Telling Our Stories

Last week, I shared my story about where I’ve landed (for now) in my relationship with Christianity.

Someone reached out to me privately in response and, among other things, asked me why I felt the need to share this story publicly.

There was a brief moment when I felt shame and doubt (maybe it would have been safer to stay hidden, quiet, and small?), but I was relieved to notice this was just a tiny ping inside the bigness of my clarity, knowing, and self-trust.

The answer was obvious and clear. I knew exactly why I needed to share this story.

...Because I believe my story (and stories in general) are worth telling.

...Because I believe I'm entitled to tell the truth about myself and my life. And even deeper, I feel the imperative to do just that.

...Because I knew this particular story had nuance, complexity, and beauty worthy of taking up space in the public sphere. I also guessed it would be useful and resonant to others, which it has been.

...Because I want to be known as my deepest, truest self. I want to live and speak with freedom and openness. I want those who would reject my real self to self-select out of my orbit.

...Because I want someone going through something similar to feel less alone and more empowered to speak and live into *their* truth.

...Because it matters to me that I show up free, deep, brave, and real. That’s a soul imperative.

Know this, friends: your stories change the world, and they are worth telling.

Stories create connection, spark resonance, summon power, and expand imagination.

For the common good, please tell the stories your soul is asking you to share.

I get the discomfort.

Stories are personal and vulnerable.

Sometimes, their power is destabilizing or even shattering.

They spark change, and change is not easy.

But our stories are able to communicate truth, create connection, and catalyze possibility unlike anything else.

So I would encourage you to remember the stories that have done that for you and then challenge yourself to pay it forward by doing the same.

Self-Trust and Devotion

I used to be as Christian as they come.

One of my parents is a pastor. (They say that pastors’ children either go one of two ways: all-out rebel or perfect angel, and I was definitely in the latter category). I went to Bible camp every summer, worked at Bible camp in college, majored in religion, did a Lutheran volunteer year, got an MA in theology, and married a pastor.

I was all in.

It seemed my spiritual destiny was settled.

Until one day, it didn’t make sense anymore.

The best way I can describe it is that Christianity just stopped resonating in my body - like there was no place to plug into it anymore.

It was like Christianity said, “okay, enough; I love you, but you’re done now,” and gently released me.

Often, in stories like these, there’s some great religious trauma or injustice to prompt the exit. Not so much for me.

(I mean you can’t be a Christian as long as I was and never have any run-in’s with heterosexist, patriarchal bullshit - so that definitely happened, but it wasn’t the reason I left).

No, I truly believe I experienced the best Christianity has to offer. And it had a lot to offer.

I loved growing up in the church and having a parent for a pastor. I loved the rhythm of the liturgical calendar. Bible camp was a space of so much magic and mysticism that I got married there. In my academic work, I studied cutting edges of feminist and queer theology (that are rad AF.)

Christianity was a space of deep spiritual connection, love, and growth. It was a place where I was radicalized into justice. And there were so many times I felt alive and on purpose in that space.

Today, I see Christianity as a spiritual ancestor that I continue to love and respect.

And even in my departure, I feel the need to defend it - to say that some of the most devoted and radical progressives I know are Christians (including my favorite borderline biblical fundamentalist rabble-rouser: Jonathan Barker) and that there is so much movement around justice and liberation happening in Christian spaces.

But ultimately, I’m sharing all of this to say:

It’s okay for love and devotion to change.

You can love something and leave it. There doesn’t have to be a deep or dramatic reason. It can be a gentle letting-go.

Sometimes (and for some people), the right thing is devotion to one thing, one path, one destiny forever, and other times (for other people), it’s not.

Sometimes, it’s the right thing to move on. Sometimes, new things call us forward, and we feel the imperative to answer them.

Life is dynamic and unfolding and unpredictable, and so are we.

So trust yourself. Your life is for you, and I truly believe you know best how to live it.

Hope, Capacity, and Possibility

{Thoughts on dealing with climate grief and anxiety in the spirit of sharing hope, discussing strategy, cultivating camaraderie, and imagining possibility}

When grief and anxiety flare, my first step is always grounded presence.

I ask myself: How can I be with myself right now? How can I climb back into my body? How can I not abandon myself when the waves of grief and anxiety come?

