When Things Happen Through You, Not To You

Each time we endure and survive a difficult time, be it mental, emotional or physical, we learn to a deeper level exactly how much the dross and periphery of living has taken up our time and energy up to that point.
Each time we come through, we can see more clearly what our true self looks like, feels like, wants, understands and believes. And each time, we may realize we are faced with losing something of these, and it will needs be by choice. Is it an inauthentic aspect of self? Is it repeating situation or relationships, or a habit that results in emotional turmoil or drama you’ve simply had enough of? Desires that no longer interest us, which turned out to be distractions from our path? Or beliefs which turned out to be for beliefs sake?

Shadow experiences ask us to shed inauthentic or superfluous aspects of ourselves, perhaps taken up to impress others, to belong, to be left alone, to stay safe, to be saved from sin, to avoid our own thoughts, to avoid death.

When I had cancer, I railed against anyone who implied I’d become a better person because of it. The very idea I might have been presented an opportunity to evolve spiritually by a higher power via cancer understandably pissed me right off. In fact, for me, experiencing a life-threatening illness reinforced exactly how arbitrary these things are. I will never forget what I saw – and who I met – along my cancer journey, and the people I know who live with it now.

Living with shadow, doing the work it presents to us, committing acts of intentional survivorship, creates a breadcrumb trail of courage and hope we can backtrack on when shadows descend again, as they inevitably do. Avoiding shadow times is pointless, denying them, a farce. We will be asked to walk beside the things we fear most many times in our lives. Many of those things we will come to see are not to be battled, resisted or fought against, but treated with compassion. When be we sit with our shadows, no matter how distasteful or terrifying, we see clearly our fears and flaws are made of us, and deserve not our disdain, but our deepest love and healing.

If you stumble often into shadow, as I do, I would have you consider your shadow is also your refuge. Be close to your self in these times, and don’t hold yourself in judgement because you feel weak or vulnerable, or like a failure. Shame will come, but shame is a trained reflex, and not our natural response to finding a soul faced with pain and suffering. That response is quiet. Accepting. Warmth. Peace. Gentleness.
Love.

When I was in the cancer ward, the man in the bed opposite me asked his doctors to stop his treatment. He was elderly, infirm, obviously seriously ill and dying. I panicked, and despite the fact I too was seriously ill and in a cancer ward, felt compelled to find a way to get out of bed and speak to the man and make sure he had made peace with god so he could go to the afterlife I imagined for him. It ripped me up inside for days, because I knew I could not do this thing my “faith” and my fear compelled me to, which I mistook for love, but which was actually fear. I remember crying silently in the shower for ages hating myself for being so useless in that man’s time of spiritual need. But as I later realized, his spiritual need was all in my head. The fear and doom I sensed around his situation belonged to me. I was having a spiritual crisis, not him. I, unlike him, had not faced the reality of being a sick person unto death. I did not know how to be helpless, how to rest, how to surrender, to begin the process of healing. But I did come to learn these things. I learned a lesson there and then about the difference between fear and love.

My surviving cancer and treatment taught me death was close, but was not the enemy, and is to be treated with respect and not fear. I learned I can be alone, and that being surrounded by people can be the loneliest experience. I lived side by side with dying people for two months, while we all shared the shadow, and found such sadness in that place I thought I’d never recover from the grief of it. The best and the worst of people. And I’ll never forget it. It was beautiful. There was no fear there. Most were beyond that, or gathering breadcrumbs back to those things they understood to represent light, and love.

Each time we go through, survive, endure, let go a little more, surrender a little more, have our beliefs or our body or mind broken a little more, something comes away from us that once was part of us. We can grasp it back and cling to it in denial, therefore to carry it forward, unhealed and growing ever heavier until it breaks us again. We can recognize the broken piece as something perhaps that was never part of us at all, and let it go. Perhaps we will hold the broken fragment away from us at arms length, see it for what it is, and then tend to it, deliberately and diligently undertaking the patient process of healing. When experiences happen through you and not to you, it changes everything.

