Tag Archives: #lifelessons

Making Confidence Authentic and Accessible

Confidence, and especially self-confidence, is something many of my friends and coaching clients consider more a mystery than a characteristic they draw on easily in their lives. To develop and maintain a strong, authentic confidence, the missing element is self-generated confidence.

Confidence is defined as a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers; a visceral belief that one will act well; a relation of trust or intimacy. This last aspect is easily overlooked and really important. For self-generated confidence, you must be your own best friend by trusting your inner voice and forgiving yourself when life takes your breath away.

Authentic, fullhearted confidence is the opposite of perfectionism or certainty.

What does self-generated confidence look like in action? I worked recently with a client who had a negative work incident and requested assistance to increase his confidence, which had been damaged. There were several steps we discussed that are core to cultivating a more resilient confidence that bends but does not break under duress. Self-generated confidence emerged as the missing element in his life, especially because externally generated confidence was out of his sphere of influence.

  1. Notice and document negative thoughts and their origins.

My client was able to tag some really juicy thoughts like: A thousand people standing behind me can do this job. If I was strong enough I wouldn’t need help. We are taught and we catch confidence-eroding thoughts from our family, our community, and society that become unconsciously embedded in our minds and hearts.

  1. Pay particular attention to how negative thoughts are tied to one’s societal power and a system of oppression.

In the case of my client, he was the only person of color on the management team in a company that was doing poorly. In letting him go, the CEO used as an excuse that my client hadn’t solved a number of problems that were very damaging to the company, even though my client had no authority or responsibility in the relevant areas. He had to debunk a seemingly positive, but really negative, disempowering thought: ‘If I was truly great they wouldn’t have been able to let me go.’  I gently pointed out that he was on the Titanic and no matter how well he had performed at his company, he was not going to get a seat on the lifeboat. He had neither the right skin color or positional power.

When understanding how internalized oppression works many years ago, I saw how I had bought into negative thoughts I received as a woman of color.  The most important lesson I learned was to identify these thoughts, many of which started with the words: “I should have…” That put an expectation on myself to know and anticipate white supremacy culture as well as live by it characteristics of ‘perfectionism’ and ‘one right way’.

  1. Develop antidote to negative thoughts.

The critical voice has to be quelled by strengthening your nurturing, wise voice. I always have my clients develop a vision of what they will be feeling, thinking, and doing that is different than in the present moment. It is an antidote exercise to cultivate self-generated confidence. It is not a fake, broad ‘you can do this’ affirmation. I encourage specificity and only what my clients can influence – themselves.

My client knew this nurturing voice as he used it with his son. This made it easier to start using this voice with himself. He also got to consciously ponder what attitudes he inherited from his family that he wanted to discard and which ones he wanted to pass on to his son. Breaking our patterns allows us to positively influence those we love.

In speaking with my client, I become conscious of how often I use my inner nurturing voice from years of practice. When I missed an overhead at tennis practice, I mentally noticed the two things I did right BEFORE thinking about how to correct what I did wrong. I reminded myself to hit the ball in front of me rather than saying what I most often hear from the women around me: I can’t believe I did that or how could I…fill in the blank. Given the strength and reinforcement of the critical voice around me, I self-correct constantly. My client told me recently how important it was to be rigorous for the effects to root. He now makes time every day for a self-counseling session where he uses his nurturing voice.

  1. Accept positive feedback from others when genuine.

‘Thank you’ is enough when given compliments. If it is genuine, take it in completely. Notice your patterns of deflecting or feeling you need to say something positive back. These behaviors are steeped in a dominant critical voice and in wanting to be liked. Your nurturing voice will also let you know when the praise is coming from someone else’s lack of confidence. ‘Thank you’ is even more appropriate then, rather than engaging in an inauthentic exchange of platitudes.

  1. Repeat steps over and over.

Self-generated confidence is a practice with valuable repercussions.  Apart from giving you the capacity to be in charge of your confidence level, it performs another core task. It allows you to weigh external evaluation against data from your own assessment. After any speech, presentation, or performance, I evaluate myself so that any other feedback is weighted based on my inner wise self. I focus on what I did well, especially given any challenging circumstances, and note 1-2 things I would do differently. I practice pride dipped in a warm coating of humility and joy.

Lao Tzu, a Chinese philosopher, says: “Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval.”

