I woke up recently with 1 Corinthians 13 in my mind, likely prompted by a compulsion I feel to compile my writing on love into a little book about love – Embracing Love: An Openhearted Practice. A common reading at weddings, this verse holds a promise and a commitment.
Yet, too often, it is just words. Words read but not taken in, not lived. There is such power in these words that, if they were lived, there might be more compassion and less harm, in us, our relationships and the world around us.
For many, the promises of love fade as life is lived. Too many hardships. Too many hurts. Too much despair. Too much trauma. Grudges held. Forgiveness demanded but not given or offered. Heartbreaks. Grief. We break. Our humanity breaks. We lose our way. We forget.
We forget that love is not sustained through a promise. Love needs to be a practice. Without the practice of love, the promise is meaningless. It feels like love fails, but maybe it is humanity failing love.
In his book, Born a Crime, Trevor Noah says, “Love is a creative act. When you love someone, you create a new world for them.” He was talking about his relationship with his mother. “My mother did that for me and with the progress I made and the things I learned, I came back and created a new world and new understanding for her.”
Imagine if we remembered we are love. Imagine if we emanated that love out to all those in our circles of love and beyond. Imagine if we took these words in – love is patient, love is kind; it does not envy or boast; it does not dishonour others – and brought them alive, let them live in and through us. It would change us. It would change the world around us.
Love would be a bold, courageous, radical, creative act.
Someone in my circles posted yesterday, asking if anyone else was having difficulty finding words to share in these times. The answer was a resounding yes from many of us. Last night, in my deep dream state, these words came to me: hope and despair.
I imagine these words were also relevant in that first Christmas as Mary and Joseph looked for a place to stay, to give birth to the baby Jesus. A side note: the fact that I am not a church goer was obvious when my two oldest were young, whispering to each other in front of the nativity scene, saying, “That baby has a bad name.” So, it is kind of ironic I find myself referencing that first Christmas, but it is 2020.
2020 has been a year with all the feels. Anxiety, depression, grief, guilt, delights, joy, love. Also, at points, the absence of feelings. Nothingness. Like the monochromatic days I wrote about earlier this year. Most of us have discovered we can move through it all. Some days are full of activity and outcomes. Some days, we just manage to get out of bed and have a cup of coffee. Some days, it is enough to know we are lovedand we love, no matter how imperfectly that might be.
While time has disappeared into a vortex and it is already Christmas Eve morning as I write this, we have not disappeared into that vortex. We are still here. While not everyone is still physically here with us, they are in our hearts. They are present whether we know it or not. For me, my father who died in January is a constant presence along with my mother who died in 2012. Regularly in my dreams. Likely inspiring this writing this morning. My father prayed to Mother Mary regularly. His statue of Her still has the unlikely place on a side table in my living room. A tribute to him and his faith in Her. Also possibly what caused me to think about that first Christmas morning as I woke today.
Tomorrow holds a promise. Not just tomorrow Christmas Day, which for some holds as much or more sorrow as joy, but for the many tomorrows that flow out of and through time. The promise we will still be here. The promise we will keep putting one foot in front of the other, literally and metaphorically. The promise that we will find the moments of peace in times of chaos and uncertainty. The promise that 2021 may hold more hope for us individually and collectively. My partner, Jerry, and I look to the coming year with a hopeful eye. We will grow. We will expand. We will rise above and prosper.
That is my 2020 Christmas wish for you – to rise above, to prosper, to hold your loved ones close in your heart if not physically in your hugs, to continue to find your way, to stay hopeful for tomorrow and all the tomorrows that follow. Sending love, peace, joy to each and every one of you, from my family to yours, from my home to yours. Merry Christmas.
I struggled with the Law of Attraction for a long time. I felt the guilt, shame, frustration and self-blame of not doing it right, not consistently enough guarding my thoughts to stay positive and focused on what I wanted, to not get stuck on the intentions but to let them go once created.
I knew it could be done, I just wasn’t good enough at it to do it repeatedly, to improve my financial situation, to create the business of my dreams. I was bound to continue hobbling along with limited success and fruitless hope, even as I practiced gratitude for the good things that showed up – my family, my partner, our business, my book, our book, our clients.
