Empathy is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”
The action of understanding is an interesting sentence. It reminds us that it is an act, it is a choice. It’s not a thing you should consider yourself exempt from. It’s not that some people are empathetic and some people aren’t. It means that, for the most part, empathy is a trait you can choose to develop. Today our intent is to practice empathy.
If you’re sitting somewhere with your head down, just trying to make it through the day, we’re with you. This is why our intent today is about connecting. Sometimes it is when we want it the least that we need it the most. We want to encourage you to pick your eyes up and look around. Who’s there? Maybe it’s a barista. Maybe it’s your best friend. Whether it is a person you will see again or not, we encourage you to make the most of today by reaching outside of your bubble and allowing yourself to be impacted by those around you. Let them be impacted by you too. The world seems to be in desperate need of it!
One day this week I was sitting on an LA subway (translate: no internet) without emails or text messages to distract me from the growing anxiety and worry over to-do lists and conquering of constantly looming life questions.
“Am I making enough money?”
“Am I wasting time/my life?”
“Should I go home for Christmas or would it be wiser to stay in town?”
“Did I email so-and-so about the time change for the coffee meeting in two weeks?”
“Is marriage in the cards for me?”
“Do I already have a padded envelope to do that mailing or do I need to pick one up?”
Questions were coming at me like I was sitting at the base of a waterfall.
All mixed together. No theme or particular problem to unite them.
My whole life was starting to suffocate me at the Pershing Square station and that part that felt most suffocating was that it was so easy to answer every question with negativity.
I have a friend who always starts her new year by choosing a word.
One word to focus on all year.
I never choose a word because I like lots of words. It’s hard to commit.
I like the word “superfluous”. I like words like “indigenous” and “lax”.
HOW COULD I BE EXPECTED TO PICK ONE WORD?!
Then I started reading “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brené Brown.
She is a researcher/writer/the kind of human I’m glad exists. She was writing about courage, compassion and connection. She said that the original meaning of courage was “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.”
WHAT. Mind blown. The modern use of the word normally refers to a person who is heroic. Acting like a hero. In later chapters, Brené will also ask herself “what is brave for you?” What is the brave way for you to act or respond in any certain situation? For me, it appears that the brave thing, not my first instinct, is to live a courageous life in a way that reflects the original meaning of the word.
This year, 2014, I’ve chosen “courage” as my word.
Trust me, I already feel just a little bit more in touch with my feelings than I’m comfortable with. I think that’s how this is supposed to work, though.
So what’s your word? Who do you want to be this time next year?
Other good things for you to check out:
1. Intent.com – Share your words. Share your hopes and dreams. Meet 30,000 of the best cheerleaders you could’ve hoped for. Check it out.
2. “The Power of Vulnerability“- Brené Brown’s TED Talk. It’s 20 minutes.
You have time.
3. One Word 365 – It’s a community of people who choose a word and stick with it. Find others who chose your word. Be a better human. Make friends.
Yoga is great for stretching. If you do it enough, you can touch your toes and improve your parallel parking skills by twisting to see behind you.
But, it’s also great for stretching and expanding things beyond your muscles—namely your mind. Through concentration and meditation, in particular, the mind becomes stronger and more agile, in the same way our muscles are strengthened by a Vinyasa class or trip to the gym.
Another way to stretch our minds is through svadhyaya or self-study, which encourages yogis to be students of their practice and the world. One easy way to do this is to read. Since you’re reading this now, you’re off to a smashing start. BRAVO!
I recently had a request to share my favorite yoga and meditation books, so here’s a quick sampling of the ones I turn to most.
Modern yoga resources:
Living Your Yoga (Judith Lasater)
Eastern Body, Western Mind (Anodea Judith)
Yoga for Emotional Balance by my friend Bo Forbes
Shambhala Encyclopedia of Yoga by the late Georg Feuerstein
Mudras: Yoga in your Hands (Gertrud Hirschi)
Anything by B.K.S. Iyengar…
Classical yoga texts (each with multiple translations):
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Wherever You Go There You Are by mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn (and dad to one my dearest friends).
When Things Fall Apart by no nonsense Buddhist nun Pema Chodron
As an English major, former English teacher, writer, and proud nerd founder of the Om Gal Book Club, it’s no secret that I’m a major bookworm. I even have the knots in my shoulder and neck to prove it from lugging 2-3 books in my handbag at all times. I think it’s time for an e-reader…
And since they’re not all yoga books (not even close), I’ll share what else I’ve been reading lately and what I plan to read next.
Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers by the inimitable Anne Lamott
Lean In by Facebook COO and feminist superhero Sheryl Sandberg
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, also known as the book that changed my life most this year. (If you don’t have time to read the book, watch her TED Talk).
