The hidden messages of physical tension

In my own life and in working with massage clients, I’ve noticed a pattern: When we don’t create and maintain healthy boundaries in our relationships, it seems that our bodies try to compensate by creating physical “boundaries,” which we then experience as tension, constriction, or illness.

Here are just a few examples:

  • We say yes to plans that we don’t want to do, and then we get sick and can’t go.
  • We don’t speak our truth, we agree to things we don’t actually agree with, say things we don’t mean, and we lose our voice or feel tension in our neck and jaw.
  • We feel like we have to do everything ourselves or it won’t get done, so we take on other people’s stuff and our back starts to hurt.
  • We repeatedly ignore our intuition and walk into situations we know aren’t good for us, and our knees and feet start acting up.

Our bodies are wonderfully unique, so the ways in which your body compensates could be quite different from this list, but the basic concept remains: We need healthy boundaries to exist in this world, and if we’re not setting them in our relationships, our bodies will pick up the slack.

This might sound bizarre, but you are likely familiar with a more extreme example of this: trauma. Whether it be in your own life or someone you know, it’s all too easy to see the link between a traumatic boundary violation and the body’s ability to remember and “record” this violation in the form of tension, illness, hypersensitivity to touch, and so forth.

While this is a massive topic, too wide ranging to completely cover here, let’s talk about a couple ways to explore this concept in your own life and in your own body.

Find the tension

For starters, get in touch with where in your body you feel tension or discomfort. Quite often, we’re so used to feeling, say, constriction in our jaw or a dull ache in our knees that we don’t even notice it anymore.

Take some time to sit, stand, or lay down, and do a body scan, slowly moving your awareness from your head to your toes, sensing any tension or pain. If this feels difficult, try tensing each part of your body individually, and notice what it feels like when you release this tension. Can you sense that your body isn’t fully releasing in any areas?

To see what hidden tension feels like, try this simple exercise. If you spend a good amount of time sitting (like most of us do these days), you might be surprised by what you find in this pose. Lay on the floor, either on carpet or some other cushioning, like a yoga mat. Bend your knees and plant your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart, heels about a foot away from your butt. An easy way to measure this is to start with your feet directly below your knees, then scooch them another 3-4″ away from your hips.

Rest your hands on your belly or down by your sides, palms facing down (don’t bring your arms above your head or up by your shoulders as this changes the stretch). Take some time to get in touch with your breathing, slowing down the inhales and exhales for at least ten rounds of breath.

Now, shift your awareness to your hips. Do you notice any tension there, any sense that something is holding on to keep your legs locked in position?

Then, try this: move your awareness to your hamstrings (the backs of your thighs), noticing the length from the backs of your knees all the way to your glutes. If you imagine letting this length elongate or soften, like a wet noodle, do you feel any resistance, maybe tension kicking in to keep your knees from falling open or collapsing inward?

Play with this for a few more rounds of breath, and when you’re ready to come out, roll onto your side and rest in fetal position for a few breaths before slowly moving up to a seated position.

Bonus: In doing this exercise, you also gave your psoas muscle a chance to release.

Play with symbolism

Once you’ve located at least one area of tension, focus your awareness there. For example, if your shoulders are tense, you might choose to close your eyes and bring your attention to your shoulders. What does tension feel like in this area–how would you describe it? Do any phrases or images come to mind, even if they don’t make sense?

Start to play with any words or phrases, any images that arise in a more figurative way. For example, if you described your shoulder tension as “shrugging,” perhaps as you turn it over in your mind, you associate this with shrugging in indecision, which then leads you to the awareness that you’ve become disconnected from what you want, think, and feel because you’re overly focused on what other people want, think and feel.

You see yourself in a situation where someone is asking you to do something, and while you don’t feel excited about it you find yourself shrugging and agreeing: “Sure, why not?”

This leads you to the realization that you don’t feel like you have a right to assert your own wants and needs, that it’s rude or selfish to do so, and you start to see how every denial of your own experience creates a little more stress, a little more tension in your shoulders until you can’t remember what it felt like to have shoulders that weren’t creeping up towards your ears, aching for a massage.

Help a body out

Of course, finding the tension and uncovering the emotional and energetic layers is just the beginning. To release that tension, you’ll need to combine physical efforts, such as bodywork and stretching, with creating boundaries in healthier ways so your body doesn’t have to do that for you.

If you continue to rely on your body to create relationship boundaries, tension will persist, regardless of how many massages or yoga classes you’ve had this month. To deepen the healing, you might try reading books about boundary setting, codependence, and healthy communication. This is a great place to start.

But like any change, you have to actually practice it and live it, not just read and think about it. Therapy is an excellent tool for unlearning unhelpful boundary patterns and learning new ways of relating to yourself and others.

If you notice that trying to set boundaries feels uncomfortable–perhaps you feel guilty or selfish when you say no–therapy can help you uncover the “rules” you learned, likely as a child, that it feels like you’re violating by setting healthy boundaries. It can help you rewrite your life rules on your own terms in a way that allows you the space to express yourself authentically.

And the more space you create in your life through healthy boundaries, the more spaciousness you will feel in your body. It’s a win-win.

The Upside to Not Having a F#&*ing Clue

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, The Dervish and the Mermaid, and Pace Smith, the show’s co-host, was recounting her and her wife’s six-month adventure of living in an RV, and specifically, what came up when they changed their minds and decided they were done living on the road. Pace struggled with a fear of looking flaky and inconsistent simply because life had changed and their minds had changed with it.

