Integral Life Coaching


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Self-Deception: Do We All Do It? Is It Good, Bad, or Both?

(1526 words)

Self-deception has been a recent mind-provoking concept to me. I needed to read and write about it. How we lie to ourselves and accept the lies and overtime we believe they are the truth and not the root of our sufferings. 

With self-deception, we try to hide our flaws and make a good self-image that makes us feel like a better person.

But don’t we often say, “Fake it to make it”? Are there occasions that self-deception can play a positive role? When old beliefs create a barrier and try to convince me that I am not good enough and I believe it because I don’t know better, maybe fake confidence can help me to break through the barriers! 

Self-deception like any other phenomena in life has both sides of the coin. It’s that how we draw the truth from either side.

Bringing a systematic and integral approach to self-deception, we want to be able to recognize the act of self-deception and bring a perspective to it to see the bigger picture. The bigger the perspective becomes, the better it shows us that we don’t have to be fake, and our real self is as accepted as possible. We will be able to see that everyone has flaws and that is just simply being human or any creature. Do we question a tree’s appearance because of a few dried branches? 

In an integral approach, we see ourselves as part of a bigger system and try to remind ourselves of the interconnection between us and the system we live in, the impacts of the system on us and the impacts we create on the system.

If I lie and pretend to myself and others that I am wealthy, then others’ expectations will be different, and I have to lie more every day. If I pretend that I am physically strong while really feeling weak and tired, others count on me as strong and when I break, it impacts others’ lives who counted on my support. If I pretend that I am always right and never make a mistake, after a while other people don’t trust me and my relationships become shallow, and I feel lonely. If I deny any tension in a relationship and pretend everything is smooth, would the tension go away? How about the wrong relationship I stayed in longer that I should have? We know the true answer to most of these questions but there are many times we prefer to be self-deceiver and choose a shortcut to avoid being distracted from our distractions in life; especially when we think we know everything!

And not only that, despite the quick gratification we gain, constant lying to ourselves could create anxiety and release excess cortisol and adrenaline that impact the health of our nerve system and physical being. It takes away the energy that we could spend on actualizing more of our potential. 

In dealing with self-deception, we could live with outdated beliefs and values. So, we may force our environment to follow us or at least we make it uncomfortable for others who have other beliefs and values. Our outdated beliefs create habits that are mostly disturbing, and we think our beliefs are the truth.

In the 70s and 80s working long hours and being busy on a job was established as a value to be a great employee. Today newer generations value work-life balance and would like to get more out of their potential in different ways other than focusing only on their jobs. How many of us deal with this conflict of value in our work environment? 

Self-deception has so many layers of complexity especially when it reaches some life routines. I know my cell phone that I touch every minute of my life is made of material that is mined by child-labor, I look for opportunities to raise voice and support organizations against child-labor. And yet, I need a newer phone because I live in a society that is filled with status-oriented advertisements that falsely convince me a happy life full of merchandize is what I need! Is it? You see the paradox? 

How about voting for a political figure who could create more harm for the society as a whole but do one good thing in the small community I live in?

You see how complicated it could be especially under the current economic system we live in!?

Anyway, self-deception is a self-defense mechanism that is supposedly to make us feel better about our life. But it doesn’t work, it back lashes, and eventually makes us feel dissatisfied, uncomfortable, and even unsafe.

Here are examples of self-deception mechanisms that we subconsciously and habitually use in our everyday life. This is extracted from Self Deception – Part 2 – 60+ Self-Deception Mechanisms by Actualized.org:

  • I think I got reality figured out
  • I think my mind never lies to me
  • Underestimating the power of self-deception in my everyday life
  • Current science is all the fact and if I don’t understand something scientifically it doesn’t exist
  • Or I believe in all of thoughts my mind creates.

In his book Thinking, Fast & Slow, Daniel Kahneman says, “The confidence that individuals have in their beliefs depends mostly on the quality of the story they can tell about what they see, even if they see little.” In simpler words it means we assume our perception of the world is the ultimate reality and there is no other reality other than what we see. Where, in fact, there are countless realities or aspects of a reality based on people’s perception.

