Category Archives: Fear

Little One and the Guardian of the Guru (Or, What to Do When You Realize You Aren’t Going to Succeed)

Following is the thirteenth story in a series that tells the tale of the first hero to go on a journey to discover his calling.

To read the first story in the series, click here.

To read the previous installment, click here.


Even as his attention was split between dodging blows, seeking openings for counterattack, and searching the land around him for anything that might offer protection, Little One became aware of a strong, insistent thought taking shape in the back of his mind.

He tried to push the thought away, focusing instead on the fight at hand, but it persisted, a tickling, relentless noise in the back of his mind. When he evaded a particularly strong attack and his opponent found himself temporarily off-balance, Little One had a chance to catch his breath. In that moment, the thought rushed to the surface with more precision and force than even his foe’s most powerful strikes. A split second later, it landed squarely in the center of his consciousness with the undeniable weight of truth:

This opponent was undefeatable.

As his foe regained his balance and started his next attack, Little One tried to convince himself it was just a desperate thought born of fear and stress, inaccurate and unworthy of his attention. But even as he raised his sword to defend himself again, he knew that it was more than that. He had sensed it in his bones and somehow known it before the words had even taken shape.

It wasn’t criticism; it was fact: No matter how skillful he was, no matter how strong and persistent and clever, there was no way he could vanquish this adversary.

He hadn’t felt this way when he started.

In fact, the very act of finding this foe had been a type of triumph. After getting his three wishes from the genie and learning about the existence of the wise man from Abdul, he had immediately set out to look for him so that he could ask him where his father was.

Abdul had warned him that to ask the wise man a question, he was going to have to defeat his bodyguard. He had also told Little One that there was no way to find the wise man. “But if you believe in him, and if the need is great, he will find you,” he had said.

After wandering the grasslands for days on end, Little One had realized his need may not be as great as he had thought.

He had tried walking determinedly in each of the four directions. He had tried staying in one place, waiting to be discovered. He had tried following streams, the wind, and the stars, but none of it had worked.

Fortunately, food and water weren’t a problem with his new, genie-designed backpack that gave him access to a continuous supply of both.

Trying to control his thoughts and feelings was a different story. Each morning he woke up optimistic and determined; each night he went to bed filled with hopelessness and despair.

He had time to think about all the reasons he was failing, then to refute them, only to come up with new ones later on.

He spent many hours thinking about his father, how he was kidnapped, and what in the world could possibly be strong enough to overpower the Serpent God.

Most of the time he worried about what the bodyguard of the wise man would be like, and whether he could defeat him. Abdul had warned him that the strength and fighting prowess the genie had given him may not be enough to vanquish the bodyguard. Little One tried to come up with fighting plans and strategies, but it was hard to do when he wasn’t even sure what type of creature he would be facing. He worried that he wouldn’t be strong enough to beat the bodyguard, then resolved that he would have to be, then gave over to doubt once again in endless ongoing cycles.

After weeks of this, Little One finally began to give up hope of ever finding the wise man. He figured he didn’t believe enough, or his need wasn’t sufficient. He had no other clues about where to go to look for his father, but he began to make plans to backtrack the way he had come in an effort to rediscover the trail.

Then one night after dinner when he was pleading, praying, and yelling at the stars in frustration, a habit he had fallen into of late, he suddenly realized that for the first time, something had answered him.

It was a deep voice. At first Little One didn’t realize it was a voice at all because it sounded like distant thunder. But the thunder kept repeating itself, and eventually Little One could make out the words:

“What is it that you seek, Little One?”

Little One looked around, but he didn’t see anything except shadows of grass and stars expanding in endless patterns above. “I seek the wise man,” he said loudly, trying to project his voice in all directions at once.

There was only silence for a moment. “I prefer to be called guru,” the voice finally rumbled.

Little One sat up quickly. “Guru, I’ve been looking for you. I have an important question to ask.”

“To ask a question of me,” boomed the voice, “you must first face my guardian.”

Little One felt a lump in his throat and swallowed uncomfortably. “Yes, Guru, I understand,” he said. “I am willing to do whatever you ask.”

“Good,” the voice said. “That is as it should be. He will come with the dawn. Be prepared.”

Little One looked around again but still saw nothing. “Yes,” he said. “I will be. But who is he? How will I recognize him?”

Thunder rumbled like a laugh in the distance. “You will know him,” was all the voice said. “Though not as well as you think.”

Little One asked what he meant, but received only silence in answer. The voice didn’t come again, and he spent the night trying to sleep but thinking instead of what the dawn would bring.

As the black sky began to turn gray in the east, Little One sat up, dressed himself, and tried to eat something. He watched the Eastern horizon carefully, scanning it for strange shapes, shadows, or any sign of life.

He was so focused on his vigil that he nearly jumped out of his skin when something tapped him on the back of his shoulder. He whirled around and found himself face to face with…

Himself.

He was so surprised that for a moment he couldn’t move. In front of him was an exact replica of himself. He had only seen himself this clearly a few times in his life when staring in water that was perfectly still, but even so he was certain. The face, the body, everything were exact copies. He even had the scar on his forearm from a childhood fall. At the last moment, Little One realized something else.

His opponent was not the Little One who left his village so many moons ago, or even the one who discovered that the Serpent God had been kidnapped. No. His opponent was the Little One who had already visited the genie—bigger, stronger, and—he could only assume—gifted with greater fighting prowess.

As if hearing his thoughts, his foe reached behind his back to grab something. A weapon, Little One guessed. He spun to the side to get out of its path and found himself staring directly at his foe, who had effortlessly turned along with him. His mirror image was holding out his hand, offering a sword hilt first.

Little One didn’t move. ”What are you?” he asked.

His replica just shook his head then nodded towards the hand holding the sword. Reluctantly, Little One reached out and took it. As soon as his fingers closed over the hilt, he saw something metallic reflecting the first light of the sun fly towards him faster than a diving hawk.

Without having to think about it, Little One ducked, turning the movement into a spin from which he let loose an upward stroke of his own. His replica blocked it and immediately countered with another attack. Little One noticed that the Guardian’s face was expressionless as he moved, as if he were doing nothing more than tilling fields or watching the clouds.

They exchanged blows in rapid succession, each evenly matching the efforts of the other.

After multiple rounds of this, Little One began to realize something. The two of them weren’t just evenly matched; they were perfectly equated. Each time he evaded and countered, the Guardian did the same. If he took a deep breath and summoned his strength for a particularly aggressive attack, his foe almost immediately followed. Even when he thought he’d figured out a weakness to exploit—he somehow knew that his replica was weaker on his left side, for instance, and always followed a jab with some sort of slice—his opponent seemed to instantly find some flaw in his own defense and would shortly begin to take advantage of it.

Before long, an insistent thought began tickling the back of Little One’s mind. The realization that he couldn’t defeat this enemy, no matter how well he fought or how hard he tried, hit him with the force of a blow.

He staggered as his sword deflected a deafening strike that fell on him like a boulder.

Even as he came back with his own series of slashes and jabs and cuts, he wondered if all his triumphs so far had really been for naught, leading him to nothing more than crushing and certain defeat. He resolved with grim determination to keep fighting and find a way.

The Guardian regained the upper hand and began pounding on him from all directions at once. As he parried the blade away, Little One became aware that he was growing weary. His movements were getting slower, and his arms were trembling in between blows. When he thrust one leg forward to make his next strike, it nearly gave out. As he defended against the immediate counterattack, he realized that in this alone his opponent was not his equal; his replica appeared to show no signs of lethargy or fatigue.

It occurred to Little One that the genie’s gifts had been a double-edged sword. The stronger he felt, the more powerful his opponent became. The better he fought, the more skillfully his replica opposed him. He remembered how the genie had acted as if he had some sort of secret knowledge he wasn’t sharing, as if he had known this would happen. Heat rose in Little One as he realized that the genie had tricked him.

Furious, Little One gave a sudden backhand slash with his sword, forcing his replica to take half a step back. Breaking his previous rhythm, he pressed his advantage and hacked angrily at his foe, his sword in constant motion.

The Guardian used the space he had won with his half step to deftly avoid all the blows. Then, just as Little One’s arm was starting to tire, his replica gave a savage upward cut that left his side momentarily exposed. Howling with rage, Little One put all his weight behind what he meant to be one final, punishing thrust.

When the Guardian turned away at the last possible moment, evading his sword with an abundance of ease and grace, Little One’s momentum carried him forward faster than his feet could keep up. He belatedly realized that it had been a trap; by then, however, there was nothing he could do.

His opponent swept his feet out from under him with his foot, and Little One fell heavily to his knees. A split second later he felt cold metal pressed against his throat.

A wave of despair washed over Little One. He was debilitated, alone, and powerless. There was nothing more he could do. He was now at the mercy of the Guardian, a creature infamous for having none.

As he knelt and the sword remained motionless on his throat, shame followed hot on the heels of despair. The genie may have tricked him, but he was the one who made the wishes. He had willingly walked right into that trap, just as he had eagerly jumped into this one. He deserved whatever happened next.

A single thought arose, as undeniable as it was hard to believe.

It is over. I have failed.

As if reading his mind, the Guardian spoke for the first time. It was strange to hear his voice coming from outside his own head. “Do you give up?” his replica asked.

Little One considered that if he admitted that much, perhaps the guardian would spare his life. He hung his head, trying to form the bitter words in his mouth.

But in this too he failed. Instead of saying anything, he heard a hissing sound, followed by a familiar voice.

“Sssssso what does failure look like?  What does it sound or smell like?  Tell me so I know how to recognize this failure in the future.” He wasn’t sure if the voice came from inside or out of his head. He decided it didn’t matter.

It looks like this, Little One thought sadly. It looks like me on my knees with a sword at my throat. Like my father remaining captive forever. Like me letting Ginger down. Like never seeing my family again. I didn’t make it up this time, Snake. I’m afraid this time my failure is real.

“Fear is a lack of vision. What you are most afraid of doesn’t exist.”

A lack of vision? Little One asked silently. What am I not seeing?

He considered what he could be missing. Failure was what he most feared, and now it was upon him. Other than that, facing the Guardian of the Guru had scared him most. But the Guardian did exist, and he was even stronger and more dangerous than Little One had feared.

A thought started to form at the edge of his mind, but when he tried to pursue it, a rough, urgent voice interrupted him.

“Do you give up?” the Guardian asked again. Little One turned around to look and saw that his face was no longer expressionless; his eyes were narrowed, and his mouth was set in a snarl.

Little One tried again to say the words, but he choked before he could get them out.

He heard another hissing sound, this one even louder.

“If you fail, Little One, then perhaps you will find that what you were looking for was within you all along.”

The thought tried to surface; he could feel it consolidating, trying to make itself clear. It was there, calling to him, just beyond the edge of his reach.

“This is the last time I will ask,” the Guardian growled. “Do you give up?” The metal pressed more firmly against his skin.

Suddenly the thought crystallized in Little One’s mind. What he was looking for was already within him. Before receiving his wishes from the genie, he had successfully navigated every challenge he faced. He hadn’t needed size, or power, or fighting prowess; what he already had had been enough.

He’d had enough strength to face every obstacle he’d encountered head-on and enough wisdom to know what to do even in the most difficult situations. Though he was constantly terrified, he somehow found enough courage to keep doing what he had to, and enough compassion to forgive himself for doing it less than gracefully. It occurred to him that he’d always had everything he needed, even if he hadn’t known it at the time.

With a start, Little One understood that his greatest fear hadn’t really been failure or even letting his family down. It was that when put to the test, he would find that what he had—that who he was—simply wasn’t enough.

He almost laughed out loud as he realized that the snake was right; what he feared most didn’t exist. He had always been more than enough. But believing the fear and acting as if it were true had nearly caused him to fail.

Despite being on his knees with a sword at his throat, he felt a sense of lightness and power. He could feel the strength of his gifts filling all the hollow spaces within him. He realized that it didn’t matter so much what happened now. What he thought was at stake wasn’t, and never had been. He still wanted to save his father and find Ginger and return to his family, but he didn’t have to. They were all as bright and indestructible as he was at their core. True failure was impossible. He laughed again, understanding that he was free.