I first came across the Law of Attraction in 1998 after my first marriage fell apart and my job blew up. The shards of the glass walls fell down around me, resting in small piles at my feet making any step I took in any direction somewhat precarious. Five years ago I wrote about my Passive-Aggressive Relationship with the Law of Attraction. There is a lot of good advice in that post, things to do to keep yourself centered, grounded and focused that are not dependent on the Law of Attraction.
Now, though… now I am done with the Law of Attraction, its hope filled promises for the price of positive thoughts, a book or many, a course or two or a life coach. The premise is that you attract everything in your life to you – the good and the bad. You attract the bad things because of worry, fear, frustration. They arrive to teach you a life or spiritual lesson. And, if you attracted those things to you, you can also attract the equal and opposite good things, once you understand everything happens for a reason and you need to consistently think good thoughts. There are too many hard things too easily explained away through this premise that don’t quite add up.
When you come from a place of privilege, even if you are struggling and don’t quite see your privilege, it is practice of luxury. I don’t mean the luxury that comes from millions of dollars at your disposal – lord knows I’ve never had that. But I also haven’t had a real fear of living on the streets no matter how much financial stress I have endured.
I mean the luxury that many people not only can’t afford but don’t have access to. Like a roof over their heads. Or food. Or a safe place to land. Or adequate healthcare. Or any range of other things that can hobble daily existence.
The Law of Attraction premise begins to fall apart when we think about people living in poverty, or in violent situations, family breakdown or dealing with chronic or terminal illness or addictions. People who have been the victims of sexual or other violent assault, experience war conditions and the wanton destruction of life, property and nature. People who have experienced natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, tornados, earthquakes, erupting volcanos. Did people really attract those circumstances to themselves? And to all of those around them who were are also impacted.
Then we revert to “all things happen for a reason”, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”, “what doesn’t break you makes you stronger.” Ways to try to explain or understand the level of hardship that has come our way.
And this Covid thing? We can make up a lot of stories about how and why “we” have “attracted” this pandemic to ourselves individually and collectively. “Life is showing us we need to slow down.” “The world is falling apart so we can put it back together better.” We use stories to try to make sense of the situation after the fact. These do not validate the Law of Attraction. They trap us into a line of thinking that is hard to escape from. I’m not aware of Law of Attraction stars or enthusiasts from countries and communities focused on survival.
When I wrote that post five years ago, I was still trying to sort out why I wasn’t manifesting the abundance in my life that was promised to me through the Law of Attraction. And I had “proof” that it worked because when the house I owned with my second husband went on the market as we were divorcing, it sold within 24 hours and the house I have now lived in for 10 years beckoned.
I knew I should be able to do it over and over, but I was failing far more often than I was succeeding. The Law of Attraction had me blaming myself for this failure because I obviously wasn’t guarding my thoughts clearly enough. I wasn’t doing it right. And even though the Law of Attraction would say things don’t necessarily manifest right away, it is a pattern of thought over time, what happens when that pattern of thought is interrupted by sadness, disorientation, hopelessness, fear, anxiety or frustration? Emotional states that are all naturally occurring and we all encounter them.
Looking back, I now understand what happened with the house. Regularly for months before we put it on the market, I would go for a walk or run, come back to the house, walk down the driveway, behind the house to the stream out back. I would sit on a rock in the middle of the little brook and meditate. Then I would walk back up the other side of the house. I was meditating on letting go and asking my spirit guides to make the house welcoming to the next owner. I was powerfully weaving a spell, reinforcing an enchantment for the house over and over again. That is why the house sold right away, not because I wished it so but because I was a conscious, active participant in the process. Over a sustained period of time, in consistent practice. And that is why other big things didn’t manifest. Not because my thinking was wrong but because I was not weaving enchantments. I was not in a regular practice or ritual that supported my intentions.
I get now that I get to want what I want, no matter what that is. I no longer believe in “magical thinking”, that all I have to do is visualize it, then release it and if I think about it right it will come into being, which is not to say I don’t believe in magic. I have stopped following Law of Attraction posts and advocates and I am living into both the hard stuff and thejoyful stuff as a conscious active participant in my life, feeling more grounded and more expansive in the journey. I am looking for coherence, so that my thoughts, my surroundings, my intentions and practices are all aligned, inquiring into how I can be my most powerful self, most consistently. It is part of embracing my identity, embracing my gifts, sludging through the hard moments and dancing through the joyful ones.
