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Dark Night of the Soul

The Dark Night of the Soul

The Dark Night of the Soul should never be allowed to take root in our lives. Our soul is like a garden, and we the gardeners. If we allow the Dark Night of the Soul to take hold, it can become permanent.

Pain and suffering is part of the natural flow of life. We all experience the Dark Night of the Soul at different levels, for different reasons.

However, if we let the grief, hurt, shame, guilt, or regret to take hold, we may never get over it as long as we live.

The Dark Night of the Soul is event or situational based, and always temporary. It comes during times of significant change or transformation. The length and strength of the Dark Night of the Soul depends on the depth of our spiritual dimension of being, a.k.a. the foundation of life.

There is no deeper well than that of self-pity. We all have the occasional moment of “Why me?”, or even “Woe is me”. One of the tools readily available to one and all is self‑love.

Not the self-love associated with narcissism. The agape self-love – self-transcended love ‑ that allows us to look at ourselves as we are, not as we wish we were.

When we look at ourselves with self-love, we do so with compassion and empathy. We provide ourselves with good companionship as we look at the scars, flaws, and the beauty, and the goodness. We accept it for what it is and embrace it with a loving gentleness.

When we can honestly look at our deepest selves with love and compassion, we can identify what the real need is, and then seek that to heal our suffering.

Living a positive lifestyle does not protect us from pain and suffering in the world. Each comes to us all at different times, in different forms, because pain and suffering are, like us, part of the natural flow of life.

One of the ways to approach pain and suffering is to observe it, and accept it for what it is, and then to take action.

The first step in taking action is to lean-in to your beliefs. When we lean-in, we inspire the light that lives inside of us. When the light is inspired, hope is sparked and grows.

The second step is meeting our beliefs half-way and taking action in our lives to change the course to something more manageable, while guided by our beliefs.

The third step is to step outside of our worry and fear, and engage with others of our beliefs to gain a sense of support and security. Before we can be the change we want to see in the world, we have to be the change we want to see in our own lives.

Right Spirit

Renew a Right Spirit Within Me

Renew a Right Spirit Within Me

We seem to have come full circle again in the life and times of the human race. Walt Whitman was a self-proclaimed religious skeptic, and a practitioner of deism, which was prevalent throughout 17th century Europe, which then led to the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century. There was much discord within the realms of organized religion, and many people turned away from religion altogether, in favor of deism and similar beliefs.

If you were raised in western culture, you were raised in the paradigm of individualism and the accumulation of material possessions. This strong focus on the physical and social dimensions of being is wreaking havoc on your personal and spiritual dimensions, leaving you at risk of, or in the midst of, a spiritual or existential crisis. This alone brings us to understand the importance of faith; the faith to persist, to insist, and to endure.

Sometimes, when it comes to our souls, the world can seem more like an arena than anything else.

Finding ways to create beauty in our own small world allows us to create sanctuaries for our souls. It can be gardening, painting, interior decorating, immersing ourselves in positive, calming music, or any of a million different ways.

These physical and emotional sanctuaries are an integral part of self-care. Allowing our souls moments of solitude gives us time to restore our souls after traumatic or transformative times in our lives. Or, just a place to rest in our everyday lives.

The important thing today is to remember that your spiritual identity is your own. How you choose to express or experience your spiritual dimension of being is ultimately up to you as a sovereign person.

Our spiritual dimension of being permeates throughout our personal (mental), physical, and social dimensions of being, and is often referred to as the foundation of life. It is our sense of spiritual self that carries us through difficult times, traumatic times, and guides us through our day-to-day mundane lives.

No matter what you believe to be true, cultivate your spiritual sense of being so that you have a foundation on which to stand when there is nothing else.

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The Divine, constructed wholly of Beauty, Truth, and Goodness. Within each of us dwells the Divine. In all the world dwells the Divine. In all the universe dwells the Divine. In all the outer of the universe, still, dwells the Divine. The Divine knows no beginning and no ending. It is expansive and constrictive.

We have free will to make decisions every day, regarding what is beautiful; what is true for us; and to act accordingly to our interpretations of beauty and truth in a good way.

