What Comparing Yourself to Others Says About You

 

I’m sitting down to write about the tendency of comparing ourselves to others and then entering utter despair, but I just don’t feel like it. Actually I don’t feel like doing anything at all. But I’ve come all the way to a café so I am forcing myself in front of my laptop.  

I’ll just read my email first. I open a newsletter from a thoughtful friend and fall immediately into compare and despair. So now I’m here, actually writing about it and feeling how important it is to get to the root of it when we start telling ourselves how much better everyone else is. I hear this all the time in my practice, and in between my own ears.

 When compare and despair sets in I feel a heaviness. My cheekbones sink and my shoulders slouch. I hear some version of, “I’ll never have what they have because I’m not __________ enough”.  Overall it is a sense of loneliness and inadequacy and it is disempowering and saddening.  

While I think compare and despair has probably popped up in humans for a long time, it seems particularly virulent today, likely because of the highlight reel nature of social media. People post their beautiful experiences and moments of insight. We don’t see too much of the struggle of their lives. But sometimes we do and even those posts can cause compare and despair! “They’re so much more vulnerable than me,” or what have you.

 Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Compare and despair is exacerbated by social media, but the real reason it is so present in our lives is the abandonment of our longings.  Longing is a strange thing to make space for in a world that tells us to always seek for pleasure and to instantly gratify all desires. But not embracing our deeper longings has terrible consequences.

Longings are not only beautiful, but also necessary to human development. They show us where our growth edge is, what we are being called into, the mysterious visions of our soul. What we long for speaks volumes about us, our humanity, and what we bring to this world.

 Notice when compare and despair shows up - what is it that makes this person seem so wonderful? Maybe they get a lot of likes and so it seems they must feel really supported and valued in the world. Feeling supported and valued is a human need.

Longing for those feelings is a testament to your worth and humanity – you deserve to be supported and valued.  Longing for support and feelings of worthiness might inspire you to build deeper relationships and cultivate community, or to articulate the types of support that are important to you, or to define for yourself what you see as worthy.

These are all beautiful avenues of discovery, all fueled by your longing that was revealed to you through another. Sadly, we tend to just keep scrolling instead of connecting with what it is we deeply long for.

 Photo by  Milan Popovic  on  Unsplash

 A life without longing would be boring. What we long for is what drives our work in the world, the relationships we build, and how we grow.  It’s why we decide to make less money so we can pursue art. Why we decide to work for racial justice in a rich white town. Why we make plans with friends even though our tendency is to stay at home all the time. It is how our lives are shaped by our deepest desires.

It is our longing that fuels us, that shapes us, that readies us for change. Living with longing is challenging, but it is a sign of our willingness to be transformed and a testament of our desire to grow. 

 

Here’s a step by step guide for transforming compare & despair into an honoring of what you most long for.


 

What Happens to the Salmon

 

"What happens to the salmon happens to us."

Winnemem Wintu Chief Calleen Sisk's words have been ringing in my heart for months. The beauty of that - to be so inextricably tied to a being, and to honor and celebrate that connection. Even just hearing her say it.

"What happens to the salmon happens to us."

The motto washes through my body as water breaking down a dam – powerful, exhilarating, momentous. Bringing fierce hope and sonorous grief at once. The phrase resonates with the truth I hold in my soul – that the relationships we maintain with Earth through our bodies are the root of duty, justice, love, joy, and belonging.

 Photo by  Drew Farwell  on  Unsplash

Photo by Drew Farwell on Unsplash

Of course we are all inextricably bound with Earth. But as an approach to life, the mindset is hard to come by today, and nearly impossible to fully embody. Our economy, our culture, is built upon the certainty that someone suffers for you to gain. It is no surprise that life and justice fall away when we do not bow to our benefactors, and worse yet when we forget their names.

Remembering their names, their true names, doesn’t happen by reading, or memorizing Latin binomials. It may not even include reaching their geographical location. The map that charts how to build life-honoring relationship with Earth courses through our tissues and is drawn with imaginative power.

