Friday, May 29, 2009

enCouragingBliss: What Would You Sacrifice?

In this American culture, we are raised to believe that we can have anything and everything we could ever dream of. The wider culture tells us that there is nothing we can't have if we want it badly enough. There is nothing that is beyond our reach.

Our reach extends far: These beliefs are spreading over the globe like a poison.

Unchecked desire leads to obesity of the body, mind, and spirit.

Our planet, our children, we are all paying for this.

One of the ways that this is all too apparent is how "busy" we all are. Most people wear this "busy" like a badge of honor, not realizing that they -- that we -- become less and less human in the process.

We are tired; we are worn out; we are angry; we are shallowly connected to one another, to community, to this Earth.

We carry around our entitlement wherever we go. Americans want more and they want it faster, bigger, brighter, and better -- to the point of creating wars over resources.

On an individual level, this endless desire for more in our material lives shows up in a seeming inability to say no, to slow down, to do what we love rather than do something that gets us good pay checks, to create deep and meaningful love.

Then we sit around and complain about being busy, about not having any joy, about not living our bliss.

So we read books about time management when the real issue is about gluttony.

The lie: we can have and do everything.

The truth: we cannot. We can if we want it all half-assed, if we want to get to the end of our lives not having realized we were living, if we want quantity over quality.

For this week, let's think about what we really want our lives to look like.

If we really want to be writers, if we really want to be artists, if we really want to not be married to mind-numbing, soul-killing jobs, if we really want to be surrounded by best friends, if we really want beauty and peace and calm and laughter, if we really want to be able to go to the beach in the middle of the week...

Then we must cut back. We must pick.

With discernment and maturity, we come to know what we need rather than what we want.

And once we know what our true needs are, we are then willing to make sacrifices for them.

Some people don't like this word "sacrifice," and I think it is just another symptom indicative of our soul sickness.

Sacrifice is simply a sacred and holy choosing.

As James Barrie said:

Dreams do come true, if we only wish hard enough, you can have anything in life if you will sacrifice everything else for it.

So that's the question for enCouragingBliss:

What do you want? What do you really need? What would make your soul burst into the flower, into the universe that it was born to be?

And what are you willing to sacrifice to get there?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

BlissQuest: Why Do We Resist Our Bliss?

Resistance is a topic that Marcy and I have been discussing since we met, but we have been especially concentrating on it as of late.

There are five of us in our writing group, as I have said before, and out of those five people, Marcy is probably the only one who is not blocked in some way. She creates freely and easily, thanks, we think, to habits of self-motivation developed very early on. We have also decided that she has no need of external validation; she derives her joy from the process and is not dependent upon any outcome.

She is, briefly stated, a minor miracle and a rarity: an open conduit for any and all creativity that wants to pass through her.

The rest of us in the writing group? Not so much.

We resist the very thing that we say we love: writing.

Everyday, I blog, sure, but I don't do the thing that I say I most want to be doing: work on writing books. I will, a day here and there, work on editing my novel or make notes for nonfiction projects.

And obviously, I am capable of doing this: I finished a five hundred page novel, for goodness sake, but I know that it took too long because of resistance, because of too many days spent not writing.

I have files and files and files of other novel and book ideas. The muse is very good to me, and how do I repay her? By not writing!

I walk past my new apple green desk and cast my eyes downward, ashamed at not sitting my butt in the chair and staring at the wall and getting down to business. (There is a lot of staring involved in writing.)

I have a pretty constant dialogue in my head about how I should be writing...and then I find some laundry to do or some blog-related work or...well...anything else.

The really awful thing? When I do write, I feel so connected, so amazing, so fulfilled, so...happy.

Though I may be writing about writing in this post, it is really about resisting your greatest desire -- or what you say is your greatest desire -- it is about resisting your bliss, whatever form that takes.

(This question about resisting our bliss came to me via Skribit and remember you can ask that blisschick covers any topic you like!).

Let me be candid: I have no answer.

It's a question I have been asking for much of my life. Why do humans resist the very things that make them happy? Why do I skip yoga -- ever? Why do I eat things that I know do not make me feel wonderful? Why do I not spend every waking moment making up stories when I know it makes me feel so alive?

Here are some questions for you:

What do you resist?

What do you tell yourself when you are in the act of resisting?

When you resist, what do you replace your blissful activity with? What are making your top priorities? Are your top priorities anywhere near your bliss?

How do you feel about yourself at the end of the day when you have resisted your bliss?

What stories are you constructing around your resistance?

The most important question of all: What purpose is your resistance serving? What are you getting out of this?

I want to hear from you. I will write about this more, but first, I want to hear what other people have to say about this. I want to hear your Resistance Stories.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

SharedBliss: Eco-Therapist Carla Royal of Beyond Therapy

A tabletop that Marcy painted for our
locally owned organic grocery store.

I do not remember how I came across the work of Carla Royal of Beyond Therapy, but I do remember the moment that I knew she had to be one of these interviews: as soon as I saw that she was working in the (relatively) new area of Eco-Therapy.

Years back, I read this amazing collection of essays called Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind.

It blew my mind that there were psychologists out there moving past the common therapy models and understanding that we are organisms that cannot be separated from their larger context. A sick planet makes for sick people; sick people make a sick planet. Basic stuff.

The vision statement for Blisschick that I wrote when I first started this site includes this sentence: Through informative essays, exercises and challenges, and interviews with artists, yogis, writers, and others, blisschick demonstrates how happy people create a happy planet.

See what I mean? Carla Royal is exactly the interview I have unknowingly been looking for for many, many months.

You can find her website here. You can find her facebook page here. And on twitter, you can find her here.

Describe the PrimaryBliss of your life. How did you come to know that this was your PrimaryBliss?

