Underneath all the striving on my own personal battlefield has been the driving force of lack. A thinly veiled survival fear has come to the surface as the veneer of security has vanished. At the edge of the precipice, that precious thing I grip so tightly feels like me, like life itself, as if running out of money is the equivalent of dying.
This sentiment seems overly dramatic and I would be tempted to dismiss it if I thought it was mine alone. Yet a few conversations with friends who have felt the same fear, and the stories of people who have made the feeling of looming death manifest through their financial-lack-driven suicides alerts me that I have tapped into a dark river flowing underneath our culture. My drama reflects a wider, more universal drama.
I have spent many moments contemplating my fear when I remembered to stop running to wine and Friends reruns. Some of the fear seems logical, as when I see I don’t have the current income to pay living expenses. Yet, true ‘bag lady’ homelessness is still a distant likelihood when I have family and friends with means.
But if physical survival isn’t really at issue logically, how could there be such a visceral terror? This isn’t the same fear I taste hiking alone in the mountains, hearing a large animal in the brush nearby or slipping and nearly twisting an ankle miles from home. In that case, the fear has an enlivening quality. My whole body becomes enervated, senses heightened, instincts alerted. The fear is mixed with what feels like excitement.
When I look at my bank account balances, though, the sudden onslaught of fear feels entirely different. Instead of enlivening, there is a deadening. In place of heightened senses, there is a flush of blood to my face followed by it completely draining away. I even feel slightly dizzy, off balance, rather than ready to run. Upon a closer look, I realize my reaction to what I judge as my dismal financial situation feels much closer to shame than fear. Shame, the one emotion I least want to feel; the one emotion that makes me want to disappear. Is this the ground underneath the path to the act of taking one’s life?
One evening, in the grip of my terror/shame over my finances, I had the presence of mind to sink fully into it, sitting on the edge of my sofa and feeling the Earth beneath my body. Instantly, I had the sense I was OK, even more than OK. There was nothing really wrong at all. I sensed clearly my soul’s voice, saying: I am living the perfect life, following my soul’s path. I have everything I want right now. I am living my dream!
The shame vanished and tears of relief streamed down my face. I recognized the truth that I was, indeed, more than OK in that moment.
There was a similar experience a few years earlier, when I had nearly depleted the 401(K) retirement investment account left from my corporate days. I was living in Portland, a partner in a natural medicine clinic, scrambling to help keep that business running as I also worked to create my own practice as a healer. One morning I sat for some time on my big red cushion on the old wood floor of my bedroom. I bowed and got to my feet, and walked past the living room windows on my way to make breakfast. The words formed in my mind, emphatic: “You will have what you need when you need it.” God? Goddess? Or perhaps my Soul’s clear voice. Again, I was filled with gratitude at the reassurance.
A few months later, my fear was triggered yet again to such an extent I found myself on my knees on the same bedroom floor, in front of my meditation spot facing my altar. This time I was not listening but begging for help, for relief from the financial precipice. The very next day, I had lunch with a friend with whom I had worked in the corporate world. During our conversation, she casually asked if I had received the pension buyout offer coming from our former employer. I smiled at the blatant answer to my prayer.
Draining the accounts of patriarchy
My journey took me deeper and deeper into the financial hole over the following few years. My partners and I relinquished our natural health clinic to pay off a disputed debt. We went our separate ways, each with our individual share of our collective losses. The pension buyout funds were spent in the ongoing transformation of myself and my work. My last chunk of cash brought me home to Montana and the mountains of my childhood, where I continued the healing and re-creation journey.
About two years after moving I had this dream:
My insurance company has dissolved and I need to look for a new one. I am in a large, comfortable room along with a number of other women; we are filling applications and waiting to see the insurance agent.
The ‘insurance company’ on which I had relied for most of my adult life, namely the corporate, patriarchal world and its business model, was no longer caring for me. I needed a new form of insurance, as did many other women. I was in the process of fully relinquishing the old way of ‘making it happen’, but was still in the process of signing up for a new way.
A few days after the insurance dream, there was another, more disturbing dream:
I am in a dirty, old motel room. After taking a shower, I walk barefoot across the gritty concrete floor to look in the cupboard for my socks. Inside, I see two halves of a woman’s body tucked on the shelves, plus the top half, only, of a second woman I recognize as me.
I wake flooded with grief. I have lost my connection to the lower half of my body, my root and foundation. I am cut off from my power. The dream theme shows up in waking life in my body as I discover a habit of movement that prevents me from accessing the strength of my core. As I begin to rehabilitate the pattern, my low back troubles lessen demonstrably.
As I look for non-physical ways in which I give away or fail to exercise my power, I find they are legion. In one small example, I allow a yoga student to claim a discount for one of my classes that does not apply. In another, I demur to a companion in a small decision rather than expressing my own preference. The failure to claim my power shows up in my reluctance to price my services, and more subtly as a niggling fear I don’t have anything of value to offer.
At last, I’ve found the heart of the matter.
