7 Keys to Courageous Self-Expression | Sovereignty (Part 1 of 2)

What if you can live life authentically while exuding an internal power that liberates you from the weight of other people's opinions? What if you can cultivate a capacity within you that offers an alternative to cutting ties and erecting walls? What if it's possible to go beyond boundaries? In part 1 of the two-part sovereignty series, we explore what it looks like to swap self-protection for embodied self-regard. We get real about anger, conventional gender roles, and what it means to know the sovereign self whose expression doesn’t rely (so much) on external validation. The episode wraps up with a helpful visual meditation and a helpful breakdown of the 4 domains of sovereign self-expression.

1:18 - Never always
4:38 - How Dare She? (story)
9:29 - What is sovereignty?
11:56 - On boundaries
15:06 - Pixie Cut (story)
20:19 - Gender conditioning & control
23:36 - Sovereignty (a visual)
27:26 - The 4 Domains of Sovereignty

#12 | Beyond Boundaries

Hello and welcome to The Deeper Pulse. I'm Candice Schutter. And today we're diving into one of my most favorite topics, the fifth key of courageous self-expression - sovereignty.

When it comes to the many challenges of interpersonal relationships, there is often talk of boundaries. But what if it's possible to go beyond boundaries? What if you were able to cultivate a capacity within you that offers you an alternative to cutting ties and erecting walls? What if you could live life freely as yourself, authentically, all while exuding an internal power that liberates you from the weight of unnecessary armor? These are questions we will explore in this and the next episode.

Some of this content may push your buttons. But that is a good thing. A very good thing, because sovereignty is a muscle; and like all muscles, it requires constructive tension in order to grow stronger.

So let's get at it.

Before we build the foundations of sovereignty, I want to say a little something something that's going to lay some groundwork for the journey ahead.

The famous poet, Walt Whitman, once wrote: "Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes."

I invite you to keep Walt's words in mind as we dive into this material. The practice of sovereignty often occurs in the context of relationships, and relationships quite often require we make room for two or more contradictory truths at one time.

Now, if you're anything like me, you think you know some things. And when you feel illuminated by new understanding, you cling to it like a newfound lover. You may disregard evidence to the contrary. We humans can become quite binary when it comes to the knowledge we seek. We are quick to reject what does not conform to our beliefs, and we over-generalize our own tried and true conclusions, projecting them onto the world around us.

This is a dangerous tendency, one that psychologists call confirmation bias. It gets us into all sorts of trouble, perpetuating implicit bias, fixed mindsets, and shutting us down when in fact we need to keep an open mind in order to grow.

So to start things off, I want to offer up one of my own personal mantras. One that I use to keep myself in check when it comes to my own tendencies to hold tight to my beliefs, my biases, and other foregone conclusions.

Two words: Never Always.

'Never always' has become a constant reminder for me to continually question my beliefs and intellectual certainties. It's a perpetual return to innocence and a surrender to the unknowable.

So I say to you never always. When I say something, anything, on this or any other episode, never always do I believe this to be so. Nor do I mean to imply that it's applicable in all situations. Life is above all else a mystery. New awareness is constantly arising to challenge old, outdated paradigms. This is as it should be.

So as you listen, allow the dissonance. Welcome it. And take care not to tie yourself in knots overgeneralizing or forcing undo conclusions. Stay curious. Lean into the questions that arise for you. And celebrate the tension that causes you to say, " yeah, but..." That ellipsis, those three dots at the end of that phrase, this spaciousness is very, very useful.

Dissonance of this sort helps you to know yourself, to deconstruct old narratives. It generates a fire within you that moves through you and helps you to free yourself from the cages that other people may have inadvertently invited you to live inside myself included.

So all of that to say, in this episode, I'm inviting you to get comfy with being uncomfortable. Because the definition of personal sovereignty that I offer up here may at first feel a bit counterintuitive, that is until you get to know it in your bones.

It was years ago, but I still remember it viscerally. The first time I saw Megan Rapinoe score a goal. Her face lighting up like the only star in the sky. She turned her entire body to the crowd and raised her arms into a wide V, high above her head. Her chest ballooned outward. It was magnetised to the heavens and her face lifted like a proud lioness.

I had never, before seen a woman do that... express her pride so audaciously. It gave me chills from head to toe. Her posture awakened something in me. This was the shape a woman takes when she feels free enough to show all of herself to the world. When she is bold, unapologetically expressive, courageously vulnerable to the inevitable judgment a woman faces when she dares to take up so much space in the world.

