Awake: The Sleeping Beauty Depth Perspective

I feel moved to write in more depth on my choice of practice name, as it feels important for the concept to be clear and accessible. The original intention was to invoke the underlying message of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, if the story is viewed from a depth perspective, wherein each character and element of the story is understood to be an aspect of one individual’s psyche. The deepest intention of my practice has been to help people with waking up, for lack of a better way to put it, their deep self, or their soul, sometimes (when appropriate), viewing their presenting concerns as doorways to get there. Modern mystic Andrew Harvey, in a Sounds True interview, surmised that most of us are “drowning in the comatic soup” of the culture, and feel impelled to turn off or numb the internal signals that something needs to change, or that we’d like to live a life that is more in alignment with who we really are.

I recently attended a workshop with therapist Jane Latimer, wherein she described the essential self (or Buddha nature, Atman, or whatever you want to call it) as a dot in the middle of a piece of paper, with the ego structure and ego defenses as a large circle extending around the dot. Much of our ego structure, and all of our ego defenses, were constructed as adaptations to the world we found ourselves inhabiting as children. Since we relied on others for our survival, we found ways of being in the world that were most conducive to getting our needs met and being pleasing to others in that early environment. This does not just include family of origin (and that is a huge topic, about which I will just say that parents tend to do their best with what they have and know at the time), but it also includes teachers and other, broader societal systems. When the early environment is traumatic, the journey towards finding our inner stability, clarity and calm can feel even more daunting, as the most painful self-concepts and defenses tend to cluster around the middle of this circular map, sort of as the last dragons to be calmed before getting into the inner sanctum, or getting into the tower of the sleeping beauty, if you will 😉

Often, these very unhelpful adaptations, or ego defenses, are the impetus to seek therapy, or to go on other journeys to find a way towards wholeness and peace. In this way, trauma (big trauma, or small trauma) in early life or later life, can be an invitation to go on this journey. I noticed, as Jane was speaking, that what she was describing reminded me of one of the many mandalas that Carl Jung drew in The Red Book, or the older mandalas (from which Jung drew inspiration) that can be found in so many mystical traditions throughout the world. Here is an example, taken from Jung’s Dreams:

And another one, from the same book:

I realized, that if we view Sleeping Beauty’s castle from above, it is a similar image:

Forgive the slipshod rendering! My intention was to emphasize the fact that, in the original fairy tale, the tower is surrounded by thick layers of thorn and bramble, and anyone intending to get inside has to find a way to cross through this challenging terrain. Think of that aspect of yourself, the “prince,” if you will, as the aspect of psyche that intends to commit to health and life; the aspect of psyche that decides if would be a good idea, for example, to seek therapy. It is trying to get to the center, just as the prince, in the fairy tale, is intent on rescuing the princess from her imprisonment in a perpetual sleep. One of my favorite things that Jane said during her talk was that this essential self, at the center of the mandala, or at the top of the tower, however you want to view it, can never be damaged by trauma. It remains, with all of its innate gifts. The vestiges of trauma are what clog the way to this essential self, sometimes producing the illusion that this other, more whole self can never be reclaimed. But it can; it is inviolate.

This is what I have noticed in working with trauma. Often the gifts and charisms remain, in clear view, for others to behold, even with the vestiges of trauma still causing suffering in the carrier of those gifts and charisms. Everything that makes the traumatized person lovable is often still clearly, and obviously, there. It is just not obvious to the trauma survivor. Often, they are too caught up in their pain to be able to see themselves clearly.

We do not have to identify as trauma survivors for this map to be applicable. I believe it applies to all people, which is why its variants can be found in so many world cultures. Often, though, it is particularly applicable in the case of severe, or obvious trauma. All the old fairy tales originally acted as allegories, or maps, for helping us understand processes of psychological transformation. I hope this is a helpful map for any who stumble upon it, and an interesting insight into the name of my practice 🙂

Photo by Pixabay

Authentic Movement

This past Saturday (one of the first hot and sunny San Francisco days of the year), I had the pleasure of attending an Authentic Movement workshop at The Center, SF. First, I must say that The Center is an entirely magical space, dimly lit and semi-subterranean, with low, earth-colored tea tables, beautiful teas, soulful artwork and Holy Water, yes, Holy Water. Additionally, The Center includes a yoga and workshop studio, replete with altars in the corners, and ample space for . . . well, movement. I would like to add at this point that I am receiving no incentive for writing this. I am writing this from pure inspiration, the very best place from which to write.

