A Curated Life

 

I’m in the midst, on one particular morning, of tending to the new plants, making sauce and creating medicine when it strikes me that if I was on Instagram, if I was a so-called influencer, I would be having a very different experience.

I would have changed out of my comfy clothes and chosen a perfectly curated outfit to go with the homestead/farm feel of the moment. I would be staging my morning and positioning it all just so to give you the impression of just how perfect it all was. I would do this by taking multiple pictures from different angles with multiple filters to give you the impression of a spontaneous and unplanned moment.

In the process, I would have sacrificed all of the naturally arising peace, contentment, presence and gratitude that organically arises whenever I am in alignment with what I love best. Without the pressure to post and perform, I am connected to the abundance of the natural world and to a morning where I have the precious space I need to be with what matters most to me.

This is what is being lost in our ever so carefully curated lives: A chance to be with ourselves in a way that nourishes us. So much so that even when we choose not to take that picture, to refrain from posting, is it not what we are often thinking about even if we are not acting on it? Curated lives as a performance vehicle is so insidious now that it’s with us even when we are choosing otherwise.

What strikes me as the most disastrous, the saddest, the most dangerous even, is that we haven’t considered what we are losing each and every day as we orient ourselves ever-more to allowing the screens to mediate every moment of our existence. Desperate as we are to show others something about ourselves and willing to do so at any cost.

But only after it has all been carefully, carefully curated.

In the meantime, we don’t notice that our self-esteem is in the toilet, satisfaction in our relationships plummeting, our stress accelerating, the chase for perfection never ending, with our very existence reduced down to some glam shot.

Tapping Into The Hermit Within

 

I write this blog on the day of the Winter Solstice. A time of year many of us dread because of the increased darkness with all of the scarier feelings of loneliness, low mood and more that can go with it. But there’s another way we can look at this time of year as we head into the winter season. A way of being with the much needed and seasonal rhythm of slowing down and going within as we send our energies into the roots that hold what most sustains us.

For a deeper exploration of the natural capacity to focus inward in this way, I turn to the archetype of The Hermit: The one who intentionally withdraws as a sacred act of devotion to the exploration of what lies within. The one who chooses consciously to retreat in the service of accessing and becoming more acquainted with the deep self. The one who decides to strip their existence down to the bare essentials in order to truly know themselves.

Sounds like an incredible recipe for a meaningful life. And it just might be the very antidote some of us are looking for in a world that is increasingly bent on selling us the meaningless and the superficial. A world organized around giving us the shadow side of The Hermit. That being, all of the ways that we can withdraw and check out in extraordinarily disconnected and destructive ways.

The “dark side” of The Hermit looks like socially isolating yourself; numbing out with substances, withdrawing from meaningful endeavors and connections, getting lost in the fantasy world of the screens. This is so easy to do because of all that we are bombarded with on a daily basis and because it is practically demanded of us that we “retreat” through the use of all the medications that have become the acceptable way now to withdraw in modern times. But when you truly understand the role and the power of The Hermit’s choice to withdraw, you’re more inclined to find your way back to the light-filled side of this archetype that withdraws, ultimately and always, in search of Truth.

That’s why The Hermit is never about checking out, but instead is a map for going below the surface of the conditioning, the societal pressures, the lies, the false realities, the obfuscations and the latest binge experiences being offered to us. This archetype is a direct route to reality with a capital “R.” A conscious and conscientiously chosen retreating as a way of respecting the complications and confusions of the realities of life in a body by giving yourself time out of time to align with true and life-giving versions of what this life is really all about.

This can be done formally by going away on a retreat. But it can also be something as immediate as your very own breathing, where you intentionally pause between one breath and the next in an effort to give yourself a moment’s withdrawal from the onslaught of the daily fray. You can carve out an hour for a walk, create a moment to step outside and look at the night sky, draw a bath, drive in silence or take a night off from the hypnotic and externalizing barrage of what comes out of the screens.

In so doing, your reward is great for The Hermit is the sage, the wise-one, the one who welcomes solitude and silence as the path for knowing how to be with all the seasons of Life. Even the darkest and scariest of them all.

Retreat

 

I am heading out for retreat on the day I am writing this, and it has got me thinking about a quote from Joseph Campbell. Years ago his words gave me permission to retreat; well before I could articulate what I was doing and why. The quote goes like this:

“This is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”

This is why I go away, and this is why I maintain a daily practice. Exactly because of what he wrote. The experience is not something you can read about, watch on Netflix or hear about from another. It is not always easy. It is not always popular. You run the risk of being labelled selfish or indulgent.

