The following essays are from my book. There are also archived essays from my newsletters.
The heart is the first organ to develop immediately after conception. It is our first intelligence before the brain evolves. There is research that the heart entrains the brain rather than the other way around. The heart is made up of the same kind of neurons that make up the cerebral system. According to the Institute of Heart Math, “the heart and brain maintain a continuous two-way dialogue, each influencing the other’s functioning.” Neuro-scientists have come to see that the heart is an organ of great intelligence beyond it’s capacity to tirelessly and heroically pump our life blood.
And yet how often do we consult with our heart? Are children asked- “what is your heart saying?” What emphasis does school curriculum put on heart intelligence? And when did we all learn to abandon our hearts, setting aside it’s deep wisdom for the preferable realm of the intellect? And going even farther, when did we learn to shun it, to judge it’s communications to us as sappy, worth belittling, and ignoring? Perhaps the deep secret is that we are terrified of it and the wide range of emotions it offers us. Can you imagine a corporation or even a family saying “Okay, it’s heart time.”? Or a presidential candidate being asked “How would your heart participate in your leadership?” What would any kind of peace talk look like if the heart was involved? I wonder.
How often do we bring our attention to this magnificent part of our being instead of relegating to the back of the bus? When do we create a sacred time and space for this essential part of us that is too often set aside for productivity, busy-ness and a distorted sense of survival? Are we willing to re-connect to that which is a brilliant guide and the very center of our life force? Are we willing to give ourselves “heart time”? So much of modern psycho-therapy is analytical, using the mind to control the heart, instead of finding safe ways to deeply listen to the heart. Are we willing to take note of all the automatic ways we protect ourselves and why? Are we willing to be brave enough to take the road less travelled and dive into the emptiness we fear, the disappointments we distract from, the losses we won’t lean into? Are we willing to let our hearts relish in joy and celebration as well, to experience “Happy” for even a moment? What would the world look like if the heart didn’t have to be sneaky about it’s voice, and rather was celebrated as the primary link to ancestral wisdom and our humanness?
How Do We Protect Ourselves, and From What?
Yesterday I was in the car listening to an interview of a young couple in love, and they shared about how they had come together. The young man said, “It took awhile before I knew I wouldn’t get hurt.” I wondered how he knew she wouldn’t hurt him or he wouldn’t hurt her or himself. I wondered what hurt meant to him. I wondered if he’d say the same ten years from now. Fear of getting hurt could have kept him from knowing the precious moments along the way if he had run away, but lucky for him he had a “knowing” inside him that said, “She’s okay. I won’t get hurt.” And he could allow and open to the relationship. I doubt that he will never feel hurt by her, but he has moved forward with a brave heart.
When you are young and you explore fire and your hand gets burned, there is, for most, a decision not to consciously put your hand in the fire again. You stay away. It is a good thing, no doubt, to learn these things about the physical world. Maybe the burn leaves a scar, maybe not. If it does, a scar reminds us, “Careful, you could get burned again!”
But what of the heart? What does the heart learn through disappointment, loss, and experiencing the feeling of abandonment, or getting “burned”? If a lot of these feelings happen at a very young age and the child does not learn how to hold these experiences, soothe, discern, and find resiliency, it becomes the beginning of a very long story that repeats itself again and again. A child may decide they will never open their heart again because love hurts and they may grow to be an adult who avoids ever really loving again or being vulnerable to the possibility of emotional hurt. A child may decide that love only hurts, yet they want love nonetheless, and will attract people to confirm that bias. In adult relationships, those who have had the courage to invest the heart and expose it to the possibility of challenging moments may find that these inner children from the past are present in “the back seat” or at the dinner table, and even in bed.
When I was about ten years old I heard a sermon entitled “The high cost of loving.” He shared that he had lost many in his life, his son, two grandchildren, and many others. And he said that something so precious as love must have a price. It is not free. I never forgot that. And I wondered to my young self, how will I have the strength, the courage to bear the cost of loving, because I long for it so much. Now I want to tell my ten-year old self, “I still continue to learn that lesson every day.”
Tennyson knew something profound. “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” I wonder how he kept that notion present in his own life.
The good news is that the heart is a very strong part of our humanness. The heart has the ability and potential to beat over 3 billion times throughout a lifetime. Through disappointment and betrayal it keeps on beating. The heart has a lot of wisdom when we listen to it deeply, in a place beyond the racket of the mind, and the past hurts. If the un-resourced child within us shouts its bad advice we cannot listen deeply to what the heart is truly saying. We must listen to that inner child with compassion and support, and we can’t let her drive us. The heart knows beyond past hurts. It knows what it needs and what it wants, and it knows what is true.
