A whiff of the ineffable

When you know there’s something you know but you don’t know what it is, at least not in any way you can put into words: the ineffable, the unknowable, uncertainty, mystery

What it feels like: freedom, a fresh breeze, longing, a pull

When you’re sure you’d be happier if you could just say what it is: grasping onto and for one experience of that (#innocentmistakes #beinghumanbeing and, yes, I’m doing it right here 🙂)

When you let go and let yourself be falling in there/here/now/always: belonging. 

One of my favorite sensations of it: when someone you love comes inside and you can smell the outside air on them.

Oops. I did it again.

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Now and Then and Beyond: To Forgive

To forgive (in the most technical sense)

= to let go of holding someone responsible for owing you something from a past transaction, as in “to forgive a debt.”

= to not be mad about or afraid of the past.

 

Short How-to:

There is nothing you need or want from the person/s who wronged you. Think about it: Nothing. What a relief. That is forgiveness. There is nothing they “owe” you because there’s nothing you want from them. [UPDATE: I should say that if there IS restitution you want, ask them for it. Then, whether or not why sgrer, proceed.]

Forgiveness isn’t: liking them or trusting them or allowing them the same access to you or even wishing them well. It’s not sweet. It’s also not passive-aggressive or fake. It’s matter-of-fact: you are fine and will be fine because you are taking care of yourself.

The whole subject almost vanishes. I say “almost” because of course it informs the way you live your life now and in the future — read the following long version if you want more details. And call me if you have any questions or want to talk it through.

Big love and deep peace and wild creativity,

Betsy

~

~

~

Long How-to: 

I’d heard that forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting. I’d heard the other party/s don’t even need to apologize for you to forgive. I heard and believed and wanted to experience how forgiveness is more a favor to yourself than to the other/s that need forgiving. But the mechanics of how to forgive still eluded me.

What follows is the exact process I worked through in my notebooks when I was figuring out what forgiveness actually means and how to do it. I suspect some of what I’m about to say will feel wrong and even insulting to you when first considered, or at least it did to me, but please soldier on. I trust and hope it’ll be worth it to you. It has been to me.

 

THEN

It turns out that the operative word here — what both of the above definitions of forgiveness have in common —  is “past.” Timing turns out to be everything when it comes to forgiveness and to all emotions involved.*

Let’s look at that second definition of forgiving. It can feel impossible not to be mad about or afraid of the past, but the fact is: we actually CAN’T be — and aren’t — mad about or afraid of the past. It’s impossible because those emotions don’t apply to those time periods.

I don’t mean they “shouldn’t.” I mean they just simply don’t.

Like the color blue doesn’t smell good to you (unless you’re a synysthete). Or like how you can’t physically touch someone if they’re not in the same room you are. These are physical impossibilities.

–>When we incorrectly think we’re mad about or afraid of the past, we put ourselves in a double bind — a push-me/pull-you — and come completely to a standstill. It feels terrible. So that’s huge motivation to get out of it.<–

I will get to the forgiveness part in a second, but first let me quickly review some important past-housekeeping that must be done before we can forgive. Forgiveness (almost always) doesn’t work otherwise. I’m sorry it makes this post so long, but I really don’t want to mislead you away from healing.

What we can and do feel about the past: sorrow

Things change. And we grieve things that are lost. That is natural and healthy.

(We can’t feel sorrow about the present or future because nothing has actually been lost. It’s just not applicable. To see what we feel about those periods of time, read on.)

Maybe you are sad that your relationship with the person you are trying to forgive has changed — or sad you lost some idealism or money or trust or a house or whatever it might be. What you grieve varies, depending on the situation.

Our pure sadness leads us straight into a particular flavor of joy known as gratitude. In our clean grief, we can’t help thinking about what we miss and noticing and appreciating what was important to us about it. We also remember happy memories. Spend plenty of time thinking about what you value from the past — it’s pleasant and, as you’ll see down the page, useful.

Sometimes we can’t grieve in a pure way because it’s complicated grief. This is when we get mixed up and think we are mad about or afraid of the past.

The most common way our grief is complicated: assigning some painful, untrue meaning to what happened.

We may think that what happened permanently ruined us. We might think we can never be happy — or as happy — again. Or that we were complicit in what happened in a way that means our hearts are stained forever. We might think we can’t trust our own judgment. Or anyone or anything. We might think they took the best years of our life, our chance for being a millionaire, our professional or personal reputation, or other intangible value. There are truly infinite painful meanings we can ascribe to the past.

In that case, it’s useful to take a good old-fashioned “look at yourself” (as they used to say on SNL) and question whether or not this painful truth is actually. true. Use this worksheet at Byron Katie’s website if you want a template. (Spoiler: if it makes you feel icky, something about it isn’t true.)

