What it means to heal yourself, and how “self-healing” is misnamed, incomplete, and so needed

Have you ever sat by a waterfall in the forest, relaxed in a hammock on the beach, or watched an impressively colorful sunset and felt… nothing? Beauty and peace surround you, yet you’re lost in your own troubles. Maybe you’ve even had that experience with helping professionals, going to therapists and bodyworkers and life coaches and doctors and still, you remain caught in the same struggle that brought you there. It’s an awful feeling, like being handed a beautiful gift made just for you, only you can’t reach out your hands to accept it. You might decide the gift is not right for you and continue your search for more and new and better gifts. But what will help you to receive them?

As many of you know, I am a huge proponent of what I call “self-healing.” This phrase wasn’t super popular long ago, but much like “mindfulness” and “energy work,” it’s becoming so commonplace, it’s losing all meaning. So let me clarify the essence and the hype, as I see it.

What self-healing is not

When we are suffering, the darkness feels more real than the light. Finding solutions to problems in that dark place can seem pointless and burdensome. Self-healing, contrary to its name, is not about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and applying that independent, self-reliant, cowboy attitude to recovering from burnout and trauma. It’s not about undergoing a multitude of different therapeutic modalities or taking every nutritional supplement or psychedelic medicine available on this earth, though your own self-healing process may certainly include some of these wonderful tools and teachers. Self-healing is also not about manifesting everything you desire or replacing social needs with spiritual pursuits. And just like an outside person can’t make a change happen in you, no “self” can force you to think and feel differently either. 

What self-healing is

Self-healing is an opening. It is being able to see and acknowledge whatever kind of angsty mess we might find ourselves in for the moment. It is surrendering from the struggle to make it all better, a giving up on the attempt to figure it out. Self-healing, in the way I practice and understand it, is being willing to accept life on its own terms and to follow the step that shows up next like one would follow a flashlight through a dark cave. The actual steps are unique to each of us and the timing is as important as what actions we take. In essence, though, self-healing includes both some stepping up and some stepping back:

Stepping Up

We accept we can’t delegate our ability to feel better about ourselves and our lives to outward circumstances or to someone else. We don’t wait on what is outside our control to change. We give up the quest for the final answer being out there somewhere someone else has hidden, and take loving responsibility for our own internal experience of this life. We tell the truth to ourselves about how we’re doing and use our will to be willing.

Stepping Back

We slow down and let in the support that is already available. Maybe there’s a passerby that makes eye contact and smiles, a cardinal that lands on a nearby tree branch, a cooling tea with just the right herbal blend, a song, a movement, or a powerful ally or ancestor unseen by others. The form the support takes is irrelevant–what matters is we’ve let down our guard and allowed the spirit of what is present to touch us. The natural flow of life is healing itself when we stop blocking it. We learn how to receive, which, most simply put, is how to relax around what is. 

We think we need to feel better; often what we really need is to release resistance to what we actually feel and allow the everyday magic to do its thing. Healing as a noun is still a verb—it’s a process unfolding all the time. Shit happens and you can befriend yourself through it or abandon yourself. Self-healing is about learning to be your own champion, your own rescuer, your own beloved. Not because you have a big ego and can do all those things, but because you know you can’t. It’s like the little fuzzy caterpillars I’ve been seeing on my morning walks these days. I was looking at them and thinking about how they will become butterflies. Then I saw one being eaten by a chipmunk. All is not light and wonder. Healing is transcendence but not always through outer transformation. 

The caveat

The individual’s decision to accept rather than resist is a turning point, not the whole story. We are each unique beings, but we are also part of a much larger organism, beyond our own families and loved ones. We are not separate from the earth we walk on nor the child on the other side of the globe. We affect each other. We can trigger each other like crazy, but we can also heal together in depths we can’t reach alone. There is quite a lot of stepping up and stepping back that needs to be done in community as well. Self-healing is essential: only you can choose to be willing and open. Self-healing is incomplete: like trees in the forest, we may seem separate above ground, but our roots are interconnected.

