Coming out Spiritual

honest life

I am spiritual. That’s no surprise to you if you’ve been reading this blog for any period of time.

But it might be a surprise to you that I haven’t always been comfortable being “out” about my spirituality.

For starters, I was raised in a fairly conservative evangelical Mennonite family where faith was fairly black and white and you didn’t walk labyrinths, make prayer flags, take Buddhist meditation classes, pray to the Divine Feminine, embrace other faith perspectives, or talk about the way God speaks through a deer or a tree.

When I started exploring those things, I was afraid of rejection, and so I kept most of my exploration secret. There was a little too much fear of going to hell if you “worshipped false gods” in those circles, and that fear lingered deep in my own psyche long after I thought I’d dealt with it. I still don’t talk about it very much in some circles, and to be honest, I’m still excavating some of my rejection and fear stories around that. (I still consider myself a Christ-follower, by the way, but my understanding of what that means has shifted dramatically.)

For another thing, I spent a lot of years in the corporate world where any talk of spirituality was strictly taboo. Though I sometimes thought that my staff or the management teams I was on might be better off if we brought mindfulness and more spiritual openness into what we did, I wasn’t confident enough in my own exploration yet to introduce it. Again, it was mostly fear of rejection that kept me silent.

When I quit my job and started my own business, I started out as a split personality, still trying to keep my spirituality mostly in the closet. I had two websites – one was the polished, corporate-looking one I showed potential clients and students in my university classes, and the other was the blog where I explored the things that mattered most to me, including spirituality. Every time someone from the corporate/university world found the blog, I cringed a little, worried that they would no longer take me seriously as a consultant or teacher. There is, after all, an assumption in our culture that being spiritual means that you’re less intellectual and probably a little weaker than others.

About a year and a half ago, I started to realize that maintaining these two public faces was creating angst for me and making me feel disingenuous. After a couple of failed consulting gigs, I realized that I really didn’t want to work with clients who wouldn’t be comfortable with my spirituality. After trying to be something in the classroom I really wasn’t, I realized that my best teaching happened when I was authentically me.

And so I came out. I combined my blog with my website, integrated my spirituality into my consulting/facilitation/teaching work, and got used to stepping into a classroom where students and administration might think me a little “flakey or too woo-woo”.

I can’t tell you that it magically brought me all of the “right” kinds of clients (it’s still a gradual process), but I can tell you that things started to shift. In the very first class I taught after deciding to be more open and sharing my blog with students, I had four students approach me individually, interested in coming to me for coaching because they were looking for something deeper than they could receive in a classroom. And I started to get invitations to do amazing work that fits me perfectly, like the week long artists’ retreat I facilitated last week in Saskatchewan.

Yes, my work has shifted, and I’m sure a few corporate clients have been turned away by language that feels uncomfortable for them, but that’s okay.

More and more, my work is a true expression of who I am, not just the skills I can offer. More and more, I am bringing the full basket of my gifts and wisdom into what I offer.

And the right people are showing up. Almost all of my coaching clients, for example, share stories of how they too are trying to live more authentically and more boldly in a world that expects them to be more “corporate, straight, conventional, unemotional, etc.” They show up with their own fear of rejection stories and I can truly say “I see you.” And in the last six months, I’ve had the opportunity to host half a dozen retreat/workshops that are all about connecting on a deeper, more spiritual way. Again, I am more prepared to host them because I have been on my own journey to this deeper, more authentic place.

Another interesting thing has happened. Some of the people whose rejection I feared are coming forward and saying “Your work resonates with me. I’m curious about labyrinths/mandalas/etc. Can you tell me more?” My own “coming out” is encouraging others to be more honest about their own questions and exploration.

What about you? Do you sometimes feel like a fraud because you’re hiding the titles of the books you read from your colleagues at work? Do you take meditation classes in secret because you don’t want your family to know? Do you furtively read blog posts that make your heart sing, but you’re quite sure nobody in your world would understand? Do you feel like one of my clients, who said she is “kind of a weirdo, but in a good way”? Have you despaired of finding a circle of people like you who have questions that most people think are too “out there”?

