Identifying Our Self-Care Plan

November 25, 2014

It was a chance encounter but one that began an amazing journey of meaning. I was returning from a walk when I met into my neighbor. I asked him how he was and he mentioned that it was somewhat gloomy in his household, as his son had unexpectedly suffered the death of his small, cute dog. The conversation moved on to grief, stress and its impact on different people when he unexpectedly shared a story from his own life. “I was dealing with a lot of stress helping people I work with deal with major life challenges when I found myself sitting in my office weeping uncontrollably. I decided I had to leave my job.”

In itself this was a beautiful sharing particularly between men who are not generally noted for emotional availability. What made it even more remarkable was that at the age of thirty-four, the same thing had happened to me. So I shared my experience too. I had been under intense pressure trying to save the company I was managing from going into receivership (chapter eleven).

By a bizarre stroke of fate I had become the “last man standing” in a fragile organization that I had occasionally referred to as a “ship of fools” due to some of the crazy decisions I had observed. The bank had lost confidence in the organization and the President had asked me to find a way out. I had worked for fifteen days straight starting at 6.00 am and often not finishing until long into the night. My days were filled with meetings with lawyers, accountants and the like. Finally on a Saturday morning at about 7:00 am I became convinced that I could not succeed.

Suddenly uncontrollable weeping convulsed my body and I could do nothing about it. I thought I must have been having a nervous breakdown. Fortunately my MD was also a friend so I telephoned him at home. His wife told me that he was on call at the hospital. I did not leave a message but she was sufficiently concerned to contact him. He tracked me down to the office and between sobs I shared my concerns. He was amazingly reassuring and told me that this was the best thing that could happen. The tears were the releasing of the immense amount of stress I had internalized and I would eventually feel much better.

Following this discussion with my neighbor, I was catching up with a dear female friend who told me she was under an immense amount of stress and recently broken down into floods of uncontrollable tears. While empathizing with her, it seemed natural to share my earlier conversation with my neighbor. As I concluded she exclaimed, “do you see the amazing synchronicity this is?” In the moment it had not fully sunk in but as she wanted to go and journal her thoughts and feelings, I let it go.

The next day I took a long walk by the Fraser River and the full immensity of the coincidence sank in. I found it significant that both men immediately took steps to leave the situation that had caused the stress. My friend however had no plans to exit. I wondered if this was perhaps because men are so much more uncomfortable about tears than women however, I felt convinced that regardless both of us had taken care of ourselves in a healthy way.

I knew my friend could not just walk away from her life but it encouraged me to ask her the question, “what is your self-care plan?” She clearly had given this much thought and understood “that running from one thing to the other stresses me out and overwhelms me.” She realized that finding more space in her life was essential.

This exchange led me to begin an exploration of what a Self Care plan could look like. I try to remember to ask myself a simple question, “did I live a balanced life today?” I then examine the aspects of the body, the mind, the emotions and my Spirit or Soul. I do not beat myself up if I have not but I do attempt to stay fully conscious of what is going on in my life. I graphic way to envision this kind of approach could look like this:

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For my body I like to either stretch, go to the gym and to take a walk every day. I test my mind through writing, Sudoku, and brain games. Emotionally I will try and make intimate contact with at least one friend as well as engage in something that may move me. As far as feeding the Soul, I listen to sacred music, read and learn poetry (also good for the brain), and meditate. Spirit I see as more collective than personal – my current understanding of what I call “The Mystery. ‘Play’ is a recent addition to my enquiry; I think it is important and can be overlooked. Recently a friend of mine had an amazing dream where her blonde self was prominent. Her exploration of the meaning of this symbol became clear, it was the reminder to play.

I think the most critical thing is to bring consciousness to how we are living our lives. I do not think there is any one self-care plan that can be adopted. As Carl Jung once said, “ the shoe that fits one person pinches another, there is no recipe for living that fits all cases.” However it’s always worth asking ourselves the question, “does mama need a new pair of shoes?”

Post Script: Sharing with a friend this morning she mused whether woman generally find it more difficult making major moves in their lives. She likened changing her life to shifting the course of the Titanic, a degree at a time.  She wondered of the sense of responsibility many woman feel and perhaps a tendency to enable others makes self care more challenging. One just has to hope the course correction is sufficient to avoid the oncoming iceberg.


