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Jesica Hanley Vega

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transformation

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 The mantra of “writing, teaching, speaking” which powerfully called me forward in 2015 has been replaced by “I want a job.”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

 

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.

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.

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.

A-Buzz

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For a long time, espresso has meant home to me. At least for the time being, something else will have to do.

A few weeks prior to heading to San Francisco, I wasn’t feeling my best physically. I was suffering from body aches, my energy levels were erratic, and my appetite wasn’t good. Making my bed more comfortable helped, but I thought I might feel even better if I improved my diet and eliminated coffee

After the initial withdrawal wore off, my energy levels and mood quickly  improved  and my thinking got more clear. I considered the experiment a success and decided to keep going.

And then one day, stuck with nothing to do while my husband discussed alignment with a mechanic at a used tire shop I took a walk. Even before I set out, I knew that if I walked far enough, I would pass Bluebeard Cafe: where I’ve made many pit stops to make a bad day better, where I’ve brought visiting guests to show off my adopted hometown and where they serve the best espresso in Tacoma, 

Even before I could see it, I felt my body pulled towards the familiar entrance. Conditioned to know that pleasure and relief were on the way, my physical excitement mounted and I started to wonder why I’d quit drinking coffee in the first place.

Espresso; it was a bright spot in a bad day, a boring day, an exhausting day or a good day. It  was a guaranteed pleasure, my one daily indulgence and part of my heritage.

But rather than going in, I kept on walking and instead stepped into a healthy tea and herb shop where I found a book called Rumi’s Four Essential Practices. One of those essential practices, I discovered, is fasting.

I’ve never been a dieter and, though I am a spiritual practitioner, I’d never taken on fasting as a spiritual discipline. And yet, without realizing it, in addition to improving my physical condition, my new diet had actually been giving me the opportunity to deepen my relationship to self.

I brought the book with me to San Francisco and was glad I did when the first thing I found upon checking into my room was a gleaming Nespresso maker. In addition to providing an exciting opportunity to join a community of impassioned and accomplished leaders, my weekend at The Hive was clearly going to be a continual challenge to my resolve.

But I kept in mind these words from Rumi, which were a constant reminder that my commitment to hearing my soul was stronger than my commitment to having a buzz.

yesterday you filled your stomach 
with all kinds of bread and foods
you became so sluggish 
so sleepy

what comes of such indulgence?
either recklessness
or the need to go to the toilet

sounds of moans and mourning
come from the soul while fasting
but the only sound that comes after a meal
is a low-pitched rumble from the rear end

so friend
if you want to hear what the soul has to say
then skip the meal;
it you want to hear from the other end
then bring the bowl closer to you

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