Making Sweet Honey From Old Failures

October 31, 2010

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

I did not realize I was about to fail. I had driven 1000 miles to Mammoth Lakes to visit my friend Alicia and her family. I had made it safely and we had planned a full long weekend, by coincidence it was Canadian Thanksgiving and Columbus Day so she had Monday off and we had talked about having Thanksgiving dinner that evening. Then on Saturday afternoon Alicia was reviewing her e-mails and realized that she had a meeting of her women’s group scheduled for Monday night. “You should come with me” she observed. “No, I don’t feel like going” I reacted. “Anyway weren’t we planning on having Thanksgiving dinner that night.” “Oh we can have that tomorrow”, Alicia responded. She was disappointed that I would not accompany her and suggested that if I did not go then she would not either. I told her I would think about it and perhaps a draw a rune stone for guidance. It is not as though these were strangers, I had taught three workshops with some of them however perhaps I did not feel like being “on”, maybe it seemed too much like work.

I went to bed just not feeling like changing my mind. I was on vacation and could choose how I wanted to spend my time. The next morning I awoke and began my morning meditation. At the end I repeat four intentions; they are the same every day and concern my desired focus for my life. They are as follows:

1) To serve through my spiritual coaching by empowering others by offering a means to their greater wellbeing.

2) To shine my light. (

3) To live a soul directed life guided by synchronicity and serendipity.

4) To practice opening my heart through love and compassion.

As I reviewed the four intentions I noticed a sense of wonder at how Alicia’s invitation to join her women’s group was totally consistent with each one. It certainly gave me an opportunity to serve and shine my light and what an amazing synchronicity that they were meeting the very day that I was there, and of course I frequently seek out this kind of gathering because it offers heart-opening moments. How did I get to a place where I said “No”?

The answer was quick to come. It was again James Hollis’s words that provided the clue, “activating these charged clusters of energy transfers the experiences of other times and places to the present, undermining our capacity for conscious choice and holding us hostage to the past.” My reaction had been from the child. I had come a long way to play with my friend Alicia and she was going off to play with someone else. It was an old pattern of feeling abandoned that had unconsciously triggered my response yet once again illustrated the power of the Hollis’s wisdom.

I greeted Alicia later that morning and told her I would love to attend her women’s group and felt extremely honoured to be invited. I see now that it is one of the reasons I was there and of course it proved to be one of the highlights of my trip. My failure had indeed turned to “sweet honey”. The poem is by Anthony Macheda, translated by Robert Bly and I found it in a little book by Roger Housden titled “ten poems to change your life”. The entire poem goes as follows:

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

When the Past Meets the Future

October 29, 2010

The dark thought, the malice, meet them at the door laughing and invite them in. Be grateful for whomever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.” Rumi

I love this poem. How often do we judge ourselves for a negative thought or a reaction? Have you ever said to your self “I must be a terrible person to think or react this way”? Rumi places such a different perspective on the negative experiences of our lives. In his poem The Guest House, beautifully translated by Coleman Barks in The Essential Rumi, he reminds us that we can learn from all such experiences. “A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all.”

Recently I drove back from California listening to a CD set titled Lifelines written and narrated by Christina Baldwin, one of the pioneers in promoting journal writing. She suggested a way of approaching writing that she calls flow writing. It requires you to close your eyes, take a few breaths to centre yourself then open them and begin to write about the first object that your eyes encounter. Upon my return I decided to engage in this practice. As I opened my eyes they fell on a beautiful sculpture that sits on the mantle above my fire place so I began to write without thinking, just allowing the words to flow.

The Meditator

“The Meditator”, a gift from my friend Sue, I love its elegant form, I think it is made of soapstone, a delicate light brown in colour, its head is bowed in supplication and it is one of my favourite pieces. Yet a guilty secret emerges as my pen flows across the paper; I recall that when I opened this gift at Christmas a few years ago I did not immediately like it; I felt disappointed and for some reason there was a sense of let down that I have never really understood and have since blocked. From a rational perspective it did not make sense. It was a perfect gift, a lovely appreciation of who I have become. a recognition of the many positive changes I have made in my life. It was a gift chosen with care and thought. Yet in the moment of opening the gift I was unable to fully appreciate it. Now it sits in the centre of my mantle, head bowed in humble prayer, an exquisite piece of art that I love.

