Sunday, November 16, 2014

11/17/14—Clearing the Fields

A dozen or so years ago, I drove past a farmer's field that was smoking from a recent fire. I had never seen this before, so I thought something tragic had happened. But then a few miles down the road, I saw another burned out field. And another.

This was the first time I realized that farmers occasionally burn fields to kill all the old growth and weeds. Then, I suppose, they turn the soil and plant something new. It's like a clean slate. A field that used to grow soybeans can now grow corn. 

The same concept is used by nature. Forest fires, for example, are actually necessary to keeping the forest healthy. Too much vegetation can prevent seeds from germinating, stopping the growth of new trees—and thus endangering the generational growth cycle. Also, the denser the forest, the hotter it burns and the more destructive the fire becomes. So occasional fires in the forest are mother nature's form of self-care and even damage control.

Sometimes in my life, I have felt like there were fires burning all around me. Usually when that happens it feels like my life is falling apart and I have no idea how to put the pieces all back together again. But that's just it. Sometimes the pieces have to be destroyed so they can no longer be put back together quite same way again.

In the thick of things, we can't always see the wisdom of that. We just see everything falling apart and worry we'll never recover. But then when all the smoke clears, the path we seek to recovery—and even triumph—becomes visible. And as we take steps down that path, we can look back and see everything from a new perspective. We can see why it all had to be.

Throughout my life, I've experience a number of these fires. Some of them were even tragic. But they have all blessed my life with some sort of insight, wisdom or calling that brought me to a better place. And by calling, I mean some sort of change I had to adjust to and work with...some sort of loss within myself I had to fill or bridge with a new way of being. It might have been a new state of mind or new behavior I had to adopt to make forward motion possible. All I know is that there has never been a fire in my life that hasn't led to a more capable, evolved and wiser me.

Sometimes fires happen to you and you're compelled into change. And sometimes you set them yourself, clearing what no longer serves to make space for new growth and a more evolved life. Either way, the fire tempers us and makes us stronger, as it does with steel. And what once looked like the end of the world, ultimately gives way to a beautiful, new beginning.

Adapted from a post originally written on 5/4/12. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

11/10/14—Taking Our Hero's Journey

I've been putting a lot of thought into Joseph Cambell's monomyth or hero's journey lately. The monomyth is essentially the storyline that most epic tales of heroism and attainment follow. If you took the story of Christ and Buddha and countless other heroes, real or fictional, and laid them side-by-side, it would be as if the stories follow the same, prescribed routes. 

Campbell had the story broken down into 17 phases. Not all stories go through all the phases. But basically what happens is that the hero hears a calling. The hero denies the calling and/or encounters some sort of mystical aid. Then the journey begins and the hero leaps into an unknown and unfamiliar world knowing he will be forever changed. 

Once the journey begins, all sorts of stuff happens. The hero may experience true love. They will come across trials and tests and road blocks. Someone may try to distract them from the journey. Then they will ultimately confront their own ego, perhaps in a symbolic way with someone that holds power over them or a creature that is difficult to defeat. With the ego shed, they then become enlightened and their transformation is complete. They achieve their quest and must return back to their ordinary life, but perhaps they don't want to return or maybe they have to escape to return. They must learn to integrate their new knowledge into daily life. Some, like Jesus, may transcend life. Some may bring their new knowledge to the people. But all conquer fear and ego and, with that conquered, they truly are heroic. 

So that's the hero's journey. I imagine it could come in quite useful when writing books. But you can also apply it to your own life, your own quest. And that's why I've been thinking about it. And, full disclosure, the whole reason I've been thinking about this is because I watched Elizabeth Gilbert discuss it on Oprah's Super Soul Sunday a few weeks ago and found the ways she was applying it to human stories quite interesting. 

One thing she said really stuck with me and that was that the things the hero went through while on his quest, prepared him for the next phase of the journey. In fact, he can't get to the next phase until he's been tempered by the previous phases. So in order to approach your new life fearlessly, you have to experience fear, face your demons and strike them down. You have to mire through the muck and murk in order to learn how to avoid or circumvent it. 

I found this actually quite comforting. On our own journeys and transformations, I think we're sometimes afraid we're not ready to bring our new baby out into the real world. And we see our difficulties as signs were not ready. What if they don't like the baby? What if the baby barfs on someone? We want to protect our baby. So we refuse to bring it to the real world. But then again, we can't. Because if we're so afraid of what others will think about our baby, then we clearly haven't done the important ego work needed before we can return. The only way we can bring our baby to light is by doing our work. 