As he turned to look back at his replica, he understood what he had to do.

“No,” he said in a low voice. “I do not give up.” He turned his head back and saw the Guardian’s eyes grow wide in surprise, then narrow once again. The sword left his throat as his replica pulled it back and prepared for another assault.

Little One spoke quickly. “But I also will not fight.” Praying he was right about what would happen next, he flung his sword as far as he could to his right.

At first the Guardian’s face grew red and the snarl returned to his lips. Little One flinched, wondering if he had been wrong. But as his replica raised his hand as if to strike, it was as if it hit an invisible wall. Hand and sword bounced back down by his side. He tried to lift it again and hit the same unseen barrier. Then he watched with wide eyes as his arm hurled the sword to the side, where it landed next to Little One’s, even as the muscles and tendons of his arm strained beneath the skin as if attempting to resist the motion.

The Guardian looked at Little One in disbelief. As he did, Little One turned around to face him and saw that something strange was happening. His replica was shrinking. Little One looked down and saw that the same thing was happening to him. They were getting shorter, their large muscles melting away. A few moments later, he found himself facing a mirror image of himself as he had looked when he first left his village.

Little One gave a sigh of relief. His replica, eyes bulging, looked down at his body. Even as he did so, it began to fade as if becoming a ghost or a shadow or the shadow of a ghost. Within a few moments, he had disappeared entirely.

Little One fell on his back, breathing deeply and looking up at the sky, which was an uninterrupted deep blue around a glowing orange sun. Despite the lack of clouds, Little One heard thunder in the distance.

“Well done,” the thunder said. “How did you know to do that?”

Little One sat up and looked around. Even in daylight, he couldn’t see anything other than grass, sun, and sky.

“We were perfectly matched,” he said, addressing it all. “The harder I tried, the stronger he got. I figured—hoped, more like it—that if I didn’t fight, then he wouldn’t either.” He paused. “And he was my mirror image. I guessed that if I tried to go back to the old me, the one without the genie’s gifts, then perhaps he would as well.” Little One shrugged slightly. “I’m not really a fighter at heart,” he admitted.

The thunder rumbled once again like laughter on the horizon. “Very good,” the Guru said.

“So can I ask you my question now?” Little One asked, scrambling to his feet.

“Yes,” said the Guru. “But only if I can ask you a question first.”

Little One’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “Sure,” he finally said. “I suppose that’s only fair.” He wondered what the Guru could possibly want to know from him.

“Where is your father the Serpent God?” boomed the deep voice, sounding as if it were coming from all directions at once.

Little One’s mouth dropped open. “But that was my question for you!” he said, sounding more like a child than he’d intended. “I don’t know! That’s the point! The whole reason I fought your guardian was so you would tell me.”

There was silence for a moment. Finally, in a quieter rumble, the Guru said, “There is no difference between you and me. Just as there is no difference between you and him.” A slight breeze rippled the grass where the Guardian had been.

Understanding, like the first edges of the sun breaking over the horizon at dawn, began to light Little One’s mind.

“So I ask you again,” said the guru, and the land seemed to vibrate with the bass of his voice. “Where is your father the Serpent God?”

Little One looked at the sun, the deep blue sky, and the grass where his replica had been. He felt the vibration of the Guru’s words in his belly. He could still feel the strength and fullness of his gifts pulsing through his body with a golden warmth.

Suddenly the sun broke free from the horizon in his mind and lit every corner of his being. He knew exactly where his father was. And he knew too how wrong he had been, how big his misunderstanding. He hurriedly began to gather his things in preparation for a long journey back the way he had come.

A few minutes later, he was ready to go. “Thank you, Guru” he yelled at the sky, the grass, the rumble of his own heartbeat.

“Thank you,” rolled the deep voice, and Little One could feel now how it began in his own mind before extending out over the infinite grass.


Photo credit: Randen Pederson // CC

Self Doubt: A Love Letter and a Guide

self doubt giraffe

A few weeks ago a wave of self doubt overwhelmed me like a particularly bad case of the flu.

I struggled to make important decisions, like whether to watch a movie or take a nap. The consequences were clearly enormous, and I was afraid of getting it wrong. When I did finally manage to choose something, I made up for my momentary success by spending more time second-guessing my decision than actually carrying it out.

Nothing I did felt good enough, and I was critical of every effort I made. I looked for evidence of failure everywhere, and when I found that I did something with less than optimal consequences, I chewed on my mistake like a dog on a bone and snapped at anyone who tried to take it away from me.

The worst part was, when I realized what was happening, I turned it into more fodder for my self doubt. I know better, I thought. I can’t believe I’m doubting myself again. I proceeded to beat myself up for beating myself up.

An Epidemic of Doubt

Self doubt is incredibly common in people who are struggling to find their purpose in life or who feel trapped in jobs they don’t like.

For example, one woman I spoke with recently has a job that she knows isn’t sustainable physically, financially, or emotionally. She wants to move into something that’s more enjoyable and rewarding, but she worries that she won’t be able to successfully transition into a new industry, fears failure, and finds the tasks necessary to make a change overwhelming.

Beyond these common symptoms, however, self doubt has an even more destructive component. It erodes our ability to be true to who we are.

When things aren’t going the way we’d like in our external lives—in our jobs, families, friendships, or other pursuits—we start to believe the corrosive voice in our heads that tells us that there’s something wrong with us. We turn on ourselves, and instead of embracing the things that make us unique and allow us to work through our challenges and contribute great things to the world, we condemn them, seeing irredeemable flaws not just in what we do, but in the fabric of who we are.

The Love Letter

It would be easy to condemn self doubt itself as another irredeemable flaw. I would propose a different way of looking at it, however.

Self doubt comes from our desire to be good. It’s a sign that we care about ourselves and our world. It’s misguided, yes, but it’s also a sign of a beautiful heart. If you didn’t care, if you didn’t want what’s good for yourself and others, you wouldn’t doubt. And as I mentioned in my previous post, wanting and caring are key to transforming not just your life, but also the world for the better.

Perhaps because of this, self doubt is also one of the best guides I know of to help you find your path. It points to the exact place where your gifts are needed and where you’re likely not sharing them freely.

I can probably explain this most clearly with a story from my recent meditation retreat.

The Gift of Self Doubt (Based on a True Story)

I’m a loud meditator. I meditate in a tradition that encourages you to become aware of and then surrender to whatever emotional, physical, or spiritual energy is moving through you. You’re also invited to express it through sound and movement. Over the years, I’ve found that my energy often wants to express itself through deep and relatively loud noises. The group I meditate in, however, is filled with other noisy meditators, so I’m usually not the loudest one in the room.

Then last weekend I found myself in a meditation retreat where the group was much quieter. My urge was to override my energy and remain silent as well. My teacher, however, encouraged me to stay true to whatever energy was arising within me. To my constant dismay, that meant making loud sounds.

The first night I was filled with self doubt. I could almost hear the other participants’ internal judgments and feel their irritation through the walls. I convinced myself that the only reason I needed to be loud was because I’m an emotional mess and can’t manage to get my $#*! together like everyone else.

The next morning I shared my doubts with the group. They were encouraging, but I wasn’t convinced. When we paired up for the next meditation, I was with a woman who was new to this particular practice. She was dealing with a lot of sadness but having a hard time letting herself feel it. As I settled into my meditation, I felt energy rise within me and want to be expressed. I will not make a noise, I thought to myself. The teacher came over and put her hand on my back. I knew she was trying to assist me in moving energy, but all I could think of over and over, was I will not make a noise. I will not. I will not.

Suddenly I had the image of the entire energy of the earth beneath me knocking on a trapdoor at the base of my spine. “Will you open the door and accept this gift?” it seemed to be asking. Part of me didn’t want to. Part of me desperately wanted to keep that door shut. But I knew enough to know the power of the gift being offered, so I opened to it.

A wave of incredibly strong, rooted energy immediately flowed through me. I opened my mouth and let it all come out. Aware of the power of the energy, I extended it to the woman in front of me, offering it to help her as well in any way it could. I sat with her for what felt like a long time, feeling connected, compassionate, powerful. And loud. I was very loud.

When we were done, the woman looked up at me in tears. “You energy was so strong, and so helpful,” she said. “I felt it there assisting me the entire time. I’ve never felt so held, so surrounded by support.” She said she was finally able to access some of the sadness she had resisted earlier. “I finally feel like everything’s going to be okay,” she said at the end.

What I learned about self doubt in that moment is that it is wildly inaccurate, almost humorously so. I also learned that it has the ability to point us to both the exact thing that makes us unique and the best way to share our gifts at any given moment in order to help those around us. All I had to do was resist the temptation to turn on myself, embrace the very thing that felt worthy of shame, and go in the direction the doubt was trying to steer me away from.

Not easy to do, sure, but a signpost couldn’t have been clearer in helping me find my way.

The Guide

There’s no easy way to work with self doubt. Positive affirmations work for a lot of people, but they’re never worked well for me. Or at least, not by themselves.

In my experience, you can’t talk yourself out of self doubt. That’s always my first instinct, but it rarely works for long. There are other things you can do, however, to transform it into self love and a powerful gift to give to others. Here are some ways I’ve found to work with self doubt:

1. Listen for the story the doubt is telling.

Self doubt is born from the stories we tell ourselves, consciously or not. Get curious about what these stories are saying about who you are. You can often do this by paying conscious attention to your thoughts or through stream-of-consciousness journaling about whatever situation is triggering the doubt.

Is your doubt saying that you’re too (strong, weak, loud, quiet, selfish, lazy, fearful, indecisive, impulsive…) or not (calm, generous, clear, productive, enlightened, loving, selfless…) enough?

As you’re listening for the story, it can be very helpful to feel the fear as well. Usually self doubt comes up when we’re scared about something. Admitting to yourself what that is and letting yourself feel the fear (I do this by getting curious about where I feel it in my body and then letting it be there without trying to get rid of it), can be very powerful in transforming the doubt.

When I was doubting myself the other weekend, the story I was telling myself was that I wasn’t doing enough to take care of my house, my marriage, my family, my health, or anything, really. I was scared that I wasn’t the type of person I wanted to be, and that I would lose what I cared about most. The basic message came down to “I’m a lazy, selfish person, and I’m going to lose everything I love because all I want to do right now is lay around and take a nap.”

2. See the truth beneath the story.

This can be tricky, because the doubt can feel so convincing. See if you can look at the situation as if through the eyes of someone who loves and respects you very much. Can you find any evidence that the opposite of what the doubt is saying is true?

In my case of feeling I wasn’t doing enough, I began to remember many things I had done over the past week to take care of the people and things that are important to me. I could also see that my house, overall, is in good shape, as are my relationships, my health and well-being, etc. Once I started looking for it, I found evidence that not only do I do a lot, but I’m pretty darn effective at taking care of what matters most.

What my doubt was missing was that while taking care of business is well and good, it’s not the most important thing. Staying in touch with the present moment, my Inner Wisdom, and my connection to something larger than myself, is actually what’s most important to me. It’s what allows me to move away from ego and towards my true self, feel greater joy and serenity, tap into my creativity, share my gifts with the world, and grow towards health and wholeness. It also requires lots of space, rest, and time to be and not do. For me, that often looks like moving slowly, not getting much done, and yes, taking naps.

Self doubt is like a giant arrow pointing away from your most powerful and unique strengths. Go in the opposite direction of the arrow, and you’ll find your greatest gifts like a pot of gold at the wrong end of a confusing rainbow.

3. Get others to help you.

If you’re having a hard time seeing what the truth really is, ask someone you trust for help. Compassionate family members, friends, or colleagues who get you can help you find a new, more objective perspective than you might be able to access on your own. They are also usually able to recognize and articulate your talents and gifts when you simply can’t.

Other people can also help in another important way. A lot of times we feel self doubt because we haven’t done something before. Chances are you aren’t incapable of doing what you feel called to, but you may need some time and help to learn new skills. Other people can help you navigate learning curves, whether as teachers, coaches, mentors, or peers. Asking others for help can not only speed up the learning process, but make it much more enjoyable as well.

