This is the perfect time.

When the world goes topsy-turvy, it’s tempting to try and forge a sense of normalcy by sticking to old habits and trusty routines.

But if this pandemic has taught me anything it’s that now is most certainly not the time for a business-as-usual approach.

As just one example of many, if I ignore social distancing and traipse about like all is fine and dandy, I could kill someone, quite literally.

So how are we to take advantage of these challenging times?

For me, with much more time on my hands (and a great deal of that time being spent alone), I’m finding that life is a bit like an extended meditation.

And just like seated meditation, there are periods when I find myself calmly blissed out on the interconnectedness of all life…and other times when I feel like I’m crawling out of my skin with impatience, anxiety, anger, fear, [fill in the blank].

Shining light in dark places

This never-ending meditation has made some of my usually hidden patterns a wee bit more obvious.

For example, when I’m confronted with the reality that I can’t control what other people do (for instance, whether or not they socially distance) I often get angry and judgmental.

In fact, for the first week or two of quarantine, I was feeling angry and judgmental a lot.

But then I began to notice that underneath the anger was fear and vulnerability.

When those feelings arose, it felt safer to focus on how angry I was, getting all wrapped up in the self-righteous narrative, but in doing so, I essentially abandoned that part within myself that was feeling scared.

And that–the self-abandonment–is what really felt cruddy, more so than what anyone else was or wasn’t doing.

Staying hyper present with myself when these emotions arise feels a bit like cracking open a tough shell, leaving me feeling exposed, but also tenderly compassionate, aware of how connected I am to every single living being on this earth.

I’ve also found that this presence leaves me more clear-headed to focus on the choices that are actually under my control.

Curiouser and curiouser

Now is a powerful time to explore (and reinvent, should you choose) any patterns or routines in your day.

What do you typically do when you first wake up?

When you get hungry?

When you feel bored?

When you feel highly energized?

When you feel lonely?

When you feel creative?

Before you go to bed?

You certainly don’t need to examine each and every one of these elements in a single day; perhaps choose just one to go Sherlock on.

For example, if your morning routine involves getting on your phone while you brew coffee, get curious as to how these activities affect your energy, your mood, your mental clarity, your connection to your body.

Is there a practice you’ve always been wanting to do instead, like:

  • meditating for five minutes?
  • watching the sunrise while you drink your coffee?
  • weaning yourself off of coffee?
  • journaling?
  • doing a short yoga routine?

If your situation is anything like mine, you’ve been given the gift of more time and space to be introspective and purposeful.

When we get to the other side of this, I, for one, want to know that I’ve used this opportunity, not to stalwartly stick to what I know, but to change, expand, and grow.

Care to join me?

This will make you powerful

Lately, I’ve started dividing time into pre- and post-COVID life, and I’ve noticed something interesting.

Pre-COVID life, I was pretty darn good at fooling myself into thinking that I had a much larger degree of control than I actually do.

The certainty with which I made long-term plans and the breezy confidence I bestowed in their outcome looks almost quaint now.

Yet I’m not interpreting this as an indication of my utter helplessness.

Quite the contrary.

You see, I’ve also become increasingly aware of the things that I do have control over, things that, pre-COVID, were often neglected in favor of trying to control the uncontrollable.

Here’s an example.

For the first few days of self-isolation, I was checking the news every hour, compulsively texting and FaceTiming friends and family, and wandering around the house in a highly distracted state.

I tried, at one point, to pick up a book, but after reading the same paragraph five times and having zero clue what it was about, I gave up.

That’s when it really hit me: My mental health isn’t a given right now.

I have to step up and be a responsible steward of my inner state.

No one else is going to do this for me.

I could blame the state of affairs, but, while not necessarily inaccurate, this isn’t the least bit helpful.

So what can I actually control right now?

Doing my best to get good sleep.

Meditating and journaling a little every single day.

Getting in physical movement, both in my yard and indoors with the help of free fitness sites.

Reaching out to friends and family for some Zoom social time.

Regulating how often I check the news.

Try this two-step turnaround

First, identify a potential power zapper.

What things are you spending time or mental bandwidth on right now that aren’t yours to control, like:

  • Obsessing over when you’ll be able to go back to work?
  • Freaking out about people who aren’t social distancing (that one’s a biggie for me)?
  • Constantly scrolling through news feeds?

Second, choose how you’ll transmute this energy.

Choose something that truly is within your zone of ownership right now, and consciously channel the power-zapping energy into this new activity.

For example, if you find yourself going into robo-scroll mode through apocalyptic news articles, stop, take a deep breath, and decide to do a short yoga routine instead.

Or do some laundry.

Call your grandma.

Take a shower.

Meditate.

Focus on the things you can genuinely impact, one choice at a time.

Now, more than ever, we need to be conscious caretakers of our inner landscape.

So please, take care of yourself, love.

We will get through this together.

3 Ways to Keep Your Energy Strong During Crisis

As magical practitioners, working with energy and being attuned to one’s inner world is key to building magical power. 

But now, there’s an even greater need for these skills.

Globally and individually, we’re experiencing a rollercoaster of energetic highs and lows, and our inner landscape is no doubt home to a bit more double, double toil and trouble right now. 

Just as we’re all being called to do our part on a practical level to help stop the spread of COVID-19 (wash your hands, stay home if you’re sick, avoid large groups, etc), now is the time to do our part on an inner, magical level as well. 

Here are three ways to tend to your energy and inner world, aka your magical power, right now. 

1. Meditate

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a client say, “I really want to start meditating,” I’d be more loaded than Scrooge McDuck.

But, hey! Now’s a great time to start, right? 

If you’re like me, you have plenty of time where you’re just sitting around at home. Why not use it to build one of the most beneficial habits ever?

Here’s a simple meditation that’s particularly suited to our current situation. 

Even though, physically, we may be isolating and feeling more disconnected, this is a great practice for reinforcing our interconnection in a healthy, positive way. 

Find a comfy place where you won’t be disturbed for ten minutes or so. 

If you like, set a timer. This can be a nice way to alleviate some of the “Am I done yet?” fidgetiness.

Close your eyes, and connect with your breath, doing a gentle scan of your body from head to toe, breathing into any areas where you notice tension. 

Start to bring your awareness to your base, whether that’s your bum on the chair or your feet planted on the floor. Feel your connection to the earth. 

Visualize roots beginning to extend from your base, into the rich, loamy soil of the earth. They might start out as slender filaments and expand into sturdy tree roots. 

Take a few rounds of breath, and simply enjoy this feeling of connection with the greater whole and a deep sense of grounding. 

If you like, you can gently open to receive earth energy, up through your roots, allowing it to permeate each and every cell within your body. Perhaps follow this by sending love, down and out through your roots, into the earth. 

Next, begin to see web-like tendrils extending from the matrix of your personal roots, making connections with neighboring root systems, which in turn connect with their neighbors, and so on. 

Like the vast mycelial, fungal networks connecting immense stretches of forest through a living internet, feel your place within the vast living internet of your fellow beings. 

Allow a feeling of love, gratitude, peace, or any other healing emotion that arises, to build at your heart center, and then send this healing energy out through the roots, rippling through the living web to all fellow beings. 

When you’re ready, gently bring your roots back into your body, do a gentle scan once more from head to toe, setting the intention that your energy is healthy and balanced on all levels.

Wiggle your fingers and toes, and open your eyes.

2. Limit time spent mindlessly scrolling.

I know we all want to stay informed, but now is a great time to practice balance when it comes to media intake. 

I strongly suggest not hopping on a device first thing in the morning. 

Think of it as mental-emotional strength training, which we’re all going to need to get through these tense times with presence and grace. 

Use that time to start your day with some deep, intentional breaths (something we do far less than our bodies would like), and spending some time simply being present with yourself. 

When we’re scrolling through the news or Facebook, we can easily slip into robo-mode, mindlessly tapping and swiping. 

What’s worse, we often don’t realize how robo’d out we are because it feels so normal, and then we start texting and replying from that headspace. 

Now, more than ever, we really need to be present. 

We need an active connection with our larger Self, not the frightened, defensive ego, and we can’t cultivate that if we’re numbing ourselves out with chronic internet scrolling. 

So, take some time to connect with yourself in the morning, before you pick up any devices, and then, throughout the day, check in before you start scrolling. 

How am I feeling right now?

Is there anything I need right now in terms of self-care (grabbing a snack, taking a short nap, journaling, FaceTiming a loved one, etc)?

Do I really need to check the news/social media right now?

Presence is one of your most potent magical powers. 

Make sure you’re not handing it away to every little news blurb and social media post. 

3. Be mindful of internal polarization.

We see highly polarized reactions in the world around us all the time, and it gets even louder in times of crisis. 

