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

These days, most of us have at least heard of manifestation and the Law of Attraction–but do they work? And if so, why aren’t they working for us as well as we’d like?

The good news is that, yes, manifestation works. It isn’t broken, and neither are you. You’re just overlooking a secret ingredient that’s vital to the process.

Download my free eBook here and discover what’s missing and how to get it back.

Can We Experience Flow Even in Crappy Times?

In spiritual circles, when someone says they’re experiencing a state of flow, they usually mean things are going well. Or, put another way, things are going the way that they want them to.

But can we experience flow when things are unpleasant? Or does unpleasantness signify that we’re disconnected from flow?

Flow, in my mind, is a neutral term. It doesn’t preference a pleasant flow over an unpleasant one. It simply means that things are, well, flowing.

Google tells us that the verb flow means to “move along or out steadily and continuously in a current or stream.”

So, flow implies movement of some kind. Movement of what? Energy. Energy in the form of our body, our thoughts, our emotions, the events we’re experiencing, and anything and everything in between.

If flow itself is neutral, how do we experience flow when events are unpleasant? The same way we do when events are pleasant: by allowing.

Is Allowing Weak?

The concept of allowing is often a hard one to cozy up to, especially in a culture that emphasizes taking action–even rash, dangerous action–over stillness, where stillness is seen as a weakness. But allowing is, at its core, an acceptance of reality.

Think about this: When we are in a situation, whatever we’ve experienced has already happened. So what we’re really debating is whether or not we want to allow something that has already happened to happen. We can debate this all day long, and the experience has already taken place. It’s done. Whether we choose to “allow” it or not is really just an illusion of control.

When we allow, we accept reality at face value. This happened. Now what?

Now, we can choose how to respond, and this is where our power truly lies. Not in wishing the past hadn’t happened. Not in pretending that if we don’t allow something into our reality it ceases to exist (this is called delusion).

This brings us to the two important skills that enable us to engage in flow. Think of these as the on/off switch for your personal life flow. If you’re feeling stuck, flip the flow switch on by engaging these two skills.

1. Observe what is.

This is a big part of contemplative practices from many spiritual traditions, the practice of simply observing reality.

Imagine that you are a reporter and your only task is to describe what is occurring as objectively as possible. You don’t need to add your subjective interpretation (“This is bad,” “She’s being mean”); simply stick to observable, factual occurrences. This might be external or internal.

  • There’s a baby crying in a row behind me.
  • My heart is beating faster than it was before.
  • That driver switched lanes without using a turn signal.
  • The grass feels cool between my toes.

The above told from a subjective, interpretive position might look like:

  • That baby is driving me nuts! Why aren’t the parents doing anything?!
  • I can’t believe he just said that to me! What an asshole!
  • Well, la di da–look who feels they don’t need to use their turn signal! *honk*
  • Oooh, that feels nice…

It might seem robotic to take in life through observations, but there’s immense power to be had in this process because it allows us to take in more of life than what our subjective filters allow. We’re able to receive details that don’t match up with our interpretations, and thus, our picture of reality and our place within it expands.

This practice is especially powerful when combined with…

2. Feeling our feelings.

In addition to our objective awareness, we also have our emotional experience, and when we learn how to tap into this skillfully, it becomes a wonderful asset.

Quite simply, feeling our feelings is just what it sounds like: allowing ourselves to have the emotional experience that is arising, as it arises. There is a vast difference between feeling our feelings and acting out or reacting to our feelings, and we are aiming for the former. I am not advocating lashing out in anger or giving someone the silent treatment–both are examples of acting out our feelings.

Feeling our feelings is an inside job. When anger arises, we sit with it. We feel the accompanying sensations in our body, and we can use the tools of observation to name them, if we need help staying present. “My heart is beating faster. I feel a warmth in my throat. My hands are clenching.”

We resist the urge to tell other people about our feelings in the moment, waiting until we ourselves have felt the feelings first. This allows us to truly integrate our emotional experience, rather than distancing ourselves from it by venting, creating interpretive storylines, casting blame, etc.