What’s All This Soul Stuff Anyway?

November 17, 2014
 
“What is this precious love and laughter budding in our hearts,
it is the glorious sound of a Soul waking up 

Hafiz interpreted by Daniel Ladinsky

Late in his life Carl Jung wrote to a friend and said, “I have failed in my foremost task to open people’s eyes to the fact that man has a soul” The derivation of the word soul is from the Greek word psyche that in turn means breath.

In medical terms the psyche is the sum of who we are: body, mental faculties, emotions and … For some the definition stops there, for others it may include the nebulous concept of the unconscious while depth psychologists and Jungian analysts believe there is a Soul. Unfortunately we cannot identify the soul with a body part. It is an elusive concept

Thomas Moore the writer of many books on Soul suggests that Soul must be imagined rather than explained or understood. A tough concept for the logical and literal minded.

In my Spiritual Coaching practice, the Soul represents a guiding force that supports us on the journey of life and aspires to that which serves our highest good.

As the spiritual coach my first priority is to assess whether my client can accept this idea. It does not matter what name we ascribe to it: Psyche, Self, Soul, Higher Self, Inner Wisdom, I look for common language that we can share.

Why do I consider this of importance? First, I consider the inner guiding force is the most effective tool for helping us through the dark wood. Second, it has a language of its own that is not verbal. It speaks to us through the circumstances of our lives. This can be through our body, our dreams, the patterns of our life, through sign and synchronicity, through “the still small voice”. Third, once we accept the principle that the Soul desires to communicate then it behooves us to listen and pay attention.

Our growth frequently comes out of the ennui, confusion, sense of being stuck even depression that are the sign that something wants to change. I have noticed both in my own life and in those of my clients that ignoring the signs or ridding ourselves of the symptoms can often cause an exacerbation or deterioration until we wake up. I once heard this described as “the cosmic two by four”, a description that seems especially pertinent and a good reminder to stay attentive.

In his excellent book, What Matters Most, James Hollis reminds us that, “if the ego is living in harmony with the psyche there is no problem, there will be a sense of energy, purposefulness, the supporting function of feeling and a sense of well being. In those moments one is in right relationship.” I think that sums up Hafiz’s poem pretty well!

Spiritual Coaching helps to assess whether we are in right relationship with ourselves. It begins with a check-in to the current emotional, mental and physical circumstances of our life and an enquiry into what they could be trying to signify.

The wonderful Julia Cameron, author of many books including The Artists Way once wrote, “Today I listen with my deepest heart. I am alert to guidance in many forms and formats. As I open my attention to a broad range of cues, I find myself guided and guarded.” An excellent practice for honouring the Soul’s journey.


Gratitude to Old Teachers

November 11, 2014
 When we stride or stroll across the frozen lake,
We place our feet where they have never been.
We walk upon the unwalked. But we are uneasy.
Who is down there but our old teachers?

This poem by Robert Bly resulted in reminiscence about some of the important teachers in my life. I realize that much of the foundation of my belief systems has resulted from the teachers who crossed my path at precisely the right time.

The first was a Minister of the local Baptist Church, the Reverend Gordon Glover. I was fifteen years old and my inability to accept the basic tenets of the church was causing great conflict with my father and mother. Somehow my mother persuaded me reluctantly to visit the Minister of the church I had been dragged to for many years. After he welcomed me in I explained the foundations of my disbelief – the loving God crucifying his son to save me, the absurdity of being born again, the inconsistencies in the whole story. He looked at me with care and concern then leaned over and said, “you are absolutely fine, don’t worry about it. You will find what you need in your own time.” Needless to say this earned him the enmity of my father for the rest of time but to me it was an amazing moment.

They say that when the student is ready the teacher appears. Well in my case I was a long time getting ready. It was not for forty years that the next major influence on my spiritual life showed up. It was the amazing late Reverend Marvin Anderson of the Unity Church in Vancouver that guided my path for a number of years. He reintroduced me to a form of Christianity that gave me the freedom to have my own beliefs. No longer was everything in the Bible literally true. God was no longer an elderly, patriarchal male who believed in retribution. He helped me to see that my previously proclaimed atheism was actually a lack of belief in the God espoused my father. He had a brilliant mind, was widely read and helped to broaden my spiritual search.