How Do You Fight?
We all fight. We fight when we sense we need to protect something. What are we protecting? Perhaps we fight for our pride, our need to be right, our sense of control and autonomy, our status, our feeling valued, our territory, our perceived security, or in response to our feeling invisible? We fight to keep things the way we want them. And life is very rarely exactly what we want, is it? And since it isn’t, we fight, hoping we can make it so.
Byron Katie says “Defensiveness is the first act of of war.” Initial aggressiveness is not the first act of war; it is an assault. And then it is our response to that aggressiveness that begins the war.
So how do we fight? I know I have a whole arsenal. Some ways are blatant like yelling and blaming, only in the privacy of my nearest and dearest of course! I am letting my uglies out, so here goes! Maybe sometimes I pull the vulnerable card and cry. I am not saying this is not genuine. It’s all genuine. It’s how I feel and how I fight. Sometimes I withdraw and get very cold and withholding. Sometimes I assert my power sideways. Sometimes I turn my anger inward at myself and get depressed and collapse or get sick. Mostly I am very smart with my words, appearing like the rational one, the deep one, the one who sees beyond the fight that is deceptively still taking place. My five foot one and a half stature seems to get taller at these times, and my words can make me feel like the Giant and Goliath, both. I notice how hard it is for me to confess these things. I feel momentarily ashamed, and also disarmed. And yet it’s true. It takes a Brave heart to be aware of how we fight and own it. And I am shaking a bit as I type this.
I asked a couple people how they fight and they immediately became defensive about the question itself, wanting to present themselves in the best light. Of course one may think that being quietly passive aggressive is preferable because it’s not loud. Though it holds the same violence as a more blatant version of aggression or defensiveness. We all fight, whether we admit it or not. It is innate. And from a young age our families may make it clear what they think is the most acceptable means of fighting, though they probably won’t call it that.
Look at the presidential debates. That’s a fascinating study in different ways of fighting. One may scream and demean others. One may quote the bible. One may appear very professorial. One may get cold, with eyes glazed in an act of hiding, while citing supposed facts or statistics. This is how they fight. This will probably be how they lead as well.
We all fight. Even lying down and playing dead is a form of resistance. The important thing that must be seen and acknowledged is that we are doing it, how we are doing it, and that we recognize we are protecting something. What are we protecting? Is it worth protecting in this moment, or is it a habitual response? Could we say out loud I am fighting with you right now because this or that is feeling threatened by you? Wow, wouldn’t that be refreshing? And disarming. And perhaps even amusing like a Monte Python movie. I think we are all soldiers who might have forgotten what we are fighting for, and in our closest relationships. This warrior is protecting something young and vulnerable and it may not even know it.
Like the Joe and the Fish song:
“And it’s one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it’s five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain’t no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we’re all gonna die.”
Native American warriors rode into battle bare-chested, brave hearted as they fought for their home and tribe. They knew what they were fighting for.
And what if there was no fighting and we learned how to listen and compromise and live in peace? Nice story. It’s a lot to ask to fight off what’s innate. And yet another fighting begins, the war between me and myself. For now, I vote for taking the fight out of the unconscious and into the light, truly examining what we are protecting, if it is a real, substantial threat, if indeed it’s worth fighting for, and how the fight impacts our relationships and our lives. And committing to that process requires a truly Brave Heart.
Join us as we explore what we are fighting for with Brave Hearts.
Bridges not Walls by Ruthie Landis
We live in a country that is intolerant of discomfort. The world that we have created around our aversion to discomfort is one that through technology, our pervasive value system around efficiency and ease, and available addictive substances or activities allows us to run away and avoid discomfort (emotional and physical) at all costs.
