Freedom From Labels is Where it Begins
Recently, around the US Independence Day, I got into a discussion with a friend about the problematic divisiveness that permeates the world right now. And, we agreed that so much of what drives the discord comes down to this:
Labels are what define a thing, or a person, or a group of people. It literally means to “identify” or to attach a meaning. A label is a “descriptive phrase or word” placed onto something.
But, when a label becomes de-meaning is when assumptions are made and rash categorical biases are formed against an entire group of people. Based on the label.
We walk around all day long putting labels on people, based on religion, political party, sexual orientation, male/female sex, socioeconomic status, body size, education, illness, profession, credit rating, etc. Most often, it’s by way of fleeting thoughts, but more and more in this socially brash society, it’s become vocal and viral, and way too common.
It got me thinking about how we also label ourselves, and how what that does to either help or hinder our own self-growth. And, how easy it can be to start to believe the labels put on us by others as well. Politicians get elected by hammering away about labels. Marketers sell products by categorizing and labeling groups of people by demographics. They call them things like “early adopters” and “baby boomers” and “millennials”.
The second you’re born, labels are pronounced about you. What sex you are, what physical markers you have or don’t have, what kind of family you’re born into, what color you are, the area of the world you’re in.
Even, “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” starts the labeling process right out of the gate, so to speak.
Eventually, we start to believe the labels and it becomes part of our story. The labels become who we are. If we let them.
What if all of those labels were stripped away?
What if we strip down to our barest humanity, down to the soul level, and treat what happens to us as mere life experience. Or it's a physical characteristic but doesn't define who we are as a person. Or it’s something we’re going through, not who we are.
My dear friend was just diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease. It’s not curable. But, is manageable. So, we talked a lot about not allowing the disease to define her. She’s a healthy spiritual human being going through an unhealthy experience.
Yes, it’s going to be a challenge and yes some things will have to be different in her daily life, but she knows she could either allow the disease to drive her, to define her, or she can do whatever she can to drive and diminish the disease. To recreate her life. In other words, she can decide not to be burdened by the label.
It goes that way with any label.
Who are you without all of the labels? I mean all of them. The labels put upon you by society, but more importantly by the labels you place on yourself.
Is that a frightening notion? Or a freeing one?
To my way of thinking, it’s probably both. Life without labels is full of possibility. As in flying without constraints while also free-falling without a net. Freeing and a bit scary too.
But, once you start removing the labels, the easier it is to trust your own volition, your own self-worth, your own humanity.
Start with removing your own labels. Then, remove everyone else's.
Can you imagine what a different world it would be?
A Bit of Midyear Perspective
Perspective can either keep you present, or not.
Since I chose “Perspective” as my word and theme of the year, I thought it would be a good idea to check in on things, at midyear. So, I'm reviewing, dialing in on meaning and expanding views.
Perspective can make you lighten up and not take things so seriously, while at the same time Perspective can help you get really serious about the most important things.
“I realized I can find my way to the MRI room by the ceiling tiles and the exit signs.”
This is what my dear, dear friend said to me during her hospital stay. Her perspective is reeled in, tight and small, exactly as it needs to be. Her perspective is, as with all of us very close to her, laser-focused on what is happening in the moment. Pain management. More IV needle prodding. More meds. Code calls. More questions than answers. More doctors/specialists/surgeons being added to team. More note taking. Then, more answers. More prayers. Finding humor in the tunneled view.
And, more trips to the MRI room, "go 20 ceiling tiles and turn left at the exit sign."
We talked about how what was and is happening to her is sharpening her perspective. Making her braver. Cherishing deeply her sister who is steadfast by her side. Receiving love and support as true medicine. Raising her self-advocacy to a level she didn’t know she had in her. I’m in awe of her strength and marvel at her capacity for continually falling back on her inner work, her spirit.
It's true that Perspective gives you a helicopter view of things, the big picture, the long stance.
But, sometimes all you can handle is what's directly in front of you. Moment to moment. Conversation to conversation. Tile by tile. And, that's exactly how it should be in that moment.
I found I was beating myself up because I wasn't meeting my writing goals, things that are a part of my helicopter perspective. But, when I reeled it in, got really honest and acknowledged that my view is on my friend and that is my intended perspective right now, I was able to let it all go. It’s perspective that starts the process of letting go.
This is where I am.
I had referenced in the earlier post that "Perspective is your canvas," meaning that on the grand canvas of life, your wise and knowledgeable prospective is the base coat and then is augmented by the various colors with which you use to create your story and pave your path.
Sometimes, the canvas shrinks, out of necessity or out of choice. And, you feel like you're out of paint, or you've turned the paintbrush over to others, as information and input bombards you. This could be as lab test results keep rolling in. Or by incessant news coverage of depressing world events.
For me, I need to shrink the canvas so I don't lose sight of myself. For starters, for me that means turning off the news. Perspective gets wonky when it's clouded by frustration, anger and sorrow over what's happening.
