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

Honoring and Celebrating Change through Ceremony

I went to bed at 2am last Saturday after my son’s “bar mitzvah-flavored coming of age ceremony” positively vibrating with love and gratitude for all of it. Family, friends, teachers, and mentors shared their blessings and wisdom with Kaleb. It was like an infusion of good vibes and appreciation. What a gift that is for any human being in the middle of 7th grade. 

Aside from being a proud mama, I feel re-inspired as a ceremonialist. I’ve been officiating weddings, funerals, and baby/mother blessings ever since I graduated from an interfaith seminary program in 2003. But this was my first personalized coming of age. Designing and facilitating something new requires a real trust in the creative process, something I love to do, whether it’s for a client or my own family. People that choose personalized ceremonies often feel like they don’t fit within the structures of organized religion, yet they long for the connection and meaning that community gathered together in reverence can bring. So when I work with a new client, I start off by asking questions. I need to know who the people are, what matters to them, and why they want to have this particular ritual. We have to root the experience in what is most meaningful and true to the people involved. So, for instance, if you come from a culture or tradition that you would like to reconnect with, I use that as a foundational piece. If you feel disconnected from the traditions of your ancestors or you’ve experienced religious trauma, I want to know where you feel the most alive and connected. Is it when you’re lying on the grass, staring up at the sky? Is it a martial arts or yoga practice? Maybe it’s hanging out with a small group of loved ones around a fire. It’s different for everyone, and that’s what makes personalized ceremonies so unique. 

Once I understand how to root the ceremony, we can branch out in ways that reflect the people involved. I follow tradition in structure or just in essence when it serves the heart-centered purpose of the ceremony. In some ways, the process is a lot like making art or writing. We start with a free flow of ideas and let them marinate for a while. In time, with patience and creative collaboration, what looks like disparate parts solidifies into form. Something brand new emerges that has never been seen before and yet is completely familiar, for it is your own.

Several friends this weekend told me they want to do something similar but don’t know where to start. The first thing I say is to give the ceremony creation some priority and a little space in your life. This isn’t just event planning (which takes time too!). The process is likely to stir up deep feelings, memories, and some questions. Ceremony is a marking of an important change you or someone you love is going through. It’s a chance to get real with yourself and with the people in your life. Rites of passage have been a part of every human culture throughout the ages. We all come from this history. We can remember and relearn our roots, and we can grow new branches reaching for the light. As humans here on earth, we have an open invitation for meaning and purpose. May we all grow strong and more beautiful in its unfolding!

All my love,

Julia 

PS–If you’re considering some kind of ceremony to mark a transition in your life, and you’d like support in its development/facilitation, I offer free phone consultations to see if we are a good fit for working together. Let me know if you have any questions! 

Quiet, cared for, and free

I’m on my way out for a solo retreat this weekend. I’ve been going to the same place every year since I turned 40. It’s a perfect setting because there are hardly any other guests around, and I get to enjoy delicious homemade meals without having to cook.

When I was younger and lived alone with much more time to myself, I still went on my own retreats. Back then, I would instill the self-discipline of fasting, meditation, prayer, yoga, and so on. This stage in my life is different though, with three kids, teaching, and a private practice. More than spiritual discipline, my soul longs for a respite from routine, responsibility, and technology. My solo weekend is about unwinding and re-wilding now, following natural impulses to do whatever I feel like doing in the moment. Usually, that means I spend a lot of time sleeping. Last year, I counted and actually napped five times in a day, while still going to bed early. I also wander the hills, read a lot, and write in my journal on and off all day. Then take another nap.

Have you noticed how restorative it feels to turn off devices, schedule nothing, see no one, and go nowhere? If you haven’t had a day like this in a while, I highly recommend it. These open-ended solo retreats with all my needs taken care of and no striving for anything have been just as profoundly healing as the time I’ve spent in spiritual intensives with masterful teachers. Living in a city in this busy middle phase of life, what brings me back to who I really am is… a whole lot of nothing at all. 

Solitude isn’t all blissful refuge though. All kinds of feelings arise in spaces without distraction. For me, the quiet usually brings deep emotional release and a reckoning with any uncomfortable truths that currently need facing. Next weekend, I’ll be hosting sixty friends and family for my son’s coming of age ceremony, so some centering beforehand seems like good timing.

Silence, nature, nourishment, freedom. It’s a simple recipe, but it takes some prioritizing and commitment to gather the ingredients. It requires turning away from a culture that says, “Keep going! There’s more to do! People need you!” All that is never going to stop. So I have to. 

I know this kind of quiet retreat isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I hope you too gift yourself lavishly with whatever fills you up and speaks to your soul. The more people taking care of themselves on this planet, the better off we’ll all be when we get back together! 

Hope you have a lovely weekend wherever you are,

Julia

When things get real

PhD’s are doing research on vulnerability. Does that not strike anyone as sort of strange? Have we all been hiding so well that we need scientific studies to prove it’s better to be real? I’m not suggesting everyone walk around talking about their troubles all the time. It’s nice to ask if people are available before we unload. But being vulnerable is also about letting go of pretenses in general, not participating when something doesn’t feel right, and asking honest questions. 

Part of what I loved so much about hospice work was there was no room for posturing. No one can pretend to have all the answers about death. People are real at the end, both the ones leaving and the ones staying behind. Masks come off, and anything that has been avoided rises to the surface, urgently asking for resolution. 

Sometimes big life changes are what shake us into authenticity. The breakup of a significant relationship, quitting an addiction, watching a loved one die, getting a scary diagnosis, or even leaving a job can set the soul into a dark night. These little deaths are opportunities to be real with the most important person in your life: yourself. The darkness is a ripe place for inquiries of the heart and soul.

What do you truly care about? 

What do you need to let go of? 

