The Four Steps, Expanded Edition

Last week I got super stoked on Star Wars and related a couple scenes to this idea of changing our orienting principle (and thus revolutionizing our life) in just four steps. I alluded to how, although the steps are simple, they are anything but easy. This week, I want to spend a little more time on each step, and offer suggestions, tips, and tools for taking action around these steps in your own life.

Step One: Discover What You Want. For some of us, this step is easy, for others, this may be the biggest struggle. If you are having trouble identifying what it is that you want, or how you want your life to be different, you're job is one of self-observation and deep listening. Ask yourself what you want on a regular basis, and answer the questions as best you can each time you do it. Start small and work with daily things at first, then slowly work your way to the big picture stuff. 

For some, even this practice is too much. Sometimes, in trying to discover what we want, it's best to start with what we know we don't want. While this is a necessary first step for many, it's important not to get stuck in the negative. If this is where you need to start, you must be mindful to switch to the positive side of the question in order to effect change.

The key with both of these is consistency.  If you keep asking, eventually you will get an answer. Once you have your answer, you can move on to step two.

Step Two: Uncover What You're Oriented Towards. Again, this step is challenging. Most of us are familiar with Step One and Step Four, know what you want, make it happen. Without Steps Two and Three, though, nothing ever sticks. Your current Orienting Principle is running just fine with or without your consent at this point. What's more, if you never take the time to uncover it, it will continue to do so.

The structure of our personality is often the first and strongest Orienting Principle we experience. The Enneagram helps us to uncover our deepest, darkest motivations and fixations. For example, as a type 8 on the Enneagram, my personality is oriented toward feeling strong, powerful, and alive. To support this orientation, I deny, reject, or avoid anything that may make me feel vulnerable, weak, or helpless. This really throws a wrench in everything from building healthy relationships to becoming financially stable. So, if my New Year's resolution is to build up my savings account, I first need to understand how my current orientation has prevented and continues to prevent me from doing that.

Enneagram work is not the only tool capable of helping you uncover your current Orienting Principle, different types of therapy and meditation can offer insights as well. What's important, though, is you find something that works for you and stick with it. Just like Step One, it takes practice.

Step Three: Relinquish Old Behaviors/Beliefs. While the first two steps fall into the category of Kriya Yoga called Svadhyaya or "self-study," this is the first half of the catagory called Tapas or "purifying action." Now that we can see and understand what's running our show from our unconscious, we now have to work to remove our behaviors and beliefs that support that unconscious program.

To go back to the example from the last step, I need to remove the beliefs and behaviors that support the idea that I am invulnerable. I tend to spend money whenever and however I want, because not doing so would indicate that something bad would happen to me if I ran out of money, meaning I'm vulnerable- and my personality needs to avoid that. So, I have to get real with myself. I have to consciously stop being a dumb fuck about spending money, and I need to consciously remove the belief that I am invulnerable.

This is the step that rarely has easily defined tools, it will be different for each situation. For me, it may involve leaving my debit card at home and only carrying a certain amount of cash, or having a friend to keep me accountable. If you're working specifically around beliefs mantra meditation, and denials and affirmations are especially useful. Just like removing weeds, the tool you use will depend on the weed itself. 

Step Four: Affirm New Behaviors/Beliefs.  Once we've removed what's been standing in our way, now it's time to put in the new beliefs and behaviors. This is where we take action to move in the direction we're wanting to go.

There is no shortage of tools to help you achieve your goals. From planners to apps to online courses, there is an entire industry around creating meaningful life change. If you are looking for more support while you work through these big life changes, though, community is really the best thing out there. Get a therapist or coach (depending on your needs), join a group who already does what you want to do, see if any of your friends are interested in making the same changes and encourage each other along the path.

Although the steps don't always happen in order, understanding them as integral parts of a larger process can bring a lot of clarity to your journey. Living the life we want is rarely just about knowing what we want and making it happen. It requires self-knowledge, conscious effort, and a whole lot of patience. 

