Oh, anger

This week I had a little anger episode mushroomswhile teaching yoga. Yup. I am ashamed even to say that. (Which says a lot about the expectations I/we have around anger. And yoga:))

Email, coffee talk, and phone calls on my recent Emotions 101 post have been so engaging, and discussions thus far focus on anger more than on grief, fear, or joy. For good reasons, which I will get into later. But first, this example from my life:

I teach yoga at the local community college in the basketball gym. It’s not a typical yoga space! But I like to think that I can be all zen enough to handle the huge space, people running on track above, loud sounds, variable temperatures, etc. Early this semester, people started walking through the gym during our class to get to the locker rooms and offices at the other end of the gym.

At first it was one person, so I didn’t want to cause trouble, and it wasn’t much disturbance, so I didn’t say anything. But it kept increasing. Tuesday, about 7 minutes before class ended, when the students were resting in corpse pose, a whole cluster of folks walked right though our midst. I stopped the meditation I was leading — in mid-sentence — and held out my hand and frowned and said “No. Don’t.” Them: “What?” Me: “Don’t walk through here during our class. Please wait til class is over.” Them: “But we have to get to the locker and change before practice or we’re in trouble.” Me, taking breath, collecting self: “Fine. I will talk to your coach.”

Now, I didn’t yell, point my finger in their face, insult them, or pull out the full-fledged and terrifying whammy that my brother and I spent a lot of time practicing when we were kids. But I felt those icky angry cortisol hormones roil in my system. And everyone else did too I suspect.

Anger has dire consequences

Anger can cause real, immediate and /or long-term, concrete damage if someone lashes out verbally or physically.

If someone bursts into tears of sadness or runs away afraid, we do not suffer physical wounds.

Because of the threat associated with anger, we are fundamentally nervous around people who have displayed anger. we can’t help it our — our cave person genes are sure to make us stay that way out of a survival instinct. And that goes both ways:

You may wilt in embarrassment or you may suffer the consequences of other peoples’ judgement if you publicly show grief or fear, but likely neither of those emotions will wreck connections with others as much as anger will.

Anger can be confused with sadness or danger… but it IS its own thing 

Some argue that anger is a secondary emotion.

Some of those folks say all “negative” emotions are sub-categories of fear.

And it’s true anger can move us into fear. But the reverse is also true.

Others say all “negative” emotions are a form of grief. I think this is closer to the truth int that:

Grief is the emotional response to loss.

Fear is thinking there will be loss in the future.

Anger is blaming someone for a loss.

But the healthy way we handle each of these three “negative” emotions is so different that it pays to think of them separately.

 Grief: replace what’s lost or mourn irreplaceable loss

Fear: run away if you don’t want to do the scary thing or minimize danger and act in the face of fear if your desire points you in that direction

Anger: eliminate injustice by changing an external situation or changing yourself so you get what you need or get rid of a situation you can’t tolerate.

Because anger cannot be ignored or willed away.

Lots of hopeful discussion points to becoming such a zen person that you don’t get angry, but the thing is there will always be injustice in the world. We NEED a mechanism to change situations so we can avoid the hurt that comes from the presence of something we can’t tolerate (like child abuse in our towns or like your neighbor blocking your driveway) or the lack of something we need (like equal pay for equal work no matter our age/gender/religion/ethnicity/sexual preference or like a kind word from your boss). Otherwise the unjust situation continues.

Debates over what is right and wrong — or even whether there is such a thing as right and wrong — don’t really change the argument because the feeling that “something is not right” is universally human. We can’t ignore it or say “don’t have it.”

Yes, and, alas, it seems impossible to just DECIDE to not get angry or to let your anger go without any change. The sense of unfairness will build and either you will explode OR fall into depression OR suffer generalized anxiety. None of those three options will right the wrong, so anger itself will still represent and continue to hurt you.

For proof, consider whether you know someone who doesn’t get angry. Hard to think of anyone. Even the Dalai Lama says he struggles with it. If you look closely, you see that folks that come closest to looking like they never get angry (and are happy functioning people not numb zombies) have actually just learned how to respond to their own anger healthily both in the moment and in the long-term.

For, as Harriet Larner says,

**”If feeling anger signals a problem, venting anger does not solve it. Venting anger may serve to maintain, and even rigidify, the old rules and patterns in a relationship, thus ensuring that change does not occur.”**

In the moment: Anger management techniques are well-known, but it’s hard even to notice you need them until it’s too late.

It’s pretty easy to learn that we need to breathe, walk away and deal with the situation when calm, etc… but how do we get ourselves to remember to enact those skills? Psychologists and spiritual leaders have tried to give us tools to interrupt the momentum, to see what’s happening, to detach, etc.. It is hard.

Practice helps, for sure. In fact it is essential. It can develop a habit.


Long-term: Explore the anger and make some small, brave change.

We also must consistently dig into situations that make us mad and change something (ourselves or something else) because then our conscious and unconscious selves begin to trust us. Our minds KNOW it’s okay to practice anger management techniques and prevent a blow-up in the moment because our minds KNOW we will right the wrong a little bit later. Our minds have seen us do it.