This Is How We Flow

With these two skills–observing what is and feelings our feelings in response to what is–we are working with reality. We are allowing reality to be what it already is, and we are receiving information from both our objective mind and our subjective emotions with the purpose of choosing a mindful response, in contrast to mindlessly reacting to events and resisting reality.

This is flow. This is allowing life to occur as it occurs, and mindfully choosing how we want to respond.

And allowing, again, is not merely passive. When we choose how to respond, we alter the path of flow, and we experience that altered flow as the next batch of life experiences.

Thus, allowing and mindfully responding are the foundation for living in a state of ease. Not necessarily a state of easy, but ease. Rather than trying to force reality to be what it is not, we are accepting reality for what it is, and this ushers in a feeling of ease.

When we resist allowing reality to penetrate our awareness, we delude ourselves into a state of dis-ease. We feel disconnected from ease–we feel dis-eased– because, deep down, we know reality is not as we are pretending it to be, and we can never quite shake the discordance without fragmenting our psyche to a greater or lesser degree.

But when we allow reality to be as it is, we’re no longer funneling our energy into the impossible: changing what has already occurred. We’re laser focused on using the information gleaned from past occurrences to choose how we want to shape what is yet to be.

And this, my friend, is what it is to flow.

Enough Is Enough

Even seemingly straightforward situations have a lot of moving parts.

Think about it: You’re ordering a coffee, and you have a 30-second exchange with the barista. Simple, right? Yes…and all of your past experiences led you to this particular moment in time, as did the past experiences of the barista, the other people working at the cafe, the people who grew and processed the coffee beans, made the cups, delivered the almond milk, and on and on it goes. Countless factors converging in every moment in time.

Why on earth does this matter? Well, it’s easy to get caught up in an unproductive thought pattern when we overlook the underlying complexity of life, the thought pattern of, “I should be able to figure this out!” whenever we’re faced with a problem.

When we take this approach we often feel overwhelmed, because our ability to take action is tied to our ability to “figure it out.” If we can’t do the latter, we feel paralyzed and scattered.

It can be helpful simply to acknowledge that there are far more moving parts than we can ever conceive of, much less address, no matter how long we brainstorm, hash things out with our friends, or stay up half the night obsessing.

How is this perspective shift helpful? For starters, it’s based in reality. This is generally a good place to start.

It’s hard to make effective changes when we’re skewing what we see to fit a neat and tidy explanation that exists in our head. Life generally doesn’t care about our explanations and continues doing whatever it was doing before we developed our clever little plan.

It also requires that we set more realistic expectations for ourselves (and others). Instead of coming up with grandiose plans that rely on everyone and everything around us changing to fit our agenda, we stick to what we can actually impact: our self.

We let go of trying to convince and control others, followed by acting like the Plan Police, making sure everyone’s sticking to the plan (and judging them in our heads when they aren’t). These things don’t work. Or at least, they don’t work well, and they completely drain us of energy while generating a lot of resentment from the people around us.

When we recognize that there are far more moving parts than we can address at any one time, we make choices.

I can’t change all 9,999 things by Friday, but I can pack a lunch today instead of eating out.

I can’t change all 9,999 things by Friday, but I can call my representative this morning and ask her to support such-and-such legislation.

I can’t change all 9,999 things by Friday, but I can take a bath tonight and turn off my devices by 9 pm.

Sometimes we use the larger-than-life plans as a distraction. We use them to justify staying immobilized. Just a little bit more planning and analyzing, and then I can take action. Or If I can’t do all 9,999 things, what’s the point?

The point is that all change, even those epic, sweeping changes that seem like they happened overnight, are the result of tiny, often un-glamorous choices adding up, one after the other, after the other.

We can’t take part in the grand, sweeping changes if we’re telling ourselves we have to know everything, see everything, do everything before we take a single step.

We take part by doing our best to stay informed, by doing our best to tune into our inner guidance, and by making the best choices we can with the limited knowledge we have.

That’s the best we can do.

And you know what? That’s enough.

How to be a Light Worker When You’re Pissed

I was flipping through one of my old journals when I came across an entry that really grabbed me. I’d been struggling with anger toward one of my parents at the time, and in my journal, I wrote that even though I knew the anger was detrimental to my well being and was fueling self-destructive behaviors, it was hard to let it go.

