the dance of self-intimacy

Last week I invited you to be aware of where in your life you are inviting in accountability and be sure that it is serving you, not the other way around. I also like this turn of phrase that came to me in that post: If we are too focused on meeting metrics we may fail to meet the exquisite human in front of us. This is equally true in our relationship with ourself.

Maybe you agreed with me but then you weren't sure what to do with that. As many of my clients say, "I want to love myself, I want to accept myself  - seems like a good idea - but how?"

I get it - the way these ideals are proclaimed to us we can be forgiven for thinking they are just some act of will that we can exercise, or a behaviour we can emulate. In fact - that is what is often sold to us. But it is not going to happen like that - loving ourselves (or anyone for that matter) is something that develops over time when the conditions are right. So our task is creating the conditions for love to emerge. I hinted at it last week in both the accountability post and in the two poems I shared.  I will be more explicit here.

But before I go any further - let me say I am not a big fan of the way the terms self-love, self-care & self-esteem are used in the self-help world. The implication often is that these are things we are meant to do on our own. They aren't.  It's the DIY movement gone to the soul level. These are hungers that are meant to be filled in connection from the moment of our birth. Love, care and esteem are your birthright and it is wrong and sad if that is not your experience. Unfortunately, that is the case for too many.

Keep in mind that I give these practices to my clients in a context of a caring coaching relationship. I hope you have such a relationship in your life - a friend, a partner, a relation. If not, it's not your fault. It is not because you need to "love yourself before anyone else can love you". It is a sad result of living in a disconnected and isolating culture and something you may need to grieve. These practices will help you with that, too.

This dance of intimacy is a dance of both closing the gap (connecting with ourselves, knowing ourselves intimately) and disclosing the gap (grieving what we don't have, personally and culturally). Cultivating our inner life will transform us and in so doing will influence the culture as a whole. Remember Revolution from Within by Gloria Steinem?  Yeah, that.

Onto the steps in the dance. Each step naturally builds into the next, and they all support each other. Like the steps in any dance. These are the 4Rs of relationship - restful, reflective, receptive and responsive. 

First step - presence (be restful)

One of the first and often the most challenging practice I invite my clients to undertake is what I call "wild idling."  I ask them to take 5-10 minutes a day and do nothing but sit with themselves. No meditation, no drinking tea, no mindfulness. Just doing nothing. Sounds easy, right? Many of my clients think the same - until they try it. Five minutes is a long time when you are not used to spending any time with yourself. Be bored, that's ok. The mind will think thoughts, that's ok, it's what the mind does. Like a nose will smell, a mind will think. But if you practice often enough, your inner wild landscape will begin to reveal itself. Not wild in the sense of "girls gone wild" but wild in the sense of original, un-domesticated, authentic.  You can't love what you have no connection to. This is about making that connection. 

A sense of place results gradually and unconsciously from inhabiting a landscape over time, becoming familiar with its physical properties, accruing history within its confines. Kent Rydon

Second step - awareness (be reflective)

This is the land of questions. When you normally would have beaten yourself up, berated yourself or sought out disciplinary measures, instead, get curious. Why did I have that reaction?  Why did I eat that bag of chips?  Why am I seeking out a diet yet again? (I'm looking at you, Oprah!) What am I feeling? What is this really about for me?  Journaling can be a helpful tool in doing this.

Also bring the curiousity to your body. Where am I feeling that emotion? What is the sensation? Does it have a temperature, a colour?

Third step - acceptance (be receptive)

Make room for the feelings and emotions that will arise when we stop distracting ourselves. There will likely be some grief and tears here. This is good. Tears are a softening agent - they will dissolve old judgements and shame that have been blocking our connection to ourself. 


Fourth step - attunement (be responsive) 

One of the video clips I have probably used more than any other over the years in both teaching high school and offering workshops for adults comes from the work of psychologist Edward Tronik. It is called the Still Face Experiment and it shows what happens to a baby when their mother, or any adult they are attached to, stops attuning to them. The baby is showing us what every human feels inside when we lack attunement. If you've ever been given the "silent treatment" you can relate. Feel free to have an aha! moment here when you realize you've been giving yourself the silent treatment.  

