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The Messies

On the Way to Cirauqui, 11 May 2014

I’ve taken on a Lenten discipline of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, for the month of March. (Some of you may recognize this as NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, typically undertaken in November.) This is an excerpt from my novel, with very little editing because that’s against NaNoWriMo rules. My heroine is Martha, a newly-retired 5th grade teacher walking the Camino de Santiago by herself. In this vignette, she’s been on the Way about ten days, and strange things are happening.


I am a mess, she thought. I am just a mess. Maybe I’ll always be a mess. Maybe being messy is just how it is. Maybe the trick, the work, is to do the work of being myself before I feel ready, before I feel prepared, in the midst of all the mess.

Of what does this mess consist? Memories, plans that never saw the light of day, abandoned goals and desires, anger and sadness and grief and pain. Walking by myself I can’t be distracted.

The lid wiggles loose and the messies start to crawl out. Am I big enough to contain my messies, she wonders? There are a lot of them and they seem vaguely malevolent. They’re wild and angry, exulting in their newfound freedom and room to roam. They surge out of the jar and crawl all over my insides, latching on with their tiny claw-like appendages. I can feel them on my chest wall and hanging on to my heart. They’re crawling all around inside me. They crawl up into my arms and down to my hands. They gleefully grab my organs and find their way down my legs. The messies are so glad to be free! They’re blue and black and red and green, with wild fur and eight legs and googly eyes and fangs. I’m afraid of them. They’re a little crazed, a little frantic.

I really am going a crazy, Martha thinks. But let’s go with this.

I’ve taken the lid off – the lid has wobbled loose on the Camino. Day after day of walking has jostled the lid loose. Day after day of being a stranger in a strange land has jostled the lid loose, and the messies have taken their chance. They’ve rushed up and out. They’re now crawling around my insides – around my chest between my lungs and chest wall, around my heart, up to my shoulders and down my arms. They seem to like the bones for traction. My mind is going crazy with dismay and worry.

Yet… It feels good to have the lid off. It took energy and effort to keep them hidden. It feels good to give in and let the messies have their way. As they squirm around I see that they’re different things – some of them are dreams. Many of them are emotions. Some of them are memories.

It’s like I have a jar into which I’ve stuffed the inconvenient things for so long – the messy things, because being messy wasn’t okay. I have to loosen the lid if I need to stuff another messy into the jar. They squirm frantically and resist, and then they try to escape whenever I open it. I’m usually quite competent at keeping them contained, through other-focus, codependence, addiction, busyness and distraction, rule-following.

But now, here on the Camino, as I walk mile after mile, the lid has loosened enough that they’ve popped it off and they’ve escaped.

“Hóla, Marta! How was your Way today?” they’ll ask me tonight at in the albergue.

“Well, here’s what I found out today,” I’ll say. “In my heart I keep a jar full of what I don’t want to know – the messy things – the inconvenient truths of my life. The sadness I don’t want to feel. The unkept promises and failures. The losses and the rage. The dreams I’ve let languish. The pain and the betrayals I didn’t want to see. All the stuff I didn’t want to do but I did anyway. All the things that didn’t fit with being perfect. Now they’re out. And they’re crawling all over me, inside and out.

Don’t ask too much of me. I have to keep the messies in. Don’t let loose, don’t let down your guard, or the messies will get out.

That’s how my Way was today. How was yours?”

She walks, smiling and weeping. She’s beginning to suspect there will be many tears on this Camino. Every pilgrim she meets, she sees their jar of messies. We all have them, she sees. We all have our sequestered messies. I want them to become peaceful drops of love, she realizes. I want to hurry them along – to metamorphose them into beings that make me feel proud and comforted. I want them NOT to be what they are – inchoate yearning and longing and feeling that cause me distress.

The jar is very old. It was given to me when I was a little girl. “Here’s your jar,” they said. Please put into it everything about you that we don’t like. Don’t ask questions. Just do it. No messies allowed. Or aloud. Either one. Your job is to sequester your messies so they don’t bother us. We only want to see the smart, pretty, nice bits. Thank you in advance for your cooperation in this matter. We’ll teach you how to identify, capture, and contain said messies, since you’re just a girl. Before you know it, you’ll be so good at it you can do it without thinking. Expect to feel listless and depressed at times. That’s a sign that you’re doing it right. Anytime you want to do something irrational or have a feeling we don’t like – catch that messy and stuff it into your jar. And NEVER let them out. Oh. Yeah. A little joy goes into the jar with each messy. And it takes a lot of energy to keep the lid on – so you can’t commit to anything else, and you have to hold back some energy at all times so you can contain the messies. So no going flat out and giving something all you’ve got. That’s not safe.”

