Category Archives: authentic self

Walking The Tightrope Between "self" And "Self"

Recently, a former student of mine (I’ll call him J.R.) said, “I wanna be a waiter in NYC…that auditions for lowly theater companies. That is my dream life, and sadly, I can’t muster the courage to follow it. Damn society and its confines!” And I thought, how incredibly sad–and angering–that such a young man, in preparing himself for the “real world,” feels that he can not follow his passion because of the dictates of society.

Here is a young life, overwhelmed with AP classes so he can be accepted to a prestigious university, overburdened by expectations to succeed in a reputable career, and over-scheduled by activities that drain him of his time and energy (and life!) so he can project and market the “right” image.

Photo courtesy of Google Images
He’s teetering on a tightrope between what’s expected of him versus what he desires for himself. How many of us have been in a similar position?

Dreams can be big, or they can be as simple as J.R.’s. But, a dream is a dream, no matter the size. J.R. doesn’t want to find a cure for cancer. He doesn’t want to save the world. He wants to be himself — not some copy of someone else. Some people may say that J.R. will be throwing his life away and wasting his intellect should he follow such a simple dream. I say his desire is a compass for direction in his life.

He is yearning for expression. The person J.R. wants to be will always be with him, tugging at his shirttails in those quiet moments, nudging him to follow his passion and live his dream life. I don’t know what he will decide. All I can do is encourage him in his decision-making process and hope he finds the courage to bloom into his authentic self, whoever and whatever that may be.

As we reach toward and re-claim our authentic selves, as we walk that tightrope from who we are expected to be to who we yearn to be, we find ourselves riddled with questions and haunted by self-doubt. The shakiness we feel is normal any time we find ourselves transitioning between self and Self.

But we can take comfort in knowing that Divine Wisdom underlies all events, and no transition fails to bring good. As we attune ourselves to the unfolding, we release those nagging questions and doubts to a higher hand. I will not tell J.R. what to do with his life or how to live it, but I will encourage him to be true to himself and to go into the direction that he believes will serve his highest good on the road to his authentic self.
May we all rely on Divine Wisdom to guide us toward our happiness.

Saving Sin

SIN.

What images pop into your mind when you hear that word?

What feelings emerge?

If you are like most, you cringe at the word and feel some guilt. It’s one of those “holy” words that strikes fear into you.

Sin is a word that has been greatly misinterpreted and misunderstood.

According to Christian teachings, we have been born into “original sin.”

Some people would say, Well, what the heck does that mean? 

It’s a phrase used to describe the collective state of humanity. In other words, the condition of humanity is not perfect. It has some flaws.

Let’s examine this.

The word for “sin” in the ancient Greek (in which the New Testament was written) is “hamartia” (ἁμαρτία), which transliterated means “miss the mark.”

Think of an archer aiming for the bullseye. Ready. Aim. Miss! What does the archer do? He grabs another bow, takes aim, and fires again. He keeps firing until he hits the mark. He perfects his technique until he is able to hit it accurately. Will there be times he misses? Sure. But as long as he keeps his eye on the mark, he’ll hit it more often than not.


Over the centuries, the word sin has collected a lot of cultural and religious baggage. It was held over the heads of people to scare them into what churches (some, not all) and society considered “proper” behavior. It has been misused, abused, and taken out of context.

During the Dark Ages and Medieval times, most people were illiterate and uneducated; only priests and very wealthy people were educated, and because of this privilege, they were able to control (and manipulate) the masses for their purposes. And more often than not, they missed the mark by abusing their power by using statements like, If you don’t do this or that in the name of God, you’re a sinner! You’ll be damned and go straight to hell!  You’re made to feel guilty by others.

It’s no wonder people began to fear the word (and God for that matter).

So, when we strip away all of the baggage and misinterpretations, we have a word with a simple definition that points toward an inherent condition. Because we are human, we are born with some abnormalities, some dysfunction if you will, thus the term “original sin.” We are born into ignorance. And if we are not careful, others will capitalize on that ignorance to bring out the worst in us or to keep us under their thumbs…sneaky sneaky.