I had signed myself up for an ‘Authentic Movement’ workshop with Maria Lentzou, MA. I did not know the first thing about Authentic Movement. Whatever it was, it sounded deeply embodied, and therefore, like something that would help me understand deep embodiment a bit better, in order to continue improving upon my lived knowledge and understanding of the somatic and embodiment work that I do with my clients, especially clients who experience any degree of dissociation from their bodies. But really, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Before we dove into the actual Authentic Movement practice, we sat in circle and introduced ourselves, and what brought us to the workshop, and then Maria explained a bit more about what Authentic Movement was, and what it was that we were about to do. As children, Authentic Movement comes naturally to us, Maria explained. As we are acculturated and learn to be good little students, we are told to sit still and pay attention. Don’t disrupt. Stop fidgeting. Eventually, we become (usually) well-behaved adults who sit still in our chair, and, more often than not, have a big crick that’s ready to crack out of our necks or our backs, or a big stretch that’s just begging to be lusciously had in our office chairs. Any time we welcome movement to our adult bodies, there is a huge somatic sensation of, “Oh my God, yes!!!!! We need this! Stretch it out!” It’s more than that, though. As we learn to quell the natural internal impulse towards movement, it’s as though the natural internal impulse itself is squelched, and on some level, we stop trusting our natural, internal, first impulse.

Maria explained that there would be a warmup (“Thank God,” I thought, “I am going to be eased into this by doing something with the group, something I’m supposed to do, something I’m being told to do.”) This seemed like an immense comfort because, well, pretty much all my life I had been told what to do. This is how it is for all of us. In school, the teacher tells you what to do in class. At work, your boss tells you what to do. In the yoga studio, the teacher tells you what to do. In this way, you are assured that you are never out of line, you are doing what you are “supposed to do,” and no one is going to form any impressions of you that you do not want them forming.

Then, Maria explained, after the warm up, well, we were going to close our eyes, and move. We were going to move in exactly the way we wanted to move, and we were going to find the internal impulse towards movement, even if this meant being still for a while until an impulse was found. It may well be the first time in a very long time that any of us would be not told what to do or not behaving in the way we believe we are supposed to behave. At this point, I got a little nervous. What had I gotten myself into? At the same time, I was glad to be there. It felt distinctly like the kind of discomfort, or foray outside of the comfort zone, which was actually going to be good and nourishing for me.

During the warmup, Maria guided us through all manner of movements, of all parts of the body, some of which required for me to depart from my movement and appearance ‘safe zone’ (i.e., my ego was starting to bring in messages like, “We are looking really silly right now,” and, “We don’t do this.”). I moved through the ego discomfort. Then came the Authentic Movement, welcomed in with the chime of a bell.

My eyes closed and I felt into the way that my body wanted to continue moving, no matter how “silly” those movements might look, no matter how anything those movements might look. This went on for a 20-minute interval during which time contorted, and I was lost inside the authenticity of my internal impulse. I began to trust my internal impulse, perhaps more than I ever had since childhood. At times I was dancing or shimmying, at other times, I was rocking on the ground, and at still other times, I moved slowly, like a kelp forest, or a person in congress with some invisible world. The movements lit my whole body up, to each fingertip and toe, so that my whole body participated in the practice, and I was fully alive all the way to every individual extremity.

I felt the urge to ascribe meaning to some of my movements. The other participants described their movements, during the integration conversation, in ways that made me think of specific animals. Had any specific animal come through in any of my movements, I wondered? At one point my arms had naturally gone into Artemis pose, one holding the intentional tautness of an invisible bow, and the other, extended straight out in the direction of an invisible arrow. We were encouraged to move towards a selection of art supplies at the end of the 20 minutes, as a continuation of the exercise, bringing our natural impulse into the way we worked the materials, with no concern for how it “looked”. I drew in the way a child would draw, boldly, with big strokes, and chaotic layers. I can see how this “unlearning” of how to be in the world would be invaluable to any artistic endeavor.