I began to study at Unity Village in Missouri for two years and deepened my quest in many ways. He introduced a concept that was profound and as far as I can tell original. “The simplicity that precedes complexity is useless, the simplicity that follows complexity is the pearl of great price.” It helped me through the years when I had to let go of simplistic beliefs and attitudes in order to grow. Finally he preached a sermon that freed me from a trap of my own making. I was sitting in the balcony of a packed church in the company of hundreds of kindred souls. It was as though he was speaking straight to my heart. “Some of you need to move on, your time here is done.”

Leaving Unity opened the door to my next teacher. Following a series of signs and synchronicities I enrolled in a two-year program called the Art of Spiritual Guidance. It was crazy thing to do; I did not know the teacher; it was a significant commitment of money and time; yet I felt called. Atum O’Kane was a profound influence in my life. He opened the door to the psychological aspects of my spiritual journey. He introduced me to Carl Jung, the unconscious and the shadow, dream work, body sculpture and drawing to connect with deeper wisdom, and a deeper understanding of Soul. He introduced me to Sufism, mystic Judaism as well teachings from the Christian and Buddhist tradition. He provided the groundwork that gave me the confidence to practice as a Spiritual Coach teaching how to hold sacred space, how to listen from the heart and trust my intuitive wisdom.

Atum is still a big part of my life, shows up in my dreams but the primary teaching role has passed to a man that I deem to be the wisest I have ever met. James Hollis is Jungian Analyst, writer and teacher. His framework for the spiritual life feels right. His belief that meaning is a much higher aspiration then happiness has profoundly influenced my work. His understanding of the powerful forces of the unconscious is second to none, yet he is the first person to say, “I know nothing about the unconscious, that’s why it is called the unconscious.” However he helps us understand that we can derive from dreams and the patterns of our lives the forces that unconsciously control our responses. His explanation of complexes, how they originate and how they affect us is a keystone to my understanding of self, limited as it may be.

His audio book, Through The Dark Wood is the best recipe for a meaningful exploration of our lives I have ever encountered. Up to this time I have listened to it ten times and each time I get something new.

I am the product of my great teachers, I feel amazingly blessed to have met each one of them on this earth walk. To quote the beautiful song written in 1982 by Jeff Silbar and Larry Henley – “They are the wind beneath my wings.”


Learning the Gifts of Loosening Control

November 10, 2014
The Magical I am Harmony Garden

The Magical I am Harmony Garden

This journey began with a vivid dream then a series of apparently disconnected incidents that eventually combined into to a glorious mosaic. In the dream I am with my spiritual teacher Atum on a bus when I realize I have left my baggage behind customs. (Nothing symbolic about that!) I ask if I can see him later and he says, “no”. I feel disappointed but go about retrieving my bags. The dream segues and I am with him again but this time he is wearing a red and white polka dot jersey.

I know the dream is important. Atum when he features in my dreams is generally representative of the inner wisdom aspect of psyche. I work with my dream partner (for more http://www.soulclarity.com/Dream_partnering.pdf) and look at the key symbols, feelings and energy within the dream. The symbol represented by the red and white jersey is a delicious example of how the unconscious extracts a personal symbol that is only truly meaningful to me. Followers of the Tour de France will recognize that this jersey is awarded every day to the rider who earns King of the Mountains.

A crystal clear meaning emerges. There is some baggage connected to my history that needs to be cleared in order for me to move on to a higher plane of inner wisdom and intuitive understanding. However I have no idea what the “baggage behind customs” represents. All I can do is affirm, “show me the way” and wait on the will of heaven.

My attention shifts to a long driving trip I am planning to Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. I am planning to visit friends in Aspen, Santa Fe, and Mammoth Lakes. In between I want to visit Ghost Ranch (a wonderful retreat center in Northern New Mexico that I found last year), and Sedona in Arizona, where I love to camp and tour the sacred sites.

