When you’re misunderstood

I shared in the women’s group this week about being misunderstood, how it hurts the heart but is also none of my business. If someone sees me differently than I am, I have to remember there is a character I play in their story. That character may look just like me, but I don’t know her that well. She doesn’t have much to do with the main character I play in my own narrative, the one who makes lots of mistakes but usually has pretty good intentions. It’s super important to me to clear misunderstandings with other people, but not everyone shares that value or wants to meet in that place of mutuality, the one Rumi describes as the “field beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing.” Sometimes, I have to accept that I will play the enemy in someone else’s story, no matter how hard I try to make things right. Still, I don’t have to hold a grudge just because someone holds one against me. 

We are now moving through the Days of Awe, also known as the Days of Repentance, a ten day period in the Jewish tradition of taking accountability for one’s self and asking forgiveness where we know we’ve misstepped. I love that there is community time set aside for this practice, as I can tell you especially from my work with grief and dying, that it really matters. No one likes to leave here with important things left unsaid and undone. But just because we try to make amends doesn’t mean we will be received with open arms. That’s when self-forgiveness and boundaries become so important. 

Boundaries mean we get to choose the state of our innermost being. You can offer love, but whether or not it is received isn’t your responsibility. Your greatest responsibility is to that quiet place inside your own heart. And so, even in this period of accountability, all relationships will not be healed. The messes may still be kind of messy. All we can do is clean up our own side and make sure we put out the welcome mat. 

Sometimes I make little cards out of my daughter’s old preschool paintings. Today I pulled this one:

I thank the friend who first said this to me, and I wish this self-acceptance for all of you as well. If you are coming from the heart and doing the best you can, it is most certainly enough. You have the power to forgive and to start over. No one can take that from you.

Wishing you strong and healthy relationships, especially the one you have with yourself,

Julia

PS–If you’re going through some challenging times with self-forgiveness and letting go, here are some October offerings to support you in your own growth and healing:

  • Counseling and Hypnotherapy for Women: currently three openings, in-person and remote options available M/T/Th/F, schedule a free call here
  • Changing Along With Change: Hypnotherapy for Life Transitions, a Restoring Balance Luncheon at Seton Cove on Tuesday, October 22nd
  • Community Wellness Hour at AOMA every Wednesday (note: we had to change rooms because we  outgrew the old one–find us now in room E1) 
  • The Women’s Release & Empower Group is currently full and closed for the fall, but a new group will be starting in late January. Check my website for more details or get in touch if you know you’re already interested

When you let it all in

Do you ever feel like you do your yoga, meditation, running, breathwork, tapping, journaling… but you still feel stuck? It changes my perspective on this passage from Rumi’s beautiful and wise poem, The Guesthouse:

“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture.
Still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.”

Sometimes we lock the door, bar the windows, and stick fingers in our ears to avoid meeting the shame, rage, or fear that comes knocking. But other times, perhaps, not only do we let these visitors in, but we also give them a bed to sleep in and three solid meals a day. Maybe these emotional guests have become roommates that never clean up after themselves or leave the house!

Anger is a good example. If you don’t let anger in the guesthouse, she’ll get madder and madder. You’ll need barricades to keep her out, and eventually she’ll bust through. But what happens if you let her in, and she refuses to leave? How does one honor anger and let her come and go as need be?

I often tell my children that letting out anger and stress is like needing to throw up. When you feel sick to the stomach, trying to hold it in is going to make you feel sicker. It feels much better to just throw up. However, it really is best to find a toilet or a nice tree to receive your purge. It’s not a good idea to throw up on your friends and family; they may run away from you to clean themselves up. Same with anger, which can make us feel sick with resentment, anxiety, or depression when we don’t let it out. Still, we don’t want to vomit anger onto other people; we need private spaces where the purge won’t mess with anyone else, and we can experience the relief of release. 

