Thursday, November 13, 2008

Making Space


I’ve been exploring space the past few weeks and it has been wonderful. Not the “outer space” astronauts travel through, not the “final frontier” of Star Trek fame, but an inner receptacle of expansiveness, abundance and possibility, of quiet optimism and contentment. It’s a welcoming place where I create the life I want from the life I have. Care to join me? Ready to create some space of your own?

There are things—possessions, feelings, behaviors, relationships, positions—we say we want more of. And yet our “containers”—our time, energy and attention, our houses, our bodies, minds and spirits—are already filled up with other “stuff.” Where is the room to put that thing we long for?

The first step, I think, is to let something go before trying to add anything new, even if the two seem unrelated. For a long time I have wanted to exercise more regularly. When I do, I feel better and am happier and more productive. I kept trying to squeeze exercise into my life, which only worked for a little while and aggravated my sense of there not being enough time, energy or willpower to be the person I know I can be.

One thing I did recently was to stop compulsively checking my e-mail many times a day. Now I budget up to 30 minutes twice a day to see what’s there and reply as needed. My stress level has gone down with the backlog in my inbox. I feel more focused and on top of things; I’m managing my time better and experiencing inner prosperity. One result: I am taking a walk and/or getting on the yoga mat almost every day, further increasing my sense of well being and accomplishment.

Here are some others:

I let go of:
feeling tense and impatient while waiting in line or at a traffic light,

making room for:
noticing the other people also waiting; the play of shadow, light, shapes and colors; trees dancing in the wind, etc.,

with the result that I:
feel calmer and more connected.

I let go of: listening to the news while having breakfast,
making room for:
inner stillness and an opportunity to notice how I’m feeling,

with the result that I:
have a greater sense of clarity and gratitude for the blessings of this life.

I let go of: the stack of old magazines and library books waiting to be read,
making room for:
an opportunity to focus on what is most important,

with the result that I:
am less distracted, have less energy drain from unfinished business, and inhabit a more productive, healthier house and workspace.

I let go of: folding laundry, working at the computer, washing dishes, etc., when I’m on the phone,
making room for:
not having my attention fragmented,

with the result that I:
am more relaxed and fully present to the people I care about.

You get the picture. What do you want more of? Peace? Love? Joy? Energy? Health? Money? Satisfaction? What are you holding on to instead? Are you willing to settle for that?

Practice invitation:

Maybe space is not empty. Maybe it’s a field of unlimited potential waiting for you to step into it and create the life you yearn for. Identify the second-rate or no longer useful behaviors, emotions, attitudes, beliefs, objects and relationships that are cluttering up your life—no matter how seemingly insignificant or benign—and discard them. See what wonders arrive to take their places. Don’t waste another moment of your precious life.

I would love to hear about your “space adventures.” Drop me a line or join us on Saturday, September 19, for our next practice group session (details below).

Wild Life
Life Turned On™ monthly practice group

Saturday, September 19, 2009 • 1:00–3:00 PM

12 Von Ruck Court,
downtown Asheville
Click here for directions.
There is no charge to join the group. We do ask for a voluntary contribution when you attend a meeting to help cover our costs.

Wishing you the best,

Gene Smith

Life & Wellness Coach

Life Turned On™


Copyright 2008 Eugene Y. Smith, III. All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Emotional Energy: Mobilizing for Change

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” — Anais Nin

The chapter on emotional energy in Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz’s book, The Power of Full Engagement (The Free Press, 2003), is subtitled “Transforming Threat Into Challenge.” I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.

Remember our discussion last month about facing fear? If not, it's in the July postings here on the Life Turned On™ blog. Fear provides information that something needs our attention. It’s like those lights and gauges on the dashboard of your car.

When I’m facing difficulties sometimes I begin to feel overwhelmed and stall out, finding ways to ignore, deny, or procrastinate about what the fear is telling me rather than experience the discomfort and move forward. Then it’s like I have unplugged the sensors connected to the gauges or put a piece of tape over the lights so I won’t see them. “Out of sight, out of mind,” right?

Meanwhile, the cluttered closet, the unresolved relationship conflict, the persistent ache in the belly, the worry about finances, the nagging feeling that life is more than just survival are consuming life energy that could be used to address them. Like an overdue bill, the interest continues to mount as the principal goes unpaid.

