Living Free- the beginning

For years now, we have known that my son’s middle school years would be a time to dophoto-33 something different. My husband with his PhD in Education and my experience as a school social worker and counselor, led us both to feel the pressure cooker of intense peer dynamics is a social experiment resulting in limited educational preparation that we could better address as a family.  That said, given our backgrounds, we also honor anyone who chooses middle school, as we know depending on the child and family it can be the right fit.

This ‘Living Free’ series however, is going to be about our decision to step outside of ‘the box’ and do what we always do as a family and individually, connect and reconnect to our essential nature.  This, we decided is the foundation for life that we want our children to be rooted in.  We are not rejecting school (my husband is an educator and we know most teachers have beautiful intentions and do much good), we are exploring what it means to live freely and be alive in all ways, ways that we cannot experience in the same space five days a week.

For many years, I have been sharing with individuals and families, strategies for living simply, free from dogma and limitations, tuned into heart/intuition and spiritual connection.  This led to conscious parenting, gentle discipline, homeschooling/life learning, limited media, lots of nature outings, etc. And yet, like everyone else in modern society, I kept finding myself overwhelmed with busyness. What would start out as a few fun activities for the kids would become obligations and over scheduling in a nanosecond, limiting connecting activities like family dinner times and increasing overall stress which would increase parenting and relationship challenges.

So after years of homeschooling classes and activities galore, we are doing something radical in today’s parenting landscape.

We have stopped all activities.

(With the exception of Lucas’ soccer, a commitment to his team we felt we needed to honor)

At first, it seems we are just saying NO to the overwhelm, the craziness, the limitations…

but as we hung out together on our five week Northwest road trip, we began to see more clearly what we are saying YES to.

For thousands of years, this time in a young man’s life was a time to deepen his sense of self, his responsibility, courage, strength, to find his place in his community, and to lay a foundation for his life.  YES to this.

So we are opening to our intuition/spiritual connection to step into a rites of passage inspired two years.  We’ll be connecting to the earth and learning about its intricacies by visiting national parks and sustainable farms and projects, connecting to indigenous wisdom through stories, classes and visits to reservations, and connecting to life in all forms by interviewing mentors in all fields that spark interest.  And in the midst, we’ll read good books, write, and practice our arithmetic like good citizens ;)

Because some have asked, I will share bits of our journey here and look forward to connecting with you all in this way. Here’s a bit so far:

This week, after I had been away for six days leading a Women’s retreat in Portland, we all enjoyed a happy ‘absence makes the heart so much fonder, even when you were already fond’ reunion lounging around snuggling.  Sabi, especially, gave me so many heart melting kisses and relaxed in my arms throwing his head back, saying ‘ahhh this feels so good.’ I love the freedom of a four year old.

On Thursday, we went to Crystal Cove and Lucas and I walked for an hour and a half, talking about life, with me answering some nitty gritty questions about the dark side of humanity, until he said, “okay let’s talk change the subject now” and we moved on to politics and technology. He loved talking so much that we walked much further than planned. We stopped to notice the little catfish hiding beneath rocks, sand pipers digging and the community of sea anemones the size of nickels flanking a big meteor-like boulder. I was so grateful for this unstructured time, being in this sacred moment.

Today, we all purged clothes and began to pack what will be our ‘camping suitcase.’ We have color coordinated outfits (those who know me will be shocked at these words) for simplicity, books, and art supplies, that will stay in our suitcase. So all we will need to do is wash clothes in between adventures.  The plan is that we will have travel adventures and interviews Monday-Wednesday and be home Thursday-Sunday, with occasional longer trips here and there.  I always envisioned living abroad during this time, but since that did not occur, unplugging and adventuring seems the next best thing!

Next week, we will meet friends in Kings Canyon National Park. More on that and everything else,later!

 

 

 

 

 

STOP and LIVE

My dear friend Melinda who we recently held fundraisers for has been given days to weeks toDSC05013 live. While this is heartbreaking and feels tragic to me, it is balanced by our recent time together on a walk to a Redwood grove hidden in the midst of Orange County. After months of enduring chemo, she had a phase of respite where her energy had returned and as we walked we talked about facing death, about the importance of embracing this journey and all its privileges; being able to kiss a loved one, hold her grandbaby on her chest, express her passions.  She wasn’t ready to die, but she was not afraid, and knew that she would continue her wider journey in the afterlife.

It’s hard to write this. I don’t want to believe it. I want to cry for my friend, for the grand baby, daughter and loved ones she will leave, for the fire in her that will go unexpressed in this lifetime, for the part of her soul that wasn’t ready.  And I have and will.  But, in the midst of my sadness, I continue to see her radiant face smiling at me, celebrating the life she has lived and TRUSTING the limitless journey ahead of her.

Melinda has lived a full life, breaking free from limiting experiences, continually growing/learning and seeking to help others do the same. Though she is young, close to my age, she has been a tremendous light bringer and guide to many. She packed so much life into her life.

It is still heartbreaking, but as with all loss, the only thing that truly helps me and my children, is to focus on our loved one’s legacy and the reminder to FULLY LIVE our own lives in each sacred moment that we have.

As the holidays swirl us around in busyness, I have been overwhelmed and shocked at how busy I could still be. Even with all of my overt and sometimes obsessive intention to slow down, there seems to be so much to do.  But Melinda, and all the other shocking tragedies of the last few months, are powerfully reminding:

STOP.

NOTHING is more important than stopping and breathing into this moment of this life you are living right now.

