Happy 2018! I hope that your end of year celebrations were nourishing and that you are feeling ready to manifest your dreams for the coming year. The spiritual power that I chose for 2018 is Effective Inspiration so hopefully by the time you finish reading this, you will feel the flame of inspiration and passion ignited in you as well.
Embracing the Void
There have definitely been times of anxiety, even panic, at the formlessness of my new life. One of the gifts of being a trans person is that it’s helped me to hold lightly to my various identities. Seeing how people have responded so differently to me based on my packaging, despite being the same person underneath it all, has aided me in not taking my “self” personally or too seriously. It is all impermanent and not my Self, which is timeless and formless.
However, of all my worldly identities, I would say that “college professor” is one that has suited me better than most and one that I’ve grown attached to over the years. And, of course, the biggest source of anxiety, in a cutthroat capitalist society, involves my material survival—will I be supported as I move out of the dominant cultural stream?
In my Fall Equinox workshop on Embracing Change, we explored various reasons why we resist change. Here are some of the big ones:
1) We fear the unknown and would rather stay in a known malaise than risk the unknown
2) We believe that this is the best that it gets
3) We don’t believe we deserve better
4) We equate comfort with happiness when in actuality true happiness usually comes from risk, not comfort—too much comfort usually results in stagnancy
5) We have a lot of motivation to move from crisis to ok, but little motivation to move from ok to great
6) We are unwilling to let go of what we’ve outgrown, what no longer serves us, what we don’t love to make room for what we do love
Ok, I got through those. I decided that, while the university was a good platform for me for a time, ultimately it began to limit me (as well as endanger my physical survival) and I wanted more. My Being was longing to expand which couldn’t be accommodated within the hierarchical arrangements of the university. So I was willing to unconditionally let go of what no longer served me to make room for something better—the leap of faith from the ivory tower.
As scary as the leap is, it is also exhilarating. And—though most folks don’t even get as far as the leap—unfortunately, it is merely the first step. What really blocks our ability to change is the next step: the dreaded void.
7) Even if there is a guaranteed positive outcome, most change requires a temporary period in the void first and we are petrified of and unwilling to experience this void
Especially in American culture, where we are taught to never leave a job or relationship until we have another waiting in the wings and to fill all the space in the endless search for more more more, facing the emptiness of the void can be terrifying. It is ironically one of our most powerful states because it is a space of unlimited possibilities—but it is a phase of the growth process where nothing has manifested yet in the material realm.
It is a time when you must have faith that the garden is growing even when you can’t see what’s going on under the surface. It is a time of choosing to believe in the things you can feel but can’t yet see, trusting them to manifest at just the right time. Some days this is easy and some days this feels quite impossible, but being continually asked to do so is without a doubt growing me strength and patience. Especially in a culture that values the big bang and instant gratification, patiently watching for the subtle signs of new growth is truly a character-building labor of love.
While I have overall been in the void phase of growth, that does not mean that the last semester was a time of emptiness for me. Quite the contrary! Despite doing none of the things people say are required to start your own business (I still haven’t even finished my website or gotten business cards or done any advertising), I have continually manifested various opportunities and a steady stream of people wanting my services and willing to pay me abundantly for them.
While the focus of my attention was primarily on working on my book, my counseling practice has taken off without me doing a single thing to create that! And interestingly—since both my counseling sessions and workshops are compensated through a guided meditation to determine the amount—time and time again whatever I decided beforehand that I would like to make ended up being exactly the amount that people would pay! While my focus was strictly on service—how can I best offer my gifts to the world to create positive change—I have been continually supported in oftentimes fun and creative ways.
Most interesting has been my relationship with CU. While I struggled to feel valued in the CU context in my former position, since breaking up with CU, it has been chasing me down, offering various far more lucrative opportunities with much less labor! Just in one semester, I was hired to lead a self-care workshop for the School of Education staff and a workshop on scarcity thinking for the INVST program, paid to come speak to the new student polyamory group, and amazingly offered $1500 for a 45 minute campus talk—all things that previously I would have been doing for free! And with no papers to take home to grade! Though I had proposed the scarcity thinking workshop (though not as a paid gig), the other offers just spontaneously came without me doing anything to create them or advocate for compensation.
The Vulnerability of Starting Over
One of the things that keeps us tied to our previous paths even when they’ve become stagnant and unsatisfactory—beyond the obvious fears around material survival during the starting over process (or emotional survival in the case of our relationship lives)—is the vulnerability of trying something new. We go through this every time we complete a phase of growth—we move from the culmination phase, the celebration and comfort of being seniors in high school, back to zero, returning to kindergarten again (oftentimes without even a sense of what the new lesson is!).
Once we reach a state of Ease with something we’ve been learning, our soul tends to move us on to something new—just as the bliss of end of summer quickly moves into fall and the dying away of what is no longer needed. Since Bliss and Ease are end of cycle stages, my spiritual teacher in Minneapolis, Lynn Woodland, argues that our resistance to endings and the vulnerability of starting over can prompt us to unconsciously avoid the rewards of manifestation to stave off the loss of control that inevitably follows.
