Consent in healing practice and spiritual communities is something that I bump up against very very often and yet I find is seldom spoken about. If it is, it tends to be short, vague, and encompasses the moral absolution of simply adding "for their highest good" before carrying on. To me, this conversation is essential. Not only for practitioners, teachers, and facilitators to have with those they work with, but for All Of Us. It is relevant in circumstances we regularly encounter in our day-to-day, everything from blowing out birthday candles and wishing on stars to social media pleas and conversations over tea. It plays out in a variety of ways, but here are a few common scenarios that I encounter:
I speak a firm counter stance on this and lay down strict parameters for those I am working with. There are only two.
The part I really want to speak to however is the hard truth that we can't assume to know best simply because our compassion is engaged. Humans are incapable of fully understanding the complexities, intricacies, and ramifications of any given event, particularly as time unfolds or the different realms it may affect. Heck we can't even see a full range of light and colour. Not even hear a complete array of tones and pitches. Yet a common consensus appears to be that we can freely impose our will over another when we think it is for their "highest good" or that asking the person's "higher self" or "spirit guides" for permission makes it okay. Perhaps even we double check later with that person to find they appreciated it, providing fuel for justifying this habitual response.
Myself? I believe this way of thinking to be out of integrity and dare I say, downright sloppy.
Let me explain by sharing a few true stories:
You may be familiar with the story of the man who helped a butterfly emerge from its cocoon. Essentially the butterfly could not fly because its wings had not developed the needed strength provided by breaking free on its own. I am not one to "love and light" anyone's hardship, or tell someone in the thickest dark night of the soul that "everything happens for a reason", but I also wont deny someone the transformative insights or strength of character that can only be found in our broken places. Who am I to impose my Will on another person's situation without their knowledge nor direct consent? No matter how rotten, no matter the suffering, how would I know that isn't the divine plan, pre-chosen soul path, or the exact poison needed to deliver the most potent medicine? What if our collective prayers inadvertently remove a stepping stone leading to their best life? most suited partner? invaluable wisdom? Is it okay to infringe on another's free will because we tag on "for the highest good"? What if their higher self says Yes but they themselves say No? Are we 100% certain we haven't projected our desire to fix into that divination? Is it enough to go against a conscious dissent?
What can we do?
Inquiring if someone is open to receiving your prayers or healing intentions, even if you have been friends for decades and you've done it a million times, shows respect and integrity. Every situation is different and what may have been okay before may not be this time. If it is someone you don't know well, or has beliefs other than our own on such matters, pay attention to the language used in asking for consent. If they think healing energy or divination readings are too "woo-woo" or aren't real, see if an equivalent that makes sense to them can be found. Even if it is something like, "Do you mind if I imagine you free from this challenge?" or "Are you okay with me meditating for an answer on this?"
It might be inappropriate or impossible to ask for consent leaving us with an uncomfortable feeling of "doing nothing", and sometimes we just have to sit with that. I like to check in honestly and ask myself if I am able to trust in knowing they have their own wisdom, their own senses, and their own journey in a matter or if I might actually be doubting or accidentally being condescending toward their natural abilities. Simply regarding, noticing, and appreciating someone is a powerful act. Quantum physics shows us the impact an observer can have in situations of all kinds from particle waves to ph levels of water. We aren't doing anything beyond witnessing something already present like their tenacity or the light of their life force.
What about the exception I mentioned for young children?
I recognize that small dependent children turn to their parents for all of their needs and it is up to us to draw on our skills and supports to do so. Whether it is applying aid during an illness or keeping them safe. It is expected of us. Wanted. Needed. Prayers and healing work included. I say "limited exception" because in my experience folks tend to want to push those boundaries toward pubescent and full grown adult children or stretch into areas that are life or behaviour controlling. Removing a troublemaking friend of theirs during a fire ceremony is different than praying for their ability to make wise choices. It can be exceptionally difficult for parents to honour a child's autonomy, resiliency, and need to make their own way through the dark woods. It can be hard to know when it is right to hold their hand, when we should stand beside or behind, and when to plain stay out of it. Clarity is good. Ask them.