This inspired me to have a spontaneous date with my husband tonight during which we talked about how we don’t like when life becomes so much cleaning, dishes, meal prep, house upkeep, blah blah blah, that we don’t get to just play and be with the kids and each other.  This reminded me of all the traditions that focus on light in the midst of darkness this season. There is a way that we just want the light, the fun, the happy, which becomes exploited by an entertainment based culture. (i.e It’s an idea we have more now than say during ‘Little House on the Prairie times when daily work was part of life)

But the truth is, it is ALL our sacred life.  Every moment is an opportunity to have an open heart and experience this life with wonder.  Even washing dishes, clipping toenails, arguing with a loved one, losing your patience with a child, and so on. I can imagine myself in spirit form looking back on these moments, grateful for the opportunity of earthly growth and wishing I had seen it for what it was at the time.

Step two of Inner Bonding reminds us to open our hearts and move into curiosity, opening to learning about ourself and the other.  In other words:  STOP, remember what a gift this journey is, embrace this sacred moment with wonder.  So many things change when we remember this. If I had few moments left and had to do chores, I would enjoy it and play with it; sings songs, put on music, throw dishes away haha! If I had only a few more times to put my child to bed, I would drop the less important things and snuggle to sleep.

While we are living life we do have responsibilities, but it is crucial to constantly ask ‘what is really important?’ in a world that seeks to pull us in every direction. The beautiful thing is that the answer to this question is within all of us.  No one has to think too hard about how they would live if they remembered their moments were limited.

As she prepares to leave this human experience, I feel this is what Melinda would say to us all right now.

I can see her grinning as we sat upon the earth, light rays gleaming in through the tall redwoods behind her, saying, “I am always inspired to teach what I am learning!”

What is one practical thing you can do differently with this reminder? Please share in the comments. Let’s inspire each other!

Wide open arms of love

Just when we think we ‘have things (somewhat) figured out” children fortunately continue to teach us.  Sabriel, myphoto(4) youngest, has given me many mothering moments where I have felt relaxed and experienced AND he has also challenged me immensely to keep growing.  In his sensitivity and extreme sense of dignity and self-respect, he does not tolerate anything that feels remotely harsh, embarrassing, or controlling.

Throughout the last few years of parenting him, I have tried to use what worked with my first two in so many situations, only to have it fail miserably with him.  This I am familiar with.  From many years of working in the schools with young children, I learned and taught my students that children do not come with a one size fits all formula.  Instead, throughout parenting or any work with children, we try to find the language and approach that resonates with each.

Of course, it’s so frustrating and humbling.  Like life in general, there really is no arrival.  Simply picking ourselves up, repairing any mistakes, and trying again to live from love rather than fear/control in whatever that moment is presenting.

This morning, Sabi was in a stuck place, appropriate to his developmental age, over having been given the choice of what to wear.  Oops, I forgot, choices (that thing that everyone recommends) don’t work well with him!

We weathered that storm and he eventually got dressed.  A house full of visitors, lots of fun and some over stimulation later, he is ‘acting out’ (i.e.. overwhelmed and expressing it) and I move through all the gentle yet firm parenting approaches that worked with my other two (even though I have done these and failed before with him) out of sheer habit and my own overstimulation. They don’t work and instead infuriate him. He  punches me over and over again, so wound up and stuck in his primal impulse to fight.  Any limit I try to set around this hitting, makes him feel even more threatened and want to fight more.

I am of course, feeling incredibly helpless and perplexed.

Finally, I remember the thing that works, which I am grateful that he has been reminding me.

I give up on trying to ‘figure this out’ and ‘use the right approach’ and I drop down into my breath and get present in my heart, into love. Pure accepting love.  I open to my guidance to ask for help, (moving from my ‘stuck’/wounded self to Loving Adult).

Now I am remembering. “Please help me to have the wide open arms of love,” I ask.  Please help me to expand past my notions of what I “should be” doing as a parent, what boundary “I should be” teaching my child and simply help me remind him that he is safe and loved. Help me to BE safe. Help me to BE love.

It takes a bit because I am wound up and exhausted. So I sit, eyes closed, focusing on bringing peace and love in.  Sabriel crouched away from me, begins to cry sensing my shift, indicating that his defense is lowering and he is getting to his real feeling, but he is still feeling unsafe/angry enough that he doesn’t want me to hold him.

“Please help me to communicate that he is safe and loved,” I pray, as I focus on bringing that feeling into my heart, for both of us, and sending him the feeling of my wide open arms of love.

Of my unconditional acceptance no matter what. Of my willingness to let go of trying to control him.

This is the only way he can rest and stop fighting.

This is the only way I can rest and stop fighting ‘what is.’

Wise and patient teacher that he is, he has reminded me of this many times.  I remember the first time when he was having a “tantrum” in his car seat on a long drive in Maui, when I realized he was resisting any subtle control even if it seemed caring. I was kindly, patiently trying to help him, calm him, but underneath it, I really just wanted the crying to stop, and this very subtle control is what he felt.  While I have worked diligently to avoid overt control, practicing Inner Bonding with my older two, Sabriel calls me to refine this practice of opening my heart.

I prayed to my guidance to help me to surrender control even more and simply honor him. That is when I first saw the image of wide open arms of Love surrounding me, as I wrapped wide open, unconditional arms of love around him, both of us wrapped up in the warmth, light and peace of God/Love.

I felt guidance reminding me that this is all there is, pure, deep, boundless, timeless love and all we need to do is stop trying and simply rest in it. As I surrendered and felt the peace there, he stopped crying instantly.

