Life Advice From a Demon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The 2017 Lion’s Gate: The Sun and Sirius

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

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

Why should we care?

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

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

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

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

I was led to the following spread of cards:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Quest for Wholeness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putting It All Together

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

Undergoing Alchemical Transformation

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

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

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

The Lion’s Gate Ritual

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Following Your Fault-Lines Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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.

Past Lives and Chipmunks

Swan reflections

Since Christmas, I’ve become acutely aware that my time with my grandma, at least in this current physical form, is limited. She’s still in great health, thankfully, but…well, she’s preparing–giving away her books, sifting through photos and letters, and making arrangements. And it’s hard. Man, is it ever hard.

Last week I read this book, and the little great-grandmother-Buddhist-nun character had me weeping.

I called my grandma and it all came spilling out: how afraid I am of losing her, is she afraid of dying (she replied “Ohh, no” and with such serene confidence that I completely believe her), and how much I love her.

We talked about the book, which led to a conversation about physics and multiple universes (all part of the story, and I don’t want to spoil it by saying more), and our beliefs of the afterlife. While I wouldn’t say that I believe in any one view of the afterlife, since I’ll hardly have definitive proof until I’m there, my spiritual path leads me more in the direction of reincarnation. My grandma, a devout Catholic, believes her future is in heaven with my grandpa, and I so want that to be true for her.

And that got me thinking…what if they’re both true? It’s not hard to believe that the universe and its workings are far vaster than anything I could conceive of, so why not?

Before we got off the phone, my grandma reminded me of one of her sayings that she uses, especially when she’s going through a rough patch, “Be happy, just for today.”

And that planted a seed. The result: This story, which is my search for peace in the possibility that truth is so much bigger than I know.

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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