The harder-to-fix way our grief is even more complicated: trauma.

Please don’t dismiss the topic of  trauma just because it’s a hot pop-psychology topic right now. It’s so real, and understanding that and dealing with it can be a magic key for unlocking years of stickiness that hasn’t yielded to anything else.

Trauma = you perceive that you’re both in danger AND powerless. That’s a horrible combination.

The brain does weird things to protect us, and we are grateful to it for doing so.But the neuro-chemical after-effects need to be dealt with, and modern life hasn’t done that very well. Happily, there are techniques that work now (like EMDR therapy, which I did right here in Sheridan, Wyoming and am so grateful for, tapping, yoga therapy, drama therapy, hypnosis, running, and more).

If you think you might have had any:

~ adverse childhood experiences (even what we might think of as “small” adversities are truly and deeply trauma for children because they are powerless),

~ adult experiences of the danger-helplessness variety (Car wrecks are the most common cause in America, and the effects are tangible, pervasive, long-lasting… note that trauma isn’t just kicked up by or associated consciously with the same topic that started it. Trauma from car wrecks can stall you when you hit a hard problem at work. You are puzzled as to why you can’t cope and have no idea it’s linked to the wreck.),

~ or entire periods of time in the past about which you remember nothing, then please try different kinds of therapy until you find one that works.

 

BEYOND

In order to understand forgiveness, we also need to understand what we can and can’t do with respect to the future.

What we can and do feel about the future: fear.

When we look around the world and see it’s vast variety, all these differences between things lead us naturally and healthfully into imagination.We imagine these variables combined in certain ways… some of which could lead to potential dangers or limitations. And we are afraid or maybe just mildly worried about what will happen.

(We can’t be afraid of the past because it already happened. There is no potential anything there. It’s all known. If anything there was going to hurt or limit us, it already did or didn’t.

We also can’t be afraid of the present moment because we are fine. See, your heart is beating and you are breathing. You survived that moment — every moment, no matter what danger you perceived a second ago, no matter what danger you are actually in. Even if you’re being tortured, you are still here and alive. I don’t say this lightly. If you have ever been in real danger, you can verify having had the sensation of being weirdly all right deep in your core in each second even while you were terrified about the upcoming moment. I think this is why near-death experiences make people say they felt and feel so alive. All the way up until you die, you are fine in the moment. All fear is about the future — even if it’s about the next second. This seems like a tiny splitting of hairs, but it’s super important. It builds our confidence. And it makes it clear how we can proceed, as you’ll see below.)

Happily, pure fear leads us straight into another particular flavor of joy called possibility. When confronted with danger or limitations, our beautiful human minds immediately go into even higher gear rearranging all those different variables — mixing and matching ingredients and coming up with all kinds of options. The number of different things that could happen are infinite. We plan and scheme and strategize and it’s heavenly. It’s fun — we are creative beings — and its useful because we do indeed visualize ways to avoid being hurt or curtailed.

If you feel afraid of the person you are trying to forgive OR if you feel afraid of the past — your real issue is with the future. You don’t feel safe. Probably rightly so. Read on.

What we can do about the future: set boundaries.

Boundaries are wildly cool because they are how we combine all the time periods and use the past, now, to influence our future.

This is the thing — the only thing —  you need from those past problems you had. You need to set and honor boundaries of your own choosing. And the person/s involved — the one/s you’re trying to forgive — can’t give this to you. Ever. But you can!

Remember, above, when you were thinking about past change and losses?  The happy memories and the clean sorrow both led you straight into thinking about what you cherish and what is painful to you. When you do that, you’re identifying what is okay with you and what is not. These are your boundaries. This is what you build your life and future on.

Make lists of what’s ok and not ok for every part of your life: work, living space, friendships, romantic relationships, possessions, time, spirituality, your body. Then honor them and require that others do –all others, not just the one/s who wronged you in the past. Of course that’s confusing until you figure out how and get used to doing it. Get some help from a therapist or coach if you want it to go more quickly, easily, and pleasantly.

I gained much insight and benefit on this topic from (and I really, really recommend) Terri Cole’s online course called Boundary Bootcamp. I have never met her in person, but I’m so impressed with the quality of this class. She manages to create a powerful, professional therapeutic experience from a distance and with a group —  it’s an impressive accomplishment. And it really changed me. She does a nice lead-up to the offering itself with a staggering amount of useful free content. Even if you don’t plan to take her course, you’ll find the free work super provocative and enlightening.

