No Bad Parts

I’m reading Dick Schwartz’s latest offering on the IFS (Inner Family Systems) method and I am feeling a sense of deep resonance with the assertion that we can view ourselves and the world in one of two fundamental ways: we can either see ourselves as sinners, bad people, flawed and in need of punishment and hyper vigilance, or we can see ourselves as basically good and in need of care, respect and understanding. In the end, whether we lean towards division externally or internally has to do with how we treat the ‘exiles’ or the people or places inside and outside of us that we banish, shame and treat as separate or ‘other’. This plays out on a mass scale in our politics, but in the microcosm, it shows up in how we treat ourselves or the parts of ourselves that don’t align with external or self-imposed measures of success.

What doesn’t align with ‘winning’ or having things ‘under control’ often gets swept under the rug and then this shadow material gets louder and more disruptive to get our attention in order heal and integrate the wisdom that it is carrying. The impolite, non-conforming, un-shiny parts of us- these deeply human parts are trying desperately to let us know – just like children often are, that there is a need that must be met and that that need has been neglected. These parts are not bad, though their methods may be outdated or problematic; They simply want to return us to our hearts and full humanity.

Dick asserts that the way to healing is to become ‘Self-led’ or in other words, to become like a kind, steady, loving parent to oneself that knows how to respect, care for and guide its children. Before we ‘correct,’ shame or punish aspects of ourselves that we feel are unskillful, it would behoove us to realize where these places come from, listen to what they are trying to say and learn how to meet them with love.

What is so tricky and illusive about healing and growth is that we can so easily slip into all or nothing/extreme thinking that has us ‘controlling ourselves’ or ‘letting ourselves go.’ Finding the sweet spot of paying attention and meeting what arises with compassion (which has different faces- not always the ‘soft’ kind) allows us to be more adaptive, resilient and present. What worked yesterday may not work for us today because where we are in this moment is not where we were yesterday let alone many years ago. This means rigidity and dogma don’t work. What is required is a fluid, listening, responsive system that trusts itself to recalibrate in the same way we do when we slip, jump or fall -either intentionally or unintentionally and are trying to establish or regain our balance.

This makes me think of Patanjali’s sutra 2.46 that describes Yoga as abiding with ease -Yogas Sthira, Sukkham asanam. To me, this means that in order to qualify as being liberating and wholesome, what we do on our mat and off for that matter must lend itself to a feeling of steadiness and freedom within AND without. It means that we check in with our behaviours to observe how they affect not just ourselves but how they affect others. Is what we are doing over here contributing to a sense of ease, steadiness and freedom over there? That whole saying ‘not free until we are all free’ then becomes a powerful driver not just for personal freedom but collective awakening and healing.

On the topic of two-way liberation, Sonya Renee Taylor, the author of The Body is Not an Apology, was speaking on the podcast We Can Do Hard Things recently about the ‘ladder’ or the invisible hierarchy that consciously or unconsciously ensnares us in a constant game of comparison – always in assessment of whether we are better or worse than someone else. Brené Brown says this comparison keeps us from seeing ourselves or each other clearly and ultimately strips us of our humanity. While we can criticize others for their methods and behaviour, it is very difficult not dehumanize them in the process- to forget that there is a reason this behaviour exists and the way out of it begins with radical compassion.

Of course, understanding and compassion are not all that is needed. Right action is also requited in order to shift out of imprisoning habit energy and in order to create more skillful and wholesome ways of seeing and relating to ourselves and others. Unfortunately, in the effort to move out of what is uncomfortable, we often skip too quickly to solutions and ‘correction’ before meeting the raw human material with care. This reminds me of wise parenting advice from Dan Seigal in his ‘No Drama Discipline’ book in which he asserts that before we ‘redirect’ our children we need to ‘connect.’ Oftentimes, that connection is all that is required to diffuse the situation because the issue is rarely what is going on outside but what attachment wounds are being triggered by the situation that threaten our sense of belonging and therefor our very survival (yes, the need for belonging is that fundamental and hard-wired in us).

So what gets in the way of true connection? Brené Brown, in her latest offering on Netflix, Atlas of the Heart asserts that what gets in the way is CONTROL– control is the near enemy of connection and rejection is its far enemy. Ways we try to control is taking over people’s narrative (not believing their lived experience), judging (your fault), blaming others (their fault), or comparing our experience to theirs in order re-assert the dominance hierarchy – I’m above, you’re below or vice versa which is just the flip side of the same coin. True connection says we are equals and I am walking with you – not ahead or behind, but right beside. It means that we meet what is happening with a high degree of empathy and compassion and that we move towards curiosity about ourselves and others instead of condemnation.

