Everybody knows the need for basic positive self-regard. Generally this does not need to be a big deal. The people who have it don’t spend a lot of time looking in the mirror at themselves, saying affirmations. They just have a proper sense of who they are in the scheme of things, and that supports a positive experience of the world.
And, of course, many (most?) of us struggle with this at times. We become aware of the ways we almost invisibly make ourselves terribly wrong, function as if we are permanently broken, or carry guilt our sins just can’t explain.
Sometimes, this emerges in a terrible experience of self-loathing. It usually has something to do with a specific incident: an ended relationship, a big conflict, a business failure, a sudden disaster we think we should have seen coming.
I’ve had one of these lately. I just can’t seem to get things right, and it’s been heart-breaking and demoralizing. In that state, I am tempted into resignation, despair, and just plain giving up. I am too flawed. I cannot fix it.
Strangely enough, when one of these states almost clobbers us in the head, as painful as it is, it offers us an amazing opportunity to look at this usually-invisible set of unconscious beliefs that run the show behind the scenes. It may feel like it’s something new, something awful that’s interrupting the more usual experience of basic okay-ness, but actually it’s the operating system showing itself for once, making awareness and revision possible.
Unfortunately, the first task is to feel it, and that’s just awful, truly awful. Time for support, for rest, for all the stuff that we use to helpfully get us through the hard times. But when the worst passes a bit, and we can begin to work with the self-loating a little, something becomes possible that hadn’t been before.
- What good thing comes to someone who pre-determines that s/he is loathsome? What’s the useful pay-off?
- What might I lose that I value if I knew I was, well, okay?
- In my family, if I retain the guilt, who gets to retain the innocence? (Usually a parent.)
- If I give myself a break, does it mean I have to give someone else a break, and I really, really don’t want to?
- Is there any chance that if I weren’t really so guilty, I might not belong to my family so well?
- Is it truly likely that I am actually the spawn of satan that I imagine myself to be? Is it more likely that I am an ordinary human with ordinary limitations?
- If I were to see myself as okay, right now, in this situation, how might it kind of change everything, immediately, in the blink of an eye?
- What kind of universe do I want to believe in? One where someone like me is loathsome, or one where someone like me is mostly just fine?
And now that it appears that you aren’t loathsome, what miracle becomes possible?…
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How much money do you have? Do you have too much? Do you have too little?
These may seem like rude questions (they kinda are), but lately the news has been highlighting an article by Sam Polk in the New York Times, “For the Love of Money.” In this article, he says that, as a bond trader, he became addicted to money: “In my last year on Wall Street my bonus was $3.6 million – and I was angry because it wasn’t big enough.” Eventually, he realized that there was something really wrong with this experience of money.
Now, this is not generally our problem. Many of us struggle to have enough. But underlying both of these conditions is a deep unhealthiness with money in our culture.
Why? Why does our culture have such a difficult relationship with wealth, abundance, and prosperity?
When we begin to think systemically about it, get a bigger picture, we might begin to wonder what it means that our country’s history has been filled with people who had more than enough, and others who actually starved to death for lack of resources.
This doesn’t matter if we are all individuals, but if we are part of a system that feels the desperation of some while we also feel the luxury of others, something is going to start to get fundamentally out of whack.
Having said this, however, you’ve still got whatever problem you’ve got with money, right? Getting paid enough, or having a good enough job, or falling constantly into debt–whatever it is, you’ve got to solve it. Ugh.
What if we could find a way to come into harmony with the centuries of wealth inequality so that we could have our own proper relationship with money? What if, by including the dignity of everyone, we could start to breathe and receive and move forward with honor and action?
Take a moment, and imagine all of your ancestors before you: poor and rich together. See the dignity of everyone, including anyone who was “bad,” used money wrongly. Thank them for your life. And ask for their support as you choose an honorable and life-oriented future for yourself with money.
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I was blessed this Christmas to preach at a little, tiny, seaside church this year. We numbered thirty-three, and the congregation, which usually sings with gusto, actually sang with real charm and beauty through the usual Christmas carols. Of many childhood holiday traditions, one that often goes most deeply is the singing of the songs we sang and know all the words to.
The postlude was “God Bless Ye Merry Gentleman,” which has got to be one of the most un-PC songs ever. We weren’t even supposed to sing along, and we hadn’t been given the music, but everyone immediately and festively joined in.
An attendee and I looked at each other delightedly as we sang, with much irony, “To save us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray!” Really, neither of us believed the words, but nothing would have stopped us from singing them, or singing them so fully. (For those of you from other traditions who have no idea what I am talking about, here is the carol in a rendition from the Weavers. Feel free to search and find the Glee and Annie Lennox versions….)
