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.”

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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What it takes to be free

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

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

And so I wonder:

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

What if a structure supported finding your own answers? 

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

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

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

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

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

Shine on, dear ones,

Julia