Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Seeking the Elusive Spiritual High

I wrote awhile back about the addictive qualities of the spiritual path, and one of those primary ones is the spiritual high. Oh, it is so amazing. If you haven't had it before, you should really try it. If you have had it, you know what I'm talking about, and now, it's time to start your 12-Step program to quit it. "Why?" you may ask. Because it's not what this path is about.

Lost in High State Experiences
One of the easiest ways that spiritual seekers and those who stumble into awakening can get lost is in associating spirituality with a particular state of awareness. The deepest truth of this world is that all states of awareness are sacred, so as we develop our paths, we learn to embrace all that come to us without resistance. But most of us who start on the path aren't coming from that space. Many people get forced onto the spiritual path because they realize that everything else is a lie and doesn't make them feel good. If you really want a spiritual awakening, wait until you get hit by an 18-wheeler truck. This is because the path to awakening for a lot of people is through immense pain, and yet even after that, the spiritual path can just become another phase of the ego. You get lost in seeking healing and of course, those beautiful high states.

Using Retreats and Spiritual Teachers Like Vicodin
Continuing the theme of pain, for those who've ever been on Vicodin, it puts you into a pretty great state of la-la land. For the spiritual seeker, retreats and teachers become the Vicodin. You get lost in these wonderful feelings, and you never want them to stop. Then you go back to your "regular" life, and it all goes to shit again. You're so pissed at the world. "Why can't everyone be like your teacher or a yoga retreat? God, why is my life full of assholes?"

It is a predicament, is it not? Of course, the problem is that you're still looking for your fulfillment outside of yourself. You're caught up in a new form of self-gratification, and I'm referring to the little ego self here, not your true Self. So your feelings are completely conditional and caught in circumstances. Life being what it is will give you some circumstances that you like and others that you won't. And you'll be pining constantly for your spiritual Vicodin.

Taking Responsibility for Your States of Awareness
Haven't you forgotten something? Haven't you forgotten your responsibility to yourself and your world? Are you still expecting someone else to change your world? Only you can do this. Only you can actually do the work of the spiritual path. So many people are lacking the spiritual discipline and drive to actually deal with their internal issues to really embrace the spiritual path. It's not an amusement park.

In regards to awakening, I tend to warn people about it more than encourage them. Because until you're really ready to give up everything, the awakening is often more shock and trauma than most people can bear and integrate. It is a dramatic shift into a higher state of consciousness, but it's nothing like the one with your retreats and your annual pilgrimage to Burning Man. Because responsibility comes with it. It's like God pushed you face down into your own shit and your own greatest beauty all at once and said, "Hey! This is yours."

And you have to own it all.

The Settling of the Spiritual Waters
An interesting thing happens as you do the work to let go of your issues and integrate your true Self; your state of awareness changes. But what's really interesting is that the more you release a lower state of awareness (one driven by greed to one driven by service to others), the more you can't tell if you're in a higher state of awareness or not. You have to have two different reference points to make that judgment. If you release the lower state of awareness, then you may not even really notice that you're in a "high" or "higher" state of consciousness. You only can tell when you hang around people with whom you associated when you were living that old state of consciousness. Hopefully, if you do so, you now have compassion for where they are and aren't feeling "superior" or some such nonsense. They are where they are just as you are where you are. And as you go further into this higher state of consciousness, you also begin to realize that there's nowhere to go.

Letting Go of the Spiritual Search
For people with no spiritual background, responsibility, or integrity, starting the spiritual search is really important. It has to be done. And understanding that there's a better way to behave and act in regards to yourself and others is a key part of changing your life. It's a lot of work, but it's some of the most rewarding work you can do. But after awhile, there truly is no where to go. Everything is within you.

If you want a spiritual high experience, you can choose to create that within you because ultimately all those other events and people were just excuses to allow yourself to feel a certain way. Certainly, others have influences on us; we are all interconnected after all. But most of the experiences we feel are pretty much happening under own roof. If you want those experiences to continue, then make a commitment to change how you are and the way you are with yourself and others in your life. As you do that work, things will shift, and as they shift, you will naturally want to let go.

Then the search starts to fall away. Nothing needs to be done. It's one of those paradoxes of the spiritual path: the work helps us to let go. Letting go helps us to do the spiritual work we need to do. From this space, you aren't searching. You find what's true, and any state of awareness that comes to you will be the perfect one that you need in the moment that it comes.

Monday, September 26, 2011

How Long Does a Spiritual Awakening Take?

Lots of people who have a spiritual awakening can feel over-run by energy, intuitive information, and well, just about everything for some time. The first set of questions goes something like, "Is this it? Is this what being awake is all about?" The next set usually goes something like, "Why is this so intense? When will this be over?" So here we are to talk about how long awakening can take and what you need need to consider in doing your part.

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Awakening Is Timeless, But You Live in a World Working Off of Time
It's time for another reminder that spiritual awakening is a time-free event. It happens in a moment. It usually happens in some amazing instant of letting go of everything. The rush of beauty and aliveness that comes to you is unparalleled. If this is more than a transitory opening, the gears of change have been flung into a high speed, and the process of integrating this awareness with your entirety begins.

The way I've experienced awakening and how see it is unique to me. How it will work for you will be different. I think that's always important to say. Some people will be able to awaken and integrate their awakening entirely in an instant. That's their path. But for many of us, we still don't fully let go. It's like walking out of the darkness of a cave into broad daylight. We're so sunblind that we scramble back towards the cave. Along with that metaphor, there is an adjustment time period to be able to handle this new way of seeing and interacting with the world. That's just part of living in a body, and I don't want to lead you on to think that there isn't some ongoing work and self-care that goes with awakening. And for the purpose of this blog, a lot of that work goes to clear away the inner resistance that you have from remaining fear, anger, sadness, and the usual suspects. How long that takes for you will determine how long it takes for your awakening to fully integrate.

Time Has No Meaning to Awakening
It is hard to wrap your brain around how awakening functions outside of time. In this plane of existence, it's more a function of our own inner resistance. I usually like to compare it to water. There's a way that we have to give ourselves to the flow of it, and yet at the same time, we have to remember to use our paddle. For some of you, you may be making your paddle and learning to use your paddle at the same time. It depends on your upbringing. If you've been living in a very abusive family your whole life, it can take awhile to re-orient yourself so that you know how to interact with your family from a space of integrity for yourself while also making appropriate boundaries for yourself to hold and protect this awareness. I know that protect isn't exactly the right world in the land of "spiritual jargon" because it is an ego function, and from the highest level of awareness, there is nothing to protect. But down in the world of time and abusive step-fathers, a glass hurled at your head hurts. And making a boundary will be saying that that's not something you want to experience while taking steps to protect yourself or remove yourself from that situation.

Lost in the Endless Loop of Pain
Everyone also moves through different issues and levels of karmas at different speeds and in different ways. For one person, an issue around desire may be easier to heal than for another. So, you can't think about how long something will last for you based on what worked with a friend or someone else. You have to do the work, and then allow the process based on your needs. That to me is part of the exhalation and inhalation, the contraction and expansion of the spiritual awakening. It is very alive, and you will feel as you contract down into your smallness and down to where core issues are anchoring you in old pain. In these contracted moments, you are gifted with the opportunity to clear more of them and breathe more awareness into these spaces. As you do that, your next expansion is much broader and more stable because there's less to pull you back down into the pain. The less pain you hold onto, the bigger energy space you can potentially hold (although it's entirely different for everyone--it kinda depends on what your life work will be as to the type of space you hold for yourself and others).

