The Sacred Questions and Self Awareness

There was a time in my life when things were just so bad!  In my mind I felt hopeless.  I could not see a way out.  I was stuck.  I had been taught all my life, however, that we are special and that we humans are meant to overcome our difficulties in life; to learn and grow from them even.  In those dark moments I thought to myself, “If I could just know who I am, I could overcome my problems!”  My question was, how could I know myself?

Like many of us, if not all, we have been taught how to behave since childhood.  Stuffing our emotions is often part of that learning.  As we grow we become more and more disconnected from ourselves, disconnected from who we really are.  Instead we play a role set out for us by society and our families.  This is normal for a society, but in my opinion, when the disconnect is strong, broken people are the result.

“Know thyself!” is an admonition given to us students by our teacher Tom Brown Jr. in Scout Class at Tracker School.  “Know thine enemy!” is the second.  “Sometimes thine enemy is thyself!” he states, almost an after thought, but likely is key to the awareness of self.  These are sayings handed down by the Apache Scouts, Tom says.  “Know thyself, and Know thine enemy,” seems to be a common theme in warfare.  Self awareness can help us learn if we are thwarting our own progress, if we are the enemy we face.

The Sacred Questions are the key to knowing ourselves.  “How am I feeling?  How can I heal it?  What more can I learn from this?” and many other questions that can spin off them take us on a journey of self discovery.  As we move through the layers of emotions and feelings, learning what we feel, why we feel this way, and what we can do about it, we move closer to who we really are.  Meaning, the emotions are not us but are reactions to things in our lives based on our experiences and the people around us.  The problem is the reactions are based on limited perspectives; what we can see and understand from our limited viewpoints.  Our perspectives are so limited we can in no way understand everything around us and therefore our feelings and reactions are skewed by our limited perspective.  In stronger terms, our perspectives and reactions are wrong simply because they are based on limited understanding.

What I am proposing is to get past the emotions and reactions which are the byproducts of our living experiences, and get to the pure self; the essence of who we are, which is hidden beneath the layers and layers of feelings and emotions.

When our class was sent out to our individual sit areas in the woods (where we could be alone) to do this exercise, we were given 45 minutes.  We wrote down each layer and why we felt that way.  I worked very hard to move through the layers because I had paid a lot of money for this class and I was going to get the most out of it!  Shortly, I found myself being distracted after each layer.  My mind would wander off in a day dream until I remembered the exercise and pulled myself back.  Going deep in those layers was surprisingly difficult.  There was some resistance by my physical mind; almost a little tantrum of not wanting to look for another layer, thinking there could not possibly be anything else, and being tired of the exercise.  This resistance was almost painful.

I remembered, though, when Tom sent us out he hollered after us in his booming voice, “If you think you have gone through the layers far enough, keep going!!!”

I am so glad I forced myself to move doggedly through the layers.  This exercise gave me a priceless gem of understanding.  I got to the point there were no more layers of emotions, only a vision of energy, symbolism which I understood, and a sense of who I am at the most pure level: strong, powerful, amazing.  I was shocked at that revelation and couldn’t help bawl my eyes out for the next half hour; not even stopping when we were called in, it was that uncontrollable.  I was full of joy and gratitude for what I saw/understood.  I can never forget that moment and the change it brought to my sad, hopeless and helpless little life.

I share this exercise with you.  Could you make use of peeling back the layers to learn who you really are?  Would this enable you to approach life from a greater understanding.

If you should choose to do this exercise you may share your results here.  I would love to see how it works for other people.

Focusing For Happiness and Weight Loss

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Focusing will help you give your attention to one of the many, like picking one flower to look at from the garden.

