Tag Archives: vulnerability

The Insufferably Cheerful Server

A few weeks ago, I was at one of those restaurants where you order at the register and they buzz you when your meal is ready. The guy at the register was really, really cheerful. You would have thought I was his long lost friend he thought had died, now miraculously appearing before him alive and well, ordering a margherita pizza. As he greeted me with robust enthusiasm, I found myself grinning like an idiot, attempting to somehow meet his cheerfulness in equal measure, as if we were in a battle for who was the happiest. I’m pretty sure he won the battle by a long shot. Even on my most boisterous days, I could never match that kind of enthusiasm. Plus, it turned out that day happened to be a challenging one for me, so my attempt to engage at that level was not only unsuccessful, but also inauthentic, exhausting, and painful.

I walked away from the encounter feeling oddly irritated, sad, and empty. I struggled to make sense of why I felt so awful after encountering such a cheerful man. It wasn’t that I felt he was being inauthentic, although whenever anyone acts that way my cynical side does tend to wonder if it’s some sort of facade. Even if it was a facade, though, I knew it was something else—something deeper—that I was struggling with.

At the time I came to conclude I was upset because we had completely missed each other in that brief exchange. There was no genuine connection. I wasn’t able to come up to the clouds to meet him where he was, and it seemed he did not notice my somewhat quiet and somber mood. And so it was yet another vacuous encounter, all too common in this often superficial culture.

Then I had another experience which deepened this realization further. I watched a recording of one of those online webinars where a presenter/guest comes on to share her wisdom. In a way, the woman on this webinar reminded me of the insufferably cheerful server. She smiled and giggled for at least an hour straight as she shared about her passion and offering. It seemed that a permanent smile had been plastered on her face. Don’t get me wrong—the joy beaming off this woman was powerful and contagious. I could immediately understand why thousands of people flock to her workshops. Just being in her “virtual” presence felt comforting, like somehow her joy would seep through the screen into my bones.

The group who hosted this event consists of people I love and highly respect. I must admit to being morbidly curious about what would happen when she finished and the group had a chance to ask questions. Surely this brilliant and highly conscious group would bring forward insightful, probing questions, right? Wrong.

Instead, I was stunned to watch most of these articulate, brilliant people react to this woman in much the same way I had reacted to the insufferably cheerful server. They smiled strangely fake smiles. They giggled and laughed and heaped praise upon her. As I witnessed this strange scene unfold, I must admit to being shocked and somewhat mortified. But now, thinking back on my reaction to the cheerful server, I realize that almost certainly I would have acted similarly if forced to interact with that woman in those circumstances. After all, only weeks before, I had behaved in pretty much the same manner in an ill-fated attempt to somehow connect with the all-too-energetic server.

We human beings have a deep and profound need to connect in a meaningful way with one another. As I imagined myself in the position of having to interact with the webinar woman, I felt this sort of frantic, panicked energy arise. What would I say? How would I act? How would I—a mere mortal with a full range of human emotions and failings—connect with someone who seemed only willing to expresss a mix of giddiness and delight while subtly denigrating the “lower” emotions as unenlightened? Trying to connect with her would have been like trying to connect with a whisp of smoke. No depth. No real connection.

We cannot connect with another person at a human level if we are unwilling or unable to be real. An important way we connect is through vulnerability. Vulnerability starts with being real with ourselves, and then slowly moving into being real with others. Spiritual bypassing—which is what I believe this webinar woman was doing—is by definition ungrounded and simply a way of avoiding the messiness of being human. Yes, being human includes joy, but it also includes grief, and longing, and confusion, and despair, and a million other things. If a plastered-on smile and cheerfulness is all that is welcome in an interaction (and we know when this is the case, have no doubt), then we will not connect at any real depth because we are limited to sharing a teaspoon of who we really are.

It takes two to tango, as they say. I once heard a story of a check-out lady at the grocery store who noticed a man in line was looking sullen. Rather than meeting him with a blast of cheerfulness, instead she said, “Hey, what’s wrong, honey?” He told her a bit. She responded empathetically and gave him a piece of wisdom to boot. They connected at a real level. It was the man I heard this story from years after the encounter. We remember connections like this. It is what we all want. It’s what I wanted with the insufferably cheerful server; it’s what I want with everyone I meet.

