The Souls Journey – Creating Your Self Care Kit

May 8, 2019

Stress Can Grow Like a High Rise

Recently I have encountered a number of friends  experiencing unusual levels of stress. including death in the family, changing jobs and countries, personal illness, marriage, changes in employment of a partner and illness of a loved one. Two psychologists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe developed a stress index to assess if stress related to developing illness and in their opinion it does. If you are experiencing four of the above factors you would be at a higher risk of illness (See index)

Then We Forget Self-Care

One thing my friends had in common was that the aspects of their lives concerned with self-care had evaporated. Pressure of life had got in the way of things like exercise, yoga, going out in nature, relaxation and play.

It is no wonder that stress and anxiety create such a toll. It seems a general rule that the first things to go from a stressed life are the things that could actually help us cope. We are more likely to devote any available time and space top mindless distractions. Why is that?

Likely it is some form of childhood coping mechanism that has never left us. Under pressure we are more likely to engage in old patterns. Hiding one’s head under the covers seems a sound strategy to escape life’s challenges as a six-year old. Perhaps it has less relevance today.

Developing a Self-Care Kit

Each of us needs to identify our own self-care plan and find a way to remind ourselves when life takes a turn for the worse. As Carl Jung once said, “ the shoe that fits one person pinches another, there is no recipe for living that fits all cases.” Each plan needs to be individual.

Mine embraces daily meditation, a walk in nature, listening to music, writing in a journal, learning poetry and stopping watching TV at least an hour before bed. However we don’t all feel stress equally. It is essential to pay attention to how life unfolds.

Mindless TV and Games Playing and other Distractions Are Not Self-Care

I have learned to recognize that when I find myself slipping into mindless pursuits it is assign of underlying anxiety. I try to check in each evening and ask, “Did I live a balanced life today?” 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. And make adjustments.

So What To Do?

I also believe that times of great crisis remind us to assess whether the path we are travelling is in concert with our deepest being. Jungian analyst James Hollis in his wonderful book Living An Examined Life suggests, “When what we are doing is wrong for us we can temporarily mobilize energy in service to goals but in time such forced mobilization leads to irritability, anger, burn out and symptoms of all kinds.”

I think our society has detrimentally confused selfishness and Self-Care. Self -Care can help reduce stress and make our lives more productive and meaningful. Each of us should design a simple “Go To-Self Care Kit As the poet Hafiz (exquisitely interpreted by Daniel Ladinsky wrote in his poem The Swing, “You carry all the ingredients to turn your existence into joy, mix them, mix them.

Components for a Self-Care Kit

Developing your own self-care kit requires identification of the aspects of your life that bring you joy, help you to feel grounded, support you in moving into the witness state (observing what you are experiencing) and exploring the moments you seem to move into a relationship with the mystery or a larger sense of who you are. Some examples:

Meditation, Contemplation, Centering Prayer, Yoga – all ways of stilling the mind. Medical doctor and meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zynn runs a successful mindfully-based stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts medical Center that has demonstrated significant results.

Exercise: Running, a bike ride, walking, skiing, and many others can get us back into our bodies and  help reduce anxiety and stress.

The Arts: Music, poetry, art, theatre can all offer nutrition to cope with life’s traumas.

Grounding: This is considered a powerful way of addressing emotional trauma. Ruth Lanius, MD, PhD, is Professor of Psychiatry and the director of the posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) research unit at the University of Western Ontario recommends a Grounding Toolkit.*

Journaling: Writing and exploring can also be extremely cathartic.

Frequently we will argue that there is not time for these things but that is generally resistance. When the Buddha was asked, “what do you do when you are to busy to meditate” he replied that he would meditate for twice as long.