I’ve written in the past about the power of changing your mind (and the difference between that and being a flake), but here I want to focus on another aspect of mind changing: When we embark on a path, we don’t know where it will lead. We might think we know, but really, anything beyond the present is pure conjecture.

Hands down, the most common reason I hear when someone (myself included) is hesitant to take action is that they don’t know where it’ll lead. Yet, if we acknowledge that, in reality, we never know the future, this reason doesn’t hold much water. Not knowing how things will turn out is not a convincing reason for staying put.

Pace says:

If we had all the information up front we might not have made the same decision, but I think that would have been a shame because it was such an enriching experience. We might not have been bold enough to face up to the known dangers, but we were bold enough to face up to the unknown dangers. And I’m glad that we experienced them, and it was definitely the right choice.

This brings to mind the tarot’s Fool card, that necessary energy of curiosity and naïveté that allows us to take healthy risks and go with the flow rather than holing up in our house because we can’t anticipate and control every conceivable step.

This also ties into guidance. I have found that when we receive guidance from our Wise Self, spirit guides, etc. rarely are we given more than the next one, maybe two steps…and this can feel frustrating, to put it mildly. But while we might think we want the entire map, if we had it spread out in front of us it might be so daunting that we’d choose to stay in and watch Netflix instead.

When we’re only given the next step or two, we can take life in more manageable, bite-sized chunks, and this process is wildly effective if we take action on the one or two steps we’re privy to right now. But if we’re holding out, waiting for the entire map to appear before we take a single step, we’re likely to stay stuck and unsure.

Being okay with changing our minds is our secret weapon in this process. It helps ease some of the ego’s rising panic that every misstep will spell permanent doom and destruction. In reality, if something doesn’t work out we can pause, reevaluate, change our minds, and try something else.

And beyond the ability to change our mind, we will also benefit from the ability to not judge ourselves when we do. If we accept that the future is unknown, that we can only get information by interacting with life (and not by staying home thinking about what might happen if we were to interact with life), then there’s no getting around it: We will make choices, some of those will turn out differently than we thought, and we’ll change our minds.

It really doesn’t have to be any more epic than that, folks. We’re not expected to know the future. We’re not expected to stay and think and be the same from now until the day we die.

We’re here to learn, to grow, to experiment, to adapt, to change course, and to change course again.

While our culture might prize being consistent cogs delivering predictable, day-in-and-day-out performance, life has other plans, and we will be far happier, healthier, wiser, more creative, and more fulfilled if we give ourselves the freedom to evolve.

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Life Advice From a Demon

In a fantastic graphic novel, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, the main character is having a chat with a demon who gives her a piece of profoundly useful advice. The demon says:

It’s perfectly normal to bury a thing that you’d rather not admit…We–in my profession–definitely encourage humans to keep secrets from themselves. Nothing makes you sicker faster than that!

So, let’s cut to the chase. Many of us spend a massive amount of energy trying to distance ourselves from what we’re experiencing—our emotions, feelings, needs, wants, sensations, you name it. We might say, “Not true! I get together every Friday to hash out the week with friends over wine.” But I would argue that hashing out, while potentially useful, is not the same as being present with our experience.

Being present means sitting with the experience as it arises. It doesn’t mean texting a friend about it. Or posting on Facebook. Or creating a story in our minds about why we’re having this experience. We don’t have to “figure anything out” in these moments; we just have to be and allow whatever our experience is to just be, too.

Feeling angry? Be present with the anger. Feeling anxious? Ditto. Feeling elated? Ditto.

When we choose to be present, we are choosing not to engage in the multitude of distractions available to help us check out: shopping, eating, whipping out our phone, Instagramming, zoning out, complaining, criticizing ourselves, and the list goes on. We aren’t narrating our experience through thoughts or words, we’re just being with it.

When we practice in this way, we might become aware of just how much energy was previously being thrown at distractions. Spoiler alert: This could amount to nearly all of our daily energy that’s not being used for basic metabolic function. Seriously. We live in a culture of distraction.

The good news? When we choose presence over distraction, we suddenly have access to this previously tied-up energy. Ever wish you had more time and energy to do the things you want to do? Start making deposits in the bank of Being Present, and you will likely be surprised by just how much energy you actually have.

[Cue infomercial voice over.] But that’s not all!

Remember what the demon said about keeping secrets from ourselves: “Nothing makes you sicker faster than that!” When we choose distraction, we create secrets. Instead of being conscious of our experience, we shove it away and add it to the Bank of Secrets, where it acts like a toxic sludge to our system.

All of those emotions, feelings, needs, and wants don’t simply go away because we’re not consciously aware of them. Oh my, no. Instead, they build and expand in our unconscious, and they dictate our lives from beyond our awareness, yanking us around like a puppet on a string. To paraphrase Jung, when we fail to make the unconscious conscious, we project it onto the world around us and we call it fate.

Today, what can you remain present for? Can you allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling, want what you want, need what you need?

Each moment you have a choice: You can be present, or you can choose distraction.

Your experience is valuable. It deserves the space to just be. And the more you allow yourself to be, the more energy you will have, the less secrets you’ll keep, and the less you will feel yanked around by factors beyond your control.

Not too shabby a return for simply allowing what already is to exist.

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The 2017 Lion’s Gate: The Sun and Sirius

The astrological occurrence referred to as the Lion’s Gate occurs each year when the Sun is in the sign of Leo and is in alignment with Siruis. The Sun has an affinity for Leo (in astrological parlance, the Sun is “ruled by” Leo), which means that the Sun-Leo combo is powerful in and of itself, but it’s ramped up even more by the addition of Sirius.

