Phyllis Mathis

Licensed Counselor, Spiritual Mentor, Life Coach

Sometimes it takes more than education, experience, and expertise. Sometimes it takes a certain kind of soul.

 

January School of Life - How the Soul Speaks

My word for 2014 is listen, which seems a bit obvious, considering what I do for a living. Over the last several years, however, I've begun to suspect I'm better at listening to others than I am at listening to myself, and I've been trying to develop the skill of listening to the soul in the various ways the soul likes to speak. Learning the soul's many languages.

It's hard.

Hard because we think we already know how to listen to ourselves.

Hard because our mind thinks it knows what's good for us, and the problem is not that we don't listen, but that we don't obey! So we make our lists, consult our experts, set our goals, and then wonder why we're frustrated and discouraged after the first 3 weeks.

Hard because the language of the soul is foreign to us, easily co-opted by our minds, our culture, or our spiritual/religious systems. 

Hard, but not impossible. Hard, but necessary. Hard, but opens the possibility of inner peace and outer effectiveness.

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I'd love to have you join us for a morning of listening.

 

How the Soul Speaks, Part 2 - School of Life

The soul is subterranean. It won't be known in a way that diminishes its value. Your soul hides, not because it doesn't know things, but because it knows things. David Whyte: “What is precious inside us does not care to be known by the mind in ways that diminish its presence.” The mind is trying to control the soul, but the soul won’t let it. And over the years we’ve failed more and more to contact our souls.

How the Soul Speaks Part 1 - School of Life

I finally got around to recording a talk from the Phyllis Mathis School of Life. My apologies for not doing this sooner. I had no idea it could be so easy.

This is the first segment from a talk I gave on December 7, 2013, entitled, How the Soul Speaks. Questions and comments have been edited out.

Session 1. The soul is there. It exists. Your soul is your secret shelter. Your soul has the map of your future. It will teach you a kind of rhythm on your journey. Once your soul is awake, you can never return to the complacency and partial fulfillment you once we're satisfied with. It’s guiding you and creating a safe place inside of you.

Six things to remember about the soul:

A Conversation About the Soul

I look forward to our Breakfast Club every month, but this month I am most excited about beginning a conversation about my favorite subject - the Soul. 

Not the religious definition of the soul (which is a worthy conversation), nor the Motown definition of Soul (which might be a lot of fun), but my own hybrid conglomeration-of-wisdom-from-here-and-there-including-my-own-journey definition of the Soul.   

I love the mystery, the elegance, the humor, and the movements of this most essential, most faithful part of us. I love thinking about it, I love talking about it, and I love living it most of all. 

 

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Learning to Feel

I find it strange that I so often have to give myself permission to feel, as if it isn't the most natural thing in the world to do. Can you relate? 

Stranger still that I needed to be taught how to allow an emotion to move through me without believing some kind of story about how dangerous it might be.  

Riding the wave of pure emotion should be the simplest of human acts. We should be proficient in it. Instead we create hundreds of ways to avoid this most basic phenomenon.  

Of all people, Louis CK says it well: 

 

 

This Post Isn't for Everyone, but it's Probably for You

I tend to hang out with people who are hyper-responsible, under-confident, and over critical of themselves. Because that's how I am most of the time.

People like us are also pretty earnest about personal growth, self-improvement, and recovery.  

This is good. Unless the endless pursuit of self-improvement becomes a disease in itself.  It's a sneaky little mind trick, common among types like us.

So if you're reading this blog, a blog entitled Soulwork Journal, chances are you're one of us, and you really need this today.  

Self-improvement isn't everything. Sometimes you just need to leave it like it is.  This is the incomparable David Wilcox.

 

Don't Waste Your Juice

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I've had a smart phone for less than a year. An iPhone 5.  

And yes, I love it.  

This morning I wanted to write about some of the mental pitfalls we get trapped in - habits of mind that pull us down and make us crazy.  I was thinking about how bad mental hygiene can drain our vitality, well-being, and overall juice for living, when suddenly it hit me:

My mind is kind of like my iPhone.

My well-being/chi/life-force/spirit/hopefulness - otherwise hereafter known as juice - is essential to my functioning, just as my phone's battery is essential to its use. Like my iPhone, my juice is plentiful and renewable - as long as I remember to plug it in from time to time.

Brilliant, right? 

Furthermore, my mental processes are like apps. Some of them are extremely useful and well-designed. Some of them are buggy and suck up a lot of juice.  And if I leave too many of them open at one time, my juice drains at an alarming rate.

Note: Please resist the urge to get sidetracked into a conversation about actual smart phones. Try to focus on the metaphor, okay?  :-) 

I have a whole lot of mental apps I want to share with you in the future, but today I'm curious. 

What are some of the mental apps you're running?

How are they draining your juice?

 

A Thought is Just a Thought

Along the lines of "things I wish someone had told me sooner," let me offer this little tidbit: 

A thought is just a thought. 