When we sin, we miss the mark. Missing the mark means to continue in ignorance. It means to suffer and to cause suffering because of continued ignorance. It means missing the point of human existence.

But that doesn’t mean we have to remain in ignorance. We have the ability (and free will) to make choices to better ourselves so that we can live our lives more authentically. The biggest sin, therefore, is remaining ignorant and blind to your authentic self by letting your flaws (and others) hold you down.

We can take a lesson from the archer when it comes to sin. He doesn’t feel guilty for not hitting his target; he doesn’t beat himself up; instead, he tries again. And again. Until he gets it right. It takes practice, patience, and perseverance.

With practice, his aim gets better. With patience, he learns from his mistakes and makes corrections. With perseverance, he progresses toward his goal until he reaches it. He doesn’t give up. He knows he has flaws, but he doesn’t let those flaws define him, nor does he allow them to deny him what is his. He lives the life of an archer, true to himself because that is who he is designed to be.

Who are you designed to be? And what will it take for you to make your mark?

The Art of Teen Whispering

As I ran errands this morning, Back-To-School supplies and displays greeted me as I entered the store. School will start in about two weeks, and that means my private tutoring schedule will begin to pick up. My next two weeks will include some adjustments to my schedule, more research, and developing methods to reach students on more than just an academic level. My goal is to reach the whole student.

To many, tutoring is nothing more than supplemental help to improve skills.  
No, no, no, no, NO. 
When parents ask me to tutor their children, I explain to them that tutoring involves more than academic instruction; it involves activities to shake them up and turn them inside-out before academic instruction can begin. Teenagers, in particular, are in a challenging position. Teenage years are awkward. They are no longer innocent babes, but they have not fully matured into adulthood, which is why I call them Tweenagers because they are caught in-between the two states. They have so many questions that need answering, their hormones are raging, they are beginning to discover themselves and their bodies, they don’t know who or what to believe, and they are bombarded with much more pressure today than teenagers 20, 30, or 40 years ago. They often feel misunderstood in their quest for individuality. I like to describe them as live wires that need grounding.
Here are some of my tutoring techniques to help ground these wild currents of energy:
First, I require students to keep a personal journal. I explain the benefits of journaling. I give them journaling exercises for the week, which I review in detail and comment upon. In my comments, I ask questions in return for them to answer. I encourage them. I offer my insights. I don’t judge. This helps me to see inside from a safe distance. This allows them to write freely and boldly. I assure them that what they write is strictly confidential; the only time I would have to share information is if the student intends to do harm, either to the self or to someone else. I offer many observation exercises to open the students’ minds. Students continue journaling throughout our sessions. Journaling can be handwritten in a notebook, or done in a word-processing program and emailed to me. In addition to personal journals, I require students to keep reading journals for any literature they are studying. 
Second, I introduce students to meditation techniques. I explain the importance of centering oneself before tackling large tasks. I also explain the benefits of meditation. I use guided meditation in the beginning until students feel comfortable. From there, we meditate together. Students journal about these experiences for later discussion.
Third, I make students move physically. I check with parents about the health of their child. In most cases, students are involved in many sports, and I check with their coaches about their particular conditioning programs. I use my personal training experience in conjunction. Instead of writing an essay or working on argumentation techniques for a session, I make students run/walk or commit to some kind of physical activity. When I started an outdoor club at a previous school, I took students hiking, camping, and canoeing as we studied the Romantics and Transcendentalist writers. 
Fourth, I introduce an I-Search project, instead of a Re-search project. A teen’s favorite topic is none other than him- or herself, so I give guidelines to help discover who they are, what they believe, etc. This is done in a multi-genre format to allow for creativity throughout the project.  This is always a favorite. The multi-genre format teaches students to learn about and write in various genres to expand their writing skills. They can respond in poems, essays, letters, collages, bumper stickers, comic strips, etc.  I have a list of over 200 different genres from which they can choose to express themselves in their project. I tutored one student in particular who had suffered a major car accident that left her with seizures. Through her I-Search multi-genre project, she faced her fears, anger, and grief. She discovered news ways to cope and found herself healed on many levels after completing it. Her writing skills blossomed and so did her self-esteem. Today she is seizure free.
Fifth, I infuse reading comprehension, writing techniques, grammar skills, vocabulary development and all things language arts related in as many creative ways as possible. I haven’t met a teenager yet who absolutely loves vocabulary development. When I want students to learn vocab words, I have them personify the words, as a living, breathing person, in such a way that the meaning of the word is evident without stating the obvious.  For example, let’s use the word oblivious as the vocab word: “Oblivious walked into the classroom, tripping over backpacks, and knocking books off of desks with her bag, not realizing what she was doing. As she settled into her seat, she dumped all of the contents from her purse onto her desk, completely unaware that class had already started.” Not only does this teach the meaning of the word, but it teaches the elements of characterization in a creative way, and it helps students to understand context clues.
Some students progress faster than others, but rushing a student through the learning process only serves to close him or her down. It requires trust-building and patience, especially with students who are unsure of themselves. Students want to feel good about who they are and what they are doing, especially during a time in their life that is often filled with angst and confusion.
Of course, these techniques are not a cure-all, but they are a start in helping young people discover their authentic selves.

