Animals, Nature and Spirituality

Animal Intuition Work:  

I have done a lot of work with animals over the past 17 years. Guardians (much better than “owners” right?) set up sessions with me to help understand issues their companions are having, or to understand how to better communicate with them. I am able to “listen” to them, and help the guardian fix issues that are happening. Many times the animal will tell me what’s going on in the household that is affecting him/her, so be ready to hear some things about YOU!

I’ve been profiled on Helena cable TV, in the Independent Journal, The Vigilante and have been a guest presenter at Heart of the Valley’s Woofstock event and the Lewis and Clark Humane Society’s annual speaker series. I also work regular with dog trainer extraordinaire, Nancy Tanner (Paws and People) in Bozeman.

If you would like to find out more about your four-footed companion(s), please visit Schedulity.com and schedule an appointment. All I all need is a very recent photo of the animal that has a good shot of his/her eyes. You will come to my office in Bozeman, or we can do it on the phone.

Nature-Based Spirituality and Spiritual Practice:

It’s hard for me to put into words what I feel when I am outdoors. I am not a big hiker, biker, skier or snowboarder (God help me!) but I am a person who is wildly in love with Montana and her rivers, geysers, mountains, wild animals and her deeply grounding influence. The filed of ecopsychology has now been around for more than 20 years, and I have studied with many of its notable researchers and author. When I lived in Seattle, once a month I would hop a ferry and go over to Bainbridge Island to the most wonderful retreat for women called Sacred Groves. A bunch of us women did ritual, blessings, healing, grieving work on the 10 acres they owned there, and I will never forget my time there. Very grateful.

Here in Montana, I offer out of doors women’s circles, rituals, prayer and guided meditation time up the beautiful Horseshoe Hills in Manhattan, MT. You can see all three mountain ranges. It’s stunning. I am fortunate to live here, and have many acres and gullies and sacred, secret places where we can be together in complete silence and sacred space, I am so looking forward to inviting you up here!

 

Radical Surrender

For decades, surrender meant defeat to me. I was raised by a kick-butt mother who did not let ANYTHING stop her from doing what she had to do. I grew up  in New York City, where the culture of power, self-reliance and ambition, sometimes ruthless,  encouraged getting the job done, no matter what.

When I was working in New York during my early twenties, I can still remember walking to Grand Central station to catch the train back to Bronxville and passing tall, grey office buildings where some entrepreneur rented an entire floor and installed treadmills in a gym-like atmosphere so that employees could get their work out in before days’ end.  Even at seven or eight o’clock at night, there were still people huffing and puffing on the machines. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but that visual summed up for me everything about the futility of thinking we’re in control. Running to get nowhere.

But I tried, as so many of us, probably most of us, do. If we can just get the amazing job, the hip, desirable car, the attractive spouse, and awesome furniture in our great house, we’ve “arrived.” By the time I was 34, I had ended up with a six-figure job, a Vice-President title, a ridiculous monthly expense account, first-class air travel, a cell phone (back in the day when they were rare and very expensive) and a free Jeep Cherokee Laredo. Oh yes, and the gas and repairs for the Jeep were paid for, too.

I purchased with cash my first of two large Louis Vuitton bags so that when I flew first class, I would look cool. I was working as a publicist in the field of media, film, books and I worked with and met famous people every week.  I was living in Santa Monica, California, a mile from the ocean.  I thought I had it all. Some memories:

  • Sitting in the Beverly Hills Hotel having drinks with newsman David Brinkley
  • Arriving at Roseann Barr’s house with paparazzi swarming her front gate
  • Freshening up in the bathroom at KABC radio with Lauren Bacall
  • My first trip to the Green Room at The Tonight Show with Jay Leno; The Terminator was there, too. Very big guy. Very friendly.
  • Meeting Yoko Ono in MTV’s green room. Gracious, quiet, humble.
  • Riding in an elevator up to a suite where Good Morning America’s LA-based correspondent was waiting to do an interview with Magic Johnson.  He’d just announced he was HIV-positive. A lovely man. He was very tall.
  • Having Stevie Wonder hold my hand at Denzel Washington’s restaurant on Melrose in Los Angeles while attending a book publication party for OJ Simpson’s lead attorney, Johnnie Cochran. Stevie was one of the sexiest people I have ever met.
  • Running into (literally) OJ himself at above party. He was fairly short. He looked guilty.
  • Being on the set of Jurassic Park as they were shooting the movie. We had to have special name badges and swear to not reveal what it looked like, it was all so secretive.  I was Michael Crichton’s publicist, and therefore got to do a lot of cool things like attend premieres and go on tv and movie sets (Twister, ER, Disclosure).
  • Having Oprah grab my hand at the premiere of the TV-movie Before Women Had Wings (Oprah had produced it) and drag me into the theater to go calm down the actress Ellen Barkin who didn’t like where she was seated in the theater. True.

