But That’s What Really Happened!

Rewrite Your StoryWhen I started looking into creative-writing programs, I got a book called The Creative Writing MFA Handbook.

It’s a guide for people applying to MFA (Master of Fine Arts) programs, covering everything from choosing the best-fitting school and submitting your application, to making the most of the experience once you get there — especially during the workshops, which are at the heart of most writing programs.

The author’s #1 piece of advice for being workshopped (i.e., having your piece critiqued by fellow students) is: Don’t get defensive!

Aside from not criticizing readers’ feedback (which harbors ill will and stifles honest discussion), he also discourages authors from explaining their work. (As an author, you aren’t generally sitting next to your reader, telling them what you really meant — it’s got to come across in the writing itself!) And most of all, he discourages workshopped authors from defending their work with one of student-authors’ most common (and least relevant) lines of defense:

“BUT THAT’S WHAT REALLY HAPPENED!”

Once I got into workshops, I actually heard this rebuttal fairly often. And more than once, I had to stop myself from voicing this thought regarding my own work — because I realized (thanks largely to the MFA Handbook) that it doesn’t matter one bit! Just because a story is 100% factual doesn’t make it a good story!

This is true for fictionalized accounts of real-life experiences, as well as creative nonfiction. And perhaps most of all (and this is the whole point of writing about this in a personal-growth blog), this is true for the stories we tell in everyday life!

You might repeat an anecdote about an unpleasant encounter you had while shopping. You might spend hours griping about your mean boss. You might spend years rehashing tales of unfair treatment you experienced as a child. And all of these stories might be 100% true, yet none of them are good stories!

(By which I mean they’re not good for YOU.)

In creative writing, a “good” story is one that engages the reader, reveals interesting aspects of life, and embodies artistic beauty/truth. But in everyday life, a good story is one that serves you! Or, to put it another way, it’s a story that not only is true, but that you WANT to be true!

With this in mind, my advice for all of us is:

DON’T REPEAT STORIES THAT YOU DON’T WANT TO BE TRUE!

There is no surer way to reinforce and relive a negative experience than by telling and retelling stories about it — in conversations, online, and even (and perhaps most importantly of all) in your own thoughts.

It’s like every time you tell the story, you increase the volume (or font size) — making it a bigger part of your life…and more likely that you’ll have similar experiences in the future. And if the experience really was that unpleasant the first time, why would you want to relive it — in stories or in your life?

But then what are we supposed to do — lie?

No, you don’t have to fabricate happy endings; nor do you need to ignore (or remain secretive about) the lower points of your daily ups and downs. But you can choose HOW you tell (and think about) the stories of your life.

And here’s where the creative writer’s bag of tricks can serve you well! Just like an author writing a piece of creative nonfiction, you get to choose which details to focus on, how you frame them, and what points you make with them.

For instance, if you’re telling a story about your day at work, you could focus on the many pleasant interactions you had, or you could go on and on about the one person who was rude to you. Yes, that’s what really happened. Yes, the story is true. But it’s not a good story!

But even if you did decide to tell the story about the rude person, you (as the “author”) get to set the tone. You could yell about it, cry about it, or laugh about it. You might even use one of my favorite techniques, “clarity through contrast,” and use that one unpleasant interaction to reinforce your intention to treat others well, your expectation that your positivity will be returned to you, and your confidence that you’re able to keep feeling good no matter how you’re treated!

You might even frame an unpleasant incident as the “before” picture in an uplifting story — by having it inspire you to effect positive changes in your life and to live a more enjoyable story!

The key is this: Each time you tell (or even think of) a story — which can be anything from a lengthy anecdote to a one-line “truism” (or “falsism,” such as “nobody really cares about me” or “everyone’s struggling these days”) — ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I WANT this story to be true?
  • Do I want this story to be true in the way that I’m telling it?
  • And if the answer to either of the two previous questions is “no,” ask: How can I retell this story so that I DO want it to be true?

Or you might decide that the best option is to not tell this story at all!

After all, there are infinite stories that you can tell and live. Why not choose the ones that you actually like?

P.S. If you’d like to start telling new and better-for-you stories, click here to check out my Rewrite Your Story ecourse. It’s available to everyone — and FREE to Soulful Life Sanctuary members!

(If you’re not yet a member, click here to learn more about the sanctuary, which includes Rewrite Your Story and over a dozen other courses and classes, plus a vibrant, supportive community that lets you connect with like-minded souls — and reconnect with yourself! Also, now for the first time ever, month-to-month membership is available for just $24/month! Click here for details.)

You can take this course any time you’d like, but we’re going to be going through it as a group in the sanctuary, starting November 1 — allowing us to discuss the course, interact with other students (and with me), and create new, more empowering stories! I hope to see you there! :)

Click here for more information and to sign up.

Photo by Yuri Bizgajmer

Step Right Up! (…or don’t)

carnival

Have you ever been to a carnival where the carnies call out to you from their rides or games: “Step right up! Right this way! Two throws for a dollar!”?

Maybe they’re trying to lure you over to the ring toss or some other game (that probably looks easy but is next to impossible to win). Or maybe they’re trying to coax you into taking a ride on a roller coaster or a Ferris Wheel or the Tunnel of Love or the Haunted House.

