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|Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on February 21, 2017 at 10:20 AM||comments (1)|
When I respond to questions about my professional background and current job, my answer often involves keywords like “Harvard,” "PhD," “consulting,” “research,” “psychology,” “yoga,” and “Prague.” These words make it sound like I have my shit together and even (perhaps) like I live an interesting life. And while this is true (to some extent) I think it’s important to highlight the underbelly of a career that has often left me feeling confused, scared and unsuccessful (and a tad crazy).
Perhaps we can start with the time in 2014 when I applied for 40 tenure-track professor positions and didn’t get a single interview. When I applied for these 40 positions I was a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard Medical School, I had good reference letters, I’d won lots of scholarships and awards, and I had a reasonable looking CV with a decent number of first-author publications.
So how is it possible that not a single university was interested in hiring me?
There were probably several reasons. My research area was a bit "woo-woo" (I was studying yoga in school settings), I’d changed research topics several times throughout my career, I’d taken a break from academia to work in the corporate world, and in some ways my CV looked like a train wreck. Or maybe a more accurate way to describe it would be that my CV resembled a series of interesting professional roles that were vaguely associated, with large gaps in-between “real” jobs. The gaps represented times when I’d worked as an entrepreneur teaching yoga, writing a book, and consulting independently. I even worked at a garden center for a little while. To help explain these gaps during job interviews, a professor once told me to say that I’d taken time off from academia for “family reasons” (AKA to have children). I don’t have children, but most HR policies won’t allow an interviewer to directly ask whether you have kids, so my colleague thought this would be a good idea.
I thought it sounded ridiculous.
These types of white lies and professional “illusions” are part of what’s given me a distaste for working for anyone other than myself. I don’t want to have to fake a “proper” career trajectory in order to get a “real” job.
The problem is that my relationship with academia has been like a terrible teenage romance. Academia and I are so on again off again that no one can keep track of our relationship status (not even Facebook). There have been times when academia has felt exciting and fulfilling to me, and other times when I feel so stifled and suffocated that I can’t breathe. When academia didn’t call me back after my 40 job applications I even went so far as to drop everything and move to a cabin in the woods to escape my heartbreak. I’ve “dated” small universities, mid-tier universities, and some of the best universities in the world. But the story always ends with a break-up.
Academia: A Field In Need of a Change
When I try to make sense of the various parts of my CV I realize that the golden threads that tie everything together are research and personal development. Why? Because I love asking questions and searching for answers. My mom tells me that I used to ask “why” about so many things when I was younger that it drove her crazy. The only way she could handle me was to strap me into the child seat on the back of her bicycle and ride around town so that the noise would drown out my constant questions. My aunt tells me that her and I used to sit and stare at the night sky and I would ask endless questions about the stars, the moon, and where people go when they die (this was at age 4). Even now, at age 37, I sometimes put my husband to sleep with my endless musings about the potential secrets of the universe (but it’s ok because he puts me to sleep with his endless musings about soccer).
My obsession with “why” is what led me into academia. I’ve jumped from research topic to research topic because I like to ask “why” about everything. I get bored if I’m forced to keep asking why about the same topic over and over. This makes my CV look bad, but it makes me feel good to stretch my wings and learn new things. Zora Neale Hurston described my situation perfectly when she said, “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.”
But there’s an issue I’ve noticed from working in a variety of research settings: I think we’re going about our research the wrong way (at least within Psychology). I’ll say right from the outset that I don’t know what the “right” way is. But I keep coming back to the assertion that there has to be a better way.
One of the main things that I find troubling about academia is how isolated we all are. We work in our individual labs, splitting hairs over the tiniest minutia of research questions, publishing in journals that the general public can’t access (thus very few people read our work). We compete with each other for grant money, space, publications, and prestige instead of collaborating to move our fields forward. We’re reinventing the wheel in isolation as opposed to working together.
Sometimes I feel like all we’re doing is contributing to society's information overload. And what’s the purpose of all this information anyway? Do we really need to develop more 5-point Likert scale questionnaires? Is it really all that important to prove an obscure theory that doesn’t make much of a difference for the world as a whole? Some have argued that research in Psychology follows a logarithmic curve in which a lot of progress was made in the early years of the field, and now we’re just adding very small increments of knowledge on top of larger theories that were already established.
Personally, I believe that researchers think too much. We’re way too stuck in our minds. Over the past few years I’ve been on a journey to spend less time in my mind and more time in my body. It’s amazing how I’ve ignored the intelligence of my body by placing logic, reason and mental capabilities above everything else. I’m quick on my feet mentally, but completely uncoordinated physically. My mind is like a thoroughbred racehorse while my body has been patiently waiting to get out onto the track. Proponents of transpersonal research methods (specifically intuitive inquiry) suggest that our bodies can actually be important research tools. As Rosemarie Anderson writes:
“Too often, the scientific discourse of Euro-America tends to suppress and discourage intuitive processes, especially body-based knowings such as proprioception and kinaesthesia. This deep listening to intuition in research has a greater capacity to unfold into new ways of theorizing and envisioning that are closer to lived experience than do the rationalistic styles that dominate much of world culture and scientific discourse.”
By adding body-based inquiry to my professional life, I’ve realized that my interests in sacred sexuality, specifically the masculine and feminine energies that exist within and around us, are not only part of my spiritual life, but my professional life as well. I’ve realized that academia has been operating for the last 100 years (or more) on a masculine model that emphasizes competition and individuality. This masculine model doesn’t need to be completely demolished. Instead, it needs to be blended with feminine approaches that emphasize connection and interconnectedness. As Dorit Netzer suggests,
“…in the union of [conventional] masculine and feminine perspectives, [intuitive inquiry] seeks to balance structure and flexibility, exterior and interior, reason and emotion, thinking and feeling, discernment and holism.”
I think that female researchers, along with their open-minded male colleagues, are going to play a key role in bringing the feminine back into academia. Indeed, in her study of the role of the body in the psycho-spiritual development of female mystics, Vipassana Esbjorn-Hargens suggests that women are teachers of conscious embodiment and that sexuality is integral to this embodiment.
I believe that bringing the body and intuition back into the research process is going to be crucial for moving psychology forward. Of course, there will always be a place for the rigorous, “unbiased” research methods that we’ve all come to know and love. But there’s a place for subjectivity, too. After all, what is a hypothesis other than an educated guess about what you think might happen? Keep in mind that many researchers study topics that are of deep personal interest to them, and many of us arrive to our fields with biases in hand. In his book “The Wounded Researcher,” Robert Romanyshyn suggests that research is soul/spiritual work in that many of us study our own deep, unconscious wounds. Romanyshyn writes,
“The work that the researcher is called to do makes sense of the researcher as much as he or she makes sense of it. Indeed, before we understand the work we do, it stands under us. Research as a vocation, then, puts one in service to those unfinished stories that weigh down upon us individually and collectively as the wait and weight of history. As a vocation, research is what the work indicates. It is re-search, a searching again of what has already made its claim upon us and is making its claim upon the future.”
Let’s take my personal research trajectory as an example. My undergraduate thesis focused on Asperger’s disorder and Autism largely because I’d seen examples of these disorders in my family. I pursued a Masters degree in clinical Psychology focusing on anxiety and depression because of my personal experiences with these disorders. I pursued a PhD in romantic relationships because of crushing heartbreaks and dysfunctional relationships I’d been through in the past. I study yoga and mindfulness in schools to help youth avoid going through what I went through with anxiety and depression.
But I’m totally unbiased about the topics I study, right? Wrong.
I often come back to a question I’ve been asking myself since my undergraduate degree. Specifically, is it even possible for humans to study themselves? Would we expect a cat to have the ability to study itself? Do we really think that human emotion and behaviour can fit neatly into the boxes of a 2 x 2 research design? Perhaps we lack a certain level of (meta)awareness necessary to unbiasedly do research on ourselves (or to even ask the right research questions to begin with). Or perhaps we lack the appropriate scientific methods…maybe humans are so complex that we can’t use the same empirical approaches to study ourselves as we use to study particles in a vacuum.
Academia: A Saturated Job Market
Let me bring this topic back to earth by sharing how I see the academic job market today. Right now I see many young people going to graduate school because they don’t know what else to do. They get a Masters or a PhD to prolong their education because they doubt they’ll be able to get a job with only a BA or BSc (little do they know it will probably be just as difficult to get a job with a PhD). Many people pursue a graduate degree because they’ve bought into university marketing programs with hip looking ads that convince them that a Masters or PhD would be a good idea.
Universities operate as businesses just like any other business. They want your tuition money whether you get a job afterwards or not. So we end up with lots of graduates with PhDs and not enough jobs. Many people (myself included) end up cobbling a “career” together by doing multiple postdoctoral fellowships, teaching courses at several institutions, and doing their best to make ends meet. Then, when they apply for academic jobs, they’re looked down upon because their CVs are scattered. Graduates are doing their best to survive, but they're having trouble getting jobs. And when they do land part- or full-time work, they aren’t being paid nearly as much as they’re worth.
There’s something seriously wrong with this picture. And it needs to change.
The way that I’ve “solved” this issue is by becoming what you might call an “independent professor.” I do research and I teach, but I’m not employed full-time by an academic institution. I ask my clients to pay me what I’m worth and I only teach courses that I’m passionate about. I do this because I refuse to contribute to a system that I don’t agree with. I want to do research that has a real impact on the world and I want to be compensated fairly, in a manner that suits my talents. I refuse to follow the bullshit illusions that tell me I need to work at a top-tier university or have a perfect career trajectory to be taken seriously. I want to make my own schedule, have lots of downtime, and contribute to meaningful work. I want to use my intuition and my body-based knowings to inform my research questions and even my results. I want to blend masculine and feminine approaches to research in the hopes of helping explain the complexity of this beautiful universe.
In essence, I want my life and my career to be a work of art that inspires me (and others) in the process. I want to help all of us access our full potential - our true masculine and true feminine - so that we can flourish and thrive personally and professionally.
And so I willingly admit that I don’t have my shit together, at least not in a traditional sense. I worry about money and retirement and how I’m perceived by my colleagues. My CV is a train wreck and I don’t know where my career trajectory is going. Perhaps I’m creating a new trajectory that others with PhDs can follow. Or perhaps someday I’ll find a university that welcomes faculty like me. What I do know is that I have a deep dissatisfaction with how things are being done in my field. And I want to do things differently. I’m determined to find a “better way” to live and work.
How about you? You might not be a researcher, but there are probably aspects of your line of work that you wish were different. What can you do to help facilitate these changes? How might you use your skills in a new way to move your field forward? How can you make your personal and professional lives a work of art that inspires other people to innovate and live their truth?
It’s time for you to embody your authenticity and bring it into your career. We’re ready for a change.
|Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on January 24, 2017 at 4:00 AM||comments (1)|
A couple of months ago I wrote my first blog on the topic of sacred sexuality. It was a blog that I was nervous to publish, but (to my surprise) it ended up receiving quite a bit of support. So I’ve decided to open the door a little more by sharing three basic practices that I’ve been using in these initial stages of my journey. This blog is written for women, but I think it’s important for men to read these words, too. Why? Because if your partner happens to be a woman, it will help you learn about her (and your) sacred sexual nature.
First I need you to know that the intention of these practices is NOT to boost your sex drive or give you 5-hour orgasms or help you perform magical tantric sex tricks for your partner. In fact, it could be argued that these practices have little to do with physical sexual intercourse at all. At it’s core, sacred sexuality is an inside job. In other words, it’s not about pleasing your partner or attracting the man/woman of your dreams. It’s about getting in touch with the sacred creative life force that exists within you (and within everything/everyone around you). No one owns your sexuality - not even your long-term romantic partner - and if you engage in these practices solely to please him/her then you’re missing the point. Your sexuality is sovereign - it is yours and yours alone - to be used how you see fit. In its most elemental form, your sexual energy is a vital aspect of your creative spark (and the creative spark of the universe).
When I say that your sexual energy is to be used as you see fit, I don’t mean that it’s ok to use sex in an unethical way. This is, in fact, the dark side of some teachings of sacred sexuality. We’ve all heard of ashrams and communities led by charismatic “gurus” who use sex to manipulate and control their followers. That’s not what I’m writing about here. I’m writing about using your sexual life force with integrity, in a clean, clear, authentic, direct way, to enhance your sense of aliveness as a woman and, if you choose to, enhance the aliveness of your partner(s) and the world.
Tapping into your feminine life-force is one of many ways that you can serve yourself and the world. Some people honour the sacred by becoming monks/nuns, or through prayer, or art, or singing, or dancing. If the practices that I share in this blog don’t resonate with you, drop them. On the other hand, if you’re intrigued and want to learn more, keep reading.
These tips are easy and straightforward, mainly because I want to make them accessible. I don’t want to share a bunch of “woo-woo” tactics that will send you running for the hills. However, I will say that these practices can open the door to woo-woo if you decide you want to go that route. But for now, let’s keep it simple.
Tip #1: Move Your Hips (Every Day)
Most women are taught to restrict the movement of their hips. This teaching is so subtle and insidious that we hold it at a subconscious level and rarely realize we’re acting it out in our daily lives. Here's an example. When walking down the street, it’s likely that you don’t sway your hips much from side to side. Why not? There are probably a multitude of reasons, but I believe one of them is that we don’t want to attract the “wrong type” of attention. We don’t want to look “too sexy,” or “slutty,” or provocative. I’m sure we’ve all come across a woman who was walking confidently, swaying her hips, perhaps dressed a tad provocatively - and assumed that she was out to get laid (or a bimbo, or superficial, or a prostitute). We try not to stare at her, but we want to stare at her. Why? Because she is reflecting back to us our natural sensuality and beauty as women.
The result of not exercising our full range of movement is that many women have a deep, chronic tightness in their hips / pelvic area. Some people call this “body armouring.” In a sense, we feel the need to protect this delicate area of our body, so we constrict it and shut it down. Most women have been violated in one way or another at some point in their lives. This violation can take the form of rape or sexual harassment or more “mundane” behaviours acted out by other people or even the media. At the very least, almost all of us have had the experience of a stranger touching us in an uninvited way (if you’ve ever spent time on a dance floor, this has definitely happened to you). Even when this touch doesn’t have malicious intent, it makes an energetic mark. Years of this type of touching can cause us to build up layer upon unconscious layer of body armour. Personally, I’ve been doing yoga for years, and my hips are one of the most flexible areas of my body, but I’ve realized that there’s a whole other layer of tightness underneath. It’s a subtle layer, built up from years - and perhaps lifetimes - of energetic contraction and constriction.
