Tag Archives: healing

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.

Self-Care Is Your Job, part 1

Episcopal coach and writer “Self-care.”

What’s your reaction to that word? When you read or hear “self-care,” do you light up? Do you feel warm and relaxed? Do you cringe and indulge in an inner eye-roll?

I think it’s a rare woman in our culture who hears the advice to take care of herself and responds, “Of course. Duh.” I think most of us are tired of being told to take care of ourselves. We’re either already doing it, or we’re confused about what self-care means and if it’s really okay.

If you’re struggling with whether you have the right to take care of yourself, and how to do it, you’re in good company. Self-care’s a tricky subject with lots of layers, and it can be difficult to manage.

Let’s take a deeper look at self-care. Let’s delve into what self-care is and isn’t, why it’s crucial, how to determine whether our current self-care is really serving us and what to do if it’s not, and barriers to taking good care of yourself in this four-part blog series.

(You can download a PDF to collect your answers to my questions here: Self-care lesson one pdf)

First of all, what is self-care? Self-care is anything that feeds our true selves. Self-care is doing things that strengthen our connection to Source/God and that bring us joy. Self-care is taking the time to figure out what we really want, down in our core. Figuring out what truly nourishes us.

What self-care isn’t: Self-care is NOT numbing ourselves to anger, boredom, anxiety, sadness, or any other painful feeling. Self-care is NOT finding ways to tolerate intolerable situations. Self-care is NOT behaving destructively – destructive anger, being mean, indulging in addictions.

Why is self-care crucial?

Because we are HOLONS.

The concept of holons comes from the New Cosmology, a way of describing reality rooted in modern physics. So this is science, yo. The theory of holons suggests that everything is a whole/part, that nothing is separate and distinct. Life consists of nested holons of increasing complexity. Everything is connected.

We know this is true. Our bodies are made from organs, which are made of tissues, which are made of cells, which are made of atoms, which are made of sub-atomic particles… In turn, we’re part of families and neighborhoods and communities and nations. Plants and animals are composed of atoms and cells and tissues, and in turn make up forests and biomes and ecosystems and the world. Nothing living exists apart and separate. We’re all connected.

Being a holon means that self-care is your job. When you take care of yourself you take care of both the smaller components of yourself and the larger systems of which you are a part. No one can take care of yourself but you. Self-care is crucial, and it’s your job.

So why does self-care feel like such a struggle, and how can we get better at it?

When we were little kids we were better at giving ourselves what we really needed. For most of us, that skill’s been replaced with figuring out what those around us want from us and giving them what they want. Being able to read our environment and keep ourselves safe by squashing our wants was a necessary skill when we were dependent on others for our survival. It doesn’t serve us as adults.

We’re told that self-care is selfish, and being selfish is bad. We’re usually told this by people who benefit from our selflessness. When we take care of ourselves, we set and keep boundaries and other people get uncomfortable.

We’re told that those things we used to do as kids that brought us bliss are silly and unimportant. Our lives become filled with “important things” like school and work and getting through the days. Bliss becomes a self-indulgent luxury.

How can we get in touch with what really truly feeds us?

Maybe you’re already doing a good job of this. You can be our mentors!

Many of us will need to remember the kid who loved simple, everyday things. Maybe it was finger painting or playing with your dog. Early mornings or late nights when no one else was around. A favorite tree. A game you could play for hours. What smells and sensations delighted your young self? What person or place made you happy?

Consider how those kid-bliss experiences and activities are expressed in your adult life. If they aren’t, how might they be?

Being a holon means we can hold paradox. Opposite things being true is built into our whole/part DNA. Self-care is both selfish and generous. We care for ourselves both for ourselves and for the world.

So this week, pay attention to what truly feeds you, and do more of it. Next week we’ll think about the ways we practice faux self-care, why we do that, and how to tell the difference between fake self-care and the real thing. Hint: it’s like the difference between junk food and healthy food. Healthy food takes more effort, and it’s sustaining!

You can download the PDF that supports this week’s work here: Self-care lesson one pdf

Leave a comment and let me know what your self-care challenges are. And your successes!

Are you who you think you are?

Identity - who are you? who am I?

Who are you? Who am I?