Collectively, our egos are in a panic, and they’re grasping for certainties. 

Who’s to blame. 

Who’s right. 

Who’s wrong. 

Who’s screwing things up for the rest of us.

And on and on it goes. 

We cannot change anyone else but ourselves, so let’s start here.

What’s going on in your inner world?

Just last night, I made the decision to close down my healing practice for two weeks, maybe more.

As a self-employed business owner, this means zero money coming in. 

Is this scary? Hell yes. 

But it’s also not black-or-white. 

Thankfully, I have a partner who is still working. We have some money set aside. We have toilet paper. 

I can use this time to get some writing done, get out for my beloved solo hikes, and to simply rest, something I don’t get to do that often when I’m busy with work. 

Fear speaks to us in self-righteous extremes, whereas the intuition has a peaceful tone of calm assuredness. 

The previous two practices will make you better able to discern the difference between the two. 

Are there reasons to be afraid right now?

Sure there are.

But even when I’m afraid, I don’t want fear to be in the driver’s seat. 

It can come along for the ride, but it’s not handling the wheel. 

Stop making this power-draining mistake.

I don’t have enough time.

I can’t.

I have to.

How many times have you said any (or all) of these this week? Today?

In magic, it’s understood that words have power, but too often, we overlook all of the little “mundane” things we say, day in and day out.

Ancient Hermetic Wisdom

In Hermeticism, a body of philosophical and magical teachings named after the god Hermes, there’s a creation story that goes a little something like this:

In the beginning, was the ALL.

The ALL, as you might expect, was everything.

But the ALL got bored, you see, with sitting around being everything, so it decided to separate into the One Mind and the One Thing.

The One Mind took the form of blindingly brilliant, piercing light, while the One Thing was a dark, roiling ocean of that could take any form.

This duality led to curiosity: The One Thing wanted to know the One Mind, and vice versa. Relationship was now on the table.

The One Mind sent penetrating light rays into the enfolding waters of the One Thing, and through this union, the four elements were created.

Our Inner Magic Makers

The One Mind is mental–it’s the energy of thoughts, ideas, images, fantasties, and so on. We can liken this to the conscious self.

The One Thing is the substance that allows these mental constructs to take actual form and substance. This is equivalent to the unconscious self.

Without the interplay of both, we’d just have a bunch of ideas that go nowhere or a pile of raw material with no idea what to do with it.

But when the two are working together, they form the building blocks of existence: the four elements, which are the Magician’s tools pictured in the tarot.

From The Witches Tarot

The Power of Logos

In Genesis, this dynamic is described in a strikingly similar fashion:

The spirit of God moved over the face of the water, and through this interaction, everything we know in the world around us was created.

Here’s another interesting clue: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.

The concepts of the One Mind and the Word or Logos both speak to the conscious mind’s ability to create by defining.

Through our words, we take energy from the dark, roiling ocean of our unconscious selves, and we shape and forge that energy into our tangible, lived experience.

If we’re careless with our words, this vast source of energy will be directed in ways that might run very contrary to what we want and need.

Try this instead…

Starting today, take back your power by being mindful of these three all-too common phrases:

I don’t have enough time.

I can’t.

I have to.

Replace them with:

I’m creating plenty of time to [fill in the blank].

I’m choosing not to [fill in the blank].

I’m choosing/I get to [fill in the blank].

Even if you’re doing something you don’t particularly like, acknowledging that, in this moment, you are making the choice to be here, doing this undesirable thing (perhaps because it helps you achieve a larger goal), reclaims your power.

On the flip-side, whenever we insist that we have no choice, we drain our power away.

Do this enough, and you’ll really start to believe–and experience life as if–you have no power to choose and never enough time to go around.

Witches are mindful stewards of their personal power.

Take back yours, starting now.

Categories
witchcraft

What’s your frog song?

I was out for a sunset hike this evening, walking through one of my favorite wooded spots, when I heard something marvelous: the trilling sound of frogs singing their little hearts out.

I stood there, taking it all in: the frog symphony, the birds twittering before bed, the sound of branches creaking in the breeze, the rosy-orange light dipping behind the hillside.

In that moment, I didn’t want anything I didn’t already have. 

I wasn’t thinking about yesterday or worrying about tomorrow. 

I felt grounded in my body and right with the world.

Going outside, for me, is a surefire way of feeling more at peace, no matter if deadlines are looming, dinner’s not made, and laundry needs doing.