From early on we are not taught how to sit in our discomfort gently or to hold our pain with compassionate awareness. We are taught to shush from infancy, “Don’t cry, ssshush baby, stop crying”. Later on, “Stop whining and buck up.” Later on, “Get over it. Get back to work.” And so on. We are rewarded for our ability to push through our discomfort, medicate it away, or even transcend it. Why would we want to shut down an infant’s most primal means of communication instead of being completely present with it in inquiry and love? “What do you need right now, little baby?” Not, “What can I do to stop this awful crying?” Am I afraid of that crying or complaining because it has been so dis-allowed and disowned in myself? Can I even name with awareness what is arising in me when another feels discomfort? Does it make me feel helpless because of my own discomfort and lack of resourcefulness around it? Because they have become so unacceptable in our world, feelings of discomfort end up alienating us from others
We have been taught to have stoic hearts, rather than brave ones. We are taught to deny the pain rather than sit with all the gold that arises from it. I believe this is the root of our intolerance toward the emotional pain of loss: loss of a loved one, a relationship, a job, or a dream. And our disapproval of emotions we deem as bad or negative like loneliness, despair, anger, or fear makes us distract or deflect from them rather than work with and grow from them.
And this reaction to our wholeness creates an on-going legacy to future generations.
The adult/children’s movie “Inside Out” invites us to see the value of our whole emotional palette. So many spiritual practices ask us to transcend those feelings, breathing ourselves to a place where they cease to exist. There is nothing wrong with feeling peace. But these feelings are fundamentally human. They are part of our humanness. Each feeling is a diamond. When will we learn to watch them arise with gratitude and awe and meet them with loving acceptance?
This morning, even as I was writing this, my husband said that he felt lonely last night. I had been upstairs in bed with a cold, allowing myself to tend to my own discomfort in a restful and non-guilt-tripping way. My knee jerk reaction was to say- “Well, you could have come upstairs.” I had the reaction that his loneliness was my fault and that it wasn’t good. And then I saw how wonderful it was that he felt lonely. He felt. And he acknowledged it. There was no cover up. No hiding it from shame. No acting out around it. There was value to that loneliness. And we could come together in a moment of tenderness and trust around it with no fixing or pushing it away. And for that moment the loneliness was a bridge rather than a wall.
Please join us as we expand our hearts into brave ones, as we dare our wounded hearts to open even more and live fuller and deeper.
– Dedicated to the Enneagram Number 6 in Each of Us
It is November 1st. This is the first time I have committed to two days at the Harbor Grand room 310 since I began coming here in April to write my book. The view has continued to change with the seasons. I can see even more of the lake as most of the trees have lost their leaves. The lake and the sky have a grayish tone to them, and the light somehow makes the outline of everything in the harbor more distinct, detailed. The sounds of the gulls’ calls and geese’ squawks cut through the crisp air with more clarity than in past months. Everything seems more heightened as the prospect of winter and austerity faces us. My three dear weeping willows have held fast to their leaves and the only discernible change I can see in them so far is a slight thinning and greater variation of green intermingled with gold. There is a speckled scattering of delicate shriveled yellow leaves on the ground at their roots. It looks like these three grand ladies are having a bad hair day as their trestle-like branches are droopy and lack luster. They are gearing themselves up for letting go, I can tell. They are still clinging vehemently to the enjoyment of tossing their drab dreadlocks in the wind. I pause and acknowledge how I know this in myself. I know how the notion of truly letting go, making way for a kind of death-time and loss-time makes me grabby, holding on tighter for as long as I can before the inevitable exhale comes, before the necessary release empties to make way for the new…for the unknown and mysterious face of change. I feel how the tightening and holding on contracts through my body in anticipation of…what? And Fear is the companion of this tightening. And Doubt, her sister.
The idea of coming here for two days was an experiment to see if I could get more writing done in 48 hours than I have been in 24 hours. I have noticed that when I have to get packed up to leave at the end of each writing tryst I am in a zone and I really don’t want to break my trance or disconnect from the channel that I am reveling in, that I’m on a roll so to speak, and don’t want to interrupt that which I am clinging to. Perhaps the inspiration will never come again. So it occurred to me last month that I could book two days and see how it goes.
In the interim I doubted whether this was a good idea, and I watched my expectations increase as well as the stress that accompanies those expectations. What if I don’t have any more in me after 24 ½ hours? I will have paid for another day and night and for what?
As my husband helped me load the car, I realized I had forgotten something, my phone charger. He tried to encourage me to forget about it, that I didn’t need to take it with me, that I shouldn’t be on the phone much anyway while I was writing. I have a tendency to give in to his suggestions and doubt my intuition, only to deeply and angrily regret it later. This time, I said, thanks but I think I’ll trust my gut here. In other situations I can easily and frequently doubt myself. I even doubt my inner Doubter. Or criticize and judge my inner Critic. Or boss around and overrule my inner Boss. Or belittle my Unworthy One. What a lot of energy all this takes and what does it accomplish? This time I made a choice to trust without questioning. Nice. I just went back into the house and retrieved the charger with a knowing- I will need this. It proved to be right as someone called who truly needed me to answer the phone and to talk just as I needed to be present for her and myself in that conversation, which of course was about fear and doubt. I was keenly aware that Doubt was definitely hanging around.
