In Yoga Teacher Training, we are taught that opening up to grace is an integral part of our practice. It’s that moment in a yoga class where your teacher is instructing you to settle into the space around you, let go of thoughts, worries and to-do lists that might be sabotaging your relaxation, and let yourself become present and aware so that you can receive your yoga practice. In a dimly lit studio, sprawled out on your mat, with no disturbances other than the gentle sound of you and your neighbors breathing, soft music playing in the background of your thoughts, this can be a relatively easy and safe space to do just that…to completely let go. After all, that’s why you are there in the first place, right? What happens, though, when you’re not on your mat? Opening to grace feels a lot more difficult to do when you are in the throes of your day to day activities, children arguing in the background, a pile of bills arriving in the mail, stacks of paperwork to get through at the office, a lawn to mow, and the mountain of laundry spilling out of your clothes hamper staring at you every time you enter your room. However, these are the times when opening to grace is absolutely the most important.
Grace is defined by dictionary.com as “simple elegance or refinement of movement”, but to me, it is so much more than that. It is a willingness to surrender to the truth that we are each going through exactly the things that will help us to become the best versions of ourselves, even (especially) in the moments where it feels completely the opposite. It is the ability to find strength in our struggles and to participate fully and completely in all aspects of our lives, good, bad, scary, exciting, or otherwise. It is the knowledge that our perception of what is happening in our lives is so much more important than the situations themselves, because the situations are impermanent. It is the power to stand strong through the storms, holding firm to the knowledge that calmer waters are ahead of us and that there is an important lesson for our soul within each and every moment. How amazing would it feel to bring the same peace, calm and quiet that you find on your mat, or out in nature, or in your bath (or whatever it is that you do to connect to this space) into the daily situations that are a natural part of life? Well, you can, which is pretty good news.
Take a minute to inventory what’s going on in your life that’s stressing you out or causing worry or fear. Write it all down. Read it back to yourself without any judgement. Instead, maybe you can find a little curiosity. What is your soul trying to help you to learn by these difficult situations? For most of us, our difficulties often become repeating patterns, causing us to feel like something is wrong with us or that we are just destined to always have this particular issue in our lives, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. These moments that challenge us are opportunities for us to get know ourselves better. For example, if you are somebody who is constantly struggling financially and worried about how to pay the bills, this might be your soul telling you that your job is not in alignment with what you really want. It may also be an indication that you have some limiting beliefs around money that need to be acknowledged and explored so that prosperous energy feels welcome to flow into your life. If you find yourself struggling with relationship after relationship, perhaps it is your soul trying to urge you to look in a different place, or to learn to love yourself first so that you can openly receive true love back. Maybe it is an indication that you subconsciously don’t feel worthy of love and so you are inadvertently pushing it away.
Remember, we attract the energy that we put out…like attracts like. Therefore, it’s not what we WISH we believed or what we WANT to believe, but the actual beliefs stored deep, down within us, that are shaping our realities. It can be scary to dig down and unearth them, but consider for a moment, a diamond. My dear friend and colleague, Amy Lombardo, put this in such great perspective for me. Diamonds are formed way down in the Earth’s mantle (about 100 miles deep), and start as chunks of coal. It takes a tremendous amount of heat and pressure to create this sparkly gem, but once the work has occurred, the diamond is pushed to the surface naturally for all to enjoy. Your thoughts are like these diamonds. YOU have that same sparkly gem deep within in you, just waiting to be exposed to the heat so that it can emerge and shine brightly out to the world. When you can accept that knowledge and open to grace, knowing that you have a deep well of untapped potential within you and the power to change your reality, the world opens back to you. Your sparkly gems are naturally pushed to the surface and the Universe responds by shining back.
Where in this very moment can you open yourself to grace? Where can you replace fear with curiosity, and hopefully learn something about yourself through the process? Start right now. The more that you practice this the easier it becomes. Opening to grace is not something that needs to be confined to your yoga mat. It is accessible in each and every moment to help you come back to center, find your calm and elevate yourself towards all of the possibility just waiting to be discovered within you!