Most of all, you run the risk of discovering aspects of yourself that you may not want to know about. Qualities, thoughts and emotions that you have kept hidden from the world. Interestingly enough, at first it will seem like there are only dark things you keep hidden, but if you stick with it long enough, you come to see how you also hide your light, your gifts, your superpowers.

True retreat is not about distracting or indulging yourself. It is about one thing, and one thing only: Being with yourself through it all. Discovering the Truth of who and what you are. From this place, you are in a position to truly live. From this place, you are in a position to truly contribute.

Anything less is just a continuation of the same old, same old conditioning that has created the endless loop of suffering and misery we all struggle with. So why not take the chance of going off by yourself to see what there is to be discovered?

Red Flags

 

This morning I did something I almost never do. I went online before my morning practice. It’s not like it’s an ironclad rule to never do this. It’s just that I know that when I start my day in reflection, I’m a different person. Closer to who I most want to be when I begin my day by checking in, as opposed to checking out.

But the allure today towards the screen was just too strong. A friend had told me about a meditation, and I got it into my head that this would make my practice better. Deeper. That maybe this would be what I needed to get over the hump of an obstacle I had been struggling with. Maybe it would get me closer to Source?

That right there should have been a red flag. But the temptation of the one-click-away to salvation was just too strong.

Once on the site and ready to buy the fix I thought I needed, for some reason the payment wouldn’t go through. So I tried it again. And then, again. And again. Actually a bunch more times. I even walked away for a minute, and then came back to try once more.

And so it was, with some sense of loss and disappointment that I headed into my morning practice. But not with my usual sense of commitment and eager anticipation.

Yesterday, I would have told you that I am far too experienced to believe that some meditation would fill some hole. Today I would tell you, some part of me does not know better. I would tell you that this whole business of what we need, and what we think we can get immediately via the screens is very, very seductive. In such an exquisitely insidious and invisible way that there’s a good chance you won’t even know it’s happening.

Why? Because the false promise of easy access salvation to a better life with just one click, flies under the radar of the rational mind. The part of us that believes we are in charge and know exactly why we are choosing what we do. What I am describing tells another story. One where our deepest longings, those places beneath the surface of awareness that drive us without us even knowing it, are easily hijacked by what is available across a screen.

It is so sobering to experience just how vulnerable we are to the belief that what we need is out there; in someone else’s hands, in an app, some purchase, a meditation download. This morning, I am deeply humbled by the ease with which I was hooked. Equally, I am deeply grateful for the daily reminder of my morning practice. Something that caught me today before I fell too far from Truth.

That Truth being, there are no quick fixes out there. No matter what form they come in. The real Truth is, it is in us. Whatever it is that we are looking for. Do we need help? We do. But the trick is, not to confuse the help (someone else’s map) with the answer we are seeking (which can only be found in the direct knowing of our own territory).

So yes, use what’s out there to spark you. But never, ever, believe something outside of you will do for you, what only you can do for yourself.

P.S. When in doubt about where you are in all of this, be on the lookout for the compulsion that you just have to have (fill in the blank) to be okay. Use that feeling of impulsiveness on your part to have something right now, as the red flag being flown to warn you off the lie you are about to buy into.

True Power

 

I am running at the ocean’s edge on the last day of my time away, and I am struck by the immense power of the ocean as waves smash against the shore; followed by visible rip currents. I am stopped by the enormous power doing its thing right beside me. And yet, as vast and powerful as the ocean is, it is pulled and directed by Something Far Greater. Yes, the moon. But even beyond that.

And it occurs to me, “Just like us.”

The big difference being, of course, that the ocean does not draw back from its raw and wild strength. Nor does it believe itself to be more powerful than it actually is. That level of ignorance and hubris belongs solely to human beings. The only species to both negate and inflate our true powers here on Earth.

We see this in the ways we try and control every facet of the world from the weather we wish we could manage, to the weeds we try and destroy, to the bugs we don’t like, to trying to manage and control other people and other countries. We see it in all the ways that we do not know our proper place here on Earth, as we believe we are the dominators and the controllers of how the waters flow, while we engineer fake foods, genetically modify organisms and now, even our very own bodies through all of the technological ‘innovations’ we are so proud of.

The very same ones that leave us believing we are the most powerful force in the world. Even as we sicken and suffer, while spreading dis-ease everywhere we go now, we continue on course because we are after all, in charge of it all.

Simultaneous to the misplaced power we ascribe to ourselves, we fear the power that is ours, and only ours, to rightfully claim. We deny our creativity, our instincts and intuitions, our voice and what it is that makes us unique in the ‘service’ of fitting in. We sidestep speaking our truths because we imagine dangerous societal repercussions. And we do our very, very best, to make sure we never, ever, stick out too much. Never draw outside of the lines or make a wave.