My home refresh project has brought me to the entryway of my house. I am having a surprisingly emotional experience as I prep the area for painting.
There are threads that have been woven from the third floor hallway, down a stairwell to the main floor, with the next stage down to the bottom stairwell to the front door. It is part of the magical energy I have been building in my home for years now.
These hallways and stairwells pass by rooms, some of which have already been refreshed, reordered and refocused with the remainder on the summer 2020 to-do list. As each room is taken apart, it is put back together, somewhat to significantly differently. The entire energy – and dare I say identity – of the house is shifting.
Doorways. Thresholds. Portals. Who and what passes through. Who and what is invited. Who and what is discouraged or even barred from passing through. Because it is my home and boundaries are important. Coherence is essential.
Doors opened and closed. Literally, figuratively and metaphorically.
Thresholds crossed daily with little thought about them. Other thresholds requiring intentionality.
Portals that open vast new worlds of transformation or that open the threshold between the visible and the invisible, known and unknown, seen and unseen worlds.
Practical magic. Being a conscious, active participant in my own life and my future. Allowing myself to want what I want without self-judgment, self-recrimination or self-censorship. Relying on my own moral authority and my ancestors, guides and guardians for guidance.
It’s been a full 10 years. I had planned to paint this year anyway. Started last summer with two rooms. With the disorientation and disruption of being grounded due to the Coronavirus, there is a different sense of urgency and compulsion attached to this refresh. To my sense of who I am. To how I want to engage life. My life. Now and in the future.
Many people have passed through my front door. I have passed through that door too many times to count. An abundance of experiences of the ins and outs of life, relationships, phases and stages. Ups and downs on the stairwells of my house and of life. Joy. Grief. Happiness. Disappointments. Struggle. Regrets. Yearning. Development. Spiritual growth. It is all here. Right in front of me. Behind me. Ahead of me.
Collectively, we are still in a period of not knowing. Not knowing what is next. Not knowing when it will be wise to travel. Not knowing when or if there will be a second wave. Not knowing what my business will look like or how I will support myself. Not knowing when I will be with my sweetie in person again. Not knowing what is ahead. Ready and not ready at the same time.
Living through grief, sorrow, regret and yearning. Some days pushing through inertia. Knowing reflection, connection, meditation, practices and ritual connect me to the vastness beyond myself in ways that are grounding, supportive and orienting to me. This changes my imaginings about what is possible. It opens me to love and LOVE. One more day. One more practice. One more dream. One more enchantment. One more action. One more coat of paint. One more phase of transformation.
What are the next doors that will open, thresholds I will cross or portals I will travel? Discovering as I go?
Who are you? Who are you really? Who do you aspire to be? How are you creating your life? How much thought have you given to these questions? For me, they are a guiding inquiry providing ample fodder for deep reflection.
I have been actively engaged in identity work for the last couple of years, becoming more of an active conscious participant in my own future, in creating my own destiny. I am doing this by becoming a magician (yes, you read that right) and living into being a powerful creator. Not a show magician full of dazzling tricks or someone who engages magical thinking, but a person who recognizes the power of combining deep spiritual work with practical mundane steps to advance a vision, intent or desire for my life. Learning how to do magic, be magic, live life magically.
I have found amazing teachers and tuned into a whole new world that has been waitingfor me for decades. A world that has attempted to reveal itself through my spiritual journey but which often left me wondering what to do with what was revealed, with the spirit guides, guardians and supporters I knew to be available to me. Now I am learning how to build relationship, how to open the lines of communication more fully. And, I feel like my father through his death has opened a portal of greater access. Through this work, I am learning much more about identity, about myidentity.
I recognize over the decades I have inhabited several identities – some more fully than others and none with the degree of consciousness I am bringing to this next evolution of who I am, who I am growing into.
Like everyone, I have a number of roles that shape who I am and contribute to my identity. Mother, grandmother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, lover, partner, friend, neighbour, consultant, trainer, teacher, coach, author, co-author, traveler, cat parent, caregiver. And these many roles are not the consummate of my identity.