You will need to find your own path through this, but you don’t have to do it alone. There are more of us spiritual seekers out here in this big world than you might imagine. Trust me – when I started being more open about my quest, I started connecting with a lot of amazing people who, like me, want to dive into meaningful conversations that go far beyond small talk, straight to the heart.

Here are a few thoughts on how you can begin to move into a more integrated, authentic life:

  • Start small. Find at least one person who feels like a safe space to talk about your quest. This might be someone you already know and trust, someone at a yoga class, or a coach like me. Before you start the conversation, though, be sure that the person you’re talking to can respond in a non-judgemental way. If you face judgement in your very first conversation, your authentic you will run further into hiding.
  • Find a place where you can be true to yourself. This might be your journal, a secret place in the woods, your favourite coffee shop or bookstore, or your art studio. In that space, commit to being totally honest with yourself about who you are and what you seek in the world. Read the books you want to read, write the truth that longs to be said, and dare to stand in awe of an eagle that seems to have a message just for you.
  • Find a practice that connects you with your spiritual Self. There are many options – yoga, dance, meditation, walking, running, painting, mandala-making, etc. Do something that brings you peace and leaves you feeling connected to that authentic part of you that’s been buried under other people’s expectations.
  • Practice truthfulness one tiny step at a time. If you are feeling inauthentic at work, find a least one co-worker whom you trust who won’t laugh at you when you admit to going on a meditation retreat. If that feels safe, take another step. You may be surprised to find other secret questers longing for the same conversation.
  • Consider your priorities. If your steps to being more authentic at work feel unsafe or leave you feeling judged, consider how important it is to stay there. Is it time to walk away? Are you living a lie if you stay there?
  • Recognize that some people will never “get it” and that’s okay. Some people might suggest that you should walk away from anyone who rejects your version of a spiritual quest, but life is far more complex than that. If a family member, for example, doesn’t understand it, then find other topics to talk about in their presence. You don’t need to lie to them, but you also don’t need to reveal your deepest heart to everyone in your life.
  • Find community where you feel safe. With the internet making long distance relationships more and more accessible, it has become easier and easier to find circles where you can talk about your questions and spiritual quest. I wouldn’t say that virtual circles replace in-person relationships, but it’s at least a place to start. For example, many of the people who sign up for Lead with Your Wild Heart say that one of the best things about the program is the fact that they no longer feel alone in their quest for authenticity.
  • Read a book or two that helps you understand your own quest. A few recommendations: Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, The Seeker’s Guide: Making your Life a Spiritual Adventure, and What We Talk About When We Talk About God.

In all that you do, remember this – this journey is a long one. You don’t get to authentic overnight. It took me many years to realize some of the places I was living a divided life, and I know that there are still more realizations to come.

Take the journey one step at a time, and find companions along the way.

“Back to School” Coaching Sale

journeyWhat do a human rights lawyer in Zimbabwe, a psychologist who’s a wealth management specialist in Los Angeles, a former pastor training to be an art therapist in rural Manitoba, and a manager in an international tech company in Chicago have in common?

They’ve all gained something from my coaching.

What else do they have in common? They have a longing to make a difference in the world and to lead from a place of greater authenticity, deeper spirituality and more courage.

All three of these people (and all of my other clients) already had a great deal of wisdom long before they came into contact with me. They are lifelong learners, committed to doing good work in the world. They are strong, compassionate, and they have a lot of vision for how to make the world a better place. So… if they already had all these things, what did they need from me? They needed someone to ask the right questions and create the right environment to help them find their deeper truths, their authentic longings, and the next steps in their journeys. They needed clarity and support, and they needed someone who would challenge them to be the best versions of themselves.

That’s what I do for my clients – ask the right questions, create a safe environment, encourage them, and then nudge them into the places their hearts are already longing to take them.

