"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.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and righting,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.
I am a woman of rituals. My daily life is punctuated by ordinary moments consecrated in sacred and simple ways. In contrast to routines, which are performed habitually and usually with a specific outcome in mind, rituals provide a space for something bigger to enter us and meet us in the moment--wherever we may find ourselves.
This year I have begun each morning with a little ritual where I greet the new day by stepping outside as the sun is rising and I take a few deep breaths to offer my thanks to Gaia, our beautiful Earth Mother, for all that she provides. I light incense and place it next to a special rock in my front flower beds. Some days I pray; other days I stretch or sit quietly for a minute or two. This spot has become a favorite corner for my kids and I to place objects such as flowers, shells and feathers. It is our collective outdoor altar where we can be reminded to "Believe" that anything is possible. I have chosen to believe in miracles. I know it may sound silly to some. Honestly, at a certain stage in my life, I snubbed the idea because it seemed new-agey and intellectually immature. Just as evolving is a genuinely humbling process, it's also wonderfully surprising to see the ways in which we can view something in an entirely new light as our perspective shifts. That is precisely what A Course in Miracles calls a miracle: a shift in thinking from fear to love. In this way, miracles aren't just metaphysical occurrences defined by inexplicable events. Miracles can and should be a part of the lexicon of ordinary, everyday life as well.
Our brains look for patterns and we create meaning based on what we see and repeat daily over the course of our lives. Just as each day follows the pattern of morning, afternoon and evening or a story has a beginning, middle and end, our minds need a certain framework to function optimally. Our routines serve us by providing a certain context for our lives to unfold with some predictability and certainty. Without the appropriate and necessary structure to our days, we can easily feel anxious and overwhelmed. However, if we become too consumed by the familiar patterns, we easily close off to the possibility of miracles.
I define the miraculous as the opening of our mind-heart to "the field" Rumi writes of as the place of infinite possibilities. Modern science calls this the "quantum field." Consider for a moment as you look around you, all that you see and "know" as a result. Bookcase, tree, water bottle, lamp. I know this is my house, my books, backyard, neighborhood, etc. In some ways, this itself is a miracle. Just being alive to see, touch, taste and experience this world is a mind-blowing phenomenon! Now take a moment to contemplate all that you cannot yet see or the "unknown." Imagine this field of infinite potential as part of your experience in the present moment. I think Rumi offers us a secret key in his poem that invites us to cross the threshold between known and unknown, beyond duality, and to lie down in the grass-- shift our perspective--in order to let the field meet us right now. In this way, every moment becomes the doorway into the infinite field.
Rituals simultaneously contain their own logic or mental pattern and order as well as magic or a supernatural force and mystery. They serve as vital threshold places between habit and holy, familiar and foreign, conscious and unconscious. It is the fertile field in which we can plant the seeds of any dream or longing that our heart yearns to experience. We need to practice returning to this remembrance often so that we train ourselves to awaken again and again to possibility. One of my teachers, Chameli Ardagh, speaks of this remembrance as a powerful sadhana or spiritual practice. She says: "Keep reminding yourself, this is what I can see right now, but my perspective is limited. Your brain will keep looking for the familiar and try to limit your possibilities. Let your mind be open like a flower. Practice to stay in wonder." Our ritual practices can support us in developing this kind of fluidity of awareness.
What rituals or remembrances keep you poised on the threshold of wonder? How do you practice entering "the field" and shifting your perspective to include a wider scope of reality? Finally, what would feel like a miracle for you right now? Write it down. And then write it again in the present tense, as if it is happening now. Keep returning to the heart of possibility. Discover the ways to believe again when your mind circles back to its familiar pathways of limitation and doubt.
Stay open, devote yourself to the discipline of seeing possibility everywhere, and take a few moments each day to let your soul rest in the infinite field. . .
I'll meet you there.
