Shame

 

I grew up Catholic and I went to Catholic schools all the way though high school. Beyond religion, my parents believed they were procuring a good education for me and my siblings. And I was getting a great education.

In shame.

Shame was how the nuns and the priests kept the exuberance of youth in line. It was how they got us to be quiet, compliant and obedient. While it kept the order as far as they were concerned, it took a toll on me; leaving a deep and indelible mark of fear and apprehension. One that said there was something inherently wrong with me anytime I did not agree with what was being offered up. Anytime I did not line up to what the status quo was demanding of me, automatically put me in the place of not just feeling wrong, but being wrong. Inherently.

To say the least, it put me at odds with myself; undercutting my self-esteem, confidence and creativity, along with undermining my sense of ease with others. For when you feel the ever-present potential of shame and it’s result, feeling inherently wrong according to another, it’s hard to let down. Hard to trust. Hard to be yourself.

It literally took me decades to unwind from all of this. Just in time, it seems, to be living through the most “shamey-ist” of times I have ever witnessed. All being played out under the banner of being politically correct, a good person, virtuous, inclusive and caring.

Look around. Somehow we have come to the place where we have allowed ourselves to be shamed into the medicine we use. Into what we put into our very bodies; whether it aligns with our beliefs, or not. Shamed into how we speak and interact with others. Called out for using an incorrect pronoun or for challenging questionable relational mores. Shamed for feeling differently. Canceled and censored across social media when we do not line up with the narrative du jour.

Worst of all, shamed for asking questions, for using common sense, for pointing out obvious discrepancies, mixed agendas and attitudes that separate.

As someone who grew up under the dark and heavy shackles of shame-based approaches, what I will tell you is this: When you shame someone, you may, for a time, coerce or scare them into behaving in a certain way. But you will never, ever, have their agreement. You will never, ever, have their heart and soul. You will never, ever, have their goodwill or genuine allegiance. You will never, ever, have the necessary checks and balances to keep those in power from doing the wrong things.

And you will never, ever, have an authentic contributor to the common good whenever you manage a person through the power of wrong. For shame destroys freedom, love of life and fellow man, creativity and authentic connection.

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe those in the position of shaming others care not for us to live in that place of sovereignty and conscious choice, but instead relish our head down, tail between our legs, obedience. Maybe they, as the nuns did, prefer keeping us afraid to question. Afraid to choose differently. Afraid to call out the harm being done.

But at some point that shame goes sideways. Always. Shame drives people into resentment, secrecy and acting out. Shame keeps a populace infantilized and reactive. You need look no further than the Catholic school kids I went to high school with. We were the craziest at partying, having sex and acting out all kinds of subversive behaviors. All the things where shame had been applied the most heavily by our “teachers.”

I propose we learn to make our choices from a mature and internal place. One connected to our heart and soul, and therefore, by its very Nature, inextricably bound to doing right by not only ourselves, but by the group as well.

As my yoga teacher once said, there is the compassion and other forms of moral behavior you put on like you would a coat because you were told to. Shamed into. And then there are the ways of living and being with others and the world born organically from within. Life-affirming behaviors and perspectives that naturally arise when you are aligned with an open heart, a clear mind and a body free from stress.

But this would take time. And a ton of personal responsibility on each of our parts. Not to mention a whole lot of courage to not allow yourself to be bullied into something by the shame police. Choosing instead, to live from a place of understanding, forgiveness, encouragement and open discourse.

I’m in. You?

Balance

 

Here we sit right at the Fall Equinox. A time of equal light and dark. One moment in time balanced on the turning of the outer Universe. Reflecting back into our own inner Universe what is possible when we align with what is most natural and true to who and what we are.

This is not easy. The human mind will take anything, even the concept of balance, and turn  it into something to commodify, sell, and then use as some impossible standard with which to beat ourselves up with.

The Truth is, there is no work-life balance. There is no magical place where everything is accounted for and taken care of. No place where you will finally have all the time, resources and energy to… fill in the blank. And there is no treatment, supplement, book or practice that will gift you with a final resting spot of eternal balance.

