Jesica Davis

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters, compared to what lies within us. EMERSON

Ending War With (Inner) Peace

IMG_2272In the midst of an already overwhelming humanitarian nightmare,  the world recently witnessed a siege of extreme violence committed against innocent people: a siege born of great rage, hatred and despair. And in bearing witness to this tragedy, the world immediately reacted with an overwhelming jumble of grief, sympathy, anger and fear.

But bearing witness to terror can be more than a shared social trauma, more than an excuse to point fingers and more than a reason to circle the wagons. Bearing witness can also be a source of spiritual awakening: an opportunity to see, feel and express things that transcend the ordinary.

As painful and confusing as it may be, let us be awakened by the violence and tragedy around us, not only today but everyday. Let us be changed instead of stuck, inspired to grow instead of mired in old limitations.

It was Gandhi who said “Be the change you wish to see” and yet this statement is often dismissed as merely hopeful thinking or naive optimism. But Gandhi was more than hopeful, and he was definitely not naive. He was a man whose conviction and inner strength initiated a previously unthinkable revolution. He was a man who knew the power of demonstrating what one wishes to see: as an example to others, but also as a challenge.

In my lifetime I wish to see peace. And I believe the path to that begins with standing for peace every day, and holding my self to a standard of non-violence and compassion.

While even I am occasionally tempted to dismiss the pursuits of “self-realization,” “personal development” and “spiritual growth” as self-absorbed and pointless, in the end, if we can’t be kinder to each other in the midst of daily stresses, what hope is there for us to end war?

And how else can we learn the skills of compassion and kindness – which transcend reactions of fear and anger – without taking on contemplative practices designed to teach us those very things?

I believe in peace, because I have achieved it in my own life. Not every day and not every minute. But I have witnessed my self NOT lash out in anger at a defiant child, NOT shrink away from a daunting conversation, NOT hold on to resentments which would poison my relationships and my future. And I firmly believe that when each person has attained their own experience of inner peace at the critical moment when before they would have only felt inner war – each person will also know that the end of war is possible.

2 Paths For Finding Stillness Through Movement, Part 2 of 2

spiritual guide and surfer, Jesica Davis
Wiping out is an underappreciated skill – Laird Hamilton, surfer

Last week I wrote about the many possibilities for cultivating stillness, even for those averse to traditional sitting practices. So, if you’re one of those people who’d love to meditate but just can’t, this is a reminder that there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and more than one road to Rome.

In my experience, contemplative movement practices fall into two distinct categories: the disciplined and the ecstatic.

As a practitioner of yoga and a former ballet student, disciplined movement has long been one of my favorite ways to calm the mind. Practices such as these, and martial arts as well, turn attention inward and reveal aspects of physical experience that would otherwise go ignored. These are skills which build on themselves and deliver timeless teachings about balance, poise and persistence to those who study them. And while they present the risk of getting caught in the same traps of comparison, goal-setting and perfectionism that plague ordinary life, they can also be enormously transformative by training the mind to focus on processes other than thought.

On the other end of the movement continuum lie practices such as cycling, surfing and ecstatic dance. Though these activities certainly require a degree of discipline, they also offer experiences of risk, ecstasy and surrender that transcend what’s possible at home or in a studio. As much as I love my (almost) daily yoga practice, there are many times when nothing will free my mind except speeding down a curvy road. It’s only when the stakes are so high – and so real – that I can completely lose myself: surrendering to forces beyond my control and putting my faith in an outcome which is never guaranteed. As any surfer can tell you, the ocean provides a similar experience, as does the music in a masterfully deejayed ecstatic dance jam.

Whether you’re inclined to reckless abandon, thoughtful discipline or, like me, desire a combination of both, you can embrace movement as your vehicle for transcendence. Awakening is possible through almost any physical practice when executed with the appropriate intention and, in fact, there’s an entire genre of literature dedicated to exploring the spiritual potential of almost any physical activity you can think of. Aside from the previously mentioned activities, some others you might want to explore include: mindful walking, aimless wandering, labyrinth walking, jogging, and tai chi. And for a wider view of the topic, you can check out Thinking Body, Dancing Mind  a classic book dedicated to the potential of using your body to unleash your spirit.

