Cultivating a Healthy and Meaningful Relationship between Ego & Soul

In a culture that itself is working through its own confusion about what healthy growth and maturation through childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and elderhood is, we often struggle between knowing what is good healthy fear and what is too much or not enough fear, what is healthy risk and what is too much or not enough risk, what is eustress (healthy stress) and what is distress.

And therefore, we also struggle in seeing and understanding these tensions in others, which influences our ability to mentor/support/advise them well. And it influences our ability to determine if we are being well-mentored, supported, and advised ourselves by those in mentoring/supporting/advising roles.

We are collectively trying to mature within what author Bill Plotkin calls a patho-adolescent (or unhealthy adolescent) culture, and grow and expand our human culture and consciousness in ways that are necessarily increasingly sustainable on this planet.

In his book, Nature and the Human Soul, Plotkin acknowledges that age and maturity are not necessarily related, particularly in this culture, and he outlines two separate stages of adolescence, and their nature and culture tasks, necessary for an individual to mature though, to reach adulthood, and beyond.

The Thespian in the Oasis is what he names the first stage and here we develop a socially acceptable and authentic self. The Wanderer in the Cocoon is what he names the second stage and is where we then leave the "home" of our social and authentic self (ego/personality) and descend into the mysteries of nature and psyche.

Most of the people I know personally (including myself) and work with in my practice, regardless of age, are doing a lot of both of these at the same time.

We are attending to the skills being developed in the first stage of adolescence: developing values and social authenticity, emotional skills, conflict resolution, status assignment (understanding power and how it is organized by roles/race/gender/ethnicity/ability/religion/etc.), sexuality, sustenance (keeping a roof over our head and finding food to eat), human-nature reciprocity (how our lives are interconnected with the more-than-human world), and understanding the survival strategies developed in childhood....and at the same time, developing skills from the second stage...Soulcraft skills... (listed at the bottom of this piece)...both individually, and collectively as a culture.

Sometimes we're in psychotherapy (what Plotkin means as the interpersonal practices aimed at helping the conscious self - ego - improve its adjustment to its social world and its emotional life).

And sometimes we're in what he calls Soulcraft practices (underworld work that prepares the ego to abandon its social stability and psychological composure and become an active, adult agent for soul, as opposed to maintaining its former role as an adolescent agent for itself).

Soulcraft can be countertherapeutic and sometimes damaging/dangerous if our ego is not ready or stable enough (we are in trauma/crisis and/or still working on skills from previous stages) for this descent...or those that are in guiding/mentoring/facilitating roles in these practices are themselves not sufficiently mature enough to lead these practices,..or we're working with a practice that might not be right for us at the time.

And at the same time, psychotherapy without end, or understanding of the next stages of development, could impede the healthy, natural maturation of soul-encounter and the journey...and suffocate soulcraft skill development, eroding our deepening connection to each other, meaning and belonging in the larger cycles of life.

Somewhere along the way, I discovered that much of the body work and energy work skills that I was cultivating in my professional practice were offering Soulcraft-starved-clients entry into a deeper connection with themselves and the world, but required that I also become well-versed in recognizing where other practices were needed... I have needed to understand the difference between where a fragile ego is needing healing, recognition, validation, reassurance, comfort, and support, and where one is looking to expand beyond the limits of comfort and safety.

It's an ongoing practice. And education.

And deep listening. Witnessing. Reflecting. Mirroring. Learning. And a contribution to this massive cultural-renaissance we're in. I am seeing the world of therapeutic practices and practitioners evolving with me too.

So how do you know where you are in need of developing and practicing skills that will help you work through change, crisis, illness, trauma and build and strengthen your ego...your social and authentic self?

And how do you know where you are ready to heed the call to adventure and begin to cultivate and practice skills that will help you transcend the boundaries of the socially-well-adjusted self and deepen and broaden into a greater sense of meaning and soul-centric belonging?

Truly, I don't know. And I can't know this for you.

But I'm listening. And very happy to reflect back to you what I hear, see, feel, have learned, and know...what I sense myself when I hear you....what I hear your body communicating and behaviour responding to...and then reflect this back to you to the best of my ability...and see how it resonates for you and shapes your own inner knowing and then outer direction.... Let's see where this wisdom leads you.

And I would also recommend Bill Plotkin's work as a direct guide.

And straight from Nature and the Human Soul, here are some of the skills and practices that we might find we are in, or drawn to, when we are working on the nature and culture tasks in The Oasis (first stage of adolescence) and The Cocoon (second stage):

In the Oasis...

Attitudes: where in fact do you stand in relation to the important issues of your place, time, and social group?

Interests: what social activities, music, art, and entertainment do you find most compelling and enjoyable, and what are your favourites among them?

Styles: what is your way of doing things?

Desires: at any given moment, what would you most like to do?

Emotions: what are you feeling right now? What problems in your life need to be addressed - or successes celebrated?

How well versed are you in the Ecological Curriculum?: How nature supports every aspect of our human lives, How there is only one economy - Earth's - of which all human economies are components, How to design an individual lifestyle and a human economy with zero waste and emissions, How to proactively care for endangered species and ecosystems, How to care for abandoned pets, How to restore damaged habitats, How to cultivate intentional relationships in the more-than-human world, How extractive industries have violated the human-nature balance, How to restore that balance, and what alternatives exist for meeting our genuine needs, Renewable and safe energy sources, processes, and economies, Rituals and practices for observing and deepening sacred reciprocity with the natural world, How to see the natural world as our model, mentor, and inspiration for fashioning elements of human society and solving human problems (biomimicry)

And in the Cocoon...

Soulcraft Skills:

Soulcentric dreamworkDeep imagery or active imaginationSelf-designed ceremonyDiscovering/fashioning/use of symbols and objects for embodying soul images or universal/transpersonal qualities, Skillful use of hallucinogenic or entheogenic substances as a component of ceremonies and soul-discovery processes for the purpose of guided/ritual explorations of the underworld of the soul, Symbolic artwork for the purpose of both discovering and expressing soul qualities, Journal workVision questingApprehending and responding to signs and omens in natureBody practices for altering consciousness to perceive actualities and imagine possibilities that we might otherwise overlook, and in doing so helping us weave the subtle and unseen forces of the world into form, making the unconscious conscious (Fasting, Breath work, Practices involving extreme physical exertion, Yoga postures and movement), Council workTrance drumming and rhythms, Ecstatic trance danceCeremonial sweats and saunasEnactment of traditional or contemporary ceremonies, rituals, and nature festivals (equinox and solstice ceremonies, and observations of sunrise, sunset, and new and full moons), Talking across the species boundariesAnimal tracking and other methods of sensitive and skillful nature observation to learn about and from the Others, to enhance our own wildness and ecocentricity, and to explore the mysteries of both nature and psyche, Telling, retelling, and study of myths and other sacred stories, Composing a personal mythStorytellingSensitive listening and clear reflection ("mirroring") of other people's stories, Sacred speechRitual silenceSacred sexualitySoulful music, poetry and chanting.

Soulcraft Practices:

The art of solitude, Discovering nature as a mirror of the soul, Wandering in nature, Living the questions of soul, Confronting one's own death, The art of shadow work, The art of romance, Mindfulness practice, Developing a personal relationship with spirit, Service work, Praising the world, Advanced loyal soldier work (consciously overriding childhood survival strategies): walking into the fire, Conscious development of the four dimensions of the self, The art of being lost, Befriending the dark, and Withdrawing projections.

*All of the above is taken (and in some cases, shamelessly directly copied) from Bill Plotkin's book, Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World, primarily from chapters six and seven, "The Thespian in the Oasis", and "The Wanderer in the Cocoon". I highly recommend any and all of Bill Plotkin's work.


The Great Turning & Council Work

We are a people...a culture...a planet... in transition and transformation. We are being born. We are growing. We are dying. We are being reborn. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. But we are also collectively being cycled through a much larger process... We are all in another birth canal here on this planet...in the midst of a hard and long labour. We are in a massive mid-life crisis.

It becomes clearer and clearer to me that we are truly in what eco-philosopher Joanna Macy called the Great Turning, an intense moment (centuries-long) in the grand cycle of global evolution...revolution...

And of course, this isn't just something that's happening "out there". It's happening here. With you. With me. In our personal lives.

And in this moment, each of our own souls - our unique beingness, place and expression in this world - is being clarified...called to...called upon. We are being forced to examine our personal and collective shadows. We are each working with and through our piece in the mosaic.

It's impossibly hellishly hard and awful. And can be exquisitely breathtakingly beautiful. And everything in between.

It looks like health crisis, relationship crisis, housing crisis, financial crisis, cultural crisis, environmental crisis, death, devastation, suicide, murder, loss...and the reconnection, the rebuilding, the restoration, the reconciliation, the recovery, the revitalization...the re-membering and the re-enchantment of life. At some point, if/when we can, we pick up the pieces and we go on. But we do so having been sculpted and refined by the sands, waters, and winds of heartbreak, devastation, and loss...threrefore our lives become more transparent to our souls. And our hearts.

We are beautiful human beings.

