Monthly Archives: November 2009

Life Coaching Sucks

I hate the “life coach” industry. In theory, I support the idea of accreditation, training, and certification because there’s a lot of opportunity in life coaching for charlatans who aren’t actually helping people.  But does every site you get to by Googling “life coach” have to be so sales-y? So “sign up for FREE Stuff and get $100 off coach training“? So often leading with the financial rewards of coaching? Does it have to read like multi-level marketing, that you should GET a life coach to decide if you want to BE a life coach? Or, pay thousands of dollars to get credentialed because you aren’t GOOD ENOUGH if you don’t have a specialized credential. It makes never want to be a life coach when I read these sites.

I want to help people. My friends have been coming to me for years for help with the life transitions, dealing with difficult people, and needing to make sense of their lives. I even have friends of friends seek me out for support. However, I don’t want to turn into some flashy marketing & sales person who spends thousands of dollars to have someone else tell me I’m good enough to do this. I just need to find the people in the market for a life coach who hate this side of the industry as much as I do.

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Clarity in Chaos

Am I just doomed to be around dysfunctional addicts all my life? No. I want to be around, to love people who question the “functional” world we live in, but are willing to create new ways to be functional in a dysfunctional world. I want to be around creative, courageous people how are willing to face their overwhelming feelings, not always dealing with the perfectly, but having the courage to face them, not run from them.

– journal entry from September 10, 2003

Clarity in Chaos

I’m always a little shocked how insightful I was early in my waking up, how little my desires have changed in the past 6 years. My memory of that time period was that I was completely confused and lost. I don’t remember having any capacity to know what my feelings or desires were, much less any ability to express them with clarity in the first 20 pages of ever keeping a journal in my life. I remember fumbling through work with my first therapist, catching a glimmer even then that I needed more space in my workaholic life and more attention to my disordered eating patterns. Yet I remember resisting even the smallest changes, like taking a full year to put pen to paper after my therapist gave me a journal. I don’t remember anything resembling the clarity I obviously had. Confirmation of clarity only comes when we have some hindsight that yes, even 6 years later this is still what I want.

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Distracting Food

I set an intention this month to relish pleasure in my life, and thus renounce mindless pleasure seeking. The primary place I struggle with this is eating food. I love good food, but so seldom allow myself to really enjoy it. I often sit down to eat with a television program or a book, distracting my mind with other pleasures rather than focusing on the pleasure at hand. It’s a long-standing habit, and is related to my use of food to numb out my feelings. Adding other distractions to the food allows me to feel even more numb and distracted, which helps me feel safe and less overwhelmed.

Mmmmmm ... cookies!I made a small batch of no-bake cookies last night, one of my favorite foods from childhood. For every cookie, I’ve sat down specifically to enjoy the cookie. I look at it closely, and sometimes smell it to add to my anticipation. I take that first bite and let the oatmeal roll around in my mouth so I can taste the mixture of chocolate and almond butter that permeates the cookies. They are small cookies, perfect for finishing in three bites before I get distracted from the task of tasting. Even just sitting with the taste of those cookies for a few seconds feels like an eternity. Unfortunately, it’s not in a way that is an eternity of pleasure. It’s more a terror in staying in the present moment, a desire to check out as soon as I can, a worry that if I stop being able to check out with cookies, I’ll stop being able to check out when life is just too overwhelming.

Head West

Head west, young (wo)man. What else is there to do when everything you believe in is disintegrating under your acidic gaze, slipping through your grubby fingers even as you try to grab on to the fading tendrils of reality? When life gets so convoluted that the only thing that gets you excited anymore is the thought of living out of your car for three months … that’s when you head west.

Unfortunately, once you start the journey you realize that heading west is more of a placebo than a panacea. It doesn’t actually fix whatever problems underlie the desire to head west, but it does make your head think things are better, if just for a bit.

The idea of heading west is a better pill than the actual western experience. As long as it all stays in your head, you can believe that the enormous sky and snow-capped Rockies can engulf your emotional anxiety and wash it clean away.