My identity is more than my roles. Although all of my parents and grandparents are now departed, I am still a daughter and a granddaughter but these roles are different now. Since my father’s death, I am no longer a caregiver for my elder(s), which was a consuming role. I am no longer part of the sandwich generation – sandwiched between parents and children. I am now the elder in my family.
Since putting a period on 70 Dufferin Street, clearing out my parent’s house where my dad had lived for 45 years, a house my brother and I also grew up in, I have turned my attention to my own house of 10 years. There are a few items from my parents’ house that have made their way into my house and they needed to be made way for. They have sparked a transformative effort in my living space. And, it’s more than that.
In the painting of each room in my house, a transformation takes place. When I painted my bedroom, I took everything out of my closets and cupboards and only about a third of things went back. Clothes that had been in the closet for a decade, brought here from another life, another identity, were shed. A wedding dress and shoes. Clothes given to me by other people that I did not wear but had a hard time letting go of. Gowns I would never wear again. Clothes I bought because I liked them but every time I put them on I took them off again because I didn’t like how they looked. Shoes I had barely worn. All gone. And as I caught sight of a few sweaters that had been much loved and enjoyed a few years ago, I recognized that the clothes we wear are all part of the identity we inhabit at any given time and it is hard to fully inhabit a new and evolving identity when the ghosts of past identities clutter our spaces.
I am on a mission. As I turn my attention to the next space(s) in my house, things are removed, new order is brought in. By summer’s end, all of my living spaces will have been refreshed and transformed. My sense of my identity will continue to deepen and I will walk in the world with more confidence and hopefully more grace than in all of the decades before.
For those curious about who I have been learning from, my main teacher is Fabeku Fatumise. Through him I have discovered Dan Carroll and chaos magic, Jason Miller and Aidan Wachter among others. Buy any of their books and prepare to immerse yourself in a new journey. For me, it is a healing journey full of new awareness. It is a journey that has kept me sane through difficult times and it offers me practical things to do and focus on in times when it feels like there is little that can be done. And, as I said at the beginning, it has given me practices that enable me to be an active conscious participant in my own life.
My radical thought about healing is that we can release ourselves from the hold and from the impact of the harm others have done to us without necessarily having to forgive them. This is an evolution of my thinking about forgiveness and counter to much of the prevailing thought about it. Hear me out.
In the new book I am writing, Accessing Your Healing Power Within, there is a chapter dedicated to forgiveness. I start the chapter with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
I completely agree with this quote. I would say it is about touching into our humanity to see the humanity in someone else and to not get lost in our own hate of another. I have thought about the topic of forgiveness a lot over the years, having experienced intense, sustained emotional and psychological trauma by someone who was in my life for quite awhile.
In psychology, forgiveness is generally defined as “a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.” This is followed by the caveat that forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offences.
In thinking about the person who did harm to me, who had power over me and some of my emotional experiences for far too long for reasons I will not get into here, recently I have been asking myself, “Have I forgiven them?” This person no longer has a hold on me, no longer impacts my emotional experience, no longer has the ability to take power from me and I no longer give away my power to them. I don’t hate them, I don’t feel resentment nor do I feel a need for vengeance. But, when I sense into the question, “Have I forgiven them?” the answer keeps coming back as no. Which I find fascinating and which has sparked this deeper inquiry. Will I forgive them eventually? It is doubtful and I am realizing it is okay. That person not only harmed me, they harmed other people I love and continue to do harm to others. This will likely until the day they die.
New growth comes out of the hardest spots.
A person I love deeply is currently in the grips of someone who is doing my person harm. Eventually, I trust that my loved one will find it in themselves to become free from this situation. I choose to believe this and that is another story. Will I forgive the person who is doing the harm? I understand where they are coming from. I understand the background. I can have empathy for why they act the way they do. But will I forgive them for the harm they are doing to my loved one and, by extension, to a network of loved ones? What about the harm they are likely to inflict on others over time, even once my loved one finds a different path? I am doubtful I will forgive that person for the havoc they have wreaked. Unless they are able to change their ways, how they treat others is unforgivable.
There are many people, acts and behaviours I can, have and will forgive. I get that true forgiveness does not condone behaviour. I get that we forgive for ourselves, not the other person. But really what we are striving for is to be released from the emotional hold that another person, their actions or behaviours has or has had on us. My radical thought is, we can release ourselves from that hold and from the impact of the hurt without necessarily forgiving. And I think that might be okay. Maybe this is what people mean when they talk about forgiveness. Maybe we need another word for this.