Finding Stillness Through Movement, Part 1 of 2

Kayaking as spiritual practice? Sure, why not.

Last week I wrote about simple stillness practices that enhance your experience of connection, communion and awe in everyday life.

This week, I’ll explore the tremendous power of movement practices to do the same. Just because you’d rather do anything than sit cross-legged and watch your breath, doesn’t mean the healing power and grace of contemplation must be lost to you. After all, whether you dance, walk or kayak, movement itself – when done with intention and focus – can be just as powerful a vehicle for fulfillment and awakening.

Through dance, as well as a variety of other physical disciplines, movement has always been a way of affirming Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s famous statement: We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. After all, is there anything more human than using our bodies?

And yet, despite longstanding traditions of celebrating the physical, humanity has also suffered from equally tenacious beliefs separating body, mind and soul. This system of beliefs regards the body as an impediment to spiritual fulfillment at best, and a sinful temptation at worst. Unfortunately, when the body is regarded as something to be disciplined, overcome or ignored, its potential as a vehicle for spiritual fulfillment can be lost. This attitude can lead to shameful feelings about sex, an over-emphasis on appearance, eating disorders, obesity and even overwork.

But being trapped in a belief system not of your own making doesn’t mean you can’t be free. It simply means that you must become conscious of the relationship you have with your body and make active choices about what to do with it. Getting present to our physical selves and feeling at home in our bodies, without judgment or disapproval, is the focus of contemplative movement practices. For when we come home to our bodies, we feel more at home in our hearts and our minds as well.

10 Simple Ways For Slowing Down A Life That Moves Way Too Fast, Part 2 of 2

IMG_2470Last week, I wrote about the lack of stillness so many of us experience in our busy modern lives. This week, I’ll offer 10 simple practices for cultivating stillness that can be achieved at any time.

Before that, however, I want you to consider how much you probably HATE just being still. Sure, you may complain about being “busy and stressed,” but often the real suffering doesn’t start until you stop moving. After all, you don’t do anything unless you get something out of it and, more often than not, what you get from being “busy and stressed” is an escape from how you feel.

We don’t only live in a high speed world, too many of us live in a world in which it’s just not okay to feel strung out, sad, disappointed or bored. It’s not okay and, even worse, we may not know how to handle those feelings in a healthy way. Frequently, the first things we feel when we slow down are antsy, impatient and bored. And if we sit with those long enough, we may feel hopeless, sad or in pain. It’s enough to make a person want to check their phone.

So, it takes something to cultivate stillness. Yes it requires discipline, but it also demands courage: the courage to face yourself head on, and be with who you really are, and how you really feel. Right now.

That said, here are 10 suggestions for chilling out and taking a breather. But first, turn off your phone.

  1. Take a bath and, if you like, add epsom salts, essential oil or bubbles.
  2. Enter a sacred space or chapel and just sit.
  3. Sit on a park bench.
  4. Sit on your sofa.
  5. Eat lunch alone with no media on.
  6. Sit by a fountain or body of water.
  7. Take in a view.
  8. If there’s a float center nearby, discover the wonders of floating.
  9. Turn off the car radio while driving.
  10. Look at the stars. Or close your eyes and just imagine them.*

*Thanks to Asya Tabdili-Azar at for #10

Is Your Life Moving Way Too Fast? Part 1


How busy are you? If you’re a typical adult, chances are the answer is “very.”

Here’s another question: How frequently do you spend time in repose? Listening to water lapping on the shore? Birds singing in a tree? If you’re like most people, the answer is probably “rarely.”

