GAIN Resilience and Reduce Stress

By Greg Hammer, MD

Two potent inducers of stress are (1) uncertainty about the future and (2) a world that does not comport with our wants and needs. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic brings both conditions and rampant, world-wide stress. Stress causes increases in adrenaline and cortisol in our bodies, increasing our heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar. Acute stress may be adaptive, enabling us, for example, to escape a predator by focusing our attention and directing blood flow to our muscles so we can run faster. When stress lasts for days, weeks, and even months, however, it is maladaptive. Chronic stress has adverse effects on our immune system as well as our heart and blood vessels. Chronic stress also induces changes in our chromosomes akin to aging. We are all better off learning how to reduce such stress by becoming more resilient in the face of adversity, especially during the current global coronavirus crisis.

There are four core pillars of resilience: Gratitude, Acceptance, Intention, and Nonjudgment. Together these principles form the acronym, GAIN. We can practice GAIN beginning with a 3-minute contemplation or meditation each morning; this will prepare us to remind ourselves of these essential elements of resilience throughout our day. Examples of thoughts we might embrace during this time of extraordinary stress:

1. Gratitude: We all have much for which to be grateful. Let’s consider how much better off most of us are than our ancestors were 100 years ago during the influenza pandemic of 1918. During that crisis there was little communication – no internet to keep people updated or able to Facetime with friends and family, poor sanitation, and far too few hospital beds and other essential resources to manage the critically ill. There were not enough ambulances, caskets, or burial sites for those who had succumbed to the virus. Bodies were moved to bedrooms in homes, where they often remained for days or longer. Nowadays we have much improved access to medical care, food, and other necessities. As bad as things are, they could be much worse. We do indeed have reasons to be grateful.
2. Acceptance: As the Serenity Prayer reminds us, we are well served to discern between those things we can and cannot change and accept the latter. During this historically difficult time there is much that we cannot change. Let’s open our hearts to the pain and suffering of others and ourselves and abide there, accepting these feelings. We did not create this pandemic and we cannot cure it. We can only manage to remain safe by practicing social distancing while staying in touch with our loved ones by text, email, Facetime, and other means.
3. Intention: Our brains are wired with a negativity bias. We remember feelings and events that are sad and painful while often losing track of the wonderful moments in life. The good news is that we can use our intention to re-wire our brains. A good example is the “Three Good Things” program initiated at Duke University (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZ4aT_RVHCs). Simply thinking of three good things that happened during our day as we prepare for bed each evening improves our sleep and happiness. This practice is easy to embrace and requires no time – we simply need to be purposeful and diligent in embracing it regularly. Our brains remain plastic, or changeable, even during adulthood, contrary to what many may believe. We simply need to deploy our intention.
4. Nonjudgment: We tend to continuously compare ourselves to others and form judgments of good or bad. “He is smarter than I am” or “she is not as athletic as I am.” The process of constantly categorizing and judging is exhausting and detracts from our happiness. Unfortunately, we tend to judge ourselves most harshly. Fortunately, there is an alternative – we can simply view the world and ourselves with open minds and hearts and adopt a sort of “benevolent indifference.” This is not to be confused with being jaded or crass, but rather means that we can rest our judging minds and enjoy things just the way they are. Again, we did not create this world and we can do little to change it. Let’s simply accept the way things are without judgment.

The GAIN practice can help us be more present. We tend toward obsession of the past and future in ways that are maladaptive, distracting ourselves from being present. While it is adaptive to savor our past pleasurable memories and learn from our mistakes, it is harmful to be stuck in thoughts of regret and shame. Similarly, with thoughts of the future – it is adaptive to look forward to good times and plan to put food on the table, but maladaptive to ruminate over thoughts that bring fear and anxiety. Due to our negativity bias we tend to catastrophize, meaning that we focus on the worst-case scenario, even though this rarely comes to fruition. Happiness indeed resides in the present moment. Consider your happiest times – laughing with others at a hilarious joke or event, connecting with a friend or lover, enjoying a moving concert or painting. All of these experiences are devoid of thoughts of the past or future. We are “right here right now.” Mindfulness means “paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”, according to its founder, Jon Kabat-Zinn. By embracing and employing the elements of GAIN, we are more mindful, resilient, and happy.

About Greg Hammer MD:
A pediatric intensive care physician and pediatric anesthesiologist, Dr. Hammer cares for infants and children of all ages as well as their families as they endure very stressful times. Dr. Hammer is the author of the soon-to-be-released books “GAIN Without Pain: The Happiness Handbook for Healthcare Professionals”.

A popular guest lecturer, he frequently speaks around the world in order to share his philosophy with physicians and other medical professionals. Dr. Hammer’s clinical focus is in pediatric cardiac anesthesia and pediatric critical care medicine. His research is in developmental pharmacology and immunology, and he has an active laboratory with multiple ongoing studies in these areas.