Without building this trust with our essential selves, those deepest and most well-intentioned parts of us will make darn good and sure we explode because they/we want what is right to take hold in our lives and in the world around us.

So, yes, learn to see and interrupt your temper, but after you do so, spend some time figuring the situation out. Continuing my most recent example:

 I was ashamed of having gotten angry, but I pulled myself together, and after class I went down to the coaches’ offices — scary place for a non-jock like me. I introduced myself to a wholesome large young man who introduced himself in friendly way (I don’t remember his name or what he coaches because I was scared), and I explained my dilemma. He said they do have to get in there, and they have to go into the far end of the gym somehow as there’s no other entrance to the locker rooms. There’s no other way, I asked? Well they could walk down the side hallways and enter the gym through the far corner and whip into the adjacent locker rooms rather than traipse across the gym. (I never really have understood the layout of that place as it intimidates me, so I just ignore it all.) So, I said, can I just put signs on the doors saying “Do not enter during class, use side halls.” And he said, of course. And then if I just keep my class at THIS end of the gym, we likely won’t notice their entrances at the other end. (On Tuesday we were at that other end of the gym to use those walls as a prop, which is the other reason I noticed the pedestrians more than usual.)

Not really a problem. The reason it became a problem was because I didn’t deal with it early. I tried to talk myself out of thinking it was “wrong” for people to walk through the class or wanting to have demands about it. I ignored my ignorance and fear of the facility and how it all works there. Cue the exploding doormat.

Anyway, yesterday was our next class. I virtually waltzed in with homemade signs and tape and gleefully taped them up on the doors. Gleefully, because I had handled my problem and I knew I wouldn’t get the roiling in the veins again because now I understood the situation, had a plan, and could just kindly point pedestrians back out into the hall. I was so relieved.

And my inner self received huge amounts of positive feedback for NOT venting anger (not too too much, anyway) in the moment. My hope is it gets increasingly easy to remember that I don’t need to vent because I will just fix the situation.

As you can tell, anger remains something I work with a lot. My favorite resource for this is Harriet Lerner’s The Dance of Anger. I seriously hope you will buy it or check it out of the library. You will find it is super clear, practical, respectful of you no matter how you behave, and no-nonsense with you as well.

One comforting thing Harriet Lerner points out: there are cultural as well as personal reasons we have trouble with anger — and they’re unique for each gender. So we can cut ourselves some slack for having issues with this subject, which allows us a little more leeway to look into it all.

I just can’t really summarize her book’s wisdom and kindness here, nor the way in which it gives you hope that you can be more and more your true self AND have lovelier connections with others AND less and less ugly-kinds of anger in your life.

Anger is tricky for sure. My hope for you and me and all of us is that we get increasingly skillful in hearing its message for us to stop “de-selfing” and in harnessing its momentum to power our courage. Because it is a scary thing to see much less change our patterns and we need all the insight and energy we can get. X.

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Mad, Sad, Glad, and Afraid –> Your Heart’s Desire

If you ever learned how to soldier on no matter HOW you felt, then you may sometimes experience these side effects:

  • being unable to name how you feel, even to yourself secretly,
  • getting a false read on your emotions,
  • not understanding the value of “bad” emotions,
  • not letting yourself feel the way you feel because there may be secondary damage, and/or
  • not knowing what to do with an emotion — how to deal with it in a healthy way.

If so, you are not alone.

On occasion* still and yet, I can have no idea that I am cold or afraid, I can stifle anger until I explode, and I can be so disinclined to feel loss that I go kind of numb. Back in the day  — when ski clothes were uninsulated, roads had no guard rails, my brother repeatedly trespassed onto my side of the backseat with his pinkie, and we moved a lot — these emotional habits made it a lot easier for adults to tolerate my company because I didn’t complain. But they are only a liability now.

That’s why one chapter of one book (Finding Your North Star) changed my life and made me want to study with Martha Beck. It showed me: how to figure out what I felt, that all the emotions are inevitable, and that those feelings are all okay because they lead us through the troubles of this world and straight back into the most pleasant of emotions: joy.

First I learned to classify my emotions into one of four basic feelings (mad, sad, glad, and afraid).

Sometimes, we feel a hybrid of two or more of those feelings. And exploring the more nuanced feelings (e.g., shame vs guilt) may be helpful later, but, for some us, a remedial “Emotions 101” is vital.

Each of the basic emotions is a natural, healthy, helpful response to some inescapable occurrence in the life of a human. The following worksheet guides you through deciphering what has been happening with you [click on image to access a downloadable .pdf]:

emotions page 1

Once you’ve identified an emotion, you need to know what to do with it and why. On the following three pages (also adapted from Chapter 8 of Martha Beck’s book), the left column lists the steps to follow — look under the emotion you’re feeling for specifics and for space to write your answers [click on image to access a downloadable .pdf]:

Emotions Worksheet: What to Do With Them, page 1

EMotions Worksheet: What to Do With Them, cont, page 2

Emotions Worksheet

Ahhh…no wonder.

No wonder we sometimes choose depression (masquerading as sadness) to mask anger or fear: it’s hard to take complete charge of our own selves.

