Sunday, October 25, 2015

Awakening Heart Energy

Starting a new business many years ago required taking risks, and my emotions were running wild. I needed a positive symbol of awakening heart energy and chose a tattoo of a dolphin swimming around my heart. When I told my mother, I was devastated by her response: "Why would you want to disfigure yourself?"

You've had similar experiences, I know. People who take risks to define themselves according to their own needs and dreams often have to overcome the almost insurmountable authority of social conditioning.

Many of us had the childhood experience of being told what we can't do: what's not normal or polite, what's dangerous or beyond our abilities. We were left with a sense of powerlessness to predict what will make us secure. Even as adults, these early messages haunt us: Who will criticize me for trying something new? Who will laugh at me for this idea I have? What will I do if this doesn't work out?

Sometimes we overcome our insecurity by whistling in the dark. (I'm not afraid! I'm not afraid!) But when faced with a tough decision, we may also endure an internal debate: What do I do now? Which of these paths do I take? Can I trust my own judgment? Will I give myself permission to go for what I want?

This is the paradox: when we act as if we're powerless, in that very act we give our power away. Until I found my own personal power, until I could stay clear about what I wanted to do and why, I fell into the victim role, pointing my finger outward. Initially, I was angry at how my mother, in spite of her generally loving support, could undermine my attempts to break the mold. I felt hurt because I wanted her approval. 

When I could finally come from my center and let go of my attachment to her opinion, I was freed from reacting to Mom's response and touched by her own fear of change.

How many times have you stopped yourself from doing something you were excited about because someone else put on the brakes? My mother was uncomfortable with the unfamiliar, just as your friends and family may be when you take a risk. My tattoo was right for me. And I revamped my business because it drew me to work that's richer and more meaningful, even though there were lean years. 

In the process, I learned an important lesson. Sometimes we begin to doubt ourselves when others criticize, worry, or question our urges to live our lives more fully. We need to remember they're actually questioning themselves, unable to imagine doing what we've found the courage and vision to do.

Years later my life was saved from breast cancer by a bilateral mastectomy. I was not afraid of losing my femininity, but I was concerned about damage to my dolphin. My surgeon was able to keep it almost completely intact, and the tattoo's symbolism has carried me through surgery, recovery, and the five years since then with an open heart.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Tibetans Call It a Bardo

In my early thirties, I attended a Silva Mind Control course to stop smoking. Others were there for weight control, memory training, and self-healing techniques. Over several weeks we were taught relaxation and visualization techniques, including the development of a mental laboratory complete with desk, calendar, files, visual screen, a door beside the screen, and healing medications. 

We were also told we'd have an experience of extrasensory perception on the last day of the training, which I found intriguing but presumed impossible for me. For that last session we were instructed to bring in three slips of paper, each showing only the name and city of an individual we privately knew to have an illness or physical problem.

To start the morning of the last day, we practiced by placing the body of a friend on our mental screen and scanning for problems of any sort. Following instructions, suddenly I saw and heard a motorcycle hit by a car. The motorcyclist's face wasn't visible, but because the man I was scanning owned a motorcycle, I expressed my alarm to the instructor, who suggested I find the date of the accident and send healing light to my friend. 

I closed my eyes, went to alpha level, visualized the calendar in my mental laboratory, and was astonished to see the pages turning rapidly until they stopped at a date in June. I assumed this to be in the future, as the session took place in February, so I did as the instructor suggested and pictured my friend bathed in white light.

After a break we were assigned partners, and the first one, whom I'd never met and didn't know would be a partner, handed me a piece of paper with a man's name and location written on it. In alpha level, I visualized a man on my mental screen, and saw his whole left side was darker than his right. I didn't know what it meant. 

Using a technique we'd been taught, I imagined putting on this person's head, and was immediately torn by depression, sorrow, and resentment. I could feel my left side was crippled; I had no hearing in my left ear and no sight in my left eye. I knew hearing was intact in my right ear, but vision in my right eye was limited in some way, though I couldn't describe exactly how.  

Afterwards, my partner said this was the son of a dear friend; 21 years old and bitter because he'd been crippled on his left side in a motorcycle accident at an intersection where a car had ignored a stop sign. He had no hearing in his left ear and no sight in his left eye; hearing was normal in his right ear, but he had tunnel vision in his right eye. His recovery was slow and he was despondent.

As I almost feared when asking her the accident's date, she named the same day in June I'd seen on my mental calendar. The motorcycle crash I'd pictured earlier that morning, before being assigned to this partner, had occurred the previous June!