Our perception – explained in How Emotions Are Made book review – is constructed based on our survival beliefs – many of them have been shaped as our cognitive biases, life experiences, distorted memories, cultural norms, and social realities, which are usually very subjective and narrow. Kendra Cherry explains the cognitive biases and how to deal with them in this article very well. It is up to us to take responsibility and bring those unconscious biases to the consciousness of our lives.

The more we can clean our lenses to reality and practice self-awareness, the better we can work on the self-deception beliefs in our life. We can enhance our perceptions. It is a lifelong practice that we need to commit to with self-compassion. The gentler we are with ourselves, the better we see the beliefs that lead us to lying to ourselves. Then with more self-kindness and self-acceptance, we can try to gradually change those beliefs and their related habits. Small

steps are always more doable and eventually will make a long path. The more we bring our subconscious to the light of consciousness, the freer we live. 

And why self-compassion? Because research studies show that self-deception could be mostly based on subconscious beliefs and even part of our biological evolution to survive that is witnessed in other mammals too. So, let’s be kind to ourselves and find how we can contribute to the rest of the evolutionary process since in so many cases, self-deception no longer serves us. It probably did as a survival mechanism many thousand years ago, but it is time to begin the change to survive in the new era. It is beyond me and you and belongs to all of us. Let’s all try to do our best. Evolution continues… 

We just have to make sure we don’t mistake self-compassion with justifying our deceiving behavior. 

Here is my suggestion to deal with this phenomenon. Next time we hear the soft voice coming from our hearts on any of our actions, let’s pay attention to it rather than silencing it. Look at the questions below. Allow the voice to get louder by contemplating on these questions.

Repeating this cycle and answering these questions can widen our perspective to help changing our old habits and obsolete beliefs over time. Using our analytical skills and critical thinking will help us to make a better world for ourselves. Don’t worry about doing it perfectly the first time. Just try your best and repeat it every time you hear the inner voice. Listen to it. Awareness is the first step. We can do it! 

Awareness part:

  • Am I experiencing a powerful unpleasant feeling? Am I uncomfortable?
  • Am I feeling like a victim?
  • Am I feeling guilty?
  • Am I feeling powerless?
  • Am I feeling too anxious about the matter?
  • Am I trying to change someone else?
  • Am I responsible for any part of this problem?
  • Am I justifying my action feeling a short-lived pleasure or confidence?
  • Am I self-deceiving?

Analysis part:

  • What does my reaction say about me? 
  • How can I see other aspects of this event? From others’ point of view? Imagining different outcomes?
  • How much do I know about other characters in this story? (If there are any)
  • Is my action along with my values? My morality?
  • What habits are behind it?
  • What beliefs support those habits?
  • Do I agree with those beliefs?
  • Where do I sense it in my body?
  • What can I do? What skills do I need to develop to change those beliefs? What’s the next first small step for me?

I will be honored, if I can be a help as a coach to company you through this journey.

Including a few good links to read and watch on the concept of self-deception:

The Psychology of Self-Deception

Self-Deception 23/30 The Problem of Not Knowing You Have a Problem

To get more to the philosophical side of it, read Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Self Deception

Seeing it from Jungian analyst point of view as the Trickster archetype 

Let’s create more clarity on our reality,

Shabnam

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Book Review: How Emotions Are Made By Lisa Feldman Barrett

(864 words)

What I learned from How Emotions Are Made:

In this book, Lisa Barrett offers the results of her scientific study in her lab bringing the most recent neuroscience explorations to understand how our bodies including our brains work to make emotions. 

In the journey of this book, we learn how one brain with notions such as concepts, social reality, and affective realism can create many minds. How our emotions are made is the question.

