“Gentleness is stronger than severity,
water is stronger than rock,
love is stronger than force”
from Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha
From Michael A. Singer’s The Untethered Soul
This summer I’ve been reading like I’ve never read before. I pick up a book and I devour it. Next. My kids are at the age where they like to read too, which gives me more opportunities to read as well.
I have generally been a reader in my life, althought certainly the amount and style has ebbed and flowed over time. When I lived in France, the library and the English book store were two of my favourite places. When you’re immersed in a foreign language, being surrounded by books in your native language is a pleasure. I loved going to the library in town and perusing the compact English section. Now I often get my books from my local library in Canada. I like to own non-fiction and hold onto some fiction if I think i’ll read it again. I prefer the physical presence of a book in my hands versus a digital copy if I can get the actual book.
Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, challenges readers to spend a week without reading anything. She writes that most people find this one of the most challenging weeks of her 12 week course and greatly resist it. One of the points of the exercise is to notice how we are using reading in our lives and see if it’s for growth and pleasure or procrastination. If our jobs are creative, we can use reading as a distraction from focusing on what we need to. Notice I haven’t been blogging for over a month? I’ve been reading. Last summer I tried a week without reading or using screens, and I completed a lot of projects.
Reading can be an escape for me from doing things I “should” be doing, and it can also be a pleasure in my free-time to spend time with a good book. I like that time goes more slowly when I’m reading than when I’m watching television.
For the most part I’ve been reading Fiction this summer. Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series, Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series, and Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series have occupied much of my summertime reading. Intermittently I have added some non-fiction which I’ve included in the mix of 4 books to share with you.
Karen Marie Moning’s Feversong (Book 8 in the series)
Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence
Maria Shriver’s I’ve Been Thinking… Reflections, Prayers, and Meditations for a Meaningful Life
Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child
I recently had a conversation with a friend about books you read but you don’t really talk about it with everyone. You know what I’m talking about – that harlequin romance, that young adult series, or Fifty Shades of Grey. But then in passing you mention said series, and you realize that many people are reading these books too.
A friend of mine introduced me to the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning. This is one of those series that you are likely to both love and hate. I have rolled my eyes, I have judged the characters (and myself for reading the series), and the pages of rehashing past events, yet I have kept reading the series. The chemistry between the main characters is certainly a draw and the fantasy element of Fae and humans interacting and trying to save their respective worlds. These books are easy reading. Perfect for summer-time.
Michael Pollan is the perfect author to write about this heated topic. A skeptical New Yorker-style writer explores the history of psychedelics and it’s resurgence with clarity, groundedness, and evidence. His vocabulary is much broader than my own.
There is a resurgence happening in the world of psychotherapy of integrating the use of psychedelics in treating addiction, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, terminal illnesses, and more. LSD, psilocybin, MDMA (ecstasy), and ayahuasa are the main ones that I’ve heard and read about. I’ve noticed more and more credible researchers starting to speak about this topic in 2018. In fact Michael Pollan writes that there has been more research on psychedelics in the past 15 years than there was in the 60s. Wow. He is so intrigued by his own research that he decides to experiment with psychedelics himself in a guided environment.
If you’re curious to learn more but don’t feel like reading, I recommend two podcasts.
I was listening to Krista Tippett interview Maria Shriver and was impressed with Maria’s combination of fire and compassion. She talks about finding her authentic voice in her 60s after decades of supporting those around her. Her book of Prayers, Meditations, and Reflections are a great way to start or end your day. Each reflection includes a story, a quote, and a small prayer. They are each a few pages. You can start at the beginning or randomly choose one. She is a Catholic woman who is reconnecting with her faith. This book isn’t specifically Catholic and can be read by anyone with spiritual interests.
Sometimes you find a book that is like a therapy session. Alice Miller’s book The Drama of the Gifted Child is exactly that. The original title of this book was “Prisoner’s of Childhood” which is a better fit than the current title. This book matches my psychotherapeutic approach as it relates current problems to patterns developed in childhood. Patterns often develop innocently in a way that serves our larger needs. Over time this pattern becomes problematic in areas of our lives, and we’re often oblivious as to why we’re facing the same problem over and over in our life.
This book is especially humbling if you’re a psychotherapist yourself. The author talks about the similarities in childhoods of psychotherapists (gulp). The importance of choosing a psychotherapist who is doing her own work cannot be minimized.
What has made it onto your booklist this summer?
