"Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake," said the poet Wallace Stevens. Or in my case, a month of my year spent walking, talking, sitting, swimming, reading, praying, practicing yoga, gathering and connecting with my family in this protected harbor of Lake Ontario. I consider it the center of the calendar year and, in many ways, the center of my evolving self.
For just a few weeks, it feels so wonderful to let go and leave behind everything of my normal day-to-day life and allow myself be restored and renewed by the natural world. It's one of the things I miss most when I'm in the throes of a busy school year and living in suburbia, spending much of my days parenting and working indoors. I have to take my nature time in small doses--a morning run through our every growing city, appreciating the few patches of green that still exist, visiting the local lakes that typify this "gem in the hills" and bask in my own partially visible backyard sunsets that offer unexpected beauty. Some days it's just about taking the time to look up at the sky mid-day as I get my mail and take a deep breath to recalibrate before I'm back inside.
The month of July has become the time of the year where my kids and I can enjoy being barefoot and bathing suited most of the day with no schedule to maintain and no pressure to be "on" in any strenuous way. However I have come to recognize the greatest opportunity is in gaining a deeper intimacy with the natural world. The first day we arrived at the lake, my daughter and I went for a walk and found two caterpillars that we transferred to our little butterfly sanctuary. My daughter named one "Faith" and I named the other "Destiny." We proceeded to spend the following couple of weeks witnessing the incredible transformation. We felt building excitement at each stage from caterpillar to chrysalis to first sight of wings. I was visibly more excited than my kids when the day finally arrived to watch Faith and Destiny take their final freedom flights.
Our time this year coincided with the solar and lunar eclipses. These powerful gateway periods invite us to become aware of endings and new beginnings in our lives. The energy tends to set the tone for the next six months. For the full moon eclipse I felt the call to use the lunar energy for ritual. I invited my mom, dad, brother and kids to participate. I suggested that we each meditate on a word or a few words that we want to focus on expanding in our lives now. What do we want to experience or express more fully in the coming months? I prayed and collected rocks from the lake and we each wrote our words on the rocks. We went to the edge of the lake together and tossed our intentions into the water. My kids spent the rest of our vacation attempting to dive for them like lost treasure. The only rock they found was Hope.
This year marked our fifth summer on the lake. I reflected on how much has changed in my life over that course of time. I've gone from married and mostly stay at home mom to divorced and feeling devastated and lost to being an empowered unpartnered woman, working hard to build my career, a single but peacefully co-parenting mama dedicated to being present for my kids. I have changed dramatically in the last five years as my own personal transformation has taken place. But the lake and its container of beauty and rest along with my amazing family have been a constant that I'm deeply grateful to have. That combination of nature and nurture have been the great healers for me. Every year my kids and I celebrate all that we have successfully navigated in the year that passed by doing a "family jump" off the dock together. It's a symbol not only of what we have lived through, but what we are living for: to continue to grow and learn together and to trust that when we leap the lake will always be there to receive us.
This class was just what I needed. I feel like a different person than when I started. I made connections with others in group and opened my mind to seek my heart’s desire by living life with a new perspective. I don’t feel alone anymore. You made it easy for me to choose whether I was ready to speak and I never felt pressured or rushed. As the weeks went by it did become easier to speak my mind and share my story without a feeling of judgment. I enjoyed the weekly homework and having a partner with whom to discuss progress. Being able to share deep thoughts that are hard to speak up and feeling the love from the circle gives me a sense of acceptance never felt before. Each week was perfectly planned and there was great flow one week to the next. Working toward my goals the previous weeks led me straight into awareness in such a natural way. It was like an awakening, really incredible. I would encourage others to join the circle also!
Recently, for the first time, I offered my transformational life coaching program in a group setting. Twelve participants joined me for a six week experiential learning process that offers a step by step approach to what I consider the "foundations of fulfillment." This series was born out of years of refining my own understanding of what it means to be a powerful creator and how to make art out of the whole of our lives and tap into the essential desires that are seeded within the heart. My work with individuals over the course of the last 5 years has centered around this conversation of what it means to cultivate a vision for our lives, how to define success on our own terms as well as confront the particular ways that we remain in limiting patterns; unable to move forward.
I feel I really benefited from this series and it was even better than I hoped or expected. My self-selected area of improvement for this six weeks was “stress mastery." This moment, along with the rest of our time together in this course, told me that I am alright; that I need to focus on the present moment and stop worrying about things that may or may not ever happen and certainly aren’t interfering with my life today...to celebrate my life. I gained deep, new connections with members in our group and experienced feelings of empathy, compassion, celebration and empowerment as we shared our personal journeys. It was wonderful to have this scheduled time for self reflection and self improvement…I often intend to do this, but don’t make it a priority. I appreciated Jenny’s gentle wisdom and inquisitive spirit leading us through this process.
