The constraint of frameworks (or how the rules we live by take away our creative freedom)

Frameworks, formulas, modalities, systems. They serve us well. Whether it’s a lesson planning framework you use to teach a language skill, or the set of rules you follow within your religion, systems help tame the chaos of daily living. But in this taming, don’t we risk losing our creative freedom of self-expression?

Frameworks, formulas, modalities, systems. They serve us well. Whether it's a lesson planning framework you use to teach a language skill, or the set of rules you follow within your religion, systems help tame the chaos of daily living. But in this taming, don't we risk losing our creative freedom of self-expression?
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My framework geek-out story

If you’ve been in one of my classes, if you’ve seen me present, if you’ve been in one of the self-development groups I facilitated, or if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been a fan of certain learning frameworks. You might even say that I was a framework crusader. The two main frameworks I’ve preached are the “observation, feelings, needs, request” communicative framework of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and the Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC) which is a reflective practice framework used for personal and professional development. The combination of these frameworks was even the central theme of a chapter I wrote for a book that was published last year.

My framework shame story

But what I couldn’t articulate for a long time was how I often felt constrained by these frameworks. It was Jadah Sellner’s interview with Elizabeth DiAlto on the Untamed the Wild Soul Podcast that helped me pinpoint the dissonance I felt. In the interview, Elizabeth gives a brilliant explanation (at 28:14) of why people might feel as I do:

There is a lot of danger with frameworks and formulas because they will work for some people. Some people are built to follow them. So many are not. And the people who aren’t rarely go, “Oh, that wasn’t the framework for me.” They’re usually like, “What’s wrong with me? I’m the worst.” They compare themselves to all the people it does work for, when it’s just (…) you’re a uniquely designed person. You’ve got to figure out your own way.

This! A version of this inner dialogue had been going on for years. I especially felt it in relation to NVC. The story was usually along the lines of me not being compassionate enough, not enough of a good listener, or that I didn’t use the framework well enough. At some points I even considered myself a fraud for writing or talking about NVC. Who was I to promote NVC when I felt challenged in using the framework in personal relationships?

When I first learned about the ELC, and during the first four years of this blog, I used it anytime I faced a challenge in my teaching. It was super helpful. But after a while, I started to doubt myself and avoided using it to reflect on my teaching. Then I judged myself for not using it, and eventually the inner dialogue was that I wasn’t a good teacher.

Frameworks, formulas, modalities, systems. They serve us well. Whether it's a lesson planning framework you use to teach a language skill, or the set of rules you follow within your religion, systems help tame the chaos of daily living. But in this taming, don't we risk losing our creative freedom of self-expression?
Click image to share on Pinterest.
My NEW story

Now that I’ve stepped back from both, and took some time to follow my own creative flow, I can see how I didn’t feel free to fully express myself within these frameworks . At first, they were exactly what I needed. They helped me navigate unfamiliar territory, and helped me out of some challenging situations. But as my self-awareness grew, and as I made my own path, the frameworks felt constrictive. I felt like a snake who was choosing to remain in its old skin.

Of course this was all self-inflicted. I didn’t have to follow these frameworks. I chose to because of an older story: others know better than me. I was looking outside myself for a way to live a good life, a better life, when the truth is everything I’ve ever needed has always been inside of me (as Elizabeth always says), and the life that I have now is good as it is.

Frameworks can provide a solid foundation for those who are starting a new career or who are exploring new concepts. This is how they helped me. However, it’s important to remember that I can take what I want from these frameworks, and I can leave behind what doesn’t work. In doing this, I create my own framework: the framework of my own wildly unique life.

Do you have a similar story with frameworks, formulas, modalities, or systems? Which story are you in right now: the geek-out, the shame, or the new story?


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Not Mindful. Not Perfect. Just Me.

“No! Why don’t YOU stop? We’re just trying to get in this car!” I shout to the cyclist at the top of my lungs.

“Christ. What was that at all about?” I ask the Uber driver as I finally get in.

A woman zooming through the city streets on her bike had just yelled at my sister and I to get out of the way. The driver admitted he shouldn’t have picked us up in the bike lane. This is when I realized Toronto has bike lanes. Oops.

Although I value kindness and compassion, I slip up and lose it sometimes. I get impatient, frustrated, and angry. Instead of pausing before I react, I react.

