One of the greatest barriers to connection is the cultural importance we place on "going it alone." Somehow we've come to equate success with not needing anyone. Many of us are willing to extend a helping hand, but we're very reluctant to reach out for help when we need it ourselves. It's as if we've divided the world into "those who offer help" and "those who need help." The truth is that we are both.
There is a widespread myth in our culture that suggests that asking for help means that we are needy, weak and powerless. I propose that a shift needs to be made in how we perceive asking for help and what it really means for us to receive support. A few years ago I had the good fortune of spending a weekend with poet and teacher Mark Nepo to explore some of the teachings in his book called The Endless Practice: Becoming Who You Were Born To Be. One of the paradoxes that we explored was the challenge to “have the courage to ask for what we need, only to practice accepting what we’re given.”
It’s relatively easy to ask for help when our problem is physically or externally related. If our car isn’t running well, for example, we take it to a mechanic or if our teeth are bothering us, we pay a visit to the dentist. It gets more tricky when we are struggling with an emotional, psychological or even spiritual challenge. We can feel scared, lost, confused or overwhelmed and in need of help to honor the inner work that we are being called toward. When dealing with the uncertainty of personal challenge and life transition it can be difficult to clearly understand exactly what we need; thus making it impossible to ask for specific help.
When working with clients in my coaching practice, I first help them with this process of clarifying their needs. Here are a few questions to ask in order to identify the particular kind of support that would be most helpful:
Where am I right now?
When we consider our lives as a series of cycles, we are better able to recognize which season we are currently experiencing. We all live through periods of loss, regeneration and new growth. This is a common phenomenon that relates not only to the natural world, but to our own growth process as well. What season do you currently find yourself in? Have you recently suffered a loss of some kind such as death, divorce or illness? Perhaps you are in the early stages of a relationship or project? Maybe you are traversing "the Middleland" --the desert of transition between loss and new growth where nothing seems to be happening either outwardly or inwardly. Simply recognizing where we are in the cycle can offer some perspective to where we are headed and the kind of support that will be required.
What’s the problem?
Once we identify which season we are in, our attention can shift to the particular challenge or difficulty that we are facing. Every problem has a purpose. Our personal work is to uncover the deeper calling. In a season of loss, for example, we may be experiencing anger or grief that surfaces when we lose something that has been important to us. Vulnerability, excitement and fear may arise when we are beginning a new project or relationship. Confusion, loss of hope or lack of clear vision may envelop us when we are in the desert phase of transition. We may find ourselves in different phases of the cycle as we consider the various aspects of our lives. Depending on where we are in any given area of our lives, we will be experiencing some particular flavor of blessing/challenge along with specific needs that arise. The Buddhist nun Pema Chodron says, “We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It's just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” So which is true for you now--are you falling apart or together?
What do I need?
When you have a sense of where you are and the specific nature of your difficulty or challenge, you can ask the question--what do I really need now? Aside from more severe psychological disturbances that may require medical treatment options, a few responses might be:
Witnessing--One of the most powerful things we do for one another is to simply “hold space” and listen. Witnessing involves showing up with our full presence and opening to meet another exactly as they are. The one holding space brings compassion and empathy to the relationship. Without a need to fix or change anything, witnessing honors the ability of another to engage in their own process fully and develops trust in allowing their experience to lead the way forward. Most importantly it provides permission for both people to honor whatever the experience holds without expectation or attachment to a certain outcome.
Acknowledgment and reflection--It is tremendously helpful to hear our own thoughts, words and feelings mirrored back to us. Active listening involves both witnessing and reflecting back what we have heard. Again, the intention is not to change the other person, but rather to hold up their truth with empathy and allow them to witness it from the vantage point of another human being. Often it feels like enough to be seen and heard in this way and fulfills an emotional connection that we need during both exciting and difficult times of change.
Feedback--Sometimes we not only want to be witnessed and acknowledged, but also given feedback on our situation or life circumstance. Giving feedback is different from giving advice in that it involves the skill and experience of both the giver and receiver. Feedback might involve asking questions to help clarify the situation and provide a space for the one giving feedback to share their unique perspective when appropriate. There is no “right or wrong” when it comes to giving feedback--just that it is relevant to the one asking and authentic to the one giving. Ultimately the one asking is responsible in discerning what fits for them.
Guidance--Guidance is similar to feedback in that it requires a mutually respectful relationship between two people. Like a teacher/student partnership, one is in search of some particular understanding or experience and relies on the expertise and knowledge of the other to move toward that desired end. This type of alliance requires both safety and trust and is one of the most delicate relationships. It is important that when seeking guidance you always check it with your own heart. I am in favor of helping others connect to their own inner guidance rather than relying totally on another human being. In this way, the one helping relies on the natural ability of the one asking to find their own answers. At the deepest level every “problem” also contains its own “answer.” Directing someone to their own heart and intuitive guidance is both extremely effective and empowering. All of the best teachers and guides really only open the way to our own deep inner knowing.
Accountability--In order to follow through on what is most important to us, sometimes it’s helpful to step into the framework of accountability. Knowing that we are ultimately responsible for taking the action in our lives that will move us forward, it's too easy to let ourselves off the hook when left to our own devices. However, when we have someone to check-in with regularly, it is much easier to stay on track. Having someone that we are accountable to keeps us honest and aligned with our greatest values and visions.