The other day when I was focusing away my depression (click here for previous post) I hit upon an idea which I started immediately using.  I spent moments throughout the day centering my attention inward, as is done in focusing to discover emotional layers, but instead of asking how I am feeling, I quiet myself and center my awareness deep inside my core and touch the place where I feel peace, relaxation, and love for myself; I then ask myself, “”What do I want to do right now?”  This sets me up for working on something I really want to do, plus I am always much more productive when I am doing what I most want to do.  Surprisingly, the answer to what I most want to do is often to organize something, or do the dishes, or help one of my children with their homework, or some other chore.  My answer is not always to make art!  That doesn’t matter though, because I am doing something I really want to do at that point in time, that fits in my overall life plan; something that is calling for my attention, and gives me pleasure to accomplish.

I am realizing that this first focusing question, “What do I want to do right now?” does not remove any of the myriad of chores that were overwhelming me when I wrote about focusing away depression in my last blog.  Instead, this process allows me to temporarily place all those things in a holding pattern, patiently waiting in line, as I accomplish the one chore that will bring me the most satisfaction at this time.  Then I can ask again for what is the next thing I really want to do.  This first question takes care of reducing stress, allowing me to enjoy the process of accomplishing things, and have more joy in my journey.  I am finding that in my core, I do want to accomplish all the things necessary for success in my goals.  In other words, I am not wanting to play all the time, but asking what to do first allows me to let go of the rest until they pop up as what I want to do next.

For the weight loss part, I focus again to that deep centered place within my core, where I am calm and relaxed.  I remind myself that I am me, one person, centered on myself and my needs right now; knowing I have to take care of myself (no one else is going to do this for me) to be healthy and balanced; reminding myself that I answer only to myself and no one else for my health and well being and happiness; reminding myself I do not have to let anyone stress me out or make me feel less than I am; creating a protective shield of seperation around myself that allows me to rest when I want to, eat when I want to, and focus on a chore or fun activity when I want to.  Once I am centered and balanced and ready to take care of myself, I ask myself, “What do I want to eat that will make me feel good and help me be my best self?”  My answers have been the healthy foods I know are good for me and make me feel good and will help me lose my excess weight.  When I then proceed to eat the healthy food, I do feel good.  When I have not centered myself and focused on what I want to eat that will help me be healthy and my best self, I find myself reaching for chocolate, or ice cream, or bread and butter, or cereal, etc.

The key is focusing away from external stimulation that cause me to want to eat fattening sugary foods.  Resting when I am tired.  Pausing when I feel stressed, evaluating that stress, and focusing for what I want to do next.  Eating sugary starchy food, which makes me feel sleepy, is a way I have been self medicating and dulling my senses so I don’t have to feel stress.  Or, I reach for the giant (and I do mean giant!) bar of chocolate to rev me up and give me a big push, which gives me a high I enjoy, but does not benefit my health in the long run, nor does eating chocolate help me put my finger on what I really want to do.

I understand that this method is not easy when there are so many demands made upon us by external sources (and to be honest, most of the stresses and demands in my life are self induced).  Regardless, I have to do something to get my happiness and health back, so I now give myself permission to experiment with focusing for happiness and weight loss.  Once the simple meditation is accomplished a few times, it really takes very little time to recenter and ask those two questions again: “What do I want to do right now?” and “What do I want to eat that will help me be healthy and happy and be my best self?”

Focusing for happiness and weight loss worked so well for me yesterday (I know . . . only one day) that I wanted to share the process.  I will let you, dear readers, know how it goes as I continue with this experiment.  Also, if anyone wants to try this, I would love to hear how it goes for you in the comments section!  Love and happiness and health to you all.

Focusing Away Depression

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I awoke today frustrated about how I was feeling.  For the past few days I have been feeling depressed and overwhelmed.  I wanted to call my daughters and whine about it, but I couldn’t find my phone.  I thought about going to see my therapist but remembered I have all the tools I need, I don’t really need my therapist for this; I guess I just wanted to complain to someone.

“I need to focus” I reminded myself.  Focusing is a technique I learned from my teacher Tom Brown Jr. and the basics of which are also described in a book called “Focusing”.

