When I was in classes to become a New Thought/Science of Mind spiritual practitioner one of our assignments was to write our eulogy and perform our memorial service. It was a powerful exercise as we were being asked to consider our legacy, how we wanted to be remembered, and the memories we wanted to leave behind. We were reminded that we were ultimately authoring our lives or what was left of it and we had important choices to make.
It was a beautiful opportunity to gain clarity on what really mattered to us and to touch the courage we needed to make a commitment to get our lives in alignment with our higher selves.
Time flies by quickly.
Like a roll of toilet paper, the closer you get to the end the faster it goes. If we are not intentionally designing our life, some asshole is going to take the duration of our years and unceremoniously flush them down the toilet. Do you want that?
If you don’t want that, you must choose to become the author of your life. You must courageously step up and away from the TV, Facebook, dysfunctional friend or family member, or whatever mind-numbing time suck you lose yourself in and decide what direction you want to take your life.
If your life was a book what genre would it be? Comedy, Drama, Tragic Comedy, Romance, True Crime, Inspirational?
What kind of book do you want your life to be?
Where does your heroine/hero want to go? What does s/he want to do? What difference does s/he want to make in her/his life and the lives of others? What obstacles does s/he need to overcome? Why should we root for this person?
You matter. Your life matters. It’s time to stop playing small and letting life happen to you. It’s time to be courageous and become the author of your life.
A courageous person goes against the stream. Unlike a rebel who is simply defiant, a courageous person goes against the stream because they have a higher purpose.
Oprah Winfrey revolutionized TV talk shows by focusing on literature, self-improvement, and spirituality to empower audiences.
A courageous person sees possibilities where others don’t.
Steve Jobs saw possibilities others didn’t see and revolutionized the computer world.
A courageous person treads where others fear to tread. It doesn’t mean that a courageous person doesn’t feel fear. It means that they don’t let fear stop them.
Ellen DeGeneres created a show that had an openly gay character. Ellen was the first openly gay actor to play an openly gay character.
A courageous person doesn’t let social convention stop them. They courageously express themselves in ways that are authentic to them.
Princeand David Bowie are two examples of men who expressed themselves in ways that were outside of social convention. They both had innovative musical styles.
A courageous person works to make changes in laws when they see something wrong.
Nelson Mandela had the courage to fight against the unjust system of apartheid. He was sent to prison for 20 years and during that time he says he was preparing to lead his country, which he did. He became the president of South Africa, when he was released two decades later.
Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.:
Erin Brockovich, a legal clerk, works to hold corporations accountable for their pollutants and helped win one of the largest lawsuits against PGE for polluting the drinking water of residents in a Southern California town.
A courageous person stands up for the rights of others.
Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania, helped 6,000 Jews escape from Lithuania during the holocaust by personally writing exit visas violating orders from Tokyo.
Harriet Tubman, a runaway slave, returned to help thousands of other slaves through the Underground Railroad escape to freedom.
A courageous person stands up for themselves and thus help others like them who are being treated unfairly.
People like Martin Luther King, Jr., Harvey Milk, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and Rosa Parks.
A courageous person goes after their dreams.
Malala Yousafzai a young Pakistani woman continued going to school after receiving death threats. She survived an attack on her life and continues to speak out for girls to have an equal right to education.
A courageous person believes in themselves and puts in the time to make their dreams come true.
At twelve years old,Muhammad Ali began training as a boxer. He dreamed of being a world champion and he become one. He said, “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it.”
There are many ways to be courageous. How will you be courageous in 2017?
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
I carry this prayer in my wallet and sometimes I actually remember to look at it. I was first introduced to this prayer in my teenage years when I chose a clean and sober lifestyle. In twelve step meetings we always prayed out with the Serenity Prayer.
This prayer is a powerful reminder that some aspects of life are out of control and we must surrender and let them be, rather than trying to make them be a certain way. However there are many things in our lives that we do have agency over.
