If you’re a seeker, you know there’s nothing like the wonder, the confusion, the adrenaline rush of new beginnings; nothing like the moment your heart alights on something (or someone!) new and time begins to telescope from your present moment into distant and suddenly possible futures.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re twenty-two or eighty-two, whether the journey you’re beginning is spiritual, emotional, or physical. (more…)
We look to retreats, to sacred sites, to long hours meditating to move us toward transcendence—but often soul medicine is found in simply allowing yourself to slip further and further into the work of your own soul’s calling.
It was early spring, still cold enough for gloves, my breath pluming as I timed my breathing to the breathing of my horse.
This particular horse was wild and wary. Riding him often drew a ringside crowd, gathered to watch his next inevitable bucking spree. But today he was relaxing incrementally and so was I.
Figure eights are lulling, soothing even. Round and round, asking his body to flow and arc into the circular shape. Time began to do this funny thing, loosening its hold on me and slipping sideways a bit.
This is the first moment of true transcendence I can remember…
…and it hadn’t come easily.
Family myth says the first word out of my mouth was horsey (and you know my mom is dialing me right now to tell me I remember this incorrectly!). As a kid, I loved the idea of horses but the actual beasts frightened me something fierce. Still I insisted on riding lessons despite getting nauseous as we drove to the stables each Saturday morning.
The other kids in the class had long moved on to jumping and trail rides as I went around and around the enclosed ring, too fearful to do anything but walk or trot. My parents would have saved me from my own fear, finding a safer hobby to fill my weekend mornings. My riding trainers looked resigned as I dragged my tear-stained, terrified self into the saddle week after week. I was a pudgy, klutzy, terrified kid. And I was fiercely determined; I learned to ride.
Following this passion—this soul calling—crafted the woman I am today: there’s no doubt in my mind that if I had given up or given in, I’d be someone else entirely.
And it was working with horses which first triggered my empathy—my ability to feel what another was feeling. I knew terror and anger and stubbornness. What I saw in the horses reflected what I knew of myself. By the time I was a teenager I’d gone from being terrified to being one of the few people who would ride the true terrors.
The horses that gnashed and bit and stomped? They were saved for me. The horses who were scared and shying? They found their way onto my riding roster.
What the horses really taught me is that moments of transcendence don’t necessarily happen when you’re galloping across the fields or hurtling over the highest jump. Transcendence comes in the small moments, repeated over and over again until you can transcend the physical and cross the boundaries of time and space and flesh.
The big moments are compelling and they’re rife with myth and story. They allow you to embody an archetype: to become a goddess or heroine, a mermaid or a sage.
But it’s actually the small moments that allow you to do something far more difficult: they allow you to transcend yourself and, in doing so, find fathomless courage and profound peace.
It’s so hard to teach this. It’s so difficult to break our cultural habits of bigger and better instead of supporting the daily repetition, the seasonal cycling.
This is why I created the Medicine Keepers Collective, to support you in your daily work of finding the rhythms of self in the patterns of the larger universe. If you want support for finding your own path to transcendence, join us. Enrollment is open until November 26.
My sister did her Master’s degree in Haifa, where she fell in love with an Israeli man. Their courtship was conducted in running shoes—first jogging on the beaches of the Mediterranean and later in airports running to catch Trans-Atlantic flights.
Now she and her family live in Israel. Summers are when we gather here in the States to catch up, hang out and try to find meals that everyone—the gluten intolerant, the meat loving, the vegetarians and the vegans—will eat.
One afternoon my sixteen-year-old nephew and I were chatting on the deck. I’ve lost the entirety of the conversation but this bit stood out starkly against the blue-gray backdrop of the bay:
Jewish Holidays are all the same. They go like this:
They hate us.
They tried to kill us.
…It gets boring after a while.
My nephew was jocular as he made this pronouncement but a sliver of horror edged toward my heart.
And then images from Charlottesville: chanting zealots bring “they hate us” from past tense to present.
Oppression gets into your DNA. How many bloodlines carry this double helix of fear and anger?
Years ago I did a semester abroad in Rome. My closest friends were a group of German students also studying in Italy. Generations after World War II, my German friends still felt deep shame for the Holocaust…and me? I didn’t mention my German friends to my Jewish family because I wasn’t sure it was okay to have German friends.