I share this to be clear with you: I’m not perfect. I’m not enlightened. I’m not mindful a hundred percent of the time. Heck, I don’t think I’m mindful twenty percent of the time. When someone or something pushes the right button, mindfulness goes out the door.

But you know what? I’m able to pause much more than I did before. My reaction time is getting longer, and I sometimes don’t react at all. Some things that used to drive me crazy don’t faze me one bit now.

And when I do go overboard, like I did on the streets of Toronto, I don’t blame myself as much as I used to. I don’t waste my energy and mind space beating myself up for being a fraud. The old inner dialogue used to be quite nasty, and used to go on for hours, if not days.

“Who do you think you are, Josette? Preaching compassion, mindfulness, and nonviolent communication all over your social media. You’re one to talk. Those yoga and meditation retreats are working wonders, eh? Wow. You are the embodiment of a Zen monk. I think you need to do a bit more work on yourself before you start preaching again.”

Helpful, right?

Thankfully, my inner dialogue is much gentler now. Now it involves me acknowledging the embarrassment, guilt, annoyance, or anxiety that come when I react in a way that isn’t congruous with my values. Then I might run through the scenario a few times trying to describe what happened. After that, I consider why things may have happened the way they did, looking at it through lens of the other person, and through the lens of my emotions or experience. Essentially, I pause. There’s a lot of power in the pause.

I credit this shift to my daily meditation practice (sometimes it’s just 5 minutes a day), consistent contemplation (journaling, blogging, talking with like-minded friends, counselling…), and various movement practices (see my last post). But this shift took a some time. It wasn’t overnight, and it’s still a work in process. And truthfully, I may never get there… where ever “there” is really.

I’m so glad I’ve come down from my pedestal of perfection. I’ve learned the hard way — almost a 40 year practice — that perfection is a painful goal to strive for (click to tweet). It just sets me up for failure, anxiety, and overwhelm. To avoid all that, I’ll take a few non-Zenlike outbursts any day.


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What’s the language of your reality?

Do you think the language you use influences your reality, or do you think reality has nothing to do with language? This has been a topic of debate between linguists. The theory of linguistic relativity maintains that language influences thought, and as a result how a person makes sense of their world. The other camp believes reality isn’t determined by the limits of our language.

You don’t have to look very far to see that people in the self-development world fall in line with the first camp of linguists.

Thought is Cause; experience is Effect. If you don’t like the effects in your life, you have to change the nature of your thinking. ~ Marianne Williamson in “A Return to Love”

The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change his future by merely changing his attitude. ~ Oprah Winfrey

I think and that is all that I am. ~ Wayne Dyer

So does that mean if you gain control of your language, you’ll also gain control of your reality?

This is what I thought. For the most part, I still believe this. But now I’ve added an important to piece to the puzzle. Reality is not affected by thought alone. Reality is also affected by our embodiment.

I’m still working through this idea, but the personal practices I’ve been doing for the last two years have helped awaken this awareness. It started with my yoga practice at Ayurveda Yoga, and then the subsequent yoga teacher training course I took there (Tip: their 25th semester of yoga teacher training starts in the fall.) After doing my first yoga demo class, my wonjangnim (my teacher) suggested I’d benefit from embodying the practice a bit more.

Georgeanna and I at Ayurveda Yoga, Daegu, South Korea (October 2016)

Although I conceptually understood his advice, I clearly wasn’t embodying it. It took a while for me to learn I wouldn’t understand this by reading books, watching videos, listening to podcasts, or asking for opinions. If I was going to learn embodiment, I was going to have to get in my body and listen to what she has to say.

At the beginning of this year I joined a mentorship program with Elizabeth DiAlto, the creator of Wild Soul Movement (Tip: enrollment for her virtual program is going on now). Her practice centers around helping women discover the wisdom of their body via movement. In her words:

My aim is to meet you where you are and guide you to where you want to be while always keeping primary focus on cultivating your trust and faith in the idea that everything you’ve ever needed has always been inside of YOU.

So through yoga and Wild Soul Movement — through hip circles, forward bends, downward dogs… — I’ve discovered the language of my body. She speaks the language of Intuition and Discernment. She gives me hints as to whether I should say yes or no.

