Be-longing

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I feel there is something more I am meant to do.

I long for something more meaningful in my life.

I feel called to serve others, but I’m not sure what that looks like.

These are some of the typical comments I hear when I first meet Purpose Discovery students. Their words are often delivered with a sense of urgency and an earnest-hearted passion to connect with something greater, deeper and more authentic in their life.

When I lead clients through purpose work, I first invite them to connect with their longing. Their longing for meaning, to feel whole, or to contribute to the world in a meaningful way. Then, through inquiry or soul encounter work, we unpack what the longing feels like, and where its energy wants to lead them.

Longing is like the magnetic force that pulls a compass needle north. It orients you back home to your true center. If you follow the thread of your longing long enough, and with wholehearted intention, you come to what Black Elk, the Lakota Medicine Man calls “the lament.” A cry for a vision. A deep prayer for oneself and for the community.

What’s the source of our longing?

Sometimes we confuse desire with longing, but they are quite different. Desire is ego-centric and usually drives us to short term gratification. Longing, however, is a deeper human impulse that wants to orient life towards truth, beauty, and goodness. It surges somewhere beneath the surface of desire. When we pursue ego’s desires, we are usually doing so to dull the bittersweet ache of our longing or to resist it altogether.

If ego is the domain of desire, then soul is the domain of longing. As Bill Plotkin explains in Soul Craft, soul wants to know “its true gift is being embodied beautifully and delivered effectively.” We feel the ache of longing when we are disconnected from soul’s impulse for wholeness or when we’re not living our gifts with beauty and excellence.

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Longing is also the measure of distance between the heart and a unconscious (or conscious) exile from Mystery, spirit, God, the sacred, or nature. Longing is a deep, elusive, soul-full hum that runs beneath day-to-day life. It calls us to belong—to ourself, family, community, and to life itself.

When we cross the river of our longing through self-inquiry, creative expression, embodiment, prayer, or nature-based questing, we feel more connected, whole and aligned with our truth. Listening for the heartbeat of our longing is how we excavate the depths of our innate purpose and gifts. Longing guides us home and orients us to a life lived with heart and meaning.


Here are a few practices to help you follow your longing home.

To open the door to vision, you must surrender fully to your deepest yearning.
— Bill Plotkin

Self-Inquiry | 30 Minutes

Experience

  1. Sit quietly and still for 15 minutes.

  2. Once you’ve settled into your seat, formulate a question about your longing.

  3. Some potential questions: What is the source of my longing? What does my longing want to teach me? What within me is longing for wholeness? (Or meaning? Or purpose?)

  4. Like a stone in a well, drop one clear question into the center of your being.

  5. Sit for another 15 minutes. Wait and listen with your heart.

  6. An insight might arise in the moment. But it also might take days, weeks or more for an answer to find you. Simply thank the mystery for holding your question, and end the meditation.

  7. Keep alert and stay curious. Keep listening for what longing wants to teach you.


Pray Your Question | 30 Minutes

Sometimes our longing is so deep and subtle that we can’t access it directly. We may only have a glimmer, a hunch, or a felt “knowing” that somewhere in me, or out there is my truth.

Prayer can relieve of us of the pressure to “figure it all out”. It can create spaciousness and a way to surrender our questions to something greater.

For some, prayer comes easy, especially if its part of their religious upbringing. For others, prayer is foreign, uncomfortable or simply confusing. Who or what am I praying to? How do I actually pray?

Experience

Here’s a suggestion.

1. Gather writing materials—pen, paper and a highlighter; or a computer.

2. Sit quietly and still for 15 minutes. Bring your attention to your heart as you settle in. Notice your breath at the center of your chest as it rises and falls.

3. Ask the following questions with clarity (speak them out loud), reverence (for the mystery) and with intention to know the truth as if your life depends on it.

  • What is my most heartfelt prayer for myself?

  • What is my most heartfelt prayer for my community?

  • What is my most heartfelt prayer for the world?

4. Listen. Receive the answers with your whole body. Write your answers in a stream of consciousness.

5. Pan for gold—highlight words and ideas that resonate. Reflect on the insights.


Wandering In Nature | 45 Minutes +

Renowned psychiatrist Carl Jung observed: “The soul is for the most part outside the body.”  And from the noted psychologist Thomas Moore: “Soul, the mystery we glimpse when we look deeply into ourselves, is a part of a larger soul, the soul of the world.” Let nature be your guide, mirror, companion as you take your questions on a long walk in her midst

Experience

  1. Find a hiking trail, park, hilltop, beach etc that speaks to your heart.

  2. Before you embark on a walk, close your eyes and let one of the following questions/inquiries “occupy” you.  

    • What does my soul long for?