Do you ever have those times when there are themes in your life? Sometimes it’s the problems that people close to you are dealing with in their lives. Sometimes, it’s in the small things like seeing signs for pie everywhere you go and finally deciding to buy a piece. Other times it’s in themes of movies or books that you read. It’s LGTBQI Pride Month in Canada. So perhaps it’s not too surprising that this is the theme that I’ve found in the latest shows and movies I’ve watched.
I love watching comedians and recently watched Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette. Wow. She starts off with comedy and then shifts into getting very real with her audience. She shares how she can no longer make self-deprecating jokes about herself and gives the audience a glimpse of what happened in her life after the punch-line. Hannah is a lesbian who grew up in Tasmania in a Bible belt. She talks about growing up hating herself and how she’s been trying to change this. She also doesn’t identify as flamboyantly gay, joking that the pride flag has a “bit too much colour for her taste”.
I also recently finished watching Battle of the Sexes with Emma Stone and Steve Carrell. This is based on the story of tennis champion Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) in the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” tennis tournament with Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell). The movie is also the coming out story for Billie Jean King. In 1971, while married, she realized that she was bisexual. It took over a decade to come out to her family and the public. She now lives with her partner Ilana.
I was reflecting in my own life, that I haven’t heard an easy story from anyone who has come out as gay. In many ways this isn’t surprising in our society, but that realization made me reflect on how difficult it really has been for friends and clients. So, if you identify as Lesbian, Gay, Trans, Bi, Queer, Intersex or are currently finding your own definition of gender and sexuality, I want to honour you for your journey of coming out and interacting in a world that still holds a lot of judgment and stigma. I have great love and respect for your courage, and I’m grateful that you’re showing up in the world as who you are in heart and soul. I also honour those who are contemplating coming out to family and/or friends.
I also want to honour those who no longer believe that homosexuality is a sin even though they were brought up in communities that believed otherwise. For some people this is known very early in life, for others like me it took a couple of decades, and for others it will take longer. A reflective movie on the topic of sexuality and Christianity is Give Me Sex Jesus (I kind of cringed at the title, but a very interesting watch). This documentary reflects on the subjects of sexuality as a broader topic, sex before marriage and also those who are LGBTQI and want to be Christians.
Gabor Maté has said that as children we all want to have connection and to be loved for who we are at heart. Attachment and Authenticity. However, the need for connection is greater than the need for authenticity, so we will often hide or try to change who we are to be accepted by others. This rings true for all of humanity, and I can only imagine what it has been like for my LGTBQI peers, especially those who grew up in religious communities that told them that their authentic selves were wrong.
Now, for #Pride Month (and every month hereafter), I raise my glass of wine to you, your journey, and gratitude for you in my life. Happy Pride Month.
Recently, I finished watching the mini-series documentary Wild, Wild Country on Netflix. It tells the story about the time the Indian Guru Osho moved his commune from India to the small town of Antelope in rural Oregon in the early 1980s. The story gives perspectives from residents of Antelope, residents of the commune, law enforcement, and journalists covering the story at the time.
As conflict increases between residents of Antelope and the commune, the power struggle results in attempted murders, lying, poisoning, and more. Was it the fault of the residents of Antelope who were racist and unwelcoming to their new neighbours? Was it the fault of the commune who never took the time to befriend the community of Antelope and instead took steps to annihilate it? As you watch the story unfold the viewer will see that while the behaviors by the inner circle surrounding Osho were clearly on the wrong side of the law, there were no innocent parties in this conflict.
Watching this series got me thinking about the shadow side of spiritual organizations. The shadow is the darker sides or “negative” qualities that lay hidden in an individual or organization. Sometimes the shadow of an organization is recognized by most people, but not talked about.
It can be easy to label Osho and his followers a cult and their experience as an exception to the rule, but every spiritual leader and organization has shadows. Certainly, Catholicism and the sexual abuse perpetrated by many priests is another shadow in religion and spirituality.
I remember my first experience of the shadow of religion and spirituality. I will always remember the day that my church split when I was a child. It was a regular Sunday morning service, but then one of the church elders went to the front podium and read a letter that represented half of our church community. The letter said that these people were planning to leave our church community because they didn’t agree with theological aspects of the church. I remember this elder crying, and then I looked behind me at another elder who was sitting there smugly smiling. In that moment, I hated that man and what he represented. Later we found out that our pastor was leaving with this group after he had told some people that he was planning to stay. It felt like a big betrayal to me.
