Exploring your roots – a sample Mandala Discovery prompt

Today, the doors open once again for Mandala Discovery: 30 Days of Mandala Journaling. Sign up now and you’ll receive a prompt every day for 30 days during the month of March.

This course is changing people’s lives. Nearly 200 people have been through the course since it opened in September 2013, and I have heard remarkable stories of how it has impacted people in positive ways. (Some of their testimonials are on the sales page.)

In honour of registration opening once again, below is a sample prompt. In case you’re curious, but do not quite understand what the course is all about, this will give you a sense of what you’d receive every day.

Each day is based on a different theme related to personal growth. This sample prompt is based on the them of “roots”.

31. card - root

Where Your Roots Grow

A couple of years ago, I had the privilege of participating in a healing circle for people who’d been impacted by residential schools in our country. This is a tragic chapter of Canada’s history in which Aboriginal children were taken from their families and placed in boarding schools where they were denied their own cultural practices and language, and many were physically and emotionally abused.

A few of the people in the circle had been students at residential schools, but more of them had been raised by parents who were forced to attend residential schools. And then there were those of us who didn’t have residential schools in our blood line, but knew that we were impacted nonetheless, because our community members were impacted and because we were raised as white Canadians with a colonial history. Some of our ancestors undoubtedly shared in the guilt of this injustice.

As we listened to the stories shared around the circle, it was clear that all of us carried both the wounds and the wounding of our ancestors. It was especially apparent in those who’d been raised with parents who’d been in residential schools. Some of them spoke of alcoholism, family abuse, cultural neglect, and other stories that clearly left deep wounds in their collective psyche.

Whatever our roots are – whether we were raised in a lineage of oppressed or oppressors, religious or agnostic, poverty or wealth – we all carry the stories of our ancestors with us.

Our roots reach much deeper into the soil of our family’s past than we ever fully understand. We are impacted by the history that happened in our bloodline long before we were conceived and born into this world.

Bethany Webster talks about the importance of healing the mother wound. “The mother wound is the pain of being a woman passed down through generations of women in patriarchal cultures. And it includes the dysfunctional coping mechanisms that are used to process that pain.”  The mother wound manifests itself in our lives as shame, comparison, the feeling that we need to stay small, allowing ourselves to be mistreated by others, and self-sabotage. If we do not heal it, she says, we continue to pass this wound down through the generations.

We must also consider the ways in which patriarchy has men. As Richard Rohr says, “After 20 years of working with men on retreats and rites of passage, in spiritual direction, and even in prison, it has sadly become clear to me how trapped the typical Western male feels. He is trapped inside, with almost no inner universe of deep meaning to heal him or guide him.” Men have to come to terms with their own wounds and often have little support to find healing for them.

These stories that we carry from our past – that we are not worthy, that we need to stay small, that we are not allowed to show emotion, that our cultures don’t have as much value as that of our colonizers, or that we are not allowed to do anything that goes against our religion for fear of hell – they are the soil in which our roots grow. If that soil is not fertile and nurturing, our growth is impaired and we never reach our full potential.

Imagine, though, that through an alchemical process, these stories can be healed and transformed and can become the fertile soil we need for healthy growth. Imagine that they can provide rich fertilizer to feed our roots and make our branches grow and our fruit to be plump and sweet.

We can transform these stories. They do not need to keep us small. They do not need to hold us back from what we can become.

Through much inner work – whether that looks like therapy, journaling, dance, meditation, mandala-making, or any other form of self-discovery and healing – we can cultivate those stories and stir them like a compost heap until they become the richest of fertilizer. This is not easy work, and it is not short-term work, but it is necessary work. The world needs us to heal and the world needs us to grow strong and true.

After reading the article by Bethany Webster, about the need to heal the Mother Wound, I wrote a letter to my mom. She died last year, so she won’t read it on this earth, but I still felt like there were some things I needed to say to her. I acknowledged the way that she had been wounded (by losing her mother when she was six, for example) and forgave her for the way that those wounds were passed on to me. I thanked her for the love she poured on me and my siblings despite the deep wounds she carried. Writing the letter felt significant – like I had begun to heal something for both myself and for her. There is more work to do, but every step toward healing is a step in the right direction.

