This past summer, I went with Danielle MacKinnon and a group of lovely people to play with the wild dolphins for a week in Bimini (the closest Bahamian island to the United States). I felt the urge to attend even though I am not a fan of the open water, have never snorkeled and get sea sick standing on the dock. Part of me was screaming inside, “Are you nuts – stay at home and let this trip pass you by”. But there was another part of me that felt sure that I was supposed to be there. So I went. And it was terrifying….at least at first.
We had an orientation about stingrays, sharks, jelly fish and other poisonous fish that we should avoid. There were details about the ocean, the boat and lots of other items that I am sure were meant to inform and educate us, but ended up scaring the hell out of me. I was afraid, plain and simple. In the past, when I was really truly afraid of something I just steered clear of it and created a wide berth around even thinking of engaging in the fearful activity. But it has become clear to me that my ability to have freedom and joy in my life is inextricably tied to my willingness to move through the pain and fear versus letting it create a false boundary in my life.
So here I was heading off on a boat in the middle of the ocean for 5 hours to look for dolphins. I was anything but relaxed and I was definitely worried about what would happen when the moment came to jump off the boat and get into the water. The dolphins showed up to play and it was time to get our gear on and head out into the water. Everyone was getting into the water and there I stood with Danielle. I felt frozen in place. I told her to go ahead and that I would just sit this one out and try again on the next sighting. But in that moment I knew that if I didn’t get in that water right then and there, I would never do it. I would come up with another excuse and I would leave this trip not as someone who conquered their fear but as someone who had a story about why it was just all too much for me and I couldn’t do it.
The moment of decision was here, which person was I going to be? Someone who sat on the sidelines and watched others live their lives or someone who makes thedecision to engage with the moment in front of them. In spite of every fear instinct going off in my body I decided to get in the water. So hand in hand, Danielle and I went in together. I was freaking out at first and then something incredible happened. I realized I was okay. The fear was like a paper tiger and everything was fine. In that moment a dolphin swam within two feet of us and looked directly into our eyes. It was such a peaceful moment and it seemed like time stopped.
Over the next day or two I became more comfortable in the water, and being on the boat for several hours was actually enjoyable. By the end of the week I was using my underwater camera and even tried my hand at free diving. I had went from being paralyzed with fear to actually being completely relaxed.
The point of me sharing this story is that we all have areas that are our sensitive soft spots. The places we allow ourselves to justify keeping our life limited or bound in some way. Often we create stories about why we need to maintain these fears or we get totally invested in justifying why we have them in the first place or even who is to blame for us being that particular way. The truth is that none of that serves our highest good. By making our wounds our calling cards we shortchange not only ourselves but everyone who could be served by us showing up fully for life. The greatness that we can all contribute to the world comes from moving forward in spite of our fear not by coddling it. This is not because it isn’t scary or painful or worrisome but precisely because it is.
My dog Bella competes in Agility. For those of you who don’t know,
Agility is a sport where you and your dog navigate an obstacle course, the goal
being to complete the course with speed and precision. Bella is a Shih Tzu,
which does not exactly put her at the top of the list for either of these
criteria. However, she really loves it and actually does quite well to boot. We
started taking her to agility training classes about two years ago and it was
an immediate hit for Bella. My husband and I told ourselves that as long as she
was having fun we would continue with classes and eventually start competing in
So, fast forward to early October, Bella was finally ready to compete in her first agility trial. My husband was going to be running the course with her and although we felt prepared we were both definitely nervous. We kept reminding ourselves the purpose was to have fun and bond with Bella and the results or competition aspect was secondary. With our great mindset in place and our expectations in check we set off for our first competition. We were so thrilled that weekend when Bella had two perfect runs! We continued to compete in upcoming trials over the next several weeks. Everything was going wonderfully and she was completing the course without errors and having fun. Then something started to change…
The more things went perfectly, the more my husband and I started to think about keeping the “winning streak” going. We started to think about the progress we were making and the competition goals. Our focus shifted from “let’s have fun” to “let’s get it right”. As I am sure you have experienced in your life, trying to “get something right” is the opposite of feeling free and having fun. We changed and Bella felt it. She started to slow down in her runs and became less connected with Jeff in the ring. She didn’t come when he called her and she was distracted from the task altogether.
