Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Into the inner sanctum


Hidden underneath the rich and textured narrative, erupting under the colorful flow of feeling and emotion, there exists a fertile, vibrating, mysterious world of sensations, of intuition, of imagery: a somatically-organized field of intelligence, creativity, and aliveness.

As we enter the body with breath and awareness – descending under the historic interpretations, and guided by new levels of curiosity, kindness, and care – we enter into uncharted territory. Here things are turned a bit upside down. In this new land, we may come to even appreciate our neurosis, our heartbreak, our confusion, our disappointment, our “failure,” our doubt, and our fragility. No longer viewing these forms as evidence of our lack of awakening or that we have fallen short… but as unique portals and invitations into the very alive reality that things are never really going to turn out the way we thought. It's just too creative here. You are just too wild, too unique, too unprecedented, too whole.

As the trance of shame, blame, and unworthiness burns up in the warmth of cleansed perception, we find ourselves at the threshold of the known and unknown, a liminal space where we can no longer find a familiar place or reference point around which to organize. It is exhilarating here inside the opposites, but simultaneously terrifying to a mind longing for resolution, certainty, and control. In the bardo, inside the vessel, there is no real place to land, other than where you already are.

As we become aware of the ways that we distract ourselves from the open, center-less, alive nature of immediate experience, we can then make a choice to re-embody. We can return to the life of the senses, to our uncompromised commitment to self-kindness, to no longer apologizing for what we are, and to fully participating here in an unfolding miracle... setting aside the dream of postponement until a future moment.

In this place of heart-centered, compassion-infused embodiment, we can no longer pretend we’re not feeling what we’re actually feeling; whatever guest arrives in the home of the heart is allowed, surrounded in warmth, and taken directly into the inner sanctum. Inside this secret chamber, your neurosis, your fear, the deep need to be special, the frenetic scramble to be seen, to be “awake” – all this begins to become dismantled, dissolved, and taken apart by love.

While this disassembling is sure to involve both sweet and fierce grace, it is a movement of wholeness, and evidence of the full-spectrum nature of the path of the heart.


My new book – The Path Is Everywhere: Uncovering the Jewels Hidden Within You – is now available 

The next event, The Magic of Being Fully Human, to be held in Ojai, CA on October 14-15. 


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A sacred deflation


Of course it's natural to have a bias for the experience of "success" over "failure," however we define those terms. But let us be conscious of this bias and not fall into fragmentation. Whether in the outer world of accomplishments or in the inner world of collecting experiences, learning to fail consciously opens us to the full-spectrum. Inside the opposites of success and failure is a doorway, a parting of the veil, revealing an unknown reality of immense creativity.


We live in a world that has lost contact with the evolutionary potential of conscious dissolution, deflation, and the inevitable crucifixion we will each face as we journey along the way. These experiences are not mistakes or errors to be "manifested" away or to throw "secrets" at, for they are too holy for all that. The art of allowing things to fall apart and to honor the death aspect of the death-rebirth journey is one known by alchemists, tantrikas, and wandering poets, but is not all that popular in a culture obsessed with persona and happiness at all costs.

It is the nature of all form to dissolve, so that new forms may emerge. This is the essence of creativity and is non-negotiable, as the energy that keeps the stars from falling out of the sky. We can try to fight against this, argue with it, and spin off into repression, shame, and blame, turning from the fires of reorganization. But the consequence is a life of partiality, splitting off from wholeness, and a heart that longs endlessly for aliveness.

If we will not consciously carry the energies of failure, deflation, and disappointment, they remain in seed form in the shadow and will erupt, usually in very unskillful ways that lead to greater suffering for ourselves and others. We only need look at the current landscape and see. This is true not only for individuals, but for couples, groups, cultures, countries, and societies.

It is by way of our willingness to contain, hold, and integrate the entirety of what we are that we will know the magic of the sacred world. To fully participate in success, to fully participate in failure, and to know that ineffable third thing that we experience in their union. And out of this embodied knowing we very naturally surround the ghosts of our unlived lives with our presence, hold them and provide sanctuary for their conscious integration, dissolving the trance of partiality and revealing essence.

It is not easy to dance and play in these fields until our perception is cleansed, as the dream is thick and deeply embedded. Fortunately, this work requires only one moment, this one, and cannot be completed in the past or future. Only now. No matter what is happening in the inner and outer landscape, we can all begin right now. And now. And now. And even now.


My new book – The Path Is Everywhere: Uncovering the Jewels Hidden Within You – is now available 

The next event, The Magic of Being Fully Human, to be held in Ojai, CA on October 14-15. 



Sunday, October 8, 2017

Rupture and repair


It is no secret that, for many, intimate relationship is one of the great amplifiers of the unlived life. We can count on our partners to relentlessly illuminate everything that is longing for wholeness within us. Not because they have some agenda to do so, but simply by the nature of the crucible that forms when we allow another to truly matter to us.

We come to our relationships with an already-existing patterning that formed long ago, crafted of both personal and collective material. While this template can be updated and itself longs for reorganization into more integrated forms, until reconfiguration it has a way of looming over us and coloring our perception. It functions in large part by way of a time machine where, when activated, it is as if we have left the “here and now,” crossed the liminal, and found ourselves back in the “there and then.”

There are aspects of ourselves that are aching to come out of the shadows and into the warmth of holding awareness. Not to harm, but as forerunners and emissaries of wholeness. There is nothing like a close relationship to remind us of the orphaned emotions, feelings, and vulnerable parts of ourselves that have lost their way in the tangle of somatic and psychic pathways. They are exhausted from a long voyage to reach us, but have not given up.

The reminder of this truth by way of intimacy can at times be a bit agonizing, as the beloved may seem to have extraordinary powers to open the raw, tender, and naked dimensions of our being. But this achiness is sacred and its embodied exploration is holy. Inside the ache is a jewel. Go there.

