've watched people try to meticulously plan for things only to be totally surprised by the actual experience. They spend so much time reeling from the unfolding process because it's nothing like they wanted or hoped for or had thought would happen. It's a good lesson in holding your nose and jumping and letting go of the need to control the outcome of everything.

They are afraid to be alone.

At the two-year mark, I’ve learned that taking the jump meant not everyone would join me. It's not how everyone lives. I've had to learn to be ok with me and back myself up on every decision, because no one--and I mean no one--has the right answer.

Change brings out the worst in some people and the best in others.  Some people I loved and trusted ran far and fast when my gender transition went from this totally fun concept to a brutally difficult reality. My process of transformation brought up issues they didn’t or couldn’t face about their own selves in their own lives so they needed to put distance between themselves and me and what I held up. On the other hand, transitioning brought friends into my life that I would never have met otherwise and many people floated like cream to the top of the bottle, showing tremendous amounts of tenacity and tenderness.

They are afraid to be truly happy.

Sometimes, at my best moments, I look past the not-so-hot parts about being transgender and consider it the ultimate privilege. I feel like I really lucked out and have moments of happiness that I never had before.

Sure, I'm repeatedly pigeonholed and asked incredibly inappropriate or personal questions on a daily basis. In many places of the world, transgender people are outlawed and killed. I can be denied a job or medical care, but hey! I’ve been given the chance to move through the world one way for 30-odd years and now I get to spend the rest of my days in another form like few people on this planet will ever experience! I’ve won the gender identity lottery!

In many ways, I feel luckier than most people, because I got/took a second chance at life. I get to do everything and anything I always wanted to do PLUS the richness of my incredible past existence.

Where I once wore heels (short ones, of course), I now get to walk a mile in the (much more comfortable) shoes of the men I longed to be like. I get to wear ties and pants and fun haircuts, fashion I really dig and can enjoy. I get to experience tremendous physical strength in my mid-30s. I can run farther and faster than ever and I had never been able to do many push-ups but now I can do 30 at a time. Chin-ups were impossible. They are possible, now.

And I'm a bit more dangerous with a bat now than when I was as a kid.

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Two years in, I can tell you that I jumped for that dangling carrot and I'm glad I did. While it is no walk in the park, and is filled with no shortage of issues and is anything but cozy, it's working, for whatever reason.

Maybe it's because I simply decided it would.

And I'm willing to bet it would work for the jump you're staring down, too.

How Bliss Feels

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I surround myself with a lot of folks who are into health, wellness and spirituality so I see a lot of people talk about bliss. They mention being "blissed out" or "in the flow".

I've known bliss a few times in my life. It is fleeting, not the kind of thing that is a permanent feeling. I don't know that humans can achieve a constant state of bliss--maybe it's possible, but I haven't had it happen to me. But it is pretty awesome when it does happen.

Now that I've experienced it more often recently, I want to tell you how bliss feels. Or how it feels to me.

You may have read my post about meeting Pema Chödrön last year. It was a life-changing moment for me, one of those, "I can die happy now" experiences. Sitting in the same room with her was already cool enough but I actually got to stand at the microphone and engage in conversation with her. Truly extraordinary. And I have it recorded on DVD to watch whenever I want to remind myself of that moment! If you want to buy that retreat on MP3 or DVD, you can click here.

Well, I decided to return to the Pema Osel Do Ngak Choling in Vershire, VT, this year for some much-needed time away. It wasn't enough time, I can tell you that much, but it was valuable for what it was.

I got to see people I had met last year and felt the feelings of overwhelm and pure gratitude when they recognized me. It was equally weird and comforting. I have this weird story in my head that I move through the world relatively invisible--and if I wasn't already addressing the origins of that silly myth, I am doing so more deliberately now. These people remembered me as much as I remembered them. It was intimate and beautiful.

We were led in teaching and conversation by the Buddhist author and teacher, Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel on the topic of the Middle Way. We began the instruction each day by sitting for 30 minutes in silent meditation. I was really looking forward to this because I have hard time making time for this each day in my own life--I find it easier when people structure it for me.

I can't speak about the sitting part without talking about my hips. Of late, I've noticed a growing tension and inflexibility in my hips and legs. I desperately need to address it because it is affecting movement and sitting for meditation. I've tried stretching but need to do more of it more often, I think. Is there an area on your body causing this sort of experience for you?

After the second painful sitting experience, I moved to a chair. I was tired, no doubt about it. I've been burning the candle at both ends and it was catching up to me as I sat there. My eyes began to get very heavy but rather than fight and try to keep my eyes open, I let the sleepy be a part of my sitting. It was part of it, not wrong or unwelcome or bad but just there.

But I didn't fall asleep. I sort of dozed or drifted in and out. I wasn't blaming myself or feeling  badly about my eyes being closed. I was present to those thoughts but didn't get consumed by them.

And then, I decided to open my eyes for a second.

It felt like someone poured soothing hot water through my veins. Every muscle was relaxed. My stomach, which is often clenched, was soft. My throat was loose. I could feel every muscle in my face had softened. My heart was beating slowly, but my mind was clear and then I had this thought, "oh my goodness. This feels sublime."

I don't do drugs--is this maybe what it feels like? I'm not sure. But if I can achieve that with nothing but my own breathing and mindfulness and some sleepiness--sign me up for more!

The only other time I felt this way was when I fell in love for the first time. I don't think my feet touched the ground for a few weeks back then.

This time it was a minute of total bliss, physically and then mentally once I was aware of it. And just like that, in one second, it was gone. I tried to cling to it and make it last and then closed my eyes again because I realized I was grasping.

I drifted in and out like this a few more times to recapture that mellow, blissed-out feeling. It worked and amazed me.

And it's powerful and wonderful to know I can achieve it anytime I want!

You can listen to more about how to get to this state ("shamatha") by clicking here.

More and more I am finding I can achieve moments of bliss off the cushion, too. I find it harder to do now than when I was younger. Life stressors have increased and self-consciousness is more present some days more than others, but I know it's possible. I find that same feeling of bliss in the company of friends, doing work I love and those precious moments when I am about to fall asleep after a long, amazing day.

 

Is this something you want to try or experience? Is it something you know well?

Share your thoughts below. :)