Growing up, I remember how much a part of me enjoyed playing games where there were rules.
Games like dodgeball, checkers, and even tag seemed to have plainly understood rules and guidelines on how everyone would play together.
As I’ve grown up, I’ve realized how little the structure and contained experiences of childhood games represent real life.
In the big game of Adulting, the stakes are often bigger than we can anticipate, the variables or even who we’re playing with are unclear, and how both “winning” and “losing” seem to come with risk and consequence.
Worse is how often the guidelines, metrics, and rules we’re asked to play within are confusing, seem to conflict with each other, or are even completely ignored by other players.
How do we play the Game of Life in a way that includes both infinite possibilities and the present moment, which seems to call for definition, attention, and benevolence? It seems especially challenging in our modern age where there is seemingly always someone unhappy, upset, or unsatisfied with what we did, how we said it, or what we stand, or don’t stand, for.
Often when I’m presented with a decision or a crossroads of character, I have my initial reaction or response.
Sometimes that response is pure, connected, and aligned with my inner relationship.
Sometimes, and most often, I’m not quite sure.
Is my initial response coming from my mind, heart, gut, wounds, bias, shadow, pressure from others, culture, or expectations from my friends or family?
While that seems like a long list, whether it happens in a split second, a few moments, or over a night’s sleep, in those moments when a decision is being asked for, all those voices want to be heard.
How can we keep ourselves from being overwhelmed?
I’ve found it helpful to remember that while all things in my life are on a continuum, the only thing that matters is what’s happening at this moment. This situation, this challenge, and this relationship are what I have influence over, and my action or inaction in these moments is all I can ever gauge my performance by, even more so than the result.
Over the years, I’ve found three frameworks that have helped me immensely in how I approach decisions and how I’ve found and created more peace and stability for myself in the process.
The first, and what we’ll be diving into today, is Effective Perspectives. The other two are Values-Charting and Even-Overs. We’ll touch on those two in later sharings.
“Effective Perspectives” is a framework that I learned from Cairo Rha of Self Craft. If you’re into learning how to blend spiritual principles with heart-led leadership and practical coaching methodologies, I highly recommend checking them out.
Essentially, an Effective Perspective is anything that is
* Good for you,
* Good for others, and
* Good for everyone (the collective/world).
While this perhaps seems overly simplistic, it’s also profoundly revealing.
More often than not, due to the fast-paced, demanding culture we live in, we either swing towards doing things that are only good for us with no regard for others, or do only the things that are good for others and everyone, all while completely forgetting about ourselves.
This does not create the balance or harmony the world desperately needs right now.
At the same time, perfect harmony is difficult, if not impossible.
If we were only to take action when something meets all three of the criteria, we’d probably be waiting around for a long time! (and there’s a lot to be said about inaction as the right action)
I’ve found it more realistic to approach Effective Perspectives as a helpful framework, not an absolute.
Instead of approaching decisions based on the push and pull of my often egoic mind, subjective feelings of my heart’s wisdom, or external demands, I focus on how conscious or intentional I am about what is or isn’t fully aligned.
Sometimes, what needs to be done may lead to it being not so good for me, such as helping a friend with a task, which leads to me having to stay up a little later studying for a test.
Sometimes, what is seemingly needed leads to things being good for me, perhaps even others, but not so good for the world, such as mass agriculture and our culture’s affinity for plastic.
We may never truly know if our decisions and actions were the most holistically sound for everyone involved. The invitation is to inquire if the costs or tradeoffs we are constantly asked to make are made with clear heads and steady hands.
Rather than assuming what’s possible, judging ourselves for what we did or didn’t do, or allowing others to influence our inner knowing, we can instead choose with Effective Perspectives which path to follow.
This way, once the game has been played, the dice have been cast, and the cards are on the table, we can rest peacefully knowing that win, lose, or otherwise, we played well for ourselves, others, and the world we live in.
I believe humans are vastly unique, not only because of our intellect and ability to figure things out, but because of our capacity for a full spectrum experience.
