How deep are you ready to go?



“How do I know if I’ve gone deep enough?”

That was a question that came up during the Soulful Year virtual planning session on Saturday. It was asked in relation to an exercise that invites you to reflect on the grief, grace, gratitude and growth of the last year and then to release it so that you are ready to receive the year ahead. (You can find the exercise here.) The person asking it wanted to make sure she’d done a good enough job of processing what had happened in the past so that it wouldn’t get in the way of the future.

“Instead of asking ‘have I gone deep enough?’” I said, “ask yourself ‘have I gone as deep as I’m prepared to go right now?’”

“There will always be another layer,” I continued, “and perhaps when you’re working on another exercise this afternoon, something else will come up for you that you’ll want to add to this mandala. That’s okay. You can always go back. Just go as deep as you can right now and trust that, if there are more layers to uncover, those will come up at the right time.

Here’s a story to illustrate the point…

Last weekend, I was decluttering and re-organizing my laundry/storage/pantry room in the basement. It’s one of those catch-all places for everything that doesn’t fit in the rest of the house, so it holds a lot of clutter. I hadn’t thoroughly cleaned it in a long time, so there were storage bins in it that still held clothes that haven’t fit my daughters since the early part of the century.

By the end of a weekend of hard work, it was still pretty full, but everything fit on the shelves or under the stairs. I was satisfied that I’d gotten rid of everything I could. At the very least, there were no clothes left that don’t fit someone in the family.

A few days later, I was sitting at my computer trying to prepare material for an upcoming course and becoming increasingly frustrated with how stuck I was. Nothing was flowing and no new ideas were showing up. In exasperation, I pushed away from my computer and paced around the house.

Almost by accident, I found myself back in the laundry room staring at the shelves. I yanked a Christmas wreath off the shelf and realized I hadn’t hung it in ten years and probably never will again. I was tired of it. It spoke of another era when I loved to play with pine cones and hot glue. I stuffed it in a garbage bag. Then I started pulling storage bins from under the stairs. One of them was full of dried flowers. Another held a half-finished knitting project and bags of moccasin-making supplies. A third held a handful of other half-finished craft projects and the leftover supplies from a dozen finished projects that I might want to do again someday.

I’d hung onto them because “you never know when I might want to make another pair of moccasins or a dried flower arrangement”.

The truth is, though, I won’t ever make another pair of moccasins or dried flower arrangement. That’s just not my style. I get really interested in an art form, pour my heart into it, and then abandon it when something else catches my attention. In all of my nearly 50 years on the planet, I have never gone back.

The boxes are still there because I’ve been carrying around a story about myself that that is a weakness. I was convinced that some day I’d fix that part of me and become a better person who finishes every project and doesn’t lose interest in things that bore her. Suddenly, standing there staring at those boxes full of craft supplies and shame, I was ready to release that old story.

Here’s a new story… I like to explore. I like to try new things. I am a scanner who loses interest in what I’ve tried in the past because it no longer challenges me and I crave something new.

Giving up on craft projects because they bore me does not make me a bad person.

Finding delight in new ideas every six months does not mean that I’m fickle or wishy-washy.

It’s just who I am. And I don’t need to have a basement full of reminders of why I should be ashamed of that face, because I am NO LONGER ashamed of that fact.

I packed it all up and gave it all away. And suddenly I felt something physical shift in my body – like something had been blocking my airwaves and suddenly I could breathe again. And, as if I’d planned it, Jann Arden’s song started playing from the music player on the washing machine… “So I’m punching out walls and tearing down paper, cutting my bangs, yeah sooner than later, I’m selling my soul right back to Jesus, taking up hope and giving up weakness, untangling the strings… I’m free, yeah. I’m free.”

Here’s an important part of this story… Just like I didn’t need to be ashamed about those unfinished projects or old stories, I also don’t need to be ashamed of the fact that it took me so long to release them. I wasn’t ready until now. I went only as deep as I was prepared to go at the time, and then, when something coaxed me to take another look, I went deeper.

Go only as deep as you’re prepared to go right now. There will be time for going deeper at another time.

I’ve been inspired by a few of the participants in my Mandala Discovery program who signed up for the program a few years ago and have worked their way through the exercises three or four times since. Each time they do them, they gain something new and take their learning to a new depth. What showed up in the third or fourth pass couldn’t have showed up the first time through. They weren’t ready for it then.

Not long ago I had a conversation with a residential school survivor who testified at the Truth and Reconciliation hearings. “I told them about the physical abuse,” she said, “but I wasn’t ready to talk about the sexual abuse. Those stories will have to wait for another time when I’m ready to share them. They still feel too raw.” I was struck by her wisdom, trusting herself to know what felt safe to share and what needed more time in the tender places of her own heart.