Hate and oppression become a Pandora’s box that future generations have to unpack.
How do we transmute our feelings of helplessness into healing? Rose petal elixir and hawthorn tea aren’t going to do the trick.
Hate and anger seem monolithic and unapproachable.
Shifting our focus from the macro to the micro, from the greater vision to actionable steps, lets us move from idealism into empathic action.
I grew a business at the juncture of healing and nature because I wanted to save the world. Yet every action I took as a person, or we took as a business, felt inconsequential, one grain of sand in the vast Saharan desert.
When we started to work with a branding person on the business, we were asked to think about our raison d’être a little differently than we had in the past. We defined our top-tier vision for the world, our ideal (this is all the Wonder Woman stuff, like keeping plants and animals and even humans from going extinct). This top-tier vision is our greatest prayer, our utopian vision, our driving force.
Next thing we had to think about was supporting that ideal vision. What actions could we promise to take (a promise we will always fulfill) toward making the ideal a reality. And so we made a brand promise to nurture the people who nurture the planet.
And something amazing happened: clearly defining the vision as separate from the action that supports it helped me understand how I could actually make a difference in the world.
While I don’t know how to keep the plants on the list of endangered species from becoming extinct, I do know how to nurture people. I’m pretty good at it. It’s doable and at the end of the day I can assess how well I did at nurturing.
So I’ve been applying this thinking to the frisson of hate rippling through our world. What’s my ideal? A world where people cherish diversity and can disagree without violence.
What’s the promise I can make toward this vision? The action steps I will take over and over again?
I came up with two (and maybe these will inspire you to find yours):
1. I will use my voice…
…because each of us who raises our voice or our pen gives someone else the courage to say “this is not okay.” I can use my voice to plant seeds of courage so someone can say to their father or neighbor or childhood friend “Let’s talk about this hate that’s happening in our country.” It’s these small conversations which can actually be heard and create change: I know my blog is preaching to the choir; my goal is to make sure the choir knows they are not alone.
2. I will blow up the myth of homogenization.
Hate wants to think in terms of stereotypes. Jews, Lesbians, Blacks…
But we’re all unique beings, no two the same. We are singular and a part of this larger thing called humanity.
Always keep 2 pieces of paper in your pockets. One says, “I am a speck of dust;” the other, “The world was created for me.” (Rabbi Bunim)
It’s time for each of us to shine his or her own unique light. We’re not stereotypes, we’re individuals with unique gifts to share.
But we have to do more than simply step into the power of being our true selves—we’ve gotta take that shiny self out in the world and be kind. Look people in the eye. Listen to them. Extend your empathy in all directions.
It’s easy to hate a stereotype, it’s harder to hate a person who’s standing in front of you offering a smile or a kind word or a cookie.
Small action steps toward a larger vision.
Need more inspiration? Listen to the mother of Heather Heyer, the woman who was killed in Charlottesville, talk about what we all can do to honor Heather’s death.
Tell me, what’s your vision for the world? And what’s your promise to the world and yourself?
“Everything’s sacred,” she wrote… with her thumbs, I’m figuring, since this was Instagram.
Maybe she would have written more had she had a few fingers at her disposal.
But maybe not.
Sacred is trending and witch is a fad, so much so that Vogue (yes, the fashion magazine Vogue) recently had a “witchy week” and featured photos of altars grabbed from… you guessed it… Instagram.
A woman on Facebook told me this trend is helping more women to connect with their inner witch…
….then she proceeded to tell me she couldn’t work with smokey quartz because it’s dark and she hasn’t yet learned to work with her own darkness, let alone a stone’s darkness.
Who’s feeding her this drivel, I wondered, and how much is she paying for it?
The drive toward witchiness is propelled by a deep-seated yearning for a seat at life’s table and a meal that’s rich, deep, satisfying and full of wonderment. I get it and I too desire it with my whole vibrating being.
But as is the way with trends, this longing is being met on the surface, with luscious faerie photography and gorgeous Instagram altars. It’s a feast for the eyes, but unless it goes deeper, your soul will still be leaving hungry.