*This includes walking meditation where you’re paying attention to the feet on the floor; listening meditation where you’re listening to ambient sounds; nature meditation where you’re looking at trees and sky and the like. There are also equanimity practices where you imagine yourself being a mountain going through seasonal changes with a sense of continuity and stability to your “mountainness,” even though there is a lot of change going on around you. (


A Soul’s Journey – From Clarity to Confusion

April 17, 2019

Either this deep desire of mine will be found on this journey
or when I get home
It may be that the satisfaction I need
Depends on my going away, so that when I have gone
And come back I will find it at home.
I will search for the Friend with all of my passion
And all my energy until I learn
that I don’t need to search.
The real truth of existence is sealed,
until after too many twists of the road.
The seeker says,
“If I had known the real way it was,
I would have stopped looking around”
But that way of knowing depends
on the time spent looking.

Extract from Baghdad Dreaming by Rumi

Living An Examined Life

This morning I began to read for must be the fourth or fifth time Living An Examined Life by eminent Jungian analyst James Hollis. It is a profound book of guidance for the soul journey and I found myself thinking, “This is the only book I really ever needed” then laughed out loud as I recalled Rumi’s poem above.

My bookshelves are full to overflowing with different theological, and philosophical perspectives of life. Today some of them seem downright crazy and it amuses me that they captured my attention so intensely at different moments on the journey. Some I still love but many reflect a very different station of my life. From belief in the occult and bizarre new age extra terrestrials to the tomes on new thought and how we could have everything we wanted just by setting intention.

Each of these stations of my life had its own power then at a certain point I needed to move on. As James Hollis suggests in his book Hauntings, “There are only answers that make sense to you in this moment in your life and they will fail you tomorrow. What is seemingly true to day will be outgrown when life or our Soul brings us a larger frame through which to view them.

A Trip Through Time

My library is like a time machine. From the New Testament, the last gift my father gave me, to Living An Examined Life, the books journey through evangelical Christianity, to new age craziness, to the power of intention, new thought consciousness to an eclectic combination of Christian mysticism, Jewish mysticism, Sufism, and Buddhism. Then the sad realization that despite all my Soul study and reflection I could still relapse into the same reactive, inconsiderate, impatient SOB I had always been. So my library then became crowded with books on psychology and all of James Hollis’s eighteen books as I realized the journey of the Soul necessitated not only Spiritual but psychological exploration.

Certainty Evaporates Like A Mist Over The Ocean

Now after twenty-five years certainty has vanished; I stand in awe at this unfathomable mystery of which we are all part. As C.G. Jung observed, “No-one can know what the ultimate things are. We must take them as we experience them and if such experience helps make life healthier, more beautiful, more complete and more satisfactory to yourself and those you love you may safely say, “this was the grace of God”. or more simply expressed by Sufi mystic Rubia of Basra, “No-one knows anything about God and those who say they do are just troublemakers.”

Many years ago I wrote a small book to help people through tough decisions, it was titled “From Confusion to Clarity in Four Simple Steps”.* I think my next book may be “From Clarity to Confusion – A Soul’s Journey”



The Soul Journey – Midwife for the Soul

April 16, 2019

Recently I had a dream where I was in a classroom and one of the topics was advocacy; this caused me to review an earlier blog I had written after doing a workshop on the archetype of advocate of the soul. It reminded me that I prefer the metaphor of the midwife for the Soul and so my dream led to this reflection. *

The Spiritual Midwife

As a spiritual coach I believe the role of supporting someone in the birthing their Soul on its amazing journey is a great honour and privilege. The midwife of the Soul’s responsibility is not just to assist in its birthing but to support the growth and development. There is a lovely line from the poet Hafiz, “What is this present love and laughter budding in our hearts, it is the glorious sound of a Soul waking up.” As a Spiritual Coach I help to bring awareness to these Soul moments that can so easily get lost in life’s busyness.

Mirroring The Soul’s Journey

Life can be one constant distraction and remembering the nature and power of our Soul’s journey is challenging and can easily get lost. I keep a Soul Journal where I keep all the examples of mysterious, unexplained synchronicities and serendipity that feel Soulful. Whenever I am feeling lost or disconnected my Soul Journal becomes both a reminder and a reflector.