I lay down on my bed to begin the meditation, and there was my phone!  I chuckled to myself because I realized that I simply need to focus instead of relying on the crutch of complaining to my family, and that is why I couldn’t find my phone!

Focusing is like peeling back the layers of emotion, one by one, to see what is going on in that mix of emotions you might be feeling.

I began by asking myself, kindly and gently as a loving mother might, “How are you feeling?” and the first layer popped up.

“I am feeling angry!” came the feeling.  There was roaring and screaming and gnashing of teeth inside me.  I let myself feel it.

“Why?” I asked.

I was surprised that there were so many things I was angry about and they were all swirling around me: Too many things I want to do; Overwhelmed by all of it; Can’t get things done fast enough; Don’t even want to do them; Angry that I have to; People I have been angry with even popped up . . . it was like everything I have ever been angry about was there.  It felt sharply painful in the center of my chest.

“OK, that’s good to know,” I said to myself, reassuringly, trying not to get stuck in this first layer and remember the next step.  Oh yeah . . . “Now, set that first layer aside . . . and aside from that, how am I feeling?”

I let the anger move up and out of me and I felt for the next layer.  “I’m feeling depressed.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I feel ineffectual, like there are so many things I feel like I am supposed to do: build my art studio, finish the barn, learn the edible and medicinal plants, work on genealogy, do school with the kids, run errands, make food, lose weight, clean the house, etc. and I have so little energy.  I feel like a failure.”

“OK, that’s good to know,” I tell myself.  “Now, aside from that, how am I feeling?”

I let the second layer move up and out of me and I felt for the third layer.  I felt a glimmer of timid joy.

“Why?” I asked, “Why am I feeling this little bit of joy?”

“I love color,” was the answer.

“Tell me more,” I asked.

“I love making art, I LOVE working with color!” The feeling of joy was getting stronger.  I began blissfully thinking about making a scarf, and began designing it in my mind.  I started thinking about the necklaces, and tunics, I have been designing in my mind the past week or so.

I had stopped working on art after the art fair because I was spending all my time with organizing and working on the household and the building projects and had not made any art since before the fair.

I felt guilty even thinking about making art because of all the other things I felt like I was supposed to do.

Somehow I have to find a balance.

I can stop beating myself up and forcing myself to spend my time entirely on chores.  I can have the fun time in order to balance everything out and be happy.  In fact, the joyous pursuits can be my main focus and everything else can fit into the nooks and crannies around the fun.  Why not?  After all, I came to Oregon to heal my mind and body, and what better way than to live in joy?

I didn’t need to go any further in my layers today, even though I know there are many more amazing layers, because I found my answer.  I feel relieved and happy, looking forward to making art and balancing my life better.

