Being empathic is not a gift or a handicap – unless you need it to be

edited 6/18/17 – Before you read on….

Just today I was finally listening to a podcast from NPR’s Invisibilia, that had been sitting in my queue for a few weeks:

And before reading on, I strongly encourage you to listen to it. It has everything to do with what I write below. It has everything to do with empowerment and not being a victim of your emotions or thoughts. You don’t have to believe me or trust my experiences of relieving myself of anxiety, depression, and overwhelming empathic experiences. You can look to the science.


And now, on to our regularly scheduled post.

How we choose to define an empath

There is a lot of information out there defining empaths according to the burdens they bear. Google “empath” or “being an empath” or “signs you’re an empath” and there are a lot of articles providing people with identifiers to cling to that simultaneously offer very little in the way of discussing how to become a healthy empathic person. If we’re willing to be honest with ourselves, the bad (or incomplete?) information which we keep regurgitating and sharing on social media goes unchallenged because people desire to feel special – we want to feel set apart from genpop. And these articles most certainly do that. Often speaking to the specialness of empathic people as a unique and rare class of human beings, who have special requirements, while simultaneously bemoaning the weight empaths carry. Here are some examples of problematic statements, which can be found in the mass of articles throughout the web. Sometimes the problem rests in the fact that the statement is delivered as fact without proof or careful inquiry. Sometimes the problem is that the statement makes victims out of sensitive people, providing no follow-up for freedom. Most of the time, the problem with these statements is both an issue of victimization as well as unsubstantiated “facts.”

– An empath is “unconsciously influenced” by other people’s thoughts, emotions, and/or physical sensations

Why unconscious? Does it have to be unconscious? But more importantly, where is the follow-up article that talks about how important it is for an empath to wake up to their own experiences and do some self-inquiry? To practice discernment? Where is the article that talks about “and then what“?

– An empath is able to read people’s intentions and motivations and can tell when someone is being dishonest (usually followed by, “And we can’t stand being lied to.”)

Is it true that people who identify as empathic never have to be concerned about projection, assumption, or “bad reads”? This human-lie-detector thing is also problematic because most people can tell when they are being lied to. People who are willing to be honest with themselves can tell when they are being lied to. This isn’t a special skill doled out to a select few: this is part of being a human being when the human being is self-aware and does honest self-inquiry. Which, according to the first statement, doesn’t seem to be the case for most empaths who are unconscious of their experiences. And oh yeah – no one enjoys being lied to – again – not just empaths.

– Being an empath is not a learned trait – you either are or you aren’t. 

And the proof of this is where? From where does empathy arise within the subtle anatomy? Or the body? Or the mind? Are we suggesting that only a segment of the human race is capable of deep connection and access to the collective consciousness? How collective is the collective consciousness if only a few people have access to it? I call BS. Help us all if empathy – a vibrational stepping stone toward compassion – is a rarified gift doled out only to certain people. And help us if we think that empathy is the ultimate goal.

– Empaths pick up and carry the weight of the world’s collective energy and karma.

Can we stop and ask ourselves why we agree to self-inflicted martyrdom? Again, no follow-up article on how to change this experience and become empowered through discernment. Interestingly, in the dozens and dozens of articles and books I’ve read about empathic people, I don’t think I have ever read the word “discernment.” A spiritual person deep in their healing work is learning discernment. The solar plexus chakra in particular offers an important lesson in discernment which helps us see what we are carrying and from where that energy comes. Discernment is one of the most important and powerful spiritual skills: it teaches us to recognize BS, our own and from others. Why discernment is not often taught as an important tool to hone for people who are empathic is a mystery as one of the most important things an empath could possibly learn is to distinguish between their own energy and the energy of others.

– Empaths are affected by negative images.

Everyone is affected by negative imagery. And before you tell me, “But I feel it MORE than the average person,” please ask yourself how you could possibly determine that? Because you’re willing to talk about it? That’s not evidence. Just because someone subjects themselves to negative images doesn’t mean they aren’t affected.

And what if the ability to be with negative images and violence indicates a more evolved way of being in the world? There is the chance that a person has simply learned how to hold a space of compassion for the pain and damage done in the world. Perhaps it means that when watching movies or television shows, or playing video games that are violent, some people can discern (there’s that word again) what is and isn’t real in a way that empaths have not yet learned to discern for themselves.

What if this discernment enabled people to engage with the idea of violence in a reflective way? If we can’t be in the room with violence or anything else we perceive as negative, how are we ever going to learn how to integrate the whole to heal the whole? How are we ever going to challenge our dualistic natures? How are we ever going to learn to see our own culpability in the violence of the world? Not looking at it doesn’t make it less real or less in need of healing.

How labels stunt our healing

A few months ago I read an article being passed along on Facebook for the friends of an empath. It was a helpful guide to knowing an empath – what to expect, what to be aware of. In other words, it was a list of behaviors that certain people (empaths) should be let off the hook for.  It was embarrassing for its lack of self-awareness and why I started writing this article that same day. (I had to set this article aside for a time to get perspective). The overarching tone of the article was condescending;  statements made that were assuming, including suggesting that empaths have inherent privileges over other people because of the way they suffer. I will limit myself to only 2.

If we [empaths] give advice, take it. If we take the time to listen to your dilemma, and give you heartfelt advice, just listen to it. We know what we are talking about and if you ask for our advice and ignore it, well, let’s just say it kinda annoys us to no end.

followed two bullet points below by: 

We can’t stand narcissism. If you are head over heels in love with your reflection, your money, and your ego- just stay away. We really can’t roll our eyes any harder.

Oh the irony! Yeah, it’s not at all egoic to insist that friends follow through on advice given by an empath because 1. they expended their precious time to listen to your dilemma (something I thought friends just, I don’t know, did?) and 2. it annoys an empath when you don’t follow their advice because they Know. All. The. Things. Because, in case you didn’t read it in a number of articles available, empaths just know. It’s a different knowing than simple intuition of course because empaths are special.

The number one thing empaths seem to want to convey in almost every single article is that they aren’t “too emotional” or “too sensitive.” They bemoan these labels while at the same time, providing a detailed list of all the things they need to avoid while implying that you should also be sure to not overstimulate or upset them with anything from the list. If someone I know calls me “too sensitive” it’s time to consider that I might be acting self-indulgent and expecting others to treat me the same.

I don’t like watching the news. It does upset me, especially when something tragic and violent has occurred. My husband watches the news. Do I insist that he not turn the news on in our house or when I’m home? No. I leave the room. It’s not his responsibility to manage my feelings by changing himself or his preferences. Being empathic (a label I don’t personally subscribe to anymore because it assumes too much) is an opportunity to grow for me. It is not a tool I use to insist everyone cater to my unique “needs” of a quiet, low-drag lifestyle.

Abraham Hicks recently posted the following meme on Facebook and Instagram:

While many of the concepts AH shares through memes could use some fleshing out to fully grasp and implement, this one is pretty straightforward and true. When we blame others or experiences for our emotional or mental state, we are giving away our personal power and othering. Of course, some people do not want to embrace their personal power because it requires taking full responsibility for their lives and how they choose to experience them. But there is no freedom without responsibility.

People have approached me asking for assistance because they identify as empaths and feel overwhelmed, depressed, and/or anxious. Having been there, done that, got the T-shirt, I ask questions to help them clarify what they want their life to look like and feel like (something only they can know). I then ask them what about their life is prohibiting that from becoming reality (something only they can know). And when I ask, “What are you willing to change in your thought process regarding your emotions and experiences so that you might make your dream a reality?” I often hear crickets at this one.

There is a different kind of power dynamic at play when we can identify as “X” and then blame something external for how we are perceiving our experiences because we are X. But it’s a false power that crumbles the moment someone in an empath’s life realizes, “Wait, I don’t need to cater to their special needs. I’m not responsible for their happiness or peace of mind. And frankly, as I give this just a modicum of thought, I’m realizing how uncool it is for them to try to put that on me. I’m out.” Inner power – empowerment of the self – can’t be taken away because it isn’t dependent on outside influences. There are choices available to us that can enable us to create a healthier emotional and mental life. We have to be willing to ask ourselves which is more important: the victim identity which seems safer, or feeling better in our bodies and in the world? If we truly want to feel better, do better, be better – if we want to truly evolve – we have to be willing to be honest with ourselves about the power dynamics in our lives.

Put another way: empathy, if we’re not moving through our experiences with discernment and awareness, can be a great way to shift the focus away from the person truly experiencing pain and put the focus back on ourselves. It can be a great way to opt-out of service and compassion and loving kindness because “we just aren’t strong enough to be with that much energy.”

Do people who are more in touch with energy need to practice self-care? Sure. Can self-care include making decisions from time to time to opt-out of an activity because we are tired or overwhelmed? Sure! Does self-care include using that heightened sensitivity as an excuse to remove ourselves from the world and situations where we might be uncomfortable? I hope not.

Is it really a gift?