And even when we do go ‘against the grain,’ how often is our behavior more of a rebellious reaction, as opposed to a true expression of our authentic power? Behavior that arises purely and organically, and that has nothing to do with anything other than an expression of our own true Nature.

Do you think that the ocean cares that it is too rough for us? Do you think it worries that we are afraid of, or inconvenienced by, its deepest and most feral contents? Do you think for even one second it stops being what it is to fit in with our beliefs about what it should be?

We would all be well-served to dig a little deeper into our truest Nature. That which is undeniably beyond opinions and reactions (ours or another’s), while coming to the realization that who we are is not between us and other people, it is between us and that which created us.

Inspired by the ocean and by Mother Teresa’s poem “Do it Anyway.” And if you would like to reclaim the healing power that resides within you, consider joining me for The Healer Within.

Hearts Are Made To Be Broken

 

Years ago I found a little hanging heart for the garden. It’s made of metal and there are two hearts within a bigger outer heart. It hangs off a pole that goes into the ground, and it moves with the wind.

Because it got broken beyond even all the repairs my husband could do, last year I got a new one. An even bigger one. But just like the first one, it got so banged up by the elements that my husband has already twice had to repair it.

When it happened the first time, I found myself saying, “My heart is broken. Can you fix it?” I immediately saw the deeper meaning behind what I was saying. As in, the world has broken my heart. Can it be fixed?

It’s not easy being human. There are so many harsh realities we must all come to face. So many ways we can be hurt. So many ways that the sensitive, loving parts of us can be broken, and driven underground. So many ways that our open-hearted innocence can be warped into anger, cynicism, fear, and victimhood.

It reminds me of something my yoga teacher once said in a training I was in when I was feeling particularly heart-centered, open, and vulnerable. He said, “The world will break your heart, but you are not your heart.” I have never forgotten these words. It is life-altering for me to know that despite how painful life can get, I am more than even the greatest of any heartbreak I will ever experience.

So now, my first little broken heart lives in the earth of my medicine garden. My newer and bigger heart swings around in the wind, shored up by my husband’s loving touch. I look at it every day out my study window as I write, or as I make my way to the chickens, while it stands imperfectly at the entrance of the path that takes people to our yurt, and I think, “Hearts are made to be broken, and the measure of a woman is how many times it can happen to her without her spirit being broken.”

What Will You Resource?

 

I am in practice this morning setting an intention for the month to come. Here in this moment, everything seems so doable. So clear. So full of possibility. And yet, I also know that when I meet up with the ways of the world, along with my own personal habits and limitations, I will have a choice to make. A choice that will feel far more difficult out there, than it does in here on my yoga mat.

That choice being: Do I do what I always do? Or do I do something else?

It is never easy “to do something else.” Our brains have a proclivity to default to the past to decide what to do. So whether it is your own personal past, or the evolutionary past of your reptilian brain, when challenged, you will always go to what you did in the past, as your first go-to. This makes good sense. Of course our brains would reference a past challenge to see what we did, and then go from there.

The problem being, that as long as we are still alive, our primal, default system believes that what we did in the past must have been successful because we’re still here. This part of our brain does not take into account the emotional and spiritual suffering we are experiencing by doing the same unsuccessful things over and over again.

There is no fighting with the most primitive parts of us. They need what they need. However, we can appeal to Something Else. For me, that always comes in the form of the Natural World.

I see this today as I make my intention, and then feel the uncertainty of being able to hold to this intention when challenged. At that very moment, the most poignant of questions arises: “When I am challenged, what will I resource?”

Instantaneously, a bird flies across my line of vision. As big as a crow, but not flying like a crow. I lose it as it lands in the trees. I find it again as it begins to beat out its rhythm. The telltale sound of the Woodpecker. I burst into tears as I realize I always have a choice as to what I will reference. Whether that be the same old unsatisfying ways or, though experienced as risky by my “past,” new ways that are more in alignment with the rhythms of my soul.

So, here’s the question: As you step forward in this day, will you resource a past that has kept you alive, or will you resource what allows you to thrive? 

Destruction and Creation

 

All around us, destruction reigns supreme. Things are breaking down, and coming apart at the seams. On any given day, there is yet another news story about what is coming to an end. Yet another personal story, yours or someone close to you, about some devastating life experience. For most of us, that spells out only one thing: pain and suffering. And while we will all have our individual reactions to what we do not want destroyed (fear, grief, anger, apathy, etc.) any of those reactions, while normal, is missing the boat. Completely.