What you can't do is to just lie on the floor and hope it'll all go away. There is a necessity for lots of rest and so much self-care. You are like an infant after an awakening. You need to treat yourself that way and be very careful with how you expend your energy. But if you think that just lying around and not doing anything will help you or is some kind of acceptance, you're going to find out much to the opposite. There's a lot of low-energy, heavy karma that tries to pin many people down in their awakenings, and feeling victimized by an awakening (which believe it or not, you aided and abetted in one way or another) is a nasty trap. The ego is turning the awakening into some kind of vile perpetrator, and it is also trapping you to re-experience pain endlessly. The process of clearing pain is a matter of experiencing and releasing. A lot of the spiritual tools that we use during this integration time period are ways to do those two things. If meditation doesn't work, use chanting. If chanting doesn't work, find someone who can do a vision quest with you. There's a lot of tools at hand, and you're going to need to use a lot of them as well as different ones at different times for different issues.

Not Getting Stuck on One Spiritual Tool
Continuing this theme of using different tools as they are appropriate, I see and hear a lot of people who just try to meditate through everything. I don't know what they're expecting will happen. It's like trying to use a hammer for everything. It's great for putting nails into wood or yanking nails out. But it can't cut wood, drill holes, or paint the ceiling. Yet, some people get stuck using inappropriate tools for a wide variety of situations. For instance, if your job is now unbearable and doesn't suit your deeper purpose anymore, you have to job-hunt and find a new one. You don't generally meditate out of the job unless you're clearing space to think, imagine, or intuit a new job. After that, you apply for jobs. You probably don't have to find your ultimate ideal job; you probably just need a job to act as bridge to take care of finances while you figure out yourself through this process. But lying around meditating at night hoping your work situation will change will not get you where you need to go.

In many ways, the embodied awakening that is happening for many of you is about conscious action. So we meditate. We learn to understand ourselves. We learn to speak our truth. We learn to love ourselves and others, and we learn to take conscious action to create the world that we want to live in. Now, we don't have to rebuild everything all at once. Life is just a moment at a time sort of deal. Just build one piece at a time, and put one brick in place at a time to your new life. Doing this tends to help activate that energy flowing through  us and dissolve fears around the unknown that are still lingering inside. It really has helped to smooth my transition into the space of spiritual teacher and awakened being.

Learning to Understand Your Own Cycles and Shifts
One of the things that often surprises people is how attuned I am to my cycles and shifts. I am very aware of the number of months and years in different big and smaller cycles in my life--different combinations of expansions and contractions. I encourage you to pay attention to yours. I would even encourage you to look back in life to see if there are bigger patterns that you've moved through in general. Look at when big life events have happened and how much time has passed between them. Perhaps you can even categorize different times of your life. Some parts were more focused on outward relationships, others were focused on work. Some are more difficult, and some are easier. There's a lot of ways to do this, but it can give you an idea about how the natural intelligence of your life is evolving. That may give you some idea about the timeline that you're naturally working on. It may not. It may also not give you the answer you want because a part of your ego really just wants this awakening and integration crap to be done with.


One thing at a time.

Spiritual Awakening and Continuing Evolving Cycles
Of course, we aren't static beings, and just because we move through the big awakening and shift doesn't mean we're going to suddenly become stone statues. It's my personal theory that awakening is a big shift because it's been building up for years under the lid that we put on top of it to keep it down. So there's a huge excess of built up energy that erupts forth. As it dies down, we move into softer and more manageable shifts that will likely be with us our whole lives. Now that we aren't resisting them, they can come and go more easily. We can integrate the pieces that we need more easily and let the wave go again, trusting that it'll return with additional awareness and energy that we need as we're ready for it. It's a gentle sea, and while life itself will be full of its own turbulence, tapping into this deeper awareness is an invitation into a deep and timeless serenity that can hold us through any storm.

Don't worry that you can't see the end of this shift right now. No one can. Only the ego is so bold to think that it can predict anything much less the profound and life-changing shift that is a spiritual awakening. So let go. Let go more deeply, and then let go again. This process will take as long as it needs to. Just be sure that you engage with it and do your part to make space for it to live and breathe and transform your life.

For more thoughts, check out this spiritual awakening video about the topic:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Spirituality and Dealing with Difficult Situations

One of the common topics that comes up for people is how to bring spirituality into difficult situations. A lot of people who are doing spiritual work find that life still has lots of hard moments. And that won't change. Being awakened won't make life easier, per se. It makes it easier in the sense that we're not resisting what's happening in our lives or making up as many stories about what has happened. But being awakened doesn't change the feeling of being hungry when there's no food. It doesn't stop your boss who has control issues from abusing yourself and other colleagues. It doesn't turn life into a rainbow filled, fluffy bunny prince and princess world. If you want that, go to an amusement park--but then again, you'll be "paying" for that experience as well.

The Path of Limited or Non-Resistance
I decided to put "limited" in this subhead because I think there's just something so ingrained in us about resisting the present moment when it isn't to our preferences. Preferences, by the way, don't necessarily go away when you wake up. Instead, they become more optional. I prefer to not be yelled at by colleagues and other people. If it happens, it's not as activating as before. I understand that 90% of the time those situations aren't about me. I understand this from a very deep and powerful place within me. However, I still don't particularly want that experience in my life.

So you may have some part of you that still tries to resist as you do your work, and wherever that resistance is, you have something to work on releasing. But you're not trying to be perfect. You're not trying to get out of life without any kind of difficulty. The more deeply you embody awakening, the less you describe life in terms of difficult or easy, good or bad. It is simply life, and whatever is happening--including your three year old screaming at the top of her lungs at 4am--is simply life...neither good or bad. So how do you bring more awareness to yourself to let go of resistance at 4 in the morning?

Meditation and Spiritual Practice, Practice, Practice
I think that for the last couple months I've been beating the drum for discipline. Spiritual discipline helps us to make space for ourselves--our true selves. Without that space, things can get real messy, real fast. Thing get messy even when we have that discipline. I was hardly without tools when I had my awakening several years ago, but it took quite a few years to really figure out how to let go and re-engage with life from a totally different way of being. A lot of people want to run right into awakening, and I have people asking me about how to wake up their Kundalini. I patiently explain that most people don't really want this, and they're not ready for this yet. It's like turning on 400 volts of electricity when you haven't set up all your wiring yet. You're going to get fried.

Subsequently, building a practice and focusing on how you bring awareness to difficult situations goes a looooonnnnng way towards clearing out issues in your life that would immediately get activated with awakening or even with an iddy biddy opening into your deeper self. Everything gets lit up in awakening. So if you have big power issues and have attracted a controlling boss to show you how you give up your power in life, in awakening, you'd be even more freaked out about your difficult work situation. It can be unbearable all at once, and everything else that you haven't worked through gets lit up as well. It incapacitates some people.

Your Work Is Your Own: Don't Expect Others to Change
I think that for many of you working on the spiritual path, you think that everyone will now love you because you're doing this stuff. It's another ego game to somehow manifest the perfect world in our lives. That won't happen. Certainly, people will flow in and out of your life, and right now, I am attracting many amazing and wonderful people that is absolutely awe-inspiring and humbling. The more you act from that deep space of integrity and love, the more you can attract others of the same energy vibration. I wouldn't quite call it law of attraction, but some of that applies (Ultimately, I don't believe everything that comes into our life is because we specifically attracted it into our lives. I also believe that people get into not-so-subtle levels of manipulation by trying to attract "good" stuff and avoiding "bad" stuff. Life is far more vast than any philosophy).

Yet, many people who stay in your life won't change. They still won't get you, and some will want to take out their frustrations with themselves on you. This is when the immature ego in you that's still holding on starts wailing like the 3 year old at 4 AM, "Why doesn't everyone love me?" Sorry. They've got their own stuff to deal with. Instead, pay attention to why you're having this reaction. Very simply in this scenario, we can see an underlying approval issue. Looking for approval from others is usually a shell issue for needing to approve of and love ourselves.