 

NOW

This current moment itself has nothing for us to fear (because we are ok) and nothing to grieve (we haven’t lost anything in this moment even if we did in the past or think we are about to). We can use the present to fear the future or grieve the past — that’s natural and useful. But what else does the present moment itself hold? What emotion do we feel about it?

What we can and do feel about the present: anger

Anger is the natural and healthy response to current injustice as well as to the inexplicable in general. There is something we need or desire that we don’t have OR something present that we need or desire to be gone. It leads us to act on behalf of what is right, what we need, what we desire to be different.

 I don’t mean we rage nor do I mean we feel or display chronic irritation. Those are anger mis-handled or, more commonly, grief or fear misplaced!

Anger is actually the same as desire — you just desire something to be different.

If you are thirsty, you desire a drink of water. You get it. You never have to “act mad.” Toddlers haven’t figured out the subtle ways of desire yet, so they often “act mad” when they desire something — they stomp their feet and yell “I’m thirsty!” and we are puzzled. “All you had to do was ask for a drink of water,” or “all you have to do is get yourself a drink of water” we say (depending on if they can reach the water!). They just are figuring out how to get what they desire or need. Once they get older and clear on what they want, on the fact that it’s okay for them to have preferences and desires, and on how to get a drink of water, then they can have and fulfill that desire without “acting mad.”

Like the other two “negative” emotions, clean anger leads us straight to a particular flavor of joy: living as our heart’s desire. This is also known as a feeling of contentment or belonging. That’s because when we sort through what we desire, we fall spontaneously into what the Buddhists call “right action.” And that action itself is our participation in the inexplicable. It’s hard to describe — impossible — because the present moment and life can’t be put into words. They are mystery. The ineffable. But when we keep moving in it, it feels free and like home, all at the same time.

–>When you feel mad at the person you’re trying to forgive OR about the past event/s in question, then that emotion is telling you something vital about the PRESENT. Not about what happened before.<–

This is super important. Your anger is saying something is not right. Something is not okay with you NOW. Please don’t ignore it.

It’s probably that the person (or someone else!) is violating your boundaries OR that you yourself are violating your own boundaries OR you’re mad at yourself for not setting those boundaries. That’s okay. I promise. I double and triple promise. This is all so mentionable and manageable, as Mr. Rogers used to say. Enforcing boundaries and setting them is not horrible, hard, bitchy, mean, small-minded, cold, unfeminine, unpleasant, and definitely it’s not unforgiving. It’s the opposite of that. When you get super clear on what’s okay with you and what’s not AND on boundaries’ value to you and everyone else and the whole world, it’s not hard. Setting them is a creative process. And enforcing them is like asking for — and drinking — a glass of water. Crystal clear, refreshing. A calm, assured relief.

*I first understood the mechanics of the three “negative” emotions from Martha Beck‘s book Finding Your Own North Star. The whole book is  truly a manual for living a happy life. I’m so grateful for it, and I totally recommend it.

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The heart-stuff

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in,”

or, more accurately maybe, how it gets OUT.

To see — literally — where I find myself with this famous lyric, check out this video of Leonard Cohen live and how it incorporates some remarkable footage of the natural world.

Notice where the cracks are.

The cracks are in the clouds. Behind them, the sky is always clear and the sun and other stars are always shining. The cracks let the light get *out*. Out and into the world.

And there are cracks in the earth itself — in rock — letting water pour out and over and into the world.

Just so, I think your cracks and mine let light stream out of our hearts — out of that space where the ineffable always glows, regardless of what we do or don’t do. Our cracks let it out into the world.

Happily for us, the light has to flow through our bodies and minds to get into the world. And then we get to actually believe in and experience that light, and it feels lovely.

If “light” doesn’t accurately describe your experience of this marvel/sensation, Antonio Machado has some options:

Last Night As I Was Sleeping

by Antonio Machado, translated by Robert Bly

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

The original:

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé ¡bendita ilusión!
que una fontana fluía
dentro de mi corazón.
Dí: ¿por qué acequia escondida,
agua, vienes hasta mí,
manantial de nueva vida
en donde nunca bebí?

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé ¡bendita ilusión!
que una colmena tenía
dentro de mi corazón;
y las doradas abejas
iban fabricando en él,
con las amarguras viejas,
blanca cera y dulce miel.

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé ¡bendita ilusión!
que un ardiente sol lucía
dentro de mi corazón.
Era ardiente porque daba
calores de rojo hogar,
y era sol porque alumbraba
y porque hacía llorar.

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé ¡bendita ilusión!
que era Dios lo que tenía
dentro de mi corazón.

Spring water, golden honey, sunshine, or God? Exactly.

