At-Home Retreat: How to Design Your Own Healing Retreat

The more years I spend on this earth and the wiser I get, the more I understand how our own healing contributes to the healing of others and of the earth. Taking the time to heal is never selfish but always a worthy endeavor, based in service.

For me, healing often comes in the quiet time after changes in my life, be it subtle, personal and related to the ego (my insecure, wounded self), or after major events. I’ve also had the pleasure of healing in the support of a group, such as when I participated in a Rites of Passage journey during graduate school, featuring a 3 day and 3 night fasted solo, with my transpersonal wilderness therapy cohort. In addition, I listen to a lot of podcasters who have done vision quests, ayahuasca ceremonies, or week-long meditation retreats. The journeys are, almost always (if you choose ayahuasca, do your research), meaningful and healing. Yet, financially or time wise, these journeys remain inaccessible for many. Or, a long retreat may feel a little too scary or a person may feel unworthy of that kind of investment in themself (which is something to explore in itself, maybe during your at-home retreat).

While an at-home retreat may not replace a retreat with a group, or spiritual leader holding space and designing the schedule, I fully believe in its power. Intention is what is important.

Before I dig in, for any new reader, I have intentionally moved into a yurt, with my fur child, for 6 months to cocoon and aid in my own healing, which you can read about more here: https://adogandhergirl.com/2022/11/08/cocooning-yurt-life/ https://adogandhergirl.com/wanderings/
However, I’m still working and I still have wifi and cell reception. And whew, let me tell you…social media can be one of the best ways to throw you off your healing game (although there are a great deal of spiritual teachers the various platforms now)!

So, even despite the intention for half the year being peace and healing, I realized I needed more of a deep dive into the intention after a podiatrist recommended I wear a boot for a few weeks to help my Achilles heel, heal. Between that frustration (really, fear and sadness) and the frustration (again, fear and sadness) of not aligning with a friend, I knew I wasn’t in harmony with myself or my intention to heal and find peace. Then, my Reiki therapist*, perfectly scheduled for the next day, also had a vision of me in this quiet space. I’m not sure if I needed the extra vote or not, but I was certainly incentivized to get all my work done by Friday evening so I could detach from my cell phone, emails, and social media the next two days.

*A quick note on guides and mentors: I, personally, am not one to go out and ask someone to be a mentor, although I’ve heard many others speaking about having these types of guides in their life, free of charge. For me, I’ve come to see the monetary exchange between me and my mental health therapist, Reiki therapist, etc., as energy exchanges. “Energy exchange” is also a helpful term for me as I’m continually working through blocks around money.

I’m not going to go too deep into my experience here and instead give an outline of how to create your own healing retreat, but I do want to normalize that there is no normal experience. While I do recommend a certain order to the day, any stuck or cloudy emotions may remain throughout a 24hr period, and the path isn’t always linear. Whatever happens, happens, and it’s all okay.

1. Set an intention

I’ve been overall generalizing this post as a healing retreat, but what does that mean for you? What do you want to get out of your time? What themes do you want to explore? For instance, I was seeking healing around my Achilles tendon, but what I was really working through were my emotions and thoughts my Achilles injury was a manifestation of.

2. Clear your space (schedule and home)

I recommend at least two days, at least for the initial at-home retreat. 2.5-3 days is great, because honestly, sometimes you just need to spend extra time sleeping.

This is obviously easier to do if you don’t have a spouse and kids, but it is still doable! Or, if you’re like me and work from home, you may often work on the weekends, and it’s really important you get all that done beforehand. Then there’s the roommate situation. Don’t let these situations be blocks. Again, if you are holding the intention to create this time and healing space for yourself, that matters over anything being perfect.

A few suggestions: As a therapist, I’m a big proponent of parents having at least a little time for themselves each week, and a longer solo weekend each year, if that is at all a possibility. While if it is in your budget, you could get a hotel*, but mainly, I would recruit your spouse, friends, and family for help and have them hang out with the kids as long as possible. (Different cultures have known for a long time that parents are not meant to be sole caregivers, and communities used to have several adults help out for each one child. Unfortunately, communities are not currently set up that way, but it’s important to remember that taking time for yourself to heal and rejuvenate is beneficial for the whole family). If you’ve got roommates, maybe you know someone who is heading out for the weekend and you could house sit. Or, just tell your roommates (or your partner) your plan and let them know that you are choosing to remain silent or keeping conversations short for the weekend.

If possible, do some light cleaning ahead of time. Yet, if this turns into an activity for the next day (as it did for me), make it a mindful activity and listen to some high frequency beats rather than a podcast. Although podcasts can certainly play a role (see Step 2).

Oh, make sure to get your groceries ahead of time too! A go to meal for me is the Ayurvedic dish kitchari. I use a recipe from Minimalist Baker that I “mostly” follow.

*My goal here is to make this accessible as possible, in all seasons. For me, this retreat came in winter, when I was healing from an Achilles injury, and I didn’t want to have to drive or plan anything elaborate. But of course, heading out for a few nights of camping is a great option. The trick is, if you’re an athlete, is not to turn it into a big adventure weekend. (I love the healing aspects of movement, but there is so much healing in being still, or at least still-ish, especially if you are a “mover”.)

3. Design a ( flexible) schedule

Again, this is up to you and your intention, and there is no exact right way. Personally, I still wanted to get in my morning dog walk and cycling session on my indoor trainer, which others may not advise. Yet these activities were important to me, so I simply made them more intentional than usual. For example, in the morning dog walk, I was grounding in my intention for the day. During my cycling session, I stayed off my phone and listened to a podcast that also provided a “teaching” (or morning class) for the day. Truly, it wasn’t unlike a monk’s life (which I read about in Jay Shetty’s book Think Like a Monk) where the mornings are usually structured with a meditation, a class, and Yoga. Others may choose to truly meditate and be in silence throughout the day.