This reliably makes me feel better, but it also has the practical benefit of getting me back in touch with my intuition and inner knowing/wisdom so I can take grounded action if/when needed.

Deepening my relationship with death and grief has also helped immensely.

When I remember that death is and will be part of my story, our story, the earth’s story and make peace with that (which I would have had to do anyway, even with a perfectly healthy planet), I feel a little less panicked about the future and more grounded when it comes to my place in the universe.

And when it comes to grief: I’ve noticed that letting it move and do its work in me has this shattering function that opens up empty, liminal space.

And that’s a space I can work with.

I can bring intentionality and agency to that space. I can decide how to use it and what to put inside it (I try to opt for groundedness, possibility, and maybe even hope and magic if I can get there.)

I also remember that uncertainty is my friend.

Because where there is uncertainty, there is mystery and possibility.

So maybe the apocalyptic hellscapes my mind is conjuring don’t quite capture the whole truth.

I try to make mystery a space where my mind can rest in the in-between of not knowing everything and hold space for other possibilities.

And finally, I invest in magic, look for goodness everywhere, and practice feeling awe.

Not to bypass or ignore the hard stuff but to *deepen my capacity for it*.

This is our collective challenge: how can we find a depth of magic that matches the depth of horror?

Seeking the answer to this question is the quest of my life, and whether I succeed or not, it sure feels good and grounding to try.

What Else is True?

One of my best tools for working with problems or thoughts that feel impossible to overcome is the question:

What else is true?

My fears and doubts like to absorb all the oxygen and energy in the room, and rather than arguing with them (which can backfire by taking even more energy), I often look for some other true thing I can give my energy and attention to instead.

It’s a simple discipline of investing in the truths and thoughts that are most life-affirming and practically useful, while divesting from those that are not.

It’s a practice of giving energy to truths, possibilities, and thoughts that inspire some measure of magic, goodness, and possibility.

Not as a way of bypassing or shielding myself from the hard stuff, but as a way of *deepening my capacity* for it.

I practiced this with a client recently. They felt stuck on a problem in their life and kept saying: I’m so bad at this thing. I’ve never succeeded at that thing, and I’m not sure I ever will.

Now, this person is an absolute rockstar, and when I pointed out all of the other truths at play here - all the things they’ve achieved and all the gifts they bring to the table - I felt the energy start to shift.

That problem was still a thing to be dealt with, sure, but in the presence of all of those other *very real* assets and accomplishments, it looked a whole lot smaller and felt a lot less scary.

I also think about the hard stuff happening in the collective. I’m not willing to look away or pretend it’s not happening/doesn’t matter that our government is doing harm or that the climate is changing in catastrophic ways.

*And* what else is true?

It’s also true that people are helping, that love and magic exist, that what we do matters, that there is always more than I can see, that there are things worth living and fighting for...

And when I can focus my energies here, I’m not only happier and more grounded, I’m more helpful, responsive, and present to what’s real around me.

Because energies of magic and possibility (that we can create with our own minds, just by welcoming the *whole* truth) offer a creative, dynamic space.

And it’s a space where we’re far more likely to find unexpected solutions and creative ways forward.

So what else is true? Where does the realness of beauty, magic, and possibility exist for you? And how might you take one small step in its direction?

The Magic in Failure

I was a competitive swimmer in college, and I absolutely loved it.

My first year, I qualified for the national swim meet as part of a relay, and each year that followed, it was my goal to qualify for nationals again.

It didn’t happen the next year or the year after that. And then I arrived at my senior year.

This was my last chance.

I wondered: would I be crushed if I didn’t reach my goal?

I considered this carefully. I wanted the season ahead to be the best one yet, and I also wanted to end this 10-year swimming adventure in a way that felt satisfying and solid.

So maybe I should just forget about my goal? (so that my swimming career wouldn’t end in disappointment.)

But no, the goal was an essential part of my experience, and to fully wring all the goodness out of this last season, I knew I had to embrace the goal more than I ever had.

I had to lean in 100%

And to do this, I had to be willing to fail. I had to open myself to the experience and how much it mattered to me. I had to feel the vulnerability of love, desire, and wanting. I had to give it everything I had and accept the results and feelings that followed.

Now, some of you know how this all turned out. I did fail. I didn’t qualify for the national swim meet.

