Join me next Wednesday, February 26th for a formal meditation, The Practice of Joy.
Enjoy some thoughts around how we practice feeling good. xo Jen
Join me next Wednesday, February 26th for a formal meditation, The Practice of Joy.
There is an old zen koan (a paradoxical riddle to move out of the logical brain and invoke enlightenment): When you meet the Buddha (on the road), kill him. And I'm kind of loving it right now.
I have been working with human-ing for a long time now, really allowing the spiritual to move through my everyday life, not as something separate, but something integrated. At times it has felt elusive, but gradually it has become the foundation of any practice that I do.
My first meditation retreat, 20 years ago, was an intense one. 10 days, from 4:30am to 9:30pm. No talking, writing, reading or even eye contact. Just me and my thoughts. I went in without much real experience with meditation, and without really understanding why people meditated. I had used it as something to "calm down" with, but why sit all day? So that was part of what I was trying to figure out, and on day 4, I basically had an orgasm during the sit. Total bliss moving through my body. And, of course, my brain immediately latched on to it. "THIS is it! THIS is why people do this!!" But when I went to tell the instructor she told me to let it go. I was kind of pissed at her, like she didn't get it. I mean, I had just figured it out!! But she gently and clearly told me it was not about trying to recreate that experience, nor about grasping on to it.
If you meet the Buddha (on the road), kill him.
I have had many, many "other worldly" experiences both on the cushion and in my healing work. It has opened me up to understanding that there is more to this life than what I can see, and shown me my potential. And, honestly, it can be sooooo cool and shiny and flashy. But what I keep learning is it's not more important than tying my kid's shoelaces. If the experience can be used to help me human better on this planet, than I have used it well. But I am less and less attached to holding on to them as a story or thinking I'm special because of them. I love my practices if they show me how to stay in myself, my heart, and my power as I navigate through my day here on earth. Can I love more, and let that love help liberate others?
If my power is going into that which is outside of me, whether a teacher or story or practice (the Buddha on the road), then I need to find the Buddha within myself. I stay open and learn - I cannot let myself get arrogant enough to think I have all the answers, but I do so with the trust that it will activate my own wisdom and empower myself within my daily life.
And if I think I've got it all figured out, and have solidified my identity from experiences or systems of practice, well, you know the answer.
What's your Buddha on the road?
I’ve probably written about this before.
The other day I woke up feeling like I have a thousand lead balloons connected to my heart. Do I let myself feel it? Or do I redirect?
As a big feeler, I’ve been asking this question for 15 years, with various “answers”. None have felt quite right.
But that’s the process right? Or it has been for me. Ask the question, and then work on it in my subconscious and my dreams and through conversations and pay attention to all the answers I get. Because I believe it’s often complex. But the “aha!”s come and we begin to sync the mind, body and spirit.
I am an emotional being, and I’ve spent a lot of energy trying to figure out how to work with the “harder” emotions like sadness/shame/despair (I put harder in quotes because these are what feel the heaviest, and ones I’ve struggled with the most). But the main two tracts come back to: feeling what is happening, or shifting the story and redirecting my energy.
For a long time, when I would really feel what was happening, I couldn’t find the line between feeling it, and wallowing. I would let myself be with the despair, and my mind would run with it, dragging it down the rabbit hole until I was in fetal position. I kept waiting for the relief that would come and clear the clouds. But when I ended up in the pits of despair, most of the time I felt like I had to work so damn hard to crawl out, that if I felt a hint of it again I would find myself experiencing the not-so-lovely cocktail of anxiety plus despair. But I also knew that allowing yourself to feel was real and important. I knew shoving the lid on my emotions was not the answer. But neither was panicking when I did feel sad.
We tend to be so either/or. Black/white. I get it. But the more I practice, the more I realize that I can do both at the same time. I can cultivate joy and ease and play in my life, while letting myself feel sadness. The more I let go of any stories around my emotions, the more I can truly just feel both at the same time. I can know my life is astounding and have real concern about what is coming.