Stay tuned for more of Martha’s adventures by following the blog. Stranger stuff is happening…

Fear is Your Friend.

fear-is-your-friendIf you’re new here, welcome! I invite you to check out my Abbey of the Arts guest post to read about connections between New Cosmology and New Monasticism.


There’s a lot of fear going around these days, especially for those of us who got blindsided on November 8th.

We’re wired for fear. It’s how our brains work, and it’s not our fault.

However, if you’re feeling afraid and you’re not in actual physical danger, your fearful feeling is what’s actually dangerous.

Feeling afraid activates our sympathetic nervous system, also known as “fight, flight, or freeze.” Your sympathetic nervous system activation is a good thing when you’re actually being chased by a bear, or when staying very still could save your life.

But when you’re feeling afraid in a situation you can’t actually do anything about, your sympathetic nervous system stays consistently activated. This causes a cascade of stress hormones that create wear and tear and disease.

Feeling afraid about something you can’t change creates suffering. A negative goal is unattainable. Period.

You’re like a car in neutral, and the driver has his foot on the accelerator. All revved up, unable to move.

You’re like a tethered runner in a race. The starting gun goes off and you can’t move.

It’s a no-win situation that will only cause distress and disease.

The only thing fear is good for, if you’re not actually in physical danger, is as a sign that something’s asking for attention. Something or someone you value is threatened.

“Fear is a friend who’s misunderstood,” according to John Mayer. Fear tells us what we care about.

So, how do you handle fear about something you can’t fix, now or ever? Use your fear to point the way to positive action.

You need a positive goal and a way to get there.

Here’s how to do that.

1. When you recognize that you’re feeling afraid, stop and breathe. Deep, rhythmic, steady breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system and its healing hormones.

2. Give love to the part of you that feels fearful. Thank it for its vigilance and concern. “Thank you, fear, for wanting me to be safe. Thank you, fear, for your concern.” Allow yourself to feel the fear you feel.

3. Investigate this fear you feel. One way to do that is with this worksheet, which guides you to a positive goal and related actions in loving response to your fear. I’ve filled in the first row with one of my biggest fears in a Trump administration. You can download a pdf for your use here: using-fear-to-make-a-plan


Turning Fear into a Plan


Fear In my control?


Value(s) threatened What do I want to happen? What can I actually do?
Sarah Palin as Sec’y of Interior No Intact healthy ecosystems


Sacredness of land


Lives of innocents (trees, whales, wolves, bears, cougars, etc.)

I want protections for public lands, plants, and animals to be increased.


I want the land to be cherished.






Get arrested, if necessary.

4. Disentangle yourself from the fearful feeling. Remember that you are not your fear, and you do NOT want to let it drive your bus. You want your values to determine your actions, not your fears.

Fear is useful as a call to action. The action might be to do nothing. That’s okay. The point is to use our fear as a pointer to what we value that’s under threat, and to identify ways to take positive action.

We’re going to get really good at turning our fear into positive action, friends.

Just think how wise, powerful, and effective we’ll be in four years!

(This podcast from Buddhist teacher and psychologist Tara Brach goes deeper into how to handle fear and anger. Tara talks about “limbic hijacks” and how to get out of them.)

Now What? We Die. Then We Rise.

www.livingviriditas.orgNow what?

We got walloped. Many of us are grieving. Many of us are worried and afraid. Many of us are angry. Most of us are all three. Some of us can barely function.

Friends, we’re being invited into the holy cycle of death and rebirth. Dying and rising again is written in our DNA and embedded in the structure of our world. Dying and rising again is the Way of the Cross.

These times are inviting us to grow up and become stronger, luminous, loving beings we can’t presently imagine.

But only if we do the work.

We are resilient. We can do this. We can die and we can rise.

This is what faith looks like. This is what Jesus did.

I think dying and rising again will look like this, for me. If this roadmap is helpful for you, I’m glad.

