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Burning brightly

Is it necessary to make a commitment to study and practice within one tradition? When I first started meditating, I was introduced by Burmese meditation master S.N. Goenka to the old adage, “If you want to find water, don’t dig many holes. Dig deep in one place.”

And recently in a discussion with philosopher Ken Wilber, when asked this question in the context of a discussion about the future of spirituality, Ken responded by quoting a Japanese saying, “Try to chase two rabbits at the same time, catch none.”

But is this universally true? In our contemporary context, is it necessary to commit to studying and practicing within a singular spiritual tradition if one wants to radically grow and transform? Although I see the value in this perspective and the depth of realization it can bring, I am not convinced.

As an interviewer, I have now met some highly accomplished and wise teachers whose life experience tells a different story. I have spoken with spiritual teachers who have not followed any formal path at all and whose hearts seem wildly open and whose lives seem truly devoted to serving other people. I’ve also interviewed teachers who have simultaneously studied in several different lineages and who actually recommend such an approach as an opportunity for checks and balances (so to speak) as one matures on the path.

Having now met people who come from such a wide range of different spiritual backgrounds and paths of practice, my current view is that it is not the path that matters as much as it is the heart fire of the individual. What I mean by heart fire is the commitment and intensity of love and devotion that lives at the center of our being. When our hearts are lit up to the max—lit up with a dedication to opening fully and offering our life energy for the well-being of other people—there is a torch within us that begins to blaze with warmth and generosity. The real question becomes not are we on the right path but are we fully sincere in offering ourselves to the world? Are we whole-hearted (a word I learned from meditation teacher Reggie Ray) in letting go of personal territory? Are we whole-hearted in our desire to burn brightly and serve, regardless of the outer form our lives might take?

What I like about turning the question around like this is that now our finger is not pointing outward at some consideration of path or tradition or what other people say or have done or are doing. Now our finger is pointing directly to the center of our own chest. We can ask ourselves questions like: Am I hiding or holding back for some reason? What am I holding back and why? What would it mean to risk more so that the fire of life could shine more brightly through me? How could I live in such a way, right now, so that my heart is 100 percent available to love and serve?

My experience is that when we start investigating our own whole-heartedness in this kind of way, we don’t have the same need to judge and evaluate other people and their paths. There are a multitude of options, valid and viable. What becomes important is the purity and strength of the fire that is blazing within us.

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Spiritual friendship

What if the leading energy in our lives were to be our heart and our heart’s cry? What if living a “spiritual life” was actually synonymous with living a “heart-centered life”? These are some of the questions I have been asking myself—and the answers have pushed me more and more into prioritizing what I am calling “spiritual friendship.” What is spiritual friendship to me? It is the genuine meeting of two people who are vulnerable and open and truth-telling and available for actual contact and communion at the feeling level.

For the past eight years, I have been working closely with a Hakomi therapist (Hakomi is a type of therapy that works with mindfulness in a body-centered way). One of the principles of Hakomi is that the interpersonal wounds we have experienced in our life (for example, early wounds from childhood in relationship to our parents … sound familiar?) can only be healed in relationship with others. What this means is that interpersonal challenges can’t be healed on the meditation cushion or in solitary retreat.

Wounds from relationship require the context of relationship for healing. This seems pretty obvious, huh? But as someone who has been a meditator now for almost three decades, this was not something that was obvious to me in the early stages of my journey. Somehow I thought I was going to open completely to the universe and all of its mystery without ever needing to relate closely and vulnerably with others.

What I am actually finding is that connecting with other people in a heart-centered way is not just about healing. It is actually the most rewarding and fulfilling part of my life. Period. There is something about being fully received by another person and fully receiving another person, without the need for any part to be edited or left out, that feels to me like the giving and receiving of the greatest soul nourishment that there is.

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Recently, I found myself in a room alone with a renowned scientist who specializes in the field of perception. We were at a conference and were sitting with each other in a room that had been set aside for presenters at the event. Finding ourselves alone in the room together, we both seemed a bit awkward at first. What would we talk about? I decided to bring up the topic of uncertainty as I knew that he taught quite a bit about uncertainty in the context of perception (for example, how we never know if what we are perceiving is the same as what someone else is perceiving, even when we are looking at the same thing).

Right at the beginning of what I feared would be an awkward conversation, this scientist said to me, “When you really start investigating how uncertain everything is, it’s enough to make you feel totally insane. There is only one thing that has kept me even the least bit sane, and that is loving relationships.” When he said this, I leaned over and said, “Would it be okay if I kissed you now?” He looked quite shocked. I gave him a big kiss on the cheek and said, “I never thought I would hear a scientist say such a thing. I have come to the same conclusion, but I thought that was just because I was some kind of a mushy-mush person.”

