Today I’m going to take you deep inside this dome. This post is mega-uncomfortable, because I’m still a bit bashful about this all, but today I’ll come clean with some of the crystal lovin’, incense burnin’, energy alignin’ progress I’ve been making over the past few weeks.
Ever since my revelations about animals, intuition, and the need for emotional fulfillment in my work, I’ve been doing some serious explorations of my new agey side. In short, I have finally, after years of secret curiosity, signed up for both a Reiki course and Coach Training in April, to move towards receiving certification next fall in each. I have gone full vegetarian, and practice meditating once or twice a day. I’ve worked on trusting my intuition more, and had a few eerie but exciting moments of finally piping up when I feel I know something about someone that needs to be shared, and been met with surprise, excitement, and a “how did you know that?!” which whets my appetite to continue with these explorings.
And yes – I bought some gemstones.
And maybe a book on mandalas.
And perhaps a stick or two of chakra incense.
OK – are you still with me? If so, I’ve got a good one for your Monday morning.
In preparation for my work as a coach, I’ve been reading books on the subject here and there. I’ve been trying out a number of exercises from these and other texts – from listing priorities, to describing my life as different rooms in a house, to drawing and interpreting mandalas, to taking steps to actually research professional programs and schedule informational interviews. I’m doing this both to expand my repertoire of tools I have tried and love, for when I start to work with coaching clients, but also to reap their benefits personally.
Last Friday, in response to my post about The Learning Center in which I agonized about hypothetical miserable conversations with Alex Hillman of Indy Hall, I had a real-life, thrilling and nerve-wracking email conversation with none other than said Alex. Later this week I will dedicate an entire post to the conversation, which was incredible, but I want to first share with you one of the last things he said, which totally punctured my ballooning plans. I asked him straight out if he thought The Learning Center was a good idea. He replied:
That little comment totally blew up my spot. I told Alex that I’d have to apply some paleontology to my plans and carbon date the dreams I found within them and get back to him on it. I felt rattled, excited, vertiginous, black-holed. Dream bigger? Of what? If I try to dream big, where does it take me? What am I really trying to do, and why?
For so long I had the party line in my head – I love bringing people together, I want to help others, I want to make change in communities – that I hadn’t asked why. Which seems so simple – and yet so easy to avoid. It’s uncomfortable to ask yourself why you’re doing something seemingly altruistic, because the reasons might not be as generous and you’d hope this would be.
Which brings me back to my books, exercises, and one I’d like to share with you.
This morning I tried an exercise that I first thought seemed tedious, but which was incredibly enlightening. If you’re open to this kind of thing or it intrigues you, I invite & encourage you to push through & try it.
The exercise has two parts – one focuses on Needs, the other on Values.
Exercise 1: Needs
Create a table with three columns:
- In the first column, list your emotional needs – and be honest, they don’t have to be pretty.
- In the second column, mark whether this need is important to you or not. I did this by putting a check mark if it was particularly important – two if it’s very important.
- In the third column, mark if you are expressing this need in a healthy, or destructive manner at this moment in your life. I put either a plus, or a minus, sign.
- Look at your list. Write a sentence to describe how you embody your healthy needs right now. Write a sentence to describe how you embody your destructive needs right now.
I’m a little uncomfortable making mine public, but for the sake of clarity because I hope others will try this, here is what my list ended up looking like:
One thing that was curious to me was that “contributing” didn’t get a check mark for importance, as it was the thing I had thought was the driving force behind how I was building my life. I was interested to see that the healthy expression of needs tended to be more self-focused (and appear less frequently in my daily life), and the destructive ones concerned my dealings with other people (which are much more populous in my day-to-day).
This brought me to the next exercise – values.
Exercise 2: Values
- Create a table with three columns.
- In the first column, write the people, places, & things that are important to you right now (not what you want or dream of or think should be important)
- In the second column, write the positive benefit you get from this person, place, or thing. You can use whatever terms or images make sense to you, even if they’re in your own quirky personal language.
- Read through your second column; in the third column, write down the values you see expressed multiple times.
*Note – try really hard not to self-censor; you will be tempted to put things on or take things off based on what you want your list to contain, but try to be very honest here, as you’re not helping anyone by clogging your list with untruths.