I will neglect things that need attention and repair (including/especially my own body!) rather than face the fear that I’m inadequate to deal with them. Am I really incapable of solving these problems? The evidence is no. I have taken on many challenges and worked through them. Maybe not always gracefully, maybe with hindsight thinking I could have done it better—but I’m still here, my spirit today is stronger than it has ever been, and my life has become a fascinating—and sometimes scary—adventure.

When I was a therapist, clients would sometimes ask me if I could guarantee that if they faced the fears that limited them and did the hard work of changing lifetime habits would they get the outcomes they wanted? And I had to say, “No, I can’t promise if you take this on and face your pain that you’re going to have everything you want. What I can promise is that if you don’t try, the odds of things changing are about zero. And I can guarantee you’re going to have a different experience starting right now if you accept the challenge and ride out to meet the dragon than you will if you hide in your cave and wait for it come get you.”

Even if it kicks your butt, go show the dragon what you’re made of. It’s not your enemy, it’s your training partner.

Practice exercise: moving from anxiety to action

What have you been putting off dealing with? What are some steps, however small, you could take this week to come to grips with it? Be specific about what you’re going to do, write in your calendar when you’re going to do it, and tell a supportive friend or family member beforehand what you intend to do and afterwards report on how it went.

We’re looking for progress here, not perfection. Recognize and reward your efforts to change. Don’t believe the voices of blame and shame. Simply by facing the dragon you have become a hero.

Copyright 2008 Eugene Y. Smith, III. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Mental Energy: Attention & Intention

3. Keep in mind that happiness is mostly dependent on our state of mind, not on our status or the state of our bank account. Barring extreme circumstances, our level of well being is determined by what we choose to focus on (the full or the empty part of the glass) and by our interpretation of external events. For example, do we view failure as catastrophic, or do we see it as a learning opportunity? — from Tal Ben-Shahar's Six Tips for Happiness, as presented on NPR

“We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.” — Anais Nin

When I have a migraine, it usually means I'm going to cycle between hot baths and lying in bed, doing my best to stay quiet until it passes, often in about 24 hours. My energy is drained, I'm in pain, and I can't concentrate. Bright lights, strong odors, and loud sounds can seem intolerable. It's not much fun and it takes days to rebuild my stamina after it’s over.

On Thursday, I found myself slipping into an habitual pattern of thinking that it was my fault that I had a headache and that I'm broken, weak and hopeless. That added a huge weight of suffering on top of the pain I was already experiencing. In addition, I was anxious about all the things that weren’t getting done and feeling overwhelmed at all I was going to need to do to catch up when I felt better (including writing this post). Whew!

Lucky for me, I have a lot of practice paying attention to what's going on in my head and heart. After getting thrashed around for a while in the whirlpool of negativity, I regain my perspective and then my power. It helps that I'm blessed to have friends who are skilled at providing a reality check when I need one.

And so after a little while I woke up to the effects of the negative thoughts I was having and decided instead to acknowledge what a good job I was doing taking care of myself in very trying circumstances. I also recognized that by making my immediate needs a priority I was speeding my recovery so I could get back to work sooner. Even though I still felt bad physically, emotionally I was much more at peace. It felt like I had gone from being in the presence of someone who was selfish and spiteful to one who was loving and supportive, from being assaulted by my critic to being cheered on by my coach.

Over the following days I have made rest, mild, exercise and eating well a priority. When I have stopped to take inventory, I have seen that I actually am getting a fair amount accomplished, even though my "do list" is stretching into next week. Though I'm still tired, my confidence and optimism have returned. I'm thinking about possibilities instead of feeling burdened. While talking to a friend recently, she remarked that I was a different person from the one she spoke with at the end of last week. Choosing the most skillful way to interpret my experience made all the difference. It's good to be back.

Practice exercise:

What is your explanatory style? That is, when you explain to yourself the events, situations and experiences in your life, do you tend to:
1) take them personally (“It’s my fault that happened.”)
2) see them as permanent (“I always lose my keys.”)
3) believe they are pervasive, i.e., see the situation as affecting every area of your life (“I can’t do anything right.”)

Pay attention to how your thoughts are shaping your experiences (which make up your life!). Are there equally valid and more empowering, more energizing explanations for what is going on?

Copyright 2008 Eugene Y. Smith, III. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Physical Energy: Foundation of Fulfillment

This week, we're exploring the physical aspects of energy and how to manage it in the service of what matters most. Join us for the Sunday workshops in Asheville and Hendersonville, NC, if you can. It promises to be a lively discussion!