I hope whatever you’ve got going on this summer, you’re reconnecting in a way that is nourishing for you. For the empaths and the sensitives, that way may look quieter and more intentionally slowed down, and that’s absolutely OK. For some of us, re-entry to society is harder than turning in to the introvert’s cave of quarantine. We’re all working things out somehow though. Thank goodness we’ve got ourselves and each other for company on this wild ride. 

Julia Aziz

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PRACTICE NEWS

I am beyond excited about the next cycle of the Release & Empower Women’s Circle, where self-healing in community moves beyond theory to practice. Women who give much of their time and attention to others are coming together in a sacred space for their own self-healing. We are upleveling the energetic container of the online experience, returning to a closed group model, and syncing up with the rhythms of nature this year, amplifying what has already been a nourishing and powerful experience for more than fifty women in the past couple years. Women have started signing up for the fall term with the early registration discount. Read more about the women’s circle here to see if it would be a good fit for you or to apply.
 

When you’re giving out more than is coming in

Have you ever heard a fox cry? A week or so ago, I was in the hill country and heard what sounded like a child screaming, “Help!” in the night. It was a little disconcerting until we realized it was a fox. My friend and I responded by sounding out a similar cry. The more we called back, the closer the fox seemed to approach us. She came near but never all the way to where we stood. We continued to stay in conversation for a while though, until she moved on.

If this fox actually was crying for help, the help she needed was not for someone to go and rescue her. She seemed to find her own way eventually. Maybe she just needed to be heard, to know someone else was out there crying too. I feel a similar dynamic evolving in this next phase of the pandemic together. In the old paradigm, there were damsels in distress and rescuers. There were people in need and people who helped. This dichotomy was always false though. We carry both of these archetypes within us; we are each vulnerable and strong. Pretending there are some who have it all together and others who only fall apart has led to situations like the current mental health crisis for therapists and real burnout for healthcare professionals in general. 

These are intense times, so if you’re not always doing so well, that seems about right to me. We’re not meant to feel always cozy and well in a sick and troubled society. We are meant to be uncomfortable as much as we are meant to be brave. Who says we have to be stoic about any of it? One of my favorite memories of last year was when I stepped outside one morning in Colorado and heard my dear friend and neighbor screaming at the top of her lungs on her front porch. I immediately responded with a loud roar of my own. We laughed about it when we saw each other later, but in the moment it just felt good to be in our own messiness and know we were not alone.

Being heard feels risky, I know. As a therapist, I’ve been well-trained to not show too much of myself, good or bad. Helping professionals are taught to be clear mirrors for others. We’re not supposed to fog up those mirrors with our own personhood. We hold space for other people, not take up space ourselves. I don’t buy it as a way to live a whole life though. I can express what’s within me in contexts I feel safe in, and also show up with presence, compassion, and my full attention for someone else. We all have gifts, and we all have burdens. There is room in this world for the humanity in us all. I’d like to shed all pretenses of “helpers” and “helped” and instead sing out loud with you the music that arises from our dashed dreams, our triumphs, our sorrows, and most of all, our love.  

When we cry out like the fox and hear another’s cry too, it’s not just about venting. It’s about remembering: this life on earth didn’t come with a promise of feeling happy most of the time or everything working out a certain way. You’re not failing at that game. This life is an adventure of growth and change, an opportunity to feel and experience everything. Our stories are heroic tales of resilience. You’re here, and you’re doing it. We all are! 

Please share your voice, and know I am rooting for you. 

With love,

Julia Aziz

PS: If you are helping other beings through this pandemic, and you feel like more is going out than coming in for you, please check out the women’s Release & Empower Group. We have a few spaces open this month, with either month-to-month subscriptions or a nice discount if you make a three-month commitment to yourself. Also new, 10% of the group’s profits are being donated to grassroots community healing work led by BIPOC women. Current recipients include SanArte Healing & Cultura Clinic and Black Women’s Health Imperative. Help others and help yourself too. 