My family was in the group that stayed, and my best friend was in the group that left. Both sides felt like they were the victims, and there was great pain felt in our church community that took years to begin healing. I was fortunate to retain my friendship. My friend’s parents would pick me up on the way to their new church on Sunday mornings and bring me home after the evening service. As a child, I was given a rare opportunity to spend time with both sides of the conflict. As a child, the new church felt about 2% more strict than my own church. As a child I learned that Christianity wasn’t all about believing in Jesus. This was my first experience of the shadow side of religion and spirituality.
As a young adult, I started to idealize a more broader sense of spirituality after my experience of the shadow in Christianity in my church. In my twenties, my husband and I were once in awe of a meditator who had experienced incredible things on his journey and deep insights. After spending more time with him, we realized that he was using his spirituality to raise himself above everyone else. We were dismayed, and the friendship dwindled. Years later I can surmise that he was using self-righteousness to avoid feeling the pain in his life. I’m not proud to say that in that moment we felt more comfortable judging him and then leaving to seek a “better” guru. (The irony is not lost on me – self-righteousness can feel really good)
There were more learnings throughout the years, and my most recent experience was just prior to graduating from Barbara Brennan School of Healing (BBSH). This is a school that taught me most of what I know about energy healing. It is a journey that is both practical and highly spiritual. During my fourth year, part of the shadow side of the school emerged with a situation where 90% of the teachers left. New teachers replaced those teachers after I graduated. I remember seeing this situation unfold and wondering, “Again??” I didn’t feel strongly attached to either side of the conflict. Partially because I was graduating that year, and partially because I felt relief that the teachers became more authentic and human to me.
Even as I wrote about my experience at BBSH, part of me wondered whether someone would be angry for revealing a shadow side of the organization. Keep that hidden!! So, don’t worry BBSH, I can still say that you were an amazing school and would still highly recommend it. It’s not perfect though because it’s full of human beings!
In each situation I’ve written about, there are individuals who will hold onto “their side” of the argument until the end. There are those who will switch sides. There are those who will leave the spiritual group completely.
I find that most spiritual organizations want to keep their shadow side hidden. This is extremely curious to me.
In these experiences, we can be the judge and shake our heads at it all. In fact, I did have judgments in each situation. After some time has passed and our emotions surrounding the experience loses some of their intensity, we can use these experiences as an opportunity to explore our own shadow.
I could explore each of the past situations and use them to explore specific part of my own shadow, but today I’m going to explore a larger theme that was held by each situation.
Image/Belief: The more spiritual I/We (person or organization) become, the less shadows I/We should have
Why? There’s a belief that I should be more virtuous or “pure” if I am spiritual
I’m not going to dive too deep today into my own shadow, but I will share a piece of it to give you an example.
I can feel the struggle with being on a spiritual path and whether that fits with drinking alcohol. I was taught at BBSH that when we drink alcohol we become less effective healers. In fact, there is a policy that during each week of school that no alcohol is consumed because the school members noticed a very distinct difference in the quality of energy healing with times when people had drunk alcohol (even a glass) versus when they did not drink alcohol.
I LOVE a glass (or more than a glass) of wine. I like to get together with friends and have many glasses on occasion. I can feel the one part of me that wants to deny myself this pleasure. I can feel another which says to drink a glass whenever I want and don’t worry about it’s impact on my work. Then there is another which says that I shouldn’t write any of this and take on that image of a more “spiritual” person and just have a drink and say nothing. These are all shadow pieces, but the last one is related to the image of a spiritual person not having a shadow.
I am proud to say that I make a point to not drink alcohol 24 hours prior to a session with a client. I have made that commitment.
Do you see what I did there in the last 2 sentences? – I felt shame and then felt it necessary to defend my choice to you and give you a reason to put me back in the “more spiritual category” in case you judged me and dropped me down a level. GUESS WHAT? The level of my alcohol consumption doesn’t make me a better or a more spiritual than another person, yet part of me thinks it does.
Sometimes, I also idealize others who don’t drink and judge those who drink more than me. I can feel shame if I don’t meet my own standards. That’s more of my shadow to explore.
After reading all that, you may either want to run far, far away and stop reading, or you may say, “Alcohol? Big deal. My shadow is WAY bigger than that”. You may want to defend or rationalize my choices and give me a pat on the back. Your response is a glimpse into your relationship with your shadow.