Is everyone capable of empathy? I believe the answer is yes because every person has a beating heart, a heart field. Every person has the capacity to grow their intuition and discernment. Every person has the choice to pay closer attention and be self-aware. Every person can choose to become more and more heart-centered and grounded in their body and experiences, to learn and grow and change themselves. Every person can become more attuned to the energy around them.

Then my friends, empathy isn’t a gift. It is a birthright. And it doesn’t have to be a handicap.

What to do with empathy? 

At a retreat I attended a few years ago, the leader was asked, “What is the difference, vibrationally, between sympathy, empathy and compassion?” These three responses to pain are similar and can get mixed up with one another. But they each have their own unique vibrational information. They each come from unique places from within us and each has a different agenda and role to play.

To paraphrase, he replied, Sympathy carries a vibration from the ego, from the solar plexus chakra. Sympathy wants to pet someone on the head and say, “There, there, it will be alright,” or quickly fix the perceived problem in an effort to muffle the pain being expressed because it is making the observer uncomfortable. Sympathy comes from a place of wanting to be a caretaker and “help,” yes, but if we’re honest, it also comes from a place of self-preservation. 

When we try to fix or nullify another person’s pain, we are taking away someone’s opportunity to heal. The energy of pain has arrived – there’s a reason for it. And the person who is experiencing it (not second-hand as an empath) has the right to decide what to do with that energy regardless of how anyone else might be empathizing with it – regardless of how it’s making anyone else feel. We are each responsible for our own feelings and perceptions.

He then said of empathy, Empathy is a vibration that shares the heart chakra and the solar plexus chakra. Empathy is a vibrational resonance that leads to dis-ease. (That got my attention). Empathy is a person coming into contact with the pain of another, picking up that pain, and then choosing to walk hand-in-hand with the other, carrying that pain together. Which sounds comforting and loving, but is really just two people now in pain. 

BINGO. It’s allowing perceived pain to affect the way a person identifies himself in relation to others and the world at large. It isn’t a solution. It lacks momentum. Feeling empathy isn’t end game – it is a SIGNAL to move into compassion.

Of compassion he said, Compassion is a vibration of the heart. When we are in the vibration of compassion, we are not taking anything on ourselves, or trying to solve anything, or trying to erase anything. We are holding a space for the other person to enter into their healing work. Holding a space of compassion does not involve trying to fix, remove, or change the other person’s experience. 

So while we might be feeling deeply the experience of pain another person is having, we don’t have to hold onto it. Why would we? We can choose to become aware of it, release it as it is not ours, and turn our calm attention toward the person going through something and hold space for them to do their work. No judgment, no advice, no fixing. Just holding. Just open hearted awareness and be-ing with them as they continue to follow their path to healing.

Here’s what the articles don’t often say – empaths DO have a choice about what to do with the “extra” energy they perceive themselves to be embodying or carrying. They don’t have to continue to carry it, or process through it, or fix it. Once made aware of the energy – of the reason for the moodiness, the anxiety, the depression, the exhaustion – once discerned that it is not their own energy, that energy can be dropped! Let it go. Breathe it out. Empaths don’t have to be victims. They can learn to be a part of the world without crumbling in the midst of all the energy present. They aren’t required to take it on and carry it around with them. There is no merit badge for carrying the weight of the world.

Once upon a time I missed out on fun ballpark experiences, and midnight movie showings of the hot new sequel. I didn’t go into the city with friends or attend healing circles. I wouldn’t watch TV at night because I couldn’t control what might come across the screen and movies were pretty much out for the same reason. All because I felt overwhelmed. Being told I was unique and had a gift didn’t provide me an opportunity to learn from those experiences and heal my perceptions of the world around me. And the truth is that I wasn’t special or more sensitive than my friends. I was simply perceiving the world differently and I didn’t know how to cope because I didn’t understand energy. I think that’s a big problem in the metaphysical world: we talk about energy, we even talk about healing with energy – without really understanding it and our relationship to it.

It boils down to choice. Each of us can choose what to believe, what to carry, which perspective to identify with. Each of us can choose to release what no longer serves. Each of us can choose to spend some time doing honest self-reflection to determine which aspects of our lives, our thoughts, our emotions, our responses might no longer serve. We can learn to co-exist with uncomfortable emotions, images, and experiences. We can learn to hold space for anything that comes our way while standing boldly in our place, grounded in the heart. We can change our habits and thought patterns. Is it easy? Not necessarily.

Is it worth it? I would say it is. I “do life” again. I go to Mariner’s games and concerts and movies. My relationships are healthier because I hold myself responsible for my feelings. Clients and students and friends feel more supported in their healing work because their healing work doesn’t become about me in any way, shape, or form. When they are uncomfortable or in pain, I am not uncomfortable or in pain with them – rather, I can hold space for them to fully be where they need to be and experience what they need to experience. I’m not constantly exhausted anymore and anxiety, when it arrives, has less influence. Energy “vampires” aren’t a real thing in my life anymore. I am able to check in and determine if I have the capacity for an activity or not and then honor that without excuses or blaming.

In short, I experience freedom that was out of my reach when I wasn’t willing to look at myself honestly and take responsibility for my thoughts, beliefs, actions, choices. I had to become aware of it, then become willing to change it. Make an exchange if you will.

Grace and peace,
Tana

 

When Spiritual-but-not-Religious is a load of crap

or, “How I found myself back in that damn box after clawing my way out”

It’s ironic. Years ago an article came out decrying the “spiritual but not religious” seeker. I can’t remember who wrote it and it doesn’t really matter, but for a while it drew people into a debate about how SBNR folks don’t get it and are deluding themselves; that being in community – the supposed purpose of religion (debateable unto itself) – was key to true spiritual growth. When I read that article, I wrote a response to it on my old blog and I pushed back a little bit. But there was something deep down inside of me that was saying, “You know, they aren’t wrong, but they aren’t right about the what.” But I couldn’t define what rankled me either and I think it was because I was only just beginning to catch glimpses of the religiosity of SBNR communities and people.
Now, years later I can identify the what. Until now, I didn’t feel it was my place to call anything into question broadly. And I was scared. I’m still a little scared, but not scared enough to not put this out there. (And I’m going to start marking my articles NSFW when there is language. When I’m with people I trust, I use “colorful” language so you might be seeing that NSFW more often because hey, if you can’t trust me and I can’t trust you, what are we doing here? I’m exhausted of policing my language for reasons that will become evident further down, should you decide you can roll with it).
Background which informs the present

