My Inner Mystic

reflections and insight into my healing, transformation, and journey of the heart <3

Category Archives: inner landscape

Inhabit a Feeling

A little over a month ago I began taking a course in non-violent communication, also known as compassionate communication.  When I share this news with folks who have not heard of or are unfamiliar with non-violent communication (NVC), I see confusion on their faces and/or hear confusion or curiosity in their voices as they try to understand what “violent” communication might look like or sound like.

“Violent” communication in this context does not refer to explosive or abusive language.  Statements such as “you are making me angry” or “stop pressuring me” or “I feel disrespected” are examples of “violent” communication.  In each of these statements the speaker is not articulating a feeling, but instead makes a judgement of another person veiled as a “feeling.”  And by saying “you are making me angry” or “stop pressuring me” the speaker is deferring blame, creating a buffer, and/or not owing what he or she is truly feeling on the inside.  I regard much of the language of “violent” communication to be passive aggressive.

What I’m discovering in this journey and practice of unlearning old communication patterns and learning and integrating a new, healthy, compassionate style of communication is how pervasive “violent” communication is in our society.  I am sure many folks can recognize their patterns of using the language of “you are ____” instead of speaking from the position of “I feel ____” or “I need ____.”  Furthermore, if we bring awareness to our collective patterns, we will hear how commonly people use the words “I feel” paired with a judgment or their perception of reality without even expressing a true feeling.

This journey is revealing to me how disconnected many of us are with our actual feelings and/or how challenged we are to actually speak to our deeper feelings.  Using statements “I feel” paired with a judgment not only masks our feelings but further perpetuates our disconnection with our inner most selves.  We become so accustomed to saying things like “I feel dismissed” or “I feel misunderstood” that we lose our ability to speak with fluency to our actual feelings; we are challenged to speak to or even name our actual feelings.

Feelings.  What are feelings, exactly?  Many of us associate a feeling with an emotion that stirs or resides in our inner landscape.  But how do we know what a feeling actually is?  How do we know what happiness is? gratitude? joy? exhilaration? What do we feel inside that tells us “this is happiness” or “this is gratitude” or “this is exhilaration”?  How do we come to pair a body sensation with the word for that feeling?  What signals or messages does our body give to us to help us identify or connect to that feeling? What stirs in our emotional landscape that informs us?

In NVC we cultivate self connection with our inner landscape, we cultivate a deeper listening.   We listen to our thoughts and we listen to our bodies – both, not just one or the other – to help us identify and inform us of our deepest feelings.  We use this listening to get underneath, to get behind historical statements such as “you are overwhelming me” or “I feel let down” or “I do not feel appreciated” to identify what we’re truly feeling and needing or to hear what others might be feeling or needing.  Over time and with practice, we cultivate the skills to speak directly to our feelings and needs without falling into old, passive aggressive, judgmental patterns which very often alienate us from others.  When we are more able to speak to our inner experience, we are able to own our feelings and needs.

I want to share and draw insight from a distinction that one of the members of my class shared that really resonated with me.  He spoke to the ownership of feelings.  He shared that to him the statement “I feel sadness” lacks depth of emotion.  He articulated that “sadness” expressed in this way is like an object outside of ourselves and not something that is inside of us.  He offered that when one makes the subtle shift and expresses, “I feel sad” or “I am sad,” there is a greater depth of feeling because the speaker is naming an emotional experience he or she is having instead of expressing something that could be perceived as outside of themselves.  By expressing a feeling in this way the speaker not only owns the feeling, but truly inhabits the feeling.

When we “inhabit a feeling” we are fully present with that feeling, we stay with it, we allow it to fill our entire being, to permeate our inner landscape.  Why might we allow ourselves to experience the fullness of a feeling?  I can think of two very important reasons.  One – happy and joyous feelings grow out of life’s gifts which, in my humble opinion, should be treasured and cherished; we choose to bask in happy feelings, to savor joyous feelings as these feelings are part of the gift.  Two – mournful and sorrowful feelings grow out of difficult moments or tragic events that can be, if we choose, life’s greatest teachers; when recognize an opportunity for learning, we choose to stay, we choose to feel fully.  When we stay with ourselves, when we “inhabit a feeling,” we develop greater authenticity. When we stay with others and receive their feelings, we cultivate harmony and connection.

“Learn to stay.”  ~ Pema Chödrön

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I bow to Karl, my teacher and model in NVC.  I greatly admire and respect Karl’s exemplary skills and gifts.

Light Contemplation

candle light

I continue to contemplate light and my inner light.  I hold the image of light in my awareness throughout each day.

