Being vulnerable · Embrace the present moment

Stay. Stay. Stay.

The amygdala is sometimes known as the “lizard brain.” It’s more or less a holdover from prehistoric times and its role is to activate our primal survival instincts such as aggression and fear. When we are faced with a perceived threat, it can reflexively kick us into “fight or flight” mode. Sometimes–typically when we get overwhelmed and flooded with stress hormones–we can bounce back and forth from attacker to avoider, from villain to victim. Or we can shut down entirely.

At work, the lizard brain can keep us from trying new stuff despite knowing we need to innovate. It can cause us to push back hard on challengers to the status quo because we fear being wrong or looking stupid. Or we can just get stuck, paralyzed into inaction.

In personal relationships, those of us who fear intimacy can push away those whom we love, despite our desire to be more deeply connected. Or we can bolt for the door just as we get closer to what we so strongly desire.

The Resistance is real. So is self-sabotage. But as Pema Chodron reminds us, “fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.”

Clearly some situations are untenable and they deserve to be run from and put well behind us. Frankly, quitting is often under-rated.

Other circumstances require us to stand up and fight and say “enough is enough.” No one should endure tantrums or constant boundary violations or harassment or far worse.

Discerning the situations where we need to get in and rumble and get messy and walk through our fear is not easy. It takes real courage to remain in the arena when everything tells us to to flee. To engage when the fear comes up. To do the hard, uncomfortable work. To be neither victim, nor persecutor, nor rescuer, but an accountable adult, fully present, living in reality and owning our truth.

Our restlessness is part of the human condition. And the lizard brain can be easily activated–even more so if we have a history of trauma.

But like a dog being trained, we can learn to stay. Stay engaged. Stay focused. Stay patient. Stay accountable.

We can do the work.

The challenges are great, but so too can be the reward.

 

This post was also published at http://www.stevenpdennis.com

Being vulnerable · Letting go of ego

Well isn’t that interesting?

“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. ” 

– Thich Nhat Hahn

I don’t like to brag but my judging skills are pretty epic. I don’t always have my phaser set to “judge”, but it often just seems to turn on automatically.

Sometimes I attach a story (spoiler alert: a negative one) to what certain individuals say to me or the way they behave. Sometimes I react (spoiler alert: negatively) to a certain tone of voice or take something personally before I have even fully heard and discerned what’s actually been said. Sometimes I instantly get a feeling (spoiler alert: not a good one) that I’m being put down or being attacked when nothing of the sort is actually going on. Other times, I actually sense the intention of what’s being communicated but I fixate on needless stylistic details or meaningless semantics because of my need to be right (spoiler alert: this rarely works out well for me). Sometimes I ridiculously feel the need to make the other person wrong to feel okay about myself (spoiler alert: this has often blown up in spectacular fashion).

Now to be sure there are times when other people fail to maintain proper boundaries, and there is no reason to tolerate those sort of violations. But in my experience, it is far more common for me to simply jump to a false conclusion, become defensive or go on the attack with little or no justification.

And that’s about me.

My desire to protect myself from past wounds. My need to go “one up” because I’m having a lousy day or feeling badly about myself. My fear of really being vulnerable.

I wonder what would be different if instead of sinking into judgment mode I simply paused to observe and took a deep breath?

What if instead of assuming the other person was wrong, I shifted my energy to challenging my filter or habitual response?

What if I realized that he or she is just as human and imperfect as I am and sometimes we all just simply make a mistake.

What if I chose to interpret what was said or done from the most generous place, instead of assuming it comes from some form of malicious intent?

What if I because curious instead of defensive or aggressive?

What if I decided it was more important to be remain connected rather than chase my need to be right?

What if I simply said, well isn’t that interesting and let it be?

It’s taken me a long time to see this and start–emphasis: start–to evolve my behavior.

I got here as fast as I could.

 

Being vulnerable · Do the work · Embrace the present moment · Smile at fear · Start

We’re never ready

Oh sure, maybe we’re ready for the easy stuff. Ready to leave for work, make dinner, hop in an Uber, do the laundry, pay the credit card bill.

But the work that matters, that enlivens the spirit, that changes us, our tribes and the world around us? That’s another thing entirely.

Naming our fear is helpful, because it is our fear that keeps us stuck.

Letting go of any notion of perfection–the right time, the right skills, the right conditions–is useful as well.

Being willing to get started–to accept that the only way we can ever really know that we are on the right path is to start walking; slowly at first, but faster and faster as we gain confidence–is essential.

Because here’s the thing…

The conditions will never be perfect.

I have no idea what’s going to happen in the future. And neither do you.

Chances are you already have everything you need to take that first step.

And sure it might not work.

Like it or not it’s later than we think.

The fact is we’re never really ready for what really matters.

But we can still start.

What better time than now?

This post was simultaneously posted on my business blog at http://www.stevenpdennis.com

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Being vulnerable · Do the work · Smile at fear

Consumers and producers

Consumer or producer?  At any given time we are likely one or the other.

As consumers we read what somebody else wrote, purchase what someone else made, ponder ideas someone else created, observe problems we hope someone else will fix.

Going to a movie, listening to music, attending a sports event, relentlessly checking Facebook or keeping abreast of the latest scores on ESPN are all about taking in content generated by someone else.

Being a consumer is passive and typically enjoyable. Little is required of us. And it’s virtually always safe. I might feel a bit guilty about spending my Sunday afternoon watching golf on TV but hey, no harm, no foul.