 Photo by  Louis Maniquet  on  Unsplash

At a workshop recently the instructor invited the participants to share our names and what watershed we lived within. Many, myself included, had no idea. The same goes for most folks when it comes to the original people of the land they inhabit, the names or growth patterns of food plants, and the lifecycles of the animals they consume. This bewilderment is even more pronounced when it comes to the beings who do not bear our direct dependence or engage our sense of entertainment.

As we disengage from what sustains us and build buildings over ecosystems, we enfeeble our capacities of sensing. At one time people could, and exceptional contemporary trackers still do, detect the faintest sign of an animal passing - a bent blade of grass, a far off musk, a feeling, in the body, of the truth.  Cultures could see characters in the constellations so vividly as to dream entire mythologies from their outlines. Some people could even hear the stars singing. Today most don’t even notice the moon rise and set.  This is an abandonment of our humanness, an unplugging from our unparalleled gift – that of awareness.

 Photo by  Nathan Anderson  on  Unsplash

Another of our uniquely human capacities is the ability to imaginatively inhabit the lives of others. Our development relied on this skill. To learn to hunt, we imagined ourselves as wolf, coyote, mountain lion. We entered the mind and fear of duck, dear, rabbit. We honored those beings with our deep and focused attention, and this attention engendered cultural inventions that revered the more-than-human world, and humbled us before it. Those cultural inventions have been raped, assimilated, or wrenched out of land-based people over the course of history, with most folks having no memory of those life-sustaining ways. As Robin Wall Kimmerer puts it

For many, any sense of emotional or spiritual connection with a landscape has been lost, without even knowing what is missing. We feel ourselves on the outside looking in, at a vibrant web of reciprocal exchanges from which we have excluded ourselves and called it progress.
— Robin Wall Kimmerer

Indeed, the position of separation from, and the disregard of other beings, is necessary for the development of an industrial growth society. If we can imagine what it might be like to smell water, asking the unmistakable aroma of home to diffuse in our blood. If we can imagine turning instinctively toward that knowing, heading upstream. If we can feel our determined body navigating to our distinctive place, swimming through waves of nausea as our scales slough off on the rocks. If we can rejoice in spawning and the gift of our death. If we can know in our bones what it is to be salmon, if we can experience the epic and arduous journey, it is not so easy to enslave them, alter their life ways, or fish them to near extinction. Indeed it is hard to withhold elaborate celebrations on their behalf.

 Photo by  Diana Simumpande  on  Unsplash

I’m in disbelief even as I write this. Embodying a fish?!

I was as surprised as any of you would be when I felt salmon swimming in my blood. My ancestors weren’t salmon people, at least not of my knowing. And when it happened I was in the desert for goodness sake! But there was a river.

I hoisted myself between two boulders, drew a deep breath, and plunged headfirst upstream. The river was only knee deep, but the force incredible!  Lacking gills, I broke the surface to breathe, then plunged again. And again. And again. My arms ached from holding me in place. Just from holding me in place! And my belly ached, from the deep, soulful laughter.

Two nights before I had danced as the salmon, but possessed rather than pretending. Racing heart, determined, I swam round and round the circle, running, countering the force of the ocean. Drums beating, rattles rattling, the hooting of humans inhabited by who knows who – the trance dance, an ancient invitation to Mystery. I imagine there were other dancers but I felt alone, one thought only – home. By the time I made it, my throat tingling warning of vomit, I collapsed, ragged, empty, dead, returned at last to my spawning ground.

These experiences lead me to believe that it may be more than a simple allegiance between the Winnemem and the salmon, rather a visceral inseparability. They say, “We are born from the water, we are of the water.”

 Photo by  Jon Flobrant  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

Our capacity to experience life as others and to witness the wonder of others is the basis of our moral development and our integrity as a member of the democracy of species. When we forget the true nature, the splendor, and the generosity of other beings, when we forget how that feels in our own bodies, sea lice infestation among farmed salmon is unavoidable and annoying, rather than a symptom of our betrayal of the world.

