Living with Passion and [Self] Compassion
This article is based on the second conversation I had with Susan, a recovered 40 year bulimic, who also struggled with drinking and drugs for much of her adult life. Susan is a nutritionist and now coach helping support people to connect deeply with all parts of themselves.
If you’d like listen or read about our original interview where you can learn more of the background from Susan recovery story, click here.
Click the arrow below to listen to our latest conversation. You can read my notes summarizing parts of our conversation below the audio.
To contact Susan for 1:1 coaching, please click here to email her.[Note that this is not a transcription of Susan’s words. My notes below are what I captured and interpreted during the call and may not be 100% precise. Please listen to the full recording if you want to hear everything she said exactly as she said it.]
All is Well – Perceptual “Problems”
One of the things I love hearing about Susan’s perspective on life is that there is nothing going wrong. Some would say, “Everything in divine timing” or “All is Well” in Abraham-Hicks language. Those on the path of greater consciousness might say that there really are no problems, only opportunities for growth.
Summarizing some of what Susan said early on in our conversation: “We chose this [life, situation], we are not victims. No need to fix, no making what’s happening wrong. This new way of thinking corrects the distortion [in thinking]. The challenges we bring into our lives are on purpose; they’re supporting us being our full selves.”
I realize now two distinctions that I learned from our conversation in this area. The first one is that we are not broken to begin with and there is no fixing we need to do inside of ourselves. This is a much more empowering way of looking at ourselves than I have been hearing and reading about in our cultural conversations. I like this perspective because it goes against the self-defeating thought, “I am broken.” I think when we feel like we’re broken – we need repair, we need fixing – then we have a problem. Or we ARE a problem which perpetuates our distorted and immature thoughts made up by young minds seeking love and approval.
Susan’s perspective is “There is no problem. It’s all perfect. “ Accepting ourselves and what-is just as they are is much more empowering.
Sink into that for a moment…
It’s all perfect. Really, no problems. What if you could transform your perspective from I have all these problems to there are no problems…?
The second distinction I recognize from our conversation is that our perceived “problems” are here to teach us to expand – to help us grow and evolve on our spiritual journey. Life’s problems, challenges, and setbacks are not something to be avoided and they’re not by mistake. Life unfolds with less effort when we relax into everything is ok and life is happening for us, not against us.
Alignment (or being true to and trusting yourself) vs Focusing on What You Don’t Want
Throughout our conversation I heard Susan talk about how living in alignment is a combination of both passion and compassion.
I LOVE that.
The inner dance of alignment with Source (God)…
We’re passionate about what we want and compassionate towards ourselves along the way. Susan pointed out how much of what happens in life when we aren’t getting what we want it’s because we are focusing on what we don’t want actually instead of what we do want. She talked about how passion and compassion are the cornerstones of leaning towards and living into a life that you love.
If you’re an eating disorder person your thoughts often revolve around “I don’t want to get fat. I don’t want to lose control. I don’t want to lose love.” She said that all that energy is in service of getting more of what we don’t want. We have to stop perpetuating these stories inside our heads immediately.
“Instead we want to disappear the notion there’s a problem.” When I first heard someone saying ”disappear the notion of…” I think it was at a Landmark Forum event I attended many years ago. It struck me. I didn’t know what they meant. Today I do.
Disappearing the notion is awakening ourselves from the illusion that we created from a distorted (or limiting) belief or story we’ve been telling ourselves about ourselves, the way others are, or the way the world is.
Instead of continuing the dialogue inside our heads of we don’t want, Susan recommends we breathe deeply into who we are. She offers that we slow down, takes a deep breath when we’re feeling constriction in our body and asks ourself…
“What do I want?”
Then all of that energy, all that story of victimization and old beliefs swings around in service of what we do want. We give ourselves permission to have what we want and we are free.
Distorted Stories From Childhood Create Suffering
In my work as an eating disorder recovery coach every time I talk with a new client and learn the story of how their eating disorder started, I am struck by the similar theme of their stories.
I learn that there was something in early childhood, often between the ages of 8 to 16, that was impactful. A big or small moment. A traumatic situation, or sometimes even just a slight remark, that had a big impact on the course of that person’s future.
Sometimes it’s well-meaning (or sometimes strict) parents who say things that make them feel less than or that they need to do something different to win their love (“Sweetie you’re eating a lot and you don’t want your thighs to get any bigger, do you?”).