Megan Rapinoe has been booed by sold out crowds, trolled by a former president, and banished by sponsors for taking a knee in the name of social justice. But Megan continues to do Megan. She's a sovereign woman who stands at her own significance, moves in the world as she is, and advocates for what she believes in no matter the social costs.

But for most of us, sovereignty doesn't earn us a gold medal. More often than not, its rewards are more personal.

In 2005, I worked closely with a woman who was two decades my senior, and over time we developed a close friendship. One Friday afternoon, I approached her at her desk and asked her if she wanted to join me and some work friends for brunch over the long weekend.

She raised her head smiled at me warmly and said, "no thanks," before turning back to her work.

No, thanks. That was all she said. She offered no explanation, made no excuses, and felt no urge whatsoever to apologize for her absence.

I walked away from the interaction feeling a bit dazed and wholly inspired. Who did she think she was? The words flooded through my mind involuntarily. I mean, where did she get off saying no without offering so much as an explanation? The truth was I had never before encountered a woman who was so brave as to not justify herself. And never before had I realized what a revolutionary act it was for a woman to make her desires known without justification or explanation. And that's when I began wondering to myself... what would it be like to be that confident, that free, that sovereign.

It was then and there at the ripe age of 30 that I decided for the first time what I wanted to be when I grew up. Unapologetically free.

In Episode 3, I spoke about ushering in a new paradigm of power. A power that doesn't seek to dominate or control, but is instead collaborative and inclusive, self-evident and allowing.

That episode, Making Peace With Power, it's worth a revisit as a lead into this one, because sovereignty is the embodiment of that power.

What we come to believe about power profoundly shapes our expressions in life. And for most of us, the path to sovereignty is not a linear one. We've been wounded by those we trust, manipulated by those who have the privilege to overpower us. And in our efforts to secure love and belonging, many of us have taken detours through codependency and enmeshment. In the end, we've come to question our ability to live with an open heart in a world where power has so often been used against us.

So it makes perfect sense that we armor up. Sometimes self protection is the only way to survive in an unsafe or indifferent world.

However, as we learn and grow, self-protection begins to feel heavy and cumbersome. Our habit of safeguarding ourselves from vulnerability shields us also from the experience of joy. We realize that as much as our self protection might serve us at times, it also deadens us to the full experience of life.

But you may be thinking, uh uh... that's not me. On the contrary. I feel it all. All the feels, all the damn time. His, hers, mine, theirs. It's exhausting.

To that I say, please listen to Episodes 10 & 11... and also I ask you:

Does feeling it all have to mean owning it all?

As a deeply feeling empath. I'm here to say... "no, ma'am it does not."

Sovereign self-expression requires we get crystal clear on what is ours and what isn't.

What does that even mean?

Well, ask yourself:

Do I allow people in my life and in the world to 'do life' in their own way without my oversight or redirection? Am I able to step away from a disagreement and circle back to it later without feeling anxious or losing sleep on the matter?

If you're anything like me and most humans on the planet, you have some work to do. And it's okay. It's all good because life on earth is a messy affair.

That said, individually and collectively we can grow beyond our limitations. Because there is an alternative to our suffering. Deep down inside, we innately understand that sovereignty is our birthright. Take any living, breathing human, and take away her ability to live life of her own free will. And nine times out of 10, she will toil, fight even to feel free once again.

The word 'violence' is from the Latin violentia, which means vehement or impetuous. When we strip away value judgments, violence is a sacred impulse. It's a desperate attempt to become free of pain we can no longer bear to carry inside of us.

Whether it's a biting comment or a brutal assault, when expression asserts itself vehemently, it is an energetic thrust against the status quo. We are in some way fighting for our significance.

Every interpersonal battle is the fight to restore individual autonomy and our right to live and express ourselves as we see fit.

I'm not here to condemn or condone violence. I'm inviting us to instead turn our attention to its alternative. What if it's not about fighting for, against, or in the name of anything? As author and activist Glennon Doyle reminds us... just as obedience is a cage, so to his rebellion. Whether we conform or resist the status quo, either way, we are controlled by someone else's narrative.

We can feel it in our bodies. When we are fighting we become possessed by an energy that in most cases expresses itself in ways that are contrary to our values.

So what is the alternative to compliance or chronic resistance? Well, this brings us to the topic at hand. Boundaries.

Now I'm going to offer up a radical proposition and a question for us to ponder together.

What if... and stay with me on this... what if boundaries are only necessary until they're not?

A few months ago, my dear friend and soul sister Britt B Steele and I were talking on this very topic, trying to suss out the guts of how we felt about it. And she said to me, boundaries are the floaties that help us learn how to swim. I find this to be an apt metaphor. But by now you might be thinking... Candice, a life without boundaries could be suicide for some.