(C) Jo Hilder
22.06.19

Tattoo Chronicles #2 – A Miraculous Homecoming.

This is my second tattoo. My dragonfly.

I’ve always loved dragonflies. They symbolise new beginnings.

I got this tattoo many years after cancer and the survivor tattoo, after Ben and I separated and he went away to rehab. He was never coming home. Our marriage was terribly, terribly broken. And so were we.

I was on my own with the kids and I needed something beyond surviving to help me start again. I designed this piece and took it back to the same tattoo artist as did my first one. She sighed – again with the scrolls, she said. After I had this piece done, the place where we lived – on acres by a creek – was inundated with dragonflies. I imagined I was their queen, and they were sent to protect and guide on my way to my new beginning.

I want to sneak in another story here. My very, very first tattoo was actually a teeny strawberry on my back I got when I was in my early twenties. I never showed it to anyone. It was mine and Ben’s little secret 🙂

Some time after Ben was gone and I got my dragonfly tattoo, I was flicking through a magazine and stumbled across an ad for a necklace – with a dragonfly and a strawberry hanging from it. My heart leapt. I cut it out of the magazine and taped it next to my bed. My two totems, in one gorgeous picture. I thought perhaps I might even buy that necklace one day.

But I got something better.dragonfly tattoo

It was many months later when Ben woke from his addiction in rehab and wondered where his marriage had gone.

After six months separated, and after he completed treatment, Ben came home.

The first day, he was unpacking his things when I caught him standing just staring at the picture I had taped next to my bed. “Pretty cool, huh?” I said, smiling. He looked at me, and said, “I want to show you something.” He reached down into his bag, and pulled out the exact same picture, cut from the same magazine, which he taped up beside his bed in rehab too.

Miracles happen, I’m here to tell you. This tattoo reminds me they do.
Love, Jo xxxx

Tattoo Chronicles #1 – Survivor

My first tattoo. Got it in 2008, five years after surviving cancer.

I drew this design up myself, and the tattoo artist commented it was obvious I wasn’t a tattoo artist – too many fiddly little scrolls.survivor tattoo

I wanted this tattoo more than anything. I needed a permanent reminder to never take my body for granted, and always listen to it when it speaks to me. The non-hodgkins lymphoma was stage 3B by the time it was found, undiagnosed for seven months despite my repeatedly visiting a doctor asking for tests. I knew I was sick. He told me I was just tired and working too hard. I walked into my local hospital emergency department on July 17th 2003 and told them if I was going to die, I wanted to do it in their waiting room, not in my kitchen in front of my kids. They found the saucer sized tumour in my chest within an hour of my arrival. Rushed to a bigger hospital in an ambulance, then airlifted two days later to Sydney. Three months of chemotherapy and two of radiotherapy. I learned a lot about myself in that time.

First thing I learned is my body knows what sometimes my mind and will refuses to admit. I thought I was living a good life, but it was a cacophony of compromises. My body said, fine, go there if you like, but I’m not coming with you.

It took time for me to relearn my body’s signals and to rebuild the trust between it and me. Now, I ask it first before I do anything where it will be required to bear the weight of the consequences. Sometimes it says, hell yes! Sometimes it says, are you kidding? Sometimes my body says, look at your arm, girlfriend. And when I do, I’m sometimes reminded I am not made of iron and stone. I can break. But sometimes looking at my survivor tattoo reminds me I can do very hard things. It reminds me not to expect so little of my body.

And sometimes, my tattoo reminds me becoming a survivor requires one almost die, and then come back from that…..but there be a day when I will not come back. Is this that day? No. This is not that day. Today, I live. Every day, until that day. I live.

Selah, my friends.
Jo xxx

Art is the ultimate truth telling. Tell it.

Art is the ultimate truth-telling. Creativity is given us so we can speak out the truths laying inside us, unspoken and unrecognised, that we might recognise them. Each word and brushstroke, every step in the dance and note in the song is us tracing over with our body what we see when we look inside our heart.

Art, like all truth, tells us not what it is, but what we are. We know what we know when we see it standing outside of us, looking us back in the face.