And that was a hard thing.

But it wasn’t a devastating thing.

Because I had made the decision ahead of time that I would risk this very outcome in order to have the experience I wanted.

And this decision to step forward into possibility, uncertainty, and desire opened up so much space.

It made swimming something more than it ever was, and it changed me forever.

This is the magic of failure - of risking it, welcoming it, and willingly stepping into spaces where it might exist.

It expands our edges, makes us bigger, and deepens our lives.

Only you can know if risking failure is worth it and right for you in any given situation, but if your fear is always and immediately telling you it’s not, I’d encourage you to take another look.

There’s probably magic that’s waiting for you to say yes, take that risk, and step forward.

Imagination and Possibility

I believe that one of the most powerful and important things we can do in our lifetimes is widen our imaginations and expand our sense of possibility.

Imagination is how we make impossible things happen.

It’s how we create, lean into, and have experiences of what doesn’t exist yet (in this dimension of time and space, at least).

It’s a simple practice of pushing the edges - of what we think we know, what we believe we can do, what we assume is possible, and who we think we are.

It’s the process of stepping into mystery and choosing to see possibility rather than impossibility, of being in uncertainty and saying “maybe so” rather than “probably not”.

It’s a space of creation, curiosity, and magic.

One thing I’m learning about imagination is that it requires me to be in active, deep conversation with my fear.

Because my fear lets me know (real quick) where my edges are. It tells me what I believe is impossible, out of reach, and not for me.

So one of the most effective ways to deepen imagination and widen possibility is to walk toward that fear and then see who we become and what we find in the process.

And this could be anything that simultaneously scares you and calls to you: sharing your writing or art with others, dancing in public, walking into a social space where you don’t know anyone, risking rejection, investing in yourself, having real, hard conversations, learning a skill that will require you to fail repeatedly (these are all some of mine).

And the beautiful bonus to all of this is that imagination is contagious, inspiring, and catalytic. When you imagine hard, you’re doing a public service.

So dream big and imagine hard, lovely humans.

The Power in Nothing

Sometimes, the most powerful and productive thing we can do is nothing.

Sometimes it’s better to let a question sit in empty space, open and unanswered, rather than rushing to an answer.

Sometimes it’s more useful to allow the energy inside of us - in forms of emotion, discomfort, desire, or knowing - to just be as they are for right now.

Sometimes, it’s the right thing to let uncertainty change us rather than pushing forward to change uncertainty.

I’m someone who loves being a free agent and an active, powerful participant in my own life, and I also see the magic of waiting, sitting, and holding space for what’s present, real, unsettled, unknowable, overwhelming, and/or uncertain.

Space, emptiness, stillness, allowing, and quiet are powerful forces, and sometimes, the best medicine and most powerful catalyst for what we need in the moment.

What sort of medicine and power is your soul most yearning for right now? And what might it mean to give that to yourself?

Embracing Failure

Whenever I start to feel like a failure, I know that’s my cue to try to become even *more* of a failure - to fail harder, more often, and more consistently.

Failure is a close friend and ally to success, ingenuity, creativity, and progress, and it’s a thing that reliably moves me forward, builds capacity and resiliency, and gets energy moving.

So now whenever the thought “I’m a failure” comes up, I try to follow it with, “I sure hope so.”

Because I sincerely hope I never stop collecting failures. I hope I will always be someone who is willing to fail and ready to leap into risk and uncertainty.

So if you’re feeling bummed out by a recent failure: congratulations! You were brave and tried a thing! And making that a habit reliably leads to good things.

Embracing your Radiant Weirdness

There are few things as inspiring or catalyzing as people who are fully alive and lit up in their radiant weirdness.

To me, radiant weirdness is anything that falls outside the norms of the dominant culture, anything that causes people to look or think twice, either with disdain or interest, disapproval or curiosity, that also illuminates and inspires.

Radiant weirdness makes us feel like we’re glowing from the inside-out.  Like we’re so congruent with the truth of our being that everything sparks.

It’s the strange, unexpected oddity that makes us magnetic and interesting and lights the way into new possibility.

Whether it’s your eclectic array of hobbies, your ambitious creative project that pushes the edges, your inner complexities and contradictions, or the path you’ve chosen for yourself that makes others raise their eyebrows, if it lights you up, it’s a thing the world needs.