And then as I carried on writing, the realization dawned on me that this paradox was not a unique event. Frequently I have to work to be appreciative of a gift, particularly at Christmas, even when it is perfect. I wonder what underlying complex is at the heart of this paradox. Slowly I begin to see a picture of a young boy at Christmas. It was my favourite time of the year; despite my parents having very little money, somehow my mother would procure a gift that always exceeded the expectations of both my brother and I, and led to that joy and delight that became an indelible recollection of my childhood Christmas. I can still recall the gifts: an electric train set, a table football game, a table cricket game, they became a centre of focus not just for hours but for weeks.

Was it possible that the power of Christmas past, unconsciously programmed an expectation into the adult that of course could never be met? Did the opening of a gift at Christmas unwittingly create this need for the childish satisfaction and pleasure of those years long ago? In reflection I can recall at times thinking I would much rather have a game or a toy of some kind then realizing how absurd that was. Perhaps now I can recognize this old pattern, I can smile at it instead of judging it. I will move into genuine appreciation for the gift instead of getting trapped in my old pattern and then judging myself mercilessly for it. Next time “I will meet it at the door laughing and invite it in.”

The Guest House

“This being human is a guest house, Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all. Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of furniture. Still treat each guest honourably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the malice, meet them at the door laughing and invite them in. Be grateful for whomever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”

Why UFO stories Don’t Make Sense for Me.

October 25, 2010

Recently during a workshop on intuitive guidance, I noticed one of the participants seemed unaffected by some of the stories and examples that both I and other members of the group were sharing; stories that demonstrated amazing examples of how guidance was transmitted through both synchronicity and serendipity. Somewhat curious I asked her about her experience and whether she found any of the stories convincing or meaningful. “I would love to believe them” she told me, “but to me they are just stories.”

As I teach through story a great deal, I was puzzled by her response. In most of my groups the stories were greeted with appreciation and wonder at how the Divine or Spirit can orchestrate events to ensure certain outcomes. It was Carl Jung who first defined the concept of synchronicity to describe meaningful coincidences as “events whose coincident occurrence suggest meaningful connection”; for example I am attending a conference titled Body and Soul and due to a scheduling mistake I am registered in workshop with the title “How To Be More Psychic.”  This displeased me as I had no desire to become more psychic plus I was feeling very disconnected from the whole event. My meditation practice that morning had been fragmented and unfocussed and my mind was telling me it was all a waste of time. However I decided to attend the session and felt the hairs on my neck stand up when the speaker, the amazing Judith Orloff, stood up and said that she was going to focus her session on why we should meditate and promptly described a series of benefits of meditation to which I went check, check, check as she completed the list. So being registered in error for a session proved to be an amazing meaningful (and possibly life altering) coincidence.

It was a close friend of mine who provided a key to this puzzle. She told me that in her experience we needed an experiential link to a story for it to become meaningful. Without that bridge there is no personal meaning in the story. This became much clearer to me the next morning when I received a daily newsletter on synchronicity that contained this story about UFOs. It had no significance for me at all as I have no experiential bridge to UFOs. I have no problem with the idea of UFOs but have no direct experience so the stories have no impact. They are all just stories.

It seems to me that a paradox is set up. We need an experience to relate to a story but how do we bring on the experience when we really don’t believe the story? Some wise spiritual teachers have addressed this issue. Ken Wilbur, renowned American philosopher, espouses a belief in the existence of a psychic paradigm that can only be experienced if we take the step to engage in spiritual practice to stimulate our own experiences. He encourages people to commit to regular meditation as a test. Psychologist Francis Vaughan also suggests that regular meditation facilitates our intuitive faculties. My own experience has validated this perspective. I started to meditate eighteen years ago as a stress management tool but coincidentally opened myself to intuitive senses that I never imagined existed. So perhaps the starting point is “Take the Test” then trusting our story to emerge.