Over and over this has worked, yet I still forget at times.  In the same way that I forget and contract when I judge someone, or recoil from another in a moment of conflict. This is only natural, part of our human-spiritual journey.

But he keeps teaching me.

Only love mama.

Only love and acceptance (surrender).

For both of us.

For all of us.

In this moment, he is still upset, not quite ready for a hug. So I tell him and send him, “I love you honey. I’m here when you are ready for a hug.” I pick up a broom and begin to sweep.  I don’t ‘know’ why, it is just an impulse from my intuition and Guidance, and feels like what is needed.  I would never have ‘thought’ of this when trying to ‘fix’ this from my mind, which is why I love intuitive parenting.

I sweep away the cobwebs all around us and maybe in doing so, I am sweeping away our messiness too.  With each firm swing of the broom, reminding him that even when things fall apart, I am here to make it right. That safety and belonging (order) can be restored.  I tell him I love him again but with more lightness, this movement helping me move on energetically, freeing him to do the same.

Soon he is on his way to feeling better and returns to playing with his friend that my older son Lucas and playmates were so brilliantly entertaining, while mama went for a learning ride.

I’m so grateful to this boy for helping me unpeel more layers, showing me those crusty protective habits and unhealed places in me and bringing me back to LOVE.

Over and over.

Deeper and wider.

xoxoxo

Sylvia

Reclaiming Wholeness- an essay on my personal journey

 

Recently I wrote this autobiographical essay on the power nature connection and conscious mothering have had in my life, and why I do what I do...11011564_10152854294048719_1107943943098580856_n

I recall very few moments of my young life, except those steeped in what is wild. After the madness of my mother’s descent into mental illness, I was placed in foster care. As the youngest child in my family, at age 5, I was separated from my sisters and left alone with strangers, every person I knew taken away.

I lost most of my memory (and childhood) then. Over the next 13 years, I was passed from home to home over twenty times. So many of my caregivers had good intentions and I am grateful for them all. It was simply the reality in my situation, that life became a drastically fragmented blur as it does for many foster children. I longed to be kept, to belong, and yet to survive, I also disconnected. So many goodbyes can make you stop wanting to say hello.

People will say to me, “remember when we….” and I nearly always say no. I was too busy surviving. And to survive I had to be practical. Like many children suffering repeated loss, I soon found safety in avoiding attachment and buckling down.

But what I do remember was that no matter where I went or what home I was in, the wild, natural world was always with me, and these are the moments I vividly recall. The golden grass canyon behind one home where I found peace while watching the wild horse run free and the ants climb up trees, the pungent scent of my grandmother’s fresh fig tree, sticky milk dripping from its plucked fruit, trekking through a patch of bamboo stalks that sliced my ankle leaving an inch long scar shaped like a crescent moon, and teaching myself to swim in the slippery, aquamarine water of my friend’s apartment complex. Always the elements. These little altars of aliveness reminding me that there was still vibrancy, peace and spiritual connection in a world that had become gray with fragmentation within a system I was breathtakingly helpless in.

The horse that foamed at the mouth when eating a juicy orange. The lemons I picked on the way home from school, intuitive aromatherapy to help me push past despair. The rabbit that plucked its fur and made a nest, then became too wild for me to hold because it was allowed to be free. I on the other hand, felt caged and caged myself further, finely honing my rejection radar, hoping and wishing that I could please my caregivers enough that someone would keep me. When someone would ask me what I wanted, I would try my best to ascertain, as most children in these tenuous situations do, what the other person would like me to say.

As an adult, I took this pleasing pattern as far as it could go, being the poster child foster care success story with award after award, scholarships to undergrad and graduate school. A journey that began in fourth grade when my teacher, Mr. Hollister said, “Life may be hard for you now, but you can change that by getting good grades and going to college.” I held tightly to these words, beginning right then. Carrying far too much stress about my grades at that age, but also the gift of perceived control and hope. I traveled these directions extremely well because I could, as academics came easily (though not a viable path for many foster youth). And I went on to please and work hard in my professional roles.

Then I became a mother.

And like many mothers before me, the wild mother bear arose, swooned and sank into reverie about this new life I would create, could create for my child. This family all my own. A new life that had very little to do with pleasing others and had everything to do with reconnecting to myself and of course, giving this child everything I didn’t have. (The universal longing for all parents it seems.)

Leaving my children for long days at work had to fall away. Defining my fragile worth by what I did, how I achieved, performed had to fall away. The crusty layers of guardedness and disconnection had to fall away. Settling for surviving had to fall away.

I rested into mothering and gave myself the gift of the childhood I never had. So much wordless healing took place as I gazed at my sleeping baby, lie on the grass watching clouds pass with my toddler, felt the tender grasp of my child holding my hand, looked into the sparkling eyes and wonder of a five year old, and listened intently to the rich wisdom of the unfolding soul as my children grew. Their innocence and trust cracking open the shut down places in my heart. And again, I felt that innate aliveness found when fully present in each wild and natural moment, when one touches the love and life that is humming all around. This helps heal trauma, and before I knew this, I knew this.

Even as I wept with longing for my sick mother, as a child I had rested in the cradle of my eternal mother earth and felt and remembered her aliveness. As a social worker in urban elementary schools, I  recalled this natural growth impulse in children and facilitated imaginative free play, inviting the wild spark within to guide them to their own healing.

And this time, my children, inherently connected to their wholeness, and my desire to reclaim my own, were calling me further.

