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The Zen of Wholehearted Living

The Zen of Wholehearted Living

January 2019

I love to reflect on the past months and set new intentions for a fresh start at the New Year. When I had a business and full house to run, my goals were very tangible metrics with real-time results. Nowadays, I find more pleasure in gentle reminders of how I want to move in this world, of how my only true intention is to live my highest good each day. I do this very simply–by channeling the best energy I can surround myself with, my posse of wholehearted people.

Brené Brown, PhD, coined the phrase ‘wholehearted living’ in her groundbreaking research. Her willingness to midwife vulnerability and shame into the lexicon of everyday conversation has coaxed more people to contemplate these scary sounding words. If you haven’t met Dr. Brown yet, I suggest starting with her audible book The Power of Vulnerability to learn more from this wise and witty scholar.

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I’ve read and written so much about the quest for self-knowledge. Ever since I was young, I have been fascinated with human behavior and motivation–I was even a psychology major in college. Here is a composite of some of the wisdom I have gathered over time. These are qualities of wholehearted people that I love, and aspire to learn for myself. Like the lovely lotus flower that grows humbly in the mud, determined intention yields beautiful results.


1. Wholehearted people are hard-wired for kindness and confidence. They are naturally low-key and don’t feel the need to trigger drama or suck all the air out of the room to get attention. Neither do they feel the need to criticize others, or make jokes at the expense of someone else. They own their feelings and feel free to express them appropriately; they can share honestly with others. Wholehearted people practice self-reflection and intention: they work on their patterns and behaviors striving for higher levels of kindness and generosity as a process, welcoming awkwardness and vulnerability as partners in their growth process.

2. Wholehearted people are emotional risk takers. They read and learn about themselves, they understand tangible concepts like vulnerability, shame, guilt, and patterns self-sabotage. They know how to identify their personal weaknesses and triggers. They know that vulnerability is the power tool of courage. They are quietly confident and humbly powerful.

3. Wholehearted people have evolved their knowledge of self and determined their personal core values, living by them assiduously. They have custom-programmed the personal software that runs their lives in accordance with their authentic self. They live in relative peace. When bumps arise, their emotional integrity defaults to their core values for assistance in decision-making at critical junctures. St. Augustine said, 'We sin when we have our loves out of order.' In practical terms, this means problems arise when we make decisions or live in conflict with our core values. Some loves/values are higher, like friendship over gossip, or self-care over social media, so don't go putting your loves out of order. Ask, on a daily basis 'Am I spending my time/attention/love on my highest good?' (And if not–why not?)

4. Wholehearted people know about the importance of self-care, boundaries, and living a life of integrity. They know how to ask for help. They have high standards and strive for excellence, not perfection. Excellence is flowing and full of possibilities. Perfection is strangling and full of certainties. (Perfection is just fear in Jimmy Choo shoes!) Wholehearted folks have a mature perspective and know when to fight and when to accept circumstances gracefully—'it is what it is' is their mantra for diffusing drama and maintaining positive momentum. They don't rehash the past or rehearse the future; they live life with as much joy, grace, curiosity, and gratitude as possible–in the present moment.

5. Wholehearted people live life embedded with enrichment: learning, growing, giving, sharing, experiencing, adventuring, loving, playing, and napping. They are curious and openhearted. Their fuel is gratitude, kindness, and generosity. They don't just share a few bucks or a hot coffee with someone in need, they share their humanity with empathy and intimacy: taking the time to look people in the eye, to listen, to hear their story, or to share a laugh together. They get it. They are authentic in real time, taking precious moments to go to deeper and more gratifying levels. They surround themselves with emotionally secure, values-driven people and they don't waste their time on frivolous drama. Loving kindness, compassion, empathy, humor, and gratitude are their watchwords.

6. Wholehearted people are mature, they see the big picture and know how to delay gratification and work hard for a greater goal. They know how to have difficult conversations, sticking to the facts and not attacking personally. They can disagree without being disagreeable, collapsing, holding a grudge, or ghosting. They don't take things personally. Louise Penny talks about the four wisdoms in all of her amazing mystery novels. Wholehearted people employ the four wisdoms with ease and regularity: 'I’m sorry.' 'I don’t know.' 'I need help.' 'I was wrong.' They have access to these gems because they are self-aware and not ruled by their shame triggers.

7. Wholehearted people make for great friends. They are loyal, discreet, trust-vaults whom we can spill our miserable spewing guts to. We can be vulnerable with them and gain self-awareness through their loving lens. They fill our hearts up with comfort, humor, and good times. They have our backs. They remind us of our goodness and always give us the benefit of the doubt. They know how to listen and not try to fix things. During the tough times they don’t just superficially sympathize, they bring the pizza and the chocolate and get down in the foxhole with us, genuinely empathizing our plight.

8.  What does a wholehearted person do when something is irritating them or there is a problem to solve? The wholehearted person knows to look inward, into their heart to discover the true source of conflict—there is something inside that needs working out. Other people? The ones who are bugging the bejesus out of us? They are simply messengers alerting us to the challenges at hand. Pay attention–everything is either a clue or a test.

Here are the intentions for wholehearted living that I am practicing in 2019:

1. Try to be a better listener—and don't be a fixer! Here's a humorous example of how to do this.

2. Embrace silence. I don't always have to have my say or interrupt people with my enthusiasms. Quiet is the new powerful.

3. BE in the moment—take things one day at a time and don't feel the need to forecast or plan everything—let things evolve and develop. Allow for the possibility of surprise. Stay open for joy.

4. Live large with unadulterated curiosity and passion.

5. Find the way, every-day, to live core life values and to love myself with deep self-care in every choice I make. The more I love myself, the more I can love others.

6. Devote the play hours to unstructured time or creative enjoyment: try a new recipe, practice photography, read, nap, daily meditation, connect and correspond with friends, read, nap, watch a movie or documentary, read, nap, play cribbage or doodle, lose track of time. Be silly.

7. Take the Rx cure for the 'please disease'. I don't have to over-perform for everyone else. I don't have to be a super-person to be worthy. When I am over-subscribed, stressed-out, and feeling like a martyr–HELLO! These are huge flashing signs that I am on my way to a please disease/suffer-fest/melt-down.

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Success will give us confidence in our twenties but it won't teach us much after that. We learn all the important things from heartbreak, betrayal, striving, and disappointments. In order for that growth to evolve it's vital to be a risk-taker and to stay open to the possibility of unpleasant experiences as they arise. Don't squelch them down, ghost them, or be humiliated by them—work with them. Be grateful for them. That's where the valuable lessons are and that's what forms a true, audacious character living a wholehearted life. It’s challenging—my natural inclination is to tamp down the unpleasantness of scary feelings as quickly as possible, but I am trying to stay more open and let my emotional pendulum swing a little wider so that I can process more. I want to feel not only the pain–I want to feel a lot more MORE JOY, too!

Humans are imperfect bobbling masses just trying to hang in there on their own, and in community. Practicing wholehearted principles is a path to staying connected and begins with a simple start: BE your own best friend. BE the kind of loving person who is dependable and true to self and others. BE in this moment. Namaste.


I’d love to hear from you—feel free to send your comments to me!

Lentil Stuffed Delicata Squash (V)

Lentil Stuffed Delicata Squash (V)

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