From our emotional, mental, energetic, and perhaps even cosmic potential, it seems a gross understatement to say humans are complex creatures.
And as complex as we are, it seems noteworthy how we are primarily held within our physical form. Even as science begins to recognize the reality of the energetic fields that emanate from our bodies (what many traditions have called auras or energy bodies), it seems important to remember how interconnected our physical structure is within all of it.
In my explorations of what it means to be human, I’ve found myself again and again returning to my body. As much as we may be spiritual beings having a human experience, it seems a simple but important reminder that as cosmic as things may be at times, we are still having a human experience.
And part of having a human experience is very much having a body.
A body that feels, senses, intuits, and breathes. A body that often knows before we decide with our logic whether something is good for us or not.
A body that doesn’t lie or tell stories.
Yet, if our bodies can be such allies for our human experience, why are so many of us disconnected from its wisdom and essence?
I believe at the core of this question lies one of the fundamental challenges of our modern time.
We’re not yet very good at dealing with trauma.
Often our first brush with trauma is innocent. Imagine as a toddler running, falling, and scraping your knee. For the child who is still learning about what it means to exist in human form, the sensation of scraped knees is simply that, a sensation. Something that happened.
We know that children usually don’t even know how bad a cut is or how hard a fall has been until the other humans around them react. When our parents approach with worry and concern in their voice and manner, we receive the first imprinting and begin to view our bodies as fragile, and how the innocent sensations we feel through it are somehow not ok.
And so it begins.
We feel a sensation that we (or others) view as being unwanted, and we do whatever we can to remove or fix it.
Bandaids are used, pain relievers get prescribed, crutches are reached for, and suddenly, before we know it, we’re hooked on finding ways to make our uncomfortable human experience a little more bearable.
Of course, this example has a lot of nuance and oversimplification. I’m definitely not saying the use of pain relievers and such aren’t useful or even helpful at times for stabilizing our mind and vitals.
What I am saying is that when we approach our emotional world with the same methods of numbing and distraction, we create disconnect and separation from our body and thereby lose access to a huge part of our full spectrum humanity.
For most of us who grew up in the modern world, our inner world of emotions, sensations, and anomalies is often foreign and unfamiliar territory. It seems an unfortunate result of our culture’s pursuit of control and dominance that we inadvertently shackled a vital, and seemingly chaotic, aspect of our humanity.
Sadly, we’re missing out.
I believe the first stage of transformation is always Awareness. Being fully aware of what is happening for us includes more than just what we think about a situation. It also means knowing what our bodies are saying, the signals its giving us, and the felt experience of the moment.
It seems most important to remember that whatever our body is telling us, be it the sense of hot or cold, the tinging along our arms, the tightness or relaxation of our bodies, is a message.
While sometimes unpleasant, the more we can relate to these sensations with presence, patience, and appreciation, the more we uncover a wellspring of guidance, alignment, and connection.
For most of us it means relearning the subtle language of our body and its various centers, namely the heart, belly, and pelvis. Often when we feel into these areas, we may feel something but aren’t quite able to say what it means.
What does this mean for us in our daily lives?
It means the more we connect, build an understanding, and create dialogue with our bodies, the more resourceful we become, the more information we have to make supportive decisions, and the more depth, beauty, and vividness we can experience in our actions and interaction.
The process of recalibrating ourselves to hear our own body language can be a grand adventure. Like all adventures, our inner explorations can lead to dark corners and untraveled thresholds all in service of excavating the hidden gems of our felt and unresolved experience.
The unsexy part of this message is that it does take work.
The process of unearthing, feeling, and being with emotions and sensations many of us have kept hidden away since childhood, or even feeling fully the grief and loss that often comes with our adult lives, requires a warrior’s spirit and courageous heart.
This is where Dance, EFT, TRE, the Feldenkrais method, and other forms of somatic therapy are extremely useful, if not vital, to regaining access and enliven the circuitry of our feeling and emotional wisdom.