We all need these ports in the storm, but we don’t come with an owner’s manual–we must discover what our unique havens look and feel like for us.

Too often, we wait until we’re depleted and hanging by a thread, and then we reach for the nearest thing to help us check out: Netflix, another beer, or scrolling through our Facebook feed.

While there’s nothing wrong, necessarily, with any of these pursuits, rarely do they leave us feeling truly nourished. We might get a respite from our worries, but there’s often a nagging sensation that problems are merely lurking at the margins.

While I love me some Netflix, being in nature is different. Rather than helping me check out, it invites me to check in–with how I’m feeling, with my state of mind, with my body.

In this place, when all of my parts feel acknowledged, they start to release their attachments, tensions, and story lines. No longer clamoring for my attention, they relax into what I can best describe as a “dynamic stillness.” 

And in this state of being, while the externals of my life might be the same, I’m able to see new options and creative solutions, or simply be at ease with leaving things be.

What’s your frog song?

What’s the thing that helps you drop into who you are and feel at peace, even if only for a minute or three?

Don’t wait until crap hits the fan. Make time for your frog song today.

Categories
mind and emotions

How does Reiki work?

There are different forms of energy in the universe, Reiki being one of them.

One way to categorize energy is by its frequency, and generally speaking, energies that are in a more physical form (like the energy forming your body) are considered to be vibrating at a lower frequency.

Lower is often confused with “bad,” but this isn’t the case. When energy is vibrating at a lower frequency, the energetic particles are simply moving at a slower rate. This slowness allows these particles to get cozy with their neighbors, forming more solid-seeming structures.

You’re already well familiar with this concept. When you boil water, the water molecules move faster and faster as the temperature increases, eventually moving so fast that they travel away from their molecular neighbors in a cloud of steam. In contrast, water molecules sloooow down as they form ice, which allows the molecules to get up close and personal with each other, giving ice its solidity.

Good Vibrations

Reiki is said to vibrate at a very high frequency, and I believe this allows Reiki to enter our personal energy field and break up pockets of stagnant energy, along with causing other shifts (more on those in a minute).

One of my teachers uses this analogy: Picture a glass of water with some mud on the bottom. The water is your energy field, and the mud is the inevitable bits of ick we all pick up here and there as we’re going about our lives.

Now, imagine someone pouring a stream of clear, pure water into the glass from a pitcher. This is Reiki. As Reiki pours into the glass, it might stir up some mud, causing the water to become cloudy, but after a certain point all of the mud is flushed out and we are left with a clean glass  of water.

In a similar fashion, a Reiki treatment can temporarily stir up a little energetic “mud” during the cleansing process, causing us to become more aware after our session of issues in need of TLC, but as the mud washes away, we find ourselves feeling clear and on track, something I talk about below under Reiki’s ability to heighten awareness.

What happens as Reiki enters our energy field?

Here are a few possible mechanisms that make sense to me:

1. Changing the location of energy.

Using the above analogy, while we don’t want mud in our water glass, that very same mud would be quite welcome on the forest floor, where it acts as a fertile substrate for life. It’s all about context. Energy that doesn’t serve in one location might be just what the doctor ordered when moved to another area, and Reiki seems to have the ability to shift our energy in this way.

For example, do you ever get that nervous, butterflies-in-the-stomach sensation? For me, if I’m able to take some deep breaths and gently move that energy a little lower, into what’s known as the tanden or hara, it no longer feels anxiety producing and instead feels energizing and motivating.

2. Reintroducing movement. 

Movement is a crucial ingredient for life. On a physical level, research has shown that our individual cells need to be moved, squished, stretched, and otherwise deformed on a regular basis in order to maintain health, and a lack of movement is being implicated in numerous health issues, including cancer. We’ve evolved to move, down to the smallest structures of our biology, so it would make sense that our energy, which is the very stuff that makes up our biology, follows similar principles.

Not all movement is created equal, either. If you routinely use your shoulder in a dysfunctional way, you can stress the joint and generate wear and tear on the tissues, so it’s not enough to simply move–we must move functionally. I believe that Reiki can a) reintroduce movement to stagnant areas and b) redirect current movement into more functional patterns.

3. Heightening awareness. 

Reiki also has the ability to draw our awareness to certain aspects of our energy field (and to parts of our life), and quantum physics shows us that by observing, or becoming aware of, particles, we change them. Why would this not be the case with our personal quantum particles?

