Authentic Self

Two Feet In

Two Feet In

“You need to decide, you’re either two feet in or two feet out”, our therapist said to my husband and me in the midst of contemplating the next steps of our marriage after a long separation. “Your kids need to know where you stand,” she went on.

She had worked with our family over a long period of time, and knew our situation well. It was through her simple directive, one that resonated deep within my belly, that I understood the overwhelming “aha” that came over me.  In that moment, I realized that not only did my children need to understand what their container of safety, family and home was going to look like.  It was also the scared child within me that needed assurance that my adult self would be acting with the same strength of clarity and integrity our therapist was modeling.

After a long and arduous period of personal reflection, differentiation and deep inner work, my husband and I agreed - we would re-commit and step fully back into our marriage - two feet in.  This adage has become our mutual mantra in the midst of the ups and downs of married life. 

 It also took on an even deeper meaning for me one day when he whispered this simple, yet profound, statement in my ear during a challenging health crisis.  For unknown reasons, I have suffered a series of health crises throughout my adult years that have put me face to face with my mortality numerous times.  When I heard him tenderly reminding me to stay “two feet in, Robyn,” it was as if a bell had rung at the core of my being. 

In that moment my mind spontaneously woke up to the fact that I have had one foot out the door of my life for many years.  This is in part due to sexual trauma early in life that left me feeling wracked with shame.  Another part of me likely crossed that thin threshold the day my mom died when I was twenty years old.  She was such a loving and stabilizing force in my life that I literally questioned whether I could survive without her physical presence.  The first two years after her passing were grueling and tenuous, but I ultimately came to thrive in many ways.

 With this new revelation, I was able to recognize the ways that I have kept myself small and strategically invisible throughout my life and, in some ways, hidden behind the glare of health challenges.  Admittedly, there have been times when the thought of dying and reuniting with my mom has felt easier than carrying on. This is not a choice I would ever consider realistically, because I would never leave my family and the life that I love and am so grateful for.  This is just to name an unsightly feeling that sometimes seeps out of the dark corner of my inner closet.   

 I have always been motivated by a strong sense of purpose, which has been accompanied by a fear of its potency – and a habitual strategy of diminishing my radiance.  For all of the challenges I have faced in my life and the threats to dampen the fire that burns hot within me, it is the light emanating from this flame that has most frightened me.  As spiritual author and powerful feminine voice in our culture, Marianne Williamson, affirms:

 “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

 A number of years ago, I’d recently returned home from ten days in the hospital after a shocking diagnosis of a large blood clot in my belly that was untreatable and came with an early misleading and dire prognosis from an ill-informed doctor.  I was lying on the floor with a few of the women from a women’s group I had been in at the time.  One of them was a well-meaning and caring friend who turned to me after sharing my harrowing and painful experience, and the dire prognosis that at the time I was still trying to process and integrate.  She asked, “Have you chosen life?”  In the moment, I was stunned and angered by her seeming new age and positive thinking attitude that could find no meaningful place in my current predicament.  I simply replied, “No, as a matter of fact, I am being with death right now.”  This was what I was choosing to contemplate under the circumstances.

 After some time, and a clearer understanding about my medical situation, I felt I was open and ready to “choose” life once again.  It may not have been her way of navigating such a challenging medical crisis, but for me, it was deeply expansive to consider and reclaim my own mortality with tender authenticity and sober truth.  It is something that has served me, along with others who I companion at this threshold, well over the years as I have grown to embrace death as part of a soulfully lived life.

 I am able to also see that my subsequent medical challenges have both given me more layered and nuanced material to stretch my understanding of the paradox of life and death, and also temptation for having that one foot out the door.  A strategic habit of protection and reprieve from the pressing intensity my soul keeps prodding me with.

 Amidst recent health findings, I have been faced with more questions about the unknowns of this earthly existence – yet I feel more alive than ever.  I have been dousing myself with the mantra of “Two feet in” on a daily basis.  It seems to be stoking that inner fire in ways that feel enlivening and thrilling.  After so many years of shading myself and the world from this inner fire, I finally sense a liberation of the light that has literally been “dying” to come forth.

 After losing touch with that friend in my women’s group those number of years ago, I can honestly answer her question now with confidence and excitement that, yes, I am choosing life, as well as my marriage, with all of my heart and soul.

 I am choosing to be two feet in…

 And dancing.

The Orphaned Ones

The Orphaned Ones

Over a lifetime of mining my inner fears and longings, I’ve become aware that some of my most difficult memories, feelings and beliefs are from a time when I was too young for language or emotional development to describe my inner experience. It is hard to identify, let alone articulate, something that eludes the description of words. Though, at this point in my life, courting those pre-verbal and orphaned parts of myself feels essential, loving and gracious.