Self-generated confidence is an essential, often neglected aspect of overall confidence worth cultivating. By increasing your ability to give generously and honestly to yourself and accept positive regard, you can then give it authentically to others. Wellness is contagious and is a gift that never goes out of style.

Familia de Agua

Blood and water, given and chosen.

We are born into a familia that can rarely give us all we require to grow into our full vibrant selves. If I had been told that, I would have saved myself years of resentment and grief, years of trying to squeeze blood from a stone. When I did awaken to this reality, I saw how my life has been filled with people who were my familia de aqua, people who came around when I required a lifeboat to take me to shore. We were born to be raised en comunidad, not in nuclear family silos that breed scarcity and competition. Many spiritual paths understand this and fight to teach this amid the “rugged individualism” of the US culture, seeing relations as a broad notion that signifies connection with all beings.

When I was very young, Gloria was the first person that brought water to my parched corazón. She was raised by my mom’s tía and should have been introduced to us as our aunt. My mom didn’t do that so I didn’t realize for years she was my relation, even if not by blood. She struggled under the harsh judgement of my parents, but her indomitable spirit and cariño seeded love in my heart and allowed me to play and feel delight as a little girl and now as a woman.

The next water woman to enter my life was Judy, a neighbor who gave me unconditional love in my early teens and for many years to come. Even as her own family struggled through challenges, her unwavering belief in my capacity to succeed and flourish stayed strong. Her twin Jill also bolstered my self confidence when we would all be together. Judy, pictured on the left, would even introduce me as her daughter to people who would give us a funny look. They wondered what she meant, since our closeness in age and difference in color tones did not match those words.

I met my buddhist teacher in my early forties and her commitment to my spiritual path set me on a course of fearless intimacy. Having been in a spiritual desert for many years, she guided me into the soto zen practice toward freedom with her  teachings on dismantling and transforming the enduring legacy of oppression. I eventually vowed to live by the buddhist precepts in a jukai ceremony. Ryūmon Sensei’s voice, teachings, and example light my path every day.

In my mid-forties, as I faced my mother’s impending death, I was directed to Tereza, a holistic curandera who welcomed my exhausted spirit. She infused me with fullhearted power to be at peace when the final breath escaped my mom’s mouth and to keep deepening my wisdom and bravery in the years to come. She still guides my journey and shares hers with me as we walk together as healers and peaceful warriors in a world that asks us to develop and bring forth all our gifts to honor our ancestors.

I longed for many years for my mom to be what I was told she would be for me, but once I released that delusion, I could take what she did offer and see her as a human being who did her best. While I could not heal her wounds, my comunidad supported me to heal mine. The practice of accepting what is beneficial and grieving what does not serve my spirit has been of inestimable value in all my relations.

Because of this, I understand and practice the essential and necessary act of stepping in with younger people when the present moment asks that of me. It is a blessing to offer to others what their parents and blood relatives cannot. Breaking through unhealthy patterns of isolation is a liberating opportunity to be in our authentic power and nurture that in others.

I have highlighted specific individuals, but there have also been groups who have encouraged and validated my path. As a writer, I can name many teachers and readers who share their creative wisdom and fierce determination so I can create my very best.

Familia de agua remind us that we are much more than we often believe due to the inequitable strictures of who matters more and less in this society.  It truly takes a village and I am always on the lookout for water kin. I also stay alert for when it is my moment to be familia de agua to the generation who will carry on a legacy of peace, justice, and joy. #52essays

 

 

The Camino

I watched The Way with Martin Sheen (birth name Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez) starring as a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago de Compostelo walking trek. It hearkened memories of my own hitchhike/walking pilgrimage in 1979 with several friends after a study abroad program. He took the French Way and started in France, while we started the same route in northern Spain as depicted on the map.

We only had a few weeks so we walked and hitchhiked to stay within our timeline. I had only told my sister I was hitchhiking, but my mom, querida metiche that she was, went through Susan’s letters and found out. I received a letter admonishing me to stop ‘hijacking’. I was earnestly looking for ways to be open with my parents about my inward and outward journey, but I did not know how to translate it from US born daughter to parents who crossed borders to find a better life. To my mom, this pilgrimage was a sign that I only wanted to be a parrandera and abandon my studies at Stanford.