I could go on. But you get the point. This was normal, everyday work. It was fast and fun, and I was living the dream.

Then one day, my boss in New York called and told me that in a week I was to fly east and attend very hush-hush, exclusive meeting. Our CEO had hand-picked 10 employees from around the corporation, and was going to make us sit in a hotel suite for three days straight to contemplate our industry, where it was going, and how should we prepare for the future. One might now call it a strategic planning session.

So off I went to LAX to catch my flight. Standing there, with the Louis Vuitton carry-on, the Ray-Ban sunglasses, my cell phone and feeling extremely hip, I suddenly had what could only be called a spiritual experience. In the middle of the United Airlines terminal, everything around me grew fuzzy, turned a brilliant, glowing, pulsing white, and I became very disoriented. I was convinced I was losing my mind.  And then I heard a voice; very clear, very distinct and very directive. And it said, “You can’t do this anymore.”

What?

There is no way to describe my feelings at that time. My first thought was, “But I don’t know how to DO anything other than publicity!” How would I make money?  

It took me five years to figure it out. I went on retreats and went into therapy, I read books about mid-career changes, mid-life crises, and more. At that time, the “new age” was in full swing, and several people were the key players in publishing, promoting and selling this new genre through magazines, books, audio tapes, book clubs and video.  These key players and I went on retreat to Colorado to talk about this huge shift in the culture’s consciousness, and what we all were going to do professionally to help it grow. I went walking with one of the attendees the second day, and he told me confidentially that I was going to receive a phone call from a major, major player in our industry, asking me to move back to New York and head up a publishing house.  

My response was to burst into tears. I said, in an echo from 5 years past at LAX, “I can’t do this anymore.” Incredulous (who turns this stuff down??) he looked at me like I had lost my mind. In fact, I had FOUND my mind.

It took me another 12 years to surrender totally to the call of my soul, rather than keep pushing through to manage the call of society. I eventually left corporate America and moved to Montana where I started my work as an spiritual teacher. Every day for another four years I would wake up, doubting that I should do this, I used to be a VP, I had been “somebody” and I should drop all this woo-woo and get back the the REAL work . Bad self-talk day in and day out. It took a long time for me to disconnect from the self-image I thought I should have, that I had enjoyed for many years, and turn inward to find and develop the inner world that had been calling for me since I was a little girl.

After all this, and approaching my 60th year on the planet, this is what I know: What I know is that the inner voice of our soul is always there. James Hillman, the brilliant psychologist, wrote a book about the idea that within the soul is an acorn; and the imperative of the acorn is to grow into being a tree. There’s really no preventing it. Likewise, our true north, our true self, our true path, our destiny, our karma, will insist that we hear it and heed its call.

And it’s patient. Although some people know from the time they are very, very young what their true north is (I’m thinking of prodigies, terrifically talented athletes, brilliant children) for most of us, it’s a long trudge. And many of us won’t ever do it.

I have seen many of these people in hospital beds while tending to their end of life needs. Sitting bedside with them as a hospice volunteer, I listen to the unmet wishes and dreams. And that aphorism is true– not one of those patients ever said they wished they’d spent more time at the office.

We are afraid, as a people, to let go and trust that voice, that nudge. We are afraid to surrender. to who we really are rather than what out parents, society, culture and friends think we should be. We are afraid to trust the ineffable. I understand. I used to be there. And I’m still there a lot of the time.  But not all the time anymore.

