Category Archives: Spirituality

Entering the Unknown

Many of us (maybe even most) are quite terrified of the unknown. Perhaps this fear has to do with a feeling of being out of control. After all, we have certain ideas and visions about how we want things to turn out. We often want to control the process as well as the outcome, or at least know what is coming in the hopes that we can somehow prepare and be ready.

I’m in the midst of separating from my husband. The unknown is now a part of my experience every day. I don’t know if I will ever find a companion and partner again. I don’t know how I will fully support myself financially. I don’t know exactly who I am in the world without my best friend at my side, or how to move forward with that hole in my life. I don’t know when the grief will well up, overwhelming and incapacitating me. I don’t know how my path will unfold, or the strength and resilience that may lie dormant in my heart. What seemed known only a short time ago is no longer known.

The process of Life Itself is unknown. We can either embrace this fact or resist it. When we come into contact with the unknown, we touch the invisible world. It is here where we encounter our shadow, those unconscious aspects of us, both light and dark, that tend to run our lives unbeknownst to us. When we shine the light of awareness on these aspects, suddenly we have choice.

map 3When we embrace the unknown, we also contact that part of us that is beyond conceptual understanding. Our minds can (and do) attempt to describe this world, but the descriptions and models in our minds are not the Reality Itself and never can be. The model is not the territory.

We touch the invisible world through direct experience. We can invite into our experience different aspects of our True Nature, or ask for our shadow to be revealed. Some of the more glorious aspects of our True Nature are often in shadow (unconscious to us), and have been called Health, Joy, Abundance, Gratitude, Clarity, Truth, Beauty, Peace, Unity… but these are just names. The key is that we invite into our experience something that is unknown to us.

Flower

We may have a concept, thought, or model of what it means to feel joy, for instance, or what it means not to feel joy. But Joy with a capital ‘J‘ is none of those concepts held in our mind. It is something else, and never what we think it is. The mind can only observe, label, and describe; the direct experience happens on another level. We must open ourselves to the unknown possibilities in order to experience who we are at a level we have never experienced before.

When we do this, what we experience is always a surprise. It is always a brand new experience when we invite in the unknown. And the truth is, much is unknown to us in this Life. Control is an illusion in so many ways… maybe even in all ways. Letting go into the unknown is the ultimate form of surrender to the flow of Life.

 

The Change We Don’t Want

steering wheelWhen it comes to healing, it doesn’t seem obvious that we resist change. After all, we are usually suffering with some sort of condition that we really do want to change. In general, we simply want it to go away so we’ll feel better. Oftentimes we believe our chronic disease or condition is something that is wrong or bad, something that is somehow separate from us, and something that should be, and can be, gotten rid of without affecting the rest of who we are. Yes, we want the condition to change (go away), but we often do not acknowledge the connection between the condition and the beliefs we hold about and toward the condition. In other words, we do not realize that our relationship with the condition is an integral part of the condition itself. We actually believe this separate “thing” can be healed without changing anything else about us. Indeed, this is the very premise upon which western medicine is based as well as several alternative therapies.

Healing Involves Change

Healing at a deeper level involves change on every level of our being. Many chronic conditions and/or so-called incurable diseases (autoimmune diseases, neurological diseases, gastrointestinal issues, cancer, hormonal imbalances, mental diseases such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, etc.) can and do resolve themselves through the process of Healing as I describe it. However, major shifts such as these involve change that extends well beyond the symptoms going away and a doctor declaring us “cured” (or claiming we must have been misdiagnosed in the first place). These changes are not optional, but are rather part of the Healing process itself.butterfly emerging from coccoonWhen we are in the cycle of suffering, we think our suffering is being caused by the condition we are facing. Therefore, we think if we get rid of the condition, we will stop suffering. Perhaps we go in for surgery and have a cancerous tumor removed. Maybe we have our knee replaced and the pain we had before is gone. Perhaps we leave our stressful job or our marriage and feel a huge sense of relief. In the traditional sense, many would call these examples of healing. The advances in western medicine are absolutely incredible and invaluable in our lives. But simply having a knee replacement is, in and of itself, not Healing in the sense I am speaking of here.

