Graduation Address

This was my graduation address at today’s graduation ceremony for INVST, the peace and social justice leadership certificate program where I teach at the University of Colorado. I hope you will find it thought provoking and inspiring.

It is a daunting time to be graduating! The problems we collectively face are immense and intense. But it’s also one of the most important and exciting times to be alive! While I have had to spend most of my adult life working to help people see how dysfunctional and toxic our society is, the last 2 years have made that fact quite apparent to a broader segment of the population than perhaps any other time in history. The rigidity and relentlessness of “normal” has been quite broken down, so you all are incredibly poised to powerfully shape what our future “normal” will look like. That is exciting and makes me feel quite hopeful.        

So today is a day of celebration—a pinnacle of achievement, a moment of relief, a time to acknowledge all of your hard work, your growth, your mastery. You have survived years of non-stop challenges and have emerged victorious! Congratulations! Graduation can also be a day of sadness as you reminisce about your memories of this place, say goodbye to friends with whom you are accustomed to sharing your everyday life, and bring to a close a chapter of your life that has likely been one of the most significant periods of your entire existence. And graduation can also be a day of anxiety, even terror, as you begin to move from this validation of success into whatever’s next—the great unknown!  Every “graduation” in life, scholarly or not, represents both an ending and a beginning, a movement from the comfort of mastery to the vulnerable place of starting anew as a beginner. 

But the gift of any liminal period—when you are between what has been and what will be—is that it offers time and space for reflection, in this instance contemplation of who you are and who you wish to become, how you understand success, and what constitutes a meaningful life. And these are questions that we must ask ourselves collectively as well as individually: who are we as a society and who do we wish to become, how do we understand success, and what constitutes a meaningful existence.  In my consideration of these questions, two writers have been particularly salient and inspiring: first, Black poet and activist, Audre Lorde, in particular her piece “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” and second, trans legal scholar and activist Dean Spade, in particular his book Normal Life

In describing what she means by “the erotic,” Lorde refers to the “internal requirement toward excellence.”  But this excellence is not the same kind of excellence generally celebrated on college campuses—grades and academic awards, sporting victories, college rankings.  Instead she explains that excellence is “not a question only of what we do…[but] a question of how acutely and fully we can feel in the doing.”—in other words, our degree of presence and of passion.  And, she writes, “once we know the extent to which we are capable of feeling that sense of satisfaction, we can then observe which of our various life endeavors bring us closest to that fullness.”  She calls this a “grave responsibility…not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe.” I would say this is the essence of Radical Self Love.

As you leave college, you will be bombarded with expectations and advice—from well-meaning relatives, teachers, friends, the media—all trying to tell you who you should be, what you should care about, what success and happiness should look like, including what social justice looks like and how it can be accomplished.  Through your time with INVST you have developed a healthy skepticism about what our culture teaches about happiness and success, while cultivating the courage and resilience and creativity to forge your own path in life, regardless of consequences. 

But it can be tempting when leaving college—a place where idealism and self-exploration are frequently encouraged—to think “ok, now I have to join the ‘real world’” and slowly let go of those things that set your heart on fire, that resonate with your own sense of integrity, in order to find your place in a system that, as Audre Lorde reminds us, “defines good in terms of profit and conformity rather than in terms of human well-being.” 

Though it might be tempting to take the highest paying job, the most conventionally attractive spouse, the highest ranking grad school, the opportunities that look great on paper, I promise you that what will be most rewarding and satisfying is to choose those things that are the best match for you, regardless of how they look on paper.  That is where you will find your joy, something that no amount of money or societal acceptance or worldly success or material comfort can provide.

In our collective life, we have created an unstable human community whereby the majority are dehumanized and burdened with unbearable suffering while a tiny percentage of its members are swollen with greed and an inflated sense of self-importance, bringing our entire planet to the verge of collapse.  Our primary framework for power is power over—dominance and control—and even our models for social justice are often based on militarized notions of winning. 

Rather than seeking inclusion into such systems, Dean Spade argues that “What we need instead is a critical and discerning politics that rejects invitations to inclusion in systems, institutions, and arrangements that are deadly and monstrous.”  Instead we must build alternatives to the systems that exist, to build a world that we actually want.  To do this, he says that we must create new ways of working together, “practicing how we want the world to be right now: democratic, collaborative, horizontal, care-based, not competitive, hierarchical, or cutthroat.”   

As you graduate, you will be invited to participate in and justify and legitimize those societal systems Dean Spade has identified as deadly and monstrous.  Maybe that will seem like the only option.  I had my first midlife crisis when I graduated from college, as I looked out in the world to find my place and, much like my experience of gender, found that none of the available options suited me.  But what I’ve found since then is that if you need something that does not exist in the world, it’s because you are meant to create it.  That’s how my chorus–Phoenix, Colorado’s Trans Community Choir–came into being. 

So what is your vision?  What is your gift, your passion, your unique contribution?  As John Cabot Zinn says, “Regardless of how absurd our inner calling might seem, it’s authentically ours and doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else.”  I believe that success is simply honoring your unique life path, and happiness more often comes from taking a risk than being comfortable.  Our dignity derives not from our claims of respectability and normalcy, but from standing in our truth and integrity and refusing to believe that our humanity can be dampened by other peoples’ fears and judgments. 

Although we are taught to seek the “destination” (whether that be the ideal job, the perfect relationship, financial security, societal acceptance) where we can just kick back and be comfortable, we are meant to be always expanding and evolving, seeking out new discoveries in ourselves and in our worlds, being transformed and surprised by life.  We are meant to individuate, to move beyond our conditioning, beyond the limits of our parents, our teachers, our culture into new territory, to follow our own inner directives to create our best, most exciting, most authentic lives.  I can’t wait to see what you all create.  Congratulations and my sincerest best wishes for your glorious futures.  

More Than A Statement

Many organizations and businesses, including many GALA choruses, released official statements condemning racism in the wake of the public execution of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Some of these statements were heartfelt, some were painfully missing the point—filled with trivializing clichés about “how similar we are despite our differences,” invalidating the specific anguish being articulated by Black people currently. Phoenix, Colorado’s Trans Community Choir believes that statements are largely meaningless unless they are followed up by fervent and consistent action.

Therefore, rather than releasing an organizational statement, Phoenix shared our concrete action plan.

Rather than going on our usual summer break, Phoenix commits to this 3-pronged plan for summer.

LISTENING AND LEARNING:  Wherever we are in our lifelong journeys of educating ourselves about racial inequality, we recognize the urgent need to listen to Black voices. So this summer we are prioritizing reading and discussing books by Black thinkers and activists so that we can further educate ourselves about the experiences and insights of Black people, as well as the complex and insidious ways that racism structures our society. In addition to reading books by Black authors, beginning with Ibram Kendi’s How To Be An Anti-Racist (, we are using our rehearsal time to together watch and discuss similarly themed documentaries (beginning with 13th White people are accustomed to being at the center, being the “expert,” and hearing mostly white voices and white viewpoints, so we are intentionally interrupting that dynamic.

REFLECTING AND HEALING:  We see white privilege as a harmful deficit—one possessed by all white people—that we are intent on working to heal and transform. The invisibility of whiteness is one manifestation of white privilege, as whiteness is seen by many as equivalent to “normal.” Therefore, we are holding whiteness under scrutiny and exploring our dysfunctional white training and the ways that it limits us in our humanity, especially in our ability to take action to support and co-create with people of color. In Phoenix, we talk a lot about transgressing norms—which usually means gender and sexual norms. Transgressing norms is a big aspect of Phoenix culture. Currently we are doing the exciting work of recognizing, challenging, and breaking racial norms, encouraging ourselves to be as feisty and non-compliant in our relationship to the norms of whiteness as we are to the expectations of the gender binary. Rather than using our trans identities as an excuse to opt out from racial transformation work, we are utilizing what we’ve learned from our trans journeys to actively work to liberate ourselves from the teachings and practices of a toxic and dysfunctional white culture and we are learning how to co-create a world based on different values.   

ACTION:  We move beyond merely cultivating awareness by taking specific local actions in alignment with the demands of Black activists. Currently that is expressing itself in three ways. Choir members are gathering with signs daily from 4-6pm around the corner from where Phoenix rehearses. Our ongoing daily protest has been transforming our local community in measurable ways—making it safer for people to care and more uncomfortable to not care—as well as providing a profound learning experience for choir members, many of whom have never engaged in street protests before. Since our protests are in alignment with social distancing guidelines as well, they have given people empowering opportunities to take concrete collective action in support of Black lives. Secondly, since the main action being called for nationally right now is to defund the police, we are advocating for the removal of SROs (police officers who work in schools) from our local school district. This is a particularly appropriate project of action for our choir since we have longstanding ties with the school district due to our performances of our Raven play in local elementary schools over the last several years. Finally, members of our choir are organizing a livestream fundraising concert to raise money for Black Lives Matter.   

Justice for Elijah McClain march

White people are not spectators in the struggle against racism. Racism is a dysfunction of white people and it is the responsibility of white communities to heal and transform it. For most of us, this requires facing discomfort and cultivating endurance. But as Robin DiAngelo—author of White Fragility (—writes, “Rather than retreat in the face of that discomfort, we can practice building our stamina for the critical examination of white identity.”

Many GALA members consider their choruses to be crucial safe spaces in an unsafe world. Unfortunately, this feeling is what can keep LGBT spaces white. When we come together to bond around one identity, we often unconsciously believe that this identity is the only or most important identity that is in play, ignoring other identities—such as race—that are equally salient. Rather than being a safe space, Phoenix is a brave space. Phoenix is not a place where we collapse into comfortable homogeneity, but instead a place of leadership and capacity building where we lean into discomfort to remain on our growth edge. This is what gives Phoenix its vitality.

As a community, whether we realize it or not, trans people expect and demand a LOT of cisgender people and can be harsh when cisgender people don’t get it or can’t keep up. We expect cisgender people to skillfully adjust as the whole framework for their experience of life (the gender binary) is shattered. We expect cisgender people (friends, family, colleagues, the general public) to not only recognize and understand our ever-changing gender identities—which most have never even heard of and which are completely counterintuitive and unintelligible to them—we also expect cisgender people to name their own pronouns, requiring them to think of themselves as gendered beings in ways they aren’t accustomed to. White people are not accustomed to seeing themselves as racialized beings and doing so now—and really grappling with what that has meant for us individually and collectively—is a big part of what is being asked of us right now. Since trans communities expect cisgender people to work very hard emotionally and practically in order to help make the world safer and more welcoming for us, I feel strongly that white trans people need to be ready and willing to work equally hard to help make the world safer and more welcoming for people of color.

In thinking about those who are most impacted by the physical and structural violence targeting trans people, racism is the biggest danger facing trans communities. What would it look like for trans communities to make addressing racism our top priority? Every November, around the U.S., largely white trans communities come together to mourn the loss of those largely Black, generally feminine-presenting transgender people who have been killed in the previous year. There’s always an air of awkwardness and uncertainty in the room to be claiming people for “our” community that may or may not have felt a sense of “us-ness” with white trans communities. This year we have the opportunity to change that.

While thousands of people around the world have taken to the streets to protest the murder of George Floyd and others such as Colorado’s Elijah McClain, such hate crimes are just the extreme tip of the iceberg. White LGBTQIA communities have the particular tools to understand racism better than most whites because we have lived experience of the difference between homophobia (the emotional reaction of fear, intolerance, and hatred that can lead to acts of discrimination or hate crimes) and heterosexism (the even more damaging ways that our entire society is organized from a heterosexual frame that advantages heterosexuals and makes LGBTQIA people feel unwelcome).

Especially during this time of rights being given (by the Supreme Court) and rights being taken away (by the President), I hope that LGBTQIA communities will lend our sustained attention to the liberation of Black people in this country and add our best energy to the historic transformation happening in this country. The Stonewall Riots were started by trans women of color. All LGBTQ people owe their liberation to people of color. Stand up for theirs.

Phoenix protests

Queer-specific Responses to Quarantine

“No one overreacts. It’s just that what you’re reacting to may not be what’s in front of you.” –Terry Real

The experience of quarantine in response to the coronavirus pandemic has been emotionally challenging for people. While much has been made of coronavirus as a great equalizer and public health officials have reminded folks that the coronavirus does not discriminate, there are strongly differential impacts to every aspect of the pandemic, including the experience of quarantine. As just one example: the implications of wearing masks to the store is very different for Black people than whites, given the dangers of being Black in US society and stereotypes about criminality. What you need to do to stay alive in response to one set of threats may contradict what you need to do to stay alive in response to another.