When a client is sharing the circumstances of their life they sometimes miss the significance of the connecting events. I am often able to become the mirror of their experience reflect how the pieces connect together like a jigsaw puzzle. During one session a client a client shared a series of what she saw as disconnected events:  the recovery of a long lost e-mail connection, a song – “the answer will come on a blossom covered breeze”, the dream of a lost bag, followed by losing the bag, the dream of the visa, culminating in seeing the four blossom covered cherry trees cherry trees. Putting these experiences together like a puzzle formed a picture that enabled her to capture the awe and wonder her Soul’s journey.

Cultivating and Feeding The Soul

Eminent author and Jungian analyst James Hollis in his book Hauntings suggests seven questions we need to ask ourselves in relationship to the Soul.

  1. Do I have one?
  2. If yes, what do I mean by that?
  3. What does that mean to me?
  4. What does that ask of me?
  5. What does it mean to show up?
  6. Can I mobilize the wherewith all to engage and serve it?
  7. What happens if I do not?

As a Soul midwife this requires me to explore both personally and with my clients the continued focus on these questions. This requires feeding and cultivation. There was a time when I realized that devoting energy to feeding my soul is an essential part of the mind, body, and Soul balance in my life. Up until that time I thought it was enough to meditate regularly. (I have had a morning practice for twenty-years.) However I sensed that my Soul needed more so focus on sacred music, walking in nature and beauty, poetry, journaling, dance, even play became essential nutrients for the soul. So now I commit three segments of the day to my soul – morning meditation, afternoon walk and evening contemplation listening to sacred music,  and reading or learning poetry. In Spring I love to consider the possibility of the Soul saying to me, “as you feed me so shall I blossom.”

Psychology as Soul Work 

One of the great challenges I continue to work with is my failures to be as Soulful as I intend to be. It was only when I realize that unravelling my own psychology was an essential part of engaging my Soul. This journey was begun by a chance meeting with James Hollis’s book, Why Good People Do Bad Things – a life changing encounter that helped me realize that without understanding the factors that were unconsciously influencing my reactions and responses to life, I could never truly be Soulful. Only when we understand what shifts us from our Centre can we truly embrace the role of the Spiritual Warrior.

The exploration of Soul brings us into a relationship with the invisible world. It is life shifting work and as James Hollis reflects in Hauntings, “if we open to this possibility of an invisible, dynamically active world, we then live in a mystery anew, a prospect both inviting and daunting.”

  • An interesting consequence of this process was that it led me to think about the client who was the catalyst for part of the original blog. I was curious about how she was so I emailed her to check. (I had not seen her for over a year.) Her response was as follows, “Isn’t it always so amazing how things happen.  I’ve thought about you a number of times more recently and when I recently drove up Arbutus I glanced at the coffee shop in case you might be sitting there having a cup of coffee!  I’ve wanted to visit with you but because I didn’t have a specific focus or concrete purpose  I put it off.  One time, not long ago, I put it out to the universe that if I was meant to converse with you or someone else the “Universe” would let me know.   Well….I guess this is it….” She became the mirror for my Soul and what a gift that is.

The Soul’s Journey – The Strange Dance Between Empathy and Inauthenticity.

March 26, 2019

I did not particularly enjoy waking to a dream that included Donald Trump. Who really wants to explore their “Inner Donald”? However I suspected there would be intrinsic meaning from this image.

I am at the tail of a plane. The captain announces there has been a fire on the wing but the suppression system has put it out. I glance over to see flames flowing over the edge of the wing. I cry out that it is still alight. Then the gentleman sitting next to me who is wearing a uniform and I assume is an off duty member of the flight crew shouts, ” no it’s ok it’s out.”