He has published widely on topics related to pharmacology and perioperative care of children undergoing cardiac and thoracic procedures as well as organ transplantation. Dr. Hammer is a health enthusiast and meditator, utilizing a non-duality and mindfulness-based approach, including the GAIN method.

He is a member of the Stanford WellMD initiative. He is currently the Chair of the Physician Wellness Task Force for the California Society of Anesthesiologists and a member of the Wellness Committee for the American Society of Anesthesiologists. He has been a visiting professor and lecturer on Wellness at institutions worldwide.

He teaches GAIN to medical students, residents and fellows at Stanford. Practicing medicine is a privilege. It is immensely rewarding. Yet more and more physicians are suffering from burnout. In order to provide an efficient and effective antidote to burnout, Dr. Hammer created GAIN Without Pain, a four-step process of meditation and mindfulness. GAIN is an acronym for Gratitude, Acceptance, Intention, and Nonjudgment. GAIN practice can substantially reduce stress and increase well-being in as little as three minutes a day.

You can learn more at www.GregHammerMD.com.

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A Practical Introduction to Numerology

I’ve been avoiding numerology for an awfully long time. I always talk about how astrology is hard work. I thought numerology was like astrology, but worse because it involved math. And I know it’s cliché, but math is hard. However, Watkins Publishing offered me the opportunity to read “A Practical Introduction to Numerology” by Sonia Ducie and it was a nice, compact little book and I decided, “What the heck!”

I am so glad I did! I feel silly for having avoided numerology for so long. Ducie’s book is so straight forward and well-written. She progresses through the topic in a logical order, making it easy to follow. And as to my concerns about math, I should not have had any! It is simply basic math. Even I can handle it! It is all based on the numbers 1-9.

Ducie explains that her book is based on Esoteric Numerology, which “encourages us to open our minds to intuition so we can contact our inner self or soul and see the bigger picture.” Although she does give a brief description of other forms of numerology such as Chinese Numerology, Vedic Numerology, divinatory, and more.

“A Practical Introduction to Numerology” by Sonia Ducie is the perfect introduction to Esoteric Numerology. This well-written, no nonsense guide, has sparked my excitement for the subject matter.

You can learn more here.

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The Midnight Gospel

If you know me, or follow me on social media, you know that I am a lady that loves herself some “Adventure Time”. What is there not to love? A cast of loveable characters, having quirky adventures, and underneath the humor, topics like love, loss, friendship, family, and the nature of evil are examined. So, obviously when I heard the creator of “Adventure Time”, Pendleton Ward, had a new animated series for adults coming to Netflix, I was all in.

I knew nothing about the series, “The Midnight Gospel”, before I watched it, other than it was animated and Pendleton Ward was a part of it. This show did not just meet expectations, it blew any expectations right out of the water. Buckle up, it’s an amazing ride!

What is “The Midnight Gospel”? A question more easily asked than answered. It follows spacecaster Clancy, as he drops into various alternative Earth simulations via an illegal multiverse simulator, to interview beings he finds. It turns out the show is based off Duncan Trussell’s podcast “Duncan Trussell Family Hour”. Ward is a fan of the podcast and thought of the idea of animating it. What happens when you smoosh Ward and Trussell together? A mind blowing, psyche changing, legitimately magical experience.

Trussell interviews a who’s who of people Buffet readers know, or should know: Caitlin Doughty, Ram Dass, Damien Echols, Anne Lamott, and more. They discuss topics such as magic, forgiveness, death, drugs, and yes, more. Every episode is magic, but it is hard to deny the power of the episode “Mouse of Silver”, that features an interview Trussell did with his mother, Deneen Fendig, as she was dying of cancer. All of this is paired with Ward’s dreamy, psychedelic art that is so rich with symbolism that you’ll want to watch it again and again.

I know all of this may sound like a downer, but to the contrary, it is seeded with humor and overall, a life affirming experience. I am definitely not an expert on magical media, so this is just my personal, limited experience, opinion. “The Midnight Gospel” is one of the most magical, and magickal, things you can view on a television screen. Watch it now. Then watch is again.

“The Midnight Gospel” is available on Netflix.

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What Every Woman Needs to Know About Her Energy Body

By Lisa Erickson

Interest in the chakras, reiki, and energy healing has exploded in recent years, with many of us turning to these modalities for greater wellness and empowerment. What isn’t as widely covered is how women’s energy bodies differ from men’s. Learn how you can get the most out of working with your feminine energy body – including help for healing from sexual trauma.

Rochelle was a new massage therapist having trouble managing enough clients per day to pay her bills, as she felt drained after just one or two sessions.

Lauren was a health-conscious yoga practitioner who did everything she could to take good care of her mind and body, but suffered such extreme fatigue during her period each month she was effectively sidelined from her life for several days.

Beth was a long-time meditator, but after the birth of her first child found that her usual meditation practices provided no relief from the heaviness and anxiety she was frequently experiencing.

Shari was a 50-year old woman struggling with perimenopausal symptoms, questioning the direction her life was headed, and fearing she was going backwards.

