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.

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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!


The Archetype of the Journeyer

February 14, 2013
This is the sixth in the series of workshops I have been taking on the Archetypes of Spiritual Guidance. The theme is the Journeyer which also translates to the pilgrim or the perhaps the explorer. I struggled a little bit with the framework that Atum utilized for this archetype. Basically we explored three possibilities. The first was the six realms from Tibetan Buddhism. These include: the Hell realm, realm of the hungry ghost, animal realm, human realm, first heavenly realm, second heavenly realm (realm of the Gods). The second was a lovely model for manifestation based on the Kabbala tradition. The model had four steps: inspiration, creative imagination, building and then living the experience. I have used various models from my own experience including the seven step model based on the seven days of creation that I learned at Unity Church as well as the adaptations I developed for decision-making and activating intuition. The major difference would be starting with intention as the first step. I did like the idea of living fully the manifested creation. A good reminder. The third model was based on the seven stages of Pir Vilayat. We used music to reflect the stages, I soon found myself overwhelmed as it seemed far too complex for my simple needs. I love creating sacred space through music; in some ways my choices would resemble those selected by Atum with the addition of the many forms of chanting. My evening contemplation practice focuses on three different forms – Gregorian, Buddhist and Sanscrit. The states or stages that Atum offered through Pir Vilayat were: the angelic, sacred, exultation, innocence, beauty, djinn and astral. I consider many of these to create sacred space and are part of the mystery of mystic experience but his differentiation did not resonate with me.
At the close of the workshop I realized that I want to develop a clear understanding of how I view the Journeyer archetype relative to my personal journey and to my client work. I realize it would all fit in the Human realm of the Tibetan tradition which is where I see the primary work of the journey of the Soul. I think that in the Hell realm and the addiction realm (hungry ghosts) there will be psychological issues that require resolution before entering individuation and spiritual coaching. In the animal realm people will not have reached a high enough level on Maslow’s hierarchy to evolve. Perhaps the model that most resonates for me in terms of the Journeyer is the Hero’s Journey espoused by Joseph Campbell. There are three primary transitions in the Hero’s Journey, each with a number of steps. It begins with Departure, followed by Initiation and finally Return. We may not encounter all steps in every journey but they provide important reference points both personally and with Spiritual Coaching Clients. At the conclusion of this reflection I have quoted from the Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction web site which accurately reflects my memory of the Hero’s Journey that I first heard presented by Jean Houston many years ago.
As I concluded this reflection I realized there was one more piece I needed to add in terms of the Journey and Spiritual Coaching. From both my own exploration and my work with clients I have drawn some personal beliefs
The soul seeks experience, it is often not about outcomes, it is about the journey.
We are brought experiences to support our learning and to fulfill our highest good.
We are here to achieve both psychological and spiritual healing and the soul has the capacity to guide us to both.
We are supported best on this journey when we strive to balance the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of our being.
Our primary responsibility is to work with intention and pay attention. The Soul will show the way however we must remember the Soul speaks its own language through symbol, metaphor, synchronicity, serendipity and dreams.
Manifesting in our lives is a co-creative process that begins with intention and flows into inspiration yet essentially it must always serve our highest good.
The Hero’s Journey.
Departure
The Call to Adventure
The call to adventure is the point in a person’s life when they are first given notice that everything is going to change, whether they know it or not.
Refusal of the Call
Often when the call is given, the future hero refuses to heed it. This may be from a sense of duty or obligation, fear, insecurity, a sense of inadequacy, or any of a range of reasons that work to hold the person in his or her current circumstances.
Supernatural Aid
Once the hero has committed to the quest, consciously or unconsciously, his or her guide and magical helper appears, or becomes known.
The Crossing of the First Threshold
This is the point where the person actually crosses into the field of adventure, leaving the known limits of his or her world and venturing into an unknown and dangerous realm where the rules and limits are not known.
The Belly of the Whale