Sometimes, we mess up. Sometimes, we make mistakes. Sometimes, we darken our souls. Sometimes, we darken the soul of another. Sometimes, we lose our way.

The beauty of the Divine is that it IS everywhere. It exists in nature, in our neighbor, in our cities and on our farms. When we lose our way, we simply need to find our sacred place and immerse ourselves in the Divine and make the connection. By doing so, we renew a right spirit within us, and we can allow the answers or healing to flow.

Engage in your beliefs, and you engage the Divine. Do this every day, and experience the shift to a right spirit within you.

You Can’t Do It Alone

I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free. ~Charles Dickens

by: Donna R. Wood

Like the butterfly, we create our own prisons; and like the butterfly it is only through our own fortitude, will, and desire will we free ourselves. The butterfly has an advantage; it breaks through the walls through instinct. It just knows at the right time that it must emerge and fly, or it will die. Contrary to popular belief, butterflies are not social insects. They live each day flitting to and fro, alone. (The great Monarch migration is not a social activity.)

People, however, are social creatures. We do not just desire the company of others, we need others. We seek out those who think, look, and feel the same way we do. This can serve in one of two ways: freedom or continued imprisonment.

There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who you want with you, and those who you don’t. Who do you want on your team? Those who would rather see you miserable like they are? Or, those who are willing to lift you up and carry you with them? My mother has told me, since the time I was young, “Surround yourself with useful people.

A few years ago, I got my wings clipped on both sides by people whom I had grown to trust. This threw me into a deep chasm of self-doubt, fear, second-guessing, and mistrust. I found myself spiraling out of control, until I heard the bars of my self-made prison clang shut behind me.

In a brief moment of survival instinct, I sought out the key to unlock the door. I made my cry out into the world, and the key was thrown to me by an unlikely benefactor. Sometimes, although another possesses the key, it is not their responsibility to unlock the door. In fact, they can’t. Especially if we are clutching the door shut with all our might, covering the key hole. He threw me the word, betrayal. I knew the second I received it that my whole world was about to crash down around me. I knew that the walls were about to implode and I was going to be crushed under the rubble.

Knowledge is power. That one simple word was the power that I needed to take action, or be lost to the ruins of my chrysalis. Asking for help is not in my nature. I was brought up a boot-strapper much like the rest of the people my age in North Dakota.

At this point I was so broken and comfortable in the midst of my chrysalis; I had to make a decision. I took the key and sought out another who could help me learn to use it. It turned out the key that was thrown to me was the master key to my life. It unlocked a lot of doors that had been closed years ago, although the toxicity from those events had been seeping through the cracks into my life the whole time.

If you do not take another thing away from this posting, please take this: You can never be free until you clean up the toxic waste from your past – and even from your present.

Metamorphosis

“Ordinary is painful when you were born to be great!” ~ T. D. Jakes

by: Donna R. Wood

When the Butterfly sheds the chrysalis, there will be loss. There will be collateral damage. It will be uncomfortable and even painful at times. But, when those wings unfurl for the first time, life takes a new path. It is no longer crawling along the branches and leaves, but floating above it all in victory.

I was born in the late 1960s with a congenital heart defect that could have ended my life before it ever began. It didn’t. I spent a good number of years wondering what I had been saved from; surely death at birth would have been a far better alternative than the life I had been born into.

This constant search for the meaning and purpose of my life led me down some very dark and treacherous roads. I found myself in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Everywhere I looked there was death and destruction. I was surrounded by living ghosts – people who only existed, until their bodies wore out, and the reaper came to claim them, one by one.

I was terrified, because I knew with each passing day I was becoming one of them. I found myself very much alone on a road with hundreds of people. We trudged along, bearing the weight of all our shame and guilt for decisions made or not made; for love given or withheld. We trudged along, dragging our baggage with us, hoping to find an oasis in the desert; a place to rest. The oasis never came.

In the end, I was a living ghost, the same as all the rest. However, in the depths of the wells of despair and demoralization, pain and humiliation, there was the glow of a soft flame of strength and courage. With each breath that sustained my life, the flame sputtered, clinging to the hope for redemption.

