sacred sisterhoodRead Now
This weekend I was fortunate enough to get to participate in a women’s retreat here in Mancos. It was a small gathering, but a lovely event with lots of great workshops, yoga and music. What struck me most about it, though, was not the information that was covered, the personal work done or the fun that was had. What really stood out was the effect that being in a community of loving women had on every single participant. Now, if you’ve been following me for a while, you know I am a big proponent of community. It has become so exceedingly clear, especially in the wake of COVID times, that community is an absolute essential for our health and well-being as humans. Even with that as a known, however, it still blows me away how affected we all are by connecting with others in authentic and supportive ways. Like, I’m sorry, but why don’t we make time for and prioritize this? Why is this the exception in our lives rather than the rule? There are so many benefits to feeling connected to others, and, in particular, for women feeling connected to other women. Here’s just a few of the things I noticed this past weekend:
Being in a community of supportive women creates a sense of safety.
So many of us walk around with our guards up, interacting in socially-determined, normative ways, and rarely let our true and authentic selves be heard. When we are in communion with other loving women, it gives us the chance to connect to who we really are and creates an environment in which we can begin to tap into and express our deeper selves. It also provides a container to explore our edges, try out new things, be vulnerable, find our voice and root into a deeper sense of confidence and self-love. I saw so many women blossoming like flowers on the vine under these circumstances this weekend – letting parts of themselves be seen, letting wounds go, o-p-e-n-i-n-g. It was incredible and, I could see, deeply healing.
Holding space and being witnessed
There is something alchemical that happens when another human places their full attention and presence on us. We spend so much time being busy and distracted, we forget that it feeds something deep in the soul to be intentionally held and witnessed, especially when expressing something authentic and vulnerable. This weekend, I was given the opportunity to dance to a full song, being witnessed by a sister. It was, of course, intimidating at first to be watched, to feel seen, but man, once I got into it, it felt so powerful and so nourishing. We are so rarely witnessed with love in our day-to-day lives – more often it feels, we are scrutinized with judgement, envy and insecurity. We all have such a deep need to feel loved, accepted and appreciated, but, as that need is so rarely met, we armor up, close off and go out into the world with our hearts on lock down in order to protect ourselves from the wounds of others that get projected onto us. What an amazing thing it is, then, to be seen and witnessed with presence and love, to be held in our own radiance and have that reflected back to us through the eyes of another. And, what an incredibly powerful thing to be able to offer to someone else.
Creating the container for growth and transformation
As a last observation, and this is something I have been thinking about for quite some time, being in community with supportive others gives us a spring-board on which to base our own personal growth and transformation. It helps us stay in the game, stay positive and keep going. It keeps us fed so that we can continue to do the work and stops us from back-sliding or losing hope. We all need cheer-leaders, we all need those people who can remind us of how awesome we are. Being in community resources us to be able to stay on course and continue to see our own strength and brilliance as we carry on, day after day, through the obstacles and challenges that inevitably come our way.
Of course, you probably all know already that having an awesome group of friends is certainly going to benefit you and your life. I would suggest, however, that you take it a step further. Establish something intentional, maybe with friends, or maybe just with other women (or men). Something regular, anything really, as long as it supports your ability to be more fully yourself and feel good about life. Sing, dance, eat, share, create a ceremony or ritual, talk each other up, dress up, get naked, be in nature, whatever floats your boat. But do it. Make time for it. Prioritize it. This is your reminder that this IS what life is really for.
Radical AcceptanceRead Now
While it is important and useful to have a vision and know what one desires in life, it is equally important, albeit far more challenging, to accept the current version of one’s circumstances. We often wish for something different, dream of a better future and struggle against the challenges that life puts in our way in getting there. Now, don’t get me wrong here: motivation, desire and being proactive are incredibly important and necessary. When I talk about the importance of acceptance, I am not referring to becoming complacent. Rather, I think of acceptance as the opposite pole to resistance. The difference between these lies in the energy you embody in the present moment: do you feel like you are pushing against something, critical, resentful, irritated or angry? Or, can you look at the present with a sense of peace and calm, regardless of what’s happening? Of course, acceptance and peace won’t be the case all the time, we all have to freak out, at least every now and again. But, as we learn to practice acceptance, letting go of our need to control or always expecting things to go our way, we regain power over our energy and emotions, and create a much more stable (and enjoyable) place from which to live our lives.
