In this post I expand on some of the ideas and orientations that I mention in my summarized practice philosophy. Take a look to see if any catch your eye, read them all, read only the bolded phrases...these are for you to get a sense of how I approach my work (and the rest of my life).
Self-compassion as a necessity. Without compassion for ourselves and our struggles, we run in circles in our attempts to heal and grow. We get stuck in self-judgment, self-criticism, cynicism and blame, never really getting to the core of the issue...our tender, caring, compassionate hearts. It is natural to feel anger, irritation, resentment, blame and judgment (toward ourselves or others) as we draw nearer to our emotional pain. This emotional pain or confusion can be extremely difficult to feel, and therefore is well-protected. And our anger, irritation, etc. need to be seen, honored and expressed in healthy ways. Yet focusing only on working with and relieving these tensions will not get us to the core of the matter, which is almost always a matter of the heart. It can seem counter-intuitive, but our anger and judgment actually keep us safe and protected... as they keep us tugging and pulling on the surface, "above" that deeper emotional pain, tenderness and vulnerability. It is when we are able to soften, allow some vulnerability and touch into our tender, caring hearts that true compassion can emerge. And we desperately need this compassion and access to the care in our hearts if we are to give our emotional pain the space it needs to be seen, accepted and integrated.
Honoring our protective patterns. I hold a deep respect and regard for the intelligence of our protective patterns and for the mysterious, delicate nature of the healing process. Recognizing that our protective patterns had at some point served an essential adaptive function for us is crucial in cultivating the compassion and understanding necessary for healing. We relate to our protective patterns not as problems to solve or fix, but as adaptive functions that simply no longer serve us in our present life. In recognizing and honoring how these protective patterns have served us in the past, we give them the space to unwind and integrate. Rather than try to change, fix or heal parts of ourselves (reorganize ourselves into a different person), we create more space for more of us to be here. We relax into wholeness...embodied.
Allowing vulnerability as essential for healing and growth. There is immense power and potential in expressing what is difficult and true for us in a safe, trusting container. I view it as a privilege to be able to sit with another person as they sit with their vulnerability. So much lies within and beneath this experience of vulnerability, as it is the feeling we are most often trying to avoid. I see the essence of my work as helping to create a safe, compassionate container in which one’s vulnerabilities can feel held.
The wisdom each of us seeks lies within our bodies. Rather than follow a prescribed path or outsource our power and autonomy to an external authority, we can learn to listen to and follow our own inner guidance and our body’s innate wisdom. Our sense of empowerment grows as we learn to listen internally and get to know our body's subtle messages. We can sense when things are out of balance, what we might need more or less of, what sort of care and attention we need to give ourselves. Symptoms and challenges that used to send us into anxious, external speculation can become opportunities to listen inwardly more deeply. The Realization Process, though a series of exercises, is by no means a prescribed path. These exercises are simply offerings…portals to take us more deeply inward so that we can become more empowered in our own being.
Importance of cultivating inner-resource. External resources are wonderful and much needed. Literature, teachers, the physical earth, community, loving touch, bodywork, nutritious food, effective plans and strategies, friends to call and the technology to call them…all of these external resources can be extremely supportive and meaningful parts of life. AND, there is no resource more trusting, deep and unwavering than true inner-resource. As we deepen contact with ourselves, we begin to live more from the core of our being. From this core, we experience a pervasive stillness (fundamental consciousness) as an unwavering presence…an unconditional support for our whole being.
It is our birthright to live as sensitive, deep feeling people. And yet the world and our personal and collective histories create circumstances and expectations that make it very difficult to live openly and sensitively in our bodies, hearts and minds…to really sense all that the extraordinary instrument of our experience (our body) has evolved to sense, feel all that our hearts are meant to feel, and perceive all that our minds are capable of perceiving. With curiosity and practice, we can cultivate sensory sensitivity, expand our emotional range, and encourage flexibility of mind. Realization Process exercises are uniquely powerful in helping us to refine our consciousness in this way.
Honoring the gift that is our life. I view this work as that of honoring the gift that is our life… and expanding our capacity to receive, inhabit and express the fullness of this gift. In our embodiment and authentic expression lie our unique gifts.
