Intention Requires Attention

inˈten(t)SH(ə)n/

noun

  1. a thing intended; an aim or plan.

If you, like me, are involved in the world of mindfulness, yoga, meditation, coaching, etc. then you, like me, hear it all the time:

“What’s your intention?”

“Set an an intention.”

“Be intentional.”

 

So, what does “intention” actually mean? And why do we do it?

 

I remember, as a newbie yoga practitioner, being introduced to this idea that I could set an intention and “work” on that intention via my yoga practice. And that those qualities would seamlessly integrate into my life, somehow. I just chalked it up to all those mystical, mysterious effects of yoga.

 

At the time, I was working, full-time, on my Master’s degree in Special Education, while student-teaching, full-time, in a middle school for children with special needs. Almost daily, as I stepped onto my yoga mat, my intention would be to cultivate patience. I believed that what I needed most was patience with the children and their various learning processes.  And I would practice that patience by choosing patience in my yoga practice when I felt I was becoming impatient. I often only saw impatience arise when I faced challenging balancing postures, inversions or deep backbends -- you know, the fancy ones. {Side note: looking back, and chuckling to myself, I see now that even more important than cultivating patience with what I deemed to be challenging to me externally was patience with myself, with my own process, and with life, itself; forget the “advanced” poses, my greatest “work” showed up in the simplest of shapes and in the most uncomplicated moments that I had been bypassing in my striving}.

 

But what I didn’t realize, was that the ancient yogis weren’t mystical, mysterious, or magical. They were exceptionally practical. They lived with a determined attention, a willingness to stay attuned to themselves not just in their physical practice, but in their daily actions, in how they were showing up in the world. This way of living was explored in and supported by their asana, pranayama, and meditation practices. Intention didn’t exist in a silo and it certainly didn’t come to fruition without attentive action, conscious choice. We can’t expect that being intentional in our yoga practice will automatically keep us awake and intentional in our lives. Intention doesn’t come to life if we toss it like a coin into a fountain or think it as we blow out the birthday candles. We have to approach our lives as we do our practice. {Enter one of my favorite phrases: how we do anything is how we do everything}.

 

When we set an intention, we make a conscious choice. We are choosing to actively and attentively choose, moment by moment, how to be in relationship with life -- all of life. This is absolutely not passive or inactive. And it certainly isn’t based in illusion. We’re talking about real life, real time, real pain, real struggle, real moments, real choice.

 

What gets in the way of intention becoming reality?

  • Habitual ways of thinking (which leads to -->)
  • Habitual ways of feeling (which leads to -->)

  • Habitual ways of behaving/doing (which leads to --> more of the same)

And all of these things can be attributed to a lack of attention.

 

Life Coaching clients often come to me because they’re discontent or unhappy with certain feelings or behaviors/actions and they want change but feel stuck. When I work with my clients, we often work at the layer of thought (often habitual and patterned). We work to interrupt at that layer since the thought drives the feeling which drives the action. And most of the work we do at the beginning centers around developing an awareness of habitual ways of thinking; understanding, first, that this thought is powerful and, second, that we have ways to work with undoing and not believing the thought. And this requires, guess what(??), ATTENTION. Conscious, wakeful, alert attention.

So, ask yourself: What do I need right now? What would be supportive in my life, from an internal perspective? And am I willing to consciously and honestly stay attuned to life and my response to it? Am I willing to remain alert so I can choose to align with that intention? 

You have, within you, the ability to make any intention become reality. You define you each time you intentionally choose how to be in relationship to life.

 

 

 

Q: What Can Courage Get You? A: Your Heart's Desire

Q: What Can Courage Get You?      A: Your Heart's Desire

I'd like to tell you a story about a courageous coaching client of mine (thankfully she's given me full permission to share all the deets). She's long been a favorite story of mine because of how much she dared to see and change about herself and her life. But she shared something recently that blew my heart wide open. Maybe because I'm a mom. And also because it points to the potential power of a coaching relationship -- the power of what can come if you show up with courage to break through your sh*t.

"I Will Be Happier When:________." It's Not True. But I'll Tell You What Is...

“I will be happier when: ____________________” {fill in with your own unique believe about what needs to change in order for you to be happier, more content, more joyful, more connected}. Come on, you know you’ve said it before. We all have. And it’s an expression of which I’ve heard many forms over the years.

 

 

“I will be happier when” is a belief that is reinforced, conveniently for profit, by the many people or ads or stories that tell us they have just the thing that will help us make that change. Whether that is losing weight or buying new clothes or getting that plastic surgery or taking that vacation or buying the new house, car, etc... You get the idea. When it doesn't work, we go back for more. Vicious cycle.