Many of the games or rides might appeal to you. You might be very happy that the carnies got your attention and enticed you into riding the Bumper Boats or playing a game of Skeeball (even if you don’t win the giant teddy bear).

Other games or rides might not appeal to you at all — or perhaps they actively repel you. For instance, if you know you that you have motion sickness, there’s no carnie in the world who could convince you to get onto the Tilt-A-Whirl.

But you don’t have to worry, because as you’re walking through the carnival, the only one who gets to decide whether or not to go on a ride or play a game is YOU! No matter how loudly or persuasively the carnies might call out to you, they can’t force you onto a ride you don’t want to go on.

This is the same as the rest of your life: No one can force you into a “game” (or a “ride”) without your consent.

People might catch your attention with their various offers (or suggestions or threats). They might yell or beg or cajole or pressure or plead, but only YOU get to decide what you want to do.

They can hold up all the hoops they want, but they can’t force you to jump through them. They can yell, “Step right up!” — but that doesn’t mean you have to!

This also holds true for your own thoughts!

Most people acknowledge that they don’t have to play along with other people’s games (or “dances” — hence the expression, “It takes two to tango”). And this is good to remember — especially when you’re feeling pressured into something that doesn’t feel right to you.

But it’s even more important — and empowering — to remember that you don’t have to follow your own thoughts!

After all, we each have over 50,000 thoughts per day — roughly one every second or two! Most of them merely flit through our minds momentarily, without us following the train of thought for very long (or at all) — like clouds that float briefly into and then back out of our peripheral vision, without us turning to follow them.

Thank goodness we DON’T follow every thought!

Can you imagine being pulled in a new direction every second or two? It would be like jumping onto every single ride at the carnival, just because a carnie called out to you about it!

Of course, just like the rides, there are many thoughts that we DO want to follow — flashes of inspiration, pleasing memories, or any subject that makes us feel good to think about. So we can choose to pay attention to these thoughts, explore them further, and enjoy the mental-emotional ride they take us on!

But there are many other thoughts that we DON’T want to follow up on — because, just like unpleasant carnival rides, we know how they make us feel.

If you’ve been on the Tilt-A-Whirl many times before — and every time you feel sick to your stomach (while you’re on it and perhaps for a long time afterwards) — you might want to consider not getting on that ride again. You’ve been there, and you know it’s just not worth going back.

But just because a carnie beckons (or pressures you or offers you a free ride) doesn’t mean you have to get on the ride!

A carnie’s call or a passing thought can’t hurt you…unless you follow it!

You don’t have to fear a carnie’s call from a ride you dislike. You don’t have to run over to them and yell, “Cancel! Cancel!” — or explain why you don’t like the ride or try to get the carnival management to shut down the ride altogether. (After all, it might be someone else’s favorite!)

You just have to NOT get on the ride!

Likewise, you don’t have to worry about a fleeting negative thought. Sure, if you follow it, you might end up feeling like you’ve taken a ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl: spinning round and round, going nowhere, and ending up feeling sick to your stomach — and maybe even kicking yourself afterwards for falling into the same old predictable thought-pattern.

But you have another choice: You can learn from your past experience what thoughts do and don’t feel good to “ride.” And when you notice one that doesn’t feel good, you can simply walk on by — just like you’d walk past a carnie calling out about a ride you don’t like.

And eventually you’ll find a ride or a game or a thought that you DO want to pursue. And then you can consciously choose to follow that call — and ride the Ferris Wheel or the Tunnel of Love or any other ride/thought that appeals to you.

Remember: You choose what to follow!

Just like the carnival, you can’t choose what rides or games are there. You can’t choose which carnies you hear calling out to you. You can’t choose every thought that drifts through your mind. But you CAN choose which ones to follow — to “get on board” with and give your sustained attention to.

And that is your greatest source of strength, power, and freedom — the freedom to choose what you focus on, what activities you pursue, and which thoughts you follow (or don’t). That’s what makes your life your own. That’s what makes you YOU!

And that’s what can make your life as joyful as a day at the carnival.

If your thoughts were carnies calling out to you, which ones would you want to follow? Which thoughts would you want to “ride” — and which ones would you rather walk on past…and move on to something more appealing?

Don’t Listen to Me

not_listening

I love the personal-growth community.

I love the millions of people who share their hearts and their wisdom in books, blogs, courses, workshops, and all sorts of ways — online, in print, and in person.

I’ve gained life-changing inspiration and insight from a wide variety of teachers, writers, mentors, coaches, and friends. I’ve been moved, touched, and motivated. And I’ve gotten lots of really good advice.

So now I’d like to share my own heartfelt advice regarding all of the wonderful personal-growth/spirituality teachers out there:

DON’T LISTEN TO ANY OF THEM!

(Not even me.)

Does this mean that I don’t think they have wisdom? Not at all! I’m continually impressed by the wise and brilliant thinkers who eloquently share their gifts with the world.

Does this mean that I don’t think they’re sincere? Not at all! While there may be an occasional scam artist thrown into the mix, I believe that the VAST majority of personal-growth writers and teachers (and all people, for that matter) are coming from a place of goodness, authenticity, and a sincere desire to serve others.