4. When in doubt, experiment.

Instead of believing your self doubt, which tells you that you’re incapable or unworthy of getting what you want, find out the truth for yourself. The best way I know to do this is to conduct experiments.

It’s hard to convince yourself that you can do something without actually doing it. But when you try it and find that you don’t fall flat on your face, it provides evidence to the skeptical part of yourself that you may not be such a nincompoop after all.

So the next time your doubt is trying to talk you out of something, come up with a way to do an experiment and test your hypothesis that you’ll  ___(fail, be rejected, embarrass yourself, find out you’re not as good as you thought you were, etc.)____. In the case of the woman who felt stuck in an unsustainable job, this might be signing up for a class or volunteering for an organization in a new field she’s interested in. For me the other weekend, it might have been taking a nap when I worried I should be doing something more productive.

No matter what experiment you decide to try, be like a scientist and observe your experience carefully. What thoughts, emotions, and body sensations arise during the experiment? What happens as a result? Do things fall apart? Do you fall flat on your face? Or does something good actually come about?

Pay attention to your expectations as you do this as well. (This is true for everyone, but especially for those of us with a tendency towards perfectionism.) Are you allowing yourself to be a beginner and get more effective over time, or are you expecting yourself to be a prodigy and pick this up in a day, week, month, or even year?

5. No matter what, be extra kind and gentle with yourself.

In many ways, the antidote to self doubt is self love.

That means being compassionate with yourself, recognizing that this is something that everyone struggles with in one way of another. It’s also not something you should already know how to do. Learning how to be true to yourself despite fear and self doubt is a lifelong process, and we’re certainly not taught anything about how to do it in school. Rather than getting in the way of progress, I actually believe it’s one of the most worthwhile things we can spend time on while we’re here.

Loving yourself also means being kind and gentle. Allow yourself to go slowly. Let yourself make mistakes. Do all the things you can think of that feed and nourish you. For me, that’s walking in nature, spending time with animals, connecting with loved ones, taking hot baths, napping, doing something creative, reading fantasy books, and watching funny movies.

You don’t have to wait until you’re confident or over your self doubt to treat yourself well. Often confidence comes once we’ve made the decision that we’re worthy of a little kindness and tender loving care.

Support for Transforming Self Doubt

I don’t have any openings right now for individual coaching clients, but I am thinking about starting another group coaching cohort this summer. If you’re interested in working in a safe and compassionate community of peers to transform self doubt, identify your calling, and take steps towards work you love, you can  find out more and apply for the program here.

Over to You

What self doubt is coming up for you right now? What gifts is it pointing you towards? What action feels most important to take in order to transform it?

Please share in the comments below.

Want a Career Change But Don’t Want to Start Over? Here are 3 Good Options

want_a_career_change_but_dont_want_to_start_over_bird

One of the most common concerns I hear from people who want to find more fulfilling work is that they don’t want to start over.

Starting over—whether it’s in a new field, new role, or new organization—definitely has its challenges. For one thing, in many industries rookies aren’t paid as much as veterans, so starting over can mean at least a temporary pay cut, which some people just can’t afford.

Career change also implies that you’ll need to learn new skills. This takes time, sometimes a lot of it, and can be very humbling. Nobody’s ego likes to be a beginner. If you’re used to being an expert, or even just experienced in your field, it can be uncomfortable to suddenly become the new kid on the block, asking the questions instead of answering them.

There are, however, ways to work through these challenges. As I like to remind folks (including myself), you always have options. Here are 3 ideas for you if you want to make a career change but don’t want to start over:

Option 1: Look for a job that changes enough but not too much.

Sometimes we don’t need to transform everything about our work in order to find fulfillment. In my experience, when people take the time to get clear on what’s absolutely essential to their happiness at work, they discover that they could find these things in a variety of ways, some of which can leverage their existing experience.

For example, I had a client once who was miserable in his job as the manager of an IT department. He tried out some radical changes, including becoming a comedy writer and an Uber driver.

Eventually he found that starting over so suddenly and dramatically didn’t work for him. He went back to the things he had identified that were vital to his fulfillment at work. Central to these were working more directly with customers, helping people, and having time outside of work for other things that were important to him.

Before long he found a job at a local department of community affairs. It provided all the key elements he needed to feel fulfilled and leveraged his 20+ years of IT experience. It also gave him the opportunity to continue to explore a career in writing in his time off.

If you don’t want to start completely over, you might:

  • Change industries, but not roles;
  • Change roles, but not industries; or
  • Change organizations, keeping the same role and industry.

This last alternative includes the possibility of going from employee to freelancer, which I’ve seen work well for many people.

You have so many options for how you put your strengths to use in the world. The key is to take the time to uncover them by brainstorming, exploring, and asking those around you to help you discover possibilities you may never have thought of on your own.

Option 2: Go slowly and work your way in gradually.

Often you can avoid the most difficult parts of starting over by doing it one step at a time.

If you’re interested in starting your own business, for example, you don’t have to quit your day job right away. You can start your venture on the side and work your way through the learning curve at your own pace. This also allows you to have a steady income for as long as you need until your business is big enough to support you on its own.

There are similarly lots of ways to gain new skills and experience while still in your current line of work. You can take an evening class, volunteer with a non-profit, or initiate a project at work that would allow you to build your desired capabilities. I had a client, for example, who was interested in project management, so she persuaded her boss to install a more effective IT system and let her lead the implementation process. In this way, she got to try out this type of work and gain experience in a new role all as part of her regular 9 to 5.

If your current job won’t allow for this type of learning, you might consider making a lateral switch to a job that may not be ideal in the long-run but can provide a good foundation from which to make a slow and steady transition.

It’s not always what we most want to hear, but the truth is that most successful career changes happen over time and often in multiple steps. This is actually a good thing, as it means you don’t have to rush. It also lessens fear and anxiety, as you can continue to enjoy the security and familiarity of your day job while stretching yourself to step into new frontiers outside of it.

The other good news is that because we tend to feel better when we’re actively working towards something we want, we don’t have to wait until we’ve made our final move to experience more joy and satisfaction.

Option 3: Find something that makes starting over worth it.

A lot of people worry about having to start over before they’re even clear about what they want to do. This makes the possibility even more unappealing, as it’s really hard to be willing to give something up (money, time, professional kudos, etc.) if you’re not sure what you’ll get as a result.

You may find, however, that once you’ve explored some options and found something that excites you, you won’t mind investing time, money, or even some discomfort in making a change. This becomes easier to do when you have a better idea of what you can expect to get in return.

I had a client, for example, who worked in a well-paying job at a prestigious company. When we started working together, she desperately wanted to make a change but felt frozen and unable to justify giving all this up to start over in a new career that might end up disappointing her.

We worked through some of her fears together, and she became more willing to take necessary risks. But she wasn’t truly ready to take a leap until she found out about an opportunity to work on the gubernatorial campaign of a former colleague. Her love of politics, her respect for her former coworker, and her ability to visualize exactly what she would be doing and how she would feel about it gave her the confidence she needed to make a change. Suddenly the discomfort of starting over seemed like a small price to pay for doing work she would enjoy and was passionate about.

Before you make up your mind that you don’t want to give up what you have by starting over, you might want to take the time to explore whether there’s anything out there that would give you something greater in return.

It may not be as bad as you think.

There’s one other reason why you might want to consider starting over.

Sometimes we anticipate what we think it’s going to be like to begin again. We imagine how hard it will be, how embarrassed we’ll feel, or how much work we’ll have to do. We might envision every task that’s involved and feel overwhelmed, deciding then that it’s not for us.

But starting over doesn’t have to feel daunting. You can take it one step at a time at whatever speed works for you. Instead of going over the entire process in your mind, focus on whatever your next step might be.

And keep in mind that may not be as hard as you think. In my experience, when you’re moving towards your calling, the universe will help you in ways you wouldn’t have expected.

As Cheri Huber says, “Fear of the unknown is really just fear of our own imagination.” And fortunately, starting over can be easier, more energizing, and more enjoyable than you might imagine.

Over to You

What are your fears about having to start over?

When has starting over been helpful for you, or at least not as bad as you imagined?

What might you gain from a fresh start?

Your answers could really help others, so please take a moment to share them below.

From Archaeologist to Designer: How One Man Made an Unusual Pivot to Find Work He’s Excited About

I know how helpful it can be to hear about people like you who have made successful career changes, especially those who have overcome common challenges along the way.

With that in mind, this week I want to share with you Jeff Leon’s story so you can learn exactly how he went from a job that filled him with dread to work that he’s excited about.

One caveat: Jeff is a client of mine, first in Passion Quest and then in Pathfinders Group Coaching. Though this is significant, I also believe that his story can help inspire and guide you whether or not you ever choose to participate in one of my programs.

So, in the hope that it can catalyze your own journey to work you love, here’s Jeff’s story (in his own words):

How Things Were:

“In March 2016 I defended my PhD dissertation in archaeology at Cornell.  It was the end of a long and arduous process that took the better part of seven years, but rather than being a moment of excitement and enthusiasm for the next steps in my career and life, it was a moment of complete fear and confusion.

“I had realized by that point that I spent the better part of the last three years of my PhD dreading the work I was doing, dreading the solitude of the research, and dreading many of the professors and administrators I was working with.

“I knew I wanted (and needed) to make a career change and find something that was more fulfilling and rewarding to me, but I didn’t have anything resembling a professional support system. I was blessed with strong personal support from family and friends, but no one quite knew how they could help me or what my next steps could look like. I felt like I was staring into the deep, dark unknowable future all by myself.”  

The Challenges:

“Looking back, the fundamental challenge I faced in my life transition in March 2016 was that I didn’t really know what I was even looking for – and it’s hard to find something if you don’t know what you’re looking for to begin with!

“In a sense, I had forgotten who I was, what I was naturally good at, and what I valued most; by doing that, I had lost touch with my purpose in life and, ultimately, happiness.

“During grad school, I had enjoyed and found value in discussions with students, debating, and problem-solving, but [later on] I was being encouraged to publish research that few people read, or present papers at conferences to add another line on my CV. Deep down this kind of work felt valueless and unimportant to me. I knew I wanted to spend my time making the world a better place, but I didn’t know how.

“I also suffered from a couple key mental blocks. For one thing, I had a bad case of imposter syndrome and it was doing a number on my self-esteem. When you’re surrounded by Ivy League PhDs who have 10, 15 or 30 years’ more experience than you, and whose job is to critique and ignore your work in equal measure, it’s easy to feel dumb and think you have nothing to offer the world.

“Beyond that, I looked at the years I took to complete the PhD as ‘sunk costs’ – I thought about how while I was sitting in a library by myself learning about things I cared less and less about, my friends had been off building job experience, professional connections and 401Ks. It seemed like if I didn’t become a college professor (even if it made me very unhappy), my 20s would have been a waste of time. But the problem was, I just couldn’t bring myself to apply for jobs in academia, which meant (in my mind) that the whole exercise in getting a PhD had been a big, long failure.

“As I was coming to grips with all this and wrapping up my degree, I began meeting with career counselors on campus. After a couple of meetings they told me that academics ‘weren’t my tribe,’ which was an important insight.  But, the trouble was, they didn’t know who my tribe was, and neither did I. I was adrift, unsure of which way to turn, and thinking I had wasted my 20s on a fool’s-errand of a PhD. Worst of all, I was terrified to make another seven-year career mistake.”

How He Did It:

“First, it took time and it took patience.  I know that’s the last thing anyone wants to hear when they find themselves in a period of chaos in their life – and it was the last thing I wanted to hear when I first spoke to Meredith, but it true and it was right. I (like many people, I imagine) wanted the 10-day solution, and maybe, just maybe I could hang on for the one month solution, but a six month-plus solution?! No way.  But that’s how long it took me, and it was well worth it.

“The first step for me was to ‘show up’ and confront the turmoil I was struggling with, and the second step was to trust the process.  I had to give myself the time, the space, and the permission to find out who I was and what made me tick. Weekly and bi-weekly group meetings with Meredith were crucial in helping me in this process. They were tangible examples of progress in my self-discovery and helped mark my progress. Plus, I learned to meditate and it’s a practice that I’ve begun to incorporate into daily morning yoga sessions to bring clarity to the beginning of my day.