It’s simple, really. All we have to do is be real with one another, listen, and respond with humility, authenticity, and vulnerability. Piece of cake, right? It may not be easy, but we have to learn to meet each other in this way to have the depth of connection we all want and need.

Healing Through Conditions

When I am working with clients, they often have particular conditions or issues they are facing which they would like resolved. I know that my clients have the full capacity to Heal through those conditions. But notice that I used the words “through” and also “Heal” with a capital “H.” Healing in the way that I view it does not necessarily mean the condition itself goes away. If a condition does in fact go away or resolve, I tend to call that a healing with a lower-case “h.” And of course this is a fantastic outcome! But sometimes the condition won’t resolve in the Healing journey. In fact, on the most extreme level, we can experience a full Healing and, at the same time, still die from the condition. In my own journey, when I really grokked on a deep level that all of us have a terminal diagnosis, the question of what Healing actually is became a much deeper inquiry.

All clients are their own Healers and hold their own answers. When I work with clients, I do not know the specific outcome or how the Healing process will show up in their bodies, mind, or spirit. There are many levels of change that can and will occur in the Healing process. When I work with clients, I am supporting them in Healing on all levels related to their specific condition or intention. Conditions and dis-ease provide a fantastic focal point because the center of the condition is actually the portal to the Healing process itself. That is why I say that we Heal through our conditions.

For me as a Healing facilitator, supporting Healing in this way involves reaching into unknown possibilities and inviting in whatever needs to happen for true Healing to occur. I never know exactly how that will look or what the outcome will be, but I have noticed the response is always Intelligent and beyond what my mind could ever have imagined or figured out based on my knowledge and training. I am amazed by my clients every single time. It is truly an honor to play a small part in their Healing journeys.

The Change We Don’t Want

steering wheelWhen it comes to healing, it doesn’t seem obvious that we resist change. After all, we are usually suffering with some sort of condition that we really do want to change. In general, we simply want it to go away so we’ll feel better. Oftentimes we believe our chronic disease or condition is something that is wrong or bad, something that is somehow separate from us, and something that should be, and can be, gotten rid of without affecting the rest of who we are. Yes, we want the condition to change (go away), but we often do not acknowledge the connection between the condition and the beliefs we hold about and toward the condition. In other words, we do not realize that our relationship with the condition is an integral part of the condition itself. We actually believe this separate “thing” can be healed without changing anything else about us. Indeed, this is the very premise upon which western medicine is based as well as several alternative therapies.

Healing Involves Change

Healing at a deeper level involves change on every level of our being. Many chronic conditions and/or so-called incurable diseases (autoimmune diseases, neurological diseases, gastrointestinal issues, cancer, hormonal imbalances, mental diseases such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, etc.) can and do resolve themselves through the process of Healing as I describe it. However, major shifts such as these involve change that extends well beyond the symptoms going away and a doctor declaring us “cured” (or claiming we must have been misdiagnosed in the first place). These changes are not optional, but are rather part of the Healing process itself.butterfly emerging from coccoonWhen we are in the cycle of suffering, we think our suffering is being caused by the condition we are facing. Therefore, we think if we get rid of the condition, we will stop suffering. Perhaps we go in for surgery and have a cancerous tumor removed. Maybe we have our knee replaced and the pain we had before is gone. Perhaps we leave our stressful job or our marriage and feel a huge sense of relief. In the traditional sense, many would call these examples of healing. The advances in western medicine are absolutely incredible and invaluable in our lives. But simply having a knee replacement is, in and of itself, not Healing in the sense I am speaking of here.

In my experience, both with myself and with my clients, even when a condition is “cured” as in the examples above, if there is no other corresponding shift on other levels of being, the suffering will continue. We simply refocus our attention on another condition or issue that is “not okay” (either inside or outside of us) and continue to be enmeshed in the cycle of suffering.