The Last Jedi, New Year's Resolutions, and Orienting Principle

The Last Jedi, New Year's Resolutions, and Orienting Principle

There was something strangely on point about seeing this installment of the Star Wars saga on the eve of a holiday all about setting intentions and working to make important changes in your life. While I could wax poetic about the cosmic and archetypal offerings of TLJ all day, two seemingly unrelated scenes struck a very deep chord with me...

Goodbye, Social Media!

Goodbye, Social Media!

And what's interesting is that it feels much less like a "leap of faith," and much more like an act of integrity. I'm not taking this leap wildly hoping things will work out; I'm stepping out knowing nothing about my business will work if I don't. 

Svasana IRL

Sunday, I graduated from my advance teacher training in the foundations of yoga therapy. I am now a 500RYT (a registered yoga teacher with at least 500 hours of training), which I am totally stoked about. This training has been soooo incredibly difficult. It has demanded so much from me over the last 10 months. I have worked so hard. Especially the last two months, with finished homework, midterm and final assessments, not to mention starting an internship and working with clients. 

I have felt the sense that I've had to put a lot of things to the side in order to finish this section of my training. Now that it's over and I have my fancy new certificate, I want to pick everything back up. Like, right now. Yesterday I made a to do list in my head of all things I needed to get done to get back on track after these last couple months. I've let a lot of things slide, so I felt compelled to make up for lost time. 

I packed up my computer and headed to the coffee shop between classes. I sat down determined to "power through," and get my entire life in order in that two hours. And nothing happened. Well, something happened. I got anxious. Distracted. Fuzzy-headed. And I basically wasted those two hours and that $5 latte. Cue shame spiral. 

Luckily, I had the opportunity to get back into my body while teaching my afternoon client and put a stop to the spiral of shame. The process was distressing nonetheless. Why did all that happen? Why couldn't I work as well as I was the last two months? The things I need to get done are just as important as my homework and other school things. So, what was up?

It clicked for me this morning thinking about my classes and what I've been sharing in svasana lately. Svasana is a vital part of our practice. It is the intentional pause after activity that allows your body and your entire system to assimilate the new information you've encountered in your practice. Svasana isn't something you can skip if you want to have a full and fulfilling practice. And as we all know, every yoga pose is basically just a metaphor for life. 

I got a crazy, first-hand experience of what life is like when skip out on class early and miss our svasana. It's like you're not showing up fully for the next activity.  You're distracted, fuzzy, and anxious. Class isn't over until you're taken the proper rest, until you've calmed your system after all of that stimulation. I'm realizing it's the same thing for the phases of our lives. That intentional pause after a particularly taxing time is what allows you to move forward from a place of centeredness and wholeness. 

Honestly, this is not something that I actually know how to do in my life. It seems so easy on the mat, but the real-world translation of this particular aspect of yoga is a fucking doozy. What does a real life svasana even look like? I'm not currently in the place financially to just take a week off and sit silently at some retreat center (fingers crossed that's not true for long). So how do I svasana in the midst of work and relationship and kids and dreams and career? I'm not sure, but I'm my money is on the fact that it's more in my head than it is anywhere else.

Can I just give myself a fucking break for once? 

Can I let myself relax and maybe even (gasp!) celebrate the things I've accomplished without rushing off for the next conquest? I literally didn't even allow myself 18 hours after graduation before jumping into my next projects. Could I stretch that to 48? Or maybe 72? This is my intention for the next couple days.  Just breathe and relax. Don't start anything new. Cultivate at attitude of svasana in this time after so much activity. This is my attempt at svasana irl.

De/Re-Construction

There seems to be a tide changing in a lot of people's lives lately.  Maybe it's always going on in some form, but lately it's been happening in the lives of people close to me. Friends, acquaintances, instagram followers, it seems like every where I go, someone is in the process of deconstructing their faith.

And these people are now asking me for advice, ME of all people.  

