DECEMBER 6, 2017

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What are you doing with your feelings?

Chances are, not enough!

We’re all trained by our culture and family of origin to become “thinking” and “doing” machines and to forget about our feelings as much as possible.

It starts early. As young children, we’re told that we don’t need to feel afraid, that it’s not ok to feel angry, and to pleeeease stop crying when we feel sad. And that's before we're even asked how we're feeling!

It’s like it’s only okay to express happiness. Anything else is either not valid or cumbersome to others.

We learn to reject our painful feelings and, in the process, we reinforce the notion within ourselves and in others that only positive feelings are worth being expressed. If we do allow ourselves to express difficult feelings, we take the risk to see our feelings called invalid or getting “fixed” by others who believe it is their duty to “make us feel better.”

It’s an addiction to pleasure and a complete rejection of pain.

 Painful feelings are useful

There is a reason why we feel emotions and feelings, including painful feelings. When we feel a feeling, we’re getting information about ourselves and the environment. If we don't use that emotional information, we lose the crucial insight of one of our major intelligence centers and we jeopardize our ability to take good care of ourselves and our capacity for emotional connection with others.

Feelings are indeed energy that needs to be processed wisely, then cleared from our organism. Repressed feelings fester in our bodies until they become extra weight, physical pain and illnesses, and/or linger in our minds to turn into resentment, chronic anxiety and/or depression. Unconscious rejection of painful feelings is also what leads to all kinds of physical and behavioral addictions.

The way we connect

When we are not aware of our feelings and the feelings of others, the first interpersonal skill that becomes compromised is our communication. Authentic and effective communication is more about taking into account and addressing underlying feelings than understanding and eloquently expressing pure facts. Not taking the emotional dimension into account when communicating affects our relationships with our intimate partner, as well as with people to whom we are less close.

Therefore, the most important inner work that we can do for our self-care and relationship care is reclaiming our ability to be present to each of our feelings. It’s about becoming aware in real time of what we are feeling, deepening our understanding of what triggers our feelings, learning how to express our feelings authentically and respectfully, and finally clearing the energy of our feelings out of our organism to make room for fresh, new feeling experiences.

Journaling Questions:

  • How do I relate to my inner world of emotions and feelings?
  • Do I allow myself to feel fully or do I tend to distract myself from feeling?
  • What feelings am I most willing to express? What feelings do I tend to ignore or resist?
  • How do I process my feelings? What could help me become more intentional in processing my feelings?
  • Who can listen to me expressing my feelings without trying to change them?

Ariane is an Integral Coach specializing in relationships. She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can read more of her writing about self-care and relationship care on her blog.

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OCTOBER 25, 2017

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I admit it: even as an Integral Coach and the person at NVW most responsible for spreading the word about our work, I’ve had moments in recent months when I’ve second guessed the point of it all. With so much of the world in dire emergency, it’s to the point that I’m literally forgetting to check in with friends in the path of fires or with family members in destroyed cities because I’m too preoccupied with concern about a close friend at a violent protest or my sister having to evacuate her neighborhood.

Between trying to figure out where to send emergency relief funds, scanning the news daily to make sure nobody I love is in jeopardy (and being heartbroken for the millions who are), and trying to gently educate relatives about the unconscious beliefs that are harming our world, putting attention on my and others’ self-development seems … extravagant. Questions of who I am and what my life is for are eclipsed by the urgent call from a world in crisis.

How self-development practices can shore us up

On a particularly tough day recently, smoke thick in the air from the fires burning a few dozen miles from my home, I began an evening of aikido—my central physical and spiritual practice. It was through an eerie indoor haze that I watched sensei take his place at the front of the room. We began as always, sitting seiza, taking a few moments to gather ourselves. Sirens shrieked outside—not fire-related, and not especially uncommon in our corner of the world. Still, it added to the air of something-not-quite-right-out-there as we bowed in.

In all the thousands of times I’ve commenced practice this way, it’s never felt holier to me. I sensed our group’s collective steadiness and inner quiet as the world was literally burning around us. The goodwill that we summon and send outward with every movement felt more significant; our connection to one another and the wider web far more precious and necessary.

Building capacity

This underscored a feeling I’ve consistently had in quieter moments: the element of my life that needs me most, that feels most necessary and right, is attending to my physical and spiritual practices. None more than they have given me the capacity to be where I’m needed. And what is needed, I’m finding—as many are—has to do with treating those around us in more loving ways. Recognizing each other as human, listening to each other’s stories, and sharing what resources we can—both tangible and intangible.

In terms of my own self-development, my practices have given me a physical sense of my own core, my own strength, and my own ability. Giving to others from this place feels less like an exchange of limited resources, and more like a decision that comes from a place of autonomy, abundance, and connectedness. I can offer kindness and help in ways that don’t deplete me or call for something in exchange. This feels extremely useful, to say the least, at this moment in history. Almost like it’s all been leading to this …

It’s a process that will never be complete and is rife with backslides and frustration, but it is happening. It’s an often unconscious yet undeniable unfolding.

