Getting Closure from a Ghost

Getting Closure from a Ghost

Artwork by Owen Gent Closure normally requires two or more people coming together to consider each other’s points of view and come to a consensual agreement for how to move forward, together or separately. But if one or more people are unwilling or unable to undergo this ritual, we can be left with a lack of closure. When someone has ghosted on a conversation, commitment or conflict, it’s important to realize this as an act of indifference that counters belonging. Ghosting is all we believe we owe to a world on which we don’t feel we’ve made an impact. In a sense, it is to make yourself a ghost in your own life, dissociating from the importance of your presence in others’ lives. It is to withhold your disagreements, your longing to be seen, and to make yourself and others around you disposable. Unless someone is willing to hold you accountable, and be accountable themselves, they can never take a seat at the table of belonging. We need to show each other that love is worth wrestling for, braving ourselves into the fires of intimacy. We are not expendable. And we shall know each other every time we show up for conflict, hurt, and confusion. If you have invited such a...
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This is Not a Time for Modesty

This is Not a Time for Modesty

“The Summer Solstice is not a time for modesty. The wild world is not shy about its beauty and gifts. Plants and creatures are engaged in a no-holds-barred life-fest of blossoming and flourishing, each according to its unique essence, place, and purpose in this glorious weaving of Mother Earth.” – The Path of She, by Karen Clark There is a wildness in each of us. A way of walking, a set of spots, an inclination, a blinking impulse towards which we are silently drawn. Like an elephant finding water in a desert it’s never traveled, or a bird coming to fly with brand new wings, we all have this instinctual capacity. It is the animal in us, which knows what it knows, and is the origin from which all creativity is expressed. But in my practice I work with many medicine people who have sent their gifts for dreaming, seeing, and creativity into exile. These gifts, often forged in the belly of trauma, are sent into hiding because the world feels too hostile to use them in the open. Many take the path well-worn instead, because it guarantees safety. The way has been mapped and we know were it leads. But the price we pay is the life half-lived. To those willing to...
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Inhabiting the Shadow

Inhabiting the Shadow

Try as we might, there is no inoculation against shadow. No matter how dedicated we are to piety, good health or selfless service, we cannot distance ourselves from the grit and grime of being alive. The shadow will always find a way to enter our lives, but the artfulness is in how we dance with it, the degree to which we follow its lead. There is a powerful groupmind so pervasive that it is almost undetectable, which advocates for mass inoculation against shadow. It offers myriad activities and substances to keep us from depression, rebellion, anxiety and restlessness. It may even talk about shadow in a homeopathic way, offering us small, safe doses of theory and jargon, instilling the false confidence that we have any reign over chaos.  But until we become truly intimate with darkness, which is to say, respectful of that dangerous and powerful Mother, reverent of her compulsory initiations by wrath and grief, we are only making ourselves more susceptible to her possession. What is it to refuse inoculation? It is to aspire to our own humanity. Stepping away from the protective, controlled, masked persona to let ourselves be seen as we are. Just as fire can transform food from...
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The Bravery of Being Seen

The Bravery of Being Seen

I wanted to share a meaningful experience with you that I had recently, when I was invited to teach in a small community of like-hearted women, who not only live on a remote island, off-the-grid, but for whom sharing dreams is a way of life. Imagine if you can a small village of people who depend on each other for fresh food, emotional and physical support, a shared economy, and all the ordeals between birth and death. But then who also meet every week, to share their dreams! I was moved by how really brave it is to live with such transparency. When the most intimate material of your inner life is allowed into a trusted circle, you become able to live inclusively of your shadows and weaknesses, your aches and longings. And by extension, how inclusive you learn to be with others. So often I experience the quiet terror most people feel in being seen, being heard. And yet, to be seen, to be heard is the thing we want more than anything in the world. But because so many experience criticism, dismissal or invalidation the moment we brave our voice, our art, our vulnerability into the open, we learn instead to be silent, to be covered, to be small. It’s a matter of survival....
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Shame: What Covers You

Shame: What Covers You

Most people walk around for years without ever receiving a proper ‘Hello.’ What I mean by that is that most of us have been taught from the earliest age to suppress and discount the tenderest, most creative part of ourselves. This condition is what we call shame. When you consider the origin of the word shame, which means “to cover,” you begin to understand that, however misguided, we hold a secret and painful conviction that certain parts of ourselves are so ugly or unworthy, that unless we hide or cut them off, we will never belong or be accepted. Dreams, on the other hand, go straight for those things and throw off the covers. They work tirelessly to retrieve our forgotten, neglected and rejected soul-parts. It can be threatening to the ego at first, whose whole existence depends on keeping those things hidden. And while it is certainly possible to survive in this way, underneath the daily armour is an unabating hunger to be seen. So because of the intimate nature of dreamwork, one of the first things that happens is the ecstatic releasing of shame. Especially with dark dreams, which seem to contain perverse or violent images, but which are often speaking to the...
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Tending the Well