By this criteria, the feat of meeting each other may feel impossible. The good news is that connection doesn’t require us to be perfect, it just requires us to be honest – to notice and admit when we are out of integrity and to start again with humility and sincerity. I am very far from great at this practice but I am determined to remember that healing is an inside job- the more I can meet and regulate myself – and all my parts (as they say in IFS lingo) the better I will be at meeting and being there with and for others.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Two-way prayer

I’m up early. This is a rare moment in which no one is awake- there are no demands on me at this exact second and I can put pen to paper and listen deeply to my own wisdom/knowing as a kind of communion that directs the course of my day.

Liz Gilbert was on the podcast, We Can Do Hard Things recently talking about two-way prayer. It starts with asking the God of your own understanding to help you in some way. Mine might look something like this, “Dear God, please help me to relinquish control and the need to know and figure out all the details of my life. Help me to see that I have done nothing on my own, that I don’t need to be special or work hard to earn my place in life. Help me to recognize behaviours that keep me stuck in defectiveness- either succumbing to my feelings (playing small, not going after the things I want) or counter-attacking by trying to have it all together which amounts to a lot of pushing and exhaustion. Help me with discipline- the ability to say no to my addictive impulses so I can turn my attention to where I am truly nourished and where I do not have to divide myself against myself- the part that I present and the part I hide.”

The reply in my own words- me as my higher power speaking directly to that scared, angry, confused little child inside: “Dear beloved, I see you. I see how you work and show up to the monotony of family living. There are no rewards or applause for showing up for your kids, and yet when you are truly present to them, when you let go of your own agenda and need to control and you trust me to direct your ship, the light of their love and connection fills you to the brim. I want to tell you that you are enough. There is nothing you need to do to prove your worth. By the same token, if there’s something you’re curious about and want to explore, please do that without fear of how others will receive you. You know, dear, wonder child, how important it is to play and express. Give up expectations about outcomes. Let go of ‘should’ and simply be as upright, present and available to life’s miracles and mysteries as you know how. I love you, innocent one. I am holding you. I am with you every moment.”

This was written several months ago, but I did not publish out of fear. Today, I am hitting publish on this because to do so is to move out of the trance of unworthiness and to stand in my wholeness and let myself be seen.

May you remember your inherent beauty and worth. May you not be afraid to speak your truth with kindness and clarity.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Back in the saddle

I’m just going to go ahead and write here as an experiment in ‘unleashing the hounds.’ It’s been too long since I’ve put pen to paper. Even my journal entries, which used to be much more consistent have tapered off.

This year has felt both like an invitation to invest in my own growth and becoming and at the same time like a thick sludge of resistance that buries me in old patterns of hiding under the covers. I’m tired of pushing but I’m also afraid of playing small. I do a lot of courses and learning – I’ve had a miscarriage this year and now I’m pregnant again. We are moving a few months after the baby is born and I am both motivated and completely unmotivated and overwhelmed.

This all makes sense- it’s so reasonable, and yet there is a strong part of me that wants to keep fighting to be relevant, to share, to be seen and to show up.

One thing I can say is that I’m pretty good at trudging on- staying the course. In that way, you could say that I have great discipline and staying power. I don’t often give up, or maybe more specifically, I don’t give up on others and their expectations but my own projects and ambitions are often put on the back burner.

Recently, I got in the driver’s seat for the first time in years – literally. I have been so afraid of ‘taking my seat’ or being in charge and fucking everything up that I’ve avoided that position altogether- preferring to be a bit more in the background, and if I’m honest, less vulnerable and exposed.

Something I’m sifting through at the moment is the difference between the need to communicate and be seen and the compulsion to be validated and received by the world in a way that upholds a sense of identity. Maybe it’s impossible to have one without the other, but I’m trying to separate them out a bit.

This is why I’m going to write these entries without any need to publish them. Right now, that level of being seen and exposed feels very dangerous. It wasn’t always that way. I used to put things out all the time. Now, it feels that I have to be very careful about how I communicate – should I be misunderstood and miscast as a really shitty person.

In the end, there’s not much I can do about that and maybe that’s really none of my business. Still, being ‘out there’ on the inter webs feels pretty vulnerable.

I guess what I’m getting to is why it scares me so much. What part of myself am I afraid I will expose, and isn’t part of the that exposure also my freedom and the ticket back to my humanity?

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Finding my inner compass

I’m writing because writing has been a solace to me for most of my life.  When I feel lost, tired, unmotivated or unsure, I return to the blank canvas of my journal or this blog to understand myself a bit better.

