a blog for 21st century Seekers
Fear is creeping in,
A gripping on the lower back side
of my heart,
Breathe - the One Breath,
we are all breathing it!
It could kill us
It could heal us.
Pull in more oxygen than you exhale.
Again! Faster, deeper!
Now, hold it!....................................(for how long?)
Never mind that. Just relax.
Be present to what is:
......but also.......relaxation, spaciousness.
Ego drops away
becomes the servant,
no longer the master.
for the first time in millennia:
EVOLVE OR DIE.
Floating down the stream toward the Source
A slight kick here,
A slight paddle there.
don't let your head hit a rock!
That is your only job:
Soon, others join,
carried in by their unique tributaries.
Smile at each other.
We are picking up speed now,
a collective surrender.
The River knows where she is going-
Don't let questions like that trick you into
The way we ride the River
is the same way
we will embrace the Ocean.
Shall it be in fear
or in Trust?
Fear is not working.
Evolve or die.
(By Chelsea Forbrook, April 5, 2020. Thanks to my friend Ben for the writing prompt.)
It’s Valentine’s Day, and as a “single” person, this could be a prime opportunity to launch into a full blown pity party or fits jealousy (both are states I’m quite familiar with), but this year, I’m choosing to reflect on something entirely different. No, I’m not going to talk about “Galentine’s Day” and the power of female connection. No, I’m not going to extrapolate upon Emma Watson’s brilliant new term of being “self-partnered” which removes the stigma of being single. Both subjects are extremely important, and well worth reflecting upon. However, this year, I’ve been noticing a type of love that hardly ever gets talked about: friendships across sex and gender.
When I was in college, I remember Pastor Trachte, our campus minister who was nearing retirement, sharing his reverence for this new phenomenon.
“When I was your age,” he said, “I wasn’t able to be friends with women. It just didn’t happen back then. Women were for dating, and that’s it. Men only hung out with other men. I wish I could have what this younger generation has, because you’re able to learn from each other across gender, learn to support each other in non-sexual ways. Young men learn to express their emotions these days because they have female friends who allow them to do so.”
I can’t imagine a life without having male friends. I’ve always had really good guy friends in my life. Without them, I wouldn’t be me. Starting with my amazing brother, to the dudes in my high school garage band, to my posse of amazing male friends in college, to the current crew of men who surround me, they have all brought me endless laughs, support, inspiration, respect, protection, love, shoulders to cry on, listening ears, guidance, consistency, and trust.
Most of all, the men in my life have brought me a sense of deep, unshakable HOPE. As a woman who has been sexually harassed by strange men hundreds of times, betrayed by several lovers, and discriminated against due to my gender, I need my male friends to restore my faith in humanity. Or MANity, as it were. (Manatee?? Oh geez. Focus, Chelsea). Without them, I would be left with only rage and fear toward the opposite sex. I wouldn’t date. I wouldn’t leave the house. I would be paralyzed in fear. They help me remember that there are good, beautiful, and KIND men in this world. Probably more good ones than I can ever imagine.
So here’s to you, all my past, present, and future man-friends!
May you know how much good you bring into the world just by being YOU.
Just by showing up.
Just by listening.
Just by being open to learning from women.
Your presence in women’s lives matters more than you’ll ever know.
You are like family to me.
I respect you, I adore you, I love you, I thank you.
Happy Valentine's Day, Dudes!!!
We all know why New Year’s resolutions are a bummer. We say we’re going to go to the gym every 4 days a week. We will journal every night before going to sleep. Or meditate every morning for 12 months. But how often have any of us actually followed through with these goals? Most of us give up on ourselves after we miss one day or one week. “I failed, so what’s the point of continuing? If I start over now, it doesn’t really count.” All or nothing thinking wins again! We crawl away with our tail between our legs. Maybe we will try again next year. *Sigh*
While hard-line goals can be meaningful and motivating in some ways, most of us just don’t function that way (unless you’re an Enneagram Three!) But even Threes could benefit from approaching the New Year through a different lens, and relaxing their obsession with checklists. For the last several years, I have focused on an intention instead of a goal or definitive resolution. Yes, there is a benefit in non-measurable outcomes.
In the yogic tradition, they talk about setting a “Sankalpa,” or sacred intention. I love this, because it has energy behind it, and yet it releases the white-knuckled grip of control. It’s no longer completely up to me to either succeed or fail, or to even know what is best for me. With a Sacred Intention, there is room to invite in the Source of Love, that Great Mystery animating all of life, to come into my life and dance with me. The Divine Beloved carries my Sankalpa just as much, or more, than I do. This sets me up for “success” and leaves space to go with the flow and find beautiful surprises along the way. It is the subtle shift away from calculated growth and towards unpredictable evolution.
Choosing one word to focus on (or a very short phrase) for a Sankalpa is best. Then it is easy to remember, and can become an anchor you return to throughout your days, weeks, and months ahead. It is fascinating to see how this one word changes meaning over time, when attention is given to it. For the last three years, I have been journeying with the word “Trust.” Each year, it just kept coming back to me, saying “I’m not done with you yet. One more year.”
This last year has been calling me to return again and again to Presence. In a sense, this is the Sankalpa suited for all of us, because it is Presence that unlocks the door to whatever it is we are searching for. All our inherent Virtues, lying dormant behind our fear, anger, and shame, have the possibility of coming alive when we are fully present in body, heart, and mind. If we desire to be more loving to ourselves and others, Presence is the key. If what we want is more courage to be our true selves, Presence will show us the way. If we are tired of distracting and numbing ourselves, Presence brings energy and clear vision to counter our self-forgetting.
So to be Present is my Sacred Intention this year. To come back to the Living Moment again and again, because that’s where true happiness lies. That’s where my deeper heart can wake up from its long hibernation, and where my chattering mind can find a profound Quietness. Presence signals my body to relax, to release unnecessary tension, and open intuitive channels to Inner Guidance.