When you go on a journey to deepen your connection to the spiritual world, it rarely (if ever) starts with the desire to explore our shadow side. I don’t think any one has ever said to me, “I really want to get in touch with my anger, rage, disappointment, sadness, and shame, so I’m going to explore that more deeply by becoming a (insert type of religion) or go to India to meditate in the Himalayas for a while, maybe spend time at an ashram”.
I know that my spiritual quest has been towards an experience of more freedom, peace, love, joy, and connectedness. Yet the more I explore this path, I’m also brought more closely to my shadow side. The side that takes pleasure in being a victim, escapes when things get difficult, blames others, and takes pleasure in arrogance and self-righteousness. Often as we move towards light qualities we experience the dark ones too.
On this spiritual journey, we are given leaders whom we often put on a pedestal. In psychology we call this positive transference. These leaders embody something that we desire in our own lives, whether they be pastors, gurus, teachers, or a really good yoga instructor. Who do you look up to as a spiritual mentor in your life? When we meet this person, we may be in awe of them. They have some sort of “wow” factor for us. It can be like meeting a famous musician, actor, or author.
Personally, I have had multiple experiences of putting someone on a spiritual pedestal only to have that pedestal knocked down. Awe may remain, but the reminder is the same – no matter how spiritual a person may be, they’re human. They can be arrogant, selfish, self-righteous, and make mistakes.
This invites the opportunity to own this shadow in myself: I can be arrogant, selfish, self-righteous and make mistakes.
This journey has been sad, angering and jaw-dropping at times. “You’re so spiritual, shouldn’t you know better? Shouldn’t you behave better than this?” Once the dust has settled, I have found this experience to be freeing. Like my previous blog post about the Myth of Perfect Parenting, the message is the same for those on the spiritual path. The goal is not to be rid of the shadow parts of ourselves but to recognize them and relate to them differently. There is wisdom in the shadow. We can look at our shadow pieces as information to help us grow.
After reading all of this, you may wonder why anyone explores their shadow side.
When we take the pressure off our spiritual leaders to be pure light, it takes the pressure off ourselves too.
When we take the pressure off ourselves to be pure light, we can take the pressure off our spiritual leaders too.
And compassion my friends is one of the reasons we even bother to explore our shadow. If we can be kinder to ourselves, we can also be kinder to others. As we explore our shadow, we also bring in more opportunity for our light qualities of compassion, love, creativity, pleasure, joy, and connectedness. It also gives the shadow less power so that we don’t get to the point where we do something extreme. The shadow gains power in secrecy until it reaches a breaking point. Bringing light to our shadow also brings freedom.
If you are considering joining a spiritual or religious organization OR you want to reflect on your shadow on your spiritual journey, here are a few questions to consider. Guess what? You can apply this to politics too. How uncomfortable is that?
What are the shadows in this spiritual organization?
Does this organization recognize that it has shadows?
What does it do when it recognizes a shadow?
Do they blame others or take ownership for their shadow? Do they pretend their shadow doesn’t exist? Do they admonish people who show their shadow side?
Why do I want to join an organization that looks like it has no shadow?
Why do I want this spiritual leader to embody all the positive qualities I imagine them to be and none of the negative ones? What does it say about them if they show their negative qualities?
Do I recognize some of my shadows? What are some of them?
What do I do when I see a “negative” quality in myself?
Do I blame others or take ownership for my shadow? Do I pretend my shadow doesn’t exist? Do I admonish people who show their shadow side?
Why do I want to appear to the world like I have no negative qualities?
Do I allow myself to have both positive and negative qualities? What happens if I show negative qualities, what does that say about me?
And remember..be compassionate to yourself on this journey. That is key.
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This is the question that I post above my desk.
I have had a lot of fun starting my private practice, and yet there are moments when I get stuck. Here are few examples.
A) I’m faced with an extremely boring task (like setting up bank accounts or getting insurance)
B) Things seem complicated (learning about marketing)
C) I need to make an important decision
In each these things I can distract, delay, or get stuck in analysis paralysis. In those moments I have started to ask myself, “What if this was easy?” That simple reframe often helps me shift from the place I’m stuck and make progress.
Have you ever made the process of making a decision overly complicated? Me too. When I shifted to giving myself the option of making it easy, the steps dissolve from 14,000 steps to 3 steps instead.
I have found the use of this phrase help me in my business and also in my personal life. Really anytime I notice the stress level or procrastination level rise.
Pick a time today when you find yourself heading towards frustration and overwhelm and ask yourself, “What if this was easy?”