Spiritual Coaching vs. Life Coaching

October 23, 2010

Recently I was invited to a networking meeting. This required me to contemplate exactly what it is that I do and how it is differentiated from Life Coaching. When I hung out my shingle a couple of years ago I had progressed through training that focused more on spiritual guidance and spiritual direction, however I felt that what I wanted to offer was more of a bridge between Spiritual Guidance and Life Coaching rather than either one. So I called myself a Spiritual Coach and developed a web site titled SoulClarity ( During the past two-years I have worked with clients ranging from life coaches to a psychologist and I have gradually discerned the landscape that seems to unfold in Spiritual Coaching and how it differs from Life Coaching.

I believe quite a number of life coaches consider spirituality when they are coaching but I am not sure how many Life Coaches begin from a place of Soul (or Higher-Self, Psyche, Inner-being, Intuitive-self – whatever words meaningfully describe the inner nature.) And for some people the very word spirituality would get in the way because it suggests a higher power, a concept that is challenging for some. Most Life Coaches I know embrace the intuitive power of their clients to come up with creative solutions but this may or not be associated with spirituality in their minds.

My type of spiritual coaching begins with the premise, to use Jean Houston’s words, “You are more than you think you are and something in you knows it”*. It begins with the concept the inner journey of life must assume supremacy on life’s journey and spiritual coaching starts with seeking guidance from the Soul or Higher Self. Spiritual Coaching explores the experiences of life as opposed to focusing on specific outcomes. It is about finding meaning in those experiences as opposed to trying to change them. One of my clients remarked that once she found meaning in the experience it would create new outcomes. Spiritual Coaching looks at life as a journey of the soul and the spiritual coach as the midwife. It forces us to explore what is often uncomfortable territory of living in two worlds, one spiritual and one temporal and that is always a challenge. I’ll close with a lovely poem from Hafiz that I think summarizes the perfect outcome of Spiritual Coaching.

“What is this precious love and laughter

Budding in our hearts?

It is the glorious sound

of a soul waking up.”

* From A Mythic Life by Jean Houston

Sometimes a Decision is about the Journey not the Outcome

October 5, 2010

I am leaving for California on Thursday to visit friends and take some time at the ocean and in the redwoods. One of my friends contacted me to tell me the Dalai Lama would be in San Francisco and asked if I would have any interest in going with her. I replied affirmatively and shortly got an e-mail saying that most events were sold out but she had bought two tickets for a public event that was taking place the morning of my departure. At first I noticed a hesitation because that meant changing my plans somewhat but I decided that after she had actually purchased tickets the least I could do was be flexible.

However as the day progressed I observed some significant anxiety emerge. It seemed to complicate my life; I would have to drive from San Jose to Stanford on my own; it would delay my departure by at least four hours; I would then have to drive through the heart of the city, across the Golden Gates Bridge and I still had a thousand miles to get back home. At first a voice emerged that said, “get over it, you are an adult aren’t you, what’s the big deal?” Then came the realization that I was stuck in the middle of the battleground of thoughts, feelings and fears that I talk about in my Decision-making presentation. It seemed a good time to apply some of my own tools to work to develop some clarity about what to do.

My plans had to be leave my friend’s place in San Jose bright and early Thursday morning and drive to Prairie Creek State Park that day and camp – a journey of over 550 km. So the Dalai Lama tickets threw a spoke in that. My commitment is to live a soul directed life guided by synchronicity and serendipity however just what was my soul’s desire? To see the Dalai Lama with a friend seemed like soul food but then why the anxiety and trepidation about changing my plans.  I sat down and wrote out my confusion, looking at the pros and cons and the conflicting thoughts, feelings and fears  and then asked for soul direction. I knew that if this were indeed my soul’s desire then all would be well.