I was studying the Enneagram, an interesting, albeit non-scientific way of assessing how certain personality types regress or progress in terms of their emotional and spiritual growth.  I am a classic 4 with a 3 wing, the title for which is the ‘enthusiast’- a pretty good descriptor of how all-in and passionate I am with the things I love.  They say, and I can attest, that when I’m healthiest as a 4, I gravitate towards 1 behaviours: altruism, discipline, service.  When unhealthy, I get caught up in 2 behaviours: people-pleasing, anticipating, constantly assessing and obsessing. The orientation inwards can cause me great stress because in that place of stewing, I’m no longer present or in my power.  Thankfully, the altruistic and idealistic side of my personality drives me towards service, supporting others and remembering that I am part of a bigger whole.

When I can pull away from the labyrinth of my feelings and set my feet concretely on the earth- through teaching, through showing up in a steady way, my actions line up more and more with my values and I am returned to what is most important.

If I wait for the moment that I feel like doing something, I can wait a very long time.  Feelings come and go. This is why I’m making certain pacts with myself: to limit checking behaviours- like checking how much I weigh everyday (I ditched my Fitbit), while committing to showing up to my movement practice in community at least 3 times a week – not for the gold star, but because these things keep me oriented towards my deepest values while connecting with others.

Through pause, commitment to clarity and perspective – via therapy, mindful movement, journaling and honest self-reflection, I’m endeavouring to create a life that is not based only on external metrics for success.  Being more interested in the process is frustrating and painful, but also deeply illuminating.   I’m asking myself, what am I learning right now in this moment?  What am I leaning into that is forcing me to step up and be clearer in my values or expressing what truly matters to me? What is giving me pause to become a better listener and move through the world with more humility and more awareness of my privilege?

I recently finished Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, We Are the Weather in which he argues for regular self-reflection.  This practice forces you to face all the defences you have for not dealing with reality.  In the book he was advocating for honest self-reflection about the things you CAN do that can make a difference, without having to radically dismantle your life as you know it.  Something as simple as not eating meat until dinner can have a huge impact on future consumption trends, that hugely impacts the planet and the climate.

If this seems a tad reductionist, maybe it is.  Clearly, systems need to change in order to bring about the health and healing that is needed on the planet.  At the same time, we do not have to be passively at the affect of these systems. This process is kind and compassionate straight-talk with yourself, when you clear out the excuses you have for not doing or facing what you must do or face.  As Jean Vanier says in Becoming Human, “We are freed when we begin to put justice, heartfelt relationships, and the service of others and of truth over and above our own needs for love and success or our fears of failure and of relationships.”

I struggle sometimes with how to be brave with my life.  I watched Taylor Swift’s Netflix documentary, Miss Americana, and though I cringed at some of her millenial-isms, I saw something in her that I could relate to: the deep need for validation and approval mixed with a deeper desire to find her own voice and stand in what she believed.  Like her and so many women, especially, I have struggled all my life to be ‘good’ or ‘good enough.’

What I want now is to approve of myself- to believe and stand by myself, regardless of the deluge of feedback that will come at any given time when I share my truth or stand in my power. Practicing being brave in small and big ways gives my life meaning and orients me towards others and the common humanity we all share, because if my life matters enough to me to fight for, I will have the will and the drive to fight for others.

Between finding love and acceptance through conforming or people pleasing, or pushing away and totally doing my own thing, what is emerging is a clearer more mature path that is allowing me to be myself while serving others.  By breaking free of denial and co-dependence and by cultivating healthy self-esteem and coping mechanisms, I am learning what it feels like to show up fully and authentically in my relationships (pretty vulnerable).  Balancing the ‘me’ with with the ‘we’ is no small feat, but I can see no better or meaningful use of my time. I believe the greater whole depends on our individual acts of clarity and bravery, and that culture is changed through these actions that remind us of who we are: interconnected.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

We are Buddhas Becoming Human

I came to learn recently that the esteemed therapist and psycho-spiritual teacher John Welwood  passed away.   I was listening to a Sounds True podcast and when I heard this I was instantly flooded with memories of a talk/workshop that he did in 2007 called “Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships.”  It was poignant, funny, deeply process-based and totally reflective of a man who was not journeying away from the messiness of being alive, but rather finding a way to meet that messiness with curiosity and unconditional presence.

In memoriam of his life, Sounds True aired the last interview they did with him in which he stated that we are all Buddhas becoming human. I was so struck by that.  In the interview, you could hear in his voice that he was struggling- that his body was failing, yet what came through loud and clear was if we do not move towards our shadow material- the places that make us feel vulnerable and unlovable, we will never know the freedom and possibility that is on the other side of that impasse.