Into the Frying Pan: Deepening Your Awareness When the Heat Is On
Since difficult situations won't go away, I encourage you to use them. When I first suggest this to students and others who connect with me, I'm sure the initial response in their minds is something like, "But I can't do that." Yes, you can, and you're the only one who can do that for you. You need to deal with any avoidance tendencies that you have to stand in that frying pan. Now, the point is not to go looking for difficult situations to prove yourself either, but if you've got lemons, you might as well make lemonade. Having a meditation practice and other practices helps you to become aware of yourself and how to be fully present in these difficult moments so that you fully learn what ever lesson is in them for you.

Building up your awareness and general calmness helps you to take a deeper level of presence out into the world when the situations aren't so serene and peaceful. This, of course, is where deeper awareness is most needed. We can't hide this stuff in monasteries and Sunday meditation groups. We need it in the world...desperately. So if you've got a little bit of an altruistic spirit, think of being in difficult situations mindfully as being one way that you're changing the world. I won't say to enjoy the heat, but pay attention to it. See what is there for you that is making it so "hot."

Martyrs Not Allowed Here
There have been enough martyrs in the name of religion or spirituality, so I don't want you to think that you're just supposed to hurl yourself into the teeth of vicious gossip circles, companies, relationships, and whatnot. This isn't a take-one-for-the-team situation. This is about learning what you need to learn from difficult situations and making the changes that you need within yourself. In some scenarios, you will quit your job, or you will take your power back by sending in your resignation to your boss. In others, it'll mean speaking your voice to your boss (or whoever the abuser is), or perhaps in another, it'll be a mindful, well-documented report to HR about your boss. There are many, many avenues, and there are many, many ways that things can work out.

But most importantly, don't react initially. When things are getting hot, give yourself the extra moment and extra breath to gather yourself. Allow yourself to assess the situation, and then trust your actions. Later on, it's time to journal and delve even more deeply into how you responded and what happened. You may even bring in a trusted friend or co-worker for an outside perspective. And don't expect a perfect solution. There may not be one. As I said, the spiritual path doesn't necessarily make things easier. It is the path through pain and difficulty, not away from it. But I assure you that the more mindfulness and awareness you bring to any difficult situation, the better the chance that something positive results as opposed to going through another cycle of pain and dis-ease.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Writing a Spirituality Book: How Blogging Can Start It All

I'm stepping back a bit from my usual topics to talk about writing a spirituality book based on my experiences writing my ebook, Everyday Spirituality: Cultivating an Awakening. I know a lot of you are having so much spiritual information pour down into your noggins that the only thing you can do is to try and write it all out. Many of you also want to write books. And that's awesome. You can't have enough people speaking about peace and living in loving kindness. So here are some thoughts about how I wrote my spiritual book, and perhaps they'll help you write yours.

Exploring Your Words with an Audience
Sharing a 200-page manuscript with a friend can be a really vulnerable place. You wonder if s/he will like it and what s/he will say about it. Also, finding a friend willing to read that much can be a little difficult before firing it off into the publishing world with a humble and self-congratulatory query letter. That's really the old mechanism to publishing, and the world of self-publishing has radically changed our abilities to get our work out to a broad audience. In one of the simplest ways, blogging is a great tool for finding out if what you have to say clicks for others.

Blogging gives you a chance to explore your words and different topics with an audience. One of the great mistakes of any business, book, or other venture is to put something out that no one wants. If you don't need it to have great success, that's fine. Being mindful of what your goals are in this venture are also important. The initial urge to expound and expunge all these words can be intense, but there's a lot of personal work that goes into it. Sometimes, all these words and thoughts are really just for you. Hopefully, you've been journaling to make sense of them for yourself. Blogging really comes after that. Most of the stuff that I put up here has been worked through. Even though I channel a lot of the posts (meaning I write without planning or thinking about it very much if at all), many of the topics about which I'm writing I've already integrated into myself. This means that I don't resist or argue with the information. I'm a clear conduit to pretty much put down what comes to me. So after you've done your own work, set up a free blog to begin to see what you really need to say to the world and find out who wants to hear about it.

An International Focus Group At Your Fingertips
If anything, blogging creates a great focus group. Let me be clear that you are very unlikely to have a 100,000 visits in a month when you start writing your blog. You'll be lucky to have around 30 unless you understand how to use social media and have a bunch of people to whom you can email your blog. So, it will be a small group at first. And yet, this is incredibly public, so anything you put up on your blog should be able to withstand the scrutiny of everyone from where you live to the Middle of Nowhere, Nova Scotia. You are extremely exposed, although you can also choose to make your blog private. In that case, I hope you do have a lot of people whom you can invite to share and comment on your blog. Personally, I know that I have a very public role to play as a spiritual teacher, and I wanted to see where this blog would catch on around the world (so far, it's not been very specific other than favoring where I live since this is where most of my connections are: otherwise, it really has been popular around the world). Be mindful of what you say, and pay attention to the feedback you get. Google Analytics is great for finding out which posts are getting read the most. This can help inspire you further for your book.

Structuring Your Spirituality Book
Blogging is a little bit of a free-for-all in terms of visual structure. It's tough for people to flow through it other than to read down the page. If you can, as you write your blog posts, start to think about where things will fit into the overall story or message you want to deliver. Don't just assume that it'll all flow out perfectly. Sometimes it does, and that's a great gift. But as I like to describe energy as water, think of your words in the same way. What structure are you creating to hold this water and guide it? It doesn't matter how great the message is. If no one can understand it or if they feel flooded by information, you're not writing a very effective book. Of course, once again, this goes back to your purpose with this book. If you just want to write it and be done with it and don't care if more than 3 people read it, than structuring it matters a lot less.

Give Yourself Plenty of Rest Time
When I was writing Everyday Spirituality: Cultivating an Awakening in October and November, I just felt live-wired. There's no other way to describe it. I couldn't write it out fast enough, and I felt like I'd burn myself out. I needed quite a bit of time to rest, and usually as I was resting, it felt like even more information was pouring in. Meditation and other spiritual practices are so important during this time. You have no idea just how much you're giving of yourself in this process. It's kind of a big deal, and if you're still moving through awakening, it may be too much. It is okay to give yourself space before taking on a big project like writing an book. Honestly, you won't get very far if you're in the middle of awakening because your perceptions are being altered so drastically. What you'll have to say one day will change with the next revelation that drops in and integrates with you the next day. But regardless of where you are, when you start to write, you're also going to need plenty of time to not write.

Exploring Ebooks and Self-Publishing
I'm still pretty new to the ebook thing, so I don't have a lot to say here other than it's so wonderful to be able to share my ebook around the world with a system like Amazon. Setting up takes some time and figuring out, which you may or may not be fully up for. You can always find a techie friend to help you out. And just because your ebook is up on Amazon doesn't mean you're going to sell 100s over night. I think since April that I've sold around 30 as I'm still learning about it. But with so much stuff going digital (In addition to Amazon, there's Barnes and Noble with their Nook and Apple with iPad), it's a smart space to be in, and you don't have to wait around for your hundredth query letter to get accepted by a publisher. Furthermore, how much support do you think you're going to get from a publisher these days? Having a physical book doesn't mean it's going to be anymore successful than having an ebook. I honestly can't compare the two ways of going about it, but I'm pretty sure that if my ebook proves successful online that some savvy publisher will want to come find me to make a physical book. In that case, the negotiating changes considerably.