Radiant weirdness changes the culture.

It’s catalytic and contagious.  

It inspires a sense of possibility, opens spaces of permission, and lends courage.

And it doesn’t really matter if your radiant weirdness is different than mine.  If I see you expressing, owning, and living it, I feel it in my bones. It’s something my soul recognizes.  It’s something that creates sparks of hope, truth, and calling in my own being.

Embrace your radiant weirdness for yourself first.  And also know that when you do, you are doing a public service.  By carving out space in the culture for your realness to exist (in all of its weird, radiant complexity), you are widening the field of possibility for all of us.

So shine on, you beautiful, luminous weirdos.

Last Words + Living Well

About 3 years ago, I saw my grandmother for the last time. She was dying, so I made a trip to say goodbye. She seemed frail and closer to the edge but still very present and clear.

As I was leaving, she was able to walk me to the door, and between hugs and “I love you’s”, she told me to live a good life. These were her last words to me, and she said them twice.

Live a good life.

She didn’t give me more specific instructions or tell me what goodness meant to her. She didn’t tell me what I should prioritize in the pursuit of that goodness. She didn’t tell me to carry on the family legacy or make her proud.

She simply communicated that my life belonged to me, and it was my privilege and responsibility to make it what I wanted. This was her blessing and benediction.

I think about her, together with the rest of my ancestors. I think how I’m here now with powers they didn’t have then. I think about what it means to live in this time of change and catastrophe. I think about what it means to be a human being who lives and dies.

And I feel the imperative of living a good life. I feel how much it matters that we find delight, satisfaction, and actualization in our human experience - and that we get clear and honest about what that means for us.

So I’m passing it on: your life belongs to you. Enjoy it and make it yours.

Going Back In

What choice do we have but to keep going?

This is something I remind myself when I’m feeling frustrated by a (seemingly) impossible goal or project, slow progress, or lackluster outcomes - in my own life and/or in the collective.

When I hit a creative block, when I try something and it doesn’t work, or when I feel stuck on a project, there’s sometimes a moment when I wonder: is this the Universe finally telling me I’m a failure and it’s time to give up?

But I pull by myself back by 1) telling myself everything I know about how creativity, mastery, progress, and life work 2) asking: would quitting actually help anything? (probably not) 3) remembering that the trying itself has value.

There are times to reevaluate and change course around the details, but my intention to live a deep life means I need to keep going and always be stepping toward creativity, learning, and connection.

I think about this too in terms of our collective efforts to dismantle systems of oppression, respond to climate crisis, and build a more just society. Anyone who cares about these issues or is involved in movement work knows what it is to wrestle with despair and discouragement, to stare down impossibility and wonder where we go from here. But what would it even mean to give up on the vision?

When we’re aligned with our deepest values and moved by love, we keep going. We don’t even get to decide. We flow; we move; we engage; we connect. We find whatever hope and aliveness exist in the trying.

I’m finding more and more that living a good, deep, creative life is just a series of going’s back in, a commitment to following love to its obvious conclusion and steadfast directive:

Onward.

Clarity Through Self-Trust

{Coaching reflections, Part 2 of 5}

Coaching is about getting clear through self-trust.

We're conditioned to look outside ourselves for answers.  The dominant culture tells us clarity is found through rational analysis in which status, money, and external success are the primary values and metric points.

Coaching is a process of tuning into the slower rhythms and deeper energies of our being to reconnect with the knowing and wisdom that is available to us in that space.

It's about learning the language of our bodies and deepening our intuitive superpowers.

It's about reconnecting with a steady internal compass that helps us navigate the loud, fast, and flashy world around us and discern which of the voices (if any) competing for our attention are worthy of it.

My first step is always to get quiet and still and then know what I know in this moment.  

Because the more I welcome and allow the knowing that's already here, the more knowing opens up.  The more I listen to my body, the more it speaks and the more I understand. The more I add to my reservoirs of self-trust, the more I have to draw on when the next hard, uncertain things appears.

So what do you know in this moment?  What answers and truths are available to you in this moment through your body?


Restoring Balance and Flow in Burnout

I want to talk about burnout – those times when we burn through our attention, energy, physical capacity, and emotional labor faster than our systems can replenish these finite resources.  One of my clients calls this “feeling crispy,” which illustrates perfectly how burnout can leave us feeling like withered, ashen shells of our formerly energetic and vibrant selves.

