A Sacred Sadness

“I’m sorry you feel ____.”

“You shouldn’t feel that way.”

“What will make you feel better?”

I have heard phrases like these all my life. I think most of us have. Sentiments said by caring, well-meaning people who truly want to see us happy.

Sometimes it works. We feel better. At least temporarily.

More often, we bury the feeling that is so uncomfortable (uncomfortable to those well-meaning others as well as to ourselves), and the feeling grows and festers. Frustration grows to anger and then to rage. Sadness grows to grief. Unexpressed rage and grief grow to depression. And so on.

People often speak of certain emotions as being good or bad. Or that some are right and others wrong.

We try to make the “bad/wrong” ones go away – in ourselves or in others – by “thinking a happy thought,” thinking of others who “have it worse,” “bucking up,” and so on.

While it’s not good to wallow in emotions and give them control of how we experience life, all emotions are teachers, and when they are accepted and understood, they can inform us of ways to have a better life than we would have by ignoring them or “fixing them.” No emotion is bad or wrong, but many are uncomfortable (as the truth often is).

Recently I’ve come to a liberating awakening about a feeling that has ebbed and flowed as background and foreground in my life since pre-adolescence. I’ve been diagnosed by several psychiatrists over the past 45 years as “clinically, chronically” depressed, and prescribed various medications which I always opted not to take. (Please note: I do NOT advise avoiding medical advice! Research deeper and get a second opinion if you aren’t comfortable with it, but don’t ignore it!)

In its worst depths, I was suicidal. It wasn’t that I wanted to die, it’s that I was afraid and unsure how to live. But I was intensely curious about life, and that curiosity saved me. It enabled me to go on and to function.

I have always felt that my depression, since it was not so severe that it incapacitated me on a daily, moment-to-moment basis, was an opportunity to grow and learn something about my core self and psyche and soul, if I could only learn its language.

So I have sat with the emotional, physical and spiritual pain of it. I have listened.

At times, it has all but disappeared, leaving only a faint whisper reminding me of its presence. I was neither happy nor unhappy, emotionally alive or dead.

At other times, it has been a pit bull gnawing on the bone of my well-being and snarling at anything that smacked of joy and life.

And still other times, it was a vast dark pit – a wormhole into a deep void that was simultaneously both inviting and scary.

And there have also been times when it has been asleep or on vacation and I have had brief experiences of what I think is true happiness. I can’t be sure. That’s the nature of this omnipresent shadow.

I can tell you that the pit bull and the wormhole are better than being the undead. There is more aliveness and hope in the anger and the fear.

The liberating awakening that has finally emerged through this process is a sense that the depression, debilitating as it can be, is not truly depression at all, though it has many of the signs and symptoms. Once I accept it, understand its language, begin to learn what it had been trying to teach me, I realize that it is something quite different…

… a sacred sadness.

It is not here to stop me from having a life but to teach me a different way of life. It is a deeply vulnerable, empathic experience of intimacy with my own feelings and also the feelings of others.

Some Native American tribes have a phrase they use in many of their ceremonies to honor all who have come before, are present now, and are yet to come: “All my relations” (mitakuye oyasin). This is a term of reverence and reminder that we are all related as one people, and interrelated in the web of life. I have come to see that my sadness is a thread of that web. It is not depression unless I live it as such.

Each of us carries our own thread. Some of us are called to be a thread of joy; some a thread of shadow; some a thread of leadership. There are many threads and each one is sacred because each one plays a part in the weaving of humanity’s tapestry.

Of course, we all have pieces of every thread woven into our own, but I believe we each have a primary thread that is prevalent throughout our lives. Accepted and understood, it opens the way to our greatness and personal “superpower.” Ignored, it becomes our greatest enemy and downfall, our kryptonite.

Mine happens to be sadness. I carry a sadness for all people who have been hurt, wounded, saddened, isolated by their experiences in life, whether real or perceived. Knowing this frees my compassion and understanding. It allows me to know when and how I can be more available and when I need to take care of myself. It makes me a better coach, partner, friend. Embracing sadness frees my joy.

Seeing that, finally, has led to an immense liberation. I see how my relationships have been affected by my blindness to this thread or my fear of it. I see how my career has been both led by it and thrown off course by my reaction to it or self-preservation from it. Even my perception of who I am, my self-esteem, self-worth, self-care and self-respect have been affected by how well or poorly I reacted to it.

Among the many overall benefits of awakening to and accepting the sacred thread of your primary, underlying emotional energy include:

• Your awareness of all your other feelings improves;

• With that awareness, your ability to learn from your feelings and use them for a better life also improves;

• Your capacity to feel and express love and joy expands;

• Your boundaries improve;

• Your energy blossoms (it is VERY stressful, wearying and fruitless to deny, ignore or fight with this intrinsic part of yourself!);

• Your clarity for making better choices improves – in relationships, career, life;

• What hat weighed you down in life now lifts you up.