Power in subtlety. I like to say that most of us in the modern, western world have learned to maintain a rather tight “grip on the gross.” We have learned to trust, notice and attune to the gross materiality of our world, that which can be easily felt, seen and measured. As we learn to attune to ourselves, others and our environment with greater subtlety, we not only begin to see more, but we penetrate to the depths of things, wherein lies their nuance, primary vitality, true power, and essential qualities.
I am most interested in root causes, and therefore in the transformation of our being. In cultivating greater subtlety of feeling, sensing and perceiving, we deepen our contact with ourselves. When we inquire to the root of an issue, we create the opportunity for lasting transformation. We explore on the level of ontology, seeking to uncover and gain insight into the mental models of reality that uphold and necessity our symptoms of thoughts, mood and behavior. This is the core energy (infused with emotion) that drives our thinking and acting. When we work with this core fuel, so to speak, we create the opportunity for deep, lasting change.
Ignorance is far from bliss. Bliss may well be the opposite of ignorance, as bliss entails our being fully conscious of our aliveness. Much of healing, integration and transformation is about making what is unconscious conscious. Simply by practicing inhabiting our body, we are bringing consciousness to parts of ourselves that we ordinarily leave out. And for the harder to access parts of our shadow (the unconscious material that is denser and more protected), we need more support. We may need feedback, inquiry techniques, and deeper, subtler, somatic work in order to access these unconscious parts of our being. In doing so, we create the opportunity to live more openly and with more of ourselves here.
Healing occurs naturally when we get out of our own way. As we notice more subtly and clearly how our habitual thought patterns, protective patterns and core beliefs limit our experience of inner-freedom, we can loosen our grip on these defenses and quite literally get out of our own way. That is, we learn to let our strategies for survival take a rest, even just for a moment, and we cultivate trust in the unwavering presence and support of fundamental consciousness. We let it do the work. Our human processes (emotional, energetic, etc.) can be held in this space of unconditional acceptance…something “we” (our egos) do not do, but rather learn to allow.
We are not projects. The attitude with which we approach our healing process is essential. We start with the perspective that we are already whole, and that there is nothing “wrong with us” that needs fixing. As we experience wholeness as an embodied, lived reality, this attitude shifts from a perspective or intention that we hold to that of a deep knowing.
The core of our being remains unwounded and whole. No matter our wounding, there is a core of our being that remains an unmodified, undivided whole.
Starting with wholeness and Ground. In this work, we attune to and use our innate wholeness as our starting place. From this experience of Self-connection, unity and clarity, we can work with what wants attention more effectively and with profound inner-resource.
“You can’t push this river” … As a teacher of mine would often say. We bring patience and gentleness to the slow, organic nature of the healing and integration processes. Trying to make it go faster is almost certainly only going to cause more trouble for us.
Transformational change is possible. This is a nice, abstract thing to say and believe, and an entirely different thing to know as true based on having both witnessed it and studied the clear neurological mechanisms that underly transformational change. The transformation of our being is a natural result of our consciously paying attention in new ways...our committing to practices that help us to refine our consciousness. It is amazing what opens up in our lives when we are willing and able to stretch our consciousness and feel what we usually don't want to feel. And for this, support is usually essential. Additionally, rigorous neuroscientific research has shown that via the process of memory reconsolidation, we are actually hardwired for transformational change. Memory reconsolidation is an experiential process of neurological change. It utilizes the brain’s innate process for using new learning experiences to directly revise and update existing contents of memory acquired in prior learning.
Reclaiming agency as a key to transformation. Our trauma-based protective patterns are a natural and honorable part of our human maturation. It was with incredible intelligence and self-care that we learned to protect ourselves from experiences that were simply too intense for us to stay open to and digest at that time in our development. And, many of these protective patterns are, in a sense, outdated. Much of our life is being lived by these young, scared parts or ego-states that are still alive and well in our unconscious. We have lost the ability to consciously direct our lives. Part of the process of reclaiming agency is seeing clearly how we have lost agency in the first place. When we recognize the emotional truth of a symptom or ego-state, we recognize and feel our own purpose and agency in producing the symptom, which previously felt like something that happened to us in some mysterious way, as though it had a life of its own. We get in touch with our own purpose for maintaining the symptom that we are working to resolve. We had previously seen our symptom (e.g. suppressing our anger) as the problem, and we shift toward seeing it as our solution to a problem (e.g. avoiding rejection from a parent).