The pandemic has been not only (again) exposing the kinds of societal disparities that social justice activists have been working to transform, but bringing to the surface numerous personal and collective experiences of trauma, as part of its purpose, I believe, is to facilitate their acknowledgement and healing. The focus on isolating at home, for instance, has brought Holocaust trauma to mind for some, especially given that the Trump years have already drawn parallels to Nazi Germany. For many in LGBTQ communities, the coronavirus pandemic has brought a resurgence of memories and trauma from the AIDS epidemic. The overlap with past trauma has made the current challenges of coronavirus even more acute.

For myself, I’ve been noticing both trans- and polyamory-specific traumas and challenges related to quarantine. As a white person raised in the middle class, I am fairly protected from the worst assaults rendered by the coronavirus. Though I lost most of my income (like so many others) when we went into lockdown, I am not expected to risk my life as part of my job. I have a safe place to shelter. I have people who care about my well-being. Losing physical access to some of those Beloveds, however, proved to be a catalyst to a deeply emotional remembering of what it has felt like to be a trans queer polyamorous person in society.

Social distancing

As a non-binary trans person, my whole life people have treated me as a threat—a dangerous disrupter, a sexual predator, a hybrid monster, a freak—which has been very devastating. Because I don’t fit into conventional gender categories—nor am I easily accommodated in the societal structure based on these categories—people often feel uneasy around me. And when they feel uneasy, they often lash out. People have come up to me on the street to tell me I’m going to burn in hell; guys in trucks have followed me and tried to run me off the road. So the experience of quarantine, of having loved ones perceive me as a threat and keeping their distance—though I know it’s not personal—has reactivated that very trans-specific heartbreak.

The first time one of my Beloveds put on a mask to see me, it unexpectedly took me straight back to college.

I came out in a fundamentalist Christian fellowship in college. I didn’t grow up Christian—they just happened to be the first people I met in college and, since I’d been a social outcast in high school (having been labelled a “lezzie” though at the time I didn’t even know what that meant), I was thrilled to find people wanting to be my friend.

My first lover was my Bible study leader and our tentative explorations were filled with vulnerability. She was convinced we were compromising our salvation by our “sinning,” so we agreed to speak with one of the fellowship leaders. Once we shared our secret, the punishment was very severe. We were both removed from our leadership positions and told we could never speak to one another again.

I wasn’t allowed to go back to the room that we shared and instead slept on the floor of the apartment of the fellowship leader. Shocked at losing my first love—and my home—in the course of 24 hours, I lay awake on the floor of the living room sobbing in agony and isolation night after night. Though we’d previously been friends, the fellowship leader grew aloof and guarded and began changing clothes in the bathroom. I was placed under surveillance by fellowship leaders, forbidden from studying alone or at night with female friends, until I was eventually driven out of the fellowship entirely for being “unteachable.”

While I thought I’d successfully moved on from this early trauma in my sexual life, at the beginning of quarantine, the visual of my cherished friend putting on a mask to be in my presence took me right back to how I felt watching the fellowship leader go into the bathroom to change clothes out of my line of sight. When this friend turned around to go inside to be with my other Beloveds in the home I no longer would have access to during quarantine, I felt the ache in my heart that I had felt in college, standing on my dorm room balcony every Wednesday night watching all my former friends go off to Bible study—what had formerly been the center of my life where I was no longer welcome.

This was not the only abrupt loss of vital community that I relived during the early days of quarantine. After being driven out of the Christian fellowship, the next home I found for myself was women’s community, formative in the development of my political consciousness and core to who I am as a person. I spent 14 years in the world of women’s music festivals before deciding to go on testosterone. Although one of the aspects of women’s festivals that I initially really adored was the broad range of gender expression present, the years leading up to my decision to go on hormones were marked by brutal warfare between trans communities and lesbian separatist communities and I was caught in the crossfire. Though my loyalty was with the festivals, my decision to go on hormones reclassified me as a threatening and shameful traitor. Not only was I personally no longer welcome, within a couple years the entire festival decided to shut down after 40 years rather than share space with trans people.

Your kind not welcome here

As a trans/queer person, my place in the human family has always felt insecure and uncertain, never something that could be relaxed into or counted on. Being trans has always felt like being the nuclear reactor that nobody wanted in their neighborhood, so I’ve had a lifetime of experiences of being told to move along. My place was always dependent upon someone else’s generosity so something that I needed to work really hard to maintain and appreciate, knowing it could be taken away at any time. That’s why I started my own trans choir—to give others who’ve had similar experiences a secure place they could call home—and why Phoenix will never have auditions or identity requirements because I never want anyone to feel turned away.

During this experience of quarantine, not only are we watching the defining of “essential work” and “essential consumption,” but also “essential intimacy.” Quarantine guidelines may seem obvious to those who are in conventional families and partnerships: “stay at home.” But, for those of us whose lives are based on multiplicity and fluidity, the immediate question arises: which home? While the concentrated experience of quarantine certainly has put pressures on marriages, most of my friends who are in monogamous relationships are emotionally thriving (as much as is possible during a terrifying and highly disruptive global pandemic), enjoying the couple’s privilege interwoven into quarantine guidelines. While those of us who are polyamorous, as well as those whose children travel back and forth between parental households, are having to make complicated and sometimes heartbreaking individual choices—oftentimes enduring scrutiny and judgment by those whose intimate lives are less complex—including having access to Beloveds who are essential to one’s well-being abruptly severed by other partners. Even within egalitarian polyamory networks, new hierarchies are being formed as “nesting partners”—those with whom you share a residence—receive priority status.

While some, like myself, are suffering from being ripped away from loved ones, others are trapped in households where they don’t feel safe: for instance, many LGBTQ teens confined to homes with unsupportive families, as well as those in abusive relationships.

After losing access to my Beloveds—and the past trauma that was triggered in me as a result—I walked around the lake near my house and cried and cried because that’s all I could really do. At times there was so much pressure in my chest, I could barely breathe. And it made me contemplate the relationship of this global crisis around breath to our vast store of grief that we are sitting on personally and collectively.

What is your grief that has been activated by this global pandemic and experience of quarantine? How can acknowledging this grief allow people to heal it and not carry it forward into the future? And what can we learn from one another as a result?


Shamanism and Contemporary Life as a Transgender Person

What is shamanism and how is it relevant to contemporary society?

Shamanism is humanity’s original and most enduring spirituality. Found historically on all continents, it arises from the understanding that all beings have a consciousness, that the world we perceive with our senses is just a small aspect of reality, and that humans are part of the overall web of life. We are all deeply interconnected and dependent upon one another and, therefore, our attitude towards all of life should be one of deep reverence. Our health, individually and collectively, is dependent upon our relationship to the broader community and, for our answers about life, we should look within and to the wisdom of the natural world all around us.

While this understanding was/is part of the everyday practice of indigenous societies, western culture disconnected itself from the natural and spiritual world, to our own detriment, seeking instead a relationship of dominance and exploitation. Afraid of the unpredictability and power of the natural world, European and now American culture embraced abstract rationality and sought to tame and destroy wildness, including those peoples that western society labeled “wild”—especially indigenous peoples, regarded as “savages,” but also women, who have been seen as inherently tied to their bodies, and anarchists and others who refuse conformity to the harmful values of the dominant power structure.

When Europeans imagined themselves as separate from animals—outside and superior to the natural world, rather than a subset of animals—we created the template and justification for all human hierarchies. One of the main justifications for the most egregious human cruelties throughout our history—whether the genocide of indigenous peoples, the enslavement of Africans, or the extermination of Jews—is that the group in question was seen as animal-like and subhuman. When we regarded animals as property, it became easy to justify the enslavement of humans as property by calling them animal-like. When land became “owned” and commodified, it opened the way to most of the ills of modern life—the commodification and ownership of our time, labor, creativity, passion, and connection in the service of capitalism.

Such disconnection and commodification has resulted in multiple levels of sickness in the human psyche and community and we are currently witnessing and feeling the everyday manifestations of this toxicity. Reconnecting to the wisdom of the natural world and our rightful place within it is a key aspect of the healing needed in the contemporary world, especially for those of us engaged in societal transformation work. Shamanism possesses a vitality based on direct access to Source through connection to nature, the Creator, and the world of the ancestors. By contrast, patriarchal religions are characterized by dogma—belief systems that could be held safely within the mind and rules for behavior rooted in repression—which often serves to keep people from direct access to Source (making them easier to control and manipulate). While the focus of belief systems such as colonization and Christianity (one of the main arms of colonialism) is about domination in the external world, their energy is also about domination in the inner world. Christianity, for instance, requires you to master the passions and appetites, our feminine and “animal nature,” which is seen as inherently contradictory to spiritual purity, paving the way for guilt and shame that disconnects us from our own power and vitality.

We have taken these ideologies of domination as far as they can go, jeopardizing the survival of our planetary home in the process. We are in the midst of a contemporary crisis that is both physical (we must change or we will perish), emotional (we are desperately lonely from our state of disconnection), and existential (a spiritual crisis of meaning in a shallow materialistic culture). The rise of interest currently in shamanism, as well as ayahuasca and other plant medicines, I believe, is due to our longing for healing and yearning to return home as a species to our rightful place—within creation and with one another.

Heart nature


How I came to shamanism and why shamanism is especially relevant for transgender people

As an introverted kid and outcast queer adolescent, the natural world was a refuge for me growing up. It made a lot more sense to me than the human community—which was hurtful and organized in ways that didn’t make intuitive sense to me—and I felt deep personal bonds with non-human beings. When I used to walk to and from middle school, I would reach out and touch all the plants, shaking each of their “hands” as I passed by as though I was a politician campaigning for their vote. The summer before college I worked in Yosemite National Park and would spend long days hiking alone and be out after midnight riding around the moonlit valley on my bicycle. Over my entire life, whenever I found myself in inner turmoil and didn’t know what to do, I would just take myself to the ocean, to the forest, to the mountains for solace and guidance and wouldn’t return until my distress and confusion lifted.

I first learned about shamanism in college in my Anthropology of Religion class. I still have The Peyote Hunt, in fact, as I found it to be such an impactful book. Especially when I came out as transgender, I always felt an inner affinity for shamanism. Although I couldn’t articulate it at the time, it felt intuitively like being trans was a parallel path to shamanism somehow—like they were intimately related, that being “different” was connected to being a healer somehow—so I always felt deep down that I was “that,” but I didn’t know what to do with it, how to use it to help people, especially as a white person in contemporary U.S. society.

When I was doing research in South Africa in 2000, having a spiritual awakening in the midst of a process of breakdown of my old ways of thinking and being, a lesbian friend of mine in Soweto was called by her ancestors to be a sangoma after a suicide attempt. I visited her several times during her training/apprenticeship and during one of these visits, her very intimidating mentor called me over. Translated by my friend, she told me that I was spiritually powerful and that I would be healing for my whole family.

I was called to shamanism like many people—through breakdown. As I was entering a traumatic major professional transition resulting from my spiritual awakening in South Africa, a choral friend told me about a shamanic community that he belonged to in Michigan—Crow’s Nest Center for Shamanic Studies—and he invited me to a weekend gathering. From the moment I arrived on the land, I felt instantly at home, the community felt very rich and spiritually mature, and the worldview of shamanic wisdom and practice intuitively made sense to me—like something I was remembering rather than something I was learning. It was so familiar it activated vague memories from other lifetimes. I’d been hovering around the fringes of shamanic community for a while, looking for my place, and it felt like I finally found it. Although I’d been doing sweat lodges in a community in the Twin Cities for a number of years, my training at Crow’s Nest gave me practical tools that I could use, not only in my own spiritual practice, but to help and heal people. I was thrilled! It was like a major puzzle piece in my inner landscape and life purpose came together.


Shamanism is fundamentally about altering consciousness so one of my main tools in my teaching and shamanic counseling practice is the paradigm shift—a change in perspective. One of the reasons that we suffer, individually and collectively, is that our habitual ways of thinking about ourselves and life are very disempowering. This ordinary state of consciousness is built on fixed ideas and assumptions about ourselves, others, and the world that come out of our dysfunctional societal training so I help people to think differently, to access new and refreshing points of view, and be guided by their heart and their own inner navigational system, which often generates profound healing.

