Energy Management Training for Clinicians!

WHEN: December 15, 2016 9:00-4:30 (check-in open 8:30am)
WHERE: All Souls Interfaith Gathering in Shelburne, Vermont
REGISTRATION: $180; email info@drlindsayjernigan.com
Dr. Lindsay Jernigan and Caryn Benevento team up to offer clinicians working in the helping profession an opportunity to learn skills beyond their current practice. With the help of modern neuroscience and quantum physics, we now know that in relationships, we exchange not only thoughts, stories and feelings, but also measurable energy. Without consciousness of this exchange, this energetic material can cloud clinical clarity and lead to compassion fatigue and burnout. Whether you are working in a quiet office, a client’s home, or hectic court rooms, agencies or schools, holding protective space and energetic boundaries is the key to effective therapy and sustainability of the work. Jernigan and Benevento will teach clinicians how to do just that with subtle but powerful energetic consciousness. The customized tools taught in this training equip and position clinicians to restore energy and passion while accessing the wisdom and flow that allow deep presence and transformational change, creating a culture of hope and compassion in a field where there is much work to be done.

Washington Post

I’m on a bit of a high this week, enjoying my first national platform.  Thank you to journalist Rachel Hills for including my Compassionate Authenticity work in her article about women’s sexuality.  Please check it out!  The drug industry would like us to believe that low libido is best treated with a pill.  But our sexuality is a part of our core self, our soul energy.  We experience our sexuality not in a vacuum, but rather in the context of both our relationship to ourselves and our relationship to our partner(s).  To reignite desire, reconnect with and share your deepest and truest self, your authentic you.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/soloish/wp/2015/12/15/6-things-that-would-do-more-for-womens-sex-drive-than-female-viagra/

Me? Angry? Nooooo…

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 3.32.31 PMI have a hard time with anger. Specifically, with delivering it. I work pretty hard to contain anger, assess it, make sure it’s fair, find gentle ways to express it, and just avoid it altogether. Sometimes I find myself, jaw clenched, head exploding, blood pulsing…and silent. SILENT. Even with people I love and trust.

Why is that?

When I get angry, I also often get self-doubting. Now, some caution before expressing anger seems like a good thing. I like the idea of a world where we all stop and check-in with ourselves when we are about to deliver anger. Is this a grounded response? What’s my role in this? Will this be a productive conversation? Good questions to ask. If you’re not asking these questions, if anger is your primary experience, or if you tend to damage others with your anger, then this blog entry probably isn’t for you.

But my experience is more of a repressed one. I get so entwined in those questions that I shut myself down. Many of us do, especially women and girls. It’s woven into the female gender role NOT to be angry. It gets called hurtful, aggressive, reactive, and bitchy. So, often when I feel angry, I worry that I’m being hurtful, aggressive, reactive and bitchy. THAT’S called internalized sexism.

The self-doubt voice goes something like this: “My anger may hurt this person who I love and want to connect with, therefore it is a BAD EMOTION. Shame on you. Be good. Be nice. Be grateful. Be careful. If you could just be more focused on the positive, if you could just be more enlightened, if you could just (be inhuman and) not have needs and feelings other than joy, this would all be a whole lot easier!”

Well, self-doubt, THAT’S NOT HELPFUL!! (Whew. Those caps signify that I yelled that, and it felt really good!!) Those self-doubting thoughts are built on three destructive internalized messages: 1) You are not good just as you are, all your emotions, included. SHAME! 2) You are responsible for other peoples’ feelings. ENMESHMENT! 3) Because of SHAME and ENMESHMENT, the way to take care of others is to silence, repress, squash, and change so others don’t feel uncomfortable. This is the message that is so ingrained in us – the warped message to be inauthentic in the name of protecting our relationships, and in the name of compassion.

RAGE!! RAGE AGAINST IT! Of course…that would require allowing ourselves to be angry. So go for it! That is one insidious message, and when I feel the self-doubt that silences me, I now recognize that it’s my cue that this message is working its black magic, and that maybe there’s something I’ve shamed and enmeshed myself into not expressing.

And that’s not such a compassionate thing, after all. The truth is that when I repress anger, I feel resentment, and I feel irritable. I eventually feel flat, and not surprisingly, repressed. Because I am! And my repressed self is not my best self.