Kids, A Cause, and Catfish

I like to reward myself.

No. Let me take that back.

I love to reward myself.

It’s my way of patting myself on my back for accomplishing something.

Yesterday, I ran a 5K race along the beautiful Tennessee River in the Shoals area of Alabama to benefit St. Jude’s Hospital for children. Well-over 200 people showed for the race, not counting those who came to support us on the sidelines.

When I run, I don’t compete with others; I compete with myself. My goal was to knock off one to two minutes of my total run time. That may not seem like a lot, but when you are pounding the pavement on a hot, humid day, that’s a very challenging goal. When I crossed the finish line, I found that I had knocked off two minutes and three seconds from the last 5K. Yes! Mission accomplished, and then some (hey, three seconds is a lot to a runner!). I also placed third in my age group (an added bonus!).

But it wasn’t easy. To get me through, I thought about the kids in St. Jude’s…and catfish.

So, today I rewarded myself with what I consider the best catfish in the South at Hagy’s Catfish Hotel in Shiloh, Tennessee. Oh. My. God. Cat-fish-gasm.

If you are a catfish connoisseur like me, the fish must be crunchy on the outside and moist and flaky on the inside. It must be pond-raised and fresh, never frozen. And it’s got to be accompanied by hushpuppies, what I call the french fries of the South. If you’re not familiar with hushpuppies, they are deep-fried cornbread balls. Legend has it that hunters, fishermen, and cooks would fry this delectable cornmeal mixture and feed it to the dogs to “hush the puppies” during fish-fries. Legend also has it that Civil War soldiers used hushpuppies to quiet the barking of Confederate dogs.

But, I digress.

If given the choice of splurging on a rich, velvety, chocolate dessert or fresh catfish and savory hushpuppies, I’ll take catfish hands down (or fins down!). Along with some homemade tartar sauce and sweet tea, thank you.

I ate it all!

Rewarding yourself for accomplishing a goal or a mini-goal deserves celebration. But rewards must be done correctly. That means they must have extrinsic and/or intrinsic value; that is, a reward can come from outer things (like catfish!), or the reward is in how our accomplishment (cutting two minutes and three seconds from my previous run time) makes us feel inwardly (victorious and proud).

While rewards that change our inner life are more important in the long run, outer rewards serve as important pats-on-the-back along the way. And it’s important not to punish the slip-ups because they do happen on occasion.

Rewarding ourselves is about celebrating and loving the self. Rewards make us feel good about ourselves; they help build our self-esteem which gives us the courage and the motivation to keep moving forward. They are the fuel that keeps us going in the direction of our authentic self because they stimulate a positive cycle of change.