I was raised by various people, and by my culture to believe in a doctrine ruled by a God which was slightly influenced by Prosperity Theology. For example, one of the versions of God I learned about was the God who punished me with clinical depression and crippling anxiety because I didn’t have enough faith, or because I didn’t study my Bible every morning the week previously, or because I skipped Wednesday night’s small group. That same God also tended to reward people with cushy, medical-issue-free lives when they were faithful to the tithing plate, to their daily Bible readings, and to showing up for small group. When there was any struggle (whether it be medical, financial, emotional, or other), it was explained by the authority/expert/chosen one that it was because I sinned and was too prideful to walk away from that sin and/or I wasn’t serving the church enough. (I mean cause and effect, right? Nope. Just plain old manipulation). There were creeds and doctrines and beliefs – checkboxes that if left unchecked, landed me in hell.
And purity was a BIG DEAL. There were a lot of rules around appearance and language and consumed media choices and sex and just everything. Everything was under a microscope and up for review. We were also always confessing our sins – to God, to each other, in prayer, in song, in everything we did there was sure to be a sin because we were born of sin so just hedge your bets and always be asking for forgiveness and never relax. Ever because – purity, but also, Jesus could come back at any moment and you don’t want to get caught with your pants down. (Gee, I wonder where the depression/anxiety combo came from)? It was very performance and image-based, despite being told that we were saved by faith, not works.
The environment was also extremely insular and therefore isolating which made us dependent on one another in unhealthy ways. We were told to “be in the world but not of it.” I learned that we had to suffer through being in this sinful, dirty, horrible world, with sinful, horrible, dirty people, and that to the best of our abilities, we were never to engage with it or them. (Unless of course, it was to save them). The church was comprised mostly of middle-to-upper class white folks. I was allowed to be a part of this group because I checked the right boxes on the form, and hey, I also happened to look like them and have the same privileges as they did. What does that teach us, even if inadvertently? Well, if the “rest” of the world is sinful, dirty, and horrible, and we are not because we are saved, then anyone who doesn’t look like us, live like us, and have the same privileges as us must be “of the world.” Dirty. To be avoided. (Again, unless we’re saving them).
I can’t forget to mention the ever-looming rapture theology where Jesus could come back at any moment, but not before a lot of really bad shit goes down like martyrdom. (Oh the stories I could tell about “preparing” for this). Watchfulness and readiness was a BIG part of my life. And I was already raised by a police officer who couldn’t help but bring home his constant surveillance skills, knowing what he knew (he was trying to keep us safe). (Gee, I wonder where I get my propensity for picking up on subtle cues and body language. I wonder where the crippling anxiety came from)?
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was being groomed to become a privileged, “clean,” white savior of a world she was simultaneously encouraged to turn her back on. Confusing, no? I was taught to avoid critical thinking and to only engage in self-inquiry when it resulted in self-flagellation and continued servitude to the powers that be. I was taught to willingly hand over my power. I was to never trust my mind or to learn discernment through my heart; nor was I to come to my own conclusions or find my own answers based on my own inquiries and experiences. And it was very subtle. Most of the time.
The in between insanity and sanity
Yes, I had cognitive dissonance all the time, which I repeatedly shoved to the back of my deep, privileged, walk-in closet because if I questioned the teachings, I was warned with a small, disapproving frown, that this indicated a lack of faith and the devil was trying to steal my soul. And you don’t want to take a beat to allow a question to linger in the ole brainbox because what if you are questioning and then BAM! Jesus comes at that moment, or BAM! you get hit by a bus?
That cognitive dissonance didn’t stay hidden. The depression and anxiety didn’t leave me alone either – no matter HOW faithful I tried to be. I got married and moved away and before long I was in an existential crisis. But something great happened when I married too (in addition to being married to my husband who, in case you’re wondering stuck around despite the following). I moved from a very conservative state and insular experience to a very liberal state with nowhere to insulate myself. And thank God, because that forced me to meet people who were different! Like, pagans, people of different ethnicities, alternative wellness practitioners, atheists, libertarians, Unity church goers, non-church goers, gay people, democrats, people who lived together without being married, socially liberal conservatives, women who weren’t married and had kids, women who were married and didn’t want kids, women who had abortions, women who told their male partners what they thought and often took the lead on decisions big and small.
These people seemed pretty happy and they had what they needed. Things weren’t adding up. I was miserable and doing everything “right,” (I was saved) and these people, according to the teachings of my church, were doing it wrong and were happy. It’s hard to unsee a thing once you’ve seen it, so I left: the church, the association, the label, the doctrines, the misogyny, the patriarchy, the false image of God who was a bloodthirsty yet somehow unconditionally loving granter of goods and services only to the faithful. (My head still spins at that last one – what does unconditional mean)? I was miserable with anxiety followed by dark and long periods of depression followed by more crippling anxiety and obviously couldn’t meet God’s requirements anyway so why the hell was I trying so hard? For what?
Put another way – I was so desperate and miserable that I was willing to roll the dice on an eternal life of torment without access to God. And roll the dice I did.
Lest I give the impression that I “just” left
When I say I left, I mean that for 12ish years I continued to have crippling panic attacks while reading scholarly articles and books about the history of Christianity and the Bible, as well as dipping my toe into the history of other religions and spirituality in general (uh, that’s a big no-no where I came from). At the same time, I placed every single thought and belief I had ever acquired on the table for dissection and when exhaustion from that settled in, I would go into a 1-2 week depressive episode.
I forced myself to change ingrained, unhealthy mental habits like constant watchfulness for signs and constant self-doubt. This felt like wearing a 25-pound pack and scaling a mountain every moment of every day. All while also struggling with suicidal ideation because the question, say it with me, fellow Religious PTSDers, “What if they are right?!” lurked in the back of my mind the entire time, trying to lure me back. By then I knew too much to be able to go back, yet that question haunted me.
12 long years. 12 painful, barely-made-it-through long years where childhood and high school friends walked away from me because I was now “of the world” and a host of other personal and family difficulties arose.
I can’t believe I’m being pulled back into this again!
About 9 years ago I found myself empty. I had shed a lot and was asking, “Now what?” because there was a problem. If I hadn’t had some experiences throughout my life that were mystical and sacred, I would have rebuilt my perspective around a completely rational, scientific, possibly humanistic worldview. But I did have those experiences and continued to have them (huh, interesting, “God” or Source or whatever didn’t leave me!) and so I went looking for community and landed with some people who listened to me without judgment and had an accepting nature I had never before experienced. I could QUESTION! I could THINK! I could EXPLORE! I could have an OPINION!
At first.
We who have left organized religion, but have since found ourselves in spiritual groups, can often carry an air of self-congratulations and relief because, “Thank God we’re not still following THAT.” Yeah. Go us. Except for when we are.
The longer I hung around new age/metaphysical/energy healer groups, the more classes I took, the more books I read, and the more social media groups I joined, the more I noticed that much of what I had just extricated myself from had been relanguaged, rebranded, and was being taught and sold in the spiritual communities.
  • Talismans and prayer for stuff and security? Check.
  • Priests and go-betweens? Check.
  • Appearance expectations? Check.
  • Purity expectations? Check.
  • Rituals to appease or attain something from “Source”? Check.
  • Creating victims and then blaming the victim? Check.
  • “Gifts” given to the special chosen few? Check.
  • Defending one’s healing modality as the “right” or superior modality? Check.
  • Requirements to work with and be in communion with Source? Check.
  • Duality? Check.
  • All while preaching unconditional love, self-acceptance, and nonduality? Check, check.
(Dare I bring up the extreme pendulum swing of misandry while simultaneously bemoaning that more men weren’t spiritual in a few instances? Yikes, no. We’ll leave that for now).
So when I read the following in Rachael Rice’s article:
There’s also a military fuckton of Law of Attraction stuff that’s basically repackaged Christian Prosperity Theology for new agers without critical thinking skills….It’s an entitled orientation towards the extraction of resources because “I deserve it and the Universe is waiting to bestow wealth upon me” with little regard for how those resources were accumulated and are distributed. Wealth is de facto proof of being “in alignment with your soul’s purpose” irrespective of how grossly stratified wealth actually is. The inherent racism, classism + other -isms of LOA and The Secret, and other “mindset” and “manifesting abundance” programs are rarely thoroughly confronted.
I sighed with relief. I cried a little bit because she had the guts to call us out on our bullshit. We cannot heal until we’re willing to see our own bullshit.  The LOA has been problematic for me since day 1 and she encapsulates the reason so perfectly. I can imagine people thinking, “That’s not the LOA I follow.” Good! Then start sharing your more nuanced, deeply personally responsible, and widely accessible brand of LOA with the rest of us. Don’t hide that light under a bushel!
But also, can we take a moment to contemplate why we are so focused on manifestation and are so needy for stuff? What do we imagine X is going to solve or heal? What is our obsession with the idea of being able to attain a “perfect looking or perfect feeling life”? Why are we not working with what we got, allowing what Is Now to be our teacher?
Are we brave enough to ask ourselves, “Do I really need that, or am I using this activity of striving to achieve something as a distraction from the real work of healing myself?” 
Honestly a whole host of other questions about self-validity and self-empowerment opens up for us around these concepts, classes, workshops, certificates, and rituals. Trust me, as someone who teaches a course, I’ve thought about this a lot. And I turn people away who think that if they just take this course, get this certification, something will finally be fixed in them. Or they will finally find THE answer. Nope, you don’t need my course or to spend money to access yourself. But more on that later down.
To the person who is following LOA/The Secret and not experiencing abundance: it’s not your fault. You aren’t faithless or unworthy. It’s not necessarily because you haven’t been generous enough in your own life. In the same way that when I had severe depression, it wasn’t because I wasn’t a good enough Christian. You have been misled. Just as I was misled. In the awareness, what do we do next?
Here’s what we (broadly speaking) don’t seem to want to acknowledge: it’s not all Love and Light. It’s not all effortless and dreamy if we just think the right thoughts or clear our auras. When we heal ourselves it is WORK – especially in the beginning. Why? Because we are going against every innate and learned defense mechanism our brains, bodies, and conditioning can throw at us, trying to stop us from honest self-inquiry: a willingness to SEE and ACKNOWLEDGE our honest thoughts, feelings, and motivations to stop us from doing something about it. 

“Everybody wants to be perfect. Nobody wants to be reformed.” 

Carmen Spagnola of the Numinous Podcast (#67)
Do we want to be comfortable and superficially accepted, or do we want to be reformed – changed? Are we willing to do the work it takes to uncover and heal our karma, to learn how to be truly vulnerable and intimate with one another, to experience healthy community, creative expression, and self-actualization together? Are we willing to screw up in front of each other and let that be an opportunity for growth? Are we willing to learn how to observe our thoughts, to learn how to reshape them? Are we willing to stay in the room and learn from each other? Are we willing to learn how to embody love and compassion for ourselves and for each other? Do we want to be happy from time to time, or expand our perceptions such that we can access joy always?

If we are using spiritual principles and rituals as an escape hatch from reality, responsibility, or honest self-inquiry, it’s no longer spiritual.