It’s been said that the only way is through.
I believe integral to a well lived life is, with compassion, awareness, and healthy servings of courage, to go through and to experience the depths of our emotional and sensational world for the sake of living our human lives, fully.
Even just the word can cause us cringe. It calls to mind that something isn’t ok, things aren’t quite right, and that we need something else.
Within the word, there seems to be a disowning, a falling out with the present moment, a desire for something more which seems to imply that what is, isn’t enough or good enough.
How does this play out in our relationships?
I don’t believe distraction is inherently bad. A healthy distraction is many times the difference between being balanced or neurotic.
What I can say is that a distracted mind often leads to an absent heart.
When our phones are constantly buzzing, our need to be entertained, and the unresolved energies of trauma and such are swirling within our bodies and being, how can we possible be in the moment or with those who are sharing it with us?
The need for something else creates a dynamic where it becomes difficult to actually love and connect with each other when we cannot love and be with themselves. Almost as if all the love that is poured into each other finds no ground.
I’ve been guilty of this, all too often. With friends, loved ones, lovers, and even Life itself.
I run to distraction, renouncing the present moment in front of me. Moments that could be shared with another who in their purest heart often desires nothing more than my presence.
For most of us, the greatest joy in being with someone is when all of them is with all of us. When the phones are away, the screens turned off, and the only thing that fills the void between two hearts is the totality of one another.
And yet, as wonderful as all this sounds, why is it so hard for us?
I believe it stems from unprocessed emotions and trauma.
Animals in their natural state rarely hold trauma in their bodies. Instinctually when somethings happens, they shake, bark, run around, or find some way to “get it out.”
Humans, on the other hand, through conditioning and perhaps through needing the approval of others, are much more willing to stuff things down, to suppress, and to avoid.
These emotions and energies often “live” in our bodies creating dis-ease, anxiety, and a slew of mental challenges that instead of getting rattled and shaken out, cause havoc within our minds and psyches.
Without being aware, we carry and accumulate these energies within us and continually cause the stress, inflammation, and agitation that invariably lead us to reach for something, at times anything, to ease our suffering.
The problem of course with our modern ways of dealing with unresolved energies is that while they may ease the pain temporarily, they create deep weights upon our hearts and souls causing us to hurt ourselves, and others, often in indirect ways.
When we are unable or unwilling to process these unmet aspects of our experience, we arrive to partnership a shadow of what we could be.
Instead of full, present, and available, we arrive guarded, afraid, and filled with beliefs of being not good enough and perhaps in more ways than one, not ok.
Sometimes merely the awareness of this dynamic is enough to begin the unwinding process.
Sometimes acknowledging how so many of us are conditioned to hide and stuff down our shame and guilt is enough to allow the energies to dissipate as we are very much not alone in these experiences.
And sometimes, it will take more of a focused effort to release and let go of the aspects of our past that no longer serve.
From this, perhaps then for all times, we can find ourselves a bit more free, willing, and able to be with all that is here for us, in the now.
(Disclaimer: This is a story of 2011 me, well before the idea of appropriation was in my awareness. There’s no way I would do this now or approach it the way I did then.)
I remember it clearly.
It was shortly after a life-evolving experience at a music festival (don’t all the “best” stories start with that? ha), I was ready for change.
Over the previous years I had found myself slanging various products and services over the phone as part of one high-paced sales floors to another. While the thrill, buzz, and sweat of closing deals and stacking bills had its moments, days after that fateful weekend, I found myself staring at my spreadsheet, wondering what the heck I was doing with my life.
Two weeks later, I quit.
Perhaps aligned with a primal instinct that comes with identity shifts and change, I decided to shave off my head.
Unsure but hopeful, and with the encouragement of my men’s group, I drove myself to the local Supercuts to meet a couple of other brothers who were also going to cut their hair and bring in something fresh and new.
I remember Dave, our ring leader of sorts, smiling at me as I reached the shop, a twinkle of mischief not unfamiliar in his eye.
