This week was a big one for me! I was featured in an article in Missoula Valley Living (check it out here.) And, that same day, my dear friend/collaborator Amber Jackson and I took the first step towards a dream we have been calling in for some time now. Our first recording together is up! Enjoy this 31 minute meditation, the Essence of Grace, with the soundscape provided by my 32″ Shamash gong (by Shawn Aceto.) May it flow you through this New Moon and into the new year.
If you’ve been reading my blog lately ( Clarity Part 1 & Clarity Part 2 here) you’ll know that I’ve been focusing in on what is and is not mine. The latest iteration of that came this morning, as I was having breakfast with a dear friend. When I arrived she looked at me curiously, noticing my slightly off-kilter affect, and her kind eyes opened the emotional floodgates.
This last week has been full of challenging emotions for me. 17 years ago, my youngest sister Eleanore died in tragic and unexpected circumstances in late July, and her memorial service was a week later, on what would have been her 12th birthday. Every year, grief comes flooding back in different forms and at different times, but it always appears around this anniversary week. I began trying to describe the strange state of grief I was experiencing to my friend, and asked her if it was weird to be there 17 years later.
“I don’t know” she said, and as our conversation continued I realized that my work was to observe the place I was in, not bypass or ignore it, and still keep moving through it. When I get hit by grief, it gets sticky, like I’m in this place where I could spend the rest of my life reliving the past, experiencing the traumas again and again. For me, the most important thing to do is to keep moving, not set up camp and stay put. I began laughing as I realized the truth of the words. “Let it be what it is, but whatever you do, don’t pitch a tent Arwen! You’re not staying there.”
This whole conversation was not more than 10 minutes before we continued on to enjoy our time together, but the impact of these words has been vibrating through me all day long.
So, without further ado, here are my marching orders:
- Let it be what it is, observe it
- Notice when things get sticky
- Keep moving (don’t pitch a tent!)
Because, in the end, the traumas did happen, and they made me who I am. I don’t know who I would be were it not for all the good and hard things that occurred in the past, because every step has led me to this moment right here. For me, holding onto and reliving the traumas of the past feels like trying to live in the past, and that doesn’t work. So my job is to be here now.
May we all let ourselves be here now.
Happy Birthday Eleanore – I miss you, and I’ll see you on the other side of this world ocean.
These words, the statement that “my joy is based on my adherence to truth,” is from the final track on East Forest’s album The Education of the Individual Soul. Since I began listening to this album, these nine words have rolled around in my head. What does it mean? Adhering, or not adhering to truth… what is that in real world terms? I think of myself as an honest person, but is this lyric really about the dichotomy of honesty and dishonesty? What is the real truth?
The more I sit with it, particularly in this season of my life where pieces are falling into place, the more I realize that for me, adherence to truth is 100% an inside job of self-acceptance and empowerment. My truth, my Sat Nam, is based entirely on me taking responsibility for myself and owning my personal power, not holding on to anything that is not mine to hold.
If you are following this series, you may remember that in the summer of 2016 I upended my life (for a catch up or refresher, click here) and ended up eventually relocating to my hometown of Missoula, Montana. During that summer, when I felt like a shadow of myself, knowing that I needed to reclaim my truth, I took myself totally out of my known world before returning home.
For just over 40 days, I was a sevadar (volunteer) at Chateau Anand, an amazing place near Poitiers, France. Going all the way to France to reclaim myself may have seemed extreme to people who cared about me, but I followed my inner knowing to that pink castle, certain that I would fast track my self-reclaiming process. How did I know that would happen? Daily practice!
Aquarian Sadhana is a 2.5 hour morning practice of prayer, yoga, and meditation from the Kundalini Yoga tradition that occurred every morning at Chateau Anand. I went into my time there knowing that I would be there for 40 mornings, and promised myself that I would do Aquarian Sadhana every day. So every day I was up by 4 or 4.30 and participated in group Sadhana before beginning my work for the day. That was the most transformative 40 day practice I have ever done, and I’ve done many since I began practicing Kundalini. How could it not be? 150 minutes of prayer, yoga and chanting in the early morning hours every single day for 40 days is a recipe for clearing up one’s internal world (in my experience, anyway.)
My days at the Chateau were always a combination of sadhana, work and time by the river. I would wander down to the river to pray, read, journal, meditate, and just let myself be at least once per day, by myself or with friends. More often than not tears would come. Feeling as frayed as I had been for years, having virtually nonexistent resources to keep me steady besides my daily practice, I would sit on the metal footbridge and stare at the water. On one side of the bridge, it was calm (as pictured below) – and on the other it was a crashing waterfall, chaotic and in perpetual motion. My perspective dictated what I saw, which was exactly the reminder I needed.