“I also learned a number of important tools and exercises to help me check in on myself and to really listen to my mind and body to understand how different events and situations were affecting me. Most of all, I learned to trust myself again, and to give myself permission to explore, be curious, and make mistakes.

“I learned these things in a supportive, collaborative environment with other people going through similar challenges to myself—people who had suggestions, solutions, and—perhaps most important of all—smiles and words of encouragement. The unknowable future was (and still is) scary, but I began to feel much better equipped to take it on.”

How Things Are Now:

“After a few months of working with Meredith I had built up the confidence to begin setting up informational interviews in fields that struck me as interesting. In other words, I had re-developed the confidence and self-esteem to be curious again and to explore potential career options.

“I was intrigued by a user experience designer I spoke with, and one conversation led to another until I decided to enroll in a 10-week immersive user experience design program at an educational tech incubator called General Assembly. It was thanks to Pathfinders and the process of re-building my self-esteem that I was able to confront the fear of the unknown head on.

“Taking that leap was a great decision – I’m currently about halfway through the course, building a portfolio of work, and looking to apply for jobs in February and March.  The work is fascinating, the people are fun and energizing, and the field is growing, so I’m excited about my prospects.

“I realize my path is still uncertain, but having participated in Pathfinders I feel like I have the tools to help me navigate similar challenges throughout my life.”

Last Chance to Join the New Year’s Pathfinders Group

Pathfinders Group Coaching is one of the most powerful and cost-effective programs I offer to help you identify and move into work you love. It teaches you the most powerful tools and techniques I refined over 6 years helping dozens of individual clients find their calling and supercharges that process with the support and power of community.

There are only 2 spots left, and the group is starting next week. This is your last chance to start fresh alongside everyone else until I open a new group, and I’m not sure when that will be.

Pathfinders Group Coaching includes:

  • Highly interactive small group sessions that walk you through the 5 Steps to Find Your Calling, help you work through common challenges, and give you opportunities get ideas and feedback from the group
  • Specific action steps to take in between sessions that help you clarify and move towards work you love
  • A private Facebook group where you can get support between sessions
  • Email access to me for any questions or challenges you need help with
  • An Enneagram assessment to determine your type
  • A one-on-one onboarding call with me to go over your Enneagram type and create personal strategies for you to get the most out of the group
  • Access to Passion Quest, the online course I created to teach you how to find your calling, and all its modules, recordings, and PDFs

 To find out more, click here to schedule a free 1:1 call with me. We’ll discuss your needs, go over the details of the program, answer any questions you have, and find out whether group coaching could help you find the work you were meant to do in the world. (There’s no obligation to buy anything on the call.)

Over to You

Which parts of Jeff’s story can you relate to?

Do you have your own story of successful career change that you can share to inspire others?

Please leave a comment below. (As a bonus, you’ll have the option of publishing a link to your latest blog post alongside your comment.)

Little One and the Big Misunderstanding (Or, the Trouble With Finding Answers)

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Following is the tenth story in a series that tells the tale of the first hero to go on a journey to discover his calling.

To read the first story in the series, click here.

To read the previous installment, click here.


Little One’s smile faded quickly as he glanced around his father’s palace.

The walls looked like they may have at one time in the distant past shared the same iridescent sheen of the palace’s exterior, but they were now coated in what appeared to be a layer of slime covered by a film of dirt.

When Little One looked up at the low ceiling not far above his head, he saw that there were black circles running in a straight row above him. Or rather, most of them were black circles. Every ninth or tenth circle wasn’t black at all and allowed a solitary ray of light to stream through.

Little One guessed that the circles were intended to be lights, but grime was preventing most of them from functioning as such. The result was that the space was dark and grim, with the occasional light serving only to highlight the gloominess.

Beneath the filth, curved columns hugged the walls at regular intervals down the length of the room, which was so long and dismal that he couldn’t even see the far wall.

It occurred to Little One that this is exactly what it might look and feel like if he were to be swallowed by a giant snake.

He wondered if perhaps this was another attempt by his father to assess his worthiness. It hadn’t been easy to find his way into the Serpent God’s palace in the first place. Maybe this was another test to see how he would respond when faced with such unexpected disorder.

In fact, nothing about his father’s palace so far had been close to what he’d expected. He hadn’t even realized he’d had any expectations, but he couldn’t deny that he did when they were systematically shattered one by one.

It started when, rather than being welcomed and congratulated on their cleverness and perseverance when they finally discovered the location of the palace, he and his sister were simply met with impenetrable walls.

It continued when his father had been too deaf or callous to care to respond when they’d screamed and knocked and searched for days looking for a way in, growing hoarse and blistered in the process.

And now that he finally had figured out the riddle and made his way inside, he was greeted not by a spectacular home worthy of the most powerful god in existence, but by a ruined hovel that appeared silent and abandoned.

Well, not entirely silent, Little One realized as he took in his disappointing surroundings. He found that he could now make out a low thrumming coming from beyond the gloom. It came and went, rising and falling in intensity and at times subsiding entirely.

Little One found himself moving down the long, dim corridor towards the source of the sound. He wondered briefly about Ginger as he went, and whether she’d find her own way in. He didn’t think she’d mind that he didn’t wait. They’d come all this way, after all, for a reason, and he figured she’d catch up soon regardless. She might even be ahead of him now, knowing her. He could imagine her taking a look at these filthy walls and saying there’s no way they’d stop her—she’d traveled beside her brother for a long time now, so had clearly seen much worse.

And then his thoughts returned to his questions. They burned within him with a fierce intensity that only grew stronger as his frustration mounted. He wanted to know why he had been called to leave his home and embark on an adventure with no clear purpose or destination, and what exactly it was that he was supposed to do or accomplish on this very ill-defined quest.

He wanted to know whether the call came from his father or someone else, and either way, why his father hadn’t contacted him before, and how it could be, anyway, that he was the son of a god when he felt so humdrum and had two perfectly ordinary parents back home in his village.

For all his irritation, Little One was excited to finally find answers to his questions. Even if the Serpent God wasn’t what he expected, surely he would still be able to provide his son with some wisdom. Little One had worked so hard to find him, after all, and had passed all the requisite tests.

As he traveled farther down the corridor, his unease grew. The sound was getting louder, and he was starting to be able to feel its vibration in his belly. The sensation wasn’t reassuring, though; in fact, there was something intensely disturbing about it.

After what felt like a very long time, Little One finally saw the space before him open up into a large, round room. As he stepped over the threshold, the vibrations suddenly stopped and the noise disappeared.

He looked up and saw a perfect dome above him. Though some light was coming through, it was gray and streaked with grease. Directly beneath the center of the dome was some sort of machine with a black box in the middle and large cylinders extending outward from all sides. He saw a hint of red out of the corner of his eye and had a thought.

Climbing up one of the curving columns in the wall, he managed to reach the dome. Taking a corner of his shirt in his fist, he rubbed it across the grime. It came off easily and revealed a patch of flickering stars in a black sky.

Little One smiled. The dome, it seemed, was made of a substance that was even clearer than the waters of a young mountain stream. Clear, that was, when not covered by a thick layer of grease.

Little One walked around the cylinders next and noted 6 other colors. As he did, he felt a wave of satisfaction expand in his chest. His thought had been a good one, and he knew what this machine was for.

He recalled the first time he had entered the mountains that housed the Serpent God’s palace and the multi-colored lightning he had seen at night. This was the machine that produced that lightning. It clearly hadn’t been used for quite some time, but it would be capable of making colored light that could be seen for miles if the dome were clean and clear.

Little One felt more than a little pleased with himself. Though it didn’t win him anything, he felt like he had passed another test by having pieced this little mystery together. It felt like he had discovered another one of his father’s secrets.

And then something happened that drove the smile from his face and made him realize how much he really didn’t understand at all.

In that moment the machine jumped to life, whirring, moving, and noisily rearranging itself. The cylinders swung from the outside in until they were all pointing up in the same direction towards the center of the dome.

Then all at once the lights came on. At first all Little One could see were the individual columns of light shooting up towards the ceiling. Realizing that what they were forming was happening above the dome itself, he quickly climbed back up the column and used his shirt to clear off as much of the dome as he could reach. He was so shocked at what he saw when he looked through it that he froze there, unable to move up or down from his perch at the top of the column.

Through the clear spot he’d just created in the dome, he witnessed the biggest pair of human feet he’d ever seen in his life. They were attached to legs that were scaly, dark brown and green, and equally large.

The legs extended up from the dome so far that Little One could barely see what was sitting on top of them. He was able to make out a human waist and chest, and arms on either side. They seemed tiny in comparison to the feet.

What wasn’t tiny, he realized as he continued to look at the figure, was its tail. He had almost missed it at first as it rested behind the figure, but it was moving slowly now—slithering slowly, Little One corrected himself—like a snake winding its way between the legs. The top of the figure was almost too far away to see, but Little One made out what looked like a serpent’s head with two glowing, red circles that he took to be eyes.

Just then Little One felt the vibration begin again in his belly, followed quickly by the booming noise in his ears. The red eyes far above him swirled around and then settled, as best he could tell, in an angry glare at the tiny human form attached to a dirty column an incalculable distance below.

It was then that he realized that the booming noise that had been ebbing and flowing was a voice, and it was saying something, to him. He strained to make out its thunderous tones.

“Congratulations,” cracked the voice as the snake-like tail sidled back and forth. “You achieved everything you set out to do.”

Little One wasn’t sure what to make of this. He felt a warmth expand in his chest at the words, but there was something in the tone that belied the commendation. “Thank you, Father, I mean Sir, I mean Mighty One. I’m so grateful to be here.”

The Serpent God ignored him.

“You started with nothing. But you worked hard. Figured things out. Used your god-given gifts. You overcame the challenges, excelled at everything you attempted.” The tail stopped slithering and began thrashing. “And now you have what you’ve always dreamed of. So much so that others are jealous of your success.”

The booming voice fell into silence. It lasted so long that Little One felt he needed to respond.

“Yes, um, thank you again…I think…” he started to say.

The red eyes flashed suddenly and the tail whipped around.

“But for the sake of what?” the God boomed. “What did you really gain?”

The warmth turned icy. Little One shrank back. His throat was dry as he looked up at the giant feet and the swishing tail and swallowed.

“Um, I’m not sure, to be honest.” His voice sounded frail and anemic in comparison to the God’s sonorous voice.

“You have no idea. You. You,” he spat the words. “The one they all come to for help. The one they think has it all. Oh yes, sure, you have plenty of answers for everyone else, but absolutely none for yourself.”

Again the silence and the thrashing tail. Little One swallowed hard again. But before he could speak, the God continued, this time in a tone that Little One couldn’t place.

“And now in your quest for recognition,” he rumbled softly, “in your insatiable hunger for success, you have lost the one thing that you actually cared for.”

There was a pause in which Little One could feel his own heartbeat in his throat. “What do you—” he began, only to be interrupted by a low growling sound, followed by what could only be described as a snarl.

“You stupid, ignorant, earthbound fool!” the God roared. “I can’t believe I ever thought you were anything more than that.” The words crackled and hissed with venom.

Little One felt a lump rise in his throat. His body suddenly felt terribly heavy. He wanted to say something to defend himself, but no words came and his tongue felt like it was made of stone.

And then the tone changed inexplicably once again. “Well, I can’t do it anymore,” the voice said with a hollowness that reverberated off the walls of the palace. “I can’t keep sacrificing myself in order to give you what you want.”

As he watched, the image began to flicker. It went completely black for a moment and then returned. When the God spoke again, there was something familiar in his manner that Little One couldn’t quite place.

“You are not who I thought you were,” said the all-powerful Serpent God, shaking his massive head. “I give up. You win. You are free to do what you will.”

There was a clanking sound just then and the cylinders beneath Little One went black, one by one. Within just a few moments the God had disappeared completely.

Little One waited at the top of the column for what felt like an eternity to see if the voice would resume. It didn’t. Eventually he made his way down to the floor again and sat with his back against the wall.