So there's really no such thing as being thrust into a role unprepared. If the universe opens up and gives you a doorway, it's because you're ready to walk through it. 

That's just the beginning of what's been on my mind since I started contemplating the monomyth. That and how each of us are on a series of heroic journeys, whether they're about our spiritual development or our purpose in this lifetime, that make take anywhere from a week to multiple lifetimes to complete. And it's interesting to think about where you are on a particular journey or if you can see how the monomyth applies to things in your life or how contemplating the monomyth might add some perspective to something you're facing today. 

Today there are 7 or 8 billion people carving out unique stories all around the world. It's mind boggling to think of. But as unique as each of those stories is, we all have so much in common. We worry about our loved ones. We have dreams for our life. We long to be understood and loved. And we're all running pretty much the same, prescribed obstacle course in life in our attempts to expand and grow. 

If you knew the stranger's eyes you were looking into were struggling with the same fears and heartaches as you today, could you turn away? Whether you agree with Joseph Campbell's hero's journey or not, we're all alone together on a ball hurling through space at alarming speeds, sharing a story that's far more alike than other story we're likely to encounter across billions of galaxies. We won't move past the bottom of the circle and commence on our upswing as a society until we're ready to look deep enough inside ourselves to see even the lowest among us as our fellow traveler on the journey. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

11/7/14—Clearing Energies

My smudging materials. There's a sage bundle at 12:00, a feather for
distributing the smoke, a sweetgrass braid and the bowls in the middle
are the incenses I prepared. To the left is the sage and palo santo. To the
right is sweetgrass and some other herbs. And the white at the bottom
is a charcoal tablet on top of salt. You sprinkle the incense on the
charcoal to burn it. You can just use the actual sage bundle and
not go through all this effort, but this is how I wanted it today. 
Today was a smudgy kind of day for me. If you don't know what smudging is, it's basically cleansing and purifying something with sacred smoke. I wrote a whole post about my process here. (I'll put a link in the comments for people reading on Facebook.)

I was waiting for the full moon at 5:22 to smudge. But seeing as how it was a rainy day here, I thought I'd save "the exact moment of moon fullness" to smudge the inside of my house and just pick any old dry time to smudge my property. All my efforts for a dry experience were thwarted though. 

First, though, I don't usually smudge my property. I usually just smudge inside the house. But for some reason, I kept feeling a need to do the entire property, including my cars, so I did it. The front yard went pretty well. But by the time I worked my around to the back yard, the rain had started. Then the sky opened up and dumped bucketsful of water on me. Which isn't good when you're trying to keep sage lit and burning.

I wasn't sure whether this was a good thing or a bad thing. The violence and suddenness with which the skies opened up made me feel as if something wanted me not to smudge the yard. Then again, I could think that the rain was helping to purify. Believing in signs and all sorts of mystical things can be confusing sometimes...haha. So I did go out and make another pass at the back yard when the rain stopped and that time the sun peeked out from behind a cloud, lighting up the reds and oranges of the neighborhood trees with godlike rays. That sign was not confusing at all. 

The break in the clouds that enabled me to smudge the back yard a second
time. It was really more dramatic than this, but I was smudging
and didn't take the pic until afterward.
But it got me thinking. It took the equivalent of two small sage bundles to smudge the back yard. Some energy out there was just eating it up. Sometimes you'll see the smoke do interesting drawn to a certain corner. Or, like when I smudged inside the house, it might get very smoky in areas where it's most needed. My back yard is what I consider to be my sacred space. I would have never suspected it of needing extra care, but it did. It devoured the second smudge bundle and there was just enough to cover the whole area. So I'm glad I decided to clear the property, too. 

If you said to me right now, "it's magical thinking to think a burning herb can clear negativity or bring positivity into your life," I wouldn't be able to disagree with you. There are many things I do and believe that I'm not 100% on and cannot explain. All I know is that they work. For me. Catholics use incense in ritual, Native Americans use it, Buddhists use it...they could probably all tell you what they feel the burning does. But you won't find proof of any of it. Yet. Right now, it's all just mysticism and belief...just like everything we believe without scientific proof. 

