Shadows for the Holidays

“Oh, Martha, the table looks lovely, you have outdone yourself this year!”
“You must have worked all throughout the night to pull off this feast!” 
“Pass the stuffing, please.” 

So on and so on… These are the polite conversations happening around the table. Meanwhile, a few of the guests are having internal monologues and counting every tick of the clock, wondering when they can flee from this stuffy room, and head home without a holiday flare up. The holidays can bring a lot of stress to people for various reasons. For instance, this may be the first year without a beloved family member or friend, and the empty chair is too uncomfortable to look at. For others, it’s the difficulty of being misunderstood by a relative or parent, too many criticisms and complaints to wash down with the dry turkey.  Or the long-standing argument that always comes up just after the toast has been given, which makes the entire table tense. 

Whatever the play by play looks like for your family, please know you are not alone. Most of us have had some variety of family mishaps during the holidays. It would seem there is an unspoken expectation of how everyone should behave, and how everything should look. Most likely years of unmet expectations perpetuate the following year's outcome. This is the work of the shadows.
Unfortunately, when expectations, blame, or judgment are present, the emphasis is not focused on connection.  The shadows presence is interfering with the reason for the season; connection and memory making.

If we are showing up for any other reason then connection, this is the time to pause. Taking a pause is a conscious engagement of your inner world. You can tune in by giving yourself 5 minutes of quiet. Allowing your breath to soften, following your feelings all the way through you, to unearth what is behind your why… 

Why am I going? 

What do I expect from this gathering?

What am I willing to give? 

These are only a few suggestions for questions to ponder during your pause. For the sake of most of our experiences, I wish to discuss the shadow of the holidays. The behaviors that some see in another person, and find irritating or stressful because the behavior is unsavory. The irony is that the person doing the behavior is certain that no one notices! The reason for the shadows pesky behavior, it is trying to help the person who feels inadequate in some way, by overcompensating, as a means to be loved and accepted. This is the nature of the shadow which is often most surprising. 

Perhaps when sitting around the table this year, you can begin to write a new story about your family. One that lends more compassion and a wider aperture lens. Instead of feeling frustrated with your annoying Aunt, or obnoxious cousin. You can look at their shadow and say in your mind “I see you, I understand you’re trying really hard to not let anyone know how you are feeling lesser than in some way.” “I can accept you, even though I find you annoying.” 

It takes the pressure off of you to anticipate things being any different, while also, bringing in a breath of fresh perspective to what you otherwise see as the usual performance. Think of this possibility as seeing a movie for the first time, even though you’ve read the book 100. You’re giving yourself the chance to experience something familiar as if it’s brand new. 

All of us have shadows, and each of us is trying our best to be known. For now, we just aren’t ready to be known for our faults, or our insecurities. It takes time to feel safe enough to expose these qualities to the people closest to us. The holidays add extra pressure to perform. Whether it be conscious or unconscious the energy is there. So pass the gravy, exhale and have a little more fun with your loved ones and their shadows. 


 

Power of the Seasons

As the summer days shorten, and the cool breezes increase. Just as the trees will soon shed their leaves, I too am letting go. I am consistently surprised and in wonder of this process. I once had the expectation that when I let go of something, that was it, finito! However, what happens for me, letting go is a continual process, that works its way deeper. Spiraling deeper into the root of the matter. Some things are easy for me to release. I can clear out a closet, rewriting beliefs, letting go of habits. These I find do not challenge me, or push me as hard to look inward. Other circumstances, however are much deeper. I have patterns within our family dynamic that shapeshift and take on different masks. One that has been a constant is my trusting in the “what-is” of a moment, without expectation, or a need to control the situation, even the outcome. This has been a repetitive practice of letting go, one layer at a time. The easier ones first, then deeper, and deeper.

Since the new moon, solar eclipse I have been tearful, and tender. This weekend I hit a root, the root of expectations, how heavy and unsatisfying they really are to have in my life. They do not foster joy, service, or ease. They push, nudge, and agitate most situations, taking away any chance for flow, surprise, and realness. I have worked for years around expectations. I can clearly see how much they interfere with my relationships. When I got real honest with myself this weekend what I learned was that expectations are a front for my shadow belief of not being good enough.