I am confused. I can clearly see more and more flames expanding and growing across the wing yet the expert claims there is not a problem. I keep my mouth shut and get ready to die. I am convinced the plane will explode before we land. I am at the opposite end of the plane from the exits so would have no chance if even if we landed then caught fire.

I leaned over and gave a kiss to my fellow passenger who had contradicted me and braced myself for the end.

I notice we are descending lower and lower on our flight path. Suddenly the ground is flashing by, we come to a stop and there are fireman attending to the fire. An exit open immediately beside me and I step out. I am safe. Some of the president’s security detail are with me, they are talking about how huge the president has become. “He even takes up two seats” said one. 

I feel both bemused and relieved to wake. At first I want to dismiss the dream as stupid and irrelevant. This is my ego’s normal response to anything that may threaten its authority. Then after my morning meditation I am just finishing my journal practice when I realize I have not written it down – a sure sign of resistance. So I capture the essence then move on to my weekly call from a close friend.

She shares an amazing dream from the previous night that she did not particularly enjoy. “Much better than dreaming about Donald Trump.” I quip then share my dream with her. She can’t help wondering if it is about a brunch I have planned later that morning where I may encounter a test of my “Pledge to Listen”.

As I walk to my appointment I begin to ask myself “what is my inner Trump and why would it be getting bigger?” The word “inauthentic” pops into my head and the pieces of the puzzle slip seamlessly into place.

Normally when I work with a dream I begin with the feelings that flow through the dream; in this case they were particularly intense – confusion, fear, feeling shut down by an authority figure, resignation, surrender, relief and more confusion. Solving the dream is a bit like cooking a dish- mix all these feelings with the symbol of growing inauthenticity, simmer for a while  and check what comes?

Dreams frequently relate to the current environment of life. Last year a friend of mine began a campaign to get people to sign “a pledge to listen”. I know I disappointed him when I refused the offer telling him that I was just not willing to give time to hear misogynist, racist, conservative, and bigoted views. Life was too short. Frankly I am poor at paying attention to any views that don’t correspond with mine.

Then two things impacted me. First due to an amazing dream I realized the importance of expanding what I call feminine values into my life – loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, empathy, equanimity to name a few. Second, at times I fell so short of trying to achieve this goal it is humiliating. For example I am out with a group of male friends for a beer and discussion evolves around a new tax on rich people’s homes. I am sympathetic because I believe that we need programs to help redistribute wealth. One of my friends explodes and violently argues against my perspective. I decide to shut him down, “why can’t you accept I am a communist”? It works.

It’s not true or even close to being true but it seemed like the response that could shut him up. Empathetic? Compassionate? Loving? Certainly not and it felt like a failure. I would have liked to blame it on the beer but in reality I had nursed a pint to help avoid such reactive outbursts. (I learned a while ago that too much alcohol reduces the chance of staying centred and empathetic.)

I could unravel the psychology behind it. It was a repeat of the confrontations that has haunted me since childhood facing a father with strong evangelical views. However despite understanding it, I could not dismiss it.

I went off on a long “escape winter” trip and faced no similar challenges however I knew they would be awaiting my return. The gift of solo travel is that it offers much time for reflection and self-examination. I realized that listening from the heart is one of the feminine values to which I am committed and decided to reconsider the “pledge to listen”. I was doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, it was time to embark on an alternative strategy.

My first test would come at a dinner party scheduled five days after I returned. Still feeling somewhat in a state of adjustment due to a fifteen-hour time time change and going from tropical temperatures to freezing, I stepped boldly into the unknown.

My intuition even warned me how the test would come. He will ask you what you think of your friend Trudeau now. Our prime minister has been involved in a challenging political drama that is dividing the country and causing many people to reassess him as a leader.

However the evening progressed with no fireworks, no political discussion, just a lovely reunion of seven old friends.

I pushed my chair back thinking I had perhaps dodged a bullet and then it came. “Before you leave, what do you think of your friend Trudeau now?” I sat back down, hesitated then responded, “I would be interested to hear what you think”.

