being human

My tribe

There are many tools for navigating our human thoughts and emotions so that we can stay grounded, balanced and empowered on our life journey. I know many people have an idea that they are looking for something outside of themselves to assist them but I have found that (most) everything I need is right here inside of me.

There have been many different practices, therapies and events from which I have discovered the particular tools I utilize and how to improvise with them. One of my favorite and most helpful tools is the relationship I have with what I call my ‘Inner Tribe’. I have written about this before but I thought it might be helpful to write more about the way I work with my Inner Tribe. The particulars of how I have figured this out for myself have changed my life immensely and my relationship to it continues to evolve every day.

Often when I refer to my ‘parts’ it seems a bit confusing for people to understand the extent to which I work with this metaphoric tool but I have found such incredible insight and ability to fully love myself through my growing into it, that it seems significant to say more.

When I speak about my ‘parts’ I am basically referring to the abundance of dynamics, emotions, thoughts and ego nuances within myself that can include or influence such things as belief systems shaped in my youth, self-protecting mechanisms picked up through my life, any form of conditioning or consistent ‘inner voice’ that influences my behavior or emotions. I feel there is really no limit to the many overtones that comprise our personalities and inner landscape. Some of these are more obvious while others are often moving and shaking behind the scenes but influence us none the less. My curiosity is around the parts and inner dialogue that cause me to contract or feel small… that get in the way of my loving and accepting myself fully and without judgement.

I first articulated this sense of Inner Tribe to myself about 10 years ago. The discovery came from noticing that when I would have any self deprecating thoughts there was typically a voice connected to them. This less than nourishing inner commentary or belief would be fairly consistent and there was no removing it by force or convincing it through rational mind. I finally realized these outspoken ‘parts’ that were creating limitations or depressions in me actually believed they had a valid reason for what they were saying and imposing. It was at this point I had the idea to ask them directly what they needed from ‘me’ and then actually listen to what they told me. (The radical piece of this was the ‘listening’ to them and truly caring.) Over many months I persisted in asking, being curious without judgement and being patient. They didn’t always say much or even acknowledge my question (and yes, there is a healthy amount of allowing for imagination, trust and intuition in this practice) but with patience I gradually found they would talk to me and tell me about how they were feeling and why. I would even make dates with them if they were feeling quiet and make sure to keep that date. I never stood them up for any reason…..especially if I was feeling better or perhaps they were no longer acting out. I did this because I recognized that the key here was in developing the relationship through trust and consistency not to mention the opportunity to talk with them during neutral & untriggered times when I would actually have more resource. I needed to show these parts I cared and didn’t just want to get rid of them and I needed to be able to learn and open in the process. I gradually came to understand that more than anything the majority of my parts simply wanted to be heard, most importantly, by me. When they began to trust I was actually available for them (and listening) they slowly began integrating with what I call the ‘wise woman’ me. They were no longer trying to get something and act out for their ‘needs’…..they felt more complete and could then include themselves in the ‘me’ that is wise and fully present in the NOW…..the me that feels no sense of lacking or limitations and is fully in the present moment. The Wise Woman is all of my Inner Tribe or parts working in unison without distress.

I want to keep clarifying that ‘parts’, ‘inner tribe’ and ‘me’ are all the same (along with any number of other metaphors or labels). These parts or inner tribe are comprised of my younger/adolescent feelings, the self depreciating thoughts, the emotions that take over in any moment that can disconnect me from my power or create a sense of inadequacy or ‘less than’. (It also includes all the vibrant and joyful aspects)… is everything I experience and the thoughts and emotions connected. In this writing I am specifically focusing on the relationship I have with the ones that have wreaked havoc or have had an unhealthy impact when they are left to their own devices.