Who can best help me?
Now that you have a better sense of where you are, what your problem is, and what, specifically, you need, you can turn to the question of who can best help? If what you need is someone to just listen, then maybe a close friend or therapist is the answer. Maybe you are needing some clarity, guidance or direction, in which case a life coach, spiritual guide or teacher may best serve you. Depending on your situation any combination of counselors, ministers, therapists, healers, teachers, coaches, partners, mentors, friends, animals, the natural world, solitude, books, workshops/retreats, classes, etc. can all provide a great amount of support. Keep seeking out what you need until you find it--sometimes it takes a fair amount of experimentation before we find the right combination of support.
The truth is that we ALL need help and cannot do this life alone. The wondrous alchemy of asking is that, as Mark Nepo taught, through the courageous act of asking itself we are often shown what we are made of. That kind of courage is its own reward. What we receive is not always as important as what we gain from becoming aware of what we need and then making a request. Also, as I have personally witnessed, through the process of asking and receiving we get to discover things about ourselves that we may not learn in any other way. It pushes us toward cultivating relationships and into greater intimacy--not just with another person--but with ourselves through the very thing that we are needing. Our own need contains the exact ingredients for its fulfillment. Asking for help is nourishing for all involved when the giving and receiving can be seen as a life-affirming exchange of energy rather than a tit-for-tat transaction. It's time to see our needs as guides to our own self-empowerment through relationship rather than weaknesses that decrease our personal value as individuals. I believe that when you truly connect with people, they want to help you.
Take some time to answer these questions for yourself and then have the courage to ask for help in some way. Notice what you discover in the process and then be willing to accept what you are given!
She gives generously and takes away without warning. Asking for a relationship with the goddess will have very deep implications in your life. Whatever you've accepted as status quo and tolerable will soon grow absolutely unbearable and begin to shake your foundation. That quaking you feel inside your belly; that faster beating of your heart, the throbbing in your throat--all signs that She is at work on you.
Expect to be radically transformed but don't presume to know just how She'll get you to turn more fully toward Her. You'll have to let go of all the pictures you've received from outside yourself about what it means to be "goddess." She will only reveal Her face when you are ready to remove the veil. And you may be surprised by what you see. Only you can lift the veil separating you from Her. Your mind isn't equipped for the task, but your body is being made ready through your fierce devotion to loving yourself alive again.
You will have to die to all of the ways you've disowned yourself and to let go of the shame you inherited when you entered this life-accused of being sinful and cast out. You must wash yourself of all that has concealed your radiance. You must be the one to throw off the damp blankets of patriarchy that try to put out your flame. You must take up the holiest of holies by entering your own body fully. You must commit to sit on the temple floor and feel your way through every experience you tried to bury. She will help you find the place that is all yours; only yours. You will finally be able to rest. . . .
The time will come and she will say: "Rise up, precious one, your light can never be extinguished." Find it and use it to navigate your way back to your wild soul. Follow Her voice--that faint call that you hear--She's speaking to you through your own being....let yourself drop down deep into your womb space and converse with the oracle of your feminine essence. She's there; waiting for you to approach Her. You can speak to Her about anything. What do you long to share with Her now? What needs to be spoken or shed at last? Hers is a fire that knows how to create, destroy and transform. Offer yourself to Her. Hers is a ritual fire that purifies, heals, clarifies, generates, illuminates, devastates, and changes everything it consumes into nectar for your nourishment and becoming.
Meet the goddess, here, in your own heart. She's waiting for you to know Her. You are Her and always have been. Step into the fire of your deepest longing and let her show herself to you. Call to the goddess if you are ready to have your entire life transformed by her alchemical fire. When, at last, you meet the goddess you will become the sovereign guardian of your sacred garden. . . .
Maya Angelou said "At the end of the day people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel." We all know people that drain our joy every time they come around-always emphasizing what's wrong and focused on how terrible life is. . . yuck. Hopefully you have a few friends in your circle that are a breath of fresh air and uplift and inspire you with their authentic presence. Better yet, perhaps YOU are one of those people that walk into a room and instantly make it brighter. I aim and aspire to be a high vibe being and have discovered that in order to maintain the good mojo there are a few things that positive people do (no, they aren't necessarily born with it!) to create a frequency of joy:
1. They are committed to self-mastery
They claim personal responsibility for their energy and let go of blaming or relying on others to determine their state. We're all always either commanding our energy and holding our own space with integrity or we are collapsing into whoever we are with allowing the strength of their energy to become our own. High vibe people command and control the only thing that can be controlled: themselves--their attitudes, behavior and reactions. They are able to let go of stuff easily and often and know just how many fucks are enough to give. They're gracious with their love and intelligent with their limits.
2. They deal with stress and challenge creatively
Don't mistake genuine high vibe people with those that pretend "it's all good!" The real high vibers aren't without struggles, but they are honest about them and willing to be vulnerable without being a victim. They have developed habits and conditioning that help mitigate the stress in healthy, creative ways by feeding the elevated frequency and nourishing themselves daily with practices, people and perspectives that inspire and produce positivity. Additionally, they use mistakes and failures as feedback on how they're doing rather than the final word on who they are. They continuously orient themselves toward a victorious outcome no matter what the challenge.