To my surprise this led to a well informed, thoughtful and entirely reasonable perspective, most of which I agreed with. There was no need for our normal combative engagement. It seemed this “Pledge to Listen” could really help.

However as I drove home I knew this was a small step. It is so much easier when there is no real fuel to the fire and we were not in violent disagreement but at least it was a start. Our next engagement was quite different. We were back at our friendly local and he engaged on his favourite hate – our current provincial government and a speculation tax on empty houses. I followed my pledge and listened, occasionally acknowledging his frustration and feelings. I didn’t agree but had no desire for confrontation. It seemed easier to listen and be empathetic. Once again Pledging to Listen had saved me from conflict.

Back to the dream and its relevance to this situation. In the latter context I could see that my pledge to listen risked the danger of losing my voice and becoming inauthentic by not expressing an opinion. If I simply succumb to an authority figure and became empathetic then I risk ignoring the flames of legitimate expression. Notice how in the dream I leaned over and kissed the authority figure beside me. A wonderful symbol of empathy! As the Grand Maester of dream work, eminent author and Jungian analyst James Hollis says, “You can’t make this stuff up!”

I can see my commitment to listen will be an ongoing journey. The dream tells me the next step in this journey ext – how to listen and respond authentically without being enticed into combat. I must remember the words of St Francis, “Let us be wise that we do not wed another’s madness, making them in debt to us for the deep raging gash their helpless raging lance may cause.”

The Soul’s Journey – The Attitude Adjustment

February 28, 2019

View before Attitude Adjustment        View After Attitude Adjustment

Things don’t always go to plan particularly when traveling. I am in week five of my “escape winter” trip. I’ve already visited Hong Kong, New Zealand, Australia, and I am now in Thailand. I feel very fortunate that I have taken eight flights to date and they have all been basically on time.

I have learned enough about my psychology to understand that I plan carefully in order to minimize anxiety. I am at my most vulnerable when things begin to go wrong and I can easily spiral into feeling overwhelmed especially when tired and jet lagged. When I lose control of a situation I can resort to being a six-year-old which was the age that I learned it was important to be in charge of the events of my life.

I recall my therapist being concerned about this saying it would only happen at that age if my needs were not being met. This is understandable when you take into account my mother had six children under sixteen and a newborn, needless to say there was little time for the six year old who learned to find his own way.

This coping mechanism served me well, I had a happy childhood and my younger brother and I would takeoff on all kinds of adventures and no one would worry. It is only as an adult but I have learned the downsides of my need to be in control. Underneath the composed adult lurks a panicky six-year old, that can manifest through loss of temper, even tears and sometimes flight from the situation. 

Over the years I have learned to work with this temperament through becoming aware, working with my breathing, witnessing and owning my experience. Recently I spent the large part of the day traveling from Bangkok to Koh Lanta, a lovely tropical island in southern Thailand. The day had a stressful beginning with a 5:30 am check out, then being ripped off for my taxi, then arriving at the wrong terminal for my flight. However it all got sorted, I stayed calm and composed and by the flight arrived in Krabi, I felt prepared for the next ordeal – the three hour mini van ride from the airport. 

Thai time is not the same as ordinary time – the ten minutes until the van arrived turned out to be an hour, once again I got overcharged but for an extra six bucks it is not worth a fuss. I stayed calm working with my breath and eventually was loaded in the back seat of an absolutely jam packed and I mean jammed with thirteen passengers all with luggage. We could not get in and out without an amazing effort.

All went well until we reached the sign that said “ferry tickets 300 metres”. From there it was stop and go for what seemed like hours. BC ferries it is not with a number of small flat decks that seem to spend half their time blocking each other loading and unloading. The hours ticked by. Once we got going he did not know where my accommodation was; tried to drop me off at the wrong place and finally after over four hours he dropped me about four blocks away gesturing frantically that it was just up the road. 

