We know that our real self shines through when we are in a relaxed, calm state. When we have enough energy and strength to explore the world with curiosity. When we are creative and can focus the mind on designing something new.
It is present, when we feel connected: connected to a person we love, connected to nature, connected to a sense of purpose. It is triggered even through a short encounter with a stranger that is fun and pleasant. The true self is in action when we feel confident about a task we’re doing, or about a skill we have acquired. And it is genuinely compassionate.
Many women (and some men as well) learn to be overly compassionate with others. There is nothing wrong with showing empathy to others, but it is wrong when we forget to be compassionate with ourselves. When we deplete our resources, we disregard our own needs. That is not the true self. That’s another part that needs attention.
When we are in touch with our true self, we stand in our true power. Genuine power is not power over others, but power within oneself. There is no need to dominate others, because we are at peace inside.
It is not hard to find your Inner Self. You don’t have to meditate for 20 years to find it. All that’s needed is a state of calm. It’s not something magical and mystical - although it can have these qualities. It is present when we are not distressed and can simply be.
It may not be there all day long. And that is ok. That’s what being human means. The mind is always in flux, as the Buddhists rightfully teach. There is always movement - sometimes in big ways, and sometimes in small. But there is no permanence. And that also means that we cannot be in our larger self every minute of the day. You will be tired, you will be triggered and you will lose touch with the larger self - temporarily.
And then you can work to get back in touch with it.
WOMEN’S SPIRITUALITY: AWAKENING
Women have much to offer as spiritual teachers: to their children, their families, their communities. But many of us have not quite developed the confidence to know that this is an innate ability and even responsibility of ours, which must be nurtured and passed on.
Many women are trapped in the belief that their voices don’t matter. That their intuition is not valid, or maybe even that it’s not safe to speak up. But we need women’s voices to get through the transition we are currently in on a global scale - in politics, society and redefining what gender identify means today.
To develop spiritually we first must wake up. We must wake up to all the ways we can make a difference. So many of us have learned to hide their true selves - behind roles as mothers and wives or caretakers. Sometimes that means we have to grow up. To leave behind a sense of dependency on a relationship or a job we may not be fulfilled by.
Signs of Awakening, writes Maria Harris in her book “Dance of the Spirit - The Seven Steps of Women’s Spirituality”, are when we stop telling ourselves “Someone will always take care of me”, or “If I please them, they’ll be nice to me”. Waking up and growing up are closely related.
When we awaken we learn to speak our truth. We realize that some relationships will change or fall away because of that. We won’t be able to please everyone any longer, live up to others’ expectations. We learn to trust our own intuition, and our own sense of what’s right and wrong. And that may no longer work with what your husband says, or your pastor, or your own mother. People who take care of us have a certain power over us, and it is up to us to take that power back by taking care of ourselves.
Growing up also means that we have to acknowledge our own imperfections. That each of us has a “shadow” side that we must own and work with. It’s no longer “them” who are to blame for the mistakes and the suffering out there. We have to fess up to how we contribute to the imbalances in the world, and roll up our sleeves to try and rectify them. Only when we are in touch with our own suffering and imperfections can we have true compassion and a sense of agency.
Harris quotes from a novel of Margaret Atwood who wrote: “Above all refuse to be a victim. Unless I can do that, I can do nothing. I have to give up my old belief that I am powerless and because of it nothing I do will ever hurt anyone. A lie which was always more disastrous than the truth would have been. Withdrawing is no longer possible, and the alternative is death.” That sounds dramatic, but there are many small deaths to be died by continuing to give up our own power.
All of this is, of course, incredibly hard to do. We need the support of other women to keep us going. Much of how we think as a society is based on victimization. It’s always someone else who does wrong and is to blame. But Awakening is the most important step on the spiritual path. No one has ever said that Awakening is easy.
Codependency is defined as one partner being dependent on the control and the needs of another, like when a self defeating partner falls for a narcissist. For the codependent person, the needs of the other become paramount, and one’s own needs and desires – sometimes even the whole personality are obliterated.
The primary task of a codependent person is individuation. Becoming one’s own priority. Knowing and realizing one’s desires. Discovering the self. And eventually standing on your own feet within a partnership.
The way a person becomes codependent often goes back to childhood, when a parent or an important family member or a caretaker used the child as an extension of the self and did not allow the child to develop his or her own personality.
The most important job of the child was to attend to the parent’s needs – be it directly by obeying whatever the parent said, or indirectly, by becoming the person the parent wanted us to be: be good, be quiet, be compliant, be like them, be the nurturer, become the better version of the parent and so on.