More on bravery here. And if you’re still unable to do that thing you want, more here.

No wonder we sometimes choose grimness, bitterness, crabbiness, or meanness (masquerading as justified anger) rather than grief: it’s hard to admit there’s so much loss and so little stability in our loves. It’s hard to admit that this way of the world wounds us.

No wonder we worry and fret (thinking its genuine fear) rather than feel angry or sad: it might cause waves were we to act on anger (change the way we do things) or to simply feel sad (to acknowledge that some thing or some way of life is lost to us).

No wonder we pursue artificial highs rather than deal with the “unpleasant” real emotions that would actually free us up to follow whatever brings us genuine gladness.

And sometimes people have told us that those other emotions are unbecoming or even dangerous in themselves.

No wonder we choose emotion-like neuroses (shown in italics above) to cover our underlying genuine emotions.

“Neurosis is a substitute for genuine suffering.” ~ CG Jung

(No judgement from me here! I have had, and will again have, all of those listed above! They are simply signs we need to check our emotional compass and/or get help from someone if we can’t get unstuck ourselves).

In the end, you, like me, may have experienced how the false versions of the emotions and the repercussions of repressing the emotions cause us to suffer more.

Just knowing there IS a way to handle all of the emotions in a constructive way gives me confidence to look straight at them more and more often. And not only in order to alleviate suffering but because — biggest surprise of all —  it turns out ALL of the emotions lead us to our heart desires.

We CAN’T get to our hearts’ desires WITHOUT the unpleasant emotions helping us because life ALWAYS has loss, danger, and injustice.


The unpleasant emotions are the only way to deal with those inevitabilities.


The “unpleasant” emotions are one of the most powerful tools for living as our hearts desire.

I hope this helps you figure out and find your own genuine suffering, as strange as that sounds. Please let me know if you have any questions, I can be of support as you do so, or you want to share your story with me.

*Maybe more than I care to admit! Sorry to innocent bystanders.

Posted in Emotions, Fear and bravery, Worksheets | 2 Comments

Why don’t I do what I REALLY DO want to do?

I unabashedly adore my “Leaning Into What You Really Want” worksheet because when I want something, this technique works with magical-feeling ease.

Except when it doesn’t work at all.

I used to believe that those instances meant I was “self-sabotaging” or that I didn’t REALLY want whatever-it-was (since by definition we always do what we want, right?). BUT:

When a craft/construction tool doesn’t work, it means the tool is not right for the situation — not that the situation is flawed.

Likewise, please remember that if a healing technique doesn’t help you, it DOESN’T mean “you don’t really want to be healed.” It means we haven’t figured out the real mechanism of what’s going on and/or a way to get in there and tinker with it.

So this presents…

A Dilemma

On one hand, I think logic supports the idea that:

~ My inner self (like your inner self) wants itself to be as well as possible.

And yet I also have the experience that:

~ Sometimes I figure out some healthy, vital way I want to feel AND some small, easy ways to feel that wonderful way, and yet I still don’t do those things.

A Resolution Honoring Both Logic and Experience

When I can’t get myself to do something that I really want to do, it must be because my inner self does not believe that my plan is a way to be wellIn fact, in those cases, my inner self believes my plan is a sure-fire path to suffering.

An Experiment

Recently — being very tired of being very stuck in a particular grasping for a very long time — I began exploring this idea in depth. And I am super happy to report that I have been able to feel movement. I budged! I experienced a bit of unexpected ease in doing what I want to do — in doing what makes feel the way I want to feel.

You have no idea what a relief that is.

Or maybe you do.

A Worksheet (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?!)

Just in case you have undergone similar dilemmas, here’s my new worksheet. (Click on it for a .jpg file that you can print.) Together with the “Leaning Into What You Want” worksheet, it forms my current favorite coaching two-step.

Note 1: Your desired feeling state is an especially powerful tool here when you have identified its PHYSICAL sensations in your body. So not just: “free” but “that free feeling like after you take off a backpack and you feel like you could float or jump really high — like your shoulders are light and you have the strength to leap.”

Note 2: If all you do is hold your younger self who felt unsafe or sad or unworthy, or unloved, then that is the main thing. If you do that, you can probably skip the particulars of the last three boxes.

You Get to Feel Safe and Loveable

A Thank You

Quite some time ago, in the middle of an almost overwhelming “follow your bliss!” group buzz,  Bridgette Boudreau interjected “of course you get to feel safe.” My whole self sighed in relief.  I thank her for that feeling AND for the phrase that triggered it. I recommend you visit her site (especially the page describing “The Essence of the Wild Life”) for more of her irreverent goodness.


As you will see when you play around with this worksheet, the old situations (and the people involved) are probably NOTHING like the thing you’re trying to get yourself to do. That’s why it’s been so hard to see what’s stopping you.

What’s stopping you is some experience that “proved” to you that “if you feel like {____}, then something bad will happen to you.”  Because that WAS true then. And possibly could be now were it not for your inner self warning you to check it out and clear it up. You may have to actually make it no longer true. Use the old situation as a model to show you how to protect yourself now and in the future (including, sometimes, from those people that hurt you before and with regard to situations unrelated to what even started this whole worksheet). You have to really mean it and follow through on those things. Then your inner self goes full steam ahead in doing what you want to do.