Indeed. And to that, I say... never always. The question of boundaries and whether or not they're needed, this is a personal inquiry. One that reveals itself through relative truth. Which is why we must take care not to prescribe our experience on to others, and especially not to gaslight those who suffer from things like oppression and abuse of power.

To a woman in Afghanistan, living under an oppressive regime or a powerless young child suffering at the hands of an abuser... boundaries are essential and necessary when it comes to taking right action.

I'm sure there's been times in your life when the only best option was to draw a hard line in the sand. When your heart said to you... enough, not this, not now, and quite possibly not ever.

But it is critical to remember that unless we're dealing with an issue of safety or once the moment of trauma has passed, it's really easy to get stuck on the idea of boundary and lose sight of the many other resources that are available to us. Many of us wall ourselves into a prison of our own making, shutting ourselves off from connection when there is an opportunity presenting itself to us.

Once we have access to choice and the psychological space to grow and flex our will in the world, we have the soulular opportunity to grow beyond the maze of walls that we have created for ourselves.

When we were children, we were dependent on the world around us. Whether it was through force of habit or a necessity of our survival, most of us learned to go along in order to get along. We shielded our authentic self with all sorts of protective adaptations. Maybe we learned to cower in the corner, or perhaps we were taught to tower over adversaries. Self protection can look all kinds of ways, but at its root, when it becomes reflexive and habituated, it is a perpetual abandonment of the deeper self.

When we refuse to wall ourselves off from the world, we are forced to bring more of ourselves to it. We can unlearn self protection and replace it with a way of being that is more fluid and responsive, less rigid and reactive.

Now for a story.

When I was in the fourth grade, my family and I moved to El Centro, California where the summers were brutal and temperatures reached a hundred plus on the regular. Even so, I played outdoors all day every day during the summer months. Refusing to wear shoes, I would ride my bike barefoot through the winding paths of the trailer park, my leather-skinned feet pedaling hard, and my long blonde hair trailing behind me.

Most days I was on my own until dark. My mom and stepdad working long hours in rooms without air conditioning.

On one particularly hot day in July, Mom had finally had enough with the oppressive summer heat and without a word of warning, she lobbed off her long hair into a barely there pixie cut. I was the first to see her chic new look, and I was giddy with excitement. She looked so pretty and sophisticated; and her eyes seemed to suddenly sparkle in a whole new way.

That evening, mom picked me up at the house and drove us to the family business. My stepdad Gary was in the back warehouse, dressed in cutoff jean shorts and a sleeveless shirt. He wiped his brow with a blue bandana before looking up from his work.

As soon as he caught sight of my mother, he winced as if she had struck him. Then, without a word, he turned on his heel and stomped out the door.

Mom shook her head, looked down at me and smiled. "It's okay, baby. He'll come around. But you and I go home and start supper."

For the next two days, Gary didn't speak to either one of us. On occasion, I'd forget the recent drama, and I'd bound into the room making a joyful bid for his attention, and he would refuse to even make eye contact with me. I'd grown accustomed to his fits of rage, but this was different. And I received the message of his silence loud and clear... it is not okay for you to be who you are apart from who I need you to be. After an argument with my mother behind closed doors, one in which she spoke and he pretended not to listen, Gary began talking to me again.

From then on, Mom cut her hair whenever she wanted to, but I kept my long until she divorced him many years later.

My mother's choice to do as she pleased, despite my stepfather's distain, which she'd clearly anticipated... this was a sovereign act. It wasn't an act of righteous defiance. She cut her hair because she wanted to. And in that moment, anyone else's feelings on the matter were entirely irrelevant. And then her husband tried to punish her for making choices around her own body.

But Gary was not her first cowboy, and this was not her first rodeo. She knew the impact of her choice, but she chose to do it anyway. Because she was her own woman.

That's said, it wasn't without regret. I do recall her apologizing on behalf of my stepdad's behavior toward me. She couldn't help but take responsibility for the fact that he chose to punish me for her choices.

But in the end, I'm glad it happened exactly the way it did, because the whole haircut saga taught me an important lesson. That if a woman wants her life to be her own, she must be willing to defy convention and brave the fallout of other's expectations.

And she must continually do this again, and again, and again.

When a client gets angry, I know we're onto something. Anger gives oxygen to the fire that burns inside of us, and it can point us toward sovereignty if we learn how to constructively allow it.

But when we repress it, and we become unconscious in our anger, it leads to disconnection, silent brooding, fits of rage, online, tantruming, you name it.