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All Your Dreams Are Good Dreams

Bad dreams can feel so remarkably… bad. And if they recur over and over, well you can start to dread sleep.

I’ve found the best way to handle bad dreams, recurrent dreams, or good dreams, for that matter, is to dive right into them. One of my favorite analysis methods was pioneered by Swiss Psychologist Carl Jung and made more accessible and contemporary by one of my favorite teachers, author Martha Beck. When you look at dreams in this way, they usually vanish, but, more importantly, they always reward you with increased happiness in your waking life.

Sound too good to be true? Try the following analysis method with one of your dreams.

  • Read the following long, detailed description with a full example. Or…
  • Start right off with the worksheet. 

The analysis looks involved when I write it all out for you here, but with practice it flows, feels fun, and is deeply adventurous.

If you get stuck, contact me to book a dream analysis phone call. It is SO much easier and more fun and rewarding with experienced company.

Enjoy, and let me know how it goes!

PS — My other favorite way to play with dreams is using Jung’s own “transcendent function” as I demonstrated here. It’s much less prescribed: some people love that, and some people prefer this step-by-stepway. Both are helpful and powerful.

Dream Analysis Worksheet

Click here for a link to a google doc .jpg you can print.

dream-worksheet

Dream Analysis Method (4 steps… with an example)

Step 1: Write down your dream.

Short dreams actually work best, so don’t worry if all you have is a “fragment.” You don’t need a full story.

Example: I am riding a yellow bear. It is kind of adventurous, but then for some reason I slit the bear’s throat. I instantly feel horrible and watch it bleeding with horrible sadness and regret. I wish I hadn’t done that. I don’t know why I did and wish I could take it back and resume riding the bear.

Note: It’s best to write in present tense not in past tense. (And yes, this example is intentionally weird and a little deviant just so you don’t feel bad if your own dreams are… odd. In truth, we all have EXTREMELY strange dreams, much stranger than I want to write in this post. So don’t feel bad if you do. Seriously.)

Step 2: Make a list of the “elements” (person, place, thing, and activity) in the dream.

Example:

Riding

Yellow

Bear

Slit

Throat

Bleeding/Blood

Step 3: Analyze each element, as follows:

a) Pretend you ARE each element.

Remember when you were a kid, playing, and your brother would say to you, “You be the antelope, and I’ll be the wolf.” And then he’d try to chase you down and rip off your limbs? Wait, maybe that was just in my family (!), but you remember playing make-believe. So do that now.

This is a form of what’s called “active imagination.” I want you to BE the thing in your dream for a good reason: because that thing actually is representing a part of you. So don’t look on like an observer and describe what your regular, conscious self thinks about that thing. BE that thing. Because you are 🙂

Don’t worry if it’s a bad thing. We all have every bad thing in us as well as every good thing. But their appearance in our dreams always will help the development of our true, essential self. And by the way, that essential self, deep inside, IS good. I promise.

b) Speaking AS the element, describe yourself with three descriptors.

Say to yourself “I am [insert an element here ]. I am [description #1, description #2, and description #3].” There are no right or wrong answers here, just describe yourself quickly with whatever random thing comes to mind.

Example:

I am “riding.” (Pretending to be an action or an adjective is even more abstract than pretending to be something like a bear, but you can do this hard thing!) I am an athletic activity. I am a vigorous activity. I am fun.

I am “yellow.” I am cheerful, bright, sunny.

I am the bear. I am huge, strong, wild.

I am “slitting.” I am deadly, quick, sly.

I am the throat. I am the part of the body that swallows food and talks. I am vulnerable to attack. I attach the head to the body.

If your description brings up another element, add it to your list.

I am food. I am nourishing, tasty, essential for life.

I am the head. I am heavy, on top, and smart.

I am “bleeding” or “blood.” (You can convert from verb to noun, like this, if it feels right to you.) I am vital to life. I’m red. I’m liquid.

c) Speaking AS the element, state your purpose.

Example:

I am “riding.” My purpose is to let a person use the superior strength and speed of a larger thing in order to get somewhere more easily.

I am “yellow.” My purpose is to be bright. (Sometimes your answers repeat from the previous step. That’s ok.)

I am the bear. My purpose is to live my wild life.

I am “slitting.” My purpose is to kill quickly and quietly.

I am the throat. My purpose is to ingest food and communicate with sounds.

I am food. My purpose is to give the being energy to live.

I am the head. My purpose is to do the thinking.

I am “bleeding” or “blood.” My purpose is to carry nourishment throughout the body.

d) Speaking AS the element, give us your helpful message for the dreamer.