In the book I write, “You cannot wear your forgiveness for someone else as a badge of honour. Forgiveness is an act of humility. And, in my experience, especially in the most challenging of situations, it is one of the most difficult things to do and also one of the most freeing.” I still think this is true in many ways. And, I am now expanding and reframing my thinking. We can heal without forgiving the most atrocious things that have been done to us. We can become free through healing that does not have to include, or preclude, forgiveness of others.
Which leaves me with another question. Can we heal without self-forgiveness? And my initial response is that we need self-forgiveness, like self-compassion and self-love to truly access our healing power within
I have been thinking a lot about grief lately. How we each carry grief. How we experience it differently. How it is sparked in different ways. It could be the loss of a loved one who has died. This is the way we often think of grief. Yet, there are so many other sources of grief.
Grief for one’s own journey. Grief for the journey that someone you love must experience although it is heart wrenching and heart breaking to observe.
It starts with allowing yourself to feel. This can feel risky, even dangerous. There may be fear that allowing yourself to feel will result in becoming more deeply lost, though it is in the feeling you can move through the faces and phases of grief and any other emotional state you may be experiencing.
Sometimes it is head down, one step at a time, one foot in front of the other – literally or figuratively. Remembering to breathe. Breathe deeply. Breathe into the pain. Breathe into the love. Breathe into the heart and the soul.
Other times it is head up, looking around at the wonders of the world that still exist despite the desperation of the times.
The rising and setting of the sun. The phases of the moon. The rising and ebbing of the tides. The stars. The light drizzle. The pounding rain. Snowflakes and snowstorms. The fresh morning air, the high heat of a noon sun on a summer day, the cooling temperatures at dusk.
Look within. Look to nature. Look to love. For what is underneath the grief but the sense of loss. For people. For relationships. For other things held dear.
And if there is grief, there is also love. Love that lives on that, when you touch it, you can touch beyond your grief and find your way into another day.
Holding yourself responsible for someone else’s anger is a fool’s errand. While this is true of many emotional experiences, it is particularly true of anger. Has anyone tried to hold you responsible for their anger? “Your actions made me mad,” is a prime example of projecting responsibility for their emotional state and lack of control onto someone else.
Anger is a perfectly legitimate emotion, although there are good reasons why we assign negative attributes to it. Everyone experiences anger at some point – even people who say they don’t. I used to believe I never got angry as I wrote about in this post on Emotions Are Your Guidance System. I grew up in a household where a lot of anger was expressed in unhealthy ways. Avoidance – internally and externally – was my strategy. It took me years to discover my own experiences of anger and to learn how to work with it in healthy ways.
However, there are many unhealthy and even dangerous ways that anger is expressed. If you have ever found yourself modifying your regular day-to-day actions or behaviours, self censoring, being guarded or strategizing how to bring up an unavoidable topic no matter how simple it would be under ordinary circumstances, to try to not make someone else angry – or to try to reduce their anger – you are likely bearing a burden that is not yours to carry.
Bearing the burden of someone else’s anger is a fool’s errand. It does not work. You are not and cannot be responsible for someone else’s anger – or their enduring emotional experience. Yet people who are perpetually angry are remarkably good at having the people around them bear that burden. And the people around them are remarkably good at assuming that burden, without even realizing that is what is happening.
Even when you know logically that you are not responsible for someone else’s anger, the fear that ensues as someone repeatedly projects their anger at you is palpable and sometimes breathtaking. The desire to mitigate the fear to stop being a target of the anger, generates a protective response that, surprisingly for most of us, doesn’t often or soon enough include removing ourselves from the situation.
Someone who is unpredictable about where, when or what will trigger their anger causes uncertainty in the people around them. This uncertainty inevitably turns to fear. It is this fear that directs and influences your own desire to mitigate the situation, for yourself or for people around you, like children. And it is through fear of the other person’s anger that you take on the burden of responsibility for their emotional experience. They will have you jumping in hoops over and over again but there is nothing you can do that will make that experience any better or more satisfactory for them.