My suggestion, more than anything, is to create a flow to the day or weekend. For example, if you’re trying to work through a feeling of resistance, negative thoughts or emotions, grief, etc, I like to put journaling time or meditations where you go into the emotions earlier in the day, which may or may not be morning. Personally, on my first day I allowed myself to sleep until 8, did my morning Gabby Bernstein meditation (I’m part of her Miracle Membership), walked Pacer, cycled, ate breakfast, read a little bit from Sacred Contracts: Awakening Your Divine Potential by Caroline Myss, did some tidying up and then took a shower. By that time, it was well past 12.

Here’s some ideas:

-Morning meditation.
-Morning “teaching” (book or podcast).
-Mindful movement (walk outside, Yoga, Qigong, dance, foam roll, stretch).
-Journal on the current on the challenge you are working to heal (optional: listen to bilateral stimulation music).
-Meditation, breathinging into the heavy emotions.
-Read a book (already picked out) that explores your challenge or is spiritual in nature, taking time to reflect and maybe journal so you read.
-Second meditation (Focusing on your breath and allowing for what comes in, or perhaps another guided meditation. I picked one specifically on healing.)
-Channeled journaling. As Lee Harris prompts, at the top of the page simply write (I’m paraphrasing a bit) “Spirit, what would you like me to know today?” and simply write in free flow for a few minutes. (You’re logical brain may try to stop you here, but even if you feel like it’s just your imagination writing, keep going.)
-Actually do the exercises from your self-help or spiritual book
-Breathwork (I like the simple box breathing practice of 4 second inhale, 4 second hold, 4 second exhale, 4 second hold.)
-Gratitude list: Either write down 3-5 things you are grateful for, or, let it turn into a 3 page journal gratitude flow. One of the keys is not just to write down your gratitude list, but to feel it as well.

*Flexible: Be mindful of distractions, but allow for some spontaneity.

4. Turn off or limit device use

The big one here is going to be a social media fast. I’d also try to stay aways from any internet searches, but notice the urge and allow it to pass. (This is a way to retrain your brain to be in charge of devices and not to have devices, apps, etc be in charge of you.). A big thing for me was not to use the intentional space to work on a book or write another blog post. While often therapeutic for me, I knew it could just be a distraction from looking into the thoughts and emotions I didn’t want to feel. I chose to turn my phone off, but check it twice a day for family emergencies. My sister, who lives 20 minutes away, also knew my plan. Obviously, I did use my computer, but I resisted temptation and only used it for podcasts (“teachings”), meditations, and healing frequency music.

When you decide to turn your phone back on and return texts, emails, etc., is up to you and your obligations. If it has to be Sunday (or whatever day you are ending on) night, that’s okay, but ease into it as much as possible.

Optional: Use candles, incense, crystals, etc.

I am not an expert in any of these and their healing uses. Once in a while I’ll use sage or palo santo to clear energy, and I have an Apache tear drops rock that I bought in Sedona, AZ that I like. Mainly, I like to use candles and incense to create a certain atmosphere that can help me get into a different state, a state that is outside of my normal human “do, think, and maybe ruminate too state”. Use what calls to you.

5. Allow

After you’re at home retreat, let your experience settle. If nothing felt “profound”, don’t judge the experience. What often happens is we peel back a layer and reset our baseline. After my recent “at-yurt retreat” experience, I emailed my Reiki therapist and wrote “…I’m finally, truly, understanding what it means to “trust the process”.  In hindsight, I realize that without my Achilles injury, I probably wouldn’t have gone on such a deep, personal journey and I’m only beginning to experience all the interplays it has in my life.  And, I fully believe I have and am doing everything I can to heal, and I really just trust my achilles will heal when it’s supposed to. ” I lost that feeling maybe a day later. Yet daily, I bounce back more quickly to the feeling of trusting the process. I think amnesia is simply part of the human condition, but the more we work through the fog, the easier it gets to remember and turn back to truth.

Bonus: Follow Ups

A few weeks later, I felt the urge for the quiet, solitude (plus Pacer) time again. However, there was no way I could get around the work that I still needed to do. So instead, I just put 8 hrs of no phone or social media time aside and was intentional with the time I did have. Because the timeframe was compact, I was just a little more focused with my time. This shortened retreat was healing too, and I think 4 hours could be as well. Again, it’s the intention that matters.

(This may seem like a lot of time for inner work, but again, this is part of the reason why I moved into a yurt with my dog for 6 months. I can’t say exactly why yet, but I know its an important part of my own journey.)

Interested in a little more? I created a Rites of Passage Ultra Plan for people also interested in running a 50 mile + race: https://higherrunning.com/training-plans/the-rites-of-passage-50-mile-to-100km-plan/

On Magic

Magic is all around us.

If only we were trained to see it as such.

Instead, we’ve been trained to see it as “normal”. How the sun rise each day and the stars glitter each night. That I can give a friend a hug and feel a profound gratitude for their presence. How, as I type this, I can reach out my hand and put my fingers through the fur of a being who is pure, unconditional love.

I don’t care how well someone explains to me TVs, cell phones, and computers. I will always be amazed that I can get an “I love you” text from my dad 1,500 miles way in a matter of seconds. Or how I can get a live picture on my screen of a full movie, taped years ago, past appearing in reality as present. It’s mind blowing.

Or, that one time in my life, I was a mere egg, just a possibility. Then, a 6 lb baby, paired with another 6lb baby (my twin sister), who came out of a woman (my mother) who is more petite than I am. Now, I’m a full grown 5’4″ walking and talking adult. Bananas!

