You're Not the Boss of Me

In mostly jest, a friend and I would often say to each other, "You're not the boss of me".  Neither one of us were the bossed-around type and it just struck us as funny.  As it turns out, I eventually derived a personal motto from this same phrase - "I am the boss of you".  

And I am bossy.  I always have been.  But for me it isn't so much about bossing people around as it is about having a true sense of power and agency in the world.  Some Enneagram authors suggest for that reason, that my personality - Enneagram type eight - is best represented by a tiger.  I think this is a great symbol because honestly, what often feels kitten-like to me comes across to others like a tiger attack.  I never could figure that out.  Until the Enneagram, that is.

I have always been a leader, a challenger, and yes, bossy (all names formally ascribed to my personality type).   From childhood it was important to me to be seen as strong. Somewhere very early on, I came to believe that it was dangerous to be too trusting or vulnerable so I made a subconscious decision to be neither.  I put on a face to the world that was strong, self-reliant, and controlled.  This worked in childhood.  It kept me safe and surrounded me in the false but reliable belief that I was in control of everything, all the time.  In college the song I Am A Rock by Simon and Garfunkel was my personal anthem (even if you don't know the words, you can imagine!)

People love someone powerful and in control, especially when there is a crisis or they need to get things done.  Luckily being powerful and in control was my jam.  Those in my charge would do what I said, would rarely disagree and performed to my expectations.  But they were also intimidated by me.   I remember the first time I heard one of my employees tell me that they were afraid to disagree with me.  I was totally taken aback.  I honestly did not know that my way of being - which was really nothing more than my way of self-protecting - had that kind of impact and I wasn't happy.  

I didn't want people to be afraid or intimidated by me.  I wanted to be in relationship.  I wanted collegiality.  I wanted to be loved.  

But this is the rub that our ego defenses perpetuate.  The way I act, because I am ultimately only doing so to protect myself and stay safe, does not lead to relationships of equality or collegiality.  This way of acting isn't conducive to relationships at all.  Even in adulthood this thing I had built around me in childhood was doing its job.  It kept me believing that I was in control, protected, and safe.  In reality it only kept me isolated and alone because it is impossible to be in relationship with someone inaccessible and untouchable.  I began to learn that I couldn't really be loved or even honestly admired for who I was because I never showed anyone who that was. Honestly, I didn't even know.

For me the freedom of the Enneagram is in the realization that there is another way.  I don't have to continue to move in the world - or rather against it - as I had been.  I can have all the things my soul really desires and more - if I am willing to embrace my giftedness,  who I really am underneath all that b.s.  And what I am, when I am my most authentic self, is amazing.  I show a face of God to the world that is not only powerful but fearless, magnanimous, inspiring, energetic, supportive, intuitive, committed, loyal and tolerant toward those who are weaker.  This is most certainly a perspective the world needs, maybe now more than ever.  And more personally, this reflection of God's face leads me home to the immense power in being vulnerable; the intimacy that comes from moments of honest weakness; the unimaginable joy of leading and supporting another human being into a more abundant life.

This road home is hard.  But hard is not bad.  And the freedom of living life purposefully instead of by habit or accident is worth every step.  

The Nine Faces of God

What if the Divine lives in you as you?  What if each of us has a piece of the Creator, of the Universe, of God inside of us?  What if it has always been there, since we took our first breath or even before? What if we could recognize this divine spark, this creative presence, in ourselves and in every human encounter?  How might our lives be different?

Some days it is difficult to imagine.  We see our imperfections and cracks too easily.  We readily recognize the myriad ways others annoy, frustrate and disappoint us.  This Presence in us just seems shadowed by, well....by us.  But it is there, in us, in spite of us.  This is our True Self, the one we were created to be; the one we have been hiding behind our masks, habitual responses and ego defenses.  But there is a way out of this false self that we have been hiding behind and the Enneagram is the map.

The Enneagram teaches that there are nine basic personality types and that during childhood we gravitate towards a specific one as our primary way of being and relating to the world.  Nine does not seem like nearly enough personalities to describe humanity so it is helpful to consider each type or number more like a color.  Imagine just how many shades there are of blue or green, for example.  So, while we adopt one personality in childhood there are an infinite number of expressions of each one which helps explain how people with the same basic type can still be so different.

The Enneagram takes its name from the Greek words for nine (ennea) and from a drawing or figure (gram).  It is a nine-pointed geometric figure that illustrates nine distinct, but interrelated or connected, personality types.  In addition to your basic personality, you are also connected to the type directly next to yours (called your wing) and to two other types - one which you gravitate toward when you are under stress and another you gravitate towards when you are feeling relaxed and safe.  No personality type is better or worse than another.  They each have their own strengths and weaknesses.  In their purist, most healthy and illuminated state, each personality represents a characteristic of God.  While we each have all of these characteristics within us, our particular soul is a manifestation of a particular reflection of the Divine Universe.  Mine is unique to me as yours is to you.  Together, all of our souls in their most authentic nature, are a reflection in the world of that which brought all of this world into being.  The more authentically any one of us reflect this Divine nature in the world, the more present that nature is to all of us. 