Does this mean that I don’t think they’re actually helpful? Again, no. I’ve been personally helped by many people in this field, and I’ve heard about (and/or witnessed first-hand) numerous others who have benefited tremendously through self-help books and programs.

So why don’t I think you should listen to personal-growth writers (including myself)? Or, more to the point, what do I recommend that you do instead? What or whom should you listen to? (Even if you’ve heard this countless times already, it bears repeating):

Listen to your own inner voice.

You have SO much wisdom inside of you — such tremendous potential for insight, problem solving, creative thinking, and personal growth. You’re a veritable fountain of inspiration. You’re an absolute genius!

So, because you’re already so wise, am I recommending that you never read another self-help book (or blog), ignore all personal-growth teachers, and shut yourself off from external influence?

Quite the opposite! In fact, I highly recommend that you expose yourself to a wide variety of thinkers, approaches, techniques, and paths. Soak up the wisdom of the world! Get all the good advice you can. And ignore all of it…except what resonates with you!

Because that is the best of both worlds:

  • You benefit from the great thinkers of the world, but you don’t let them do your thinking for you!
  • You trust your inner voice/guidance without shutting out potentially helpful ideas from the outside world.
  • You open yourself to new ideas and alternative perspectives while still taking responsibility for your own choices and your own life.

So when you hear a piece of personal-growth advice, the most important question to ask yourself is: Does it resonate? (In fact, you probably won’t even have to ask yourself — you’ll just KNOW.)

When a piece of advice (or any idea, perspective, approach, or attitude) DOES resonate with you — when it glows, has the ring of truth, feels like a vibrational match, or awakens an inner truth (something you feel like you already knew on some level, even if you couldn’t quite put it into words) — take it to heart. Welcome it into your life. Listen to its message for you. Sit with it. Ponder it. Feel it. Follow it. Allow it to ignite a spark of insight, passion, and inspiration.

And if it doesn’t resonate, just let it go.

~

When was the last time you heard an idea, perspective, or piece of advice that really resonated with you? How did you know that it was true or important to you? Did you trust that inner knowing? How did it change you?

You’re Getting Warmer

boy_playing_hide_and_seek

If I’d meant this title literally, I probably should have written it in spring or early summer, rather than waiting until the week before Labor Day. But I was thinking of it figuratively — as a personal-growth metaphor based on the common variation of hide-and-seek. Here’s what gave me this idea…

I recently listened to a recorded talk in which the speaker (Esther Hicks, presenting the Abraham teachings) described our Emotional Guidance System by using this example: You know the game where you’re looking for something, and as you get closer someone says, “You’re getting warmer” (or, “You’re getting colder,” if you get farther away)? Well, in a sense, this is the “game” that we’re ALL playing ALL the time!

As we move closer to (or further from) what we’re seeking (our best life and truest/highest self), we’re constantly getting feedback. No, we don’t generally have someone next to us saying, “You’re getting warmer; you’re getting colder,” but we do have that “voice” within us: in the form of emotions, intuition, or gut instincts.

Simply put, when you do or think something, and you feel better, that’s the voice saying, “You’re getting warmer!” And when a thought or action (or a thought about taking an action) makes you feel worse, the voice is saying, “Getting colder!”

And here’s the beautiful part: Both forms of feedback help you!

If you were searching for a hidden treasure, and someone (who knew where it was) told you, “You’re getting colder,” you wouldn’t get mad at them, would you? You’d probably be grateful for the useful information…and then (and here’s the important part) you’d move in a different direction!

Getting emotional feedback that we’re heading in the “wrong” direction (meaning one that feels bad to us) isn’t a problem. The only problem is when we ignore that feedback.

Or when we listen to it, take it to heart, and agree with it…but then keep going in the same direction anyway (and wonder why we feel “colder and colder”).

Or when we give higher priority to the outer voices telling us, “Warmer! Colder!” — and go against what we know feels better for us.

Following our Emotional Guidance System has a number of wonderful advantages:

  • ALL inner guidance is helpful. In addition to the reasons given above, “colder” feelings also make it easier to notice the contrast when you do get a “warmer” feeling — giving you even more confidence when you’re heading in a direction that feels good.
  • You don’t have to know the location of your ultimate goal (or “hidden treasure”). You don’t even need directions on how to get there. All you need to do is to take one step (or think one thought) and see if you feel “warmer” or “colder” — and then adjust accordingly.
  • You get to enjoy the game…every step of the way! When you play the actual “warmer/colder” game, finding the hidden object isn’t the sole point of the game. (If it were, then the person who knew its location would simply give it to you!) Half the point is to have fun — to enjoy the process, the search, the “climb” (to use the ongoing “Halfway up the Mountain” metaphor), and the rising excitement you experience from feeling “warmer”!

The warmer/colder process doesn’t mean that you’ll never work hard, make an effort, or exert yourself in any way. And this is fine; it’s often part of the treasure-seeking/finding process. And even if it didn’t lead to your ultimate goal, exertion can be very pleasurable in and of itself (especially when you’re able to find joy in your abilities and talents — your funktionslust).

It does mean, however, that you move away from struggle.

(This is the difference between, for example, the effort of hammering a nail as you create a beautiful piece of furniture, as opposed to hammering — or trying to hammer — a square peg into a round hole!)