I had a subconscious belief running in the background like a tired, old soundtrack that said, “If you stop being angry, you’re saying that what your parent did was okay.”

And this insight wasn’t necessarily anything new. I’ve known for awhile that a major roadblock to forgiveness is equating forgiveness with condoning someone’s behavior, when, in fact, the two are quite distinct. You forgive in order to free yourself. Forgiveness is not the same as condoning past hurtful behavior, nor is it an invitation for future hurtful behavior.

Even so, something was keeping me stuck.

It took hearing about an acquaintance’s work drama to flip the switch for me. The situation was this: “Karen” was in a supervisory position over “Pete,” and for months, the two had been engaging in a power tug o’ war. Pete procrastinated on work projects, and Karen ripped him a new one every chance she got. From the outside, coworkers were wondering 1) Pete’s a smart guy–why on earth doesn’t he just get his stuff done on time to prevent the bi-weekly blowouts? and 2) Why doesn’t Karen find a more productive way of dealing with Pete because this strategy clearly isn’t working?

Both very good questions. Where my interest lies, though, is in Pete’s situation, because this is one that I’ve found myself in many times with my family. As an adult, I’d find myself doing things that felt like Teenage Me rebelling, and even though they made little to no sense in the current situation, it was hard to stop.

Why? Well, there are many reasons, of course, but here’s a juicy one: I wanted to prove that my parent was “bad,” and one way I could do that was through triggering their bad behavior by deliberately doing things I knew would set them off. As a kid, I imagine that a big part of my subconscious motivation was that I needed help. I was no match for my parent’s domineering anger, but perhaps if I could trigger them to act out, someone who could stand up to them, like a teacher or a relative, would see how bad things really were and come to my rescue.

As a kid with limited options and life skills, this made sense. As an adult, however, there are far better ways to get my needs met, and provoking bad behavior in the hopes of dragging other people to my rescue is far from a good strategy. In Pete’s case, this tactic is leading him down the road to termination, and I can bet that Karen isn’t going to be the one who feels punished in that scenario. Pete is punishing himself.

What Can We Do?

One of the most transformative steps for me is recognizing what my needs are. Until I know what I need, it’s hard to consciously choose healthy ways of getting those needs met, something I’ve written about extensively in the past.

If you find yourself reacting on autopilot (which sometimes takes the form of chronic complaining), use this as an opportunity to press the pause button and take stock.

What do you want from this situation?

What do you need in this situation in order to feel [safe, supported, etc]?

And the question for the win: How can you take responsibility for getting those needs met?

This doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help; sometimes taking responsibility for our needs means asking for support from the right people (i.e. people who are actually in a position to support us and who are willing to do so).

And even if getting our needs met does involve other people, it inevitably circles back to us. We must be meeting our own needs before the support of others can have a significant impact. If we’re not supporting ourselves, other people’s efforts to support us are either rejected or they’re never enough–we just need more and more to feel okay.

When we start by supporting ourselves, which might look like establishing healthy boundaries, getting a massage, validating our feelings, and other forms of self-care, the support of others is like the cherry on top. We’re not desperately relying on it to feel okay, but it sure is nice to receive.

When we get clear on what we need and want, we can go about getting those needs and wants met in the light of consciousness, rather than taking a back alley through the subconscious, resulting in behavior that’s baffling even to ourselves.

In New Age circles, there’s a lot of talk about being a Light Worker. If you ask me, more so than putting a positive spin on everything and keeping it “light,” this is one of the Light Worker’s primary tasks: To bring the heavy stuff out of our closets into the light of consciousness so we can forge ahead with mindful awareness.

Who’s with me?

Feeling Imbalanced? Try This.

My yoga teacher said something in class today that really made me think. We were prepping for standing bow pose, which looks like this (image source):

Before you get into the pose on the far right, it’s helpful to find your balance in various intermediate poses, like the ones on the left.

My teacher explained, “We often don’t take the time to first find our balance before asking our bodies to move.” Word.

On and off the mat, how often do we charge ahead before we’ve caught our breath or found our balance?