I began contemplating light after darkness crept into my inner landscape.  In the darkness I felt an “I give up feeling” and the scary thought “what’s the point?” began to form in my mind.  Fortunately I found a spark of hope and was able to rekindle the light within.  The images of gathering wood for an inner fire came to me as darkness permeated my inner landscape; I was able to rekindle my flame of hope as I gathered this wood, kindling, from my depths.  From that spark of insight, the idea of rekindling the flame within, contemplation of my inner light emerged.  The notion of my inner fire became the inspiration for my last blog post, “Discovering Light in the Dark.”

As part of my contemplation on light, I began a new ritual:  I light a candle every night.  For a minute or so after I light each candle I study the flame, I become curious.  I look into the flame and marvel at its color – the gold, the blue, the purple “hallow” at the tip of the thread.  I notice the shape of the flame – its soft edges, its height, its crest.  I watch the steady flame or if there is movement in the air that disturbs the flame, I watch the flame flicker and dance, swaying side to side, bouncing in all directions.

I stay with the dancing flame until it becomes steady and still again.  I note to myself that the light always seeks to steady itself, to come back to the center, to find a place of tranquility.  I contemplate how this tranquil light is a great metaphor.  The light models a state of being I can cultivate in my life:  tranquility, inner stillness, free from agitation of mind or spirit.

I put my hands over the flame and feel its warmth and its heat.  With my inner sense, my heart sense, I feel gratitude for this radiating light, for this glowing and shining light.  I feel gratitude that because of this light I can see in the dark, both literally and figuratively.  I feel gratitude for all that this light is teaching me.  I feel grateful that the light is shining on my path of discovery.

Sometimes my practice and ritual of lighting a candle is a symbolic gesture.  I place an intention on the light, an intention I want to manifest in my life, such as tranquility.  The light represents that intention, it radiates the intention, it sends out the light of that intention.

Sometimes lighting the candle is a hopeful gesture.  The light becomes the flame of a hope, wish, or desire I have in my life.  The intent behind this action is to keep the fire burning around this hope, wish, or desire instead of letting the fire die out.

Other times my practice of lighting the candle serves as a reminder of my inner light.  I hold the light in my hands with reverence, holding this light as if it is a delicate flower or a newborn baby.  This light, my light, is precious and sacred.  In these reverent moments I recite Pantajali’s Yoga Sutra I.36 “visoka va jyotishmati,” which translates into English as “the light within is free from all sorrow and suffering.”

I leave you with this ray of light:

“Be a light unto yourself . . . Hold fast to the Truth.”

The Buddha’s final words

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I want to say a special thank you to my friend Katy who is a source of inspiration in my life.  Katy is steady like the light, unwavering in her friendship to me.  In times of my sorrow or grief or when my hope is fading, Katy lights a candle for me and sends light and healing and hopeful vibrations out into the Universe.  Love and light to you!! <3

Discovering Light in the Dark

Today we stopped saving daylight.  We have set our clocks back.  We have officially entered the dark season.  We have surrendered, but have we embraced the dark?

The day we stop saving light and turn back our clocks is my least favorite day of the entire year.  My body and heart rebel against it.  I surrender because I have to, because the calendar, and well, the tilt and rotation of the earth compels me, requires me, to do so.  I am a lover of sun, of sunlight.  The sun wakes me up on the inside, it fills me with energy, it lifts my spirit.  When the sun comes out, my heart brightens, I brighten.  Each emergence of the sun is a hallelujah moment for me.  The bigger the emergence, like after days and days of cloudy, stormy weather, the bigger my hallelujah moment.

We are now in the dark season.  We have been creeping into this dark season for a while.  The sun has been leaving us earlier and earlier every day and for those of us in the Pacific Northwest (and no doubt many other places), this time of year is even darker because the thick grey clouds of fall roll in and obscure our sun and our light.

The lack of sunlight in our lives is an external experience with a very real internal impact.  When the earth rotates and tilts away from the sun, as we are now experiencing in the northern hemisphere, the light and warmth of the sun moves away from our external landscape.  When the sun moves farther away from us, our internal landscape is also depleted of this energizing light.  With the absence of the sun in our daily lives, many of us feel less light, less of that bright shining feeling, and more darkness on the inside.

During the shift from summer into fall, I began to feel darkness creep into my internal landscape.  My heart and my body felt heavier.  I felt a rise of sadness and hopelessness.  I felt frustrated with the trajectory of my life and the lack of development and movement forward in a place where I am so ready for new growth to emerge.  I wrestled with an “I give up” feeling.  A scary thought began to form in my mind along the lines of, “what’s the point?,” as in, “what is the point to living?”  Fortunately my awareness of my mental processes and emotional experiences is quite keen and I was able to put the brakes on the formation of this thought.

