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.
We hear a lot about manifestation these days, with many different ideas of how to use it to bring more of what we want into our lives. If you've ever tried it, you certainly know its no magic wand. Things don't just materialize with a mere thought. The thing I realized recently, however, is that we can harness a lot of the power of manifestation while bringing greater ease to the process simply by focusing on aligning more fully with who we truly are, rather than the often varied and scattered range of our desires. As we align more fully with our deeper truths and higher purpose, we set ourselves up to step into the flow of life and be supported by the abundance of the universe and the spiritual realm.
As we move forward on this journey through life, there is always something calling to us from deep within. It may show up as a dream, a vision or an intuitive tug towards being or doing something new or different. As you listen to and move towards those callings, there is a sense of deep satisfaction and fulfillment. You are stepping more fully into who you are and what you are here to do. While it is often easy to ignore these intuitive nudges, doing so only leads to greater confusion and dissatisfaction. The calling to be yourself and fulfill your purpose won't go away, and in fact, will only get stronger the harder you try to ignore it.
As you begin to follow your own unique path, following the voice within, you are led towards your higher self and your soul 's calling. There is a lot of power behind this alignment, as this is where your soul, spirit and the universe have been leading you. Though it is not always easy to find or stay on this path due to fear, self-doubt or limited thinking, once you are able to step onto it, it is like a powerful river carrying you forward. You are in your flow. And as you align more fully with this version of life, things will begin to flow to you because the energy of your soul and spirit, of your forward growth, of your spiritual path and the energy of the universe is then supporting you fully in moving forward. One of the great things, then, is that once you align with this path, your needs and desires become simplified. As you feel the incredible satisfaction of being fully who you are and expressing and sharing yourself and your gifts with the world, your desires align with your path, you open up to the world and the world opens up to you, and you begin to receive. This is the secret: as you live more fully in your truth, the universe aligns to support you. And as you open up and become more fully rooted and confident in who you are, you open yourself up to being able to receive in more and more powerful ways. Opening the door to abundance, to your dreams becoming manifest and to your greatest fulfillment really comes down to you just being wholly and truly who you came here to be. No apologies, no hiding, no excuses. Here's to you being you.
Despite the incredible tools and technology that, in some ways, allow us to be more connected than ever, modern life is mainly taking us towards greater states of disconnection, on several levels. The effects and repercussions of this trend are becoming clearer as we forge our way forward in unprecedented times, separated from natural and ancestral ways of living and disconnected from a natural immersion in networks of human relationship. By extricating ourselves from these ways of living and being, we not only are conducting a great experiment, placing ourselves in conditions never before experienced by the human organism, but also, we are removing ourselves from the things and places that give us a sense of comfort, safety and belonging - a sense of being at home, in ourselves, our relationships, our communities, in the natural world, and in the cosmos. In order to not only preserve, but promote, our humanness, our sense of belonging and our wellness on all levels, it is time to change our approach. It is time to come back home.
Connection is at the heart of who we are on every level. Physically, our bodies have evolved to be woven into the fabric of the natural world that surrounds us, from the very microscopic to the greatest macro level. Sun, plants, air, and water, as just a few examples, are all necessary for life and support and strengthen the body in a variety of ways, many of which are seldom recognized or consciously appreciated. The sun, while nourishing the body directly through the production of vitamins, triggering of enzymatic and neuro-chemical changes, and setting of the circadian rhythms, is also the main player in our entire food chain and supply. The plants, feeding on the sun, then feed us (and the animals we eat). We essentially eat sunlight transformed. Plants also connect us to place, provide healing and nourishment, and feed our souls through their grounded presence and expansive beauty. Through a miraculous reciprocity with plants, combined with the element of air, we are given breath, and life. We rarely appreciate what an abundant and foundational relationship we have with air. Our breath is a continual gift, and through it, we are able to not only survive, but connect more deeply with body, spirit and consciousness, affect the nervous system and calm the stress response. Water is another necessary for life, and through our connection with it, we are nourished, hydrated and cleansed on all levels.
Even beyond these more obvious and necessary relationships with nature, the power of what it provides for us as humans goes ever deeper. Think about how our souls are fed by the pure beauty and being-ness of nature: sunsets, forests, flowers, rivers, mountains, stars, moon, ocean, sky. Nothing compares. Nature provides us with the constant invitation to come into the present moment, to slow down and tune in. It constantly shows up to bring us back to ourselves, and away from our hectic, fast-paced and consumerist-driven lives. It reminds us again and again, with endless patience, that we are here, and we have all we need.