The tracings of our heart out in the world are truth, but there is never just one truth. If you close your eyes and listen to a choir singing, you will hear each voice inflected with a unique experience, with divergent timbre, age and accent and emotion. Art shows us the potential for harmony in our difference. It shows us it’s okay to be us, or think what we think and believe what we believe, and possible to be one, all at the same time.

In seeking to tell the truth from our spirit out into the world, we send an irresistible invitation to the unseen realm, from where all making and life and creativity comes. The silent, sublime power who formed us at the beginning will come and join the song with us. This is inspiration.

When the Spirit of truth comes and joins with us in our making, holiness ensues. With inspiration, the Spirit at our side, and a deep knowing of our truth inside, as well as a willingness and will to tell that truth, we can indeed make holy, Holy things.

But even a Holy thing is still just a thing.

Truth is confronting, challenging, even terrifying. The Spirit, always acts from love, but the truth she inspires in the teller can be confronting, challenging, terrifying. Not all prophets are inspired, many are mere fortune-tellers; our fortune and our truth are not the same thing. However, all artists and creatives are prophets, and, unlike fortune tellers, true prophets are seldom very popular.

Artists, creatives, prophets and truth tellers have long been persecuted and assassinated for their truth telling. Their Holy works and art and words have throughout history been dismantled, reinterpreted, appropriated and distorted to validate and defend all manner of things. The makings that come from our truth telling are powerful, but too fragile to be used as foundations, weapons and shields. When we attach our agenda to them, when we refashion them from mirrors into altars, into objects of worship and a foundation for culture or ideology, power crumbles and falls away like sand through the fingers. Truth is not out there. It is in us. Always, always in us.

Art is a mirror. Expression is a reflection. Even we are a merely a canvas upon which inspiration makes her marks. God knows this, and thus, in desiring to show us both who we are, and who God is, gave us the Most Holy Words in a work of art, accepting fully the risk every single word could be misunderstood, distorted and misused. Love is letting go. Besides, God knows when we are able to undo the cipher of who we are, seeing ourselves reflected in the inspired work of truth, we will then see and understand God, the ultimate creator.

And hopefully see and understand ourselves.

Love is a story worth telling, it’s a dance, a prophecy, your words, a song. It is the ultimate truth telling, and the ultimate truth is love.

 

Small and Pure – Ready to pre-order!

Today is a very exciting day.

This morning, I am delighted to announce my picture book for grown-ups, Small and Pure – A Cautionary Tale, will be released by Rhiza Press in early June, and is now available for pre-order!

But first, let me introduce you to the tale of Small and Pure, a story for all ages.

“Many years ago, when children loved to hear fairy stories and parents loved to read them, cautionary tales were used to teach us about choices and consequences. These most beloved fables brought to life long-known sage and moral life lessons. It’s in the tradition of these folk tales of old we learn the story of Small and Pure.

Small and Pure is little girl; a symbol of our most pure, untainted self. She grows up as all of us do, adapting to the world around her, subject to the expectations and conventions of those who keep her safe and into whose care she is entrusted. But something tragic happens to Small and Pure. She comes to us now with a sobering message, one she hopes we will learn before it’s too late.

The story of Small and Pure encourages us to seek and hold onto our most authentic truths, lest we become burdened with identities that disguise, bury and eventually cause our very essence to disappear, perhaps forever.”

Would you like to meet her? I am so excited to bring her to you.

Please click the link below to visit the Rhiza Press website and pre-order Small and Pure right now!

And keep close – I’ll be adding more products and delightful snippets to this page in the coming weeks so you can bring Small and Pure into your home and into your heart.

She’s ready to share her story with you, and she’s coming.
Love, Jo

PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY NOW

What it looks like when you’re on a spiritual journey.

People on a spiritual journey are going somewhere. They grow. They shift. They change. They move. They may live physically in the same place their whole lives, but they will not stay the same person. They do not ever arrive. If you have disembarked at some fixed point in your pursuit of recovery, healing and wholeness, then it’s unlikely to be a spiritual journey you were on to begin with. It is fitting to be content with your looks, your home, your belongings, and your relationships, but spiritual self-satisfaction is something to be remedied rather than pursued.