Now I had the time and space to travel a deeper path toward reconnection. While I had been blessed to find a powerful spiritual healing process (Inner Bonding) at the age of twenty, that literally saved my life, now I was taking this wisdom and putting it into life giving practice daily. Stopping and moving at the pace of a child as best I could, I was finally experiencing what had only felt theoretical before. Yes, there is peace and grace all around me; in the perfect growth impulse of the seedling, the growing child and the bird that sings. Yes, there is a grounding rhythm to all of life, a time to be slow, a time to work earnestly, a time to feel the air on your skin, a time to rest, and not simply survive. Yes, there is a life to live actually, not just watch on a tv screen, pounding down junk food to numb the emptiness. Crazy, chaotic, scary and messy though it may be as one child is screaming and the other throwing paint all over the floor, this is vibrant Life. And yes, this drinking deep of what each day offers is a path toward finding my bliss and our bliss together.

Every mothering move became this prayer. I became devoted to peeling back layers of disconnection and reclaiming my fragmented life. I learned to discard the ‘out there’ information of parenting experts and tune into the intuition that is rekindled with birth, asking “If I lived in the jungle, what would my baby need?” This simple question reminding me to mine my inner wisdom, my Source and the collective wisdom of my ancestors, a practice which brought me home to the truth that we have and are all we need.

I kept asking, in general, anytime there was an end product, “What were the pieces that brought these to me?” “How am I participating in increased fragmentation or allowing my children to be?” And as much as possible, finding our way back to the simplest, most nourishing form of all things. Planting and harvesting the seeds to grow our food. Joining a CSA. Making bread, yogurt, sauerkraut! Letting go of the TV to tell our own stories. Making our own music. Singing our own songs. Learning primitive skills. Spending endless hours in our greenbelts, however tiny. Trading for skills and resources. Living simply. Making dirt! Laughing with surprise, as we found profound satisfaction in scooping mulch to cover our lawn and repurposing items instead of consuming. And simply breathing into each moment, moving far more slowly than most everyone around us. In short, peeling back through the muck and distraction of our lives to the innately whole and complete parts of ourselves and again and again, finding there a deep, sweet relief.

What began with discoveries like “Ohhhh so that’s what the top of the zuchinni is..part of the stem?!” and “You can make your own mayonnaise? “ morphed into hosting permaculture inspired events, developing a nature based counseling practice and leading conscious mothering retreats and circles in my Southern California suburb. While I dream of our someday homestead, I find solace and inspiration in bringing people together here for whom the return to wholeness is like water in the desert (literally and figuratively). The pervasive disconnect of modern society steeping us all in this unspoken longing and deep gratitude when we find each other.

The flip side of growing up in foster care, is that while bouncing from home to home, one gains invaluable and ultimately liberating insight. One learns that there are many different kinds of people and struggles, that you can do without belongings, that change and heartbreak are a part of life one can withstand, that independence truly does strengthen, that people will fail you but the essential will not, and that there are many ways to live. As a modern day orphan gliding on the edge of what feels to others an entrenched reality, one sees that there are actually many possibilities.

When we peel back the layers of disconnection and return to the aliveness in the wild world around and within us as I intuitively did as a child, and consciously strive to do now, we remember this too; the intricacy in the tiny juice sacs tucked all together in a sliced orange, the crisp caress of morning air, the ease and miracle of breathing, the tinkling laugh of a child, the birds chattering a party at midnight in the concrete laden suburb, the magnolia seed pod bursting with crimson jewels on the sidewalk, the greywater soaked grape vine climbing over and into every crevice…

Anything and everything is possible.

We are not meant to be caged, we are meant to flourish, extending in every direction toward what life will have us be, reaching our tendrils out toward the wholeness that sustains. We are all wild, and this is what will save us.

Reminders from Acorn gathering

A couple weeks ago, my children and I attended Acorn gathering, a natural living skills community

11011564_10152854294048719_1107943943098580856_n event just north of Santa Barbara.  Five days of camping solo with my children often feels daunting to me, but at Acorn it was filled with ease.  My children were noticeably different;  the way they can sometimes seem frenetic, like animals in a cage/house seeking a diversion, was simply not there.  They were calm, intrigued, and enjoying themselves immensely making bows and arrows, primitive knives with flint, going for walks to a natural spring, playing “dark tag” in the glow of the campfire, playing and chatting under the stars.  They were free and peaceful.

I spent most of my time with my three year old, wandering from class to class, observing animal hides being preserved, creative sculptures made with cob, shoes made from buckskin and recycled bicycle tires, fire being made with two sticks, silk scarves dyed with plant hues, and so on.  My soul was filled by the deep rootedness to the earth and ancestors.  I relished being in a community that felt so attuned to what seems natural for us as humans and so conscious of their impact and connection to all of life.  In the evenings, people chatted and laughed near their sleeping children in tents, or sang and told stories by the fire. There was no Netflix and we not only survived, we were filled up by the moon, the stars, our dreams and visions.

It wasn’t all easy.  There were many moments that were disappointing, like not being able to fully participate in some of the classes I wanted…or lonely at times when I felt a bit outside of the social interaction. Still there was a palpable feeling that nourished me, like the ‘rightness’ that Jean Liedloff speaks of in her book “The Continuum Concept,” when we just know we have returned to the peace of our essential nature.  I felt myself reconnecting to this, I saw it in my children and I saw what it looks like in community which expanded my vision of what is possible for all of us.