To radically surrender is to take what comes, no matter what it is and know, as Hillman’s acorn theory posits, that it’s all a part of your story. That it’s all, actually, ok. Now I can already hear you; What about the Holocaust? What about Hurricaine Irma? What about child sexual abuse? What about  the genocide in Darfur?

I wonder about this all the time. Every day. 

My answer is, “I don’t know.” I don’t understand God/the Power/the Force. I don’t get how this all works in the biggest picture. Because the things above simply don’t make sense. 

This is where, for me, the surrender comes again. I must submit to the fact that I don’t know, that I can’t know. God is so big that he/she/it doesn’t even fit into the word big.  The eclipse this year reminded me of God — just like the sun, if we were to stare at God face to face we would burn to death.  We’re just not made to know. Living in not-knowing has been the hardest part of the spiritual journey for me. My mind wants to grasp, figure out, categorize, understand, sort and file each experience I have.  But God is bigger than that.

I don’t understand God. My feeble experiences, though, have given me confidence that he/she/it is most definitely engaged with me and my life. I have had synchronistic experiences so weird and unfathomable that trying to sort it out made me weep in the face of such unknowable power.

One of the most intense and completely unexplainable things is this story:  My father got diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer. Mercifully, his suffering was short, and he passed comfortably, in his home, and holding my mother’s hand. This was in February.

After the funeral and taking care of the many things that go along with managing the end of a life, I returned to Colorado and prepared to get on with my life.  As I was processing his passing, one of my regrets was that my father had not sent me one last Christmas card the prior December. Not a demonstrative man, the yearly card was always anticipated  as his emotions were more easily expressed in writing. It was sad now that he was gone that I didn’t get one, nor would I, ever again.

So you can imagine my SHOCK when five months after he died, I returned to my house one night, bags of groceries in my arms, and reached into the mailbox to get the mail.  There, amongst bills and flyers, was an envelope addressed to me in his handwriting.

I actually dropped the groceries; I recall oranges rolling all over the snowy sidewalk. I started shaking, I thought that reality was turning upside down, and once again, I was so disoriented that I thought I was losing my mind.  HOW COULD THERE BE A NOTE FROM MY FATHER? He’d been dead for almost half a year!

But his handwriting was unmistakeable. I opened up the envelope. There was a Christmas card, dated the December prior. In his scrawling handwriting, he’d written “Joy to the world — and to you.” I looked at the post mark — May, 2000. But of course, he would have had to have sent it in December of 1999, when he was still alive, right? He’d been deceased for five months in May of 2000.

What the heck is this? How did it happen? 

The rational answer is that somehow the envelope got lost in the holiday post office rush, twas found months later by some wonderful post office employee, re-stamped and mailed to me anyway.

But is it rational? Or was it a gift from my father?

In my 20 years working as a hospice volunteer, I have heard scores of stories like this. After a loved one passes, there is some sort of communication. Books have been written about this phenomena. As my Twelve-Step friends say, “Is it odd, or is it God?”

One of my favorite bands is U2. And one of my favorite songs is “She Moves In Mysterious Ways.”  Indeed, She does.

Things have been brought into my life JUST at the right time, JUST as I was about to give up, JUST when I thought I didn’t have it in me to surrender even further.

God’s timing is impeccable.

Many times, we can only see in hindsight that nets that were cast to keep us from falling; the car that broke down on the freeway just behind what ended up being a huge crash ahead of us, etc.

It takes a radical surrender to believe this way, to “turn it over” and just let it go. For me, this is why trying to maintain a conscious contact with God, or learning how to be mindful, or take up a serious meditation practice is so important. When we are in the present, we are surrendered, because in the present, there is nothing but the present. Nothing to fight against, nothing to pine for, nothing to grasp. It ends up feeling so simple, so quiet, so calm. When the mind relaxes, the Mystery has more room to reveal itself.

So try it. Surrender. See what happens, and let me know.

 

 

24/7 Spirituality

I’ve definitely been around the spirituality block a few times. Or, as they say out here in Montana, this ain’t my first rodeo. In one of my prior blogs, I wrote about all the many ways I went about trying to connect with what I now imagine/call “the Force” — ashrams, contemplative retreats, mantras, zazen with Buddhist teachers, etc.

But I also happened to be born and coming of age right as the “new age” was being birthed. In fact, I had a hand in it’s debut.