After confirming dates with my friends I begin to book my reservation in Sedona. There is a problem that is initially frustrating but then I hear a distinct message that I need to leave space in my trip and not plan so meticulously. Somewhat reluctantly I decide not to make any other reservations. Those of you who follow these reflections will know that my desire to plan comes from my need to control everything and that letting go will likely add to my anxiety.

So the day comes and I set off for the long drive to Aspen. This is not to be a travel blog; I cover the details extensively at www.hangin.wordpress.com. The inner journey insinuated into my consciousness on my second day in Aspen when I decided it was now timely to book the nights at Ghost Ranch. To my horror and frustration I could not get in; it was full. It was interesting to observe my reaction. Even though I had surrendered my need to make a reservation, I had a major attachment to going there. For a moment this wrench in my proverbial wheel threw me off centre.

Then I recalled the wisdom of allowing space and decided to see it as an opportunity leading me to research other options. I found a wonderful daylong steam train excursion in Southern Colorado with the romantic name “Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad.” It followed an old mining route from Antonito to Chama crossing a high pass at Cumbres at 10,000 feet.

I became enthusiastic about the new possibility and decided to book a B and B in Antonito but when my totally valid credit card failed, I wondered if the universe had other plans. I surrendered once more and focused on enjoying Aspen. Unfortunately my friend’s wife Kathy was away in Paris with her daughter and I did not expect to see her but she decided to leave Sunday and they arrived home at about nine after a long day in the air.

She was upset that I was leaving the next morning and asked if I couldn’t stay another day. Her husband observed nonchalantly that my plans had collapsed anyway so I gave up the idea of the train ride to spend the next day with her. It became clear during the day that this was the reason my plans went awry. We had an exquisite day together visiting the monastery of Father Thomas Keaton in Snowmass, and other beautiful parts of the Aspen Valley while catching up on each other’s lives.

Kathy also provided the insight for the next step of unfolding trip. She acquainted me with the a town in Southern Colorado named Crestone and the adjacent area called Baca Grande where twenty-three spiritual groups had made their home thanks to the generosity of the land’s developers. This idea resonated immediately and my next destination seemed set.

It was an amazing day, crossing the continental divide over the 12,000-foot Independence Pass then gliding down to the high desert plateau below. I found Crestone with ease but the hotel was full. No problem, although I would not make Santa Fe I could stop en route. Baca Grande was a special place. I meditated in a Carmelite Monastery, walked around a Buddhist Chorten seven times But the highlight was an exquisite meditation garden called I am Harmony, created with an amazing variety of natural rocks and colourful crystals. There was even a labyrinth. I stayed over an hour contemplating at a series of mediation stations. It was so much more than I could have imagined and I soaked up the sweet energy and astonishing vibration of a truly mystical space.

Then as I left I realized, I could make it easily to Antonito before dark and as long as I did not mind completing my trip to Santa Fe in the dark the next day, I could also do the train ride. It was a magical moment; it felt like I could do it all. But as I reflect back the magic had just begun.

Full of my exciting adventure I arrived safely at my friend Robert’s shortly before eight at night. To my delight he asked me if I wanted to visit Christ in the Desert Monastery. I was ecstatic because not only had I wanted to go last year but it was also close to Ghost Ranch so I asked if we could make a stop there as well. I felt so pleased that I would even get to spend some time at my original destination. Everything seemed to be combining so sweetly into a perfect trip.

Christ in the Desert Monastery provided yet another magical experience. It is situated in the beautiful Chama valley set adjacent to the red rock mountains of the Colorado plateau. The natural beauty is breath taking; the church provided an inspiring opportunity for meditation but the real surprise was yet to come. Entering the reception I heard a woman say my name. At first I ignored it but finally I looked up and was astonished to see my friend Taj from Petaluma who I had met a year ago. Now here I was 1,500 miles from home, and there she was 1,250 miles from hers. To use the English expression I was truly “gobsmacked”.

She was conducting a retreat there but it appeared possible that we would both be in Santa Fe for the weekend so I agreed to call her the next day. Robert and I stopped briefly at Ghost Ranch; it was too brief a stay and better than nothing but he was hungry and the dining room was closed.