1. Be terribly sad. Be heartbroken. Be angry. Feel the feelings, but don’t get too attached to them. Take the time you need, but don’t wallow.

Fear is different than sadness or anger. Please don’t give in to the fear. Fear of the future is useless and disempowering. Recognize fear, and then bring your attention back to the reality of this present moment. Avoid spinning in fear and worry. Have compassion for people stuck in fear and worry, going down that rabbit hole. Help them if you can, and then get out. Sit down, focus on your body and your breath, and let your heart tell you what comes next.

2. When it’s time to rise, rise up. When it’s time, as Mary Oliver says, “Rise up from the stump of sorrow, and be green also, like the diligent leaves.” You don’t have to get over yourself, and you’re not overreacting or being a bad loser. Take the time you need to heal. Do what you need to do to feel stronger. When you feel like you can, please get back in the arena. When it’s time to rise up, rise up.

3. Choose positive goals and words. We can only achieve positive things. We can’t accomplish a negative, because there’s nothing there. Stop, close your eyes, and say these phrases: “No hate.” “Be kind.” Which one feels more peaceful and powerful? I’m betting it was “Be kind.” Be clear on what you want. Let go of what you don’t want. Dream big. Dream outrageously.

4. Pick one area of focus. “Be a meaningful specific rather than a wandering generality,” to quote Seth Godin. Let your passion be your guide. If we all do this, we’ll cover the bases. I’m picking the environment, specifically climate issues and public lands. Be clear on both your line in the sand, and what you want to accomplish. I’ll chain myself to a tree if I have to. I’ll go to jail if necessary, to keep Oregon’s public lands protected.

5. Be part of supportive communities. As Ram Dass says, “We’re all just walking each other home.” Now, more than ever. Your community might be church. It might be wisdom circles, or neighborhood potlucks, or running groups.

6. Practice excellent self-care. Stay connected to your Source. Pray, meditate, take long walks, cherish your body, make music, whatever it is for you that keeps your spirit strong.

My friends, we are love warriors.

We can do this thing.

I’m Angry.

angerI’m angry.

Here’s a sampling of what I’m angry about, in no particular order:

I’m angry that mother Orcas are starving to death in Puget Sound, leaving their babies to die. Chinook salmon are getting harder to find because of overfishing and dams, and the salmon the Orcas do find is laden with toxic chemicals.

I’m angry that people are chaining women like dogs inside storage containers.

I’m angry that kids who aren’t white are getting crappier educations than their white counterparts.

I’m angry that assault rifle-toting militia members get acquitted while peaceful Native protesters are set upon with dogs and pepper spray.

I’m angry that there are still climate change deniers, and that they’re still getting air time.

I’m angry that I’m complicit in climate change because I’m embedded in a society that doesn’t really give a rat’s ass.

I’m angry that Donald Trump can say what he says about women, minorities, the disabled, immigrants, and others, and he still might get elected.

I’m angry that Hillary Clinton did dumb stuff with her State Department email.

I’m angry that people think “Dump that Bitch” is an appropriate way to talk about anyone, and that those same people think Hillary’s email is in any way equivalent to Trump’s hate speech.

I’m angry that poachers kill rhinos for their horns.

I’m angry that we’re killing cougars and bears and wolves. I’m angry that wolves are being shot from helicopters. I can’t imagine how frightening this must be.

I’m angry that we spend so much time and money in this country watching professional sports (Yay Cubs!), and we can’t seem to solve big problems.

I’m angry that anyone is still killing elephants, let alone boasting about it.

I’m angry that the Episcopal Church and other mainline Protestant churches are still calling God “He.”

I’m angry that we’re still clearcutting old-growth forests.

I’m angry about so f**king much these days.

I don’t like being angry. I’m angry about feeling angry.

I’m not sure how to handle my anger and still be a kind person.

I feel more powerful when I notice what my anger says about my values. What values are being infracted by these things about which I am so f**king angry?

  • Compassion for all living creatures.
  • Respect for women.
  • Respect for ourselves.
  • Living on Earth reverently.

For a start.

“Nice” and “kind” aren’t the same thing.

How do I want to change my behavior to more closely reflect my values?

How do I want to speak up for the defenseless and powerless?

How do I want to be a more compassionate and thoughtful Earthling?