Please be kind to your partners in response to the inevitable conflict that will arise as you make this journey together. Learning how to harness the energy of conflict – and to engage it directly, skillfully, and with an open heart – is essential on the path of intimacy, and requires the encoding of new circuitry.

The transformative art of rupture and repair is one that is endlessly profound, revealing that relationships of vast depth and meaning are *not* those which are free of conflict, but those where working through conflict is embraced as path, as a unique and transmutative vessel of purification, love, and healing.

This is a difficult and alchemical realization to come by, and one that is unfortunately not all that popular in a world that has forgotten the gold that has been buried in the dark. But here we are. It is up to us to bring these fruits into the collective.


My new book – The Path Is Everywhere: Uncovering the Jewels Hidden Within You – is now available 

The next event, The Magic of Being Fully Human, to be held in Ojai, CA on October 14-15. 




Friday, October 6, 2017

A friend of the breath


Beyond all the theories, approaches, interventions, and strategies, for me therapeutic companionship is a process of bearing witness to the life of another as they come to befriend themselves in a way that was not possible until now. To excavate meaning where there was none, to find purpose in the core of the purposelessness, to somehow bear that which has previously been unbearable.

Interestingly, if we look at the etymology of the word "psychotherapy," "psyche" in Greek referred to "soul" or "breath." Therapeuin derives from the idea of caring for, accompanying, or tending to. So engaging in psychotherapy, in this sense - an outrageous act ultimately open to anyone with a human heart - is to tend to the soul or even care for the breath, the life force, the essence. A friend of the soul. A friend of the breath.

This befriending is not ordinary or passive, not always flowing and peaceful. It is fierce, on fire, and an act of revolution. It is the light shining out of the core of the dark night, the outrageousness of the human spirit, and the basic goodness of the human heart. It is standing on the rooftop and declaring that pain is not pathology, grief is not pathology, despair is not pathology, confusion is not pathology, that heartbreak is not pathology. Rather, that they are path.

At times, each of us will be invited to walk into the dark wood with another, into the disorienting and hopeless places, without knowing where the journey will lead, if we will make it out in one piece, or where new life will be found. We will be asked to make sense together of where they have been, who they see themselves to be, and what they are longing to become. To illuminate what matters most to them and cradle it in our shared heart. To help them gather the pieces of the broken world.

To proclaim their experience as valid, that their feelings are intelligent, that their vulnerability is whole, and that they are worthy of our care and presence as they are. That even if their pain constellates that which is unresolved within us, that we will remain close, and not place the burden of our unlived lives upon them. That despite the pain of the present, the traumas of the past, and the fragmented dreams of the future we will dare to reclaim the aspects, parts, and pieces of the soul that have been turned from, now longing to return home. That we will participate in the sacred assembly that is gathering before our very eyes, an assembly of the shattered. And open to the creativity of the light as it appears at times in darkened, disguised forms.

We will assert together that pain is not evidence that they have "failed," that something is fundamnetally "wrong" with them, or that they must first be "cured" in order for us to stay near. Rather, we will affirm that their suffering is authentic, that their hopelessness is well-founded, that it is honorable, that it is integral to the unfolding of their unique journey. That they are not a project to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.

And then, from that foundation of companionship and bearing witness to the sacredness of what a human being truly is—including the profound grief, despair, and moments of great joy—we are able to turn together into the unknown and bow before its immensity. In awe at the mystery, together.

It is awesome, in the truest sense of the word, to bear witness in this way. To fall to the ground in the beholding of the divine in action, of the unstoppable wild bravery of the human spirit, and the relentlessness and creativity of love as it makes its way into form.

It is easy and very natural at times to deflate as we look around at the tragedy of what happens when we forget, when we lose touch with what matters most, and fall into trance. But in any moment, no matter what is disintegrating around us, we can remember, we can open again, be a friend of the breath, and pray for whatever wisdom and skillful means are available here to help others. We can start wherever we are, right now, in this moment. In this holy moment. Together, we can encode new circuitry into a world that has understandably grown a bit weary.


Photo credit: James Estrin/ New York Times


My new book – The Path Is Everywhere: Uncovering the Jewels Hidden Within You – is now available 

The next event, The Magic of Being Fully Human, to be held in Ojai, CA on October 14-15. 




Wednesday, October 4, 2017

"Ego" as a doorway to wholeness


Someone recently asked why I do not write about the "ego" and my understanding of that term. It’s not a word I use often as I have come to find it to be a pretty disembodied and experience-distant concept. Also, it is one of those words which usually carries with it an element of shame, often used as a way to attack our vulnerability and humanness. But mostly, I have looked long and hard and have never found such a thing in my immediate experience.

It might be helpful to see "ego" as a process or verb, rather than a noun, countering the idea that it is some reified entity that exists within us, surprisingly with a voice similar to early, misattuned attachment figures. The "ego" is often spoken about as some "thing" that takes us over – a nasty, ignorant little person inside who causes us to be really lame and unevolved. Above all else, it's super unspiritual, something we must work hard to "get rid of." If the ego is anything, it is likely those voices yelling at us to "get rid of it." But how do we get rid of something that isn’t actually there?

When we slow down and step outside the world of conceptual spirituality, attuning to our actual present experience, do we find an "ego" there? Or is the "ego" a disembodied concept that we learned one day? Please don't take my word for it. Turn inside and see.

One simple way of approaching "ego" is as any activity which leads us to turn from, abandon, deny, or practice aggression toward what is present in our immediate experience. If sadness, rage, a constricted throat, a heavy heart, an aroused nervous system, or cascade of critical, ruminative thoughts appear, ego would be that process whereby we move away from that experience rather than toward it, which would be a more embodied, yogic, or compassionate response.

This movement away, the essence of so much of our emotional suffering, takes place by denying what is there, on the one hand; or fusing with it as who we ultimately are on the other. Both strategies (corresponding to limbic fight-flight as well as anxious-avoidant attachment) inevitably trigger engagement with compensatory (addictive) behavior, designed to take us as quickly as possible out of our embodied vulnerability.