People who use anger regularly also use disgust and contempt. They express how they are offended, hurt or dismayed by your actions. They tell you that you are being so unfair to them. A person who lives with anger or rage feels powerful in the outburst of the moment. But that feeling of power also doesn’t last so more fuel is needed. That fuel comes from the next spark of anger, rage or outrage.
You are held hostage to the unpredictability of this person’s rage until you find a way to release that burden.
I carried such a burden for almost two decades. I tried to mediate the anger. I tried to protect other people from the anger. I failed. Over and over and over again. And yet, still I tried. I took on the responsibility, the other person tried to make me responsible and others around us also tried to make me or other people responsible. The only place responsibility and accountability did not fall was on the person who was generating all of the chaos and dysfunction to begin with.
If you have tried to bear this emotional burden for someone else, you may have noticed a few things about yourself, the situation or the angry antagonist.
What sets them off is unpredictable. It can even be a perfectly innocent comment or observation that gets picked up and spun out of context and out of control. The effect is that you start to watch everything you say even though it is impossible to predict what will set them off. You second guess yourself and your confidence suffers. And perpetually angry people can take one incident or wrong word and spin it for days, increasing the intensity of their anger even to the point of rage.
The angry person does not take responsibility for their anger or their own circumstances – it is someone else’s actions or behaviours that are at fault, that caused the anger. In this way, in their logic and rationale, it is someone else’s responsibility.
They use scorn, condemnation and disgust regularly. It is hard not to take that on when you are the recipient of it. They cannot believe that you did or said whatever you did or said –as if you are the person acting inappropriately. But it stops mattering when their opinion of you stops mattering.
Everyone around the angry person tries in one way or another to appease them – modifying behaviour, apologizing or finding a way to get out of the way. There may be short-term improvement, but until the person who exhibits this anger takes responsibility for their own emotional experience, there will be no long term solution. And addressing this requires insight, courage and the willingness to truly engage healing that they often are not ready or able to embrace.
Anger is projected not just in words but in the entire non-verbal, kinaesthetic and energetic field of the person – even when they say they are not angry, even when they truly think they aren’t, everything else about them says they are. And you get blasted with an invisible wave that knocks you off your own center.
People around the angry person get upset or angry with each other because no one has successfully deflected the anger or scorn. In this way, not only do they disrupt the field between them and you, the wreak havoc on the entire relational field. And the angry person takes up a disproportionate amount of time, thought, discussion and preparedness – individually and collectively – as we try to strategize how to deal with them.
If you are a target of the angry person, it is emotional and/or psychological abuse and it is traumatizing. Over time, you will be aware that your anxiety is increasing, you may have panic attacks, you are constantly on edge and you are a different version of yourself, which can be saddening and depressing. You may experience a physical “hit” with a rush of adrenaline or amygdala hijack even in the anticipation of that person’s anger or actions. It is destabilizing and demoralizing and feels like ever present danger.
There is an interesting discernment between running away and standing up for yourself by developing strong, healthy boundaries for your own health and wellbeing. The angry person will accuse you of running away as they seek confrontation as fuel. You will know you have done everything within your power to evoke a change in that person that was never yours to make and, when you are ready, you will release that burden by refusing to engage. When you truly make the shift, everything changes. You heal something inside of you and have new insight, strength and wisdom as you disengage from that energetic vortex and fuel your boundaries, deepening your own authentic journey. In my experience, this can seem to happen overnight, but that overnight shift is likely the result of years of journey to make it possible. It is possible. And you can do it. Be patient and gentle with yourself in the midst of the journey.
Doesn’t every family have some degree of trauma in it; that perhaps ranges from somewhat mild to severe? This is a question I’ve been reflecting on these last few weeks for a variety of reasons, including wondering how a family experiences trauma individually and collectively and how, when it makes sense, a family can engage healing in its system?
When a family experiences the same trauma circumstances – an event or a long-standing relationship where trauma has been inflicted – each member of that family experiences the trauma differently. When removed from the trauma, the trauma lives on in each of us, in our cellular memory, in our minds and imaginations, continuing to affect each of us, each in our own way and collectively too. There is some shared aspect of the trauma, but the way we each remember our experience will have its own flavour, its own story, its own influence. What this looks and feels like can depend on your role in the family, in and with the trauma, your age and other factors too.
