Choosing from Aliveness Instead of Pain: Making Better Decisions from Your Better Self

The last two weeks have been quite crazy as a result of the recent death of my father (I plan to share a blog about my Dad, who passed on March 7th at another time).

As I pick up the pieces of my life without both of my parents (mom died on April 8, 1998), I have been reflecting on my decisions regarding my life, my passions, pursuits, etc. See, my main reason for being in the DC area in the first place was to assist my family in caring for my Dad after my mother passed. A ten year journey (I say ten because the stirrings to come here from Atlanta started shortly after completing my graduate degree) has been completed as of his burial this past Monday. My mission here has been accomplished and now, I have been focused on “what’s next.”

This though process has evoked many emotions, from pain, anger to sadness. I took a lot of hits after coming here, a left a job I loved, friends who had my back, a life that was very affordable and comfortable to prepare for my Dad’s care. Along the way, I have encountered some wonderful things, my return to my own art, starting my own business among them.

As I now contemplate the future, I want to make the best decisions that support who I am.  A part of me is ready to just walk away from all I have accomplished because quite frankly, I’m tired.  I’m tired of feeling I have to prove a point, move past those who are angry because they feel left out or I choose not to continue to include them because of the “costs” (non-monetary) they have demanded that I “pay” in exchange for just plain ole friendship and support for their involvement.  Dealing with those who want to silence what I do, take it over, overwrite or discredit or delete it.   Making that kind of decision based on the obstacles and the pain is not something to do irrationally.

I ran across this interesting essay by one of my favorite creative coaches, Tama J. Kieves.  In case any of you are contemplating decisions like me, I thought it may be helpful. 

Choosing from Aliveness Instead of Pain: Making Better Decisions from Your Better Self

If you wish to “follow your bliss,” you need to know how to face pain. Otherwise, the bully wins. You will give up on a big life. You will blame it on statistics and common sense. But I will tell you you’ve just fallen asleep. You’re making a decision from the reactive mind, the drug of hard-wiring, instead of the purity of the present day self, the alive you, the amazing one who has a billion options.

This life is one of learning how to walk forward no matter what. We are choosing from love, the power of being awake and on fire. We are discovering what it means to stay conscious. Going on autopilot is a suicide bomber. It’s trained to keep us the same and not allow us to thrive. It’s wired to destroy or flee any circumstance that rocks the boat. This life requires the radical will to go beyond conditioning. It takes an act of mutiny to step into your destiny.

But how do you get past that immediate impulse to fight, flee, or eat massive amounts of pasta? Let’s face it—these stellar options are brought to you by the amygdala, the primitive reptilian brain that didn’t know a thing about finding yourself or getting a book deal. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want a lizard being in charge of my evolution. I want an eagle. I want an angel. I want to choose from the golden place of being centered, alive, and attuned to what I really want. I hope you’ll join me in being committed to making choices from a different place.

Make Bold Choices with Bold Kindness

As a coach, and personally, I’m not into fundamentalism—commit like a rabid Doberman Pinscher attacking a bone, or like a Navy Seal, go all the way, all at once, no exceptions, no excuses, no whining. I’m not into hedonism either—slip into the hot tub of life with a glass of white wine, seek happiness, and if an activity doesn’t immediately send you to the moon, go to the liquor store instead and just hang out until something does.

I’m into inspired pragmatism. I want you to know that a true, big, gorgeous life makes some demands of us. It asks us to face uncomfortable things. I want you to face those things. And I want you to face them with infinite kindness for yourself. I want you to win. I don’t want you to have one great week of discipline. I want you to crack something open. I want you to learn a way that allows you to keep walking forward, no matter what, into the wide open arms of your destiny.

I’ve had success with actively facing my fears….as long as I give myself permission to get out of the situation, if needed, and without self-attack later. I make exquisite deals with myself. I encourage myself to dare. And I show great compassion and care for myself all along the way. Because I give myself permission to take a step backwards when I need it, I’m willing to take a step forward. And then I’m in, into the flow of moving in the right direction.

Let me give you an example of what I mean.

