How Self-Acceptance Makes You Energetically Stronger

the missing piece

One night, about a month ago, I asked my Guides a question before bed. I’ve been intensely exploring my relationship to money, something I’ve written about quite a bit already on my other blog, from different perspectives. Whereas before I was feeling the strain of perpetual brokeness, I’m now enjoying more financial stability than I ever have in the past…and yet my old money relationship habits still crop up, and there’s a very real sense that the subconscious agenda is to bring me back down to a level of brokeness, because it feels more “comfortable.”

And so, I’ve been searching for a reframe, a new way of relating to this internal conflict that will allow me to be both financial stable and feel comfortable with that.

But back to the dream. Before bed, I asked my Guides to show me the next piece in changing my relationship to money, and here’s what happened…

In the dream, I was watching a group of people eating at a picnic table. They all had large holes in their bodies in various places, and as they ate, the food slipped right out of the holes (very similar to the concept of the hungry ghost in certain forms of Buddhism). And when one person would talk, their words would enter the hole of another person who would then turn red with rage or blue with sadness.

My Guides then began to speak, and they said, “Too often, you expend effort trying to control these universal flows of energy, like money (think of all of the self-help materials designed to help you manifest or attract what you want). This is very difficult. Instead, your efforts would be better spent increasing the strength and integrity of your container. Those universal energies don’t need your help to flow; they do that just fine on their own. Your challenge lies in how you relate to that flow, which you do, in large part, through your vessel, your container.”

This brought to mind a teaching by the Reiki Master Hiroshi Doi, speaking on the universal nature of Reiki: “The sun gives out its energy equally to all beings but not everyone benefits equally. If one believes that sunlight is bad for his health, he closes the door to refuse the sun, although the sun is still sending energy to him. If we set up limitations with ourselves, we will receive limited benefits.”

So, too, we don’t have to earn these universal energy flows, but it is possible to lock them out, and when we forget that we hold the key and have the power to open the door at any time, it’s easy to adopt a story of, “These energies are passing me by because I’m unworthy,” and then we spend all this time trying to exorcise the aspects of ourselves that we deem unworthy, only to feel even less connected to the universe, because we are disconnected within ourselves.

The Power of Your Container

My Guides went on to explain that energy, like the energy of money, will take on many of the qualities of the container it’s in, so if my container has woven into its structure an association between money and the feeling of being manipulated or the fear of manipulating others, then it’s no wonder I don’t want to contain that energy–it feels gross! And more to the point, manipulation is one of those qualities deemed unworthy by the inner judge, so I’d better not associate with it, lest I, too, be judged as unworthy.

My Guides further explained that things like learning how to budget and other practical aspects of money management are important, too, but their successful implementation still depends on those structures’ ability to contain. If they can’t contain, as soon as energy starts to flow in, those structures (e.g. the budget) get washed away.

So, what does this containment look like? In large part, it comes down to being able to sit with what is, and in this context, what we’re referring to by what is is typically feelings–being able to sit with whatever feelings arise in response to life. When we aren’t able to sit with our feelings, we do a lot of things to distract ourselves, and those things are usually the habits we’re trying so very hard to break: compulsive eating, shopping, self-criticism, judgement of others, spending hours on Facebook, you name it.

If you think about those distractions, it’s interesting that we often conceptualize them, in some form or another, as a drain on our energy. “Man, if I hadn’t spent three hours on Facebook, I could have…” or “If I could just stop tearing myself down, I’d be able to…” In a very real sense, this inability to sit with our feelings is an indication of energy flowing out in an undesirable way–in other words, of “holes” in our container.

In the month since the dream, my Guides have given me more information in meditation, dreams, conversations, and books, and the tipping point was finally reached this morning when I made the connection between this ability to contain and something else I wrote about recently: radical self-acceptance.

Container Yoga

How do we increase the strength and integrity of our container? Through radical self-acceptance.

In that previous post, I talked about self-acceptance as a way of expanding our view of who we are. The more we accept about ourselves, the bigger our self-view becomes. Combine this with the underlying assumption that you are already whole, that you have simply forgotten that you are whole, and self-acceptance becomes a way of continually seeing more and more of your innate wholeness. A way of returning to the knowing that there’s nothing broken about you; you have been and always will be whole.

Let’s bring this together with the concept of building a strong container.

Think of one of the dream picnic goers sitting at the table with big, gaping holes in their body. Let’s think about how those holes may have gotten there. Yes, some of them may be due, in part, to the actions of other people, but I strongly believe that the greatest damages we incur are the ones we inflict on ourselves. Even when other people are involved, how we internalize their actions are more defining than the actions themselves.

So, if we focus on the holes that are self-inflicted, what might that process of hole making look like? Well, the opposite of radical self-acceptance: self-rejection.

Let’s get overly literal and imagine that there’s an aspect of yourself you don’t like, and it’s residing in your right hip. At first, you might do things to distract yourself from being aware that this aspect is there, but eventually (or quite quickly in response to more traumatic triggers, perhaps), you reject that aspect of yourself. You deny its existence. If energy flows where attention goes, this area is now cut off from your attention, and the flow of energy trickles. Is it such a leap, then, to see how, over time, this area of your energetic field could cease to exist–a hole could be formed–through continual rejection and lack of attention?