In other words, ego is a process of dissociation and splitting off, in the attempt to prevent overwhelming anxiety from spilling into conscious awareness. Or, in spiritual language, the attempt to protect us from just how open, unknown, and mysterious it really is here, where anything could happen at any time. We could lose our jobs, a loved one could die, a lover could leave us, our hearts could break, we could forget why we're here, and the meaning in our lives could dissolve in front of our very eyes.

If we want to know more about ego in an experiential way, we can start by getting really curious about those feelings we will do just about anything to avoid. We can make the commitment to notice when we are caught in habitual, addictive behavior, including complaining, blaming others (or ourselves), unconscious self-aggression, eating when not hungry, etc. - anything, really, to avoid feeling.

It can be icky to turn toward the panic, claustrophobia, restlessness, and sense that things are just not safe. But we do so in any case, slowly, not out of some masochistic compulsion, but out of curiosity, self-compassion, and a longing to love and care for ourselves in a new way.

What is it that I'm trying to avoid? What aspect of my vulnerability am I needing to bail out on? Would I, even for a second or two, be willing to shift the momentum and meet that which has been trying to reach me for so long? To invite that one home and see what he or she has to say? To end the cycle of abandonment.

In this way, we can use the surges of "ego" - whatever it is - as an invitation and reminder to infuse our experience with empathy, warmth, kindness, and breath. In this sense, ego is an invitation into presence, a special, wrathful sort of doorway into wholeness.

Love will do anything to reach us, even create concepts like "the ego," in the longing that we will use even those to return home. So I suppose in this way we can salvage the use of the term "ego," at least for today.


Image of Pangong Tso, near Ladakh, where I found myself wandering one summer


My new book – The Path Is Everywhere: Uncovering the Jewels Hidden Within You – is now available 

The next event, The Magic of Being Fully Human, to be held in Ojai, CA on October 14-15. 



Sunday, October 1, 2017

Weekend gathering in California with Matt Licata and Jeff Foster


Join me and Jeff Foster in Ojai October 14-15 for a weekend of meditation, rest, opening, and love. Happy to be returning to California! 

Learn more here.

I believe each day is around 80% sold out, but there are some tickets left for both Saturday and Sunday.

This will be our only gathering together (and my only public event) until next April. Looking forward to seeing everyone in beautiful Ojai.




My new book – The Path Is Everywhere: Uncovering the Jewels Hidden Within You – is now available 

The next event, The Magic of Being Fully Human, to be held in Ojai, CA on October 14-15. 



A humble lover of the mystery


The contradictory feelings of hope and hopelessness, joy and flatness, anxiety and rest. The shakiness and uncertainty in your belly. The tightness in your throat. The raw breaking inside your heart. The joy that at times is there, but never can seem to be sustained.

All the techniques, the teachings, the things to manifest, the new beliefs to take on, the worn-out ideas about the true source of peace, aliveness, and flowing abundance. Perhaps there were once answers to these questions, but now there is no answer to be found. Only a burning where the questions once existed.

As we bear witness to a new day, in awe at the gift that has been given… the breath is here. The heart is quivering. Sounds are coming. The sun has come up again. The moon is hiding nearby waiting her turn. For just one moment, the veil parts and the perfection is there awaiting our participation.

Your life is not an unending self-improvement project and your heart is not a venture to be undertaken, mastered, and completed. Perhaps today was never going to be the day when you figured it all out, got all your questions answered, or resolved the contradictions. It's just too wild for all that. Just too creative. Just too alive.

Today may not be the day for answers, but to let your heart break open to the vastness of the question. To fall to the ground as a humble lover of the mystery. And listen once again.



My new book – The Path Is Everywhere: Uncovering the Jewels Hidden Within You – is now available 

The next event, The Magic of Being Fully Human, to be held in Ojai, CA on October 14-15. 



Friday, September 29, 2017

A compassionate confrontation


For each of us, there are aspects of ourselves that for a variety of reasons we do not want to be in conscious relationship with. Whether that be the truth of our selfishness, unacknowledged narcissism, unconscious judgmentalness, compromised integrity, painful longing to be seen, or very disturbing feelings of unworthiness.

While we may project a very different image to others and to the world, these undigested energies and qualities long for reunion, yearn to emerge out ofthe shadowy nether regions of psyche and into conscious awareness. Especially as spiritually-oriented people, it's very difficult to come to terms with our narcissism and self-absorption. It's just much easier and safer to pretend that these qualities exist "out there" in others and in the collective.

It is a tremendous act of love to compassionately confront these opposites within us, and the paradoxical nature of being an open, sensitive, vulnerable human being. Not just an act of self-love, but a full-spectrum love for others and for the world… for when we take responsibility for and re-own this material, we bring an end to the violence.
Just because we are not in conscious relationship with the darkness does not mean it is not there. It remains seething under the surface, sure to erupt in less-than-conscious ways when we least expect it, often in our close relationships, and in ways that will result in suffering for ourselves and others. The nature of this material is to express itself, not as an enemy come to harm, but as an ally of wholeness and integration.
It is to the degree that we are not tending to this material that we will inevitably project it onto the "other," whether that "other" be another person, the natural world, or sent into the collective in seed form. In this sense, withdrawing our projections and re-owning the darkness is the activity of extraordinary light, and one way we can love the world and help the precious beings that are here.


Art from Jung's Red Book

My new book – The Path Is Everywhere: Uncovering the Jewels Hidden Within You – is now available 

The next event, The Magic of Being Fully Human, to be held in Ojai, CA on October 14-15. 


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A luminous middle place


Let us not forget the descendent current, flowing into the unlit places, the lower worlds, and the dark caverns of the psyche. The invitation here is one of embodiment – into the vulnerability, the chaos, and the deflation that the path of the heart will inevitably present us with for holding.