Jim Morrison…you’ve got to love him. Not only was he excruciatingly gorgeous with a voice and stage presence that could melt the polar ice caps, but he said some pretty brilliant shit as well. We may never know if it was the many hits of acid speaking or if it really was his Indian spirit guide, but whatever the source of his words, they were undeniably insightful and still hold impact and validity today. How many times have you caught yourself gripped in the ruthless hands of fear?
We live in a society that is largely ruled by fear. From the time that we are born we are conditioned to be afraid of things. Some of it is necessary to our survival, such as not touching the stove or sticking a fork in the electrical socket, but many of the other things that we are taught to be afraid of can thwart our growth in so many ways. We are taught largely to listen to others which causes fear of our own inner voice. We are taught to follow the norms of society which can lead us to fear the decision to carve out our own authentic paths and follow our dreams. We are taught to compare ourselves to others, which births the fear of never being enough within ourselves. We are taught to fear being without material possessions, which causes feelings of greed within us. We are taught to fear the things/people/places which we do not fully understand, which can prevent us from educating ourselves about the different cultures, religions, races, sexual orientations and physical landscapes that surround us in this amazingly diverse world. In short, our fear begins to shape us from our initial breaths on this Earth and continues to shape shift as we experience the world. But what if we could change that? What if we could look closely at our fears…stare them straight in the face, stand up boldly and move bravely into them? What is the worst that would actually happen?
Take a moment to think back on all of the things you have been afraid of in your life and write them down. We’re going to use them in a minute. Yeah, I know, it’s a big list, right? When I think back on my fears what I notice is a progression. When I was in my early 20’s I had been through some terrible relationships (I mean like surrrrrrrrrrriously, abusively bad) and I swore I was done dating. Then I met Josh. I was terrified of him because I knew I really liked him. Then he asked me to marry him and I became afraid of that. What if it didn’t work out? Then we got married and decided to get pregnant…new biggest fear as my belly expanded and my whole world threatened to change. Eight and a half months pregnant, we found our first home, closing ten days prior to the birth of our son…#freakingout. Here comes Jacob…motherhood became the thing I feared the most because I had no idea how to do it. Then Josh lost his job. New mortgage, new baby, no job…does it get more terrifying? I swore we were doomed…until Josh decided to start his own business (which of course scared the crap out of us both as well). Suddenly, another baby was on the way. Jocelyn was born and I quit my job to stay at home with them…this became the scariest decision of my life, but I did it anyway. This progression continued on and on, presenting me with new fears along the way, until finally one day, I realized that it wasn’t the situations themselves that were terrifying me, but my reaction to them. I started to look back at this long laundry list of fear I had been carrying around with me and realized that as each new fear had arisen and I had moved through it, the fear for that particular event had dissipated and morphed into a new fear. It dawned on me that there will always be things to be afraid of, but it is up to me whether or not I let the fear have control. I have a choice in each situation to square up against my fear and challenge it, and so do you.
I am happy to report that moving through my personal fear has led me to a 10-year (this July) marriage to my best friend and the most amazing guy I know, 2 kick-ass little kids who challenge me to grow, expand and be a better person each day, a beautiful home that is my sanctuary, my husband and I each owning our own business and the fortitude to keep moving through fear as it shows up. That’s important to acknowledge by the way…I still get afraid. All the time actually. Life isn’t always sunshine and butterflies. My husband and I argue, my kids can act like little shits, my home needs repairs and our businesses fluctuate through good and bad times (and the bad times can be REALLY scary), but we keep on keeping on anyway, moving forward with the knowledge that this too shall pass and that we can look our fears in the face and move on anyway.
So where does fear show up for you? Go back to your list. If you didn’t write it, do it now. Take a close look at all of these places that fear has popped up in your life from as early as you can think of. First off, see if you notice any patterns. Are your fears largely based around one particular area? Money? Relationships? Your Career? Self-esteem? Now, notice any of these situations where you faced your fear and moved forward anyway? What was the outcome? If you haven’t had the opportunity to face any of these fears, guess what today is? That’s right, your opportunity. You don’t have to dive in headfirst, but think of a way that you can start to move into your fear slowly. If your fear is primarily surrounding relationships, maybe today is the day you finally make that online dating profile (don’t worry…you don’t have to go live until tomorrow). If your self-esteem is taking the hit, maybe today is the day to buy the dress you’ve always wanted, even though your head screams that you’re not feminine enough to pull it off. Tomorrow, rock it. Each day take baby steps to move into your fear. You will likely find that the further you go, the less powerful it becomes.