Dealing with Depression

I recently made a comment in another persons website about one of the ways I deal with depression so I thought I would share it here.
I have an approach called Focusing which I learned from my teacher Tom Brown Jr. (which approach I received by going out and going to Wilderness Survival classes at Trackerschool). The concept of focusing is also taught in a basic way in a book called Focusing, but Tom took us further in the exercise.
First, you get yourself in a quiet place away from others, preferably in nature, be quiet for a minute, just enjoying relaxing, then after a few minutes, ask yourself, “How am I feeling?” and surrender to the first feeling that comes up. If the first feeling that comes up is, “Fine, I feel fine.” Say to yourself, “No, really, how are you REALLY feeling?” Then in a VERY LOVING, NON JUDGMENTAL way, you say, “That’s good to know!” Then you ask, “Why am I feeling this way?”, and surrender to the answer that comes to you. Again, no judgement, only love and understanding. Say, “Well, that’s good to know!.”
Next, you set that feeling off to the side and you say to yourself, “Great, now aside from that, How am I feeling?” and surrender to the next feeling that comes up. Once you identify the next feeling, in a very loving, understanding, non judgmental way, say to yourself, “Good, that’s good to know. So why am I feeling this way?” Surrender to the answer and acknowledge that answer with love and understanding.
Next, you set those first feelings aside and say to yourself, “OK, Aside from those, How am I feeling?” Surrender to the answer. Again, in a very loving understanding way say to yourself, “Good, that’s good to know! Now, why am I feeling this way?” Surrender to the answer and acknowledge it with gratitude.
Tom told us to peel back AT LEAST 4 layers of feelings as a minimum, but he also told us, “When you think you have gone as far as you can go, keep going.”
More likely you will find many, many layers of feelings and reasons why.
This is peeling back the layers that make up that confusing mix of feelings which may be making you feel stuck, depressed, or confused. Bringing the individual emotions up and the why’s behind them, is healing because those feelings are being acknowledged in a very understanding way. There are reasons why we feel the way we do.
The first time I did this exercise we were given 45 minutes. I kept being distracted after the first 10 minutes or so. We were each sitting out in nature away from anyone else. It was very difficult to stay on task of peeling back the layers of feelings, but each layer was a revelation to one degree or another. I had no idea each of those individual feelings were carrying on at the same time, contributing to how I was feeling overall. It’s almost funny, looking back, I would uncover a feeling and the way behind it, and get caught up in thoughts about it and completely forget I was doing an exercise! Then I would remember, and almost be startled that I had forgotten that fact! Then I would go to the next layer. Going deeper was difficult for some reason. I couldn’t imagine there could be another layer, but there always was! And the deeper I got, the more surprised I was at what feeling was in that layer (I kept going with dogged determination because I paid a lot of money for that class and I wasn’t about to waste any of my time learning all I could)!!
Then the jewel . . . under all the feelings, I found myself. I had no idea until then who I really was. I can’t describe to you how I felt when I saw myself for who I really am, but I can say it was good, and I couldn’t stop weeping in absolute joy!
When they called us back in to the lecture hall, I couldn’t stop crying. Tom said, “It’s about time you got rid of all that sh#*!” I don’t know if he understood I was crying for joy or not, but the experience was life changing.
Before Tom sent us out to do this exercise, he told us to write down the feelings and the why’s as they came up. Once the exercise was done, he had us go through the list of feelings and circle the one that felt the most important to us. For many the most important feeling was not the first one we felt come up. He had us circle it and write a little #1 by it. Then we went through the list again, looking for the one that felt most important aside from the first feeling that was circled. When we found the next one that felt most important, we circled it and put a #2 by it. We continued circling and numbering the feelings until we felt we had circled all the important ones.
By doing the second half of this exercise, circling the most important feelings to us, we might be surprised which feelings are most important or strongest, and which feelings that have not been circled are clouding or hiding our most important feelings.
Some logistics:
Sometimes the same feeling may come up more than once. Typically because of a different “Why?” That’s fine just write it down.
Sometimes we may hover with a feeling for awhile before wanting or being able to move on to the next one. That’s perfectly all right, that feeling just needs a little more time to be acknowledged before setting it to the side and moving on to the next feeling.
Sometimes you may not have any feeling come up. That has happened to me more than once in the past. What I do is say to myself, “OK, that feeling is not ready to be seen, or I am not ready to see it . . . that’s good to know.” and I set it aside and move to the next one.
The most important thing to remember is to not be judgmental of yourself for your feelings. They are there and they are valid to you because you are feeling them. There will most likely be baggage contributing to some of your feelings, and that is all great and part of the layers you’re peeling back. It is all good. Digging deep, through it all, is a very introspective approach, and therapeutic, and healing.
One of the things that makes this exercise such a jewel to me is that underneath all the feelings, I found the purity of me. I don’t know if others will experience the same thing, but I do believe that under all those emotions and reasons for the feelings, our true selves exist: pure, beautiful, amazing, powerful, undimmed, and beyond description. So peel away, be patient, enjoy the comfort of being able to feel your feelings and love yourself fully and unconditionally no matter what you are feeling. There is a reason you have your feelings, and you can be a comfort to yourself, but your feelings are not you. You are underneath all the feelings, at the core. YOU are truly amazing!
At one time I thought that if I only know who I really was, spiritually, I would be able to handle anything. I have to admit that has not been the case. I still struggle and find myself knocked off balance. I still get depressed at times, always because I fear something. I can say, however, peeling back the feelings and getting the mix separated out, helps me identify what’s really going on. Awareness in an incredible tool.
Thanks for letting me share, and I hope you can try this for yourself!