Barrett argues emotions are concepts that we learn as we grow based on what we get exposed to. Emotions are not universal. Depending on the environment and our exposure to life we could have different understanding of different emotions and express them differently. It is important for each one of us to understand that the emotion represented by a common name like sadness could be experienced and expressed differently by different people. She argues that our brain perception is also affected by our mood that is called Affect in this study. She brings examples of studies on judges who approved more paroles after lunch compared to before when they felt hungry. 

Barrett mentions in her book, “What’s innate is that humans use concepts to build social reality, and social reality, in turn, wires the brain. Emotions are very real creations of social reality, made possible by the human brain in concert with other human brains.” Us, humans constantly create new social realities based on our new beliefs.  

As she describes, affective realism is the phenomenon that you experience what you believe. And then she writes, “Nobody can completely escape the affective realism. Your own perceptions are not like a photograph of the world. They are not even a painting of photographic quality, like a Vermeer. They are more like a Van Gogh or Monet.” Impressionism is the best each one of us can do to see our version of reality.

Based on the stimulus inside or outside, we could experience a mix of emotions that could be hard to understand, let alone to regulate them. How can we understand our mixed emotions that our brain experiences? Barret suggests that we need to come up with new concepts such as chipslessness where we enjoy eating chips while we feel guilty and when we get to the last piece, we feel disappointed and relieved at the same time. Or how about the power of mixed emotions for an immigrant feeling safe and even relieved by not being in her motherland, while heartbroken watching her country facing hardship, and feeling helpless that she cannot stop the violence in her land. There are unlimited numbers of these mixed emotional experiences that could be even unique to each person. We need to learn how to recognize our emotions, conceptualize the experience, and accept them before taking any action or shaming ourselves on the contradiction of our emotions. 

To understand our emotions better and to practice self-regulation, it is necessary to understand the complexity of what happens to our body when emotions are aroused. 

When we understand better how our emotions are made, then we need to learn how to regulate them to build a flourishing life. Barrett introduces the concept of body budget that is constantly calculated by our brain based on moment-to-moment activities and our perceptions based on our previous experiences. Other variables in calculating our body budgets are the genes we inherited as well as our perception of reality and the relationship with other humans around us and what their brains’ perceptions bring to us. 

In general, we replenish our body budget by eating, drinking, and sleeping and reduce our body spending by relaxing and spending time with loved ones. 

Other budget balancing activities suggested in this book are included, getting a massage, practicing Yoga, having house plants, making our living environment tidy, having regular meet up with people who we enjoy their presence, watch a sad movie that gives us a good cry, walk in nature, handy crafts, learn a new skill or language, adopt a pet, get up and move, change your location, and learn what habits don’t serve you anymore and practice changing them. 

Other ways to replenish your body budget could be keeping track of the positive events in a day and what bring a smile to you. When possible, recategorization of our emotions is another way of regulating our body budget. For example, the anxiety felt in our gut for having an exam could be recategorized to feeling energy and determination.

What I’d like to be able to do is bring this concept offered in this book together with The Language of Emotions by Karla McLaren, and the research study on “An Atlas of The Human Body That Maps Where We Feel Emotions”. The tree studies offer depth of understanding on our emotions from different stand points yet provide overlap. For us to understand our emotions and regulate them in order to live from a connected state of being rather than impulsive and reactive, we need to understand how emotions are made, where and how we sense them in our body, and what message each emotion represents. That understanding helps us to learn what practices could help each of us – uniquely – to regulate our emotions and develop deeper wisdom.

Let’s create more clarity on our reality,

Shabnam


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Our Nonverbal Communication

What I learned from Leadership Embodiment Book By Wendy Palmer and Janet Crawford (954 words)

“The nonverbal is a huge part of the communication for us human beings.” Wendy Palmer starts one of her speaking events.

In Leadership Embodiment we learn that the awareness of the vibe and body language is important. By standing straight, shoulders relaxed, and body at ease, our body releases oxytocin and testosterone. Janet Crawford backs up this concept in the second section of the book. She explains “What’s clear is that there is an intimate interplay between gesture and neurotransmitters, the chemicals that determine our emotional states. It is not an accident that we feel more powerful when we stand tall. In very short order, that stance increases our testosterone levels, equating with higher confidence.”