You know whose company does bring out my best self? My kids. I am my most playful, present, forgiving, curious, loving, passionate, spontaneous, whacky and open-hearted self with my kids. And guess what? I get angry at them with ease! It flows. I am not repressed. They will most likely be both confused and entertained to read that I consider myself someone who represses my anger. It’s no coincidence that the people who know me at my most joyful also know my anger. They know ME.

Anger = Part of Self.

Self = Good.

Sharing Self = Intimacy.

It’s that simple. Of course, you can insert any emotion at the start of that equation and it still works. And the key is quieting self-doubt, releasing shame and breaking free from enmeshment, so that you can know in the core of your being that you and all that you feel are good. You. Are. Good.

So I will practice voice over silence, anger over bitterness, passion over repression. Ultimately, this is the practice of love over fear. Day after day I will try to choose love, with all the juicy anger that comes with it.

NEW WORKSHOP!

Find Your Authentic Self: A Day of Transformation and Healing.  Join me on September 13th from 9-4:00 for this one day workshop that I am offering at the beautiful and inspiring Knoll Farm Retreat Center in Fayston, VT.  We will utilize a powerful group process called ISIS Wheel work to gain momentum in areas where you are feeling stuck, and to reconnect with your full authentic self and energy.  For more information you can check out the workshop page at drlindsayjernigan.com, or reach out to me at info@drlindsayjernigan.com; 802-229-8270.  Pre-registration is required, $150 with lunch included.  images-5

(ISIS Wheel work is founded by the fabulous Dr. Gina Ogden, and she used the term before other less fortunate uses popped up…so I’m sticking to it!!)

EXPAND!!

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 6.05.09 PMWe don’t get to pick and choose which emotions are part of our emotional repertoire. We’re born with them all. They’re all supposed to be in us. That’s why we came that way.

It’s oh so tempting to try to only feel the good stuff. We repress anger, we try to ignore sadness, we scaffold loneliness, we paint over grief. We try to fix the painful things for each other and we try to help our children avoid them altogether. But when we do that, we don’t actually get more of the good stuff. We just get less emotion, period. Because, like I said in the beginning, we don’t get to pick and choose our emotions. But we do get to choose our emotional range.

It’s like this. Picture a square on a computer screen. You can click your mouse on the corner of the square and drag it in or out and make the whole square bigger or smaller. But you can’t just raise up the bottom, get rid of the lower end, and still have a square. If you raise up the bottom, you get something else! A warped version of the original shape. A FLAT version of the original square.

Our emotions work like this, too. If we try to simply raise up the bottom and not feel heartache, loneliness, grief, and despair, we just get a warped version of ourselves. And, we don’t increase the upper range. We only increase the upper range when we grab the corner of that square and we EXPAND, in every direction. We have to grow the whole damn thing if we want more of the good stuff. We can make the square as big as the whole screen. We can raise the roof, swell and burst at the seams, but only by growing in EVERY direction.

Let in what you feel. Let yourself expand. Otherwise, in the famous words of the very wise Ferris Bueller, you might miss something. Who knows what is lying just beyond the edges of your current square!

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Forgiving from the Soul

Have you heard the audio clip of Felecia Sanders speaking from Chief Magistrate James Gosnell’s courtroom to Dylann Roof? She survived Roof’s brutal attack on her bible study group in Charleston, South Carolina, but her son died there at Roof’s hand. And she offered Roof forgiveness. She was not the only one to do so. Anthony Thompson, Alana Simmons, Nadine Collier, Bethane Middleton-Brown and others who lost loved ones in that hate and fear driven murder at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church have publically done the same. On my way home from work, recently, I stumbled upon the audio clips of the loved ones of the victims speaking directly to Roof in court. Find the clip. And listen. It’s an astonishing spiritual lesson about forgiveness.

These amazing people speak with poetic articulation through their heart wrenching pain. They sob as they give voice to their broken hearts, to the depth of their loss, to the life altering repercussions of this hateful act. And then, in the same sentence and the same breath as the pain, they say things like, “I forgive you,” “Have mercy on your soul,” and “We have no room for hating.” Breath taking words.

