Beautiful Mistakes & Life U-Turns

The other day, my 10-year-old asked if she could teach me how to paint wildflowers. While I am a person who delights in all forms of creativity, art has always been the most challenging for me. I can throw some colors on a piece of paper, but ask me to visually represent a specific object, and you’ll receive something that looks like a young child made it. My daughter, however, has taken many hours to master the art of small flower watercolor painting. As she demonstrated her techniques, I followed along but couldn’t quite get my messy blob petals to match her delicately formed ones. “Beautiful mistakes,” we decided to call my stray colors. “Because when you make a mistake, you can keep going and make something new and beautiful out of it.”

I try to be mindful of my language around this topic, as even the word “mistake” implies there is one right way you can get wrong. Some of us learned early: good girls follow directions. If you do what you’re told, you won’t stand out or get into trouble. We can hide behind this facade of who we think we’re supposed to be for decades. What starts as protection from criticism can easily become a cage with no room for individuality or creativity. Keeping up appearances by trying to stay inside the lines can drain our essential life force to near empty.

The old way, the way of perfectionism says:

Get it right the first time. Don’t make a mess. Don’t be a bother.

Really though, haven’t we had enough of this already? Life is messy! It just is. The artistry of my life–my decisions, the ways I fail, the ways I grow–doesn’t match the artistry of yours, and thank goodness! Our messes make us unique. I think of a flower with a torn petal. Shall we toss it to the wind for being imperfectly symmetrical, or will we cherish its fragile beauty? 

If you’re someone who finds her/his/their self caught in this perfectionist prison, what would happen if you fell out of character once in a while? It can be scary to forgo the filter and start responding authentically. Being raw and real, even with self-consciousness, is a service though: we help other humans feel better about making mistakes and being seen too. When we forgive ourselves for not always getting it right, we don’t become more self-absorbed and narcissistic. We become more available. There is more of us to give to others when we’re not busy fighting ourselves. 

Old patterns get entrenched and so often release slowly, with intentional practice. My personal practice lately has been about embracing with compassion, curiosity, and humor what I’ve been calling “life U-turns”. A life U-turn is when we get invested in a new idea for change and go full throttle towards it, only to say “never mind” some steps in. When we do a U-turn, we head back to where we came from with a different point of view. Was it a personal flaw that caused us to move toward that new direction in the first place? Was precious time wasted doing the wrong thing? Or is it possible the “mistake” re-affirmed some essential value we still hold, allowing what was too familiar to be discovered anew. 

Mistakes clarify direction; coloring over the lines helps us think outside the box. I say “Hallelujah!” to this trial and error path forward. As we return to public life, what used to be commonplace feels novel and pretty bumpy. I hope to appreciate even the awkward moments, navigating new boundaries and getting used to each other again. Shall we give it a try, even with our differences? Slowly, let’s stumble forward and rediscover each other’s wholeness again.

Wishing you ever deepening breaths and the gift of seeing beauty in unexpected places,

Julia Aziz

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PRACTICE UPDATES

If you’ve been curious about working together in 1-1 sessions, listening to the first 10-15 minutes of this recent podcast interview will give you a better idea of what my practice is like. If you listen further, you’ll also hear stories about how I became a therapist and what working as an interfaith hospice chaplain taught me. While the title of the interview is Grief and Loss, and we do talk quite a bit about death and dying, it’s also about embracing the inherent discomfort of change. Give a listen if you like!

The current season of the Release & Empower Women’s Circle is coming to a close, and we will be having our final closing ceremony next week. If you’re curious about joining us in the fall, check it out here. We’re going back to the closed group model so the women participating will get to dive deep with each other. We’ll also be syncing up with intention, ritual, and accountability in new ways, so stay tuned for more details by signing up for my mailing list.

On burnout, waiting, and wonder

You might find this strange and a little gross, but the other day I spent some time watching a beetle roll a little balll of dung across the road. I became fascinated by his perseverance and how he naturally made use of what for most living beings on earth is just poop. I don’t know much about dung beetles, but it strikes me on a metaphoric level how we need this kind of resourcefulness in our current world. What creativity could transform what we must leave behind into something sustainable and life-giving?

The most common refrain I’m hearing from folks these days is “I just wish I knew when this pandemic would end.” There is a lot of sadness with this question, as no one can offer anything but predictions or false promises. Maybe there is a higher authority on the subject though. Nature tells us:

Everything changes.
Change happens on its own time.

Many humans in the modern western world use plans for comfort. We want to know what to expect, and we like to have something to look forward to. In some ways, we’ve forgotten how to wonder, how to give our full attention to the lived experience of now. Perhaps there is some connection here to the dung the beetle was pushing across the road. I wonder, what ways of thinking make us feel worse, and how can we digest and eliminate them for the higher good?