Don’t get me wrong: beauty, in and of itself, can connect you deeply with spirit. Your soul is fed through your senses– that’s how you replenish and refill. But not everything spiritual is beautiful. Sometimes the landscape of the soul is dark, dank, and covered in snot. Those moments aren’t artfully arranged or filled with flowers and glittering crystals.
And yes, this too, is sacred: it’s the catharsis which allows us to turn pain and fear and anger into compost to fertilize new growth (…and if you tell someone that while they’re pulling themselves out of the pit of despair, you may end up with a very sacred black eye).
But acknowledging the sanctity of snot doesn’t—by any stretch—mean everything is sacred.
Conscious cruelty, nihilism, acts which greedily take life or energy, for no reason other than to see it destroyed? These are the definition of profane.
And if we don’t see them as such, or we forget about sacred’s shadow while we’re arranging beautiful altars for our Instagram feed, we’re stepping into neither spirituality nor power.
It’s easy to excuse each others’ platitudes saying “Oh, well, it’s just Facebook.” But mindfulness demands more from us.
And you’re missing a key component of wisdom: the open channel between head and heart. This marriage of thought and feeling connects you with other people from a place of empathy, allowing for meaningful dialogue about the stuff that matters.
And when you connect with stuff that matters? Your soul begins to feel pleasantly full.
Find what makes your soul sing and dance with it. Pull it close, feel it’s heartbeat, know it’s layered dimensions. This connection is the essence of the spirit, the truth of being spiritual.
It’s the connection that matters. Everything else—the sage smudge, the altar, the raven feathers—are simply tools to help you get there.
Once you find this connection, don’t diminish it or you with spiritual platitudes. Romance your life, look it deep in the eye, and refuse to look away… not even to snap a photo for Instagram.
Let it go, your yoga teacher murmurs before chanting Ommmmmm.
And you’re trying, really you are. But the worry keeps gnawing at your belly…
And then the initial worry, the one sparked by a few odd words your partner said over coffee this morning, gets compounded by a new worry: What does it mean that I can’t let this go? And then you’re spiraling into the morass of worrying about your worry. Before you know it class is over and you’ve shavasaned your way into a tizzy.
Once you’ve landed in the Emotional Fun House, you’ll see your emotion-of-choice reflected back and multiplied in countless reflective surfaces. You’ll be angry at yourself for feeling angry, feel guilty that you’re wallowing in guilt, and worry about your obsessive worry.
It becomes almost comical if you can step back and view your little hamster-on-a-wheel mind from a distance…
But if you can’t, how do you just let it go when it’s coming at you from all angles?
Here’s my three-step plan (’cause we all love a three-step plan, right?) to rescue yourself from the Emotional Fun House!
1. Start with Compassion….
… for yourself (novel concept, right?). This multiplying effect—the worry about the worry and the anger about the anger—is a direct result of judging yourself and finding said self lacking for feeling an emotion!
Trace back the reason you’re emoting in a certain way and see if, at the root of it, you don’t find a deep seed of caring.
I know, I know, many people say the reason for most of our emotions is fear. But I’d like to posit that if you dig deeper than fear, you usually find caring.
You’re worried about what your partner said over coffee because you care about them and your relationship (if you stop at I’m scared they’ll leave me you haven’t dug deep enough).
You feel guilty about taking up too much of your web designer’s time (yes, I’m speaking from experience!) not because you’re scared they won’t like you, but because you actually respect their time.
So quit listening to the people who tell you your motives are fear-based ’cause that’s just giving you another thing to beat yourself up over. Nothing is all one thing—there might be a fear mixed in. But you get to choose how you’re gonna spin this for yourself. So decide to dig into your psyche ’til you get to the good stuff: the caring, the respect, the love.
Because from this place you can stop the self-flagellation, which means you can get off the hamster wheel.
2. Do a Check-In
Empaths and highly sensitive souls always need to check in when emotions are running rampant.
There are 2 questions to ask yourself:
Brain-on-the-hamster wheel or intuition?
If it’s a thought, it’s brain-on-the-hamster wheel. If it’s a feeling (i.e., no words and located somewhere below your chin), it’s intuition. Remember intuition happens in your body. And intuition needs to be heeded: that’s why we have it.
Mine or not mine?
3. See What that Stuck Emotion Can Tell You about You
In Chinese Medicine emotional excess is a sign that you’re out of balance.