Distractions vs Vision … Happiness vs Joy

Here is my feeble attempt at explaining what I think I know so far!

This life is full of amazing opportunities for each of us.  Not only is that knowledge freeing and door opening, I find it more and more easy to become distracted from the best to the better.  Or, from my vision in life to a happy distraction.

Distractions come in many forms: decadent indulgences, pretty things; feeling less than others; feeling better than others; from a plethora of good things to a plethora of bad things, none of which are our personal ideal of what we want out of life.

Happiness, as I have been told, is the feeling that comes from things that are temporary but pleasant.  Eating a delicious meal or favorite dessert, buying a beautiful dress or jewelry, winning an award, becoming famous, receiving positive attention, going on a desired outing, or anything that brings happy feelings.

Joy, on the other hand, is lasting.  Joy is a feeling which comes from knowing what is of true value in the long run, and living in a way which puts the things of true value in the foreground of your life and your attention.

The things that make me happy are: making art, selling art, making anything beautiful, building a structure I want to use for something, eating ice cream, eating chocolate, looking in the mirror and being pleased with my image, riding my horse, reading a novel, surfing you tube, doing what I want.  These are a few of the things that make me feel happy or even blissful for a few minutes.  But those moments are not lasting.

The things that bring me joy are: spending time enjoying my family and grandchildren, feeling a connection with a special friend, feeling that I have helped someone, teaching someone something I think will bless their lives, sharing my experiences in hopes my story might benefit someone, learning something, feeling God’s love for me, feeling love for others, realizing things I never understood before, following what I know to be right after I learn about it.

Malcolm Ringwalt, one of my teachers, once asked the students in his class, “What do you value most?”

Going deep inside myself I asked myself, “What do I value most?”  I had been so involved in learning survival skills, and awareness skills, I thought my answer would have something to do with that.  Boy was I in for a shock!  What an eye opening exercise.  I found the things I was hotly pursuing were not what I valued most.

What do I value most?  MY CHILDREN.  Period.  End of sentence.   I value my children before art, before, food, before a career, before going to classes, before everything except my relationship with God.  I also realized I was spending the majority of my time and attention away from what I valued most.  Time to shift gears, change horses in the middle of the stream, make a change!

Each day brings opportunities.  How will I spend my time?

Beading the sweater my daughter will wear to prom was a good time to contemplate how I spend my time.  I realized I was neglecting my housework; I was neglecting my “career” as an artist; and that was just fine because I was doing something infinitely more valuable, for me and for my daughter.  I was doing something out of love and devotion for her.

She would often sit and read to me, as I worked, to keep me company.  Or she would do my horse chores to free me up to work on her sweater.  We experienced a cooperation and a sharing of love and support.  I didn’t make any art to sell, and my house is a disaster (still waiting for me), but I created something infinitely more valuable — a stronger and better relationship with my daughter.

How much can we love each other? How much is too much?

In my last post I mentioned a meditation where I was filled with light and had a question answered.  Well, that was not the only question that was answered. Continue reading “How much can we love each other? How much is too much?”

Everyone's success is your success. 

This is a statement that my teacher Tom Brown Jr. says during class. I didn’t understand it completely although I understood the concept. He would say that if someone got a success in an exercise we were doing for class, that shows that it’s possible to get a success, therefore it’s also possible for others to get a success.  Continue reading “Everyone's success is your success. “