While Sirius, the “Dog Star,” is technically a star system, not a single star, to the naked eye it appears as a solitary star. It’s the brightest star in the night sky, being 25 times more luminous and two times larger than our own Sun. This has led many to view Sirius as a second sun, or Spiritual Sun.

Why should we care?

During the opening of the Lion’s Gate, with the Sun and Sirius in alignment, we’re experiencing double the light energy of the Sun, which is symbolic of higher consciousness–in other words, we’ve got Sun energy on steroids. If we tap into this energy, our own conscious awareness can increase exponentially.

To understand this process more fully, I asked my guides for insights during meditation, and lest this become The World’s Longest Blog Post, I’ll stick to the key points.

I was led to connections within the tarot, starting with the Strength card, a card that is typically depicted with a lion. The Strength card contains the infinity symbol, or lemniscate, which looks like a sideways number 8. Interestingly, the Lion’s Gate occurs in the eight month of the year (August), and is thought to reach its peak on the eighth day of the month.

What other cards in the tarot contain the infinity symbol? Traditionally, out of all seventy-eight cards, only two others contain this symbol: the two of pentacles and the Magician.

I was led to the following spread of cards:

The two of pentacles at the base speaks to our dual nature–the truth that we are both physical and spiritual–and this union of our inner polarity is very important. It can be thought of as the union of our inner masculine and feminine energies, our intellect and our intuition, our yang and our yin, our spirit and our body.

Why is this important? When we disconnect from one pole or the other, the rejected aspect doesn’t disappear, it merely gets shoved into the subconscious. Pacing around in our subconscious like a pent-up lion, this rejected half still holds great power, influencing our thoughts, words, and actions, but because it’s outside of our awareness, we have no say in its effects. We’re like a puppet whose strings are being yanked by an invisible puppeteer.

In order to reclaim our power, we must reintegrate this rejected part of ourselves. If we rely on linear, intellectual processing for all of our decision making, it’s time to temper that with the wisdom of our intuition. If we are stuck in our heads most of the day, it’s time to bring some of our awareness back to our body, perhaps through healthy, mindful movement and bodywork. If we’re always in go-go-go mode, it’s time to cultivate balance by carving out time for restorative stillness.

This leads to another important aspect of our dual nature: Because we are both spiritual and physical, we possess the powers of both states of being. We have the ability to interact in the spiritual plane and in the physical, and indeed, if we are to find fulfillment in this life, it is our duty to learn how to interact with both realms masterfully.

How do we do this? In a nutshell, by honoring the unique capabilities of each mode of existence. Think of it this way: The spiritual plane has certain qualities, such as infinity, non-locality, and perfect expression. The physical plane has different, complementary qualities, such as finite existence/the experience of time, location in space, and partial expression.

Now–and this is important–this does not make the physical less than the spiritual. We are not aiming to transcend the physical in favor of the spiritual. We are seeking to master the different skills that each plane requires. For example, in the spiritual plane, we can experience the sensation of being One with all things and of existing in all places at once. (Some might call this “enlightenment.”)

In the physical plane, we must choose to be in one location at a time. If we do not respect this quality, we spread ourselves too thin, trying to be everywhere at once, saying yes to too many things, loading our calendar to the breaking point.

In the spiritual plane, we are perfect, but in the physical plane, we must accept the beautiful mess of this temporary existence. Our bodies will not last forever, and our health is not served by trying to achieve perfection through rigid diets, buying more clothes, forcing our bodies through workouts even when it hurts.

The Quest for Wholeness

Jungian analyst Marie-Louise von Franz writes in her book, Alchemy:

If you take the image of the devouring lion this is quite clear. If I think I ought to be top dog everywhere, have the most beautiful partner, have money, be happy, and so on, that is a paradise fantasy…The fantasy itself is entirely legitimate, it has the idea of…a perfect state, a perfect harmony…but naturally if projected onto outside life and wanted there, in the here and now, that is impossible. The way in which the person wants to realize the fantasy is childish, but in itself it is valuable and has nothing wrong or unhealthy in it.

When we take the perfection of spiritual oneness and we try to recreate that through our job, our stuff, our body, our relationships, we put massive pressure on temporary, ever-changing physical existence. But when we get that feeling of wholeness through spiritual means (whatever that practice might look like for us), we free ourselves from seeking this transcendence by buying more stuff, eating more food, having more sex, and so on. And then, we can actually enjoy the stuff, the food, and the sex, because we’re not expecting it to make us complete or to stick around forever.

In the Strength card, we see the lion subdued, not by brute force but by the calm presence of the woman. When we yoke our life passions to the calm presence of the higher self–when we unite our physical and spiritual nature–they support each other in an endless feedback loop shown by the lemniscate. We’re able to enjoy the dual nature of life to the fullest: We can savor earthly experiences without trying to attain impermanence or a state of perfection through them, because we are already in touch with that infinite perfection through our spiritual nature.

The massive creative energy that is freed up by not trying to force reality to be anything but what it is can be channeled into manifesting what our soul needs and wants in this life, shown in the Magician card. The Magician channels the powers of the Above and the Below (there’s that dual nature again), and uses them to create. This is a vital piece of the puzzle, for if we learn to channel these energies and we don’t put them to good use, they can become overwhelming and destructive. Roseanne Cash described the creative muse as an energy that becomes toxic if it doesn’t get used.

It is our responsibility to use this energy wisely, and we can do this in any number of ways. For example, we can spend it on projects that truly light us up, whether they be for pleasure or profit.

By being mindful of how we spend energy through our words: Do we complain, gossip, and engage in negative self-talk or do we express gratitude, truth, and useful information?