Today I am out for a healing hike, above the vibration of the human fog, and I’m thinking about forgiveness. When I heard that audio clip, alone in my car, I immediately said out loud to no one, “I don’t forgive him!” Hmmm. A moment to pause. How can they forgive him, from the depths of despair, and my knee jerk reaction from afar is to condemn?

What IS forgiveness, anyway?

I think we often mistakenly think that to forgive means to wipe the slate clean. As in, “ to forgive and forget.” In this version, to forgive means to say, “It’s ok, I’m over it, I’m letting it go,” or “It’s water under the bridge, let’s put it behind us, and all is well.” And I suppose that really IS what it means sometimes. Like, “Oh, you broke my favorite coffee mug? I’m disappointed. But it’s ok, I forgive you, and I will soon forget it.”

But what about when it’s your heart that’s broken?

Obviously, Ms. Sanders, Ms. Collier and the others who spoke to Roof in court do not mean “I forgive and forget.” Their forgiveness comes from a much deeper, richer place that resides in the Soul. Their forgiveness comes from a place of enlightened faith in the spirit within the human being. I think I should say that last part again: enlightened faith in the spirit within the human being. Here’s what I mean. When we truly know our own spiritual nature, that we are made from and of Love, then we can know this of each other, too. And when we truly know this, then we can “forgive” human error, because we can see through it to the spirit within.

Yet, because I’m a human being, it still seems unfathomable to be able to forgive the man who murdered your family. Maybe that’s true for you, too, human reader. So let’s try to make the concept more approachable. Think of your own human errors that you struggle to forgive yourself for every single day – being unproductive, being impatient with your kids, being irritable with your partner, being disorganized, compulsive, impulsive, inattentive, insecure, judgmental…insert anything for which you judge yourself or others. These errors are our humanity. To operate from our spiritual selves means to love ourselves in our human form, not to shame ourselves for our humanity. After all, that which we resist persists. If we judge ourselves or each other for our humanity, it persists, meaning we cannot rise to our spiritual nature.

Imagine what it might feel like to truly forgive yourself for your daily humanity. To step into the vibration of your soul and see the struggle of being a person and say to yourself, “I see that you are good and you are Love and you are a human being learning lessons, and I forgive you.” Really, close your eyes for just a second and imagine, with every cell in your body, what it would feel like to hear your soul forgive yourself and your neighbor for being human, every single day. What angsty voices would fall silent in your head? What stores of energy would be liberated? What would you do next?? It’s the Soul, the part of you that knows your spiritual nature, that has such a gift to offer.

This is the experience at the core of compassionate authenticity. When we know that in our deepest and truest self we are Love, then we have compassion for everyone and for ourselves, and it becomes clear that sharing our Selves as we truly are is the greatest act.

So, I’m going to try to learn from Ms. Sanders and Ms. Collier and their comrades in spiritual heroism. I have studied their forgiveness to try to learn what forgiveness really means. They are offering forgiveness from the Soul, and this is what I hear:

The spirit in me sees the spirit in you, and can love the spirit in you even though your human body has erred through hatred and fear. I see that you are a spiritual being on a painful path with many lessons to learn. And you, like me, are a child of Love, brother. Yes, I will call you brother. I will not let your hatred and terrorism, your fear and racism, make me afraid to travel in my spiritual awareness. If I did that, if I let your hatred close my portal to a higher plane where you are my brother, then your terrorism would have worked. So my heart is broken. My pain is excruciating. I will never ever forget. And the spirit in me continues to see the spirit in you. I forgive you.

 This sounds a lot like the definition of Namaste. No wonder that word is often used to mean “peace.” Thank you for your generous teaching, spiritual warriors in Charleston. May you find peace in and from your Soul. I send you Love.

My Experience with Elizabeth Gilbert (that she doesn’t know about)

Well, I’m happy to report that I stumbled my way into a Failure Week success! Failure Week, as you may recall, was intended as a way to shift my intention away from achievement and the valuing of outcomes, and back towards risk taking and the valuing of the process. Failures are viewed, in Failure Week, as a victory – a sign that you’ve pushed yourself to take a leap, and you’ve had an experience you can learn from. Yup, that happened. It was uncomfortable in so many ways. And I guess that’s the point. Ok, so here’s what happened.

Pretty much nothing.

But I’ll back up.

