Have you ever thought you knew someone well and later discovered a side of them you had never seen before? My brother has been transcribing some letters my grandmother wrote when she was engaged to my grandfather but living apart in New York and Chicago. Nineteen-year-old Helen Yarmush teases her beloved with tales of her dates with other men and says things like, “It’s been a beautiful day today–a day to run in the wind (which I did) and laugh and sing.” The Helen Zimmerberg I got to know three decades later was a mother of four who had already lost her first daughter to ovarian cancer and was undergoing chemo and radiation for lymphoma herself. I’ve cherished my memories of Helen’s sense of humor and ability to make the best out of most anything, and I delight in this free spirit I’m seeing now at her 20th yahrzeit (death anniversary). What a gift it is to discover something new in someone I haven’t seen for so long and to be reminded of how multi-faceted we all are.
If you feel different from who you were a couple years ago, perhaps your friends do too. Maybe you’ve lost some relationships, accepted casualties in these divisive times. What if you’ve lost yourself a bit too? In transition, most everything is incomplete and tender. You may feel in between what is no longer authentic and what is not yet grown. Are we willing to meet anew in this wobbly place, or will we try to connect the way we did before and seek only the parts of each other we used to know? I believe there is an in-between place, a place to cherish the familiar, unique essence which doesn’t alter over time while making room to see what else is emerging–in ourselves and in each other. We meet at this crossroads when we unfurl the grasp on old ideas and become willing to not understand. Like this walk through the fog at dawn, perhaps we begin by trusting the path that shows itself, finding beauty in what is not yet clear.
My grandma Helen had strong opinions, yet what was special about her was that she would change those opinions in an instant when more information came in. This wasn’t confusion or ambivalence; it was a permission she gave herself to change her mind and to make new choices as she learned better. It reminds me of something anyone who has been in a workshop, retreat, or the release and empower women’s circle with me has probably heard me say: “Let’s not hold onto anything that’s shared here. These are snapshots of present moment experiences, ones we honor but don’t carry around as your identity forever more. You’re free to show up the same or differently every time.” I’d like to offer this same invitation to anyone reading these words today. To you, who has gifted your attention here, willing to join me in the field of unknowing. Let’s let each other change and evolve, as slowly as we need to.
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:
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.
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 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.
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.
Spring has arrived fully here in central Texas, with wildflowers sprinkling the meadows, trees bursting with green, and birds singing across the skies. Of course this spring feels different from years past, as the death that came through winter’s freeze presents itself starkly alongside the rebirth. The once proud agave cacti are heavy and drooping; browned palm trees struggle to stand while fallen branches rest defeated upon the ground. What’s fresh and new is intertwined with what has perished. Nature seems to be mirroring the paradox of our strange re-opening world, where excitement over returning to former freedoms goes hand-in-hand with the grief and uncertainty that remains.
If you feel both hopeful and unmotivated, depleted and on the brink of change these days, it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. You’re living through a complex time with complex emotions, and it’s not easy to move forward in ambiguity. Part of the challenge, as I see it, is we haven’t fully shifted out of modern culture’s warrior mentality towards growth. A plethora of personal development and wellness memes tell us to focus on what we want and manifest our truest desires. It’s empowering to realize how much we can affect change through awareness and intention. But as many of the cultures we destroyed and/or subjugated know, growth happens in cycles, with loss and gain inseparable. To support growth, we can observe what’s actually happening and learn to work with rather than against the natural forces more powerful than we are.
When we push too hard for what we want to happen, we may end up exhausted from the effort of trying. When we don’t do anything because we lack the energy, we may get stuck in hiding rather than take a risk. Perhaps there is another way, a way that accepts and intends, slows down and progresses. With spacious mind and generous heart, something both new and old may emerge, integrating where we’ve come from, where we want to go, and where we actually are.
I’m guessing if you’re reading this, there may be changes you desire for your life. It has been a long hard year, and being shut in and shut down has certainly clarified what’s not working. Maybe some of the changes you’re feeling called to are not quite happening, or perhaps you’re getting waylaid and pulled in unforeseen directions. When confused between growth and acceptance, rather than asking, “What’s wrong with me? Why isn’t this working? or Why do I feel this way?” a better question might be: “What is the very next step for now?”
The best thing I’ve done for myself lately was to take a day off to get lost in the woods. Wandering without trying to get anywhere, I feel free. It feels like true relief to trust the meandering path that shows itself rather than bushwhacking what might or might not be a shortcut. There is magic in following trails unknown, not trying to figure out the map. And all along the way, it helps to tell the whole truth–to one’s self more than anyone else. It helps to speak out loud to the trees, the river, the birds, or even the dry creek bed, “Show me the way and help me to trust it.”
I hope you’re being gentle with yourself these days, especially when there are more questions than answers. Top of the list for What I Can Do (a much shorter list than What I Am Not In Control Of) is the practice of being tender with the parts of us that are frustrated and confused. A few steps forward, however many back, I imagine that viewed from high above, together we walk the labyrinth of healing, getting closer in, moving farther out, yet somehow being led towards center.
Wishing you some vitality, inspiration, and peace each day, to receive deeply and share wildly,
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.
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.”
“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
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.
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:
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,