When challenges come your way, how confident are you that you’ll know when it’s best to use your head, follow your heart, or trust your gut feelings? Our next guest is the author of Be Wise Now, Gael McCool. She will help us discover and learn to use our natural and acquired gifts and strengths so that we can decisively deal with the obstacles that life delivers daily.
Gael McCool: First of all, I’m not sure that the book necessarily came from my motivation to write a book. It came more from requests from clients—where can I find that bit of information that you just shared with me, or how can I learn more about this, and so on. They would say, well, you have to write something about this.
The book was really the result of a bunch of requests. The place where it became a motivation for me was that I was seeing the same things over and over again with clients and hearing similar things. What I was hearing from people was “How can I get rid of this part of me?”
How can I get over my ego, how can I get rid of these negative emotions that I have? How can I change this?
The whole impetus was always about removing something, getting over something, letting go of something. Instead of looking more deeply into what it was that was actually speaking within the person’s system.
I think that that’s part of our cultural orientation. We want to eliminate things that we see as imperfect or flawed or negative in some way instead of really standing back for a moment, taking a breath, and looking at what is this thing trying to show us in the bigger picture of ourselves and in life in general?
Those are the two things that came together—the request from the clients, and also what I was hearing form them in terms of what they needed.
About Be Wise Now
Rae Williams: What is the unique and central idea of the book that people will be able to take action on?
Gael McCool: You have no spare parts. Everything that’s within you is there for a purpose, has a function, an important role to play in your life. If you learn how to listen more deeply and discriminately to those aspects of yourself, you can integrate them, learn from them, and become more conscious in ways that will lead to a more fulfilling life.
Rae Williams: I see in your chapters, there are a lot of the self as it were, different aspects of self. Could you explain to us a little bit what that has to do with it all?
Gael McCool: I created a model for the book which has people investigate, explore 15 different dimensions or aspects of themselves. That includes everything from their soul, their body, their emotions, their intuition, their survival, drives, their imagination, the way they tell themselves stories…
All of these things are different dimensions of self. By creating a model that looks at all of these different dimensions of self, what I was attempting to do—or at least, the original impetus for this kind of a model—came from my early readings of René Decartes and his declaration that everybody knows.
“I think therefore I am.”
I remember when I first encountered that statement, how much it grated in my system. Because for me, I wasn’t just my thoughts. I was also my feelings. I was my impulses, my drives, my needs, my connections to other beings and to the world as a whole. It seemed like such a limited way of perceiving one’s self.
I wanted to expand that notion and help people get out of just being in their heads and explore every bit of wisdom that they contain from their living being.
That was the impetus behind describing the different selves or dimensions of selves and showing people how, when they’re in alignment with these things, they feel on track with their life. They feel like they’re fulfilling their purpose, and so on. When they’re out of alignment, what are the symptoms of that and how do you bring yourself back into alignment?
Quieting the Critic
Rae Williams: Talk to me a little bit about what some of those things might be and why removing is not necessarily the solution?
Gael McCool: Okay, I’ll give you a classic example. We all have a self-critic, at least, I do.
Most people have a self-monitoring critical voice in their head that is constantly providing commentary on their performance in one way or another. Most people respond to that so that it is negative, intractable, difficult, self-flagellation, or beating themselves up and so on.
That’s one way of relating to that dimension of yourself. But another way of looking at it is exploring, what was the origin of that? How did that get created, what was the purpose of that function being installed within you? What are the standards that it’s suggesting that you should live up to and are they standards that are in alignment with who you are or are they things that you’ve just been conditioned to believe that you’re actually not in agreement with and yet you’re living out of them, which is making you feel out of sorts with yourself and incongruent in life?
There’s a way that you can explore the messages of your inner critic and actually use it as a positive guide for yourself in terms of showing you where you are being authentic and where you’re out of alignment with your true values. But you need to actually connect with yourself in order to discover what your own standards are rather than just living out of conditioning that you inherited. Sometimes that conditioning is a valid bit of guidance or correction that we’ve got, so we can actually look at it and see if there’s something that I could be improving here.
Sometimes our conditioning is just the result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Where we encountered someone that was having a bad day and said something intense to us which went in and imprinted deeply. Then we continue to respond from that so it’s true or has meaning or relevance at this stage of life.
A lot of our conditioning is installed very early on in life, and we don’t go back and update the files.
You wouldn’t be using the same computer—well, you’re probably too young for this analogy—but you wouldn’t use the same computer as the original computers that came out back in the 50s and 60s and 70s. You update your system all of the time.
We also have to update our consciousness and bring ourselves into alignment with what’s real and relevant for who we are today rather than just acting out of a pattern because they happen to be installed.
Change the Conversation
Rae Williams: What happens when we’re not doing this work?
Gael McCool: Well, what happens is you follow a different alignment with what’s really important to you. One of the things that I say early on in the book, and I certainly respond this way with all of my clients. Instead of focusing on what’s wrong with me, which is where a lot of people get stuck, we need to focus on what matters to you.
Change the question from what’s wrong with me to what matters to me, and you start to get a different set of answers.