I am a big fan of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and Committed: A Love Story (among other titles), both of which I see as ultimately being about her journey towards authenticity. My favorite theme! In the first, she figures out how to leave a marriage to follow her authentic self, and in the second, she figures out how to get back into a marriage in a way that still feels authentic. More recently, I’ve been following her on Facebook where she posts daily inspiring and amusing messages. I love the cross-over in the themes we think about. Similar ideas seem to make us tick, and I feel a kinship from afar, like we have a comparable vibration and sense of mission. (Even just saying that “out loud” makes my insides squiggle, just so you know. I worry it sounds arrogant or presumptuous, possibly even delusional. That’s a little precursor to where this story is headed.)

So, for the last few months I have had this fantasy of reaching out to Elizabeth Gilbert via Facebook. I want to say something like, “Hey! I just wanted to introduce myself and say that you and I think about and try to communicate with the world about some similar things. I find connections like that inspiring, and I hope you might, too. Check out my stuff online if you’re curious, and reach back if you are drawn to!” Seems innocuous enough, right?? WRONG!!! Terr-i-fying. But it was Failure Week…the week to take chances without worrying about the outcomes. So I tried.

IMG_0429I wish I had a video of myself. What you would see is me staring at the computer screen. For a long time. And then writing a few sentences. And then deleting them. And then staring at the computer screen again. And then staring at her Facebook page to figure out where I would post something, and whether other people post things to her page, and whether she writes back, and what her tone is when she writes back. And then you’d see me writing a few sentences, again. And then deleting them. And then questioning the grammar. I mean, can I end my message with a dangling participle?! I’m writing to an author, after all! She WILL see the dangling participle. But if I say, “…write back if you are so drawn,” then it just sounds self-important and overly formal. So I abandon the writing and start playing with my own Facebook page, instead, to try to figure out where a post would show up and whether it would be private or public. I wish I could find a way to make it private!  And then I text my friend Alice, The One Without Whom I could Not Be Me and The One Who Has A Saint’s Tolerance for Interacting With Me in Neurotic Moments. You’d see me reading her my three sentences and asking her seven questions about how they sound, and you’d see her patiently thinking it through with me as if I’m not off my rocker.

I’m not kidding, this went on and on. I tortured myself. I used up what was preciously protected creative time on this agonizing process. I’m sure it would have been hysterical to behold. But probably even more interesting than watching this in video action would be hearing an audio playback of the monologue inside my head. It sounded something like this:

“Her followers don’t want to see a post from me, they come to see Elizabeth Gilbert’s posts! It’s like an embarrassingly unwanted photo bomb! But other people post, and it doesn’t seem strange. So maybe mine wouldn’t, either. But maybe mine will seem opportunistic, like I’m somehow trying to cash in on Elizabeth Gilbert’s hard earned audience. Or I might sound delusional, like Hugh Grant’s sister in Notting Hill when she first meets Julia Roberts’ character (a movie star from America) and declares with her crazy hair and bugged out eyes that she has always felt a kinship with her and suspected they would one day be best friends. I don’t want to be Hugh Grant’s sister in Notting Hill!!! But on the other hand, Elizabeth is just a person, too (see, I’m on a first name basis with her, now!). And maybe she really WOULD feel inspired by connecting with someone who shares some vibration with her. And maybe, just maybe, it’s ok to be big and take up this space, and maybe, just maybe, it won’t actually inconvenience or offend or upset anyone, at all!” And besides, the worst thing that can happen is nothing will happen, right? And Liz (she and I are getting closer and closer, see?!) is a proponent of taking leaps and reaching out into the world and being brave, so if she could watch this video of me agonizing I think she would giggle and say, “Send that message, soul sister!!! (I KNEW we’d be soul sisters!)

Can you feel the momentum building? I felt it!! It built and built until that tape in my head sounded like a cheerleader and I finally hit POST!!!!!! Hahh hahahh!! Victory!! Ummmm. Right? images-5Well…no. Because the post NEVER APPEARED. As any of you who have read my Facebook page know, I am a newbie in all things technology, so I have no idea what I did wrong, or maybe it was just the universe making a point. But that damn post, those three sentences I agonized over, disappeared into the ether. Which was perfect. Because it forced me to look at the PROCESS I had just been in, instead of judging the experience based on the OUTCOME (of which there was none).