Consider what Charles Eisenstein says about how our healing can contribute to the world’s healing (in “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible”):

“When I see how my friend R. has, in the face of near-impossible odds, so profoundly healed from being abused as a child, I think, ‘If she can heal, it means that millions like her can too; and her healing smooths the path for them.’

“Sometimes I take it even a step further. One time at a men’s retreat one of the participants showed us burn scars on his penis, the result of cigarette burns administered by a foster parent when he was five years old to punish him. The man was going through a powerful process of release and forgiveness. In a flash, I perceived that his reason for being here on Earth was to receive and heal from this wound, as an act of world-changing service to us all. I said to him, ‘J., if you accomplish nothing else this lifetime but to heal from this, you will have done the world a great service.’ The truth of that was palpable to all present.”

Eisenstein goes on to talk about scientific research into “morphic resonance” in nature – the concept that once something happens somewhere, it induces the same thing to happen elsewhere. Some substances, for example, are reliably liquid for many years until suddenly, around the world, they begin to crystallize. It is not clear why it happens, when these substance are not in contact with each other or exposed to the same environment, but it seems that a change to one begins to result in changes to others. In the same way, he says, the healing of one person can lead to the healing of others, even if those people never meet.

Transforming your stories into rich soil so that you can grow strong is necessary not only for you, but for the world.

Your Roots Mandala

Imagine you are a tree, firmly rooted in the stories of your past. Some of these stories are conscious for you (memories from childhood) and some are less conscious but you are impacted by them nonetheless.

Begin by drawing a large circle. In the centre of the circle, draw a small circle that represents the trunk of a tree. Reaching out from that trunk into the fertile soil around it, draw the roots of that tree. (Imagine you are looking down on the tree from above and can only see that part of the tree that is underground, not the branches or leaves.)

31. roots mandalaBetween the roots, write down stories that are part of your past. Start with the stories that you know have impacted you and your growth in both positive and negative ways. Your religious upbringing, your father’s temper, your mother’s insecurity, your grandmother’s way of making you feel special, your birth order, your childhood abuse, etc. Do not censor yourself – if a story shows up, there’s a good chance it had an impact on you whether or not you recognize it. (There is no right or wrong way to do this – your stories are your own and you know what matters to you.)

Reach further back. What are the stories that impacted your lineage before you were born? Your family’s displacement from the country they called home, your grandmother’s abusive marriage, your ancestors’ connection to colonialism or oppression, your grandfather’s death when your mother was small.

Write them all down. Some of them may bring up pain, and some may bring up positive memories. Some may have a clear impact on your life, and some you may not fully understand until a much later date. They are all part of your narrative and they are all part of the soil in which your roots dig for nourishment.

With a black pencil crayon, shade over the stories you have written, imagining that all of them are now becoming part of the compost that helps you grow. Whether good or bad, those stories are your soil.

Note: This exercise may bring up a lot of mixed emotions for you. It may feel like a little bit of healing, or it may feel like you’ve opened a wound that is still raw. That’s all part of the healing process. Sit with whatever comes up and do not try to suppress it. If you need to, do some further journaling to explore what came up, or find someone you trust that you can talk to about this.

You can find a downloadable pdf of this lesson here.

Did you find this useful? Consider signing up for the March 2014 offering of Mandala Discovery: 30 Days of Mandala Journaling. You’ll get 30 more like this.

How to stop the spiral of self-doubt

You fail at something, your work is rejected, or you second-guess what once had value and suddenly you find yourself spiraling into a dark chasm of self-doubt. 

It starts with a critique of one project (“this is no good”), and before you know it, you question everything you ever created (“nothing I create is any good”). From there it’s a slippery slope into a dark hole of self-loathing (“I am no good”).

It’s all about the stories we tell ourselves. When the self-doubt spiral takes hold, instead of reminding ourselves of the learning and successes that have emerged out of past failures, we dig up all of the stories that point to our overall lack of worth. Like carrying stones around in our backpack that weigh us down and keep us from completing our journey, we drag around a lot of old stories that no longer have any value.