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First off, no, that is obviously not me in the above picture, but I’m apt to believe it may have become a pretty accurate depiction of me had I continued to smoke. Hehe. Pretty sexy huh? So yeah, I was a smoker for a pretty long time. I know, I know…save your judgement. I get it…it’s gross…but I have to say, at the time I sort of liked it. Throughout my years as a smoker, I learned a few things, some more enlightening than others. For one thing, phone conversations are far easier to endure when you have something to preoccupy you (I hate the phone). For another, smoker’s cough is really unattractive, smelling like an ashtray is a great way to discourage people from intimate conversation, and if you want to spend a lot of money on a whole lot of nothing good…smoking is a good way to achieve this goal. However, I digress. As the title suggests, there was one incredibly valuable lesson that I did learn from smoking. Let’s start with a little story, shall we?
When I was 19 my head was pretty much as far up my ass as it could possibly fit. I had gone through a series of really shitty events that left me feeling out of touch, out of place, out of friends and looking for a way out of my current state of being. In other words, I was pretty freaking miserable and totally lost. So, imagine my excitement when my friend mentioned that he was taking a road trip cross country. This was a great idea, barring the fact that he had no car to take aforementioned road trip. Enter Jillian and her ruby red Hyundai Accent…my way out of reality surfaced right before my eyes and we set off barely two weeks later.
Now, aside from the excitement of being on the road blasting Allman Brothers CDs with the windows rolled down, a Hyundai Accent packed to the gills with my life’s belongings, proved to be pretty tight quarters for two pig-headed, opinionated kids with their heads up their asses. Needless to say, within a few weeks, road trip buddy and I were starting to feel a little overwhelmed with our close proximity to one another. We found ourselves smoking more cigarettes than usual, however, being that we were on an extremely limited budget with no source of income and no timeline in place for this marvelous adventure, this wasn’t going over so well on our wallets. Road trip buddy made the executive decision to buy loose tobacco and rolling papers, and save our very convenient, pre-rolled cigarettes for special occasions. Now of course, he, being the initiator of this marvelous idea, was naturally in charge of what and when these special occasions were. How very convenient.
Fast forward another week or so. Ruby red Hyundai rolls into Denver with two clueless kids sitting in the front seat…arguing. To this day I can’t recall what we were arguing about, but I assume it was probably something very important, like where we should eat lunch or whether we should set up our tent or sleep in the car that night. (I mean, the big decisions you have to make when you’ve shirked all of your responsibilities to gallivant across the country are just never ending). Long story short, road trip buddy gets especially aggravated and dips out for a few hours, leaving me sitting in the parked car, more than a little annoyed, in the middle of an unfamiliar town. I reach into the glove box for a cigarette and what do I find? Apparently he has decided that this is some sort of special occasion, because he has taken all of our pre-rolled cigarettes and left me only with a bag of loose leaf tobacco and some rolling papers. Only problem…I can’t roll a freaking cigarette to save my life! Of course I have no trouble at all rolling other things (snow balls guys…I’m talking about snow balls), but my cigarette rolling skills are definitely lacking.