Perhaps you’re occupied with working long hours, or tied up with work and then busy with family. Perhaps you’ve got an active social life, filled with friends, acquaintances and engagements. Or maybe you’re glued to a screen all day: browsing the web, checking social media, and watching the latest must-see television. Whatever it is, the odds are against you spending any significant portion of your time just “being.” And it’s not your fault. Chronic Busyness is a widespread phenomenon and one that’s increasingly hard to avoid. Since the explosion of digital technologies, we are expected to be available to everyone all the time and, though that means you can get in touch with anyone at a moment’s notice, it also means they can get in touch with you.

While staying busy can feed our desires to feel important, and staying connected can assuage our fears of missing out, we actually are missing out when we cease to make time for being still. But what are we missing out on? And what are the long-term consequences of losing our connection to ourselves in favor of staying connected to everything else? I’m not speaking of the the roles we play in the world and the sense we have of being “me” – which 19th century philosopher and psychologist William James called our “empirical selves” – but our inner selves: the parts that require silence to be experienced, and demand stillness in which to speak.

There are a seemingly infinite number of terms for these inner selves, as it is a universal observation that human beings experience life as two distinctly divided entities: the “empirical” self we share with the world and the private mystery within. Without access to stillness, this private mystery – which may lack discernible qualities but which shares its essence with the whole of the universe – is doomed to remain just that: closed off and unknown. But that needn’t be the case.

Merriam-Webster defines stillness as a “state of freedom from storm or disturbance” as well as “the near or complete absence of sound.” Reading this, you may already recognize how rarely stillness occurs in your own life: how occupied you are with being busy that you rarely step outside the winds of the hurricane to stand in its eye. You may also recognize that your life, while filled with the sounds and furies of everyday crises, is nonetheless empty. And yet, you can cultivate stillness. You can temporarily release the disturbances from your mind and, rather than aggravate your own personal tempest, be the unmoved center around which all else rages. And, in doing so, you can discover a power within that is unlike any your mind – or empirical self  – can muster.


Have You Aligned With Your Inspirations?

Spiritual Alignment provides balance and strengthAs any driver knows, over time, a poorly aligned vehicle will increasingly wobble and feel less solid on the ground. The steering will pull and the ride will be neither as smooth nor precise as you’d like. The car will follow your motions as you steer, but at certain angles you’ll feel it resisting your desired direction. As the misalignment persists, you may experience fatigue and irritability while driving, and your tires will require more frequent replacement as they age prematurely.

Such a car might be fine for driving short distances day-to-day, but plan a long trip and you’re going to want to take it to the shop. A mechanical alignment will not only bring peace of mind, but assure that your car drives comfortably and safely for many miles to come.

A similar principle applies to human beings. Unfortunately, however, in the competitive race that is our daily life, we pay much less attention to this kind of alignment than to the automotive type. Fatigue, irritability and being worn down are, in fact, something of a norm: as is the sensation of being pulled in conflicting directions.

Nevertheless, when a person is aligned, you can feel it. Unlike their poorly aligned peers, they give the impression that life makes sense, as if they’ve figured some things out, made peace with who they are, and are not distracted by things that don’t matter. They seem to have their priorities straight and they seem to radiate that elusive quality called soul.

On the rare instances when we encounter someone with an aura of soulful well-being, we may think: I want that. But what is it, really? And how do we get it? How do we attain a state of harmonious peace, non-attachment and focus? And if what we align on a car is the tires, what is it that we must align within ourselves so that we experience ourselves not as many moving parts, but as one whole being?

As simple as it is to drop a car off at the mechanic and have it solidly back on the road in a few hours, aligning one’s life requires more than a quick fix. Rather than being a matter of mechanical calibrations, aligning one’s life is an ongoing process, It is, in fact, a way of life that brings your external, physical existence – reflected by your choices, behaviors and habits – into alignment with your internal, divine or true selfreflected by your deepest passions, curiosities and concerns.

On October 3, my partners and I at Retreats With Heart will lead a one-day workshop called Aligning With Your Inspiration, in which we will not only unearth those passions, curiosities and concerns buried deep within, but will also explore how to integrate them into our daily routine.

If the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, so does the journey to alignment, fulfillment and ease. If you feel called to walk with a more steady gait, and stand with your feet more firmly on the ground, consider joining us on Saturday and commit to your first step in aligning with your inspiration.

