The Soul’s Journey – What Station Are You At?

January 12, 2017

I think that a train journey is a wonderful metaphor for the journey of the Soul. We move from station to station over our life and of course there are two stations that we will all experience – Birth at the beginning where I sense we are unrealized Spirit and the final terminus where hopefully we have fulfilled the Soul’s desires and become realized Spirit.
Of course the stops in between are unique to each one of us. There are many terrains in which we may find stations – desert, ocean, valleys, dark, light, the roller coaster and the stop named Resistance is all too common.
I believe the journey of the Soul embraces every aspect of who we are: the emotional, psychological, spiritual, mental and Soulful. A client asked me recently how to discern what was Spirit and what wasn’t. My reply: “It’s all Spirit to me.”
This is what makes this epic adventure so challenging, so complex and so rewarding. It is important to differentiate between the station we inhabit and the current state. The station is our personal climate while our state is the current weather within that climate.
For example an early station in my life was Fundamentalism. It was a demanding station with a very masculine, authoritarian God, severe punishment for wrong-doing and only one way out by being saved by the blood of Jesus. While stopped at that station there was good weather and bad weather. Times of great happiness combined with equal confusion.
The train eventually pulled out. For a while it travelled through no-mans land then arrived at Atheism where it remained on a siding for twenty years. There was lot of varied states at this stop from enormous joy and success to absolute shock and despair.
Discerning our current station can help us identify the foundation that helps us manage the variety of states that may occur. For example my current station has evolved from the belief that I am a Spiritual being having a human experience. My specific stop at this point in my life is a station called Flow. It represents the worldview that if I stay conscious and aware, attend to my spiritual and psychological needs, set intention and pay attention then what is mine will come to me – both the good and the less so. During a recent Spiritual Guidance evening with the small group that I work with we did a practice to reveal the current station of the members of the group. I started with a guided meditation to encourage a process of practice of active imagination to access the guiding wisdom that each of us can access.

“Close your eyes, perhaps sigh and feel yourself coming fully present to this time, this place, this moment. Then bring your intention to a single breath. In, Out, Deep, Slow, Calm, Ease, Grace, Peace, Smile, Release, Present Moment, Wonderful Moment.
Now imagine an empty canvas, it is blank, it is waiting for you. It will reveal to you the station your Soul train sitting at. “Held in the embrace of silence, resting in the deep heart, allowing my Soul to be, I come home. Allow an image to begin forming in your mind. Where are you? Don’t engage with it or shape it, allow it to take its own form. When you feel ready begin to draw the image or write the words that are emerging.”

What was most revealing was how unique each image was to the individual journey and in every case there was a deep sense of wonder at the positive aspects of the station despite current conditions that may be challenging. One participant was reluctant to draw because she feared the image would represent her current difficulties. Instead it offered her an oasis for respite when things seemed too intense.
Some times we get stuck at a station too long. We have to be aware that if energy departs from this place, it is time to move on. Resistance can result in being stuck. One client of mine who clearly realized she had stayed too long at stop named Constructive Discontent exclaimed, “I jammed the emergency brake on and can’t recall how to release.”
Unfortunately there is no map of all the stations. We muddle our way through as best as we can – hoping we fulfill our personal itinerary and doing our best to remember the wonderful words of the poet Em Claire.

It’s a beautiful time to be alive.
And the long walk home is peopled—
We, are everywhere.
Yet the struggle to surrender is where we walk alone.
So the next time you fall
look
to either side where you lie
and take the hand
of your dear Sister or Brother
whose own face is muddied.
We can rise together,
even if we fall alone—
for it’s a beautiful time to be alive
even
on this long walk home.

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The Soul’s Journey – Understanding The Emotional Coup D’Etat

January 9, 2017

I slammed my iPad shut with a vehemence that surprised me. It was as though I needed to eliminate the offending e-mail from view as quickly as possible. I sat feeling a flood of energy flowing through my body like a hot flush. I noticed a desire to indulge in some mindless television viewing. I recognized the signs that a complex had engaged.

