It goes without saying that this year presents a difficult task for all of us. We all have questions about our place in this world. How does the vocation of healers come into contact with the evolving and unpredictable circumstances of a global pandemic? Furthermore, an economic crisis and the collective existential transition beckon each of us to the far reaches of our psychic structures. Both in our work with others and any confrontation within ourselves. Up against these strenuous times, we may come together in the hopeful and often humbling realities of our common desire to bring clarity, support, and inspired endurance to the task.
A Culture of Supportive Growth
At Barn Life, I have always appreciated how we make a real impact on our clients and one another. Through positive regard, a weekly reframe, and reflection on the tone, protocol, and culture of our program we manage to lift one another up, fish for blind spots, and enter each new season with the security that we have a strong, compassionate, and united work ethic. I write our theme this week with these values in mind reminding each of you that you are valued and important to who we are and where we go from here. As a culture of supportive growth, we invariably will confront issues of shadow and projection.
Sorting the Seeds
Some of you may already know that I spent my early career working in a church capacity as a licensed pastor of large non-denominational church. I outgrew much of the culture and ideology, at times straining to reconcile culture with gospel. I could not resist the pull into deeper and expanding understandings of self, psyche, and culture. But during that time I quickly learned the lurking dangers no doubt familiar to those in the helping profession. Employment that is thoroughly cultural can ask of you many unspoken standards.
One great lesson came from when I put effort into areas of church life that were not a part of my job description. On the one hand, what a great opportunity to be involved and engaged, to follow my own compass, and contribute to the community I loved. On the other, in time, these efforts became a part of the standard for my job. I became overdrawn and eventually grew resentful. Had it not been for the wise advice of an elder, I may not have made it out alive. How do you sort the seeds between what you do as employee and how you serve?
Shadow in Vulnerability
I always felt this lesson was a good one to learn so early in my career. It can be difficult to find balance. Sometimes expectations can be unclear. This can lead to frustration or even resentments. From the perspective of shadow work, we can say that projection is inevitable. Through the lens of the shadow we recognize that our own understandings aren’t always a reflection of reality. In fact, when tensions go unattended, we may even miss out on the wonderful gift that misunderstanding and tension can provide. We must work to overcome these differences beyond what we may consider comfortability. How can we best model a functional and healthy psychological life to our clients?
We can begin with our own shortcomings – working to confront them and even wear them on our sleeves. We may just be onto something much more evolved should we embrace the universal phenomenon of shadow and projection. After all, as Jung once wrote, “What we resist persists.” This week our theme is shadow in vulnerability. Let’s work to practice listening skills and safe dialogue around vulnerability.
How will you hold the rare and perilous given you? Dawn begins in the bones
– Risa Kaparo
We are not just physical bodies, nor are we the untouchable substance of our thoughts and feelings. Somewhere in the interrelationship between our physical bodies (soma) and our psychological landscapes (psyche), we confront the spectrum that is the human experience. Whether we are talking chakras, dreams, philosophy, or spirituality, the real brilliance is that all these systems have interconnectivity. We will see how the chakras align and open the psychic and physical intimacy we crave. This spectrum between body and mind helps us to identify what networks are thriving and which may be split off or disconnected. In the simplest terms, if the body and mind are not in attendance to one another we suffer. We hear this truth when we hear things like, “my gut instinct” or, “my head and my heart.”
A Subtle Flow of Energy
But what flows through the body that holds it together? The electromagnetic fields that comprise and contain our essence are a subtle flow of energy. It is a scientifically founded and experientially substantiated fact. The space between our cells is as voluminous as the cells themselves. How is it that we can experience energy, and even consciously enter or exit the sensory world through intention? We want to take some time these next weeks to reconnect and engage with the energy centers in the body. Through breath, meditation, yoga, and mindful awareness of the chakra system, we will take the time to notice and activate our mind-body connection through our subtle energy fields.
Addressing the Unconscious
One of the great gifts in this approach to our work at Barn Life is the opportunity to come out of old patterns, habits, trauma, and compulsions without having to speak directly to them. While talk therapy is an important part of our work, in the end, the honest experience of our sensory-selves is where the ultimate changes take place. For example, we share may a difficult pattern or a painful memory in therapy. However, if we do not take the time to feel it in the body, experience movement, or adequately express the energy that the topic brings, we may not move through the energy. The information remains simply that. Information. Until you do something with the unconscious, no amount conversation around a subject does anyone any good.