Ahhh, Beloved Presence! If only I were not such an unfaithful lover! I keep leaving you for the next exciting distraction. I cheat on you with my worries, my obsessive planning, my fantasies, my ruminations. None of these ever brings me the fulfillment I desire. Only you can satisfy my soul! Thankfully, you are patient and forgiving, always waiting for me just under the surface, welcoming me back with a spacious and unlimited embrace. Within you, Dear Presence, I find the true gift of Grace. Thank you. Please keep calling me Home.
Ways to work with your Sankalpa:
Image credit: www.advancedsciencenews.com
Every time I am heading out the door after a spiritual direction session, my loving friend and spiritual director Janet says, “Keep drinking from deeper wells.” She has been saying this to me for ten years, and I am only now beginning to really understand what this means. Truth be told, I never thought about it too much until about a year ago.
The reminder to drink from Deeper wells suggests that there are shallow wells to drink from. I certainly am familiar with those. After drinking from them, I am left thirstier then ever before. Here are some places I’ve run to in search of a lasting quench to my dissatisfaction with life:
Striving to be above reproach
Being admired and approved of by others
Earning the respect of people I care about
Helping others with their problems
Making myself needed
Getting a GPA above 4.0
Fantasizing about and searching for a career that will fulfill me completely
Curating certain “moods” to wallow in
Eating ice cream
Eating dark chocolate
Making my parents proud
Becoming knowledgable on certain topics
Looking at things from an objective and logical perspective
Repressing my emotions
Filling up my life with stimulating and pleasurable activities
Getting a dog
Living in community
Searching for a life partner
Trying to fix my partner
Treating myself like a self improvement project
Having a plan and being prepared
Making check lists
Venting and raging
Buying a kick ass bike
Upgrading to an electric bike
Saving money for my future
Numbing out through books and movies
Eating more chocolate
Checking Facebook again
Thinking about making popcorn
Slicing a pear and spritzing it with just the right amount of salt, lemon and Chile powder
Obsessing over plucking my eyebrows
Watching the Daily Show and Trevor Noah’s standup comedy
Buying new shoes
Explaining to you why I’m right and you’re wrong
Cleaning my house
Being in a position of power
Trying to save all the children at Bancroft Elementary from their horrible manners and trauma
Having a bomb-ass hairdo
How do you suppose those things are working out for me? ... Exactly.
The Buddha held up two leaves while teaching his students one day, and said, “There are innumerable leaves in this forest, and yet I hold only two. Just so, while there are innumerable things I could teach, I choose to teach only two: suffering and the end of suffering.” The Buddha didn’t choose this focus to be a Debbie Downer. He chose it because the study of the roots of suffering leads to seeing suffering clearly, as it truly is, and that leads to liberation. But instead of getting curious and interested in the persistent dissatisfaction inherent in living a human life, we keep trying things that we have temporarily convinced ourselves will ultimately satisfy. Some days, I just know, with all my might, that eating that organic eight dollar pint of ice cream is going to make me happy. So I go out and buy it, and before I’m even half way through eating it, I feel sick both physically and emotionally. The “happiness” lasted for about the first two bites.
It turns out nothing in this life satisfies. Not permanently anyway. Because everything is always changing. If I ever find the “perfect” life partner for me, I know they will not fulfill me. There will be days when they are the source of my deepest suffering. It’s a set up believing the story about “happily ever after.” And yet, I do. If I could just travel to all my bucket list vacation destinations, then I’d be happy. If I could just have perfect health, then I’d be happy. If I could just find a way to make more money, then I’d be happy…..
One needn’t be a Buddhist to get interested in suffering. All we need is curiosity about our patterned lives and personalities, the willingness to be brutally honest about what we discover, and the openness to let go of our viewpoints. That, of course, is much easier said than done, since our defense mechanisms and incredible ability to live in denial is so strong as humans. This is why it is helpful to have a wise guide, a spiritual teacher, a holistic therapist, or a spiritual director. Best to have one of each, because most of us need all the help we can get! At least I do.
These soul friends and spiritual guides can help us course correct when we insist on drinking from shallow wells. They remind us that there is another source, The Source, that comes from a much deeper place and satisfies the soul and aides us in our journey through suffering.
I am reminded of the story of Jesus speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well. Provocatively, he tells her he can offer her Living Water. Wondering what he means by this bizarre statement, she prods him further and he answers her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14). What in Godde’s name did he mean by that??
I do not purpose to have the answer. I know what the answer is for me, at least partially. There are many ways in which I’ve found access to the Deeper Well. While I have not yet found how to remain connected to the Living Water at all times (because my active ego still lures me away), when I do drink of it, I sense that it has been waiting for me to receive it, waiting for me beyond space and time, in this mysterious space called eternity. Its flavor is patience and grace, joy and abundance, kindness and immeasurable Love.
Questions for contemplation:
We are here today to pay our respects and mourn our Mother.
She was a vibrant, adaptive, creative and beautiful Being, Our Mother, the Earth. We gather here today to reflect on all she has given us over the eons. We gather to feel and express our heartfelt gratitude for her generous gifts. We all have our own favorite memories—those peaceful and inspiring moments when our Mother Earth held us in her majestic Presence and taught us lessons we could never learn from a book or a lecture or a conversation. She spoke to the innermost parts of our Being, taught us how to listen, to be still, to trust the silence and the flow of life. She spoke to us through the song of the wind through aspen leaves and the honking of autumn geese flying in perfect formation. She comforted us with blue skies over mountain peaks and allowed us the opportunity to shed our ego, even if for just a moment, during a raging thunderstorm. When we were willing to let her teach, we learned about impermanence, death, rebirth, adaptation, symbiosis and the connected web of all life. When we spent time with her, Mother Earth quelled our anxieties that stemmed from age-old human conditions, as well as anxieties we brought upon ourselves in this modern technological age. Whether on a mountain peak in the Rockies or just watching a line of black ants march across an inner-city sidewalk, Mother always had something to teach, for those willing to listen. She was generous like that. Even when her children were abusing her, she still had more to give. We will never find another Planet like Her—she gave us everything we have, and all that we are. She was one-of-a-kind.