 

But, you see, there's a big misconception in the self-development, self-help, positive psychology, yoga + mindfulness worlds that you somehow have to be different than you are in order to feel better, do better, and to live a life you love. That notion, that "I must change" puts us in direct conflict with who we are. That conflict, alone, only serves to interrupt the very potential you have for better anything. From this place, we can only work against ourselves. And that never, ever turns out well. Trust me. I know from years of personal experience working against myself.

 

That’s why, as a life coach, I’m more interested in teaching people how to work with themselves. Specifically, to align with the part of themselves that knows what feels right, intuitively. The part that is often overlooked, misunderstood, or ignored. Martha Beck refers to this as the "essential self," which I love because it speaks to our most essential nature - the part of ourselves we’ve known the longest and the part that is still the same from childhood through adulthood. So how do we remember that part of ourselves? How do we connect back to it?

 

Well, the first (and most critical) step is to examine way you think and what you believe about yourself or the world around you. As Albert Einstein so wisely said, “you can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it,” which is where I come in. I can help you shift your mindset, change your perspective, and challenge habitual and conditioned thinking that has prevented you from making choices, arriving at decisions, taking action on things that can positively impact you and your life. When we change our thinking so that we can work with and not against ourselves, we begin to include things that work for us and exclude things that don’t. And the parts of us that need and want to change, change on their own. Ultimately, although I very much love all of my clients, I don't want you coming back for more. I want our work together to shift something in you that empowers you to choose and include the things that actually will make you happy in your life. 


So, if you’re ready to find happiness now and ready for a happiness that is as unique to you as are, I’m ready for you. Drop me a line to learn more about how 1:1 coaching can effectively work for you. And if 1:1 coaching isn’t your thing, get on my list today to be the first to hear about my upcoming group coaching program -- a flexible, dynamic and supported way to explore finding YOUR happiness!

The Hidden Value of Self-Care {Why it's the most radical way you can show up in the world}

Any transition, even the simple, intentional, quiet ones can be hard.

And then there are the big, not-what-I-want, I-didn’t-choose-this, fear-filled, soul-shaking, foundation-crumbling transitions.

Ultimately, the only way we make it through any transition, big or small, chosen or not, is in the placing-of-one-foot-in-front-of-the other, step-by-step, breath-by-breath, meeting of the moment. Can’t bypass it, can’t avoid it, can’t pretend it’s not happening - though all of those options can sound so wonderfully inviting.

In order to navigate well through transitions, self-care becomes exceptionally important but it also becomes less valued and/or, often, forgotten. But let me be clear, here. This has less to do with you (although I very much value your wellbeing and health) than it has to do with our world.

The obvious value of self-care is that we feel better. We feel more full, more available, more ready to meet life as it is. We are taken care of. We are healthy. We are rested. We are inspired. We are supported. We are engaged.

But the hidden value of self-care is that because we are more available, more able to meet life on life’s terms, we are able to show up in greater ways, with more energy, more power, and more potential. We can think more clearly, stand more strongly, be more courageous. We can not only do this for ourselves but we can do it for others. And we can do it with a deeper sense of connectedness and compassion; with kindness and gentle fierceness; with the capability to hold in our hearts what we know to be true.

I encourage you to find small ways, every day, to take care of yourself. Take a break from social media, sit outside for a few moments and, in whatever way you can, experience the natural world, move your body, listen for quiet, hug the people you love, feed your spiritual self, have coffee with someone who grounds you or inspires you, laugh…

Take care of yourself. The world needs the fullest-you right now.

 

What is the Value of Strength? What is the Value of Flexibility?

The external form is often what is highlighted and celebrated in the world of yoga. For many years, I practiced and practiced the form, feeling a sense of accomplishment, a sense of growth, finding my power to "overcome" or to just "be" with the intensity of the physical practice. I was eager to evolve, in a physical sense, believing that, if I did, I would also evolved in a mental, emotional, and spiritual sense. I thought that if I had the capacity to hold the {fill in the blank} arm balance longer, I could muster up the same endurance and perseverance to hold myself together in life's challenges. I thought that if I could find the strength to overcome the fear of turning myself upside down, that that same strength would show up when life turned upside down. That's the modern yoga teacher's rhetoric. It was mine, as well....

...that is, until life broke me down. Like really broke me down. And I scrambled back to those shapes and forms I made before with my body, but they didn't seem to be doing much of anything at all. Where was that strength and flexibility that I worked so hard to achieve? Why was I lacking inner stability and agility? Didn't I master those things? 