Let’s be honest here: there are so many things that we have to deal with that we would just rather avoid. Circumstances often challenge us, triggering frustration, irritation, stress, anxiety or depression. How could this happen, we might think, or why is this happening to me?? We often overreact, letting our emotions get the better of us and using up a whole lot of energy in the process. But what would happen if instead of resisting, you let go and tried accepting. Not being ok with, feeling excited about or even wanting to deal with, but maybe, just letting it be what it is. I’ve noticed that the more I can drop into this place, though I may be very unhappy about what is happening, the better I can work through the situation and the better I feel about it in the end. It not only takes a lot of resources to go through the roller coaster of reactionary emotions, but it also places our energy firmly in a place of resistance. Think of this as trying to hold up a wall with a flood of water behind it, as opposed to letting go and floating downstream. You may not necessarily want to go where the water’s taking you, but it’s a whole heck of a lot easier, and hey, you may just end up seeing some sights along the way you would have missed otherwise. Of course, we can’t always control our reactions to things and it is important to feel and honor emotions that come up so that they don’t get stuffed down or packed away in some deep, dark corner. The trick is to let them flow through you without fanning the flames, clinging to how you think you should feel, or dropping into a place of resentment or victimhood. As things come up, let yourself feel and acknowledge your reaction and then, and most importantly, let it go. Take a pause to accept what’s happening, see if you can bring yourself to a place of surrendering (again, not as a victim, but rather to stabilize yourself to be able to deal with the situation), and then get to work cleaning up the mess. When we are in reactivity, we are ungrounded and off-balance; when we accept, we stabilize, empowering ourselves to deal with challenges from a more grounded and level-headed place.
Trust is really helpful here. If you can bring yourself to accept and surrender to what’s happening in your life, it is much easier to do so if you come from a place of knowing that all is unfolding as it should, in right timing. This takes a solid amount of trust, whether that be in a higher power, destiny, your higher self, or your soul’s path. It’s a lot easier to swallow difficulty and challenge if you can stay in the mindset that it is happening for a reason, and is not just an opportunity for the universe to laugh at your misfortune. Keeping a more expansive perspective on what is happening and why reminds us that there is meaning and opportunity in even the hardest of circumstances.
Acceptance also requires a certain amount of self-love and forgiveness. Being hard on yourself for what has or is happening to you is often a total waste of time, and generally, it gets blown out of proportion and is mostly untrue. Take my word here, there is no use in looking back and saying, why didn’t I do this or that or make that choice? Self-blame, judgement and regret are all big energy-suckers that do absolutely no good. Again, perspective is important here. Maybe things went the way they did because there was something you needed to learn. Or, and this is one of my favorite secrets of the universe, maybe things have turned out like they have because life is trying to tell you something. The thing about the universe is, it doesn’t always communicate in ways we enjoy, particularly if we have been ignoring what it’s been saying. It also has a habit of listening to us, hearing our desires and wants, and sometimes, if we don’t take action quickly enough, it takes the reins and makes it happen cowboy style – that is, wild, rough and without the comforts we might have had in mind. So, moral of the story here is this: don’t bother blaming yourself for what is happening. We all make bad choices, have poor future vision and do dumb stuff once in a while. It’s how we learn! Put on your growth mindset and remember it’s all happening for a reason.
So, what does acceptance feel like? Acceptance feels like a peaceful ease in the present moment. It feels like flow rather than resistance, surrender rather than struggle, and just being rather than charging ahead with building plans and blueprints in hand. Does it always feel joyful, happy and inspiring? Heck no. But just think of it as an energy-saving technology, reducing your power bills and allowing you to redirect all that savings into creating a future without all the irritating circumstances that are currently assailing you. Haha, just kidding, those probably won’t go away. So, might as well get busy accepting them.
Becoming aware of and addressing the unconscious patterns we hold is one of the most important ways we can contribute to, and make significant strides in, our personal growth and evolution. While there are endless areas for potential growth and change, I have been bringing particular awareness lately to the idea of empowerment and paying attention to how empowered I feel in my everyday life. As I have done so, I have seen many places I tend to give up my power, and also felt the incredible possibility for change that exists in being able to shift some of these habits. I have had a felt-sense of how, when we step into empowerment, we completely reorient to our experience, connect with our inner strength, capability and creativity, and step forward in life with a sense of trust and confidence.
Often, we are unconscious of the many ways we give up our power. It generally takes a lot less energy to become a victim than to feel empowered, so we often habitualize our helplessness. When we are stressed, we become victims of time, when we are sick, we become victims of illness, and when things aren’t going our way, we become victims of circumstances. In so doing, we give up not only our power, but our ability to create, influence or manifest the future. As a victim, life happens to us and we are no longer agents or creators in our experience.
To be clear, being empowered is not about control. We often can’t and don’t control what’s going on in our lives, regardless of how empowered we feel. Empowerment is more like a practice or a mindset: the mindset of approaching things with trust, knowing that you can handle what comes your way. It’s also about emotional sovereignty – understanding that you are in control of your emotions and reactions, regardless of what is happening around you or to you. It’s about maintaining a feeling of grounded-ness and inner strength in the face of challenge, of connecting to the warrior that says “I got this!”. When we meet life with this perspective, we remain in our power – not in control of everything that happens, but in control of our experience of what happens. This is what empowerment is all about.