At their most relaxed and natural state, women are receptive creatures. The act of physical sexual intercourse between a man and a woman provides a perfect example. Here's why. There is a completely different physicality and energy between penetrating versus being penetrated. Being penetrated can feel quite vulnerable, even in long-term, loving relationships. To be fully present for her male partner, a woman needs to be relaxed, open, and receptive. She needs to trust the intentions of the person who is about to penetrate her. At an energetic level, she is allowing her partner into the mystery and sacredness of her inner world. When her inner world is constricted (physically and/or energetically) it is difficult for her to open up to her partner and to her own divine sexual nature.
One easy way to get back in touch with your natural sexual energy is to move your hips every day. When I say “move your hips” I don’t necessarily mean exercising or doing yoga (although these are decent options if that’s what you feel most comfortable with to start). What I really mean is moving your hips in a way that would make your mother (or maybe grandmother) blush. You can do slow, sensual circles, you can “twerk,” you can writhe on the ground, you can belly dance. The exact movement doesn’t matter - as long as it helps you tap into your sensual energy.
I tend to do this in two main ways: while meditating and while dancing. In the past, when I meditated I sat very still and chastised myself for making even the most subtle of movements. These days my meditation involves a bit of sitting still mixed with moving my hips (while sitting). I move in slow circles and back and forth. I allow my back to arch and curl, and I allow my upper body to follow along. Sometimes I go to a private spot in my apartment, put on some sensual music, and move my hips some more. I allow my body to move freely in whatever way it wants/needs to move.
If it helps, you can imagine yourself as the most beautiful manifestation of femininity that the world has ever seen. You can imagine something that you long for, and dance as a devotion to your longing (watch this video by Anaiya Sophia for more on movement for longing). With these visualizations in mind, you won’t be able to resist moving your hips in the ways that they are meant to move as a woman.
What is the point of all this gyration? It’s to help unwind years of conditioning that have trained you to constrict and contain your natural feminine essence. Sacred sexuality isn’t about learning new tips or tricks, it’s about remembering who you really are. It’s about returning to your true sexual nature without guilt, without shame, and without other people’s opinions of what your sexuality should be. Moving and stretching your hips will help you release deep areas of physical tension (such as your psoas muscle, or “soul muscle” ) as well as emotional tension. So get moving! And when I say every day, I mean every. day. Move your hips even when you feel bloated or unsexy - just make the movements a little more gentle. As you regularly engage in this simple practice, you’ll probably start to notice more subtle forms of energy emanating from your hips and moving up your body - this is your subtle sexual life-force.
Tip #2: Prioritize Pleasure
We women have a nasty habit of over-giving to everyone else at the expense of ourselves. We take care of our partners, our children, and even our pets before thinking of taking a moment for us. In fact, we often feel guilty when we do things “just for us,” as if the universe (or friends, or family) are going to admonish us for being bad parents or bad spouses or simply being an all around selfish person. But as I say all the time, there is such a thing as good selfishness. When you take care of your own needs, you give yourself the energy to be there for others.
I know you’re busy. I am too. When I say “prioritize pleasure,” I don’t mean you need to take off for a solo vacation to Costa Rica (although that would be awesome!). What I mean is that you can start to fill your life with simple pleasures. Things that are quick and easy to do, but that make you feel good.
I bring simple pleasures into my life in a few different ways. Sometimes I buy myself flowers, or I take a bubble bath. I make sure that the products I use on my skin and hair are as healthy for my body (and the planet) as possible. I diffuse essential oils to make my work space feel like a spa. I buy high quality teas that I really enjoy. I’m a very scent-oriented person, so every morning after I shower I “anoint” my body with scents that inspire and suit me (my favourite has always been vanilla). I wear clothes that feel soft and comfortable on my skin. I listen to music while I work. I cook food that nourishes my body and soul. Note that this doesn’t mean I diet or that I’m vegan - sometimes my Soul wants me to drink green smoothies and eat tofu, and other times it wants me to drink red wine with steak followed by dark chocolate - so I listen and obey.
There are lots of ways that you can bring simple pleasures into your life, even if you have limited time and/or a tight budget. Hey, masturbation is free and can be done pretty quickly if need be! Seriously though, one of your simple pleasures could be to give yourself an orgasm a few times per week, or even every day (read this article for a hilarious take on the potential importance of women orgasming every day). Whatever your simple pleasures are, try to make sure they’re things that are simply for you - no one else. So for example, you might think that one way to introduce a simple pleasure is to spend more time reading to your son because it’s something you enjoy doing. This is all fine and good (yes, read more with your son!) but you need to invest time and energy into pleasurable things that are really just for you. Get a pedicure or a massage, or give yourself 5 minutes to enjoy your coffee uninterrupted.
You can take this practice a step further by paying attention to what would feel most pleasurable in any given moment - even during difficult moments. As Jennifer Posada often says, even crying on the floor feels better with a pillow. This practice helps you develop of form of “pleasure-based mindfulness.” In other words, you tune into the present moment and see what would feel most pleasurable for you right now. And now. And now. Maybe your office chair is bothering your back and you need to lower it. Maybe you need to close your eyes for 5 seconds to give yourself a break from the glare of your computer screen. Maybe you need to take a deep breath.
The point of this pleasure-seeking is to acknowledge the pursuit of pleasure as a spiritual, and sacred, practice. As women, we are built for pleasure. Seriously. Your clitoris has 8,000 nerve endings that have no other known purpose aside from bringing you pleasure. As a woman, when you fill your pleasure meter, you become radiant. You also become better able to serve others because your well is full. Pleasure puts you in touch with your deep creative potential and opens you up to possibility.
Tip #3: Get To Know Yourself “Down There”
Women receive very mixed messages about their pussies. (Note that I’ve chosen to use the word “pussy” here in the way that Mama Gena uses it in her book Pussy: A Reclamation). On the one hand, we’re taught that our pussies are ugly. We’re told they’re hairy, smelly, bloody, and generally confusing. Compared to the (relatively) straightforward penis, our pussies are mysterious. There are too many folds of skin, too many hidden aspects, too much unknown, so it’s easier to just ignore the whole thing. We’re taught to hide our pussies and to not pay attention to what our pussies want out of fear of being labeled slutty.
On the other hand, we’re surrounded by pussy all day, every day, mostly through advertising and media. We’re bombarded with hyper-sexual images of women all the time, but we aren’t allowed to be these women (because that would be slutty). Over centuries, people have murdered and fought wars over wanting pussies, but on some level many of us think that our own unique pussy is gross.
My invitation to you is this: get to know (and hopefully love) your pussy. If you’re the more practical, scientific type, you can start by getting to know your anatomy. Do you know (like, really know) where your clitoris is? How about the difference between your clitoral hood and your clitoral head? What about your cervix? Your vulva? Labia? Vagina? Grab a hand mirror and take a look at yourself down there. Or spend a little extra time with your pussy in the shower. There are even websites that can help you learn more about your anatomy and pleasure, check out OMGYES for example.
At first this might seem weird. You might even get grossed out or feel self-critical. If this happens, remind yourself that the jewel between your legs is a coveted treasure - a treasure that men (and women) have yearned for over lifetimes. Pussies around the world have inspired poetry, war, and devotion beyond measure. So start giving your pussy the love that she deserves!
Another practical step (if you’re pre-menopausal) is to start tracking your monthly cycles. There are apps to help with this (I use one called Lunacycle). Women aren't taught to pay much attention to the 28-day cycle that we go through each month. On the contrary, we're encouraged to "push through" any bad moods, irritability, headaches, tiredness, and cramps so that we can be productive members of society. We're taught to "suck it up" and basically ignore the fact that we are women. But the truth of the matter is that our hormones go through pretty significant changes each week, and by acknowledging these changes we can help ourselves go with the flow of life instead of pushing against it. As Dr. Christiane Northrup describes:
“The menstrual cycle is the most basic, earthy cycle we have. Our blood is our connection to the archetypal feminine. The macrocosmic cycles of nature, the waxing and waning, the ebb and flow of the tides and the changes of the seasons, are reflected on a smaller scale in the menstrual cycle of the individual female body. The monthly ripening of an egg and subsequent pregnancy or release of menstrual blood mirror the process of creation as it occurs not only in nature, unconsciously, but in human endeavor. In many cultures, the menstrual cycle has been viewed as sacred.”
Read the rest of Dr. Northrup’s blog for more details, but here’s a super quick summary of some of the aspects of our cycles. When we’re ovulating we tend to feel sexy and energetic, when we’re pre-menstrual we get irritated by people/situations that push our boundaries, and when we’re menstrual we need to give ourselves time to rest. While you might not be able to take three days off work every time you menstruate, you can do small things to make your life more comfortable during this phase, like preparing meals in advance or wearing comfortable clothing (even dress pants can be comfortable if you find the right pair!).
I’ve started paying attention to my cycle in a few ways. Every morning I meditate in front of an “altar” of items that are personally meaningful to me. I change the items each week to honour the current phase of my cycle and to remind myself to pay attention to my cyclical nature. I track my cycle using an app that helps me see the phases of my cycle in relation to the current phase of the moon. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the moon goes through a 28-day cycle each month (just like women), and others agree. Paying attention to my body in this way has helped me be gentle on myself when I need to be, and tap into my natural energy when it’s highest. If you want to learn more about the importance of your cycle, check out Shakti Malan’s course on Entering the Wisdom of Women’s Sexual Cycles and Alisa Vitti’s work.
Getting to know the practical aspects of your pussy is all fine and good, but you can take this even further. As Mama Gena suggests, you can start talking to your pussy. Take a quick look at her in the mirror before you hop in the shower and say, “Good morning, gorgeous!” Let me tell you from experience that this is going to feel weird, and you might start to question your sanity. But there is something about acknowledging the existence of your pussy that feels so good. It’s as if by acknowledging her existence, you are righting an ancient wrong that has taught you to ignore her.
You can go even further by asking her questions and “listening” to what she has to say. In addition to having “gut instincts,” I’ve come to realize that we women also have “pussy instincts.” It can take some time to remember these instincts (the practices above will help) but eventually you’ll start to notice her “voice.”
You can try it right now. Do a couple of the practices that I listed in Tip #1 and #2. Then think about a situation in your life that you are unsure about, and ask your pussy a question about the situation. Place your hand on (or hover it over) your pussy. Take a few deep breaths and see if you can tap into her energy. Her response might come as a feeling in your heart or your stomach. Or you might actually hear some sort of voice. Or an idea or image might suddenly pop into your head. Or she might motivate you to write her answer in your journal. Don’t panic if you don’t get a response - our pussies are generally shy from years of us ignoring them. Be gentle with yourself and eventually you will start to feel/hear her. Yes, this last bit is a tad woo-woo, but I couldn’t resist
Bringing It All Together
In this blog I’ve done my best to give you a few easy techniques you can start implementing today to begin tapping into your sacred sexuality as a woman. These tips might seem simple, but they’re powerful. Moving your hips, prioritizing pleasure, and getting to know your pussy will open new doors for you if you practice consistently. Again, I’m not saying you’re going to become a better lover or have mind-blowing orgasms (although this is possible). The reality is that your partner might not even notice a difference in you - at least not at first. But eventually, if they are tuned into you enough, they will start to sense something going on beneath the surface. They might not be able to name it, but they will feel it. At that point, you can choose to engage them in your journey, or continue to fly solo for as long as you see fit. It’s up to you.
In the meantime, if you’re interested I encourage you to learn more about this topic. A few teachers who have inspired me in this area are Shakti Malan, Jennifer Posada, Mama Gena, and Anaiya Sophia. I would also love to hear from you! What have your experiences been with sacred sexuality? Have you tried any of the tips above? How did it go? Let me know in the comments below.
|Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on January 3, 2017 at 4:00 AM||comments (4)|
Back in November I shared a few details about my current journey into the unknown. Part of this journey has involved a deep exploration into who I am, what I want, and how I can be of service in the world. I am still very much in this dark, murky exploration, and very few answers have revealed themselves. However, one consistent response seems to arise when I ponder questions about what I'm here to do.
I am here to tell the Truth.
I'm still not exactly sure what this means, but here are my thoughts so far. Of all the projects, goals, blogs, online courses, and other activities I've engaged in since launching bethanybutzer.com in 2010, there is one theme that seems to serve my audience more than any other. This theme involves an honest, vulnerable sharing of my Truth - whatever my personal Truth happens to be in that moment.
I'm not talking about Ultimate Truth here, such as enlightenment, self-transcendence or non-duality. If you're interested in people who claim to have reached this epic level of Truth, check out Gary Weber, Aisha Salem, and Meike Schuett. Instead, what I'm talking about here is my Soul's personal Truth. The Truth that emanates from the deepest levels of my unique, human experience. This personal Truth is a tricky little devil because it's often entangled with various aspects of my humanity, like feelings, emotions, fears, and past conditioning.
But I've done my best to share several aspects of my personal Truth over the years, like my experiences with antidepressants, my desire to stop overachieving, my explorations into sacred sexuality, my dissatisfaction with my dream job and much, much more. I've made all of this information public, to the dismay of some of my colleagues, friends and family members. Past, present and future employers are free to explore some of my deepest struggles and psychological blind spots. My mom and my in-laws can read about my thoughts around sex and relationships. And while I don't share all of the details of my personal and professional life, I share enough to make myself (and others) rather nervous and uncomfortable.
The question is, why do I share so much of my Truth so openly and candidly? What exactly is the purpose of all of this Truth-telling?
Back in 2010 when I started sharing my Truth publicly, I followed the advice of many online marketers and tried to monetize it. I wrote a book, I taught workshops, and I developed online courses. I took the common self-help approach of, "My life is awesome, let me help you create an awesome life too." My products served many people, but my inner achievement addict got tangled up with my financial fears and I started obsessing over things like monthly sales and growing my online platform. Over the past couple of years - particularly over the past 6 months - I've started backing away from offering these types of services, and I've realized a few important things:
I'm not sure if my Truth-telling wants (or needs) to be monetized. I'm not sure why I feel so compelled to tell the Truth in my personal and professional life. I'm not sure exactly what purpose all of this Truth-telling is serving.
What I do know is that when I tell my Truth, it feels right - even when it's scary. I no longer aspire to have a glossy online presence that makes it look like I have everything figured out. But to be honest, telling my Truth is fucking hard. When I share my Truth, I run the risk of being rejected or ignored. I run the risk of people being upset with me. I run the risk of wrecking relationships and burning professional bridges.
Paradoxically, telling my Truth is also easy. My most vulnerable blogs, emails, and conversations often roll out of me with such force that it doesn't feel like it's me doing the writing/talking. It's as if my Soul wants to bring light to the topics and issues that many of us would rather keep in the dark.