That said, the air is completely different inside my home now than it was this morning. And whether that's measurable or not doesn't matter. It's true for me. And because it's true for me, it actually HAS shifted the mood. And that's all that ritual is about...going through motions that make us feel more empowered, protected or whatever. You don't even need spirituality to have rituals. Your morning routine is a ritual. The nightly "checking of the door locks" is a ritual. They make us feel safe, grounded. And when they're done mindfully and with intent, they can have an even greater impact on our psyche. 

BTW, I didn't have to do this in conjunction with the moon, so if any of you are thinking you missed an opportunity, you didn't. Besides, the full moon energy, if you believe in such a thing, exists the day or two before and after the actual full moon. So you still have time. What are your spiritual rituals? When do you do them and why? And do you have any herbs that are sacred to your beliefs?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

11/3/14—Relanguaging Fears

I talk to myself. That probably doesn't surprise anyone who knows me. But I talk to myself the most when I'm having fears. 

Most of my fears are about fear of failure. Fear of screwing up really badly. Fears around money. Fears of the unknown. Fear of risk. Fear of illness. Even fear of success. None of these things are unusual. But I don't know how other people handle them. I only know what I do. 

I have created a practice around them. And that is that, when the fears come up, I have something prepared inside my head to make myself feel better and make the fears go away. I call it relanguaging, but it's really just talking myself out of the fear. 

The first part is the hardest, and that's becoming consciously aware that fear has taken hold and that your head is filling up with fearful thoughts. Sometimes people walk around filled with fear and they're not consciously aware. So the first step is to stop and recognize when you're feeling this fear. Then determine what you're afraid about. Then tell yourself one of your prepared things like a mantra until you replace the fear with confidence. 

So here are some of the things I might say to myself when I'm afraid:

--"The universe (or God) didn't lead you here to fail."
--"You've never come across anything in your life you couldn't handle, why would this be different?"
--"You've gained benefit from everything that's ever happened in your life. There's no reason why that shouldn't continue."
--"You are blessed and guided by love."
--"Everything is here to help you grow."
--"It's all good."

For difficult things, like fears of utter financial destruction, I have already worked out contingencies—Plan As, Plan Bs and other solutions. This calms the fears because the worst case scenarios are never as bad as I fear. 

Coming up with worst case scenarios is a valuable tool. I learned this back when I started freelancing. My worst case scenario then, for example, was "I get a job." Now, as horrific as that option might be, it is a reasonable worst-case scenario. The dramatic scenario would be "end up homeless and whoring my body for spare change." And if that's how you want to play it, I suppose you could. But for most of us, there are other more realistic options. Like getting another job, even if it doesn't pay as much. Or moving to a place where jobs are more plentiful. Or moving in with a relative. Or getting a roommate. Once you start considering all the options, you see how unlikely the fear of homeless whoring really is. 

You also see you have far more options than you think you have. When you don't think out all your options, then of course fear is going to have power over you. You haven't set up a defense against it. In my freelancing example, seeing as how I had just had a job, getting another wasn't as awful as it seemed. Which made me feel better. And which gave me my power and confidence back. The "big risk" of quitting my job (and I won't pretend it's not a big risk) shrunk in my imagination when I realized that failure would just land me right back where I started. Now, when you make the decision to go out on your own, that's a horrible outcome, but not insurmountable. 

Nothing that I can think that's worth having comes without a risk. And with risks, come fear. But you don't have to let that fear control you. Over the summer I did some thinking on some worst case scenarios with some fears I was facing and you know what I came up with? That my worst-case scenario was something that would force me to leave my safety zone and begin the part of my life I have been slowly moving toward for quite some time! I went from the internal fear of homeless whoring to the worst-case probability of living my dreams! All because I stopped to think of what would really happen. Sometimes our worst fears are just there to guide toward our dreams. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

1-/29/14—Failing Beautifully

I was recently talking to one of my many gifted friends and she has been hesitating on really dialing up the heat beneath a career transition she's been kinda making for years. She's done the hard part. She quit her job years ago. But the pursuit of her new career and her passion passion has been slow. 

Sounds a lot like me, actually. 

So she says to me, "what if I screw up? What if I fail?" My reply was that screw ups and even failures are guaranteed. In fact, you WANT failure to happen to because failure is what gives shape to your successes. 

I've had the privilege to do what I love for 27 years. All but 10 of those years, I've been self employed. I think there's a fallacy out there that if you do what you love, the course will be smooth. You'll intuitively know what to do. You won't meet up against resistance. All the pieces will fall into place. You just have to get over your initial fears and leap. 