Unspeakable things become commonplace – pipelines through water, malls built on burial grounds. We forget that Earth is our larger body, not our servant or trash pile. With the state of global ecosystems at the hands of people, it is not hard to see that also, what happens to humans happens to salmon. As of now the trend is toward domestication, destruction, and insularity. We’ve strayed from our wild sensory humanness and hold other beings captive, isolating them from their true nature. Together we suffer.

 Photo by  Ramin Khatibi  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ramin Khatibi on Unsplash

The rites and dances performed for the salmon, for the rain, used to be widespread, and it was believed those ceremonies were instrumental in the bringing of water, of abundant harvest. Earth-based ceremony and ritual kept us tied to the cycle of life, to the witnessing and celebrating of other beings on whom we rely. Colonialism dismissed those notions as pagan fantasy.

As California winters go by dry, plastic grows faster than fish in the ocean, and land falls into the sea, it is becoming increasingly clear that those rituals were not just wishful thinking. A deep relationship with the beings on whom our lives are built is crucial to the survival and health of people and planet. The more-than-human world needs us to show up in our whole humanness. We must remember the pathways to connection and reciprocity; we must reignite our capacity for sensing and imagining. We must remember how to smell the water.

That we’ve forgotten, with most having forgotten that we’ve forgotten, is a great wound of colonialism. It has created a world in which we feel alone, in which we are stranded from the animal, from the landscape, that makes up our identity and needs us to survive. Which humans needed the passenger pigeon and now languish, dead inside, soul journey extinct? How are the chaparral people living, while the wild bushes breathe without their human hearts?

Colonialism’s wounds are still fresh in (and continue to be inflicted upon) the lives of native peoples, whose stories and ways of being survive, no matter how tarnished. I am so grateful that they remember, and for their fearless defense of Earth throughout time.

Most settlers have totally forgotten that somewhere on this planet there is a being that needs them, on whom they depend, that swims through their blood, or slinks under their skin. In a time when a single life may traverse continents, when ties to a specific plot of land is so rare and so privileged, I’m imagining, perhaps, a metaphorical being, a relationship with whom this wound of separation between our creative sensual selves and Earth can be healed. Or maybe it is the songbird in your backyard, or the wheat plant. May the relationships build a future where our bones speak, saying, “what happens to the salmon happens to us.”

 Photo by  Bruno Perrin  on  Unsplash

Photo by Bruno Perrin on Unsplash

There is a wild river somewhere smelling of home for each of us. We won’t remember the scent unless we look deep within ourselves and out through our imaginative animal senses, until we listen to the salmon and welcome them back to our bodies.

To join the movement to welcome the salmon home, contribute to Run 4 Salmon, the campaign organized by Chief Sisk and the Winnemem Wintu tribe of the McCloud River watershed.

 

Coaching for a Just & Sustainable Future

 

The reason I became a life coach is because of the disorienting, disturbing, and demanding idea that my contribution is desperately needed. Somehow, I need to make a positive impact in the world in a way that is an expression of my unique gifts. This, of course, is the purpose of every human being in a healthy society. Given that we do not live in a healthy society, it is even more imperative that some folks are able to mature fully in a way that allows this.

 Photo by Photo by  Jazmin Quaynor  on  Unsplash

Photo by Photo by Jazmin Quaynor on Unsplash

Personal development and activism are often considered separate arenas. Folks like Layla Saad, adrienne maree brown, Chani Nicholas, and Joanna Macy are helping me realize that they must be one pursuit if we are to create lasting, transformative, just, and ecological futures.

Self-help that promotes positive thinking as an escape from racist trauma only helps maintain a world in which white people stay comfortable in their bubble of privilege while people of color continue to suffer. Activism that runs on urgency and growth, operating from the top down, recreates a power structure and work that denies natural limits. As adrienne maree brown says, “we have to actually do everything differently”.