And, if you really want to talk miracles, what about the fact that we live on this sphere floating around in space, orbiting around the sun from just the right distance so we can survive, and that the moon affects the ocean tide?

Love.

That a human body, made of skin and bone, can experience the sensation of love. That be it physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, we can love, and so deeply that it hurts.

When you think of life that way, when you can stare out at the mountains in the pink glow of sunrise or at the ocean as the sun fades in the horizon, it actually seems silly to believe magic doesn’t exist.

It may take some squinting at first, some fuzzy-ing up your vision as you did as kid to see the blackboard to prove you didn’t need glasses, this time to un-train your conditioned eyes, but I promise, when you look choose to look through the lens of awe, you will see it. Not only will you see it, you will realize magic has always existed, has always been all around you.

[I was recently asked by a friend if I’ve ever tried plant medicine before, as some of my writings seem to reflect as much. At the time of this writing, I have not, nor have I ever had any medicine much stronger than Tylenol, save for the local anesthesia when I’ve gone to the dentist or had my PRP injection. Still, I am certainly not against plant medicine and the beautiful “places” I’ve heard it can take you. (I am especially interested in using psychedelic medicine in trauma work by trained therapists.) Personally, what I have found is that the deeper I dive into my mental health journey, or inner work, and the braver I’ve gotten to be a witness to my own darkness, that only spirituality is left on the other side. This writing, in particular, was written during my “at home weekend retreat” where I spent much of the day journaling, meditating, and going out onto the land to walk my dog.]

Ambivalence

(Some sensitive material)

I have done a lot of the deep inner work sifting through fear and pain.  In doing so, I’ve also developed a deeper spiritual practice, which is ever strengthening.  Even so,  at this point, I am not immune to the tug of darkness. 

While I have never been suicidal, there’s still a part of me (I used to say it was part of my soul, now I think its part of a shadow) that says “Okay.  I’m done.  I don’t want to be here (in the physical world) anymore.”

What time and wisdom have taught me is simply that this feeling will pass, the light will come back. That darkness can be my greatest teacher, but I have to be brave enough to pass through it.  

Eventually, I will remember.  I will remember that light, joy, and love never truly leaves us.  It just gets blocked. And the only way to remove a block is to surrender to it, to feel the way through the darkness, or rather, the difficult emotions. Maybe the human experience is just learning how to remove the blocks from our path, strengthening the knowledge of our own sacredness and deepening our resolve to be in the light.

[In therapy, especially EMDR, I’m literally helping clients remove blocks, or in EMDR terms “negative cognitions” (including past memories and emotions) that were picked up from false narratives created in childhood in an attempt to explain the behavior of unhealed adults.

If I could talk to a person when they are feeling suicidal, the best wisdom I could offer is “this too shall pass.” At the darkest point, the wisest thing to do is to ask for help, to let someone else be the light until they can retrieve their own. And when they retrieve their light, it will be brighter than before, and when they start sharing that light with light others, they will bask in an even greater light. ]

Finding Gratitude in Pain: Can I really, like really, really, be grateful for my injury?

I wasn’t sure if I’d every get to the place of being truly, truly grateful for my Achilles tendon injury. I had found appreciation in it- last year I wrote about how it taught me joy in slowing down and being grateful for what I could do. Yet I was only part way there. I wasn’t even close to how I feel now. I still had more pain to go through. Another summer of hobbling around in the mountains, more PT exercises and therapies like shockwave and PRP (both painful). On top of that, there was more heartbreak, more shadow work, and more emotional work that I had to experience.

In hindsight, cursed and blessed hindsight, all the pain was really one and the same, pointing toward what needed healing.

Now, I’d probably be a little silly to say it is all in hindsight. Even so, I’d be blind not to say that there is a breaking free.

When I decided to move into a yurt for six months, I mostly knew what I was doing. I wanted to heal, to repair the frayed ends of my nerves, the breaks in my heart, and the cracks in my soul. I just didn’t know to what degree, or even to what degree was possible.

What I realize now is that in the past two and a half months, I’ve essentially put myself in a self-growth and spiritual masterclass.

Upon rising, I’ve consistently done a Gabriel Bernstein meditation or exercises. Five mornings a week, I’ve been on my bike trainer listening to a new podcast, including Rich Roll, The School of Greatness (Lewis Howe), On Purpose (Jay Shetty), Deja Blu, Highest Self (Sahara Rose), Impact the World (Lee Harris), Pretty Intense (Danica Patrick), and Almost 30 (Krista Williams and Lindsey Simcik) and so many more. Then, maybe I’ll listen to another podcast while doing my foam rolling and mobility or strength work. I’ve spent more time reading and less time watching Netflix. I’ve practiced, and sometimes simply attempted, to shut my phone off to journal, channel my guides and higher self, and practice meditation.

I have a deeper connection with my unlimited being (or, spiritual self), than I ever would have had I not had the injury. I think my ego’s reigns would still be strong, judging my worth by comparison, be it race times or how far I could push my body in what it could do.

Unconsciously, I was tired of the fight to prove my worth and control the narrative. My body told me that long before my conscious mind would. The body will always tell you what your unconscious mind believes.

Of course, I know I’m not fully “there” yet, but I’m learning, and beginning to embody, unconditional self love and true joy.

I’m grateful that the healing journey has been slow too. If it wasn’t, I never would have reached out to a wonderful Reiki therapist who is now on my “healing team.” I’m also starting with a new psychotherapist who met everything on my checklist: EMDR, somatic awareness, and spiritual coaching. I also know I don’t see all of the interplays yet, but am excited to see how the journey unfolds.

I do know that I will, at times, fall out of gratitude, for, if anything, forgetting seems to be a large part of the human experience.

Yet, I have this experience and this practice to come back to now. I have a gratitude and love that runs deeper than my fears.