My next post will include an example of working through this process. Both before and after that, please let me know what you find when you put pencil to paper, how the process went for you, and if you have any questions at all.  I send you love and thanks for your own tinkering and your feedback. 

Posted in Desire, Essential Self, letting go, Worksheets | Leave a comment

One kind of fun isn’t…

… but good writers know what to do with it. 4 kinds of fun over time table

PS — One of the innumerable little delights on my 4,000-miles-in-2-weeks odyssey was learning about these four kinds of fun relative to time from my son’s camping leader Fiona and my daughter’s friend Erik. (I made up the names/implications inside the matrix just now, without too much thought… because, of course, it was fun. I may regret them later:)) I can’t find the name of a great thinker who may be originally responsible for this framework. If you know, drop me a line.

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How it is that everything can be so beautiful

Beauty is “an invitation to further experiences, a way that things invite us in… to explore, interpret… (not to be regarded as an instantaneously apprehensible feature)… Beautiful things don’t stand aloof but direct our attention and our desire to everything else we must learn or acquire in order to understand and possess, and they quicken the sense of life, giving it a new shape and direction.”

~Alexander Nehamas in Only a Promise of Beauty

Interestingly, this explains why we may not be engaged by technically perfect, theoretically appealing things that we see as unchanging and/or unable to connect with us.

Alas, our longing to be drawn into the elusive and mysterious may separate us from the experience of deep beauty if:

~ We are un-interested in and non-desirous of things we believe are familiar, simple, or ours — things we “get” or “have.”

~ We try to be aloof or “hard to get” because we believe that will make us desirable.

Luckily, we grow in insight. We come to find out that no one, nothing, no place, and no time can be fully known or possessed — nor can it not affect us — and so it’s all beautiful. Every thing, always, everywhere, and forever.


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How to Stop Wanting Something

Why it almost never works when you decide to stop wanting something

1. Remember the IMP? No, not the one you met last Halloween.  I’m talking about your own mental Ironic Monitoring Process which dictates that your mind be on the lookout for whatever you want to avoid — in order to be sure you avoid it! Alas, despite your mind’s best efforts, its technique keeps you thinking about the-thing-you-don’t-want-to-want.


But also, let’s face it:

2. There’s a good reason you want that thing you want. It’s desirable.


One day it occurred to me that when we want to stop wanting something, it is just one very specific sub-case of “I want [x].” 

The worksheet and an example

Here is what happened when I helped Bob (name and details changed for privacy for sure) use my desire worksheet to address an “undesirable desire.” Click on the above link and follow along if you’d like.

Step 1. The Desire: 

Bob wrote: “I want: to stop wanting my neighbor’s garden gnome.”

Step 2. Long:

I asked Bob to surrender to his desire. Just in his mind. Bob imagined — in detail — what it will be like when he no longer wants his neighbor’s garden gnome: “I won’t stare compulsively at the little guy from my living room window or when driving to and from home. I won’t sneak over and put it in my yard and pretend some kids pranked us all.” [!] When he had the scene conjured up, I asked him…

Step 3: How will you feel once you stop wanting this thing you want?  

Remember: what we’re really after when we want something (even when we want TO NOT WANT) is a feeling state. “I won’t feel guilty, obsessed, unkind. I will feel free. I will feel more kindly toward my neighbor.”

I asked him to describe exactly how those feelings manifest themselves in his body as he imagines the scenario. This is an important step: “open along my shoulders and upper back, relaxed in my solar plexus, unclenched in my job, light and strong all over.”

Step 4: What will you be able to do then (that you haven’t been able to do now)??

“I will be able to stop avoiding neighborhood get-togethers and chatting with my neighbor — any of the neighbors in fact — since I will have nothing to fear or hide. I’ll use my freed-up time to finish that big landscaping project in the back yard.” Then I asked him again:

Step 5: How will you feel?

“I’ll feel excited about my project, proud of my work, probably more energetic.”

Step 6: And THEN what can you do? And how will it make you feel?

“Maybe I can buy my own gnome or even a pink flamingo! I’d feel… like a delighted kid. And maybe like I was getting away with something, being so child-like at this age… so unworried about what people think of me. Maybe butterflies in my stomach (in a good way)”


Step 8*: And then what can you do, after all this? And THEN how will you feel?


Yup, it takes a lot of effort to keep imagining. But keep going.

“Probably go golfing with my old friend. He stopped asking awhile back. I kept having excuses not to go — I was so preoccupied. And embarrassed of my skills and of using my time to “play” when I should be being productive. That would just be… a simple blast.”

Step 10*: What else makes you feel innocent, free, kind, energetic, proud, delighted, child-like, like you’re getting away with something, like you’re having a blast, open along your shoulders and upper back, relaxed in your solar plexus, unclenched in your jaw, light, strong, and/or butter-fly-ey?