While fried catfish and hushpuppies aren’t the healthiest reward, that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it from time to time.

How do you reward yourself for your accomplishments? What other tips or insight can you offer about rewards?

Failure As A Spiritual Tool

When you see or hear the word “failure,” what comes to mind?
If you are like most, you think of times when you have failed in life, and then you cringe. The idea of failure conjures all kinds of negative images and feelings.
 
That is a human reaction. The ego strikes again!
But failure from a spiritual perspective is not failure. 
It’s a starting point.
Too many times, we allow our failures to define us. I can remember in my own life having the need to earn love and acceptance. If I didn’t get high grades in school, I wasn’t smart enough. If I didn’t work long hours, I wasn’t going to get that promotion. I was a slave to the ego and to a twisted worldview of success.  Within this worldview, my value as a person was extrinsic; I tied my self-worth to my achievements, and I feared failure. As a result, I operated under the false notion that success made me a good, valuable person, while failure made me a bad, unworthy one. I lived my life from the outside in, and I suffered.
But then I learned that I am not my outcomes.  I am more than any outcome.  Much, much more.
I took the advice of Uncle Socrates when he said,  “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I started examining my life, and I challenged the premise of the world’s view of success and failure.  In what way did failure make me a bad person? Why would success make me a good or better person? And what’s the link between my ability to perform a specific task or to achieve a certain goal and my worth as a person? 
None! 
I realized the absurdity of such a premise. I had been engaging in self-sabotage! My value and worth as a person had absolutely nothing to do with my succeeding or failing at a particular task. I suddenly (and finally) felt free.  My worthiness is an intrinsic part of my existence. My value lies in the fact that I am a unique expression of the Divine; my value is not dependent on whether I succeed or fail at something.
Failure, according to a spiritual perspective, really doesn’t exist. Neither does success. These do, however, exist in a very real way for those who choose to define themselves through their successes and failures, but where is the freedom in that?
When we approach failure spiritually, we see it as a launching pad into the Inner Self. We view and use it as a tool to re-examine who we are, what our core assumptions and beliefs are about ourselves and the world, and the strategies and tactics we employ based on those core beliefs.  And in so doing, we expand our awareness and perspective. We learn. We grow. We break through. The stuff of miracles. 
The examined life is worth living when we see it as a journey to the Authentic Self. Will there be setbacks? Of course. We will stumble. We will fall. We will get up, and we will carry on, knowing that we have a Higher Calling than what the world would have us answer.
 
As always, your comments are welcome. . .

Learning Self-Love

This morning I spoke with a young woman (I’ll call her J) who is not happy with her body image. She said, “I’ve always wanted to be the type of person who could wear a bikini at a pool or beach and I know that will never happen.”

I run into this time and time again with young women who *believe* that they are supposed to look like runway models, movie stars, and glamour queens. And when they don’t, they resort to extreme dieting and exercise; worse yet, they develop eating disorders and other physical ailments. Such self-abuse takes its toll on the body, mind, and spirit.

I admit when I was a teen I often compared myself to other girls and to women in magazines.  Their images seduced me into wanting to look like them. I can recall times I’ve stood in front of my mirror, chanting the mantra that most teenage girls of my time were chanting, I must…I must…I must increase my bust, while trying to get my elbows to touch behind my back each time.

And then one day a bolt of realization hit me. I didn’t have to have big breasts. I liked mine just the way they were. I didn’t want to be a copy of someone else; I wanted to be an original. And no one would do a better job of being me than me.

So, I embraced myself, B-cups and all.

We incarnate into this world naked, innocent, pure, and beautiful. Unfortunately, we buy into lies perpetuated by the media and advertising, and we begin to think that we are not good enough.  We start living by standards set by others rather than by our own. And when we fail to live up to those standards, we are crushed, devastated, and defeated. We call ourselves failures in comparison to others.  We *believe* the lies as truth that we are less than perfect. How incredibly sad.