Leadership Embodiment (LE) introduces an essential concept on mind-body connection, the important role of our body in our communications. Palmer suggests the connection between LE and the Mirror Neurons theory. Mirror Neuron theory indicates that bodies mirror each other subconsciously when they are communicating, and it impacts the posture of the body and consequently the emotions aroused in the person. In short people pick up each other’s moods from body language. LE brings awareness to this phenomenon and suggests practices that could help deeper connections with others and with life.

LE teaches us about personal space and expanding it to include others and to switch from personality dominated body pose to centered body pose. The simple practice of noticing, standing, or sitting up right where your head, heart and core are aligned and relaxed can go a long way. It doesn’t mean that always sit up or stand straight because we get distracted or stressed during the day, but the trick is not to remain stressed. We need tools to use stress as a source of strength. The sooner we notice the easier we can transform it to strength. However, we don’t want to wait until we are stressed and do the practice. We need to practice centering all the time. The more we practice the deeper the body remembers it.

Centering practice as mentioned in the book could be as simple as 5 to 20 seconds of 4 steps each time.

  1. Inhale and uplift the posture
  2. Exhale slowly and relax shoulders
  3. Balance in according to gravity
  4. Expand personal space to feel the room

You can feel an ease immediately and the more you practice the deeper you sense the ease in your body that results more confidence and broader perspective.

Palmer also offers a practice in communication when a person being pushy towards the other. You can watch this video and practice it with friends. When someone begin to put pressure in us in any type of communication, we tend to have a posture that is either collapsed to make us feel smaller or chest extended that could make us feel defensive. In this practice, she teaches us to bring awareness to our posture, switch to a straight posture, and look further than the person to make our perspective bigger.

She even goes as far as when we don’t have the energy to expand ourselves. She explains, “I’ll invite someone with great wisdom, kindness, and strength to come through me with their energy. I use that person’s energy for my inspiration.”

Palmer emphasizes that repetition is the key to create a new habit. She suggests setting regular short practices to make the new habit by checking our muscles tension at least 10 times per day to notice which muscle groups are tense, and to notice when our head, heart, and core are not aligned, and we are in personality dominated posture. Then we can shift to center.

Centering practice is a small practice that can bring big results into our lives. In the second section of the book Crawford stands, “Leadership Embodiment practices help us develop a fine level of somatic awareness with regard to our emotional state. We can name the emotion we are experiencing and reshape our bodies to transform our emotional expression.” And then she clears that with saying, “Leadership Embodiment practices give us repeated somatic experience of navigating formerly overwhelming neural triggers in a more resourceful way, allowing the brain to record previous triggers as less dangerous than they were once experienced. As we practice with Leadership Embodiment tools, we are training our nervous system that we can withstand the input.”

The more we practice centering and expanding our personal space, the more we include others in our space with confidence and respect that doesn’t cross our boundaries. When we allow bigger space, then we could even put people’s aggression in that space rather than directly in our body. Then we can look at it objectively. And others also mirror our body posture and communicate through connectedness. There will be more response than reaction and the ripple effect of it could make a better environment. Palmer mentions that best leaders lead with warmth of oxytocin, confidence of testosterone, and the strength on their back. Doesn’t every one of us need to cultivate self-leadership?

I have benefited of doing this practice feeling the change in my body. I encourage friends, family members and clients to practice it. Throughout the session with a client, I remember this a few times and switch to centered posture. It is interesting to see the subtle effect of it on the other person. I think this book could be a great starting point for somatic awareness especially for people who are not familiar with it at all.

As my mentor coach shared this video with me, I encourage others to watch it as well. Watching Wendy Palmer and her beautiful body language gives the book a deeper effect.

Let’s celebrate life!

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How Does Life Coaching Help Personal growth?