I struggled with my own perception of myself, placed there by each new label as it had been firmly attached to my soul – single mother [shameful,] Godless [damning,] damaged goods [demoralizing,] and poverty stricken [unworthy.] These are only a few of the labels that had been placed on me by the world; the world, not me.

In the realization that my life was a living testimony to those labels, I began to tear them off one by one.

I couldn’t change the fact that I was a single mother, but I chose to tear the label in half. Now, I am just a mother. How liberating that is.

I couldn’t change the fact that I am damaged goods, I was born that way. I removed the word damaged from the label, and the ‘s’ from the last word. Now I am just good. I am kind and considerate of others. I am not perfect, but I try every day to live in a state of soul over ego.

I could change my socio-economic status. I went to college and graduated – twice – and have recently returned to challenging myself through courses offered on-line. I took the only gift I was given at birth, the gift of writing, and capitalized on it. This is not what makes me simply worthy, but I will talk about this in a future post. Godless – how does one conquer the label of Godless in a world where being damned by your labels prevails? Just be Godly like all the rest? Being like all the rest didn’t seem to work out very well the first time, so it required a bit more work. I found that I could not expect or receive compassion from all the rest – I had too many labels to overcome. I could not expect or receive forgiveness from all the rest – I was a living ghost encroaching on the land of the truly living. I had nothing to offer, nothing to give. I was damned to the wilderness, where I had to find it on my own or not at all.

Your labels and my labels may not be the same; however, what we choose to do with our labels is what really matters in the end.

Breaking the Chrysalis

The butterfly is a flying flower…  ~Ponce Denis Écouchard Lebrun

by: Donna R. Wood

Most people at the age of five dream of being something extraordinary like a firefighter, doctor, lawyer or some other high level profession, but not me. I wanted to be a flower. Flowers were soft, delicate, and beautiful. My grandma and I would pick wildflowers in the fields and ditches along the highway, bring them home, and put them in a vase on the table. I would marvel at the menagerie of colors and design. Oh, how I wanted to be one of them. They were perfect in every way.

That’s the trouble with people; none of us are perfect. We go through life collecting imperfections born out of bad decisions, mistakes, or even through circumstance. We hold on to these imperfections, packing them neatly inside and drag them with us wherever we go. We become so weighed down by all this unnecessary self-perception of imperfection, we cannot begin to imagine the idea of taking flight in life.

I dragged around bag after bag of guilt, worry, bitterness, and regret. The weight of these bags became more than I could carry, but I insisted on taking them with me wherever I went. I would try to fly, only to find myself confined in the chrysalis of the life I had made for myself. I had constructed walls around me so high and thick that no one could get in, and in the process trapped myself inside.

It was dark in that chrysalis. Yet over time, the darkness became a source of comfort. It was familiar. I knew each pain and suffering by name and date. I knew all the characters that had played a role in their creation. I would reminisce in their moments of completion. I began to live in the memory of all that had been, and my world became very small, ending where the chrysalis began.

One day, I stopped struggling to get out. I just stopped. It was a pointless effort. I couldn’t do it. I thought I wasn’t strong enough. I thought I wasn’t perfect enough. In reality, I wasn’t brave enough. I was scared of all the new pains and sufferings that might be out there. It was painful inside the chrysalis, but the risk to emerge was too great. All the what-ifs came into play. What if I get hurt again? What if I’m not good enough? What if…what if…what if… If a butterfly stays too long in the chrysalis it will die. It will suffocate in its own skin, never having felt the soft summer breeze that lifts it to flight.

Every chrysalis has a weak point, a place in the wall that can and should be broken. But how? I learned, inside the chrysalis, where the source of true strength lies – inside us. We have to take that deep breath and expand until the walls break, and we are free. When a butterfly is inside the chrysalis, at the moment before it emerges, it swallows air from the outside world to expand its thorax and break the chrysalis open at the weakest point.

When the butterfly emerges it is no longer a caterpillar. It cannot carry the extra baggage from its previous state with it. The butterfly must leave behind the days of being a caterpillar. It must leave behind the days of struggling to survive – to find food, hide from predators, and live each day until the next. It must leave all the pains and suffering of its caterpillar days in the ruins of the chrysalis. Only then will it truly be free to fly.