She whispers my truth, and my job is to listen to her. Her whispers are getting louder these days, and I’m starting to wonder how I ever lived my life without hearing her.

I wonder this because my reality has never felt more joyful or calm. Even though I have challenging decisions to make in this current reality, I’m not feeling anxious. My thoughts have shifted. I can finally say I’m starting to trust myself thanks to the language of my body.


Related reading:

Choosing Happiness?

Emotional & Physical Fitness – Rupa Mehta Talks about Self-Compassion

I NEED movement: Theodora Papapanagiotou

 Tearing down my own big picture – #MatMoments


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What do Brad Pitt, binge eating, and feeling feelings have in common?

We’ll get to Brad Pitt in a minute.

First, what’s your weakness? Ice cream, Netflix, wine, Instagram, or the S-Town podcast? Mine is potato chips: ahh, that crispy, salty, greasy goodness. Omitting a few enlightened exceptions such as the Dalai Lama, — who I highly doubt is bingeing on sour cream and onion chips and the latest Orange is the New Black — we’ve all engaged in some kind of binge behavior. Why do we do this?

In her Untame the Wild Soul podcast interview with Elizabeth DiAlto, Samantha Skelly defines bingeing as a way to numb out because we can’t deal with what’s going on. Essentially, we can’t deal with our emotions.

When I look back on my life, I recall many moments when I didn’t realize this is what I was doing. I had no idea I was running away from my difficult emotions because I didn’t know it was okay to acknowledge them.

Elizabeth might reply to this experience by saying, “You didn’t know what we didn’t know.” I love this because it helps me be gentle with myself, and it also helps me take a step forward. Now that I do know, I can choose differently. I can start to gather tools to face my resistance toward feeling those challenging feelings.

This resistance often looks like self-blame and self-shame. To get beyond the resistance, Samantha asks, “Can you love the resistance?” For example, when I indulge in a can of Pringles or my Instagram feed, it’s usually because I’m bored or dissatisfied with the moment. Instead of doing something more loving, such as reading or meditating, I grab for these distractions. But rather than making myself feel guilty, can I love the part that scrolls through the feed, or pops the lid? Can I be gentle with this part of me instead of making it bad? It’s in this love that change happens.

Interestingly, Brad Pitt had something to say about this in the May 2017 GQ cover story, :

I mean I stopped everything except boozing when I started my family. But even this last year, you know—things I wasn’t dealing with. I was boozing too much. It’s just become a problem. And I’m really happy it’s been half a year now, which is bittersweet, but I’ve got my feelings in my fingertips again. I think that’s part of the human challenge: You either deny them all of your life or you answer them and evolve.

(…)

Sitting with those horrible feelings, and needing to understand them, and putting them into place. In the end, you find: I am those things I don’t like. That is a part of me. I can’t deny that. I have to accept that. And in fact, I have to embrace that. I need to face that and take care of that. Because by denying it, I deny myself. I am those mistakes. For me every misstep has been a step toward epiphany, understanding, some kind of joy. Yeah, the avoidance of pain is a real mistake. It’s the real missing out on life. It’s those very things that shape us, those very things that offer growth, that make the world a better place, oddly enough, ironically. That make us better.

There’s no doubt that sitting with difficult feelings is hard to do. I have yet to deeply my examine some deeper challenges. This requires courage. And because loving yourself can seem a bit vague, it also requires tools and guidance.
To get the specifics on what you can do to face your binge behavior, I highly recommend listening to the podcast linked above and visiting Samantha Skelly’s website, Hungry for Happiness.

Highly sensitive or an empath? Not sure, but I can’t watch that show

Are you an empath or a highly sensitive person?

When I first saw this question popping up all over the internet, I was thrilled. Finally, I’d be able to label myself and make sense of it all. Finally, I could figure out why some things bother me so much. Why can’t I watch popular shows like Breaking Bad or The Wire, or documentaries like India’s Daughter? Why do I avoid watching the evening news?

But with each blog post I read, I couldn’t it figure out. I’m pretty sure I’m not an empath because although I’m affected by how others feel, I don’t take on their emotions or pain. I’m pretty sure I can distinguish what’s theirs and what’s mine. I also don’t think I can make that distinction because I’m an evolved empath.

So does that mean I’m a highly sensitive person, or am I just a human who cares?