This has been a long one. Much gratitude to readers who have made it this far. It is an area that I am passionate about, aim to follow, and am quite firm on since it comes up so often in my work and gatherings. Of course it is not always appropriate to broach in the heat of a moment either. It was time to put it all in one place and share out from here.
My bubble buddy, and new friend at the fine arts centre has watched me patch up "clay fails" and creatively tend to mishaps that would make most potters cringe and scoff. Generally the idea of being so attached to a piece that one tries to save it is relegated to noobs who could use practice in 'just make another' don't waste your time and learn through the doing. Most serious potters tend to toss imperfect greenware into the Reclaim Bucket, or smash Bisqued and Glazed pieces into the ceramic graveyard of mosaic hopefuls and archeologist dreams.
I create with intention but keep very close the knowing the life of a piece may be found short at any moment. But I can't say it is non-attachment, for surely it isn't. One swift movement, jerk of a hand, hidden air bubble, too hot and dry air too soon, too cold air too soon, a poor dip or drip, a fusion to a kiln shelf, catch of a finger nail, an exploding kiln neighbour, ripped out bottom or snapped off handle, each can spell death to a piece, and I will love each for as long as they live just the same.
And just like those parts of ourselves that feel broken or dreams we thought were destined for the reclaim bucket or graveyard - sometimes we can put our perfectionism and consumer conditioning aside and love it back - again and again if we must.
I remember being very small and looking closely at a plastic horse that I had, noticing how the eye paint was askew and there were chunky bits along the mould seam. I knew that no one had touched it when it was being made, no one had cared for it or noticed its details. There was a sad vacancy and I wanted to love that little horse more to make up for it somehow. I hadn't read it yet, but knew Velveteen Rabbits were real.
Perhaps that is why I hesitate to toss so easily into the reclaim bucket, why I slow-cook and hand stitch aspects of my life together. If you know me though, you know I am a strong advocate for letting things die when it is time. Perhaps surprisingly so. But some things quietly call for being loved back to life.
This piece was gifted to me half a foot away from the Reclaim Bucket. As you can see, so far it has been resuscitated at least twice and it certainly isn't out of the woods yet. Some of my pieces hold this story of reclamation with them and I softly wonder if anyone might feel it. If they don't, that is okay. I do.
I didn't hyperspeed this up because reclaiming by way of loving takes a little time - as it should.
In the lead up to our monthly circles I spend time listening, with all of my senses, for incoming messages that support our moving in a good way through unseen, "felt", energetic currents that are always present and perhaps go unnoticed.
Something that came up last week was the invitation for us to pay extra attention to the portals we pass through. The thresholds we cross. The transitions we experience. Everything from actual household doorways to shifting between sleep and wakefulness. The portals we pass through when we work with Spirit, the veils that we part, the auspicious moments in time... like a Full Moon or Samhain (or as the case is this year - both!) Have you ever walked into a room and completely forgotten why you are there? It is called the "Doorway Effect". Our brain is triggered into forgetting. There can be great medicine in forgetting, but there is also much to be had in remembering.
What came through was an invitation for slowing things down enough to reallllly notice - mostly that we are in fact crossing a threshold, but also, since we are noticing, to mindfully experience the qualities and stages of them a bit.
~ Standing at the doorway. Is there trepidation? Expectation? Preconceived assumptions? A leap of faith? I'm sure we all know the 'hand on the doorknob steeling up to actually enter' feeling, or that chest flutter just before declaring a final decision. Are We opening it or is something else? Can we choose to keep it closed? Did we prepare?
~ The sometimes very brief moment of being In a liminal state, neither fully here nor there. Is there comfort in this? Discombobulation? Can we hear/see wisdoms easier or feel more blind? Perhaps we are here longer than anticipated, it can feel dizzying and fast or sometimes a timeless limbo. Is it solid and sturdy or is our safety in jeopardy?
~ Emerging on the other side. Is it a jolt to the system? Do we feel welcomed and in the "right place"? Did we come out standing on our own two feet or crawling on raw hands and knees? Do we need a rest now or feel invigorated? Have we really made it fully through? Are we where we expected to be? Did we kick the door shut or did it lovingly, gently, click closed behind us?
