One is moved to conclude that the heart is the most poetic organ of the body and may exceed the moon and stars in use as a metaphor…You can know of heartache, heart yearnings, heart shapes, heart renderings and heart feelings. ~Mike Denney, M.D., Ph.D.
As I wrap up the second year of my doctoral program in Depth Psychology, I am finishing a term paper for my Conscious Death and Dying course that has stretched the shape of my heart. Some of the required readings for this course includes Mortality (Hitchens, 2012), The Alchemy of Illness (Duff, 1993), Intoxicated by My Illness (Broyard 1992), and Good Dog. Stay. by Anna Quindlen (2007). I had heard of the last title but had never read it until my professor stated: “If you only had to read one book, this is the one”.
That night, I opened the book, glanced through the pages then immediately set it down. It is a poignant love story about a woman and her beloved dog, “Beau”. Quindlen describes the immense affection she has for Beau and the lessons she learned just by observing him: how to accept things as they are, to measure herself not through the lens of the past or future but of the present. Her story continues as Beau ages and reaches the hands of death. Quindlen unflinchingly remains in the moment until his last days on earth, “Each morning I used to check to see if the old guy was actually breathing, and each day I tried to take his measure—was he hurting? Was he happy? Was the trade-off between being infirm and being alive worth it?”
Like Quindlen, I have a Beau but his name is “Guru.” And like Beau in the book, Guru is the same age, fifteen years old as of July 10, 2015. Due to severe arthritis in the elbow of his front left leg, Guru gets around by hopping on his three working legs. He sleeps more than he is awake, yet he still loves to go for a daily “joy ride” in the car, resting on my lap as we travel up and down the street. At one-hundred and five human years old, he can still smell the fresh salty, sea air and this daily ritual is the highpoint of his life, as well as mine.
Guru is a black Pomeranian, pure alpha and not sweet as Quindlen describes Beau. No one would
consider him to be a “good” dog; he can be affectionate one moment then without warning, snap and bite in the next moment. People think it is because of the pain he is in from being old. Sometimes I let them believe this is true but it isn’t; Guru has been a very difficult dog since he was four months old. After receiving his vaccinations, he began having seizures which we learned to control with Phenobarbital. And though his seizures calmed down, his behavior did not. Guru sought to keep everyone together, like a herding dog; every time my husband or I would leave the room, Guru would spin counter-clockwise, barking, “Get back here, don’t you dare leave, we’re all meant to stay together!” Obedience training didn’t seem to help, nor did all of the Dog Whisperer CD’s that we watched. A caring and concerned friend once pleaded, “Why don’t you just call the Dog Whisperer and invite him to work with Guru?” We never did contact Caesar and after fourteen years of Guru spinning counter-clockwise, his left elbow became so crippled with arthritis that he drags the leg next to his body while he hops around on the remaining three.
Guru is possessive, demanding and has an anxiety disorder. His behavior, at times, has strained my relationship with my husband. I have been over protective of this creature who appears in my night-time dreams, lives in the depths of my heart, and reveals all of his feelings and secrets when he looks at me with his dark brown eyes. I know this dog better than I know myself. Surely, we must have been together before. As strange as this may sound, in a desperate attempt to understand the dynamic between Guru, my husband and I, we once contacted a well-known “pet psychic” who confirmed this idea. She told us the most amazing story: in a past life Guru had been my partner and Thomas (my husband) had been his rival and the issue was never resolved. As hard as it was to believe and as reluctant as we were to admit it, Thomas and I both sensed there might be some truth to the psychic’s vision.
As my death and dying class unfolded, I kept avoiding reading Good Dog. Stay. It was too painful and hit too close to the heart. Guru’s fifteenth birthday was quickly approaching and I noticed that his eyes looked glassy and he was limping more than usual. Was it time to let him go? Was he in pain and if so, did the physical pain outweigh my desire to have him stay? My heart was aching and reluctantly, I re-opened Good Dog. Stay. I read ten pages, not the first ten, but the final ten. Quindlen’s courage and ability to embrace Beau’s death was inspiring. While reading it, Guru laid next to me on my bed. I remember crying as I turned the final page and asking Guru if he wanted to move on. I told him that he was a good dog despite the challenges over the years and that I would let him go if he was ready to leave. He listened then licked my left hand reassuringly. He was definitely trying to communicate something.
That evening, my husband and I decided to take Guru to the vet and have his matted hair—once shiny and glorious—shaved off for the last time. We also decided to have his teeth cleaned and his nails trimmed—all of the grooming that I used to love do for him but now required anesthesia because he would bite. We knew we were taking a risk, that he might not make it through the process. Yet we believed we were giving him one last chance to feel a bit better. Two days later, Thomas drove the car to the vet’s office while I cradled Guru in my arms, swaddled in his favorite red blanket. After we dropped Guru off, I sent him light from my heart and envisioned him feeling strong. My prayers of love and gratitude traveled to him as I hiked along the beach then worked some more on my Conscious Death and Dying term paper. At 3:00 p.m. the vet called to report that Guru was doing well and was ready to go home. Despite feeling groggy from the anesthesia, Guru’s enthusiasm and aliveness was evident and we knew we had made the right decision.