It takes practice to bring yourself back to this place again and again as challenges come up. For me, it causes a shift in mind, emotions and body, providing a sense of strength and groundedness. It changes how I feel about what’s happening and influences what I see as possible in the future. Based on these shifts, and also what I know about energy and physiology, this feeling-state will cause very real changes in my body, mind and future. Feeling this way will upregulate my immune system, increasing it’s function and my defenses. It will make me energetically less vulnerable to outside influence. It will decrease my stress level, turning on healing and repair mechanisms in my body. It will increase my ability to magnetize and manifest what I desire, as I feel confident about creating the future I want. And, perhaps most altering, is that it will replace fear, worry and overwhelm with confidence and trust. It’s amazing how much energy is wasted with worry and fear, how much mental space these emotions occupy, and how much possibility is narrowed based on what we are afraid might happen. As you move into an empowered state-of-mind, you can reclaim all the space these old habits are using, and redirect it into positive movement and change. In so doing, you leave the victim behind, open up the range of possibility, shift the trajectory of your life, and become a proactive participant and creator of your own life.
Stepping into empowerment changes not only our daily experience, but contributes to an important evolutionary shift that is sorely needed at this time. We are being called to make change, to heal our inner wounds and approach life with a consciousness freed from the traumas of generations past. The places where we are disempowered show us where where work needs to be done, and where there is a powerful possibility for change. Shifting your relationship to your own power will invite you into a space of healing, transformation and life-altering change that has the potential to radically alter your life. I invite you to explore what is possible.
Building a practice of joyRead Now
I don’t know about you, but for me, these late winter days can seem awfully dreary. Layer on the stresses of life, and too much time inside staring at my computer, and it’s clear that this is an important time to consciously bring more lightness and spontaneity into life. In order to maintain positivity, motivation and inspiration, I’ve recently confirmed (for myself, at least), that we need to not only take breaks, but also, find time for fun, joy and pleasure. The implications of making a practice out of experiencing joy are vast, and, in case you’ve never really thought about it, here are some of the reasons why.
We often hear about the importance of taking time to de-stress, which is certainly an important thing to do. Why stop there, though, when you can go three steps further? Making time for not only relaxing, but also intentionally experiencing joy, we step past simply supporting the body and mind, and move into nourishing the heart and inspiring the soul. Feeling joy and pleasure opens us up, energetically, physically and emotionally, connecting us to the energy of our heart and allowing us to effortlessly align with the present moment and what we are here to do and be. It takes mentalism out of the equation and reminds us what it is like to just be and feel.
We humans are blessed with the ability to use our senses to experience pleasure in the body. How often do we think of our senses in this way or leverage the power they hold to bring us joy? Think of how blissful it can be to hear a beautiful song, experience the touch of a loved one, admire a soul-inspiring piece of art, or eat a sumptuous meal. Our senses are here, not just to serve us with information, but also to nourish us with joy, to bring us into presence and to give us pleasure! Our senses are wired into the brain, triggering emotional responses, memories, and signals to our nervous and hormonal systems. Sensual enjoyment and pleasure, very literally changes our nervous system tone, gives us a dose of happy hormones, and uplifts our emotions, heart and soul.
Of course, there are many other ways to experience joy other than through our senses. Maybe you’re an exercise person or a crafter. Maybe you love to cook or dance or sing or write. Whatever it is, the things that bring us a feeling of joy inevitably connect us to who we are at our core, and offer an invitation into relationship with the soul. We tend to get so attached to roles and labels, our work and our list of accomplishments. It is important to regularly challenge these classifications, expanding beyond the confines of who we think we are, and tapping into the remembrance of our full-spectrum beingness. Each of us is uniquely inspired to express and experience life through many avenues – we are the dancer, the singer, the runner, the artist, the cook; the infinite, the unity, and the one – we are the soul expressing, and joy is a for-sure signal that we are tapping into what is personally meaningful, not just as a human, but as an infinite soul.
I have also recently been reminded of the importance of play in human life, a practice that also can bring a lot of joy. Culturally this is so under-appreciated, for both children and adults, as work is generally seen as the only way to learn or achieve anything of meaning. A look at both human history and modern research tells a different story, however, confirming that we actually learn best through play. When we occupy the body, mind and heart, are excited about and engaged in what we are doing, and participating with a sense of openness and joy, it makes sense that learning would take place effortlessly, often without even any awareness, and be integrated into the body immediately and deeply. In contrast, purely mental work is like tucking something superficially into the brain, with no meaning attached. It’s no wonder this kind of knowledge can be quickly lost.
Play is also a key way we process experiences, work with difficult emotions and decompress from stress, as any parent of a young child knows. Similar to how dreams or creative projects allow us to work-through, process and express, play takes us into the realm of imagination and fantasy, allowing a spaciousness and fluidity to explore a situation, play out troubling reactions or emotions and even feel out different possible outcomes. All of this “work” may be done without conscious awareness or in seemingly illogical ways, as the mind at play is freed from the rigidity and analysis that we often apply when thinking about our problems. Play, in addition to being useful as a processing tool, is, of course, often joyful and fun! I would love to see us all learn more and grow more through joy, pleasure, play and fun rather than suffering, struggle, challenge and adversity! If we could embrace this idea, it would be an amazing paradigm shift, for us as individuals, as well as for our culture as a whole.