For the life of me I couldn’t see it but by then he had gone. It did look vaguely familiar and sure enough after dragging my bag in 34c  I spotted Lanta DD House ahead. I felt a sense of relief and indeed some satisfaction that I had made it without losing my composure or good humour. 

Then they showed me my bungalow. Crash! My relief and humour disappeared; it was nothing like the one I had stayed in before – it was small, no furniture save a bed, the patio was cramped and had no comfy lawn chair, the safe did not work, and it faced on a yard where the family did laundry and cooking. I was crushed. The stress of the past ten hours suddenly seemed to overwhelm me. I did not want to stay here. I began to think about leaving, taking the ferry somewhere else, and anything to avoid the dreadful mini bus ride.

Then I stepped into the witness self and saw the six-year old who had been so good then had his expectations crushed. I took a few deep breaths and then realized it was time for an attitude adjustment. Sometimes we need to shift the lens that we are looking through. I needed to look again as an adult not a disappointed child. I had arrived in a tropical paradise; I was seven minutes walk from a beautiful beach; the bungalow had everything I needed – air conditioning, a kettle to make tea, wifi, TV, a fridge for beer and milk and it was spotlessly clean. 

I began to smile as I observed how easily my feelings could take me down a rabbit hole that was simply a product of stress, anxiety and childish disappointment. I was going to relax and enjoy my R and R. Even the patio had its merits, I just had to change my perspective.

So it wasn’t the best of the bungalows – someone had to have it and I was the only single person here. Besides that was more likely chance than planning and it gave me yet another opportunity to unravel my psychology – one of my daily commitments. Suddenly I had my rose coloured glasses on and saw only a positive glow. Life was good.

NB Next I set out to avoid the minibus back to Krabi and now have a ticket on a speed boat service that will have me there in 90 minutes.

The Souls Journey – Resistance is Futile

January 18, 2019

“Resistance is Futile”

“Resistance is Futile”. These words may seem familiar to anyone who has viewed the longest running sc-fi TV series of all time – Dr. Who a BBC program that began in 1963. These lines are regularly uttered by the Dr’s arch-enemy the Daleks. As the Dr. is still around in 2019 this has proved an empty threat but you could be wondering how this is relevant to a blog dedicated to the Soul’s Journey?

What do I mean by resistance?

Resistance in terms of our psychology is when we unconsciously we block something from conscious memory. Freud pioneered this concept but all therapists encounter it in what is described as door knob therapy. At the end of a session a client is literally poised to leave the room when they mention the one vital thing that had eluded you for an hour. When I work with clients to help them arrive at a decision, I encourage them to commit to some intentions during the next few days. For example get immersed in some music, go for a walk in nature, monitor their dreams and notice the unusual – anything to help them escape the emotions and thoughts around the decision. It is a clear sign of resistance when they turn up at the next session and have done none of those things.

There seems to be an interesting parallel between the word resistance when applied to electricity as opposed to human nature. Electrical resistance is invisible. It is the degree to which an object opposes an electric current passed through it.

Human resistance is also invisible until we learn how to spot it. If we think of the object as human nature and electric current as our highest good then resistance is the degree to which we can oppose our highest good.

Why Do We Exhibit Resistance?

This question has been asked for centuries. In fact St. Paul in his epistle to the Romans asked,””For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing.” He blamed sin but I prefer the hypothesis that within each one of us there is an internal struggle for control and resistance is the way the ego attempts to control the agenda when we start soul work. Resistance will tend to take place whenever we embark on personal change, make a challenging decision or address some painful issue. We often cannot see the depths of our resistance until after the fact. Recently I ended a friendship of sixteen years; it was only in the aftermath that I realized I should have addressed the dysfunction three years earlier.

What Does Resistance Look Like?

