This is a story about how the actions of our 45th President jolted me into alignment, catalyzed bold action in my life, and inspired a study of courage.
It is October, 2016, the day after the Billy Bush tape was released to the general public. I am at a hot yoga class, because I feel lost and sick and in great need of something… alignment? Healing? A prayer?
As it did for so many of us, listening to the tape deeply affected me, and I had replayed it over a dozen times since its release. Every time I listened to it I felt sweeping pain, constriction, and anger in my body, but, obsessed, I couldn't stop myself from hitting repeat. Just a few minutes before coming into class, I had replayed it once again on the subway.
As I wait for the teacher to begin class, I find myself in the mirror (because where else do you look in a hot yoga class?) and begin the usual litany of All The Wrong And Unsatisfactory Things.
This is a routinized practice, just like the laying out of my towel and mat and the tying back of my hair. I can't seem to help myself; the behavior is so ingrained that I don't even know I'm doing it.
But that day was different.
My Tiny Terrorist launched into the usual:
Shoulders are uneven…why is your hair so flat??? Too bad your skin isn’t as glowing and youthful as the woman next to you. Speaking of the woman next to you she looks very successful and like she’s accomplished a lot in her short life. Her alumni magazines probably write long articles about her. Just like your friend on Facebook who seems to be winning at life and who has all the great outfits. YOU, on the other hand...
When all of a sudden -
Drop it. A new voice says.
What??? Who is this?
We’re done. She said.
Do I know her?
This is ending now.
I want to know her.
She went on to say that with the barrage of threats to so many people's bodies and existence happening externally, we no longer had the bandwidth to be participating in the same thing internally.
I didn’t know it was possible to be so supported by my own self.
A fairy-godmother-badass lawyer-superhero birthed in one of the most uncertain political climates of my life, my new advocate helped me realize that I was rigorously demanding that the world give my and everyone else’s bodies and existence more respect, care, and support while simultaneously allowing my Tiny Terrorist to in some way mirror the same oppressors I was marching and calling and petitioning against.
I was advocating for women all over the place in my teaching and with my clients and in the stories I was working on creatively, but I had ignored the one who needed me the most. I was taking care to create safe spaces in all areas of my life except my own internal landscape.
I was profoundly out of alignment. Ghandi says that when what we say, do, and think are in harmony, we are happy.
We are also energized.
Being out of alignment with what you say, think, and do zaps your life force - it’s like driving around not knowing you have a slow leak in your tire.
(It's no surprise that I was, unknowingly, experiencing profound burnout at that time).
And it's not how to get things done.
If I am committing to doing my own tiny part to fight against the big, dominating, bullies outside, I need to fight them on the inside of me, too.
Marching in the street means marching inside of my heart.
I became curious about inviting my advocate to the leadership table on a regular basis.
Could she somehow collaborate with the Tiny T? Stick up for me more regularly? Create a safer space?
It turns out that she could, and it was much easier than I thought. The surprise result was that, fairly suddenly, I started to take more risks.
I asked for what I wanted while negotiating contracts, I initiated difficult conversations in my family, called elected officials, approached dream collaborators about working together, started taking actual days off, guided hundreds of people in a non-results oriented creativity exploration over the internet (even when I barely understand the internet), challenged clients to go bigger, published imperfect writing, started the creative project I've been dreaming about for years, said NO to projects that weren’t aligned with my values...
And a positive cycle emerged: the more empathy I gave myself (meaning the more I invited the super-hero advocate to the party) the more energy I gained for bold action. The more bold actions I took, the more courage and confidence I gained to keep leaping.
I have never felt like a very brave person. I research courage. I dream about it, teach about it, I write about it, but I had always felt that bravery was a label reserved for the real risk-takers of the world.
But my advocate showed me that counting myself among the bold made me...bolder.
Furthermore, I learned that there is no one right way to be brave.
You, courageous, looks mightily different from me, courageous, and this is a good thing.
What matters is that we both figure out how to making living inside of our own selves a safe place.
Anyone who has ever taught anyone anything knows that long-term growth comes from encouragement, and that shaming someone into doing something is one of the fastest ways to deflate their ability to unfold.
Yet the overwhelmingly most popular answer people give me when I ask about what is getting in the way of what they want is...
Igniting change in your world and your life calls for massive reserves of courage. Bold action is one of the quickest ways to get where you want to go. You know this. A million Instagram posts bombard you with this message daily.
But that message can often make us feel badly about ourselves, like we're not doing enough, and we might as well just give up.
I believe that to cultivate that courage, we need to start with radical self-compassion. We need to get your Tiny T to stop depriving you of the light and encouragement you need to make things happen.
Can you shame yourself into doing the brave things that will take you where you want to go?
Is living in an internal dictatorship worth whatever you might accomplish?
Not in my book.
Here are some signs your Tiny T has an overbalance of power:
The way out of these patterns (and that's all they are, ingrained patterns of thought that can be redirected) is to first get curious.
Then put out a call for your own personal advocate to make herself known.
This dharma talk (and several others) from psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach, are accessible and effective in working with the Tiny T and other oppressive internal voices. And if you haven't checked them out already, the questions I share in this blog post can be a quick way to release the grip.
My not so secret theory is that when we begin dismantling the power of the oppressive voices inside, we summon greater collective strength to dismantle the bullies so many of us are committed to dismantling on the outside.
I challenge you to expand your personal practice of boldness.
I will be sharing more ways to deepen this exploration in the coming weeks, but, if you're curious, turn yourself toward creating a safer space inside of your heart in the next 48 hours and see what happens. (It might feel more expansive than you can possibly imagine).
Don't waste another second thinking you are anything less than miraculous.