We all have the ability to change our thoughts, our words, and our actions and yes, even our circumstances. We just need to connect to this truth and find the courage to make changes.
How do we find the courage?
What’s helped me tap my courage is to find someone who has done what I want to do or to find others who are in the process of making similar changes in their lives.
When I wanted to get sober I got a sponsor and attended meetings with other people who were choosing a healthier lifestyle.
When I’ve had to muster the courage to take bigger leaps in my own life, I’ve hired my own life coach, therapist and spiritual counselor. I practice what I preach. I believe it’s very important for people who coach or counsel others to also be engaged in their own personal growth work and get support. In fact, I’m sort of suspicious of people who don’t.
I’ve also found that prayer, positive affirmations, and talking with a trusted friend are powerful ways to tap into courage.
My clients often remark that in our work together they are able to move through fear, self-doubt and negative thinking and make important changes in their lives. They say that working with me as their coach has allowed them to “light a fire under their butt” or that working together allowed them to push through blocks that previously stopped them.
I get it. When I wanted to get in shape I joined a gym and attended exercise classes and boot camp. Having a coach or a trainer to encourage and push me kept me going on days when I was tired and I wanted to quit.
I love surprising myself and moving past my own fears and perceived limitations and I love to help other people move beyond their fears and find fulfillment they didn’t know was possible.
While some things are truly out of hands, everyday we get to make a choice to be courageous about the things we can change. Will we choose to go after our dreams? Will we choose to live our lives authentically? Will we choose to address our mental blocks and negative thoughts that hold us back? Will we choose to make lifestyle changes that allow us to be healthy, strong, and vibrant? Will we choose to end unhealthy patterns of relating?
Today let us pray for the courage to change the things we can.
As we get ready to cross the threshold from 2016 to 2017 I invite you to begin this new cycle from a place of inspiration, not desperation, a place of courage, not fear, a place of love, not hate.
Sure, they are real challenges ahead, some external like politicians and people’s cherished prejudices, physical illnesses, and financial situations that we must absolutely deal with. But let us not cower in the presence of these obstacles.
We must deal with our internal challenges that trip us up. We must face and erase our doubts, fears, and worries. Let us grow even bigger than our fears. Let us rise to the occasion and find ways to inspire ourselves and others. Let us be solution focused, rather than problem-obsessed. Let us be resourceful and creative, rather than depressed and resigned. Let us find the very best in ourselves and others.
Let us begin again from a place of enthusiasm that we are alive at a time where we are being asked to lead, not be sheeple, where we are being to asked to love and bring something better to the generations to come.
This is a new cycle where we can flourish, not flounder. Where we can assert with greater clarity our commitment to diversity, equality, environmentalism, freedom, cooperation, sharing, and all that really matters to us. We are not minions.
Rise up with great love and determination in your heart. Rise up with a ferocious commitment to create a world of peace and sister/brotherhood.
Don’t simply focus on what you don’t want or your fear of what could happen.
Envision a world you’re proud of. Be a visionary, not a victim. Begin within by creating yourself and your life in a way that brings you joy and happiness. This is where your strength resides.
I saw a flyer taped to a light pole on 19th and Castro in San Francisco. It said something about a forum on same-sex marriage. It was 1999. I’ve always been politically aware and involved and told my then wife, Molly, of my intention to attend. She had guests visiting from out of town, her ex-girlfriend, had come to stay with us and brought her current girlfriend.
Molly dropped me off at the Harvey Milk school in the Castro and they went off to brunch. I walked in, backpack slung over my shoulder, and took a seat in the 7th grade classroom.
There were a handful of guys, two of them were school teachers, Tom Henning and Brian Davis. Tom spoke about getting signatures for a pro-marriage equality ballot initiative which was interesting because Senator Pete Knight had created a ballot initiative to pass a law taking away same-sex marriage rights should same-sex marriage be legalized in any other state.
I picked up some literature and a few copies of the petition for people to sign and we walked to the corner of 19th and Castro with an ironing board and officially started signature gathering for same-sex marriage. No one was particularly interested in signing the petition. Two hours later Molly picked me up.