Instead, balance is a choice. A seasonal one. A daily one. A moment by moment one.

Balance is elusive, shifting, able to be found, unnerving, arduous and simple. Sounds like one big contradiction. That’s because it is. You cannot chase balance. You cannot make it happen. But you can cultivate the conditions for it to thrive. You can court it by inviting it into your life. You can shepherd a way of being that honors it.

Even so, you will lose it, find it and then lose it again. As my first yoga teacher said about the balancing postures, “You need to fall out of balance to know what true balance is.” That means we have to include it all. The times we feel balanced, and the times we don’t. And we have to be willing to study both, closely and intensively, to know what it takes.

What it asks of us.

That’s because balance is a living energy as opposed to something you purchase. One that cares not about your ideas, but only seeks to know itself through its opposites: Like night and day, male and female, off and on, right and wrong, good and bad, soft and hard, strong and weak, etc.

Imagine yourself as a set of balancing scales. Learn to notice which side of things you tend to fall towards. Too much busyness? Add a pinch of rest. Too much mental pushing? Add a moment of a hand over your heart. Too much talking? Be silent for once. Too much focus on others? Practice some selfishness. Too much screen time? Go outside for a breath or two.

It doesn’t take much. Just an intention to watch when the scales have tipped too far in one direction, and then being willing to add a dose of its opposite. As Ayurveda would say “Opposites balance.” So find what you do too much of, figure out its opposite and begin to weave it into your repertoire. It may never be your default or go-to, but it will go a long way to balancing your own inner light and dark.

Cleaning House

 

When I got back from being away on vacation, quite unexpectedly and with no plan ahead of time, I found myself compelled to clear everything out before I put anything away. That first afternoon back, I spent 5 hours clearing and cleaning out shelves and closets. It went by in an instant.

That urge has continued on into this week; with any spare moment being given over to organizing, consolidating, using up and passing on. I imagine this will go on for at least another week as I feel a deep inner urge that goes beyond just “getting rid of stuff.”

I know we typically associate the Spring with the season that we do our big yearly cleaning. And it’s true. After a winter, there is this welling up to clear out and air out. A kind of sweeping out the cobwebs and all of the cold and stagnant places. A necessary and practical ritual to let go of winter’s ways in order to open up to new growth.

But for me, the Fall is the season that has the greater impact in my life. Maybe it’s because as someone who went to grad school and then on to teach around an academic calendar, this time of year always feels like my New Year. My time to get clear and cleared out to get ready for what is to come.

But as the years go on, it feels much more primal and embodied than that. It feels like a necessary prerequisite for my very continued existence; both physical and spiritual. A way for me to honor what has come before, and to pare down to make way for The Great Unknown.

If you think about it, for most of our cellular memory as human beings, we had to align with the seasons. So even though we would be in the height now of the gathering time, historically it was also a time when you had better get really clear about what your stores were, and what it is that you would be carrying into the darkest and sparsest time of year.

So, while practically speaking, it may not be so true for many of us in terms of physical survival, on some level, it is. For you cannot survive or thrive when you are bogged down and filled to the brim with excess and extraneous baggage.

What would it be like for you to use this time of the year to deepen into what truly nourishes you, while eliminating what does not? This is about holding the fullness of the harvest with the knowledge that winter is coming. That means we need to make some clear and sometimes difficult decisions about what to keep and what to let go of for the sake of a more robust surviving and thriving.

For the Truth is, The Great Unknown does not suffer extravagance or thoughtlessness.

So, if you’re up for it, take time this Fall to reflect on what matters most to you. Then look at your surroundings and begin to evaluate whether what you have in your life has value to you. Or not. More pointedly, did it ever really have value to you? Even further, will it have any value to you in the future, or will it serve as a burden to your existence?

