Embracing the Shadow of Our Times

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On a personal level, embracing the shadow of your soul is one of the most challenging and powerful journeys you can make. Fear of what you might find holds you back, but shadow is an illusion, obscuring the beauty of your inner being and the illumination of your soul journey.

This scales. It is what we are now seeing played out globally. It can be fear evoking. Fear can be debilitating and cause us to withdraw. When we transcend our fear, we can breathe, we can see the beauty that is being evoked by the shadow that has descended in many places where authoritarianism has risen and where there are attempts to silence freedom of speech. We can see the scale of movement, the rising up that has been evoked in response. Embracing the shadow of our times does not mean accepting a new emerging status quo. It means we can begin to see beyond, make intentional choices and keep moving toward the light. For ourselves, individually, and on behalf of all who yearn for a different future.

Shaping Our Experiences Through the Stories We Tell

 

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We are shaped by our experiences and, more importantly, by the stories we tell that help us make sense of our experiences. We can tell the story about how worn down we are and how awful it is or we can focus on the grand adventure of where and how life sprouts and how it sustains itself no matter what. The circumstances we encounter shape us. How they will shape us is up to us.

In these days when there often seems more bad news than good (at least in my worldview), remembering there is a positive story too – that things are awakening as well dying – can help us remember that nothing ever stays the same, everything changes, all the time – imperceptibly or dramatically and everything in between.

Where do you want to focus your attention so that you have an intentional hand in shaping your experiences?

Belonging in Family as an Adoptee

I was in my mid-forties when I found out I was adopted. Except for when I was a teenager and wished I was adopted (who doesn’t?), I had no clue. I used to think it was a big secret that almost nobody knew but have discovered it was an unintentional conspiracy – so many people knew but nobody talked about it as if it was an unimportant detail. And, maybe it was. Until it became important. Important enough for my birth sisters to seek me out. Then the adventure of coming to terms with the fact there was a birth family different from my family – the family I grew up in – began.

A new friend and colleague of mine, who also has an adoption story, recently began reading my book Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to openheartedness. She sent me a note when she finished reading Chapter 8, the story of my birth mother, her disappearance as she ran away and her inability to acknowledge my sister (or me) as her daughter even when they met up again thirty years later. My friend, who has known forever that she was adopted and has also reconnected with her birth family, wrote to me to share her response, about how angry she was at my birth mother for this lack of acknowledgement. We unexpectedly opened a conversation about belonging, particularly about belonging in families.

Where do you belong when you are born to one set of parents and grow up with another? And how do you know where you belong? Does it even matter? Even if you don’t know you are adopted or that there are family secrets, the patterns of disruption play themselves out in your life in one way or another. That is what this question of belonging got me thinking about.

slide1What does it even mean to belong or have a sense of belonging? We know it is fundamentally important to a healthy society and healthy individuals – the people feel like they have a sense of belonging, a sense of having been accepted in a community, as part of a group that might also be family. It is a human need, important in seeing value in life and in coping with intense human experiences.

 

Belonging are the people you fit with, who you do not need to explain yourself to, who do not carry huge and unrealistic expectations of you or who you are or what you can or cannot fix by virtue of being you.

An opposite of belonging, for me, is abandonment. It shows up in my language and the language of many people who have an adoption story. “Given up, given away.” I carry threads of abandonment I didn’t know I had – my birth mother fled, my birth father and grandparents gave me up, even my sister left me behind. Granted, she was only three years old and could not operate with conscious intentionality. Later, my mother “abandoned” me too, in a way, through her journey with dementia.

The fact that decisions may have been a good and even wise does not matter to the cellular memory and sense of worth that is fuelled by memories not in conscious awareness. When I was working with an amazing coach during the period of this discovery – which I did not consciously go searching for but which found me – the journey and the coach, she listened to my language and then offered that part of our work together was for me to learn to adopt myself. It resonated.

