Reclaiming Self

The innocence of children
Children, relatively free of protective patterns of behaviour

When we are born into this world we are innocent (in my belief system) and unfettered by protective patterns of behaviour. As we experience life, encounter pain of varying kinds, we learn to erect protections to keep us safe. These become increasingly complex as layer upon layer of protection is established in response to all that life throws at us. Each protection requires energy from us to support and maintain, and as a consequence robs us of our life force and capacity to freely respond to life. It is often a crisis that makes us aware of how our behaviours interfere with our ability to engage with life in a meaningful way. We may experience ourselves as “too…”, an indication that our internal Critic or Judge (or external, when heard from those around us) considers us as having wandered from appropriate expression. Examples include “too volatile”, “too reserved”, “too pleasing”, “too aggressive” and any number of other judgements, singularly or in combination. These behaviours, when the judgement has some merit, have typically been developed in response to our needs being unmet and us seeking to satisfy them to the point that the behaviours become patterns that are applied without conscious thought, long past their use by date.

In becoming aware of such behaviours, perhaps through the failure of relationships, difficulties fitting in, negative feedback from multiple sources etcetera, the question then arises ‘What should I do about me?’ The process then becomes a matter of reclaiming oneself and finding ways of freeing our life force, returning to a spontaneous, creative and adaptive way of living, being better able to respond positively to the present.

In my own life this process started with a crisis of identity in my early 30s and has subsequently seen me free myself up and how I live and present myself to the world, an ongoing process. Earlier this year the surprise need for life-saving surgery plunged me into a whole new cycle of self-reclamation. The process of recovering from surgery required adapting to the loss of hearing in one ear, and developing physiological strategies to compensate for impairment in my balance processes. The physical recovery, while being a challenge, has been easier in many respects than the process of reclaiming my concept of self. In many respects it is as if the surgery sliced through significant protective mechanisms and unleashed old patterns of thought and feeling that I haven’t seen since I was a teenager and that I found particularly difficult in the first instance. Now, it is difficult seeing poor concepts of Self return, but at least they do so in an environment where I know I can process and work through them in a constructive fashion. In a sense, a very real sense, I’m back to dealing with old issues all over again. The reality however is that I am now working at a much deeper level, as if I have taken the head off and am cleaning out an infectious boil, rather than dealing with a superficial spot. While the issues are similar, feel very familiar, and are, I am better equipped to deal with this new level of emotional healing than I have been previously. The act of staying engaged with what arises within me, riding the wave as it forms rather than trying to escape it, will eventually lead to me being freer than ever before.

Some ways of engaging in the process of reclaiming Self include:

  • develop capacity to identify and observe behaviours in yourself that do not fit well relative to how you would prefer to be and what would work best in your context
  • develop love and acceptance of self that is free of needing to understand why you behave as you do and that opens you up to being able to forgive yourself unconditionally
  • define your core values, life purpose, vision and mission which will provide you with clarity about how you would prefer to live and present yourself to the world, something to aspire to
  • establish goals for moving forward into new, more productive, behaviours
  • find trusted individuals who are able to provide you with love, support, and constructive feedback
  • recognise that life is an ongoing journey and while you may have a preference for where you end up, and how you behave, perfection is out of the question and any vision you hold is a guide rather than an edict that must be obeyed at all costs
  • appreciate the fog that arises when life serves you growth opportunities, and allow that fog to water your life as rain does fertile soil

Through these approaches we can reclaim our lives, incrementally bring ourselves back to a fully free and available space to manifest our full, unfettered potential.

In The Zone

Guidance and companionship
Two companions journeying together

Last weekend I co-facilitated a weekend for men, and came away energised and enthused. When I work in alignment with my purpose I experience ease and lightness in my being. I become more energised, enthused and engaged with life, and have complete certainty I am doing what I am meant to be doing. When I am off purpose I get tired and restless even if I am satisfied from doing a good job; on purpose, I soar.

I have several deeply held statements of vision, purpose and contract with myself that ground me in my life. When I drift from them I feel a degree of disturbance that highlights the distance, and that acts as a call to return. The statement that sings most fully to me at present is: I am the wise guide who walks with and walks by the weary traveller at the temple of love and transformation. For me, this speaks to how I function when I work with others through transformative periods and processes. I do have value to offer. The other person is there as a self-directed, autonomous being. My contribution arises from having been through significant transformation as I have journeyed through life, and carrying the wisdom of such experience. I am available, have much to offer, and it is the traveller’s own choice whether to engage with me. It is also for them to determine what to adopt of what I have to offer. As a guide I offer or invite. Compulsion, coercion and demand have no place.

The joy for me from last weekend was from profoundly engaging with men who chose to have me as their guide, who fully owned their desire to create something more workable in their lives, and who courageously stepped forward and did their work. I was present. I offered suggestions, support and invitations along the way. The results were and are all theirs. They continue their journey owning their own wisdom that I may have assisted them to connect with.

The process of engaging with your own work, deciding to transform your life, and to step forward into the unknown with determination is an extremely courageous and powerfully liberating act. My privilege is to be party to some precious moments as an invited guide. When I am in that space, I know I am in my zone, doing the work that aligns with my purpose.

Do you know what your purpose is and where your zone is?

 

Ripples From Authenticity

Rodriquez Signing autographs in 2007
Rodriquez Signing autographs in 2007

I love inspirational stories of people who triumph over the odds, who defy the norm, and come up trumps against significant challenges, who in the process have manifest extraordinary inner strength. I have just come across another hero, and in this case the amazing feat was his authenticity. The movie ‘Searching for Sugar Man‘ won an academy award in 2012, but I have only just seen it, and found myself deeply moved.

