Getting Beyond the Block

January 20, 2015

One of the joys of traveling is making new friends and my recent trip to Sayulita was no exception. Staying at the same hotel was a lovely British woman working on new business venture. When she heard about my background in marketing she asked me to provide some input on a project on which she was working. As she began to show me what she had done, I became incredibly impressed by the professionalism, the quality of the work and the depth of thinking. Nothing she showed me seemed in need of any input at all. In fact the opposite was true as my suggestions were clearly redundant. As the discussion continued she began to hesitate over her words then paused to say, “I’m not sure what I want your help with anyway. Basically I am stuck on finding the right images for my web site.”

I reflected back on what I had seen so far “You realize you have done all the difficult work here: the initial thinking, the concept, the positioning, the branding, the logo, the look and image. They are all finished, now you are now looking for some photos. Why do you think you are stuck on the easy bit?” She hesitated and looked a little embarrassed then went on to explain that she had been involved in a series of personal problems that had thrown her off centre. Although valid, they did not seem to explain her paralysis.

I observed that the images won’t make or break the proposition anyway because they are easily changed. I speculated that when this kind of block occurs there is normally some fear involved. Her response was instant and clear, “oh I’m scared it will be a failure and I will look bad.” Her wheel spinning has nothing to do with the issue; it was about anxiety and apprehension for the future. It reminded me of a common depth psychology truism, “it’s not about what it’s about.” Almost like a magician’s wand, her insight seemed to free her up so she could move ahead.

It seems appropriate to add a little background. This was not an inexperienced amateur, this was a consummate professional who had spent years successfully implementing far more complex projects for her clients. She knew her experience and skill set were more than up to this task yet she ground to a halt when faced by something that in her previous role she would have simply delegated.

So what happens? Notice there was no conscious knowledge of fear holding her back. Rationally she knew that she could do this and anyway she also knew that failure was part of business life. It was far better to move ahead and learn from failure than it was to quit. However this unconscious fear created inaction, paralysis and a sense of feeling stuck.

From a spiritual coaching perspective, the first thing is to ask yourself when you are blocked is a series of questions.

  • Does this behaviour represent a pattern in my life, has it shown up before and what did I do about it?
  • Are there familiar voices from the past behind the fear? Sometimes it is a parent or a teacher or other powerful other in our early life. This is what eminent Jungian analyst James Hollis refers to as a haunting in his book of the same name.
  • If yes what does this voice cause me to do or stop doing?

Our goal is to defuse and dissipate the power that old voices have over us. The first step is awareness, the second is for the adult to reassess their relationship with the old voice. At this juncture I engage in a discussion – this reaction has a reason for being, I acknowledge it then suggest it no longer serves me and it’s time has passed. It helps me if I can identify the primal anxiety that has been aroused.

It is not always an easy or comfortable exploration but it does help us understand ourselves better and to gradually bring change into the ways we reflexively respond to certain situations.

As James Hollis once said, “we all sleep in haunted houses and in history’s unmade bed.” We need to disarm the ghost and recover our personal authority.


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.”

Complexity in Seattle

September 16, 2013

I had just completed the final workshop in the series Archetypes of Spiritual Guidance; I decided to stay an extra day so I could visit a dear friend of mine in the Seattle area; little did I know it would present one more reason to dive into the murky world of unconscious complexes. It all started so innocently, we were discussing some angst she was feeling in her life and I found myself curious to explore what may be contributing to it. Her answers would lead to another question and before long I found myself in familiar territory; I was slipping into my role as a spiritual coach. I paused and observed that it was beginning to feel as though I was coaching her and asked if that was OK. Her response was immediate and clear, “No, it was not OK” and then she went on to say that she had been about to tell me she felt uncomfortable with my questions.

It was a bit like running into a brick wall. I noticed a flush of energy in my body, and a desire to leave immediately rather than wait for my six o’clock train. I took a deep breath, obviously a complex had engaged. In his amazing audio book Through The Dark Wood, James Hollis attributes the theory behind complexes to Carl Jung and describes them like this, “an energy laden core idea that when it is evoked can only repeat the world view, the value system and repetitive actions that are tied to its origin. They were generated in our history and bind us to it.” My friend could tell something had engaged and asked if I was all right. I responded honestly, “No I am not but this is not about you”. I took another deep breath and realized I needed some personal space. “I need some time on my own” I responded, “I’m going for a walk.”

Any one who has stayed in touch with my blogs knows that this is not the first complex I have explored. Since I began this process of unraveling my own psychology I have written extensively about my journey with different complexes. At times it seems endless; they seem like the interlocking pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that continually create a bigger picture. The same complex repeats but I go a little deeper. It always begins with an energetic reaction that once I have awareness of it requires me to pause and take space. This is accompanied by a sense of my feelings being hurt. The danger if I don’t take care of myself, I will engage in one of two main reactions. I will find a way to blame the person who activated my complex, or I will suppress it, which will cause it to emerge later often as a passive-aggressive reaction.

Once outside I began to recreate the experience. First there was the energy in my body followed by a variety of feelings. These included: feeling hurt that I had been shut down, losing my voice, feeling unappreciated, feeling disrespected, wanting to run away. Frequently we (especially men) discount the feelings with a response like, “Get a grip, get over it, she didn’t mean to hurt you.” However I have learned this simply leads to suppression. If a complex is not given room to breathe and be explored it will simply submerge like magma in a volcano, waiting for a future eruption. One of the compelling things about exploring a complex is how quickly we appreciate the child like nature of the reaction. It is not difficult to appreciate Jung’s belief that these reactions are of historic origin.

As I walked and began to appreciate the beauty of the ocean to my right and the gardens to my left, I contemplated when I might have felt like this before. Could I trace when the energy behind the complex developed its power? Suddenly an incident that occurred when I was fifteen flashed into my mind. It is one that I have previously worked with because I knew I had unconsciously replicated my rebellious relationship with my father with a teacher at school but this felt different

It concerned the sport of rugby. Despite having been brought up in a soccer world I had learned to enjoy the game and had become pretty good. I was engaged in trials for one of the school teams. I played centre and thought it suited my agility and skill set. I did not think I had the pure speed to be on the wing. So it was a crashing shock when the coach called me to his office and said he was switching me to wing. It felt like he was diminishing my chances of being chosen. I responded negatively (the father complex) and he reacted and said you can play wing or not at all. I chose not to play and in that moment permanently eliminated any chance I had to play for the school or even to play competitive rugby again. As I left his office I felt these same feelings, “hurt that I had been shut down, losing my voice, feeling unappreciated, feeling disrespected, wanting to run away.” When I had explored this previously I realized that I felt bad about not being heard or understood and that my actions had only hurt myself. Now I saw something else. This was yet another example of how badly I was served at this school. I suspect the master had slipped into his own complex around having his authority questioned without a thought for the fact that I was fifteen. Surely he should have felt some responsibility for offering me a second chance instead of condemning me to a purgatory of playing rugby in a competition when the moment I had the ball my opponents parted like the Red Sea in front of Moses.

One of the joys of doing this work is the clarity and freedom one feels, a sense that some of the energy binding me to the complex has been released.  It always reminds me of William Yeats lovely words, “I am content to follow to its source every event and action and in thought. For when such as I cast out remorse so great a sweetness flows into the breast that we must laugh and we must sing for we are blessed by everything. Everything we look upon is blest.