Bella was responding to the shift in energy and letting us both know exactly what she thought about it. She wasn’t interested in the heavy, anxious, and demanding energy of wanting to “get it right”. All she wanted to do was play and have fun with dad. Most importantly she wanted him to have fun and be light-hearted. Something that is not exactly my husband’s strong suit. By Bella sending us such a clear signal with her behavior, we were both able to take an honest look at what we were doing. We saw how quickly we got sidetracked from our original goal and intention, which was to focus on fun!
I am happy to report that Bella ended 2018 with multiple agility titles and is now competing in the Master Agility Class, but that is not what we are most proud of. We are most proud of the fact that her journey and our journey along the way was perfectly imperfect. There were mistakes, failures and mishaps along the way. And, as is often true, we learned more from each of the failures then we did from all of the wins combined. It was another wonderful reminder of how each and every day, in the smallest and largest of circumstances, our animals are always communicating with us to demonstrate just what we need to know to help us live our best lives.
This is the time for diets, exercise and creating a new you in
2019! I would like to suggest to you that we leave that hyped up energy aside
and choose a more realistic mindset that sets us up for success not only in
2019 but more importantly for the rest of our lives. What I am talking about
here is a shift that comes from the inside out versus the rearranging of
outside appearances, which is void of the inner grounding that really makes any
lasting change possible.
For years I was someone who made New Year’s resolutions and had the usual plans for weight loss, exercising and other miraculous transformations that I would somehow seize this time around even though they had eluded me in previous years. But the common denominator was that I was the same. Why would the changes stick this time around when fundamentally nothing had changed? I still viewed life as something that I could finally get into the groove of once my weight, relationships, and laundry list of other issues were solved. Then I could really get serious and start having a more elevated existence. I just had to get my life in order and then it would all work out.
Well let me tell you how that plan went. Not very well. It is
called the hamster wheel of suffering. Nothing changed because I was waiting on
the outside circumstances to dictate when I could finally be whole, at peace
and ready to live life. As though all the rest of the time I wasn’t truly
living life but was somehow practicing for the big grand moment when life would
finally start. Here is the sobering news. Your life is right now. Not when your
50 pounds lighter or you get the dream job, or find the perfect soul mate. Your
life is here right now, with the extra weight, the family drama and the job you
can’t stand. We don’t start living life once things fall into place. By
romanticizing that life and our true happiness starts after we have reached and
achieved any particular goal, we just guarantee that we will miss out on what
is right in front of us in the here and now.
So in application of that idea, here is what I did this year. In November I decided to make a major change to my eating habits. I purposefully did this during the holiday season instead of waiting for January 1st. This was important for me because I have known for years that certain foods do not agree with me and yet I keep trying to eat them in moderate quantities….which has NEVER worked for me. I decided that if I really wanted change, I had to be willing to do something different. I made a decision that was a shift in identity versus a temporary diet plan. Similar to when I became vegetarian, I shifted my identity to define myself as someone who didn’t eat meat. I never say, “Oh l would love some of that meat, but I can’t eat it on my diet.” This is an important distinction because in one scenario we are lamenting what we can’t have and in another we have made the journey without distance from our head to our heart where we have changed the way we see and define ourselves.
I am using the example of food simply because this was a personal area that has been a source of pain and burden for me. But this is true regardless of the area. Most of us know what we need to do to make our life work. The problem isn’t usually that we don’t know what needs to be done. The problem is our resistance to doing it. There is some area in your life where you know you would be served by changing your identity. By becoming a person who just doesn’t do X anymore or who does Y now instead. Make a decision and choose a path, because the saddest place to reside is in that familiar old place where we just keep trying the same thing over and over again and getting the same results. So here’s to real lasting change in 2019. The kind that sticks, the kind that will start a domino effect of blessings in our lives. As we say goodbye to habits that no longer serve us, we will make room for a new level of authenticity that has been there waiting to emerge.
