Sarah Susanka, FAIA, is a social innovator, acclaimed architect, agent of personal transformation, and author of the ‘Not So Big’ series.
Sarah Susanka has become the inspiration for a new way of understanding how we inhabit both our homes and our lives.
Through her writing, lectures, and workshops, we learn that a rich, full, satisfying life is readily within reach. Susanka explains that it’s how we are in what we do, not the specific content of our lives, that’s important. There’s no need for massive upheavals in everyday life to find meaning. Her credo is simple: When we look with the eyes of a student, everything can teach us more about who and what we truly are—we just have to learn how to look.
Whatever your child is doing, whatever is driving you crazy, If you can just take a pause and ask yourself, how do I do what that child is doing right now to myself, internally, because they are showing you something about your own pattern with yourself.Sarah Susanka, author of the Not So Big Life: Making Room for What Really Matters
Sarah’s Advice for Homeschool Parents:
- The world is a mirror and it’s showing you to you.
- We’re living in a hall of mirrors.
- Every reaction we have can be turned around and teach us something.
- We need to let go of the idea that people are doing something to us.
- Notice your own judgement and recognize they’re not true.
- Use every frustration and reaction as food instead of rejection, it’ll change your life.
- And quoating Ghandi, “We must be the change we ish to be in the world.”
You can find resources & books we speak about here:
- Allan Watts video on Life is NOT a Journey
- her book, The Not So Big Life
- her book, The Not So Big House
- Edith Eger’s book, The Choice
- Byron Katie’s book, Loving What Is
- Dr. Caroline Leaf’s book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess
You can find Sarah online at:
People also ask:
- How to Keep Sane as a Homeschool Mama: 5 Simple Principles
- how to live your simple homeschool life on purpose
- creating meaningful childhood memories so we help our kids live their lives on purpose
- Do you need a virtual homeschool mama retreat?
- Do you offer one-on-one homeschool & life coaching? Why, yes I do!
Welcome to the Homeschool Mama Self-Care Podcast.
If you are a homeschool mama challenged by doubt, not sure you can do this homeschool thing if you are a homeschool mama challenged by overwhelm, there are just too many things to do, or if you are a homeschool mama looking for connection and encouragement, then this is the Podcast for you.
I am Teresa Wiedrick from capturingthecharmedlife.com. And I am here to encourage you in your homeschool journey. So, let’s turn our homeschool challenges into your homeschool charms.
Teresa: Today, I get to introduce you to Sarah Susanka. Sarah is a social innovator, acclaimed architect, agent of personal transformation, and author of The Not So Big series. Sarah Susanka has become the inspiration for a new way of understanding how we inhabit both our homes and our lives.
She’s the best-selling author of nine books, including The Not So Big House, Home By Design, and The Not So Big Life that collectively weave together home and life design teaching us that a not-so-big attitude serves not only architectural aims but life goals as well. Through her writing, lectures, and workshops, we learn that a rich, full, satisfying life is readily within reach. Susanka explains that it is how we are in what we do, not the specific content of our lives, that’s important.
There is no need for massive upheavals in everyday life to find meaning. Her credo is simple. When we look with the eyes of a student, everything can teach us more about who and what we truly are. We just have to learn how to look.
Welcome, Sarah. It is such a pleasure to officially meet you.
Sarah: Well, thank you, Teresa, and me you.
Teresa: Your book, The Not So Big Life: Making Room For Life Really Matters, is a book that I value immensely. It is well dog-eared underlined and asterisked. I have read your book a half dozen times. And I have quoted it all over the place. I have handed this book to many people. I’ve written about it. I’ve actually used the concepts or some of the things you said in my book, and I’ve included it in my five-day vision challenge around New Year’s. Your book is a BIG book, all about the life that you are modeling.
Sarah: That’s right. Hahaha. I actually had one of the students that took one of my Not So Big Life workshops at the end of it say to me, “You know this is called the not so big life, but what I feel right now is, this is about living a really BIG life, but an inferior life.” And it was just so cool to hear her say that because that’s right, that’s it.
Teresa: So, it’s not, a not-so-big book.
Sarah: Exactly right. Hahaha. It’s really about liberating that part of ourselves that always gets short shrift because we don’t have time, or we’ve got other things that need attention first or we put off. And it’s really about finding the stuff that matters.
Teresa: Would you tell the listeners how your book came about?
Sarah: Oh, absolutely. Well, I had actually been an architect for a long time. When I was in high school, I really, really wanted to be a writer. And as I tell in the book, my dad had said to me, “Why don’t you wait to go to writing school until you’ve got something to write about?” At the time, of course, I was really mad. I did not want to hear that.
Sarah: But in some ways, it was good advice. It was certainly parentally sensible because he knew that writers were often starving artists. And he didn’t want that for his daughter.