Why does all this matter?  Why bother with another personality typing system especially when I've already been typed with letters and colors to the point of aggravation?  Because the Enneagram is not just descriptive.  Sure, it helps us to recognize ourselves in the world but more importantly it gives us a map home, back to who we were created to be, back to our most true and authentic selves.  And this is what we want.  This is where we discover what the emptiness and loneliness of our lives has been about.  This is how we rediscover meaning - in our work, in our relationships, in our whole, beautiful, amazing lives.  This is how we stop repeating the unhealthy patterns and knee-jerk reactions.  This is how we begin to recognize just how disconnected and untethered we are in the world, whipped around by life's circumstances and crises. This is what it means to be rooted.

Getting Out of The Way

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It felt like I was always in my own way.  The way I would enter a room.  The way I would propose a change in some process. The way I would ask a challenging question.  The way I would initiate a difficult conversation.  It all felt so right to me and yet it was often - too often - perceived completely differently than I intended.  I felt misunderstood and to be honest, angry.  I wasn't going to change who I was just because who I was made other people uncomfortable. And yet I wanted things to be different.  I wanted to be able to communicate in a way that was heard.  I yearned for the ability to approach a challenge collegially.  I hated it that others found me intimidating.

For most of you reading this, the way you are in the world is unlike my way.  Your way might leave you feeling like Joe - unappreciated for the endless ways you give to and for the people you love. People tell my friend Sue that they are not sure which version of her will show up.  Pat is often told to stop being so dramatic and odd. Courtney is often perceived as aloof and disengaged. Mark's bosses have labeled him negative because he is constantly warning about potential problems.  Bonnie gets tired of hearing about her fear of commitment and her "inability" to focus and complete a task.  Ashley's partner is constantly pushing her to engage, participate and make a decision.  Those close to Wally experience his "one, right way" to do almost everything as distancing and judgmental.  

Like me these friends, at least initially, find the way others see them as surprising.  I think this is a common experience for most of us.  We often don't feel on the inside the way others receive us or interpret us.  Perhaps this would not be a problem if those misunderstanding us weren't our lovers, coworkers, friends and family members.  But this gap between who we think we are and how others see us is at the crux of many broken relationships, broken lives and self-inflicted misery.  But there is another way.  And that way is in.

To the degree we remain ignorant of our worldview, to the messages and beliefs that for better or for worse have shaped who we are, we are prisoners of our history.
— Ian Morgan Cron

But as my friend Richard used to say, "in" (whether that is in to the head or the ego) is like a bad neighborhood we should never go into alone.  So we take companions with us on this journey - this blog, our fellow readers and seekers, and for some of us, loved ones we invite to walk with us.  And as always, we take a map.  There are many maps out there that can help us with this journey inward but none of them have been as helpful to me as the Enneagram.  The purpose of this personality tool is to develop deeper self-awareness and knowledge so that we can grow beyond the self-limiting aspects of our personality.  The goal ultimately is freedom.  Freedom to choose our responses in everyday situations instead of knee-jerk reacting to our environment in ways that are unhelpful and isolation.  The Enneagram has been around a long time and now science is beginning to catch up, supporting the basic tenets of the Enneagram with solid neuroscience.  Like any model the Enneagram is more helpful to some folks than others.  All I know, is that in my own spiritual growth, no other model, system, inventory, you name it, has been as helpful to my growth - both personally and spiritually - as the Enneagram.

And so it is with this tool as our guide that we begin a journey together.  Over these next weeks we will learn some harsh truths along the way, as well as discover amazing gifts we did not know we possessed.  We will laugh at ourselves and occasionally close our eyes in disbelief at the ways we have been hiding.  But it is all good.  It is all part of the journey home.  

Keep your hands inside the ride if you must, but join me.  You will not be sorry you did.

 

 

Getting At the Root of It

 

To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.       ~ Simone Weil

Very little of what Rhonda said to me came as a surprise.  I had been there, caught in this spiral myself - and it is oh so frustrating.  I heard her use the same language I had used when in the depths of it.  "Why do I keep doing this?  I just keep repeating the pattern over and over.  Same guy, same story, on repeat."   For some of us the pattern, like Rhonda's, plays out most obviously in our intimate relationships. But if we look deeply enough we begin to discover that this pattern - this particular way we respond to the world around us - shows up everywhere that we do.  Or rather, where we don't.