This ties into something I’ve experienced in my own life and have witnessed with clients again and again: Over leaving a Reiki treatment 100% “cured,” we often find ourselves drawn to the next step that needs to be taken in our healing journey. You might find yourself repeatedly hearing about a particular supplement or “just happen” to meet an integrative physician who specializes in the condition you’re struggling with. In my own life, regularly using Reiki seems to increase these “chance” encounters and keep me in a state of flow.

I have no doubt that the full picture of Reiki’s underlying mechanisms is much richer than this tiny sliver, but hopefully these ideas give you a little Reiki food for thought!

Want to learn more?

Check out my books:

Living Reiki: Heal Yourself and Transform Your Life

Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Reiki

Categories
mind and emotions

5 Lessons From the Forest

I could have easily made this 100 Lessons From the Forest because nature isn’t one to skimp, but I do realize ain’t nobody got time for all that, so I’ve limited myself to five. So without further ado…

1. Things change. Often faster than you think.

I can walk the same trail everyday for a month, and it will never be the same. Just this morning, I was walking on one of my regular trails, and I paused to take in what had become a favorite view over the past few months.

The view was gone.

Or, I should say, it was entirely different. Shrubs had exploded in height with seemingly preternatural speed, and what once was a grassy meadow outlook was now a grove twittering with birds.

Everything changes.

This is good to remember when you’re not exactly thrilled with your current situation (it’ll change), but it’s an equally good reminder when things are going along swimmingly (it’ll change).

Accepting this fact can inspire us to be more flexible, less controlling, and more appreciative, because whatever it is…it won’t last. Soak it up, then let it go.

2. Living on autopilot can lead to trouble.

During my last hike, I encountered four different types of snakes. None of them were venomous, but it sure was nice to confirm this before accidentally stepping on snake face. Plus, it was fascinating to watch them, something I would have missed had I been zoned out on my phone or lost in thought.

On hikes, as in life, it’s smart to pay attention lest we go sailing over a real or metaphorical cliff.

While few situations call for hypervigilance, thankfully, most of us could benefit by dialing up the care and attention paid to the life that’s unfolding in and around us.

Our choices create our life, but too often we’re so distracted that we’re unaware we’re actually choosing. Life feels like it’s happening to us, not through us, and then we wake up one day, look around, and wonder–how the hell did I get here?

Why is my health suffering? Why do I feel unsatisfied in my work? My relationships? Where did my spiritual practice go?

Pay attention. Your life is happening right here, right now. You don’t want to miss it.

3. Life (and truth) is complex.

On a forest hike, everywhere you look you see multilayered life and complex interactions that boggle the mind.

Our ego deals in certainties. It doesn’t care if its beliefs are certainly wrong. It just wants to be certain. It will strip away facts with impunity in service of whittling things down to more manageable size. 

Life, on the other hand, is much more complex, which means that, ten times out of ten, we need to take action without knowing the full story. We have to do our best with the information we have access to, and that information is always incomplete.

The good news is that, while the ego flounders in uncertain waters, the soul/higher self/whatever you like to call your inner wisdom, thrives in it.

 The soul understands through and through what Joseph Campbell meant when he said:

“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”

When we embrace this, we build the courage to take that next step, even when we don’t know where we’re headed.

And we’re less apt to judge our fellow travelers when we understand that truth is never as neat and tidy and as-we’d-like-it-to-be as the ego insists.

4. You are inherently creative.

Life is constantly creating. Flowers bloom, turtles mate right smack dab in the middle of the trail (just saw this today), birds incubate clutches of eggs, and on and on it goes.

You, my friend, are no less a part of this whirling circus of life than the flowers, turtles and birds. You are creative (whether you like it or not).

You create thoughts, which create actions, which lead to the moment-by-moment creation of your life.

I always cringe inwardly when I hear someone say, “Oh, I’m just not that creative.”

To me, this is to deny the very mechanism of existence.

When we begin to see how very creative we are, and we own this, we take responsibility for our life. We see our creative mark on everything we experience, and if the scene before our eyes isn’t quite the masterpiece we’d hoped for, we know it’s up to us to break out the palette of paints, roll back our sleeves, and get messy with the work of creating.

Like painting, practice makes progress, and the “mistakes” are often the most beautiful features of the landscape.

5. Discomfort isn’t the enemy.

We spend an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to get–and stay–comfortable.

We go out of our way to avoid uncomfortable conversations, physical sensations, thoughts, feelings, foods, people, sounds, smells, places, temperatures, and on and on it goes.