When I feel burned out, I feel a sort of dead, numb flatness, as though my body has shut down its normal operations to in order to deal with crisis mode.  My rhythms feel out of whack, the things that normally give me energy feel lifeless and inaccessible, and my creativity, art, and spiritual practice lose their vibrancy (actually, they probably don’t, but in my state of burnout, I just can’t access it in the same way).

Burnout can show up in all sorts of ways and for all sorts of reasons, but in the end, it all comes down to giving, spending, and burning past the point of regenerative flow, balanced wellness, and baseline okayness.

And this is hard. Because often, we simply do not have enough energy to do all the things we want or need to do (or that others around us want or expect us to do). We have finite resources, and there are all sorts of factors that determine what we’re starting with in terms of energy and fuel.

And because we have limits and because life sometimes feels more like a flash-fire of frenetic fury than a peaceful stroll in the park, it can be useful to have a safety-wellness plan at the ready to address the hazards and realities of being an active, busy, engaged human in the world with limited stores of energy.

So here are some practices - through the lens of the four elements - that have been helpful for me in managing burnout and restoring my energy, groundedness, and vitality in active and fiery times.

1) Welcome watery flow (both literally and figuratively).  Water has a calming, soothing quality. Drinking water, relaxing in or near water, watching the waves, rapids, and rain, or sharing space with the vastness of the ocean can all bring this energy into our lives and alleviate some of the rigid, arid, crispy feelings that come with burnout. Allowing the watery flow of our emotions is also a supportive practice. How might you welcome whatever is flowing through you? How might you make space for feelings of frustration, annoyance, grief, and confusion? How might you invite fluidity and flow into your being? In a space of burnout, it can be super helpful to keep our life force moving and flowing however we can.  Sometimes this means resting, crying, free writing, taking a walk, or talking it out with a friend - anything to stay connected with the aliveness happening inside us through our emotions, movements, and energies.

2) Get earthy. Part of what burnout does is disconnect us from the slower rhythms of our earthy, embodied selves.  Engaging and tending to our bodies through movement, meditation, stillness, or nourishment are all ways to bring the earth element back into balance.  Other practices might include walking or sitting in nature, planting a garden, doing yoga, talking to the trees, or spending some time with your dog, cat, or houseplants.  

3) Embrace empty space.  One way to invite the air element is to create spaces of openness and emptiness where things are allowed to be unformed, unstructured, and unsettled.  Open, empty space in our schedules, our homes, our minds, and our lives allows us to rest, restore ourselves, and welcome a new possibility. Here are some ideas: look up at the sky, feel your presence in the vastness of the Universe, schedule times to do nothing.  How might you give yourself space, clear out the clutter, and let yourself rest in the open, empty mystery?

4. Engage fire in a sustainable way.  If you’re struggling with burnout, you may feel ready to be done with fire (and all things hot and burning) altogether, but fire is an elemental quality that offers essential energies for a balanced life.  So how might you burn the fires of your passion, creativity, effort, and movement in safe and supportive ways? (also being mindful of the fuel you need to support it.) What sparks of interest, adventure, and curiosity want to become more and are worthy investments of your energy?  

So I would encourage you to check-in with yourself.  Which of these elemental frequencies would be most supportive for restoring balance and flow in the midst of burnout?  How might you make space for what you need in times when you feel depleted?

To support this process, I created a meditative visualization to guide you through welcoming each of the 4 elements (with a bonus element too) as a way to discern what would be most supportive to you right now, which you can find here.

The Possibilities in Emptiness

{Coaching Reflections, Part 1 of 5}

Coaching is a process of opening up space in your mind by clearing away clutter.

It’s a lot like cleaning out your closet.  You look at what’s there, take inventory (probably finding some surprises along the way), clear away what no longer fits, tidy up the space, and then put it back together in a new way.  

When it’s all done, the newfound empty space one of the best parts.  Emptiness is inspiring. Suddenly, the space feels bigger and brighter.  Anything feels possible.

Coaching works in a similar way.  We look at the spaces in our lives and our minds (and sometimes our actual closets) to see what’s stopping up the flow of energy, crowding the space, or getting in the way of what we want.