But in addition to gratitude, we also gather today to feel and express our grief in all of its stages, honoring each person in their place on their grieving journey: the initial shock we felt when we realized the gravity of Mother Earth’s sickness. The ongoing period of denial that is so hard to move through and beyond. The anger and rage- the outpouring of bottled up emotion at the wrongs that have been committed against such a generous and gorgeous Planet. We shout and rage and chant for you our dear Mother Earth. In our grief, we sought to bargain with reality: maybe if we took proper political avenues we could convince those in power to tap into their moral compass. Perhaps if we convinced all of our friends and family to reduce, reuse, and recycle more, then we could beat back the destructive monster of climate change. Bike to work or take the bus! Meatless Mondays! Grow your own vegetables! Surely we could bring our Mother back from the brink of destruction if we just did our little part. Then the depression set in. The doctor said we only have twelve more years to turn this around, and that was an optimistic estimate. Even if we somehow elected all the “right” politicians this next few times around, it would still have been too late. There would still be decades of red tape, policy battles, and infrastructure rollouts to wait for. Even if our politicians had suddenly started telling the truth about climate change and developed a moral backbone, our government’s systems of process of procedures would have moved too slowly in this broken two party system controlled by corporate money. The depression lingered, and we watched our Mother Earth die, feeling alone and helpless.
If only we had been willing to feel all these emotions and move to a place of acceptance. Not acceptance as in condoning the atrocities that ruined our ozone layer and warmed our oceans. But an acceptance of reality— seeing where we are and letting the gravity of this truth sink in. Accepting that we are up Shit Creek, but then noticing we in fact do have a paddle.
If only we had grabbed that paddle of non-violent, disruptive civil disobedience – the paddle of peaceful yet persistent rebellion, we could have saved our Mother, dear Planet Earth. If only we had left the comfort of our daily routine to fight for Her life, and contingently, for our own lives.
Because this Eulogy has a surprise ending. We are not just grieving today for our Mother the Earth, but for all of Her children. She is survived by none of her human offspring. We have all died out, whether by disease, drought, or displacement that led to mass chaos and war over territory, fresh water, and food.
If only we had trusted in cooperation over competition, in the spiritual over the material, in generosity over greed, in hope and action over a resigned cynicism! Then we could have saved ourselves and our Mother Earth. If only! If only…..
(But there is something we can all do, now. https://rebellion.earth)
In this chaotic and painful world, so many people are doing what they can to make a change for the better, to turn the tables from fear and hate to love and service. And I find great hope in that. No matter how messed up things get due to a small minority of people in power, there will always be more people on the ground who are operating from a place of care, integrity, soul power, compassion, loyalty, and alignment with good.
So how can we make sure we are having the impact that we intend? So often, we see people who start with such good intentions end up hurting others because they are stuck in their way of doing or seeing things and they seem unable to work with others who are different from them; even people on "their side.” It’s so easy to see it in other people:
“There goes Pastor again, trying to massage his hurting sense of white guilt by being extra friendly and helpful to all the people of color in the congregation.”
“Gosh, I wish Brenda knew that her leadership style scares the shit out of all of us. There’s no room for creativity when it feels like I’ll be murdered for making any mistake.”
“Ugh. Sam is driving me crazy. He comes up with all these great ideas and says he’ll help the team in carrying this through. But then he disappears again and knocks us off course because he gets hooked on some new idea!”
Working in teams and communities is hard. People are complicated and relationships are messy. Always. So what can we do about those annoying coworkers, volunteers, and bosses? Unfortunately, not too much. People don’t like to be told to change, don’t like to be “fixed.” As hard as it is, the place we can enact the most change is in ourselves. We can take time to take an honest look at conflicts we’ve been a part of in the past, or situations that have felt uncomfortable.
What was my part in it? What were my motivations, really?
James Flaherty, Enneagram teacher, Integral Leadership coach, and founder of New Ventures West talks about six ways that we tend to interact with systems; whether those systems are our family, workplace or other type of community. He bases them on our Enneagram type, and they are very helpful in understanding our impact, as it’s not enough to just look at our intentions.
There are 6 ways of interacting with systems. We can:
Here is the specific breakdown by Enneagram type
(from his interview with the Shift Network on June 27, 2019)
First triad: Enneagram types 8, 3, 6- they are either Exploiting or Mobilizing
8- Exploit: Through intimidation and coercion, threatening people, by force of personality to get what they want.
Mobilize: possible to inspire systems by serving, huge potential to serve when connected to their heart. (Power of body + sensitivity of the hear t= a healthy 8)
3- Exploit: take credit for what’s happening in a system. Nothing takes the air out of a team as when one person wants to take credit for it
Mobilize: by highlighting the strengths and successes of what’s going on with work partners and within the whole system. This empowers others and helps systems become more aware of their own power, is life giving
6- Exploit: distracting systems with endless “what ifs,” or by demanding clarity that isn’t possible. Stops the forward momentum. This is a way a 6 can stay in charge, and say when their criteria has been met before letting it unfold
Mobilize: bring the courage to create a safe space to innovate and imagine things in a new way, instead of what’s always been.