The concept of a complex is explained exquisitely by eminent author and Jungian analyst James Hollis in chapter 4 of his amazing book Hauntings. A complex is a reaction based on history charged with energy that is autonomous of our conscious state. Hollis refers colourfully to the moment when a complex engages as an historical “coup d’etat”. Our response to this take over is generally one of three reactions: “avoidance, dominance or compliance.

Mine was obviously avoidance so rather than follow like a lemming this unconscious dictate, I resolved to explore my reaction and understand it. Moving myself to an easy chair, putting on some sacred music I began to review the sequence of events that led to this moment.

I had made a commitment to organize another gathering of the spiritual community of which I am part. This decision had emerged from the completion process I had conducted at the conclusion of the very successful event in April in Assisi, Italy. One of the questions I had examined was: “What do I take away from this journey?” The answer was that I am very good at this type of thing then the realization that this was a way I serve both the teacher who becomes my partner in the event and the community.

My job is to underwrite the financial cost, organize the space for accommodation, meals and meeting, liaise with speakers, invite and register guests. The theme and program are developed with my input.

One of my priorities is to craft communications to the community. This involves details of the program, the location and costs. I had taken what my teacher had sent me and made some suggested edits. His response was the “offending email” that had so triggered me.

Upon sharing his words with a friend she observed, “it all sounds perfectly innocuous to me”. So what on earth had caused such a powerful reaction in both my body and my feelings? It was obviously not about the present moment.

The answer was not too difficult to understand. My over–the–top reaction was based on history. The child who works so hard on something only to believe his efforts judged as inadequate. It was reminiscent of my relationship with my authoritarian religious father.

My reaction to the email emanated from my sense of implied criticism and judgment because he wanted to use his words and not mine. I had worked hard on the proposal and it had been summarily rejected. My avoidant reaction was consistent with my child hood coping response to disappear.

From the adult perspective his words and response were entirely reasonable but complexes are neither logical nor rational but emotional. I noticed a sense of relief as the pattern became clear. It was as though the intense energy of the complex could now be released in the light of self-awareness.

I was still left with a lingering confusion about whether I had made the right decision taking on this major event – but that is part of another story.


The Soul’s Journey – Coping with Trauma and Overwhelment.

November 23, 2016

There were two major events in my life recently. First Donald Trump was elected to the presidency and secondly Leonard Cohen died. Both affected me deeply but only today did I begin to see an evident connection.

Leonard Cohen’s passing was not announced until Thursday evening after the election. One of my first reactions was to buy his last recording “If you want it darker”.

It was later announced that he had died on the Monday preceding the election. It seemed an interesting coincidence that the man who wrote these words, “And now the wheels of heaven stop, you feel the devil’s riding crop, get ready for the future: it is murder” over twenty-years ago, should never breathe a single breath on the same planet as President elect Trump.

Listening to his latest work the words, “But it’s written in the scriptures
and it’s not some idle claim,
 you want it darker 
we kill the flame” resonated in a new way. Perhaps he was the flame. Is it beyond belief that either consciously or unconsciously he made the decision to leave us because of the bleakness of the future he saw ahead?

There are other words that seem overt reminders of Trump’s pre-election statements on the second amendment: “They were middle-class and tame 
I didn’t know I had permission to murder and to maim.”

So perhaps Leonard Cohen’s coping mechanism with this trauma was to “shuffle off this mortal coil”.

I began to review the many different coping mechanisms that friends of mine had manifested to the news of the election result.

Some became motivated to become more active – to join like-minded groups and support change in positive arenas such as the environment, poverty and racial tensions.

Others became obsessed to understand how such a regressive step could occur. They focused on how this could possible happen, questioning all the data particularly “how could 53% of while women vote for a man who admitted to sexual assault.

