Monday, 2 December 2013

New Moon Blessing

“We are conditioned by our lack of night vision to experience the dark as terrifying.”
~Demetra George

Artwork by Brian Froud

In his classic book The Rites of Passage, Arnold Van Gennep says that all major life transitions contain the same basic structure – a three-stage process of Separation, Transition, and Incorporation – eventually leading to a change in status (i.e., from child to adult; from woman to mother; from married to divorced). Others have said that for women, the process may be more like the transformation of a butterfly, re-framing the stages as Enclosure, Metamorphosis, and Emergence – a much more dark and murky inward path leading to a total transformation.

Events like marriage, childbirth, the death of a loved one, a health crisis, or a divorce are clearly transitions that change us. But there are other, less obvious circumstances that create the conditions for a rite of passage to occur, moving us into that cycle of transformation, separating us from what we know or submerging us into a state of enclosure. The creative process is one of these. 

After we let go of old identities, but before we emerge as artists, writers, small business owners, or whatever our creative gifts long for us to be, we enter a space of conscious incubation – a protected state where growth and change can be held in a kind of sacred trust within, until we are ready to share it with the world.

Within the dark womb of the creative process, many of us may find ourselves avoiding parties and other social events, staying close to home, and engaging in activities that replenish, rather than consume our energy. Particularly for those of us who are changing careers, becoming writers and artists, finding our voice for the first time, dismantling old identities and trying on new ones – we are creating and birthing ourselves anew, and this is painstaking work. We are in the trenches of our lives, creating the very things that will later help us to fly.

Dreamwork is my sure and steady guide as I work my way through this process. Sometimes, even months later, I realize important messages that seemed encrypted at the time. On December 12, 2012 (12/12/12), I dreamt:
I am in a café having tea, waiting my turn to enter the space next door. I am both excited and anxious to find out what I will learn. Finally, the time is right, and I enter a very spiritual space – a small dome-like structure that resembles a church, with rounded walls that are painted blue. The ceiling seems to go up forever, and hanging from it are ancient tapestries, blowing gently on a mild breeze. On the walls are intricate gold writings in a language I cannot read. I see a beautiful, old, Tibetan singing bowl and pick it up. But I can’t play it because inside it is a large, black egg, muffling the sound.
This dream has stayed with me, the images always fresh in my mind. And over time, its meaning continues to unfold. Carl Jung said that black is a symbol of the unconscious and that which is hidden from view. Like the darkness of the New Moon, the black egg and the sacred space in which I found it symbolize the time for inner reflection and learning, stasis, gestation, lying fallow, the dreamtime, and of exploring the shadow and subterranean realms. Black occupies the liminal world between thresholds – between life and death, beginning and ending, growth and decomposition, stasis and renewal.

Before my new voice is strong enough to “sing,” I need to find my way, find my story, find my words, and learn my language, on my own terms.
“We travel through the dark of the moon whenever… we face the loss of that form which has given our life a structure and sense of identity… What has been is no longer, and what is to come has not yet appeared.” ~Demetra George
In this space between worlds, before we become something new, before we are ready to emerge, we are tender and vulnerable, hoping that we can move beyond the judgments that have plagued us, the “shoulds” that loom over us still, and the drive for perfection that can stop any creative process before it even begins. And so we retreat, working away at our modest creations until we feel strong enough to bring them out.

Perhaps it is not a final destination we seek, but the ability to give ourselves permission, again and again, to be both initiate and witness in this birth.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Facing my dragons

"'Staying real' is one of the most courageous battles we’ll ever fight." ~Brené Brown

Andromeda by Toshiyuki Enoki

A couple of weeks ago, I went on a three-day silent retreat called Befriending Dragons. Through the course of many hours of meditation, repetitive sessions of chanting, journal writing, mandala making, and Shamanic Journeying, participants were drawn into the darker, often hidden parts of themselves – where the dragons await.

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, which the retreat drew from, dragons awaken us from delusion, help us tap into creative potential, and give us strength and courage. They also represent the Shadow parts of our nature – what we are afraid of, ashamed of, deny, or have difficulty confronting and integrating into our lives. Although throughout the retreat I questioned if the practices were actually “working,” and guiding me into those dark corridors of the soul, it seems that what was uncovered during those three days continues to work on me in subtle, yet powerful ways.

The vow of silence began around 7:00 pm the first night, followed by a series of meditations, creative art-making and ritual practices to bring us into the realm of the unconscious and the intent of the weekend. As we silently completed a fire ceremony and headed to our cabins to go to bed, I found my mind so distracted, I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned and felt deeply restless. My legs and torso burned so hot, I wondered if I had some kind of fever. Although I drifted in and out of consciousness, I never fell deeply into sleep. But at one point during the night, I had the following dream:

I am lying in my cabin bed, and a dark, shadowy female figure is standing beside me. She is looming over me, mouth agape, sucking the life essence out of me – like the soul-sucking Dementors from Harry Potter. I can feel my own soul being pulled out of me and it’s terrifying, but I am under some kind of spell. I am paralyzed, unable to stop her or scream for help.