In a dream, I am walking through a big, old, beautiful mansion. I walk into a bedroom, then down a set of stairs where I see babies in newborn hospital cribs. As I descend the stairs, the babies start quivering with excitement at my incoming presence. It feels heartwarming to make connection with these precious little ones.

The setting is like an orphanage with loving adult male volunteers tending to the babies. As I am going back up the stairs I come upon a few volunteers making “volunteer story boards” to hang in the orphan nursery to bring warmth and connection. I want to make one - it is a fabulous idea!

Making a storyboard of all of these unmet parts of me that have been “orphaned” and relegated to the basement of my soul, now being birthed back into the light, has been a revelatory process. It is liberating to engage my imagination and welcome these parts back into the fold of my experience.  It is like reuniting with long lost friends that bring immense value to my life.  I feel the quivering and quaking inside of previously repressed creativity longing to be expressed.

I have come to recognize when resistance, anxiety and/or shame arises in my current experience, that it is most often triggered from these hidden parts who became the discarded outcasts of my psyche.  These vulnerable “orphans” strategically created habitual responses of protection born out of painful early experiences and engaged to maintain the status quo.  The inherent wisdom of these compensatory responses served as brilliant self-protection measures up to a point, while proving to be self-diminishing and deprecating in the long run.  

My unique strategy of invisibility, and flying well under the radar, has kept me safe, comfortable and relatively productive for most of my life.  Though I have come to recognize the familiar uncomfortable feelings that arise which trigger my habitual patterns.  Courageously, I have learned to stay present with them rather than turn away. These feelings have become my cue to slow my thoughts and actions way down and get curious about which orphan is calling my attention. When I become quiet and listen deeply, she has a story to tell that is a long lost treasure in the mansion of my soul. Each young one I nurture back into my adult consciousness brings the warmth and joy of untapped potential – and a liberated feeling of creative energy stirred!

To protect and nurture these young ones inside, it is my practice to first lovingly acknowledge their presence and assure a safe environment, just like the volunteer male attendants in my dream.  As I court these tender parts of myself in this way, I am able to notice the often playful and creative vibrancy that is freed; that which had been previously coveted painfully in the dark corner of my psyche.  When I invite these infant energies to accompany and share their essence with the adult in me, I feel an expansive quality that is not easily described, but joyfully welcome. 

The more that these parts within are honored and nurtured through gestures of curiosity and connection, the more love and trust is harnessed, and over time, cultivates an embodied, integrated and deeply satisfying union.  Hence, the evolving story of inhabited awakening and wholeness ensues. The memories that once plagued me with the devastation of nightmares have spun the gold of my own personal myth, meaning and service within this larger dream of life.

What is the story that your soul is longing to tell?  What is the best way for you to nurture and articulate it? Who are the long lost parts hiding in the basement of your inner mansion? Lean in close...and listen. You might hear an orphaned one inside, quivering with life longing to be lived.

Meeting God in the Sea of Loneliness

Meeting God in the Sea of Loneliness

It was just after the dawn of the new millennium, and the entry into my third decade.  I found myself alone, recently relocated and divorced after a short and tumultuous marriage, in a town way out on the tip of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state.  It felt like another planet.  The only thing that seemed familiar was my sweet little home that I had bought and cultivated into my own little sacred sanctuary.  It was a very small custom built home by a master wood craftsman filled with exotic, sustainable woods with spaces and design that resembled boat life.  This was commonplace way out here on the waters of the Pacific Northwest.  The town was filled with beautiful wooden sailboats and wayfinders.  This became the unplanned intention of my jaunt in this far out place – to find my way through the largely unexplored seas of my own inner landscape.

 It’s not like my inner world was foreign to me.  To the contrary, I had spent most of my lifetime on a serious quest of inner discovery.  It’s just that there were some dark and uncharted waters that I had not yet dared to explore.  I ultimately longed to know every nook and cranny my presence on the planet had come to occupy, and how my presence was in relationship with what I understood as God. 

 Since a very young age, I have been internally driven to discover and know God.  Somehow, I intuitively began to recognize that not only was God bigger than me and was something indescribable outside of me, but that God was something awakening through me. 

 I am not sure if this idea came from something I learned in my Jewish upbringing.  I mostly associated Judaism with our weekly Friday night Shabbat dinners at my Grandparent’s house with our extended family.  I would eagerly anticipate Grandma’s proverbial kiss on the head as she went around anointing each grandchild with her weekly peck after saying the prayers over the candles, challah and wine and her sing song way of declaring “Good Shabbas!”.  But mostly, it was the fried chicken and french fries that housekeeper, Mary, would make each week that honed in my Jewish affections.  (Later, we had to accept the shift to baked chicken and potatoes when fried things went out of nutritional savvy.)