But in order to bring these topics to light, I need to visit the dark. I need to sit with the deepest, darkest parts of myself. The parts that are scared to be admitted, scared to be known, scared to be shown. And while being in the dark is uncomfortable, there is also a sweetness to it. Like a love song that makes you cry and gives you goosebumps at the same time.
This doesn't mean that I tell the Truth all the time. I still have my fair share of big lies, small lies, white lies, secrets, and unspoken Truths. I'm starting to see my journey as a gradual unfolding of Truth-telling, with everything being revealed in perfect timing. And when I share my Truth, I think it gives other people permission to do the same. It helps them examine the darker parts of their lives and their psyches, and hopefully gives them the courage to bring these shadows to light in the service of their soul.
A Truth-telling archetype that has been surfacing in my consciousness a lot lately is the Dakini. As Shakti Malan describes:
"Dakini is a term from Tibetan Tantrism denoting a female deity who is an embodiment of the enlightened condition. A dakini can be manifest in human form as a guide to help others towards their awakening. Dakinis have a dual role: they are angels and they are demons. As angels, they act as muses – they inspire their students towards their highest possibility. The name dakini literally means “sky dancer” – a term referring to what happens when a woman‟s sexual energy opens up all the way through her body. In her demon role, the dakini can act as seductress and as a destroyer of illusions. The dakini seduces her partner to the truth, and destroys his/her illusions. The dakini is traditionally depicted as a young dancing woman with a skullcap filled with blood in one hand and a curved knife in the other. Like the goddess Kali, she may wear a garland of skulls around her neck. She is often depicted as standing on the head or body of a human or animal, depicting the ego that she has conquered.
All women are an embodiment of the dakini. The question is whether you are willing to take on this sacred power bestowed on your sexuality, and use it clearly and wisely. That is the correct use of our sexual power as women."
Similarly, Anaiya Sophia describes the Dakini as:
"The great tantric priestesses who seek the darkness, illusion and suffering on purpose, so they may eat it with vigor and wild abandon. A Dakini is a female with a very sharp, brilliant wisdom that is uncompromising, honest, with a little bit of wrath. Despite their gentleness and humour, they are direct, sharply intelligent, radical, and courageous. In essence, they live their lives and accomplishments as shining examples of dedication, compassion and realisation.
The Dakinis literally consume suffering - both our own pain and the suffering all around us.
In essence they literally Love the Hell out of everything they turn their attention to. Their medicine will awaken our fierce love, a form of dangerous devotion that stirs a compassion so rich and deep, that no matter how cruel or cold we/life might seem to be, there is a burning Hope."
While I am far from being a self-realized Dakini, I believe this archetype calls to me because I am meant to embody many of its principles. I am meant to share my Truth as a portal that opens this ability in others, and helps break down the illusions they've built around themselves and their souls. Whether this process is meant to be part of my "career" or something that I do "on the side" remains to be seen.
In the meantime I plan to continue my explorations into the unknown. Right now, my personal Truth is this: I have no clue what the future holds for me personally or professionally. I suppose none of us do. I'm entering 2017 with an open heart and a blank page. I have no major goals, resolutions, projects, or products to complete. I have no business plan. I haven't done any whiteboarding or brainstorming or mind mapping around what grand new service I should offer this year. I often feel uncomfortable, sad, anxious, and confused. Being goal-less is a very foreign feeling for achievement addicts like me. During the first few days of 2017 I've been vacillating between a sense of calm over everything unfolding perfectly, to a sense of panic that I have no clue WTF I'm doing with my life.
And so as we enter this new year I have absolutely nothing to offer you, dear reader, except for this blog and my commitment to continue sharing my Truth when my Soul calls on me to do so. I can only hope that my Truth-telling will serve my highest good, and the good of the world.
With this in mind, what Truth do you need to share today?
|Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on November 16, 2016 at 7:30 AM||comments (8)|
A few weeks ago I received some disappointing news. A book proposal that I’d been working on with a small publishing company was suddenly, and surprisingly, rejected. The idea for the book had been percolating in my mind for 4 years, and I spent 2 years sharing my concepts and ideas with the acquisitions editor. She gave me very encouraging feedback all along the way, which is why I was so surprised when she wrote to tell me her publisher was rejecting my work.
However, after the initial shock wore off, I noticed a new feeling emerging.
I realized that I’d been trying too hard to force my ideas to fit within this particular publishing company’s niche - to the point that my proposal didn’t feel authentic anymore. In fact, the entire time I was writing the proposal I had a sense of unease. It was like I had to force myself to write, which is odd for me, since writing is one of my passions.
The irony is that the book is based on a popular blog I wrote 4 years ago called Stop Trying So Hard. In other words, I was trying too hard to write a book about not trying too hard. So the proposal got shut down.
Sometimes the universe has a wicked sense of humour.
The rejection of my proposal was the “pièce de résistance” of several months of soul-searching about my career. I’ve spent much of the summer and early fall ruminating about what’s next for me professionally. Right now, my website and bio describe me as an “author, speaker, researcher and yoga teacher.” Well, it’s been 6 years since I wrote my book, and 4 years since I gave a talk for the general public or taught a yoga class. So what am I actually doing? Is my website even accurate anymore?
One thing that I have been doing a lot of is research. However, I know based on my time in grad school, and the various academic positions I’ve held, that too much research isn’t good for me. Research often traps me in my analytical, logical mind and blocks me from my creativity. Over the past 4 years I’ve had full-time (or close to full-time) research-related work, which has simply been too much. As I once read somewhere, "Be careful what you're good at. You could end up doing it for the rest of your life."
Over the past few months I’ve been using my achievement-oriented mindset to help me decide what direction to take next professionally. In other words, I keep journaling and brainstorming and obsessing about WTF I’m doing with my life. I come up with ideas like, “Screw that publisher! Maybe I should just self-publish my new book,” or “Maybe I should lead a retreat in Prague,” or “Maybe I should design a new online course.” One of the reasons the publisher rejected my proposal is that they don't think I have a big enough online platform to promote the book. This led me to several other ideas like, “Maybe I should host a free webinar to get more followers on Facebook,” or “Maybe I should collaborate with someone so we can help each other grow our email lists.”
But do you know what? Every single one of these ideas feels flat. They feel inauthentic and cheesy. It’s not that I have anything against online courses or personal development retreats - I’ve led many of these types of events in the past and I probably will continue to do so in the future.
Just not right now.
This leads to an important question: Exactly what do I want to be doing with my time right now?
I keep asking myself how I can best serve myself and serve the world via the gifts I’ve been given. I keep asking, “What does love want to produce through me right now?” When I manage to slow down my inner achievement addict (who thinks I should be producing new products), a quieter, more subtle voice emerges. It’s barely a whisper, but I know that it is the voice of my soul. And here is what it says:
“Right now, the universe wants to produce a softer version of you.”
You see, I’ve spent most of my adult life living within very hard edges. I’ve focused obsessively on achievement - a mindset that brought me all the way to Harvard, which is fantastic. But I’ve been too serious. Too focused. Too perfect. I’ve used my achievements to define my identity and my sense of self-worth.
The universe wants me to release my iron grip on my life and start colouring outside the lines. It wants me to let up on my hyper-masculine obsession with achievement, and let in a feminine energy that involves yielding to creativity instead of forcing it to happen. As I mentioned in my last blog, I’m very grateful for everything that my inner masculine has brought into my life, and I have no intention of eliminating him. I just need to give him permission to let go of the reins a little.
This process began when I left Harvard 1.5 years ago to enter into what Bill Plotkin calls “the unknown.” In his book Soulcraft, Plotkin describes the process of entering a “second adulthood” where we come into closer contact with our soul. This second adulthood is often precipitated by a loss of various structures that once made up our identity. Sometimes this loss comes from receiving a terminal diagnosis, or a divorce, or surviving a natural disaster. Whatever the external cause, the result is a period of time spent in the unknown, where many of the labels that previously defined you no longer exist.
I’ve spent the last 1.5 years in the unknown, and I’m not exactly sure when this period is going to end. In fact, I feel it deepening.
Spending two months living in the woods, and then moving to the Czech Republic, has stripped away much of my former identity. I’ve entered into a world where hardly anyone knows me or has any idea what I do for a living. I can walk down the street in Prague with an almost 0% chance of seeing anyone I know. The Canadian values and structures that I was raised with either don't exist here or take on a different form. Often, my language doesn't even exist here. I don’t speak Czech, so I spend a lot of time being non-verbal in social situations, which allows me to exit my often overpowering verbal, analytical mind and access subtle non-verbal cues that I never would have noticed otherwise. I live thousands of miles away from most of my friends and family. I don’t own a home or a car. I don’t even own my furniture (I rent a furnished apartment).
I seem to be doing the exact opposite of what most people my age are doing. Instead of “settling down” with stable structures like a house, car, and corporate job, I’ve spent the past year and a half systematically dismantling every single structure that once helped me feel secure.
Am I crazy? Perhaps. But this leap into the unknown seems to be exactly what my soul desires.
The result is that it feels as if the boundaries around my personal and professional lives are loosening. The rigid boxes, titles, and roles that I used to place myself in are more diffuse and open to possibilities than they used to be. After all, when you don’t have external structures to define what your career should look like, or what your relationship should look like, or what your friendships should look like, it gives you the freedom to re-create these structures in a way that is most aligned for you.
The paradox is that this freedom is both liberating and terrifying. I’m reminded of my friends in grad school who did research on choice overload. Honestly, my life is a super-sized bowl of choice overload right now. My husband and I are both self-employed and our work is completely virtual. We own almost nothing right now aside from our dishes, books, clothes, computers, photo albums and a cat. We have no children. We have Canadian and European Union citizenship. This means we have a multitude of choices in terms of where to live and work. Our relationship and our professional lives are open to so many possibilities that it’s almost overwhelming.
I’ve realized that the universe needs to create a softer version of me so that I can exist in this type of environment without completely freaking out. The softer version will show me a new way to live. It will show me a new paradigm that isn’t solely based on achievement and busy-ness and climbing invisible ladders.
So what exactly will this softer version of me look like?
Well for starters, I need to pay the bills, so I will continue to do my research consulting work as long as it is available (albeit on a part-time basis and in a more relaxed way). I do research on yoga and mindfulness in schools, which is a lovely way for me to use my skills to benefit the world. However, this work has been slowing down over the past few months, and it might dry up completely at some point. But instead of forcing myself to frantically create new products or find new consulting gigs, I’m going to spend some time unwinding.
I want to unwind years of achievement addiction that have told me I need to be perfect to be a worthy human being. I’m also going to spend time pursuing pleasure and doing things that light me up. I’m going to spend time being naughty and mischievous - not in a way that hurts anyone - but in a way that helps me feel what it’s like to slack off and break the rules.
My soul no longer wants me to be a perfect “good girl” who pleases everyone else, neglects her own pleasure, and never rocks the boat. My soul wants to read poetry in cafes on a Tuesday morning and have solo dance parties in my living room in the middle of the afternoon. My soul wants to binge watch on Netflix and read books that have nothing to do with personal development. My soul wants to have belly laughs - lots of them. My soul wants to share her truth and have difficult conversations when necessary. My soul wants me to fully inhabit my feminine, sensual body. I’m learning how to do some of this unwinding through my studies of sacred sexuality, which I intend to continue.
I fully acknowledge the fact that I’m privileged to have this lifestyle. But as I’ve mentioned before, this privilege didn’t come out of thin air. I helped create it, and I’m going to milk it for everything it’s worth.
This means that I’m going to be stepping back from a few more structures, in order to go even deeper into the unknown. For example, I’ve been blogging religiously, without fail, every two weeks since 2010. And while I know that consistent blogging is important in terms of growing my online platform, I’ve decided to remove the “every 2 week” rule, at least for now. I will still blog - but it will be on a soul schedule instead of a linear time schedule. I also plan to spend less time on social media.
All of this might sound like I’m moving backwards professionally. It might sound like I’m being lazy or reckless. And in some ways, I guess I am. But I like to think of it more as an incubation period. It’s a time for me to yield to my own pleasure as a way for the universe to show me how I can best serve the world, instead of me trying to force myself to serve in the ways that my ego thinks are most appropriate. This process might take a month, a year, or a decade. While slacking off might come easy for some people, it is excruciating for achievement addicts like me. I might run out of money. I will freak out regularly. In fact, my inner achievement addict is freaking out at this very moment because I’m making these words public.
But I refuse to live anything other than my soul’s most authentic life. This is often challenging, but always worth it. This is also the beauty of soul work. It is often counter-intuitive and paradoxical. I mean, really, shouldn’t I be taking my career to the next level by putting myself out there, growing my platform, making connections, and "knocking it out of the park?" Shouldn’t I be climbing the ladder and saving for retirement?
Right now, my soul says no.
I’m reminded of a story Sera Beak recently shared on Facebook, where she described feeling completely “done” after giving a talk at a personal development gathering. In Sera’s words, after giving the talk she,
“...felt a distinct kind of divine depression, a slap down of my lofty spiritual ideals, a subtle refusal to continue my mission, accompanied by a teenagerly ‘tude: “fuck off universe, this gig totally blows,” and the sinking realization that shit might not “get better” for a loooong time on this planet…no matter what I, or souls far greater than I, do.”
Sera went on to describe Gandhi’s final interview, in which he shared that he was losing hope in humanity. She concludes,
“If Gandhi felt like giving up and things had gone to shit, it’s OK if we “spiritual” people do too. It’s OK to feel “done” sometimes. It’s OK to throw in the transcendent towel, draw the cosmic curtains, hang the “do not disturb sign” on your divine doorknob and watch 6 seasons straight of True Blood.”
And so, this is where I am right now. I’m “done” with my achievement addict. I’m done with producing online courses and regular blogging and teaching yoga and leading personal development retreats. Perhaps not forever, but for now.
I’ve realized that in order to write an authentic book about not trying so hard, I need to truly live it. I need to see what happens when I let go of the rope and practice what I preach. Only then will I be able to re-emerge with the confidence to share what I’ve learned. So I’m hanging my ‘do not disturb’ sign and opening to a softer version of me. I don’t know what this softer version will produce, aside from possibly making me a better human being. Which is, of course, everything.
How could me slowing down possibly serve the world? I have no idea. But I’m about to find out.
I’d like to leave you with a blessing by John O’Donohue, from the book Anam Cara. I hope these words serve you and I on our journeys toward soul-full work:
May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the
secret love and warmth of your heart.
May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light, and
renewal to those who work with you and to those who see
and receive your work.
