Gazing at the Underbelly of a Life of Passion

I’m coming back to this blog after a long pause. During that time, I kept intending to redesign and repurpose it, until I realized:

a) that would take too long, and
b) I’d rather not let an outdated design stop me from writing.

Going forward, I plan to write less from the standpoint of a coach, and more about my own personal journey towards unconditional love.  I hope that openly sharing my authentic journey and my learnings along the way will help others as much as it will help me. xo

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I didn’t sleep well last night.

Awaking in the wee hours of the morning, I became caught in a storm of worries about my business, CrossFit Kindred. Little nagging what-ifs and gotta-dos, insignificant specks filling up my mind until I was drowning in quicksand.

It’s not the first time I’ve felt this way since becoming an entrepreneur–leaving my very cushy tech job to become a life coach, and then, to my surprise, finding myself pulled into this CrossFit venture with my now-husband Jeff. After 7 years (12, if you count school) in a software career that I just could not “get it up” for, I left my autopiloted life with a big, scary, exhilarating leap of faith. All I knew was that I wanted to live a passionate, meaningful, vibrant life, and to help others do the same.

As romantic a moment as that was, it was only the beginning of a long hero’s journey that I’m still in the midst of. It’s easy for me to hide behind that perfect fairy tale of sticking it to The Man and frolicking in the happy hills of freedom, replete with inspiring montages of laughter, joyful tears, breakthrough moments, and nature hikes. (Don’tcha love Facebook?)

But while I truly have lived moments like those after The Big Leap–more such moments than I had before it–I’ve also had many sleepless nights, arguments, existential crises, and long stretches of deep denial, self-doubt, despair, panic, and just plain hating everything and everyone.

After ruminating some time in bed, I remembered something I keep rediscovering through my ongoing meditation practice, and one of my heroes, Pema Chodron: Whenever I’m tense, angry, irritable, or otherwise constricted, there’s always a soft spot underneath. If I look under the shell of whatever judgement or resentment I’m presenting, I inevitably find the underbelly: fear, shame, hurt, tenderness, hope…in a word, vulnerability.

Sure enough, there it was this morning: underneath my mind on overdrive, was my tender, excruciating heart wondering, What if it all doesn’t work out? What if this dream dies? I was grasping for a foothold of certainty, looking at a future filled with the unknown and unknowable.

How ironic that this phrase is also used by CrossFit headquarters all the time–that CrossFit “prepares you for the unknown and the unknowable.” Because in that moment, as the earliest rays of morning light began to fill my bedroom, my CrossFit training kicked in.

I thought, Strange…this feels familiar. It was just like that moment during an intense workout that I’ll call “the decision point.” When I feel overwhelmed, when everything hurts, and when part of me wants to back away. My training has taught me that I can take that feeling in, and then make a decision to go all in. Because every time I make that decision, I become stronger, more courageous. I do what I didn’t think I could.

Immediately, still lying in my pajamas, I felt my fear turn into motivation. I actually felt my entire physiology shift from panic to power, from flight to fight, reframing my stress and connecting with my purpose. Am I going to let this beat me? HELL NO! What I’m going after matters too much.

And then I realized something else: This is what I signed up for. This is my passionate, meaningful life, baby. It’s not all roses and candles and Facebook montages, and it’s certainly not for the faint of heart. It’s being willing to love what I’m doing so much that it feels excruciating some (or on some days, most) of the time.

I’ve heard parents say that once your baby is born, you never stop worrying about him, for the rest of his life. While I don’t yet know firsthand what being a parent is like, I imagine it’s similarly filled with a deep, wide range of experiences both joyful and painful.

Before I made The Big Leap, I felt numb. Secure and in control, but numb. Now that narrow space has opened to a vast adventure, full of failures, false starts, miracles, plot twists, and gifts big and small.

Sometimes, I just need a little reminder.

My Vision: Compassionate, Sustainable, Magical Delight

Hello, lovelies! Wow–hard to believe I’ve been absent from my blog for an entire month! So much has been happening with my coaching, CrossFit, and life–and I can’t wait to share all my learnings with you.

First, a few updates:

A couple months ago, some friends and acquaintances of mine in the CrossFit community launched Tabata Times, a new online media resource for people into CrossFit and fitness in general. Its readership is already growing, and I’ve had the privilege of writing 2 articles for them, the second of which was published just last week.