Bob listed a ton of things — including some very, very small: taking a slightly longer but prettier way to work, being kind to strangers, strolling aimlessly after dinner (not for “exercise” or anything productive or than to look around), poking things with a stick (I know, I know but it’s real thing: poking trees, ant hills, mud… try it!), taking ONE little itsy bitsy step a day on that big landscaping project, etc…

Step 11: I asked Bob to start doing everything listed in Steps 4, 6, 8, and 10; to do them immediately even though he really still wanted the gnome; and to cram as many as he could into every day.

Bob didn’t have as much time to dwell on the gnome, but, more importantly, the visceral need for that small, concrete elf faded a little each week because he feels the way he wants to feel more often. And other good things have happened — things that he didn’t even think to list as possibilities — like he started teaching a frisbee golf class twice week through the Rec District. That seems unrelated but probably came about because his brain is emitting the glow of freedom and looking for new ways to feel free — thereby attracting things that create that feeling state even when he doesn’t consciously notice.

Oh my:

Freedom inside yourself = best feeling I know.

Your brain covertly working to get you what it thinks is the new norm = best secret weapon I know. Use it.

Enjoy this idea, and please let me know what you do with it.

* (When you look at the worksheet, you will see why I skipped a couple step-numbers in this list.)

PS — Bob also could complete the worksheet with his original desire, stating: “I want my neighbor’s garden gnome for myself.” Likely he would come up with the same list! Try it for yourself and see: diving into your desire brings you the feeling state you want whether it allows you to achieve the original desire OR to let go of it. It feels like magic. Freedom always does.

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Entraining 101: Who’s pulling in whom

When two people meet, one often emotionally entrains the other.

You have likely been in a room where everyone gets unsettled by one person’s anxiousness. And you’ve also seen one person’s kindness — even a private, not-outwardly-cheery joy — uplift a crowd. What was the difference between those two scenarios?

What’s the secret to staying peaceful inside rather than getting pulled in by  unpleasantness? How can we spread that peace to those around us?

Science is beginning to find the physical phenomena associated with empathy, second-hand stress, second-hand joy, and other forms of what can be called emotional entrainment. We suspect it’s caused by mirror neurons, pheromones, and/or — my personal favorite — entangled particles. But the vital (at least to me!) question remains: which emotional state exerts the stronger influence? 

Theories that do NOT resonate with my experience:

    • Positive outweighs negative. That would be nice, but the opposite often seems more true: one bad apple spoils the bunch. Why? Maybe because…
    • Intensity of emotion dominates. I don’t think so, having seen one mildly grumpy person bring down a whole room full of non-grumps. Perhaps…
    • Focused intention is the key. Then why does dogged optimism — determined to spread love — sometimes get run over by an off-hand pessimism?

My favorite theory (that felt to me like a bolt of insight yesterday but likely is something I have heard hundreds of times from all my favorite people and texts and just now registered!):

The most authentic person controls the mood.

This explains so much of what we’ve all seen:

    • Anger, sadness, and fear — the so-called “negative” emotions — often dominate NOT because they are more powerful than joy but because people usually leak them out only when the emotions are extremely real and genuine.
    • Determined cheeriness rarely works because it often comes from our social self trying to over-ride one of our “unacceptable” non-joyful emotions — which means it’s not our essential self’s authentic emotional state.
    • Sometimes we feel inexplicably emotionally changed around someone who isn’t acting out their emotion strongly — just barely emoting. Because if someone feels something truly to the center of their bones, then their emotion affects us even if it’s weak or they are trying to mute it.

Here’s one way that I think we can test whether or not this theory does indeed allow us to find, maintain, and even spread peace:

    • Clean up inside. But not by criticizing or denying anything inside us (since that doesn’t usually work — otherwise I’d be all for it!). Rather we can: feel what we feel, follow the “clean” pain all the way through, notice what we think, and dive in there and question even the most basic stories/assumptions/dogma/thoughts when they’re associated with the “dirty” pain.
    • Notice what’s left inside: a naturally occurring, fresh, uncluttered spaciousness.
    • Air out that space. Breathing outside air is almost unbelievably effective. So is movement, meditation/prayer practice, laughing (the best thing about being alive?!), and, almost subtly but most definitely, letting our senses move through us — looking at and really seeing, listening and actually hearing, inhaling and truly smelling, touching and taking in the feeling, tasting and deeply savoring what’s out there. In this way places, stuff, people, actions and moments in time can be part of our freshness.

And then I think that we are likely to feel more genuine peace of mind and heart and body — from the inside out. We may be less disrupted by non-peaceful states that we encounter outside of us because our own state — whatever it is — is genuine.  We are more likely to allow ourselves to outwardly show our authentic selves. I think this feels very pleasant. Let me know what you experience.



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Feast (another poetry-based practice)

1. Imagine this:

Love After Love

by Derek Wolcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

2. What do you do with your image once you peel it from the mirror?

3. Try this: layer it right on top of you.

4. How’s it feel?

5. There may be a tiny molecule-level gap remaining between you and your mirror image, in which case, you can still see yourself — looking out from inside your body and evenly back. But only you can see yourself. It’s a private happiness. And you’re looking from so close that each cell is looking straight out at itself. Your left knee is looking at itself, and itself is looking back at it, and so on. Sit. Wander all through yourself doing this.