It started happening to me just last night. I’ve been trying to put the finishing touches on my memoir. I finished it a year and a half ago, but every time I try to do a final edit, something big changes and I end up feeling like there are still far too many loose ends. It’s been a great source of frustration, and I’m now at the point where I’m considering abandoning it all together and chalking it up to a meaningful process for my own value rather than a product I need to share.

As I sat there staring at 185 pages of hard work that might never come to anything,  stories of “I don’t know how to finish this” became stories of “I seriously doubt whether this has any value and is worth publishing” and “I don’t know how to write a book” and “I’m really not a great writer anyway, so why should I bother?”

We ALL suffer from self-doubt now and then. When we’re in the spiral, we convince ourselves that everyone else has it easier, but that’s simply not true.

The people you most admire all have self-doubt too. Their success is not because they never doubt themselves, but because they’ve learned to work through it rather than get stuck in it.  

What can you do when the self-doubt spiral threatens you?

1. Get into your body. The self-doubt spiral is the function of an over-active brain – a brain that is far too often driven by the ego. The ego’s job is to protect you from harm and to make you look good at all costs. Failure doesn’t sit well with the ego, so it will do whatever it can to convince you not to try again. Getting into your body (dance, run, walk, swim, etc.) helps the brain shut down the ego so that you can take a more honest look at where you’re at and focus on the stories that serve you better than those the ego keeps dragging up.

2. Go outside. Stand in front of a tree, lie in a field of grass, play in the snow, or dig in your garden. There’s something about being outside in nature that helps shut down the spiraling ego trap. Leaning on a tree that has been through the seasonal cycles of growth, harvest, and dormancy and then keeps showing up the next time Spring nudges it into growth, reminds us of our place in creation and our own strength to keep showing up the next time growth is required of us.

3. Help someone. Step away from the project that’s failing and go help someone else with their project for awhile. Or bring soup to a friend who’s sick. Showing up for other people helps shift us out of the self-centeredness of our failure stories. When you have a sense that we are all in this together and the community benefits from everyone’s best efforts, you’ll have renewed courage to carry on with offering the gifts that can benefit the world. Your community needs you and letting your own failure get in the way of that doesn’t serve anyone.

4. Develop simple rituals for halting the ego stories in their tracks. As the stories come up, write them on slips of paper and burn or bury them. Or write them on leaves and let them float down the river. Or create a shoebox home for your ego where the stories can be kept without getting in your way. You might even want to craft an ego creature out of clay and each time you sense your ego is trying to get in your way, have a conversation with it, or feed it your failure stories and then tuck it away while you go on with what needs to be done. Rituals help us find closure and they mark the passage into a new way of thinking.

5. Recycle your stories. When you have a beverage container that no longer serves a purpose, you recycle it so that it can be made into something else of value. Do the same with your stories. Turn them into something with value. Here’s a simple mandala exercise for that purpose:

spiral of self-doubt1. Write down the stories that make up your spiral of self-doubt. Write them in a spiral freehand, or use this online tool to reconfigure text into a spiral.

2. Cut the spiral. Enjoy the fact that it’s already looking prettier than those stories in your head.

3. Cut the words apart. (It’s quite therapeutic to cut a sentence like “I am a failure” into separate words that no longer carry as much baggage.)

4. Prepare a colourful mandala in whatever way you choose. (I wanted to stick with the spiral shape, so I used that as my basis for colouring.)

5. Re-arrange the words into new stories – ones that uplift and delight you.

6-8. Keep going, arranging the words until you have a spiral of hope instead of a spiral of self-doubt.

9. Sit back and enjoy your new creation. And then carry on in your work, with hope and resilience instead of self-doubt and fear.

They’re just stories. The words can be re-arranged to make new stories.

Note: If you enjoyed this exercise, you can find 30 more like it at Mandala Discovery

Reflection: A Mandala Journal Prompt to help you end 2013 well

ReflectionsI’ve just opened registration for Mandala Discovery for the January 2014 session. In the lead-up to that, I’m going to offer a few prompts here on the blog that will help you in this transition time between one year and the next.