By being mindful of the thoughts we lend energy to: Are we caught up in cyclical thoughts of worry and anger or do we find ways to pause the ego’s soundtrack, perhaps through meditation or movement, leaving space and stillness for new ideas and insights to generate?

Putting It All Together

To tie the cards together, the foundation of the two of pentacles represents the necessity of acknowledging our dual nature. We are both spiritual and physical. Incorporating this realization into our daily life gives rise to Strength and the ability to masterfully relate to the spiritual and the divine, equipping us with the Magician’s powers to create the life our soul is craving. This entire process both gives rise to and is fed by the light of the Sun, the light of higher consciousness, and the more we engage this creative process, the more we will operate from this place of higher wisdom.

Undergoing Alchemical Transformation

In alchemy, the lion is connected to a stage of transformation known as Fermentation and Putrefaction. From Dennis William Hauck’s The Emerald Tablet:

Before Fermentation, a person can appear hopelessly depressed, passive, and unreliable. The alchemists called this fertile precondition ‘digestion’ or Putrefaction, and connected it with the worldly and proud Fire sign of Leo…The search of the Leo person is for living wholeness, and generally Leos are known for their power, confidence, and domineering personality, though that all comes crashing down during Putrefaction…Once fermented, a person becomes suddenly alive and irrepressibly hopeful because their attention is diverted…to something higher.”

Whether or not your Sun sign is Leo, we all have Leo energy within us, and how we choose to channel that energy is important, because it impacts our ability to feel Whole and whether we continually seek that sense of wholeness through more stuff, more power over others and ourselves, more attention, more, more, more…or whether we find this wholeness through our spiritual nature.

The Lion’s Gate Ritual

To activate the powers of your dual nature during the Lion’s Gate, try this simple ritual. It works with the concept of Fermentation to foster the union of your spiritual and physical nature. You will need a fermented beverage, like kombucha or kefir (yes, wine counts, too).

Pour yourself a glass of the fermented drink, set it aside, and find a place where you can dance without being disturbed. Take a few moments to get in touch with your breath, feeling the breath moving throughout your body with each inhale, emptying out on the exhale. Even with this “simple” act, feel the union of the physical body and the spiritual breath, the one feeding the other feeding the other in an endless loop.

And now, prepare for movement. Crank up some music…and dance! Let yourself be wild and free. It doesn’t matter what you look like, just get into your body and out of your head. Dance until you feel energized, flushed, full of life–heart pounding, lungs pumping, limbs flowing (or flailing, depending on your style!).

When this feels complete, come into stillness. Find a comfortable seated position and have your fermented beverage handy. With your dominant hand, slowly trace the infinity symbol in the air in front of you, following the movement with your eyes. Do this about eight times, then switch hands and repeat. Feel the balancing energy of this symbol seeping into your body, mind, and soul.

Close your eyes. Allow stillness to gradually take over, feeling this transition from physical exertion to spiritual stillness. Say aloud or to yourself, “I unite body, mind, and soul in a way that is correct and good for me.”

Hold the cup of fermented beverage at heart center, and imagine it filling with the combined light of the Sun and Sirius, the light of higher consciousness. When ready, drink from the cup (leaving a bit left over), and feel your consciousness expanding as this energy enters your body and radiates outward, filling your entire energy field.

Sit in meditation for as little or as long as you like, asking for insights that will help you in this process of integrating flesh and spirit, helping you to operate from a place of higher consciousness. What do you most need to know right now?

When this process feels complete, come back to the here and now. You can stomp your feet to ground yourself, then pour the rest of the beverage onto the Earth, saying aloud or to yourself, “May all beings benefit from the gifts of higher consciousness.”

Journal about the experience, making note of any insights that came through or any questions that remain, so you can refer back in the coming days. You will continue to get guidance long after the ritual, and journaling will help you see the emerging threads and themes.

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Following Your Fault-Lines Home

Flipping through an old journal, I came across a passage I copied down from the book Cave: Nature and Culture:

W. H. Auden, who so loved the karst shires of the Northern Pennines, adored limestone. What most moved him about it was the way it eroded. Limestone’s solubility in water means that any fault-lines in the original rock get slowly deepened by a process of soft liquid wear. In this way, the form into which the limestone grows over time is determined first by its flaws. For Auden, this was a human as well as a geological quality: he found in limestone an honesty—an acknowledgment that we are as defined by our faults as by our substance.

In my own personal work, I have seen a gradual transition, mapped in the pages of my journals, from trying to eradicate my perceived faults to learning how to simply be present with them and to see what they have to teach me. And in my clients, the most striking transformations I have been lucky enough to witness have taken place, not as a result of further self-denial and hard-handed discipline, but from a compassionate acceptance of self.

It seems that the main challenge to self-acceptance is the fear that if we accept these “awful” things about ourselves, they’ll run rampant and ruin our lives.

The ego believes that our rejection of these faults is the only thing keeping us from destruction; it’s the dam holding the waters at bay. And all the while, we search and search for a feeling of wholeness, yet, as long as we continue to reject aspects of ourselves, this wholeness eludes us. It is only when we accept ourselves, fully–wholly–that we can feel whole. So, rather than serving as gateways to our destruction, these faults are our ticket home, our return to a state of wholeness.

There’s another interesting facet to these “faults.” I have found that, hidden in their core, these faults contain my greatest gifts, unique creations wrought by my history, my individual fault-lines, and erosion patterns worn by the waters of my life (water being symbolic of emotions and the unconscious realms). These ingredients interact to shape the gifts that I, and I alone, have to offer.