We all know the reciprocal relationship between our physical condition and our mental and emotional states. When we’re tired or sick, we tend to be more irritable, more reactive, less patient—more negative. It’s harder to sustain concentration, think creatively, be fully present to what’s going on inside us and around us—we’re less productive. I have come to recognize that the state of my physical energy is reflected in every aspect of my life, including the quality of my relationships, how clean my house is, and even in how much money I have in the bank.

And yet, I often hear myself and others say we want to get more exercise, eat more nourishing food, get more rest, maybe make space for quiet reflection, but there just isn’t enough time. I’ll get to it when I finish this project, when the kids are grown and on their own, when I retire.… What if it’s not about having enough time, but about priorities? Are we running so fast to get somewhere—or we really running AWAY from something? Hmmm.

I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said “Sleep is for the weak.” I think that kind of macho disdain for our physical selves is part of why so many are sleep-deprived in this country, with its attendant toll on our health and productivity. The same goes for poor diet, lack of exercise, and chronic stress. Why do we think it’s a virtue to see how little we can get by with?

I have come to recognize how I have treated even minor necessary maintenance like brushing my teeth with a degree of impatience and irritation. I have begun to notice how I delay responding to my body’s signals for rest, food, and even going to the bathroom with a slightly exasperated “Not now. I’ll get to you when I finish this.”

And when I get sick I feel betrayed. I don’t trust my body, in fact I’m probably afraid of it—yet it is my mind that is truly untrustworthy. Woody Allen said, “It's not that I'm afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens.”

I forget to be grateful that I have this body (and parts that need care and will eventually wear out). This body does wonderful things for me every day. Because of it I can communicate with the world, manipulate my environment, and use it as a vehicle to express the loving spirit that shines through me. My body grounds me in the present even as my mind swings from past to future. “Now is the moment of power,” in the words of the Huna tradition of Hawaii. What an amazing gift!

My mind is so used to bossing my body that I decided I would let them change places for a few days and see what happened. For instance, even though I felt a strong pull when I first got out of bed to check my voicemail and e-mail, instead I listened to my body and did what it asked—fed it or peed or did some stretching. Only after I had had breakfast and cleared the dishes away and was ready to give them my full attention did I make myself accessible to other tasks. If I started to lose concentration or felt tired in the afternoon, I took a nap or went for a walk, depending on what I thought I needed.

At first it was very uncomfortable. I felt tense and agitated when I didn’t give in to my mind’s sense of urgency to be engaged and/or distracted. And that sensation still comes up. More and more, though, I feel an enhanced sense of spaciousness, of possibility, of connection with myself and with the world around me. I’m more at peace, more “together,” more alive. What a marvelous way to be!

Practice exercise: Let the body lead

For the next week, listen to what your body is telling you moment to moment and then, as best you can, respond immediately to its needs. What happens when you do this? What happens when you don’t? What gets in the way?

If you’re willing, please add a comment to the blog about your experiences and insights.

Copyright 2008 Eugene Y. Smith, III. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Spiritual Energy: Aligning to Power

“I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.”
— Joseph Campbell

Dear Friends,

Here begins our four-week exploration of the conscious use of energy. This week, we’ll look at spiritual energy—how a sense of purpose beyond personal pleasure and survival can provide both fuel for our life journeys and a means of focusing that energy in the service of an "experience of being alive.” In the following weeks we’ll look at the physical, mental and emotional aspects of energy.

As I write this, I’m feeling tension because there are other things I feel I am neglecting in order to sit and compose this newsletter. I have chosen to turn my phone off, delay checking my e-mail, and ignore some household chores that await my attention. In addition to coaching I have a business writing and editing and providing marketing support for several businesses. There are projects I want to finish today for my clients and there’s a strong urge to attend to them NOW. Fear is whispering in my ear, “If you don’t do these other things first you’re going to lose your livelihood and be out on the street.”

And yet the reason this newsletter is going out today instead of earlier in the week is because I kept putting other projects ahead of this one and then running out of steam at the end of the day before I had done more than write a note here and there as part of drafting this. Does this sound familiar to you or am I the only being on this planet who feels torn apart by competing priorities and then finds himself running farther and farther behind?

Have you ever watched a bird bringing food to a clutch of hungry nestlings? The babies are insatiable and competing loudly to “Feed me, FEED ME!” I know I’m projecting, but the mama or papa bird always seems so harried and exhausted to me. That’s probably because I feel that way myself much more often than I want to.