Parent and child became emotionally fused. There is no independent will the child may pursue. There is only the needs and fears of one person, the all powerful and dominant parent.
Even when the parent outwardly rejects the child, because he or she doesn’t seem to live up to their expectations, the child will still try to gain the approval of the parent and won’t be permitted or able to become an individual.
Children of emotionally fused parents will end up in codependent relationships later in life. Becoming aware of this dynamic is very painful. The first task is to grieve the lost self, and to find the pillars on which one’s own personality rest.
Even if it feels like all energy goes into the needs of other people, there is still a fundamental inner core that represents the true self.
Go back and look at old pictures. Maybe there was an aunt or a grandparent that fostered independence and new ideas in you. Maybe there was a game you played with other kids, or an art project in school that represented your innate sense of yourself.
Maybe you read a certain kind of books, or created your own world inside your mind. What did that look like? What kind of stories did you feel drawn to? What places did you retreat to that gave you peace and joy?
There is a place inside that is indestructible and will expand and flourish if you start paying attention to it. It is never too late to start.
Too many women have learned that the only way to step into a position of influence is to team up with a powerful man. How many of us have had relationships or sought alliances with bosses, coaches and father figures, who seemed to provide us with confidence or an opening into a bigger, more expansive world.
Actresses feeling the need to cozy up to male producers and directors because this is where the power lies, is just one example. The same dynamic has been cultivated - by men and women alike, naively or begrudgingly - in corporations, politics, sports, families and everywhere in between.
Women have stood up to it, and many men have aligned with them.
Not everyone is able to join the marches. But everyone is called to withdraw their energy from upholding outdated patterns, and to redirect your energy towards your own empowerment.
True power is not power over others, but the ability to tap into your own inner resources and strength, and to act from a place of internal coherence and a sense of agency. To calmly and firmly say No to what’s not working for you, and to point out dysfunctional dynamics in an adult manner.
The first task is to become aware how you give away your power: when do you fall back into a state of helplessness, dependency, hostility or feeling bad about yourself? In what situations do you want to resort to beliefs like “I can’t do it”, “I am being abandoned” or “I’m not good enough”? All these misguided beliefs - which are never really true - lead us to give up our own power. To look to others to do it for us, or to hide in a safe place where no one can hurt us.
True power means taking responsibility - for our faults and mistakes, and for showing just how much we are capable of. That doesn’t mean you have to turn into a flaming proponent of women's rights. It simply means to fully step into your own self, without all the “what ifs” and “I can’ts.”
We live in a culture where we quickly point to other people and blame them for what’s wrong. And sometimes rightfully so. But we can’t control what other people do. We can however start to take charge of our own lives. That begins by facing the challenges in our daily lives, even if we may not feel equipped to deal with. It begins by reminding us of our own inner value, and the million ways we are already making a difference.
If all the energy that goes into blaming others or the circumstances would go back into dealing with our own healing and empowerment, we would be much further along as a society.
I have been around the block of the meditation world for a while. I started out with Zen, because it seemed to come closest to a philosophical rather than a religious approach. I checked out mindfulness, insight meditation and Tibetan Buddhism. I've done guided meditations, drumming journeys, breath work, kundalini yoga and pretty much everything in between. But the technique that had the most palpable effect on me is what may be described as "space meditation", and was made popular by the scientist Joe Dispenza.
Dispenza created a mediation sequence that is called the "Blessing of the Energy Centers". It is designed to bring the chakras back into balance, which leads not just to physical but also to emotional coherence. It is designed around imagining your body and energy centers in space, and it is narrated on top of very powerful, trance inducing music.
It is this simple method that brings the brain waves, which are usually out of balance if you live in the modern world, back into balance. When we suffer from anxiety or depression, and negative feelings like anger or guilt dominate the mind, our energy field is incoherent. It can manifest in physical symptoms like chronic tension or pain, fatigue and low energy, and more severe illness.
The body stores all our negative emotions, and becomes energetically imbalanced. Everything is energy - feelings, thoughts, physical movement. When our energy body is in harmony, our emotions are brought back to harmony as well. If you can make this meditation a part of your daily routine, with time you will feel a lot better.
Breath is the source of life. Ancient yogis have built much of their wisdom on how to utilize breathing not just as a spiritual practice, but also a means to enhance physical and emotional well being.
“Take a deep breath” has become a ubiquitous formula to meet many challenges: it’s a popular – and effective – go-to remedy to calm yourself down, to handle the anticipation of bad news or to get ready and take a dive. Breathing techniques are a common tool to contain pain, most frequently in child birth. But what may seem to some like new age advice to avoid more heavy duty solutions is actually based on hard science.