Healing is a process, not a finish line. It’s a practice that we engage in. And, when trauma is involved, we need to take baby steps. And we need to allow ourselves to feel good, not as a reward, but as a healing in and of itself. It is not the cookie after all the hard emotions are gone through and the rehashings and wailing. It is the way we allow our nervous system to strengthen and become resilient. It’s how we look forward to our days.
A huge part of the healing process is knowing ourselves well enough to know if we tend towards the wallowing or the suppressing. And then we kindly, and with compassion, learn how to move towards a place of joy rather than comfort. The reason I named my work Tidal Heart Healing is because healing is dynamic; it is not fixed. It changes and evolves and comes and goes. It needs this one day and something else the next. So we learn to listen to what we need in the moment. We try what has worked and engage our courage to try something else when it doesn’t.
The more I used the imagery of a thousand lead balloons, the heavier they felt. So I asked, what if they were filled with helium? And for that day, it worked.
Oh friends. This one is a doozy of a question, and one that I’ve both been asked and asked myself. And the answer isn’t simple. There are many different directions I could have take this post, but this is what’s up for me. So here you go.
We all have particular defenses against healing certain aspects of ourselves. It could be that some things remain tucked away and hidden until we’re ready. It could be that you’re comfortable and used to being how you are, and while you very much want to heal, you also have all the reasons and justifications that you can’t. Like driving with the gas and brake on at the same time. For some, being unwell is power. When we are used to giving our power away, illness can be a way of trying to take the power back, of shifting the attention back to you. It could also be because of your definition of healing, and a lack of acceptance with the way things are.
Friends. I have some hard news. There needs to be acceptance before there can be change. There cannot be letting go without the loving.
We resist accepting ourselves so intensely. And our healing journey is often riddled with a desire to be fixed. The letting go becomes aggressive and pushy. Or we think we can trick ourselves into the letting go: “See? I love myself now! So HEAL ALREADY!!”
I want to take a moment to validate how frustrating this can be. Especially when we feel like we’ve been working on it for so long. I know, it makes you want to throw it all away. [And let me just say, that “fuck it!” can be incredibly helpful when we’ve been working so hard at being “good”. Get pissed for a minute. Throw a small tantrum. Anger can help things move if done cleanly. Don’t point it towards anyone (even yourself), and let it burn quick and fast if need be.]
We need to accept what is. Embrace all that is happening in your life, regardless of whether or not you like it. Accept that this is what is happening. I know, the fear is that you'll never change and become stuck and complacent. But acceptance isn't giving up. And accepting isn't negative or positive. We add those stories on when we react to what is. But there's a gap between seeing and reacting that can be found.
What we resist persists. Barf. And unfortunately so true.
Sometimes the resistance of accepting comes from the resistance of becoming what we most don’t want to become, usually a parent. So take a minute and acknowledge that. (We’ll explore this a bit deeper one week in Deepening). Yep, I really don’t want to be this. But this is what’s been handed down so how can I use it for my benefit?
Friends. This human thing is no joke. Let’s stop expecting that it’s easy and cut and dried. Let’s stop expecting perfection from ourselves. There is no finish line. Healing is a verb, an action, one that we engage with daily. It is allowing growth and change and recognizing those parts of yourself that are harming you. And then accepting them. Because something really beautiful happens when we fully accept what is, while looking towards what is possible.
Trungpa said it best: “Hold the sadness and pain of samsara in your heart and at the same time the power and vision of the Great Eastern Sun. Then the warrior can make a proper cup of tea.”
All the best friends. I’m with you on this journey.
So if we aren't our stories, who are we?
As I mentioned last week, we are here, in the present, as a result of our collected experiences. They have influenced us, and it is easy to see them as the only Truth of our existence. But our stories can become heavy and fixed, keeping an overlay of suffering in our lives. As we begin to become more aware of ourselves and our thoughts, we can ask:
Are we more than our stories? When we begin to drop our stories, who do we become?
We are our bodies.