I think I could say that Life is my PrimaryBliss. Cliché as it sounds, I love life. More specifically, my PrimaryBliss is witnessing: Witnessing the earth; its life and destruction and rebirth; witnessing other people and their life journeys; their pain and joy, their struggles and triumphs; witnessing the song birds, turkey, owls, red squirrels, chipmunks, moose, deer, raccoon, bear, towering birch and all of Nature. Another way of saying this is presence. My bliss is in being present with whomever, whatever is before me. When I’m not present I suffer and I have nothing to offer. When I am present I feel connected and alive.

Coming to know PrimaryBliss has been a precarious journey at times, walking along in what often felt like complete darkness. It hasn’t happened all at once, rather it has been a lifetime of work; work that continues daily.

What types of choices and sacrifices did you make to be able to craft this bliss-filled life?

The sacrifices I have made have been primarily ego related: pride, status, money, understanding by others, some connection with others, etc. And I have made some difficult choices along the way. Often times the pain and fear have been overwhelming, but once through the overwhelm, things have opened up for me. They always do.

Over a decade ago, my world turned upside down causing much turmoil in my life. Theodore Roethke said, “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.” This has been true for me and so much has opened up for me as a result of that crisis which lasted for a few years. During part of that crisis I wasn’t working full time, and it was then that I realized that I no longer wanted to work full time because it took too much of my soul. This has been a difficult choice because our culture revolves around money and consumption. But this is what I’ve needed in order to be able to go deep, get still and witness life: my PrimaryBliss.

The other big choice I have made is in simplifying my life, which has been necessary as a result of not working full time, but also as a result of reevaluating my lifestyle and seeing how it impacts the planet. So I have gradually scaled down realizing that living simply is better for me and the planet (and far more fun and interesting!).

I suppose the biggest choice I have had to make to be able to craft a bliss-filled life is in learning to hear and trust my inner wisdom. Many don’t understand the choices I’ve made and some would have me make different choices, so I’ve had to go against the mainstream current (including family and friends at times) and learn to follow my own rhythm. This has been extremely difficult at times and immensely rewarding.

How does your PrimaryBliss radiate out into the rest of your life?

When I am present my life becomes more centered and grounded. I find that I am not as reactive and that I have more compassion. Life feels expansive. When I’m in PrimaryBliss there is a flow to life and I resonate with Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”

My friends and clients might tell you that when I am present I offer a quiet support and acceptance that is encouraging to them. And I help them open to what is around them; a hawk whistling above, a hummingbird defending its territory, the creaking of an old tree, wind blowing as if in stereo, a protected sadness in the heart, a repressed memory or uncelebrated joy. These things are around us all the time but so often we don’t take the time to notice them. Noticing slows us down and opens us in ways we can’t imagine.

There is so much joy in noticing, in being present, in witnessing the life all around, and in helping others open to this. Of course sometimes what we see is sad and painful. When we open to the pain and sadness rather than run from it we often find healing there. We find an opening and a softening. However, we don’t have much support for that in this culture. We repeatedly get the message to avoid pain at all cost. And we’ve become experts in avoidance, shutting down, acting out, etc. It takes courage to step out of that place of aversion or grasping into acceptance of what is. In so doing the heart begins to find strength it did not know it had. Being in this process and watching this process in others is truly healing.

What are some other activities that also give you this sense of bliss? Things that make you lose track of time?

Watching the birds and being so close to them that I can hear the flutter of their wings. Sitting at a pond with a hundred wood frogs croaking out their laughter. Photographing a chipmunk, cheeks full of bird seed. Snowshoeing up the mountainside on a cold, crisp day. Basking in the sun on the bank of a rocky river. Shoveling snow after a big storm. Standing at a hummingbird feeder with hummingbirds inches from my face. Listening to my dog snore. Being truly present with someone in need. Cooking a gourmet dinner. Good jazz music, a sensual classical piece, Earth, Wind and Fire, Annie Lennox, Over the Rhine or Ella Fitzgerald. Wandering in the woods. Reading poetry aloud with a friend. Watching my dog laugh and dance!

What is your daily or weekly spiritual practice?

Over time I have developed a daily practice that I have come to love. It has evolved organically rather than from something someone or some religion has imposed on me.

Upon awakening, I lie in bed for awhile and reflect on my dreams. When I’m ready I arise to immediately jot down whatever I can remember of my dream. I then do a formal sitting meditation for about 15 minutes. After this I write my morning pages; three pages of anything that comes up for me (as recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way). Then I press some fair trade, shade grown coffee (which makes me, the farmers, and the song birds happy!) and I drink that with my partner, Karen, as we share our dreams and any insights we may have. Following dreams, we read aloud to one another from several books; poetry, spirituality, peace, meditation, etc. I have come to treasure this time.

Another important piece for me is being in nature daily. In fact, the practice of being in nature has opened up my spirit tremendously and led to these other practices. It took years of being in nature before I was able to sit in meditation. Nature always brings me back to myself and back to Spirit.

What music is your bliss?

I love the music of the bird songs and wings, the rustling wind, creaking trees and my snoring dog! I love all kinds of music especially jazz, funk, big band, and classical. I also enjoy playing my guitar and singing. Currently, I’m looking for a Native American Flute teacher. I love the magical/mystical sound of the flute.

Name books or authors/poets or people who are your bliss, who influenced your bliss.

So many! Where do I begin?

I love Pema Chodron. I love how real she is and how she encourages me to keep coming back to unconditional friendliness towards myself and others. She reminds me to drop my story line which helps my spinning mind to slow down. Karen and I read a couple of pages from her most every day. Eckhart Tolle is great in helping me learn to be present with whatever arises in any given moment.

I have a book called Earth Prayers from around the World that I love and read from daily. And The Earth Speaks is another along those lines. Mary Oliver, Rumi, Gary Synder, and Thoreau are a few of the poets I enjoy. I often refer to Animal Speak by Ted Andrews and Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams when I have an encounter with a bird or animal that feels especially synchronistic or important. Robert Moss, Connie Cockrell Kaplan, and Jeremy Taylor have taught me much about delving into my dreams in meaningful ways.