Bon appetit.

(PS — What do you normally imagine happening with the mirror image when you read this poem?! So many options…)

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Bluebeard OR Beast? How to tell the difference — and how to dismember the former.

Be it Heidi’s grandfather, Rhett Butler, Clint Eastwood in The Bridges of Madison County, that homely guy at the gym, or — more significantly — our own inner shadow, most of us are seduced by the idea of our love redeeming the isolated cranky beast.

I gobble up Beauty and the Beast in all its versions — I’m sure you know at least two yourself. But you know which story makes my blood run cold? Bluebeard.

Clarissa Pinkola Estés (CPE) BEGINS her book Women Who Run With the Wolves (which — understatement — is a VERY good book to buy if you don’t already own it) with the story of Bluebeard because understanding and overcoming this internal predator is the first step in owning our own wild nature. Her version is here. In brief:

Bluebeard is a sketchy-looking guy, but the youngest of three sisters is won over by his skillful wooing, marries him, and lives with him in his castle. He gives her all the keys to the place but forbids her to go into one particular room. While visiting, her sisters encourage her to check it out. When the key is inserted, the door swings open and there are bloody. be-headed. bodies… Bluebeard’s previous wives. The young bride sees what’s what and slams the door shut. She decides to hide her actions from Bluebeard. But. The key has blood on it — blood she can’t wipe off because the key seeps blood. Well, Bluebeard of course sees this, goes nuts, and starts dragging the youngest sister off to murder her. She acts like “I accept that I’m going to die but just want a few minutes in my room to compose myself.” She posts her sisters on the battlements to keep an eye out for their brothers. Time’s up. Bluebeard begins yelling and stomping up after her. No sign of the brothers. He’s coming closer. The sisters see a dust devil — maybe their brothers’ horses? Bluebeard grabs her, drags her toward the basement. The brothers storm the castle, dismember Bluebeard, and let the carrion-eaters scavenge his bones.

Bluebeards are really and truly just bad news. So how do we know when we are face-to-face with an inner saboteur that will kill our soul VS. a tricky part of our journey that will blossom over time with love? And what do we do if we find a Bluebeard?!

Example: Ellen wants to finish writing her book, but she keeps getting distracted by perfume websites. Is this a Coyote-like trickster part of herself steering her toward a passionate, creative life OR a predator part of herself trying to kill her ambition and success?

Example: Joanie has a fine long-term relationship, but this guy she’s [sort of, maybe, unofficially] having a flirtation with on the side is giving her fits with his inconsistency. “What part of me,” she asks, “is making me do this?”

After studying the two fairy tales for clues and digesting CPE’s heartful analysis over and over, this is the tool I’ve developed for myself for when something looks gnarly.

1. Beast or a Bluebeard?

Ask: Does this seemingly “off” part of you:

  • Start by promising you some paradise? That’s a Bluebeard move. Bluebeard makes you think, “why was I initially disgusted? He’s quite suave! And he really really wants me. ME!” And Bluebeard doesn’t act like this is some normal or even questionable thing between you but rather a too-good-to-true, amazing connection!
  • Make no effort to hide that he is not Prince Charming? Tally one for Beast. He gets that he’s beastly. He admits it.
  • Get sweeter over time, revealing endearing little charms? Another indication this is a Beast. Bluebeard gets increasingly dis-likeable after you’ve handed yourself over. Beast starts secretly doing nice things for you.
  • Start limiting you once you give in and get closer? That’s a hallmark of Bluebeard. “Whatever you do, don’t do THIS,” he says.
  • Help you do something that you really want to do even though it’s against his original plan? Beastly behavior. He increasingly wants you to be happy. (Beast ultimately let Beauty return to her sick father even though it meant Beast would die.)
  • Go ballistic if you do what he doesn’t want you to do? That’s a defining characteristic of Bluebeard. Beast either couldn’t care less what you do with your own time or starts to find everything you do endearing.
  • Clearly outline areas that are not open for looking into? Like: “no discussion whatsoever about this!!!” Like: “if you try to open this up I will kill you.” Like: “DO NOT ASK QUESTIONS ABOUT THIS, discussion closed.” Yeah that’s Bluebeard.
  • Give you a way to look at things you care most about — even when they are of no interest to his own agenda? That’s Beast. (Remember how he gave Beauty a magic mirror so she could see her family?)

The biggest giveaway is: are questions ok? Looking into things is never okay with a Bluebeard. The “key” in the story, CPE emphasizes, is QUESTIONS. Always ask them. If you’re not sure where to start, “why?” is always powerful.

Example: Metaphorically looking at Ellen’s perfume-website-compulsion as a somewhat gnarly looking interloper and applying the above questions might yield a tally of Beast: 4, Bluebeard: 0 if these were the circumstances:

If this compulsion never pretended to be other than a diversion from what she was supposed to be doing…

If, as time continued, it revealed other attractive assets (like fascinating stories about the longstanding perfume families and the up-and-coming mavericks), opened more doors for her (a desire to re-read Jitterbug Perfume, nice images to download for her blog and boards, a new kindred soul’s site to inspire her own ideas, etc…), triggered a blog post despite its ostensible role as procrastinating device, was fun to think about — to consider why she loved it so — and gave her a new perspective on her work with supposedly troubled but really soul-opening teenagers…

THEN it would be Beast: redeemed by and redeeming her quality of attention.