Now, this calls into question our idea that we’re already whole and that we cannot lose this state of wholeness. If that’s so, where does the energy that was once in the hole go? I think that the energy doesn’t “go away,” it simply gets pushed to another layer of reality, what, in psychological terms, we’d call the subconscious. It’s still part of our being, it’s simply residing in an area that we don’t have conscious access to, and thus we have this nagging sense that something is missing, that something is wrong with us.

As Jungian analyst June Singer writes, “Wholeness can only be achieved when nothing is left out.”

So simple, yet so mind blowing.

If we long to remember our wholeness, we don’t get to choose which parts of ourselves are acceptable. They all are.

We don’t get to choose which parts of ourselves are worthy of love. They all are.

And to respond to the common fear that self-acceptance will lead to inner anarchy, that our bad habits will simply take over and lead us to ruin, I offer this passage from a wonderful book by Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting:

“Imagine the situation: A child is yelling, obviously upset, and when she quiets down her daddy lies in bed with his arm around her and reads her a Frog and Toad story. In response, the proponent of conditional parenting exclaims, ‘No, no, no, you’re just reinforcing her bad behavior! You’re teaching her that it’s all right to be naughty!”

‘This interpretation…reflects an awfully sour view of children–and, by extension, of human nature. It assumes that, given half a chance, kids will take advantage of us. Give ’em an inch, they’ll take a mile. They will draw the worst possible lesson from an ambiguous situation (not “I’m loved anyway” but “Yay! It’s okay to make trouble!”). Acceptance without strings attached will just be interpreted as permission to act in a way that’s selfish, demanding, greedy, or inconsiderate. At least in part, then, conditional parenting is based on the deeply cynical belief that accepting kids for who they are just frees them to be bad because, well, that’s who they are.”

Trust in your innate goodness, and entertain the possibility that the aspects of yourself you have deemed “bad” are simply feeling rejected and don’t know how else to get your attention.

Rather than fearing they will overtake you if you send even the slightest bit of love and acceptance their way, explore what happens.

See for yourself. Feel for yourself.

Wholeness can only be achieved if nothing is left out.

The Power of Radical Self-Acceptance

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I was out hiking with a friend who was going through a tough time, and as she was getting things off her chest I couldn’t help but notice how harsh she was being with herself. “If only I would do this, “If I could just do that,” “I don’t know why I can’t just do x, y and z already!”

As we talked about this self-judgement her fears surfaced, and they were fears that I could very much relate to: If I stop pushing myself, all of my vices will crawl out of the closets and overtake me. I have to be vigilant.

I had a strong sense that accepting those parts that she was most afraid was the key to my friend’s (and my own) healing, but I couldn’t fully articulate how that process might work. The fear that acceptance of our vices would lead to defeat by those vices was still too strong, so I decided to meditate and ask my Guides for clarity.

When in doubt, get the meditation cushion out! 😉

My Guides explained it like this. Imagine that you are a round dinner plate (stay with me; this will all make sense, I promise). By your very nature, you are already whole and complete; there’s nothing missing from you, there’s nothing broken.

Many of us, though, only accept a part of ourselves. So imagine, now, that there’s a sandwich sitting on part of the plate. The sandwich represents what you’re willing to accept about yourself: the “good” parts; the parts that ensure people keep liking you, that you keep liking you. The problem is that you now only see one part of yourself–the sandwich–and you forget that you’re the whole dinner plate.

Somewhere, deep down, you remember that feeling of wholeness, though, and you want to get it back. You sense that there’s something missing, so you go about getting fancier bread for your sandwich and better toppings, but you still can’t shake that sense that you’re not enough.

Where we get stuck is thinking that this sense that we’re not enough is an indication that we really aren’t enough, when it’s simply a sign that we’ve forgotten that we’re enough. The dinner plate’s still there; we’re just not seeing it because we’re busy trying to perfect our sandwich.

Imagine, now, that you are willing to accept those parts of yourself that aren’t so easy to be around: your judgement of self and others; those times when you’re not feeling compassionate and you’re feeling downright spiteful (we all have them); and any other part of you that you think might elicit shame, blame, or judgement.

With each of these qualities you see and accept, you are widening your vision of who you are. You’re no longer just the sandwich, you’re the sandwich and a little bit of the plate over here…and over here…and a little more over here. Before you know it, those shadow aspects you’ve been spending so much energy trying to disown are the very means through which you are able to see the whole dinner plate: your innate wholeness.

We have to trust that we won’t devolve into awful people when we start to accept ourselves.

We have to trust that, at our very core, we are acceptable. We are worthy.

We have to trust that the parts of ourselves we have rejected are integral to our return to wholeness; they’re not trash to be thrown away.

We have to trust ourselves.

And the paradox? Those things we have been trying for years to change, to get rid of, the moment we begin to accept them is the moment they begin to change of their own accord.