So, I ended up going into architectural school, which was my second love. I became very successful. I went into residential architecture. I loved working with individuals. The part that I loved was getting to know them in real learning how to extract the qualities of homes they were looking for and make a wonderful house for them. But over the years, I realized it was very difficult to get them to understand that bigger is not better.
Sarah: So, this is where the not-so-big language came from. I actually wrote a whole series of books called The Not So Big House that was about how to make your house better but not bigger.
But the only reason I could write those books was that I had started my own inner journey, which is what The Not So Big Life is about.
Sarah: And it took me about another eleven years to really get to a place to write that book about how to do your own inner remodeling. You see through all the obstacles we put in our way so that we can actually start living much more of a whole potential and come into an alignment of who we are on the inside. That is the short version.
Teresa: It is about life remodeling, and that is exactly what I included as a quote right off the top, is that you said, “By implementing the plans as the remodeler of your own life, that you will find in only a short period of time, the way your living changes dramatically. There will be more light, more delight, more awareness of that beauty that surrounds you, and there will be more room to breathe and to engage in the things you really care about.”
Sarah: That’s it. You said it. I said it. Hahaha.
Teresa: Hahaha. I’m trying to live it, which is not always easy. But you made time for who you really are, and that is what I encourage, and invite homeschool mamas to do to show up in their lives authentically fully to invest incredibly in their kids, to experience them, to facilitate their curiosities, and help unravel that person that they really are. And then let your hands off the reins and let them be who they are.
Sarah: That’s right. I know you talk about this as well, but we end up living a role.
Sarah: And understanding these are little humans with incredible potential, different from what we imagine.
Sarah: It is never what we think. In fact, it is almost guaranteed, not what we think.
Teresa: I’ve had four, and not one of them was what I thought.
Sarah: That’s right. But when you can be authentic with them, which means you have learned how to be comfortable in your own skin. And you can be with the human to human, even though you are the adult, and you need to parent sometimes, you are really helping to form this creature that already has its own expression. But you are giving it governance and some boundaries in which it can flourish.
Teresa: That’s right. And that is precisely the motto or approach of a self-directed learning education, which is my passion. I want to back up a bit, all the way till age seven. I don’t know when you started writing, but I’ve been writing since age seven. I actually wanted to be a doctor when I grew up.
Sarah: Me too.
Teresa: You said that as well. That’s also what my daughter thought before she graduated. And I am married to a doctor. So, then I drew houses on paper and had dining rooms right next to the bathroom and random stuff.
Teresa: I built two houses, so we have a lot of common interests.
Sarah: Oh, we do. You had sent me some links to some of your blogs, and when I was reading about your life, I was thinking, my gosh, this is like a version of me.
Teresa: I know the feeling. I love that about this Podcast; meeting some amazing people, I wouldn’t meet in my backyard. Funny enough, the most influential books in my life were ones that when I walked into a big or a small bookstore, I would pick up a book and go, “Hmm, I wonder if that would be a good book to read this week?” It was your book, The Not So Big Life. And it had a huge impact on me.
Sarah: That’s so wonderful. It’s amazing how that happened because I have written this book, and it has been written by a lot of people, I hear versions of that story, and it is really astonishing to hear how people find it. One woman I now work with as a student said the book literally fell off the shelf onto the floor. And said, “I guess I am supposed to read this.” Hahaha.
Teresa: Wow, it really is a big book. I could spend hours chatting with you probably in each of your chapter titles. But you know I want to share with you because this was my real experience that I actually went through a period where I wanted to simplify life. And you hear many versions of these stories.
Teresa: But I went through this version of simplifying life, and I was trying to give away everything I owned, like my YouTube Joshua Tree CD, which I totally regret giving away. After seven years of traveling and wandering around the world, I think I was trying to find myself really or find who I really was.
My husband and I were hiking with our four kids in the backwoods of nowhere land. It was very remote, and I just felt like such a closeness to this being right present where we were. And I said to him, “I want to live off-grid. With four kids and an hour out of a small town just like here in the middle of nowhere, no running water, no electricity, 500 square feet.” And he looked at me in his very analytical way, “Are you aware when this house is built, we will have three teenage girls? So, the size of the house you are suggesting is the size of our dining room.”
Sarah: Yeah. Hahaha.
Teresa: That was my version of simplifying, yet a reality, that obviously did not happen. Our house now has 500 sq ft per person. Twice we considered selling everything, when we were in Kenya, a rural Kenya and once when we were in Venice. And it was sell everything and travel for the rest of our lives. But I think I learned what my goal was is to find myself and find out who I really was.
Sarah: And that is a very common search that people go through. I did the same thing. You know, I don’t have children of my own, but I lived in a tiny, tiny house with 98 sq ft for a while. It was wonderful.