Tears gathered at the corners of his eyes, which made feel even more humiliated. There was much he didn’t understand, but he did apprehend this: Apparently he had passed all his tests, only to fail the most important one of all. He had no idea what he’d done to disappoint his father so badly, but clearly he had done something unforgivably wrong. He felt nauseated.

He felt the edges of shame, sadness, and confusion threatening to spill over him. He tried to push them away. He focused instead on poring over every part of his journey, seeing possible missteps and failings at every turn.

As he did so, the ache in his belly grew so strong he didn’t think he could take it anymore. It felt like it was going to annihilate him and everything good in the world.

Suddenly he realized that this was a familiar feeling. He had felt it before, back in the forest at the base of a giant tree. He recalled how the excruciating ghosts had passed through him one by one, filling him with jealousy, guilt, rage, despair and every other emotion he’d ever felt. He remembered how he’d thought he was going to die, but how he was actually left with an incredible sense of serenity and peace. And a clear sense of what needed to be done.

Little One made a fast decision. He turned to the shame, sadness, and confusion and welcomed them in. He felt them pass through him like ghosts, one by one. He felt the immutable heaviness, the twisting anxiety, the sense of neverending suffocation. Once again he worried that they would never pass, but one by one they did.

When they were finished, all was quiet and still. Little One felt his mind start to race once again, trying to find his failure. He asked it to be silent for a little bit longer, and surprisingly it obeyed.

He breathed in the stillness. And from the heart of the silence he heard a voice echoing once again: “You are not who I thought you were,” it said. “I give up. You win.”

Something in the words felt important, if confusing. There was something utterly familiar about them, but he couldn’t place what it was.

He closed his eyes, waited for the stillness to return. And then, in a sudden flash of understanding, he knew what it was he had recognized in his father’s speech. He should have seen it at once, he realized, but he’d been distracted by the loudness of the anger and his confusion about the meaning of the words.

It was, as it turned out, more familiar to him than almost anything else in the world. And, like everything else on this journey, it also wasn’t anything he’d expected.

The most powerful god in his world was terrified. And also a little bit sad.

Little One wondered for a while about why that was. He couldn’t come up with anything that made sense. Painfully aware of the paradox, Little One wished he could ask the Serpent God for guidance. His attempts to find answers seemed only to be generating more questions. The irony of it made him smile.

And that’s when, with that same bright flash of understanding, he suddenly understood exactly what was going on.

Little One jumped up from the floor and grabbed his pack. He began running down the corridor in the opposite direction from which he had come. Eventually he came to the end of the hall, which was also the end of the palace.

In front of him was nothing—not even a door. It was complete darkness. He didn’t see any stars in front of him. He didn’t see anything at all. It was a yawning, black abyss that quickly devoured even the faint bits of light that emerged from the corridor behind him.

Little One swallowed hard. His throat was dry. He wondered if he really needed to do what he believed he did.

Maybe he was wrong. Maybe the dirty and abandoned palace didn’t mean what he thought. Maybe the image he’d seen of his father was some sort of security apparatus, or even more likely, another test, and not what he was thinking all.

His gaze drifted down. There, written in the grime on the floor, was his answer. He saw a path through the dirt where something quite large had been dragged over the ground, exposing the iridescent white of the original floor beneath.

Little One’s stomach dropped. He realized he was right. His father hadn’t been talking to him. In fact, it wasn’t his father he had seen at all. It was a memory, some sort of recording of him from before. He had been talking with someone else in the palace. Speaking to his attacker.

Little One had no idea how or by whom, but the Serpent God had been kidnapped by someone he used to trust.

“You are free to do what you will,” his father had said, fear and sadness in his voice.

Little One looked back at the darkness. He really didn’t want to do what he was about to do. It was a good thing, he thought with a short-lived laugh, that he had so much practice entering chasms.

He took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and then filled his lungs once again. Working hard to keep his eyes open, he grabbed the straps of his bag and jumped, following his father into the abyss.

He was going to find the Serpent God and bring him back. Or die trying.


Click here to read the next story in the series.


Photo credit: Randen Pederson // CC

10 Tips for Working With Anxiety When It Feels Like It Might Overwhelm You

In my last blog post I wrote about my key to dealing with anxiety.

Since this is a subject so close to my heart (and my nervous system), I was inspired to offer a few more tips for what to do when it feels like anxiety is going to overwhelm you.

While it’s incredibly useful to understand that anxiety isn’t actually a bad thing (believing we need to avoid it is actually what creates most of our trouble), it’s also true that working with it mentally often isn’t enough. Sometimes we need physical, emotional, or even spiritual ways to lessen its effects if we’re going to be able to see that it isn’t so bad. The reason we panic about anxiety, after all, is it often feels like it’s going to kill us.

So here are 10 things you can do to lessen anxiety and help your system relax:

1. Breathe deeply.

Deep breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system; in other words, it calms your fight-or-flight response and takes you back into rest-and-digest.

We’re designed to breathe all the way down into our bellies by contracting and relaxing our diaphragms. When our stress response is triggered, however, our diaphragms tighten and we breathe primarily by expanding our chests. The problem with this is that because we’re designed to breathe this way only in emergencies when we need additional oxygen, our bodies take this kind of breathing as evidence that something’s wrong. Thus, regardless of what got us anxious in the first place, once the anxiety takes hold, its symptoms feel like further confirmation that all is not well.

The way to counteract this is to breathe all the way into our bellies, letting them relax so they can rise and fall with each breath, and slow down our exhale. This naturally activates our parasympathetic nervous system and signals to our bodies that everything is actually just fine.

2. Shake it out.

Somatic Experiencing points out that most animals have ways of resetting their nervous systems after a big hit of adrenaline. Bunnies, for example, physically shake after being chased by a predator to discharge their emergency energy and come back to a resting state. If we don’t do the same thing, the theory goes, our nervous systems can get stuck in the “on” position.

So the next time you’re anxious, you might try literally shaking it off. Do what a dog does just after it gets out of the water and really have at it so you can let your body know that the danger is past and it’s safe to relax again.

You might feel funny, but at least you’ll feel funny and safe.

3. Meditate and get present.

Anxiety is usually about what might happen in the future. Often if we stop to check in with what’s occurring right now, we realize that in this exact moment, we’re actually just fine.

Meditation is a great way of connecting to the perfection of the present moment. It also helps you relate to the storm of thoughts and feelings that assault us all with greater equanimity.

It’s a practice of letting go, one thought or sensation at a time, so that instead of getting caught up in the drama, you can stay grounded in what’s happening right now and see things more for what they are (which is almost always less anxiety-producing than what we imagine).

There are lots of meditation centers, teachers, apps, and programs that can help you get started, but it can be as simple as pausing to feel your feet on the ground in moments when you notice you’re anxious. Whether you meditate, feel your body, or get curious about what you can see, smell, or hear around you right now, you’re practicing presence, which is an anxiety-lessening skill that, like a muscle, gets stronger with use.

4. Exercise.

Exercise is one of my favorite tools for dealing with anxiety because it can often relax me when nothing else will.

I used to joke that during a particularly transitional phase in my life—when I had recently started coaching, had just launched my own business, and was making the move across the country from San Francisco to Atlanta—I  had never been more anxious, but I had also never been in better shape.

Exercise gets us back in our bodies (which keeps us in the present moment) and can help move anxious energy through us. Find what works best for you—you might try walking, swimming, running, yoga, weight lifting, or playing a sport. One of my favorite things to do is put on music and dance as wildly and as goofily as I can.

Whatever form it takes, make it something you enjoy, as joy is another medicine for anxiety, if we can get present enough to feel it.

5. Get into nature.

There’s something inherently calming about nature. Maybe it’s the silence, slowness, and spaciousness. Maybe it’s the beauty. Or maybe it’s that we’re forced to acknowledge something larger and greater than ourselves and our relatively small concerns and worries.

Regardless, nature is a powerful antidote to anxiety. So if you’re feeling anxious, make time to get into the woods, the park, or the lawn out back.

Whatever form of nature speaks to you and wherever you can find it most easily, go there. Often. Take time to just be still, notice, and breathe in the beauty. The wonderful thing is you don’t have to do anything; just being in nature is healing enough.

6. Notice what’s going well.

When we’re anxious, we’re often worried about “What if’s”. The funny thing is, we almost never think, “What if everything turns out really great?”

Our brains are actually wired to focus on what might go wrong, which may have helped us survive at one point, but nowadays just serves to fuel our anxiety. So the way to counteract this natural tendency (and find a more realistic view of the world) is to focus on what’s going well.

If you’re like me when I’m in the throes of anxiety, you’ll think—wait, but nothing’s going well! The invitation here is to start noticing the little things and not take anything for granted.

You can do this by making a gratitude list and including everything on it—the fact that you have a place to sleep at night, food when you’re hungry, or people around you who love you. You can also begin to see your daily wins, which may be small but are often more significant than you realize.

If you let yourself observe without judgment, you’re likely to find that despite the challenges and uncertainties, things generally unfold for the best, despite what our minds tell us or what anxiety would have us believe.

7. Go slowly.

If your anxiety is coming up because you’re doing something new, then going slowly can be key.

When I start going faster than the slowest part of me feels safe to go (thank you, Karen Drucker, for that phrase), my anxiety kicks up, often to the point of keeping me awake at night.

It’s a not-always-so-gentle reminder to slow down. When I take baby steps and check in before taking the next one to make sure I have the energy for it, I not only feel better, but I also generally get better results.

Sometimes anxiety is just my inner wisdom trying to get my attention.

8. Feel your feelings.

What I’ve discovered from years of observing my anxiety is that it often functions like a baby’s rattle.

When I’m feeling something I don’t want to be feeling (anger, fear, hurt, disappointment, etc.), the anxiety comes in and provides a pretty noisy, attention-grabbing distraction. When I wrap my fat little fingers around that rattle and focus on all the noise that it’s making, it’s pretty easy to not pay attention to whatever disturbing feelings I have.

But following anxiety’s lead tends to make things worse, and the only thing that really helps in the long run is to pause and make space for my feelings. When I let myself feel my fear, anger, hurt, or disappointment, I realize that it never lasts forever and is never as bad as I think it will be.

I do this by focusing on what I’m feeling in my body, allowing the sensations to be there, and then following whatever energy comes up—sometimes crying, sometimes yelling (when I’m alone), or doing whatever I need to in order to make room for the feelings.

When it’s no longer needed to distract me, the anxiety often fades of its own accord.

9. Get curious.

Curiosity is like kryptonite to anxiety’s Superman strength.

Anxiety is fueled by the belief that something is wrong. When we act based on anxiety, we feed that belief.

When we’re curious, we’re not caught in the belief that anything needs to be solved. Instead, we’re finding out for ourselves what’s actually true.

  • Is it true that we need to have a particular outcome in order to be okay?
  • Is it true that we’re screwed if something doesn’t go well?
  • Is it true that if we’re anxious something must be wrong?

My best advice is not to take anxiety’s word for any it. Doing so will only add to its superhuman strength.

Instead, ask and observe. Investigate what it is that makes you feel that something is going badly. Get interested in your anxiety and what makes it intensify or lessen. Get curious to see what’s really going on, and what will unfold.

It’s very hard to be genuinely curious and anxious at the same time.

10. Accept it.

This is perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned about anxiety over the years:

It’s very easy when we’re experiencing anxiety to fall into the trap of trying to get rid of it. It can be very uncomfortable after all, and can disrupt sleep, work, and relationships.

But using all these tips and tricks to try to get rid of anxiety is the worst thing we can do. In fact, in my experience, it only makes it stronger.

We can’t control anxiety. We can do things that will make it easier to feel peaceful, but nothing works all the time. Relaxation isn’t a state than can be forced.

If we think we need to feel calm in order to be okay, all our efforts to lessen anxiety will only make us feel more powerless and vulnerable, because at some point they won’t work, and then we’ll feel even more out of control.

If, on the other hand, we can begin to recognize that feeling anxious is uncomfortable but not fundamentally dangerous…if we see that anxiety is temporary and never lasts forever…if we know that we can always let ourselves feel at least a bit more at ease in any given moment, even while the anxiety is here…

…then we realize that we can feel anxious and be okay.