As stress levels increase all around us, so must our attention towards de-stressing on a regular basis. Our nervous systems aren’t meant to be on high alert all the time. We can’t keep turning away emotions because they arrive at inappropriate times, nor can we let them start camping out in our closets. This is why I’ve become so passionate about simple emotional hygiene and the process of inviting it all in and allowing it all out.

I’m hosting a FREE workshop for emotional release on Saturday. While it won’t be the same level of depth and consistent support that we’ll have in the upcoming group program, it will be a gentle introduction to that work, a safe women’s space for letting go. It’s a chance to remember you’re not alone in your need to continually release. It’s just human nature.

The guests who come in as anger and stress may actually leave as clarity and empowerment. Anxiety and worry may say goodbye as excitement and prayer. We’ll never know until we let them in. We just can’t forget to also let them out!

Wishing you all the balance and well-being that your heart desires,

Julia

What it takes to be free

Commitment, structure, accountability. I’m surprised you’re still reading; those words bring up strong resistance for many of us. Or at least for those of us, like me, who like to feel boundless, creative, and free. But one thing I’ve learned is that commitment can actually be a channel for creativity, and structure, with its fewer choices, can be a relief, letting the wild one within feel safe to emerge.

In 2006, when the idea for my book first emerged, I started writing here and there, when I felt inspired. I didn’t feel pressure to produce anything, just a vision hanging overhead and a vague pull to sometimes give it voice. That haphazard “write-when-you-feel-it” pattern went on for about six years, until the very end of 2011, when I decided to take on a thirty day challenge of writing every day. Once the book became my homework, I actually made some good progress on it. I didn’t stick with the daily writing practice after the thirty days, but I did become more disciplined about writing, and two years later, I was able to send a manuscript out to a few publishers. When I received a book contract, it then took just three months to completely rewrite the book and ready it for professional editing. The structure of writing regularly, the commitment to complete the project, and the accountability to my publisher are what allowed a dreamy inspiration to become something you can actually hold in your hand. 

And so I wonder:

What if the commitment wasn’t to get something done, but to let something go?

What if a structure supported finding your own answers? 

What if you were held accountable to resting, receiving, and ease? 

We need containers for healing and growth, just like a caterpillar needs a cocoon. I would have given up on that book if it weren’t for the writing discipline and an editor waiting on me to finish. When it comes to our emotional health, commitment is even more important, because it affects not only us but also all those we care for in the world and in our families. To fully express what’s within us without alarming the neighbors, we need the space, the privacy, and the compassionate support to do what we know will help.

If you’re feeling like you could use some accountability for releasing stress from your mind and body, I absolutely invite you to explore the new women’s release and empower group that starts really soon. There’s a week left to still take advantage of the early bird registration discount (ends August 31st). I know commitment is scary. Trust me, I feel it too! But wow, the alchemy of what is possible when heart-centered women gather together and let go of what’s weighing them down and holding them back… watch out world, here we come. 

RELEASE & EMPOWER: A WOMEN’S GROUP PROGRAM FOR LETTING GO AND MOVING ON

The women that have signed up so far are wonderful people, making me even more excited for this group. I am doing free calls with everyone beforehand to make sure it’s a good fit, so if you want to take advantage of the discount, let’s set up a time to talk this week! And if you’re already committed to your stress relief and truly supported in your well-being, I hope you let this “no” be just as powerful for your freedom.

Shine on, dear ones,

Julia

Stress Release On The Regular

I’ve had an idea cooking for over a year now. It’s based on observations of my clients, my friends, my students, and myself, as well as what is going on out there in the world. What I see is this: Women have always fulfilled the role of caring for the young, the weak, and the vulnerable. The world as we know it seems to be collapsing in pieces, and the need for caregiving is growing exponentially. Most of us are just trying to get by, do some good, appreciate time with loved ones, and make a difference where we can. With violence, bigotry, and intense climate change, the stress of modern life is hitting the high mark almost daily for many.

