Category Archives: Desires

Self-Care Is Your Job, Part 2

Episcopal coach and writer“You can’t get enough of what you didn’t want in the first place.” – Sam Keen.

Somewhere along the way, most of us learned to substitute fake self-care for what we really wanted.  Maybe the things that really nurtured us seemed foolish, or selfish, or unimportant to the people whom we were depending on for survival, and we stopped knowing what we really wanted.

Many of us don’t trust that what we desire is okay to desire, and that we have permission to give ourselves what we want.

So we start substituting pale imitations. We eat junk food because we don’t think we deserve the real thing. The real thing takes time, preparation, and discernment. Real self-care, like real food, takes effort.

Last week we looked at what self-care is and what it isn’t, why self-care is our job, and one way to get clarity on what authentic self-care is for us.

This week’s focus is discerning real self-care from the faux self-care we’ve often substituted.

In a nutshell, like junk food, fake self-care offers short-term relief from painful emotions and leaves us feeling worse in the long run. Fake self-care is usually easy, mass-produced and ultimately unsatisfying. Fake self-care often takes the form of an addiction: something we need to do or we feel anxious, and when we do it we still feel anxious.

True self-care, on the other hand, is deeply nourishing, sustaining, and connecting. True self-care connects me to Source/God, empowers me to know what I know, and helps me grow. True self-care sustains me as I feel what I’m feeling. It connects me to my body. It nourishes my ability to let painful emotions move through me. True self-care helps me know I’m loved, no matter what, and that it’s okay to let go of what needs to be let go.

If we’re afraid that knowing what’s really true and real for us will cause all hell to break loose, we usually choose not to know it. When we don’t want to know what we know, we indulge in fake self-care.

So, how to tell the difference?

Simple. Our bodies know the difference. True self-care ultimately feels free, expansive, and authentic. Fake self-care feels caged and tight, small, and in our box.

In Martha Beck world, we refer to these feelings as “shackles on” and “shackles off.” And you always have the tool for discernment with you. It’s your body. Here’s a useful link about the body compass, written by coach Pamela Slim. It’s helpful to have someone lead you through this exercise. Call me and I’ll do it with you. You know the difference, I promise.

Another very helpful aid in rediscovering how to truly care for yourself is meditation. Anything that helps you see that you are not your thoughts is going to aid you on this journey. Meditation in its many forms trains us to find the space between ourselves and our thoughts.

We relearn how to take care of ourselves by paying attention to what we really want, testing our self-care habits with our bodies, and learning to notice what we’re thinking.

My guess is that when you truly care for yourself, you’ll notice some increased friction in your life. Next time, we’ll talk about what’s going on there. Hint: boundaries.

Loving is Listening. Loving is Feeling. Loving is Embodied.

Feelings (

Feelings (

“Loving is listening. Loving is feeling. Loving is embodied.”

I wrote these words in my journal this Valentine’s Day morning. I had woken up with a feeling of trepidation about an event I had on my schedule today, and I felt myself push that feeling away.

I noticed myself not listening to my heart.

I learned not to “do feelings” as a kid. I grew up in a family where feelings weren’t especially welcome.

Growing up in a family that “doesn’t do feelings” is common.

I think many middle-aged Americans grew up in families that greeted our feelings with irritation or even hostility. My mom used to say, “If you’re going to cry, I’ll give you something to cry about.”

I learned from my parents, and from the culture, that my feelings were best ignored. What I felt was both unimportant AND something to be feared, controlled, and sequestered. Very confusing.

Over time, I learned to ignore my emotions myself before anyone else got the chance to tell me they were silly, and I got really good at it. Why have feelings, or desires, if they only cause pain? Ignoring my feelings, or judging myself for my feelings, is probably the most common way that I’m mean to myself.

Unfortunately for me, and for all of us who have learned to ignore our feelings, they don’t go away. Feelings exist to be felt, and when they’re not felt, they do all sorts of damage.

What I’m finally learning, in ripe middle age, is that my feelings are precious pearls of wisdom. My feelings are jewels. My feelings are signposts. My feelings are priceless.

My word for 2016 is “heart,” and the Lenten discipline that chose me this year is to listen. (Is it a coincidence that the first four letters of “heart” spell “hear”?)

I’m feeling led to further refine my Lenten discipline. I’m committing to listening to other people with intention and presence. I’m also committing to listening to myself with compassion — to hearing and honoring my feelings.