So, too, your gifts are a unique alchemical mix of your fault-lines and their interaction with life. When we accept these faults, they teach us. They teach us about our weaknesses, yes, and this can trigger feelings of vulnerability and shame, but they also teach us of our greatest strengths. If we can be present with the uncomfortable emotions that arise when we witness our fault-lines, we can penetrate the veil, beyond which lies our hidden gifts.

And as Auden intuited, “we are as defined by our faults as by our substance,” so even if we choose to shun these qualities, they shape us nonetheless, but in this shunning we lose the precious gifts they contain. Far better to embrace these fault-lines, weathering the discomfort (and it will pass; it always does), so we can reclaim the gifts they bring.

And if you are feeling adrift, unsure as to what your soul is being called to do, tracing your inner fault-lines will lead you back to your purpose. Remember, these lines are unique to you and you alone, and they contain gifts that require activation in order to fulfill your soul’s purpose. Like a spiritual scavenger hunt, the more of these gifts you assemble, the more their purpose will be come clear. If, metaphorically speaking, you unearth a whisk, a book of pastry recipes, and a bag of flour, perhaps yours is the path of a baker.

My path has led me from being painfully shy (as a child, I cried when people–my own family–gathered around to watch me open birthday presents, and later in life, I agonized over quitting jobs that required me to stand up in front of even the smallest of groups), to sitting with the extreme discomfort that arose in these situations, to eventually uncovering a powerful desire to teach, to speak, and to lead. What clues and gifts do your discomforts contain?

Follow your fault-lines. They will lead you home to yourself and to the wholeness and purpose that awaits.

Why We Must Burn Away Our Fear

On the last New Moon (July 23), I performed a ritual to prepare myself for what is known as a Black Moon Cycle. A Black Moon occurs when two New Moons fall within the same solar month; the second of the two moons is known as a Black Moon. While New Moons in general are a potent time for setting intentions and starting new endeavors, a Black Moon ushers in a period of momentous change, which lasts until the next Black Moon (July 31, 2019). This period is marked by major transformations, transformations that can alter the very course of our lives.

My guides led me on a meditation during my Black Moon ritual, and in this meditation, I visited each of the twelve astrological houses to receive guidance relevant to each house. If you’re unfamiliar with astrological houses, you can think of them as different areas of your life. The first house, for example, is related to our sense of self, our identity. It’s very connected to our survival instinct, and often, many of the actions of the first house are instinctive and automatic unless we’ve done work to make these patterns more conscious.

And it is in this first house that I received a message related to fear and its effects, not only during this life but beyond.

When I entered the first house, I found myself in my grandparents’ house, where I lived for the first few years of my life. Traveling through the rooms, I encountered different family members, each engaged in activities ranging from curious to disturbing, and each with important messages. But it was in the living room where I met one of my ancestors, and I began to cry when I saw that his skin and hair were smoking and glowing, like the embers of a fire.

“What is happening to you?” It was almost unbearable to see him this way, and he replied, “Burn away in life what does not serve or you will burn in death.”

We only had what seemed like brief moments to talk before he disappeared, but he explained that this burning is not a punishment, it is merely a necessary freeing of the soul from the baggage accumulated in life. He said, “In life, we use fear as an excuse to accumulate ‘protective’ baggage, from actual, physical things to rigid beliefs and patterns of being. This all must be burned away if our souls are to return to their original state after death.”

He explained that this is where our images of hell come from–this burning away, this purging of all that does not serve, the things we could have released in life but chose to cling to instead. Again, this burning isn’t done as punishment–it’s a necessary release of dead weight, but it is far better to willingly choose to release these things here, now, in life, so that our journey into death can be one of joy and peace.

Trial By Fire

How do we, as my ancestor described, “burn away in life what does not serve”? This advice reminds me of the alchemical step of calcination, the burning away of ego “detritus” that is preventing us from seeing ourselves and everything and everyone around us as Divine. A powerful way to engage the process of calcination is an exercise that I like to call Trial By Fire.

Trial By Fire can be performed anytime you are struggling with fear in its many forms: limited or rigid beliefs, procrastination, “over analysis paralysis” (aka, getting stuck in endless thinking and never doing), perfectionism, negative self-talk, shame, harmful competition and comparison, harsh judgement of self and others, and the list goes on.

While the antidote is simple, it’s not always easy: To perform Trial By Fire, you take action. End of story. When you’re afraid of teaching that workshop, you do it anyway. When you’re afraid of publishing that blog post because perfectionism would have you tweaking it from now until the end of time, you do it anyway. When you’re afraid to apply for that job because limited beliefs are convincing you that it can’t possibly work out, you do it anyway.

Take action. We burn away fear by dragging it into the light of reality, by putting fear’s loud theories to the test. Did we actually die as a result of giving that workshop? Did the internet explode because we published that imperfect post? Did our lives self-destruct because we applied for that job? Nope, nope, and nope.

Fear’s power lies in its ability to prevent us from taking action. It keeps us stuck in our heads, thinking that we’re somehow safe by not doing anything. But all this time, we’re accumulating layer upon layer of “protective” baggage; our souls are getting heavier and heavier each time we allow fear to dictate our choices.

Fear sounds awfully convincing, but it’s nothing more than a slick marketing campaign, designed to keep you numbed out and mindlessly consuming something–anything–to distract yourself from fear’s dire predictions.

To lighten your load, willingly choose to burn away the things that no longer serve you. Acknowledge your fear, and do it anyway. Stop waiting for some imagined “perfect” opportunity. Embrace what’s in the here and now; be willing to sacrifice the perfect fantasy and challenge the fear-based thoughts.

Put them to the test.

Subject them to a Trial By Fire.

What action can you take today?