Whenever our stories become activated, whether it is by our own telling or outside circumstance, there is a somatic sensation. And when we drop the story, we feel what our bodies are saying. We tune into what it needs, and what it is trying to resolve. We become present and listen. And when the activation softens, we feel the life and hum of our cells.
We are our souls.
While our bodies are imperative to our liberation, we are more than this. Our souls are beyond earth-time, and have lifetimes of wisdom and purpose that is available to us when we are able to listen into the silence. We are here in this human experience to learn and grow and expand our beings. Our stories help us grow, unless we build a monument to them.
We are something intangible.
Years ago, when I was deeply immersed in Buddhist practice, I spent a month on the side of a mountain practicing something called Mahamudra. It's a practice that is difficult to put into words (and deserves a much longer explanation). It is looking directly into the space beyond silence, into the clarity of our awareness. It is a space beyond the stories of our bodies and beyond the stories of our soul. This pristine space, when we catch glimpses of it, helps us understand the emptiness and transitory nature of our lives and each moment. It helps us see the emptiness of ourselves, not in a nothing sort of way, but in non-fixed way. We are ever arising.
We are all of these things combined. And more.
While separating out these various layers can help us for understanding, we are all of these things continuously. During this life, our bodies and souls are intermingled and dependent on one another. We have our cells and the emptiness in between. Knowing we are simultaneously all and none of these things. And as we begin to heal from our stories, we can use our tendency towards creating them to empower. We can choose new stories to tell.
What do I want my story to be?
One of resilience and courage? Of grace and softness?
While we cannot always decide the particular way our growth will unfold, we can decide which stories we give our attention to. Healing always requires engagement, but only you can know when that engagement turns to gripping. Decide the stories you want to tell.
We define ourselves by our stories. We tell them, often in the same way, over and over again. We talk about our childhoods and traumas from a fixed perspective. We have our stories of triumph, our stories of pain, and we speak about them as if they make up the fabric of our being. Which, on one hand, they do. We are here in this moment because of choices in the past. We have taken steps and had so many experiences that have led us here.The trauma of the past is informing our subconscious behavior and patterns. We need to see this and have this be seen.
In the beginning, as we begin to unpack and understand why we behave the way we do, it can feel like a lightbulb has gone off. There are major aha moments where we feel seen and validated. There is often a huge relief in this. Finally! I get it! But unless we use this information for our growth and to help us move forward, we can get stuck in this place, using the information as an excuse to stay where we are. We feel justified in why particular experiences are scary for us, avoiding the fear rather than moving into it. (To be clear, when there is trauma involved, we need to turn towards our fears in a conscious and supported way. Be gentle with yourself and your growth. It's not a race, and every step deserves celebration.)
As we move through our day, begin to ask questions and notice the decisions we make. Some we make because we know ourselves well and we know what best supports us. Others we make because we are avoiding something that feels hard. In the beginning, it takes some diligence to recognize this and bring our awareness to it. We can then bring it to the cushion to practice, and then eventually in the moment.
When that old fear or constriction comes up, can you drop the story and feel where the fear is in the body? Can you hold your attention there, not going into the reasons why, but simply staying in the present moment feeling the sensations and the breath? Simple yes, easy no. But when we practice this way, again and again, dropping the story and staying with our bodies, we begin to soften the fear. Presence literally can reverse the effect trauma has on the body and brain. So we learn to stay, from a place of safety.
So, take it as slow as you need to, but keep going. And stay tuned for the next post, Who Are We Without Our Stories?
It feels terrifying, right?! The idea that there's no escape away from what feels hard or painful.
Let's face it, we all have our ways of escape. For some, it's using a substance like alcohol, drugs or even food. For others, it might be watching television or reading. I even see it within spirituality, using self reflection as an aggressive tool to get away from what is happening. The thing is, I think we need ways to get away from ourselves in order to get perspective. That a little "escape" can actually work for us. It can give us enough space to either de-trigger or find the courage to face what is there. We need a broad set of tools and strategies - escape being one - in order to keep ourselves accountable and present in our current world. Expecting ourselves to be 100% present 100% of the time is setting us up for disappointment and shame.