Check them out here:

In other news, I just got back from a weekend at the Transformational Gate in Westminster, Colorado–and I’m still marinating in the totally inspiring, profound body-heart-mind-spirit experience that I had there. I will definitely be writing more about my learnings from it going forward. Too many nuggets and aha’s to fit in one post!

How serendipitous that as soon as I returned from the Gate, I received a timely gift from my good friend and fellow coach, Patricia Lawless of Lawless Coaching: a free copy of the Coaching Blueprint by Kate Courageous. While I haven’t even gotten through the whole first module yet, I’m really loving it so far.

Funny how the timing of these things seems to work out; I have a major heart-opening experience at the Gate, and immediately stumble upon a book that prompts me to declare what my heart has to tell me about my coaching practice! I should really stop being surprised by moments like this. Actually, scratch that–being surprised and delighted at the magic of the universe is a gift!

One question in the first module of the Coaching Blueprint asks, “What big mission are you on? Or–What’s your big vision for the world?”

So here is what I wrote as my response, and I share it here with you:

My grand vision is to create a world that is compassionate, sustainable, and magical. One in which people are engaged, alive, and filled with love, belonging, and a sense of empowered contribution to the world. One in which people create delight for themselves and others that is connected and integrous, and feeds love rather than manipulating fear.

There you have it, folks: my big, uncensored vision for what I’m creating in the world–at least as that vision stands today, in this moment. The great thing about a vision is that it’s mine, and I get to evolve it as I evolve.

What big mission are you on? What’s your big vision for the world?

Want Better Relationships? Try Improving Your Coordination.

Stacy Shaedler’s method for building coordination.

What does coordination have to do with improving relationships?

Unrelated as they may sound, there is a magic relationship between the two. In general, I find that wellness (consciously serving the wellbeing of your whole self–physical, emotional, mental, spiritual) contains many invaluable lessons for leadership (consciously serving the wellbeing of a greater whole beyond yourself–people, relationships, your environment, or anything in between!). The following is just one example.

Coordination: Knowing and Choosing Your Parts

Well, first, let’s talk about coordination. One of the 10 core skills of CrossFit, it’s something you need whether you’re deadlifting (i.e. lifting a barbell off the ground) or dancing.

Improving your coordination involves 2 steps:

  1. Getting to know your different parts. Sounds simple…but try coaching a newbie on the proper deadlift technique. As soon as I ask someone to bend forward from the hips while keeping their lower back neutral, confusion often abounds. Hmm…lower back, hips, butt, thighs…where does one start and the other begin?? People aren’t always used to thinking about these parts of their bodies individually, and are used to moving their bodies in habitual ways.
  2. Choosing which of your parts to use. Even more difficult than Step 1. Executing a proper deadlift requires you not only to be aware of the difference between your upper back, middle back, lower back, hips, thighs, and knees–but also to issue different commands to each one, all at the same time. No wonder it takes so much practice to get it right!Coordination is critical to the deadlift. Do it wrong and not only can’t you get the dang bar off the ground, but you risk serious injury. While your glutes and hamstrings are capable of supporting a huge amount of weight, your lower back just isn’t suited to carrying a 300-pound load.
Yikes! This poorly executed deadlift makes me want to cringe. Do NOT try this at home.

Step 1 to Better Relationships: Get To Know The Parts of Your Being

Now let’s take the leap to relationships.

I’ve spent the last week studying for the final written exam for CTI’s professional coach certification program (hence my relative inactivity on this blog–don’t worry, I’ll be back!). It’s the culmination of 6 months of improving my mastery of life and leadership coaching, and I’ve learned so much!

I’m repeatedly inspired by the lessons that coaching holds for any effective and powerful relationship. One statement from my study materials jumped out at me in particular this week, which I’ll paraphrase here:

So often, we interact with people’s smaller selves, while holding the space and possibility for their higher selves to show up. As coaches, we must hold space for our client’s fears and internal Saboteurs to show up–but we choose to interact with their highest selves.

How cool is that?! Think about it. We all have different “parts” of us. But we’re not talking body parts this time; we’re talking about parts of our being. We’ve got parts of us that are generous, loving, and compassionate. We’ve got other parts that are adventurous or courageous. And we’ve got parts that are afraid, insecure, or suspicious. And many, many more.