My first inclination when faced with uncertainty like this is to draw a rune seeking clarity. I drew Defense, normally a sure fire “NO”. I read the commentary and it seemed profoundly relevant, “aversion to conduct that creates stress – patience is the counsel. The ability to foresee consequences before you act is the mark of the profound person. Avert anticipated difficulties through right action.” I decided to follow the path of patience and sleep on it. The following morning I journaled and drew a second rune -Gateway, about non-action and not being ready to go through the gate. Once again patience seemed to be the recommendation. Later that day I did my DecisionClarity presentation at Inspire Health and realized that this was a perfect opportunity to spend a further 24-hours seeking guidance.

Sharing my dilemma with a friend of mine helped me; he suggested that it would be challenging to stay fully present with the angst of having to leave for a seven hour drive afterwards and he suggested that the Dalai Lama was unlikely to expand my awareness although it may be pleasant to be in his proximity. In addition I realized that I had passed over a number of opportunities to see him in Vancouver and as a regular visitor here it was likely there would be others. The desire to go seemed more about a sense of obligation to my friend rather than any compelling need to see the Dalai Lama. I decided to sleep on it for one more night then make my final decision. My practice to conclude the DecisionClarity process is to create a contemplative space then hold the question in my mind before releasing it and taking five deep breaths. I had an overwhelming sense that I should not go accompanied by a wave of relief. It was as though a weight had been lifted. Shortly afterwards after I shared my decision with my friend she e-mailed to say the ticket had been snapped up. It felt very affirming and I know there will be other less stressful opportunities to see the Dalai Lama.

Post Script: I realized later there was not a good decision or a bad one; one would have required the practice of staying fully present to an experience when I was bombarded by distractions; the other perhaps was better for my peace of mind. The decision was much more about he journey than the outcome.

Making Friends With Your Decisions

October 5, 2010

Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. (Wickipedia) We are not beings that live well with dissonance. In fact we need to find a way of dealing with it when it shows up because cognitive dissonance can destroy our peace of mind and sometimes affect our bodies as well. Once I was given the opportunity to write a Healing Journey story of a breast cancer survivor. After surgery she was faced by the prospect of having chemotherapy and it horrified her. She explained to me that the logical argument in favour had convinced her that she must go ahead yet her body was crying out, “don’t poison me.” She proceeded in this state of cognitive dissonance to have the treatment with disastrous outcomes. First her clinical experience was a nightmare; everything that could go wrong seemed to go wrong and then she had to deal with side effects that seemed unbearable.

She consulted one of my colleagues at the Centre for Integrated Healing for support. “I can’t stand it,” she told him, “you have to help me.” After listening to her dilemma, he realized that she needed to make friends with her decision and explored ways that she could correct the dissonance that was having such a negative effect. The answer that emerged came from the fact that she was reading Harry Potter to her ten-year old daughter. Somehow the reality of the dark world that Harry was exploring helped her develop a context for her chemotherapy that seemed to help her deal with it. She would see it as a “dark potion” conjured up in a magical world that could only harm the bad cells and not touch the good.

Of course the test came when her next bout of chemotherapy occurred and amazingly everything shifted. Not only did her clinical experience improve but the side effects diminished dramatically. The mind has enormous power to control both positive and negative outcomes and finding tools to resolve dissonance and make friends with your decision are very important. A process of conscious decision-making like the DecisionClarity model can help achieve this result. At the end of the process there is a sense of clarity and wellbeing that emanates from a journey through your inner landscape; this can help you make friends with your decision. I worked with someone who was trying to decide whether to leave her successful career and the answer was “not yet but the sign will be when a package is offered you.” I helped her associate her decision with the positive clarity she was feeling at the time. About three months later she called me and said a package had been offered to her. “How did you feel?” I asked. “At first there was a sense of anxiety and fear but it completely diminished when I recalled the way I felt about my decision.” She had made friends with it three months earlier and it had no power to upset her. Any dissonance was long gone