On a micro level, our relationship and interactions with nature are equally significant. Through our exchanges with air, plants, soil, water, animals and humans, we are continually exposed to and populated with the beneficial bacteria, viruses and fungi necessary for life and health. Our internal micro-environment is one of the key determinants for health and greatly affects every aspect of our being. When our microflora is out of balance, we are vulnerable to every health problem, including acute or chronic illnesses, auto-immune issues, mental/emotional imbalance, addictions, cravings, depression and anxiety. The more balanced and varied our internal ecosystem, the more robust and resilient we are, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Given that there are more micro-organism than human cells in the body, one could argue that we are simply hosts and carriers to the micro-flora that live within us, and that the general balance therein is actually the main determinant of not only our health, but also of how we feel, how we act and what we choose to do. Having a healthy internal ecosystem then becomes an issue of not only health, but also of who we are and who we want to be.
Our relationships and interactions with other humans also affect us on multiple levels, from the energetic and subconscious, to the microscopic, to the emotional and psychological. In every exchange with another, be it a hug or simply being in the same space for any period of time, there is a sharing of biological intelligence happening below our conscious awareness. We exchange not only viruses and bacteria, but genetic information regarding our emotional state and stress level, and an energetic awareness and sometimes even resonance with another’s physiologic functions (such as heart rate and blood pressure). This influx of information, both physical and energetic, not only provides an understanding of the other’s state, but also offers the opportunity for an interweaving of our beings on a foundational level. This kind of deep, instinctual communication and exchange serves many practical and evolutionary purposes, while also giving us the very real feeling of being connected to, and accepted by, those around us. In every exchange, we not only diversify our microbiome (which has been shown to serve a protective effect in terms of immunity and sickness) and receive genetic information about current conditions and threats to survival, but also are given the opportunity to empathize and deepen connection. Relating to others in these kinds of meaningful ways can lead to a cascade of neuro-chemical changes and emotions that are highly beneficial on the psychological and heart-level, promoting both emotional and physical wellness.
In addition to the one-on-one, our connection to the larger community also helps us know ourselves, find meaning in life and feel a part of the world around us. As we weave ourselves into a community, we create our place within it, define and refine our gifts, find a sense of purpose and feel a part of something greater. Looking at our history as humans, it is clear that we were never meant to be loners, physically or psychologically. We need each other, we need to relate, we need to feel purposeful, we need to be valued, we need to be loved and we need to feel like our existence has meaning. Social support and acceptance create resilience on every level. It feels good to care and be cared for, to have a place and to contribute to the lives of others. Having a solid social support structure and meaningful interpersonal connections contributes to wellness in body, mind and spirit and provides a true sense of rootedness, belonging and stability in life.
While there are many external factors that influence how connected we feel, there are also several aspects of our internal processes that affect our ability to connect and how at home we feel with ourselves. Our relationship to self is truly foundational, and colors the way we think, how we feel and how well we are able to relate to others. Unfortunately, modern life and all that comes along with it is constantly pulling our attention out of and away from our inner senses and knowing, and tends to keep us operating on a more distracted and superficial level. High levels of stress and busyness keep us running from one activity to another, and our constant connection to screens and technology prevent nearly any moments of stillness or presence. This severely limits an even base-level awareness of our thoughts, feelings, sensations or body’s messages. On a deeper level, how can we ever hope to get in touch with the callings of our soul when we can’t even hear what is presenting itself to us obviously in each moment? How can we connect to our higher self, soul’s purpose or higher guidance without moments of pause and reflection? We rob ourselves of the opportunity for clarity, wisdom, intuition and knowing by being occupied in every moment, and by relinquishing boredom and stillness for constant activity and entertainment. This go-go-go lifestyle, which is uniquely modern, also fries our nervous system and adrenals and leads to over-stimulation, reliance on addictions and substances and emotional instability – all factors which further damage our relationship to self and create discomfort and disease in the body.