“I feel so much permission to just be however I am in this group. The journaling, the movement, the breathing, the sharing–it’s all what I’ve been needing to do more of for myself and now I feel like I’m making room for it again. I feel so thankful for the women here, and know that as I am going through some changes in my life, this is just where I need to be.”

A Free Workshop to Relax, Renew, Release, and Empower in the New Year

“This is an amazing experience. I don’t think anyone could come away from this unchanged.” -past workshop participant
 


We’re moving into 2021 folks, and if there was ever a time to take responsibility for loving ourselves, releasing the past, and stepping forward with courage, this is it. You may have already heard me talking about the Release & Empower Online Community, and if you’ve been curious, here’s a chance to try it out! With therapeutic writing, movement, music, and guided meditation, this FREE and ONLINE workshop is a mini-retreat to:

  • Start this year by honoring your own rhythms
  • Hear what’s really going on inside your being
  • Move and vocalize in ways that unleash what’s been held too tightly
  • Relax into a loving wholeness and receive the guidance you need

Curious to learn more?
Sign up here to receive a free link to the workshop.


Note: The release & empower workshop is designed for helping professionals and other emotional caregivers. It’s powerful work and requires a certain level of social support and self-care grounding to integrate. If you’re really struggling with mental health right now and feel at the verge of a breakdown, this workshop will not be sufficient nor appropriate. If you don’t know where to turn, try a 24/7 free crisis hotline that can connect you with good and local support, or you can use this textline for help with coronavirus-related anxiety and grief.

May it be a truly new year for us all,

Julia

How we are with each other

Sixteen years ago, I worked as a counselor for a nonprofit that was run by the consensus process. When I first started there, I was so excited. I envisioned a place where everyone’s voice was heard and counted equally, a highly evolved and cooperative utopia. The reality, however, was more challenging. Everyone’s voice was certainly heard, but often for long, drawn out meetings. Minor decisions had to be debated and postponed week after week until an agreement could be reached. As we know, opinions don’t change easily. Sharing new ideas doesn’t mean other people will be receptive to them. And if everybody’s talking, who is there to listen? 

I learned a lot from participating in the consensus process, and while I still deeply respect the model, I realized I don’t have the inner patience for it. Hearing too many opinions drains my compassion. My favorite way of being in community is more nonverbal. Some years before that nonprofit job, during a work exchange at a yoga retreat center, I had my first experience of group sharing without cross-talk. Being together in silence, owning our experiences, and sharing without the interference of others’ judgments was a relief and a revelation. Not only did we leave those meetings more centered and connected, making clear choices came easier too.  

It’s tricky, interacting with other people these days. It’s hard not to get pulled into a downward spiral of how terrible everything is and what should or shouldn’t be happening. Sure, it can be interesting to hear what you think about it all, but what I really want to know is, what is giving you strength each day? How are you keeping your heart open? In today’s world, where so little is actually known or understood, opinions feel even less compelling to me. I wonder more what changes are growing in you.

As a dear friend said to me yesterday, it’s compost time. If triggering information and opinions are going to keep coming in, all that heavy mental-emotional energy needs to be regularly let out. I’ve been hearing people say that everyone is going to need therapy when this is all over, as if mental health is something we can put on hold to deal with on some future, easier day. Mental health is not a matter of keeping it all together until the outside world improves. Let’s please not hold our breaths like that. There’s another way, one that has been around much longer than modern psychology or colonialist times. We can ritually call in, feel, and release the strong and messy feelings on purpose. When we do this letting go together in a protected and loving container, the relief is exponential. We can find both our own hearts and each other again. 