3. They choose the way of joy
Positive people don't wake up everyday feeling radiant and alive but have adopted a growth mindset, always open to learning new ways of keeping their lives fresh. They replace complaining and catastrophizing with curiosity and compassion and seek to identify what needs aren't getting met underneath the complaints. They make a conscious choice to be happy and know how to protect and preserve their joy by connecting to something bigger than themselves. Prayer, meditation, time in nature or any contemplative practices are part of their regular routine. They are clear about their intentions and motivations and are driven by a desire to serve in some way rather than simply satisfy their own desires.
4. They dance to the beat of their own drum
Finally, high vibe people are focused on their own mission in life rather than comparing themselves to others. They are busy being creators of their lives rather than consumers of the mass consensus reality. They surround themselves with high frequency friends and are able to celebrate others' success knowing that when it's their turn, they will be honored in kind. They contribute to a vision of the world that is generative and generous and seek to make it a better place everyday.
I believe it takes a certain amount of courage to choose to be positive and optimistic in a world that is seems to have adapted to a negative bias. What can you do to make your corner of the world vibrate a little higher and touch those you meet with your brilliance?
Be brave; let's stay down to earth yet vibe higher.
Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.
Deep calls to deep. . . I love those words.
In a world where very often it seems like a challenge to keep our heads above water and the river of modern life feels like it is rushing so fast we can barely keep up, there is some comfort in the idea that something deeper is calling to us. I have always felt that magnetic pull to what lies beneath the surface of things--whether it be people, circumstances, stories, dreams, or personal pain. This curiosity is what originally lured me into the realm of "healing" so many years ago. I was seeking a way out of my own struggle with clinical depression. Therapy and medication helped me get to a place where I could function well enough to explore alternative options. I began to learn the difference between healing and curing. The former is about becoming whole and the latter is used to describe a state where our disease symptoms have been reversed. We can be "cured" and not necessarily healed, just as we can be "healed" or in the process of healing and still have symptoms of illness. I discovered that my experience with depression was partially chemical, partially situational, and partly a symptom of a completely different type of crisis--feeling orphaned from my own soul. In my case, depression was a dark night experience that brought me directly into a crisis of faith. As a result, my life felt drained of purpose and joy. I experienced a disconnection from my deeper self or what I call a "soul loss."
Let's continue with depression as an example because it is such a common struggle for millions of people. We can turn to psychiatry to attend to the chemical component, we can utilize psychotherapy to address the underlying thought and behavioral patterns. But where do we go to treat the soul? Many people find solace in their religious or spiritual traditions. But what if someone has outgrown the particular tradition they grew up with or, like me, finds themselves questioning all notions of "faith" in general?
Wholeness is a word that we use a lot in the world of healing, yoga and complimentary health. In my own life I am always looking for examples of wholeness and ways to create experiences of it. Inviting circles of people to gather is one of the best ways I've found. When people come together with their own heroic stories of love and loss, triumph and trauma, peak and powerless moments and experience the value of being seen and heard and given space to be wherever they are, something beautiful happens. In circle we commit to radical listening and open questioning rather than fixes, solutions or setting others straight. We confront our deeper questions about our lives. As Parker Palmer says about "circles of trust:"
"When you speak about your deepest questions, you do not want to be fixed or saved: you want to be seen and heard, to have your deepest truth acknowledged and honored. If your problem is soul-deep, your soul alone knows what you need to do about it, and my presumptuous advice will only drive your soul back into the woods."
We listen for our own wisdom teacher to emerge somewhere in the space of talking and listening. This takes time, patience and tremendous trust in the process--not qualities we have been taught to develop in fixer-rescuer-helper model of relationships. Underneath the outer trappings of our personal narratives, lives a common, shared experience: the human experience. When we really listen to another and allow our own soul truths to be spoken, we eventually rest in the center of all of life, a place of belonging to something greater.
"Soul Matters" has become the way that I am best able to articulate the central message and core longing that my own life and work revolves around. The words are a simple reminder of what you may not hear echoed in the peaks and valleys of your everyday life--namely, YOUR SOUL MATTERS. What matters most to the soul are the core values of purpose, meaning and authenticity as well as the ways we experience those values in our lives. What matters to your soul may not offer a paycheck or a retirement plan. It may not bring you acclaim or any kind of outer recognition. It may not make any sense to anyone but you. But it is precisely the way that you come alive and find joy that matter most to the soul. Also because we exist in the human form--matter--we must express soul through the body. The two are intimately joined. It is in this intersection of matter and soul that purpose and meaning can be known and actualized. Self-expression is vital for our well being and fulfillment lest we remain distracted and overwhelmed by merely surviving, alienated from a deeper sense of purpose and suffer the symptoms of depression. There are many pathways to soul because soul is connected to our "genius" or particular gifts. Anything you love can be a door to expressing your depth: art, storytelling, dance, writing, nature, poetry, cooking, etc. The possibilities are infinite.