What do all these women have in common? They all were experiencing shifts in their energy bodies but didn’t know how to work with them. While an increasing number of yoga classes and energy body workshops help us connect with our primary energy centers, or chakras, most of the time chakra mappings are presented as the same for men and women. But there are differences in how women’s energy bodies function that any woman can benefit from knowing.

Our energy body serves as the interface between our physical body, our psyche, and our spirit. Chakra mappings in particular developed within both energy medicine and spiritual traditions around the world, and in the 20th century were even viewed by psychologist Carl Jung as a way to map different aspects of our psyche. The chakras offer many doorways into healing and empowerment, and hundreds of different methods for working with them including yoga, breath work, reiki, guided imagery, meditation, mantras, mudras, affirmations, crystals and more.

However, most chakra mappings and tools don’t account for the differences in how men’s and women’s chakras function. While at the spiritual level the energy moving through the chakras is ungendered, at the interface level between the chakras and the body, there are differences that mirror the physical differences between men and women. Trans and pan gender individuals will often experience the chakra patterns associated with the gender they most strongly identify with, or aspects of both. While male-female energy body patterns exist on a spectrum, rather than simply being binary, knowing about these differences can really help finetune chakra work.
The most important difference is that women’s energy bodies tend to be anchored in their second chakra, located in the pelvis, while men’s tend to be anchored in their first, or root chakra, associated with the tailbone, legs and feet. These two chakras serve as the foundation for everyone’s energy body, and so we all need to work to heal and strengthen both, but the differences in anchoring have real-world implications for women and those who identify as female.

The primary difference is that women’s energy bodies are more centripetal and tend to pull in and absorb other’s energies. While anyone can be empathic, women by default tend to be more this way. This is because the second chakra is receptive and ‘yin’ in nature, and so having their energy bodies anchored here means women’s energy bodies are more receptive in general. It also means women’s energy bodies are more adaptable and fluid, which can be a good thing when in a positive environment. But it means women need to pay more attention to energetic boundaries in daily life – something most women resonate with as soon as they learn of it.

Take the example of the masseuse Rochelle from above. She couldn’t understand why she felt so drained after just a couple of clients, when physically she still felt strong. The issue was energetic, not physical – she was unconsciously taking on energy from her clients. The reason was partly technical, based on this tendency of the feminine energy body, but also based in personal conditioning – like many women, Rochelle had patterns of people-pleasing that caused her to open up her energy body to others in a way she didn’t need to give a good massage. After learning to work with her root and navel chakras to create a simple, but effective energetic boundary, Rochelle was able to change this tendency, and work with clients successfully without draining herself.

Women’s energy bodies also experience cycles and phases in sync with their physical reproductive cycles and phases. While we now know that both men and women experience hormonal cycles and shifts, for women it is much more pronounced, in the form of menstruation, pregnancy, perimenopause and menopause. Each of these life events comes with its own energetic shifts, and learning to work with them can be key. For example, a woman’s sacral chakra waxes and wanes with her monthly cycle, at its strongest and most emanating at the peak of ovulation, and at its most sensitive and inward-facing during menstruation. While most women can’t organize their lives around their cycle, making even small accommodations can be helpful. For Lauren, the yoga practitioner who experienced extreme fatigue, allowing herself extra rest time and additional focus on her navel chakra during menstruation helped her to reduce the fatigue – and enabled her to tap into the deep contemplative energies available to her during this time.

Post-partum is another life phase in which women can benefit from understanding the energetic shifts occurring. Like Beth, mentioned above, even women with good support and self-care routines can find themselves struggling after birth. Not only is a woman dealing with physical fatigue and hormonal shifts, her energy body is adjusting to an additional energy line in the form of the mother-child bond. While a beautiful form of connection, if a woman leaves this line open all of the time, never learning to close it when she can to experience her energy body’s singular power and integrity, she will often feel ungrounded or uncentered in addition to fatigued. Because the sacral chakra is a woman’s energy body anchor and mother-child lines are centered there, post-partum a woman may also feel as if she can’t access the energies or functions of her upper chakras, with all of her energy pooled downward. Tools to help close the mother-child line when needed, while still maintaining a healthy loving parental bond, are key to a woman’s post-partum physical and mental well-being.

Perimenopause and menopause too are opportunities for energetic and spiritual growth, but are often not recognized as such. We tend to view them as medical events, or as endings. But perimenopause – the years preceding menopause when a women’s body and energy body are beginning to transition – are characterized by surges through the chakras linked to personal growth. Each chakra has particular ‘lessons’ and themes associated with it, and depending on where a women’s greatest obstructions to owning her power lies, she may experience discomfort in her body or psyche as these obstructions attempt to clear. If a woman can stabilize her energy body at this time and engage with energy healing and personal growth modalities, she can enter menopause truly feeling like she is coming into her most powerful and fulfilling time.