As I keep considering the lists of characteristics, I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I know what I can and can’t handle. And one thing I can’t handle, that I’ve never been able to handle, are specific types of media.

Of course the media reel has has changed over time. When Michael Jackson’s iconic Thriller video came out, I was five years old. I was so in love with Michael Jackson that there was no way I wasn’t going to watch it. But once I did, I couldn’t unwatch it. The dark haunted house, the zombie dancers, and Vincent Price’s cackle plagued me. Saying I lost years of sleep due to this video, isn’t an exaggeration. Couple this with the 80s horror movies we were obsessed with — does Nightmare on Elm Street revive any memories? — my nighttime experience was ripe for a gruesome invasion.

But as I got older, the disturbing images that painted themselves in my mind got more realistic

In my childhood home, the 5 o’clock news and the 10pm evening news were always on. As a teenager, I remember complaining how there only seemed to be was bad news. It bothered me to see the injustice and the suffering. I just couldn’t understand why people would subject themselves to this information on a daily basis, so I avoided it.

But then when I’d have a question about the current events and politics, my father would say, “Watch the news.” It didn’t persuade me. I hear a version of this from my husband too. He loves watching the evening news, and his mornings are spent scrolling through news sites. He says it’s how he stays in tune with society, and helps him stay connected with others during conversations.

I’ve admired my father’s pulse on Canadian politics, and I also admire my husband’s knowledge of Korean current affairs. However, I know myself. The more I pay attention to the news, the darker I get. I’ve learned that the information I need to know finds its way to me somehow. I don’t need to be hooked in daily.

Some might call me naive, and that I live in a bubble. But my avoidance doesn’t mean I’m ignorant. I know what’s going on in the world. The images that do find their way to me stay with me, and those images are a huge reason why I want to do my best to be a positive influence. I’ve learned that not watching certain things helps me stay calm and happy. When I’m calm and happy, I’m of much better service to myself and others.

This doesn’t mean I don’t watch disturbing or violent shows. I’m a big fan of David Lynch, and I love a good Quentin Tarantino movie. Don’t even get me started on Game of Thrones (is it July 16 yet?). But somehow these don’t affect me like the other shows I mentioned. Maybe it’s because they offer an element of fantasy that allows me to differentiate their stories from reality.

So according to those blog posts I mentioned before, because I enjoy watching Jon Snow on the battlefield, this means I’m neither an empath or a highly sensitive person. But it doesn’t matter anymore. I know I need to be careful with my media intake so that I have the energy to live the life I want. (click to tweet)  I don’t need a label to know this about myself.

How about you? Do you consciously avoid certain media in order to protect your energy?

Brainwashing or mind-training: take your pick

Over the last few months, I’ve been digging up different ways I’ve been brainwashed. The most significant connections I’ve made are with the beauty industry. Last week I finally watched Embrace (highly recommended), and while I was aware of how society forces women into a warped sense of beauty, this movie had me in tears of despair. It’s so sad what women go through.

However, it also awakened a sense of justice I hadn’t felt in a long time. I felt resolved to stop giving into the body shaming industry, and to embrace my power as a woman, especially as a white English-speaking Canadian woman. I know there is so much more I can do on this planet than worry about my love-handles. I refuse to believe I’m less than. Deep down I know I’m so much more than the dark circles under my eyes, or blotchy skin.

But how? This industry is an all-encompassing force! It has its tentacles in so many areas: social media; the music industry; the film industry; the fashion industry; the health industry; the medical industry; the pharmaceutical industry…

Meditation, or mind-training, is a suggestion that Guru Jagat makes during her talk “Take Back Our Sovereignty” at the 2016 Wanderlust Festival.

“It’s not a luxury anymore for us to be participating in some aspect of mind-training (…speaks about how the following is the base of her Kundalini lineage…) If you know how to hypnotize yourself, which is meditation — self-hypnosis is meditation — if you know how to hypnotize yourself, then no one can ever hypnotize you. That’s power. That’s sovereignty.” (starts at 2:30)

As she says this she’s pointing to the screen, reminding the audience of the Jay-Z/Beyonce video she had just played which was full of fast-paced intermittent shots of booties, boobs, and guns. This is the hypnosis we’re subject to each day. This is the brainwashing that makes me believe I need a tight tummy with super curves, while also being incredibly ruthless in my behaviour.