Much of how I work and what informs how I move in the world, but also how I have and do navigate my own processes, has been and is supported by the work of Bill Plotkin, author of the books SoulCraft, Nature and the Human Soul, and his most recent book, Wild Mind (which I am looking forward to reading). I connected with his work about 10 years ago and it has been re-orienting my understanding since.

Earlier this year I felt called to create and support a monthy practice and ritual at Innerlife I have called Witnessing Circles: one for Women and one for Men. The first Circles were held in May and the last ones will be held in December of this year. We have 3 more.

This soulful practice would be considered Council Work, which Bill Plotkin defines as:

a way of empowering poeple to speak from their hearts, an ancient practice transforming the experience of contemporary group process. Council work enables us to open to the radical otherness of our fellow humans, in that way of knitting together true community, and supports us in accessing and expressing our most vital truths.

All Soul work is intimate and powerful work. And it's hard work. Uncomfortable work. Sitting in Circle and connecting to our inner worlds and sharing this with others is no exception. And the skills that are drawn upon and strengthened are critical to our human being-ness. But so is the experience of being deeply witnessed. Heard. Seen. Respected.

These Circles cultivate and strengthen the skills necessary for authentic connection. And they continue to grow me, stretch me, and blow my heart wide open. I have been deeply touched and changed by this sharing of hearts and souls in this time.

Our Inner lives

It is said that necessity is the mother of invention, and Innerlife Health Services - my practice, my business and clinic - was and is my soul's response, not only to my personal need to keep enriching my own inner life, but as I see it, to our cultural need too.

Innerlife Health Services my business, is the space, practice and the art I make and have created, produced, and am stewarding in collaboration with other practitioners, visionaries and artists. It invites us and others into community, and supports us to cultivate richer and wiser innerlives. And through this, deepen our connection with ourselves, with each other, and with life.

But I want to make the distinction here between my Innerlifeand my innerlife.

The infrastructure of my personality, psyche and soul, what I call my innerlife (small "i"), is the responsive, reflexive relationship I have with my emotions, feelings, and needs.

It is a dynamic structure that has been cultivated slowly over the last 44 years (and lifetimes before) on the pottery wheel of life in the hands of my relationships and this larger evolving culture we are all creating together on the planet. My innerlife helps me navigate my outer life in ways that are responsive to the needs of others I am in community with too.

We all have one of these: an innerlife - although you may know it by a different name. And we each cultivate our innerlife in ways that nourish it, stretch it, and claim it. I see it as fundamental to humanity...and to connection. I am not alone in this.

As we grow physically, but especially as we evolve emotionally/psychologically/spiritually through experience and archetypal transformation, the landscape of ourinnerlives changes. We shift internally through an evolution of soul Bill Plotkin has so deliciously detailed in his book, Nature and the Human Soul.

Seriously, do you not swoon a little...or at least lean in a little as you read these?:

The innocent in the nest
The explorer in the garden
The thespian at the oasis
The wanderer in the cocoon
The soul apprentice at the wellspring
The artisan in the wild orchard
The master in the grove of elders
The sage in the mountain cave

Perhaps you are more familiar with the more traditional: child, adolescent, adult, elder. Or maiden, mother, queen, crone. Or youth, warrior, sage. Perhaps you look to astrology, tarot, tea leaves, the weather, politics, the stock market, climate change, or the bend in your grandmother's back to guide your movements.

Personally, I subscribe to a good solid conservative portfolio of: all of the above.

Regardless, these personality, archetypal, ecological and cosmological relationships mature us and help us understand the innerlife design and revolutionary forces that shape our perceptions, direct our thoughts, and compel our actions. But they also shape our collective culture...which itself is going through it's own soul transformation...and shapes us in return.

I am continuously humbled by the power of our individual and collective souls. I am re-formed again and again by our capacity for change and evolution. And for love.

And the landscape of my innerlife is constantly grown by the dynamic responsive relationship we each and all have to place, space, design, and each other.

Witnessing circles are just one of the ways I am exploring this more deeply. 

This practice is uncomfortable sometimes...intimacy often is.
Here is a break-down of what often runs through my head as the talking stone is handed to me and a surge of sensation moves it's way through my body, and the process takes hold:

1. Nothing. No, really. Nothing is in my head. It's entirely in my body. I have zero thoughts. They have completely disappeared and my system is flooded with stress chemistry.

2. My next thought is along the lines of "Where's the door?" or "I wish the earth would open and swallow me right now."

3. Then a mentoring voice comes online and I begin soothing myself. "Whoa. Breathe Fiona." My eyes close. I draw myself deep inside. I force myself to take deeper breaths.

4. I check in more fully. What wants to be said? What wants to be shared? What wants to be offered into this space of connection?

So why put myself through this seemingly unnecessary process?

Because this happens in connection all the time. Because authentic relating is hard. Because I want to connect more deeply with myself and others. Because so many of my responses are filtered through conditioning I wasn't aware of or have come as afterthoughts to the actual moment...moments where I was paralyzed and emptied of rational thought...so wasn't heard, understood, and respected....moments I wished I'd been able to express myself verbally rather than just through the overwhelming scream of my animal body.

I want to be heard, understood, and respected. So I have to practice. I have to train my nervous system that has been conditioned to believe that I won't be heard, understood, and respected...that I can be...and will be.

Witnessing circles offer me an opportunity to connect with myself and others in an authentic way...that is fully accepted...just the way we are. 

This is rare. And precious.

Witnessing Circles

This past winter grabbed me by the hair and pulled me down. Hard. And deeply into retreat. Naturally, I resisted the whole way. But my ancestors - dwellers in winter's silent waters - are a fierce, feisty and unrelenting bunch. Eventually, surrendered into thick darkness, I let them lead. As always, it was terrifying, painful, horrifying and revealing.

I journeyed into underworlds, navigated archives of cataclysmic and age-old dramas, andexcrutiatingly released residual pain from these long-ago-lived lives through my body and breath. My heart was dark. And so heavy. My grief came from depths within my bones and blood that I have not previously known. I was undone piece by piece.

So it is with soul transformation and transmutation. It's a death process first. It's devastatingly humbling.

The returning of the light and life here has been slow this year. It reflects my own return. It's temperamental and casts meaningful sideways glances as a reminder to not abandon what was revealed in the depths. And it has a pace and timing of it's own. It won't be rushed.

But it is also potent. It's creative. It is life-affirming. It wants to come together, connect, reconnect, collaborate, and share, build and grow in new ways. And I feel inspired to do it's bidding. I am re-orienting myself. I have learned some lessons. I am learning still. I am serving my soul and this life from once-more widened lenses. A softened heart. A lifted spirit. Slowly. Gently.

And through this, I am also holding and sharing sacred space in different ways. Further ancestral knowledge and wisdom is revealed and reflected through my DNA and the shape of my soul. I am re-membering. More. Creative inspiration has arrived. I am ready for it...

So I want to share. I have new offerings...

Born from the teachings in power impressed upon me over the last number of years is the realization of need for not just personal practices or rituals, but for the creation, re-creation, recognition and respect of community and cultural ones too. I hear this hunger and call. And I know I'm not alone in this.

And after over 25 years of journeying, retreating, questing, seeking, gathering, holding, witnessing, leading, facilitating, listening, leveling and humbling in an inestimable number of ways, I feel drawn to lead in this way at this time.

So beginning this month of May and for each month until the end of the year, I will be holding Witnessing Circles: each month a Women's Circle and a Men's Circle.

In short, it's a gathering of souls present to what is arising and wishes to be shared and witnessed in ourselves and each other.

But it's so much more...

It's true listening. It's transformation. It's spiritual practice. It's energy work. It's relationship healing. It's life-affirming connection. It's resilience building. It's community creating. It's space to speak into, be heard in, and hear others in. It's what we bring to it. It's what we receive from it. It's where we go with it. It moves no faster than any one person and leaves no one behind.

This practice is simple but it's powerful. It draws from the generous sharing of traditional Aboriginal practices of Talking Circles and it draws from other traditional circling practices too...those from my own ancestral roots.

A circle is a sacred geometric form. It is unbroken, balanced, and infinite. It's inclusive. It's ancient. And more and more as a culture we are circling in ways shared with us by the wisdom keepers on the earth, because even if we've lost our way, our bones know this medicine. It resonates when it's right for us.

What is the practice?

We gather in a circle with the intention of being present to what is true in our hearts, share it if we feel compelled, and witness what is in the hearts of those we have gathered with.

When the talking stone reaches our hands we respond to the question, "what is on my heart?" and share this with our circle if we wish, or pass the stone to the next person beside us. The stone is passed around the circle until we all feel complete.

This is not an intellectual process. It's a practice. And like every practice, it's wisdom reveals itself to us in time. It's another path into our hearts.

Why a Women's Circle and a Men's Circle?

Binaries in gender have profound and often damaging limitations too, but these ones are intentional and not exclusive. Circling with the gender we identify with, or most closely identify with, also has geometric power that can be drawn upon to support connection and belonging. These circles are working with this energy. I am not currently offering specifically gender neutral or inclusive circles.

Elements of a Circle:
(adapted from https://themotherdaughternest.com/)

Sanctity - We step away from other worlds into sacred space. There is an agreement both spoken and unspoken to hold ourselves, each other, the gathering, and the practice itself in sacred space.