Our relationship to self is also often deeply damaged by wounds to our sense of self-esteem and self-value. This may begin in childhood, as we strive to live up to the expectations and ideals of our parents, teachers and other respected adults. We set in motion patterns of people-pleasing, attention-getting and validation that end up distancing us from our true selves, serving our deeper need for acceptance and recognition but creating inauthentic ways of interacting and being in the world. In addition to this, we are also immersed in an over-arching culture of competition, scarcity and unrealistic ideals and images. Our personal sense of value wanes as we live up to ideas of how we should be, compare ourselves with those we see around us and in the media, and are affected by the criticism and judgements of an overly harsh and competitive culture. As we lose appreciation for our bodies, the value of who we are and what we are here to offer, we create deep wounds that distance us from who we are at the core, hiding away the real version of ourself and feeling unfulfilled and disconnected.
We are also often cut off from our spiritual awareness from a young age, and taught to believe only in tangible physical reality. This leads to further disconnection from the self, as we lose our sense of the expansive, energetic souls that we truly are. If we are able to reconnect to this expanded version of ourselves, we get a very different perspective about our place within the cosmos, finding greater meaning and purpose in life and tapping into new kinds of support and wisdom.
While the conditions of modern life may stack the odds against us, it is not too late to change and create new habits and ways of living that support greater health, rootedness and fulfillment. Every act of conscious reconnection begins to shift our habits and contributes to the growth of not only healthier and more balanced ways of living, but also of new personal and cultural values and priorities. Every time we connect, with ourselves, with others, with community, with nature, with spirit or with our deepest and wisest soul-self, we weave ourselves back into life, and the nourishing experience of being, truly, at home.
What feeds us as humans and provides the basis for meaning in life is our connections. Our health on all levels, our identity and our sense of value and purpose is all intertwined with how connected we feel. In these times, the foundational importance of our connections has become increasingly clear, on both a personal and a collective level, and, placing greater focus on the health of our connections is the only way we, individually and as a culture, can move forward into a healthier society, with greater wellness on all levels.
As humans, we are meant to be connected with others. We understand who we are largely in the context of how we are connected to and seen by others. Our identity, the labels we give ourselves and our sense of value is often based on the reflections of, or relationship to, those around us. I am a mother, I am a friend, I am kind, I serve and help my community. These are all reflections of how our lives are intertwined with the lives of those around us. As social beings, we need our people to not only show us who we are, but to make our lives feel meaningful, hold us within the context of our community and engage us in learning about how to interact with others, navigate social norms, customs and disagreements. Though it is rarer now than in times past, it used to be that our community helped us to see and know our roles, thereby allowing us to feel our value within the tribe. Feeling this sense of purpose, clarity and value fundamentally changes our relationship to life, and provides a greater sense of meaning, fulfillment, and worth. These are powerful affirmations in a time where we often feel unseen, undervalued and without purpose. How much unhappiness, loneliness, low self-esteem and self-injury could be alleviated if this was our experience of life?
In addition to connection with other humans, we also often don’t recognize the significance of our relationship to the earth. As beings who have evolved on this planet and, until recent times, have had a deep and intimate connection to it, we need a relationship to nature to be whole, healthy and balanced, within ourselves, and as a global culture. Throughout our history, people who lived on the land had an intimate understanding of their interrelationship with the earth and all of life. They were directly connected to the sources of their food and water and interacted daily with their environment in meaningful ways. They had a direct and significant relationship with the land they were on, with the plants and animals that surrounded them, and with the natural elements that made up their environment. Being immersed in the natural world and striving to live in harmony with it afforded a continual sense of honor, awe, gratitude and beauty that we have largely lost. Today, as we live out our lives mainly indoors, cover great distances in short periods of time and buy our food from the grocery store, our connections are lost, and with them, the significance of our relationships to what we eat, to the land and to the environment. Lettuce from a grocery store shelf has lost all the meaning and context that lettuce from our garden might hold. Nurturing the land has a much different feeling of importance when you directly see and experience your life being nurtured by it. Missing out on these connections has allowed us to distance ourselves from the effects of our consumption and lifestyles and keeps us insulated from the consequences of our actions. This disconnection has stolen meaning and purpose from our lives, as we no longer have a relationship with the very things that sustain us and give us life.