Here’s how it plays out. If I have an expectation of things going a certain way, and it slowly begins to unravel, not because of others but because of how I am perceiving the situation, and it not *meeting* my expectation, I can begin to blame them. It’s their fault this isn’t fun. It’s their fault we are late. It’s their fault I am unsatisfied, BULLSHIT! I created the mask in order to hide my insecurity of not being good enough. I blame the expectation and not my shadowy beliefs.

If you’re still with me which I hope you are, here is the best part. Now that I have gotten into the messy root system of these tangled and gnarly shadow beliefs. I can choose something different for myself. I can integrate my shadow, and change the belief. This process, while uncomfortable, is what being whole is about. It is acceptance of all parts of one’s being. The shadow and the light.

If I continue to hide my shadow in the expectation. I will continue to have unsatisfying experiences because I believe it’s the best I deserve.

It’s not the best I deserve. It’s what I’ve put up with because of this shadow. By bringing it into the light, my light, I am showing the shadow and myself that we are worthy of receiving everything I desire in a satisfying life! I am working on more surrender, less expectation. To trust in the uncontrollable, unexpected mystery of life. The other side of letting go is receiving. Receiving isn’t always about what is easy, light or feels good. Receiving is about the art of receptivity to all circumstances, just as they are. Some are more bitter and insipid than others, and if I can be with it, not reject it, judge it, or deny it. I am opening myself to an entirely new frequency in life.

 

Wholesome Discomfort

I was texting with my daughter yesterday and she shared with me that she was really pleased with her anticipated GPA for this semester even though she has been in "terrible shape mentally". As a vigilant practitioner of thought hygiene and growth mindset, I replied that if she continues to describe her inner world as being in "terrible shape", this makes it difficult to honor the growth process that is taking place for her. I then asked her "How do you think a monarch butterfly feels when it first emerges from its cocoon? Do you think it feels comfortable and familiar?" She agreed that yes, this was a good point. 

Video of monarch hatching

It's beautiful to witness this process, but to actually be that butterfly? How would it feel to emerge with an engorged body and flaccid wings, and to pump brown goo from your body, in the process of stretching one's wings to double their original size? The times when I have watched butterflies hatch, I think of how it felt to give birth to two children... miraculous? Yes. Comfortable? No.

Miraculous, spiritual growth can be messy and unpredictable, often accompanied by blood, sweat, tears, and brown goo. We're afraid of all these substances. Images of "growth" and "possibility" are usually clean, transcendent, light-filled shots. In this video of the hatching monarch, it doesn't show you the brown puddle on the bottom of the aquarium. The juice of growth is the messy stuff, the uncomfortable feelings. If we want to grow, we need to learn to love the certain flavor of discomfort that is in our "strategic discomfort" zone... our learning edge. This feeling of being stretched into a place that is uncomfortable, but still bearable, is the portal for creation. I have learned to love this feeling in myself, because I am enamored with creation and creativity. Loving the feeling of "stretchiness" is an acquired taste, and it's a different flavor for each of us. Except our souls actually love it, we have just forgotten how to value our soul's opinion. The soul's voice is in there, though! It talks to us, every day. This is the work that we Epiphany Midwives love to do, learning to listen to this voice.

The Path of Mastery

Today I was listening to Matt Kahn's talk called The Path of Mastery. He was talking about how unnecessary it is to "know everything". He said we have this tendency to compete with the universe. We don't trust that the universe is going to do it for us, so we take over and try to make everything happen ourselves, to know everything ourselves. As he was talking, I had a little epiphany about a meeting I had today. I was in a room with one of my lead team members, Shane, and five accountants who we were interviewing to determine if they were a good fit for our accounting needs. Shane had taken the lead in the meeting. He had set it up for us, and he led off by explaining a little bit about our company's situation and why we might be looking for more or different accounting support. Then we spent some time talking about some of the challenges we face and potential strategies for dealing with them, as well as a little bit about their team and how they operate. I kept noticing that I was having trouble making eye contact with many of the people in the room. I didn't want to look them in the eye. I felt confused and a little frustrated by this observation. I found myself yearning for the Sarah who can show up in these kind of meetings in a very heart-centered way, and talk about the most radical and authentic principles that are at play in our decision making. It felt like, for some reason, I had reverted back to a more stuffy, withdrawn modality, content to let others lead the conversation even in ways that felt ineffective to me. This is how I "used" to show up in meetings sometimes, maybe ten or even five years ago, before I learned about NVC (Non Violent Communication) 