Patience, gentleness. These are two qualities of which we just can't seem to cultivate enough. And our modern, western society doesn't make it easy for us with its deeply entrenched ethos of productivity and force. We walk against the grain in cultivating gentleness and patience.
Body-focused. The body is not only a portal to realizing our essential nature, but the temple in which beautiful human qualities such as love, power, voice, understanding and sexuality live. Entering into the body and cultivating a felt-sense of self, we can shift from an abstract experience of ourselves and our lives to a direct, lived experience.
Inquiry and discovery. It is helpful to have tools that we can use to inquire more subtly and deeply into our mind-body constrictions so that we can uncover their purpose and work with them at the root level.
The embodied experience of non-duality. Attuning to fundamental (unitive) consciousness pervading our body and environment is accessible to both beginner and advanced meditators. We experience our individual wholeness and contact an unwounded, unmodified core of our being while experiencing unity with others and our environment. We experience and embrace our sovereignty and our interconnectedness at the same time.
Connecting from our depths. As we loosen the grip on ourselves and our environment, we are not only able to maintain deeper connection with ourselves, but find that we are able to connect with others and our environment more deeply as well. It is often amazing to realize that the relational entanglements that we thought were helping us to stay connected with others were actually limiting the depth and satisfaction of these connections. As we lose contact with our own core, we lose the ability to connect with someone else at that degree of subtlety and depth. In other words, we find that the deeper we are in contact with ourselves, the deeper we can connect with others.
Something lies beneath. It seems that at the root of many - if not all - of our anxieties, pains and fears is the disconnection we experience from from the core and source of our being.
100% responsibility. When I say that there is great power in taking responsibility for our own experience, I am not also saying that external forces or circumstances don’t make it extremely difficult for some people to live healthy, fulfilling lives. To work to create better life circumstances for oneself and others is natural and often very helpful. And, at the same time, there is enormous power and potential in endeavoring to take full responsibility for our own experience. Here is how I often see things unfold in myself and others: something happens that we don’t like... and in reaction we contract, tense up, go into our thinking minds to find our best defense, etc. We then go outward (further contraction) to blame someone else for our feeling the way we feel (tense, shitty, contracted, not how we want to feel). We tell ourselves (perhaps very subtly) that what they did or didn’t do...said or didn’t say...is the reason for our feeling the way we do in that moment. They caused our contraction…our irritation, our impatience, our anger, our jealousy, etc. (notice the loss of autonomy). Often this voice/belief is very subtle, and yet has a profound effect on our experience. Sure, what they said may have been unkind or distracting or provocative, but that does not mean it actually caused us to contract, as though they are responsible for our contracted experience. The nitty-gritty is so important here. We always have a choice in how we respond, and the ability to access that choice (our autonomy) comes in having enough "space" to act consciously rather than reactively. We can take back an enormous amount of our power and energy when we see and accept that we are responsible for our feeling the way we feel. We can actually take 100% responsibility for our experience. Yes, other people (and groups of people) do things that affect us and perhaps make it very, very difficult for us to stay conscious and in contact with ourselves. The forces that breed reactivity can be potent and the temptation to go out and blame or judge or resent is at times suuuuper intense and seductive. But all we do when we blame others for our experience is further contract and further outsource our autonomy, our personal strength. There is an amazing opportunity hidden within any event or experience that tempts us to blame and judge: the opportunity to come back to ourselves, be with the young one inside who is struggling (and who perhaps also feels pain/grief for that act of self-abandonment), and give that one the attention they need in order to soften. We access a whole lot more of our vital energy and power when we are willing to take responsibility for our experience in this way. “Yes, this person said that and I am affected by it, but I now have the opportunity to feel what I need to feel around it and stay with myself…to not abandon myself in an attempt to not feel what I need to feel by making them the scapegoat for my experience…my pain. Having done this, I can now use my voice to express authentically what I am experiencing and what is hard or painful for me. This can be really, really challenging. “If only they did this I wouldn’t be feeling this way. Darn it! I’m all tense now and it’s because they said that.” We can go this route very easily and at any time, but it’s just not going to help. It’s profoundly worth it to turn back inward, do our best to feel what we are being asked to feel, take responsibility for our experience, and then communicate our experience (e.g. "when you said ____ , I felt hurt in this way…) from a place of self-possession and empowerment.