The belly of the whale represents the final separation from the hero’s known world and self. It is sometimes described as the person’s lowest point, but it is actually the point when the person is between or transitioning between worlds and selves. The separation has been made, or is being made, or being fully recognized between the old world and old self and the potential for a new world/self. The experiences that will shape the new world and self will begin shortly, or may be beginning with this experience which is often symbolized by something dark, unknown and frightening. By entering this stage, the person shows their willingness to undergo a metamorphosis, to die to him or herself.
Inititation
The Road of Trials
The road of trials is a series of tests, tasks, or ordeals that the person must undergo to begin the transformation. Often the person fails one or more of these tests, which often occur in threes.
The Meeting with the Goddess
The meeting with the goddess represents the point in the adventure when the person experiences a love that has the power and significance of the all-powerful, all encompassing, unconditional love that a fortunate infant may experience with his or her mother. It is also known as the “hieros gamos”, or sacred marriage, the union of opposites, and may take place entirely within the person. In other words, the person begins to see him or herself in a non-dualistic way. This is a very important step in the process and is often represented by the person finding the other person that he or she loves most completely. Although Campbell symbolizes this step as a meeting with a goddess, unconditional love and /or self unification does not have to be represented by a woman.
Woman as the Temptress
At one level, this step is about those temptations that may lead the hero to abandon or stray from his or her quest, which as with the Meeting with the Goddess does not necessarily have to be represented by a woman. For Campbell, however, this step is about the revulsion that the usually male hero may feel about his own fleshy/earthy nature, and the subsequent attachment or projection of that revulsion to women. Woman is a metaphor for the physical or material temptations of life, since the hero-knight was often tempted by lust from his spiritual journey.
Atonement with the Father
In this step the person must confront and be initiated by whatever holds the ultimate power in his or her life. In many myths and stories this is the father, or a father figure who has life and death power. This is the center point of the journey. All the previous steps have been moving in to this place, all that follow will move out from it. Although this step is most frequently symbolized by an encounter with a male entity, it does not have to be a male; just someone or thing with incredible power. For the transformation to take place, the person as he or she has been must be “killed” so that the new self can come into being. Sometime this killing is literal, and the earthly journey for that character is either over or moves into a different realm.
Apotheosis
To apotheosize is to deify. When someone dies a physical death, or dies to the self to live in spirit, he or she moves beyond the pairs of opposites to a state of divine knowledge, love, compassion and bliss. This is a god-like state; the person is in heaven and beyond all strife. A more mundane way of looking at this step is that it is a period of rest, peace and fulfillment before the hero begins the return.
The Ultimate Boon
The ultimate boon is the achievement of the goal of the quest. It is what the person went on the journey to get. All the previous steps serve to prepare and purify the person for this step, since in many myths the boon is something transcendent like the elixir of life itself, or a plant that supplies immortality, or the holy grail.
Return
Refusal of the Return
So why, when all has been achieved, the ambrosia has been drunk, and we have conversed with the gods, why come back to normal life with all its cares and woes?
The Magic Flight
Sometimes the hero must escape with the boon, if it is something that the gods have been jealously guarding. It can be just as adventurous and dangerous returning from the journey as it was to go on it.
Rescue from Without
Just as the hero may need guides and assistants to set out on the quest, often times he or she must have powerful guides and rescuers to bring them back to everyday life, especially if the person has been wounded or weakened by the experience. Or perhaps the person doesn’t realize that it is time to return, that they can return, or that others need their boon.
The Crossing of the Return Threshold
The trick in returning is to retain the wisdom gained on the quest, to integrate that wisdom into a human life, and then maybe figure out how to share the wisdom with the rest of the world. This is usually extremely difficult.
Master of the Two Worlds
In myth, this step is usually represented by a transcendental hero like Jesus or Buddha. For a human hero, it may mean achieving a balance between the material and spiritual. The person has become comfortable and competent in both the inner and outer worlds.
Freedom to Live
Mastery leads to freedom from the fear of death, which in turn is the freedom to live. This is sometimes referred to as living in the moment, neither anticipating the future nor regretting the past.
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