Another way I can explain how I interact with this is through my relationship with my 8 yr old, Asa. Whenever he is having feelings or ‘acting out’ with sadness, anger, fear I meet him with unconditioned love. I think about how I listen to him when he shares and would never dream of blowing him off if I have made a date with him nor would I judge him for his feelings. I don’t criticize him or think less of him for his feelings and I am able to create boundaries with care and wisdom. When I realized this about my connection with him I began to imagine how I could show that same level of love, wisdom and compassion towards my Inner Tribe/parts/me. Knowing and loving him has taught me so much about loving all of my parts without conditions.

The cool thing about this practice is that it works in any situation for me. Let me offer a simple example……
Let’s say I am at a party talking with people and I notice that something in the conversation pushes a button (or two) in me because I start to observe my thoughts and/or behavior change. Perhaps I start to contract physically or the manner in which I am talking is now from imbalanced/younger parts or ones trying to prove something/or make someone else feel ‘less than’ (so they can feel ‘better’). When I notice this happening I send a general question to all my parts (all of me) and ask ‘who is talking right now’ try to see what is happening for them. (After all these years I am able to do this inner work while staying engaged at the party. I think this is due to the substantial amount of mutual trust with my parts so they speak more readily and share their perspectives.) The general reason quite often is that this part(s) feels inadequate in some way or ‘less than’. I don’t try to talk them out of their feeling but instead I acknowledge what they share without judgement, perhaps hold them or hold space for them and simply show up with unconditioned love.
I engage in this practice of dialogue to cultivate my relationship with this part(s) of me (the inner tribe) and so that the part can hopefully reach a point of integration with the whole and have less need to act out.

The main experience I want to convey here is more about the empowered and direct sense with which I address these thoughts/parts. I recognize these emotions or thought patterns as active parts (or members of a tribe) within me and engage them as I would a child with which I feel unconditional love and I am never trying to ‘get rid’ of them or ‘fix’ them. The honest challenge here for me is to simply Love them…..and continue to bring more love to each scenario where they act out or impose their needs or beliefs.

Another metaphor I use is called ‘driving the car’. When I notice something is ‘up’ for me or I am feeling agitated, sad or challenged in any way……I send out a general question to my Inner Tribe that basically asks ‘who is in the drivers seat right now’ because I know it isn’t my fully integrated Wise Woman. I recognize some other part has taken the wheel and is driving the car (aka: driving how I am feeling). I generally don’t get some detailed image of the part (it is sometimes a sense or a form but not clear identity or specifics) but I get the gist of their energy, why they wanted to drive/take control and I simply ask if I can ride shotgun. This approach started as a surprise to these parts as they had been used to a less welcoming acknowledgement in the past. But I typically get in the passenger seat without trying to take the keys or take over. I sometimes ask if I can turn the radio on, make small talk and generally hang out with them…..I just give them space all the while keeping everyone safe and a sense of boundaries for reckless driving. Eventually I let them know I enjoy driving and if they ever get tired I would be happy to take the wheel. Amazingly, these parts almost always hand over the keys and are happy for me to drive. And the important aspect of this is I don’t kick them to the curb and drive away as fast as I can…..I make sure they are with me riding shotgun now and we continue to hang out together. We get to bond and this bond is what nurtures the trust and mutual respect and compassion between us. Somewhere along the drive they integrate back with the Tribe and I have found they have less and less need to actually want to drive the car or act out. My sense is that they are getting their needs met, they are being heard and held and that is all they ever wanted in the first place so now they can simply relax and ‘evolve’ into the full ‘me’.

I realize a metaphor is only as helpful as it relates to the individual so I would encourage you to riff on these or feel creative with customizing new ones. As I said at the beginning of this writing….I believe most of what we need to learn and the tools for it are already within us. Sometimes it is a matter of finding the words and images that become bridges for this practice of the self.
The metaphors I have shared here have been amazing bridges and allies for teaching me there is no reason for not fully loving myself every moment of the day. And this has changed my life.
Truly, all of my parts are a blessing and challenge and the tribe is ever changing…..but like raising a child…… I fully commit to being there through it all.

being human



…….is fascinating.