And we all need to be honest about where that line is for us. In a desire to protect itself, our egos are masters at convincing us that escape is necessary and good more often than is really true. And for most of us, we err on the side of escape over presence. So we practice in order to strengthen the muscle.
Part of the learning that comes in staying present, meditation being my preferred practice, is one of acceptance. Not trying to run from what is, but staying with it. When we escape, there is usually some subconscious desire that when we check back in it will all be over. But so much healing comes when we stay with what is happening, and learn to accept what is. Not in a roll over and quit kind of way, but in an, "ok this is what is so how do I move forward?" kind of way. Denying it only brings more of the suffering.
One of the things I've been hearing so much is that the old ways of escape are no longer working. That there is a stronger call to become more present to what is. This can initially feel like total panic. As if we are backed in a corner. But what if we are? How can we use this feeling of "no exit" to work for us?
First, we need to accept. So often that softens the panic and allows us to see and feel that perhaps it is not as terrifying as we might think. And then...
Can you find some joy or laughter in the staying? Can you find the ridiculousness through the pain? Can you find a loved one who can honor your commitment, cheering you on and sending funny gifs? Can you let yourself bawl your eyes out, making a date with yourself and Steel Magnolias if you have to? Can you feel proud of yourself for doing a really hard thing?
Because friend, you are doing a really hard thing. I am cheering you on. I get the fear. I get the loneliness. I also get the perfection and learning and utter absurdity of the journey here in this meat sack. You are doing it. YOU ARE DOING IT!!! And if you need any funny gifs, just let me know.
The winter of 2002
This was my first time living in India. It was a typical story of going to study yoga, philosophy and sanskrit. I was like a dry sponge, soaking up everything I could. I felt thirsty for anything that might bring me closer to God, and I was searching for the answers everywhere else but myself. At the time I was looking for ways to make myself better. Growth was synonymous with criticism. If I just did it right, then I'd be ok. My focus was completely taken up by what was "wrong", seeing myself with an editing eye.
While I was there, I was living in an apartment with a revolving door of Westerners, complete with a library of discarded "spiritual" books. One of these had a short story about a man visiting India, specifically going to bathe in the Ganges River.*
The Mother Ganges is the most sacred river to Hindus. They bathe in it, drink it, make offerings to it, take it home for their altar. It is said to remove all sin, and being cremated on it lifts one out of the cycle of reincarnation. It has also come to be quite polluted.
In this story, this man was visiting the river to bathe in it. However, once he was in the boat, he was filled with trepidation about going into something so polluted, and he expressed this to his guide. His guide's response went something like this: "This river is pure and sacred. It's the dirt that's dirty." In that moment, the man experienced satori, an awakening moment, and he jumped in.
This line, "it's the dirt that's dirty", has stayed with me all these years. Friends, we are full of dirt from the past. We carry it around with us, either denying it is there, or overly fixating on it. We have tools to work with it, we have stories that accompany it. And most of us would love to see it gone.
But we are also the sacred river. We are pure divinity. We are bigger than the past or the future. We are the present moment, clean and refreshing, and always now. We are good, we are both a part of yet beyond incarnation, and the dirt is what is dirty.
This doesn't take away from our accountability with the dirt. We learn ways of working with it, of letting it move on. Of creating some space around it. However, do not fall into the trap that we are defined by it. It informs us, but it is not us. And as we work with it, can we keep our eye on the sacredness of our being? The pure wonder of our bodies and the cells that create them? The way the soul moves through and merges with the physical. We are miracles. Even with, or perhaps because of, our dirt.
[* I have searched and searched for these stories since, but cannot find them anywhere. I can only remember the barest of bones from the story, but if anyone is familiar with it, please let me know! I always want to give credit where credit is due.]
How did I get here again?!
How often, as we embark on the spiritual journey, have we uttered these words as we find ourselves in a place we were so sure we’d left behind? Usually with a strong undertone of shame, disgust and self-loathing.