As spiritual beings, our connections to the non-physical realms also has great importance for our health, balance and sense of meaning and purpose in life. Spirit is what imbues the physical realm with significance, allows us to see the big picture, and places us within the context of a much more expansive story. One of the benefits of connecting with nature is gaining a sense of the spiritual power that the natural world possesses. Traditional cultures often recognized and honored the spirit in all things, whether rocks, waterways, animals or mountains. Viewing nature in this light drops us into a space of honor and respect and changes how we relate to and treat the things that surround us. Understanding our own spiritual nature contributes greatly to our sense of meaning as well, giving us purpose and a larger sense of our reason for being. Coming from this point of view, we can understand our lives from a whole different vantage point, and are likely to feel more positivity, acceptance and gratitude for what we experience. Being connected into the spiritual realm also gives us a greater sense of being supported and the reassurance that we are not alone as we travel through life. Through our relationship to spirit, our lives are infused with inspiration, wisdom, understanding, deep meaning and incredible soul growth, allowing us to step up into a greater life path and a new level of being.
The ways we are connected, to people, to nature and to spirit, has great implications for how we experience life. In a time where disconnection, divisiveness, isolation, depression, anxiety and disillusionment run rampant, strengthening and nurturing connections is a way to reframe our approach to health and wellness, on both the individual and cultural level. Though in ways we are more connected now than at any time in history, the ways in which we are connecting have lost depth and meaning, creating a superficial sense of relationship that fools us into thinking our needs are being met. Clearly, this is not the case for most of us, and a reexamination of our relationships at all levels is needed for true fulfillment to be possible. Creating greater connection will undoubtedly change your experience of life, while also aiding you in seeing the significance of our interconnection and viewing yourself as being embedded within the great web of life. This point of view has the power to change not only your experience, but, as others catch on, the future of our world as well.
Here are some of my favorite ways to nurture connection:
-Make time for 1-on-1. Plan dates, phone calls or special outings with people you love, especially the immediate ones: partner, kids, dear friends. Focus on developing relationships with people who bring positivity and joy into life.
-Use ceremony. This is a way to connect on all levels at once: connecting with people on a deeper level than in the day-to-day, connecting with the earth and calling in spirit.
-Make time to have quiet and go within. Strengthen your relationship with yourself, your higher knowing and guidance. This is an invaluable practice, even just for a few minutes at a time.
-Get out in nature: walk, hike, bike, swim, camp, or just be. Observe what’s around you, breathe deeply and connect.
-Build/ connect with community: offer and ask for support from those around you, start a meet-up, connect with someone new and find people with shared visions, goals or interests.
-Connect with your food: start a garden, buy from local farmers, go hunting or raise animals.
-Sit with a plant or tree. Open up to it and feel its energy.
-Tune in to the seasons, moon cycles and rhythms of nature. Bring awareness to where in the cycle you are, notice the subtle signs that things are shifting (check out my ebook for a much deeper dive into this).
May you experience deep connection, true fulfillment and expansive health in your life!
With love and blessings.
Over the course of history, ceremony has been an integral part of our development as humans. Though it may seem outdated or insignificant to the modern person, there are so many ways in which our lives are detrimentally, and often unknowingly, affected by the loss of this deeply meaningful and uniquely human practice. Ceremony gives us the opportunity to bring sacredness into our lives and has been a part of celebrations, life transitions, initiatory experiences, life commitments and times in seasonal and cultural life for millennia. Though we may not even realize we are missing it, there are so many ways that its loss affects us deeply. Until we can bring this practice back into our lives, we may be missing out on the full richness and depth of our journey through life.
One of the reasons ceremony holds such power is because of the way it calls us into full presence and intention in the moment, and brings focus, significance and an experience of the spiritual to a time or event that holds importance. How many important milestones in our lives go by without any significant recognition? Think of the kinds of problems that result from this. How can we fully experience and integrate these events when we give them no time, no attention, and no recognition? There is so much we just push aside, push through or try to ignore. What if we gave these milestones, either joyful or challenging, space to exist in our lives and in our psyches? What if we honored them for the life-altering effects that they hold, for the lessons they have to offer? Think of all the trauma we carry around as a result of simply holding onto unprocessed emotions. Ceremony offers you the opportunity to give time and space in your life to things that really matter, to allow yourself to sink into them, feel what is happening and move forward from a place of healing, acceptance, support and intention.
