WARNING: This is not a book review. This is the first post in my new series “Dances with Books.” To learn more about what that means- read here
“I found freedom in the ugly truth” – Madonna, Living for Love
Some dances are fast and frenetic, they start and finish before you even know what happened. This is a slow dance. A long dance; one that started four or five years ago. I was sitting down to dinner with my husband and in-laws at a local Tapas place when my brother-in-law brought up the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage.
He had been struggling for some time with some personal issues and thought it might be helpful for him to go. I must have made a dismissive noise because he looked pointedly at me and said, “I thought this sortof thing would be right up your alley.” “You’re not going to find yourself by going somewhere,” I responded, “you have to look within.”
So I had to laugh, embarrassed at my own arrogance in that long ago conversation, when I read that renowned spiritualist Sonia Choquette’s latest book, Walking Home: A Pilgrimage from Humbled to Healed, chronicled her time walking the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route. As I read her story, an understanding that had only just started developing in the prior year became clear.  In walking with Sonia, I found my own path out of bondage – a bondage I hadn’t even realized I was in.
Before leaving for her trek, Sonia writes quite a bit about the beating she takes from herself and others about her reactions to the loss of her father and brother; “I prayed for these feelings to go away, but they didn’t budge, and for that I was also disappointed in myself. Being this angry with my now-dead brother didn’t fit in at all with my self-image as a spiritual teacher and guide, and that left me feeling embarrassed. If I let slip to anyone that I did harbor these feelings, especially to any of my spiritual or professional peers, I was immediately chastised. I was told things like: ‘Forgive him.’ ‘Don’t Judge.’ ‘It was your karma to have a brother like this.’ ‘Be grateful it wasn’t you.’ ‘I’m surprised that you feel this way given that you should know better.’”
No matter where we are in life or on the path we can expect to be subjected to the expectations of others. People always seem to have an idea of what it means to be ‘spiritual.’ They say things like; “If you were so spiritually advanced you would do this more, or do that less. Be more x, be less Y. Care more about this, Care less about that.” Etc.
Not only do we face expectations from others, but also from ourselves. Sonia writes, “It.. shamed me. I was not supposed to be angry with him. He was dead, for God’s sake! I was supposed to have unconditional love for him and be glad he was at peace.”  As frustrating and discouraging as the criticism of others can be, nothing is quite as defeating as our own unmet expectations for ourselves.
Sonia relays how she chastised herself about her feelings, “Come on, Sonia. Really? Haven’t you worked out your childhood wounding yet?… How pathetic of you.” I’ve certainly faced this kind of self-recrimination in my own heart many, many times in the last eighteen years. I thought I was past this – why do I still get angry, jealous, hurt, frustrated, etc. Without realizing it, I had constructed a prison out of my own (and others’) expectations and locked myself inside. No wonder I’ve been so stuck.
Mind over Matter = Over Head Projector?
Not only do we carry the judgments of ourselves and others, but we also project our disappointment in ourselves onto others. We make a bad situation even worse when we take a particular comment or behavior of another person and magnify it through the lens of our own insecurities.
Sonia writes, “I.. recognized… that the one who had injured me most was not my father at all. Rather, it was me, by treating myself the way I had interpreted him to be treating me when I was a child”  Here Sonia describes how she treats herself and we would do well to pay attention. However, this type of projection can come into play, not only with self-treatment, but directly in our interactions with others.
I came to a realization late last year that because I was insecure about being attractive and desirable, I was projecting those feelings onto my husband. I interpreted particular behaviors and comments on his part in such a way that they reinforced my own insecurity; clearly he found me unattractive and undesirable. It took some powerful soul-searching by me on this topic to recognize what I was doing because although I didn’t feel unattractive or undesirable I was worried that I was and that created the impetus for my projection.