May your work never weary you.
May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment,
inspiration, and excitement.
May you be present in what you do,
May you never become lost in the bland absences.
May the day never burden.
May dawn find you awake and alert, appreciating your
new day with dreams, possibilities, and promises.
May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed, sheltered, and protected.
May your soul calm, console, and renew you.
From my soul to yours,
|Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on November 2, 2016 at 6:00 AM||comments (0)|
Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I write from a pretty vulnerable place. I share a lot of personal details about my struggles, my joys, and the various teachers who have inspired my journey. In this blog I’m taking my vulnerability to a new level. You see, for the past 2 years or so I’ve been learning about (and greatly inspired by) a topic that I rarely (if ever) mention publicly.
The topic is sacred sexuality.
In reflecting on why I don’t write about this topic much, I realized it’s because of embarrassment and shame. I was worried that if I blogged about sacred sexuality people would think I was a crazy hippie. Or that I had some sort of sexual dysfunction. Or that I was practicing “deviant” sexual activities. The ironic thing is that one of the first few things you learn as a woman studying sacred sexuality is that women have been taught - for centuries - to harbor embarrassment and shame when it comes to the physical act of sex and their sexuality in general.
There are women in my life who are doing deep spiritual work and who are blogging about it from the rooftops - but they keep their explorations of sacred sexuality behind closed doors. They are learning awesome things from great teachers, but they’re afraid to post about their teachers' work because they don’t want their friends and family to know about the “risqué” things that they’re studying.
On the one hand, I get it. To some extent, sexuality is a private matter and we don’t all need to be preaching our pillow talk. It's understandable that some people don't want their friends, colleagues, or children learning about their sex lives. However, as I’ll explain in more detail below, I think it’s crucial for women to come clean about their interest in, and explorations of, sacred sexuality in a way that both honors their lifestyle and respects their privacy. Why? Because the world needs it. Mother earth needs women to own and be proud of their sexual nature, and I truly believe that women waking up to their divine sexuality will help make the world a better place.
Last summer I attended a retreat in Montana led by Sera Beak. At one point during the retreat, Sera asked the group to close our eyes. Then she said, “Raise your hand if you’re a sexual priestess.” I’m not sure how many of the other women in the group raised their hands, but I did. Sera went on to explain that whether we realize it or not, all women are sexual priestesses. In my opinion, one of the first steps to owning our roles as sexual priestesses involves releasing the shame and guilt that we might feel around claiming such a grand title.
I’ve realized that withholding my sexual truth inevitably leads to hurt and pain - for myself and others. So I’m coming clean. The reason I’m writing this blog is to be transparent and do my part to pull back the curtain of shame and guilt that often surrounds this topic. So here goes.
A Few Disclaimers
First, a few disclaimers:
- I’m very new to the study of sacred sexuality, and this blog is in no way meant to be an in-depth exploration of this topic. I’ll be referencing a few teachers along the way - feel free to explore those resources if you want to learn more.
- Throughout the blog I’ll be referring to dynamics that can exist in heterosexual relationships - not because I don’t think these dynamics exist for same-sex couples - but because most of my experiences have been with men.
- When I use the terms “masculine” and “feminine,” I’m not necessarily referring to men and women. I’m also not saying that either energy is better or worse than the other.
- When I talk about “sacred sexuality,” I’m not just referring to physical sexual intercourse.
- When I use the word “pussy” I’m not trying to offend anyone. What some authors call pussy, others call yoni, or vagina, or soul, or your true self. They are all the same thing: the core essence of who you really are as a woman.
- I’m going to make some generalizations about male-female relationships. I’m not trying to say that all relationships are like this - I’m using it as a literary device to give examples of how certain patterns might manifest in our daily lives.
My Initial Explorations
So what exactly do I mean when I use the term “sacred sexuality?” I’ll be honest by admitting that I don’t completely know. At the broadest level, my personal explorations into sacred sexuality have involved delving into the masculine and feminine energies that live within and around us. In other words, sacred sexuality isn’t only about the physical act of sexual intercourse. It’s about finding ways for the true masculine and true feminine energies to dance within you and within your partnerships.
I particularly enjoy Lissa Rankin’s musings on what sacred sexuality might look like in the context of dating - a concept she calls “open monogamy.” Lissa shares:
“In a spiritual partnership, sex becomes a gateway to communion with the Divine, rather than simply a mutual quest to get off. With love and tenderness holding the vulnerability of the heart safe in an ocean of trust, physical intimacy becomes a gateway to expanded states of consciousness, where you see the Divine in the eyes of your beloved, and you are seen as the embodiment of the Divine in the eyes of your beloved. As you share breath and heartbeats, you experience pleasure not just from the superficial level of genital orgasm, but from the deep heart connection and deep pleasure of full-bodied ecstatic union. As two people commune sexually as a gateway to spiritual connection, unhealed wounds can be cleared, conflicts between the partners can be healed, and Divine love can enter the union as a reminder of what is possible when unconditional love marries the flesh.”
This might all sound a bit abstract, and in truth, it is. But let me try to offer a few concrete examples.
For years the various coaches and teachers that I worked with told me that I needed to get more in touch with my inner feminine - but I had no idea what they meant. My first attempt to connect with the feminine involved attending a retreat by Sally Kempton at the Kripalu Centre for Yoga & Health. The retreat was about developing a personal relationship with the feminine - specifically through studying and meditating on various goddesses, like Kali and Lakshmi. During one of the meditations - which wasn’t explicitly sexual in any way - I started to experience an energy that felt kind of like sexual arousal, but bigger. Where did I feel this energy? In a spot that we women are still having trouble finding a word for, so I’ll use a few. I felt this energy deep within my vagina/pussy/genitals/yoni. The energy slowly moved up my body, and it felt delicious.
I later learned that I had experienced a manifestation of feminine energy in my body, and that this pleasurable energy is my birthright. I realized that the more I give myself permission to feel this energy in my daily life, the more I’ll shine in general and make the world a better place.
However, as is the case with most personal development, change happens slowly. After coming back from the retreat I got back into my busy life and all but forgot about my experience. A year later, something nudged me to read Sera Beak’s book Red, Hot & Holy, which led me to sign up for her Soul Fire Retreat. The retreat was a life changing experience that helped me get a better sense of my soul/true self. The retreat wasn’t explicitly about sacred sexuality, but we did a lot of work with reconnecting with the divine feminine within and around us.
My post-soul-fire experience has ushered several fantastic teachers into my life, like Shakti Malan, Jennifer Posada, Esther Perel, and Mama Gena. I’ve taken courses on reconnecting with my sexual cycles - which means acknowledging the fact that as a woman, my body changes every week in a cyclical way, and there are practices I can do to honour each phase of my menstrual cycle. I’ve taken courses on energy orgasms and becoming a sexual priestess. I’m reading books about “mating in captivity.” Right now I’m reading Mama Gena’s new book called “Pussy: A Reclamation” which is absolutely fantastic (seriously, her chapter on “Cliteracy” should be required reading for both men and women). I also have teachers on my list whose work I plan to delve into at some point, like David Deida and Alison Armstrong.
What have I learned from my initial explorations?
That I need to give myself permission to be a woman.
Men, Women, & Relationships
Like many women, I’ve spent most of my life operating purely from my masculine, because that’s what’s valued in modern society. Masculine energy tends to have a one-pointed, goal-oriented focus. In other words, the masculine runs a tight ship and gets shit done. If you look up “Bethany Butzer” in the dictionary, I fulfill these requirements to a “T.” Do you want productivity, reliability and achievement? Call me up. I can literally count on one hand the number of times I’ve skipped class or handed a project in late or forgot to do something on my To Do list. In 10 years of university I never pulled an all-nighter to get work done. My personal and professional lives are probably the most tightly run ships around.
The problem is that my ships run so tight that I've lost my ability to loosen up. I forgot how to flow and be open and creative and spontaneous which, among other things, are some of the energies of the feminine.
And I know I’m not alone. Countless women in my life, from a variety of cultural and educational backgrounds, have followed a similar pattern. In fact, I would argue that the majority of my female friends and colleagues live from their masculine. How does this manifest in their day-to-day lives? Well, for starters they do almost everything. They work, they raise kids, they cook, they clean, they pay the bills, they organize family events, and the list goes on. In other words, they get shit done. And they do an impeccable job. The problem is that they stop taking care of themselves in the process. They spend time carefully braiding their child’s hair while they barely have time to wash or style their own. They make sure their husband has a healthy lunch packed for work while their lunch consists of instant coffee and a bagel.
Now before I go any further I want to make it exceptionally clear that this isn’t about man bashing. Because guess what? Women are helping perpetuate this problem. First of all, I think most men aren’t exactly sure how to handle women who are operating from their masculine. I think that many men from my generation and socio-cultural background were raised by (well-meaning) parents who made them unsure about how to inhabit their masculinity and femininity. In other words, these parents didn’t want their sons to be over-controlling assholes who abuse their wives. Many (but of course not all) men from my generation were taught to respect women. They were taught not to be “too masculine.” However, they were also taught not to be “too feminine.” Their parents didn’t teach them how to cook or do laundry or cry in public because then they’d be pussies. The result is a generation of men who have a lot of ambivalence about their inner masculine and inner feminine. They aren’t sure which “camp” to inhabit - if they inhabit any camp at all.
But don’t worry, because super-masculine-woman will come in and fix all of this by doing everything! Because the (well-meaning) parents of my generation taught us women not to ever have to rely on a man. We were told that we can do everything that a man can do, and more. We were taught to reach for the stars and achieve, achieve, achieve, because we don’t need a man to make it in this world. We were taught to be hyper-masculine, and to avoid the feminine because was too weak, too emotional, and too sappy to make it in this cutthroat world.
Men often come from families that didn’t encourage them to be masculine or feminine, whereas women are often taught to inhabit their masculine.
(Side note: I’m extremely grateful for my upbringing and for the women who came before me who fought for our rights. Many of us, however, have taken these original intentions too far. Also, please let me reemphasize that I don't think that all women and all men were raised like this. It's simply a pattern that I often see in many men and women around me - which I absolutely realize is based on my personal social/cultural context).
This results in many heterosexual relationships that look something like this: the woman controls almost all aspects of the household, and the man walks on eggshells doing his best not to piss her off. He sits still, wide-eyed, watching her run around like a hurricane until she tells him what to do. When he does what she asked him to do, he never does it good enough (i.e. her way) so she ends up re-doing it herself or getting angry and accusing him of not doing enough around the house. When the woman gets upset because she’s physically and emotionally exhausted (typically during PMS), both partners get frustrated and can’t figure out what all the fuss is about, because things seem to run relatively smoothly at other times of the month (usually because the woman is able to successfully suppress her anger when she isn’t PMS’ing and because women aren’t taught how to ask for what they need).
Modern men and women are stuck in a place where they don’t know how to allow both the masculine and feminine to dance within themselves and their partnerships.
Sound familiar? Personally, I’ve seen this dynamic play out in my relationship many times. The worst part is that sometimes when my husband would try to take the initiative by cleaning the house or surprising me with dinner I would actually get annoyed. Annoyed! Why? Because I’d notice that he didn’t clean the way I’d clean. He didn’t use the right detergent on the hardwood floors or he didn’t put a bounce sheet in the dryer. Or he’d make a dinner of pork wrapped in pork with a side of pork (my husband is Czech and thus loves meat, bread, and beer). During these times I’d act like I appreciated what he was doing, but I would be giving off an annoyed vibe and/or “fixing” whatever it is that he’d done (like delicately picking pork chunks out of my risotto). Living in my masculine and always wanting things done MY way actually emasculated my husband and made him feel like he couldn’t do anything right.
Bringing The Masculine & Feminine Into Balance
My explorations into sacred sexuality have taught me that there shouldn’t be shame in operating from my feminine. She is not weak or emotional or crazy. When properly nurtured, she is the seat of my divinity, my intuition, and my creative potential. Which is why I’m starting to give her the attention she deserves. I’ve been pulling back on my household duties and letting my husband take more of the reigns - even when he doesn’t do things my way. I’m giving my husband (and myself) permission to dote on me, to take care of me, to adore me. Sometimes this means I let him pay for dinner instead of insisting that we go 50/50. Other times it means I let him buy me a pair of shoes without hassling him about how much they cost. Or it might mean that I leave it up to him to schedule his own dentist and doctor appointments. These days he does his own laundry, and we take turns cooking. The steps are small, but they add up.
My explorations have also taught me that my inner masculine is not wrong or bad. It’s just that I’ve let him control too much of my life so far. As Shakti Malan shares:
“It's often very valuable to clearly see, and appreciate, what your masculine has brought into your life. It's not about telling him to leave - it's about developing a conscious relationship. Without the masculine, the feminine has a hard time being in the world and she gets overwhelmed by her own intensity of experience.”
So I’m taking this opportunity to publicly thank my masculine for all of the amazing things he’s brought into my life. My inner masculine is responsible for giving me the determination, focus, and discipline to be the first person in my family to attend university. He’s responsible for helping me get my PhD, win awards, work at Harvard, and run a super-organized household.
But these days I’m craving feminine qualities like joy, pleasure, and flow. I want to let go of the reigns. My inner masculine perceives these qualities as slacking off, but my true self knows that these feminine aspects, in combination with my masculine, are essential to a life well-lived.
Case in point: Combining my masculine qualities of focus, discipline and organization with my feminine qualities of flow, pleasure, and spontaneity is how I ended up leaving Harvard to live in the woods, followed by a move to Prague. My current lifestyle is the result of me combining my ability to get organized and go after what I want (masculine) with my desire for beauty and inspiration and an ability to leap into the unknown (feminine).
It’s not about eliminating the masculine or feminine. As with all things, balance is key.
Cultivating Radiance Through The Feminine
Now that I’ve been settled in Prague for a year I’m starting to up the ante on nurturing my feminine by taking more unscheduled time for myself. I've devoted every Thursday to spending time with my soul / true self. I’m surrounding myself with small things that make me feel good, like high quality essential oils, lovely body creams, and comfortable socks. As Mama Gena calls it, I’m “pussifying” my life. In other words, I’m surrounding myself with an environment that makes my pussy/soul/true self feel good. Because when I honour these aspects of my femininity, I shine. I radiate a light that is infectious and that changes the world, one person at a time.