Your Holy self is made to seek, not to cling. She does not live in your body any more than smoke could live in the fire. Your body is a temple to her, your heart, an altar for her. She owns no furniture, owes no mortgage, requires no chattels. She outlives the fleshy box you carry her around in, outlives it many times over. She dances always, arms outstretched, in the heavenly spaces between herself and God.

Spiritual sojourners transition, like seasons, like the earth, like the moon, like wind, like water, like a flame, like dust. They understand things of spirit are not static. They are ecstatic – extra-static. They appreciate there is a time for every season. They know when to hold on and when to let go. They know there is a time for birth, and a time for death. A time to sow and a time to reap. A time to dance, and a time for mourning.

Do not fear the sense we all have at times of being spiritually unsettled. Be wary only of spiritual colonialism. Of ownership, occupation and consumption which calls itself a spiritual enterprise. Of taking and not letting go, of gathering without attrition. Be wary of those who claim to be the God-people, who claim to be spiritual, but who do not exercise the principles of seasons, resisting the cycles of birth and death, accumulating, accruing and growing exponentially without allowing natural processes of detachment, death, loss and grief. There is a name for the living cell which forgets how to die in the appropriate season, and remembers only how to live, stay, grow, and consume and colonise. Those cells are called cancer.

Spiritual sojourners need not fear death of the body. We are not merely our physical selves, and to be awake to Spirit is to understand we can never truly die. The journey towards healing and wholeness will encompass many deaths, many lettings-go along the way. Attrition and rebirth are as familiar to the brave-becoming as our own hunger and thirst. Our pangs neither direct nor enslave us. We pay attention to them with friendliness and care, without allowing ourselves to be redirected from our purpose. Moving is our purpose. We are always walking forward on the path.

A brave-becomers work is not arriving, it is becoming.
………………….
From The Book Of The Brave
(c) Jo Hilder
Coming soon!

Image credit: bruniewska (stock image)

Come away from your memory into your imagination.

I know you’re facing another day not knowing if you need to hold on or let go. I know the weight of trying to make up your mind whether you have a decision to make, or whether you need to simply allow things to play out, literally keeps you paralysed, and you feel like you can’t move. To throw things in the air and see where they land? Or to go inside yourself and resist change for the sake of change – a tactic that’s gotten you in trouble so many times before?

You know, because you’ve learned, when things are this way, it doesn’t matter where you go, those things will go with you. And who wants to start again, again?

There’s this temptation to believe your indecision about what to do next is as much a sign of your less-than-ness as the damn thing you’re trying to fix.

Darling, just know, you’re going to be okay.

One day you’ll wake up in a different place and realise changing where you are didn’t change who you are.

The work is before you. This work will never go away – the work of brave becoming. Whatever you choose, do not choose to try and achieve some state where you can avoid the work of knowing and loving yourself better. Don’t choose to be numb. Don’t choose to sleep. Don’t choose to be deaf, blind, busy or out of it.
Don’t choose change because it gives you something else to do, something other than being present with yourself, in this moment, opening up wider to accepting and knowing and being.

Choose to be awake. Choose to be present.

Your circumstances will shift, change and transition, as you choose your way ahead. You’re smart, wise and brave. You’ll figure this out. Don’t panic. The pain will pass. The regret will pass. Let the shame go. It’s not a sign of self-awareness, you know, to hold onto shame. Being ashamed isn’t a sign you know what’s really going on and accept your part in it. Shame is forming an imaginary judge in your mind, the most disparaging, vile and accusatory character you can invent, and making choices as if that imaginary person was right in front of you. Shame is assuming that imaginary judge is telling the truth about you, and you have a responsibility to listen to everything they say, and believe it. Fire the judge. You need your imagination back. You have a future to choose yourself into.

Come away, dear one, into the wilderness. Away from your memory, into your imagination.