How do I speak respectfully to disrespectful people?

Now I’m back in what I have control over: myself.

And here’s a dog dressed as a minion, so we feel a little light. Thank you for reading.




You Are Not Your Armor

wabi sabi BuddhaWe are not our armor. We are not the protective layer that covers up our essential goodness.

Yesterday I wrote about a huge clay Buddha in Thailand. For centuries it had sat in various temples, moved around as people saw fit. One day, stories differ as to why, the enormous clay Buddha cracked open. It cracked open enough that the monks tending it looked inside and were astonished to find, not the hollow space they expected, but a statue of luminous gold.

Jack Kornfield tells this story to illustrate the Buddhist core belief in “Buddha nature” – the inherent nobility and goodness shining inside of every woman, man, and child.

This idea of Buddha nature isn’t only a tenet of Eastern religion, philosophy, and psychology. It’s not only expounded by those with a background in Eastern methods, such as Thomas Merton.

This idea is all over the place in Western religious and psychological thought, in various disguises.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, an English Victorian poet and Jesuit priest, described our real, true selves as an “Immortal Diamond.”

Franciscan priest and prolific author Richard Rohr uses the term “True Self.”

Life coach and Harvard-trained sociologist Martha Beck talks about our Essential Self and our Core of Peace.

Psychologist James Hollis uses the terms “Self” (with a capital “S”) and “soul.”

Rumi says, “Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

Oh, phooey. Rumi’s Eastern.

Our armor, the clay covering our hearts of shining light, is not the problem. The problem is when we’re confused and we believe our clay coverings are WHO WE ARE, and we strive to protect that armor.

That armor, that clay, is useful. This part of ourselves, the inevitable accretion of daily living, is variously called our small “s” self, our false self, our social self, our ego, and I’m sure there are many more labels. This part of ourselves is necessary because it keeps us safe, sometimes, and it helps us be smart.

But it isn’t US. We suffer when we think that it is.

We suffer when we try to live our lives from our armored surfaces of clay, rather than from our luminous shiny good hearts.

We Shine Like the Sun

wabi sabi BuddhaThere was once a large ancient Buddha, made of clay and plaster, resting in an old temple in Sukotai, Thailand. Over time, this Buddha found its way to a minor temple in Bangkok, but it was so big it was housed in a shed covered only by a tin roof. Eventually, a larger building was constructed to house this Buddha. When the Buddha was being moved to its new home, the plaster cracked. Inside the plaster and clay, which had covered the Buddha for centuries, the people found a statue of solid gold. Speculation is that during the time of war with neighboring Burma, monks covered the gold Buddha with clay to protect it.

Over time, the people forgot that their Buddha was in fact made of gold.

Jack Kornfield tells this story in The Wise Heart, his book about Buddhist psychology. He uses the story of the clay Buddha that’s discovered to be precious gold to illustrate this core idea of “Buddha nature.” He says, “The monks believe that this shining work of art had been covered in plaster and clay to protect it during times of conflict and unrest. In much the same way, each of us has encountered threatening situations that lead us to cover our innate nobility. Just as the people of Sokutai had forgotten about the golden Buddha, we too have forgotten our essential nature. Much of the time we operate from the protective layer. The primary aim of Buddhist psychology is to help us see beneath this armoring and bring out our original goodness, called our Buddha nature.”

Dr. Kornfield refers to American monk and mystic Thomas Merton’s experience, one ordinary March day in 1958, as an example of a Western mind experiencing Buddha nature. In Merton’s words: “Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in the eyes of the Divine. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed …. I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other….

There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

I notice that Merton takes many words to describe what Buddhists can do in two. This Buddhist starting point and core belief – humans are fundamentally good and shiny – is a radical, revelatory experience for Merton.

I disagree with Thomas Merton. I want us to go around telling each other that we’re shining like the sun. Let’s treat ourselves and each other like the light- and life-filled beings we are.

Journaling is a Revolutionary Act: 10 Ways to Journal

Found on @IHAVECAT

Found on @IHAVECAT, Tamar Aslanian’s blog

I owe Donald Trump a debt of gratitude.

Sisters, after the events of the last week, I understand that journaling is so much more than a feel-good activity. Journaling is an act of revolution.

