THE LIFE CHANGING MAGIC OF CHOOSING THE RIGHT FRIENDSHIPS

What if you applied the life changing magic of Marie Kondo’s tidying methods to choosing the right friendships, asks Victoria CoxArtwork: Found on Pinterest

Friendship is a constantly evolving thing. We have our inner circle of friends, our coven of trusted confidants. Then there is a secondary circle, comprising people we are friendly with but who are less likely to know our strange quirks and deepest desires; work colleagues, gym buddies or school friends.

Over time, lesser known friends move into the inner circle, whist others move out of the constellation entirely. The point being that our friendship circle is ever changing, as we mature and grow. It is not designed to be stagnant and fixed.

Some friendships gain strength year after year, reaching surprising levels of intimacy. Some fade away entirely either through neglect, distance or simply growing apart. Then there are others that come to an abrupt end, the flame of friendship extinguishing itself in a dramatic fashion.

I understand all of this. So why do I still find myself trying to maintain friendships that no longer serve me? The answer to this question can often be surmised in one word: obligation. After all, if we’ve spent years building up a friendship, investing our time and our hearts, it seems counter-intuitive to throw it all away.

But what if we could learn to accept that if things aren’t what they once were? Acknowledge that it’s time to move on, with no hard feelings?

After all, I’ve learned to do this is every other area of my life. I’ve walked away from dysfunctional relationships; shitty bosses and unfulfilling jobs without even looking back. Why not apply the same thought process to my friends?

And then I finally read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and a light-bulb went on in my head.

Kondo, a Japanese organizing expert, touts the virtues of tidying by asking of everything you own: “Does this spark joy?” and if not, thanking it for its service and getting rid of it. But instead of pondering whether inanimate objects in my apartment sparked joy, what if I applied this method to choosing the right friendships?

Admittedly my first thought was to question whether or not I would qualify as a sociopath in comparing my friendships to my heavily stained shower curtain.

But really, what if we were to scroll through every friend listed in our phone contacts and ask ourselves: “Does this person spark joy in my life?” I would hazard a guess there’s probably a good thirty percent of people about whom we would either answer with a long “hmmm…”—or else blurt out a “Hell No!”

And when you really think about it, why would we choose to spend our valuable time with friends that no longer spark joy in our life? It simply doesn’t make any sense. Until you factor in that godawful G word. Guilt.

So powerful is the G-word (evil twin of the that O-word again—obligation) that I recently found myself spending hours with a friend who I didn’t want to hang out with, doing things I had no interest in doing and wishing I was somewhere else. Talk about soul-destroying.

And so turned back to Kondo’s book, seeking more pearls of wisdom to apply to my friendship circle.

She also wisely counsels that nostalgia is not your friend when it comes to your closet—and it turns out it’s not much help when it comes to friends, either.

How many times had I continued to hang out with a friend based solely on memories of what fun we used to have together? As it turns out, way too many. Our conversations always took a detour back down memory lane, peppered with “Remember when’s?” rather than “I’m so excited for…”

Sadly, the past is the past and if the only connection is over what was instead of what will be, then it might be time to reassess what purpose that particular friendship is serving. Is this person invested in your future dreams? Do they relate to the person you are today, or only the person you used to be?

Friendships are unique. Unlike relationships with our family, we choose to enter into them. And unlike a marriage, there’s no piece of paper reminding us we’re obliged to try and make it work. We choose each other because the relationship means something to us, it brings us joy, makes us laugh, brings over pizza when we’re feeling down and out.

Whilst it may be incredibly sad to bid adieu to a friendship that just isn’t working for us in the same way—because we’ve changed, they’ve changed or it simply doesn’t jive the way it used to—it’s also freeing to remember that since we chose to get into it, we can also choose to get out.

HOLY F*CK: HOLDING SPACE FOR MY SHADOW SELF

“Just like our sexual self don’t have much space to roam in this world, neither does our shadow self…” says Alexandra Roxo.

Which is a mask, which is a shadow, and which is my truth?