I mean, I didn’t have any electricity. I did have running water. But it was basic, and I borrowed a friend’s bathroom in the morning. It was like I grew everything. I lived it for a while. But what I also discovered was that I wrote an article called The Simple Life Ain’t. Hahaha. I realized it looks simple but this is really hard work.
Teresa: It is really hard work. In fact, people will say that we are presently on a homestead; we are kind of self-sufficient, which is what the word’s people use. But it is not true because the only self-sufficiency I have is eating dandelions. You know the basic things that come from the earth that require no fertilizer because I don’t have to go to the store to find fertilizer. I have chickens right now, but I have chickens that I need to go get bags of giant feed for them that I don’t raise on my own homestead. And I have electricity, and I have running water, and I have a very nice home.
Sarah: We don’t even think about it, but in Kenya, you knew it’s a different world. And to be completely self-sufficient is an entirely different picture.
Teresa: Yeah. I like pepper, and I like pineapple and those I could never grow.
Sarah: Hahaha. That’s not so common in BC, right? Hahaha.
Teresa: No, you can’t find that at all where we are. One of the things that you said is that bigger isn’t better to slow down. Or at least that is what I took from what you said to slow down. And to homeschool moms, I’d say be in your homeschool life.
Clearly, right now, for this hour, I am not. But I am with you, and my son is outside helping my husband set up a chick brooder because we are bringing more baby chicks.
Sarah: Wow, that’s great. Hahaha.
Teresa: So, you need to be all present when you are present. Not just ticking off the boxes. And not just doing what our cultural things say about creating a perfect education or creating a perfect existence.
Sarah: Yeah. It’s not about perfection.
Sarah: That’s the misunderstanding that so many of us carry around this notion it is supposed to look a certain way. That’s not the point. The point is to be in the imperfection. Experience it completely and be authentic with whomever you are with, whether it is yourself, your child, or your friends, but be there in the moment and express what you are experiencing.
Teresa: So, what have you learned about that. I mean, when we try to do the ‘be,’ we’ve learned about a lot of things that don’t work.
Sarah: Yes. Yes, it takes so long to impart. But maybe I can do a little taste for you and your listeners right now.
And I have a lot of my students who are parents. None of them are homeschooling right now, but I’ve worked with architectural clients who homeschooled before.
But the thing that is the hardest to remember is that in the mayhem of growing children, there will be problems. So, if you can rather than come down on a ton of bricks on the kids, tell them how you are experiencing this moment. Obviously, it has to be age-appropriate, but let me tell you what I am feeling right now. I really want to help you, but you are screaming so loudly I don’t know how to do it. Can you tell me how to be with you right now? You are adjoining your child, and in that, a connection is made because you are being honest, completely. It doesn’t always work, but that will not be forgotten.
Teresa: So, when you say that thing that I have experience with, I have to create that pause. I have learned I have to continue to create that pause before I react to something and say that child is doing something to me because they’re screaming at me. That has been my lifelong parenting thing.
Sarah: Yes, it’s very hard. I’m basically telling you how to be there, but you have to do an awful lot of work on yourself first to learn how to catch the reaction before it goes into full tilt, you know. Err!
Teresa: Yeah. I learned that my kids are mini mirrors. That is not what I thought I was going to do when I was homeschooling or parenting.
Sarah: Right. That’s right. They are. They truly are mirrors. And one other thing if I can pass this along to your listeners, this is a challenging lesson, but it is immensely helpful if you can think of it.
Whatever your child is doing that’s driving you crazy, if you can, just like you said, take a pause and ask yourself, “How do I do what that child is doing right now?” Internally, because they are truly mirrors. They are showing you something about your own pattern with yourself. This is so hard, but when you get it, holy mackerel!
I am working with a woman who has a child who probably has ADHD. We are not quite sure. But the child will just go crazy sometimes. And the mother does not know what to do. She gets overwhelmed and tries to settle the kid down, but she works herself into this ‘my child should not be acting this way.’ Right? I have been teaching her how to bring herself back to calm, and then the kid does the same thing because they are a reflection.
Teresa: Yeah, exactly. That is what you said. If the world is not out there, the world is in you too.
Sarah: That’s right.
Teresa: I did not know that solidly for the first, at least ten years, probably about when I picked up your book and a variety of other resources that we’re speaking the same message. Are you familiar with Dr. Daniel Amen?
Sarah: I’ve seen him. I think I’ve seen a book or video of him, but I haven’t studied him. Yeah.
Teresa: He’s a psychiatrist who studies brain health, and he was the first to introduce me to three questions that I don’t believe originated from him, but he uses them. And he asks, “Is what you’re feeling true? Are you 100% certain it’s true? And if there is an alternate perspective, what could it be because there always is?” How can you reframe this and those questions? That approach originated from Byron Katie.
Sarah: That’s right.
Teresa: And that content is like, revolutionary because it really just says, just because you are feeling something doesn’t mean it’s true.