My original intro to this post was blah blah blah – journaling is good for you and here’s why… The fall is such a perfect time to journal, what with cool days and long nights and evenings by the fireside… Many studies (google “journaling and mental health”) support journaling’s positive effect on anxiety, depression, and other mental ailments…

All these things are true, and they’re way less relevant than this: We must know how beautiful, precious, and priceless we are. We must know how freaking IMPORTANT and NECESSARY we are, so we can more powerfully express and defend ourselves.

I believe it’s imperative that we find our voice. We must know what we think, feel, and want in order to stand up and resist the sorts of all-too-prevalent attitudes we saw on such glaring display in Trump’s “pussy” video. Journaling is, for many of us, a valuable tool in our self-knowledge tool kit.

Our knowledge of our belovedness gets obscured by our culture, our families, our schools, and even our churches. Uncovering our essential, true, deeply loved core and living from that part of us is what the world needs. Our world craves our honest, passionate, whole, beautiful voices. Our clearly-articulated love, for ourselves and for all of creation, will heal.

One caveat: journaling is NOT helpful when we use our journal to beat ourselves up. If you’re doing this, please stop. And maybe try one of these suggestions…

Here are ten forms your journaling could take. There are so many others. If journaling makes you crazy or bores you silly, perhaps one of these will be a vehicle for knowing yourself more fully.

  1. A happiness journal. Shawn Achor, a Harvard happiness researcher, recommends five simple actions that build happiness over time:
  • List three things you’re grateful for every day. Three NEW things every day.
  • Journal for two minutes about a positive experience. (This practice rewires your brain for happiness. Our brains are hard-wired to notice the negative things, so intentionally noticing the positive builds new neural pathways.)
  • Meditate for as little as two minutes daily. Meditation will help you learn to direct your attention where it’s most helpful.
  • Perform one random act of kindness daily. Write down what you did.
  • Exercise

(I found Shawn’s research in Jeff Olson’s The Slight Edge.)


  1. A nature journal. You can go easy by simply noting the weather and one or two observations. You can go hardcore, too. One of my favorite nature journaling resources is Irene Brady’s Illustrating Nature. She also has many useful blog posts about drawing and sketching nature.


  1. A sensory journal. Note at least one thing daily that you saw, heard, tasted, touched, and smelled. This is a great way to gently get in touch with your body, if you’ve lost yours. Add on number 4 to go deeper.


  1. A body journal. Four or more times during the day (set an alarm on your phone to remind yourself), take five minutes and check in with your body. Put your feet flat on the floor and take three deep breaths. Ask yourself these questions: What am I feeling emotionally? What sensations do I feel in my body? What are these emotions and sensations telling me? Can I simply allow them? We’re not trying to fix anything, we’re just noticing. After a few days, you should have a fairly good sense of what your baseline is. Body journaling is an effective way to get ahold of what you might want to bring to coaching. If you want to get fancy, note your exercise patterns and your cravings. See number 8 if you want to take this further.


  1. A morning pages journal. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, recommends morning pages as a way to skim off the surface ramblings of your mind in order to get to the good stuff below. (Julia recommends three pages. Three pages takes me way too long, so I usually just write for 20 minutes as fast as I can, which is usually around two pages. Do what works for you.)


  1. An art journal. This can be especially useful if you’re more comfortable with words, because keeping a visual journal will help you access your right-brained intuitive non-linear wisdom. I love Daisy Yellow for instruction and inspiration.


  1. A “Pray Rain” Journal. I learned about this from Martha Beck, who learned about it from Jeannette Maw. Jeannette’s language is a little too “Law of Attraction” for my comfort, but the way Martha talks about it makes sense to me. Basically what you do is write an entry in the journal that describes your life as you want it to be. Think really big here. Shoot for the moon. I’ve used this tool to uncover what I really wanted underneath the scar tissue and the social conditioning. It’s powerful, people. And knowing what we want is the first step to actually getting it, right?


  1. A thoughts journal. Complete one awareness-wheel daily, then do inquiry on one thought that you identified using Byron Katie’s method she calls simply The Work. Call me and I’ll walk you through this, with pleasure and for free.


  1. A prayer journal. Write down the people and the needs you’re holding in prayer. This is useful for me because I always forget who it was in Facebook groups asking to be held in light, or for good vibes, or healing juju. (These are all alternative ways to ask for prayer, IMHO.) I also note my flesh and blood friends and relations whom I’m carrying in my heart, and for what. Life gets complicated and I want to remember.