There are other aspects of bad religion that has been relanguaged and rebranded so that it can be sold in spiritual communities. Another portion of Rachael’s article struck a nerve for its similarity to the messages I walked away from:
Anything you dislike in others is a reflection of something inside of you that needs healing. See also: you have a “story” resulting from a “core negative belief” about yourself
Oh the self-righteousness. Sometimes BS needs to be called out. And sometimes we are the creators of said BS. It doesn’t have to be the end of the world when we come into a realization that we’ve perpetuated BS. Nor does it mean we have to agree with the assessment! And our job is to stop, listen, and consider instead of manipulating the story to serve our egos. Let’s be compassionate with each other and honest. We can be both and if we don’t know how to be both compassionate and honest at the same time, well, it’s time we learned.
You should [have the means to pay and time to] try Landmark / Ayahuasca / Sweat Lodge / fancy detox / healing program / pilgrimage to a shaman / yoga or meditation retreat / Tony Robbins coal walking / etc. and fix your faulty “stories”
For the love of all that is good and holy, don’t let ANYONE ELSE should you. You’re probably shoulding yourself quite enough. And also? Our stories getting fixed – that’s an inside job. You need you. And a supportive, wise friend. But mostly a willing you. There’s not enough money in the world to fix us (thanks, Wall Street for proving that). Money and certificates and experiences can be helpful tools, but they are not necessary. And this is an uncomfortable truth because it reminds us that we can’t blame our lack of growth on not having enough money or enough opportunities to have mystical experiences.
Separation is an illusion; politics is separation consciousness, above these perceptions is unity consciousness, and you’re just bogged down in duality + divisiveness (the unity / oneness bypass in spiritual bypassing*)
Sometimes we talk about big ideas in very concrete and assured ways AT other people instead of with other people in a communal exploration. We aren’t even experts of ourselves. What makes us think we have the answers for other people? This, I believe, is a problem derived from our “insta-certified” culture. Just because we take a class and get a piece of paper doesn’t mean we are experts at anything, (or even qualified to start a practice in any way) and it also doesn’t necessarily indicate that we’ve evolved one iota.
And to be clear, I’m not claiming that I understand nonduality 100%. But I will tell you that what I do know about nonduality has a lot to do with humility and taking personal responsibility – two topics people do not like to talk about because it doesn’t feel “Light” and doesn’t make us feel warm inside. Nonduality encompasses it all. We have to be willing to see and engage with our shit. See our culpability with the problems within ourselves, our relationships, and our communities. But that isn’t fun, sparkly, rainbow-laden, et al. So we accept half-baked growth and evolution. Shame can be an important teacher.
Critique/anger/judgement are conflated with “fear” and are assigned “low vibration” energy
High vibration is not better than low vibration. If we understand nonduality and are truly viewing the world through nondual lenses, then why do we keep perpetuating this ascension and high vs low vibration myth?  Answer: to escape. The ascension talk I hear in some circles is a new brand of rapture theology. And rapture theology is very much about escapism from the pain of this world and taking any personal responsibility in working in community to heal it. Plain and simple.
While I was becoming acquainted with my new community of “spiritual but not religious/New Age/Alt Wellness/etc.” (I’m not being flip – it’s a WIDE umbrella which is part of its appeal) I started hearing other things that sounded similar to the old Christian paradigm I had just spent over a decade extricating myself from.
When someone got sick, I would hear, “Oh, what do you think the root emotional/spiritual issue is?” Huh, weird. That sounds an awful lot like, “You have depression because you don’t have enough faith.” Why can’t we ask, “What do you need? How can I help?”  instead of asking someone who already is struggling to stop and do a personal inventory and critique themselves. It’s not our job to assume that role. (I’m calling this out as someone who has done this to others).
Or, “Oh, you want to take that class but can’t afford it? Set up a manifestation grid!” which sounds an awful lot like, “Pray about it and leave it up to God.” It makes me itchy because while creating a crystal grid (and prayer) could be a great ritual to help someone get clarity around their intention and the motivation behind it, we need to also encourage each other to take actual real-time, physical steps to proactively create their reality, you know, changeand then take responsibility for it. We’re not victims of the universe or of God. Also, can we stop making things into tools that do our bidding? Crystals and God? Can we reframe our relationship with the world and each other as co-creators rather than as a means-to-an-end?
“Carry this crystal for protection,” is a different version of “Say this prayer and you’ll get to skip hell.” Why are we afraid of self-inquiry? Why are we afraid to explore why we feel we need protection? Why are we afraid to look at and be with and learn from things that make us uncomfortable?  By all appearances, we don’t really want to be in true communion with each other. We want to slap a Band-Aid on each other, and get on with our lives where we’re very busy distracting ourselves from our own shit.
And I’m going to say it because why not, I’m probably already up a creek with zero paddles… the whole concept of psychic attack and energy hooks and energy vampires necessitates duality, perpetuates self-victimization, is disempowering, and ignores free will. It smacks of the satan and demon talk which was used in my former life as a scapegoat for taking responsibility, and as a way to keep people disempowered and in fear. When are we going to step into our own inherent power and take responsibility for our actions, and how we choose to interpret our experiences?
I also started to see people talk about the “right” way to practice a ritual or healing modality, and the “right” teacher to study from, and the “right” tools to use. (See also “Original” or “true”). I watched on social media as energy healing practitioners went after each other for deigning to practice energy healing without having had an “authentic” attunement ceremony. Again, this sounds an awful lot like needing to pray the right prayer and needing to be in the right religion and needing to studying under the right pastor. Who do we think we are? And what lie are we perpetuating within ourselves that we think we’ve found the one and only, the “right/true/pure” Way?
Which leads me to learning about energy healing tools by relying on an “expert’s” personal channeled experience. We do not need a go-between to access God or energy or the universe. We do not need a go-between to learn about crystals. We do not need someone else to lay hands on us so that we might have access to the Light. We do not need to keep giving our power away. Look, sharing with each other is one thing – it’s a beautiful thing in fact. Attunement ceremonies can be beautiful, empowering rituals of celebration. But crowning myself or crowning someone else the expert or keyholder of X – that’s the old paradigm. That’s religious paradigm. That’s hierarchy. That’s a powerless people relying on a powerful few. Be willing to have your own experience without external validation. You can do it. You are worthy of it.
And the purity aspect. You know, at first I could not figure out why I got twitchy when I would read or hear someone insist that we had to be “clear channels” before doing energy work. Or that we couldn’t do or eat or drink off of a long list of don’ts. “Don’t eat meat! Don’t drink alcohol! Don’t drink caffeine! Don’t eat sugar! Don’t eat wheat! Don’t watch TV! Don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t.” All this in order to supposedly “be a clean and clear vessel!” Gosh, that sounds an awful lot like purity laws from the Old Testament and the purity laws instituted in 20th century religion.
It also sounds like there’s an expectation that everyone is living in the same body and having the same life experiences. (A la Rachael’s primary point). If we waited till we were “clear” channels, none of us would ever facilitate a healing session. Ever. And if someone has the self-righteousness to believe they are “clear” enough to facilitate a healing session? Are any of us totally reconciled unto ourselves? Are we suggesting that it’s possible to have looked under every rug and into every dark corner? Are we suggesting that in a human lifetime, a person can achieve perfection? Is perfection the goal? Is purity the goal? Is positivity-at-all-costs the point?
This has been there in the back of my mind for years. I haven’t written about this because I don’t want to come across as harsh or confrontational or… who knows how someone perceives this? That’s up to them. I share this from the perspective of someone who has been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Who has also found herself caught in one trap or another and brought others along for the ride before becoming aware of what I was doing.
So many times I’ve wondered, “Do I completely extricate myself from this community?” And, “Do I say something? Do I dare to offer a different perspective?” A couple times I did cautiously say something and that went over as well as you’d expect it to. So I did start to back away from the spiritual and new age and crystal healing Facebook groups. I unsubscribed from newsletters. I stopped going to circles. Not because I’m better or I have things figured out. In fact, it’s precisely because I don’t have everything figured out that I had to back away. If I’m going to continue being an open, honest, self-inquiring seeker, I better find open, honest, teachers and fellow sojourners who are also doing their own self-inquiry. What I was finding in this “spiritual and unaware of their religiosity” crowd was more of what I had just spent over a decade escaping and deprogramming myself from.
If you find a fire breathing dragon in one cave and have the good luck to escape that cave, when visiting another cave if you notice a sudden gush of heat that nearly knocks you over, you are going to slowly back out of that second cave. Even if that dragon’s fire might be glittery and magical. Even then.