In the woods, discomfort abounds. Biting insects seem to love me best of all, thorns scrape, sun bakes, and mud cakes.

But then, just when you’re brushing off the seventh tick and untangling your shirt from a snarl of thorns, you see it. The fawn tucked away in the undergrowth, snow-colored spots and jet-black eyes. The waterfall just ’round the bend that utterly takes your breath away. The owl dozing in a tall oak, lazily swirling its head to lock your gaze.

Life is uncomfortable. It just is. But it’s also absurdly beautiful and abundantly rich.

We can spend vast amounts of time and energy trying to make life less uncomfortable, but we’ll have little to show for it besides spent time and less energy.

And discomfort comes with a gift: The realization that we can be uncomfortable and happy.

We can say yes to that difficult conversation, that annoying physical sensation, that weird smell, and when we give our resilience some space to show up, we learn how to relax. To breathe a sigh of relief that can be heard two states away.

Maybe we’re not as fragile as we thought. Hallelujah! Happiness doesn’t depend on micromanaging the discomfort away.

It was there all along, just waiting for us to stop chasing away the discomfort long enough to notice.

Categories
mind and emotions

You Know More Than You Think

Chronic confusion is a red flag.

When I’m repeatedly feeling muddled about a particular issue, I’ve learned that this is a call to look deeper, because things usually aren’t what they appear.

I see this frequently with clients, too. If someone comes in for multiple tarot readings on the same topic, rarely is this a simple matter of not being sure what to do.

What’s actually going on here?

Nine times out of ten, we know exactly what we want.

Confusion rears its ugly head when we start thinking about how our choice will affect other people, what they might think of us, and how we’re going to communicate our choice to them (and imagining all the ways this could go wrong).

These factors start to feel overwhelming, and in the mental churnings, this gets confused with not knowing what we want.

Does this sound familiar?

While I have more real-life examples of this than I could ever possibly list, here are three:

Petra has been on the fence about leaving her boyfriend for months, but when you listen between the lines, it’s clear as day that she wants to leave but doesn’t know how to tell him, doesn’t know where she’ll live after the break up, doesn’t know if their mutual friends will ditch her. 

Dan hates his job but feels like it might be worth sticking it out ’til retirement, even though he’s suffering from pretty serious health issues that seem exacerbated by work stress. When it comes right down to it, he’s not actually worried about being able to find another job–in fact, he’s already had another offer–but he’s afraid that his boss, who’s also in his social circle, will take it personally. 

Kendra’s been majoring in sociology for the past two years, and it feels like a dead end. She loves to write and feels passionate about journalism, but the thought of telling her parents about the switch is enough to give her a panic attack. Maybe she can figure out a way to do both?

Reading about someone else, it’s easy to think–duh! Just do x, y, z, but having worked with countless clients (and myself!) in similar situations, I can assure you that it rarely feels that straightforward when you’re in the hot seat.

Here’s the thing:

Chronic confusion can serve as a life-dampening cloud or a wake-up call.

It’s often a signal that we’ve reached our current limit in terms of skills or emotional resiliency, and moving through the confusion requires building ourselves up in one or both of those areas.

A common theme of all three examples above is the fear of expressing what one truly thinks, feels and needs.

The Upside is…

When we own what we know, what we feel, what we think, we can move on to addressing the actual issue.

This isn’t a matter of confusion. This is a matter of learning and applying new skills, including the skill of emotional resiliency.

Perhaps we need to refine our communication skills (Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life).

Or move away from learned habits that equate our self-worth with others’ opinions of us (Codependent No More).

Or rethink our perceptions of conflict (Conflict Is Not Abuse).

Perhaps authentic expression feels too vulnerable, and we need to build our resiliency in this area (Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection).

In matters of breakups, issues might be practical: Perhaps we’ve been outsourcing certain skills to our partner, from paying bills to making decisions, and splitting up would require us to nurture those skills in ourselves.

The approach will depend on the situation, of course, but the real issue will remain hidden so long as we distance ourselves from what we know and choose the shadow comforts of confusion.

Try This Instead

One way to clear the clouds is by asking yourself, what would I like to do in this situation if there were zero consequences for my actions?

Brainstorm, meditate, journal on this.

Honor your truth as it emerges from the chatter of the mind.

Feel what you feel.

Think what you think.

Know what you know.

You know more than you think.


If you liked this post, you might also enjoy Is That a Fact? and Allowing Things to Work.