Derrick Jensen, Thom Hartman, Daniel Quinn, and others have helped me look at our planetary predicament. Chellis Glenndinning, James Hillman, Joanna Macy, and others have helped me to connect the planetary with the psychological. Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, David Edwards and others have helped me connect the political piece.

Alice Walker, Henri Nouwen, David Abram, Madeleine L’Engle, Starhawk, Barbara Kingsolver, Chogyam Trungpa, Kabat-Zinn and many more! There really are so many that I could mention and I am deeply grateful for all the wonderful resources available to us.

Mostly, I have been incredibly fortunate throughout my life to have people who love me, support me and believe in me. Not all have understood the path I’ve chosen but I have been well loved.

What advice would you give to someone who feels they have not yet discovered their PrimaryBliss?

Spend time outside. Nature is a wonderful and gentle guide to reconnecting with yourself and spirit. As Mary Oliver says, “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” Pema might recommend practicing unconditional friendliness towards yourself. You are on your path. Things will unfold. And it will be uniquely yours. Support from a friend, teacher, mentor, or therapist is often helpful as long as you remember that you are the authority on matters of your heart and spirit. Watch the birds!

Do you have a favorite quote you would like to share?

There are so many quotes that I love but since I mentioned it above, and I return to it often, I’ll quote Mary Oliver:

"You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting- over and over announcing your place in the family of things." Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver

I think that Carla mentioned about five hundred of my favorite things in this interview. And I think that Marcy and I need to read to each other even more than we already do!

Was there anything, in particular, that Carla talked about that made you think about your life in a new way?

Make sure to go outside today and commune with a bird or beast. I agree with Carla: they will have much to tell you.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

MysticBliss: Watering Your Contemplative or Creative Spirit

After a busy holiday weekend and a bit too much running around and doing rather than our typical being, it made sense to me to open the most recent email newsletter from the Merton Institute for Contemplative Living and find this quote about the type of life we need to cultivate to be more contemplative.

I think if you read the spirit of this quote, you will find much for the creative soul. In a world of lives measured according to material "success," we must, indeed, cultivate bravery to live at all differently.

This will give us some idea of the proper preparation that the contemplative life requires. A life that is quiet, lived in the country, in touch with the rhythm of nature and the seasons. A life in which there is manual work, the exercise of arts and skills, not in a spirit of dilettantism, but with genuine reference to the needs of one's existence. The cultivation of the land, the care of farm animals, gardening. A broad and serious literary culture, music, art, again not in the spirit of Time and Life ... but a genuine and creative appreciation of the way poems, pictures, etc., are made. A life in which there is such a thing as serious conversation, and little or no TV. These things are mentioned not with the insistence that only life in the country can prepare a [person] for contemplation, but to show the type of exercise that is needed.

Thomas Merton. The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation.

As we officially enter this Summer season -- and as you stare at your ever-filling calendar and wonder at the "how" of it all -- perhaps we could take a moment to sit and write what Merton's quote means to us.

Remember, he says that this is not the only way. He wants us to dig deeper until we hit the well of fresh water that is necessary to us as individuals in the pursuits that we claim are most important to us.

Is the Summer already causing an emotional, spiritual, or creative drought in your garden?

(Photo Credit: Christine Reed, White Azalea, 2009)

Monday, May 25, 2009

An Iconic Sunday

During the summer, Erie is a city of ethnic festivals, and this Sunday, Marcy and I kicked off the season by attending the first annual Russian Festival. (Marcy has a video inside the church over at her blog and a video of something else we did this weekend.)

We can see the Russian Orthodox church perched up on a cliff from the library down by the water, and this Sunday, we finally got to see inside. So, here is a little tour. The iconography on the walls was done by one of the priests who resides at this church; he is considered one of the top three iconographers in the country and you can see why.

One of the framed icons on the wall was from the 14th century.

Amazing stuff.

When we left the church, the Brig Niagara was sailing into port. In that photo, at the bottom, you are only seeing the Bay, edged by the peninsula -- beyond that is the Lake.

To the left of the photo is the library where Marcy works.

Friday, May 22, 2009

enCouragingBliss: What Would it Take to Force You to Slow Down?

This week has been difficult for me.

As I wrote about a while ago, I have recently realized that my body is now ready to heal. I have worked through so much emotional trauma; I have a spiritual practice; I am walking my path of bliss by writing every day.

But my physical health has taken a back seat and has been ignored. It may appear as though this is not the case: I eat organic; I do yoga, and yet...

I find myself, at the age of 40, beyond exhausted. Wait. That is a bit of a story. The reality is that I have spent much of my life exhausted.

Time for that to change.

At the end of that post linked to above, I told you I went to my chiropractor, a woman whom I consider to be so much more -- a healer.

I have been going to her since that first appointment, and just this past week, we took a few more steps in my healing, and then...


I was down for the count. I won't go into gruesome details, but let me say, I have just barely gotten my blogging done this week, much less anything else.

For the first time in my life, I have been forced -- and I mean forced -- to listen to my body's cries for healing and rest. Normally, in the past, I would have told my body, "Don't be such a wimp! I have things to do! THINGS TO DO!!"

But this week, I had no choice.

Today, I am finally coming out of it. With a lot of extra care and support from my healer, I can now see that there is a sort of Wonderful awaiting me and this body.

As parts of my body switch on that have long been suffering, I am, for the first time (one example), truly aware of adrenaline when it surges through me, and wow! It feels pretty awful. So I am learning all about stress and how dangerous it really is and how very important balance and calm are to our health.

I always said that I understood that, but now I really do.

For this week's enCouragingBliss, let's take some time listening to our body's needs for more slow, more calm, more care, more balance.

Let's do this before someone throws some sort of brick at our heads.