You can think of this warmer/colder process as trusting your vibes, tapping into your intuition, listening to your emotions, or following your bliss. But, regardless of how you think of this process, it’s happening — all the time!

As you go about your day (and your life), you’re constantly receiving inner guidance. It happens automatically — requiring absolutely no effort (much less struggle) on your part. All you have to do is listen — and move away from “colder” feelings and toward the “warmer” ones!

Even though this process is perfectly natural, you can still become more conscious of it, nurture it, and have fun with it in lots of ways. For instance, you could interview (or “inner-view”) your Emotional Guidance System, simply by asking how a thought, action, or even a possibility makes you feel.

  • Does this make me feel better or worse?
  • Does this make me feel expanded or constricted?
  • Does this make me feel more or less energy, freedom, and joy?

Chances are, however, you won’t even have to ask — you’ll probably just know! (Or, more accurately, you’ll feel!)

When have you received clear (or subtle) “warmer” or “colder” guidance? Are you getting one of these messages right now about anything in your life? How would it feel if you moved even one little step in a direction that feels “warmer”?

photo by Oleg Mikhaylov

The Welcome Wagon

welcome-wagon

Moving to a new place (literally or figuratively) can be very exciting: you feel a sense of adventure, new possibilities, and a fresh start.

But once the initial excitement fades (or perhaps even sooner), you might begin to feel disconcerted or uncomfortable.

After all, this new territory is totally unfamiliar. You don’t know your way around. You get lost just trying to find the grocery store. You don’t know where the nearest gas station is. You don’t even have a library card.

The people here have strange customs and strong accents — and they use unfamiliar jargon, regional slang, or even a different language altogether. Half the time, you’re not even sure what they’re saying or doing.

Even your new home can feel strange and uncomfortable.  At night, you fumble around trying to find the light switch. You feel like a guest in someone else’s house. And although it might be a very nice house, it doesn’t feel like HOME.

You might find yourself wondering: Was this move even worth it? Should I just pack up and go back to where I came from?

After all, even if you moved out of a bad neighborhood, a bad situation, or a place that you had simply outgrown — at least it was familiar. It was comfortable.

It was the known.

This experience doesn’t just apply to physical moves.

You might feel this way when you’re moving into a new relationship (or leaving an old one). You might feel this way when beginning a new job (or leaving an old one). You might feel this way as you begin to pursue new interests, new spiritual practices, or a new lifestyle.

You might feel this way even when nothing in your external life changes — when you sense a shift in how you see the world, where you are in your life, or WHO you are.

When this is the case, what changes isn’t necessarily the world around you but how you experience it. You might find that old sources of comfort no longer appeal to you. And you might feel drawn to new areas — figuratively or perhaps even literally in the sense of an actual move.

And, as you’ve likely experienced in your own life, when you make a move of any kind, not everyone is going to move with you. Other people might not understand your desire to change. They might feel threatened. They might wonder why you didn’t just keep living in the same place and doing the same things you’d always done.

(And you might find yourself wondering the same thing!)

Yes, inner and/or outer changes can be exciting or even exhilarating, but they can also be scary and disconcerting. No matter how appealing the new home (or experience or life) may be or how unappealing the old one may have been, you still might find that part of you wants to scurry back to the safety of the tried-and-true…or even the “tried-and-false”!

If you find yourself in this sort of situation in any area of your life, it can be helpful to remember three things:

  1. WHY you moved/changed. You probably didn’t just pick up and make a major change in your life (job, relationship, a literal move, or any other upheaval) without having a very good reason for it. If you’re feeling growing pains or generally second-guessing your decision, it can be good to tap back into that positive sense of excitement and possibility (and/or negative impetus for leaving your old situation) that created the desire for something different in the first place.
  2. What feels strange and uncomfortable now will soon become your “new normal.” It might take a few weeks, a few months, or longer, but this new stage of your life will begin to feel natural, comfortable, and homey. It will feel like you.
  3. You already have friends in this new place. You don’t have to go it alone while you’re moving and settling into your new home! Even if you don’t know it yet, there’s an entire community of like-minded people who would LOVE to welcome you to this new stage of your life, get to know you (not just who you’ve been but who you’re becoming — the newly emerging you), and support you during your time of transition…and beyond. Many of them have made a similar transition in their own lives, so they’ll be able to relate — and probably even benefit from hearing about your experience.

In the past month, I’ve witnessed so many instances of these sorts of connections, new friendships, and new support systems — in the just-opened Soulful Life Sanctuary and elsewhere — as people in the midst of significant changes welcome and support one another. It’s so beautiful to see people who thought that they had to struggle in solitude actually feeling loved, understood, and supported.

It’s almost like having a Welcome Wagon when you move into a new town — a gift basket of maps, coupons, and goodies brought right to your doorstep. Or like having friendly neighbors introduce themselves, offer to show you around, help you get acclimated, or just invite you over for a chat.

(Or, if you’re lucky, maybe even bring you a homemade pie!)

If you’re feeling called to move to a new stage of life or finding yourself in unfamiliar territory, I’d love for the sanctuary to be your Welcome Wagon. But even more than that, I’d love for you to know that you’re not alone. Friendship and support are always waiting for you. Sometimes they show up on your doorstep (or in your inbox) and sometimes you have to spend some time looking for them, but you’ve always got “neighbors” who would love to show you around this new place, offer friendship, and help you feel at home.