Remember Carl Jung’s main point: each dream element is a metaphor that your unconscious mind has created in order to help you. It’s a part of you. And it’s showing up for a reason — a reason that’s always beneficial for you. Always.

Example:

I am “riding,” and I am here to help Betsy by reminding her that she is not propelling herself through life all on her, under her own power.

I am “yellow.” My message for Betsy is that there is sunshine in the most unlikely places. Like even underneath you, carrying you forward.

I am the bear. I showed up here to tell Betsy that my seemingly dangerous, wildness is fun and useful — a wild ride!

I am “slitting.” My message for Betsy is that when you have to kill something, do it in a way that they don’t see coming and that doesn’t hurt them. It’s safer and more effective for you, and more humane to them.

I am the throat. I am here to help Betsy by showing her what she’s doing. She’s cutting open the wild thing right where it’s most easily killed — severing it’s head from it’s body. [Don’t judge me, dear reader. I am actually engaging in this process as we go, and I will say it’s a vulnerable feeling, baring my psyche like this.]

I am food. I’m here to help by pointing out that… [I don’t know I’m getting nothing here. Sometimes that happens and you can just skip it as long as you’re not skipping too many things.]

I am the head. My message to Betsy is that the wild thing doesn’t really die that easily. [Sometimes the message makes no sense. Sometimes it doesn’t seem to go with whatever theme you have seen developing. That’s okay.]

I am bleeding/blood. I’m here to help Betsy by clotting. I mean, my message to her is: remember that blood clots.

Here I better do a quick analysis of “clotting” since it’s a new element. I am clotting. I’m a thickening of blood, a natural healthy self-preserving process. My purpose is to stop a living being from dying of blood loss. My message to Betsy is that her wild self’s natural processes will save it even from her! Whoa.

e) Now stop being the elements and just be yourself, the dreamer. Look at each element and what you’ve written about it. What could it be symbolizing in your life? Try asking yourself, “what in my life feels the way this feels?” “What part of me is this a metaphor for?” Or fill in the sentence: “oh… this is like ___.” After you noodle around ideas, underline your answer for easy reference.

Important: Carl Jung said that each symbol in the dream represents a part of the dreamer.

–>Very occasionally, a thing in the dream is really representing itself. So, for example. a dream of your Mom could be about her. But more likely it’s about a part of you that is like your Mom. Maybe it’s your caring side. Or your sarcastic side. Or the part of you that is creative (like how mothers create new life). It probably symbolizes whatever trait you associate with your mother on the day you are analyzing the dream. Remember, too, that symbols can change over time. <–

Example: (I know this is getting long. Skip around, obviously! I just want you have to have one complete example to refer to.)

“Riding” seems to me to be symbolic of “how I get through life.”

“Yellow” in this case sounds like optimism.

The bear is like my own wild nature

“Slitting” is.. just that. (Sometimes you do all the analysis but the word the dream gave you is PERFECT.)

Food is like nourishment — not just physical but spiritual, intellectual, emotional. (Note: I skipped forward and did this element before I finished the “throat” analysis below because I needed this information to do that analysis.)

The head is the logical-thinking kind of mind. (Ditto from note above.)

The throat seems to be a metaphor for getting nourishment and communicating. The dream seems to be saying that the same part of my wild nature that does those things connects my wild nature’s logical, thinking mind to its more “bodily” part.  And that this part is especially vulnerable.  And that I’m slicing it open. Oh man. Here’s where you ask yourself: “Based on the description I just wrote, what part of my life could this symbolize for me?” I’d have to say… information (specifically, the truth) and love.

The bleeding/blood is losing the life force that distributes the nourishment and keeps my wild nature alive, but interestingly, it also can clot. I have to ask myself, “what feels like the life blood of my wild nature — distributing nourishment throughout it and keeping it alive?” I’m not sure, so I go back and re-read the descriptors I wrote for blood: vital to life, red, liquid. This seems to be an important element in the dream, so I am going to do a quick analysis of “red” and “liquid” since I didn’t pull those out separately before.

I’m the color “red.” I’m powerful, primary/elemental, the color of fire. My purpose is to attract attention and be visible and represent danger. (My thinking is that’s why animals have red markings as predator deterrents; why emergency vehicles are red; etc. Please remember my interpretation of red might be different tomorrow. And yours definitely will be different. We could say cheerful and life-like. It all depends on what comes up for you the day you do this.) I’m here to help Betsy by making her consider those things in this list because she might normally think they are not very polite, but she needs to consider and value them. [Sheesh. I guess “red” seems to me to be like power.]