 It was my inner longing for intimate connection with God that kept me searching throughout my life.  I explored many different religions and spiritual traditions to open myself to the possibility of connecting with God’s presence from many angles.  I didn’t want to miss out if there was a more direct or satisfying way to commune with what I longed for, though I am sure I could never have articulated what that was throughout most of my growing up – or even now.

 There have been numerous luminous moments throughout my life that have brought me to the center of my longing.  Moments that took my breath away, but mostly moments that revealed my longing in deep and indescribable ways.  Experiences that I never could have planned or even would have ever wished for in the challenging and unexpected ways that they showed up.   One such moment was a day just after my divorce in this special town of Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula that I was at the time calling home.  It was on this day that I was feeling particularly lonely.  Painfully lonely.  The kind of lonely that feels all consuming and difficult to navigate. 

 I sat down on an antique pine bench I had in my tiny living room, exhausted from the inner turmoil going on in my head.  I was in the midst of wrestling with the Divine by proving my gathered collection of laments, losses, betrayals and feelings of abandonment to a point where I felt I could take no more.   Then, something inside of me suddenly gave way.

 With the weight of my head hanging heavy in my hands, I felt a wobble in my posture of resistance.  There was a shift in perception that led me to declare out loud, “Fine!  I will allow myself to surrender into the feeling of loneliness.  I will no longer fight the weight of this.”  And, with that, I dropped like an anchor to the bottom of the ocean of my loneliness.

 When I hit bottom, I was astounded with what I found there.  There weren’t minutes of waiting and looking around for what I had come for, nor drowning in the sea of my sorrows.  What I experienced was an instantaneous explosion of fullness, connection, trust and utter contentment.  It was a feeling of intimacy I had never known.  There was not even a need for question with what or whom.  It was clear.  I was ecstatically full with the presence of God.

 The feeling was so amazing and filled with life as I had never known it before.  I felt grounded, receptive, radiant and present – like a wildflower in a high mountain meadow that just opened into full bloom.  I felt the flexibility of sway in my stance, abundance in my mere presence, while feeling rooted in a ground teeming with nourishment, stability and life.  I knew I had to go out in nature and celebrate what felt like the most profound marriage I had ever had the privilege of witnessing – let alone experiencing! 

 I went out on a run to the beach I ran almost every day along the waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  Each day, I typically encountered the town’s most unusual resident.  She was a large homeless woman who wore rugs draped over her back and a purse always perched upside down on top of her head.  She was obviously schizophrenic as she was typically engaged in conversing with unseen others in her seeming imagined presence.  I never once, in the few years that I had lived there by this time, heard her make a coherent statement – let alone interact with others in any sort of reality that makes sense to most of us. 

 I typically gave her a brief smile as I passed her on the beach where she lived, and I ran each day.  Admittedly, I was a bit leary of interactions with her, with her imposing size and unusual behaviors.  But I liked to acknowledge her presence when I passed her.

 This particular day, she was walking along the shore coming in the opposite direction of my celebratory run.  I was looking in her direction to give her my usual smile of acknowledgement, when she paused right in front of me and literally stopped me in my tracks.  She looked me straight in the eye – and clear as day said, “You look different.” 

 I knew in that moment that she could see the luminous experience that I had just embodied.  I felt honored and seen in a way like never before.  I knew that only a person of her stature, with a psychotic aperture that obviously opened her to experiences of the Divine in ways that most of us don’t quite understand or recognize in our daily lives, allowed her to truly SEE me in that moment.  I consider this one of the greatest moments of connection in all of my life.  I thanked her graciously, mostly with the deep gaze of my eyes into hers, and continued on with my run with a profound sense of astonishment, wonderment and utter peace, all at the same time.

 I have continued to be nourished by that deep and courageous dive that something inside pressed me to take that day.  It laid a solid foundation of divine trust that I have been able to buoy myself and land on in subsequent adventures across the dark and murky waters of uncharted and challenging territories that life inevitably continues to present. 

Though those challenging waters typically stir the sea of loneliness – never again will I feel truly alone.

 

 

It's Ok to Cry

Crying has become a trusted companion to my flexible emotional states.  I fist learned to really trust my tears sitting with my mom on her deathbed almost 30 years ago.  It happened while gently stroking her arm, with tears spilling over copiously and freely. 