A felt-sense of self. Abstract → direct experience. In a modern, western world dominated by the abstract... by conceptual thinking, visual stimuli, and mental strategizing, most of us have from a young age been strengthening an abstract experience of life over a direct, lived experience. Most of us live primarily in our thinking, conceptual minds and have lost touch with our feeling and sensing capacities... our innate emotional responsiveness and sensorial sensitivity. We effectively experience ourselves and the world as heads floating above a body. And our dominant culture is not moving in a direction to help us. More screens are being put in front of us, there is more financial incentive to focus on what is quantitative over what is qualitative, and schools are rapidly losing funding for the arts. A major consequence of all of this is that our sense of self becomes abstracted as well. We experience not only other people and the other world in an objectified, abstracted way, we sadly come to experience ourselves as a series of self-images... as a mental phenomena. We have lost our basic subjectivity. We experience ourselves top-down, as a thinking, visualizing mind looking down on or imagining a body and self. To shift from an abstract experience of life and self to a direct experience of life and a felt-sense of self is a radical shift. This is often a very gradual shift and takes a good deal of practice. That is, practice inhabiting our bodies (as opposed to only being aware of our bodies) and cultivating our emotional and sensory responsiveness. We begin to experience ourselves not only as a series of images or constructed identities, but as a radically alive, spontaneous being . Our emotional and sensory life become and intimate part of who we experience ourself to be. When asked, "who are you?", rather than going up into the mind to think of a response, our whole being responds and we experience a nameless, wordless quality of self. This quality of self is what we are often asked to attune to in the Realization Process. It is a particular quality that answers to the word self. It doesn't have any meaning. It is simply meant to convey the experience of wholeness. When we attune to it, it seems to help bring us into our wholeness. We are not saying that there is a self, isn't a self, that it's yourself or myself. We are simply trying to support the direct, felt-sense of self in the whole body.
Power of direct attunement. Many meditative, energetic and spiritual methods invite us to find wholeness, balance, stillness, Ground, etc. by offering practices that help us to arrive at these experiences or realizations by indirect methods. For instance, we may be encouraged to find balance by engaging in practices that work with the energy channels in the body to help them settle into balance. We may arrive at stillness by working with the various impediments to stillness until our being settles into stillness. Most practices follow this indirect method, and are extremely effective and useful. The Realization Process, however, offers a direct method to wholeness, balance, stillness, Ground, etc. This does not mean that we bypass all of the stuff that is in the way of wholeness or stillness in order to force ourselves into that experience. Rather, we attune directly to our innate wholeness or to the stillness that is always here pervading the moving content of experience, and from that direct attunement, we can work with the various content of experience that beg our attention, such as the movements of energy or emotion that want to fragment us or take us out of stillness. *Note: to attune means to resonate with, or to align our consciousness with. This is different than to simply align our thinking with. When we align our consciousness with something like the quality of love, we are not merely thinking of something loving (though this can help). And we are not trying to conjure up a feeling of love. We are attuning to a feeling of love that is already there. We are aligning our being with it, opening ourselves to it. To attune requires volition, though not strain or over-effort. It is something we find our way with internally, as no one can really steer us there, they can only offer an invitation. Somewhere within us, we know what love or power or emptiness or presence feels like. And in the subtle volitional movement, we are inviting our being to remember that feeling... to attune to it.
Learning how to ask for forgiveness. In a similar way that self-compassion is essential to cultivate on our healing journeys, the ability to ask for forgiveness can be a saving grace. Whether asking for forgiveness from another person or from a higher power or higher self within us, we cultivate the ability to see our shortcomings clearly and with compassion, and find the courage and trust to ask for forgiveness. We see the unconsciousness behind our actions, which helps us to disentangle from feelings of blame or judgment, and let ourselves receive compassion for this other person or higher power.