Trust - We are not expected to automatically trust. Trust is something that builds as we risk sharing ourselves and we discover that our feelings, experiences and stories are heard and held with respect, care, and in confidence. While we are encouraged to share our own experiences and stories, it is understood that we do not share the words, information, experiences, or stories of another.

Listening - We listen with our whole hearts. The only person who speaks is the one holding the stone. Everyone else listens. Deeply. We do not offer advice, feedback, or referrals. We do not fix, solve, discuss, network or comfort. We listen. And we understand that each of us has deep wisdom held within us that we are more likely to come into connection with if we are heard and we can hear each other and ourselves. So we listen. Deeply. With our hearts.

Authenticity - Circle is a space where we get to show up...just as we are. Circle is the space where we get to share exactly what we feel. This is what makes us human. In circle we have time...time to pause, reflect, take a deep breath, go inside, and notice how we feel in our body before we speak and therefore share what will more authentically connect us with others too. In circle we invite acceptance of our own authenticity and that of others.

Silence - Silence is a powerful response and sharing. Silence allows us to unearth the mysteries and wisdom within and allows integration of experience. In circle we recognize the power and choice to remain silent and pass the stone without sharing verbally. In circle we honour and respect pauses, spaces, and the inevitable tension and desire to fill the space that we may feel in response. Tension and desire are feelings/sensations too. We lovingly witness these as well.

Ritual - This is a ritual. It is an intentional practice that invites us to connect with ourselves, others, the world around us, our humanity, and the divine.

Sacred Sexuality & Power

Can you feel it?

I am sensing a compelling tension between spring's rising sap energy, and the inward pull of the new moon tomorrow and final dark vestiges of winter: outward and inward, light and dark.

This new moon in Aries (the beginning of the astrological year), at equinox and the return of the light, has a powerful creative force to it.

It could be argued that new and beginnings, the subject of this newsletter, are an unnecessary repetition of meaning but the return to the beginning of a cycle within cycles sometimes just feels new all over again. The new energy in this one is inviting me to reach out and connect with you here.

So perhaps you feel this one too and are harnessing this time of dreaming, visioning, setting intentions, planting seeds, and calling upon your creative muses.

If so, I am with you.

And if you find that your creative life force energy is blocked, excessive or depleted, chaotic, or out of sync, perhaps I can support you through sessions. I am here.

Love & new beginnings,

~Fiona

EVERYTHING DOES NOT HAPPEN FOR A REASON

I truly don't know how common or widespread the experience of not feeling heard, seen, and loved really is, but it seems to me that the evidence and symptoms of deep human pain is just about everywhere. I feel it myself.

It feels like a relief to me when our own pain and each other's is recognized. Trauma, loss, and devastation bring us to our senses (literally), but these experiences also bring us to our knees...often in horrific and irreconcilable ways.

I have lost count of the number of groups, classes, courses, workshops, programs, organizations, schools, therapists, and relationships I have had to leave at some point because of their inability to hear me, see me, and recognize my pain in ways that also respect my fundamental human needs. After leaving, some of these connections have been able to shift enough that it allowed me to come back into connection with them and re-build trust, but many haven't...or at least, not yet.

True listening requires self-reflection, growth, and change on the part of the listener, and as I know personally, change is threatening. Listening is hard work. It's deeply uncomfortable. And for some, it was just too uncomfortable, so easier to make me wrong for feeling pain, for having needs and for expressing them...or for how I expressed them.

Fortunately, despite all the places I haven't been heard, I have also been so abundantly blessed in my life to know the incredibly essential feeling of being deeply heard. Knowing this has helped me discern and navigate connections that are ready for deeper connection.

In a society where stoicism and complicity is expected, expressing our pain and our individual needs is taboo. It's counter-culture.

Can you relate?

It's important to recognize that my history doesn't make me "too sensitive". It makes me more sensitive sometimes than the organizational culture or relationship I'm in.  And it isn't just me. Our humanity is facing an existential crisis...which is requiring that we push back on old paradigms of relating at all levels. Our previously submerged pain is surfacing. There are increasingly more of us become more sensitive...coming to our senses.

It's been my practice to really see and hear myself and others for years. I'm a professional listener. But I don't always do it well and I haven't many times in the past. Sometimes the pain that someone is experiencing and the way they are expressing it triggers my own deepest existential fears and instead of listening, I become unconsciously defensive and aggressive: pedantic, philosophical, rhetorical, diagnostic, judgmental, distracted, sarcastic, righteous, angry, etc. Instead of becoming aware of my own feelings that are surfacing in response to hearing another's fear and pain, the intensity of my own feelings overwhelms me and I close to protect my need for safety.

Is there anything more painful than having another's heart close and grow distant in response to our experience of pain, trauma, loss, and devastation?

I know this past year has been incredibly intense for many, if not most. It has been for me. We are in times of great change...so we are in times of great fear and emotional surfacing. It seems to me that good listening...understanding... is more than just a sensory experience. It's a survival skill. It's a practice, and an art.

It seems to me that listening and grieving are inexorably interwoven.

I read this article a while ago, but recently had it shared with me again. It soothed my soul to read it, and also gave me pause for reflection in terms of my own listening. I connected more deeply with it this time and really appreciated the wisdom in it...this in particular:

The ones who helped—the only ones who helped—were those who were there. And said nothing.

In that nothingness, they did everything.

I am here—I have lived—because they chose to love me. They loved me in their silence, in their willingness to suffer with me, alongside me, and through me. They loved me in their desire to be as uncomfortable, as destroyed, as I was, if only for a week, an hour, even just a few minutes.

Most people have no idea how utterly powerful this is.

If you'd like to read more, here's the link:

http://www.timjlawrence.com/blog/2015/10/19/everything-doesnt-happen-for-a-reason

Revolutions and Revelations

Well I don't know if you were among the thousands of others around the world witnessing the beautiful expressions of that full blood moon and lunar eclipse this past Sunday, but I was and she was magnificent! Even though it was after the 21st, this was the moment I really felt the equinox this year. How about you?

So here we are, finding each other in the final quarter of 2015. Wow!

This fall season feels very ripe, potent and abundant for me this year...

I recently filled my bliss cup up with an incredible week climbing mountains, running through valleys and connecting with friends in Kelowna and Jasper National Park. I danced my heart out and celebrated the transition from childhood to adolescence with 140 girls ages 10-12 at G-Day for girls (check out the great video of the day below). And I've started my Masters in Relational Leadership through the Taos Institute, a 2 year journey and dialogue with others around the world who are joining and creating this shift in paradigm around leadership and social construction.

I'm looking forward to facilitating a workshop on Intuition & BodyMind Health at the upcoming grade 8 CHOICES conference at Victoria High School at the end of this month, which is showcasing career pathways by women in industry.

And of course all of this infuses and informs my practice at Innerlife. And vice versa. The threads of connection continuously weave all intersections together.

So in the spirit of weaving some intersections for me, I am sharing a couple of videos below that open my heart to even greater abundance. Perhaps they will resonate for you too.

As always, I'd love to hear your insights and/or support you finding them.

~Love, Fiona

Have you ever felt like there was something wrong with you? Or someone else?

I certainly have, so this beautiful and powerful conversation in the video below resonated with me. Perhaps it will with you too.

To me, revolutions are related to revelations and once we've seen something we didn't see before, we can't "unsee" it. Our consciousness shifts, our psychology shifts and our physiology shifts.

When I’m watching something like this, I love to stay attuned to my emotional and physical responses and notice the moments where I am actually aware of the "aha's". These revelations where my personal revolution is experienced.

There are different names for this process: Awakening, Ascension, Enlightenment, Psychological Maturation, Wisdom Gathering, Revolution, Re-sensitization, Activation, etc. and there's a tendency to make ourselves and others wrong for not previously "seeing" or being aware. We have a tendency to shame ignorance.

Were you ever told, "you should have known better!"? As in, you should have seen that thing you couldn't see...before you saw it. Or in other words, you should have done the impossible and superhuman and been awakened and enlightened...before you were awakened and enlightened. Have you ever told yourself or someone else this? Has the shame ever overwhelmed you?

If so, good news! If you are capable of feeling shame, you are also capable of feeling empathy. Both indicate the opening of our hearts and minds. I love a good revolution! How about you?

"Revolutions begin when people who are defined as problems achieve the power to re-define the problem" ~John McKnight

This video is a dialogue between 4 people: Norman Kunc, Emma Van der Klift, Aaron Munro and Vikki Reynolds. Enjoy!

http://dulwichcentre.com.au/relocating-the-problem-of-disability-norm-kunc-emma-van-der-klift-vikki-reynolds-and-aaron-munro/

Being Strong: A Cry for Help

Happy 2015!

Wow! The enormous, clarifying energy of this year has had me pinned down and almost immobilized over the past few weeks. I don't know for sure what is coming but it feels HUGE! As always, this discomfort has led to new insights and personal truths. There's lots of time for reflection when you're under the thumb of a big shift!

One area of new awareness for me is in realizing how blind I have been to my own cries for help. I also recognize how my fierce independence, which has served to strengthen my resilience in the past, has also been a defense. In this way it actually threatens my authentic resilience...an open heart.