 Photo by  LUM3N  on  Unsplash

Photo by LUM3N on Unsplash

Something I’m doing differently these days is being white. I mean I’ve always been white. But like most white Americans, I didn’t think about it too much beyond checking the box on applications. Given that this country was set up to benefit and serve white people, we are given default status across the board, hiding that whiteness is a race, too.  

White invisibility doesn’t hold for long if you live in Oakland, CA. So I’ve been learning more about white privilege, about the history of whiteness and how it works in the world, and how I might show up as a white person in a way that doesn’t perpetuate systems of privilege and oppression, both in my day-to-day life as well as in my coaching.

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One thing is for certain – I do not have it all figured out. This is a steep learning curve, one through which the story of my life, and my identities are being challenged. How delicious! albeit at times uncomfortable. This is truly how we grow as people.

If we are able to fully step into conversations – with people, issues, the Earth, our ideas and sense of selves are always being challenged.  When we participate in a conversation that shakes us, or rather, when we allow the conversational nature of reality to shake us, troubling times of introspection ensue, after which we emerge as a new version of ourselves that is better able to meet the world. We have to say yes to this if we want to grow and we have to say yes to this if we want to build an equitable future for all creatures.

 Photo by  Yoal Desurmont  on  Unsplash

Because of the growth and softening that results, and because it is the only way to fully honor the human experience, I advocate showing up for our “negative” emotions.  Some of the emotions that have come up for me as I’ve dived into this are – grief, guilt, self-loathing, fear and sadness.  

The one that has hit me the hardest is sadness and remorse that I am only now truly waking up to this. That is the power of white privilege – we can go on our merry ways, even be “good” people. It is deeply troubling to wake up one day, realizing that simply existing as a white person causes oppression, much like simply living in the industrial world causes environmental destruction.

I imagine BIPOC (Black, Indigenous or people of color) reading this can only extend their compassion to me so far – the grief of my wasted time is but a blink in the expanse of centuries of grief from lost homes, separated families, police brutality, institutional discrimination, and bigotry. And that realization only deepens the sadness and remorse I experience – emotions that are long overdue for us whites benefitting from a system that causes great harm. For me, that sadness is morphing into a deep longing to participate in antiracism and liberation.

 Photo by  Yoal Desurmont  on  Unsplash

If we want to create a world without oppression and environmental destruction we have to confront these crises both out in the world and within our consciousness and sense of self. Our personal growth cannot be divorced from the growth of our movements. If you are wondering how I’m going to integrate that philosophy into my coaching, you are asking the same question that is directing my life right now.

Here’s what I’ve been doing to learn more about whiteness. This is not a step-by-step guide or comprehensive list (obviously). I am very much still learning and am not an expert on antiracism. I'm just sharing where I'm at that it might be a launching point for you too.

Seeing White
This podcast series unpacks the history of whiteness, how and why it was created, and the ways it has been deployed to establish and perpetuate systems of power. It is moving, accessible, and imperative. If you have no idea what I'm talking about in this post, listen to this series!
http://www.sceneonradio.org/seeing-white/

You & White Supremacy
Writer, speaker & mystic Laylaa Saad has an incredible Instagram community where white people can learn and reflect on the ways racist systems benefit them and how they are complicit. Her You & White Supremacy challenge, going on right now, is a great way to dive in and has fueled powerful introspection for me.
https://www.instagram.com/wildmysticwoman/

Social Media
Follow lots of people of color on social media. What are the approaches of organizations led by POC? What is important to them and what challenges do they describe? How do different individuals talk about racism and whiteness? Listen and learn from these folks. Truly listen.

Instead of reading their posts with a critical eye, approach them with the recognition that you stand to learn a lot. Operate from the position that what they say is true. DO NOT JUMP IN. Do not share your opinion or experiences unless explicitly asked. If you feel defensive, just notice that and use it as an invitation for introspection rather than sharing.

An emotion I've felt strongly in response to following POC on social media is hope. The creativity, resilience, and heart that POC bring to this world despite incredible challenge is inspiring and beautiful. 

