Raising My Hand

When I’m tired, I reach for ice cream. I reach for caffeine. I reach for something to put in my mouth. What I need is sleep. I reach for chocolate cake. Again, and again.

Sometimes, I roll out my yoga mat. Sometimes, I set the alarm and sleep for thirty minutes. Sometimes, I motivate and go for a run. Often, I reach for the phone, the email, the internet, the sink full of dishes. Reach for distraction. If I can get myself to sit still with empty hands, it always comes as a huge relief.

I have been thinking today about the word “witness.” I’ve been thinking of it in the sense of partnership, very closely linked to accountability, i.e. if I know I’m meeting my friend to go running, I had better show up. If I make a pact with someone to send writing every single day – one word is our minimum – I had better do it.

In order to be the coach I myself would want to hire, I know I need to hold my clients accountable to what they say they’re going to do. And to witness them, even when they don’t follow through, to hold that space, to ask what happened, to listen for the truth.

When I’m tired, I drink a can of Diet Coke and read the Seven Days Classifieds. (Mama! says Aviva. No Diet Coke!) When I’m tired, I don’t want to be accountable. I don’t want a witness to my less-than-virtuous choices, my soda pop, my soft serve. When I’m tired, I am vulnerable to self-reprimand. Resting is one thing, drawing inward, restoring. But hiding is another, ringed with shame. It can happen quickly; suddenly I’m high up looking down. I’m tempted to go down that slide, where I start out tired and wind up in a mud puddle of self-doubt.

But what if I want to climb back down the ladder instead? To stand on the ground with my own two feet? I don’t want to go down that slide. This is a choice.

And so I practice. It’s not about being good. It’s not about doing better next time. This isn’t about self-improvement or striving. It’s about loving myself unconditionally. Imagine that.

Yesterday, I spoke with someone I love about his work-related struggles. He shared with me that his situation at work sometimes “pummels” his self-esteem, his sense of worth, and that he naturally assumes that anyone in his position would respond in this way. That’s how second nature it is for him to go down that slide.

Speaking with him, I realized something. Maybe he is facing these challenges – what he is experiencing and perceiving as challenges – for a reason. Maybe the reason is that he is ready, ready for some new growth. The little boy-child he once was may be asking, “Will you love me even if I don’t succeed? Am I worthy?” When I shared this, I saw something soften in his face.

What is difficult follows us. Trails us. A shadow, a child. We keep turning, we keep growing. We get opportunities every single day to know ourselves better, to learn and re-learn and un-learn our tricks of the trade, the habits and patterns, the choices, conscious and unconscious, the self-defeating, the self-serving, the self-preserving ways of responding and reacting to life. We get the chance to wake up.

Someday, today even, we open our eyes and see reality for what it really is: This present moment. This self, this no-self. This chair, these sandals. This breathing body. This belly pushing against the button of my pants. This frizzy hair. The sugar and caffeine coursing through my veins.

I am present. Like a student in class, I hear my name and raise my hand:

“Jena Strong?”


How about you?

25 thoughts on “Raising My Hand

  1. Rowena says:

    This is so timely for me. In other words, boy am I here. Although I don’t know if I’m quite “here.” I personally like to mix my caffeine, icecream and sugar (iced coffee with coffee icecream!) And I am trying to stop running from my… whatever it is that is making me run. And I am trying to mother my inner child. But it’s very hard. Or it’s always a challenge. Something. I’ve been writing about it a lot, I think, this week. Especially here. http://warriorgirl.blogspot.com/2008/07/when-inner-child-attacks-or-rockstar.html


  2. Shannon says:

    “And so I practice. It’s not about being good. It’s not about doing better next time. This isn’t about self-improvement or striving. It’s about loving myself unconditionally. Imagine that.”
    When I read that I had a really big sigh and my eyes teared up. It’s what I needed.

    And also for me today, it is about having unconditional love for those around me when I was hugely disappointed in their actions. It’s about acknowledging my judgement of them and knowing that I can also let it go.

    Thank you for your words!