April 1, 2018. #244
For the last eight months or so this is how every one of my journal entries has begun: with the date and a number. I started counting my days last summer when my "new" life began. At that point I had no idea how I would make it as a single mom with two kids--working and maintaining the only home that we have known. It felt like a huge free-fall into the unknown. While a significant chapter was ending I decided one day, definitively, that it would be the first day of the rest of my life. Day #1. This is how my counting started and in my journal that day I began to create my new reality by re-claiming the space around me as my own: add a floor lamp to the corner of the bedroom, clean out the closet under the stairs, move the white bookcase from the office to the living room, buy new sheets. . . . It was a simple list that served as a map for my next steps. Everyday since then I have added to this list and have challenged myself to expand my vision of what is possible.
Starting over in this way has given me a palpable sense of creative control over what will happen next in my life. The ability to consciously choose what I really want both physically and emotionally. The linear structure of counting my days keeps me moving forward and offers a realistic perspective on what I can manage to accomplish or experience within the scope of a single day. Accumulating these days over the course of a week and a month has been an amazing experiment in recognizing how real change happens: organically, gradually and systematically with diligent attention to the generative action that needs to be taken and the toxic strongholds that need to be surrendered.
Over the course of this last year I feel like I have crossed an ocean: surfing the waves of grief, diving into the depths of despair and then breaking the surface to breathe in moments of the most exquisite joy and to behold an entirely new horizon. I have felt my future as the blueprint of my own soul beckoning me to keep counting--to come back to today when I get distracted, fearful or confused. Keep hold of the thread and step into each day with courage and trust. I am growing in intimacy with the understanding that true fulfillment is an art that unfolds as we are willing to live in ways that summon our inherent creative potential--to be wholly ourselves. When we challenge our limited perspectives in any moment and lean more heavily into the edge of what is unknown to us as a frontier of freedom, we train ourselves to become pioneers moving ahead with a greater purpose for our lives. We sacrifice the well worn trails of conditioned habit for new pathways of discovery.
Day #244: Easter. Time to rise. Today I rise above my current situation for a moment and see the bigger picture. I can see that I am on the edge of a breakthrough--don't stop now. Doubt and fear will always be present but I get to choose my focus-this is part of my power now. Will I be the victim or victorious? I can focus on the old story that believes nothing will ever change and I'll always be stuck here. Or I can focus on the fact that anything is possible now that everything has changed. What single thought will serve my highest self now?
I concluded my first journal entry last year asking myself how I most wanted to spend the first day of the rest of my life. I decided that I would live it like it was my last: full of joy, deeply grateful and completely at peace knowing that I have lived and loved with my whole self. Today I am on the edge of another unknown threshold and I give myself completely to this miraculous journey. There are no mistakes and everything serves a greater purpose. The past is over and I am free to experience a future far beyond my wildest dreams. Today I begin again.
I am open to whatever is coming next. . .
The late, great Irish poet and theologian John O' Donohue describes a blessing as "a circle of light dawn around a person to protect, heal and strengthen." This is such a lovely image that offers comfort as well as a clue to how we can transform our pain into hope. We don't have to be ordained in a traditional role or receive religious training in order to administer a blessing. What if exactly who and how and where you are in this moment was the perfect opportunity to bestow a blessing?
Have you ever been in the presence of another and felt this quality of warmth and light? Did you feel how you were receiving a blessing through their particular quality of attention or the way they spoke to you or rested a hand on your shoulder or even hugged you in just the right way? It is truly a wonderful and miraculous experience that we can easily take for granted or miss entirely because we have closed ourselves off from this authentic form of connection. Perhaps you have been the one to bless another through your loving listening, spontaneous affection, or quiet prayer. . .
Every day we will meet some form of suffering--in ourselves or another human being. The question of how we meet this suffering and what we can do about it becomes a vital inquiry that we are called to respond to in ways that are helpful, hopeful and healing. Instead of thinking that we need to have answers or solutions to every difficulty, maybe we could simply practice the art of blessing. It could be a silent blessing or a smile blessing or a touch blessing or a written blessing or a fresh flower blessing. The avenues of expression are endless. How we offer the blessing isn't as important as our intention to bless.
I believe that the ability to bless is a true form of power and alchemy that we each possess if we choose to utilize this resource within our being.
I recently ended a yoga class by asking everyone to place their hands over their heart and offer themselves a blessing. I guided each person to imagine this circle of light around themselves and to ask for the blessing that they most longed to receive: for the health of their body, peace of mind, freedom from a particular worry or fear, or any concern that was most troubling. It's only when we are able to receive the blessing for ourselves that we can naturally offer it to others.