Categories
mind and emotions

Life Lessons From My Sewing Machine

I try to stay open to wisdom from a variety of sources, but it isn’t often that I receive it from inanimate objects. Last weekend, I was working on a sewing project when–bingo! Lightning bolt of clarity.

In machine sewing, you use your hands to guide the fabric through the machine, and when I first started sewing I was what I would call an “overly agro sewer” (if your bro-speak is rusty, agro=aggressive). With my leading hand, I would actively tug the fabric forward, and with my guiding hand, I would push the fabric toward the needle. (Accomplished sewers are probably shaking their heads as they read this.)

What’s the big deal? Well, my stitches looked like crap, because most fabrics will feed into the machine just fine by themselves, thank you very much; they just need a little guidance to ensure that they don’t go veering off to the left or right.

In a similar fashion, when we’re overly pushy or pull-y in life, the seams and stitches of our days start to feel (and possibly look) like crap. For me, this manifests most often in one of two ways:

  1. “Pulling on the fabric” equates to trying to drag other people along on my plans, overriding their natural direction and rhythm. I can also drag myself along, overriding my natural direction and rhythm. (If you hear yourself using the word “should” a lot, pause and check for fabric pulling.)
  2. “Pushing on the fabric” happens when I’m trying to force situations to unfold in a way or at a pace that doesn’t feel natural.

Does this mean I need to just sit back and do nothing? Not at all, but my role is more about guiding the fabric of my life than it is about pulling or pushing it through. If I completely removed my hands from the fabric, the seam would likely start swerving and eventually get completely off track, but through the choices I make, I can guide the fabric along.

When I’m trying to decide the next step, I can be wary of options characterized by “pulling on the fabric:” trying to bring people along who either don’t want to come or who wish to travel at their own pace, as well as subjecting myself to rigid timetables or to-dos that trigger procrastination or resentment.

I can also be on the lookout for options characterized by “pushing on the fabric”: forcing events in non-organic ways. Pushing is sometimes more tricky to detect than pulling, so what do I mean by “non-organic ways”? If you’ve taken action and it’s met with continual resistance, a slow-as-molasses pace, or a rising tension in your body-mind-soul, that’s often a red flag that fabric-pushing territory is up ahead. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to throw in the towel (fabric pun!), but it could mean that:

  1. The timing is off. This could refer to “not right now–try again later” or that the pace is going to move slower than you anticipated and trying to speed things up will only create bunched seams, aka suffering.
  2. The method is off. Maybe you’ve got the right idea but you’re approaching it in a way that isn’t working. Experiment; try a different angle. Still meeting resistance? Refer back to Point 1.

Of course, there is the third possibility: This just ain’t the way to go. Not now, maybe not ever, and pushing the fabric through will only leave you with a bunched up seam (can we draw a parallel with bunched up, tense muscles?).

Guiding, as opposed to pulling or pushing, requires a flexible, responsive approach. We might set out with an idea, but as the fabric of our days moves along and we meet resistance, we have the choice to start yanking, start pushing…or adjust.

Resistance can be a very helpful reminder to pause, check in, and see if we’re forcing things, people, or ourselves to do things that don’t feel organic. When we notice this, we always have the option to return to guiding the fabric through and allowing the natural flow of life to provide the momentum, a momentum that we can then shape with our choices.

When we try to create the force of Universal Momentum on our own, it’s no wonder we feel overwhelmed and exhausted. And more to the point, it isn’t necessary, nor does it help. It just leaves us with bunched seams.

So, leave the generation of Universal Momentum to, well, the Universe, and focus your precious energy on guiding that momentum with empowered choices–choices that don’t come from a place of pushing or pulling.

Categories
mind and emotions

What is your body trying to tell you?

In my own life and in working with massage clients, I’ve noticed a pattern: When we don’t create and maintain healthy boundaries in our relationships, it seems that our bodies try to compensate by creating physical “boundaries,” which we then experience as tension, constriction, or illness.

Here are just a few examples:

  • We say yes to plans that we don’t want to do, and then we get sick and can’t go.
  • We don’t speak our truth, we agree to things we don’t actually agree with, say things we don’t mean, and we lose our voice or feel tension in our neck and jaw.
  • We feel like we have to do everything ourselves or it won’t get done, so we take on other people’s stuff and our back starts to hurt.
  • We repeatedly ignore our intuition and walk into situations we know aren’t good for us, and our knees and feet start acting up.