I was so busy being strong and independant, I didn't notice that I was terrified. More on this below if you're interested.

Asking for help feels deeply uncomfortable for me. I will struggle and suffer in silence for way too long just to avoid the vulnerability I feel in reaching out. When I look into this more deeply, I notice two things: judgement of my own perceived weakness, and fear of rejection by the one I'm asking help from.

We all have needs; some of them are met, some of the time. The ones that are not met either transform into our own resourcefulness, confidence and creativity, or they are pushed into the subconscious realm of the body and mind. Here they sit like festering wounds waiting for a soothing balm. We learn to defend them and dance around them and we call this "growing up". A word used in psychology circles to describe this defensive dance is "ego". And we all have one...unless you are completely self-realized or enlightened...which I most certainly am not.

My ego definitely has strength, which won't be news to you if you've ever accidentally pushed the button on one of my subconscious unmet needs, or seen me on my obsessive and determined path to achieve something. This strength is a double-edged sword. On the one hand I'm very grateful for my ego's pure drive for survival. It has pulled me through some challenging times, and continues to do so. On the other hand, it will keep me believing that every unmet need in my life is about a fight for life. Essentially, unchecked, it will keep me in fear and closed off to feeling loved, supported and seen. My ego thinks it's weak to ask for help and that I should be able to do it all on my own. It's lonely and hard here in this place!

So what is the antidote to a wild and defensive ego, constantly charging into battle to protect the wounds of the unmet needs? Ironically, it's the thing it is least likely to be aware it needs, be receptive to or ask for: help and support.

So gently and with a pace all my own, I'm practicing the art of recognizing when I'm “being strong" and am actually in need of help, asking for it, and then receiving it. I'm feeling through all of the pain, shame and discomfort that arises through this ego-humbling. I'm feeling that deeper, open-hearted, undefended inner strength that feels something like power.

Can you relate with this shifting perception of strength?

I love this quote by Jeff Brown. What I have called strength, he calls willfulness. I can see this.

We are powerful beyond measure, and so deeply vulnerable at the same time. This may seem like a dichotomy, but it isn’t. We have misunderstood real power. It has been something assertive, non-surrendering, pushing on through. This is not real power. This is simply willfulness. Real power is something else- receptivity, open-ness, the courage to keep your heart open on the darkest of days, the strength to feel it all even when the odds are stacked against you. Real power is showing up with your heart on your sleeve and absolutely refusing to waste one moment of your life hidden behind edginess and armour. The art of enheartened presence. Now that’s power. ~Jeff Brown

The Alchemizing Medicine of Shame

As something of an introvert, the process of moving things from my inner realms to my outer world is uncomfortable for me. So I generally procrastinate to avoid it. But then sometimes the pressure of a backlog of stuff builds to a breaking point and sort of explodes outward in an overwhelming, dizzying display. It usually feels big, messy and chaotic, just the thing my controlling inner perfectionist hates. This newsletter is a perfect example of my erupting volcano process. Oh, it's a big one folks!

I'm noticing a flush of shame rising in my body as I write this and a compulsive desire to apologize for myself as a way to discharge the uncomfortable and intense sensations in my body. So below the surface of my conscious mind must be an expectation I have of myself that I'm coming up against; one of those little rules that I learned to live by as a child, keeping me safe and small.

I feel curious about all of this. I'm opening...and feeling...

So why do we feel shame anyway? What does this painful feeling really do for us?

I've explored this further in a piece below if you feel curious too. Is this what you experience with your shame?

I'm currently enjoying the process of going through Jungian Analysis... which is enormously surprising to me.

If someone had suggested that I go to a type of therapy that outwardly advertised analyzing me, even 5 years ago, I would have ripped their heads off. Why? Because without knowing it, I was constantly managing an enormous, painful wound called "there's something wrong with me" and I couldn't risk even the thought of going to see someone who might expose this wound...and potentially discover there actually WAS something wrong with me. I wouldn't have been strong enough to hear the truth, let alone solve a problem. So instead I would have defended myself, refused to go and fought anyone to the death who challenged me on this.

Well, I'm still managing this wound, but thanks to BodyTalk and other therapies, there's a little more space around it and I'm really beginning to see how even just a crack of light is enough to work with. And what this light has revealed to me is an entire world of shame I had no previous awareness or understanding of.

In her book Eastern Body Western Mind, Anodea Judith writes this about shame:

Shame...is inversely proportional to personal power - the greater the shame, the less we feel powerful and the harder it is for the ego to form itself.

Well my ego formed itself like a half cooked noodle; too soft in some places and too hard in others.

Studying and practicing BodyTalk has revolutionized the way I see health and one of the biggest, most fundamental shifts I have had is around my perception of emotions and the role they play in our bodies, minds and in our lives.

Instead of being inconvenient, rude, embarrassing, dangerous and crazy as I had previously thought, I discovered that these healing energies are actually created by the body/mind to balance our health. Our emotions are the most natural and perfectly individually formulated medicine we have access to. And they are constantly balancing things out!

So then, what is the healing nature of shame? What is the body/mind trying to heal by producing this emotion?

In Chinese Medicine the 5 main emotional energies are said to be worry, grief, anger, joy/sadness and fear. Everything else is a combination of these 5.

I don't know what concoction of emotions make up shame but I know what it feels like in my body...

The second my button is pushed, I feel massive contraction from my core, through my pelvis, heart-centre and up the back of my head. My mouth goes dry. My heart beats faster. I can't think clearly and there's this incredibly hot, liquidy sensation that rushes through my whole body. It feels like I'm going to die.

And here is one of the healing properties of shame. It helps things die! It helps compost old, outdated belief systems and ideas that are no longer supporting us, but instead are limiting our lives. It kills off old worn-out parts of the ego.

Shame has been trying to decompose and recycle my old "there's something wrong with me" belief for years but because the feeling of shame is so incredibly uncomfortable, I have always contracted around it and tried to hold it in and control it, thus preventing it from doing it's job effectively. The trapped shame has led to further reinforcement of the belief.

Brené Brown, author and shame researcher, says that the antidote to shame is empathy, cultivated by courage, compassion, and connection. She says, "Shame hates it when we reach out and tell our story. It hates having words wrapped around it - it can't survive being shared. Shame loves secrecy."

So resolving the shame cycle might look something like this:

We must draw on our courage and share our shameful stories to those compassionate few who feel safe to us ...perhaps like a therapist...of course risking that it might be pointed out to us that there's something wrong with us.

If we're choosing the right people to share with, the shame won't survive the telling and we'll feel more connected, confident and powerful as the old pieces of our defensive ego are returned to cosmic matter, fertilizing the new strength coming through us.

That feels exciting to me!

Yes, you read that correctly, it's possible to feel excited about shame...no further need for analysis on this one.

Here's Brené Brown's TedTalk on the power of vulnerability if you haven't seen it yet, or if you've seen it lots but like me, you'd like to watch it again. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o

Moving inward: the creative process

I was sitting on my couch with a girlfriend and a glass of wine last week catching up on life and love, and sharing what was coming up for each of us this fall. On my "to do" list was this newsletter and the always uncomfortable but always satisfying writing process I go through each time I write. When she said, "oh I'm sure it will just write itself... easily and gracefully, just like everything you do", I choked on my wine.

I'm thinking about this now as I'm sitting here exploring my resistance. I'm noticing a contracted feeling at the centre of my chest that radiates outward to include my shoulders and solar plexus. I try taking some deep breaths to see if it will loosen. Not really. I meditate for half an hour to see if I can shift my focus from performance and production to receiving. "What is trying to come through me? What insights and inspiration are currently sitting, untapped in this condensed form of tension in my body? If this contraction (fear) is an indication of believing that I am currently unsupported, what would feel nourishing, healing and nurturing for me?"

Ahhh, I can feel some energy begin to move. The thought "it's time for a massage" comes to mind. More tension is dropped, even just at the suggestion of receiving some body work. I do a small BodyTalk session on myself. I observe some defensive energy affecting my thymus gland (sitting in the heart region) which has patterned itself into this gland's cellular structure. These patterns are old and developed to cope with fear that would arise each year at this time to do with going back to school. For those who are more naturally extroverted, going back to school can be a joyful expression of their nature. As an introvert, it was mostly nightmarish for me. My body remembers. I tap this out and feel the charge in this old story begin to dissolve.

More deep breaths. More insights. It comes to me that this expanded summer energy that I love feeds the extroverted parts of me. Outdoor living, travel and camping excursions, weddings and celebrations, connecting with fabulous people and wearing fewer clothes allows me to feel the sun on my skin and the radiating nature my own solar forces. But I am beginning to feel spread thin, as if parts of me were still hanging out in the various places I have traveled to, with the people I have been with over the past couple months. My body, mind and soul are craving integration and quieter, deepening energies.

Shifting from outward energy to inward energy is not a smooth and graceful transition for me. It's bumpy. It's rough. Just as I question the probability of a crash upon landing every time I fly in a plane, the same "oh my god I don't think we're gonna make it" thought comes to mind.