So I took a breath and asked myself, “What the hell just happened?” And I re-heard that audio tape in my head, and this line stood out: “…maybe, it’s ok to be big and take up this space, and maybe, just maybe, it won’t actually inconvenience or offend or upset anyone, at all.” That’s when it hit me. This was a very important and agonizing victory of a failure, because it brought me face to face with the demon this whole blog journey is about: the fear that we have to stay small in order to protect others from a bigness and brightness that might not be ok for them. That fear is deeply engrained for me. For many. Have you ever found yourself dressing down so you don’t look too good? Or trying not to laugh too loud? Or deciding not to speak up in a class or a meeting? Do you ever worry pride will look like superiority, as if one can’t have pride and humility at the same time? Do you fear confidence will look like arrogance? Or talent or skill or the success that comes from hard work will look like presumptuousness or egotism? Do you worry you will be judged or attacked for your brightness, or that by owning your space you smoosh someone else out? I hit all of that in this process. I was afraid to own my light in case someone else found it offensive or intrusive or arrogant or presumptuous.

images-4But I started this blog adventure because I want to debunk that message that gets slow-dripped into our veins. Because I believe IT’S BACKWARDS! I know I’ve said it before, but this is my core message and it needs to be said again and again and again. When we take up our space and we own our brightness and we shine like the amazing creatures of the universe that we each have been created to be, then we step into our purpose. Then we give the most back to the people around us, and to the planet, at large. That’s why being our authentic selves is the most compassionate thing we can do. Authenticity doesn’t endanger others; it’s a gift. That’s what this Compassionate Authenticity journey I have started is all about. I prefer the easy and expansive and glowing experiential reminders of this, but Failure Week gave me a chance to learn from the shadow side of experience, too. And we have to do that. We just have to. That’s where so much of the learning happens.

So, thank you Liz, my soul sister, for having this intense victorious failure of an experience with me. You’re the best BFF ever!! 😉 Your buddy — Linds

The Expectations Monster

When I started writing a couple of months ago, it felt GREAT. I felt inspired, empowered, playful, and revitalized. I eagerly and gleefully carved out time to write like I was stealing cookies from a cookie jar. By the time I had posted my third entry, I had four additional entries mostly written and ready to go, and about nine other idea seedlings jotted down and germinating. And then…I stopped. I waited patiently for myself to pick up the pen, again. Thanksgiving came and went, Christmas came and went, New Years came and went…dagnabitt, the whole winter season came and went! I noticed the rising self-critical voice that wanted to say things like, “See, I knew you wouldn’t follow through,” and “See, I knew you couldn’t do it,” and I just tried to stay patient and curious. And then I realized – this very experience had to be the subject of my next entry. So here we go! Back in the saddle.

So…what knocked me OUT of t10653520_10152825156517457_4315024289227522228_nhe saddle? What can I learn from this about the forces that block our creative flow and quiet our voices, even when we can hear the pulse of our own creative energy behind the wall? I, like many people, often point to time deficiency as my prominent creative barrier. Ok, yes, the holiday season got in the way of my routines, and yes, some extra work responsibilities popped up that took precious time. But having finally succeeded in MAKING the time to write, I now couldn’t deny that I had simply stopped making the time. I could feel there was a force at play more interesting than time. When I thought about sitting down to write, it didn’t feel light and playful, anymore; it had started to feel weighty and serious. Something was blocking the fun. I realized I was feeling the paralyzing force of EXPECTATIONS!!! Creation happens in the light, and expectations are heavy, man.

Story time. In my first year of college, I took a leadership role in a student activity group whose mission was to educate the student body about health issues, primarily around safer sex, date rape, and drug and alcohol abuse. We had a great year, full of creative risks that led to big pay-offs. By the end of the year we were presenting to groups of about 500 people, we were facilitating lively and thought provoking conversations, and we were training groups from other schools who wanted in on our model of education. It was AWESOME. Just like when I started writing this blog a couple of months ago, I felt inspired, empowered, playful, and revitalized.