In “Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships,” he gave steps for moving gently towards the things that trigger us:  firstly, turn towards what is uncomfortable, acknowledge what is, allow the feelings, open the heart and finally, and finally enter into the experience fully all while allowing whatever resistance is there to be there.  This all sounds pretty easy on paper but it is probably the hardest work there is and work that requires a strong, supportive holding space, especially if we are dealing with deeply entrenched wounds/patterns that go counter to these practices.

Part of John’s message was that while a lot of us turn to spirituality for relief from our relational wounds, spiritual practice alone cannot solve our human struggles.  While meditation and yoga can provide a reprieve from over-thinking or the over-identification with the mind, if used unskilfully, these practices can become ways of bypassing the work that is necessary in creating and maintaining healthy relationships and communities.  In other words, we cannot expect spiritual practice alone to heal our relational wounds because it is only in/through relationship that we can learn how to relate!

This is where psychological practice becomes instrumental – finding healthy containers and healthy mirrors (therapy!) that can help us to work through our blind spots.  It is also where community becomes vital – a place where everyone is equal, where we practice relating to people who are different than ourselves all while understanding how our language and behaviour affect each other. While the student-teacher relationship can be helpful in certain settings, many hierarchical structures prove problematic as too often everything becomes about pleasing the teacher and then the teacher is shielded from their own work.  In light of all the abuses that have been exposed in spiritual circles, what feels necessary, if we are to come together honestly, is to do it on our own terms with healthy boundaries that help everyone feel empowered and autonomous.

In the podcast, John talked about the crux of healing as a balance of psychological work and spiritual work.  His metaphor for love was a combination of warmth and space: letting the warmth of the sun shine on your face while feeling the vastness of the sky  – the warmth being what we get through connection and the space what we get from remembering our uprightness, or vertical connection to source.  Often, when we are looking to relationship to fulfill these two needs, we are disappointed, because no one outside of ourselves and spiritual practice can give us a sense of peace with who we are- flaws and all. Conversely, spiritual practice doesn’t always provide the warmth and human connection needed to soften our edges and perfectionistic/idealistic tendencies.

To truly thrive, we really need both spiritual and psychological practices and a veritable  treasure chest of tools that could include yoga, meditation, therapy, creativity and play in which to explore healing and wholeness. This means that being hell-bent on a vertical trajectory towards getting better or becoming enlightened is misguided. We are Buddhas becoming human and the way out is not to just rise above but also to move through experience with humility and curiosity.  Instead of regarding the body or human experience as petty or shameful, we can be touched by the messiness of life and opened by it so that we become larger more compassionate containers for the highs and lows to which none of us are immune.

Instrumental to this way of healing is self-awareness and self-love – qualities we cultivate through spiritual practice and therapeutic relationship.  The degree to which we can see what’s happening clearly and be kind with ourselves in the process is the degree to which we can grapple with our own shortcomings without losing ourselves in denial or self-flagellation.  It is also how we cultivate resilience; understanding our stumbling blocks and working with them in order to have a more expanded understanding of how things are.  By looking squarely at the things we’ve swept under the rug, we open to the true source of our awakening and come home to ourselves in the process.

This is why I appreciate teachers who are transparent.  By owning their humanity, they invite others to do the same and while many talk a good talk about ‘getting real’, it is rare to see people in positions of power who have courage to own their shadows.  Instead, spiritual bypassing, a term coined by John Welwood, allows them to avoid staying with whats uncomfortable in order to shift to some transcendent state.  Disassociation and splitting become strategies that favour magical thinking over getting down to the brass tacks of unpacking pain and suffering and while we all need hope, clinging to positivity mantras or simply pushing things away is often emblematic of being lost in delusion.

The question is why do we look outside of ourselves for the magic bullet that will solve all our woes?  Probably for the same reason that a child reaches out to a parent – to feel soothed, to feel met, to feel taken care of.  While these are all human needs, and totally normal, no person outside of ourselves can provide all the answers for us and at the end of the day, as adults, it is our responsibility to be discerning and both ask for help and learn to take care of ourselves.  I know that when I am looking to one thing as a fix-it-all for my own discomfort, I am creating more suffering for myself in the long run because eventually, all coping mechanisms break down because they are only that – ways of soothing or coping, not necessarily ways of addressing the real root of our pain.