The Organs of the Energy Field
So what are the chakras? Imagine your spinal column as a carrier of all nerve signals that connect to the entire body. From the base of the spine to the top vertebra, we have an organized network that leads to the brain. We discover the chakras through sensory awareness. They are clusters or centers of high sensitivity or connectivity between the neural and the mental realities. Just as the body has organs, the chakras are the organs of the energy field. When activated, one is conscious in the body and the energy field. In each particular chakra, there are observable traits and characteristics that correspond. For example, if someone were to activate their root chakra (as we will discuss this week more in-depth), one would experience a closeness to the body, a more grounded and calmer overall temperament, and a sense of safety and present awareness.
We find the root chakra, or muladhara in Sanskrit, at the base of the spinal column. This energy center, when closed or inactive, can cause one to feel out of touch with the present moment. Without an open and active root, one is ‘unrooted,’ without grounding and often out of touch or disconnected from the here-and-now. When we work to activate and experience the root chakra, we can begin to bring better balance to the spectrum.
In terms of energetics, this chakra channels earth energy upward through the feet and legs to process and stabilize it. It then moves the energy on up the spine. It has transmuted into a form that the body recognizes as signals to balance the endocrine system through the release of hormones. If the flow is cut off, symptoms occur that are also psychological. If, for example, the root chakra is inactive, we do not, then, feel our feet or sense our existence in the body to be a strong component of reality. Instead, the mind wanders. The moment is overtaken and the experience unbalanced.
Opening the Root Chakra
How, then, do we open the root chakra? Through conscious breathing deep into the energy center, reiki, yoga postures, even the turning of awareness to the lower body can help. We will practice during our groups this week and learn to remain open and grounded. For now, you may try simply unclenching the lower body. Simply notice the sensation in your feet. For those of you who are overachievers, you might try a root chakra meditation on youtube. The bones are the nearest and most dense part of our existence. This is earth. This is underneath all else. If our nervous system and our musculature store the stuff we, well, stuff, then starting with the bones, feeling the present moment as it is in the physical and concrete, or in our case, calcium, we may begin to move upward through the spine bridging the divide between body and mind.
This week, we wrap up our analysis of The Lady and the Unicorn with the sixth and final tapestry of this series. Some people might expect to see the lady now in heaven, but instead, she is turning earthwards rather than heavenwards. We see a proud and upright unicorn’s horn in her left hand as if to guide the unicorn. It was this gesture of touching the horn which gave the tapestry the title, “The Sense of Touch.” We can see that her face, when compared with previous tapestries, has aged considerably. She looks very much like a queen here, jeweled and standing firmly on the ground. To put it another way, the lady could now be in control of her destiny because she overcame the animal nature in herself. She is in harmony with and guiding the unicorn with the wisdom of experience.
A Direct Relationship with the Spirit
So much of our work focuses on a journey: the unfolding process, how the phenomenon at present draws us into deeper truths about our life, beliefs, behaviors, wants, and needs. But there comes a time when the journey of the soul leads to the calm grounded sense of being. On the one hand, our western traditions support a heroic process through the material of our lives, asking of us a redemption story wherein we confront shadow and strive forward through the psyche. On the other, the eastern world, by in large, places emphasis on no mind at all – to learn to be. While each stream diverges in practice, the outcomes, or should I say the longing for Eden underlies the process in likeness. We want rest for the mind and soul, and a direct relationship with the spirit. We strive for nothing but to be at peace and harmony.
The Universal Ground of Consciousness
This work is impossible without that instinct. We each have a piece of wisdom, have known what more we live for, to experience more than survival. This week I want to encourage you to remember these truths forged through your hard work, dedication and suffering. What epiphany has befallen you that you cannot help but recognize as truth? What meaning lies in your journey and how do you give it away? We talk about this in many streams of tradition and myth. The many traditions of the world draw us to the same fundamental truth of harmony and the universal ground of consciousness. Oneness seems to be the beginning and the end of the journey itself.