That was three weeks ago. And now, as we reach the end of July, Guru is still doing well but I know we are nearing the end. Each morning when I awake and check in with Guru, I am reminded that one more day of living for me is an entire week of living for him and his aging body. This helps me maintain perspective about the fragility of life and the incredibly short duration of a dog’s life. It also emphasizes how important it is that I remain present with Guru and be fully alive, now, more than ever.
In the meantime, I am profoundly aware of Guru’s impending ending inching ever so closely. It is no longer “years away”; it could be next month, tomorrow morning or even tonight as I lie sleeping. Good Dog. Stay. reminds me that my growth lies in my ability to embrace Guru’s deterioration while remaining most alive during this ending. Sartre was right: You have to live each moment as if you’re prepared to die.
I take comfort from knowing that I have been able to love this dog in ways I never knew possible. The love I feel for Guru has been the closest thing to unconditional love that I might ever know: he can growl and bear his teeth at me, and yet, I still love him; he can bite me, and though I scold him, I still feel love in my heart for him. I feel his fear when he struggles to sit up, I feel his excitement when we go for a joy ride, and I feel his love when his pale tongue weakly licks my hand.
As I finish crafting this blog, Guru is lying on the floor next to me in his old lumpy bed with his favorite tattered red blanket. I feel deep gratitude for being able to process some deep emotions while writing. I
held off from writing this blog because I was resisting the feelings that illness and conscious dying might elicit. I look over at Guru as I craft this final paragraph and he opens his eyes. He can still see me so I inquire: “Are you comfortable? Are you happy? Do you want to keep on going?” not expecting a response, and yet, his eyes widen. I am reassured by Quindlen’s last words in the final chapter of Good Dog. Stay.: “And when the time comes to ask myself some of those same questions, at least I will have had the experience calibrating the answer. Sometimes an old dog teaches you new tricks”.
I would love for Guru to stay and stay and stay…but I am acutely aware of his mortality, as well as my own. So I am grateful for all that Guru has taught me: patience, tolerance, perseverance, real love, remaining conscious and connected as a loved one ages, fades then dies. And though Guru, nor I, will live forever, I am reminded that the name “Guru” can be broken down into: “Gee, You Are You”, perhaps the greatest teaching we can learn from a dog who challenges us, a true guru.
Sleeping Beautiful was my mother’s favorite fairy tale. She bought me the book when I was seven years old and inscribed it to me. A hard covered book laced with dreamlike hues of blues, greens and shimmering gold on the front cover. Inside the book was beautifully illustrated with images of Sleeping Beauty, the prince and Sleeping Beauty’s court. It was the only book I remember my mother inscribing to me and she wrote: “I hope you enjoy this fairytale as much as I always have. Love, Mother.” Well, I did love that story. It was romantic, passionate and taught that all women need to awaken is a sweet and simple kiss from a man who possesses the power to save us.
What was there not to love?
Unfortunately, many women have taken Sleeping Beauty literally. I know my mother did, and, so did my older sister. My mother desperately hoped that my father would be her shining prince, awaken her heart and fulfill her every need. And as much as I loved my father, he was the family patriarch; religious, fundamental, ill-tempered. Over the years, I watched as my mother’s own “sleeping beauty” fell into a deeper and deeper sleep as she medicated herself with prescription medications and alcohol. She died at age 57 and my sister died at age 54, both suffering deeply from abusive men, broken hearts and shattered dreams.
The amazing Jungian analyst, Anne Baring, excels in transformational work of the soul which entails the 4,000+ year old practice of “alchemy.” Many of us know the process of turning base metal into gold, but Baring’s teachings encompass the psychology of alchemy and the alchemical transformation we must go through in order to reach our opus and be fully awake, whole beings. In her seminar titled, “What is Soul?” Baring dives deep into the alchemical waters of the ancient fairy tale Sleeping Beauty. She reveals how Sleeping Beauty is the ultimate story for this point in history because it reflects the vital call for balance between our masculine and feminine aspects. Baring writes, “I see this magical story [Sleeping Beauty] as a metaphor for our time and the urgent need for a marriage between our head and our heart, a marriage between our solar thinking and our lunar feeling…From another perspective, I also see it as a metaphor of the reconciliation of spirit and nature or the reunion of the masculine and feminine aspects of spirit which have been progressively sundered during the last four thousand years.”
In Sleeping Beauty, the prince represents the solar principle of consciousness, searching for meaning, wanting to understand the universe but ultimately, seeking reconnection with his feminine aspect—the soul. Sleeping Beauty symbolizes the lunar principle of soul, the feeling values, Eros. Therefore, this bewitching story has nothing to do with being rescued and everything to do with the alchemical marriage of the masculine (sun) and the feminine (moon). Thus, when the prince (solar/rational mind) connects with Sleeping Beauty (lunar/heart energy), not only does she awaken, but her entire sleeping court awakens. For the past 50 years, we have been witnessing an awakening and deepening of connection to our soul and attaining balance between our head and heart. More and more women I encounter who are on the path of growth have shared the increased amount of animus dreams. Our animus shows up during dream time in male form, sometimes a familiar man and other times a stranger. These dreams present us with an immense opportunity to explore our beliefs and attitudes about our relationship with men and our relationship with ourselves. Dream work is a significant part of alchemy. May we remember the transformational power they possess and take time to attend to them.