This wisdom is true for personal growth, it’s true for interpersonal conflict, and it’s true for community-building. Whether you’re dealing with your own issues or wrestling through things with others, it’s important to pay attention to what level of depth feels right in each particular moment.  Sometimes it doesn’t feel safe to go any deeper, sometimes it’s just not the right timing or you don’t have time for the deep dive, or sometimes you haven’t found the right container that can hold the complexity of the depth you need to dive to.

Recently I was having a conversation with a colleague and we were talking about some upcoming training we want to offer in The Circle Way. We were contemplating whether to offer a two-day session or a deeper dive in five days. One of the questions we were asking ourselves was what depth we felt the potential participants might be ready to go and what depth of conversation they might be ready to hold. The Circle Way is one of those practices and containers that can offer value at a rudimentary level or can hold really complex stories, emotions, conflict, etc. at a much deeper level. Again, it depends of the level you’re prepared to go or the length of time you have for the dive.

It all comes back to the spiral. Again and again, whether it’s in our own personal growth or the growth of our communities, we spiral through the layers of what we need to learn, going deeper and deeper until we reach the core. Just like a path straight up a mountain would rob us of our oxygen, a straight path to the depths of our learning would strangle us.

If you’re ready to go deeper, to find the next level of the spiral, then find the right container that can handle the dive. A “container” can be offered by a trusted friend, a therapist, a coach, or a sharing circle – whatever person or group of people holds space for you and makes you feel safe enough for the dive. Or it can start with a set of tools and creative exercises like Mandala Discovery or The Spiral Path (in both cases you have access to a community of people who are working through the program at the same time).

Consider the container like the oxygen mask and wetsuit of a deep-sea diver – the deeper you go, the stronger your equipment needs to be.

When you’re ready, take the spiral path to your own growth. It will lead you through the layers at the speed that you’re ready to uncover them.

My lack-of-vision board

Every few months, I like to make a vision board. It’s my feminine, right-brained version of strategic planning. Instead of filling a page with boxes and goals and strategies, I fill it with images and words plucked from magazines that I feel drawn to and that my intuition tells me have something to do with the direction my heart is heading.

I haven’t made a vision board in a long time. One day in August, I sat with my mom in an oncologist’s office and heard the words “cancer spreading” and “six to twelve months to live”, and since then, my vision is too narrow for a vision board. The only thing I can see in my future is “fatherless, motherless daughter” and that’s hard to pluck from a magazine.

Since then, my focus and energy have been limited, at best. Not only am I dealing with grief, but I’m dealing with a pretty serious lack of paying work because I just don’t have what it takes to drum it up right now. I’m looking for part time work that will bring in some income while I deal with whatever the future holds.

Where’s the “vision” in all that? Pay the bills, feed the kids, sit with Mom, worry about money, drive the kids to where they need to go, visit Mom again… that’s about all I can muster these days.

This week, though, my friend Segun dropped off a bag of old maps, and suddenly I found myself missing my paints and scissors and Mod podge. Something about those old maps made me want to create again.

Tearing up old maps can feel surprisingly cathartic when there’s no roadmap for the journey you’re traveling along. I tore and I placed and I glued. I shredded roads and lined them up with wasteland. I tore up countries and provinces. I cut lakes in half. I destroyed international borders. I had no idea what was emerging, but it felt good to destroy and then to begin to create again.

After the page was full of torn map pieces, I turned to my stack of old magazines. Not a lot in them inspired me. I wasn’t dreaming of parties or feasts or published books or beautiful retreats. All of that felt foreign and far away.

Suddenly I realized that instead of making a “vision board”, I was making a “lack of vision board”. Something about that acknowledgement felt like a release. I didn’t have to find anything in the images. I didn’t need it to be anything. Maybe just tearing up map pieces was enough for now. Maybe it was the journey and not the destination that I needed.

I left it alone for awhile. I made a pot of soup and sat down to stare out the window while I ate.

Eventually, I came back to it, knowing I wanted to add something more. Paint? Images? I had no idea. I was listless and unfocused, the way I spend much of my time these days.

A few images and words caught my attention. Images related to being on a journey – a man feeding his donkey, a couple in a canoe, a woman on a bicycle, the path of a turtle returning to the sea, a woman carrying her basket on her head. And then there were several images related to the wild – elephants, a butterfly, an eagle, balanced rocks in the tundra. The words were similar – bleak, restless, and a little wild. “Foreigner in their own land.” “The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.” “Cry of the wild.” “Life-giving death.”