I recently found out using Ancestry.com that I’m a quarter Irish. I had no idea. No one in my family had ever mentioned Irish ancestry, just German and British. I’d always looked down my nose at St. Patrick’s Day. So I was surprised.

I’m ridiculously happy about being a quarter Irish.

This is all silly, right?

After all, nothing about me fundamentally changed. My DNA didn’t change. My body didn’t change. My history didn’t change.

The only thing that changed was my story about myself.

That’s what identity is – our beliefs about ourselves.

Even those things about ourselves that we didn’t choose.

Some facets of our identity are simply givens. The facts that I’m a 58-year-old white brown-eyed woman, genetically predisposed to short stature and high cholesterol, are completely out of my control. Some talents and personality traits seem to be in this category, too.

Some facets of our identity are results of our history and past choices. I’m a Westerner, an adult child of alcoholics and a survivor of sexual abuse, a clergy spouse, and a mom.

These pieces of who we are – our givens and our history – aren’t the important pieces, though.

The really important components of my identity are completely within my control.

The crucial, determining components of my identity are the stories I tell about my givens and my history and my choices.

What do I believe about being 58? What do I believe about being a woman? What do I believe about the alcoholism in my family? What do I believe about being married to an Episcopal priest and mothering my kids? What do I believe about my schooling and work choices?

Do I believe I was irreparably damaged by the drinking and the abuse? Do I believe I’ve made irredeemable mistakes?

For a very long time I believed that I was broken by my history. I stayed quiet and hidden so I wouldn’t get whacked again. On a good day, I congratulated myself for persevering. I found things about me to be grateful for.

But because I didn’t really believe I was strong and good and smart and valuable, I had to keep proving those things to myself and others.

How tiring.

How futile.

Lately, though, I’ve been listening to the wise part of me. The quiet little voice, the one muffled by my stories, has been getting louder and louder. “You’re strong,” she says. “You don’t have to prove anything.”

What changed?

What changed is that I’m examining my stories.

Redefining ourselves accurately requires surfacing our stories and evaluating them, keeping the ones that empower us and challenging the ones that diminish us.

Redefining ourselves, becoming who we really are, requires mindfulness, courage, compassion, and support.

I’m choosing to believe that I really am a child of God. I’m choosing to believe that I’m an embodied bubble of Holiness. I’m choosing to believe that my soul, my true self, my “undamaged essence,” is intact and shiny. I’m choosing to see my stories as self-protective fictions that I’ve outgrown.

Because underneath the givens about ethnicity and inherited physiology and history lies a deeper truth – an identity that trumps all others:

I am a unique, irreplaceable, precious, absolutely essential child of God.

So are you.

When I look at myself, my history and choices, from this perspective, everything changes.

When I look at you from this perspective, you change, too.

The St. Patrick’s Day party’s at my house next year.

(The above image is unattributed online. I looked and looked...)

The World’s Heart – A Mystical Camino Moment

On the Meseta, Day 22

On the Meseta, Day 17 (22 May 2014)

A chilly rainy day on the Meseta. May 22, 2014. Camino Day 17. I was walking by myself, surrounded by other peregrinos. Tired, cold, and wet.

Walking, and walking, and walking.

Then – the dawning awareness of a massive heart beneath us, in the Earth, supporting us and buoying us. Loving us. My heart was connected to this heart, as were the hearts of all the pilgrims around me. All our hearts were tethered to this one great Earth Heart.

Through this Heart we are all connected.

I’m connected, through this Heart, to the child atop the Mumbai garbage heap, to the American sex trafficker, to Donald Trump.

I’m connected, through this Heart, to all the woody green tree hearts, the flinty granite rock hearts, and the wild blue ocean heart.

I’m connected, through this Heart, to raven hearts, rattlesnake hearts, and otter hearts, too.

I think it’s probable that Earth Heart is connected to Moon Heart, Mars Heart, Orion Heart, etc. And that all those interstellar hearts are connected to Universe Heart. But I don’t have any data to back up my hypothesis.  😉

I think our connection to Earth Heart is what we call “God.”

This connection is how prayer works.

This connection is why my choices matter.

This connection is why I must heal what’s broken in me.

Because we’re all connected through this Deep Heart.

