Category Archives: authenticity

The Slippery Slope of Mockery

This week, I’m dipping my toe in politics (Gasp! I know, right?) based on a FB post I wrote last week in response to the Donald Trump statues. It’s actually not really a political post though, as I identify as an Independent (so don’t worry, and please read on, because I think it’s important, and I think you’ll like what you read.)

It’s perhaps from that non-partisan perspective that I can better see things that show up as red flags. In response to my post, I heard from friends on both sides of the fence (fiercely loyal Republicans and Democrats alike), and both agreed wholeheartedly with what I wrote, which caused me to pause and reflect on what’s truly going on, if two opposing sides can agree.

Here’s the original post.

So…can I just chime in for a second… Because this is funny and all, and it’s always a good joke to poke fun at someone we find insufferable, right? But… if it were the other way around, if naked Hillary statues were placed around the country, would it be as funny? Or would we be outraged? Because if it wouldn’t be funny to you, then maybe this is not actually funny.

I just want to make a tiny reminder that double standards are the breeding ground for things like racism and privilege. Just something to think about from the social worker in me. Thank you.

Followed by this, in the comments during an ongoing discussion:

The downfall of this election will not be (I fear) who wins or loses, it will be the American people more divided than ever. No matter which candidate wins, we all lose. Spreading division is a sure fire way to create the lowest morale and systemic emotional illness, from which it will take years to recover – which then means that neither candidate will win, because they will inherit an emotionally diseased country, of their own making. PS: It’s called the UNITED states, and they/we are making it the DIVIDED states.

Discussion ensued, and I started to see the pattern that initially gave me pause. Basically, the act of publicly degrading another human being feels like a violation of our core for the majority of people, regardless of party politics. Why? Because it is.

It’s a simple truth actually. If we witness someone acting out negatively toward another human being, we either a) become enraged, or b) become sensitized to it, and ultimately accept more “bad” behavior. How we then choose to act is dependent upon our initial reaction.

I had a real-life “example” in grad school with a friend when we were sitting in a coffee shop watching a mother disciplining her child, rather cruelly but without physical abuse. It was that very fine line of what is acceptable and what is not as a society. It lasted less than a minute, and neither of us wanted to step in, but both of us were angered and upset as we sat dumbfounded trying to figure out what to do. What was “right?”

Of course, we couldn’t come up with an acceptable answer, but our awareness had been heightened by the experience and ensuing discussion, which, for me, resulted in a greater sensitivity to seeing the forest from the trees. That basically means that when I see something go from individual to systemic a HUGE red flag rises in my mind’s eye, and that’s exactly what happened last week.

Back to the Trump statues. Let me be clear that I don’t agree with the divisiveness and hatred that Donald Trump has espoused this past year, so this article isn’t about defending Trump. Nor is this article about condoning Hillary, as the Democrats have historically also been responsible for divisiveness and mud-slinging. Neither party is innocent of this type of debasing behavior.

This article is about defending humanity and our civilization.

In one comment on the statues, it was suggested that it was “okay” to mock Trump with the statues because satire has always been a part of politics, and it’s our right. In another the mockery was justified as “deserving” because of Trump’s words over the past year.

This is where I took issue.

At what point does mockery become a threat to society? At what point do we stop and say, “no.” to that sort of behavior? This is where we have to guard against the slipper slope of mockery. Where I suggested the statues went too far for myriad reasons.

The responding comment suggested that this was not a time to take the “high road,” to which I wrote:

…for me it’s not about “the high road” – it’s about focusing on the bigger picture, which is that this type of behavior fuels more of this type of behavior, and if I condone it in one, I must condone it in all. No reason justifies it. That would be like saying, a person who was abused is ok to then abuse others. It’s not. It never is. It might explain why someone has abused someone else (as it often does), but it doesn’t make it ok on any level. Not for me, at least.

….And into that very dangerous ground we tread. The minute we can start rationalizing and justifying demoralizing behavior, we are losing. As a society and as humanity.

