Expand The Circumference of Aliveness

The last couple of weeks, I’ve continued to listen to a fair amount of Francis Weller. The overarching topic is “The Alchemy of Initiation.” The topic of the section I listened to most recently is “Facing the Predator.”

In the recording I have, usually included are some questions asked by the audience / participants. I find Weller’s stuff to be pretty deep. He’s a psychotherapist and thus is oriented to much of the inner journey. I like that. And I like the way the he connects the relevance of the inner journey to the outer world of day to day living.

One of the participants asked, “What is the outcome of facing the predator?” Weller has some one line responses that I’m appreciating. He’s done, or is doing, his work. In his context Weller is talking about the predator as confronting death, or less dramatically, the myriad of voices that tell us we are less. Weller’s response — “To expand the circumference of your aliveness.”

Circumference is the measure of the outside of a circle. It measures the rim. It measures capacity. And Weller’s point, I feel, is that it is only in the ironic encounter with what encourages small that we find large. It is only in the encounter with death that we find more animated life.

Ahh…, that’s worth resting on for a bit.

In my life, there was an obvious encounter with death, perhaps too early in life. It was my father taking his life. I was 14. It makes me sad to say that, but I’ve had a few years to make a lot of sense of what was known and what I imagine was less known about my dad. Complex lives.

In my life, more recently, there is the encounter with the end of a significant relationship. It doesn’t end the way either of us thought it would. It doesn’t end the way either of us intended. The death here, is the death of a particular dream. It is the death of an embossed identity.

Back to Weller, I hope for any of us that we are able to experience the expanded circumference of aliveness. To be clear, I don’t think it wise to rush to the end, bypassing the predator. Many of us do that. The soul’s work is often daring to dwell in the descent rather than prematurely latching on to an ascent.

I’m glad for friends that can witness the encounters that phase change us from one state to another. Or the friends who are smart enough to take off the wrist watch, throw away the current construction of time, and know that soul’s work, soul’s cooking, abides by a different concept of time. It’s less of “everything squeezed in and capped at 50 minutes.” It’s more “done when it’s done.”

Back to Weller — expanding the circumference of aliveness. I love the life force in this. I love the connection to three values that I’m often speaking in the groups with which I work. Kindness. Consciousness. Flow with life itself. Often, when I’m with groups, I’m offering such verbiage, such narrative, as a suggestion to what we might just really be up to. It’s daring to go inner, even with groups taking on herculean and complex tasks, so that there are expanded choices of aliveness connected to task.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for adding your reflections to the encounters that expand aliveness.


On Initiation — Yikes

“Initiation” is a rather powerful word, isn’t it. I’m not totally sure what it means, but it feels very important. I’ve been thinking about initiations — about belonging and community and maturation — for the better part of the last ten years. I’ve found a few points of clarity. I’ve also found some thicker soup to stir.

Francis Weller, a psychotherapist, writer, and soul activist, is really informing a lot of my learning lately about initiation. “The Wild Edge of Sorrow” is one of those sources. So is “The Alchemy of Initiation.”

I love the notion that there is more soul work to do in this life. It’s not just 70-80 years on the path of material consumption and transactionalism. I often find myself speaking of the soul work as “finding the trouble that we are meant to find.” The trouble we are meant to find isn’t just a path of escalating successes. The trouble we are meant to find, I would suggest, also includes some heartaches, some loss, some illness, some things that just didn’t work.

This search into soul — yikes — it’s involved. It grows us. It can grow us, particularly when we are supported by others who have done, or are in their soul work. It can grow us if we make it through. However, I don’t think “making it” is guaranteed. Yikes again.

The conversation I’ve most been in about initiation lately is “initiated to what?” I’m a bit puzzled by this question. I suppose because a part of me wants a more clean reply. But when I go to the guts of it, I think that a very important aspect of initiation is into an improved capacity to be in uncertainty and unknowns. Yikes again. I almost don’t like writing that sentence. Learn to unlearn. Learn to not know. Learn to strip further the layers of certainty. I can find my own resistance flare as I listen to my words.

Yet, I’ve learned, that resistance doesn’t imply wrong. And when it comes to baseline skills, energetic clarity, ability to encounter self and other — fundamental to it all is being willing to release the convenience and psychological dependence on certainty.

Many of us have choices to avoid or deny the depth of soul stirring within us. And, let’s face it, so much of contemporary society is structured to help us do just that — avoid and deny. I continue to learn that the initiatory language really is fruitful in making sense of and leaning into the needed troubles of our times — individually and collectively.

Stage 1: A departure from the norms of what we reside in, known or not. Often departures are brought about by gut-punching reality. Stage one is a severance from the familiar. Easier to write than to do.