The first mandala is a reflection on 2013.

We can’t control the past, nor is it healthy to let it control us. Growth pulls us forward into the future, and if we cling too tightly to the baggage of the past, the weight of it keeps us trapped.

That being said… the past has much to teach us, and the most healthy way to honour the past is to reflect on it, ask what it wishes to teach us, and then choose the stories we wish to carry forward.

As you reflect on 2013, ask yourself a few questions:
– What do I need to learn from 2013?
– What do I wish to release as I move forward into 2014?
– What has been offered to me as gifts this year?
– What struggles have served as my teachers?
– What am I grateful for?

To begin your reflection mandala, draw a large circle, with a smaller circle in the centre. In the small circle at the centre, write “Reflections on 2013”.

Divide the large circle into 4 quadrants.

Choose four words or phrases that will help you reflect on what the past year has been. The words “Grace, Gratitude, Growth, and Grief” worked well for me, because they helped me focus on the struggles and the joy, the learning and the gifts. The four words should have some balance to them, reflecting the positives and the negatives, the shadows and the light. Another suggestion might be the phrases “What made me happy, what made me sad, what stretched me, and what I succeeded in”.

Write one of those words or phrases in each of the quadrants. These four quadrants help you see the year as one of balance. Often we get stuck in a certain story for the year. For example, I spent a lot of time in grief this year, having lost my mom just before the end of 2012. I can get lost in that grief and assume that it is the only story of the year, or I can choose to see the grace, gratitude and growth that are also part of the story. That doesn’t diminish the grief or brush it aside, but it gives me hope and purpose that helps me move forward.

Starting in one of the quadrants, write one sentence or phrase that represents how that theme showed up for you in 2013. Turn the page and write one in the next, and so on. Writing one at a time in each quadrant rather than filling each quadrant before moving to the next helps you move through the cycles of emotions and not get stuck in one space. (You could also do this as a collage exercise, finding images that represent each of the quadrants.)

You may find that one story shows up in multiple quadrants. For example, my husband had a heart attack in 2013, and that showed up in my grief quadrant, but the fact that he is still alive showed up in my gratitude quadrant.

After you have filled all of the quadrants, spend some quiet contemplative time colouring the space, honouring the stories that filled your year, and releasing them as you step forward into 2014. You may wish to spend time in meditation or prayer, reflecting on the year and being intentional about what you wish to carry forward.

This exercise is now part of A Soulful Year: a mandala workbook for ending one year and welcoming another.

Bringing the mandala into your journey of personal growth

I saw the wisdom in her eyes. She’d lived nearly 70 years on this earth and had walked with grace through a lot of pain and growth and self-discovery. As her coach, I wasn’t sure what I could offer her. I often wonder that when I see the wisdom in the eyes of my clients, and yet I show up and ask the questions, and somehow they always end up taking a step even deeper into their True Selves. It’s a beautiful thing to serve as witness, storycatcher, and guide.

She had just shared the story of a middle-of-the-night breakthrough in which she’d realized that she was still carrying a burden of anger with her. She was seeking clarity about what the anger was about. Was she still angry at her husband who’d died a few years earlier? God? Herself? She wasn’t sure.

At the end of the session, in which her own storytelling helped her find some of the clarity she was seeking, she looked over at the mandala journals beside me. “What are those?” she asked. “These are my mandala journals,” I said. “When clients are interested, I offer them some mandala-journaling processes that help them work through some of the questions sitting on their hearts.”

Her eyes lit up. “Tell me about them.” And so I did. I found the ones that I thought might help her peel back the layers of the question she was sitting with, and walked her through the simple instructions. “Sometimes,” I said, “when we’re stuck inside something so deep that we don’t have words to help us unpack it, a mandala can help us find a path through.”

mandala - deeper source“When we simply use words in our journals, we can get stuck in left-brain thinking. We try to use logic and reason to work our way through our questions. The deeper soul questions don’t respond well to logic and reason. They need to be invited into a different space – a deeper space in the heart where intuition, creativity, and spirituality rest.”