I came away from the workshop in an otherworldly calm, feeling assured that I would not be late for my next client session; I would find parking, I was sure of it. And in session, I went with my intrinsic impulses. It was one of the more intuitive, and confident sessions in a while. I realized that this Authentic Movement practice would not only make me a better therapist, but it would probably also make me a better artist, trusting of the natural impulse and the grander scheme to which the natural impulse is tuned. It would also make me more confident. Don’t we often constrict our natural impulses in conversation because on some level we have integrated the message that our natural impulse will be wrong? We choke ourselves up and silence our natural brilliance in this way. Also, I felt sure, this practice would make me calmer and more intuitive. And, as if this were not enough, it would make me much, much more emanantly embodied and present.

I noticed, during the integration conversation, that the other participants were expressing themselves in much more naturally embodied ways, using their arms and their whole bodies as natural extensions of their verbal communications. It was beautiful to see. I have always believed that this natural, somatic expressiveness that some people retain is beautiful to behold. And here it was, reawakened in the members of the group, each expressing themselves with natural grace and uniqueness. There was also a childlike energy in the room. The natural preciousness of each person seemed emanant.

I believe Authentic Movement deserves to make the same cultural splash that Yoga did when it was first introduced to the West. Whether or not it will, I cannot say. Go and try it for yourself, and let me know in the comments below what your experience has been 🙂

Photo by Elle Hughes

That is How We Know We Are Family: Because We Are All Broken

I will attempt to disclose next to nothing about myself in this blog series, though I feel moved to share the message from a woman in last night’s dream. She stood before her people, electric with the feeling of rallying together after centuries of oppression, and she shouted,
“Each of us is a branch broken from the Mother Tree and resown in the earth. That is how we know we are family: Because we are all broken.”

Pause. There are many ways to interpret this. The first way is reminiscent of a lyric from the Leonard Cohen song, Anthem: There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. We all share the original wound of separation, from our mothers, or from the Tree of Life, from some original state of unity. We all share this. It reminds me of a line from one of the ecstatic poems of the Sufi mystic poet, Rumi: ‘This longing you express is the return message.’ The grief you cry out from draws you toward union. Your pure sadness that wants help is the secret cup.” Or, the other Rumi line, The wound is the place where the light enters you.

Imagine this. Imagine that the part of you that hurts the most is the place where the light enters you; the place where you were broken off from the Tree of Life, the place that remembers unity the most. I do not mean to trivialize the particular kind of pain that any one reader may be in, I only mean to proffer this as a potentially redeeming idea, and as a radical shift in thinking about the parts of ourselves that we deem to be problematic, that we believe need to be fixed, or that we wish would just go away. Often our wounded parts function like splinter personalities, and are not amenable to shifting or healing in any manner until they are viewed, or the perspective is even slightly entertained, that in some way, they may be allies. Or that, in some way, they carry some important message or crucible for us. This may not always be the case, but I want to offer it in case it is a helpful idea.

Another way to interpret this is with reference to displacement, or dissociation from the land, the source of all life and nourishment. Nearly all of us, in modern times, suffer from some form of dissociation from the land. I believe we may not even be aware of how desperately we long to remember a feeling of home on the land, and intimacy with the land, and reverence for the land.

In pre-Christian Ireland, there were many stories that involved the Goddess of Sovereignty, in one form or another. She, in many ways, was one and the same as the land. Chieftains would undergo a ritual marriage to the land, or to the Goddess of Sovereignty, and it was said that there would be peace and prosperity in the land if She was honored, revered and heeded. If the chieftain chose to trump Her wishes and Her wisdom, there would be poverty and war, and the once fertile land would become a wasteland. You take care of the land, and it takes care of you in turn, right?

I believe we are dying for a remembrance of this sort: A remembrance of our heritage as denizens of the land, and also a remembrance of all the ways that we are much more alike, and connected, than we know.

Photo by Pixabay

Social Media Makes You Feel Inadequate? You’re Not Alone.

American novelist Anne Lamott once said, “Never compare your insides to everyone else’s outsides.” This is wonderful advice, if only it were always possible. It seems natural to compare our insides to other people’s outsides, because we have intimate knowledge of our insides: our foibles, embarrassments, moments of pain or vulnerability on any given day, and all the ways we are pretty certain we fall short, or are quite simply not enough. On the other hand, we may be certain we are “too” (fill in the blank), or even that we alone are uniquely, wretchedly cursed in one way or another. We may have private moments of being convinced of this. We may have never said it out loud.