And, shrinking my canvas means being present with my friend.
That's when inner perspective takes over. Inner perspective is moment to moment. It's trusting that more will be revealed in the right divine timing. It's the white space on the smaller canvas.
In time the larger canvas, the glimpse of the helicopter perspective, the wider lens will be beheld again.
Until then, this is it. Tile by tile. And, it's enough.
The Power of Your Own Light
Greeting the sunrise on the longest day of the year, on Summer Solstice, I couldn't help falling in love with the sun all over again, appreciating our greatest external source of light, and how dependent everything on Earth is on the light and strength of the sun.
And, it's comforting to know that the sun is always there, even on stormy overcast days. The sun is there just behind the clouds. It never truly goes away.
Summer Solstice is a good time to reflect and to connect to our own inner light as well. And, we have that in common with the sun, in that our inner light is never extinguished.
I recently got a porcelain Buddha diffuser for a friend's birthday. When you place a lit votive candle inside of it, the entire being illuminated with light.
We are like that all the time, illuminated from within. The light is never extinguished.
At a recent retreat, I settled into a lovely room to drop into meditation. The room was dark and I felt around for a light with a dimmer switch to help my eyes get used to the dark.
It was probably an hour later when I glanced toward the wall of windows on one side of the room. It faced the backyard, which was lit beautifully with soft strings and groupings of light. It took a moment, then I couldn't help but laugh because all of that light had been streaming into the window all along, I just couldn't see it at first. The reflections of those yard lights danced at interesting angles around the room. There I was fumbling around for the dimmer switch, when the light was already there.
And, I had a thought. Light always finds its way. And, light always illuminates the dark.
So, if we are light beings, and I believe we are, then it stands to reason that we always find our way too.
That led to a myriad of thoughts about light during that meditation. Some inklings to ponder...
Our inner light is what illuminates our path, so we can find it and follow it.
When an intersection presents itself, if we’re paying attention, our light becomes a street lamp rather than a beacon, pausing to give us time to consider our options.
Our highest light, the light connected to source, or God, is like a huge Hollywood spotlight, continually purveying the larger view. Always knowing what’s ahead. What to avoid. And, where to go.
Light has no emotion. I wondered if our light has feminine or masculine qualities. But, the hit I got is that it’s asexual. It’s non-emotional. It shines the light on our emotions but it doesn’t judge them or determine right or wrong choices. It simply illuminates so we can choose for ourselves.
Sometimes there are those who always have to have the brightest light. They do whatever they can to make sure everyone knows how bright their light is.
But, here’s the thing. Chances are their light is going to burn some people along the way with how hot bright their light is. Often, it may seem just easier to dim yourself down, or even worse to allow them to control your light switch.
The truth is no one can dim your light unless you give them permission to do so.
When around those people, the answer is to turn up your own inner light. No one can touch you when you’re rocking it to your own inner light.
Your light is your power. Your power is driven by your light.
Sometimes we have a tendency to dim our own light for others to make them feel better about themselves. Sometimes you can feel some animosity or envy coming your way. The disservice here is double edged. Not only are you shortchanging yourself but you’re robbing them of the experience of discovering their own light for themselves.
Then, other times they may just want to stand in your light for awhile. And, that’s okay and is part of your gift as a light-bearing human being, to use your light, your gifts to teach and inspire.
The true awakening happens when you realize you’re in control of your own dimmer switch.
We’re always reflecting each other's light.
It’s comforting to know that our inner light never goes out. Never. Even when this human life ends, the light is connected to your soul and your soul lights on.
We began as light. We continue as light. We bear light. We share light. We connect to source with light. We inspire the world with light.
Light is energy. Just as we are energy.
So, embrace your light. And, find your place in the sun.
A Life of Intrinsic Value
Value. It’s such a small word with big meaning.
I was originally writing a post about what people might say about you after you’re gone, which was inspired by a rather scathing obituary that recently made the news. Not because it was about someone of celebrity, or that it was beautifully expressed. But, because of the powerful, painful punch it packed in very few words. “She will not be remembered…” were the words said about a woman who had abandoned her children, by her now-adult children.
Susan Soper, author of the book, Obit Kit, and writer of many an obituary, says this is a more common thing that you might think, vengeance-driven obituaries.
It got me thinking about what people might say about me after I’m gone, hopefully a few decades from now. As part of an exercise in some coursework I recently completed to become a breathwork facilitator, we were asked to write our eulogies, as if someone was reading it today. It was pretty eye opening.
It wasn’t necessarily the accomplishments or successes that I felt compelled to include, but rather characteristics and relationships are what rose to the surface. It struck me that what I wanted said about me was something like: “She lived a life of value by giving meaningful value to others.”