There is a cultural fantasy that we are supposed to know what do do with our lives, that things are supposed to be clear at all times. But love is full-spectrum and will use the energies of not-knowing, disappointment, and uncertainty as part of its revelation here. The process of dissolution is non-negotiable, and this is good news. For it is by way of this sacred washing of the known that new forms can find their way here.

Even in the darkness, the numbness, and in the appearance that nothing is happening, there is birth, but the new can never fully come into being without an honoring of re-organization and death. The challenge is that there is no map for this territory as it is too alive, too creative, and too wild to be pinned down, controlled, and known ahead of time. While this degree of openness may be disorienting to a mind seeking resolution, it is exhilarating in the heart, in the body, and deep within the soul.

It is natural and easy to disconnect from this current, as we overly identify with the ascending, the upward, the light, and the transcendent. In the rush to exit immediate experience – for something that is higher, purer, less messy, and less contradictory – we turn from the waters of life and lose touch with essence.

While it is natural to have a bias for one current over another, let us not do so at the expense of fragmentation. In ways the mind may never fully understand, there is a luminous middle place where the currents intertwine. It is buried in a secret chamber inside your own heart. Enter there. Rest there. Play there. Dance there.


My new book – The Path Is Everywhere: Uncovering the Jewels Hidden Within You – is now available 

The next event, The Magic of Being Fully Human, to be held in Ojai, CA on October 14-15. 



Monday, September 25, 2017

A story of courage, healing, and transformation, part 3 of 3


A Love That Assembled the Stars – part 3 of 3, the outrageous intelligence of the human heart ...
After some time, she asked if we could continue for a little while longer. Something was bubbling up and she didn’t want to lose the thread. She was discovering that in her family she had so rarely experienced being loved or appreciated as she was. In order to receive love, affection, and attention, she first had to adopt a secondary, compensatory identity structure. Without this substitute identity, she felt ignored, unseen, and abandoned, convinced that she was unworthy in her nature. Unless she could figure out who others wanted and needed her to be—and quickly shift and adjust her outward expression—she concluded that she was without value and uninteresting, and deserved to be discarded.
As a result, like many of us as young children, she learned very quickly which feelings, emotions, and behaviors, even which body language and manner of speaking, were most likely to result in the receipt of affection, attention, and the emotional holding that she so longed for. On the contrary, she also learned which of these same manifestations would result in responses of neglect, mis- or malattunement, and even abuse. Her ability to sort and spin and shape-shift was both intelligent and creative, but it came with a price tag: splitting off from half of what she was, leading to chronic anxiety, feelings of flatness and depression, and a deeply embedded conviction that there was something wrong with her.

In a way that didn’t blame her parents—while at the same time allowing and integrating the profound rage and grief that surfaced in reaction to aspects of their behavior—she saw the ways in which she was an object in her parents’ reality and rarely held as a subject in her own right, with her own feelings and ways of organizing her experience. She and I shared that it was important to not hold these memories as some exact, objective recovering of the past but more about the way she had come to make meaning of her early life. Whether the memories and associated details were objectively “true” wasn’t what was most important; rather, what was germane was the way she had come to organize what happened to her, and even more importantly, how she was continuing to live out this organization in the present.

This is hard for any of us to do, as it requires that we step beyond the role of victim and take responsibility for ourselves, as adults in the here and now. Of course we were influenced by the past, but now the invitation is to stand courageously in the reality that we are no longer young, powerless children in a misattuned holding space. We have capacities we once did not have, and we are being called into new levels of organization and perception.

We consciously long to move forward, to step out of the tangles and limiting perceptions of our early lives, but we may also have an unconscious investment in holding on, in a strange way, to the familiar and the identities we have spent so much energy maintaining. Paradoxically, they still serve a function and protect us from our vulnerability, our sensitivity, and the painful feelings of unworthiness and abandonment that have been buried in the body and the psyche. Holding the tension of these opposites—of genuinely wanting to heal and not wanting to confront what we know that healing would require—is a critical art to learn on the path of wholeness, and an important alchemical milestone along the way.

In the course of her inquiry, she shared memories of how hard she tried to be seen as special, as unique, as worthy of being loved just as she was, all centered around her profound yearning to receive the empathy, mirroring, and attunement that she did not believe was available unless she became someone else. And how she had transferred this very same relational template onto her adult life and relationships with lovers, friends, family, coworkers, and spiritual teachers. And in the spirit of classical transference, how she related to me from this template and how this organization colored our relationship. She and I spoke about this always being a two-way street with the therapeutic couple, as my own unconscious organizing principles and complexes interacted dynamically with hers, forming my own countertransference contribution to the intersubjective field and crucible that existed between us. We had talked about this before, but where we both were now—vulnerable, shaky, a little fragile, but so alive—it took on new, embodied meaning.

As we explored this template together—and the ways it was impacting her current relationships, including our own—in a really embodied way, she met this deep wound of unlove in the center of her chest and felt it expand out into her throat and into her belly. She touched it in a full-spectrum way, sending her awareness and holding into its cognitive, affective, physiological, and behavioral manifestations. This was not easy for her and we had to stop and start as periodically she would begin to travel outside her window of tolerance into overwhelm. But slowly, over some time, she was able to tolerate, then contain, and then in the most miraculous way practice kindness toward this old material. It was personal, yes, but also had transpersonal and collective implications, describing how she (and all humans, and perhaps other sentient beings) had come to organize her life around avoiding or remedying this wound of unlove, including her relationship with her spiritual life and community.

She went on to share with me that it strongly felt as if she had lost a part of herself, a piece of her soul, to this trauma of unworthiness, that it had been taken from her by some sort of being who represented the qualities of shame, wretchedness, and unlove. At times, she took this image literally, describing to me these archetypal beings of unlove and what they looked and felt like, which I associated with the wrathful herukas of Tibetan tradition, such as Vajrakilaya or Yamantaka.