As we wind down one year and begin another, I always find it interesting and informative to reflect back on the events, situations and circumstances that filled the previous twelve months. Typically at the start of each New Year we have goals, plans and ideas of how we want and hope the year will unfold. I am often surprised by the dichotomy of what I thought would happen during the year and what actually ended up happening – as the saying goes, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. Over time I have learned to surrender my ideas to the greater plan that the universe has for me and my life. This has resulted in much more peace, happiness and joy in my day to day life. However, this approach didn’t come easily to me. At first I struggled greatly to create the outcomes I wanted and pushed hard to make things happen in my life. I had the mindset that the only way to get something done was with lots of hard work, analytical thinking and careful planning. Most of the world will support this approach to life. It is the “take the bull by the horns” mentality that is commonplace thinking in the world at large. The great irony being that in my previous efforts to reduce my anxiety, worry and stress about life, I was actually guaranteeing that it would continue to be my primary experience. The mindset that I alone am the driving force holding my goals, plans and hopes together is by definition anxiety creating! If the only way my life works is that I have the responsibility to hold everything together through my own intellect, how could I not be worried and fearful? Feeling as though it all depends on you is terrifying. It is why people struggle to make decisions, have lots of push energy, and experience fear about the future. We can’t know what is coming around the bend or what twists and turns life has planned for us. When we are trying to make life happen on our own terms it can only create in us an anxious and worried mindset.
The good news is that there is another way. In order to access this alternative way, we need to reframe our understanding. Life is not “out to get us” and we don’t need to stand guard ready to hatch a plan that will save ourselves and our loved ones from whatever is showing up as the current worry of the day. This is essential to understand, because otherwise our life will continually be spent putting out fires, dealing with the next crisis and trying to solve yet another impossible dilemma. Einstein said that you cannot solve a problem at the same level of thinking that created it. That is what I am getting at here. It is a shift in mindset that creates the new awareness. As this happens, we begin to move into a deeper understanding, a recognition that life will present us all with challenges. From this new vantage point, we cease to view life’s challenges as problems to be solved and start to see them as opportunities for growth. This creates the space and presence of mind to recognize that our so-called problems are actually the method of our evolution. By replacing that faulty mindset with truth, which is that we live in an intentional universe, we can start the journey back to sanity.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t have goals or plans for the New Year, it means that we begin to have a relationship with life where we hold “our plans” loosely. Then we can release our attachment and drive to a particular outcome and open up the possibility for the universe to bring us even something better than we could have ever dreamed up on our own. Which brings me full circle to how I started, we are not doing this alone and we can relax into the knowledge that the same infinite intelligence that keeps the planets in orbit, turns embryos into babies and buds into blossoms can handle the circumstances of our life. According to the Talmud, every blade of grass has its own angel bending over it, whispering, “Grow, grow.” We just have to take our hands off the wheel and be willing to trust that the universe has our back.
I had an amazing opportunity to visit the Lubee Bat Conservancy, which is an international non-profit organization dedicated to saving bats and their habitats through research, conservation, and education. This was an eye opening and transformational visit in a variety of ways. I must admit that I have never really thought a lot about bats. I think I definitely fell prey to the stereotypes and old wives’ tales about bats…none of which are true by the way. Here are some bat myths dispelled by fact versus fiction.
Bats are not blind nor are they afraid of light.
Bats will NOT fly into your hair. They are actually just hunting for insects not swooping for your head. They know exactly where they are going!
Getting rabies from a bat is EXTREMELY rare. Less than 1% of all bats actually carry rabies.