I’m “liquid.” I’m flowing, not solid, not gas, wet. My purpose is to be a state in which a material can flow or be pumped from one place to another easily. My message to Betsy is that I am a resilient material that can get to (and get into) places easily. [Liquid feels like a metaphor for the ability of something to flow where ever it wants to go.]

Now, if I combine that information with what I had before, then “blood” — the life force of my wild nature —  would seem to represent: easily flowing power that handily and naturally gets where it needs to go to preserve my wild nature’s life. Wow.

Clotting: Now, when an element references ANOTHER element, you can combine them. For example, if I combine things I wrote above, then “clotting” would be “a thickening” of my wild nature’s “easily flowing power ” wherein that power turns itself into a plug to stop itself from draining out so much as to kill my wild nature. So the the question is: what does that seem to me to symbolize? Okay this is getting intense and cosmic. So… it’s when my normally free-flowing wild-ish (i.e., free and not necessarily civilized) power turns itself into a solid, thick mass to block the flow of that power OUT of my wild nature. [What I’m trying to show you here is that when it gets hard to understand, I keep re-stating my own words it in different ways.] So.. my wild power obstructs ITSELF. For a good reason. Holy smokes.

When you get to this point, you ask yourself, “does that sound like something in my life?” And weirdly it does. Yesterday I balked at a plan I’d made some time ago. I found myself desperately feeling in my bones that I wanted to change my mind, so I decided to cancel my plan. But then I felt some self-induced social pressure that made me think I was stifling my self out of fear, and I decided I should ignore my gut desire to cancel. But I just couldn’t seem to stop that sluggish feeling and indeed felt like I was shutting down. The above description of “clotting” and that “thickening of power to block its own flow” feels like that “stopping up” process. It felt like I was scabbing over — but maybe that’s not a bad thing?


Step 4:
Re-write your dream, BUT for each element, substitute its symbolic meaning.

You can insert some of the other things you wrote about that element too if you find yourself wanting to. (I usually find it feels good to do that on the main elements or when the messages seem exceptionally powerful.)

In the example, I’ve underlined the metaphor substitutions I took from above and inserted for each element. Sometimes a substitution seems not to make complete sense or even work in a grammatical sense. Just go with it.

Example: I am going through life being propelled or carried on my own optimistic,  wild nature (in this dream it reminds me it’s here and that I don’t have to do it all myself with my regular socially-acceptable consciousness!). Its purpose is to live its own wild life and it tells me that my seemingly dangerous wildness is a fun, useful ride! It is all kind of adventurous, but then for some reason I slit my own wild nature’s throat — I mean I slice into my wild nature’s truth and love in a move that surely could kill it. I instantly feel horrible and watch with sadness and regret as it’s bleeding out, losing that easily flowing power — its life force. I don’t know why I did, and I wish I could take it back and resume riding the bear. BUT the thing I can’t see, the thing that the power/blood is telling me in this dream, is that my wild power ITSELF — the flow of it via a place of truth and love —  is invisibly thickening into a solid clot that will staunch its own flow in an attempt to keep my wild nature from dying. It could heal the place of truth and love and save my wild bear nature. That’s what was happening yesterday when I was wanting to change my mind about cancelling that plan: it felt like something was getting thick and scabbing over, but now this dream seems to be saying maybe that’s a good thing… if I really want to resume riding my big, strong, dangerous, sunny, bear-like wild nature through life.

Wow. Probably that seems like gibberish to you, but it lands in my essential self with a deep and satisfying ca-thunk. The re-telling is often hard to put your finger on. But it feels powerful to you nonetheless and works on you in mysterious ways.

Step 5: Thank your essential self for this message. Do something in the outer world to honor the dream.

This doesn’t mean you have to change your life. I could indeed see this a sign to follow through with my gut desire to cancel my plan. But I don’t have to. I just as easily could make a sketch of the bear; google “yellow bears” and look at pictures or read about them* ; send a donation to an organization that helps preserve bears; etc. Just doing something in the outer world is a way of integrating your unconscious’ ideas and thanking it for communicating with you. Your essential self’s messages have reached you and you are affected by them — whether you change your immediate behavior or not, you will find yourself increasingly enriched and at peace.5455426064_fca9750514_o

*Here’s the image I found! I don’t know why it’s an octopus riding the bear — that of course wasn’t in my dream and my bear was considerably less cuddly and much more fierce — but I went with it. Interestingly, I am reading a book right now about octopuses and how their
intelligence redefines our ideas of consciousness! Woo-woo… Click on this link to visit the cool “Dog, Bear and Monkey blog” that posted that pic. I hope it’s legal for me to put that pic here as long as I refer you to the origin!