The Greater Coniunctio: A Higher Love
When one is journeying through the alchemical process, there are several stages of transformation we must experience. The stages are: calcinatio, solutio, coagulatio, sublimatio, mortificatio and separatio. They lead to coniunctio which resides at the heart of alchemy. Coniunctio is the joining of the alchemical King and Queen, Sol and Luna. The process of transformation begins when these opposites meet, but they are not conjoined until the process is completed. We travel in and out of these stages throughout our life, depending on what is happening in our relationships, career, health and all of the life changes we encounter.
Viewing the tale of Sleeping Beauty from a higher and alchemical position reveals something antithetical to what we were taught as children. No one is meant to save us, particularly not a special soulmate who kisses our forehead and brings us out of our sleep. The deeper meaning of this story is the recognition and conjoining of our feminine and masculine aspects. Alchemy uses a series of unique images that illustrate this process. The King and Queen start out fully clothed (separate and concealed) then immerse themselves in an alchemical bath where the transformation begins. The lovers, who were once opposites are now connected into inseparable wholeness. Alchemical love has attained its exultant zenith. The opposite energies of the prince/Sleeping Beauty, the King/Queen, and the Solar/Lunar, become transmuted through the alchemical process which is can only be done solo and can be very painful. It’s an “undoing” of all that we have learned and at times, we may feel as though we are being turned inside out. Sometimes we pass through the alchemical stages at varying times, and, sometimes we move through two or more simultaneously.
Yet the pinnacle remains the same, to fully realize genuine love and union. Edward Edinger, who wrote Anatomy of the Psyche: Alchemical Symbolism in Psychotherapy states, “That which goes by the name of love is fundamental to the phenomenology of the coniunctio. Love is both cause and effect…objective love, a love purged of personal desirousness, not one side of a pair of opposites, but rather beyond the opposites”. Sleeping Beauty is a mythical story of a higher love. It encompasses self-less love and the feeling of oneness that we each desire on the deepest level. It cannot be attained by wanting to be rescued, saved, or kissed, but only as we awaken to the strength, courage, and love that resides deep within.
I believe if my mother were still alive and read this very different interpretation of Sleeping Beauty, she would not be disappointed, she would be relieved.
Title: Central Coast Annual Women’s Symposium
Location: San Luis Adult School
Link out: Click here
Description: Central Coast Annual Women’s Symposium 2015 with Dr. Riane Eisler!
“What Is Good for Women Is Good for the World“
We are thrilled to announce that internationally known human rights activist, best-selling author, social scientist, women’s advocate and macro-historian, RIANE EISLER, will be our next keynote speaker at the Women’s Symposium on March 14, 2015, 9 am to 4 pm! Having Riane join us is an enormous accomplishment. Her decades of humanitarian work has made, and continues to make, an immense difference in the world.
SIGNIFICANT SUCCESS from CREATING YOUR INVISIBLE INNER COUNCIL
Interested in evolving your relationships, elevating your career, improving your physical well-being, generating more abundance…or, all of the above? Although I’ve never been a believer in short-cuts, there is a method that works amazingly well and is quite simple: Create an Invisible Inner Council. WHAAAT?
Let me give you an example.
There was a time when my beloved husband was experiencing some professional frustration. It was something that reared its head every so often, a cycle that seemed to ensue without warning. He is self-employed and there were period of times when business would flow in, then without warning, dry up, nada, nothing. This happened so often that we began to explore every possible issue; self-sabotaging patterns, not feeling deserving of abundance, the economy, fear of success, fear of failure and so forth.
Finally, after years of a masculine approach to business—trying to make things happen—he decided to try an entirely different approach. At the time, I was involved in a feminine power program that was radically different from the old patriarchal approach to work life. Feminine power isn’t about a “Get Going!” rah-rah programming (which drowns out our intuition), but emanates from tuning into our inner self and trusting our intuition, ideas and inspirational images to lead us. So my husband began listening deeply to his inner self and being receptive to what he heard.
This is where his Invisible Inner Council comes into play. Every morning, he started his day by meditating on these three areas:
1. INTENTION = WHAT HE MOST DESIRED TO CHANGE AND CREATE
2. COMMITMENT = TO GOING ALL THE WAY
3. DEEPEST YEARNING = THE SEEDS OF POTENTIAL THAT WERE FELT IN HIS BODY
This third area is especially significant. Our yearning is the life force energy that calls forth what we most desire. Yet, how many times do we ignore or push away our yearnings because we’ve been disappointed in the past and are afraid they will never happen? Our deepest desires are saying “Pay attention to me, notice what I’m trying to tell you!”
And the key to connecting with your yearning is to know that they don’t reside in the head, but in the body. Somatically, you can feel yearning in your body and as you connect with it, you call it forth into your life.
The body has its own way of knowing, a knowing that has little to do with logic, and much to do with truth, little to do with control, and much to do with acceptance,
little to do with division and analysis and much to do with union. –Marilyn Sewell
After meditating on his intention, level of commitment and desires, my husband invited four souls to be on his council. They were: Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett, Mahatma Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln. At each gathering, he would share his intention, commitment and desires then ask each council member to share some feedback. He wrote down what he heard and implemented it that day. When he was done, he expressed gratitude for their ideas, inspiration and support.
