On Being Vulnerable

Woman thinkingWith the cool fall weather surrounding me, I suppose it is not surprising that I am going inside—myself. I am even more introspective than usual—and that’s saying a lot for someone who loves to go in deep. Because of this introspection phase I am in, my vulnerability is showing up in huge measures. It is as if my soul wants to be bared, even though it can be uncomfortable to reveal. There is vulnerability in opening oneself up as an internal exploration just as there is vulnerability in opening up to others. Both require and at the same time evoke kindness and compassion.

Being vulnerable might feel like you are over-exposing yourself, so it takes courage, whether it is with others or not. Yet being vulnerable allows you to get closer to the truth of who you are and how you experience life, closer to your inner fears and hopes and dreams. I find that I deepen my learning of what fuels me, what drives me and what I am here for when I am able to lean into the softest and most unprotected parts of me.

I have been working with a Somatic Experiencing student practitioner for the past few months while she goes through training. With her guidance, I have been exploring those areas of my life that both give me strength and cause me suffering. Part of this therapeutic process is letting my body speak to me through its physical sensations. Being with the experiences in my body helps me to understand and also release emotional blocks that are keeping me from being more conscious and awake in life. Rather than gloss over memories of past trauma, by recognizing areas of discomfort or energy in the body I am learning to shed some layers and reveal even more. It is in this place of being vulnerable that I am finding peace and understanding of more aspects of myself.

Being vulnerable is also an effective means to gaining a deeper connection to people you are close to or want to get closer to. Allowing your vulnerability to emerge creates trust, just as trust helps you to dip your toes into being vulnerable. Trust that you won’t find anything you can’t handle. Trust that the other person will respond to your vulnerability with kindness or at least not unkindly. I think that is one of the biggest misunderstandings about vulnerability or why people hold back their vulnerability. They are fearful that they will be judged if they are vulnerable. Yet in most instances I have experienced that vulnerability is met with understanding. Because when you are vulnerable you are showing up as a real and complicated person. And being vulnerable is a gateway to understanding all the facets of emotion that come with being a perfectly imperfect human.

Don’t forget to vote! Your voice counts.

xoxo Rachel

Creating A Self-Care Mini-Retreat

For many of us, the logistics, cost or even just the idea of going away for a multi-day retreat isn’t possible. Yet there are benefits to having some solitary time to reconnect with yourself and quiet your mind and soul. If you are looking for an alternative, I suggest a DIY mini-retreat. It need only take place during the day, say from 8am to 5pm, but you can certainly make it as long as works for you. Here are a few things that you will need to make this happen.

The most important issue is finding a place where no one has access to you. Make certain that everyone knows you are not to be disturbed. Even if you have your own home free during the day, there are just too many distractions so consider getting out of your house. Ask a friend or relative if you can use their place while they are away during the day or if they are out of town for a few days. If you have no alternative, then you can try it at home when you are completely by yourself (say your spouse is traveling and your kids are away). Select a room where you are able to keep it distraction free.

Planning the day is critical so that you aren’t feeling lost and confused as to what to do during the time. So I recommend that you create a detailed schedule in advance for the day. Think of the activities you want to explore during your retreat. Keep them low key and vary them throughout the day. Yoga, sitting meditation, walking meditation, journaling, drawing, reading reflective or spiritual books or poetry are all great choices. I like to set intentions at the start for how I want to be during the day. Something like “I intend to be calm, relaxed and open to whatever arises.” I like to say to myself “joy is an option.” And I like to close the day with a gratitude ritual where I give thanks for all that I have in my life. Here’s an example schedule that you can modify as you like. Print it out or hand write it and decorate it to make it special so that you enjoy referring to it all day.

~My Mini Retreat Schedule~
8 – 8:15 am Sip Warm Lemon Water and Set Intentions
8:15 – 9 am Sitting Meditation
9 – 9:30 am Light Breakfast
9:30 – 10 am Journal
10 – 11 am Yoga
11 – 11:15 am Sip Tea
11:15 am – 12 pm Guided Meditation (Try the Insight Timer app)
12 – 12:30 pm Light Lunch
12:30 – 1 pm Walking Meditation
1 – 1:30 pm Read
1:30 – 2:30 pm Restorative Yoga
2:30 – 3 pm Light Snack
3 – 3:30 pm Journal
3:30 – 4:30 pm Sitting Meditation
4:30 – 5 pm Closing Gratitude Ritual

Remaining in silence throughout the day may feel like a challenge but you will find that the quiet allows you to unwind more fully. On the day of the retreat, make sure that you have an out of office notification for your email and texts. Leave your cell phone off (but make sure that someone knows where you are in case of emergencies). Or at the least turn off all notifications and sounds on your cell phone. It is very important that you surround yourself with calm and peace.