What people, places, ideas or experiences offer you a sense of purpose? What meaning do your personal stories (past and current) bring to your life? What, inside of you, longs to be known, expressed and shared? How can you live in a way that is congruous and aligned with who you are most naturally when you aren't trying to be someone "special?" Without active engagement in these soul matters our lives start to feel sterile, narrow, stagnant and two dimensional at best and empty, lonely and burdensome at worst. One thing I know for sure: we cannot enter the conversation and engage with questions of purpose, meaning and authenticity without awakening the soul force. It is a natural reaction and response to this kind of inquiry.
Soul matters is, for me, part of my personal mission and passion for bringing more soul to life in our world. When we nourish the soul, we attend to the health of our deepest root system and in turn every part of us is fed. We begin to awaken our creative capacity and author new chapters to our life stories. Others in our lives are inspired by our presence. We discover positive and productive ways to be in the world and offer our genius. We experience the deep satisfaction of knowing that we can handle all of the joy and pain inherent in this universal adventure and become whole human beings in the process. This is what true healing means to me. At the end of our lives we can look back and see the beautiful tapestry of soul that we wove as we went. We can say with certainty: that is what really mattered.
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don't go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don't go back to sleep.
~Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi
This particular poem was the first of Rumi's writings that I encountered so many years ago and it made me an instant devotee. Today I read it again, several times out loud, to allow the transmission to help me fully transition into this new year. Welcome to 2019! Another new opportunity to awaken and discover more of what our hearts truly desire. What a rigorous challenge and exquisite blessing it is to continue to wake up again and again as we seek to become conscious human beings rooted in something much bigger than ourselves. The temptation to roll over and go back to sleep is strong!
I've been practicing waking early these days as a part of my commitment to my Sadhana or spiritual practice. In the Kundalini yoga tradition early morning practice--somewhere between 4 and 6:30 am is prescribed because the power of "Amrit Vela" or twilight hours is believed to be the time when the ego is relinquished and union of the Soul and God are most easily achieved. Or as Rumi suggests, when the "secrets" of dawn are whispered. Additionally, it sets the entire tone for my day and surprisingly gives me the energy I require to live and work. My early mornings continue to be the most sacred time of my days. Kundalini is the yoga of awareness and energy. It is a technology designed to awaken the inner life force for physical healing, emotional balance and spiritual growth. The yoga practices or “Kriyas” and meditations utilize a combination of four powerful tools: Mantra (sound current/chanting), Pranayama (breath practices), Asana (physical postures) and Mudra (hand positions). Every Kundalini class works to balance the endocrine system and strengthen the nervous system so that we can live with greater vitality, clarity and joy. It is the most powerful yoga I have experienced thus far on my personal yogic journey.
It became so transformative for me that I decided to enroll in a year long Kundalini Teacher Training program that began last October. As part of our curriculum we are given a particular "Kriya" or set of yoga exercises and breath practices to do each day as well as an 11 minute meditation to commit to for the duration of the month until we meet again and are given a new set of practices. I love what the sustained and repetitive experience is offering me--a chance to go deep and explore many different facets of myself within a single practice. It takes 40 days to create a change in the grey matter of the brain, so committing to a single practice like this is instrumental when we want to transform our lives.
Another requirement of my teacher training was to attend a day of White Tantric Yoga, an annual Kundalini gathering that happens at the time of Winter Solstice at a ranch in Lake Wales, Florida. Perhaps, like me, you immediately begin to wonder what exactly is "White Tantric Yoga?" Do you imagine some free form group sex practices somehow disguised as yoga? Do you picture a re-creation of Osho's crazy cult like city depicted on the Netflix special "Wild Country?" Maybe you remember something you read about the famous musician Sting and his wife talking about their long, luxurious 2-3 hour lovemaking sessions inspired by yoga and tantra. All of those thoughts came to my mind. There are different kinds of tantric practices that you can read more about here but White Tantra is aimed at spiritual growth and involves meditation practices done with a partner; guided by a Mahan Tantric or master of the tradition.
I registered and began reading about the Kundalini White Tantric experience a month before I was scheduled to go. I saw pictures like this one below of how I would be positioned across from my partner (which I did not yet have) and invited to sit for over an hour at a time meditating into their eyes. . . .
Needless to say, my mind began to freak out and over the course of the month preceding the experience I envisioned every possible worst case scenario from claustrophobia to losing my mind entirely. When I asked my teachers how best to prepare for this, they all said happily "There is no preparation! Just do your best." I was told that you could show up without a partner and would be paired with someone when you arrive. This only added to my anxiety. However, less than a week before the scheduled day arrived, my cousin who lives in California texted that she would be coming to Florida specifically for the event and would love to connect. I asked if, by chance, she needed a partner assuming she already had one but she instantly said yes! And miraculously, I had the perfect partner. Deep relief. This process leading up to the event showed me much about how my mind can easily and quickly imagine the worst! It was already doing its work on me.
The day finally arrived and I woke at 4 am to drive to the ranch in time for the morning warm up exercises before the mediations began. I joyfully reunited with my cousin Charlotte, a beautiful grown woman who I remember walking to kindergarten when I lived in San Fransisco in my late 20's. We set up our little patch of camp in the tantra tent, positioned across from each other so our knees were touching. The facilitator for the day welcomed everyone and she said "This is a day to celebrate yourself. . .to honor the YOU in you." Somewhere between her words and the familiar presence of my cousin, I began to soften and lighten up. I would do my best and enjoy the experience.