Last week in my Holy F*ck salon I felt a heaviness as we gathered on the call, and so I asked: “How many of us are in pain today?” To which everyone replied: “Me.” Some quietly, some more boldly. We were about to do a round of storytelling around transcendental orgasms, but instead I decided: “Fuck talking orgasms today. Let’s talk shame. Sorrow. Rage.’”

I myself was in the deep throes of having let my shadow out to speak her voice at Burning Man, having been silenced for months. I’d literally called on my WHOLE healing team to help me process the experience. Coach Perri Gorman. Intuitive wizard Luke Simon. Michael Ventura, who’s been working with me on this for three years! And a psychologist I met at Burning Man, Justin Hartery.  Plus all my besties. LIKE WHOA IT TAKES A VILLAGE, and I’m so grateful I have help when I need it.

Somewhere during Eclipse season, at the Temple on the “playa”, some old wounds had gotten a fresh surface scrape. As a result I was oozing blood onto everything in my life. And as my wounds and the wounds of all the ladies of the salon were given a voice on that call, I realized—just like our sexual selves don’t have much space to roam in this world, neither do our shadow selves. But when they come knocking we have to answer.

We put on happy faces left and right and keep our shadow tucked away. We don’t want to “be a downer” at a party. So we tuck those feelings away. They get judged, while the “positive” feelings get center stage. Sometimes these are the shadow itself behind a clever mask, and sometimes the positive feeling is holding its hand over the “negative” one, creating a carefully curated dialogue.

“Who, me? No! I’m not insanely horny today! I’m great! Been meditating and doing Bikram!”  Or….”I’m fine! I’m not grieving the fact my dad forgot my birthday for the 18th year in a row. I’m a grown up. I should be over it by now, right?”

We walk around as if “doing okay” and “keeping it together” are badges that will earn us Love and Life Merits. We live by “shoulds.” I “should” be grateful. I ‘should” be strong (p.s. I have eliminated SHOULD from my vocab and I challenge you to do the same).

One shadow that surfaced in the salon was the overwhelming shame of being single. Of showing up to weddings and dinner parties alone. Of having people ask you, “Are you seeing anyone?” before asking about your work, your passions, your friends.

Another that floated into our call was about being in your 30’s and having your parents still supporting you. Many women I love deeply are supported by their families as adults, and since society says this is wrong, it creates yet more shame. When in truth their tribe is caring for them.

On the flip-side, another of my own shadows has been wearing the “Independent Woman” costume (ahem armor) that serves me so well at times, but had become hard to pull off, creating a tough barrier to deeper connections and vulnerability’—until it got ripped off at Burning Man that is.

As we gave these feelings a voice, they were like orphaned children being held tightly for the first time in a long time. How beautiful it was to each other say: “I pretend it’s okay. But I’m in pain.” As we each cried, the rest of us just listened. And I got to thinking…

What if we did this at dinner parties? What if we could eschew some of the socialization that keeps us separate and lonely by keeping these feelings—our truths—hidden away? And what if when I said: “I just feel ugly today”—instead of you replying, “Girl, you’re beautiful!” you just honored my feeling?

What if we just held space for that feeling like two wild witches on a Full Moon in the woods, and watched her fly around the room until she disappeared out the window and into the stars to be at home with all the other parts of our souls? And then we ate spaghetti with marinara sauce until it made our lips red, and talked about where we want to travel before we die and danced to Bowie.

Dancing with my shadows at Burning Man

How about we reclaim old rituals for honoring the shadows together, and make some new ones of our own? How about I just listen as you speak every fear to me…and I don’t try to fix them. I don’t offer you a solution. I don’t tell you “Everything is going to be okay.” I just hear you and see you and witness you and hold you.

After all, we came here to be wild. We came to make “mistakes.” We came to try things and fail. We came to let our hearts be smashed to bits and to carefully sew them back together. We came for glory. And we came for failure.

They tell us to keep it neat and pretty. To “be the light.” But your shadow is your asset. When you hide her away you teeter along as a half version of yourself, dragging a corpse of old, half-acknowledged feelings around. And so next time shame or grief comes calling, answer her. Make her a temple. Throw her a party. Give her center stage for once.