After talking at length with J, it’s obvious that she is caught in this destructive trap. She’s afraid of being seen as a failure. At her core lies shame that she learned from someone or something. It has such a grip on her that it has paralyzed her from making the changes she needs to make in order to blossom into her authentic self.  Her self-neglect and self-abuse have out-trumped the ability to love herself as the gift that she is.

It would be easy to tell J to just go love herself, but the issue is that she doesn’t know how.  It’s going to take some training and a lot of inner as well as outer work on her part, and only if she truly wants to make the changes.

What can J (or anyone for that matter) do to love herself more?  I’ve compiled a list of things that she (and you!) can start doing.  Of course, these don’t have to be done all at once, but the sooner the better.

1.  Start dating yourself. Take yourself out to dinner, to a movie, or to a museum. The point is to spend some quality time alone with yourself. Get to know who you are. Learn to get comfortable with yourself. It might feel a bit awkward in the beginning.  You may feel self-conscious, or feel that people are looking at you and judging you because you are out alone. But this discomfort will dissipate and you’ll soon realize how important it is to do things for yourself.

2.  Notice your self-talk. Your self-dialogue is key! Negative self-talk shames you into imprisoning your authentic self.  It is destructive to your growth.  Instead, practice positive self-talk through affirmations and I AM statements. Start paying yourself compliments. Say them in front of a mirror. Write them down. Post them where you will always see them. Read them and re-read them. Speak kindly to yourself always. Forgive yourself for past negative thinking.

3.  Do what you love. When you find things that you love to do and you spend time doing them, you will experience love, joy, and happiness, and then will you connect with your authentic self.

4.  Learn to say no to others’ requests. And don’t feel guilty about it. If you don’t feel like doing something, you have the right not to do it. If you feel you have to please someone else and make others happy, then you are doing so out of obligation and not out of love. You run the risk of over-extending yourself. Saying no takes some practice; you want to do it respectfully. You can’t please everyone and you are not responsible for everybody else’s needs.

5.  Practice self-care on all levels. Take care of yourself physically by exercising and eating healthy foods.  Take care of yourself spiritually through meditation, prayer, or contemplation. Take care of yourself emotionally by listening to uplifting music, putting your creative skills to use, and being kind to others.  Kindness is the kernel of love.

6.  Avoid the comparison trap! You are a unique individual.  There will never be anyone quite like you.  This is important to remember.  When you start comparing yourself to others it chips away at self-esteem and confidence, making you depressed, envious, or jealous.  Instead, focus on your own strengths and gifts that you can offer to the world.

7.  Practice gratitude. Be happy with what you have. Be truly thankful for everything in your life…friends, family, a home, a job, etc. Gratitude keeps your heart open to love. The more you are grateful for what you have in your life, the more you attract.

8. Examine the kinds of activities in which you are involved.  What kinds of TV shows, music, art and music do you indulge?  Ask yourself if these things are adding to your growth or detracting from it. With what kinds of people do you associate? Do these people foster your growth or not? If these things and people only add stress to your life, then it’s time find activities and people that feed your soul and not your ego.

9.  Celebrate your accomplishments. Don’t define yourself by what you’ve done or haven’t done. Instead, celebrate the steps you have taken to better yourself. Small accomplishments lead to bigger ones. Your progress is very important, but it may take some time. Be patient as you allow your authentic self to emerge. Every time you feel good about something you do, it’s one more reminder to love who you are.

10. Stand up for your beliefs. You are who you are.  You like what you like.  You believe what you believe. You have nothing to prove to anyone.  Don’t give other people’s opinions and criticisms power over you. Your self-worth is not conditional on other people.

Self-love is at the very core of well-being. If we are to experience joy and self-empowerment, if we are to create and enjoy the kind of life that we want, self-love must live at our core.  You can’t enjoy happiness if you are not at peace with yourself.

As always your comments are welcome.  Please share your ideas to help others on the journey to the authentic self.