Bats are NOT rodents. Bats are not related to rodents. In fact, they are most closely related to dogs…who would have thought that!
Bats are NOT scary. Despite the negative stereotypes surrounding bats, they are extremely intelligent and beneficial animals upon which we depend.
This rare opportunity to tour the Lubee Conservancy was both educational and an awesome chance to be able to view up close some of the most beautiful and exotic bat varieties in the world. When understood in true context and reality these creatures are just like any other animal we love and connect with…able to form relationships with their caregivers, be trained to respond to commands and demonstrate the true capacity for love and attachment to humans. No big surprise here, but it reminded me of something important…the fact that everything belongs and has a place in this universe. Not just traditionally cute and adorable dogs and cats, but every animal, insect, tree and human being. We don’t get to decide what has value and what doesn’t. Our job is to seek to remove the barriers within us that keep us from seeing the inherent value in all of creation. Another lovely lesson and important reminder from an unexpected teacher, a beautiful colony of bats!
…And just for fun, here a few facts I learned during my visit. Fruit bats are the primary means of seed dispersal for many tropical plant species and in certain areas of the tropics, bats are responsible for 95% of the regrowth of the rainforests. Insect eating bats, which are the main variety found in the USA, can eat up to 500 mosquito-sized bugs in an hour and are essential in controlling the insect population. Pretty cool, huh!
I am fascinated by people who seem to be unlikely candidates to lead and enact tremendous social change. Despite their background, economic status, lack of influence or political connections they were able to make a lasting and deep impact on our world. I think of people like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela – there are more I could name, but I think you get the point. I refer to them as the unicorns of humanity because it seems like they are quite rare as compared to society as a whole. I started thinking about it and the fact that we consider people like this rare only serves to make us feel that we don’t have what it takes to contribute something of that nature to the world. The view of them as “special” can serve to make us feel the opposite of what their individual causes were meant to inspire. It can create in us a sense of complacency about our part in any larger context of the world and allow us to sit by hoping that someone more capable, ready and prepared is on the task. The truth is that we all have the ability to enact change. We all have our own important part to play. We can cultivate our individual role in service to the greater good by choosing to become interested in the best of humanity instead of the worst of humanity. Everything from the programming we watch to the conversations we indulge in can make a difference. Are you interested in building people up or tearing people down? Does it matter if they share your views or vote the way you do? Does that make them less human or worthy of compassion, understanding and love? These are important questions. Because how we do anything is how we do everything. We are either willing to let love and compassion be our guiding principle in each and every interaction, or we are leading with judgement, cynicism and contempt. The idea that there is a middle ground is really not true.
The point of discussing this is to not get frazzled and anxiety ridden about what we are supposed to be doing or how we can possibly effect change when we are faced with such daunting global issues. The point is to realize that our attention, interest, reactions and interactions with each person we encounter makes a difference. Are we more interested in justifying our hatred or cultivating connection? When we start to change the way we connect with the world around us, our focus shifts and we see light, love and forgiveness in places we never thought possible. When we live from this place we don’t have to worry about what our part is or how we can help. The presence that we bring to each moment and each person we connect with will light the path for us. This isn’t hard, but it is different. It involves much more flow and allowing and less push energy and trying to make things happen. It also involves an honest inventory of our own behavior and mental positions. The result will be the ability for us to disagree on issues and hold opposing views without losing our common humanity.
I was asked recently how I came to be working as an intuitive animal communicator and what personal quality or trait was strengthened along the way that enabled me to step out and build this kind of business. I thought it was a really great question. It was something that I had not specifically sat down and thought about, but I immediately knew what the answer was. Without a doubt, I would have to say that for me this journey has been about learning to move forward in the face of fear – and learning to cultivate a relationship with fear versus letting it be in the driver’s seat dictating the direction and experiences I take part in.