Sarah: We are hearing everything through our own filters. What looks absolutely true, and it does, it looks absolutely true. But it’s actually the world you are seeing because of stuff you haven’t worked through in yourself. This sounds totally crazy.
Teresa: I know. I think so too, but it’s true.
Sarah: Right, right. It will look absolute. Obviously, it’s about your husband. Obviously, it’s about your kid. But what if it wasn’t? What if this is showing you something. It’s a mirror. The world is a mirror, and it is showing you, to you.
One of the things that I use in my presentation these days that I don’t think I had done when I wrote The Not So Big Life, I’d say think about a toddler that’s in front of a mirror. And the toddler thinks that the kid is on the other side of the mirror, so it rages at the mirror. And it’s just livid that there is this kid doing things to it.
Well, that is what we are living in. We are living in a hall of mirrors. So, with every reaction we have, we can turn it around and learn something about ourselves. But we’ve got to let go of the idea that somebody is doing something to us. We have to let go of the blame and take a deep breath, and if I were doing something like, to myself, internally, how might that be?
Teresa: Hmm, yeah.
Sarah: The internal judgments, for example, are a really good place to see this. You know, sometimes somebody says she’s been judging me from the day I got on that job. And I say, “If it’s a mirror, how do you judge yourself in a similar way?” And you can just watch this, and oh my gosh, I do that all the time.
Well, there it’s showing you how you do that yourself. And so, you can start then working where it can actually be shifted, which is how to notice your own judgment, and recognize they are not true, which is the key.
Teresa: And what I’ve learned over and over is that this parenting thing, this homeschooling thing, is not about what I am giving to my kids or what I am doing to my kids. It’s actually just being alongside them.
Sarah: Absolutely. And that’s the biggest gift you can give to your children, is to just be there. But, again, it sounds like they are not going to learn anything. No, they learn the most important lesson in life: which is how to be with whatever circumstances they are in.
Teresa: Which affects everything they experience in their lives. In fact, I have to share with you. You quote Gandhi, ‘Be the change you want to see around the world.’ And you have a quotation around that. I gave my daughter, who just graduated on Saturday, a card with that exact quote. She didn’t know I was going to give it to her, and she used it in her speech at her commencement ceremony. Truthfully when I was in grade 11, and we had to read one of his books or a book about him, I didn’t read it because I was not an academic kid at the time. I tried to watch the movie and watched Ben Kingsley do his thing, but it was three hours, so I didn’t do that either. I read the Coles Notes version, but I didn’t get a lot from that reading until later on in life. His life is so remarkable, and everybody knows his name for a reason, but I would love for you to share what you learned.
Sarah: That is my favorite story, yes, and it is such an important one. The story goes like this. This is how the quote came out of his mouth. So, he used to hold these huge audiences where people would come up with problems, and he would talk to them for a minute and say some wise words to them, and then they would go on.
And a woman brought her young son to him, and the kid was quite overweight. The mother said to Gandhi, “Would you please tell my son to stop eating sugar, and pastries, and candies? Because I can’t seem to stop him from gaining weight.” And Gandhi looked at the little boy and looked at the mother and then said, “Madame, I want you to come back in a week.” She looked at him and said, “That’s it?” Just come back in a week. So, she dutifully went away. I think in the book I say two weeks, but I’m honestly not sure how long it was, but the jest is she came back a week later, and she said, “Gandhi, will you now tell my son to stop eating all these sugary things?” And Gandhi looked the little boy straight into the eye, and he said to the kid, “Son, I want you to stop eating sweets and candy. They are not good for you.” And then he just stopped, and he was assuming they were just going to go. The mother said to him, “Sir, why the week? Why couldn’t you have told him a week ago to stop eating all the stuff?” And Gandhi said, “Madame, a week ago, I didn’t know if I could stop eating sweets and candy.” We must be the change we wish to see in the world.
It is so powerful because what he is telling her is that my words might be the same, but they have no effect on you or your son until I am able to do what I am asking someone else to do.
Sarah: Because this world is a mirror. So, the very same words have no effect because you are being a fake. Essentially, if you ask somebody to do something you yourself are not doing. So, that’s why it is so important to embody what we believe.
Teresa: And it is so much more congruent in our soul and our heart.
Sarah: That’s what you are doing. You’re making every effort to live sustainably to help your children grow into fully integrated humans that have benefited from learning from their whole environment.
Teresa: Do you know what I’ve wanted to say, though, is that what you are saying is very similar to a quote, ‘More is caught than taught.’ It is categorically true.
Teresa: I wish it weren’t, though, but I have to tell you, and it is only that I absolutely did not do this with my children for a very long time. In fact, I still have moments where I am not doing this. And so, I have these moments where I am talking with someone, another mom and sharing how to engage this discussion in their real lives. Then they are like, this is what I have to do. So, I just want to let you know you are not going to do it, so be released from the idea that you are able to do it. Because even now I am not at the top of this mountain, but I love talking about this stuff because I know it is freeing, and it’s real.