Consider this latent super power that you possess: to bless and be a blessing. Contemplate how you can be a blessing in your various roles and relationships. Do you have a heart that is available to receive the blessings that are being offered to you? Create a simple ritual each morning before you leave the house to take a moment to bless yourself and really feel that you have been gifted with a special blessing. Then ask to be a blessing for another. Silently bless each person you see. Remain open to the opportunities to offer protection, strength or healing to someone else in any way that feels genuine.
Notice the blessing bearers in your life. Appreciate, love and cherish them. Do not take lightly those that gift this kind of grace, as O'Donohue says:
It is such a privilege to have people who continue each day to bless us with their love and prayer. These inner friends of the heart confer on us inestimable gifts. In these times of greed and externality, there is such unusual beauty in having friends who practice profound faithfulness to us, praying for us each day without our ever knowing or remembering it. There are often lonesome frontiers we could never endure or cross without the inner sheltering of these friends. It is hard to live a true life that endeavors to be faithful to its own calling and not become haunted by the ghosts of negativity, therefore, it is not a luxury to have such friends; it is necessary.
May the immeasurable beauty and belonging of blessing meet each of us in the particular way we most need. May we remain faithful to the calling to respond in kind. May we be continuously grateful.
Bless you. Bless you. Bless you.
"You might ask yourself: 'Can I imagine what it would be like, in this moment, to have a heart that is ready for anything?'
If our hearts are ready for anything, we are free to be ourselves. There's room for the wildness of our animal selves, for passion and play. There's room for our human selves, for intimacy and understanding, and for creativity and productivity. There's room for spirit and for the light of awareness to suffuse our moments. The Tibetans describe this confidence to be who we are as 'the lion's roar.'" ~Tara Brach
I feel like I've traveled a long distance to reach this year. I want to arrive on its doorstep empty and let it fill me with all of its perfectly curated experiences. I know better than to try and plan my life out in detail. Instead, I will prepare myself for anything while I sketch the contours of feeling that I want to explore more deeply in my everyday life. I'll take my time, move at a sustainable pace and sit quietly with each day until I am sure of my direction; clear about the assignment. I'm going to simplify everything until it feels like just enough.
Three promises: I promise to be my best self, for myself, first. I promise to be gentle. I promise to keep my heart open and undefended. I believe the sacred guardians of this year already know the secret prayers of my heart and the tireless longing that beckons me forward everyday. Many things will be asked of me and I will step up. When I feel tempted to complain I'll count my gratitudes out loud. I'll use doubt as sign to wait for a clear "yes." I will always be looking for the signs.
I know that I am one of those who have been given the rare and precious opportunity to truly begin again. Second chances are rationed blessings and I'm not sure why I got one, but thank you. Already, you feel so bright and beautiful to me; new yet familiar. Help me to accept more when it is in my highest interest and to refuse it when it will diminish my soul. May I listen closely for my lion's roar and let it be the mantra that transforms my life. Thank you in advance for what you will deal and reveal.
I'm all in.
Some years are tidier, well-groomed and more user friendly than others. This past year has not been one of them for me. 2017 has been a year of dismantling--of my life falling apart. It's been a year marked most distinctly by "the ugly cry." Those who know me well can attest to this fact. This year has been one of the messiest years of my life.
While it hasn't been easy to embrace the mess, I am learning how to give it a space in my life. A similar thing happened when I began to learn to paint a couple of years ago. I found that if I really wanted to let myself have fun and enjoy the process fully, then I had to create an environment suitable to spills, drips and unfinished works of art that could be left lying around until I could circle back to them. So I created a small studio space in my home and dedicated it as my corner of creative chaos. This way my mess could be contained and didn't infringe on the rest of the household. While our emotional lives can't be quite so compartmentalized, there is wisdom in discovering how to contain our personal messes so that they don't hijack the joy from the rest of our lives.