Second Triad: Enneagram types 1, 2, 5 - they are either Resisting or Harmonizing
(Harmonizing = stepping back and letting life flow, getting out of the way)
1- Resist: everything has to go according to my rules and standards. I’m the guardian and steward of what is correct, in such a way that nothing happens because it shuts everyone else down. (destroying the “good” for the sake of seeking the “perfect”)
Harmonize: bring ease and the pleasure of engagement. We know that systems are always changing and don’t have an endpoint, and we can harmonize with the good that systems can bring, and enjoy the act of engagement itself
2- Resist: dismiss systems as inhuman and unkind. There’s not enough humanity/heart here, so I’m just going to get away from it, dismiss it as not worth my time. I delude myself in thinking I can opt out of the system.
Harmonize: they can point out what strengthens and connects all the different elements of the system, and create optimal space for relationships, which allows the system to unfold
5- Resist: highlight all of its limitations, what it leaves out, it’s blindspots and inconsistencies, get cynical and believe there is no true hope for change, so I opt out
Harmonize: assist people in being able to see the big picture, look at all the ramifications and the wholeness of what they’re doing- connect the dots
Third Triad: Enneagram types 4, 7, 9- They are either Ignoring or Including
4- Ignore: fight for individual views and rights- deny that there even is a collective system. We are all individuals!
Include: help us with stories of imagination that helps us find inclusive meaning so that people hearing it can understand they are part of the system. Promote creativity.
7- Ignore: will cherry pick what to support, ignore the influence of the whole system and only looking at the parts I want to affect me (to protect myself from discomfort)
Include: Welcoming dislodgment-- welcoming being challenged and pulled out of what I like and what’s important to me. Inviting in others point of view, I’m unstuck, not rigid. Visionary mind!
9- Ignore: wait out change and interventions, avoiding and denying conflict, stay comfortable
Include: Invite all voices to the table, make everyone feel heard. When we listen to each other we are more powerful and kind and more effective. Understand and mediate between views.
So much of activist/organizer energy and thought is about “How do we change those people to come to their senses, to be more generous, to be less fearful?” But if we are ever going to have a fighting chance of inspiring others to change, we need to look at our own approach on a personal level. People respond to people, not to theories. With the help of the list above, we can ask ourselves if we are using our passion, talents, time and energy in the most effective way possible.
Ironically, the way to be most effective isn’t to crank up the dial on our speed, output, or marketing strategy. It is to slow down and get present. When we can bring Presence into our work, we are more clearly seeing things as they really are. When we lose presence and are taken over by anger, shame, or anxiety, we react to the way things are instead of responding. A calm, measured response that is free from ego can only happen if we are feeling grounded in something outside of me, myself, and I.
We can use James Flaherty’s list alone or in conversation with a group. Read how your own Enneagram type interacts with systems. As painful as it might be, bring to mind a few times where you were not at your best. It is only by exploring these memories with curiosity that we can learn to avoid making the same mistakes again. And chances are, we will make the same mistakes again. But hopefully, with this new awareness, we will catch ourselves earlier in the act, make amends, and change course. It’s never too late to enact change in ourselves. And changing ourselves is the place where we have the most control, so let’s start there.
Each of us is a piece within the system. When we change, the whole system changes. If we burn out, disengage, or blow up, who benefits?
Take some time to either journal or talk about these questions with a trusted friend, mentor, or coworker.
Silence. Solitude. Stillness.
To some, these elements sound like a dream come true; to others, a nightmare.
For the last four years, I've been treating myself to a solo silent retreat in a small hermitage cabin at a retreat center to take time for deep rest, rejuvenation, reflection, and meditation, and prayer. I've found this time to be essential to finding mental and emotional clarity and discernment amidst my otherwise noisy, fast paced, distracted life. While I have a rhythm of self care and spiritual practice at home, there is something so different about being away from my house, from people, and from technology. Going on retreats keeps me honest with myself and rekindles my relationship with my Higher Power.
I've had so many people ask me, "How do you do it? I would go crazy all alone by myself for that long! What do you do with all that time?" Well, nothing really. And, a lot. So for those of you who are considering a personal retreat, but have some anxieties around it, this list of tips and tricks is for you.
Tip #1: Practice
While everyone can benefit from solo retreats, they aren't for everyone, at least not right away. It's the kind of thing you should work your way up to. Just like other types of exercise, you need to start small and increase your reps. If you try to just jump in and bench press 300 pounds without any preparation, you're going to injure yourself. It's the same with just jumping into a 3 day retreat without already having a toolkit of spiritual practices under your belt. A good way to jumpstart your practice is to first participate in a facilitated retreat with a group of people. Even if it's a silent retreat, having other people around you doing the same things builds a feeling of support and community, and having a structured schedule that includes guided prayer/reflection/meditation activities is really helpful.
You can also work your way up to solo retreating by taking yourself out on "dates" to begin to practice enjoying your own company. This could look like going for a hike by yourself, taking yourself out to a movie or dinner, spending an afternoon at the local park or coffee shop, going ice skating, or any other thing you enjoy. The key is to stay off your phone. You wouldn't be on your phone the whole time with a date, so don't do it with yourself. Be present to yourself. The only guarantee in this life is that the person you're going to wake up with every morning for the rest of your life is you. So start befriending yourself--you're worth it!
Tip #2: Scheduling
Once you have decided you're ready to try a solo retreat, it's time to pick the time and place. I suggest reserving a "hermitage" cabin at a retreat center. These cabins are set up for solo retreaters and are designed in such a way that they promote stillness, silence, and solitude. The intentionality of the design and the seclusion of the cabin will help you settle into "retreat mode" quicker. For your first time, I suggest spending two nights away. I've found it is crucial to have one entire day away in order to really rest and slow the mind down. I've found that on the last morning, my mind is already thinking ahead to what I have to do when I get home and starts planning for the upcoming week. It's very difficult to be fully present unless you have a full day of freedom; a full day away from the check lists and responsibilities of everyday life.