The rising thought, “what’s the point?,” was a “whoa” moment, a wake up moment.  I was quite aware that this thought can lead to some very scary places and I have no interest in visiting these frightening places.  I made an intentional choice to pause and redirect my thoughts and feelings.  I was motivated to do this first, because I recognized the scary nature of my thought and second, because I do not want to allow my brain and my emotions to wire themselves into chronic depressive thought patterns.  It took a bit of effort to redirect.  I had to search within myself for a spark to keep the hope alive, to not give up, but instead continue to believe that what I am wanting most in my life will unfold and grow.

Reflecting back on my inner search for a spark of hope, the image of light, of fire, grew inside of me.  The search I did within my inner landscape was much like looking for and gathering wood from the forest floor to make a campfire.  When faced with the “I give up” feeling, I needed renewed hope to keep my fire burning.  I found it by digging around within myself, turning over some leaves and discovering a piece of nice, dry wood.  I threw it on the waning fire and a big flame shot up.  Whew.  Crisis averted.  I kept the wolves, those scary thoughts and depressing feelings, at bay.   This time I was able to find fuel fairly quickly and “save” my fire.  Keeping one’s light bright and one’s fire burning is not always this easy.  This time I found my way out of the dark rather quickly.  This time…

fire

My metaphorical search for fuel to keep my inner fire burning and radiating led me to contemplate light.  I pondered:  What is the fuel that keeps our light shining, our fire burning?  My fuel is drawn from hope, faith, optimism, devotion, insight, and my belief in love.  I re(source) my fuel, which is vital to sustaining my light, from nature, learning and discovery, my yoga practice and spiritual journey, inspiration, new experiences and adventures, connection with others, and giving of myself in ways that uplift and support those around me.  And I recognize that my strongest and deepest fuel source is an innate desire and will to not only survive, but to thrive.

I imagine each person fuels and (re)sources their light via different pathways.  However, I am going to guess that elements of our inner fuel and (re)sources are universal.   I suspect folks universally draw fuel from hope, love, faith, and devotion.  I also suspect most folks re(source) from nature, love, and spirituality, each of which are so vital to sustaining one’s inner light.  And not just unique to me, but to all of us, is an instinct to survive.  I believe this instinct, which resides within each of us, will always help us to discover the light in the dark.

After my initial “escape,” I decided to stay with the darkness for a while.  Adopting a mindset that Pema Chödrön speaks of so often, I became curious about the darkness that was permeating my inner landscape.  Instead of running away from the dark by trying to find light as quickly as possible, what would happen if I stayed and embraced the darkness?  Staying led me to contemplate my inner light.  Staying allowed me to become more intimate with how I fuel and (re)source my inner light.  I came away with this insight:  when we stay with the darkness and remain open to our experience, we will discover the light.

I was and remain inspired to stay present with the darkness by this quote, which came through a friend of a friend.  “When it gets really dark, you can see the stars.”

Storms

Fog.  Light mist.  Partly sunny.  Partly cloudy.  Sprinkles.  Grey skies.  Showers.  Sun.  Strong winds.  Dark clouds. Rain.  Lightning flash, boom of thunder.  Heavy downpour.  Sun break through the clouds and rain, a rainbow graces the sky.  Clear blue sky.  Bright sunshine.

Weather events.  Storms.  Human emotions.  Emotional storms.

We each exist in an emotional climate all our own.  Each one of us is an island unto ourselves, an island with its own climate and its own weather patterns.  Our emotional climate is affected by our history, our stories, and by stressors and triggers.  Our triggers are connected to our histories, the blue prints of our lives.  Triggers emerge from soreness, pain, emotional wounds, and emotional traumas.  We experience our emotions as storms – this is our emotional weather.

If we see a heart up close, much like we see a canyon wall or the face of a mountain when we are out in the wilderness, we will see how the heart has been formed by years of emotional weathering.  If we have a discerning and knowing eye, we will recognize the topography of the heart – grief, trauma, loss, devastation, abandonment, shattered sense of self, and so on.  If we remain present, we will begin to discover in this emotional landscape of the heart, the traces and remnants of past storms.  Here I do not speak of emotional storms, the shifting clouds or the wind and rain, but of much bigger storms, catastrophic storms, storms that have the power to completely alter an emotional landscape.