Before the advent of social media, the contrast between this private mental theater of anguish and inadequacy on the one hand, and the appearance of other people ostensibly “having it together,” or being happy, or just having things magically happen for them somehow (all the things you hunger after but which seem somehow, magically unobtainable to you alone), was already painful enough. Social media allows these “others,” of whom our true, intimate knowledge might already be limited, to showcase only the highlight reel of their lives: the special accomplishments, the moments of joy, the travel, the touched-up beauty, anything that seems fabulous. So the already apparent external successes of others are now touched up, condensed and showcased, on an LCD screen. The human behind them remains unseen, and so, especially do their “insides,” or their own private, internal experience of themselves, the world, other people, and life in general.

The temptation is strong to view this material and to conclude that what is displayed on this profile really does sum up this other person’s life. It can be all too easy to caricaturize or oversimplify others, rather than to begin to try to fathom the vastness of the entity behind their eyes. If we conclude this (that what is presented here on this profile really encompasses the totality of this person and their life), the invitation to feel blaring pain and inadequacy extends itself to you with hooks and snares. The exact issues upon which we feel particular pain in our private lives will seem to jump out of the page. And we spiral into our “not enough,” “uniquely cursed,” or “just inadequate” story. We do so in a way that feels unique and alone. In fact, the alone-ness is punctuated by the fact that most people are not advertising (on social media, or elsewhere) the fact that they, too, are struggling in exactly the same area, or in some other area.

We come away feeling like there really must be something wrong with us for not having the same highlight reel. Indeed, there must be something wrong with us for feeling this way about not having the same highlight reel. Apparently no one else does (according to their social media profiles), right? Actually I would hazard the guess, with a great deal of confidence, that (blessedly) you would be wrong to think this. You are so much less alone than you imagine yourself to be with whatever it is that hurts, for you, when you look at social media. Also, feelings (about life, small things, or anything in between) that deviate from pure joy are totally normal. There is nothing wrong with you for feeling this way. In fact, I am going to do the therapist thing and tell you that it is valid for you to feel that way, based on the information you are getting, and the perception that that information helps you to construct. Maybe I can help you feel a little better by massaging and deconstructing that information, just a little bit (i.e., what you see on social media profiles are not the whole story of someone else’s life, and whatever it is that is a particular pain point for you, I can pretty much guarantee there are others with a similar pain point—- You’re not alone).

American Tibetan Buddhist, Pema Chodron, during a series of lectures, said (beautifully) that when you feel your inadequacy, you are touching the inadequacy of all beings. When you breathe into it and make space for it, it is powerful to imagine that this exact, poignant feeling signature is experienced by other beings, and has been experienced by them, since long before you were born. The same is true of other difficult emotions. They can be catalysts for expanding our compassion, because they give us a taste of what it really is to be human: what it is for you, and for me, and for all of us. You are not alone. More on the messiness and imperfection of the human experience to come 🙂

As a post-script to these thoughts: Isn’t it interesting the parts of ourselves and our lives that we select for showcasing on social media or for speaking about in conversation, especially schmoozing conversations or how’s-it-going conversations? It seems like we are all convinced that other people want to hear the highlight reel, or will like us more if we paint ourselves to be completely successful and happy, and hide or forgo the messy, painful or imperfect parts*. It seems to be more the case that people find us charming when we are honest. Why? Because in being honest, (e.g., “I’m actually really struggling with this,” or, “I feel pretty exhausted, to be honest with you. Don’t really want to go to this thing . . .”), we have just extended a tendril of genuine, vulnerable connection. Maybe, we have made the other feel less alone with their “insides”. I am fairly convinced that authenticity, honesty and vulnerability nurture our own mental and emotional health and connected-ness, and that of others. More to come 🙂