Although a butterfly spends but two weeks in the darkness of the chrysalis, shedding its past self, I spent almost three years. Transformation does not happen overnight – for the butterfly or for people. The most frightening moment of the process is in the moment before emergence. Break the chrysalis anyway.

The Birth of Butterfly Phoenix

by Donna R. Wood

Emerge into your best self!

We live in a time when personal brand seems to be everything. Personal brand sounds so salesy and … well, fake; but is it? The world’s perception of our personal brand really depends on us. The authenticity of the brand is what matters the most. Are you being authentic, or are you blending in with everyone else out of the fear of being different?

For years, people would ask me what exactly Butterfly Phoenix is. For the longest time I didn’t have a satisfactory answer, because even I didn’t know. The title of my blog was Butterfly Phoenix. I published my books under Butterfly Phoenix Publishing. Everything I did online was somehow directly connected to Butterfly Phoenix.

One day, it came to me. The reason I didn’t have an outward answer was because Butterfly Phoenix is me. It is the culmination of a life that had an uncertain and rocky beginning, and would end as something beautifully transformed; not perfect, but transformed.

As I pushed forward to discover more about Butterfly Phoenix, I found more people who had discovered the authenticity of who they were inside, like my business partner, Adele. Although Butterfly Phoenix was born from my life experiences, I recognized that I am not the only butterfly in the kaleidoscope of humankind; nor am I the only phoenix that has risen from the ashes as something new and beautiful.

After years of chasing the almighty dollar, struggling to get ahead, I found my authenticity through living a lifestyle based on existential well-being, where I focus on living from the inside out. Every day, I try to balance my four dimensions of being, resulting in a life of wholeness and a sense of purposeful meaning.

Gratitude: A Thanksgiving Post

Thanksgiving Day marks the beginning of the holiday season here in the US. As lovely as the holidays are, sometimes the whirlwind of activities can get the better of us, and we can lose the focus of the season, especially that of Thanksgiving Day, tucked in at the beginning just before we hold our breaths and dive into the Christmas rush. It seems that the entire point of the day gets lost in participating in the season’s activities.

So this year, do something different. You can create joy and thankfulness this season; it only takes a slight change of perspective. Take a moment, whether it’s on Thanksgiving Day or during time that you set aside for yourself, and reflect on the people and things you appreciate. Remember what went well for you in the past year, what things bring you joy, and especially which people are your biggest fans and have been there for you through thick and thin: really feel your sense of appreciation and gratitude for their presence in your life, and for the changes you’ve experienced because of them.

Hold your appreciation in your awareness whenever you can, especially when you feel the rush of the season pressing in on you. Appreciation for the good people and things in your life can change your entire perspective, and give the holidays meaning  and a deep satisfaction that perhaps may have been lacking in the past.

True gratitude is appreciation.

True gratitude is appreciation for the good people and things in our lives, for the joys and challenges that create our day-to-day experiences. Appreciation defines us; it informs our outlook and influences how we move about in our world; it colors how we interact with others, how we value the people in our circles and care for the things under our stewardship.

True gratitude is a way of being, a chosen perspective. Gratitude, true gratitude, is cultivated by choosing to think on our blessings, those people, events, and things that give us joy, rather than focusing on the negative people and things that pepper our existence. It’s cultivated by choosing.

Rain falls on everyone; gratitude is choosing to see that it’s raining on one’s garden and not that it’s raining on one’s parade. Gratitude is choosing to see the glass is half-full and the wine bottle is too. Gratitude is being happy for puppy kisses instead of fretting about the fur on one’s pants.

Gratitude is transformative.

This kind of gratitude transforms our experience of life. It gives each day meaning, because it opens our eyes to the beauty and love and happiness that always surround us. We notice beauty and love and happiness in our world when we have them in our mind. Not only do we see more of these on days we intentionally choose gratitude, we start to see more of them every day no matter how we feel. Our senses and our mind are selective: our mind processes so much sensory data every moment that we can’t consciously handle it all, so the mind sends us data consistent with our habitual thoughts in a kind of sensory confirmation bias. We see what we expect to see because the mind thinks that’s what we want to see.