Shamanic practitioners utilize alternate states of consciousness to heal people, mending their souls and restoring balance and wholeness. I see myself as a cultural worker, as someone who focuses more on societal pathologies than individual ones. Utilizing my academic training in gender and sexuality studies, and inspired by the lesser known first chapter of Don Miguel Ruiz’s popular book, The Four Agreements outlining the domestication process, I help people to recognize and free themselves from their societal domestication, to come out of their cultural trance and bring to consciousness what they’ve been trained to keep unconscious so that they can make more empowered choices, mending their souls and restoring balance and wholeness. I also help to call and awaken the soul of the United States, illuminating, as a shadow worker, the history of genocide and oppression at the core of our nation so that we can face and heal our past in order to chart a path towards a new future. My message for the collective is we can do better.

As a transgender person, I understand myself as a bridge. As someone who has lived on both sides of the gender binary, I act as a translator and healer between women and men. The shamanic role is very similar. I am a bridge and translator between the human world and the spirit world, bringing wisdom and healing where and how it is needed. The shamanic role is to stand outside the human community, serving that community and holding its interests as a whole. Being transgender is very similar. You are not having the experience of human community that most people are having. You see and know things that others don’t and, since you aren’t a part of either gender camp, it is easier to hold the highest interests of the whole. It is ironic that it was my rejection by the human community that led me to my path of service to the human community.


brown concrete bridge between trees

It is a path that I walk cautiously as a person of European descent. A major aspect of white privilege is feeling entitled to access and take aspects of the cultures of others for my own personal benefit and profit, so my calling to the path of shamanism is always mediated by a sense of uneasiness and rigorous self-interrogation. While I have received shamanic training for the last decade and utilize shamanic tools in my counseling and teaching, I would never refer to myself as a shaman. Though shamanism was also present historically in various parts of Europe, my own shamanic influences definitely come from South Africa and indigenous peoples on this continent, communities in which I am a visitor.

It is especially common for white new age spiritual practitioners to selectively borrow particular practices or icons from indigenous or Asian traditions without regard to the context and ethos in which these practices or symbols arose, using them to facilitate western individualism and capitalist acquisition rather than humility and community responsibility, for instance. I’m more interested in teaching the contextual ethos because this is what most needs to shift culturally—where the greatest healing is needed.

One of the core toxic teachings of contemporary U.S. culture is to seek after and feel entitled to comfort, which tends to be antithetical to our growth and keeps us from our wisdom and spiritual and emotional maturity. One of the lessons of the vision quest as well as sweat lodge experience is that you cannot really sink into your core being and the wisdom that is found there until you let go of the frantic efforts to maintain or regain a sense of comfort. This was one of the many gifts of my time living in southern Africa as well. Although we are taught that comfort equals happiness, I have actually found a lot more happiness through being able to embrace discomfort. And part of what keeps me awake in my consciousness is that, as a non-binary transgender person living in a binary world, I experience discomfort daily.

The shamanic path is the wounded healer path. It is through experiencing and finding ways to heal your own traumas that you develop the heart and tools to be able to help heal others. Like being a transsexual, the shamanic path is the Phoenix path, the continual evolution of death and rebirth. In following my heart through life, I have been called to start over numerous times, each time losing a bit more of my suffocating ego shell and each time stepping into a better, happier, more free, more powerful version of myself. It is a very demanding journey, definitely not a path of comfort (why so many people resist the initial calling of the ancestors), but one that is richly rewarding.

Shamanic Counseling

My Pride message: Coming Out and Leaving the Group Mind

This is not your ordinary Pride message. In it I will not be advocating about LGBT human rights or same sex marriage or trans people in the military or any of the other issues you might currently see in the media. I will not be rehearsing the familiar claim that GLBTQIA people are “just like everybody else”—in part because I feel this is a very mediocre goal, but mostly because I think this idea that there is an “everybody else” is a myth and one that has hugely limited our human potential. I would like to suggest that “coming out” is not an experience that is relegated to the LGBT+ community. Instead I believe that the experience of “coming out” is a far more universal human experience.

In my shamanic community in Michigan, we have weekend gatherings where we drum and dance, do ritual and receive instruction from our mentor. To begin the gathering on Friday night, we have a fire circle whereby we share something about ourselves and why we are there. And I’m always very struck by how similar what people share is to the coming out narratives I’ve heard in so many GLBTQ gatherings.  It goes something like this: “I always felt like I was different. For much of my life, I didn’t even understand how or why I was different, but it was so painful to feel like an outsider and there was no one I could even really talk to. Then I began to discover there were other people who were like me! And I began to understand that it was ok to be different and to enjoy the human camaraderie that I always longed for.”

Because what does “coming out” really mean? Our human experience seems to pull us in two seemingly divergent directions. As spiritual essence in assorted human forms, we are each completely unique and it is our deepest calling to express our uniqueness—that is our very reason for being born.  And yet we have a fundamental deep human need to belong. We are a communal people and each of us belongs to multiple groups over our lifetimes—whether families, religious institutions, racial and ethnic communities,  professional affiliations, informal networks of friends, obviously nations.

And each of these groups has rules, both spoken and unspoken, for membership. Each group continually tells us, whether we realize it or not, “this is who you are” and “this is what you want.” Each time I’ve come out, I’ve had to learn new community rules for how to present myself. Although different groups may have greater or lesser tolerance for divergence from community norms, our acceptance in these groups is fundamentally predicated on meeting such expectations as well as demonstrating our loyalty to the group, showing that you are “one of us.” In exchange we are given the benefits and protection of membership, which are many.

I believe this is why we have such a difficult time with the concept of unconditional love—because all of us sense on a gut level, even if we’re not consciously aware of it, that our acceptance is absolutely conditional. And most of us have had experiences, or witnessed the experiences of others, of being unceremoniously out on the curb for violating the rules of group membership. LGBTQIA people are merely more acutely aware of this conditional nature of acceptance than most.

LGBTQIA folks act as an object lesson in this regard, whether in the family unit or in the culture more broadly. Although rejection of LGBT+ people is a painful part of our individual histories, I believe its purpose goes far beyond just the punishment of individuals for their supposed “deviance.” It is actually a broader lesson for supposedly “normative” folks to warn them not to get out of line. The dividing line between straight and queer is not so much to keep queer people out, but to keep straight folks in—and actively jostling towards the center and away from the boundary.

As a college professor, I have often shared with my largely cisgender heterosexual students that homophobia and transphobia are much more policing of their choices than punishing of mine—because once you are outside of what is considered “normal,” after the initial shock and hurt of rejection, you have considerable freedom to do what you want. No matter what you do, you are going to be seen as an outsider so you can stop working so hard to fit in and this is liberating in my opinion. And the threat of punishment loses much of its hold over you because you have already accessed your own self-resilience. Although many students are usually skeptical at first, by the end of the semester the majority of them begin to understand how constrained their lives of supposedly free choice really are.

So here is our human quandary. As spiritual beings, we are all called to grow and develop—and our path of growth requires individuation, moving beyond where we came from. This is the very essence of evolution—whether the physical evolution of species or our actualizing our human and spiritual potential.  Our uniqueness is our greatest strength and the foundation of our purpose for being here. Yet it is also our Achilles heel, our deepest human vulnerability. Because in order to stand in our uniqueness, we must come away from the crowd. And we all remember that great and painful lesson of adolescence: it is dangerous to be different! Even those who are the most popular are not immune to this fear because they know that their popularity could vanish in an instant if they stop living up to the expectations of it.

We are under the illusion that when we reach adulthood, such dynamics cease and we are free to live our lives as we want. In truth, I believe, we are merely in a more spacious container. We have more freedom of movement to associate with those with whom we want to associate, but the fundamental dynamics of insiders and outsiders, and the price of belonging, hasn’t changed much at all.

Although you might think that such dynamics would be less intense in LGBTQ communities, among people who understand how painful it is to have to censor yourself to fit in, this is sadly not the case. I have found that the rules for belonging in those communities are just as rigid and punishing as anywhere else.

Individuation demands leaving behind what we have known and frequently those on whom we have come to depend for a sense of camaraderie and support. And this is a lot to ask so generally we must have a strong inner call, or be deeply suffering, to be willing to withstand such potential loss. We all want to be loved and approved of; we all want to belong. I waited for 11 years to go on hormones because I knew it would be very disruptive of the life I had created for myself—not my ideal life, but a life that was quite manageable and familiar. I waited for 11 years to go on hormones because I was afraid of losing the acceptance and support of communities that had been my lifeline.

We are all hungering to connect to our authentic selves, while all living in a culture that continually directs our attention to our external environment and away from what’s going on inside ourselves, and we’re all flailing around without much guidance or modeling about how to access and listen to our inner knowing, and all doing that largely unconscious anxiety dance of how much of myself can I reveal and how much of my truth am I willing to give up in order to be accepted.

I believe that we are currently being called away from the group mind in this particular historical moment because we cannot solve the problems we face with the same consciousness that created them. What we are experiencing—much like I encountered when I finally decided to go on hormones—is going beyond our mind’s version of reality.

Although this burgeoning transcendence is very exciting and hopeful, most of us nonetheless experience panic, disorientation, even terror, when we experience a bigger reality than our belief system allows. This is what is known as a spiritual emergency—when the known world is no longer the known world, whether in our individual lives or our collective experience. Even if the change is entirely positive, our first response tends to be panic when we encounter new information or experience that doesn’t fit into our existing frameworks.

However, moving beyond what we think is possible has been the essence of all great discoveries and contributions of the human community—from scientific and technological advancements to athletic feats and creative genius. So this is a very exciting shift in our collective belief system. We are going beyond our conditioning, beyond the limits of our parents, our teachers, our culture into new terrain. And I believe that trans and genderqueer, intersex and non-binary people are meant to be among those leading the way.

We are meant to be always expanding and evolving, seeking out new discoveries in ourselves and in our worlds, being transformed and surprised by life. We are meant to individuate, to move beyond where we have come from, to follow our own inner directives to create our best, most exciting, most authentic lives.

Trans Pride

What can we learn from MLK about how to be powerful leaders?

As Thursday was just the 51st anniversary of the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, it seemed like a good time to reflect upon MLK’s leadership and what makes him such an inspiring figure to this day. Video and transcript below.




Most MLK celebrations talk about the end of King’s life and his big accomplishments, but what about his early years when he was just starting out as a leader? What sort of struggles did he face and how did he overcome them in order to step into his greatness as the conscience of an entire nation? And what can we learn from him regarding the insecurities and fears that we may have about speaking out as leaders?

Personal Insecurities

First of all, regarding personal insecurities, he was extremely young—only about 25—when he was called into his life mission. He met with presidents at the White House, flew to India and met with Gandhi—it must have been very intimidating, especially for someone so young. Bayard Rustin, the African American gay man who organized the March on Washington where King spoke his “I Have A Dream” speech, actually had much more experience with non-violent resistance than King did. So he must’ve had some inner questioning about “why me?” when there were clearly other very talented people who in many ways were more qualified than he was.

The second thing that strikes me is that he was quite short. He was only 5’6, which for a man is pretty short stature, especially a national leader. Which must’ve lent extra significance to all of the physical assaults that he was subject to and his level of feeling safe in the world.

And finally, he was a junior—his father was Martin Luther King Sr—who, from everything I’ve read and heard about him, was quite a powerful and dominant man who wielded great influence in the Black community and who was feared by both blacks and whites, due to his frankness that could be cutting at times. While MLK Jr was only 5’6, his father had a big presence—he was a large man with a dynamic personality that commanded attention. He was very strong and self-confident. Even as a child, his father stood up to whites, confronting the plantation owner who was cheating his own father out of his rightful wages and, as an adult, his father was president of the NAACP in Atlanta.

King was very reliant on his father. As he writes in one of his books, “The first twenty-five years of my life were very comfortable years. If I had a problem I could always call Daddy. Things were solved. Life had been wrapped up for me in a Christmas package.”

While King clearly admired his father and saw him as a role model, both in his community involvement as well as his moral conviction, his father’s example must’ve also put pressure on him. MLK Jr followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming assistant pastor to his father at Ebenezer Baptist Church, so he surely must’ve had some father issues, wanting to live up to his father’s reputation and make his father proud.