There’s a lot of lip service paid to stress relief and self-care, but what does that mean? Taking time out for you? Splurging on that girls’ weekend? The reality is, most of us can’t get a massage every day or, more importantly, every time stress hits the body. We can’t control our environments or live in a bubble. We need to be able to process what’s coming at us efficiently. We need to release emotions as they come in, before they build into an anxiety crescendo or harden into resentment and hopelessness. There’s important work to do out there, and there are wonderful relationships, natural beauty, and moments of joy to appreciate in these temporary lifetimes we live. But we can’t see those blessings let alone move forward when we carry around too much emotional weight.

So here’s the idea that has finished cooking and is ready to be served:

Release and Empower: A Women’s Group for Letting Go and Moving On

This isn’t therapy or interpersonal processing; it’s women doing their own emotional release and empowerment work, together. Practicing the simplest of the simple tools I’ve learned over the past twenty-three years, it’s spiritual hygiene, a boot camp for emotional strength. 

If you feel almost chronically stressed because you’re going through a major life change, you’ve struggled with anxiety your whole life, or because you’re an empath and the news is breaking your heart, this work was created for you. The group is a season of commitment to regularly releasing stress from the mind, the body, and the heart, re-energizing your spirit and re-aligning with clear guidance. It starts Sunday, September 15th, and you can get all the details here. There’s an early bird registration discount that ends August 31st, so click here if you’d like to talk more and see if it’s a good fit for you. And if you’d like to experience a FREE sample of this work, join me on Saturday, September 7th. 

Cheering you on from the sidelines in whatever inspirations light your fire, 

Julia


Feel It to Free It: Lessons From a Waterfall

As many of you know, I fell down a waterfall in Colorado last summer. When I returned there this summer and saw just how far a fall it really was, I sat down and wept. I cried for the grace in that accident, how I didn’t smash my head on the jagged boulders, how I landed in a shallow pool of water instead of falling off the little cliff behind. As I walked away this year, humbled by my protection, my legs were shaking just a little. Awe and terror are flip sides of the same vibration, the light and the shadow of a feeling so overpowering, we rarely go there by choice. Like euphoric joy and the deepest of grief, to permit this fullness of emotion is a release and a relief. 

Of course, we all have blocks to feeling certain ways, and whether it is nervousness or terror, feelings in the fear realm are often guarded against with control. Have you ever been afraid to lose someone or something, so you held on even tighter? You can resist the vulnerability of anxiety, but it may just grow stronger, yearning to be felt and seen. The resistance itself can’t be ignored, fought, or even loved to death. Instead, like a waterfall, we can flow over, around, and through it. Cleansing every crevice, emotion flows wherever the tiniest spaces open for her. Even just a little release, the briefest acknowledgement, lets us continue on our way more easily.

I’ve wondered, sometimes, what would it be like if people went around expressing how they really felt all the time? Would employees collapse in hopelessness at meetings? Would fights break out in the grocery stores? The point is not to be at the mercy of fleeting emotions or to vomit them out on everyone else. The point is to create easy, private, loving spaces to feel and let go, so we can be relieved of tension, more clear and able to interact harmoniously with others. 

These summer days in the mountains, I’m walking straight into the waterfalls and letting them drench me through and through. The more I walk this trail of life as a woman who feels her feelings, the more I see other women and men giving themselves this same permission. There have been times in our history when pretending to be OK was a form of protection. But it’s authenticity that frees us from that prison now. When we release, we can relax, and then we can actually do all those important things we need to do, like finding creative solutions to problems and having productive, healing conversations when there has been conflict.

Letting emotions be felt and released, returning to a natural peace, and loving ourselves the whole way through. I’m currently developing a women’s group to support this kind of regular emotional and spiritual hygiene. It’s bringing together the most simple, therapeutic practices I’ve yet discovered for getting back in easy flow, no matter what feeling state you begin in. I’m really looking forward to sharing it with you! I’m starting an interest list, so please sign up for my mailing list if you want to make sure you get the details.

Whether you’re feeling a trickle or a waterfall, may your true emotions cleanse you, washing away old beliefs that you are anything but divine. 