My personal journey, once awakened to it, has always had a depth of self growth, self awareness and spiritual awakening. This part was natural to me (I was going to write easy but it was not easy and still has moments that are not easy or fun).

What was and still is more interesting in the journey related to my adoption and my birth family is that I still feel a bit dissociated from this part of my story. Intellectually I know it to be true. I have enjoyed meeting every person I am connected to and I have not met them all nor will I likely meet them all nor do I have a desire to meet them all and nor is it necessary – to me or them.

Knowing I am adopted expands my story of who I know myself to be but it doesn’t change the fundamental core of who I am. I am not more because I know more. I am not less because I didn’t know it before.

I have a relationship with my birth parents even though they have both passed on. I never did meet my birth mother as her death was the impetus for my sisters to find me. I did meet my birth father and his wife. I believe my birth parents had a soul contract to bring me into this world and then let me go and that they had this contract with my parents. I do not know the significance of this “departure” at birth but I do know that I feel I have multiple lineages – from by birth family and from my family I grew up in. While answers to some questions do not flow so easily anymore – where were you born? What is your ancestry? – I do feel connected to all the lineages.

I find my birth parents from time to time in the spirit world, just as I find my mother and other guides. Sometimes they appear unexpectedly in my meditation or in whatever query I am in at the time and sometimes I call upon them for help and understanding on whatever I am working through in the moment. It feels right.

And despite soul journey understanding, “One part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth, leaving me not really belonging to either.”

Listening Another Person Into Healing

Recently, I agreed to be interviewed for an academic research project about an intense period / experience of my life. A period that is years behind me, that I can now speak about in a much more detached way than when I was in it or immediately past it. The interviewer knows some of my story. In the role of interviewer, her job was to listen, not to interact with my story.

Listen into beingAfter she left, I found myself at times weeping for no explicable reason. The tears just flowed. Beautiful, gracious, glorious release.

I am reminded of the power of just listening, not interpreting, not trying to put words in someone’s mouth. It is a witnessing that can bring another person into being. Can surface what needs to be surfaced for healing.

I don’t know what was there that was surfaced. I don’t need to know specifics. I am aware that something I did not know was still there was released. I am shifting shape yet again as I lean even more fully into this journey to openheartedness. As I answer the call of what is before me.

And I am grateful.

When was the last time you listened to someone else’s story? Just listened. With curiositySlide1 and compassion, no judgment. When you waited to see if they were finished their thoughts – because more thoughts, more aspect of story arises in the silence – before you asked your next question? When the questions you ask are for the benefit of the story teller and not for your own?

When you listen well enough, you can listen another person into being. When you listen well enough, you can listen another person into healing. Try it. See what happens.

Are you holding your sadness as a treasured possession?

 

5-of-cups-legacy-of-the-divine2Every now and then a question shows up that captures attention as if it was lit up in flashing lights. This happened to me the other morning as I pulled my usual three tarot cards from the Legacy of the Divine deck (my favourite) to help me imagine what the story of my day could be like. One of the cards I pulled was the 5 of cups. Not necessarily a favourite, I decided to open the interpretation book to see what jumped out at me.

Why do you sometimes cradle your sadness like treasured possessions? Are you afraid that the power of your heart will shatter it and force you to leave the safety of the shadowy misery you cling to?

Sadness as a treasured possession? Shadowy misery? Crap! And wham! Both at the same time.

A while ago I wrote about what is real and what is illusion. And I’ve written about my passive aggressive relationship with the law of attraction. And about limiting beliefs.

The journey of life has a way of dishing up illusion so we imagine we are in a different place than we are. It also has a way of waking us up to reality. Like these questions.

I feel the tremulousness of these moments in my life. Partner I love deeply who lives in another country. Re-imagining our work and our businesses. Feeling the pull of life, co-parenting, scheduling. Desiring ease and not always experiencing it. Am I cradling sadness as a treasured possession? Is it part of how I define my story? It is not what I want to hear, to believe is true in this moment but there it is right in front of me.

