(Originally posted in Huffington Post, November 12, 2012)
Remember that feeling when you played tag as a kid and got caught? “You’re it!” And there was no more running away, no swerving or turning back.
The only way onward was to be it, to go for it, to play and run. Do you recall the mixture of yikes and excitement that would arise just seconds before you got tagged?
It’s that blend of “yikes” and “excitement” and what possibilities emerge when we’re “it” that I’d like to explore today. Which, really, is every moment. Life is tagging us each moment; we’ve just become so good at hiding out, we don’t always notice the tap on the shoulder.
However, whilst I may ignore that tap many a time, there are activities in my life that consistently bring me right to that place where hiding out is impossible, or at least, in which hiding out backfires fairly fast, the feedback is direct and “in my face,” and the only real way forward is to fully become and be “it.”
As hard as I may try, as much as I may use strategies to control and manage the situations and myself, these activities themselves are made up of the “You’re it!” material to such a degree that I’m forced and invited to respond from a different place, a more authentic place within myself. Anything less falls short of what is necessary.
That is what makes them such a challenge (the yikes factor) and such an opportunity (the excitement factor). They propel me to grow up and wake up like none other. They demand radical honesty of me. They show me who I am, not who I think I am or would like to be. They bring me to my knees and, ultimately, they also raise me up to the stars.
Basically, they give me no other option than to show up and be “it” more fully. In this way, they are activities that invite me to dig deeper, to practice more, and they inspire me to translate what I learn to the rest of my life.
Two examples of such activities in my life are: singing and parenting.
When I sing I am often struck by just how “naked” singing is. Which I think is one of the reasons so many people are drawn toward singing and also why so many are terrified of it.
When you sing, there’s nothing to hide behind, no other instrument than you. No piano, no cello or clarinet… just you. You’re it. You’re the instrument. You’re the resonance body. You’re the air stream and support. You’re every note, intonation, pitch, and timbre. You’re also every hesitation, tremble, tightness, squeak and roar.
The feedback is immediate, ruthless and wonderful. No hiding whatsoever. The smallest, most subtle ego habits show up in your voice. The tiniest ways of holding and “making happen,” of forcing and controlling, are all reflected in your song, compromising what it could be. I never cease from being humbled and amazed by this experience.
Approaching singing in this way — as a direct reflection of who I am and how I am navigating this very moment — offers all kinds of insights and practice moments to get out of the way, to, in many ways do less, and in other ways do more. More support. Less control. More precision, less strategic positioning. More trust, less hesitation. More focus, less habit. More centeredness, less trying. More self, less me.
Parenting offers the same “nakedness,” and more. You’re it. There’s nothing and no one to hide behind. Only here, the stakes are much higher because it’s about another person: your child.
My daughter doesn’t care how many parenting books I’ve read, how many wonderful ideas and intentions I may have on how to parent. Whether I’ve had enough time to do my shadow work and work through my own childhood experiences.
The only thing that really makes a difference to her is how I show up day in, day out. With how much presence and love, care, reliability and understanding I meet, greet, and accompany her. How much I’ve actually translated knowledge and insight into actual practice, presence and action.
She watches closely. She learns primarily through imitation. And I as mother am her model, her guide and orientation, especially during her early years. I, and whoever else is close to my child, we are it. Whatever issues or ego patterns or traumas we have not yet worked through and integrated will leak through. That’s quite a “yikes” situation, isn’t it?!
We can use many parenting and teaching methods and techniques, but at the base of these is the reality that we parent who we are. According to research, children’s learning happens primarily through imitation and practice!
“Don’t worry that children never listen to you. Worry that they are always watching you.” — Robert Fulghum
On the other hand, what an opportunity also! To be poised in such a critical role, to know that everything I say and do she may copy, and that everything I say and do provides her with an imprint on how to be in this world.
Stepping consciously into the blend of “yikes” and “excitement” that comes with being our children’s first model, and being “it” to such an extent, parenting becomes a powerfully transformative, consciousness-raising experience: an incredible practice in awareness.
I’m placed right in the middle of this choice: Do I show up as fully as I can, do I willingly engage in growing up and waking up so that I can help my child do the same? Can I be honest with myself, and see my growing edges, acknowledge my limitations with compassion and clarity? Will I learn from my mistakes, get back up and keep going?
What activities, situations, and roles consistently bring you to that “naked” place, where you’re it, and there’s no one else and nothing else to turn to? The ones where there’s no hiding away?
Long-term relationships will often do that. Or giving a presentation without a powerpoint or notes, just you. Or hanging out with horses; they seem to have a remarkably sensitive antenna for picking up on a person’s energy, sensing how someone is truly feeling, and not being fooled by how we’d like to feel or come across.