At other times she related to it metaphorically as a bundle of thoughts, feelings, and emotions that had become tangled within her. But what was most fascinating to her in the course of this part of her inquiry was that she clearly saw how an important part of her intention to be an “awakened” person and to become “enlightened” was avoidant in nature, organized around defending against this primal wound of unlove. Of course, this avoidance didn’t account for the entirety of her spiritual aspiration but it was a part that she had never recognized, and from her perspective it was significant and worthy of further exploration.

In some ways, it explained so much and made so much intuitive sense to her; this realization really unlocked something in her psyche and deep within her body. It was exhilarating for her to see, while simultaneously raw and painful. It was as if she was completely naked before the universe, with no idea what was to come next. Who would she be without this compensatory identity as the unlovable one? How would this change her intimate relationships, her work in the world, her friendships, and her relationship with the spiritual journey?

Rather than attacking her defensive organization as “unspiritual,” neurotic, or evidence of some sort of “personality disorder”—being careful not to reenact the misattunement she had felt so often growing up—she and I worked together to reframe the realization and open to being grateful for the protection and feeling of safety that her avoidant strategies provided, while at the same time acknowledging that she was ready to take the next step: organizing her experience in a new way. Yes, she would have to come face to face with all the unmet emotions and aspects of herself, those hidden core vulnerabilities and feelings of unlove that her protective strategies had more or less successfully defended her against. But she knew that this was where she was being called. And while it was unlikely that she would be “perfect” at it or would be able to feel safe all the time or in a consistent state of flow and joy as she did this work, this was her journey. She believed that this was why she had come here, to do this work, not just for herself but for all beings everywhere. I was in awe of her courage, dedication, vigilance, and her relentless love of the truth.

As she re-embodied those feelings, sensations, and soul parts that she had lost touch with over the years, and allowed them to penetrate the deepest levels of her body, psyche, and heart, I could feel the opening and expansion in and around her. Just being with her allowed me to touch many of these same places in myself, and I was grateful. As she led me through the open door, we touched the preciousness of this life together, the sweetness, the chaos, the heartbreak, and the glory. We had traveled into the darkness and the light and the pain and the bliss, where stars and galaxies were born and died. We were left in awe of the unbearable magnificence of this human body, these senses, the fragility and sensitivity of this brain, heart, and nervous system, and with a raging gratitude beyond words for the mystery that is this journey, for the love that assembled this universe, star by star, cell by cell.

My new book – The Path Is Everywhere: Uncovering the Jewels Hidden Within You – is now available 

The next event, The Magic of Being Fully Human, to be held in Ojai, CA on October 14-15. 






Sunday, September 24, 2017

A story of courage, healing, and transformation, part 2 of 3


A Love That Assembled the Stars – part 2 of 3 (continued from yesterday) - deeper into the crucible...

In that moment of rage, she hated God, she hated me, she hated herself, and she was in total revolution against a reality that refused to see her, left her alone to sort it all out and somehow make sense of a world that didn’t care, one that deemed her deserving of rejection and profound neglect.

No matter where she looked, she could not locate any “good other” to rest in who would provide confirmation and containment, no one to idealize and look up to for presence and wise guidance, and no one to mirror her experience back to her. And why was she not able to find this good other? Was it because her parents were simply too consumed in their own struggle and suffering, and were limited human beings doing their best with the training and resources they had? No. Not even close. 

There was only one explanation that made any sense to a young developing brain and nervous system: she was unworthy of such contact and that level of care. She was wretched at her core, fundamentally flawed and broken. Something was wrong with her and that is why no one was there to witness or be curious about her unfolding subjective experience. It was really that simple.

As the organization of a young girl presented itself in the field between us, she had enough awareness to know that she had stepped into the time machine of the “there and then,” which had replaced the immediacy of the here and now. She “knew” on some level that her parents had offered all they could, that they were not trained in this work; they did not attend mindfulness retreats or yoga classes. They did not have the luxury of a therapist who cared deeply about them and did not have access to writings and teachings by elders on the path who had made the journey before. 

Just as she acted in unskillful, unwise, and non-compassionate ways—as the result of her own pain, suffering, and struggle—so had her parents. At this very human level, they really weren’t all that different. Just stepping into this reality for a moment sent waves of freedom, forgiveness, and clarity throughout her being, and washed into me as we continued to hold her experience within the healing crucible of the relational field.

This realization in no way excused her parents from the neglect she encountered, but it placed it in a larger context, allowing her to begin to transform the unconscious organizing principles that had colored her perception as someone utterly unworthy of empathic attunement. She could begin to reauthor the narrative of what happened and make new meaning of it, weaving a more integrated and nuanced story of her early life and its relationship to her journey as an adult. The limitation of her parents’ awareness, empathy, and compassion that were the root cause of the misattunement, and not her own wretched, flawed nature that was the culprit. Just allowing this in sent shock waves throughout her body.

This moment of discovery was in no way calm, peaceful, or free of the eruption of very powerful and disturbing feeling states, as together we touched, contained, and held the rage, panic, and fear of a little one on the brink of decompensation. She had enough awareness and self-kindness to allow me to help her titrate the intensity so she didn’t fall into a completely dissociated freeze state, which we both sensed was a real possibility if we were not skillful. She had gone there before and remained committed to staying awake. 

We did everything we could to keep her within her window of tolerance while still pushing her some, not knowing for sure where the boundaries of overwhelm might lie. Despite the intensity, there was a sense that everything was okay, that even in the face of dysregulation and periodic erupting emotional disturbance, the process had its own intelligence, it could somehow be trusted, and it was being guided from a deeper place of wisdom than ordinary consciousness.

As the fire passed after a few minutes, she came to a deep realization and was able to develop some perspective regarding her lifelong quest to be seen and beheld as a person worthy of love; she saw that she was special and unique, unbroken, and whole as she was. She even saw how this pursuit had played out in her spiritual life and how it filtered down through everything, including her most intimate relationships, and formed a template for how she related to her close friends and family. She saw how it even impacted her relationship with her own body, which had been something she had struggled with since her teenage years.