“How was it?” she asked.
“Interesting,” I said, always my standard reply. “I’m going to start gathering signatures.”
I’m sure her ivory tower ex-girlfriend made some remark about the patriarchal institution of marriage. I didn’t care. I knew real rights for real people trumped academic deconstructionism.
It didn’t seem like much at the time, but going to that meeting was the catalyst for becoming a pioneer in the marriage equality movement. That meeting was followed by years of personally engaging in signature gathering, marriage equality conversations with thousands of people, public forums, marriage license counter requests, demonstrations, a marriage equality bus tour across the U.S., a marriage equality rally at the U.S. Capitol, two published books Why you should give a damn about gay marriage and Love Warriors, multiple documentaries, countless radio, TV, and news interviews, and 16 years later marriage equality across the country in June 2015. One meeting can change the course of your life. Following one intuitive hunch can launch a thousand steps in your life. Following your heart can take you places you never dreamed of going.
What is one thing you’ve felt a calling to do? Follow your calling! Follow your courageous heart
Many people don’t know I spent 13 years working as a psychologist in a women’s prison.
During those years I worked tirelessly with women whose lives had been plagued with sexual abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse, and crime. More than 50% of the women had been sexually assaulted as children, beaten by parents and partners, they’d turned to drugs, alcohol and bad relationships due to their low self-esteem and for some PTSD. They also committed crimes; some of the crimes they committed were violent and tragic. Even “victimless crimes” left children and families devastated by the loss of a mother or daughter. Some of the women got caught up in a bad relationship and while they weren’t directly involved in the crime they received decades long sentences for conspiracy. One of my former clients is still serving a thirty-year sentence for conspiracy to distribute meth. She was never caught with any drugs.
Every day as a psychologist behind bars I listened to tragic stories of childhood abuse, drug use, beatings, death and loss. Everyday I heard woman talk about how much they missed their children and how they wanted better for them. Everyday I struggled with the complexities and limitation of the prison system in rehabilitating the lives of those who broke society’s rules. I know I wasn’t alone. My co-workers too, people who wanted to give people a second chance, while also protecting the public, struggled with the complexities of human nature and the peculiar world of prison.
I met so many women from all walks of life in prison. Each had a unique personal story, a struggle, and choice they made that broke the social contract and led to her doing time. There are so many stories to tell and so many challenges that I faced as a psychologist striving to see the best in my client and feel the unconditional positive regard that founder of Humanistic Psychology, Carl Rogers, claimed was essential for helping a client heal.
Being a prison shrink was also challenging because we were considered correctional staff first and I had to learn to balance the empathy of a psychologist with the boundaries required of a correctional officer. No easy feat.
There were times when I was even asked to pat search and handcuff my clients when it was my time to work a correctional post. This was a very weird experience. My clients, which I was really supposed to refer to as inmates, often remarked that I was the most considerate handcuffer. Weird, right? I was always polite with a “please cuff up,” and “thank you.” I know I drove a lot of lieutenants crazy.
Psychologists in prisons are often called “hug-a-thugs” and “inmate lovers.” While I didn’t care for that I understood. Staff members of all departments and years in the system got caught up with inmates and created dangerous circumstances for everyone. Some staff compromised themselves and the prison by bringing in drugs, weapons, cell-phones, etc. and some staff got caught up in sexual relationships with inmates.
In some cases staff were just as predatory as the inmates they guarded, for others their kindness/lack of boundaries was used against them. Either way, staff had a challenge to walk a line that is deeply challenging as evidenced by Stanley Milgram’s –Stanford Prison Study. A person working in the penal system must guard against losing their compassion and having it turned against them.
This is the subject of my first novel, Behind Barbed Eyes. Behind Barbed Eyes will be released next month.