The family system that is interested in healing can explore the impact of trauma as they collectively experienced some element of it. That part can feel easy because it seems like everyone is in agreement. However, it becomes more challenging for family members to completely coalesce around the impact on any one individual because the experiences differ. Each family member needs healing for the full family system to heal; but the validation, acknowledgement or healing they each need is likely different.
We each have different assumptions and expectations of what we need to heal and what we think others need to heal. We may think we need certain things – acknowledgements, validations – from other members of the family. And whether or not they arrive – or when – might not be according to our own sense of timing.
Individually, it can be hard to identify and hard to express our hopes, expectations and experiences. What, in your own mind, feels like a straightforward ask, can seem less so when it is said out loud. The support and validation you are looking for might not arrive if your own experience contradicts someone else’s interpretation because of their own experience, their own story or their own trauma or if they remember your role differently.
What can we do when this happens? Notice your responses or your impulses. For me, when I encounter this, it makes me want to retreat – which is a reflex to “safety”, which is not necessarily safe or helpful for healing. In the noticing, I can make an intentional decision about what I want to do next and I can choose to communicate this with my family members.
Relationships are hard. And, to be clear, not all family relationships need to be or should be maintained. Sometimes the best healing opportunity is to cut off some family ties, as there is no hope for real healing in them. Having said that, for family relationships that are worth maintaining, even they have moments when they are harder than we expect, harder than we want them to be, harder than we hope. They are not all just sunshine, connection and laughs around the dinner table. They are also hard truths we may not want to hear.
Many, if not most, families are not skilled enough to know how to navigate family healing well. Most of us didn’t learn it growing up. There were no role models to look to. There are always some families who seem to know how to love and support each other no matter what. And there are some families so full of challenges and damage that no one seems to know how to navigate the individual and collective hurts. These families are more likely to fall apart, to stop talking to each other, to embody the pain and perhaps pass it on through intergenerational trauma.
What holds a family together in its healing? A few key things we have been learning:
Valuing self and valuing others too, so one is not meant to always be subservient to the other.
Valuing the family relationships enough to do the work required. Being willing to prioritize the relationships but not to the point of not addressing the trauma or other family challenges that show up. Avoidance only drives the emotions underground and, when they surface in their own ways, they tend to be even more destructive.
Give precedence to listening even as you want to be heard. Listen for understanding with compassion and curiosity, not for how to debate someone else’s experience or even your own. Be willing to listen, really listen, even when it’s hard.
Discern when to lean in and when to lean back. Learn to discern what needs to happen, be explored or discussed in the presence of others and what can be done on your own.
Be willing to drop a point of discussion with someone once you have heard it so you can digest it later if need be or take it to your own healing space.
Be willing to step back from being right, from insisting on being heard if that will not help in the moment. Be able to give space without backing away.
Find the language to stay focused on what is most important without lashing out in attack when you don’t like what you hear or can’t figure out how to make sense of it or are simply frustrated. Let it go rather than rehash it over and over again when it no longer serves. Come to terms and to peace with it.
Then, learn how to stay in relationship when the conversation is over. Learn how to apologize when it is deserved and even occasionally when you don’t think it is deserved. It might be the very thing that breaks an impasse and allows you all to get to a new level of healing with each other.
Hold space with and for each other, when you are together and apart.
Learn you can hang together through the tough stuff because it all matters.
These conversations hurt my heart. They also heal my heart. Without them, we would lose some of the core soul in our family constellation and it helps us love each other and be together better, if we focus on the love and healing, if we allow it.
And, bonus, if we pause to dig into the healing now, we heal back and forth along the lineages and that is worth it too. It’s powerful work. What are the family relationships and what family trauma is worth healing enough for you to stay in, stick with it and work it through?
Note: I am not a therapist. This is written from my heart, my experiences and my observations and reflections in my own families and in conversations with many others about this topic.
Have you ever had an intuitive hit and acted on impulse as a result, only to find yourself shortly afterwards questioning your judgment? This happened to me this week, which caused me to wonder what is the difference between acting on impulse and acting on intuition? I put the question out there on FB (on January 3/18) and it evoked a beautiful exchange of thoughts and ideas and gave some insight into our collective consciousness about words, how we use them and how we interpret them. It reminded me that language matters and we don’t all mean the same thing by the same words.