For example, Shari from the intro found herself feeling adrift and unfulfilled in her career, in addition to experiencing insomnia and nightly hot flashes. Once she was able to identify her feelings and stabilize her energy body, she began to feel much better. She also began a chakra meditation practice that helped her to smooth the shifts in her energy body as they were occurring. As this unfolded she found herself contemplating a shift in career that felt positive and empowering, and realized it had been coming for a long time. Her shift into menopause from that point was physically and psychologically smooth.

Chakra work should never replace medical and holistic healing advice, but it can play an important role in a woman’s healing and growth. Sexual trauma healing is another area where this is especially the case. Because the second chakra is linked to sexual energy and is also the anchor for a woman’s energy body, sexual abuse and assault can have a particularly damaging impact to a woman’s sense of her own power, and all of her chakra functions. Working gently at this level to clear shame, fear, patterns of hypervigilance and disassociation can be an excellent modality for sexual trauma survivors who are intimidated by the idea of physical body work, or of talk therapy. In other cases, chakra work can be a complementary method to these modalities. For a woman, healing and empowering her second chakra is instrumental to full body, and full psyche, healing.

The wonderful thing about chakra work is that anyone can engage in it, and there are multiple access points. Some people relate more to visualization, some to physical triggers like sound, others to affirmations or emotional memory. Everyone can find a connection point with their chakras, and once they do, can work with them anywhere, anytime. For women, understanding these differences in their chakras and energy body functioning in daily life can help unlock the full potential of their self-healing and manifesting abilities.

About Lisa Erickson:
Lisa Erickson is an energy worker specializing in women’s energetics and sexual trauma healing and author of Chakra Empowerment for Women: Self-Guided Techniques for Healing Trauma, Owning Your Power & Finding Overall Wellness from Llewellyn Publishing.

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Cosmic Botany

You feeling the cabin fever? Looking for a household refresh? Need a gift for a plant and/or crystal lover? I have the book for you, “Crystal Botany: A Guide to Crystal and Plant Soul Mates for Peace, Happiness, and Abundance” by Tanya Lichtenstein.

This is just the most charming book you could ever hope to see. Lichtenstein takes plants and their properties and pairs them with their crystal soulmates to create a “vibe”. Her book is divided into 4 parts: Fractals of Love, You’ve Got This, No Bad Days, and The Plant & Crystal Diet. Within them you’ll find pairings like “I Feel Pretty” (pink opal and a hibiscus plant), “Your Daily Podcast” (emerald quartz and a jade plant), “Bloom Where You Are” (rose quartz and a sweetheart hoya), and “Supercharged You” (rainbow aura quartz and a monstera). I’ve spent a lot of time Googling plants after reading this book!

Better still, Lichtenstein is a gifted artist and her book is full of her illustrations. The whole thing is very much in the whole white on white Instagram vein, but cuter (if that makes sense). “Cosmic Botany” is an inspired book with equally inspirational artwork.


You can learn more here.

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Reconciliation of the Heart

By Patti Ashley, Ph.D.

Current research has discovered that the heart is the regulatory organ, not the brain. In order to feel safe and secure, the head and the heart have to be in coherence. Stressful emotions such as anger, frustration, and anxiety create irregular and erratic heart beats, or what is known as an incoherent heart rhythm pattern, while positive emotions such as appreciation, care, joy, and love create highly ordered, smooth and harmonious heart beats, known as a coherent heart rhythm.

Paying attention to the heart is crucial to overall wellness. Current stressful lifestyles can leave your heart in an incoherent state. Reconciliation of the heart requires an honest inventory of your inner and outer life and a willingness to look at what might be hidden in the shadow. Psychologist Carl Jung defined the shadow as the place in the unconscious where you hide parts of yourself that appear negative to your conscious mind, fearing they may be evil or bad. When you fail to recognize these shadow aspects, they may cause you to feel and/or act in ways you don’t consciously understand.

Prior to the twentieth century, survival was the key component of daily life. Today lifespans are much longer, and we have many luxuries that our ancestors did not enjoy. With modern technology, education, medical advances, and appliances that have decreased the time needed for basic survival, we can now pay more attention to the deeper aspects of what makes us feel more whole.

Additionally, the pace of life has quickened, and we tend to want everything fast. High-speed internet, fast food, and even faster self-help practices and psychotherapies have been suggested. Faster is better. Reaching out and grasping whatever is quick and easy to fill the void and ease emotional pain is commonplace today. Addiction is rampant in our culture. The opiate epidemic affects far too many of our young adults and is a perfect example of an attempt to find a quick fix for the pain. We fear the shadow, and then we run and hide.

Since research on social/emotional needs is relatively new, many people grew up in families and schools where aspects of outdated relational practices were still in place. These rigid, shame-based patterns often resulted in a sense of inauthenticity, or a false self. Charles Whitfield, a medical doctor specializing in trauma and addiction, described in his book, Healing the Child Within, how a false self develops as a way to coverup fear and doubt, focusing on what others want. It is over-conforming, giving love only conditionally, and often covering up, hiding, and/or denying feelings. On the other hand, in an ideal environment, a child develops a sense of authenticity, separate from the needs and desires of others.

