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Jesica Hanley Vega

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consciousness

What’s Going On? v.2016

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Owens Beach, WA. February 2, 2016

Though it seemed as if 2015 was ending on a high note, in reality, the year ended in a heaving crescendo of disappointment and upset. In a very short time I went from feeling on top of the world to feeling as if nothing made sense. In my best moments, I called it humbling; in my worst, I described myself as crushed, bitch slapped and ground to dust.

I never cried so much.

But just as deepest winter is finally giving way to that point when the first signs of spring tentatively emerge (in the Gaelic pagan traditions, it’s known as Imbolc) I may now be glimpsing a new season in my own life: a season of simplicity, gratitude and a heightened awareness of what really matters in my life.

For the moment at least, I’ve swept all grand plans to the side: an unfinished book project lies safely in its folder, all retreats are off the calendar, and all speaking engagements suspended. The mantra of “writing, teaching, speaking” which powerfully called me forward in 2015 has been replaced by “I want a job.”

I want a paycheck, I want to show up and make a difference in people’s lives, and I want to go home and enjoy my family. I want to belong, I want to be valued and, most importantly, I want to be compensated.

I still want to read cards. I still want to provide sacred space. I still want to teach and I still want to listen. But I’ve surrendered to the fact that the struggle to support my family exclusively through those pursuits put too much strain on the gifts that made them possible in the first place.

The monthly concern about paying bills, meeting unexpected expenses and simply taking good care of my children finally took its toll. And though I may seem to possess a boundless capacity to handle stress, uncertainty and a shortage of cash, those very qualities likely had me struggle far longer than I might have otherwise. Because that’s how it is with gifts sometimes; they bite us in the ass.

So I’ve circled some wagons and given thanks that I have my health and my life, two beautiful children and a husband who loves me. I’ve given thanks for my education, my resources and my ability to communicate. And I’ve given thanks that I still experience great joy reading cards, being there when people seek connection to their own spirits and providing sacred space when they need to hear their hearts. And I’ve given thanks for the new opportunities coming my way, whatever they are, and the new adventures life has in store.

Amen.

What Does It Mean To Be Authentic?

IMG_9575You wouldn’t believe what’s gone down in the last few weeks.

Each single thing was stressful enough, but together they comprised a perfect storm that had me asking tough questions touching on what I do, the purpose of my work and, who I’m supposed to serve.

In pursuit of an answer, I sought out the support of a woman who’d participated in one of my recent workshops. She was in marketing for many years, and I thought she’d be able to offer valuable insight on how to present myself in a way that was both satisfying to me and compelling to my audience. She said a lot of things, but what stood out most was “authenticity.” She didn’t say that I was authentic, though, rather she said that “people are really into authenticity right now.”

At first, her statement struck me as ridiculous because it was like saying “people are really into breathing right now.” It seemed to suggest that authenticity is not only a trend, but that people will inevitably tire of it. And yet, it also made me think… Am I “authentic”? And what does “authenticity” really mean?

In continuing my inquiry, I asked a new client what she got from our time together. At first she said “clarity.” But then she added that it went deeper than that. It was more like discovery, she said, or even an archaeological excavation: as if there had been something inside her, but that it had been covered by dirt and rock. Our work felt like the process of removing debris, so that she could finally unearth a treasure that had been within her the whole time.

This, in fact, is a large part of what I think “authenticity” is. It’s a process of coming forward honestly and then, with humility and a sense of discovery, removing layers to reveal something normally left under the surface.

The reason it seemed so hilarious that authenticity could be a fad is that there’s no one way it looks, and it’s not something you can fake or buy cheaply. Authenticity is different for every person and, when it’s the real thing,  inherently human, timeless, and valuable. It is, in fact, the reason great art endures, for some truths about being human simply never change.

And yet, if authenticity is in vogue, that can only be a good thing. Rather than a fad, perhaps it reflects a permanent dissatisfaction with artifice and a sign that society’s desires are evolving in a positive direction.

I realize that this is why, for so long, I found it difficult to characterize my clientele. When I look back, many of my clients seem to have very little in common. But now I can see that, rather than sharing gender, age, education or ethnicity, they share certain values: foremost among them, authenticity.

People seek me out because they want to know themselves better and live more authentic lives. They also share a certain openness, a sense of discovery, and a desire to love and accept themselves and others. They find relief in uncovering previously hidden truths and they value peace. Whether we work together on a long-term basis, or only once, they find these things in our interactions. And if that’s what I have to offer the world, I’m proud and humbled.