The Vibration of “YAY!”

One gift, or word, my older sister left our family with before she passed was the word “yay!”. I think she must have picked the word up from the minions in Despicable Me. I really don’t remember, but “yay!” and “awesome” became word that we associate with her.

While it’s not uncommon to hear any member of my family say “Yay!” and then see another family member smile, I only realized recently what an “awesome present” (all puns intended) my sister left us with.

Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts that discuss things like quantum physics and vibrational frequencies, which a very teeny, tiny part of me has begun to understand on a logical level.

I’ve also begun, while alone in my yurt (+Pacer), seemingly out of nowhere and somewhat unconsciously, hearing myself yell “Yay!”. Pacer looks up from the couch and wags her nub, both of us realizing that at the same time that the sound came from me.

Yay! is an exciting, celebratory word. The exclamation point that comes after it is more of a given than a necessary component.

Yay! doesn’t just mean life is good, it means life is amazing, miraculous, and so much so that your inner being can’t help but shout “Yay!” It’s like the vibration, or the energy of the word is too big to contain inside of oneself and must instead be shouted.

As you read the word “yay!” over and over again in the blog post, can you feel the energy rising in your chest?

Why hold it in? Say it out loud with me. Yay!

How did that feel? How do you feel now compared to when you started reading this post?

Yay! is like sunshine in a word. It contains so much light that it can’t help but to burst forth, raising your vibration and that of everyone around you.

Even when not feeling great, try saying “yay”. When said without the exclamation, or in a monotone voice, it feels kind of silly to say. Which is still a lift in the right direction. And personally, while I’m not one to bypass uncomfortable emotions, a little silly on a dark day is still a much appreciated light. Whether a day is a bit gray or already sunny, I’ve now come to consciously start saying “Yay!” to raise my own vibration and let the Universe (Spirit/God/Mother Nature) know that I am grateful for what I’ve been given.

Practice:

Have you ever seen this magnets that say “YAY! _______!” “YAY! MOUNTAINS!” “YAY! COFFEE!” “YAY! DOGS!” “YAY! CAMPING!” “YAY! LOVE!” “YAY! ADVENTURE!” “YAY! ADVENTURE!” “YAY! PIZZA!” “YAY! CUPCAKES!” “YAY! FRIDAY!” “YAY! PICKLES!” “YAY! FRIENDS!” There is pretty much a “YAY!” for everything, which is another way of saying that there is so much to celebrate and be grateful for.

This is your practice. Make saying “Yay!” a daily habit. Throughout the 16 or so hours that you are awake, say “Yay!” whenever you see or hear anything that makes you happy or thankful. “Yay! coffee!” “Yay! dog walks!” “Yay! lunch!” “Yay! friendly cashier!” “Yay! friend who called me!” “Yay! candles!” “Yay! books!” “Yay! going to be early!”

At the end of the day, just take note of how you felt. Then, if you want, do it again the next day. And then maybe again the next. Because life is way more miraculous that we’ve been trained to see. Yay!

[I always feel like I have to write a disclaimer when I write a post like this for fear that what I say will be misconstrued and called “toxic positivity”, even though the study of “positive psychology” itself is misconstrued. I am 100% for feeling all the feelings, because feeling them is the only way we allow uncomfortable emotions to pass, and the only way we can be guided to deeper truths. Maybe it’s because I’ve done the challenging work of going into my own darkness that I’ve gotten to this point, but I really, really care about feeling good and living a life that is directed towards joy. So yes, feel all the feelings, and then orient towards beauty, awe, and however you want to feel.]

Winter’s Invitation

Some say
that winter’s days are
too short,
too dark.

I say,
they are perfect harmony,
for what my body and soul
require.

Enough time to wander,
to play
in the Light.

To greet the morning deer,
and howl with the coyotes welcoming night.

Enough time to rest,
to read,
to contemplate and write.

To whisper and twinkle with the stars
and praise the moonlight.
Remark in the contrast,
the highlight of the white snow,
against the navy sky.

Winter invites me in.
My soul, grateful for the reflection.
I bury myself in books and imagination while
the rabbits burrow in their holes.

I feel alive in the sharp
chill of the air
and in the comfort of
the fire.

Winter both calls me under the covers
and to the window,
to be a witness to the beauty of stillness,
as Mother Earth rests under her own blanket,
a gift from Father Sky.

Pacer, the blur shown, was one very excited puppy to be running in the moonlit snow.

Moonless Night

I ran into the moonless night,
not sure what I would find.
Was I even searching?
After all, I had no light,
nothing, to show the way.
What way?

Pulled forward only by something I could not describe.
One blind step in front of the other,
stumbling over rocks and roots.
Falling.
The dead leaves cushioning my hands.

It would have made sense to turn back,
to the warmth of the fire.
But in the pure black night,
the way back had disappeared.

Then, in the stillness, in the silence of the dark,
I heard a calling.
So soft, I was temped to call it fiction.
Yet fiction is not false.
Indecipherable-
was it coming from the sky?
With my only choice to trust the yearning inside of me,
I began to run again.

First hesitant, still falling-
and then…
Swiftly as a deer, the forest my home,
I moved with primal, intuitive instinct.

I was running towards the light of the horizon,
the pink and orange sky.
My frozen breath,
the only sign of my human body.

Until it wasn’t.
Until I blended into the sunrise,
leaving only footprints behind.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Without question, 2022 was a challenging year for me. While the events were not as harsh as in the year 2020 when I faced the physical death of my older sister, I faced my own spiritual death in 2022.