Swiss psychoanalysist Dr. Alice Miller thoroughly studied the long-terms effects of outdated practices on families and individuals and dramatically revealed how rigid rules and unrealistic expectations can create conditions where individuals are unable to develop or express their true feelings. It is eye opening to realize how the old dysfunctional patterns actually did much more harm to human development than we consciously recognize. And it is even more disheartening to know that in this educated country, many people are completely blind to these concepts.

Reconciliation of the heart is all about healing the past, present and future. Studies have shown that we are carrying 14 generations of ancestral trauma in our DNA. This means we have an extra difficult job of reconciling the broken and hidden parts. Reconciliation is defined as the action of making one view or belief compatible with another. In order to do that with your heart, you have to excavate your authentic self and learn to live a more congruent life. This requires three things:

1. Willingness to face the whole self- light and dark- knowing this is the only way to self-love. When you stop running from wounds and self-judgments, you can better acknowledge your willingness to face the shadow and be vulnerable to look at the parts of yourself that have been hidden due to fear and shame.

2. Commitment to stay the course even when it gets hard and seems emotionally intolerable. It is so easy to go back to old patterns. Making a commitment, saying yes to the process, and staying the course even when it gets tough.

3. Tenacity to take your authenticity to the next level of healing. Declaring the past is over and will no longer influence you. Staying and not running away or looking for the quick fix. Taking all the time you need to do the work that will return you to self-love and reconcile your heart.

The heart’s journey is one of reclaiming the gifts that you abandoned in order to fit in and realizing it is okay to live the authentic life you are meant to live. Reconciling what has happened, forgiving yourself and creating a new story helps bring you back to your true self. Keep in mind, this is not an easy task. Healing ancestral trauma, staying present in current emotional awareness, and building a brighter future for generations to come calls for willingness, commitment and tenacity.

Songwriters, poets, authors and other artists express themselves from the heart, often inspiring feelings of awe, curiosity and mystery. Studies have shown that creative expression rewires the brain and helps to calm the nervous system and bring the heart back into coherence. So…find something creative or fun that you love to do, and give yourself permission to explore possibilities of your authenticity and joy. Reconcile your heart, and as Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see.”’

About Dr. Patti Ashley
Dr. Patti Ashley, is about the reconciliation of the heart. This idea is all about healing our past, present and future. Dr. Patti Ashley, PH.D., LPC. is a Psychotherapist, Speaker, Authenticity Architect and Author wanting to share her message with your audiences. She is the author of “Letters to Freedom”.

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My Story is Your Story

An excerpt from The Bright Way: Five Steps to Freeing the Creative Within.
By Diana Rowan

The creative quest is one of the most thrilling journeys we can take. Yet it can also feel overwhelming at the outset. I understand this because I lost touch with my own creativity for decades.

Adrift starting around the age of ten, I only regained my bearings in my early thirties. Despite years of musical study and accomplishments, I felt as if I was clawing around in darkness for a thread of security. Those nightmarish fears performers have? You’ve already seen that I endured them in public: suffering major memory lapses onstage, throwing up before performances, feeling humiliated as I shook like a leaf in front of hundreds of people, running offstage, refusing to go onstage — among other horrors. Performance anxiety is one of the most traumatic and seemingly mysterious problems artists endure. This fear isn’t just theoretical; it was physically, emotionally, and spiritually crushing.

How did I find myself in such a predicament in the first place? My creative journey started optimistically, as many journeys do. I took up piano at age eight. My delight in playing, practicing, and generally being around the piano as much as possible made it clear right away that I would become a professional musician. Perhaps you have joyful early memories of creative encounters, too? As I entered the magical world of music, everything became hyper-real for me. Regular life seemed less vivid, less true, while the musical world bathed me in something golden, bright, eternal. I was home.

It didn’t take long for this reverie to fade. Yes, I was following my bliss, but the ride got rough, and fast. The pressure of exams, recitals, and competitions crushed the joy out of everything. I started avoiding practice, fearing lessons, agonizing over whether I had the exceptional talent to be a professional musician. Maybe you recognize some of these feelings?

Nonetheless, I persevered. I loved music; surely that was a sign that I’d been chosen as gifted? How impossibly cruel life would be if that were not so! But the fears made me doubt my abilities. Were my fears warning me that I didn’t “have it”?

I hoped the fears would fade with time, but they grew worse. The more I accomplished, the higher the stakes became. The battle was relentless. My performance anxiety infected all areas of my life. My short fuse blew small disagreements into major showdowns. I took offense at even the most innocent comments and interactions. I lost trust in my body’s ability to heal itself, became deaf to its signals, and even began to see it as my enemy. In all areas I tortured myself about the ever-present prospect of making public and private mistakes. If any of this sounds familiar to you, I send you a beam of love to fuel your courage going forward.