…If we start segregating people based on this thinking (they deserved it) we have reverted as a collective. Who is to be judge and jury? It’s all subjective. And the loser is always society.

The discussion ended there. Though a few days later, a friend had shared similar thoughts to my original post on her own timeline, and she received backlash. Again, those who would justify or rationalize (two major red flags, as I described in my book What if..?) the demoralizing statues as “deserving” voiced their opinions. My friend, courageously suggested that kindness should begin to rule our words – especially politically – to which one of her friends suggested civility, at least. I chimed in again:

…it’s more than kindness – it’s civility. But for me, it’s more than that – it’s humanity and civilization. As we lose our sensitivity to unacceptable behavior – that behavior becomes the “norm” and the threshold is moved. It’s one of the most slippery slopes we have actually, and if we don’t stem the tide, it will become a tsunami. And then all of humanity, civilization, loses. We ALL lose, regardless of party allegiance. I’m in the camp that we are already losing, but not in the camp of “beyond hope” for systemic change. But it has to start somewhere, and ideally it has to be bookended – from both above and below. Those in power, and those that elected them, both have to change how it’s done. Both have to have a fierce no-tolerance policy for degradation.

You see, historically (and even currently) I have always aligned with the policy of laissez-faire, or “let it do” (aka: let go). I don’t believe any one person has a right to impose their beliefs on any other person, myself included. I wish to be free to explore my beliefs, my thinking, my studying and change my mind/actions/presence accordingly. And I want the same for everyone else. Where beliefs overlap, I want those individuals to be able to form community and fellowship, celebrating the overlap and the joy in connection. This is my ideal society.

Overall, I think we have been living this way in America for a long time. It’s not perfect, but it has functioned, mostly well. The reason it functioned, I think, is because the majority had adopted a civil and moral code of conduct that was unwritten, but understood. Therefore, when I see the system sliding away from that invisible moral code and crossing a threshold into transforming unacceptable behavior into the “norm,” I get concerned. Red flags rise everywhere, and it becomes time to speak up and speak out against this type of behavior.

I think if you asked most citizens of this country if they believed in basic human rights, and the desire to be free to think as they choose without having their beliefs imposed upon, they would agree. Nobody wants to be scorned. Nobody wants to be shamed. Nobody wants to be mocked, ridiculed, or degraded. I doubt you would find one person willing to subject themselves to such behavior. Why then, do we do it to others?

Why is it ok to mock, shame, scorn and degrade another human being, when we don’t want it for ourselves?

The simple truth is: it’s not.

It’s not okay, and it never will be okay – but the more we do it, see it, witness it without speaking up, the more acceptable and “okay” it becomes through progressive rationalization, or desensitization. And that’s what we witnessed last week with the statues.

Yes, politics and satire have always been bedfellows to an extent, but at what point have we crossed the line from satire into degradation? At what point do we draw the line and choose to reverse the problems this type of behavior has created?

I would argue that that point is now, and it’s up to all of us to simply say “no, I don’t accept that behavior,” when we see it, and then offer a different way. The important distinction is to comment on the behavior, not the person. Behavior is something that can be changed. It’s not a statement about a person (ie: “I don’t accept that person,” which is problematic for myriad reasons), it’s a statement about something a person has done. That can then lead to discussion, relation, and connection – which ultimately leads to positive change for all.

A Return to Authentic Joy

Over the last few weeks I’ve been focusing heavily on the roles Hope and Fear play in our lives on a daily basis. In light of world events, it seemed to be a topic I needed to address. It’s not enough, however, to talk about Hope. Though it’s important, it’s equally as important to discuss Joy. And frankly, we all could use a bit more joy these days, don’t you think? But how do we find our joy? What does that even look like?

One of the primary issues my clients come to me with is a feeling that they’ve lost their way. They wake up one morning, usually later in life, and say, “How did I get here?” or “What’s this all for?”

It’s a bit like an existential crisis – though over the years I’ve narrowed it down to more of a lack of authentic joy. As a result, one of the early questions I ask clients who are expressing this need is:

“When you were five years old, what brought you joy? What made you belly laugh?”

This question not only serves to create a language and discussion around joy, but it reminds them that they know what joy feels like, and that they once experienced it effortlessly.

In a recent example, I had a client whose answer was simply: “My dog,” which, in a panic, she immediately followed with: “But I don’t want to have a dog right now!”

I reassured her, “Don’t worry – you won’t have to go get a dog to rekindle your authentic joy.”

After talking through her experience of having a dog at 5 years of age, and why it was the first thing she thought of when asked about joy, we uncovered what the dog represented for her, which turned out to be:

  • play
  • unconditional love
  • companionship

This client was single, had great friendships and relationships with others, but felt she was missing the elements that she thought would allow her to play, feel free to be herself, and share that joy with someone else.

Once we identified this as the path back to adding more joy into her life, we could then work out how, when, and why these things were important – as well as how she could incorporate these various aspects in her life.

As children, we laugh freely, love openly, and live joyously. Our lives are mostly well-cared for by someone else, which allows us to be ourselves more completely. As adults, the reverse is true. Not only do we feel that we often need to “be” something other than what we are, we also spend a lot of time managing things for others. As a result, we can feel disconnected from ourselves, and from authentic joy.

In my experience, the path back to authentic joy involves these steps:

  1. Remembering what brings us true unabated joy,
  2. Understanding what it represents,
  3. Seeking it in a new way, and
  4. Adding it back into our lives.

This is the recipe I have developed for returning to a more joyful state of being. For me personally, it looks like having music playing throughout my day (I like to sing), making time to reconnect with friends near and far, and prioritizing time in nature. What does it look like for you? :)

Acceptance Is The Key

This past week I’ve been soul-searching a bit, as I meandered through the last few days of the online workshop I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. It’s been an interesting process, to say the least.

On the one hand, I was prompted – quite literally – to explore certain topics, approaches, and ideas behind what it means to be authentic and show up in your marketing. And on the other hand, I was unknowingly moved into a space of mental and emotional decluttering during the process. Needless to say, both were rather exhausting.

Now that I’m on the back-end of it all, I can see the benefits of having done the exercise. Not only do I have a better understanding of just how much real estate I was giving to things that didn’t necessarily deserve it, I also got to explore some of my own internal belief systems and cross-check them against my values and inner alignment, which is something I talk about in my book, What if..?

In my opinion it’s critically important that we take this sort of inventory every so often in our lives. Like cleaning out your closet or your pantry, you never know what’s lurking in the corner that is past its “use by” date if you don’t take a good look. This workshop required me to take a good look and it resulted in some A-ha! moments as well as some visibility hangovers and shame spirals.

The upside is that I am now much better equipped to deal with all of these things, because of all the work I have done. Whereas a few short years ago I could have found any of these things to be somewhat debilitating, now they are a blessing. It’s a reminder that there is more freedom at the end of the process – and that is always a good thing.

So, what happens next? Well, as in all things, I am taking the time to integrate what I learned, what I let go of, and what it means for how I move forward. Interestingly, I have been listening to a Katy Perry song of late (somewhat obsessively, on repeat) and there’s this line that keeps jumping out at me and replaying in my head:

Acceptance is the key

I’ve been reminded, once again, that acceptance is key to moving forward. This is not an acceptance of outdated items shoved into the dark recesses of our internal cupboard, which allows us to continue to ignore them – that’s resignation, or even complacency. Rather, it’s an acceptance of the need to regularly undergo experiences that compel us to explore the cupboard, to choose change, growth, and sometimes discomfort, in pursuit of freedom.

The Most Powerful Tool in Your Tool Box (No, it’s not a sledgehammer.)

If you’ve been with me for any length of time, you know I refer to my tool box often. It’s a constantly growing arsenal of lessons learned, experience gained, and skills acquired. During my recent book tour one attendee (who has been with me since 2010) suggest I change it from a “tool box” to a “tool shed” based on its ever-expanding size. She may be right.