At this stage in my career, being a college professor had guaranteed rewards beyond just consistent material sustenance. I knew without a doubt that my classes each semester would be successful—that on the last day of class there would be multiple students in tears, that a good half of the class would share how much the semester had changed their lives, that I would have glowing student evaluations and feel the satisfaction of competence and being in alignment with my purpose. These are compelling rewards, very challenging to give up!
I knew what my life would be like if I stayed on my current path, so stepping off it to take a chance on something not guaranteed was definitely a risk! But, since I knew what my life would be like if I stayed on my current path, the only way I could experience something different—potentially better—would be to step in a new direction. And the truth is, had I stayed longer at the university, I would soon be entering the anxiety of relevance stage that comes after we’ve been doing the same thing for a long time. And frankly, I would rather grapple with the anxiety of emergence—which is taking me somewhere new and growthful with exciting possibilities—than the anxiety of decline, which is more a dark night of the ego. We are meant to keep reinventing ourselves—I believe a lot of what we call “aging” is merely the effects of stagnation.
And the truth is we are never truly starting over, but instead applying our old skills in a new context (something I’ve had to do again and again in my teaching career anyhow as I’ve moved institutions and geographic regions). One of the most fascinating things I realized this semester is that my non-shaming, we’re-all-in-this-together approach to teaching about social justice is ideal for couples counseling! My message in teaching is that the problem is not one another, but instead the terrible training we’ve had and the dysfunctional roles that we become locked into as a result (which feel awful regardless of what role you happen to be in). Applying that to couples counseling has been extremely effective so it feels like a natural match for me, something I was born to do! Especially since, as a transsexual it is easy for me to empathize with multiple perspectives since I have very broad lived experience—so all parties have the opportunity to feel safe and supported and I can help people in conflict understand one another.
Not to mention I didn’t start out as a great teacher! In fact, there was nothing in my personality package that would have indicated any potential greatness in that realm. I almost never spoke in class during college (so much so that my professors were always shocked when I did well on papers) and when I first told my mom I was going to be a college professor, she said “I don’t know why they let you teach when you are such a mumbler” (thanks Mom lol). I was so painfully shy that for my first couple years of teaching in grad school, every morning I had to teach I would have terrible diarrhea because I was so terrified of standing up in front of people. But now teaching is one of my greatest areas of confidence and skill, truly one of my archetypes for this lifetime—I am a Teacher regardless of whether I have a university position or not.
So, though it has been very awkward and vulnerable fumbling around in new areas and feeling the discomfort and embarrassment of not knowing what I’m doing, in the back of my mind I have been thinking “In 5 years I could end up being really great at this!” And the only way I will ever know is by giving it a try and somehow withstanding the terror and clumsiness of the initial steps…
The main thing that’s happened since my departure from the university has been a huge rush of creativity. The same thing happened to my partner when she left the academic world a couple years ago. Teaching is an excellent outlet for one’s creative energy—but it also takes ALL one’s creative energy—so practically from the moment the semester ended in the spring, I began to have a tremendous creative upwelling, beginning to release decades of pent up creative energy.
The most dramatic expression of this is that I wrote a song for the first time since high school! Last spring Phoenix did a collaborative concert with Mosaic Gospel Choir largely themed around racial justice. One of the songs we performed for that concert was Janelle Monae’s Hell You Talmbout (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fumaCsQ9wKw), a song that arose from the Black Lives Matter movement. In our preparation to perform Hell You Talmbout, we had ongoing dialogues in both choirs around the appropriateness of 2 largely white choirs singing a song that was written by and for black people. After the concert, I thought white people should really write our own songs about racial justice, specifically about white fear and white violence which is the root of the problem. So I approached the accompanist for Phoenix (who is also a music composition major at CU) about writing a song together around this theme, me largely the text and Selena largely the music.
What resulted, “Another Sunny Morning, Another Black Man Killed,” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lq_NwTkRQ0Q&feature=youtu.be) traces the consciousness-raising journey of a young white man, who first responds to racialized violence through the lens of mainstream media narratives, but through his own process of awakening—and through an encounter with a young black man on the street—begins to see the situation, as well as himself, quite differently. Amazingly, Phoenix performed this song in December in a collaborative concert with the Denver Gay Men’s Chorus—our 4 song set dedicated to Black Lives Matter in the middle of the DGMC’s annual campy Christmas concert! And in April we are taking this set on the road to the Midwest for our first choir tour! We will be performing at the Transgender Voices Festival in Minneapolis and bringing our message of racial justice to concerts in Nebraska and Iowa en route.
It was SUCH a thrill to watch this song take shape outside of my brain and to have the opportunity to present it to the 440 members of the audience! Perhaps one of the most important moments of my life! But the process of getting there was definitely bumpy. The first few hours sitting there trying to write it were horrendous—full of inner dialogue like “I can’t do this! I don’t know how. It’s too hard! I want to give up.” But I didn’t give up and eventually my creative flow began to unlock. What shifted it for me, surprisingly, was when I moved away from the computer and began to write by hand in my notebook. All of a sudden I felt totally engaged, words came spilling out, hours passed, and by dawn I had a song and was so exhilarated and energized, there was no way I could go to bed and sleep!