The Liberation of the Mind
From new life, to death, to in breath and out breath, the experience of presence, liberation from a mind bound by agenda and threat is free to stand with the spirit and animal self, able to look outward to the world with confidence, not in an idea, but the fulfillment of experience itself. I studied yoga under the tutelage of Swami Satchidananda. His method was simple: rest the nervous system, open the communication in the body, and synchronize the breath. Yoga is a metaphor, an intention to connect and release. To find harmony. In the simple ground of being, what is complex begins to find rest. I leave this series with the sentiment that we GET to experience each moment. Through that endeavor, the will of the gods is made clearer. The soul is sensing the spirit and the will is driven onward in presence and peace.
“All the Yoga practices are just undoing, unwinding loosening up again, and relaxing. Until you unwind, you will be swinging like the pendulum from excited mind to depressed mind, back and forth again and again. Once you begin to loosen up again, the swinging becomes less and less. At a certain point you are totally unwound. Then you simply find your neutrality, your center of gravity, and rest.” – Sri Swami
A lady looks into the mirror seeing her reflection smiling back. A man sits by the fire and reflects on the years that have passed and cannot be relived. The still lake holds the reflection of the moon on her surface. The idea of reflection is multilayered. Thinking about things that have happened in the past (reflecting on their deeds) and the bouncing off of light/heat from a surface (a reflection in the mirror) are to name just a few. As we move into another new year, we say goodbye to the past and welcome a future of hope and improvement.
The Path of Renewal and Recovery
Reflecting back on the choices we have made in the past year, we gain a more rounded view of the time and the effects our choices have brought. Making better choices is important while walking this path of renewal and recovery. Our actions should be a reflection of our thoughts and our thoughts should reflect our actions. But we must reflect on these past outcomes before we can alter our future choices.
Taking Inventory of the Past
The most common celebrations of ancient times involved reflection and revolved around the harvest festivals of autumn. Perhaps it was out of fear and reverence. After all, the days grew darker and shorter, and the natural world began to die away. It was an important time because what was done in earnest during this time laid the seeds for the spring to come in the future. This is the meaning of reflection: take inventory of the past to reinvigorate the seeds of the future.
Improving Our World and Ourselves
The Chinese offer us another image of reflection encapsulated in the teachings of the I Ching. In China, a large platform elevated into the sky was used as a lookout, glimpsing both ahead and behind. As we know, if you are high up, you can see far. However, there is a cost to being able to see behind and ahead. The cost is that everyone can see you better as well. Thus, the only way that we can improve our world is to improve ourselves. The only way to lead others in a positive way is to reflect deeply on our own lives and make an impact there. Obtain a better view and look within.
Barn Life Recovery is the first treatment center in the state of California with a license to treat mental illness on an outpatient community-based level. At our holistic facility in Orange County, our Barn Life staff encourage tried and true healing practices within an idyllic setting. If you’re feeling anxious, depressed, or just plain overwhelmed, please consider giving us a call. Our staff is ready to answer any questions you might have and begin the admissions process. Call now and start to love life again!
Freedom has always had a cost and always will if any people have the intention to harm or demonize others or actively work to oppress and confuse or take actions to subjugate and hold dominion over people and their feelings. Entitlement can be a delusion that twists people’s expectations into demanding freedom for nothing. Why does freedom cost so much? Because we still attend and respond to fear in a way that dominates us implicitly and explicitly. We still allow the use of power to keep us in fear. Furthermore, those that wield it toxically might attempt to manipulate those around them so that their thinking becomes limited and actions become limited.
Fear and Prejudice
When we do not fight for freedom, work for freedom, or pay for freedom, life becomes choked. Influences from toxic discourses offer us familiar fear so we do not challenge it. It appears to us as a toxic authority figure that demands our assimilation. It plays on the fear of retaliation which acts as an unfortunately effective leash and muzzle. Fear and prejudice backed by authority offer us comfort in the forms of promises and alluring gifts. It then becomes painful and undesirable to question and challenge oppressive influences.