Though we all vary a great deal in our relationship to joy, it is clear that there are many benefits in connecting with this emotion regularly. The true pursuit and experience of joy is one that inspires and motivates us to live life more fully: it lights up our heart and reinvigorates our passion for life, it reorients us to the present and helps free us from the limitations of our stories. As we tap into this emotion and begin to use it as a tool to augment our life, we can start to truly appreciate how integral it is in bringing a sense of wholeness, happiness and peace, and understand that, far from being a hedonistic habit, the pursuit of joy is actually a very valuable, and even necessary, element of our health and well-being. Here’s to more joy!
Expanding YOur PerspectiveRead Now
As we feel our way into the energy of the moment, it seems clear that big shifts in our thinking are required to support us as we move into the future. Our systems and structures are failing, the old, status quo ways of operating are not serving us, and many of us are being pushed towards greater and greater degrees of personal transformation. As we deal with all this change, adapting and integrating all we are experiencing on the physical, emotional and energetic levels, it becomes clear that our programming is outdated, our ingrained way of thinking about things no longer makes sense, and that real forward movement will require a pretty major overhaul in consciousness. It may be hard to imagine what this could look like, as we are so used to how we are and how we’ve been, and often, are unable to see the ways our upbringing and cultural milieu has limited and confined the grooves of thinking and behaving we drop into without awareness. In order to begin to see what and how we can shift, we need to start engaging in practices that specifically aim at shaking us out of our routines and habits, expand our thinking and open up our perspective. Until we can start seeing things differently, opening up to possibility and change, we are destined to repeat history and stay stuck in the stories of the past.
Just like exercising or eating well, taking part in practices that break us out of our normal ways of thinking and expand our perspective really should become a regular part of our self-care routines. It is a common phenomenon in modern life to regularly experience stress, dropping into survival mode on a daily basis. When we operate from this space, our perception becomes frightfully narrow, and we become used to existing in this state, cut off from creativity and innovation and only able to see the way forward that feels safest (and often, most comfortable). The options seem finite and limited, and we are very likely to act/react from old, ingrained beliefs and patterns of behavior. We literally do not have access to parts of our brain that help us think outside of immediate self-preservation. If we want to be able to consciously assess our behavior and decisions, as well as expand our perspective, stepping out of this way of being is a very necessary first step.
Once we are relaxed enough to drop in, we then can begin to explore a greater opening of consciousness. There are many ways to do this, and you can experiment to find the practices that are most effective for you. Stillness and presence help some, such as in meditation, breathwork or connecting with nature, while movement is better for others – dance, yoga, qi gong, etc. Things that alter your vibration in subtle or not-so-subtle ways can be great allies here: music, drumming, chanting, singing, ceremony, sound bath, energy healing, plant medicine. Stories and books (novels or self-help), or even podcasts can be useful, if you find the right ones. Sensual experiences, such as massage, hot soaks and physical intimacy can also play a role, relaxing and opening us up. Experiences of divinity, oneness and bliss have a particular way of breaking down the confines of the mind and connecting us to a higher vibration and bigger energy. Any practices that promote these types of feelings will help us expand, while also contributing to enjoyment and pleasure.
In addition to working with the mind-state directly, it is also important to bring great awareness to problems, decisions and/or thoughts about the future. It feels so easy, natural even, to drop into unconsciousness and make decisions based on old habits, cultural training or fear of external judgements. We often make choices without examining the real reasoning or feeling behind them, influenced mainly by limiting beliefs, fear/anxiety, worry about how we may appear to others, and unconscious habit. Catch yourself before you make a decision, head in a direction or imagine your future. Connect with your true self, rooted in your energy, and check if you are following a familiar pattern rather than inviting in possibility and change. We like to make choices that feel safe, that come from a place of practicality, duty, what we “should” do but this keeps us small, limits what is possible and leads us away from our own happiness and fulfillment. Though it can feel scary or intimidating, making decisions that feel unfamiliar and/or uncomfortable often lead us toward greater expansion.
As we begin to move from new perspectives, we start to shift, ever so slightly at first, but increasingly over time, both our own lives and the trajectory of our shared human story. As we become more accustomed to taking action freed from the confines and stories of the past, we begin to see and feel a future not just baby steps from where we are now, but huge, multi-dimensional leaps forward. This is the kind of change that is needed. The future looks, and needs to look, very different from what our past experiences might have us believe. The ways of thinking and living, the habits and standards we’ve been habituated to, the institutions that have supported us and even the skills needed to be successful in our world have shifted, and new perspectives, structures and systems are sorely needed. Through our ability to become empowered and unrestricted in our thinking, we can collectively tap into creativity, inspiration and the dream of the world waiting to be born, and find our way forward.
