Author: Lindsay Huettman
Part One: Developing Awareness, Curiosity and Compassion
One of the issues that comes up for both myself and my clients is how to create real change in our daily lives. This could be a habit they want to give up for a healthier one. It can be a dynamic with a family member or harmful self-talk. Many times, it’s a longing or calling to create something more fulfilling in their lives. We sometimes wish we could snap our fingers to make real and lasting change in our lives-but that is rarely how it works! From my experience, and the teachings of professional therapists, mentors and community, change begins by setting intentions. What are some of the qualities that can prime us for setting intentions? My three are:
One of my mentors, Cathy Iacobazzi, (yoga guru and cranial-sacral practitioner) would often say, “Realization does not mean manifestation”. Her teachings focused on how to make change stick. We can have all the realizations in the world about what to change or call in, but what do we do next? How can we make change stick? The first task is to look at what we are already doing.
The Awareness Phase asks you to mindfully and compassionately pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, and situations where the unwanted behaviors show up. You can also work with noticing where a longing for something ‘different’ occurs. Sometimes we want to create intentions around what needs to change. Other times we want to create intentions to call in something new. These are two faces of the same coin but can be helpful to differentiate. There are a few typical responses that show up when we finally see what we do or figure out what we want:
- We avoid it: “I am not really thinking, feeling, doing that!” or we go eat cookies and binge watch TV (addictive behaviors).
- We blame others: We get sometimes get angry and blame others for ‘creating’ our behavior. (This is not to say that others don’t impact us)
- We shame ourselves: The most common response I see is “What is wrong with me?! I am bad” or some version of shame or negative self-talk.
- We deprive ourselves: When it comes to longing or calling in something new: “I can’t have that! “Wow, that’s way too good for me” or “I am never going to have that in my life”.
Sometimes it is important to seek the help of a trained therapist when these responses come up. If you feel overwhelmed by what you learn in the Awareness Phase, it can be very helpful to have guidance and support.
One of the best tools you can have if challenging self-talk or emotions show up is becoming the Curious Observer. You may not have ANY of the above reactions when you see your patterns. It is my experience that this is very rare and most of us are not always kind to ourselves. Instead of being harsh, judgmental or scared, try being curious when you see your stuff.
- “Oh good, I finally SEE that! I wonder where that comes from?”
- “Oh good, I can see that FEEL angry almost every time _________ happens! I am curious about why I feel this way.”
- “Oh, Wow, this is hard, I really want_________ in my life. I am so glad I know that now”
Trust me, this is not my response every time I see my own stuff. In fact, it is not my response MOST of the time. But I can truthfully say that the more and more I practice curiosity, the easier it gets to change my patterns and ask for what I want out of life. Give it a try and become the Curious Observer. As time goes on, it will help you refine what you really want to change and create.
Try staying curious for one week about the behavior you would like to change, or your longing. I am guessing many things will show up that you have never seen before. Some questions can be:
- How do I talk do to myself about this behavior/longing?
- What feelings do I feel when I do this behavior/longing?
- How do I react to others when I am doing/feeling this?
- What stories promote me to continue this behavior/or not call what I want in my life?
- What would it be like to NOT choose this behavior or call in what I want?
To help us create change, we need to cultivate holding space for ourselves. The next step once we see our process or what is missing in our lives, is to employ the Compassionate Gesture. This looks like putting a hand on your chest, clasping your hands together gently, or giving yourself a gentle hug. During this gesture, you pause take a few (or many) slow breathes and extend a tendril of love to yourself.
When most of clients first hear this, some are repulsed (“Why would I do that!”) and many look at me with blank stares of disbelief or resistance (“I am supposed to do what….?”). We are not taught self-compassion in general in our culture at large. We are taught to be ‘good’ parents, ‘hard workers’, ‘successful’ but not often are we taught to be compassionate to ourselves. Compassion is not letting yourself get away with things that are harmful to you or others. Compassion is extending a moment (or many moments!) of love to yourself when you encounter something difficult. It is an act of bravery and strength to extend compassion towards yourself.
Start with a small, physical gesture that helps you recognize when you have hit something that has triggered you about yourself. If you don’t feel it at first, you can just use the Compassionate Gesture and say, “It’s okay” over and over quietly and imagine you are talking to someone you love. Pema Chodron, a Buddhist monk teaches a practice called Tonglen that can help you learn how to extend this to others first if you are having trouble with this. Sometimes it’s hard to find love for ourselves first. How ever you can help yourself approach this practice, try it. It may feel like ‘fake it until you make it’ at first. In my experience working with developing self-compassion over the last twenty years takes practice.
Compassion and Curiosity combined into fertile soil for growing worthwhile intentions. If we are unkind to ourselves every time we try to make a change, then we have no pathway. Its blocked with the thorny branches of our negative thoughts and self-deprecating pit falls. With these two allies at our sides, we can now begin the amazing work of creating the life we want.
Next month, in Part Two: Creating Intentions as a Life-Long Practice, we will look at how to put these three attributes to greater use to create intentions. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know how this is working for you.