There were those who just wanted to make it all part of a divine plan. They kept texting Cohen’s words “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” A CRACK!!! I felt like screaming, “This isn’t a crack it’s a f***ing canyon!”

There are also those who preach forgiveness and understanding for those who have inflicted Trump on us. We need to understand how they had been ignored and left behind and this was just a reaction. Although I believe in forgiveness, I struggle with understanding. These were ignorant ill-informed people, who believed the lies and who have created the most powerful man in the world out of someone who has the emotional and psychological development of a six year old. Don’t take my word for it, listen to this amazing, scary podcast by Jeff Salzman https://www.integrallife.com/daily-evolver/trump-terrible-integral-look-boy-who-would-be-king

My response had been avoidance. I didn’t want anything to do with it. I won’t listen to news about the transition. I behave like an ostrich, I want to bury my head in the sand for four plus years. (An even more classic case of avoidance is someone I know who has created a fantasy that it did not happen and Obama is staying for eight more years.)

I began to be curious about how our initial coping with this trauma would reflect on our personal psychology. Frequently our initial and most powerful responses to major trauma are a function of old coping mechanisms developed in childhood.

I could see my own reaction clearly as an old pattern. When I finally gave up on combat with my authoritarian father, I would hide myself away. In face of the overwhelming other I just would not show up. Eminent Jungian analyst and author James Hollis does a remarkable job of summarizing our responses as a child to the powerful other:

1) Stay out of harm’s way – avoidance. We can do this by distancing, suppression, repression (unconscious), projection on to others, distraction, numbing and drugging, and disassociation.

2) The birth of the power complex – we move in and attempt to take control. Education is a benign form.

3) Compliance – give them what they want. Produces dependency on state, religion, and results in giving away authority.

How interesting. Perhaps it is another victory for Donald Trump that he has overwhelmed us into child states.

It is a great reminder to always reconsider the first reaction and allow the adult self a say. Sometimes gifts come in strange packages!

And on the subject of gifts, here are the words of Leonard Cohen’s last gift to us all

If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game
If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame
If thine is the glory then mine must be the shame
You want it darker
We kill the flame
Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name
Vilified, crucified, in the human frame
A million candles burning for the help that never came
You want it darker
Hineni, hineni
I’m ready, my lord
There’s a lover in the story
But the story’s still the same
There’s a lullaby for suffering
And a paradox to blame
But it’s written in the scriptures
And it’s not some idle claim
You want it darker
We kill the flame
They’re lining up the prisoners
And the guards are taking aim
I struggled with some demons
They were middle class and tame
I didn’t know I had permission to murder and to maim
You want

 


The Soul’s Journey – Finding your “Go to Support Chest”

November 15, 2016

I woke up at 4:40 a.m. the day after the election full of dread. Racing around my mind were confusion from trying to hold two opposites. That consciousness was positively evolving when the Americans had just elected a bombastic, misogynist, racist, ignorant narcissist who had no concept of truth and likely the emotional and psychological maturity of a six year-old.

I knew I would not sleep again that night so I got up and followed my intuition. First I forced myself to engage in my morning meditation practice. Difficult as it was to still my mind, I prayed for equanimity. Then I put on some Gregorian Chants and began to read my Soul Book.

In times of stress, anxiety and uncertainty I try to avoid my tendency of engaging my normal anxiety management systems (distraction, diversion, and varying mild addictions like mindless TV viewing). Instead I open my “Go to Support Chest” to search out practices that feed my deeper self. Sacred music, meditation and reviewing my Soul Book are prime examples of what can sustain me during existential crises.

In the inner cover of my Soul Book are the words, “Reflections, Contemplations, Meditations, and Inspiration.” It is a miscellany of poems, quotes, and stories where I have experienced moments of awe and wonder within this mystery that we live. I write in bright, cheerful, coloured inks that register easily on the eye. In moments like this when the future seems so bleak and incomprehensible, I find things to uplift me.