Our bodies are wonderfully unique, so the ways in which your body compensates could be quite different from this list, but the basic concept remains: We need healthy boundaries to exist in this world, and if we’re not setting them in our relationships, our bodies will pick up the slack.

This might sound bizarre, but you are likely familiar with a more extreme example of this: trauma. Whether it be in your own life or someone you know, it’s all too easy to see the link between a traumatic boundary violation and the body’s ability to remember and “record” this violation in the form of tension, illness, hypersensitivity to touch, etc.

While this is a massive topic, too wide ranging to completely cover here, let’s talk about a couple ways to explore this concept in your own life and in your own body.

Find the tension

For starters, get in touch with where in your body you feel tension or discomfort. Quite often, we’re so used to feeling, say, constriction in our jaw or a dull ache in our knees that we don’t even notice it anymore.

Take some time to sit, stand, or lay down, and do a body scan, slowly moving your awareness from your head to your toes, sensing any tension or pain. If this feels difficult, try tensing each part of your body individually, and notice what it feels like when you release this tension. Can you sense that your body isn’t fully releasing in any areas?

To see what hidden tension feels like, try this simple exercise. If you spend a good amount of time sitting (like most of us do these days), you might be surprised by what you find in this pose. Lay on the floor, either on carpet or some other cushioning, like a yoga mat. Bend your knees and plant your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart, heels about a foot away from your butt. An easy way to measure this is to start with your feet directly below your knees, then scooch them another 3-4″ away from your hips.

Rest your hands on your belly or down by your sides, palms facing down (don’t bring your arms above your head or up by your shoulders as this changes the stretch). Take some time to get in touch with your breathing, slowing down the inhales and exhales for at least ten rounds of breath.

Now, shift your awareness to your hips. Do you notice any tension there, any sense that something is holding on to keep your legs locked in position?

Then, try this: move your awareness to your hamstrings (the backs of your thighs), noticing the length from the backs of your knees all the way to your glutes. If you imagine letting this length elongate or soften, like a wet noodle, do you feel any resistance, maybe tension kicking in to keep your knees from falling open or collapsing inward?

Play with this for a few more rounds of breath, and when you’re ready to come out, roll onto your side and rest in fetal position for a few breaths before slowly moving up to a seated position.

Bonus: In doing this exercise, you also gave your psoas muscle a chance to release.

Play with symbolism

Once you’ve located at least one area of tension, focus your awareness there. For example, if your shoulders are tense, you might choose to close your eyes and bring your attention to your shoulders. What does tension feel like in this area–how would you describe it? Do any phrases or images come to mind, even if they don’t make sense?

Start to play with any words or phrases, any images that arise in a more figurative way. For example, if you described your shoulder tension as “shrugging,” perhaps as you turn it over in your mind, you associate this with shrugging in indecision, which then leads you to the awareness that you’ve become disconnected from what you want, think, and feel because you’re overly focused on what other people want, think and feel.

You see yourself in a situation where someone is asking you to do something, and while you don’t feel excited about it you find yourself shrugging and agreeing: “Sure, why not?”

This leads you to the realization that you don’t feel like you have a right to assert your own wants and needs, that it’s rude or selfish to do so, and you start to see how every denial of your own experience creates a little more stress, a little more tension in your shoulders until you can’t remember what it felt like to have shoulders that weren’t creeping up towards your ears, aching for a massage.

Help a body out

Of course, finding the tension and uncovering the emotional and energetic layers is just the beginning. To release that tension, you’ll need to combine physical efforts, such as bodywork and stretching, with creating boundaries in healthier ways so your body doesn’t have to do that for you.

If you continue to rely on your body to create relationship boundaries, tension will persist, regardless of how many massages or yoga classes you’ve had this month. To deepen the healing, you might try reading books about boundary setting, codependence, and healthy communication. This is a great place to start.

But like any change, you have to actually practice it and live it, not just read and think about it. Therapy is an excellent tool for unlearning unhealthy boundary patterns and learning new ways of relating to yourself and others.

If you notice that trying to set boundaries feels uncomfortable–perhaps you feel guilty or selfish when you say no–therapy can help you uncover the “rules” you learned, likely as a child, that it feels like you’re violating by setting healthy boundaries. It can help you rewrite your life rules on your own terms in a way that allows you the space to express yourself authentically.

And the more space you create in your life through healthy boundaries, the more spaciousness you will feel in your body. It’s a win-win.