My, how we cling tenaciously to our thoughts, even when they're destructive, even when they make us miserable!

For most of us, the idea that our minds can lead us astray is a little discombobulating.  Furthermore, the idea that there is an 'I' that is distinct from the part of us that is thinking our thoughts is a little like the kid in The Matrix saying, "there is no spoon." 

Say what??? 

But it's true. Our minds generate thoughts all day long, and, for some of us, all during those waking hours of the night! 

Our thoughts create a version of reality we end up swallowing, hook, line, and sinker. 

Oh, and another thing no one ever told us? Our thoughts have a negative bias. They're predisposed to paint a picture of gloom and doom. 

For most Americans in the 21st century, the idea that we can observe, choose, and direct our thoughts is a brand new one. 

I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn't believe them, I didn't suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment. That joy is in everyone, always. - Byron Katie

It starts with this little idea: a thought is just a thought. 

 

Nature Nurture

Sunday morning, in the middle of our Memorial Day getaway in Glenwood Springs, CO, I was having trouble waking.

Groggy, foggy-headed, and heavy limbed, I climbed into the car to go to one of the most beautiful spots in the Rocky Mountains, Maroon Bells. Once parked, I lumbered out of the car, stumbled around the lake, and stared blinking at the iconic mountain, wishing I had access to a decent cup of coffee. Not even this view could move me.

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We headed back to the car, and I chose to walk next to the stream. As I stood on the bank I spotted an island in the middle of the creek, with a path of step-able stones across the water.

An invitation.

As my foot found land on my tiny mountain island, everything changed.

Fatigue: done. Foggy brain: clear. Heaviness: lifted. Instead, an infusion of awe, the nourishment of beauty, and a grounded, profound energy seeping into my cells. 

There's no place like home.

My Life in My Hands

"Go into the arts. I'm not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something."

--Kurt Vonnegut

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At the age of 55 I took up an art. I enrolled in a ceramics class. My secret dream was to throw pots on the wheel, but it was one of those things I barely let into my consciousness. Part of me just dismissed it as something I wish I would have learned.

Two years later, I'm completely hooked. Completely. I would do it every day if I could. 8 hours a day if I could. If only someone would pay me by the hour, I would quit my job and just sit in front of the wheel and spin it.

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The great thing is, I can't really tell you why. Perhaps that's the point. I make my living with my brain. I love that too, but after 25+ years of trying to figure out the human condition, my poor brain needs a break.

The rhythm, the feel, the spin, the bringing something beautiful out of the mud, brings me a satisfaction that reaches my bones. There are so many things I love about it, but the best one is this:

I have to pay attention every minute.

Every mishap I've had at the wheel, or at the glazing table, was due to the fact that I wasn't entirely present to my task:.

Kind of like life, right?

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I'm Still Here

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I've had a bit of a rough week, here in the world of me. First, I made a rookie mistake with a firing at the pottery studio, and one of my pieces exploded in the kiln. That explosion not only ruined my own stuff, it also messed up the work of several others, and left a mess in the kiln that someone had to clean up. 

Next I made a scheduling mistake that left an important person stranded.

Then I got stood up for an important event.

Then I received a couple of very personal blows to the ego that left me feeling sick to my stomach.

None of these is earth shattering. All are first world problems to be sure.

Nevertheless, the bunch of these events mentally formed themselves into an invitation to enter into a very old and familiar story line in my head. A story that's all about me. And the moral of the story is this:

I Suck.

I think you know this story, and how easily you become the recipient of such an invitation. You have your own story line, your own plot twists, and your own peripheral characters, but the moral of the story is still the same:

You Suck.

I used to get lost in my story for days at a time, whole seasons at a time. And I believed that my soul's work was to get myself back into a different story, one in which I was OK, or even great. A story in which I definitely did not suck.

But then I learned that the mind makes up stories, dozens of them, all starring me as the central character. Stories in which I'm either a hero or a schmuck. And depending on which story is running, I either feel rotten or relieved. Rotten, because, well, to suck feels rotten. Relieved because honestly, I don't really believe the stories in which I'm the hero, I just feel relieved that I don't suck.

And then I learned that, after the stories play themselves out in my mind, they're just that - stories. Mental constructs. Shame-fueled core beliefs. And that underneath them all, I'm still here.

That's a strong and peaceful feeling.

The essential Me stands apart from all the dramas playing out in my head. There's a me that can't be threatened by a judgment of suck-i-tude; nor can it be flattered by the illusion of greatness. I'm just me. I am who I am, and I will be here when the story's over, here after the credits roll.


Mindfulness is Everything

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I love my morning walks.

We've had a pretty wintery April this year. In fact the last 3 days have been particularly snowy. I have to admit I love snow, no matter when it comes. This photo is a spot along my usual path.

I love walking alone because it gives me an opportunity to practice being here. Much is being made these days of mindfulness - the practice of being in the present moment in a non-judgmental way. So much so that I'm worried it's becoming just another buzzword to be dismissed as a fad.