Tending the Well

In Celtic Mythology, the holy well is considered the source of all life. Certainly because it is the concealed origin from which water springs, but also because it is a gateway between the worlds; seen and unseen. Originally regarded as the domain of the Earth Mother, holy wells were places to which one would make a pilgrimage to offer gratitude for the riches of village life, petition the well priestesses and fairies for healing, and if you slept near one, you might even receive dreams foretelling the future. It was understood that if one of these wells would fall into disrepair, the village was at risk of losing not only their literal life-source, but their connection to the Otherworld. Each of us faces a time when when the holy well within needs tending. When we’re no longer able to bestow blessings on others because we’ve overgiven, or when something precious has been taken from us, or life’s demands are too great on our fragile system. But when the moisture goes out of our lives, and we’re no longer able to see beauty or converse with magic, we must ask ourselves how we can replenish our well-ness. Too often, we fall into the misguided belief that the...
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Singing the Wound

Singing the Wound

We must each in our own way resist the pull of apathy. Not only in relationship to the troubled world around us, but towards our own hearts. That icy spread around our hurt which protects us too well when it keeps grief frozen. That shrug towards our own wounding which regards our pain as common, and says, “what else is new?” We may have difficulty recognising it as oppression because we’ve never learned to give voice to the wound. But there is a song that needs to be sung from there. And anything that silences it, like the underestimation of our pain, the dismissal which says nobody wants to listen, or the inner cajoling with tells us to get over it already – all of these strategies which once protected us eventually become our own oppressions. It is the other voice – the one which has never been given encouragement, the one who is burdened with shame, who is terrified of emerging – this is the one we need to lend courage to. This means standing up defiantly and repeatedly to the invalidations we’ve grown familiar with, demanding the right with which we have been gifted, inherent to our life, to sing. Give up your vows of silence which only serve to protect the...
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This Too Belongs

This Too Belongs

For all the times someone has asked you how you are, and you felt pressured to say “I am well” when well wasn’t your whole truth. I offer you this, my wish that this writing finds you not just well, but all the things that being human asks of us. And to remind you that your being alive, in all its magnificent and complicated colours, is more than enough for love. This month I came across a powerful piece of writing by Johanna Hedva called Sick Woman Theory which seriously rocked my world. The article (soon to be a book!) is Hedva’s personal story of living with chronic pain and illness, but it’s also the story of anyone who is wrestling to find relevance in a world that aggrandises wellness. Hedva lucidly articulates how ‘wellness’ and ‘sickness’ are treated as a binary of opposites in our culture. And those who fall on the wrong side of those tracks are considered unproductive and therefore excluded from the collective conversation. But perhaps more insidious is how this estranges us from our own pain, our wretched illness, our terrible grief. We are so driven to ‘get well’ that we rarely show any welcoming...
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2015 Women’s Dreaming Retreat in Photos

2015 Women’s Dreaming Retreat in Photos

I am still glowing after a miraculous and meaningful retreat held in the mystical embrace of Salt Spring Island. Women came from all over the world with the shared intention of dreaming together in council. Mornings were magic as we tended to our dream journals in shared silence, while the mottled sky bathed us in diffuse light. And then we danced, grieved, laughed and played with our dreams! We dined under Stowel Lake Farm’s vaulted roofs and luxuriated in the land’s many other generosities. And in the evenings we gathered for ceremony around the sacred fire, singing and drumming our longing into the smoke until we collapsed again into the dreaming. In the end, we found we were an ecosystem, breathing but one story; a tapestry of togetherness and belonging. Here in images are but some of these precious women and the moments we...
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‘The Power of Silence’ [video] and Autumn 2015 Events

‘The Power of Silence’ [video] and Autumn 2015 Events

Silence is a power because it keeps what’s tender, what’s vulnerable away from the violences of scrutiny, dismissal and exile. But when does silence turn upon its keeper and become the captor? Please enjoy my new video below, speaking on the power of silence kept and broken, and how dreamsharing fosters intimacy in community. Also some quick announcements: I have extended the earlybird price to September 1st on the upcoming Dreaming Retreat on Salt Spring Island (November 20-22, 2015). I have just announced a new Online Dream Lodge (Sept 8 – Oct 27th) set in a time zone (3pm Pacific) especially conducive for Australia (9am AEST). Also in September, I will be coming to Montreal to present at the Conscious Heart Conference (Sept 25-27th, 2015). Find out more details below. Lots of love, Toko-pa Dreaming Retreat for Women Salt Spring Island (Nov 20-22, 2015) In this weekend retreat we will be living as a Women’s Dreaming Council in the mystical serenity of Salt Spring Island. In our daily gatherings we will work deeply with the wisdom of our Dreams, share story, ceremony and song around a sacred fire, and play with embodiment of our dreams. The intention of this...
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Stretching the Receiving Muscle