Embracing UncertaintyRead Now
Generally speaking, we live in a culture that likes certainty, structure and clear plans. We like to know just where we are going and what route we are going to take to get there. And, when one plan falls through, we are quick to make another (plan B!), always trying to feel in control, confidently steering the ship of our life. The problem with this, however, is that by trying to control, guide and direct at all times, we often miss the opportunity for reassessment, realignment, surprise, synchronicity and generally, allowing the universe (spirit, higher self, etc.) to have a hand in the direction of our lives. As many of us know, when we fail to listen to guidance, it often just gets louder, our lives become more challenging, and we are confronted again and again with what we are trying to avoid. While times of uncertainty can absolutely be unsettling, uncomfortable and even scary, it is important to also realize the opportunity being offered to us when the unexpected happens, our plans don’t work out or change and transition are in sight. We rarely appreciate the gifts and unique invitation that these times offer, nor do we recognize that by leaning into the discomfort, we can tap into a more expansive perspective, make more intentional decisions and live life with greater ease and flow.
As we attempt to control all the circumstances in our life, we tend to cling on to how we think things should go and, as a result, our belief about what should or could happen narrows, our perspective becomes limited and we attach to a desired outcome. As we do this, we also disengage from a sense of trust in life and fall into the habit of thinking we are the masters of our own fate. When this becomes a way of being, we begin to experience a great deal of stress when things don’t go as expected, which, as we all know, is a common occurrence. Life is always changeable and unpredictable, thus, we often feel stress, worry, and even panic.
On the other side of the spectrum, if we stop trying to control and allow our lives to unfold with a sense of trust, we no longer have stress and worry as our constant companions and in addition, we open up to the gift of wondering. Can you feel what a different energetic state this is? Trust and wonder – open, reflective, even magical, as opposed to control - rigid, constrained and exhausting. What if you could trust that what is happening is just right for you, even if you don’t understand why? What if you saw this change of plans as an opportunity to stop and think about what intentional choice you really want to make, or, are even feeling guided to make? If THIS can become your habit, imagine what could happen! Your perspective opens, possibility comes into your life to play and maybe, just maybe, something even better than what you were imagining could come into being. As we let go of control and force, we create space in our life for what we truly need to flow to us.
As we open up and let go of our very human agenda, we also have the opportunity to look at and reassess what seeds we are or have been planting and think about where that is taking us. Are we actually headed for what we want? Or are old wounds, limiting beliefs and feelings of duty and obligation running the show? Often, the universe comes in to shake things up when we are resisting a change we know we need, but are scared or unwilling to make. When we find ourselves in transition, facing unexpected change or needing to reroute, it is often a call for redirection. What needs to shift for you to show up fully in your life, grow and move towards what you want on a soul level?
While it is certainly true that it is easy to get mired in indecision, and, uncertainty, though valuable, is not a place that you want to stay for too long, sometimes it is just the invitation needed to go deeper, drop into trust and see what surprises are in store. By opening up to exactly where you are and tuning into the present moment rather than worrying about the future, you shift your energy into a state of reflection, renewal, and even receptivity. As you resonate in this vibration, you might just find magic, surprise, synchronicity and blessing waiting for you.
As I’ve worked to distill down what my message is to the world, the phrase that keeps popping into my mind is “remembering what it is to be human”. This might sound strange – of course we are all human, here having a human experience. When I think about this phrase, however, it evokes something deeper, something foundational, ancestral and maybe even ancient. This phrase drops me into earth-consciousness. When I hold it in my mind, I can almost feel my roots going into the ground and hear the voices sharing story around the fire. For me, remembering what it is to be human means connecting to more traditional and ancestral ways of knowing and being that provide meaning and help us feel our place within the physical and spiritual world. These kinds of practices have the power to give us a profound sense of connection, and with that, allow us a true sense of self and our humanity. By participating in life in this way, we receive the antidote for the emotional and spiritual malaise that plagues modern life and find our way back to our roots, grounding into meaning, value, gratitude and joyful fulfillment.
So, what are these practices that help us remember how to be human? Some are so incredibly simple, yet have been rooted out of our daily experience, often because we are just so busy, in both body and mind. Consider the simple act of connecting to the natural world. In so doing, you open up to so many things. First, you give yourself a moment of stillness and presence in a life that is likely constantly in motion. Second, you feel your connection to the world around you – a connection that often goes unacknowledged and unappreciated, but one in which you are inextricably enmeshed everyday of your life. Third, you are likely to notice and appreciate what is around you, giving yourself the deeply nourishing and, literally, mind and body altering experience of gratitude, and maybe even reverence, awe or wonder. And fourth, if you are even a little bit open, you may begin to tune into the spiritual– both your own knowing, wisdom and guidance and the more etheric and spiritual aspects of the nature you are observing. And then, bam!, your consciousness expands and perspective shifts. All of this can happen in a moment.