Again it was clear that so much of the strife our lives with children, and society in general stems from the ways in which ‘modern life’ contradicts what is natural for humans to thrive.  And when our predominant community is running the same rat race, it is hard to remember what is true, underneath the rushed, isolated, layers of competition and consumerism. When ‘everyone is doing it’ it seems normal and we go along with it against our better judgment/intuition. This is why events like this are helpful; we may not be able to live this way at all times, but we can use them as a time to remember the essential…and consciously return to this in our lives back home. When we know more about what feels truly nourishing, we can reach toward more of what is truly loving for us as we care for ourselves and our families.

For us, this means bringing in more of what we enjoyed at Acorn; more singing, more outdoor games, more hiking, more open fields to shoot arrows in, more slowing down to nature’s pace, more nighttime play and stargazing…. and more kindred community to do all of this with :)

So as always, I will keep bringing this naturally conscious hope, healing and reconnection to North OC and our online friends and I invite you to join us, because this precious life deserves to be lived as deeply as possible!

xoxo

Sylvia

 

 

All Good Things are Possible

This night felt like a movie.

Unknown-2We were at City Hall for a City council meeting where our neighborhood showed up in full force, wearing red shirts, to protestrezoning for a high density complex that would bring more traffic into our neighborhood.  In the weeks leading up to this, I marveled at the fact that people were coming together in opposition. I felt ambivalent.

It was literally going to be in our backyard and block our mountain view which is what has given me solace about living where I live in the suburbs and not ‘on land’ somewhere. I often stand on the edge of my sliding glass door entrance to the backyard, and looking out at the mountain range ahead, pretend there are not miles and miles of concrete and strip malls between us. When we heard that the development company was coming in and there would be two story townhomes blocking our view, the first thing my children said was, “ But they can’t cut down our tree!” I wasn’t sure what they were talking about, and they explained that they sit in the playstructure and watch the hawks and other birds fly in and out of an expansive tree in the lot behind our house. I was especially surprised to hear this from L, my one child who tends to rebuff my attempts at nature connection. And yet, here he was appreciating this tree and his bird’s eye view all along.  Such is the power and importance of the natural world.

They were very upset, but given all of my experiences in activism and many marches that felt discouraging overall, I thought there was nothing that the ‘little guy’ could do. I don’t like to ‘roll over’ for anything, but because of this entrenched discouragement, I was preparing to do so, over something as precious as the little bit of heaven that we had in our backyard.

This is also because I don’t feel entitled to this view. I sensed it was a matter of time and I also don’t begrudge anyone wanting to live in this neighborhood. I even thought maybe it was making a mountain out of a molehill. I afterall, grew up in poverty and truly understand that everyone just desires a beautiful, safe community to live in. As a social worker, I deeply believe in providing more housing opportunities. I didn’t want to be exclusive.

And yet, this was not an affordable condo or rental development, this was simply an oversized development plan made by a company that wanted to maximize its profits by changing the zoning rules. It felt like there could be a more respectful way to put housing into an established neighborhood.

So while I was busy tending to my family, I was grateful that there were people talking about this and going to meetings, but I really did essentially think it was all in vain. I thought, ” If there is money to be had, they will do it regardless.”

As I saw signs going up and my neighbors rallying, I kept feeling impressed and touched. Every time I saw a sign in front of someone’s house that was farther away from the actual development, I marveled at why they would care.

Then one day, one of my neighbors came to my door to give me a flyer. Again, I felt so impressed that she was taking the time to walk on this fiercely hot day to keep me informed. I have done the same in my activist days and know the level of commitment and integrity it requires. I asked her, “Why do all these people who don’t live nearby, care about this?” She helped me to understand the basic traffic and community feel concerns that I had not thought of…and it was simply nice to meet a neighbor I didn’t know and find out that she was the kind of person to stand for her beliefs.

Still, I thought, yes, but the city is not really going to care about that. I felt it was worth a fight, but I would never have been the one to try to carry that flag alone. So I was very glad that they were doing this and agreed to attend the City Council meeting. I felt that even though the chances were slim, it would be a great opportunity to have my children see people care about something and come together to be heard. An opportunity which is increasingly rare nowadays.

So the night of the meeting, I hurriedly fed my children and got us to the meeting where we found a sea of people from our community wearing red. It was so impressive to see the Council hall filled to the brim and about forty to fifty people in the overflow, maybe more.

My children were thrilled to see some friends and run around with them since the room was so full and noisy already! We also got to see the mother of Lucas’ classmate and all her children stand in front of the council to ask for reduced rates on block parties. It was so heart warming to see people taking action.

Finally, it was our time for our item. Thankfully, they allowed all the overflow people to come in and stand up against the wall. The developer came up and gave a twenty minute talk with power point in a condescending tone.

It was interesting to hear the development company say they were putting in water conservation measures, including a rainwater catchment system, saying the development would be an improvement for the drought. I chuckled when mayor Chaffee said, “I doubt it, since it’s currently a parking lot (i.e not currently using water)”

It was so interesting, the whole evening, how the builders, architects and other cronies, spoke about the community we were all just fearful-of-change, NIMBY ists. They were all dressed in business attire, using condescending language about change and conservation. It was really funny to hear talk of conservation at the same time that they are saying ‘What people want is new houses and that is what we want to provide for them.’ I cannot think of anything more wasteful than squeezing 28 new homes on less than 3 acres, in a county that has plenty of unoccupied homes.