Deep, slow breathing has been proven to increase oxygen flow in the bloodstream, which in turn triggers the relaxation response. What is usually meant is abdominal breathing, where the inhale is focused on the abdominal area rather than the chest and shoulders.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal praised the benefits of deep breathing and its potential benefits for multiple conditions, starting with stress reduction and anxiety, and improving physical conditions like inflammation, high blood pressure, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, heart health and the entire immune system.
Most techniques focus on deep breathing versus shallow breathing. Shallow breathing is usually associated with stress – the fight or flight trigger. Howard Kent, founder of the Yoga for Health organization and author of the book Yoga Made Easy, states that, “One of the most common problems in our society is shallow breathing. The process that we call hyperventilation can be a response to many challenges: emotional, environmental, and physical. As a result of these challenges, there is a tendency to take small breaths — a sign of unease with life — using only a small upper part of the lungs.”
Taking the time to redirect the attention to the automatic and effortless dynamic of the breath is a soothing and easy way to calm yourself in a self directed manner. No experts or pharmaceutical help necessary.
Another set of breathing exercises come via the Huffington Post: The so-called “Taco breath” is good to cool down physically and mentally. You curl your tongue and inhale through your tongue like a straw. Sit with your back, neck and head aligned, feet flat on the ground, and inhale through your tongue. Then swallow the breath while you’re holding onto the breath, and then exhale through your nose, pulling your bellybutton to your spine — a long, slow, deep breath. It’s good to sooth stomach aches.
1. Fess up. Don’t pretend to be a social butterfly. There is nothing wrong with being introverted. Tell your date if you are someone who seeks friendship first or needs time to fall in love. You may scare away a few flakes, and instead attract people who will really appreciate you.
2. Meet at places where you feel confortable. If you don’t like loud bars, don’t go there. Often introverts are also pleasers, and they will do what they think is asked of them even if they suffer. Find a place that makes you feel comfortable: a laid back coffeeshop perhaps, or a park. Take your date out for a walk with your dog. You’ll have an ally who will be there for you whatever happens.
3. Avoid smooth talkers. In a relationship, you need to be heard. If your date won’t allow you to get a word in edgewise, it’s not the right person for you.
4. Look for subtle connections. Sometimes we get so flooded by first impressions and things to look out for, it’s difficult to just feel what it’s like to sit with this person. Do you like being there? Or does it feel crowded, overwhelming, or make you nervous? Make sure you actually enjoy hanging out with your date.
5. Beware of takers. Introverts are often givers. We listen, pay attention, and want to be there for the other. Make sure you get to be on the receiving end of the equation. If you have to ask repeatetly for romantic gestures or to be included, this is what you sign up for down the road.
Becoming a Forest Therapy guide has been a deeply transformative experience for me.
Like most of us, I had gone into the woods only rarely and then rushed through it. I worried if I was getting enough exercise. Would hiking count as a cardio workout, or would it be better to jog? How long would I have to do this?
Looking back, I realize just how alienated I was from nature. And I am still learning. I used to spend a lot of time with computers and phones (ok, I still do, to a lesser degree). I had little regard for how my presence in the forest would affect the animals that live there. And just how intelligent trees and plants really are.
But everything changed, almost instantly, when I began to immerse myself into the woods. Slowly, deliberately and with mindful regard for the beings whose home it is, I began to get to know them.
I ran into a deer a little while ago, almost literally. I was jogging (gingerly) through a patch of urban forest, when I saw a young buck, maybe 30 yards to my left. He just stood there, unfazed by my appearance. I stopped abruptly, mesmerized by the image that presented itself to me: this beautiful, gentle being, who seemed to look at me so trusting, at the end of a tree lined path.
We gazed at each other for what felt like a long time. He waited patiently until I took his picture, and it was me who eventually broke away. I waved at him and when I turned around a second later, he has disappeared.
Had I not been an (imperfect) Vegan already, this encounter probably would have turned me into one.
Forest bathing has even more to offer than connection: trees release chemicals called phytoncides in an effort to strengthen the health and immune system of other trees and plants. When we humans walk among trees, we automatically take in these hormones. The trees take care of all beings that visit, including us. Being in the forest automatically calms anxiety and eases depression.
I’ve noticed these benefits immediately. Symptoms of a mild autoimmune disorder I’ve had for decades and never responded to any kind of conventional treatment, all of a sudden dissipated. Scientific studies point to benefits even for cancer and heart disease patients. Taking one three hour long walk in the woods per week will do.
Another effect it had on me is that I religiously began to compost and recycle. My husband looked at my efforts to bring back food scraps from the restaurant in my own plastic container somewhat astonished. Now he tries to remember as well.