And before too long, you’ll wonder how you ever lived anywhere else.

SLS-welcome-home-250P.S. If you’re moving into new territory — in terms of personal growth, spirituality, or any other area of your life — I hope you’ll check out the Soulful Life Sanctuary. In addition to a vast array of resources, you’ll be instantly connected with over 100 like-minded souls who are just waiting to support you, nourish you, and welcome you home! I’d love to see you there! Click here for details. :)

How much would you pay for something you don’t want?

money-planeSome people say: “Worrying is like praying for what you don’t want.”

To put it in more earthly terms, we could say, “Worrying is like PAYING for what you don’t want.”

Think of it like this: Imagine that every word you say, write, or even think is worth $100. And every time you say, write, or think a word, you’re spending that $100.

So, how do you want to spend your “word-money”?

Would you buy what you don’t want — spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on junk that will clutter your life with worry, stress, or unhappiness?

You’d probably say, “Of course not! What a waste of money! I’d never do that!”

But this is essentially what you’re doing every time you say, write, or mentally dwell on negative words. Every time you put yourself down, put others down, complain about what you don’t like, or think about what you don’t want, it’s like you’re buying more of this!

“But my words are true!” you might say. “I’m not making this stuff up — it actually exists!”

And I don’t doubt it. I know that junk exists. But just because you notice a bright, shiny box marked “Junk” (or “Worry” or “What’s Wrong” or “Unhappiness”) in a shop window doesn’t mean that you have to run into the store and BUY it!

Speaking or writing unhappy words is like BUYING unhappiness!

But there’s good news — VERY good news: the process works the other way, too! If worrying (or complaining or criticizing) is like paying for what you don’t want, then positive words are like buying what you DO want!

  • Every time you talk about, write about, or think about what you love and want to expand in your life, it’s like you’re paying for those things to stick around, grow, and multiply!
  • Every time you compliment yourself or others, you’re buying more of those compliment-worthy qualities!
  • Every time you share happy words (verbally or in writing), it’s like you’re “buying a round” of happiness for everyone who reads or hears those words!

Your positive words are great “investments” that pay compound interest! And the best part is: you’ll never run out of word-money! You have an infinite supply!

And because you’re so “word-rich,” you don’t have to worry if you accidentally blow a few bucks on unworthy words now and then. You don’t have to be perfect (or constantly guard your word-money through self-censorship).

But you also don’t want to blow your fortune on anything that’s not worthy of you — your highest self, the YOU who you want your life to embody.

Here’s the bottom line: You’re constantly spending this word-money anyway, so the real questions are:

  • How do you want to spend this money?
  • What do you want to buy?
  • Are your words good investments in your future (and your present)?

If your words reflect positive expectancy, your highest self, and a world you’d love to live in, then I’d say that this is “money well spent”! Wouldn’t you?

How do you spend your word-money? Are there any “bad investments” that you’d like to stop making? What are some of the best investments you currently make…or would like to start making?

Thank you so much for investing your time, your thoughts, and your heart by being here and sharing these words today! It’s a privilege for me to share them with you! :)

(Photo by Oleksandr Slyvka.)

Balance vs. Immersion

swimmerWhen I was a senior in high school, I spent a month in Spain as part of an exchange program. Aside from having fun, making new friends, and being exposed to an amazing culture, I can honestly say that my Spanish improved more during those 4 weeks than it had during the previous 4 years of taking classes.

I went from barely being able to squeak through a basic vocab quiz to the point where I could carry on a decent conversation in Spanish. Within a few weeks in the country I even began to dream primarily in Spanish!

What was the reason for my rapid improvement?

Was it because I got a better teacher? No, I was traveling with the same teacher I’d had all year back in the States.

Was it because I finally buckled down and got serious about my studies? Hardly! I was, after all, 17 years old — and far more interested in going to night clubs with my motorcycle-riding friends than spending my nights poring over Spanish-grammar textbooks.

Was it because I utilized some cutting-edge brainwave technology? No, this was 1989 — years before I got internet…and started seeing those near-ubiquitous pop-up ads about super fast language-learning programs (which, according to the ads, teachers invariably HATE!).

So how come it took me only a few weeks to transform from so-so student to almost-fluent conversationalist? What was my “secret”? As you’ve probably guessed, it’s no secret at all — something super basic that I can summarize in a single word:

Immersion.

During that month, I went from dabbling in the language to surrounding myself with it. Everything I read was in Spanish — from school books to menus and traffic signs. Everything I heard was in Spanish — from my host family, on the TV and radio, and in every class (not just period-3 Intermediate Spanish for 39 minutes).

(Well, not quite everything was in Spanish, since I was still traveling with my fellow American students who, much to our teacher’s chagrin, still spoke primarily in English to one another. Granted, we probably would have improved even faster if we’d spent 100% of the time with native Spanish speakers — but, after all, we were 17, and time with friends was given higher priority than Spanish fluency.)

But what about the rest of life?

OK, so the immersion approach seemed to work for learning Spanish, but what about the rest of life?

Yes, I’ve been able to learn other things very quickly when I’ve immersed myself in them. (For instance, I once learned one side of a two-person t’ai chi form [san shou] at a weekend retreat; learning the other side of the same form took me almost 6 months of weekly classes!)

But immersion isn’t just about becoming hyper-efficient or developing new skills at record-breaking speed. I’ve always been more of a “slow-and-steady” kind of guy, so this wouldn’t appeal to me anyway.

The area where immersion does appeal to me, however, is LIFESTYLE.

I want (and make a conscious effort) to immerse myself as much as possible in a life that nourishes me — to live in an environment that supports me, surround myself with people who value and respect me, and immerse myself in activities that feed my soul.

It’s almost like dipping myself in a yummy “sauce” — I want to “marinate” in goodness!

But what about BALANCE?

Perhaps the idea (and practice) of immersion appeals to you, but maybe it seems at odds with one of the most highly touted ideals of personal growth and spirituality: balance.

After all, isn’t that what we’re all supposed to be striving for — balance of work/life, yin/yang, mind/body/spirit? (It’s certainly one of the guiding principles of t’ai chi — including the form I learned at that weekend workshop!)

Well, yes and no. On the one hand, balance can be essential to your health — getting enough…but not too much: food, sleep, physical activity, etc. In many areas, moderation is the key to health and happiness — but, as the saying goes, “Everything in moderation…including moderation!”

In the area of emotions, for instance, I don’t believe that if you’re feeling exceptionally happy that you should intentionally focus on something negative…just to balance out your emotions. I don’t believe that you need to intentionally invite mean people into your life…just to balance out all the nice ones. And I don’t believe that if you’ve been immersed in your favorite soul-nourishing activities that you should do something you hate…just to restore some balance to your life!

Immersing in Joy

Just like learning Spanish or t’ai chi, one of the best ways to soak up positive emotions is to immerse yourself as much as possible in a positive environment!

This is one of the reasons why I’m super excited to be part of the Soulful Life Sanctuary (which just opened — more on that in a minute) — because I get to IMMERSE myself in joy!

As the Soul Guide of the Gratitude & Joy group, I get to spend as much time as I want basking in the writing, videos, activities, people, conversations, ideas, and practices that bring me joy. And I get to share that joy with others — to feed off of one another’s joy and gratitude, nurturing that positivity in all of us.

My job, quite literally, is to be joyful — and to share that joy! (How amazing is that?)

But even if it’s not literally YOUR job, you can still consciously immerse yourself as much as possible in the areas that you want to soak up — the activities that feed you, the skills that you want to learn and master, the places that inspire you, and the people who love you.

Yes, balance is an important part of life — but life generally creates it for you. (For instance, even if you’re immersed in work that you love, eventually you’re going to get hungry — which means you’ll have to eat, which means you’ll have to cook, clean, shop, interact with others, and do other non-work activities, which naturally creates a work/life balance!)

But as you’re creating (or striving to create) a balanced life, don’t be afraid to let some areas get out of balance — especially if they’re the areas that are so wonderful that you simply can’t get enough of them: such as joy, happiness, gratitude, fun, and love!

What parts of life would you like to immerse yourself in more fully? Is there an activity that you’d like to dive into — or an emotion that you’d like to fill yourself with? How can you immerse yourself more in what brings you joy?

P.S. As I mentioned above, the doors have just opened to the Soulful Life Sanctuary — a brand new community created by my wife, Jodi Chapman, to provide a loving space to go to relax, recharge, rejuvenate, and plug back into our connection with ourselves, others, and this beautiful universe that we are a part of. It’s a supportive community, a virtual classroom/retreat center, and a set of tools/resources to help you live your most radiant, authentic, soulful life!

I would love for you to check it out and join us there! Click here to learn more about it — including the earlybird discount and bonus gifts available this month only!

Come Join the Soulful Life Sanctuary!(swimmer photo by Irena Belousa)

Are You Expressing It…or Feeding It?

expressing or feeding?Feeding Joy (Revisited)

In my previous post (“Feeding Joy”), I wrote about the importance of “feeding” the parts of our lives and ourselves that we want to flourish — presumably, the parts that bring us joy, gratitude, and happiness.

But I also said that it’s natural (and probably even healthy) to express yourself, even when your thoughts and emotions aren’t joyful — rather than repressing, denying, or letting negativity fester within you.

So, is this a contradiction? By expressing negativity and giving it “air-time,” aren’t we just “feeding” it? How can we tell if we’re fanning the flames of negativity or releasing it in a healthy way?

What’s the difference between “expressing” and “feeding”?

I’ve been pondering this question a lot recently, and this is what I’ve come up with:

  • Expressing is when we take something within us and let it out. It’s like opening a pressure valve, releasing potentially harmful energy. It dissipates the energy; it gets it out of us, allowing us to move on with our lives, free from its influence.
  • Feeding is when we not only keep that energy trapped inside us, but we add to it by giving it our focused attention and energy. It increases rather than decreases the negativity we experience.

The direction of the energy’s movement is exactly the opposite in these two processes: Expressing negative thoughts or emotions gets them out of us — moving them out into the world where they can (hopefully) dissipate. Feeding negative thoughts puts them into us, where they can multiply and fester.