A great unshedding. Certain events led me to facing the pain inside of me, conversing with my own shadows, shadows that had protected me for so long…and letting them go. It was not an easy process, nor one that I would have necessarily chose at the onset. But I am grateful for it. It has already led to more love and joy in my life, or rather, an unveiling of what was already inside me. Of course, the journey is not over. I am still human after all. Yet I feel something shifting, slowly, and I am quite certain it is only because I had the courage to go into the darkness of my pain. Ironically, it is in the depths of darkness that one finds light.

On Darkness

Is darkness real? 

This is a question many people have, but few have ever truly contemplated.  We ask questions like, “If there was a God, how could He let children starve?”  If we go any further than that, we usually end up at “There is no God” or “There is true evil (devil) in this world.”  Neither of those answers do it for me.  They’re just too incomplete, too reductionary.  So I chose the path I lead my counseling clients on when they are feeling lost: go right into the darkness.  

This essay is my attempt to explain darkness, from a human, spiritual, and mental health perspective and to answer the question “Is darkness real?”  

My list on what darkness is or what could be ended up being a pretty long list.  It included: evil, depression, night, shadow self, suppression of the light, death, rest, despair, fear, and shame. Some of the things on this list may read as inherently “bad”…but what about the night sky?  What about rest?  I quite enjoy my 8 plus hours of sleep each night, and anyone in Alaska will tell you that it’s hard to sleep without blackout shades. Then again, during winter, you’ll hear many Americans protest against the long, dark days, although I’ve learned to enjoy the extra time to move slowly and reflect. So if it wasn’t for our resistance to it, would the dark be negative at all?

As I was getting ready to write this essay, a friend replied to one of my social media posts on darkness.  She asked me “Do you think the depression that comes with Winter is just something to sink into?”  My reply, as usual, was nuanced.  I replied “I would say it depends on how we want to define “depression”. Personally, I think surrendering to the “darkness” is simply part of winter/solstice. If I had to start definine things, I’d say depression is more going into the darkness and getting stuck there, rather than being able to go in and pass through.”  

My counseling background tells me that depression is a few things.  It’s the suppression of emotions, it’s the suppression of one’s true nature, and it’s the loss of hope.  I think we could also call it the suppression of light.  Like most therapists, I won’t say there are any negative emotions, just uncomfortable ones.  However, many  people do perceive emotions like sadness, fear, and anger as negative, and for various reasons (that’s an essay in itself), they don’t feel them.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean they go away.  It means the emotions get stuck in their bodies and like clouds that continue to build up, they block out any light.  In the darkness of that inner cave, it’s hard to find a way out without any help, or without hope, so people get stuck. Lost. Maybe this is what it means to be a lost soul.  The true enemy is not the fact everything feels dark, it’s forgetting that there is a way out. 

To break from theory for a moment, I’ll add my personal experience.  When I experienced depression in my teens and twenties, depression was a mixture of numbness and intense self-loathing.  Sadness was there too, but the tears also told me I “wasn’t okay”, that something must be wrong with me. Since then, I’ve had many therapy sessions and done a lot of inner work on my own that was all about going into the darkness, which was really just all my unfelt emotions and negative beliefs about myself built up. Feeling the “cloud of my emotions”, and really, experiencing the storm inside of me allowed the clouds space to move.  This gave a chance for the sun to come out.  Now, the emotions still come, but they pass through my body more easily.   

Next, there’s the theory of the shadow self.  If you are a visual person, you can literally think of your own shadow as the 3pm sun hits your body and creates a shadow of your body, like a stealth body guard.  Our shadow parts are “the guardians” of  the parts of us we reject and that lay outside of us, unaccepted and not to be seen, unintegrated into the whole of ourselves. Or maybe more accurately, shadow parts are the black cloaks that surround the vulnerable parts of us left deep, deep inside of us, almost forgotten…and God knows, we’ve tried to forget them. Shadow parts may also be considered our inner demons, the traumas we have not yet faced. If you’re from the midwest, your shadow part might be hiding the emotional part of you, since “being tough” and not showing emotions is considered a value in that part of the country.  Or, if you identify as male, it may not have been okay to show your feminine side as a child.  In fact, you probably heard it was bad or weird.  So you rejected that part of you. To cover up that part of you, you may have even created an alter ego wrapped in toxic masculinity.  The problem is, you’re not whole without the emotional, feminine part of you. Our job is to take our shadows, or rather, the parts that they are protecting, and reintegrate them back into our whole being. 

Sometime during the writing of this, I went to see a Reiki therapist to help gain insight on why my Achilles tendon wasn’t healing.  Among other insights, he shared with me the vision he had of me curled up in the fetal position.  I told him “I know that vision.” In my darkest moments, or what I had then considered my “weak moments”, this is the position anyone would find me in.  The image had come up many times in therapy, and I had touched on it doing inner child work, but there was always some resistance.  The vision goes back to me as a young girl.  Feeling alone, dejected, and unloved.  My own darkness: the belief that I am not loved.  Logically, I know that there are lots of people who love me.  Emotionally, I’ve always felt separate.  In one break up I found myself saying “Why don’t you love me?”.  But it was never about the guy.  It was my core wound.  And all the shadows around that evolved to help protect me from feeling the pain of that wound.  The only cure was to go in and do the intense, intimate work of learning how to love myself, to go back to my younger self and say “I love you. I will not abandon you.”  It was and is some of the hardest work I have ever done and continue to do.   

But what about evil?  

I’ve always considered myself the type of person that feels the immense pain of the world.  I resisted much of this sensitivity through my early 20s because accepting the cruelty was too much to bear. How could such evil exist?  If there was a Higher Power, how could they let this happen?  So I chose ignorance.  I didn’t want to think about it…so I didn’t.