The particular set of meditations chosen for that day were all based on the theme "Renew and Be You." We would first watch a video of Yogi Bhajan explain the meditation and then we would do it with our partner. We would be shown how to sit, for example, with our palms touching our partners at the level of the heart and looking directly to their eyes while chanting a mantra for 62 minutes. Then we would be given a 15-20 minute break and come back for the next meditation. The day followed this pattern for a total of six, 62 minute meditations. It's the equivalent of an Ironman for yogis! It seems obvious to say that it is a challenge. The meditations are meant to serve as a laboratory to explore the mind--the first 11 minutes are the hardest, I heard. All the shit comes to the surface--self-doubt, resistance, pain, anger. In some mediations tears poured as I felt myself release deeper levels of sadness, regret and pain. In other hours, laughter bubbled up as our meditation was visited by a little fly that would buzz around our heads and tickle our eyelashes as if to remind us not to take it too seriously. It was true, somehow magically after 11 minutes the experience shifted from impossible to possible. With our eyes steady and fixed on each other, our energy connected with the bigger group energy and riding the sound current of the mantras, a threshold is crossed and elevation and bliss become the main experience. Somewhere in that timeless space when the meditation became magic, the facilitator would say "This is the final 3 minutes. Stay with it!" and Charlotte and I would smile, our eyes growing excited and giving each other the unspoken encouragement to finish strong. And we did. Every time.
Driving home that night I couldn't believe what I had done that day. I felt a mixture of pride and humility. I desperately wanted to go back the next day and do it again. I was shown so many things about myself that I needed to see and have confirmed in the eyes looking back at me. It was one of the most transformative experiences I have had to date. My teacher said that one day of White Tantric practices does tremendous work to clear the subconscious mind and that it will continue to work on me for months afterward. I'm not entirely sure of all the ways it altered me but I know that I have been profoundly changed and it will be a part of me forever.
I am beginning this new year with some of the important lessons I learned from that single day and all that led up to it: when confronted with something new and different the mind will naturally conjure the worst. Our fears act as threshold guardians trying their best to keep us from changing. Keep going anyway. TRUST--what you need will come to you when you least expect it. How you enter into any experience, i.e. as a "celebration of the Self" or as a torture chamber can make all the difference in what you do actually encounter. Finally, just do your best. Chances are, it is far beyond what you think.
Let's cross the threshold of this new year with the remembrance that every moment is a chance to wake up again and meet our lives as our sacred partner with whom we can see our true selves reflected back.
Don't go back to sleep. . .
"What is the power of a woman who has opened to the sacredness and Divine truth of herself? What happens when she has the courage to bring the inner light outwards? What transpires when she softens her hard edges, plants her bare feet on the soul of the earth, opens her sacred channels to the Ancient Ones and declares, 'Yes, I am ready to be seen?'
She changes everything."
2018 has been a year of great change. Its theme has been re-building after the dismantling of my life the previous year. This was my year of "Hope" as I sought to listen to the longings of my heart and follow their promptings into a new chapter of my life.
And called I was: much deeper inside myself. I was assigned the task of completing the healing work left over from the pain of divorce. I was invited to step more fully into my power as a woman and single mother; to embrace solitude rather than relationship and become intimate with my singularity. I had to unplug from old paradigms of struggle and suffering to feel worthy and push my way out of the constraints of too small boxes that no longer fit my expanding self. From the outside it may have appeared that very little was happening but the truth is that everything was being reorganized. It's what I would call a "root" year where I had to attend to the establishment of a new foundation for my life. It was underground work. This entire process reminds me of the vital importance and equal value that our inner/invisible work is to our outer work in the visible world. I learned to not judge my life based on just the "fruit" when some months or years are all about the roots.
I gave much time and attention to simplifying my life down its most essential elements: self-care, my children and developing my mission through my work in the world. Simplifying our overly complicated lives is an art and science. It requires both the imagination to envision more space and ease in our days as well as the formulas for making that a reality by letting go of the things that distract us, noisily crowd our lives and insist on their value. Once I committed to shedding the excess on a regular basis it opened me to a spacious joy that has been here all along. I vow to protect this sacred simplicity with my life.
Confession: I have been having a love affair with freedom. I am learning that freedom isn't just about doing anything I want, when I want, but rather in choosing how I most want to live. It isn't offered without a certain price either--it costs me everything that no longer holds precious value for me: relationships, things, beliefs, old programs and habits. Freedom has become the daily choice to remain loyal to the intimacy of my direct relationship to life and to trust my own knowing to lead me forward. As a result, one of the most freeing realizations I have experienced is that when I give up being overly attached to any one version of myself (mother, teacher, woman, yogi) I gain access to much more of my range as an infinite being with untapped potential and possibility. Expressing that range is, for me, what true artistic freedom is about. It is the core value with which I am more deeply aligned.
The greatest gift I was given this year was in the power of having a dream. I've experienced how stepping boldly forward, stumbling and even getting lost can reveal the way to our dream life. I know that the dream will call us outside of our comfortable stories, beyond the safety nets and enmeshed limiting beliefs. It will shake and wake us to recognize all that we possess that isn't being utilized fully. It will reveal the fears that have become elaborate excuses to keep us from making a change. A dream will inspire and invite you but it won't force you to act on it--that's up to you. The dream will leave if you ignore it long enough. But like everything in the universe it will circle back around and flash its starry smile while you're still stuck in that job, relationship or survival strategy that drains your energy and causes your soul to wither. The dream is magnanimous; it understands your fear but it's also relentless in its desire to get you to pay attention to it.