“A mandala is such a space. In invites you deeper into your intuitive heart. It serves as an invitation for those questions so deep and shapeless you don’t have words to define them.”

When I looked at her again, I saw something new in her eyes – softening, understanding, and gratitude. Something had shifted. Something in her heart had opened up. “Thank you,” she said softly. “Thank you for giving me this tool. I think you’ve just gifted me with exactly what I need.”

A week later, a mutual acquaintance emailed me to say she’d seen my client in the neighbourhood. “She looked lighter than I’ve seen her look in years. Something has been lifted off of her shoulders.”

I didn’t take that woman’s weight off her shoulders. She found the path through her own anger to a place of lightness. I simply asked the questions and gave her some tools to help her on the journey.

That look in her eyes, however, served as a catalyst for me. (It’s almost always the case that I gain as much from my coaching clients as they gain from me.) I’d almost forgotten the value of mandala journaling, until she reminded me what a powerful tool it can be. I’d let it slip in my priorities, under the other work I was doing, but suddenly I knew that I had to bring it back into my primary work. I needed to make it available to other people seeking paths through their pain, anger, inertia, grief, fear, stuckness, growth, etc.

I dove back into it, and before long, I’d created the foundation for Mandala Discovery: 30 Days of Mandala Journaling. 

mandala - jung quoteIf you’re looking for a new tool that will help you entertain the questions in your heart, perhaps Mandala Journaling is for you.

This is not about art-making or technique (there are lots of other art journaling courses out there for that purpose). It’s about providing you with a simple tool for deeper self-discovery.

For only $45, you’ll get an introductory booklet about mandalas, a pdf that lists what kind of tools you might want to have on hand, one mandala journaling prompt every day for 30 days, and access to a private Facebook group where you can share your mandala journaling questions and insights.

Your soul questions are calling you. Why don’t you create a space where they can feel safe?

What’s at the centre of the labyrinth?

centre of the labyrinth

me at the centre, taken by Jo-Anne

The last time I went to the labyrinth, my friend Jo-Anne came with me. She’d never been before and was curious about what drew me so regularly to the park across the river.

At the centre of the labyrinth, there are two benches facing each other. After walking the path, I perched on one of the benches while Jo-Anne stood in the middle with her camera. As we chatted, I saw a look of delight cross her face.

“Have you ever noticed the echo when you stand in the centre?”she asked.

No, I hadn’t. I’d stood at the centre many times, but I was almost always alone and rarely said anything out loud.

“Stand right here,” she said. I joined her at the centre and started talking. Sure enough – the tiniest of echos reverberated from my voice, but only if I stood exactly in the centre.

Trained as a scientist, Jo-Anne was quick to figure out what was causing the echo – the combination of the slight bowl shape of the labyrinth and the benches.

More mystic than scientist, I prefer to think it’s a manifestation of the energy that’s available when you spiral closer to centre. Committing to the journey, trusting the path, you arrive at centre and the God of your understanding, the source of your energy, meets you there in the echo of your own voice.

The truth is, though, there’s nothing really mystical about the labyrinth itself. Pragmatically speaking, it’s just a circular, winding path that someone has lovingly built, filling in the in-between spaces with natural prairie plants (that Jo-Anne knows all the names for and I know only as “the one with wispy pink flowers”), and adding a few benches here and there for comfort. Anyone can build a labyrinth. My friend Diane has one in her back yard.

Yes, there is something sacred about the space, but the same can be said about any space. The easy chair you like to curl up in with your favourite book is sacred too. So is the driver’s seat of your car. Or the lawnchair you bring to your daughter’s soccer games. Or the little patch of garden you faithfully nurture. Sacred simply means that God is there, and… well, God is everywhere. We just have to open our senses and we will see/hear/touch/smell/taste God. (Fill in your own name for God, if you like.)

Jo-Anne is right – there’s a logical explanation for the echo. But that doesn’t mean that the next time I’m standing there I won’t speak words into the labyrinth, hear the echo returning to me, and know that God is there and that my words are imbued with power that I can take with me when I leave the labyrinth.

Sacred space is what we make of it. Sacred space is simply us bringing our open hearts to a place and letting that place be a vessel for Spirit to be in communion with us.