In our fear, we locked them up in cages and then wondered why they never got better. Would you flourish in a cage?

Let them out.

Welcome them home.

And come home to yourself.

Fear of Missing Out

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Every year on my birthday, I do an in-depth tarot reading to gain clarity on the most important lessons from the past year and guidance on the lessons that will be most prominent in the year ahead.

One of my major lessons came in the form of the Hermit, and in the deck I chose to use, The Wild Unknown Tarot, the Hermit is depicted as a turtle with a lantern on its shell:

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While this card carried many messages for me, the one I want to focus on here is the lesson of patience.

This tied into an experience I’d had in meditation earlier in the year when we were deciding whether or not to buy a particular house. I saw the turtle on the sidewalk in front of the house, slowly, slowly, slowly making its way up to the porch. When I tried to help it along by picking it up and carrying it, the lantern fell off and the scene went dark.

When I try to force solutions, I lose sight of my inner guiding light.

This led to more meditations, journaling and self-inquiry around my relationship to patience, and I began to see a number of threads emerging:

  • I recognized that I have considerable will to get shit done, and while this can be a wonderful asset, it can also accelerate me towards goals that, deep down, I don’t actually care about, and sometimes I disconnect from what I truly want when I’m more concerned with crossing things off my to-do list.
  • I began to see a pattern: When I felt impatient, I would whip out my will and move things along, and there was a predictable side effect. The outcome was either something I didn’t feel all that enthused about or fulfilled by, and often changing my mind at that stage took even more work and time than simply letting things move at a natural pace to begin with.
  • I also noticed how judgy I could get in that head space. If I perceived other people as preventing me from whipping along at an accelerated rate, my thoughts tended to be, er, less compassionate toward them.

And underneath all of this activity, I finally began to reach what was at the core: fear. Fear that, if I didn’t pounce on this opportunity, I’d blow it.

If we didn’t get this awesome house, there’d never be another house quite this awesome.

If I didn’t take this class, I’d have a critical, irreparable gap in my knowledge.

Dramatic much?

Well, that’s the voice of the ego. Every choice, no matter how small, is a matter of imminent life or death. [dum, dum, DUM!]

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It was time to tell my ego to chill the eff out.

As I sat with the fear, I also noticed something else: In that space when I was trying to force a solution, what I was really trying to do was to regain a sense of power. In those moments I was feeling disconnected from my inner power (my lantern), and in an attempt to get it back, I would exert power over external situations.

Contrast power over something versus empowerment: power within. When we’re not plugged into our inner power, we often try to replicate that feeling of power by being extra controlling with external circumstance, or even extra controlling with ourselves (think: addictive behavior). But control does not equal true power.

In meditation, one of my Guides helped me narrow in on one aspect of this control-patience-fear dynamic to work on right now: My perception of time. When I’m feeling like things are moving so damn slooooooooooow, she said, “Time is relative. You control how you experience time.”

With these words, I felt a deep peace wash over me, and I sat in silence for–well, I don’t know how long; I wasn’t keeping track of time. It became so clear that my perception of time was instrumental in my experience, something we have all intuitively felt. Contrast the experience of time when you’re with someone you love, engrossed in fascinating conversation, versus when you’re stuck in traffic.

My intuition is telling me that regaining the knowledge that I have a choice–I get to choose how I experience time–will help me reconnect with my inner power in those moments when I might otherwise be tempted to find that feeling through controlling behavior.

My new mantra: “Things are unfolding at just the right pace. What perfect timing!”

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Your Personal Grail Quest, Part Two

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This is an excerpt from a book-in-progress, Crafting Your Personal Grail Quest, which is a guide to discovering and living your soul’s purpose.

In Part One of this series, we talked about how to use the tarot’s Major Arcana to determine your location on the Grail Map. We then learned how to take the information from that Major Arcana card and formulate it into a lesson, which serves as your current focal point as you go through daily life, looking for clues and synchronicity. Again, if all of that is new to you, catch up with this post.

Prepare Your Tarot Deck

Today, we’re going to go further and use the tarot to identify new ways to embrace and learn this lesson. For example, let’s say your lesson is learning how to be more grounded. For this next step, you will separate out all of your Minor Arcana cards from the rest of the deck.

If you recall, the Major Arcana cards are numbered zero through twenty-one, and they typically have names like Death, Temperance, the Lovers, etc. When you separate out the Majors, what’s left is the Minor Arcana and the court cards. Remove the court cards, which are the page (or princess/daughter), knight (or prince/son), queen, and king, one for each of the four suits for a total of sixteen cards. You’ll be left with the Minor Arcana: four suits (cups, pentacles, swords, and wands–or some variation on these, depending on your deck), each with ten cards for a total of forty cards.

As you shuffle this stack of Minor Arcana cards, ask how you can best embrace your lesson. Focus on receiving this information as you shuffle. Then, choose a card. The card you draw indicates how best to embrace the lesson you are focusing on right now, the lesson you derived in the last step from the Major Arcana card.