This year I met my dream with all that I have and asked that it make me into a new creation. I want the dream as much as it wants me. A dream entered into this way contains everything needed for its fulfillment. That's because the dream is alive inside of us; woven into the fabric of our soul. We have to decode the messages, follow the clues, and learn the language of our dream.
What's the dream that won't go away for you? The one that's always knocking, whispering, speaking its sign language everywhere you turn in the world?
I feel the gates of 2019 wide open and the adventure of the unfolding dream beating its drums for me and you. Can you hear it? Let's enter the dream and allow it to awaken all that we are.
This is the power of a dream.
Returning to my blog after a couple of months feels like a little homecoming. This practice of writing is like a touchstone that I use to check in with myself, anchor some of my thoughts amidst all that is changing and share what's relevant in my life at the moment. I have been busy doing the work that I love--teaching yoga, working with private clients, facilitating a women's circle and collaborating on several projects. I recently embarked on a year long Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training program. I am navigating single motherhood with two children--one a middle schooler! These days I am finding and establishing a new rhythm for my life that allows for time doing all of the things that are important to me as well as giving myself the space to simply BE. While all of that has been happening outwardly, I have been participating in my own personal transformation. It's what my teacher, Dr. Estés, calls the "river beneath the river." It refers to the deeper, inner work that runs like a current underneath the surface of our lives.
A big part of my inner work has been about dismantling the people pleasing, "good girl" conditioning that keeps me from being true to myself. Like so many women, I have been groomed to put the needs, desires and feelings of everyone else above my own. Not wanting to disappoint or hurt another, I trade my truth for their comfort and approval. What I discover is that, over time, this kind of self sacrifice leads to resentment, anger and exhaustion. As a result, I experience the ultimate betrayal--a disconnection from my own soul.
Over the last several months I have been conducting an experiment in my own life. I have been making pleasure a high priority in my everyday life. Rather than putting so much effort and energy into trying to be good or do good, I am committing to doing the things that make me feel good. This seemingly small shift is creating big adjustments in my life. I am much more aware of the people and situations that compromise my joy and those that increase my sense of fulfillment. I am called to continuously confront the critical and fearful places inside that try to convince me that the pursuit of pleasure and self-fulfillment is unrealistic, immature and selfish. I notice the ways that I am tempted to deny myself pleasure everyday. I have been committed to practicing the art of feeling good. And it feels good.
I am calling it "the pleasure principle" and as long as it feels good for me and doesn't directly injure or harm another, I am free to pursue it. What I am finding is that rather than leading to any kind of irresponsible debauchery, I am experiencing a new state of freedom and joy in my daily life. It really becomes about choosing what would feel best in the moment and doing that in place of the thing I believe I "should" be doing.
While experiencing true pleasure often happens in simple ways, it's not always easy. The reality is that some people will be hurt or disappointed, despite my best intentions. Choosing to stay true to what I hold sacred and what makes me come alive, will inevitably create a gap in certain relationships and commitments. However, I am recognizing that the most important relationships in my life--with my children, family, close friends and work are actually nourished more deeply from my feeling good. We all benefit in the process.
What if feeling good today was the highest priority? How much pleasure can I allow myself to receive? What needs to be released, forgiven or healed so that I can truly experience the joy of my soul? These are some of the questions I've been asking myself everyday.
I invite you to step into this exploration in your own life. Begin by taking one day to pursue your own pleasure and see where it leads you.
My soul lives naturally in a state of joy and celebration. For me it's best expressed through dancing and letting myself feel the freedom of movement from the inside, out. When I dance I'm not thinking about how I look or what the next move should be. It's not about right or wrong, good or bad. Dancing is an authentic expression of my soul's joy--it's a moving prayer and a communion with my Self. Ultimately, I long for my freedom and joy to serve others and set them free to live their own unique beauty. Can you imagine all of the people in your life living in this way? It begins with you and taking the exquisite risk to be free. Our self-fulfillment is our greatest service to the world.
Not just part way
Or her way
Not where I've already been
Or that dusty place where it all began
Not his place
Or those pretty faces over there
Not reaching for the too high bough
Or falling so far below
Not what I know
Or pretend to be
Not some fantasyland
Or house of mirrors
Not the train of destruction
Or the flight of false desire
Please, not only to the edge
Of the Ocean
Or the waist of wonder
Take my hand and
Take me all the way.