So these are some thoughts about writing a spirituality book. I hope it's helpful for those of you who are interested. You are welcome to leave comments with other questions that you may have about my process, and if you are interested in my ebook, please click on this link to get a copy of Everyday Spirituality: Cultivating an Awakening. Be well in all your spiritual writing endeavors!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Understanding How to Hold Space

Holding space is one of those spiritual terms that mystifies a lot of people. It's like, "How do I hold space exactly? Is that like taking up space?" No. Not really. Holding space is about how we learn to be with others without judgment. It doesn't require you to be anyone other than who you are, although a lot of times people have to learn to let go of their own beliefs to really hold space for another.

I'll do my best to explain this term and why it's a powerful addition to your spiritual practice and to living your life in general.

As a quick side note, you can read my latest spiritual awakening tips and thoughts in my newsletter called, "The Wake Up Call."

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Letting Go of You

Mainly when I use this term "holding space," it's in reference to how we interact with others and a variety situations. I suppose it could be used in reference to holding space for yourself. At the heart of the matter is putting aside your thoughts and judgments. That's key to allowing someone to be as they are. To do this, it helps to understand yourself. If you don't really understand your beliefs and how you think and act, it'll be very easy to become triggered and judgmental of another person.

To learn how to hold space, it's important to learn how to watch/witness your thoughts. That step is part of letting go of your own self-judgments and to see how your ego self functions and judges you and everyone else. The less you judge yourself, the less you are likelty to judge another. The less your ego is running your inner show, the more you easily and naturally hold space for others.

The Timeless Witness

You can discover a lot about your ego self just by noticing the stuff running through your brain. Meditation and journaling are ways to mindfully notice and question what is happening inside you. You may also want to read different spiritual texts to help you better orient towards spiritual truths rather than cultural and familial beliefs. There's a lot of inner garbage filling up a lot of people's inner space. When your inside space is super cluttered, it's hard to hold space for another. Thus, the more inner work you do, the clearer you become to be with others in whatever way they need.

Unwriting Family Beliefs and Behavior Patterns

4 Simple Steps to Holding Space

Doing your own work is key, and I can't emphasize the importance of that enough. The more at peace you are with yourself, the easier it is to hold space for another and allow them to be with whatever may be going on in their lives.

As you cultivate that part of your spiritual practice, it is easier to hold space. Here are four simple steps to doing that:
  1. Let go of judgment
  2. Open your heart
  3. Allow another to have whatever experience they're having
  4. Give your complete undivided attention to the situation/other person (aka be fully present)

Those are the key elements of holding space. You're not trying to influence the situation. You're not trying to fix it, win at it, or affect any kind of outcome. You are simply being with it fully so that it can work itself out. This doesn't mean becoming a victim to it, and it certainly doesn't mean being physically hurt by another.

Contrary to any fears that you may have about getting hurt while holding space, you're very powerful in this space. When you're deep into a space like this, you are far more immune to any "emotional" hurt than you might realize. So much of emotional hurt is just our own wounding being triggered. Emotional hurt is taking what someone else says personally. But truthfully, what most people say about us is just a reflection of themselves. It's not personal. And while we don't turn a blind eye to everything other people are saying, we really begin to understand just how much illusion everyone else is trapped in. The more you understand that, the more compassion arises when you are holding space, and compassion is a clear sign of an open-heart.

Allowing a Situation to Unfold

My example of holding space usually comes from my work with students, but I definitely do this with friends and other people in my life. The best example is when someone is expressing some pain or some difficulty. In these moments, I'm holding them with a lot of love and letting go of my judgments about them and the situations that they're describing. I'm not interested in fixing them, and I trust that as they allow themselves to fully express what's happening, deeper healing is already at work.

Depending on how aware someone is, I speak less and less. The more of a practice they have, the more I trust in their own deeper intelligence to find solutions when and as they are needed. Holding space is truly about allowing experiences and emotions to arise and pass away. It's about making a safe space so people can actually feel their emotions and see their thoughts in potentially profound ways. All the while, I'm removing my ego as much as possible from the situation. The magic of this is that most of the time people figure out what they need. By not repressing or avoiding their emotions, they can potentially process through and release the real pain.

In general, the human being is a self-cleaning being. If we get out of the way of that natural inner healing, it seems to do itself. I always think this is good news because it requires us to do much less. So doing less is often another aspect of holding space. In a society that is focused on doing things, this can feel counterintuitive at first. But try it out. Sit in a space of a period of time with a co-worker, friend, or lover who is upset and needs your loving presence. See what happens if you don't fuel the situation and just allow it to unfold. Sure some people can get lost in their own ego issues, but when you are holding space as a friend, it's not your job to get them out of those ego mental loops. You certainly can try, but do so only if it naturally arises to share something.

Always go toward your own clear presence first.

Be Here Now

The Magic of Holding Space and Building It as a Practice in Your Relationships

Holding space can be a lot of heart-work (I'm making a pun on hard work, here. Get it? ;). The first time that you do this and you are non-reactive to a lover's outburst or a codependent friend's tears, they may think you don't care.

Far from it.

You actually are caring more about them than ever before because you're not feeding their emotional wounds. If anything, they now have to look at their emotional debris and own it because you're holding space as opposed to rolling around in this emotional mud with them. This can be intensely uncomfortable for the other person. It can be transformative as well. As always, it's up to the other person in the equation to make the choice as to what results from it.

You can only own your pieces of the puzzle. A happy, transformative ending is not necessarily the outcome that will arise when you hold space. You may want to explain what you're doing with the other person if this is the first time that you've done it with them. It may be a relief for the other person to not have you butt in and try to run their life. Holding space cuts in many different directions, but it is always an enlightening experience--just not necessarily very comfortable initially. It may end relationships that don't want to evolve. Keep in mind that most people are happy living in the filth of their misery. They still want to come home and complain about how the world is dumping on them, on their ideas, and on their spiritual practices. If you don't join in with that wallowing, they can get upset. They may leave. And you need to be just as comfortable with that outcome as with the positive outcome that brings closer friendships and intimacies.

Absorbing Other People's Issues

A common issue that crops up, especially for the highly sensitive/empathic people, is the feeling that they absorb other people's issues when they are holding space. Whenever you feel like you are "taking on" someone's energy or issues, that's a sign that you have an issue or a need yourself. Our needs are like Velcro that grab the debris of life. Truthfully, there is energy of all kinds flowing around you all the time. Most of it doesn't trigger anything. The stuff that does trigger you and gets stuck on you shows you where you are not clear. So rather than seeing holding space as a potentially depleting or toxic thing, consider it a form of illumination and self-education on your spiritual journey.

Additionally, you aren't supposed to take on other people's issues to "help" them. This is another common misconception. You are not here to fix other people's issues. When you are holding space, you are simply allowing people to have their issues. Let them have their experience. Their pain--if this is a moment where someone is experiencing pain--is teaching them an important lesson. By trying to take that pain away, they will not be able to learn from it, and you cannot complete the lesson for them. You'll just exhaust yourself, and both of you are now in an unhealthy codependent situation. That situation won't resolve itself until you let go of the pain and they finally feel it to the point that they are ready to let go of their suffering. Never forget that pain and suffering are some of the most powerful spiritual teachers for humanity.

Failing at Holding Space

You probably won't be very good at holding space initially. You'll notice just how much ego crap you've still got that either wants to fix, change, wallow, or otherwise get lost in the issues someone is sharing with you. However, this is still a worthwhile practice. I'd encourage you to find someone with whom you can practice this. You can take turns talking while the other listens. This is very similar to my blog post about the Art of Listening only with a slightly different twist. That post is about finding your voice and helping another find his or her voice. This is about how you learn to be with any story told to you. This is about how you can be open-hearted and without judgment when the worst is said about you as well as the best is said about you. But you don't need to jump that far into the fire yet.