Maybe there was a time when heading west wasn’t just a placebo, when Route 66 wasn’t just a few dilapidated Main Streets now called Business I-40, when the road was brand new and not cracked from disuse and disrepair, when the road was more important than the destination itself. Maybe there was a time when the asphalt/concrete of Route 66 itself seeped miracle cures for heartache, loneliness, and the quiet desperation bred by a consuming consumer lifestyle. Maybe those times are just the stories we like to tell ourselves about how things used to be, hoping against hope that at some point in the history of the world there must have been an easy pill to pop, an obvious action to take, a simple road to drive on to pull our lives back together.

– journal entry from my move to Durango, March 4, 2004

Buddhist Beginnings

I believe that I first started to practice Buddhism on a fall afternoon in Athens, Georgia in 2003. While I had taken a course on Buddhism in college in the late 90s, it had remained a purely intellectual pursuit. Early in 2003, I started going to Al-Anon meetings, as my partner at the time had become an alcoholic before my eyes. I’d resisted going for months, terrified of going to a meeting that talked about God when I was living in the middle of the Bible Belt. Once I was desperate enough to go anyway, I met other people searching for a spiritual path when all the traditional paths had failed them. One friend I met there decided to pack up her home and go to India for a few months. I offered to help her pack, because I’d appreciated her insight and was sad I was not going to be interacting with her for months.

While at her home, she gave me Pema Chodron’s book When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (Shambhala Classics). I knew this was a book I needed to know intimately when I turned to page 1 and read the first chapter quotation: “Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.” All I felt during this time was fear: fear that he would leave, even greater fear that he would stay; fear that I would do the wrong thing, fear of what would happen if I did the right thing; fear of whether he would survive without me propping him up, fear of whether I would survive a life of propping him up.

So I read and read, and learned about nonattachment, compassion, and just being with the feelings that were swirling in me. I most remember during that time feeling a strong desire to act, to fix things, to just do something, but finding the courage to do nothing. As Pema Chodron says directly, “Usually we feel that there’s a large problem and we have to fix it. The instruction is to stop. Do something unfamiliar. Do anything besides rushing off in the same old direction, up to the same old tricks” (p. 137). My old tricks had got me in a pretty miserable place, so I was willing to try something else, anything else. Sometimes the gift of suffering is that our desperation makes us try something new.

The first in the “What is Practice?” series.

Refusing Renunciation

To Renounce:

Leaving it all behind on the path

Definition 1 : to give up, refuse, or resign usually by formal declaration

I chafe at the Buddhist concept of renunciation. I have too long lived a life of renunciation – but based on outside references about what I should do or who I should be. Or based on internalize references that said if I only renunciated a little more, if only I needed a little bit less, then perhaps I would receive the love I so desperately wanted. Neither of these is a path of renunciation based on a desire for good living, wise living, awake living. Rather than renunciation, they are perhaps annihilation.

Definition 2 : to refuse to follow, obey, or recognize any further

Being “Off Trajectory” is about refusing to follow any external references that say I “should” or “must” follow some particular path. It is about following my own rules, my own heart, even if it leads me into a place that appears far from renunciation. Because I lived too long renouncing my desires based on external ideas about what I should do, my path now leads me on a pendulum swing back toward reveling in sensuality. While this appears to be the opposite of renunciation as typically thought of, its truly a renouncing that external rules will bring happiness and contentment. I’m sure I’m not the only one who needs to enjoy the senses in order to break out of this Puritan work ethic into something with more freedom.

What is Practice?

In Buddhist circles, people talk regularly about our “practice.” In introducing ourselves, we ask “How long have you been practicing?” Most people have a simple answer, “Oh I’ve been practicing about 15 years now” or “I just started practicing a few months ago.”

When I’m asked this question, I panic. My story of practice has always felt more complicated than that. I usually fumble through an answer, “Well, I’ve been applying Buddhist principles to my life for 8 years. About 5 years ago, I started seeing a therapist who helped me calm down and learn to be mindful of the experiences going on in my body. But up until the last few months, I completely panicked if I sat in meditation for more than 5 minutes. So, um, some time in there my practice started.” When I’ve actually launched into that, people just look a little confused and unsure whether to tell me when they think I started, or just go talk to someone else who is a little less complicated.

I’m going to use my panic as a sign to look more deeply. What is practice? What does it mean to “start a practice” and what activities are required in order for one to say, “I have a practice”? I am writing a series of posts that look at my own history with mindfulness practice, to try to make sense of this seemingly uncomplicated question of “How long have you been practicing?”