Our family had a spoken agreement not to cry in front of her so she didn’t “catch on” that she was dying. Yet, there I was, sitting with her and crying openly.  There was no heaving, sobbing, face crunching, or story needed—simply an ease and freedom of the truth revealed.  I was sad, and my love and longing for my mom’s continued presence flowed heavily in that tender moment.

 My mom hadn’t spoken a sensible sentence in 28 days since her last seizure from a terminal brain tumor. Little did I know she would be gone in a few days.  As I sat at her bedside, gently stroking her arm, with great clarity and presence, mom calmly popped out of her incoherence while looking me in the eye and said, “It’s ok to cry”.  These final words of maternal wisdom stunned me with a gift I have treasured ever since.

 Turns out she knew she was dying. We were the ones fooling ourselves.

 That same easy free flow of tears came recently in the midst of a powerful moment where I found myself sitting in the midst of a painful truth, once again.  While the details of the story are not important, it is the recognition of a golden thread of truth acknowledged, and witnessed, that is striking.

 Each time I face a difficult truth, and the tears ensue, I am reminded of the extraordinary clarity that my mom displayed in the moment that she emerged into stark coherence that day on her deathbed. I am more clearly able to see the ways that I have been strategically deceiving myself and keeping myself armored in the midst of an outdated belief. 

In this tender moment, I felt a deep sadness, once again, oozing out of me with tears effortlessly falling steadily down my face.  It was the natural gentle stroking of the uncomfortable sensations in my torso that seemed to wake me up.  As if my brain leaped out of a dysfunctional stupor, similar to the moment of my mom’s clarity spontaneously emerged out of the malignant brain tumor’s terminal effects.  I told myself...”it’s ok to cry.”

Such tender words as I sat with and gently mothered my younger self on the deathbed of an outdated belief. Turns out, it was time for me to die, before I die – and I knew.

To die before you die is a profound Zen adage and quote from the Sufi poet masters that I often ponder in moments like this.  I am perpetually in awe of the death and rebirth energies available simultaneously in the experience of letting go.  Again and again, in the midst of the small deaths, I remember to nurture myself through the often-painful release, stay connected with my body, and open to the liberating vital life force that is inherently freed. 

 In the midst of so much personal and collective sorrow touching most of us in some way, it seems we are being called to turn toward our pain in new ways.  If we allow the old habits and strategies that no longer make sense or serve our authentic truth to fall away, we open the possibility for new pathways to emerge. 

 What are the ways that you are being called to be with something difficult or painful?  What judgments arise with the presence of your own tears?  What might need to be relinquished to feel a little more?  What are the sensations you notice in your body or the tender ways that you might nurture a difficult feeling? What possibility do you notice emerging out of new ways of being with yourself or another?

I’ve come to relish the creative energy born out of my own small deaths that leaves me feeling inspired to dance in life, with a little more weight in my bones, wiggle in my hips and soul in my step, while always trusting…

 It’s okay to cry.

 

 

Coming Out

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My brave daughter, Brae, just recently came out publicly that she is gay.  While it was not a surprise to me, it was a very powerful and pivotal moment in her life, as well as in mine.  Even though nothing outwardly has changed, the energy in the house is lighter.  Her eyes are shining more clearly, her flesh hangs more easily on her bones and her smile is a whole lot brighter. A true testament to a soul living her Truth.

Her stepping out has inspired me to look at the myriad of ways that I have hidden myself, both personally and professionally.  I am an introvert with extrovert tendencies.  My quietly observant personality, along with the “you are just a girl - stay quiet and look pretty, and all will be taken care of”, patriarchal messaging that I received growing up, has kept me hidden behind a cloak of invisibility in most areas of my life up to this point.

As I turn the corner on 50 years of living, I am finally coming to see through the veils of distortion -- revealing the truth of my purpose on this planet.  As I become more public through my private practice, teaching and facilitating community events, I am called to embody a confidence that, for most of my life, evaded me.  I feel myself stretching and growing in ways that are literally pushing me through the birth canal of my own becoming. It is exhausting, liberating, sometimes terrifying and profoundly enlivening all at the same time.  

I have been writing stories of my experience with all manner of death and rebirth that serve to capture the light in the midst of dark and difficult times.  This has become my life’s work, as well as the crucible of my own becoming.  I look forward to sharing with you as I begin to “come out” more and more through various channels – this blog being one.  My hope is that you may find resonance, and perhaps solace, through the gift of story, knowing that we are all so deeply connected on this journey of being human.  

So, even amidst the grace and difficulties that have been visiting our family’s doorstep as of late, this house is shining much brighter with the authentic truth of “Coming Out”.

How are you feeling inspired to come out to the world with your authentic self?

May we each dare to spark our candles of truth inside to shine more light into the world.

“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”