Luckily, this church doesn’t really want a full-blown sermon, even on Christmas. They ask for reflections that ask questions that make conversation, thought, and more growth possible. But even that kind of sermon needs some preparation, and as I sat down to think about it, this word came to mind: vulnerability. This topic has gotten quite popular as a result of Brene Brown’s wonderful Ted talk on the topic. But it’s been a Christmas theme since the birth narratives were first written down in the centuries after Jesus’ life.
A child born in a stable, in poverty, is God, incarnate. Not a superhero, not a king, not a warrior. A newborn impoverished baby. I look around at a congregation of thirty-three, and know, I know, the vulnerability in these lives. Sickness, death, loss, failure. All of this is present. they are SO vulnerable, and it’s in the vulnerability when things hurt and terrify and damage.
And yes, it’s necessary. Without it, literally, a child cannot learn, and grow, and thrive. Without it, they become “invulnerable,” which eventually becomes “failure to thrive,” and then death. If we aren’t vulnerable, we cannot connect, we cannot discover anything new, we cannot fully become ourselves.
God (Source, Creator, Goddess, etc.) seems to have made vulnerability necessary, essential to be human, and in some way, the primary icon for what divine life really means.
Dang it. I mean it. Dang it.
And, thank you. In the stroke of a human body against another, a hand on a face, a bit of footsy, a clap of encouragement, bliss and growth. And the capacity to be hurt.
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Family Celebrations (& Obligations),
Less Light…and then More Light,
Mourning Old (& New) Losses,
No human heart could possible hold that whole list for any meaningful length of time. And yet we do. Our heart does remarkable things, even as it breaks, heals and imagines what’s possible.
Recently, I wrote about having my heart broken, again. I got stuck, as we often do. I felt bad about being stuck. I tried really, really hard to move forward and let go and not let it matter so damn much. Needless to say, that didn’t work so well, even as it was all quite necessary.
But, when it became clear that I was blocked, and brute force wasn’t going to unblock me, and no amount of gentleness was going to do it either, I finally reached out for help.
And when the help came, it came as no effort at all. I was just, suddenly, unblocked. Someone brought what was needed (what was that? I’m not sure, but it was definitely what was needed) and then it was easy, or at least easier, and I wasn’t in conflict with myself, and didn’t have to try so hard.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean to say that it’s hopeless until grace comes, and don’t bother trying or wanting until it decides to show up. OMG, that sounds awful.
What I mean is that grace comes in the unexpected package. And we can start receiving the unexpected package when we start, well, paradoxically, looking in the strange places for it. It comes from the strange places.
You can’t bottle grace. If you could, you really would have to stop calling it “grace,” wouldn’t you? But you can work with it. I work with it every time I sit with a client, aware of and in rapport how it’s completely blocked for them, and also, at the same time, aware of how it’s not blocked, how it’s just on the edge of being resolved, how love it so right there, and soon, it will be easy.
That is this season. In Christian tradition, right now it’s Advent, the time of pregnancy and waiting, but also not waiting, because we know what’s coming, what’s come, and what’s always, always here. And we humans seem to require pregnancy, anyway. Because, apparently, we value the becoming, the growing, the healing, the receiving–none of which we’d have if we have it all already.
Have a blessed season.
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When that happens, a whole chain of meaning-laden reactions get stirred up. It’s not just grief or sadness or hurt or anger. I can’t stop making meanings.
How about you? Do thoughts like this arise?
- There’s something wrong with me.
- There’s something wrong with them.
- There’s something wrong with the universe.
- This always happens this way.
- I will never be able to trust or belong again; it’s all over for me.
- I’ve lost everything that is important to me.
- Life isn’t safe, and I don’t know how to make a move that won’t further endanger me.
That sort of thing. Sound familiar?
And then, after the drama of my understandable response and meanings, I have one final move: I feel guilty about having had all those dramatic responses, and wonder why I couldn’t have responded with the peacefulness that the Dalai Lama surely would have brought to this situation.
If there’s one thing my work teaches me, turning against yourself to get to where you want to go is useless, so let’s see if we can find a better way forward than beating ourselves up for not being enlightened yet, okay?
Making meaning out of something painful is normal. Humans simply can’t help it. But after the initial intensity (which is provided courtesy of our animal fight/flight neurology, thank you very much), what might help moving forward?