Stretching the Receiving Muscle

We’ve all heard the old adage, “It’s better to give than to receive.” And, surely enough, many of us have great difficulty in receiving – praise, help, love and support. Perhaps it is because underneath this seemingly pious phrase is the suggestion that to receive is to be the weak one, the needy one, the poor one. From this perspective, most of us would rather be the ‘giver’ than the ‘taker.’ Which I think, incidentally, is nuts – because giving and receiving happen simultaneously – like pollination, they are interdependent acts. So why do we hear nothing about the courage it takes to receive? Taken to its extreme, giving can even become pathological. We may give and give so much that we run ourselves ragged. We may even hang our whole persona on the misguided belief that if we aren’t always offering, providing and producing, that we could lose our standing in the world. But consider that receptivity is more than just a physical act; it is a rich set of qualities which allow us to live in reciprocity with our Selves, each other and the earth. These yin-based attributes include dreaming, listening, feeling, intuiting, waiting and perceiving. But because our...
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Redeeming Medicine of Dark Dreams

Redeeming Medicine of Dark Dreams

Like many people, I turned to my dreams when their ‘volume’ got so loud that I couldn’t ignore them any longer. According to the accepted standards, my outer life was thriving at the time. I was working as an executive in the music industry, living the so-called ‘good life’ of restaurants, hotels and exclusive parties. After years of being a musician, struggling to make ends meet, my ego really felt like she’d ‘made it’ in the world. But it all came at a tremendous cost. Not only was my health suffering from the burnout that comes with workaholism, but the things I truly valued – like creativity, community and beauty-making were being devastated by my neglect. It was then that I was initiated by my dreams. One night I was awoken by a bone-chilling dream, a dark mare which haunted me for weeks. When I was finally brave enough to look at it squarely, I was forced to question the direction my life was taking. After that all the vitality I had for my career suddenly went out of me, like a flame to a gust, and I found myself in a deep depression. For the next year, the dreams pulled me down into their mucky depths, where I came to face the terrifying loneliness which my hectic life...
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The Death Mother

The Death Mother

“Our culture’s wounding and belittling of the feminine and its values has led many mothers to mistrust the world and men to a greater extent than ever before, and this mistrust inevitably becomes part of the emotional heritage of our children.” –  by Massimilla Harris, Ph.D., and Bud Harris, Ph.D., from Into the Heart of the Feminine If you were the child of a mother crippled by her own devaluation, you may have inherited the feeling of being unseen, invalidated, or worse –  with the unspoken communication that you (or some aspect of you) was unwanted or even wished dead. Long after you leave the family home, the tyranny of this archetype that Jungian analyst Marion Woodman calls the Death Mother continues its reign in our psyches. Before you even think about attempting something new, asserting your voice, or stepping towards change, the Death Mother is there. Disapproving, denigrating, even repulsed by your impulse to expression and joy. Like Medusa, she only needs to look at you and raise a single eyebrow for your whole body to turn to stone. Rejection from the one we love most can be so devastating to a young person that we internalise the belief...
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Remothering Day

Remothering Day

To the multitudes of souls out there for whom this day is an excruciating reminder of what you yearn for but have never known, these words are for you. As you know too well, the Good Mother that is emblemized on this day, the one who is culturally exalted for her nurturing, selfless kindness, is only one face of the Mother archetype. If you grew up feeling unseen, invalidated, or with instability, violence or chaos in the home, you will have seen some of her other faces. Because our mothers are our first imprint of the world, that relationship becomes the blueprint for how we relate to life at large. If you experienced a scarcity of love and withholding of affection, the whole world can feel like place you aren’t worthy of belonging. You may dream of wandering in those dangerous, abandoned parts of your psyche where structures go to crumble; what little life there is scrounges and competes for scraps, and there is danger at every turn. Triggers, like today –  where others seem have an abundance of warmth you don’t – can be an express bus to the heart of this desolation district. Revitalisation of this vast and central wound is slow. But the first step to...
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Where is my vital edge?

Where is my vital edge?