Am I clinging to shadowy misery? Am I allowing this to define and shape the story of my life in this present moment?

What to do about it?

  1. Allow the recognition of the response evoked by the questions. Yes, there is truth there. Still. After many years of journey.
  2. Invoke compassion for myself. It is a journey. It is not right or wrong or too long. No self-recrimination, just awareness.
  3. Journal to surface and release the patterns so deeply entrenched in my being that sometimes I fear they will never be fully released and most times now I can recognize as part of the unfolding journey – the journey to openheartedness.
  4. Meditate on the vibration I am aspiring to, to let it permeate my physical and soul essence to continue to attract my dreams.
  5. Take concrete steps, even if small, to show – myself, creator, the universe – that the dream I hold is the direction in which I am moving.

I share this because I know I am not the only one cradling sadness and clinging to shadowy misery. If this resonates, know you are not alone and follow the steps.

You Are Worthy

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You are worthy and you are worthy of your gifts and talents. Do not let anyone convince you otherwise – including, especially, you.

It does not matter that you are not, thankfully, perfect. It does not matter that you have made “bad” choices in your life or choices you regret? It does not matter that you may have, at times, acted inauthentically, out of integrity or even immorally. It does not matter that it has taken you your whole lifetime until now – or later even – to step into your gifts. Have you been keeping track of how often you have paid the price – over and over again – for one of those “mistakes”? Your debt, if there was one, is paid. With an abundance of interest.

You are worthy. You are worthy of your gifts and talents. They are inherently yours to accept or deny. Although you may find they will not be denied.

When the time is right, when you are ready, in the moment of epiphany that brings on that quiet knowing, you will find the courage to step in, to step in fully, to claim the gifts that are your own.

Are you willing to put them on, embody them, own them, instead of wondering when someone is either going to take them away from you or give you permission to do what is only yours to do? Give yourself permission. Only you can do it. You are worthy of your gifts and talents.

You are worthy, even if you are afraid. The purpose of fear is to keep you safe? From what, you wonder? From abusing your gifts? You cannot abuse your gifts. You can only step in and allow things to flow through you. And they will. Because, you are worthy.

Let go of the self questioning, the self recrimination, the self judgment. It only gets in the way of the beauty and grace of who you are. You are worthy. Do not let anyone convince you otherwise. Especially you.

Palms holding a beet shaped like a heart

Facts, Stories, Courage, Justice, The Court System

I went to court once. It was a simple matter. I was contesting a $275 ticket I was given for illegally walking across the railroad tracks in Bedford, NS. Yup. Turns out that’s illegal. Who knew? The policeman, who reluctantly issued the ticket (which is different story), did tell me that I could contest it in court. So, I went to court. I watched all the cases called before mine. Citizens, representing themselves, showing up to contest tickets of various sorts – not wearing a seatbelt, not wearing a helmet while cycling, other ones that I don’t recall. What I do recall is that systematically every case was “won” by the court – which had a lawyer present, a process, witnesses (usually policemen) with notes. The contestants had none of these. I knew, that had my case gone forth, there was no way I was walking out of there a winner. Except, thankfully, the policeman who issued the ticket did not show up. My case was dismissed. I walked away with a glimpse into a system of law that is not necessarily a system of justice but a system of process.

Scales of JusticeI am reminded of this little incident by a very high profile celebrity sexual offence case taking place before a judge in Canada at this moment. A case which is not only re-traumatizing the accused’s victims but a host of other people – primarily women – who have experienced something similar in their lives. It makes me think of the system of law, which may or may not be the same as justice. A court system that wants to protect an accused as innocent until proven guilty, so much so that the victims are on trial as much as or more than the accused and seem to have to prove their innocence, and even purity, rather than have it assumed.