Casting about for a lifeline, I grappled for that treasure trove of knowledge others seemed to possess. Those in-crowd people who create and perform with joy — why was I so different from them? I needed to exit this vortex, and fast. Performances cropped up regularly. The next exam was always around the corner. And, ironically, the intensity was only going to increase as I got more accomplished. I needed to show up with confidence and inspiration, not as the pathetic figure of weakness I embodied. My ears rang and my eyes watered. I went from vortex to black hole, endlessly craving and swallowing positive feedback, which vaporized instantly. There was no relief. The pressure kept mounting. Nothing made sense. I felt the greatest of fears: that I was alone.

Finally, during my second semester as a music major at the university, I couldn’t bear it any longer. I quit music cold. I was only eighteen years old and believed the life I had hoped for was already over.

Enter the Allies
Take heart. I discovered that my allies had been gathering around me my entire life, and I’ve found this to be true for almost everyone. You have far more support eagerly waiting in the wings than you know. We’ll be finding out who and what your supports are soon. Who and what were my allies?

My parents were still college students when I was born. I enjoyed being the novelty only child among the young, wild Dublin intellectuals of the ’70s. My father became a diplomat for the Irish government when I was three, giving me the opportunity to grow up all over the world, moving countries every four years or so. I got firsthand experience of the wondrous variety of ways that cultures encourage and interpret human creativity.

This alliance of cultures illuminated new possibilities for me, which I will share with you throughout our journey together. As my creative journey matured, I learned how to incorporate these new perspectives. For example, by moving to California I encountered African music masters who introduced me to a playful freedom where “wrong” notes are understood simply as what chose to show up at that moment. Touring with ban-suri maestro Deepak Ram, I witnessed the unabashedly spiritual foundation of Indian music, where surrender to the divine is second nature. Living in Cyprus and Iraq and traveling all over the Middle East, I participated in the ecstatic communing of that region’s music, where the self, the ego, is not the focus. These were the oases I strung together to form a new continent of creativity. Eventually these diverse influences coalesced into an ethos I could live by. Each of these influences is mighty in its own right; together, they form a lifeline guiding me through today’s labyrinthine world.

Bright Way Activity: Who Supports You?
Just as my many allies have helped me, I hope to be your ally as we traverse this Bright Way together. What other allies have been quietly gathering around you? Take a moment to reflect. Who has been silently supporting you over the years? Even someone who gave you one word of encouragement counts.

When I consider my allies, I realize they all have a common quality: they are purveyors of growth. They believe we can grow and flourish at any time, any place. Limitations, as much as these sage allies acknowledge them, are treated as opportunities for growth, not permanent states or indictments. Who in your life has believed in you and pointed out your constant potential for growth? You may well have a fleet of guardian angels that you never noticed before. Write these names and energies down, for your eyes only.

During the unavoidable challenging moments this school of life throws at us, look at your list of allies and feel heartened. You may even feel inspired to deepen your relationship with them, now that they have emerged from the shadows!

If no one or nothing pops to mind, try this exercise: stand up, close your eyes, and feel your feet firmly planted on the ground. Sense each foot in complete contact with the ground. Spread your toes out confidently into the earth. Notice the implicit trust that you’ll stay rooted to the floor rather than fly off. Feel Mother Earth’s unconditional support of you, her gentle presence holding you. You don’t have to grasp for or earn this support. Simply because you are alive, Mother Earth is here as your constant ally. Gather strength from her love.

The Principle of Sacred Reciprocity
Sacred Reciprocity is a South American wisdom philosophy with parallels in most other cultures and eras. In a nutshell, Sacred Reciprocity is the force that seeks balanced relationship in all things so that healthy life can flourish.

Sacred Reciprocity represents an equal exchange of energy that is healthy and helpful for all parties involved. You’ve probably heard the phrase “everything is interconnected.” What does this actually mean? Sacred Reciprocity is an elegant way to grasp and act on the aim of honored interconnection in everyday life. The famous Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” echoes the tenets of Sacred Reciprocity. The more you look, the more you’ll find messages pointing you toward Sacred Reciprocity, hidden in plain sight. Let’s look more closely.

The scope of Sacred Reciprocity, also known as right relationship, allows it to deal in multiple currencies. That is, time and money are not the only ways to get in balance with our creative work — or anything else, for that matter.

For example, if you volunteer at a hospice center, your work benefits the patients, staff, and visitors. You benefit from the love you receive and the opportunity to practice your skill in a low-pressure environment, to name just a few of the possible gifts you receive in turn. Your volunteer work, then, satisfies a core tenet of Sacred Reciprocity, that the exchange be equally valuable to all participants. Only you can determine what equal exchange is for you. We’ll learn more about this when we discuss the practice of honoring your direct experience.

If you have a job you hate, one that drains your soul, no amount of money will make up for this. Why? Because you’re giving away too much of yourself to be in a healthy balance. Further, you’re operating from a place of fear (“What will happen if I give up this soul-crushing job and the steady paycheck that comes with it?”), fear being an additional drain.

There are many permutations of how energy comes into balance. Sacred Reciprocity gives voice to these many dimensions, freeing you up to honor what makes sense for your life both right now and in the long term.