(683 words – 4.5 minutes read)

Human growth is about enhancing our consciousness and gaining more analytical skills – by accessing to our newer parts of the brain – to understand reality with more clarity to actualize more and more of our potential.

When it comes to self-growth, there is no lack of quality resources these days. Many institutes are providing a variety of paths that help tremendously to find one’s unique journey of self-development. But how can a coach help you in this path?

We humans have the ability to create a story for every life event based on our perceptions. To know how comprehensive our stories are, we share them with others. Others can reflect to us, to see what we have not seen in our stories and how fragmented they are from the whole reality. This is where a life coach can help as a confidant and mirror to us by listening to our stories and helping us expand our perspective on our story. Working with a coach allows us to open our hearts in a safe environment. The coach listens and offers techniques and practices that help us see life with a broader view with multi-dimensional characters in our story acting influenced by the dynamic of the environment. The life coach helps us see ourselves in the big picture of life and how we play our roles in each story.

Telling our story changes the brain chemistry toward more connection and puts a structure on our story. The coach who is attentively and compassionately listening to us will offer the practices that can help us to gradually know ourselves better and change the habits that no longer serve us. A life coach is a partner, a team member, who helps us to set the ship sail and to continue our journey to a flourishing life. A life coach can stay with us until we have enough self-awareness and self-acceptance to enable us to ground ourselves during good and bad weather and lead our ship safely and with resiliency.

In a coaching session, we look at each story from different points of view and will answer questions such as: who am I at this moment of my life? Who are others to me? How am I living now? What are the triggers that unsettle me emotionally and change my mood? What tools am I applying to live my life? Who do we want to become and how do we want to live our life from now on? Then we try to find answers to those questions to build a new “me”.

A coach helps us evaluate the skills we have developed through our cognitive, emotional, and somatic intelligences and helps us create opportunities to deepen our abilities for a healthier lifestyle. The coach supports us recognize our kneejerk reactions to our hot buttons and learn more about connecting to our analytical states which will empowers us to understand how to calm our nerve system. We learn how to recognize different mixes of emotions by their sensations in our body and how to regulate them, advancing our analytical skills.

I don’t think it is an exaggeration if I say that many of us think self-criticizing thoughts motivate us to make progress in our lives. That is a myth and in contrast, new scientific research studies along with traditional wisdom show self-compassion practices are an efficient vehicle of self-growth. Self-criticism comes from our old habits and beliefs.

In order to develop new skills to make the transformation, the life coach investigates our habits and beliefs, and will help us update the ones that no longer serve us. I believe that self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-compassion are the foundations of this work. Until we know what is blocking our energy, and we learn how to accept ourselves with kindness, it will be difficult to accept others truly and authentically and collaborate in life events. A life coach’s primary job is to hold space for us, helping us to accept ourselves for who we are with kindness and to begin the changes that optimize our skills to connect more deeply to life.

Let’s celebrate life!

Editing credit: Mike Curtis

Photo from Pixabay.com


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What Is Personal Growth?

While writing my memoir a few years back, my writing coach and editor, Mathina, asked hard questions in every chapter of my life and wanted me to convince her as a reader why I did what I did. To answer her questions and write a compelling story of my life, I needed to learn the psychology behind my behavior and others in my life. I also needed to be vulnerable and bring out authenticity through my words. The vulnerability was so strong that I needed the help of a psychotherapist to help me process the past traumas.

By sharing my story, I felt more seen and heard and that brought me a deeper connection to life. I learned and grew. I developed more self-awareness. I had many meaningful moments of feeling worthy and good about myself, stronger than my unpleasant feelings, and of course I had many moments of disconnection that needed self-care. I got to a point where I had learned too many different self-development tools that were missing the coherence.

While I was holding memoir writing workshops, I got encouraged to learn to help myself and others on our growth journeys whether it’s about writing a memoir or wanting to share their stories in a safe and private environment. I signed up for a coaching course, a one-year program that would help me to become a certified integral coach. At the coaching institute, New Ventures West, I learned about a coherent way, a path that could be built individually for every person’s self-growth and to integrate all aspects of life.