As the meeting progressed, I began forcing myself to look at each person at the table. I took notice of what they were wearing, what their eyes looked like, and what their body language seemed to be saying. Instead of taking the time to inquire as to what my resistance was, I overruled it and insisted on a different kind of behavior from myself.

Towards the end of the meeting, the owner of the accounting firm told me that I was the queen, and it was up to me to decide how I wanted to proceed. He literally called me the queen; it was an interesting choice of words because yes, at this point, I am ready to be the queen, I am ready to have an empire of enterprises doing things that create the world that I want to live in. 

Just now, as I was listening to Matt's message, I realized why I was embarrassed to look those people in the eye. I knew I needed to play the role of the queen, to own my power in this process, and to state what was important to me. Those people were there to serve me, and it was my opportunity to fully see them in that role. My questions about my self worth, my deserving to have a team support me in this way, that's what was getting in my way. We do resist being the "Master" (or the "Queen"), for this exact reason. Having that kind of power is a little bit scary. 

I am realizing now that in order to get where I want to go, I need to get a lot more comfortable with that role, with really owning that role, and resting in the reassurance that I don't need to KNOW anything in particular to play that role, I just simply need to remember to check in with source, and to let source guide the way, shape the energy and the situation. 

It really is that simple, and that hard to do.

 

Healing Your Relationship with Money

Money, Sex, Time and Food... these are four things that we think about all the time, yet we rarely actually consider our relationship with them. When you heal these four relationships, just imagine the ease and freedom that you will experience in your life. Think of them like the Four Quadrants of Personal Growth. Health in these four quadrants feels like a deep trust in yourself, and also in the Universe. It feels like personal mastery. Of these four, my healing journey with Money is the one that is easiest for me to share, because I now view Money as one of my favorite Imaginary Friends. I understand her now on some deep level. She makes me smile and I also know her shadow side. That's what today's insight was about... the shadow side, and how understanding it can help us to have a healthy relationship with Money. But first, some background.

What is your relationship with Money? When I ask people this question, here is what I hear: "I hate money." "Money is my nemesis." "Money? What money? I don't have any money." "Ugh. I am terrible with money." Money trauma is rampant, right?

Or, if I am asking someone who has a lot of it: "Money is everything." "Money is power." "Cash is king." "I love money." 

Everyone has a story that we tell ourselves about Money. Here's a little about mine... I grew up in a household where lack of money was our mantra, it was our identity. It was a reason to not associate with certain people. It kept us together as a family; we were special. Not having money felt like an unspoken agreement we had as a family. When I was about fourteen, I answered a knock at the door a few days before Thanksgiving. It was a volunteer from our church with a basket of food for needy families. I was embarrassed and shocked... how had our secret gotten out? 

As a business owner, I have learned that my relationship with money really impacts how the company performs, how we pay our employees, how much risk we take, how we pay our vendors, how we set prices, and how sustainable the company is. I watched myself every Friday for years when I sat down to pay bills. If I could pay everyone on time, I felt great about myself. I would run off to the rock gym, emanating a sense of confidence, able to flawlessly climb the same route that the day before had been insurmountably difficult. If we were behind, I would walk around for days, weeks, months, or even years, my heart heavy with this burdensome story of my ineptitude. It would be hard to get out of bed in the morning. Those were the days when I would look longingly at the bank teller's job and think that it seemed like a better idea to close the business and just get a regular paycheck, doing something, anything that did not involve carrying this financial burden. 