What is yours to uncover?

Naturally the direction of your self-development is unique. Maybe our times call you out beyond the realms of simple, local acts. Maybe you are driven to activism, warriorship, craftsmanship, heroism, education, divinity. Whatever it looks like, there is something that each of our lives is constantly building towards, and layers we can continually shed to get closer to whoever and whatever that is.

Now is definitely not the time to abandon what keeps us most centered. We actually have to keep turning back to ourselves, keep digging up what is cluttering our souls in a devotional pursuit of the place most steady and true.

The upcoming Year Launch program with James Flaherty offers a deeper dive into this topic. The most recent episodes of the Stepping In Podcast take it up as well. 

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FEBRUARY 15, 2017

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As our culture becomes more polarized, it becomes more tempting to label those who disagree with us as “monsters.” But what do we really mean when we say someone is being monstrous? And how willing are we to see our own monstrous tendencies?

To explore this, I’m going to go where monsters originally came from: the land of storytelling.

In the book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, Christopher Booker lays out his theory that the core purpose of stories is to help humans learn to release the grip of an overactive ego.

Let’s look at how this is so in stories that adhere to this original purpose…

In stories with happy endings, the main character defeats an antagonist who is trying to control something or someone for selfish gains. As a result, the community is better off at the end—i.e. more integrated and full of life in some way. For example, in The Princess Bride, a farm boy becomes a hero when he saves a princess by displaying greater willpower over a prince who was trying to force her to marry him—Prince Humperdinck attempts to control the bride he has chosen for himself.

On the flipside, in stories with tragic endings, the main character is trying to control someone or something and won’t let it go. In those stories, the community is worse off—i.e. there is more disintegration as life is squeezed out. For example, in The Great Gatsby, an eccentric playboy lost in a fantasy tries to reunite with a former crush who is married, leading to loss of life in the community, including his own. Gatsby’s unrealistic and obsessive longing leads to his own demise.

In either case, a monster appears:

  • In happy endings, the monster is someone opposing the main character.
  • In tragic endings, the monster is the main character, at least by the end of the story.

The character we call the “monster” in stories still has human qualities—such as being passionate but unsympathetic, or intelligent but manipulative, or strong but oppressive. But beyond their humanity, it’s the overactive ego that pushes them into the realm of monster as they endanger themselves and others around them.

Here’s another way to frame the core lesson that purposeful stories give us for living: finding alternatives to behaving like a monster leads to the development and integration of the mature self and community.

This makes being able to identify monstrous behavior important, primarily in ourselves.

When we act as monsters, according to Booker, we are displaying one of three monster archetypes: the Predator, the Holdfast and the Avenger.

Let’s look at each one from the story angle and how they can appear in us today…

The Predator causes us to say, “I want that now—at all costs.” (oriented to the future)

We can recognize this archetype in us when we’re myopically focused on getting the thing we desire, with no concern for any collateral damage that may occur. Such as the cyborg in The Terminator who had one mission: kill Sarah Connor, no matter how many police officers, civilians, and factories get destroyed in the process.

In everyday modern life, this archetype may cause us to consider:

  • Spreading a false claim in order to damage the reputation of someone seeking the same job as you (“it should be my job”).
  • Running a marketing campaign that leverages fear in order to get as many sales as possible (“it should be my income”).
  • Spending over 20 minutes trying to log into a glitchy website so you can order socks, while ignoring your need to eat breakfast (“those should be my socks”).

The Holdfast in us says, “I must keep this—and nobody else can have it.” (oriented to the present)

We are so committed to holding onto this thing that if it appears we may lose it to someone else, we feel justified in using any manner of force against them or destroying it. For example, in The Hobbit, the dragon, Smaug, hoards gold in his cave and defends it to the death. Smaug and his gold are inseparable.

In everyday modern life, this archetype may cause us to consider:

  • Going to great lengths to ensure your intellectual property is protected, so much so that you never share it with anyone (“it’s my idea”).
  • Seeing others as competition for your customers, even if there is plenty of need for multiple organizations to fill (“they are my customers”).
  • Guarding your giant plate of french fries from your spouse and children (“they are my french fries”).

The Avenger causes us to say, “I want that back—I have been wronged.” (oriented to the past)

We become fixated on a loss and claim the right to exert our power in order to balance the scales of justice. But unlike lawful justice, the Avenger feels no concern for the wellbeing of others, including the dignity of the one/s they believe created that loss for them. For example, in Nightmare on Elm Street a troubled child molester is burned to death by an angry mob and comes back to haunt and kill them in their dreams. The monster, Freddy Krueger, is seeking revenge for his loss of dignity and life.

(Author’s note: What does it say about a culture’s developmental stage when so many movies feature ‘avenging’ protagonists with an ego gone wild that we’re encouraged to root for?)

In everyday modern life, this archetype may cause us to consider:

  • Publicly shaming a manager who you think tried to take control of your meeting (“it was my meeting”).
  • Attacking an organization through your advertising as a response to being mocked in one of their ad campaigns (“it was my reputation”).
  • Refusing to speak to your spouse for a whole evening after they finished off the last of your favorite ice cream (“it was my ice cream”).