Barriers to Freedom
To understand freedom is to understand what keeps us from it. Fear and hatred are the oppressive dominant discourses that demand that freedom be paid. For nations, the price has been centuries of struggle, warfare, and bloodshed. For those of us that live in a nation of “freedom,” why then do we create barriers of fear and judgments and spit poison at those that do not wish any harm whatsoever? Is our own disgust and fear of ourselves so strong that we attempt to find identity through the degradation of others? With this level of intense projection, there also must exist delusion and ignorance or both.
Full of Bias and Judgment
When we buy into this toxic preaching – whether it’s broadcasted through the TV, perpetuated by friends or handed down through generations by family – we close off and become more rigid in our thinking. Sometimes it’s so rigid that we begin to actively act in ways that close off our own freedoms. The herd or mob now controls and influences us. One could argue that the most difficult fight for freedom lies within your own bias, prejudice, judgment, and worldview. When we are oppressed in our own minds we can be kept away from the freedom and blessing of diversity, the freedom of exploring cultures, and the freedom to be true to ourselves. When we are full of bias and judgment and feel as if others should not have the same freedoms as us, what is that if not letting fear and cowardice rule us? This is not freedom.
The Path to Freedom
The path to freedom starts with awareness and the ability to challenge one’s own bias, prejudice, and fear. These actions will bring the necessary awareness to be able to question the authorities that govern our societies. We can also question and challenge those negative voices of judgment and fear-fueled worldviews that keep us trapped from our own values and morals free from hypocrisy. It continues with the choice to behave and earn discipline through actions and perseverance. The path to is wide once we have the capacity to challenge our own biases, fears, and prejudices. It becomes manifest when we engage in the discipline and task to continually fight those external and internal struggles that beckon us to make decisions – not from freedom but from familiarity and fear.
The responsibility to attain and maintain freedom is ours. Begin the path with awareness. What fears, prejudices and biases are so stout in your life as to make you rigid and a prisoner of your worldviews? Where did your prejudice and bias come from? How was it transmitted to you? If you can identify this then ask yourself if these are the views you hold because you believe in it or did you come to believe it because you were saturated by toxic influences. Are your actions congruent to the respect for others’ freedom as well as understanding the sanctity and sacredness of your own potential freedom?
Self-improvement seems like a good idea, at first blush. Who doesn’t want to improve? However, have we stopped to think about who or what this “self” is that desires improvement? This self you call you. Are you the sum total of remembered events or a narrative story in which you are the star? Are you the voices in your head? This week I really want us to look closer at what we mean by self-improvement.
A Left-Brain Construct
How can we improve upon a self that is really just a construct of our left brain. Look it up. The left brain is notorious for cooking up all kinds of stories about who we are and what we should be. Scientists have referred to the left brain as the Interpreter. Tests have concluded that it is the left brain’s function to create order, meaning and a linear storyline of who we are. What we forgot to mention to everyone is that YOU are not your left brain. In fact, you are not even the voices in your head at all. Ancient mystics and now modern science agree, the essential YOU is the space or venue in which these thoughts and ideas come to play. Look up studies by Dr. Michael Gazzaniga regarding the left brain. Explore the writings of Eckhart Tolle, Ram Dass and Alan Watts. The idea of self is a fascinating topic that we only rarely scratch beyond the surface.
Letting Go of the Obsession
What we want to show our students is that self-improvement is ungraspable until you let go. Stopping addictions are impossible to do by trying not to do something: do not drink, do not overeat, do not smoke, do not seek out dysfunctional relationships. There is no quicker way to do something than to promise yourself you will never do it again. It is only by letting go of the obsession that we find freedom.
Doing That Which You Enjoy
Ironically, that which eludes us will curl up by our feet and surrender if only we would stop chasing our own tails. Instead of self-improvement, seek stillness and silence. Self-improvement is a byproduct of doing that which you enjoy. It happens spontaneously. It never happens by design or because you try desperately to make it so. Go try to fall in love or try to find contentment. Go searching for peace of mind. None will be found because you cannot find what you always had from the start.
Barn Life Recovery is the first treatment center in the state of California with a license to treat mental illness on an outpatient community-based level. At our holistic facility in Orange County, our Barn Life staff, within an idyllic setting, encourage tried and true healing practices vis-a-vis Tai Chi, synthetic-free psychology, relapse prevention, martial arts, and meditation through our Orange County intensive outpatient program and day program. If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, give us a call today and start to love life again!
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