I’m finding two tools very useful in practicing compassionate listening to myself.

The first one is Dr. Tara Brach’s RAIN processRecognize the feeling. Allow the feeling. Investigate the feeling. Non-identify with the feeling.

The second tool I’m finding useful is the Awareness Wheel, a tool developed to help couples communicate more effectively. I find “doing a wheel” an extremely helpful tool for clarifying what’s going on with me on many levels, and to help my brain talk to my heart. Here’s a link.

If you, like me, have gotten really good at being mean to yourself by ignoring or belittling your feelings, I invite you to join me in giving yourself the gift of feeling what you feel. You’ll survive, and your life will be enriched beyond your wildest hopes.

Loving is listening. Loving is feeling. Loving is being in this miraculous body on this amazing Earth with gratitude and compassion.


Extreme Cavers and Desire


Bill Stone is an extreme caver. To say caving is his passion is to vastly understate his dedication. Bill Stone spends weeks at a time in the bowels of the Earth following twists and turns in complete darkness, exploring the world’s deepest caves. (See the April 21, 2014 New Yorker for more.)

I do not understand Bill Stone’s passion for caves, and his level of commitment and clarity stuns me.

Like many of us, I learned to look outside myself for direction, and to largely ignore my wants and desires unless they happened to align with those of the authority figures in my life. If we learn as children that following our hearts will lead to conflict with those we love and look up to, stuffing our desires seems like the better choice. And that deeply-ingrained habit remains into adulthood.

Unfortunately (or fortunately?), our heart’s desires don’t just quietly slink away and leave us in peace. Suppressed desires inevitably bubble up as painful feelings and destructive behaviors like depression, addiction, meanness, illness, judgments, and envy.

Because denial of desires leads to such suffering, life coaching focuses on identifying and owning what we want.

There is also a growing consensus among progressive Christian writers such as Richard Rohr, a Franciscan monk and contemplative teacher, that desires are a gift of God and a call from God, and that they come pre-installed.

Our vocation is to make our dreams come true. Our desires and passions and dreams and visions are God calling us to grow up, to evolve, to trust and explore.

I struggle to believe this. My mistrust of my desires runs very deep. And I’m slowly finding the courage to be honest and reverent about what I want, and to take steps to get it.

Maybe you know what you want and you’re dedicated to getting it. Yay you! I am happy for you (and maybe a teensy bit envious), and invite you to share your successes!

(However, if you, like me, could use a little guidance, I’m hosting a “Desires, Visions, and Goals” workshop in Medford on Thursday, April 24. Here’s a taste of what we’ll do:)

Identify desires by asking questions such as “What things and experiences do I truly want? How do I imagine I will feel when I get this thing or experience?

Identify what Martha Beck calls Wildly Improbable Goals. WIGs are really big creations or experiences that excite and scare us equally. (I prefer WAG: Wild Audacious Goal.)

Begin taking action to fulfill desires and Wild Audacious Goals by getting clear on what we want and what we have already, and identifying steps to bridge the gap.

The New Yorker article about Stone’s latest expedition says “[h]e has an engineer’s methodical mind and an explorer’s heroic self-image. He’s pragmatic about details and romantic about goals.”

Stone harnesses the power of both sides of his brain: the left-brain linear planner and the right-brain visionary seeker. We can learn to do the same. We must be about the business of creating in the world what we see in our minds and yearn for in our hearts if we are to truly be who we are created to be.

The world needs us.

I’ll give Richard Rohr the last word:

Your destiny and God’s desire are already written in your genes, your upbringing, and your natural gifts. It is probably the most courageous thing you will ever do to accept that you are just yourself. Only the original manufacturer can declare what the product—you—should be. Nobody else. “Even every hair of your head has been counted,” as Jesus puts it (Matthew 10:30). God chooses us into existence, and continues that choice of us every successive moment, or we would fall into non-being. We are interrelated with Essential Being, participating in the very life of God, while living out one little part of that life in our own exquisite form.


PDFs of workshop materials are here: Desires, Visions, Goals handouts_filled in


Hope, Again

In my last post I dissed Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope is a thing with feathers.” I contrasted fluffy feathery (I called it “wimpy”) hope with hope that has muscles and a plan. A dear friend took the time to point out the ways in which Emily’s hope lines up with what I termed “holy hope” — hope that is willing to get its hands dirty and make actual things happen.

I see her point. And I still see that damned bird, singing and singing and not getting anywhere.