On the other hand:

If perfume websites seemed right off the bat like her surefire way to make a million and get famous, then became increasingly obviously a shallow and appearance-oriented and greed-obsessed world, kept her from everything else, and felt like an oddly “closed” subject when she tried to journal about her compulsion — or, even worse, a secret she never would discuss with a friend — THEN it would be somehow associated with Bluebeard energy.

Example: If Joanie’s side-flirtation balks at questions of “why” their relationship is so undefined and unreliable, then, really, that’s all it takes to label that guy as a Bluebeard.

And if she can’t bring herself to ask the hard questions of herself — or ask a friend or counselor to help her walk through the issue — then some Bluebeardy thing inside her is leading her into this mess.

If, on the other hand, this new guy is totally up for such a discussion AND Joanie’s own inner and outer conversations on the subject open up all kinds of exciting revelations and possibilities AND she is getting more done and feeling more vital than ever, then both the guy and her inner impulse are likely Beastly. Which, if you’re following my jargon here, is a good thing:)

2. Escaping Bluebeard’s clutches

  • Find the place Bluebeard wants you to avoid.
    • Where am I being told (especially by my self):
      • “Don’t do that?”
      • “Don’t look there!”
    • What’s not as it appears?
    • What do I know that I wish I didn’t know OR that I’m pretending I don’t know?
  • Use the key (QUESTIONS!) to unlock and open the door to that place.
    • What’s behind there?
    • What of me has been killed or lies dying?
  • See what is there. Don’t look away just yet. Use your powers to differentiate reality from appearances, healthy from ill (or — in this case — beheaded!). Get a good look.
  • Use your voice — and stealth if need be — to backtrack or loop around or dive out of hiding in order to surface elsewhere and buy yourself some time. I love CPE’s discussion of the animal-like cunning we can use in this step.
  • Call up your inner psychic muscle (aka “the brothers”). Use your determination. Pray, journal, use mantras, talk to yourself. Your inner psychic muscle (Jung called it the animus) is how you make your inner wishes take shape in the outer world via strength and action. Beseech it to show up. This whole episode will leave you more able to call up your monster-killing brothers at a moment’s notice!
  • Rely on your inner eyes to spot your inner psychic muscle coming, yes, but, even more importantly, to recognize and not go for Bluebeards in the future. This whole episode will leave you better able to rely on that soul vision of yours.
  • Pull your inner Bluebeard apart. How?
    • Counter every icky attack of his on your “soul life” (as PCE says) with a soul nurturing thought of your own. Ask: Is what I’m being told true? Gather evidence that YOUR truth is right (see Byron Katie’s The Work for examples; I do it here).
    • Ask: Why? Ask the same thing five more times.
    • If you think he raises some good point, fine, keep it IF you can do so with love for yourself. Discard the rest.
    • Trust and maintain your intuition so you can resist future seductive promises of paradise from what initially appears to be a monster. Your initial instinct was right. And, last and most important, I think:
    • “Often we need to take ourselves, our ideas, our art, far more seriously than we have before.”

Paraphrasing Liz Gilbert, “If I am not creating something, I am destroying something.” Maybe myself.

Creating keeps us strong. And it keeps us “seeing” clearly. It doesn’t have to be anything we are going to sell or whatever. Just create.

Tip: Follow Elizabeth Gilbert on Facebook for wildly inspirational and surprisingly new, fresh insights on this process. And get her new book coming out in October 2015!

Meanwhile: question, see, run away and hide, question more, and create. It’s life saving and, brace yourself, fun.

PS — This process is designed for inner Bluebeard vs Beast dilemmas, but it might work with real men too:)

PPS — This post is my attempt to make a step-by-step process out of what Clarissa Pinkola Estés describes in a powerful, lyrical, evocative way more fitting of soul work in Chapter One of Women Who Run With Wolves. Did I mention you should buy it?

Posted in Thought work, Worksheets | Leave a comment

Your chakras don’t need any work

Your chakras don’t need activating, connecting or amplifying.

They’re not tasks you need to add to your spiritual-mental-physical To-Do List. Quite the opposite:

Your chakras are glowing resources you can avail yourself of anytime you need recharging or rest.

All you have to do is plug in and feel what happens.

The only thing you really need to know about chakras 

You’ve probably heard how the old yogis — after much experimenting with and observing of their own experience in this body-mind-spirit conglomeration that we call being human — decided that seven centers in the body are associated with specific kinds of energies:

Ananda Bijoux’s representation — click on image to visit her blog

I like this drawing by Ananda Bijoux because

  • it’s gender neutral,
  • the person is sitting (so we can see how the root’s on the ground and the crown’s in the sky), and
  • she doesn’t editorialize or attach “meanings” to each chakra in the drawing.