For me, labyrinths are especially sacred because the winding path, the meditation of putting one foot in front of another, the simple slow breathing as I walk, and then the pause at the centre help me move gently into an openness where God can speak. When I stand at the centre, it’s because I’ve been intentional about silencing the voices that get in the way of hearing the still small voice that reminds me of who I am.

I don’t need the echo, but it’s just one more way that God uses science to remind us of Her presence when we’re ready to pay attention.

If you’re curious about labyrinths, mandalas, and circles, join me on June 26th at 7 pm Central for a free call. (More info. in this post.) Register below.

Turning 46 and offering 10 mandala sessions for $46 each

It’s my birthday. I’m 46. There’s a very good chance I’ve passed the halfway point of my life. I think I may have just stepped over the crest of the proverbial hill.

But you know what? The view from here looks pretty spectacular! I can see lots of hills and valleys still ahead of me. And a lot of aimless afternoons spent wandering in the woods. A lot of late evenings lost in meaningful conversations with great people. A lot of adventures in unexplored places.  A lot of good books still to read. A lot of fascinating people still to meet. A lot of failures still to live through. A lot of triumphs to celebrate. A lot of disappointments. A lot of love.

Forty-six feels pretty darn good. Sitting here in the early hours of the morning while my family sleeps, I can tell you one thing for sure – I have never felt more content about who I am and what I’m offering the world than I feel right now. My forty-sixth year was full of a great deal of personal exploration and a fair bit of struggle, but it was all very good, because I feel more confident than ever about what I am called to do.

One of the things I am called to do is to help guide people on the path through chaos to creativity. That’s going to be the the tagline on my new website (that I’d hoped to unveil today, but decided I didn’t want to rush it). I’m excited about it because it feels like clarity and a little more focus.

I know a lot about chaos and a lot about creativity. I have been through both places on the journey many times, and I will visit those places many more times in this spiralling journey of life.

As I step into the next year of my life, I have more and more confidence that I am being called to serve as a guide in this journey. There are many people stuck in chaos who feel lost or frantic or frustrated. Maybe you’re one of them. Maybe you need someone to help you shift your perspective, to begin to see the chaos or brokenness or lostness as a valuable part of the journey. Or to begin to invite creativity into the shadowy places. That’s where I come in.

One of the tools I use to help examine the chaos and invite creativity into the space is the mandala. There are so many things we can learn when we sit down with paper, coloured markers, our intuitions, and our openness.

In honour of my 46th birthday, I’d like to offer 10 people the opportunity to have mandala sessions with me for $46 each. One time sessions are normally $100, so that’s less than half price. If you’re curious about them, read more here. (In case you’re wondering, these sessions are usually done over Skype or the phone, so you can do them from anywhere in the world.)

This is powerful, chaos-shifting work (that’s much bigger than me – I am simply a conduit) and I know that a lot of people will find value in it. One of my most fascinating experiences has been a series of sessions I did with Dr. Kay Vogt, a psychologist who found me through a listserv we’re both on. After a series of sessions and many mandalas, Kay experienced a profound shift in her life. Here’s what she said about the work we did together, “Our work together has been extremely powerful for me. As a professional doing something similar to what you do it takes a lot to impress me. I am very grateful for your mentoring. You have been a coach’s coach for me.”

In case the idea of mandalas scares you a bit, let me assure you of this – you need no artistic talent whatsoever to do this. This is not about making art. It makes no difference what your finished piece looks like.  It’s about using a creative tool to explore some of things that your right brain wants to discover that are sometimes buried under left brain logic. It’s simply a tool for deeper self-discovery that goes hand-in-hand with the heart-opening conversation we’ll have.

If this feels like something you’d value, book a session for $46 and let’s go on an exploration together.

Discounted price no longer available. You’re welcome to book one for the usual price of $100. 

Note: If you’re curious about the mandala at the top of the page, it’s my birthday mandala. I wanted to do something to represent 46 years of growth (there are 46 tendrils growing from the centre) and 46 years of being who I am (there are 46 words around the edge that represent what I love and value).

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