Take a breath, sweet friend. Close your eyes and listen to your breath. Your body knows what to do to be alive, to thrive, and it doesn’t even need you to think about it. In, out. In out. How much more do you think your vibrant, God-given spirit knows what to do? Trust your heart, your gut, your spirit. Listen to your God-breath. You know. You know.

Selah, dear one,

JO

The Healing and the Healer.

An essential part of brave-becoming is cultivating our capacity to sit with ourselves as both the healing, and the healer.

The first-person identity of your recovering sojourner is the healing. You are healing. The second-person perspective of the facilitator of the recovery is assumed by the healer. You are also the healer.

Your healing and the healer have a relationship together. It is not a power dance or a power struggle. It is a relationship between equals. This is the essence of spiritual self-direction; to be able to directly impart the grace, compassion, power and spirit of God unto ourselves, and do us good first before any other. In fact, we must be engaged in this work of self-directed spiritual healing before we can minister to anyone beyond our own person.

Can you hear her speaking gently to you, as you sit beside the path? Can you hear your healer, your sage, your minister, your mother, your medicine woman, dear one?

She is a sentinel to the maelstrom or method of the healings’ process. The healer sits with the healing, and together they patiently untangle the confusing, painful narratives of the past, threading them with patience and diligence like mala beads are threaded on a cord. She sits with the healing as she worries the mala in her trembling fingers, listens as she repeats the story to herself like a prayer, holding the sacred space open on her behalf.

Can you imagine this relationship, my dear one, this symbiosis between the knowing in your self, and the yet to know? Can you create this image in your mind of holding space for yourself, of becoming your most patient teacher, your most wise sage, your most compassionate friend?

Listen. Open. Receive.

Come, sweet brave becoming, and lay your head in my lap just now. Let go of the tangle you clutch in your palm; the mess of stories and memories and betrayals and loneliness and shame and fear. Loosen your grip, you are safe now. You are with the healer, and I have made a safe space for you to rest. There is no judgement here.

Everything you’ve done, and everything done to you? I know you hold these things so tightly, so tightly they pierce you and yet you will not let them go. My darling, just for a little while, let those little sharp stones fall from your grasp – let them fall. Don’t be afraid I will hide them from you as you sleep, or cast them away. I will not betray you. I know when you’re ready, you’ll do the work yourself. Perhaps we will remake them? Perhaps you will build a little altar from them, and move on? I cannot say. This is not my work. I am the healer, you are the healing. Let us only allow them to fall from your hand just now, and perhaps imagine we can spend a little time resting. Be with me, as I am with you, little healing. Everything is all right. You are safe. All is well, and we are well.

This is the voice of your healer. Can you hear her? She is not within me. She is within you, with you now. And she is ready to create sacred space with you, for you. You do not need to conjure her up, or bring her to you from the outside. Her words are your words. Her voice is your voice. Her deep kindness and love for you, is your own. You need only be willing to be open to receive.

……………
(c) Jo Hilder
From “The Healing and the Healer”
– The Book Of the Brave.
Coming soon.

How to shut out the world, and it all be okay.

There will be times when you feel strongly about connecting with others and building ties and making relationships and being around people, and you’ll seem to have endless energy for them all the time and take them out and have them around and give them everything you have, and it will never drain you or tire you and you’ll think, I am made to do this, this is my thing, people are so my jam, I’ll be doing it like this forever, don’t ever leave, I will never leave.

And there are times when you will withdraw into your bower and turn down the lights, and close the door and hope nobody notices and keep the noises low and the distractions to a minimum, and you won’t seek out contact with anyone much, or anyone at all, and you’ll surround yourself with things very old and very new that give you comfort and a connection to the unseen world and childhood comforts, and things that live silently and need little care or attention, or which draw your complete attention, which need a safe, quiet place to do their thing, but do not speak, like a candle, or a cluster of feathers, or a circle of stones, or a tray of tea, or a small dog or cat, or a book that needs reading, or one that needs writing. And that will be all you need.

And you’ll need it very, very much, And that will be okay. And that will be all right.