15 minutes pass and turn into 20 and then 30…no sign of my friend or my Marlboro Lights. I try to bum a smoke off of passerby, only to be met with dirty looks (it could have been the dirty, bedraggled, slept-in-a-car-last-night look I was sporting…or maybe I smelled from lack of showering…I guess I’ll never know). I finally grab the papers and the tobacco and try desperately to roll cigarette after cigarette, each of them falling apart in my clammy, nicotine-deprived hands. I mean, wtf, right? 30 minutes turns into an hour and I’m getting more and more pissed. A desperation takes hold as my aggravation mounts. I roll and roll and roll and fail and fail and fail, each failed attempt making me feel like more of a total loser. Finally, when I am just about to give up, one of my pathetic attempts actually ignites enough for me to take a large, glorious inhale into my panicky lungs. A wonderful sensation fills me, but it’s not from the nicotine. It is the feeling of success. Dipshit (I’m sorry if you read this…you know I adore you) has still not returned, but now I’m motivated. I spend the next 2 hours rolling cigarette after cigarette after cigarette, and each one gets looking a little bit more like the real thing. By the time I see his figure walking down the sidewalk, I have a whole bunch of them strewn across the dashboard and a shit-eating grin on my face. However, he doesn’t need to know exactly how well I’ve done, right? So before silently gloating and lighting one up as he opens the car door, naturally I stash a little supply in various hideaways in case this ever happens again. Needless to say, he was more than a little surprised and I didn’t go without a smoke for the rest of our trip.
So, while this may not be the best example (it kept you reading though, right), I learned a very valuable lesson that day. I was at a very low point in my life where I was pretty set to give up on anything and everything that wasn’t working out for me, because, to tell the truth, not much was. I had thrown my hands up in the air in pretty much every area of my life and determined that I just wasn’t good enough or deserving enough or smart enough at anything to succeed. Road trip buddy inadvertently did me a huge favor leaving me in the car that day, yearning for just one drag of a freaking cigarette. He gave me a choice to either accept the situation as it was presented to me or to take charge, persevere through the obstacle, and change the reality of it. So often, we forget to do this. We get so overwhelmed or discouraged by the perceived problem or roadblock in front of us, that we don’t even try to seek an alternate solution within ourselves. We accept that this is our fate and we just have to grit our teeth and bear it, rather than digging deep and remembering that we have the tools and solutions to all of our obstacles within us. In the Yoga tradition, this perseverance is called Tapas. It is the ability to stay the course even if things feel a little daunting or uncomfortable (what a gift it might have been had I chosen to apply that Tapas to quitting right then and there, but that is to ponder another day). It is a choice available to all of us, and when we choose to keep working towards whatever the goal may be, even through the obstacles or the not knowing what the outcome will be, this is where we find the antidote to the obstruction…in my case, the nicotine to my hankering.
Ironically, this perseverance was much needed as well when I decided to quit smoking 10 years ago. Although this story may seem insignificant to some, it has stuck in my memory as a moment where I was able to move through a feeling of powerlessness to emerge triumphant. Learning how to roll a cigarette…a habit that has no value or significance in my life today…who knew how much it would influence me? I have used the memory of this day over and over and over again to remind myself what I am capable of if I just stay the course, even through the uncertainty and discomfort. Something that simple and unimportant.
Dig deep for a moment…if you feel powerless, find that one, tiny thing that you have done that made you feel triumphant…even if it seems small and insignificant. You never know…it could be the one thing that encourages you to find your power and persevere for years to come. You’ve got this!
I’m part of this amazing group of people on Facebook whose sole purpose is to light each other up as they pursue the manifestation of their hearts desires in this crazy thing we call life. Some people post in there about their desire to find their true love, some about being financially free, some wanting optimum health, others of their dreams to start a family or a successful business, etc. and so many others in the group offer words of love and encouragement. It’s pretty inspiring, and I find myself wandering into this group whenever I might have a moment where I forget just how much love there is in the world (because let’s face it…it isn’t always sunshine and puppy dogs…there’s a whole lot of mud puddles and shit piles along the way).
Recently, as I perused the feed on this sight, something I hadn’t noticed before caught my eye. Scattered among the stories of successful manifestations and requests for well-wishes, healing thoughts and uplifting comments, was an underlying current of sadness and a feeling of lack. So many of these people posting, weren’t posting about success, but about their failures…an inability to change the things that have been showing up in their lives. Things weren’t happening as fast as they were “supposed to” or they weren’t any “good” at manifesting. They didn’t feel that they had what it takes to get the job done. I sat with this for a few minutes, and I found myself getting increasingly agitated. It took me a while to pinpoint it, but then, there it was. Wow…we are force fed a LOT of bullshit when it comes to the idea of manifesting!!!