I know this because I’ve experienced it. I just didn’t know exactly what it was. There have been times in my life when I’ve been tapped into my soul/pussy/true self, and I know that others can feel it. Both men and women. Sometimes men interpret the feeling as sexual attraction - and sometimes they’re right. However what’s been more common in my experience is that when I’m “tuned in” to my radiance, both men and women simply want to be in my physical presence (without necessarily wanting to be sexually intimate). My light acts like a muse or a courtesan - inspiring them to reach their highest potential. Sometimes I’ve taken things further and this light got transferred into a sexual relationship, which in my opinion is sacred sexuality in the truest sense of the word. For me, sacred sex happens when my radiance is turned on, and the sexual relationship reaches a level of intimacy and closeness that inspires both partners inside and outside of the bedroom. It’s rare, but it happens.
There are, however, shadows to be aware of in the realm of sacred sexuality. For example, there is a difference between turning on your radiance and attracting men and women into your life in order to inspire them and change the world, versus attracting people to make yourself feel better about yourself. Personally, I’ve done both. There were times in my life when I had a series of men orbiting me, not as a muse or courtesan to inspire them or help them grow, but instead as a method to boost my low self-esteem. These men might have been tapping into some of my radiance, which is what kept them interested - but I wasn’t using my light in an honourable way. This meant people got hurt in the process. As I mentioned in my last blog, discernment is key. These days, I’m doing my best to discern when someone is drawn to me based on my inherent, natural radiance versus attracting people based on a desire to boost my self-worth. It’s not easy, but I’m getting better at it.
Sacred Sexuality: It's Happening All Around You
What's my take-home point? I want to share my explorations into the masculine, feminine, and sacred sexuality because I’m tired of hiding it in the shadows. I want to be an example of the fact that not all women (or men) who study sacred sexuality are “far out” deviant hippies with names like “moonbeam” and “sting.” There are people studying sacred sexuality all around you - you just don’t know it because they’re hiding. There’s the wholesome soccer mom down the block who is actually in a polyamorous marriage. There’s the CEO who wears a suit all day and then dances naked under the full moon at night. There’s the strict schoolteacher who spends her weekends practicing orgasmic meditation (OM).
Keep in mind, however, that having an interest in sacred sexuality doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing anything “kinky.” It simply means that you’re working/playing with the dance of the divine masculine and the divine feminine in your own unique way(s). This might mean that you’re interested in moving orgasmic energy through your whole body, or it might simply mean you’re interested in taking a dance class.
Personally, I don’t have a “spiritual name” or a perfect understanding of what sacred sexuality is. I’m a (relatively) normal, down to earth woman. I’m also a scientist who places a great deal of value on rigorous research. I even did my PhD on romantic relationships - and published a study about sexual satisfaction - but there’s a difference between reading about sexuality in books and actually living it. To be honest, I don’t have any research to back up a single word I’ve mentioned in this blog. But it is my lived experience which, in my opinion, is more rich, juicy, and meaningful that any peer-reviewed academic article.
Now that I’ve come clean I’d love to hear from you. Have you been studying sacred sexuality but you’re too scared to admit it? Are you a woman (or man) who is starting to give yourself permission to embrace your inner masculine or feminine? Come out of the shadows in the comments below!
|Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on October 19, 2016 at 3:35 AM||comments (0)|
I recently started spending every Thursday with my soul (AKA my true self). This means that I do everything in my power to keep my To Do list as empty as possible on Thursdays. This new routine is terrifying for my false self, which tends to be an overachieving workaholic. In fact, when I first started celebrating soul days my false self created huge To Do lists full of self-help activities like reading motivational books, watching inspirational videos, and going for walks in nature.
But there was something about this process that didn't feel quite right. It felt over-scheduled and forced - like I was pressuring myself to feel good. So I decided to take a different approach that involves leaving my Thursdays wide open. Every Thursday morning I sit in meditation for 15 minutes and gently ask my soul what it feels called to do that day.
And guess what my soul's answer usually is?
That's right. My soul seems to feel like doing absolutely nothing.
This baffled and irritated me at first (and to be honest, it still kind of does). It also causes my my inner overachiever to totally freak out. During these moments, overachiever Bethany chimes in with thoughts like, "Come on, soul, pull yourself together! Let's do some super awesome personal development shit so that Bethany can learn and grow and transcend and serve the world! I mean, really, you want to do nothing? What does that even mean? Do you expect us to just sit here and stare out the window?"
To which my soul replies, "Yes. I want you to wrap yourself in that blanket, sit in a comfy chair, and stare out the window."
So I do it. And I find it absolutely excruciating.
But, being the good soul student that I am, I've kept doing nothing when that's what my soul wants to do.
Then, right on cue, two resources came into my world. One was a video interview by Gabrielle Bernstein, and the other was a song by the band Daughter. Both resources talk about our tendencies to numb ourselves from feeling what we need to feel. Most of us are relatively familiar with the concept of numbing out through drugs or alcohol or sex. We've all been in situations of heartbreak when we have sex with someone as a way to numb ourselves instead of feeling an emotional connection, or we drink too much in an effort to forget about our stress.
I've used these not-so-healthy coping mechanisms many times in my life - but my soul days have made me realize something very important:
I also sometimes use healthy habits as a way to numb out from feeling what I need to feel.
As Gabby mentioned in her video, a huge habit for me is numbing out through work. Here are a few examples. As an undergraduate student I got into regular arguments with my long-term boyfriend. I vividly remember hanging up the phone in tears and then immediately grabbing my textbooks and heading to the study hall in my residence. I rarely gave myself an opportunity to cry it out or process my emotions. Similarly, during the last year of my PhD, my stepfather died tragically and unexpectedly from an oxycontin overdose. I took the requisite week off from my studies, but I kept myself busy instead of letting myself feel. After my week was up, I plunged myself back into my work with a vengeance - rarely talking about or acknowledging what happened. I finished my PhD with perfect timing and even won a national award for my research. Even now, when I get into arguments with my husband, I feel an almost irresistible pull toward my work. I sit at my desk, take a deep breath, and jump headfirst into the most difficult project that I can.
In other words, I use work to avoid life.
In my twenties I spent 7 years in therapy, and not a single therapist ever called me out on this numbing behavior. Why? Because achievement and productivity are so valued in our culture that most of us don't realize when we're using work to numb ourselves. In fact, we're praised and given awards for our overwork.
But overwork isn't the only strategy that we use to numb out. I've realized that many of us also use "healthy habits" like yoga, meditation, and personal development to avoid our feelings. I'm not saying that these techniques are bad - I'm a yoga teacher and I've spent years researching the beneficial effects of yoga and meditation. However I've noticed that there is a fine line between using these techniques for our well-being versus using them to avoid feeling.
Here's an example. I've noticed that there are times when I force myself to do yoga or meditate in an attempt to make myself "feel better." In the same way that someone might have a few too may drinks or smoke a cigarette when they're stressed - I turn to contemplative practices. During these times I notice myself trying to "force away" whatever I'm feeling. I sometimes use stretching and breathing techniques to get rid of my sadness or anxiety, instead of allowing myself to fully experience these emotions.
I've realized that I don't enjoy feeling my emotions, and I try to avoid them at all costs. I've noticed that I'm afraid to be vulnerable. I'm afraid to be human. It takes a heck of a lot for me to cry in front of anyone - even my husband. When I do cry, it usually means that I'm so upset that my avoidance tactics simply aren't working anymore. When I cry, people who know me well know that I mean business.
This doesn't mean that I'm numbing out every time I use a contemplative practice. What I've realized is that I need to use laser-sharp discernment to identify when I'm numbing versus when my body and mind actually need these practices.
I've noticed that if I get still and tune into my body this process becomes relatively straightforward. For example, let's say I'm feeling anxious about work and I get an urge to do some yoga. Before starting to practice, I'll close my eyes and notice how my body feels about doing yoga. Sometimes, my body feels like, "Yes! We've been sitting at a desk all day and we really need to move." Other times, my body says, "I'm actually exhausted. The last thing I feel like doing is yoga. Maybe you can roll out your yoga mat, get a blanket, and lay there for awhile. It would really help if we could feel through and process this anxiety instead of avoiding it."
I was trained in mindfulness meditation, which involves bringing your attention into the present moment by focusing on some sort of mantra or sensation, such as the breath. I'll be the first to say that I think mindfulness is amazing - but for me personally, sometimes it feels like a form of avoidance. For example, I might be feeling sad, so I force myself to sit and pay attention to the feeling of the breath coming in and out of my nose. The whole time there's this sadness sinking deep into the pit of my stomach - but I try to ignore the sadness and focus on my breath. Or "watch the sadness pass by like clouds in the sky."
The same goes for repeating positive affirmations. How many of us have plastered post-its all over our homes with messages like "I am abundant" and "All is well" when we actually feel like crap and don't believe a word we're reading?
As you start paying attention to your own body you might notice similar patterns. Perhaps you start being able to tell the difference between times when you listen to music as a form of genuine release versus times when you put on a happy tune to force yourself out of a bad mood. Or maybe you notice that instead of meditating you really just need to have a good cry or punch your pillow.
These days I've taken up a practice that I believe is one of the most difficult I've ever tried: doing nothing. I've dabbled in doing nothing before, but this time I'm committing to doing nothing regularly. For me, "doing nothing" means that when I feel a deep sense of longing, sadness, anger, or anxiety, I don't immediately run to my yoga mat or watch an inspirational video. Instead, I sit with the feeling. Sometimes I close my eyes, other times I literally stare at a wall. I make no effort to try to make myself feel better. Instead, I allow myself to feel the emotion in my body. I feel the longing as an ache deep in my chest or the anxiety as a knot in my stomach. I notice how the emotion morphs over time. Sometimes the feeling gets stronger, sometimes it decreases. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I get angry. In all cases, I resist the urge to numb.
(Side note: If you've been through serious trauma like sexual abuse or war, feeling into your body and emotions can be a very intense process that's probably best done under the supervision of a professional. Click here for a listing of psychologists in the United States and Canada).
Personally, I see this new practice as a radical form of self-love and self-acceptance. I see it as my soul's way of fully embodying me as a human. My soul is here to feel what it's like to be in this human body - both in ecstasy and in sorrow.
The past year of my life has involved a lot of work with discernment. Discerning when to speak my truth versus hold back. Discerning when to act versus remain still. Discerning my truth, regardless of others' opinions or beliefs.
Feeling into my body and fully experiencing my emotions is leading me to a deeper level of truth than my logical mind has ever revealed.
I invite you to notice which healthy habits you might be using to numb yourself. Maybe you keep yourself so busy with sports that you don't have time to feel how stressed you are. Maybe you run marathons obsessively because you're unhappy. Maybe you're hyper-focused on caring for your child because you don't want to face the issues in your relationship. Maybe you spend tons of time preparing healthy meals because it helps you avoid dealing with a childhood eating disorder. All of these behaviors look healthy on the surface - but they might actually be forms of avoidance. It's all about discerning - for yourself - whether your behaviors are true for you or not.
Have you ever noticed a tendency to numb out using healthy habits? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!
|Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on October 5, 2016 at 3:35 AM||comments (0)|
These days a lot of people complain about how everyone has their faces stuck in their phones. It seems like everywhere you look, people are texting, scrolling, and talking their way out of the present moment. Now before you stop reading, let me make it clear that this blog isn't about bashing technology or complaining about millennials. Personally, I think technology is awesome. And besides, this isn't only a "young people" problem. This weekend I was having brunch at a beautiful cafe in Prague where I watched two women in their mid-sixties spend almost the entire time on their phones instead of taking in this awesome ambiance:
Now I'm the first to admit that while I think technology is awesome, I'm not the most tech savvy person. I was a late adopter as far as cell phones go. I I was the last of my friends to own a cell phone, and even then my phone had a small plan that was only for emergencies. I text with my left index finger - no thumbs - and even though my fingers are very small I seem to be incapable of consistently hitting the right letters. I've never been much of a phone person anyway, so you'll rarely find me using my phone to talk or text anyone. I also rarely - if ever - pull out my phone in social situations, like when I'm having dinner with friends. I've even had friends comment that they feel uncomfortable going on their phones around me because I never seem to use mine.
I have, however, noticed one habit that has crept up on me: scrolling. I mostly use my cell phone to post on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram - this is a part of my professional life that I enjoy. But there are other times when I reach for my phone - almost without realizing it - and begin scrolling mindlessly through social media.
Lately I've been experimenting with bringing more mindfulness into my relationship with my phone. Here's how it works. If I've already done my professional social media posts for the day, and I find myself lured toward my phone, I ask myself:
"Why am I reaching for my phone?"
I've noticed three main themes that come up in response to this question: boredom, discomfort, and distraction.
I think these three themes apply to many of us. How many times have you pulled out your phone because you were bored waiting for the bus or for an appointment? Or maybe you grab your phone when you feel uncomfortable in a social situation. Or perhaps you start scrolling because you're trying to distract yourself from having a difficult conversation or feeling a deep emotion.
I think it would be worthwhile for all of us to infuse a bit of mindfulness into our cell phone use.
It's not that there's anything inherently wrong with scrolling. Maybe sometimes you really do need a quick break and scrolling does the trick. What I'm advocating is that we become more aware of why we're scrolling. If you're scrolling because you're bored, or uncomfortable, or trying to avoid something, see if you can put your phone down and simply be with those feelings. Using a mindful approach, you can breathe in and out and just feel the sensations of your feelings without judging them. Or, if you're avoiding something, stop watching cute kitten videos and do what needs to be done. My guess is that you'll feel much better afterwards.
Here's a recent example of my new mindful phone practice. Last week I arrived early to a meeting where the conference room was locked. At first, I sat on a bench outside of the room and immediately felt drawn to my phone. I asked myself why I was reaching for my phone and my answer was that I was bored. So I kept my phone in my purse and started looking around. This felt somewhat uncomfortable - there were people sitting at tables and desks all around me, and I thought it looked strange for me to be starring into space. I think many of us feel like we need to look busy and important all the time - and we use our phones to perpetuate this illusion. So instead of trying to make myself look busy, I sat with my feelings of discomfort and boredom and focused on my breath and my surroundings. It's not like anything magical happened as a result of this practice, but I did feel more present in the moment I was in, instead of bringing myself into a virtual, imaginary place. I made eye contact with people, I noticed the unique construction of the building I was in, and I gave myself a moment to chill out and disengage from over-stimulation.
I think the same principle holds for other forms of technology, like TV. Again, I'm not saying that TV is bad. I love watching movies and documentaries, and even some shows (Game of Thrones, anyone? Yes, I want to be Daenerys Targaryen and own a few dragons - however in my version I'd also have a couple of unicorns). Anyway, I've noticed that sometimes my approach to TV isn't exactly mindful. For example, on weeknights, if my husband and I are both at home, we'll usually watch an episode of something on Netflix. Over the years this has turned into a bit of a habit, and we rarely think about other ways that we might use this time.