Again, the first step is to know your parts. Consider yourself first. What “parts” of you do you see often? Which of them feel expansive, and make you feel proud, motivated, and connected? Which of them feel contracted, and make you feel ashamed, stuck, or isolated?

Now choose someone close to you (or someone that you want a better relationship with). What different parts have you observed in that person? What parts do you admire…and what parts are you not so in love with?

Step 2 to Better Relationships: Choose What To See and How To Be

Now that you are aware of the different “being”-parts in yourself and others, the second (and last) step is simply to choose which part(s) to focus on and use.

Another concept that sounds simple, yet takes discipline, practice, and courage to actually live into.

Our habits often lead us to focus on the contracted parts of ourselves because we wish we could fix them. And many people choose to focus on the contracted parts of others because we think we’re being realistic, and that we’re protecting ourselves from getting hurt. “Sam can be so selfish…so I’m not going to expect him to do me any favors. If he does, great–I’ll let myself be pleasantly surprised.”

But now that you know what your different parts are, how do you want others to see you? Do you want them to evaluate you according to the smallest, most contracted parts of yourself?

Or do you want them to see and empower the best parts of who you are at your core–to know that you are loving and generous, smart and vibrant, even though you occasionally make mistakes or act out of fear?

Giving someone the gift of believing in and seeing their highest selves, even when they’re feeling small, is a powerful way to support, acknowledge, and call them forth into their greatness.

Here’s the catch: In order to know and choose to empower the highest parts in others, we must first do the same for ourselves.

Because just like your lower back is not as equipped as your glutes and hamstrings to lift a heavy barbell, your contracted self is just not as well-equipped as your expansive self to appreciate the gifts that others bring.

Having An Ego Is A Good Thing, If You Know How To Use It

The ego gets a bad rap these days.

It’s common to hear complaints about how this or that person has a “huge ego.” Even Eckhart Tolle (whose writings I have been totally inspired by) talks a lot about how to free yourself from your ego.

But what is the ego, anyway–and is it really all that bad? Well, there are actually 2 very different ways it can show up: as the negative ego or the positive ego.

The Negative Ego

The one I refer to above is often called the “negative ego.” It is the part of us that creates a sense of separation between ourselves and others, that labels people and things as “better than” or “worse than.” It’s the part of us that clings to things outside of ourselves, making them a part of our identity.

Unfortunately, this clinging is the source of all suffering. Whether it’s your pride, your car, your looks, your job, even personality traits you identify with (like generosity or goofiness)–when you begin to define yourself through things or concepts, it becomes painful when you inevitably must part with them.

To protect itself, your negative ego will hang onto these things at all costs, even if it means judging or harming yourself or others, or otherwise twisting the facts.

Last I checked, I haven’t reached enlightenment, and therefore my negative ego still sneaks up on me at times. Here’s an example:

While visiting family last month, I couldn’t resist eating some non-Paleo food that I used to eat with my family growing up. Unfortunately, after a few days, the food I ate wreaked havoc on my sensitive digestive system, which doesn’t respond well to things like gluten, dairy, sugar, tomatoes, and even citrus. I felt bloated, nauseous, and cranky.

And that was a perfect recipe for my negative ego to come in, telling me stories like the following:

  • “No real CrossFit trainer would have so little self-control!”
  • “Everyone else can eat these things and feel just fine. I’m clearly a freak.”
  • “Everyone else can eat these things and feel just fine. No friggin’ fair!!”
  • “Look, I got myself sick AGAIN. What the heck was I thinking? Have I still not learned this lesson? I’m such an idiot!”

Ouch, right? Well that, my friends, is how the negative ego causes suffering. Can you sense the fear underneath?

The Positive Ego

The negative ego is really just a tool gone rogue–like a lawnmower that somehow animates itself and tears apart the flowerbed. (The ex-software-engineer part of me is tempted to go off on some creative tangent about artificial intelligence and sentient appliances…but I’ll spare you.)

But if you know how to use it, it can be a really useful ally.

So what’s the ego’s intended function, anyway? The Freudian definition of “ego” is simply, according to Wiktionary, “the most central part of the mind, which mediates with one’s surroundings.”

That’s all! The ego is meant to be our window to the world around us–a neutral and extremely useful source of information about what’s happening.

Let’s imagine my sad food story again. What if, instead of allowing my negative ego to spin stories and create drama around what was happening, I simply approached the situation with my positive ego?

