THE LISTENING SEED
I woke up at 5:30am, like I did every day. The sun had not quite risen, but the dawn was there, outside my windows, filling the sky beyond the trees. I brushed my teeth and drank a big jar of warm water. I went out my apartment door and down the grand staircase of the Victorian mansion I lived in on Capitol Hill.
At the foyer I knocked on a door with a brass number 4 on it. A sleepy voice said to come in, and when I did I found my friend sitting on the floor in the kung fu pants I had given her, tying her shoes in the dark.
I grabbed her sword and added it to mine in the canvas sack slung on my shoulder. Then we headed out the front door, down the sprawling patio steps, and walked across the quiet city street to the still city park where we practiced kung fu like we did every day, before the quiet became loud and the still became bustling.
There was a year of my life when I pretty much did whatever I wanted.
I was free to be wild, to act out, and to rail against the norm. So what did I do?
I woke up early and taught sword to my sister. I had a luxurious hour-long morning stretch and prayer routine. I meditated several times a day. I made my own meals using organic ingredients and brewed my own Kombucha. I read a lot. It took evening walks. I held private ceremonies honoring the moon cycles. I cried when I felt like it. I cranked up my reggae and had daily dance parties by myself. I practiced every single one of my kung fu forms every single day. And I went to bed early.
Photograph by Brea Fisher
It was the most free I had ever felt in my life, and all I wanted to do was take care of me.
This is radical self-care.
Radical self-care is making yourself a homemade meal even though no one else is there to enjoy it with you.
Radical self-care is calling in to work because you need to go to the mountains and sit by the river in order to make it through the week.
Radical self-care is letting yourself cry— even though it makes your lover worry.
It is calling a friend when you need to talk even though you haven’t reached out to her in six months and you need to bypass the small-catch-up talk and get right into it.
It’s realizing you’ve caught that cold that’s going around and even though everyone else you know still works full-speed-ahead on a cold, instead you make yourself ginger honey lemon tea, leave the dishes dirty on the counter, and take yourself to the hot springs for a healing dip.
Radical self-care is radical because it’s doing what you need to do to take care of yourself no matter what.
No matter what, I’m going to go to that yoga class I’ve been thinking about for weeks… Because I know it’s what I need.
No matter what, I’m going to not talk to my mother about my plan to quit my job… Because what I need doesn’t involve getting lectured to about what she thinks I need.
No matter what, I’m going to throw myself a birthday party because last year I was depressed and lonely… And what I need is to feel loved.
And no matter what, when I make the decision to do what’s right for me, what feels good to me in my heart— what I know I really need to be my best me— no matter what, I am not going to feel guilty for taking care of me first.
Did you feel that? Were you there with me on that one? Can you put yourself there for a minute again?
How often do you feel guilty about doing something you know is good for you?
How often do you not do that thing you know you need, because you think you’re letting someone else down?
How challenging is it for you to override that feeling that you should be doing x, y, or z, and do what you need to do anyway?
The more challenging it is to stand your ground on doing something you need, the greater your need to do it.
It’s similar to that thing that happens when you feel what my grandmother used to call “general malaise” and you think, “Screw it. I’m not going to tai chi tonight.” (Or yoga, or dance class, or the backyard chickens meet-up group— whatever it is you do that makes you feel happy and connected.)
What happens when you let your general malaise stop you from doing what you love? You feel worse. You feel way worse.
And what happens if you don’t do that thing you love, that lights you up, that makes you feel alive— what happens if you don’t do it because you feel guilty about being selfish, guilty about being self-indulgent, or guilty about not taking care of them first?
Oh yes, you know who I’m talking about-- that them. Them who have gotten used to you taking care of them first. Them who need you to not take care of you first otherwise who knows what may happen— they may get the same idea and then what will happen then?
Self-care chaos! A bunch of people getting their needs met first, without asking permission, without bothering to find out if it puts someone out, without even worrying that it may affect the lives of anyone else!
Oh, that is radical self-care at its best!
That is radical self-care for the highest good of all.
Radical self-care for the highest good of everyone is the understanding that taking care of yourself first means you allow the space for those around you to take care of themselves first, too.
Radical self-care for the highest good of everyone is what creates a world of people who value their wellbeing so greatly they are willing to let others think they are being let down when really it is the opposite.
Radical self-care for the highest good of everyone is standing powerfully in one’s decision for health and happiness and knowing beyond a doubt that it is the only thing you can possibly do in this world to help anyone else.
That’s right. It’s the oxygen mask example, full-on. Should we do this? Here it is:
You can’t help the dude sitting next to you put on his oxygen mask if you’re about to pass out due to lack of oxygen. Gotta put that thing on you first!
You’ll need a pen and paper (or a device you can take notes on, but physically writing does deeper work with the psyche.)
1. Check in with yourself. All of you— your body, your mind, your heart, your spirit. What do you need? What do you need physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually?
2. Close your eyes and ask yourself, “WHAT DO I NEED?”
3. Write it down. Big. Keep it simple. No paragraphs. Just a clear, concise one-liner.
4. Now, make a list of all the things you love to do. List everything you can think of that lights you up, makes you feel good, makes you feel alive, connected, free, at peace, healthy, grateful. List all the things, simple to grand, that make you feel better in this world.
5. Keep this list where you can see it regularly. Put it on your fridge or your mirror, or pin it up at your desk or altar. Fold it up and stick it in your journal or handbag where you have it with you all day long.
6. Refer to this list often. And add to it as you think of things. It’s amazing how fast we forget to do the things that make us feel alive. Keep it for times of grief, or times of general malaise. Pull your finger down its items on a day you know you’ve been working too hard.