As human beings, I think we are always walking a line between the creative and destructive. We are both compelled by our wild nature into new forms of living, while also aching for the stability and constancy of belonging. You may have known times when you were just one or the other. Maybe you came all the way untethered and saw what dangers and addictions, what loneliness comes with being rogue. Or somewhere, along the way, perhaps you made an internal vow to be ‘the responsible one’. But responsibility can be just as dangerous as rebellion. It can come on like quicksand, burying you in its requirements, turning your life a platonic hue. What may have started with an edge of penance, now crowds out the very rebellion which kept you feeling alive. Like the wise words of a young man who climbed the ladder only to discover more ladders, “I wish I’d made more mistakes.” And so we must find a way to walk between these things; alternately separating or uniting. Sometimes singing into the great choir of belonging means having a dissenting voice. At other times, the shelter we’ve built must be maintained as a refuge for others, and our creativity. At any given time we...
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Interview with Toko-pa: Be You Media

Interview with Toko-pa: Be You Media

It was a treat to be interviewed for Be You Media, by the lovely and talented Jenn Grosso this week. Our conversation turned to some intimate topics like depression, stage-fright and the book I’ve been writing on Belonging. I hope you find something useful here and I look forward to hearing how it lands with you: “In my own life, and in the lives of the  people I’m blessed to do dreamwork with, I found that the search for Belonging is the silent conversation behind so many of the other conversations we have in the open. And while we crave this elusive thing, so few of us feel as if we’ve achieved it. So this book has taken me deep into the question of exile in my own personal history and in my ancestral lineage, taking me as far as rural France where I’ve walked the same cobblestones my ancestors walked before meeting their death in the holocaust. And I’ve come to understand that belonging is not a place at all, but a set of skills that we in modern culture have forgotten. This book is an attempt to enumerate what I call those ‘competencies of belonging.’”  Read the rest of the interview...
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The Sound of Duende

The Sound of Duende

To explain the mystery and importance of Duende to artistic expression, Lorca tells the story of a great Andalusian singer whose performance leaves a modest audience unimpressed one night in a little tavern in Cadiz. “Here we care nothing about ability, technique, skill. Here we are after something else,” they seem to say. The songstress then tears at her expensive gown, guzzles a tall glass of burning liquor and begins “to sing with a scorched throat: without voice, without breath or color but with Duende” all to the crowd’s raucous approval. Lorca says, “She had to rob herself of skill and security, send away her muse and become helpless, that her Duende might come and deign to fight her hand to hand…” (from Terrance Hayes, More Theories of the Duende & Teaching the Inexplicable) As Nick Cave wrote, “All love songs must contain duende. For the love song is never truly happy. It must first embrace the potential for pain. Those songs that speak of love without having within in their lines an ache or a sigh are not love songs at all but rather Hate Songs disguised as love songs, and are not to be trusted. These songs deny us our humanness and our God-given right...
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The Grace of Nostalgia

The Grace of Nostalgia

What if nostalgia is not a fruitless dwelling on those irretrievable moments of the past, as we are taught, but an attempt by sweetness to reach you again? What if nostalgia is really located in the present, like a scent or ambiance which is gathering around you, should you avail yourself to it. As anyone who has been heartbroken knows, there comes a time when, long after loss has been well-lived with, a small melody of love always returns. And to your surprise, you may recognise the tone of that love as the very same love you believed you lost. It’s then that you know your love never belonged to another. Your love was always your love. And if you let yourself be unguarded to it, nostalgia may find its way back into the generosity of your presence once again.  
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Surrender your Silence

Surrender your Silence

On this, the longest night of the year, it is helpful to remember that we too are being called into our deepest dark. Down into the places we hide from view; where we store our grief, where we brace and hold, where we are ashamed and unforgiving too. When we speak of the ‘returning of the light’ it isn’t just a grace that this threshold season provides, but the call to our own revealing. We are being asked to acknowledge our untruths, to surrender our silence, to bare our fragile stories in the open. These are the acts which connect the fabric of our lives to the whole of truthfulness. Without proof, we trust that a way will be born then in the dark, out of nothing, by this braving forward. And we are rewarded with the dignity of a life which emboldens the poetry trapped in the silence of others, and tenderises us for a more articulated quality of love. A blessed Winter Solstice to you, beautiful Dreamers.
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Doubt and Deepening your Vow

Doubt and Deepening your Vow

In fairy tales, there is often a character whose sole purpose is to introduce doubt into your mission. Like a strong tide their influence can pull you away from the shores of your truth,  tempting you to renounce your secret vow altogether. These characters are not always unsympathetic – they may even be folks you admire – but when you are subtly attuned to your nature, you’ll notice yourself wilting in their presence, taking on their diminishing view of your abilities. Like eating something that doesn’t agree with you, this will give you a sour feeling in your belly, which sometimes grows into a rejection of life itself. In the worst of times, it may seem to stretch into an ocean of lostness in every direction. When you find yourself in such an untethered place, there is a secret  which can anchor you back into intimacy with your vow: The recognition that you are only susceptible to the invalidation which matches a companion vulnerability in your own standpoint. Now, this isn’t to say that the other is not being an empirical jerk, but that in their jerkness, they’ve brought to light a place within that requires fortification. It is the thing...
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