The thread does not go away – it is not supposed to. I will always have sadness. But now for the most part I have the sadness, it doesn’t have me.

Maybe you see yourself caught in an emotion or thought that seems to weigh you down or slow you down. If this speaks to you in any way and you’d like to have a conversation about it, contact me here.

Wish There Was More Joy in the World?

These times are increasingly fast-paced, challenging, and sometimes scary. With that come confusion, frustration, stress and uncertainty. To manage these feelings, many of my clients have been asking me, “What should I be doing with my time and energy?”

Some key buzzwords that you have probably been hearing more frequently lately are purpose, mindfulness, letting go, and desire. In response to what is happening in the world and in individual lives, people are tending to want more meaning in what they experience and to bring more value to what they do in the world.

Yet in all the chaos and uncertainty, these intentions seem elusive.

The other day, I posted this Cairn Meditation: “Are you doing what you are called to do, have to do, ought to do, or want to do? What would have to change so that all four of those could be perfectly aligned, all one and the same?

These are the questions I ask my clients. They are important questions because they bring into focus what is most important to each person, and helps the person to prioritize his or her actions.

Peace of mind and serenity of spirit are always possible. It is vital to know what produces them in you.

So first…What are you called to do?  What is your passion?  What is the fire in your belly? That thing you would rather die doing than live not doing?

Sadly, but not surprisingly, few people know what that is. From a very early age, emphasis is placed on what you have to do to survive and should do to make others happy. Little to no importance is placed on what makes you come alive, with vitality and joy. So it is to be expected that you may not know what would do that.

For many people, even asking the question makes them feel selfish. “Who am I to be asking what my passion in life is? I should be happy to just have a job, work hard to keep it, and go home to care for my family.”

Well, that’s true! Following a passion does not argue with that. Rather it deepens it – because study after study has shown that most people do a better job at what they love than what they merely tolerate, regardless of their knowledge and skill level.

What is your spirit calling you to do, to be, to express? What lights you up? “Let your light so shine that people may see your good works…” What is your deep core truth guiding you toward? Be true to yourself, and the truth will set you free. Free to be all you are capable of and desire to be.

Most of us get stuck in a pattern of doing only what we

  • Have to do to get by;
  • Should do, according to someone else’s agenda for us; or
  • Ought to do according to the script of old tapes playing in our minds.

Absolutely there are some things we must do to get by in the world. We need to eat, clothe ourselves, put a roof over our heads – and provide these things for our families. We need to earn a living.

We are social creatures, and so we need to do the things that keep us connected to our tribe – our friends and neighbors.

But ask yourself if there is truly a reason your musts can’t be aligned with the calling of your heart. Yes it may be hard. There may be some new skills to acquire or a new attitude to adapt. But many people are able to do it – why not you? And at the very least, if for a time all the circumstances, events and situations in your life prevent you from doing what you love, can you at least create ways to love what you do?

 

As for the “shoulds” and “ought tos,” these are the real bugaboos, because they are merely ghosts. But they are ghosts with enough substance so as to appear real. They are demons that certainly dogged me at different times in my life.

Do you know what a “should” is? It’s a “Subversive, Heartless Opinion, Undermining Life’s Desires!” It is a story that someone, perhaps well-meaning or maybe just full of their own agenda, placed on us that has no meaning for us except what we give to it.

I have long fingers with a wide spread, and I was told countless times I “should be a surgeon.” Except I’m squeamish around blood. Oops!

The shoulds and ought tos in your life need to be identified and triaged into one of four categories: Called to do, Must do, Want to do, or Stop doing. If you are not called to do it, don’t need to do it in order to survive, and don’t want to do it, why are you doing it?

We lose more serenity and peace of mind over shoulds and ought tos than all other actions and circumstances combined. And – here’s the worst of it – medical research is showing that these actions have a devastating negative impact on our physical and mental health. They weaken the immune system, open the door to stress-related illness, and make us susceptible to depression, panic, and other conditions.

Shoulds and ought tos usually cannot be aligned with desires and callings – they need to be transformed or eliminated. “But what will people say,” I often hear. The people who love you want the best for you. They may struggle with your changes, we all do that. But they will support you. As for those who don’t, well ask yourself if pleasing someone who wants you to risk your happiness, well-being and life for their agenda is worth risking your happiness, well-being and life over? Only you can decide that.

Finally, what is it that you want to do? What gives you joy, pleasure, satisfaction?

If following a calling seemed selfish to you, following joy will probably feel over the top! But again, this is what makes us truly effective and magnetic in what we do.