His Fears

So those are some likely insecurities that he had to grapple with in stepping into his power of leadership. How about fears? Clearly, this is a man who could not have felt very safe in life. For those of us called to leadership, his example can represent our worst nightmares of what might happen when we step out to share what we know.

Some of the things he faced:

  • He was arrested over 20 times
  • He received many threatening phone calls, often late at night
  • His house was bombed and set on fire.
  • He was regularly slandered in his reputation. J. Edgar Hoover called him “the most notorious liar in the country” (similar to Nelson Mandela was considered to be a terrorist for most of his life)
  • While at a book signing for his new book, he was stabbed and had to be rushed to Harlem Hospital where a team of doctors successfully removed a 7-inch letter opener from his chest (that’s pretty intense when you think you’re just going to your book signing)
  • During the closing session of the southern leadership conference in Birmingham, a member of the American Nazi Party assaulted him, striking him twice in the face (also would be a little shocking at a conference).
  • Burning crosses on his lawn were common and likely very intimidating
  • And ultimately, he was assassinated—the fate of most prophets over human history


Being here from the future, I’ve long felt like something of a prophet myself—bringing messages that most people simply don’t want to hear and that can be pretty intimidating stepping out, knowing what usually happens to people who bring those messages. So one of the biggest obstacles for me in my own path of leadership has been about overcoming those fears about what would happen to me if I stepped out. And I really felt a very visceral fear in my body for my own safety in this regard, that I would be harmed for speaking out, though I knew rationally that this was probably ungrounded.

I don’t know much about my past lives, but I did have a past life reading when I moved to Colorado and the woman who did it for me wouldn’t even tell me everything she saw—she just said it was a whole a parade of really terrible ways that I was murdered for stepping out and speaking the truth. So I feel like there were real ways that was stuck in the cells of my body, so I had to confront my own fears about the possibility of that happening to me, although I knew on some level that it was probably not that realistic of a fear.


What Made MLK Special as a Leader?

Nevertheless, MLK fulfilled his life mission and became a hero to people all over the world. So how did he combat his own fears and insecurities and what can we learn from his example?

Some of the things that made him special as a leader:

  1. First of all, he had a Clear Vision

MLK’s vision represented the aspirations of millions around the world; his “I Have A Dream Speech” was not his dream alone. So he tapped into a universal message.

  1. Because he was tapped into a Universal Message, he had a strong sense of Moral Conviction.

He was not just trying to make a name for himself or to make life better for himself or his little group—he wanted to transform the entire world for the betterment of everyone and, similar to Nelson Mandela, really inspire all people to rise into their highest potential. This is a message that I identify with as well, that “We can do better” as a people.

  1. Soul Strength

He received this message, as well as the strength to bring it out into the world, by being tapped into his connection to Source. He was not just running on his own steam, and that’s really important. He was channeling a Divine Message and was therefore given the Soul Strength to bring it forth, even under great adversity.

One of his memoirs details how receiving a threatening phone call late in the evening prompted a spiritual revelation that filled him with the strength to carry on in spite of the persecution he was experiencing.

  1. Finally, no doubt as a result of all of these things, he had a strong sense of his own dignity and humanity.

He knew his inherent worth as a person. It came from his religious faith as well as from his upbringing. He was not somebody who was plagued by feelings of unworthiness.

He describes how his mom taught him that he should feel a sense of “somebodiness.” She told him that he would have to face a system that stared him in the face every day saying you are “less than,” you are “not equal to.” But she made it clear that she opposed this system and told him you must never allow it to make you feel inferior. She reminded him constantly: “You are as good as anyone.”

Interestingly, he reports that the first time that he was seated behind a curtain in a segregated dining car that he felt as if the curtain had been dropped on his selfhood. He said, “I could never adjust to the separate waiting rooms, separate eating places, and separate rest rooms, partly because the separate was always unequal, and partly because the very idea of separation did something to my sense of dignity and self-respect.”

This sense of dignity and self-respect is probably what is most striking about MLK. If you watch his speeches, it is so evident in his body language and the way he speaks and carries himself. He is poised, he is still, he is powerful, he is fearless, and overall he is very present—you feel like all of him is there in the way he speaks and carries himself. And I believe it is his inherent sense of worth, and accompanying sense of self respect and dignity, that is what most upset people about him. Because it was a kind of insubordination. He didn’t carry himself like an oppressed person.

I think that is really interesting. One of the things I’ve noticed in the negative responses to my ad for my Facebook group for trans leaders are the changes that are taking place as I have sought to fill the place where all the negative comments and nonsense was happening with my own voice and my own videos, speaking from my own sense of knowledge, my own sense of authority, and my own sense of vision—which is not just a vision for my little group but really is a vision of what trans people, gender creative people, intersex, genderqueer, non-binary people are here to teach all of us, that we are here to teach humanity what we know based on our life experience as people largely standing outside of the gender binary.

It has been interesting to see the result. One result is there’s not so many comments. So I do feel like my stepping out and putting a stop to that has really shut down some of that nonsense to begin with. People don’t feel the same sense of permission to be able to just stand up and say ridiculous things. But also people’s comments have gotten a lot more aggressive and violent and the attacks a lot more personal. So a lot of them say something like “Sam Bullington, you’re a fucking idiot and you should go off and die” basically.

So I think part of that response, that increased aggressiveness, really comes from that sense of insubordination, that I’m not standing there pleading for cisgender people to tolerate me. I’m really speaking from a sense of authority and speaking the truth—about the nature of gender and our biology, for instance. My next video especially is going to be about the dysfunction of cisgender heterosexuality and the healthiness of gender creative people—to combat the notion that being trans is a mental illness and so therefore gender creative people should not be leaders in society. I want to instead really demonstrate what we know.

So I feel like this really upsets the sense of power that cisgender people tend to feel—that trans people are ridiculous objects of pity and so therefore I have power over them as a cisgender person and I can exert myself as a bully. And so to not fight back in traditional ways, but just to stand in your own sense of authority and dignity I feel like is quite powerful and really does tend to ruffle people’s feathers. When you dare to speak out of your place, to speak with authority not apology. And to really embrace your own humanity.


Healing our Fear and Lack of Worthiness to be in Vibrational Alignment with our Mission and Message

So how is your sense of dignity and self-respect? And where does it come from? Are you tapped into Source or are you trying to run on your own steam? What Source means to you and how you access it is entirely up to you, but we really can’t get very far just trying to run on our own steam. Many of us did not receive that sense of somebodiness and inherent worth from our families—in fact, for many of us, that’s where the greatest damage was done. What that means now, as adults, is not that we are just fundamentally damaged and must limp along in life, but instead that we are tasked with healing that and clearing up our energetic vibration. Which is really necessary not only for us to step into our most powerful place as leaders, but also to really be able to have happy and joyful and peaceful lives.

Ultimately what strikes me most about MLK was that he was in total vibrational alignment with his mission and his message and his sense of worth. It IS scary to step out if you are not in vibrational alignment, because people can sense that you are an easy target and will feel your vulnerability, the ways you expect to not be treated very well and they will treat you in that manner. But there are ways to heal this and clean this up—that’s where I can help. If you recognize this as something that is holding you back, let’s have a conversation.

MLK was able to speak for those who didn’t have the vision, or the words, or the articulateness to be able to speak it, as well as those who didn’t have the courage and soul strength to step out into the spotlight and to receive the glory as well as to absorb the wrath that goes with stepping out like that. I believe that those of you who are listening have been called to step out and speak for the others who can’t. Whenever you are ready to be that leader, reach out ( and I can help you get there.


Why New Year’s resolutions don’t work and how you can better approach creating a life that you love

Transcript below

The start of a new year is a portal into a new existence, full of possibility for change. We feel this instinctively and thus have many cultural rituals to celebrate the passing of the old and the stepping into the new. However, our feelings of optimism and possibility never seem to last.

Does this seems familiar?

You approach the new year full of determination—THIS is going to be the year! For many folks in the mainstream, the year that you drop the weight and get in shape and have the body of your dreams. The year that you finally get your finances in order, get out of debt, and create the abundance you desire. Maybe you start off strong: new resolutions about self-care, for instance. But usually by the end of January, folks have given up and slowly slide back into their same disempowering mindsets and unhealthy habits—often even more jaded about the possibility of change. So why is this and what happens to undermine our success? I’m going to talk about 2 areas in particular: what is our imagined destination and what is our fuel or motivation?


New Year’s Resolutions are Characteristically American

New Year’s is a big time for making resolutions and the energy of resolutions is characteristically American, in my opinion—rooted in limited American cultural beliefs about how change happens. The energy of resolutions is really about identifying a particular material world outcome that you believe is key to your happiness, and then setting a linear goal, which is the path that you believe is necessary to achieve your external outcome, and applying the energy of self-discipline to get there. So what’s wrong with this model?

First of all, it reinforces the American belief that happiness is found in external circumstances: I’ll be happy when I lose the weight and have the body I desire, I’ll be happy when I get the job and have the money I desire, I’ll be happy when I have the relationship and get the love I desire. Similar to our mainstream frameworks about leadership and social justice, this way of thinking locates our happiness in the future, rooted in control of things outside of ourselves, and sets us up on a path of endless striving to try to achieve it. And the juice for that exhausting journey is self-discipline, essentially trying to force ourselves to do things that we actually don’t really want to do. When we inevitably fail—because how could we not—then we blame ourselves and our energy to create our best life sinks even lower.

Actually the whole process of making resolutions is rooted in shame—the energy of New Year’s resolutions is basically I’ll do better. It starts with identifying an area of life you are unhappy with, so you are likely motivated by what you don’t want, rather than what you do want. And the resolution is that I will do better—so it is rooted in self judgment, the motivation generally fear and shame driven. You rely upon your inner task master to berate you into action. It is generally joyless and one of the reasons that it doesn’t work is that it creates resentment and resistance. The part of us that doesn’t want to generally tends to win out, creating another round of self-judgment and shame until we get so tired of feeling that way that we give up and release ourselves from the expectation–and hope–for something better and walk away with underlying feelings of failure and despair: “another year I couldn’t make my dreams happen,” fueling our sense of worthlessness that is really at the root of our unloving choices in life.

So what do we do instead?

First, we shift our motivation. If we start from deep value and acceptance of ourselves, the desire to take care of ourselves and live our best life just naturally arises. We want to eat better, drink more water, find gentle and enjoyable forms of movement to support our body’s strength and flexibility. We want to cultivate and share our gifts and talents, have authentic connections. We want to have better boundaries, get more rest, surround ourselves with positive people and activities that support and value us. We want our lives to be out of crisis so we can be at our best and make our highest most positive contribution to the world around us. All of this flows from the energy of tenderness and kindness, not shame and blame. So maybe just close your eyes for a moment and really feel that energy and drink it in. You want your very best life because of how much you deeply love yourself.***

Secondly, our culture teaches us that our happiness is tied to particular outcomes so we must create the outcome first, then we experience the feeling of happiness. However, from a spiritual perspective, this is backwards. From a spiritual perspective, first you give yourself the inner experience of what you want—and then you naturally draw to yourself external circumstances that match that inner experience. So, for instance, if you feel continually victimized by life, you will tend to continually draw to yourself experiences that reinforce that feeling of victimization.


Start with the Inner Experience

So we can be proactive about what we want to create instead. Say, for instance, you would like to create radiant health or abundance—since we are all powerful creators, you can give yourself the inner experience of radiant health or abundance and focus your attention on it (rather than focusing on whatever scarcity or dis-ease you might be feeling). So let’s do that right now—just close your eyes and focus on what radiant health feels like.** And just drink that in. Aaahhh…*** Now switch and focus on what abundance feels like—maybe abundant finances, abundant love, abundant opportunities. Feeling the inner expansiveness that abundance inspires. And just really take it in and celebrate! Whoo hoo***

So often—in the American way of thinking—we get bogged down in the steps we believe are necessary to create our goal. So if we want radiant health, for instance, we think “oh, I have to eat better, go to the gym, etc”—and our vibration sinks as we imagine the drudgery involved. However, when we stay focused on the inner experience we want—radiant health—we may find that we don’t have to do as many steps as we think. You might find yourself just drawn to the right health practice or practitioner because that’s just what you need, and because it’s the right fit, you feel more motivated to do what you need to do to be healthy. Or you might find that your attention is drawn away from health altogether and you heal spontaneously while pursuing a new and gratifying career path.