Clarity was the gift that the river and my time at Chateau Anand gave me. I walked away firm in my resolution that I would listen to and trust my internal wisdom in any decision making, fully committed to maintaining my daily practice, and feeling like me – a pretty tired, needing TLC, worn out version of me, but more like me than I had felt in years. There are no words to describe the enormity of that return home to myself. As I became more my true self, my joy increased – “my joy is based on my adherence to truth.” (East Forest)
Don’t get me wrong, this was not a magic pill to solve every challenge I was coping with at the time. This is an ongoing practice – my time at Chateau Anand was amazing and exactly what I needed that summer of 2016, but like all watershed events it did pass by. So to keep myself clear, and keep only my monkeys in my own personal circus, I continue to practice every day. Starting the day on my sheepskin, moving and breathing and chanting, brings me back to my true self. That, to me, is what clarity is all about.
Note: if you are in the Missoula area and want to increase the clarity in your life, check out this class that is beginning at Red Willow in August. And if you want a laugh, regardless of where you are, watch this 2 minute video we made about it!
Well, this blog series has been a long time coming. Over the next few weeks, I want to share my personal journey of the last few years with all of you. It felt at times like life was happening at lightning speed, and now that the puzzle pieces are putting themselves together, the picture is becoming more and more clear.
For years (most of my life, really) I was the person who tried to fix everything. Somebody was upset? I’d spend hours or days trying to figure out why, how I’d caused it, and pour endless energy into being perfect to avoid that person becoming upset. People not getting along? Arwen the peacemaker comes out to play! There was a time when I would spend easily an hour or more on the phone with person A, listening to their side of the story, then do the same with person B, then call each of them back to say “Here’s what I heard from the other person.” Sound exhausting? It was!!! Walking on eggshells was my habitual way of interacting with people and the world, and let me tell you, it was an enormous energy drain.
Now, looking back on those years, I see all the ways that my energy was being siphoned off to support other people. The most obvious consequence was that my internal resources tended to become dangerously drained easily, and I would regularly become so overwhelmed that I went into full on hermit mode and did only the bare minimum human contact. It was not a pleasant pattern to be living out, let me tell you. However, my becoming the world’s most empty well and being a hermit was not the only consequence of my taking responsibility for others.
I was attracting into my life people who *needed* me to be that go between, the scapegoat, the peacemaker. Over time, it became more and more difficult for me to keep myself going and play those roles for others, and in 2016 I hit my breaking point. I had been practicing Kundalini Yoga & Meditation for slightly under 2 years, communicating with myself more and more, and simultaneously felt myself having less and less tolerance for old habits that weren’t supportive (hello, walking on eggshells!) Eventually, after trying everything I could think of to fix it, I left my first marriage and came back home to this safe valley in western Montana that I love. I felt like a shadow of myself, and had this deep knowing that the most important thing to do was to get ME back.
The biggest blessing in this immensely challenging time of my life was that as I reclaimed my personal power, it became obvious what was and was not mine to take responsibility for. Someone else’s feelings? Not mine. People I care about disagreeing? Not mine. This strong theme of differentiating what was and was not mine to cope with began to play an enormous role in my personal choices, and the phrase “not my circus, not my monkeys” (I wish I could remember where I first heard it!) came to be a light-hearted reminder to myself that I only carry responsibility for myself, what I do and how I react.
So this is the universal call to all of us: may we all maintain our own circuses, take care of our own monkeys, and lovingly let go of circuses & monkeys that are not ours so that their rightful owners can do their own work.
P.S. How did I get myself back? Stay tuned and follow this blog to find out next week!
Wow, what a summer. It has felt, more often than not, that every time I looked to the outside world there was chaos and trauma in every direction. Honestly, I did not know what to do with it all! The feeling of overwhelm was in charge of my life for a few weeks. I let go of my morning meditation practice, stopped playing my musical instruments, wasn’t singing, barely got in a little hiking… in short, all of the tools that connect me to myself were thrown aside. After all, what was the point of taking care of myself when life felt like a hurricane? I was struggling. Emotions were ruling my mental state. I felt overreactive to news about absolutely everything in the world that I cared about (which, of course, is infintely more than I have any ability to directly impact or control,) and I was so depleted that I told myself I was stuck in this space. But was I?