Sarah: And this is where it’s not about perfection.
Sarah: There’s a very common pattern in human beings is that we think, oh, but I didn’t do this, so I’ve left my children with this legacy of all of my messes.
Sarah: So, it doesn’t work that way.
Sarah: Strangely enough, as you change, the world changes with you. So, your children will metamorphose before your eyes. The woman I was telling you about with the child who has these fits of rage is dissolving as the mother learns to deal with her internal frustration of not being perfect.
Teresa: That’s really amazing.
Sarah: You can see it happening. It is out of reflection. So, for all of you listeners, let go of the guilt. You know, I often quote the poet Rumi.
Teresa: I love him.
Sarah: Yeah, in The Not So Big Life. And he has a wonderful line. He says, “Let the guilt go. It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been unconscious. Let the guilt go.” The guilt is not going to help. If anything, it makes it worse because then you feel disconnected. But if you allow yourself every moment you are learning, this aliveness comes, even from the things that seem to be going horribly badly. You are still learning at that moment. And so are the children if the kids are in the middle of this.
Sarah: Everybody is learning as you are able to just be there and acknowledge what you’re feeling. It’s a big order.
Teresa: A reality if we allow it to be a reality.
Sarah: That’s right. Exactly, exactly. It’s not about perfection.
Teresa: So, you had shared a story of a homeschool family in your book. It was really interesting because your experience was that they were trying to create little geniuses or this perfect environment. Now I will confess, I was trying to put a private school in my home in the first few years.
Even though I thought I was into homeschooling because I could have all the freedoms of homeschool and providing them with an education and enjoying my family life, the reality was I was trying to create a private school at home. And kind of had a similar energy to that family until I burned out and realized I couldn’t keep doing this.
Your book and different people’s writing really influenced me to think, “Wait, what is an education anyways?” I don’t know your thoughts about how this affects an education or how we should actually customize or approach education, but I’m curious about your thoughts.
Sarah: Well, let me tell you a little bit about this family so that you have a sense of it. The mother, in particular, really believed that she could manage her kids into at least what she believed was their full potential, which really meant the full benefit of the IQ that they had inherited from both parents. So, these kids were on a rat wheel of doing.
Sarah: And I watched, and I was exhausted watching their lives. I could not believe how many things were required of these kids, and no downtime.
Sarah: So, the thing about schooling, whether it’s in the home or when kids go to school, they need places where there is just exploration, just the time to discover.
I had an interesting educational mix in that my first fourteen years were in England, which was very regimented. We had a lot of exams, a lot of discipline, and we had to be a certain way. And then I moved to the United States, and interestingly, although we may not have the experience of this schooling in this country in the way that I did, it seemed really lax to me. So, it was a totally different experience, and I had all of this learned discipline from having been kept on a fairly regimented schedule.
That is when I really started to write. Of course, I wrote earlier, but this is where I started to really engage in writing as something I did for fun. And I wrote two books when I was in high school because I didn’t have a lot else to do. My homework was done after an hour, and I was used to three hours of homework. Hahaha.
But it wasn’t then; it became my way of exploring, which I loved. I mean, it was just magical. So, I think our schooling process needs to understand that, yes, there needs to be discipline at a certain level and structure, but there also needs to be this place for discovery. And that can happen in so many different ways. It is what children are geared up for if we understand that that’s the way they grow up.
Teresa: I always go kind of mellow when I am talking about what is an education anyways. And I’m always thinking, let’s start from, I don’t know, age seventy. If we work backward, and this is very cliché for our culture, we’re seventy years old and finally get to retire and go golfing. I don’t golf. But go back a bit, and then you’ve got your regular trips to Hawaii or somewhere hot. You’ve got your two-car garage home. You’ve got your double income, and you’ve got options to buy what you want to buy. And you’ve got letters after your name, and maybe you’ve got a six-figure income.
Before that, though, how did you get that? You either went to an ivy-league school, or you went to post-secondary school, and you had to get those letters. And before that, you had to get into post-secondary school, so you had to create an education to jump in the hoops to get into that. So, my big question is, “Why?” Right? What’s the point?
Sarah: Right, the whole programming of societally appropriate humans comes at the end of that process, but not even the life gets bled out of us often. There’s actually, do you know who Allan Watts is?
Sarah: He was a British teacher of esotericism; basically, he is a mystic. And he has a short video that I will send you that exactly says what you just said. But he is a wonderful teacher. He was recorded a lot during his life, so these wonderful short teachings are all over the web.
Sarah: You should post this one with your recording of these things because that is exactly talking about.
Teresa: I will.
