Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Power of Accepting Yourself

The Sacred Path of the Warrior - etching

To improve myself or to accept the me I am today? that is the question. 

There are so many messages in my world that are trying to persuade me I'm not good enough the way I am. Self-help books, advertisements, women's magazine articles, personal growth workshops - all promise a brighter, better me if I follow their advice. And yet...

as Thomas Moore says in Care of the Soul - following the path of self-improvement is often a subtle rejection of self, exacerbating the feeling of not being good enough.

This same call to accept myself as I am right now has come to me in several ways this week. I've learnt from experience that the same message coming from different sources is definitely worth taking seriously.

I remembered a quote I saved from Nietzche:

"living in constant chase after gain compels people to expand their spirit to the point of exhaustion in continual pretence and overreaching and anticipating others."

When I feel out my present life, it is true I often feel exhausted and I know my past response to not feeling good enough is to try and do more and it is usually too much and then I feel tired and resentful and also a slight panic in my stomach because I have not actually done all I thought I should do.

My spiritual teacher tells me that accepting myself as I am opens the connection to my heart and leaves a feeling of peace. Just contemplating that feels so good. 

My fear has been that if I don't try and improve, nothing will change and there will be no growth. But maybe, what is left is - maturing. After all, trees and plants grow naturally - they are not trying to improve themselves - they're just being what they are in every moment. They change and grow according to their own natures and the rhythms of the seasons. 

So perhaps my journey instead of being one of improvement is actually one of acceptance. I like that. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hearing the intuitive voice more clearly

Dipping a toe in the Moonlight - etching

Hearing the intuitive voice is a skill and like all skills it takes time, practice and patience to learn. In her audio CD Self Esteem, Caroline Myss talks about how we need to 'carve a channel' of 
1. Learning to hear the intuitive voice.
2. Recognising it.
3. Saying yes.
4. Putting the guidance into action.
5. Responding quickly.' 

Each step of this path will highlight different fears and blockages. Resolving these fears and blockages and so moving along to the next step is the pathway of spiritual practice for our intuition is a channel for divine guidance.

The intuitive voice is always there whether we listen to it or not. Hearing intuition is often a matter of tuning in, of being aware that this guidance is available and wanting to hear what it has to say. It helps to create a space, a small inner silence, in order to give it room to make itself known. 

The skill of recognising guidance is the skill of distinguishing the intuitive voice from all the other internal voices vying to get our attention. Those voices may include a protective voice that is determined to keep us safe, the voices of our parents or caregivers now internalised, the voices of those whose approval we seek, the internal critic, various wounded or fearful aspects as well as the inner artist, etc. It is no wonder that some decisions have us torn every which way.

One way through this thicket of voices is to get to know oneself better - not just the daytime self we identify with, but all the aspects that inhabit our interior. Having a conversation with each aspect, one on one, in the process called active imagination is the best way I know of doing this. Through a regular practice of this process, spending just half an hour per day, I've discovered many, previously unsuspected, aspects of my psyche. 

My intuitive voice, I came to realise, was calm, direct, and concise. It did not concern itself with blame or any other emotion. Mostly it was giving me guidance in the sense of what to do or not do. It wasn't always a voice either. Particularly when I was at the stage of being confused by which voice was which it would often make itself known as a visual. I would get a internal image of what to do next. Sometimes it was a sensation in my body - an internal energy flow guiding me.

Caroline Myss says that heaven is always training us to hear and follow our intuition. She uses the example of intuitive irritants, those tasks we keep thinking we ought to do, but don't and yet the thought won't go away - like for instance clearing out a closet or ringing a particular friend. This, she says, is the universe teaching us what the intuitive voice sounds like - we're not afraid of this kind of guidance, so fear is not blocking our inner ears. And when we follow it we learn the feeling of inner peace and ease that accompanies putting guidance into action.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

How to avoid the intuitive voice.


The intuitive voice is always there - but it can be blocked or muffled - in much the same way as those layers and layers of mattresses in the Princess and the Pea concealed the pea to all but the true princess. Learning to hear one's intuition clearly is a process of taking off the layers of mattresses or at least identifying them so they no longer have such power.