Have You Been Asking “Is That All There Is?”

IMG_1077Consider how frequently people fulfill their own needs and achieve a state of security only to find themselves wondering…

Is that all there is?

Without access to a true self, the surprising discomfort of material and social well-being is often explained away by our well-meaning egos’ mistaken belief that these things must not have been attained at all.

From this mistaken premise, we come to the erroneous conclusion that we do not actually have enough power, money, status or accomplishment to consider ourselves secure and fulfilled. Sensing a job to do, our well-meaning egos then drive us on to the next chapter of our unending quests for more, better and bigger… and we go round one more time in pursuit of a deeper fulfillment that never comes.

What do I mean when I say well-meaning egos? I mean those parts of ourselves that are constantly on the lookout for something wrong, so that they can be useful and protect us from harm. Despite the well-publicized dangers of our time, we live in an era of unprecedented well-being and security, but these survival obsessed aspects of ourselves are just not equipped to deal with that.

To make matters worse, this human vulnerability is exploited daily by the political, media and advertising conversations that surround us. By designing their messages to convince us that something actually is wrong, they compel our well-meaning egos to “do” something (usually involving money or votes) and experience the primal satisfaction that comes when we protect ourselves from social or physical misfortune.

But after a while, if we are lucky, the true self (the one who asked if that’s all there was) tires of this repetitive game and awakens. And by awakening, begins to perceive that the acquisitions and accomplishments which once seemed so urgent were just empty excuses for staying busy. In other words, the well-meaning ego can satisfy basic needs and assure basic safety, but once it’s done that, it can’t fulfill our deepest desires. 

This moment of awakening to one’s true self and the emptiness of ego-driven pursuits is different for all people. For some, it is addiction’s rock bottom, severe illness or proximity to death. For others, a confrontation with injustice highlights the selfishness of personal goals. Still others awaken for no discernible reason at all. But regardless of the particulars, such life passages trigger the realization that our one life is too precious to waste pursuing goals that are ultimately unfulfilling and hollow.

Where are you on your journey of awakening? Are you sensing that your ego’s got you on a hamster wheel? Are you aware of your ego and hating it? Have you awakened to a higher purpose but have no idea how to execute it without falling pray to the same old ego-driven fears and habits?

Questions such as these are the foundation of my work. By addressing them and working to put your well-meaning ego in its proper place, you can awaken further to a life driven not by survival but by the impulse to create something new and valuable, inspired by your true self and executed with joy, rather than fear.

As Howard Thurman once said: Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

What Reveals The Fire Within You?

fire transforms
Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman

For years, I’ve been curious about what inspires people to take on change and make it stick. Overall, I’ve concluded that such people are either inspired by something bigger than themselves or have experienced a major life transition that caused them to reassess…everything.

Unless one of these two things is at work, it’s unlikely for an ordinary person to have the vision or tenacity required to get outside their box and create something genuinely new in their life.

While at The Hive last month, I was struck by how many stories I heard in which the loss of a parent or loved one inspired a new commitment to activism or social entrepreneurship. Through my  private practice and my work with Retreats With Heart, circumstances such as divorce, illness or children leaving for college have also inspired people to take on new, more meaningful chapters of their lives.

If we look closely enough and get present to our experiences, we can always find the inner fires of purpose burning. But too often we’re distracted by the routines of daily life to take the time. Life transitions force us to take those closer looks, to ask the questions and seek the answers we’ve avoided. They strip us of attachments to thought and action and leave us raw, vulnerable and face to face with what really matters to us.

And yet, we don’t have to wait for tragedy to strike or years to pass.  Life is not only short, but our planet is in crisis and needs your fire: to burn away what is dried out as well as to fuel new ways of living in our world. Whether you’re in the middle of a transition or just feeling the blaze within, my purpose is to support you in profoundly connecting to yourself and your work, so that your life becomes an expression of what matters most to you and you never lose sight of it again.