Inner stability and inner agility come from a knowing of one's self/Self. A knowing that comes by way of experiencing one's being. Yoga has always been intended to direct us there. It has always been, first and foremost, a spiritual practice in the sense that we have an opportunity to learn about who and what we are at our essence. Our deep, experiential knowing of that is what translates to inner strength/stability and flexibility/agility. That's it. Nothing else is needed. I used to joke with my yoga students, as they worked hard at learning to kick up to handstands, that if we think the handstand, itself, is what brings us to that inner state, we will find ourselves sorely mistaken when we get injured or as we inevitably age and are no longer able to "do" the thing that we think created the experience...

So, next time you hold that pose or reach for your toes, ask yourself, what's there? What's there that's not already here? And whatever you think is there, see if you can find it here. In this moment. With this breath. We are already whole. We are already complete. We are already stable and inherently agile at our core.

Pain & Change: Life's Giant Strainer...

I’ve been through both sad, difficult things as well as big changes in the past couple of months. I’m certain I'm not unique in this truth. And I’ve been doing some thinking about a couple of related things: a) how will I make it through and what new insight or wisdom will be awaiting me when I arrive and b) quality vs. quantity and what does that mean in life. So I thought I’d share a few thoughts on...

Why pain, difficulty and just straight-up change is like a giant strainer…

Bare with me here... As many of you who've worked with me, I'm big on metaphors :)

When we find our selves in a struggle, in a life change (big or small), in some dark shadow of difficulty or pain it’s important to remember that we’re being held not in a comfortable, soft bed, or an all-encompassing hand or hug. Nope.  At least it doesn’t feel that way to me… I liken it more to being tossed into a giant metal strainer (with holes that vary depending on the change/pain/difficulty-level). A giant, ever-loving and all-knowing filter. It sure as heck is not comfortable to be there. It can feel hard and cold and lonely. In fact it can feel downright confusing. You may try to scramble up the slopes to reach your old normal. Frustrated as you slip down, again and again and again. You may cling to the side – if you could just hold on to THIS stage, and not drop all the way down, you think, you could manage here.

But if you can loosen your grip and drop down, just let yourself fall, you realize that when you get through it – in whatever way, shape, or form – and what you get through it with is the stuff that matters more, it’s the stuff you value most, your greatest supports. The rest has been filtered out. You end up, without even having to decide who and what and how, with quality over quantity.

So fear not change. Fear not difficulty. Fear not the letting go of what was because right on the other side of that is what is… your new normal – one that is more rich, more full, more supported. And don’t forget that there’s no standard timeline for this process… Slow down, watch for when you’re scrambling back towards what was, or trying to delay the fall. Take a deep breath. And another. Loosen your grip and let it be.

Downward and onward, my loves. 

<3 E

In Her Words

As many of you know, I have been providing life coaching to an inmate (Jennifer) at the Richmond City Jail. I usually meet with clients 1x/week, often for 4-12 weeks, depending on what they're working on and how much support they need to make the desired change. Jenn knows that she will be transferred to prison soon, where she will serve the remaining two years of her sentence. She doesn't, however, know exactly when since inmates are notified at 4am on the day of their transfer. Because of this we have been accelerating her process and have been meeting twice weekly for the past 2 1/2 months. 

Back in June, I asked Jenn if she would be willing to write a little about about her experience working with me. When I saw her at our next meeting, she handed me a 4-page, perfectly hand-written letter. I was floored by what she wrote. She's given me permission to share it with you.... 

 

As I sit here thinking about [working with] Ellie, all I can do is smile. I can’t describe my gratitude for her in words. It’s a feeling that I haven’t figured out just yet. It just is.

 

I met Ellie in a yoga class and evidently she seen something in me that I didn’t. I was almost afraid to expose myself to her because I didn’t want her to look at me different and I hate rejection. In a weird way I feel like it was my first challenge. I was thinking, “Let me tell her these crazy things so she won’t come back,” but that’s not how it went down. Ellie came full throttle, like “Ok, let’s work through this.”

 

I came from a broken home of violent alcoholics and addicts. I’m not sure if I ever really belonged anywhere. And who I was depended on who I was around. There were a lot of things I never understood about myself. It was a crazy life and it felt normal.

 

Working with Ellie has helped me to realize that there are different options and that my definition of freedom has kept me hostage. All of the issues that I’ve brought to the table suddenly don’t seem so intimidating. One of the best parts of working with Ellie is how encouraging she is. When we’re working through something and I get into that “Oh my gosh, I suck” mode, she’s like “wait a minute, you don’t suck, you’re not alone and let’s work on this.”

