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"The best – maybe the only – way to teach people to do anything truly hard, like facing fear, is to first face the music oneself."
Suzanne Selby Grenager (SGrenager@aol.com) writes "The Art of Living," a monthly column for SpiritSite.com.
Suzanne is a writer, teacher, and life coach who helps people achieve their dreams. Her work has appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer and Yoga Journal, and she has contributed to Healing Journeys: The Power of Rubenfeld Synergy.
Suzanne Selby Grenager,
"I Have Nothing to Hide"
I am feeling even more anticipation than usual about writing the column this time. That’s at least partly because I am hearing from more of you – about you. You are writing to my email address (at left), now not only to say that you enjoy reading "The Art of Living," but also to share things I might write into the column, about the stuff of your lives.
Hearing from you in this way is a great trust, and a privilege for me. I thank those of you who have been so intimately in touch. I urge others of you to get inspired to jump in and add your voice and experience to what I believe to be an important conversation.
What do you know, or want to know, about how we human beings can break through the delusion and suffering of our fears and desires? How can we become fully our selves – in the service of others? To me, these are questions worth pondering.
I was especially touched by a couple of your responses to the last column, in which I described dealing with a bout of sad, lonely feelings. I suspect I also learned a thing or two from the experience, a possibility I'd like to explore with you here. The first, brief response came from a coach I know only "virtually." To my surprise, she wrote: "It is extremely courageous of you to write about pain and the blues. I am in that space all day today…your article inspired me and I thank you."
I didn’t think much about the implication of her words until I recalled what Dan, co-creator of SpiritSite.com, had said about my last column. Among other things, he told me he found it "so very self-revealing, and yet clear, direct and simple." My mind sort of missed the "clear, direct and simple" part and homed right in on "very self-revealing". I remember noticing a little internal twinge when I read those words.
I imagine I was a bit nervous at the prospect of seeing something Dan found " very revealing" of me up on a website, for all the world (or for that matter, any of it) to see. Was I going too far in sharing myself at my most raw and vulnerable? I didn’t think, or even feel, so. My ultra-rational husband had read it and didn’t seem concerned for me.
But it had occurred to me even before the piece was posted that I was laying myself pretty bare. Especially considering that I often announce the arrival of my columns to the scores of family members, friends, clients, potential clients, and professional colleagues who grace my email address list.
I’ve noticed that lots of people who seem otherwise quite wise, can be queasy and ambivalent about feelings. Despite what they may think and say, many folks seem to feel that fully expressing emotions, perhaps even harboring the "negative" ones at all, is a sign of weakness. Obviously, a weak Life Coach wouldn’t be the one we’d want to hire!
Indeed, the next day, I received another very supportive, but ego-stirring email from a great new coaching client. As part of her well-considered response to the column, she wrote: "On the emotional level, it was interesting to read that even coaches have moments of overwhelming sadness that they have to deal with. And why not? After all, you’re human, and you have childhood issues, like most of us. Of course I have this image of you as a totally balanced, self-assured renaissance woman!"
"Uh, oh!" went my ego. "Does she think I’m not balanced and self-assured, not good enough to be her coach?" I could almost hear my mind forming the words. Ouch, maybe I had gone too far. I sat for a moment with a queasy little knot in my stomach. It’s the one I recognize from all the other times I’ve been afraid of being judged as not enough, and/or of losing something I want – in this case, a great client. I’d tightened up once again to protect myself, right down to my precious "renaissance woman" core.
I took a few deep breaths, and blessedly, the feeling passed. I was flooded with the clear knowledge of why I am writing this column and acting as a coach. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: I want to help myself and others break through the delusion and suffering of our fears and desires, to become fully our selves – in the service of others.
Earlier, I’d written that if I wanted to keep growing myself, "I had to share my evolving emotional wisdom with others, no matter how scary that felt." Because I am learning to do that well, and because it badly needs doing by all who are able – that is now my job.
It is my job to face and air my fears, sorrows – and joys! – my very humanness, so that you may more easily air yours; and we may all get more comfortable in our skins. So yes, I am willing to be seen as emotional and as less than "totally balanced and self-assured." For, as my client wisely pointed out, everyone has these human feelings. But as she told me later, it was a "revelation" that "everyone" includes her own Life Coach. I wasn’t surprised when she added it was a revelation she found empowering.
It has long seemed to me that the best – maybe the only – way to teach people to do anything truly hard, like facing fear, is to lead the way, to first face the music oneself. The spiritual teachers I’ve had were always at their educative best for me when they had the courage not to save face, but to show face – their most human, vulnerable one. I "got it" best when they did what they were asking us to do – let down our hair and be real.
I got a similar lesson in the value of teaching humanity by example just the other night. I went to see Andrew Cohen, a well-known spiritual seeker, teacher, and founder of the Impersonal Enlightenment Fellowship and its wonderful magazine, "What Is Enlightenment?" He spoke at a small yoga center in Central Pennsylvania. Unlike many other effective spiritual teachers I’ve known, Andrew was not especially charismatic.
He even stumbled and fumbled a bit. But because, as he told us, he has a burning desire both to know truth, and to be of service to others in the seeking of it, he got up in front of maybe a hundred people to share his considerable knowledge and insight. He told us that speaking to groups still made him feel somewhat uncomfortable. While that was clear to me without his saying so, his admission made me feel close to him, and respectful.
But more than that, his willingness to share what he knew, however haltingly at times, inspired me. It made me think it might be time for me to be willing to go more public with what I have to offer.
I’m not sure yet that I know exactly what I mean by that. But I do know I came away from that evening mysteriously changed. I know I feel more ready than I’ve ever felt to share my many gifts and rich experience without so much concern about how I, Suzanne, show up. And that, my friends, is no small thing for me to say.
"I have nothing to hide, nothing to prove, nothing to become and nothing to overcome," Andrew suggested to us as a kind of mantra. If enlightenment is what we want, we’d do well to adopt that attitude. Even if we don’t yet feel all that free, we can act as if we do. As another of my clients likes to say (quoting Susan Jeffers’ book by the same name), why not "feel the fear, and do it anyway." There truly is nothing for us to be ashamed of – except perhaps hiding our considerable light under a bushel, a topic I plan to take up next time.