So hello there. Welcome, Doubt.
It is my sense that the Doubter, or the Critic arrive with a mission of protection. Of course there must be fearful thoughts or the need to protect wouldn’t be there. And of course fear isn’t any more or less real than any other thought. But it feels real. Oh it feels very real. These thoughts have arrived to be seen, sometimes out of habit, sometimes out of wisdom. How do you know the difference? So I am interested in how we can observe the arrival of the Doubter, or Critic, or Boss or whoever with inquiry and presence, allowing it to be seen, acknowledged, and held. It reminds me of a child with a hurt, who may be screaming melodramatically, but seems to be put at ease, for the moment, by climbing in your lap, listened to, and not fixed, as this particular hurt is not really fixable.
So the Watcher and I lie down on the fluffy king-size bed in room 310 at the Harbor Grand and cuddle with Doubt. She wants to sleep, she doesn’t want to write. She is in resistance and she will absolutely not sit at the keyboard. She doesn’t want to read a book either. She wants to sleep or watch tv. Period.
What have you come to tell me? I whisper. Doubt has an alias name- the Procrastinator, and she is stubborn. I want to hear you, I whisper again, coaxing her. What do you need from me to allow us to write? She tosses and turns a bit. She says nothing at first. I said she was stubborn. I fall asleep with her for two hours. It is a heavy, dead to the world sleep. I allow it and watch it. A few times my eyes glimpse the computer, which waits patiently. Doubt turns over in the bed and away from the monitor which glows with light and possibilities. I think the “possibilities” part gets to her. I think that when the Watcher is really present, that out of the watching, other possibilities and choices always seem to emerge, spontaneously, as a surprise.
She climbs out of bed and teases me as she goes to the bathroom, then has something to eat. She climbs back into bed and under the covers. I am still patient. I know I cannot force her because Doubt is extremely passive aggressive and will win. I ask Myself- what if I don’t write a word in these two days? What if nothing comes, and Doubt holds me captive? Could I love myself enough for that to be okay too, all the while “not-doing” with awareness? Doubt comes awake having overheard this. I can tell she is ready to speak. Perhaps she trusts that I have proven I am really ready to listen. Write for us alone, she sighs, relieved. Write because we must, because the expression itself is what matters. Then I will feel safe. Then I will not be afraid. What is there to doubt except whether I am speaking from my truth, and I am a good reader of that. I will be here to remind you.
I see we are a good team, Doubt, the Watcher, and me. She comes to remind me about what is important, if I listen deeply enough. If I had merely judged her thoughts as negative thoughts, thoughts that attract other “bad” thoughts which hold me back from manifesting the life I wish I could live, and had turned quickly toward the “good” thoughts, the “Ahhh, I can do it!!!” thoughts, I would have pushed through, and in doing so, lost my way. Instead, I did not find her as my enemy, my blocker, but rather as having wisdom behind her fear. She knows how to create safety when she is engaged in problem solving rather than just resistance.
I hear you, I say. I might lose my way again. It is easy to do so in our world. So come back to remind me and I will take the time to listen. On this you can trust me.
And so Doubt let me write about her. And this is her chapter.
This is the intimacy of the self-mastery process, the tender relationship with self. Can we allow all aspects of the process, including fear and doubt, envy, and rejection to be held with love and acceptance? Can the surrender and letting go come of its own accord, in its own time, through a righteous and compassionate relationship with the complex self? Can we trust that the exhale will come when it must and be certain that the inhale will follow, without forcing the breath to be as we will it to be? Can I trust that this book will write itself, will breathe itself into the keyboard in its own way, in its own time?
I glance out the window at the pile of leaves on the ground below the willows. It appears like there are many more of them there now, having let go of their clinging, fallen from the branches when I was not looking.
Rewriting the Dream
What if you could imagine that your life is a dream? What if you could imagine that just as you can wake yourself up from a dream you are having at night, you could wake yourself up and rewrite your life’s dream?
Sometimes when I am having a disturbing dream I wake myself up, sit up in bed, and say “I don’t like how this dream is going. How do I want it to go?” And I think of a way to rewrite the movie I am dreaming so it doesn’t disturb me so much. And I go back to sleep and the movie/dream changes…since I am the writer. Sometimes my unconscious will take hold again and veer me back to those disturbing images or scenes, and I get to wake myself up again, rewrite, edit, perhaps even recast the characters if necessary, and close my eyes and dream into something that feels more in alignment with where I want to be in the dream.