I have a dear friend that tragically lost her husband in a car accident several years ago, leaving her a widow at 35 with two small children. I remember a conversation I had with her about how she was managing her grief and I was deeply moved by what she shared. She said that she was overcome by pain and sadness in the first few months and then one day she decided that she would allow herself a certain amount of time each day to cry, get angry and feel hopeless. After that allotted time each day, she would do what she could to care for herself and her family focusing on life rather than loss. Experimenting with this practice in my own life, I can attest to its power. When I give the mess some space and attend to it regularly, it doesn't seem as overwhelming or catastrophic.
Most of us haven't learned how to be with the unruly feelings of anger, sadness, despair, and loneliness directly, letting them move through our being without getting caught up the stories of meaning that we attach to them. The stories keep us at a safe distance from what our nervous system registers as a dangerous or uncontrollable threat. But the truth is that emotions are just different forms of energy needing a pathway for expression. The good news is that it takes far less time to fully process an emotion than you might think.
Here is an interesting fact that comes from brain research: It takes less than 90 seconds for an emotion to get triggered, surge through the blood stream then get flushed out. There is an automatic and chemical response in the body that lasts no longer than a minute and a half, yet by resisting and fighting our emotions, we choose to hang onto them indefinitely allowing them to coagulate in the body/mind matrix.
I know that each of our lives is proportionally blessed and a mess. Instead of trying to clean up the mess once and for all or pretend it doesn't exist, why not make a place for it in your life? I began this year declaring that it would be about personal mastery and then got the "messy" assignment! Indeed, I have been initiated into a new level of growth and the journey of following my soul's call continues. Just because this year is coming to a calendar close doesn’t mean I have to try to wrap it in a bow to impose a sense of orderly endings. However, I can focus on the fact that in the mess I am discovering some amazing opportunities to live with a much greater sense of freedom and joy.
Thank you 2017 for the mess, the mastery and the magic. . . .
Shakti Shake: a practice for transforming difficult emotions
In the Yogic tradition, Shakti is the creative life force that weaves through all of creation and moves the entire cosmos. This energetic principle expresses in an infinite number of ways and within each living thing. From this perspective, we can practice developing a sacred relationship with this creative impulse and discover how it wants to move through us on any given day. Utilizing the powerful yogic trifecta of breath, movement and sound to release the emotions creates a safe space for the messes of our minds and hearts to spill consciously. Try this practice next time you're triggered by a strong emotional reaction: Find a place where you can be alone and undisturbed. Stand with your feet a little wider than your hips and allow your knees to be soft. Tune into your body and notice where you feel the sensation of the emotion. Breathe a few deep breaths and begin to gently shake your body. There is no right or wrong way to do this. Follow your intuitive impulse to shake softly or with more vigor. You can use music to support your process. Explore different tempos and invite any sounds to be expressed. Keep going as long as you need to until the charge of the emotion dissipates. Then rest in stillness for a few minutes to feel the effects of the practice.
"Holy hour" in my life exists in the pre-dawn silence before the kids are awake and the daily demands for my time and attention begin to make themselves known. I cherish this first hour of my day to perform my favorite morning rituals: I bring my coffee into bed and still groggy I write my morning pages. I also read something that inspires me and pray--setting my intention for the day. This has been my practice for as long as I can remember. It grounds me in the midst of life's vicissitudes, it connects me to something bigger and re-aligns me with my own soul. In a word, it reminds that I can come home to myself again and again.
The busier my life becomes, the more imperative it is for me to find ways to return to my internal home place and salvage a portion of solitude so that I can rest, dream, create, and restore myself. In Women Who Run With the Wolves, Dr. Estés writes of home in this way:
"Every creature on earth returns home. It is ironic that we have made wildlife refuges for ibis, pelican, egret, wolf, crane, deer, mouse, moose and bear, but not for ourselves in the places where we live day after day. We understand that the loss of habitat is the most disastrous event that can occur to a free creature. . . .We know that for creatures to live on, they must at least from time to time have a home place, a place where they feel both protected and free. . . .for the soul-self psyche, vacation is not the same as refuge. "Time out" or "time off" is not the same as returning to home. Calmness is not the same as solitude."