As far as my personal finances, when I got divorced, I learned that I was much better at taking care of "other people's money" than I was my own. As soon as my finances were really "my finances", it was a lot harder for me to care about them. I started overdrawing my checking account and neglecting bills, which was something I never did when I was managing "our" money. 

As a priestess in the Yoruba tradition of West Africa, one of the many initiations I received from my elders was "Aje" or the "Mystery of Money". The Yoruba treat her as a Force of Nature, or Orisha. I received a sacred worship object, a Money Pot. I kept it on my altar for years. 

I am not practicing the Yoruba tradition right now, although I still embody the mysteries that were shared with me during that very rich decade of my life. The way I have integrated this particular mystery is that I now think of Money as I would any important friendship. How do we cultivate friendships? We spend time on them. We are curious about our friends, we check on them. Think of Money as that person in your life that you can "win over". By giving them a little energy, care, attention, you can gradually feel a healthy and mutually beneficial connection with them. We have all had that person in our lives... the client or family member who used to be grumpy and now is our biggest fan. That's the transformation that can happen in your relationship with Money if you start treating it like a friendship and stop feeding your "enemy image" of her. Your bank account balance will not flourish if you continue to ignore it. Your bills will not get paid if you keep piling them in the same out-of-sight-out-of-mind place in your house.

When we think of Money as an Imaginary Friend, this also makes it clear that she is NOT us. She is not our self worth. She is not the solution to every problem. She has her own idiosyncrasies, imbalances and rules, all of which you will experience when you get to know her better. Your best ally when cultivating a friendship is your curiosity. What is the nature of this new friend? It's most powerful when you learn those things for yourself, but to facilitate your inquiry I will share a few things that I have found to be true about her qualities. Please let me know if you find them to be true also. 

The nature of Money's power is that she is unrelentingly, flawlessly responsive to purpose and direction. She will do anything you "tell" her to do. She is the ultimate servant. She can be honored and cared for, but she does not like to be put in charge, it is not her rightful place. When you put her in charge, or if you begin serving her, she will enter her shadow side, and may drag you into that place along with her. She does not like to take the lead on anything. If someone is paying you to do something, be very clear that this is not the main motivation for your behavior. Be clear that you are doing what you do out of love and contribution to your community, not out of fear or a sense that you need money. Yes, most of us work for a "living", but if you look more deeply, you are working to serve others, to contribute, and this comes from love, not fear or need. She is repelled from and will leave environments that do not have a clear sense of purpose or direction, like water seeping out of a bucket with small holes in it. 

Money likes to flow. She doesn't like to sit in dark corners or be stagnant. She is willing to be still for periods of time, if she is asked to do that in an intentional way. (Like when you invest in a CD or mutual fund)

Money doesn't like values conflicts. If you value two different things, and you aren't clear on that, and there is an ongoing tension between these two things, Money will not want to hang around that place. If you are spending money on something that is not really in alignment with your deepest values, this doesn't feel good. This will cause you to avoid spending time on your finances. 

What is one small step that you can do, today, to heal your relationship with money? Maybe it's just as simple as checking what's in your bank account. Maybe it's cancelling that recurring charge for the service that you don't use anymore. Think of these things like texting a friend you haven't seen in a while. You'll be glad you did. 

-Sarah Belzile

 

 

 

Meditation on Belonging

Hi friends! So I recorded this meditation on belonging as a self-healing exercise, because lately I have been noticing how much this need/feeling of belonging is coming up for me. I am preparing for a conversation with friends about "intentional spiritual community" and as I am getting ready for this conversation, I am realizing that this is a very charged topic for me, because of this need for belonging, especially in a spiritual community. 

This meditation is based on a parenting principle that I learned from the book "How to Talk so Your Kids Will Listen and Listen so Your Kids Will Talk" many years ago. The principle is that we can give ourselves (or our kids) the things that we most want in our imagination, even if we don't (yet) have them in reality. I have found this to be such a powerful practice: allowing myself to have (in my imagination first) what I want on an emotional/vibrational level, and then letting go of the outcome and seeing what happens. It's about a 15 minute meditation, I would love feedback from anyone who would like to explore this with me! 