The Soul’s Transformation

 

I am watching caterpillars that have attached to my back porch make their way into their cocoons to begin their great metamorphosis into the Monarchs they will soon become. As with all that I see in the natural world, I cannot help but sense the map these displays of Creation lay out for me, and for any of us who choose to see things beyond the spoon-fed narratives of a world that would have us dull down, line up and fit in at any cost.

In other words, those of us who want something more than just standing in line waiting to die. Or be approved of. Or thought of as good people. Those of us feeling called and pulled and shaped and molded by Something that wants only for us to express our soul’s longing to create itself here in all of its glory, for all of the world to see.

This is no easy task.

Years ago, my yoga teacher said that our soul does not care about our job, our degrees or what society thinks we should be. It cares only to be itself. To do otherwise is what causes our illnesses, our discontents, our regrets and dissatisfactions. I remember thinking at the time, how very, very liberating. And how very, very terrifying!

It occurs to me for the very first time in writing this, the significance of the word “Monarch” that we say so often when referring to a butterfly. It means, A person who reigns over a kingdom. A sovereign ruler. One that holds a preeminent position or power. With a monarchy being defined as, undivided rule.

It’s all there in the name of this majestic and migratory creature that has set up shop on my back porch to begin the process of taking its maiden flight. Far greater even than traveling from North to South across a vast land mass. For the journey from being a land crawler to a winged creature of the air is truly the domain of the soul and can only happen in a sovereign and undivided being.

As I watch the metamorphosis, I am struck by the deep and profound stillness it exudes as it makes its way into its temporary shroud. One night I could literally feel the way it was turning into itself. Stilling itself. All of this internal stilling being the basis for what was to come next.

We could take a page from this lovely creature who literally embodies the blueprint for how to transform into its fullest soul-filled expression by allowing ourselves to court more stillness in our own lives. A kind of death-filled stillness that allows us to leave behind what’s done, in favor of what’s coming.

Even if we don’t know what that is. More to the point, how could we? Just as the caterpillar cannot know what is in store, our human minds cannot know what the soul has in store for us. And yet, somewhere deep within, the blueprint is all laid out for us to be that preeminent power in our own lives.

It is just waiting for us to get quiet enough to allow it to unfold.

Intentions

 

Intentions are a powerful way to focus a mind that loves to dwell in the limitations and pain of the past, along with the apprehensions and anxieties of the future. But more than anything, intentions put you into direct contact with what you really want in life. Which then puts you into direct contact with all of the ways that you undermine what it is that you really want in life.

This past year, I have bumped up my intention setting to include a monthly ritual on each new moon to get very clear about something in my life based on the astrology we are in. Basically, I am aligning myself with my own energies as well as larger Universal forces; helping me to accelerate whatever it is that I am navigating towards.

Then, I spend the following weeks bringing myself back over and over again to what I have intended. This helps me to navigate by a True North (what it is that I most want) and gives me something to align with when I have gotten off course (what it is that I don’t want).

Given the long list of distractions and addictions available in the culture at this time, without a clear intention of what you most want in Life, you will be doomed to keep repeating over and over again what is not working for you.

This month the new moon was in the sign of Virgo. I have a special feeling for this sign as it is all about the body. Not only one of my favorite topics, but the very cornerstone for everything I do in life. And this doesn’t just apply to me. We cannot be here without a body. Nor can we enjoy ourselves or have energy to create what’s important to us when we are in a body that feels like crap.

Does it not make sense then, to create a special relationship with this one body of yours?

One way to begin is to let yourself imagine what it is that you really want when it comes to your body. This month, I did that by creating an intention for myself at the new moon: May I know what it is to live in this body feeling fully blessed, loved, protected, understood and seen.

As I go through my days, I can pinpoint the moments when I am in alignment with this deep desire, and when I am not. As always, it breaks down to my state of mind. Am I in an old place when experiencing my body, an anticipated future, or am I here right now? And when I am here through the lens of the present versus the past versus the future, what is my experience like in each state when it comes to how it feels to be in this body of mine?