I take mindfulness pretty seriously, however. My personality type is particularly adept at escaping the present moment, a fact I experience every day. My natural tendency is to daydream and/or analyze, so coming to my senses and leaving judgments behind is something I have to work at.

That's why I love my walk. It gives me 30 or so minutes to practice.

It's not as easy as it sounds, paying attention to the world around me. It's especially hard when I'm stressed, or worried about something (which for many of us is pretty much all the time). That's because when I'm stressed or worried, I only want to focus on what I'm stressed or worried about. I want to SOLVE THE PROBLEM, whatever it is. My mind says, "why waste time focusing on the @#$%-ing blue sky when there are SO MANY MORE IMPORTANT THINGS TO THINK ABOUT!!!"

To pull my mind away from the "important" things I'm thinking about in order to focus on the world around me is an act of faith. It means I have to trust something other than my logical, rational mind for a few minutes. It means I have to break my addiction to thinking, and open my senses to other kinds of input.

It means I might have to trust the possibility that everything I need in every situation just might be available to me, not when I get it all figured out, not in some understood past or perfectly planned future, but just maybe, right here, right now.

If I can learn how to pay attention. 

So I practice.

"Be (In) Yourself!"

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I have read, and re-read, and re-read again, Geneen Roth's wonderful book, Women, Food, and God. Whether or not you have issues with food, I highly recommend it. In it she writes:

"never underestimate the urge to bolt."

She goes on to explain how many of us as children felt ill-equipped to handle what was happening in and around us - in our families, in school, in our emotions and in our bodies. We needed a way to deal with our sense of being overwhelmed. Since we didn't have the mental and emotional maturity to deal with our situation, and since we were children and we didn't have the choice to leave, we needed a way to leave and stay at the same time. 

We learned to shut down our awareness - the sensations of fear or violation in our bodies, the deep sadness, shame, rejection and confusion of our emotions, the input from our senses that lets us know the reality of what is happening. We invented a way to bolt.

It was a necessary skill for some of us. It got us through, helped us concentrate on some of the positive things that were happening. But that ability to shut down, to block sensations, to numb emotions, came with a heavy price.

It cut us off from ourselves, leaving us feeling alienated, divided, and only half alive. It also kept us stuck in a permanent state of avoidance, believing we can't handle what's going on inside us: Strong emotions illicit fear and must be shut down. Bodily sensations get ignored. Denying what's happening in the moment separates us from what's happening now. Our ability to deal with real-life situations in a mature way is sabotaged, because, as Earnie Larsen says, we may be adults on the outside, but on the inside, our 6-year old is driving the bus. 

This urge to bolt is what drives our addictions: alcohol, drugs, food, sex, shopping, video games, crazy relationships, work, power, helping.

Eventually, if we're going to grow up on the inside, we need to find a way to occupy ourselves again, to return to the body, mind, and heart we left behind.

We need a way to occupy ourselves, to be in ourselves.

It's harder than it seems, and it's just the beginning of a long, scary road, but if you're up for it, there a simple way to begin to come home to yourself. 

Try this simple exercise called "come to your senses:"

Set aside 5 minutes of uninterrupted time. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and let it out slowly.

Open your eyes and notice 5 things you can see. Don't just check them off the list, try and experience the sights: the blueness of the sky, the texture of the wall, the curve of your coffee cup, etc. Don't label or judge what you see, just let it impact you.

Now listen. See if you can hear 5 things in your environment. Experience them.

Now see if you can feel 5 sensations of touch: where your clothes touch your body, your feet in your shoes, the pressure of your legs on the chair, the temperature in the room, the smooth surface of the cup.

Are there 2 things you can smell?

Any taste lingering in your mouth?

Now notice how you feel after doing this exercise, intentionally occupying your 5 senses.

Enjoy, and please feel free to share your experience with this exercise in the comments.

Be (With) Yourself!

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"Just be yourself!"

True confession: that admonition has always bothered me. Not that I disagree - no. I wholeheartedly believe we should only and always be who we are, and that if we can pull that off, the universe will unfold as it should. Or something like that.

It's the how that always seemed to escape me.

On the surface it seems simple - find out who you are and then be that. Unfortunately my long and ardent pursuit of that goal left me feeling just as confused as when I started. Perhaps I could discover something about who I am, what I'm like, how I am in the world, but I continued to be mystified about how to step into the me I found.

Unfortunately I was treating myself as a concept to be learned rather than an experience to be embodied.

Early on in my life I had learned how to vacate my own presence, my own experience of myself in the world. No wonder I felt lost.

The solution?

The solution is simple, it's just not that easy for people like me.

I had to re-learn how to be in myself. And then I had to learn how to be with myself.

In future posts I will explore these skills, and pass along what I'm learning about actually being myself.

In the meantime, what about you? Do you struggle with the admonition to "just be yourself?"