Years ago, when I first began to reframe how I looked at the happenings of my life, I was obsessed with a tape series by Caroline Myss. I would pop one in and go for long, long walks or runs. I would sob, or rail, or be inspired, all depending on the day and what it was that I was listening to. But always, I would come back to one essential place: I did not need to be a victim any longer. What was happening (or had happened) was not being done to me. I had a choice.

This way of being was new to me, so it was moving to hear her talk about a man, who in one short day, lost everything; his wife, his business, his home, his long-term friend. Instead of crumbling, he got down on his knees, speaking to God for the first time in a long time, and basically said, “You must be trying to get my attention. What do you want me to know?” He then went on to use that level of surrender as his guiding force as he began to carve out the life he was most meant to live. All based on being open as opposed to victimized. As opposed to taking years to make use of the experiences Life was offering him, he turned it around in a day!

We in the West we have a very destructive relationship to destruction. Maybe we see things ending as as a failure, or somehow unfair; believing we are entitled to the ego’s version of Life. Collectively, we seem to feel as though we have a right to destroy in order to get whatever we want. Drunk with lust for power, greed, and control we do great harm to ourselves and others. But if you follow Universal Law, destruction is one natural and essential part of the Creation-Death-Rebirth cycle of Life. All the animals, plants and insects know this. As does the sun and the moon. The Celts and the traditions of Yoga know this. As do all indigenous people.

For anything to be created and to remain, something must die, at some point.

If we are to Create, individually and collectively, what we are truly worthy of, we must be willing to let go of all that we are not. Of all that is depleting, obscuring and distorting. Of all that has run its course. This is not something another can choose for you. Nor is it found in a catchy meme or spiritual bypass. To willingly allow something to go that you have been, or believed, for a long time, is nothing short of a herculean effort. Unless, of course, you cease to struggle, and just hand it all over to Something More than you.

If you are struggling, ask the same question that man asked: “What do you want me to know?” And then, hardest of all, LISTEN. Deeply. Agree within yourself that Life must be trying to show you something.

First Things First

 

Many years ago, I heard the expression “spiritual bypass.” If you’re not familiar with this phrase, it can be defined as “…a tendency to use spiritual explanations to avoid complex psychological issues.” In other words, instead of meeting head on and working through difficult and unresolved issues, we leap over what is too hard, while trying to land in a place we would rather be. Somewhere that feels better to us than here.

Wherever that here is, and whatever it takes to get us there. Delusion and denial included.

While this phrase has always been used in relation to how we see ourselves spiritually, the same underlying avoidance is being played out all around us, and on every, single level of our humanity. We want more ease in our minds, but because it feels too difficult, we bypass to “serenity” through drugs, alcohol, shopping, and scrolling. We want to feel at home in our bodies, but because we do not know how, we bypass to “safety and security” by abdicating our bodily autonomy, authority and sovereignty over to a doctor, the marketers and corporations selling us things, and now, our very own government. We want more closeness in our relationships, but because we have grown accustomed to screen-mediated interactions, we bypass to “intimacy” by believing that social media is the pinnacle of satisfying modern day connections.

Whether you look to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the yogic chakra system, childhood development, or building a house, every system worth its salt includes the same principle: First Things First.

Meaning, that before we can experience peace of mind, we must do a study of what it is that disturbs the mind, and what it is that calms it. Before we can feel at home in our bodies, we must learn how to take responsibility for what it means to care for them. And before we can have meaningful relationships, we must put the time in, in real time, day after day, that they deserve and require.

Somehow though, we don’t want to know this. We don’t want to know that things take time and our effort. For ours is a culture of bypass, leaving us more at home with the illusion that things can be got without cost, consequences or hard work, than with us doing what actually needs doing. We believe we are just supposed to be able to have it. Or easily get it. That someone else should do it for us, or at least tell us how to do it.

These are the thoughts of a child. But if you are ready to see things not as you wish them or expect them to be, but as they actually are, and are willing to use that reality check as a starting point, you are now in a position to leave bypass behind in the service of the life you most want.

What might that look like?

Find something in your life that is not working. Make a list of all the related things you think you are supposed to have or be in this department. For instance, if you are not well, that would include everything around the end game of feeling better that you currently do not have. Keep stripping it all away (this takes time and effort) until you can let yourself be where you are, feeling what you are feeling, and experiencing what you are experiencing.

Then, ask yourself, what is the very first thing I must do now? The thing that must come before all else? The thing upon which everything else relies?

And then, stay with that very first thing until it feels totally sated. This will be longer than you want or can imagine. But just like building a house, if you can put the care and the patience of creating a solid foundation into the service of what you most want, everything, everything, that comes after that will be true.

P.S. Often the first thing that most needs doing is exactly the thing we most want to avoid. So, if you can find out what that is, you will be well on your way.