Will the shadow start running the ship? Most likely not. But if this fear exists, then create a container for these feelings. If you know rage could cause chaos, then take her moshing at a concert. Or give her a punching bag at a boxing gym.

In my Holy F*ck salon that day, I made a pledge to my group and we made a pledge to ourselves:

“When you cry I promise not to comfort you. I promise not to usher away your feelings with my ideas of what’s “right” and “wrong.” When you scream, I promise not to shush you and tell you it’s going to be okay. I’ll admit I don’t know if it will be, but I’ll listen and stand tall with you, and be by your side.”

I pledge this to you now and welcome you to share this with the people you call tribe.

This column is dedicated to those Wild Women and Men who are willing to go there with me and grieve and mourn and rage and laugh and cry and dream with me. Who don’t shut me out when things get ugly, and who aren’t afraid to get down and dirty in the name of growth and change. You know who you are.

Alexandra Roxo is a Spiritual + Creative Mentor, Writer, and Filmmaker living in LA.  Find out more on alexandraroxo.com and instagram.com/alexandraroxo/

AN HONEST RELATIONSHIP: HOW TO LOVE AND BE LOVED

Step fully into your light for an honest relationship that shows you how to love and be loved, says Hannah BierArtwork: “Lovers” by Marina Gonzalez via Behance.net

They told me that true love was sweet and sticky. They told me that if I manage to stay obedient and pure, a Prince will come and save me. He will wear tight-ass leggings and put me in a castle, where we will have mediocre sex until the end of time.

Well, my dating life used to be land mine after land mine and I know all too well about the brain fuck of modern societies’ views on romantic love. And it’s time to stop shitting ourselves and get real about what truly enlightening love looks like.

Here’s what you need to know if you want a mindful relationship where you’re free to love fiercely and be loved rapturously:

1. LOVE THEM SO MUCH THAT YOU PISS THEM OFF
Relationships that are either dysfunctional or incredibly boring share one common trait: the lovers dance around one another trying not to piss each other off. The truth is, the best thing you can do is to be your wildest, most obnoxious self, especially around the people you want to keep in your life.

We’ve been through tremendous amounts of family programming, plus the societal conditioning that piles a ton of limiting beliefs on top of the unhealed trauma we’ve amassed over the years. As a result of our lived experiences, we develop vices and behavioral patterns for dancing around our true fears and desires. It becomes easier to surround ourselves with people who join in this dance with us, and to never even try to get off auto-pilot.

Being your awakened and audaciously high-maintenance self means dancing in the way of your lover, and interrupting their pattern. It means being the one who loves them enough to not enable them to keep re-living their past. So do not restrict your own beautiful range of expression to accommodate their sleep-walking.

Just being you, you are going to piss people off who’d rather not wake up—especially those closest to you. But it is an act of fierce love to make them deal with their shit instead of trying to make it easy for them.

It is your business to love, not to look the other way. But too often this is misunderstood, and people make it their business to keep the people they love comfortably numb. If you want to support the spiritual evolution of a person you’ve come to care deeply for, let yourself be difficult and speak your truth.

2. TELL THE TRUTH
The #1 reason relationships end is because the lovers prioritize their own sense of comfort over the relationship. The glue for any mindful relationship is emotional intimacy, for no intimacy means no connection, and therefore no point to the partnership.

In order to keep the juices flowing, you need to continuously gather the courage to say the things you almost daren’t. You have to have the courage to be vulnerable and to make yourself look like an idiot. You have to value the relationship more than the desires of your own ego.

You can either be comfortable or be loved. Because if you don’t step up and show yourself in all your messy glory, it is simply hard to love you. We need to see you, to be able to love you. Don’t blame your shallow conflicts about who bought the wrong toilet paper for the deterioration of your relationship.

Every conflict is an opportunity to stand up and tell the real truth. To throw your lover on the bed and to show them how deeply you want to be with them. Fuck them until they know how much you love them. Or to keep screaming and making up stories, so that you can stay comfortable and lonely. It is completely up to you to show up and give it your all.

3. HOLD THEM THE WAY YOU WANT THEM TO HOLD YOU
It is your job to see people for who they truly are. We all have a tendency to downplay our brilliance, to dim our lights, so that we can keep living within what feel like safe boundaries of being. If we never reveal our true nature, we will never make ourselves vulnerable, and we won’t be subject to any criticism.