And then the insights start coming. This newsletter is reflecting the transition of energies as they shift from summer to fall...from outward to inward...from extroverted to introverted...in all of us. I can literally feel the cohesion now at the centre of my being. My heart centre is relaxing. Where there was a block, resistance and tension there is now forward motion. My thoughts are flowing and I begin to write. This piece writes itself.

Stepping Out: Being a Special Snowflake

A girlfriend and I were talking the other day about how uncomfortable it can feel to step out, express ourselves from the heart and allow ourselves to shine. With a hint of tongue in cheek, she shared how rare she realizes it was to grow up in a family who believed in the "special snowflake theory", where each person is celebrated for their uniqueness; no snowflake is like another.

This way of thinking runs directly counter to our deep survival psychology which seeks refuge and safety in sameness. On an instinctive animal level, stepping out from the crowd makes us feel like the mouse in the field that has been spotted by the hawk. It makes us feel like prey.

Staying small and blending in, while feeling much safer on one level, is torture to our souls which know that our life has purpose and meaning beyond surviving.

As we mature individually and collectively we need connection to the wisdom traditionally shared by sages and shaman, which in our culture looks like therapists and self-help books, that guides our souls out of expressions of fear into those of love. This is a shift our world so deeply yearns for.

Horse Love: Remembering who we really are

As a teenager, I boarded my horse for a time at a ranch in Alberta.  One of the income streams for this ranch was to collect and sell pregnant mares’ urine.  I don’t know much about this industry but apparently there are applications for it in cosmetics and medication.

The memories of the atrocities I witnessed at this ranch still haunt me.  Sometimes they resurface and pierce through my defenses.  But for the most part, I have kept them locked down deep in my mind for fear that the pain, shame and guilt would consume me...and kill me.

I have hardened to them.

Hardening (conditioning) is a coping mechanism of the mind involved in ego-building that supports our survival.  Resilience and endurance are developed, like a tough shell.  The harsher the living conditions, the thicker and harder the shell.  This process allows us humans and other sentient beings to survive into adulthood...often despite very tough conditions.  This shell, which dissociates and dulls the senses (touch, taste, smell, sight and sound), keeps us alive but at the cost of growth and maturation.  We can’t be in both protection and growth modes at the same time.  It is the difference between surviving and thriving. 

Beyond surviving childhood, once we are adults, we have to find a way to open our mind and our senses again (literally come back to our senses), break free of our limited survival beliefs, and journey back into our hearts.  We have to find a way to restore our sense of wholeness.  If not, we continue to be walled off from each other and life.  We feel disconnected and threatened.  And when we feel disconnected and threatened (survival of the fittest), life loses its meaning and we perpetuate abuse, to ourselves and others.

As a teen, I could feel how violent and traumatic the treatment of the horses was.  It was so painful and I didn’t want to feel that pain.  I felt powerless to transform my pain and the situation for the horses.  Those working at the ranch were the living heritage of centuries of hardening...surviving...and were operating as if they were immune to the suffering.  So was I.  It was years later that I realized that we were all suffering deep down under our shells.

When we suffer for long enough, living in a culture where many others are suffering too, we become numb (protecting ourselves with shells of righteousness, resentment, judgement, blame, apathy and depression), and it even becomes possible to live in a world where beautiful and intelligent animals are intentionally impregnated and stand, crippled, on a cement floor for months on end, with minimal water and food, trying to grow their babies, hooked up to urine collection tanks... so we can apply products to our skin to treat our hot flashes (ironically, due to our hardening process).

We can’t feel AND survive in a world like this, so our feelings get the boot.  Fear (the survival emotion) becomes normalized and anesthetizes us.  We become deadened to pain, but also to pleasure.  At some point, we may wonder what the purpose of living is.

This is actually a magical, pivotal moment. 

When we have the courage and support to face and move through our suppressed feelings of shame, pain and guilt, we begin to awaken and crack open our unconscious shells of fear.  We begin to love.  And life is full of these moments...

And it's happening very frequently now...

Individually and collectively, humanity is waking up...slowly.  And through the grace of forgiveness, we are falling back in love with ourselves and each other.  No one said it would be easy.  The vulnerability in opening up does NOT FEEL GOOD.  It feels uncomfortable.  Often terrifying.  It FEELS.  Which we have been conditioned to believe is dangerous and wrong.

Over the past year, I have had the pleasure and honour of sharing time with Tina Marie Barnes and her small herd of Medicine Horses (http://www.medicinehorses.ca/).  I recently attended a workshop Tina was offering on a form of communication she has developed called MareSpeak©.

One of the first things Tina talked about was how many “pounds of pressure” any given horse has been trained to endure over the course of its life.  This concept resonated with me as a way of delineating the hardening process.  My description below is about the weight of conditioning on horses, but behaviour modification is the same process whether on us or our animals.

How many “pounds of pressure” are on a horse being led around by a trainer?  This has to do with how much pressure needs to be applied to the rope and halter before the horse senses it and stops.  Or how much pulling or “encouragement” (whips, spurs, etc) the horse needs to move forward and go.  How sensitive is he?  How much of his movement comes from an authentic and intuitive desire to move for the pleasure of moving?  How much comes from the fear of pain if he doesn't move?  How much pleasure and pain does he feel?  How much fear?

Many horses have been inadvertently and unnecessarily trained to endure thousands of pounds of pressure... by those of us who have endured a lot of pressure ourselves, have hardened to it, and have accepted it as “normal”.  It is common to beat a horse with a crop to get it to move, but NOT normal.

As I’ve discovered with anything equine (or animal) related, these inherently sensitive, honest and compassionate creatures patiently keep inviting us back into our own inherently compassionate, wild hearts.  They remind us to remember who we really are.  They invite us to grow beyond our fear and trust life.

As Tina listened to the horse she was working with and spoke to him through her intentions, her thoughts, her energy body and her heart, she mimicked the language a mare (mother) would use with her foal (baby).  I watched as this horse softened, relaxed and journeyed back into his heart...the pounds of pressure lifting until Tina could “hear” him clearly and he could respond to her thoughts alone.  In less than an hour, I watched and felt him forgive...all of it.  Simultaneously, I moved into my heart.

From this remembering place in my heart I feel forgiveness for those (all of us) who abuse and manipulate animals for profit or pleasure.  I can feel and empathize with the weight of the pounds of pressure they (we) are under.  I can feel my shame...and know that it won't kill me.  I can feel and empathize with their (our) shame, their (our) pain and their (our) shells of protection.  And most importantly, I forgive myself for my complicity in this tragedy.  There is no us and them.  There is oneness.  Horses know this.

To forgive is not to forget.  And it is not to allow what is wrong.  It is to continue to open our mind and come back to our senses...through our inherently loving heart.  It is to continue loving through our conditioned mind to the soul of ALL sentient beings...to who we truly are in our deepest hearts.  It is to continue loving, through fear, especially when it feels hardest to open and love. 

If I'm really honest, I can feel hatred towards people that abuse horses.  Hate is a fearful, powerfully violent force of mental strength.  When I hate, I am a violent abuser.  And because I can also feel hatred toward the part of me that is abusive and feels hate, I want to manipulate my thoughts instead to "I hate it when people abuse horses" (taking the pressure off of the people that abuse and directing it to the act of abusing). 

To feel hate (which requires feeling) is actually a vulnerable state and it's one that we have many judgements about.  It feels uncomfortable and we are likely to do just about anything to distance, disconnect or distract myself from feeling this or any other uncomfortable feeling.  Distancing, disconnecting and distracting are insidious forms of fear that have become our "normal" coping mechanisms.  And they all perpetuate fear and abuse.

Love is the antidote to fear.

To love the person who abuses horses and to love myself for my abusive, violent thoughts...this is harder.  And it's the only way back into my heart.  Forgiveness is the path.

Love is who horses really are.  They know it and somewhere deep down I have always known this too.  And felt it.  So have you.

All of us currently on the planet today are the living memory of every brutal and devastating act of fear, judgement and violence that has taken place throughout history.  We’re still re-enacting this pain.  It’s animating our thoughts, our words and our actions.  It’s in our DNA.  Each of us, through our personal and collective experiences and stories, is enduring varying pounds of pressure.  Pounds of pressure can look like health conditions, abusive relationships, violations of mother earth, addiction and substance abuse, poverty, crime, political corruption, hate, violence and war.

But this isn’t all that we are. 

We are also seeking and finding ways to unburden ourselves and each other...to find forgiveness.  Our DNA is changing.  We are remembering that we are not victims of fear and conditioning.  We are healing and growing.  We are forgiving ourselves and each other for forgetting.

We are remembering who we really are.


Healing the Great Divide: Anger & Being the Queen of Bad Moods

There was a little girl who had a little curl right in the centre of her forehead.  When she was good, she was very good indeed.  But when she was bad, she was horrid.

My best friend growing up used to call me the Queen of Bad Moods.  “I AM NOT,” I’d retort and stalk away darkly.  I’d fume and fester and eventually have to admit to myself (but never to her) that I felt like a mouldering, toxic pile of refuse... much of the time.

My limited ability to deal with this dark, unacceptable side of myself included unhelpful encouragement like, “pull up your socks”, “chin up girl”, “pull it together”, “keep it together”, “stop it”, “snap out of it”, “let it go”, “get on with it” ...all of them designed to cajole my mood from unhappy, back to the bright sunny side that everyone, including myself, seemed to like better.
 