In my experience, both with myself and with my clients, even when a condition is “cured” as in the examples above, if there is no other corresponding shift on other levels of being, the suffering will continue. We simply refocus our attention on another condition or issue that is “not okay” (either inside or outside of us) and continue to be enmeshed in the cycle of suffering.

MaskOn the other hand, when we engage in the process of Healing on a deeper level, real change is inevitable. One of the most significant of these changes is a perspective shift about and toward the condition itself. As we begin to experience and embody that aspect of us that is other than suffering, we realize that we Heal through the condition rather than from the condition. We see the condition itself as our means of Healing rather than that which we need to get rid of in order to Heal. This perspective shift in itself can end the suffering (i.e., the resistance) around the condition. But in order for that shift to occur in a truly embodied way, many other changes on many levels must also occur. We simply do not get to keep our current belief structures and worldviews (our ego as it is constructed now) and Heal in this way.

This process is absolutely terrifying to most of us because it feels as if we are giving up who we are (and how we think the world operates) at a fundamental level. And indeed, this is true. It is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects for us to accept and embrace on our Healing journeys. Most of us want to keep our current perspectives and beliefs and simply get rid of the condition. In other words, we don’t want to change. However, the kind of Healing I’m talking about involves change, and there is no way out of it.

Part of the Healing process is learning to embrace change and recognizing what that means within ourselves. It can be a very scary prospect. But fear is part of the process too. Indeed, the fear itself can become a path and doorway to true Healing.

In Gratitude & Love,
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A Different Kind of Gratitude Practice

Looking Towards Heaven

In a recent post, I shared how I had discovered that a key in experiencing gratitude was not to go out looking for things to be grateful for, but rather to receive and allow in the beauty, the goodness, the inspiration, the truth, the love, and the gifts of whatever or whoever is in my presence in this moment. When I allow myself to receive, gratitude is then simply a natural expression/outpouring.

Following this thread and deepening further, I’ve come to another way of practicing gratitude, one that allows me to feel and experience gratitude on many levels, without all the effort of trying to force it. I came to this practice through a realization that gratitude is a part of who I am on an essential level, and my experience of it is therefore not dependent on outside circumstances. In other words, I don’t need something to feel grateful for in order to feel grateful. If I’m not currently experiencing gratitude, I can simply begin to open to it — turn my consciousness toward the energy and essence of gratitude already within me — and allow it to come to the forefront of my experience now (regardless of my outside circumstances). I like to think of it as tuning my radio dial to “gratitude.” The best part is that I don’t even need a mental concept of what gratitude is supposed to feel like to practice this.

Blue flowerThe practice looks something like this: First, I let go completely of trying to bring to mind someone, or some situation, which I want to be (or think I should be) grateful forInstead, I bring my attention into my still, quiet center, and I begin to allow myself to open. Then, I ask to experience the energy and essence of gratitude inside a particular part of my physical or energetic body. I like to bring in physical and energetic layers. For instance, I might ask deep into the core of myself, “What does it feel like to experience the energy and essence of gratitude in my bones?” I feel deep into my bones. Then, I wait and notice. What do I start to notice as I tune into my bones? My intellectual mind has no clue what gratitude would feel like in my bones! It has no concept of such a outlandish thing… thank goodness, because then I can just feel whatever I feel, no expectations. Then, I might ask, “What does it feel like to experience gratitude in my tissues?” or, “What does it feel like to experience gratitude in the fluids of my body?” or, “What does it feel like to experience gratitude in every cell of my body?” I allow myself to trust that whatever sensations I’m feeling, those sensations are the embodiment — the vibration and experience of — gratitude. Amazingly, the sensations I have felt are often surprising and are not what my mind would label as “gratitude.” And yet, at the same time, I notice myself starting to feel more and more gratitude in my daily life through this practice.

I used to think gratitude had to come in response to something in the world, that I needed to find something “worthy of gratitude” in order to experience it. Now, I’ve come to see that not only is it about fully receiving the beauty that surrounds me in the world in this present moment, gratitude is also already present inside of me. And when I allow myself to feel and experience the gratitude already inside of me, then (or sometimes seemingly simultaneously) I feel grateful for something in my outer world. There is no effort in this; instead, once I am embodying the “vibration” of gratitude, I really have no choice but to begin feeling grateful for things in my life. In this way, I don’t have to hunt with my intellect for things to be grateful for. It simply happens naturally once I tune in.

