The Courage to Be the Author of Your Life

The Courage to Be the Author of Your Life

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.

There are many ways to be courageous.

Being true to yourself.

Following your dreams.

Helping others.

Making a difference in the world.

Doing something new.

Walking your authentic path.

Expressing yourself and your individuality.

How will you be courageous in 2017?

Check out my new program Follow your Courageous Heart: A 90 Day Journey Beyond Fear to Fulfillment. 

 

be-the-author-of-your-life be-the-author-of-your-life

The Courage to Change The Things We Can

god-grant-me-the“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.

Check out my free call 7 Steps to Move Beyond Fear and Courageously Live the Life of Your Dreams

My Time In Prison

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.

davina-fletc-training
This is me fresh out of graduate school at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia July, 1996.

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.

Just Keep Swimming!

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 Ringscourage3, 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.

 

The Language of Love and Spiritual Partnership

DavinaKotulski2015-0388_WebRelationships, sometimes we live with them, sometimes we live without them.

We don’t just want a relationship; we want a happy one, a healthy one. We want to feel loved, understood, and cared for and we want our partner to feel loved, understood and cared for. Unfortunately our intention to be good at something doesn’t translate to skill, if it did, a lot of us would be rock stars and rappers, triple lutzers and amazing dancers, and I would personally speak Italian, Spanish, and about three other languages fluently. If we want our intentions to translate to real skill, to effective communication, then we must actually study what improves communication in relationships and then do our homework.

I know I’m starting to get tangential here, so I’m going to bring it back to my point. Couples and individuals come to me all the time for counseling or coaching because their relationships are falling apart and neither partner feels loved or appreciated.  Some of these relationships may truly be dead on the vine for various reasons and remaining in the relationship may not serve the highest good of one or both of the partners, which I will discuss more below. However, some relationships can come back to life with a major love infusion and some ground rules for communication.

CONSCIOUS COMMUNICATION

When couples work with me I ask them to get at least one copy of the book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail by psychologist John Gottman. I love this book because it outlines right away the communication styles that couples can choose to engage in that will show respect for their spouse/partner and those communication styles that must be changed or the relationship is doomed to fail.

Years ago I wrote about the 4 Horsemen of the Relationship Apocalypse that Gottman discusses in his book when my own marriage was on the rocks. While that marriage ultimately did not last, my former spouse and me found the book extremely useful and we were able to significantly improve our communication with one another, which gave us several more years to grow together. For other individuals, improved respect and communication may be just what they need to facilitate a conscious uncoupling, which is it’s own form of success in the case of divorce or dissolution.

THE FIVE LOVE LANGUAGES

Recently I picked up a copy of The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Chapman identifies 5 ways people feel loved and communicate love. Each one of us has a primary love language or way we feel most loved by our sweethearts or spouses. When our partners speak our primary love language to us and we speak theirs to them everyone wins! In his words, our love tanks are filled.

The Five Love Languages are:5-love-languages

1. Quality Time

2. Acts of Service

3. Physical Touch

4. Gift Giving

5. Words of Affirmation

Chapman’s book gives several case examples of how common it is for a spouse to communicate their love in one language, but not in the language that the other spouse feels the most loved, which often leaves both partners feeling unappreciated. Of course we don’t just want our lovers to speak one dialect. It’s most romantic when our lovers speak several or all of the love languages to us at some time. Likewise if we want to be fluent in the language of love the more dialects we speak to our lovers the more appreciated they will feel. Chapman includes a quiz in the book to help you identify what your primary love language is and explains how to speak all five.

I’m now recommending this book to all of my clients in relationships, even the same-sex couples I work with, though unfortunately the book never mentions same-sex couples and much to my annoyance uses the clinical term “sexual intercourse” instead of just saying “sex” or “love-making” revealing the author’s conservative background and quite possibly a propensity to be limited to the missionary position. Okay, enough about that.

SPIRITUAL PARTNERSHIP

To be clear, not all relationships will last until death do us part, nor should they.  Some relationships will spring back to life or get out of the marital rapids with improved communication skills and filled love tanks. Yeah for those couples that are willing to do the work, have a new skill set and do ride off into the sunset and live happily-ever-after. Other individuals may have fulfilled their spiritual contracts with one another and find that it’s time to make a new covenant so to speak. This is especially true for conscious people on the spiritual path whose commitment to their spiritual growth and their relationship with God takes precedence over all other commitments. Yes, there are quite a few of us odd ducks out there.

Gary Zukav’s book Spiritual PartnershipThe Seat of the Soul and his book Spiritual Partnership both discuss the importance of being true to one’s spiritual path and explores the notion that some marriages are also spiritual partnerships, while others are not. Some marriages may begin that way but relationship dynamics can change. Additionally, as individuals wake up spiritually they may realize that the marriage is not in alignment with their spiritual growth and unfoldment. For individuals who are on the spiritual path it is better to dissolve a marriage/relationship that stymies one or both partner’s spiritual growth and development, rather than remain in that marriage/relationship if the partners cannot shift the dynamics.