I also spent time last week watching some turkey vultures. I’ve never understood why these majestic birds are so underappreciated and almost feared. It’s captivating, the way they circle the skies above, feeding on what has completed its life cycle here. These birds live because other creatures die. In this, they embody rebirth. The vultures teach us that a new cycle begins out of the one that came before. Everything is made use of here, in this place we live. 

When we let go of the individual pursuit of happiness as such a supreme cultural value, perhaps compassion can be reborn. When the experts can’t give us good answers, maybe we’ll witness a rebirth in honoring curiosity and intuition. As I see it, we don’t need more gurus, we need more empathic, creative people who trust themselves and each other. I’m not trying to draw a silver lining around a very dark cloud. The weariness and the grief are real and everywhere. Still, I believe in us. I believe in our resilience and in our ability to make changes for the better. 

A friend who is more like a sister to me lives in the redwoods in California, and the fires this summer came within a quarter mile of her house. She told me after the weeks of smoke, flames, and devastation, the birds were the first animals to return to the forest. The birds, of course, were the ones who could most gracefully leave and most easily return. Their protection lies not in being the strongest fighters, but in being the lightest on their feet. Who is to say what’s most needed right now in our own personal and collective struggles. All I know is there are some great teachers living amongst us who have been there all along. We may have to open the door and look outside to find them.

May you feel the support of the ground, the possibility of the sky, and the beauty of your own true nature,

Julia

PS– If you’re a helper or healer longing to feel yourself again, consider joining us in the Release & Empower online community for regular mental, emotional, and physical release. It’s self-care accountability and spiritual renewal in good company. As of the time of this writing, I also have two openings for individual holistic psychotherapy. And all are welcome to check out this new pandemic support book: When You’re Having A Hard Time: The Little Book That Listens

PPS– Sending some extra love to all those who are grieving the loss of a loved one this year. Big big hugs to you.

On falling apart and getting back up again

We are moving through the Days of Awe in the Jewish tradition this week, a deeply reflective time that starts with an autumnal new year and ends with a holy day of fasting, accountability, and forgiveness. In this ten day period, each member of the community is asked to own up to the ways in which they have become out of alignment with what is true and loving. No one is exempt from this process, for it is understood that being a human being means wanting to do better and failing often. Throughout the High Holy Days, we speak aloud the many ways we have fallen off track, from being greedy and inconsiderate to talking unkindly behind someone’s back to not speaking up against injustice. Now, you might be thinking this is a big “oh, how guilty am I” vortex. But it’s really not. It’s not about self-hate; it’s about acknowledging human frailty, taking corrective action, and recovering our true essence again. 

It’s pretty easy to fall into burnout these days, to feel worn down and hopeless by the devastation and strife. Instead of resisting the call of grief, rage, and unresolved pain, these holidays remind us of the importance of safe spaces to feel. In a lovingly held container, we can be honest with ourselves about the hurt we have caused and the hurt we have incurred; we can shed the tears that have been held back day after day; we can give voice to how we participate in our own destruction. And then we look around and see how it’s not just us; everyone else is in this struggle too. So we dry our tears, stand on our own two feet again, and say, “Ok, this isn’t good. What can I do to make it better?”

Making amends is a centerpiece, the call to action during the Days of Awe. Sometimes there isn’t anything you can do to directly make things better, but when there is, you are asked to do that hard thing. When there’s no way to make amends directly, there’s almost always a way to pay it forward or to do some good in counterbalance. Most importantly, whatever action is called for, forgiveness is the way forward. After feeling the pain, owning what’s not working, and doing what can be done, the community together claims a fresh start. All old promises, broken vows, and missed chances are made null and void in one fell swoop. Clearing the past makes room for new intentions. We know we will fall down again, but this does not excuse us from getting back up. Perhaps what is most brave about humans is the way we start over after feeling like all hope was lost. We say, “I am going to do my best, again.”

It will always be enough. 

If you don’t yet have a place you regularly go to safely unravel, I highly recommend finding one soon. We must build emotional and spiritual strength to face these next few months and whatever they bring. We absolutely can’t wait on the world to get better so we can feel better. Things are likely to become even more strained in this country, and we need the ones who care to be as powerfully connected and emboldened for the good as possible. That inner strength is very hard to find without a safe place to feel how it’s all affecting our own sensitive nervous systems. If you haven’t checked it out yet, our women’s group still has openings, with just a few weeks left to take advantage of the discounted introductory rates. This is a place women grieve, rage, fear, feel… and then we dust off, re-center, and re-align with what we know to be true, a wholeness that no one can take from us. A weekly mini-retreat like this may not change the world, but the people who are replenishing their spirits in this and other ways are the only ones who can, together.