In gratitude & love,
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Reflections on Gratitude

Sunlight through treeYou probably know by now the power of gratitude. Everything seems lovely when you are enveloped in gratitude. You may even keep a gratitude journal or have engaged in other practices to help you feel gratitude every day. If you’ve committed to any of these practices and you’re like many people, you’re probably noticing significant improvement in your overall sense of well-being. After all, consistently feeling and experiencing gratitude is life changing!

You can imagine my surprise when I recently approached the big “G,” and instead of increasing feelings of gratitude and well-being, I felt as if I was on some sort of mad, desperate hunt for something to be grateful for. In fact, it even felt as if I didn’t have much of a concept of gratitude at all. As I began to look for things to be grateful for, my mind flipped through all the events of the day, one after the other, comparing and contrasting and categorizing, deciding if this or that thing was something I could (or should) be grateful for that day.

Well, you can probably tell already that I didn’t end up actually experiencing or feeling much gratitude this way! In fact, the whole exercise felt fake to me, like I was pretending to be grateful, hoping that the whole “fake it till you make it” thing would work out eventually. I figured if I thought about being grateful enough, it would actually start to happen. But to be honest, it never really did, at least not consistently, and definitely not easily. Surely being grateful doesn’t have to be so much work!

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Fortunately, a moment of grace in the midst of my struggle finally arrived. I realized I was missing an essential side of the equation: receiving. I came to realize that gratitude and appreciation are the natural expression/outpouring of receiving and allowing in the beauty, the goodness, the inspiration, the truth, the love, and the gifts of whatever or whoever is in my presence in this moment. Gratitude is not something I can force but is rather a natural and automatic expression/response that occurs when I allow myself to receive.

And so, in order to more easily feel the fullness of gratitude in my life, rather than looking for things to be grateful for and attempting to force the feeling, I look at what is in front of me now (no matter what it is) and make it my strong intention to open to receive the gifts — the beauty, the love, the teaching — being offered. I do not need to know what the gifts are when I open to receive. I simply ask to receive those gifts with all earnestness and trust, knowing they are there to receive. I pray in this way using words such as these:

May I receive and feel fully the gifts being offered in this moment.

May I receive and feel fully the beauty, the goodness, and the love this person is offering me now.

As I begin to receive the gifts being offered, gratitude and appreciation well up and pour through me naturally and without effort. The more I open to receive, the more gratitude expresses and moves through me, for it is a natural, reciprocal flow of energy. In this way, I never need to seek or look for what is “worthy” of my gratitude, for there is beauty in all things and in all beings, no matter the circumstance. It is only a question of receiving and allowing it in.

yin and yang

Energetically speaking, gratitude is a gift — an outpouring — a yang aspect of the flow of Love / Life / Energy. This is illustrated clearly in the expression, “to give thanks.” And, there is always a yin aspect to Energy, creating a balanced flow of the whole system (the toroidal flow of energy, the in and out, the yin and the yang). In this case, the yin aspect of the flow is the receiving and allowing in of the gifts — the beauty, the goodness, the truth — being offered in this moment. I find I cannot be truly grateful for anything if I do not recognize, receive, and truly feel the beauty in front of or within me in this moment.

It is in this recognition that I have shifted my focus to opening to receive the gifts in front of me, even if my mind is at a loss as to what gifts are present in that moment. I simply open to receive, knowing beauty surrounds me even if I cannot yet feel it. In only a few seconds, I often find myself overflowing with gratitude and appreciation.