Aaahhh, but this is politics, I remembered. ( In one of my ‘past lives’ when I was twenty one, I was an aspiring politician that learned how very wrong this was for me, while interning in Washington DC.)

I always try to hold a positive vision of everyone. Everyone was once a small child. Everyone has a core of love, perfection, innocence, we just sometimes forget it. And in this vast world, we all conceive of these things differently.

I sat there thinking, I really could not be giving my children a better education about what drives everyone. I reasoned like my wise godmother taught me, that the people who were focused on the money to be made, were also just trying to feed their families. I felt that I could even see discomfort in some of the speakers who had to represent the other side, but who may have felt conflicted. But it was also clear that when money or a scarcity mindset drives things, there is greed. And when there is greed, there is inauthenticity.  And it was palpable.

On the other hand, the people from our neighborhood were very authentic, speaking with hope and heart and common sense. I felt that my children were in one of the greatest classes on government that I could ever give them. So consistent with my love of homeschooling/life learning, was this moment. They were integrating our democracy in a way that was alive and interesting and deeply relevant to them.

As I was busy trying to get a cranky 3 year old situated and to sleep as it neared 9:30pm, Lucas and was rapt with attention. He loves a good story, and here was a new person telling a new story every three minutes. Maya was getting tired but I urged her to stay until we saw our friend Jenn go up with her son William.

Finally, Jenn went up for her turn, speaking in her wonderfully straightforward way about the silly, playful, and very family friendly neighborhood we share with over 45 children who would be very affected by the increased traffic. By this time, Maya was hooked, and now she was urging me to go up and speak.

As I watched, I felt more and more grateful. Grateful for the City Council members who sat there with tact and patience as every person came up. Grateful for my community. And also grateful for the ‘other side’ because for tonight, they were showing my children over and over, the keen difference between an energy that seeks to exploit and one that seeks to care and preserve. We could have muted what people said and based on energy, posture and appearance alone guessed well at who was representing what. And this to me, is a huge life lesson that will carry them through much of life. Try as I might I don’t think I could have ever communicated this as clearly with words.

As I sat on the floor against the wall, holding a dog tired, sleeping Sabi, Maya kept coming over to me and whispering what she wanted me to say, like “Right now we have a view of the mountains and a beautiful tree and if they build it will just be brick and paint!” I suggested she say those things. And I wrote down chicken scratch with my one free hand, the paper wobbling, barely legible of what I wanted to say. I knew it would be messy as my brain doesn’t always work when I have my children with me, let alone this late at night, compounded by my natural nervousness, but I felt so inspired. Even though so many had gone before, I wanted to capture this moment and express my deep gratitude and hope.  (And as many of my clients/readers know, I celebrate going for it, even when its messy.)

I wanted to tell them that even though the development company’s lobbyist said, (paraphrased)”Yeah, people protested other developments, then they were built anyway and the people accepted it and did not complain afterward”, that that was only because people gave up!  And here were people who had not given up, who were doing the beautiful thing and standing with hope that their leaders would take them into account, despite precedents like this! Who had not given up like I had been tempted to do.

I wanted to stand up and name this magical moment that we were experiencing. I wanted to thank my community for coming together and being courageous enough to stand before the microphone, carefully sharing the speeches they had thoughtfully put together. I wanted to thank the Council for their service.

And I wanted to speak for the value of sustaining hopefulness. But more than anything, I wanted to answer my child’s request that I stand too. Even with a heavy sleeping toddler on my shoulder. Even with my hands trembling. Even though I knew it would be ‘messy.’

When it was finally my turn, I was the very last speaker, number 63! It was 11pm. Sabi’s head was trying to get comfortable on my shoulder and I am looking every bit the disheveled mother, but L and M are at my side standing with sweet bright eyes.

I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I essentially expressed my gratitude to everyone and spoke from my messy heart about how inspiring it has been to see my community stand together. I told the council that this small town feeling is what has kept me in Fullerton, even though I’d rather live somewhere more rural. I told them it has been a privilege to watch beautiful democracy in action. I told them I was speaking because my children wanted me to. And I asked them to please show my children that people and families matter more than dollar signs.

Somewhere in there, because Sabi’s sleeping head was bobbing up and down (can you imagine this???) and everyone was getting a bit distracted by his adorableness, I paused and said, “I know it’s a bit distracting, but a mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do!”  And somewhere else in there, my son had gotten embarrassed and started shifting away from me to the right!  But my unscripted speech, seemed to touch my community, and when I was done, there was lots of applause. So he thought I wasn’t so bad after all and came over proudly and somewhat surprisedly saying, “Mom, you did a really good job!”

The Council took a break and even though it was now 11:30pm, there was no going home for my children.  We waited and after a few speeches from council members, they voted against the rezoning unanimously, 5-0!

I felt like I was in one of my favorite movies, “You Can’t Take it With You!” (an oldie by Frank Capra).  The little guy won! My city cares!

While injustices continue to happen all over the world, I was reminded that for anything to improve, we need to vigilantly change our mental patterns to positive, hopeful ones.  My pessimism without the hopefulness of my community, would only have led to my apathetic inaction which is precisely what allows injustice to prevail.

The irony is that I know this, and am engaged in other forms of activism because my ultimate takeaway from DC was that this is the primary way change happens in our country.  However, if underlying these actions I carry a subtle script that’ it is all futile’ because previous discouragement has linked with personal trauma talk that says ‘bad things can happen,’ (something happening in communities worldwide) then these actions are limited. Greed, power, and corruption thrive on people being oppressed and giving up hope.