 


Depression and other uncomfortable experiences

As we await the end of this long winter, as we learn to maintain presence in a world that appears to be going mad, and as we deal with our own private lives and the issues we personally face, we might be experiencing spiritual, emotional, and mental discomfort more acutely. I have chatted with a few people in the last couple of weeks who have shared that they have been experiencing low-level anxiety, agitation, anger, and depression, for what appears to be no reason.
When people ask me, “How do I get rid of this?”, one of the first questions I like to ask is, “How does this experience feel in your body?” In other words, where do you feel tension or discomfort, irritation or inflammation in your physical body when you are aware of these feelings? What does it feel like? How do you respond to these physical expressions?
Turning toward the body and extending it care and rest can have a huge effect on the experiences listed above. It is unusual for most of us to do this however, because we are a thinking species. We are quite proud of our mental faculties and our abilities to analyze and plan and fix and solve. When these uncomfortable feelings arise, we tend to go to the mind for answers to “fix” whatever is “broken,” bypassing the body altogether.
Always be willing to question the premise.
What if nothing is broken when these experiences come? What if there is nothing to fix because these experiences play an important role in our expansion and evolution? What if everything is exactly as it should be? What if, instead of going to the mind to ask, Why is this happening? How do I make it stop?  we chose to be present, focus on the breath, and get in touch with our body?
Choosing to pay attention to the body can help us ground and connect more deeply to our Heart. The mind can take a rest. We can stop thinking for a second, stop analyzing, and stop wondering why or asking how. When we are focusing on care of the body, our attention is diverted from self-judgment. And we can give the brain a little break from trying to form an escape plan. 
Many times over the years, when I have shared that I had a cold, felt blue, threw my back out, had a headache, or stubbed my toe with well-intentioned fellow healers, I have been asked, “What do you think the root emotional/mental/spiritual cause might be?” Many believe that mental and physical maladies are untreated subtle energetic imbalances in almost all, if not all cases. The idea is that if we identify the emotional, mental, or spiritual imbalance, by identifying it and then healing it, we resolve the physical issue.
On the face of it, it makes sense. I think how we go about it might not. What this well-intentioned inquiry does is remove me from my physical body and places me in the seat of the mind through self-inquiry. It puts me in the roles of Identifier and Fixer – mind activities – when my body is asking me to be with the body. Awareness is wonderful and can be very healing. I believe in the power of self-inquiry and a willingness to be with and examine myself. But I believe there is a time and a place for this and that it must be done through the Heart. When the body is crying out, when a person feels like they are in survival mode – this is the time for rest, love, support, compassion, grace, and above all else – no judgment.
And sometimes a stubbed toe is just a stubbed toe. We are human beings living a human life on this planet where everything we do affects one another and sometimes stuff happens. Determining whether or not an experience is a “stuff happens” moment, or the result of imbalance in the subtle anatomy, for me, involves surrender and time. If there is something deeper to explore, there is no forcing it. To become aware of the unconscious, “deeper” underlying issues that might be present, I have to trust that I will become aware of those when they are ready to appear. In the meantime, I care for my stubbed toe, stay present, and breathe.
My personal experience – with depression, anxiety, sadness, grief, and more – has taught me that there is no real and lasting escape plan that the mind can offer and that there is no eradicating the issue through the mind. In fact, trying to out-think (run away from) an uncomfortable experience can intensify and draw out the experience. I think this is because the energy wants to be seen and acknowledged through the Heart with compassion and faith. Sometimes a willingness to stay in the room and be with that feeling is all it takes for it to dissipate. Other times the energy desires more attention and time, and if we allow that – if we surrender to it, the experience is a lot less painful. There is more grace and compassion present.  
My recent reminder….
A few weeks ago, on a Thursday, depression descended out of nowhere. It had been years since I felt that plummet but suddenly down, down, down I was falling, unable to breathe deeply into my toes and suddenly unable to bring myself to care about, well, anything. I couldn’t make weekend plans with my husband because I didn’t care and I didn’t foresee a moment when I’d be getting out of my chair in the near future. My brain started to send warning messages, “If you don’t snap out of this, your students and clients are going to get upset!” and “Oh no, remember last time? This could last WEEKS!”  But it was too late – I couldn’t care. It’s not that I didn’t care. I literally couldn’t care – about anything. Depression is a strange and difficult thing to experience let alone explain. 
I had been here before. I recognized it immediately. Though I was surprised that it felt the need to visit, I shrugged, opened the door, invited it in, made it sit right in front of me so that I could look it in the eye and acknowledge it. “Hi. You’re here. It’s been a while. I see you.” And then I let myself off the hook, trusting that nothing lasts forever – even when it feels like it will never end (kind of like this past winter). I chose to focus on my physical body, turn the mind-games off, and just exist as-is. I decided to be be with that energy as long as it wanted to stick around. I decided to be kind to myself in the process. 
Over the next couple of days I noticed moments when my mind would try to sneak in and “take care of it.” How can we get rid of it? How can we heal it? What’s wrong with you, Tana, that this is here? Identify that and BAM! Problem solved! Each time my brain tried to elbow its way in, I felt the sensation – or lack of sensation actually – weigh more heavily. I backed off each time, saying, “I see you, you are here and I am here and we are here together.” I stayed with it, giving it and myself compassion and grace.
On Sunday evening of that same weekend, just as quickly as it arrived, it left. I caught my breath and I suddenly felt everything again  – concern, awareness, motivation, responsibility, desire, movement, appreciation. I also noticed something re-enter which I wasn’t aware of before the depression visited: feelings of insecurity I had been holding, worry that I was inadequate in a certain area of my life, and anger seated from a place of judgment I was holding against myself which I was extending , as tends to happen, to others. In this particular case – there were underlying issues that I wasn’t aware of that wanted to be brought into the Light for healing. I can promise you that had I tried to force myself to make inquiries or tried to “fix” the depression, I would have missed the awareness that arose as the depression lifted. 
That experience lead to writing this blog post, Burning Man – on being a healer and our responsibility to self, in which I share, “Love and Light” is a phrase often used. And it can have tremendous potency when uttered by a person who is intimately aware of their own capacity for “Hate and Darkness,” as well as all the energies in between. I have since learned that nothing can truly be swept under the rug or warded off with spells or talismans. The energy is present and it wants to be seen. This is the Age of the Mirror.” 
People sometimes look at me like I’m crazy. “Just BE with it? That’s your big solution? That’s how you heal?” Yes. It’s part of my healing. And it took years of clearing thought forms and beliefs, of learning how to ground in my own body, of experiencing the Heart and learning how to become more and more intimate with and trusting of it before I could “just” be with it. I fought it for a long time. There were a lot of thoughts and beliefs I needed to clear or transmute. The experiences of depression and anxiety showed up for me time and time again – giving me ample opportunity to lean into them and learn how to exist differently, how to shift my perspective, how to surrender and find in that surrendering great freedom.
I relied on mentors and guides and healers and teachers who helped me to reframe or release my inquiries, to show me where my thinking was blinding me from the Light of my Heart. It was a group effort, make no mistake. Can we go it alone? Sure. Sometimes we even have to. When we can ask for help though, I believe we thrive when we do. Asking for help is a lesson unto itself. As much as we’re wired to think our way through “problems,” we’re also conditioned go it alone. But that doesn’t make it the ideal way of being in the world. We’re allowed to buck the system. In fact, I strongly encourage it. 
If you’ve been struggling with finding your footing in the midst of challenging emotional, mental, and spiritual experiences, I encourage you to reach out. Find a heart-centered mentor, healer, coach, guide, counselor – someone with compassion and grace, who understands the role of the mind in relation to the Heart, someone who will be neutral and honest with you. Someone who will help you see the gifts of self-care, as well as self-inquiry. Someone who will help you consider when to cut yourself some slack and when you can dig deep. You can begin this search simply by asking your Source to send someone your way. Healing – it can be simple. And sometimes it is not. Both are accepted. Be kind to yourself in the meantime, and don’t forget to breathe.
With gratitude,
Tana

Burning Man – on being a healer and our responsibility to Self

One of the Practicum Assignments I ask practitioner candidates to complete is an essay that poses the following questions: “What does it mean to you to be a healer? How has your understanding of this role changed throughout the course? What responsibilities do you believe you have to yourself and to each of your clients as a healer?”
I ask this question because it’s important to get clarity about the roles the ego and the Heart might be playing as we begin to work with others. It is important to realize that our personal healing work is not complete and that in fact, the practice of healing we are about to embark upon is one of the biggest Mirrors we will face in our lives.
When I first started working with others in my healing practice, I was a different person than I am now. I took too much responsibility and in all of the wrong areas. I assumed too much. I spoke a lot of things at people and I didn’t ask enough questions. Subconsciously, I created goals for each of my clients. “They should be X instead of Y for optimal living and we have to get them there.”
I didn’t see that I was working from an immature perspective. I couldn’t see that truth because I hadn’t yet burned myself up – not enough anyway. Because make no mistake, I’ll never be done burning.
healing healer
Being a candle is not easy; in order to give light one must burn first.
~ Rumi
My candle was still fairly new looking.
I have experienced Grace through many experiences over the years. These experiences have shown me that healing isn’t about performance. There are no benchmarks to success. Healing isn’t a simplistic cause-and-effect, one-and-done experience. Healing is a process of becoming more and more familiar with the self, bringing forth all of our difference aspects, including what we might label the “shadows,” with gentle compassion and inviting each into the Light. Sometimes to be integrated. Sometimes to be released – to burn. Not having done enough of that in the early years myself, there was no way I could offer myself as a witness holding a space of compassion for others in their own burning.
That’s not to say it was all for naught. How else do we learn but by being in the experience? In each session, with each client, there was a give and take: each of us learned something from the other and in so doing, learned something about ourselves so that we might bring an aspect of ourselves into the Light. So that we might sit down with that aspect and look it fully in the face and say, “Hi, I see you. It’s nice to meet you. I’d love to know more about you – to truly see you so that you might be integrated more fully into my experiences, in a healthier way.” 
“Love and Light” is a phrase often used. And it can have tremendous potency when uttered by a person who is intimately aware of their own capacity for “Hate and Darkness,” as well as all the energies in between. I have since learned that nothing can truly be swept under the rug or warded off with spells or talismans. The energy is present and it wants to be seen. This is the Age of the Mirror. In my brief lifetime, never before has the collective consciousness been so exposed. And we have never been so ripe for our own healing – if we are willing to see ourselves in “the other.” To see ourselves not as separate or above or better than or smarter than – but to see ourselves as a part of our community – the whole, inclusive community.
In our personal work of healing – of Being Deeply with Ourselves – full of Grace and Compassion, we walk into the darkness sometimes. The grace and compassion, which sees and quells the Fear, comes from walking into the darkness, holding our candle with one hand and offering our other hand to our neighbor. (Feel free to bring a backpack of extra candles).
With gratitude,
Tana

Mercury Retrograde, Crystals, and Community

Yesterday Mercury went retrograde (12/19 – 1/8) and the memes started popping up on social media warning people off from making huge decisions, expecting their tech to work, or anything to go right.

