Read an Excerpt
The Art of Living Out Loud
By Meg Blackburn Losey
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2012 Meg Blackburn Losey, PhD
All rights reserved.
Accept Yourself (Who Are You Really?)
If you really want things to change, accept yourself. Doing this means being willing to look at yourself deeply and to act courageously on what you find.
How did we get so far off track anyway? We want to be accepted by others, to fit in, to be noticed or recognized. Because of this many of us we have allowed ourselves to be conditioned by others to accept less in our lives, to accept untruths, and to generally disregard our dreams, desires, opinions, and even the experiences we want in our lives. No more!
Generationally speaking, we come from backgrounds that were filled with the expectations of our parents, caregivers, and the like. In most cases our parents and caregivers did their very best to give us what they thought we needed. They gave us the life tools they had, but honestly much of the time their life toolbox was missing some very basic skills. They were raised in a generation when authority was never questioned, period. The rules were followed, period—even when those rules were not in everyone's best interest, but in the interest of others. Our predecessors lived in a simple time when it occurred to very few that there was more to life than there was.
In most of our families we were told that we should do more, try harder, find our singular purpose in life and be the best at it. Unfortunately we weren't ever told what it looked like when we got there. We were given a road map with lots of traffic rules and no destinations.
Further, we were expected to behave in certain ways, to follow the social norms of the times, and God forbid we should express our real feelings. If we did, we were reprimanded or punished just for telling the truth. We were told we weren't being good girls or boys. We weren't encouraged to talk about things that hurt us. On the contrary, we were told to be quiet or ignored altogether. So we learned to bury that pain.
If people we encountered were different somehow or didn't fit the social norm, we were taught to shun them. We were basically taught that if they weren't like us, they were weird or simply not acceptable. Judgment became prevalent in our lives.
Many of our religions taught us that we had to be subservient, that we were blemished by the sins of man against a powerful God who would strike us down if we did not obey. That we were weak beings who must strive to atone for our sins—basically, that we were sinners from the word go.
I remember when I was a small child attending private school, and I had to go to confession weekly to report my sins to the parish priest. Confession was mandatory. I remember asking one of the nuns once if I didn't have any sins would I have to go to confession. She said everyone sinned and I absolutely must go. The problem was that I was just a little kid, and I had become so conforming out of fear of a vengeful God that I had to make up sins to confess.
Kneeling on the stone dais doing penance for sins I hadn't committed seemed like a paradox even then. I would justify the punishment by the fact that I had lied to the priest about my sins. So there I was, praying like crazy to atone for sins I would not have committed had I not been forced to do so! Instead of teaching me to be honest, they taught me to lie, even when the situation was a supposedly sacred, time-honored ritual.
As we conformed to these "acceptable" behaviors, slowly and steadily our sense of self became confused and even buried. We learned not to show our feelings because it was easier—and safer—than the conflict we might face if we did. We learned early on to defend ourselves by telling white lies—or even bigger ones—to those around us.
Similarly, we learned to lie to ourselves about this whole process. After all, we wanted to believe that we were good people, achieving all that was expected of us! Over time, being dishonest with others and ourselves became a habit, and somewhere in all of those little lies we lost touch with who we really are.
We were undermined in every direction of our development. Damned if we did, and damned if we didn't. Naturally, we began to look to our peers to tell us how we fit in, how we were doing, and whether we were right or wrong. We began to look externally for approval and validation of most everything we did or said. Some of us would have done nearly anything to feel we belonged or were accepted.
But here is the kicker—those we asked could answer us from only their own frames of reference. Their tool sets weren't exactly or necessarily full either, so it was the blind leading the blind.
Because of this, many of us find ourselves floundering, lost, misdirected—not knowing who we are or what we want and still trying to be a good girl or boy, whatever the heck that means! We strive to please people who really don't know any more than we do, and as a result we become unrecognizable to ourselves. We become unsatisfied, lack the fullness of our joy, and ultimately begin searching for an elusive ... something ... yet we aren't sure what that is. Needless to say our groping in the dark for the unknown isn't always a pretty picture.
Still, we look to others to fill our perceived emptiness, to validate us or offer their approval. In doing this, we give our power away thinking that we never had any anyway. We have come to see ourselves as alone in the world, separate from everyone and everything. We imagine that the experiences we have couldn't possibly be understood by anyone else. And of course in our separateness grows our deep and often painful sense of aloneness. From our feelings of isolation can come self-defensive behaviors that cause us the very problems we want to avoid, and our situations are compounded with disappointment after disappointment.