I will tell you something that holds true for all of us. No matter what your body is feeling or experiencing, when you are only in the present moment with what is happening, not only is the experience doable, you will find more sustenance and support than when you are imagining past or future scenarios about what it all means. Further, only when you are in your body now, as is, can you experience feeling fully blessed, loved, protected, understood and seen.

No matter what is happening.

JOY

 

I am making my rounds on our Farm; opening up the chickens, weeding the medicine garden, picking berries, noticing what is happening, and in general, just poking around. On this morning, despite what my have-to list would say I need to accomplish and in what order, I am allowing myself to be led.

This willingness takes me right to a magical moment with a hummingbird who lands on the fence before me. This alone feels incredible as it is rare that I do not see them in motion. Her stillness gives me a chance to really appreciate her little green iridescent body sparkling and shimmering in the light.

When she alights, she goes to all of the sunflowers, black-eyed susan’s and honeysuckle that is spread out before me. Given her momentary interest in yellow, I secretly hope she will mistake my sunflower tattoo for a real flower and come close enough for me to feel the beating of her wings.

In this moment, I am reminded that from an animal teacher wisdom perspective, the Hummingbird is all about Joy. As I watch in utter stillness so as to not spook her, I hear that while we all want to experience joy, it cannot be chased, grabbed, tricked, or lured in. Nor can it be bought, forced, scheduled, ordered or mandated.

It can only be allowed. Opened to. Aligned with. Invited in. 

There are no short cuts, and no one else can give it to you. Partly this is so because it is already in you, and partly because Joy is a mistress who knows her own mind and cannot be coerced to show up. Ever. Instead, she must be courted with great reverence and respect. With no agenda or expectation of her arrival, for she does not take kindly to false and showy displays, or to greedy demands.

Instead, only when the conditions are worthy of her gifts does she burst upon the scene from within. Creating an explosion in the chest that can set you to weeping over the magnitude of Joy herself. An experience like none other, that simply arises unbidden out of the most “simple” of moments.

All of this leads me to mourn the chasing we all do, based in a confusion we have succumbed to around the Nature of Joy; that innate and God-given revelation that answers not to the ego, but to the very living of Life itself. On Life’s terms.

Want more joy in your life? Court her. Slow down enough to notice. Take interest in the simplest of things; those moments in life that reflect Life, as opposed to another man-made demand. Allow yourself, for even one moment, to be without an agenda. This is not easy to do. But if you can do it for even one instant, you will have created an opening big enough for a hummingbird to fit through.

Nourishment

 

What Is Nourishing To You?

Have you ever really thought about what nourishment is, or explored it for yourself? Last night, in the monthly group I facilitate, this was the question I was exploring with some other women. The conversation we had is still reverberating with me so I thought I would continue it here.

The dictionary says that to nourish is to “support, maintain, promote the growth of.” Personally, this definition does not even come close to what the act of nourishing feels like to me when I am really doing it. The dictionary version feels too dry and disembodied to describe the deep, deep down feeling I get of being tended to in the most sacred of ways when I am really nourishing myself. 

Which is why I am proposing an exploration of your own. One that truly taps into the rich and luscious possibilities of discovering what nourishes you, along with what does not. And maybe most important of all, why you are not.

As with all things related to the health of mind, body and spirit, there is never any one-size-fits-all out there that could ever do justice to the experience of feeling fully nourished across all the changing moments of your life. To believe that would be to not only rob yourself of the greatest of experiences of learning to be more present to yourself, it would promote the rationale for believing that you are being nourished when in fact you are only accepting sloppy seconds. In other words, using sub par substitutes for what you most need and desire; believing that that is all there is for you.

So, how do you know? How can you tell whether something is truly nourishing or just some “facsimile of” masquerading as what you most need? Can anything be nourishing? Can something be nourishing in one moment, and not in another?