Interpreting the Card

Using our previous example, let’s say your lesson is learning how to be more grounded, and when you draw a Minor card, the detail that sticks out is a shiny, bright coin that someone is picking up off the ground.

Use the process outlined in the previous post to interpret this in a way unique to you, but here’s an example to get you started: Perhaps money is an issue for you, and specifically, feeling like you never have enough contributes to your sense of being ungrounded.

A possible interpretation, then, is that it’s time to focus on the flow of money into and out of your life to fully embrace the lesson of being more grounded. Getting even more detailed with the card imagery, the act of picking money off the ground could suggest that you are letting money fall out of your pocket, so to speak, and it’s time to start collecting that wayward cash. Go over your bank statements and actually look at where your money is going. Maybe one little book from Amazon here and another book there are adding up more than you think.

Begin to think of money as a tool to enhance or detract from your sense of grounding.

When you’re tempted to buy another book, maybe you check in and see if spending this money right now will make it harder to pay your rent–and do you really need another book when you have ten unread ones already? This isn’t about extreme self-deprivation, it’s about making more conscious choices around spending, and specifically, exploring how your spending choices affect how grounded you feel, not just in the moment but also in the long term.

In addition to looking at the practical, budgetary side of things, I would encourage you to go deeper.

Meditate on the connection between money and feeling grounded in your life.

Journal on it.

Ask questions before bed and make note of your dreams.

Chances are, there are deeper themes playing out in your spending habits, and this self-inquiry will lead to rich insights. Remember to pair these insights with real-world action, too; it’s not enough to simply meditate on money issues while making zero changes in the physical world. But when you pair the inner and the outer work together, get ready for your life to change!

Your Personal Grail Quest, Part One

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This is an excerpt from a book-in-progress, Crafting Your Personal Grail Quest, which is a guide to discovering and living your soul’s purpose.

If you’re going on a journey, it helps to have a map, and a Quest is no different. Well…it’s slightly different. If you’re going to a new restaurant, thanks to Google Maps you can see the entire journey before you set foot out of your door, but a Quest map is a different animal.

A Quest map is more selective in what it reveals, and yes, I’m talking about the map as if it’s sentient, because in a way, I believe it is.

The map is the universe, and just like no one has a complete and total understanding of the universe, no one is privy to the entire map at the start of their journey. If you’re scratching your head and considering throwing in the towel, let’s get more specific and explore what the map is and what it isn’t.

  • The map is complete, just like the universe is complete; we’re just not capable in our human form of seeing the entire map all in one go. But the good news is we don’t need to, and in fact, if we were to see it all our minds would be utterly blown, and then if there was anything left of us, we’d be bored stiff, because seeing the entire map would take all of the surprise out of life, like the ultimate movie spoiler. After a while, there’d be very little point in getting out of bed in the morning, because we’d already know what was in store for the day.
  • Even though we can’t see the whole thing, we are always given the next step or two on our journey. That next step might not always make a whole lot of sense, and we may be wondering what the point is of doing it, but that next step will be made apparent just the same. Once you take that next step, a further step will be revealed…
  • I know I just said we don’t get to see the entire map, but that’s not entirely true (get used to it–the Quest is full of paradox and seeming contradictions). While you cannot see your personal map in its entirety, you can see the universal map in its entirety, and from there you can get an idea of where you are, very much like the “you are here” signs at the mall. My favorite tool for accessing the universal map is the tarot, and this is what I’ll be outlining in this book, although it is far from the only option. Astrology and the Kabbalistic Tree of Life are just two of the many other options that exist, and by all means, once you learn the basic concepts of finding your place on the map, feel free to use whichever tools resonate with you.

The reason why we do this work of checking our location connects to our definition of a Quest, which, to recap:

A Quest is the process of setting the intention, moment to moment, to see life as a sacred adventure designed to further your personal evolution and expansion.

Seeing where you are on the map clues you into the gifts that life is offering you in the present moment, the gifts that are designed to further your personal evolution and expansion.

This is incredibly awesome, because what this means is that you’ll be able to consciously look for these gifts, and from personal experience, these gifts can show up in pretty strange and unexpected places, such as arguments with your partner, wonky interactions with a coworker, and other circumstances that most of us would rather avoid and that we’re certainly not used to viewing as gifts.

Seeing your location on the map allows you to make spiritual lemons out of lemonade, mining unpleasant experiences for rich insights and rewards. Trust me when I say this is a total game changer; it turns life from something you have to get through to a moment-by-moment adventure, regardless of whether you’re stuck in traffic or in the middle of mind-blowing sex.

Using Tarot As Your Map

Let’s look at how we can use tarot as our map, and this method is accessible even if you’re totally new to tarot cards. For starters, a tarot deck consists of 78 cards, and the deck can be divided into what’s known as the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana cards. Arcana means “secret” or “mystery,” which is perfect for our sacred quest, as we’ll be plumbing the depths of the unknown, looking beyond the surface to uncover the lessons and plans meant just for us.