Bring a light lunch and snack for your day, water, tea and maybe a candle if your friend is OK with you lighting a candle in their place. If you use a meditation bench, bring that as well as comfy clothes and a blanket and yoga mat. If you are headed outside at all during the day, find places where you can be solitary and don’t need to speak. When you eat, go really slowly and mindfully enjoy each bite of food. But most of all be kind to yourself and give yourself the space and solitude to feel the benefit of a self-love, self-care mini-retreat.

xoxo Rachel

Including Feelings And Needs In Your Life Goals

Smiling BusinesswomanSetting and reaching goals is a big part of a creating a successful business and personal life. Most of the time when we set our goals, they are for tangible outcomes that are measurable. Maybe the goal is to learn a new language, lose weight, buy a new car, move to a new apartment or home, reach a sales target or see a client satisfaction score improvement. The more specific, the better your chances are that you will progress towards that goal and successfully reach it. However, the specificity is usually very quantitative, like lose 10 pounds by a certain date or make $15,000 in new sales by a certain date. Not very inspiring.

What about the less tangible qualitative aspects of your end result? Have you asked yourself why you want a particular goal or how you want to feel when you reach that goal? Feelings and needs are rarely part of the goal equation. That is too bad because they can make a huge difference in your ability to reach your goal as well as your experience when you get there. When you have a goal, the underlying reason you want it is because you imagine it will give you positive feelings. And the way to get the positive feelings is to make sure that you are meeting one or more of your personal needs. So perhaps the reason you want a new home is so that your need for safety and beauty and shelter and other needs are met and you want to feel energized and rested and relaxed and other feelings in your environment. This type of qualitative specificity and clarity helps to motivate you and make sure that you are reaching for the right target.

When you reflect on what feelings and needs are important to you in various aspects of your life and then create goals to get them met, you may end up with a very different goal list then if you just ask yourself what do I want to achieve. But taking the approach of setting goals that meet your needs and give you positive feelings is the road to fulfillment. Yes, fulfillment is all about joyfully meeting your personal needs or values.

And getting to the heart of the matter, how you experience life is all about how you feel. So why wouldn’t you want to have feelings as goals? When you experience positive feelings about all the areas of your life, life truly is grand. Compared to a dry goal like “buy a new couch”, including feelings and needs like “buy a new couch that gives me comfort and is beautiful and makes me feel relaxed and delighted” is a much more compelling outcome. When the goal is compelling, you are more likely to reach it.

When I speak of feelings, I don’t mean simply feeling good, but something more evocative. The Center for Nonviolent Communication has a great list of positive feelings that includes: affectionate, confident, grateful, amazed, inspired, grateful to name a few. (See CNVC Feelings for a feelings list. These positive feelings are a result of meeting your personal needs that might include connection, peace, autonomy, meaning and so on. (See CNVS Needs for a needs list.)

Here’s an example of how to goal set using feelings and needs. Let’s say that you feel stuck and are unhappy in your current career. If you simply look for another position in your field, you may be setting yourself up for more of the same. If instead you consider what is not working in your current role and think about how you want to feel in your new role and what needs are essential for your well being, you will have a greater chance of finding work that matches your needs. If you are an introvert, perhaps you need a role where you are independent and have autonomy in order to feel stimulated and empowered. Or if you are in need of lots of connection, then maybe you need a role with lots of client facing time in order to feel centered and interested.

I suggest that when looking at your own life that you explore different aspects of your daily life:

  • Lifestyle, home, surroundings, travel, free time
  • Relationships, romance, family, friends, community
  • Career, money, causes
  • Physical health, mental health, food, sleep, relaxation
  • Personal development, spirituality, intuition, practices
  • Creativity and self-expression, hobbies, learning and growing

You can organize these areas however you want, but the idea is to think about your whole life and consider not just what you want but how you want to feel in each area and what needs are important for you to meet. For instance, perhaps in your relationships you want to feel radiant, trusting, energized, comfortable, and moved because relationships are where you satisfy your needs for play, connection, and intimacy. And maybe in your work life you want to feel passionate, absorbed, renewed, inspired, and optimistic because you want work to fulfill your need for autonomy and meaning and self-expression and contribution. Not only will this exercise more clearly define where you are going, but it should also motivate you. Because look at what you will get as your goal: not only a paycheck or new partner—fulfillment and joy!

When you check in with what feelings you want more of in your life and what needs are deeply important to you, you are bound to reveal goals that will truly bring you greater happiness in life.

xoxo Rachel

What Would You Do If You Weren’t Scared?

Depositphotos_9236655_l-2015.jpgI heard this question the other day on a podcast and I could feel the fear rising from my belly just from listening. When I sat down to actually write about this, the flutters in my stomach grew greater. I know that I have done a lot of things over the years that felt scary—but I did them anyway. What things did I avoid doing altogether because I was just too afraid? I am certain there are many things I passed up. However, rather than go in that direction I thought I’d take a different tact. Instead of working from the place of fear, how about working from the imagination place of anything is possible and there are no negative repercussions? That feels better. My shoulders are already relaxing.