I am so grateful that on this evening, my children (and I) were given the gift of a healing experience that speaks,

“People care. Love and kindness will prevail. All good things are possible.”

Even now I smile at this evening, the good feelings wash over me, the hope in humanity rekindled.  Imagine what our world can be like if we stay in faith that love and hope can outshine oppression?

This is the vision I will hold for our world and I invite you to join me.

 

Spiraling versus Arriving; the Healing Power of Circles

So much of what we do in this society is based on the idea that there is an arrival point.images

A place and time where we will finally ‘have it all’ ‘feel complete’ ‘reach that goal’ or ‘be at peace.’  This idea is fed daily by fear based religions, media and marketing that thrive on our wounded belief that we are incomplete and imperfect.

And we feel the pull, because we feel incomplete and imperfect, partly because of personal histories that created self doubt and insecurity, but also because as humans unfolding, we literally are imperfect and incomplete.

This past weekend at a retreat I held, we sat in a circle. I could have squeezed more women into this retreat had we sat in rows, but I cannot resist seeing the power of a circle and the magic that unfolds each and every time.  The circle is a potent visual reminder of the cyclical nature of all of life that reminds us that arrival and perfection are illusions.

As we sat in a circle, sixteen women took their turn authentically sharing where they are in life and their intentions for this sacred day of connecting within.  As each woman told their story, we all rested in the remembrance that life is filled with challenges and joys;  the loss of loved ones, the confusion of losing oneself, the anxiety and overwhelm of daily life, and the painful personal histories, all blended with daily triumphs, sweet moments with friends and family, simple miracles and the beauty of our unfolding soul.

No completion, no perfection, no arrival, only spiraling.

And when we share in circle, hearts open, tears flowing, vulnerabilities given light… we remember that we are all in this together as we relate to the heartache, helplessness, loneliness, outrage that are part of life.  We see clearly, that there need be no judgment of each other or ourselves.

Inside I smile wide when I see this remembrance sinking in.  I have seen in my own life and those of my clients, that self-judgment which says we are the only ones who feel this broken, this imperfect, this incomplete is one of the most pervasive blocks to healing.

It seems to be our wounded nature to compare and it is especially what we do in a media driven world that pits us against each other and sells the lie of perfection.  But when we consciously open to the dark and light of our experience and hold it within the wide lens of Divine love, we heal. We laugh. We share our wisdom and remember the richness within us.   With the layer of self judgment that closes our hearts lifted, we hear the sweet voice of our soul, the clear voice of Divine love and know that what is right for us in each moment is within us. There are no answers ‘out there’.

In doing so, we embrace imperfection, and incompleteness as part of our inherent design.

In much the same way, a seedling that sprouts is incomplete. As it reaches the sky unfolding into a tall vibrant sunflower it is imperfect.

The idea of perfection is irrelevant. We are grateful for that unique sunflower’s shade of burnt umber merging with bright sunny gold.  We would not want her to be exactly like another.

As she stands in her full glory, she is still incomplete.  Her seeds are growing. As they mature, her petals fall. Her head bows.

Her body dries up.  Seeds fall and are blown in the wind.  Her body, now spent. Her seedhead, an empty carcass, falls to the earth.

Still incomplete, she decomposes and makes rich soil. Some seeds settle back into the earth, sprouting new seedlings and the circle begins again.  Some seeds are eaten by the wildlife and support the emergence of baby robins, sparrows and squirrels and their circle of life continues.

She has not arrived, but she has fully lived.

The God All Around Us

A guiding premise of my work is that we do not need to look to others for happiness and contentment.

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the world wants us to dance into it

We may need guidance to help us come back to center and the richness within, but the truth about what is loving for us resides within our hearts and our connection to Spirit/God/Love.

Initially, when people are practicing a connection to their spiritual guidance there is a tendency for it to be a mental process.  This is okay at first because when we reach out or up to our guidance with the question, “What is truly loving for me?” essentially we are stepping into our Loving Adult self, shifting into the prefrontal cortex that supports clearer thinking and rational problem solving.  So it is helpful, but not the whole picture.

When we drop down into the gut, our feeling self, and ask the same question, the answers are often deeper, more solid and grounded as we connect to our primal knowing and uniqueness.

And yet there is more. There is the fact that God is within and all around us, and we are supported by this life force in every moment and in every thing.

This is why meditation typically begins with the place of our divinity and aliveness, the breath.  Why we feel good surrounded by the high vibration of the natural world. And why gratitude lists help us feel better. They are reminding us of the essential reality that in the midst of the challenges, there is so much resource, so much divinity, so much grace.

For example, when I am supporting someone to face their deepest challenge, together we explore what it would look like to bring our guidance in and we notice ways that our guidance is/was already there as a resource.  Not to negate the grief or pain that needs expression, but to balance it even as we hold space for the pain. We then move beyond the thinking about it, to the feeling of it in our bones, remembering that within each one of us there is a well of strength and resilience.

In each moment, we have our breath, we are alive, the biggest miracle. Then there is the air to breathe, so amazing. Our body carefully integrated tissues, organs, bones, working together to support our participation in this life, wow.  The earth to walk upon. A seat to rest on. A bed to lie in. A friend or animal to confide in.  The strong tree to take refuge in. And so on.

Even in cases of trauma, when often the only resource is your breath and your body’s amazing ability to dissociate to survive, this natural instinct is a supreme expression of divine power.

There is always God/Love/Life.  It is so important to remember this because it is only in connecting to our aliveness and connection to Love that we can keep nurturing it and feeling it in our lives.