We stopped for lunch twenty minutes south in Abiquiu then headed back to Santa Fe. Here the first glitch in this amazing day emerged, I had left my credit card in Abiquiu. This meant a special trip back the next day to retrieve it. Fortunately they confirmed it was in the safe and I felt surprisingly relaxed and trusting but curious about why this had happened.

The pieces fell into place as I drove back the next day. I realized that how I really wanted to spend that day was to return to Ghost Ranch and hang out. I also discerned that I wanted to delay my departure from Santa Fe, spending this day retracing my steps was making everything seemed rushed. Suddenly I relaxed, smiling at the realization that because I had built space into my trip, I could now let go of Sedona. I felt a sense of relief flow through me, the mystery of forgetting my credit card felt purposeful rather than careless.

I enjoyed a wonderful day at Ghost Ranch, walking the labyrinth, visiting the sacred Camposanto memorial site and hiking to Chimney Rock where I strolled over 200 million year-old sedimentary rocks. Then on my return I called Taj and we agreed to meet in Santa Fe for tea.

It was sitting in the roof top garden at the top of the La Fonda hotel in downtown Santa Fe that the mystery cracked wide open for a glimpse of the numinous power of the universe over the events of my life. I was sharing two stories about my life with Taj. First about all the personal work I had done around the impact of control on my life then the dream that started this blog. As I concluded there was a pause and then she gently interjected, “you do realize these two things are connected?” I looked puzzled and she filled in the space between us – “the baggage behind customs is surely the work you have been doing on control.”

I was stunned. In the words if a beautiful song composed by my niece Amy Newton, “it all made sense for a moment.” This whole trip had been about loosening up my control and allowing the universe to magically intervene. The amazing synchronicity of meeting Taj brought everything to a perfect finale. Paying attention to the signs had allowed me to do so much more – spend a day with Kathy, visit Baco Grande, take a steam train excursion, visit both Ghost Ranch and the Monastery. Trusting my intuition had allowed me to have it all.

I glanced down almost expecting to find myself wearing a red and white polka dot jersey. Oh well not quite yet!


Discovering I had a Happy Childhood After All

November 7, 2014

My confusion about whether I had a happy childhood began a few years ago. It is not as though I have many unhappy memories of my life before eleven years of age. In fact my recollections are mostly positive – top boy at my primary school, one of the best two athletes, a prefect given responsibility over other kids, a leading light in school drama productions.

Apart from a vivid, embarrassing memory of choking during a Christmas pageant when the wise man became conspicuously silent as the words “Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume” got stuck in my throat, my childhood memories are mostly free of drama. It was too early for me to develop much conflict with my father over religion. Even refusing to attend church one day was greeted with a much milder punishment than anticipated. (This was likely mitigated by me hiding under the bed and clinging on to the bed frame for dear life as my father attempted to apply retribution.)

My overall memory is a sense of unlicensed freedom and independence from a very young age. My mother had little time to worry about me with two other younger siblings around. However when sharing my recollections of this independence and happy childhood, a psychotherapist friend of mine sewed seeds of doubt in my mind. “That’s not right” she observed, “you are not supposed to be independent at the age of six. It means your needs as a child were not being met.”

I took her seriously. Her insight combined with eminent Jungian analyst James Hollis’s perspective that much of our adult patterning stems back from the past and led me on a journey of exploration to discover the impact this may have had on my adult life.

With my mother unable to meet my needs at such a young age, I did my best to cope with the changing environment. The result was I took control of my life; I made the best of it and did very well.

The false assumption I made was that this led to an unhappy childhood. It was reading a fascinating book titled “Resilience” by Boris Cyrulnik, a neuropsychiatrist and psychoanalyst, who researches how children manage to adapt to absolutely horrendous environments – like being a child soldier and killer. Only when the resilient façade comes up against the questioning as an adult then things begin to implode.

In a much milder way my resilience to feeling abandoned to what James Hollis calls “the overwhelming other” was to do something that in hindsight astonishes me, I took control and became independent at the age of five or six. It may not have been “right” but it was sure effective at helping me cope with my situation.