However, I think one of the most important things I can do for my clients and readers is to help them create their own growing tool box. The key word being “growing.”

It’s essential for us to always be learning, expanding, and adding to our armory of useful skills and knowledge. However, it’s also important to know the difference between a sledgehammer and a screwdriver in order to best apply each tool to maximum effect. In addressing this practical aspect of our tool box inventory, I think it’s most important to know your most powerful tool, what it is and how to use it.

So, what is the MOST POWERFUL TOOL in your tool box?

It might surprise you, but it’s NEUTRALITY.

I suppose a more obvious answer would be Love or Compassion. Perhaps even Empathy. Certainly, my training and certification in Brené Brown’s work would suggest that Empathy is a very powerful tool. But it’s not the most powerful. Neutrality is.

But to fully understand Neutrality, we have to also understand what it’s not.

Neutrality is not a reaction, nor is it a response. Neutrality is not lack of connection, compassion, love, understanding or empathy. There is no “lack” in Neutrality. It includes all those things.

Conversely, Neutrality is not full of any one characteristic either. It’s not Love, and it’s not Empathy. Nor is it compassion and understanding – but it is a form of connection. In a way.

Neutrality is presence. And through that presence is a connection to your Self. Your inner knowing and your core essence. It’s not passive, rather it’s an incredibly active and deliberate way of being, of relating.

At its core, neutrality is 100% authenticity, wrapped in integrity, and expressed as presence.

Neutrality is a tool that allows you to be present, without giving away or allowing someone to take your power. It can be passionate in its sure-footedness, without being emotionally charged. It allows for the acceptance of “both-and” thinking where two things can be true (i.e.: someone can be behaving like a jerk, and also be a kind person).

For me, a lighthouse is the ultimate symbol of Neutrality. It stands its ground and does what it does really well. A lighthouse knows it can neither change the storm nor navigate the ship. A lighthouse allows for both the storm and the ship to pass as they will, without judgment. This, in turn, allows the lighthouse to keep being a lighthouse, free from the ebbs and flows of emotionality.

Power resides in this freedom, which is why practicing Neutrality is the most powerful tool in your tool box.

Finding Compassion Through Fatigue, Frustration, and Fear

(Or how to survive the holidays with your Self intact)

Last week was Thanksgiving – the official start of the holiday season. My social media feeds were flooded with musings on gratitude and pictures of family gatherings. It was, for the most part, a week of blessings and joy. But it didn’t start out that way, not for me.

The Sunday before Thanksgiving I got sick. Really sick. It was a 48-hour stomach bug that took me down for the count for the better part of the week. (Fatigue) It was not an ideal start to a week typically highlighted by food and festivities.

Two days later, on Tuesday, I started dog sitting for a friend who was going out of town with her family for five days. Her dog, Brutus, is almost 17-years old, and is totally deaf and partially blind. He’s lively and perky most of the time, which is great, and the plan was for me to stay at her house with my dog. Unfortunately, things don’t always go to plan.

On Tuesday night it became clear that my dog and Brutus weren’t exactly keen on sharing space. I had to send my dog home and work out a new plan with my friend, which resulted in my coming and going throughout the next 5 days to take care of Brutus and keep him company, while also being home enough to take care of my dog and life. (Frustration and Fatigue)

That would be enough to make me feel overextended during a holiday week that started out with illness, but it didn’t end there.

Brutus started coughing the day before my friend left town, but it seemed fairly benign…nothing to worry about. By Wednesday night, I was concerned. By Thursday morning, it seemed clear to me that there was a problem. (Fear)

Brutus was hacking stuff up, and it seemed like it was getting worse. By Friday we were at the vet so they could watch him and give him antibiotics. Brutus had the beginning of pneumonia, but we caught it early. He seemed better that evening, but got worse overnight when he vomited the little food he managed on Friday, including his antibiotic. So, on Saturday morning we went back to the vet, and my friend flew home a day early… just in case.

