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Thriving or surviving?


In working with TOTEM clients this past week, a theme emerged: are we thriving or just surviving? Many clients have expressed a desire to start really living again, feeding their hearts and souls with inspiration, art, music, friendship and generally speaking the beautiful things in life. They've discovered the space between surviving- the theme of the past year- and wanting to aim for something beyond the base layers of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs...and it's a strange and uncomfortable negotiation process.


This theme has been a little triggering for me, but in a good way. I remembered a distinct moment from my childhood in which I was forced to choose: survive or thrive? Some of you may know that I grew up in an extremely volatile household with mental illness, drug use and domestic violence. One evening, my father- who was incredibly abusive and violent- had decided that he wanted to reassert his dominance over the house. At the time, I had already been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (a very natural response to a chaotic environment) and, as a result, I was a very picky eater. I guess I just didn't want to take any more risks than I had to, starting with what was on my dinner plate.


At dinner, my father saw that I wasn't eating the peas. I really just didn't want to eat them, which is pretty common with children and vegetables regardless of any additional dysfunction. This made him furious, and he insisted that I wasn't going to be allowed from the table until I ate the peas on my plate. Now, it's important to understand that resisting my father in any way almost always resulted in dramatic displays of verbal and physical abuse- surreal moments where a bat was taken to a television or my stepmother was thrown against the wall. So, to say "no" to this was in direct conflict with all of my basic survival instincts.


But, in that moment, something else was unfurling inside of me. For some reason, I had a perfectly clear picture of how everyone in that house- that acquiesced and pacified my father to alleviate his anxiety and issues- was a living, breathing disaster area. I understood, intuitively, that they were struggling because they were constantly agreeing to this dynamic out of fear and a desire to just get through another day alive and unharmed.


I looked at my father and said, "No". He and everyone else in that house was shocked. You could hear a pin drop, it was so intensely silent. My father managed to gather himself and say, "Well, then, you're not leaving this table. You can leave the table when you've eaten the peas." So I just sat there, knowing I wasn't going to eat a single pea.


He would intermittently come back into the dining room, saying something about how I couldn't be stubborn forever...but I knew, deep down, that I could be. Then, several hours into our standoff, he started to try to negotiate with me. You see, he wanted this display to end, but he couldn't just release me of my bondage without losing the perception of total power and control he had maintained in the home up to that point. He knew that if he acquiesced, there would likely be an uprising- my step siblings would know that they too could escape the prison, and this was not a reality my father was willing to tolerate.


I did not negotiate with him. Not three peas. Not one pea. I wasn't going to eat a single f*cking pea, and I knew that my father was likely going to try to seriously physically harm me for this intolerable display of individualism.


In that moment, I understood I was in danger. Real, actual physical danger, and that my father was likely going to severely harm me, possibly to the point of death. He had already broken my stepmother's back in a fit of rage and thrown my mother threw a window in front of me, so I knew what he was capable of.


But it didn't matter to me. In that moment, my soul made a decision: if surviving meant that I had to kill all the parts of myself that were human, unique, or capable of freedom or joy, I wasn't interested in surviving. I wanted to thrive. I wanted to eventually be happy and successful, and I understood that I was never going to get there if I placated this madman to quiet his anxiety. I had become a kind of spiritual Kamikaze pilot.


I waited patiently for my father to use the restroom, and took my opportunity to run out the front door and to the neighbor's house. I calmly told them to let me in and to call the police. I told them I thought my father was going to kill me. The police showed up, took my statement, and took me back to my mother's house. From that point, I found a lawyer to represent me as I sought emancipation from my father. I succeeded.


I never had to go back to my father's house ever again.


And while that life experience has brought its own suitcase of issues I've had to unpack with therapists and energy workers over the years, it gave me something truly invaluable: the ability to transcend my anxiety and the anxiety of others in order to be free, happy and successful. At an early age, I was able to tangibly learn that my life was my life, and that no one else- however authoritative or scary or violent- had the right to push me around against my will.


I also learned that life is more than just surviving: it's more than just food, water and basic shelter. Otherwise, frankly, we are no different from animals. There is something else to humanity- something esoteric and soul-based and divine- and that part of us is just as important as the physical machine we walk around in all day.


Sure, seeking to thrive instead of just survive comes with risks. In this Covid paradigm, every time we leave our houses we are effectively putting ourselves at risk. But this was also true pre-Covid: we could have gotten into a car accident or tripped and fell and broke a tooth...or met with someone seeking to rob us or take our car. The world is full of risks, and as someone that has struggled my whole life with OCD and PTSD, I understand the impulse to safeguard oneself.