What would it take to slow you down to a more human speed? Can you think of ways to start doing it right now?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

MysticBliss: The Lie of Childhood as Explained by Paul M. Martin

I want to talk about something difficult, and I want to ask that if you want to comment that you make sure to read my words carefully, because I am writing them so.

In the comments and elsewhere, when we are discussing depression and childhoods and our current lives, there seems to be some common themes surrounding parents and blame.

Mainly, that we don't want to blame our parents.

For what they did.

Keep reading carefully, please.

First of all, the life you have right now? The one you are living? That is all yours. You built it. If you don't like it, it's no one else's fault.

But the life you had as a child? (I speak of the ones that were difficult.) The one where you weren't loved unless you made them feel good about themselves? The one where you were made to feel afraid...all...the...time? The one where you were made to feel fat, stupid, not good enough?

That childhood? Totally your parents' fault.

Now, I don't care what kind of life they had before they were parents. Once they became parents and you were their child, they had a vast and deep responsibility to you. We know how children are made and it is avoidable.

I don't care that you think they were doing the best they could. They were not.

You don't want to blame them, but I am here to tell you that you are allowed.

For what they did.

We do not hesitate to blame criminals for their actions. And in a philosophical, emotional, spiritual, ethical, and moral way, many (too many) parents act in criminal ways.

Why? Because they can. Because this culture says that children are property.

Again, your life right now? Your responsibility. But to take full responsibility, you will have to admit what happened. You cannot repress it.

I can't say this enough: If you insist on repressing your true and valid feelings toward whatever happened to you, it will continue to show its ugly self in your life in a million ways.

You will never have the life you really want, because this monster will always lurk, will always poison everything.

The real Secret? The one the Secret people don't tell you? The reason the Secret doesn't actually work for most people or they give up? You have to work through your crap so you can honestly and truly know who you are before you can ever begin to "ask the universe" for what you want.

So take the first step: Be brave. It's okay. The sky will not fall. God will not strike you down. You will not die.

Name it. You must name it. Naming it will then hand the power of it back to you and you will move on in ways you never knew you could.

Then and only then can you choose bliss.

Here's an excerpt from Paul M. Martin's Original Faith: What Your Life is Trying to Tell You that I came across on the excellent blog MommyMystic.

I love this quote because there's no children being locked in closets and not fed or being burned by cigarettes, "just" children not being loved for who they are:


A parent or other primary caretaker either does not love us or, far more often, does not express it clearly and consistently enough for us to be sure of it. An experienced lack of love from a parent is the fundamental source of the wounds that so many of us receive in childhood.

When this occurs, it is because our parent is somewhat ambivalent about his or her feelings for us. The parent doesn’t completely accept something about our real nature. We may not be smart enough or talented enough. We may be too physically rugged or assertive for a girl or too small and quiet for a boy. We may be too inhibited or not self-disciplined enough.

Our interests and aspirations may be wrong. We may not like working with our hands enough—or with our intellects. We may like music too much and not take enough interest in sports, or the other way around.

The real problem, of course, is that we are not sufficiently like our parents or their aspirations to satisfy their ego. Many of us spend years of our adult lives coming out from under the burden of this unnecessary baggage. As parents, this is a burden we can and should avoid passing on to our own children.

The Lie

Having preconceived notions of what our children must be like in order to be fully acceptable to us is the equivalent of telling them a terrible lie. What our children hear is that they are not good enough – that something is wrong with or lacking in their very being.

Though it’s a lie, children readily believe it. With little or no knowledge of the outside world as a potential source of acceptance and approval, young children are in no position to realize, “This is only my parent’s hang-up. No reflection on me!” They believe the lie in the act of hearing it.

Viewing the abilities of our children as a means to satisfy our ego desires is unhealthy for parents as well as children. Indeed, outgrowing egoism is a good two-word summary of our primary developmental task as adults. And clearly it helps our children develop trust, confidence and self love when they see themselves with eyes unclouded by the illusion that that they were put on earth to be made in our image. It even becomes that much easier for them to take first steps toward standing in right relation to the greater truth that embraces us all.

(Photo Credit: Christine C. Reed, Cemetery, 2009)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

SharedBliss: Jeweler Joy White of PureJoy

Joy White of PureJoy

Do you know that I am a jewelry FREAK?! I am pure crow when it comes to shiny and beautiful things -- I want to snag any and all of it into my beak and take it home to my nest.

That is one thing Joy and I have in common.

We are both Lake Erie Girls; that is another thing.

Joy works out of Cleveland, a city my partner and I visit fairly frequently (considering I hate to travel), because it's a very short day trip and there is so much to do. I also think it feels familiar and comfortable -- a bigger version of where we live.

The third thing Joy and I have in common is Kundalini yoga, and how bizarre is it that the person who introduced her to Kundalini yoga was someone originally from...Erie!?

The world is, indeed, a small place, and the internet only makes it smaller.

You can find Joy's lovely blog here and her store here.

See? Don't you love!?

Describe the Primary Bliss of your life. How did you come to know that this was your PrimaryBliss?

My primary bliss is just in being. It may sound simple but it took me a long time to acknowledge that being is no less than doing.

I can’t say that my PrimaryBliss happened at an exact moment but I remember it as a transition in time. I was faced with a struggling business, an unfulfilling relationship, a dying parent, and obesity.

I knew I had to make changes in my life so I decided to just start. Slowly with time and listening to my inner voice, change began to take hold. I lost 80 lbs., ended my relationship, I lost my dad, closed my business and started working with silver and glass.

So how did I come to know my bliss? It was the day I decided to run a marathon in Alaska. I had never run before but somehow I knew that I could do it. Step by step, I began to believe in myself. I used the time running to think and contemplate my future. I spent many hours listening to my feet hit the ground and my heart open up to the possibilities ahead of me.

That was six years ago, and my life is in a totally different place today. I have always been a happy person but now I can say I have come to know my PrimaryBliss and I am grateful everyday.

What types of choices and sacrifices did you make to be able to craft this bliss-filled life?