I can say that, for me at least, the most difficult part of the creative process is getting started—those moments of frustration before you find the flow, sitting in front of a blank computer screen and feeling like it will never happen. This is largely why I avoided my creativity for so many years—because that experience of stuckness was so painful, I just couldn’t stand it (as those of you who are students well know).
One of the things I learned this semester is that the time and spaciousness required for the creative process is quite different from the time and space needed for self-care or mere survival (and during my academic career, I was never able to master even basic self-care!). Working on my book, for instance, requires me to be fully immersed in my process, which can’t happen when I only have an hour here or there. So, as my schedule began to get busier (despite disappearing the main thing taking up all the space in my life, the university, I can’t say that my fall schedule was any less jammed!), I had to keep setting down my book project to attend to other responsibilities. The benefit of that challenge was that I got a lot of practice with starting over again and again and again—the part of the creative process that I fear and hate the most. I would have to work through all the inner and external obstacles to finally find the satisfaction and exhilaration of flow, only to have to step away, coming back to it later unable to find the thread again, so having to again sit with the discomfort until I can find the flow again—and not allowing myself to give up!
Overall, it was a semester of trial and error as I sought to create a foundation for my new life. At each point I kept asking myself “Is this the life I want?” and making adjustments, as I figured out for myself what a life in which I can thrive even looks like. I have found that when I start with my own joy and a commitment to service that miracles inevitably follow.
When most Americans think of an abundant life, their thoughts turn to money. One of the saddest things about our American training is not only that it misleads us about the destinations of “success,” “happiness,” and “power” and in fact leads us away from true happiness, success, and real power, but it also tends to keep us fixated on the process steps we believe are required, rather than the destination itself. Money is one of those process steps that we believe is fundamental to the achievement of our other goals in life, but not only is chasing money the sure path to unhappiness (especially in a culture oriented towards fear and scarcity that believes there’s never enough), it is completely unnecessary for an abundant life.
For instance, if we would like to go on a magnificent vacation, most of us would believe that requires a lot of money and turn our attention to how we can make more money—many of us getting lost in this process step. And while we may eventually have more money, that doesn’t necessarily mean we get our magnificent vacation. Or we could just directly manifest our vacation through various means, many of which don’t require any money at all.
Case in point: I just returned from a week in Hawaii, waking up every morning to the sound of gently crashing waves, kayaking with sea turtles—truly the vacation of a lifetime—which I paid almost nothing for! When we move away from our cultural training and the belief that life is a linear process of goals and steps and open to the miraculous, we can find ourselves at destinations beyond our wildest dreams with very little effort. In fact, it is often all our efforting—and our belief in the necessity of efforting—that can block us from all of the good in life wanting to come to us.
I’ve been having monthly themed workshops in Broomfield since the fall equinox. September was on Embracing Change, October was Doors Opening/Doors Closing, November was on Receiving, and in December we chose a spiritual power for the new year. Regardless of our goals and intentions for 2018, they likely involve other people so this month’s workshop is on Attracting the Right People. Whatever you are wanting to manifest in the coming year will most certainly require connecting with the folks that can help make it happen. If you are in the Denver/Boulder metro, I hope that you will consider attending—we are cultivating a lovely supportive community by coming together every month.
But whether you can attend or not, I will offer you a little new year’s homework assignment. Write down one thing you want to manifest this year (a new job, romantic relationship, having a baby, more clients, a new home, supportive community, physical healing, political change, etc). Then make a list of the felt experience that you would like to have in that realm (to feel valued and appreciated, to wake up every morning filled with vitality and passion, to be loved unconditionally, to have your unique gifts shared with the world, to have an abundant and inspiring life, more freedom, a world in which all beings can thrive, etc).
Now, instead of waiting until you manifest your outcome in order to experience it and be happy, give yourself that felt experience right now. Close your eyes and imagine feeling valued and appreciated, loved unconditionally, filled with vitality and passion, your everyday life characterized by abundance and freedom, in a world in which everyone feels safe and valued. Make it as real and vivid as you possibly can—and then let it go.
The way we’ve been taught in American culture to manifest our dreams is backwards—and leaves us in a perpetual state of disempowered wanting and dissatisfaction. Take your power back and give yourself the experiences you want NOW rather than waiting to be happy based on some external outcome, trying to manipulate life into meeting your needs (which is an exhausting path of suffering). There is tremendous power in how we use our attention and intention. Bringing greater consciousness and skill to how we focus our energy makes us more effective change makers.
If you really want to live your dreams more immediately, make a commitment to giving yourself the felt experience of them every day for 30 days (it’s a great way to start/end your day!)—and watch your life transform before your eyes as the world around you begins to better resemble your inner state!
I’d love to hear what you’re working on/learning/experiencing. Be in touch as you feel called.
My warmest wishes for the new year,
3 thoughts on “Starting Over–Next Steps”
time toreconnct.Miss you, Sam.
I would be so thrilled by that! 🙂 I have really missed you! What’s the best way to be in touch?