Anger is common because it is the most societally acceptable way to reclaim space when we feel threatened or our identity is in some way challenged.

My stepdad Gary's worldview had been shaped by the idea that his authority, his sense of identity, was somehow contingent upon my mother's choices and our collective compliance to his will. Bless his heart. What a cross to bear.

And you might be tempted to dismiss the story I shared as unrelatable, chalk it up to yet another case of misogyny gone sideways. And you might be right, but I also ask you this:

Have you ever punished someone for not conforming to the story you have in mind for them? Have you ever said to someone you love, "I'm just so disappointed in you."

Have you ever looked at a friend or loved one and said, "I know exactly what you need to do."

Or maybe every now and then you lean into my tried and true favorite; the one I like to use at home with. "I told you so."

I'm the only one, huh? Okay. Well, let's pretend for the sake of argument that I am not alone here.

Contrary to our conditioning, our personal well-being is not in fact contingent upon the behavior of the people around us. And despite what Hollywood would have us believe, control is not as sexy as it seems.

Now bear with me, I'm going to get gender binary for a moment. Not because life works that way in actuality... again, never always... but for the sake of a simple illustration. Now, if you get stuck in the language here, I invite you to think in terms of what we've labeled societally as feminine and masculine energies.

We'll start with those we call 'women' and/or humans who've been conditioned as 'feminine.' Women are taught that they're needs, emotions, and physical form should take up as little space as possible. They learned that their desires and intuitions are questionable pursuits and that doing well in life means sustaining an unwavering level of self control. In order to succeed as a woman person, above all else you must put on a good face, tamp down your emotions, and conform to societal expectations.

'Men' or 'masculine' conditioning teaches a human person that they're meant to be invulnerable. They are built to conquer and take up as much space as they like..., intellectually, physically, or emotionally. They are conditioned to believe that getting what they want means controlling their environment. To this point, an unconscious explosion of anger - otherwise known as rage - can be quite useful. It's the fastest way to fill up a space with an emotional climate that is so big and so strong that it pushes all other emotions to the side.

But whether we call it feminine or masculine... Whether we work over time to jive with other people's expectations and conform to the norm, or we flex and assert our will forcefully upon the world... we're fighting an impossible and unwinnable war. We are reaching for level of control over our environment and it's people that is impossible to possess.

You've likely heard this before, but it is essential to the embodiment of sovereignty. There is one thing, and one thing only that you have control over you... and your responses to life.

And when, instead of tending to your personal domain, shoring up resources that enable you to respond better to life... When instead you seek to control life and everything in it, it comes at a cost... losing touch with your deeper self.

Sovereignty not only means knowing where you began an end, it also requires we make peace with the fact that controlling anything outside of ourselves is a futile endeavor.

You might be thinking, but what if I want to make a difference in the world?

I'm with you.

Sovereignty doesn't mean collapsing with deflated acceptance when it comes to all that you can't control. Hell to the no, the opposite is true. The more sovereign we become, the greater the impact we can have. When we learn to separate our identity from the meaning we seek to bring into the world, we are free to express it without getting bogged down by imposter syndrome, without chronic fear of judgment. When we become sovereign, we become brave enough to occupy the world without armor to challenge systems, without the need to save face along the way.

So how do we survive a life without armor?

Well, let's take a moment to visualize sovereignty.

Imagine your heart, figuratively speaking, as the center of the deeper self. And envision a permeable membrane that surrounds it. Like an energetic muscle, an internal edge that moves and ebbs. Like a heartbeat, it expands and it contracts.

Close your eyes, drop your chin toward your chest... inhale. And imagine it expanding... flexing, outward, creating more and more space inside of you. Imagine it can extend outside of your body, into the space that surrounds you.

And as you exhale to relax, you invite this energy to sustain its shape, to hold you and contain you. Like a strength that you can call upon when you feel threatened, unsafe or unsure. Continue to expand this energetic container, filling it with your potency and power.

Rather than imposing a wall out there. You're making more room for you from the inside out.

Now, as you continue to visualize, imagine someone walks into the room, someone with whom you feel safe, held, and deeply loved. You can feel this energetic muscle begin to relax as they come closer, contracting in order to make more room for him, her, or them.

As you release the flexing of your sovereignty muscle, you can feel your potency and power is just as large as before, it just becomes contained in a smaller space. A space that allows for vulnerability and deep heartfelt connection.

While my experience of sovereignty isn't as literal, this visual helps us to understand how sovereignty feels like a muscle. And like any muscle in the body, it gets stronger when it has something to push against.