When we do that, we’re free. We can accept our current experience and do whatever we need to in order to make it gentler, kinder, and easier to handle.

In other words, we can stop trying to control and start relaxing into what is.

My Key to Dealing With Anxiety

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I’m anxious. Most of my clients are anxious. Some of the most intelligent, loving, and talented people I know are anxious.

As if our natural inclinations weren’t enough, career change is basically a breeding ground for anxiety. Change is by definition new and unfamiliar. You won’t know what you want at first, and you have to spend some time in the dark until things become clear. And then, even when you do know what you’re aiming towards, you’re still swimming in uncertainty because you can’t possibly know how things will turn out.

So if you’re anxious, (1) welcome to the club, you have some great company, and (2) congratulations, you’re exactly where you should be.

The Two Most Common Reactions

There are pretty much two ways humans tend to respond to anxiety, both of which make it worse:

  1. We try to avoid it by taking action.
  2. We try to avoid it by not taking action.

I’m firmly in the first camp. When facing a new task or an unknown situation, my natural urge is to jump into action.

Recently this led me into a period of what could most accurately be called hysteria.

Faced with anxiety about the launch of yet another new offering (keep your eyes open for a special announcement about this soon, by the way), I did what I do naturally: I got good and doped up on perfectionism; began obsessively thinking about what I was going to do and how; and despite repeatedly telling my husband just how much I needed to rest, I added every possible task I could think of to my To Do list and filled my days with any productive activity I could find.

The result? Exhaustion, insomnia, irritability, and increasingly paralyzing levels of fear.

And lest you think those in the second camp have it any easier, I would invite you to talk to someone who has an equally challenging habit of procrastination. When faced with anxiety, procrastinators find creative ways to distract themselves and avoid taking action, seemingly remaining calm and carefree; beneath the surface, however, they feel all kinds of guilt, frustration, and often deep shame about not being able to take any action towards what they want, no matter how important it is.

The Negative Cycles

So on the one hand, those of us in camp #1 feel the edges of anxiety and respond by jumping into action.

The action may not be aligned with our Inner Wisdom, or it might be hasty and ill-timed. Regardless, we care more about getting stuff done than listening to what we need, so we end up exhausting ourselves.

Off-balance and depleted, we feel less powerful and more miserable than we did before, so we’re prone to feel even higher levels of anxiety, which makes us want to take on even more.

On the other hand, those of us in camp #2 avoid all this by not taking action at all when they feel anxious.

Instead, they get busy with other things, distract themselves, or find other ways to procrastinate. Part of them knows, however, knows that they’re not addressing something very important to them.

Off-balance and ashamed, they feel less powerful and more miserable than they did before, and—you guessed it—prone to even higher levels of anxiety, which makes them even less likely to take any action.

The Key to Dealing With Anxiety

I discovered the key to breaking this cycle with some (okay, a lot) of outside help. (Left to my own devices, I would probably be huddled in the corner somewhere right now reciting my To Do list in 20 different languages.)

What I found is that the key to cutting through anxiety is to stop listening to it.

In my last period of hysteria, every fiber in my being was screaming at me to do something—everything I possible could—to try to feel like I had a handle on the situation. In other words, I was trying to do 5 million different things to make this edgy feeling go away. And none of them was working. In fact, they were all making it worse.

It turns out that the solution was much simpler. All I had to do was sit there, let the anxiety scream at me, ignore the voice that told me if I didn’t take action everything would fall apart, and not take any action.

It wasn’t easy, but when I chose not to listen to the anxiety, when I just allowed it to be there, it actually faded quite quickly. I was then free to do what I knew I needed: rest. When I did that, I felt much better. When I felt better, I felt more powerful. Suddenly things seemed a whole lot less frightening and a whole lot more manageable.

When we do what the anxiety is telling us to do, whether that’s trying to be perfect, worrying, and getting things done or distracting ourselves, numbing out, and avoiding action, we make it stronger. We buy into the fundamental misunderstanding of anxiety, which is that things have to be a certain way in order for us to be okay.

When we stop trying to make anxiety go away by doing what it tells us, we start to see the truth, which is that we’re always already okay. We begin to understand that it’s not our action or inaction, our feelings or external circumstances that keep us safe. We find that what keeps us safe is the strength, wisdom, compassion, guidance, and love we all have access to, regardless of how we feel or what’s happening around us.

The only problems we have are the ones we create when we call something a problem and anxiously try to avoid it, cutting ourselves off from our inner strength, guidance, and wisdom in the process.

So the next time you’re feeling anxious, notice what you want to do. Then see if you can do the opposite. See if you can stay with the anxiety long enough to see what it really is–a fleeting experience with no power to harm you.


Photo credit: Leo Hidalgo // CC

Little One and the Palace of the Serpent God (Or, How to Find the Light Within)

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Following is the ninth story in a series that tells the tale of the first hero to go on a journey to discover his calling.

To read the first story in the series, click here.

To read the previous installment, click here.


As he stared up at it, Little One reflected that the Serpent God’s palace was as beautiful as it was frustrating.

Its outer walls rose up from the earth white and iridescent, smooth and pearly like the belly of some enormous snake. There were no bricks visible, nor scales either for that matter; the wall extended perfectly smoothly all the way up to the sky as far as the eye could see.

When the sun hit it, colors flashed momentarily, as if all the hues of the rainbow were somehow contained in those white walls. He and Ginger had stood transfixed for a long time when it finally came into view, both of them barely breathing.

And yet their appreciation of its beauty had faded quickly as they tried to find a way inside.

At first they tried looking for a door, but there was none. They traveled around the entire enclosure, touching the smooth material and seeking any sign of crack or crevice as they went, but they found nothing. That had taken the entire first day, despite an early start, and despite the fact that they had gotten back well past dark.

The second day they tried knocking forcefully and calling out their father’s name. Either he couldn’t hear them from his seat in the sky or he couldn’t be bothered to care that two of his children were screaming his name outside his pearly walls.

When they were hoarse and sore from blisters that covered the ends of their hands, they decided to be a bit more strategic.

It was as they were eating dinner that night that Ginger had her epiphany.

“Do you remember why the legend says our father built his palace in the first place?” she asked him.

Little One nodded, and she continued. “He was tired of the other gods always coming to ask him for favors, right? So of course he isn’t going to build any doors or gates that we can see. In fact, I think we could search the walls for years and we wouldn’t find a way in.”

“You think we need magic to enter?” Little One wondered.

“No, because of the other part of that legend. You saw the colored lightning when you were near here before, right? Only his children can see that. But why would he make the lightning if he didn’t want his children to find him?” She didn’t wait for Little One to answer. “He wouldn’t,” she said. “So there must be a way get in.”

She was quiet for a moment and the only noise was the wind blowing through the leaves and the crackle of the fire in front of them.

Finally she continued: “I think there’s an entrance, but I don’t think it’s anywhere near here. I think it’s far away, and he’s waiting for us to figure out where it is.”

Little One let her words settle in. “So how do we find it?”

“To be honest, I’m not sure,” Ginger sighed.

That’s when Little One had his epiphany. “But he is the God of Serpents, so maybe we should start thinking more like a snake would. Maybe we look all around the surrounding forest for holes in the ground and signs of giant serpents.”

Ginger hadn’t been excited by the idea—she didn’t think a god would go around leaving signs of himself if he didn’t want folks to find him—but she couldn’t think of a better plan, so she agreed to try it out.

Three days later they were no closer to entering the palace. By the time the sun was starting to set on the third day, Little One’s excitement had begun to turn to frustration.

In all the trouble he had run into while he was trying to find this palace, it had never occurred to him that he would have such a hard time getting in. He had always imagined that the gates would be opened at the first sign of his approach and that he would walk through in triumph to find his father eager to greet him with open arms.

His fantasy had come crashing back down to earth sometime between the fifth and sixth hour he’d spent yelling outside the walls.

Ginger still believed that their father wanted them to find him, but Little One couldn’t help but feel that even if that was the case, the Serpent God had an infuriating way of showing his welcome.

Just as he had this thought the sun came out from behind a cloud. Something on the ground caught the light and flashed in the corner of his eye. When he went to investigate, he saw a stone that was almost as white and iridescent as the palace walls themselves.

There was a funny mark on the top of the rock. As Little One brushed the earth away, he realized it was a word carved into the white surface.

He called Ginger over and picked up the stone, brushing away the crusted dirt with his hand. When Ginger arrived, they read the words together.

“To find the God, you must enter the Palace,” it said. “To enter the Palace, you must find the God.

Little One threw down the rock in disgust. “Pointless!” he said. “What kind of worthless God is our father anyway? Why give a clue if it’s going to be totally useless?”

“Wait, Little One,” Ginger said. She walked over to where the rock had fallen. “It says something on the other side as well.

She brushed off the dirt. “Go to the place you least want to visit,” she read. She looked up at him. “Where do you least want to visit?”

“I don’t know,” Little One admitted. He considered it for a moment. “Those dark woods we just walked through to get here were pretty terrible,” he offered. “We didn’t see any sunlight for weeks.”

“Is it really the place you’d least like to visit?”

“No, I suppose not. Hmmm….let’s see. There was a place near the river where I grew up where the water would puddle and it was filled with the biggest, hungriest mosquitos you’ve ever seen. I used to hate to go there as a kid. Maybe that’s what he was talking about?” he asked uncertainly.

Ginger shook her head. “I doubt it.” She thought for a moment and then Little One saw something darken across her face. “I think I know what it is for me,” she said. “The Tree of Life. That was probably the worst night of my life.”

Little One nodded. It had been pretty awful to be attacked by emotional ghosts all night long. It felt closer to what they were looking for than the forest or the river, but it still felt a little…light.

And then suddenly he remembered the Chamber of Doom.

He could feel the black darkness all around him, see the malicious shifting of the shadows, feel the desperate fear he had felt when he’d seen what he thought was a pool giving off poisonous gas and lined with more bones than he could count. He remembered how his heart had pounded and how the rock had cut into his hands and knees as he scrambled with blind terror in an attempt to get away from the pool.

And then he recalled that the cave hadn’t been dangerous at all. The pool wasn’t poisonous and there weren’t any bones; he had made it all up in his fear and cowardice. Remembering how scared he had been of a bit of darkness and a few shadows brought a rush of heat into his cheeks and a twisting tension to his belly.

As he continued to consider it, he began to feel so ashamed that he felt like crawling out of his skin and getting as far away from himself as possible.

And that’s when he realized that that was the place he least wanted to go.

He explained it to Ginger, and she nodded calmly. “Then that’s where you’ll go,” she said. “And I’ll head to the Tree of Life.”

*   *   *

The journey back took less time than Little One expected. He hadn’t thought he even remembered where the Chamber was, but somehow his feet seemed to know where to take him.

He was nervous about what he’d find there. His father seemed to want him to prove something before granting him entry to his palace, and from the clues he’d found so far, Little One figured it must be something big.

Remembering how poorly he’d handled the shadows of a cave, he wasn’t sure he was up to the challenge.

By the time he found the entrance to the Chamber, his stomach was filled with butterflies. He climbed down into the hole in the earth and began carefully making his way down the vertical shaft on a series of ridges and protruding rock. It took him a while—the ascent up had felt like it took forever—but eventually he felt a small ledge open up beneath him and a cool breeze blew across his face from the tunnel that led off of it.

There was no light coming from the hole above him at that point; he was enveloped in total blackness.

“Okay,” he said out loud to no one and everyone. “I’m here.”

Silence returned his greeting.

Using his hands, he felt his way into the tunnel and sat with his back against the wall. He remembered sitting this way the first time he was here, after he had explored to find what he thought was the poisonous lake on one end of the tunnel and an endless abyss on the other. His heart had been pounding, and he had been so scared that he hadn’t been thinking—or, apparently, seeing—straight. He cringed at the memory.

And then he remembered how amidst his distress he had felt something slide over his feet. He realized that it was here that the snake had first visited him outside of his dreams in order to show him that his fearful visions weren’t anything more than his imagination.

