I spent all of August (and some of this month) in bed.
Some combination of burn out from months of heightened devotion to my business, intense withdrawal from Zoloft (tapering in advance of trying to get pregnant), physical ailments (a persistent rash on my face, debilitating periods, and a polyp in my uterus), and yes, a daily diet of heart-shattering news of a world in the midst of destruction and eventual rebirth.
It would be easy to simply call it depression, but I’ve been depressed before and this was different.
Then I read something that named it perfectly: soul fever.
The thought of bringing a child into this world is heavy, and I’m exploring that from a lot of angles. Last week I picked up the book Simplicity Parenting and couldn’t put it down. It’s a powerful and useful read regardless of whether or not you have children. The value of the book, though not intended by the author, is in the roadmap it provides for parenting not just children but our adult selves in today’s overwhelming world.
Soul fever (just one of the book’s insightful concepts) is an inflammation, overheating, and overstimulation of the self. Soul fevers might not register on a thermometer, but you know when something is chronically not right. You know when ‘too much’ has driven you to your most unsupportive habits, dimmed your light, intensified your emotions, and thrown you off-kilter. Recent news of hurricanes, floods, fires, and earthquakes (never mind the raging inferno of white supremacy and toxic masculinity) is enough to make anyone sick on every level.
For most of human history, we didn’t have television or the news. Reports of what was happening around the world took time to travel. There was no 24/7 play-by-play of natural disasters or moment-to-moment death counts. We’re not designed to handle this much human suffering in real time.
I keep thinking about the documentary film Paper Clips that details one school’s effort to help children comprehend the human loss from the Holocaust. Knowing that it’s nearly impossible for anyone, not just children, to grasp how many six million lost lives is they set out to gather six million paper clips. This was an ingenious solution to working with the limitations of the human mind, and these days I feel my limitations acutely.
Perhaps you do too.
Perhaps, like me, you’ve come down with a soul fever.
Soul fevers don’t come and go in a day, but like a body fever, linger until proper rest and care have been given. Soul fevers won’t be ignored, they get worse and get louder.
According to the book, soul fevers arise when chaos and unpredictability, a lack of grounding, and intense pressures to go faster, do/have/achieve more — all drive one to be unwell.
Soul fevers manifest differently in each person. We know a soul fever when whatever is a person’s homeostasis is thrown off and the discord persists.
It’s safe to say the whole world right now has a sort of soul fever. An arrhythmia of earth and of humanity.
It took me weeks to get quiet enough to hear where my heart is beating out of rhythm.
And it’s challenging if you’re a helper, a committed citizen, an aspiring ally, an empath, a highly sensitive person (HSP), or a conscious human — to juggle the pull to do something, anything, to help the suffering and threatened people ‘out there’, while also tending to yourself. It’s a delicate balance for many.
I saw this floating around the internet this week and it really stuck with me:
What if we right now we didn’t try to be heroes?
What if we focused more on long-term ‘chronic empathy’ and caregiving—starting with ourselves, our experience, our minds, and our bodies?
Healing soul fever looks different for each person.
For me, it looks like not watching the news (I love Rachel Maddow, but the nightly dosage was making me ill) or deep diving into news commentary. Yes, I like to know what’s going on and thankfully, that’s relatively unavoidable, but I don’t need to know more than that right now.
It looks like getting offline, closing screens, and focusing on simple activities: a jigsaw puzzle, an embroidery project, or a walk around the neighborhood (without a politically-focused podcast to keep me company).
It looks like regular therapy sessions and truth telling to my kinfolk.
It looks like laughter — intentional, radical, unapologetic laughter. It looks like patience and a slow, wide-eyed stance as I, like everyone, navigate these choppy waters. It looks like doing what has to get done and nothing more.
It looks like going out into nature — not just so she can restore me — but so that I can feel into my relationship with her; something she is clearly asking each of us to do.
I invite you to step into a plane of expansive permission and curiosity:
Does this soul fever I speak of sound familiar?
What, in your life, is making things worse? What’s inflaming the fever? (hint: pay close attention to screen-time, news, and social media.)
What would you do if you had a body fever? What’s the equivalent of that for your soul?
What can you trust?
Can you trust in your own essential goodness?
Can you trust in your capacity to awaken, evolve, and hold contradictions?