And you don’t need to wait until you win the lottery to have an abundant-feeling life. Build into your life now, even in small ways, time for activities and people that you enjoy. You don’t need to live beyond your means to give yourself an expensive chocolate or a perfect flower or other item that will allow your life to feel prosperous and luxurious. Give yourself the inner experience of what you would like now rather than telling yourself “I’ll be happy when…”


Addressing Unconscious Blocks

Finally, we need to address our unconscious motivations that keep us stuck in familiar struggles. For instance, if you spend a lot of energy stressing about money, what are some ways this might actually be a smokescreen covering over a bigger issue in your life? So ask yourself, “If I did not feel stuck around money, what else would come to the surface? What am I really afraid of? What is it that I want even more than money?” Being in a struggle around money may just be a familiar—hence safe—pattern keeping your attention away from something that feels deeper and scarier to delve into.

If there is something that we have been struggling with unsuccessfully for years, there are likely unconscious payoffs to staying stuck that we’re not recognizing. Becoming aware of them helps us to deal with them more consciously and be able to let them go when we are ready. For instance, is being stuck preserving a familiar identity? Are you receiving attention from it (whether positive or negative) that you wouldn’t otherwise get? Is it allowing you to put off doing something that is frightening or protecting you from failing by preventing you from starting something?

I can say for myself that I felt frustrated for many years, as a gender creative person, that I was unable to be heard. That I had important things to say, but seemed unintelligible to people or they weren’t able to recognize the value of my perspective. It was easy to feel victimized and to blame others for my frustration.

However, I eventually had to recognize that many parts of me actually didn’t want to be seen and heard because I didn’t feel like it was safe to be seen and heard. Therefore, I was working at cross-purposes with myself—parts of me wanting to be seen and heard, parts of me not wanting to be seen and heard—which was a little like having your foot on the gas and on the brake at the same time, resulting in me not going anywhere.

But I wasn’t able to address and move on from the REAL problem until I was able to see it. So what are the payoffs of staying stuck and not having the life of your dreams? What are the ways you might be actually afraid to be happy or successful? I can say for myself that—in my own spiritual development—facing my wounds and traumas took one level of courage, but embracing my gifts and my power was actually much much scarier!


Try a Different Approach

So doing this kind of work does generally take support because it can be hard to see what’s in our blind spots—both our fears and our gifts that we can’t see. For instance, if you have a hand in front of your face, it can be difficult to see what exactly it is because it’s so close. But someone across the room can easily see “oh, you have a hand in front of your face.” So having this kind of help can save you years of struggle and suffering.

So, if the New Year’s resolution approach has failed you year after year after year, you might be ready to try a different approach. If this sounds appealing—or like a welcomed relief—reach out and let’s figure out what would be the best strategy for you. Because this journey does take support.

So I encourage you to start with trying a different approach to the new year. Rather than choosing a New Year’s resolution for 2019, I invite you instead to choose a spiritual power for the year. A spiritual power is not a specific outcome or destination, instead it is a quality—like Courage or Trust or Magnetism or Steadfastness—that has the ability to create many positive outcomes. For example, the disappearance of a physical symptom is an outcome, while the capacity to heal is a spiritual power. Creating a circumstance or event that evokes joyfulness is another example of an outcome, while experiencing joy regardless of outer circumstances is a spiritual power. I’ll create a post inviting people to share the spiritual power they are claiming for the year—and then I’ll regularly have check in’s where people can share how they are embodying that power and, as holders of that power, giving it away to others.

Ok, so the ending of our calendar year and the beginning of a new one is a very significant and potent marker in our individual and collective journeys. I hope that you make the most of it and have lots of fun in the process! And I’ll see you on the other side!



Tribute to my Grandma, Beloved Friend

Though I did not get to spend much time with Grandma growing up, she was always an important role model and point of connection for me. Life saving, in fact. Growing up as a gender creative kid, it was hard to feel a sense of belonging. Peer groups were organized by gender, so I had my friends who were girls and my friends who were boys, but I was just always something else–something for which there was no language available, so when I looked out on the world, I didn’t see anything that resembled me.

In this context, it was so incredibly reassuring to have Grandma in my life. Here was someone like me, someone else who was introverted and bookish so it must be ok to be that way. I thought she was super cool and saw myself in her. I always gravitated towards her understated presence, and her physical presence was always very calming and comforting to me as well. Her quiet demeanor was a respite for my senses that were used to being bombarded by continual stimulus and her body was soft and nurturing. I remember as a kid driving down to San Diego with her during one of her and Grandpa’s visits, when we first moved to southern California. I lay my head against her arm in the back seat on the car ride home. It was so pleasing to me that I still remember the sensation of it even today.

I had a chance to reconnect with Grandma on my own terms as an adult when I started attending the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. I stayed with her for a couple days after the Festival for most of the 17 years I attended the Festival and our regular visits built a strong relationship. Though I’d brought my girlfriend at the time, Cindy, the first time I attended, I was not out yet to Grandma and Grandpa. But Grandma was deceptively savvy.

When I came downstairs the first morning after the Festival–my tent and gear strewn about their communal backyard drying out, as everything had gotten soaked at the Festival in one of its characteristic August thunderstorms–she was busy reading the newspaper. I was barely awake when she mentioned quietly, “it seems like that Festival of yours is mostly lesbians.” My jaw dropped and I was speechless. While the Festival was pretty well known in lesbian circles, its existence was largely a secret in mainstream society. Still to this day, I have no idea how she found out about the nature of the Michigan Festival–especially in the days before the internet!

Coming out as transgender to Grandma, I felt even more warmly received. In my first visit with her afterward, she simply asked, “Should I call you my grandson now?” I said, “Whatever you would like, Grandma” and she just replied “Oh ok” and that was that. There was never a moment of awkwardness or tension–it was something that could just be openly acknowledged without having to be a big deal. Characteristic of this interchange was her frequent amused observation, “I don’t know where you get all that hair–not from our side of the family.”

When Angie and I did a guest sermon at the Unitarian Universalist church in Kalamazoo, we spoke at a forum on transgenderism following the service. In the midst of one of my descriptions of the effects of testosterone, I looked out in the audience and saw Grandma sitting there in the back row. “Oops,” I thought, “I probably shouldn’t be talking about my genitals in front of Grandma…” But that was the kind of relationship we had–I always felt like we could talk about anything and nothing seemed to shock her. And I always welcomed her thoughtful, intelligent observations as she was extremely well-read and had interesting commentary on most any subject you could think of.

Because of our incredible personality similarities and ease of communication, over my adult life I always thought of Grandma as one of my best friends, rather than just family. I genuinely looked forward to spending time with her and I did speak openly with her as a friend about whatever was on my mind or going on in my life.

Despite that ease and commonality, we did have areas of tension. Grandma was a morning person–the only morning person in the Bullington clan–and I was definitely not. When I would visit her, to be polite I would drag myself out of bed much earlier than I ordinarily would at home. As soon as I would straggle out to see her, she would instantly inquire, “What do you want for breakfast?” which always made me feel like puking, as I’m never ready to eat anything for several hours after getting up, regardless of what time that might be.

I’m also frequently overheated as a person, so visiting Grandma could feel suffocating at times. Especially when I used to visit her when I was living in California, I found the humidity oppressive, so trying to fall asleep in the little bedroom upstairs in her townhome–where there was not even the slightest breeze–was quite impossible and overwhelming. I don’t know whether she was actually opposed to air conditioning or it was just her frugal nature, but, in more recent years when I would visit her at her senior apartment and sleep on the couch, I would secretly put on the a/c for a couple hours after she went to bed (which always made me feel guilty…), because the temperature in her apartment was far too warm for me to be able to sleep.

Grandma was a forward thinker, involved with yoga and health food in the 70s, well ahead of mainstream culture. As a kid I was always amazed at her flexibility–the ways she could flop over and instantly touch her toes–and grateful that, as a vegetarian, there were always things I could eat at her house (including yummy desserts). However, being a small sized package, she often ate like a bird, so having enough food to eat could be challenging. When I used to visit her after the Michigan Festival with my partner Amanda, we would always stop for “pre-eating” en route to Grandma’s house, knowing that we would likely be served small portions of several vegetables for dinner, which–after a week in the woods–just wouldn’t cut it.

Such stops would also delay our arrival time, which used to annoy Grandma considerably. As an INFP on the Myers-Briggs temperament scale, time for me is always approximate and fluid. When my partner Angie–who is also known as Time Lord–would ask me how long something would take, my first response was always to laugh. I had no idea how to answer that question–how people make that kind of prediction. Things take as long as they take, which could be 5 minutes or 5 hours!

But I learned with Grandma that such imprecision with regards to time was not advisable. Due to her long history of abandonment, she had a strong need for people to show up exactly when they said they were going to. So many August visits with her started out with her feeling hurt and mad because I was late arriving. Thankfully, she was always willing to get over it, so that we could go on to have a lovely time together–and I learned to overestimate the travel time required to her place in order to better manage her expectations.

Usually I traveled to Grandma’s house, but one time I had the opportunity to travel with Grandma–when we drove south from Michigan to Georgia and Florida to visit Grandpa’s relatives after he passed away. Despite the fact that I love road trips and I love Grandma, bringing the two together was not the easy fun I’d hoped for. As an INFP, my approach to road trips–and the journey of life–is very organic, which turned out to be the opposite of Grandma’s inclination. She had a very rigid plan, only stopping for meals and gas where she and Grandpa always stopped previously, which I found frustrating.

For me, road trips are all about the music, which she found annoying. I’d carefully packed only my tamest artists for the trip, so when her response to the kd lang cd I’d chosen was to complain about “the beat,” I nearly lost it because I did not even experience that music as having much of a beat! The only music we could settle on was Hawaiian music–which made her sentimental about Grandpa–and what I would refer to as “elevator music,” resulting in long stretches of me staring angrily out the window, wishing that I was elsewhere.

And Grandma’s legacy was not entirely positive for me. The motto of the Bullington side of the family always seemed to be “Don’t make waves.” While this outlook definitely suited my personality, as a largely shy people pleaser, it was not compatible with my life mission, which is to change the world, generally by speaking difficult truths that most people would rather ignore. So I’ve had to spend many years working hard to intervene in my family programming in order to be an effective and confident change-maker.

Despite our areas of tension, my relationship with Grandma was one of the easiest and most supportive connections of my life, a deep and steadfast love and devotion coupled with the easy camaraderie of former college roommates. Despite our structural relationship, we always felt like peers to me–such a gift, as I have really struggled to find peers over the course of my entire life.

My last visit with her was characteristic of the energies of our connection. In her later years, she lost the ability to participate in conversations in ways she had previously and she was frequently between realities, as parts of her would travel to check out what was next for her and to solidify bonds with those beings who were preparing the way for her. As a result, I got to experience the purity of her presence, unencumbered by the limiting conventions and pretense of linear rational conversation.

What I found was similar to what I experienced with my Dad when he was in a coma–a strong and comforting essence that shone through. Grandma and I sat together for hours, just making eye contact and smiling at one another, with her occasionally reaching out to touch me and explore my physical body, much like a small child would. In that time together, we felt and shared all the love and happiness and reassurance our connection had always provided, without saying a word.

Since her passing, I continue to feel strongly connected to Grandma. A couple days after Halloween, she came to me in a meditation. She hoovered above me, standing between my Dad and Grandpa, radiant with happiness and childlike innocence similar to my last encounter with her in the physical realm. They let me know that they would be my support team for my new spiritual business–and what a dream team for a budding entrepreneur! And, since then, I regularly get this oracle card in my inquiries:

Grandparent card


I have a friend who identifies as a minimalist, and another who lives in a tiny house up in the mountains. I am a big believer in minimalism and I know that it definitely serves my spirit. Whenever I’m in a hotel room, I always secretly wish that I lived there, surrounded only by the things I am actively using with lots of empty space.

My one-bedroom apartment in Minneapolis had almost no furniture. I had a single mattress on the floor where I practiced somersaults while I was writing my dissertation (great for turning your thinking upside down and seeing things from a different perspective—as well as giggly fun for my inner kid). I had a desk in the dining room where I wrote my dissertation. Eventually I inherited a couch so guests could stop sitting on the carpeted floor. And each room had an altar representing an area of life according to the feng shui principles of my space.