Behind Barbed Eyes tells the interweaving stories of Dr. Victoria Thomas, an idealistic psychologist who believes everyone deserves a second chance and Bonnie Maldonado a convicted criminal who is incarcerated a third time for driving the getaway car in a bank robbery.
The book addresses the psychology of healing, forgiveness, compassion, self-love, healing from abuse, restorative justice, rehabilitation, spirituality and cultural and class issues. Issues, as you know, I’m committed to.
This is my third book to be published and my first novel. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to the excitement of releasing a book and the nervousness of presenting a creative work that has marinated in my mind for many years.
Whether you read fiction or not, I hope you’ll consider reading Behind Barbed Eyes. I’ll let you know when the book comes out and I hope you’ll share in the excitement with me. I’ll keep you posted about readings and book events.
Thank you for being a part of the Courageous Heart tribe! Like Love Warriors Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Cesar Chavez, Thich Nhat Hahn let’s change the world with love.
In September 2000, I attended Tony Robbins’ Life Mastery Workshop in Hawaii. I climbed the 40 foot tall pole, gathered up my courage and my legs and stood straight up on the top of the pole. I had a moment to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the ocean before diving head first toward the swinging trapeze bar which hung six feet in front of me. It was exhilarating to say the least.
I also really wanted swim the half mile across the lagoon with Tony, but I was late and everyone was gone when I arrived. I looked at the murky water, jumped in, and began swimming across the lagoon. Gung ho!
About halfway across, I freaked out. The water was dark, my arms were getting tired and I was alone in the lagoon. The original adrenaline rush I’d had when I plunged in was gone and the shore seemed a long, long way off. I’d never swum this length before and was unprepared for the onslaught of panic that filled me. I began thinking about how people drown, not because they can’t swim, but because they freak out. Here I was in deep waters, freaking out. I had to get control of my mind and start focusing on getting my limbs moving forward. I just kept telling myself “just focus on what’s in front of you.” Little by little, I got myself across the lagoon and on to dry land. What a relief!
Not one to let an experience go by, I began to examine what had happened.
When we begin something new, like Frodo and the others preparing for their journey in Lord of the Rings, we are excited and optimistic. We may be nervous too, but there’s a sort of bravado and naiveté about what we will meet on the path. In the beginning we are fueled by adrenaline and by the novelty of our new adventure. But once we’ve said goodbye and left the Shire or dry land, and have begun our proverbial journey, we begin to meet with obstacles and adversaries that attempt to thwart, even destroy us, our creative projects/business endeavors/missions.
Sometimes those adversaries are external and come in the form of naysayers, family or friends who deem us foolish, or rejections from agents, publishers, art critics, lending institutions, etc. Sometimes they come in the form of sirens, those people who distract us from our purpose, and sometimes those adversaries are our own inner demons that come out and scare the hell out of us.
Yes, our own inner demons that tell us we’re not going to make it, that we are failures, or that we should just give up. Those internal critics challenge our audacity to think that we could ever be successful musicians, artists, actors, writers, entrepreneurs, healers, parents, etc. Often times these demons come out when we have left the comforts of shore or the shire, when we have made major decisions, and have gone too far to turn back. These inner or outer voices of doom and gloom can absolutely paralyze us, cut us off at our knees, and keep us from moving forward.
This is the time where we’ve got to turn to faith, to trust the process even more, and especially in the absence of proof or evidence. We must muster a deeper inner knowing that we are totally guided and totally supported by this friendly Universe that doesn’t want us to sink. The Universe wants us to continue reaching for our dreams, to continue to move forward. We must trust that we will reach the shore, that we will realize our dreams as long as we keep dreaming them and keep moving towards them.
This is not an easy process! There’s a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous, “Don’t give up five minutes before the miracle.” There’s another saying, “It’s always darkest, before the dawn.”
Don’t lost faith. Don’t give up on your journey of the courageous heart. Trust in the perfect unfolding of your life, knowing that when you choose to follow your heart, to listen to your inner calling, you will step into the divine flow, get your miracle, and the sun will rise and shine on your life again.