    • What must I do to become whole?

    • I must do_____X______because it’s the only way to live my truth.

  3. When you are ready, open your eyes and begin to walk, letting mystery lead you during your wandering time.

  4. Pay special attention to the way wild nature meets you as you walk as your “living inquiry”.  Remember: your answers may come in the form of a tree stump, bird call, leaf, wind, etc.

    1. When in doubt, just be open to wild nature as you carry your inquiry.  It is really powerful to be in nature sharing your experience with the trees, the plants, the rocks, the winged ones, the crawlers, the swimmers — for your experience is their experience and sharing deepens the connection to nature and to your soul.

    * Thanks to Jonathan Gustin of Purpose Guides Institute for inspiring this exercise.




What Hides Your Heart?

I’ve been revisiting the writings of Meister Eckhardt, the 13th century Dominican Order philosopher, theologian, and mystic. I found the following quote which holds timeless and timely wisdom, and points to what I believe is the essential work of our time.

A human being has so many skins inside, covering the depths of the heart. We know so many things, but we don’t know ourselves! Why, thirty or forty skins or hides, as thick and hard as an ox’s or bear’s, cover the soul. Go into your own ground and learn to know yourself there.
— Meister Eckhardt

There are as many reasons for thick skins to form over our heart as there are people. This includes tasting the bitterness of injustice, growing up with a challenging family of origin story, suffering emotional wounding, witnessing environmental devastation, and so on. 

Open Hearted Tribe. Tree Branch collars / Brody Hartman

Open Hearted Tribe. Tree Branch collars / Brody Hartman

What’s important is the reminder from Eckhart that these thick hides cover the soulIt's not possible to connect with the deepest truth within us—our soul level brilliance—if our heart is heavy, calloused, or shuttered from potential storms that may or may not arrive.

I read Eckhardt’s statement as an invitation for us to be vulnerable. To do the noble work of examining and removing these thick hides.

This may seem counterintuitive in light of the daily barrage of challenging events that we see/read in the media. Especially at a time when people appear to be layering on more hides, hardening themselves for what’s to come. This is understandable, but it’s a losing strategy. 

When we harden our hearts, we lose the ability to be affected by the suffering (and beauty, creativity, abundance) around us, and then we burrow deeper under the weight of fear into our concrete bunkers of linear black and white thinking.

Being affected—to be utterly heart broken—is how we let in and out the light of imagination, possibility and love. This is how we access our deepest authentic wisdom, and generative insights. This is how we step into the world with better questions, soul-full imagination, flexibility, adaptability, openness, and compassion.

The work starts in the heart of our own story. Eckhardt encourages “go into your own ground and know yourself there.” What’s the ground he’s speaking of? I see it as soul work—a diving in and down to the depths of our essence, and reconnecting to the very ground of our being. In our purpose guiding work we use a variety of heart encounter practices to help clients reveal their inherent gifts. I've included a few at the end of the blog.

When we open our eyes to what is happening, even when it breaks our hearts, we discover our true size; for our heart, when it breaks open, can hold the whole universe. We discover how speaking the truth of our anguish for the world brings down the walls between us, drawing us into deep solidarity. That solidarity, with our neighbors and all that lives, is all the more real for the uncertainty we face.
— Joanna Macy

I believe we are our own best teachers. But we can’t do this work alone. The world’s problems are too complex. We need each other— teachers, guides, elders, healers, mirrors, and allies with whom we can stand shoulder-to-shoulder, brother-to-sister, to co-evolve a new story. 


piecing my heart back together: SRCAP WOOD & SPRAY PAINT / brody hartman

piecing my heart back together: SRCAP WOOD & SPRAY PAINT / brody hartman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Revealing our tender-heartedness requires that we balance vulnerability with self-compassion. Here are a few practices to reflect on.


Practice1. The Medicine of Stillness & Silence

It’s important to find a source of stability. To be physically grounded in our body, on a chair/cushion, and on the earth. Stillness is not only the antidote to our multi-tasking modern life, it’s a prerequisite for reconnecting with silence. And silence is the very ground of our being. 