Fortunately, we can consciously filter the data we receive by managing our thoughts. When we do, we start noticing different things than we used to notice. As we notice different things, our experience begins to change, then our beliefs change, and then our circumstances begin to change to conform to our new patterns of habitual thought and our beliefs. This can work both ways; our experiences can change for the better or for the worse based on our thoughts and beliefs.

Like ripples in a pond, gratitude spreads out until everything is changed by its presence.

As our circumstances change, our opportunities change as well. New possibilities present themselves, new people appear in our lives, new talents and skills emerge that we may not even have known that we had. Suddenly, everything seems to change in a very short time. Our circle of acquaintances changes drastically, we no longer like to gossip around the water cooler, we spend our time planning a new business or volunteering in a new way or learning a new skill or making some kind of positive change in our lives. Often, our finances change, sometimes drastically; the future transforms into something challenging and exciting and encouraging and filled with hope and promise.

Pie in the sky? Not at all. By choosing to think in terms of gratitude, to be gratitude, to live gratitude, we begin to resonate with other things related to the positive frequencies of gratitude: success, money, happiness, opportunity, optimism, inspiration, change, forward motion – and similar people experiencing similar things in their lives.

Changing our minds changes our attitudes change our experiences change our beliefs change our circumstances change our future. During this holiday season, take some time simply to be gratitude. Meditate on it. Make it part of who you are. And expect to see changes in your life.

Inner Peace Through Forgiveness

The most difficult apologies to accept are the ones we will never receive. Sometimes, so much time has passed that the person or people who hurt us are no longer a part of our lives. How do we forgive someone who has caused us pain at our deepest levels, when we can’t, or don’t want to, speak to them face-to-face?

Forgiving and forgetting are two very different things. We are physically incapable of forgetting events in our lives, especially those that have caused pain. We are hardwired to remember pain as a means of survival. This is what makes it so difficult to “just let it go”, and creates the trigger effect.

In situations where the hurt is deeply traumatic, we need to first seek out professionals to assist in processing the powerful emotions. The professional can help us to try to understand what has happened and process how we feel about it.

There is no shame in seeking professional services. Millions of people do it every day.

But, what about the every day kind of hurt and pain that is inflicted? Disagreements or misunderstandings between friends and family, or even co-workers? The key is to get the hurt out of your system, before it festers into resentment or worse.

  • Write about it. Write down every detail of what you remember happened – on paper; not on social media. Create space in your mind and life to do this. After you write it all out, read it to yourself. You may want to read it out loud. Once you have written and read it, tear it up, shred it, or even burn it. Create a symbolic gesture of being done with it.
  • Meditate on it. Using focusing and visualization techniques, imagine yourself holding your hurt as a balloon and when you are ready, let it go and watch it float away. Again, creating a symbolic gesture of being done with it, and it is no longer a part of who you are. It doesn’t have to be a balloon. Use whatever feels right for you.
  • Choose to move on. We do not have to continue reliving hurt. We have the power and ability to make the conscious decision to move on. It’s one of those, ‘that was then, this is now’agreements we make with ourselves. It won’t happen overnight, but the more we choose to acknowledge the feelings and then let them go, the easier it becomes and the lesser the hold it has on us.
  • Live Well. They say the best revenge is living well. Although we have a tendency to hold onto the hurt feelings from the events in our lives, the person who has hurt us isn’t thinking about us at all. They are living their lives as though nothing happened. Hard to accept, but it’s true. Don’t invest in resentment and hurt feelings. The key is to keep our focus on living for our own happiness.

By holding onto pain and other emotions, we anchor ourselves to our past, preventing growth and progress.

We are not saying it was okay to hurt us; we are saying we no longer allow the pain to define us.

When we seek love, beauty, and kindness in the world, the world becomes a much friendlier place. When we seek compassion, mercy, and grace, we open ourselves to positive experiences and leave behind that which insults our soul. Accept the apology you will never get by acknowledging and processing the feelings associated with the event, and then live well ~ for you.