Returning to our soul home, then, does not require an abundance of wealth, time, or ideal conditions. It only asks that we give ourselves to the things that bring us true joy and remind us that we are alive. There are no formulas or techniques for returning home yet there are countless ways to do so. In addition to my morning ritual, here are some other ways that I return home:
I know that if I go a little too long without nourishing my soul in these ways, I start to feel as though I am running on automatic and lose my edge of gratitude and wonder. When my life becomes more mechanical than magical, I know that I am in need of return to my home place. These practices anchor me to what I most value and remind me that life is much more than an endless to-do list or tireless self-improvement project. Although these things may sound small, I see them as radical acts of self love and when I make them a priority, the rest of my life reflects this caliber of care.
With the holidays approaching, this time of year can be increasingly hectic and stress inducing. Where does your soul feel most at home? How will you return to your home place regularly? What are the small, radical acts of self-care that you will perform to protect your sacred solitude? This month make your soul a priority by focusing on at least one thing a day that will sustain a connection to yourself in this way. Cut through the excess. Resist the temptation to be overwhelmed. Limit the distractions. Lighten the expectations. The medicine that we naturally offer others is the exact antidote we most need for our healing. Show up in order to give to yourself the most precious gift that you give to others: your own radiating presence.
Welcome yourself home.
. . .dadme la muerte que me falta. . .
. . . give me the death I need. . .
I recently had a dream where I was on a fast moving roller coaster that was twisting, turning and speeding through pitch darkness. Somehow I could make it speed up or slow down by my will. I decided to make it go faster until I was screaming a thrilled scream with my eyes closed. I remember thinking to myself--I might as well try to relax and enjoy this wild ride in the dark because it's happening whether I like it or not!
This dream plainly symbolizes what the last year of my life has felt like: being on a wild ride through the landscape of the dark night of the soul. Rather than the scream of thrill in my dream, it has been more like an excruciating, slow, painful moan as I witness the dismantling of the familiar structures that have held my life in place for more than a decade. This decent into the dark has called me to step fully into the difficult lessons of death and to dive into the well of grief that accompanies such loss. The dissolving of my marriage and the process of divorce has catapulted me into this underworld landscape where I have been put in the center of the most uncomfortable paradox I've ever experienced: learning how to let significant parts of myself die while still attending to what lives: namely, my children, our new family dynamic and the emerging life that lives for me.
At some point in our lives each of us is summoned by death of one kind or another, whether it is the death of relationships, roles, identities, illusions, hopes or dreams. As an apprentice to death, my life continues to be the subject of great learning and discovery. Every day I feel alternately broken and reconstructed; deeply vulnerable and wholly strengthened by Grace. While I am still very much living in the midst of this current chapter of my life and do not yet have the benefit of time and perspective to appreciate the full story, I feel called to offer what I can, from where I stand today.
Since I view my life as both a spiritual experience and a personal adventure, I have chosen to perceive this crisis as a journey that is calling me to face, meet and move through the Great Unknown, to strengthen my relationship to the mystery and as an invitation to become a more authentic woman and whole human being. I am learning how to be fiercely present to what is happening in the moment while so much of what was once familiar falls away. . . to trust the process and let it be messy, painful and confusing for a while. Like my dream illustrates: I am not sure where I am going but I recognize that I have a certain amount of choice about how I move through the darkness. It has helped tremendously to take the "global" perspective regularly and view my life from a wider, spiritual lens. As painful as it has been, I have also had moments that can only be described as miraculous--divinely orchestrated and impeccably timed blessings.
There is great death-cycle wisdom that I have gleaned as well. This time of "separation" has given me the opportunity to sort the "poppies from the dirt" or to discern what is generative and life giving from what lacks any vital energy both inwardly and outwardly. I am still very much in this process of sorting: material stuff, thoughts, feelings, dreams, etc. and carefully deciding what to retain and what to release as I move forward. Interestingly, I've even had to reframe my relationship to my creativity, which is such an important part of my life and work. I haven't felt creative or productive for some time and this was causing me anguish until I realized that I could let myself off the hook for not being innovative because it isn't where I am supposed to be! Destruction or death is as much a part of the cycle of creativity--it is, in itself, a kind of preparation for something entirely new. Once I realized this, I decided to let it have its way with me. Because it will anyway! Surrender has become a greater ally in this process. I have learned to befriend its gifts and am seeing that great mercy and compassion live in the act surrender. Oh and yes: surrender is most certainly an active process and not a passive response to what is happening. It will always ask more of us than we are comfortable giving.