It is only as an adult that I began to unravel the Gordian knot and became aware of the reflexive and reactive behaviours that impacted so much of my adult life. My need to take control is both a gift and a curse leading to impatience, manipulation, my need to be right and anxiety while helping me manage many business challenges.

It has been pleasant to reclaim my childhood as a positive memory. It stands in stark contrast to the time at the age of eleven when my illusion of control shattered and my world really did fall apart but that’s another story.


What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas?

November 5, 2014

Not necessarily so, as this blog demonstrates. Originally the humiliation I felt was sufficiently powerful to inhibit me from writing about it but time and understanding is a great healer.

The incident occurred during a recent road trip through the southwestern USA. I was in day 16 – driving from Santa Fe to Mammoth Lakes. (You can read all the fun stuff on this trip at www.hangin.wordpress.com) The trip is almost 1,000 miles and at least sixteen hours so I planned an overnight stay somewhere around Vegas. I thought I could either camp at Lake Mead about an hour south or stay in a $20 a night motel I discovered last year in Indian Springs, about 30 minutes north of the city.

I made good time and pulled into Lake Mead just before five but found a ranger demanding a park fee as well as camping fees. When I realized it would be just as cheap to stay at the motel I decided to drive on. I should make Indian Springs in daylight and it would save all the hassle of unloading and packing up camping gear.

Little did I realize what a mistake I was making. Somehow I have never fully experienced a Las Vegas rush hour. Perhaps on this day it was particularly bad or I encountered one of the shift changes at the casinos but it was horrendous.

I have not commuted for eons; I don’t mind driving long distances on open roads but this was entirely different. Bumper to bumper, crawling at a snail’s pace, exacerbated by a sun that refused to set and hovered between my visor and the dash the whole time. I was blinded, I could not see where I was going and got to the point where I had no idea what road I was on. The signs were invisible to me.

I developed a sense of frustration, anxiety and hopelessness. It is difficult in hindsight to comprehend how distraught I became. Almost in tears, I suddenly pulled into the HOV lane exclaiming, “I don’t give a **** if I get stopped, I just can’t stand it anymore.” Gripping the steering wheel like a frenzied maniac I sped past the idling traffic to finally find myself clear of the gridlock with no flashing blue and red lights behind me.

I felt a deep sense of shame at my reaction. It seemed to make a mockery of all the personal growth and development I had done. In hindsight I realized that I was in the grip of some complex or another and it fascinated that in that moment I was unable to make an adult decision like pull off the freeway.

Today at the gym, I was listening to Jim Hollis’s lecture series from What Matters Most and I heard these words:

“In any given situation any particular story of the past can be reactivated and show up. That’s scary because one would like to think I have left those behind, I am beyond that, I am a grown up now. Given the right provocation, and our psychological disposition in the moment and a particularly charged situation one might feel literally paralyzed.”

As I reflect back I can see the characteristics of my story that led to the encounter with the “overwhelming other”. I was fatigued; I had made an error of judgment; I had anxiety about reaching my destination before dark: I could not see and I had potentially lost my way. In that instant I felt paralyzed, my reactions were those of a panicked child and I could no longer think as an adult.

I have written many blogs about control and its impact on my life. Once again losing control brought me face to face with the overwhelming other and the resulting anxiety.

While depressing that these old patterns can continue to haunt me, Hollis’s words bring a great deal of solace. He goes on to say that we may never eliminate the primal archaic story but we can learn to live with it and to some degree grow out of it but this requires awareness. We can perhaps learn you avoid the combination of factors that like a stack of dominos rapidly tumble over and create chaos.

Chastened and humbled I feel a lot more compassion for those who apparently lose control unexpectedly. A friend who after a long, tiring day travelling from ferry to ferry was faced with the possibility of another extended wait exclaimed, “ I would rather die than wait another 21/2 hours.” It sounded like a five year old’s reaction and now I understand why: – an old story had been evoked.

It seems appropriate to recall the words of the great teacher and psychologist Jean Houston in her autobiography, A Mythic Life: “All of the hurts and failures, wanderings, losings, dyings and forgettings were but part of the gaining of the rich material of your life.”

I seem to be gathering a lot of rich material.