On some level, I can see why, although I still feel oddly unqualified.  I went through the messy and painful process of deconstructing my faith over a decade ago. And, like most things in my life, I did it full tilt. I bulldozed the whole thing to the ground and then lit the place on fire over the course of about nine months. I lost friends, community, my self of direction and purpose, I was suddenly starting from scratch. No assumptions were made, and nothing from my old life was left behind.

I remember, very vividly, having a conversation with a dear friend who was going through the same process where we both lamented not knowing anyone who had been through this and come out the other side.  We often wondered to each other what it would be like to go through the hell we were in and some how make it back around to Christianity in some form. We were both fairly convinced it just couldn't happen.

Flash forward 10 years and I'm now a full-fledged member of a Christian church. It honestly hurts my head just thinking about it.

In the last several weeks I have sat on the other side of numerous cup of coffee listening to friends old and new alike share with me their story of deconstruction. I can hear my 17 year old self in many of their questions, and their frightened yet hopeful wonderings. I have the strange sense that I have all of the sudden become the person I needed those 10 (now 11!) long years ago. I have come back around. And holy hell is it a completely different place (and, like, WAAAAAAAYYYYY better, I might add).

What I'm hoping this blog will be is two things: 1) if you are in this process and you need someone to talk to, hit me up. We can grab coffee and chat. I will listen to and hold your story, and I'll share mine in hopes it lightens your load, if even just a tiny bit. 2) I want to give the one piece of advice I wish I had gotten when I was 17:

DON'T BE AFRAID TO BURN THE PLACE DOWN.

There was so much fear and trepidation as I tore down all the walls of my former life, as I said good bye to close friends, and set out on my own. What if this is a huge mistake? What if they're right? What if I'm going to burn in hell? What I wish someone would have told me was hurry up and tear the place down already. Don't be so slow to deconstruct your faith, the Infinite, Unknown, Mysterious, and Wonderful Power of the Universe (read: GOD) is waiting for you in the rubble. What's left in the wreckage is what's real.

Don't be so quick to reconstruct your faith. Learn to be comfortable in the Unknown. I see so many people shying away from this valuable process in favor of throwing up a shoddy replacement faith. Give it time. This isn't a one or even two year process, this is the great work of your life. Treat it as such. You don't have to have anything "figured out." I truly believe this is what scripture was intended when it calls us to "Live by faith." We are meant to be undone, our minds open to see and experience all of God's creation in all it's myriad forms, our hearts open, bare, and unprotected to bear this world in love. Anything that gets in the way of those two things doesn't belong in your newly reconstructed faith and will only cause you to tear the thing down again.

So, that's what I've got.  The sooner you start demanding answers for the difficult questions you're carrying in your heart, the sooner you can experience the true Love and Power of the Universe. The slower you are to grab hold of doctrine or dogma, the longer your heart and mind will remain open to that Power and Love.

When the Sunflowers Look Over You

Art is powerful. I'm so grateful we've been able to look at so much amazing art this trip.

 

This painting moved me to tears. I caught a glimpse of it as we moved through the rooms of the contemporary gallery in the Seattle Art Museum. I felt it immediately. I patiently weaved in and out of other collections taking in the incredible energy of the pieces, all the while the anticipation of what to come was building in the back of my heart and mind.

 

And then we came to this.

 

I stood and stared, my mouth hanging open. I couldn't tear myself away. I sat down on the floor as my legs grew tired from standing in one place. I sat for several minutes. And then I did it. I laid down. It changed everything. The sunflowers were now looking over me. I wasn't just looking at a painting, I was in it. I broke into tears. It was so much. It was so big. I was moved to a deeply vulnerable place and I stayed there the whole rest of the day.

 

I've always had the sense that art does something to me. I've always felt very present to art when I'm in a museum or gallery. But as I've worked to be more present to all of my life, I've learned this is a different kind of presence. It is completely receptive. It's like my whole being stops trying. I'm open, and I can feel the transmission of energy. I feel a direct communication from the artist, from the art itself, maybe even from the Universe. And it's this openness and receptivity that makes the art come alive; it sustains and transmits its power.

