Taking a Breath

BreatheIt occurred to me this morning, as I was beginning my meditation, that some of the time the request for a deep breath is denied by the body.

There is a tension, a fear, some feeling that is blocking the body’s ability to relax and just breathe.

The question is, as a person who meditates, “Now what?”

The usual first response is to judge. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I breathe? The inner voice says “Oh no, this proves there is some danger, I knew it all along!”

In response to this inner voice, the body becomes rigid. Now every part of me is convinced. Death is imminent.

Then, because I have been practicing the great art of “remembering,” I go toward the tension rather than succumb to the temptation of avoiding it.

As I get closer, I recognize this part. I had disowned her many years ago. She was too much.

That was the belief then.

Now, I realize I cannot be whole without her. She has so much life to offer, life that long ago was rejected by parents who knew no better.

Tears stream down my face. Tears of sadness, then relief at my willingness and ability to feel what at one time would have surely killed me.

We cannot go around these parts, painful and fearful as this process may be. This is the process of meditation. We go into ourselves that we may find more and more of what had to be tucked away. We dismantle the wall of separation which we built out of our need to protect our broken hearts. We feel the pain still lingering there, waiting for us to remember. We welcome this pain now, knowing that this is just pain and it will go away. We no longer have to hold this against ourselves, but rather ingather.


Love My Enemies?!?

Atilla the HunThese wise words have been written and spoken, preached and beseeched for centuries. And yet, here we are – the schism only wider. We continue to hurt only because we have been hurt and refuse to feel the pain of this.

The pain has to go somewhere; it is an energetic force field. Because we, individually and culturally, all refuse to accept the pain that has been inflicted on us and the pain that we all have inflicted on others, the cycle continues.

Human beings are a pathetic lot in many ways … and we also have the possibility to transform. Again and again we hear about self-responsibility and again and again we think, and act out of, the lack of this most critical spiritual law. We refuse to be responsible because we do not want to face the worst in ourselves. We would much rather point to the ugliness in the other. We then hate in them what we know we have in ourselves. The guilt of this continues the vicious cycle of hate and violence towards others, and, if felt into deeply, ourselves.

We all have some greed, vanity, hate, superiority, inferiority, self-will, pride and fear. No one is spared. This is the human condition. As a species, our very survival once demanded that we have some one-upmanship, some self-preservation, some deep longing to improve and be “better than.” Today our very survival depends on something else – our evolving our collective consciousness.

Our next step in the evolutionary process is to bring consciousness to our deepest selves. By inclusion rather than refusal we can, if we are willing to feel, without rejecting, the worst in ourselves, we can transform.

The pain inflicted hurts, very much indeed. It is quite normal and natural to want to avoid this pain.

Unfortunately, our avoiding this pain has us only continue to inflict on others what was inflicted upon us.

Yes, it is sad, but the true tragedy lies in our continuing to refuse to feel this sadness. The pain then gets locked inside, blocks our creativity, our natural intuition, our desire for connection.

We keep ourselves “safe,” we believe, from the possibility of ever being hurt again by blocking out what love comes our way. This is the true tragedy.

The narrative that is playing itself out in the world right now is the narrative that we all have playing over and over again in our own psyche. My prayer is that we can each, every one, stop and feel into what it is that we are trying to avoid by projecting our pain out into the world.

Yes, pain does hurt. What hurts even more is hate and fear. There is a price to be paid for all of the horrors human beings have inflicted upon one another. It is our own individual work to be willing to do our part by accepting, without flinching away, the pain that has been inflicted upon us and the pain we have inflicted.

Declaring Peace

Declaring Peace

At some point, and this is different for each of us, it is necessary to declare peace with one’s self.

It takes a while to even realize that we are, have been, and will continue to be, at war within our very heart and souls. We think we are protecting ourselves from the quite obvious threat of the outside world. We weave entire story lines around how dangerous this situation is, this situation called life. As we interact with others we may find a few who we deem to be safe territory, but it is mostly us against them. Some are lucky enough to have families that are a safe zone, others not so much.

As we peel back the layers of our defenses, bit by bit, we realize that it is not me versus the other. There is a deep recognition of the fact that where the war has been taking place all along is inside our own hearts, minds and souls.

We all have places in us of which we are not proud – to put it mildly. We can actually shudder if we allow ourselves to hear our own negativity.

Rather than cringing away from this negativity, these awful feelings, thoughts and attitudes, the key is to sit down and hear them out. In many ways, this is how I imagine a peace treaty comes about. Rant, rave, complain, accuse … followed finally with, yes, I can see that. That makes sense that you feel that way. What else? Going back and forth for what seems like years, because this never ends … until you have received all of what the negativity has to express.

You can then soothe and re-educate and hold yourself just as you are. You allow yourself to cry out, scream at the top of your lungs, rock back and forth or curl up in a ball. Stomp and wave your fists in the air with all of the outrage that you have been covering up, to the detriment of your soul.

We can then make a decision to let go. This new thought takes a while to settle in. We don’t trust it at first, naturally. We go back to the table time and again, willingly, with all of our hearts wanting peace.


DespairWhat feels like total despair happens even to those of us who do “the work.”

One of the difficulties of being on a spiritual path is a common belief that this work should handle all of life’s problems. It doesn’t. Pain is simply part of our human condition. What can make pain turn into despair is the demand that we not have such strong reactions to life anymore.

We do. And, the sooner we allow whatever is coming to the surface with compassion, love and curiosity, the sooner we can return ourselves to ourselves.

Personally, as a survival mechanism, I learned to leave my body at a very young age. It felt like a really smart thing to do at the time and it probably was.

As an adult, not being in your body can make an already painful situation much, much worse. When one is literally “beside themselves,” there is no one home. Then, the loneliness, abandonment and desperate fear of the child combines with whatever situation happens to be occurring in life. Whatever rational part of our brain is still functioning can’t make sense of the quite obvious overreaction. As to friends and family coming to the rescue, how does one explain? “Listen, I am not really in my body and my brain has been high-jacked, so could you just bring me back to reality, please?!?”

When one is in this state, “reality” is a foreign, terrifying concept. Part of the belief when in this particular state is “This is reality, and I have been kidding myself to believe otherwise!”  A childish superstition can kick in that sounds something like “You aren’t going to trick me again!”

So, we hold on desperately to our defenses, without which we will surly die. This feels so very real because, at one time, it was real. As a child, without the defenses we so brilliantly devised, we would not have survived. A child cannot tolerate the rejection of the beloved parent, let alone the not uncommon physical, mental, and emotional abuse many children suffer.  Our defenses kept us alive, literally. And now, this very defense keeps us from life.

The work is to see this, know this, and work though this. The most challenging of all of this challenging work is, when I fall into despair, to forgive myself. Again. And again.

There is no magic, any more than there is a punishing god who will rain terror on us for making a mistake. What there is, is a commitment to bring oneself back, over and over and over again, to this sometimes glorious and sometimes painful life.

Reality. It is not the ideal, pain-free, rainbows and unicorns we once (and sometimes still do!) believe it should be. And, if allowed to be without judgment, without a demand for perfection, without taking it personally, simply accepted from moment to moment, reality can be trusted.

With great love and appreciation to all who have stood beside me, even when I wasn’t home to myself,


Pain is such a relative, subjective term. I have two quotes hung in my office. One is:

suffering is pain times resistance

The other:

What You Resist, Persists

I would see these words every day except that my office is a mess. Even if it were not a mess, they would eventually blend into the wall. This is what happens to all things we see every day, we quit seeing them. Unless something reminds us.

I am getting a little reminder right now. After minor gum surgery, I am in pain. I have been watching my relationship to this pain and my relationship to that relationship. If you could hear the thoughts in my head, you would think I knew nothing about transformation, self-care, holistic pain management and so on. I have a feeling I might be in the majority here, and there are always those few exemplary people out there who make we mere mortals, if we are unwise enough to compare ourselves, look like wimps.

I hurt, am nauseated, tired, don’t feel like doing anything. My face is swollen and I have to be very careful about how I eat so as to not disturb the graft. That is all. This will pass within a few days, and I will have a complete recovery. It is no big deal.

Now, let me tell you what is really going on. I feel like I am going to throw up, which has me practically hysterical inside. I am in a panic, emotionally. My mouth hurts and I don’t think it will ever stop. It shouldn’t be this way. What is wrong with me? The swelling was supposed to have gone down by now!

Should I call the doctor?! Hysterics kick in….

Then, “What is wrong with you, you loser?! Quit your bellyaching and make some lunch. Good lord! If there were ever anything really wrong with you, you may as well just call it a day. Get over yourself! There are people out there with real problems! You don’t deserve the time of day. You’re just using this as an excuse to be lazy, which you are!”

After this berating, I fall into complete despair. Now I have completely lost touch with reality. At first I blow it out of proportion, then, I refuse to validate a perfectly reasonable feeling. Pain.

The quotes in my office come to mind. I am in some pain. That is all. Yes, it hurts. No, I don’t have to do anything about it  – nor do I have to blow it out of proportion. It is also not helpful, in fact is harmful, to compare my pain to that of another. This only results in more either exaggerating or minimizing and is not at all respectful of the person to whom I am comparing myself.

Watching my thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, and catching my misconceptions, has been quite an education.

All of these patterned ways of being are unconscious, until we take the time to look at them. Unconscious or not, these patterns mold our life substance and determine the creative forces from which we live.

I see the split in my emotional development right here; either I collapse into complete weakness or I overcome with mean aggression. Neither one of these strategies works, and the result is that I am left frustrated and a victim of my circumstances. So, what is the solution here?

I can tell you what it is not, which is to by-pass the pain using the already developed strategies. What most people do is to develop a “more mature” character to play the role of the person we think we should be.

She would sound something like, “Yeah, I had a gum graft, but it’s OK. I have friends who are really sick, so who am I to complain, I’ll be fine, it just hurts, that’s all.”

Meanwhile there is a voice inside screaming “HELP! I am hurting here! Why doesn’t anyone care about me?!” This voice I silence by changing the subject and making a show of being more interested in the other person so that I “look good.” All the while, the internal wailing goes on.

The Solution

The real solution is to stop and be with whatever is there in reality – in the present. Yes, it does hurt. Ah, poor sweetheart. Let the tears flow, let the rage express itself, let the one who feels life is unjust scream her head off. Let the sobbing, wailing, stomping, kicking, hating life as it is right now, let it all be there.

Experience all of these fully in your body. Make no judgments and do not stuff anything down. It is vitally important, however, that you express these emotions with an adult part of you present as a witness to your own grief. Otherwise, these emotions can just take you over and you forget that this is just a part of you expressing itself.

Watch yourself allow the waves of various feelings simply go through you. Do not stop any of them unless it feels too overwhelming.  If you pay close attention to yourself, each feeling will come and go, just like a wave on the beach. With each feeling, the invitation is to breathe deeply and allow, with curiosity, whatever comes.

If you catch particular thoughts, stop and question them with honest curiosity. Something like, “I just had the thought that something has to be wrong here or the swelling would have stopped by now.” If I just let my childish emotions take over here, I go into a panic. Using my adult consciousness, I can assess the situation and determine if there is actually cause for alarm or not. In this particular case, I really don’t know. This is another slippery slope. “I don’t know” brings up more panic. I remind myself that as a child, not knowing was dangerous, but today, this is no longer true. I stop, validate, soothe and reeducate the part of me that goes into panic when faced with not knowing.

Catching each and every thought, feeling, sensation, reaction, and, with interest, curiosity and compassion, performing a reality check, does take a tremendous commitment, and we all fail time and time again. This habit, however, once in place, gives us access to a deeper, wiser and more loving and caring part of ourselves. From this place, pain is just pain.

This is not something another person can just tell you. Had my loving partner reminded me that “we create our reality, and all pain is relative,” I would have given him some real pain to mull over.

This is an experiential learning. I have had those quotes in my office for years, and their meaning only got deeper today.

It is my intention to, bit by bit, organically and over time, catch each of the parts of myself that was not honored and respected over my 62 years. Our work is ours to do. There is no hurry because time, too, is relative. And, wouldn’t it be lovely to spend the rest of your life, fully alive and present to each and every gift of feeling that offers itself up to you, to be expressed through you.

There is pain and there is joy, just as there is life and death. These cannot be separated. The more we can be with pain and the eventuality of death, the more joy and life is available.




CommitmentWhenever we make the choice to commit to something, large or small, we sometimes forget that this commitment will, most likely, come at a cost.

We may have to feel some withdrawal, some pain, a bit of deprivation, overwhelm. These pains can be any and/or all of the following; physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. It is when we go into a commitment blindly and these discomforts hit us unawares that we suffer – and hence, usually fail to follow through with the commitment.

There is a part of us, and it is vital to realize that this is, that has zero interest in any pain or discomfort, let alone not getting exactly what we want and right now! This part makes us cringe. We hate to admit that we are so weak, or demanding, or dependent, or lazy or greedy. Instead, we rationalize our needs and our behavior. Things like “I work so hard, you couldn’t possibly understand, I had to eat a piece of cake just to get through the day!’ “I need to smoke; it’s the only way I can get out of the office for a breath of fresh air!’ “I am not like you; I am too busy to exercise all of the time!’

This making up excuses is way too much fun, I could go on for hours. Which is the point. We actually get some pleasure out of our excuses. It is negative pleasure, and for the part of us that wants what we want when we want it, any pleasure will do. This fulfills a real need!

In order to stay committed, it is necessary to go in and through our negative beliefs and negative intentions, and actually catch ourselves indulging in negative pleasure. This can be painful and challenging. It requires courage and honesty, which if taken on, leaves a profound sense of respect for one’s self – a respect that is based on an internal knowing that cannot be taken away.

Contrast this to a reward from the outside, or another person, which can be fleeting. When we count on that reward from the outside and it doesn’t sustain us (because it can’t!) we use this as an excuse to indulge in the very behavior we said we wanted to change. We rationalize (ration out lies) that “it wasn’t that important…” or “I really didn’t want that after all….” or “I just couldn’t, it was too hard.”

Commitment is a huge topic about which much has been written. There are “12 Tricks…” and “10 Ways…” and “Seven E-Z to Follow Steps…” up the wazoo. Most of these dance around the actual pain that is involved in commitment, because we don’t like to feel pain. No blog post that includes a bitter pill ever goes viral. We have such a negative association with anything that smacks of anything uncomfortable, and we strive constantly for a world where we all have what we want and no one has to suffer.

We do not do this consciously, of course. If you are willing to sit with yourself for a minute and listen into yourself, you will hear the protests, the demands, the pleas for help, the refusals to be responsible, the desperate cries for attention. We usually live life on top of these, pushing them down, pretending not to notice.

The key to a life where a commitment actually is fulfilled, where anxiety is seen as something to pay attention to, where we are living with a rhythm consistent with our best self, is to stop and feel whatever there is to feel.

Listen to the protests without making yourself wrong. Soothe the part of you that is crying out for attention. Stand up to the inner critic who says that you will never succeed. Feel the pain of what it is to be simply human rather than pretending it is all “just fine” or “too hard to bare.”

Commitment requires that we see ourselves and life in reality. We do not get to be perfect here and that does not give us an excuse to act in a way that is disrespectful to ourselves and/or life. We cannot cheat life. We cannot receive more than we are willing to give.

We can only experience the abundance that life is when we are willing to see ourselves as we really are. The imperfect, pathetic, demanding, hateful, fearful, grasping that we all feel is not all of us, but it is a part of us. And, the only way to find out who we really are is to see all of these parts and welcome them, courageously. By taking this level of responsibility in the matter of your own life, commitment ultimately fulfills us.

The Habit of Negativity

The habit of negativity cannot be ground down and stomped out.

Nor can we simply put a positive spin on our thoughts and feelings and pretend the negative does not exist in us (only in “them”).

Withdrawal, via an over-intellectualization of our negativity, leaves us in apathy, a false sense that we are above all of those messy emotions.

As emotional beings, it is vital to feel into and understand ourselves from our feeling body. This is not to moralize or change or make ourselves bad for having negativity, but to grow ourselves up by including all of the parts of ourselves. We cannot be responsible for something unless we know it exists in us.

Our brains are geared toward holding on to the negative. Historically, this was a very necessary physiological development. We would not have survived as a species had we not had a way to judge and remember where deadly danger lurked.

Today, this part of our brain is in overdrive, unnecessarily so. Relatively, our world is less dangerous from a survival perspective. At this point, it is we who are the danger. We continue to judge, and deem as dangerous, occurrences in our lives that remind us of something in our past. We continue to see another human being who looks different from us, and have a fear response.

There is a moment between stimulus and response. It is the responsibility of each and every human being to look into themselves and question the automatic judgment that occurs. Otherwise, we will continue to respond from fear and hatred, from negativity.

The opportunity is for human beings to see and feel, and truly understand that we are actually in this thing called life, together.

Yes, there are people who are dangerous and evil. It is only by being willing to honestly see the evil in ourselves that we will have access to our intuition. Any block, untransformed, to any part of ourselves, clouds our intuition. Our intuition, once clear, can inform us much more accurately whether or not we are in danger.

Intuition is much more perceptive than an adrenaline-filled brain. All day, every day, we are running on fear-based adrenaline, which is what happens when we unconsciously live from our negativity. This burnout cuts off the access to our higher states of consciousness.

Perhaps the purpose of life is to bring in higher and higher states of consciousness. We can only do this by going in and through, not around ourselves. By including all of ourselves. With kindness and compassion to ourselves, we can learn to include all of the other. By accepting ourselves as we really are, we can choose differently. We can grow ourselves up. It is time.

When You Fall into Despair and Abandon Yourself

Elie Wiesel - AbandonYou need pleasure; this is a fact of life. How you get this pleasure is irrelevant when you are just a child; you have to get it anywhere you can. When your home is a war zone, war becomes pleasurable.

At some point you have realized the folly of this tactic and have strived and strived and strived to find another way, with some success. And, when life fails you, which it does because it is life, you resort to your old ways. War.

It is easy to find an enemy. “They” are everywhere. Human beings, in all of their imperfection, give you plenty about which to hate, complain, attack, perseverate. This energy system takes on a life of its own and travels the well-worn paths of your system.

The fact that you now “know better” makes the ammunition more brutal. You hate with a new passion. You have abandoned yourself and you know you are the cause of your misery. This has you ramp up the attack of the other.

The words you have learned to soothe yourself seem to inflame the situation. They do not ring true.

Meditation feels like torture. Another reminder of what a failure you are, what a farce all of this is, how there is no real solution.

A “real” tragedy occurs somewhere in the world. You look around and see the many, many blessings that have been bestowed upon you, and you wail in even deeper despair. The fear that, if you are not grateful for what you have, then it will all be taken away, has you pray even harder, more feverishly.

Your prayers are met with an emptiness that feels so real, familiar, painful. You have convinced yourself that you were a fool to have believed, even for one moment, that you could be different.

Resigned, you go cold. It doesn’t matter; nothing does really. We live, we die, the earth is being destroyed, what difference does it make? Get what you can while you can.

The face of Elie Wiesel, peering out from his bunk in the concentration camp, comes to mind. A roar from deep within clears your muddled brain. The courage to live a full life requires something of you. It is not just handed to a random person here and there like a lottery ticket. The courage to face your selfish, pathetic, scared, demanding, hateful self and carry on with kindness, compassion and forgiveness is the work.

Spirit travels on the vibration of feelings. All are welcome. The pain, hate, love, loneliness, courage, powerlessness, longing, fear, vulnerability, each has its place at the table. It is only when we abandon ourselves that these expressions of life stop moving through us and become the vicious cycle of hopelessness.

The key is to stay open, no matter what shows up. A child has to defend against pain; this is a matter of survival. It is our work to grow ourselves up by experiencing the feelings we told ourselves we could not tolerate. This is where life has gotten stuck, frozen, unable to grow.

The freedom to allow “even this,” and not recoil, brings a new energy, creativity, curiosity, faith and willingness to live life on life’s terms.

First Separating

All is one with the ocean, the consciousness. We are all here to see that we are not separate by first separating. It is painful only to the degree that you believe the lie that you are not of life. You are life doing what life does. Create.

Separation II by Edvard Munch, 1896, lithograph

Human beings are here to witness consciousness separating itself from itself. The greater consciousness is on the path as well. The path being to see, witness, experience oneness.

By not rejecting anything in yourself or others, by loving the parts of you that, until now, you have kept hidden – as if you could hide anything from life! There is no hiding your thoughts. Thoughts are energy. They exist as vibration and ripple out into consciousness, where they become form. The thought is the masculine. The feminine births whatever experience has been created by the thought.

It is vital to see, witness, allow your thoughts so that you may clear them, not make them wrong. This internal war of right and wrong, better and worse, good and bad, constantly vying for attention, is what is to be healed.

The great Spiritual Laws are working constantly. Your mind does not yet know them all; they are more of a feeling than a knowing. When you are not resisting life in anyway, you are one with life. When you are not reacting, and therefore creating, from your negative belief, you are one with life. When you are not rejecting part of yourself but also not buying into the lies you tell yourself, you are one with life.

Your feeling body Knows Truth and Reality. Your brain does not. Your being recognizes itself when and only when you are One. You then feel clear, without judgment – a deep sense of peace exists. This is true even when outside circumstances are not to the liking of your personality.

Stay with this peace, as best you can, take non-rejection into your day. Pay attention when you feel yourself tighten against what is wanting to be felt today. You are loved. Stay with this peace. As best you can. You can trust this, it is obvious. You continue to leave this at your door; your path is to bring it down the mountain.

With great love and appreciation
JoAnn Brickley


Defended Child PeekingThe defense mechanisms with which we operate today were established in childhood. We actually quite needed them as children. A child, with the emotional and psychological development of a child, could not possible withstand some of the pain inherent in being human. The defense is, truly, life-saving.

As we “grow up” these defenses become established and we begin to recognize ourselves as and through them, rather than as part of us which may or may not serve our highest good. At some point, our higher intelligence may begin to whisper.

We begin to see that one aspect of our lives or another seems to repeat the same negative cycle over and over. Self-responsibility begins to dawn.

It is here that some get stuck. We do not want to be responsible! “It is not my fault, I had a horrible childhood and this is just how I am!”

Guilt comes in to play, just as we begin to know that we are actually responsible for our own lives. Rather than suffer this guilt, or heaven forbid, to do the work to see who we really might be under our defenses, we learn to rationalize our behavior and wind it ever deeper into our nervous system. Self-hatred, fear and anxiety about being found out all wear away the courage that it takes to merely stand in ourselves and be willing to witness ourselves as we really are.

The undefended self is miraculous! We are all, at our core, loving, vulnerable, alive beings, searching to be expressed and connected. It is only the fear of the child, and the demand from the child that life be perfect, that inhibits our true nature.

Feeling the remorse that is natural from realizing a mistake made is a pain that sears through and leaves the heart open. Guilt is a prison from which one can never escape.

Yes, we all make the mistake of identifying with our childhood wounds. Some very brave souls are willing to simply see and relax around this misidentification and begin the process of reclaiming what has always been there, waiting for us to see.

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