I’ve been studying different holistic helping modalities for many years now, and I still find profound worth in the most simple practice of being quiet together in community, listening to each other and witnessing without offering opinions. As many of you know, we do this type of sharing at the end of the women’s release & empower groups. When we went online this spring, I was heartened to see that we really can do this community self-healing work virtually. It’s not passively receiving information staring at yet another screen in a webinar; it’s being together at home, actively letting stuck energies move through the mind, body, and heart without advice or judgments getting in the way. To make this community practice more accessible and available throughout the changing times we’re in, an online Release & Empower community is opening August 1st, with a FREE introductory workshop the week before. Especially if you’ve been doing a lot of emotional caregiving professionally or at home, check it out, and invite a friend you’d like to be with in authentic community. 

I don’t know what’s going on around here. What I do know is that even when I tire of opinions, I still care about other people’s experiences. I still love when we can be ourselves together. No matter what is lost, no matter what comes next, I am grateful to be moving through these changes with you.

Wishing you treat yourself to whatever deeply frees your spirit,

Julia

PS-If you’d like to learn more about the expressive writing practice we do in Release & Empower and receive some extra support with your self-care at home, check out this new mini practice book just released last month for pandemic times: When You’re Having a Hard Time: The Little Book That Listens. It’s a little heart’s guidance for emotional strength and resilience. 

PPS-The release & empower workshop is designed for helping professionals and other emotional caregivers who have been holding it together for others a lot lately. It’s powerful work and requires a certain level of social support and self-care grounding to integrate. If you’re really struggling with mental health right now and feel at the verge of a breakdown, this workshop will not be sufficient nor appropriate. If you don’t know where to turn, try a 24/7 free crisis hotline that can connect you with good and local support, or you can use this textline for help with coronavirus-related anxiety and grief. Help is available, and I encourage you to receive it when you need it! 

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When people feel and think differently than you

We’re having different experiences of what’s happening (like we always do), and it’s causing some highly volatile emotional weather out there. Clearly we are not all in the same health/economic/job/home/legal status/mental health situation, but also we process and adapt differently. I changed my views and practices last week several times, often after reading or talking to someone with a viewpoint I hadn’t considered. It’s a good thing, different voices. It’s also easy to get pulled into an emotional landmine you didn’t mean to step in. 

I’m seeing people volunteering to help and coming together, but I’m also seeing a lot of judgment, blaming, and shaming going on. Whether it’s a loved one who isn’t being as careful as they could or a “look on the bright side” post that hits a nerve, it’s a triggering environment. So what do we do with all this activation?

Well, first off, we know it’s often best to step away and not communicate with anyone for a bit. I am mom to three children, so trust me, I know that’s not always possible! Recovery time before responding is key though. So is remembering that while you may be triggered, it doesn’t mean anyone else is to blame. If I feel riled up, it is my responsibility to feel, soothe, and care for myself in this vulnerability. It is not my responsibility to change your mind or fix the way you feel.

If self-soothing isn’t your MO and you often harshly judge yourself, I recommend placing a hand on your heart and trying out some of these phrases when you feel the trigger coming on:

I love you, and I know you’re doing the best you can. 

I am here for you every step of the way. 

I know this has been really hard for you, and I am so proud of you. 

This is a humbling time. None of us have all the answers. Good news is: none of us ever did! Giving up the attempt to control, surrendering to “I don’t know,” making space for all the feelings to be felt, allowing others that space as well—this is what we can do for ourselves and for each other emotionally. 

It’s OK if you’re scared right now. It’s OK if you’re thriving and empowered. It’s OK if you’re furious. It’s OK if you’re despairing. It’s OK to have all these emotions and more in the span of one hour. There is plenty of space for feelings to be owned, felt, and transformed.

I wish you so much gentleness from your own heart. The more you take care of your own well-being, the better all our interactions are. We can do this ourselves, together. 

xoxo
Julia

PS–If you’d like further support, please sign up for my newsletter or check out my (now remote) services here.