- If your Fire is out of balance, you may experience excessive joy & passion… or lack of joy & passion
- If your Earth is out of balance you may experience excessive worry or pensiveness
- If your Metal is out of balance you may experience excessive grief, sadness, or self-righteousness
- If your Water is out of balance you may experience excessive fear
- If your Wood is out of balance you may experience excessive anger
If you step back, analyze your emotional state, and then go research how to balance what’s out of balance in your energy body from a Chinese Medicine point of view, something kind of amazing happens: the hamster hops off the wheel ’cause it’s got something better to do.
It’s hard to distract the hamster… but one thing I’ve learned: hamsters always want to learn more about themselves. Give them a job which involves self-discovery and the wheel will be left far behind!
So… what’s your emotion of choice and what does it tell you about you?
Can’t wait to see you in the comments!
We gain a year, a “birthday,” at the end of the cycle. So you’re born, you make it through a year, and you get the tally mark for that year (your first birthday) when it’s complete and you’re beginning your second year.
I’ve made it through 48 years and I’m embarking on the forty-ninth…. which is feeling pretty friggin’ profound. So I’m taking stock… and sharing the bounty of this glorious, messy life:
1. You’re gonna get pushback for staying true to you… and that’s okay.
When you step outside other people’s notions of how things should be done, you’re gonna get some pushback… and that’s actually not a bad thing. Pushback makes you dig deep and find your stick-to-it-ness, your grit. Finding this deep well of self will get you through the times when you’re the only one who believes in your vision.
2. Most things that advance society happen outside the lines.
From Marie Curie to Steve Jobs, people who create change have a willingness to push ideas that seem impossible, absurd, revolutionary, or counter-culture. So see number 1, then dig in, dig deep, and stay true to you.
3. Bringing something new into the world will stir up a bit of chaos.
Creativity isn’t neat. It doesn’t start at 9 and end at 5. It’s okay to be messy, to experiment, to screw up, to change course… When you do, you’re probably gonna get some pushback. See number 1.
4. Reading it in a book or hearing someone else describe something is not the same as true knowing.
To know a thing you need to experience it: taste it, smell it, feel it. You need to see how your body dances with it and your soul sings to it. Book knowledge is someone else’s knowing; take it from your head to your heart to your hands to make it your own. And don’t just do this once and call it good. Take the time to practice and master it. You don’t know how to bake a cake just ’cause you did it once; you know how to bake a cake when you can replace missing ingredients with what’s available in your cupboards because you understand the fundamental make-up of cake.
5. Buying into someone else’s wellness plan is a disservice to your body.
Taking an herb or supplement ’cause your BFF takes it is simply absurd. Your body came into this world unique and it becomes more so with every experience and germ you encounter. Tending to your body takes empathy and respect and commitment. It is so worth it to find people who can support you and let them help you to stay healthy and whole (before you get sick). ‘Cause your body? It’s your most important tool for connecting with your spirit and living your dreams.
6. Buying into someone else’s spirituality is a disservice to your soul.
You’re never gonna find your own truth if you keep buying into someone else’s. Your DNA is built on the memory of generations and your soul on the imprint of stars. Tune in, check in, and see what your body knows. You might be surprised.
7. Follow your gut even if your head doesn’t know why.
To be a whole person you’ve gotta live in your whole being. So get out of your brain. Do a gut check and listen to this non-verbal but oh-so-wise part of yourself.
8. When you engage deeply with life, it engages with you.
Ever watch a bird and find it watching you back? The world is vibrant and alive and oh-so-magical when you give it a chance to be.
9. Go with the weird superpowers.
At my retreats I’ve started doing this… thing: I read people’s auras while I’m smudging them (LOL— I always wanted to be psychic— maybe it’s finally happened! Happy Birthday to me!). But seriously, it’s totally oddball and I love it. The smoke seems to tell me stories, igniting my intuition and letting me see deep and true. Yeah, I could resist. But why? There’s so much joy in giving in to your superpowers, whatever shade of weird they might be.
So go forth and live weird, be engaged, create a little chaos, and be true to you. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it as a birthday present for me. ‘Cause I truly believe that the only way we’re gonna push to needle and overcome some of the situations our society has gotten itself into is if each of us shows up as our best, truest, deepest self.