While I can’t answer those questions for you, you can. But the only way to do that is to learn to be in your body more and more often as you go through your day making all the decisions you need to make when it comes to that which nourishes, and that which does not. This is different then the habits you have, the thoughts you keep, the opinions of others, expert advice or what your past has to say.

Just writing that brings up how much there is when it comes to truly figuring out what is nourishing to each and every one of us. Which is why it can be easier to start by identifying the places in your life that it is not.

Nourishment is not, and never will be, a post on social media, a hashtag or a meme. It is never a way to beat yourself up or keep up with the imaginary Jones’s. It is never about medicating yourself or pleasing another.

Instead, this is a daily ritual of returning to yourself as often as you can remember to, while seeing that the choice of what you give to yourself is always yours. This takes time and practice. It also takes a lot of courage to put the pause button on long enough (despite the noise in your own mind and all around you) to connect to whether or not something or someone is feeding you. Or taking from you.

Here’s a practical way to get started. Make it a point once a day to catch yourself in a choice you are about to make. It could be eating, having a conversation, being in front of a screen, doing something on your to-do list. Pause. Ask yourself, “Does this feel nourishing to me?”

If so, keep going. If not, take note. Get curious, not judgmental. If you can, wonder to yourself, “Is there a way I can shift this to something more nourishing?” Maybe that means leaving the last bite of dessert untouched, excusing yourself from a depleting conversation, allowing yourself to be done even though the to-do list is not finished or being brave enough to disappoint another.

There is no good or bad, right or wrong here. Your only litmus test is whether or not you are honoring what you need in any given moment with something that is truly nourishing to you.

Your One Body

 

You only get one body, and you will be with that body for the rest of your life. The relationship you have with your one body will be the most enduring one of your entire embodied existence. Does it not make sense then, to cultivate a deep and trusting connection with this one body of yours? One that transcends doubts, self-loathing, fears, worries, distrust and agendas that undermine its healthy functioning, and your ability to feel good about being in a body. 

It can be easy to believe that our high rates of disease, illness and overall bodily disconnection are just the way it is now. But what if there is much, much more to this story? What if essential pieces have been left out when it comes to the basis of your health and well-being? And what if some of those missing pieces have to do with who it is that is actually responsible for your health, what your body truly needs and what it is that your symptoms are really all about? 

There is an ever-growing awakening that we have strayed too far from what is good for us, and that our current main‐stream medical approach appears to be incapable of saving us from the ill health and bodily disconnection that are far too common now, and that seem only to be accelerating; with greater levels of suffering on the rise now as we seek answers and quick fixes outside the realm of our very own embodied know-how. 

This can be hard to hear. It can feel so much easier to believe that the fixes we seek for the body will be in a piece of machinery, an expert or a pill. That what these bodies of ours need most will come in the form of something far more intelligent than these bodies of ours. Something more infallible, orderly and guaranteed. Something safe because ‘everyone’ else is doing it, or because our doctor says so. 

But what if this view is wrong? What if the reason so many of us are suffering so much in our bodies is because we have not started with what is real and true about who we are and what we most need? What if what we actually need is not complicated at all, but as simple and as close to us as our next breath? Or a well-placed question? Or a tending to one of our body’s most basic and non-negotiable needs like hydration, real food, rest, movement or connection? 

In a world that has normalized harming and mistrusting the body, sometimes even requiring this as a way to fit in, doing things differently from those around you requires great courage. We have such a powerful, survival-based need to belong that it can feel impossible to do anything but conform. To do what others are doing. To do what we are being told to do. No wonder it can feel so unsettling to trust these bodies of ours if it means doing things differently than those around us. 

But how good is it for you, or the community for that matter, to continue to go along with what does not serve the very best in you? Or that even downright violates your body’s most fundamental requirements and your trusting relationship to it? Learning to trust your own body is a lifelong process and is as basic and in the now as asking yourself throughout the day, What is my body experiencing, and what does it need?