I am very positive that I’ve had multiple past lives in the monastery because a life of austerity surrounded by books and immersed in contemplation comes very naturally to me. Though I now lean more toward hedonism, prior to going on hormones I had strong ascetic tendencies, prone to regular fasting not only of food but of anything that brought pleasure or threatened to distract me from my spiritual path.

Despite my appreciation for simplicity and inner leanings towards minimalism, my everyday life often tends toward the opposite. Those of you who know me know that my inner and outer life is always filled to the brim with complexity. Decades in the academic world taught me to deeply unpack the intellectual and political underpinnings of any aspect of life. My 3 spiritual paths help me to perceive the emotional and energetic dimensions of life unnoticed by most people. And my polyamorous romantic orientation has taken me through complex negotiations and explorations many folks find baffling, even abhorrent.

Once I care for somebody, I tend to keep them in my life, despite challenges presented by geography and change, so my life is abundantly full of relationships. And my home space is still cluttered with boxes brought home from my office when I left my position at CU, my socks and underwear living downstairs in our meditation room closet because my bedroom closet is piled high with teaching materials I am currently using for my Transgender Wisdom book project.

My schedule is perpetually filled beyond the limits of human capacity—solved in grad school, in the absence of available cloning technologies, by only sleeping every other night. Since leaving teaching, my professional offerings have multiplied such that, when listening to one of my favorite gospel songs and the preacher exclaims “Somebody is getting ready to start a business, a practice, write a book, score a hymn,” I find myself saying yes, yes, yes, YES to all of the above. On any given day, it is hard to know what to prioritize because I am living multiple lives simultaneously.

I realized when I was living in Missouri that this is just how I do life as a trans person, multiply. In Missouri I had an office and responsibilities in multiple university departments, and most of the time I lived there I also maintained an apartment, sang in a choir, and participated in a spiritual community in Minneapolis. It is how I got together with my Beloved so I don’t regret it for a moment. Living this way has been a rich learning experience—double the lessons, double the work, but double the rewards.

However, recently I have been in a season of extreme clearing out. Spirit is helping me clean house and has been pretty ruthless. After a summer of intense challenges and loss, I breathed a huge sigh of relief as the weather turned towards fall, the semester started, and astrologically we finally moved out of the ass kicking summer cycle of confronting and shedding our programming. I made it! I survived! I was prematurely overjoyed and proud of myself. Little did I know that the season of challenge and loss was only beginning for me, the summer merely a warm up for some of the most intense circumstances of my life.

An hour before my first day of class I learned that my mom was on her way to the hospital. While I was in California with my mom, my partner of 12 years asked me for a separation. When I returned, my housemate was diagnosed with breast cancer and, on the day she was diagnosed, my partner—my Beloved soul mate with whom I’d planned to share the remainder of my life journey—broke up with me.

My mom has Parkinson’s so I knew at some point she would have a health crisis, but the loss of my Beloved was something I never anticipated. In my whole life, she was the only thing I ever felt 100% certain about—I never doubted whether I was meant to be with her. And never spent a single moment contemplating life without her. So it has been a major adjustment to my whole story of my life—past, present, and future.

I have been practicing letting go and letting go, accepting, trusting the process of life, trusting that everything that happens is for my highest good, even if I can’t see it. I’ve felt inclined to reach out to those who are suffering more than me—and to use what I’m learning from my own suffering to help the world. That feels like the best path forward.  

Despite the losses, there have been incredible gifts! My mom, my housemate, and I have been supporting one another in making healthful life changes, finally mastering the fundamentals of self-care that the 3 of us never quite learned—all of us facing some pretty severe consequences if we aren’t able to get a better handle on it. It has really been key for each of us to not be trying to do it alone and I have felt a new depth of partnership with both of them, as my life partner moves out of that spot.

And there have been dramatic, life changing, miraculous healings with my mom. My relationship with my mom has been my most challenging relationship over my whole life. I’ve spent most of my life running away from her, trying to stay clear so that I could feel safe. But since my recent time with her, I’ve come close and we’ve shifted to a daily relationship. She got out of the hospital last week and I am out in California with her again, ensuring that she gets off to a good start in the transition back home.

The Parkinson’s has forced her to slow down, which has allowed her to be more present and I am finding myself surprisingly nourished by our everyday connection—not something I even would have imagined possible—and she is really thriving in the consistent contact. We now have the kind of easy friendship I have with many people in my life, enjoying one another’s company and readily sharing back and forth, including her apologies and regret about the disconnection in our past. Truly miraculous!

The departure of my partner has also allowed the consolidation of my energy and focus which has led to a blossoming of my creative work. Over my whole adult life, I have mostly focused on relationships—that’s where I have given the bulk of my life energy, oftentimes to the detriment of my work in the world. Since I’m not being allowed to do that right now—since I’ve been freed from that—my life energy has been focused on my writing, pushing me forward like catching a wave when you are sea kayaking.

Despite being suddenly and unexpectedly single, I don’t really feel fearful about my future. I’m sensing this might be a season in life where I am meant to be unpartnered so that I can give myself fully to my work in the world. It was a huge gift that I did have such an ideal partnership for 12 wonderful years, one that lovingly held my testosterone journey and all the upheaval it caused, and—since I have never been single for more than a few months in my whole life—I’m a little excited to see what learning that might hold for me. And the deeper sense of partnership I might feel with myself as a result.

So now I am cultivating more of a life path of minimalism. Over the last couple years everything non-essential has been steadily removed so that I can touch my core and life force energy more directly. I’m starting to enjoy the new simplicity in my life. It is easier to focus. There is space for energy to move. Without all the clutter, I can see myself—and my path—much more clearly.

I’ve always been afraid of change because I was so afraid of loss, so this purifying process has lifted that deep fear from my heart so it no longer has power over me in the same way. That has been liberating—almost exhilarating. And it has made me even more determined to love.

I have a feeling I may eventually look back on this time in my life with tremendous gratitude, as a destiny changing turning point that was one of the greatest gifts of my life.

Snake shedding skin

Working with Strong Emotions

Whew, what a summer! I don’t know how you all are holding up with the extreme astrological energies we have been grappling with, but it has been INTENSE! If you are feeling rocked and discombobulated, raw and vulnerable, bogged down and stuck or unexpectedly liberated, know that you are not alone.

What has been coming up is all of our wounds, limiting beliefs, and dysfunctional programming so that we have an opportunity to consciously examine and then shed them as we move into the next stage of our evolution, personally and collectively.

This is definitely for our highest good and greatest freedom and happiness (we don’t want to take all that old painful baggage into our next creation), but the process has certainly been daunting and has required us to dig deep into the reserves of courage and commitment, as well as be creative about finding our way through.

Shadow work


In my last post, you heard about my crisis of confidence in my professional journey this summer. This post features my parallel crisis of confidence in my personal/relationship life—and the tools that I gained from that experience that I want to pass on. Since so much of our current collective experience has featured heated communication, dramatic changes in relationships and circumstances, and the arising of our deepest hurts and core challenges, I figured other people could benefit from what I’ve learned and what has helped me navigate this time and come out stronger and happier on the other side.

I’ll begin with an excerpt from my book project of this summer, Learning from Polyamory: A Spiritual Seeker’s Guide to Love (one of a series of offerings I’m planning to call the Fresh Perspective Series). And then I’ll present the toolkit that I developed for dealing with strong emotions which sustained me through some pretty intense challenges this season.


Learning from Polyamory

My partner is on an overnight date with someone else right now, so my polyamory skills have been getting a workout lately. Though my partner and I have been polyamorous for our entire relationship, it has mostly been me who has engaged in extramarital explorations, especially after I went on testosterone and became attracted to men for the first time. So I am very grateful for this opportunity as it is increasing my capacity to love. As my heart is breaking, it is stretching open and expanding. I have choices every day, even every minute, about whether to choose feeling victimized or finding my ability to love, fighting to have my needs met or experiencing peace.

I remind myself, I want my partner to have fun. I want my partner to have a great experience. I want my partner’s needs to be met. These all feel like true statements. When I speak them, in my body I feel a sense of calm and resonance. My partner was only 27 when we got together, and only had one 2 year relationship prior to me, so I could hardly expect that all the learning she would need to do around love and romance and relationships would come just through me.

So I want her to experience all the steps, the fun of dating and sex and romance. Because it is fun so I wouldn’t want the person I love more than anything in the world to be denied that fun, even if it’s with someone other than me. Because the dating and sex and romance between us is excellent and I’m extremely grateful for that—so the tithe to express my gratitude is that I can’t just keep that all to myself. I value sharing so this is my opportunity to live that value. 

Of course, there are other feelings as well. Whenever we talk about polyamory in class, my students always assume that polyamorous people simply don’t get jealous. Not true. There’s always the underlying insecurity: what if my partner finds something they like better? How much of my partner’s life energy will this new relationship take away from me? Does this mean that I’m not special anymore? There’s the resentment of not wanting to have to deal with it, of feeling put upon by having to be uncomfortable. There’s the sheer terror that makes my body so agitated and overwhelmed that the last time my partner told me she was interested in someone, I spontaneously took off running down the street.  

While in any polyamory arrangement the old familiar partner cannot compete with an exciting new interest, excitement comes from uncertainty and familiarity comes with safety. So there are ways that my partner venturing out is vulnerable feeling for them as much as for me—they risk being rejected, they don’t have the depth of trust with the new person, they feel insecure. I can choose to focus on the compassion that I feel for them around that.

I know that the new person is also risking a lot and probably feeling some insecurity, stepping into an established 12-year marriage, so I can have compassion for them as well. In fact, since the new person is someone who has been a friend for the last several years, and is now someone my partner is choosing to love, I can simply choose to love them as well, rather than setting them up as a threat or enemy.

I can choose to align myself with what is happening, and offer my support and congratulations and create positive good will in my marriage—or I can align myself against what is happening, which is a path of pain and ultimately fruitless. Even if I “got what I wanted”—which would basically be to avoid feeling fear and discomfort—I would not be happy because my partner would be unhappy. For things to seemingly work out in my favor means not working out for her, so I’d rather take on the discomfort myself.

Because my partner really deserves this. She doesn’t have opportunities very often and her last attempt at this about 3 years ago fell apart at the last minute—which was very crushing to her, so I’m thrilled that this is working out for her. I know that is very healing and very important. And I got off easy last time as the dating relationship ended suddenly before it really began. There were definitely challenging months of build up through non-acknowledged dates to give me some good practice, followed by the opportunity to be in a much easier support role of offering comfort for her broken heart. So now I’m being asked to step it up to another level. And I believe I’m being spiritually supported in that endeavor and that it will lead to many rewards, most especially increased freedom.

And my partner has certainly suffered through worse with me, especially in the early years of my testosterone journey when my sexual orientation changed: the uncertainty when I started having sex with men about whether I would end up still attracted to her, what that meant about me as a person that I enjoyed having casual hook ups with guys, all the boundary violations, the moving bar as I navigated what I wanted and needed. Truthfully, I don’t know why she’s stayed with me—I think I am actually very tough on my partners. So it would be ridiculous for me to now offer any resistance.

And I have learned, from my somewhat limited past experience, that raising a fuss puts her in the unfair position of having to choose (and she won’t choose me—or at least not without resentment). And it destroys trust in my marriage hence undermining the very thing that I’m afraid of losing. It makes her angry, upset, guilty, and afraid. And it makes me angry, upset, guilty, and afraid. It drives us apart and reinforces the separateness we’re both afraid of.

My partner spends nights away very frequently. They were just in Dallas for a week for work, they semi-regularly cat sit for a week in Boulder, and they attend a week long spiritual camp in Missouri twice a year. So my feelings about them being away tonight don’t have to be any different than that. I can remain calm, wish them well, and turn my attention to other things. This is far preferable to being up all night in agony, tormenting myself with my worst fears, replaying fictional images of them having sex in my mind over and over, ending up spent and exhausted and terrified.  