I was quiet and empty; we were both really raw. We breathed deeply. It was as if we had taken a journey out to the farthest star and returned, only to be shot back out again. In some sense, nothing had changed, but everything was different. We had started with the intention to provide sanctuary for the entirety of what she was, for those parts, aspects, feelings, and limiting beliefs to finally be provided safe passage in a warm holding environment where they could be illuminated at the deepest levels. 

We wanted more than anything to stay close and in communion with her unfolding subjective experience in all its messy glory. We met so many perceptions, core self-narratives, emotions, and vulnerabilities along the way as they arose and passed, each an important messenger of held trauma from her past.

Through all of this, she came to know at the deepest, cellular, quantum level of her being that she would not die if she allowed this material in, that if she dared to be who and what she was and stayed true to what she knew was most true, she could trust unconditionally in the validity and intelligence of her unfolding subjective experience. And that even if the panic, the fear, and the dysregulating anxiety, shame, and rage threatened to take her down, it could never truly destroy who she was in an ultimate sense. 

She had faith that she could return to that true nature that had never been in need of healing, that had never been broken, and that was never untransformed—if and as such inquiry was in service to her, and not in a way that denied or bypassed the very alive emotional and somatic wounding or the developmental effects of chronic and consistent empathic failure and misattunement.

She realized in a deeply embodied way that she had capacities as an adult in the here-and-now that were simply not available to her as a young girl in the there-and-then. She saw that beneath the compensatory and deeply embedded stories and narratives that held it all together was the direct experience of the darkness of not being loved: the black hole in the center of the heart that we have all spent so much of our sacred life energy turning from at all costs and covering over with our defenses, addictions, numbing, and avoidant strategies of all kinds. 

While it was intense and disturbing and even shocking, she came to see, finally, that this material was not an enemy coming at her from the outside. It was her, all of the lost pieces and aspects of herself that had become split off at an earlier time, now longing to be integrated and allowed back into the inner family.

She further discovered that not only could she tolerate the intensity, but she could practice honoring it: moving toward the fear, the sorrow, the grief, and the rage, not because she “liked” it or it felt good, but because it held a tremendous truth that had the potential to untangle her body and her heart like no other. While at times it seemed as if she could not stay, that she would be taken down and overwhelmed, she knew she could practice and return over and over again for short periods of time. She did not have to go in all at once, urgently scrambling to understand or shift something.

This holding was the work of a lifetime, ever deepening and more subtle, and there was no urgency to transform the feelings, to replace them with some other more “spiritual” experiences, or on the deepest levels even to “heal” herself. She saw that the mere presence of previously unmet rage, sorrow, shame, and grief was not evidence that something was wrong with her, that she had failed, or that she was “unhealed.” Rather, the direct, heart-guided confrontation with this material was evidence that she was alive and whole, and that who she was at the deepest levels would always be seeking this wholeness in greater depth, including its integrated, embodied expression in her outward life.

She trusted that she could find the right balance, with my help and that of other attuned friends, between staying in the alchemical fire of metabolization for contained periods of time and coming back out to rest. She could alternate, pushing herself to the edge where growth takes place but without any agenda that she storm her body and psyche in the name of “healing.” She could engage in this work in a way that challenged her; it was provocative and growth inducing but not in a way that pushed her outside her window of tolerance and into dysregulating, sympathetic arousal on the one hand or parasympathetic freeze and dissociation on the other. There was another option, a sacred middle territory that is unique for each of us. She had touched it and knew she could return to it at any time, no matter how intense the inferno that was burning within her.

Once she had soothed the fire some with the cooling waters of her own presence, attunement, and loving self-compassion, she was able to return and inquire into the overall situation from a more centered place, exploring the organizing narratives that had formed the lenses through which she had been perceiving herself, others, and the world. Because she had worked through the highly charged emotions and feelings first, she was able to come back to the narrative in a slower, more grounded, and less urgent way. 

By first calming her sensitive nervous system—which had been spinning in fight-flight for relief and to ensure its own survival—she could then rely on and orient from the spaciousness of other, wiser, more integrated capacities as she inquired into the limiting beliefs, templates, and working models that had been shaping her perception.

As her exploration deepened, alternating between clarifying and updating the narrative on the one hand and periodically going back into the feelings and sensations on the other, she very organically circled back to her relationship with her spiritual life, which was where this had all started. She wanted to clarify how she was relating to her beliefs and practices and how they fit into the entirety of her life. Even the language she used was deeply influenced by her relationship with her spiritual path. It had become such an important part of her identity, how she spent her time and energy, who she spent that time with, and the way she had been making meaning and finding purpose in her life. She felt a lot of gratitude for her community, her teachers, and the ways the journey had facilitated new levels of awareness and had helped her open her heart.

Along with this, she also started to see that her beliefs and practices were serving a defensive function, working alongside her earliest protective strategies in helping her avoid certain parts of herself. She wasn’t blaming the teachings or the traditions or even the teachers for this, but saw that there were certain aspects of her journey that were not most skillfully addressed—were sometimes even devalued—by her spiritual practices. Her body, emotions, intimate relationships, meaning and life purpose, her uniqueness as a separate being.

Especially in the area of emotions, she discovered that in her relationship with spirituality she had learned to diminish—and thus dissociate from—powerful feelings such as anger, fear, jealousy, and heartbreak. In some way she had come to believe that these were “unspiritual” and obstacles on the path that must be meditated or prayed away and converted as quickly as possible to more “awakened” emotions and feelings. She wasn’t overtly asked to distance herself from these feelings (well, maybe anger, which is the king of all “unspiritual” feelings in many traditions), but in subtle ways the emotional and somatic landscape was not all that honored, nor were the body or relationships or even her unique life purpose. Somehow the feminine principle had been neglected, abandoned, even abused in a more masculine rush to transcendence. 