Think about it, none of us enjoys going to the dentist, but you know two who are on the same block, charge the same fee and are equally covered by your insurance: one exudes feeling grateful for the opportunity to help you, seems to genuinely like both the work itself and you as a patient, and appears confident and competent. The other seems equally competent but groans and moans about what a terrible career dentistry is and what morons the patients are. Who would you rather have drilling and filling in your mouth? Hopefully, that’s a no-brainer!

When you do what brings you joy in a way that brings you joy, you bring joy with you in what you do. How many times have you thought some version of “I wish I lived in a more joyful world?” Do what brings you joy and you will.

Now how do you bring all this into alignment? The simple answer is, “Do what you love; do what loves you; and love what you do.”

To align what you are called to do, must do and want to do, the first step is stop doing what isn’t among that. You can do pretty much anything, but you can’t do everything, so be discerning. What do you want your legacy to be? What do you want your reputation to be?

If we get so busy doing what has meaning, value, purpose and pleasure for us that we have no time for anything else… well, we won’t have time for anything else! Dan Millman, author of The Way of the Peaceful Warrior and many other books, once told me his definition of a spiritual warrior as we ate salads in a little bistro outside of Boston. He said a spiritual warrior makes good money doing what he loves to do serving other people.

“Good money” takes care of all of our physical needs for survival and comfort. “Doing what we love” takes care of our mental and emotional needs for stimulation and connection. “Serving others” takes care of our spiritual need to lift our own hearts by lifting others.

I challenge you to take some time, maybe an hour or so, to list your callings, musts, shoulds, and desires. And during that hour, I dare you to see what you are brave enough to whittle off the list. And finally I invite you to tweak or transform what remains into a potential way of life that is aligned with the best you can bring to the world.

It is within you. You deserve to bring it out, and to live it fully! This is the ultimate joy.

Fire Ceremony

Fire illuminates and heats. It is unbiased – it will illuminate a lie as easily as a truth. But in the heat, lies melt like lead and truth is tempered like steel. Whatever doesn’t stand up to the fire in your soul, is it truly yours?

The Moon came full at 1:06pm EST today, March 5, with the energy to help all who asked her grow in their personal power. Mmm, yes, I’ve had enough, I surrender, I need some help.

But if you’re going to ask something, it’s simple respect to give something. So I wanted to give the moon a fire ceremony. It’s cold and snowy here on the Connecticut shore, with a blanket of clouds covering a waveless, slushy sea. I knew that when Luna rose, she would not be able to see herself and would likely feel the icy slap of winter. I think that when you are full of life and at your most glorious state of being, you should be able to see yourself and you should feel warm. I prepared to honor her with at least that, even if only symbolically.

This particular full moon carries the energy of expanding personal power to anyone willing to receive it. A fire ceremony is about receiving something you wish to attract or releasing something you wish to let go of. I’m thinking if Moon wants to give, I’m good with receiving. So at 1:06 I made an object of beauty that symbolized what I wanted to attract.

An earlier meditation made it clear to me that there are a certain five people who are seeking freedom from emotional, creative and life-dulling stuckness – BUT they don’t know it! That’s what I do, and I have five places available for them. This stood out for me because I rarely get such specific images or messages about work in my meditations. Yet I was being told to ask the Moon, via the fire, specifically for five people. I drew images of these five on a piece of paper to burn as an intention.

Low tide here was at 4:44pm. Three 4s represent creativity, self-expression and focus on the task at hand. Powerful stuff, given the focus of the ceremony! Right at 4:44 I started building a cairn, as I’ve been doing daily for 124 consecutive days. This one would serve as the altar for the ceremony.

Moonrise today was at 5:55pm. Three 5s represent family and adventure. Again, pretty powerful, since I was seeking new people for my tribe and I’m in the process of creating retreats and other adventurous experiences. At precisely 5:55 I began the ceremony with drumming and prayer. The moment I lit the fire, the breeze went still. The flame was safe and soon friendly.

I won’t describe the whole ceremony here – my ceremonies really have to be experienced, not described. You can’t savor the flavors or feel a nourishing satisfaction from someone’s description of a good meal. But as it ended, I washed my head and neck with the frigid waters of Long Island Sound, where the ice floes can be seen from space, and howled at a Moon I could not see. I surrendered, I asked. Now, it’s back to work. The tempering doesn’t happen by itself.

A Warrior of Spirit and an Autumn Sunday

I was blessed to take a nice break today with a walk in the woods. Even though it is Sunday, I was playing hookey, really – I had that much to do. But instead I enjoyed a little “shinrin-yoku,” which literally translates from the Japanese into “forest bath.” I went to one of my favorite sacred areas and spent part of the time in a brisk walk of three-plus miles, and part of the time creating a ceremony to honor and call forth Spiritual Warrior Energy on behalf of the Earth and all of us.