SURJ
Showing Up for Racial Justice is an outstanding group of white folks that offers fundraising, outreach, and support to POC-lead organizations and projects. They have a study group to learn about racial injustice, and many platforms to participate. SURJ is a national organization with many local chapters.
https://www.surjbayarea.org/

 

Leaning In To Transition

 

Periods of transition are incredibly hard. We get stuck in the tight space between knowing, without a doubt, that we must move on, and the weight of having no idea what the future holds. 

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It makes me think of when Adam encountered the burning bush. God spoke to him. The bush was on fire, but remained alive and green. That’s some crazy shit! You can’t just walk your sheep back to base camp and pretend that didn’t happen! There was no question - he couldn't go on living in the desert with his family as before. And yet, he was terrified and confused, pushed off the cliff edge of knowing into the mysterious abyss of his calling.

Most of the time we don’t receive a directive from God telling us to go to a specific place to preform a specific duty. We have to chart that course. Looking back on it, it is remarkable. But in the moment as it unfolds, it feels like you are the burning bush. And we tend to put ourselves through several flavors of hell while imprisoned to that narrow corridor between leaving behind the life that isn’t ours to live and forging the one that is.

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Since this space is so uncomfortable, it is easy to jump right into wishing we were someone else, the age-old practice of compare and despair. “If I had done this program at this time I’d have friends like this person and be collaborating on projects like that!,” which happens to be my current compare and despair mantra. Or the popular, “Wow this person is my age and has already figured out how to do what they love and make a living!” This string of consciousness quickly devolves into “What am I doing with my life?”.

Certainly, reviewing your life and direction is meaningful if you truly do not know what you are doing with your life. A breakdown like that can be a wonderful invitation into the mysteries of nature and psyche and the uncovering of soul’s calling.

But often, we are charting a purposeful direction, but haven’t arrived yet and wish we had. Problem is, the one life that is ours to live can only be reached through the claustrophobic and liminal hallway of transition, likely several.

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Our compare and despair not only makes matters worse psychologically, but effectively removes us from that singular, unique hallway, the place that we must inhabit, and out onto a playing field on which we are not captain. It is an escape from our actual situation, which is uncertainty. In some twisted way, it is better in our minds to be worse than another, than to simply not know the outcome.    

However, there is a facet of ourselves that handles uncertainty like singing in the shower, that isn’t attached to outcome whatsoever, and is willing to live precisely in the present moment. This aspect of ourselves might rise above that cramped passageway, but only to show us the larger, mythical, and universal aspects of our journey. This facet of ourselves has the perspective that this hallway is the exact right place to be, no matter how unnerving.

Here’s how you might channel that facet of yourself:

•    Make a little fun of your situation. I usually get pretty dramatic in that hallway. Some humor can help lighten up the scenario.

•    Envision yourself as an eagle and fly up to a peak high above your life. Looking down from this wider perspective, what do you see? What is the larger picture of your unfolding life?

•    Maybe you can use this wider perspective to tell the story of your life and where you are now with a mythical approach.

•    Hang out with blue vervain. This plant is an incredible ally for moments when we feel we should be more than we are. Its capacity to shift our consciousness out of the ordinary and into the realm of the sacred, allows us to touch in with the knowing that there is a larger story at play.

Wild Mind Elixir
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 Stunning blue vervain, an essential ingredient in my Wild Mind elixir, and an indispensable ally navigating the pressures of self-imposed expectation. Welcome relaxation, receptivity & presence with this divine consciousness shifting elixir. This herbal remedy was crafted with intention to channel freedom, ease & openness with blue lotus, blue vervain, mugwort & lavender.  Read more...

Stunning blue vervain, an essential ingredient in my Wild Mind elixir, and an indispensable ally navigating the pressures of self-imposed expectation. Welcome relaxation, receptivity & presence with this divine consciousness shifting elixir. This herbal remedy was crafted with intention to channel freedom, ease & openness with blue lotus, blue vervain, mugwort & lavender. Read more...