I was just out of college and working for a boutique public relations firm on Fifth Avenue  and 42nd street in New York. One of our clients was the Ladies Home Journal. Surprisingly, they had been the highest bidder to get what was called “first serial rights” (meaning, they could publish an except of an upcoming book before it was actually available in stores) for an upcoming book by actress Shirley MacLaine. The book was “Out on a Limb”, her recounting of the many spiritual experiences she had been experiencing. One of the most controversial claims was her belief that she had once been a man in Atlantis (in itself a controversial “place” that some people believe was a holy land which sank at some point in the very distant past).   Our job, at the PR firm, was to publicize that month’s issue of LHJ — and there was nothing more “hot” than a huge movie star claiming she believed in reincarnation, channeling and Edgar Cayce

LHJ had on staff a brilliant editor and writer, Ed, who drafted up a press release that announced that Shirely’s new book was coming out, the LHJ had the excerpt, and wait tip you hear this — Ms. MacClaine thinks in a past life she was a man!

Today, this all seems quite quaint– but back then, this was HUGE. Ed wrote the press release, then-editor Myrna Blythe approved it, and then, it was handed to me to type up  was(no computers then) and disseminate to the thirsty New York City  media.

So there I was … typing the press release that turned into huge news and effectively launched the new age in one fell swoop.  The media, unsurprisingly, went berserk; responses ranged from hilarity to religious folk damning her to hell. The late-night shows had a field day. It was as huge a story then as perhaps Brad and Jen’s breakup was a decade later. Everyone was talking about it.  It was so huge, that the head publicist for Bantam Books called our PR firm in a fury, saying that our publicity for the except ruined the splashhe hoped to make when the book was published a few weeks later.

God bless Shirley MacClaine — she blasted open things that were previously seen as fringe, occult, heretical, dangerous, or just plain nuts.

Now,of course, not only is this not news, it’s old news; spiritual growth has, well, grown and there are few things left that are still considered “out there” except, perhaps, UFO abduction. But trance channeling, past lives, Edgar Cayce’s work, spiritual healing, energy medicine, crystals, sensory deprivation tanks, etc. are now, if not mainstream, certainly not fringe.

The MacLaine publishing experience certainly intrigued me. As a child, I was intensely curious about God and religion, and had several precognitive dreams which came true. I wanted to know about the Ouija board. I was curious about the Tarot deck (though it scare dmd) and I intuitively knew on some level that there was, a Sting wrote in one of his songs, “a deeper wave than this.” But I didn’t know how to find it.

Thankfully, the Universe, in its utter reliability, got me out of the first PR firm job and put me in the publicity  office of the biggest book publishing house in the world. Because I sort of “got” this new age stuff, and at least was very interested in it, I was assigned all of the new age books to promote. And boy, were there a lot of them.  After the MacClaine book got record amounts of ink from journalists, and tons of airtime on radio and TV, it then landed on the bestseller list and stayed put — for years.  Publishers, always eager to chase a trend, hopped on the New Age train, and off we all went. Thousands of books were published in the next ten years that became huge bestsellers, turning formerly starving spiritual teachers into circuit speakers with mega-millions. A few publishers jumped on the wagon so thoroughly, that they only published new age authors. Jeremy Tarcher, Red Wheel, Weiser, Hay House …. they saw the niche and they published it. For years, everyone who’d ever thought they heard the voice of their decades dead grandmother, who could construct a decent sentence, got huge publishing deal.  They went on book tour, they gave lectures, theysigned books, they held weekend seminars at airport hotels. In some ways, it was very cool; in other ways, it was gross. I’m sure you know what I mean. A part of me was aghast at how commercialized the new age became; tee shirts, CDs, webinars, seminars on cruise ships… somehow or another, for me, the message frequently got lost in the hoo-ha that surrounded the messenger.

Perhaps the worst part for me was that I ended up having to publicize many of these “new age” authors’ books, which often meant knowing them up close and personal, and even traveling with them while they did book signings, media interviews, and events. The reason why is was the ultimate disillusion was that guess what?  Every one of these teachers had … a dark side. I could write a whole other blog about some of the truly bad behavior I witnessed coming from these folks. Yelling a cab drivers, smiling warmly at fans then rolling their eyes at me in disgust after we would get into the limousine, having their agents call and scream (yes, scream) at me because their book tour wasn’t long enough or going to enough cities …. and the perennial question, why was Oprah not calling to schedule them for her show? I just found out recently that a new age big shot therapist we published, who sold millions of books at the time, was just arrested for drugging and then sexually assaulting some of his patients. Nice.