She longed at an intuitive level to integrate more yin energy into her practice, as it had become overly yang in its movement away from her sensitivity and vulnerability, in the quest to transcend the messiness of the human condition. She sensed that an integration was possible and that her spiritual life had to include the entirety of what she was. This was an important contemplation for her. She sensed there was something here and she wanted to get to the core of it.

She let all of this sink in and we took a short break from where she had been and from the intensity of her inquiry. We rested together, reconnected with the natural world and our senses, and just took some time to come back together to the here and now, providing some respite from how far she had traveled.

Final part continued tomorrow…




My new book – The Path Is Everywhere: Uncovering the Jewels Hidden Within You – is now available 

The next event, The Magic of Being Fully Human, to be held in Ojai, CA on October 14-15. 




Saturday, September 23, 2017

A story of courage, healing, and transformation, part 1 of 3


Over the next few days, I'll be sharing the story of an afternoon I spend with a woman who was struggling with overwhelming feelings of unworthiness, hopelessness, and despair. She had dedicated the last decade to spiritual practice and community and had come to a real turning point in her life. 

While details have been changed to protect the identity of this courageous person, I have been asked by several readers of my book, The Path Is Everywhere, to share this story which was originally published in the book's Appendix ("The Love That Assembled the Stars").

Before printing the story in The Path - and again before sharing it here - I received permission (and the blessing) to do so, from the woman who is the subject of the encounter. I hope you find her journey inspiring, interesting, and helpful.

A Love That Assembled the Stars, part 1 of 3

I spoke recently with a friend who shared with me how her spiritual life had given her so much: the many ways it had helped her open her heart and experience a depth that she had been longing for since she was a young girl. She had also become aware of how her engagement with spirituality, in subtle ways, enabled her to avoid aspects of her emotional life and unmet pain from the past and kept her split off from feelings she did not want to feel.

While her practices at times brought her closer to herself, which she was deeply grateful for, she saw that at other times she was actually using them to escape from herself and abandon some of her most vulnerable experience. She was in such a raw place with it all: such appreciation on the one hand while also knowing that she needed to look anew at everything, be willing to start over fresh with beginner’s mind and the amateur’s heart, as she was being called deeper. I just listened … and felt honored to be able to bear witness to such intelligence, such unfolding wisdom, such genuine passion for the truth, such darkness, such raging light.

As she continued her inquiry in the relational field unfolding around us as we sat together, she noticed some grief that she had touched at an earlier point in her life but, for whatever reason, had not been able to stay with at the time, and as a result had covered it over along the way. As the grief (and accompanying shame and sadness) poured out, it was like a firestorm of energetic possibility, all of this unmetabolized material in her psyche and in her heart, unleashed in an eruption of reorganization.

She wasn’t sure she could do this; she would dive in for a couple of minutes and then retreat, only to head back in once she felt it was safe enough to return into the fire. I told her I knew she could go deeper, that I trusted the intelligence of her process, and assured her we would stay close regardless of what appeared, with no shame, no blame, and no pathologizing what emerged into the holding environment we had found ourselves in together.

We made the commitment to go wherever she was guided, into the utter darkness and emptiness if that was what was required, into the black hole inside her that she was beginning to touch, as well as into the light that was attempting to break through. We would dare together to hold all of her symptoms and experiences as pure information and guidance, honoring them as the attempt by her psyche and her heart to reach her and reveal wholeness. While she had quite a bit of doubt and fear about how much she could actually hold, I felt confident that she could tolerate and contain a lot more. She trusted that I would push her in a way that was provocative and on the edge, but not so far that she tipped into overwhelm or fell too far outside her established window of tolerance. I explained that, in my experience, confronting anxiety, groundlessness, and uncertainty could be supportive as long as we stayed close and attuned in real time to what was unfolding. She remained unsure and shaky, acknowledging that some fear was present. But somehow she kept going.

As she allowed her experience to unfold and remain for short periods of time inside the core of the intensity, things slowed way down in a way neither of us fully understood and she touched something she had not quite known before. Something new was emerging from deep within her body and her unconscious apart from what had historically revealed itself. In this place, she discovered a cosmic sort of permission in which she could allow herself to go into the unknowing, despite the fear, and allow herself to fall apart a little, removing the pressure to hold it all together and maintain any image or idea of herself. This felt somewhat risky, but despite the trepidation she was curious and almost excited. For the first time, she was able and willing to see clearly the ways that she did not feel seen and loved at the most primordial level. She had thought she had been to the depths of this wounding and was surprised to find even more. And even more.

And so it goes on the path of love … always more. We realized together that there is no ending to the depth of the heart. No final landing place in which all of its wisdom has been given. Always another layer, another revelation.

She sensed that it was possible for her to meet and directly experience these long lost soul-parts of grief, hurt, unlovability, and abandonment—and that until she worked through this material in a deeply somatic way, the realizations she had experienced would always remain on the surface, never able to fully penetrate her most deeply embedded conditioning and somatic armoring. As part of her inquiry, she also had a deeply embodied intuition that she could never truly love another until she offered a home and sanctuary where the perceptions, emotions, and bodily sensations could become conscious and be illuminated in her loving awareness. She saw so clearly how this yet-to-be-metabolized material was not and had never been “obstacles” to her healing and awakening but each a certain type of ally on the path. As she continued to share all of this with me, I couldn’t help feeling such awe and love for her, for her (our) journey, and for the immensity and implications of what it truly means to be a human being.

As she continued to open—not all at once, but in many short bursts, followed by periods of quiet and rest—she discovered that she could meet this ancient sorrow directly rather than orbiting it by focusing solely on her thoughts about it. And that it took a lot of awareness and concentration to make this discernment in her immediate experience. What appeared as “moving closer” was often not that, but more of a conceptual approach to her experience that was still serving to keep her out of the fire and at a distance.