On this particular day my eye caught a beautiful extract from a poem by St Francis that I encountered in “Love Poems from God” by Daniel Ladinsky. ‘For laughing and passion, beauty and joy they are our hearts truth. All else is labour and foreign to the Soul.” It seemed a perfect focus for the day. I shared the quote on Facebook and found out later that sharing poetry was one of the primary ways people were supporting each other on social networking.

Another entry reminded me of all the different ways to feed the Soul: Love, Peace, Joy, Compassion, Gratitude, Wonder. Awe, Mindfulness and Meditation, Music, Poetry, Dance, Laughter, Passion and Play.” It was time to let go of disappointment, sadness , grief and anger. Time to let go of needing to know what it all means. We live in a mystery. It was time to reflect on the wonderful words of Gautama Buddha, “Never in the world does hatred cease by hatred; hatred ceases by love.” . It worked. I felt a deep inner piece that supported me through the day.

I subscribe to a beautiful service that sends me glorious Soul Poems with beautiful pictures every day. Unfortunely the Panahala site has closed I suspect in disappointment after the election results but Joe Riley’s poem on November 8th was perfect. It was by Rumi:

This is now. Now is

All there is. Don’t wait for Then.

Strike the spark, light the fire.

Sit at the Beloved’s table

Feast with gusto, drink your fill

Then dance

The way branches

dance in a spring wind.

The green earth is your cloth:

Tailor your robe with dignity and grace.


The Soul Journey – Understanding the Stories That Run Our Lives

November 5, 2016

This was the theme I developed for my small Spiritual Guidance Group that met last Wednesday. The idea was unexpected and had indirectly arisen as a function of the dream I wrote about in a recent dream blog. (http://wp.me/p7aFpI-4z)

This dream encouraged me to explore something that was missing in my perspective as a spiritual teacher. The clue to its resolution was in the yellow T-shirt I had put on during the dream. Yellow is a colour associated with the mind and the sun.

The “ah hah” moment came when I remembered I refer to James Hollis, eminent Jungian analyst, as the teacher of my mind. The dream prompted me to return to a task I had neglected – to record notes from his lecture series from his book, “Hauntings”.

Once more his wisdom inspired me. In his second lecture he suggests that much of our lives are run though unconscious stories that we are continually in service to and asks, “what are the implicit stories that your life history seems to be manifesting or dramatizing or externalizing in your life.”

He gives a remarkable example from a friend of his who also happens to me my favourite poet – Stephen Dunn. As a child he lived together with his parents and grandparents on his mother’s side of the family.

Unbeknownst to anyone the grandfather had a mistress, who got sick. He ran out of money for her hospital bills and asked his son in law for money but made him promise not to tell his wife. A secret was born.

It was never repaid – his wife found out the money was gone and asked where. He told her he had lost it at the track. It created a permanent rift between them; he fell into alcoholism and Steven grew up in a fractured family where the coping mechanism was silence. He confided in Stephen when he was in his late teens but promised him to secrecy.

This story and secrecy was an undercurrent to his life and when asked by Hollis how it had effected him he responded, “I thought that arguments were played out in silence and silence was what I armed myself with”

I was profoundly touched by this account and began to wonder what stories had unconsciously shaped my life. I realized that as a fifteen-year old I had concluded that there was no God; life was therefore meaningless and so I had better take care of myself as best I could.

This story was the undercurrent of my life for the next thirty years. It resulted in a very self-serving, controlling and manipulative persona. Only when it was replaced by a new story that I was “a spiritual being having a human experience” could I begin the true journey of the Soul. From this perspective life had to have meaning.

I reviewed my insights with a dear long-term friend and he was intrigued. He began to share his own confusion about why his parents had moved the family from relative comfort in the UK to comparative poverty in Toronto. “I was always trying to find out”, he confided. “I even questioned my mother if she had followed a neighbor who moved here.” I asked him if he sensed there was a secret behind it. It was as though the scales fell from his eyes. “All my life I have been trying to find the answer to a secret I did not know existed.”