Love is a Mixtape by Rob Sheffield
Buddy: How a Rooster Made me a Family Man by my friend and editor of the Boston Globe, Brian McGrory.
We get it. Vulnerability is probably the last thing you want to be feeling when you go in for that interview, or start writing that novel, or hold your baby for the first time. Most likely you want to feel strong, competent, and powerful. Every word must be direct, every action swift, every feeling resolute. But guess what? Those hard edges may be keeping you from experiencing the fullness of a life worthy of such strength and potency. Case in point: What’s the first rule of love? Open, soften, let love in.
One of the most poignant TED Talks out there – which you may have already seen because it’s just that darn good – is one by social work professor Brené Brown. In her research, Brown focuses on the relationships among authenticity, courage, empathy, and, you guessed it, vulnerability. These ‘virtues’, you might call them, come together in the following simple but intimidating formula:
accept imperfection + welcome vulnerability = banish shame and live authentically
Do you agree with Brown’s thesis? Are you ready to be vulnerable? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!
One day in the not-so-distant past, like within the last month, I had a rare moment of complete clarity around my fears. Usually, when I’m wanting to unearth such things, it takes hours of work, awareness, and meditation. But this was different. All of the sudden, I just had a vivid moment of clarity. They all came to me. At once. Naked. I grabbed a pen and started writing.
1. Parent guilt: I am afraid I do not create space for, or dedicate enough of myself to quality time with my children. I am afraid I allow them too much screen time.
2. Spouse guilt: I am fearful that I am not pulling my weight financially or responsibility wise. I am concerned that I might not be doing enough work to keep the workloads fair between us.
3. Fear of finances: I am worried I will never make enough money to pay the bills and/or accumulate savings.
4. Fear of aging: I am terrified of weight gain, wrinkles, hair in unwanted places… I am concerned that I will become less and less attractive over time.
5. Charlatan fear: I am petrified that I am full of conflicts. I am frightened that I may not be disciplined enough.
6. Fear of insignificance: I am astounded by the grandeur of my dreams. I question my worthiness of such lofty goals that are in line with the great people on the scene like Brene Brown and Jennifer Pastiloff.
7. Fear of not “doing” enough: I am anxious that I am not planning enough workshops, applying to enough conferences and/or retreats.
8. Fear of being a bad friend: I am ill at ease around the decline of the welfare of some of my friendships.
Once I captured all of these, I felt somehow relieved. And then, I had to, absolutely had no choice but to write on the opposite page, the left hand side, I had to write more words of which I did not even understand their origin…
Relax, it’s all OK.
Be in love, of love.
Stay connected to your magnificence.
Believe — it is exactly as it should be.
Connection = Joy
You are enough.
Riches come in all forms.
I look back at my journal and read these words. I realize, they came through me, not of me. They were not words I concentrated on or carefully chose. My pen flew across the page, the words pouring forth. I could not have stopped them had I tried, which I most certainly did not.
With regards to my fears — What I realized is that these are the ways in which I expect to be perfect. I expect to be the perfect parent, spouse, forever youthful breadwinner, infinitely important and perpetually wise and kind. In reality, I am not perfect. I do have some perfections, but I also have many imperfections. We all do. And in truth, I am doing the best I can daily.
I drew comfort from these words which transpired during a recent discussion between Oprah Winfrey and Brene Brown on Super Soul Sunday on March 17th.
O: “Perfectionism is walking around projecting the facade that everything is perfect — clothes, car, relationships, family but really, we are slaving to the ultimate fear that people are going to see us for who we really are and think that we won’t measure up to our desired image.” B: “We think of it as a 20 ton shield protecting us from being hurt, but really, it protects us from being seen.” O: “It’s kind of sad. Perfectionists are striving for a world that doesn’t exist. It’s attempting to be beyond judgment. But really, there’s no such thing.”
So what is the answer? According to Brene Brown and her 12 years of accumulating scientific research on shame, vulnerability and courage, “The cultivation of gratitude and joy is the way home.” She goes on to say that, “The most terrifying, difficult emotion that we as humans experience is Joy. Not shame, humiliation, fear. Joy. When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding. [We say to ourselves] I’m not going to soften into this moment of joy. I’m going to beat vulnerability to the punch. We try to dress rehearse tragedy so we can beat vulnerability to the punch.”
What if instead of slaving to our fears, allowing them to remain silent and hidden, what if we acknowledged them and voiced them? When you voice something, it begins to lose it’s power over you. And who wants their fears to have power over them anyway? I’m comfortable wagering a guess that the answer is no one. None of us want to be ruled by our fears. So how about it? What are you afraid of? And how does perfectionism play a part? How about freeing yourself right now?