I glued the pieces on. They were sparse on my huge paper, but I didn’t feel like adding more. I didn’t feel like overlapping images the way I usually do. I didn’t want them to touch.

I grabbed my paint. There was too much clarity on the board – I needed it to be muddier. I started adding layers of ochre, orange, and brown – first a wash, then random brushstrokes.

Suddenly I realized that the brushstrokes weren’t random at all. I was creating a series of intertwining paths connecting the images and words. It was all about a journey, but this was no clear map-driven journey. It was random and chaotic, with detours and bumps and unexpected curves. A map to nowhere and everywhere, all at once.

To the paths, I added even more detours – spirals jutting out at random intervals – the pauses along the journey where one must take a deeper spiritual journey before returning to the path.

When the paths were finished, I added the words that came to me: “Pilgrim, there is no path. The path is made by walking.” (from a poem by Antonio Machado) And at the bottom, I added a note just for me. “Walk on.”

I am very fond of my lack-of-vision board. It speaks to me of surrender, trust, and pilgrimage. It tells me to stop trying to control things, to accept the detours when they show up, and to be willing to pause for nourishment and spiritual spiralling. It tells me to follow my wild heart and just keep walking. It lets me know that the detours are not mistakes. It doesn’t expect me to be perfect or focused or even strong. It just lets me be who and where I am right now.

I especially like that at the top left, where the paths seem to be heading, there’s a fierce beautiful eagle taking flight and heading into the light.

*  *  *  *  *  *

A Lack of Vision Board is one of the exercises you’ll find in Pathfinder: A Creative Journal for Finding your Way.

In honour of my new site, I’m offering a free call on circles, labyrinths, and mandalas

Thank you for visiting my new site! I’m excited to have you here.

It’s been an interesting journey that has brought me to this place – a spiraling journey that started out with my first blog, Fumbling for Words, which later morphed into my second blog, Sophia Leadership, when I started on my self-employment path. Finally I am here, at the site that bears my own name. It feels right, at this time, to be just me, beautiful, flawed, growing, emerging, good enough ME!

I believe that all of life is a spiraling journey – like a journey up a mountain that can not be a direct path, lest we move too quickly and sprain an ankle or get altitude sickness. Instead, we spiral round and round, often feeling like we’re back at the same place, but nonetheless getting closer and closer to our destination.

Hence the spiral that appears all over my new site design. We have much to learn from spirals.

We also have much to learn from circles, mandalas, and labyrinths. As I wrote on my “about” page:

Circles teach us how to gather – looking into each others’ eyes, sharing our gifts, leaning in, and supporting each other through change and growth.

Spirals teach us how to learn and how to live – going inward, seeking the source of our truth and our strength, and then going outward, serving the world with our gifts.

Heather Plett in the labyrinth

walking the labyrinth

Mandalas teach us how to engage our minds and our hearts – slowing down to the speed of contemplation, exploring our creativity, and trusting the intuitive truth that arises.

Labyrinths teach us how to journey through life – trusting the path, accepting the turns that take us in the wrong direction, and putting one foot in front of the other until we reach the centre.

If you’d like to learn more about circles, spirals, mandalas, and labyrinths, I welcome you to join my free 75 minute call on Tuesday, June 26th at 7:00 pm Central Daylight Time. Register below.

It will be an interactive call (in the spirit of the circle), so I hope that you will join us, but if you can’t, sign up anyway and I’ll send you the link to the recording once it’s done.

This is not a sales call. It’s a learning journey, and I welcome you to come with me as we explore the path.

Here are a few things you’ll get out of the call:

  • a basic understanding of circle and how it can inform the way we meet and engage in meaningful conversations
  • an exploration of how labyrinths and mandalas can deepen your journey and become valuable spiritual & creative practices
  • ideas that will help you engage your intuitive, right brain processes for increased clarity and creativity
  • lots of tips that will help you understand your own personal spiraling journey, including an exploration of the value of chaos
  • time to explore these ideas in a safe, non-judgemental environment

Thanks again for visiting! Take a look around, and let me know what you think of my new digs! One of the things you’ll notice, if you visit the “work with me” page is that I’ve decided to put my coaching work more front and centre. I’ve had some pretty powerful coaching opportunities lately, in which I’ve seen some beautiful transformations in my clients, on the path through chaos to creativity. It made me realize that this is a gift I need to be more intentional about sharing. If you’re looking for coaching, contact me and we’ll have an exploratory conversation.

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