It's not what we do that matters, it's who we are

July 15, 2019


Photo credit: Pixabay from


Have you ever heard this statement before? I’ve heard it a few times in my life, and I have generally found it to be a bit confounding. At the very least, I feel like it would make a great topic for a group discussion.


That said, I recently had an experience that caused me to feel like I’m getting closer to understanding the deeper meanings of this phrase. And I should put “understanding” in quotes, because perhaps the most profound realization is that my connection with the meaning of it is not a cognitive process. Or at least, not solely a cognitive process.


Language, right? “Understanding” and “connection with,” “realization.” Even “meaning” and “deeper meaning;” I think the British have a term that describes my feeling about linguistic options for these concepts pretty well, and that’s “wooly.” In the USA we might use “fuzzy,” and the more pedantic might use “imprecise”… but I lost those folks in the last paragraph.


Charley Thweatt, a singer-songwriter who has recorded an impressive collection of uplifting music, recorded a song on his 2010 CD Wave After Wave called “It’s What You Are.” He’s generously uploaded it to Youtube in its entirety. I first heard this song when I bought the CD five or six years ago, and I enjoyed listening to how the words, music and rhythm seem to make me want to rock or dance. It’s like an invitation to become… who I am.


And that may be an important point. Invitations are so much more compelling than orders.


Some time ago I consulted with a client who was suffering a great deal. Many challenges were occurring for members of her family, and as a devoted wife and mother she loved each of the individuals deeply. Witnessing their pain caused her pain, and she was desperate to help them.


“Tell me what to do! I will do it. I really need your help.”


This was not our first conversation. I have a great deal of respect for this client, as I do for all of my clients, and understand completely they must do things their own way. This client happens to be an engineer, and has a strong belief and trust in all things medical and scientific. 


In the past, when I had spoken of the need to connect with one’s feelings, to experience them, sometimes it seemed she understood, at other times she did not. And that is fine with me. I am an imperfect human, and I simply put out my energy when I do. At the core of my work is my belief in the sovereignty of the individual: we are born to create our own lives as equals, to make our own decisions. We may share our ideas and preferences with each other, but the choice to welcome an idea or suggestion always lies with the recipient. 


Even when asked, the giver of suggestions must give freely, with no concern as to whether a suggestion is taken, and the receiver always has the right to refuse, without fear of reprisal in the form of actions or blame.


So when this client came back to me, imploring me for techniques, I felt the pain in her entreaty. I also felt helpless.


It’s not that I didn’t have techniques to offer. Of course, I do. But techniques employed without connection might just as well be labeled manipulation. I would employ them to save a life or to avoid irreversible physical catastrophe, but for no other reason.


What did I offer? My own helplessness. Because sometimes when a client comes to a therapist for help, they are asking for something that we do seem to possess, but that we cannot give. 


We don’t withhold what’s asked out of spite. I cannot give it simply because I know it is wrong to do so, and it won’t achieve the desired result. Would a skilled harvester give a machete to someone without teaching them to use it? Of course not. Even if it was needed to do a task, without the proper preparation, they’d be likely to create chaos. 


There can be no technical success in any endeavor without first achieving full energetic connection. This is why people who love their fields and their jobs are so much more effective than people who decide to do a job for the money.

So what happens when challenges are arising regularly in family life? Often good, loving parents seek out improved techniques for relating to their spouses and children. And as often, they find the techniques do not produce the sustainable results they were looking for—a transformation into the loving and joyful family experiences they desire. Techniques that initially seemed to work then wind up adding to the disappointment.


How to break out of a painful pattern such as this? It is possible. And I want to start by saying please be gentle with yourself. There is no need to assign blame to yourself or to anyone else. Virginia Satir told us to remember that everyone we come in contact with is trying their best.


If one has not learned how to be fully and deeply present with themself in their family of origin—and this describes a great many of us, of all generations—it will be necessary to learn. And it is possible to learn. I know this because it has been, in many ways, my life’s work, the learning of it. 


One big help is that our bodies are always giving us feedback as to whether something is right for us through our feelings. If you have come to regard your feelings as the enemy, disruptive to your success, to be ignored, controlled or medicated into submission, then that is a clue that a transformational change may be needed. Physical aches and pains are very often connected to denied feelings.


Fortunately, many guides are available to support you in your process. They may not be noticeable immediately, or you may notice them and believe that they are beyond your reach due to limited resources of freedom, time or money. Do not despair. Identify your feelings. Write them down in a list and read them back to yourself, starting with a simple “I feel” before each feeling. Notice how your body feels when you do this. Follow your breath for 1-5 minutes with your eyes closed. Then simply proceed about your day, choosing the activities that are most exciting to you in the moment, without excessive attachment to how they turn out. Praise yourself for your efforts. Notice the beauty around you.


These activities should provide some release.  Over time, you will begin to feel better, and your behavior in all arenas will become naturally more congruent. Keep doing these things, and add other activities that bring you joy and make you feel good. After following this formula for some time, a tipping point will occur and you will experience a transformational change bringing you into the full experience of your desires.




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