Oftentimes, when we find ourselves feeling imbalanced, whether that be physically, emotionally, or otherwise, we immediately seek to rectify it by any means available. Imbalance triggers fear of the unknown–we’re not sure where we stand, and we don’t like it. We might also feel ashamed that we’re not perfectly poised, so we try to rush on to step five to cover up the fact that we’re not on sure footing with step one yet.

It’s tempting to think we can just skip the foundation and bypass straight to the happy ending with rainbows and cupcakes, but getting up close and personal with the areas where we feel imbalanced has so much to teach us.

Here’s an example. Since graduating from massage school, I’ve been working to develop new skills in areas beyond the scope of my school program, and recently, I hit a wall with my self-study. I felt like my efforts weren’t having an appreciable impact on my skills and I was feeling discouraged, which led to less confidence in sessions and procrastinating with my studies.

Enter, this book:

I was reading it for an entirely different reason–not to improve my massage skills–but about halfway through a chapter on visual processing, I felt inspired to start drawing, and I decided to use my massage study ennui as the focus. Woah, baby, am I ever glad I did.

A stack of paper and a crowd of jaunty little stick figures later, I realized that I had a knowledge gap that was draining away my motivation: Specifically, I have a lot of massage facts, techniques, and other information in my brain, but I sometimes struggle with knowing when to use what, which then leads to sticking with the same old tried and true out of fear.

This became clear while I was mapping out a list of resources for each study area and, if you look in the bottom right corner, I was left with nothing but a big ol’ question mark for the “know when to apply” section:

I then asked my husband, who’s a paramedic, “How in the world do you take all of your medical knowledge and know what to apply when?” He immediately replied, “Oh, there’s the something-something protocol. They drill it into us in school.”

A protocol. Duh. Surprisingly, we’d never learned anything like that in school, so my knowledge gap makes sense.

What does this have to do with imbalance? Well, one of the things preventing me from seeing this gap (and thus being able to address it) was my fear of truly looking imbalance in the face because I was afraid of what I might find. Some of my ego’s many distractions to stall me from getting curious about the imbalance included:

  • Shame: “You should already know this. What’s wrong with you?”
  • Perfectionism: “You need to know how to do all of this perfectly…by tomorrow.” Hello, overwhelm (followed immediately by defensive procrastination).
  • Denial: “You’re overreacting. You just need to be more confident.”
  • Bravado: “Whatever! We’ve got this! We don’t need to study!”
  • And on and on it went.

It can be hard for me to admit that I don’t know something in areas that I really care about (my massage practice being a prime example), and being in a wobbly state of imbalance is a painful reminder of the gap between where I am and where I want to be. But…it’s also so much more than that. Imbalance is an invitation to slow down, take stock, and see where your foundation might be missing a brick or two so you can take the time to fill the gaps and pave the way for a more stable future.

I’m happy to report that, even though my ego was convinced exploring my imbalance was a recipe for utter annihilation, instead I now have a clear game plan for my studies, which creates a snowball effect of positive results and increased motivation. And bonus, I now know that my ego sometimes uses shame to wall off knowledge gaps, so when I’m feeling ashamed about something, I can open up a giant can of self-compassion and get curious.

When we get curious about areas where we’re feeling a little shaky (or a lot), we’re slowing down and saying to ourselves, “What you’re feeling matters. This shaky feeling, this off-kilter sensation–it matters. I’m listening. How can I help?”

And, hand in hand with our imbalance, we find our way home.

One wobbly yet curious step at a time.

What Your Freak Outs Can Tell You

A friend recently asked, “I wonder if freaking out about little things is related to downplaying experiences that are truly damaging and scary, like trauma?”

Bingo! A light in my brain switched on.

I’ve done a lot of self-work (and continue to do work) around codependency in my relationships. One of the features of codependency is focusing on, and often trying to “fix,” other people’s issues as a distraction from looking at your own. This is usually accompanied by resentment if the other person 1) doesn’t appreciate your efforts at meddling in their affairs and/or 2) doesn’t take your advice and change what you think needs to be changed.  (And if that sounds familiar, get thee to a library or hip, indie bookseller and obtain this valuable tome.)

How is this connected to freaking out over trivial crap?