Don't schedule to arrive home late at night and then have to go straight to work the next morning. It is nice to ease out of your retreat by giving yourself plenty of time when you get home to unpack, do laundry, go grocery shopping, etc so that your transition back to the daily grind isn't as shocking.
Tip #3: Packing
There can be a temptation to overpack, but the goal of retreat is simplicity. Bring the minimum amount of clothing needed, no make up, no jewelry- no one is watching you. Let the image-making rest.
Leave your novels (or other books with a story line) at home. Novels are a great escape, but the goal of retreat is to practice Presence, not distraction. There are some books that can help bring us into a stance of deep Contemplation, and these are great retreat companions-- scripture, poetry, or other spiritual writings can help our mind find a place of quiet and deeper understanding.
I also love to bring along some "spiritual toys" such as my finger labyrinth, a deck of wisdom/art/tarot cards to reflect on, a chime/singing bowl, mala meditation beads, some visual icons that hold special significance to me, a yoga mat, meditation cushion, journal, sketch pad and colored pencils.
Also bring along whatever items you need to get out into nature- hiking boots, sunscreen, hat, gloves, etc. The temperature was around 0 degrees on my last retreat, and there was a foot of freshly fallen snow. Since I was prepared with all my warmest winter gear, I was still able to spend an hour or more outside each day walking through the woods, making snow angels, and bird watching. Never underestimate the healing power of nature and exercise, even when it's freezing out!
Tip #4: Upon Arrival
Once you've checked into your cabin, take some time to set up your stuff, finding a proper place to keep each of your things. You'll want to keep your small space organized and neat throughout your stay, remembering that a cluttered space promotes a cluttered mind.
Reflect ahead of time what you're committing to as far as phone usage. I highly suggest turning your phone off and leaving it in your car so you aren't tempted to start checking your phone, sending unnecessary texts, or getting lost in the rabbit hole of the internet. If you're using your phone as a camera, set it on airplane mode so it's only functioning as a camera. If you absolutely need to be communicating with family each day, just check your phone at night right before going to bed. But if you can, tell your family/friends that you'll be unavailable until you return home. This removes the distraction of needing to be constantly available and distracted. In today's world, it is a radical and incredible challenge to disconnect from technology, but the stillness of mind that results from this move is so worth it. It creates space for insights to arise and allows the mind/heart to start connecting the "dots" of our life.
So you're here. Now what?? I've found that one of the best ways to ease into a weekend of silence and solitude is by pulling out my journal and doing a "mind dump." This is just a stream-of-consciousness free write, where I put down on paper all the things on my mind that I'm worried about. This helps me note that there is a lot of stress that is truly hard to set aside, but if I acknowledge it in this concrete way, it helps me feel secure that I can set these things aside and they'll still be waiting for me when I return home. But for the next 48 hours, there is nothing that needs to be done or accomplished. I can truly let them go, and Be Here Now. In this mind dump writing exercise, it's nice to also set some intentions for the retreat, and I like to address all of this as a letter to my Higher Power. In this way, I'm establishing the conversation and relationship with God, and is a wonderful reminder that I'm actually not alone on this retreat-- I'm supported and loved by this ultimate Friend. This makes the solitude feel like a refuge instead of a prison.
Tip #5: "Goals" of Presence and Letting Go
In our culture, there is such pressure to do, to perform, to accomplish. Retreat is a time to let all of that go and practice a stance of Being. To just be is a revolutionary act, and a difficult one. On retreat, we leave our check lists behind and attempt to tune into our intuition, and to follow this instead of following distraction. Even without technology, our minds find a way to distract, to spiral off into worries or fantasies about the future, or into replays or regrets from the past. Our practice is to notice this, and keep bringing the mind back to what is real right here and now. What are you seeing, touching, hearing? As you eat, what textures and tastes are present? Can I practice gratitude for all of these things in the moment as I experience them? Can I let go of my need to accomplish something with this time? Can I let go of my self image and personality and listen to the deeper, higher Self stirring within?
From an Enneagram perspective, each of the types has a particular way of staying attached to our False Self (our habits of personality). Author and teacher Christopher Heuertz says that each of the Enneagram "Centers" has a particular need for either Stillness, Solitude, or Silence. When Body Center types (8,9,1) are forced to slow down and be still, their anger is waiting for them right under the surface. These types are always on the go, and all the movement is a distraction from having to look at their anger. This is why retreat can be so uncomfortable if we haven't already practiced observing ourselves and detaching from our feelings and thoughts. But this is why the Stillness of retreat is also essential to seeing what is going on with us, facing it head on, and working through it. The only way out is through, as they say, and this takes courage and diligence. It is only in intentional Stillness that Body Center types will find the peaceful rest of Acceptance, and be able to connect with their innate goodness and innocence.
For types in the Heart Center (2,3,4) the key healing element of retreat is Solitude. Heart types are constantly creating their self image in relation to the feedback they get from other people. When these types of people find themselves alone, it can be difficult to know who they actually are, or to get in touch with their true feelings and desires. For Heart types, the underlying emotion waiting for them in solitude is shame, since they find their sense of worth through either helping others, impressing others, or distinguishing themselves as different from others. It is only in Solitude that these types can discover their True Selves, and find an inner validation and self approval, as well as the sustaining and unconditional love from the Source of Love.
Head Center types (5,6,7) are so constantly stimulated by the noise of mental chatter and incoming information, that the healing medicine they will find in retreat is Silence. Once the outside noise of internet searches, documentaries, podcasts, books and stimulating activities is shut down, Head types are confronted with their underlying feeling of fear and anxiety. But it is only in this Silence, free from grasping at solutions to an unanswerable puzzle, that Head types will discover that they are safe, already have enough and already are enough. They will find true freedom in the presence of a deep inner knowing.