~Jenny Clarke, 2018
"I am part of everything that I have read." ~Theodore Roosevelt
It's very rare that I am ever reading just one book at a time. I love to read, especially in the summer months when I have more time to dive into a book during the long daylight hours rather than at the end of a busy day when I can barely stay awake for a single chapter. This month I am sharing my top five literary pics for your learning, longing, loving and enjoyment as you staycation, travel or simply savor some extra downtime:
• Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh is one of two books that I re-read every summer. It's definitely on my top ten favorite books of all time. Lindbergh (wife of aviator Charles Lindbergh) created a legacy of her own through this book as a woman exploring the great balance of life as individual, artist, wife, and mother. Each chapter is named for a different sea shell and the various themes are connected to the unique qualities of the shells. In the "Moon Shell" chapter she writes of the importance of solitude as a source of nourishment in a woman's life: "Solitude, says the moon shell. Center-down, say the Quaker saints. To the possession of the self the way is inward, says Plotinus. The cell of self-knowledge is the stall in which the pilgrim must be reborn, says St. Catherine of Siena. Voices from the past. In fact, these are pursuits and virtues of the past. But done in another way today because done consciously, aware, with eyes open. Not done as before, as part of the pattern of time. Not done because everyone else is doing them, almost no one is doing them. Revolutionary, in fact, because almost every trend and pressure, every voice from the outside is against this new way of inward living. Woman must be the pioneer in this turning inward for strength." When you buy this book get at least two copies and gift a woman you love!
• The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is the second book that I ceremoniously read during the my yearly summer sabbatical. It's the classic hero journey told through the story of Santiago, a young shepherd boy, in search of his personal legend and a secret treasure that he is determined to find. It's the universal love story of each of our Souls that longs to live into the fullness of our destiny. In the beginning of the book the boy has a fated meeting with an old man who tells the boy he is a king. He explains to the boy what a person's "personal legend" is: "It's what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is. At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream, and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives. But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible for them to realize their Personal Legend." I read this book every year, purposefully, to minimize this mysterious force and remind myself of what's possible. Every time I read it, I am inspired to continue the pilgrimage of my soul and to recognize the omens that are guiding me along the way. This book is certainly one of those good omens.
• Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur was a gift I received for Christmas. From my ex-husband. While we were still in the process of divorce. It's a book of short poems and illustrations by Kaur that take your hand and heart and walk you through another classic journey of childhood trauma, sex, love, loss, heartbreak and healing. It's all the heavy hitters in one small anthology that apologizes for nothing and tells it like it like it is. This book is part poetry; part self-help: i know it's hard/believe me/i know it feels like/tomorrow will never come/and today will be the most/difficult day to get through/but i swear you will get through/the hurt will pass/as it always does/if you give it time and/let it so let it/go/slowly/like a broken promise/let it go. I read this book in one sitting and by the end I felt like I had travelled through my own emotional wasteland of grief and loss only to find a deep pocket of honey in my own heart. My former spouse never read the book himself; when I asked him how he picked it for me he just said--"it looked like something you would like." He was right. I think you might like it too.
• Crossing to Avalon: A Woman's Midlife Quest for the Sacred Feminine by Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D. is one of those books that I have had on my "to-read" list for some time and finally read it recently at, of course, just the perfect time. Bolen is a psychiatrist with a Jungian background and feminist approach to her work. After the dissolution of her marriage she was invited to take a pilgrimage (yes, this is definitely an important theme in my life!) through some of the most famous Christian pilgrimage sites throughout England and Scotland as well as the mythic "Avalon" where she discovers the hidden power places of the Sacred Feminine that have been systematically covered over by patriarchy. Her journey represents what has become a very personal healing journey of my own in the last few years: one of reclaiming my feminine roots through relationship with the goddess or the Great Mother. Her description of the "Forest" landscape of midlife is among the best that I have encountered. This book is serving as a map that is helping me navigate the terrain of my life as I make my way through this difficult passage that feels much like an initiation. "During midlife, the desire to be real to ourselves, which comes from our soul, contributes to the crises we unconsciously create when we do not consciously acknowledge that we do not feel vital and authentic. There is an internal impetus to become a whole person and when we spend time in the metaphorical forest and the actual forest or natural world, we are exposed to the possibility of retrieval and growth of our instinctual nature, our spiritual connection with Nature, and our sense of oneness with the universe." While each of our journeys through midlife will be unique and the crises we face are ours alone to traverse, these themes of consciousness, wholeness, vitality, authenticity and connection are common to us all. As soon as I finished this book I started it all over again because of the way it speaks so directly to much of what I'm facing in my life now. If I ever write a book, this is the kind of book I aspire to create. The wisdom is passed like a torch from a woman who has made the passage herself through this dark and difficult wood, sharing her personal experience and calling on the revival of the archetypal feminine as a key force in our journey as women seeking wholeness and claiming our power.
• How To Be An Adult In Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving by David Richo will first reveal exactly how you've probably been acting like an immature child in your relationships and then offer tons of practical exercises in how to relate as a healthy, conscious grown up. Richo is a Buddhist psychotherapist that identifies the five "A's" that are the building blocks of intimacy. Essentially we feel loved when we receive: attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and when we are allowed the freedom to live in accord with our own deepest needs and wishes. This book walks you through the stages of relationship from romance to conflict to commitment and will have you facing some highly vulnerable and emotionally charged corners of your psyche. It will illuminate the shadow places of attachment, addiction and obsession that we can get entangled in and enlighten the ways we fear abandonment and engulfment. It took me several months to get through this book. It's not an easy read, but an important one. Ultimately, a healthy ego and cultivated connection to our soul will lead to healthy relationships: "When we have the courage to share who we are in unique and free-spirited ways, we are likely to receive attention. When we accept ourselves, are proud of who we are and, at the same time, admit our mistakes, we are likely to be accepted. When we show generosity, compassion, and integrity, we are likely to be appreciated. When we offer affectionate touch and consideration, we are likely to receive affection in return. And when we act assertively, with clear boundaries and respect for others' rights, it is likely that others will allow us the freedom to be ourselves." The teaching and tools in this book have helped me be more aware of offering the five "A's" in parenting my children--where intimacy is first mirrored. Whether you are in partnership or not, this book is both an incredible wellspring of knowledge and superior source of support.