Ceremony is particularly helpful in honoring transitions and the changing roles we hold as we go through life. In many traditional cultures, this practice was held with great reverence. People were initiated into adulthood, parenthood, elder-hood. Their changed status was seen and honored by the community, thus helping them step into their new position in society and feel supported in doing so. The loss of these initiatory experiences has taken away so much meaning and value from our lives and has left many of us feeling lost, and without a sense of worth or belonging. We are often unable to tap into the feeling that life is sacred, meaningful and valuable and that we have an important role to play within it. Because of this, depression, anxiety, loneliness and feelings of isolation run rampant as people struggle to understand why they are here. These initiations are what gave us not only a sense of a developing self, but also embedded us within the context of our community as valuable, contributing members. What if we were celebrated as we stepped into adulthood, rather than beat up or hazed or made to feel ashamed and embarrassed about the changes our body's were going through? What if we were honored for our wisdom and life experience as we stepped into elder-hood, instead of demeaned and devalued? If we were, this life would certainly feel different.
Ceremony also allows an opportunity for deep connection that we are rarely afforded in everyday life. In traditional cultures, ceremony was one of the main ways people affirmed their interconnectedness, with both each other and with nature, and allowed people the experience of feeling valued and fully validated for who they were. When we step into ceremony, we step out of the superficialities of the everyday and enter a container that allows people to safely share their deepest emotions and most personal experiences. This creates the unique feeling of having a strong bond with those present, whether they are personally familiar or not. This shared experience offers a very different kind of interaction than we normally get in our everyday lives, and can be so meaningful for both speaker and listener, sharer and holder of space. Through this practice, people are affirmed in their feelings of connection and value and can feel supported in a much deeper and more meaningful way.
By reigniting ceremonial experience in our lives, we invite in a deeper level of connection to life, self, community, meaning and spirit. This practice heals, on both the individual, community and societal level. The ceremonies we create can be simple or complex, short or more lengthy, and need not ascribe to any religion, dogma or established faith. In modern times, though we may be short on guidance, creating any sort of meaningful ritual around an intention is all it takes to tap into the power of ceremony. Whether practiced alone or done with outside guidance, this way of connecting more deeply with our emotional and spiritual lives holds the power to give us a more whole and healed experience of life.
For more information about designing meaningful ceremonies, check out these basic resources:
The Book of Ceremony by Sandra Ingerman
Living Passages for the Whole Family by Shea Darian
There's this one fundamental belief that I've been thinking about a lot lately, as I examine and re-examine my stance on what's happening in the world right now. This belief is one on which many of my decisions and values are based and, seems to me to be so fundamental and far-reaching that it could totally transform how things are done here on earth: do you believe we are a part of nature or apart from it? Its funny that in modern life, this is even a question. In any previous iteration of life (pre-"civilization") the answer would have been unthinkable. Humans were seen to be completely and inextricably interwoven with the environment around them, dependent on the gifts it provided and in relationship with every rock, plant and animal with which they came into contact. And it wasn't just the physical elements of the world that formed the basis of these relationships, but perhaps more importantly, with the spiritual aspects of that world as well. I've thought a lot about the ramifications that the loss of this way of thinking and feeling has had on humans and the modern world, and, I have to say, the results are pretty frightening. We are drifting further and further from a framework of understanding ourselves within the context of the natural world, and, this kind of separatist thinking has had very serious consequences on the decisions that are being made in regards to our health and survival as a species. Here we are with the greatest advances in technology the world has ever seen, but with higher rates of depression, anxiety and chronic disease than ever. What's the deal? There are several ways we have missed the boat, and many of them have to do with our disconnected way of life.
-Interrelating: Our bodies, since we appeared on this planet, have evolved with the natural elements that exist here. Knowing this, I am always suspicious of anyone who tries to tell me that exposure to things that have always been a part of human life are harmful. Separating ourselves from nature has led to an us against them, war-like mentality towards elements of our natural environment. This kind of thinking has led to a lot of fear. We are afraid of exposure to the sun, afraid of being in nature, of the dark, of wild animals, and most fearful of all: germs! Yikes!