All of this is, of course, completely unprovable by any quantitative measure.

And I know it’s true.

Practicing gratitude when life really truly sucks and awful things are happening

Rooted in Hope

Rooted in Hope

It’s easy to promote gratitude when things are going well, or even when we’re in the midst of a time-limited, end-eventually-in-sight situation such as my “coach ride from Hell.” (See the blog archives for the full series.)

But what about gratitude when we’re really in the shit? A reader sent this comment a few weeks ago:

Wish I could experience those feelings of gratitude. I know they are out there but pale in comparison to the feelings of fear when dealing with a loved one fighting for her life. We are grateful for the doctors, her family and friends, but Jimmy’s wife is fighting for her life after being diagnosed with leukemia and undergoing a bone marrow transplant. Jimmy is trying to do his job (for which we are thankful) take care of Meredith, get settled into a new home, and try to figure out who is going to pay for all this medical care after her employer screwed up. Sorry to be such a downer. Trying to find the gratitude.

My answer to this comment was that finding gratitude in the midst of this awful pain was possible and would be helpful to this reader and her family. There are always the quotidian blessings of being alive – sun and stars and birds, etc. I think that’s true, but my response felt inadequate, and maybe a little disrespectful.

I asked fellow Martha Beck-trained coaches how they practice gratitude in the heart of darkness. They had lots to say. Here are some suggestions:

  • A quick five-things-I’m-grateful-for list: soap, warm water, my body, NPR, a house…
  • A gratitude jar, filled with slips of paper and other mementos of gratitude. (A gratitude journal would also be a tangible reminder of gratitudes.)
  • A gratitude posse: a group of people who e-mail or text each other their gratitudes daily, with accountability if someone drops off the radar.
  • Asking the question “What’s perfect about this?” (This is probably a stretch for most of us. If you’re feeling brave, give it a try!)

They emphasized the importance of feeling the fear, anger, and sadness before going for gratitude. Otherwise the gratitude is just pretense, papering over of a part of ourselves that needs attention. They also affirmed the helpfulness of a consistent meditation practice, healthy eating, and exercise.  These habits give us somewhere to stand when the ground shakes.

There’s often a part of us that feels disloyal when we practice gratitude and acceptance in the midst of deep pain. We equate love with resistance. I think, looking back on my mom’s terminal dance with cancer that killed her way too young, or my dad’s skiing accident that killed him way too young, that if I had practiced acceptance and gratitude around those events I would have thought that meant I condoned her suffering, his snuffed-out life, and my terrible loss. Resisting reality felt like love and loyalty. Resisting felt like I was still in control.

I now understand that resistance of something we can’t do anything about isn’t love. Acceptance is the necessary ground for gratitude, and both together bring us to a place where grace and healing can happen, whatever that looks like. And that’s love.

That’s love.

Crazy, Cheesy Gratitude – Part 4

Rooted in Hope

Rooted in Hope

These last few weeks I’ve been exploring gratitude –my little gratitude miracle, why gratitude can feel hard at first, and why gratitude is worth the work. Here’s my four-step system for building the gratitude habit.

Step One: Decide to become aware of your complaining habits. One way to do this is to take a 7-day “Complaining Cleanse.” Make the commitment to stop complaining for seven days. If you complain, you have to start over. Here’s an Elephant Journal article for inspiration. Note what you feel like complaining about. (I noticed that my complaints were almost always about the media or other people’s spiritual beliefs. Interesting.) Mindfulness is a requirement here – practice some sort of mindfulness meditation daily and watch what your mind is up to. We can only become aware through mindfulness. If you’re feeling especially brave, tell your family and friends about your commitment and invite them to alert you to your complaining habits.

Step Two: Use only language of choice, responsibility, and accountability. “I” statements are powerful. Expunge “I can’t” and “I have to” from your vocabulary. “I can’t do it” almost always means “I refuse to accept the consequences of doing it.” “I have to do it” almost always means “I refuse to accept the consequences of not doing it.”  Say “I will,” “I choose to,” “I won’t,” and, hardest of all (for me at least), “I want.” Noticing when language of choice escapes us is a great clue for where we have work to do. Again, if you’re feeling especially brave, invite your friends and family to point out when you use victim language. Fun for the whole family! (Thanks, Wings and Dr. Jon Lange, for this tool.)