My coaching work is not about creating something out of nothing – it’s about excavating the stories you already carry, the wisdom you might have buried under your own self-doubts, and the longing that has been waiting for you to give it space. It’s also about moving the blocks out of the way and challenging the stories that keep you small.

The deepening journey…

In Falling Upward, Richard Rohr talks about the deepening journey of the second half of life, when we leave the comforts of dualistic thinking (our black and white, rules-based world) and self-absorption, and move further into ambiguity, trust, and concern for the common good. This is a journey to our True Self, and it does not come without a struggle.

My coaching is about that journey to the True Self. I won’t take the struggle away, or make it easier to get to your True Self (because there is much to learn in the struggle and taking it away would not do you any favours), I’ll simply help you be more present, have more clarity, and take a more confident step onto the path.

In that journey to our True Self, you’ll begin to find yourself emerging into one of the leaders the world is longing for. I’ll help you understand what it means for you to be a leader.

“A leader is anyone willing to help, anyone who sees something that needs to change and takes the first steps to influence that situation.” – Margaret Wheatley

When I say that I coach leaders, it means that I coach anyone willing to help. Whether you lead from a place at the boardroom table, the kitchen table, or the garden bench, the world needs your willingness to help. You simply need to show up and hold your place in the circle.

If you are willing to help, but you’re afraid to call yourself a leader, I’d be happy to work with you.

Back to school…

September is back to school time, when we put away the flip-flops, clean out the backpacks, sharpen the pencils, and get ready for another year of learning, growth, and challenge. It’s a good time of year to commit to the new things that want to emerge in our lives. It’s a good time to consider what our next journey will look like.

September is also the time of harvest, when we gather the good things from our gardens, enjoy the feasts of Thanksgiving, and freeze and preserve what we’ll need for the long winter months.

Even if you’re not going back to school, September is a good month to invest in your own growth and learning, gather the fruits of your personal harvest, and contemplate the next steps in your journey. It’s a good time to invest in coaching for your own growth.

Invest in yourself…

This September, consider investing in yourself by working with me as your coach. To make that a little easier, I’m having a “back to school” sale.

Book a one-time coaching session for only $75. That’s 25% off the regular price.

Even better (because deep work takes time)… Book three sessions for $195. We’ll get really juicy in three sessions and I guarantee you’ll have a few a-ha moments in that time.


OR… sign up for the Fall session of Lead with Your Wild Heart, and take the journey in community with other learners. You’ll get the extra benefit of sharing in the stories of others who are also deepening in their leadership and self-discovery.

Back to School Sale ends August 23, 2013. 

Note: I incorporate elements of a gift economy into my business model, and so I’ve created something called Karma Coaching. If you are doing important work in the world and believe that you would benefit from my coaching, I don’t want to let limited financial resources get in the way. Find out how you can benefit from the gift of my coaching, or participate in the gift economy by supporting other world-changers who want coaching. 

This is my life, and it’s sometimes good

windy hillLet’s see… what have I done this week? Well, I taught my regular writing class at university, I welcomed a professional storyteller into my class to do a short workshop (and took her to lunch because she fascinates me), I made arrangements for an upcoming retreat I’m hosting, I visited the retreat centre where the retreat will be held (photo above), I wrote a lesson for Lead with your Wild Heart, I did a coaching session with a new client and accepted her invitation to do a workshop with the staff of her yoga studio,  I promoted my upcoming Creative Writing for Self Discovery class, and tomorrow I’m heading out of town for a couple of days with my daughters.

Wow. When I break it down like that, I suddenly realize that this… THIS is the life I dreamed of two and a half years ago when I started self-employment.

I suppose you could say I manifested my dreams.

But there’s another part to this story that I refuse to ignore.

On the way to my dreams… I had a LOT of moments when I worried whether I’d have enough money at the end of the month to pay the bills, I went through a really rocky period in my marriage, my father-in-law died, my mom was diagnosed with cancer,  she went through the horrors of chemo, and then I watched her die, I had some significant business failures, and my husband had a heart attack. (There’s more, but I don’t want to overwhelm you with the details.)