The circle space was the perfect container for this kind of self-discovery. In a very short time these individuals became incredibly close and a natural support system developed. Everyone genuinely wanted to see the others succeed. By the end of the six weeks, solid connections were made and deep friendships developed. Each circle holds its own beauty and together we create something that can never quite be predicted but it is always magical. That's because the intention of circle is to show up authentically as yourself and hold the space for others to do the same. We see that we are more alike than we are different; that we each have stories of pain and triumph that have carved the distinct contours of our lives. In this sacred space we can truly appreciate and celebrate ourselves and each other perhaps for the first time.
My experience with this circle was amazing. I have been told that circles have power. And I am now a believer. I felt like my intentions of gaining insight and tools for my life and the lives of those I am blessed to work with were fulfilled. It confirmed so much of what I have learned over the last few years. I felt validated. The way the materials were presented was so well thought out and simple to follow. I gained so much support from the souls inside the circle and I gave a ton of support to them. That was also my personal intention for class. My experience was life changing. Jenny has changed my life for the better MANY times through her work and healing. Thank you Jenny Clarke.
I have never connected this deeply and quickly. The circle invites your truest self—your Soul—to be seen, heard, understood, just LOVED. My favorite exercises were the six levels of change and ‘soul feeds/soul drains.’ They really helped me focus on reality and not just my story. I believe we need the circle once a week forever. It changed me and I miss it everyday.”
If you have been struggling to find direction in your life or resist making changes that will catalyze forward movement and are looking for effective tools that will support you in your personal growth journey, this series delivers what it promises. However, it requires that you SHOW UP for yourself and the dreams that you have been given. Each week offers a different theme with a teaching on how to implement specific practices that you will tailor to your heart's desire with regard to an area of your life where you'd like to create a shift. I follow up each class with an e-mail to recap what we learned, additional supplemental material such as videos or articles and a homework assignment to complete before the next week. The weeks learnings are cumulative, building on the knowledge and experience gained in the previous classes.
The series was an experience like none other! What was covered and how was truly impressive. Our group of participants were amazing – a small intimate, non-judgmental group. As a domestic violence survivor, I have participated extensively in many avenues of self-awareness and growth; individual cognitive therapy sessions for years, specialized group therapy sessions, read many books, am part of online groups and researched endlessly many self-growth and psychological disorders and topics online. I’ve done a lot of this work on different levels but this series really encompassed everything I have worked on and more in one workshop in 6 weeks. It put it all together (plus more) in an easy streamlined way. I was able to start to understand that I am my own life expert and I realized that I was seeking external advice or validation instead of listening to my own inner compass. I liked having a partner and the group circle. We did some hard inner work and I think sharing with others cultivated acceptance and moving forward. The group created a non-judgmental space that welcomed this. The struggles shape us into who we are. I was presented with the opportunity to give and receive support. It was interesting to hear others perspectives of me. I realized I do not see what they see in me (strength, courage, openness etc.) and that has stuck with me. Because of this, I realized I need to be easier on myself. I can’t wait for the next circle!
In a word, this series was enlightening. I thought I was a very self-aware person and as it turned out I had a lot to learn about myself. Each week brought a different vibe and new challenges, both enjoyable and difficult at times. I think my favorite exercise was honing in on my values in a way that became tangible and applicable to my creative process. The subject matter is what challenged me to speak in circle. Allowing others in and myself out about some of the more personal topics was something I grew more comfortable with as we built trust amongst the group. My partner nicknamed me “Tolerant Tom,” because it seemed as though I had an “impressive ability to tolerate (or accept) life’s challenges and continue to move forward and thrive.” I never really acknowledged or gave myself credit for taking on these challenges and whatever anyone throws at me. I improved at awareness and wakefulness during the series.
This was a true learning experience of the Unconscious vs. Conscious. We are all on a “cyclical journey” and there is more to ME to be experienced in this life I am living. Every week was a truly “authentic” week with so much to learn. It was comforting to hear stories from others and realizing we all have weaknesses and past hurts. We all seek acceptance, love and healing through our journey of life and it is okay to “ask for help”. I could listen to Jenny teach all day. She has an amazing gift of wisdom.
Receiving all of this wonderful feedback is, for me, deeply fulfilling. I am honored and grateful for the opportunity to share what has been a true calling in my life: to help others awaken to their highest potential and align with greatest purpose for their lives.
I invite you to join me for my next round of this series coming this September at One Yoga and Fitness. Stay tuned for more details.
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
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