The Major Arcana is made up of 22 cards numbered zero through twenty-one, and as their name suggests, these are the “biggies” in the tarot deck; they’re the cards you’re most likely to see featured in movies, cards like Death and the Hanged Man. The Major Arcana depicts a carefully chosen sequence of archetypes, and this sequence begins with the Fool and culminates with the World. This is our universal map of how to travel from the position of the uninitiated Fool to the all-encompassing World.

To begin, take your tarot cards and separate them into two stacks: the Major Arcana cards (the cards numbered zero through twenty-one with names like the Devil or Strength) in one stack and everything else in the other.

When you’re ready to check the map, you’ll take a few moments to prepare a sacred space using whatever method you like, and then you’ll shuffle the stack of Majors. The card that you draw from this stack indicates the lesson that your soul is being asked to embrace right now.

Now, it’s time to interpret that card. Even if you’re a seasoned reader, I encourage you to empty your mind as much as possible and approach the card fresh. Have a notebook handy so you can jot down your impressions.

Begin by simply looking at the card. Take note of any aspects of the image that draw your attention. What are they–Symbols? Animals? Human figures? Certain colors? Jot these down in your notes.

Begin to describe what you see in the card aloud; you might be surprised at which elements come into focus as you do this. Take more notes.

The object, here, is to pay attention to, and make a note of, which elements of the card capture your attention and resonate with you, even if you can’t articulate why. These elements are what we’ll be calling “clues” on our Quest.

A clue is a detail in everyday life (a quote, an image, a thought, an animal, a scene from a movie, a feather…) that resonates with you.

If something resonates with you, treat it as a clue.

Once this process feels complete, look over your notes, let the information sink in, and see if you can formulate this into a one- to two-sentence lesson statement.

Let me walk you through an example. Let’s say there’s a turtle in the card that captures your attention. After meditating on this for a minute, you realize how often you feel harried and rushed. Perhaps you formulate the lesson, “I am learning how to slow down, how to take my time and cultivate patience.”

What if your notes don’t lead to any lessons that you can see? Not to worry. You’ll simply go a bit further in order to coax the necessary information from your intuition. Here are three great ways to do this:

  • Meditate on the card. This simply means sitting in a comfy position, closing your eyes, relaxing your body and mind, and conjuring up the image of the card. Watch to see if anything changes or moves. If there’s a figure in the card, whether human, animal or otherwise, ask if they have any messages for you. If you’re not visual you can do the same process by looking at the card with eyes open, setting the intention of receiving messages from the card, then closing your eyes and paying attention to any sensations or thoughts that arise.
  • Look the card up in a tarot book and see which elements of the book’s interpretation, even if it’s just a word or phrase, jump out at you.
  • Look up an element of the card in a non-tarot book. For example, if the roses in the background capture your attention, look up roses in a metaphysical book and/or a field guide. See what jumps out at you as you read the entry on roses.

Then, try to formulate your lesson once more. If you’re still feeling stumped, set the intention to receive your lesson in a way that is correct and good for you, and go about your day. Pay attention to anything that reminds you of the card, and treat those details as clues that are designed to help you discover your current lesson.

In a future post, we’ll talk about the next step in using the tarot to guide you on your Quest. Stay tuned!

What can you let go of right now?

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While on a magical hike with an equally magical friend today, we decided to camp out in a dry, stone-lined creek bed for a bit and do a tarot reading. Here’s what happened…

When it was my turn to draw a card, I decided to focus on insights that would help me further embrace the message of a lesson card I’d drawn the night before, which was the Wheel of Fortune. The Wheel of Fortune is often seen as a card indicating “what comes up must come down” and vice versa. You can’t always be on top, and you won’t always be on the bottom; life is all about change.

My specific interpretation last night, however, was that my current work is about finding a way to move further into the center of the Wheel, for, if you think about it, even though the Wheel is spinning round and round, your experience of this continual turning will be dramatically different if you’re clinging to the edge of the Wheel versus if you’re sitting smack dab in the middle.

My current lesson, then, is to focus on the practices that I find deeply centering, enabling me to be a witness to the inevitable ups and downs without experiencing them as a never-ending roller coaster. So for today’s tarot reading, I was drawing a second card to get insights on how best to do this, and in particular, I was curious to know what might be obstructing me from residing in that centered place. The card I drew was the Three of Swords, which is often interpreted as heartbreak and/or sorrow.

Many versions of this card depict a heart being stabbed by three swords, and what stood out to me most this morning was the fact that there wasn’t any blood present. To me, this indicated old wounds, and so I went into a light meditation and asked for further messages as to which old wounds in particular were creating the block. What came to mind was a dynamic between me and my mom. Growing up, I often felt like I wasn’t okay just being me. I was too dumpy, too shy, too weird, too whatever.

About a year ago, my mom and I had an amazingly healing conversation in which she shared her realization that she had been so critical of me in the hopes of, essentially, grinding out any of the imperfections that might cause others to criticize me. In doing so, she’d hoped to protect me from the vicious criticism (and racism) she had experienced growing up.

It’s easy to see the irony in hindsight: I’ll criticize you in order to protect you from possible criticism. But what’s interesting, and what came up in the tarot reading, was that I had learned this “technique” quite well. As best as I can articulate it, my false belief was, “You have to be perfect in order to be safe. And the way to be perfect is to constantly criticize anything within you that isn’t perfect.”