Now, I’m a devout vegan.  The thought of an animal ever being hurt can bring me to tears instantaneously.  In saying that, my goal isn’t to turn everyone reading this into a vegan (though admittedly, that would be lovely), but to simply help others  be aware of when they choose to ignore evil in any area of their life, to ignore darkness.  Additionally, I stay updated enough on the news to know what’s happening, so I can help or donate when I can afford to.  Yet to go deeper into the wars, to women being executed for claiming their right to exist, to the children dying of starvation…well, I could easily get lost in the darkness all over again and simply go numb to the pain.  There’s no sense in any of it…because a world not filled with love is nonsensical!  Here, I’m not going to claim that I know with certainty the answer as to whether or not evil exists on its own (although I try), but I can theorize that in many spaces, evil exists where love is forgotten.  I hand out no excuses, but I see many of the “evil” leaders of the world trapped in a dark space where love and hope has been so far pushed away that their memory has no recollection of it ever existing.  I see them as children in the fetal position, in a cave of darkness surrounded by shadows, and wrapped in a heavy blanket of shame.  The shame tells a lie: “I must not be lovable”.  Because love is a foreign concept, power becomes the desired feeling and monsters help block the lonely child from the fear of being unlovable.  With the inner demons too much to bear, they have created a demon out of themselves.  If only they knew the truth: that they are love, not their shadows.  

Suicide, on the other hand, happens when a person turns their inner demons on themself.  They internalize the shame until it truly becomes too much to carry.  Too much to live with.  Instead of attacking others, they attack themselves in the most destructive way possible.  It doesn’t seem like a choice, because all they can see is the shadows inside of themselves and the shadows have blocked out the light. 

In both instances, the lie is that one is unlovable.  That love is too far gone to ever get it back.  If only they knew…

Knew what?  

I guess that brings us back to the beginning.

Is darkness real?

Some would argue that if we created a room without windows, only darkness would exist.  I would argue back that they blocked out the light.

What about the monsters under the bed?  Would they still be there if we turned on the light?

What if we’re too scared to look?  

A lot of great spiritual teachers say that fear is the opposite of love, which I believe is nearly the same thing as saying that darkness is the opposite of light.

If that is true, why would anyone ever be scared of love?

This is where I usually have to bring inner child work into therapy.  When I work with adults, some of them are very set in the belief that they are not good enough, that they don’t matter, that they are undeserving of love.  Then I ask the question…would they ever say any of those things to a child?  Could a child ever not be good enough?  Could a child ever deserve the bad things happening to them?  “Hell no!”, they say.   But what about their 7 year old self?  

Without going too deep into attachment theory and developmental research, a child’s view is “selfish”, in that it’s hard to see outside of themselves for answers.  If a parent hits a child, the only reason a child can come up with is that it’s because they are bad, not because the parent has issues. And so, this little, innocent child believes they are defective.  Something must be wrong with them, because in a young child’s eye, their parents know everything and are the omnipresent being in their world. Truly, children depend on their parent’s for survival, so a child must learn to do whatever they can to survive, even if it means coming up with a facade, or the belief that they don’t matter.  That’s the only way they can make sense of misattuned love.  The only way we can make sense of darkness.  

As adults, we forget about our own light, that the power is in us, not our parents and their demons, because we’ve created our own.  We’ve spent our whole life living in the shadows and allowing fear to protect us from harm. It’s hard to see any other option. (Fear truly is responsible for our primal safety.  For example, if a child can tell when a parent is upset, they probably know it’s a good day to stay in their room and “hide”.  Remember, basic psychology tells us that fear is our bodies’ survival response, allowing us to fight, flee, or freeze when we need to.) The fact that we’re actually free beings, that love is our core, and we’re capable of truly amazing things…well that sounds crazy.

And I, as a mental health therapist, say “then we all must become crazy.”  Or maybe we’re already crazy for living in a lie for so long.

Yes, it does suck to know that we’ve all been living in one big lie our whole lives (and many will choose to reject this simply because the “truth is too much to bear”, that they didn’t have to live in so much pain for 10 ,20, 50 years…), but the sooner we accept it, the sooner we can move to toward something better.  

With that, my answer.

 No, I don’t believe darkness is real.  It exists, yes, but only because we’ve made it up. It’s been created from our own internalized darkness, not that different from how we’ve created skyscrapers that block out magnificent views and create large shadows in the afternoon sun.  Darkness is simply fear and negative, false beliefs about ourselves that, and when given the power, can lead to truly evil acts.  

 Even as I type my answer, my shadow, my inner critic, wants to come in and say “Who do you think you are to say you have the answer to such a big question?  You, Ray, are full of it.”  However, after having gone through my own darkness, another thought, a ray of hope, comes in to say “But what if it is, darkness, really all just a myth? What if you’re right? What if there is something better?”  

Being my own devil’s advocate, I ask myself the next logical question:  Why does darkness exist?  What is its purpose?  

I’ve already explained, in part, how I think darkness arises around the absence of love, or rather, the belief we are unlovable.  Yet, if you believe in a Higher Power,, couldn’t that Higher Power just wipe that thought out and send us a big sticky note that reads “YOU ARE LOVED UNCONDITIONALLY”?

As someone who loves discussing purpose and meaning, all I can do here is draw on the wisdom of the existential authors that have come before me.  We must each make our own meaning of the darkness.

Is it to grow?  Is it because that in suffering, we find joy?  Is it our challenge to return to love, and therefore deepen our understanding of it?

The answer may be individual or it may be universal. I’m not entirely sure.  What really matters is that we each have an answer for ourselves, for the meaning presides over our evolution.

Which leads us to…death.  

Here, I turn to the sky.

Every day, the sun sets, and night takes over.  The next day, the sun rises.  A new day is born.