Here is mine:
Now take these values, and rewrite them in a new, fresh list – you don’t need to put them in any particular order.
You will now compare each value, and determine which one matters more to you. Start with #1; compare it to #2, and ask yourself “which one matters more to me? Put a tick mark next to the one that matters more. Now compare #1 and #3, asking yourself “Which one matters more to me?” Do this until you get to the bottom of the list , and then repeat the process with #2, comparing it to the one below and putting a tick mark next to the one that matters more to you. (Be sure to only compare each value to the ones below it -otherwise you’ll double count.)
Once you have finished with the tick marks, see which one has the most, and the fewest. Rewrite your list to reflect this, with #1 being the value with the most tick marks, and working your way down.
Here is mine. For example, I first compared love & connection to people; then love & connection to nature; then love & freedom/flexibility, and so forth. The list on the right reflects my priorities – autonomy got 9 tick marks, while Connection to Nature got 0:
Do you have any surprises on your list? I sure do!
The thing that shocked me was, again, the total absence of “community,” “making a difference,” or “contributing” on my list of needs & values. I was really stunned to see that my needs & values revolved around – well, me. I have architected my life to be outward facing, so I thought – I have a deep desire to help others, to bring others together, to make a visible change in the world. But when I got real with myself about my values & needs, they had nothing to do with other people, except for the ways that they related or connected to me.
The picture that emerged from this exercise was of a deep desire for freedom, autonomy, personal power, growth & discovery. I imagined a woman who exudes a grounded & peaceful energy – who knows herself, and makes strong decisions based on what suits her – not in a selfish or self-serving way, but in a manner that reinforces her wants & vision of life. Developing an inner well of power, direction, and stability stood out as the top priority. Only halfway down the list did the rest of the world make its way in, as connection to people, healthy support, mutual nurturing, self-expression, openness (to opportunities), and a connection to nature. These may involve other people, but none of them is about other people.
Being connected to people, providing & receiving healthy support & mutual nurturing – these define a way of experiencing and cultivating relationships with other people. Self-expression and openness to opportunities describe a way of choosing how, or how not, to fill my time, and a way of approaching what the world has to offer: letting my originality proudly flow out of me without caveats or explanations, and letting myself be drawn to, and try, new opportunities and experiences without the fussy ruffles of justification and explanation.
But a familiar worry creeps into my mind – if I follow these honest values, will it make me a selfish person? If I focus so much on my own needs and values, will I become totally self-involved? Growing up in a household where everyone basically took care of him or herself, and experiencing how painful this is, being self-involved is one of my biggest fears (paging Dr. Freud…). But I’ve also found that when we run away from a way of being, we usually end up enacting it more than if we didn’t try so hard not to be that way. In other words, my efforts to avoid being self-involved have probably made me much more so than if I just did what I needed & wanted to do, and worried less about becoming the thing I’m afraid of.
Which brings me back to this worry – if I focus on autonomy, self-growth, groundedness, my own freedom/flexibility, will I become a self-absorbed asshole? Giving back to others is also important to me – and I suppose it made its way to the list, too – just not in the manner I thought it would. But has my desire to “give back to others” all this time come from a possibly icky-bad place? Is it born of a need to get reinforcement, a desperate sense of connectedness and being needed, instead of a love and concern for others?
That’s a tough pill to swallow – but there’s something that feels fresh, curious, and exciting about it, too. If I approach my work with communities and individuals from my real values (mutual support/nuturing/feeling of connectedness) instead of my fake values which, I think, mask my somewhat ugly needs ( for safety, validation, and dependence), what kinds of new projects will emerge? Which projects will shrivel up and fall off?
When I choose what I will or won’t do, how can I find new ways to base those choices on the values of openness, self-expression, and autonomy, instead of my needs to avoid risks and receive affirmation from others?
I have a feeling this will help me to answer the question Alex posed – and I doubt the answer will be what I thought it imagined it would!
I hope that anyone who tries this exercise enjoys it, and if you have any interesting learnings or questions, please post them in the comment section! I look forward to hearing about your experiences with this.