  3. Lil says:

    oh jena, this rings so very close to my own truth…about abandoning my self and my needs when i most need myself. how present am i…i dunno, but after reading “Momma Zen” and understanding karen’s words about being present as a mother/witch/comforter/snuggler etc., in my most distracted/needing moment, i remember her words more and more. and now there’s this…this post…and i’ve gotta say that this glimpse of truth from a life coach, well i can’t help but think “they are just like the rest of us, sometimes they just do what they do to feel better, even it it inevitably doesn’t.” it’s comforting to know that with all the knowledge in your heard, you still fall off the wagon like the rest of us…



  4. Mambinki says:

    I stumbled upon your blog and feel the truth of this post! What a big difference there is between actually resting and distracting ourselves… how we distract ourselves to avoid being present…
    thank you for this post!!!


  5. Holly says:

    thanks for this, jena. my belly is pushing against the waistband of my shorts and from the very bottom of it, the gut of it, i thank you for saying this today.


  6. Bruno LoGreco says:

    Incredible Jena! I envision the thought patterns as I read your work. Loved it.

    I am present in my every moment, listening to the sounds of my bones as they creek and crack, my breath as I inhale and exhale, aural in my ear.


  7. Mrs. B. Roth says:

    You’re so wise and insightful and eloquent and aware. Thanks for setting a good example, even while sharing your “bad” choices … you help me be more aware of how much control I have in my crazy life.


  8. Deb says:

    I’m trying to break my habit of beating myself up over mistakes, bad ideas, bad habits. I’m trying to just notice things now, and then let it go, without judgment. It’s helping, which surprises me because I’m not doing anything different, other than the noticing, but I feel better, lighter. I like that.


  9. bella says:

    this may just be my most favorite yet ( of your blog posts here)
    sometimes I don’t want witness either, when I’m making choices that deplete me rather than fill me, or when I’m filled with rage or feeling sorry for myself or, or, or, the list goes on.
    And yet, whether in the form of just loving presence with and for myself, or the witness of another, to truly be witnessed here, without judgment, heals me more than years worth of trying to change or wishing it different.
    I’m here.
    ANd I’m glad we happened to wander into the same class. :)


  10. Jena Strong says:

    I’ve replied to most of you here individually.

    As for this wandering into the same class image – I love it! Shawn, I was definitely NOT the first one in this room. And one last thing: Please tell me we’re seated in a circle (preferably barefoot on the floor), not in those god-awful rows.

    Love to each and every one of you amazing humans.


  11. Bruno LoGreco says:

    I tried something new today, i thought I would put a spin on how I normally write – I had fun doing it too… Thank you!


  12. Karen Maezen Miller says:

    Truly the only thing to witness is ourselves. When we save ourselves from our own cleverness, we save all sentient beings. It happens by itself when we stop.


  13. mapelba says:

    I’m present and awake. Doesn’t mean I’m not stressed or annoyed sometimes, but I know what I’m doing with my life and I only wish I had more space and time.

    But here’s what challenges me. Sometimes I feel that other people don’t want to hear about it. They feel more comfortable when you are lost and confused and complaining, and they are less comfortable when I say–I’m writing and I like what I’m doing. I don’t need to search for inspiration. I’m inspired. I love writing and usually (not always, mind, but usually) and happy with what I do whether it is any good or not.

    But this seems rude to say.

    So do you say you’re present and awake without unnerving other people?


  14. Jena Strong says:

    Marta –

    Hmmm… I read this comment after I wrote today’s post. Maybe gently point them towards Pema Chodron?

    A long-winded response to an excellent question:

    I think if you are being authentic when you share that you are happy/inspired/connected, you share a gift with anyone who is able and ready to receive it. It seems to me that we can only make other people feel small if we are being small ourselves. If your being present (happy/inspired/connected/alive) is unnerving to someone, how would you possibly accommodate that without compromising your authenticity?


  15. Jena Strong says:

    Karen, you have a way of distilling things into just the few words I need to catch – and then release. (Forgive me – there was fishing involved this weekend.)


  16. mapelba says:

    Thanks for your reply. I could have an entire conversation about this–and a comment here would be too long. But I am going to think about it.



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