Sometimes the story involves an influential person in their lives; maybe not their parents but someone they looked up to and respected perhaps a coach, secondary father figure or teacher.
Sometimes it is a young, impressionable girl trying to fit in with the cool kids and/or be liked in school. To feel like she fits in. Trying to be accepted…to belong. Contorting herself, her body or disowning a part of herself so she is more like the other kids. The desire to fit in and be liked at this age is very, very compelling and forms the basis of our identity for the rest of our life.
Whatever the case may be, having studied Tony Robbins’ and learned that the two greatest fears every human being on the planet walks around with is “I’m not enough. I won’t be loved” I recognize where the underlying fears come from no matter the story. Everyone has these two deep seeded fears and we’re driven to avoid the pain of them.
Susan talked about how her upbringing contributed to her feeling she wasn’t enough.
“I felt like I was too much light. My mom needed us to be quiet. She had 3 kids by age 26. So I learned how not to be a problem to my mom. I had too much enthusiasm as a young kid and got pretty quickly that I needed to shut down. You shut that essence down, you disconnect from your truth. When you do you’re now shooting in the dark. You have no internal barometer. It all lived in my young mind. Looking at what worked, didn’t work by judging how people responded to me. That’s how I started choosing. I’d say ‘Oh shit, am I doing this right? Eventually concluding ‘I’m not enough.’”
The good news here is when we can remember we made up that we’re not good enough! It’s made up! We can make up a new story just the same! When we do that We free ourselves wfrom the people pleasing, from the threat we won’t be loved and we begin to tune into who we are again and what we most enjoy. When we stop seeking love and acceptance from others and we start treating ourselves with unconditional love and awaken to our deep self-worth we don’t need anything in that moment. We are whole and complete…just as we are.
Re-framing The Experience of An Urge to Binge
When I asked Susan what she recommends when clients are faced with the urge to binge or if she can recall how she addressed those times when she had the urge to binge I appreciated what she had offer. Her response speaks to how our brain interprets incoming external information from our five senses.
Our instinctual response from our primal brain kicks in when something from our environment is perceived as a threat. In our modern world, much of the common daily life “stresses” are seen as a threat to our survival brain.
We experience the same physiological symptoms as a tiger chasing us, but today it’s an upsetting email or lost keys when you’re running late that sets our mind and body into fight or flight mode.
Susan says, “It’s a choice to view or experience incoming energy as threat. If we can stay out of the interpretation of energy as a threat and instead see it’s all our souls’ growth. We can relax. Just trust that. When you catch the contraction in your body – some identification with ‘this isn’t safe’ – inquire. Get curious. Ask yourself,
‘What has you think you’re not safe right now?’
Part of the work that Susan does even today is working with her inner child and all of the parts of herself. In her practice of emotional mastery she says that when you slow down then you can dialogue with your inner personalities.
She says, “We’ve all played the avoidance or distraction game for so long and it’s not getting us what we want. Instead we want to rewire the impulses for survival that we learned as young people.”
In Susan’s experience she says, “All of the chatter lives in the mind when we feel the urge to binge. I believed I didn’t have a choice. When instead I dropped down to my heart or root chakra or into the breath – this will take you to your truth.
There’s nothing you need to do. Just stop for five minutes, breath into your root chakra in and out very slowly. Restore the knowing in your nervous system. Then choose from that place. Choose from an empowered place.
This trauma work was so primal for me. Nothing rational worked. I was dealing with my primal instinct. Fight or flight. I chose to flee. I thought ‘I’m out of here’. I spent years escaping with distractions.”
I want to point out an important part of Susan’s story here. She talks about “restore the knowing in your nervous system” during our conversation. What she’s referring to here is helping our body re-experience and remember what it’s like to be calm. To be in a place of inner knowing rather than stress, fighting or fleeing (distracting with food). To have an alternative for our body’s nervous system to turn to that is something other than what a stressed or threatened nervous system feels like.
As Susan explained her journey… “I could slow it down enough by slowing down my breath. Checking in with myself, my body. Seeing if there really was a threat and to dialogue with all parts of myself.”
Part of Susan’s journey away from bulimia and that continues to evolve today is based on never-ending self-discovery. She says “Welcome all other wisdom. It’s all wisdom. Everything is accepted. Our instinct to flee or distract is based on some belief of survival. We’re not looking at survival when we slow down. Now we’re dealing with thriving. We go into the realm of…
‘What do I want?’