And then something happened: I was recognized for my work. I received accolades and awards. I was given the highest honor available to first year students at the college for leadership and community enhancement. It was presented to me at a formal ceremony in front of the school administration, and I will never forget the words the Dean of the College spoke at the ceremony: “The eyes of the college are upon you, and we are expecting great things.” The balloon I was riding high in suddenly got very heavy and serious and promptly thudded to the ground.

And that was it. I dropped out of the group. And I didn’t really do anything else that might catch the eye of the Dean of the College. Those words, “…we are expecting great things,” took the fun out of it all. Or, more accurately, I allowed them to take the fun out of it all. In retrospect, I see that I could’ve chosen to simply have fun being acknowledged without internalizing the external expectations that were being placed upon me. But that’s pretty advanced stuff. I wasn’t ready to be that differentiated. What happened, instead, is that I stopped focusing on the gratifying creative process and camaraderie of the group, or the educational mission that had inspired me in the first place. It became about the pressure to prove myself worthy of the expectations; it became about living up to some externally created version of greatness; it became something I would have been doing to please someone else; and it suddenly became something at which I could fail. That made it feel serious instead of fun.

This experience came rushing back to me as I considered why I had put down my blogging pen. In order to start the blog, I had given myself permission to simply write – not to worry about how good it was, not to worry about whether or not anyone read it, not to worry about what I would DO with the articles. Just write. Just let it flow. Just have fun! And low and behold, it felt free and creative and expressive. It was something I was doing for me, to enjoy the process, to help me shine my own light, and in honor of a deeply held sense of mission. But as I got rolling, I robbed myself of that freedom and flow with THE EXPECTATIONS MONSTER. I started thinking things like, “Geez, I better make sure the next one is as good as the last one!” And, “I HAVE to keep writing, I CAN’T lose momentum!” The expectations monster and the critical voice went into business together, and I became estranged from my muse.

Now, I know that the Dean of my college and my own inner voice are not acting alone. We live in a culture that values external achievements. We identify with our occupations – we ARE what we DO. And many of us strive for success, which we generally define by an outcome.  Sadly, in the face of these expectations, we sometimes reign ourselves in, creatively, afraid to make mistakes that would lead to failure. Once we’re reigned in for safety, we can’t really succeed. As the great Wayne Gretzky famously said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”images-1

Gretzky is right. But there’s more to it, than that. It’s not just that we can’t “succeed” if we don’t try…it’s that the real success IS IN THE TRYING. The thing that makes us really light up and come alive, the thing that allows us to share our gifts with the world, isn’t achievement. Being fully alive is not defined by an achievement…it’s a process — whatever process makes you feel inspired and alive is your source of you-ness. Being authentically and joyfully in that process is the real success. And while this may sounds contradictory, the truth is that being in that process, whatever it happens to be for you, won’t always feel inspired and alive or easy and fun. And that’s ok, too. That’s good. That’s part of the deal and how we learn and grow. When we value the outcome over the process, then those times of struggle look like failure, and we lose track of the learning available in our pain and confusion along the way.

Liza, my older daughter, introduced me to the following fabulous story she found in a student online newspaper. Fettes University, an elite prep school in Edinburgh, noticed that their students were racked with anxiety and stress. They were driven by a fear of not living up to the high expectations held of them, and they were, as a result, not willing to take academic and creative risks. The wise adults on the scene knew that this was a recipe for disaster, and that their high expectations, which the students had dutifully internalized, were backfiring. Real learning can’t happen without risks, real wisdom can’t be found without failure, and real creativity can’t be shared and discovered if the flow is blocked by fear. So you know what they did? They instituted Failure Week, in which kids were actively encouraged to try new things and take risks and make mistakes without concern for the outcome. They were encouraged to fail, as it would be sign of diving into the creative process. Yeah, I know, a week is not much compared to a lifetime of high expectations. But it’s a start. Or at least a conversation starter.

So, I’m instituting my own Failure Week. I’m choosing to side step the Expectations Monster that reared up, and I am putting my Beginner Mind back on – the mindset of open eyed curiosity, risk taking and learning. I give myself permission to make mistakes. I choose to be open to the flow and embrace the process without being paralyzed by concerns for the outcomes. I want to be in it for the experience of the process, not for the final achievement. And I choose to approach my work as play, with amusement and ease rather than weight and seriousness. Amusement, after all, is the highest vibration we can experience. And I can’t think of a better vibration from which to create. Thus this very wise reminder I found on my desk from my younger daughter. Thanks for the reminder, Tessa.

