By design, my blogs become self-reflective this time of year, and are not always about shamanism, although it’s impossible for me to have any other kind of perspective than shamanic.
This new December-is-for-reflection habit started just last year when I joined a fledgling group of creative folks in a Facebook group called Quest15. Check out #Quest16.
I was intrigued because it promised a new way to write and muse about what I wanted in 2015. Intuition told me I’d be doing it with cool people, and, as ever, my intuition nailed it.
I was partly intrigued because I know how useless New Year’s Resolutions are. Or how useless they are for me. Neuroscience explains it, but as that is not my chosen field, I’ll leave it to you to Google about why this particular way of exploring and forging new paths is not productive.
Quest15 beckoned with a new way to explore possibilities. And the word itself – quest – is one I respond to. My work is always a quest into the heart and soul of mystery, never knowing what will happen for myself and my family/friends or my clients and students until I enter The Mystery with intention.
Quest15 offered writing prompts, presented by cultural visionaries, to explore new ways of approaching the coming year. It worked for me, and I wrote a lot, and met a huge bunch of brilliant people with very big hearts.
What strikes me as the biggest gift of 2015 are the miraculous new friendships I have made through the cabal. I don’t think it was accidental that I met these new beloveds while questing. We all share passion for our world and our work, and a decided predilection to not just live out of the box, but to tear it apart and make into a party hat or a bird house or a backpack to befriend us as we navigate life.
Remaking the box is not always easy. First, you have to realize you are in one. When the four walls rise high above you, and a lid is on, a box can seem sometimes safe and sometimes funereal. Sometimes, being in a box feels like hibernation and can offer peace, quiet and time to both to muse and to rest. But at others, boxes seem desperately small, a place where all you can see are four walls looming above your head, pressing you into immobility.
So this first, new prompt offered by visionary Susan Piver for the all-new Quest16, the first of twelve over the next month, is a way to dissemble the box once again, and sniff the air outside. Time to take a look around and look down the trailhead that winds into the woods.
Ms. Piver’s prompt, “What I most need to tell myself about 2016 is…” did nothing for me for a minute. But then I read the prompt again, and I loved the turn of phrase. This was not about what I thought about or what I felt like, but what I needed to tell myself. Here are my thoughts.
What is out there? What will the coming year be? How can I shape it, and how will it shape me? Because one thing I learned in 2015 is that the storms in our times are howling. Culturally and environmentally, economically and politically, we live in a culture that is in huge distress. Literal and metaphorical earthquakes shake our world. There are terrorists, and the terror of not being able to make enough money to eat and pay the rent. We are shooting guns, and shooting off our mouths. The world is definitely ramping up, and there is no end in sight.
So many friends and colleagues are being buffeted by financial woes of new and old kinds, serious health issues, and pressures to care for others even as they do their damnedest to care for themselves.
Of course, we all know about self-care. It’s become more than a way to hold ourselves with tenderness; it’s an industry, and a cliché. We all know that we can’t show up for someone else until we show up for ourselves. How to pull that off is part of every day’s challenge.
And what I know is that work in the world has become harder, and not easier in this past year. The stakes for everyone are UP.
As the culture continues to embrace its primary ethos (we value money more than life) and as the best people fight the good fight against this, I notice that we’re all beginning to feel a little more boxed in. And a little more tired.
Do I know a few people who are soaring at giddy heights this year? Only a very few. And in truth? The ones who look like they are, when naked-hearted (thank you Quester Lois Kelly for the term and your new book), are risking being the best of all things -- vulnerable -- and are admitting that things are getting dicier.
One thing is for sure. The best people I know worked harder, smarter and better last year than ever before, and they are more stressed about making it in 2016 than they were in 2015.
Knowing all of this, I returned to the prompt. What is it I need to most tell myself about 2016….
My first answer is I need to tell myself the truth. Or not really the truth (I am not in a mood to muse about the nature and subjectivity of truth), but the facts.
I am 64, and not as energetic as I used to be. And so the first thing I am telling myself is to emulate eagles in 2016.
Why eagles? They are the animals that have to do the LEAST to survive in this world. Because of their uncanny vision and precision, eagles only hunt an average of six minutes a day. Six minutes to feed themselves, and that means the rest of time they can soar and preen, mate and play.
So I need to tell myself I need to employ vision and clarity in 2016.
I can soar above my life to see the whole forest and then nose-dive in to get the microscopic perspective when appropriate.
I have a mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, and it is getting much worse. Because I am clairsentient, I am often bombarded with confusion and fear that is not my own, but hers. But if feels like it’s my own; for decades of my life, this “gift” was a big problem. People like me are usually caused “sensitives,” and it’s no coincidence that all my clients and friends are sensitives, too.
This clairsentience? It’s becomes a gift when you begin to understand that, wow, not everyone feels what their beloved feels. And when you learn how to allow that, but not engage.
I am not talking about empathy, but actually feeling the feeling as the friend or beloved feels it. Same blood pressure rise. Same buoyancy of joy. IF you learn how to work with this, and understand it is rather like a special power (like Professor X), you can learn how to better let it flow through you rather than letting it drown you.
It can become a burden if you don’t know how to handle it or if you get too tired to zoom out to check perspective. I refer to this skill as my life’s work because I will be working on it for the rest of my life.
And when your mother is dying from slowly going mad with confusion and hallucinations, which create panic and fear and endless anxiety? It becomes exponentially more difficult to be with her, and not feel those things.