I’d love to hear from you what your most challenging and potent “you’re it” experiences — moments, activities and roles — are.
As I consider the two I just mentioned — singing and parenting — I notice how the lessons, the keys and insights that show me the way forward are the same… of course! They’re life lessons. When we acknowledge that we’re it, we have to dig deeper, and source ways of showing up that go beyond habit and hiding out.
Insights and keys such as:
•Being centered. In singing I call that “singing from home,” not projecting forward or backward, or any which way with my voice. But staying connected with my center, and singing from there, trusting that this is the place of greatest strength and sound. In parenting I call that “relating from my authentic self with my child,” not reacting from egoic habit patterns, but making it a priority to drop into my deeper, essential self and find what response arises from there in any given situation.
• Discernment. In order to be centered, I need to know the difference within myself between being centered and being off center. In both singing and parenting this requires paying close attention: noticing contractions, tightness, habits of control, resistance, fear, hiding and protection, as well as moments when I rest in a more expanded, loving, relaxed and alert sense of self. Each of us is an incredibly sensitive barometer. Learn to read it! Become adept at self-witnessing — physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.
• Support. In singing each note needs to be held and supported with my breath and energy, pelvic support for each single note and phrase. As a mother, the need for support means making sure I take care of myself so that I can take care of my child… sleeping enough, eating well, offering kindness to myself, allowing the great love to pierce and penetrate all the layers I have built around my heart, so that the question is no longer, “Am I loved, seen, heard, and taken care of?” Rather, it transforms to “I am love, loving and loved, in and through and with the One Great Love in service to the Whole.” And for parenting and singing, support means taking deep breaths all day long.
• Presence. Being fully present in the moment, simultaneously relaxed and alert, trying less, controlling less, committing more, listening deeper… when I sing, as I parent, in all of life!
• Connection. With self and other (child, audience). Connection before anything else. Each parenting moment, each song, resting on the relationship between self and other.
• Vulnerability. This comes with the territory of being tagged, of being “it.” As said, it’s a naked experience. Nothing to hide behind. How you show up matters. Am I willing to be seen and heard? As a parent, to say sorry when I make a mistake, when I’m short and impatient with my child? When I sing, to take a risk, to allow my voice to tremble or squeak when I stretch to new heights or depths in my vocal range? Am I willing to be an instrument, even if I’m not perfect and never will be?
• Practice! Showing up for who we truly are and undoing our entrenched ego habits takes practice. It’s not that it’s so complicated; in fact, I find that the moments I fully drop into authentic presence, an incredible ease and delight arise. It’s just that what I need to do to show up more fully as a singer, as a parent and person requires of me shifts and choices that are often wildly unfamiliar. It takes a lot of focus, awareness and practice to shift ego habits… If I don’t pay attention, I’ll fall into the same old habit of slightly tightening my jaw just as I’m about to sing. If I don’t take a moment of awareness between my daughter’s very slow dilly-dallying to bed and my impatient reaction for a new choice to emerge, perhaps of deeper listening and a co-creative solution, I’ll cut her off in an unnecessarily snappy voice. I’ll add to practice, the need for patience, compassion and perseverance.
These are some of the keys I have discovered to showing up more fully and authentically, to engaging my “self” as an instrument of service and love in this world. They’re the kind of things I think we need to figure out anyway.
Activities and roles such as singing and parenting simply highlight for me the need for us to step more fully into “being it,” to learn and practice what really makes a difference so that our song resonates, delights and rings, so that our parenting serves our child’s growth and flourishing, so that our relationships and work are aligned with who we truly are and why we’re actually here.
I invite you to engage in more and more of the “you’re it” ways of living, small and big.
I encourage us all to engage with this notion of “self as instrument.” An instrument that needs ongoing care, tuning, nurturing, and practice, if we are to facilitate and encourage our children realizing their potential, if we are to sing our unique song, if we are to not just get older, but also to keep growing up, and bring our gifts to this world.
May you step ever more into being “it,” becoming you, welcoming the blend of “yikes” and “excitement,” of challenge and opportunity, to show up as fully as you can, to get out of the way, and to make a blessed difference. This world really needs us all to go for it.
If you’re a parent or caregiver and curious about approaching parenting in this way, I invite you to join my in an upcoming eight-week online course I am offering on “Parenting as a Spiritual Practice,” starting in the spring, 2013. www.integralparenting.com
This course is designed to bring to life the full potential of parenthood: a transformative vessel for evolving yourself, your child, and the future.