Taking refuge

This article is a continuation of Sometimes I’m an Asshole, my most popular blog to date. Maybe it’s because of the compelling title, though I’m guessing it’s because of the universality of what I described about the longing for wholeness, and the challenges with it. Some of those considerations again include:

*Our conscious, healthy, and genuine desires to be of service, to do no harm, to extend loving-kindness. You know, our basic goodness, our deep morality, our cleanest impulses. Also, our conditioned, unquestioned, and neurotic desires to be good and do good, most often motivated by a quenchless need for positive feedback, approval from others, and the desire to belong.

*The intuitions and instincts from our internal guidance mechanisms – those parts that whisper to us, and compel us to journey beyond the known, the safe, the socially accepted or condoned. Those times when only we know what we have to do, and we have to drown out all voices of dissent and follow our inner prompts, come what may. Essentially, those things one needs to be or do in order to be in integrity with oneself.

*The moral complexity that arises when what we must choose for ourselves could cause real harm to another. The slippery navigation (no matter how mindful or self-aware we are) that requires us wonder if our impulses are trustworthy or reckless, grounded in wisdom or propelled by wound, or perhaps some of both.

Given these factors, and many others, can we still find anchor in our wholeness? Can we be with the complexity, the paradox, and the tension, and find some way to behold and be held within it all?


In response to my post on ass-wholeness, one of my most beloved elders and a true soul friend wrote:

“Surely good to join with ALL humanity, is it not? Whole means holding it all, certainly, NOT only perfection. Ultimately, WHOLE has NO duality in it whatsoever. Hard to dismantle eons of conditioning around all this, and also, view the complexity of how we aspire to do no harm and go about accomplishing this in our lives. And, we will all surely fuck up, over and over again. What a great practice to learn to love ourselves and each other endlessly, and hold it ALL in the great unfolding.”

A healer friend in the Philippines reminds me that the origin of the word healing comes from the old European word hælan, which literally means to make whole.

Dream weaver and artist Toko-pa writes that “wholeness is not, as the word implies, a state of completion at the end of a long dedication to attainment. Rather, it is a channel into which we can always tune. It just so happens that our ability to remain in reception of its broadcast can take a lifetime to master.”

Their words lift me up. I feel my dedication deepen, and I feel more integrated, more whole. I understand more clearly my attraction to modalities that are inclusive of all, and favoring of none, that illustrate the democracy within the psyche, honor all dimensions of self, and love each fractal of light as much as the prism itself.

I’m getting that the way to wholeness is through fluid inquiry rather than static answers. I’m choosing to orient to it as a study, a lifelong dedication to process, rather than as a fixed destination.  Most of all, I’m learning to invite the flailing, disillusioned, irreconcilable, and hypocritical parts of myself to the table, along with all the others, and take refuge in the sanctity of the exploration itself.

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Sometimes I’m an asshole

At some point, I dedicated my life to the study and cultivation of wholeness, a dedication that birthed out of my own need to have space to be all of me.

Born into a cultural framework that didn’t make room for the full range of my humanity, that didn’t include my confusion and my doubt, my pettiness, my lust, or my rage, I found myself feeling squashed, denying pieces of myself, and working really hard to brush my not so nice, shiny, happy, socially-acceptable parts under the rug. It was utterly fragmenting, and the total opposite of wholeness.

I recently confronted another layer of the subtle and insidious, yet violent and overt self-squashing that happens when I feel inwardly (or outwardly) pressured to always get it right. Not long after, I received this beautiful reminder from David Whyte during a talk he gave about the Mary Oliver poem Wild Geese that starts with the line “you do not have to be good”.

He says, “if there is goodness in the world it comes from our rubbing ourselves up against life and testing ourselves against it and making lots of mistakes and falling down flat, and doing bad things thinking we’re doing good things, doing good things thinking we’re doing bad things, and making sense of it from the greater perspective of one’s own personal destiny and intuitions of where we’re supposed to go in the world.”

Such radical permission to be a human, to fuck it up, to learn through trial and error, and follow our own inner imperatives about how we need to act and be in service of those things that go beyond what others may understand or perceive about our behaviors, motives and intentions.

Big exhale.

The next day I read these words on a friend’s Facebook page, and another wave of relief and permission washed over and settled inside me.