So often we use the presence of fear as a sign to retreat and return to the status quo. But the growth and expansion we are seeking in our lives can’t happen in our comfort zone. That’s why it’s a comfort zone. It’s familiar, predictable and safe. Going for your passion, pursuing your dreams or starting to live your truth is the great frontier of the unknown. I mention this because I feel it is the baseline and necessary starting point in taking the spiritual journey of becoming the people we were meant to be in this life and to bring forth what we are meant to share with the world. I always laugh that the universe had to pick intuitive work with people and animals as a way for me to bump up against all kinds of paradigms, limiting beliefs and fears. Ironically, all that I just mentioned ties directly into the information that I receive from the animals over and over again. They are really just trying to support us in becoming the best version of ourselves and to live fearlessly!
With all of that in mind, it really boils down to one of two choices. Choice number one is that we can make friends with fear and realize that it is a companion on the path of life. By making this choice we realize that fear is going to show up anytime we push up against the boundaries of our current life. Paradoxically this will actually result in us feeling more freedom, flow and support from the universe because we will know from our past decisions that our personal fulfillment and satisfaction is on the other side of pushing past the fear. Choice number two is that we can let fear talk us out of anything that pushes us outside of our comfort zones. This choice means that our dreams, goals and gifts stay unfulfilled in the land of wishes, hopes, fantasies and fairy tales.
The universe and life itself is hoping you choose option number one. The world needs your gifts, talents and the unique offering that only you can bring. We are all intuitive beings by nature, and once we make friends with fear and stop letting it guide our lives we will begin to hear that small still voice of intuition directing our lives in amazing ways.
I have been busy this summer with preparations for my home to be featured on a garden walk. For months it seemed like my to-do list was never ending and as anyone who has a garden knows, the weeding, watering and deadheading never seem to end. I must admit, I was getting bogged down in the drudgery and losing my enthusiasm for something I usually love. Instead of looking forward to my time in the garden I started to feel like it was an obligatory chore that I had to “get done “and it was affecting my mood. I realized this was happening and I wanted to get my excitement back, I just didn’t know how to accomplish it. So I set a clear intention that I was willing to see and experience this situation from a fresh and new perspective. I left it open for the universe to surprise me in an unexpected way with something that would shift my outlook. Over the years I have learned that asking for the situation to change isn’t really what I truly need. The situation isn’t actually the problem, it’s my thinking about the situation that is causing the issue. I learned this tough lesson through the school of hard knocks. However, the good news is that whenever I sincerely ask for a way to change my perspective something inexplicable and unpredictable always occurs to bring that shift about.
Then one day, out of the blue, I encountered a hummingbird nestled into my bee balm plant. I stopped and just watched him, completely fascinated by the beauty and magic of this tiny miracle. In an instant I was brought to the present moment and felt lighter, relaxed and filled with joy. I realized in that moment I was missing the thousands of other miracles all around me in my garden. By turning something I loved into a task to be completed, I had effectively lost the zest and spark behind my original passion for creating the garden. In that moment of clarity I experienced the shift and fresh perspective I had been asking for. It came in like a quiet whisper, with no fanfare or trumpets blaring announcing its arrival….just a soft still moment of peace.
Over the following weeks the little hummingbird has continued to visit me multiple times a day – and every time I see him I am reminded to stop and see the joy, wonder and miracles surrounding me in the garden. Ironically, it seems like he makes his appearance just when I need a positive boost of energy. It is truly amazing to me how something so seemingly insignificant can have the power to completely shift my mood, outlook and state of being. This was a great reminder for me that a change in perspective can come in an instant and in the most unexpected of ways. A fresh way to view our current circumstances can literally be as simple as seeing what is right in front of us. Because as Wayne Dyer famously said, “When you change the way you look at things the things you look at change”. What miracles in your life are you overlooking that are right in front of you? I think it is a question worth pondering.