Until August 17, 2017, I am offering a special Black Moon Session at my healing practice in Columbia, MO. Learn more here.

What To Do When You Feel Stuck

In the tarot, the suit of swords corresponds to the mental realm, for, just like a sword, the mind is double edged. It can cut through confusion and generate new ideas, but it can also lead us through a labyrinth of unproductive thoughts.

When we don’t know how to use our minds in a soul-aligned way, the mind ends up using us.

What does this look like? In a nutshell, we equate our thoughts with reality with far too little questioning of the leaps and assumptions the mind loves to make, and then we take action based on this faulty chain of “reasoning.” Or, just as likely, we take no action at all because we feel stuck.

The Ego Comes a Knockin’

An example from my own life: My husband and I just moved last month, and I’ve found myself more prone to ego chatter as I work to rebuild my healthy routines in our new home. In the midst of all of this, I went to a class taught by one of my favorite teachers, and I found myself ruminating on the way home over things that I’d said, wishing I hadn’t been so quiet and shy, and on and on and on the ego chatter went.

The following day, I ran into a friend who is also a student of this teacher, and he was telling me what a great experience he had connecting with our teacher over lunch, how the teacher had commended him on such and such, and so forth.

As soon as I said goodbye to my friend and got in the car, I could feel  my ego mind ready and raring to go–oooooh, baby! Let’s do this! My ego was practically foaming at the mouth as it dove head first into Comparison Hell, a realm it knows all to well.

Cue The Witness

But then, my Higher Self stepped in, and I was able, instead, to just watch as the ego splashed around in the mud, riling up emotions and churning out more cyclical thoughts. To be sure, I was still feeling all of the emotions and sensations–embarrassment, the sickness in my stomach, the heat rushing to my chest and face, jealousy, the ants under my skin–but I was also aware that there is a part of me that is not that.

The ego came up with a plan–it loves its plans–which, as always, consisted of only two options, both unappealing. Here’s what it offered me:

  1. I could break away from this teacher and the student group I was a member of, even though they was having an immensely positive impact on my life.
  2. I could obsessively compete with my friend, so my teacher would see that I was better.

Really, ego? That’s all you’ve got for me?

The thing is, me five years ago would have believed these thoughts through and through. I would have felt genuinely stuck, agonizing between leaving the group or trying to find a way to look better than my friend.

And while it might seem easy to spot the ego’s game, reading it here in black and white, how often do you find yourself in situations where you feel truly torn between two unattractive options that seem, legitimately, like the only game in town? How often do you listen to friends as they flip flop back and forth between alternatives they have no real desire to pursue?

How the Ego Keeps Us Stuck

Ninety-nine percent of the tarot readings I perform are about dilemmas generated from this ego space. It’s no wonder that we feel stuck–we don’t want to move forward in any of the directions the ego is presenting, and when we believe these are the only roads out of our situation, it makes sense that we stall or even try to move backward.

The problem is rarely our actual circumstances, as counter-intuitive as that might sound–the problem comes down to our information source.

Think of the ego as a news channel, like Fox News, for example. If you base your view of the world and the decisions you make on this one information source–well, you’ll have a very limited view of the world, and your decisions will reflect this limitation. You’ll find yourself facing similar circumstances no matter where you go or whom you’re with, because the lens through which you’re viewing and interpreting these different circumstances remains the same.

The ego likes to boil everything down to black and white, because it doesn’t have the ability to process more complex situations. The issue is that reality, by its very nature, is complex, so when we’re relying on the ego’s simplified snapshot of events, we are automatically disconnected from reality. We are living in our heads.

In mainstream culture, we’re taught that this is the only way to go. We’re taught that relying on anything other than our heads is foolish, and this further strengthens our belief that our ego chatter is real and must be heeded.

The thing is, if this method was working as well as promised, we’d see it. We wouldn’t be riddled with anxiety and depression, feeling trapped in our own lives, stuck between a rock and a hard place. The proof is in the pudding. It’s time for us to see the limitations of the ego.

The ego mind is meant to be a tool. We are not meant to be a tool of the ego mind.

…And How We Can Break Free

In order to shift our relationship with the ego, it’s time to step into our power. We do this by:

  • becoming the Witness to the ego’s chatter, rather than diving in, participating, and identifying with the noise.
  • questioning everything the ego says. When it presents us with certainties, respond to everything with, “I wonder if…” and “What if I tried…”
  • recognizing that we have the power. In every moment, we have the option to listen to the ego…or not. Just because the ego is talking doesn’t mean we have to listen, much less do what it says.

To return to my example, here’s what this practice looked like for me.

While driving home, I watched the ego chattering away about how I should go about competing with my friend, and how I would have to leave the community if that didn’t “work.” The simple act of witnessing the chatter allowed me to see that the chatter is not me. I don’t have to identify with the chatter. It’s just chatter.

When we identify with the chatter, we’re left feeling that we won’t be okay unless we resolve the issue and hurryupandmakeadecision! The ego has to have a plan, pronto, even if it’s a disastrously shitty one, in order to feel safe. You have the power to resist the ego’s frantic planning.

The irony is that this planning actually generates anxiety, even though the ego thinks planning is its only ward against anxiety. Again, the proof’s in the pudding. If the ego’s planning was actually working to alleviate anxiety, why are we so damn anxious all the time, and why do we feel so much anxiety specifically when we’re engaged in this ego-driven planning–what should I do, what should I do, what should I do? It’s simple: because it doesn’t work.

Then, I questioned the ego’s assertions that I could either leave or compete.