 

This experience is such a wonderful reminder of how I want to move about the world. Although it is an extreme example, it communicated to me an important lesson of what it is to surrender to God, to say yes to all that the Universe brings to me. This vulnerable and open place is not some place that's easy for me to get to or stay for any length of time. I know, though, that's where I need to go. I am so deeply grateful for this experience and this reminder. Here's to moving into this uncharted territory.

These Hard Days

These hard days. The ones where you're full of anger. The ones you feel used and empty. The days where you don't know where to go next. The days you feel uprooted and insecure. The days you're depressed. The days that are so loud you can't hear your own inner voice. The days where grief comes out of the woodwork. The days when you're alone, isolated. The days you just don't have it. The days that leave you thinking, "no, not again." The days you thought you were past.

These hard days are important.  

These hard days show you were you really are on your journey. These hard days are sometimes the only things pointing and pushing you towards those days you really want. These hard days show you how far you've come. These hard days show you where there is still left to go.

Honor these days. Welcome them as best you can. Learn to look at them with love. Allow yourself to learn from them. This is no easy task, so give yourself grace, and as much love as you can muster. 

There is beauty in these hard days. 

Mud and Healing

Healing is a tricky thing. It's easy to think you understand wounds and pain from the outside looking in. But when you're in it, something happens. You don't know which way is up. You have no idea where you are or where you're going. It's all you can do to get out of bed each morning.

 

There's this story, this hope, that healing descends upon us in a great beam of light, and we're forever changed. It's been my experience, though, that you never really know healing when it happens. It's almost as if you only ever understand it in hindsight. You just keep waking up, and showing up to life, and one day you look back and realize you don't hurt anymore (or at least not in the same way) and you can't remember exactly when it happened.

 

I have a tattoo on the back of my left arm. It's a feather that reads, "Siloam means Sent." This tattoo is a monument to my healing. A reminder to me about the process of healing (and boy is it a process). There were no bright beams of light. No miraculous, instantaneous enlightenment.

 

What there was was a lot of love. A lot of back and forth. A lot of indecision, a lot of bad decisions, and even some good ones. There was a lot of wading through the mud. And there were a lot of people willing to show me what healing looks like, what love looks like. People willing to sit with me. People willing to cry with me. But healing is a strangely solitary process. Those people didn't heal me. They showed me the way to healing, but I had to walk to the water with my face covered in mud on my own.

 

In John chapter 9, Jesus heals a man born blind. The story goes that Jesus and the disciples come upon a man who's been blind since birth. After some theological quarreling by the disciples, Jesus basically says shut up, you're looking at the wrong thing. The man wasn't born blind because of the wrong doing of his parents or himself. He was born blind so God would be glorified when he was healed.

 

When we're in pain, how often do we look for something/someone to blame? Jesus is basically saying how we got hurt or wounded isn't nearly half as important as where it will take us. There is an aspect of transcendence in every wound. There is a magical power to change our lives and inspire others towards their own hope and healing. 

 

But the process rarely feels so righteous. The story continues with Jesus spitting in the dirt and putting mud in the blind man's eyes.  And then Jesus told him to go "To the pool of Siloam and wash." Like, what the fuck. Spit? Mud literally in this man's face? And how the hell do you expect a blind man, who's now filthy, to get to this pool? He's blind! But somehow the man does it. He travels who knows how far covered with mud, eyes stinging, and makes it to the pool of Siloam. He washes his face (and probably his whole body) and guess what! He comes back seeing. He makes his way back to his family completely changed.

 

There is so much here that is analogous to our own healing. It doesn't say how long the road was, or how much time it took. All it really guarantees is that it will be messy, muddy. And after that it just says if you keep going (even when you may have no idea where you're going), you'll eventually get there.  

 

So, wherever you're at, no matter how messy and how muddy, just keep going. One day you will look back and realize you already made it home.