The results were—and still are—mind blowing.
Everything in his inner world began to organize around his outer world. Opportunities began arising and they kept rolling in. In fact, after his first life-changing abundant six week period, my husband met with his council.
Then finally, Gandhi spoke, “This is good, very good. But we need to take a few moments to appreciate all of this. This success is the result of hard work, inspiration and enthusiasm, yet there were also invisible forces supporting all of us along the way.”
When my husband first shared this flow of feedback, he had tears of profound gratitude in his eyes. “They feel as real to me in my meditations as you are in front of me right now,” he expressed.
The next time you are ready to create something from your highest intention, strongest commitment and deepest desire, summon your own Invisible Inner Council. Invite a few souls that are you would love to have as your greatest mentors. It doesn’t matter if they are alive or deceased. These invisible forces will be magnetized by your own positive and loving thoughts. Share your ideas, ask them for theirs, implement them as often as possible, then watch your inner and outer worlds organize and align successfully with each other.
And just as importantly, before moving ahead to the next task and goal, take some time to appreciate all of the significant success that you’ve created with your Invisible Inner Council.
In Part One of “Be the Heroine of Your Own Journey,” we discussed what the American journalist and playwright, Nora Ephron, meant when she declared: “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” We explored how the hero strikes out on a solo mission to conquer his demons, while the heroine recognizes that stepping into her feminine power entails aligning with a collective field of support. She is not meant to trek solo as empowered support is vital when she travels.
In this article, we are going to examine the power of partnerships—not just any partnership—but an evolving partnership.
In her groundbreaking book Sacred Pleasure, *Riane Eisler—an internationally known human rights activist, best-selling author, social scientist, women’s advocate and macro-historian—shares a historical perspective on what men and women have gone through for centuries as a result of religious dogma and scientific jargon. She reveals how brutal patriarchal beliefs have been to the psyche and soul of both women and men. Eisler takes the reader through the “pain to pleasure shift” which is a blueprint for the future of authentic, loving, spiritual partnerships.
I refer to these more enlightened connections as “Evolving Partnerships.” It’s one of the core principles of the **Relationship Wisdom™ workshops my husband and I teach. Women are inherently relational beings. We want connections that are fulfilling; emotionally, intellectually, physically and spiritually. Having a social network is vital to many of us and we thrive in relationships where we feel validated and supported. Of course, there are men who flourish from these types of connections as well.
However women identify with their relationships in different ways than men. For example, women are more apt to conform in social circles in order to avoid losing the connection, or, women may feel compelled to agree and validate someone’s feelings without challenging the underlying perceptions. While our intention is good, this type of conformity weakens and disempowers us.
How many times have you validated a close friend’s reactions without challenging her assumptions? How often have you made yourself “shrink” in order to fit in with others? How frequently do you avoid the difficult conversations? How many times have you, or someone you know, used humor to divert the attention away from something that may feel awkward or uncomfortable yet needs to be addressed?
Too often, we dim down our light to keep the peace. Instead of inviting someone we care about to rise to our level of awareness, we drop down to their playing field. This is because women identify so strongly with our relationships.
The old paradigm for relationships is based on the belief that: “You take care of me, watch my back and agree with me and I will hang in there with you, no matter what.” We often see this behavior exhibited in our family systems. This is outdated tribal thinking based on loyalty to the tribe versus empowerment and authenticity.
Things are changing.
Strong women need strong partnerships; partnerships that are real, where both people have the courage to speak their truth with kindness and respect, where the commitment is not to comfort, but to holding each other accountable.
If a close friend or partner has the inner strength to be honest with you, to challenge some of your assumptions, thank her! It demonstrates she cares enough about you and the integrity of the relationship to speak her truth.
In my own life, when I’m willing to have a difficult conversation with someone, I know it’s because I really care about the evolution of our connection. There have been times that the truth was more than she or he wanted to hear. And those connections drop out. But I’d rather be honest than conforming which inevitably leads to resentment. There’s nothing authentic about validating everything someone feels. That’s called the “Destructive Cheerleader” syndrome; we say “Rah, rah!” to what someone believes just so we don’t lose that person’s support.
Below is a model of the old relationship structure versus evolutionary partnerships.
OLD RELATIONSHIP PARADIGM
- Motivation is to feel safe, secure and comfortable
- Dependent and/or Co-Dependent
- Conforms to protect the security of the relationship
- Bond is based on colluding and a sense of victimhood
- Agreeing with the other person shows loyalty
- Support negative or limiting behavior
- Avoid conflict and difficult conversations
- Validates emotions without questioning assumptions
- Masculine approaches to decision making is valued more highly than those considered “feminine” (i.e., intuitive, perceptive, nurturing)
- Motivation is growth
- Interdependence and equality is key
- Authenticity and being true to one’s deeper self is essential and the relationship adjusts accordingly out of mutual respect
- Bond is based on true empowerment
- Able to see and discuss things from multiple viewpoints supports growth
- Hold each other accountable for creating a future based on integrity and evolution
- Commitment to honesty and openness based on the intention to deepen the connection
- Looks at possible meaning and challenges perceptions
- A feminine approach to decision making is valued equally both personally and professionally
Steps for activating evolving partnerships:
1. Notice the looking glass through which you relate to others.
2. Practice connecting with others without an agenda.
3. Commit to cultivating relationships based on a mutual commitment to growth and that have a shared “agreement” to this commitment. (Note: The people in your life who are not interested in growth are not candidates for this kind of agreement. There are people for whom we shift our expectations accordingly and learn to accept and love them the way they are.)