I thought, naively, at the time that because someone talked the talk that they would naturally walk the walk. There are legions of stories of gurus sleeping with their students, of new age stars embezzling money, laundering money,  of having non-profits formed so they could keep MORE of the money… we published that woman, too. Imagine how much fun it was to have to tell all the media outlets we’d begged to interview her that, well, she was kind of a fraud. Whoops!

So after the initial froth of the New Age subsided, I was more than a little jaded.Many of the idols were now millionaires. Some my work had helped make them such. And then, the Catholic Church molestation stories started coming out. Wha was a spiritual seeker like me to do? It seemed everywhere I turned, there were idols with feet of clay.  Somewhere along the line, I assumed that anyone who could write a book with the poetry and depth of some of the authors I read and/or published nada to be genuine, authentic, spotless.  I obviously had not yet read enough Jung.

I finally realized that very few idols– maybe none– can be “spiritual” 24/7/365. It was a rude awakening. I have since come to learn that “enlightenment” is NOT ascending into some white cloud blue sky atmosphere, soaring with angels and released from humanity. I came to understand that “enlightenment” is a moment — maybe several — when we release from the heavy bonds of our ego, and move into a vast, loving, anxiety free space. There’s a great Zen story that teaches quite clearly this idea — that teachers are not the teaching — called Pointing To The Moon.  In the piece, a Zen master reminds his student that if someone shows you the moon by pointing his finger at it, you might well only notice the finger, and not the moon.

It is this way with spirituality. The teachers are the fingers and the moon is the teaching.  We so often get them confused.

Interestingly enough (no accident, I suspect) the next trend in “spiritual” books were all about the “shadow” an idea Carl Jung had theorized back in the ’30s. In a nutshell, he said that everyone had a shadow, a place in our psyches where we put parts of ourselves that were forbidden or loathed by consciousness, and that we could not achieve wholeness until those parts were made conscious. Non-scholarly fans of Jung scooped up his idea and wrote popular books about the phenomena. Suddenly, “shadow work” was what therapists were offering.  God bless us all; we were trying so hard!  While I never did shadow work in or out of a therapists office, I did take to heart (and read the original work of Jung on this topic) and it made sense. Suddenly, all those experts and star spiritualists with nasty little porn-watching habits (I’ll never say who, but you would definitely recognize his name) were never going to be pure. I traced it back to a desire that was clearly still in me to have my idols be without stain.  I wanted both my parents to be perfect. Neither was. One of them failed pretty badly at the job. Inside of me there was still a deep longing for someone to hold the high watch and do it without sin.

When I got clear on that, things changed. 24/7 spirituality was not possible, and probably not desirable. The great saints and mystics and teachers and gurus and Rinpoches spoke of “perfection” and “enlightenment” but I finally got it that they were ideals, not goals. I could sit on meditation a cushion for 365 days and on the 366th, have very sore and stiff legs and perhaps, more space in my mind. But I was not geeing to get “enlightened.” I could, and did, spend thousands of dollars on retreats, conferences, private sessions with famous gurus and get in the car to drive home and swear at the truck driver who cut me off on the freeway.  What happened to that enlightened state?

I think now, the movement towards “mindfulness” and “non-duality” is a good thing. I think that divinity and perfection and at-one-with can be had, in glimpses, any day. It’s just a matter of getting the ego out of the way. I will write more about the ego in another post, but my great teacher Winifred Clarke once said to me, “The ego only gets you to balance your check book and food shop.” the point being that we need that part, but it’s not the whole picture of who we are by any means.

The best image I’ve ever found to illustrate the idea of what’s conscious in us versus what’s not, is below:

Food for thought, no?

Meanwhile, let’s ease up on our teachers, and take more responsibility ourselves to separate the wheat from the chaff. There is a lot of wisdom out there, if we can let go of the need that the source is perfect.