Throughout the six days from Sunday to Saturday, I struggled to find compassion. I was frustrated, fearful, and fatigued. My mind was on overdrive:

What if my dog got sick from that one night with Brutus? (Frustration)
What if Brutus died on my watch? (Fear)
What if I am making myself worse, having started the week out so sick? (Fatigue)

Did you see all the “what if” statements in there? Yeah, that’s where I was. My head was wreaking havoc with my emotions, exactly because I was so tired and overextended. I joked with my friend that my parasympathetic nervous system was overwhelmed, but it was no joke. I had no more bandwidth for anything, physical or emotional, to be added to my plate. My frustration levels had peaked, my fatigue had maxed out, and I was living with fear.

Somewhere in the process, though, I had a thought as I looked at the helpless little dog in front of me:

Where has my compassion gone?

I knew that all my buttons had been pushed and that compassion was clearly absent, for myself and for Brutus. I knew it. And I knew I had to do something about it, but what?

As I cycled in and out of conscious thought on the subject, alternating my presence with my overwrought absence, I allowed ideas to percolate to the surface. It was then that I asked myself the question: How would I want my dog to be treated?

Breakthrough!

I stepped outside myself and thought of another, someone I love dearly, and asked a simple question. I took perspective.

I pulled Brutus next to me, covered him with a blanket and rubbed his back. When he coughed, I gently patted his back and pet his head softly so that he knew I was there. When he curled up on his bed, I sat next to him on the cold floor. I even hand-fed him some food so he could take his medicine.

I did all of this, even though I was tired, scared, and annoyed at how the week unfolded, because it was the compassionate thing to do. It was the kind thing to do. I did all of this, because I was tired, scared, and annoyed.

I talk a lot about being in authentic alignment with who we are as a path to wholeness, peace, and joy. Fear has no place in my authentic alignment, nor do frustration and fatigue. They simply are not expressions of who I am at my core, but kindness is. Compassion is. And yet, I’m human.

When fear, frustration, and fatigue took over it was very easy for me to lose connection to myself, to who I am at my core.

Taking perspective allowed me to find compassion through these challenges. It may seem like compassion is all about someone else, but compassion is also a guaranteed path back to your heart, to yourself. It returned me to me.

The important lesson I received last week was not in being “good enough” while managing a stressful situation, but in knowing that even when I am pushed beyond my capacity, barely managing, and overextended to the point of feeling wholly out of alignment, there is always a path back. What mattered most was that I was willing to acknowledge it and, subsequently, do something about it. For me, that meant asking a perspective-taking question. And I think that’s true for most of us, actually.

Brutus was just a dog, and the situation was certainly not extraordinary, but what if…

What if you took the same idea and applied it to family gatherings this holiday season? Or work situations?

Or… What if we applied the same premise to the refugee crisis? To homelessness? etc.

Fear, Frustration, and Fatigue are guaranteed to take us away from our best Self, from who we know ourselves to be at our core, in our hearts. When we pause and allow ourselves to take a different perspective – to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, if you will – we swing open the door to compassion and kindness. Compassion is the first step to returning to alignment when we’ve lost our way, both personally and globally.

Brutus

Brutus – happily resting by my side :)

Resilience, Faith, and Self-love

As part of my book tour for What if..?, in September I spent a week in New York for media meetings. I love New York, and I grew up in the area. Since leaving in 1990, I have gone back to visit every so often. Fourteen years ago, almost exactly, I flew to New York for a friend’s engagement party. My presence was to be a surprise, so my then-husband and I decided to spend a few days in the city before heading out to the suburbs for the event. We made our travel plans about six weeks before, or early August 2001.

We never could have known what would transpire two weeks before our trip on that fateful day – September 11th. The world could never have known. And we never could have planned for how it would impact and change us as a global society.

But, on that weekend 14 years ago, after the unimaginable had happened, we had to make a choice:

Live in fear, or
Live in love.