Just look at the word above and see what it elicits from within you.

It’s more than a word… is a whole ecosystem that is vast in scope and persistent in the human experience.
If we let go of discussing the many religious affinities…… we still have so much left to reflect upon (even if it is perhaps fueled by religious lineage).

Let’s make a short list of some potential guilt triggers:
-Eating (or not eating) certain things
-A choice made during a major life event
-An action taken that affected someone else adversely
-Simply feeling happy
-‘Awkward’ social interactions
-Forgetting to send that birthday card

Guilt is also something we find utilized as a technique for influencing the behavior of others:
-A parent with a child
-A partner with their intimate
-An organization with its members
-Advertisers toward consumers

……and I am sure you could add even more to these lists.  Guilt is also powerful at its most subtle and I think this contributes to its continued life span and affect.

I personally feel ‘guilt’ has no real value (which I can imagine stirs any number of responses) and is a non-growthful mechanism.
I have had some argue that guilt is what helps guide your behavior in a society. But for me that is the role or job of the ‘conscience’.
The definition of conscience is:
an aptitude, faculty, intuition, or judgment of the intellect that distinguishes right from wrong. Moral evaluations of this type may reference values or norms (principles and rules)

So, if we have conscience to do the work of assessing our choices….what is the role of guilt?

(And to clarify….I feel guilt is different from the natural and balanced process of remorse that we sometimes experience and transform throughout our life. I think remorse left to fester can become the weight of guilt and no longer a process but a location.)

Guilt feels like it keeps us dwelling in the past as opposed to living in the now or the possibility of future.
Our conscience is what helps us reflect on our choices/behaviors and decide if might have ‘fallen short’,  need to make amends or grow in a certain aspect of ourselves. But guilt on the other hand seems to tether us and limit us. It can become a resident presence within us.

Here is the thing about the past……we have the ability to choose how we perceive it and feel about it. We get to choose how we tell the story. This is not saying you can change the things that have happened in the past nor is this saying you should be ‘dishonest’. I am simply saying you can change how you feel about the events of the past because they don’t exist except as a memory or as a perception we tell ourselves and others. You can decide how you would like to tell the story of your past in which it is more supportive for your growth in the now and energy you take into your future. Not always a simple unwinding….. but with practice this becomes an amazing tool for personal growth.

Perhaps ask yourself where guilt has become habitual? Think about any or all the moments in the course of a day or week where you feel guilty or ‘bad’ about something (no matter how small….because they accumulate).
Is it possible that guilt has become a method for avoiding growth or change? How does guilt give you permission to simply remain in the perception of inadequacy or sense of misery? What else might you notice?

Remorse, sadness or grieving is a natural response and human process we all go through. It is an opportunity to feel and move through the waves of emotions and emerge into a place where the weight of these emotions are not limiting you. In contrast, guilt, rarely seems to be helping you move into new territory or growth.

Throughout our lives we all make ‘poor’ choices, cause hurt or behave in ways that we struggle with deeply…..
I don’t think there is a way to avoid this. But the potency of these events is truly in how we perceive these moments, tell the story and let them evolve as we move forward with new insight.

How does guilt support your growth and continued brilliance?

(And when we make poor choices, for which we might have guilt, are those choices not often caused by our not feeling brilliant but small? And wouldn’t dwelling in guilt create a perpetual cycle for more poor choices…… and more guilt?)

The only things I can imagine that have any authentic value are the ones that lift us up. The things that allow each of us to rise to our brilliance and meet it fully. Anything that keeps you ‘small’, less than or feeling lacking doesn’t serve you or the world.

Ultimately, each of us needs to look at what lies underneath the guilt and find the emotions, stories and energies that are keeping the guilt stuck within us. Guilt is less about the event itself and more about how we perceive and feel about it. This is where your tools of unconditioned love and curiosity can come in……..
Let the feeling or story of guilt become the guide towards Love. I have found, in my life, that Love is truly greater than fear (or anything else). That things like fear, anger and guilt typically exist from a lack of loving within myself. Nobody could teach me the details of this……I had to discover its essence on my own.