Did we even notice?
We pass through so.very.many. Every day. All day.
But perhaps the great forgetting is upon us.
Think of all the stories we have known, stories of ornate doors with missing keys, stories of secret words to clear blocked passage, the tunnels that are stumbled upon, fairy rings bumbled into, forbidden rooms that force one into an initiation of sorts, creatures of myth who cross boundaries and worlds and realms. These stories have long captivated our attention, and there always seems to be an aspect of "the human" and an aspect of "otherworldliness" to them.
This week and into the next, if you are inclined, I extend this invitation from somewhere trusted on "the other side", to notice the portals that you pass through. Be they your front door, a video call, into/out of meditation, spirit journeying, creative state, ritual acts, or ceremony space. Between daydreaming and presence. When you get in and out of the car. Heck even half asleep midnight bathroom trips.
We don't need to over analyze.
I am not one who feels compelled to know the Why or How behind every mystery. I am not quick to label, designate, or categorize. But I do recognize patterns and I make associations through experiences. I pick up on similarities, threads of potential, and unseen streams of feeling. Sometimes I'll follow them through to articulation and hope it lands somewhere helpful.
These past weeks I have been observing the various ways people have been moving through our current global experience. Some are stepping into high gear productivity and creativity. Some diving into ceremony and prayer. Some crumbling under overwhelm or simply maintaining and existing. There is calm. There is tension. There is violence and acts of incredible beauty. The parallel that I can sense, no matter how our situations are affecting us, is with that of an Initiatory Experience. More precisely, the sort of initiation that was unexpected and goes largely unrecognized. This is not the community supported, planned and prepared for sort. Rites of Passage, Vision Quests, profound Healing Ceremonies, Warrior Homecomings, or the culmination of an intense period of Spiritual Apprenticeship, ideally, are supported by wise medicine keepers, elders, or the already initiated, and tend to be witnessed by close community. Necessarily unaware of what challenges it entails, the initiate often feels it coming and prepares, strengthens and readies, but they certainly may not always. If fortunate, those surrounding them are aware and have watched their slow unfolding, and quietly are preparing in their roles for what lies ahead. They know the protocols, hold the space, and set the pace. We see it naturally when experienced parents pass wisdom to expectant mothers and the midwife and doula arrive. It is there when an Uncle brings a boy on his first hunting trip. When a young girl enters the tent for the first time after menarche or as the family gathers to the bedside of a passing elder. Significant times of change that leave a very clear sense of life Before as being distinct from life After.
Unfortunately, unrecognized initiations occur in individuals and groups quite often. These are times when we move through life altering events that shake us to our core, without guidance of a medicine person or wise elder facilitating a conscious process, without knowledge of what is afoot, and without even a sense of preparation. It might be a near death experience through illness or accident, coming of age without stories of foretelling, becoming lost alone overnight in the woods, or even the untangling from a toxic relative or abusive spouse. If we are lucky, we at least have a quiet witness to the magnitude of a profound shift within us.
Previously I wrote an article on the 3 Stages of an Initiatory Experience describing the phases as I know them to be. It paints a picture of a full and complete process from the initial stages of severance or removal from all that we know, into the discombobulating challenge of an intensity that brings us to the brink - be it facing fear, maxing out our physical strength and endurance, testing our faith, or near breaking of determination and will power - and into the final integration of the knowledge we gained from such challenge, where life is reassembled in a new, course corrected, improved, and harmonious way. Which is far from how light and easy that might sound.
The trouble comes when one begins this process, intentionally or not, and stalls or stops partway through. Usually when the going gets roughest, and most often when without recognition either from the initiate themselves or from a network or facilitator to help push through to completion. It feels like the bottom has dropped out from under our feet, circumstances become intolerable, but we don't make it to the other side with newfound resilience and instead stay in a painful place where the emotional wounds don't seem to heal, dysfunctional patterns continue, and the shit just keeps getting kicked up without true resolution. We end up not knowing how to fully return from our challenge. We don't know how to process what we experienced or what to do with the thoughts that we walked away with. For some, it might even result in a chronic trauma response.