She acknowledged receiving the pamphlet I sent on the pilgrimage and that it looked muy bonito, but because it meant stopping at churches and convents, she wondered if I was una Sta. Teresita de Jesús o un San Francisco de Asis. She admitted to believing in God, but also in comfort, something she thought I might want to consider. While we did at times scramble to find cheap food and lodging, we soon met a man who gave us a ride and delivered us at a convent where we were treated to a nice bed and warm food by the nuns. After that, they directed us to the next convent that would welcome and house us. Unlike the pilgrimage documented in the movie, we did not stop at the designated locations to get a stamp because we were digressing from the official version and using the kindness of strangers who gave us rides when they saw our trusty hitchhiking hand stuck on the end of a cardboard pole. (Yes, Sherie, I still have it!)

Several moments remain indelible. There was the day we met some motorcyclists and Karen hopped on the back of one for a ride on the winding roads. I felt the terror of her safety, wondering what I would do if she were injured or killed. She was so tough, but she also had a tender side that provoked my protective gene to watch out for her. I breathed a huge sigh when the ride ended.

There were the meal breaks along the road with gente amables or in a small cafe when Sherie would unpack and play her guitar, inviting us to sing:

May all your dreams bloom like daisies in the sun
May you always have stars in your eyes
May you not stop running not until your race is run
And may you always have blue skies

 

Finally, there was the very end of our pilgrimage, walking up to the main cathedral and hearing the bells ring as if they were timed to go off when we arrived. Magical for three young peregrinas who were drinking in the life of being in the present moment without our usual duties and responsibilities. Here is an excerpt from a poem I wrote:
Nos encontramos por un día de nuestro camino
nos unimos con pan, con conversación
el tiempo que tuvimos era bastante para alegrarnos que todavía hay gente buena
nos encontramos hoy con mas esperanza
mientras seguimos nuestro camino por la vida

One day I will return and walk the whole way, hopefully with one or both of my twins. While Santiago de Compostela is an actual journey to a sacred place and shrine, it is a reminder of the other pilgrimages I have taken and am on now, those long journeys or searches of lofty purpose or moral significance. To every writer and artist, every parent and caretaker of a parent, every activist and lover, every monk and educator, every border crosser and rule breaker – I honor and salute your weary feet, tired souls, and unrelenting belief in the power of the human spirit to rise above the hateful, fear mongering acts that surround us daily. Thank you for believing in your amazing dreams in the sun and don’t stop running until your race is run. Ashé. #52essays2017 #weareone

 

 

The WOW Journal

When did you know your life was in danger, your dreams were about to be thrown out with the bathwater, you heart was about to close its doors forever? For me it was when I got the official notice of my rent increase. I had sucked it up the two years before, figuring out a way to pay; convincing myself it was worth it each time I watched the beautiful sunset over Mt. Tam or soaked in the hot tub. But that all dried up in my throat in the late summer of 2014. This time I was gasping, choking in paradise. I wanted to climb up a wall and escape the vice that had been my joy. Taking a few days to settle down, my heartbeat slowed into a rhythm and I considered a multitude of options – apartment mate, cheaper apartment, boat, living with my sister. And then one day my eyes opened, awake with present moment bodhicitta – I no longer needed the panal. I was going to the forest to sit under the bodhi tree and test my life decisions along the way.

What most people said when I revealed I was giving up my ‘palace’ in Larkspur and being intentionally without a permanent address was WOW.

A friend noted I would be going from wild city Giants championship parade horde to monkish, rural Grass Valley in a day. I delight in the contrary combos. Stopping for an In’nOut meal before landing in a seven day silent, vegetarian sesshin. Wearing sexy undies with well traveled jeans. Applying hot pink lipstick before a sweaty winner-take-all playoff tennis match.

In some ways this journey was about failure. Failure to finish my books in the bay area, failure to build my business. Failure to find true love. Failure to build a nest my teens wanted to rest in. Failure to adapt to congestion. Failure to earn what it costs to live here with space and time freedom. Failure to want a job, to fulfill other people’s dreams, to give up my truth to be liked, failure to say what others want to hear. Failure to play small or do what I already know what to do.