Nope. No. Just…..no.

Look, I’m not an astrologer. I’m not an astrologer in the same way I’m not a tarot card reader. I read cards for myself once in a while when I need my subconscious to become conscious and I watch Kaypacha’s Weekly Pele Reports because Tom Lescher (whom I don’t know personally) seems to be so heart-centered and gives a really grounded, inspiring, and pragmatic reports helping to put events into a wider perspective outside of my own limited one.

One of my personal mantras is, “Hold everything lightly.”

Given that I’m not an astrologer, take everything I’m about to say with a grain of salt. This whole vibe around Mercury going retrograde causing chaos might be well-intentioned, but tends to be disempowering by way of the false narrative based on generalized assumptions.

Today on Facebook, I saw this post by OSHO right after I posted the following picture:

“Once you get identified with a certain idea, then you are sick. All identification is mental sickness. In fact, mind is your sickness. And to put the mind aside and just to see silently ? without any thought, without any prejudice ? into reality is a healthy way of being acquainted with reality.” OSHO

Mercury Retrograde Crystals Community
Here’s the deal: I don’t assume that the next two weeks are going to be hard for you or anyone else; at least, no harder than they would have been had Mercury not gone retrograde. The Lessons? They appear with every breath – not just when a planet goes indirect. Not just when we pull the Tower card. And what would happen if, instead of seeing calamity when Mercury goes retrograde or we pull the Tower card, we got excited about the possibility of change and expansiveness?

Are there better times than others – opportunities where our ability to be more awake and aware are heightened? Perhaps. Wouldn’t it be awesome if THAT was what the Mercury Retrograde memes advertised? I’m the last person anyone is going to accuse of being a Pollyanna. I’m not talking about the pseudo-light-and-love-it’s-all-going-to-be-wonderful-if-we-just-believe! attitude either. That feels just as inauthentic as the other warnings and dire predictions do.

I’m talking about being open to being awake, aware, fully present, self-reflecting, other-and-self-empowering, listening, open-hearted and unassuming, learning, seeing true. Regardless the planetary movements and other people’s ideas about them.

I believe in our ability to listen to our Hearts and follow the path it lays before each of us and to go the way of the Wise Ones we really are. I believe in our power which comes from a humble and trusting heart. I believe that every moment is a chance to choose, to take responsibility, to breathe deeply and be present and awake. Do we always live this way? No. That too is a lesson. These tools we use (astrology, tarot, etc.) are not tools at all if we allow them to become scapegoats for our challenging days or less than ideal choices or off-putting attitudes.

And here, bear with me, I’m going to go on a tangent because the following has been on my mind a lot in the past few weeks….

As well-intentioned as the spiritual community can be, sometimes we (not unlike religious communities) can be our own worst enemy. It’s part of the human condition to see dualism, to pick sides, to declare “good” and “bad.” It is also madness and counterproductive to what we claim our goals are.

We here in the States and elsewhere in the world, claim to mourn the loss of our ability to be a community of diverse people who lift one another up while in the same breath demonizing those who vote for a particular candidate, the candidate him/herself, support a particular organization, buy from a certain store, use prescription drugs, drive a certain type of car, eat a certain type of food – the judgments go on and on and on. Why? Because we identify more strongly with our individual ideas than we do with the people in our community whom we’re called to love and encourage and support.

The situation we find ourselves in as a community of America? Of the world? We’re all culpable. It took the whole of the community to create this chaos and separation and strife and it will take the whole of the community to heal it. But it requires us to each see our own culpability. No one is blameless.

Personally, in the last 6 months or so, I’ve been called to question every thought that flits through my mind; every judgement and declaration and idea. Where does this (fill-in-the-blank) idea come from? Is it true? Is it true for everyone? Is it true for all time? Who says? If it’s not true for everyone, maybe I can spend some time learning why – to keep my Heart open, to listen with my Heart to others who see the world through a different lens. Which is everybody by the way. The great irony is that we have our little enclaves of “like minded” people with whom we rally in the streets or on social media. And if we had an open, expansive discussion with them, we’d realize that we don’t see many things the same way even with the members of our own choir.

Our ideas that OSHO talks about above have lead to a sickness of the mind, yes, and of the ego. Our assumptions and self-righteousness close our Hearts not only to others but to ourselves.

Perhaps this Mercury Retrograde moment is a chance to be still with ourselves. To question our attitudes and beliefs and reactions and fears and angst and anxieties. Because until we are honest with ourselves about our own blinders and self-righteousness and closed hearts, we cannot begin to see and hear, care for and about each other through our Hearts. We cannot begin to heal our communities and the Community at Large. And whatever is coming in 2017 and beyond – we need each other. Not just people who we assume are like us – we need our communities, full of beautiful people with diverse ideas and beliefs and perspectives and histories and experiences. Iron sharpens iron – except when we refuse to engage with one another. We all need honing.

Crystals for self-reflection, for doing deep inner work, for getting real with ourselves might include sulfides such as chalcopyrite, pyrite, covellite, and sphalerite. Halides such as halite and fluorite for breaking down barriers, in this case of our own minds. Aluminum-bearing minerals can help us remember who we really are; copper-bearing minerals may resonate with promoting a more open heart – there are others, but this is a good start.

May 2017 be the Year of Opening Our Hearts. Dissolving our Fears. Empowering ourselves and one another.

With so much gratitude, through Light. Tana

Protection and Shielding – part of our healing and evolution?

protection shielding Protection and Shielding – part of our healing and evolution?