I had to be curious enough to love myself…….
…… to let go of feeling attached to ideas and move towards what brought me closer to my brilliance.

Thanks for reading and sharing.

being human

loving with disappointment

Recently, a good friend wrote to me about feeling hurt, angry and disappointed with her adult son. He has stopped being in touch, has missed birthdays, neglected to check in about health events and has not even given her the courtesy of letting her know when Christmas gifts arrived until finally emailing and at first joking they were damaged in the mail.
I feel and understand her hurt and I listen to all that comes up for her and the many emotions it stirs.
And along with listening I also offer perspectives and practice for this journey of relationship.

Relationships, whether they are family, friends, romantic or work, are intricate and complicated. They ask us to come into knowing ourselves more intimately than anything else.
I have arrived at a place in my life where I know I have expectations of people in my life. And the truth is that I want to have expectations of others and for them to have them of me.
The key here is the layers of knowledge for accompanying these expectations to prevent anger, hurt, frustration and the perpetual feeling of banging ones head against the wall.

First, comes the need for communication both with yourself and the other person. You need to be aware of your expectations and communicate them to yourself…..have a sense of their depth and what they mean to you. Then, you need to be able to communicate this to the other person, if not as a general practice, then certainly during the times where the nature of the expectation involved causes stress.
Second, you need to ask yourself if you would want to continue to have this person as part of your life if they cannot meet your expectation. You need to discover what the ‘line’ is for you. Ask yourself what you feel is essential in the relationship and for your overall health…..basically, what is a ‘deal breaker’. When you understand this in yourself you are more able to choose whether or not to participate in the relationship or how much to participate.
Third, if there is a not a ‘deal breaker’ involved then you to need practice gentle love and compassion for yourself and the other person. We cannot change the other person but we can shift our responses. This usually involves a widening of perspective and expansion of the heart. (Again, this is true when their isn’t a ‘deal breaker’ with your boundaries and needs. This is not about being self deprecating through imbalanced altruism.)
We get to practice not taking everything completely personally and realize that each of us is unique and complicated. We get to have our expectations AND if we ‘choose’ to have the relationship…. then we must also accept these expectations might not be ‘met’ and we might feel disappointed from time to time. That once we accept the nature of the ‘dance’ we have to let go of a sense of being ‘right’ and placing blame. (which we often like to do when we feel hurt or vulnerable.)

For myself, I figured out that I need to cultivate loving people ‘where they’re at’ while continuing to learn what my needs and boundaries are.
I need to stay clear in what I know about myself while loving them as they are….even if they never shift their behavior. (And that can be challenging.)
I also get to choose if I want to keep them an active part of my life and/or how much connection I might want.

People are complicated…
This example might help to illustrate……
If someone is bedridden can you honestly get mad at them for not taking a walk with you?

We all have certain ‘handicaps’……some are more obvious than others (whether they are physical, emotional or other).
If your immediate need is to walk with someone perhaps don’t choose to be with the friend who is unable to walk right now……
Honor your needs and honor their abilities….find where those meet.

Along the way we might need to release our emotions and let our frustration move through us before we can get there….great, then find out how to do it without pointing the finger at someone else. Know what you need to do to clear your path.
Let yourself hear all your feelings, listen to them, understand them and hold them lovingly…….
Then gently move into a widening circle of compassion as you find where you and the other person can genuinely meet……..perhaps with expectations that no longer create a setup for both of you feeling hurt, frustrated or shutting each other out.

Not always simple………. but insightful.
Why not nurture yourself and end any patterns that don’t serve you feeling fully enlivened?

being human

What is ‘self care’?