But you know this won’t work.

By covering up what we really want and settling for something less, we are directing our creative force against ourselves. Playing small is lethal, because every heartfelt dream contains the energy to make it happen. If we pull back instead of going full blast, the energy intended to help you take massive action ends up being trapped in your body where it will slowly kill you.

Don’t let the people you love hurt themselves like that. See them for the genius they truly are. Remind them of how you see them and make a vow to only speak to their higher selves.

How do you want the people you love to show up for life? Don’t you want them to be empowered as creators, infinitely brilliant artists, and deeply loving souls? Hold them the way you want them to show up. Humans are forgetful, make it a habit to remind people of what they really need to understand about themselves.

This, is fierce love.

UNDER THE ARMOUR: WHY MEN FIND IT HARD TO FEEL

Why men find it hard to feel is a case of nature and nurture. But when the new empowered masculine is invited to express himself, relationships become a catalyst for healing, says Darren Austin Hall. Images: HANs via Behance.net

“The rule of patriarchy demands that men armor themselves, not only to impose force upon the world, but to resist the Feminine externally, and deny or conceal its presence internally, in themselves. On the path of the hero…the genuine hero is a man who develops his power against patriarchy, rather than in support of it. He overcomes armor in the cause of amore.” – John Lamb Lash

I once had an insightful conversation with a female friend about her romantic struggles with men who perpetually shut down emotionally, a common dynamic in many relationships. I’ve also seen this complaint broached in neo-feminist articles online, often reading something along the lines of: “If you haven’t got your emotional shit together you don’t deserve me,” OR “I’m a queen and if you can’t handle intense communication then hit the road.

Firstly, I want to affirm that the kind of Kali fury women feel when their male intimate won’t communicate with them and/or shirks emotional connection altogether is totally valid – and can, when appropriately utilized, actually compel a lazy King out of his benumbed emotional doldrums into attractive action.

But what many women don’t understand is WHY men shut down, and how they can support us with compassion when we do.

I’ve been interested in developing the “healthy masculine” ever since a life-changing trip to India, where I met a beautiful soul brother who introduced me to several inspiring texts on the subject. The insights of the King, Warrior, Magician, Lover series by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette, and the raw, brutal truths of Iron John: A Book About Men by Robert Bly, shone a light on the struggles facing men in the modern world. Things I had always vaguely felt, but never knew how to express – due in part to my own emotional dullness.

And as I delved into these studies deeper, I began to feel a tremendous sense of compassion for my brothers and myself.

Foremost, men are conditioned to shut down emotionally by society itself. Men are taught that to express emotions is “unsafe,” because it makes our masculinity appear weak and soft. For so long, we’ve been taught that to be masculine is to be “hard.” And if you’ve ever given a modern man a massage, you’ll know this hardness is tangible, our emotional armoring manifesting as layers upon layers of muscular tension.

Here’s a massive truth that I want us all to pause for a moment and reflect upon: that hardness in the body is actually layers of ice-cold frozen tears.

My own inner-work has been about reimagining my masculinity in a patriarchal world which conditions an immature and dysfunctional masculine identity that doesn’t know how to feel. Along the way, I have been shocked at how reading about the pain of male warriors going to war for corrupt political aims provokes massive grief in me.

And also how reflecting on this subject awoke the realization in me that every time I got my heart broken, I did my best to bury the wounds so deep that only through psychic scuba-diving in my meditation practice years later would I be able to excavate and process them.

It soon became clear that I’d been carrying around a hospice of old wounds, waiting to be healed and transmuted into wisdom – since every feeling I liberated held its own insights and revelations. One reason I’ve come to believe women, as I’ll explain, often seem wiser than men.

Women are at advantage in the emotions department for a couple of reasons. One, women are encouraged to be emotional. As a result, while many women still struggle with how to process emotions skilfully and use them as tools for alchemical transformation, they are usually more comfortable than men in this realm.