We chose love, and went to my friend’s engagement party. Nobody expected us to keep our plans. People weren’t traveling, least of all to New York. But my ex-husband and I knew it was the right thing to do. So, we boarded our almost empty plane in Chicago and headed to the Big Apple less than two weeks after the towers came down.

After being in town for a day or possibly two, we decided to head down to Ground Zero. It was not fully roped off yet, and we were able to stand within feet of the bent and collapsed ribs of steel. When I looked up, I saw the thick layer of dust encapsulating every building – it looked like a layer of spray foam insulation. We bought American flag bandannas from a vendor, partially out of national pride, but mainly to cover our faces and protect our lungs.

We walked among the resilient, the curious, the fatigued, the torn. We listened to stories as we shared in the national after shock of tremendous tragedy.

As I stared at the remains of my beloved buildings, decades of my life flashed before my eyes. “I’ll never get to enjoy a meal at Windows on the World again,” was one of the thoughts that flew into my brain as I remembered my 11th birthday. I was lucky enough to have experienced it once.

My New York was changed forever. I knew it at the time, but I had no idea how far-reaching that sentiment would be.

During our walk so long ago, as things became overwhelming, we stepped inside Trinity Church. I had never been in it before, but it felt like a fitting time to stop in, take pause, and simply breathe.IMG_6898

Now, 14 years later, I had the same idea as I meandered the streets of Ground Zero. In the midst of media meetings promoting my new book, a quiet pause seemed fitting – and needed.

One World Trade Center is a sight to behold – it’s a marvel. The surrounding area is busy, chaotic, vibrant, and alive – the New York we all know, with a slight edge to it. An awareness of tragedy, rather than the former insulation provided by a sense of invincibility. So much has changed, and yet, it felt oddly familiar.

Walking into Trinity Church 14 years later, I still felt the gratitude, calm, and refuge the church provided so long ago. The miracle that it survived such an event unharmed is evident in the grain of the wood in the pews. IMG_6897Serenity and peace filled the air as I sat quietly staring up at the stained glass in between writing these words:

Fourteen years have passed and it feels like I have lived many lifetimes. Fourteen years have passed and it feels like both forever and yesterday. Fourteen years have passed and I know more gratitude, love, and joy today than I ever could have imagined then. I’m not the same person I once was, and yet, I’m exactly who I have always been.

With some time in between meetings, sitting in Trinity Church, I allowed myself to sit, reflect, breathe, pray… connect. Or rather, re-connect to what I know to be true: I am who I have always been. Gratefully, I am finally living my life in alignment with that statement. Gone are the struggles to conform, seek approval, bargain for acceptance. It’s not 100% all the time, but it’s getting closer every day. And when old habits or patterns are triggered, I have the resilience, understanding, and faith to return to self-love – to return to myself: Who I am… who I have always been.

Perhaps that’s what faith, resilience, and self-love are all about. Like the Trinity Church, they help us to survive. They stand strong through the chaos as a safe haven in the midst of struggles and challenges, just waiting for us to return, to re-connect. Regardless of what’s going on outside, we know that the familiar stability of a strong internal alignment, however that manifests, is the home in which we can always find comfort, draw resilience, and feel peace.

Alignment & Authenticity (and a book tour!)

I’m just about to embark on my first-ever book tour for What if..? How to Create the Life You Want Using the Power of Possibility. As I’ve been preparing for the tour and the various events and meetings with the media, I’ve been focusing on the main theme of the book, which is actually the main theme of my work: authentic alignment.

What does it really mean to be in authentic alignment with you who are? What is authenticity?

Well, let’s start by saying what authenticity is not. Authenticity is not:

  • Saying whatever you want, whenever you want
  • License to be a jerk
  • Judging yourself or others
  • Freedom from accountability
  • Lack of responsibility or consequences
  • A sense of self, based on external measurements
  • Comparison-based
  • Demanding
  • Controlling
  • A competition

Authenticity has nothing to do with anything external to who you are inside (your deep inner knowing) even if it disagrees with those around you. However, and this is key, your authentic self is not superior or more “right” to anyone around you either. Your authenticity has nothing to do with your neighbor’s authenticity.