Together, we grieve. Together, we work towards the best we can imagine, each bringing our own gifts to the table, at our own pace. I want to hear your best ideas and what you’re willing to let go of to know more peace. It’s OK to mess up, and it’s OK to hurt. When we feel it and own it, we can make changes, accept, and move forward. You are good enough, my friend. You’re here, and the people before you who had to survive many hardships for you to be here tell me: your existence is a miracle. How will you live it?

Wishing you kindness towards the struggle, and a new beginning each and every day, 

Julia Aziz

PS–If you’re giving a lot of energy and attention to other people or to the world in general, I’d love to support you in making space for your own emotional release and spiritual renewal. Our online group still has discounted introductory rates for those who start within the next few weeks, before October 15th (just set up a screening call to get started). Here’s a recent comment about Release & Empower from FB: “It’s absolutely phenomenal! I highly recommend it to anyone who is considering. You will find yourself saying, “This is exactly what I needed!” It’s flexible, affordable, and some truly authentic and compassionate women would love to welcome you in.

PPS–If you can’t join the group, but you know you need help making space to feel, here’s a little book to support you. Hot off the press, June 2020: When You’re Having A Hard Time: The Little Book That Listens.


Would you like to connect more? You can sign up for my newsletter and receive monthly reflections as well as information about upcoming offerings.

Expanding the view

One of the greatest gifts I’ve received in the past few years has been some dear friends in Colorado that invite my family to pet/housesit when they travel. I just returned to Austin from there, and while the spirit of the forest is still present in me, I’d like to share it with you. Every morning last month, I woke up hours before my first appointment and hiked down and up the mountain to take my morning shower in a waterfall a little ways away. Before I start waxing on, let me warn you: I am in love with this waterfall. I don’t mean I think it’s beautiful or that I like listening to it, though those things are very true. I mean I am in love with this waterfall! There’s something instinctual about hearing the sound of rushing water that makes me feel both abundant and safe. The freezing cold stream woke up every cell in my body and erased every thought in my mind those mornings. All this while looking out onto pine trees and mountaintops, hummingbirds and butterflies.

On my last full day there, I got to spend a more extended time with my beloved. I sat there watching and listening to the cascade, mesmerized by the movement of water over rock. I loved noticing how it all goes downstream. Some drops might bounce off a jagged edge and spray out at a wild angle, but all the water knows which way to go. If only we humans could maintain such flow and clarity of direction. I sat there contemplating how to let my own life choices head downstream, letting what’s easy and obvious lead. 

Then some hikers came by and decided to have lunch, at which point I realized I better move on. I was feeling wistful and not wanting to leave, especially knowing that the town plans to close the trails next year. I headed down the path to a spot I had never stopped at before. As I sat there watching the milder stream, I saw that every time we adjust to a new situation or changing reality, we are just like the water rushing down over the rocks, moving over and around the obstacles, flowing through the crevices. Maybe this moment-to-moment adaptation is all it takes to be in the flow. There’s nothing more to figure out about it. More importantly, the mountain is more than just one beautiful section of waterfall. A mountain is made up of many different elements, just like we, too, are whole beings that encompass scared parts, pleasure-seeking parts, ambitious parts–the inner child and the inner elder too. In the big picture, we are all of these parts and more, just like the mountain isn’t separate from individual rocks and trees, waterfalls and dirt. When I am the mountain, I know everything that’s happening is happening over and through and within me. I don’t have to hold on to my favorite parts; they are already encompassed within something much larger and quite majestic. Some of you may remember how well the trees reminded me to root back into the earth in December, pre-pandemic. I think our current times call for something even more grounded, more vast. Perhaps it is time to be the mountain itself, where the trees and the waterfalls and the flowers are born, grow, die, change, and in some sense, are always one.

Are there ways you could move more easily downstream in your own life? I know there is much that will never be the same again. Even the waterfall I fell off of two years ago is unrecognizable today, so many pebbles and boulders have shifted since then. Sometimes, I find, letting go is easier when we expand the view. What would it be like not just to let change happen, but to be the ground upon, the field within, that change occurs?

Somewhere in between trying really hard and giving up, there is a place of alignment and power. It’s a place where we move with the twists and turns in one particular moment and then the next, nothing more, nothing less. I wish this place arrives for you as often as not, and I send you the blessings of the mountain, the waterfall, the eagles, and the bears. May we remember where we came from and why we are here.

Big big hugs to you,
Julia

PS– I know I can always use a reminder about how powerful even thirty seconds to a minute of standing under a cold water shower is as a nervous system reset, anxiety soother, anger cooler, immune system booster, skin refresher, pain reliever, and overall wake up. If reading about cold water here didn’t do it for you, you can research not only the science of it but also the different traditional cultures that have utilized cold water plunges for spiritual, emotional, and physical renewal for many generations. Simple healthcare you can do yourself.

PPS– I find so much to gain from ritual, showing up for what heals me on a regular basis, regardless of how I’m feeling that day. Like the cold waterfall, it’s about starting over, regularly. My morning walk and prayer/meditation time are like that and so is Release & Empower, an online self-healing practice community. Tuesday evenings, this is where you’ll find me. Together with other genuinely caring and quite responsible women, we loosen up the body and relieve the mind, returning to our own wild hearts. Everything is changing and plans are pretty impossible. But if you’re a woman who spends a lot of time attending to other people’s needs, this community is a place you can rely on for you. It’s flexible, affordable, and currently has openings, so you can start any Tuesday after having a free Q & A call. New creative solutions to personal and world problems originate from relaxed nervous systems. There is a lot we can do on our own, and so much more we can do together. 


Curious to connect more? You can sign up for my newsletter and receive monthly reflections as well as information about upcoming offerings.

When the way out is through

I think I’m done with “How are you?” as a casual way of greeting someone when we’re passing by. It seems like that phrase should be reserved for when we are truly wanting to sit down and listen to one another. I’ve never figured out how to give an authentically brief answer, and what a loaded question these days!

Some serious collective shadow work is being done by and through us now. When I say “shadow work,” I mean facing the parts of ourselves we’ve disowned or pretended didn’t exist, both on an individual level and a systemic one. My true essence, like yours, is love. Also, there are times I have been inconsiderate, pushy, dismissive, greedy, stubborn… all the painful things humans can be. These shadow parts need compassionate attention, for they come out in deadly ways when ignored or denied. When anger is safely raged, felt, and released, it can become empowerment, a clarifying of needed boundaries. Unworthiness and guilt, when spoken and cared for, can lead to making amends and a renewed sense of purpose. Like brushing teeth, there will always be shadow work to do. When we learn to navigate the intensity within ourselves though, we can show up to the intensity out there with more accountability, courage, and love. 

I just finished reading The Shift, a nurse’s memoir I had borrowed from the library right before all the libraries closed down. In it, the author talks about how important it is in medicine to “get ahead of the pain,” i.e. take pain killers before the discomfort becomes overwhelming. I think, when it comes to emotional health and personal accountability, most of us need to slow down and not get so far ahead of the pain. It’s healthy to learn how to be with discomfort. It’s important to feel the emotional distress hidden beneath layers of control and conditioning. We’ve been issued a grand invitation now to let the tears come and rail at the heavens, to enter a holy rage and a holy grief. 

I won’t presume to know what your shadow work is. There are a lot of different people reading this, and we each have our own curriculum here in earth school. There is a whole lot of learning happening right now though. My own recent shadow work is calling me to speak up more in the face of ignorance, do more conscious retraining of my racial biases, educate my children better, and make a more purposeful effort to support and connect with diverse communities. This is just a start, as it takes time and perseverance for fundamental shifts to happen, whether it’s on the individual or systemic level. What gives me hope is the accelerated change we’re in now. As the colonialist, racist, sexist, materialist, arrogant beyond all measure empire implodes, a whole new way of being together can finally emerge.

The phoenix of a new day rises from the ashes of the one before. Instead of “Hi! How are you?” I think I prefer the older language greetings, like “Namaste” where you look for the light in another person or “Shalom” where the hello and goodbye is peace. I hope to meet you heart-to-heart. I want you to know, whoever you are reading this, I am grateful to be in connection with you. I thank you for doing your inner and outer work and for resting and taking care of yourself too. These are intense times. I believe in us. Thank you for being here!

With love and humility,

Julia 

A few offerings to support you:

A few of many ways to help our human family:

How about “I don’t know?”

It’s been interesting to watch all the expertise being shared in a situation that almost no one alive today has ever lived through. Yes, decisions need to be made quickly in a crisis, and we have to use the limited information available to make them. Leaders, especially community-minded, heart-centered, intelligent leaders, are genuinely needed to set the tone, and there’s a lot of societal pressure on leaders to speak with the voice of authority. But what I’m not hearing enough of in the general discourse is, “I don’t know.”

I want to talk about what we don’t know because, the way I see it, the only way to learn is to begin with not knowing. Just imagine trying to speak a new language but instead of learning the alphabet and listening to others, you start pretending to know it. You’d mumble out some gobbledy-gook and wouldn’t be able to understand how anyone responded. How would you ever learn if you didn’t admit how little you knew to start? 

Now some may say we can’t just hang around doing nothing and not knowing. That’s true. There is a lot of service to do and mouths to feed. Yet, can we also be honest with ourselves and each other about being in a place of uncertainty? Yeah, it’s uncomfortable. It also just is. The place of not knowing is dark, vast, and full of potential. It’s an important place to be, even if just for a little while each day. It is where creativity, intuition, and wisdom originate. It is where control is released. Just because we can’t see well here doesn’t mean something important isn’t happening.

I’ve been obsessed with the lower edges of tree trunks lately. I pass by trees on my morning walk, and I gaze at where they meet the ground. If I hadn’t learned better, I would think those big trunks just popped out of the grass and reached into the sky. But of course their roots lie below, maybe even directly beneath the ground I walk on. There is so much beyond what we can see. We are, after all, just little ants on a big anthill. So why pretend otherwise? 

We start with not knowing. And then perhaps we ask, what is the very next right step? That may be all the truth currently available for now.

I haven’t written in a while because I’ve been working on a couple projects that I hope will be of service and support to you in the days to come. I’m not quite ready to talk about them yet, as I want to respect their particular life cycles, let them grow with their own natural timing beneath the surface a little longer. How any of it unfolds, your guess is as good as mine. What I do know is this: 

It’s OK to be unsure and to just take one step, then the next. 

Clear knowing comes from neutrality, not fear. 

Seeing the humanity in others will never go out of style.

I wish you waves of relief in the “I don’t know,” with plenty of curiosity and listening. Reach out for support if you’re struggling though. You’re not living in the uncertainty alone.

Much love,

Julia Aziz

What matters?

The other day, I called up a dear friend and colleague who has survived four near-death health emergencies in the past decade. After a little check-in, I asked him, “So how are you feeling about your mortality these days?” We both laughed at how overly direct my question was. In typical Robert fashion, he then replied, “Well, I feel I’ve been doing my part by not using toilet paper.” Then we laughed again. 

Most people don’t want to talk about death. It’s not small talk, and the general attitude seems to be “why dwell on such things.” Well, dwelling is certainly not helpful, but taking an honest look is. While some people have been facing terminal diagnoses for a while, we now have a collective situation where it’s hard to ignore the possibility that death could come sooner rather than later. This little heads up doesn’t necessarily make grieving easier, but it is a gift. When we understand there may not be as much time left as we hoped, we might take the risk of being authentic.

Some masks are being put on, but it’s time to take another kind of mask off. While we’re waiting to see how many losses we’ll experience, there is time to be real. What needs to happen for you to feel at peace with the life you’ve lived? If there’s something left unsaid or undone, what a great time to either do it or forgive yourself for letting it go. Many people who know they are dying will say they wish they took more emotional risks in life. If you let yourself be seen, and then end up with a lot more time here after all, wonderful. Maybe taking those risks now will help you show up and live in a way that reflects what really matters to you. This is the paradox, the new life that comes from death. It is the clarifying nature of a disorienting transition.

Humanity as a whole and each one of us individually have come to a crossroads. Change is happening, but the bigger changes are not yet clear. We will not all continue in the same direction, but we are still here at the crossroads right now. So what do we do here?

You tell me what we do. You’re doing it right now. There are all sorts of things to do at the crossroads. Like this song by Taya Ma says, the wise woman does it all. She cries. Prays. Rants. Shakes her hips at the crossroads. 

The beautiful and the tragic are all wrapped up into one, as they have always been. It’s OK to grieve. It’s OK to receive. It’s a pleasure to laugh. It’s a relief to cry. And (whisper voice) it’s pretty awesome to roar at the top of your lungs when you’re not hurting anybody at all.* 

Whatever you’re thinking and feeling, I hope when you see yourself in the mirror, you look beyond appearances. Maybe send some tenderness to that very human being going through a lot of change. 

With you, in it,

Julia

PS- If you or someone you love would like to talk more about things that matter to you, let’s do that. I do 1-1 sessions phone or video. Not in the middle of the night, but I can sometimes do calls without too much notice beforehand during this Co-vid time. Also, *I’m setting up a Free Release & Empower Workshop for therapists, moms, and all those providing emotional care to others right now. Let me know if you’d like to receive the invitation and video link when it’s ready. 

PPS- Here’s a good article that addresses some choices to consider if you get really sick. It may be hard to read, but it’s so important. I honor you and your courage! 

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.