What did I do and what did I learn in the early fall of 2014? I released 90% of my ‘worldly possessions’ and drove to Grass Valley to stay with a friend who was recovering from knee surgery and snuggle with her gata, Miss Mittens Marie. The goal was to finish my memoir, develop my speaking and writing life, build my business, and get into great shape in a quiet environment. I covered the barbed wire of fears with a thick blanket of determination and trust and prepared to scale the mountain of prosperity and heightened well being. I found as the days passed I could not fall back on my past experiences and knowledge. The words of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi rang true: In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few. My mind said I could do it all well because I had so much wisdom. I re-learned to beware the expert’s mind, which can be more dangerous than barbed wire.

 

I sold my first gen Prius sooner than planned when the battery failed after almost 200,000 miles. I bought and crashed my motorcycle, derailing my get into great shape plan. I sent my memoir to an editor, increased my business skills with no resulting monetary results, and lost and found my faith again and again. I moved to another friend’s home in December and discovered car sharing opportunities. Instead of home and car upkeep, I poured over my calendar figuring out how to get where I wanted to go, both in terms of goals and public transportation, always written in pencil. I re-learned that detours are to be expected, especially if you are atrevida enough to aim high.

I embarked on a series of trips in March, April and May, including the AWP writer’s conference in Minneapolis, MN, a special celebration of Las Comadres para las Americas in Austin, TX, and a family visit in México. I began the arduous process of querying agents about my memoir – finding, among other reasons, that my failure to be famous and/or addicted stymied agents’ interest in representing me.

I re-learned that even if you are on the right path, taking risks means dead ends are inevitable and signal a strategic moment to pause. My reptilian brain kicked in with each rejection, sending triggers to my body and spirit to shut down my love of writing and ‘settle’. My frontal lobe would then kick into creative mode, gather all of my information to create a new approach, and then figure out what other options existed. Being unmoored meant I could go in any direction I wanted and  pivot quickly because I was not beholden to a location, person, idea, or organization. My molecules never settled, reminding me  that ‘unsettling’ for a buddhist is akin to groundlessness, right where I wanted to be. I was instead required to internally moor myself spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.

I began a month-long house sit with a cat named Jezebel who, like me, yearned to tunnel in the underbrush and tiptoe precariously along the top of fences to explore the great, bright, shiny unknown. Wise people know it is skillful to get help when necessary, so I hired a coach who pointed out I interrupted myself before finishing my sentences, signaling too many balls in the air. His advice was to focus on what I loved and did well – coaching as a steady base to maintain homeostasis.

I re-learned to keep your head up amid the narrow, shadowy zone of 1 step forward, 1 step sideways, 1 step back, 1 step forward. It required me to dance away from ‘how do I’ to trust my inner wisdom and unrelenting persistence rather than sink into comparisons. People were too busy with their own challenges to reach their goals to judge me. In fact, they were still saying ‘WOW’. I re-learned releasing anxiety about outcomes opens up space to connect with your higher self and that of others.

 

In July I journeyed to Green Gulch Farm and Zen Center to meditate in a sangha, wash dishes, shake compost through a screen, thin fennel, and hike to Muir beach. My emotional and spiritual gas tank filled and I received an email on the second to last day that I was accepted to Squaw Valley Community of Writers conference to begin in 2 days. The stars aligned for me to catch a ride and room with a dear colega de escritura. These brief moments of community were precious in between the constant leaving and joining, coming and going with solitude my constant companion. I re-learned to STAY until the mud settles and opportunities can be seen in the clear water.

In July I rented a room near my Larkspur palace and re-connected with my yoga studio, Toastmasters club, and the beauty of Marin. I queried two more agents, had two essays accepted for publication and coached people through gentle nutritional cleanses. I started a many months process of navigating the bay area after abandoning my 40 year addiction to the car culture. I re-learned that strong bridges wait for your return, like a trusted friend.

 

The road more traveled has never appealed to me. No one ever believed I would be the settled one. I had the fifteen addresses in ten years, the sixteen soccer teams, myriad salsa classes, the multiple occupations. No one said- Yes, she will find one man, one house, one job, one favorite dress. She will wear a pair of shoes until they fall off her feet, she will have one sports team from birth to death. That was not what was said.

Many wish to be young again with the wisdom of our experiences; that is much of how I felt during my year wandering in the watery forest. I left the harbor and like Mission Impossible, it blew up – I did not want to have the option of returning to my previous life and mindset. Instead, I embraced my focus on possessions that we carry with us no matter where we travel. After a year of no permanent address, I again chose Marin as my home base, living in a ‘treehouse’ cottage with light and a view. It was time to rest. The journey brought back a renewed commitment to the lessons that unfolded and that I carry with me as I continue to roam madre tierra.