The sneakiest pitfall that I have seen many times over, is when the challenge itself runs its course, the initiate(s) complete their hardship in whatever form it took, the sigh of relief is breathed - and everything goes right back to the way it was when it all started. There is a false sense of completion. A lull into complacency just before the actual finish line. The wisdoms gained during the ultimate "moment of truth" is not applied to life After after all.
All becomes for nought.
There was no integration and we might not even know it.
The big game is talked, didactic pontification ensues, wounds are declared healed, and blindspots are cultivated and sidestepped.
Until the next initiatory experience brings another chance.
What I have had brewing on the back burner of my awareness, is no matter how easily or painfully we might be moving through these pandemic days, regardless of "enlightened" or conspiracy concepts as to the Whys of it all, despite any desire for or knowledge of potentially being in the midst of an initiatory experience - both individually and collectively - there is possibility of inadvertently missing those 3 key steps.
Severance. Threshold. Integration.
We have clearly said goodbye to life as we knew it. We appear to be at the threshold. How it looks and what we learn here is deeply personal and widely varied. If it is right, that these times are indeed following this ancient structure, integration will look differently for everyone. Some will actively work at it. Some will not even realize it. Let there be no sidestepping. Let us be guided by innate wisdom and latent medicines if not by Initiated knowledge keepers. Sometimes they seem far and few between. But at least if we get lost, we know these 3 steps.
There are many times we might feel called to pick up a stone, feather, shell, or stick while walking in nature. These little friends might catch our eye or even seem to "call out" to us. We might feel a pull or even seem to audibly hear them. This is especially the case during meditation walks when seeking items for certain ceremonial working such as creating a spirit arrow or staff, when in need of a particular energetic or elemental medicine, gathering for a devotional offering practice, re-stocking Burlá Ghuí/Despacho kits, when creating medicine pouches, or simply wildcrafting herbal medicines, but we may also feel this urge spontaneously. Some of us may even develop a habit of collecting a particular item, heart shaped rocks or feathers are a common favourite.
There are a few important aspects to consider when gathering from Nature to ensure that we are doing so in a good way.
How to cultivate a relationship with plant, stone, or crystal medicine - article full of easy methods
Stone Spirit Medicine - online course for those drawn to stones in personal healing and spiritual practice
Today's podcast guest, Juliette Woods, is an incredible mix of mystic, mother, spiritual guide, creative, and earth spiritualist.
In our conversation we talk about...
We cover a lot of ground in this long-form conversation that feels like a lengthy stroll down the beach on a drizzly day...picking up wise little stones...giving the selkies a wave hello and wink or two...remembering the seal skin tucked away in our own closets.
To support this podcast :
You can engage in reciprocity with this show by supporting me - Amber Samaya - on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/ambersamaya
I'll Have What She's Having! is a visionary interview-based podcast highlighting the real-life experiences, embodied wisdom, life path stories, and inspirational creative offerings of WONDROUS women. This podcast invites women from all walks of life (and men too!) to meet at the beautiful intersections of our unique lived experiences. Joining together in a quantum circle for laid back, fireside, magic-at-the-kitchen-table, no-holds-barred JUICY conversations about everything from creative projects, community innovations, business, sex, intimacy, relationships, motherhood, grand adventures, dark nights of the soul, self care, intentional life ways, sacred practice, necessary rebellion, and those hilarious *this-legit-happened* stories that will have you laughing. We hope you'll feel at home. That you'll laugh enough that it'll count as an ab workout. That you'll heal and soften a little bit. That you'll feel deeply connected. And certainly, that you'll celebrate each other. Welcome to a podcast where conversation becomes medicine.
For more episodes:
You can connect with Juliette in the following ways:
Stepping into Ceremony
When we are well prepared and present to intention,
we set the stage to safely step back and allow healing to move through us
without trying to control or struggle toward a perceived goal;
opportunities unfold to perceive medicines and divine wisdom
greater than we can imagine.