 

Her approach is almost captivating. I’m not afraid to be honest with her. She has never judged me. We’ve laughed, I’ve cried, she understood and when the sessions are over I leave the room feeling like a better Jennifer. It’s not an hour of her reading out of a book. It’s an hour of her taking the time to help me understand the how and whys of my behaviors and helping me heal. She’s taught me some valuable lessons. Holding myself accountable and being aware of my patterns are a few of the things that hit home for me. How did Ellie know those things? Because she listens and cares enough to remember. She doesn’t write everything down. I appreciate the tools that she’s showed me and she continues to push me in the right direction.

 

I look forward to my visits with her. I am so grateful to have finally met someone who genuinely cares about me enough to work with me and not just rush me through. She makes a difference and believes that people can change. Everybody needs an “Ellie.”

 

Respectfully,

Jennifer H.

 

If you are interested and able (to know anyone who might be interested) in helping to fund my coaching work with Jenn (and other women at the City Jail), I am actively (and humbly) accepting donations via GoFundMe

The Pursuit of Freedom

Monday mornings: for the past 4-5 months or so, I voluntarily show up to teacher my first class of the day on the first day of the week. I drive to a part of town I had never been to before I started and never go to at any other time of my regular life. I bring only my driver’s license, Yoga Nidra book, and yoga mat. I walk through a metal detector while my yoga mat and Yoga Nidra book slide through the airport-like scanner. After trading my driver’s license for a badge, I wait anywhere from 5-20 minutes for my escort who winds me through a maze of hallways and ID-activated elevators and through doorway where one door slides closed and locks before the other opens, to the 3rd floor. I make my way down the hall to a locked room, I push tables to the periphery of the room and stack chairs out of the way and wait.

 

When my students arrive, we exchange greetings like “hello,” “good morning” and the occasional “how are you,” which feels uncomfortable considering their circumstances. Though, I guess we all have better and worse days…

 

The only thing I officially know about them are their first names – not what they did or how long they’ve been here. Not how long they will be or where they will go next (not that they would know, if I asked). What I un-officially know is that they’re all there because they may (or may not) have done something illegal, they’re awaiting decisions about whether they’ll stay there (and for how long), be sent to prison (and for how long) or if they’ll be released back into the life that is continuing to go on around them, outside of the walls of the building. I also know that they all have experienced severe trauma in many forms and throughout the duration of their lives and, my guess is, that none have had any support in helping to process the trauma and chaotic situations they’ve come to know as “normal.” They’ve done bad things, some much worse than others, and they’re also victims of shocking experiences. Both are true. Neither are excuses.

 

As they unroll their mats and I ask them what they need and how they want to work. The answer is always tired… tired… no energy. That, and “back” – low back, mid-back, upper-back. So, we usually spend 20-30 minutes with a simple asana practice with the hopes of alleviating some of the tension and discomfort in the body as well as to begin to help them strengthen their attention, gain some self-awareness, and to begin to sit with discomfort. Some women do the whole thing, many move the floor after the first few minutes, laying down and sporadically doing some of the movements that the group is doing.

 

Eventually we move into a Yoga Nidra practice. The 30+ minutes of guided, deep relaxation with systematic direction of consciousness is how I’ve chosen to use the bulk of our time together. One hour of yoga nidra practice is the equivalent of 4-hours of deep sleep, so giving these ladies what works out to be like a 2-hour deep sleep feels like the greatest offering I can make. Though they’re not supposed to sleep, many end up rolling their sides, arms tucked inside their jumpsuits, into the fetal position where they fall deeply asleep. Occasionally, we work with meditation.

 

Towards the end, I always ask them if they have questions or experiences they’d like to share. Often 1 or 2 will share. We talk about feeling rested, about being exhausted, about not know what to expect. We talk about how pretending we’re not feeling an emotion is really actually suppression – which I compared to trying to hold a lid over a steaming pot of water and, in recognition, one woman compared to having a lighter explode in your face while smoking crack; different truths describing the same internal experience. We talk about how our thoughts and internal stories are often habitual and how they can affect us for days, weeks, and years even after the event has happened – how we perpetuate those experiences by reliving them over and over again… shaping our current reality. One woman saw clearly a story that she’s held onto since 1984.

 

My hope is to continue this work. To continue utilizing the tools of yoga and meditation to help these women increase their self-awareness in some capacity, to begin to see how their internal reactions and responses are shaped by their experiences and to see that that’s not the only possibility, to guide them – even if momentarily – toward experiences of themselves that are other than what they’ve known so that they can begin to break free of behaviors and actions that harm themselves and others. This is the pursuit of the ultimate freedom.