Excerpted from my book, Trusting Your Body: The Embodied Journey of Claiming Sacred Responsibility for Your Health & Well-Being



Infinity

 

I am in the midst of one of those fake conversations with another person inside my own mind. If I’m being honest, it was less a conversation and more of a me telling them off. Even though I am “winning” the argument, it’s not going well. Why? Because it is happening in the middle of my morning practice. The very place I go to for understanding, peace, solace and did I say, Peace?

I am at war inside myself.

All my usual stuff to re-route my mind isn’t working. Frustrated, I decide to be still for a moment. Spent on trying to resolve it myself, I turn to Source and ask a question. “Can you help me figure this out?” The response, You won’t understand. This doesn’t sit well with me, so I ask “Why not?” Because you would have to see the big picture, and you can’t. Again, I don’t like the answer so I say, “I can do that. I can see the big picture.” The response, Infinity Big Picture. 

“Oh.” That I cannot do.

Here’s my takeaway. What if we knew, I mean really knew, that even though we can’t see the whole thing, that everyone was exactly where they were supposed to be (including us), doing what they are supposed to be doing, and that it was all being done, for us? Not to us.

Personally, I do believe this is true (as hard as it can be to live with that knowing all the time). But for argument’s sake, let’s say it’s not true. That this is just a bunch of New Age hooey. Would it matter? What would be the harm in agreeing to the fact that we don’t have the biggest perspective? That there is so much more than one human mind can know. That there is always way more to the story than our limited set of “facts.”

Given where we are at collectively, what would be the harm in throwing caution to the wind and admitting that we don’t know it all? That the usual stuff isn’t working and that we need a much, much bigger perspective if we are ever to have the peace of mind we all long for. Not to mention the peace we need with each other if we have any hope of being here together and not being at war with each other. Both in our minds, and in the “real” world.

(If there is even any such thing anymore given what we have constructed and agreed to.)

Simple Requests

 

I think a lot about what it means to live in a way that honors myself, while also living in harmony with others. As you can imagine, there is no shortage of opportunities for me to practice, in real time, how to actually live this.

I got another chance recently when one of the men doing some work on our farm brought his dog. When he asked me if it was okay for the dog to be here, I said, “yes.” But that was only a partial answer. I really wanted to say “Yes, as long as you keep him out of my medicine garden.”

But I didn’t. Why? Because I thought he would think I was uptight, a bitch, not a dog lover. And if I’m really being honest, it’s because I thought there was a chance he would be angry. Not because he had shown any inkling of behaving that way, but because that is an old imprint of mine: I make a reasonable request to a male and I get exploded on.

This leaves me not saying what I need to say in certain situations. And because I didn’t say what I really needed to say, when the dog did go into my medicine garden, I vacillated between seething and feeling like I didn’t have a right to seethe. This led to all kinds of unkind thoughts towards this unconscious man and his unruly dog. Which then led to unkind thoughts about myself.

It all felt terrible.

Then, I got an opening. When I had to leave a note for the men for something else, I added the part about doing their best to keep the dog out of the garden. The response? Both men profusely and sincerely apologized. No one flipped out on me. This left me able to spontaneously and naturally say to them, “I just wanted to let you know so that I would’t be secretly pissed at you and your dog.” We all laughed.

Something very old and afraid in me lifted through that honest exchange.

More than that, saying what I needed to say has allowed me to enjoy having their dog around. Interestingly enough, as I write this, he is standing outside the glass door looking in at me. Now it could be the two raw eggs I gave him this morning, but to me it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that by speaking up when I needed to, not only did I not have to live in fear or resentment, I see, once again, that every time I speak up from a place of clarity, not only am I better for it, we are all better for it.

But this takes effort, and an enormous amount of personal responsibility. We all refrain from saying what we really feel because we are afraid of the reaction we might get. What’s important to know is that any time you are trying to make a simple and reasonable request, and you are afraid to speak it, the past is in play.

That’s where the responsibility part comes in. It’s your job to run down what that is for you so that you do not project something onto another that doesn’t belong to them. The result? We learn to honor ourselves and to live in harmony with others.