With genuine gratitude,
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The Gift Within Your Health Crisis

flashlightWhen you are in crisis, the very idea that a gift lies within the experience can seem absurd or even offensive. What is the gift in receiving a life-threatening or debilitating diagnosis? How can there be a gift within being suicidally depressed or the experience of uncontrollable panic attacks? When you are the one in crisis, I have personally found that to be the most difficult time to see the gift. Of course, it is much easier to see the gift as an outsider. In fact, you will no doubt have at least a few people trying to comfort you with age-old clichés such as, “Well, you’re learning something, aren’t you?” or “Every cloud has a silver lining,” or “Don’t forget, everything happens for a reason.” In the midst of a healing crisis, not only can these tired clichés utterly fail to comfort us, often they enrage us because we feel completely unseen in the immensity of our pain by those whose profess to love us.

When it comes to facing a health crisis, whether mental or physical, it is very easy to dwell in fear, despair, and desperation. When you come to the point where your quality of life is seriously affected, or your life itself is threatened, you are in crisis. You will be challenged on all levels. There is no denying the difficulty of this challenge nor the painful feelings and experiences that often arise within it. But I have found that within the crisis also lies a gift, if you but choose to see it and focus your attention on it. This gift has many facets, and many of those facets will be unique to you. Here I wish to highlight some of those aspects of the gift that seem to be common for many of us.

Ironically, one aspect of the gift that lies within the crisis is the opportunity it gives you to notice its existence. No one can turn your eyes toward the gift but you, and that is part of the gift itself. When you make the choice to open to the possibility of there being a gift within the crisis, you are shown and experience unequivocally your own courage and your own power. You realize that it is within your power, and yours alone, to see and embrace the gift which lies there for you. You also experience, without a doubt, the enormous eye abstractcourage it takes to wrench your attention away from the despair and pain in order to look toward the gift, even if for only a moment. Within this profound realization, your power is given back to you (or rather, you see that it was yours all along). You realize you can choose where you focus your energy and attention, and ultimately, this means you have the power to directly affect your experience as you move through and meet your health crisis.

But there is even more to this gift, as if that were not enough. Another aspect of this gift is your own healing. When I say healing, I am not speaking of recovery from disease or injury as we normally conceive of it (although that is always a possibility as well). Rather, the profound healing I am speaking of could better be described as evolution. I just heard an interview with Jean Houston today in which she shared that the new paradigm of healing is not about fixing or curing, but rather about becoming. The gift within the crisis gives you the opportunity to allow your own unfolding into the next stage of your evolution — your becoming. More precisely, the opportunity is not actually in whether or not you will evolve (for that is inevitable), but rather to what degree and to what level you accept, allow, and embrace the flow of the evolutionary process itself. This includes the degree to which you are able to accept and love yourself — all aspects of yourself — as you move through the crisis and your own unfolding.

What will the experience of this healing and transformation be like for you? It will be unique to you. No one’s gift is the same, for we all unfold uniquely, even if we may all be heading in the same direction. It will depend upon where you are in your evolutionary process when you come upon your health crisis. It will depend upon countless other factors which make up the whole of who you are and the particular process you must go through. It will even depend upon your perception of the evolutionary process itself as you move through it. To what degree are you perceiving the process (your health crisis) as a gift and to what degree are you resisting it? This will be a factor in determining your experience of it. How much are you able to let go of the tendency to compare your own healing journey with another’s journey? This will also affect your healing experience. There are countless other factors as well.

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In the end, whether or not you experience this gift within the crisis as a gift or as a curse is a matter of perspective and choice. I believe we evolve through these experiences regardless of if we see the gift in them or not, although how easily, quickly, and consciously we experience that healing is largely up to us. None of what I’ve said here is meant to minimize or deny the challenge and pain in these situations. In fact, part of loving all aspects of ourselves through these times is in acknowledging the enormity of the pain we feel and then choosing to meet those parts of ourselves that hurt with unconditional love (rather than turn away with denial, avoidance, or condemnation). When we come upon these times, we have a choice in where we focus our energy and attention. Ultimately, we get to choose whether or not we see the gift because it exists as a possibility within our own hearts. The gift exists as an opportunity to experience, consciously and openly, our own evolution and healing.

In love & light,
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The Choice of Self Acceptance

graveyardI’m in Colorado now, having made the trip in early October to Boulder for what I thought was a short stay. Well, things didn’t go quite as planned, and I ended up in the ER in Boise, Idaho, on my way out here. Turns out I had a partially collapsed lung and ended up being grounded for a bit. My dad was kind enough to come and rescue me from Boise and drive me back to Boulder, where I have been ever since.