Other practices that connect us to our humanness may take a bit more time, but still do not have to be complicated. I recently learned that the simple act of sitting around and gazing at a fire at night causes a chain of biochemical reactions in the body that triggers restoration and healing on many levels. Not kidding. Sharing food and singing with others can both lead to a release of oxytocin, the happy bonding hormone also released during orgasm. Walking barefoot on the earth, being around trees in a forest and exposing yourself to natural sunlight also all have profound effects on our neuro-chemistry, hormones and emotional and physical well-being.
Other ways of tapping in are slightly more involved. One of my favorites is ceremony. This is an ancient and deeply human practice that affects us on many levels. It brings us into presence. It allows us to feel seen, appreciated and connected. It gives us space to relate to and be in the spiritual. It offers a container for healing, transformation and a sense of the significance of life. It also expands our perspective and helps us see the big picture.
Many kinds of gatherings and celebrations are similarly significant in their ability to bring us together, create connections and change our perspective. Potlucks, celebrations, and seasonal festivities and gatherings, all hold us within the cycles of life and nature, giving us a sense of our place and the support that surrounds us. This is hugely important to our well-being on all levels. In addition, as we feel held and supported, we are then free to be authentic, open up and offer ourselves to others. We can do the work we are here to do and share our unique and healing light, without the need for fear, shame or hiding.
One last practice I think deserves mentioning here is the long-standing human tradition of initiation and rites-of-passage. In a world where we often feel insignificant and unseen, where we nearly always lack confidence in ourselves and our abilities, this seemingly simple yet very powerful practice offers us the opportunity to be recognized and honored, held within the container of elders and community, and hopefully challenged just enough to engender a true sense of pride and accomplishment. As we as a culture have let important transition points go by unheeded and failed to recognize each other at significant moments, we have left each other adrift in life, unclear on who or where we are. This has led to some serious ramifications as we attempt to self-initiate through unhealthy means, substituting community-supported experiences with drugs, alcohol, violence, sex and consumerism. Reconnecting with practices that challenge, value and recognize us as we move through the phases of life, holding us within the container of community, allows us to reorient to our own value and connect us to the meaning inherent in each of our lives.
Remembering what it is to be human is essentially the story of reweaving ourselves into each other and the earth, and finding a deeper and more meaningful experience of life. As we root into these practices and this process, we remember who we are, and gain an expansive perspective on what life is really all about. In so doing, being here on earth becomes a much more rewarding and fulfilling experience, which is my wish for us all. Let’s tap into the wisdom of our humanness to find new levels of richness, joy and light as we create a better world together.
Do you know what brings you joy? What makes you shine? What brings a song and a smile to your lips? The callings of the soul can be subtle, yet they are easy to recognize if we tune into the desires and longings of our heart. When we can finally hear and respond to those internal callings, following them with dedication, trust and confidence, we have learned to listen to the language of the soul. Sometimes it begins so subtly: an idea, a vision, or just a feeling. We often discount these insights as passing whims, discrediting and discarding things that don’t fit in with our lives, schedules or identities. Yet, it is these callings that can lead us in exactly the direction we are meant to go. These callings hold the seeds for our happiness and fulfillment in this life and beyond, yet, we are often in the habit of distrusting and disengaging from these messages. We are taught from a young age that we should ignore or discredit our inner voice, and follow the norms and directives of our family, peers and culture. In so doing, we perpetuate the system, model this behavior for others and keep ourselves small, confined to the limited identities we've learned to accept.
I am here to tell you that it is time to let these old ways of being go. We need to start listening to where our own wisdom wants to lead us, because, in spite of how it may look or feel, this is where our individual and collective well-being lies. Our future is not held in the limited and confined ways we have been conditioned to think and to be, or by the powers that try to define and control what we think is possible. Our future lies in the unique and full expressions of our souls, in each of us feeling connected to our creativity, passion, inspiration and joy.
I am working dutifully, day-by-day, to listen with my heart, to pay attention to things that spark excitement and joy in me. I am learning to listen to the language of my soul, to recognize those ideas and inspirations that feel enlivening and tug at me with a certain insistence, even if at the back of my mind. I'm learning to trust and to follow. Living in this way has completely changed my life and allowed me to sink so much more deeply into who I am. I truly wish the same for you. May we all open to our hearts, the soul, the source, for inspiration, clarity and guidance. May we all, in this way, contribute to a new earth, rooted in love, joy and expression. May it be so.
A theme I've come to know through working with many people on the emotional and energetic level is how much we armor, protect and try to toughen ourselves to deal with the many wounds and traumas we experience throughout life. While these are important and useful coping mechanisms for us at certain points, there comes a time when these patterns start to inhibit our growth and prevent us from connecting to who we are and what we have to share. Breaking down these walls is a process, and requires an awareness and commitment to repeatedly shifting the ingrained patterns we hold, and reprogramming our bodies and minds to react to situations in new ways.