The Truth May Hurt, But at Least It's Mine!
As we closed ourselves off, defining our experiences by how deep our pain was, or how disappointed we were, we wished and hoped for more excellent experiences to come our way. In the meantime, we became unsure of what we wanted. We weren't even sure we deserved it because we couldn't see our value, so we developed this deep sense of being unfulfilled. We began to feel like we should be doing something else with our lives or that something greater is just around the corner, but beyond that we didn't have a clue how to get from here to there.
The only way out of this mess is to tell the truth—first to ourselves and then to others.
This brings me back to my original question. Who are you really? Do you remember? Did you ever know? What do you want in life?
The greatest, most powerful words anyone can say in life are "I accept."
To embrace yourself just as you are without needing to be anything but the true you—and without the need to please anyone else.
If you really want things to change, accept yourself. Whoever you are, whatever that looks like, just accept you as you. No strings, no pretenses, no expectations, no preconceptions, no judgment. Just be willing to experience yourself undiluted by everyone else's opinions. Of course, you can't just think it and make it so; you have to do your part to make your life what you want, and this part is a process, not a single act. Self-acceptance is a way of life. It is about staying true to you no matter what.
The truth is that in every given moment we have lived, we have done the best we could. There are no mistakes, only opportunities to learn, change, or grow.
The first step to realizing who we are is to stop the untruths, to ourselves as well as others. Untruths begin when we are uncomfortable inside ourselves based on our experiences and interactions with others. Mentally, as we try to justify our experiences, we toss our experiences around in our brains like a washing machine on a spin cycle. The information never resolves because it is caught in a cycle of repetitive thinking that lacks logic and, therefore, sense. Ultimately our brains will make leaps and assumptions in order to create a coherent and understandable version of our experiences ... and that "logic" is often far from the truth.
We don't realize that no amount of rationalization or cyclic thinking leads to truth. Resolution is only an illusion for satisfaction of the ego.
In an effort to be comfortable, to fit in, to feel important, we tell ourselves any number of untruths. We might tell ourselves that, even though someone isn't treating us right, they don't really mean it. (Oh yes, they do!) We might tell ourselves we are loved and wanted by someone who doesn't give us the first indication this is so. (Because the truth is they don't love us—we just want them to so badly!) We might tell ourselves that our significant other would never fool around on us when in fact there is blatant evidence to the contrary. (We don't want to accept we could be betrayed like that!) We might tell ourselves we're hard workers when in fact we're slacking off because no one is watching. (We really hate our jobs but haven't found the gumption to look for something else.) We might tell ourselves we're great parents when we barely spend any time with our children. (We need to be convinced we are good in every way so we lie to ourselves.) We might tell ourselves almost anything if it makes us more comfortable with our experiences, as if things seemed to fit better in our lives.
With each self-deception we fall further and further away from knowing who we are. If we are to know what we want, even what we need, we must be able to first recognize those wants and needs.
It is time to stop pretending that everything is just fine. Time to let go of the illusion that we are something we are not and find out just who is hiding behind all the distractions our lies have created.
If what we feel inside is equal to what we feel on the outside, then we are in good shape, balanced and honest with ourselves. When we are not being honest with ourselves our body begins to give us signals. When we experience an untruth, our bodies tell us. One of the first things that happens is we hold our breaths. We get tension in the chest or shoulders and neck, or we get that lurching feeling inside as if a herd of elephants just stampeded across our equilibrium. Mood shifts can be another sign that we are not really comfortable with what is going on—but aren't dealing with it.
So when our bodies signal that we are out of truth, we need to start paying attention. Stop. Right then. Take a literal step back, and ask yourself: To what is my body reacting? Catch it in the now. What was your last thought? What was it about? Was that really the truth, or did you just tell yourself that so you would feel better? Listen. What do you hear? No, I don't mean the birds outside the window or the traffic going by. What do you hear inside of you? What is your body saying to you? Find the untruth and tell yourself the real truth—even if it means that things are not going to be the same anymore. Especially then.
It's Time to Live Out Loud!
Learning to tell the truth can be tough because we can feel exposed, unsafe. The best way to go about recognizing your truth is one truth at a time. First of all, listen to your body. It is your first line of defense. When there is an untruth at hand, your body will tense, usually in the chest or the solar plexus. You might find that you are holding your breath, your stomach is tight, or ... well, you know your body more than you think you do.