As difficult emotions and thoughts arise during retreat, our goal is to remain present to them, to approach them with a sense of curiosity and compassion, to investigate, and finally, to let go. Activities that can help with this process are: meditation, focusing on breathing or body sensations, prayer, mantra, chanting/singing, journaling, writing letters to your Higher Power, drawing pictures, writing letters to your inner child, dancing, yoga, stretching, getting out into nature. Remember that no mind-state or emotion lasts forever, and this too shall pass.
Tip #6: Expect the Best and Remain Open
While I've tried to prepare you for the worst, you might be surprised to discover a lot of joy, relief, gratitude, insight, healing, and contentment waiting for you on retreat. The last retreat I went on, I added an extra day. The first whole day felt like a lot of "work." It was difficult, and there was a lot of emotional and intuitional content to sort through. Once I got through this, the next full day was a day of pure bliss. With nothing to do, nowhere to be, and no one watching, my inner child was free to roam, rest, and kick up a wild rumpus! I cheated on the Silence rule, and used my phone to play a downloaded dance playlist, and danced wildly for about 2 hours straight. I'm discovering that what I personally need for my healing is a relief from rules.
So go ahead, make your retreat your own. As far as my suggestions go, take what you like and leave the rest. If you bring your Higher Power into the process and remain willing and open to the possibilities, you are sure to be surprised in a beautiful way. I hope you can learn to savor the healing gifts of Stillness, Solitude, and Silence, in whatever way is meaningful and accessible to you. Happy retreating!!
For many of us, it can be difficult to find our Enneagram type accurately. Oftentimes, the biggest mistake is that people will look at the stereotypical behavior of each type and focus on that. For example, "I worry a lot so I must be a six." Or, "I have always been drawn to art, so I'm a four." "I go to a lot of protests, so I've narrowed it down to 8, 9, or 1!" "I love to read and am a deep thinker. I've gotta be a five!"
Unfortunately, it's not that simple. The Enneagram is unique in that, unlike other personality typing systems, it is based on motivations, not behaviors. Each type has a specific "Passion" (emotional pattern of suffering) and a specific "Virtue" (emotional gift), a predictable "Fixation" (mental trap of the ego), and a unique "Holy Idea" (the mind's beautiful consciousness when in a grounded and accepting state.) All of these are sooooooo helpful and fascinating, but the part of Enneagram teaching that I resonate with the most is the teaching on each type's "Lost Childhood Message."
Each of us as children, at some point, began to interpret a fundamental flaw about ourselves. The innocence is lost, fear sets in, and we begin basing all our choices around this delusional perception. It isn't necessarily our caregiver's fault, but we may react to their Shadow and interpret it in a certain way as a coping mechanism to feel safe and loved. The messages are called "lost" because we had them at some point. For example, an Enneagram One's lost childhood message is "You are good." When this message gets lost, it becomes the opposite belief that "I am bad/corrupt/evil." As a baby and young child, of course Ones were pure and good. But Ones as children typically feel criticized, not good enough, and punished for mistakes or for expressing emotion, so the ego develops a fixation between right/wrong, good/bad, because she is trying so hard to avoid mistakes and maintain control. Because she has lost touch with the inherent birthright of being good, in the back of her mind, she's always anxious about doing something wrong that would define her as corrupt, bad, or evil. For any Enneagram One to begin her path back toward wholeness and healing, she needs to reclaim the truth that "I am good."
Here is the list of Lost Childhood Messages. Every one of them is a message for all of us, but one of them in particular is at the core of our ego's motivations. This piece of the Enneagram can shine much needed light on our type and on the direction of our growth path.
1- "I am good." - - Interpreted as "I am evil/corrupt/bad. I need to stay on the straight and narrow to avoid
the slippery slope! My moral superiority proves my goodness."
2- "I am lovable" -- Interpreted as "I am only lovable when I'm helping others, when I'm needed. I've gotta
give more to prove my lovability!"
3- "I am capable" -- Interpreted as "I am only lovable and valuable when I'm accomplishing
great things! Proving my capabilities will bring me the love and attention I desire."
4- "I belong" - - Interpreted as "I don't belong. I am different from everyone else and no one understands
me. I will prove that I belong by making myself noticeably special to draw love toward me,
and by withdrawing into my inner world of feelings and fantasy."
5- "I am enough." -- Interpreted as "I am not enough to gain love and security on my own, so I'll spend my
energy gathering knowledge and ideas, and detaching from others and my feelings. This
proves my competence, my enough-ness."
6- "I am safe." - - Interpreted as "I am in danger. Life and people are unpredictable. My defense against
harm is doubting and questioning, even doubting my own instincts and inner guidance. By
preparing for the worst, I will prove that I'm protected."
7- "I am free." - - Interpreted as "I could be trapped! Best to avoid this by becoming self reliant and
focusing on all my positive options and creating pleasurable experiences! Keeping the
Fun-pedal to the metal proves that I am free!!"
8- "I can be vulnerable"- - "I mustn't show weakness, only Power! Emotions, tenderness, and quietness are
weakness and weakness gets you hurt. I'll make myself as big as possible to protect myself
(and others). My strength, productivity, energy, volume, and fast pace prove my Power."
9- "I matter." - - Interpreted as "My presence doesn't matter. My feelings and needs are unimportant, so I'll
keep a low profile and merge with others. I cannot affect change. Making others feel
comfortable and keeping the peace proves that I matter."
Each of these Lost Childhood messages is incredibly heartbreaking, and also incredibly ironic. How could Nines believe they don't matter? We all love them in their natural gifts of sweetness, inclusion, and peacekeeping, and when they are absent we miss them like crazy. How could Threes be worried about proving their capability, when none of the rest of us could ever keep up with their positive energy, confidence, and enthusiasm? Why would eights hide their tender side, when their big hearts are what make them so darn lovable? They don't need to prove they are powerful, because even when sitting in silence we would feel the strength emanating from an Eight!