“Hmmm…I see that you’re feeling really intense about this, and you’re feeling the need to make a decision immediately, but I’m going to stay open to possibilities, ego. I love this community and don’t want to leave it, and I also love my friend and don’t want to compete with him. I trust that there’s another way, even though I don’t know what it is yet. There’s no rush. I’m open to options that are correct and for the good of all to make themselves known.”

And then I rolled down the windows, breathed in the fresh air, focused on the sunshine, and felt my mind start to clear. In that moment, I noticed that I was driving by a park, and with the ego chatter turned down a couple of notches, I was able to hear my intuition’s guidance to go for a walk.

I pulled over and started to walk. I wasn’t trying to figure anything out; my only “plan” was to be present. To look at the flowers and trees, to feel the earth beneath my feet, and to trust that this was a valid alternative to obsessively planning and trying to figure everything out.

And then, about ten minutes into my walk, the truth washed over me like a calming wave. The truth that I didn’t need to do anything. There was no situation to fix. I didn’t need to leave or compete. That sick, uneasy feeling in my stomach wasn’t a product of the external circumstances; it was generated by my ego. It wasn’t proof that something was wrong and needed to be fixed. It was simply the bruising of the ego. A bruise. Nobody’s dying here. I’m safe.

The ego can convince us of anything if we let it.

It can convince us that everything is an emergency.

That we can only choose A or B.

That we aren’t safe until we decide.

But all this convincing and clamoring doesn’t make it true.

You can choose to shut down all forms of guidance and turn up the ego channel, believing that this will keep you safe and “on track.”

Or you can remain open.

You can trust that there are other ways of knowing.

That planning isn’t everything.

That a life well lived isn’t linear.

That you don’t have to know everything to be safe.

That you’re okay, right here, right now.

And in this space that you’ve staked out, free from the chattering of the ego, the wisdom and clarity you’re seeking…appears.

You Are Shaping Your Reality Right Now

The idea that our thoughts create, or at the very least influence, our reality is becoming ever more mainstream, but I’ve noticed an interesting disconnect happening for many of us. A disconnect between what I’ll call our real-time thoughts and our “special,” mindful thoughts. Let me explain.

Meet Sara…

Sara’s a big believer in the Law of Attraction and the power of thought. She spends time meditating and focusing on what she wants, and she has positive affirmations taped to her bathroom mirror.

Sara also has a really stressful job, and most nights after work she finds herself complaining with her friends over a glass of wine about work meetings, project overload, and irritating coworkers. Throughout the day, she finds herself resentful of the fact that she’s doing more work than the other people in her department, and she knows that if she tries to cut back on her work load, things will fall apart.

When we see this scenario described in two short paragraphs, it’s easy to spot the opposing forces at play, but often, when we’re in the midst of our lives, it can seem like the two are separate and unrelated.

All Thoughts Have Power

We often think that the thoughts we have when we’re consciously working to generate positive thinking are the true blueprint for our reality. They’re what I call the special, mindful thoughts, and they feel special simply because we’re paying attention when we create them.

But the fact is, all of our thoughts are shaping our reality. Our “real-time” thoughts that run throughout the entire day, whether we’re aware of them or not, are also woven into the blueprint of our reality. Our after-work complaint sessions that feel oh so hard to resist are shaping our reality just as much as those positive affirmations.

There is no separation between the thoughts we’re mindful of and the thoughts that mindlessly fill our minds. And I would argue that because the latter typically takes up the bulk of our thinking, they’re even more powerful.

Doing the Energetic Math

Think of this in energetic terms: If you spend a good portion of your day worrying about how you’re going to get everything done, resenting people for not doing more, mulling over fears about x, y, and z, focusing on things that trigger anxiety, feeling guilty because you’re not doing such and such–this is a massive amount of energy that is being generated and directed at unwanted things.

Is it any wonder then that these unwanted things take up so much of our lives? Our positive affirmations, done maybe a few times a day at best, are working against a tsunami of opposition.

So, while it’s tempting to think, “Well, maybe my thoughts don’t have that much of an effect on my reality, because those affirmations sure don’t seem to be working,” instead we discover that our thoughts are massively powerful–we’re just thinking way more about what we don‘t want than about what we do.

Waiting for the World to Change

Let’s look at this disconnect from another angle. We might think that if only we could change our external circumstances, then our thoughts would follow suit. If Circumstance A were no longer an issue, then we wouldn’t “have to” worry. If Annoying Person would just stop being so annoying already, then we wouldn’t “have to” think about how annoying they are all the time.

We wait for external situations to change before we are willing to change our minds.

And we will be waiting a very long time, indeed.

When we realize how truly powerful our thoughts and words are, we don’t take them so lightly. We see complaining for the powerful act of reality-shaping that it really is, and we aren’t as quick to indulge in a “harmless” complain-a-thon to blow off steam.

We see all of our thoughts and words as potent spells that create the world we live in.

We begin to see the connection between the ever-present, nagging thought that we’re not doing enough and the reality of our jam-packed work load. (If only I could get all of these things done, then I’ll feel like I’ve done enough–that I am enough.)

We see the connection between thoughts that our body is the enemy and hating all of the ways it doesn’t work and the reality of our health issues. (If only my body would work better, then I’d stop hating it.)

We see the connection between thoughts that we can’t rely on anyone else to get the job done and the reality of feeling unsupported and surrounded by people who aren’t pulling their weight. (If only people would step up and do their share, then I could stop doing everything myself.)

The Ego Always Wants Proof

The ego will challenge us when we work to change our thoughts in absence of “proof” that the change is justified. But our ego isn’t concerned with whether or not we’re happy; it just wants to feel safe and secure, and the best way it knows how to do this is to deliver up more of the same–even if more of the same is making us miserable.