Posted in Dream work, Essential Self, Metaphor as a personal transformation tool for you | 2 Comments

“Problems aren’t problems, happiness isn’t happiness, worry is nothing to worry about, nothing is nothing, and everything is everything:” my latest favorite game

A Game!

Fill in the blank (insert any emotion, state, or situation):

“[Blank*] is nothing to [Blank — the same blank as before or some grammatically correct form of Blank] about.

[Blank] isn’t [Blank.].

Three ways to win this game:

  1. Make yourself laugh OR
  2. Shock yourself into pure consciousness OR
  3. Find a case where one of those newly-formed sentences DOESN’T hold true. They kind of always do, huh?

Please get back to me with your results and your own favorite variations on this game (mine are in the title)!

Posted in Emotions, Favorites, Fear and bravery, Heartbreak, letting go, Thought work | Leave a comment

The 12-Second Rule (yes, this might truly change everything)

It’s not that I disagree when people say “Be happy now —
don’t wait for some circumstance to change.” I just don’t FullSizeRenderfind it to be a helpful instruction, especially in the midst of a dark night of the soul.

But last week a mighty force for good pointed me to a practical, game-changing “how-to.” It’s like the 5-Second Rule… only inside out, backwards, and 2-1/2 times bigger. I call it:

The 12-Second Rule

Whenever you have a positive experience — even a very tiny one — pause for 12 seconds. Absorb it, and feel it integrating into your insides.

Ahh… feel that.

And as if that weren’t enough, science shows it actually makes you happier going forward. I think it’s worth an experiment on oneself to see.

All my best,

Betsy

PS: I hope you check out this pleasant, short Tedx talk by Dr. Rick Hansen based on his in-depth book that describes this inner phenomenon’s neuroscience.  But I suspect you don’t need those details for “proof.” I suspect you’re “aha’ing” all over the place, thinking:

So THAT’s why Aunt Laura was so beatific.

I’ve HAD that experience.

Maybe that’s why we like vacations — we take the time to do this.

Maybe this is what Oprah does in her gratitude exercises.

Maybe this is why Eckhardt says the power is in the now.

Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he said the kingdom of God was at hand.

Maybe this is what the Buddhists teach in mindfulness.

Wait… there’s probably always some small positive happening to me that I can find, notice, and absorb. Like: a stranger holds the door open; the sky; breathing.

Maybe this is why the yogis of yore taught us to focus on the breath and to feel it nourishing us.

Did I really just put Aunt Laura, Oprah, Eckhardt, Jesus, Buddha, and  the yogis of yore in the same list? Yes… and I love that. I think I’ll wallow in that a second or 12.

I suspect you’re stringing more aha’s and 12-second-happiness-integration-sessions closer and closer together. I would love to receive a message, email, or comment from you about your experience — so I can soak in it too.

PPS: Thank you to my friend and colleague, Rena Rachar — a true wonder in this world — for bringing this to my attention. I recommend you find some excuse to work with her.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

“If I were truly to be myself, I would break my family’s heart.”*

~ Someone I know has been side-railed by the pain of someone they love.

Indeed everyone I’ve ever known has at some point frozen up because they didn’t want to hurt someone else.

I have too. (Those of you who know me are whispering “understatement…”)

It’s because we want those people to be well and safe and to live in joy and peace.

~ But stuckness is a red flag

UnknownMy experiences and values — as well as the stories, data, and theories I’ve collected from admirable folks both famous and not — tell me that when I find myself immobile, it’s a sign of some misperception on my part

That’s because truth always frees us up — reveals and allows our next move.

~ In these cases it’s best to look into reality. Very specifically

My friend and I decided to look at the lives of people we admire and care about and see if there has been any evidence of opposite scenarios in which:

–> Someone went ahead and lived the way they wanted even though they were pretty sure (and sad) that it would contribute to the unhappiness of someone they cared about… but in fact the other person ended up thriving.

We found so many examples that you might think I’m making it up, but likely, if you play along, you will find tons too.

Who: Spurned spouse stories alone numbered twelve before we forced ourselves to move on. Then we found examples of bosses, colleagues, parents, siblings, kids, other relatives, friends, heros, mentors, advisors, and entire religions, fields of work, and nations — basically every kind of entity you could care about — who recovered after a person disappointed them. Actually they not only recovered but ended up so much better off.

“Selfish Action”: The potentially wounding actions in our stories included severing ties with that person, quitting a job, declining a promotion, moving, not moving, changing hairstyles, coming out as something different  (different religion, gender, sexual preference, political affiliation,  and more) rearranging furniture, going sober, changing professions, quitting school, revealing personal details in writing a book or movie, being late, canceling plans or trips, spending money on something, getting a pet, taking a class, simply telling someone that their actions/words feel hurtful or distasteful, ceasing to do a behavior they no longer find enjoyable (cooking, driving…) doing any of the above to a third party that the person cares about(!), or some elaborate combo (e.g., becoming a male warrior to save your people and land when you should be a bride, as a certain Disney hero did).