I am part claustrophobic, part control freak, and the owner of one finely tuned overactive mind. Last summer, I was in New York City on a day that was probably 140 degrees Fahrenheit, but it only felt like 200, and I was riding the subway, which had turned into a trip to the rain forest, or in my guidebook, the ovens of hell. Packed into the uptown 3 train, in which the air conditioner had quit working, I felt walled in by the heat. Naturally, it crossed my mind, compulsively I might add, that I was in a tunnel under a city of more than 8 million people. Normal people read the newspaper or listened to their iPods. This is where “intelligence” is way overrated. My insanity is articulate and plausible, though missing the obvious point of being self-destructive.

Here’s how I worked with myself. I did not say “buck up for Christ’s sake, no one else here needs a paper bag to breathe into and a therapist, now do they?” And I also didn’t say, “Okay, break the window, hurl yourself out, get to freedom, now, now now.” I chose a loving voice within, a sane voice that simply asked gently, “Can you be with this discomfort right now?” It continued with rationality and compassion. “You can get off at the next stop if you need. You can take a cab. I’ll do anything you need, even if it’s expensive. But can you go a little further? Would that be okay?” The crazy part of me settled down, knowing she was loved and that, unlike times in the past, say when she had to graduate Harvard Law School, she could have a definitive say. “Yes, I can ride a little longer,” she said in a ragged breath. And so it went. I kept that dialogue running for the next 6 stops, until my station.

I walked out of that train like an Olympic athlete that had taken home the gold. I had turned a knee jerk situation into a series of mountain top shamanic awakening experiences. I had stepped beyond the savage pull of gravity and familiar identity. I had moved beyond black and white, either/or. I had stepped into the realm of a thousand possibilities and new emotional muscles. I had discovered the wonders of staying honest, present and kind. It’s astounding to become your own comfort in an uncomfortable situation. You can expand your “comfort zone,” your world, and your options and capabilities.

Riding the Train of Discomfort

I have learned to “ride the train” of many of my discomforts. I have stayed with writing, when I wanted to burn everything, and spontaneously run to the hills and yodel. I have shown up at speaking engagements when some part of me might rather have shown up for brain surgery, with at least the hope of anesthesia. I’ve shown up for “my bliss “over and over again, paused before the disguise of terror, and then walked into larger possibilities. Part of me died every time. Part of me was born every single time.

When I work with clients I tell them, “We’re not here to prove anything. We’re not here to force growth or commitment. We’re here to stay honest about what is possible in any given moment. So sit down and write or paint or makes some sales calls for your business.” Resistance will kick in. “I’m bored. I’m hungry. I suck at this. This isn’t fun. I’m not going anywhere,” the complainer will prattle.

Just as with my clients, I’ll ask you to turn this into a holy encounter with yourself, a meditation or active quest. Stay with the activity the larger part of you really wants to do. Stay a little longer. Go a little further. One day you will hear that complaining prattle as some habitual songbird in the forest. For now, it still grips you. So, when you hear it, can you stay honest with yourself? Ask yourself, not with sarcasm but with playful kindness and availability, “Can I stay with this activity a little longer? Will this boredom kill me? Will hunger really waste my bones, if I don’t get up to eat that brownie? Or is this too much for me right now?”

I want you to go beyond, even a little, where you have gone before. I want you to walk past that demon of automatic reaction. It’s worth staying present. You can discover an untapped well, a spring of generosity, your inner Atman or Goddess. Ask yourself, will it hurt more to stay with this—or will it hurt more to not stay with this? Slow down, breathe, and make a conscious choice.

Buddhist nun Pema Chodron says in her book The Wisdom of No Escape, “Once you know that the purpose of life is to walk forward and continuously use your life to wake up rather than to put you to sleep, then there’s that sense of wholeheartedness about inconvenience.”

I want you to have a world of ten thousand opportunities. I want you choosing from love instead of fear. I want you to meet your Real Self, the one who can breathe through anything, and walk you through any circumstance, in this or any lifetime. I want you to meet yourself—instead of avoid yourself. I want you to be unstoppable, unflappable, invincible and at ease in your soul.

I want you to ride this train, no matter how hot—or beautiful it gets.
Love and blessings,


©Copyright 2011 Tama J. Kieves. All rights reserved.


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