My partner also frequently engages in other very absorbing and satisfying pursuits—whether musical, spiritual, or creative—often in intimate relationships with others. And why should any of these things feel threatening? I feel a sense of wariness in my chest, but why? Why would I not want my partner to have a deeply absorbing and satisfying life? Such things are the lifeblood of her aliveness so why would I want to deny them? What life would we have together if she were robbed of the things most satisfying to her—simply because they are not me and so therefore threaten me? It is not her job to keep me comfortable, to avoid threatening me. If I feel threatened by her experiencing joy and satisfaction in people and pursuits that don’t involve me, I am basically saying that all of her joy and satisfaction should come through me, which is preposterous.

Our partners are the people we love supposedly more than anyone else in the entire world. Out of all the billions of beings on the planet, this is the person we have chosen to love and we often stand up in front of friends and family to commit ourselves to their happiness. Yet this is the person whose happiness most threatens us, who we allow the most limited range of pursuits—and this is what our culture calls “love.”

Well, my contemplations have started to raise my discomfort level and I don’t want to upset myself before bed, so I’m going to end here and get to bed. Self-care is a really important aspect of this journey, and I want to maintain an even keel as much as possible, so I need to make sure I am as well- resourced as possible.


Strong Emotions

Polyamory is such an incredible path of growth because it acts like a metal detector/magnet, finding and raising to the surface anything that is unhealed in you. I think of it as a form of emotional yoga. Through polyamory we learn where our restrictions and resistance reside and then we can gently lean into these areas to expand our range and flexibility. Much like disruptions in our professional/financial lives, it cuts to the core of our feelings of safety and security. So dealing with instability in both core areas of my life this summer understandably generated in me some very strong emotions. Here’s an example:

My skin feels like it’s on fire and I’m burning burning out of control. I feel so hot and agitated I can no longer calm myself down. Though my body feels weak and shakey from strong emotion, I feel like I have to move—to walk and walk—because I can’t hold all this energy in my body. I feel reactive, like a wounded animal, ready to lash out in a moment’s notice—chasing away the love that I want so desperately to receive. Even being approached or touched in kindness feels threatening and painful. I feel like I want my life back, but it feels like it is now changed forever so all I can do is surrender and watch it transform into something new. I’m just riding the hot lava carrying me toward a cliff over which I will plunge—to my death and to my freedom.

Indeed this summer has been one of the most intense and most relentlessly challenging times of my life. While the reasons were particular to me, I knew I was not alone. Given the intense astrological forces working on us right now—the still present energies of the July lunar eclipse as well as the multiple planets that have been in retrograde—I feel like the inner challenges I’m facing are not just mine alone.

Collectively, this is a time for us to courageously grapple with our conditioning—with the dysfunctional familiar beliefs that keep us small and limited and our habitual strategies for dealing with our inner pain that might serve to temporarily keep that pain at bay, but prevent us from actually moving beyond it. Part of our unhealthy cultural conditioning is how we are trained to deal with challenging situations.

Being raised in a masculinist culture that highly values control and deeply fears vulnerability, I haven’t been given very helpful tools for working with intense feelings. Here is what I have been taught—see if any of this resonates with your experience.


American Toolkit for Dealing with Challenges and Strong Emotions


Don’t have challenges—if you do, there’s something wrong with you

Don’t share challenges –if you have challenges, pretend like you don’t

Medicate away strong emotions as they are dangerous

If you can’t get to a doctor to be prescribed medication, try these to disconnect:

Recreational drugs







Social media

Computer games

Compulsive exercise

Distract yourself away from the pain

Change the circumstances that are upsetting you

Blame the circumstances that are upsetting you

Better to be numb

Especially for women, find a way to hurt yourself to process the pain

Especially for men, find a way to hurt others to process the pain


Sam’s Toolkit for Working with Strong Emotions


“Usually we regard loneliness as an enemy. Heartache is not something we choose to invite in. It’s restless and pregnant and hot with the desire to escape and find something or someone to keep us company. When we can rest in the middle, we begin to have a nonthreatening relationship with it, a relaxing and cooling loneliness that completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down. When you wake up in the morning and out of nowhere comes the heartache of alienation and loneliness, could you use that as a golden opportunity? Rather than persecuting yourself or feeling that something terribly wrong is happening, right there in the moment of sadness and longing, could you relax and touch the limitless space of the human heart? The next time you get a chance, experiment with this.”

Pema Chodoron from When Things Fall Apart


American culture teaches us to aspire to be comfortable and, especially for privileged folks, to sound the alarm anytime we are feeling discomfort. We see discomfort as an aberration—a sign that something has gone wrong—and we are trained to quickly identity the cause of our discomfort and to focus our efforts on changing our circumstances, rather than changing our reaction to our circumstances.

Polyamory is fundamentally a path of self-responsibility. My emotions arise from within me, they are not “caused” by my partner. While consciously negotiating boundaries is an important aspect of living polyamory, the goal is not to eliminate discomfort, but instead to use it as an opportunity for growth and healing.

And the focus is on self-change rather than demanding or manipulating your partner to change their behavior. While your partner may be an ally in your healing, ultimately working with your own emotions provides an opportunity to know yourself better, to see where you have blocks to happiness and peace, and to work to free yourself from them, enhancing the quality of your life overall.

Here are some of the things I’ve found helpful this summer in working with my own intense emotions. I hope that you will find something within this list that might be useful to you.


Breathe into your heart

Deep slow breathing generally is excellent for helping to calm down. It soothes and de-escalates the body and mind and helps to bring spaciousness and deliberateness to the agitation and urgency of the fight or flight response. It gives us something to bring our focus to, where we can consciously apply our will power, rather than feeling out of control and at the mercy of the fragmenting explosion of emotion.

I’ve found breathing into my heart to be even more powerful. We’re not talking about a 20 minute meditation practice here. I find that with just one deep breath into my heart, I instantly calm down and with just 5 such breaths, I feel noticeably different overall. It doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t go back into a state of agitation, even right away, if I allow or need that, but I know if I simply breathe into my heart, I have the power to instantly calm myself down.

Heart nature


Stay in the Present

As I brought attention to what helps me calm down, I also noticed the things that exacerbate my upset. The quickest way to add fuel to the fire of my distress, I found, was stepping back into the past or rushing ahead into the future.

When, at the beginning of the summer, someone I felt close to decided to step away from our friendship, I found myself drowning in shame and regret, rehearsing everything I’d said and done, wishing I could go back and do something different to create a different result. I found that my thoughts were continually berating me for perceived mistakes, criticizing me for “blowing it,” and frantically searching around for some way to “fix it.” I would work myself up into a full blown panic.

Similarly, watching my partner’s emotional investment with someone else steadily grow over the summer, I couldn’t help but jump into the future. I was certain that I knew how things were going to unfold, and I was convinced that there was no possible way that I could survive that. So my mind generated a lot of resistance to what was happening in the present based on my belief about the impossibility of my imagined future.

So I needed to continually remind myself to stay in the present. I’m not being asked to survive that future right now, I’m just being asked to survive this one present moment. And in this moment, I actually am surviving. It may be at the edge of what I feel I can tolerate, and it may take all of my skills and resources, but I am surviving it.

And ultimately, it is temporary. I keep reminding myself of what I’ve learned from my experiences in sweatlodges over the years: no matter what stories my mind creates about what’s happening, it is only intensity and it will eventually pass. Just stay present, resist the urge to run from it, and face it head on.

And trust the process. Though my friend may have stepped back this summer, for reasons that I can’t really know or control, it doesn’t necessarily mean she is gone forever. As my spiritual teacher Lynn Woodland always reminds me, if we need to jump over a big gap or obstacle, we will step back to get a running start and some momentum. So the times in our lives that may feel like a setback might actually just be the preparation for a big surge forward. It could be that my friend stepping back now allows her to step forward into deeper intimacy in the future.


Truth calms

What I also noticed this summer, during periods of agitation and upset, is that when I tell myself lies about a situation (generally the projection of my fears, which I rehearse supposedly to “protect myself”), I exacerbate my distress, but when I tell myself the truth, it serves to de-escalate my emotions. You already saw this in my excerpt above: when I started to feel agitated about my partner’s overnight date, I reminded myself that I want my partner to have a great experience and I want my partner’s needs to be met. And these truths helped my body and emotions to relax—and allowed me to make choices in accordance with my values, even if they were emotionally difficult.

During the frantic moments about both my partner and my withdrawing friend, I reminded myself that I have survived such moments in the past. In particular, I thought about the break up with my ex a decade ago. I remembered the moments of despair and heartbreak, sitting on my living room floor in my apartment in Minneapolis, feeling like I would never love again.

And 3 truths came to mind: first of all, just on the other side of that break up that I couldn’t see (literally months later) was my soul mate, my perfect match partner who was the catalyst for my going on hormones and who changed my entire life. My relationship with my ex had to be cleared away to create space for the experience of love and partnership that I most needed.

Secondly, although my ex had proclaimed that if we broke up she would not be able to be friends with me, we actually remain extremely close, texting most every day, and I consider her my dearest family. While it had been stressful trying to do life together as partners because we had very different goals and values, in our current relationship I get to enjoy all of the positive aspects of our former connection without any of the stresses. Hence not only was my romantic life improved on the other side of the break up, but even my relationship with my ex is even better.

Finally, although surviving those very painful moments of transition were extremely challenging, once my life settled back into a comfortable place, I actually found myself somewhat nostalgic for those intense moments during the break up. During that time, I was really tested to bring forth all of my skills and tools, and I developed a very close daily relationship with my spiritual guides and teachers, because I really needed them to survive. Though challenging, it was a period of tremendous growth and aliveness and empowerment that I actually missed during the somewhat bland days that followed. I wondered if, on the other side of this challenging test, I might too feel nostalgic for its intensity.

The truth is inherently peaceful.




Affirmations are another way to counter the lies we continually tell ourselves. You may notice that much of your inner dialogue consists of disparaging self-judgments. Rather than feeling victimized by our negative thoughts and their resulting emotions, we can be proactive and begin to create a positive inner landscape that nourishes and affirms us.

For those of you who think affirmations are just new age nonsense or silly self-indulgence, I find them to be a crucial aspect of the deprogramming process that I shared about in my last post. Not only do we need to identify the unhelpful beliefs that we want to shed, but we can also consciously choose the beliefs we do want.

To me, that is an aspect of creating the foundation for the new world: consciously utilizing our attention and intention in new ways. Whether individually or collectively, we need to stop focusing on what we don’t want and what we are against and instead use our creativity and our will to envision and keep our focus on what we do want—and use our energy to bring it into being.

While I have used affirmations regularly for much of my adult life and have healed many imbalances in my body and thoughts through this practice, this summer I discovered a wonderful numerologist named Kari Samuels ( She custom designs affirmations for your particular life path and sets them to meditative music that you can listen to every day to begin to reprogram your conscious and unconscious mind. I’ve found her recordings to be very nourishing—and moving. When I saw the list of affirmations she sent me, my eyes instantly welled up with tears as they touched upon all of my lifelong core struggles.

I am safe and at home in the world. I claim my space in the world.

My sensitivity is a gift. I shine my inner light brightly.

I am safe being seen and heard. It is safe for me to speak my truth.

I love and accept myself exactly as I am; I am loved and appreciated for who I am.

What is one area of life where you feel perpetually stuck or would like to see change? Come up with a one sentence positive statement about being, doing, or having the life that you actually want. So if you imagine yourself on the other side of where you feel currently stuck, what would that look like?

To give a couple examples, if you feel physically exhausted and stagnant, maybe yours would be “I have abundant energy for my exciting life”—or if you feel stuck living your life for other people, it might be “I choose to do what brings me joy.”

There are 5 guidelines you want to keep in mind for your statement:

1)  It should be in the present tense—you are experiencing it now, not in the future

2)  Your statement should be positive—what you want instead of what you don’t want

3)  Use the language of being, doing or having instead of wanting

4)  Focus on changing your own experience instead of controlling the behavior of others

5)  Affirm the end result you want, not the steps you believe will take you there

Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

To see results, consistency and repetition are key so I suggest repeating your affirmation 15 times a day. You are building a new belief system so consider how many times over the course of the day that you tell yourself something negative and actively counter this with your statement of what you are choosing instead. You can repeat it silently as you move about your day, speak it out loud (looking in the mirror is the most powerful), or write or type it up. Keep it posted where you will see it often: on the bathroom mirror, on your steering wheel, on your computer. And let this be a reminder to keep your attention trained on what you WANT rather than what you don’t want.