That moment in the green room was a moment for me of spiritual friendship, a moment of genuine connection where the heart breaks through any awkwardness or fear or holding back. I am finding those moments occurring more and more in my life, often in unexpected ways, and it is those types of moments that I hope will fill the Wake Up Festival from start to finish. We need each other so much. We need each other’s acceptance and reflection. We need each other’s unhurried presence. We need our love to break through. We need “community” in the sense of knowing that we are connected to others who are on a similar journey, where the vulnerability and tenderness of our hearts are leading the way.

The End of All-or-Nothing, Emergency Self-Care

What message are you giving to yourself when you wait until you’re in crisis before you begin caring for yourself? I used to be deeply entrenched in this pattern. I’d care for myself just enough so that I could be productive again and then get back to work until my next care emergency. I’d crash from striving and producing without a thought to my needs and then stop just long enough to treat myself just kindly enough to nurse myself back to health so that I could resume my breakneck speed.

Those days were exhilarating because even in my burnout I felt so purposeful, high on how good I was at pushing my needs aside to tackle whatever needed tackling. Exceptionally good in a crisis, I felt born for running myself into the ground and then picking up the pieces just enough to get back to work. Even as this pattern started to break down for me, I could feel my ego attachment to it. I was good at getting things done. I was good at helping others. I was good at putting everyone else’s needs ahead of my own. I was good. I was good. I was good.

The tricky thing about this pattern is that needs will get met one way or another. They don’t just vanish or disappear when you ignore them. They become rowdier and rowdier, nipping at your heels as you try to outrun them. Your body is infinitely wise and makes more noise as your ache for care compounds itself. When you ignore your needs long enough, you will be forced to prioritize yourself by circumstance, illness, or burnout, bringing you abruptly to the crisis point of having to slow down.

But even in the face of that, attending to the need for sustenance can sometimes still feel impossible if you are exhausted from a lifetime of holding it all together. While the need for sustenance might seem to come before rest, [in my book Needy] I ordered these chapters deliberately [“Rest” coming before “Sustenance”] because having the energy to start asking big questions about what you need requires energy too. You’re crumbling beneath the weight of your conditioned expectations for yourself and others, and you judge yourself for not being about to do it all without a thought for the energetic capacity necessary to prioritize joy, pleasure, or satiety.

You might think, Well if it’s right, it should feel good or it should be easy. But tending to your needs can be almost boring, and having the capacity to investigate the larger picture of what you are hungry for requires energy. It requires stamina and self-awareness to develop a healthy relationship with yourself after being in a dysfunctional relationship—one that’s chaotic, intense, familiar, thrilling, and compelling even when you know there is no way it will all work out in the long run. After a dramatic relationship like that, a relationship in which you are respectful of each other, loyal, trustworthy, and committed to each other can feel boring—but that kind of steadfast love heals and rebuilds a steady foundation of trust. The same is true for your relationship with yourself.

Self-love so often isn’t a flash-in-the-pan,
Instagram-worthy, wait-until-the-moment
is-perfect-and-the-stars-align kind of love.

It’s about showing up for yourself each and every day and doing what needs to be done. Maybe that’s resting. Maybe that’s calling your lawyer. Maybe that’s dealing with the window that is leaking and the moldy floorboards. Taking care of yourself is showing up for your relationship with yourself each day, asking what needs to be done and doing that to the best of your abilities.

It can be mundane, but as you begin making these shifts for your own sustenance, you might find yourself softening into a rhythm and routine of caring for yourself this way. 

There is a deliciousness in knowing you will be there when you need yourself. There is a sense of safety in the self-trust you build each time you choose not to abandon yourself. This work can be messy but also joyful, silly, sexy, creative, and playful. You might find yourself enjoying the celebration of infusing pleasure and sovereignty where there was none before.

And with time, you might realize that the purpose of your life is not to be good, productive, or approved by others. The purpose of your life is for YOU to live it. For you to take up space in your own thoughts and actions. For you to tend to your needs, devoting yourself to your own wholeness each and every day. For you to contribute to the world in the way that only you can. For you to love and be loved. For you to play. For your utter enjoyment and wholehearted pleasure. The purpose of your life is not to be nice and polite. It is for living—messily, humanly, in whatever way you feel is good and right for you.

Excerpted from Needy: How to Advocate for Your Needs and Claim Your Sovereignty by Mara Glatzel.

Mara Glatzel, MSW, (she/her) is an intuitive coach, writer, and podcast host. She is a needy human who helps other needy humans stop abandoning themselves and start reclaiming their humanity through embracing their needs and honoring their natural energy cycles. Her superpower is saying what you need to hear when you need to hear it, and she is here to help you believe in yourself as much as she believes in you. Find out more at maraglatzel.com.