The result of this approach? ...a burning and violent fire of anger.  I'd feel intensely pissed off!

I’d eventually contain and douse the flames and then feel ashamed for not being strong enough to control my angry, fearful, sad, bad feelings; ashamed because I not only felt miserable, but had probably also behaved badly and lashed out, stomped, scowled, howled, been rude and out of control during my tempest...all of which were "unbecoming" and opposite the image of the loveable, well-behaved child I wanted to maintain.  And then I'd feel guilty that I had disappointed everyone and reprimand myself.  “You really think you deserve to feel good? You hateful, ugly girl“.

...and the cycle would continue.

I eventually fully embodied the truth I’d learned.  There were good parts of me and bad parts of me and the latter needed to be eradicated, annihilated, starved, blamed, shamed and punished out of me.  A full blown eating disorder ensued.  As I had experienced and had reinforced in almost every conflict I witnessed around me, I too believed that if you rewarded the good and punished the bad, goodness and happiness would prevail.  So every time I felt some uncomfortable (bad) feelings, I would follow the now ingrained standard protocol and just apply more abuse.  Like a cancer growing in my body, the bad part that nobody liked needed to be killed off so that I could just feel good.

But my pain just grew and twisted.

I eventually found myself completely imprisoned by the blackness of my own castigating mind.  Cycles of anger, self-abuse, depression and mind-numbing indifference became my new normal.  I had no fight left in me.  At 18 years of age, I felt out of options and decided to kill myself to release myself from this relentless, persecuting agony.

It turns out it wasn't time yet.  Death wasn't the solution to my life.  Life had another plan for me.

Anger is the first and healthiest response to an old (sometimes really old) way of thinking.  When the expansiveness of the human spirit feels limited by rigidity in the mind, the friction created by the containment of this big energy, (like that of a surging river forcing open its bank), generates the heat of anger. Something is trying to open up. A new and creative thought, path, direction, idea or perspective wants to be born.

This healing emotional frequency, corresponding to the Chinese Medicine element of wood, is a powerful creative/destructive energy that pushes sap upward in trees in the spring.  It bursts open the new leaves and drives the dance of the birds and the bees.  It is the wild, roaring wind that shakes down and clears out all the old, dead branches and makes way for new growth. 

It clears the cobwebs from our mind.  It stimulates sexual and sensual creative energy to clear out old patterns and blockages... to open our hearts.  This is why the make-up sex after a great fight feels so good.

Your anger is trying to break through something in YOUR mind. 

But most of us are terrified of anger so we distort it through our judgment of it, project it through blame, and lock it down through shame and guilt.  So it cannot break through the old, limited view of life it is trying to expand. It folds inward on itself instead and perpetuates the cycle of abuse.

So perhaps you can see why our culture’s fearful judgements about anger and the resulting focus on behaviour might perpetuate the divide between our bodies and minds.  Suppressing anger separates our wholeness into "good" parts and "bad" parts, and pits them against each other. 

This conflict is within our self.

We play this conflict out within our closest relationships, with our colleagues and neighbors, communities and at the global level too.  It is safe to say that more military spending, stronger corrective measures, and further punitive legislation, while potentially giving us a temporary release of vindication, a rush of victory and experience of safety, have never and will never result in more love, empathy and compassion.  This fearful thinking results in greater defenses, deeper divides, retaliation, hatred and suffering.  It ends up looking like wars against terror, fights against cancer and anti-bullying campaigns.  This truly is crazy.

Anything "against" something else is a projection and reflection of this split in our own psyche and an attempt to annihilate and defeat the "bad" people, person, or part of someone... and our self. 

War is driven by fear.  If you take the position of being "anti-war", just feel into that one for a moment.

But how do we reconcile this split?  Which side will lay their guns down first? 

In truth, neither. 

The shift comes from a third perspective that is not available to the victim/bully, fear-based, warring, fighting, duality, thinking part of our brains.  In fact, it doesn’t come from our thinking brains at all.  It comes from our feeling hearts.

When unrestricted, our emotions and moods parallel the rhythm of the cosmos.  They swing up and down...like the pattern of heartbeats displayed on an electrocardiogram (ECG) machine.  The ups balance the downs...and from this perspective, all of them are good.  And healthy.  I sometimes hear clients express that they are searching for balance in their lives, and by this they mean nothing too high and nothing too low.  I can empathize.  But a flat line isn’t the sign of a healthy heart...

How do we reach our hearts? How do we remember to love?  How do we remember that we are love?

Giving ourselves and each other permission to feel...everything...is the gateway...

And we need to be mentored by love, openness and expansion, by someone who is already living more often from their hearts (which doesn't mean someone who is always peaceful...that's a flat line), mentored through a practice of opening our minds ...like yoga and meditation, mentored by intelligent and dynamic systems like BodyTalk and BreakThrough, through books, music, dance, art, literature, play, workshops, therapy, conversation, moving our bodies, connection with nature, connection with each other, and by grace. 

We are spiritual beings having a human experience, not the other way around.  We are powerful, creative, sexual, spiritual beings guided by the laws of nature, not limited by the fearful rules of our descendants.  To open our hearts, we need to be able to feel ...and connect personally and directly with the divine laws of the universe so we can remember our truth...who we REALLY are.

I AM the Queen of bad moods.  And I’m the King of good moods.  These are the two essential sides of my mind that used to battle each other over who would rule.  Now they are both in service to my heart.  They are a dynamic duo with healthy doses of ups and downs, including outrageous failures, terrifying depths, and wild histrionics, but always followed by buckets full of forgiveness, love and compassion.

Where once there was a war, there now is a dance.

Intimacy: Into-me-see

I used to spend most of my life hiding, careful to not draw attention to myself.  I avoided confrontation.  I wore baggy, non-descript clothes to hide my body.  I even used to need it to be dark to have sex.  The thought of someone seeing me was terrifying.  I didn’t know who or what they might find.  I had a deep, dreading sense that there was something at the core of me that was very wrong and should be kept a secret.  I didn’t know what it was and I didn’t want anyone to find it.

Perhaps I was burned at the stake in a past life... or two.  Or perhaps because like all of us, I am the living end result of centuries of fearful, sexually confused cultural beliefs.  Regardless, I just didn’t have the courage to open up and step into the light.  And despite wanting to do so, desperately, this journey has been long and slow.  It's continual.

Love, or openness, is the authentic nature of human beings.  So why is it so hard be who we really are?  Why is it so hard to open as this love? ...to others' love...?  REALLY!

In every moment, this continues to be my challenge...as it is yours... as it is every other human being’s.

Intimacy (into-me-see) is the process of bringing our fear (darkness) to the edge of our awareness, often through conflict, where we eventually discover through healing and transforming, a deeper awareness.  This could be called the process of maturing:  emotionally, soulfully and spiritually.

When intimacy gets stuck at the conflict stage, it feels frightening.  This fear has many faces...

  • We rigidify and silence our bodies, restrict our breathing, clamp down our pleasure and sexuality, tighten our grip and brace ourselves for something...the other shoe to drop...an apocalypse ...an earthquake ...death
• We judge and criticize
• We stop listening and become defensive
• We feel angry, frustrated, hurt, disappointed
• We blame the other person for making us feel so uncomfortable
• We try to control ourselves and others
• We isolate ourselves
• We  harden our beliefs and back them up with “proof” (social, cultural, political, religious, scientific evidence)
• We numb, turn off, tune out, only talk about “positive things”, medicate and self-soothe with our addictions

Of course, loving is easy to do when life and those in your life show up in the way you expect or want them to...

• Loving your child when she is sleeping (and therefore not pushing your buttons). 
• Loving your cute puppy (when it is not pooping on your living room floor). 
• Loving the generosity and kindness of another.
• Loving your lover in the first stages of attraction.

It is easy to open when we feel safe. 

Love is trying to live through us, but fear and contraction are often what we are animating.  We get really upset, frustrated, tight and angry when others do not love us the way we want them to.  So we stop loving them.  We close to them.  We stop being who we really are... which is love... and instead become fear.  And while this probably hurts them, most importantly, it hurts us.

In this moment, does your body feel contracted or tight anywhere?  Is your brow furrowed?  Are your shoulders slumped, pinched up or curled inwards? Do your stomach and solar plexus feel knotted, anxious or nauseated? Do you find yourself resisting or rejecting people and things in life, these ideas, love itself?

Or are your shoulders relaxed and open?  Is your chest and heart wide open and soft? Is your breathing deep, easy and relaxed? Do you feel loving and connected to every sentient creature in the universe through deep compassion, gratitude, forgiveness and understanding?  Can you feel that sweet ache in your heart centre?

How deep and wide is your love in this moment? How about in this moment?  This one?

How conditional is your love?  Under what conditions will you love or open into your true nature?

The fearful side of us judges our darkness and wants to condemn the darkness in others.  But this is where love and light is most needed...