Although there are many incredible teachers out there on the subject, somewhere along the line it seems that we started to believe that all we have to do is close our eyes and picture an endless wad of money (or whatever your desire is) filling our back pocket and suddenly, there it will be. Now if that works for you, more power to you (and please call me after you read this so we can chat…I have a few questions to ask you…for a friend) but for the vast majority of us, it’s going to take a little more work than just envisioning what we want in order to actually cultivate it to fruition. It’s going to take an alteration in our relationship to what we are trying to manifest, and than, constant motion in a new direction. Sounds a little more difficult, right? Well, not really. I mean, have you had much luck the other way? If you are still reading this, my guess is that you haven’t, and that’s a little frustrating, right?
“Okay genius…” you may be saying, “so tell me then, how DO I manifest my hearts desires?” My response? Well, now that really depends on YOU. Like I said, manifesting is truly all about changing your relationship to that which you feel like you do not have enough of. The feeling of not having enough is a feeling of lack, and the feeling of lack, in any capacity, is what is limiting your ability to manifest. So then naturally, the first step is to identify what the limiting belief is before you can start to change it. What do you feel like you are lacking, and perhaps more importantly, why do you feel like you are lacking it? Next, set a goal…what do you WISH you could believe about this? Now, it’s time to start making small, tangible steps towards what you would like your new belief to be.
You can’t just say one day “I don’t have enough money” and decide the next day that you will change your thought process to, “I’m a millionaire”. It’s not going to feel real to you….in fact it’s going to feel like complete bullshit, am I right? The key is about baby steps that CAN feel real to you. For example, perhaps the first step is just saying ,”I may not have had enough money in the past, but I know that I have the ability to change that for my future…and here is one way I can start to change that now”. After that it’s just about progressing the thought process until it becomes a more natural way of thinking…a conditioned response if you will. Perhaps after a week of repeating this new possibility to yourself and accomplishing that first step, it feels okay to compound on it. Maybe it becomes, “I have taken the first step towards manifesting my financial freedom and I feel proud of myself for following through. Now I know that I am capable of making changes and the next step towards my ultimate goal will be (insert here).” Once this feels okay, you build on it a little more, each time adding a new goal or task (that’s the constant motion I mentioned) that leads you one step closer to your brand new, shiny belief that you are indeed financially stable and secure (if we are continuing to use the above example). Does this sound familiar at all? In one of my previous blogs I talked about turnarounds…a staple in the coaching business. Well, this is the outline in a nutshell.
Unfortunately, we can’t change (for now) the fact that we DO live in a society that is all about immediate gratification. Doubly unfortunate is that this need for instant gratification is what leads us to feel like we aren’t doing enough, fast enough, in the first place. BUT…as I just gave an example of, the key to undoing the belief systems that have led you to where you find yourself now…a place of lack…IS on your keychain, which means you definitely have the power to unlock a new possibility. Does it suck that it might take a little more work than just closing your eyes and creating a clear picture of the new convertible or the perfect relationship or yourself 40 pounds lighter? Not really! In fact, it’s pretty empowering to know that you can ALWAYS take at least one step away from the things that are weighing you down now in the direction of something else that will make you happier, healthier, more vibrant and whole. You literally never have to stop! If you get somewhere that makes you happy for a while and suddenly one day, you wake up yearning for change…you can start the process all over again! Not to mention, think of how amazing you will feel when you’ve achieved the new belief and you can look back knowing that you did it yourself…not just with the power of your mind, but with the fierceness and devotion of a warrior. Kind of incredible, right? Believe it or not, this journey isn’t about hardships…it’s about what you do with them. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…the pen is in your hands. Write something worth telling.