As producers we are doing the work, writing the blog post, making that new product, bringing our art to the world, challenging the status quo, embodying the change we wish to see in the world, putting ourselves out there. But as Seth reminds us, this might not work.

By its very nature, producing takes more energy, more focus, more grit and is riskier than mere consumption. Producing something with the potential to be truly meaningful and remarkable is more challenging and riskier still. It demands vulnerability.

Of course we are all consumers and producers. There is no such thing as a pure consumer or a 100% producer. On any given day, we will spend our waking hours engaged doing some of both. Life, as we know, is ebb and flow, yin and yang, give and take.

So it’s not about being one or the other. And it’s not about labeling consumption as inherently bad and production as fundamentally virtuous.

But I do think it’s worth thinking about whether we’ve got the right mix.

And then working intentionally to produce a better outcome.

 

A version of this post originally appeared at http://www.stevenpdennis.com

 

Being vulnerable · Embrace the present moment · Smile at fear · Uncategorized

When we live in fear

When we live in fear we spin endlessly in worry about the future, rather than seeing the beauty and potential available to us right here, right now.

When we live in fear we assume the immigrant is coming to take our job–or even to kill us–rather than appreciating that they might be the next Einstein or Hamilton. Or that they are simply deserving of compassion and safe refuge.

When we live in fear we cling to the false idolatry of perfection, rather than celebrate our inevitable mistakes, our rough edges, the cracks that let the light in.

When we live in fear we seek validation from others, rather than accept our inherent worthiness and warmly embrace our differences.

When we live in fear we only see the worst case scenario, rather than have faith that we can handle just about anything that might come our way.

When we live in fear we are alone, disconnected, detached, instead of being held safe in the knowledge that we are all in this together.

When we live in fear so much of our energy is wasted trying to control the uncontrollable.

When we live in fear our starting point tilts toward hate, not love and toward revenge, instead of forgiveness.

When we live in fear we see change as the enemy, the dragon to be slain, when dropping our sword, taking off our armor and letting down our guard might just allow us to tap into a world of abundance and unleash a little bit of magic.

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Being vulnerable · Embrace the present moment · Fail better · Smile at fear · Start · Unleashing potential

Holy stuckosity Batman!

“Stuckosity” isn’t a real word. It can’t even be found at Urban Dictionary. Well, at least not yet.

But certainly most of us are familiar with the quality of being stuck. Perhaps you’re feeling it right now.

We get stuck telling the same old stories about ourselves that are familiar, but serve no useful purpose.

We get stuck trying to solve problems with the same level of thinking that got us into trouble in the first place.

We get stuck defending the status quo, even when we know it’s not working.

We get stuck in self-righteousness, which almost never changes the other person’s mind or behavior, but frustrates us to no end.

We get stuck fighting reality, re-litigating the past, trying vainly to predict the future.

We get stuck striving for perfection, when perfect is both impossible and, ultimately, only a recipe for suffering.

We get stuck waiting for precisely the right time and to be fully ready, failing to see that those exact conditions will never ever come.

We get stuck in relationships because we fail to speak our truth and ask for what we want and need.

We get stuck unleashing our full potential because we wonder how other folks will judge us if we were to go out on a limb.

And on and on and on.

The key to getting unstuck is to first see it for what it is. And most of the time our stuckness is merely our habitual reaction to an irrational fear; to a fundamental misunderstanding of risk.

Once we become aware that staying in our fear–and being unwilling to let go of our story, our need for control and our desire to be right–is actually the most risky thing we can do, the door is cracked open to change.

Once we we accept that our behavior is simply habit, the debilitating result of a lifetime of bad conditioning, we can work to establish new, more healthy and useful ones.

Once we are committed to take action, we are finally free. Free to start before we are ready. Free to embrace failure as a natural outcome of growth. Free to be okay with our imperfection.

And that’s good thinking Robin.

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This post also appeared on my business blog at http://www.stevenpdennis.com

Being vulnerable · Letting go of ego · Radical acceptance

Our own Kellyanne Conway moments

Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway is off-the-charts good at what she does. If you care to witness a master class in denial, spin and gaslighting, just watch just some of her interview from the other night with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. And if after viewing it you feel like clawing your eyes out, perhaps this will cheer you up.

I don’t believe in Hell, but if it turns out to exist there will definitely be an extremely special section for her. But I digress.

Anyway, it seems clear that Ms. Conway is a very intelligent, well educated and highly skilled political operative. So for most of us it’s easy to conclude that she knows the truth, but is very intentionally setting out to mislead. That should be rather easy for any and all of us to judge quite harshly.

What is perhaps harder to see–and accept–is that many of us engage in our own Kellyanne moments; sometimes with great frequency. It’s just that the target of the denial, spin and gaslighting is often ourselves, and we do so unintentionally and subconsciously.

We can have an interesting argument as to how damaging the incoming Trump administration’s propensity for manipulation will turn out to be. We can debate the degree to which we might affect a different outcome and what tactics should be taken to stand up to this often dangerous and malicious nonsense. We can prop up our own egos by blogging, tweeting and posting on Facebook our various forms of righteous indignation. In fact, most days I wonder if that is precisely what social media was invented for.

But we shouldn’t discount how pernicious our own capacity to ignore reality is and how we can often do everything in our power to avoid confronting our own stuff.

Deflection and intellectual tap dancing my amuse or horrify when we spot in others, but we are only harming ourselves when we can’t wake up to the little bit of Kellyanne in all of us.

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