All of these tasks are important and I intend to perform them. How do I choose what to focus on in this moment? How can I be more intentional instead of reactive? For that I need a map and a compass. The map is my guiding “big picture” vision of what my life looks like when I’m at my best. The compass is the clear awareness that I use to evaluate my choices so I can pick the right one in this moment that will keep me in alignment with that vision. We started talking about this a few weeks ago in our session on “Living from the Inside Out.”

I am choosing to write this newsletter right now because I remembered the joy and sense of meaning I get from doing this work and sharing it with you and the way it feeds my spirit. When I finish, I’ll take a few breaths, look at the map, and choose the next thing I’m going to do. The fears will arise and I’ll remember the joy and turn to face it. Again and again and again.

Practice exercise

Here’s another opportunity to work on creating your map. Pick three personal qualities you value. For this week, I’m choosing courage, kindness, and creativity.

How will you apply these qualities to the next decision you make? How will you remind yourself to come back to them when the busyness of your life and its competing demands distract you?

Set aside some time to reflect on this and write down your intentions. As the week unfolds be sure to give yourself credit each time you remember and each time you notice that you have forgotten. Reward the behavior you want to reinforce; don’t punish yourself for what doing you don’t want.

Who you are is important! Remember that!

Copyright 2008 Eugene Y. Smith, III. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Practicing Self-Acceptance

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” — Carl Rogers, psychologist

I don’t speak baby talk very well, so I can’t claim to know what babies think about the world, much less about themselves. Nevertheless, I strongly suspect they DO NOT have thoughts like “What a loser I am. I must be the worst crier in the nursery” or “Boy, I really suck at crawling. What’s wrong with me?” much less “I really hate my body.”

Where, then, do the negative feelings we harbor about ourselves come from? I would say it’s from fear that we learned starting when we were small and dependent. Children are mostly socialized by the granting or withholding of approval. We quickly learn to equate acceptance with survival, which, given that we are social beings, holds some truth.

Why do we fear? Paradoxically, in order to feel in control. We learn that we can’t trust ourselves to be OK unless we’re threatened with negative consequences if we don’t follow the rules. Is that really true? Are we only good because we fear being punished if we’re bad?

I’m sorry, I just don’t believe that. If that were true, why are there more people in prison that ever? It’s just not my experience that I’ve ever been successful in beating myself into becoming a better person.

What I do know is that I’m basically good, albeit unskillful at times. I suffer when I forget that and fall back into what Tara Brach in her sweet book Radical Acceptance (2003, Bantam Books) calls “the trance of unworthiness.”

It’s late and so I’m going to cut to the chase here, even though there is a lot more I could (and will) say about this. Join us for one of the discussion groups this Sunday either in Asheville or Hendersonville if you can and we’ll talk more.

Practice exercise:

Looking for the perfect relationship? Start here!

Describe how you would feel, what you would receive, how you would be treated if you found your perfect love. Do you long to be known, accepted, appreciated, honored, inspired? Maybe even worshipped a little bit? (It’s OK. Really!)

I know you see this coming: be the lover you want to find, as much as you can, to everyone you encounter, including that person you meet in the mirror. Move from waiting to receive to giving freely and your cup will fill as you experience the fullness, the goodness of who you really are. Simple as that.

Copyright 2008 Eugene Y. Smith, III. All rights reserved.

Facing Fear: Engaging What Limits Us

“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” — Marie Curie

What if I said that fear could be your friend? Well, OK, not friend exactly (you don’t have to like it), but it could be your ally. Let me explain.…

Fear offers information that something needs your attention. Its purpose is to help you survive, either physically or psychologically. Unfortunately, what starts out seeming like a fortress can end up becoming a prison, shielding us from potential pain while at the same time making our worlds so much smaller. What we want to do, then, is to look deeper at the fear to discover what response is going to move us toward freedom and out of bondage.

So, what are you afraid of? Pick an issue that, if it were resolved, would substantially improve the quality of your life. Take a few minutes if you need to mull this over and then write a brief statement in your journal describing the fear.

Here are some further questions to ask yourself:

1) In what circumstances does this fear arise?

2) What other emotions, if any, accompany this fear? (anger, shame, despair, etc.)

3) When did you first experience this fear?

4) Is the fear based on an experience you had or were you taught to have this fear?

5) Is the fear in response to what is happening in this moment or to an imagined/projected event?

6) Is this fear about your physical survival (that bear chasing you through the woods) or to your sense of self (like fear of how well you will perform a task)?