While my friend and I were talking, I got an image of my brain that looked something like this (and no, I don’t know why the ego was wearing a hat that looks like a loaf of bread; it just was, okay):

The ego has a never-ending list of things to potentially freak out about. How to choose, how to choose…?

I’m imagining the ego knocking on the door of the subconscious and asking, “Hey, how much material do you have on this particular issue?” If the subconscious comes back without so much as a post-it, the ego thinks, “Excellent, I can safely freak out about this without dredging up anything really serious.” If, however, the subconscious comes back with a stack of files larger than Trump’s megalomania, then the ego is like, “Woah-ho-ho. Shut ‘er down! I’m not going anywhere near that one!”

To use my friend’s example: Rather than freaking out about a recent incident that dredged up memories of his childhood trauma, his ego found it much safer to fixate on–and totally freak out about–the bowl of raspberries he’d eaten during his sugar detox.

“You did WHAT?! How could you! An entire bowl of raspberries!!!! I can’t even look at you right now…”

In other words, rather than deal with scary emotions that are actually connected to significant experiences, we can freak out over the little stuff that, deep down, we know isn’t that big of a deal, like the codependent person focusing on other people’s issues to steer clear of looking at her own.

To our ego this feels safer, and, indeed, there are times when it probably is. If we don’t have a good support system (internally or externally), if we’re a child, if we’re already feeling overwhelmed, or if we’re otherwise feeling unequipped to cope, it might be a good idea to postpone a potential dark night of the soul until we do have the support we need.

But as a way of life, routinely avoiding the stuff that goes deeper than the bowl of raspberries leads to major build up–emotional, mental, energetic, spiritual, and physical. Our life loses its sense of flow, and we’re losing our shit over raspberries.

The Energetic Anatomy of a Freak Out

This, then, got me thinking about another aspect of freaking out and why we do it. There are many reasons, no doubt, such as seeing our parents or caregivers freak out and learning it from them, getting habituated to the cascade of chemicals surging through us when we freak out, and so on, but what interests me here is looking at this from a spiritual-energetic point of view.

Let’s work from the assumption that we all have spiritual energy coursing through us at all times. Call it chi, prana, rauch–whatever you like. As long as we’re alive, this energy is flowing through us. We create energetic channels within ourselves based on our past experiences, and not all of those channels are equally awesome.

Some of these channels allow for a free flow of energy, some are partially backed up with energetic hairballs, and others are blocked up completely. And some of them flow quite freely, but they don’t channel our energy into pursuits that are meaningful or life enhancing (one example: addiction–lots of energy, destructive results).

On the flip-side, some of those channels are associated with using our energy in ways that empower us: they enable us to home in on experiences that are personally meaningful and to use our resources to cultivate those experiences consciously. In other words, they help us create a meaningful life.

When our energy is flowing through these empowering channels, it becomes clear that we have the ability to make an impact, not only on our own life but on the world, and as much as we consciously think this is what we want, making an impact can also feel scary, because when we’re truly working in our “zone of genius” (to use a term by Dr. Gay Hendricks), there’s more at stake. Now, we’re living from a place that really matters to us, thus making the possibility of failure much scarier.

If we fail at the office job we hate–sure, it might bruise our ego or our budget, but it probably won’t shake us to our very core. Our ego, however, is certain that failing at something that really matters is the end-all-be-all and must be avoided at all costs. And this brings us back to our original idea: Rather than allow energy to flow through deeply empowering channels that could potentially trigger fears of a greater magnitude, the ego plays it safe and keeps us busy freaking out over the bowl of raspberries.

What Can You Do?

So, if you find yourself regularly freaking out, worrying, or engaging in other common distractions of the ego, like chronic complaining, judging yourself and others, and endless planning in lieu of doing, here are three resources that can help. They’re all engaging, easy to read, and majorly transformative.

The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks

Playing Big by Tara Mohr

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

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Breaking the Grip of Perfectionism Through Yoga

In yoga, as in life, it’s easy to get tangled up in the net of perfection. We see someone in the “fullest expression” of a yoga pose, and this becomes our end goal. Anything short of achieving this end goal is viewed as merely a way station to getting there.