I don't know who feeds people that BS, but that's exactly what it is. 

Building a business is building a business, whether you love what you do, are just doing it because you believe it will be lucrative or are doing it because it's the only thing you feel you good enough at to do. Failure, embarrassments, screw ups and clients that run screaming are how you feel your way to what is right for you and your business. Bad decisions and nightmare projects help you define your target clientele. Doing a bunch of stuff that just. doesn't. work. is how you stumble upon the things that do. 

You could read all the books in the world about how to build, grow and run a business properly and you'll still make mistakes. You could be a successful entrepreneur and still eff up. In fact, experienced entrepreneurs don't even use the word failure. Instead, they call it experience. Or lessons. And if you want to do anything bad enough, you're going to have rack up some experience and education. 

What I know from my own experience is that I have undersold myself and oversold myself. I have failed to say the right thing and failed to say anything at all. I have ignored my inner voice and silenced my best judgment. I have disappointed others and disappointed myself. I have stood up for work that failed and failed to see the merit of work that succeeded. And because of that, I learned how to sell myself better (though this continues to be a weak spot for me,) share more professionally, follow my inner voice, have fewer disappointments and choose my battles more wisely. All of that came from failure. 

And you know what? After 17 years I STILL make mistakes, still make the *same* mistakes and still can't claim to do it right. But I'm mostly successful. There are some things I did right the first time...some lessons I never had to learn. And, even after all these years, there are some things I'm still learning. 

So that's what I mean about failure playing an integral role in shaping your successes and steering you toward the work that is right for you. Successful people don't get that way through success-only journeys. Their success comes more from how they see failure—as experience or education—and how they respond to it—by taking the information in without losing momentum. In a way, you're going to WANT to screw up and fail because, with each little kick in the groin, you get closer and closer to that vision you have in your head of the highly qualified professional who effortlessly handles any contingency. Plus, you may need to fail in order to hear the calling of something slightly different that is even MORE perfect for you. Personally, I'd rather be wrong and find my bliss than white knuckle my way to something I'm convinced will make me happy, only to find out it doesn't. 

And here's another bit of good news about failure. It comes in many flavors and degrees. But there's only one way to completely and bitterly fail at the pursuit of anything you want badly—never do anything about it in the first place. Everything else qualifies as education or dues. So if you've already started in, whether you've just begun researching your new endeavor or have fully hung your shingle, there's no way you can completely fail. All you can do is learn. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

10/27/14—Making Quiche

Today's post is a repost of one I did last March. 

The perfect quiche? Getting there. 
One of the things I rarely mention in these posts is that I like to cook. I might only cook once, maybe twice, a week. But I do enjoy it. And since I'm all about the cooking from scratch, I put a lot of thought and planning into it so I'm fully prepared come "go time".

I'm probably more of a "good cook" than a fabulous or impressive cook. If I have anything to brag about, it's impeccable timing. Everything is ready to serve at the same time. I never gave myself much credit for this until I found out that others have an issue with it. I'm good at multitasking in the kitchen. I get into a zone. 

Anyway, one of the things I like to do is "perfect" dishes. To my own palate, of course. So for, say, six months, most of what I cook will be risotto. Or garlic mashed potatoes. Or brownies. Or chicken marsala. Basically, I cook something over and over again until I'm using the best ingredients, best proportions and best techniques to satisfy my tastebuds. Then I move on to the next thing. 

If you can't tell by the picture I posted, right now it's quiche. Currently I'm just working on the fillings. As it turns out, you can put too much cheese in quiche. That's what I've learned so far. I'd rather eyeball than measure when I cook, which kind of inhibits the perfection process. But really it's all for fun. When I get the nice custardy filling down, I'll start working on perfecting the crusts. Right now I'm ashamed to admit I use a refrigerated Pillsbury crust. 

A month ago. Ugly overcooked crust and too much cheese. 
Cooking the same thing over and over again is not just a Zen process, it also mirrors our spiritual
pursuits—we'll often cook the same issue over and over again until it's cooked right. Sometimes we put in too much cheese. Sometimes we cheat on the crust until we get the filling just right. Sometimes we can't figure out what we did wrong, so we just do whatever. With cooking I'll generally follow a recipe closely the first time and then start improvising. Same with when I'm working through spiritual lessons. I'll try to do it "the right way" (whatever that is) the first time to get a baseline, then I'll tailor to my individual needs. 