 

Overwhelm as a Gateway

 

Let’s be serious. If you are living in the world today and never feel overwhelmed you are probably psychologically unwell or a guru.

Of course there are beautiful moments when we feel we are a part of something special, when we know in our hearts things are changing, or feel in our bones a connection with Earth. These are the gifts of the great turning, the peaks.

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But the valleys of business as usual are deep, and social and mainstream media dig into familiar ruts, bombarding us with tweets from our abysmal president, photos of emaciated polar bears, news of another innocent black police killing.  If we watch sad story after sad story scroll by, or replay the sad components of our lives in our minds, feelings of overwhelm, disempowerment, and depression are not far behind.

It is so easy in those moments to turn on the television, crack open a beer, or find cute cat pictures. Of course there is time for all of those things in our varied and exciting lives! But changing the subject doesn’t get us anywhere with the overwhelm, it just reschedules it for another day. 

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For me, feeling overwhelmed is one of the worst emotions, the one I’m most likely to try to avoid. But just like anger or grief, avoiding overwhelm is a recipe for more of the same only worse, moving away from your experience and your true self, and never feeling much better. All emotions are gateways to knowing yourself better, seeing the world with new eyes, and to opening our full capacities as whole humans. If we can welcome overwhelm, something beautiful can emerge.

I think of it like Rumi’s poem The Guest House.

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There is a lot of messaging in our culture about good emotions and bad emotions. Happiness, joy, sexiness, confidence, are all good things to feel. Sadness, despair and loneliness are bad. No question that feeling sexy has more positive sensations than despair. But life isn’t about being happy. Life is about feeling so deeply that we are changed.

Never feeling sadness or despair is not only impossible, it’s not human. Feeling overwhelmed is as much a part of humanness as is joy. When we deny the “bad” emotions, we are saying “no” to an aspect of ourselves. We are telling ourselves, “feeling this way is not okay” or  “you shouldn’t feel this way,” when it is the most natural thing in the world.

Actually, a congratulations is more in order. Lots of things aren’t going well, but you are present enough to be a witness to the world. The overwhelm means that what you’ve been witnessing has had an effect on you. You know totally and completely that something is wrong. Lots of folks today have no idea, are still invested in business as usual. But you are in touch with your humanness such that you know. This is incredibly healthy and powerful!

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We might also revel in the wonder that we can be overwhelmed at all! We have a uniquely human capacity to see the larger picture and be sad for it. No other creature sees how the whole Earth is interconnected in one magnificent ecosystem. No other being can see how the plights of peoples on opposite ends of the globe are related. It is our responsibility to feel on this planetary level. No one else can.

And no other human feels it exactly as you do. The intricacies of your overwhelm speak of your unique vulnerabilities, the place where the world touches you. Overwhelm is an opportunity to access the parts of us that are most distressed with the times, in other words, most fully in love with beauty, justice, and ecological sanity. It is from this most vulnerable and most devoted place that we become agents of change. If we are able to accompany ourselves through our overwhelm, we can explore those tender facets of ourselves. Those facets have a lot to say about who we are and where to go from here.

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When we reach the point when we’ve witnessed too much and haven’t allowed the emotions in, they pile on until we break down, overwhelmed. Overwhelm is a message that says, “you love the world too much to see this and not feel it”.

So let it in – feel the emotion of being overwhelmed, let it wash over you. Sit with it quietly alone. Or maybe you want to yell or cry - go with it. Awaken your compassion and comfort yourself. Not reassurance that everything will be okay, but reassurance that you are feeling what you are feeling.

If a child felt overwhelmed you wouldn’t try to talk her out of it. You might say to her, “Wow, I hear you are feeling overwhelmed. There is a lot of upsetting stuff going on. It can be really overwhelming.” You could give yourself some affectionate pats and say, perhaps out loud, “This is an overwhelming time.” And just give yourself the space to feel that emotion, to sit with yourself as you feel it. We need our emotions to be felt and validated.