I chose myself. I let go of old records in my head and followed a path of uncertainty.

I allowed myself to listen to the clues around me and act upon them fearlessly.

How does your PrimaryBliss radiate out into the rest of your life?

My primary bliss radiates into the rest of my life through my name. In some ways I feel it was predetermined. As a little girl I remember people pinching my cheeks and asking me how I could ever be grumpy with a name like Joy. My mom told me I might as well get use to it, I did, and now I am proud when people say my name suits me. THANKS MOM!

Who couldn't work in this lovely studio?
Orange wall -- my fave!

What are some other activities that also give you this sense of bliss? Things that make you lose track of time?

Oh, I have so many things: Silence, walking my dog, time with girl friends, riding bikes with my husband, working in my studio, listening to new and undiscovered music on, my blog . . . . the list goes on and on. I am a master of keeping my self entertained.

What is your daily or weekly spiritual practice?

I strive to do Kundalini Yoga every day and study the Tao. I am very mindful to be grateful each and every day and live my life with compassion.

What music is your bliss?

Oh no, the music question – I am so eclectic in my music taste. Some of my all time favorites are Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen, Aimee Mann, Phoebe Snow and Andrea Bocelli. Right now in the studio I am listening to Adele.

Name books or authors/poets or people who are your bliss, who influenced your bliss.

Dr. Wayne W. Dyer / Gary Zukav / The Dalai Lama

What advice would you give to someone who feels they have not yet discovered their PrimaryBliss?

Be open and honest every day. Listen to your inner voice and follow your heart. If you try something and it doesn’t feel right, let it go and move on. Bliss is like the keys of a piano, it takes a combination of different notes to make a beautiful sound.

Do you have a favorite quote you would like to share?

You must be the change you want to see in the world.
Mahatma Gandhi - Indian political and spiritual leader (1869 - 1948)

Joy really is her own best example when it comes to being open and honest every day, listening to her internal whispers (and perhaps screams!), and taking action rather than just staying stuck.

If you've not noticed the new tag line on my banner, taking a look after this interview is certainly appropriate. About a week ago, I changed it from the Gandhi quote that Joy uses to "Be brave. Choose bliss."

Sounds just like something another Lake Erie girl would say!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Healing Power of An Animal Companion

Today, it is sunny out and the temperature should rise steadily through the morning. I am glad for this; the warmth of the sun on my skin is one of the most rejuvenating things in this life.

I am feeling the need for some rejuvenation after those last two, very long, intense-to-write posts so a quick one today.

I could not believe last night when I realized that I had forgotten in my "relationship" section of yesterday's post to include the love of our animal companions. I mean, we know, for sure, that just to pet a cat lowers your blood pressure.

When my depression was at its absolute worst -- its main "crisis" point -- I had just met the cat above, Ernest Hemingway, for whom we had many nicknames but a favorite of mine was Little e.

He was just a kitten and he had the wisdom of an ancient Buddha. He would sit with me for hours, just staring at me, just looking into my eyes.

But the one thing Marcy will never forget was a night when some things had gone horribly wrong, and I finally, finally was just sleeping. Sleeping like the dead, really. Marcy was busying herself in the apartment and she would come in to check on me, but she didn't have to.

For that entire night, Ernie, tiny kitten, Little e, sat on my chest and stared at me. He sat up; he never once fell asleep.

Ernie passed from his fur suit to his sparkle suit about 2 years ago. He was already an angel in my life. He remains so.

(Photo Credit: Christine Reed, Ernie)

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Day to Day of Depression: Story as Garden & Me as Gardener

The chard plants in this picture will soon have to be thinned; there are too many of them, and with thinning, with choosing, I will strengthen the plants left behind.

Choices lead to strength, my garden teaches me every day. What branch I prune, what plant I pull, what plant I move, which tree is put where...all of these little choices that I have to make so that our gardens grow lustily lush and give us food and beauty.

My life responds to the same kind of choosing, but it is on a larger, more bravery-necessary kind of level.

After the last post on overcoming depression, some people have requested that I write about how I do this on a day to day basis now that a lot of my bigger, deeper, slower work is done.

If the story of my life is an internal garden that I must tend in order to uncover/recover/discover my essential nature and health and well being, then how I care for this garden on a day to day basis is with a shed full of tools.

I prefer hand tools. I don't like gas spewing anything (not even a car -- so why a lawnmower?). I don't like motor driven tools because they feel so harsh, so inorganic. I don't like to hire any kind of service; I don't want someone else working in my garden.

I want to get dirty and I want to feel a little sore. I like to know that I have done something to earn that beautiful asparagus on my plate.

It's the same with my internal garden. As I mentioned in that previous post, I have done this without medication (luckily, I could and this choice or way is not everyone's). I have not sought professional help of any kind.

Before I tell you what has worked for me, let me say that the number one component is commitment to this path. You have to make choices about your life. You have to decide that this work counts more than anything else. If you can't decide that, then more "mainstream" methods might be necessary.

This has to take precedence. This does not mean you are not living a life; it just means there are no more excuses left.

So here is what has helped me:

Relationship: I would say to people that Marcy is the reason I am better, but one day someone corrected me in a way that made sense. He said that Marcy may be helpful but I have to do the work and also, that I was smart enough/aware enough/awake enough to pick Marcy to begin with. Yes. If your partner does not support the work you are trying to do, then you have the wrong partner. Period.

Many of our problems are coming from a lack of unconditional love in our lives; do not continue being your own abuser by staying with someone who puts conditions on what parts of you they can accept and deal with.

Your partner must love every part, every day. That's what unconditional is. (This does not mean it's not hard or there aren't days when it feels impossible.)

My journal. As I have mentioned, I have filled about 25 journals over the past 8 or 9 years. This, of course, is a key way to record and explore your story.