Recently our American Netflix account finally caught up to the fact that we now live in the Czech Republic, despite our use of different types of IP-switching-software (see how tech savvy I am - not?). Without Netflix we don't have much to watch because while my husband understands Czech TV, to me the Czech language still sounds like telephone wires hitting each other to create electric shocks. Before switching to the Czech Netflix (or "Czech-flix" as I've started to call it) we've decided to go a little while without a consistent source of TV. This means that we can approach our evenings more intentionally and mindfully, by being present with what's up for us in that moment, and by paying attention to what we truly feel like doing.
I often wonder what people did in the evenings before the advent of TV. I'm not a historian, but I imagine people probably talked more, or listened to music, or read. Or maybe they went to sleep early because they were exhausted from working on their farm all day. Regardless, I think it would be interesting for each of us to spend a bit of time without evening technology. What would your weeknights look like if your entire family was at home, but no one used any form of technology? How would you engage with each other? What would you do to occupy yourselves?
I think these are extremely important questions to answer. Because the truth is that if you watched less reality TV or spent less time on your iPad, you might end up engaging in activities that are more meaningful to you. Maybe you would pick up the guitar you haven't played in three years or pull out your sketch pad or have an engaging discussion with your partner. Maybe you would learn more about what lights your children up. Or maybe you would have time for some self-care or spend some time working on your personal/psychological development.
I believe that cultivating a more mindful relationship with technology will help us harness innovation to move forward, instead of using our gadgets to remain stagnant.
What about you? Have you ever practiced a mindful approach to reaching for your phone? Have you ever gone a period of time without TV? Have you ever taken a "technology fast" or a social media fast? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!
|Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on September 20, 2016 at 4:50 AM||comments (4)|
These days there's a plethora of self-help books and online courses aimed at helping you find your passion and live your purpose (full disclosure: I offer such a course). Many of us get hooked very quickly on the idea of monetizing our passion. We want to make money doing what we love and we want to make the world a better place in the process. This is a noble goal, and if you're lucky enough to have achieved it then I tip my hat to you.
But this blog is for the rest of us.
This blog is for those who have a tricky time getting paid to be their True Self. This blog is for people who poured all of their savings into what they thought was their purpose, only to lose it all. This blog is for those who are biting their nails while looking at their bank account - hoping that the law of attraction will eventually kick in and bring them the Ferrari on their vision board. This blog is for people who repeat affirmations about being financially abundant when they don't actually believe a word they're saying.
Because here's the hard truth that many of us need to hear: sometimes your purpose isn't supposed to have anything to do with making a living. Your passion might not actually want (or need) to be monetized. And the more you try to convince people to pay you for a purpose that doesn't need money, the less authentic you appear to your audience.
This doesn't mean you'll never make money from following your passion, or that you're doomed to work at a boring office job for the rest of your life. It means you might spend years (or decades) cultivating our passion without making a cent - until the time is just right - and suddenly people start paying you to do what you love. Or you might spend your whole life working at a boring job to pay the bills so that you can follow your passion (for free) in your spare time.
None of these options are wrong. None of them are less "evolved" or "enlightened." We each have unique gifts and reasons for being on this earth at this time, and not all of these gifts need to be tied to earning an income.
Because sometimes when we tie money to our passions, the passions themselves start to fade. Other times, our passions morph into things that aren't even our passions anymore but we keep doing them to pay the bills. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of this. It is simply our job to be aware of what's going on beneath the surface, and get back on track if we've fallen off.
Trust me when I say I need to read this blog as much as you do. From an early age I tied my purpose to my profession. When I was 16 I decided I wanted to be a psychology professor so that I could do research that would reveal the deepest truths of the human mind, and ultimately, the universe (easy, right?). After getting my PhD that passion shifted (for a variety of financial and non-financial reasons) and I ended up in the corporate world where I made great money - but felt 0% passion about what I was doing.
So I did what many self-helpers advocate: I quit my job to follow my bliss. Since 2010 I've gone through a variety of iterations trying to make money from my passions. I've tried coaching, teaching yoga, leading workshops (online and offline), writing books, and doing research. I even worked in a greenhouse for a few months. All with the intention of helping the world and making an income at the same time.
But the relationship between my passions and my bank account is complicated. Sometimes, money rolls in almost effortlessly from projects that I'm not all that interested in. Other times I create products and videos for things that I'm passionate about - but they end up being painful to watch because people can sense how badly I want to be validated by having them purchase what I'm offering.
On the surface my life might seem like I'm one of those people who "made it" at making a living doing what I love. And in many ways I'm extremely fortunate that I work for myself and can afford a pretty great lifestyle. But the truth is that I worry about money regularly. And I often wonder whether it makes sense for me to link my passions with my income. These days, most of my income comes from doing research on yoga in schools. But do I jump out of bed every morning eager to prove the benefits of yoga for children? No. The research I do is for a worthy cause and it pays the bills, but it isn't quite my passion.
One of my passions has always been writing, but I rarely get paid to write. And some days I don't feel passionate about writing at all. At this very moment I have a publisher who is interested in working with me on a new book - which I will write entirely for free. Sure, I might make some royalties if the book sells well, but it's very difficult to make a living solely from writing books (even if you're a New York Times bestseller). The idea of spending a ton of unpaid hours writing this book is scary. Which is why, for me, linking my passions with my income is a complicated, and often uncomfortable, process.
This is also why I think it's crucial for us to take a good hard look at our underlying motivations for monetizing our passions. Perhaps you want to make a living while also helping the world. Great. But it might not happen all at once, or in the order you expect, or at all. It might be that what you're actually seeking is validation for your lack of self-worth, as opposed to really wanting to help anyone. Or it might be that your purpose is to simply enjoy life and have fun regardless of your bank account.
Your passion and purpose might end up having absolutely nothing to do with your career. You might never make a penny from your passion or get any recognition for it. Heck, most of us are lucky to even figure out what our passion is.
So the question becomes: Do you want (or need) to monetize your passion? Why or why not?
I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!
|Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on September 7, 2016 at 3:35 AM||comments (0)|
Most of us are raised to believe that it's a good idea to have goals. We're taught to work hard to reach our dreams. We're told that with persistence and dedication, we will eventually get from point A (where we are now) to point B (some idealized place in the future). This line of thinking is even embedded in our education system, where grades act as carrots to push us toward what's next. And next. And next. Alan Watts describes this perfectly:
"What we do is we put the child into the corridor of this grade system, with a kind of “come on kitty kitty kitty.” And yeah you go to kindergarten you know, and that’s a great thing because when you finish that you’ll get into first grade. And then first grade leads to second grade, and so on and then you get out of grade school and you go to high school, and its revving up – the thing is coming. Then you go to college, and then maybe grad school. And when you’re through with graduate school you go out and join the world. Then you get into some racket where you’re selling insurance. And then you have that quota to make, and you’re going to make that. And all the time the thing is coming, it's coming; that thing, the great success you’re working for. Then when you wake up one day when you're about forty years old, you say ‘My god, I’ve arrived. I’m there!' And you don’t feel very different from what you’ve always felt."
In other words, while goals are useful for driving us forward, many of us have become so goal-focused that we've lost track of the life we're actually living, right here, right now. We're dominated by linear thinking - we see our life as a path that's supposed to move directly from point A to point B. And when we get to point B we will finally be happy.
Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the only point B that we are all guaranteed to arrive at is death. The rest of the the things that we thought were point Bs are really just pit stops on a non-linear journey. None of our point Bs (aside from death) are ends in and of themselves, and none of these point Bs are going to make us eternally happy (unless your point B ends up being some form of nirvana or spiritual enlightenment!).
What I'm getting at here is that we need to back off on our linear ways of thinking and begin to appreciate that life is non-linear, and often works in cycles. Cycles abound in the natural world that we evolved in, and that we continue to be part of, despite our best efforts at modernization. The seasons are a clear example. There are times when trees and flowers produce fruit, and other times when the tree or plant pulls back and maybe dies. There are times when forest fires or tornadoes create mass destruction by ravaging huge pieces of land. And slowly, over time, the land recovers.
In the same way, there are times in our lives when we're working our butts off to get to point B, when a simple phone call about a terminal illness changes our lives forever - and makes point B far less important. Or perhaps we try really hard to get to point B but lose all of our savings in the process. Or you might be working toward an awesome point B when an even more fantastic opportunity comes your way. Our life journeys very rarely feel like a direct expressway. Instead, life is more like a non-linear path that ebbs and flows within the natural cycles of our universe.
Here's another example. Women go through a cycle every 28 days until they reach menopause. Coincidentally (although I don't think it's actually a coincidence) the moon goes through its own 28 day cycle every month. It's not much of an exaggeration to say that women are different every day of the month - like the moon. Some days (particularly during ovulation) women are bright and open, like the full moon, and other days (during PMS and menstruation) women are dark and mysterious (like the new moon). Most women are taught to ignore their cyclical nature and "push through" their cycles to operate in a linear way. So for example, when women are emotional during PMS or tired during menstruation they often apologize to those around them instead of honoring whatever it is that their body needs. (For more on this topic, check out Shakti Milan's course on the Wisdom of Women's Sexual Cycles).
Perhaps one of the reasons so many of us feel disconnected from our true selves is that we're ignoring the natural rhythms inherent in the world around us, and even within our own bodies. We're so hyper-focused on reaching our goals that we fail to realize that our lives are moving in a cyclical pattern, like a spiral. We might take a few steps forward, then a few steps back, then a few steps in a completely different direction. None of it is wrong. All of it is life.
Personally, I've spent most of my life in the pursuit of goals. As a recovering achievement addict, I still tend to be hyper-focused on reaching point B. As I pointed out in my last blog, lately I'm experiencing a lot of self-doubt and questions around what's next. I'm not sure whether I should stay in the Czech Republic or eventually move back to Canada. And I don't know exactly what direction to take with my career. Sometimes I get caught up in linear thinking and trick myself into believing that there's an endpoint to all of this - a magical time when I'll finally have it all figured out. But, as I mentioned before, the only guaranteed endpoint is death. So why not enjoy my life while I'm alive, instead of always focusing on the future?
This doesn't mean I can't have goals or dreams. It means that I'm going to continue to do my best to keep one eye on the future while emphasizing and enjoying the present.
This is a delicate balancing act. And I fall off the tightrope quite often.
But as Alan Watts shared so beautifully in this short speech, our lives are like a symphony. And the point of a symphony isn't to get to the end. It's to enjoy the music while it's playing.
|Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on August 24, 2016 at 3:45 AM||comments (0)|
Over the past month I've been updating my website with a few new headshots and banners that include the sentence "Create a Life You Love." The theme of creating a life you love has been my motto since I started blogging in 2010, and I've learned a lot from sharing my experiences and journey.
One of the main things I've learned is that, contrary to what you might think, creating a life you love isn't easy or pretty. Sure, I can put on some make-up and nice clothes and pose for pictures that make it look like I have my shit together. I can post these pictures all over my website, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram so that people who don't know me will think that I have a polished professional image. I can try to emulate more popular self-help gurus like Danielle LaPorte and Gabrielle Berstein and Marie Forleo.
But the truth is that despite my semi-polished image around creating a life you love, I don't love my life 100% of the time. In fact, I spend a good deal of time buried in self-doubt. Here's an example of what my self-doubt sounds like:
"Ok seriously, WTF am I doing with my life? I'm 37 years old and I don't have a full-time job. I don't have a pension. I don't own a house or a car. I have no children. I live in a country that's thousands of miles away from most of the people I love, and I don't speak the language here. I spend most of my days doing research consulting work that's interesting, but not something that I want to do full-time. Plus my consulting work isn't financially stable because projects and funding can come and go on a dime. I spend the rest of my time doing things that most of society would consider unproductive, like walking in the park and writing blogs and growing herbs and cooking. What is my game plan here? Should I eventually move back to Canada? Should I buy property in Prague? Should I look for more stable work? What do I really want out of my career? Do I even have a career? Why haven't I taught any yoga classes or led any workshops here? Why haven't I worked on the book that I've been meaning to write for three years? Am I lazy? Depressed? What if my consulting work dries up? Why am I wasting my time walking in the park? Why am I wasting my time writing this blog? If I keep living like this I'm going to end up penniless and alone."
Even if your self-doubt has a slightly different tone, I'm sure you can relate to feeling like your life makes no sense and that you're going nowhere. Usually, if you follow these thoughts all the way to completion, they end with some sort of fear around being homeless or penniless or insane (or dead). Ultimately, we all fear the end of our existence.
Here's why I think these thoughts are particularly common when it comes to creating a life you love: because creating your best life isn't meant to be comfortable. Sure, there will be times when you're on cloud nine and things are going great. But there will also be times when you need to make tough choices that go against the grain of what society, your friends, your spouse, or your parents want you to do. And that will be hard.
Personally, my process of creating a life you love has forced me into some of the most difficult decisions I've ever made. It's pushed me into tough conversations. It's sent me so far outside of my comfort zone that I have trouble figuring out where my comfort zone is anymore. It's asked me to expand my boundaries beyond what I thought was possible. I've had to make decisions in my personal and professional life that I'd never dreamed of making.
Very little of it has been easy.
And to be honest, sometimes I get the urge to throw in the towel, move to a suburb outside of Toronto, get a steady job with a 2-hour commute and spend my free time watching the Kardashians. Sometimes I just want my life to be easy and boring and not require even one ounce of personal growth. I want to throw away my self-help books, stop meditating, eat a ton of processed food and perhaps slip into a sugar coma (which would thankfully save me from the Kardashians).
But something keeps driving me forward on this path of creating a life I love. And the kicker is that I already know the path has no end point. It's not like I'm going to wake up one day proclaiming "I did it! My life is perfect. I'm completely happy and no longer need to grow."
Which is why creating a life you love is about the journey.
I'm on a path, tracking the scent of my soul's desire. My soul (or true self) doesn't work in the linear ways of the modern world. My soul works in winding trails that sometimes take me into the deepest, darkest forests. My soul works in images and feelings and longings and dreams that don't always make sense to my logical mind. But when I follow my longings, my soul leads me on adventures of both bliss and discomfort. Confidence and doubt. Light and dark.
And doubt is part of the journey.
I'm not going to end this blog with advice on how to handle your doubt, or even on how to create a life you love. My lived experience and my personal sharings are my advice and my message. The most I can offer is to say that if you choose to be on this journey, at least we're on it together
Have you experienced self-doubt while creating a life you love? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!
|Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on August 10, 2016 at 4:05 AM||comments (0)|
On August 10th 2015 my husband and I boarded a plane in Toronto to start a new chapter of our lives. After a 10 hour flight we landed in Prague, Czech Republic. Our decision was very intentional. I'd just quit my job at Harvard Medical School, and we'd spent the past two months saying good-bye to friends and family before embarking on our journey.
