I was talking to one of my coaching clients and she was talking about not being able to stay with a meditation practice---so she gave up meditating altogether. "I'm either gung ho all the way or I don't show up at all," she said in disgust. We were talking on one of the unfortunate evenings when she "hadn't shown up at all." She had scrubbed dishes instead. To listen to her, you would have thought that she had just hacked up the family pet. She needed self-forgiveness more than self-discipline. Actually, I'm thinking she might have improved from a good old-fashioned head-spinning exorcism. But that's just me.
I understand the desire to make changes in your life. I am a believer in enthusiasm.
Still, I invite you to be inconsistent and unreliable. I dare you to break promises to yourself and I dare you to make new ones. This is what it takes to be on the courageous path of learning to reinvent, discover and trust yourself.
You are here to follow an unpredictable light wherever it leads, not to wrangle unfathomable power into a silly, stupid box. This is not indulgence. It's strategy. Because a realistic and sustainable path is based in love. Authentic success flows from irrepressible desire, not impatience.
"I never follow through," says Sandra, on one of our afternoon calls. I know this isn't true. She is a bright, passionate woman who has raised children, which if you ask me, is quite the follow through. I'll tell you what I told her.
Following through is so much less important than following an inner voice.
You don't need to stay true to a faded goal. Stay committed to the gold. Your inner voice is the gold. You don't have to believe me. Ralph Waldo Emerson said the same thing: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." And, by the way, your inner voice is never going to ask you to abandon what's truly yours. But it may ask you to give yourself elbow room. This doesn't mean you have a problem with commitment. What if who you think you should be, is keeping you from the brilliance of who you are?
For example, I've worked with many individuals who don't "follow through,' because while something might be a great idea, it's not an idea that sets its fangs into their jugular. It's just a yummy idea. But it's not right for them to make it the only idea right now. And it takes emotional honesty to explore and stay true to what is true. It takes enormous courage to not follow through. Maybe you think you're just a quitter? But what if you're someone who is committed to evolution more than endurance? If you've stretched and you move on to 8th grade, have you "quit" 7th grade?
There's also a divine timing to things. My partner Paul tried to get sober three times before he got sober for life, or at least for two decades, so far. It wasn't a mistake for him to try to get sober. It wasn't a failure to take a run at it, even though he didn't follow through. It's never wrong to move towards health. It also wasn't wrong for him to deviate from sobriety. It wasn't time yet. You can't manufacture readiness. But you can keep taking steps in the right direction as often as is possible.
To me, there's beauty, intelligence and grace in showing up lopsided, showing up fitfully, showing up sporadically. Showing up is showing up.
The dream-basher in you pushes you into airtight commitments. But real change is about breathing, coming in and going out. Daring to live your calling is a path of invitation, not obligation. If it's right for you to make a deeper commitment to something, you will move into this grace. But you will make it in your own time and not a second before or afterwards.
My favorite poet Rumi, an absurdly free and expansive spirit, writes:
"Come, come whoever you are, wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving
--it doesn't matter,
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow a hundred times
Come, come again."
A Course in Miracles echoes this same philosophy by telling us to "choose once again," whenever we have made a choice that has felt painful. It doesn't say berate yourself, throw in the towel, and make sure to obsess about what isn't working. It asks us to save time and just begin again. Choose the new behavior or belief now. Give birth to a different experience this very minute. This kind of freedom isn't irresponsible. It's the ultimate responsibility. You have a mandate in this lifetime to give yourself every chance to be healthy and true.
When I first began writing in the hopes of turning it into a career, I suffered from my own blame and shame, kind of like bad cop and worse cop interrogating me about my creative whereabouts and lack of productivity. I'd work up all kinds of writing schedules. Then I'd ignore my own intentions and eat chocolate, a screw you etched in sugar. I absolutely couldn't trust myself. This was mortifying.
Of course, I did make progress as a writer. But I didn't get there by finding a nice, harmless chemical to paralyze my legs from the hours of 3:00p.m. to 5:00p.m. so that I'd sit still and focus. I didn't get there by calling myself names that would make a Southern drill sergeant blanche. I learned to encourage myself through the strength of love.
In my first book This Time I Dance!, I wrote "Only the tender can breed the fierce." This was a revelation to my alpha-trained Type A brain. Like my non-meditating client, I thought that if I had "misbehaved," I deserved an electric shock, not a bubble bath.
But my deeper wisdom, reflected, "Be even kinder to yourself when you feel fear. Love, not anger, inspires right action." It was true. Part of me avoided writing because I was afraid to face a new challenge in the shadow of my own cruelty. I was overwhelmed with the pressure to perform. Every minute of writing was like having NASA monitor a launch, not to mention the snobby panel of judges in my head who were always disappointed that I wasn't Proust or Elizabeth Gilbert. They'd challenge every word I wrote: Really, you're going to use a comma there? Are you writing about that again? Do you think this material is brilliant enough to promise you a career? And so on.
Let's just say it's hard to take the biggest risks of your life in front of your greatest enemy. I was my greatest enemy. That's why gentleness rocked my world. It led to inspired action. And action inspired traction. And traction inspired my heart's commitment-- which is a whole different beast than a commitment from your head.
Sometimes, we have an ill-advised idea of what "showing up" looks like. In the creative life, many people confuse rigidity with purity. But remember the creative personality might have many loves and devotions. And this is not distraction or avoidance. This is self-expression.
When I lived in the mountains outside of Denver and was writing my first book, I drove into the city weekly to teach classes and because I loved to hang out at coffeehouses downtown. Ralph, an older gentleman in a writing group, lambasted me one night (yes, in a support group). "If you were serious about that book, you'd just stay in the mountains and write," he barked. I immediately felt like a wannabe, someone who lacked the emotional grammar to go the distance. I didn't know then, that allowing myself to do what I really wanted to do, was what was going to sustain the distance. I wasn't flighty. I was learning the inner mechanisms of how I took flight.
Just because you have more than one interest or responsibility, doesn't make you less faithful to your dreams. I love writing and hiking, but I'm also an extravert and teacher and I love to share my experiences with other people. I love both lives. Likewise, I have clients who are parents---who are not only going to sculpt or work on a sales brochure for their business. Another part of their lives is going to soccer practice and picking up Cheerios and bananas. They are not abandoning their passions. They are claiming more of them.
I've also known dedicated souls who work a job to pay their rent while they steal scraps of hours to devote to their soul's goals. They may never feel like they're doing enough. That's only because they're focusing on what they're not doing. Self-trust and success arise from focusing on all the steps we do take to live our true desires.
Focus on the behaviors you wish to encourage, not the other choices. If you are trying to lose weight, don't agitate over your failure of will on the third day of your program. Celebrate the first two days of enthusiasm and motivation. Only the wins count--if you want to win. In Big Book Twelve Step lingo, "It's all about progress, not perfection."
I know the sticklers will tell you that taking one exercise class or spending one hour with your camera won't help, but I disagree. Every act of love for yourself-- makes a difference. That one time can boost your self-esteem and increase the likelihood that you'll return. Go ahead, stumble into grace. Start and stop a million times. Get there late and leave early. Whatever it takes. So what, if some think you look spasmodic? You are an extraordinary truth-seeker, an inspired explorer, a traveler on a caravan of joy, and that works just fine, because you're moving in the right direction.