“Why don’t you get a mohawk?” he asked with all the warmth and invitation of a seasoned instigator and pusher of social norms.
I paused, thought he was crazy, and yet while waiting for our numbers to be called, realized there was no good reason not to.
Feeling the support and container of our deepening men’s group and finding myself living by the familiar shores of Southern California, I saw how if I were ever going to do such a crazy thing, the time would be now.
I can still remember sitting in the chair and the smile the hairstylist gave when they realized I was serious.
And so it began.
For anyone who has ever shaved their hair, either as a desire for personal evolution, necessity, or show of support, you know the experience of releasing one’s “self” from the past and energetics held in hair is both an uncertain and somehow affirming experience.
Cultures across time have view hair and its styling as symbols and, even for some, as initiations.
This, though self-guided, very much felt like the latter. As my faux-hawk fell to the floor, leaving smooth sides and a luscious centerpiece, it felt like I was not only letting of societal norms and expectations, with it came a sense of rebellion.
For a moment, I felt kinship to the punks, rebels, and misfits who raged at a society that no longer could dictate how we showed up in the world.
Soon after, with a glint in my eye, I walked out of the shop, squeaky fresh, selfies in full effect, and ready for the next stage of my personal legend.
Here’s what I learned from the six months I had a mohawk.
People Are Going to Judge, No Matter How Short, Long, or High Your Hair Is
Pre-mohawk, I was always self-conscious when I’d walk into a room. What do they think of me? Do I look ok? Will they like me?
Looking back, I realize now how a lot of that had to do with an ever-present desire to fit in and belong, a fear of being judged, and a lack of knowing myself.
The thing is, when you walk into a party with a mohawk, you don’t fit in. Without a doubt, some people judge, and at some point, everyone knows there’s a mohawk guy roaming around.
I quickly learned that it’s not my job to worry, think about, or adjust myself based on what I perceived as other people’s judgments and expectations. Even to try to would lead me to stay home, hide in the bathroom, or become an awkward, silent fixture in the room. All of which happened more times than I’d like to admit.
What I didn’t know back then is how we always have the choice to create our sense of belonging. And more importantly, how the permission to do so cannot, and does not, come from others.
Personal Perception Is Reality and the Only One That Matters
What was remarkable for me during that time was how when I’d show up “looking normal” with a baseball cap or fedora (yikes, I know!) covering my hair, I’d walk into a room and feel exactly the same as how I did when I had the most remarkable hair in the room.
I’d feel unsure, insignificant, and afraid of people’s judgment. I’d think to myself; it must be because I’m “normal now” and don’t have something cool about me for people to like.
But then, I’d show up the very next day in full awesome hawk and still feel just as uncertain, unlikable, and not good enough.
I remember the first few times this happened. It really messed with my head as I wondered if there was something wrong with me.
Worse, would it always be this way? Would I always feel like I don’t fit in? That no matter what I did or do, I’ll always feel I don’t belong?
In some ways, this is still true on some very practical levels. The color of my skin, the realities of being “the other” in most social situations, and the dance of my inner angst are all aspects that are hard to ignore as an Asian-bodied human living in our modern world.
I believe humans experience the unique duality of looking out and seeing our reflection in how others respond to us while also having a deep knowing that who we are can never be fully seen by others until we see and value ourselves first.
People Value Your Value, Your Look
You may find it amusing (I still do!) to know that during this period of time, I decided to follow an inkling and started my first solo entrepreneurial venture focused on consulting small businesses in their marketing, sales, and systems.
I remember the first few times walking into networking meetings and feeling very much out of place. In those moments, I remembered to smile, to look people in the eye, and human as best as I could.
In marketing, they say it’s always good to have something for people to remember you by. Whether it’s a catchy slogan, a snazzy business card, or a high head of hair, humans remember what is novel and remarkable.
Though working with dozens of clients, I learned how, while my hair certainly brought an element of fun and creativity into the picture, what they most valued (and paid for) was how I served them and their business.