The Uncomfortable Truth About Being Open-Hearted

For the most part, you'll just be hearing people talk about their own pain. See how you can be with it. See what comes up inside of you, and then you should talk about what comes up with your listening partner. Or you can journal it out if you don't feel comfortable talking about it with your listening partner yet. Watch what stories you project on someone and all the ways where you want to control the experience or get activated by their emotions. Any time you get upset by something, you're finding an issue--a bit of unhealed pain--in yourself. It's a powerful practice to develop this awareness so that you can be with more and more people and all the stories and wisdom and pain they share. You can begin to find out what's true for you and help them find their own inner peace if you can stop, hold space, and trust the situation to unfold as it should.

If you'd like to learn more about holding space and working with me in my sessions, please read this FAQ:

Frequently Asked Questions About My Sessions

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Thriving vs. Surviving in the Workplace

Susan offers her thoughts about bringing spirituality into her work in a genuine way.

I recently performed a standard physical therapy treatment on a patient. The conversation took a unique turn once we ran out of topics to discuss such as the weather. He spontaneously started talking about where his path has lead him thus far in his career, family, etc.... As the treatment continued his pain began to increase. He started to concentrate on his breathing then laughingly stated, “I’m trying to get there.” He was referring to a meditative state. I gently smiled and said, “There’s nowhere to get to.” He paused then laughed as if he understood. His comment made me think how we all are often trying to get somewhere, especially in regards to our career path. There are so many people focused are getting to the next step instead of focusing on where their feet are placed in the Now. A few more minutes passed. His silence finally broke when he softly asked, “Why do you do this?” He was referring to my job as a physical therapist assistant. I paused for a brief second asking myself the same thing. A moment of clarity came to me not until after the conversation. Experiencing these precious intertwining moments of healing between patient and therapist is the reason for why I do what I do. We are here for each other. There is no ‘One’ or ‘Other’, but only Each other. The question is when will we stop grudgingly viewing our jobs as “work” instead of a great opportunity to serve each other with compassion?

Practicing compassion for each other can be difficult at times. Don’t get me wrong. There are those days when a co-worker won’t be a team player, and your boss is perfectly content checking the latest news on Facebook while you are working your butt off. There’s gonna be those days when the dog poops all over the apartment and the kids will do anything but behave themselves. That is going to happen. Those seemingly negative aspects of a job are intertwined in the ebb and flow of life. Change is inevitable. Neither is good or bad, it just is. The one thing I can do amongst all this change is to be aware of the change that happens within. I am often the one that makes these events a problem in my mind when it doesn’t have to be. The moment I bring acceptance to whatever happens in my day, is the moment I have the freedom to change (Brach, T. Radical Acceptance). This is the point where I am reminded that I always have a choice.

Choosing the type of work we do may not seem like a viable option at this time, especially considering the troubled economy. Spirit may not have us in our dream job right now, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a purpose for where we are right now, either. Whether you feel stuck like you are in a never ending re-run of the movie, “Office Space” or constantly feeling the need to discipline your child, there is always a purpose for where you are in this moment. I like to view it as the ultimate opportunity to know one’s self more deeply. That’s why we have a daily practice. It’s in the moments of yoga class, meditation, dance, conscious breathing, etc. that we are able to align ourselves with whatever is happening throughout our workday.

I can recall discussing an issue with a co-worker a few weeks ago. The discussion could have readily turned into a battle of egos. Without thought, I immediately began to look at my coworker with a compassionate heart, starting with focusing on my breath. Although my ego desperately did not want to hear her point of view, I chose to be present and listen to what she had to say. It wasn’t until that moment when I felt a noticeable change in the air between us. It felt very clear rather than dense and full of fear. That was a clear example of how easy it is to create problems in our mind instead of using the tools we have to create a space of acceptance.

As I implement compassion towards others, I am learning it is just as important to cultivate those qualities within myself. I’m finding it easier to notice the thoughts of the ego, but it seems difficult at times to allow them to flow freely through me. I’m sure many of us have heard the term, “misery loves company.” I notice that my ego loves being around that. It’s so easy to get caught up in the drama of a work environment. The ego will do anything to feel accepted in a group. This is why I have found it incredibly important to honor what I am feeling. My ego likes to think that I should only have compassionate/loving thoughts in all situations. That’s obviously not what being human is about. I’m finding when I feed these thoughts it only creates more of an imbalance, causing me to feel less grounded and less heart-centered.

These tools have also helped me become more aware of the career path I am following. There are many people who aren’t working in a job that is aligned with their path. A good example is working in a butcher shop when you are a vegetarian. As mentioned before, some say that they don’t have a choice. Others say they couldn’t imagine doing something different because they’ve been on their present career path for so long. That’s where fear inhibits us from becoming aligned with our path.

Maintaining a daily practice is incredibly important for me to stay true to myself throughout my work day. It helps me stay clear throughout the day, taking one moment at a time. It is one of the many things that helps me know the difference between thriving and surviving in the workplace. It is a daily reminder for me to know that we are all interconnected to benefit each other. It is a daily reminder for me to ask myself, “Why do I do this?”

Susan started to cultivate a deeper relationship with the Creator four years ago when she was introduced to the works of Eckhart Tolle's, "The Power of Now" by Jim Tolles. Her life has been transformed in countless ways since then.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Healing and Transforming Intimate Relationships on the Spiritual Path

One of the common things that happens to many people on the spiritual path is that they move into a very different heart-space, head-space, and really soul-space than everyone else around them--including their romantic partner. This last one is the really hard one because you will be touching such amazing new intimacies on a wide variety of levels that you can't help but want to touch those deeper spaces with your dear one. You think to yourself, "How can I feel so much so deeply with all these other people and not get to feel it with this special person?"

I know. It's one of those difficult things, and it's one of those things that dissolves many intimate relationships as you complete the lessons and karma between you. Many people have to leave the relationship because it no longer serves their continued growth and because they don't want to interact in many of their old habits that weren't healthy. But with that said, this post is a much more hopeful post. I'm writing because you've dedicated yourself to the spiritual path, and you have a husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, or other significant lover in your life who is willing to give this spiritual thing a shot. So here we go.

Letting Them Find Their Own Spiritual Path
You know conceptually that everyone needs to find their own path. But secretly, you want your partner to find a path like yours. Who doesn't? It's so wonderful to share these discoveries. If you're really into hatha yoga, you want to share partnered poses and all that fun stuff. Well, that may not be what's right for your partner. It may be the exact wrong direction for them. Can you now find space to allow that? Can you find space to allow your partner to find his/her own spiritual path? This is one of the biggest things that many people have to learn to deal with.

I believe that the deeper two people develop their spirituality, the more places of connection are opened between them, and it doesn't have to be because you do the same outward spiritual path. Ultimately, all spiritual paths are inner-work, and that inner space is the same for all. It is love. It is union. You're into hatha yoga, tantric energy transmission, Christian mysticism and breathwork. Your partner is into Buddhist meditation, journaling, Qigong, and attending spiritual talks. That's fine. You're still both heading in the same direction. If anything, this gives you an incredibly rich ground of sharing if you both cultivate spaces of acceptance around it. It's a very funny thing to suddenly run into your intolerance in this space when you hear that little part of yourself that says, "That's great that my partner is doing all this, but I really wish s/he'd do this other thing with me." Ahh...your ego is hard at work. Time for you to do more of your own spiritual work.