Sarah: He just shows how in life, unless you understand what we are talking about in this Podcast, people become fitter and fitter to a particular consensus reality notion of what a good life is. Right? But it’s all kind of, it’s dead. It doesn’t have the vibrancy that those little kids you are teaching now have naturally, which is to explore their universe.
Teresa: And that’s why I want to go back even in the beginning years. Just like you said, the little kids or even the eighteen-year-old graduate and say, “Are they doing the thing they should be doing right now?”
My just graduated daughter had a love for cooking. She had a love for Obstetrics. My husband delivered babies for a long time. And also dance. So, we chatted about all her paths in exploring those things. She’s also a very naturally academic kid, so she was doing sciences and math and essay writing and all of that. She did all of those things, but I only let her kind of go that direction, or I should say that differently. I only allowed that or facilitated that because that’s who she was.
Teresa: I’ve got three other kids who are very different, but I think that we need to take your concepts of just being and use them in a way that allows us to also facilitate the actual child in front of us, so they can grow up and do the things they were meant to do, which obviously would make our entire culture shift if we could do that.
Sarah: Hugely. And often, with very bright kids, they’re bored silly. That’s another reason homeschooling can be so wonderful for very bright kids. You can give them a challenge, almost like a Ph.D. question, you know, for a kid. And they can research the heck out of it, and they often excel far beyond people in the field who think they know the boundaries of that field because the child is unencumbered. They are just eating it all up.
Teresa: And asking a lot of questions.
Sarah: That’s right, exactly.
Teresa: I just want to switch gears for a minute. In the very essence of what I refer to in my book, Homeschool Mama Self-Care is really about what you discuss, all our conditioning, define the thing we call our personality. The reality is that personality is not our friend. It involves us protecting and defending our self-image.
Sarah: Yeah, that’s right. This is huge. You and I could talk for years literally about this particular subject. One of the things that we don’t understand, and this is really what The Not So Big Life at its core is pointing to, is that we have many of us cultivated our personalities to be either really wonderful or nice person or alternatively we are always judging ourselves. We can never live up to our notion of how we are supposed to be. Our mother was a perfectionist, and we are all messy, and then we judge ourselves for being all messy. So, all these different personality types live in a bubble of what we think we are supposed to be or not to measure up to what we are supposed to be.
The point about The Not So Big Life is that it’s really showing that that is not who you are. That is a program. I never used this word in the book, but I call it the ‘mechanism.’ The personality is literally that mechanical. When they first hear it, most people go, ooh, I don’t like that feeling because they are identified with their personality.
Sarah: Personality is not who you are. Who you are is just this present moment, this experiencing of now. It doesn’t require all of the bad inches of however many years you have been alive piling in to judge whether you are doing it right or not this moment, which is what these personalities do. They’re really trying to keep us safe.
Sarah: And that can come in all sorts of manifestations. But really, they are like the bruises of a lifetime, the way that we tried to avoid being hurt.
Sarah: And so, that stuff we’re constantly looking for one part per million of, oh my gosh, that’s going to hurt me.
Sarah: Then we will pull in, and we don’t realize what’s actually right in front of us because we are seeing it through that filter. That is a lot of what I teach, and what my workshops and books are about, are really that, as seeing the thing you identified with is an idea, is not the truth of who you are. And that for many people liberates them from an enormous amount of baggage. That makes it work.
Teresa: Hahaha. Yes, I have been fascinated with enneagrams in the last year or so. Are you familiar with that one?
Sarah: Oh yeah, absolutely, sure.
Teresa: Obviously, there are many different tools to getting to the core of why you have a personality challenge in the way you do. For me, it speaks to core motivations. I am a type 2. I’m sure that’s not surprising, but I very much want to help. I want people to feel good, and I want them to validate me. And that is what I am really going for. When you become aware of that, it is a little embarrassing. I was chatting with a mom this week about her 4ness and she identified with this. I didn’t want to say it out loud or acknowledge it. We don’t need to go on podcasts and share what we are and what our motivations are. But being aware for ourselves why we talk with people the way we do or engage or show up is exactly what you said. It’s very freeing.
Sarah: Each of these things is a map. The enneagram is a map.
Sarah: Some of your listeners will know of Meyer Briggs, and then I’m an INFP.
Sarah: These meanings that come, the real point is to realize that all of them, every last one, is still a map. You are experiencing that program.
Sarah: But you are not defined by it. The work that I do with my students is really helping them to see that the things they believe absolutely are simply a program. And it takes a lot of work. You can’t just push it away because pushing it away actually pulls the opposite to you. This is all about seeing through the programming, which means you are looking at it completely objectively. You are not saying I should be this way or that way. You are saying, oh, in this situation, Sarah always does this. It’s like you are looking at yourself as your own specimen. That liberates you from being always having to do that thing.
Teresa: Yeah, you talk about being the watcher.
Sarah: Yes, that’s right exactly. So, you are literally observing yourself and that little bit of space built between who you have taken yourself to be. So, observing awareness allows you to note what happens and what the stimuli are for that behaviour. And then can try something different.