7. Choose one of those items right now, and commit to doing that today. No matter what.
When you live your life saying yes to all the things you know are for your highest good, it means you are fully there for others when they really need you. It means by doing so you give those people the same opportunity to say yes to the things in their highest good. And it means that we collectively begin to shift the paradigm that taking care of oneself first is selfish.
Total, unapologetic, uncompromising self-care is the most selfless act one can make.
Where do you deny yourself what you know you really need? When do you feel guilty for doing what makes you feel alive? This is something that your mind may want to push away, so if that’s you, it means you probably really need to give this a shot. Or maybe this is your big excuse to do what you’ve been itching to do for a long time now.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Some years ago my love and I were in Aspen on a warm summer day. We were camping way up on Independence Pass and had come down to get a good dose of high society in the mountains… And ice cream.
We threw the disc at Paepcke Park, which ended up being a legendary frisbee round for us, and afterward we were ready for a celebratory treat.
There had to be an ice cream shop somewhere amidst the Prada and Louis Vuitton, but we couldn’t find it. We had circled around the small downtown square twice, went down nearly every street, and got new directions— all different— from people willing to help us on our hunt.
We were beginning to believe the unthinkable: there is no ice cream in Aspen; and it was starting to make us feel irritable, and a little insane.
So I decided to tune into the signs. Not the shop signs; those we had been scrutinizing for the last 45 minutes. It was the omens, the symbols, the subtle language of pointers from the Universe— those were what we had to look for and follow.
The answers we seek are always making their way to us at the very instant we begin to question; we only find them when attuned to their frequency.
Clearly, my sweetheart and I were not dialed in on the right station for ice cream omens. In fact, at the exact moment we were unknowingly passing the shop I was saying, “Every single thing we are looking at here in this scene before us— they’re all signs telling us something!”
We were so busy talking about signs, we completely missed the one sign (literally) that we had been searching for.
Reading omens takes practice. It’s a skill and you need to work at it in order to know what the signs are telling you.
Whether you believe it or not, let’s say that it’s true: every single thing that comes into your experience has a potential message for you. How do you know what they’re all saying?
First, let’s begin with archetypes.
Archetypes are images that inspire universal ideas within us. They bring up feelings that have been attached to these images so long it’s as if they were the first mold of the sense they summon. In that way, these images become symbols.
Photograph by Brea Fisher
A rainbow; a snow-covered mountain peak; a shooting star— like these strong emotion-eliciting images, most archetypes are of the natural world; they transcend time.
Most of us have the same general feeling when we think of a rose; it is a symbol of beauty, the sweetness of life, pleasure, and its thorns signal a sense of protection.
You see a rose while thinking about a troubling conversation you had with a friend. What could that mean for you, knowing the archetypal symbology of a rose? Maybe the rose is there to show you that the sweetest friendships are those with depth: a collection of beautiful and prickly moments, all together.
The ocean is an archetype for vastness, of depth, mystery, and power. When we find ourselves needing spiritual assistance, if we have the means to go to the sea, we are soothed by the feeling we get by simply watching the waves roll in, and roll out.
So maybe you’re at a transition in your life and you need to make a choice that seems like it will lead you either one way or its opposite. There’s a lot of pressure there, so interpreting signs can get tricky, but you give it a try anyway:
You hold the question in your heart and you ask for a sign. Then you go on a walk to see what you see.
As you journey across a field you find yourself thinking about option A; the sky is clear and the birds are twittering their songs. The breeze gently wisps your hair.
Then you shift into imagining what option B would be like. A raven’s cry suddenly pierces the air. A strong gust of cold wind pushes into you and you notice that a deep gray is beginning to sweep its way across the sky.
What does it mean?
Going by archetypes alone, you might interpret those signs as telling you that the first choice will be pleasant while the second choice will bring challenge.
But it could mean something else entirely if you happen to know the raven as an animal totem and consider it to be a messenger of renewal and healing. Or maybe for you a clear sky is boring without an array of clouds to study.
We all have our own personal symbols; what one image means to you may be very different from what it means to another.
When it comes to interpreting the signs that are presented to you, it’s best to go with your gut.
When you get good at knowing how something makes you feel, you’ll start understanding the language of symbols.
One way to get better at identifying how you feel is to take time to check in with yourself from time to time. Settle the body, quiet the mind, and really listen to what it feels like to be in this moment, right now.
Qigong is an incredible gift for those seeking ways to better connect with that silent, still, teacher within.
For today’s challenge, I’ve created a lesson film that corresponds with the energy of spring— new possibilities, growth, change, and eagerness for what’s to come. This optimism and hope brings about an inner kindness when the liver qi is flowing smoothly.
You may also experience bursts of sudden anger during springtime. Anger has meaning, too, so allow yourself to feel it before you just push it away as “negative.” However, if there is excess anger being expressed, you may need to balance it out, and this wood element qigong form, called Liver Harmonizing, will help you do that.
To fully benefit from this form, practice it daily, especially through the spring season, which ends, according to the Chinese seasonal calendar, on May 5, 2017 when we transition into “Start of Summer.”
The process of balancing the qi within you helps bring you into an energetic space where you are better able to understand the symbols, signs, and omens surrounding you.
Qigong, tai chi, yoga, meditation— practices like these slow the breath, relax the body, and quiet the mind, which in turn creates space for you to take notice of the signs being presented to you on a daily basis.
Because if you’re not quiet, you’ll walk right past the ice cream shop of your dreams, even if what you’re talking about is how to follow the omens to get there.
We did end up finding the ice cream shop eventually, by the way.
Do you have a similar story about missing signs because you were too busy to notice? I’d love to hear what this article brought up for you— leave a comment below.
And if there is someone you know who could use a little inspiration on omen-reading, send this article their way. I’d so appreciate you sharing it.