When is Authenticity a Trap?

Personal and spiritual growth is work that takes place in the realm of the imagination. What makes for a "realized" human? Someone who is whole, and free, inwardly and outwardly? Someone who has that presence, who occupies a room fully, who wields their personal power gently yet fully? How does THAT happen in a person, for a person? This happens when someone develops an intimate relationship with themselves. And how does THAT happen? This is something that takes place in the realm of the imagination. I like to warn people that I am a big fan of imaginary friends. The ones you had as a kid that lost touch with and also new ones that you invent as an adult just because this is a presence you want in your life because it FEELS good, it feels healing. This is an example of work that takes place in the imagination. Its the place where I have worked to heal myself.

Is this healing real? Sure, because it feels good. I feel happier and more whole when I am communing with my imaginary friends. Some of you may call them angels or guides. I like to give them my own names that sound a little more grounded. Whatever their names, they lead me to healthier behaviors. For example, my Omnipotent Life Manager imaginary friend "gave" me this personalized time block scheduling system which has been a godsend this year. I am sooo thankful to her; this simple tool has made me so much calmer and more productive for the past month. What prevents us from doing this kind of thing more often? Our lack of "strength" of imaginative capacity. We don't trust our imaginations; we have been taught that they aren't real or safe. We have so many judgemental beliefs about our imagination "muscle". Example: dreamy people are lazy or useless, or never "amount to much". We tell ourselves that we are "just" laying in bed, being "unproductive", and really, we're daydreaming, flexing this all powerful muscle of our minds. How many times as a kid were we told that we needed to stop laying around and DO something? Or we even started telling ourselves we're "bored" and need to be entertained.

 When it comes time to imagine something into existence, to create, to visualize, we panic. We think we are being dishonest or... Not "authentic". We tell ourselves that we are inventing things. Or not doing something "right". We are so accustomed to questions with multiple choice boxes and checklists and following orders that in moments where we most need our imagination to "work", it just lays there, like an unwilling child. Of course it's an unwilling child, since for decades it has been told its value by the "adults" in the room, the people who "know". 

I am here to tell you, friends, that if you want personal growth, here's a belief that you can play with: "Your imagination is real. Start living there. It's where you create the self you want to become." If the realized You isn't allowed to live in your imagination, where can s/he live? 

 

Recently, a friend and I were working on a visualization meditation that involved going through many layers of light and mist and "gel" and colors in order to "reach" a place of "higher" consciousness. She was concerned that she wasn't seeing or "finding" the right mists or layers or windows to go through. This, I realized, is where this notion of "authenticity" is a trap. Our commitment to "authenticity" can shut us down. When it comes to personal growth,  it's all imagination, it's all story, it's all invented. AND it's all real. BOTH are true. As we are visualizing this "higher realm", when are we manufacturing and when are we discovering something that is already there? Who cares? In the realm of the imagination, it doesn't matter WHO created it, all that matters is that it's there. Does that thoughtform help us, does it serve our development as humans? Well, does it bring healing, a sense of wholeness, of presence, of connection to something bigger than ourselves? If so, then yes, it serves. Because, as we started with, we're after personal growth, right? 

Our imaginations are the realm where all of this "work" happens. I mean, calling it work is kind of a funny thing. Because what does your imagination want to do most of all? Play. And daydream. THAT is the "work" of imagination. THAT is how our "muscle" gets stronger. When we're at play, we lose track of who created what. At play, we allow ourselves to sense this invisible line that draws us closer to what's fun and feels good. And this place is so truly authentic that "authenticity" itself becomes an irrelevant construct better left to the grownups who care about such things. 