Wisdom traditions of the world have many ways of describing what happens when Sacred Reciprocity is not respected. The original Greek and Hebrew Biblical words for “sin” are amartano and chata, respectively, which also translate as “missing the mark.” In other words, true connection has not been made, and where there is no connection, there is no love. In Hinduism the concept of karma explains how the quality of connection we make leads to either positive or negative outcomes in life. Buddhism takes this perspective: “Every action, good or bad, has an inevitable and automatic effect in a long chain of causes.” Pagan spirituality’s law of return states that what you put out into the world returns to you threefold — emotionally, physically, and spiritually — recognizing many dimensions, Sacred Reciprocity style.

Finally, you don’t have to have a spiritual outlook to live in Sacred Reciprocity: “Humanists believe that this is the only life of which we have certain knowledge and that we owe it to ourselves and others to make it the best life possible for ourselves and all with whom we share this fragile planet.” Sacred Reciprocity applies everywhere, a clear guide for our complex times.

Creativity and Sacred Reciprocity: The Fuel-Fulfillment Loop
When you’re in Sacred Reciprocity, you’re functioning from and sharing your highest self. Your true self comes from a source, however you define that mighty energy, whether as God, spirit, higher power, or life force. Your creativity gives form to this great life spirit. Given the magnitude of this, your creative urge must be fulfilled, and your message must be heard, even if by only you.

A void opens in our hearts when we ignore our creative voice. This hole often gets filled with external activities and expectations misaligned with our true selves. We fall prey to the mercy of goods, substances, and other people, immersed in fearful living. We’ve all been there and will be there again. Yet there are reliable routes out of this dead end. The Bright Way is one of these routes.

Throughout human civilization we have pondered whether the universe is friendly or hostile, or perhaps even indifferent. Living in Sacred Reciprocity, we affirm that the universe is friendly. We know the universe as our beloved collaborator, a perspective that in itself can transform our life for the better. Allow in the positive energy that wants to reach you: lower your shield of fear. Imagine yourself as a solar panel, effortlessly attracting sunny energy. This is available to you right now. We’re in this together. My story is your story. Let’s make our stories shine bright!

About Diana Rowan:
Diana Rowan is the author of The Bright Way. She is a professional harpist with an MM in classical piano performance and a PhD in music theory. She is also the founder of Bright Knowledge Guild, an online creative community that offers students around the world access to her Bright Way system. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Find out more about her work at www.DianaRowan.com.

Excerpted from the book The Bright Way. Copyright ©2020 by Diana Rowan. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.

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Crystal Basics

Say hello to truly the only book on crystals you’ll ever need, “Crystal Basics: The Energetic, Healing & Spiritual Power of 200 Gemstones” by Nicholas Pearson. At this point Pearson has already established himself as THE crystal expert. His past books, such as “Crystals for Karmic Healing”, “Crystal Healing for the Heart”, and “Stones of the Goddess” all explored a specific facet (no pun intended) of crystals. Long has his fan base (which includes myself) clamored for the crystal basics book that Pearson himself wasn’t sure he was ever going to write.

But it is here, in all its glory. Pearson’s “Crystal Basics” is a constant reminder that working with crystals is an art, and a science. If you want to learn about crystals, and I mean really learn, like geology class learn, this is for you. How are crystals formed? What are they made of? How are they classified? There is also a decent chunk of text dedicated to exploring the possibilities of how crystals work. A well thought out, well written exploration that includes an examination of the human energy field.

How to start a collection of crystals, including ethical sourcing, is covered, along with their care and upkeep. There are so many ways to use crystals to aid yourself and help others, and you find it all in here. You’ll learn how to create crystal grids and elixirs, ways to cleanse with crystals, their abilities to help with grounding, and just so much more. Better still, there’s a section dedicated to 200 crystals and stones for healing. And why yes, the whole book is full color.

“Crystal Basics” by Nicholas Pearson is destined to be a classic. I can’t imagine what crystal mountain is left for Pearson to climb, but I cannot wait to find out.

You can learn more here.

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A Stampede of Unicorns

It’s here, the comparative review weeks in the making. Battle of the Unicorn Books! Through a combination of shipping mishaps and publishing trends, I received 3 different books centered on unicorns from two different publishers at the same time! When I realized I was up to my armpits in unicorn books, I thought it only made sense to read one after the other and do a big ol’ review. Better still, the shipping mishaps are enabling me to give some away too!

Who are the contenders in this battle royale?

“The Wonder of Unicorns: Ascending with the Higher Angelic Realms” by Diana Cooper
“Unicorn Magic: Awaken to Mystical Energy & Embrace Your Personal Power” by Tess Whitehurst
“Llewellyn’s Little Book of Unicorns” by Angela A. Wix

So, who was first?

