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Jesica Hanley Vega

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personal growth

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 The mantra of “writing, teaching, speaking” which powerfully called me forward in 2015 has been replaced by “I want a job.”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.

5 Life Lessons from 2015

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Handmade ornaments celebrating peace from our most recent workshop at Retreats With Heart.

Feeling good feels good. I experimented a lot this year with simply feeling good. Regardless of circumstance, I made an effort to find a good feeling whenever I could (or as Abraham Hicks calls it “a better feeling thought”).

The biggest surprise was learning how much better it felt to admit I felt crappy. In the past, I’d tried to force myself to feel better in challenging moments, but this year I discovered the grace in simply saying “I feel like crap.”

And very often, when I felt that way, I would sit down on my sofa and not get up until I felt better. Just sit. Not meditate. Not read. Not check my phone. Just sit. And it felt really good. And I was a much nicer person to my kids and my husband too.

Doing what frightens me makes me feel alive. This year was full of things that frightened me; I led my first workshops, did my first public speaking, crowd-funded and attended The Hive Global Leaders Program , admitted I wanted a divorce in couples’ counseling (we later reconciled) and quit consuming espresso, pasta, bread and sugar (mostly). Each one of these forced me to transcend the “me” I knew and become someone new. While it was terrifying to step into the unknown – socially, personally, and dietarily – each leap released an energy, a wildness and a wisdom that I couldn’t have acquired any other way. I got to know myself on a deeper level and it was exhilarating.

Life is much easier when I don’t take things personally. That guy who wanted his money back when he didn’t like my talk? The friend who decided she no longer wanted me in her life? The family member with negative opinions about how I’ve lived my life? In the past, I spent a lot of time and energy trying to prove myself to dissenters and win back those I’d offended. But this year I finally accepted that people are going to do what they’re going to do and think what they’re going to think – because they have their own lives to lead, and their own stories to tell.

Relationships will end and endeavors will fail, and to take it all personally is to try way too hard to be the center of a universe in which I am only one part. Ultimately, it’s a relief knowing I can’t control it all and it’s made me even more grateful for what I have.

Life is even easier when I stop trying to improve, help, heal and otherwise make a difference in people’s lives. Co-dependent much? Maybe just a little. As a sensitive, caring person, it’s easy to feel responsible for others’ problems. Whether I’ve felt like I caused them, or just had the solutions that would ease them, I expended a lot of energy thinking, talking and strategizing about other people’s lives. But once I stopped, wow, it was like being relieved of a fifty pound weight. It’s still tempting, when someone is struggling or feels hurt, to turn myself inside out, beat myself up and do whatever it takes to make it right. But I’ve learned the best path is to take what responsibility is mine and give others the gift of their own.

I’m human. Of course, of course, of course, we’re all human. But there’s nothing like getting knocked down a few notches to remind me (see numbers 2 and 3) how human I am. Whether my ego is dominating me with an inflated sense of my own worth, or berating me for not being good enough, my ego has a hard time accepting who I truly am.

I am gifted in some ways, flawed in others; I can be wonderful and I can be insensitive. Just like all human beings, I am not only one thing.

A large part of becoming a loving, compassionate human being is accepting my shadow without believing it dims my light, because only then can I  accept the humanity of others. And I’ve come a long way in accepting others humanity this year as well: my kids’, my family’s, my friends and most of all, my dear and very human husband.

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.

 

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, 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.

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 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.

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