*I should add that it does bring me joy to see my family and friends genuinely happy, attaining long-held dreams, surrounded by love, creating beauty in their lives– My heart is right there with them, and it would be unbearable to see them suffering. I suppose the distinction here is subtle: We can want all the best for our loved ones, and still feel isolated or inadequate when and if we scroll through social media for much longer stretches of time than we would have ever planned, time that could have been spent talking to someone on the phone, or otherwise directly, really connecting. There is a sort of photo album or scrap book quality to social media at times, and this is beautiful. The photo albums and scrap books that people make can become like protected reliquaries of life’s most important events, and reminders of why we want to persevere. Eventually, they may be like archives for curious others, descendants or great great nieces and nephews. The internet perhaps does provide a better medium for this kind of archival preservation. I know that any record of the most incandescent moments of our lives will remain as unearthly treasures to those we leave behind at the end of this fierce journey. Please feel free to leave comments or feedback about this, or any other post. I want to ensure that my posts are always helpful to others, or helping to alleviate suffering in some way.

Why is it So Upsetting that Game of Thrones Ended? (A Depth Perspective)

In the wake of the ending of the nearly decade-long HBO phenomenon, Game of Thrones, many people are upset. It seems they are mostly upset for one (or both) of two reasons: 1) The final season could have been better or more believable (they contend); and/or 2) An eagerly anticipated yearly springtime event that spanned almost the last decade has now vanished from our lives.

I want to mostly attend to the second reason. Suffice it to say, with regards to the first reason, that a TV show with dragons in it is already, technically, not very “believable”. Something else seems to be at work here.

In a series of lectures regarding the power of myth, renowned professor of literature, and scholar of comparative mythology and comparative religion, Joseph Campbell, stated that we all need a living, guiding myth to be central in our lives, in one way or another. He conceded that, if you can imagine losing absolutely everything and everyone in your life, whatever it is that might give you the strength to persevere in the face of such meteoric loss, should give you some indication of your own personal, guiding myth.

Furthermore, Carl Jung, in his final work, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, wrote that we need for our myths to be living and evolving, i.e., not stagnant or ossified. The more our guiding myths evolve with the times, the more they seem intimately connected to all of us, maybe even in a way that indicates that we ourselves could have some kind of personal relationship with the mythopoetic realm.

I will tie this all together– just give me a moment. When the Lord of the Rings trilogy came out during my adolescence, I had a hunch that something curious was going on. I felt that the Western world (and all who are a part of it, or who are influenced by it, regardless of ancestry or ethnic identity) was longing for some kind of living, guiding myth. I had the same hunch when I first dipped my toes into hmmm, shall we say, the Narrow Sea. Many of the story threads which tie into the thicker story braid that makes up the TV series are rooted in either mythological tropes from Classical antiquity (or from other regions or epochs), or, more or less, in actual historical events or themes, again, from either Classical antiquity, or from some other era of human history. “All fantasy should have a firm base in reality” (Sir Max Beerbohm) — at least one interpretation of this quote certainly applies here.

From a depth perspective, this makes the series highly resonant, insofar as it makes use of some pretty potent themes within the collective unconscious. Jungian analyst Marion Woodman wrote in, The Pregnant Virgin: A Process of Psychological Transformation, that all artwork that makes use of archetypal symbols or themes is typically more resonant and powerful than artwork that does not do this, and it tends to exude a numinous quality, as powerful, disturbing, or important works of art ought to do. I know that not everyone in the art world would agree with this, and I respect that. I do not claim to know what art is. But for the sake of the task at hand, let’s consider that the TV series, Game of Thrones’ manipulation of powerful symbols contained within the collective unconscious made it a much more resonant story. Let’s just allow that (for the purposes of this thought experiment), or consider that it may be true.

One of the key features of living, guiding myths, is that they make use of these kinds of powerful symbols, tropes, or archetypes. In this way, they grab people at a deep level– a very deep level, if we are talking about a guiding myth, so deep, that it can even become the cornerstone of our ongoing survival in a time of devastating loss. For many people in the West, that guiding myth is Christianity. (I use the word “myth” here, not to offend Christians or their religion, or to make any ontological or historical claims about the stories contained within the tradition. Consider “guiding myth” here to mean the tradition, story, higher entity, practice, or combination of some or all of these.) Also, for many people in the West, that guiding myth is not Christianity. In many ways, for the last 2000 years in the West, with the exception of some mystics, or some who have been considered heretics, there has not been a living tradition or lineage wherein it was considered acceptable for an individual (God forbid, a woman) to have a personal, living relationship with the Christian lineage, in a way that possibly caused it to evolve, or that possibly shortened the communication lines between the individual and the transcendent. And yet, people long for this. I would argue that every single human being longs for some kind of personal relationship with some lineage, with the transcendent, or, at the very least, some acceptable channel or road to the ecstatic or to rapture. The modern West does not offer many acceptable, legal outlets for this deeply human impulse, except church (mostly). Church is deeply resonant, powerful, healing and beautiful for some people. For others, it feels like they are looking for something else, and they really, for the life of them, cannot figure out what.