On the one hand, this gives me the courage to know I can show up and be who I need to be without feeling like I have to put on a show, be someone I’m not or fulfill a trend. On the other, it feels like a whole new ball game, as if I can finally stop trying to put on a show and being someone that I’m not. As if, perhaps, it’s already enough to just be myself.

Growing Through Paradox

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Life growing from a dead thing.

This week’s podcast is about confronting the paradoxes in our lives: not through running away, numbing ourselves or hiding our heads in the sand, but through opening our hearts and expanding our awareness.

From watching my children develop, I’ve observed that there are few things as painful to the human psyche as a contradiction. Knowing something is true and that it’s opposite is also true can cause so much mental anguish, the effect is almost physical.

Who hasn’t wanted to scream in frustration when they’ve wanted two things equally? Or hated the person you love? Or hated yourself because of two seemingly incompatible qualities or drives?

Contradictions and paradox are an inevitable part of life, but when we run away from them, we run away from something that has the power to reveal deeper aspects of our realities and ourselves.

The trick is that our ordinary minds have no capacity for such revelations. Living in a physical world, our minds are accustomed to things being one way and not another. Confronting things that express both/and, rather than either/or, can really blow our gaskets.

And yet,  contemplation – which cultivates a state in which we are lovingly engaged with the focus of our attention – can train us to see with a deeper wisdom beyond the usual five senses. It can  teach us to approach contradictions with peace, compassion and acceptance, rather than reactivity and despair.

The more I focus on the topic of contemplation, the more I realize how much it can help us all during these very stressful times, and the more I realize how much it’s given me.

 

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, turn attention inward and reveal aspects of physical experience that 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 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 not 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. 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 are: 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

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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 doesn’t mean you can’t be free. It simply means that you must become conscious of your relationship 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 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 is an escape from how you feel.

We don’t only live in a high speed world, we also live in a world in which it’s often 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 thing we feel when we slow down is antsy impatience. And if we sit with that long enough, we may feel hopeless, sad or in pain. It’s enough to make a person 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, be who you really are, and feel 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 Hive.org for #10

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

IMG_1077Consider how frequently people fulfill their 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 feel secure and fulfilled. Sensing a job to do, our well-meaning egos then drive us on to the next chapter of our unending quest 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 not equipped to deal with that.

To make matters worse, this human vulnerability is exploited by the conversations that surround us. By designing messages to convince us that something actually is wrong, politicians, advertisers and the media 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 misfortune.

But after a while, if we are lucky, the true self tires of this repetitive game and awakens. By awakening, it begins to perceive that acquisitions and accomplishments which once seemed urgent were just 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 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. Something 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?

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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 they 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 to have the vision or tenacity required to get outside the box and create something genuinely new in 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 work with Retreats With Heart, I’ve also seen divorce, illness and children leaving the nest also inspire 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 already 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.

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.

Finding The Soul Behind Your Walls

IMG_9700In the space between sleep and wake this morning, I was inspired by some thoughts about contemplation, subjectivity and the human necessity for physical and symbolic structures to represent the ineffable. Because that’s what I like to think about when I’m waking up.

It got me writing as soon as I got up, and then browsing through the internets, where I found this wonderful review of Parker J. Palmer’s book “A Hidden Wholeness” on Brainpickings.org.

Wikipedia lists Parker J. Palmer as an author, educator and activist. He’s also a Quaker and a wise voice to which I return again and again.

The physical structure which he uses to describe what keeps us from our true selves is the wall. And this is what he has to say about it: Here is the ultimate irony of the divided life: live behind a wall long enough, and the true self you tried to hide from the world disappears from your own view. The wall itself and the wall outside it become all that you know. Eventually, you even forget that the wall is there. And that hidden behind it is someone called “you.”

When we talk about things which are subjective – how we feel, what we sense – language immediately becomes a challenge. That is why these things are the domain of art and poetry: how else can we capture such elusive sensations than through symbol and suggestion?

In our rational world, what is subjective is assumed to be the unreliable inferior to its more scientific counterpart, the objective. And yet, as Parker makes clear, when we address our subjective selves, we can find who we really are.

The next questions become: how important is it to discover who we really are and are we willing to give up objectivity to find out?

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