The wild roller coaster ride of my dream is the emotional intensity of highs and lows that I have experienced mostly without warning or time to arrange for suitable conditions for a breakdown. Rage, fear, despair, sorrow, anxiety, loneliness have all swept through my being, sometimes one by one and often as a community of commotion setting up camp for days. At these times, I try to become what Rumi calls the "guesthouse" and to be hospitable and welcoming to all who arrive. As I have learned to befriend whatever shows up, I have come to know the truth that no feeling is final and just as swiftly as they arrive, our feelings, once validated, usually move on just as quickly. This practice has asked me to stretch far beyond my closeness with the light and shiny parts of myself and brings me into direct intimacy with the lost, frightened, poor, unloveable, broken-hearted pieces. I lean into the shadow inquiry: can I learn to love them all without rejecting, judging, fixing, analyzing, or spiritualizing them away? Am I willing to sit with whatever shows up and simply offer my presence within a safe, holding environment? I've come to appreciate the fact that I need to regularly consume my spiritual wheaties through prayer and practice in order to develop the nervous system strength necessary to contain these difficult emotions. My practices have been a lifeboat during this time. I am also appreciating the limits of autonomy and recognize when I simply need to ask for help and allow myself to be held by another.
Finally, I am learning to know when and how to surface. When it's time to come up for air and to walk in the daylight, topside world for a while. Rest and enjoy some of the simple pleasures of life. Spend time in nature, sleep late, be with loved ones, and dance! Not every moment needs to be spent "in process" or engaged in the deep inner work to be worthwhile or "healing." Nourishing the body with good food, watching a funny movie, playing with my children and giving myself permission to lighten up have helped me begin to find a new rhythm with my life. Exploring this kind of balance helps keep me sane and able to function in my daily life. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring but I know that I have everything required to face what comes and find my way through it. I know that I am surrounded by more love than I have ever felt. I am beginning to see the light again. In many ways I am a stranger to who I was yesterday and all the days before that, while still not yet certain of who I am becoming.
I am liminal, still forming and falling apart. And it feels like exactly where I need to be.
"Banat, Banat, Ban Jai!" ("Making, Making, some day made!") ~Paramahansa Yogananda
I recently posted the above picture of myself on my Facebook page after a particularly trying day of homework with my children. Tiredness from getting back into the routine after a relaxing summer, mixed with new teachers and next level expectations had us all on our knees by the time Friday came after the first full week of school. Those that know me can attest to the fact that it takes a lot for me lose my calm. However, 5 minutes of homework with my kids, all of my yogic training is lost and I am reduced to my most debased conditioned reactions. Although my post was half in jest, I was both surprised and relieved by its response. My experience is like that of every other family with school aged kids as we are all doing our best to traverse the demanding and challenging landscape of a householder.
The Hindu tradition recognizes four different stages of life that we must experience in order to live a complete life. They are known as the "ashramas" and consist of the following:
1. Brahmacharya or student stage (usually until the age of 25, but personal and cultural influences can impact the length of any stage). The particular focus at this time is the cultivation of our dharma or "duty" in this life.
2. Grihastha or householder stage (traditionally begins at marriage) and the purpose of this stage is known as artha or the creation of wealth, i.e. making a living to support our families and pursue our unique contributions.
3. Vanaprastha or the hermit stage is ushered in around the time we become grandparents. The main pursuit of this stage is kama or pleasure. It is the time where we can enjoy the fruits of our labor.
4. Sannyasa is the final stage and is classified as the time of the wandering ascetic, the one no longer attached to the bonds of this world and living completely devoted to God. At this stage, moksha or liberation is the final goal.
Ideally when we pursue our lives in alignment with the first two stages, the others naturally unfold. The problem occurs when, as we often see promoted in our culture, one seeks to pursue wealth or pleasure without first establishing a connection to their particular dharma or purpose for being alive. We spend our lives chasing money, power, or some other outer form of fulfillment thinking and hoping that it will lead us to the holy grail--liberation! All the while, we are suffering from a foundational disconnection to our soul's true purpose in this life.