“How could we let this happen again? You need to work harder so we can be DONE with this!!”
Insisting that being somewhere other than where we are is where we should be, is a form of aggression that we often name as “motivation”. We do this to ourselves constantly, in ways we aren’t even conscious of. Some of these shoulds have a strong cultural When the brain is stressed, it looks for the problem to fight, assuming there is physical danger. Too often we are the problem, so we begin to fight ourselves, thinking we can bully ourselves into being something different.
Friends, the idea that the spiritual path is linear is one of the most harmful beliefs. Yes, healing and growth are real and true and make huge shifts in your life. You can reprogram your being and become more alive and powerful and compassionate. You will also have hard days. You will have days when you are here again. For me, shifting from the question of “why did this happen again?” to a question of “where do I go from here?” can change everything.
The more I teach, and the more I human my way through my days, the more convinced I am that we have to learn how to be on our own team. When I am against myself, all my worst thoughts of myself are true and no one can convince me otherwise. When I’m my own coach/mother/friend, suddenly the place I’m in feels workable. The question is no longer aggression towards expecting myself to be someone other than who I am, and more how do I work with myself to grow? If you have a young child who is learning to walk/talk/scribble with a crayon, we encourage them, even in their mistakes.
Some questions to consider when you find yourself in the same place:
What needs am I trying to meet by making this same choice? (I needed to be seen, to connect, etc.)
What was I trying to avoid?
How was I trying to protect myself? How can I protect myself in a way that honors my higher self?
How can I find ways to motivate myself towards change that feel kind?
How can I try something new/different in this situation? (Because we know the old way isn't working.)
Curiosity rather than aggression brings so much kindness towards ourselves.
As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts and questions.
Hello dear ones,
I recently fell down the health rabbit hole. Perhaps you’re familiar with it. I got an intuitive hit that I needed to start taking wheatgrass again, which reminded me of Ann Wigmore, Wheatgrass Queen. If you haven’t heard of her, she’s pretty worth googling. Anyway, she had her grey hair reverse from taking wheatgrass at 70 years old. Which then made me wonder why grey hair happens in the first place, and I learned all about the catalase enzyme that breaks naturally occurring hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen. If there aren’t enough of the enzymes, there’s too much hydrogen peroxide which can mean chronic pain, grey hair and various other ailments. Wheatgrass contains catalase (of course).
What fascinated me was that every Chinese medicine link I clicked on also pointed to weak kidney qi. Now, I didn’t go down this road looking to get rid of my grey hair, but when I read this it sparked up for me.
According to Chinese medicine, the kidneys are about fear. In my work, it’s often where I see not just trauma, but records of trauma, both from this life and past incarnations. Contracts, and pages upon pages of stored information that validates fear, and can keep us in a constant state of anxiety and fight or flight. (Adrenal support anyone?)
One of the things I often recommend to people, depending on what I see, is a hot salt pack for the kidneys. This is something anyone can do at home, and is a lovely way to let go of what is ready to move. The etheric body of the salt, specifically rock salt, is able to leave the crystals and enter the body to absorb that which is holding old, painful memories. It then returns to the crystal carrying all the toxic energy. Talk about pure magic. (Also, a huge shout out to the best acupuncturist I’ve ever experienced, Cheyenne, who I learned this from.)
Here’s how to do it:
You may want to nourish the kidneys a bit after with parsley tea or warm lemon water.
This is best done in the evening before bed.
Wondering if this is right for you?
For those who have seen me for a session, you know how to muscle test!! For those who haven't, does this post make your ears perk up? Is there a feeling of "coincidence" about reading this today? Is there a feeling you don't quite understand that this brings up? If any of these are true, try it. My guess is, if you're still reading this, it means you should do it.
Sending you all love beams from the heart,
While healing is what I am called to do, and LOVE with a passion, most of my time is spent being a mom and human. Here's where I get messy, and you get a glimpse into my own vulnerabilities as I attempt to find the heart of the warrior.