Our culture is dangerously disconnected from the resources we take for granted. We ingest food and water and use energy that is freely taken from the Earth, the plant and animal world, but we have forgotten to honor the givers. That is why the planet is in peril. We take and take without truly considering the costs to those who give.
Change is essential. And it is already happening in many segments of society.
But I don’t think there is a need to totally curse technology or move to the North pole. We can start to make changes in a gentle way.
That is what Forest Therapy is about: to reconnect mindfully and at whatever pace possible. In nature things move slowly, but everything always gets done.
I never really liked Tony Robbins very much. The popular self help guru likes to hear himself talk and promises people the world. That is what I thought maybe ten years ago, when I first encountered some of his shows. Ever since, I didn’t give him a chance to win me over. None at all. Until last week, when a trusted colleague recommended to have a look at this video. If you’ve ever had doubts about your relationship, take eight minutes out of your day and watch it. I promise, it is worth it.
What Robbins does here by means of some impressive wizardry is to make a young man, who is frustrated with his marriage and his wife, step into his parnters’ shoes. He validates his point of view, and then turns the focus around and makes him think about how his wife might feel. Robbins makes optimal use of having a large audience that will side with what he skillfully makes out to be the right way to approach the matter. It’s an educational tale of how relationship works. If you can give to the other what is needed, the world will be at your fingertips. Ironically, that is exactly what I used to criticize about the guy. I guess I’ve changed my perspective somewhat. Years and years of self inquiry will do that for you.
If you’ve watched the first video, you might have seen the one that followed. It’s a clip of Robbins and his wife, Sage, selling people some kind of love & passion DVD. The couple was man and woman enough not to edit a very telling moment at about 2.50 minutes, when they disclose a dynamic that they’ve been struggling with – his hyperactive personality that seems to demand all her time and energy, or as she puts it “me, begging for sleep and food”. They frame the issue around the need for humor – as in, this is what we’ve been struggling with for 12 years, but we’ve learned to make light of it. If this is going down between the two of them as all fun and joy, I’d suspect it’s not always the case. At least it’s not in most relationships.
All couples struggle with one or several core issues that will go away only with time and patience. Most people will struggle with these core issues for years. But if you keep at it and are willing to see your partner’s perspective, you can arrive at a place where you can make fun of it all. That doesn’t mean that all arguments will cease. They may still flare up during a time of stress or hardship. But if you can learn to let go, even the most persistent conflicts can be overcome. And not just in celebrity couples.
Last night was one of those nights again. I woke up in the wee hours of the morning – maybe it was 3am, maybe it was 5am, I don’t know. I felt sad and uncomfortable. Something wasn’t right. What was it this time? Sometimes I wake up at night and I worry that the Earth will stop supporting us. Other times I wake up with sad memories of my cat dying.
Last night I felt concerned about one of the clients in my care who had arrived at an impasse. Was there something I hadn’t done for her? Was she mad about an intervention I had made? Did I not live up to my responsibilities?
I started doing what I learned works best in these situations. I start to comfort that part of me that is afraid. I tell myself that everything will be all right. Like a child on my lap that is inconsolable, I tell myself that it’s ok. That there’s nothing to worry about.
It usually helps. Most of the time, I fall back asleep.
In the past I tried to push away the fears. As soon as I realized that I was anguished, I would repress the fear. No, it’s insubstantial. Nope, I don’t want to think about that. No way is this something I want to deal with right now
It backfired. Every time I dismissed my own fears, they would come back with a vengeance. I kept waking up, having the same concerns. Or I wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep. I felt worn out, tossing from side to side, starved for warmth and attention – from myself.
Until I finally started to realize that I have to actually do what I tell my clients: walk towards the fear. Look at it. Embrace it. Rock it side to side. Don’t repress it. It will get worse.
Millions and millions of people lie awake at night, worrying about their loved ones, about their mortality, about their future. You are not alone. Whenever your mind is in the grip of fear, remember, there are so many people who feel just as alone and scared and bleak as you do right now.
We are all in the same boat. When night falls and morning is about to break, we are at our most vulnerable. We lie alone with our thoughts with no one to talk to, fragile and full of sorrow. But you are not alone. You are a part of the human family. We all are afraid at times. We worry about things that seem meaningless once the sun comes out.
Fear is a part of being alive. It’s the flip side of courage, of heroism and resolve. Without fear, we would be complacent and stagnant. Welcome your fear. It is trying to relay a message that only you can decipher.
Gerti Schoen is a writer and psychotherapist. In her spare time she enjoys learning, being in nature and around animals.