As a householder, I am acutely aware of the creative tension that arises daily as I seek to be a mother for my growing children, make a living to support our needs, and live a spiritual life at the same time. While the roles and responsibilities of men haven't changed as drastically in the last 100 years (or more!), women's roles have shifted exponentially as evidenced when we compare our lives to that of our mothers, grandmothers or great-grandmothers. At this stage of life, modern women have marriages to maintain, careers to build, children to tend, homes to hold, and, perhaps, aging parents to sustain as well. So where do we even begin? How do we care for our own souls in the mix? How do we find the time and energy to make our spiritual life a priority?
The last 11 years of my own life have been a giant experiment in living into these koan-like questions that have served as a sacred riddle for my journey as a woman, mother, householder and spiritual seeker.
Here are a few nuggets that I can offer as nourishment for this stage of life:
*Cultivate a practice that will help strengthen, sustain and nurture you. In the yogic tradition, this is the function of Sadhana or spiritual practice. Two elements are key to this process: create a space dedicated to your practice and design a simple ritual that you can do everyday. Having a physical space will help anchor your intention and whatever ritual you choose will, like any habit, begin to forge a pathway in your brain. Place a candle or sacred object or photo in your space. You can practice yoga, journaling, read, or meditate. Let your ritual reflect your deeper heart's intention.
*Connect to the cycles of the moon to develop a conscious relationship to the rhythm of your own creative life as a woman. Just as our menstrual cycles are related to the waxing and waning of the moon, we must honor both times of renewal and release embedded within our lives. If this concept is new for you, begin by simply noticing the moon during its various stages in the night sky to start to connect to lunar wisdom. Notice how you are feeling when the moon is in its full illumination as opposed to its crescent or dark phase. Once you have established a connection, you can utilize the energy of the New and Full Moon in your creative or spiritual life. For example, think about what new, "seed" intentions you would like to plant for a cycle beginning at the New Moon that you will nurture for an entire month. Full Moons are a good time to focus on what is ready to be released or healed within you in order to make room for what you are seeking to create. You can google specific dates for New and Full Moons each month and make a note in your calendar.
*Develop relationships with other women that uplift, empower and inspire you. This can be tricky for some of us because as women we naturally want to be in relationship and give to others. However, very often, we find ourselves involved in interpersonal dynamics that are superficial, draining or one-sided. As a result, we are left feeling less emotionally fulfilled and even more hungry for real connection. Choose your company wisely and be willing to be honest with yourself about which relationships feel mutually satisfying and those that are depleting your life force. Seek to collaborate and connect with women that are open to learning how to support and be supported by other women.
*Make your dharma a priority by taking time regularly to pursue what calls to your soul. Dharma or purpose can easily be misunderstood as our "job" or how we make our living. While some are fortunate enough to make a living by pursuing their dharma, others are gaining their livelihood in different ways that allow them to sustain their lives even though it may not feel like the deeper calling. That's okay! We all need to make money, however, we also must give some time to discover our greater function for being alive. In my own life, I decided to return to school and earn my Master's Degree when when my daughter was old enough to begin Pre-K. Going back to school during the householder stage was anything but easy but the dedication of three precious hours a day/five days a week, devoted to the study of something that was deeply enriching for me, proved to be priceless. It was my way of staking claim to the pursuit of my purpose beyond being a wife and mother. Dharma calls us into action--we must do something on its behalf. What have you always loved to do? What would you do even if you weren't paid? What if, at long last, you had the time—would you do, study, or create? Trust me: if you are waiting for the time, it won't come! Start small, but by all means--START--do one thing that will align you with your soul.
My beloved teacher and spiritual mother, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, offers these “general wolf rules for life” for women like you and I seeking how best to live in harmony with our wild nature. She specifically prescribes number 10 as a starting point remedio (remedy) if you are currently struggling:
Here's to you, woman-warrior-householder, in the trenches everyday. I see you. I love you. I am you.
If you are a woman seeking support in cultivating a sacred practice of your own or are wondering how to make your unique soul a priority in your daily life, feel free to contact me at email@example.com to learn more about my private coaching and healing services.
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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