#52essays2017

 

 

Read it and Run

I became a whitewater river guide the year I held my last j-o-b. That would be 1992. It was a rocky beginning at guide school and in my new path with self-employment, but the river has more than made up for that in life-long lessons since then that are true on and off the water.

Right Attire
Enjoying the beauty and being safe on the river requires having the right attire and equipment. On the river it would be a hat that won’t fall off, clothes that dry quickly, shoes or sandals that will stay on, and a life jacket that squeezes you enough to know it will stay with you if you end up in the water. Off the river, this is still necessary. I think of it as a uniform. I have my working at home uniform, my being in public uniform, my workout uniform, and my fiesta uniform, por dar unos ejemplos. They all require a different attitude and there is a purpose for each. It is not about bowing down to other people’s requirements or expectations. It is about setting myself up for success so I can focus on my goals and aspirations.

Right Company
I am very intentional to bring people on the river who did not grow up feeling comfortable in water and who add racial/ethnic diversity to the natural world. As a river guide, I assess and then re-assess the strengths and growth areas of the folks in my boat because I count on them to listen to me and trust my leadership. I am not expecting perfection, but the strengths have to balance out so that the raft does not veer too much to the left or right. I also make sure we are all seated in a posture like a tripod, balancing on our two feet and our butt, allowing for the best use of our power and for avoiding a spill into the river.

Right Directions
To get down the river, I have to know and use the right commands at the right times. To be a guide is to speak up often, loudly, and con ganas. Your voice is your most important asset. Just like a car, the raft can go in five directions. Paddle forward, back paddle, right turn, and left turn. In many ways, the most important command is the fifth: STOP! This allows for the pause necessary to change direction, to celebrate success, to catch your breath, and to drink water. People tend to wonder ‘why you would paddle backwards on a moving river’? Why would you do this on land? Sometimes the best plan is to pull away from danger rather than hit it head on.

Right Effort
More than anything, as a guide my goal is to stay in the current. It is the true meaning of going with the flow, connecting with the river’s knowledge of the most efficient path to your destination. My most important tool to stay in the current is the guide paddle, which has a longer handle and blade. I am the rudder,  quietly moving the raft or course-correcting my paddlers to create even power on both sides.

Right Thinking
As the guide, I am always looking a few curves ahead, like a chess player who makes every move with the next few in mind. In essence, I am setting my raft and paddlers up to manage the dangers and thrills of the river with grace and ease. I also know that the best laid plans are full of rocks hidden just below the surface of the water, paddlers who get distracted just as I call a command, or of other rafts who may not understand the etiquette of river collaboration. Thus, the plan that ultimately works is to read the river and then run it. Being in the present moment is the intention and truest approach of every guide, on and off the water.

Right Decision
Inevitably, someone, including the guide, may fall in the river. The instructions are to listen to the voice of the guide to tell you what to do, even if they are the ones swimming. Generally someone will pull you into a boat. Nice if it is the boat you fell out of, but any boat will do. If far away, then perhaps the best option is to lay on your back with your feet up to push away from any danger like a rock, using your hands as paddles, and your life jacket as flotation to hold you up. If in breaking waves, you breathe in the troughs between waves. The one who falls in has the best story, even if they also have the most moments to feel the power of the river and sport a few bruises.

Right Timing
If you are excited about becoming a river guide, summer is the time to be trained in an art that will spill out into your daily life. The river is life, beauty abounding, dangers known and unknown, with destinations worth every minute of quiet, determined effort with people joined by trust and circumstance. I became a river guide in my late thirties and trained with a woman in her mid-fifties. She is still guiding in her late seventies. The force is strong in her.

If being a guide is not your path, than getting on the river is a great option. My first trip was down the Colorado river and the ability to be in such splendor was breath-taking. Yes, I fell in. Yes, I got distracted by the huge waves and didn’t paddle when I should have. These days I guide and paddle on the South Fork of the American river, located northeast of Sacramento, California. It is new for me every time, as is every day I wake up with gratitude for being alive.

Right Ending
What the river teaches me is that a life of ease and joy requires a Plan A, B, and C. When that fails, as it will repeatedly, remember to read life and run it with your heart, mind, and spirit to guide you. They will not fail you, especially if you fall out of your safe zone. #52essays2017