“The words you speak become the house you live in.”
~ Hafiz
Words are incredible tools that reveal conscious and subconscious thought patterns. We carry these thoughts (forms of energy) around with us always, until we determine that the energy no longer serves us and we seek healing. Our thought fields are really subtle energetic manifestation generators. This means the words we choose to describe our experiences are important symbols.
I engage with people who are in the spiritual/metaphysical/healing (SMH) community-at-large and I read SMH blogs and articles. The SMH community is filled with people who express an authentic desire to help other people heal and to work on their own healing. They see this Earth and their life in it as a school of sorts, designed to provide opportunities for evolution.
Over the last few years, I’ve noticed one particular recurring theme that reveals a need to shift subconscious thought patterns so that we can more accurately convey to each other and to ourselves what we desire – which is our personal healing and the desire to help other people experience healing. Metaphysical-based healing talk can have a self-victimizing energy. Here I’m speaking specifically to the concepts of protection and shielding – a belief that we need to protect or shield ourselves from “negative” energy. Whenever we point outside of ourselves for how we feel, we dis-empower ourselves and we bypass our healing work. Blaming external sources for our discomfort subconsciously perpetuates the idea that we are not fully responsible for our lives and how we choose to experience them.
I do think much of this is subconscious because when I speak to other subtle energy workers or clients of subtle healing, no one says they don’t expect to take responsibility for their lives or that they are looking for “easy healing.” Many acknowledge that this experience of healing is not for the faint of heart. People are willing to do the work.
I think what has happened is that humanity has evolved but our language has not. I think our realization of Oneness has blossomed but we’re still using duality-based, tribal language. What once felt empowered now creates a defeated and passive energy because we haven’t updated our word processing software.
Let’s look at some examples:
“What crystals should I carry to protect me?”
“How can I protect myself from energy vampires?”
“How can I shield myself before going into a store/session/family gathering?”
When someone asks me how to protect or shield, I ask, “What do you believe you need to protect yourself/shield yourself from?” and, “Why or how does X feel threatening for you?” I want to help the person (and me) get clarity about exactly what they are seeking to change and why. Through discussions I come to understand that the real opportunity for each of us is to learn how to maintain our energy and space by knowing ourselves deeply and authentically. Usually the person isn’t seeking protection or shielding at all; especially when their overarching desire is to evolve and heal. Protection and shielding are separators and rely on a foundation of dualism. To learn and grow, we require integration – being fully present in the classroom with everything that is present.
Let’s talk about separation for a minute. People who work with subtle energy experience physical time/space and subtle time/space. Physical time/space – our 3-dimensional reality of time – yields birth and death, growth and decay, and is dualistic in nature. Separation abounds. Subtle time/space is Oneness. It is where everything nearly exists simultaneously in harmony. All options are available, popping in and out of existence at faster than light speed. There are variations on this theme, but this is the gist. Subtle time/space is where we do our work, the “place of understanding” from which we experience healing. It is everywhere and nowhere. We experience our lives in multiple dimensions simultaneously so paradox, which is “both/and” is natural. This is important in healing work.
In The Gift of the Body, Jonathan Goldman writes, “The heart is truthful and clear; it refuses polarization.” When we are living from our Heart space duality feels uncomfortable. That feeling of discomfort is a signal that we’re being given a choice to move from response to reaction, from Heart space to ego. Duality is firmly in physical time/space and we see it being lived out in the way people choose to live and view the world. It is perpetuated by philosophies such as nationalism, tribalism, and is found in religion. Humanity is slowly shifting from dualism to integration. But we’re in Redwood seedling stage and we’re still relying on old dualistic language to talk about integrative, Heart centered healing.
Protection and shielding are words that by their definitions create “us versus them” energy which is a dualistic approach to a situation perceived as a threat. It is a reactionary stance. Seeking protection or shielding indicates you need to defend against someone or something that can harm.
Think I’m being overly pedantic?  (It’s entirely possible. I was an English major who wanted to focus on Rhetoric. Because there are so many career opportunities for English majors with a concentration in Rhetoric). But just for grins, let’s imagine we are standing in a park. You are barefoot, feet in the grass, at peace, enjoying the view. Someone walks by and says to you: Protect yourself. How do your body and mind react to that phrase? Do you take a boxing stance? Think of all the exit strategies out of the park? Cower? Look around for a table to hide under? Panic and wish you had a weapon?
Shielding is the act of creating a barrier between a person and something else for the purpose of providing protection. Its definition is also defensive, creating a dualistic and reactionary attitude.
“Wait,” I can hear people saying. “Are you suggesting that we not protect ourselves? Are you suggesting we actually interact with that which we perceive as harmful?”
Buckle in because yes, that is what I am suggesting – most of the time and when we are feeling strong enough to engage. Why would I suggest such a thing? Because perceptions are not necessarily truth and we are rarely in actual danger. There are certainly experiences which can end life or severely cripple us in some capacity and no, I am not suggesting we run toward that. However, we need to ask ourselves, for the sake of Heart-centered healing, whether we truly require protection or if we are simply uncomfortableThere is a natural tendency to treat anything that makes us uncomfortable as a threat. But 99% of the time, it’s simply a natural state of growth. Learning and growing and healing are uncomfortable experiences. If we are comfortable all the time, we’re in stasis.
When people ask me how they can energetically protect themselves and I ask from whom/what? The answers are usually something along the lines of:
  • I don’t like how I feel when I go to someone’s house/a public place/etc.
  • A person really makes me uncomfortable and drains me of my energy.
  • I don’t trust the energy of that person/place/thing.
What I’m hearing is, “I feel uncomfortable, I don’t feel like I’m in control, and I don’t know how to process it.”
“I don’t like how I feel at…” is an example of not feeling sure how to stay firmly Heart centered and grounded no matter where I am at.
“A person really makes me uncomfortable and drains me of my energy…” is an example of not feeling sure how to stay firmly Heart centered while being clear about my boundaries.
“I don’t trust the energy of that person/place/thing (or the energy is really negative/evil)…” is an example of not feeling sure how to stay Heart centered and grounded in my truth no matter where I am or who I am with.
When we are willing to face what we fear or what makes us feel uncomfortable and work toward understanding it, our perception of it changes and we open ourselves up to healing and transformation. To approach something from the space of our Heart requires letting our guard down. If we’re healers and we’re shielding ourselves, how are we engaging with our clients’ energies? I know it can feel scary to feel other people’s stuff or unfamiliar energies. But we need to be willing to learn to discern between feeling scared of what actually helps us do our work, and feeling scared because we are actually in danger.
As a subtle energy worker, I don’t teach people shielding visualizations. I personally find the practice disempowering. That is my personal experience. I know it is a helpful practice for others and if you practice shielding and it is helpful – I’m not telling you to stop. I tried to learn how to shield for a couple of years after I was first told that I was an empath because it was what I was told to do. I felt frustrated and stopped trying to learn the technique when I realized that in order to heal I needed to be with what made me feel scared. For me, shielding (or attempting to) kept me in a state of fear of the unknown which was actually quite knowable and usually not at all scary once I came face to face with it. The energies that made me uncomfortable for so long just wanted to be seen. All I had to do was look and acknowledge it and the fear dissipated.
As a crystal therapy practitioner/teacher, I don’t recommend crystals for protection. I don’t view myself or others  requiring protection and in my practice, crystals are not worked with as talismans. Crystals are fantastic subtle energy tools for those who are sensitive to them. They offer much in the way of subtle energetic support when worked with for the highest good of all. In my practice crystals help us see ourselves more clearly, help us get in touch with our subtle anatomy, our emotions, mental processes, and spiritual development as well as offer energetic support as we work toward healing. Crystals can help us transmute unwanted energetic patterns, yes, but before we can work with a crystal for that purpose, we need to understand what we want to transmute and why. If you ask me, “What crystal would you recommend to me as I learn how to become less fearful,” I can help you with that with some discussion.
So, okay, you won’t recommend a crystal for helping me protect myself, and you don’t teach shielding exercises. So what do I do?
Creating healthy boundaries is about becoming familiar with your own energy, learning how to maintain Heart-centered groundedness, and being clear about what energies you are willing and ready to work with. When energy you don’t want to engage with arrives, you can say, “I see you. Not now,” without experiencing fear or self-doubt. It’s the difference between feeling fear and victimization, or being firm in one’s autonomy, willing to take responsibility for their experience of life. That’s what we focus on when I work with people.
Someone asked me, “What is the difference between setting a boundary and shielding?
When I visualize an energetic boundary, I see it as a wooden fence a little lower than shoulder height. Similar to the fences people erect to discern property boundaries. (This is my dance space. This is your dance space. Let’s cha-cha.) I can easily talk to my neighbors over the top of the fence. Sometimes I open the fence gate and invite them in for coffee, dinner or game night. Other neighbors who meander by are acknowledged from my Heart space, but are not invited in because I know that in that moment I’m not up for it and I am respecting myself by not engaging out of shame or guilt. But I see them and they see me. We smile at each other. There is still movement and interaction between me and what is on the other side of the fence.
When I was taught to shield, it involved visualizing being completely encompassed within a golden egg of light. I know there are variations on the theme, but this is what I was taught and when I couple that with what I envision when I hear the word shield: I see myself crouching behind a big metal plate, sword drawn – it just doesn’t feel fluid enough for me. To me, shielding feels defensive and carries an energy of survival – it’s either it or me. While setting a boundary feels both/and to me. I’m still available for engagement with whoever comes along if I decide I am up for it, and I’m also responsible for how I choose to engage and for how long. Again – that might feel pedantic to some. That’s okay. My point is – are we being defensive or open? Are we honoring ourselves without shutting down or shutting out?
This is a lifelong process and we can expect to change our boundaries to accommodate new findings and growth. For the person who desires to heal – there is no getting around the work. It involves learning to be honest, vulnerable, living with integrity and in your truth. Regardless from where or how the work arrives – it often involves feeling uncomfortable and even sometimes existentially scared. But we are not alone in this work. We have each other and if we are willing to be vulnerable with trusted fellow journeyers and honest with ourselves, the experiences of this life can be infinite and expanding in ways we can’t even imagine.
In gratitude and Love, Tana

Fundamentalism in the healing community

Fundamentalism is not only found amongst the religious.

Fundamentalism:

2:  a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles <Islamicfundamentalism> <political fundamentalism>  From http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fundamentalism

Growing up, I learned about God through a group that taught that there was one way (a strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles) to understand God and the experience of spirit.  Any approach outside of their approach was wrong if not outright evil, leading to damnation. I was not allowed to have my own thoughts – any I had were always molded to reflect the approved doctrine. I was not encouraged to question or to use my mind. I was also taught that other groups which claimed to be like our group wasn’t really like our group because our group had the Truth and “those people” were deceived and unless they woke up to the truth they too would be damned for eternity. It was a very rigid, dualistic experience of life which required an authoritarian, hierarchical management.

This was not great for me because I was born with a researcher’s mind.  If there was a personal God, that God gave me an inquisitive spirit and then placed me in the middle of a community that did not approve of inquisitiveness! I enjoy reading and learning new things and exploring ideas. And I love history (which I’ve come to realize is doctrine’s worst enemy). The researcher’s heart is anathema to the beliefs of the community I once gave my life to.

Eventually I had a fork-in-the-road moment. I was unwell emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically from years of trying to reconcile what was for me* cognitive dissonance. I had to choose between taking care of myself or remaining a part of the community. When I chose the scarier road and allowed myself to slowly hold up to the Light everything I had been told was Absolute Truth, I lost my community. Dualism breeds separation and fundamentalism breeds duality.