There will be things you do not wish to commit to paper. I understand that, believe me. First of all, I would suggest that you keep trying until you can. Second, remember that you can BURN this. Third, once it's written down, make sure to share your writing with your partner/witness.

And no matter how many times you have to keep writing the same story, keep writing it. It may take once; it may take one hundred times; you may never finish needing to go over a particular story...this is okay. You are allowed. Give yourself permission.

But...the most important aspect of journaling your stories is to go one step beyond the telling of the stories themselves: Connect what that story means to you with how you feel and live today. Deconstruct it until you understand something new about how you feel and why.

A great and helpful book is Writing as a Way to Heal.

I try to write in my paper journal just about every day to this day. Lately, to focus myself a bit more and to move away from treating it too much like a light diary, I write "What is on my mind right now?" and then see what comes up.

Yoga. One of the results of my depression and anxiety was a total disconnect between my body and my mind, my heart and my head. Yoga works on this. In particular, there has been nothing like Kundalini Yoga for me in terms of emotional healing. Other yoga was good for decreasing stress and creating more centered calm, but for the emotional stuff, there is nothing like KY. If you've never done it, please try. (There is an Amazon widget in the side bar specifically for people new to KY.)

I do yoga twice a day now. I start my morning with about 15 minutes of restorative yoga so that I don't just dive in head first and forget myself. I do a large dose of KY at around 4.

When I'm not doing yoga, I fall back into patterns of disconnect. Yoga is absolutely vital to my health. I cannot ever stop doing it. (And there are no nasty side effects.)

Good eats. This might seem silly (or maybe not), but eating well can mean the difference between really good days and really bad days. As I get mentally healthier, I notice food's effects on me more and more. I am gluten free and mostly grain free, because I realized that those foods make me feel sluggish which I then mistake for the onset of depression. Dangerous. I am now noticing that too much sugar makes me feel anxiety ridden and distracted, which also can be mistaken for the onset of a depressive episode.

I must keep my main tool in this life sharpened and at the ready -- and that is my BodyMind.

Prayer. This one is relatively new for me, though I have been doing yoga for about 14 years and know that that is a form of prayer. More formalized prayer entered my life about 2 years ago and I have been committed ever since.

Whether you do the rosary or sit in stillness meditation, everyday prayer is vital to remembering that you are part of something larger, that you are not alone, that all is not darkness, that there is light and kindness and love in this world and that you are swimming in it at all times.

Creativity. Beyond journaling, I find that I am my most healthy when I am working diligently on a creative writing project. And beyond blogging. I feel better when I edit chapters of my novel or when I write a new poem or when I sketch out an idea for a new book altogether. I am a writer and so I must write to be healthy.

And that is really the point isn't it? We overcome this depression and then we figure out who we were really meant to be and then we must act on that -- daily.

Fun. Yes. This one is easy to overlook when you are standing in the middle of a very weedy and overgrown plot and want nothing more than to dig it all up and start over. But just a step or two a day is enough.

We must remember to have fun. For me that is watching a great movie, listening to music, taking a bike ride, taking photographs, laughing with Marcy, playing with cats and a rabbit.

Every day. A little fun. Do it.

Nature. Vitamin D is so important to our health and we have become so frightened of the sun and so sedentary and so encased in cars and houses that we don't get it the natural way. But we should.

Get outside. Every day. Even in bad weather. A blizzard, a rainstorm, any kind of weather is now walkable by me. And I am a princess about this stuff; what's your excuse?

So this is my list.

This is my life.

This is my health.

Every day. If you noticed, that is the recurring theme: every day.

Every day from here on out. When I am lax, I slip. When I eliminate things, I slip. I cannot let up. Each and every day is as important as the last.

If you were on meds, they would tell you to never skip.

And that's what I'm telling you about this natural way: you can't ever skip.

Though each of these things is my "medicine," they are each also my joys. My list and your list and her list and his list -- each and every one of them should be different because we are all different and getting better is all about finding your own, joyful way.

(Photo Credits: Christine Reed, Chard Babies & Pink Azalea button, 2009)

Friday, May 15, 2009

enCouragingBliss: The Act of Communal Keening

In a recent email discussion with Rebecca, the concept of keening came up.

Our culture does everything it can to sanitize grief. When we come face to face with raw, honest grief, we barely know what to do, what to say. We become embarrassed. We put limits on it and time lines.

(A side note: Shortly before she died, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the woman who created our modern understanding of the process of grief, said that she was sorry for much of her work. She felt she had done more damage than good, telling people that their grief should look and act a certain way, when in reality, there are no "rules." None at all.)

And yet grief is a gift. It can be a time of crystal-like clarity. It is most definitely a time to learn about our vastness. Rather than shrinking from this experience, we should embrace it, allow it to envelop us.

When I teach beginner adult writers -- these writers who have had an unfulfilled ache in their hearts for far too long -- one of the first things I try to get them to do is to dig into their muck.

I try to help them to see that only by working through that muck can we ever hope to plant any sort of beautiful garden. Only by exploring our darkest places will we ever find our authentic writing voices.

What is true of writing is true of all life.

In order to live your bliss, you must be brave and honest and you must face your darkness. (Basic Jungian principles here.)

Joseph Campbell did not call this life the hero's journey because it was all chivalry and roses; he knew that dragons awaited us and that they must be slain.

So today, for enCouragingBliss, I am encouraging some communal keening.

Let your sorrows be heard. Honor them. Validate them. Claim them. Whatever they are.

Here is what I am currently keening over:

Stray cats. Yes. It is summer and the stray cats are coming out. I so want to help every single one.

All the sickness. Two people we know -- two people who are too young -- are entering, most likely, their last weeks. One of them is ready; the other is not.

Other sickness that is not so immediately life-threatening but is decreasing someone's quality of life.

Cruelty. Miss California. Oh, how sad (and angry) it makes me when someone like her becomes a poster child of sorts for "christianity." I want to scream, sometimes, Christ LOVES US ALL. GOD LOVES US ALL. Just stop being mean...