During the experience in Boise, I thought I might die. I began to reflect. This wasn’t always a pretty process, at times filled with morbid thoughts, confusion, and terror. But some meaningful questions surfaced during that time of deep inner reflection: Why do I want to live? Do I want to live? Who do I want to be if I live? What’s important to me? Eventually, my heart answered with this simple statement: I want to accept and love myself just the way I am. This was clearly the next step on my evolutionary journey.

This theme didn’t go away. It stuck with me, even now that I’m settling in Boulder and feeling (somewhat) more removed from impending death. And so I set the intention to accept myself on all levels. This falls under the category of, “Be careful what you wish for because you will get it.” What I quickly came to experience is that in order for me to accept myself in this way, all those parts of myself that I had been ashamed of and condemned, and then finally denied through elaborate efforts to prove that I am not that, started to rise to the surface. After all, I cannot accept something I am unconscious of due to denial, and so these things had to bubble up so I would have the opportunity to fulfill my intention to accept myself fully. Being surrounded by family and friends greatly accelerated this process, as you can imagine.Bubbles

After setting this intention, I have gone through several layers of what it means to accept myself, and I have no doubt there is more to come. But for now, what it has come down to is this: Full self acceptance is a simple (but not easy) choice. It is a choice stemming from a commitment to live in love. This choice is not based on logical arguments which explain why these aspects of myself exist, therefore somehow exempting me from shame or blame. It is not based on logical reasons which prove my beliefs are untrue and therefore prove I have no reason to be ashamed. It is not based on spiritual bypasses which tell me these aspects of myself are “ego-based” and are therefore not who I really am. No, this choice presented itself to me when there were no more excuses, no more logical arguments, and no more spiritual bypasses. The choice came when I could no longer talk myself out of feeling the full, terrible force of the shame, when all pretense was gone and I was facing head on those aspects of myself that I had been denying and hiding all these years. It was at that moment when I realized I had a choice: I could choose to accept and love Tearmyself for no reason other than I am committed to living in love, or I could choose to continue to hate myself. It really was that simple. And, choosing love in that moment was quite possibly the hardest choice I have ever made.

And so what I’ve learned so far about acceptance is threefold:  1) I had to set the intention (make the commitment) to accept myself fully. 2) The choice to fully accept myself (and by extension, others) only becomes available when I allow those aspects of myself which I have been condemning and denying to bubble up, to come into my conscious awareness. And, those aspects only arise when I am willing to feel fully the shame that goes along with all I have been denying. I found that this is what it actually means to look at myself honestly. It is not a mind game. It is all about being fully available to feel the pain. 3) Once the stage has been set and the choice arises, I now have the incredible opportunity to choose love — to accept myself exactly as I am — for no reason other than I am committed to living in love. This is a choice I must make over and over, day in and day out. It’s that simple. It’s not easy, but it’s simple.

The implications of this choice are vast. I know now that the level at which I am able to accept and love myself is exactly equivalent to the level at which I am able to accept and love bird flying2others. I also know that my true heart’s desire is simply to give and receive love more and more fully, When I can face head on what I am most ashamed of in myself and still choose love, I can face anything in anyone else and choose love with them as well. For when I am totally honest, I notice that I carry all those qualities that I have condemned in others within myself. This, I believe, is one of the most important keys to healing ourselves and our planet.

In gratitude & love,
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The Dreaded Question: What’s Your Passion?

Flaming heartFor as long as I can remember, I have been searching for my true passion. It seems all the self-help gurus start off by asking, “What is your passion? What turns you on and lights you up?” This is the point where my eyes glaze over, I slink down in my chair, and I have had to admit: “I don’t know.” There are certainly things I like doing. There are causes I care about. I am fascinated by certain topics and areas of research and contemplation. But is being involved in these things my true purpose and passion? Is this what I am here to do in this life? This is where I have gotten lost.