Whether it was chatting casually over drinks about marketing strategies, giving talks on mindset from a stage, or hosting workshops and events, what I found was people didn’t show up because of how I looked.
They showed up because I had something that would help them get what they wanted in life and business.
Keeping up an Image Is Hard, and Often Not Worth It
There’s something about having a mohawk, dreads, or any other eclectic fashion or hairstyle.
It takes time, attention, and effort, and usually lots of it.
I think back now and laugh. These days, while my hair is down to my waist and the ritual of combing and conditioning is very much a thing, I keep my personal primping down to a minimum.
During those mohawk days, even though I spent a lot of time in front of the mirror, I never actually saw myself.
Instead, hair products were laid out, bouncy tunes played in the background, and hours upon hours were spent looking just above my eyes to make my hair and style just right.
While the results were plenty of, “wow man, that’s cool!” and of course, “can I touch it?” by giggly girls at the bar, I often was left only with fleeting moments of feeling like I belonged, and then nothing.
As I became more used to having a high head of hair, there were many times when I would even forget I was rocking the hawk.
I also found that while there were times when I was keenly aware that the attention I was getting was because of the way I looked, there were other times when I’d feel fantastic and still get or feel rejected.
What this taught me is the identity that we believe is ours, the ones we demand, protect, and project, and even the one people perceive in their heads about us is none of our business.
When we place too much focus on what people think or on looking the part, we tend to forget ourselves and ironically dampen the organic spark in our eyes that draws people to us in the first place.
Living for Others Is a Fool’s Game
Perhaps the most important lesson I learned during that time was a recalibration of who I was living my life for and how the only thing that actually mattered was how I showed up for myself.
What I realized held me back for so much of my life was a false perception, a grandiosity of my ego which always wants to believe it’s a bit more important and memorable than it really is.
How much did this one particular moment matter in the grand timeline of my life or the lives of others? While we all reach critical moments in our lives, I realized that my mind, my ego would always make the consequences of the present moment seem more significant than they are.
In my moments of doubt, before going up to give a presentation, definitely before approaching someone I found attractive, I reminded myself that everything in life is a matter of perspective, time is relative, and memory is fleeting.
This realization that while the risks and uncertainty I was facing seemed large and in charge, chances are they are forgotten by everyone (myself included eventually) the moment a new shiny thing or fresh challenge entered our lives.
This gave me a sense of freedom that I had never had before because it means it didn’t matter, or rather, the only one it mattered to was the voice inside my head.
While there may always be the innocent tribal aspects within me that want to belong, we are not here to live for or by other people’s standards, judgments, or our ego’s illusion. To do so is to live a life less lived and one which leaves us too easily swayed by the winds of life and social condition.
I’m grateful for how I found my roots, my inner ground over the years that followed. Through gentle, gradual processes of owning and speaking my truth, the elating experience of not giving two shakes about what others think, and the freedom in sharing and asking for what I want, I learned that the belonging I had always sought was within me the whole time.
While the desire to fit in, external validation, the thrill of social games, and the warmth of feeling of being seen and accepted are all part of the human experience, these are just fleeting moments.
I learned that if I am to bear fruit in this life and provide shelter from the storm for myself and others, the roots that matter aren’t found on the top of my head.
And for those who won’t believe until they see it!
The relationships we create and share, whether they are platonic or romantic, can be some of the most important and meaningful experiences of our lives. When done consciously, relationships can be a gateway to growth, depth, and celebration.
You may be familiar with Steven Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” which has been a roadmap for many in their pursuit of productivity and excellence. While I wouldn’t suggest we attempt to make our relationships highly effective, I do like the number 7!
Here are 7 pillars I see being crucial in creating relationships that are not only fun and joyful but healing, deep, and soulful. How do they show up and how can you integrate them more in your relationships?
LEAD WITH CURIOSITY
Anytime we engage with another human, really anything can happen. Will we be friends, lovers, business partners, acquaintances, or just another face in the crowd?