Can you trust the pace that feels best to you?
Can you trust that other people can take the reigns if you take a break?
Can you trust in mother nature’s wisdom?
Can you trust that out of destruction and collapse, eventually, comes a new birth?
As I look ahead to the rest of 2017, my focus is on creating stillness, grounding, and breathing space for myself and for you. I have no doubt that with these things in place an engaged citizenship will rise, but without them, soul fever, paralysis, and disconnection set in.
If you’re suffering from your own acute soul fever do whatever you need to heal. If you are needing a break, a full stop, or a time-out please know that the permission is there for the taking and no irreparable harm will come of it.
Play the long game.
Listen, listen, listen for what is needed now.
Even in the darkness our hungers light the way forward.
A few ways I might be able to support you in moving through your soul fever:
I have a few spots that opened in my practice this month. Coaching is actually where I feel my most grounded and powerful these days. If you could benefit from a strong container of love, practical strategies, and guidance through these uncertain waters reach out.
There is nowhere I would rather right now than secluded in a canyon in Tucson, Arizona, sitting around the fire pit at night, listening to the owls, seeing the stars, and filling my cup. If a getaway is just what you need, consider hopping a flight to the desert in October and joining in for a long weekend of deep self-tending.
November will be here before we know it and I’ll be bringing back my daily audio meditations with a handful of new guest contributors. There has never been a year we have needed this more. Stay tuned.
Recently I started an in-person writing group—IT’S AMAZING. The first run ends in mid-October and I’ll be opening up spaces for a few new folks beginning in November. If you’re in the Bay Area and interested, send me an email.
Image Credit: Evelyn De Morgan
Before a fully formed theory comes a hunch.
Before a hunch comes a question.
Before a question comes curiosity.
I’m curious and I’ve got a question:
What if the same lack of self-worth that contributes to white men being violent towards others, women turn into violence against themselves?
A few disclaimers:
- These issues are multifaceted and any question I pose won’t illuminate some grand, pure truth. This stuff is messy and heavy with history and trauma and real-world impacts.
- I’m not excusing the racial violence perpetrated by white supremacists by drawing connections to poor self-esteem. Even if there is a connection it doesn’t make it okay. Not in any way.
- I’m not saying that white women aren’t also outwardly violent. They are.
- I’m not saying white men aren’t also inwardly violent. They are.
- I fully acknowledge that the way I’m framing this is rooted in the gender binary. I welcome your constructive critique and reframing.
What I want to get at is the thread of violence and othering. What I want to feel into is the ways in which what we are seeing out there that shocks us—in Charlotte, at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, at the Dar Al Farooq mosque in Minnesota— also lives inside each of us. Not just in our implicit biases, unclaimed racism, or our white privilege, which it certainly does, but in how we are in relationship to ourselves.
When we aren’t connected to our innate enoughness and our place in the family of humans our pursuit of enoughness and belonging too often turns violent.
For some white men, this violence turns outward.
For too many women the violence turns inward, toward the self.
Through perfectionism, loathing of the body, suppression of hungers, silencing of voice, denial of pleasure, dismissal of intuition, resistance to rest, and constant comparison to others, we are violent to ourselves.
Yes, all of these behaviors are conditioned, encouraged and rewarded in a patriarchal society attempting to subdue the power of the feminine. After all, when a population of women is distracted and busy fighting a war against themselves they don’t have near as much fuel to resist and oppose real threats. AND our spiritual illusions foster us being complicit in this system.
This is the toxicity of the illusion of separateness. This is the danger in being asleep at the wheel of human living. Women must commit to stopping the inner violence and turn their peacemaking efforts not only outward but towards themselves. Women must take the anger and hatred that fuels self-criticism and redirect it to its rightful places.
So I ask us to explore these questions:
How are you violent towards yourself and what are the real-world implications of that?
What are the tools of violence you use towards yourself and do you know why you do it? Is it your tone? Your voice? Your words? Is it withholding permission? Is it physical torture?
When do you punish yourself?
When are you at war with yourself?
Where do you imprison yourself?
Where do you diminish yourself?
When do you starve yourself?
How do you beat yourself up and over what?
What within you do you denigrate?
What part of you do you guard yourself against?