 

Finding Your Yes

Last year, my 10-year-old daughter, Liza, came home from school one day bursting with excitement.  “The 5th and 6th grade dance is next week!”  This was HUGE news.  As the week progressed, I could hear Liza and her friends making plans for the pre-party, the post-party sleepover, the hair-dos, and the outfits (none quite as cool as the pin striped jeans and fluorescent knit tie I donned at my first middle school dance).  And then, the day before the dance, Liza told me this: “The rule at the dance is that if a boy asks a girl to dance, she HAS to say yes.”  (Insert sound of record player needle scraping across album as everything comes to a screeching halt).

ExCUse me?!?  What year is it?!  No.  She must have misunderstood.  “That can’t be true, kiddo,” I replied.  “No, really,” she said.  She went on to tell me that a couple of years back, a middle school boy ran around the dance feverishly asking every single girl to dance, and every single girl said no.  Well-intentioned adults, worried about the boy’s self-esteem, had instituted the new policy.

Let’s talk about this policy.  I mean, there are the obvious problems, like the assumption of heterosexuality, and the assumption that the boys do the asking and the girls do the answering.  That seems like problematic layer #1.

Then there’s layer #2.  It is imperative that we teach our girls that it is their prerogative to say no to being touched in any way they don’t want to be touched, and to expect that to be honored.  And it is imperative that we teach our boys how to receive and respect “no,” to retain their self-esteem in the face of disappointment, and to maintain respectful behaviors, at all times.  In a culture where 1:4 women will be sexually assaulted by a man, this just seems painfully obvious.

Dr Lindsay JerniganWhile this policy was intended to be gentle and protective, it is actually dangerous.  The message I hear in this policy sounds something like this: “Girls you may not want to be touched by this boy, but if you say no you will hurt his feelings, and obviously it is your job to take care of his feelings, so we expect you to say yes, no matter what.  And boys, because we know you are so emotionally fragile, we have created a rule to make sure you never have to feel disappointment.”  Girls in our culture, through this kind of policy and a million other overt and covert messages, are taught that we are responsible for others people’s feelings, and should forsake our own in the name of caring for others.  I told Liza all of this in 10 year old language, ending with the conclusion that she had full permission to say no at anytime.  To which she replied with a sly smile, “But what if I want to say yes?”  You go, girl!!  And this leads me into problematic layer #3.

When we have to say, we never get to say yes because we want to.  Without being able to say “no,” we never really get to say “yes.”  And do you remember what it feels like to really say yes?  Remember being in middle school and dancing with someone you actually wanted to dance with?  Butterflies, sweaty palms, awkward smiles, nervous small talk, shallow breaths, unperceivably tiny steps inching you closer and closer together until Mr. Fiore tells you both to back up until he can see the light of day between you…heaven!!  (Or, Stairway to Heaven, as the case may be).

That is a rich, wonderful moment when we feel ALIVE.  I want my daughter to have that moment.  And I told her so.  If you want to say yes, say yes because you mean it!  And enjoy it.

This school policy hit me particularly hard because, as a therapist with a specialty in reawakening sexual desire, I sit with woman after woman in therapy who says she doesn’t want to have sex with her partner, anymore.  After years of saying yes even when they didn’t want to because they felt like they had to, these women lost their authentic “yes.”  Why do women feel they have to?  Oodles of women tell me they feel like it is their job because they don’t want to hurt their partners’ feelings, for which they feel responsible.  Sounds like the middle school policy, doesn’t it?  When we don’t allow ourselves (or each other) to say no, then we lose the capacity to really say yes.  And that’s a serious loss, because sex from an authentic yes is just as good as dancing with your middle school crush.