I asked how this may have impacted him. He was exquisitely honest, “Sometimes I wonder if there is something I am not aware of – some hidden agenda.”

It was an amazing moment. It confirmed the power inherent in Hollis’s teachings.

Later that evening I reviewed this material with my group. The impact was so much more than expected. People begin to see stories that had shaped and were shaping them:

  • A child who thought she had to always take care of people.
  • A family where silence and conflict avoidance were prevalent.
  • A child constantly in search of a father’s approval.

The final question we delved into was also from Hollis. Exploring our current unconscious stories is but part of the Soul journey. The question still to be answered is what story wants to enter the world through each one of us? Hollis suggests, “We all have these stories lying within us. We need to find the story we are meant by the Gods to live in this world and to understand what interferes with that story emerging.”

To quote teacher and mystic Atum O’Kane, “Before my life is over may I sing my song.”

 


A Conflict of Complexes

September 21, 2016

vanier-parkAt the conclusion of a workshop I attended this summer, we were asked to prepare a poem summarizing four key elements that had touched us in the program. The workshop was titled, “Embracing the Human and Divine within us.” My poem was based on an experience with a guided visualization.

We were encouraged to begin in a place of beauty with which we were familiar. Mine was a magnificent Vancouver vista encompassing mountains, ocean and city and a pond in the foreground. I sit in this particular spot each summer night just before sunset and engage in a contemplation of the beauty around me.

During the visualization we were encouraged to see a figure walking towards us. I realized that approaching me was a duck, a familiar visitor on the long summer evenings.

A moment of confusion flitted into my mind when we were asked to seek guidance from the figure but I dutifully followed the directions. Of course my guest said only “quack” and I was forced to suppress my secret merriment to avoid breaking the meditative container. My poem evolved naturally from the experience.

screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-1-08-09-pm

When I shared this with a friend who was also attending, she responded that it only had one element not four. I noticed my resistance to her observation and decided that “the fat lady had sung” and that was all I was going to do.

I set off on my twenty-minute walk to the workshop and immediately noticed there were two distinct voices in my head. There was the rebellious, independent self who was quite content with what he had done. Yet there was also the compliant more apprehensive self who wanted to do what the teacher had asked. I observed the feelings connected with these energies and knew they were both old and familiar. Suddenly, quite unbidden, a new refrain emerged crafted by the compliant self.

‘Heart opening to music

Mind opening to story

Soul opening to Soul

I open to the Beloved”

I felt both fascinated and pleased. If we were asked to share, I had both options covered. It was only after I headed back to Vancouver I began to examine the significance of what happened.

These are both aspects of who I am. They represent two different strategies I adopted as a child to cope with my authoritarian and religious father. They carry both gifts and shadow. The rebellious self has independence, self-determination, innovation, strength of personality and can see outside the dots. The shadow aspects are that it can be abrasive, aggressive and confrontational.

The compliant self has the benefits of sustaining harmony, cooperating and safeguarding the persona from risk and harm. The shadow side is going along for the sake of peace, retreating and running away, not having a voice and becoming like wallpaper in a room.

In a teaching environment these two complexes can be in conflict. Depending on the circumstance I may be controlled by either one. The challenge is not to react to a situation and fall unconsciously into one aspect or the other. The opportunity is to become conscious of the underlying current and respond from the best of both.

As eminent Jungian Therapist James Hollis comments in his remarkable book “Hauntings”, complexes are not good or bad, but they do have a troubling power to “remove a discriminating judgment” from any given situation and impose a view based on our disempowered history.

I have learned the greater the awareness I bring to these complexes, the greater my choice in how I respond and the more empowered I feel. The wisdom can only be achieved in hindsight; in some ways it seems a shame that “life can only be understood backwards; but must be lived forwards.” (Soren Kierkegaard)


My Path to Equanimity – Denial, Victim, Humour and Surrender

June 24, 2016

“You carry all the ingredients to turn your life into a nightmare, don’t mix them”

Hafiz interpreted by Daniel Ladinsky.