Based on Integral Theory the overall approach to self-growth happens both horizontally and vertically.

In horizontal growth, we evaluate our different types of intelligences (cognitive, emotional, somatic, & more) and try to learn new skills for better performance and efficiency. That is an important part of self-growth towards self-actualization introduced by Abraham Maslow. The horizontal skills could be better time management, obtaining a degree, getting more efficient at work out, driving, winning more advanced levels in our video games, becoming successful as a businessman/woman or an achieved entrepreneur, being an engaging public speaker, and you name it. These are great skills but if they are all to boost our ego or make us look better in the society, they soon lose their meaning. When we want to get better at our skills in order to add meaning to life and create new concepts to enhance others’ lives rather than conforming to the cultural demands and competition of feeling superior, then we can enjoy our skills and even walk in the path of mastery for a chosen skill.

And yet, self-growth is even more than this. We need to align our mind (thoughts), heart (emotions), and body (intuition) in order to live fully. We need to grow in other dimensions too.

The vertical development helps us to make a deeper connection with life and live with more fulfillment. It has several steps that go deeper and deeper. What I mean by that is the deeper we grow vertically the less self-absorbed we become. We see ourselves as part of a bigger system that holds our worth as well as other beings. These steps don’t happen unless we develop regular practices of self-care, self-awareness, and self-compassion.

There are several models and studies that show and explain how a person can make a deeper connection with life. I will introduce these models in future blogs and for the sake of keeping each post short, I chose to provide an outline of The Ego Development Theory enhanced and popularized by Susanne Cook-Greuter.

Here are a few stages of human/ego development that many people are traversing in the current societies in the world. 

Conventional state ( almost 80% of the world population – searching for knowledge)

  • Stage 3: Group Centric/ conformist
  • Stage 3/4: Self-Centric/expert
  • Stage 4: Self-determining/achiever

Post-conventional State (almost 20% of the world population – searching for wisdom)

  • Stage 4/5:  Self-questioning/individualist
  • Stage 5: Self-actualizing/strategist
  • Stage 5/6: Ego aware/Alchemist

And as evolution is happening these stages advance deeper and deeper….

As we achieve deeper stages we create a bigger perspective towards the world, ourselves, and others. We become more tolerant at listening to other viewpoints and communicate with more compassion. We enable stronger self-reflection and even self-observation skills as we go deeper. We develop more trust and acceptance in life.

The bottom line is we all want to live fully in a relatively safe world that we can flourish and bloom. Every one of us has a responsibility for self-growth and there are no two similar paths for individuals’ self-growth. Every person needs to build her/his own path. The new Personal Coaching methods provided by a professional could be a help to those who like to choose a method and brainstorm their self growth design using the ability of our analytical skills from the newer part of the brain that makes humans different from other species.

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Searching For Wholeness In My Memoir Writing; Giving Voice To The Villains

(1479 words)

Everyone carries emotional pain in their heart, the embodied trauma of our lives and our ancestors’. According to California’s surgeon general, Nadine Burke Harris two third of the populations have dealt with Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). I think the rest who didn’t, have been traumatized through cultural pressures and limitations in one way or another. Dr. Gabor Mate in his recent documentary The Wisdom of Trauma states that trauma is a hidden pandemic. All of us need to pay attention to the pain, instead of trying to escape from it.

To process the pain, many people have embraced memoir writing as a form of personal and collective trauma therapy. Those of us who become memoirists have a responsibility to take care of ourselves while writing. We are also responsible for writing trauma-informed stories that show the complex multi-layered human pain and resiliency in all characters in our stories.