That would be “The Wonder of Unicorns” by Diana Cooper. It was originally published in 2008 and is now being reprinted in a new edition as of November 2019. Next up is “Llewellyn’s Little Book of Unicorns” by Angela A. Wix, which was published September 2019. And last, but not least, is “Unicorn Magic” by Tess Whitehurst which also came out in November 2019.

“The Wonder of Unicorns” is 240 pages of angelic themed unicorns. It features full color illustrations by Damian Keenan throughout and is $18.99. For Cooper, unicorns are another aspect of the Divine. She explores unicorn legends with the perspective of them being angelic beings. Her book explains their angelic realm and hierarchy. She goes on to provide meditations and rituals to help you contact their dimension and work with them. They take on a Guardian Angel role in the lives of those who wish to invite them in. Out of the three books, “The Wonder of Unicorns” is definitely for those who wish to explore a potential angelic aspect to the creatures.

You can learn more here.

Next, what is black, white, and pink all over? “Llewellyn’s Little Book of Unicorns” by Angela A. Wix. It’s a 264 page hard cover perfectly sized to keep on you at all times. And you should keep it on you because her book does a great job of introducing unicorn energy into your life, and helping you recognize the unicorn that’s already there. Mundane tasks like cleaning take on a new energy. Beautiful crystals you may already own have new purposes. In fact, mindfulness, chakras, and more get a fresh unicorn perspective in this book!

You can learn more here.

I have a particular soft spot for the last title, “Unicorn Magic”, because it was written by Tess Whitehurst, who I had the pleasure of interviewing in 2015. Her book is filled to the brim with her positive, kick ass attitude. Whitehurst’s book is a 288 page self-help journey with a unicorn travel guide. She encourages you to find, create, and embrace beauty. If you want to be a better version of yourself, this is the book for you!

You can learn more here.

Now, thanks to the generosity of the publishers, we have a giveaway for ALL the books! That’s right! Follow the Rafflecopter contest below to enter. Contest ends at 11:59pm 01/19/2020.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Not sure you’ll win? Reading this after the contest is over? Either way, below are affiliate links to IndieBound, which supports independent bookstores throughout the United States. If you use these links to purchase the book, I will make a small commission at no additional cost to you.

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The Great Smoke Off: Dueling Smoke Cleansing Books

As many publishers, authors, and publicists will tell you, I don’t crank out my book reviews that quickly. Stacks of books pile up while I slowly work my way through review copies and advance readers. There’s just a limit to how quick I can read and write, you know? One day, while scanning my heap of books to read I noticed two books of a similar theme: “Sacred Smoke: Clear Away Negative Energies and Purify Body, Mind, and Spirit” by Amy Blackthorn and “Sacred Herb Bundles for Energy Cleansing: Your Guide to a Powerful Healing Practice to Purify, Bless, and Inspire” by Kiera Fogg. I said to myself, self, why not read them both a write a review comparing them to each other? And here we are.

Let’s start with some core basics. “Sacred Smoke” by Amy Blackthorn came out in October 2019, has 192 pages in black and white with pretty line drawings that retails for $14.95. “Sacred Herb Bundles for Energy Cleansing” by Kiera Fogg came out June 2019, has 128 glossy, full color pages that retails for $21.99.

Who are the authors? Amy Blackthorn (who I interviewed in 2018) comes from a background of herbalism, horticulture, and green witchcraft. She owns Blackthorn Hoodoo Blends, which sells teas inspired by traditional Hoodoo practices. Kiera Fogg’s background is in healing crystals and energy work. She owns Little Box of Rocks, a company that sells healing crystals.

Both books are well written. Both have some overlapping content. However, I feel the authors’ backgrounds are reflected in their books. Blackthorn’s book, “Sacred Smoke”, has more technical information that branches out in more directions. Specific ideas for utilizing smoke for witchcraft, self-care, magical practices, and spiritual practices. Fogg’s book, “Sacred Herb Bundles for Energy Cleansing”, has a much more generalized new age use vibe about it. Nothing wrong with that, heck, it’s pretty much how I roll. It also has to be mentioned that Fogg’s book has a very curated visual look to it. Her work is made for Instagram.

So, which book “wins”? Neither. Or both. Despite their surface similarities, both authors created wonderful books that pull on their individual strengths. In a perfect world, if you had the money and interest, you would buy both. As it is, I would suggest Fogg’s “Sacred Herb Bundles for Energy Cleansing” for those looking for more of a new age how-to, and Blackthorn’s “Sacred Smoke” for a more witchcraft oriented approach.

You can learn more about “Sacred Smoke” here.

You can learn more about “Sacred Herb Bundles for Energy Cleansing” here.

Shop your local indie bookstore. You can buy Sacred Smoke here! <--- This is an affiliate link to IndieBound, which supports independent bookstores throughout the United States. If you use this link to purchase the book, I will make a small commission at no additional cost to you. Shop your local indie bookstore. You can buy Sacred Herb Bundles for Energy Cleansing here! <--- This is an affiliate link to IndieBound, which supports independent bookstores throughout the United States. If you use this link to purchase the book, I will make a small commission at no additional cost to you.