Likely she elaborates in her text. I haven’t read Ananda’s blog because — pretty shocking confession coming up for a yogi/research-and-learning geek — I avoid reading about chakras.

Why I am chakra-reading averse

I got the chakra basics over twenty years ago from my first yoga books.

If you want, you can find a more thorough Chakra 101 anywhere from Wikipedia (though all their sketches are of men) to Ananda’s blog  (just based on her drawing, I probably would like her site).

And I promptly used those descriptions to define how I “should” experience chakras.

I thought I perceived all kinds of “rules” in the texts (and it’s worth noting these were my perceptions — if I re-read those pieces, I’d likely see that they aren’t as dogmatic as I thought and that my interpretations were skewed). For example I thought: our chakras need to be activated, and, unless you get whacked by lightening or a 2×6, this activation requires all kinds of work like meditating, mastering yoga postures, eating a certain way, abstaining from lots of things, and/or connecting to a guru; we must start from the bottom chakra, work our way up connecting the chakras as we go, and finally end up with the kundalini (a sleeping potential of vast energy!) rising like a snake up through our center and triggering a mystical experience; specific concepts and words rather definitively characterize each chakra; etc…

I now think that all of this previous list can be true — but it doesn’t have to be, and other experiences can be true as well.

Most of all I don’t think the chakras have to be “work”

Like the overall yogic belief that your spirit shines inside you like a lantern — or like that candle Jesus referred to when he said you are the light of the world — I believe our chakras are always powered up inside of us.

True, sometimes the lantern may get dirty and need cleaning. Or the candle may get hidden under a bushel basket.

In that case, all we have to do is see and remove clutter that’s accumulated from our living — wipe smudges off the glass lantern or remove the bushel. We don’t have to create or spark the light.

A gentle way to uncover your chakras’ energies

You can simply visit any of your chakras. Hang out inside there — see what it feels like. Explore them all.

To me, the inside of a chakra usually feels like rest. Or like an energizing.

Each chakra makes me vividly feel some gift that we human beings are lucky enough to have as part of our humanity.

Currently I find myself identifying with words like clarity, discernment, gratitude, action, generativity, connection to solid earth, and, above all, connection to mystery. For some people — and sometimes for me — the words are different: insight, truth, love, power, creativity, rootedness, and divine inspiration.

There are infinite ways to express the experiences, but I think those gifts we are trying to describe are in fact gifts — freely available for us. Not something we have to create.

When you are exploring a chakra, you can ask yourself things like:

  • What part(s) of the body is/are associated with this area?
  • What are the functions of those body parts?
  • What quality of presence, thoughts, and sensations come up? What emotions, imaginations, and desires?
  • In what way do I feel cared for and supported by these areas?

For example

I’d heard that the throat chakra was associated with speaking one’s own truth. Makes sense. But I had a hard time even feeling some kind of concentrated energy in that area, so I was being pretty hard on myself as far as not only my inability to activate my chakras but also to speak my truth. Those might have been real issues, but the way I was approaching it certainly wasn’t helping to change the situation.

One day, an image of that area came up during meditation. (Why was I having thoughts/images during meditation? That’s a whole other post, so for today I’ll just tell you what I got out of that image!) When I pondered the image, I saw the throat as the portal for everything we take in for nourishment — or, more accurately, for metabolism — namely food, water, and air. I saw also how we can control whether or not we accept what’s given to us — we don’t have to “swallow” everything presented to us — and indeed the throat area is where we can spit out or up, where partially digested stuff comes back out if it “makes us sick,” and where we put out our own ideas via speaking. To me — for now, anyway — the throat chakra is where I can really feel and appreciate my human self’s ability to decide what comes in and out of my mouth. It’s a mechanism of discernment. When I rest there, I feel relief that my human self has this gift. I just sort of steep myself in it – not for any specific purpose other than it feels good.

I am not saying this is what the throat should be to you. This example is only to invite you to allow your own personal experiences of your mind-body-spirit connection.

And — bonus! — you don’t even have to  believe in chakras!

You can approach the entire concept as a symbolic imagination exercise. At the very least:

We know for sure that our minds know things we don’t know that we know.

In other words, we definitely have unconscious knowledge. Lots of it. In fact we have way more unconscious knowledge than conscious knowledge. The trick is figuring out how to access those gazillion bits of non-verbally-stored information.

Pretending that images speak to us is the most reliable way to let unconscious information bubble up and serve us.

Analyzing dreams and cooking up metaphors are ways to access our unconscious knowledge, and, if you like, you can think of chakras as an addition to your symbolism toolbox.


However you come at them, chakras are a delight. Not a chore.

Our hearts, bellies, brains, guts, pelvic floors, throats, and the crowns of our heads are there, doing their thing all the time. We can journey in there anytime and check it out.

We can enjoy and get somehow replenished.

We even can stay in there — in one or two or all of them — and consciously move in the outside world at the same time.

And, wow. That’s when the rapture of being alive is really washing over you.

I would love to hear about the way in which you experience your chakras — what qualities do you find? How do you go about it? Let me know.

A heartfelt Namaste’ from inside me to inside you,


Posted in Picked up by the Wayfinder Post!, Yoga | 1 Comment