Show Up Lopsided: The Power of True Commitment

Not long ago, one of my coaching clients was talking about not being able to stay with a meditation practice and decided to give up meditating altogether. “I’m either gung ho all the way or I don’t show up at all,” she said in disgust. We were talking on an evening when she “hadn’t shown up at all.” She had washed dishes instead. You would have thought she had mutilated small children. And gauging the self-attack that followed, I don’t think that meditation would have helped. The Dalai Lama himself would have had to have shown up and told her it was no big deal. And I bet he would have given her one of those big goofy, freedom-filled smiles.

I understand the desire to make changes in your life, and I applaud them heartily. But I invite you to be inconsistent and unreliable. I dare you to break promises to yourself, and I dare you to make new ones. This is the courageous path of learning to grow and love and trust yourself … and to keep dancing into the life you desire, no matter what.

To me, there’s beauty, intelligence, and grace in showing up lopsided, showing up fitfully, showing up sporadically. Showing up is showing up. The dream-basher in you pushes you into airtight commitments, but real change is about breathing—coming in and going out. Daring to live your calling is a path of invitation, not interrogation.

My favorite poet, Rumi, an absurdly free and brilliant spirit, writes:

Come, come whoever you are, wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving
–it doesn’t matter 
Ours is not a caravan of despair
Come, even if you have broken your vow a hundred times
Come, come again

A Course in Miracles echoes this same philosophy by telling us to “choose once again,” whenever we have made a choice that feels painful. It doesn’t say beat yourself up bloody, give up, throw in the towel, recount how many other things you’ve given up on. It asks us to save time and just begin again, choose the new behavior or belief now, let go of the past, and give birth to a different experience this very minute.

When I first began writing, I had an awful time with myself. I’d come up with all kinds of perfectly devised writing schedules and then avoid or blow every one of them. I’d be furious with myself, convinced I was never going to be able to accomplish anything. I’d feel miserable and pathetic. But finally I did make huge progress as a writer, not by setting up a better writing program but through learning to love, comfort, and coax myself into action. In This Time I Dance! Creating the Work You Love, I wrote that “Only the tender can breed the fierce.” This was so opposite to my initial thinking. Like my non-meditating client, I thought that if I “misbehaved,” I needed a bigger stick, not an extra chocolate bar. But my guidance then, as now, reflected, “Be even kinder to yourself when you feel fear. Love, not anger, inspires right action.” And it was true. Part of me avoided writing because I was afraid to face myself—only gentleness inspired more encounters.

Sometimes, we have an ill-advised idea of what showing up looks like. In the creative life, many people confuse rigidity with purity. Remember the creative personality might have many loves and devotions. This isn’t distraction or avoidance, this is self-expression. When I lived in the mountains and was writing my book, I came into the city all the time to teach classes and to hang out at coffeehouses and secretly relish urban noise and stimulus. One person in a writing group said, “If you were serious about that book, you’d just stay in the mountains and write.” I anguished over this comment for a long time.

His puritan approach would have sucked the life out of me. I needed to make a living in the city, and I enjoyed my urban escapades. I wanted both lives. Likewise, I have clients who are parents—who sculpt and work on a sales brochure for their business. They go to their kids’ soccer practices and pick up Cheerios and bananas. They are not abandoning their passions; they are claiming more of them.

Focus on the behaviors you wish to encourage, not the other choices. If you are trying to lose weight, don’t agitate over your failure of will on the third day of your program. Celebrate the two days of enthusiasm and motivation. Only the wins count—if you want to win. In 12-step lingo, it’s all about progress, not perfection.

I know the sticklers will tell you that taking just one exercise class won’t help or spending only one hour with your camera, but I disagree. Every act of love for yourself makes a difference. That one time can boost your self-esteem and increase the likelihood that you’ll return. Go ahead, stumble into grace. Start and stop a million times. Get there late and leave early. Whatever it takes. So what, if in a linear world they call you erratic? In this world, you are a daring creative explorer, a traveler on a caravan of joy, and that works just fine, because you’re moving in the right direction.

Find out about programs with Tama Kieves at Kripalu.

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Tama Kieves, an honors graduate of Harvard Law School, left a corporate law practice to write and embolden others to live their deepest desires.

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