Recently I had an opportunity to experience the kindness of strangers in an unexpected way. I was returning home to the USA and my plane experienced an electrical failure. Luckily this was discovered before we left the ground, so we deboarded the plane and proceeded to wait for further details. What happened over the next 12 hours of waiting ended up teaching me much about the love, warmth and natural goodness of humanity. As the minutes stretched into hours I began to strike up conversations with many of my fellow travelers. I have to say, I met the loveliest people during those hours. We talked about our travel plans, shared pictures of our vacations and discussed our views on an endless variety of topics. I encountered so many wonderful people that it ended up feeling like a blessing instead of an inconvenience to my travel plans.
What I realized from that experience was while I didn’t have a choice about the delay, I did have a choice about how I experienced the delay. It started me thinking about the endless opportunities we have every day to turn delays, waiting or inconvenience into a beautiful practice of accepting the present moment with joy and curiosity. Fighting with the circumstances before us only serves to make us miserable and really does nothing to change what is happening. It only assures us that we will feel angry and frustrated while experiencing the situation.
Before boarding the plane some 12 hours after our originally scheduled departure, I approached the ground agents that had been helping us for all those hours. I thanked them for their assistance and told them how much I appreciated their kindness and great attitude during the long delay. That simple act of kindness took little effort on my part, but it clearly meant a lot to these workers. Tears welled up in their eyes as they thanked me and told me that it was nice to be acknowledged in that way. In the end, I was thankful my travel plans did not go smoothly and was actually grateful for the delay. I walked away with a deeper understanding of what it means to surrender to the moment in front of me and stay present to the opportunities for love and connection that are all around us…even in the most unexpected of circumstances.
Last year I traveled to Costa Rica to take part in a Horse and Soul workshop at the fabulous Leaves and Lizards Arenal Volcano Retreat. I was blessed to be able to return again this year and work with a horse name Titan. Here is a story about some of the amazing results that can happen with these horses during a workshop.
Part of the work we did this particular day was exploring the many different roles the horses display and embody as part of the herd. Roles like nurturer/companion, sentinel, dominant and leader. The horses know just how to flow and move in and out of these roles and they were teaching us how to embody healthy balanced versions of these roles. The hardest role for me to step into was the dominant role. This is not surprising because most of us have never seen this role demonstrated in a healthy and balanced way. We are usually familiar with people that are displaying this role in an overemphasized way and actually moving into a predatory type of energy. The horses have a way of showing us what it looks like to step into this role in a way that feels good for both the giver and receiver. I got to witness one of the workshop instructors demonstrate this with my horse and I could see that both of them were having great time playing with this role. It was a beautifully presented lesson on the give and take energy that can create a bond of trust and respect when done with the right intention.
Now it was my turn to work with Titan and explore taking on the role of dominant energy. At first it was not going well, he was calling the shots and I was letting him. I realized I was much more comfortable with nurturer/companion role and it was my safety zone of operations. If I couldn’t get what I wanted through that role I would often give up and give in, versus moving into any other role. But Titan was having none of that – he made it clear he trusted me and that I should trust myself. I started to see that not only was he supporting me through exploring this energy, he was enjoying it and wanted me to play with him. It was an epiphany when our instructor explained to me that a display of dominance is part of how horses play with each other and practice this role for when they need to utilize it. After I made the mental switch to realizing that I wasn’t hurting him or being unkind to him, I finally was able to allow myself to fully step into this energy. Titan responded with the behavior and energy of enthusiasm and most importantly I felt like we were connected and in sync in a way that I previously had not felt. It was truly amazing to feel the embodiment of that energy.
My takeaway from this encounter is that there is value, depth and richness in being able to move in and out of these different roles as needed. When we get stuck operating out of only one of these roles our lives feel unbalanced – and often our relationships and sense of satisfaction with our life will reflect this imbalance. The horses were demonstrating for all of us that there is a time and a place for stepping into each of these roles. Behind the willingness to explore these energies we will find more balance, empowerment and most of all more joy. This was only day two of our 8 day workshop, so stay tuned for more illuminating lessons from the horses!