Enter Game of Thrones (among other things, about which I’ll write later). An opportunity to engage, weekly (only around the time of the Spring Equinox) with characters, heroes, heroines and stories that grab us at a deep, mythopoetic level. Often, a feature of a guiding myth is not only that it grabs us at a mythopoetic level, but it also provides us with characters or archetypes to whom we might be able to relate (in some way), be deeply concerned about, or maybe even want to aspire to be like. These are key features of religious stories as well, and also of any effective epic, chronicle, or saga. Placing each new episode on a Sunday evening is also an interesting choice. People often engage with their guiding myth on a weekly basis, often in a rejuvenating way, that sets them up for the difficulties of the week ahead– Sunday, or the Sabbath, would be an effective time for that.

This is all pure conjecture, but I do wonder if people got upset about Game of Thrones ending because they lost a guiding myth, one that felt alive while the show was still unfolding and slowly revealing itself. Also, it’s sort of the end of an era, isn’t it? What will the 20s bring? And what will be the guiding myth that get us through them? What is your guiding myth?

The Curious World of Intuition in Psychotherapy Private Practice

One of the things I’ve noticed in the therapy world is that, whether you’re interviewing to work at a group practice, or you’re simply describing your therapeutic approach on your private practice ‘About’ page, people are looking for and want to know which evidence-based therapeutic modalities you are most competent in and in which you base most of your work. This is spectacular, because I believe that using evidence-based modalities (meaning, modalities that have been implemented in double blind clinical trials and have strongly demonstrated that they produce the intended outcome) is inseparable from operating ethically as a therapist. This is because people are coming to you for a certain kind of help, and it is your ethical duty to ensure that you know that what you are offering is not some kind of hocus pocus or charlatanry. Rather it is clinical help, backed by science, and state-of-the-art. State-of-the-art, and scientifically backed, are the only descriptors that I would ever want to apply to approaches that I implement in service to people who come to me looking for, and needing, help.

Having said that, I have noticed something a bit curious in the way that I work with people in my private practice. I have been trained in all of the classical therapeutic techniques like Motivational Interviewing, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) (which can work wonders for symptoms of depression, anxiety, or even panic attacks), and in some Control Mastery and Dialectical Behavior Therapy techniques. I also integrate into my approach everything I have learned from working with children and adolescents who have endured all kinds of trauma, and attachment loss, so that I bring a very dialed-in trauma and attachment lens to my work with people of all ages (think: Trauma-Focused CBT). So far, all of these things check out as far as the evidence-based approach officials are concerned.

Here’s where I differ, and here is what I have noticed: Each person who comes in to see me is bringing me a unique package of stories, feelings, concerns-of-the-moment and concerns of the past (as it relates to the moment) in each session. And instead of whipping out my CBT cookbook, as it were, and going through steps 1, 2, and 3, I find that I am completely in the flow in each moment of therapy, and I am fully present, tracking my clients as their unique process unfolds before me. Getting into this flow state in session (for lack of a better way to describe it), allows me to not impose a step 1, 2, 3 kind of approach, but rather to draw on my evidence-based therapy training intuitively, in real time, in the moment. I get a sense of which aspect of my training to draw on at each juncture of a given session in the same way that I would get an intuitive hit. For example, “Oh, okay, right here I just noticed some thoughts that we could unpack and question, from a CBT perspective,” or, “Okay, now I’m getting a sense of the attachment style, and a way to mention the attachment style I’m noticing gently and appropriately.” When I do this, the response I usually get is, “Yes!!!” or something to that effect. I have noticed that when I let go into this kind of intuitive flow in session, the sessions are more powerful and transformative.