Many people dream of making similar choices. Perhaps you've sat in your cubicle at work trolling Facebook and feeling envious of your friends who are exploring the world. Or maybe you recently had a baby and feel like you'd pay $1,000 just to be able to leave the house. We often glorify travel as a luxury reserved for 20-somethings who don't know what to do with their lives, or millionaires who can afford to own property in multiple locations.
Well, I'm neither of these things, but I've devoted a decent amount of time and money to travel over the past few years - despite the fact that I'm in my late 30s and I don't own an unlimited bank account. Given that today marks one year since I made my move to Europe, I thought it would be a good idea to reflect on my experience and share what I've learned so far.
If you've been bitten by a temporary travel bug or you'd like to make a semi-permanent move abroad, use the tips below to help bring clarity to your experience.
1. Expect The Unexpected
One of the main things that worried me about moving to Prague is that I don't speak Czech. My husband was born and raised in Canada but his parents are Czech, so he speaks the language. But I didn't want to rely on him as my personal translator. I had visions of being incapable of accomplishing basic tasks like grocery shopping without dragging him along.
I also had fears about not being able to find fresh, healthy food. Listen, I love Czech food. My mother-in-law introduced me to all sorts of goulashes, sauerkraut, and smoked meats that make me salivate just thinking of them. But traditional Czech food tends to be very meat heavy, gluten heavy (dumplings!) and vegetable light. I had visions of myself eating processed meat every day and possibly developing scurvy.
And don't get me started on my fears around personal hygiene. Most of my beauty products are natural/organic, and I was convinced that I wouldn't be able to find these products in Prague. When I moved here, half of my suitcase was filled with organic soaps, lotions, and make-up (luckily none of them exploded en route).
But here's the thing - all of these fears turned out to be completely false. Let's start with the language. I've been absolutely amazed at how easy it is for me to speak English in Prague. In fact, it's too easy, which has resulted in a certain degree of laziness around me taking Czech language lessons. Pretty much everyone under the age of 40 speaks at least some English. Sure, sometimes I need to use creative sign language or pull out Google Translate, but it isn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be.
When it comes to food, Prague has so many farmer's markets that I still haven't had a chance to visit them all. And if you drive 15 minutes outside of the city the small highways are full of farmers selling their goods. The Czechs seem to be all about supporting local vendors, whether it's for fruit, vegetables, honey, or clothing. My husband's relatives make their own teas and syrups out of fresh herbs, and they regularly offer us free-range eggs from their chickens. And the most surprising part: Prague is full of fantastic vegetarian restaurants. There are also lots of stores where I can buy every freaky deaky superfood and gluten-free product out there (Gluten-free bread? Yes. Maca? Yep. Coconut oil? For sure! Kelp flakes? Absolutely).
My point here is to check yourself before you wreck yourself. North Americans tend to see themselves as living in a land of plenty that no other country could possibly match. Don't let unfounded fears about a foreign location prevent you from making a temporary, or even permanent, visit. I bet you'll end up being pleasantly surprised.
Do, however, keep in mind that some of the things that you think might go wrong will go wrong. Flights will get cancelled, documents will get lost, food poisoning may occur. This is all part of the experience. If you can't hack it, then it might be best to plan your trip for escape rather than growth (more on this in a moment).
2. Knowing Is Different From Experiencing
No matter how much you think you know about a culture, you will encounter surprises when you immerse yourself in it. I learned a lot about Czech culture from my husband's parents, and I even spent 10 days in Prague in 2005. But visiting here and living here are two completely different things. It didn't matter how many articles I read on expats.cz or questions I asked my father-in-law. I'm sure that having a baseline level of knowledge about the Czech Republic was helpful, but for the most part living here has been a trial by fire. In other words, I simply had to rip off the band-aid and experience it instead of filling my head with information.
Here's an example. I've been amazed at the general vibe here around leisure and quality of life. I've been told countless times that Europeans tend to have a more laid-back lifestyle, but I didn't fully understand it until I experienced it. On the one hand, I absolutely love the way that many Czechs seem to value time with friends and family. Every day of the week (day and night) the pubs, patios, and parks in my neighborhood are full of people enjoying time with each other. There's a palpable feeling of slowing down, especially in the summer (as long as you avoid the tourist areas).
On the other hand, the North American side of me that's used to a more frantic pace of life is still learning how to take it easy. In most major cities in North America you can get things done when you need to. Stores are open 7 days a week and customer hotlines are available 24/7. In Prague, on the other hand, it's not uncommon for stores to close at 5pm or 6pm. Sometimes offices are randomly closed mid-week from 2-5pm. And it's almost impossible to get anything done on a Friday afternoon. In the summer, some stores and restaurants even close down for an entire month. People get a decent amount of vacation time here, and they use every minute of it!
Sometimes I get really frustrated when I show up at a government office on a Wednesday afternoon to find it closed. Or I try to book a meeting with someone to find out they're away on vacation for 3 weeks. But immersing myself in this culture is slowly (very slowly!) breaking me out of the frantic pace that I followed in Boston.
Government office closed? I guess I'll go enjoy a Czech beer instead.
3. Use Anonymity for Discovery
When we moved here I didn't know a single Czech person. I'd briefly met some of my husband's relatives, but very few of them speak English. In some ways this has been a blessing. When I walk down the street here I have very little chance of running into anyone I know. Each person is a blank canvas, as am I. When I meet people, they have no preconceived notions about who I am, what I do for a living, or what I'm all about.
This sense of anonymity has led to a lot of personal discovery. When no one knows who you are, it gives you a chance to be who you want to be. I don't mean this in a deceptive way, like telling people I'm a circus performer who travels the world in a caravan (although that might be fun). What I mean is that since people have no expectations of me, I can simply be who I really am. When I meet people here, I tend to talk about meaningful, interesting topics instead of immediately focusing on questions about the weather or what I do for a living. People don't look at me and automatically know my career path or family history. It's extremely liberating to simply be myself.
Plus, when you don't speak a verbal language, you need to rely more closely on things like body language, energy, and intuition. This opens up a whole new world in terms of experiencing people's personalities that can be quite illuminating.
Whether you're considering a temporary trip or a permanent move, consider how it might feel for you to be anonymous (and non-verbal). Who are you without your current identity of mother, father, doctor, plumber, Canadian, etc.? Perhaps a bit of travel might help you figure it out.
4. Discern Between Escape Versus Growth
People typically engage in voluntary travel for one of two reasons: escape or growth. Escape travel happens when we go on a trip to get away from our daily lives, like heading to Florida on spring break. Growth travel involves a desire to expand our horizons and learn about new cultures.
Both types of travel are equally valid. Escape travel isn't necessarily a bad thing - we all need a break and vacations are awesome. And growth-motivated travel helps us discover new people and places and learn about ourselves in the process.
However I think it's important, when planning any travel, to pay attention to your motivation, because doing so will help you plan the right trip for you. If you love your job, but you need a short, relaxing trip, plan an escape. If you want to explore new cultures then plan a growth-inspired trip.
Some people have accused me of moving to the Czech Republic out of a desire to escape. And while it's true that I did want to leave the Harvard stress and frantic Boston lifestyle behind, I'd done enough personal reflection to know that my primary reason for moving was for growth. No one can answer the escape vs. growth question for you, it's something you need to discern for yourself. But the more confident you are about your travel motivation the better, because you will inevitably face questions.
5. Resist Having All The Answers
When you plan an extended trip or a permanent relocation (especially if you're over the age of 30 and it's not a job that's relocating you) people are going to ask you a lot of questions. They are going to want to know why you aren't fitting into the script that people your age are supposed to follow. They will wonder why you aren't married, or why you don't have kids, or why you don't just settle down or go to grad school or pay off your student loans.
They are going to wonder why you seem like you don't know what you're doing with your life.
And guess what? You are probably going to be wondering the same thing.
Which is why you don't need to have all the answers. Why? Because you don't owe anyone any explanations.
When people started asking me why I was moving to Prague I felt tremendous pressure to give some sort of rational, mature, adult-like answer. I gave answers about personal growth and my husband's heritage. But I noticed that these answers didn't often satisfy people. So I started to simply reply, "Because I feel like it."
These days I'm getting two new sets of questions. Our Czech friends and relatives keep asking us whether we're staying here, while friends and family in Canada keep asking when we're coming home.
And we don't have the answers, so we just keep saying that we don't know. Because really, does anyone have answers? These days, people can work at a job for 25 years and get laid off in a heartbeat. But for the 25 years that they spent in that job I can almost guarantee that no one asked why they were working there or whether they planned to stay or go.
My take home point: Make your decisions from a soul-centered place and don't feel obligated to justify your life to anyone.
6. Balance Exploration With Ease
My desire for growth-related travel is often on overdrive. I want to see and experience as many new people, places, and things as possible. I've tried laid-back vacations like all-inclusive resorts in Mexico and Caribbean cruises, but after 3 days I'm so bored that getting stung by a jellyfish seems like it would be a good time. So these days I tend to travel to cities where I can explore and grow. Take, for example, a 17-day trip I took this past June, where I cruised the Baltic Sea to visit countries like Sweden, Russia and Estonia.
However, as any experienced traveler will tell you, travel is often overrated. There's only so much living out of a suitcase, eating out, and visiting crowded tourist traps that any person can handle. It's important to bust the illusion that travel is going to magically fix your life - or even leave you feeling refreshed. Truth be told, I'm often exhausted after many of my vacations. I expect to be exhausted because I tend to travel for growth-motivated reasons. After an extensive period of travel I usually become a hermit for several weeks and barely leave my house. Or I'll make sure my next trip involves a simple getaway in nature.
This is why exploring your motivation for travel is important. Balancing exploration with a sense of having a home base can be an important part of keeping yourself sane during travel and coming to terms with the fact that sometimes travel isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Final Boarding Call
I hope these tips are helpful as you ponder, plan, and explore your travel options. While it's important that we don't over-glorify travel as the answer to all of life's problems, it's also useful to keep in mind that travel can be worthwhile - and possible - regardless of your age or stage. Because as J.R.R. Tolkien so famously said, "Not all those who wander are lost."
|Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on July 27, 2016 at 3:20 AM||comments (2)|
When I was younger I had a vast imagination. I was obsessed with all things fantasy. I loved unicorns, fairies, witches, trolls, and gnomes. I created entire worlds in my mind - medieval lands where I interacted with people in King Arthur's court. I believed that I had magical powers, and would often try to cast spells or speak with fairies or make unicorns appear in my bedroom. I loved being in the woods, where I hunted for fantastical creatures and nurtured my sense of wonder.
I often shared my imagination through stories. I wrote mini novels on my great-grandmother's typewriter and dreamt about being a New York Times bestseller. In high school I wrote hundreds of poems and even had a piece published in a national literary magazine. My teachers praised my imagination and said that my writing was among the best they'd seen.
Then I went to university.
In university I fell in love with two things: science and achievement. And I fell hard.
I poured my writing skills into my academics. I excelled on exams and essays, often getting the highest grades in classrooms of 500 people. Tests became my drugs. I was addicted to checking my grades - the better the grade, the bigger the rush.
I became enamored with research methods. I loved the process of asking questions and searching for answers using data and statistics. My professors praised all things quantitative and observable: hard numbers, rigorous analytic techniques, and strong theoretical models. There was no room for "fluffy" concepts - especially within psychology which was having a hard enough time proving that it was a "real" science. Theorists like Freud and Jung were discussed - but more out of respect for history than actually acknowledging any scientific basis for their reasoning. Alternative research methods, like conducting one-on-one interviews, were touched upon - but never to the point where I actually learned how to conduct this type of research.
And so I stopped writing poetry. I stopped reading novels. I stopped dancing in the woods. I stopped tapping into my love of fairies and magic and fantasy. I was embarrassed at having loved these things. I was taught that they represented childish urges that had no basis in reality.
But I got great grades. I had cool friends. And my life looked awesome.
Except for the fact that I was miserable.
I was on antidepressants. I was addicted to achievement. I cried almost every day. I'd become a grade-obsessed robot that had no other goal than to please her superiors.
I had utterly lost my creative life force.
And I've spent the past decade trying to get it back.
I started blogging about self-help topics that probably made some of my scientific colleagues cringe. Then I started researching these topics, which I'm sure made them cringe even more. I started reading about transpersonal research methods and I've opened myself up to the idea that while the modern scientific method has a lot to offer, it simply might not be the best way to study certain types of human experiences.
This path has led me to believe that we need more creativity, both in the sciences and in our everyday lives. Many aspects of the ivory tower simply aren't working - from the ways that grants are allocated to the ways that data is collected to the ways that research is published. We need creativity and innovation to break through these outdated systems. Luckily this is starting to occur with explorations into open science (which you can learn about here and here) and even with the idea of spiritual research paradigms.
We also need more creativity and imagination in our personal and professional lives. How many of us, as adults, have forgotten what it feels like to play? Or to wander aimlessly? Or to open ourselves up to the possibility of magic? How many of us go through the same old routines at our jobs, without thinking to push the boundaries or make change?
Innovation isn't always easy. Personally, I've tried to get creative in my professional life by experimenting with the idea that I can conduct research without being a tenure track professor. I've done IT research in the corporate world, I've done research for free as a volunteer, and I've charged for my services as an independent research consultant. And in order to reclaim my sense of imagination and play, I try to devote a significant chunk of time each week to reading, blogging, wandering, and personal development.
This isn't a perfect formula. Sometimes I find myself full of self-doubt, wondering what the hell I'm doing with my life. I'm in my late 30s and I have no pension plan, I own no property, and I have no idea where I might be living 2 years from now. Heck, I don't even own a car. I live in a country where I don't speak the language and where it would be somewhat difficult for me to find a full-time job, especially as a professor. Sometimes, when I'm wandering in the park on a Tuesday afternoon, I start to seriously worry about my professional life (and my sanity). I worry about things like money and the big gaps on the timeline of my CV.
However my life is a continuous process of bringing myself back to why I'm choosing to live this way. And the answer is that I've seen the alternative. I know what it's like to own a house and a car and have a corporate job. I know what it's like to work in an academic environment that crushes your imagination. I remind myself of the complete lack of creativity and soul-loss that I felt during these times, and then I continue wandering.