“If you’re wondering what happens if you attach your self-worth to your art or your product and people love it, let me answer that from personal and professional experience. You’re in even deeper trouble. Everything shame needs to hijack and control your life is in place. You’ve handed over your self-worth to what people think. … With an awareness of shame and strong shame resilience skills, this scenario is completely different. You still want folks to respect and even admire what you’ve created, but your self-worth is not on the table. You know that you are far more than a painting, an innovative idea, an effective pitch, a good sermon, or a high Amazon.com ranking. Yes, it will still be disappointing and difficult if your friends or colleagues don’t share your enthusiasm, or if things don’t go well, but this effort is about what you do, not who you are. Regardless of the outcome, you’ve already dared greatly, and that’s totally aligned with your values; who you want to be.”
In 2012 after losing my mother, I have been living my life with a certain degree of Shame Resilience: Meaning, I am not attaching my self worth to the reception of my work. In other words, I’ve unplugged from the popularity contest. As such, I’ve been speaking to things that aren’t widely condoned (especially in my part of the country) — the need for vulnerability, unplugging from your past traumas, facing shame head on, learning to love yourself and everyone around you totally and completely without reservation. In some cases, this has brought me great accolades; in some cases, I have alienated once dear friends, clients and family members.
“All life breathes, moves, heals and suffers together.”
~ Caroline Myss
Recently, I wrote an article revealing what could be construed as a dark story in my family. I did not know why I was writing it at the time, I just couldn’t not write it. The story burned through my soul to my fingers and onto the screen. In telling this story, I inadvertently caused my remaining family (my sister and my father) great sorrow, humiliation and shame. This was not my intention — it was far from my intention. My intention was healing — for myself, for my family and for others who have suffered similarly. And because I had already forgiven my sister, this story held no charge for me. I did not realize that perhaps, she had not forgiven herself, so this story would trigger shame for her. When I was alerted to such, I removed the article. I struggled greatly with the outcome of my actions. For although I want to be a pioneer in learning self love, it is not my intention to cause others harm.
I am now moving into the realm of forgiveness, as is advised by the shamanic wisdom website ThePowerPath.com as the theme for the month of December — clean the karmic debt junk drawer, let go, surrender and sigh. My spirit echoes this cry. You see, I not only need to forgive my sister, which I have done countless times before and will likely do again, I must forgive myself. I make mistakes; I simply do.
I had a meeting with a friend and colleague last week. She stared at me through shimmering tears. “I just don’t know if I can trust you,” she said. “I need to know that you will support me when I need you,” she continued. My heart was bleeding for her. Of course you can trust me! I wanted to scream. I couldn’t believe her hesitation. I was mortally offended at the base of my soul. But all I offered was, “You can trust me. I love you. I’m here for you.”
“I’m loved unconditionally, for no other reason than simply because I exist.”
My friend had lost touch with this central truth of our existence. We are all loved, each and every one of us, simply because we exist. All we have to do is remember our magnificence and return to our true nature, vulnerability, to realize that which we most seek — connection. Even my sister is loved unconditionally simply because she exists. I know this. I wish she did as well. I wish everyone I know and have known were aware of this simple truth. And so, I must continually remind them.
Part of being at the forefront of becoming conscious is to accept the role of making others uncomfortable, for discomfort is often the catalyst for change. And so it is.
Approaching the security checkpoint while leaving Portland airport, I realized that everyone was being asked to step into the large full-body scanner before being allowed to move on to their departure gates.
Alarm bells went off in my head, as I’m committed to protect my safety and well-being by avoiding these scanners at all costs. (I’ve checked out the research and frankly, I prefer to protect my DNA whenever possible). I carefully watched as my turn inched closer. No-one was escaping the scan and everyone seemed to be willing to comply.
Arriving at the first officer, I announced that I’d prefer not to walk through the scanner and would be perfectly happy to have a manual body check. The second security officer loudly broadcast, “We have an opt-out.” I probably shouldn’t have, but I smiled. Mostly to myself. Opt-out. Perfect description of my entire week spent in Portland, if not much of my life actually. I was prepared to embrace the moniker and wear it well.
Visiting Portland has been a long held dream, so I’d jumped in feet first when I was fortunate enough to get one of 1,000 tickets being offered to the second annual World Domination Summit, the brainchild of author and uber world travel hacker, Chris Guillebeau. His book, The Art of Non-Conformity, had spoken loudly to all my own instincts of being true to myself, living an unconventional life and opting out, even if that meant living a life that didn’t quite conform. Living a life that often had me turning left when everyone else seemed to be going right.