As we went deeper into this, she discerned that she could practice intimacy with her feelings while not falling inside them, not tumbling down the rabbit hole, and not becoming fused or identified with them as who she was in an ultimate sense. Intimacy, without fusing—that was the alchemy she was exploring. She was experimenting with sending awareness and warmth into what was happening in her body at the level of felt sense and raw sensation, and how these affective and somatic experiences colored her perception by way of a subtle narrative that grew around them.

Additionally, she had deep insight into how these various levels of experience (perception/emotion/sensation) intertwined and interpenetrated one another. Without our conscious awareness, they tend to fall into a looping pattern, playing off one another, on automatic pilot with a seeming life of their own. But as she slowed down and made experiential contact with each level of the spectrum, something else revealed itself. What this was we could not name, necessarily, but it seemed to catalyze a wave of freedom, as well as compassion for the tender complexity of the human experience. More than anything, more than needing to pin it down into some conceptual framework, at least for this moment, we wanted to touch the mystery of what she was in its entirety. A partial communion was just not going to do. Not for her!

In some ways, what she was encountering was so very personal, but in other ways she was touching the sorrow that dwells in the collective, that all sentient beings have met at some point. In this way, inner work is never for the individual alone and is intergenerational and transpersonal in its implications, reaching back into the past and forward into the future to untangle the knots of the cosmic heart and reveal greater meaning and purpose.

As she continued her exploration in an embodied way, descending beneath the density of the narrative about why the sorrow was there, who caused it, how it originated, and the urgency around transforming it, she began to cry, shake, and tremble. Her breath became shallow and she was struggling to hold it all together. Something was reorganizing and she wasn’t sure she would make it through to the other side. Even though she was feeling anxious and fearful, I reminded her to breathe deeply and ground her awareness into the earth, and that together we could go a bit further. At times she pulled back and we rested together, feeling our feet on the ground, looking up at the sky, listening to the birds nearby. When she approached that place of near overwhelm and shutdown, we would stop the active part of the work, sink into the sensual world together, look at one another, and reaffirm that everything was actually okay—and then she would return into the fire.

Memories streamed in of when she was a little girl, gazing out the window while her mother and father drove away, leaving her alone and helpless at a young age. “You’ll be fine,” Mom admonished; “Stop being such a baby,” said Dad. She remembered wondering what she had done wrong to cause them to abandon her, to reject her, and to need to spend private time without her. She saw images of herself crying in her bedroom, totally alone, longing to be touched, to be seen, to be held, and to be validated as a unique, living, breathing being. It was the most profound feeling of existential aloneness and despair.

After staying with her deep sadness and grief, we were both a little shocked as these feelings yielded to a wild, untamed sort of rage at consistently being discarded and unseen. In an instant she went from sorrowful and sweet and transformed into Kali, goddess of the dark. There must be something she was doing wrong that triggered her sense of core rejection but she couldn’t quite pin it down. The only truth she could access was that no one was listening. No one wanted to listen because she was so wretched and unlovable as she was. The rage intensified in the wake of this perception.

“Where the fuck was everyone?” she yelled. “And by the way, where the fuck are they now?” She thrashed around and screamed at the top of her lungs, all the while eyeing me carefully to see if I would reject her, invalidating her rage, shame, blame, and turn from her, which had been the pattern in her family during times of emotional intensity. As I discussed earlier in the book, in our families or origin there were certain feelings and ways of expression that were allowed and others that were strictly forbidden. In some families, for example, anger was okay, but not sadness; in others, the expression of dependency led to anxiety and disruption, while showing independence was honored and rewarded. We learned (often the hard way) that certain emotions, styles of vulnerability, and personality structures were safe and led to increased affection and attunement while others were disastrous, triggering withdrawal and profound anxiety in those around us, leading to aggression, rejection, and neglect of all kinds.

In this particular case, she was never allowed to be angry or sad, or to create any sense of disturbance. Dad was too busy with work and Mom was an alcoholic and depressed. Any emotional expression was treated as an attack on the family, and asserting any sort of need was interpreted as an utter lack of gratitude for everything they’d given her. She learned that retreating to her bedroom and burying her feelings was her only chance to stay safe in an environment that was simply not able to contain the intensity of a fragile little girl. The sensitivities get buried, the vulnerability squashed, the emotional intelligence thwarted. It’s not difficult to see the untoward consequences of such dismissal in our lives and in our world today.

Fortunately, she felt safe enough, held enough, and heard enough to continue, though I wasn’t sure where we were headed. This is always a very delicate time in relational work, when the unknown is clearly in charge, something is breaking through, and there is no clear road map to follow. Psyche is clearly in the lead. During these times, which are liminal in nature and feel as if we are in between birth and death, the intensity can become too much and the temptation is to quickly return to safe ground, a natural response to prevent disintegration and re-traumatization. To fill the space with some meaningless conversation, to cover over the embarrassment, rage, fear, and despair, anything to counteract the open nakedness of the groundless ground.

While there is some intelligence guiding the process of when to pull back and turn from the intensity, at the same time dousing the fire too soon can interfere with the unfolding of some very high-voltage guidance and information, where who we are at the deepest levels is trying to break through an old internal working model of partiality and reorganize in a way that is more integrated and a more transparent reflection of our wisdom nature.

Again, it is uncertain, complex, and contradictory territory, and it doesn’t easily yield to conceptual analysis and the timelines we have laid upon the healing journey. Unless we’re careful and in very close touch with what is appearing for integration, we can unconsciously remove ourselves from the cauldron, defending against and splitting off from the jewels that are attempting to emerge from the darkness. It is so easy and natural to slip into distractions of all kinds at this point and it is helpful to remind one another of this tendency and renew our commitment to stay in the fire, if we can.

Continued tomorrow …


My new book – The Path Is Everywhere: Uncovering the Jewels Hidden Within You – is now available 

The next event, The Magic of Being Fully Human, to be held in Ojai, CA on October 14-15.