Find the deceptions inside you. Change those untruths to real truths by getting honest with yourself. If someone is treating you badly but you've made excuses for them time and again, why not admit to yourself that person doesn't show you respect? Even further, perhaps their treatment is abusive. Is that what you want? If you have been the target of unkind behavior in someone close to you but haven't addressed it with them—because you don't really want to know the answer or you've convinced yourself that you can't possibly be right, address this with yourself. For example: Did you promise to go somewhere when you really didn't want to go only because you wanted to be accepted; or maybe you thought someone wouldn't like you if you didn't go? Listen to your reluctance to go, and don't go!
If you don't have respect for yourself and your needs, why would anyone else?
So you begin to get the picture. Honesty applies in every nook and cranny of our lives.
As you get the hang of recognizing the real truth, put your newfound way of being into action with others as well. For instance, when you go out to lunch with friends and they suggest a restaurant you don't like, or you're in the mood for something else, speak up politely but confidently. Suggest the place where you want to go. Remember, you only get what you ask for! NO one will hate you because you have a preference!
If you really want to eat there, but no one else does, be prepared to go to your selected eatery by yourself. Do it with love for yourself, not in a snit. Similarly, if your family wants to go to the movies, and the only film they want to see doesn't appeal to you but another you've wanted to see for months does, go to the one you want. Why sit through a movie you don't want to see? It's not like you'd have a lot of quality conversation during the film anyway. Go to the one you want and meet everyone afterward. It isn't a crime if you do. The real crime is when you give in time and time again at your own expense while trying to please everyone else. Honestly, would they do that for you? Again, do it with a smile and assure them it really is okay; you'll see each other later.
With each small truth you tell, the greatness of your power as a human being returns. And real power is gentle power. It is not aggressive or threatening. It is all about living your truth. The key to telling the truth is simple; the message is entirely dependent upon its delivery. In other words, how we say things makes all the difference in how they are heard. If we feel threatened and we send our words out as a jab, we are going to get jabbed back. If we deliver our message sincerely and without drama or trauma, that message will have a chance of being heard as clearly as it was intended.
With each truth we tell, we take back our sense of self.
Exercise: Where Is My Attention?
Find a place that is quiet and comfortable. Close your eyes and be still. Direct your attention inward. What do you hear? Is it the chatter of a million thoughts running through your mind, or something deeper? The chatter is part of your defense system that keeps the truth from reaching you. Try telling it to be silent. If the chatter continues, ask yourself: Where is my attention? Put your attention on you and nothing else. Listen to your breath. Inhale slowly, exhale slowly and deliberately. As you breathe inward, command to hear only the truth. As you exhale, expel the lies that have hidden within you. No more excuses, no more misinformation that leads you nowhere. NOW, what do you hear?
You can do this any time you want, even every day. It takes only a few minutes. Remember to breathe as you command truth in your life, your very being. As you exhale, expel the untruths that you hold—about anyone or anything that is keeping you from being who you want to be. Who you are.
Understand Your Purpose (It's Not What You Think!)
Our life purpose is not a singular event, but a collective of what we have experienced in every moment we have lived.
So, you don't know where you are going in life? You want so much but in spite of your fantasies nothing quite shakes out the way that you want it. You have searched and searched and don't understand what your purpose might be. You have asked a lot of people but what they tell you just doesn't fit no matter how hard you try. That is because what they are giving you isn't yours.
To understand our purpose we must first realize one of the most significant statements this book can offer: Nothing ever happens outside of now. What was, has been. What hasn't yet been is merely imagined or speculated.
Let me repeat that: Nothing ever happens outside of now.
This one little sentence can change your life entirely. Most of us spend all our time worrying about what we did or didn't do or what might happen or not happen. Our attention is not in the now, but in the past or future. But creation is always talking to us; it communicates with us in real time with cutting-edge information that is congruous and never ceasing. When our attention is elsewhere, we are not present in the now, and so we miss opportunities and signs that could have easily taken us to what we wanted.
When we are not completely present in this now, the synchronicities, those magic little miracles in every moment, also go unnoticed. We aren't grounded and are probably not even completely in our bodies. How could we possibly know what our life purpose is when we don't even occupy a singular moment?
Life is nothing more than a series of moments tied together by events that create a sense of experience.
All complexity is nothing more than an entanglement of simple situations.
The bottom line is that nothing is complex and everything is simple.
Excerpted from The Art of Living Out Loud by Meg Blackburn Losey. Copyright © 2012 Meg Blackburn Losey, PhD. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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