Interactions with my next two partners were less clear but equally mind-blowing. With one, I pictured her subject with a brain like a walnut, the right side shriveled, then found she'd given me the name of a friend with brain cancer in the right hemisphere. With the other I kept seeing The Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz, focusing especially on the size of his nose. She admitted she didn't know anyone with a critical injury or illness, so had given me the name of a friend with chronic sinusitis.

I was disoriented for several weeks. The world as I perceived it had changed. In The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche refers to a bardo as a juncture "when the possibility of liberation, or enlightenment, is heightened." My experience of this unexpected, new reality opened my mind and heart.

Since then I've had many instances of knowing something that either had not happened yet, or had happened at a distance, without my direct knowledge, and was later confirmed. At first I was frustrated by the lack of specificity, but over the years I've learned to relax into what I now believe is a universal flow. 

As a coach this has manifested as psychic intuitions. I've learned to slip into a meditative state and seek information beyond the obvious. My clients often comment, "I was just thinking that, but wasn't sure I was ready to talk about it," or "How did you know that? I've never told anyone."

My bardo experience has left me with a lifelong sense of awe, triggered by the recognition, "If this is possible, anything is possible."

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Symbol of the Wave

Alan Watts, in an essay on zen,
used the metaphor of a wave ~
each wave appears to be
separate and distinct
but waves are also part
of the ocean they share.
Likewise, there are seemingly nine
distinct personality styles, but
we have a common ground in that
in our essence we are whole and gifted.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Like a Flower...

The following interchange with a reader who's an Enneagram style Five tells a story. Read it and note how she opens up (and gives permission).... 

Dear Mary: I'm an Enneagram Five, and lead a pretty full life doing social work, but I'm 50 and have never been in love with anyone. Looking at myself objectively, it seems a tiny bit sad, but not enough to do anything concrete about it. I hate the idea of sifting through many people, and maybe some will be compatible. It wears me out just thinking about listening to all those people, so I convince myself it's better to be alone, unless someone compatible just happens to cross my path. Thank you for the service you provide to those seeking more knowledge. Will anyone else see this note?

Dear Reader: I understand how satisfying life can be when work is interesting. However, you do imply that a relationship might be worthwhile ("I convince myself it's better to be alone"), if you could find someone without "sifting," or perhaps if listening were not so exhausting for you.You asked, "Will anyone else see this note?" Not if you don't want them to.I'm reading a fascinating novel by Irvin Yalom, When Nietzsche Wept. I believe Neitzsche as described by Yalom was an Enneagram Five. Perhaps if you read Yalom's book you might find something interesting that applies to you. 

Dear Mary: Thank you for recommending the book; I'll read it... I thought a secretary or helper might respond and only on a public web page. I even tear up my journals promptly because I can't bear the thought that someone might read my innermost thoughts, so yes, I'd like my notes to be private. I interact with so many people each day, my time alone is pretty much a gift. I believe I would interact well with anyone who knows the Enneagram and is healthy in whatever style they happen to be, but I don't know a soul who has done more than read one book about it or just glanced at the subject. Are there any Enneagram students in my area? Thank you immensely for your time.

Dear Reader: I'm sending you information about the closest chapter of the International Enneagram Association (IEA). There's a page at the IEA web site with news about regional chapters that may be a source of information for you. I recommend joining the IEA if you haven't already. Even if you're not a "joiner" it's a way to gather useful information. Also, I hope you'll attend the annual Enneagram conference.By the way, I give my time freely, and not totally without self-interest. Often these inquiries lead to an article, which supports my writing. Even when someone like you asks that nothing be published, I always learn something from the interaction; so this interaction is a resource for me, too. For example, in thinking about how to respond to you, and re-reading When Nietzsche Wept in that light, I noticed Nietzsche as described by Yalom is very sensitive to weather changes, and very sensitive to touch.This led me to remember a wonderful book (and tape), Oliver Sacks' An Anthropologist on Mars. One of his stories is about Temple Grandin, an adult woman with autism who created a sling to comfort and carry cattle. She then got the idea to create her own "squeeze machine" because from early childhood she longed to be touched but couldn't tolerate it. She lies in her sling daily, with controls that allow her to create as much or as little pressure as she wishes. A wonderful metaphor. 