In the 1970’s Rodriguez wrote and performed two albums that were phenomenal flops in the USA, ‘Cold Fact’ and ‘Coming from Reality’. Practically no one knew he existed. Yet, unbeknownst to him, copies of his music were circulating and inspiring a generation of people within South Africa. His earthy words and messages provoked recognition that the norm does not have to be accepted, particularly the political establishment, and his work inspired musicians during the rise against apartheid in their expression. My wife grew up in South Africa in the period and was well aware of this man and encouraged me to the movie.

Rodriguez came and went without being noticed within the USA, and carried on with his labouring near poverty while his name and music was stirring a nation. In South Africa it was believed he had committed suicide, with several grizzly stories circulating. Rodriguez was eventually discovered alive and well by South African fans seeking to learn more of their star. He subsequently performed a number of concerts to sell-out crowds of thousands, and did so with a modesty and groundedness that belied the newness of such adoration to him.

For me, the fantastic lesson and inspiration is how Rodriguez lived and played his music with authenticity, true to who he was, both in writing and singing, and also in failing as he continued with his labouring career, and even later attempted running for political office. His motivation was he wanted to make a difference. His authenticity touched millions, went so very far beyond anything he knew existed, and it was only luck or serendipity that he learned he was a fabulous hit for a people he had no reason to know, millions of them. And in finding out, he was comfortably the same, as unchanged as any person could be with sudden fame, and my admiration increased as a result. Rodriquez is a reminder that when we align with our purpose and live it, we can have a fantastic impact on lives around is, and may never know it. Sometimes we may be blessed with a glimpse of what we have created with our life.

Are you living your purpose? Are you true to who you are regardless feedback? Do you love and accept yourself and know your worth, even if the world has not caught on to support your belief? Are you living with authenticity to who you are even if there is no evidence that it serves any greater purpose?

Master the Inner Critic When it Matters Most

Inner Critic
Inner Critic

Anyone can be positive on a good day, but how do you regain a positive sense of self when you are suffering doubt or have a rampant internal critic, and you need to authentically front up with confidence and belief in self? Perhaps you’ve had a bad performance review, lost your job, messed up in some way, or some other trigger has magnified your inner critical voice that suggests you’re inadequate. Maybe you don’t need external circumstances to trigger negativity and self-doubt. What can be done at such a time to reclaim a positive sense of self?

Some approaches that can help at such times include:

  • Own your [negative] state of mind, that you are beating yourself up, that it is not helpful, and that you are the one who needs to make that different. Awareness, acceptance and self-responsibility are important.
  • Acknowledge that there is a purpose to the negativity. The critic is attempting to keep you safe from further pain, whether based on fear of failure, rejection, disappointment or some other potential hurt. Thank the critic for its efforts to keep you safe, and gently request the protection to cease. Retraining the critic in a loving manner is an important, long-term activity.
  • Take some time to connect with your value as an individual. It helps to have done some work on this prior to a negative state, but it is not essential that you have. Identify and name positive qualities that replace the messages from the critic. Invite people you trust to contribute if you cannot find much to work with. The process asserts your value against the voice of negativity. Each positive quality you identify and claim creates more space for your positive sense of self, asserting your position on this planet as worthwhile, and edges out the critic (for a while at least).
  • Maybe you have done something that did not work as desired or was plainly wrong. Love, accept and forgive yourself. There is no need to understand what you did or why to move into a positive place, though some form of rectification may be necessary at some point to truly move beyond it.
  • Before a negativity outbreak, identify and write a genuine statement of personal purpose that is truly inspiring. When feeling negative recall and connect with the purpose, a way of pulling yourself out of the ditch. I have personal dream, life purpose and contract statements that I recall when I need to return to my centre. I have used them many times over the years.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I hope you find it helpful. In the future I will write more about each point, or you can buy my book and get a fuller concept quickly.

What Will My Legacy Be?

Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China, a national legacy

Following on from my previous blog entry, another train of thought that arose for me as I attended Christina’s funeral service last week was related to my legacy.

  • What will I be remembered for?
  • What value will my presence in this world have added?
  • How will others’ remember me?
  • What would I like to be remembered for?

As I reflected on different stages of my life, I recognised that my legacy and how I would be remembered has changed over time. Twenty years ago I founded the Project Management Institute (PMI) New Zealand chapter, and subsequently served on the international board of PMI. At that point in my life I would have been remembered by a good number of project managers around the world, and some may have thought, “Stephen added value to my career. He made a difference to this profession.”

My ideas about what is important have changed (dare I say ‘matured’?) with time. That question, ‘what do I want to be remembered for?’ is much more significant for me now. I realise that I need to act congruently with my life purpose. I now have more of a clue what that is for me. When I am ‘on purpose’ I have energy and passion that I experience in no other way. I know that when I live in tune with my life purpose I don’t care what people will remember me for. Nor do I care how they judge me now. Instead I live my life for me. Then, I am fully intent on living a meaningful and satisfying life that engages my head, heart and gut in pursuing what truly matters to me. In doing that I maximise the likelihood of creating real value in my life that may benefit others, but that is a bonus, not the motivation. And I am getting better at staying connected with my purpose and living it.

What would you like to be remembered for? Are you living your life in line with your purpose? If not, when will you start doing so?