Letting Go of Control in the Relationship
There's a shitty little control game that likes to play out underneath these supposedly benevolent feelings to help your partner become "more spiritual," whatever the Hell that means exactly. Essentially, you've said that you DO NOT accept your partner completely as she or he is. You're saying that they'd be better if they did this spiritual thing. It's true. This is what you're saying. Dig into the feelings around it. You may find other things. You may find a feeling of being separate or isolated from your partner. It's not that someone who isn't doing the spiritual work is doing their part in connecting to you. They may not be. But we always have to start with ourselves on this path. How can we expect a beloved partner to connect more deeply with us when we keep throwing up roadblocks to that deeper connection? Intimacy can only fully come in our relationships when we're fully intimate and connected within ourselves.

So start looking at all the ways that you're putting judgments on your partner about what she or he should be. Look at all the ways that those judgments and expectations limit your current ability to connect in that intimate relationship. It may be revelatory and slightly depressing to see just how much crap you still have to own in the relationship. It may also be incredible how much more intimacy comes when you no longer put all that junk on top of your love.

Being a Gentle Witness and Guide
You already know a lot about this space, and that should definitely be added into the relationship. Your partner will very likely turn to you for advice on what to look into. Offer your suggestions gently and without attachment. It's a great way to show support without holding onto an outcome. I love dancing, and any woman that I happen to be with, I most certainly love to suggest conscious dancing as a great outlet for mindfulness and exploration of the body. But that may not be right for a partner I may be with. It doesn't mean that I don't make the suggestion. It means that I don't seek a response. Ultimately one of the great truths many of us learn is that no matter how clearly we see the world, we never really know what's right for another person. You need to accept that piece. As you do, what you have to offer can really flourish.

Helping During Difficult Transitional Moments
For awhile, you may not feel very equal to your partner. This in and of itself is an ego illusion because the ego still loves to rate everything. While there is some validity in some ways, you shouldn't get caught up in evaluating where your partner is on his or her path. Instead, it's important to help when requested and especially during difficult moments. It's important that when your partner initially hits a wall (gets bored, gets scared, gets overwhelmed) that you mindfully address it together. It can open up a lot of space for intimacy although it may be hard at times. You will be pushed in this process (partly because your relationship is coming more fully into the space of spiritual  work--you'll be learning oh-so-much). Your partner may act out. They may say, "That this was a stupid idea" and "It's all your fault." Can you learn to be with this? That's what's important here. They're not angry at you. Your partner is angry at him or herself, and if you both can create a way through these difficult moments, more connection can grow in the relationship. Or not. Not everyone is ready to make that commitment, but if your partner does, now more than ever is the critical stage to hold space for whatever comes up for your partner without judging it.

(Hold space is a term that I'm sure not many of you are familiar with. Essentially, it means to focus on being present, loving, and without judgment. Check out this blog post for more: Understanding How to Hold Space).

Accepting That the Spiritual Path May Complete the Relationship
I like to use the term "completion" in regards to relationships ending. Many people consider any relationship ending to be some kind of failure or great sadness. I don't think that way. I think some relationships are meant to serve a purpose for a little while and then to close. All things arise and then fall away. And stepping into the space of spirituality may cause your lover to decide that he or she has to move on from you. This can really hit all the hot buttons. You thought you were strengthening the relationship. You thought that this would bring you both closer together, and beforehand, perhaps you'd thought about ending it. And now your partner comes and says that s/he can't be with you anymore.

It's hard. I know.

But it also may be time. You both will have served each other to the best of your abilities, and your partner is now honoring the truth of this situation. That's a beautiful thing. See if you can let it end honorably, lovingly, and completely. This isn't a tragedy. It may be hard, depending on your living situation. But it may now be making space for better partners for both of you. And that's okay.

Letting the Healing and Transformation Continue
For many of you, you have a lot to heal through relationships. So the next relationship may be very temporary for you. Or it may not. Sometimes as our spirituality deepens and we move through something major, our cycles of completion speed up. People and relationships flow in and out of our lives faster and faster. That's okay. You're heading towards a critical juncture in your life. Go into these moments and intimate relationships as deeply as you can. Allow this deeper healing and cultivation of intimacy to further transform you. Because as you transform, you are calling forth a more able partner to travel with you on your spiritual journey, and while no one will stay with any of us forever, it is a beautiful thing to continue to learn how to connect deeply, profoundly, and even more lovingly with new partners as they appear in our lives.

Monday, September 12, 2011

How to Build Your Sandcastle

When you're a kid and you're anywhere near the ocean, you almost certainly learned the joy of building sandcastles. Something about the pure creation of it mixed with the visceral pleasure of sticking your hands into the ground makes it an absolutely intoxicating experience. As a child, you create something out of nothing. Perhaps, you have a parent who adds high flying turrets as you dig out an elaborate moat around the castle for the water to come in and surround this amazing construction. It's a beautiful accomplishment, and it will be destroyed. One way or another, the ocean will come and pull it all down. And such is the truth of all of our lives.

The Awakening Wave that Drowns and Destroys
For those of you who cling too tightly to your old ego and your old ways, awakening energy is horrific. You watch your sandcastle get torn down, but you're so caught up in the destruction that you can't see anything else. You want that old sandcastle back--you want your old life back and the old ways of interacting. And each time you build it back, the ocean comes again and knocks it down. It's one of those amazingly humbling parts of awakening. Despite how hard we try to go back in time. We cannot. We are already committed to the path.

To look at it another way, your sandcastle wasn't ever really that sturdy, was it? It is, after all, made of sand and on a sandy beach. A little quake would have sent it tumbling, and to keep rebuilding it on this unstable surface is an invitation to continued destruction. Why do you persist? Can you not see that you have nothing solid to build upon?

Guiding the Waves and Finding New Ground
When awakening first happens, we feel slightly victimized--well, many of us do. I suppose, for me personally, I didn't. I'd been creating space for it, so in that way, I gave the waves of energy some place to go. Letting go of the sandcastle metaphor for the moment, I had made space for this energy, but still it blew up everything in my life for awhile. But perhaps, I felt better because I also helped to tear down the sandcastle. Perhaps, that's the big part that we all need to have as kids; we all need to appreciate mindfully tearing down the sandcastle and letting it go.

But many of you didn't create that space, and even as a part of you knows that you need to find solid ground, you still stick to this beachhead. Valiantly shoveling deeper moats to try and channel the water away from your precious sandy construction, it does no good. A bigger wave comes and demolishes you again and again until you let go.

The Power of Letting Go
So much of the spiritual path is about one thing: letting go. Releasing into the energy of life, we are not without means and ability. We don't become brainless drifters. We become empowered guiders and shifters of this energy. Only when we open fully to it can we guide it, and to open to it means to let go of our resistance to it.

Consider that no one ever really does very well swimming against the current. Putting aside salmon and whatever crazy evolutionary thing taught them to swim upstream, we all do better finding the deeper currents in our lives and flowing with them. We all do so much better releasing into the reality of what's already around us as opposed to fighting what is there. Your job and relationships are as they are. Accept them. Stop resisting them and thinking that your spouse is going to magically transform over night. Release that resistance to that reality. That's part of how we come into the flow. The decisions you make after you fully accept your reality then become much more powerful. They become pro-active instead of reactive, and there's just so much amazing energy that you can then cultivate and guide into proactive goals because it's not dissipated and lost fighting everyone and everything around you as your reactive responses do.

Rebuilding Sandcastles Knowing that They'll Be Washed Away
But still, as you find a better foundation for what you're building, it will still always be a sandcastle. It will still always be temporary. Sometimes your sandcastle will get knocked down sooner as opposed to later, so appreciate it. Appreciate that you built it, and appreciate that it has been washed away. For those of you right in the middle of an awakening transition, it feels like every time you make a sandcastle--a new you and a new way of being in the world--it gets immediately knocked down. That's good. You've already worn out that new you, and it's time for another. Just because something gets washed away doesn't invalidate the building of it nor the enjoyment of it if only for a few moments before the next wave comes. Ultimately, it will help you to be more open and to let go of more things. Because we can't keep anything at the end of this life anyway. Somewhere out there I remember a t-shirt that read "He who dies with the most toys, still dies." It's morbid. But it's true. It's best to learn that earlier in life. It leads to fewer regrets.