Step Three: When you feel the urge to complain, judge, or whine, ask yourself “What do I want to happen?” These six words take you out of your lizardy fearful brain and put you up in your HOTS (higher order thinking skills). Now you can thoughtfully discern if the situation calls for leaving, changing, or accepting, and make a plan to move toward peacefulness. (Thanks to Pam Grout for this one.)

Step Four: Practice crazy cheesy gratitude. Make “Thank you” your mantra. Write down your gratitudes. When you feel joy and bliss, take thirty seconds to consciously and intentionally absorb the moment with all five senses. (Remember the negativity bias? We have to work to remember positive moments. They’re like Teflon to negativity’s Velcro.) This is how we rewire our brains from negativity to gratitude and joy, and make gratitude our default.

Gratitude is our calling, even though it may feel hard and look silly. Gratitude makes us healthier in body, mind, and spirit. Gratitude takes work, and it’s work worth doing. That coach ride from Hell last summer… I’m grateful for what I finally learned that day. I’m SO grateful for my little gratitude miracle.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about gratitude and your responses to these posts, so please reply in the comments. Thanks!

Want to learn more about the power of gratitude and other tools to live your authentic, joyful life? I offer a free one-hour “discovery session.” Hit “reply” to set up a time to talk.

Lectio Camino: “Re-Camino” Week 3

Jed and I walked the Camino de Santiago last year. We walked out of St. Jean Pied de Port in southern France on May 6, 2014, and walked into Santiago de Compostela on June 11, 500 miles down the road. I’m revisiting my journal and the photos that we took on our Camino — a variation of Lectio Divina that I’m calling Lectio Camino.

Here are some images from my 2015 “Re-Camino Journal,” Week Three.

El Hospital del Alma, Castrojeriz, Spain  May 21, 2014

El Hospital del Alma, Castrojeriz, Spain May 21, 2014

Another rainy Meseta day  May 22, 2014

Another rainy Meseta day   May 22, 2014



May 24, 2014

May 24, 2014

Poppies on the Meseta  May 20, 2014

Poppies on the Meseta May 20, 2014

Poppies on the Meseta

Today I walked 20 kilometers (around 12.5 miles) with relative ease, for which I am profoundly grateful. Our Burgos rest day was healing.

Today we walked up onto the vast central plateau of the Spanish peninsula, the Meseta. I am glad to be out of the city and back in the Spanish countryside, where the silence is profound, the sky is immense, and the choices are limited. Red poppies are everywhere.


Choosing metamorphosis, part 4

Monarch chrysalisThis is the story of an incompetent chrysalis.

I saw my wonderfully proficient and compassionate surgeon this week for my six week post-hysterectomy check-up. It turns out I’m healing a little slowly, about five days behind the average, and there’s granular tissue on the incision, which is essentially scar tissue covering up an unhealed spot. The granular tissue has been bleeding a little, and my proficient, compassionate surgeon cauterized it with silver nitrate so the incision can heal properly.

Since that appointment, I’ve been beating myself up for being incompetent and defective and a crappy healer and generally being mean to myself. I asked my husband last night if he was disappointed in me, then I cried. I was aware enough to know that’s nuts. I knew, for my own sanity and self-care, that I needed to consider what metaphor I was living in, because, as Martha Beck says, “the metaphors you live by shape everything.”

I realized I was seeing myself as a taker of some high-stakes test, like the SAT or Britain’s A-levels, who’s anxiously waiting for her scores. I believed there was some outside judge or external evaluator who had the power to say whether I was good enough, whether I was competent or incompetent. And woe to me if I was deemed incompetent.

But what would be a metaphor for healing that felt kind and compassionate, that allowed me to take care of myself? A seed? An egg? Those were possibilities, but they didn’t feel quite right. I went to bed pondering the question, and woke up with the answer. If “metamorphosis” seemed like a perfect metaphor for this hysterectomy journey (see my first hysterectomy blog post for the full story), then obviously a chrysalis was the perfect metaphor for healing.