Dr. David Berceli found in his work with trauma survivors that psychological processes alone were less effective in treating suicidal tendencies, than when integrated with bodywork. The mind can swirl around in all that is negative and confuse us into believing a distorted pessimistic view of reality, but when the body is nurtured and supported there is a feeling of aliveness. And this feeling of aliveness begets a palpable desire to be alive.  He states, the person “is able to increase internal sensation and feel the natural pulsation to live, thereby decreasing the thoughts of dying.”

I like to build even further upon the mind/body approach, to reconnecting to the aliveness and wholeness within and around us, reminding us that we are steeped in Love.

This is why for me, healing is a conversation that goes beyond mental processes, and asks, “How many ways are you touching the God that is all around and within you?”

Are you touching vibrant healthy food that is alive and free of toxins? Are you enjoying in-person connections? Are you feeling into and moving your amazing body? Are you breathing, really breathing? Are you feeling the earth hold you?  Are you taking in the natural world around you humming with life and beauty to inspire and awaken you?

Are you marveling at this precious miracle that you are?

 

 

 

Letting Go of Guilt is Loving

Did you know that guilt is not a real emotion?  I know this may sound incomprehensible because that feeling of guilt can be so 100_3147palpable on an inner level as well as, felt from another that is ‘guilt tripping’ you. 

 Yet, guilt is not a core, authentic emotion that arises naturally.  Children do not feel guilt unless they have been told that they are somehow responsible for another’s feelings.  Usually this sounds like, “you should do this, behave this way, feel this way to make me or someone else happy, comfortable or avoid their anger/shame/blame.”  So guilt becomes a coping mechanism of the wounded self.  “If I do this right, then I will get the love and approval I need” Or sometimes we have simply been conditioned to believe that another’s happiness is our responsibility. We feel this energy or expectation and feel guilty because we naturally want to resist it.

 When my mother was alive, I remember feeling so chaffed at her requests that I would visit her. Although I loved her in that primal way a little girl loves her mommy, I felt very disconnected from her after having been separated from her at age 5. As a teenager, when I would visit her, she felt a stranger to me from a different world. I tried to honor her as my mother, but it was even hard to communicate because she primarily spoke Spanish, and I had lost this first language after living in English speaking households. 

 So when she would call and say with that (very culturally enforced) Mexican guilt tripping tone, “When are you coming to visit me, mija???” So much would get stirred up.  I would feel anger “How can you expect that when you didn’t even raise me?” discomfort “I don’t feel like visiting because we don’t have a connection,” or I would simply feel the pull and naturally recoil and resist. 

The other day I was telling my children about our natural tendency to resist control, manipulation or guilting (other words for control).  I said, “Maya you better be sure to eat some ice cream tonight!” She looked at me with confusion as she wrestled with her resistance to ice cream! I pointed it out and we all laughed, “Yeah, no one wants to be told what to do!” 

What I am so grateful that I realized when my mother was alive, was that I did actually want connection with her.  But anytime I responded to her guilting me and visited her, I would only feel resentful and resistant and she never truly felt my love. She only felt dutiful obedience, a poor substitute. 

When we do things out of guilt, we are only sharing our wounded self with the other. As we believe the lies that underlie this false emotion, we remain stuck and cannot allow the love and caring of our soul and Guidance to flow through.

As I learned more about Inner Bonding, I realized that if I was not honoring my soul’s true feelings, I wasn’t able to fully love her or anyone else.  I gave myself permission to only visit her or do anything with her when I authentically wanted to. 

This didn’t actually change the number of times I visited her, but it completely changed our experience with each other.  When I was no longer buying into the lie that underlies the false emotion of guilt (that I was responsible for her happiness) and spending my energy resisting it, then I had the freedom to connect to my authentic care and compassion for her. 

I am so grateful that I did this, because now I can look back at the last few years of her life without regrets. I know that when I visited her with the authentic desire to, I shared true love and connection with her.  However muddy it felt at times as we fumbled our way toward reconnection, my heart was open to her and I know she felt my love, compassion and appreciation. 

Contrary to what many are raised to believe, my letting go of guilt was truly most loving for both of us!

Shark! How understanding brain biology helps us heal

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So much changes when we understand what happens in the brain when we are overwhelmed, stressed, and triggered.  This summer, while swimming in the warm, gentle waves of Maui’s Kamaole Beach, I came to a stretch where there were no swimmers ahead of me. Instantly the thought raced through my mind, “Oh no, there could be a shark here!” My arms and legs began to tremble, my chest got tight and my heart beat like crazy. I turned back quickly, even though I knew the thought was probably ‘irrational’. In the moment, I had shifted into fight/flight/freeze and there was no logic to be had.

This is the kind of thing that happens all the time to anyone in this day and age where we are all slightly traumatized by the incessant fear and sensation driven media that distorts our perception of the dangers around us.  And it is something that happens even more frequently when we have experienced significant traumas in our life.  My husband has seen Jaws and enough other scary shark stories to have the thought cross his mind.  But I knew his less traumatized brain would never consider a shark in shallow, populated stretch we were in, nor would he freeze up in terror.  The brain of those with trauma has imprinted ideas like, “bad things happen all the time” because they in fact, did in our formative life.  So in layman terms, paths are developed in the brain in the way that any road that is tread often, becomes entrenched. Soon enough that road is all you see and when lost, it is where you go.

 

Continue reading Shark! How understanding brain biology helps us heal

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