In these last few weeks, something around this search for my passion has begun to clarify for me. My perspective on what passion actually is has begun to morph. I had been thinking about my passion as something I would do. After all, when people speak about their passions, they are usually talking about something they do. For instance, they say things like, “Music is my passion,” or “Art is my passion,” or “Science is my passion.” When the self-help gurus attempt to draw out our passions, they ask things like, “What brings you joy? What are you doing when you feel joyful and alive? What makes you feel happy and passionate?” So, naturally, I’ve been thinking all this time that my passion and purpose would be wrapped up in something that I’d be doing.

Lately, though, I’ve been wondering if my passion might have less to do with what I’m doing and more to do with what I’m feeling, being, and then ultimately expressing into the world. And so I started to ask myself this:

What feeling or state of being do I most want to experience and wish with all my heart that others could also experience? If I could somehow gift myself and others any kind of experience/feeling/state of being, what would it be?

Would it be to feel loved? Safe? Valued? Inspired? Empowered? Connected? Cherished? Alive? Vibrant? Clear? At Ease? Awed? Joyful? Compassionate? Light? Open? Restful? Grateful? Follow your heartThis is a whole different kind of question, and I’ve had to really get quiet and listen to my heart. Amazingly, what has come to the surface is something I cannot exactly put into words, yet it feels uniquely me. It is a specific feeling state that I have felt come forward inside of me… in fact, it feels like it is simply the real me coming forward. And what I’ve come to see is that THIS IS MY PASSIONI have been looking for my passion in the wrong place! All along, I had been thinking that there was something out there for me to do — some grand purpose — and that when I found it, I would know it and finally proclaim, “This is my passion! This is my purpose!” Instead, I have found my passion is an experience/feeling and not something inherent in something I will be doing. Rather, whatever I choose to do will simply be a vehicle for me to express my passion into the world. Of course, then I immediately understood something else all those gurus have been saying: It doesn’t really matter what you do. It only matters how you are being (and feeling) when you do it.

Have you ever noticed how inspired you can feel in the presence of someone who is passionate? I’ve had the experience of getting totally jazzed about some product a person is selling merely because that person seems so incredibly passionate about it. I admit I have bought some very strange items only to wonder later why in the world I bought them! What I am seeing now is that I was resonating with that person’s passion, not with what they were selling. We are vibrational beings, after all! I started to feel inspired, or joyful, or hopeful, or whatever qualities that person was being and expressing, because I was resonating, in my own way, with those qualities that they were embodying. Then, because of my confusion about the nature of passion, I mistakenly thought it was the product they were selling that was causing them to feel good (and so I bought the item as well, thinking it would cause me to feel something I desired). But it was not the product that was inspiring me. It was that person BEING their passion.

Sun rays in blue sky

So for me, the question then became… okay, then how do I choose what to do? I still need a vehicle through which I can express my passion. If it doesn’t matter what I do, then how do I choose what to do? Here are some questions I came up with to help guide me in this process:

What might I choose to do where, when I do it, it feels easy for me to connect with, embody, and experience the quality of my passion? What could I imagine doing where it seems like it would be easy for me to feel and express that quality?

Do I have skills, talents, or gifts through which I could easily imagine conveying or expressing this quality (my passion) to others and to the world?

How can I, in ALL that I do, both embody (“be”) my passion and convey or express it to others?

This process is helping me form a vision and choose the vehicles through which I want to express my passion. Instead of trying to find things to do that would (supposedly) ignite my passion, I am instead practicing on a daily basis remembering and embodying the qualities — the feeling states flower 8— of my passion. I keep asking myself again and again, “What feeling do I most want to experience and wish with all my heart others could experience?” This is my passion! I let it fill me to the brim! Clearly, my passion isn’t just about me feeling good. I want to share it. I have found that the desire to share it — to express it — is inherent in the passion itself. And, what I’ve come to see now is that the way to share it is to BE it. When my whole being vibrates with my passion, others will begin to resonate (in their own unique way) with those qualities. This is how I can share my passion with others. Perhaps that’s at least partly why Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” And so now it seems my life (and my challenge) is about bringing that passion into all that I do — for myself, and for all those whose lives I touch.

What’s your passion?

In love & in gratitude,
Penny