If you were looking back from your final days, what story would your life tell? 

What story do you want it to tell? 

If you’re at a crossroads right now, and it’s throwing almost everything into question for you, it may be a good time to be asking those questions. Gently, though. If you push a butterfly out of its cocoon too early, it will die. Sometimes we need the darkness for incubation. We may not get answers to our deepest questions right away, but we can be real about where we’re starting from. It’s a great place to be reborn.

Wishing us all the courage to be just who we are, and plenty of love and forgiveness in the process,

Julia

PS- If you’re looking for ways to face the hard questions and be with the discomfort of change, some of the tools I work with in session are things you can practice on your own too. Some clients come for weekly psychotherapy and others come on and off as needed. It depends on the level of support you’re needing, and that’s totally up to you. Just fill out this form and we can talk more about it.

What is a Coming of Age Ceremony?

Some of you have asked me about the coming of age ceremony we are planning for our almost 13-year-old son Kaleb. There were a couple different reasons to create this event. As a ceremonialist, I wanted to continue the tradition common to many different cultures, including my own Jewish one, of marking the passage from childhood to adolescence. I knew our process would need to reflect a more homegrown choose-your-own-adventure spirituality, one that would remind our son of his roots, while also giving him the freedom to follow his own compass and know his own heart. 

Then the social pressure cooker of middle school started happening in earnest. I won’t go into details because I want to protect his privacy. But the idea of gathering family, friends, teachers, and mentors that have truly appreciated Kaleb started to feel essential. I want him to remember there are people out there who see him and who have his back, especially on the darker days. As much as possible, I want him to understand that this next phase of life really is a transitional bridge. No one can give a kid this kind of context. When we are young, we can’t imagine the current dramas ever passing. But ceremony creates a context, as well as a deep memory of community acceptance. 

To prepare for the coming of age, we’ve included some  elements of the traditions we come from as well as some borrowed and new ideas. There are aspects of physical preparation, spiritual study, self-reflection, creative play, and community service. The ceremony itself will be a coming together in community to acknowledge and support one of our young people as he develops into the man he will someday be. So far, the process has been a fun experiment in life preparation homeschooling, for lack of a better word. 

Here is one of the study projects Kaleb has been working on. I pulled out some of our best wisdom books and asked him to pick five to read and reflect on. As you may imagine, he’s been choosing the thinner ones. So far, he seems to have liked The Alchemist best, judging by the fact that he read it in one evening. Definitely one of my top ten favorites too. 

Kaleb is our first child, so he’s getting the trial run. I’m looking forward to spending a weekend with family we rarely see and friends who have taken the time to know our quiet, earnest boy over the years. It’s a lot of attention, for sure. But hopefully the good kind, the kind that stays with you through the lonelier days and reminds you where you come from. 

Maybe you’re going through something important in your life, whether it be a marriage, a divorce, a death, a birth, or parenting a child transitioning into another stage. In addition to individual counseling, which can be really helpful during big changes, I work with people in creating personalized, meaningful events that reflect who you are and what you value. If you’re not sure exactly what you need, you’re welcome to set up a free call. Changes can be rough, but they are also ripe for growth. I hope you give yourself permission to receive all the support that’s available to you. And may that be true for all the children as well!

Some of the books he’s choosing from

Why I think Valentine’s Day is best celebrated in elementary school

It’s my middle child’s last year of elementary school, and I have been watching him write valentines for all his classmates. It’s a bittersweet time for me, knowing that Valentine’s Day will never be the same again for him. Soon enough, valentines will be for lovers, and he will know the same idol of romantic love that his culture bows down to. If he is lucky in friendship, he may exchange loving messages with friends or family too. But the form of human love overlooked on Valentine’s Day is one that we could all use more of, and it is the spirit behind elementary school valentine exchanges. 

Community love. 

Community love is appreciating the people we are on this crazy earth ship with, whether or not each individual is our favorite person to be around. It’s the sweet librarian who always says hello and the neighbor across the street who calls everybody in on code violations. In elementary school, you make a valentine for everyone, whether or not you know them well or enjoy their presence. Some kids grumble about having to make them, most bring store-bought candy, and the majority ignore hand-written notes. It can also be a hard time for the kids being bullied, shunned, or overlooked. Community love is messy like all other forms of human love. But there is an opportunity here, a teachable moment for us all. The spirit behind the practice is to look for something you can appreciate about the people around you. Even if it’s that they are making you stronger and more resilient by being your adversary. It’s about gratitude for the whole, even if all the parts are imperfect on their own.

Community problems need community healing. We are each responsible for our own well-being, but we can only go so far alone. When we come together to support ourselves in community with each other, the power of our individual work grows exponentially. 

If you feel a bit disconnected from community love, I am happy to share one of my communities with you. Community Wellness Hour is *free*, and it is an ever-evolving group of people who take time out of their lives to slow down, center, and relax each week. We come from all kinds of backgrounds, but we all come for peace. 

Community Wellness Hour is drop-in, but regulars rotate in and out. When you first arrive (on time or late), you’ll sit down and receive ear acupuncture called the NADA protocol. This protocol is commonly used for addiction as well as general stress recovery. If you aren’t comfortable with needles, we have some cute little beads to wear for acupressure. We sit in silence for the first half hour, meditating or letting the mind go wherever it needs. Then we all go on a little imaginary journey together through a guided meditation. We end with a brief sharing circle, which is all the more authentic because of the quiet we just shared.

I don’t remember everyone’s name. I even forget faces, which I am trying to do better at. But I do feel the love in the room each and every time. It’s different than romantic, family, or friendship love. It’s just humanity, sitting together, doing the best we can. I am grateful for all of it.

Whether you join us one day or not, I hope you feel the love of your community today. You are not alone here. We are here.