Registration is now open for my October 3 event at Retreats With Heart. Entitled Aligning With Your Inspiration, this one day workshop will get you connected to the desires that really matter to you, and give you the tools to fulfill them right now.

Is Holding A Grudge Holding You Back?

IMG_1415When you don’t forgive you release all the chemicals of the stress response…Each time you react, adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine enter the body. When it’s a chronic grudge, you could think about it twenty times a day, and those chemicals limit creativity, they limit problem-solving. Cortisol and norepinephrine cause your brain to enter what we call ‘the no- thinking zone,’ and over time, they lead you to feel helpless and like a victim. When you forgive, you wipe all of that clean. (Read more about the science of forgiveness…)

I read this passage today and was reminded that forgiveness is one of the fundamental principles on  which Stephanie, Margo and I have based our workshops and retreats.

In my work, I’ve found that the things that hold us back in life are often not what we think they are: lack of forgiveness is often one of those things. Consider the above quote; if holding a grudge puts you into a  “no-thinking zone,” in which you habitually feel like a helpless victim, how might that state of mind affect the capacity to fulfill your dreams?

The greatest teachings I ever received about forgiveness come from teacher and healer Caroline Myss*. She has written that forgiveness is the greatest thing we can do for ourselves. By freeing us from the bondage of our most deeply held stressors, forgiveness frees us to not be victims, it frees us to be creative and it frees us to create a life that is in alignment with our inspirations.

Join us on October 3 for our next workshop: Aligning With Your Inspiration. During this one-day event, you will not only discover the internal obstacles to your dreams but also how to put them aside, and create a life of authenticity, joy and creativity.

REGISTER NOW It’s only $149 for a full day of relaxation, growth and delicious, healthy food.

*For more on forgiveness, check out Invisible Acts of Power by Caroline Myss.

Cocktail Chatter: The Introverts Edition

Thanks to this “Glory of Amlwch” bush, I shifted from anxiety to peace in a matter of seconds.

If you’re like me, when you look out on a sea of strangers – shaking hands, making cocktail chatter, and exchanging cards – you break into a cold sweat. Almost four years ago, I fled the stresses and social intensity of life in Los Angeles for a simpler existence on the shores of Puget Sound.

It suits me in the Pacific Northwest, and living so closely to the natural world has instilled a confidence and sense of self that eluded me for many years. Living here, I’ve also rediscovered the desire to inspire others that once led me to be a filmmaker. But isolation has also distanced me from my peers, and the desire to close that gap inspired my pilgrimage to The Hive.

Closing that gap was both easier and more challenging than I’d expected. It may not be necessary to say, but I am extremely introverted. I feel comfortable with animals, plants, intimate exchanges and meaningful conversation, but don’t fare as well with the kind of small talk necessary at a conference or crowded party. So there I was, in this environment of openness and excitement, knowing I was among the very people I wanted to talk to…and yet often feeling incapable of establishing the connections I sought. But here’s what I realized…

You ARE your contribution. When I remembered how much I care about the world and my commitment to connecting people to themselves and their planet, my interactions were intimate and meaningful, despite the flurry of small talk all around us.

Most people want to be recognized for who they really are and, while there were people with whom I didn’t connect, more often than not – through my commitment – I was able to find a common humanity with people even if we lacked common experience, background or age.

Check in with something that grounds youI’ve been photographing the natural world since I arrived in Washington and nothing soothes my nervous system like being up close and personal with living things. At my most anxious moments, if I could find a blooming thing with which to check in, I was fine. Ultimately, my social courage over the weekend was a testament to the wonders of getting grounded For me the source is flowers, but no matter your method, it’s worth embracing: not just in crowds, but in any stressful circumstance.

In closing, if you also find yourself in a cold sweat when you look out on a sea of strange faces, and prefer almost anything to shaking hands and making cocktail chatter, remember two things: you are a contribution and what is eternal, real and true can be the magic elixir when it comes to introducing yourself. Because, even if you’re an introvert, the next hand you shake may be the one that transforms your world.

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