When we lead with curiosity and let go of assumptions and expectations, our minds have space to expand, and our energy becomes more present. We also rediscover our child inside, the aspect of us that is naturally curious always wants to come out to play.
COMMUNICATION IS PARAMOUNT
Our willingness to communicate to the fullest and best of our ability using our words, tone, inflection, emotional state, sounds (such as grunts, sighs, etc.), and other body language is vital to nurturing effective relationships.
Without a willingness to communicate authentically, often the other person experiences doubt, a loss of trust, and even confusion as it leaves their mind wondering what is really happening for us.
The stories and assumptions our monkey minds make up to fill the void often leads to misunderstanding and loss of connection.
When we place a high value on our willingness to share ourselves as fully and as authentically as we can, it naturally invites the other person to do the same, creating a field of permission for deeper dialogue and connection.
BUILD TRUST, NOT WALLS
It can be easy to approach connection with hesitation, caution, and mistrust. Some people naturally trust first, while others require trust to be built over time. Both approaches are valid since the intention and desire are the same.
In either case, building and creating a meaningful relationship requires that at least one person in the interaction drops their guard first. Otherwise, if two people attempt to connect, and both parties have walls up, there is no flow or opportunity to deepen the connection.
Giving others the confidence that in any situation, favorable or not, that we will authentically communicate with them our thoughts and feelings helps create a sense of security, settles our inner unease, builds trust, and keeps the doors of curiosity and possibility open.
GIVE THE GIFT OF FREEDOM & PERMISSION
Offering freedom and permission to others creates an opportunity for both parties to step forward vulnerability and share more than they would if there was expectation, demand, or judgment.
Often the most tender aspects of our being are the parts that have been shamed, numbed, and avoided. Ironically, these are the parts that also desire the most to be seen, heard, and felt just as they are.
When we offer each other a space of safety for these parts to gently step out of the shadows, we find there is more of each other to love as the process of mutual revealing and expression helps each other to integrate and come back to wholeness.
ALL EMOTIONS ARE WELCOME
Growing up, most of us were told, either directly or indirectly, that our emotions weren’t ok. Often when we felt sad, mad, angry, or afraid, we were told our feelings and tears weren’t ok, to ignore them, and often that they were too much.
As we grow older and seek to create meaningful relationships, it’s important to let our partners know that all emotions are welcome.
While it is vital that we continue to learn to own our emotions and not to project or demand another to carry them for us, it is also equally important that we not hold back with each other as this reinforces disempowering patterns.
Instead, when we welcome each other to feel and experience the full range of our emotions, we co-create depth of connection and build bridges of intimacy that are meaningful, healing, and authentic. To know someone through their emotions is to know their essence, honor their younger self, and love their whole being.
RESPONSIBILITY IS EVERYONE’S RESPONSIBILITY
Meaningful relationships require everyone involved to be in ownership of their experience. While it can, of course, be helpful to have support and to have others to share our challenges with, at the end of the day, each of us is ultimately responsible for ourselves.
This intelligence helps us avoid co-dependent tendencies and allows for deep safety. When we know that the other person can and will ultimately take care of themselves, it creates space and flexibility. When we feel the other is rooted in themselves, we no longer feel weighed down by the relationship.
Instead, we feel light, free to move, and in that movement, the dance that is shared together is able to be expansive, playful, and meaningful. This concept is explored more in my post about Responsible Vulnerability.
CO-CREATE WITH INTENTION
Co-creation is the idea that it not only takes two to tango, but to do it well requires both dancers’ full participation. Instead of one person pushing another towards some goal or agenda, co-creation honors both individuals and ask with curiosity what is possible.
Life, and often the humans that inhabit it, can be uncertain and unpredictable. When we intentionally co-create with another, we invite each person to bring all their gifts, emotions, thoughts, and desires to the table and with curiousity asks what could be built together.
Relationships that are co-created honor the sovereignty of both individuals bring all the other pillars full circle, and provide rich and fertile soil for seeds of authenticity, love, and meaning.