You start to explore what’s important to you in your life, what truly matters, and what’s going to bring you into some sense of connection and fulfillment and put you on a road to achieving what really matters to you in your life.
Rae Williams: What is our first step?
Gael McCool: I think the first step is always curiosity. Openness to explore. What is this thing I’m responding to? It’s just to become a little bit more conscious, a little more self-aware, and ultimately more accountable for how we’re responding to anything.
Curiosity is one of the great gifts that we have. We’re born with that. Every child is curious.
That’s a safe place for people to begin and it’s just to maybe immediately reacting, just hitting the pause button a little bit and going, I wonder? Giving themselves permission to explore why they respond the way they do.
Exploring Your Shadow Self
Rae Williams: I would love to explore the deeper story of what your shadow self is all about.
Gael McCool: Yes, and thank you for choosing that one because the shadow self comes out of Jungian psychology. It is a term that refers to the parts of ourselves that we kind of cut off and repressed because they were found unacceptable. So we drive them underground.
So these are natural impulses, drives, needs and so on that we have early in life. We are given ample evidence of what is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable within our family situations, our culture, etc.
So if we don’t start to come to terms with some of these aspects of ourselves that we’ve driven underground, they start to come up for us in the form of inner conflict and turmoil.
These things that we have repressed are not necessarily bad things about us. I think that that is one of the biggest challenges that people have with the whole notion of the shadow. They are terrified of it—what is in there, what bad thing am I going to discover about myself.
But in reality, a lot of the things that are in that suppressed area are things that we actually love and are aspects of our self that we never really had a chance to explore and express, that got we were told early on this is not an acceptable way to be. So we close that down rather than ever being able to integrate that into who we are and express that.
So let’s say that for example an aspect of yourself as that you were a fun-loving, very alive, live wire kind of kid who was full of joy and rambunctious and mischief. You may have been in a family in which for example a parent is depressed or something, so they are constantly trying to tamp down that stimulation that constant expression of joy in the child because they are too much energy and then in some ways as children, we’re all in a way almost too blindingly bright for our parents that we have so much energy and so much life force.
If you are taught that it is not acceptable to be that joyful and that free and that expressive and so on, and you learn to shut that down in order to be very serious and calm and so on, you lose your vitality.
You may be able to maintain a certain way of being where you’re calm and level headed and all of these other wonderful things, but you lose your connection to that sense of joy. So that can be as much of a shadow as some other attributes that people are afraid of.
Rae Williams: In your interpretation, what is wisdom?
Gael McCool: What a great question, thank you. Wisdom is an inherent sense of integrity. It is where things come together in a seamless way that makes you recognize and resonate with the truth of something. Everybody’s had that moment when they have just realized something, and it is just so powerfully simple that they can’t believe that they didn’t see this all along. I am sure you know that kind of experience that I’m talking about.
Wisdom is…I like playing with words. I like to break words down into the components and play around with meaning. So when I hear the word wisdom, it’s got both those qualities to it, wise and dumb.
So when we think of wisdom, it is like having the humility of not knowing, so that something can arise in a natural way. We are always so busy using our mind to interpret everything and run it through some kind of a matrix that we have learned is a right way to look at things.
But wisdom is actually a bit more organic than that. It is when a natural truth arises and we recognize that for what it is. There is a calming feeling that comes with that. There is that sense of recognition and aha.
Rae Williams: How do we use the tools that we were just talking about to develop into wise people?
Gael McCool: I think the first thing is just actually engaging a little bit of trust. Trust that maybe you are not as far off track as you think you are, maybe if you just gave yourself permission to take a breath and look at how the dots are connecting in your life that you actually see that there is an underlying intelligent wisdom that is guiding you all of the time.
When we are feeling really out of alignment or off track with something, that that’s simply a message to stop and reorient our self. Gain some perspective on what is actually going on, because if we are not reactive but are responsive to those inner messages, there is a way that you can bring all of this together to become present with what’s actually going on in your life and make choices from a deeper and more integrated place.
When you do that, there is a sense of harmony and integrity and kind of a sense of wholeness and engagement with life that’s just wonderful to experience.
I’d like to take it out of the idea of always kind of emphasizing the pathological dimension of life for where things are wrong, and maybe shift orientation a little bit to look at what might actually not be wrong but what actually matters here.
Connect with Gael McCool
Rae Williams: So if you had to issue a challenge to anybody listening to people that are reading your book, what would that challenge be?
Gael McCool: Treat yourself as well as you treat the person you love the most in your life. Give yourself that same level of attention, caring, respect, support and opportunity to make mistakes and be imperfect and so on.
You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to embrace the truth of who you are and give yourself some time to explore it and enjoy who you are and trust that you have something meaningful to offer to the world.
Rae Williams: How can we contact you if we are interested in learning more?
Gael McCool: You can go on my website at gaelmccool.com and you can contact me through there. I offer workshops and specific coaching along these lines. So if people are interested in getting on my mailing list so that I can send them out offerings as they come up, I would be thrilled to hear from anybody.