“Do not be afraid of the empty place. It is the source we must return to if we are to be free of the stories and habits that entrap us.” – Charles Eisenstein
I’ve been having a lot of internal dialogues lately, and one of the conversations sounds a lot like this:
Me 1: “Mandala Discovery starts again on Saturday. Why aren’t you doing a better job of marketing it?”
Me 2: “I don’t know. I’m really struggling with marketing lately. Marketing language gets stuck in my throat.”
Me 1: “But you don’t have to be a traditional marketer to make this work. You just have to offer affiliate programs for past participants, buy Facebook ads, send out multiple reminders to your list, blah, blah, blah. Oh… And you have to be more clear about what they get for their investment. People don’t understand just how good Mandala Discovery is because your language is too vague.”
Me 2: “But… The trouble is, I can’t tell them exactly what they’ll get for their investment. Every journey through this will be different and they’ll each find what they need on the journey. I can’t tell them what need will be filled because I don’t know their unique needs.”
Me 1: “How do you think you’ll ever be a successful entrepreneur if you don’t learn to speak in clear marketing lingo? You’ve worked in PR for a long time – surely you know how to tell the story that will sell the product. ‘You want to get to Story B and you’re stuck at Story A? Buy this simple product and you’ll have guaranteed success.’”
Me 2: “That really doesn’t work for me. Nothing I sell fits into the ‘simple product’ category. I don’t offer simplicity. I offer complexity. I invite people into the ‘empty place’ (that Charles Eisenstein talks about in that quote at the top of this page). You can’t put that empty place on a sales page.”
And so it goes, on and on, with Me 1 trying to be more financially successful and Me 2 trying to be more authentic.
Me 2 usually wins, but Me 1 is stuck in some old stories about worthiness and conventional wisdom, and so the dialogue continues.
Last week, I had a series of a-ha moments that have helped me clarify my work even further. First of all, I was working with the leadership team of a local organization that was going through a major transition. When I did individual coaching with each of the people involved, I realized that the stories they were each living in were not in alignment with the direction the organization was heading. In the group conversation I hosted, these stories started coming out, and they realized that the true story that was emerging was very different from what they’d thought was needed. Embracing this true story meant that they would have to release something that was very important for all of them, and possibly even close the doors of the business. This came with a lot of grief that they will have to work through in the coming months. I was reminded, as I held the container for their stories to emerge, that part of my work is to help people and organizations navigate this difficult journey of grief and change in an authentic way.
The work I deeply believe in is not a simple step from Story A to Story B – it’s the releasing of Story A, living in the complexity and grief of that loss, and then being in the empty place where Story B can begin to emerge.
A similar thing happened in my coaching work recently. A client had hired me for three sessions, and in the first session a few months ago, she was trying to decide what her true work was and whether she should leave her job or change jobs to step into something new that felt more purposeful. Finally, however, in the third session, she admitted what she really wanted. “I don’t really want to have a purpose right now. I just want to BE for awhile. I don’t want to DO. I just want to give myself permission to SIT.”
And so, instead of giving her ten easy steps on how to move from story A to story B, we worked on what that empty place would look like and how she could give herself permission to be in it, spending time in play and stillness. She’s now got plans to go away on a personal retreat and to spend time creating a quilt that has no planned outcome, design, or recipient.
Again and again, as I do this work, I hear the longing in people’s hearts for real transformation. In the longing is the assumption (or desperate hope, or outside pressure of family and friends) that they can find a simple fix that will help them move from Story A to Story B. That’s what the marketers have been telling us for years, and so that’s what we want to believe. “Buy this car and you’ll finally feel good about yourself. Use this skin cream and you’ll never age. Take this course and your confidence will grow. Sign up for these coaching sessions and you’ll magically be ready to step into your bigness.”
But when I go deeper with my clients, they recognize that their authentic journeys have nothing to do with the easy steps the marketers want to sell them. Real transformation doesn’t work that way. Real transformation is much more complex and nuanced, and doesn’t fit into bullet points.
As the illustration suggests, we all want the bullet points that will help us take a direct path from Story A to Story B. But the truth is, the bullet points short circuit the change and Story B doesn’t really have an opportunity to grow out of it.
If we really want Story B to emerge, we have to be willing to let go of Story A, take the winding journey through the labyrinth, and wait for Story B to emerge naturally.
There are three stages to the labyrinth journey. When we journey inward, we release. When we cross the threshold and stand at the centre, we receive. When we journey outward, we return. But we don’t return to Story A. We take what we have received at the centre, we allow ourselves to be transformed, and we follow where the path is leading to Story B.
It’s easy to sell the bullet point, but it’s much harder to sell the labyrinth.
Nobody wants to step into complexity and messiness. Nobody wants to feel lost and confused.
We want short cuts through the grief and emptiness that comes when we let go of Story A, and so we go shopping, we overeat, we sign up for courses, and we try to bury our fear in staying busy. Instead of sitting still at the centre of the labyrinth, we rush to find our new purpose.
Instead of releasing and stepping into trust, we hang on tightly to stories that no longer serve us.
Instead of risking the pain of growth, we try to fool ourselves with the ten easy steps to a better life.
In The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible, Charles Eisenstein talks about The Story of Separation that the world has been living in. That’s a story that keeps us locked in a financial economy that demands growth and the pillaging of the earth for the resources that feed that growth. It’s a story that has us living as separate, self-sufficient individuals instead of in community. It’s a story that requires a greater and greater investment in military actions that help us protect our resources and our self-sufficiency.
The new story that the world is longing for is a Story of Connection. It’s a story that brings us back to a healthy relationship with each other and the earth. It’s a story of trust and compassion, community and spirituality.
As the diagram shows above, we won’t get to the Story of Connection until we are ready to release the Story of Separation, step into the centre of the labyrinth, and receive the new thing that wants to be born in each of us.
I want to be part of that Story of Connection, and that is why I will never sell you what you don’t need, or try to convince you that anything I offer will provide you with an easy solution.
I won’t get rich doing this work, but that’s not one of my values anyway. Getting rich would simply help me hang onto that Story of Separation.
What I would much rather do is invite you to let go of the stories that no longer serve you and step into the labyrinth with me.
I can’t promise you that it will be easy or that the path will be smooth. From personal experience, I know that transformation is rarely easy or smooth. There will be grief, you will have to step into the shadows, and there will be moments when you’ll feel completely lost. Some days, in fact, you will probably regret that you accepted my invitation to step onto this journey.
In the end, though, it will be worth it. The new story will be more beautiful than anything you’ve had to release. You will gradually find your way into your authentic heart, and that is the most beautiful place that you can live. Along the journey you will find other pilgrims who are also finding their way through the grief and shadows, and you will discover that being in community is much better than living a self-sufficient life.
If this is a place you’d like to go, then I invite you to start with Mandala Discovery. You’ll receive 30 prompts that will guide you through a labyrinthian journey into your own heart.
p.s. In my desire to live in the gift economy, I look for ways to support people that doesn’t involve financial transactions. If you are interested in any of my programs and do not have sufficient financial resources, please contact me to see if we can work something else out.