Finding What's Real: A New Foundation
After awhile, you really wonder what a good foundation looks like anymore. You may be so tired of rebuilding sandcastles. It's okay. But life is temporary. Life is change. This is the truth of it all. But the best foundation that you can find to build your life will always be on faith. It will be on love. It will be on truth. These are the things that are real. But don't take my word for it. Challenge this. Dig deeper in your journal. Write about what you think you can truly rely on, and honestly, you may only feel like it's your car some days with how crazy life can get. And then I say, but can you really rely on your car? I think driving a car (and maybe it's just because I live in the SF Bay Area) is a continual act of faith. Faith that someone won't hit you. Faith that the internal combustion chamber continues to work right--we are, after all, riding controlled explosions. I can't see how anything but faith, love, and truth can be any kind of firm foundation to build from.

Everything else, gets washed away.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The New Face of Compassion: A Deeper Dive

Last Saturday, I was hanging out in a park in Berkeley. It was one of those days when I feel like free-writing. Free-writing, for those of you who aren't familiar with it, is simply letting yourself write whatever. I write in such structured ways for most of my time that it's a real relief and joy to open up my creativity further. You know. Write more sentence fragments. End trains of thought abruptly. Play with words to make up new meanings. Make new words. Paint word pictures of brief glimpses of beauty that I see. And so on and so forth. It's always a good time.

I happened to see an old black man, whom I assumed to be homeless, lying on a park bench. It was interesting to me because I didn't see him at first. His clothes had blended him in to the bench. His clothes had helped him to be camouflaged, hidden, forgotten. Part way through the afternoon a brief skirmish breaks out. Some guy has a knife. Someone is calling the cops. Voices are upset. But he sleeps on. Undisturbed.

So much is made of compassion, but how many of us ever really touch true compassion? The ego co-opts it so quickly and makes it about us. We turn giving, charity, and compassion into ways to make ourselves feel better. They become ways for us to feel like we're making a difference, but in awakening, you really learn that you have absolutely no clue what God's plan is, nor what is right for anyone else. Sometimes, it's all you can do to figure out what's right for you. And that deep understanding changes compassion irrevocably.

Intuition becomes a lifeline. As you just live your life, you'll notice all kinds of crazy things happen that you might never have expected to have happened. I think a lot of the uprisings in North Africa certainly weren't things that people were really expecting to have happen, and even now, it's tough to know how everything will work out. I believe they're hunting down Muammar Gaddafi in Libya right now, but who really knows what the next government will be like? The universe is playing such a much vaster game they we can understand.

But that doesn't lead towards a kind of apathetic experience of life. If anything, awakening will make you more empathetic to all people. You'll feel the joys and the plights of everyone from CEOs and Presidents of State to school teachers, jail wardens, and the homeless. You'll see very deeply and honor that these are the paths that they've chosen.

I was in that space today as I gazed at this man slumbering on the bench. I had so much compassion and love for him. This is his path. I have no idea what will come in his life. I have no idea what he wants or where he "should" go. I just know that at the end of the day, he is human like me. He's experiencing life in the way that he is experiencing it. And that's okay.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Free Spirituality Webinar and Free Monthly Newsletter

I'm busy as ever. Here are two new things that I wanted to announce.

What Is Spirituality Webinar
I wanted to let everyone in my readership know about a free webinar that's coming up on September 21st at 12pm PST. This should be an accessible time for most people around the world since I know that many of you are abroad. In the webinar, I will be tackling the topic of spirituality to help people see how spirituality is already in their lives and that it can be realized in every moment. I will also discuss associated topics such as religion and spiritual awakening. Ultimately, the point of this webinar is to give you a basis to create your own understanding of spirituality as well as other important concepts.

There will be time at the end for questions too.

Register for "What Is Spirituality?" on this link.

Free Monthly Spirituality Newsletter
Also, I now have a free monthly newsletter where I'll be sending out updates and tips on a regular basis. It's still a work in progress (what isn't on this path, right?), so I'm happy to get your feedback. For those of you who are subscribed to this blog (and most likely reading this post from your inbox), the newsletter is different from the subscription that is sending my blogs directly to your email. I wanted to mention that just in case there's any confusion.

Subscribe to The Wake Up Call--a free monthly newsletter.

Feel free to leave comments if there are different webinars that you'd be interested in attending. Thanks in advance!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Permission to be a Hot Mess on the Spiritual Path

For most of our lives, a lot of us try to put a good face on things even when we feel awful. We end up using drugs and alcohol and even sports as ways to let out pent up frustrations and emotions. They're more like steam vents; they let the steam out, but they don't take care of the fire that's burning inside. When spiritual awakening strikes and even as you move along in your path, emotions come up. It's often very involuntary. They simply arise, and you suddenly find yourself face-to-face with a lot of anger, sadness, or fear. The old inclination to repress, avoid, or do something else to remove the feeling may kick in, but this is precisely the moment when we need to allow. This is precisely the moment when things get a little messy.

It Ain't Pristine on the Spiritual Path
Because there's this image of starched white robes and silent retreats that gets stuck in people's heads, I write a lot of blogs like this precisely to help you re-humanize spirituality. We're not escaping the muck of life when we're following the path of transcendence; we're going right into it. And because life is messy and we've got a messy inner space, things get messy around us. We cry. We scream. We get intensely scared. We get so scared it makes our teeth hurt. Now it is important to make a differentiation here. Clearing emotions on the spiritual path goes through a couple phases:
  1. The emotion rises to your consciousness.
  2. You experience the emotion.
  3. You release the emotion.
This is not an emotional tantrum. You certainly aren't using your emotions to manipulate situations and people. If this has been your path, you're going to actually have to re-experience those moments and how it feels to be manipulated. It's a wholly different thing than just having a nervous breakdown because one of the key things is that after you release the emotion, you feel clearer and cleaner than before. You feel a little less weighed down, and you probably are feeling pretty raw and/or exhausted.

Finding a Safe Space to Be a Mess
Unfortunately, most of our lives aren't set up to make space for messy breakdowns. I've really appreciated the conscious dance circles in the SF Bay Area because when people have emotions come up during dance, there's actually a lot of permission for people to have those emotional out-pourings. I don't know that I've seen it too many other places. Even some meditation groups don't really understand such things. They just think you can't be quiet and aren't meditating "right."

With that said, you need to develop places in your life where you can be a mess--if only for 15 minutes. Whether you have time set aside in your bedroom away from your family or whether you actually can get away to a retreat or even a camp-out, it's crucial to have this space in your life. You're going through one of the most profound deep cleaning cycles of your life, and for those of you already in awakening, it all has to get washed out. Not one inch of you is going to be left untouched.

Finding Comfort With Intense Emotions
Because so few of us are actually taught how to be with intense emotions, there's going to be an adjustment period where you have to consciously give yourself permission to have these feelings. It's not going to be easy. You'll feel it through your whole body. One of the feelings that I've had is this feeling of dying. I really don't like it. In many ways, some old emotion, karma, or old self is dying, but it can feel so tied in to who I think I am that the sense of dying comes through. It feels like I'm dying.

Without a lot of permission around this, you can manifest phantom diseases or even real diseases. In many ways, the body complies with whatever the mind fixates on. If you believe it enough, it just may come true. So when it feels like you're dying (abiding you are actually in good health and you get your regular check-ups with the doctor), you'll have to learn how to make space to detach from the feeling. You'll need to learn how to watch it and be with it. In many ways, this feeling isn't about you. That's a key realization to come to. So just let it go. Let it die to you.