With love,
Julia 

When you gotta do what you gotta do

Two summers ago, I met a bear. It was my first morning in Colorado, when I went out for a walk and discovered a nearby mountain trail. Being able to walk alone out my front door and into raw nature is one of my favorite pleasures of life, so I was singing along and hiking hard, grateful to be there. After a couple hours of happy exploring, I returned to the base of the mountain and was looking at a posted map when I heard a rustling sound. I turned around, and there he was, a bear walking down the trail headed straight towards me. 

Not only had I never seen a bear before in real life, I hadn’t even realized that seeing one in this area was a possibility. My very first instinct was shocked stillness. My next first instinct was to flee. I made an involuntary gesture as if to make a run for it, which made the bear approach faster, with more curiosity. So I turned to face him head on, spreading my arms and legs wide, making my most ferocious-sounding, guttural growl.

The bear, now fifteen feet away, stopped, looked me in the eyes, and tilted his head, as if to say, “Huh?” Then he turned away, veering off the trail into the forest. Heart-racing, I watched him go, holding myself back now from following him. He had scared me to death and was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen.

Is there something you’re afraid of that may be coming towards you, like it or not? Maybe there’s a big change you’ve considered making, and though you don’t feel completely ready, it’s starting to happen anyway. Or perhaps you’ve been keeping parts of yourself hidden out of fear of being judged, but it’s becoming more painful to hold back now. We must do what we are called to do, even when the reasons don’t line up. It’s like hiking alone in the deep forest. Maybe it’s not the safest thing to do. But sometimes what we love requires facing what we fear. It’s how we find out we are strong enough.

Last year, on the same mountain trail, I started climbing a waterfall when I lost my balance, flipped over backwards, and luckily landed in a shallow pool of water. Alone, with less than half a water bottle left and one ankle/foot clearly unable to move, it was up to me to get myself down the mountain far enough to find phone service and call for help. I had to wear an ankle boot for two months and couldn’t take a walk again all summer. This mountain has been schooling me! I am approaching it this summer with great humility and respect. I will honor this trail as the pilgrimage route it is, at least for me. It is beautiful, terrifying, and magical, like all paths of courage. The answer, I know, is not to stop climbing the mountain.

I hope you have a wonderful summer, and I hope you decide to take risks for what you love. You’ve got what it takes, even when you’re not so sure that’s true. I always welcome hearing your stories if you’d like to share them too! 

Much love,

Julia

PS- I am doing a limited number of remote sessions while we are on the road for the next month or two, so if you’re facing something scary, and you could use someone to believe in you, do get in touch!

When you have mixed feelings

A handful of years ago, I found myself waiting on a bench at a bus stop in MA, when a weathered, maybe young, maybe middle-aged man sat down next to me. We soon struck up a conversation, as I was curious about the assortment of craft materials he was pulling out of his bag. He proceeded to tell me a considerably involved story about how his ex-wife had kicked him out of the house and out of his daughter’s life, and how he had been homeless and couch surfing on-and-off for some time. In the course of these nomadic years, he had discovered how to create dreamcatchers from materials he gathered on the streets. He used thread unraveled from an old pair of jeans, washers dug out of the trash, and bits of feathers and bling found along the road. I had always wanted to make my own dreamcatcher, and as he talked, he also began to teach me. He generously shared his materials and assisted me in creating this simple design:

When it was time for us to go our separate ways, we said goodbye with a hug. I was thankful for the gift, and he was grateful for the listening. He smelled strongly of the streets, and I could intuit from his story that he had not treated his loved ones well in the past. This was not a person I would invite further into my life. And yet, I will never forget him or his patient teaching. I won’t forget his resourcefulness, how he made beauty out of what the rest of us throw away, how he learned from and connected to an indigenous tradition that goes back countless generations. The dreamcatcher we made together still hangs next to my bed and catches my dreams years later. 