I remember when I was a little girl and would have a bad dream and go wake my mother up for help. I would stand next to her sleeping self and say “Mommy I just had a very bad dream.” In my mother’s sleep she would first say, “That’s nice dear.” I would stand there and wonder, “Does she mean that, or is she just still asleep?” Quite an interesting moment. That’s nice dear. Maybe it was nice. Why not? Even though I was very scared and upset, perhaps she was right. And sometimes I would be persistent and say, “I’m scared to go to sleep again because I might dream it again.” Then she would say, still with her eyes closed, “Go back and choose what to dream. Dream about dancing in the Nutcracker, or something wonderful.” And I would go back and do what I was told. After all I was a very good girl. Yes, I might have enjoyed a little cuddle, or having her walk me back to my bed and hold me until I fell back asleep. But in some amazing way, I built a resourcefulness for myself around my dreams because my mother did just what she did. I became the master of my dreams. I was in charge of my dreams. I was empowered around my dreams. They were my stories after all. I believe that translated into my waking dreams as well. How do I dream my day? What costume will I wear tomorrow? What’s the storyline going to be?
Over the years, as I have worked with my dreams consistently, I have developed a narrative voice that will speak aloud to me as I dream. It will say “Oh, this is happening in this dream because you need to look at this or that.” Or it will say, “This death isn’t real it’s just making you face an ending of….”. It is a very wise and reassuring voice, and has amazing perspective. I believe we can all develop that voice, whether we are asleep at night or awake in the day. It’s all the same. I have not always lived my life with this truth. Sometimes I forget that I can wake up from the dream. Sometimes I feel held captive by the dream. But the fact that I let myself forget is a dream I have written also.
Sometimes when I am dreaming something disturbing, I choose to let that dream unfold because I feel I need to experience its nightmarishness for a reason. At those times I choose not to wake myself up and rewrite or edit. I choose to have the nightmare and then mine the gold of the experience of it in the morning. Why do that? I suppose a part of me feels the need to learn something from that particular movie, and doesn’t want to mess with it. It’s like, sometimes I am in the mood for a tearjerker, and will choose to go to a very sad movie so I can cry and move the sad feelings within me. Maybe I just need to have a pity party for the character in the movie and myself simultaneously. And why not? Or I might want to see an action film because that mirrors something in me that needs to be aggressive. Or I may need to go to a very silly, inane comedy because I have been holding my life too tightly and need to lighten up and be childlike and goofy. It’s all available. I can watch a movie. Or I can dream the movie, by day or by night.
And then there are the reoccurring dreams. The dreams I have revisited again and again. When I was little I had this dream where King Kong had come to our neighborhood. He destroyed some houses but he didn’t destroy ours. He peered his one giant eye into my bedroom window and put his finger through my window. Somehow, though I was terrified of him, I knew he didn’t really want to harm me. After all I cast him in my dream and there was something lovable about this big beast, even to my 5 year old self. In time that dream became less scary. I kept rewriting it until he was truly my friend. And then I never dreamt that dream again. I didn’t need to.
So how does this apply to my life? Can I dream the changes I believe I long for? Can i budge the status quo of my life if I truly believe I must and am ready to do so. Of course I can. Why not?
The questions I must ask are “Who is the Dreamer of this dream? Who wants this dream to be different? Who longs for the change? Is all of me ready for this dream to change? Is the cast of characters within me on board to develop a new script and production?”
Different parts of ourselves have differing ideas about change, about rewriting our dream script. Some parts want to cling to the story they know, and they are very powerful in holding us in the status quo. They are afraid to rewrite the dream, and in their powerful resistance they will keep the dream going the way they know it to go. Sequel after sequel. These parts need to be seen by our narrative voice, and exposed, then befriended. I always loved that scene in the Wizard of Oz when the great Oz turned out to be just a sweet little old man, wise and dear, with his own self doubt and good intentions. It took little Toto the pup with no ego to sniff him out and pull back the curtain. When he was seen as he truly was, small, beautiful and human, his best self came forward and he helped Dorothy and her gang while he helped himself…and he changed. He went home to Kansas in his hot air balloon with a new vision. He could have returned before but he wasn’t ready to rewrite his dream.