I am thinking about the women who have had the courage to pursue this case, or similar ones, in the courts, who are taking the stand, whose stories are being cross examined in the search to cast doubt on the facts of the testimony. Re-victimizing victims, as if it wasn’t hard enough the first time, or difficult enough to step forward. It is a system that does not encourage women, perhaps any victim, to step forward, because it treats them harshly.

It is supported by a societal wide phenomenon that immediately casts doubt on any woman’s story of sexual assault – casting doubt on the woman herself. Even when many women step forward about the same man, as is the case in this situation,  there is more doubt about their character than his, as if there is a conspiracy against him. “Why didn’t you go to the police?” they are asked. “Why didn’t you speak up sooner?” Over and over again the answer is that they did not think they would be believed. Which is exactly what happens.

The women in this case say that the accused was, in one moment, the epitome of charming and, in the next moment, he was hitting them in the head or choking them in a rage. There is consistency across the stories, the ones in the courtroom, the ones reported in the media, the general knowledge that existed in the milieus of social settings the accused and the victims found themselves in. Part of the challenge to the credibility of the women is that, in this case, they often describe an initial encounter and then a subsequent encounter. Why did they engage the subsequent encounter if the first went so badly, is the obvious question? Surely it couldn’t have been that bad? Surely now you are only seeking revenge?

In reflecting on this and some of my own experiences (not nearly so extreme) in life, it occurs to me there is a gap created by cognitive dissonance – a gap in stimulus and response. A public figure. Charming to the extreme. Seeking some of these women out. Surely the rage is a momentary lapse, not the essence of this person? The mind is resorting to logic to try to make sense of what just happened. The beating, the rage, is “out of character” with what is known or presumed known about this individual and these women found themselves back in his vicinity, imagining a better situation, imagining a respectful encounter. Surely you have encountered such a cognitive dissonance – where it takes your brain awhile to catch up to what your experience is telling you to be true? I know I have been.

And then there is the role of facts. The court system is interested in the facts and in evidence. Part of the issue in testifying is that we relay our experiences through stories, stories that are a mix of facts, emotions and values. And there is research that disputes the idea that factual memory is accurate. If you have ever told a story and had someone contradict the “facts” you relayed with their own, you know how difficult it is to agree on the “facts”, because people remember different things. Was it this or was it that? Who knows for sure?

It is easy to get stories confused for several additional reasons. Stories are how we make meaning of our experiences. And we rarely ever tell the same story twice in exactly the same way. As time goes by, how we relate to the story and the experience may shift and change, as we try to imagine it never happened, or as we heal, as we move on, as we learn from our experiences, as we gain distance from the event. The story you tell now about something you experience today may be very different a month from now, a year from now, a decade from now. Yet in a trial, the person on the stand is expected to tell the exact same story, without variance, from the time they gave their statement to the time of the trial and, at a minimum, months, if not years have gone by. Any contradictions become “proof” of their inconsistency and unreliability as a witness.

When I was writing Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness, a memoire spanning several decades, I came across my own writing from a decade before – writing done very close to the experiences I was describing. How I remembered those situations and the rawness of the writing immediately following the experiences was very different than how I recalled them a decade later.

courtroomI find my heart breaking for these women on the stand and for the many more who refused to go there because there is too much trauma, too much shame, too much self doubt and self recrimination. I am torn by believing people do have a right to a fair trial and wondering if that should not also apply to the courageous people who step forward to testify. And I continue to wonder if our justice system delivers justice while understanding the need and increasing demand for processes like restorative justice.

And mostly my heart aches for a society that will dismiss the voice of a woman to such a degree that even in numbers there is doubt. My heart aches for a society where people are ostracized for pointing out what is common knowledge in a community, an organization or a social system. I wonder how we have come to be such great protectors of the shadow side, the underbelly, and so afraid of the light. I yearn for places and opportunities for people to be supported and celebrated for doing the right thing, for stepping forward, for making us all safer. And, I hold space from my little corner of the world, for each person who speaks a truth known to many openly and courageously. May we be these people.