An Initiatory Experience
An initiation marks a distinct time of "before" and "after". The kind of experience that, at its extreme, will feel like a complete life over-haul, almost like we have been reborn or achieved a new level of depth/height in awareness. Everything is somehow different or has shifted in a fundamental or cellular way.
Often it is a rite of passage, deep ceremony, intense personal medicine work, vision quest, or healing event that creates a significant shift in the way we relate to and experience the world. It steps us into a new phase of life or welcomes us into a community previously unavailable to us. It applies also to unplanned events like serious illness, accident, or tragedy, as well as natural life stages such as birth, puberty, menarche, labour/birth/parenthood, coupling/uncoupling, menopause, eldership, and death.
As I have learned it, there are 3 distinct phases to an Initiation.
Severance. Threshold. Integration.
Others may have different names or words to describe them, but the essence seems consistent in my experiences and observances so far.
The preparation phase. This is the lead up to the experience, and is when the healing work actualy begins. Sometimes as early as the moment when we commit to the opportunity. We go through a phase, consciously or not, of acts of letting go of our life as we know it, saying Goodbye to all that is familiar, releasing our grip on the anchors that make us feel stable - patterns, beliefs, relationships, perceived goals and desires, daily constructs, ways of relating, ways of being, ways of thinking - and cutting all ties to the way things are.
If you recognize you are in the Severance stage, you can support and deepen this process by:
This is where we cross over from the "before" to the "after". It is the Experience that changes us or the culmination of experiences that leads us to a pivotal threshold or doorway to step through. It may be marked by ceremony, ritual, vision quest, dark night(s) of the soul, a period of deep healing, or it may not even be fully recognized while in the thick of it - particularly when without the witnessing of community or when the experience(s) are viewed as trauma without resulting gifts.
When in this stage, you might support and deepen the experience by:
Often considered the hardest part, and sadly too often overlooked - integration occurs when we are able to Return to our usual life and keep the gifts we have acquired intact. We are challenged with bringing our internal shifts outward to affect change in our day-to-day living and resist falling back into old ways of thinking, reacting, and being. Many times this transition isn't easy, might be messy, and perhaps feels a bit chaotic as things shake up in order to fall into more harmonious places. Touching in with any community, elders, or teachers that held us through the Threshold phase can be a wellspring of anchoring resources.
When in this stage, you might support and deepen the experience by:
A few years ago I wrote some practical, hands-on, tips and suggestions for integrating the medicines from the Threshold, and bringing all of the unseen, personal, inner work Out into our mundane living experience. If you would like more on the Integration phase, find yourself post-ceremony or have recently undergone a personal healing session, please read "Integration ~ the often overlooked time after soul-work".
If you would like personal and direct support as you move through any of these stages, you are welcome to send me an email at email@example.com or book a consultation.
There are many ways to “be of service” to our communities that don’t involve extensive training, one-to-one healing sessions, or even a full-time dedicated practice, that are incredibly powerful and very supportive. One of these methods is by tending to a Community Altar. This way of holding space for others on their journey through life and healing is easily integrated into even the busiest lifestyles and from what I have experienced, can become a highly requested form of support.
7 Steps to building a Community Altar practice:
1.) Consider where your Altar will be and the length of time it will remain active. Helpful questions might be; Will your Altar be indoors or outside? Are you ready for a permanent feature in your home or will it be created only for a short gathering? An Altar is created with careful energetic intention on a designated surface - so choose a location that is easy to access and encouraging for you to tend to. Perhaps more than one person will actively tend to the Altar on behalf of the community - you get to cultivate this practice to suit your needs as well as those seeking to be included!
2.) Ponder the essential quality the Altar will be designed to represent and radiate. One might choose to support people’s hearts, invoke the sense of being held in the hands of divinity, promote their safety, clear ancestral wounds, encourage physical health, or tend to a need in the community that you identify with and relate to from your lived experience.
3.) Every item that makes up the Altar will be carefully selected and geared to contribute to the chosen energy and purpose. Consider them as energetic or spiritual ‘power houses’ such as specific crystals, images of deities or photos of deceased relatives, stones from significant and relevant places, plant medicines or dried herbs, all of which carry or support the chosen intention. An Altar brings together the individual energies of the objects with your aim to create a unified energy source that continues to “work for you” once set.