Before we can rewrite our dream script we must know all the characters well. We must see the saboteurs, expose them kindly, and get them on board for the rewrite. We must understand them and befriend them, like my little girl’s King Kong, until we don’t need to keep dreaming that same ole dream. We must develop that strong all seeing narrative voice that knows all aspects of our dream production well. Then we can look at the old dreams of our lives and say, “That’s nice dear. Now dream about…” And so we will.
The Creative Force
From the moment I arrived in New Buffalo, Michigan to write, there has been a severe weather advisory. The wind is fierce. It is loud and powerful and I can’t believe the little yachts in the harbor aren’t being picked up in a funnel cloud and taken to Oz. The four Weeping Willows outside my window are dancing like Sufi trance dervishes, I’m glad they can’t have a heart attack, because the wind just won’t let them rest. Will they be bald before their time? They are not ready to lose their leaves, and as the gusts sweep them to and fro lustfully, almost abusively, they hold on and their sweeping branches become even more flexible than ever, because they have to in order to survive this force. I worry about my old Magnolia back in Chicago. Will she be able to weather this powerful storm?
The outside reflects the inside. Why has this storm come to me this day, as I beckon my own creative force to surface? How is this nasty windstorm like my creativity? It is dark and scary. It can’t be stopped until it stops. It arrived unexpectedly. It sometimes feels like the angry breath of Goddess, and I can’t hide from it, though I may try. It has great impact. It will run its course and then it will return when you least expect it. It is very noisy. Then it is quiet and discreet. Has the storm ended? Oh no. Here it comes again. The building is shaking from it, and even with windows closed, I can hear it wailing, and moaning, and roaring. It is strong in its expression, varied, teasing, bombast. I wonder how the birds navigate it, but they do. They seem to ride it like a surfer on the ocean, becoming at one with it and not questioning or resisting where it will take them. It never seems to tire. As night descends, before my very eyes the lights on the harbor flicker as the Wind demands their obedience as well. It is overwhelming and invigorating. I was cold when I started writing this, and now I am very hot.
This is the creative force in at least one of her many forms. She brings about movement, manifestation, some destruction, that ultimately makes room for reconstruction. She is birth and death and birth. She digs away at the unseen. I know so many people who say with conviction- I am just not creative. That is like saying “I am alive, but do not breathe.” Creativity is the life force itself. We are creating in each moment, in our thoughts and actions.
Creativity can be capricious, fleeting, sometimes hard to tame. It arrives, like the windstorm when it wants to. I must open and wait patiently, intentionally for its next visit, like a faithful lover. I must turn myself toward it. No amount of discipline can command its presence, or control how long it stays. But when it comes through the door, its dance is so delicious, so entertaining- time stands still. I am not young or old, infirmed or healthy, I am all that is- at one with the words, or the colors, the textures, the light and the dark, the ugly and the beautiful, there is no preference, just the movement of the wind through my soul.
A long time a go a teacher of mine said- “We are most ourselves when wearing a mask. “
Many years later, I might alter that phrase- “We can be most ourselves when wearing a mask.” My phrase amplifies the implication that we believe we are most protected and ironically, most able to be authentic when wearing a mask. The fact is, we are never not ourselves. We have many versions of ourselves, and all the masks we choose to wear are a part of our whole person. The mask is constructed to allow certain things to be seen by others, and other things to be hidden from them. What we decide to show (consciously or unconsciously) and what not to show grows from how we perceive the world and the people in it, and how we perceive ourselves in relation to that world. Our mask also reflects our relationship with ourselves. As one of the participants in my mask workshop said, speaking to his mask, “the gift you give me is a layer of insulation between me and the outside world.”
The Oxford dictionary defines mask both as a noun and a verb. As a noun it is- “a covering for all or part of the face which protects, hides, or decorates the person wearing it.” Or-“an appearance or behavior that hides reality”. As a verb, to mask is – “to prevent something from being seen or noticed”. Why do we do this? Why not live by the motto “what you see is what you get?” But even that stance, in its extreme, can be a kind of mask as well, because what you see is never the whole picture.