The Societal Disconnect

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
~ Dr. Viktor Frankl

If there were anyone in the world who had, or has, a bona fide reason to hate people, it would have been renowned Viennese neuroscientist and psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl.

Frankl, and others like him, survived the most inhumane of circumstances in the World War II concentration camps, yet despite the brutal treatment he received at the hands of the Nazis, Dr. Frankl carried on after World War II to become the founder of logotherapy, which requires individuals to take existential responsibility for their lives.

There is a certain angst that exists in modern society, where interacting with others is becoming a source for anxiety. Instead of working toward a solution, the mantra has simply become: “I hate people”. Seriously, ask yourself how many times a day do you hear this or something similar in conversation, or see it on your social media feeds?

We are, and have been, immersed in a societal disconnect, since the early 1990s, which was the catalyst for the book, Prozac Nation, an autobiography of Elizabeth Wurtzel’s experience with atypical depression. Ever since then, we have been on a downward spiral in regard to meaningful connections with others.

Admittedly, that is an overly-simplistic representation of a very complex issue that involves psychopharmacology, access to health care – especially mental health services – as well as the psychiatry and psychology of depression and anxiety. Depression, however, isn’t the only source of anxiety in our modern society.

Overindulgence: We’ve all heard the phrase, ‘Too much of a good thing’. Recently, ex-highly positioned executives of Facebook admitted that they knew and understood the psychological and sociological risks of the social network, but they did it anyway. Have you noticed the sudden shift to ‘doing good works’?

The onset of the modern internet began as a novelty in most households, and many, like during the birth of the TV, declared it a fad and moved on. The younger household members latched onto the internet, like the kids of 80s latched on to the early video games.

Well, the fad of the internet has become a household staple, just like the television. In fact, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to function in modern society without wi-fi or access to the internet. Most of North Americans’ time – an average of nine hours every day – is spent on social media.

Which leads us to the societal disconnect. Emboldened by the buffer of the internet, people of all ages are losing the arts of civil conversation, healthy debate, and collaborative working. This leads to cyber-bullying (in all age groups), fear of conflict, and even leadership failures.

The overly simplistic and unrealistic solution is just to stop using the internet or participating in social media. The reality is that we are all responsible for our activities and engagements off- and online. We are each responsible for our own amount of usage, how much time we spend with others in the physical world, and how we choose to engage or respond to the variables that exist.

Dr. Frankl could have chosen to’hate people’ and felt righteously justified in doing so, but he didn’t. He recognized that the one thing that had held it together for himself and others like him in the concentration camps was having a sense of purpose: surviving to the next day, or helping others in his barracks, or being wholly present and attentive to the needs of others in spite of the circumstances.

Loneliness and Social Well-Being

loneliness
Does loneliness mean you are missing meaningful connections with others?

Social Well-Being

According to Health Insurer Cigna’s 2018 U.S. Loneliness Index, 46% of Americans feel lonely sometimes or always. 47% feel left out sometimes or always. 43% feel isolated from others. Moreover, 43% feel like they don’t experience companionship, or their relationships lack meaning.

Technology plays a role in the epidemic of loneliness. However, according to the report it’s not the defining factor in whether a person feels their relationships have meaning. The true defining factors are our connections to each other in real life.

Combating loneliness

One way that we can combat loneliness in America is to reach out to others, instead of waiting for them to reach out to us. We can help those we think may be experiencing loneliness or isolation. This can be difficult though. We can feel a certain amount of anxiety-producing stress when reaching out. In addition, people in general do not want to be perceived as weak or imperfect, so they often suffer in silence.

Reach out to others

We are primarily responsible for our own well-being. However, we often find this difficult, because of our perceptions of the world, and fear of how the world will perceive us. We are social creatures by nature. We have a need to be with others for a sense of security and belonging. When we lose that connection, it’s easy to withdraw into ourselves, rather than seeking out others. We need to remember to recognize the humanness in each other. In addition, we need to help those who may be having difficulty asking for help.

Not all alone are lonely

Yet, we must remember that not all people who are alone are lonely. Some people choose to spend time by themselves sometimes. That doesn’t mean they’re lonely. Loneliness is subjective and is only an issue if it has a negative effect on the person’s sense of well-being.