But OCD is a mental illness for a reason. Trying to protect yourself from every seen and unseen threat- real and imagined- is, literally, crazy. I'm allowed to say that, because it's my crazy. The trick is to acknowledge the risks and safeguard ourselves in reasonable ways that do not encumber our lives or become compulsive, anxiety-relieving rituals. And, above all else, it's imperative that we not seek to control those around us as a means of relieving our personal fears or anxieties. After all, that's what my father was trying to do at that dinner table, and that is how fascism, coercive control, and abuse come to be.


I learned, very early in life, that freedom is never earned by doing what a tyrant demands. You cannot earn your freedom or joy or happiness by placating someone else. I understood, deep down, that I was already free- I just had to walk out of the prison I found myself in and live my life. After that decision, everything else got easier. I got braver. I took calculated risks in my career and my life, always trusting myself to handle the consequences.


Now, I'm not suggesting everyone start acting irresponsibly or take unnecessary risks, but I am suggesting that, as world starts to open up again, we remember to seek out the ephemeral, the beautiful, and the inspiring to feed our minds and souls after this challenging time. There is a dignity to the human spirit that is crucial- and not just for us as individuals, but also for us as a collective. We need to hang onto and honor that part of ourselves that seeks more, that gazes up at the stars and dreams instead of just staring down at our own feet.


I've noticed that my clients are stressed out, uninspired, disconnected and really struggling, and I want you to all know you're allowed to feel this way. You don't have to be perpetually grateful for just being alive. You are allowed to want and seek more from your experience on this planet. And you are allowed to be tired, scared, and seeking relief. And, conversely, you're allowed to enjoy life and get back into the things that used to feed you on a soul level.


You don't have to eat the peas. Not three. Not even one.


You can get up and leave. You can say what you really think and feel. You can live your life.


This weekend brings Easter and its pagan predecessor, Ostara. Ostara is all about the rebirth of the earth at Spring, bringing with it flowers and food and animals and life. I would encourage all of you to think about the relief that Spring brings and do one thing you enjoy this weekend, in honor of this energy. Buy yourself some flowers. Go to the Conservatory for a walk. Buy a nice bottle of wine and have a sip on your balcony, in the sunlight.


For an hour or a day, try to thrive. You'll be amazed how great you feel when you make this pivot in a conscious and self-nurturing way.


For me, I'll be doing my favorite, joy-giving thing this weekend: a Shamanic Journeying Meditation at our space in Oak Park. Reconnecting with spirit and chatting with others reconnecting with spirit reminds of me why I do what I do and just how important shamanism and spirit are in my life.


If you're interested in joining me- this weekend or later this Spring- check out these events:


April 4th, 2021

IN PERSON Shamanic Journeying: Upper World: An in-person, guided meditation workshop to put you in touch with your unique Spirit Guides, Angels and Ascended Masters in the Upper World. This event is on Easter Sunday, an unexpected confluence with the energy of the Upper World and Ascended Masters! Space for in-person workshops is limited, so if you're interested register here to secure your space: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/141725511821


April 18th, 2021

ONLINE Spirit Guides, Ancient Gods & Archetypes: Beauty & the Beast: In this next module of our online Spirit Guides course, we are going to explore the energies of the Love Goddess Aphrodite, the famous Viking bear shapeshifter Berserker, and the ancient Egyptian Goddess Ma'at, who weighs the souls of the dead before deciding where they transition on the other side. It's going to be a blast- just like this week with Mab and Erlking- so if you're interested, please sign up here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/132863388973


May 2nd, 2021

IN PERSON Shamanic Journeying: Astral Projection and the Middle World: An in-person, guided meditation workshop to put you in touch with your unique Spirit Guides and Soul Parts in the Middle World: aka the Astral Plane. In this workshop, we're going to learn about astral projection, shamanic soul part recollection, and energetic protection- all basics of spiritual "hygiene". Space is limited, so sign up here to secure your spot: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/141843432525


May 9th, 2021

IN PERSON Beyond Your Sun Sign: An Astrology Workshop: Join Tamara Crowe to go beyond the basic meaning of your zodiac sign and gain insights into your unique birth chart! Workshop attendees will leave with their tailored birth chart, at least a $100 value on its own, and a deeper understanding of astrology. There are only two spots left for this Mother's Day event, so please register asap to secure your spot: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/145516765563

May 16th, 2021

IN PERSON Spring Renewal: Spirit-led Acupuncture and Meditation: Feel like you need a spa for the soul? Like you need a little kickstart to get back into the saddle of life? Join Dr. Calista Lay, DC, RMT and Owner of Revive Chiropractic Healing Center at TOTEM’s Oak Park space to jump start your energy levels in our Spring Renewal workshop. Dr. Lay will be providing actual acupuncture, at least a $150 value on its own, alongside a guided meditation and unique insights into these healing modalities. Space for this workshop is very limited to ensure a safe, supportive space, so register now to secure your spot: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/146030417911

Life is happening. All around us. And it's beautiful.


And, as always, email me anytime with questions: rachel@totemreadings.com


-Rachel