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At this point, you might go deeper into it and ask – what is the heart of the matter here? And lean into that feeling. Maybe underneath everything that feels overwhelming is the sense of utter lack of reciprocity with Earth in mainstream culture. Feel the sadness of that, the grief. Feel the longing of relationship with Earth in your own life, and for humankind. Feel the hurt of the beings who suffer because of this abandonment.

Or maybe what really stings underneath it all is the inequity of our civilization. Lament for the people whose lives have been dictated by the school to prison pipeline, for our culture that is suffering without their wondrous contributions. Whatever it is that is at the heart of your overwhelm in this moment, meet yourself there. Meet the total sadness of it, or the terrible heartache.

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It is helpful to do this work out in nature or with others. Earth can hold such big feelings. Find a place on the land that reminds you of what it is at the heart of your overwhelm, or perhaps a place where you feel totally held and supported.

Sit there and take the place in – open yourself to the possibility that it has something to share, or some way to comfort you in this moment. Tell the land what is troubling you, give the Earth your tears. Speak out loud all the ways this hurt is touching you. Then take some time to listen. Listen to the wild ones around you and to your own body. And be a witness to how these feelings move through you, and are received by or mirrored in nature.

This is a simple recommendation. It is kind of hilarious actually. You tell me you’re overwhelmed and the remedy I’ve proposed is an invitation to feel overwhelmed!

But this process changes you. It makes you more human. It makes you more yourself. It helps you realize what is really important. And it sends an essential message to yourself, “It is okay to feel however I feel”. “When I feel something, I’m invited to really feel it”. “I have the strength and compassion to meet myself where I am”.

Where you are is your unique place in the world. Feeling overwhelmed can be the gateway for sharing this unique place. Perhaps the center of your overwhelm cracks you open wide and breaks your heart. Heartbreak is one of the most transformative things we can endure, if we are willing to show up for it. The world doesn’t change because you truly allowed yourself to feel, the world changes because you are now a different person birthed from that allowance.

Interested in how you can work with your most feared emotions to shed light on your unique gifts?

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The Lost Language of Magnolia

 
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More than one hundred million years before the birth of the first human ancestor.  Long, long before Pier Magnol, in a time before bees were even being, trees we now call magnolia began their lives on Earth. Their spiraled flower parts and primordial petals setting them apart from their fellow angiosperms, and forever marking them as ancient forbear of dogwood, plum, and crampbark, oak, birch, and lemon.

I envisage dinosaurs anticipating the bloom and feasting on its ephemeral flowers. A pack of stegosaurus, sensing with the secret knowing we all possess, that some miles away, fuzzy buds are filling. As they travel, pointed petals part those wooly cheeks and slowly reveal their fragrant throats.

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Used as medicine by humans for thousands of years to calm the spirit and uplift the mood, it is not a long hypothesis that the flowers could have a similar effect on other animals. And what of the streams upon which they float, as the blossoms give way to fruit?

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I can’t speak for the water, but I do know how it feels to have petals strewn across me, scattered by spring winds. Learning from a squirrel, I know the aromatic crisp sponge of the petals on my tongue. Imagine a time when humans knew, instinctually and by learning from others, what was good to eat, which flowers blessed a new born, which tree to be buried beneath. For most of human history, this was our experience, the language of the living land coursing through us.

This shared language was proof of our divine connection with all of creation. Without it, we are lonesome. Having forgotten the secret inexplicable knowing that weaves us into the web of life, we are estranged. Humans who feel unloved by the world behave without compassion, without reciprocity, without humility. If we allow ourselves to feel this terrible sadness, if we let the tears come with abandon, we might taste the old words in our mouths.

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If we want to speak magnolia again, and I do, if we want to feel the buds budding, we must listen. Her voice is soft and gentle, her medicine easy to swallow.  There’s not a human who can look upon a tree of blossoms without marveling at the beauty, not one who can pass beneath M. alba without breathing deeply of its perfume.  