Being with the whole uncertain, messy thing is teaching me not to try to wrap everything in a bow and to remember that things are changing all the time.  I am a mystery and so is life.  I can find the tools I need like meditation and therapy to help address the relational and spiritual challenges I have but nothing is going to take me away from the work of facing what is here and now.  The most important thing I can cultivate is compassion in the face of adversity while building a strong container for my experience so that I am able to weather the storms of life without being completely swept away.  If I can remember to love ‘the soft animal of (my) body,’ as Mary Oliver says in her poem, The Wild Geese, I can remember I am a Buddha learning to be human and relax into full-spectrum living with no parts left out.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Saying no for the bigger yes

They say that the happiest people in the world are the people who can delay gratification.  That is to say, when the child-like part of ourselves feels we need something and we need it now and we get this feeling that we will die if we don’t have it- more often than not, that is the wounded part of ourselves that is sabotaging us.  The need for love or compassion that we never learned to have for ourselves and our present circumstances becomes addiction when left unmet and this addiction takes on many overt as well as subtle forms.  For me, over my life, it has taken the form of over-spending and over-working.  I never used to be able to pass up a shoe or great dress and for better or worse, I have invested a small fortune on teacher trainings that I’ve then over-worked to pay off.

While I don’t think debt makes you a bad person, I know that at the root of living beyond my means has been my story of lack.  While I know the deeply entrenched story of ‘not-enough’ does not fade with the latest movement diploma or investment in the right jeans, for a few moments it can trick me into feeling I’m on track.  Social media and the feed-back loops around having more and being more can trick me into feeling I’m living my ‘best’ life.  And what is a best life except to live according to one’s own feeling of what is right and good in any given moment?

There is no judgement in any of this, just thinking out loud because I think a lot of us struggle with this.  Recently, I was invited to be part of something that from the outside seemed so progressive, but from the inside felt more cult-like and undermining.  The pay and the benefits did not add up to the heavy demands on my time and resources.  I suppose part of the pay-off was the feeling of having ‘made it,’ to have been asked, but I feel some of that excitement about being ‘special’ has faded.  I don’t care to be part of anything if it means I have to leave my self-respect and critical thinking at the front door.

While saying some of these things out loud may seem taboo, I think we do need to talk about them, particularly renumeration because for yoga teachers or those of us who are self-employed, money is tied to so many things – not least of all a feeling of agency in the world.  Pretending that a behaviour or system is working when it is deeply broken only leads to more denial, harm, and ultimately a feeling of powerlessness.

Thankfully, I have carved a place for myself in my work (due in small or large part to privilege!) where I can earn enough to keep my head above the water.  I make decent money for a yoga/movement teacher but that being said it is still REALLY hard to make ends meet in a city this expensive and I don’t know how single mothers earning minimum wage do it. I really don’t.

While I’ve been able to turn my ship around over the last few years by reigning in my spending and finding opportunities that feel like fair compensations for my time, I’m aware of what a privilege that is.  I’ve been able to cut back on my work schedule because I’m being more savvy about where my money and energy goes, but also because, let’s be honest, I have a partner that is also helping (big time) to pay the bills.

I can make this all about how I have gotten clear about exactly what my time is worth, where I want to put my energy and the things that really matter to me, like spending time with my family, having time to take care of myself, and having a growth mindset which is about seeing beyond survival, but it’s deeper than that. I’m talking about doing that within a system that favours you if you look a certain way (white) and come from a certain background (educated or affluent), so though I’ve worked hard, I’ve been largely privileged.

Because I don’t have to bust my ass making just enough to scrape by, I can expound on things like the importance of the investment in children.  I know that if we want to stop the cycle of addiction, we need to have the time and energy to be present to our kids, to really listen and empathize with them. But how do we do that when we feel like we’re barely getting by let alone thriving?

I think it starts with slowing down – at least for a few moments of your day to start to appreciate what you do have- even if you’re in a tight spot.  It also has to do with finding the resources that remind you of what matters – community centres, yoga studios, therapy offices or movement sanctuaries where you can actually start to feel what’s been buried in your body.  I think that can become the catalyst for unpacking some of that raw material in a loving way so that we are truly investing  in the people and things that lift us up and remind us of our worth.

I am starting to understand that if I don’t see my own worth, not only will it be hard for others to do that, but I will likely attract people who will abuse my low self-esteem and feed off (consciously or unconsciously) my willingness to sell myself short and not stand up for myself. Part of turning that around is knowing my value, seeking fair compensation and having really healthy boundaries with regard to my time and energy.

Moving out of child-parent relationship dynamics and becoming the adult I wished I always had steering the ship, is the movement toward autonomy and freedom  from cults, from co-dependence, from debt, from abusive relationships.  It starts with the ability to say no to the dangling carrot that seems to contain all the answers and trust that deep down I know what’s really good for me and to stay firm in that.  Though it may feel like all is lost in that moment of choosing what is truly wholesome and connected to my deepest values, I know all is gained: the doorway to my best life.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Starting over in any moment

A piece of wisdom that has always come as a deep relief to me is that it’s never too late to start again.  This does not even mean in grand, life-changing ways – though that too is possible.  This truth reminds me that simple yet profound shifts in attitude and perspective can be tapped into – even within a single breath.

