Transforming an Old Habit

Recently I asked a group of people: “What or how do you want to transform in 2017?” Their answers, so heartfelt and true, got me thinking of my own answer. What emerged as my “thing” was this: A pattern of having “too much to do,” of constantly slipping toward feeling overwhelmed by life.

I thought it might be useful to share how I am beginning to transform that old habit into my chosen reality: a sense of ease and joy with the smorgasbord of life.

Let me attempt to reconstruct some of that inner work. Below is an approximation—I find it hard to exactly translate this type of exploration unless I’m taking notes every step of the way.

I began by examining my feelings. I realized they stem from old programming, dating back to childhood, when I overidentified with school achievements to make myself OK. It makes sense that that would come up now, because I’m working with a business shaman/coach who gives weekly assignments. Homework! I’m a good student; I do my homework.

Even though the program is grounded in ease and bodily wisdom, as we began to set business objectives for the coming year, I found all my old mental gears revving up. Must prove myself, must pile on more and more, create loads of stress just to show I’m really worth something! (“I have a talent for making things difficult,” I told my coach yesterday.)

Of course I ended up crashing. My body rebelled against an overambitious schedule. My mind grew muzzy and obsessive. My emotional state plummeted too. It was hard to imagine finding joy or ease in any of my goals (which had previously seemed so exciting).

I found, when I sat with my overwhelmed-and-down self and asked for guidance, that there is a surfer within me. She artfully rides the waves, finetuning balance in each moment. Balance is not a once-and-done thing, the guidance suggested. Life can be approached with playful skill.

4969562312_6ce1afb19f_z

Photo by Daniel D’Auria, via Flickr Commons.

I might just have to let go a tiny bit and find a way to dance with the rolling waves.

I asked to be released from the need to prove myself. That felt huge.

I also realized that I had willfully constructed a reality in which I was not in charge of my to-do list—subliminally I blamed others for what I had to do. I still felt like that child working for a good grade, though no one grades me now.

Curiously, I found that I held onto the payoff of this dynamic—a wiggly sense of not being fully responsible for my choices, because I could always say that these assignments came from an external place. This resonance with “I am powerless” allowed me to stay safely in my comfort zone.

I found, digging deeper, a fear of people disliking me if I didn’t perform at a high level. Beneath that, a fear of disliking myself if I slacked off: because clearly I am not enough if I don’t at least try to “do it all!”

I worked with myself as I would a client, loving these old programs, asking for their release, inviting the newly created space to be filled with light and love.

Then it was time for what ThetaHealing practitioners call “downloads,” which  basically means asking for Divine perspective and understanding through specific statements or affirmations. These are some of the things I pulled into my field while resting in an expanded state:

Show me what it feels like to take full conscious responsibility for my choices.

Show me what it feels like to live in joy and ease.

Show me how to ride the waves creating balance moment to moment.

I forget what else I downloaded, because I was in a theta brainwave state where words and images are ephemeral. It’s a bit like trying to remember dream fragments. But you get the idea.

Now I can set business goals with less baggage—and I can align more easily with my mission of holding space for personal and planetary transformation.

Releasing the “Story”

A sycamore on my street in the process of shedding its bark

A sycamore on my street in the process of shedding its bark

When the sycamores in my neighborhood begin their annual shedding, I always ask myself, what do I need to release this year to speed my growth?

Perhaps I need to examine the story that constantly loops through my brain. I’m sure some of it can fall away like bark sloughed off a tree trunk.

The ground under the trees is strewn with their old skin.

The ground under the trees is strewn with their old skin.

Zen teacher Norman Fischer speaks to this point eloquently.

“We take our point of view so much for granted, as if the world were really as we see it.

But it doesn’t take much analysis to recognize that our way of seeing the world is simply an old unexamined habit, so strong, so convincing, and so unconscious we don’t even see it as a habit.

How many times have we been absolutely sure about someone’s motivations and later discovered that we were completely wrong? How many times have we gotten upset about something that turned out to have been nothing?

Perspective

Perspective

Our perceptions and opinions are often quite off the mark. The world may not be as we think it is. In fact, it is virtually certain that it is not.”

—from Training in Compassion

No More “Long Hard Slog”

Several readers told me that Tearing up an Ancestral Contract resonated with them. Here’s another inheritance I’m reevaluating: the much-vaunted Protestant work ethic.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m glad I have a strong work ethic. I’m grateful that the folks in my lineage weren’t afraid of hard work, and that I inherited a bit of that spirit. I like to buckle down and get things done.

Saturday my neighbors and I participated in the Great Indy Cleanup. Photo by Heidi Unger.

Saturday my neighbors and I participated in the Great Indy Cleanup. Photo by Heidi Unger.

But sometimes, work isn’t the thing that is needed. Maybe it’s play. Maybe it’s stillness. Maybe it’s receiving. Maybe it’s rest.