All of the archetypes have one thing in common—they all encourage us to see through the lens of ownership with no regard for people around us, including ourselves.

This ownership lens can be distilled to a one-word sentiment: “Mine!

Notice how when you see this controlling behavior in others, you might activate a controlling part of yourself, beginning with using the label of “monster.” If they are the monster, that means you are the hero and your actions and words to control them are justified.

And this is how a society disintegrates. One monstrous act begets another, one ego triggering another’s ego, while everyone is thinking themselves to be the hero. This pattern only stops inside the individual who chooses to address it—through our own discipline and maturation process.

If we wish to respond to egoic behavior in a way that shifts the pattern, we must be sure not to respond from our ego. In other words, when we seek dignity for the one acting like a monster, we consciously deviate from the narrative that otherwise leads to a community where things are worse off.

It begins by not allowing the label to hold—i.e. not labeling others as “monsters” or attacking their character, but instead condemning their actions. When we criticize character, we seek to humiliate and nobody benefits. When we criticize actions, there is room for reconciliation and dignity for all involved.

In order to take the mature story lesson to heart, rather than focusing on controlling those around you, try understanding more about these controlling monster archetypes in yourself.

Here are some self-observations to get you started.

The next time you read a story or watch a movie with a monster character, see if you can identify which archetype is playing through them (Predator, Holdfast, Avenger). And then observe yourself, while the monster is most overactive in their ego. In that moment, grab a pen and paper to write down your responses to these questions:

  1. What do I notice in my own body?
  2. What thoughts appear in response to the monster’s actions?

And then later go back and reflect:

  1. What do my reactions tell me about myself?
  2. How have I behaved through that same archetype in my life before?
  3. What is the relationship between my past behavior and my reaction to that character?
  4. Given what I notice, what action/s will I take?

Another way is to observe yourself in daily life by writing down responses to these questions:

  1. In my day, how did any one of the monster archetypes (Predator, Holdfast, Avenger) appear to influence my behavior? (even if only in a subtle way)
  2. How could I tell they were active in me?
  3. What was going on in my body while being influenced?
  4. What thoughts appeared while being influenced?
  5. How could I tell that I had little regard for others around me (or myself)?
  6. What was the relationship between my intention and the monster archetype?
  7. Given what I notice, what action/s will I take?

Matt is a graduate of the Professional Coaching Course and co-founder of the brand strategy firm Soulful Brand. More of his writing can be found on his blog

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JULY 21, 2016

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There is much trauma in the world, and I mean Trauma with a capital “T”. After our NVW Book Study Group visited with Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, the author of The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma, I felt grateful that he shared his story of working to find new ways of healing people who have truly suffered Trauma. I have been fortunate to not have suffered any major trauma like most of his patients, but I started contemplating what trauma (with a small “t") had visited me during my life. I felt the resonance of how his work could assist me as a coach, and my first inclination was how to experiment and practice healing trauma with the most challenging client that I have: me.

What if I re-evaluated all of my memories of when I felt injured and viewed them again through a lens of trauma inflicted on me? And then, trauma inflicted on me by whom? There’s a long list of potential culprits: family, true friends, fair-weather friends, lovers, colleagues, teachers, bosses, strangers, gypsies, tramps and thieves. Oh, and let’s not forget self-inflicted wounds, and trauma that I may have caused others. As I sat down with my pen and morning pages, I blistered off seven notebook pages of paragraph-sized trauma stories without stopping. In the subsequent days I added five more pages and drained the swamp.

I cleared my conscious memory of all slights, injustices, hurt feelings, misunderstandings, mixed messages, debts unpaid, love misplaced, trickery, and muddled narratives. As I reviewed the story sludge that I had smeared across each page, I started to realize that there must be connections here; there was a deeper narrative for myself that I had to identify.

I sank into each story: where was I in my life at the time, how was I perceiving the world, how was I perceiving myself, how was I being seen, how was I being heard, how was I being held? As I let the pages flow over me, the themes started to present themselves and the so-called “trauma” started to define itself in the most salient human way.

In each story there was the distinction that I was not heard or seen, or I did not hear or see others. Within that distinction, I could understand very clearly that I was also not being held by others, or that I was not holding space for them. They were stuck, I was stuck. What was the meta-narrative for all of my trauma stories if the commonality was not being heard, seen, or held?

Betrayal. Abandonment. Loss. Each and every personal “trauma inflicted on me” story has those elements, driven home, it seems, by my own original narcissistic wound. As I felt into the various emotions and knots that were released and set free over the next several days, a lightness of body and mind prevailed. It wasn’t like a weight being lifted off, it was more like pulling the thread of a bulky emotional sweater and having it completely unravel and disappear.

What else happened? Forgiveness for the others. Compassion for myself. Deeper gratitude for Dr. van der Kolk and his work. I highly recommend this book.

Howard Davis graduated from the Professional Coaching Course in 2015.

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