But where, exactly, are we getting to? If we really stop and think, is it realistic to assume that once we’re finally able to get our leg over our head into bendy-pretzel pose, then, for real this time, we’ll be complete?

Of course not. Because life will continue on even after we’ve mastered bendy-pretzel pose. We’ll still have bills to pay and dentist appointments. Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield’s book title captures this well: “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.”

But if we’re not reaching for perfection, what then? How do we approach yoga, and life, without the endless drive to attain some imagined end goal?

Attachment to Form

About a year ago, I was struggling with fear over starting a new business, because I was worried it might take away from my first business, which I still loved and had no intention of closing. My guides gave me a useful tool to help explore this fear and to transform it: the idea of attachment to form.

They explained that everything we perceive in the manifest world (i.e. the things we can perceive through our five senses) is a temporary form–our bodies, our jobs, that rock over there, my business that I was so afraid of ruining. Energy flows through these forms and is temporarily housed in these forms. As physical beings, it’s often easier for us to perceive the forms than it is for us to perceive the energy within them, just in the same way that it’s probably easier for you to feel your skin than your aura.

What this means is that we’re predisposed to thinking that reality consists of the form and the form alone. It’s harder for us to see that, even when the form passes away, the energy still exists, available to enliven another form. And thus, we get really, really attached to particular forms. For example, with my business, I was really attached to a specific form of experiencing the energy that was temporarily housed in my current business, and I was afraid that if that form changed, I’d lose my connection to this energy. In truth, the things that I love about my business can be experienced in a multitude of forms if I am open to that possibility.

When we become overly attached to specific forms, we often blind ourselves to the possibility of experiencing that energy in any other way, but by working on the fear and attachment, we liberate ourselves and see that we can experience that energy over here and over here…and over there, too.

What’s this got to do with yoga?

If we shift our thinking, we can see that physical yoga poses are forms. They are temporary forms in which energy can be experienced. Let’s think of down dog for a moment and pretend that the “ideal” version of the pose looks something like this (image from YogaJournal.com):

Think of this image like the container of the pose. You are not restricted, however, to only experiencing the energy flowing through this pose by achieving a posture that looks exactly like that. If you use the pose as a way to explore energy, perhaps your energy flows into your legs and you notice that you want to bend your knees. Or maybe you want to lift your heels off the mat. Or you want to feel the elongation of your spine but instead you want to drop down and do it on your mat, in child’s pose.

All of these are ways to experience the energy flowing through you in relationship to the container or temporary form of down dog. Your pose might not look anything like the one above and yet you’re experiencing that energy just beautifully, thank you very much.

When we release the belief that the ideal in our mind is the end goal and instead treat it merely as inspiration to explore, we don’t force our body into poses that might be doing more harm than good based on our unique anatomy and physiology. We don’t force ourselves into a variation of a pose simply because we were able to do it yesterday. Or because the person next to us in class is doing it. Or because the photo we saw in Yoga Journal looks so freakin’ cool.

We use the forms of yoga poses to have a conversation with our body, to learn what our energy feels like when it’s flowing this way or that, and it’s hard to hear the conversation when we’re busy shouting over it with our ideas of what the perfect pose looks like and the fear that we’re not doing it right.

Yoga can be a time to practice letting go of our habitual ways of relating to the world, a time to release the fear that if we’re not perfect, we’re unworthy. To experiment with variations of a pose and finding that even when it doesn’t match the ideal in our mind, hey, look at that–the world didn’t explode. We’re still fine.

Or it can be a time to reinforce the habits we exhibit in the world. We can use our practice to force and strive, to struggle and berate ourselves for not being perfect.

We have a choice. And no matter what we chose yesterday or five minutes ago, we have the power to choose differently in each present moment.

If you’re forcing your body into pretzel bend, even though you can feel a tweak in your lower back and you can’t remember the last time you breathed, choose now to pause. Breathe in softness and self-acceptance. Breathe out fear. Breathe in love.

Listen to your body. What’s your spine saying to you in this pose? Your knees? Your heart?

Remember what it feels like for movement to be fun and exploratory. We all did it naturally as kids and we can get it back–one breath, one pose at a time.

#perfectionIsBoring

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