Although I later learned that the dream was a kind of Night Terror, or perhaps an instance of Sleep Paralysis, the fact that it occurred on the first night of a retreat in which I was facing my dragons had strong meaning to me, and I began to ask myself some key questions: What am I afraid of? What is being taken away from me? What part of my essence am I afraid to let out?

Over the course of the last two weeks, these questions keep surfacing as I encounter difficult situations where I need to voice my truth.

In its most basic form, the word “truth” makes me think of honesty, facts, and what is real and reliable. But the origin of the word, according to the Oxford Dictionary, has to do with “faithfulness” and “constancy” – and this has a deeper resonance for me. “Truth,” for me, means being faithful to myself and to my personal values, even if they’re not popular and regardless of what’s going on around me. It means not forfeiting my own opinions when I think someone else knows best. It means speaking up even when what I have to say is unpleasant or “ugly,” even if it’s something others might not want to hear. It means asking for what I need and being clear about expectations and intentions. Sometimes it’s easier to silently judge a person or situation rather than take responsibility for my own needs, but I’m realizing how much energy and creativity is wasted when my truth is withheld - I will never be truly fulfilled that way.

“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” ~Brené Brown

“In order to voice the soul, we will have to balance our inner experience with our outer one.” ~Sue Monk Kidd

“To be ourselves causes us to be exiled by many others, and yet to comply with what others want causes us to be exiled from ourselves.” ~Clarissa Pinkola Estés

It seems we are at a pivotal time in the world when old ways, habits and rules no longer apply, and we are searching for something real, yearning to face ourselves in all our various dimensions: dealing with the things that inspire as well as the things that bring pain; navigating power imbalances in relationships; speaking up when things don’t feel right; and finding ways to voice the stuff we would rather keep inside – frustration, anger, hurt, upset, disappointment, sadness.

Finding the courage to really speak those harder truths means that all parts of me are seen – and there is a deep vulnerability in that, so I tread gently. But as I am further away from the life that was based on “shoulds” and “supposed tos,” the more I feel aligned.

The small steps I have taken so far remind me that when I speak and stand up for my truth, there is almost always something to be gained. And this has given me just enough confidence to let the dragons out to play.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

How Do We Heal?

Today I'd like to introduce you to Jodi Lobozzo Aman, an author, counselor, yogi, and healer.  In today's guest post, she shares with us her journey to healing. Thank you, Jodi, for opening your heart to us here.



My opportunity to learn holistic approaches to health came as most opportunities come to us.

Through a crisis.

My own health crisis happened 15 years ago. Western medicine offered me no relief save, “It’s stress. Take this pill.” This far from satisfied me.

I could barely function and I had far too many dreams to fulfill to give in to immobilization! I had babies to raise, a relationship to nurture, a life to live! I had passionate curiosity about the body, mind, and spirit to satiate.

What makes us sick? 

What makes us heal? 

What are we doing here?

What is death?

How do we know when we are done healing? 

I plugged into study in three directions

1. Outside through books and teachers

I studied Ayurveda–traditional Indian medicine–and Yoga first. Then, narrative therapy, mindfulness, A Course In Miracles, and shamanism–indigenous spiritualities. I connected with the divine feminine and studied the energies of gender and power. These knowledges made explicit the link between my health and my environment. And how my mind is part of that environment.

What I learned validated what I was witnessing in my own life and in the stories of my clients. We felt and understood the world according to our surroundings. I could literally see how our context forms our beliefs.

2. Deep inside to the inner workings of my soul

I saw the connection between feeling bad and believing that I was ‘not good enough.’ I felt the pervasiveness of it by noticing the same problem in almost everyone around me. Then I noticed how dangerous it was for the community for us to feel this way. How, believing, defending, or trying to compensate for guilt and fear, leads us off our path every time.

I realized that I am a reflection of what is around me. Or more apt, I am a reflection of how I see the world around me. And the world around me is a reflection of my inner self. (Even the weather is a reflection of our inner turmoil.) I realized that as I healed myself, I could heal others and vise versa.

I went deep to figure out who I was beyond that reflection and I found the light that was the source within me, yet beyond me. This is who I really was. I wanted to bring this light out and have that be reflected rather than the negative guck be reflected. Then, I could find the light in others and reflect it back to them.

3. Directly to Spirit

(Spirit gave the best answers.) There are so many ways to heal, I was discovering. One can pick any path and take it to the end and find Spirit there. Feeling unworthy and separate makes the path very long. And self-love and connection is the easiest way to shorten the journey. Shifting from one to the other is a matter of shifting believes about who you are. This is easier once you see divine in everything–and you are included in that everything.