What kind of advice might a true heroine give to you about fulfilling your destiny? She would invite you to share your highest vision for your life with those who will join you in an evolving partnership. She would ask you to let them know what you are committed to and invite them to share their potentials and future they wish to create. Finally, she would encourage you to give them permission to hold you accountable as you become the heroine of your own journey.
Enjoy the journey!
*Riane Eisler will be our keynote speaker at the Central Coast Annual Women’s Symposium in San Luis Obispo, CA, on March 14, 2015. www.spiritualcircle.org/symposium
**Relationship Wisdom™ is offering a workshop on The Five Pillars of Successful Relationships on October 18th & 25th in Arroyo Grande, CA. www.spiritualcircle.org/events
Currently, I am involved in a feminine empowerment program. It is a program I chose for the continuation of my spiritual, soulful and emotional evolution. Although the course is founded in wise feminine leadership principles, the curriculum is challenging me to seriously ponder the true meaning of what American journalist and playwright, Nora Ephron, once declared: “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”
It’s clear what it means to take 100% responsibility for our lives, but what exactly does it mean to be the heroine of our own lives?
Most of us are familiar with Joseph Campbell’s teaching of the “hero’s journey.” Like the main character in the film “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” the hero ventures forth from the world of common life into a region of supernatural wonder. There he encounters fabulous forces and a decisive victory is won. The hero returns from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
Although I have always been fascinated by the hero’s journey, I often felt something was missing. That “something” was revealed to me in 2012 when I invited Dr. Jean Houston to be the keynote speaker at the Central Coast Annual Women’s Symposium. While giving an impassioned speech based on her book The Wizard of Us, she asserted, “By the way, the heroine’s journey is very different than the hero’s journey.” Now that caught my attention. For as much as we have sometimes tried to emulate men, we women are very different.
In fact, neurobiology reveals that women’s brains are hard-wired in a uniquely different manner. Dr. Daniel Amen, who’s written over 30 books including Unleash the Power of the Female Brain (2013), shows that women’s brains are very active; the amount of blood flowing into our frontal lobes hard-wire us for collaboration, appropriate worry, intuition, self-restraint and good judgment. And most importantly, we intuitively know when something is wrong and are willing to shift gears before the Titanic hits the iceberg and sinks.
This isn’t about whether a feminine approach to life is better than a masculine one; we need a balance of both energies in order to thrive. But the heroine’s journey does differ greatly from the hero’s journey. And one of the greatest variances is how we choose to travel.
Unlike the hero who strikes out on a solo passage to conquer his demons, women recognize that stepping into their feminine power requires aligning with a collective field of support. Many of us have been trying to do “life” on our own which can only take us so far. How many times have we felt alone in trying to share our gifts with the world, overwhelmed, or unsupported by life? In order to shatter our inner glass ceilings—the limiting beliefs and behaviors that sabotage our success—we need to activate a new culture of empowerment which necessitates a shift into a collective quantum field.
It’s a known fact that geese fly 75% farther and faster when they are flying together. Solo passages cannot carry us the distance. When we are soaring as a self-actualized woman, we must activate a field of unprecedented support. This is, perhaps, the most essential part of the heroine’s journey.
We begin to create a unified field when we affirm:
I AM ALLOWING LIFE TO SUPPORT ME ON MY JOURNEY. THIS INCLUDES ALL OF THE PEOPLE WHO ARE OPEN TO RECEIVING THE GIFTS I DESIRE TO CONTRIBUTE.
I AM FULLY PRESENT IN HOLDING THE SPACE FOR OTHERS TO EVOLVE AND TRANSFORM.
I AM LETTING GO OF OLD STORIES OF REGRET, SETBACKS AND DISAPPOINTMENT AND CHANNELING MY ATTENTION, INTENTION AND ENERGIES ON WHAT IS AVAILABLE FOR ME TODAY.
I invite you to step into your own heroine’s journey by bonding with others inside your identity as a powerful and resourceful woman. May we join together in support of our highest potential for loving relationships, physical health, emotional well-being, financial abundance, creativity and friendship. May we birth the seeds of our potential forward as we journey together and answer the call to our souls’ deepest purpose.
So it’s not gonna be easy. It’s gonna be really hard. We’re gonna have to work at this every day, but I want to do that because I want you. I want all of you, forever, you and me, every day…. — Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook
We are offered no greater opening to know the truth of who we truly are than in relationship. Relationships are such powerful catalysts because they mirror the aspects we most need revealed for our soul growth. What we strongly react to in another, we possess within ourselves. This is projection of our shadow. Both the fear and love we see in another is the reflection of both our own humanness and divinity. Even during the most challenging times we are being given the opportunity to grow since our encounters with others are our greatest opportunities for growth.