I don’t think this makes me special. I think we are all deeply tuned in when we want to be. It does require a kind of letting go into the unknown, in each and every session. Why? Because I have no idea what any individual will bring to me on any particular occasion. There is no script for me to follow. Just a perfect, relaxed trust in the flow of the session, and the assisted unfolding process. I believe that this is probably what a lot of therapists do. On the other hand, having a script or a really clearly defined structure for the kind of “treatment” you are providing seems like a way to not exactly meet people where they are at, and to safely avoid letting go into the unknown of the moment-by-moment living process in the therapy room. I believe really good therapy truly does require a kind of letting go into the unknown on more than one level. On another level, it is not my role to bring people out of their subjective perspective and into mine. Rather, my role is to get into my client’s perspective, with them (as much as I possibly can), even if they are feeling like they are forty leagues under the sea. If that is the case, I get under the water with them, rather than offering encouraging words from up above. From there, we can join our perspectives and hopefully reach a new, somewhat more objective perspective together, one that expanded both of our previous, subjective worlds. We are both transformed.

It gets even more interesting. In my career, I have had the good fortune to meet and learn from other clinicians, therapists and healers who identify as empaths (this is sort of like being a highly sensitive person, with a bit more of an intuitive bent— these are the people who will say things like, “There was a feeling in the room and I’m not sure if it was my feeling or theirs.”). I have heard some of them say that it is normal to notice somatic sensations in therapy with certain individuals, and often the somatic sensation is located in the same part of the body, session after session. These sensations are valuable data. If they are noticed, in session, out loud, it often becomes a gateway into exploring something that has been in the room the entire time, and into hearing what it has to say. Beyond somatic sensations, I have heard another great therapist say that however another person is making you feel is usually a pretty good indication of how they themselves are feeling. Well, where do we usually notice feelings, if we really try to describe what that feeling feels like? Usually, in the body. Sometimes the feeling is really loud in the chest, or it can be in the solar plexus area, in the throat, sometimes it feels like it is in the forehead, sometimes it is a burning in the face or around the ears. When we notice it and try to describe it (maybe with a color, texture, location, shape, or other quality), bringing the light of awareness to it, it begins to shift immediately. It always has something to tell us. When it comes up in session, it usually does so for good reason. In my clinical work, I have noticed a unique somatic feeling signature, more pronounced with some individuals than with others, and I intend to get better and better at bringing this into the room.

I will continue to explore and write more about this. Until then, I want to offer to any other clinicians or healers reading this: Our field is based in healing work that dates much farther back than Sigmund Freud, and spans many other cultures, and it is a field that is continually evolving. Yes, mentioning the word “intuitive” in a job interview might get you looked at like you have snakes growing out of your head, but I dare say it won’t always be like this. Your sessions are more fun and transformative when you can let go into the unknown like this. You know what to do 🙂


The word, “awake” has a proto-Germanic root, “weg,” which means, “to be strong, lively.” “Weg” is also the root of the word, “witch”. That’s right: “awake” and “witch” share the same root. How is it that “strong and lively” comes to be associated with “witch”? Let me put it this way. When activist, author and entrepreneur Marianne Williamson spoke on women and religion at the 2015 Parliament of World’s Religions, she said, “. . .[W]e must remember that passionate, free-thinking women have never been deeply appreciated by the great religions of the world, because passionate, free-thinking women raise passionate, free-thinking children, and passionate, free-thinking children grow up to be passionate, free-thinking adults, and passionate-free-thinking adults are very difficult to manipulate, and almost impossible to control.” To my mind, the ranks of women characterized as “witch” (or “strong, lively”) and the ranks of passionate, free-thinking women, just may have overlapped quite often and to a great degree.

Throughout world cultures as we know them today, for reasons vaguely or very much in line with what Marianne said above, women’s voices are silenced. When a little girl or a woman displays any signs of being passionate, free-thinking or creative, she is silenced by the culture with particular ferocity. And this is because passionate, free-thinking women represent a threat to the fabric of the institutions upon which the the modern world as we know it has been built. Within these institutions, women are meant to stay in line and know their place, OR, if they want “a place at the table” with the men, they, in many ways, must stuff themselves into a man-suit, and deny or hide the uniqueness of their feminine cleverness and strengths. The world still does not know how to fully accept, embrace and welcome all that a woman is in her uniqueness and her fullness. And Lord knows, when you allow women to think for themselves, they will raise children who think for themselves, and well, we just can’t have that, can we?