• Can you deeply love someone who has just yelled at you, criticized you, blamed you or hurt you?
• Can you deeply love someone who has just cut you off in traffic, given you a speeding ticket, hit your car, stolen your belongings, hurt or perhaps killed someone you love or perhaps beaten or raped you?
• Can you deeply love YOURSELF when you say and do hurtful things to others, when you betray yourself/others, when you lie, when you feel spiteful, revengeful, hateful, rage, shame or guilt?

Where is your love...you...limited in this moment?

Loving is NOT shifting the judgement of something being wrong or not ok, to being right.  Hurting each other will never be ok.  We need to differentiate between the person who is a divine human being, and their behaviour.  We human beings are capable of both light and darkness.  And when we act out these dark abuses and injustices (and we all do), we especially need love...every one of us...

Loving is opening to both of these poles (the wrong and the right) and digging deep into our eternal wellspring of forgiveness, compassion, empathy and understanding ...which is our birthright.

Loving deeply when it feels impossible to open and love...this is intimacy.

It’s not easy.  When we feel the limits of our love or feel deeply unlovable because of judgements we have about ourselves, opening into the light is usually the last thing we can imagine doing.  It's terrifying!

However, moving into the light of love is our only authentic path. 

It takes courage.  And support.  And connection. And vulnerability.

And we need a larger vision and version of love than we can hold for ourselves.  We need mentorship and guidance...and so much love.

When you find big love...reach out...and step into the light. 

You'll find me there...often stumbling and fumbling in the dark and trying to find the courage in each moment to love a little deeper and wider...and shine a little brighter.  Thank you for showing me the way...

A Broken-open Heart & Returning Voice

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
- Rumi

My voice is back...

In this process I lost so much more than my voice.  I lost my habit of staying trapped in fear and resisting being the love that I am.

After a two and a half month retreat, I am able once again to speak on the phone, greet people on the trails and I am no longer asked if I have laryngitis when going through the check-out at Thrifty’s. In losing my voice, I have been “invited” to listen at a new, deeper and much more profound level.

This process continues to be so humbling...

Every time someone said, “What did you say?” or “Sorry, what was that?” or “What?” it was another invitation to go deeper.  Initially it drove me mad.  I felt incensed, unimportant, irrelevant and without value.  I was afraid that I would never be heard again.  I was afraid that no one would notice that I existed.  I was afraid that I didn’t exist.

...and then I went deeper.

I began to listen... to the abundance and prolific nature of my own thoughts.  I became present to these thoughts.  I just listened.

...really heard them.

I'm realizing how often I’m tuning into what someone else is saying or expressing, but filtering it through thoughts that I am completely unaware of having.  I'm realizing how often I speak, instead of listening.  I'm realizing that speaking for me has become a way to control or direct an interaction, coming from a fearful ego and mind.

...so then I went even deeper than that.

And I just cracked open.

I became intimately aware of and connected with the beating of another’s heart. 

It’s just so human to be a fragile and vulnerable human.  It’s just so human to feel.  We truly ARE love.

But we’re most often in fear...

In the past, as I listened to someone else speak and express, through their movements, their emotions or their ideas, I felt fear or anxiety.  I tuned into the places where their heart (my heart) cried for justice, recognition, understanding, validation, love and compassion.

I looked for the places where I felt a sense of powerlessness.  A sense of lack.  A place where their voice was limited and then I tried to fill in the gap. I would insert myself and my own perceived “not enough” and try to become more fulfilled and more important by being needed and heard.

Now, all I can hear is the heart’s ache...

And it just sounds beautiful to me.

It sounds real and authentic.

And I’m so in awe of its power and grace.

“An analogy for bodhicitta (awakening mind) is the rawness of a broken heart. Sometimes this broken heart gives birth to anxiety and panic, sometimes to anger, resentment, and blame. But under the hardness of that armor there is the tenderness of genuine sadness. This is our link with all those who have ever loved. This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion. It can humble us when we’re arrogant and soften us when we are unkind. It awakens us when we prefer to sleep and pierces through our indifference. This continual ache of the heart is a blessing that when accepted fully can be shared with all.”

- Pema Chodron

My Deepest Gift: living without a voice

Does your heart feel sweet like a ripe, juicy mango?

Mine did, once, about a month ago.  Well, perhaps it has felt that way before and since then, but it was noticed on that day.

This is the best way I can think of to describe my experience of open-heartedness.  It has a palpable, visceral, textural feeling to it.  Continually opening into that vulnerable place may be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I’ve had many experiences that have opened me, but to consciously choose to keep going there mostly feels terrifying and overwhelming.  However, the result of not going there?  My physical body is talking...

For the past two weeks I have been without a voice...literally!  And for anyone who knows me, the irony of this is stunning.  I am one who is never at a loss for vocal contributions.

It has been everything from fascinating, to frustrating, to terrifying to observe the energetic movements of my process.  The persistent contraction in my lungs and heart has affected  my breathing and my vocal chords.  My affliction feels like an urgent and persistent invitation to speak truthfully from my heart (my mango), in every moment.  And what continues to be most humbling, is realizing that much of the time, I am not.

What is my personal deepest gift?  The feminine essence at my core. That wide open place in me that feels like a ripe, juicy mango when it’s authentically revealing itself.

Where do I live, feel and speak from most often?  The masculine that I have developed and strengthened over my life-time of living as a self-actualized woman in our modern times.

The result of expressing myself from a less than authentic place? 

A particularly high-pitched, quiet but squeaky and breathy voice that sounds somewhere between that of Bart or Marge Simpson.

If love is who I am, then any time I am embodying anything other than love, I am not authentically expressing my truth.  I am not speaking (throat chakra) from my heart (heart chakra).

Are you authentically opened as love in this moment?

No?

Then you don’t know that you are choosing suffering, or you would just open as love.  This is what David Deida, renowned author and speaker on spiritual growth and sacred intimacy points out.

What is YOUR deepest gift to the world?

Don't know what your deepest gift is?  Check out the brilliant work of David Deida.

Love’s intense conflicts are here in earth’s energies at present.  Venus will eclipse the sun this coming Tuesday.  In astrological terms, the sun represents masculine energy; bright, light, life-giving.  Venus represents the feminine; love, life itself. 

For those of us sensitive to these forces, you may currently be experiencing symptoms ranging from colds/flus (particularly voice issues), conflicts in relationships and matters of the heart, immune disorder flare-ups, heart palpitations, anxiety, insomnia, shoulder/arm/hand issues, etc.

These energies pull on the feminine, challenge the masculine and draw us into following the path of our open hearts.

For more information about the Venus transit, click here

Do I Really Want a Pain-free Relationship?

Do we really want pain-free relationships?

This is a question I asked myself recently after listening to a friend as he shared about the deep pain he felt in a relationship.  He talked about wishing there was a delete button for his memory.  He wanted out of the pain so badly.  My heart went out to him.

And then I listened a little more deeply.

I felt his courage.  I felt his strength.  I felt his willingness to feel his pain so deeply, particularly in the face of a fear that arose in him and sought to numb, deny or delete his feelings.  I felt his vulnerability through my openness.  Love and compassion flowed from me. I felt open to his experience of pain.

In the next moment, without even trying, I had the thoughts, "This pain is too much.  It's wrong.  He shouldn't be in so much pain".  In response to these thoughts, my openness closed.  My empathy contracted.  Something needed to be fixed.  I felt an urgency to offer him ways to transform his pain.  I was no longer listening to him.  It became about what I think and what I can do.  It became about me.  Separate.  Disconnected from him.

And I realized that in my relationship to him in this new moment, where a moment before I had felt love, I now felt uncomfortable and contracted in my body.  It hurt.  I was in pain too.

So, if relationships are a moment-to-moment experiencing of self in relation to other, and pain is an acute reminder of aliveness, do we really want pain-free relationships?

Hmm...

Just for the Fun of it. What?!!

One of my favourite classes in elementary school was art.  I loved the smell of the paints and the glue (and yes, the taste of the glue too).  I loved the coloured paper and the textured materials like felt, wool and ribbon.  I loved the pipe cleaners and the scissors, the beads, the tissue paper, the googly eyes and the glitter.  Most of all, I loved the feeling of limitless potential I saw in a pile of art supplies.  I’d sit in front of a new assortment of goodies and feel like I was beginning the most exciting adventure of my life.

Only recently I realized that instead of excitement, these same supplies now give me heart palpitations and shortness in breath.  I feel panicky at the mere mention of making things.  Whenever I'm invited to participate in some craft-making, I can feel myself contract and get defensive.  I’ll say things like I don't have time for this.  And then I’ll get crusty and judgemental...what’s the purpose of this crap when it’s done?  I don’t want my house cluttered with it. And then moralizing...and it all just ends up in the landfill.  It’s environmentally unfriendly!

What happened?  Where did the adventure girl go?

I have been devouring two of Brené Brown’s books, The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly.  Brené Brown is a shame and vulnerability researcher and her work couldn’t have come at a better time for me personally, but for all of us as we struggle collectively with feeling worthy of love and belonging...which she has shown, directly affects our ability to connect, create and thrive.

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené outlines 10 guideposts for what she calls Wholehearted Living - engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness.  She has discovered that the one difference between people she describes as living wholeheartedly and those who are not, is that the Wholehearted believe they are worthy of love and belonging.  That’s it!  That's all!  They BELIEVE it!