One of the things I say in my book is to change one’s behaviour just for a week. Just try it. If you always wear black, wear bright colors for a week because it is going to change a lot more than just the color of your shirt. It’s these patterns that are habitual, but as you change one thing, the whole pattern changes.
Teresa: And this is all profound. This all actually assumes that we are feeling our feelings. In her book The Choice, Dr. Edith Eger talks about that first, you got to ‘feel to heal.’ She is a survivor of the holocaust and is now a psychologist. And she says the first thing is to ‘feel to heal.’ A lot of people just want to say, yeah, but I don’t want to feel that exponential crisis in the middle of the night. I’ll try to watch a YouTube video, or I don’t know, do whatever you do.
Sarah: Yeah. There’s a distinction. I don’t think this is in the book; it might be. The difference between an emotion and a feeling. So, an emotion is a feeling with a false attribution of meaning. Most people, when they hear the word feeling, they are actually thinking of an emotion. It is the emotion that they are afraid of. For example, I had nightmares when I was little. I used to be terrified of going to sleep because when I went to sleep, I would wake up in this absolute terror of panic. And so, sleep became an issue for a while until I learned that it wasn’t always that. I actually worked with a doctor who helped unpack the meaning of going to sleep.
Sarah: I give an example as we all deal with this stuff. When she talks about feeling, she is talking about allowing the experiencing, noticing what meanings are being attached, and letting go of those meanings. The feeling is the healer.
Sarah: The real actually allowing what you believe, this is big works, this stuff because you feel like I am going to die if I feel this. But when you allow yourself to experience it without the false attribution meaning, there is a kind of catharsis that can happen.
Teresa: So, I am often, what is the thought behind the feeling. And that is the part where you say okay, what is the thought, so you are kind of using the word emotion interchangeably with thought, the way that I actually thought?
Sarah: The thought is the attributed meaning.
Sarah: And that is.
Teresa: Yeah, because the sensing, as you are saying, the feeling is just a normal human reaction. It’s what happens when something happens, whatever the thing is. But as well, you attribute your meaning to that feeling.
Sarah: It’s automatic. It happened when you were two or three years old, and it will play every time until you start to pay attention. It’s got nothing to do with anything else. Nobody’s doing anything to you.
In the book, I talk about that situation where I was paralyzed with fear, and I could tell I am actually confronting a major fear right now. It was to do with people being angry at me. So literally, I felt like I needed to disappear. That is what it felt like.
And as I allowed myself to experience this completely, in the perfection of the mirror of how things work, in came a friend, and he was pissed off. Hahaha. I got to go somewhere. I was also aware, oh, this isn’t true. I’m actually just experiencing that terror. It probably happened when I was very tiny. I knew I was perfectly okay. But I was feeling it. So, I was aware, and you’re fully experiencing the fear. At that moment, everything dissolved. I could feel it, like, oh! It was huge, and everybody had the capacity to do this. But we don’t know this, so we avoid those scary feelings, like a plague. And we construct our worlds to never feel those things.
Teresa: Actually, it’s backed by neuroresearch, so all these things we have talked about, I experienced them with different words with different people. And I will use different words that my listeners know. It’s all the same thing and is backed by neuro-research. It was refreshing to listen to Dr. Caroline Leaf’s recent book about… What’s her book name? I have listened to it every day for the last two weeks.
Sarah: Hahaha. These things disappear.
Teresa: And she could probably address that too. But she talks about going through the neuro cycle. She uses the word neuro cycle by acknowledging feelings, and if you want to change a habit or if you want to change a pattern, you can actually do it. And what we are talking about is heavy, heavy work. It’s not easy work; it sure isn’t fun, that is for sure.
Sarah: Everything will try to avoid it.
Teresa: Yeah, yeah. Exactly.
Sarah: But I think even for your listeners to know that there are tools, if you are somebody who’s beleaguered by some particular pattern, there are tools that can help you work through it. It requires first that you understand this is not who you are and is not true.
Teresa: Yeah, exactly.
Sarah: And that is the huge part. So that can help. The Not So Big Life or the book that you just mentioned I am sure can help you along that process, along with Katie Byron’s book. Wonderful. Absolutely.
Teresa: You say, ‘Invite your inner nature to become a player in your outer life.’ That is so succinct to just hitting it straight to what we are speaking to right now.
Sarah: That’s exactly right. And it’s incredibly important. Your life changes when you do than the old one.
Teresa: It does change. You said the only thing I can change is myself. And when I do, the rest of the world shifts simply because it reflects the new version of me rather than the old one.
Sarah: That’s right. That’s it. It sounds so simplistic, but it really works that way. It takes years to truly recognize it, but it does work that way.