Secondly, diverse ancient traditions purport that women are at an advantage to men spiritually. I didn’t really understand the rationale behind this until I studied Chinese Medicine, and realized some important facts about our physical differences.

In Chinese Medicine, a person’s shen, or spirit, expresses itself as our sense of conscious awareness. It is said that this spiritual force is housed in the Heart and travels in the blood. And when women have their menstrual cycle and bleed they are actually cleansing this shen; their spirit!

Furthermore, I was taught by Native American elders that the sweat lodge was actually created to help men cleanse in a similar way, to help them keep spiritual pace with women! Totally mind-blowing.

Could this be why men are more vulnerable to being murky of spirit and emotional awareness than women? If women’s blood, or spirit, runs more clear, it comes as no surprise to me that women are able to feel more clearly and thus exhibit more emotional wisdom than men – for as I’ve learned, feelings are the catalyst for spiritual revelation.

Moreover, menstrual cycles mean women are energetically connected to cycles of the Moon, which in turn is energetically linked to our unconscious. This is why the cycles of the moon can inspire utter wildness of feeling in women! The moon is literally prodding their unconscious to come to the surface to be integrated into the light of consciousness.

A final stunning detail on this note: I was told by another wise teacher that women traditionally would intention their menses to cleanse not only themselves but the spiritual nature of the world at large, using their moontime to help bring the unconscious of the collective into the light of consciousness to be integrated. It’s no wonder women can feel so heavily burdened during their moontimes: they are cleansing so much more than themselves!

In saying all this, I’m not trying to excuse men who refuse or don’t know how to acknowledge their emotions. I know first hand from my own relationships how difficult for women this can be. My intention is simply to create a space for compassionate understanding of our differences, helping us pave the way for better relations in the future.

Ultimately, when it’s understood that women are by nature (and nurture) better feelers than men, this can be integrated into not only romantic but all relations between men and women, as well as utilized as a dynamic tool for healing.

In the past, I used to fear the way women seemed to know my pain even if I didn’t express it. Now I understand that female intuition is a great power that needs to be honored – but that we also need to honor how scary it can be for a man that she can usually tell when something is up no matter how hard he tries to hide it, for fear of appearing weak.

In the ancient romantic culture of the Troubadours, there’s an old adage: amore over armor. Men are constantly armoring themselves to fit an outmoded idea of masculinity, and while some protection is useful to buffer us against the trials of the world, most men are carrying way too much (which actually goes for women too, as we’ve all been conditioned by the patriarchy).

So the next time a man, either your partner or a friend, exhibits this kind of emotional armoring, instead of falling into frustration and even anger, choose compassion. Allow space. Ask tender, loving questions. Use touch and the beautiful arts of seductive love to tease out the truths from his tense body in a safe space that welcomes vulnerability.

Women’s gifts of sensuality and feminine beauty can entice the masculine to drop its defenses and open its overly guarded heart. In the ancient romantic traditions, this was seen as one of the great powers of women: to disarm men and invite their innermost essence to be expressed. Imagine if the women of the world used this power against all the war-mongering tyrants, to draw out the wounds that are at the root of so much violence!

When a man starts to feel openly, sharing his tender truths with women, then intimacy can blossom exponentially. Women will see, perhaps for the first time, the beautiful innocence that men hide in our hearts, and have been too afraid to show to a world they felt would demean them for it.

Further, perhaps we’ll realize that there’s a profound context in all romantic relationships for cultivating the balance between the masculine and feminine; for these two cosmic polarities to dance finally and ultimately in unison, fusing in the beauty of the divine.

Darren Austin Hall is a sacred musician, sound healer and spiritual teacher. His empowering music entails diverse, salving instrumentation, across crystal singing bowls, Indian tanpura, mystical guitar and shamanic singing. His new album, The Tantra of Truth, is a collection of ecstatic songs inspiring the evolution of consciousness and deep transformation, and he is one of the headlining musicians for The Yoga Conference in Toronto. He is also trained in Chinese Medicine and shamanic healing and is a gifted teacher and facilitator of a wide array of workshops on new paradigms of spirituality and healing. His writing appears on the blog The Druid, and is published online on sites such as Elephant Journal. Darren also co-facilitates a men’s group in Toronto devoted to raising the consciousness of the masculine and is a devotee of the wisdom of nature. Darrenaustinhall.com