The day after the cut-off woman dream, I go for a walk along the Yellowstone River. The weather alternates between sun and clouds as the wind sweeps it through. I climb the hill to the plateau above, aspiring to a view down into the bald eagle’s nest on the river flats. As I stand on the hillside, a golden eagle soars along the edge of the plateau, against the wind, and pauses in mid-air twenty feet above me, stationary in the sky for what seems like many minutes. I feel a bestowing of permission for staying on a course of choosing freedom, as well as for claiming power.
Feelings = reality
One of the goals, if you will, of a spiritual practice is finding equanimity and poise regardless of external circumstances. Once we know on a visceral level we are OK no matter what, we can respond so much more skillfully to whatever presents itself in our lives. Equanimity is not the same as indifference; the two qualities are considered ‘near enemies’ in eastern philosophy, or in the words of wonderful astrologer Caroline Casey, indifference is the ’toxic mimic’ of equanimity.
True equanimity is more balance than detachment; not above-it-all but right in the thick of it, while remaining connected to a deeper center of it all. I teach it; I demonstrate it in many situations. Yet, I barely even knew equanimity existed when I logged into my online banking portal for a long time. I was doing well if I could remember to breathe, let alone feel my body. Frankly, it was easier not to look at all most of the time - not an effective strategy, unsurprisingly.
As spring returned in 2017, I expected my energy to return with it, as had always been the case in past years. But it didn’t. As I continued to panic over my finances and cast about for ways to support myself, I fell deeper and deeper into what felt like a black hole of lethargy and fatigue. A friend gave me the name of a distance energy healer and I called him for help. On the afternoon he ‘worked’ on me, I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. When we talked afterwards, he told me the story of removing creatures from my throat in another dimension that had latched on in a previous incarnation at the time of a particularly terrifying death. While I didn’t know what to think of the story, the difference in how I felt was unmistakable. I quickly began regaining my energy, even as I knew I needed to make a decision about whether to give up my home to reduce my living expenses.
As the Sun moved into Taurus in the spring of 2017, marking the ancient holiday of Beltane, I made a trip into the mountains for a weekend. The weather was sunny and warm for the first time in what seemed like months and much of my time was spent on the front porch, relishing being outside. One afternoon I climbed up the hillside meadow across the creek and asked the shooting star flowers if they would allow themselves to be made into flower essence medicines. As I sat with them, clarity came: I would move back up to the cabin for the summer. Once the decision came, the fear dissolved. For a while.
It is easier to see the turning points as I look back. The cut-off woman dream was one of them. Along with the eagle’s blessing, it constituted a beginning of my return to my own self-worth. I continued to look for ways in which I said ‘no’ instead of ‘yes’ to receiving money, respect, even little things like compliments. At the same time, my descent into debt continued. Without realizing it, I was looking for a bottom. I didn’t realize until much later that there is no bottom; descent could continue for a long time if I didn’t stop falling.
As I read back over this long chapter of my life, I see the stages through which I’ve had to pass to get here: the crux of the matter; the bottom of the abyss; the turning point.
The first stage was a form of avoidance, as I strove to find my next ‘career’ I didn’t notice I was repeating the same strategies of control and over-effort that failed me, at least physically, in my corporate career.
Next came the magical thinking phase, relying first on surrender and prayer, then psycho-analysis, energy healing, and reviewing past lives.
Last, there was a ‘manifesting’ phase, not quite as off-base as popular new age methods, but close.
The work was all necessary, just the tests required along the way before I could unmask the fake wizard behind the curtain. Just as Dorothy and her companions discovered, I’ve had the answer all along. In fact, I’ve been dancing around the edges of it for the whole journey, yet not quite ready to face it and make the required commitment.
I’ve been clinging to the edge of the cliff while trying to fly.
Two days after the Capricorn Full Moon, I am sitting on the porch steps at the family cabin. A wave of relief, trust, and gratitude washes over me, coming out of the mountain air. It brings a clear knowing that I must make a choice between service and financial security, just as I once chose compassion and love over enlightenment, even as I know they are not mutually exclusive. It comes down to intent, and intent must be singular. Over the next couple of days, I sit with this choice, and am unable to make it. The thought of renouncing my intention to receive money, to be financially wealthy, to take actions that bring me more money fills me with stark terror. My mind simply will not go there. It seems crazy, to stop trying to manipulate my offerings and actions for money. And, it goes against the grain of every external message I hear when I come down to town from the mountains. In the mainstream social media world, there is offer after offer to help me build my list, write a best-seller, make six figures, reach a bigger audience, charge ‘what I’m worth’, and so on. The New Age messages are all variations on how to manifest abundance.
One afternoon, I decide to go for a walk in the woods, still mulling over my death-grip on control and abundance. As I climb over our fence into the deep forest, I find a deer antler, and fasten it into my daypack. A hundred feet further, I am in mossy woods among tall trees, the ground criss-crossed with game trails showing the route through the downfall. As I pause to look around at the plants and soak up the quiet, I see antlers poking out from under a rotting log. I pick my way down the slope and triumphantly pull out a matched set of elk antlers, slightly green from the damp. The fact that I was not looking for antlers when I found them is not lost on me. I manage to attach all three antlers to my tiny daypack and climb up the animal trail, marveling at the weight and awkwardness of the antlers and the animals that carry them so effortlessly. All of them are chipped on the ends, spurring visions of sparring matches. My journal notes that day muse that perhaps my first step toward relinquishing control is simply honoring the generosity I receive without immediately worrying about the next need. Then, “Maybe the secret to manifesting is to stop fucking trying to manifest. The death of control, indeed.” The next day, the gift of elk antlers becomes the close encounters with two bull elk.