Sometimes it is easier to get at the heart of a matter by turning it on its head. So the question I invite you to ask yourself today is: How do I block my intuition?
Here is the list I came up with:

1. Tranquillize it with too much food, sleep, late nights etc.

2. Get locked into a fixed idea of what I'm going to do when or how something should happen.

3. Allow my knee-jerk rebel to take over - I'm not going to be told what to do by anyone - even if it is my own intuition!

4. Get carried away by someone else's energetic pull or by needing someone else's approval.

5. Refuse to take my intuition seriously unless I can work out with my mind ahead of time why I should do what it is telling me.

6. Choosing addiction over intuition - ie reading gossipy mags or surfing the internet or checking my daily astrology or falling into self-pity or disappearing into grandiose fantasies.

Intuition, so Clarissa Pinkola Estes points out, will lead us along the path of the least psychic fragmentation. The quest to hear one's intuitive voice clearly and to trust it enough to follow it may take time, but the resultant flow in one's art and life and the sense of inner peace make the journey well worth while. 

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Power of Intuition

detail - The Princess and the Pea - etching

I don't know about you, but I can't think of a time when I've followed my intuition and regretted it. On the contrary my major regrets have been when I have heard the nudging of intuition and not followed it. Caroline Myss describes this as an act of self-betrayal which can lead to deep suffering. 

I believe that as children we are often strongly connected to our intuitive voice, but a host of minor and major traumas, of teachers, parents and siblings telling us they know what we want better than we do, and our own squashing of our true self in order to gain acceptance and approval, all contribute to the distancing of intuition. Like the pea in the fairy tale the Princess and the Pea - the intuitive voice is still there, but it is hard to discern through the padding of all those mattresses.

This fairytale does not offer instruction on re-connecting to our intuition, it simply highlights that this is an essential skill one must have for the sacred conjunctio (from alchemy meaning the transformative union of unlike substances) or inner marriage to take place between our female and males aspects. The importance of this marriage can be found not only in the study of alchemy, but in the many, many fairytales that all focus on this same theme - finding the true princess/prince and being worthy of that partner. 

They are really not talking about one's husband or wife in the external world, they are talking about the internal marriage between the feminine element - the princess- who, clearly in touch with her intuition is able to hear soul guidance as to what must be done - and the masculine element who puts that guidance into action, who makes it manifest in the outer world. An excellent discussion of the sacred marriage and the roles of the inner female and male can be found in Clarissa Pinkola Este's book Women who run with the Wolves in the chapter called:Clear Water:Nourishing the Creative Life - The Man on the River. 

If the princess cannot hear her intuition, if she cannot feel the pea, then the instructions given to inner male are faulty, ill conceived, arising from some other source and not the true self and the realisation of these instructions will not bring about an internal sense of fulfillment. 

In the Princess and the Pea, the princess not only hears her intuition, she cannot avoid it, she is so sensitive to it - even through all those mattresses - she is kept awake and turned black and blue. It can take a lot of work to develop this degree of sensitivity to one's intuitive voice, but the resulting inner sense of empowerment and peace makes the work worth while. Re-connecting to our intuition is the essence of the journey of self-discovery.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Princess and the Pea

The Princess and the Pea - etching

In many fairytales the king searches far and wide for a suitable girl to marry. In the Princess and the Pea, the Prince stays at home with mum, and it is she who tests each girl to discover whether she is a real princess and therefore fit to marry her son.

In an earlier post I talked about what fairytales had to teach us and suggested choosing your favourite tale and writing a short monologue from each character's point of view to discover why that story has resonance for you and what it guidance it can give.

Below are a few excerpts from my own exploration:

Rain - I am tears, I am sorrow, I am moistness. 

Mattresses - Come drift away on us sweet girl. Listen to our golden words singing your praises. Drift into dreams of glory. Float in luxurious comfort. Hide in the deep warmth and softness of our feathers.

Pea - I am  a niggle and a jiggle and an itch, a four in the morning irritation, a thought that won't go away. My job is to disturb your peace, get your attention, open a door into that closed mind of yours. I am the small voice of intuition and only a real princess could hear me through all those mattresses.