Dear Mary: If others can learn from anything I might share, feel free to go ahead and publish any of my comments. I'm evolving and I know one of the greatest things we can do is share with one another. I trust you and will make every effort to attend the conference. Thanks for all your information; know that I will use it. About the touch issue. I love being held and always longed for that as a child, but being from a large family, my parents didn't have a lot of individual time for me, though we each felt completely loved by them and by each other. My relationships seem to be those in which I give much of myself, but only about three or four people are capable of giving to me in the manner I prefer to receive. A therapist held me perfectly only three times over a period of about a year and a half, and that memory sustains me anytime I need to be reminded of what it might be like if our creator could be here in person, to allow me to feel his/her love and my connection to what we are other than just being a part of this world. I'm hugged often by children and friends, but I can never bring myself to ask anyone to hold me. If there is anything you ever want to ask me, feel free; and you may use it in any way you deem beneficial. I've seen the benefits of your sharing.

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Sacred Sorrow

"Going to pieces or falling apart is not such a bad thing. Indeed it is as essential to evolutionary and psychic transformation as the cracking of outgrown shells... What 'disintegrates' in periods of rapid transformation is not the self, of course, but its defenses and ideas... [opening] us up to new perceptions, new data, new responses." Joanna Macy, Chapter 16, Sacred Sorrows
My first cracking of the shell, when it hit, was comparable to what's been depicted by others: a sense of emptiness when approaching activities that had been fulfilling, disorientation, feeling separate from others and from myself (I could look in the mirror and not even recognize my own face). It was also clear I'd walked through a door that had shut tight behind me. 

That step into a space between the worlds was taken in the Spring of 1997, when I ended my second Naranjo workshop with a deep commitment to engage fully with life. For the first month afterwards I did just that. Then I fell into depression of a kind different from the familiar and transitory times of feeling dispirited. I finally realized that for me to really engage (the Nine's spiritual goal) I'd have to go through a wild and scary ride. 

I've read many books and articles about depression and about transformation. There are accounts from survivors of depression and references to spiritual struggles, but few personal stories of how transformation can occur during these dark times, how people are different as a consequence of this experience that disconnects them from all that's familiar. It appears that many who experience the pain of transition stop the process -- by taking antidepressants, being unwilling to endure the discomfort, and/or failing to recognize this could be a passage to something new and not simply a dark and endless tunnel with no light at the end.

Based on my own experience, if you use the Enneagram beyond playing games to categorize people, you will find yourself on the path of transformation whether you expected that to happen or not. I'm not a Catholic, so didn't originally turn to such resources as Suzanne Zuercher's Enneagram Spirituality:
"What does this surrender based on the necessity to admit our truth feel like? It is the experience of anguish, because anguish is to be aware of, to admit, what we cannot accept and embrace about ourselves... Such pain gradually lessens as we become more humble, simply acknowledging what is so."
As much as I admire Zuercher's work, however, her examples are generic and related to Christian scripture and beliefs. Riso and Hudson have broadened our perspective in The Wisdom of the Enneagram, writing that the "great religions of the world have provided a multitude of practices for personal transformation; so have modern psychology, the self-help movement, and contemporary spiritual thinkers." They also disclosed some of their own transformation process:
"Part of our discussion had to do with whether or not we would ever see the proverbial 'light at the end of the tunnel,' since each of us was constantly going through a fair amount of pain as we uncovered layers of neurotic habits and unresolved issues from the past… Even though excavating the various strata of the psyche meant going through layers of pain and negativity, making conscious the old accumulated psychic junk that we had not wished to deal with, it would be worth it." 
Over the years I've heard the voices of all nine styles. I don't think I'm crazy. Quite the opposite. Caroline Myss (Spiritual Madness: The Journey of the Modern Mystic Through the Dark Night of the Soul) said we invite spiritual madness whenever we say "I want to see clearly." 

I've come to view the nine points as representing passions with which we all struggle, though a stronger dynamic exists for the personality fixed at that point. And I've been in and out of the abyss as if batted around the Enneagram, experiencing the dark night of the soul from the perspective of all nine styles, particularly the Four, the Five, the Seven, and my own, the Nine. This has given me more empathy for the varieties of distress each style must encounter. And each point has valuable lessons:
One of the ways I've experienced a Four-like anguish is an existential angst, a mourning for all the pain and evil in the world and an attraction to "doing something about it" (e.g., volunteering to take meals to AIDS victims) without actually moving past my emotions and taking action. My own experience reflects that of one of my Four friends: when I'm in this place of mourning I avoid meditation/prayer because of the fear that if I looked for my essential Self "there might be no one home." When I can stay with this fear I remember myself, become more clear about what I value, and act accordingly.
When my sense of desolation takes a Nine tone I feel a deep fatigue; avoiding the energy, focus, meditation/prayer that would be required to discover my true will and purpose. I'm now better able to observe my fear that if I looked, there might be "someone home" and that discovery would require action! Now when I notice myself avoiding engagement (energy, commitment) I stay with the fear, it ceases to control me, and I feel a sense of contentment and even joy. More and more I find myself committing with enthusiasm to people/projects that match my own agenda and values.
During one whole month I experienced a Five-like down time, a retreat into intellectual safety, much reading and analysis, a strong discomfort with sharing my own deep emotions. But I experienced it from afar, observing it to exist more strongly than ever before, but at the same time separate from "me." By the end of that month I easily and generously connected with family, friends, clients and enjoyed those connections freely: sitting in the middle of friendship in a way I'd never experienced. I was not conscious of a plan to work through my feelings, but I did commit myself to staying centered and enduring the "madness." As Myss pointed out, my answer didn't come in a letter! It came in the changes I saw in myself after I returned.