We flourish the most when we are willing to be fully present. And yet, why is that we frequently divert onto other things when we’re around the people we love the most? How often, after many years of being together, do people simply grow apart? While counseling couples, I’ve witnessed a common theme where the woman has attended to the home and children (and, often worked), while the man has focused on earning a living, only to discover that when retirement rolls around, they no longer know each other!
People have sometimes assumed that my relationship with my husband is so good because we’re “fortunate” or just “really compatible,” when in reality, we work hard at it. We make our relationship a top priority and always have.
When our relationships become stale and predictable, we may not be honoring them for the temples of healing that they are, or, we may not be delving inward toward our soul where our passion runs deep. This reminds me of a conversation I had with a woman who was complaining that her life was lacking in pizzazz. “The 1960’s was a period with a lot more excitement. The peace marches were really something. Today’s demonstrations are boring in comparison,” she stated.
Yes, the 60’s were a time of great upheaval and change. There was a lot of trail blazing occurring which was necessary to get us where we are today. Revolutionary thinking was key during that time, but evolutionary thinking is required today. And that’s a good thing. While there was much being done on the outer planes during the 60’s, there is much being created on the inner planes today. We now understand the staggering power of our thoughts, which for many, has led to an entirely new way of being, taking action and living.
Could it be that the woman was feeling bored within her relationships including the relationship with herself? Not because there’s less excitement in the air, but simply because she may be playing it safe and not stretching beyond her comfort zones?
Abandonment, rejection, betrayal—these kinds of wounds can easily cause us to shut down emotionally. And for a period of time while we’re grieving, learning to set strong boundaries and healing, this may be exactly what’s needed. Yet if we continue living this way, we minimize our capacity for experiencing joy and intimacy.
Our deepest pain stems from withholding our love. Yes, someone may have done or said something that hurt us, but we hurt ourselves more deeply when we withhold our love. This reminds me of a beautiful quote I once read from an anonymous source that affirmed, “You can never lose by loving; you can only lose by holding back.”
Notice your relationships, especially those with people you’re closest to. Are they a priority or do you allow diversions keep you from connecting with them? This includes your family and “family” is any group of people that has joined together out of mutual respect and support of one another.
Many years ago while studying A Course in Miracles, I learned something that blew me away: What we’re most afraid of, is love. Amazing isn’t it? So many of us are longing for love and yet, at the deepest level, love is the very thing that scares us the most. This reminds me of a beautiful passage that Robert Perry, the founder of the Circle of Atonement based upon the principles of A Course in Miracles, once wrote:
Because I believe love has limits, I have come to be afraid of it: afraid it will be withdrawn, afraid of its conditions, afraid that what seems to be love is only a tease, a tantalizing promise that threatens to disappear if I misbehave. That fear, that constant anxiety over love’s potential for disappearance is the source of my lack of joy. How can I be joyful, even when things are “good,” if love may be withdrawn at any moment? This is the error of our minds we are practicing to uncover, bring to the light, and let go of. Right now, in this moment, I am encircled by Love’s embrace. Right now, without a single thing changing, Love radiates to me without limit and without reservation or question. To know this is happiness, and it is this I seek today.
The heartfelt wisdom of these words is a powerful reminder for each of us. Despite all of the “stuff” we may experience with another, only the love is real, it’s all that remains when everything is said and done. Dare to go beyond your fear and embrace the love available to you with all of your heart and soul. The power of love is staggering; it has the ability to heal addictions, cure disease, transform past pain into present happiness, and dramatically shift the situation that exists within the world today. Love is the glue that holds our universe together and is the reason we exist. Never underestimate its potency or presence; it’s inside of you, it’s inside of me, it’s everywhere.
© Copyright 2014 Laura Grace. All Rights Reserved.
The New Year has long been associated with renewal and rebirth. In a number of North American Indian languages, the term “world” means “cosmos” and is also used to describe a new year. The Yokuts (native to Central California) might say that “the world has passed,” meaning “a year has gone by.” The cosmos is seen as a living entity that is born, evolves, then dies on the last day of the year, only to be reborn on New Year’s Day.
This time of the year has always been very special for me since my birthday falls at the beginning of the year. As December unfolds, I harness my strongest manifesting skills by paying particularly close attention to my night-time dreams. Working with my dreams creates a powerful space for change and transformation to occur in the New Year.
This winter I am working with a dream that has been most compelling. It is a snake-dream. The same snake has appeared in three different dreams the past few months. Because I’ve always been afraid of snakes, the first one was troubling and frightening, and this makes sense considering that through the ages, “snake” has received a very bad rap. In fact, the snake is one of the least understood Biblical symbols. Snake has frequently been depicted as evil and the cause for our human desires and temptations. For heaven’s sake, the snake was even blamed for tempting Eve which led to the downfall of paradise! Unfortunately, the shadow aspects of sexual repression, temptation and sexual guilt have tainted the deeper meaning of this amazing creature.
Because my Dream Tending™ teacher, Dr. Stephen Aizenstat, Co-Founder and Chancellor of Pacifica Graduate Institute, taught me to always ask the dream image: “Who is visiting now?” I felt drawn to inquire the snake about its presence. This charged question implies a familiarity with the dream image, as though it has appeared myriad times, dressed in different forms, with a similar assignment: Something very important is about to happen—or—is happening so WAKE UP!