My main personal experience with death was witnessing my older sister’s slow transition to death in her cancer-ridden body.  I still consider it a blessing that she was able to make that transition at home, surrounded by her family.  To me, it was the hardest, most sacred, most love-filled moment I have ever been present to.  Even at her funeral, amidst tears and mascara stains, there was so much love surrounding me and my family.  Today, while I do feel my sister’s presence when I’m experiencing hardship, I feel her the most when I’m in a state of bliss.  When I’m in the mountains on a bluebird day with my dog by my side.  During those times, I don’t need to call on her for support, she is just there.

My research, both in reading and in viewing others, as well as personal experience, also tells me that we all experience several deaths within ourselves during this lifetime.  In fact, biology tells us that we literally have a new physical  body every 7 years. Then, there are our own internal transitions, leaving old versions of ourselves behind and becoming someone new. Various cultural traditions have honored these changes throughout history.  Poetically phrased, this is the “phoenix process” of death and rebirth within our individual human experience. Until our ultimate physical death. Then, does everything go dark?

I don’t have a therapeutic or scientific way to answer this question.  Yes, the physical body most certainly dies.  From there, my current perspective is that life, in all its intricacies, is just too miraculous to be limited by this physical realm.  My older sister tells me there is more, and so does my inner knowing. That answer is satisfactory enough for me.   

The final question:  If darkness, a human creation, is present inside of ourselves and in the world, how do we overcome it?

Ignoring the darkness can’t be the answer, as it just creates more shadows.  What about fighting it?  If we fight anything, shouldn’t it be darkness?  

Yet, fighting in itself is a dark act that creates more polarization and more darkness that can only block out the light, although it can never kill it. The energy of war can never heal.

I’m tempted to use the word “surrender”, but that word, even if I define it as “stepping into the flow of Life”, will most likely be misunderstood. Instead, I will choose to offer this word, “befriend”.  Maybe a seemingly odd choice still, but remember, fear is a protection mechanism.  The shadows created by fear are attempts to keep us safe from feeling the pain of core wounds, with the ultimate core wound being the false belief that we are unlovable.  Personally, I can look at my own darkness and thank it for protecting me as a child and as an adult, thank it for showing me what needed healing.  Of course, looking at and befriending darkness on a worldy scale is a much bigger challenge.  Here, I’ll simply say that what we’ve been doing obviously hasn’t been working, and we will only find creative solutions when we release our own internal fears.  So the simple answer, almost too simple to be believed, is that the more we heal our individual selves, the more we heal the collective.  

And that is the final piece to this essay.  The darkness of separation.  Another lie we’ve believed.  Why loneliness is a known factor of early mortality.  You and I, or “thou”, to draw on the work of Martin Buber, may not be the same, but we are connected.  We are one part of the Whole.  

If darkness was created out of lies we’ve believed, it’s truth that can bring us to the light. 

doG

So far in my research, or “Googling”, I have not found evidence to support the theory that “dog” is intentionally “god” spelled backwards.

But I don’t need the evidence. Whether or not it’s intentional, I already know the truth. Without question, dogs are simply extensions of God, which I’ll simply define here has pure, positive energy. Love and joy.

The more I listen to spiritual teachers, the more I’m convinced that all humans, or spiritual beings in human bodies, are meant to live in a state of joy.

With that, my job as a light worker, or therapist, is to help people move through their darkness and trauma to return to the light, a state of joy. Yet as someone who’s always been highly attuned to the darkness and light in the world, it still takes a lot of work (though less so than in the past). Hence, my gift from the Universe, or God…Pacer. My reminder, or angelic messenger, to return to love. A reminder that joy and peace are our natural states.

*I have to add… because one of my best friends is a cat lover. I think this post can extend to all animals.

Manifesting for Mortals*

*I truly contemplated entitling this blog “Manifesting for Muggles”, but I know not everyone shares the affinity for Harry Potter culture that I do. Also, what I really mean is “physically mortal”, as in, our bodies die, but our spirit continues on.

Is manifesting magic?

No…and Yes! (In my head, this is said in my best Buddy the Elf voice.).

Manifesting is a word that comes with a lot of different interpretations and connotations. Some people think the idea of manifesting is ridiculous, and others practice manifesting daily, with mixed results.

I’m here to provide clarity and some middle ground by sharing a little bit of my own journey with manifesting. If you’re a doubter, stay with me.

*****

I’m not sure how old I was the first time I heard of manifesting. Maybe it was in one of Gabrielle Bernstein’s first books, maybe it was before that. But it certainly wasn’t the word I was using in my early 20s, when first started manifesting. Honestly, I didn’t even know I was doing it. I just knew what I wanted and I, with my Midwestern grit, was sure as hell going to figure how to get it. Only, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be.

For example, after I graduated from college, I knew I wanted to take a trip to Africa and spend some time volunteering. I just had no idea how to do that. No one in my family had ever done anything like it. I had only been to one other country…Canada. I’m also from a middle-middle class family from Ohio and I certainly didn’t have the extra cash oozing out of my bank account. So I just started researching.

I was also signed up to run Burning River 100 that year, which was then the USATF 100 mile Championship and I was fortunate enough that summer to have the time train for the race. I managed to get second place to the legendary Connie Gardner, which I think earned me $500, the amount I needed to make the down payment to Cross Cultural Solutions, the organization I chose to volunteer with. During that time, I also was accepted to be a “loaned executive” for the United Way of Greater Cleveland. As the name suggest, usually this position is loaned out from other companies, but I was one of the rare solo hires. The job ended in mid-December as the big fundraising campaign ended right before Christmas. At one of the company holiday parties, I won one of the raffles… usually I’m the person lucky enough to win a dollar on a lottery ticket. This time, I won enough to help make another needed payment for the trip. The job ended at a perfect time too…I spent Christmas with my family, then took off in January to spend a month in Tanzania, Africa.