 

Tomorrow, I will begin pro bono life coaching with one inmate. We are condensing as many sessions into a short period of time because we don’t know how long she’ll be at the jail before being moved to another correctional facility or how long after that before she’ll be back home with her children. Her wish is to find a way to release the pain, the rage, the intense reactionary habit so that she can show up for her kids and teach them by example. My wish is to help her do that.

 

If you are interested in learning more about my work at the City Jail or if you are interested in financially supporting this work so that I can extend my reach to more women, please donate at www.gofundme.com/inmatecoaching or, as always, if you have questions reach out to me via email – ellie@ellieburke.life

 

<3 E

 

 

 

You Get What You Get And Don’t Have a Fit

In our house, my kids can often be heard saying, “You get what you get and don’t have a fit.” My husband and I aren’t sure where this expression came from (school, most likely) but we kind of love the way they say it -- a lighthearted reminder to basically not be grumpy about what you “get” in any given situation.

 

The other day, in one of my other roles working with HandsOnRVA on a an innovative service-learning initiative with Capital One executives, I had the good fortune of sitting in on an informal lecture about the issues surrounding workforce development, including the basics of what people need in order to succeed. So much of what lecturer Jamison Manion had to say was like hearing my self coaching or teaching yoga but in an entirely different framework…{insert my favorite catchall phrase right here: truth is one, paths are many}.

 

One of the things that he said that struck me the most was, “Every system is designed perfectly to get the results you get.” Or, if I were to adapt it a bit: you get what you get {because your system was perfectly designed to get it} so don’t have a fit {just see what needs to be changed in the system}.

 

So tell me:

·      What’s your system (related to self-care, relationships, well-being, work, exercise, family, health, you name it!)? If you think you don’t have one, you do: the lack of a system is a system in and of itself.

·      Are you getting the results you want? If yes, great! Stay attentive to the system incase you begin to get creaky parts or breakdowns in unexpected places.

·      If not, are you having a fit?  (Keep in mind here that what my children’s “fits” look like on the outside are more likely (though not always) reflected as internal behavior in adults – think of what all of these look and feel like on the inside pouting, feet-stomping, giving up, throwing in the towel, blaming self/others/situations).

·      Can you take a closer look at the system that you’ve created that is getting the results you’re getting, perfectly? Really break it down, see all the parts, analyze, hypothesize, get curious, see nothing as non-negotiable.

·      Maybe start with the results that you are hoping for and work backwards to see if each element of your system is actually doing what it’s intended -- getting you where you’re hoping to be?

 

You get what you get {because your system was perfectly designed to get it} so don’t have a fit {just see what needs to be changed in the system}.

What's Actually Needed?

There’s a quote that I read recently in a novel that says, “When given the choice of being right or being kind, choose kind.” While I love this, for so many reasons, for the sake of exploring something here with you, I’m going to change it to: When given the choice of being right or being open, be open.

 

And this is why…

 

When we think we know, we go in to a situation, conversation, scenario with a very limited and closed perspective. We’re already right, we know how to proceed, how to go about it, what to say, how to do it… or so we think. This is not only limiting to us, but it’s limiting to the whole world (from the personal, 1:1-level to the neighbor-level, to the community-level, and on out from there). Every moment has literally limitless possibilities and by contracting around one (or maybe two) of your right ones you create a form of tunnel vision for yourself. Picture yourself wearing horse-blinders. Or, looking through binoculars that can’t move. You get the idea.

 

When we’re able to go in to a moment or situation completely open, however, without the mind-clutter of stories, should/shouldn’ts, opinions and judgments already in tact, we are able to clearly see what IS, the truth of any given moment, situation or circumstance. That narrow tunnel has now widened and from there, we are move available to see what’s needed (if anything at all) and what the possibilities are.

 

So, how do we come in open and free of a pre-conceived idea? First, you have to be willing to see that, at any given moment, you’ve already formed an idea or opinion that you believe is right and to consider that it may or may not be. After you’ve cultivated the willingness to be wrong (I know, I know, it’s a tough one, ego), you keep yourself in the “I don’t know” camp as you observe what’s in front of you. As you take in the situation you ask yourself, what’s really true here? What’s actually needed? And what do I have the capacity to offer? No judgment (or yourself or others), just seeing and observing.

 

If there’s a willingness to drop your “rightness,” that which is actually needed will become clear. Because you are open, you will have the capacity to see it, hear it, sense it or, because you are available and receptive, it will be offered directly to you.

 

When given the option of being right or being open, be open.

 

Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

 

<3 e.