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The Way Under the Way

Over the last few years, I’ve been collecting, evolving, and refining over 20 years of my poetry, which includes 217 poems collected in this book. These poems cover much of the ground in which I’ve been learning and growing with regards to the inner life.

One poem that is fundamental to the book is “Being Here.” When I was young, I found it hard to be here and to move through the world. Like many romantics, I wanted to transcend out of here. Of course, experience only landed me deeper into life. After my cancer journey, it became clear that there is nowhere to go, nowhere to transcend to but here. The image of sweeping a path though there is always more to sweep became a great teacher for me. That image led to this poem, which helps me stay on the path of living the one life I have to live.

BEING HERE

Transcending down into
the ground of things is akin
to sweeping the leaves that
cover a path.  There will always
be more leaves.  And the heart
of the journey, the heart of our
own awakening, is to discover for
ourselves that the leaves are not
the ground, and that sweeping
them aside will reveal a path,
and finally, that to fully live,
we must take the path and
keep sweeping it.

For me, the poems are the teachers. They arrive with their wisdom and become my guides. What they surface becomes my inner curriculum and by staying in conversation with them, I grow. We’re all drawn to what we need to learn, which if engaged with honesty reveals insights common to us all.

My hope is that the arc of these poems will be aids in living, listening, and beholding each other. I offer them as small wonders found and cared for through the years. I hope you might find one that, held close to your heart, will serve as a guide.

By Mark Nepo

Walking a Path of Power

Recently, I had the pleasure of recording The Power Path Training: Living the Secrets of the Inner Shaman with husband-and-wife teachers and shamanic practitioners José and Lena Stevens. In the course of our days together in the studio, I encountered a number of concepts that I found I could immediately put into practice in my own life with powerful results.

At the core of their teaching is the idea that we are part of a vast web of relationship, and that the universe is brimming with beings and powers who can serve as allies in our own unfolding. In fact, in their view, everything in our environment—not only the spirits or totems we might normally think of as power animals, but natural forces like wind and water, heavenly bodies like the sun and stars, as well as other humans past and present—can offer us support and serve as medicine to help bring us into balance. All these sources of power are available to us at every step of the journey.

But the Stevens teach that the key to accessing that power and using it wisely lies in mastering our relationship to ourselves—as bodies, as emotional and mental beings, and as pure spirit. To act from our essence—our true nature as spirit—we must identify the fears and desires of the false personality, learning to navigate the world from a place of neutrality instead of reactivity. Shifting from the reactivity of the personality to the neutrality of spirit is not a one-time choice, but rather the result of thousands of small choices.

Since the recording, I’ve tried to remember in moments of reactivity (with varying degrees of success) that my reactions have an impact in ways I can’t possibly fathom. I’ve tried to see those situations that throw me out of neutrality not as problems, but as gifts that show me where I have work to do, where my fears and desires get in the way of clear seeing.

Perhaps the most powerful practice I’ve worked to do as I move through my day is simply to pause and recognize all the allies working on my behalf all the time. It’s easy to forget the miraculous blessing of just being here—of being on this planet in the whole vast galaxy, just far enough from the nurturing sun that we can survive; of living in a place where there is food and water and a culture which allows some degree of ease; of being among other humans who love us and whom we love; of breathing this air that sustains us. I’ve found that cultivating this underlying sense of gratitude helps me maintain equilibrium when things go “wrong” and equanimity when “problems” arise.

What habitual reactions prevent you from living from your essence? And what allies are available, right now in this moment, to support you in acting in love, from your deepest nature?

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The Boulder Floods

Thank you so much to all of you who have written in (and otherwise sent) your thoughts, prayers, and love to us here at Sounds True, and to all our friends throughout Colorado during this very difficult time. It has been a very trying week for all of us and many here have lost their homes, businesses, towns, and even lives. Like any tragedy, though, it has brought individuals and the community together in new ways, and shown us what is truly important at the end of the day.

Fortunately, the sun was out all day yesterday, and today is also looking sunny and dry. We are praying that the worst is behind. While some of the roads near Sounds True have been damaged quite extensively, we were able to re-open yesterday, and were grateful that most of our employees are doing okay. We are for the most part safe, but many of us are in touch with others who are not faring so well – friends who have lost their homes, have been air vac’d out by the National Guard, cannot find loved ones, and are experiencing great fear and despair. Many dozens are still unaccounted for in Boulder.

Here are some photos to give you a visual sense of how the flood is impacting local communities.

And here is some video footage of Longmont, a town just next to Boulder where a number of our employees live.

Finally, a rather shocking amateur video of the flood as it moves through Boulder Canyon.

If you’re interested in helping via making a donation, information may be found here.

Thank you again for thinking of us and we join you in sending our thoughts, love, and prayers to our brothers and sisters throughout the state as we move through this very challenging time.

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