Do you have such Stockholm Syndrome that self-inflicted violence feels comforting and safe? Do peace, softness, compassion, and kindness feel dangerous sometimes?
Are the ways that you’re violent towards yourself subtle? Are they easy to explain away? On the surface, do they appear benign and yet have impacts that tell of their harshness?
I realize I come to you with many questions and no answers. I’m not sure though that you benefit as much from my certain knowledge as you do from my directing you back to yourself as I go inward too.
What are your questions? What are you wondering? Where is your curiosity taking you and more importantly what actions are growing out of your questions?
As we see such horrific, intolerable incidents of violence I hope it inspires many things in us. I hope we are are raising our voices in whatever ways we can. I hope we’re talking to family members. I hope we’re physically showing up at vigils, rallies, protests, marches, the voting booth, and the offices of our representatives. I hope we are signal boosting non-white voices. I hope, if you’re white too, you’re doing the work to see all the ways you benefit from white privilege. I hope beyond anything that we are putting financial resources behind people and organizations that are on the frontlines of change.
In addition to these important responses, I’m adding that I hope we examine the places we have turned violence inward.
When I first started my business I wanted to offer you a fun way to begin thinking about your hungers
Inspired by the USDA Food Pyramid this project invites you to design your own ‘food groups’ and create a visual, sometimes 3D, object to remind you of what makes up a well-fed life for you.
You can receive your own Fulfillment Pyramid kit when you sign up for my newsletter.
Earlier this year I gave The Fulfillment Pyramid Project its own digital home where you can watch a tutorial video, see reader submitted pyramids, and see The Hall of Pyramids.
Each month I feature a pyramid from a creative person in The Hall of Pyramids. Here is a round-up of the first six months. I highly encourage you to head over to The Pyramid page to read each of their written descriptions and to learn more about their work.
A big thank you to Alisha, Esmé, Sonya, Rachelle, Allison, and Dana. You can also see August’s entrant: Maya Stein over on the page.
If you make a pyramid I’d love to see your version and perhaps share it in the gallery. xo, Rachel
February: Alisha Sommer
March: Esmé Wang
April: Sonya Lea
May: Rachelle Derouin
June: Allison Kenny
July: Dana Velden
I have some limited knowledge of Intuitive Eating and as I understand it we listen to physical cues and sensations in the body to guide our eating. This being said, do you feel there is a role for listening to messages from the mind?
For example, I often experience physical hunger as an unsettled, spaciousness in my upper mid-abdomen rising into my throat… this cues me to know I am physically hungry (although can be confused with anxiety at times, but this is a different conversation). When I sense my physical hunger cue, I try and ask myself ‘what am I hungry for?’ and honour this by eating whatever it is that I am hungry for. Here is where I get a little hung up, sometimes what I am hungry for triggers a mental response of ‘how will that food make you feel?’ and sometimes the truth of the matter is not great. A concrete example is ice cream… I may receive a physical hunger cue and when I ask myself what are you hungry for the answer is ‘ice cream’. I honour this hunger by having ice cream and then seem to be wanting more, but my mind tells me when I eat ‘too much’ of the ice cream I often don’t feel physically well in a few hours time.
This leaves me feeling confused? Maybe I am confusing physical hunger with a deeper soulful hunger? Or maybe I am hungry for a little ice cream and also something deeper? Or maybe I am letting my mind run the show? Is it possible to integrate the wisdom of our mind (knowing from trial and error and in a non-judgemental way that certain food leaves us feeling this way or that) with the wisdom of our body?”
It’s midnight. You’re up late watching something funny on television. As you get up to go brush your teeth a craving hits you: the coffee ice cream downstairs in the freezer.
What do you do?
If you eat the ice cream, which contains caffeine, there’s a chance you’ll have poor sleep.
If you don’t eat the ice cream, you might be ignoring your hunger.
What’s the right decision?
Truth: there isn’t a right answer.
Seriously. You can’t get it wrong.
There are just different choices with different rewards and consequences.
Some days one choice will feel more optimal and other days you’ll go in another direction.
Neither making you a good or bad person. Neither being objectively superior.
Some days sleep will matter more. Some days pleasure and ice cream will matter more.
This is just one example of how intuitive eating works.
Intuitive eating is body-led, not body ruled.