Attunement is attention + intuition. You can see that the mother is responding to the babe intuitively and physically. Whereas in step two we have awareness of the body, in this step we reconnect to being aware with our body. Our body is where our intuition lives (gut feelings, for example). This is where we intuitively create, make decisions, move and care for ourselves. This is where we respond to ourselves the way a loving parent would to their child. Or the way a loving friend would respond. 
 

This is the dance of a lifetime. Let's dance. xox

I see your figure wrapped in skins

Today, a poem from Mary Tallmountain - a First Nations poet from Alaska whose work should be better known. This poem she dedicated to her grandmother. Matmiya means "tall mountain" in Athabascan. In an interview with Joseph Bruchac she shared that although her grandmother was physically thin, she thought of her as she thought of all Native American women -  growing out of the earth in a  lushly vegetative way. (ref: Encyclopedia of American Indian Literature)

Matmiya        for my Grandmother                  

I see you sitting
Implanted by roots
Coiled deep from your thighs
Roots, flesh red, centuries pale.
Hairsprings wound tight
Through fertile earthscapes
Where each layer feeds the next
Into depths immutable.

Though you must rise, must
Move large and slow
When it is time, O my
Gnarled mother-vine, ancient
As vanished ages,
Your spirit remains
Nourished,
Nourishing me.

I see your figure wrapped in skins
Curved into a mound of earth
Holding your rich dark roots.
Matmiya,
I see you sitting.

from That's what She Said: Contemporary Poetry and Fiction by Native American Women (Indiana University Press)

 

when accountability is an obstacle to intimacy

But certainly, for us who understand life, figures are a matter of indifference.

If I have told you these details about the asteroid, and made a note of its number for you, it is on account of the grown-ups and their ways. When you tell them that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you, “What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?” Instead, they demand: “How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?” Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.

If you were to say to the grown-ups: “I saw a beautiful house made of rosy brick, with geraniums in the windows and doves on the roof,” they would not be able to get any idea of that house at all. You would have to say to them: “I saw a house that cost $20,000.” Then they would exclaim: “Oh, what a pretty house that is!”
— Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince), Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

As is typical for the new year, I have been seeing numerous articles about goal-setting. And they often talk about accountability. Make your goals measurable, they say. Tell others so you can be held accountable. Accountability is about analysis, about reducing something to the measurable, often for the purpose of manipulation. Accountability can also quietly convey distrust.

I want to be a voice for intimacy over accountability. For knowing yourself instead of forcing yourself.

When I was teaching I heard a lot about accountability, too. And I witnessed what happens when accountability becomes the driving force instead of a small piece of potentially useful information. When goals and learning outcomes and analysis and efficiency suck the curiousity and joy and intimacy out of the holy ground that education should occupy. For me, teaching is a sacred act, and the things that mattered could not be counted. Tests could tell you a very limited bit of information and I guarantee you that looking at a student’s test scores gives you next to nothing in terms of truly knowing that child. And when teachers are pushed to focus on the meeting the metrics instead of meeting the exquisite human in front of them, it destroys the trusting relationship in which learning and growth is meant to happen.

My clients sometimes say they would like me to hold them accountable. I remind them of our initial consultation where I expressly say, “I am not a coach that will hold you accountable. If you want that you will have to find another coach.”  I will believe in you. I will hold you capable. I will support you in what is wanting to emerge. I will explore with you whether what you think you want is what you really want. But I will not hold you accountable. I want to foster a deeper listening and self-trust in my clients. If they do something because I am holding them accountable, it is interfering in the development of that trust. It is undermining their relationship with themselves.

It can be really easy to get caught up in this accountability rush. How many steps did I take today? What is my weight, my caloric intake, my income….

I invite you to leave space for the unaccountable. Don’t let what can be counted override the deeper essential knowing. Don’t pay more attention to what is on your plate than you do to your internal landscape.

Am I feeling the way I want to feel?  

Is my life aligned with my values?

How well do I know myself?

Am I willing to trust myself?

Keep accountability in its rightful place as a servant, not a master.  Not just how many steps did I take today, but how am I in this body today? What did I notice, hear, sense as I walked?

Love lives in attention and trust, not in accountability. Be interested in yourself beyond the metrics. This is the path to intimacy.