New meanings. That’s all that ever helps. Meanings that are truer expressions of our dignity, humanity and creaturely beauty. But new meanings can’t just be forced on, when the old meanings are so compelling. We might pretend for a while that, say, nothing is wrong with us, but eventually the old meaning of our wrongness will sneak back. What transforms old meanings into new, truer meanings?
It always requires work with the unconscious. So in this instance, this is what I did (and there are lots and lots and lots of ways to do this). I wrote out a version of the past event that worked out better and was more reflective of the beauty and dignity of everyone involved, and entitled it “My Probable Alternative Past.” *
Maybe it didn’t happen that way, but it’s a truer reflection of the meaning of everything and everyone. And maybe, just maybe, part of my poor, startled heart-broken unconscious will accept the better meaning of that alternative past. Because in many ways, it doesn’t matter what happened; it’s what the past means.
So, I am respecting my beating heart by telling it a truer, more loving story, and eagerly, it listens…
*Note: This idea comes from my teacher Carl Buchheit, of NLP Marin, who introduced this format to do powerful, deep change work on the memory of very difficult past events.
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Last week, I had the honor of attending, staffing, and presenting at the 2013 US Constellations Conference in Seattle. What a wonderful five days! A group of practitioners who are committed to whole-system healing, a way of finding peace that includes everything that is and has been. I am refreshed and full of joy.
I also have been reverberating with many new ideas that have come from this event, and I plan to share more of them in future blog posts. But for now, I simply want to share an Alice Walker poem I heard in the keynote address the last morning by Belvie Rooks. Ms. Rooks is on the board for the Institute of Noetic Sciences who weaves together the worlds of spirituality, ecology, and social and environmental justice in her work. She gave a powerful keynote entitled “Who Am I Really? Rethinking Identity: An Emerging Evolutionary Perspective.”
At the conclusion of her talk, which ended with this poem, I found myself sobbing, aware once again that I am the descendent of perpetrators and victims; that I have been living that conflict, unconsciously, my whole life; and perhaps, in Alice Walker’s vision, it is time for peace for them within me, as I thank them for my life, and their identities acquire a new, truer meaning in the lives of their children.
I hope you find this poem similarly moving:
for two who
my “part” Cherokee
on my mother’s side
her hair was so long
she could sit on it:
And my white (Anglo-Irish)
on my father’s side
whose only remembered act
is that he raped
who bore his son,
when she was eleven.
Rest in peace.
The meaning of your lives
Rest in peace.
the meaning of your lives
Rest in peace, in me.
The meaning of your lives
Rest. In me
the meaning of your lives
Rest. In peace
the meaning of our lives
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a poem for the descendents of victims and perpetrators…”
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I just got off the phone with a prospective client. At one point I said to her, “So, what you really want is to become a healer who honors her ancestors in her work, a happy mother and wife, and a person who just enjoys life deeply, is that right?” She sighed deeply: “Yes, that’s what I really want.” And then I felt moved to say, “Because that’s who you really are, right?” And again she sighed, and simply said “Yeah.”
The more I work with clients, the more convinced I become that I am helping people to become more of who they are. Whatever else they say, they are asking to become who they really are: people of dignity, destined for joy, of service to others, with meaningful purposeful work, in alignment with the world…These might not be your words, but I invite you to take a moment to ask: “What is my birthright, the identity that is truest about me?”
When we seek healing or change, at some point we begin to realize we are experiencing a shift in our identity, our sense of who we are and what is possible about the world. When that happens, things can start to feel up for grabs, terribly unstable, even–sometimes–downright frightening. Our old identity, as limited as it was, was comfortable, and clearly survivable (since we are still here today!). The new, truer identity might not be survivable, and it’s rarely comfortable as it begins to appear.
Over the last few years, I have been going through a massive identity change, as I transitioned from being employed to self-employed. As I discovered, being self-employed is quite a different identity than being “other” employed. I sought the change because I was pretty sure it was my truer self, but dang it was uncomfortable and at times spectacularly frightening.
Now I am at ease, since I am on the other side of the change. But, through the process, we often need support and some direction about how to both keep the change happening, and feel okay as it manifests. That support needs to be both practical (how do I open a business checking account?), and transformational (what are my internal blocks to asking clients to pay me?). I sure needed that help.
You see, we need the self-image that will support the experience of life we want. So, changes that are big like mine are called “Identity Level Changes.” Most of the big change we want–like becoming financially secure, ending depression, finding a relationship after a long period of loneliness–involve this kind of identity transformation.
We all need support to make those identity-level changes that represent our deepest heart’s desire to live in joy, health, and purpose. If you are finding some much-wanted changes really difficult to make happen, perhaps your spirit knows that you’re dealing with something that is going to lead to some bigger, identity changes, too, and your spirit is a bit spooked.