Relationships as catalysts for healing and growth... potentially. Many people talk about how relationships (romantic or otherwise) can be powerful catalyst for healing. Most, if not all, of our wounds are relational by origin. Our hearts heal primarily in relationship. Relationships offer the opportunity for encouragement, support and feedback. We can make a commitment (to ourselves, the other person and the relationship as a whole) to do our best to face interpersonal challenges when they arise, receive feedback, allow vulnerability, and create a safe container in which to do the heart-healing-work. The feedback piece is key here. Our partner, close friend, spouse, etc. is likely going to push our buttons...trigger us...and act as an incessant mirror that reflects the unconscious, shadowy material that we often don't want to see in ourselves. IF (if!) we are willing and able to receive this feedback and work with it honestly, patiently and compassionately (i.e. if we are willing to allow ourselves to be vulnerable...to listen and admit our mistakes), we can uncover an incredible amount of unconscious, shadowy material, and allow that material to be held in the loving container of the relationship. In intimate, committed relationship, stuff is inevitably going to come up. Our buttons are going to get pushed. I am endlessly amused by the saying that it can be so difficult to be with family because we are entering into relationship with the very people who installed those buttons in the first place. But relationship are not automatically catalysts for healing. Again, it requires openness, courage, the ability to listen and allow vulnerability, and the inner-resource to be with the aches and pains that comes up. If most of what we do is avoid and blame -- denying our shadowy material -- the challenges of relationship are simply going to ware us down, and the relationship likely will not survive (or be fulfilling).
Holding paradox and complexity. It seems that one of our greatest temptations and tendencies as humans is to approach life with an either/or mindset... to view things in black/white terms. Either this is true or that is true, and if two views or feelings appear to be in conflict (even if they are both quite compelling explanations of how things are or experiences of what I am feeling), I am going to choose one over the other. This tendency to avoid paradox and complexity (to try to maintain or arrive at neat and tidy explanations for things) makes sense given our survival functions. It is a way to maintain a feeling of safety (mentally or emotionally) and to avoid the messy, difficult experience of allowing in apparently conflicting perspectives and acknowledging the reality that ultimately... so much is a mystery. It feel safe to have clear, invulnerable explanations for things. It's hard to imagine that joy and grief can be present at the same time (and are even two ends of the same spectrum, each supporting and giving life to the other). It's hard to see how we can be both sovereign beings and interdependent beings at the same time. It is hard to take in other peoples' experiences or views that challenge how we fundamentally view reality. Any yet, the ability to hold paradox and complexity -- to live with these difficult realities -- is essential if we are to move through life without constant resistance and defensiveness. Many spiritual or wisdom traditions suggest (often poetically, such as in Zen koans) that life is paradox. When we seek truth and inquire deeply into the nature of life and reality, we are often faced with apparent contradictions (e.g. sovereignty and interdependence). When both are held as valid, valuable and true, life and reality are revealed in their fullness and wholeness. We can be in a constant struggle against paradox, and thus in a constant struggle against life... against how it wants to move through us. I was once offered the idea that only the heart can hold paradox. It is not a capacity of the thinking, conceptual mind. This stuck with me and deeply inspires me. Living with / from heart, we have the courage to hold paradox and complexity. Living only with our thinking minds, we are in a constant search for consistency, sameness, and neat and tidy explanations for things.
Courage to honor and speak our relative truth. The value of being able to acknowledge and name how is it for us in this moment cannot be overstated. In many spiritual or personal-growth circles, there can be a subtle (or overt) suggestion that to be spiritual or to be "evolving" means that we are always "good" or "in touch with the light" or what-have-you. And outside these circles, in our families and schools and various community settings, there is sometimes a similar expectation that we don't really share how we are doing. Naming hardships or just being messy in general can make people uncomfortable. Some people in spiritual circles might even suggest that our relative experience (how it is for us as human beings in this moment) is not worthy of our attention. It's all just part of the illusion. We ought to simply be bringing our attention again and again and again back to Self, or back to the Light. This denial of our vulnerable, messy, challenged human-experience is very harmful. It can cause us to further deny and repress aspects or parts of ourselves that we don't deem acceptable, only exacerbating a pattern that all of us develop to some extent in childhood in order to gain the approval of our caretakers and community members. When we are able to acknowledge (a first step that is often difficult if we hold beliefs that we should always be good or happy) and express our relative truths in a safe container, we give ourselves the opportunity to bring these messy, sacred, so-called-ugly parts of ourselves into the light (out from the shadow) and into a warm, compassionate embrace. By expressing them with tenderness and courage, we are quite literally telling them, "I welcome you into this space and I want you to be here with me." These are steps toward true integration. Plus, it just feels darn good to express what is difficult to express (if we can do it with self-compassion and in a trusting space). It is a massive relief to our system. Holding onto emotions and words that want to be expressed is a source of incredible discomfort for our bodies, hearts and minds.