The fact that children can have so little value that if they aren't being regularly set on fire (or some such extreme thing), their pain is not seen.

People who get so caught up in the small, mundane matters of their own lives that they do not see the extreme despair right next to them, right there -- at that desk not two feet away.

That we will always spend more money on bombs than food; that we will always put our own comfort above the simple lives of others; that we will never sacrifice anything for anyone else; that violence will always be our reflex. (When I say "we," I am referring to the vast majority of Americans -- people who pretty much determine the quality of life on the rest of the planet.)

Now it's your turn. Nothing is "too small" or "too big."

Be honest. Be brave. Choose bliss.

(For this week, I've decided not to use Mister Linky. The communal keening will take place in the comments; if you feel the need to post about this on your blog, please feel free to link to your post in the comments.)

(Photo credit: Christine Reed, My Favorite -- Greenlander Tulip, 2009)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Can I Get a Witness: Overcoming Depression through Story

I've been getting this question through a few sources lately, from skribit to comments to email: How did you overcome your depression and anxiety via alternative methods?

And I think, God, where to start?!

(Let me first say that this is my experience; also, this is in no way about severe mental illness that may require medication.)

Briefly. When Marcy first met me about 15 years ago, she says I had the saddest, emptiest eyes, and yet, she could see someone in there desperately trying to get out.

I plunged very deeply into depression at that point. It was bad enough that I finally gave in and went to see a medical doctor, who promptly wrote me prescriptions for both an anti-depressant and an anti-anxiety. (Both of which are still widely used today.)

For the first time in my life, I experienced a state of "no thought." It felt like relief.

It was not. It was just a new kind of numb, a more pleasant sort of apathy, a different vacancy.

I was off both medications within two months, and from then on out, I was determined to do this on my own.

An observation: People on anti-depressants are, from my own experience of them, still sad. Why?

Because they are putting a band aid on a broken limb; they are taking care of symptoms but not the underlying cause, and I won't say "disease" because, from my own experience, most people out there experiencing depression have a reason to be depressed. This is the key component that our current models of treatment ignore.

Our bodies are made of chemicals, and that is what contemporary, mainstream medicine is good at: the manipulation of chemicals.

But our souls are made of stories, and no drug on this planet can help with your stories. They are what they are. They must be integrated into your essence or they will always be there. No amount of positive thinking will get rid of them. No amount of medication, eating "right," supplements, herbals, or exercise. No amount of avoidance. You will simply continue to live through them; you will react because of them; you will be their slave.


Until you learn this formula:

( (Honesty + Witness) + (Compassion + Patience) ) x Commitment

The hardest part of this formula is the first variable: Honesty about our stories.

We do everything we can to avoid this. We try to gloss over our stories. We try to see them from different perspectives. We try to hide them. Our brains will go even further, utilizing repression and dissociative states and all sorts of tricks to keep us from our scariest stuff.

But stories are stronger than chemicals and they will leak into your physical body and create all sorts of illness, from chronic digestive disorders to headaches to back aches to lowered immunity in general and much, much worse.

The first question to ask yourself is this: Who are you trying to protect by not being honest and why are you going to such lengths to protect them?

I was protecting both my parents, trying so hard to be who they needed me to be (and this has absolutely zilch to do with my "lifestyle"). I tried so hard, for so long to believe in their fantasy version of our family. And I tried so hard, for so long to help them, to be the adult. From my own experiences with other chronically depressed individuals, I have come to believe that a parent or both parents are exactly who most people are trying to protect.

We all so desperately want to believe in this overpowering, culturally derived and driven idea of Family.

Think about this: Let's say you have a friend whom you adore. You can see she is in a bad relationship. Her husband is abusive of her in emotional ways and you suspect that there is more. What do you do? What do we do as women when we find out friends are being abused?

We encourage them to leave.

But children? They get to stay, because their abusers are their primary caregivers, and when those children become adults, we tell them things like "But it's your parents..."

What if we said that to our friend, "Well, he is your husband..."

Unacceptable. Right here, right now, this chick is giving all you abused children out there, you walking wounded who appear to be adults, I give you all permission to be really, truly, deeply, honestly pissed off.

If this is your story, you must own it.

Regardless of someone else's past, they were cruel to you. YOU were the child. YOU had the right to be the child. Your parents were not and are not your responsibility.

All abusers were abused in their childhood, yes, but not all who are abused become abusers themselves. What is the difference between these two types?

Consciousness and the willingness to take full responsibility for one's own actions in the present. If you had an abusive parent or parents, then you were raised by someone unwilling to look in the mirror, unwilling to be the grownup.

Again, own that. Trying to understand your abuser is a classic psychological survival method. It happened in the concentration camps; it happens in almost all cases of kidnap and torture. Your mind has to try to understand why this person is treating you this way, so you start to feel badly for them.

In 1991, Leonard Shengold wrote a ground-breaking work whose title alone was worth all his efforts: Soul Murder. He says that abuse is tantamount to killing a child's soul; he compares children in abusive or neglectful families to inmates in one of the concentration camps.

(This book is good, but if you are interesting in understanding your own abuse history more, I would highly recommend the works of Alice Miller.)

Your own parent's backgrounds might explain their behavior but it never excuses it. They have gifted you with a lifetime of effort; they have changed who you were born to be.

Back to that formula: You must be honest about what happened and how it made you feel.

This is where journaling comes in and where the witness comes in.

You must be heard and seen. This is crucial.

Studies have shown that the most resilient of children are resilient because they met at least one person who really saw them. This made them feel real enough to continue the good fight.

As an adult going through your stories and trying to order them and integrate them, a witness is the person who will give you that "real" feeling. They will validate you.

(I find a lot of traditional therapies lack this essential component, as too many therapists are too concerned with mending things with your abusers. Only time and the abusers coming to their own understanding and claiming responsibility can ever really do that.)