I read ‘The Dance of the Dissident Daughter’ by Sue Monk Kidd several years ago at a turning point in my life. In it, she describes what she calls her “feminist spiritual awakening,” a sort of detoxification of the unhelpful institutions, values, and beliefs that cut her off from her own authentic knowing, from her body, and from her own unique spirituality. This awakening came to Kidd in a series of strange and serendipitous situations which caused her to suddenly see with what was at first painful clarity, the ways that she and her daughter were both disenfranchised, treated as though their bodies were public property, and inadvertently forced by political and religious institutions to disown their own wisdom and unique relationships to the transcendent, and their inner authority.

I believe this happens to all women on some level. There is a sadness that women feel, that is often difficult to understand. It seems, for women, being cut off from their own voices, wisdom and knowing is inextricable from a process of becoming dissociated from their bodies, and alienated from their instinctual nature, authenticity, and calling. Sometimes this process is experienced as mounting mental health symptoms of anxiety, panic, depression, dissociation, depersonalization and derealization.

I chose the word, “Awake” not to allude to some appropriated idea of enlightenment, or anything of that sort. It is my passion to help women find their own still, small voice, or the voice of their soul, or whatever you want to call it, and to honor that voice as the utmost sacred authority in their life. For women, this process is often very much tied to coming back into their body fully, and hearing the wisdom of their body, and to looking inwards with compassion. When a woman wakes up to this, she can reclaim her story and her life, and can carry herself with dignity and reverence. Women’s voices are needed on the planet today like never before, and I consider it part of my work to help women reclaim their voices and use their voices courageously.

There is a lot that goes into choosing the name of a business, including but not limited to doing google searches and vast database searches to ensure no one else is already operating a business under the same name. During that process, I stumbled upon a book, written by Dr. Tererai Trent, a woman from Zimbabwe who overcame seemingly insurmountable challenges to becoming educated, and eventually earning a PhD, after having been sold for the price of a cow to her abusive husband’s family and bearing five children by the age of 20. The book was called, ‘The Awakened Woman’. As it happens, Dr. Trent was recently interviewed on Sounds True by Tami Simon, and I listened to the interview this morning. Dr. Tererai Trent’s immense strength and unswerving commitment to her dream of earning a PhD, not just for herself, but to set an example for her daughters, and to be of service to the community, reminded me why I have chosen this work. When women step into their power, they become forces for good and healing and inspiration. When women look beyond the easy path that the world has laid out for them, and listen to what they know, what they know is possible for themselves and their communities, they become forces of grace, and they walk on the earth with loving feet.

I feel moved to include that it seems to me that the masculine and feminine energies, when in their healthy, wild, instinctual state, were meant to work together as partners, in the individual and in the world. I also love the wild masculine, and believe that it too, is essentially on life support in the culture, and I love and celebrate men who are doing the work of reclaiming their own true, wild nature. This could be a topic for another blog post. But on the individual level, this leads me to my final reason for choosing the word, “Awake”. Many of the old fairy tales were meant to serve as allegories, or teaching devices, for instructing us on the nature of various processes of psychological transformation, wherein each character represents a certain aspect of the psyche of one individual. I love the idea of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, if we think of it from this perspective. In this context, the woman who is awake is the woman who has found a way to wake herself up, from within, and with true love.

It is not always easy to stay awake. It takes practices, daily reminders. I will close with a poem, written by curandera Elena Avila, included in her book, ‘Woman Who Glows in the Dark,’ which I think illustrates this:

Woman Who Glows in the Dark

I woke up to my illusions,
And now I can’t sleep.

I have no desires,
and now I can’t eat . . . what you dish out to me.

I’ll stay awake forever if
I have to.

I live in the crack of an egg —
in the space between galaxies and earth mud. Along the thin borders   of enlightenment and darkness.

I saw through the smoky mirror, and my third eye winked at me!

Time is an illusion,
and eternity lives in the cracks of everything
that is dualized.

I like living
in the middle of
either/or; and gray is my color in black/white. I’m cozy in the nucleus of past/future and . . .

I am the ember seed in
  I am Woman who glows in the dark.

I’ll stay awake forever
                           if I have to.

                    -Elena Avila