In the Martha Beck coaching circles in which I travel, the acronym “TAO” is a constant refrain, representing the qualities of transparency, authenticity and openness. Living my life in a TAO way, I learned from the very first days of my training, enables me to do my own work on an ongoing basis—a mandatory, lifelong coach’s training in living the process that is my life and my livelihood. The coaches I’ve met who live this way are amazing, lovely, dynamic, appealing, charismatic, and deeply honest. So are the authors who are brave enough to expose their truths with courage and wisdom, and I devour every sentence. The deliberate connection to the Chinese “Tao” (the “way” or the “path” that marks a practice of spiritual growth, attainment and enlightenment) imbues “TAO” with even deeper meaning. Practitioners of Tao know that the path to spiritual growth is not easy. Similarly, living a life that’s transparent, authentic, and open challenges us to reach beyond our limitations and beliefs. And for me, that’s where the trouble begins. I was raised in a family that didn’t speak about deep feelings. We assumed that we loved each other, without speaking of it. We were family; therefore, we were blood-bound to love each other. We didn’t air our personal or interpersonal problems publicly. No one else needed to know of our struggles, our imperfections, our mistakes, or our vulnerability. When I sought the help of a therapist, it was not met with open-minded curiosity about what that process might do for me. I was told, “You’re too sensitive.” The label stung me, and felt desperately unfair, as if having feelings was somehow wrong, and expressing them even more wrong. And asking for help? Definitely not on the continuum of acceptable behavior. In order to belong to my family, I learned to see myself as separate from others and to make comparisons. I rolled my eyes when people revealed the realities of their most human selves. I judged them for their humanity as much as for their lack of shame in divulging it. Only recently have I begun to examine my deeply embedded belief that transparency is bad, wrong, or dangerous. Several kind readers have noticed how quiet I’ve been this month and asked me when the next post was coming out. I feel I owe you all something more than an article to fill the void—an honest expression of what’s behind the silence. As I plod along the path of opening my life so that others can reveal themselves to me, I constantly weigh the benefit of what I want to disclose, thoughtfully considering why I want to tell it, and how much detail is necessary to avoid sucking anyone into my own endless story vortex. Would it be more honest to just blurt out my shame and angst, inviting you into my process? Possibly. The truth is that I’m working with my dear and faithful and nonjudgmental coaches (yes, I’m so twisted up in here that I require multiple Medicine Women) to clean up my own stories, some of which I’ve been stuck in for so long that they’re hideously embarrassing and dreadfully hurtful. I’m alternately sitting with the pain of that, and resting up so I can extricate myself from the vortex and do the hard work of growing. I’m convinced that my current state of smallness will make it difficult for anyone to maintain a shred of respect for me, so I’ll spare you the details and continue to explore what it is that TAO demands of me, walking the line between honesty and “TMI,” and learning how to set boundaries that protect me while practicing the authenticity that connects me. Feel free to post encouragement and your own thoughts on TAO here, so I can share your lifeline and haul myself out of this maelstrom. Peace out.