I fought the mental prison that was for me* the fundamentalist approach. It was a terrifying, depressing, anxiety-inducing ride down Nihilism Avenue. As I went along I thought about turning back, repenting and picking up where I left off, but I couldn’t un-know what I had learned so I just continued on, not really knowing how this would all turn out for me in the end.  (Spoiler alert: it turned out well. I’m not nihilistic, I experience joy and I am immensely grateful). 

And then what? Where did I go?

Because I have had experiences throughout my life that didn’t fit into any of the scientific or traditionally accepted cultural norms, I ended up where most of the misfit toys go: the metaphysical community. I was overjoyed to find people who seemed to live and let live while also knowing how to be a source of encouragement and support when needed. It was in this new world that I was encouraged to rejoice in being alive for the sake of being alive, to find value in myself, to help other people just for the hell of it, and to trust. It was also the first community I ever belonged to that didn’t want to control me or how I experienced my spiritual life.

My Reiki teacher was one such person. She came into my life at a time when I was in the process of dismantling the only framework I knew and she offered to teach me an organizing principle from which grow – Reiki. And she gave me that foundation without ever making me feel controlled or managed. She knew how to teach Reiki so that a person could integrate it into his or her experience. 

Huzzah!  I was overjoyed to find “my people.” But as I mentioned at the start  –  fundamentalism doesn’t belong to just the religious – it has the potential to exist in any group, including psycho-spiritual, spiritual, and subtle healing communities. 

But, isn’t there a difference between adhering to a structured practice and fundamentalism? Of course! Using Reiki as an example, I don’t take issue with the attunement ceremonies, the graduated levels of learning, the hand positions, or any other structure-providing aspect. I can personally see a value in each of those aspects and see how they help to define the practice of Reiki – to set it apart as its own unique healing approach. And I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with setting apart different approaches. This gives us a framework in which to work and learn.

I believe we need to learn how to view structure, boundaries, and guidelines differently so that we aren’t requiring a “strict and literal adherence to them” because when we shift our focus from the intention behind the act to the act itself we negate the effect of the intention. When the thought forms we are creating are no longer intention based (healing for the highest good of all beings), but instead become about regulation of practice (am I doing this right?) we have moved from Heart space to ego. And when we insist other people meet our “strict and literal adherence” to our understanding of the practice, that is egoic desire for control.12353992_650042428482589_624574133_n(1)

In recent weeks I witnessed a few exchanges which lead me to write this article. As you can imagine, based on my background, I am sensitive to fundamentalism and I was triggered by these exchanges. Here are some examples of what I saw and how I personally interpreted them.

“As a Practitioner Master/teacher, I call foul.”

My master teacher status gives me the authority to tell you that you do not understand the modality correctly.

“No, you can’t experience this modality’s healing without the ceremony conducted by a Practitioner Master.”

This example is particularly useful because it shows the underlying fear that serves as a foundation of most fundamentalist attitudes which is: You can’t do what you want to do without me or someone like me and this gives me purpose, makes me unique, and gives me authority and that authority gives me control.  

“There are plenty of etheric healing modalities you can learn using the energy you already have, but that’s not the modality I’m a Practitioner Master of. And anyone saying that doesn’t channel the energy I do.”

I am the arbiter of your experience of “my” modality and of your understanding your experience. I reject your autonomy to be self-determining in your personal healing experience of my modality because your interpretation does not reinforce my interpretation. 

“The modality I practice is a discipline. Please don’t attempt it without proper training.”

If you aren’t willing to approach my modality the way I have, then you will be doing it wrong. And my modality can only be done properly by those who have learned it through the proper channels of which I approve. 

To me, these exchanges indicate that somewhere along the way, the finger pointing at the moon became more important than the moon. Are the modalities meant to be served or are we to serve each other through our work with the modalities? 

We don’t need to have a religious background to have fundamentalist tendencies. Society instructs us – now more than ever in the US in particular – to be staunch, to pick a side, to be willing to impose and defend your authority.

My intention is not to be cynical. I would love to give people the benefit of the doubt and I often do – but we also have a responsibility to be honest with ourselves and each other and one great way to get real with myself is to question my motives. Why is something so important to me? Why am I getting worked up? Why am I taking this personally? Why do I feel the urge to ensure people see it or do it my way? The answer is usually seated in fear.

What am I to do about this?

My reaction to fundamentalist attitudes is “No way, you don’t get to decide – for me or for anyone else!” I feel fearful. And to cope with my feelings of fear and insecurity, I have a habit of taking on the role of an archetype I’ve battled most of my life: the hero. *This is where my fundamentalist tendencies play out. And that happened the past few weeks – I wanted people who were part of those discussions to know that they could decide for themselves! That they didn’t have to do it anyone else’s way! That they could have their own experience. But that’s not my job – my job is not to make sure anyone knows anything. Why was I upset? Because I was being shown a mirror. Being someone’s hero  isn’t that far removed from insisting a strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles that I happen to have. 

So what is my role?

If someone wants to explore empowerment and responsibility, then I am here to explore that with them. If not, or if not with me – that’s okay too.

So if you feel like considering it, I’ll offer these ideas to explore:

  • You have the right to reject fundamentalism in any form from any person or entity trying to control your experience or the way you integrate an idea. Including me.
  • You have the right to walk away from spiritual bullying.
  • You have the right to question any idea, ideology, and any teacher.
  • You have the right to stand in your own understanding.
  • You have the right to have spiritual autonomy.
  • You have the right to make any spiritual or healing practice your own. This includes any traditional or institutionalized spiritual or healing art form.
  • You have the right to question anything someone presents to you as absolute. This includes ideas or traditions from any traditional or institutionalized spiritual or healing art form.
  • It is healthy to question something that doesn’t resonate with you.
  • A teacher empowers. A teacher does not enslave with ideology.

On a side note: what does open, non-dualistic discussion look like and feel like?

When I am in a healthy discussion with others about our subtle energetic pursuits, the most helpful comments are self-referential. “I experience, I feel, I have noticed, I wonder….” The most instructive conversations lack an assumption of universal correctness. And the discussion participants assume that their experiences and their understanding of their experiences cannot be automatically applied to all people all of the time. Because no one is taking an authoritative tone or posture, people feel safe to be open and share. When we take the concept of “wrong” out of the equation – it’s amazing what people will tell us! It is this kind of discussion that I chew on for days if not weeks and it is this type of discussion that most influences me. And I am very fortunate to have these types of discussions far and away more frequently than other types.

The subtle realm in which we work is not a dualistic realm. For every statement made, there is an equally potent paradoxical statement. This is the beauty of the ever morphing, ever expanding, ever evolving work. If we stand still long enough to create a rule, let alone enforce one, we create inertia and take ourselves out of the subtle realm of non-duality and dare I say, out of our Hearts.

In gratitude,

Tana

A crystal ritual intended for the highly sensitive person

Rituals and the Highly Sensitive Person

 

Today in Facebook Land, I came across this article: Why Sensitive Souls Need Rituals,  by Kathryn Nulf, posted on The Elephant Journal website. In this article, Ms. Nulf writes:

“Rituals can have a profound impact on us HSP’s (highly sensitive persons): they calm and ground us, soothe the spirit, slow us down, remind us to live in the present moment, nourish our soul and remind us that we are responsible for our own well-being.”

This is what energy healing and creating crystal grids and crystal essences and doing crystal meditations is for me – grounding rituals that soothe and help me slow down.

Sometimes people will ask me something like, “Do you really believe in crystal energy?” And I respond, “Yes. Because I’ve experienced it and it helps me.”  Not everything in this world can be explained to everyone’s satisfaction. Heck, my experience of crystals is not explained to my satisfaction! It’s definitely in part, learning about how to live comfortably in mystery. And this world is full of mystery, much as our supposedly rational minds would like us to believe otherwise.

Subtle energy of any type – it can and will be experienced by different people in different ways. Some will have a deeply profound, tangible experience with tangible results. Some will have a deeply inner-soul experience that can’t be explained. Some will notice a very gentle support or sense of encouragement. Some won’t experience it at all, holding the “rock” in their hands, or atop the treatment table, shrugging their shoulders, looking at us skeptically. And that’s totally cool. I’m sure there is something that affects the person unaffected by crystals and subtle energy work that I wouldn’t understand or relate to either. It’s okay to be different and to have unique experiences.

Another idea I try to convey is this: it isn’t so much about the object – which serves as the symbol. Everything is a symbol pointing us to something greater than ourselves and usually through lessons in this Earth School we signed up for, but sometimes through moments of Grace too. Words, crystals, mandalas, music, books, art, light, dark, colors, numbers, shapes – all of it – symbols or tools which help us connect or reconnect to our Selves and sometimes each other in ways that bring us back to ourselves, helping us get grounded and Heart-centered.

Have you created a ritual in your life that helps you feel the ground beneath your feet? Which tools are your go-tos to create ritual in your life? How do you choose to work with them? In what way does working with this ritual tool help you?