My Seven-ish spiritual madness, when it shows, is more a manic state of avoiding deep work, a sense of unbearable pain and fear of confinement -- a fear that if I get down in there I won't like it and I'll never be able to find my way out. Because it is so dread-full, I bring myself out of it quickly. But the learning from this shadow work is fantastic. This is where I hear the voices of addiction yet being separate from them. For example, I've become able to hear the ego aspect that says, Wouldn't it be fun to stop writing and go out for a chocolate sundae; then you'll feel so much better. Or, Wouldn't it be fun, instead of going home and working on that project, to stop by this department store and see what's on sale? When I can sit with the feelings and ask myself, What do I really want? the answer is always some version of a journey to the Soul.
I still sometimes fall deep into sorrow. But as Clarence Thomson said to me, "I'm amazed at the intuitive intelligence of some of my Nine friends. Our culture doesn't always support this kind of intelligence, even when, and especially when, it's hard to put into words." Well, I have learned to trust the sorrow is sacred and my intuitive intelligence, my gut sense, my Essential Self will guide me in the process of self-remembering, my spiritual unfolding.   

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Gathering of Flowers

In the foreword to Healers on Healing, Dr. W. Brugh Joy tells us the word anthology means "a gathering of flowers." 
Editors Richard Carlson and Benjamin Shield gathered these essays to affirm alternative approaches to healing, asking teachers from various perspectives to help define the golden thread that unites all healing methods.

Below are some representative insights:
Rachel Naomi Remen created The Healer's Art, an innovative curriculum for medical students on reintegrating the heart and soul into contemporary medicine and restoring its integrity as a calling and a work of healing. She's a model of the Wounded Healer archetype, describing the two people in a healing relationship as peers, both wounded and both with healing capacity. "I don't believe one person heals another. I believe we invite the other person into a healing relationship. You may feel lost, frightened, trapped. My woundedness allows me to find you and be with you in a way that's nonjudgmental."
Richard Moss has taught about conscious relationship for more than thirty years. "When I was a traditional physician," he wrote, "I was content to regard healing as the restoration of health. But today I know healing is far more than a return to a former condition. True healing means drawing the circle of our being larger and becoming more inclusive, more capable of loving. In this sense, healing is not for the sick alone, but for all humankind." Describing healing as "a mystery," he continues: "In the end, healing must be a ceaseless process of relationship and rediscovery, moment by moment. The more we 'know' about healing, the more we are simultaneously carried toward something unknowable. For this reason all healing is in essence spiritual."

Joan Borysenko, psychologist and Harvard Medical School trained cell biologist, says healing is the rediscovery of who we are and who we've always been. "The message that underlies healing is simple yet radical: We are already whole... Underneath our fears and worries, unaffected by the many layers of our conditioning and actions, is a peaceful core. The work of healing is peeling away the barriers of fear that keep us unaware of our true nature of love, peace, and rich interconnection with the web of life."  

Jack Schwartza pioneer in holistic health research and education, saw disease as a stagnant state where we hold back energy that can be released when we align ourselves with the process of transformation. The disease label creates "an attitude that constricts our life energy's flow, as if an enemy is attacking us from outside." He asked that healers be mapmakers or guides who walk alongside clients, showing them how to overcome the fear of change and release their own power.  

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, noted worldwide for her work in death, dying, and transition, believed people who are ill are often blocked by guilt, shame, or ambivalence. Once we learn to love and trust ourselves the spiritual dimension begins to open up and we're ready for healing. She also believed healing occurs at more than an individual level because each of us is "connected through a vast network of relationships to innumerable other people and creatures on the planet."  

Hugh Prather, crisis therapist, columnist, and minister, believed it's a mistaken assumption that healing necessarily means a physical improvement and it's not up to us to prejudge the form of healing for a given person. Nor is it helpful to judge ourselves or others for being ill. "The pronouncement that cancer is caused by an inability to love, or that colds are signs of lack of joy, or that AIDS is the manifestation of sinful-mindedness would not be made in the first place if we had not already judged illness as wrong."