Needless to say, this doesn’t work and for many reasons, a big one being: it’s impossible to be perfect. And how boring would that be, even if it were possible? Not to mention, no one thrives under constant criticism, so even if perfection were attainable, surely criticism would not be the way to reach it.

This false belief has layers, and while I’ve experienced massive relief in recent years in terms of how I relate to my body (before, self-criticism of my body felt “normal” to me; now I can’t even fathom saying something even slightly rude to my body), that false belief was still cropping up in my push to succeed and generate a long list of accomplishments.

After this information came through, I could feel in my body a heavy weight. More accurately, it felt like it was over my body, like a “weight on my shoulders.” In that moment, I was able to feel, in exquisite detail, the burden of perfection I have been lugging around for years, and I was able to see another false belief attached to this burden, and that was, “If I just get this thing done, or that thing done, then the burden will disappear.”

But of course, no matter how many things I crossed off my to-do list, the burden remained, because it has nothing to do with how productive I am. Nothing. This burden is a bundle of false beliefs that I can choose to set down at any time, and that is how the burden will be released–not by doing more stuff.

I had the urge to pick up a large rock and ask for its permission and assistance in a releasing ritual. With permission granted, I held the rock in both hands and sent everything I no longer needed to carry around with me into the rock. I found myself repeating over and over to myself, “I’m letting it go, I’m letting it go, I don’t need it, I don’t need it, I don’t need it,” as the energy streamed out of my hands, into the rock, filling it until it reached the point when I knew it was ready to release. It felt like a hot potato that had dramatically increased in density.

I dropped the rock into the dry stream bed with a loud thunk and let out a huge exhale.

What a relief. To consciously set down this burden, after carrying it for so many years.

And even though I may have to set that burden down again. and again. and again (because my ego just loves to pick it back up again), now I know I can be free.

Anytime I want to.

I don’t have to complete any tasks first.

I just have to choose to set down my burden.

What burden will you choose to set down, right here, right now?

Embark on Your Personal Grail Quest

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Tomorrow, September 6, I’ll be hosting part one of a two-part workshop, Your Personal Grail Quest, at Heart, Body and Soul (Columbia, MO) from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. To save your spot, call the store at 573-777-6771.

So, what is a personal Grail Quest, and why would you want to embark on one when you already have a million things on your to-do list?

Good question.

I believe that each and every one of us came into this lifetime on a mission. Your soul had a reason for choosing this particular lifetime, and although we may lose remembrance of that reason when we’re born, our primary purpose in life is to reconnect with, and live out, that mission.

This is your personal Grail Quest: rediscovering and living your soul’s purpose.

How do you do that?

In the workshop, I’ll be covering four components of Questing.

  1. Finding your location on the map. It’s infinitely easier to Quest when you know where you are, and you’ll learn how to access your location on the map using tarot cards. Even if you’ve never picked up a deck in your life, you’ll leave knowing how to use the cards to glean valuable insights to aid you on your Quest. You’ll also get a handy tarot cheat sheet! (Covered in part one.)
  2. Once you know where you are, it’s time to start collecting clues, and this is where things get downright magical. The Universe is in constant communication with you, and if you know how to look, you will see the clues everywhere. These are the signs that keep you pointed in the right direction and aligned with your soul’s path. (Covered in part one.)
  3. Once you have the clues, get ready to take action–and not just any ol’ action. Purposeful, soul-driven action is what we’re after, and I’ll show you how to use powerful principles, like Danielle LaPorte’s Core Desired Feelings to light your way. (Covered in part two.)
  4. In order to Quest, you need your trusty Quest Kit. Far too often, we begin spiritual pursuits with plenty of enthusiasm…only to peter out and give up. Your Quest Kit enables you to align with your soul’s purpose for the long haul, and it’s composed of the practices, tools, and support figures (human and otherwise!) that will help you on your journey. (Covered in part two.)

If you’re ready to discover the magic in the mundane and transform your life into a sacred adventure, join me this Tuesday for Your Personal Grail Quest.

Cost is $35 for the full series, 9/6 and 9/22 from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.

Please call Heart, Body and Soul to save your spot: 573-777-6771

A Meditation for Information Gathering

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In massage class last night, we were learning how to work more directly with the body’s network of fascia. If you’ve never heard of fascia before, it’s a connective tissue that some researchers have compared to a continuous sweater covering and interpenetrating everything in your body, including your muscles, bones, and organs.

Here’s an image I found online that shows some of the fascia between chicken skin and the underlying muscle–the fascia is the spiderwebby stuff.

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Research is indicating that this network is also a means of communication, so in a sense, you could think of your fascia as your body’s own internet, sending messages all the way from your head to your toes.

Our instructor compared this to the concept of mycorrhizal associations, which are partnerships of vast networks of fungus in the soil and plant roots. This has been dubbed the “wood wide web” by some scientists, and according to the BBC, “by linking to the fungal network [plants] can help out their neighbours by sharing nutrients and information – or sabotage unwelcome plants by spreading toxic chemicals through the network.”  So, too, our fascia allows distant parts of our body to communicate–both messages of wellness and messages of dis-ease.