Authenticity is a solo-endeavor, ventured upon with respect, humility, passion, and grace. It does not ask what others think or feel, it does not compare or compete. Authenticity is about you being true to you, while also being respectful of that which is not you.

So, then what is a life of aligned authenticity?

Well, when we are out of alignment with who we are, that dissonance creates opportunities for all sorts of challenges to come cropping up, including obstacles, despair, discomfort, and anxiety, to name just a few.

When we are in alignment with who we are, we feel a gravitational pull toward some kind of joy. Life seems to flow, almost effortlessly. We follow the breadcrumbs and build a meaningful presence, even if it only makes sense to ourselves, perhaps especially if it only makes sense to ourselves.

Alignment is where your true power lies. It’s at the root of empowerment, manifesting, and creating. It’s at the core of your existence, and it’s what compels you to seek, explore, learn, grow, and pursue. It’s also what invites you to repeatedly show up, forgive, be humble, and love.

When we are in touch with our true essence – that which we are at our core – everything becomes possible. We are tapped directly into the Power of Possibility and life becomes a creative, meaning-filled, and joyful dance.

Aligning with that truth is an exercise in grace, commitment, compassion, and patience. And it’s worth every step along the way, because it ultimately leads us back to our true self, back to Love.

What Are You Doing With Your Life? (Or How I Reconnected to My Verve.)

When people are doing what they’re meant to be doing, it’s evident. They have a certain glow about them. A radiance. They’re aligned with the infinite power of the Universe and it simply can’t help but pour out through every inch of them.

It’s in how they walk and how they talk – how they’re most human – that they express this pathway to the Divine.

Jen Pastiloff is doing what she is meant to be doing.

jenpastiloff-me

Post-workshop glow.

She’s one such example that I had the good fortune to spend three hours with this past weekend at her ‘Manifest-Station: On Being Human’ workshop at Moksha Yoga in Chicago.

It was one of the best workshops I’ve ever been to. Hands down.

How do you define what Jen does? How do you explain what she accomplishes in the time span of 3 hours, or about the length of your typical NFL football game? She herself has asked this question. In many ways her workshop defies explanation, though there are many adjectives to describe it: amazing, miraculous, transformative, beautiful, stunning, to name a few. It’s easy to gush about it, but hard to actually explain how it all happens.

And yet, it is also quite simple:

Jen reconnects you with your humanity.

In fun, engaging, provocative, and thoughtful ways, Jen combines music, movement, and moments to open you up to that which you are and that which you’ve been hiding.

Through a series of writing prompts Jen invites you to explore obstacles, beliefs, patterns, and love. Through basic yoga movements, Jen gets your body (and soul) up and engaged in the process. She has developed a workshop that takes you on a journey of the heart through the doorway of the body, using the physical senses of touch and sound.

As a person who has done a lot of work on herself (a LOT!), I admit to being somewhat skeptical (but hopeful) as I walked through the door. I wasn’t quite sure of what to expect, emotionally or physically. Physically, because I have a less-than-awesome foot right now and haven’t really done any yoga in about 8-10 years, I was more than a little scared about what lay in front of me. The good news is: you really don’t have to “do” yoga to do the workshop – which was exactly what I needed! Jen has said it repeatedly, but I was unsure if it was really true. (It is!)

But what about the emotional?

It was nothing that I expected, and everything I needed. Between the yoga poses we wrote, explored, and shared. Between writing we moved, laughed, and sang. We even had a hug fest and a dance party! We held each other up as we sat alongside one another, connecting at the most human of levels. It truly is a workshop that opens you up to see, feel, and understand yourself in new ways.

I have followed Jen on social media for about a year, perhaps less, maybe more. Even though I had heard about the workshops and read the glowing reviews, I still thought: “what could I possibly do that I haven’t already done?” (aka: all my aforementioned “work.”)