Here’s the other side of the story: he wasn’t yet able to take responsibility for the pain he had caused. He still blamed other people for his own destructive behavior. From what I could gather, there was good reason for his ex-wife to not tolerate contact by him. Was this a bad person who could do some art? Was this an artist who had done bad things? My answer is this: we are all everything. We contain all the shadow and all the light there can possibly be. Instead of judging ourselves or others, can we receive and appreciate the true gifts while also establishing clear boundaries where we need them? Can we invite the compassionate heart that also knows how to say no? 

Humans are messy and paradoxical. Each one has a jewel inside, rare and beautiful. Each one casts a shadow, dark and sometimes hurtful. Love means committing to seeing the light, and it means stepping away when we need to. Finding the proper distance from which we can feel compassion is a delicate dance. But one worth every song.

If you’re having trouble negotiating closeness and distance in relationships with other complex human beings, you are not alone. Support is available here, not to tell you what to do but to redirect you towards your own intuition and wisdom on these matters. Maybe you’ll even find the answers you need on the streets or in a dream. If you ask for help, it is sure to arrive somehow.

With love,

Julia

When leaving it all isn’t the answer

The subject of quitting seemed to strike a chord for a lot of you, judging by the number of responses I received. Job dissatisfaction, relationship distress, the busy pace of modern life—so much isn’t working these days. Sometimes we’re not ready to throw in the towel completely though, and yet we can hardly bear staying stuck any longer. In these situations, it’s important to remember the other possibilities for change.

Here in Austin, we’ve been having intermittent storms come through. One day it’s sunny, and the birds are chirping; the next day, torrential rains are flooding the streets. On a neighborhood walk between storms last week, I marveled at the large branches scattered about the road. To look up at the healthy green canopy on a sunny day, it’s hard to imagine the trees carrying that extra weight for as long as they did. But they stood there tall and intact until nature’s momentum was strong enough to release their weaker limbs.

Counseling people over the years, I’ve heard a lot of stories, and I’ve seen how most of us struggle making decisions using the mind and the sheer force of willpower. Usually the options seem pretty dualistic, such as: should I stay, or should I go? Like the branches broken off in the storm, sometimes we can let go of the parts that are weakening, instead of uprooting everything. Examples are all around if you look for them. The parents who live separately but continue family traditions with their children together. The new mom who shifts from working full-time to being part-time and remote. The couple who lets go of monogamy and invites in other partners, while still loving, communicating, and respecting one another. Traditional structures are falling apart; they’re just not working for everyone anymore. What will survive the massive changes is what still has strength, vitality, and the ability to grow. When we embrace right timing to let go of the parts that no longer bear fruit, we may actually grow stronger once the storm passes. 

In this athletic, competitive culture, we’re taught well how to push through resistance, lean in to challenges, and manifest success. We don’t learn much about patience, adapting, and letting go. Most of us need some re-education, or better yet, de-education, in how to let nature take its course and remove what it will. When you know what’s not working, one way to respond is to grab a chainsaw and cut off that part of your life. Another way is to hold that grief with honesty and tenderness until, eventually, smaller breaks begin to occur. When the various unseen forces come together, the momentum will remove parts that aren’t serving their former purpose. Does any of this happen painlessly? No way! We need more love, not less, throughout the whole process, for the gentle light of compassion is the salve. 

Regardless of how it occurs, change happens by us, to us, and for us. It is the earth life we came here for. May you find courage through it all, and trust no matter what. 

Much love,

Julia

PS— Insight is easy, but how to actually live this stuff in the everyday is where the real work is. If you or someone you know is struggling with change, whether you need one-time or ongoing support, please reach out and ask. Remote sessions are now available, in addition to in-person at The She Shed.

Is it quitting time?

This past fall, I started a PhD at the California Institute of Integral Studies. The program in integral and transpersonal psychology seemed to encompass all the areas of mystical experience and spiritual and emotional healing that I’ve been studying on my own for the past 20 years. I could delve into intuitive self-healing, death and dying, traditional indigenous medicine/shamanism, and building compassionate communities all under one program. I went to the first weeklong residency and met the most fascinating people from all over the world. But in the course of that week, I realized that while I feel allied with the research they are doing, it is not what I am here to do. 