When I chose metamorphosis as the metaphor for this process, I chose better than I knew. Because I made the decision to have surgery at this time, I thought I was more in control than I actually am. But a chrysalis takes all the time it requires to form a strong and capable butterfly. A chrysalis runs on kairos time (God’s time), not chronos time (clock and calendar time). A chrysalis is only incompetent when she white-knuckles life and short-circuits what needs to happen, when she pushes the poor butterfly out before it’s ready. So I’m giving myself the gift and grace of time. I’m accepting and embracing my wonderful body, walking in these familiar mountains, sitting in the luscious sun, and being kind and gentle with myself.

And I’m saying these words of Mary Oliver’s, over and over, like a mantra:

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.


CSNM pond

A pond in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, where I sat in the sun today

Choosing metamorphosis, part 3

Hand to skyRachel Naomi Remen is a physician, writer, and teacher. I’ve been rereading one of her books, Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal, during this time in my life of surgery and recovery. In Kitchen Table Wisdom, Dr. Remen shares what she’s learned from living with an often painful and debilitating chronic illness (Chron’s disease), in her profession as a pediatrician and as a therapist for people with cancer and other serious illness, and as a daughter and granddaughter.

In a post the day before my surgery, I made what my mind thought was a crazy commitment, but the commitment felt strong and peaceful so I forged ahead. Here’s what I wrote:

… I’m committing to acceptance of all my emotions and my physical sensations and to noticing and working with my thoughts as needed. I’m committing to the growth and change which are undoubtedly possible these next few days and weeks. I’m committing to vulnerability and to being kind. I’m committing to believing the universe is loving and supportive, and to perceiving people as wanting to help me, wanting only the best for me, loving me. I’m choosing metamorphosis, trusting that what’s coming is amazing — deeper, truer, and fuller that my present life.

Here’s how Rachel Remen puts the same idea:

“Over the years I have seen the power of taking an unconditional relationship to life. I am surprised to have found a sort of willingness to show up for whatever life may offer and meet with it rather than wishing to edit and change the inevitable. Many of my patients also seem to have found their way to this viewpoint on life.

When people begin to take such an attitude they seem to become intensely alive, intensely present. Their losses and suffering have not caused them to reject life, have not cast them into a place of resentment, victimization, or bitterness. As a friend with HIV/AIDS puts it, “I have let go of my preferences and am living with an intense awareness of the miracle of the moment.” Or in the words of another patient, “When you are walking on thin ice, you might as well dance.”

From such people I have learned a new definition of the word “joy.” I had thought joy to be rather synonymous with happiness, but it seems now to be far less vulnerable than happiness. Joy seems to be a part of an unconditional wish to live, not holding back because life may not meet our preferences and expectations. Joy seems to be a function of the willingness to accept the whole, and to show up to meet with whatever is there. It has a kind of invincibility that attachment to a particular outcome would deny us. Rather than the warrior who fights toward a specific outcome and therefore is haunted by the specter of failure and disappointment, it is the lover drunk with the opportunity to love despite the possibility of loss, the player for whom playing has become more important than winning and losing.

The willingness to win or lose moves us out of an adversarial relationship to life and into a powerful kind of openness. From such a position, we can make a greater commitment to life. Not only pleasant life, or comfortable life, or our idea of life, but all life. Joy seems more closely related to aliveness than happiness.

The strength that I notice developing in many of my patients and in myself after all these years could almost be called a form of curiosity. What one of my colleagues calls fearlessness. At one level, of course, I fear outcome as much as anyone. But more and more I am able to move in and out of that and to experience a place beyond preference for outcome, a place beyond life and death. It is a place of freedom, even anticipation. Decisions made from this perspective are life-affirming and not fear-driven. It is a grace.

To the degree that we can relinquish personal preference, we free ourselves from win/lose thinking and the fear that feeds on it. It is that freedom which helps a team to go to the Super Bowl. An adversarial position may not be the strongest position in life. Freedom may be a stronger position than control. It is certainly a stronger and far wiser position than fear.

There is a fundamental paradox here. The less we are attached to life, the more alive we can become. The less we have preferences about life, the more deeply we can experience and participate in life.” (p. 171-172)


Remen, R. N. (1996). Kitchen table wisdom: Stories that heal. New York: Riverhead.

Photo credit: Morguefile, penywise