Everything emerges from, and returns to silence—our thoughts, words, ideas, and actions. In silence wisdom rises, and our truth beyond words can be experienced. Listen from there. Speak from there once you rise from your seat.

Take 15 minutes a day to return home to the sacred ground of silence and stillness. Sit with no intention other than being with what is. No grasping. No aversion. Just awareness of what arises and passes.

Over time you may notice a softening of your heart, or less contraction when turning your attention down into your own ground and out into the world.


Practice 2. Name the Hides

Here is a creative practice to do in a supportive community or on your own.

Give words (or movement, voice, poetry, dance, paint, clay) to the subtle energies and stories that shield your heart. Try an automatic writing exercise (or other from of free flowing expression) starting with one of these prompts that speak to you. Write or express yourself for at least 15 minutes without stopping—just let it flow. No judgment, no perfection.

...for our heart, when it breaks open, can hold the whole universe. 

 

My heart breaks for...

My heart longs for...

I'm afraid to be vulnerable because...

This thick hide over my heart is called...

Our children should be able to...

The earth says...

My greatest fear for my family/community/country/world/earth is...

My greatest hope for my family/community/country/world/earth is...

 

Pay attention to the sensations in your body. Notice where you feel tension or release. Let your body express what needs expressing. 

Practice self-compassion and self-care in this work. 

If you are doing this with a group, give each person an opportunity to share. Then let the group's wisdom guide you in honoring one another.


Practice 3. Metta Lovingkindness Meditation

Practicing Metta Lovingkindness meditation is another way to soften our heart and release the grip of our mind. It’s a way to offer the generosity of warmth, kindness and love for our self and for others.

This is a perfect exercise to do after practice #2.

http://www.contemplativemind.org/practices/tree/loving-kindness

 

Resources

Here is a wonderful audio series by James Finley, PhD. James lived as a monk at the  Trappist monastery of the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, where the renowned monk and author, Thomas Merton, was his spiritual director.

Meister Eckhart's Living Wisdom: Indestructible Joy and the Path of Letting Go

https://www.soundstrue.com/store/meister-eckhart-s-living-wisdom-5959.html

Rites of Passage, Community, and Culture

This article delves into an aspect of becoming a mother called rites of passage. This is not a new term; in fact this type of passage has been known and ritualized for 1000s of years. Here I am bringing it back into the conversation and highlighting how it is currently understood.


Rites of passage mark certain points within ones life when one is required to move from one role within a community to a new one. With this role change one is treated differently by the community, and he or she has acquired new responsibilities. Illustrations of these periods are birth, marriage, puberty, and becoming a mother. Indigenous cultures ritualized these significant passages of time through specific ceremonies and traditions. Rites of passage can be characterized by three stages.

The first stage is called either separation or pre-liminal. The initiate active starts disengaging from their group, society, or family. The symbolism in this stage is about leaving one’s old self, a letting go of the old skin, and death to the old self.
Next, this person enters the transitional stage, also called the initiation, liminal, or marginal states of being. This is where they start to develop their new self. It is a disordered state of being that can be confusing and disorienting. It can also be a time where the unexpected and excitement emerges.

In the third phase, the subject is consummated, incorporated, or in a post-liminal state. The ritual subject, individual or corporate, is once again in a stable state. This person is now expected to carry the rights and obligations of their new status as defined by their community.

Women who are pregnant and give birth undergo a rites of passage. Researchers such as Kathryn Rabuzzi, Sylvia Briton Perera, Robbie E. Davis-Floyd, and Clarissa Pinkola Estes have differing opinions about the rites of passage for pregnant women. Some authors state that the rites of passage starts with the beginning of pregnancy and end with the delivery of the child. Others state that the rites continue through the first couple of months of postpartum. Other researchers state that there are two rites of passage, one for the pregnancy and the other for the postpartum period. Through my research, the rites of passage model was definitely relevant for mothers with children up to four years.

Concurrently, there is new research showing that at each stage of a child’s life, the mother has to readjust her role/identity by letting go of how she was with her baby and develop a new way of being with her child, teenager, adult.

Within American society, it has been pointed out that there is a general lack of support for women undergoing this passage. As an example, the baby goes for frequent doctor visits and the mother only goes to one six-week medical checkup. These mothers are left to their own devices to find support on their own.