4.) Decide how you will represent people who want to be included. You might light a candle on their behalf and speak their name for long distance support or if they will be physically present you might ask them to bring a stone, photo, or personal item that resonates with their individual energetic imprint.
5.) When you have spent some time becoming familiar with the energy of the Altar, are clear on its intention and comfortable with tending to it; extend the invitation to your community to be included. One might offer to individuals who are already asking for support, post a general invitation on social media, or verbally encourage participants at a gathering you are offering.
6.) Be sure to hold the work your Altar is doing with utmost respect. Do not allow others to put random objects on it, keep it clean and organized, spend time in quiet reverence there, and perhaps move things around or change up the items to keep the energy fresh. You might sing devotional songs, make offerings, or speak invocations and prayers while tending.
7.) It is important to remember that as a working energy source, there are also times of rest needed. We can provide this rest by periodically laying a cloth over it and by dismantling it when no longer active. Blessing and cleansing the items with sacred smoke is also something to be mindful to do when the energy begins to feel “stale”. If out-of-doors in a public area, be sure to thank and close the Altar by removing personal items after each time of tending.
Tips to remember:
An example of a simple yet powerful Altar as an inspiration for your own might be to dedicate it to the "Good Neighbours", and include a central rose quartz sphere representing your love and appreciation for house sprites. Perhaps a fairy quartz in included with the points radiating outward and interlaced with small images of Fairies that are particularly attractive to you. You might decide to work with the creative, impish energy of this space by reciting a daily invocation stating your desire to connect with the Fae, Brownies, House Elves etc on a more reciprocal level. This could be helpful in homes where items regularly, and inexplicably, go missing or when it feels like your house is "playing tricks" with you. Visitors to your home who would like the same intention could be welcomed to leave shiny coins, milk, oats, or chocolate as gifts on the altar when they come for tea with you.
Another example might be an altar for our Grandmothers, perhaps created on a piece of lace at a Samhain gathering. Adorned with an inherited favourite tea cup, some black and white photos, and a brooch your Great Great Grandmother wore. These would establish the connection to matriarchal lines and brings in their energy. If the intention is to heal a history of abuse for our Ancestors, including crystals that transmute dense energy, repair heartache, and impart strength placed with the intention of safely surrounding the Grandmothers creates a powerful healing purpose. Guests could then bring their own photos, heirlooms, and written prayers for healing their lineages.
You might be surprised how many people ask to be included and share with you a real, felt sense of being supported. The simple act of someone caring is a profound sentiment let alone the supportive medicines included with, and invoked by, your Altar practice. It's free, takes little time, creates a strong feeling of community, and isn’t impeded by distance. I invite you to begin and have fun!
If you would like more in-depth wisdom to explore about Altars & Shrines, the differences between the two, their purpose, nuances, and best practices, it is a topic we cover during the first month of the Return to Reverence immersion program and continue to work with throughout.
Registration opens each June and we begin each October.
Do you have Altars ALL over the house? Here is something to consider that is often overlooked.
April's Powell River Living edition of Return to Reverence encourages us to dive into the realm of sound. For those who know I like to time such things with the seasonal wheel of the year might pick up on the correlation between the element of Air, Spring, sound waves ;)
When I wrote this article the air was full of Robin song and the increasing outdoor joyful activities of uncharacteristically warm and dry days, at this moment of posting however, I definitely am comforted by constant soft rain. There is a quality to it that brings me to many times and places all at once that have the same strong vibration of feeling cozy, small in the world, and somehow more connected to mother earth.
I am inside digging deep for the gumption to tackle much needed projects - and the sounds outside and that of my tea kettle boiling suggest I tackle slowly and mindfully. My outer world reflecting my inner.
Regarding climate change and the despair many of us feel, Pieta Woolley asked if I would share a quote of Hope for us this Spring. Here is a lovely collection of inspiration during these challenging times of renewal and new beginnings...
A bean feasa of Gaelic heritage shares stories & insights from her animist and 'shamanic' practice on the West Coast of Canada.