So, what does this have to do with meditation? Well, I drew my tarot card of the day this morning, and I got this lovely Wild Unknown rendition of the six of cups:

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Check out those beautiful roots! I immediately had the urge to do a meditation on roots as information gatherers, and it was so useful that I’d like to share it with you here.

To begin, settle into a comfortable meditative position. Calm your body and your mind by focusing on your breath, gradually lengthening the inhales and exhales.

Focus on the base of your spine, and imagine roots extending from this base, deep into the earth. Allow the image to fill out as a single root branches into many. Appreciate the complexity of your roots, the vastness of the network tethering you to, and making you one with, the Earth.

Set the intention to receive via your roots the information that is correct and good for you at this time, then allow the experience to unfold.

Maintain gentle awareness of the root network, and allow any thoughts and sensations to arise. You might see images, hear words, have thoughts pop into your head, and so forth. Allow the information to flow into you.

When the experience feels complete, give thanks as feels appropriate to you, and return your awareness to the here and now.

When I did this meditation, ideas popped into my head, seemingly out of nowhere, and they were ideas that definitely tested the boundaries of my comfort zone. Here’s one example: I’m one month away from finishing massage therapy school, and the thought surfaced that I am being called to do primarily energy work with some massage incorporated into it. But, but…I’m a massage therapist! I’m supposed to be doing a ton of massage…right?

In spite of my ego’s clawing and scrambling, I had to admit a deeper feeling of release and softness.

I have no idea where this will lead, but I do know that I am now open to making energy work more of a focus in my practice, and even on a logical level, it makes sense. I’ve studied energy extensively, and I work with my own daily: You could say I’m a little obsessed. 😉 And yet somehow, I’d gotten a little out of touch with those roots.

What do your roots tell you?

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Aromatherapy and the Brain

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The limbic sytem, which deals with the regulation of emotions, was once thought of as the rhinencephelon, or “nose-brain,” because it was first studied in rats for whom olfaction (sense of smell) and emotions are utterly entwined. The limbic system is comprised of different subareas, and these subareas send projections into other parts of the brain, especially the hypothalamus, and the connection between the limbic system and the hypothalamus is important for our understanding of aromatherapy.

But first, let’s back up and look at something called the automonic nervous system (ANS). There are all kinds of autonomic (automatic) functions in your body that are vital to keeping you alive and well, and these functions happen involuntarily; you don’t need to consciously control them. And this is a good thing, because we’re talking about functions like the beating of your heart, the amount of sugar you have in your blood, and so forth. You would spend your entire day and then some consumed by these processes if you had to think about them.

Three different layers of the brain have an influence over these autonomic functions, which are carried out by the autonomic nervous system (ANS), and the hypothalamus is the first layer of influence. If you were injured and your blood pressure started dropping, a blood pressure sensor would send a message up the spinal cord to your hypothalamus, and through a few more steps, your blood pressure and heart rate would increase, thereby bringing your body back into balance. Thank you, hypothalamus!

The second layer of influence on autonomic functions is the limbic system, and it is here where we start to see the possible mechanisms for aromatherapy’s powerful effects. A scent or an image can trigger an emotional response in the limbic system, which in turn sends a message to the hypothalamus, and again, the autonomic nervous system (ANS) is activated. It’s like pouring a double cocktail emotions and hormones.

Finally, the third layer of influence on autonomic functions is the cerebral cortex, another part of the brain and one that is involved in memory, learning, complex processing, decision making, and more. In this part of the brain, thought and memory are the triggers that can send messages to the limbic system and to the hypothalamus, again stimulating the ANS.

So, we’ve just looked at three ways that autonomic/involuntary processes in your body can be affected, processes like the beating of your heart, your rate of digestion, and the levels of hormones in your body. These three ways are the hypothalamus, the limbic system, and the cortex. Let’s grossly oversimplify these by relating each one to a key function: the hypothalamus produces hormones, which are powerful chemical messengers; the limbic system deals with emotions; and the cortex handles thoughts and memories.

In other words, the basic, involuntary functioning of our body can be influenced by hormones, emotions, and thoughts and memories. (Of course, it can be affected by other things as well, but these three are important for our purposes.)

Let’s connect this to aromatherapy. If you smell, say, lavender essential oil, your olfactory bulb sends a message to your limbic system, triggering an emotional response, and to your cortex, potentially triggering thoughts and memories (e.g you have a memory of being in the backyard while your grandma hangs lavender-scented laundry on the clothesline). Your limbic system, in turn, can send messages to your hypothalamus, causing hormones to be released, hormones that can have a multitude of effects on your body, such as lowering your heart rate and respiration. Thank to one little scent, you’re having an emotional response, you might be experiencing long-forgotten memories, and your body is likely producing hormones that are traveling throughout your body, causing any number of physiological effects.