If you get close enough, perhaps you’ll experience what I have – the visceral sensation of a blooming heart, effervescent joy spreading over your soft face, a deep belonging pulled up through the bottom of your feet. Watching the Earth change, flower to seed to seedling, 3,000 times longer than humans have lived, it is not so hard to believe that magnolias have joy, compassion, and peace far beyond what we can bring up alone.

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This isn’t some esoteric art form or an excerpt from erotic literature; this is simply the power of human curiosity, and the openness and tenderness with which the world greets us. Nor is it a gift only for ascetics and naturalists; it is a human birthright. It is born through us when we explore the world with awakened senses. I believe our future, yours and mine, and the Earth’s one hundred million years from now, depends on us learning to sense the magnolias preparing to blossom.

This post was inspired by a simple practice of noticing the world around me each day.

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The Soul Behind Earth Axis Within

 

I’ll never forget the first day of life coach training.

I was miserable. Throughout my seeking, I had come to believe that we each have a unique gift to offer, our original medicine, our mythopoetic identity, our purpose for this life. This continues to be a foundational principle for my work. Only at that time, I feared I was the only one left out of this sacred plan. I had no idea what my purpose was.  I didn’t join life coach training to become a life coach, I joined because I needed life training. I was lost.

I had been lost once before, an experience that I had already considered to actually be the greatest gift of my life.

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Everything was peachy. I was a vegetable farmer- digging the hard work of harvest, the tender care of transplanting, and the full belly bounty of the great Earth.

Life was planned. I had a handsome partner who was excited to help me launch my own farm business. Marriage wasn’t far off. I was on my way to the land of milk and honey.  I called my sweetie for a light chat over lunch, a conversation that shockingly, concluded with the end of our relationship.

Suddenly, nothing was true anymore.

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Somehow, I was born with the inclination to slip beneath the still surface on the well of my grief. I didn’t resist it at all, and I discovered something incredible. Well, many things: wells of self-healing, a library of soulful counsel, and the magical powers of plants, the moon.

I learned what it’s like to die, to shed an identity.

I deeply and utterly changed - into a whole-er, more authentic, more loving, more emotional, less analytical version of myself. I wouldn’t trade the pain for the world, in fact the pain, the grief, the questioning, did all the work.

I believe that the bad things that happen to us, as tragic and painful as they are, are not evidence of a terrible world, or even bad luck, they are our affordances.

I now understand my break up to have provided me with a soul encounter, followed by an intense period of trying to manifest the messages I received from within. 

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But then I started to listen to the messages of our culture, and also to my own reeling psyche, which was ready for some form of stability. So when I signed up for life coach training, I was living a predictable life that my soul couldn’t stomach. I had nurtured an incredible transformation in response to a major change, but I didn’t feel that my living was truly honoring the person I had become.

When the instructor called for a volunteer to demonstrate the basic coaching model (Martha Beck’s anyway), I jumped. I told her a version of this story, to which she replied, “So you believe you should know what to do with your life?” Yes! Of course I believed that! Shouldn’t we all?

Well, no. It is highly uncommon in our culture to know this – we don’t cultivate relationships with our souls, we have little patience beyond instant gratification, and we live in a world we feel powerless in.

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Turns out there were lots of good reasons I should not have known what I wanted to do with my life – for instance, I had just started a life coach training program!

I have come to see that deep longing is actually crucial to the process of embodiment I was seeking, and that knowing what to do is actually a journey rather than a destination.

Needless to say, this training changed my life and how I think about my life, and enlivened me to share my story and my capacity to help others live more easeful more beautiful lives.

Ready to bring what had I learned into the world, I longed for another message from my soul and undertook a vision quest with the Animas Valley Institute. Many more posts to come on this wonderful adventure, but a central lesson learned was that purpose, our original medicine, what we were born to offer, are what we walk through, day by day, breath by breath. 

If we have the courage to step towards soul, what unfolds is beyond our wildest imaginations, for fulfillment and for justice. I'm following the trail of my purpose here at Earth Axis Within and I invite you along.

Wishing you transformation,

Signe