I mean, the truth is you have no control over what someone says about you. What they say has more to do with their experience of you than anything else. However, projecting what you would want your epitaph to be, or the consensus on your behalf after your gone, then having a say today in what you want that epitaph to be gives you some direction, a mission, for how you want to live your life. What’s said then, is a reflection of what and who you are leading up to your eventual life exit.
What would your epitaph be if someone wrote it today? Does it differ from what you aspire it to be?
Then, the news came out about Anthony Bourdain’s suicide. And, it shook me, particularly as it was on the heels of Kate Spade’s death by suicide.
They both brought such value and beauty into people’s lives by what they produced in their own. I watched a CNN special about Anthony Bourdain and the love came pouring in about how he impacted people.
Then, a comment in an interview with a friend of his gave me pause: “He always said he has lots of friendships that only lasted a week,” which while a function of his job, perhaps shed a stronger light, according to this friend. Perhaps, he didn’t have many deep, intimate, soulful relationships.
Certainly, I would never trivialize the inner demons or mental health issues that drove Anthony Bourdain or Kate Spade to end their lives, by suggesting anything trite that might have “helped”. What they experienced or felt is something beyond my understanding.
But, what it did for me was to start to more closely examine what a life of value truly means to me. And, for me, it’s going intrinsically into that value. In other words, focusing on deeper, more intimate connections with the important people in my life, deeper connection to myself and then to the cosmic and karmic connection to “one”, that is all in nature.
Perhaps there’s a level of this that you can relate to. We all want to matter, to have meaning and to give meaning. It’s the very basis of humanity. It’s easy to stray from that simple thought when we’re pushed and pulled by all that’s going on in the world right now. But, it starts and ends with your own intrinsic value.
These are some guideposts I’m rededicating to, which I know will help me to fulfill my living epitaph.
- Be generous
- Be honest & forthright
- Be aware of changes in behaviors of loved ones and have direct conversations about it
- Be available
- Be grateful
- Be responsive & communicative
- Be assertive in my desire for connection
- Be transparent when asking for help when I need it
- Be diligent in my self-care: sleep, meditation, prayer, exercise, healthy food - creating inner strength that will guide through difficult times
Add value to other’s experiences. And, receive value from others when it’s offered.
It’s reciprocity. It’s kindness. It’s humanity.
That’s value. Intrinsic. Life-affirming value.
What Are You Supposed to Do? Stop Saying This
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Those were the first words uttered by a client during a recent creative jam session. Which made sense because we were there to jam about the very thing that was underneath the question: life purpose.
In fact, the words “supposed to” drove the first part of our session, it was said 10 times in the first 20 minutes to be exact. It felt like something that was easy to hang on to, like a habit.
So, doing what we do in jam sessions, we played with the things that were bubbling up.
I asked her what that meant, as in, supposing to do anything.
And, what a gift that was. In our discussion, we discovered "supposed to" is not a very helpful proposition when exploring life purpose.
“Supposed to” is passive, as in it’s a directive that’s happening to me, rather a directive I’m helping navigate.
It means ”I’m not the one in charge." As if someone or something else is dictating my purpose.
It reflects the feeling of "required to", as in, follow the rules. It's confining, rigid.
Simply put, "supposed to" is nothing more than an expectation. In other words, the supposed outcome of something is the perceived expectation of that outcome.
But, when it comes to examining life purpose, until you’re clear about what you desire and what your soul is calling you to do, then “supposed to” becomes esoteric, it’s derived from something outside of you. Then, they become rigid expectations we put on ourselves.
But, what’s the basis for them?
I mean, when you think about it that way, who is it that dictates this mysterious “supposed to” when it comes to exploring your purpose?
Society? What is a person in my place in life, supposed to be doing?
Your younger self? What I am supposed to do now, since my younger self is disappointed in/judging how far I've come at this point? Your younger-self expectations on your now-self can be harsh sometimes.
Family/friends? I’m supposed to be further along, supposed to live up to their dreams for me, etc. Or "they think I'm supposed to be..."
By believing you need to discover and act on your “supposed to,” places you on another roadmap besides your own.
Believe me, I could relate to my client and friend, because I do it too. So, I got as much out of this reframe as she did. Here are a couple things we came up with.
When the urge to say 'supposed to' creeps in, catch yourself. Know that whatever follows that phrase doesn’t really belong to you. Instead try this:
I’m focusing on what life is calling me to do next.
I want to get clear on what I'm doing, where I'm going, with my life.
I intend to do what's right for me, right now.
My mind, heart and spirit know my purpose. I’m listening to that.
This becomes: I know. I am doing. I am living and being my purpose.
Because here’s the thing, your life purpose isn’t some grand oh-my-god sea change that takes place in a nano-moment aha, and then everything after that is nirvana and different.
Rather, it’s an unfolding, an inner and outer journey, a doing-and-being reckoning that doesn’t happen because you’re supposed to. It happens because you’re paying attention to your own life and following your own roadmap.
You may be asking, what am I supposed to do with that? Ah, and so it begins…