Embodied Transformation & Evolution

Small Courageous Acts of Change ~ taking the next impossible step in our evolution

Posted by on Nov 28, 2017 in Featured Writing, Lifeletters & Articles | 7 comments

Small Courageous Acts of Change  ~ taking the next impossible step in our evolution

A marvellous man I am working with in Europe told me the other day, “I want to be responsive in my relationships, not reactive. I want to be undefended. I want to be courageous enough to let another person look inside me.”

I wanted to weep when I heard this—it was such a pure expression of his authentic longing. This is not the same impulse that drives us to be ‘better.’ This is not about self-improvement at all. Our real longings, the ones that arise from our true self, our core, our depths, are not pushing us toward some kind of ‘ideal self.’ They are not asking us to strive and struggle. They are calling us to soften, to open, to be more and more fully ourselves. And to accept our limitations.

Then this man said, “I have glimpses of this new way of being, but I cannot live it. I do not trust myself, that I am able to behave like this. It’s too difficult.”

People speak about this a lot when we work together: “I’ve done some work on myself, and now I can see so clearly these patterns I fall into when I am relating. But why doesn’t seeing them help? I feel worse now–I see what doesn’t work and I still keep doing it. I’m failing every day.”

I feel there is something very important to clarify, right inside this sore and tender place where we feel like we are failing, tasting the bitterness of defeat and disappointment. This new perspective offers us the possibility of transforming our whole relationship with failure. The heart of what will nourish and empower us here is a true acceptance of our limitations. So let’s explore this a little, in relation to this particular context: how we relate to one another.

We humans are not very developed in this area. The evidence for this is everywhere we turn. On a global level, we often kill each other when there is conflict. Not just casually, but brutally and systematically. Or we retreat and build walls around ourselves, remaining frozen in anger, hatred and regret for years. We’ve been doing this for a long time.

I might think that I don’t behave like this in my life, until I take a deeper look. Our patterns of self-protection, aggression, isolation and defensiveness run strong and very deep. I myself feel quite young in many ways, when it comes to communication, deep connection, and intimacy. This is true in spite of the fact that I have given my life to evolving and healing in the relational field, and supporting others to do the same. I still have so much to learn. I’ve failed in this area so many times, in so many different ways. But I don’t regret those failures. They have softened me, and given me a great deal of patience and compassion. They have drastically lowered my expectations. They have forced me to work with myself and my own limitations, just as they are. Falling flat on my face, feeling the mud on my chin and in my eyes–that’s been a good thing. Not always fun or easy at all, but essential, and very liberating. I would not be where I am today without the humility that has bloomed in me, through these moments of profound failure and disappointment.

Small Courageous Acts of Change

When this man said, “I have glimpses of this way of being, but I cannot live it,” I heard him speaking for so many of us, for hundreds and thousands of human beings, all over the world. Inside my egoic identity, I believe that it’s my struggle, my dilemma, my heartbreak. I forget that we are utterly interconnected– that our separate lives are not really separate at all, not at the root. This man’s words do not belong to him alone. The next step in our evolution often feels impossible. It’s a way of being that is beyond the capacity of who we are now. We have to grow into it, slowly, with great patience, compassion and longing.

I have felt defeated thousands of times. When I was trying to embody a new way of being with my daughter, I used to sit in my room and feel that it would be easier to stand on the window sill and fly to the tree in my back yard, than to let go of my old, deeply entrenched way of being with her.

This human realm is full of obstacles, and we feel inadequate to deal with them. That’s part of what it is to be human. But most of the difficulty comes from wanting to get rid of these obstacles. We want to get away from them, hide from them, feel better, look better. We tend to avoid the direct experience of working with them, every day of our lives. We forget that ‘what is in the way is the way.’

Our obstacles and difficulties are our path. There is no other path. There is no golden stairway to the sky. These blockages, these frustrations, are not a distraction from our authentic life. They are not a punishment. They are not bad luck or bad karma.

We have to come right down to earth and find a way to keep facing these things. We need allies and wise friends who will help us open up our heart to our limitations. It is quite difficult for the ego to tolerate this experience. We become easily threatened and disturbed by the experience of true acceptance. It can feel like resignation, if we stop struggling and allow ourselves to be completely present where we are. We may not realize one very fundamental thing, a paradox at the heart of this whole journey: we cannot evolve if we want to be somewhere else than where we are.