We are all striving for something we believe is lost about ourselves, but it turns out we have just lost sight of it! It never went anywhere! It was there waiting for us all along, under layers of stories, delusions, fears, greed, and anger. If only we could see ourselves the way our true friends see us, the way our pets see us, the way The Divine sees us. We are seen as good, lovable, capable, belonging, enough, safe, free, with permission to be vulnerable, and that we matter, SO MUCH. Not only are we seen as each of these things, we are each of these things, because they are our birthright.
Now, repeating these messages to ourselves and keeping compassionate eyes on this birthright, we can use the other tools and insights of the Enneagram to carry us back "Home" to our True Selves.
If you know your Enneagram type, I'd love to hear from you, either in the comments below or through a private message, how your Lost Message shows up as a motivator in your life, in either its negative or positive form. What have you done that has been helpful in convincing yourself to reclaim this message?
I just made this painting for my nephew's 4th birthday, to be read to him each night before bed, in the hopes that the lies and delusions won't penetrate so deeply. He will, of course, still develop an Enneagram type (thankfully!) but perhaps this will serve to guide him back Home quicker than would otherwise be the case. Happy Birthday Ethan!!!
P.S. If you would like me to make one of these paintings for a child (or adult!!) that you love, let me know, and I'll pray for them the whole time I'm painting. Also, check out my new Custom Paintings page!
Happy Fall everyone! May this season bring you inspiration, guidance, and time for contemplation!
Generosity does not come easily to me, at least not as something freely given. I tend to subconsciously expect something in return, which is not true generosity. I grew up in a family that was always doing service. My dad would pick up people on the street holding cardboard signs and bring them home to give them some work around the yard. My mom was always volunteering at some place or another, and they always, always gave 10% of their income to the church or charitable organizations.
So it is not a surprise that as I grew up, I also jumped into this way of being. And yet, for me somehow, there was a certain sense of obligation around giving; a feeling of guilt if I wasn’t giving enough. Even though my giving is usually confidential and private, my conscience ragged on me. There is a pervasive and desperate sense that it’s up to me to save the world through my contributions, both through financial gifts and through the giving of my time and talents. To this day, I give away more money than I put into savings. In fact, I never even had a consistent and official savings account until last week. Somehow, I got the memo that generosity toward myself was selfish, unnecessary, and, well, unspiritual.
And then I started going to Common Ground Meditation Center. There, the attitude toward giving is one that comes from a place of true generosity, one that is about mutual benefit, joy, and freedom. The word for this in the Pali language spoken by the Buddha is Dana. From the start, I felt that this was a true invitation to practice generosity, which to me meant it didn’t have to be perfect from the start, that I could experiment with the amount, frequency, and method of giving to find what makes the most sense for me. And I feel permission to keep changing this indefinitely, depending on the circumstances of my life.
One of the most beneficial practices I’ve learned from the Buddhist tradition is the practice of Lovingkindness meditation, and its sister practices of Compassion, Appreciative Joy, and Equanimity. To me, all of these beautiful states of the heart are connected to generosity, because they demonstrate the boundless, abundant nature of things. Noticing and changing my mentality of scarcity has been a big part of my journey related to money and time. When I can bring in kindness and compassion toward myself and others, it creates space to look at my life through a more realistic and objective lens. I needn’t be so attached to my identities as a “giver,” a “saver,” or a “frugal person.” I can set that all aside, and really feel into what makes me happy.
Last week I was biking, when a car cut into the bike lane directly ahead of me to be able to speed past the cars in front of him. My normal, past habitual reaction would have been to shout obscenities and feel tension and anger in my body for a good ten minutes at least, if not for the next several hours. Instead I was shocked and delighted to hear the words that flew out of my mouth without thinking. I shouted at him, “Oh, Dear One!” giggled, then let it go. It was a moment of spontaneous generosity. Seemingly inconsequential, I knew this moment was an outward expression of a long, inward process of a softening heart. This is only one example of how my practice of meditation is benefitting me. I am much less angry, reactive, controlling, vindictive, isolated, or anxious, to name a few.
Last week, as I was reviewing my finances, I decided to start making regular recurring payments to Common Ground. In the next breath, I also decided to start making regular, recurring payments to myself in a new savings account. Both of those decisions gave me a deep sense of contentment. The formal practice of Lovingkindness gave me permission to be generous and loving toward myself, not only others. Common Ground and the teachings of the Buddha have given me so much over the years, and I’m so incredibly grateful for the slow but steady transformation happening within me.
I invite you to consider what has changed in you over the years and what or who has helped you grow. Really take a moment to feel gratitude for this.
Is there a joyful way of giving back with which you might experiment?
What talents or time do you have available that might be used to bring others joy, and in turn bring yourself joy?
In what ways can you be more generous and loving toward yourself?
When people ask me what the Enneagram is, I am immediately elated and nervous to give an explanation, because it feels like introducing them to a best friend who has saved my life. Any “elevator speech” is incomplete, and even a dissertation would still miss the mark, because this dynamic spiritual tool interacts with each person in a unique and individual way. My story will not be the same as your story, but our common humanity of brokenness, possibility, and innate hidden wholeness guarantees that this tool has something life changing for everyone. Let me (begin) to explain, and tell a bit of how the Enneagram has made me a kinder, wiser, and healthier human.
First, an overview.