I have known this, of course, in my head. But to really bring that knowledge into the body and energy field? That’s a different thing than intellectual understanding.

I completed two big projects a few weeks ago. I’d spent several weeks extremely focused, with most days quite regimented in order to fit everything in. And it felt good to work hard and get to the finish line.

With the deadlines past, I enjoyed a few leisurely days. It was hard not to feel like I was shirking. I worried that I was not getting important work done. I’d grown accustomed to pushing. So if I allowed myself to enjoy a slower pace, a few long walks in the sunshine, something felt “off.”

Redbud blossom photo by Heidi Unger.

Redbud blossom photo by Heidi Unger.

But I knew I didn’t want to live the rest of my life constantly driving myself beyond my capacity, as has been my habit lo these many years. I remembered the energetic principles I’ve been learning from energy healer friends like Merry Henn and Dawn Ryan. And I took a look at some core beliefs.

I’ve practiced self-testing my energy field (also known as muscle testing) for several years. At this point the skill is reliable enough to serve me in all kinds of capacities. For example, I can test my resonance with various beliefs.

The residual effect of my inherited work ethic manifests like this:

  • “It is impossible for me to be happy and rested and still meet my commitments.”
  • “I must work to the point of exhaustion in order to get my work done.”
  • “I must push my body to the point of illness to prove my worth.”

All of these statements “tested strong,” meaning my energy body resonated a big YES to each of these unhealthy beliefs. But these beliefs no longer serve me. I wanted to change them at an energetic level.

I used Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to quickly shift them, then rechecked: They tested weak. I worked with variations of the statements and did more rounds of EFT. Eventually I came upon:

  • “It is impossible to live in tune with my life purpose and feel happy and rested.”
  • “Aligning with my life purpose is a long, hard slog.”
  • “I must disregard my body’s need for rest if I intend to fulfill my life purpose.”

Well! I shifted these too, until I resonated something completely different. I now equate fulfilling my life purpose with deep joy and ease, a healthy body, connection, flow, and other such deliciousness.

Clowning with invasive garlic mustard. My job at the cleanup was to pull it.

Clowning with invasive garlic mustard. My job at the cleanup was to pull it.

What about you—what contracts and core beliefs are you holding or releasing?

(Interested in learning a simple way to self-test? Check out this video.)

Tearing Up an Ancestral Contract

I woke up thinking about that beloved quote we see so many different places: “Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.” Attributed falsely to Nelson Mandela, the words are part of a beautiful passage by Marianne Williamson.

I realize now that I took that quote to heart, but not really into my being. I thought I understood it. I aspired to it. But recently I’ve been reviewing my ancestral contracts and commitments. I see more clearly now the ways I’ve limited myself.

I was raised Mennonite. Few would think it to look at me (and no one would guess it from my Sunday morning routine). But Mennonite-ness is a key part of my identity.

In many ways I don’t feel very far removed from that heritage—nor from my Amish forebears. Recently my spouse and I watched a PBS show about the Amish. We kept nudging each other: Yep. That’s us! (She descends from the same “plain people.”)

By Gadjoboy, via Wikimedia Commons

By Gadjoboy, via Wikimedia Commons

But what about these contracts I’m reviewing? Well, we Anabaptists are a humble people; that’s one of our main things. (Sometimes I think we’re pretty darn proud of our humility!)

And there is something to be said for taking a self-effacing approach to life. The world is full of braggadocio. Who needs it? Why not modestly go about our work? Actions speak louder than words, and all that.

I embrace many agreements stemming from my heritage. I value simplicity, stewardship, and nonconformity: carving a path that’s different from the mainstream.

But in our purported humility’s case, it seems that something unhelpful hitched a ride on that value. It’s a habit of self-effacement so extreme that it abnegates many of our gifts.

What do we have to offer, who are we to say, why would anyone care what we think?

Quick story: On more than one occasion, I heard my dad refer to himself as a “dumb Amishman.” (He said this jokingly—he was never really Amish, though his father had been.)

Related story: Sometimes I assist my spouse in whapping something together—perhaps reusing some wire and twine to make a garden trellis or the like. And one of us will quip, while surveying our finished product: “Not bad for a couple of Amish girls.”

Raised beds Judy and Dad made from reclaimed materials.

Raised beds Judy and Dad made from reclaimed materials.

It’s funny, and it speaks to the beautiful ingenuity that our forebears cultivated. But it also smacks of a self-doubt passed down for generations.

Our gifts have been buried under an avalanche of inherited beliefs about who we are and who we can never be. We run from the limelight. We say yes to too many tasks, making it impossible to complete our real assignment on earth. We keep our dreams under wraps.

At some point this unspoken agreement with our ancestors simply no longer serves.

I’m sure most people face ancestral contracts rooted in our ethnicity, religion, or nationality. Perhaps it’s time to bring these agreements to light. We can decide for ourselves whether to sign on the dotted line—or whether to tear the contracts up.