One last dissection — here’s problematic layer #4:  The “you have to say yes” policy is in place at the school and in our culture, at large, presumably to protect the initiator…but it robs the initiator of an authentic yes dance, too!  Every well-intentioned partner I know would rather have an authentic, active yes experience on the dance floor, or in the bedroom, than be the recipient of an obligatory, passive yes.  The authentic yes has passion, life, zest, INTIMACY.  And we can only get there by giving voice to our authentic no, when that’s what we feel.  The authentic no, the moment of painful rejection, that’s ALSO a rich, wonderful moment when we feel alive.  Well, ok, maybe it’s not a “wonderful” moment…but it is rich and alive.  We can’t protect ourselves, or each other, from pain and still feel alive (more on this in future articles.  It’s a biggie).  The authentic no, and the pain that comes with it, is intimacy, too.  Because it’s real.  There’s no intimacy if we don’t show up for real.  That’s why our authentic voice, no matter what it says in the moment, is our greatest gift to give.

If you have lost your authentic yes, start by looking for and honoring your authentic no.  You’ll give your yes permission to be real, again.

It’s Not a Competition

By Dr. Lindsay B. Jernigan

Dr Lindsay Jernigan - blog entryRight around the same time that I was developing my thoughts about Compassionate Authenticity and daydreaming about beginning to write, I picked up Brene Brown’s book,The Power of Vulnerability. I only read a few pages, but immediately I was heart broken. It seemed as though she was already saying much of what I wanted to say. My sense of mission fizzled. I stuffed the book far under my bed, where it has remained, in all honesty, unread.   Yup, I recommend this book weekly to clients, and yet I haven’t read it myself because it triggers my own inner demon – that one that says “You have nothing useful to say because what you are thinking has already been said.” That’s an ugly, silencing demon, isn’t it?

Who ever taught us that everything we produce has to be original to be valuable?

Funny story – when I was in high school, my English class had to keep a weekly journal. One brilliant character amongst us (that’s you, Kirk) wrote a page about the evils of plagiarism, and then circulated it to every single student in the class; each and every one of us copied it word for word into our journals. The teacher was furious and gave us all failing grades for the entry. What a missed opportunity to reward creativity, humor, teamwork, and yes, originality!! That team project was a very original idea. This wasn’t a case of getting the assignment wrong; the fact that we were all saying the same thing was proof that we were doing something right.

I’m steeping in the realization, lately, that this is often true. When we see the same truth as someone else, it’s not evidence that we are unoriginal…it’s a sign that we are on the right track! When we hear repetitive messages about health and well-being, when various and sundry schools of spiritual thought deliver similar messages, and when scientists repeatedly make the same discoveries, those teachings and discoveries don’t become less powerful, they become more powerful! They assure us that there is a truth that many people are working to articulate, each with their own language and imagery and narratives that are resonant for different people.

This finally sunk in, one day, and I spontaneously sent the following text to my friend, Alice, with no context whatsoever for the comment: “Breakthrough awareness today. Brene Brown is not competing with ME, so why am I competing with HER?!” Being one of the best friends ever in the entire universe, she knew immediately what I meant and responded within seconds with a long missive that began, “I know! I’ve been thinking a lot about competitive feelings, lately, and the complete lack of need for them. And that I struggle with it more than I am often aware…”

Imagine if you could break free from the reigns of stymying and unnecessary competition. Imagine if you could let yourself ADD your voice rather than comparing and deleting your voice. Let yourself speak. Even if what you’re saying has been said before. Because you know what? It’s never been saidyour way, by you, in this moment in time.   So someone new may hear it. Or be newly inspired or educated. Someone new may get it.

And here’s the thing. Even if nobody reads your words or hears your speech or attends your workshop, even if nobody understands your musings or agrees with your mission, and even if everyone has heard it a hundred times before, what happens on the receiving end of the message isn’t what matters most, anyway. What matters most is what happens to YOU when you give yourself voice. If you have something to say and it makes you shine to say it, then say it! If there is something you do that makes you shine, then do it. It doesn’t matter what lights you up – mechanical manuals, the link between body and mind, the possibility of life on other planets, the biosphere that exists in the moss on a fallen log, balancing rock towers on the river’s edge, teaching kids about new technology – it doesn’t matter. And it doesn’t matter if someone else is already doing it. What matters is that it makes you shine. And when you brighten, you emanate clarity into the world; when you let your authentic self be seen, you give the most compassionate gift available to give — light. And spreading the light is not a race or a competition. In fact, the more lights we shine, the brighter the world gets. It’s not a competition…it’s a team effort.

Dr Lindsay Jernigan

Happy Halloween!