As a starting point, we often need to teach our bodies that it is safe to let down our guard. The walls we erect to protect ourselves are also the barriers that most limit us and restrict our ability to grow, connect and self-express. The practice that I am going to offer you here is one way to feel into deeply letting go, surrendering both body and mind in order to feel the freedom of just being you. When I first did this, I went into it thinking I've done enough self-work that it wouldn't be a big deal. I was surprised to discover that when I actually set everything down, I could see the many ways I wasn't being true to myself or honoring the desires of my heart.
The practice I'm offering today goes something like this:
Lay down someplace comfortable where you won't be disturbed for awhile. Turn off your phone and add some white noise if that helps you tune in more fully. Take a moment to arrive and then take a few deep breaths. Feel the surface beneath you holding you up. Surrender all your weight to it. Breathe slowly and fully, letting the tension in your body melt away. See how much of your weight, your body holding, you can let go of. Spend a few minutes here, paying special attention to relaxing your face, neck and shoulders. Keeping a relaxed focus on your heart, start to see what you can surrender. Let go of your to-do list. Let go of your worries and fears. Let go of your expectations of yourself and other's expectations of you. Let go of your identity and labels. Give up your worries about the past and plans for the future. For just these few minutes, surrender your attachment to your family, friends, coworkers, house, and land. Imagine all these things sinking into the ground below you or floating off into the sky. As they all fall away, see what is left. You should be feeling light and empty, perhaps seeing a glow shining in your heart. In this space, what does it feel like to be you? Can you see some of the ways that you shape and mold yourself in your daily life, now that you are free? Stay in this feeling state for as long as you'd like, maybe giving yourself 10-20 minutes to really allow it to settle in. As thoughts arise, continue to surrender them, letting them also sink into the floor or float away, like there is nothing solid enough in you to hold onto them. You may also want to tune into your higher self or spiritual guidance. What if you truly surrender to them? Then what does your life look like and how do you feel?
When you are ready, bring yourself gently back into your body, and into the present moment, remembering where and who you are. As you come out of this experience, take a moment to reflect on what you might want or need to change in order to live more in alignment with the true self you experienced. Write down any insights or reflections so that you can remember and revisit them later.
As you repeat this process over time, you will not only be able to more easily connect with your true, expansive self, but will also begin to feel safer in your body and your experience, creating new emotional and energetic patterns that will give you greater freedom, allow you to grow, feel empowered and connect with others in deeper and more meaningful ways. Though it may seem paradoxical, it is only through greater surrender and vulnerability that we can find our true power.
As I’ve been engaging at deeper and deeper levels with my body’s ability to heal on the physical level, I’ve been gaining a much clearer awareness of how stress and my nervous system tone so profoundly affect my ability to heal and to rest. While this is not a new concept, really getting a sense of how it feels on a body level has given me a new appreciation for the importance of rest and balance, and helps me to realize that I need to be reminded of its significance often, in order to truly create space for it in my day-to-day life. This is a challenging awareness to stay in touch with because it opposes many ingrained habits, ways of thinking and cultural influences. If you need to be reminded too, then I offer you this: managing stress, prioritizing rest and self-care and giving your nervous system the space and time to let go has incredibly profound implications for every aspect of your life, health and emotional and spiritual wellness. This is not something to be taken lightly, or to push off and say, “yeah, I’ll have time for that later”! This needs to be a daily remembrance and a continual awareness. Our bodies, minds and souls need help, and NOW is the time.
We live in a culture of stress, of push harder and do more, of be engaged and in action at every moment. While there are opportunities to get away and unplug here and there, the majority of our lives are spent in constant motion, either physically or mentally. This has become the norm, so much so that we may not even be aware that this is our regular state-of-being. It is only in those rare moments of stillness and connection, in nature, in relationship with others, or during self-care practices, that we may actually slow down and come into presence. The problem with this is that when we are on the go all the time (or drinking caffeine or thinking about the to-do list or feeling nervousness, stress or worry), our nervous system is, at least to some degree, amped. Even though it may feel relatively mild (and we are often used to feeling this way), our body reacts by switching into survival mode. In this state, you don’t heal, you don’t digest, and you can’t regenerate or rebuild during rest. This is a big deal, and is not at all how our bodies were meant to function. As we bathe ourselves in the hormones of stress, everything but the most necessary systems, are, to some degree, shut down. This affects all of our bodily functions in an adverse way when experienced long-term. Our nervous systems require calm and rest for long stretches of time to function optimally and support our body’s natural healing and regeneration processes. This means full nights of sleep, and days where there are no to-do’s, obligations, or engagement with screens and technology.