During moments of intense emotion this summer, my affirmations were a lifeline. There were times when I felt swamped by some emotional tidal wave and didn’t know how to right myself. In those moments, I would put in my headphones, set out on a walk, and just listen to my affirmation recordings again and again until I felt calmer.

Not only did they aid me in feeling more peaceful and trusting, they also helped me feel more empowered. Especially when I was feeling bounced around by the choices of other people over which I had no control, I could actively choose to nourish my mind and heart with the beliefs and life that I wanted to claim for myself.

I am surrounded by people who love and appreciate me and relationships that nourish my well-being.

I relax and trust the process of life. My life unfolds beautifully in divine timing.

I create and maintain healthy boundaries and make my happiness a priority.

I see myself thriving in every way. Every day my life gets better and better.

I have the power to manifest my dreams and effortlessly manifest the life I love.

Just imagine if everyone in this country—every time they felt enraged or despair over what Trump is doing—chose to focus their attention and energy instead on imagining AND CREATING the world that they want to live in. Rather than getting lost in the downward spiral of emotion and helplessness, empower yourself to be an active creator of our emerging collective world.

My loving presence is a gift to the world. I have a positive impact on the world.

I use my words to uplift and inspire. My voice is clear, confident, and strong.

If I imagine it, I can create it. I am a powerful creator.


Creating Inner Safety

Those of you who have been in my classes or attended my workshops might be familiar with this super helpful guided meditation (courtesy of Lynn Woodland—check out for creating inner safety. I consider it to be an essential tool for being a peacemaker in the contemporary world and a terrific way to empower yourself to take ownership of your own emotional state.

Take several deep breaths, relax and begin to imagine a feeling of safety.  Say to yourself, silently, over and over, the words, “I am safe.” It’s not necessary that you believe these words. “I am safe” is the belief you are creating, not necessarily the belief you hold. 

Let this feeling start in your stomach as a soothing, peaceful sensation and allow it to radiate through your entire body and then slightly beyond, forming a safe, comforting pink cocoon around you. Feel your stomach relax into deep safety and well-being. Feel your shoulders relax as though you’ve just had a weight lifted from them. Imagine a hard and heavy layer of protective armor now dissolving out of every part of your body because it’s no longer needed.  Imagine that you’re naturally protected by this state of peaceful defenselessness. 

Picture this safety as a beautiful light of unconditional love that fills and surrounds you.  See this light attracting to you everything that’s for your highest good and repelling everything that’s not. Imagine this light to now be in place around you all the time, even when you’re not thinking about it.

Remind yourself many times each hour of the day that you are safe and put yourself to sleep this way at night.  Take this even further by spending a day imagining that everyone you encounter has your best interests at heart.



Tonglen is a Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice that reverses our American training to seek pleasure and avoid suffering. In Tonglen practice, with every in breath you take onto yourself the suffering of others and with every out breath you send out whatever will benefit them. In Tonglen practice, we resist the urge to disconnect from our own suffering, as well as the suffering of others. In Tonglen practice, we transcend the isolation and self-absorption that often fuels our suffering. Instead we allow our own suffering to connect us to the suffering of others—who else on the planet right now is feeling this same weight of shame, terror, pain, loneliness, rage, desperation? Our in-breath welcomes the difficulties of the human experience; our out-breath shares what is most precious to us.

If you are going to be experiencing suffering anyhow, you may as well intend for yourself to take on the suffering of others, that you may seek to spare them some of the difficulty of what you are experiencing. And you can maximize whatever joy and success you experience by sending it out to all others to share as well. This practice not only cultivates compassion but can give purpose and a sense of empowerment to whatever challenges you are experiencing.


Metta practice

This practice of loving kindness also comes from Tibetan Buddhism and can be used to cultivate peace and compassion when your mind feels like a battlefield. Doing this practice not only helps to shift out of the stubborn deadlock of ego conflict, but it can open doors to mutually beneficial solutions to whatever interpersonal challenges you might be facing.

Begin with those who are easiest for you to love (either individually or as a group). May my friends, family, those I admire be happy, healthy, successful, abundant. May they know peace and be free from suffering.

Then move on to those about whom you feel neutral—acquaintances, strangers, service professionals, co-workers, neighbors. Recite the same words (for individuals or the group): May they be healthy, happy, successful, and abundant. May they be free from suffering. Be sure to include people everywhere and all living beings in your remembrance. Wish them happiness and health in the present, past, and future.

Practicing loving kindness with strangers can not only create a more humane world, but it can help us to feel more safe and empowered as we move through life. We begin to see others as less inherently threatening to our well- being, as well as realize the power our love has to change people’s lives.

Finally, bring to mind those who it is difficult for you to love—those who have hurt you, those with whom you experience conflict or competition, those you blame for your own unhappiness or the state of the world (Donald Trump and his supporters, parents, lovers/ex lovers, bosses). May they be healthy, happy, successful, and abundant. May they be free from suffering. If this is exceptionally challenging for you, begin with “May I let go of this resentment. May I be free from this anger.”

With every round, notice what’s happening in your body and emotions. Notice your personality’s preferences: who it likes and dislikes, with whom it feels safe and unsafe. Watch for any tension or hardening of the heart as you bring to mind those with whom you may feel conflict or competition.

DON’T FORGET YOURSELF! You may start with yourself, with the recognition that if you cannot give loving kindness to yourself, you actually cannot give it to others with sincerity. Or you may be in the final round, among those who it is most difficult for you to love. This is an opportunity to practice giving loving kindness to all everywhere without conditions.

Imagine if we taught this practice in elementary schools all over the country. Doing this practice regularly literally changes the world.


Dealing with strong emotions together

Since so much of the current astrological configuration has involved communication challenges and relationship hot spots, I thought I’d end with some suggestions for how to deal with strong emotions in partnership.


Share a breath

This is a very simple but powerful practice for cultivating intimacy. I’ve mostly used it to grow closeness and partnership, but it can also be used to de-escalate charged emotions. You simply face your partner, look into their eyes, and breathe together (breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth is easiest as then you have visual cues). This practice helps to sync up your energies to facilitate working together, to come together as one being, breathing together.

When I was in the midst of an attack of panic and having trouble staying in my body, my partner asked if I wanted to share a breath and it really helped me settle down. While at first it was hard to stay present and to sync up with her, focusing on her eyes and breath and trying to match it eventually brought me back into my body and into a comforting rhythm that ended the crisis I was feeling and allowed me to access other inner resources.


Burn some sage and/or palo santo

Treat your potentially charged conversations like a sacred ritual. Prepare yourself by burning sage and cleansing one another’s energy fields. This will help to bring the proper mindset to your discussion as well as energetically support your work. While sage has been used for cleansing for centuries on this continent, palo santo is especially good for lightening the energy when something heavy or toxic has come up. After a heated discussion has arisen, cleanse your space afterward so that there’s no remaining energy of conflict. This practice can also be a useful habit in polyamorous explorations to create energetic containment so that you are not bringing the energy of one encounter/relationship into another. If you spend your days in a toxic work environment, this practice can also be invaluable so that you are not bringing that energy into your home space.


Share something you are grateful for and something you are proud of

My partner and I do this practice together most every night before bed and it was a helpful ritual to draw upon during times of conflict. It can be a way to ease into dialogue about troubling issues (reinforcing a more neutral tone, rather than jumping into debate) and it reminds us to be mindful of both our own experience and the other person’s experience (either of which I can forget about during moments of conflict).


Active listening

Rather than arguing, practice active listening. Instead of countering what the other person is sharing, state “What I hear you saying is…” and then state back in their own words (rather than your interpretation of what they said). Ask if you got it right and allow them to make adjustments. Then ask “Is there more?” until there is nothing else. We have so few experiences in life of actually just being heard and acknowledged, just this practice alone can create miracles in your relationships.

When people feel heard, and are encouraged to go deeper into their perspective rather than instantly being told they are wrong, their defensiveness decreases pretty immediately and they are capable of much more than you might imagine. Try this with family members, co-workers, especially folks who don’t share your political perspectives. Just this practice alone can help to free us from the incredibly painful polarization we are currently trapped in collectively.

Remember that you don’t have control over how other people show up for you, but you do have control over how you show up so resist the urge to feel like it’s unfair if you offer active listening and the other person does not. You are changing the dance, even if you don’t feel the effects right away.

 Be love to have love


Hold the container for one another, one at a time

There is a time and place for venting. The key to its purposefulness in releasing intense pent up energy is to have the discipline to hold a neutral container. This means that one person has the floor—I’d say a half hour is a good amount of time. One person is the sole focus during that time and they simply get the chance to be unconditionally heard. This means no arguing or debating or problem solving about anything they say.

Regardless of what is said (“I’m honestly contemplating breaking up with you”), do not take the attention back to yourself, your emotional reaction, what that means for you. It is simply a time for one person to just verbalize anything that’s going on in them without consequences. Sometimes all it takes is saying it out loud and you can move on from it. It is a time to listen and learn and, although when I do this practice, I usually struggle in the beginning to not have an argumentative tone (the ego does not want to give an inch), invariably at some point I learn something surprising about the other person’s experience that shatters my assumptions and generates compassion in me.

This also means no encouraging or egging on when someone is sharing. If someone is complaining about their boss or job, for instance, this is not a time to commiserate or exclaim “That’s terrible!” It is simply an opportunity for them to externalize their upset. A better response (whether you agree or disagree with whatever they’re saying) would be “That sounds like it’s really painful for you.”

You can take turns holding the container for one another, but I would recommend doing that in separate sessions. You want to have a clear buffer between trading so the experiences are totally separate and each person just gets to have their say without challenge. You don’t want the second session to feel in any way like a counterargument and it is good practice to just put aside your own feelings and reactions for a time to just hold space for someone else.


Emotional release

Even more important that sharing the story of why you are upset is simply releasing the emotional energy from your body. Emotions are physical energies and when we store them in our bodies we create tension that can compromise our health and keep a lid on our happiness. We don’t even need to know what is causing the emotion for us to release the energy from our bodies. We don’t even need to be actively feeling the emotion in the moment. Just embodying the physicality of the emotion (whether the big dramatic external movements of anger or the curling up and turning within of sadness) will take us where we need to go. And we become aware of the complex layering of emotions—how when we release the defensive volatile anger on the surface, it might reveal the hurt and sadness and vulnerability lying underneath.

While just having a primal scream in your car can be very helpful for letting go of all of those daily hurts and frustrations (just grip the steering wheel and shout AAAAAHHHHH at the top of your lungs—emotional release doesn’t need to be directed at anything), maximum healing happens when our emotional release is held and witnessed by others. Consider for yourself the difference between crying while another holds and comforts you and the tears you shed alone in your room behind closed doors. While sharing your feelings with others might create uncomfortable feelings of vulnerability and embarrassment, you are also likely to feel more connected and genuinely healed afterward versus the ways that solitary tears can actually increase our feelings of aloneness and isolation.

Releasing the emotional energy that has been activated prior to trying to dialogue can be key to having more productive and less heated negotiations. For instance, one family with teenagers kept a supply of thrift store dishes in their garage. Whenever conflict came up in the family, they would retreat to the garage together and take turns smashing the dishes against the wall until their emotional energy was discharged. Then they would return to the house to sit down to talk about it.



During times of conflict, we can forget to have fun with one another. Fun and play require us to step away from our protective defensiveness and let our guard down, which can feel threatening during times of disagreement. But when fun and laughter leave a relationship, it can be challenging to remember why you are doing the hard work of healing in the first place.

My partner and I have actually received homework from therapists to NOT process, since we are so prone to talking about everything. It is easy to feel the weight of the world on your shoulders during periods of disharmony, so it is important to lighten up and laugh together. We take ourselves so seriously and forget that fun and play are crucial aspects of growth and success, whether individually or together. So take a time out from the serious matters of life to reconnect with your joy and innocence.



REMINDER: The perspective of non-violent communication is that conflict comes from unmet needs, so, if you can keep this in mind and just step to identifying and addressing the unmet needs, oftentimes you can redirect or sidestep the conflict entirely.

I hope that you have found these tools helpful! If you try any of them out, please let me know how it goes and what you learn from the experience. And if you have tools or suggestions that I have not named, I’d be super appreciative to expand my toolbox so please feel free to share them with me!

Peace on your journey,