My invitation to you is to open up to your imagination and your creativity. Reclaim it, because it's yours. Stop listening to people who tell you that your ideas are strange or that you need a dose of "reality." Even if you feel like the most un-creative person on the planet, start trusting that there is creativity within. I like to think of us as caterpillars, as Bill Plotkin perfectly describes in this quote from the book Soulcraft:
"There are three phases to the butterfly's life cycle: the larva (caterpillar), the pupa or chrysalis (in the cocoon), and the imago (a mature adult, a butterfly). No one knows exactly how the caterpillar changes form in such a dramatic way. But this much is known: inside the caterpillar's body are clusters of cells called, of all things, imaginal buds. Imaginal refers to the imago, the adult phase, but it also means to imagine, and psychologists use the word imago to mean an idealized image of a loved one, including the self. The imaginal buds contain the idealized image, the blueprint, for growing a butterfly. While the caterpillar goes about its earth-crawling business, these cells, deep inside, are imagining flight. The caterpillar and butterfly are not really opposed to each other; the butterfly is not an alien organism within the caterpillar. They are, in fact, one and the same organism with the same genetic code. The caterpillar is to the butterfly as an uninitiated ego is to an initiated one. The imaginal buds are to the caterpillar as the soul is to the uninitiated ego. It's no coincidence that the Greek word for butterfly means "soul."
You too have imaginal buds that are waiting to be tapped. Start accessing them in whatever way(s) feel right to you. Perhaps you sign up for a watercolor class or read a science fiction novel or write a poem. As you continue reclaiming your imagination, your life will start to look more spontaneous, more innovative, and more fun. You will encounter solutions to problems that you hadn't considered before.
You will, eventually, become your own butterfly.
|Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on July 13, 2016 at 3:25 AM||comments (2)|
These days the internet is full of people who left their jobs to "follow their bliss" or "pursue their passion." They leapt, and the net appeared. They run six-figure online businesses from their living rooms (and you can too if you purchase their 5-step program for $500 per month!). Sometimes these people maintain blogs. And sometimes they write pieces about how you should leave your meaningless 9 to 5 existence to create art in Bali or surf in Hawaii.
I think three main questions run through people's heads when they read these types of blogs:
1. Is this person for real? (In other words, are they telling the truth about their "amazing" life?)
2. Is it even possible to create a life you love?
3. If it is possible, how can I do it?
I've written previous blogs about leaving the 9 to 5 grind and how to create a life you love, so I won't focus on that here. What I'd like to focus on is a series of reactions people often have when asking themselves question #1. When we ask ourselves this question we can go in one of three directions:
A) This person is NOT for real. They're making their life out to be way better than it actually is so that I'll buy their product/service. In fact, they're actually doing harm by perpetuating a myth that everyone has to leave their job. They are a privileged human being who has the luxury of doing what they love. I could never do that.
B) This person is for real, and their life makes me feel a lot of guilt and shame because I've done nothing with my life. I work at a job I hate, I'm stuck in a meaningless relationship, and I binge watch Netflix every night. I'm a worthless human being.
C) This person is for real, and the light that I see in them is my own potential being reflected back to me. I think I'll try their product/service (or read more of their work) and see if it inspires me to make changes in my life.
I recently read two blogs that focus on options A and B. In one blog, Janelle Quibuyen highlights the fact that many self-helpers are privileged, and that they fail to consider or acknowledge the fact that most people in the world don't have the option of leaving their job to follow their bliss. Many people around the world are suffering through horrific life circumstances, or are working multiple jobs to make ends meet, or are homeless.
In a different blog, Janne Robinson shares her opinion that creating a life you love is actually very simple. You just need to stop doing things you hate. If you hate your job, leave it. If you hate your marriage, get out. Janne believes that "shit really is that simple."
In skimming through the comments on Janne's blog, I noticed people were responding to her in a way that is very familiar to me. People accused her of oversimplifying the situation and being blind to how privileged she is.
The word privilege keeps appearing over and over again in these conversations so I've decided to address it head on.
First, let's get something out of the way.
I am privileged.
I'm a white female who was born and raised in Canada - a country that provided many opportunities and freedoms not available in other parts of the world. My family didn't have a lot of money, but I never went hungry. I didn't have to fight to receive an education. I have no first-hand experience of war or extreme violence or poverty.
I'm not ashamed of the fact that I'm privileged. In fact, I'm extremely grateful for it. I took my privilege by the horns and worked my ass off to make the most of what was given to me. I was the first person in my family to ever attend university. I did it through a combination of student loans, part-time jobs, and scholarships awarded for academic excellence. I continuously examine my life, assess where things are and are not working, and make changes accordingly.
And in case you're wondering, my answer to question #1 above is yes, I am for real. My life isn't perfect, but it's pretty awesome. The reason it's awesome is that I'm using every last bit of my privilege to make sure I don't take what I've been given for granted.
If you tend to feel a mix of guilt/shame/anger when reading posts about other people's awesome lives (and/or post mean or hurtful comments), my question to you is: why?
If you have the luxury of reading blogs by privileged people like myself or Janne, I would argue that you are privileged, too. You have access to a computer and the internet - a luxury that many people around the world do not enjoy. You have the luxury of time - time to sit and surf the web. My guess is that your basic survival needs are probably being met - you probably have food, water, and shelter, and your life is not in immediate danger - otherwise you probably wouldn't be taking the time to read this blog.
Sure, I bet you've had your struggles, and some of them have probably been excruciatingly difficult. You might be a member of a minority group, or you might have experienced prejudice or discrimination, or sexual violence, or abuse. You might sometimes struggle to make ends meet. You might have an addiction or mental illness. You might have had a very hard life.
But if you're reading this blog right now, you have a heck of a lot more privilege than many people in the world.
So the most important question becomes: what are you doing with your privilege?
Because here's the thing. When people like myself or Janne Robinson write blogs encouraging you to create a life you love, we're not doing it to make you feel guilty or ashamed about your current situation. And, perhaps most importantly, I would argue that we aren't addressing our blogs at people who are barely getting their survival needs met. Those people probably don't have the time or interest to read our blogs anyway.
We're writing our blogs for people like you. People who have the time and luxury, and I would argue privilege, of reading them. We write these blogs to shake you up. Expand your horizons. And to give you examples of what's possible.
Personally, I'm not advocating that everyone immediately quit their jobs and leave their former lives in the dust. You might be working three jobs to pay your bills. You might be a single parent with small children. You might be caring for a sick family member. I get it.
Here is what I'm advocating. I'm advocating that you listen to your true self - your soul - and see what it is asking of you. Then have the courage to do what it asks. Your soul might be asking you to leave your job. Or it might just be asking you to take a bubble bath. Or a deep breath. Find that light inside of you, even if it's just a flicker right now, and follow it. This doesn't mean you have to make drastic changes. It just means you need to find your way home.
Home to you.
If you're lucky enough to be privileged, use your privilege wisely.
How many of us have enough privilege to follow our true self, but are too afraid to do it?
Your privilege provides you with an opportunity to make your life - and the world - a better place. Don't be complacent. Don't settle. Make changes in baby steps or in huge sweeping strides. It's really up to you. And know that you'll inspire yourself - and others - along the way.
|Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on June 14, 2016 at 3:25 AM||comments (6)|
Sometimes I worry that the people who read my blog might think I'm woo-woo or airy fairy or "out there." I wonder if people lump me in with other self-helpers who promise eternal happiness in three easy steps. I ponder whether my words reek of false positivity - like a band-aid too small to cover a large wound.
In sitting with these feelings, I realized they come from a deep rooted need that I've always had: the need to belong. When I was younger, I never felt like I belonged in any social group. I was bullied and teased, and I always felt different from my peers.
My blogs help me connect with others. They are one of the ways that I've managed to find my tribe of like-minded people.
But every once in a while a nagging voice pops in. The voice tells me that my words are bullshit. It tells me that no one cares about what I have to say. It tells me that only two people in the world ever read my blogs (my husband and my mom). It tells me that the world is a dark, terrible place, and that my attempts to share love and light are misguided and naive.
So I got to thinking, where does this voice come from?
This voice probably comes from many places. But one idea that came to mind relatively quickly was this: I think it has become hip to be cynical.
Perhaps this is nothing new. Adolescence, for example, is a time when most youth think it's hip to be cynical. In many ways, teens are hard-wired to go against the grain and reject whatever society throws at them.
But I think our cynicism is more pervasive than a short-lived bout of teen angst.
These days, people in their 20s, 30s, 40s (and beyond) seem to think it's cool to be a cynic. Along with other hipster trends like beards, skinny jeans, and thick black-rimmed eyeglasses, my generation seems to enjoy criticizing everything - especially things that are infused with even one atom of positivity. We see humans as motivated purely by self-interest, even when they display kindness, empathy, or altruism.
Along these lines, it's cool to be an atheist (or agnostic). It's hip to bash people who are into alternative medicine or anti-vaccine or angel readings. Rational thought rules. It's realistic and intelligent to perceive the universe as a physical object that can be perfectly measured by the laws of science. There is no room for mystery, for magic, for the unknown.
I was trained as a research scientist - so trust me when I say that I love science. I think that rigorously evaluating the natural world is a fascinating and worthwhile endeavor. But I also think that my scientific training turned me into a cynic - a situation from which I'm slowly starting to recover.
Personally, I try to blend science and what some might call spirituality by studying topics that fall within the realm of positive psychology. I research topics like yoga and well-being, and I teach an undergraduate positive psychology course. But even here, cynicism abounds.
When teaching my positive psychology course last semester, I was surprised to find that a decent number of my students were wary about the course content. They seemed to have an underlying desire to refute much of what was being taught. On the one hand, this was a great example of critical thinking, a skill that professors often try to foster in students. We don't want our students to be opinion-less robots who take everything we say at face value. And from this perspective, many of my students brought up valid points that led to interesting discussions.
But I couldn't help but wonder: is our desire to teach "good science" and critical thinking creating a generation of cynics? Perhaps we're going too far, to the point that critical thinking is becoming cynical thinking.
While I agree that the world can be a dark, sad, tragic place, and that bad things happen to good people every day, I worry that if we become too cynical, too rational, too focused on the mechanical laws that we believe govern our physical universe, then we will lose our ability to spread hope, to share love, and to dwell in the mystery of both the dark and the light.
I'm not trying to avoid the negativity that exists in our world. I'm not averting my gaze or hiding. I'm here. And I'm trying to remind all of us that there are also many, many good things that happen every day. (Check out the Good News Network for examples). There are kind, generous, loving people in the world. There is magic all around us - it comes in the form of synchronicities, transcendent experiences, and your lover's eyes. There are questions that science simply can't answer (yet).
So if it's hip to be cynical, then I guess I'm a geek. My scientific colleagues might scoff at my words. My friends and family might think I'm a Pollyanna. Readers might bash my blogs.
But perhaps, for the first time in my life, I don't want to belong to the cool crowd.
I want to forge a new path. A path that combines rigorous scientific inquiry with an openness to magic. A science that goes beyond the red tape and white walls of academia to exist within and around us.
A science of the soul.
This soul-science means that sometimes I'll sit at my computer for eight hours straight conducting complex statistical analyses. Other days, I might wander in the park or have a three-hour philosophical conversation or go for a pedicure. Soul-science involves a desire to integrate the physical, material world with what's above (i.e. spirituality) and below (i.e. soul). It means that sometimes I'll focus on the dark. And other times I'll focus on love and light.
You might think I'm naive, or that I've lost my scientific chops, or that I'm avoiding reality. You might think I'm a geek. But that's ok - being cool is overrated anyway
|Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on June 1, 2016 at 3:50 AM||comments (0)|
Age is a funny thing. Sometimes we look younger than we are, or feel older than we look. Some people have "old souls" that impart wisdom from a young age, while others maintain a childlike sense of wonder well into their 90s.
No matter how old we are, most of us have one thing in common: fear. We are all afraid of something. You might be afraid of death, or spiders, or subways, or seaweed. You might be afraid of failure - or even of success. Modern society makes it pretty easy to be afraid. We fear violence, we fear terrorism, we fear debt, we fear people who are different from us.
My mom, for example, is afraid of a lot of things. My stepfather used to call her "snowflake" because she wouldn't drive her car if there was even one snowflake falling from the sky. One of her biggest fears is airplanes. At the age of 65 she had never owned a passport. She had only been on an airplane once in her life (a 3 hour domestic flight), and she had never left North America.
Until last week.
Last week my mom put her fears aside (to the best of her ability) and took a 9 hour flight to visit me in Prague. It wasn't easy for her. In fact, she was terrified. But she did it. We're spending two weeks together before she heads back to Canada, and I know it's a time that we will both cherish for the rest of our lives.
My mom's first trip to Europe got me thinking about how we often use age as an excuse. We often believe that we're too old to learn a new skill, or adopt an exercise routine, or find love, or spruce up our sex life, or [fill in the blank]. Of course, it's possible to have physical limitations that sometimes (emphasis on the sometimes) reduce our ability to do certain things. But in many cases, age should not limit us. Here are some examples (from here):
- After a career in science, Peter Mark Roget compiled the first thesaurus and published it at age 73.
- At age 65 Colonial Sanders started Kentucky Fried Chicken.
- Henry Ford introduced the Model T at age 45, but invented the assembly line at age 60.
- Andrea Bocelli didn’t start singing opera seriously until the age of 34. Some ‘experts’ told him it was too late to begin.
- Phyliss Diller became a comedian at the age of 37. She was told by many club owners that she was “too old” to become a success.
- Stan Lee, creator of Spider-Man, was 43 when he began drawing his legendary superheroes.
- Julia Child didn’t learn to cook until she was almost 40 and didn’t launch her popular show until she was 50.
- At 90, Pablo Picasso was still producing art.
- At 85, Coco Chanel was the head of her fashion design firm.
- Thomas Edison invented the telephone at age 84.
- Barbara McLintock was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine at the age of 81.
- Benjamin Franklin signed the declaration of independence shortly after he retired from printing at age 70.
- Yoko Nakano took up running at age 60 and ran the 2016 Boston Marathon at age 80.
Personally, I'm approaching my 40s, an age that many people associate with "mid-life." But in reality, mid-life means you're only halfway through! If I focus on my best years being behind me, then all I feel is regret and loss. But when I think of all the amazing experiences I've had up until now, I get excited about what's to come.
Here's a question. Is there something you've always wanted to do, but you've been telling yourself that you're too old? Maybe you want to travel to Europe, or take a tap dancing class, or learn Spanish. My advice is: do it. It's possible to fill your later years with joy and enthusiasm and meaning, it's just a matter of seeking these things out in whatever way feels right for you.
What have you been telling yourself you're too old to do? Are you willing to give it a try? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!