If we start to understand this, then we can open to a different relationship with our difficulties. But we have to really know it, in our bodies, in our cells. Then we won’t give up on ourselves. We’ll realize we can keep going, and that even the smallest micro-movement of change is something to be celebrated. Especially in this area of relating. To be more real, to be vulnerable, to soften our defences even a little, takes great courage. Instead of hoping for some enormous shift, we can turn in another direction. We can open our hearts to the possibility of something less glamourous, less spectacular, what Harriet Lerner calls ‘the small courageous acts of change.’ The moment when I am able to ask for help, in a simple and direct way. The moment when I say ‘no,’ without making excuses. The moment when I allow someone to have their own experience, without trying to fix it. The moment when I say something that is true for me, even when my whole body is shaking with anxiety.

These are the moments we may never hear about. So I want to tell you how precious they are. Sometimes the smallest things are so magnificent. I want to celebrate them with all of you, and tell you that you are not alone. We’re all in this together. And giving up is not really an option.

The guest is inside you, and also inside me;
you know the sprout is hidden inside the seed.
We are all struggling; none of us has gone far.
Let your arrogance go, and look around inside.

with love,



Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Michelle Wilsdon

    15 years
    now can say no
    without excuses
    needs to serve in a different way
    you must find your own
    I do not stop loving you
    just away

  2. Brett Avelin

    Gorgeous and timely today. Thank you


  3. Jule Roper

    What a beautiful request, I share it as well. “I want to be courageous enough to let another person look inside me”. But …..

    Yesterday a person who has always said she loves me told me in a raised voice what she saw when she sees me. I cringed; I did not want to hear this. I longed to be seen in another way. I did not want to see myself the way she described. This “I” the one which cringed is my ego, my conditioned self who reeled at the harshness of the perception. I wanted to say and did say, that “that is not me”; so defending myself against her perception.

    This morning when I awoke and read your letter Shayla it spoke to me so deeply and I think will help to slow down my next egoic reaction which would be to shame myself and to insist that I change. It never ceases to amaze me how I think I am becoming more awake and then bam! There is my ego; in this case saying No! I am not that!. I do not want you to see me like that!

    I am reminded of a recent interview with Stephen Busby. The interviewer said “if the ego doesn’t cringe as a result of our spiritual practice, then something is missing”. I guess my practice is on target cause my ego sure cringed!

    So bless you Shayla and your letter arriving for me today; pointing the way, reminding me to accept what is, to soften, to allow myself to be exactly where I am, to not give up.

    with great love, respect and appreciation

  4. marsha Donner

    Dear Shayla

    Often I have no words to share after reading your ever inspiring life letters…I am grateful you are able to find the words that bring so many together in compassion and encouragement…

  5. Colleen Carpenter

    As a flawed human entity I to only experiences glimpses and cannot live it on a daily basis, cannot live it when faced with my reactions coming from a place of woundedness, then self protection. To find another way of expressing without the abused child, the bullied forgotten teenager, speaking. My small courageous acts of change seem not enough, come to slowly. The moment I say something true to me, I often regret as it has an effect on another I cannot seem to hold. The moments when my anxiety is too much to express myself in a way I can be heard by another. The fear they will not understand what is really behind what I am saying, sometimes bring silence. A silence that protects me from misunderstanding and hurt. The silence is a deadly shadow that grows as it reinforces my already struggling ability to speak. My armour is thick and often a struggle to remove. To have more compassion for this person I have created , flaws and all will take much more courage in the future. To deconstruct old ways, thoughts and patterns will be a life long goal. But in the mean time my ego and its need to keep me safe has won…for now.

  6. Mary

    We cannot evolve if we want to be somewhere else than where we are….wise words. Acceptance of where we are in the moment is the path. Nothing more…nothing less. Sigh…. and trudge on I shall:)

  7. Carol Noble

    Thank you Shayla

    This very message has been showing its face to me lately asking for recognition. I’ve been dancing around the edges of it, not quite embodying it. The clarity of this letter dropped me like a stone deep into it.
    With the deepest love

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