How do we avoid reacting to situations that seem designed to press every button. This is a story of what I came to describe as “the hotel room from hell” that had all the makings of a nightmare.

However it led to an insight into one of the effective coping mechanisms I have created to help me deal with life’s obstacles – I seek meaning in the experience. I am still uncertain about whether this is pure delusion on my part however perhaps that doesn’t matter as much as the fact that it helps me avoid the “nightmare” and to shift from anxiety and discomfort into some equanimity.

When I checked in to the Puerto Allegra Hotel; despite my confirmed reservation they had no rooms left and moved me to an adjacent hotel. It was a spartan but clean facility with  a cute balcony.  I enjoyed my stay and the best news was that it waste no charge.

The next day I checked back and they allocated me room 210. It was not the king room I had reserved. It had two queen beds squeezed into a tight space, it was dark with a window out onto what appeared to be a narrow chimney of light between rooms. The diagram behind the door suggested it was by far the smallest room on the floor. However it was nicely appointed and I had already enjoyed an excellent free breakfast so I went to the beach with no inkling of what the night would bring.

The chimney in fact contained all the air conditioning units. It also possessed the quality of an echo chamber so at night I was treated to a symphony of AC units, each chiming in as though they formed an unholy orchestra with a malevolent conductor arranging a score to minimize my sleep.

I began to recognize them – there were the quieter ones that I associated with the strings, the deeper more full throated ones that were the woodwind section and finally the “tuba”. This monstrous instrument was out of tune, a harsh raucous sound that insinuated itself into my nervous system. If I was asleep it would wake me. If I was awake I lay their in awful suspense of its next interruption.

The next morning I tried to get my room changed. Victor at the front desk gazed helplessly at me, scanned his computer screen more out of desperation than hope then pulled out a huge stack of booking.com forms and began to tell me how he had no rooms for any of them.

Now normally I would have gone to find an alternative but I was attending a workshop for the next four days so it was not possible. It seemed as though I would just have to suffer.

I went through four stages of adjustment. In some ways it became my own workshop of dealing with attachment. It began with denial – this can’t really be happening, surely it will diminish as the night goes on? This cannot possibly be normal.” Then I moved into victim. “Why did it have to be me. What had I done to deserve this? This is so unfair.” It was a short step to judgment. “Why do these selfish people need their AC on. How on earth can a hotel dare rent out a room where you can’t sleep?”

By now I was trying ear plugs but they could not blog out Tony the Tuba as I began to refer to him. The third stage was ironic amusement. I was in this hotel because I had decided the place I originally selected at half the price was too small and spartan so I had decided to treat myself to a little comfort. There was obviously a lesson in here for me somewhere as my original was beginning to look like nirvana.The cosmos seemed to be demonstrating its sense of humour at my expense.

Finally I moved into acceptance and surrender and somehow, after three sleepless nights,  slept seven hours without a break. This was obviously due to extreme fatigue because my final night was a repeat of the first except now I was sanguine, calm and relaxed despite being awake and perhaps the thought of my own bed helped.

Regardless I had found meaning – each stages of acceptance helped me move through the one that followed: from denial to victim, then amusement and finally surrender. I worked through each fully allowing full license for expression.

Frankly it was a lesson I would rather not have learned yet the journey into meaning made it palatable. I can see no way I could have avoided it but perhaps next time I may resist the temptation of luxury for my normal spartan accommodations.

Hafiz’s lovely poem finishes with the words, “you have all the ingredients to turn your life into joy, mix them, mix them.” Somehow mixing denial, victim, humour and surrender had just that effect.

There was one final gift. The workshop was being held a half hour walk from the hotel. On the second morning I found a route that took me along the Rio Cuale for about twenty-five minutes. The natural beauty combined with the soothing babble of the creek over rocks completely restored me. Despite sleepless nights I was raring to go.