As I walked in search of a ceremony spot, I inhaled cool, crisp, sun-soaked air, and with it the unmistakable earthy-scented early Autumn decay of those fresh-fallen leaves that crunched and crackled beneath my sneakered feet. I wandered off-trail into the wood, following where I felt led to go, deeper and deeper until I came to a cathedral of trees growing like spires in a circle, with fallen logs scattered aground like random pews.

In the Southwest of the circle stood one fairly ordinary tree that for no apparent reason compelled my attention to it. I approached it cautiously, fully cognizant of the sporadic outcroppings of poison ivy, to which I am highly allergic. I would have avoided the area because of this, but for some reason this year I have determined to respect the plant rather than fear it. I did get “stung” once this year, in July, but it was mild and brief – rare for me if I’m exposed. Usually I burst into a conflagration of welts and burning itch if I have even the slightest exposure. Maybe it prefers my respect to my fear.

I made my way to the tree and made gasho – bowed reverently – as I stood before it. I had a purpose for being here, after all, and I wanted the help of the forest and her spirits. My intent, I told the tree, was to both honor and elicit the Energy of the Spiritual Warrior, and to do so I came prepared to build an apachete (altar) and offer a ceremony. I had brought a few stones, some corn and copal, a spearhead and a feather. On the way to this cathedral spot, I gathered a few more pieces of nature that seemed appropriate. Finally I gathered a few things from the immediate area that seemed eager to participate.

And so slowly, methodically, intentionally, meticulously and open-heartedly, I began building the apachete. The tree was in the Southwest of the circle; in some traditions this is the pathway from the emotional to the physical aspects of life. I chose a spot in the sun – Ra, Sol, Phoebus… sun gods who bring life and light to the Earth and all who live here. The foundation stone was placed first, then the feather – a sort of prayer flag, icon, relic – at the front of the altar. The feather is turkey, symbolic of giving away freely and receiving graciously, which are traits of a warrior in service to something greater than his/her own desires.

Next, a column of stone was built toward the sun. A sculpture of balance, it could be thought of as a cairn – a symbol of direction and change of direction. To the South was placed the spearhead – a weapon of provision and protection – and to the north, a heart stone – an anti-weapon of compassion and understanding.

An assortment of stones were gathered as a community, as witness, as army, as village – as all who serve the warrior’s need and all who are served by the warrior’s valor. Then within this village were placed five smooth stones. David gathered five smooth stones from a river as his only arsenal against Goliath, and ultimately only needed one to slay the foe. Each of us has our symbolic five smooth stones within us – which one shall you choose to gain victory over whatever it is that would stop your aliveness from its fullest expression?

Anyway, finally the apachete was adorned with the beauty and softness of nature’s cashmere, ferns – essential to bring balance and grace to the sharp, firm edges of the warrior on alert. It was all made sacred with the blessings of corn (abundance) and copal (clarity and protection). Prayers were said. Songs were sung.

And to end the ceremony, the poison ivy, who takes no sides and makes no judgments, was honored as protector and defender of the sacred nature of the warrior’s soul, where intent and heartfulness dwell. It is intent and heart, after all, that differentiate the warrior, soldier and fighter. Each have their place, but this ceremony, this altar is to honor the warrior, the Spiritual Warrior who serves body, mind and spirit for the highest good of all life.

I left in peace and strength, vibrant from the power and love that radiated from this experience. It is good to show up for such things and to bring one’s self fully to what is being asked of him or her in the moment.

The Creativity Meditation Experience

“Less Stress, More Mojo”

Join Me for The Creativity Meditation Experience

If you are experiencing stress, doubt, confusion, overwhelm or are feeling generally weary, meditation and creative expression each have been shown to help overcome these distressing feelings.

In “Less Stress, More Mojo” we’re going to have fun with BOTH meditation and creativity! We all have the ability to do both (though some may not realize it), and I will show you some simple, easy-to-do-on-your-own exercises to help you get back on track and feeling good – whether for yourself, your relationships or to improve your on-the-job creative abilities. You’ll have the opportunity to:

• release your stress
• let go of worry
• amp up your ability to focus on what’s important to you
• make positive decisions
• get relaxed and centered whenever you need

Come join others for a wonderful evening of relaxation and inventive play – Tuesday November 5, 2013 at 8:00 PM EST. To register, click on this URL:

If you can’t make it at that time, the workshop will be recorded and available for 48 hours, but you MUST register for the workshop to have access to the recording. But please join us LIVE! That’s the best way to jump in and learn these easy techniques.
(Won’t be at your computer? You can also join this workshop from your iPhone®, iPad® or Android® device via the GoToWebinar app.)
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