The Enneagram is an ancient personality typing system that is unique among its peers. While other systems put you in a box and leave you there, the Enneagram shows you all the parts of your “box” that you’ve been living in (even the parts that are subconscious and denied), and then gives you a path of transformation and healing to move outside of the box of your habitual thoughts, feelings, and actions. It can do this because the Enneagram looks at the motivations of each type, instead of the observable behaviors. It also shows us both our Light and Shadow sides, our “blessings and blights” as teacher Ian Cron likes to say. In its wisdom, the Enneagram shows us that “our personality type is not who we are, but instead what keeps us from being who we are.” (Quote from teacher Anne Muree). It points toward ego structure. However, it is a non-dualistic system (like any healthy spirituality), and includes this paradox: it also shows us exactly who we could be, and provides a path to our True Self/Essence (as opposed to our False Self/ego).
The Enneagram has nine personality types, which are actually habits and coping mechanisms built up over time in an attempt to feel safe, secure, loved, respected, in control, and happy. Each of these “programs for happiness” work for us for a time...until they don’t. They end up getting us into trouble, again, and again... and again. We get frustrated with ourselves, feeling defective, angry, ashamed, and afraid. (e.g. What is wrong with me that I just can’t seem to change?? I intend to stop reacting to people and situations in this way, but I just can’t stop myself!! I guess I’ll just have to suffer like this the rest of my life. Poor me, no one understands me!)
Here’s where the Enneagram steps in with the radical introduction to CHOICE. As the late and brilliant Enneagram master teacher Don Riso used to say, “It doesn’t have to be this way!” My own genius teacher Anne Muree says (and I paraphrase), “The Enneagram is about LOVE and CHOICE, and they are right around the corner from one another. First we choose to love ourselves. Then we love ourselves enough to make different choices. And through these healthier choices, our love for ourselves and others grows.”
I will give one example from my own life in how this process has unfolded for me.
I am a Type One on the Enneagram, which sometimes gets called the Perfectionist or the Reformer (both labels were easy for me to claim, even before I had much self awareness.). With a constant focus on what can be improved, Ones have a deep drive to make ourselves better, to improve and maximize others potential, and make the world a better place. Those are all great things, until we overdo them. As teacher Suzanne Stabile points out, “The best part of you is also the worst part of you.” And believe me, all my efforts to perfect myself, others, and the world led me into a place of dissatisfaction, frustration, and a near constant state of resentment toward others.
The funny thing about it, in hindsight, is that I never recognized myself as an angry person, even though I was walking around with irritation simmering right under the surface of my “good girl” facade at all times. Resentment was just the water I was swimming in. I’m sure others could see and feel it, and that’s why the people I loved avoided controversial topics with me, because I would always turn it into a black/white, right/wrong argument, and I had to be right. I always got the last word in order to fuel my sense of goodness and purity (a.k.a self righteousness). For example, when I couldn’t convince my father that his politics were wrong, I resorted to writing snarky counter-arguments in his political books while home on breaks from college. While that never changed him, it made me feel like I’d done my duty in setting the "truth" straight. I had still won. (But this was extremely damaging to our relationship, obviously).
Some of you may be wondering why I’m being so hard on myself. I’m not. It’s just the pure, unadulterated truth. After a lifetime of powerful denial, I’ve finally learned to trust that only the Truth will set me free. After years of working on this, I don’t feel much emotion in the re-telling of my version of insanity. If anything, it’s humorous to me. I’ve finally stopped trying to control things I cannot change. I’m also finding a sense of compassion for myself, for all the suffering I have created, for how difficult I’ve made my life out to be. That is completely new to me. My version of ego has always believed that self criticism and reprimand would be what would eventually whip me into spiritual shape, but thank goodness for the Enneagram, Love has now been given the decisive voice (on my good days!).
One more quick story.
I used to feel that anger was the only fuel that could keep me going. It was the motivation to make a difference in the world. This is the rhetoric in many activist circles, and even within many religions who speak of a righteous anger. While I would never say that this is completely untrue or that anger has no value, I know that anger was robbing me of sleep, shaming me into feeling like I could never measure up to its high bar, and causing pain and tension in my body, particularly in my jaw, neck, and shoulders.
I remember distinctly the first time I reacted to injustice with compassion instead of rage. I was traveling in the West Bank of Palestine, and parts of Israel, listening to people’s stories from both sides of the conflict. While I had very strong opinions about the devastation of genocide, military occupation, imprisonment of children, and the system of apartheid going on there, I suddenly knew with clarity that anger and hatred were not going to help. Only compassion for everyone involved (including the brainwashed oppressors!) was going to end this conflict. If I wanted the people there to love and understand each other, I couldn't ask of them something I was unwilling or unable to do myself. On that trip, I began to experiment with the possibility that Love was actually a powerful force for change, not a wimpy or fluffy emotion for pushovers.
When all is said and done, the Enneagram helps each of the nine types find their own much needed compassion for self and others. As a One, I happen to be in the “anger triad” along with Eights and Nines, and only compassion and kindness can counter this toxic reaction in our bodies. There are three types that find themselves in the “shame triad” and the last three types are found within the “fear triad.” For all of us, whether anger, fear, or shame is our go-to motivator, we can do better for ourselves and others. And compassion is the path for us all.
We are all doing the best we can with what we’ve been given, at all times. Only self acceptance, loving encouragement, and self awareness can move us toward greater freedom and toward our True Self.
If you have not looked into the Enneagram, but feel ready to face your "demons" and be given guidance to defeat them, I recommend reading the book “The Road Back to You” to help you discover your type. There are also trained Enneagram coaches (such as myself!) who can help you through this self discovery process, starting with a typing interview. For some people, finding your type can be difficult and may take some time. But it is worth it! Blessings on your Enneagram journey.
With deep compassion,
I'm a Spiritual Director, Enneagram Educator, and Liberationist-Buddhist-Universalist-Mystic-12 step-Queer-Christian. Playing with questions, answers, and surrender.