“Your reality is a trance of your own making, or someone else’s making. Someone who doesn’t have your greatest good in mind. So any type of meditation, any type of contemplative practice (…) is going to give you an ability to start to take that sovereignty of thought choice back.” (starts at 16:00)

She speaks about how thought forms come from our lineage, and a deeply engrained cultural and religious belief, whether we are religious or not, that we are sinners (this is especially relevant to Western cultures). For me this would be the lineage of the Acadian people, who faced expulsion from their land in the 1700s, which of course was not really their land since they came to Canada to settle from France. And in the not so distant past, they lived in a political atmosphere which pushed English linguistic and cultural assimilation.

Then, there is the cultural religion in which I was born into, Catholicism: a religion built on a celibate patriarchy, and founded on the belief that God can save us from out innate sins.

So, based on my DNA, these are the thoughts that are spinning around in the back of my mind:

  • “I don’t belong here.”
  • “My language, culture, and personhood are not worthy.”
  • “Men have all the power in our society, so as a woman I am less worthy.”
  • “I am a sinner.”

Then, there are the ideas I have surely absorbed from living in Korea for the last twelve years: bbali-bbali (fast-fast) lifestyle; high stakes competitions; materialism; or most of all, body shame.

So now that I’m aware of what I’m contending with, I can make a choice. But the choice to not succumb to brainwashing will be difficult without mind-training. Guru Jagat ends her talk with the idea that this type of training empowers us to choose happiness. It helps us sift through our conditioned thoughts and choose another path. It is my hope that the more I practice, the more I’ll able to choose self-acceptance…

…because for me, self-acceptance is happiness. – click to tweet

You’re so full of yourself!

“You’re so full of yourself!”

Could you imagine yourself saying “thank you” to this comment?

I’d like to offer up the idea that it’s okay to be full of yourself.

It’s definitely not an easy idea to accept. Most would cringe knowing others see them this way. I know I would. Although I try to put myself out there professionally, as a woman I’ve learned it’s safer to play small. I sometimes worry that I said or did something that came off as conceited: “Was it really necessary to write that comment about myself in my presentation bio?”,”Maybe I should have kept that Facebook post to myself?”

As a long term expat in Korea, I’ve observed how modesty and humility are highly valued. There is a general discomfort that seems to spread across a group of friends when someone talks about their success. It’s much safer to downplay your achievements.

In both these cultures, you won’t make it easy on yourself by acting superior. But what if it isn’t about superiority? What if it’s simply about honoring your gifts in way that you aren’t wasting your energy worrying about what others think? Imagine the ease you would feel if you could just fully be yourself. (click to tweet)

Imagine the space that would clear up if all you had to focus on was expressing your skills and knowledge without fear of judgment. My mind goes to exciting places when I consider this freedom. I imagine myself creating projects and sharing them with people in ways, well, Oprah might.

In Brené Brown’s first interview of her *Living Brave video series, she speaks to Oprah who shares how she used to be worried about being told she was full of herself. But Oprah, being Oprah, found a way to repurpose that judgment:

“Now I work at being full. I want to be so full that I’m overflowing. So when you see me coming, it ought to make you proud, to borrow a line from Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman. When you see me coming it ought to make you proud, and what you see is a woman so full I’m overflowing with enough to share with everybody else. I’m going to own the fullness without ego, without arrogance, but with an amazing sense of gratitude that I’ve been born at a time where I am female on the planet, and I have the great pleasure and freedom to fill myself up.” (see poem below)

*Note: Brené and Oprah’s conversation on fullness starts at 12:05.

This. Overflowing. I imagine myself with a perpetually full tank of gas. Think of the places I could go and the people I could see! It’s impossible to get to these places with half a tank. But this is what happens when I try to make myself smaller in order to fit in. This is what happens when I try not to offend anyone.

This fullness isn’t about flaunting my gifts. It’s not about bragging about what I’ve done just to make myself look bigger and you smaller. To honour my gifts without ego or arrogance requires me to be appreciative of the experience I’ve gained, and the skills and knowledge that come along with it. When I’m grateful, I honour everyone and everything that helped me succeed. I fill myself up with this greatness, and in return, I take myself places I could never have imagined. (click to tweet)

What does your fullness look like?

________________________

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.