How many times have you had the same conversation over and over and over again? There’s that one person who constantly feels the need to tell you their story, their hardships, their accomplishments, or what they said to the Comcast guy when he was late for their appointment….even though you have heard this story SO MANY TIMES! Whether it be with your spouse, children, coworkers, bosses, or maybe the guy at the gas station, we often find ourselves stuck in these cycles of endless conversation. It’s easy in these situations to get frustrated and cast our aggravations on the other person. We ask things like, “Why don’t they get it? We keep having this conversation!”, or “How many times is he going to tell me this? He’s like a broken record!” Think about one of those situations in your own life. Get a clear picture of it in your head. Imagine the words being spoken, see the other persons face. Start to feel the reaction in your body. Is your jaw clenching? Maybe your shoulders are beginning to creep up towards your ears? Are you crossing your arms? Do you feel tired, bored, or drained?
Now, let’s switch gears for a minute. Think of a time when YOU have been the one feeling like you have to say the same thing over and over again. Maybe it’s reminding your kids to put their clothes in the hamper, nagging your spouse to help around the house without being asked, telling the story of that time you scored the game-winning touchdown…..in high school…..25 years ago. Yep…we ALL do it. Now try to pay attention to where it may be coming from. Dig deep here. Why do you tell this story? How does it make you feel? What’s your role in the story? Are you the victim, hero, martyr? What is it that makes you constantly go here? Likely, you will come to the conclusion that, no matter how many times you are repeating yourself, you don’t feel as if you are being heard, appreciated or validated in whatever it is you are trying to express.
There is a big difference between listening and ACTIVELY listening. We live in an age where it is not only easy, but NORMAL, to be bombarded by distractions everywhere we turn. The smartphone pings one of several tones…you race to discover if it was an email, text, Facebook, Instagram, or voicemail notification. (Actually, it was WordPress letting you know I just posted another RADICAL blog post, but I digress). The point is, there are so many reasons NOT to focus on the person right in front of us, that why would we feel like we are being heard? The sad thing here is that, as a society, we are losing focus on how important communication is, and in losing this focus, we are beginning to lack understanding of just how powerful listening can be.
When we create a space where someone feels truly listened to, the possibilities are endless. When we hold a place for honest expression, stories begin to lose importance, because they no longer define the person telling them. The story teller no longer feels the need to identify so strongly with these memories, habits, or routines which may have been holding them back. Feeling truly heard, we are able to move on to better stories. Imagine this…think back on a conflict in your life where you felt like your voice was not being heard. Maybe you are fighting with your significant other, and it feels as though everything you say is being turned around. Finally, you bow out of the conversation defeated, realizing that you are getting nowhere. You feel a sense of hopelessness, perhaps some anxiety and frustration. You call a friend, or your mom, or you sit down next to your dog, and they LISTEN! THEY TRULY LISTEN! Like, let you have the floor, freak the BEEP out, say everything and anything you need to say without interjecting, forming opinions, or offering unsolicited advice, cry, scream, punch a pillow…whatever it is, without judgment. How do you feel? A rush of relief? A little silly for getting so heated? Validation? Whatever you are feeling, I can almost guarantee you when your significant other walks back into the room, the thing you were discussing so feverishly will have lost a lot of importance, because you no longer feel that burning desire to be heard.
Sometimes we just need to be heard, without being labeled as right or wrong. It’s that simple.
I’m not suggesting that we need to enable our friends and loved ones who are stuck in these patterns, but am merely offering that perhaps if you truly listen to what they are saying, you might hear something entirely different underneath. Are there those who are married to their stories? Unfortunately yes, there are, but you don’t have to engage with those people. However, if you are experiencing these cycles with people you love, than chances are there is just something not being said, or something not being heard. Listen up, and you may be surprised at what you find. The coolest part about this, is the more that we begin to incorporate it in our lives, the less we will find ourselves caught in these cyclical conversations, because people will feel as though we heard them the first time.
So, how can you bring this into your life? Take the next 24 hours and observe your habits in conversation. Notice if you are fidgeting, thinking about other things, fixated on an ant climbing up the wall behind the other persons head (I know…I’ve done it too). Are you able to make eye contact? Can you keep your thoughts directed on what the other person is saying? Just observe yourself without judgement and begin to acknowledge how you might incorporate more positive interaction with those around you, and make THAT your practice for the following 24 hours. Make a diligent effort to be a better listener and see what happens. Take notes…write down any differences you notice in how others interact with you. Share your results in the comments section below. I’m excited to see if anything changes for you.