Would you say that I manifested that too?

The truth is, life is full of the yin and yang of happiness and sadness, darkness and light, dreams coming true and dreams crashing at our feet, love and betrayal, life and death, success and failure, grief and joy. It’s all part of the package and it all matters. You don’t get to choose one or the other – the yin or the yang.

No matter how hard you pray or meditate or think happy thoughts, you won’t be spared the heartache that is part of the package of your life. You don’t get the happiness without the sadness. And it you try to push past the sadness in favour of the happiness, you’ll miss one of the best teachers of your life.

I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t dream because it might not come true – not at all! I’m a BIG dreamer and I’ll keep dreaming until the day I die! I’m just saying that there are no guarantees, and sometimes your dreams will shift with your evolving life. It’s all part of the journey, and you need to develop your flexibility and resilience skills along with your dreaming skills.

The best you can do is to learn to ride the waves and be present in the journey rather than focusing only on the destination. Hold your seat lightly, reach for the tools that keep you from crashing too hard on the rocks, trust the other people in your boat, relax when the water is calm, prepare yourself for when the water is rough, and be present in the flow. And when you find yourself capsizing, poke your head above the water and swim for your life.

Whether you’re in the rapids or the calm waters, remember this – everything that comes your way is meant to be your teacher. If you forget that, and try to live only in the calm waters, your growth will be stunted and you won’t get anywhere. Just like the water needs to flow in order to stay fresh, you need to move through the rapids in order to thrive.

This week was good, but last week was hard. I don’t know what I’ll get next week, but I’m here, present, trusting that I have the courage and resilience to handle it. Through the ups and the downs, many of the things I’ve longed for are coming to me, but many of them have also been discarded along the journey.  The best I can do is to keep my paddle in the water and keep rowing.

What if I have courage?

occupy love 4

Three social scientists once conducted a series of experiments to determine which was more effective, “declarative” self-talk (I will fix it!) or “interrogative” self-talk (Can I fix it?). They began by presenting a group of participants with some anagrams to solve (for example, rearranging the letters in “sauce” to spell “cause”.) Before the participants tackled the problem, though, the researchers asked half of them to take a minute to ask themselves whether they would complete the task. The other half of the group was instructed to tell themselves that they would complete the task.

In the end, the self-questioning group solved significantly more anagrams than the self-affirming group.

The researchers – Ibrahim Senay and Dolores Albarracin of the University of Illinois, along with Kenji Noguchi of the University of Southern Mississippi – then enlisted a new group to try a variation with a twist of trickery: “We told participants that we were interested in people’s handwriting practices. With this pretense, participants were given a sheet of paper to write down 20 times one of the following word pairs: Will I, I will, I, or Will. Then they were asked to work on a series of 10 anagrams in the same way participants in Experiment One did.”

This experiment resulted in the same outcome as the first. People primed with “Will I” solved nearly twice as many anagrams as people in the other three groups. In follow-up experiments, the same pattern continued to hold. Those who approach a task with questioning self-talk did better than those who began with affirming self-talk.

I’ve been intrigued with this research ever since I heard about it a couple of years ago. Because of it, I often invite my coaching clients to create question mandalas rather than setting goals or developing strategic plans. Questions tend to release possibilities in us in ways that goals and declarations do not.

Lately I’ve been playing with this idea again in the area of courage. There are some areas in my life in which I know that I am still letting fear keep me small. I am conflict-averse, and so I shrink back and avoid challenging people when I know that it will make me feel uncomfortable. This has been cropping up in my teaching lately, where I’ve had to challenge some students for plagiarism and other unacceptable behaviours. I cringe any time I have to deal with these situations, and yet I know that I am not doing my students any favours by simply avoiding the tough conversations.

I also still deal with some fear around creating controversy in my work, or teaching things that people don’t like to hear or just don’t receive well. There’s a scared little child inside me who just wants to be liked, and I’m trying to coax her out of her hiding place into a bigger life.