  • “I notice my stomach is bloated. I think it was the food I just ate.”
  • “Hm, I notice a craving feeling for this food that I know makes me feel nauseous.”
  • “Oh look, I just ate something that tasted pleasant, and now I feel tired and low energy.”

Kind of bland compared with the negative ego. But by thinking of the situation this way, I could have spared myself the unneeded self-flagellation and instead made a conscious choice.

Whether I chose to enjoy the food and face the consequences, or find other foods to satisfy my cravings, or avoid them for the sake of being more present and joyful with my loved ones–it doesn’t really matter. The point is that when you strip away the fear, the stories, and the judgements away from what’s happening in this moment, and simply notice it, you become free to choose your response.

Using the Positive Ego to Set You Free

Here are some techniques you can use to get your ego working for you:

  1. Notice the negative ego. Knowing is half the battle. Start trying to catch your negative ego in the act of spinning tales around what’s happening.
  2. Focus on the facts. Ask yourself, “What’s actually happening right now?” Then ask, “What if I let go of right/wrong and good/bad?”
  3. Use your positive ego on your negative ego. You can actually use the tactic of non-judging observation on your negative ego itself. If you’re agitated, simply notice, “What’s happening?” Whatever you observe in yourself–whether it’s judgement, irritation, despair, guilt–the key is not to make it right or wrong.
  4. Break out your inner nurturing parent. Imagine your negative ego is a young child that is frightened, insecure, or panicked. Give it some unconditional love and compassion.
  5. When does your negative ego tend to get you down?

Serving Others By Serving Yourself: Lessons from a Recovering Workaholic

Photo courtesy of Blue Moon in her Eyes

A couple weeks ago, I hit the wall. Hard.

This Workaholic’s Intervention

Let’s take a short trip down memory lane. *cue rewind sound effect*

“I get that you like to serve others–you’re a ‘server,’ like me. But sometimes, serving others looks like crawling into a cave to rest.”

These wise words were spoken to me right after I hit the (figurative) wall.

I was about to begin assisting Day 2 of a 3-day CTI workshop. Despite the fact that I was feeling physically exhausted, feverishly ill and extremely emotional, I had sucked it up and shown up at the workshop, determined not to let anyone down.

Thankfully, the leaders of the CTI workshop were too perceptive and emotionally intelligent to let me soldier through. Being the experienced coaches they were, they asked me why I was forcing myself to be there, when my body and probably many other parts of me were not wanting to come along for the ride.

I tried to think of a good reason, but none of the ones I came up with really made much sense:

  • “I don’t want to let anyone down.” (There were 2 other assistants at the course; they would get along fine without me.)
  • “Assisting this workshop is a really good learning experience for me.” (They hold the workshop every couple months; there would be other chances!)
  • “I…I don’t know why.” (D’oh! *hand smacks forehead*)

With that realization, I agreed with the workshop leaders that the best thing I could do for everyone involved was to go home, rest, and recover.

Taking a look back now, it’s a wonder I didn’t see that moment coming a mile away. I’ve had an almost embarrassingly long list of major life developments the last few months, with very little downtime. As if leaving a 7-year career to become a coach and entrepreneur, starting 2 businesses, completing an intense 10-month leadership program a few weeks ago, launching my blog, participating in a 6-month coaching professional certification program, and going to Traffic School weren’t more than enough–the death of my father could probably do the job alone.

So why am I telling you all of this? For my own cathartic release? To make you feel sorry for me? To make you think I’m a crazy lady? I certainly hope not!

It’s because this experience made me learn (and in some cases, relearn) some important lessons, and I want to share them with you.

Lessons Learned

If you’ve been reading this blog so far, you know that HeartStepping is all about connectedness. It’s about learning to connect our hearts with our actions, and it’s about rediscovering our connection with other humans and with the planet.

The lessons I’m sharing with you have deepened my own understanding of the meaning and power of HeartStepping, and I hope they do the same for you:

Lesson #1: Serving others and serving yourself are often (or maybe always?) the same thing.

Much of the time, we think we have to choose between doing what’s best for ourselves, and doing what’s best for others. We create either/or situations.

In my case, I was working overtime to be of service to others, and my inner critic believed that if I gave myself time to rest, I would be denying that impulse to serve.

But you can’t be of service to someone when you’re depleted. So, in fact, giving yourself downtime doesn’t mean you’re choosing yourself over others. It means you’re doing what it takes to be able to offer your best to others in a long-term, sustainable way. Taking this perspective, the act of giving yourself rest becomes an act of loving intention towards those around you. How’s that for an inner-critic-buster?