                  When you find truth, you find truth everywhere.

I realized that the answers from my studies pointed me in the same direction: Love is the answer. Once I saw the world this way, that is how it looked to me. 

A belief is incredibly powerful, but it is just a belief. We can change beliefs. It is our beliefs that change our world. (Yes, please!)

Once I changed my beliefs about my crisis–from “I can’t do this, I just want to die if I have to feel this way,” to “I can handle life and there could be some good things in it,”–my intensely painful time ended.

This doesn’t mean that I never feel bad! Of course I have bad days still, with many tormenting old stories that still need to shift. When they get into my head space, I just have to take a step back and remind myself of who I am. Then, I go in three directions and ask questions.

We don’t just heal once and are done with it. (Just like you wouldn’t go to the gym once and be fit.) Healing is a practice. Fortunately, a practice that gets much easier over time.

Where do you turn when you go through a crisis?


Jodi Lobozzo Aman, LCSW-R, is a human being on the path to spiritual wholeness. Her blog Heal Now and Forever Be In Peace, is an invitation for you to join her journey. She is a counselor, mother, healer, author, lover, teacher, friend, helping people open to new ways of being. Her free e-book What IS UP With Your DOWN? Being Grateful in 7 Easy Steps is available on her website. 

Find her on the web...
Heal Now and Forever Be In Peace, Anxiety-Schmanxiety Blog,
Twitter@JodiAmanFacebook: Heal Now and Forever Be in Peace,
www.heal-here.com.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Fierce

“Our challenge is to listen carefully to our own anger and use it in the service of change.”
~Harriet Lerner

Artwork by Russ Mills

She is the Black Panther, the Tigress, the Lioness – chasing, stalking, threatening, striking, pouncing. She is unpredictably wild. She is sensual and passionate. She loves an adventure. She is assertive, aggressive, and holds her power with strength and grace. She brings about needed conflict and change. She is protective, guarding against injustice and cruelty. She is a feminine force not to be messed with. But if we surrender to her, she has the medicine to heal our wounds. She is Fierce.

From a young age, girls are taught not to know their anger. To be Good Girls, we learn that our tempers must be reigned in, controlled, and contained – lest we seem unladylike, unfeminine, unattractive, unbecoming, or ugly. Following in the footsteps of our mothers, their mothers, and the mothers before them, we may even find ourselves teaching the next generation of daughters to contain this unacceptable aspect of our humanity, hiding it from being seen or heard.

After years of strict concealment, these unwelcomed feelings are pushed down deep so that regardless of what is going on inside, all appears peaceful, placid and calm on the outside. A healthy relationship to our anger may seem unfamiliar and foreign, only revealed in the safety and privacy of our dreams, where the expression of it is an overcompensation of all that has been repressed, held back, strangled off. We feel paralyzed to ever really know or understand it in an intimate, healthy way. We come to believe that our anger is “bad,” and by expressing it, we are bad.

The tension of holding it all in may become so great that we have sudden, uncontrollable outbursts where the darkness within us barrels forward, spewing out onto everything and everyone around us. Our anger becomes a dichotomized force: dulled out and silenced, or out-of-control and destructive. In either case, we feel shame. But in denying our anger, what else has been denied?
“Just as physical pain tells us to take our hand off the hot stove, the pain of our anger preserves the very integrity of our self. Our anger can motivate us to say ‘no’ to the ways in which we are defined by others and ‘yes’ to the dictates of our inner self.” ~Harriet Lerner
Co-mingling with the many other feelings that emerged when I began to speak my truth and make significant changes in my life and lifestyle, I realized there was a world of feelings within me that had been relegated to the shadows, now slowly revealing itself as I re-define what is healthy, balanced, and whole. I cannot be a whole person if part of me is cut off. At some point, I have to face all that is mine.

As I tentatively cross the borders into the unfamiliar territory of my anger, frustration, resentment, upset and pain, I realize that along with all the unpleasantness of facing these demons are characteristics that I long for, that I value, that I can claim.

Unchecked and ignored anger can be destructive. It can cause hurt, suffering, and wreak havoc in our relationships and on our lives. But if we are willing to work with it, live with it, feel it, observe it, explore it, and name it without restrictions and rules, we will meet something new. It is a protection against harm, a warning, and stealth in maneuvering conflict or threat. It can be fiery, edgy, and powerfully strong. It helps us say “No”, develop good boundaries, stand up for our truth, and defend what is important and valued. It reveals a more accurate picture of all that we are.

As I explore it more deeply, allowing it space to live in my body, I renew that which was previously denied: the Good Girl can stand back now; it's Fierce Woman's time.


________________________

On July 22, 2013 (Full Moon in Aquarius), I am honoured to be a guest blogger for Jodi Lobozzo Aman over at her blog Heal Now and Forever, a beautiful space where she explores the intersections of healing, inspiration, spirituality and intuition. Please stop by!