Creative writing is going through an era of exploring different parts of our identities and piecing them in a bigger picture. What we read from today’s writers helps us connect to a deeper universal pain of human life. Shared stories that help us deepen our understanding about various Native American tribes and their beliefs; Palestinians and Jews and their long, complicated conflict; the many different reasons for immigration; the personal and collective emotions existing in LGBTQ+ communities; and all other unlimited dimensions of beings, the wholeness of life and all the pain it carries. We read and write not only to know each other, but to learn that villains were human beings, maybe with more pain in their closed hearts, and to find a piece, even a little piece, a nuance of ourselves and our pains in each of these stories; learning about non-conventional possibilities and freeing more of our potential by releasing our pain to live more fully.

Being an Iranian is only part of my identity but there is so much more to who I am. I explored the Iranian part and its traumas in some depth in My Persian Paradox, my first memoir. I am currently writing about the follow-up, American part of the story. But how about other dimensions of me; being a woman, a mother, a writer who gains deep satisfaction from writing but doesn’t write much, a Psychology lover and human behavior observer, a wife, a plant lover, a storyteller, a dog lover, a person with biases and hidden biases, a person who has repressed anger in her, a person who fears community building, a person with deep doubts on structured religions, and so many more that I know and I don’t even know about. All those untested strengths.

As part of the epidemic need for self-discovery and self-development, like many others, I have been an avid learner of self-help subjects. The combination of therapy and studying self-help resources have been helping me to move along that path of development and emotional growth.

Therapy especially has lifted me, and brought awareness of my subconscious.

Reading and intellectually understanding the information made me realize the pain. Getting in touch with the pain, however, didn’t immediately help me get into the healing process. I needed my brain to learn about it, but gradually I felt the need of involvement of my heart and body to feel it, to practice it, to live it. I could see the trauma and repression. I didn’t know how to deal with the depth of it, let alone writing about the healing process . I needed a teacher, a guide, and a community to help me embody what I have been learning, to learn it not just with my brain but sense it through my body and process it through my heart; to integrate different pieces of me, known or forgotten – dark or light. This assimilation needed more integrated practices. Therapy and studying are parts of it, but there is more to it. This type of integration would help me to begin coming out of my denial mode, accept myself and the world as is, in order to see the opportunities for growth, and to realize more of my potential towards wholeness. What I mean by wholeness is to be part of a bigger system of being and to believe that there is always more than one point of view; To give voice to everyone, even the villain of my story. We’ve heard that “the people who are the hardest to love are the ones who need it most.”

I long to write and tell stories that explore different parts of me in relation with the systems I have been living in. And what I mean by that is to delve into myself and other characters in my stories and see each of us as a whole soul, see the dynamic of the system we interacted in, feel the pain we all carried in our hearts. Exploring those back stories that shed light on the hidden pain that caused aggression, jealousy, and selfishness, and all other trauma-caused hurtful behavior, I want to write those tales about the darkness of trauma and its transformation to light. To use storytelling to create empathy and acceptance, to see the pain beyond the hurtful behavior, to process the pain, to forgive, to create change, and to move on with more resiliency.

Stories about a mother’s harsh discipline, father’s hurtful criticism, the uncle with his sharp tongue, the neighbor who always cautioned or actually scared everyone by her stories of burglary two blocks away, about the friend who always compared her situation and expressed her disappointment, the stepmother whose bad words damaged relationships, the little boy in the neighborhood who was always called a trouble-maker, the cousin who reminded us of Eeyore and his gloomy point of view, the other one who disrespected women, the acquaintance who didn’t welcome immigrants. Stories about my deep shame of not being enough every time I expressed an idea, the fear of being disliked by others, and about the judgmental analysis I run on my aunt’s behavior.

Each one of these characters has more than one dimension of being and they carried tremendous pain in their hearts. People dealt with the tension created from their personal experience and intergenerational traumas. We are confused. We hurt each other while we love each other. A lot of time we create stories with no substance to numb ourselves and get away from the pain. And we skip the backstories to escape from the deep heavy pain in our hearts.