When this initiatory process goes unsupported, some women can have a harder time developing their identity as a mother. This can manifest for some mothers as chronic self-doubt, rigidly following the rules, and/or having a paucity of self-care. If you find yourself in this situation, please do try to find some support. It can be as simple as joining other moms to go for a walk. Meetup.com is a great resource for finding local mom groups. Postpartum Support International has good resources as well: http://www.postpartum.net/. I also offer support. 


Wishing everyone well!!!!!!
   
 

 

Seeds of the Soul of Motherhood

        A couple of months ago I was on a walk with one of my girlfriends discussing the merits of an educational program our children attend.  This program has come a long way from being disorganized and sometimes chaotic to a seemingly flawless, well contained “tight ship.”  That transformation came about from incorporating the best educational practices that were in alignment with the program’s mission. This program has a very strong structure. Through our discussion, I found myself wondering, “How would that program respond when the unexpected arose — those moments that can only come from the unpredictability of being human?”  The word soul emerged in my mind, and I told my friend that I hoped that the soulful moments, that makes that program so special, would not be structured away.
        

The following week I was listening to a report about the current vaccine debates, and a doctor stated that he was an advocate of “evidence based parenting.”  I was struck by that phrase.  Being a clinical psychologist and mother, I love to learn about current best parenting practices, and I do rely heavily on research.  But that phrase felt so cold to me.  I wondered, “Are we allowed to have those juicy chaotic moments that push us to grow? Or do we have to always follow the rules that evidence based parenting has prescribed to us?”  I was brought back to the conversation with my friend, and I again pondered the idea of rules and prescribed ways of performing tasks and what happens to us when life does not fit into that picture.  Do we shut that moment/experience down?  Or do we let that moment unfold?
        

Technically, there isn’t a tidy definition for soul.  Soul is not a tidy concept.  In Greek, psyche (the root of psychology) means soul.  It is the part of us that can interpret an experience in a meaningful way.  It is the part of our self that holds our imaginative potentials and dreams.  The soul longs to grow from one’s life experiences and pulls us into new situations.  When these unexpected moments happen, we have to improvise, and situations can sometimes get messy and chaotic.  If we allow ourselves to be immersed into those moments while being in a supportive structure, we can allow the soul to be more present.  When we can do this (and it is not always practical to do so), our points of view, what we know about ourselves and others, can be expanded.
        

My work and research is about finding the ways that soul can be present in motherhood.  Currently, in our society, there is lots of “evidence” that points us to the best parenting practices.  This evidence reminds us of the enormous responsibility we have to raise our children well.  It also reminds us of the consequences when we do not follow the structures that are laid out for us.  So, what happens when those moments arise that calls us to parent in a way that is outside of the culturally prescribed rules.  I am not talking about the rules that keep our children safe and nurtured; rules such as having children ride in carseats, not hitting a child, and giving children lots and lots of love.  I am talking about the diverse and sometimes conflicting social rules.  Examples of this are: Where should a child sleep? Should a mom allow her nine-year-old son to take the New York Subway home by himself (see Lenore Skenezy)?  Is a mom allowed to practice extended breastfeeding or allowed to give her baby formula?
      

 Through my research I developed the concept of The Soul of Motherhood.  This is about creating community that supports mothers while they make the choices that are going to work the best for her whole family.  It is about developing maternal self-compassion when we do make parenting mistakes, and letting ourselves celebrate our parenting successes.  The Soul Of Motherhood is about allowing oneself to explore that imperfect balance between following the best parenting practices as defined by culture and allowing ourselves to improvise on-the-spot. To spontaneously create a new behavioral pattern that is unique to each mother, yet has been seen a million times over. — Paraphrased from Daniel Stern (1).
      

 As Thomas Moore states in his book Care of the Soul, “A soulful personality is complicated, multifaceted, and shaped by both pain and pleasure, success and failures.  Life lived soulfully is not without its moments of darkness and periods of foolishness.  Dropping the salvation fantasy [or Perfect Mother Myth] frees us up to the possibility of self-knowledge and self-acceptance, which are the very foundations of soul.” (2)

 

References

Daniel N. Stern, The First Relationship: Infant and Mother (Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 2009), 147.

2. Thomas Moore and Peter Thomas, Care of the Soul. Recorded Books, Incorporated, 1994. Kindle l        location 123 of 4759.