The topic of ‘self care’ seems to be coming up in conversations a lot lately and to some degree it can mean different things to different people. It can also be more or less affected by life situation and circumstances. But for so many people I speak with, the ‘basics’ such as sleep, nourishing food, non-‘doing’ time and water, take a back seat to hectic schedules….. and they acknowledge this. They reflect on their attempts at shifting it but the tone of their reflection tends to move towards a sense of ‘failure’ in the end or a temporary ‘victory’.

So, why is it that in our lives the first thing that seems to depart is basic ‘self care’?
And how is it that we have created a culture where this is so common and acceptable and in some arenas (such as jobs or academia) it is expected? Can you imagine if within job culture that ‘self care’ was viewed as a strength and encouraged?

Now, I understand that in certain circumstances like raising children there is a whole different set of needs and we make necessary sacrifices for our children. But I also understand that it takes a ‘village’ to raise a child and many of us have lost that ‘village’ sensibility. Our society has held on high the ‘merits’ of self sufficiency and privacy. We have become more independent and insular which can often bring on more stress due to lack of integrated support network. (When I say ‘integrated’ I am referring to a community of support that doesn’t just manifest in times of crisis but is ongoing.)
I also believe that self care and child raising can go together and that our cultural legacy has not offered us a strong models for this. (Sometimes we almost wear our exhaustion like a badge of honor or way to ‘show’ the world we are working hard and earning our merit)
And whether or not you have children are we not always taking care of all the growing aspects of ourselves even as ‘adults’? Is there not a growing, nurturing, learning and loving quality to each of our days as we navigate our lives and the many layers of who we are?
It also seems less common to see someone who grew up being taught or shown the unique personal importance of self care. So many children these days watch the adults around them rushing about, eating while on the run, driving while on the phone, ‘running late’, on their computers/smart phones all the time, distracted etc etc (to name a few). Where do we think young people learn self care? Where did you or I learn our knowledge of self care (and I am talking beyond brushing our teeth and basic hygiene)?
I am not criticizing these qualities of hecticity……some of these are a part of my life too. But……I think it is about balance…….we don’t need to choose all or nothing….we each need to discover and integrate balance.
If self care is such a reoccurring topic of conversation and point of reflection (or even the mirror for feeling bad about oneself based on comparison) than there must be something significant about it…yes? And if it is something so many people seem to desire and yet it is elusive perhaps there is something to discover.
So where to begin….?
For me it always begins with a question(s).
I suppose each person would need to start with honestly asking themselves what ‘self care’ means for them (because it is different for each of us although we will have common themes) and perhaps even ask why it is important.
And then perhaps gently ask without judgement, ‘what gets in my way of doing this care?’.

I believe so much begins from within……not from the outside in. You need to connect to your own ‘center’……that wise & grounded place in each of us. It is within this center that we can learn about what we need and what gets in our way. The key here is learning to listen and this takes some practice for many of us.

We also need to get out from within the pattern of viewing self care as this elusive quality that we have for a fleeting moment and then we ‘mess up’. This always seems like a set up for feeling bad about oneself. Perhaps know that it is already within you and you are simply allowing space for it to emerge. And any time you notice you weren’t able to allow it……gently question without judgement. Perhaps be curious and loving as a part of your self care. It might take time but it is truly there within you to cultivate.

(I don’t know about you, but I typically feel more willing to be vulnerable in situations that feel safe and nurturing as opposed to ones where it feels harsh and critical. In the latter I am going to protect myself and not open up. If you want to get to know the vulnerable and honest parts of yourself perhaps let go of the criticism and cultivate a compassionate and gentle approach. This is certainly not the model we have learned overall but why not try it?)

So, why not start right now and feel into what is self care for you.
Notice if you feel it is already integrated into your days.
Notice if you have any sense of lacking with it.
Notice what it means to you and the thoughts that tag along in this process.
Simply notice.
You will be your best guide in knowing what is true for you. Just open an environment in yourself for this ‘truth’ to emerge freely. Continue to cultivate unconditioned love for yourself…….believe that you are doing it with every breath you take.
Why not?

Thanks for reading and sharing.