(In my previous post, I suggested a “five-minute rule” — allowing yourself approximately five minutes to express/release any negative thoughts or emotions. This can also be a good test to help distinguish expressing from feeding: If you’re done with the process in less than five minutes, you’ve probably simply expressed the negativity. If you’re still dwelling on it long after that, you’ve probably fed it.)

In short: Expressing makes us feel better, while feeding makes us feel worse.

And ultimately, that’s the real test: how do you FEEL after an expression (or feeding) session? Do you feel lighter, freer, unburdened, relieved, and open to joy? Or do you feel even more embroiled in anger or negativity than you did before you started expressing/feeding it? Do you feel ready to move on with your life in a positive way, or do you feel even more tethered and trapped by the negative experience?

Short-Term Vent vs. Long-Term Solution

It’s helpful to ask yourself the questions above not only moments after expressing negativity, but also in the hours, days, and weeks to come. Sometimes you might feel better and lighter immediately afterward, only to have the negative feelings re-enter your life after the initial cathartic rush has worn off. If this is the case, you may have merely vented your feelings without actually dealing with them.

Yes, venting can provide a short-term release and a temporary respite from negativity, but it doesn’t deal with the negativity’s underyling causes. And even if you feel lighter after venting, you may have simply dumped your negative feelings onto someone else!

But what’s the alternative?

Are we supposed to ignore or repress our negative emotions? Or do we have to spend months or even years focusing on them, trying to get to their root and “fix” them?

I believe that there’s a middle ground, which can be summarized in a single sentence (that Jodi and I put on the cover of the “Vent Books” we used to make): Let it out, and let it go.

Here are a few steps that might help with this process:

  1. Acknowledge – Notice your thoughts and emotions without judgment. It’s perfectly natural to have a full spectrum of experiences, including positive, negative, and everything in between. Becoming aware of negativity doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you; it simply means that you’re living consciously — and that you’re a human being!
  2. Express – Although you don’t have to rant and rave about every minor blip on your emotional radar, it can be helpful to address the larger or more long-lasting troubling thoughts, emotions, and experiences — perhaps by journaling about them, discussing them with a counselor or friend, or even just “talking” them through with yourself. (Again, however, I recommend that you don’t dwell on the negativity for much longer than five minutes, or chances are you’ll end up feeding it.)
  3. Redirect – Shift your focus to something positive — something that you’re grateful for, something that brings you joy, something that’s worthy of your attention!

This last step is the most empowering part of the process, because while we can’t necessarily control every thought and emotion that passes through our consciousness, we CAN choose what we pay attention to. And we always have millions of options in this regard, so why not choose something that reflects and nourishes your highest self?

In other words (to return to our starting point): something that feeds your joy!

P.S. If you’d like to feed the gratitude and joy in your life — and connect with others who are doing the same — I hope you’ll join me in the “Gratitude and Joy” group of the Soulful Life Sanctuary! Registration just opened, and right now you can sign up at a $100 earlybird discount!

The sanctuary (created by my wonderful wife, Jodi Chapman) is a beautiful online community that helps you reconnect with your soul while connecting with like-minded friends. It’s also an all-encompassing collection of tools and resources to help you live your most soulful life — including ecourses, live and archived classes, plus Sacred Spaces and Soul Guides in more than a dozen areas, such as Wellness, Creativity, Spirituality, Soulful Parenting, Self-Care, and Gratitude and Joy (which I’m the Soul Guide for).

I’d love to connect with you in this Sacred Space and continue this joyous journey together! :)

Please click here to learn more about the Soulful Life Sanctuary.

Come Join the Soulful Life Sanctuary!
P.P.S. Affiliate program available! You can also earn money (50% commission on each referral) while helping us spread the word about this beautiful community!

Feeding Joy + Sanctuary Registration is Open (at 40% Off)!

gratitude-and-joyI’m thrilled to share that my wife, Jodi, and I have just realized a long-term dream: opening registration for the Soulful Life Sanctuary!

The sanctuary is a beautiful online community that helps you reconnect with your soul while connecting with like-minded friends. It’s also an all-encompassing collection of tools and resources to help you live your most soulful life — including ecourses, live and archived classes, plus Sacred Spaces and Soul Guides in more than a dozen areas, such as Wellness, Creativity, Soulful Parenting, Self-Care, and Spirituality.

I’m excited to share more about the sanctuary (as well as how you can get a $100 earlybird discount + over $800 in bonus gifts), but first I want to talk about the Sacred Space that I’ll be the guide for — Gratitude & Joy — and why it’s so important to nourish this part of our lives!

Feeding Joy

You may already know the Cherokee story of the two wolves, but here’s the super-short, Q&A version:

Q: Two wolves are fighting within you — which one will win?
A: The one you feed.

As much as I generally shy away from using violent metaphors (I tend to modify expressions, such as “two birds on one perch” or “more than one way to play with a cat”), I do love this story — for a number of reasons:

For one thing, it doesn’t deny aspects of life that may feel negative or unpleasant — such as anger, envy, greed, or arrogance — which are represented by one of the wolves. Yes, these and other less desirable qualities live within us. But that doesn’t mean that they have to control or consume us!