Have a beautiful Summer~xo
"Simplicity is complexity resolved." ~Constantin Brancusi
Ah sweet summertime. . . another school year is complete and the pace of life slows dramatically. It's the savasana (corpse pose) of my year where I can gratefully let go of the effort of living: juggling work, teaching classes, school projects, and extracurricular activities. This is when I settle into the delicious sweetness of being for a couple of months. One of the benefits of being self-employed is that I get to structure and plan my life in a way that allows for this kind of space to recalibrate and restore. I use this time to nourish my body with more rest and lighter foods (lots of watermelon!), stimulate my mind with books that I specifically save for these longer days (stay tuned for my summer reading list) and ignite my soul with plenty of time to daydream and listen for what inspirations are seeking my attention.
More than any other season in my life, summer is dedicated to savoring simplicity and ease above all else.
Also, as this month marks the mid-year point, it is the perfect opportunity to pause and reflect on where the first half of the year has brought me and to consider my next steps. I project my vision to December 2018 and choose NOW how I will conclude the calendar year. How do I want to feel as this year ends? What am I most proud of? Who have I become? That positive projection helps me discern my next right steps and keeps me on track with fulfilling my intention to stay aligned with my greater mission for being alive. I don't concern myself so much anymore with "how" things will unfold, instead I anchor my commitment to my "why" and trust that the details will fall into place as I continue to show up and stay curious.
I've collected a few gems that I have discovered this year so far that I'll share as my "Mid-Year Manifesto." Here's what's been important in my journey in the first half of 2018:
*Simplicity reigns supreme. As this post is themed, simplifying has been an overarching theme in my personal life. It's an art to be able to refine and define your life based on a few core values and then create something beautiful as a result. My new mantra: subtract to find the solution. Less really is more. Unless it involves watermelon.
*Despite evidence to the contrary, if it doesn't feel right it's probably not. Don't wait for full blown red flags. Pay attention to the yellow lights and stop before you override your intuitive hunches. Science has proven that you actually have a gut-brain that can signal the central nervous system--use it wisely.
*When in doubt, zoom out. Make a regular practice of widening your perspective. Wherever you are right now, imagine you could look at yourself from high above and at a distance. What do you notice about yourself and your life from this place? How do your problems look? What couldn't you see that you now recognize? How can you use this information to serve you? Broadening the lens through which we perceive helps us identify what's most important and let go of the rest. Which leads me to my next revelation:
*It's okay not to care so much about everything/everyone. This has been such a liberating gift for me this year. As an empath, it's incredibly challenging to turn down the volume on feeling so much. Learning to create healthy boundaries is one of the biggest lessons for the thin-skinned. I recently read the book called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F@ck and my big take away was this: Give less fucks. Be much more selective about the fucks you give. In the end, was it worth giving a fuck about? The thread of simplicity weaves right through here and the law of subtraction must be applied for best results.
*Tell the truth without blame or judgment. I am learning that real truth telling takes time and patient persistence. It's not for the faint of heart--it's for the courageous ones who aren't willing to settle for less than their very best. Start by telling yourself the truth. Say it out loud. "My deepest truth right now about ______________is __________________." Notice how it feels. Is it scary, exhilarating, shameful, empowering? If you're willing to take it a step further, try sharing your truth with someone you can trust. If, like me, one of your greatest values is freedom--you must be willing to tell the truth.
*Take the leap. Do the scary thing that you know clearly in your heart you are called to do next. Yes the fear and doubt are there but deep down you know it's right. Ask yourself: will I be sorry that I didn't take my chance? If not now, when? Just do it.
*Cherish the people in your life that feel easy like summer to be with. Your people, your tribe, your allies. They are one of life's greatest treasures and without their love and support you wouldn't be who you are. These are the people that only want to see you truly happy and living in joy. This kind of love is the ultimate simplicity--grace embodied.
What beautiful gems or challenging wisdom has the year offered you so far? Write them down. Share them with someone. What do you want to have a bigger experience of in the next 6 months? What is your positive projection for the conclusion of the year? Send it out with clarity and knowing that everything is unfolding perfectly. Then just relax, let go of the hustle and let the summer be savored.
What My Clients Are Saying:
"I know that “life changing” is a bit over used but it best describes how I feel about what Jenny Clarke offers with "The Courage to Create" course. She uses the metaphor of the labyrinth. A twisted turning path with hidden chambers that takes you to the center and then back out again with new insights. I took the private version of this program. The weekly lessons took me to the core of who I am. Along the way looking into some long closed chambers where we cleared out a few ghosts and discovered some buried gems. At the end of the course I emerged forever changed with a new understanding and appreciation of who I am. You can not get lost in a labyrinth as long as you keep moving forward. The journey begins when you take the first step. I highly recommend that you take the first step and sign up for the Courage to Create!" ~L.H.
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