From an Enneagram perspective, we can create masks to hide from the world and from ourselves that which we believe we are lacking, or something that we think we should have, like confidence, expertise, wealth or power. Sometimes we hide our great talents and gifts for fear that others will envy us and not want to stay connected. The type One might hide their mistakes or incompetence, to avoid being perceived as less than perfect by seeming completely put together and on top of things. The type Two might hide their neediness or sense of worthlessness, by showing everyone how resourceful, wise and helpful they are. The type Three might obscure a view of their failures or their secret feelings of “not enough-ness” by acting self-assured and showing off their successes. The Four might cover their fear of rejection with aloofness or rejecting and withdrawing first, or by being overly warm and accepting when they feel otherwise. The Five might mask that they don’t know something or don’t feel resourced enough, by arguing credibly even when they don’t know, being condescending, just disappearing or dropping out. The Six might display a provocative and challenging exterior to hide their worry and anxiety, or conversely, appear the victim or helpless when they are very capable of meeting the moment but don’t want to try. The Seven might appear confident and maven-like to keep their feelings of inadequacy, that they stronger in breadth but not depth, in the shadows. The Eight might hide their vulnerability and tenderness, most especially from themselves, and consequently to the world, by taking a tough and forceful position that appears “not to care”. And the Nine might wear a beautiful, toothy smile when they don’t want you to see that they would rather growl and bare teeth at you out of anger. We can recognize most of these masks and Enneagram energies within ourselves at different times and in different situations. Our core type, however, defaults to one of these masks most frequently.
No “conscious” choice about what we show or don’t show is wrong. The question is, are we conscious of having made a choice at all? Perhaps our masks may need some remodeling from time to time. Perhaps it’s time to try o a different face and see the gifts that come from doing so.
The Outside reflects the Inside. Perhaps to grow and expand who we think we are requires some insight into how we limit that growth by our “unconscious” masks.
To China with Love and No Mask
When your only child is lying in a hospital bed across the world, seriously ill with an unknown kind of hepatitis and high fever, in a tiny room that smells like a sewer, filthy with cracked ceilings, wet towels hanging across his bed to dry, nurses with blood stained uniforms because they can’t afford clean new ones, and no one at the hospital can speak your language-English, there is no mask in the world that one can contrive to navigate the situation and create the illusion of safety. I knew the words- “Nee How- Hello”, and “Sheh sheh- Thank you.” That’s it. Language and words create masks for us in each moment; what we choose to say, what we don’t. All the word choices available to me meant nothing at all. The only thing I had to reach another was an exposed, vulnerable, open heart, and eyes that did not lie. Eye to eye- I to I. My son has many amazing expatriate friends who have created a dedicated family/community among themselves. Young people between 18-26 from all over the world that truly show up for each other with a commitment to be supportive in a way I have never experienced from others in my own life. I felt their support and sacrifice in each moment. Since the hospital does not provide food, my sons friends brought food and anything he needed until I arrived. They took turns staying with him, and when I got there they pooled all their Mandarin speaking resources to help me get to the bottom of his illness, and ultimately out of that clinic and home to his apartment. They helped me get around, register at the police station, use a cell phone photograph to get test results to our doctor in the U.S. because the hospital had no FAX, xerox machine, or email. There were no roles, or masks to mess around with, only a mutual loving intention to help my son and me. There was no status to seek, nor dignity to protect. There was the essential agreement to trust and be proactive with a mutual cause to help someone we all love. It was refreshing to leave my masks behind, and operate from transparency in each moment. I wonder what it would take for each of us to practice that kind of trust more often. Why don’t we?
Prosperity and Moving Beyond the Status Quo
Last July, right around my birthday, I woke up one morning feeling an urgency and clarity around my readiness and desire to let go of what was keeping me from being truly prosperous. Over the years I have worked a lot with myself on inviting abundance and receptivity into my life and now feel I am blessed to have a very rich, full, and abundant life on so many levels. The piece that was still lingering in the realm of status quo was literally around prosperity as it is defined- flourishing financially. Though I have always been fortunate to have a roof over my head, and though, only early on in my adulthood did I truly know real hunger, I have always made just enough. There have been times that money has been less problematic than at other times, but there has always been stress and worry for me around money to some degree. The issue around prosperity was not about greed, wanting more and more, but rather around ease and deep trust, without a ceiling that the growth of my income was always bumping up against. Instead, I felt ready for the wide-open sky of pure potential.
The previous February I had gone to a presentation for the Chicago Community Group of the Institute of Noetic Science. The presenter, Jose Luis Stevens Ph. D is a wonderful teacher and consultant who uses, among other tools, the gifts of Shamanic work and is president and co-founder of The Power Path Inc. I knew this was someone with whom I wanted to connect further.