It’s an interesting practice. Write down as quickly as possible without great thought all the things you might do if you weren’t scared. Skydiving. Seriously I really think it would be amazing to fly in the air (never mind the landing). Sailing around the Caribbean. Join an adult amateur sports team—maybe field hockey. Move to the beach. Write that novel already! This is getting easier now as I get on a roll. Lead dancing power sessions. Work with kids. Volunteer (fear of loss of freedom if you were wondering). Go to more events (is that fear or laziness  🙂 ). You get the idea.

Try it yourself and see what comes up. You might be surprised to realize that you can do many of these things and they aren’t all that scary at all. Or maybe you’ll find that you are already doing so much and fear isn’t stopping you. And then again, perhaps you really aren’t doing a lot of things that you want to in your life because you are afraid.

If you aren’t one to close your eyes and jump, it doesn’t mean you can’t go after things that sound scary. If you really, really, really want to do something but you are afraid, ask for support. Find a group in your area of interest. Take a class. Talk to someone who is doing the activity or living the life that you want but are afraid of. Get a coach. Write down your wants and dreams in a journal. Brainstorm with a supportive friend how you can dip your toe into this seemingly impossible activity. Create your own group of likeminded souls to develop your dreams. Break down the things you would do if you weren’t scared and see if you can develop a safe way in. What sounds scary now might be easy for you with a little practice or with the right support.

By exploring the possibilities for your life, you are far more likely to accomplish seemingly scary things. Going for what you want even if it brings up fear will result in a richer, fuller life.

xoxo Rachel

Making Decisions

Woman with question markWhether seemingly big or small decisions, when it comes to making them I have one main rule: Listen only to myself. In other words, a decision for my own life is my own decision to make. It is my choice so I must trust my gut and not ask for other people’s opinions. Sometimes I gather factual information to help me to make a decision, but at the end of the day, I am the sole (or should I say soul) arbitrator. This rule has served me well, though I can’t say I have been perfect about implementing it. Because even if you make your own decision about something, you will undoubtedly get feedback from others, whether you have asked for it or not. And that can easily cause you to second-guess your decision. But if your decision comes from your inner knowing, don’t dismiss it. You know best what is right for you, though you may not always find it easy to access your gut.

For some people trusting and listening to their inner self is easy and natural. When they get to the right decision for them, they explain that any anxiety they had seems to dissolve from their body. And the saying “trust your gut” is often really about physical sensations in their gut. A decision is true for them when they feel calmness in their stomach. Or their heart feels open and happy or their shoulders relax and their breathing slows. Body knowledge is very helpful for tapping into what is true for you. That might not be easy for you so don’t give yourself a hard time if you are not skilled at making decisions or not in tune with your body. (I can never stress enough how being kind to yourself is important. We are generally better trained to be kind to others than we are to ourselves. Practice both 🙂 )

Getting to a place where you can trust your gut takes practice and requires that you get to know yourself. It starts with simply noticing. When you think about something that makes you anxious or undecided or confused, notice where that tension resides in your body. Tension is a clue that you should steer away from that choice. Whereas calmness or a sense of peace means you are in harmony with that choice. Just practice noticing and over time you will have a better understanding of where and when your body knows what the right decision is for you.

Because I work with people who are making transitions in their life, be it from one career to another, from a career to retirement, or any other big life change, I often hear the frustration from my clients about people questioning their decisions. It doesn’t necessarily matter what the decision is about, but if the decision is to do or be something that is different from the norm and less accepted in your culture, community or family, you will get more push back. Often people question your decision because it is different from their decision and they assume you are judging them about their decision by choosing a different path. Sigh. What is right for them is right for them. What is right for you is right for you. Such a simple idea and yet so difficult because we humans are very adept at making judgments.

So how can you navigate the reactions of others to your decision? For one thing it helps to find your peeps. Hang around people who support your perspective on life decisions that are important to you. That doesn’t mean you must stay in a bubble of only like-minded fellows and ignore your family and friends if they don’t support you. It just means that you have at least someone or a small group of people who support you and your personal choices. When you are around your friends and family who don’t quite understand, create some short explanations to have in your back pocket when you are questioned about your decision. They can sound something like this: “I have made the decision to ______ because I know that is what I want in my life. That doesn’t mean that I think my decision is right for everyone. I just know that it is right for me.”

Respect is important. When you show that you respect your own decisions and also respect other people’s personal decisions, you are encouraging everyone to act on their own behalf. If we all do that, then we will all get along much better. And you will be living in tune with yourself.

xoxo Rachel