I have spent most of my adult life trying to understand my own particular way of being in the world and how I am received by others.  And really, how that is perceived has been the rub.  I probably never would have bothered to pay attention, let alone actually care about how I am in the world, if it didn't have such practically unhelpful ramifications.  I would find myself constantly wondering how I could be so misunderstood.  I wasn't being bossy, I was simply being honest.  I wouldn't have to "take over" the project if the one leading it actually led.  People need to grow a thicker skin - after all I wasn't angry, just frustrated (you people have never seen me mad!).  We're not having an argument- I simply want to look at this from all sides.  And by the way, I totally understand the importance of the bottom line.  I just refuse to accept that it must come on the backs of others.  

After much searching I began to realize that my way of being in the world, while habitual, was not really a full representation of me.  I do want to lead but not in a way that makes others feel trampled on.  It is important for me to stand up for the underdog but I don't want to keep doing so in ways that others perceive as judgmental.  I want to be strong and independent in my intimate relationships and I want to be soft, receptive and loving.  I know I am capable of both so why is one way of being so much harder than the other?  Why does one come like breathing and the other like labor?  

I could spend the rest of my life on a therapist's couch delving into how I became the way I am.  I suppose there may even be some consolation in that discovery.  But what most interests me is knowing how to show up in the world most authentically in this moment.  If all of these characteristics are part of me - if I am both powerful and protective, challenging and receptive, confrontational and loving - what determines which "side" of me surfaces?  How do I more intentionally choose how I respond to my world and participate in my relationships instead of just acting without thinking?  

The road home to our true selves is most simply a journey of self-awareness and discovery.  It is about learning what is "underneath" our behaviors, motivations, ways of thinking and being. Choosing this road means digging a bit in our own dirt to discover what lies at the root of how we currently move in the world. It's goal is to re-introduce us to our most authentic, true version of ourselves.  

In the next installation of Rooted, I will introduce you to one of my favorite tools for this work.  It is amazing, powerful, and eye-opening.  I'm guessing you're going to love it!

 

 

 

 

If Not This, Then What?

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I am one of those people that approach life most naturally from a place of negation.  Unlike how I imagine most people function, I don't make decisions based on what I want.  I make most decisions through the process of elimination.  When I have a hard time articulating what I want, I can usually at least get clear about what I don't want.  This certainly helps me avoid things I hate but it doesn't do much for getting what I want.  

How can I get what I want if I don't know what that is?

Not knowing what I want - in my relationships, in my work life, even for dinner - has been a challenge for me most of my adult life and I have come to believe it is a collateral effect from so many years of being asleep.  Having begun the process of waking up (I'm pretty sure this is a life-long process) I realize that it is hard to create a big life if you don't know what you want. Through all of this searching I have been led by the question, "if not this, then what?"

I'm a pretty big fan of asking the right questions and these past few years have convinced me that "what?" is the wrong question.  That question makes sense if you are wondering about your dinner options. When it comes to a Big Life however, the question "what?" suggests that our deepest satisfaction and deepest yearnings come from some thing - the right job, the right partner, the right car, house, or family.  This approach is built on the idea that we will be fulfilled when we can answer life's questions with the correct what.  And yet, trying to find the correct what is how we fell asleep in the first place.

We have heard it said, and many of us believe, that the things we own will never make us happy. We know at least intellectually, that no other person can fulfill us or make us feel complete.  Yet we try.  We plan the "perfect" wedding; we leave our jobs because we hate our boss;  we take on the bigger mortgage because we need to live in that neighborhood; we nanny our kids and go back to work because that's what successful mom's do; or we stay at home and let our careers wither for a similar reason.  Always searching and too often coming up empty.  Even when we have everything we ever thought we wanted, we still feel it - the dark, lonely, hole in our lives.  In ourselves.

We all have this hole.  Some of us are better at hiding it, or perhaps are just too asleep to notice. But for most of us, it is there.  We keep our lives full of busyness so we won't hear it whisper to us.  We eat, we shop, we drink.  We move from relationship to relationship or from job to job.  We avoid sitting still or being alone.  We spend hours on social media looking at other people's lives. The car radio and the tv are always in the background.  The quiet is just too much, too uncomfortable.  

And yet, all of this attention and work to wake up will ultimately lead us back here.  The journey to find our Big Life, no matter the twists and unique turns it takes for us, will always lead us to the same place. The road to a more authentic and abundant life can only have one true destination and it's trajectory passes right through the center of that empty, dark place - the place we most fear. It passes through that place but it doesn't end there.  And it isn't long after we begin this journey that we discover that where we really are headed is home - back to who we were before we forgot who we were.  

Welcome to ROOTED.  Over the next weeks we will explore together what this journey home looks like. We will consider together how we came to be strangers to ourselves and how we can reconnect to our deepest sense of belonging.  Ultimately we will begin to understand how to create lives that are more fulfilling, more loving and compassionate - lives that make more sense.

The truth is, every thing you ache for, everything you need to find real peace has been there inside of you, all along.  Those things you are afraid of are simply paper tigers.  The joy and abundance you have been promised truly is within your reach.  You only need to accept the invitation to the journey.  You only need to begin, one step at a time, the road home to you.