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Melanie Harth, Ph.D., LMHC Headshot

5 Tips for Freedom: What Dolly Parton and Pema Chodron Have in Common

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"Find out who you are and do it on purpose," says Dolly Parton. OK. How do we do that? What gets in the way? Well, lots of things get in the way, beginning with our own ignorance of things as they actually are.

We're masters of fantastical thinking. Good for creativity, not so much so when we use it to sleepwalk through our lives. The great news with mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is that all we have to do to begin is notice what we're thinking and what we're doing. We start to pay attention. That's it. There is absolutely no doing anything about anything. Just. Notice.

Here's what I notice as I'm writing this post... a true vignette (I swear). I'm doing a mindful-awareness yoga session in the living room while taking notes for work and sending emails, with breakfast simmering on the stove that has to be stirred, making a second cup of coffee to drink as I do yoga, petting the cat who has a UTI and is wont to urinate in the most unexpected places and is extra-anxious, with reading glasses on because I forgot they were there.

Done. I noticed what I noticed. The next step in MBSR is to notice what we're telling ourselves about what is happening. I'm not blaming myself for being an idiot, or reminding myself that this is no way to be an MBSR expert.

I am noticing that my stress is increased as each activity is added into the mixture. Noticing this isn't how I want to be feeling. Noticing there are different choices. Our journey to freedom begins in the noticing.

See, every minute we get to choose to live from either ignorance or awareness. We are offered the invitation to find out who we are. We have the option of giving ourselves permission to be richly alive, or to make reactive choices founded upon the quicksand of our own ignorance. For make no mistake, our own ignorance is quicksand that sucks us underneath its deceptively beautiful surface.

As another international teacher and wise-woman elder, the Tibetan nun Pema Chodron, puts it in her book When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, "The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently."

Five How-To's for Freedom

1. Slow Down to Move Faster
Just for fun, just for five minutes, try doing only one thing at a time when you've got some quiet time. One client, several years ago, shared her surprised reaction at the radical idea of slowing down to move ahead. "No. No can do. That's ridiculous," she insisted. Once she settled into its possibilities, however, she was able to begin unhooking from fanciful ideas about what her life was actually like, and connecting with what she truly wanted for herself. (Note: If it's work-related or a deep-flow activity such as painting or dancing, it doesn't count; it has to be a simple chore such as washing the dishes or reading the paper. Or eating.)

2. Notice What You Notice
When you try to slow down, how do you react? What are you thinking? How judgmental, restless, impatient, bored, tired, or sad are you? Are you kind to yourself if you "failed"? How many times a day do you tell yourself you're failing? What surprises you? Curiosity is your best friend right now.

3. Satisfy Those Desires for Abundance and Prosperity
Another client recently explained how he deals with bingeing on way too much: "If I don't pay attention to how much I'm doing it, I can pretend it isn't happening." Umm... doesn't work that way. Until we stop pretending our lives away, we continue to reach for what we don't want, for what does not satisfy. For poverty, really. As we learn to develop the courage to be gentle with ourselves, it becomes so much easier to tell the truth about what we desire, how we define abundance, clearly see what may or may not be fulfilling those desires. What's one thing you're pretending about right now? Just one. Just notice it, and what you're telling yourself about it.

4. Stand on the Ground
Where's your (metaphorical) ground? Is it made of ideas from other people? Fear? Is it solid and long-lasting, based on true self-knowledge -- or more ephemeral? Without the ground of self-awareness, we are walking on clouds. Very tough to do without wings.

5. Go Big, Start Small
Take five minutes in the morning with your first cup of coffee to do mini "Morning Pages" (from Julia Cameron's book, The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity). Sit down. Start writing. Just go with whatever shows up. If nothing, then write "nothing" for five minutes. (Note: if writing isn't your thing, download a voice recorder app, and talk your "Morning Pages.")

We're finding out who we are, so we can do it on purpose. So we can be free. We are gently learning to become honest with ourselves, about ourselves. Which is the entire practice of awareness. All we have to do is show up.

So it goes in the land of getting real. Remember, there's no such thing as perfection, only the path of gentle cultivation of self-knowledge. Remember that mindless yoga vignette if you get lost in desire for perfection or self-blame for a minute -- no one is better than anyone else.

We use what we have. We begin right where we are.

For more by Melanie Harth, Ph.D., LMHC, click here.

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