In my dream, I am in a large canyon on a river, a cliff rising behind me. I am with a number of other people who are painstakingly searching for and bringing to me beautiful stones, placing them in a pile at my feet. A large, black helicopter shaped like a zeppelin appears over our heads, menacing. I am terrified and pointing to it, trying to alert the others, but they seem unconcerned and continue to gather stones. The helicopter hovers in front of me and someone beckons me into the black interior through the open door. I squeeze through. When I come out again, everyone is gone and I follow the path they have taken. As I wake, I realize I have left their gifts behind in my fear.
Two days later, I notice I have come to some resolution, but it is not yet conscious, only a subtle, felt sense of release.
The week before the first eclipse of the summer, the darkest of the shadows rises to the surface. Someone makes a seemingly flippant New Age “it’s all good” comment, ending with the thought that even death doesn’t sound so terrible from all those who recount near-death experiences, and I unload. My words are along the lines that there are fates worse than death, including the fear of not knowing how the bills will be paid. As my words rang in my head later, I saw the darkness I was projecting and it gave me pause.
A day later I am on a short walk along a creek in an out-of-the-way part of the mountains. For no discernible reason, I am nervous. I sit and become absorbed in some tiny mosses on a rotting log, then finish my walk without incident. The next morning, I go on a longer journey up the mountain, determined to find a huckleberry patch I remember. A portion of the trail was along an elk path deep in the forest; fresh bear scat sits beside the trail early on. A little later, I notice fresh bear tracks in the mud. I briefly wonder if it would be wiser to turn around. I continue along an old but rarely used horse trail to a favorite high meadow, my first time venturing to this place alone. After a leisurely lunch I begin my descent, stopping at the huckleberry patch to gather and snack. The chatter in my mind is illuminating: how many berries should I pick? Am I stealing from the bears by taking them? Are there enough? It is a litany of scarcity.
On the way down the mountain, I ruminate on the voices in my head, that warned of ‘not enough’. I notice, too, the general lack of fear at being alone in the mountains. For so long, I have labelled the emotion that lurks in the background of waking life as ‘survival fear’. It shows up as the cold sweat when my bank balance appears too low to cover my upcoming bills, or my mind wanders into expensive potential ‘what if’ scenarios. I can find the same apprehension if I venture into wilderness what-ifs, such as ‘what if I slip on this steep side hill and sprain my ankle?’ Or ‘what if the bear has cubs and is between me and the cabin?’ But in the pure presence of the mountain, the what-ifs lose their power and the answers come quickly: Trust Life. Let go of any attempt to figure out the future and simply take one step at a time down the path, through the meadow, over the rocks, across the creek. I pick up a smooth, flat, round ‘worry-stone’ from the carpet of needles in the trail and carry it down the mountain. What if I stay present, enjoy this freedom, trust Life?
With stone in hand, my daily practice becomes remembering my deep feeling of trust on the mountain, the knowing I can take one sure step at a time on the path, trusting. The words of a healer-friend fall into place in my mind and I suddenly know, deep in my gut, my fear and anxiety are programs taught to me since I was a child. And the programs are no more real than any other fantasy taking up space in my mind; and their power in my life is as real as I allow it to be. The real choice is whether to put my trust in fear or in the pure flow of Life.
At the Aquarius Full Moon Eclipse the next night, I celebrate the end of a nineteen-year cycle begun with the death of my parents that has been marked by this fear of scarcity and lack, part of my inheritance from parents who lived through both.
Now it is a matter of daily practice to break what has become a habit of fear.
At my birth, the planet Pluto was in the sign of Virgo and in my second house. As I dove deeper into astrology, I examined various pieces of my chart for the patterns reflected there. As a very slow-moving object, taking 248 years to orbit the Sun, Pluto is in relatively the same place in the sky for a long period of time, affecting generations. As Pluto signifies shadows and deep, scary places in our unconscious (the planet was discovered about the time of the making of the atomic bomb), it is often said to signify our deepest shadow, the scary place we do not want to go. In Virgo, Pluto can bring up themes of perfection and our lack of it; a sense of never being prepared enough; a feeling of not enough or not good enough. The third piece of the puzzle is Pluto’s placement by house: the houses locate the planets and signs on the Earth and point to a specific area of life in which the effects might be noticed.
The second house relates to our self-worth, material values and survival. This house is often said to indicate wealth or lack thereof depending on what sign and planets are contained there in the chart. My deepest fears, according to my chart and confirmed by my experience, have to do with survival, from the merest material existence ranging to having enough to be comfortable. More accurately, the wound of Pluto describes a fear of not just not having enough, but not being enough to exist on the planet.
It is said the gift is in the wound: what we struggle with and overcome becomes our greatest strength and source of healing. Much as I would have preferred not to have to prove this particular theory, it seems that I did.