Maybe you’ve already figured this out for yourself–in which case, I wholeheartedly applaud you. In our ever-more-fast-paced world, though, I suspect I’m not alone in needing a reminder of this once in a while!

Lesson #2: To truly be of service, it helps to remember that you’re enough.

When you commit to being of service, to living your purpose, and to being a leader, you must look closely at whether your motivations come from a place of I’m-enough, or I’m-not-enough.

If you’re in a place of I’m-not-enough, then all your actions take on a proving energy. You start worrying about being successful, because success starts to define your sense of self-worth.

If you come from a place of I’m-enough, you’re more able to see and respond to what’s actually needed.

The book Mindset by Carol Dweck explains this phenomenon beautifully. In the book, Carol studies the impact of 2 different mindsets on the performance of students ranging from grade school to university.

The students with a “fixed mindset” believed their abilities were innate, fixed, static, unchanging. With this mindset, every success or failure became a reflection of their innate abilities–and therefore their self-worth.

The “growth mindset” students believed that their level of ability was subject to change, and that putting in more effort would grow their abilities. With this mindset, the students’ self-worth was no longer tied to outcomes, and they were able to approach learning with confidence, patience, and persistence.

While stuck in my workaholic whirlwind of activity, I admittedly slipped back into the old fixed, I’m-not-enough mindset leftover from my days as a student. Having traded my successful but uninspiring career in for a life of purpose, it was all too easy for my saboteurs to creep in: could I really succeed at doing what I loved? Would I be able to sustain myself financially without the familiar steady corporate paycheck?

And suddenly those life-affirming career moves were tainted by needing to prove that my dream could succeed, that I could make it happen. And my need to rest and recharge slipped down in priority.

From the I’m-enough, growth mindset, I know that patience, persistence, and sustainable energy levels are a crucial part of making my dream succeed, and that I don’t need to do everything perfectly the first time.

Hm, let’s see…I think I’ll choose the I’m-enough approach, thank you very much!

Lesson #2a: There’s a time to push through, and a time to step away.

This lesson is really a corollary of the one above.

Pushing through is not always a bad thing. But ask yourself: Am I pushing through because I need to prove to myself and/or others that I’m enough? Or am I pushing through because I want to serve the highest good for myself and/or others?

Lesson #3: Consider what you’re committed to, rather than becoming attached to specific outcomes.

This is about being able to see the forest, not just the trees. In my example, all the workshops, projects, and plans became tasks to complete, and I temporarily lost sight of why I was doing them all: because I’m committed to creating more connection and loving consciousness in the world.

With my bigger commitment in mind, I know that I’m here to not only *achieve* my purpose, but to actually *live* it myself. And that means recharging the batteries so I can approach what I create with that same sense of connection and loving consciousness.

What are you committed to in your life, and what might simply be an outcome you’re attached to?

Lesson #4: Space creates opportunity.

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits wrote a post recently about allowing things to happen. In his post, he says that giving more space and room to allowing things to happen, rather than trying to tightly control everything, is ultimately more effective and also allows things to surprise us that we didn’t expect.

I’ve experiencing my own version of this lesson this week. I’m in the middle of a 2-week trip the East Coast to visit family. Before hitting said wall, my plan for this trip was not to drop the ball on any of my business plans. I would coach remotely, work on website, marketing, and promotion efforts for both of my businesses, and would strive to be as productive as I would have been at home.

After hitting the wall, I’ve decided to take an entirely different approach; I’m still coaching my clients, but the other stuff is unnecessary. They’ll be there waiting for me when I get back from my trip.

Clearing those plans away has allowed me not only to give myself much-needed rest, but to reconnect with why I came here in the first place: to spend time with my family. And I’m finding that, with more adequate rest under my belt, I’m able to bring my bigger commitment–connection and loving consciousness–into my interactions with my family.

Serving myself, serving my family, serving my purpose: all the same thing. And creating space around my plans gave me the opportunity to discover this.

“Congratulations, you’ve taken care of yourself, and as a result, you’ve taken care of those around you.”

These wise words were spoken to me and the rest of my class this morning by a Bikram yoga teacher over here on the East Coast at Bikram Yoga Rockville.

And my heart responded with a resounding “Yes!”