When I first made chicken marsala, it was perfect the first time. I didn't have to work hard on that. Some lessons just come to us and some don't. But then again, sometimes you think you're done exploring a recipe and once you get into the groove with it, you find it's still missing something. Then there are the dishes that give us indigestion or are inedible. If I were to keep following that same recipe over and over again thinking it would eventually taste better, I wouldn't be a very effective cook. And then there's the garlic mashed potatoes. I can't honestly claim I ever quite perfected that (though roasted garlic got me the closest to what I wanted). But I doubt anyone else would complain. Sometimes you just have to accept your limitations and let good enough be good enough. 

Outside of "stretch" and "persist", there really aren't any set ingredients—or even a recipe—for spiritual or personal growth. Pushing past your comfort zone (stretching) and continuing to try different ways (persisting) are like the salt and pepper of the spiritual world. They're good in everything. As long as you remain stocked up on those two, pretty much any dish you want to try will be the better for it. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

10/23/14—Seeking The Authentic Me

I have this weird thing. I don't seem remember much about who I was in the past. It's like I'm totally detached from previous iterations of myself and I don't even feel like past "mes" were me at all.

There may be something deep and psychological to this. Or maybe everyone feels that way. But when I look into the eyes of the girls in this picture I know they all look like me, but I'm not sure I can say who they were. I just know I'm a very different person now. 

They all liked to write. They all had a sense of humor. And they were all on a journey of self discovery. But to one degree or another, I was always working to leave a part of them behind me where I would never have to look at it again. That's what growth is in many ways...a constant shedding of skin in search of the ever more luminous iterations of "me" hoping to reach the surface. Or maybe that's exfoliation. I'm not sure. :D Because, like exfoliation, the minute your "new skin" reaches the surface, it begins on a course of death and flakiness until it, itself, is shed. Just exposing it to the world to interact with outside forces sends it careening into certain obsolescence. 

The girl in the top row was really just trying to figure out who she was. The woman in the middle row...she's not someone I liked so much. She fell into a superficial trap and cared more about how others viewed her than how she viewed herself. The woman on the bottom row, well she's more like the woman I am today. Still searching. But looking more inside herself for the things she needs to be happy, rather than outside of herself.

Still, it bothers me in some ways that I can't identify with any of those women, not even the most recent—the one in the sparkly fortune teller's turban in the lower right hand corner. None of them seem to have captured the essence of me, not in photos or in reality.

Back in the days of the middle row, I used to feel like there was a "me inside of me" that was curled up in the fetal position, crying. Sad, I know. She would mostly come out at night, in the quiet moments as I lay down to sleep. She used to really bother me, because she felt trapped and I didn't know how to let her out. So I ignored her for years. Pretended she wasn't there. Those last two girls in the top row used to feel like her sometimes. It's like I swallowed them up and contained them within a new, shinier container, thinking it would make the pain go away. And it seemed to. For a while.

I did eventually make peace with her, though. I had to. She became to pained to ignore. So I nurtured her. I stopped a lot of negative self talk. I got rid of toxic and abusive people in my life. I learned how to handle my fears. And today the me inside of me is uncurled and living peacefully within me. But I still feel like she's captive to a degree...silent, content, but hoping to feel the air on her skin just once before she dies. She hasn't been fully integrated yet. She's just led by a kinder master.

Sometimes I wonder if "the real me" or the "authentic me" is elusive like a Sasquatch. You might catch glimpses of it, but you can never quite meet it head-on and ask it out to tea. No matter how times I've felt like I've finally reached my authentic self, I shed my skin again and that woman is lost to history. But with each layer shed and with each new iteration, I do feel like I understand my true self better. That "me inside of me" seems to fill out my skin more and more over the years. And I come more to peace with what I find inside of me, which brings me more to peace with the people and situation I find outside of me as well. 

I think we've been led to believe that "our true self" or our "authentic self" is a destination that we reach one day when we have amassed a lot of wisdom. But I'm coming more and more to believe that it doesn't exist. I think "authenticity" is more like a continually evolving journey. Sure, there's a core to us that remains constant throughout our lives. But that core is surrounded by a continually changing and evolving ether that, like quicksilver, is difficult to hold or contain. And I'm good with that. It makes life interesting. And I'm certain that if I ever stopped seeking—if there is a destination to ultimately reach—then life would lose its purpose. I've invested too much in this journey to ever be satisfied by reaching its end.