When it is our habit to erect walls around us, we lose the opportunity to build this core power.

Now, obviously it's not as easy as it sounds... and we're going to dive into that a bit more in the next episode, when we talk about love and limits.

For now, I just want to offer one final say on the whole subject of boundaries and how they are in fact quite different than the illustration of sovereignty I just offered you here.

Because sovereignty is an internal power that we develop through practice, it is within the domain of our control.

A boundary, on the other hand is external; and it requires tremendous energy to enforce because it relies on our ability to control the uncontrollable - other people and the world around us.

When we rely on boundaries alone, we quite literally become bound to outside narratives. We must remain vigilant and steadfast in our efforts to self protect. We draw hard lines, and then we feel conflicted when we're unable to reconcile our values with the barricades we've constructed.

Sovereignty, on the other hand, is less black and white. It remains fluid and constant in the face of any and all sorts of external narratives. It frees us for connection when we feel safe and available, and it offers a buffer of conscious discernment when space is in order.

Boundaries are unforgiving and concrete. Sovereignty is accepting and adaptive to the moment.

Boundaries are reactive to circumstance. Sovereignty is responsive to life.

So how do we build sovereignty?

It requires we come to know our whole self, in mind, body, heart, and soul.

Just as there are four realms of our being, there are four domains of sovereignty. Four ways we dissolve our once necessary armor and replace it with self-sufficiency and soul power.

Domain #1, the realm of the mind. Sovereignty requires mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to step outside of our story, to hold all things with equanimity and grace. Through mindfulness we can transcend our social conditioning. We come to know who we are and are able to tap into the resources that help us to become who we would most like to be. Authority, key #1, lays the groundwork for mindfulness because we are required to take back our stories. We become sovereign when our minds become our own again.

Domain #2 is the physical realm. Sovereignty requires embodiment. It takes courage to become intimate with the carnal self, to tap into the vulnerability of living in a body with five senses, to make peace with the realities of our physical form. When we numb out or neglect our bodies, we lose touch with the deeper self and its truths, many of which reveal themselves through physical sensation. Humility, key #2, supports embodiment. It provides both grit and grace to the realities of living life as a flesh and blood human. We are sovereign when we fully occupy the skin we're in.

Domain #3, the emotional realm. Perhaps the greatest obstacle to sovereign self-expression is the inability to regulate emotions. That is why sovereignty relies on self regulation. First, we must learn to overcome reactivity to accept responsibility that what happens within our emotional body is ours to tend to. We must do the inner work of repatterning our responses over time. It is then that we finally become free, in our integrity to connect wholeheartedly with the world from the inside out. Vulnerability, key #3, this is the gateway to self-regulation, because we are sovereign when we become brave enough to feel it all.

And finally, Domain #4, that of the soul. Sovereignty means soulular self-possession. When we learn to see and know ourselves as we really are, we restore connection to a wisdom that is much greater than us. We are able to know and sense and feel through mind, body, and heart, into the deeper pulse, the soulular truths that live within us. To an intelligence that is wholly unique in its personal expression, and yet inextricably connected to a much larger intelligence that's available to us all. Which is why Empathy, key #4, is so essential. Honest connection feeds authenticity and soulular self-possession. We become sovereign when we connect with others in a way that is wholehearted and true.

And so you can see, dear heart, how each of the previous keys have been leading you to this point. To the moment when you come to understand that your life is a part of something much, much bigger... which is why it must be expressed uniquely as your own.

Here, this...

Your most authentic way of being in the world is right and essential to the whole.

Next time, I'm going to speak more about boundaries, particularly in the context of our most intimate relations. We're going to explore unconditional love, and the art of disappointing people, as well as things we must keep in mind when we're looking for ways to live in our truth and assert without the hurt.

We've got lots to cover there, but for now, I invite you to once again, take a moment.

Close your eyes, drop your chin and breathe deeply into your heart and solar plexus. Tap into the authority that lives within you far below the meanderings of the mind, deep into the core of you. Continue to breathe into that space, nourish with your attention, and listen for the voice that has no words, the one that rises up slowly like steam on water. It is like a silent whisper from within, often defying language or reason. In that stillness, you will find a wisdom that is uniquely your own.

And if this practice doesn't make you feel sovereign and powerful and true... then don't sit here with me. Smile, open your eyes and reach for what moves you.

Move toward what moves you and your deeper self will rise to meet you.

Until we meet again, I'm sending you big, big love. And I'm reminding you that you are more capable, more powerful, and more lovable than you could ever know.

I love you.


© The Deeper Pulse, Candice Schutter