Here's the really funny thing: did you know you are actually made up of more bacteria than human cells? That's right, more of you is "germs" than you. And studies on the microbiome are now showing its relationship to nearly every function of our body, from digestion and immunity to cognitive and emotional health. And guess what? We also have a virome, wait what?!? Yes, a community of viruses that lives harmoniously, and with purpose, within our bodies. There are also uncountable numbers of viruses all the time in the air we breathe, in healthy soil and in water. We are literally immersed in a sea of them! While viruses can make us sick, they actually serve a very important biological purpose. In many ways, they are responsible for the process of evolution. Viruses are little packets of genetic information that bring us genetic updates, helping us adapt better to our environment and the stressors we are exposed to. Sometimes this poses a challenge to the body, particularly when it is out of balance. But in a healthy, balanced system, and a vast majority of the time, these updates are often asymptomatic or only result in, at worst, a mild period of adjustment.
Knowing, then, that we have a whole host of organisms living symbiotically within us, we can see our bodies reflecting the outer world by functioning as a whole ecosystem. As anyone who studies ecosystems knows, a healthy one requires a wide and wild variety of life-forms interacting in such a way as to create resilience and maintain balance. If this is true, then it is actually quite important that we expose ourselves to bacteria and viruses to create stability and maintain health! We need internal diversity, and to get it, we actually NEED to have our hands in the dirt, and we NEED to come into contact with a wide variety of humans, plants and animals! What we don't need is ultra-hygienic, lifeless environments that take away the opportunity to build up that diversity. If you can let go of the war mentality, you'll see that you are a perfect microcosm of the world around you. Make that world good and your health will follow suit.
-A life with meaning: In our modern lives, it is so amazingly common for people to struggle with anxiety, depression, loneliness and feelings of isolation. While there are undoubtedly many contributing factors, I am certain that a lot of it has to do with the way our modern lives disconnect us from what is truly meaningful. Imagine that you were part of a closely woven tribe where each person knew their role, where each was appreciated, valued and celebrated for their individual gifts. And then, on top of that, you saw yourself as deeply connected to the land where you lived and to the plants and animals that lived there. They literally feel like your extended family, so much so that you thank and honor them every day of your life. Imagine that you take place in ceremonies and rituals that give life rhythm, meaning and create a sense of deep connection and support. Imagine that life feels like a gift everyday, and yet, you have no fear of its end. Its just another step on the journey. Now, can you imagine feeling any sense of isolation, existential depression or anxiety about life while feeling deep connection, affirmation of who you are and your value, having work with a clear purpose, and supporting and being supported? Let me be clear here; I don't mean to glorify tribal life or say that that it is what we need to go back to. I'm just saying we could learn a few things from these ways of life. Feeling connected to each other and the natural world in a meaningful way seem like pretty important components of a balanced mental/emotional way of being, and we've all heard that regular states of gratitude, reverence and appreciation are practices that help us feel happier and more satisfied with life. By placing value on and incorporating these elements more fully into our experience, we are sure to see a shift in the health and emotional stability of people everywhere.
-Long-term vision: So, here we are in one of the biggest health crises in history, and yet, there is no discussion about one of the most fundamental underlying causes of it all, namely, failing human and environmental health. If we could shift into this viewpoint of being connected with nature, things would become so much simpler and more obvious. If we are a part of nature, why would we destroy it? At this point, there are so many toxins in our environment, so much destruction of natural land, and also, so much removal from these processes that we can blithely put them out of our minds and carry on with life as usual. Coming from a place of respect and honor for the natural world shifts things on such a deep level. We would change the way we eat, the way we live and the way we consume. We would support innovation that protects and restores the environment rather than breaks it down. We would require our businesses to operate sustainably and with an eye towards the future. I believe that there is more than enough creativity, technology and problem-solving skills out there to get us out of this mess we're in. But its not going to happen unless people start making it happen. Change is needed, now! Plugging back into natural ways of living and being allow us to gain back health for ourselves, and create an environment where future generations can thrive.
So, what can we take from all this? How can we make shifts that will truly impact our current situation? Maybe take a few steps back and instead of caving into the stress of the moment, think about what brought us to this pivotal point in human history. I would argue that our disconnection from nature is a key component, and contributes greatly to the atmosphere of fear, scarcity and our willingness to give away our power. Faith in the natural world and our connection to it gives a perspective that is grounded (literally), adaptive, curious and evolving (just like life), resilient (like a diverse ecosystem) and connected (just like all of us). This is where our future lies. Be held by the life around you, think about your choices and connect. Know you are a part of something much greater than yourself, because you are. The answer could be just that simple.
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!