If you are of a certain age you will remember this clip from Sesame Street. How beautiful you are. xox


The forest knows where you are

I just recently discovered the work of the photographer Mary Randlett. She was considered part of the art movement in the Pacific Northwest known as the Northwest Mystics. I plan to use her book of landscape photos as inspiration for my own photography this year (an ongoing creative adventure.)

Both she and the poet David Wagoner capture the spirit of this land that has claimed me.  Doesn't the Wagoner poem go well with this photo of hers? It also conveys a message I share with my clients often - sit still, do nothing, listen. 

 

Lost 
by David Wagoner

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

 from Traveling Light: Collected and New Poems


easy & inexpensive gifts infused with heart

Forget boxes of chocolates, gift cards that never get used and please, please, please forget the tchotchkes. (And I think I speak on behalf of all teachers when I say especially the tchotchkes. I bet we could build a whole new school with all the apple themed mugs, plaques, ceramic bells, ornaments, wall hangings, etc. that end up in the landfill every year.)

Here are some gifts I like to give that may be perfect for new friends you are just getting to know, old friends you’ve run out of ideas for, your kids’ teachers, and even for you. Bonus - they are all relatively friendly to mama earth. None of them need end up in a landfill.

 

For everyone:

Danielle LaPorte has an amazing free Desire + Fire Gift Bundle. This is almost too good to be true but if you know Danielle, you know better.  It contains The Desire Map audiobook (6 hours), The Desire Map workbook, the Fire Starter Sessions workbook, some digital wallpaper and a $10 gift card. And it is all digital, which means no mall, no wrapping and no post office queue. And did I mention that it’s FREE?  I’m giving this to all my friends and clients, because why wouldn’t I?

For your new friend, old friend, work colleague, supervisor:

Download the PDF of the free ebook What is Dying to be Born? onto a flash drive (link is in the column to the right), take it to Staples of Kinkos or your local copy shop and have it printed in colour and bound. Should cost less than $20. It feels personal but has also been used in professional development workshops at some big organizations. It manages to walk that line between personal and professional. Beautiful and thought-provoking and an original gift. (ask for enviro-friendly paper for printing and cloth or wire binding is more eco then plastic)

For your kids’ teachers:

Either of the two inspirational books Teaching with Heart or Teaching with Fire. About $15 each, any teacher will find renewed passion for their work inside these pages. I received Teaching with Fire as a gift and used it so heavily that I was thrilled when I got chosen to contribute to Teaching with Heart. I’m happy to say it’s as good as the first.

For someone who appreciates the handmade touch:

I like to make custom prayer flags with images that commemorate a shared experience (for example, I once made a set of prayer flags for each woman who was on a small retreat with me) or reflect the personality of the recipient. I either find or create simple black and white images on my computer (5 is a good number) and print them onto cotton fabric and then sew or glue them to a piece of cord or twine.  The directions here are good – though I like to cut the fabric a bit smaller all around then the sheet. For extra love, sew a little pocket on the back of one of the flags where written intentions can be tucked and then carried on the wind. I hang these in my yard and let them weather away.

For your hippie, mystical, earthy friend:

I buy a wonderful rose & moonshine infused honey from Nao Sims at Honey Grove. Start with the fact that honey is love in jar - can it get better than that? Truly, as Rudolf Steiner teaches, “The bees suck out their food — which they then turn into honey — exclusively from those parts of the plants that are centred in love; they bring, so to speak, the love-life of the flowers into the hive.” 

You can make your own version of this as a gift or for yourself. Find a local beekeeper who makes a light tasting honey and then infuse it with any dried spice or herb you like. Great instructions here. During the infusion time, set it in a window where it will get the light of the moon during the night – leave it through a full moon for the strongest infusion. The next full moon happens to be on December 25th.  (Nao leaves hers for 3 full moons beside a rose quartz crystal, but that requires some planning ahead and a little more witchiness than I have.) Make a little card to go with it describing the infusions and the love. 

Special touches

If you buy a gift but you still want to give it a little heartful touch, add some nature. I like to gild wishbones and acorns with gold leaf but even a simple shell or a pinecone adorning a gift feels more special to me than a plastic bow. It's sharing a little piece of your world.

give with love, all ways    xox Lianne