In the summer, my beloved mother spends hours at a time weeding her gardens. She carefully removes bindweed and quackgrass, creating room for vegetables and fruits to have optimum nutrients, light, and air. I would spend hours weeding with her as a child. She taught me that gardens grow best when the weeds are kept under control – if you want to have fresh strawberries, you have to make sure they have space and water. In my internal garden, I had generally been keeping up on my weeding , but when overwhelm took over, there was no room left. All the light and air was gone, and I was in a rough spot. Luckily, I have a great support system, and one of my mentors spoke up and reminded me that I need to do my work. Chop wood, carry water, pull out those pesky weeds.
So last week, I took my garden back! I began to wake early every day, to have quiet time for yoga & meditation so I could connect to my higher self before heading out for my day. I got myself outside more days than not. I sang my heart out every day, played the piano, worked on some original compositions, and almost immediately I was back to myself. Coming home to myself, tending to my own internal garden every single day – that work is the most important thing I can do in a day. When I’m centered, connected to my higher self and in touch with my guides, work and life flow with ease.
If you can relate to this experience, consider joining me for Growth Essentials: Sound & Meditation. Beginning on Monday, July 9, we will spend 90 minutes a week focusing in on clearing out those weeds in our gardens! Using yogic tools and sound to support us, we will create space in our lives so that we can flourish in this season of growth. Tend to your garden, you magnificent human being. The best thing we can do in these times is care for ourselves so that our actions can have the maximum impact. It all starts at home.
In the summer of 2016, I spent 40 days volunteering at an Kundalini Yoga ashram in the French countryside. Every morning before work I did 2.5 hours of Aquarian Sadhana, and every afternoon/evening on a break or after work I ended up by this river. I spent more hours than I can count sitting on the bridge over the waterfall pictured here. Those two daily practices moved me through one of the most difficult times of my life with so much more grace than I realized was possible.
Sadhana means daily spiritual practice. Check out this article for more information. Four years ago, I was convinced that I didn’t have time to do anything for myself every single day. It felt impossible. At the time, I taught children with ASD and spent most of my professional life helping them change their behaviors using the principles of behavioral modification. I made it to exercise and yoga classes several times a week and told myself that was enough, that it should keep me in a centered and balanced place.
A few months later, when I began my training in Kundalini Yoga, one of the requirements was that we complete a 40 day sadhana of at least 11 minutes/day. That, to me, felt completely overwhelming… how was I supposed to cram one more thing into my day?! My teachers encouraged me to take it slow, start with just 3 minutes a day of a practice that I absolutely loved. So I began chanting Ra Ma Da Sa every day for 3 minutes. Somewhere along the way, I realized that all my years helping my students make changes had prepared me perfectly to modify my own! So I embarked on a journey of self-study. I applied the principles of applied behavioral analysis to myself and taught myself to maintain a daily practice, bit by bit. I developed systems for rewarding myself (checking things off is so satisfying for me,) and began to feel the steadiness that sadhana imparts. Fast forward to today, and my daily practice is the cornerstone, and always at least 20 minutes, bare minimum. If I feel out of whack, and I take the time to recommit to (and sometimes repeat) my daily practice, it invariably helps me move back towards my center.
One of my teachers said that he does his sadhana (daily practice) every day so that he can run his day, instead of his day running him. That line resonated deeply and stayed with me, and describes the reason that I prioritize my sadhana. Is it always easy? Do I have magical self-discipline powers? No and no. What I do have is nearly 4 years experience of proof that when I do my sadhana, my life flows more smoothly and I feel better. That’s what gets me to my practices every day. Is it perfect? Nope. There have been a couple days this year when I’ve missed on part or all of my sadhana. And the best thing I do when I flub up? I focus on being as supportive and kind to myself as I tried to be to my students when they invariably had a lapse. Instead of blaming and getting upset with myself, I tell myself that it’s ok, life isn’t perfect and neither am I, but I’m going to get back to it and start again. After all, sadhana is a practice, and so is life.
Mercury retrograde often gets a bad rap; the time when electronics don’t work, the time to not begin big plans, the time to avoid travel…. the list goes on. One of my favorite lessons from 2017, however, came from one of the astrologers I follow. Their approach to these 3 week cycles of mercury retrograde changed my personal story around it: for them, it’s a time of re’s. Renewing, rejuvenating, reviewing… a space in time when we are fully supported in looking at what has occurred and re-evaluating. Through this lens, it’s a very helpful period of time. I have been doing A LOT of reviewing, re-evaluating, renewing my commitment to self-care (thanks Mercury, for making me slow down and realize how out of whack I was!)
When I feel off balance, the first place I go to reorganize my being is to my vibrational tools: my piano, my gongs, my Himalayan Singing Bowls. Chanting mantras, singing with my harmonium, diving into a specific meditation… all these tools help me to re-center, re-organize, and re-fill my personal well of energy. What techniques or tools are supporting you right now?