Compassion and Gratitude as Primary Factors in Her Bulimia Recovery
One of my favorite things Susan said during our conversation – and I totally agree with – was…
“You can’t be in harmony and showing compassion to yourself and be harmful to yourself.”
Harmful meaning binging and purging among other things.
For Susan, “Self-compassion was the big shift from bulimic to non-bulimic. Compassion is total acceptance in the moment of your experience. It helps to throw in the gratitude. I’m so grateful for this experience. I chose this.”
If you want to learn more about Susan’s work around self-compassion I encourage you to listen to our first conversation (link). One of the prominent leaders in the self-compassion movement is a speaker by the name of Kristin Neff and she has an excellent TED talk on self esteem vs self compassion I highly recommend.
In our recent conversation Susan did share a little about how she uses self-compassion on a daily basis (now and when she was starting her bulimia recovery).
She said to herself “I’m not fixing anything. I’m just going to stay here with you no matter what. I held a commitment to my inner child and parts of myself. I teach people to honor their parts. Dialogue with them.
This is a key to having compassion for myself. I stopped the war. When you honor yourself there is no longer anything to fight about with yourself. I regained my own trust. ‘I can trust you.’
I put my heart in charge.
I put my mind in service to my heart.
I have also gone a long way to make a HUGE commitment to my pleasure.
When we’re binging and purging it’s because we want to feel better.
But that’s not what we want.
We WANT connection.
It starts with connecting with all of ourselves.”
Susan’s Recommended Breath Work: The Heart Coherence Technique (by Gregg Braden)
One of the things I heard Susan share in several of our conversations is how she used breath-worth to ground herself. How she turned her world around and uses breath work as a practice to connect and stay centered each day. I asked her to share her technique with us.
“Whenever I think life is happening to me [instead of for me], I commit to doing breath work.”
Here’s how she describes it:
“Put your hand (3 fingers) on your heart, where your believe heart to be. Slowing down the breath. Takes 3 minutes. Breath in to the count of 6, pause, then exhale to count of 6. Then reconnect with the amazingness of the Universe. Whatever has you feel awe, appreciation, compassion, etc. Anchor this into your nervous system.”
Just as with every technique or skill we want to master, until we develop it as a practice, a new muscle, we won’t recall or use it when we need it most.
Out of practicing this breath work Susan says you’ll begin to think less “this is happening to me” vs “life is happening for me. Everything is in service to us.”
What’s amazing I think about the breath work that Gregg teaches is it reconditions your body and nervous system to a state of calm, aligned knowing. You recognize yourself as the amazing being you are.
With regular use of this breathing technique you can reset your nervous system back to a state of homeostasis.
A REAL reset.
A calm…nothing I need to do space.
“Then we begin to live FROM that place. You don’t create great things from your trauma. When you create from heart space – the Universe wants what you want,” says Susan.
Trust Yourself and Listen to Your Heart
Part of what I’ve been exploring for myself recently is around the concepts of self-worth, self-love, self-trust, etc. When I brought this up to Susan she reminded me how our society wants us to believe there’s some way we need to be more, better, or different.
Susan said to awaken from the marketing and cultural conversations and trust “Everything is right on schedule. Go to your heart. Trust life. It wants you to thrive. Just stay out of limiting beliefs that keep us from it.”
When you rest into “everything is right on schedule and trust life” you are enjoying the process. Stop the illusions that have you racing to some version of you that you think is perfect. The perfect YOU that will have a perfect, happy life. Every day, there are nuggets all along the path that are so perfect. Life is about being happy now…not someday.
When I asked Susan “Any final thoughts?” she said…
“Love yourself. Be your own personal advocate. Follow your heart.”
Remember the essentials she started our conversation with; passion and compassion.
Living an aligned life, one that feels fulfilling and joyous and free, is about bringing our passion alive from our heart. It’s knowing what we most want and pursuing that. And the compassion is about loving ourselves unconditionally. Practicing self-compassion towards all parts of ourselves – especially when we don’t feel like we met our personal best.
My purpose in sharing these conversations is to help foster transformation. To help you evolve and grow and be your highest and best self.
So, after hearing the conversation or reading this what’s one thing you saw for yourself as an area you can do or think differently now?
What’s one small thing you can commit to doing this week?
…Ok, now you know what to do…go do it!
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To your greatness,