It is a coat of many colours – denial, distraction, diversion, food indulgence, procrastination, avoidance, rationalization are some of the more obvious. As my friendship crumbled I rationalized that I needed to empathetic and loving. As a result I walked around on eggshells for three years failing to address the issue at the core of the disharmony. Then there are the more devious possibilities. One is the Spiritual Bypass where we escape into spiritual diversion and its accompanying risk of insidious self-satisfaction. Forgetfulness is another strong indicator that we are in resistance – we miss a therapy appointment we had scheduled.

How Do We Know Its Resistance?

There are a number of key pointers.

1) If you find yourself in a state of inertia, spending time in mindless distractions and failing to move ahead you may be resisting some task.

2) If you lose your sense of flow and doors seem to close rather than open and life is full of obstructions then you may be in resistance.

3) The “Cosmic 2 x 4” is nature’s way of getting our attention. If we fail to move forward with a core Soul priority, are missing the signposts we have been given then occasionally we are stopped in our tracks by a disaster or catastrophic event. Once in Thailand a branch fell from a tree on a clear, calm day and landed on my head a literal cosmic 2 x 4!

What To Do When We Realize We Are In Resistance?

The first step is to ask for support. I will set an intention each morning acknowledging I am stuck and seeking clarity. Then I pay attention to my life – the natural signs and synchronicities that act as signposts along my way. I explore my feelings is there an old haunting from the past that creates a fear of moving on. I pay special attention to my dreams. I explore the unhealed and unforgiven in my life that may require my attention.

Are the Daleks Right?

Is resistance futile? I believe it is; it serves a purpose to get our attention but eventually to complete our task we need to seek it out and disarm it. We can bypass it however it is still awaiting our attention. It’s a bit like an unpaid parking ticket; we can ignore it but it can come back to haunt us. Acknowledging and facing our resistance is a key to our peace of mind and restoring a sense of flow to our lives.

The Soul’s Journey- Exploring Hidden Depths Through Poetry

January 12, 2019
screen shot 2019-01-12 at 6.50.26 pm

The gift of Soul poetry is that it unfolds itself like a Russian doll

I began learning poems about seven-years ago. It began primarily as an exercise to test my aging brain’s ability to recall yet over the years it has become so much more. I have become curious about the poems I choose to learn. I never know precisely what draws me to a poem or a poem to me. It is more than the words, more than my initial response; it is a connection at a deeper level. I call this my Soul poetry.

The gift of Soul poetry is that it unfolds itself like a Russian doll where inside each doll is another doll. As I go explore the poem’s meaning it requires going deeper not just into the poem but into me. It is no longer important what the poet meant, the importance is how I relate to the poem emotionally, spiritually and psychologically. I can learn a lot about my inner landscape from how I respond to each poem.

I have observed that the attraction toward an individual poem is guided by the current focus of my inner journey. For example when I was getting far too intense about my spiritual enquiry I found myself drawn to poems about play. “There is only one rule in this wild playground, all the signs Hafiz has ever seen read the same, they all say “have fun my dear, my dear have fun in the Beloved’s divine game”

When I found myself at a time of transition the poem that emerged was by John O’Donahoe titled For the Interim Time with the words: You are in this time of the interim where everything seems withheld. The path you took to get here has washed out; The way forward is still concealed from you.”

The more I have worked with poetry I have realized it is an exquisite place to appreciate projection. Projection is when we project emotions, and feelings that are often disowned or unconscious onto someone or something else. So my desire for play that is being restricted by the intensity of my work shows up in my engagement with Hafiz’s poem. (This also happens with dreams – one of the roles of dreams is to compensate for that which we are failing to live consciously). The acknowledgement that I am facing a time of transition shows up in the appeal of John O’Donahoe’s poem.

Recently I did a workshop on exploring our inner relationship with poems. I would recite a particular poem three times. The first time I would ask the group just to listen and discuss their reactions. The second time I would ask them to close their eyes and rather than concentrate on the words check in with the feelings the poem evokes. The third time I would again suggest the eyes be closed but this time they should observe which stanza has the most energy or significance for them.