  1. A Lectio Divina Journal. Use the four steps of Lectio (I go into depth about Lectio in this blog post) to meditate on a bible passage, a poem, a photo, a natural object, a memory, etc. Write down what you hear.


I don’t do all of these all the time. (Who has many hours each day to do every one of these? I don’t.) My journal is a mish-mash of all of these. I also have several journals going at once – a small notebook in my bag, a larger notebook in my backpack, and the biggest unlined sketchbook one next to my morning sit spot. And different types of journaling meet different needs and are appropriate for different seasons of life.

What’s your journaling practice? Which of these suggestions appeal? What journal type would you add to this list?



The Northern Hemisphere’s Jazz Funeral

"Let the dead things go."

I was 26 years old before I experienced my first fall.

My husband and I were newly arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he was starting seminary at the Episcopal Divinity School. I’d lived my entire life up to that point in Arizona. Fall for me, up until then, was random flashes of bright yellow aspen on mostly conifer-covered northern Arizona mountains.

Fall was threads of deep crimson maples in the alpine canyons surrounding low flat khaki-colored desert.

Fall was a solitary maple in front of the Tucson library, gloriously orange and red and gold for one week every year. I would walk out of my way just to look at that maple.

Clearly, I had no idea.

My first New England autumn amazed me. Fall in New England was an Arizona sunset at tree-level – crimson and gold and bronze, intensified and reflected in all that water everywhere. Fall was a sunset spread like frosting over the landscape.

New England’s fall was big and bold, brazen and boisterous.

Fall in New England was intoxicating.

Fall in New England was also confusing. It was so beautiful, and it was so clearly a dying.

I sort of wanted Fall to make up her mind: be breathtaking, or be sad. But not both.

Now, I more often understand that paradox is a hallmark of holiness, and I don’t try so hard to make things either this or that.

Christine Valters Paintner, of Abbey of the Arts, beautifully expresses this paradox:

“At the heart of autumn’s gifts are the twin energies of relinquishing and harvesting. It is a season of paradox that invites us to consider what we are called to release and surrender, and at the same time it invites us to gather in the harvest, to name and celebrate the fruits of the seeds we planted months ago. In holding these two in tension we are reminded that in our letting go we also find abundance.” 

Here are two poems for fall.


Another year gone, leaving everywhere
its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,

the uneaten fruits crumbling damply
in the shadows, unmattering back

from the particular island
of this summer, this NOW, that now is nowhere

except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle

of unobservable mysteries – roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water. This

I try to remember when time’s measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn

flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay – how everything lives, shifting

from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.

~ Mary Oliver  (American Primitive)



Inside each of us, there’s continual autumn. Our leaves fall and are blown out

over the water. A crow sits in the blackened limbs and talks about what’s gone. Then

your generosity returns: spring, moisture, intelligence, the scent of hyacinth and rose

and cypress. Joseph is back! And if you don’t feel in yourself the freshness of

Joseph, be Jacob! Weep and then smile. Don’t pretend to know something you haven’t experienced.

There’s a necessary dying, and then Jesus is breathing again.

Very little grows on jagged rock. Be ground. Be crumbled, so wildflowers will come up

where you are. You’ve been stony for too many years. Try something different.


~Rumi (Coleman Barks translation)

 May we be grateful for our gifts, die where we need to, and allow ourselves to be ground for next year’s wildflowers.

Self-Care Is Your Job, Part 4: Conflict

Episcopal coach and writerThis post on conflict has taken awhile because it’s so freaking huge for me. I’m really uncomfortable with conflict. In fact, I pretty much hate it.

Oh, well. Too bad for me.

Here’s why:

Learning how to handle conflict is an integral piece of growing up and taking care of ourselves instead of expecting others to take care of us.

Managing conflict well requires being willing to tolerate discomfort for the sake of growth.

Managing conflict well requires believing in our own self-worth.

Managing conflict well requires trusting in the essential goodness of others.

Like the other components of self-care we’ve been discussing, conflict management requires learning skills that most of us weren’t taught , and practicing skills that many people around us will find challenging and uncomfortable.

To recap.