Teresa: So, what would be a final thought that homeschool parents could take away from, I want to say from everything that you share, but we are going to have to do a few more podcast episodes to release your everything. But what would you say would be a final takeaway?
Sarah: That your children will flourish and grow as you flourish and grow. It’s like, you know, you got to pay attention to yourself. You can’t make your kids feel better until you feel better. And so, it is you parenting yourself at the same time that you are parenting your children. It’s so huge! They are there to teach you, and you are there to teach them. And it’s a dance, and when it becomes a heavy burden, nobody wins.
But when it becomes just the exploration of who you are yourself, using everything, every frustration, every reaction as food, rather than rejection. It will change your whole life.
Teresa: I am so pleased to have met you and learned from you. And it is interesting to me that you are sharing about parenting, and you said you didn’t have children. You also spoke to me about homesteading; because somewhere along the way, you said something about composting.
Sarah: Yes, yes, I did my version of homesteading a long, long time ago.
Teresa: You said that every piece of shit that comes into your world can become fertilizer.
Sarah: Fertilizer, that’s right. Absolutely. It’s so true.
Teresa: I am so pleased that our paths have crossed and so, so grateful that you have been able to spend time with me today, and really to just be with you and share in the waking dream that is our present time.
Sarah: Hahaha. That’s it. It’s a pretty wonderful dream, isn’t it? Hahaha.
Teresa: Yes, it really is. It is very real for me. To close our interview, I want to ask you, what is your present project focus? Or your vision for yourself? So, either direction.
Sarah: I’ve got a new one about a week ago. I haven’t written a book for quite a while. I wanted to, but I couldn’t find a publisher to get on board with what I was thinking of writing. And then, in just the last few weeks, a new book has started to evolve. It’s actually about something you will understand. I have an incredible garden. It’s beyond my wildest dreams. Well, I love Monet’s Garden so, so much. I just adore it. And I somehow ended up married to this wonderful man, my husband, who is also my teacher in many ways, and he helped me learn about the garden and what the garden really is by making it out of a field of rambles.
Sarah: We have transformed this place, and I realized over the long haul that this garden has been my teacher in an incredible way. You know it’s the transformations as in the reflections.
So, as I have changed, the garden has changed. And the other day, I was sitting in the garden, and I suddenly felt, this was almost like a mystical experience, that the gift of this garden and my dear husband who has brought all of this into being through our dancing together. And I realized what I want to write is about the garden and its lessons.
Teresa: So beautiful. I love Monet, obviously.
Sarah: Yes. I know we both do. So, our loves are really ridiculous.
Teresa: It is really ridiculous. I think you even referred to that in your book, and many people do about this when things come together at this point.
Sarah: That’s right. Absolutely. That’s why we are talking today because, in my waking dream, I start to think about Giverny and the meaning of Monet’s Garden. So then here comes this person who is going to interview me who has bed and breakfast with Giverny in the name.
Teresa: Which you are most welcome to come to visit me anytime. It would be beyond surreal if you were to stay at our bed and breakfast because this house was built with all the principles of the idea.
Sarah: I can see it. It’s beautiful. It looks lovely.
Teresa: It’s not so small at all. My husband said to me, “Do you really want to tell her about your house that was built on these principles because it’s not that small?” And I’m like it’s not about the size.
Sarah: No, it’s not about the size. Don’t worry about the square footage. It’s more about the quality of space.
Teresa: Exactly. So, what would be the most important thing you would want people to receive from all the things you teach and write and speak on? What would be your legacy?
Sarah: Just learning how to be present. Really present in our life. People think they know what that means but to show up. So as people listen to this Podcast, they are going to feel the energy between us because we both hear. That doesn’t happen by accident. It’s happening because you are able to show up. You are not kind of making it into something; well, here we are. We are just us.
Teresa: Also, I wrote three pages about this. Hahaha.
Sarah: Hahaha. You know you have to have a little guidance because you’re running the show. But it’s a delight when you show up in your life, no matter what’s happening. But then it’s a whole different ballgame. And to learn how to just let go of all your ideas of what’s supposed to be happening, just be here. It’s that simple.
Teresa: Well, it truly has been a pleasure to share this time with you.
Teresa: I hope we do it again.
Teresa: And thank you for joining me today. I would love to learn more about who you are, so come on over to our Facebook group – The Homeschool Mama Support Group or the Homeschool Mama Selfcare Instagram page, so we can support and encourage each other in our homeschool challenges.
While you’re there, you can check out the book of homeschool encouragement, Homeschool Mama Self-Care: Nurturing the Nurturer.
If you are a homeschool mama looking for extra support, ask me about the Homeschool Mama Retreat.
All the show notes and links to this episode will be found at www.capturingthecharmedlife.com.
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Until next time I hope you and your kids have a charmed week, and if you are having one of those days, I hope you can reframe your challenges into your homeschool charms.
Call to Adventure by Kevin MacLeod