Unsure of what might happen at a gathering whose theme centered around the question “How do you live a remarkable life in a conventional world?”, my curiosity had me say “yes” and take the plunge.
And for my time in Portland, I continually chose to opt-out. From traveling there alone knowing no one in advance (a big step outside my own comfort zone), to riding public transit which is so accessible and free in the core of the city (I rarely take public transit in Toronto), I was opting to try things that might be a bit uncomfortable, to stretch myself even if it was in small ways.
As an extroverted introvert, I found it easy to talk to everyone in Portland and especially at WDS, where the energy was very alive and open. Although I chose to stay somewhat to myself, I trusted that whomever I was supposed to connect with, was exactly who I would meet.
It continued to fascinate me that people of all ages and stages in life, from all over the world, had chosen to converge in Portland for this event and more often than not, they all were as introverted and shy as I am. Or perhaps I only met fellow introverts to engage in stimulating conversations with!
The opening speaker, Brené Brown, talked about vulnerability and was both powerful and funny, while showing us why being “cool” closes us off from true emotional connection. If you haven’t watched her incredible TED talk on vulnerability, which has had over five million views, I can only say that her message strikes a truly universal chord. Her humour and sensitivity were touching and she ended by putting us all on the spot, asking us to be oh-so-uncool and join in a group sing of Don’t Stop Believin’. This showed me that others had chosen to be here for the same reason I had. To find a tribe of like-minded people and to feel that somehow we belonged. We were all in our own individual ways, opt-outers.
So what do one thousand opt-outers do for a weekend together? We inspire and uplift and support each other. We continued to hear throughout the weekend that ideas and inspiration alone mean little, without action. We also heard from many inspiring people who had created an enormous impact in the world from a simple desire to do better and be better, by being harbingers of service on a planet that has no shortage of causes.
It was a weekend of generosity of spirit by all the speakers, by the volunteers and by all of us who attended. It was a weekend of serving each other in many ways; of being available, of sharing, of being vulnerable to being seen for who we are. No masks. No suits of armor.
Perhaps for me, the most generous and authentic act came from Chris Guillebeau himself. A soft-spoken, gentle and humble spirit, he closed the event in an almost unbelievable way. At this totally non-commercial, no-sponsor, no-ad event, no-one is selling anything ever, throughout the entire weekend. A tribute to his vision and authenticity.
Chris took center stage and began a story, telling us how this year WDS had turned a small profit. Nice. He went on to tell us that an anonymous donor had chosen to give a substantial sum of money to the event. Wow. Substantial enough that it equated to $100 per attendee actually. Wow again. He went on to explain that they had thought long and hard about what to do with it.
My first thought was that he would donate it to Scott Harrison’s incredible organization, charity water, as not only was he a keynote speaker, but was a shining example of how one person can turn their life around, moving from a self-serving life to one of selfless serving.
Chris went on. No, they had decided something much different than this. Chris believes in empowering people. His latest book The $100 Startup (which we had already been given in our welcome bags) tells inspiring stories of people who, armed with an idea or dream, often no plan and a small amount of money, started something that became a personal adventure, while being of service to the world.
By this time, the crowd was in captivated suspense. What was Chris going to do with the money? In an act of empowering generosity, he opted out of keeping the money or making a decision on all our behalves. Instead, he was giving each of us a $100 bill with very simple instructions. To go out and do something, start something that would make a difference. The room was buzzing. For a moment I wondered if I’d heard him correctly. He was giving this money back to us? Empowering all 1,000 of us to make our own choice?
In all my years and all the events I’ve attended, this stands out as a first. An extraordinarily authentic act by someone who walks and talks his truth. I left unsure of what to do; one large donation or small acts? My first inspiration struck as I walked around downtown Portland. I chose to randomly give small amounts of money to street musicians and homeless or hungry people. Helping someone with no home or food, strikes a personal chord with me. That was my place to start.
In reflecting on the themes of the event, community, adventure and service, I see how they all resonate deeply with me. They confirm that by opting out of following a conventional path and aiming for a remarkable life, we have the opportunity to shift and create new paradigms.
With my pat down finished, I walked towards my departure gate, remembering Brené Brown’s message about embracing uncertainty and that each of us belongs here. Although I have no idea what is coming towards me, I am happy to face it as a committed opt-out.
I’m willing to take a stand for who I am, and what I believe in, continuing to create conversations that just might encourage others to step out of their own comfort zones and join the growing army of us opt-outs who are determined to make a difference, by being of service in as many ways as we can.