Liberate Thyself

NaBloPoMo 2021:  Do Good, Kid

What are the chief operational constraints in your life today?  How have they evolved over time? 

On a call today with two wonderful friends, it occurred to me (again) that we can choose our suffering in life.  A global pandemic with cases and hospitalizations rising across the country in yet another (I’ve lost count) wave; political polarization ever worsening; winter approaching with yet more erratic weather patterns—it did not take long for us to agree that present day is indeed a dark age for humanity.  And yet none of us feel hopeless.  In fact, we bonded over all the tools at our disposal to suffer less in our lifetimes—mostly tools of inner work, such as Personal Leadership, the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity, and others

So often we go through life wishing other people would change.  If only they could see the light—that I am right—then my life would be so much easier and better!  We search for classes, workshops, and conferences that promise freedom from stress, amazing relationships, and professional advancement—all in 5 easy steps!  The dopamine-fueled wildfire of instant gratification sucks dollars from our bank accounts like oxygen from the air, at the prospect of success without work.  When we look for others to exert all the effort, we choose the suffering of relinquishing control.  Innocently, ignorantly, or in denial, we cede responsibility for our own happiness and meaning to those whom we concurrently deem incompetent, misinformed, or otherwise stupid.

I cannot control what someone else thinks, says or does.  But I have ultimate agency in how I respond to anyone and anything around me.  I can choose to wallow in victimhood, rage at injustice, and lash out at any unfortunate human who crosses my path on a bad day.  I can also choose to shift my perspective by getting curious, asking more questions, and making more generous assumptions about people and their motivations.  By choosing the latter, whatever pain or cost I incur belongs to me; I own it, I get to shape it, contain it, exercise it.  I empower myself as the principal agent of my own life—I am liberated.

At My Best

NaBloPoMo 2020 – Today’s Lesson

Tonight’s lesson emerges from my Engaging with Difference class.  It’s a classic “Duh-HA!” (Duh + ah-HA!, thank you Tony & Diane!) epiphany, arising from a novel (to me) and profound mindfulness practice that I plan to adopt permanently.

Duh-HA!  At my best, I am relentlessly curious and ask excellent, open and honest questions.  When I’m hijacked or triggered, I speak in unqualified declarations and generalizations, which I hate

What is the worst version of yourself, is it what you loathe most in others?

The practice is Critical Moment Dialogue (CMD), developed by the Personal Leadership folks.  In a nutshell, when I feel “something’s up,” ie I notice some kind of internal hijack occurring in real time, I can choose to react as usual, or do a CMD and find a better way through. 

I reflected on a recent, disconcerting conversation with a colleague.  One of the six elements of CMD practice is attending to physical sensation.  The Duh-HA occurred when I recalled my desire to raise an eyebrow, cock my head, and curl my lip, which manifested as left temporalis muscle tightening.  The CMD exercise helped me understand my subjective experience in that moment:  I felt a disconnect.  My counterpart and I were enacting our usual misunderstanding pattern.  I usually blame him for being vague and self-absorbed, but now I realize that we probably grasp divergent meanings for the words we choose.  Just this one insight, in the instant I apprehended it, reoriented my entire attitude toward him and our future conversations. 

The next time we meet, I can breathe slower and more deeply, and slacken my jaw.  Evoking my commitment to curiosity, I can remember to ask more clarifying questions before making false assumptions and jumping to antagonistic judgments.

Seriously, DUH.  HA!

Refining the Personal Vision Statement

NaBloPoMo 2020 – Today’s Lesson

“I, Cathy Cheng, living and working at my highest and best, am Honest, Curious, Generous, Humble, and Kind, so that I can cultivate the best possible relationships with and between all people.”

How does this statement land?  On me, not on you.  Well, maybe a little on you—is this how you experience me at my highest and best?  The personal vision statement is just that—personal.  It’s my own beacon to navigate life’s storms.  But what good is it if it’s only for me?  Shouldn’t it also be the light I emanate  to make my best contributions in this one brief existence? 

Thanks to Braver Angels pal Sharon Kristjanson and her Engaging With Difference class, I have protected time these two months to spelunk this inner work.  Sweet!  Though I have had a Why statement for a while, it’s high time to test and refine it.  How does it hold up when relationships get really hard?  What does it mean to be honest all the time?  To be generous and humble when I’m tempted not to?  What is the shadow side of curiosity?

It’s deep work, but not necessarily heavy. I’m not drafting a final life mantra for my headstone. I’m noodling with a saying that fits at the same time like my most comfy pajama pants and my most flattering black dress. I am my own best seamstress, taking in and letting out as my relational habitus changes over time and experience. I’m always me, with evolving roles, tasks, and projects. Playing lightly and lovingly with words, purpose, and meaning, in whatever context surrounds me, with a trusty journal and smooth-writing pen…this is an ideal weeknight! Adaptive. Resourceful. Connected. Possibility. Oh yeah, this is gonna be awesome.