And then I ask, what else is a bird supposed to do? After all, a bird’s job is to simply be a bird — eat enough calories to survive, reproduce, avoid predators, and generally fill its ecosystem niche.

So my issue must be with the metaphor itself. Metaphors are powerful and I think we should choose our metaphors carefully. And hope as a bird doesn’t satisfy me. 

If a bird’s job is to simply be a bird, then what is human hope’s job? To just BE?  I don’t think so.

I think our hopes and desires and yearnings have a purpose beyond simply existing.  I believe our deepest desires and yearnings and hopes are holy. They are given to us by God (Source, Oneness, Whatever). They are our marching orders in the world. Our hopes tell us who we are. They lead us forward and light our way.

So here’s an alternative metaphor. Hope is a seed.

Hope as a seed can simply lie there in parched ground being a seed, and that’s okay. It still has value. A seed has immensely more value, though, when it cracks open and becomes the mature version of what it wants to be — a sunflower, a sheaf of wheat, a redwood. (I stole this metaphor from Jesus.)

We know how to cultivate growth in seeds — sun, water, and soil, with a little weeding and protecting and waiting. But what that seed wants to be is totally up to the seed. It’s a mystery, a gift, a grace. And absolutely completely out of my control. And Monsanto’s.

My hopes are like seeds. I can align myself and flow with the hope that wants to grow in my soul, or I can choose not to.

If I nurture my hopes, they will more likely grow and mature and be of use in the world. (And bring me joy, no small thing.)

If I choose to let my hopes lie dormant, those hopes will lie there like seeds waiting to germinate, fine in and of themselves, good for bird food or animal fodder.

But they’re just not what they could have been and wanted to be. And that’s a loss, for me and for you and for the world.


Wow! All those seeds from one seed!





Hope Is Not a Methodology.

Emily Dickinson says “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers / that perches in the soul… .” I don’t know about you, but that sweet sweet sentiment sticks in my craw. I think that Emily’s feathery hope is just a wish. And although wishes are fun and entertaining and while away the days, they aren’t really much use to me. Weak hope is worse than useless. I believe that weak wimpy hope is dangerous, because it gives me the illusion of doing something when all I’m really doing is sitting there.

I am writing today in favor of robust, muscular hope.

Hope is not a methodology.

Hope no. 1

What are some characteristics of robust hope?

  • I am clear on what I yearn for.
  • I am willing and able to let the old me die in order for something new to be born.
  • I have a plan.
  • I actually implement my plan, and I’m willing to change it as needed.

(Each of these characteristics deserves its own post. Or book.)

So why do I stick with wimpy hope all too often?

Because I feel afraid. Afraid of the unknown, afraid of attracting attention, afraid of criticism, afraid of feeling incompetent and making mistakes… Because I don’t trust my yearnings.

Here’s the thing, though. My deepest yearnings are planted in me by God; they have their roots in my soul where God lives in me, and it’s my job to manifest them in the world. When I take my time and use my tradition to discern what I yearn for, that’s prayer. That’s contemplation. And nothing that I truly yearn for ultimately be destructive. Ever. Yearnings aren’t selfish. Yearnings are HOLY.

How do I turn wispy wishes into holy hope? How do I take those yearnings I say are holy and make them amount to something? Here’s where coaching meets contemplation, for me.

  • I recognize old patterns and griefs and resentments and limiting beliefs that no longer serve me or the world.
  • I grieve what needs to be grieved, release what needs to be released, and replace dead thoughts with life-giving beliefs.
  • I make a plan, recognizing that in all probability I will fail numerous times, and that failure is part of the process. Then I break the plan down into manageable steps.
  • I gather tools– information, knowledge, resources, people to cheer me on and hold me accountable. While I’m ultimately responsible for my own journey, I know that I can’t and shouldn’t go it alone.
  • Then I go forth and do. I implement, even though I feel scared, because finally not-doing is worse than feeling the fear. I celebrate my progress every turtle step of the way.
  • I pray a lot (when I remember), then do it all over again. Thank God tomorrow is another day, because I need lots of fresh starts!

W.H. Murray says about planning the Scottish Himalayan Expedition:

Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.

Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!

May we trust our yearnings. May we stop clinging to our dead places and rise up. May we turn our wispy wishes and feathery hopes into reality, and give a hungry world what it needs.

Hope is not a methodology.

A plan and some tools.

Thanks to Margie Farber for “Hope is not a methodology.” The drawing is original and is under construction.