Taking this urgency to heart, I journaled about the snake, my snake, which wasn’t just some boring brown common snake, but the green diamond back rattle snake. I thought to myself: Good grief, are you “visiting” me because of repressed sexual desires or fears, some generational sexual wounds that several women in my family have suffered from, or, are you here to reveal the plight of the unresolved sexual issues of the collective unconscious? Isn’t everyone in our culture suffering from some form of Puritanical sexual guilt?
As my confusion escalated, I recalled that some ancient cultures frequently refer to the serpent as being the most universal and auspicious archetype, one that symbolizes rebirth and transformation. I found solace in reading Mary Ellen O’Hare-Lavin’s review of The Practice of Dream Healing: Bringing Ancient Greek Mysteries into Modern Medicine, where she discusses the healing, light-filled image of the snake:
The chthonic serpent image is an ancient one, utilized even earlier than Asklepius. Our healing ancestors were less interested in a “Higher Power.” The serpent image was used to represent a connection with both the upper world and the underworld. The serpent is a shape shifter and it journeys below the earth’s surface (a.k.a. underworld) as well as bathes in the sunlight of the upper world. In the Asklepian tradition it represented the healing and shedding of old skins for new ones.
As I continue to delve into the snake dream image via journaling, drawing the image, and through a process called Embodied Dream Tending™, my snake dreams are evolving. The snake has shape-shifted itself from scarily circulating itself around my shoulders (Dream number 1), to sliding up next to me and laying still as I rest my hand against its head (Dream number 2), to transforming itself into a beautiful, verdant plant (Dream number 3).
Just as we are familiar with the serpent wrapped around the staff carried by the ancient Greek healer, Asklepius, snake now appears in my dreams symbolizing light and dark, spirit and soul, rebirth and transformation. Gone is the old fear based on some much distorted Biblical and societal perceptions.
In fact, Marija Gimbutas, a Lithuanian-American archeologist, excavated hundreds of figurines from around the world and discovered a snake goddess figurine from the Palm of Knossos, Crete that dates back to 1,500 B.C.E. This powerful female figure holds a snake in each hand demonstrating healing traits: fertility, rebirth and transformation. Such a positive perspective can be seen throughout the ancient Greek’s view of how they regarded snakes as sacred. Instead of fearing them, they were used in restorative rituals and even the venom was used for healing. Not to mention the way snake represents Kundalini, a Sanskrit word meaning “coiling like a snake.” Kundalini or “serpent power” can rise during deep meditation, up through the chakras, bringing a devotee to full spiritual awakening.
It’s not surprising that the snake has been visiting me lately during dream-time. I started a doctoral program in the field of Depth Psychology and Somatic Studies a few months ago and to say it’s been life-changing is putting it mildly. It’s been forcing me to face all aspects of myself, especially my shadow-side. And like the snake, I see how all images—like all people—possess both dark and light. Dream images are gifts that our psyche is offering us. Marion Woodman, a mytho-poetic author, women’s movement figure and Jungian analyst reminds us that honoring our dreams and their images creates a life-changing relationship with the unconscious and our psyches.
Dream images have the capacity to pave the way to your transformation. As you create a vision for the New Year, your dreams can reveal beliefs and perceptions that are limiting you. These may appear as “shadow” dream images, yet they are meant to help you, not frighten you. The snarling dog or fanged snake is calling for your attention. In fact, the more disturbing the dream images may appear, the more powerful they are. James Hillman, in his book Dream Animals once wrote:
Our dreams recover what the world forgets…The dream animal shows us that the imagination has jaws and paws, that it can wake us in the night with panic and terror or move us to tears…and see their living forms so that we respond to them with the gift of intelligence.
Further, not only do dream images possess the power to help us grow and transform, they have the ability to be our “daimon,” an ancient Greek word for “protective spirit.” In his book The Dream and the Underworld, Hillman states: “Each life is formed by its unique image, an image that is the essence of that life and calls it to a destiny. As the force of fate, this image acts as a personal daimon, an accompanying guide who remembers your calling.”
As I continue to connect with the snake during dream-time, my fear is transforming into trust and faith. The snake who now visits has shifted from something disturbing and scary, to being my daimon, a protective escort who is more than happy to guide me on my journey. This hasn’t happened easily nor has it happened over night. It has taken months of committed effort to embrace the snake and open myself to its deeper meaning. True growth and transformation requires persistence and patience and dream work entails the same stamina. But it’s worth it, it’s worth every bit.
What might your night-time dreams be telling you? Are there any specific images that call to you? Dreams unfold in what is called the “imaginal” realm. The Sufis speak of the imaginal realm as alam al-mithal. In Hebrew, it is called the olam hamashal. It is the realm of imagination, archetypes and dreams.
May you find soulful guidance from your dreams as you journey through the New Year. In Numerology, the year 2014 reduces to “7” which represents spirituality, science and solitude. It’s a wonderful time to reflect on what matters the most to your soul, psyche and spirit. It’s also the perfect time to set your intention to remember your dreams, to write them down and allow them to reveal their gifts of wisdom.
“Wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving.”
— Kahlil Gibran
Feeling gratitude toward all that we have and all that we are leads to a gracious heart. Being gracious toward others and ourselves speaks of a rich spirit, abundant mind, and inner power that can heal relationships and create inner peace that extends throughout the world. Being expansive validates our worth and reminds us that we deserve to experience all that our heart desires.
Further, gratitude—versus judgment—allows us to forgive ourselves and others for past mistakes. Healing and awakening requires forgiveness. Without forgiveness we end up distorted with guilt. Forgiveness gently connects to us our deepest self — love — and the love within another. It inspires us to relish all the wonderful aspects of our life, which in turn, allows more love to pour forth, creating a consistent wellspring of balance, happiness and peace.
As we enter into the time of thanksgiving, let us be reminded to give thanks for all of the love we have received as well as the love we have given. I’m reminded of a story I once read involving a group of geography students who were studying the Seven Wonders of the World. At the end of the lesson, the students were asked to list what they considered to be the Seven Wonders of the World. Though there was some disagreement, the following got the most votes:
1. Egypt’s Great Pyramids, 2. Taj Mahal, 3. Grand Canyon, 4. Panama Canal, 5. Empire State Building, 6. St. Peter’s Basilica, 7. China’s Great Wall.
While gathering the votes, the teacher noted that one student, a quiet girl, hadn’t turned in her paper yet. She asked the girl if she was having trouble with her list.
The quiet girl replied, “Yes, a little. I couldn’t quite make up my mind because there were so many.”
The teacher said, “Well, tell us what you have, and maybe we can help.” The girl hesitated, then read, “I think the Seven Wonders of the World are: 1. To touch, 2. To taste, 3. To see, 4. To hear.” She hesitated a little, and then said: “5. To run, 6. To laugh, and 7. To love.”
As I read about the suffering that super typhoon Haiyan has caused, I’m reminded that we can be another “wonder of the world” right now. Reaching out with love to comfort the countless victims in the Philippines is a wonderful thing, every bit as much as nature’s wonders. And as we join our minds and appreciate our lives, we become miracle workers capable of creating wondrous results.
May your gratitude-filled heart be reminded today of those things which are truly wondrous.
Copyright Laura Grace. All Rights Reserved
All endings are inexorably tied to new beginnings. That’s the nature of the journey. It continues to unfold. It builds on itself. It can’t help itself from doing that. Cherish the moments, all of them. You have seen and felt much in life so far. But still, the best is yet to come. -Melody Beattie
Letting go is perhaps one of the most difficult challenges we face. Our egos easily and all too eagerly attach to things, people, and outcome. Letting go of these attachments can be painful, particularly when we can’t see what’s ahead. Throughout the years, many clients have shared how they have a “back-up person” waiting in the wings just in case their current relationship ends. The fear of the unknown (and being alone), for some, creates feelings that are intolerable. Having “plan B” in place may mitigate some of the fear, but it doesn’t address the real fear: letting go.
I have always found the metaphor of a closed fist and open hand helpful; a closed fist represents our resistance to letting go, while an open hand symbolizes our willingness to embrace the present and future. Moving from a closed fist to an open hand is a process. It requires patience and the willingness to release what no longer serves us. The choice to let go allows us to follow the pathway to our soul.
Life is a series of things to let go of–our friends and loved ones, our children as they grow, our youth, our perceptions of ourselves. In my own life, I have found myself having to let go more these past few years than ever before. In the last year, I have been faced with letting go of my daughter, yet again. The first time was when she graduated from high school and moved away on her 18th birthday, the second time was when I moved from Michigan to California, and then last year, after having moved to California and only living 5 hours away, she relocated back to Michigan. I’ve also faced other losses including the death of my father and letting go of a very beloved pet more recently. Was any of this easy? No. In fact, I’m still working my way through some of it. But, I’m discovering that as long as I keep an open hand (and heart), my experience of letting go is much less stressful. In fact, I remain inspired to let go, knowing that I’m clearing the pathway for my soul to continue its journey and fulfill its destiny.
What do you need to let go of? Perhaps there is a self-limiting or destructive pattern that needs to be released, or maybe you feel compelled to pursue a dream that requires letting go of the work you’re currently performing. The important thing to remember is that no matter how daunting it may feel, you possess an inner strength and courage that is greater than any situation. Courage is about letting go and moving forward, not in the absence of fear, but in the presence of it. When you realize the inner power you possess, you can let go of your attachments. This doesn’t mean that you don’t work your hardest for the highest outcome, but rather, that you do your best and leave the rest to Spirit.
What is it time to release? You have two choices; you can either try to hold onto the past with a closed fist, or you can choose to embrace today with an open hand. As you already know, the former will cause you (and others) unnecessary pain and suffering, while the latter might trigger some fear of the unknown, yet provide rich, new experiences for your heart and soul. Which will you choose?
Affirmations for Letting Go
The past is over; I plan for tomorrow and live for today.
All my experiences are allowing me to become a stronger and wiser person.
As I let go of attachments, I create room for fulfilling and soulful experiences.
I let go easily for I trust that new and exciting opportunities are on their way.
Copyright Laura Grace. All Rights Reserved