In classes, I will sometimes say that the breath cycle mimics the life cycle.  If we rush or hold any part of it, the fullness and benefits we get from allowing the ebb and flow of thoughts, feelings and sensations are lost.  We end up creating tension and restrictions in our body; We dam up the life force that wants to flow through us more freely.

So what is the antidote to all the grasping that is largely unconscious and habitual?  I think it’s gently bringing conscious attention to the ways we hold – with great compassion, curiosity and patience – first physically and then maybe also mentally so that the body and mind can start to relax into their natural states of resilience and wholeness.  In real and practical ways, we also need external structures and support in place so that we feel safe enough for this healing process to even begin.

Safe places in which to heal are sometimes hard to come by, but they exist.  For me, they exist in my therapist’s office, they exist on my mat and they exist wherever I feel free to think, write and express myself freely without fear of being shut down, shunned or shamed. Turning on the ‘tap’ of self-expression, though scary, feels like returning to a river or a source of flow and rejuvenation that moves me out of rigidity and into kind, permissive possibility.

In Pilates, which I’ve been studying a lot lately, they say you should mobilize your joints before you stabilize them.  In other words, before we can build a new foundation, we need to be able to let go of rigidity so that the foundation we are actually building is based on what really supports a thriving, breathing, moving organism.  Then, as the Buddhists say, we can do the work of calibrating so that we’re ‘not too tight, not too loose’ which must be cultivated moment by moment as each moment requires a different response.  Optimally, there is a balanced pull of forces on our system so that we are not pulled or collapsed in any one direction. While gravity can have the effect of wearing us down if we collapse to it, it can also have the effect of making us strong if we learn to work with it to grow upright in ourselves.

Working with all the pulls around us is a real art.  Like most people, I have a hard time not playing to the extremes.  I either want to throw myself whole-heartedly into discipline and self-sacrifice or I want to bathe in a hedonistic pool of decadence and oblivion. Finding ways to inform my effort with ease while keeping a little self-awareness even in my more restful states, has been a huge step toward becoming more conscious in my choices.

It has moved me from a state of hyper-vigilance or collapse to a place of more relaxed effort which I continue to refine, allowing me to trust myself and the process more and more fully.  This Middle Way, though seemingly ‘soft’ or slower than the lightening speed of continually producing and grasping in the effort to feel ‘enough,’ for me, is truly where lasting change and happiness live-  that place between extremes that happens when we move out of being at the affect of things and start to reclaim our agency and start working skillfully with the forces surrounding us.

Recently, Moksha, the community I’ve been part of for a long time became Modo which means ‘a Place for All.’  I love that definition in the literal collective sense that all are welcome, but I also love that from an individual psycho-somatic perspective, where all parts of ourselves are allowed.  Regardless of what is showing up, if we work with it skillfully, whatever feels like the block can actually become the doorway to greater self-love, empowerment and freedom when we have the courage to keep looking with kind eyes and a courageous heart.

As I near the end of a big year of growth and look towards another massive year of possibility and change, I am trusting the skill of finding the Middle Way – out of rigidity and the extremes of pushing or collapse, into the gracious space of a strong and open heart that has the capacity to have desires and vision while holding the need for nurturing and introspection.  The capacity to stand in myself without being overwhelmed or shut down by external forces is the movement toward sovereignty and true freedom.  It means I can go anywhere and do anything while staying true to who I am – and it all begins with knowing I can start over any given moment.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Transformation: turning the shit into rich soil

I am just back from a pretty powerful time away in Costa Rica.  I was co-leading my 7th annual yoga retreat at Blue Spirit with two friends and awesome yoga teachers and as always, was cracked open to a veritable treasure chest of wisdom and deep nourishment.

To give you an idea of the contrast, we went from sub-zero Toronto temperatures- frenetic, busy energy to landing in a tropical wonderland where the oxygen-rich air hits you like a drug and the most stressful part of your day is waiting in line to get through customs, or more typically, waiting in line for your next delicious meal lovingly prepared by the wonderful staff of Blue Spirit.  The air is so moist there, my cells felt bathed in nutrients and my eyes felt sparkly and awake- able to see and take in all the wonder around me.  Everything from my digestion to my perception of myself and the world felt better, because what I was taking in was reflecting back to me my own inherent beauty and wholeness.