Mother - I may appear to be interfering in my son's affairs, but a wise mother knows what is essential and is fierce in her protection of her children. 

Prince - I am a young part of the psyche, not yet seasoned or wise. I might be distracted by a pretty face or soft words into marrying the wrong girl. It is right that the wise woman guide me in this.

Princess - Strange! I'm sure I remember knocking at this door before, perhaps many times, though I was younger and more carefree then. Now I am soaked to the bone and so weary I could weep.

All of these expressions are so rich especially if we consider, in the Jungian tradition,  that they are all aspects of the one psyche - but more of that in the next post. Have fun with your own fairytales.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Gone to Australia - Back in three weeks

Whose tune are you dancing to? Clarissa Pinkola Estes tells the story of a poor girl who has painstakingly handcrafted a pair of red shoes which give her much pleasure. The shoes are representative of the hand crafted life, of living by one's own values. But sure enough, along comes the test, in the form of a golden carriage and a rich old woman who says she will look after her from now on. Those precious red shoes are thrown in the fire and now she has to do what she is told by the old woman - she is dancing to the old woman's tune. 

Her heart longs for those red shoes made by her own hands, however, and she is attracted to anything that reminds her of them, so when an up-to-no-good shoemaker shows her his red shoes, she fools the old lady into buying them. Even though they are red they are not her shoes. Now she is dancing to the shoemaker's tune and this is a mad dance that leads her to the executioner's door and only stops when he chops off her feet - a dramatic ending but right symbolically for dancing to another's tune is exhausting and can lead to the death of the spirit.

This week has been a stressful week - builders in the house, trying to get ready to go away and a partner down with a nasty flu. When trying to deal with all this the main thing on my mind was - I have to write a whole load of blogs to post for while I'm away. Why? Because They - yes the mysterious They - had said you must blog at least two or three times a week!

Ah - the beauty of stories. All week long the Red Shoes has been popping into my mind - finally I got the connection - I was trying to dance to someone else's tune - instead of handcrafting my blog the way it suited me - I need to dance my blog not let my blog dance me.

So, thank you, all you lovely readers for enjoying the posts. They will resume shortly. In the meantime I have negotiated the technology so now you can email subscribe and have new posts sent straight to your email box.

p.s. so as not to leave the story on a grim note - according to Clarissa Pinkola Estes, this is a fragment of a much longer story and in the lost passages, after an incubation period, her feet would have grown back and she would have found some shoes that were just right for her. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What fairytale characters have to teach us

I've always loved the Jungian idea that all the characters in a story are aspects of one psyche. It makes fairytales so much more interesting and valuable. It is too easy to identify with Snow White and despise the wicked step-mother. Looked at in Jungian terms, however, I am not only the innocent child, but also the jealous, scheming Queen and the ineffective, gullible King - not to mention the hunter, the dwarfs etc. Accepting this allows me to connect with those  resisted aspects and find out what part they are playing in my life. 

Our world abounds in stories. We love stories - in books and movies, on TV soaps and before that around the kitchen table or the fireplace. Without necessarily being conscious of it, we live our lives as if it were a story. To discover one's story, and the array of characters within it, is a fascinating journey and can lead to great inner treasure - knowing what role you are playing, gaining an insight into your strengths and vulnerabilities, shedding light on ones shadow aspects - can lead to living a more authentic life in a more powerful way.

One way to discover one's story is to choose a favourite fairytale, one that has always resonated for you. List the characters - which can include animals or important objects - for example, in my own exploration of the Princess and the Pea, I included the pea and the mattresses. Next take each 'character' and write a short piece as if you were them - a monologue - as if they had turned to the audience and were speaking directly about what is important to them and why they did what they did and how they felt about it. This doesn't have to be a written exercise - it can also be acted, danced, sculpted etc. 

This exercise can be done with any story or film that has caught your imagination. I even did it with an episode of Star Trek Voyager that particularly haunted me - with amazing results. I'll summarize my own discoveries from the Princess and the Pea in the next post.