I have experienced a storm of this magnitude in my own life.  For me, this storm was the “ka-boom,” the end of the biggest and most important relationship in my life.  The explosion I would liken to a tornado – sudden and instantly devastating, completely uprooting and leveling everything in its path.  The days and weeks and months after the explosion I would liken to a hurricane – forceful winds, heavy, unrelenting rain, crashing and pounding waves.  Though my shattered heart has healed around the ravaged landscape and new life has come to exist out of the devastation, many dynamic topographical features were created by the catastrophic storm.  I continue to discover the altered and dynamic topography of my “new” heart.

Catastrophic, life altering storms are rare.  Emotional storms, however, are part of our every day, week to week existence.  We experience emotional storms as a result of stressors and triggers.  Stressors are the crappy, negative, or unexpected.  Not enough sleep.  A fight with a loved one.  The jerky boss.  An injury.  An unexpected bill in the mail.  Stressors usually do not grow out of our emotional climate.  Triggers on the other hand, do.

Triggers are the remnants of our history, our story.  Triggers emerge from our emotional landscape, the dynamic topography of our hearts.  We see or hear or smell something that brings to the surface a memory of an event or a feeling from the past, happy or sad, and we are triggered.  Something is said in conversation that relates to a sensitive or a sore place in our story, a wound that is still raw, and we are triggered.  We encounter someone from our past, or we see someone that reminds us of a person from our past, and we are triggered.  We feel a storm about to come – the winds start to blow in our hearts, the clouds come together, and precipitation forms in our eyes.  We cry.

Sometimes there is nothing external that triggers us and the trigger is internal.  We are triggered by the stories playing in our minds, not a fact based story of our sad and tragic history, though this certainly could be a trigger, but the stories, the imagined scenarios and alternate realities that are constantly forming in our minds.  These stories are not truth, but an alternate and possibly sad version of the truth that grow out of fear or worry or anxiety or a deep wound or an unresolved hurt or feeling stuck in emotional limbo . . . these stories often take on a darker mood and are clouded and colored by the emotional climate in our hearts.  The stories of our mind have the power to trigger us and when they do, an emotional weather event ensues – tears, crying, sobbing, anger, what have you.  The intensity of the storm depends on how tightly the story takes hold of you, by how much you allow yourself to be in and feel the colored and skewed reality.

I discovered that our stories can trigger us internally one day while I was brushing my teeth.  Memories started to play in my mind.  My memories started to take twists and turns into an alternate reality; imagined conversations and assumptions played out in my head.  I started to feel sad, tears started to form in my eyes, I was a little weepy.  I had a moment of awareness, a mindful moment, and I paused.  To myself I was like, “Wow.  That was interesting.  I just created my own sadness.  I just created my own little storm.”

I became aware that these “self-created” storms grew right out of the emotional climate in my heart.  I started to pay attention to my tendency to create my own storms.  I saw that when I allowed the stories of my mind to carry me away, I could very easily end up in a sad place and experience a little shower, a brief moment of cloudiness and precipitation.  Other times I saw that I experienced a longer period of rain.  Sometimes I even experienced a heavy rain from a much darker cloud.  I had one of these intense storms just the other night.  I was triggered both externally and internally.  Up and out came the well of sadness from my heart, a sadness that drenched the surrounding fields.

So what do I do with this awareness and insight into my own emotional weather?  I pay attention.  I observe.  I investigate.  I start to look at the patterning of my thoughts and the stories that grow of them.  I look at the weather patterns that ensue.  Which stories produce the most sadness? Why do I, again and again, end up in the sad place and experience a storm?  What pattern of thinking continues to take me to that place?  Is there something about the story that allows me to access a feeling?  What purpose does this feeing serve?  Is this feeling enabling me to move forward or is it keeping me stuck in the sad place?

I am aware that these stories travel along the neural pathways of my mind, the hard wiring of my brain.  These neural pathways have deep, deep roots and it takes a lot of effort – persistent, mindful, and intentional effort – to change one’s root system, to form new neural pathways.

Poet Jane Hirshfield made a statement in the documentary, The Buddha.  She said, “a tree lives on its roots; if you change the root, you change the tree.”

At the time, her words spoke to me of our ability to transform our lives and become a new tree, to live a life very different from the one lived before.  Today her words reveal to me that in order to change the patterning of one’s mind, it is vital that one must change the roots.  So if you find me sitting under a tree in Seattle or anywhere my travels may take me, I might very well be attempting to absorb the essence of that tree to enable a new root system to grow in my mind and heart and to create a shift in my emotional landscape.

Clouds shift.  Clouds change.  Clouds grow together and expand.  Clouds release.          Clouds let go.  Clouds dissipate.  Clouds blow away. 

Storms pass.