We may not always have a choice about what thoughts or emotions flit through our minds and hearts, but we do have a choice about which ones we “feed.” And that’s the main part of this story that I love: the reminder that we always have a choice!

  • A choice about what we focus on.
  • A choice about what we dwell on.
  • A choice about what we talk about.
  • A choice about what we we give our time, energy, and attention.
  • A choice about which thoughts, emotions, and impulses we act on — and which ones we merely acknowledge before quickly moving on.

In other words, we have a choice about which “wolf” we feed — and we can always choose to feed the one that represents peace, love, compassion, and Gratitude and Joy!

And that’s what my Sacred Space in the Soulful Life Sanctuary is all about: feeding gratitude and joy — nurturing it, giving it attention, talking about it, acting on it, having fun with it, nourishing it with your love and energy, and hanging out with others who are doing the same.

(You probably know the principle of how your attitudes tend to reflect the people you spend the most time around — so why not consciously choose to spend more time with those whose focus reflects what you want for your life…such as more joy?)

This “two-wolf” approach doesn’t mean that we ignore or resist the difficult aspects of our lives. In fact, sometimes resisting things can be a way of feeding them — just as much as embracing them. To find a happy medium between resisting negativity and totally giving in to it, I give myself a “five-minute vent” rule: if something negative arises, I give myself permission to vent (or internally stew) for five minutes (slightly longer for more troubling situations, slightly less for minor ones). And then I’ll consciously shift my focus to what I’d rather feed: gratitude, joy, and love.

Because that’s the wolf that I want to be victorious in my life.

As I mentioned, I warmly invite you to check out the Soulful Life Sanctuary, where we offer lots of ways to feed your joy and your soul — while connecting with like-minded friends who are sharing this journey.

Sanctuary doors officially open on July 1, but if you register before then, you’ll get a $100 earlybird discount (that’s more than 40% off the normal price of $247!) + if you sign up before July 31, you’ll get instant access to over $800 in bonus gifts: including one-on-one coaching sessions, ecourses, ebooks, and other wonderful tools to help you connect with your soul and feed your joy! :)

Please click here to learn more about the Soulful Life Sanctuary.

Come Join the Soulful Life Sanctuary!

P.S. Affiliate program also available — so you can earn money (50% commission on each referral) while helping us spread the word about this beautiful community!

Enough!

lion-roaringLast week a friend of mine finally put her foot down.

After years of being mistreated and taken advantage of, she finally said one of the most empowering and important words in the English language:

ENOUGH!

After we exchanged several congratulatory emails and virtual high-fives, I had some time to reflect on her situation, and I was reminded of other times when I or other people I know finally said, “Enough!” — whether it was by leaving an abusive relationship, quitting a soul-crushing job, or setting healthy boundaries in any other way.

I was also reminded of Nietzsche’s parable of the three metamorphoses, which (in very paraphrased/summarized form) goes something like this:

A camel obligingly carries a heavy load into the desert. There, the camel turns into a lion, asserting its will and its freedom, shaking off the burdens that have weighed it down. Only then does the lion become a child — a being of innocence and playful creativity.

In short: the camel says yes, the lion says no, and the child also says yes. But the child’s yes is a “holy yes” — far different from the beast of burden’s submission.

Nietzsche uses this parable to represent the transformation of the spirit, but we can also look at it in terms of everyday personal growth:

Oftentimes (perhaps with the aim of people-pleasing or simply not rocking the boat), we put up with whatever others impose upon us. We allow unscrupulous bosses, selfish so-called “friends,” or inconsiderate strangers to pile their burdens (and issues and unreasonable demands) on us. But at a certain point, like the transforming camel, we’ve had enough. At some point, someone tries to load us up with the proverbial last straw that breaks the camel’s back.

And at that point, we roar! We say, “No! Enough!” We find our leonine strength. We set boundaries.

This stage doesn’t always go over so well with everyone. Not everyone will enjoy your newfound strength, power, and self-assertion. Some people may wonder what happened to sweet little old you — the submissive one.  They might long for the good old days when you uncomplainingly went along with their agenda rather than asserting your own will. They may be threatened — as people often are by roaring lions! They might even call you names that I don’t care to dignify in print.

Claiming your power and setting personal boundaries may not always look so pretty from the outside, but it’s a healthy, critical part of our development. However, it’s not the final stage of development. Only after asserting the leonine No! can we return to a childlike Yes! — a yes that welcomes, wonders, laughs, and creates.

So, getting back to my self-assertive friend: I am so excited for this new development in her life. But I think that, ultimately, the most exciting part of this stage won’t be her “roar” (however empowering and called-for it was), but what comes next — in other words, what she’ll do with all of this newfound energy — all of the energy that she’d previously expended in bearing the burdens placed on her by others, the energy that she recently expressed in saying, “Enough!”, the energy that is now available to her to create, dream, and live with childlike innocence.

Yes, this is the stage I am most excited to witness — to see her approach life with open arms and an open heart — to embrace life with a joyful, resounding YES!

In what area(s) of your life do you feel called to set healthier boundaries — to say, “Enough!”? What burdens have you been carrying that you’d like to shake off? How good and empowering would that feel? What might you be able to do or create with all that freed-up energy? When will you take your next step in this process?

Photo by Martin Pannier.