Surrender & Agency: Being "At Choice"

Anyone who has spent much time with me lately has heard me bring up this idea of how the Universe wants us to be "at choice". While it seems a bit presumptuous to speculate about the will of the "Universe", I find this to be a really useful thoughtform (a belief that I am adopting for the time being).  This idea helps me to find a balance between surrender and agency.  I am devoted to observing and questioning what beliefs are motivating my actions, and I often find myself aware of this tightrope that connects these two concepts. Surrender... the action of letting go, releasing, detaching from outcome, passivity and deep, embodied trust. An example of this would be the intention I have to offer my life up to the Divine. "Take me, I'm yours. Do with my life what is YOUR will." Contrast this with Agency... choosing, wanting, directing one's life and owning one's own power to manifest, to create. An example of this would be persisting with a personal goal or practice even when things get difficult or uncomfortable. This is the realm of discipline. Surrender and agency are important in one's inner life, yes? When do we surrender and when do we (despite discomfort or difficulty) remain committed to actualizing an outcome that we desire? When we really look at it, surrender is a choice, too. So even in surrender, there is a "meta" layer of agency. Surrender is like floating downstream, while agency is choosing to use our paddles, either down or upstream.   

I've been working with this idea that the Universe wants us to be at choice as a way to understand why difficulty or "contrast" shows up. It's like it's the Universe's way of asking us "Do you really want this?" or "What do you choose here?" or "Remind me what was the outcome you were wanting?"

 I happened upon this notion as a result of contemplation of question of "What is a culture of consent?". This question was prompted when, in the fall of 2015, a former employee of my company reported an incident of sexual assault that happened with a member of our management team. 

Previous to this incident, my two teen-aged daughters, Charlotte and Veronica, had learned about "rape culture" at school, and came home mentioning it in casual conversation. I never really asked them to clarify what exactly it was. I tacitly accepted that rape culture was a thing, because something about it rang true (probably the statistic that one in three women are raped, beated or abused in their lifetime). One day I had expressed concern about Charlotte posting a picture on social media where her cleavage was one of the most noticeable features of the image. And Veronica said "Wow, Mom, way to slut shame Charlotte." Slut shame? Me? Wow, I guess that's a thing, isn't it? Seems like it's an integral part of rape culture, which is far more embedded in my consciousness than I realized.

As I started unpacking how my own actions (or passivity) contributed to this incident of sexual assault, it became an invitation to understand how rape culture lives in me, and in my company. I started to see how, for decades, I had been willing to "receive" emotionally aggressive behavior from others, because somehow, it was easier than choosing my own emotions. If someone else embodied angry male energy, and came at me with that energy, it prompted me to match that vibration, to engage with fear, intensity and often conflict.  On some level, I was choosing this.  Until one particular moment, in November of 2015, when I received an "angry male" text. I felt my blood pressure rise, and I began to engage in my habitual self-calming way; I've actually gotten good at calming myself (and the other person) down. Right around this time, I had discovered this quote:

"Everything changes when you start to emit your own frequency rather than absorbing the frequencies around you. When you start imprinting your intent on the universe rather than receiving an imprint from existence."  -Barbara Marciniak

Everything did change in that moment. Why was I choosing to absorb this frequency, to coddle the anger? I don't wish to choose that in my life anymore. It was like a switch flipped and I activated some sort of force field around me. Energetically, I started saying "Nope, not interested. You can keep that anger over there, if you choose. I am not responsible for your anger, and I no longer choose to engage with it." 

I haven't been the same since.

Of course the Universe would want us to be at choice, so that we can choose our own reality, we can create our own inner world. I'm viewing my inner world like a beautiful room, furnished with carefully chosen, soulful pieces. Beliefs that are the most functional, beautiful and life-serving are like cognitive sculptures. They direct my attention, focus and energy, at both a conscious and a subconscious level. Each person's inner world is a manifestation of the Divine, of Consciousness, of the Unity of all life. I'm here to advocate for making our inner worlds beautiful, habitable and life-serving. 

On fierceness

Genuine warriors make their homes on the frontier of one’s Self. We can find this uncharted territory using the same sense that a compass uses to find North.  When we choose the path of the warrior, we leave behind comfort, safety and certainty. We are willing to risk our own significance at a moment’s notice. We learn that wobbling and unsteadiness is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign that we are in the presence of bravery. This realization turns bravery into courage. And this courage, may then be used to plunge even further into the green, tangled, misty depths of the jungle of our soul.