Where is clutter creating static and chaos?  What are we holding onto that would be better for us to release?  What possibilities would step forward if they had space to move and expand?   

Because in order to create a new thing for ourselves, we need room to move.  We need clear, open spaces for our creativity to flow, for our imagination to roam, and for our intuition to deepen and expand.  

Our dominant culture fears emptiness, so we’re often encouraged to fill our lives, homes, and brains to brim.  But emptiness is a delight. It’s blank canvas for our creativity that invites mystery and possibility.

So where in your life are you craving empty, open space, and how might you create even the tiniest bit of it in your home, your mind, or your life?

Take up Space!

There’s a great scene in “Knock Down the House” – a Netflix documentary that follows 4 women running for Congress in 2018 – where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is preparing for a debate against her opponent, Joe Crowley, the district’s incumbent of 20 years. 

She sets down her notes and says, “I need to take up space,” as she reaches out and waves her arms.  She takes a deep breath and says, “I am experienced enough to do this; I am prepared enough, mature enough, and brave enough to do this.  And this whole time, he’s going to tell me I can’t do this – that I’m small, little, young, inexperienced,” and then she extends her arms with a sharp exhale, as though she’s pushing all of that away from her.

I love this scene because moments later in the debate, you feel only the strength of her energy and presence.  You would never guess that she felt anything other than confident and ready for the moment.

I love that we see her fear, uncertainty, and vulnerability but then also see her step through all of it to claim her place on the world stage.

Watching her process reminded me that it takes copious amounts of inner work, energy management, self-talk, and intentional practice to build a capacity to command energy and take up space like that.  It takes staring down your terror, building belief, and staying devoted to your deep reasons.

For Alex, the world benefited enormously from her willingness to take up space, but it didn’t give her that permission.  Even as others encouraged her, she had to be the one to believe she deserved to be there and then step up and forward to claim it.

All of this was a reminder, inspiration, and challenge for me.  And that’s the beautiful thing about taking up space and claiming your bigness: it inspires other people to do the same.  And that is a gift for the world. 

Cultivating Devotion over Perfection

One of my best practices for overcoming my perfectionist tendencies is to cultivate a mindset of devotion.

For me, this means remembering that creativity, at its core, is about a commitment I’m making to myself and to my process of *becoming a person who creates consistently*, no matter the outcome.

So rather than getting stuck on one small part, trying to make my creations perfect, or obsessing over merits and metrics, I remember I’m *creating a body of work*. 

And a body of work requires me to keep moving, keep trying, and keep creating – in a spirit of devotion.

This gets me in a headspace of remembering that creativity is an ongoing, unfolding practice of becoming and stepping into stretchy identities (writer, artist, coach, etc.) – so if I’m creating and moving forward, this means I’m already succeeding and meeting my goals.

So when I put something out into the world and it falls flat or when I try something new and I fail or when I feel like my creative magic has disappeared, I return to this question: what am I most devoted to?  What am I trying to create for myself at the deepest level?  These questions help me find my way back to something good and true for me.

My own commitment is to live an out-loud, alive, creative life.  What’s yours?  And how it that vision guiding your life, process, and day-to-day?

Sinking into Time

I used to see time as a static, uncomplicated resource. I have 24 hours in a day, and there’s nothing more to it than that.

But lately, I’ve been exploring the depths of time.

This is the way I’m starting to see it: there is a limited width to linear time – a minute is a minute – but there’s also a depth inside of that linear time that’s available to us as a resource.

As I’m tracking my own relationship with time, I’m asking myself: is my experience of time more like sinking into something good, deep, and satisfying, or is it more like trying to outrun something (a deadline, an outcome, my own feelings)?

I’ve found I can only ever sink into time if I’m also grounded in my body. My body is my way into deep time.

It also helps to shift my focus from managing my time to managing my attention. Because in my experience, the quantity of time I have to work with matters less than the intentional focus I give and bring to what’s present.

How about you? How do you relate to time, as well as to yourself within the time you have? How do you sink into a moment and take advantage of the depths available to you there?

Confronting the Lies

I think it’s important to remember that the dominant culture we live in lies to us on a regular basis – about who we are, what’s real and what matters, how we “should” live and spend our energies, what’s within the realm of possibility, etc.