  1. Self-care is our job because we’re holons – whole/parts that exist both as separate entities and as components of something greater than ourselves. We’re created to be who we are.
  1. Real self-care requires self-regard, self-knowledge, and self-compassion. We often settle for shallow imitations because giving ourselves what we really desire is so freaking scary. Truly caring for ourselves often looks and feels irrational, it’s labeled “selfish,” and it requires visibility and risk.
  1. So we require boundaries – knowing where we stop and others start – taking care of our side of the street. Knowing the difference between my business, your business, and God’s business, as Byron Katie puts it.

And all of these new skills will inevitably lead to conflict.

As we develop new ways, we disrupt old ways. As we become more ourselves, don’t expect people around us to form a cheering section. Do expect what Martha Beck calls “change back attacks.”

When we define our edges and boundaries, when we are clear on our values and goals, we’ll have more conflict in our life. It’s inevitable.

I don’t know about you, but that’s not good news for me. As I mentioned, conflict scares me to death. In my family of origin, conflict often meant someone was going to get physically and/or emotionally hurt.

In my adult life that’s no longer true, yet the pattern remains.

Note: if conflict for you means that someone will get physically hurt, please get help. You’re in an abusive situation and you need help, right now.

Most likely what I’m dealing with when, as an adult, I feel scared of conflict is my lizard brain, the source of fight/flight/freeze responses to threat. What’s required to deal with these primitive, false brain responses is to activate my higher order thinking skills (HOTS).

We activate our HOTS by slowing down and noticing what we’re thinking, how we feel, and what we want. The best tools I know of to do this are mindfulness, the awareness wheel, and being clear on our values and goals.

We retrain our brain by choosing to tolerate discomfort for the sake of growth.

We retrain our brain by choosing to know the truth and to tell it, for the sake of authentic, intimate relationships.

Our cultural conditioning, our training to be nice, to be good girls, goes deep.

This will take time, so let’s start today to build the skills necessary to be happy and healthy.


This amazing little book by Rachel Alexandria called Woman Overboard: Six ways women avoid conflict and one way to live drama-free

Marshall Rosenberg’s work in nonviolent communication

Brene Brown’s work

And here’s the awareness wheel again. If you’d like me to talk you through an awareness wheel or two, please contact me. I’d be glad to assist.

I’d love to hear about your self-care journeys and practices in the comments!

Self-Care Is Your Job, part 3

Episcopal coach and writer“It turns out that the more intimate we are with what we want, the more self-aware we will be about how we spend our time.” –Elle Luna, The Crossroads of Should and Must

When we take ourselves seriously and really begin to care for ourselves, we become more ourselves.

When we become more ourselves, we recognize how to take care of ourselves better, and we become even more ourselves.

When we become even more ourselves, we can, with integrity, fully take our place as unique whole/parts (aka “holons”) in Creation’s mysterious cosmic building project.

As we become more intimate with what we yearn for and what brings us joy, we become less tolerant of making choices that waste our time.

As we become less tolerant of making choices that aren’t in alignment with our values and desires, as we begin to choose real self-care, two apparent problems arise:

  1. The ways we’ve been propping up other people become obvious, and we’ll need to stop because we’re no longer willing to treat ourselves badly and waste our time for the sake of someone else’s supposed welfare.
  2. The people around us will probably feel threatened by our choices. They will perceive our decisions as judgmental of them, and unloving. They will feel scared and will try to get us to stop. They will call us “selfish.”

This is where boundaries come in. Boundaries are simple, but not necessarily easy. Boundaries say, “This is me. That is you. I’m responsible for me. You’re responsible for you.”

Simple, but not automatically easy, because most of us, women especially, haven’t learned to set and keep good boundaries.

We’ve been taught that giving ourselves away is love.

That’s false.

What’s true is that we love better from a place of integrity. We love better from our intact, deep, strong, intentional hearts. We love better when we choose our “yes” and our “no.”

Boundaries aren’t selfish.

Boundaries are a gift we give ourselves, our families, our friends, and our world.

Boundaries allow us to love as only we can love.

And I’m firmly convinced that healthy boundaries and good self-care make Jesus happy.

Coming up: how to handle the inevitable conflicts that arise when we’re acting with integrity and self-love.

(Check out weeks one and two of this blog series on self-care for discussions about why self-care is your job, and how to tell fake self-care from the real thing.)