Healing and restoration of the physical body also requires these periods of rest. We do a majority of the repair work to our tissues while we sleep, and, hormonal balance, healthy circadian rhythms and nervous system relaxation are all requirements for this healing to occur. One of the main effects of stress is that it greatly decreases the functioning of our digestive system, making digestive enzymes less available, slowing down the movement of food through the digestive tract and decreasing blood flow to the digestive organs. As food sits around in the gut, there is an accumulation of waste products in the system and a proliferation of undesirable bacteria and fungus, leading to a build-up of toxicity and phlegm. Constipation, also often a result of sluggish digestion, further contributes to the toxic load in the body. This in turn overburdens the liver and leads to poor elimination of toxins and an even greater build-up of waste products. All of this causes a variety of symptoms and problems in the body, damaging the microbiome and disrupting many important physiological processes. Add to this the environmental contaminants coming in from the external world, and we are bathing in a soup of toxicity, microbes and waste products. If this state is prolonged, layers accumulate, systems become more and more compromised, and health declines. In this scenario, it is easy to see how things like dysbiosis, malabsorption of nutrients, brain fog or even auto-immune reactions could result. On the other hand, when we take the time to slow down, allowing our nervous system to relax, our bodies can digest, assimilate and clear toxins appropriately. In this scenario, the back-up of toxins is minimized and the likelihood of chronic illness decreased or prevented.
In addition to supporting digestion, being in states of restfulness and presence have a huge influence on how we feel and function emotionally, both because our physical systems are working properly, but also because of the space offered in these times for awareness, processing and integration of emotions and experiences. When we are constantly busy and thinking, there is no opportunity to reflect on, integrate, or even be aware of how we are feeling. Moments of quiet and presence give us space to check-in and deal with what needs attention, preventing the accumulation of emotional baggage and toxicity that can lead to depression, anxiety, confusion, or even, the establishment of patterns of wounding and trauma.
Coming from a Chinese Medicine point of view, I see these patterns of stress and compromised digestion in nearly every person I treat, and, commonly, with some degree of anxiety, worry or overthinking accompanying the physical symptoms. Deficiency of the spleen with a build-up of dampness and a stagnation of liver qi is an almost universal diagnosis at this point. This is, essentially, the process discussed above, where digestion is compromised, things become sluggish, and an accumulation of toxicity and waste products result. These factors, in addition to stress, damages the liver and its ability to circulate qi throughout the body. This can lead to all sorts of issues, ranging from body pain and PMS to anger, feelings of constraint, digestive pain and discomfort, muscle tension, or headaches. While each person’s expression of these patterns is unique, the underlying problem is often rooted in a similar place, namely, too much stress and weakened digestion, often coupled with poor or inappropriate diet. This is the way of our culture, and one which is having very wide-spread, detrimental effects.
It makes me wonder: could this be related to the societal and cultural issues we are experiencing in modern times? On a larger scale, what does widespread stress, under-functioning digestion, fatigue and an accumulation of toxins look like? While there are obviously many factors contributing to the state of our world, it makes sense that this could be one of them. The accumulation of waste products in our bodies, inability to clear toxins, and feeling stuck in a constant state of stress and overwhelm could certainly relate to foggy thinking, aggression, anger, and/or survivalist and overly-competitive behavior. This is a powerful lens to put on our own healing: by taking care of our bodies, we not only experience greater health, but also lay the foundation for the healing of humanity and culture. With healthy, functioning bodies, we then are able to act from a place of clarity and integrity, rooted in our own vital force.
So, how do we get there? Well, for starters, we need to recognize the patterns that keep us stuck on the hamster wheel, running from one thing to the next and regularly existing in a state of stress, overthinking and overwhelm. We need to be able to value ourselves and our time without the measuring stick of accomplishment and productivity. Then, we need to learn to prioritize and truly value rest, relaxation and presence. This could look many different ways, including just making time to rest or zone out. Taking a walk, being in nature, doing yoga or meditating, getting a massage, dancing, working out, taking a bath or spending time with someone you love are also ways to promote relaxation and support well-being. These things should become part of our everyday routine and be carried out with regularity and consistency with an appreciation for what they have to offer to us. Additionally, limiting caffeine, going to bed at a regular and reasonable time, slowing down in the daily routine and making a conscious effort to deal with stress and emotions in positive and proactive ways will further support health in all aspects of life. Upholding boundaries and saying no to invitations or obligations may also be necessary to create the space for things that fill you up and nourish your body, mind and soul. Making time for these practices is the only way to tap into the vast healing potential our bodies possess, while also helping heal the cultural patterns that keep us bound in cycles of dis-ease and overwhelm. Let’s recreate the expectations and lifestyles that do not serve us and move into living life with greater ease and joy, taking time to appreciate and honor our bodies and this incredible journey of life.
Hi! My name is Ashley and I'm a transformational healer, writer and artist. Here you will find articles on a variety of topics related to health and healing, conscious living and self-growth. Hope you enjoy!