8 THEMES TO WORK WITH IN THE YEAR OF THE SHEEP

Enter the year of the Sheep, gentlest beast of the Chinese zodiac and harbinger of creativity, peace, and healing. Here’s how to make the most of this Cosmic gear-change in the months to come…

What’s weird is that in China people traditionally avoid having babies in Sheep years, as these passive personality traits are perceived as a weakness. But actually, isn’t more empathy for others, more nurturing, and more open-heartedness exactly what the world needs right now?

If last year’s Horse energy was all about putting ourselves out there in the name of progress, then the Sheep ushers in a time of quiet reflection, and careful consideration about the impact our actions have had on the wider world. Our best work will be done behind the scenes, and in the moments we feel safe to settle into our creative flow.

Relating to the Western astrological sign of Cancer, home and family are where the heart is in 2015. But as the Sheep is the 8th sign of the Chinese zodiac, correlating with this being an Eight Year numerologically, there is also the opportunity to cash in on the bold initiatives we began under the entrepreneurial influence of the Horse.

Here are eight key Sheepy themes to work with in the months to come:

FORGIVENESS
The Sheep bears no grudges. Virtually every spiritual tradition teaches that forgiveness, of ourselves and others, is pretty much essential on the path to enlightenment, and here comes your opportunity to let bygones be bygones. Even if the bygone in question involves a cheating rat, or a backstabbing biatch. Remember; their actions could only be born of suffering (as, you know, the Buddha might put it).

HEALING
The licking of wounds, both physical and emotional, is actively encouraged this year. No more suffering in silence or simply soldiering on, Sheeple! It’s time to embrace the idea that only once you are fully whole will you truly be free to thrive. Where to start? Your intuition knows where your deepest issues lie. From there, you might want to check out our Nu Review to find a Numi-approved practitioner near you.

GENEROSITY
When was the last time you truly sacrificed of your self for the benefit of others? And no, sharing your HBO Go password with everybody in your apartment block doesn’t count. The Sheep is the humanitarian of the Chinese Zodiac, and since the dawning of the Sheep year coincided with the philanthropic Aquarius New Moon, the stage is set for us to rethink how “I” can benefit this year, to include the Universal “we”.

SELF-NURTURING
This goes hand-in-hand with healing, and prioritising your self-care schedule this year is about tapping into a unique opportunity for regeneration. 2015 is the year of the Wood Sheep (each year also has a corresponding element), and since the Wood element is associated with all living things, there’s a Spring-like theme of renewal in the air. Time to scrub yourself clean, inside and out, and detox step forth all shiny and new.

DIPLOMACY
Let’s all play nice this year, yeah? And that goes for you too, politicians. The Sheep invites us all to strive for peaceful negotiations in 2015, to temper our own agendas and embrace the concept of compromise. This isn’t about keeping your opinions to yourself, more an invitation to see each situation from all sides.

INTIMACY
Let your secret softie show! It’s amazing how people warm to you when you show your vulnerabilities, and the Sheep year encourages wearing your heart like medallion of honor. Bye-bye bravado, hello real heart-to-heart connections. The kind new best friendships, authentic life partnerships, and life-altering family breakthroughs are made of.

CREATIVITY
An open heart also creates an aperture for you to connect to your inner muse. As the Wood Sheep heightens our sensitivity to the world and the people around us, artistic expression becomes catharsis, a way to channel our subconscious in service of making our world a more beautiful place. The soul speaks in mysterious ways; and our creativity is what gives it a voice in the material world.

ACCEPTANCE
Don’t fight it. Make “I surrender” your mantra this year, and then just watch how much more fluidly life unfolds. This is not, we repeat NOT, about adopting a pushover stance and allowing yourself to be taken for a ride. Rather, it’s a time for tapping into the Universal oneness energy, and trusting, simply, that whatever you’re being asked to accept today is in the ultimate service of your highest good.

How will you be working with the Sheep energy this year? Connect with us and share your journey on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Illustration: Dani Katz