MaskOn the other hand, when we engage in the process of Healing on a deeper level, real change is inevitable. One of the most significant of these changes is a perspective shift about and toward the condition itself. As we begin to experience and embody that aspect of us that is other than suffering, we realize that we Heal through the condition rather than from the condition. We see the condition itself as our means of Healing rather than that which we need to get rid of in order to Heal. This perspective shift in itself can end the suffering (i.e., the resistance) around the condition. But in order for that shift to occur in a truly embodied way, many other changes on many levels must also occur. We simply do not get to keep our current belief structures and worldviews (our ego as it is constructed now) and Heal in this way.

This process is absolutely terrifying to most of us because it feels as if we are giving up who we are (and how we think the world operates) at a fundamental level. And indeed, this is true. It is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects for us to accept and embrace on our Healing journeys. Most of us want to keep our current perspectives and beliefs and simply get rid of the condition. In other words, we don’t want to change. However, the kind of Healing I’m talking about involves change, and there is no way out of it.

Part of the Healing process is learning to embrace change and recognizing what that means within ourselves. It can be a very scary prospect. But fear is part of the process too. Indeed, the fear itself can become a path and doorway to true Healing.

In Gratitude & Love,
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The Gift Within Your Health Crisis

flashlightWhen you are in crisis, the very idea that a gift lies within the experience can seem absurd or even offensive. What is the gift in receiving a life-threatening or debilitating diagnosis? How can there be a gift within being suicidally depressed or the experience of uncontrollable panic attacks? When you are the one in crisis, I have personally found that to be the most difficult time to see the gift. Of course, it is much easier to see the gift as an outsider. In fact, you will no doubt have at least a few people trying to comfort you with age-old clichés such as, “Well, you’re learning something, aren’t you?” or “Every cloud has a silver lining,” or “Don’t forget, everything happens for a reason.” In the midst of a healing crisis, not only can these tired clichés utterly fail to comfort us, often they enrage us because we feel completely unseen in the immensity of our pain by those whose profess to love us.

When it comes to facing a health crisis, whether mental or physical, it is very easy to dwell in fear, despair, and desperation. When you come to the point where your quality of life is seriously affected, or your life itself is threatened, you are in crisis. You will be challenged on all levels. There is no denying the difficulty of this challenge nor the painful feelings and experiences that often arise within it. But I have found that within the crisis also lies a gift, if you but choose to see it and focus your attention on it. This gift has many facets, and many of those facets will be unique to you. Here I wish to highlight some of those aspects of the gift that seem to be common for many of us.

Ironically, one aspect of the gift that lies within the crisis is the opportunity it gives you to notice its existence. No one can turn your eyes toward the gift but you, and that is part of the gift itself. When you make the choice to open to the possibility of there being a gift within the crisis, you are shown and experience unequivocally your own courage and your own power. You realize that it is within your power, and yours alone, to see and embrace the gift which lies there for you. You also experience, without a doubt, the enormous eye abstractcourage it takes to wrench your attention away from the despair and pain in order to look toward the gift, even if for only a moment. Within this profound realization, your power is given back to you (or rather, you see that it was yours all along). You realize you can choose where you focus your energy and attention, and ultimately, this means you have the power to directly affect your experience as you move through and meet your health crisis.

But there is even more to this gift, as if that were not enough. Another aspect of this gift is your own healing. When I say healing, I am not speaking of recovery from disease or injury as we normally conceive of it (although that is always a possibility as well). Rather, the profound healing I am speaking of could better be described as evolution. I just heard an interview with Jean Houston today in which she shared that the new paradigm of healing is not about fixing or curing, but rather about becoming. The gift within the crisis gives you the opportunity to allow your own unfolding into the next stage of your evolution — your becoming. More precisely, the opportunity is not actually in whether or not you will evolve (for that is inevitable), but rather to what degree and to what level you accept, allow, and embrace the flow of the evolutionary process itself. This includes the degree to which you are able to accept and love yourself — all aspects of yourself — as you move through the crisis and your own unfolding.

What will the experience of this healing and transformation be like for you? It will be unique to you. No one’s gift is the same, for we all unfold uniquely, even if we may all be heading in the same direction. It will depend upon where you are in your evolutionary process when you come upon your health crisis. It will depend upon countless other factors which make up the whole of who you are and the particular process you must go through. It will even depend upon your perception of the evolutionary process itself as you move through it. To what degree are you perceiving the process (your health crisis) as a gift and to what degree are you resisting it? This will be a factor in determining your experience of it. How much are you able to let go of the tendency to compare your own healing journey with another’s journey? This will also affect your healing experience. There are countless other factors as well.