I think not discovering the pain and the resiliency that came with it makes one’s writing shallow, showing only the face value. Compromising on the backstories and the underlying pain, the root cause, means we are not telling the whole story. Real stories, true memoirs, and personal essays need to shed light on the undercurrent of tension in the atmosphere. Otherwise, they are only bunch of words about a limited point of view. I should know how to add the hidden gem of the underlying pain to the story – coming from not only my brain but being poured onto the paper through my body and my heart, allowing the reader to see each character inside out.  That’s when I share a true story that helps us attain deeper self-discovery towards wholeness. It is still one point of view but connected compassionately to others. It becomes part of the collectiveness and universality of being a human!

I first learned about this concept when I started writing my first memoir almost six years ago. I’ve continued learning about this never ending transformation. To deepen this practice in my life including my writing life, a couple of years ago, I joined the Integral Life community and have enjoyed the deep practices they offer in integrating different pieces of ourselves and the world into our life.

This is a community that follows the school of thought of the great thinker Ken Wilber who has introduced, enhanced, and popularized the Integral Life Theory. While I participated in integral practices through this community, I felt I needed more coherent practices and deeper learning. I decided to take training to become an Integral life Coach myself. I started my one year certification program with New Venture West (NVW). Learning to process the difficult emotions through tested techniques within a safe community and transforming them to power have become a great tool for a deeper dive in writing my second memoir and has shown me stronger connection to life. It allows me to see myself and others as pure souls covered by layers of darkness and pain. I am hungrier to write about those who I resented or judged, to bring their stories to my story, to think about their pain and to see my pain in it, To explore our entanglements and transforming them to a powerful net of life. Wholeness.

Let’s celebrate life!

Editing credit: Mike Curtis

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com


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Interview With Shabnam Curtis: How Storytelling Could Bring More Empathy

Why did you choose to write memoirs?

When I started questioning everything around me, I was like, Am I in the wrong career? Am I doing something wrong? Am I doing not something right? But then, I started opening my story to my safety circle and I felt better. I decide, You know what, these are the traumas, these are the bitter past, that I have to deal with it, I can’t just put it aside anymore. I have to bring them up, I have to process them. So that’s when I actually started writing stories. And from the beginning, I knew I wanted to share it with everyone. (Shabnam)

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The Power of Telling Your Story – with Shabnam Curtis‬

Lori: What experiences have you gained by sharing your story with others?

Shabnam: I couldn’t believe it. It started even before I started writing my memoir and it actually encouraged me to write my memoir and I was kind of in a midlife crisis. Then I was just talking to my friends at work, especially because we spend a lot of time at work. So I have a lot of American friends who were born here, around me, and we just talked and,  chit chatted and every time I shared one story from my past, I felt better. Then they got to know me better. I got to the point that this past is really bitter, but when I shared it with someone else, in a form of his story, it makes me feel better. Unsurprisingly, it makes the audience feel like oh my god, I have a very similar experience. And who would think a girl in Iran is all grown up in the Midwest in America? We shared experiences, so we just shared stories and that led me to feel like you know what, I want to write this book. Because I wasn’t a writer, I started learning to write, and then I started looking for communities of writers. I published a book and then I read the book for the people. I started having a community of people who shared very similar experiences. It’s just growing in so many different ways and it changed my life.

To listen to the podcast please click here.

Let’s share our stories,

Shabnam


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The Flavor of Ice Cream

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Excerpted from the Shabnam Curtis’s memoir, My Persian Paradox.

One June day of my freshman year/ninth grade, in 1985, I needed a break from studying. My mother suggested we go out for ice cream to Tajrish Circle. Tajrish, a shopping area on the skirt of the mountains in the northern part of Tehran, was a favorite place for my mother and me to wander, especially for window shopping and mouthwatering snacks. My father disagreed. “Afternoons are the worst time to go to Tajrish. There will be no parking spots. It’s hot outside. Why don’t we just stay at home and rest?” To my mother, he grumbled, “You take advantage of her, suggesting ice cream to satisfy your own childish desires.”

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