In April I was presenting a workshop for international consultants in Santa Fe where Dr. Stevens is based and I tried to get an appointment with him but my schedule and his availability were not aligned. Then one morning months later, in July, on a Friday, I sat up in bed at 6 am and knew I needed an appointment with Jose Stevens! I immediately e-mailed his office. His assistant e-mailed back promptly to say that he had not planned to be in Chicago for a good while but coincidentally he had just received a call asking him to fly to Chicago for some consulting work on Monday (3 days later) and he had an appointment available, would I like one? Oh yeah.
In this one-hour appointment Time seemed to stand still. Jose shared with me that my issues with prosperity were a legacy from my parents passed on to me, a psychic wound that was keeping me from the pure potential of prosperity, and that this psychic wound created an energetic pattern that kept my earning power in the status quo, and that together we could collapse the standing wave of status quo with a simple ritual. I had done a lot of awareness work, cord cutting, and ritual making around letting go of the conditioning around money in my family, and yet I was still stuck. I felt deserving. I felt that I had worked rigorously with my beliefs around money. Yet I felt wide open to learning something new, another tool. How were my conditioning and the messages of my parents still supplying data to the quantum field that kept bringing the same results? During this ritual I could feel the information in the quantum field that I inhabited dissolve and be replaced with a powerful movement toward possibility, that wide-open sky of pure potential, with no ceiling. I felt myself change on a cellular level. I felt the sacredness of the moment. Jose said “I encourage you to use this ritual with your clients for whatever ways in which they are stuck in the status quo. Perhaps this little ritual will be one means of prosperity for you. Who knows?”
Since that day I have facilitated this ritual with many clients and have seen real movement for them around their stuck places. For myself, I have not worried about money since that morning in July. I am in a state of trust each day and can feel my movement toward finally flourishing financially. I feel so much more ease. And then, synchronistically, I received an e-mail from Life Force Arts inviting me to present an offering on Prosperity. Ah, the Universe once again smiles at me. I knew in that moment what I was meant to share and I look forward to passing on this powerful ritual that was gifted to me by Jose Stevens. When the student is ready the teacher appears. When we are curious about why we hold onto our suffering or stay stuck in places that feel ready to move, sometimes a simple ceremony can create a complex shift. I was ready. At another time perhaps I would not have been.
Transforming Resistance in the Midst of Change
In 2010 I committed to giving pro bono workshops for organizations that supported the unemployed. I called the workshop “Transforming Resistance in the Midst of Change.” As we approach the new year and start to open ourselves to the change that awaits us, I wanted to share this excerpt from a longer piece from my upcoming book.
“Very little of the Resistance we have to doing a task or committing to something comes from a deep “I know in every cell of my being that this is the wrong thing to do!” place. Mostly it comes from just not wanting to. We may just stay in inaction because an inner voice is saying, “I don’t want to!” and we may never explore the Resistance with adult open inquiry any further.
Some of us will be direct in showing our Resistance and say a loud “NO” to ourselves and the people around us, rationalizing, attacking, arguing our position. Some of us will be indirect, passive aggressive, or manipulative and say we will do something and then just not do it, or procrastinate, or make excuses for why we haven’t done it. And a lot of us will merely be unconscious about our Resistance. Looking at our Resistance full on requires honesty and courage.
Of course, if we have looked at the “No” with curiosity and arrive at the decision from our thinking self, our feeling self, and our intuitive or gut knowing self and all three centers of wisdom are in agreement then the Resistance is well founded and we should follow the No.
Most Resistance is just about fear of Change, of the unknown, so we are too often resisting from a reactive place. Actually Resistance often is coming from a very young place inside of us. Perhaps now I am in my terrible two’s, saying “No” for autonomy, control, power, the need to be right, or differentiation. Perhaps now my “No” is coming from fear, maybe that five-year-old self on its first day of school, wanting independence but wanting security more. And maybe it’s a big “No” from our teenage self questioning our worth and just secretly not feeling up to it, or enough for the task, or deserving of the unseen good that might come from it.
We don’t need to resist our Resistance, which ends up being pretty futile. We do need to be interested in it from our compassionate observer self and honor it long enough to explore it, dialogue with it, and get to the bottom of its reactivity. Befriend it from a grown-up place, and then do what mature and wise grown-ups do, make a value-based decision and then take it out of the driver’s seat. These young places really are not old enough to drive, but they end up doing so too often.
Change is happening in each moment without our say so. Resistance, when allowed to be seen, leads us to openness, strategy and planning, and finding the support we believe we need to navigate with resilience that which we are moving toward…the Change we are actually seeking.