We lead with our body, but we make integrated decisions because we’re whole people. Intuitive eating includes your emotions, your traditions, your history, your physical wellness needs, real-life limitations and so much more. When we eat intuitively, rather than simply for our physical or emotional needs, we integrate.
And how do we do that if we have spent years drinking the “eat for fuel” or “good food, bad food” kool-aid?
We do it through trial and error. Through being the awkward toddler. The beautiful thing about learning to eat intuitively is that every day presents at least three solid opportunities for practicing and usually more. And we never need to get it perfect because perfection doesn’t exist.
So maybe we eat the ice cream and we don’t sleep and we wish we hadn’t eaten it. That’s good information to know.
Maybe we eat the ice cream, don’t sleep, and feel that it was totally worth the lost shut eye. That’s good information.
Maybe we don’t eat the ice cream, we sleep well (or not), and wish we had eaten it. That’s good to know.
Maybe we don’t eat the ice cream, sleep well (or not), and feel great about skipping the midnight snack. That too is good information.
Every time we eat we get feedback from our body and our heart. We get to decide what works for us. And what works for us on a Monday doesn’t have to be what works for us on a Tuesday.
No need for guilt or self-recrimination. It’s just information. We file it away and another opportunity to practice and make informed choices will certainly present itself.
You’re allowed to eat purely for pleasure and because something tastes good. If you do this 100% of the time, you probably won’t feel awesome or deeply fed.
You’re allowed to eat purely for nutritive reasons. If you do this 100% of the time you probably won’t feel awesome or deeply fed.
It’s also possible to get a craving for a specific food, recognize that it’s a food that won’t leave you feeling the way you want to feel and to drill down to see if you can scratch the itch another way.
For example, a craving for ice cream might be a craving for something sweet, or cold, or creamy and all of those qualities exist in other foods. So you may explore alternative ways to get your craving satisfied OR you may decide that ice cream is really what you want, regardless of how it will leave you feeling and that is entirely okay.
What we want is for food to feel easy, guilt-free, and integrated so that, over time, your varied needs get met.
And because part of this approach to eating is curiosity and noticing there will be times, if you inquire, that what first appears as food hunger, is actually hunger for something unrelated to food. There are times when the urge to eat is a proxy for the urge for human connection, physical touch, adventure, or emotional comfort. This is normal and what you do with the information is up to you.
Dear Reader, you asked: “Is it possible to integrate the wisdom of our mind (knowing from trial and error and in a non-judgemental way that certain food leaves us feeling this way or that) with the wisdom of our body?”
The answer is yes. Emphatically yes. It is possible. It just takes practice, curiosity, a willingness to let go of perfection, and sometimes support.
Over the past two weekends, I’ve gathered with some followers to share a bit more about some of my favorite topics. Here are the replays and some useful resources mentioned in each conversation. You can find future live sessions by following me on my Facebook page.
Self-Compassion & Sensitivity (7.8.17)
Self-Compassion Journal Prompts (we didn’t do all of these Live):
Describe your inner critic. What tone does it use? Does it sound like someone you know or knew in real life? What are it’s most common phrases or statement? What is it afraid of? What circumstances are most likely to incite your inner critic?
Describe your inner kind voice. What tone does it have? What are it’s most common phrases and statements? What circumstances invoke your inner kind voice and calm your inner critic?
Who if anyone serves as a role model to you for speaking to yourself with self-compassion?
Draw a circle. At the center of the circle draw a heart or a flame. On the inside of the circle jot down all the parts of yourself that you welcome, celebrate, accept, show to others and yourself.
On the outside jot down the parts you feel shame about, the parts you have not accepted, the parts you feel are inferior to other people.
What would it take for me to welcome in one of the pieces of me that I’m keeping in the cold into my heart? What would it take for me to accept that this part of me does not impede love? What part of my imperfect humanity could I welcome in just a bit more? What does that as yet unwelcome part of me need to hear me say?
Sensitivity Journal Prompts:
What were you told throughout your life about your sensitivity? Who told you that?
How have you been viewing your temperament? What shift would make it easier to be in your own skin?
What are you sensitive to? (music, noise, people, light, smells, clutter, traffic, roller coasters, temperature, touch, other’s emotions)
What’s an instance where your sensitivity has been an asset? What’s been the gift of your temperament?
Intuitive Eating (7.15.17)