Self leadership happens the moment we live life to the fullest.
Curiousity, confidence, clarity, compassion, playfulness, and love all blossom in the presence of Self Leadership.
Case in point: today I stood beneath a raging waterfall at the foot of a cave. The water beat down on dark, wet rock face. I carefully maneovered over jagged rocks, and found a smooth landing pad beneath the waterfall.
3, 2, 1, and WHOOP! I thrust my body under the downpour. I felt totally alive, free, and crazy with love for life – nothing in my way.
I yelped and whooped so loud that hundreds of bats came screeching out of the cave. They barely missed the tops of our heads with their mashugana flight.
Amazing. AMAZING MOMENT.
Most of us are familiar with totally embracing the moment.
It is even more poigant, potent, and powerful when everyone present is equally immersed in the presense of self leadership as was the case during my journey to the waterfall.
Together with my mother, sister, aunt and uncle, we took big, refreshing bites of Mayan culture, language, trees, and novel experiences found in a world beyond the confines of familiarity and predictability.
With us were our new Guatemalan friends, both locals, one of whom, Felix, didn’t speak any English. Even without the benefit of a shared language, it was magical to be together without a cinch of awkardness in our close encounters with waterfall, bats, homemade beet potato salad, and the songs we gave to the trees and sky. Our voices joined the symphony of bird calls, and rushing water in a free fall.
If we are lucky enough not to have to focus solely on getting our immediate needs met, we are mostly driven by the desire to carve out more time and space for beautiful moments of connection.
So, what gets in the way?
Fear, embarrassment, rage, compulsive, and reactive parts of ourselves that step in when there’s the risk of pain and vulnerability. It can happen in a split second…
Someone you just met a party looks the other way when you are just about to get to the punchline. A Protector part pops up and whispers, “This guy doesn’t like me. He’s just dying to end this conversation. This is a stupid party anyway. You better get out of here.”
The Protector is hardwired to help us avoid feeling awkward, unwanted, rejected, and defeated.
In the face of shame, humiliation, and feelings of worthlessness, most of us were taught to let it go, stuff it, distract, withdraw, hide, shut it down, or rationalize what happened in an effort to get away from it.
In our culture of rugged individualism, resilience is conceived as avoiding hurtful memories, sensations, feelings and beliefs. According to Dr. Schwartz, the founder of Internal Systems Family Therapy (IFS), our exiled parts need compassion and caretaking to unburden from wounds that occurred when we were too young to effectively deal with overwhelming feelings.
The job of protector parts is to shield us from feeling worthless and under-valued. The problem is that when parts of us are frozen in exile, our protectors can get too strong. They can become rigid and inflexible which not only keeps them stuck, but prevents our exiled parts from becoming more playful, loving, open, trusting, spontaneous, creative, intimate and joyful.
Mindfulness can help us to hold compassionate presence for ourselves and others. In mindfulness, our stance is one of curiousity, and openess to whatever arises.
As we expand our ability to tolerate disruptive feelings and sensations, we can give exiled parts the opportunity to unburden previously avoided emotional material. Compassion for ourselves is the key to healing old wounds, and transforming unhelpful beliefs that hold us back from a life that is playful, loving, open, trusting, spontaneous, creative, intimate and joyful.