This is all well and good, but let’s take it even further and talk about how aromatherapy can even change the expression of your DNA. In a lecture series called Biology and Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality, Dr. Robert Sapolsky outlines different ways in which our environment, including scents, can influence the activity of our genes.

In a nutshell, DNA is like the blueprint, or set of instructions, for your cells. However, each strand of DNA contains instructions for all kinds of things, and your cells aren’t using all parts of these instructions at the same time. How does this work? Well, to oversimplify again, imagine that your DNA looks like a string of pearls. After every nine pearls on the string, there’s a blue bead, and this blue bead plays a special role. It’s like a switch that allows a particular stretch of nine pearls to activate. Unless the pearls are activated, they can’t have any effect in the cell; they’re essentially just sitting there doing nothing, so these blue beads are very important. If the blue beads turn the pearls “off,” nothing’s happening, but when the blue beads activate the pearls, things start to happen.

Okay, so what tells the blue beads (known as promoters) to switch on? There are proteins in your cells called transcription factors, and they have the power to flip the switch, turning on the blue beads, and thus allowing your DNA to spring into action. What’s interesting is that these transcription factors can be influenced by things in your external environment, like scents. Dr. Sapolsky gives the example of a male wildebeest who smells a rival male who has been scent marking in his territory. Sound the alarm! The scent of the rival works on the pathways we’ve just discussed and has the ability to turn on sections of the wildebeest’s DNA, perhaps causing a certain neurotransmitter to be produced, which in turn has a powerful effect on the brain, generating, perhaps, an aggressive response in our wildebeest friend: Off he goes, charging across the savannah to exact revenge!

An example that you might be familiar with in humans: Studies have shown that women in regular close contact will begin to sync their ovulatory cycles, typically matching the cycle of the socially dominant female in the group, and olfactory triggers (pheromones) are responsible. If you’ve ever lived in a dorm full of women PMSing at the same time, you know just how powerful this can be.

While many of us have had the experience of being energized by peppermint or soothed by lavender, it’s fun to peel back the layers and explore what’s going on in the brain and in the cells of our body while this is happening. Scents have the power to change our heart rate and other bodily functions, our mood, our thoughts, and the expression of our DNA. Ponder that during your next aromatherapy session!

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Hot Stone and LaStone Massage

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One of my favorite aspects of massage school is getting to try different massage modalities—and there are so many of them to choose from! Of course, the “downside” is that there are now roughly 15,000 modalities in which I want to pursue further training once I graduate. Too many modalities, too little time.

In recent weeks, we had the opportunity to test drive hot stone massage techniques, which employ smooth basalt stones warmed in a hot water bath (we used 130º water warmed in a roaster oven). The stones are placed on or under the body and are also held in the therapist’s hand(s) as tools to smooth over the client’s tissue.

As a total nature junkie, there was something immediately appealing to me about the stones–their smoothness, their varied colors (some of them looked like beautifully speckled dinosaur eggs), their heft. And I love the idea of integrating natural materials into bodywork; they’re such a nice antidote to all of the plastic-y tools and other synthetic junk everywhere.

Our instructor showed us how to choose appropriately sized stones for different applications: the back “layout” (i.e. the stones placed on either side of the spine while the client is lying on their back), the chakra layout, smaller stones to slip between the toes, pointier stones for more detailed trigger-point work, and “working stones,” which were more all-purpose stones used to glide over the body during the moving strokes.

Both giving and receiving hot stone massage is fantastic. On the giving end, it’s amazing to feel the client’s tissue melt as you slide the hot stones over their body, and I was amazed at how quickly they dropped into a deeper relaxed state. With regular Swedish massage, it sometimes takes people awhile to settle in, stop talking, and “get in the zone,” but not so with hot stone massage.

And on the receiving end, what can I say–it’s heavenly. I carry a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders, and the hot stones delivered an amazing icy-hot sensation to my aching muscles, which soon melted into relaxation. After only a thirty-minute practice massage during class, I felt like I was floating.

So, what’s the difference between hot stone massage and LaStone massage? The primary difference is that LaStone uses both hot and cold stones as part of the treatment. LaStone Therapy was created by Mary Nelson, who practices and teaches in Arizona, and she has said that the inspiration for the therapy came to her from spirit guides, an idea that might sound impossibly woo-woo to some, but having experienced my own spirit guide contact (and, indeed, this is how I conduct my tarot readings), this is right in my wheelhouse. 😉

As the story goes, Nelson was sitting in a sauna with her niece, voicing her concerns over how she was going to continue practicing as a massage therapist after injuring her shoulder. Spirit responded with, “Pick up the stones,” a suggestion she didn’t understand at first. The message was repeated, and it dawned on her to pick up one of the stones from the broken wall of the sauna, and she rubbed it on her niece’s shoulder. The rest, as they say, is history.

If you’re interested in learning how to do LaStone Therapy, you can study through in-person classes or through a more limited selection of online courses. One online course in particular seems particularly useful for both LaStone and general hot stone massage therapists: the Health and Safety Course. This outlines how to handle different pathologies, how to sanitize the stones in between clients, and more.