Have you ever needed to let go of something that didn’t feel right without knowing what would come to take its place? Often there’s a job or a relationship that needs to be released before you have enough emotional space for a new one to come along. As hard as you might try to make a smooth transition from one safe step to the next, it’s not always possible, and it’s not always what’s best for the soul. Quitting is a life skill. You have to be willing to face the uncomfortable truth, feel all kinds of emotions, and trust that something new will show up in the right time.

It took me about a week after that first intensive to drop out of the PhD program. I listened to this song every morning on my walk while I was still vacillating over what to do. When I stayed present to my experience and “followed the sun,” it was pretty obvious: fear kept saying to stay, but my intuition said to go. I didn’t yet know what the next step was; all I knew was what the next step wasn’t. I was definitely committed to a much deeper dive into my work as a healer and a teacher, but academic research was too removed for what I truly needed to embody and offer. A few weeks later, after daily emotional release and prayer, I happened to see a flyer for a program in traditional healing with an Apache medicine woman in town. When I first saw a picture of Marika Alvarado from Of the Earth Healing, I knew I had found the next step in my education. So while I may be the fastest PhD dropout ever, I am grateful to that experience for schooling me in how to let Life design my curriculum.  

Is there something that doesn’t feel right to you but you’re not sure what to do? Like the song says,

“So which way is the wind blowing,
and what does your heart say?”

I won’t pretend it’s easy. The process of leaving things can send you straight into heavy darkness. This is the birth canal that needs to be passed through. So I send you blessings for courage. May you trust your resilience and the miraculous ways that new paths open for you. And remember, if you need support, ask for it. Support is always there somewhere, and it’s here too. You don’t need to struggle alone.

All my love,

Julia

Getting lost and found

Do you feel a little lost and somewhat paralyzed when you’re not sure what to do? It’s easy to lose track of your internal compass when you’re trying to make big life decisions or if you’ve been on autopilot for a while. As with any obstacle, the place we are stuck is actually the doorway to where we want to be, the exact starting place from which to move forward. It all starts with “I don’t know.”

Every couple years, my family spends some time in Northern California to visit my best friend and brother. A few summers ago, I got pretty involved in a phone conversation while hiking up a mountain in the redwood forest. I was gone for almost two hours when I looked around and realized I had no idea how to get back. I had reached the summit and knew I had been in the general vicinity before, but none of the four or five narrow trails felt familiar. I tried one direction after another, retreating pretty quickly when I didn’t recognize the way. Had I meandered off the trail and not even noticed?

You may not get lost in mountain forests as often as I do, but maybe you know what it feels like to get off track, to think you’re moving along just fine, but end up confused and uncertain. Maybe you’ve tentatively started out this way or that, but have trouble committing to any direction because you think it may be the wrong one. It happens.

My return home that summer began when I said, “I’m lost. I don’t know what to do.” The map on my phone showed me as being in the middle of a big green blob. Relaying the trouble to my friend on the phone, I was reminded to “just start walking and look at your map. Are you getting closer or farther away from where you want to be?” This navigation tool worked. I started moving through the forest on and off the trails, checking my map to make sure I was headed more or less in the right direction. Eventually, I found a familiar road back home.

When I work with women who are feeling uncertain about their next steps, we start at the beginning: telling the truth of “I don’t know.” There is humility in this acknowledgement, and “I don’t know” is the perfect place to begin. After getting real in this open space of possibility, the next steps usually involve gathering support, remembering where you want to be, trying out some new options, and continually checking in with the heart’s compass. Is this choice bringing you closer or farther away? Trial and error guided by compassion and trust. It’s a process and an adventure, and through movement, everyone eventually arrives.

I’m wishing you the spirit of adventure on all your next steps, dear ones. And if you’re currently feeling lost or confused, please don’t hesitate to reach out for support. No one else can tell you which way to go, but sometimes the right questions help you navigate your own way.

Sending all my love,

Julia