To be clear, I realize traveling to Costa Rica is a massive privilege and luxury that most people do not experience, but instead of feeling guilty about that, I used that understanding to tune me into profound gratitude and stress the importance of taking in  every drop of sunshine and nourishment that I received in order to pay-it-forward by coming home with a full cup.

This trip was particularly heightened by the book I was reading there: Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown.  In it, Brené talks about the willingness to step outside of what is comfortable and expected of you (in tight, limiting circles) to what is your brith right, which is owning your wild, free heart. Essentially, it is about belonging so completely to yourself that you’re able to show up fully in the world in your vulnerability without fear of being ostracized or rejected because you realize that you are the wilderness and that your belonging to this bigger human-animal family is non-negotiable; it is simply the truth of who you are.  In other worlds, while at a micro level, there are tensions and real threats of rejection at work or in social circles, at the macro level, no one can strip you of your membership from the human race- and knowing your part in the larger human struggle can be a healing balm when you feel utterly alone or disconnected.

Just before leading this retreat, I took a Vinyasa yoga intensive in which the teacher was talking about the difference between change and transformation.  A lot of us ruminated on the question and what surfaced was the idea that like compost that has changed from one material into another, once we are truly transformed, we cannot go back to the way we once were.  Once we realize, for example that are enough- fully and completely, just as we are, we can’t go back to jumping through hoops for love or approval.

This encapsulates how I feel right now in my life: clearer than I have ever been that I don’t need to shut myself down or play small to make other people feel comfortable ; That belonging to myself and showing up fully is not selfish or arrogant, but deeply inspiring because it reminds others of their own capacity to do the same.  At the same time, I am comforted in knowing that standing with myself does not mean rejecting others or not hearing feedback, it simply means not being so caught up in fitting in or being liked, that I abandon myself.

Another part of the book that deeply resonated with me was the idea that when you haven’t really worked with your own pain you do one of two things:  deny it’s there at all, which ultimately leads to your body breaking down (because the body always takes score) or you inflict your pain on others.  The only healthy alternative is to own your story- to be real about the pain that you have felt and decide how you want to move forward.  This is the essence of transformation – it’s integrative, with no parts left out.  Everything gets a place and in moving forward and you decide the shit you no longer want to carry, because it was never yours to begin with.

This is definitely a process and it doesn’t come easily, but as Brené quotes Maya Angelou:

“You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high.  The reward is great.”

On this wild, human journey full of twists and turns, I feel so grateful and deeply privileged to have had the opportunity to travel, to have had my eyes re-calibrated to the mystery and the wonder and to have had some of my feed-back loops disrupted in order to remember my wholeness.   Instead of believing in the false dichotomy that I can’t be myself and truly loved, I am choosing a love that is fiercer and more inclusive, that celebrates uniqueness and rejects the need to prove or perform in order to be enough.  I am learning that to “feed the wolf of love” in my heart is to trust in myself, embrace my struggles and transform them by owning a new narrative that acknowledges the light and the shadows- the paradoxes inherent in the human journey.  In opening to all the joys, the sorrows and the mystery I am realizing as Brené says, “no one belongs here more than you.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

What will you do with this one wild and precious life?

I’m in Spain, so I suppose that I have answered one part of my question fairly adequately.  I have created quite the life for myself- one of travel and access to a wild and wonderful variety of experiences complete with a pretty vast and interesting cast of characters that enrich the journey at every turn.  The thing is, it doesn’t really matter what it looks like on the outside if you feel scared, lost, or closed on the inside.

I recently heard Liz Gilbert say, “I have not met a single person who said they were bored that were not also boring.” That is to say that what matters most is the eyes that see, not what is seen. When we have our eyes calibrated to the mystery, the magic, the bullshit, and the deep humanity, there is a fullness, a power and a lesson in everything.

I don’t think there’s ever a time when you’re really ‘ready’ to jump in and do the wild, wonderful and outrageous things you want to do.  You just show up.  What looks pretty blissy and beautiful from the outside still has pain and uncertainty in it.  It’s just that that doesn’t become the main focus.  I think that the idea is to enjoy the process of doing the thing you love so much, that that is its own reward.  You just focus on staying open- to actually getting to the heart of it, which is that this whole beautiful, painful, messy ride is ephemeral-  we’re going to lose it sooner or later, so we might as well soak up every drop.

I’m reminded of when I was young and there seemed to be two kinds of kids: the ones who would be given a present and would keep that present -sometimes wrapped so that nothing would happen to their precious gift/toy or the ones (like me) who would rip the wrapping away to be able to use the shit out of that toy as soon as possible.