My witness, of course, has been Marcy. But I have also been graced with others.

Compassion and patience are not about your feelings toward your abuser. This is all about you. You must have compassion for yourself and for the little person you were.

You must have patience. This work can last a lifetime, but it does not mean that you are not simultaneously having a joyful and love filled life. It just means that there is too much work to be done to expect instant results.

Which is where the final variable in the equation comes in: Commitment. You must be committed to this. This has to be, for some time, your primary work.

"But I'm so bored with my crap!" How many times I have said that to Marcy, and she says right back, "Too bad! It's still there. And we will go through it and over it until it has lost all its power. Period."

There is a repetitiveness to this work that can feel exhausting, but having a healthy and happy life is worth, right?

I have no secrets. There was no herb or meditation program that got me to where I am.

There was a lot of crying and anger and fear and deep sadness. There was a lot of denial and then there were lots of explosions.

I have 25 filled journals for a reason. It's all story. My stories. My soul. Blossoming. Slowly and with much care.

(Photo Credit: Christine Reed, Just the Beginning/Back Border, 2009)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

SharedBliss: Artist & Soul Reader Kathy Crabbe of LuLu Design

In the midst of someone's dying, it can be difficult to see anything but your own sadness over losing them. Your own grief that they will be gone -- or at least their gross self will be gone.

Their subtle self is never gone.

A few years ago, though, I did not know that. Even after being given the gift of a near death experience, I still doubted, and I got to the point of utter denial. I got to that very soul deadening place of over-intellectualizing everything, and in thinking I was so smart, I was living pretty dumb.

Then two big deaths came and cracked open my hardened heart. Thank God!

At the time, it felt like the crack might just do me in, but of course, it is that cracking open that allows the light to enter, allows the real life to begin.

With my newly opened heart, I decided to stop listening so much to my closed mind, and I headed, for the first time in my life, to a place near hear called Lily Dale to meet with a medium.

What?! My smarty brain self was saying. What the hell are you doing? Are you becoming some sort of freaking freak?

I told my brain, via my heart, that I would rather be a freaking freak with people who remain open to all possibility than to be closed off and cynical with the people who think they are so smart.

And that was that. I still fight that urge, sometimes, to question, to scoff, but mostly, deaths that felt so awful ended a part of me that needed to die.

People like Kathy Crabbe are here to help us with our hearts.

An artist and soul reader, Kathy Crabbe shows you where the cracks are and helps us to let the light in.

You can find her art here, her blog here, and you can even get a virtual reading through here.

Cards that Kathy designed and uses in her readings.

Describe the PrimaryBliss of your life. How did you come to know that this was your PrimaryBliss?

Currently, my primary bliss is working as a soul reader, psychic-medium, and spiritual healer in a one-on-one relationship with clients who are seeking transformation and inner knowing so that they can live the life of their dreams.

Previously, I had been a full time artist, but when I started getting closer to age forty I started yearning for an even deeper connection with my clients. I wanted to communicate with them, not just on a visual level, but through words as well.

What types of choices and sacrifices did you make to be able to craft this bliss-filled life?

I made the choice to spend the majority of my time exploring soul, spirit, and the divine in ways that enabled me to express my own innate gifts and strengths. Instead of working with my weaknesses and trying to improve upon them, I decided to focus instead on my strengths. (The StrengthsFinder test that I learned about in my coaching sessions with Jenn Lee of Artizen Coaching helped me identify my strengths.)

I don’t feel as though sacrifice is a word that applies to my life. I prefer to work with the word ‘choice.’ I have chosen a life that allows me plenty of free time, solitude, peace, and quiet so that I can progress in a way that benefits my work and my clients.

How does your PrimaryBliss radiate out into the rest of your life?

My belief is that one should “walk their talk” so my hope is that by living my own life in a positive, caring, and soul centered way, it will inspire others to do the same for themselves.

What are some other activities that also give you this sense of bliss? Things that make you lose track of time?

Dancing, music, walking, swimming, being in nature, meditation, reading, laughing with friends, painting, sketching in nature, traveling with my husband, and playing with my dog.

What is your daily or weekly spiritual practice?

I work on soul readings 5 days a week. In preparation for a reading, I work to center myself in the present through 15 minutes of yoga, followed by playing my Native American flute, meditation, and prayer. I end my readings with prayers and healing blessings. I also get out in nature and walk my dog every day, which to me is a spiritual practice!

What music is your bliss?

I really enjoy Celtic music and electronic trance/dance music.

Name books or authors/poets or people who are your bliss, who influenced your bliss.

My favorite author is Margaret Atwood, for her brilliance and biting humor, plus she connects me with my Canadian roots, as does the poetry of Al Purdy, another blunt, humorous and brilliant thinker, who also happens to write poetry about beer.

I love reading the Seth books in bits and pieces along with the astrological and channeled books of Barbara Hand Clow.

What advice would you give to someone who feels they have not yet discovered their PrimaryBliss?

Sometimes patience is all that’s required. It takes time to really understand what’s important. I never did find the perfect guide or mentor; I learned in bits and pieces from everyone and everything, taking and leaving what worked and what didn’t work – it’s all a patchwork quilt, every life is unique, so don’t expect any one person to have all the answers – that’s advice that pertains to me, but again, it may not pertain to you!

Do you have a favorite quote you would like to share?

“When in doubt, twirl.” (Ted Shawn, Choreographer)

I think that may be one of my favorite quotes to show up in one of these interviews. I thought, yep, that would totally work -- just twirl.

I also love that Kathy points out something that is so obvious but that I think we forget in this perfectionist, Puritan-leaning culture: to do what comes naturally, to work with your strengths, rather than focusing on your weaknesses and trying, trying, trying to "improve" them.

Who said it was supposed to be that hard!?

We are sent here with natural gifts, and those gifts will lead us to our Great Work if we allow them to.

What would happen to your life if you simply focused on your strengths day to day, hour to hour?