Cleaning Cycles: Wash, Rinse, Twirl Around Like a Goofball, and Repeat
You most likely will have cycles of cleansing too. This can be part of the awakening timeline that I mentioned in an earlier blog, or it may simply be about healing, which is making space for a deeper awakening awareness that has not yet begun to move in you. It's all very subtle, and only you will know exactly what it is. But it will come and go. You'll go through one of these cleanses, and then you'll come out of it. You'll usually feel a lot better. Depending on your path, you can feel really amazing shortly after one. It's how some of us get to be spiritual workaholics. Once you find out just how amazing you can feel when you clear out old junk, you want more so you can find out just how much more awesome you can feel. This is one of the addictive qualities of the spiritual path, which has it's own challenges. But initially, it feels damn good.

Your Spiritual Support Network Comes Through
Depending on the intensity of the clearing or awakening, you could be a real hot mess. You may not be able to do much of anything. This is when a spiritual support system is so important. The people who are in it may not even seem to be very "spiritual." They just may really love you (which is about the most spiritual thing I can think of). And so they'll support you, and you'll need to let yourself be supported to turn your attention to the fullness of the experience. That's the only way to fully release it. Don't do none of this nonsense around being independent. It gets you nothing. The same way being a helpless victim gets you nothing on this path. You have to stand up, and then receive this experience, which then may knock you on your ass. These are almost always all the emotional experiences you've avoided having all your life. They've been sitting down in the basement of your soul for too long. Now they need to come out. It's what we all have to do before the deeper fullness of ourselves can come forth.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Spiritual Awakening Timeline: Managing Your Shifts

I hope to not get too many expectations set up with the title of this blog. I'm not going to tell you how long your awakening will last. Only you can do that. I am also not saying that you can control your shifts when I use the term "managing." Instead, what I'm speaking to is coming into awareness around how you shift and your specific needs through each wave. In bringing awareness to these shifts, you begin to understand your shifts and make space appropriately for the work it takes to fully embody these energetic blasts, i.e. how to manage it.

With all that said, I like to carve up these shifts into 3 main categories:

  1. The energetic wave and opening
  2. Healing & integration
  3. Recuperation

The Wave Comes and Overturns the Boat
For me, awakening energy comes in waves. As I've gotten more used to how they feel, I have less resistance to them. They merge into me and restructure me in fundamental ways that I can't explain in a blog post. If you've ever had this awakening energy move through you, you know what I'm talking about. But for most of us, this wave is so powerful and we have so much resistance that it typically overturns the boat. We feel completely overwhelmed. We can't deal with it or know how to help ourselves. So we get submerged and struggle furiously to try to get back above the surface water.

Take for example that you are actually on a boat. Trying to escape the wave is impossible, but people try to do it. They expend tons of energy trying to outrun it, exhausting themselves with work, relationships, and other things. The only way to really deal with it is to go straight into it (okay, so I'm not a nautical person; just roll with this). That's the quickest way to get through something. In essence, you are no longer exerting energy running from it. And you certainly aren't trying to stop the wave. How could you? Even then, a lot of us try to stop it and get our boats turned upside down and crashed against reefs. At this point, I'll be getting a very tearful phone call or upset email from someone who has just wrecked. :) Which is okay, and certainly not all tears are bad tears. But where there is resistance in us to these shifts, the pain will be unbearable.

Letting Go Into the Energy Wave
The only way to get through this awakening is by letting go. There are lots of spiritual tools to help you, but ultimately they all amount to the same thing--helping you to let go. Whatever you need to help you to let go, you should look into it. If chanting helps you to clear your voice to let go of the resistance to saying what you feel, then chant. If journaling helps you to let go of the issues with your mother, then journal. But just remember that those tools are all leading you towards the same thing: total acceptance and letting go.

Because letting go is your fast route through awakening. It's the only way really. All else will only increase the suffering. It's not the awakening that's making you suffer; it's you. You're the problem. This is a discovery that we all come to. When we can look at the person in the mirror and identify the problem, we've come a long way. As we do that, it becomes a little easier to let go and allow this change without fighting it.

Healing and Integration: Still More Energy Required
However, so much can be moving through us and we are so new to trying to contain and cultivate any of this that outside help can be essential. So find your outside support. This is an okay thing to do. It isn't a loss of face, and it certainly doesn't mean that you're weak. Although in many ways, you'll feel weakened. You may feel helpless as all this energy moves through, and then it unlocks a lot of old issues stuck inside. Those issues have to heal before you can fully integrate this new level of energy and awareness. You're going to keep going through these cycles for awhile. Most of us don't usually take one hit and are done for life. At it's deepest truth, these cycles have been going on our whole lives, but now, you're actually sensitive to them. Certainly, some are bigger than others. Perhaps, these energy cycles are particularly big because we've repressed them for so long and built up a huge amount of energy that should have come a little at a time all along. Who knows for sure?

So, all the energy churns up the bottom of the seabed in you. All those gnarly things down there are brought to the surface, and you have to face them. As you clear that part of you, you can integrate more of the energy. It's like making more space in your house (I know, I'm jumping metaphors. I haven't done enough boating in my life to stick with the other one ;). The more crap you get out of your cellar; the more cool new space you have in your home. It makes it much less cluttered, and you can hold so much more of this new awareness that is your true you.

With all of this said, you will need time to recuperate after those first two segments have passed. This can be frustrating because the first two stages could easily have incapacitated for you an extended period of time. This makes working in the 9-5 world pretty much impossible. For those of you in really intense shifts, you probably aren't working at all. It takes all you have to work through these shifts. You may have shifts that are coming in quick succession. Others of you may have shifts spaced by weeks, months, or years. I encourage you to bring more awareness to them to get a sense of how long each segment lasts.
  • How long does a wave go for?
  • How long do you need to heal and integrate the wave?
  • How long does it take to recuperate so that you can interact from this new space?

I know that you probably haven't segmented these things before, and it can be hard to get any sense of that while in the midst of the maelstrom. But as I often suggest, having a journal to chart yourself can be really helpful. It will help you to understand yourself and what your specific needs are. No one else can ever really tell you what they are--although there are plenty of intuitives, teachers, et al who can provide assistance. But at the center of this thing is you. And you do know what you need and what's going on. In building tools for yourself, you may clear out some of the sense of helplessness that most people feel--because well, you really are at the whims of a very powerful force. Ironically, that force really is just a lot of you.

Timetables for Spiritual Awakening Shifts
Of course, each shift has a different timeline. Some are small shifts that you hardly notice. They come and go in a day. Others last several years. A lot of it depends on you: what do you have to heal, how much resistance do you have, what your life purpose is, and countless other factors that I can't begin to write out. It's different for each person, but we all can get through this. We all are equipped with all the right tools to manage our own processes. That's the beauty of it, and if anything, I would encourage you to have a little faith in yourself as well as your process. You're going to be okay.

In the meantime, learn to let go. Learn to build space to have your shifts. That's the quickest way if you're concerned about how long any of this will take. As you go, you realize how silly time is. Everything is happening as it should for you. You can relax. You can let go a little deeper. Let a little more of your own life in. That's the only way to manage this process. To manage it is to give up the desire to control it or change your experience of it. Awakening stirs up a lot of anger, sadness, fear, desire, and other stuff that we've all tried to avoid. Now, it's time to watch those feelings come up, and let them go. Don't react to them. They're old news. They're old stories, and you're getting ready to write a brand new story for you. You're getting ready to fully be the true you.
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