I want to use the shit out of this life.  I want to play and enjoy at a maximum level. I am a little derailed by a sense of responsibility towards others, but then I think, my greatest responsibility is to live my truest life- which also involves being a care-giver, but is not excluded to that realm of service and self-sacrifice.

Women have spent millenia taking care of everybody else’s shit while being treated as property and we now live at a time when we have a lot more opportunity.  Not only do we not need to buy into that (though there will always be critics), we have support systems – podcasts, communities, groups, programs that can help us to free ourselves and remember what lights us up.  Now, our whole lives do not have to revolve around procreation. We can live on our own terms and be creators for our own pleasure. Paradoxically, being in our power is when we are of the greatest service to others, not when we’re playing small.

I know all this, yet I struggle, as most of us do, with old conditioning – a feedback loop inside that says, who do you think you are?  The answer is child of God and if God is love, forgiveness, non-judgement, creativity, grace, transformation, then I am on quite the journey, indeed. Let us use all our brushes, let us use all the ways we can share and honour ourselves and others through art, which is the communication of the soul.  This is the deepest nourishment and sacrament.  Life’s too precious not to soak up every last drop.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Trusting the fading part of the moon

**This is a blog I wrote around Easter and didn’t publish because it didn’t feel polished enough. I’m publishing anyway, because perfectionism is the enemy of progress.**

It is Easter and it has not failed to dawn on me the parallels between the story of Christ’s resurrection and the myriad stories of death and renewal that appear in fictional and mystical texts the world over that have to do maintaining faith when we have all but given up.   Three days and three nights in the tomb, three days and three nights in the belly of the whale; David Whyte enumerates these examples and others in his powerful recorded talk, The Poetry of Self Compassion in which he reads from incredibly brave and life-affirming poets like Mary Oliver to illustrate the struggle we have with the fading aspects of ourselves.  He argues that the part of us that feels like it’s dying is not only normal, it’s necessary for growth and maturation and has its own power, just as the moon’s fading is part of its great allure and mystery.

And yet we don’t trust these natural rhythms in ourselves.  We can’t imagine in this time of needing to be constantly validated through social media that an introspective moment or period in our lives might actually serve our souls – that in the slowing down and turning inward there is a kind of gestation that occurs that allows us to evolve; Cocooning or turning inwards can be part of a recalibration process that allows us to emerge as a truer more integrated version of ourselves.

While it sounds self-indulgent, this important respect for the down times can be seen as a kind of tuning in to the ebbs and flows of life that allow us to find true resilience and happiness long-term.  In slowing down and learning to listen to and tend to our own hearts, bodies and minds, not only does our sensitivity and understanding towards our own psyches increase, we become more compassionate with other people’s processes as well.  I think real spiritual maturity begins when we can appreciate the valleys of our lives because the greatest source of our growth and awakening is there.   While it doesn’t look as powerful or exciting from the outside, these dark or quiet places are often the beginning of profound transformation.

It all seems to come back to trusting the process.

I was wearing one of my favourite shirts that illustrates the various phases of the moon at a yoga studio the other day and someone noted how pretty it was.  I said, “I love this shirt because it reminds me to appreciate all stages of the moon and all aspects of myself.” Just when I think I’m dying, that the light inside feels dim and will not return, sooner or later, that vanishing leads to a renewal.  Someone else said, “And sometimes what is not OK is the moon shining brightly.”  “Yes,” I said, “if it’s not OK when the moon is at a sliver we can equally take issue with the fullness of the moon. From critical mind, nothing is ever enough.”

Shifting the lens through which we see ourselves and everything around us allows us to acknowledge the miraculous and transient nature of everything.  Things are coming and going constantly and we can’t stop that.  No amount of exercise or will power will change the fact that sometimes the sun won’t come out, relationships will end, things and people will die.  At these times we will experience great pain and a feeling of being lost in the wilderness and that has its own information and wisdom to share with us, if we are humble enough to open to it.  It doesn’t mean that we are bad or that something is wrong.

A flower blossoms and that is beautiful, but that is just one part of its journey.  I wonder what it would be like to be curious about and truly appreciate the valleys, the shadows, the mystery as opposed to always striving for the mountain top.  It is something I am endeavouring to lean into every day-  not shaming myself for any part of the ‘cycle,’ so to speak. I am endeavouring to embrace the messier aspects of my growth, not as a sign of my unworthiness, but as proof of a life richly lived- of a deepening wisdom that wants to take root, that wants to let something die in order for something more authentic to truly live.

Instead of pushing away or grasping, I can witness this great river of change within me and all around me with a sense of wonder and gratitude. There is no end – though some things feel final.  Every breath is a chance to start again.  Life and death are just two sides of the same coin.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment