Hello! It’s been awhile. In case you were wondering; I’m still alive! Things are good – my work is feeling nourishing and generative and I am enjoying life up here on the Olympic Peninsula with my beloved partner of 14 years, Nick and my 2 cats, Benji and Oskar.
I wanted to let you know that I have an awesome new website. You can check it out here. Let me know what you think!
On the home page of my new site it says, in huge letters: This Is An Exceptional Time To Be Alive. Kind of an audacious thing to say, I know. I want to acknowledge that this is also an extremely challenging, sad and scary time to be alive, too.
Then why on earth would I put something like that on my home page, you ask?
I believe that this is an exceptional time to be alive because we, as a human collective, are currently at a crossroads. This is an exceptional thing. Crossroads such as the one where we find ourselves do not come around all that often. At this crossroads, we have some choices to make about what kind of world we want to co-create. I hope that in our co-creation we will choose to remember who we are, to remember the earth, to remember our hearts and to remember that life is sacred.
It’s likely that, if you are reading this, you agree with me here. In short; We need to remember our humanity! So how do we do this? How do we remember?
The word remember, when examined for a moment, could be thought of as re-member, as in to put back together.
At this point, our collective human body has become severely dismembered through thousands of years of oppression and subjugation; So many of us have trauma that has been handed to us. We, either on purpose or by accident, hand that trauma to others. The more hurt people hurt people, the more dismembered our collective body becomes.
The effects of our collective dismemberment reach far and wide.
Part of this dismemberment seems to be that we have dismembered our psyches. We, as a collective, don’t have space for our feelings. Especially the more challenging ones. Where do we put our grief? What do we do with our rage? What about fear or panic? We get told to cheer up, think positive, overcome our fear, etc, etc.
I want to say, as a professional “woo-woo” person (not actually the technical term for what I do) that I see this kind of thing ad nauseam in spiritual circles of all kinds. It seems that our modern day spiritual practices are not immune to the dismemberment of our human collective body. The oppressive, patriarchal, white supremacist narrative that tells us to ignore, repress or “overcome” our feelings has infiltrated our spiritual spaces. But really, how could we expect any different? We are all fish swimming in the same sea, and it doesn’t matter if you are a spiritual fish or not. As a result, sometimes our attempts at a spiritual practice can actually take us further and further away from some of the very things which make us human beings on planet earth. More on this later.
Being here on earth as a living being is all about feeling. Watch any animal out in the wild, or even your guinea pig in your living room, and you will see them feeling and responding. Not all of their responses work out for the best every time (whoops!) but you can clearly see that they are very much feeling their feelings. My cat Oskar feels tired, so he lies down. He feels bored, so he goes outside. He feels angry, so he swipes at Benji, who was being a total jerk.
To feel is to know what to do and how to be and where to go. We know how to move through life because we feel it. Sure, logic plays a part too, but our feelings hold a lot information for us about how to navigate the world.
Many of us are, at this point, so disconnected from our feelings that we have lost this sense of how to navigate. We may feel like we don’t know what to do or how to be. Many of us can’t tell when we’re hungry, or when we’re tired, or when we’re angry, or when we’re sad or even when we’re excited. Or if we can feel these things, we (sometimes instantly) dismiss them as inappropriate or meaningless or try to “overcome” them because we believe on some level that our feelings are wrong, are too inconvenient, or are even dangerous. This is especially true of our harder, more complex feelings, like being mad at someone we love, or feeling grief during the holidays when we think we should be happy, or feeling overwhelmed by something that someone else said should be easy.
The problem is, when we deny, repress, dismiss or ignore any of our feelings, we are dismembering ourselves. In doing so, we do ourselves a great disservice. Our feelings, as I mentioned, have a wealth of information embedded within them; Our fear may be warning us that something could be dangerous. Our anger may be telling us that we need to set a boundary. Our grief may be telling us something about what’s really important to us. Our exhaustion may be telling us that we need to find a more sustainable way to live. These messages are vital.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we should feel our feelings and then just react to them willy nilly. I don’t get to swipe at someone just because they pissed me off (Oskar!). However, so many of us throw the baby out with the bathwater when we don’t allow ourselves to experience what is really happening within us.
It can take time and practice to be able to understand both the messages and medicine that our feelings carry. Some are not so straightforward. However, if we truly want to discern what our feelings are trying to tell us, we have to be willing to experience them. To feel them.
I want to mention here that experiencing and/or feeling something is not quite the same thing as observing it. This is an important point for all of us spiritual seekers, who may have been taught by various spiritual traditions to “witness” or to “observe” our feelings.
Let me be clear that I am not, in any way, saying that witnessing or observing our feelings is a bad thing. In fact, it is a wonderful skill to be able to observe what is happening within us. The problem is that many spiritual practitioners get stuck here and don’t have access to any other tools or skills. It’s good to be aware that there can be a kind of disconnection from our lived experience that can happen with too much observation and not enough actual, embodied experience of our feelings. You may have even met a spiritual practitioner, healer or teacher who seems very peaceful or very mindful but who also seems a little bit disconnected. Or maybe a lot disconnected.
To observe something is, in a way, to stand outside of it.
Sometimes we need to stand outside of something in order to gain more awareness or spaciousness in how we relate to that thing. However, I believe that a more embodied, indigenous kind of spirituality is also needed. In this kind of spirituality, in addition to sometimes witnessing or observing our feelings, we can also work to broaden our capacity to fully experience our feelings without the distance of observation. We can do this with the awareness that our feelings are sacred; They are sacred because they are What Is. To allow ourselves to fully experience What Is is to allow ourselves to be informed and transformed by the energy that is moving through us.
The energy that moves through us is a big part of what makes us human. When we don’t allow ourselves to fully experience this energy, we cut ourselves off from a big part of our humanity. When we are cut off from a big part of our humanity, things get weird, and they can get bad. You may have noticed; we’re seeing a whole lot of bad and weird out in the world these days.
Remembering our humanity means welcoming all of our feelings – even our most challenging ones – back home. It means treating all of our feelings as important members of our own “internal community” – for how can we have a healthy external community if we don’t have a healthy internal one? How can we love each other if we are cut off from parts of ourselves that we, on some level, have deemed unworthy of love?
This is hard work. Feelings are scary to a lot of us (myself included). Let us include this fear as a welcome member of our internal community, for it may be telling us to tread carefully; We all have a lot of years worth of unfelt feelings within us, and most of us have developed all kinds of accommodations in order to be able to function with this much un-metabolized energy within us and around us. Feeling it all at once would be way too much for our nervous systems.
However, to tread carefully doesn’t mean not to tread! Start small. You can, for example, practice really noticing the pain you feel when you stub your toe. Try and stay with the pain until it subsides. Or you can practice noticing pleasurable feelings, like how you feel right after eating a delicious meal, or how you feel while you’re receiving an embrace from your beloved. It’s not just about feeling the hard stuff; It’s about broadening our capacity to feel it all.
As we broaden our capacity to feel, we will begin to develop more access to the messages embedded within our feelings, and from there we will more easily know how to navigate the crossroads at which we collectively find ourselves.
Let us remember that the collective is made up of individuals. If we want things to change we all have to do this work on an individual level. From there, it will ripple outwards.
Let us also remember that we absolutely can not do this work alone. We are not meant to. We humans are wired for connection. We need kind and supportive friends, family and healers to feel empathetically with us. Our trauma, which is what has kept us from being able to feel for so long, also keeps us stuck in believing that we are alone, or that we don’t belong to one another. This is not true. Practice reaching out for connection in whatever ways you can.
Our current dismembered state is not a death sentence. It is an opportunity. If we can each do the hard work of broadening our capacity to feel, we will be on our way to remembering our humanity. As we remember ourselves, we will find ourselves more connected – to ourselves, to one another and to the earth – than ever before.
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke