What’s the most spiritual emotion? It’s not what you think!

What’s the most spiritual emotion? It’s not what you think!

When I first started the study of energy healing, I took a course on the Chinese 5-element theory. The 5 elements represent a cyclic, spiral growth cycle that you can see everywhere around you, from the cells in your body to the creation of new galaxies. Each of the elements (fire, earth, metal, water, and wood) has different qualities attached to it and one of those qualities is that each has a unique emotion. 

 

Graphics showing the Emotional Flow of the 5 Elements

Fire —> Joy

Earth —> Contentment 

Metal —> Grief

Water —> Fear 

Wood —> Anger

 

After we learned about this cycle, my teacher, Ka’imi, asked us, “What do you think is the most spiritual emotion?” 

As dutiful students of spiritual growth, we all answered, “Joy!” or “Contentment!” for these are what we are often (mistakenly) told are the signposts of a highly evolved life. 

Our teacher paused and said, “I disagree. The most spiritual emotion is anger.” 

We were all confused. Anger? How can that be spiritual? Wars are started by angry men. Our society is divided by people who are angry with “the other side.” How can anger be the most spiritual of all the emotions? 

He went on to explain, “Our job here as spiritual beings having a human experience is to grow. We are here to experience change over the course of a lifetime, to continue through this cycle over and over again. Anger is what we feel when something gets in our way, or blocks our path forward, and therefore it causes us to take big action. Anger has the most forward motion of any of the emotions in this cycle. Anger is what generates the most growth in the shortest amount of time.” 

I think he was right. If we take a look at how the 5-element emotional cycle works, we can get a more clear view of how this works. 

We’ll start with contentment. Let’s say you’re in a good place, and nothing in your life is really going wrong at the moment. You have a place to live, food to eat, good people in your life and a way of making money that isn’t making you feel terrible all the time. 

But then, something changes and with change, there’s always grief and loss. Maybe your best friend moves to a new town. Or you hurt your knee and can’t do your favorite activity anymore. Or maybe you get a new boss at work who starts to micromanage you. You feel the sadness of losing something that had brought you joy. Things have changed and there’s a part of you that misses the way they were before. 

In the depth of this grief, you start to feel fear. What if I never find a friend with who I can have the same type of close relationship? What if I’m stuck in this job I don’t like anymore because I need the paycheck? What if I can never do long hikes again because of my knee? We become afraid of never feeling happy again and we worry that we’ll be stuck here in this unhappy new reality forever. 

This is where a lot of people get stuck, bouncing back and forth between sadness and worry. We feel the loss of what we once had, and then get stuck in the fear of never having it again, or that things will get even worse from here and we’ll never get back to contentment again. 

But if you can harness that fear and sadness, if you can look at the parts of yourself with which you’re discontent and say, “That’s it! I’m not going to take this anymore! I don’t know how, but I’m going to make some changes so that I can get back to feeling joy!” then you, my friend, have accessed sacred anger.

For many of us, it was unsafe to express anger in our families of origin and so we check ourselves when that starts to bubble up, and revert back to fear and sadness. For others, we learned how to access the surge of energy and emotion that comes from anger but we don’t know how to do the deep shadow work to move from anger to joy, so we stay stuck bouncing between anger and fear.

So here’s how to do the hard part, friends. Here’s how to move from fear and anger to joy

Most of the elements of this cycle happen without our input — we’re coasting along (contentment) things change (loss), and then we worry that we’ll never feel safe and happy again (fear), then we feel disgruntled at this new unhappy reality (beginning of anger). Those all happen without much energy or planning on our part.

When you find yourself stuck in worry, fear or discontentment, you need to do 2 things: 

  1. Look at where you’re feeling the loss. What emotional nutrient are we lacking that’s making us sad? It may be something we had and lost, or something we never had in the first place but have always longed for. Some examples may be love, care, safety, inspiration, joy, unconditional positive regard, or zen.
  2. Give yourself permission to feel worthy of this emotional nutrient. This is where shadow work and reparenting can be particularly effective. (I teach a whole class on this If you need more strategies here!) 

Here’s a little science secret about your nervous system — you don’t actually get the most happiness from having what you want (contentment). You feel the most happiness when you are working to reach that goal (joy). This is why in the 5 element theory joy is the “fire” element— it’s the period where we’re using that inner fire to create better circumstances, develop better relationships, and allow ourselves to know through our own actions that we’re worthy of this type of abundance. 

Once we have identified the loss and given ourselves unconditional permission to have an abundance of whatever we deeply need, then we can tap into anger and joy. The anger is that unwillingness to stay in fear or sadness and the joy is the fire we use to make the changes we need to get back to place of contentment.

Okay, confession time — I really should have said there were three things you should do to get out of worry, fear or discontentment. But this is where the fire metaphor becomes complicated. 

Yes, we need fire to grow. Fire is a key component of life. But fire also destroys. And the hardest thing we must do in moving from anger to joy is realize that to get to a new level of joy, we might have to burn it all down. 

The third thing you need to do to get out of worry, fear or discontentment is to embrace Kali energy

Kali is a hindu goddess, often called “the goddess of destruction and creation.” The idea here is that nothing new can be created until the old has been destroyed to create space for the new. Just as the new leaves on a tree cannot grow in spring until the old ones have died and decomposed in autumn and winter, we cannot invite in new joy until we have destroyed the old patterns that no longer serve us. This is exactly why anger must precede joy — we have to become SO ANGRY at how things are, that we’re willing to burn it all down to find a new way of being. But burning it all down is terrifying (I mean, just look at the depictions of Kali. Yikes!) and we can’t harness that amount of courage from a place of fear, we must harness it through anger. We have to use the fire of anger to move forward, to a new more advanced way of being and accept the destruction of anything that no longer serves us in the process. 

Many of us take that anger and try to move backwards, to the last time we were content. But growth doesn’t happen backwards, and true courage isn’t about fighting for what feels familiar, it’s about fighting for what you need for your next level of evolution. 

Remember, the Phoenix only rose from the ashes after the fire had killed it. Kali only destroys things so that new paradigms and new ideas can grow in that place. Anger only works if we are willing to dive into the unknown, the darkness, and trust that our next level of joy will come from what we find after we’ve totally transformed our way of being, destroying what no longer serves us in the process. 

Remember, “everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear,” and anger is the sacred fuel to get you there.

So, what’s so important to you that you’re willing to go into the shadow to get it? What circumstance, belief system, or way of being is having you become so sick that you’re willing to burn the whole thing down so you can find out what will grow there instead? What artifice of safety, security or familiarity are you willing to let go of so you can find your true self, your eternal self, in the place beyond? 

Xo Megan

 

How to Make Better Use of Your Time

How to Make Better Use of Your Time

One of my favorite novels is Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let me Go. It’s a sci-fi thriller about the moral implications of human cloning and a few years after it was published, they made a film adaptation. I went to see a screening and afterwards, there was a Q&A with Ishiguro. In that conversation, Ishiguro said something that profoundly altered my view of life and how I approach my daily existence.

Before I go on, let me tell you a bit about my situation at the time — it was 2010, two years after my stage 3 colon cancer diagnosis at age 32 and I was still in the midst of the period where they were monitoring my cancer to see if it had spread and was going to pop up in any other organs. Needless to say, I spent lots of time thinking about my own mortality and the fact that there was a decent chance I wouldn’t make it to 35 or 40.

So, here I was, facing a possible death at way too young of an age, and trying to figure out how to live life with this new “normal” of having an array of genetic anomalies that could cause new tumors at any time. I was searching for answers as to why this was happening and how I could make sense of the last few years where my life had been turned upside down.

Okay, back to the story of Ishiguro’s interview and the insights I had that day.

In order to understand what Ishiguro said, you kind of have to know the plot of the novel. It’s a mystery/thriller and I don’t want to ruin it for you, so I’ll wait right here while you go read the 288-page book….

Oh, hello again! Finished it? Okay, good 🙂

Just in case you didn’t get a chance to read it, here’s my best attempt to give you the necessary background without any major spoilers. In the novel, there’s a small group of humans that, due to technical issues, will only live to be about 35 years old. (Hmm… seeing any parallels with my situation at the time?) This group of people doesn’t know this at first, until someone lets it slip, and only then do they realize they only have a few more years to live.

When asked why he wrote a sci-fi book, Ishiguro replied, “I didn’t see it as a sci-fi book. I came to the idea for this story as I was thinking one day about our lifespan. We only live about 75 or 80 years old, but what if that number was cut down to 30? Or 35? How would we live our lives differently?” He then continued, “I realized that it doesn’t really matter whether it’s 75 years or 35 years, that’s still a pretty short amount of time we have on this planet, relatively speaking.”

That’s the line that hit me hard… “That’s a pretty short amount of time we have on this planet.

Whether cancer got me at 35, or I survived and made it to 75, it was still the same question. What was I going to do with my limited time on this planet? 

I come back to this question often. How do I want to spend my time here? This obviously informs my longer-term goals like work, relationships, etc. But it also makes me think about things on a smaller scale.

Do I want to spend my days feeling afraid or anxious about my future? Or do I want to be in the present moment and look around to find something beautiful or amazing in the here and now?

How do I want to relate to the people in my life? Do I want to let them know how I feel about them each time I talk to them, even if it seems silly or overly sentimental?

Do I want to worry about my appearance, my likability, or what other people think of me? Or do I want to dance to the beat of my own drummer, know that I only have that beat for another few decades?

You only have a limited amount of time here. How do you want to spend it? What do you want the general tone of your life to be? How do you want to feel most of the time? Silly? Serious? Meaningful? Loving?

What’s something you can do today that will feel like you made use of your time today? Tell someone you love them? Spend some time enjoying the feeling of sunshine on your face? Or the sound of your favorite song?

This may be my last day here, or I may have another 10,000 days but the question for me is the same.

How do I want to spend my time today? 

For I only have some number of days left. I don’t know how many, so the question is the same … what can I do to enjoy my existence here today?

Please let me know — what are you going to do to enjoy your time here on this planet today?

Xo Megan

What I do when worry takes over

What I do when worry takes over

I’ve spent a lot of time worrying the past few days. My worrying always tends to be about the same, familiar topics and it feels involuntary — I’ll be fine one minute and then suddenly I’ll start with a familiar spiral of worrying thoughts. Like a well-worn path in the woods, my neurons have forged paths through my white matter where they trigger the same fearful thoughts over and over.

Most of my worries are about safety and security. I worry about my business being successful. I worry if I will have enough money when I retire. I worry where I will live in 20, 30 or 40 years. And I worry about my health and if I will have people to take care of me when I get old and frail.

But I’m sure if my life circumstances were different, I’d find different things to worry about. If I had kids, I’m sure I’d be worried about them. If I owned a house, I’d probably worry about a big repair that I couldn’t afford. Even if I had millions of dollars, I might worry about never finding love.

Worry does that. It finds something to latch on to, regardless of our life circumstances. 

But I know better than to let my worries completely take over. I know that they have a sneaky way of amplifying themselves and consuming my day if I let them drive the narrative.

So today instead of letting worry take over or trying to forge ahead by forcing myself to push aside the worry, I took a walk in the park to have a conversation with my worry. 

The worry started its chatter, “Why are you in the park? You should be working on marketing right now. How are you ever going to be successful if you don’t start doing more?”

“Yes,” I answered, “I hear you. What are you really scared of?”

“I don’t want to be destitute and alone,” said my worry “I don’t want to feel like I have to keep pushing and working and struggling when I’m 80 and too tired to do it anymore.”

“But I’m pushing and struggling now,” I replied, “I’m not marketing because you’ve put so much pressure on me and my success that I can’t possibly be lit up and excited about it. What if I didn’t worry about what I was building for the future and instead just did what I enjoyed, right now?”

I reminded my worry none of us know what will happen in the future, life is quite unpredictable, so trying to live there is actually a bit silly. All we can do is live in the now.

“I’m scared,” my worry said.

“I know,” I replied.

“I want to feel taken care of,” said worry, “I want to feel connection and warmth and like I don’t have to do this alone.”

Ah, there it is. My core wound coming up again.

You see, as a small child and all through my adolescence, I had to do some really hard things with little to no support. My mother had a severe personality disorder and if I expressed any need for help or care, it was met with anger, blame, and vitriol, so I learned to do everything on my own. I still struggle with this today, and when I worry, it’s that I’ll be alone on my own again, with my heart broken and no one around to hold me or help me through.

I’m not actually scared of any particular circumstances, I’m scared to feel that heartbreak again.

But I’m not 7 anymore, and I know if I feel heartbreak, I will make it through. It won’t be pleasant, but it also won’t kill me.

So I ask my worry to show me where that heartbreak is in my body. It’s a tightness in my chest and heavy like a stone. I walk through the park and I simply feel it. I don’t make a story about being alone and unsupported in the future, or let it take over my thoughts about work, I simply let the physical sensations arise in my body.

It hurt. I felt so, so alone and so desperate for connection and care.

Then, I turned to my inner caregiver, that part of my awareness that I’ve cultivated over the last few years as a source of love and care, and I asked her to show me what care feels like.

I felt warmth, connection, laughter. I saw times with friends where I’d felt so comforted and loved. I saw the world as a welcoming place. I saw future relationships with people that I don’t even know yet that fulfil me in new and amazing ways.

Suddenly, I heard the birds in the park and I stopped to listen. Had they been singing this whole time? The grass had been freshly mowed and felt like soft velvet under my feet. There were two girls on the swings screaming and laughing their heads off.

“Right now, this world is safe,” I thought, “and I am not doing this alone. I am connected and cared for by my friends, this planet, and even by people I haven’t met yet.”

I could almost feel my brain chemistry change in that moment. Like one set of neurotransmitters had been reabsorbed while another came flooding in.

I felt safe. I felt connected. I felt like all was going to be okay.

I know it’s different for those of us that grew up in severely dysfunctional or abusive situations. I know how our brains developed differently under the constant stress, I know our nervous systems do their best to try to navigate the patterns of extreme highs and lows, and I know that all of that is now a part of my physiological makeup, and why when my worry comes along, it feels so invasive and involuntary.

But you can get to a place where you can feel comfort, safety, connection and care, even with no one else there. You can change the way you perceive the world, and when you do that, it no longer seems like such a scary place.

It takes time, it takes effort, and it takes a willingness to do some shadow work and let some intense feelings arise, but it can be done.

If you want some support in this, a sherpa to help you climb this mountain, then please reach out. You deserve to feel safe and comforted. You deserve to look at the world and see connection and care.

Xo Megan

Mother Teresa was an A$$hole

Mother Teresa was an A$$hole

Recently, I’ve noticed a theme coming up in my conversations with friends and clients — we’re all sick of being nice. By being nice, I mean doing the emotional labor to make sure our message is coming through in a pleasant way, while also scanning our conversation partners to make sure they’re not feeling misunderstood, offended, or disempowered. Being nice is a complex dance of thinking of what you want to say + crafting it so that it sounds nice + making sure the other person is feeling okay about what you have to say + readjusting on the fly if they are not okay. It’s a dynamic that takes so much more effort, intuition, and mental energy than just thinking of what you want to say and saying it.

Why is this happening now? My take is that it’s a byproduct of complex trauma from the pandemic. We’ve all had to expend so much more mental energy to get through this (reconfiguring work and childcare, worrying about getting sick, spending 24/7 with our families, etc) while losing access to so many of the things that allow our nervous systems to return to a calm baseline (connections with friends and family, activities outside the home, alone time, etc). Since all of this leaves us with less mental and emotional energy, we’ve been rethinking where we should spend our energy, and where it’s necessary to put up boundaries so we can protect and conserve the energy we do have.

And one of those boundaries seems to be around being nice.

But this can often be hard, especially for women, because there’s a social cost to it, or we feel guilty. And most of us like to make sure people feel heard, validated and understood.

But I think we need to reframe this. For those times when we don’t have the energy to do the extra emotional labor of being nice, I’d like to propose an alternative that’s still in line with the value of helping people (including yourself!) feel heard, validated and understood, but doesn’t take nearly the mental gymnastics of being nice.

You can be kind

What’s the difference? Well, let me present to you — Mother Teresa.

I think we can all agree that Mother Teresa did some amazing things to help the poor. She created hospitals, orphanages, soup kitchens, and homes for the dying. She spent her life doing her best to help those who otherwise would not have had access to health care, food, and a place to die with dignity.

I remember watching the news when she died in 1997. There was a panel of journalists who were talking about her achievements, and all she did for the poor, when one of them interjected, “But you know, Mother Teresa was, rather famously, an asshole.”  All the other journalists stopped and stared. The first journalist continued, “I mean, she did miraculous things in her lifetime, but she was notoriously difficult. She would fight for what she thought was right, tooth and nail, and she could be quite hard-headed and difficult about it.”

Mother Teresa was kind, but not nice. 

There are other examples of folks who are kind, but not nice. I think Anthony Bourdain and the character of Roy Kent from Ted Lasso also fit the bill. They’re not nice people, and could be described as assholes, but they both have such obviously kind and caring hearts. I think the reason I particularly love the Mother Teresa example is because we don’t have many role models of women who are kind, but not nice.

So when I notice that I need to create a boundary around my emotional labor, when I notice that it would take more energy than I have at the moment to think about what I want to say and figure out how to be “nice” about it rather than just saying it, I find myself repeating this mantra in my head:

“Mother Teresa was an asshole. Mother Teresa was an asshole. Mother Teresa was an asshole.”

And then I just do or say the thing. In the end, it doesn’t matter if I’m nice about it, as long as I know that it comes from a place of kindness or compassion, either for myself or others. Sometimes, there’s backlash and people seem a bit shocked that I’m so straightforward and uncompromising, but after a lifetime of people-pleasing, I’m practicing not caring how other people view me. It’s much more important that I prioritize compassion for myself and others over tone-policing my own words and actions.

I invite you to imagine a life where you are kind but not nice. Where you do and say what you want, when you want, and live from a heart-centred place where you’re free from worrying about anyone else’s opinion of you. Because remember, what other people think of you is none of your business.

Xo Megan

The Four Phases of Spiritual Awakening

The Four Phases of Spiritual Awakening

I had so many responses to my last essay, “You are the boat”, that I wanted to tell you a bit more about what I know about the phases of spiritual awakening. And of course, talk more about the boat!  

The metaphor of a kayak navigating the rapids and how it relates to spiritual awakening first came to me when I learned to kayak about 15 years ago, just after finishing chemotherapy for cancer at age 32. I was going through an intense physical, emotional and spiritual crisis and was looking to understand more about why all of this shit was happening to me. At that time, I had an epiphany where I finally understood the idea of myself and the boat as two parts of the same being — my human self and my spiritual self. My understanding of the other phases came later, as I deepened my spiritual practice.

There are four phases of spiritual awakening in this metaphor. Progression through these phases takes you from being ego-bound and unable to escape your own suffering all the way to understanding that you are both everything and nothing (the manifest and unmanifest) and that, in fact, there is no “you” there to suffer through anything at all. 

So, let’s go through the phases, one by one. 

Everyone got your kayak ready? Got your paddle? Got your desire to be one with the universe? 

Excellent! Let’s go. 

Phase 1: 

When you first learn to kayak, you’re constantly flipping over and it’s hard to control the direction of the boat. This is phase one – where our emotions and belief systems about the world feel out of control, just like the kayak. In this phase, life seems unpredictable, unfair and it feels like no matter what you do, there’s always someone or something that gets in the way. Maybe your boss is really difficult or you’re always rehashing the same fights over and over with your partner. Maybe you just can’t get a break and it feels like the world is against you. There’s also an internal struggle going on as well, and you often worry about what other people think of you or how they will react to your choices. You worry about if you’re good enough and fear people will see through you. Life feels uncertain and precarious and like you’re stuck on this emotional rollercoaster where trauma and drama keep happening in your life, over and over. 

Phase 2: 

Phase two is when you start to learn to control the boat. You learn how to steer the boat right and left, how to back paddle to slow down, and how to shift your weight so that the boat goes where you want it to. In this phase, you’ve learned some emotional regulation skills so that when you feel like life is going off the rails you can do something to “control the boat.” This could be tools like deep breathing, guided meditation, or going for a walk. You’ve been to therapy or learned how to do some thought work, like Byron Katie’s The Work and can now understand that you shouldn’t believe everything you think. You’ve done a lot of work to address the trauma in your past and look at how your thoughts, behaviors and choices come through that lens of your trauma response. Life seems calmer now and you understand that while you can’t control much of what happens to you, you can control how you react to it. 

Phase 3: 

Phase three is when you realize that successfully making it through the rough rapids isn’t about trying to control the boat much at all. It’s about learning to listen to the boat and follow its lead. The boat is designed to float, so if you react to what the boat wants to do instead of trying to control it, you’ll make it through with much less effort and a sense of partnership with the boat. This is when you start to understand that you are a spiritual being having a human experience. There are two parts to you – the human self (passenger) and the spiritual self (the boat). Once you let the spiritual self lead the way, life becomes a whole lot easier. In this phase, you’ve had some experiences with ego dissolution through meditation or with plant medicine and you’ve come to understand that you have a soul or spirit. You also understand that the idea of “you” as a separate being is just a temporary illusion you’re experiencing while you’re incarnated here as a human. In this phase, intuition becomes much stronger and you have a good sense of your “spiritual compass” or karmic area of study you’re supposed to explore during this lifetime. There’s also often a sense of comfort or peace as you deepen your awareness of universal consciousness and know that as an eternal being, you are always safe and nothing can ever really hurt you. 

Phase 4: 

Finally, we get to phase 4. At this point you’ve realized that not only are you both the passenger and the boat, you are also the river. And the rocks. And the trees. And the birds and the wind…. You are everything, all made of the same stuff, the unmanifest made manifest. This is when you’ve reached enlightenment or awakening. At this point, you can easily access a blissed-out state of feeling connected, and all feels right in the world. Even when things are going “wrong” you see that there is a rightness there. You accept all as right and good because if it’s happening, it has to be right and good. There is equanimity to joy and pain and everything in between, it all loses its meaning other than, “it is”.  In this phase, there’s a heightened level of intuition and an opening of deep reservoirs of compassion and love for everything around you. Once you understand that you and everything outside of “you” is the same thing you understand that all there is to do is be love, emit love, and receive love. 

Is there a phase 5? There could be! At my point in this journey, I’ve only been able to experience these 4, but I know that I am an ever-evolving, ever-changing being and I don’t yet know what I don’t know. 

It’s important to note that these phases don’t necessarily go in order and that we often cycle through the phases depending on the day, our mood, our past experiences, and so on. We can also be in one phase for months or years before we experience the next one, and many people never go past phase one or two in this incarnation. This is as it’s supposed to be, there is no here that is better than there, it all just is as it should be. 

I’m curious — tell me how you’ve experienced these phases. Where are you and your boat today? 

Xo Megan