Our ego will have us stick to our thoughts until the day we die, railing against all of the external circumstances that just never seem to change.

Our soul, on the other hand, is ready for something so much bigger.

While the ego is busy fortifying the walls of our prison, the soul is peering out the window, marveling at all of the wonders we’ve yet to experience.

The soul is ready to trust that life can be so much more fulfilling than anything the ego has to offer. That there are options in abundance, even when the ego feels defeated and choice-less.

The soul knows that no matter how impossible external circumstances might seem, there is always room to shift and change within ourselves, and that this is where our true power lies. Not in resentfully waiting for or trying to force others to change, but in changing ourselves. For when we do, we no longer see things in the same way. We can’t. We’ve changed.

When your ego is hellbent on focusing all of your energy on trying to change your external circumstances, press pause.

Allow your soul to speak. Your ego certainly has been allowed more than its fair share of air time. Your soul will invite you to change the way you think, to change the way you speak, even when the external circumstances remain the same.

Your soul is wise. Allow it to change your mind.

Permit your soul the honor of using your precious thought energy to create your reality. Trust me, your soul is much better suited for the job than your ego ever will be.


P.S. Check out this powerful method for nipping complaining in the bud.

Allowing Money to Flow

I was at a bookstore the other day with a simple task: buy a graduation present. I even knew exactly what I was looking for: a cute journal. Nothing more.

But when I got to the journal display and saw the assortment of beautiful, colorful books (not to mention all of the tempting merchandise I had to walk past to get there), a familiar sound bite was playing in my head.

“Maybe I should get this, too.”

Over and over and over, as I looked at a journal with a bright orange fox on the cover, then another plastered with a rainbow splash of flowers, and one with an intricate tree embossed in gold. And then a set of colored pens. And a cute stationery set.

I picked out a journal for the graduation gift, and with the book tucked under my arm, I weighed two more journals in either hand.

“Maybe I should get this, too. Maybe I should get this, too. Maybe…”

I took a deep breath and asked my Higher Self to step in and guide my thoughts, words, and deeds, and as I continued to breathe and wait for the shift to occur, suddenly the journals in my hands felt heavy. Too heavy. Unnecessary.

I set them down and continued to focus on my breath. New awareness seeped in. I became aware of my tendency to stock up, to amass things before I actually needed them. 

Then, I became aware that I was more likely to do this with things that I wanted and not things that I needed. Hmm…interesting. Deeper still, I became aware of an odd fear, one that I hadn’t been conscious of before: I stocked up on wants, in part, because I wanted to obtain the object of my desire before I changed my mind and the want faded.

This intrigued me. Why on earth would I  do this? I mean, if part of me was aware that the want would inevitably pass, that in a few minutes or hours I wouldn’t care anymore about the object of my desire, why not wait it out?

The easy answer is low tolerance for delayed gratification, but this didn’t resonate, because, quite often, I savor the waiting, the anticipation. The more complex answer is that I am trying to solidify and concretize (to use a Pema Chödrön term) something ephemeral.

And this brings us back to the ever important topic of flow, which I wrote about recently (“Can We Experience Flow Even in Crappy Times?”).

Flow requires a certain level of allowing, of surrender, because by its very nature, flow is not something we can entirely plan for; it’s something that happens, in large part, organically. It flows. It doesn’t take predesignated steps, one at a time.

And when we are feeling ungrounded, unstable, or insecure (different flavors of the same state), we are more likely to resist flow.

If our self-care practices have slipped (or lapsed entirely), we’re more likely to resist flow.

If we’re engaging in thoughts and behaviors that unground us (and these will be different for each of us)–things like watching too much TV, spending too much time on Facebook (or online, in general), allowing cyclical thoughts to carry us away–we’re more likely to resist flow.

Looking at this in the context of my journal conundrum and the desire to stock up, when I am feeling ungrounded, I am more likely to try and solidify anything I can get my hands on, including that fleeting want.

My ego feeds the fear: “You might not be able to get this later. Better stock up now!”

Rather than trust that when I actually need a new journal (i.e. not when I still have a half-empty one waiting at home) I’ll be able to find one, my ego mistrusts the flow and puts up a dam made of books and stuff bought well before they’re needed.

In The Witch’s Coin, Christopher Penzcak writes, “an initiate owns nothing, yet has use of everything,” and “The abundance of the world is not rooted in the planet’s ability to make more of our finite resources. They’re finite. The abundance comes in our relationship, to keep the flow of ‘wealth’ by releasing what does not serve, so that energy can be better put to use elsewhere.”

When we amass stuff from a fear of lack–past, present, or future–we block flow. We help to create the very thing we most fear: a lack. A lack of flow.

We begin to create a reality in which things do not flow to us when we need them. They can’t–we’ve erected a giant dam. And this creates a feedback loop: things don’t flow, we fear lack, we stock up, the dam gets bigger, things don’t flow, we fear lack…

I took a few moments in the store to imagine roots extending from my feet, deep into the Earth. I allowed the calming, grounding Earth energy to flow into my body as I continued to breathe slowly, feeling gravity, stillness wash over me.

And then, I turned and walked away from the smorgasbord of stuff, paid for the gift I came in for, and left. I felt light, unencumbered. I felt grateful that all of this beauty existed–fox journals! flowers! trees! pretty pens!–and trusted that I didn’t need to acquire it all to feel safe.

And once I finish my current journal, I trust that a super awesome, just-what-I-need journal will appear. I choose to trust in flow.

Care to join me?

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The Secret Ingredient for Manifestation

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