Later this fall, I am going to offer a three month long transformational group process for people who want that kind of identity-level change. It’s going to be an intensive experience for a small group of people, so if you are interested, let me know. I will be sending out more details soon.
And if you are a coach or healer running into those kinds of identity level changes as you try to figure out how to have a successful practice, I have a specific invitation here–please check it out!
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This quotation is heard frequently in certain circles from the Jesuit mystic, Teilhard de Chardin:
We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.
I can’t exactly argue with this statement, but I admit, it’s always rubbed me a bit the wrong way. Why? Because in the hierarchy of values, it lifts “spirituality” over “being human” (that is, being incarnate, in a body). And at that point, I start getting antsy.
What if being human was, really, the whole point of being here? What if we couldn’t REALLY talk about a spiritual experience vs. a human experience, because they are kind of the same?
And what might all this mean for our bodies, especially for those of us who have chronic illness or any difficulty with our bodies? In fact, what if this quotation by Friedrich Nietzsche carries a very important truth?
There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophies.
For some of us, that wisdom includes a real experience of pain, limitation or even sometimes shame. Let’s properly include that–for some us, being in bodies ain’t easy. It can lead us to desire freedom from that pain, and that’s where spirituality seems to be a gate to something better.
So, let’s combine the two, and their shared wisdom. Let’s hear our bodies and spirits speak of what they have to say, and under it all, let’s hear the voice of healing, however that might show up.
Please join me for my upcoming workshop, How To Get Our Brains & Ancestors to Support What We Want With our Bodies & Health, July 13th, 4-7p at 830 Bancroft Way in Berkeley. We’ll find the wisdom in our bodies, and see if there is a better way for it to experience what we would like.
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Our bodies are our home. When we are chronically ill, or have some persistent problem with our bodies, like weight or hating how we look, we feel like we cannot truly be at home in the world.
Our bodies take guidance from our hearts and our minds. Our physical experience therefore will be an expression of our unconscious beliefs about what is safe, and about what ensures belonging to life and to the world.
Oddly enough, “health” may not be coded in our minds as “safe.” I know that sounds extraordinary, but it’s true. Here’s a common unconscious pattern: If we grew up in a family where only someone who was sick got attention, then we might develop a pattern of being sick as a way to ensure attention and love. There’s an unconscious belief that if we are healthy, no one will ever love us, or that we will be eternally alone. Wow.
“Being unhealthy” can also be coded in our hearts as a way to belong securely to our families. If we had parents who were chronically ill, we can imagine how hard it might be for a child to fully enjoy health and vitality. It might feel disloyal to join the ranks of the “healthy.” These are just two of the ways unconscious beliefs can stabilize difficult experiences of our bodies.
What’s the way out of these unconscious patterns? First, we need to uncover the specific unconscious beliefs that we have, and second, we need to replace them with beliefs that are actually more true, and more respectful of ourselves and our families.
However, there is no way to just “shove” in new beliefs. Unconscious beliefs are revised through elegant change work that acknowledges the essential wisdom at the heart of our suffering, and creates an effortless context for updating our experience to something that is a truer expression of who we are.
If you are suffering in any way with your body, what is the wisdom at the heart of that, and what is the truer expression of who you are?
For some answers to those questions, join me for my workshop, How to Get Your Brain & Ancestors to Support What You Want with Your Body & Health, July 13th, 4-7p in Berkeley. Click here for more information or to register.
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I have a number of new clients right now who are dealing with the sense that their life is fundamentally not working, and hasn’t for a long time. They are demoralized, they lack trust in themselves and their lives, and they are understandably skeptical about whether anything can help, even though their desire for help and hope is very, very deep. They don’t want to give up–indeed, they, haven’t–but they’re not completely sure why.
As a result of years of experience, I am convinced there are two major contributors to this kind of experience: intense childhood trauma, and/or intense ancestral trauma that may go back many generations. Usually, both are at work.
One of the major contributors to the pain the client is feeling is a sense of being alone and utterly unsupported. It makes everything else worse. If there is support, well, it doesn’t really feel supportive, for some reason.
In this case, something has fundamentally interrupted the flow of life in the family. We need this flow of life to feel in life. By connecting with larger ancestral life, we can fuller life for ourselves. But if some huge suffering has interrupted this flow, we cannot feel it.
We long for something real, that truly exists, and is our proper birthright: deep ancestral support for life. We need to unentangle our relationship with that life in order to feel it flow properly in our experience.
The Good News? This is exactly what our ancestors want for us, too….