Stage 2: An ordeal encountered that is significant enough to alter one’s identity. Illness can do this. Relationships ending can do this. Death can do this. Loss of jobs can do this. It’s an ordeal that changes the game.

Stage 3: A return as changed being, witnessed by elders or those who also have been in their soul work. The return with an initiation that sticks, is to know that you can’t go back to what you were before. And you come back with wisdom earned (including the wisdom of not needing to know).

There’s so much more. The idea that the initiatory experience isn’t for the individual, but rather for the community. That’s gold — thanks again Francil Weller.

I think a lot of us are trying to make sense of the times. A lot of us are recognizing the impact of adolescence run amuck, whether in young teenagers or in older adults, whether in others or within ourselves.

I’ll stay with my yikes — or as some friends have told me, “this isn’t for sissies.” I’m grateful for friends, youngers and olders in their soul work. Just to see them and to be seen by them, in these troubles of these times.


Trouble, Trouble, Trouble

As a kid, one of the things I loved each summer was spending one to two weeks with my maternal grandparents in the small Saskatchewan town in which they lived, Kerrobert. It was me, my sister, my younger two cousins. Initially we were all in our single digit years. It was Grandma and Grandpa time. Nothing too flashy. Popcorn was a big treat. It was playing together as kids. Helping with chores. Being with grandparents for summer break from school. Giving our parents in Edmonton a break from us. Kerrobert was a town of 1, 500 people then. As kids we used to play a game to see who could first see the old water tower (above), when first driving into Kerrobert’s familiarity. Kerrobert was a place of home for me. Each of what I remember turned into 8-10 summers.

Kerrobert was also a place of getting into some trouble. Kids do that. I did that. I remember one day walking about beyond the fenced yard in a field where there were giant puddles from recent rains. Puddles that felt more like small ponds. They were deep enough for the water to easily go over the protection of my rubber boots. Grandma warned me, “You can go, but don’t get your feet wet.” I didn’t realize it then, but she could see me out the kitchen window the whole time. I don’t know why I did it. I remember being fascinated by how the pressure of the water from the puddle / pond  felt against the boot on my leg. I was wearing shorts. It was summer. I remember the feeling of wanting to walk as far into the puddle as I could, mesmerized by the puddle water at the ridge line of my boots. I was about a foot deep. I was so curious about it. I took one tiny, slow step further into the puddle. That’s when everything changed. My guarded steps no longer mattered. The water gushed over the top of my boots in a total flood. There was no trickle. There was no standing in just a little. I was standing in boots filled with water. I was a bit shocked at how fast it all had happened. I knew I was in trouble.

I do remember Granny Gould being mad at me. But only a little. I think she likely laughed, watching me play with the intersection of what she’d warned and my curiosity with the puddle water. These were summer days that shaped me forever. The trouble, the fun of family, and the watchful eldering eyes of someone that loved me.

These days, one of my favorite invitations that I say out loud with people I am working with, is about getting into trouble. “Maybe we could stir up a bit of trouble together.” Or, “Maybe there is some mischief that would be just right to get ourselves into.” People smile when I say this. It feels good to see them smile, and welcome a bit of going to the edges together. I notice that I keep reminding others and myself, that we have a job to honor the traditions that we’ve come from (carry them forward), but we also have a job to evolve the edges (to explore creatively). To go further into the pond. Sometimes, maybe to feel the gush of water into our boots.

Malidoma Some, the west African writer and cultural bridge-builder, continues to teach me about trouble. About its value. About a different orientation that doesn’t avoid at all costs, but rather, that welcomes the necessity of trouble. In his book, “The Healing Wisdom of Africa,” he writes of what his West African Elders said in regard to his accomplishment of earning a university degree:

“Having been exposed  to this and that and successfully endured its pain, we now grant you the right to more trouble and tribulation for your own growth and for the fulfillment of the destiny associated with you. May the ancestors continue to stay by your side.”


The gift of trouble.

The right to trouble.

The significance of leaning into it and welcoming the maturing and the learning that comes with it.

I notice that I feel a bit excited to be called to trouble. I notice I feel a bit scared too. Will I really be able to get myself through? What if I don’t make it? What if those I’m with don’t make it? What if the trouble is too much? What if there is harm to me or to others?

I don’t cannonball my way into trouble. My nature is more cautious than that. However, this reframe to the essentialness of trouble, to the initiatory potential of trouble (so that we my be blessed with more trouble) — I have the feeling that this is deep living and needed even more in times such as these. We need invitations. And friends. And perhaps a few loving people watching us from the kitchen window, like Granny, smiling as we get into it.