The next few years was a series of small manifestations, but there’s a few key take-aways here. I gave away my “business” cloths…the pencil skirt and pant suit. I didn’t want a job where I’d have to dress up. I landed my then “dream job” at Girls on the Run of Northeast Ohio. It didn’t pay much, but I loved the organization and the women I worked with. Not long after, my then boyfriend got a job at the University of Colorado in Boulder, right where my sister lived. I stayed a little longer in Ohio because I wanted to work another season with GOTR, but before I knew it, I was close to my sister and in the land of adventure. Oh…and I almost forgot to mention. At GOTR, I met a volunteer who had lived in Colorado previously and had backpacked the Colorado Trail (CT) with her dog. I had been on the CT before when visiting my sister and had a moment of “falling in love” with the scenery. Of course, this all led me to backpacking the Colorado Trail with my dog the very summer I moved out to Colorado (again, after never having backpacked before!).

I then made grad school happen, I got a wonderful internship in the mountains and found rare, affordable housing with wonderful landlords, and I opened my private practice, Wanderlust Counseling. Eventually, my heart started telling me it was time to move again. Actually, it had been giving me the nudge for awhile. After my sister and her partner moved and I found myself spending a silly amount of gas money to drive to further west to play in the mountains with my pup, the calling got louder (and yet still subtle….if you’re not use to listening to your intuition, it’s easy to ignore it).

On August 13th, 2022, just after many miles spent climbing Mt. Harvard and playing on the Colorado Trail in the Sawatch mountains, my twin’s sisters “home” mountains, I wrote in my journal “Universe/Amanda*- we want to find a place near here-close to trails, perfect for Pacer.” This accompanied a prayer I often said in my head “A van or something better.”

*Amanda is my older sister who transitioned in 2020. I know she always has my back and enjoys it when me and my other sister are together…because when I’m paying attention, I can feel it.

Less than 2 months later, my dog and I were moving into a Yurt, 20 minutes away from my sister, at the edge of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. I honestly could not have come up with that idea in my head. It’s perfect. While I give some credit to the Facebook-verse (I had shared a post that I was casually looking for a place on a rentals page, a page that isn’t exactly and uplifting place to find housing), I tell people “I honestly think I manifested it” when they ask me how I found the Yurt.

*There are several reasons why a van would not have been a good option for me right now.

As you can see, or rather, read, my manifesting journey has been both simple and spectacular. Which is really the life I want to lead. Simple in not wanting a lot of stuff but spectacular in outdoor adventures, often in my backyard.

******

Personally, I can’t wait to do Gabrielle Bernstein’s 2023 Manifesting Challenge, and I listen to Abraham Hicks (the channeled beings or consciousness, that is translated through Esther Hicks) most mornings of the week. That practice has been going on for a few months now, and sometimes I still get tripped up and my Midwestern critic voice comes in that says its all nonsense. I get the raising my vibration piece…but then do I really want it? Do I not actually want it? Am I blocking what I’m trying to manifest? Wait, is that my vibration lowering? But I’m trying to raise it, I swear!

Then I judge myself for all that questioning, which is most definitely a block. Sigh.

In short, I’d say the simple key is returning back to your vibration, or stepping into how you want to feel. Which is really, really simple when you break it down with the steps I’m going to give you.

My 4-Step Guide to Manifesting

1. Know your core values.

I like to either think of core values as roots of a tree that ground us so we can grow higher, or like points on a compass, which I’ll use here. When you know your core values, you have a clear direction of where you want to go in life. You may not know exactly what that life looks like, but you probably know the feelings you want to have by following those values. For example, my top for values (in no specific order) are growth, adventure, family/friends, and kindness. Encompassed in all of that is what I feel like my purpose is: to be a light in the dark. If I follow my values, that leads me to a life of love, peace, freedom, and wisdom.
Damn, that feels good.

(I’m a mental health therapist, running coach, and aspiring writer that lives in the middle of the mountains with my dog, although not too far away from my sister and her partner/my “brother”…see how my values all play out?)

2. Take a step onto the path.

Let your intention be known to the Universe. Say a prayer. Write it down. Initiate the spark. Clear your path.
I don’t know if this step is necessary for a practiced manifestor, but for me this tiny step towards my dreams always seems to put things into action. I do a little research, I write a Facebook post, tell people about what I’m doing and want to do, etc. Usually, my values have already helped me to align and make it easy to take this first step (and laziness is not a value of mine anyway).

*I have not yet overcome my natural worrying tendency. This step, worrying, is definitely not necessary. For example, when I was looking for a place when I first moved to the mountains for the internship, I worried for months. And then, at the last minute, the perfect place came my way. It had nothing to do with my worrying efforts. An acquaintance, now friend, who is also a running coach happened to live next to people with an empty basement apartment.

3. Practice Gratitude.

Whether I have what I want yet or not, I can always practice gratitude. If I’m wanting a companion, I can be grateful of the quiet loveliness of the current moment snuggled up next to my dog. If I’m wanting to write and sell a book, I can be grateful for the time I have to write creatively, an activity I enjoy regardless if I get paid or not. If I’m wanting my body to heal after an injury, I can be grateful for what I can still do and for all the adventures I’ve already had.

4. Allow.

See what happens. Be curious. Flow, don’t force. Yes, keep moving toward your dream, but you should always enjoy the process. You might get exactly what you wanted, something a little different, or not get it all. Because it might be something you just couldn’t have imagined. Regardless, you’re feeling good. You’re aligned with your values and are grateful for what you have. Life is already good. Manifesting just enhances it. And the more you align with your true self and your purpose, the more you open yourself up to receiving.

Wishing you a magical 2023!

Interested more in aligning with your values and living you best life? Download my FREE “Steps to Adventure” guide here: https://adogandhergirl.com/freebies-not-frisbees/