Generally, among my group of friends – admittedly a more “new-agey” (can I say that?), spiritually focused reference group – intuition was more positively perceived, impulse less positively perceived. Intuition seen as action, impulse seen as reaction, acting for immediate gratification, by-passing mindfulness and intuitive knowing.
A definition of intuition is having knowledge without proof, evidence, or conscious reasoning, or without understanding how the knowledge was acquired. Impulse was much more laden with negative assumptions or interpretations from the word being included in the name of psychiatric disorders to inclusion of words like failure to resist temptation or making unplanned decisions.
My favourite response is that the two do not have to be mutually exclusive (something we talk about often in our Worldview Intelligence work) and I could act on impulse arising out of my intuitive knowing. Trusting my intuitive knowing and discerning it from other things (desperation, a need for action over reflection or the need for immediate gratification as three “for instances”) is a practice developed and honed over time. And I loved the question, “I wonder if there is any such thing as impulse that grows quietly over time?”
My impulse that generated the question was to respond immediately to a FB post by virtual friend Chris Zydel, remarking that in addition to all the other delicious things she does (mostly by her posts helping people express themselves through art), she does astrological readings. I had never had mine done before, partly because it is only in the last year that I discovered my time of birth. I immediately responded, found out the cost, commitment proceeded quickly and then I wondered about the impulsivity of the decision.
However, 2018 feels like a portentous year for me and for the Worldview Intelligence work I do with my partner. It has had this energy as 2017 closed and the new year opened. The question of what more could I do to ground the energy and help bring possibilities to fruition was in my awareness so when this invitation showed up it evoked an immediate response. And, as it turns out, it was exactly right, exactly what I needed now. The reading was amazing, explained a lot and pointed me in the direction of healing that will be helpful to grounding more of my energy in 2018.
There are many times I have acted on intuition – sometimes quick and impulsive like this decision and sometimes the slow burn described above – where the result has been powerful. Some examples are the decision to embark on my Art of Hosting journey, to go to Bowen Island in 2005 for my first training. It was a bit of slow burn but decisive when it came time to make the decision. The decision the following year to go to Hollyhock for my first Circle Practicum was impulsive – a decision made in the moment of meeting Christina Baldwin without the awareness of what it was going to take to get me there (planes, ferries and automobiles). The decision to go to Gold Lake Colorado in 2009 was a slow burn but the knowing I needed to go was present from the very first moment I opened an invitation to go there – and it deepened my spiritual journey in the most beautiful and unexpected ways. The decision to attend the first Shamanic Convergence near Halifax in 2009 despite financial challenges was more of a slow burn. The decision for my second divorce I knew years before I could find it within me to act on but those years were used for personal and spiritual growth and development, finding support along the way. In the moments of decision – and there were a few along the way – so much fell into place it was a good lesson in trusting the timing of events.
The decision to bring into form – the Worldview Intelligence work that Jerry and I now do was a long series of steps and decisions based on following the energy and hosting the space for it to come into form – intuitive for sure but not impulsive – steady.
In today’s world, we often give too much credence to logic and rationality when, in fact, decision making is always emotional as proved by neuro-scientist Antonio Damasio in his research on people whose emotional brains have been damaged. We use the facts to support what we want to do or know we need to do but we cannot make decisions without the use of our emotional brains.
In the thread on my FB post some suggested that we know in retrospect whether we acted on impulse or intuition based on the outcome. The more I reflect on that thought the more I wonder if we don’t give ourselves enough credit for what we know – for both our intuitive and impulsive decisions or our intuitively impulsive decisions. When we can remove self doubt, self criticism, shame, the “voices of others” we carry in our heads (sometimes affectionately referred to as the itty-bitty-shitty committee), all the “should” and “should nots” and when we practice clearing and keeping open our channels to our own inner core and to whatever form of greater power, wisdom or knowledge we believe in, we are far more intuitive and powerful than we might like to acknowledge.
In retrospect, I don’t regret any of the intuitive decisions I’ve made in my journey to greater openheartedness – whether seemingly impulsive or slow burn. What about you? What do you discover when you reflect on the role of intuition and impulse in your journey?
With thanks to each friend who graciously contributed to the thread.