In my effort to build my courage, I decided to use the question technique. Instead of telling myself “I WILL BE COURAGEOUS” each time something fearful shows up, I simply ask myself “Can I be courageous?” Usually the answer to that is “yes”.  I carry enough courage stories with me that I can remind myself of times in the past when I’ve been courageous, so I know it can be done. Then, before I take any action, I sit with it a bit more and ask “what will happen if I am courageous?” and I play the scenario out in my mind. I play with the best that might happen and I play with the worst. Usually I realize that the worst is not as scary as I think it will be. If it still seems pretty scary though, I ask myself “can I live with the consequences of this action?” And again, usually the answer is “yes” because my story basket is full of reminders of the tough things that I have lived through in the past.

Almost every time I’ve done this little run-through in my mind, I’ve been able to step into the courageous act more boldly than I expected. In the past week, I’ve been in several of those uncomfortable situations, and each time, I’ve had more courage than I usually do.

And you know what? When I’ve had courage, shored up not by my resolve but by the stories in my story basket, people have almost always responded positively instead of defensively. The question approach not only gives me more courage, it gives me more grace in that courage. Resolve makes me more forceful, questions make me more open. People respond well to openness.

If you want to try the question approach to courage, here’s how to get started:

1. Fill your story basket with stories of courage. Take some quiet time with your journal and write down the stories that come to you when you ask yourself the question, “when have I had courage in the past?”

2. Fill your story basket with stories of resilience. Again in your journal, ask yourself, “when have I lived through difficult situations and survived and thrived?

3. The next time fear shows up, pause for a moment and ask yourself “Can I be courageous”? Reach back into your story basket and pull out the stories that remind you that you CAN.

4. Ask yourself the next question, “What will happen if I am courageous?” Run through the story each way – the best that can happen and the worst. (If you have the time, you may want to journal about this, but you can also run the scenarios in your head.)

5. When you’re sitting with the worst that can happen, ask yourself, “Can I live with the consequences of my actions?” Reach back into your story basket and find the stories of resilience that tell you that YES you can survive the worst.

6. Bonus question… Ask yourself, “Will I be happier if I am courageous or if I shrink from this in fear?” I think you already know the answer to this.

Honouring women of courage on International Women’s Day

women in circle

From my Facebook feed…

I wanted to write a “real” blog post for International Women’s Day, but a head cold has made my brain all fuzzy and every time I tried, the words got jumbled up on the way to my keyboard. So instead of a blog post, I raise my glass to the incredible women of courage and resilience in my life…
– Here’s to my beautiful mother, who raised four gifted children and gave us so much love that we knew we wereinfinitely better off than those families who had far more money than we ever had.
– Here’s to my soul sister who gave her heart to a tiny baby, raised that baby as her own, and then watched helplessly as the powers-that-be returned the nearly-two-year-old to her parents.
– Here’s to the courageous young teacher I met in India, who gave up all of her comfort to teach school children on a remote, poverty-stricken, flood-prone island.
– Here’s to the friend, deep in grief after her 21 year old son decided he had nothing left to live for, and the other friend, deep in grief after her 18 year old son died suddenly of an apparent heart attack.
– Here’s to the young woman who left the city for the Ethiopian desert and dared to lead a water diversion project to great success, despite the fact that the locals told her “if it’s run by a woman, it will never work.”
– Here’s to the Ugandan woman, who had the courage to forgive and then befriend the mother of the man who kidnapped her daughter, forced her to serve as a child soldier, and fathered two of her children
– Here’s to my three beautiful daughters, who brave the pitfalls of pre-teen and teen life and dare to let their personalities shine despite the pressures to conform.
– Here’s to the beautiful circle of women who are part of my Lead with your Wild Heart program, who are stepping forward with courage onto the rocky, glorious, and sometimes treacherous paths that leads to their most authentic hearts.
– Here’s to you, my friend. May you have the courage to speak your truth, live with bold love, challenge the oppressors, and let your gifts shine for all the world to see.

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