And I believe we need to name and call this out because lying and manipulation are abusive tactics (whether those abusers are people, institutions, or systems). Denying reality, deflecting responsibility, and unilaterally defining the narrative are all ways of maintaining power and control over others.

There’s also lying in the form of gaslighting, which is the strategy of using lies and manipulation to destabilize another person’s sense of reality by telling them over and over again that their perception and memory are wrong (and can’t be trusted) to create a sense of separation from their embodied knowing and inner truth (often in a very direct way, like telling someone they left the oven on when it was the abuser who turned it back on – or hiding their keys and pretending to help them look).

And because we sort of expect people to tell the truth unless they have a compelling reason not to, a steady stream of lies can be super disorienting and eventually make us question our own experience, memory, and sanity.

There are nuances to the ways abuse happens on interpersonal, institutional, and systemic levels, but a common goal of these tactics, whoever/whatever employs them, is to maintain a power dynamic of control over another person through confusion, disorientation, and disconnection.

Systems of oppression do this; capitalism does this - because if we’re confused and ungrounded, we’re easier to control and more vulnerable to suggestion because we’re seeking that equilibrium and solidity wherever we can find it after being pushed off our center.

And in such a reality, getting grounded in our bodies and developing strategies of deepening into self-trust, personal power, and embodied truth are essential (and radical) practices.

Calling out lies and manipulative tactics when we see them is an essential practice.

Telling our stories and speaking our truths are essential practices.

Seeking out support, affirmation, and connection are essential practices.

Engaging in these practices of embodiment, truth-telling, and self-trust are not only essential for our own well-being; they also disrupt systems that depend on lies and other abusive tactics to maintain the status quo and create spaces in which abuse is named, challenged, and resisted.

So when we trust and love ourselves - when we tune in to our deep, embodied knowing - we create more flourishing, not only for ourselves but also for others and for the world.

Finding Our Way Back

Getting off track is part of the process.

This is what I try to remind myself when I’m frustrated with my progress, or when I’ve fallen (yet again) into the grooves and patterns I’ve been trying to unlearn.

I remind myself that we forget so that we can remember.  And that it’s the work of going back in, returning to the practices I know work for me, and trying again that deepens transformation.

When we learn (again) what we already know, we’re building resiliency and capacity.

So there’s an opportunity in these moments of failure and frustration to remember that living a good life isn’t about doing it perfectly or always staying on track – it’s about finding our way back and developing practices of pausing, noticing, and returning to what we know in those hard moments.

So if things go awry, no need to panic!  You have what you need to take that first step back toward where you want to be.

Our Right to Imperfection

I believe we all have the right to make mistakes. Not just that we have made mistakes and will make them again, but that we have the right to make them. We have the right to not be perfect.

It’s a common abusive tactic (as I’ve seen via my DV advocacy work) to blame victims for their abuse by pointing out their mistakes as the reason for that abuse. I’ve spoken with lots of survivors who take ownership of what isn’t theirs (like responsibility for the abuse) because they’ve internalized this idea that mistakes warrant punishment, and that they’re only true, legitimate victims if they’re perfect and faultless. They talk about how they started an argument, stirred up drama, cheated, or fucked up something important – as if any of that was justification for violence.

Abusers demand perfection from their victims, but at the same time, they secretly want failure – because the mistakes are what give them justification (in their minds) for their abusive behavior. Their victim’s imperfections are a way to maintain power and control.

And one of the reasons this works so well as an abusive tactic is because of the ways our culture demands perfection from victims of abuse and violence (especially if the victim has a marginalized identity) – and demands perfection in general and punishes and shames mistakes, failures, and imperfections, rather than engaging them in a meaningful, productive, and life-affirming way.

We can take responsibility for our mistakes and do a deep accounting of behavior we regret without making that mean something about our worthiness and deservedness; we can apologize, change, and move forward without punishing ourselves, submitting to another’s authority, or subjecting ourselves to harm.

Our mistakes ask things of us and invite us into processes of reconciliation, learning, and growing, but our mistakes never strip us of our human sovereignty and should never be used as justification for harm or abuse.

When I remember I have the right to make mistakes, I feel freer to try, risk, and live big. I feel more grace toward myself and others, and more understanding and compassion around what we’re all trying to do and become in messy and imperfect circumstances.