Results: The other person ended up happier in these stories for different reasons — because they moved to a place they adored, found out they loved living alone, discovered the joys of living with friends rather than relatives, moved in to help with grandkids or aging relatives, reconnected with old friends, made all new kinds of (healthier or more fun for them) friends, ended up with a new romantic someone who was much more easily suited to them, got into therapy or otherwise looked at themselves or their past and healed/grew, adopted step-kids or -grandkids or horses or other animals, got rid of step-people or step-animals, developed an amazing hobby/interest/skill/job (this was most common — sometimes it was an old thing revisited, sometimes a new necessity, and sometimes something random), went back to school, changed careers, did surprisingly better financially without the other’s fiscal influence or take-charge-ness in their life, got spiritual, got sober, partied more, became a vegetarian, became self reliant, wrote a book (okay maybe about the person who wronged them but, still, it is a success!), traveled more, cozily nested in their home more, avoided a disaster they would’ve been in (like a plane crash, car crash, epidemic), simplified, and/or allowed themselves to live more largely. We knew more than one story of a person for each of these cases. Plus a few movie plots. Likely, you do too.

Quite often, it was hard not to conclude that the seemingly wounded person thrived not only DESPITE the “bad” situation but BECAUSE OF IT. We found ourselves thinking they might even say “thanks be that happened.”

Note: Stop here if you want to end on a happy note. It’s all the evidence of truth that you need. Only continue if you still believe, deep inside, that you should do something that makes you feel bad in order to avoid making another person unhappy.

–> Someone forced themselves to live in a way that didn’t feel good to them in order to avoid hurting someone they cared about… but in fact the other person ended up unhappy anyway.

Who: same categories of people as above.

“Selfless Actions”: Staying in a situation that feels bad or doing some new thing that feels bad or refusing some new situation that feels awesome. In our examples, the situations involved a marriage, friendship, job, home, town, style, lifestyle, and/or plan of some kind (involving travel, money, animals, children, and more).

Results: It was all too easy for us to find cases in which the “other person” seems to be unhappy no matter what happens, no matter how hard the selfless hero tried and continues to try to do the right thing. The results are homes, workplaces, books, friendships, clubs, political eras, etc that are lifeless. So many sages say happiness comes from inside us and each of us is responsible for figuring out how to be happy. The evidence we found really supported this as truth. It’s not an easy truth for those of us who want to consider the impact of our actions on those we love. If we could make them happy by our actions, we would. But sadly, we can’t.

–> Someone forced themselves to live in a way that didn’t feel good to them in order to avoid hurting someone they cared about… and they themselves ended up unhappy.

We did find sad cases of chronic loneliness, stress, bitterness, energy loss, or just sadness on the part of the selfless hero.

–> And what’s even sadder is the surprising revolution we had: there are cases we found where the selfless hero’s own decreased happiness led them to engage in behaviors that seemed to contribute to the other person’s unhappiness… further down the road: illness, meanness, adultery, substance abuse, withdrawal, accident-proneness, poor job performance or job loss, or simply a constricted way of living and/or inability to support and appreciate the other person. That person who they were originally trying to protect felt wounded, just at a later date.

I don’t like reporting these results. They’re sad.

–> Less catastrophically and seemingly more commonly, we see cases where the hero continues to behave selflessly and things go reasonably well — it seems they did protect another, and they live a decent life, but at the end of their life they feel regret.

This famous blog post went viral and led to a super lovely video (I love watching and listening to this woman talk — I think it’s really worth 16 minutes out of your day) and book because of the ubiquity and poignancy of this scenario.

I’m not saying you should live as a selfish egomaniac. We are talking about you living as your heart desires — and your heart is good and true and there is no danger of it wanting to be a bad person. Psychopathic, narcissistic, sociopathic, Machiavellian behavior does not make its host feel good. Tune into your body compass (try here or here or the Martha Beck book Finding Your Own North Star). If you’re still unsure, get someone to help you figure out this and other ways your heart communicates with you. Because I am convinced that the beauty of our hearts means the following is true:

“If you truly live as your heart desires, it’s best for other people and for our world.”

Bonus: a gorgeous, fierce horse may join you for the adventure…

mulan-dream-cast

* Mulan. But then you already knew that. Click and sing along!

Posted in Body Compass, Desire, Thought work | 3 Comments