The Way Through

(or Cultivating Happiness)

The only way out may be through, but the only way through is IN.

Happy?  What is happy?  Not being haunted by our demons (but learning to make friends with them?), breaking through karmic cycles? Feeling through depression, sadness, fear, physical and emotional pain, grief?  What does it take to be truly, deeply happy, content, smiling from the inside out?  What is the journey to happiness or contentment and how does it become ingrained in every cell, so that we align who we truly are with the meaning and purpose of our lives?

Of course, how to cultivate happiness is probably one of the great philosophical questions of all time.

I’m not an expert at happiness, nor am I always happy.  To the contrary, I’m just like everyone else.  I live with the dualities of the moment, which can shift radically, by the millisecond. But what I do know is that the deepest levels of happiness don’t come from “stuff.”  Or others (although others can influence happiness). And because of our stories, our perceived external circumstances, our environment, our families, and our karma, we live in cycles of suffering, generational patterns and our karmic “stories” that can plague us from the moment we show up in this world (and possibly before that!).

Over the years, I’ve learned that I am the only one who has the power to shift my own stuff…there is no one else to depend on to pull me out of my unhappiness but me (along with some exploratory tools, resources and guidance). We tend to want to blame others or our external circumstances for who we are or what we think and do. And “victim” mentality is really an excuse to not take responsibility for how we show up in the world, or to honor the possibilities within us.  Being a “victim” is the thinking mind’s identity unfurled, one that keeps us in a scarcity mindset and focused on external circumstances.

Taking responsibility for how we show up in the world is the essence of our rehabilitative gardening work at San Quentin prison, and the goal of my professional work with people and organizations (and for myself, too).  In prison, we call it “digging deep.”  Reconnecting with self, exploring painful feelings and leaving the “stinkin’ thinkin’“ behind. Our thinking mind is the result of our “ego,” and as Michael Brown, author of the Presence Process suggests, “ego is the replacement of authentic self.”   The drama of our stories dissolves presence, which reinforces ego.

Instead of creating identity with the thinking mind, authenticity requires going deeply within and aligning our inner most being with how we show up in the world. By reconnecting with self, we more easily reconnect with others, our communities, and the natural world (the Insight Garden Program’s mission statement). Deep, heartfelt knowing – and emotional processing — is necessary for emotional and behavioral transformation.

Some of us are not even aware we can go “in.” Others resist going “in” because of discomfort around what that process might unearth; it requires that we manage our “pests” and pull our “weeds” (aren’t gardening metaphors great?)  It requires moving through the fear of the unknown…of just being.  It includes a willingness to discover what we don’t know about ourselves so we can realign that with who we really are…and then make necessary course corrections.

Shifting also is about honoring our feelings (instead of pushing them away).  When we push our feelings away, we fragment ourselves, and/or attempt to anesthetize so we don’t have to feel.  In the book Getting Our Bodies Back: Recovery, Healing and Transformation through Body-Centered Psychotherapy, Christine Caldwell suggests that when the experience becomes too much, we leave our bodies – the real essence of addiction.

As one who enjoys facilitating transformation professionally, I have spent a lifetime exploring different modalities to digging deep, breaking karmic patterns, searching for my internal self in a quest to peel away the layers (and there ARE layers!) of that which binds me. It’s not a goal, really, it’s an acceptance of a lifelong pilgrimage.  When I realize I’m reacting to external circumstances, I attempt to explore the “triggers.”  When I can identify and feel them, I can then move through. As we say in prison, “you gotta feel it to heal it.”

My truest moments of happiness (and sadness too) come with complete presence.   For me, this process began years ago, through a variety of resources that have helped guide me through. I will always have to learn how to get out of my own way.

Some of those resources have included:

  • Family Systems Therapy – understanding our place/role in our family systems and how we can shift in relation to that understanding…so the system itself indeed shifts.  See Andrea Maloney Schara’s work, Ideas to Action.
  • Meditation – cultivating present moment awareness (this includes Michael Brown’s wonderful self-guided meditation book, The Presence Process) — as well as meditation retreats.
  • John Pateros’s Process Coaching work, Healing to Wholeness – getting ‘unstuck’ from any emotional issue, habit or condition to generate deep and permanent change.
  • Christine Caldwell’s book, Getting Our Bodies Back – providing resources for the “journey to locate ourselves” (especially through addiction).
  • Acupuncture – clearing meridians for physical and emotional health.
  • Jyoti SaeUn’s energy healing work, Clearing Clouds where she  detects and releases “stagnant” energy so people can reclaim their authentic selves
  • Transformative Coaching, with Elka Eastly Vera — who helps blend classical coaching, hypnotherapy, spiritual guidance, and energy work  to empower the soul’s purpose.

Finally, some words of wisdom from Pema Chodrun’s book, Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears:

“In Buddhist teachings, we’re encouraged to work with the wildness of our minds and emotions as the absolute best way to dissolve our confusion and pain.  Rather than getting so caught in the drama of who did what to whom, we could simply recognize that we’re all worked up and stop fueling our emotions with our stories.  In meditation, we train in letting our thoughts go again and again, over and over, and go right to the root of our discontent.  We allow the space to see the very mechanics of how we keep ourselves stuck.” (p. 47)

So in the tradition of sharing, I welcome what  “going in” processes have worked for you!  And may we all find our ways through…


About Beth Waitkus

Gardening as a revolution. Most recently, as Founder & Executive Director of the Insight Garden Program, I built a $1+ million nonprofit that works across sectors to provide experiential, transformative gardening and landscaping training in prisons, participant re-entry programs, and advocacy for systems change at the intersections of environmental, criminal, and social justice. To become environmentally aware, all people need is a little time in the garden, or outdoors -- nature teaches us everything we need to know.
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1 Response to The Way Through

  1. Ann Valliant says:

    Beautifully said, Beth.

    I want to add to your blog’s list of powerful resources the 12-Step programs (Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Over-eaters Anonymous, etc.). Many of the useful insights you quoted (“You have to feel to heal” for instance) continue to be widely spread through these programs. 12-Step meetings are powerful free community resources led by the people in recovery for themselves with great effectiveness for around 80 years.

    The Twelve Steps are a powerful map, beginning from crumpled powerlessness over one’s own ineffective impulses through the minefield of self-inquiry before awakening to a love-filled life of service. Program meetings are filled with ordinary people at all stages in this process, helping one another along, full of the mistakes people inevitably make, embedded in effective traditions and collective wisdom.

    Here are the original Twelve Steps as published by Alcoholics Anonymous. Depending on the focus of the program of recovery, the words have been altered slightly. Al-Anon members, for instance, with their focus on recovery from destructive relationships with alcoholics, restated the first step to read “powerless over others.” Also, the gender references have been updated by many programs. However the wording has been tweaked and however members understand the nature of the spiritual power each surrenders to, these Steps work for anyone who sincerely works them.

    1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
    2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
    3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
    4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
    5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
    6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
    7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
    8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
    9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
    10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
    11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
    12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

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