The insights received reading these guideposts have been profound but when I got to Guidepost #7, my DNA started unravelling... Cultivating Play and Rest:  Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth.  And when I read that play is purposeless AND essential...my heart stopped. What?!?

Purposeless and essential?!

Brené writes, In today’s culture – where our self-worth is tied to our net worth, and we base our worthiness on our level of productivity – spending time doing purposeless activities is rare.  In fact, for many of us it sounds like an anxiety attack waiting to happen.

We’ve got so much to do and so little time that the idea of spending time doing anything unrelated to the to-do list actually creates stress.  We convince ourselves that playing is a waste of precious time.  We even convince ourselves that sleep is a terrible use of our time.

Brené explains that play is not an option when it comes to wholehearted living.  It's essential.  In fact, the opposite of play is depression.

When it comes to rest, I am all in.  I know how much healthier physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually I am when I get enough rest.  But play?  Play is for children! ...who have time because they don’t have to do important adult things like making money. Play feels silly, frivolous, foolish...and vulnerable. (enter Ms. Crusty)

What about the $30,000 spent on my Bachelor of Education degree systematically training me to view drama, art and music (and my own inner child) through measurable learning outcomes and provincial curriculum mandates? Purpose, purpose, purpose!

If it doesn’t have purpose, what does the experience of play offer?

Brené answers this:  Basically, we play for the sake of play.  We do it because it’s fun and we want to.

FUN.  Oh my god.  When I'm feeling focussed and driven, there’s no feeling in the world more impossible than fun!

So I started thinking about fun and what is fun for me...like laughing so hard I have trouble breathing and almost pee my pants.  Why is this fun?  How do I know it's fun?

I realized fun has to do with allowing myself to experience sensations in my body.  Fun is a feeling.  And to feel it I actually have to be open and vulnerable enough to allow the sensations.  I have to be open to the sensation of pleasure. 

Why on earth wouldn't we be open to pleasure???

Pain and pleasure follow the same circuits in the nervous system.  If you block pain, you also block pleasure.  So opening the valves for pleasure and fun?...means also opening them to pain.  And what is the one, most painful feeling that we all want to avoid? ...SHAME. 

Brené defines shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.  She also says of shame:

1.  We all have it.  Shame is universal and one of the most primitive human emotions that we experience.  The only people who don’t experience shame lack the capacity for empathy and human connection.
2. We’re all afraid to talk about shame.
3. The less we talk about shame, the more control it has over our lives.

Shame is basically the fear of being unlovable – it’s the total opposite of owning our story and feeling worthy.

So how did cutting and pasting become attached to my worth and tied down in shame?

One particularly memorable attempt somewhere along this process was about 20 years ago.  I painted a picture for my then boyfriend.  I struggled the whole time, moving between enjoying painting for its own sake, and intense insecurity and judgement as I imagined his reaction to it.  It didn’t occur to me that painting FOR HIM created a conflict.  The unconscious agenda behind my "gift" was that his liking the painting equated to him liking me...proving that I’m likeable...and therefore worthy of love and belonging.  This circuitous routine never works but is a favoured approach of the NOT wholehearted...(many of us who struggle tobelieve we are worthy of love and belonging, and are compulsively hungering for it and seeking it from others).  There was a lot invested in his liking this painting.

When I gave him the finished labour of love, I might as well have been standing on the stage of a talent show in front of a panel of judges...and a live audience...internationally televised ...naked.  It was terrifying.  The more he examined it, the more overwhelmed I felt.

He seemed to really like it.  And the strangest thing was that the more he expressed his appreciation of it, the worse I felt.  It was like my nervous system which was braced for criticism, had no context for the pleasurable sensations that arose in response to (my painting) being seen, admired and loved...and to that taboo feeling...pride.  My body was flooded with these overwhelming feelings.  I felt insane with vulnerability.  So I did the only thing that came to me.  Much to both our surprise and horror, I ripped the painting out of his hands and threw it out the nearby window.  We were both stunned.  And confused.

You’ve heard of fight or flight reactions to fear?  And perhaps you’ve heard that faint and freeze are reactions as well.  Well I’d like to add fling to that list, as a reaction to the fear of pleasure.  Yes, the fear of pleasure.  I flung that painting to release myself from the intensity of my own vulnerable feelings.  And it worked in the short run.  It immediately stemmed the flow of compliments which relaxed my nervous system.  But the experience only highlighted my previously hidden CRAZY...my shame...my NOT wholehearted perspective.  Backfire!!

It's taken me until now to understand that loving my imperfections and my CRAZY are what actually allow me to have fun, connect with others, create, and have deep compassion.  And I feel like I'm in kindergarten...at the beginning of this understanding.  Brené says that in order to survive, shame needs 3 things...secrecy, silence and judgement.  And the antidote to shame?  Empathy.  Somebody else's empathy is good but my own is essential.

We need to understand that creating is a very vulnerable experience.  As Brené says, vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.  It's not weakness.  Vulnerability is emotional risk, exposure, uncertainty. And it is our most accurate measurement of courage.

Vulnerability is a very raw feeling, so if it’s been a while since you’ve played and had fun doing dangerous things like playing make-believe, dressing up, singing, and arts and crafts, be ready...  it may be wild and messy and CRAZY.  Be gentle, empathetic and compassionate with your inner child.  Keep going.  You are worthy of love and belonging. 

And so am I.  So I’m off to paste dried macaroni and bits of carpet to coloured paper using excessive glue and gobs of glitter.  For myself!  Just for the fun of it!  Armed with loads of empathy and compassion...especially for Ms. Crusty.  And I’m opening my windows just in case.

Feeling My Way Through

The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them. Albert Einstein

Can you feel the difference in your body between knowing that something “just feels right” versus “needing or wanting something to be right”?

For me, the first is usually accompanied by a deep sensation of ease while the latter often generates anxiety, fear, anger, jealousy, shame, etc.  If you can experience the difference between these, it seems to me, you are a step closer to knowing authenticity and personal integrity.

The place where I veer from the centre of my life path is when I override what “just feels right...to me” in favour of what I think is right…by externalizing a decision through rationalizations, justifications and reasons.

The litmus test as to whether or not I am living my own unique life versus trying to feel good or safe by pleasing others or satisfying cultural/societal conventions, is the feeling of knowing in my core that something is right...for me.

I am offered an invitation to either think or feel with every decision I make: What do I want to eat?  What do I want to wear? Who do I want to share time with? Do I want to leave my job? Do I want to start/end a relationship? Is this the house/car/etc. I want to purchase?. I am being offered an opportunity to live more deeply, honestly and authentically at every turn.

Albert Einstein has been credited with saying, “the significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.”  So perhaps we can solve them with more feeling.

The Art of Being Lost

Bill Plotkin, author of Soul Craft and Nature and the Human Soul, is a depth psychologist, ecotherapist, wilderness guide, and is founding director of Colorado’s Animas Valley Institute (www.animas.org).  His work is a powerful gift to anyone interested in living more fully.  The “art of getting lost” is only one tiny little juicy tidbit among all that he offers.  His work will change you.

These sections are taken directly from his book, Soul Craft.

But being lost is not at all a bad thing – if you know you’re lost and you know how to benefit from it spiritually.  Most of us consider being lost a bummer, highly undesirable or even terrifying.  We all have important things to do, there’s not enough time in the day as it is, thank you, and getting lost is a major fly in the ointment of success, a monkey wrench in the gearbox of progress. 

In the Western world, where “progress is our most important product,” we are encouraged from our earliest years to know exactly where we are at all times and precisely where we are going.  Yes, such knowledge is often desirable if not necessary, but not knowing is of equal benefit.

By arriving more fully in the present, through being lost and accepting it, your life suddenly suffers a radical simplification.  Old agendas, beliefs and desires fall away.  You quiet down inside and it becomes easier to hear the voice of the soul.

There are four necessary components to the art of being lost:

  1. You must face that you are lost

  2. You must know you are lost and accept it

  3. You must have adequate survival knowledge, skills, and physical or spiritual tools

  4. (most important)  You must practice nonattachment to any particular result of being lost, such as being found by a certain time, or at all

In other words, you must accept this condition, relax into it, and arrive fully where you are.

Here is Bill Plotkin’s personal experience with the feeling of being lost...

When I find myself lost in the wild, fear starts in my groin and works its way up to my belly and down to my knees.  My heart races.  My throat wants to shout for help.  My whole body begins to tremble and my head whirls.  My breath grows shallow and rapid.  My heart beats quicker and quirkier.

But if I don’t panic (or after I’m through panicking), I notice my body actually likesbeing lost!  Not the mind, but the body.  My skin begins to tingle, as if with delight.  I become very awake.  My senses grow sharp and clear.  The sounds, colors, textures, and edges of things become distinct and radiant.  I can’t help but notice an enjoyment arising through being so present, so much in this body.  Here.  Now.  Thought slows down and becomes crystalline.  What will I do, I wonder.

I hear a weird voice say, “Let’s enjoy being here before we get in too much of a hurry to be somewhere else.  If we can make a life here, after all, we can make a life anywhere.”