And suddenly he knew why he was here. He needed to find the snake again so he could tell him how to get into his father’s palace. His father was the Serpent God, after all, and the snake was nothing if not a serpent, so he must be some sort of emissary or messenger or perhaps even a form of the god himself.

But the snake was nowhere to be found.

Little One waited for a time in the tunnel, calling out to it, and then walked into various different chambers trying to find it. He found only darkness.

When he came back into the tunnel, he heard a soft hissing noise start and then stop. Thinking it was the snake, he followed the sound, only to discover a young man sitting on the ground in front of him with his knees pulled into his chest.

Little One was shocked that someone else had found this same cave in this same moment until he looked closer and realized what was really going on.

The person he saw in front of him was his former self, the one that fell into this cave accidentally so many moons ago, in all his cowardly glory.

This man, who seemed barely more than a boy, didn’t appear to be able to see him or hear him now. As he watched with a mix of fascination and embarrassment, the noise started up again and Little One realized that his former self was crying. He was hugging his knees with a desperate strength, as if trying to make himself as small as possible.

It reminded Little One of his sister, who used to hug herself in the same way when she was upset about something, like having a bad nightmare or seeing a dead deer.

The young man in front of him looked so small, so lost and alone, that Little One’s heart moved. He remembered the feeling of cold fear in his chest. He recalled how alone he had felt, surrounded by darkness and the unknown with nobody around to help him.

He wanted to comfort his former self, to let him know it was all going to be alright. Then he remembered that the snake should be coming along any moment to do just that.

Perfect, he thought, then I can talk to him afterwards.

But the snake didn’t come. Tears came and went and nothing appeared.

Finally his former self looked up, startled. “Am I imagining things?” he asked softly. “Snake, is that you?”

Little One looked all around, but he couldn’t see any snake. His former self kept talking and then pausing to listen as if something were answering him, but Little One heard nothing respond.

The edges of understanding began to appear like the first hint of light at dawn.

He could see his former self relaxing as the tears stopped and he hugged his knees less tightly. Eventually he stopped talking and took a deep, shuddering breath before grabbing his pack.

Little One knew what would happen next. He would make his way back through the tunnel to the endless abyss. Then, despite his smallness, despite his screaming fear, he would find the handholds and footholds along the precipitous wall and make his way back up to the light.

The thought made Little One realize something. When he was here before, the tunnel had been completely black. There was no light at all. And yet he had just seen himself in great detail, down to the tears on his cheeks.

He moved quickly to follow his former self towards the abyss. By then he had already started making his way up the wall.

Little One saw this small, fragile thing that looked tiny in comparison to the vastness of the wall he was climbing nevertheless make his way upward, little by little. He knew exactly how frightened this young man was, knowing that the smallest misstep could cause him to fall into an abyss of darkness. And yet he kept going, stubbornly refusing to look down, taking one small step after another.

He couldn’t help but be impressed by this little person’s courage and strength.

And as he watched himself climb, he realized that he was right about the source of the light he’d seen by in the tunnel. It was coming from the young man on the wall. Starting in his core, it radiated outward to the tips of his fingers and toes, pulsating with a golden light.

Suddenly Little One knew what he had to do.

He looked down at his chest in the darkness and reached out for it, seeking, searching. It was hard to find at first, until he remembered the sense of strength and power he’d felt in his body as he climbed the wall. A faint light began to pulse within his chest.

He kept searching. He reached through his darkest moments to the light beneath—to the love and compassion he’d felt for the ogre he was supposed to kill, the strength and trust he’d tapped into as the eagle in the quicksand, and the joy he felt with Ginger when he finally stopped comparing himself to her.

Then he stretched towards the inexplicable wisdom of the snake, which he now realized had always been within him.

The golden glow grew brighter. He encouraged it with kindness and love and warmth, and soon it was roaring and crackling like a bonfire.

The darkness of the abyss in front of him began to shift and move. Finally, with a great hissing noise, it gave way and a pearly white doorway appeared in the midst of the blackness.

To find the God, you must enter the Palace,” Little One said out loud to everyone and no one. “To enter the Palace, you must find the God.” A laugh escaped his lungs.

“True enough, Dad” he said, enjoying the warmth of the light within. “But it’s a little cliché, don’t you think? I mean, you could have just said to look within me. Just because you’re a God doesn’t mean you have to be so obscure.”

So it was that Little One was smiling as he stepped into the palace of the Serpent God for the very first time.


To read the next story in the series, click here.


Photo credit: Randen Pederson // CC

21 Reasons to Get Out of Your Head

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“My mind is a bad neighborhood that I try not to go into alone.
–Anne Lamott

I know how easy it is to get stuck in your head. When my brain isn’t churning with thoughts, memories, worries, plans, analyses, or trying to figure something out, it’s attempting to pull me back into its fold by convincing me that it can solve whatever problem I’m facing if only I obsess about it a little longer.

Our minds are incredible, but they’re only part of our natural awesome-ness, and so much gets eclipsed when we over-rely on them. So as much for myself as for anyone else, here are some reminders from my own experience about why we could all use a break from our brains:

1. Your mind is a dark place.

Most of our heads are filled with catastrophes and worst-case scenarios. Though this scenery bears little relation to the real world, the more time we spend in our minds, the more likely these outcomes seem. And because of this…

2. There’s fear everywhere in there.

You can’t jump from one thought to the next without stepping in a pile of it. Not to mention the fact that…

3. Your mental landscape is covered in rationalization.

Our brains are smart, and they know how to talk us into our out of just about anything, regardless of how we really feel about it. Just ask Lance Armstrong, or someone who’s convinced themselves to stay in a job they hate for 30 years. And on top of that…

4. In your head, self doubt is rampant.

Doubting your abilities is a mental habit, not some intuitive truth about yourself. And the more time you spend in your head, the more likely you are to run face-first into it.

A lot of this can be explained by the fact that…

5. Your brain has bad eyesight.

What I mean by that is when you’re in your head, you’re not paying attention to what’s happening around you. You’re not taking in new information, and you’re not seeing, feeling, or experiencing what’s actually occurring in the real world right now.

When you do…

6. You see that you’re okay, no matter what’s happening.

You observe that there is always support available to you. And you see how much you’re able to handle day-in and day-out, no matter what comes your way. In fact…

 7. You feel more powerful and confident.

Without your thoughts distracting you, you’re able to sense into that quiet place within that feels how strong and wise you really are.

8. You aren’t so worried about what other people think.

Self-consciousness stems from thoughts, so without them, you don’t feel so dependent on other people’s approval.

9. You’re less stressed.

These days, our fight or flight response is triggered mostly by thinking (there are fewer actual tigers prowling around in modern times). Without worries, your system is free to rest and digest in peace. And because of this…

10. You’re able to sleep more easily.

When you learn to get out of your head, you can choose whether or not you want to follow certain trains of thoughts. You get to decide which thoughts to amplify and which to let go of. As a result…

11. You obsess less.

And the same skill would make it possible that…

12. You stop beating yourself up over your mistakes.

 Not to mention the fact that…

13. You give your poor mind a break.

(Your brain gets tired too.) In addition…

14. You feel more connected to others.

Connection is what happens naturally when we’re present with others instead of trying to listen while really being caught up in what’s next on our To Do list.

And maybe best of all…

15. You stop asking yourself: “Where did all the time go?”

When you’re present in the current moment, time doesn’t disappear. It may go faster or more slowly, but you’re there experiencing all it has to offer—things like beautiful sunsets, dreamy birdsongs, and the delicious food you happen to be ingesting.

It’s true that your brain is smart. It’s also true that your smarts aren’t all in your head. If you got out of there more, you’d see that…

16. You’re more creative.

 Ever heard of the shower effect? (It refers to the fact that many of us get our best ideas in the shower.) Or the fact that almost every model of the creative process includes a step called something like “incubation” where you stop thinking about an issue and put your attention somewhere else?

These occur because creativity depends on more than our brains, and in fact, sometimes our brains get in the way of the process. Which is true of something else as well…

17. Decisions are easier.

Neuroscientist Antonio Demasio found that people with brain injuries that prevented them from feeling their emotions suffered a similar effect: they couldn’t make decisions. They’d list out the pros and cons of each choice and bounce back-and-forth among them endlessly without being able to decide. It turns out that emotions are key to making decisions. Furthermore…

18. You have greater access to your deepest desires.

Studies show that our brains are terrible at predicting what will make us happy. Our emotions and bodies, on the other hand, can point to this information much more directly.

In fact, our emotions and bodies have lots of important information to offer us. Which is why…

19. You tap into your inner wisdom.

Here’s what I mean by inner wisdom: Intuition. Guidance. The bigger picture. Knowing what’s most important. Malcolm Gladwell called it “thinking without thinking” in Blink. It’s your ability to sense the truth in ways other than reasoning and deduction. And it’s incredibly powerful.

Because you have so much wisdom within you…

20. You get better without trying.

When you’re following your inner wisdom, every experience is educational and every challenge becomes a teacher. You don’t have to worry if you’re learning enough or doing it right. Your true self is in charge, and it knows what it’s doing.

Because of that…

21. You find what you’re looking for without trying.

Everything we want—peace, love, admiration, security, excitement, happiness, etc.—is already within us. The problem is, at some point we begin to feel disconnected from it, so we start to seek it out—a process that actually takes us farther from our goal. A lot of this effort takes place in our heads. When we relax back into our hearts and bodies, we re-connect with what we thought we were missing.

If you’re at all like me, right about now you’re thinking something like: “That all sounds great, but how do I actually do that?” I’m so glad you asked. I’m super excited to share an opportunity with you to…

Learn how to get out of your head and in touch with the wisdom of your body.

I’ve mentioned some exciting new offerings in the works, and the first of them is coming up! I’m partnering with my good friend and amazing teacher Natalie Biniasz to bring you: Tune Into Your Body’s Intelligence: A FREE Call to Unlock Greater Power, Presence and Wisdom on Wednesday, May 11th at 6:00pm ET. It’s going to be fun and practical and will show you various ways to get out of your head and in touch with your inner wisdom. And did I mention that it’s free?

If you want to get the details about how to sign up for this call and future opportunities, leave your information in the grey box below!


Photo credit: zaphodsotherhead // CC

 

Little One and the Web of Lies (Or, What to Do When Your Inner Critic Attacks)

Hero_randen_pederson_new

Following is the eighth story in a series that tells the tale of the first hero to go on a journey to discover his calling.

To read the first story in the series, click here.

To read the previous installment, click here.


In retrospect, Little One realized that he had made a terrible mistake.

The thought occurred to him as he and Ginger walked through a stretch of woods so dense that no sunlight filtered down to touch the path beneath their feet.

They had been walking through this same seemingly endless forest for the past two weeks. Little One was the one who had suggested they enter the woods in the first place.

He had sensed that they weren’t far from the Serpent God’s palace, and their only options had been to cross a giant river filled with raging rapids, try to ascend what looked like an incredibly steep and slippery cliff face, or try their luck in a forest that looked completely devoid of light even on a sunny and cloudless afternoon. Even Ginger had agreed that the forest was the best option until they heard the voice.

They had just stepped into the shadow of the first densely packed trees when they heard it, deep and booming above them. “Warning!” it said. “Go no further!”

They looked all around them but couldn’t see anybody or anything other than gnarled tree trunks, twisting limbs, and fallen leaves. They started to walk again.

“I said: beware!” came the booming voice again. It was so loud it made Little One’s heart pound. He stopped, looking at Ginger. She shrugged her shoulders.

They started walking again.

GO NO FURTHER!” The words echoed around them, reverberating off the trees. “You will not escape unscathed!”

Little One’s stomach leapt into his throat, but this time he had a sense of where the voice was coming from. He cocked his head, looked to his left, and thought he saw something swaying between the limbs of a tree just in front of him.

“No!” said the voice, its pitch a bit higher now. “Do not look for who says this! I am the earth, the trees, the sky itself! I am the power and the will of all the gods who have ever ruled! All you need to know is that what I say is absolutely, unquestionably true!”