We all know our dearest ones always call us to do the PhD work in life school. So what do I need to tell myself in 2016?
In 2016, I need to tell myself to remember who I am, and what my gifts and skills are.
The animal who is, by far, the greatest comfort and pleasure for my mother is not me or even my angelic husband. It’s my bearded collie, our dog Lily. She always sees my mother with immense delight, and reacts like my mom is Tolkien (OK, maybe she reacts the way I would react if I ever met Tolkien, which, by the way, I did once in a shamanic journey, but that is another story, and a very good one at that.)
Lily doesn't see the dementia; she feels her own delight. And because of this, she makes my mother laugh when she licks her toes and face, jumps up on the furniture with excitement, and wiggles that gorgeous black butt.
I know Lily can do all of this because she lives from love always, and is present always (I’ve asked her, and as I speak animal, I understood the answer. She said a lot more, but this will suffice). She is present to every moment as it arrives. When my mother has retreated into her worst nightmare, Lily does not note the retreat, but jumps right into her lap and makes her laugh. She does not lose her own joy when she feels the panic in my mom.
And when I am low? If I mutter a sigh or a moan? Whether she hears it or not, she knows I am in need. It’s uncanny. She can be in the backyard when I am in the house with my discomfort, and, in an instant, she is by my side, covering me with her devotional kisses. You see, Lily is clairsentient, too, but never takes on my heartache.
And so I need to tell myself in 2016 to open my heart to the flow of goodness that every single animal, including every human, is born with. To remember meanness is born of fear. And let love flow as is its nature, and not let it sit in a lonely, small puddle.
For the sake of brevity (OK, if you do or don’t know me, go ahead and laugh; I’ve never written anything brief before in my life), I’ll get to the animal I am MOST like and MOST depend on.
The Spirit of Bear and I are married. My human husband is in favor of my polygamy, although I am quite certain living with Bear is not always simple.
Being Bear means travelling long distances, often by yourself. As a most magnificent apex, you are in charge of the big decisions. You do your best to keep the territory free of danger. In you are a boar grizzly, you take down all predators and you travel alone. If you are a sow, you will kill anything or one that dares to threaten your cubs. No matter what species of bear, you hibernate, and your body produces a morphine/opium like substance that alters your consciousness (nope, bears do not sleep as much as they dream or journey) while you gestate, and then birth your cubs.
At 64, with whatever experience and wisdom I may have gleaned, I know what I have learned about myself and life from Bear. I KNOW I will always range in a very large terrain. In my family? My husband is Mother Theresa, and I am (on the good days) what might be called the Wise General, the strategist who is always planning for war so he will never have to fight one. On the bad days, Patton can show up, and he is a real pain in the ass.
But Bear also love huckleberries, honey and spends a fair amount of time rolling around in meadows of lupine and leopard grass. Or playing with fallen bales of hay.
And, yes, I also love berries, honey and flowers. I definitely hibernate, sometimes pressed into my cave by woe and sometimes pressed by the need for dreamy quiet, but regardless, when I emerge I have new cubs. My cubs are ideas and sometimes questions. Questions that require long quests to answer.
And so I need to tell myself to employ my capacity to be as big and magnificent as Bear in 2016.
Unfortunately, my constitution is not ursine, but that of homo sapiens. That means I do not automatically and drastically lower my metabolism and heartbeat when I hibernate, and my body does not systematically quiver, which is how bears are able to maintain body strength throughout their dreamtime. I come out of my cave, blinking and calmer in soul, but weaker in body. Tending my physical body, which is the most obvious kind of self-care, is the area I tend to neglect most often.
And this is because sometimes, even though I am dedicated to the proposition that people must remember that they, too, are animals if the world is ever going to change, I am too wired to remember.
It’s a very odd thing to forget even if you are wired. The Internet if FULL of pictures of animals playing. We are constantly reminded that we are meant to play, to move. Why anyone ever believed the preposterous notion that animals don’t play completely baffles me. All animals play whenever they can. Animals can turn ANYTHING into play.
I’ve had the great joy of swimming with wild dolphins in the Caribbean sea for weeks of my life. And a pod of 40 spotted Atlantic Dolphins can take the smallest piece of sargassum seaweed and play with it for many hours in their clear, blue world. They eat and make love at the drop of a fin, and school their young. Mostly, they school their young while playing with the seaweed.
I need to remember I have the capacity to be Dolphin, sometimes, too.
And so I need to tell myself to play in 2016 whenever, however and wherever possible.
I could go on and on with animal observations because I know a lot about them and their behavior because of my work. Every animal is a master teacher.
But the thing I most need to tell myself in 2016 is that I am a perfectly imperfect human who wants to end my life, let alone 2016, as being more humane.
I don’t think in terms like “success” anymore because it is inevitably measured by financial gain, and many of the most brilliant and talented people I know are, like me, sometimes wondering how or if the rent will be paid.
My best friends are writers, artists and shamans. My husband is a brilliant artist who has paintings in museums, and he’s going to begin driving for Uber next week to scrape up more cash. When art and beauty take a back seat to the almighty dollar in the culture, it’s no wonder that most of us are living on the edge.
My own heart is the best arbiter of my growth toward being more humane. Which requires all of the attributes I have written about.
It may not work for marketing, but it works for me. My slogan is simple and so I will tell myself to repeat it often in 2016:
If I do more of that in 2016 than in 2015? I will tell myself next December that is was a very good year.
If you want to join Quest16, you can do so by coming here. I hope to read your post soon!