In my life, I have walked through my long tunnel filled with obstacles, suffering, and fear. I have turned over every stone and pebble along the way and fought hard to reclaim my life, create my life, and live my life; and I have come out the other side of that dark musty tube with a full and ever-expanding toolbox. So, I honestly didn’t expect too much. And yet…

And yet, it wasn’t necessarily something “new” that I learned, but rather a new way to look at that same thing, and thereby explore it differently. This led to understanding it differently and ultimately, embodying it differently. Embodying my truth differently, with more presence, joy, and VERVE. (Yes, I said verve. When was the last time you heard that word? Lol)

And that’s what Jen does: she reconnects you to your verve, your humanity, to humanity, in general. She creates a space in which it’s not only safe to be human, but celebrated. It’s a gift. Jen is a gift. She is walking her path with grace, love, and joy. And the joy is contagious!

When I find something that I feel is extraordinary, I have to share it. Jen is extraordinary, her workshop is extraordinary, and the fellow attendees are extraordinary, no doubt because of who Jen attracts and supports by simply showing up in life.

To Jen, my immense thanks and deep gratitude for showing up, walking your path, and sharing that presence with those around you. You are the real deal. It was a gift and a pleasure to share that space and time with you. I look forward to our paths crossing again.

To learn more about Jen, please visit her website at jenniferpastiloff.com and check her out on social media, where she posts regularly.

FINAL NOTE: This is important. Jen is expanding her workshop to reach the younger generation of girls. Can you imagine how different your life would have been as an adult if someone had taught you as a teenager to know you are enough, just as you are? Jen is doing that. You can tell it’s her passion. So, if you have or know any girls ages 13+ near Princeton, NJ and 16+ in NYC who could use this experience and learn at a young age that they are enough, check out Jen’s upcoming workshops in September, titled ‘Girl Power: You Are Enough.’

Just Be Yourself

The best and most supportive advice I’ve ever received has also been the hardest for me to achieve. Why? Because it was so simple and paradoxically complex.

Just be yourself.

What does that even mean?!?

Well, for me, it meant being open to the process. A process that is ongoing and has taken several years to get “jump-started.” Much like so many in show business that are classified as “overnight successes” – all the years of hard work and dedication that led up to that point don’t show once the spotlight (finally and luminously) hits them. So it is with authenticity, or being yourself.

Change doesn’t happen overnight. (Unless it’s a gestalt shift, which is possible, but a blog for another day.) Rather, it’s a process of slow, deliberate, and conscious awareness-raising and decision-making.

Recently, though, a dear friend said that awesomely supportive phrase to me again, and I heard it anew. I was asking him what he needed from me in terms of support. (This is common amongst mental health professionals – we’re somehow trained to ask about needs and clarify, clarify, clarify. It’s good for relationships, though sometimes can come across as clinical and/or sterile – or, gasp!, even annoying. But I digress.)

Anyhow, this friend was facing a challenge, and I asked, “What do you need from me? How can I best support you?”

His response?

“Just be yourself.”

At first, I balked, recoiled and tried to rephrase my question to get an answer I wanted. Repeatedly. And then it dawned on me:

Being myself is all I’m ever capable of, and all I’ll ever need to be.
And that’s more than enough, whatever “myself” is.

And I think that, right there, is my spotlight of “overnight success.” It was like finding that last puzzle piece that had fallen under the table. You knew it was there, and the puzzle was basically finished, but the nagging feeling from that missing piece doesn’t leave until it’s put in place.

Years of searching for the absent piece (processing, learning, remembering, unlearning, reading, listening, talking, sharing, growing, crying, changing, fearing, laughing, sorting, and every other “ing” you can think of) have resulted in my finally being able to receive the best advice I’ve ever been given…and embody it! Woo-hoo!

So, my friends, it really is that simple, and it really was that deliciously complicated. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The best paths are the ones we’ve worked for, the ones we carve ourselves – for they are the most lasting, treasured walkways. (Plus, we know them so well it’s easier to find our way back if when we get lost again.)