That’s when Little One saw it: the tendrils of a web shifting in the breeze between two mighty branches, and in the middle of the weaving was a tiny black dot with wildly crooked legs.

“You’re a spider!” Little One called out, pointing so Ginger could see. “Why are you trying to scare us?”

“I am not trying to scare you!” said the spider, his voice breaking. “I am simply telling you the truth!”

Little One and Ginger walked towards the web. As they approached, they saw a small spider with an absurdly wide abdomen that was white with black spots and lined with large, sharp points that looked like giant thorns.

“Why don’t you want us to go further?” asked Ginger. She sounded like she almost felt sorry for the spider, and in fact Little One’s own heartbeat had slowed considerably since he spotted the awkward-looking creature.

“These woods are cursed!” the spider yelled, his voice booming once again. “Long ago a hunter wandered into this forest and came across an evil monster more terrible than any he’d ever seen before. It was stronger than a minotaur, faster than an arrow, and more relentless than a harpy. After a great battle it defeated the huntsman. Ever since, all the men and women who have dared to enter these woods have lost their minds. When they wander back to their villages years later, they cannot even recall their own names.”

Little One wasn’t sure what to believe.

“Do not doubt!” screamed the spider. “I speak the truth!”

In the end, Little One decided not to heed the spider’s warning. He had a strong sense that their father’s palace lay just on the other side of the woods, and losing his mind seemed both less likely and less risky than losing his life in the river or on the cliff faces they’d seen.

Ginger wasn’t convinced. She wanted to go back the way they’d come and try to find a better path downriver.

After an impassioned argument, Ginger gave in to Little One’s wishes.

“I trust you when you say the Serpent God’s palace is just past these woods,” she said. “You have a good sense of these things. Let’s go on.”

They’d continued down the path into the darkening woods to a loud series of progressively dire warnings from the spider, whose efforts didn’t wane until sometime after they were well out of earshot.

That had been two weeks ago. Since then it had become abundantly clear to Little One that he had made not just the wrong decision, but possibly a disastrous one. He could see how after wandering these dark woods for a little while longer he might really lose his mind.

He was thinking about this, considering what he might have done differently, when he first heard the voice in his head.

It was a deep growl, harsh, and blunt.

“You’re an idiot,” it said. “It’s bad enough that you deluded yourself into thinking that you actually know something about where the Serpent God lives, but to convince Ginger to override her good sense was stupid and selfish. Bad enough that you’re blind, but to be a bully too? Unforgivable.”

Little One’s shoulders sank as he followed Ginger on the trail.

“You realize that this is all your fault, right?” the voice continued. “Any normal person would have found the Serpent God’s palace by now. It’s really not that hard. Nobody else would have struggled so much or worked so hard to be as lost and confused as you currently are. It’s pathetic.”

Just then Ginger turned around to look at him. He thought he saw a flash of anger in her eyes.

“Can we take a break?” she asked. “I’m getting tired.”

“Tired of wandering pointlessly through a cursed forest?” said Little One. “Sure, no problem.”

“What’s wrong with you?” Ginger asked as she slipped off her pack and pulled out some jerky. He heard more anger in her voice.

“What’s wrong with me? Nothing, Ginger. But if you’re not happy about coming this way, you can say it to me directly. You don’t have to pout and try to make me feel guilty for getting us lost.”

“I’m not trying to make you feel guilty,” she answered. “If you do, that’s your problem.”

She stared him in the eyes.

“Oh, that’s just great. So that’s my fault too.” Little One felt the heat rising within him. “This is the last thing I want to deal with right now,” he said. He looked away. “I’m going to go look for water.”

He walked so long he couldn’t see Ginger anymore and then walked a few more minutes just to be sure. He heard what sounded like a stream in front of him and decided to go check it out.

The noise got louder and soon he saw that it wasn’t a stream but a spring making the gurgling sound. And then he saw something that made his heart beat faster: a point of light dancing on the pool’s surface. He followed the point up and saw a few solid rays of sunlight reaching down between the branches.

It was the first sunlight he’d seen in weeks, and he could almost imagine how warm and delicious it would feel on his skin. He walked faster towards the spring, then broke into a run.

And that’s exactly when his foot hit something and he tripped, tumbling to the ground. By the time he stopped moving, he realized he was hopelessly entwined in tendrils of something both sticky and surprisingly strong.

He heard the deep, harsh growl again. “Seriously? Do I even need to point out how idiotic that was?”

Only this time it sounded different. Little One realized abruptly that it wasn’t coming from inside his head anymore.

He managed to whirl his head around. There behind him was the biggest monster he’d ever seen in his life.

It looked…well, it looked almost exactly like the spider they had seen at the entrance to the woods. Only this one was huge, twice the height of an average man. It was so large that he could see its huge pincers this time, along with eight giant black eyes. Its legs were bent at grotesque angles, and the spikes on its back were each the size of a small bear.

“Oh, dear,” the spider growled. “You chose not to listen to me. And so we meet again.”

Little One swallowed. His mouth was achingly dry. “So…so you’re the evil monster you told us about? You’re the reason everyone who comes here goes insane?”

“Well, yes,” said the spider. “But evil? That’s just a matter of perspective. The way I see it, I’m just trying to keep people safe.”

“By tying them up in your giant web?” asked Little One.

“Well, I have lots of ways of doing it. But, yes,” spat the spider. “For the stupid ones I find that binding them is the only way to get them to listen. You were going to get yourself in trouble, my dear boy. This was the only way to protect you from yourself.”

“What are you talking about? Protect me from what?”

“Oh, I know where you’re headed, Little One” said the spider. “Yes, I know who you are. I know you believe you’re the son of the Serpent God, and that you hope to enter his palace. And I know that no matter what happens, you must not be allowed to attempt it!”

Little One just stared at him. His mouth was terribly dry. He licked his lips. “And why not?” he finally managed.

“Because you’re an idiot!” the spider growled. “Because you’re going to ruin everything! Don’t you see? You thought it was a good idea to come into these god-forsaken woods, and look what happened! You waste two weeks wandering around and getting nowhere, you pick a fight and hurt Ginger, the one person who truly understands you in this world, and then you get yourself caught in a giant spider’s web.”

Little One’s stomach felt hollow. He felt a familiar sinking feeling in his gut.

“You know, anybody who was halfway capable would have found the Serpent God’s palace by now. But not you! The harder you try, the more lost you get!”

Little One felt a burning sensation all over his face. He wanted to crawl into a hole in the ground and stay there.

“You overestimate your talents over and over again, and it’s getting dangerous!” the spider screamed. “You should realize by now that you’re not good enough to do this! You need to turn around and go home right now, before you destroy everything we hold dear!”

The word we surprised Little One. A vague realization began to stir at the edges of his mind.

“You left to come on this insane adventure because you thought something was calling you, that you were meant to do something more. Not three days later you got lost and couldn’t find your way. When you finally did manage to get untangled from that, you managed to get trapped underground, scared yourself nearly half to death, and very nearly became nothing more than a pile of bones in a forgotten cavern.”

The smoky thought in Little One’s mind consolidated as the spider continued.

“As if that wasn’t bad enough, you immediately ran into a malevolent sorceress, failed to defeat an ogre, and then had to start all over again. At which point you discovered the City of the Children of the Serpent God, got promptly humiliated by every brother and sister you have, and realized that you have absolutely no significant talents at all.

The thought became clear to Little One. It made him angry, but he let the spider go on.

“Let’s see…what’s left. You blindly fell into a pit due to being a coward and very nearly drowned. Then you wasted the wish you got beneath the Tree of Life because you’re an overly sensitive crybaby. And finally, you decide to enter a haunted forest to start the next foolish phase of an increasingly shortsighted and futile quest born primarily out of your greed and arrogance.”

“Wow!” Little One whistled and clapped his hands in mock admiration. “That’s quite a summary. I’m really impressed.”

The spider seemed taken aback. “Well, you know, I do my best.”

“So where does that leave us?” Little One asked. “After we decided to enter these woods? Let’s see, we were walking into a forest that you say is cursed. But I think it’s not cursed at all. I think you knew that we were close to the Serpent God’s palace and you didn’t want us to actually find it. So you made up a story about a battle between a huntsman and a monster to scare us away and to keep us from finding what we’re looking for.” He watched the expression in the spider’s four sets of eyes, focusing on the largest pair in the middle as he continued.

“And when I ignored your warning, you whispered in my ear to get me angry with myself so I would fight with Ginger and come out here by myself.”

The spider lowered its head in acknowledgement.  “Pretty much,” he said in a low growl. “You listen to me better when you’re by yourself.”

Little One wasn’t sure what the spider meant, but he was more concerned about a different question. “What I don’t understand is why,” he said. “Why don’t you want me to find the Serpent God’s palace?”

The spider looked up. Its eyes had softened. “You really don’t know?”

“No!” said Little One. “I mean, I see now that you’ve been with me this entire time, since I left my village.”

“Well, yes,” said the spider. “I go everywhere with you. It’s just what I do.”

“So you know that this is important to me.”

“Yes,” answered the spider. “I know exactly how important this is.”

“So why would you try to stop me from finding what I want most?”

The spider’s eyes were sad. “Because I want it too, Little One. More than you’ll ever know. But I have a job to do. Something more important even that that.”

The spider didn’t say anything else, so Little One prompted him. “And that is?”

“To keep you safe, Little One. I can’t stand it when you’re in pain. It hurts me more than it hurts you. So I protect you.”

In that moment the world seemed very still to Little One. He felt a slight breeze on his cheek. The earth was warm beneath him. He saw the spider’s eyes in front of him, large, dark, and nearly liquid in their sadness. He realized something.

“You’re afraid?” he said. “That’s why you tried to stop me?”

The eyes trembled. “Yes,” said the spider. “I’m terrified. Please don’t be mad. I only want what’s best for you.”

Little One didn’t know what to say. He weighed the words. He considered whether he believed them. Then he looked at the giant spider, its huge pincers, sharp spikes, and tender eyes, and he knew that he did. Something within him melted.

“I understand,” he said. “You’re doing your best to protect me, even if it is in kind of a backwards way. I mean, I get it. Things have been a little crazy, huh? It’s not easy, all this adventure into the unknown. But do you think I did all those things without realizing how dangerous they were?” He shook his head. “Believe me, I didn’t. I get scared too. But I’m looking out for us. I’m being careful. And I know that we’re capable of doing this. I know deep down that we are. Can’t you feel it too?”

The spider’s eyes trembled. Then he nodded his head. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I can.”

“Great,” said Little One. “Can we keep going towards the palace then, if I promise to be careful and listen when you have a real concern?”

The spider nodded vigorously and opened its mouth to say something.

“A real concern, my friend,” said Little One. “Not an invented story.”

There was a noise then, of air escaping a small space. Little One wondered if it was the sound of a giant spider laughing or sighing. He couldn’t tell which.

“Great. Help me up then, and we’ll be on our way.”

The spider just stood there. “I can’t help you,” he said solemnly. “But you don’t need it anyway. Just stand up.”

“I can’t,” Little One insisted. “I’m covered in sticky spider spit.”

The spider just shook his head. “Just stand up,” he said again.

Little One could have sworn he’d attempted that before, but he gave it one more try. To his surprise, he was able to move. He put his feet beneath him and pushed up off the ground. He moved upward with such force that the trees seemed to swirl around him and he almost lost his balance.

He looked around to try to find the spider. He didn’t see anything. He was starting to worry that he’d made the whole thing up and was losing his mind after all when he felt something soft and tickly on his foot. He looked down.

There, crawling up over the top of the arch of his foot, was the spider. It was about the size of his thumbnail again.

He picked it up and smiled at it, then put it on his shoulder.

It was amazing how small it was in comparison to him when he was standing on his own two feet, especially since it had felt so much more powerful just a few moments before.

They made their way back to Ginger, and Little One told her what had happened. Then all three of them began to walk together through the dark woods towards the Serpent God’s palace.

Little One knew that the spider was a part of him and would never leave, but he didn’t mind so much; the little guy felt kind of like a guileless friend, and he knew that he could stand up again if he ever felt trapped in its web.


Click here to read the next story in the series.


Photo credit: Randen Pederson // CC