This is not an easy thing to hear and some people might disagree and argue that people should stay married no matter what. Certainly if that’s in alignment with one’s spiritual belief system and their spouse’s beliefs than I would encourage that couple to get lots of support to find a way to make it work. However, if we’re talking about someone putting their belief system on another person’s relationship I would kindly say, “mind your own business.” We can never know what another person’s destiny is, their spiritual path and contracts, or what Spirit has in mind for them. I would invite that judgmental busybody to keep her/his limited human mind and opinions to themselves.

TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE

For those individuals who find themselves at odds with their own value system with regard to their marriage and spiritual path, or really afraid of being judged by being true to themselves by releasing a marriage or relationship that no longer supports their health, well-being, and spiritual growth, I would quote Shakespeare to them “To Thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

I would also advise them to surround themselves with supportive friends and get professional support like a life coach, therapist or spiritual counselor, someone who can help empower them in consciously moving forward in a way that is loving to themselves and to the partner they are uncoupling with.  There are many great resources out there for couples or individuals who want to mindfully/consciously uncouple.

For those of you who are not in a relationship right now but want one or want to find ways to feel loved now or attract more love into your life, Chapman has a book called The 5 Love Languages for Singles and you can also pick up Arielle Ford’s book The Soul Mate Secret about how to clean up the past to make room for your beloved.

If you feel like a relationship is the last thing in the world you want or if you want to be a better lover of yourself (Yeah Baby!)–Check out the transformational book Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It by Kamal Ravikant. It’s really a great little book about self-love and self-acceptance. It’s really true, you’ve gotta love yourself first.

And speaking of love, have I told you lately how much I love and appreciate you for all the ways you show your love and support to me. When I have my down days, I feel into you my powerful network of friends, clients, students, readers, collaborators, and colleagues who I get to share this journey with. Thank you!!!!

Wishing you all a love-filled, joy-filled 2016!

XOXOX

Davina

 

 

What did you so this summer? I got divorced.

What did you do this summer?

You probably know what I did this summer.

I filed for divorce.

The news of my divorce appeared in the Huffington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Bay Area Reporter, the CBS news, and on many local radio stations. It also appeared all over my soon-to-be ex-wife’s Facebook page. She has 2000 plus friends, so you can imagine word travels fast. It was the same time former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s marriage to Maria Shriver was imploding, a great reminder that marriage equality includes divorce equality.

Needless to say, it was surreal. It is one thing to have your joy and advocacy for marriage equality out there in the public eye, quite another when it’s your personal pain being publicly paraded. I did not answer media queries during that period as I felt the need to process the ending of my marriage privately.

Ending my marriage has not been an easy process. The other day someone told me that they were one of the 18,000 couples who were married in California before Prop 8 passed. I responded that I was one of the 18,000 couples who were married in California and one of an unknown number of those 18,000 couples now going through divorce.

For over a decade, I’ve devoted my life to marriage equality. Now like over 50% of married heterosexuals I am going through the Big D. I’m trying to understand what it means to be a marriage equality advocate going through a divorce.

The reality is that many marriage equality advocates marriages and partnerships have ended in divorce/dissolution like straight allies Mayor Gavin Newsom and Mabel Tang and pioneers and named plaintiffs in the marriage equality movement Genora Dancel and Ninia Baehr (Hawaii Court Case1993), Julie and Hilary Goodridge (Massachusetts Court Case 2004), the Woos (California Marriage Court Case). Many of the activists I’ve worked alongside for over a decade have divorced and are on their second marriages. Isn’t that cool? If we repeal the Prop 8 ban, LGBT people can have their second and third gay marriages too, just like straight people.

But seriously, getting divorced sucks! It is truly one of the hardest rites of passage that I hope you don’t have to go through unless it is for your soul’s evolution. As a coach and therapist who also does couples’ therapy and couple’s coaching, I recommend that you give that a try before you make a big decision like ending a marriage. I continue to recommend John Gottman’s books Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, 7 Principles of a Healthy Marriage, etc. and his workshops. Divorce is like a death, so if you can bring your relationship or marriage back to life, then go to the mat for it.

Sometimes, however, we change in directions that are different from our spouse/partner or we are in relationships that are abusive or co-dependent. If you are unable to break these unhealthy cycles or if you find that you and your spouse are just on different paths and incompatible, then I encourage you to try to disentangle yourselves in as healthy of a way as possible. Couples therapy is also useful for helping you to talk through the challenges and get support in letting one another go peacefully. Talking to a trusted spiritual mentor such as a pastor, rabbi, minister, imam, etc, is also a good idea.

If you have an unwilling partner, or for safety reasons you cannot meet with a neutral third party, I strongly recommend getting into your own therapy, finding a divorce group, a coach or a clergy member or spiritual practitioner who can support you during this transition. Having support can help you deal with your feelings of grief and loss and minimize your reactivity to the hard process of disentangling.

One other resource that I have found helpful in looking more deeply at the demise of my marriage and processing my feelings is the book Spiritual Divorce.  I have included an article about it and I hope you will read this and share this with others who are going through a divorce.  As this book will help you look at your part in your relationship dysfunction,  it could also be a good book for those who are considering divorce, but who want to see if they can salvage their marriage.