The result was way beyond my expectation. One of my favourite poems to explore is by Denis Levertov called Primary Wonder. On one level everyone recognized the exquisite description of how the distractions of life can divert us from our focus yet there was one stanza that caused a dramatic division in the perspective of the group. Over 50% were triggered by the lines “and that, O Lord, Creator, Hallowed one, You still, hour by hour sustain it.”

The debate was intense with a lot of resistance to accepting this was not “badly written” but a projection of old wounds around religion. Fortunately my point was made impeccably by one participant who had been brought up in a tradition far from conventional Christianity and could not understand why there was any problem.

Another wonderful poem Prepare to Feel by Julie Levitt caused one group all to feel sad while another tapped into an intrinsically positive message. Why the difference? Did the words change? Of course not, the feelings arise from some relationship that we project onto the words themselves.

I am so grateful for this interest in poetry that flourished quite late in my life. I have learned fifty poems so far, I have to continually refresh my memory or they can slip away. Yet they are so much more than a brain exercise, rather they help me keep in touch with my inner state. As Rumi once wrote, “Your heart is the size of an ocean. Go find yourself in its hidden depths.”

Quoted Poems – full length.

Prepare to Feel by Julie Levitt

Prepare to feel the same

Prepare to feel disappointed at having no time for wonder.

Wonder why the starling flew in at that moment.

Wonder why the reflection of the last light of sun through the church window appeared

over head at that precise moment.

Wonder why the neon from the hotel surprised us like night time did?

Prepare to feel surprised and disappointed at once.

Disappointment is the pile of bricks stacked and never used.

Surprise is when you knock them over.

Nothing can be made without knocking over what’s old.

How do I know?

Because I am old enough to be surprised and disappointed many times.

How do I know?

I am embarrassed to tell you how many times I turned away from amazement and was

greeted anyway by starlings, and herons and hawks that flew by in their usual migratory


Primary Wonder
“Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their colored clothes; caps and bells.
And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng’s clamor
recedes: the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
rather than void: and that, 0 Lord,
Creator, Hallowed one, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.” Denise Levertov

A Suspended Blue Ocean
The sky
Is a suspended blue ocean.
The stars are the fish
That swim.
The planets are the white whales
I sometimes hitch a ride on,
And the sun and all light
Have forever fused themselves
Into my heart and upon
My skin.
There is only one rule
On this Wild Playground,
For every sign Hafiz has ever seen
Reads the same.
They all say,
“Have fun, my dear; my dear, have fun,
In the Beloved’s Divine
O, in the Beloved’s
Wonderful Game.”
by Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky

For The Interim Time

When the near the end of day, life has drained
Out of light, and it is too soon
For the mind of night to have darkened things,
No place looks like itself, loss of outline
Makes everything look strangely in-between,
Unsure of what has been, or what might come.
In this wan light, even trees seem groundless.
In a while it will be night, but nothing
Here seems to believe the relief of darkness.
You are in this time of the interim
Where everything seems withheld.
The path you took to get here has washed out;
The way forward is still concealed from you.
“The old is not old enough to have died away;
The new is still too young to be born.”
You cannot lay claim to anything;
In this place of dusk,
Your eyes are blurred;
And there is no mirror.
Everyone else has lost sight of your heart
And you can see nowhere to put your trust;
You know you have to make your own way through.
As far as you can, hold your confidence.
Do not allow confusion to squander
This call which is loosening
Your roots in false ground,
That you might come free
From all you have outgrown.
What is being transfigured here in your mind,
And it is difficult and slow to become new.
The more faithfully you can endure here,
The more refined your heart will become
For your arrival in the new dawn.
“To Bless the Space Between Us” by John O’Donohue. Pub in 2008 by Doubleday in Blessings