“I have made choices in my life that other women in the same circumstances may not have made. But I am not other women. Or another woman. I am myself. I owe the world no explanations. I only owe it my own walk in dignity. I am a fierce protector of Life. And sometimes that protection has taken the form of saving myself instead of another or the relationship.”

Another deep exhale.

Even if the intention is to remain in integrity, to show up fully and skillfully, it doesn’t mean that we always can or do. Sometimes we behave badly and fuck it up. Sometimes we’re reactive, and lack bandwidth, or are a hot mess. Let’s own it and not pretend otherwise.

I’m not advocating intentional meanness or violence or cruelty, but sometimes we need to follow our impulses and find out through experience what’s right and what isn’t, what works and what doesn’t. We need permission to be adult learners, who can fumble and be messy sometimes.

I’d rather be whole than one dimensional and only show the world one face. I’d rather be dynamic and take risks, than be gracious and agreeable all the time. But it’s all kinds of edgy because it touches on the most primal, deep rooted fear that if I don’t show up the way others want me to, I might lose love, or belonging, or business, or my reputation. Even though there is truly no way around being liked by some and disdained by others, or avoiding people’s projections about me for better or for worse. So I may as well be free to be all of me – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be a full range human being, with blind spots, and flaws, and just be real and fallible and a bitch sometimes, or the perception of one. I want those parts to be included too. Otherwise I feel like a caged animal, relentlessly judgmental of myself about how I “should be”, and way less tolerant or forgiving of others when they mess up or just plain disappoint me.

So today I am embracing my ass-wholeness, because wholeness is best, even when I’m not at mine!

“Wholeness is not, as the word implies, a state of completion at the end of a long dedication to attainment. Rather, it is a channel into which we can always tune. It just so happens that our ability to remain in reception of its broadcast can take a lifetime to master.”  Toko-pa

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Inside Out

Sometimes I call my work parts-work, other times, shadow-work, but it’s all the same to me.

Distilled down, it’s about isolating parts of self or psyche (sometimes in tremendously nuanced and subtle ways) in order to access shadow material. You know, our gaping blind spots – the stuff we can’t see but that’s really obvious to everyone around us. Material that we banished to the depths of our unconscious because it wasn’t safe or socially acceptable to express “that thing” or be “that way”, but is now running amok, seeping out sideways, leaking everywhere!

Played out, this unconscious material can wreak holy havoc in our lives.  I mean, have you seen “Inside Out”?!

“Sadness” has wisdom, insight, and perspective to share, but the more she’s silenced, invalidated, and relegated to a small corner of the room, the more she unwittingly and compulsively creates situations to get Riley’s attention.  She creates tremendous disruption in a simple attempt to be heard, and a lot of damage occurs before her value is recognized and she is given her rightful place inside of Riley’s psyche.

In the work I facilitate, I have my clients personify various parts of themselves so that these parts can come into conscious awareness, and be accepted, owned and integrated by the Self. Once integrated, the life force energy within these parts gets updated, redirected, and repurposed to good use. More often than not, all these parts want are to be heard and validated.  The rest kind of takes care of itself after that — because the energy has been liberated and movement in now possible.

We all have impulses and personality traits we’d rather not admit to or show the world, but they are part of us, and if we resist them, and battle to keep them hidden, they get bigger, louder, and more entrenched in their habitual stance.

The movie illustrated a few really important things:

The profound usefulness of all emotions, including and maybe especially the ones we deem as bad or unfavorable.  You know, the ones we most try to get rid of.

The more we turn towards all that is inside us, the more dynamic our emotional reality can be. We develop and grow, and one dimensional emotional experiences transform into textured, layered, multi-colored ones.

When we repress and neglect our internal emotional cues, something inside of us breaks or splits, as in the case of the “personality islands” crumbling into oblivion. We disconnect from important parts of our history and from our core sense of self, which in turn dulls our experience of life. But do the work of repair and old neural networks get updated, and new ones get formed. After all, once “Sadness” was integrated, the “personality islands” came back online, only with way more nuance and sophistication.


In general, the more we embrace our shadows, the closer we come to embodying our Souls. If embodying your Soul is important to you, then this type of work will yield deep rewards.  If that’s not what compels you, do it so that you can direct your energy where and how you want it, instead of having it perpetually sabotage and derail you.

So embrace your feelings, and be a gracious host for all of your emotions. Then notice how much quicker they dissolve into their original essence, and fill you with a sense of dynamic wholeness.

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