Saturday, February 7, 2015

An Interpretation of the Meaning of "Crisis"

Years ago my  tai chi teacher said these Chinese characters represent Crisis, the top character a symbol for Danger, the bottom character a symbol for Opportunity

Countering this interpretation as "inaccurate pseudo-profundity" is Victor H. Mair, Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Adhering to what he describes as a realistic approach, Mair is concerned that "Adopting a feel-good attitude toward adversity... "lulls people into welcoming crises as unstable situations from which they can benefit."  

But Mair's rational approach is only one part of the human equation. Growing emotionally and spiritually from crisis is not the same as a "feel-good attitude" and certainly doesn't mean we should welcome traumatic circumstances. But difficult or life-threatening situations do provide an opening for growth.
Many people I've coached who've undergone bankruptcy, cancer, or divorce have said, though temporarily debilitating and fraught with fear and pain, the events stopped the treadmill they were on and forced them to look at what really matters in a relatively short lifetime.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Dark Night of the Soul

"The Abyss was the place of transformation for the mystics. In its depths shone the illumination of the 'divine dark,' where divinity revealed itself. Dionysius the Areopagite even speaks of God as the 'Divine Darkness' and sees darkness as the secret dwelling place of God.

Dark Night of the Soul
"Another of the great mystics, St. John of the Cross, speaks of the 'secret stair' by which one descends in the dark night to meet the Beloved the way the soul journeys into union with God. But prior to that union of ecstatic rapture with the Beloved comes the Dark Night of the Soul, that painful period of privation when one feels imprisoned in The Abyss...

"Evelyn Underhill, in her classic study of mysticism, describes this as follows:
Psychologically, then, the 'Dark Night of the Soul' is due to the double fact of the exhaustion of an old state, and the growth toward a new state of consciousness. It is a 'growing pain' in the organic process of the self's attainment of the Absolute. The great mystics, creative geniuses in the realm of character, have known instinctively how to turn these psychic disturbances to spiritual profit...
For the great mystics, such periods of chaos and misery often lasted months or even years before the new and higher state of spirituality is reached; often the dark side is experienced before the possibility of the new is apprehended... Heroism is required to endure and not succumb to the danger and the pain. The mystical journey is neither rational nor linear.
Linda Schierse Leonard, "The Dark Night of the Soul,"
Chapter 7 in Sacred Sorrows, pp. 51-52

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Eating the "I"
I love the phrase, Eating the "I." We're constantly eating ego, constantly chewing on, "How does it show up?" I'm much better able to do this than I used to be. I can't always get out of the grip, but I usually ask, O.K., what's my ego doing? What defenses are up? And I'm better at loving myself regardless of what I observe.

Most people interacting with me probably find me much the same as I've always been. The difference is in what happens internally when my patterns come up. I sort for understanding differently. I experience myself differently. I'm more open to my foibles. I'm much more forgiving of myself.

This was brought home to me when talking to a friend with Enneagram style Four who said, "The same old stuff comes up again, and I hate seeing it time after time after time."

These patterns may show up forever. You have to love yourself anyway.

Your old habits won't react as automatically, you'll judge yourself less and less harshly, the struggles won't be as difficult, and you'll be less hooked most of the time. But, for as long as you live, your worldview will still have some influence over your reactions. 

All my resistances, of course, are true to my Enneagram Nine style – to "forget" myself until I was in my thirties, to see myself as my idealized image of "the good girl." In particular, I've become aware of how distractibility can keep me from my own focus. The most important and visible manifestation of my dawning awareness has been to find my own voice and follow it without distraction.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

When I Wish, I Blow Bubbles...

In Wishing Well Paul Pearsall drew upon the Hawaiian kahuna (shaman) tradition – that we can wish "well" or "poorly." Sometimes we want a specific outcome so much we find it difficult to surrender to the larger healing.
"Wishing is the enemy of the positive thinker who prides herself on being so strong-willed that there is little need for mysticism or the equanimity of wishing. Wishing is much too passive, gentle, and humble for the needy and power-motivated brain. So in wishing well we let go of needing to be in control, of expecting a specific outcome. We focus on serenity, delight, purpose, meaning, and compassion vs. 'trying' to heal a certain part of the body in a certain way. It involves a kind of easy flow with the cosmos."
This quality is conveyed by one person who said, 'When I wish, I blow bubbles...'" 
Relax, be patient, wish from the heart (vs. the mind), connect lovingly, allow surrender of the self.