If you’re looking for some extra supports, check out the classes & events that are coming up – Full and New Moon Sound Baths, Gong Journeys, Sound & Meditation classes, and more. I’d love to see you soon!
I don’t know about you, but in my life this past 4 weeks has been full of travel, work, and some deep lessons. Moral of January 2018: self-care for me can take different forms (attending Kundalini yoga classes, sound healing experiences, hiking, relaxing at home, playing the piano/bowls/gong/harmonium, sitting for a quiet moment with some of my crystal allies, singing along to my favorite musicians on long drives) but the most important thing is to DO THE THING. The thing that will light me up. The thing that is easy to shove off to a later part of the day. The thing that reliably brings me back to my center. That may change from day to day, but connecting with my inner wisdom in the early morning always sheds light on what it is that my soul needs.
In this time and space, when it can feel like the external world is overflowing with stress and pressures, remember that it is pressure that transforms a chunk of coal into a brilliant diamond. Many of these pressures may be far outside the realm of things we can impact, but we have a superpower: we always have the option of deciding how we respond to everything that comes into our lives. Stressors can enliven us and push us out of our comfort zone far enough that we exceed our own expectations and shine more brightly than last night’s super blue blood moon, or they can deflate and exhaust us.
A tool that I am using to support myself in this journey is Spirit Voyage’s latest 40 day global sadhana. Today was the first of 40 days and the meditation just lit me up! Check it out here. Enjoy the beauty of this meditation and be kind to yourself as we shift into February.
The bridge in this photo is at Château Anand, the 3HO ashram near Poitiers, France. In the summer of 2016 , I spent 40 days volunteering at the Château. Every morning I practiced Aquarian Sadhana, 2.5 hours of yoga and chanting. Every afternoon, by myself or with friends, I would go down to the river that borders one side of the Château, and spend time on the bridge.
There were days when I would find myself on this bridge for hours at a time. Peering through the metal slats to the rushing water below, seeing the calmness of the water before it crashed down the rocks, listening to the sounds of passersby in their kayaks and canoes, writing, meditating, crying… that bridge was the space that held me as I faced what felt like an endless pit of darkness in myself.
Dianne Reeves, an amazing singer, sang Sergio Mendes’ “Bridges” on the first album of hers that I was ever given.
“There’s a bridge to tomorrow
There’s a bridge to the past
There’s a bridge made of sorrow
That I pray will not last
There’s a bridge made of colors
In the sky high above
And I think that there must be
Bridges made out of love”
Her voice soared through my head…. bridges made out of love. What would that look like? What would it feel like? At Château Anand, it looked like an old, solid metal grating going across a small waterfall, and it felt like the patterns that formed on my legs and backs of my thighs as I sat there, cross-legged, writing everything out, crying all the tears I’d suppressed, feeling everything that I’d tried to keep myself from feeling. The small red lines on my legs always faded away, as did the intensity of my emotional agony.
40 days after I first arrived at the Château, an old friend picked me up. We walked down to the river, and I showed him the bridge. To him, it was a simple metal bridge. To me, it was everything. It was the place where I’d spent enough time looking into the dark to see the light glimmering in the shadows. It was the home of my new self, the woman who honors her inner knowing. It was, and is a sacred space. A space that I revisit when I close my eyes, and the safe, comforting feeling of sitting on that bridge stays with me. One day, I will return. I will go visit “my” river, “my” bridge: the place that gave myself to me.
Until then, this simple bridge over the healing river at Château Anand stays with me. May each of us find our bridge. Metal, wooden, whatever its physical makeup is or is not, may it be a bridge made out of love.
The words of Octavia E. Butler have been swirling in my mind over the last few months. In her novel The Parable of the Sower, the protaganist writes verses that begin each chapter. To me, they are sacred words – holy reminders of the delicate interplay between God, ourselves, and change.
“All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
(Octavia E. Butler)
These words give me hope. It can be easy in chaotic times to give away our power, to consign ourselves to being changed by our circumstances in ways that we would likely not choose. What a glorious reminder of our ability to impact the world, this remembering of our role in this vast and interconnected universe, this net of Indra.
Yes, God is change.
Yes, change is the only lasting truth.
Yes, we effect change and are therefore part of that sole lasting truth and of God.
That, dear ones, is power. Power to claim and stand upon our sacred ground. Power that gives us great responsibility, for what we touch is what changes. How we touch it must also impact how it changes. This world and all of its beings are in dire need of more light, more love. So tread lightly. Touch lovingly. You are Change incarnate.