A handy model I was taught about emotions is this: first there is a stimulus (situation or experience), followed by a thought about what the stimulus means, followed by an emotional reaction. Got that? Stimulus> thought> emotion. The part that is often overlooked is the one in the middle—the thought. With awareness, that’s where we can learn to choose and exercise control.

Here’s an example: A dog walks into a room. There are two people there, one of whom loves dogs and another who is afraid of dogs. These people are having entirely different reactions to the dog, but the dog is the same. Why? Because, of course, they have different beliefs about dogs and we tend to filter our experiences to confirm what we already believe.

In my workshops and coaching sessions I often begin by saying, “Don’t believe anything that I tell you.” This usually gets a chuckle. I then go on to encourage people to examine what I say to see if it really is true for them and also to see whether what I’m saying is actually useful. If my ideas don’t meet both tests, please disregard them. That’s Part A. Part B is—are you ready?—don’t believe what you tell yourself either without administering the same tests. Ah!

Invite your fear in and ask these questions: What am I telling myself this stimulus/situation means about me? What evidence do I have that what I believe is really true about this situation? How does this fear benefit me? What does my current response to this fear cost me? Is it worth it?

Compassion and a sense of curiosity are a must. A sense of humor helps, too. What, you’re a human being having a human experience? Welcome to the club!

Practice exercise:

Who is the fear inviting me to be? In other words, what qualities am I being asked to develop in order to meet this fear? Look past the discomfort and aversion. Find out where your fear is directing you to create more balance in your life and develop new capacities. There is much energy there, waiting to be set free.

Copyright 2008 Eugene Y. Smith, III. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Living from the Inside Out

I’ve been thinking about life change a lot recently—what drives it, what directs it, what sustains it—and I keep coming back to a phrase I heard a friend use some time ago: “living from the inside out.” She meant she wanted to live her life as an expression of who she truly is instead of trying to be someone she was taught she was supposed to be. To be driving her life instead of just being a passenger. Sound familiar?

Almost without exception, we were raised to look outside ourselves for validation and approval. As adults, it’s no wonder then that so many of us don’t really know who we are or what we want. We are not used to being asked that question in a fundamental way. Even considering it can bring up fears of not surviving (psychologically if not physically) if we don’t conform to what we believe is expected of us. And yet …

Remember an event in your life where you were in the “flow,” where you felt happy, excited, peaceful, powerful. Where time expanded into a limitless Now. Close your eyes and revisit that experience. Notice what you are thinking, if you are thinking of anything. What sensations are present in your body? How would you describe your emotions? Is there a sense of connectedness, of rightness, of being home?

Want to spend more time in that place? Want to feel more alive? Of course you do. Me, too! So, why don’t we? One hindrance is what I call “Yes, but.” The tape goes something like this: “Yes, I want to live more fully, but if I do … I will let down the people who depend on me … the world would fall apart if everyone did that … that would be too selfish … people won’t like/love me … eventually I’ll end up under a bridge and die.” Fill in your own variation of this script. What’s significant here is the “either/or” (dualistic) thinking this represents. There’s the trap.

How do we know we can’t be true to ourselves and also be happy, loved, successful, prosperous and, yes, responsible? I have been telling people recently that I noticed my house started getting cleaner after I began taking regular afternoon naps. Now I know that when the house gets untidy I need to pay more attention to taking care of myself BEFORE I pull out the vacuum. Being “selfish” increases the likelihood I will be “responsible.” Hmmm.

Because other people have projected their own fears onto us and then withheld their love and approval when we did anything that triggered those fears, we have been inhibited from exploring past the DANGER! signs they posted. I’m not suggesting you blindly and reactively do everything you were told not to do. I AM inviting you to stop and look deeply to see what is TRUE for YOU and then, as best you can in this moment, to act upon that information.

This week’s experiment

For the next week, here’s something to play with: pay attention to how you feel—mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually—as you make decisions moment by moment on what you say yes or no to. Do you feel alert or dull, enthusiastic or resistant, energized or tired, clear and decisive or conflicted? Do you feel differently when you say yes or no to the same thing at different times? Just notice—don’t try to change anything yet. You may want to write your observations in a journal. This is a great first step toward drawing a map of who you really are and what you really want. We’ll explore facing the fears that hold us back in a future session.

As the proverb says, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the next step.” Let’s get moving! As you embark on this expedition of discovery, may the road rise up to meet you.

copyright 2008  Eugene Y. Smith, III. All rights reserved.