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In the end, whether or not you experience this gift within the crisis as a gift or as a curse is a matter of perspective and choice. I believe we evolve through these experiences regardless of if we see the gift in them or not, although how easily, quickly, and consciously we experience that healing is largely up to us. None of what I’ve said here is meant to minimize or deny the challenge and pain in these situations. In fact, part of loving all aspects of ourselves through these times is in acknowledging the enormity of the pain we feel and then choosing to meet those parts of ourselves that hurt with unconditional love (rather than turn away with denial, avoidance, or condemnation). When we come upon these times, we have a choice in where we focus our energy and attention. Ultimately, we get to choose whether or not we see the gift because it exists as a possibility within our own hearts. The gift exists as an opportunity to experience, consciously and openly, our own evolution and healing.

In love & light,
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“There are kids starving in China.” Huh. Yep, I still hate peas, but now I feel guilty for hating peas!

As a youngster, I despised peas.  Peas were the enemy.  But for some reason, my parents insisted I eat them.  I accomplished this horrific task by attempting to swallow them whole as quickly as possible so as to hardly taste the awful things going down.  I also tended to drench them in butter and salt, which basically counterbalanced any nutritional value they once had, thus making the whole exercise fairly pointless.  I’m not sure if it was my parents or someone else who then pointed out that there are kids starving in China, so I should be grateful I have food on my plate at all.  We’ve all heard this line of reasoning in one form or another.  The problem was that I still hated peas.  Now, on top of being forced to eat peas, I was also horrified that there were kids starving in China.  I wondered why I was such a bad person to hate peas when those kids in China would be grateful to have them.  Ah, sweet, sweet guilt!

Even though most of us know by now the ridiculousness of that argument, the truth is we still do the same kinds of comparisons every day in hopes that we’ll suddenly feel better and grateful for what we have because someone else is supposedly worse off.  Lately, I’ve been noticing a somewhat disturbing tendency in my friends and clients to dismiss their feelings by comparing themselves to those “less fortunate.”  For instance, a client might spend five minutes pouring her heart out to me about how she just doesn’t feel passionate about her job anymore and is actually quite miserable.  Then, suddenly, she goes on to exclaim in an unconvincingly chipper voice, “Well, at least I have a job!  I know so many people who don’t have work.”  While it’s true that many people don’t have work and that situation certainly presents its challenges, this fact has absolutely nothing to do with my client feeling miserable in her current situation.  So why do we do this?  Do we actually feel better by comparing ourselves to people we think might be more miserable than us?  In the long run, I don’t think so.  I think we actually feel worse.

I believe the reason we feel worse is because all we succeed in doing is adding guilt to our misery, and guilt + misery only equals more misery.  The fact that we are feeling miserable for whatever reason doesn’t change, but now we also think we shouldn’t feel miserable because, after all, someone else would clearly feel grateful (or so we think) to be in our situation.  Sure, for a short time, we might feel better as we realize how lucky we are in so many ways.  That’s fantastic!  Gratitude is a wonderful thing.  Unfortunately, though, the problem is that after only a few hours or even a few minutes we often revert back to our original feelings, only now we are also disgusted with ourselves for not being able to stop those feelings.  I remember many times in my depressed states hating myself because I would look around the world and see the absolutely horrific atrocities happening to millions of people, and then I would look at my cushy little life and feel that I simply had no right to be depressed.  I ended up dismissing my feelings as invalid and had added yet another reason to hate myself.  You can imagine how well that worked out for me!

So the next time you are tempted to perk yourself up by comparing yourself to some poor, suffering soul like Kim Kardashian or Charlie Sheen, remember that being grateful for what you have has nothing to do with what other people lack, and your feelings are valid regardless of your situation compared to others.  For me, this realization was one small step toward loving and accepting myself just the way I am, pea-hater and all.

Aloha & blessings,

Penny