People have hundreds of motivations for doing and saying the things they do – but we interpret them using our own filter. This isn’t to say that our projections are only the products of our imagination. It may be that there is some truth to my assumptions and interpretations when it comes to my husband. But it may be that 10% of what I’m interpreting is true to his feelings and the other 90% is my projection… or it may be 50/50, or it may all be in my mind. The bottom line is – how he actually feels is quite independent of my projection.
It is only by engaging with our expectations, fears, and insecurities that we can begin to see how and where we project them. Sonia writes, “Maybe it was time to stop judging even these dark parts of myself and just acknowledge and accept that I have some of these fears at times…”
Reading about Sonia’s walk helped me come to a deep realization of my own. I had been mostly defining myself by my mystical experience eighteen years ago. While I have certainly been actively walking the path and have endured and exulted in a number of spiritual tests and triumphs since then, there was a part of me that was always looking back to that experience and trying to get “there” again. There was a part of me that thought any “authority” I had on spiritual matters was informed by that experience. For the first time in eighteen years – I was able to start releasing my hold on that attachment.
This may sound like nothing, but it can be very powerful to take a defining moment in your life and say, you know, that was incredible and I learned a lot, but it’s over – really over – and it’s time to move on. It’s time to stop seeing the rest of my life as the waves created by that one impact. I found freedom in my own ugly truth. Yes, there are lots of expectations I’m not meeting. No, I’m not spiritually connected all the time – experiencing union and bliss. But also, I no longer have to keep trying to be ‘there.’ It’s okay for me to be right where I am.
This liberating understanding further refined a concept that has been germinating inside me for a few years; the concept of allowing. To allow is to “permit something to happen or exist.” When we allow we are not making anything happen, we are not forcing a particular outcome. We are simply letting people, events, ourselves be what they are. When this concept originally occurred to me a few years ago, it was via the understanding that “we need to allow people to change.” But, for the first time, inspired by Walking Home, I realized I needed to apply this to myself. I need to allow myself to be who I am, where I am, now.
Sonia writes, “I also needed to stop seeing my ego as ‘the enemy’ and start seeing it as the ‘me’ who needed more love. I didn’t have to fight my ego when it flared up in pain.” Ego can be a very loaded term in the spiritual community – often associated with negative connotations. Here, it seems to me, Sonia is saying, we need to stop pretending we can leave our ego at the curb, we need to recognize that it is part of who we are.
Diseases of the body often (though not always) have innocuous-seeming warning signs before developing into deeper problems. In like fashion, we ignore or gloss over the concerns of our ego at our peril. Our fears, hurts, angers and insecurities that are not handled in the conscious realm of the ego don’t disappear – they sink to our subconscious where they become much more difficult to find and eradicate. We need to allow ourselves to have an ego and we need to allow ourselves to engage with it.
One of my favorite expressions over the last decade or so is this one; knowing is half the battle. I love this phrase because there is a little trick to it that can catch the unwary, but the truth is there for those who look. Most often this saying is used to reassure someone that – when they’ve figured out the cause of a problem – they are halfway to conquering it. The trick, of course, is in the word “half.” Knowing may be half the battle, but you still have another half battle to fight… and presumably you’re tired and discouraged from the first half! There is a gap, and not a small one, between understanding and execution.
As Sonia puts it, “Forgiveness, at least for me, came about in increments. I had to feel and honor my wounds and traumas before I could release them. For years I had tried to forgive through spiritual platitudes, but in spite of my ambitious ideals, I only managed to bury my wounds even deeper into my bones. Walking with my pain freed me from it. I always wanted to forgive, but it was only through the act of being with my pain fully, walking with it day after day, that it began to ease up and leave my body, allowing me to open up to greater understanding of how people hurt one another, myself included. In doing this I found compassion and could forgive and hope to be forgiven” 
It is something, a significant something, to recognize a pattern in my life – to see an attachment for what it is and start to loosen my grip. It would be naïve of me to think, however, that now that I can see the problem clearly it will just disappear on it’s own. Even such a passive-seeming concept as “allowing” requires considerable effort to practice. Sonia mentions walking with her pain. I suspect I will need to walk with my own pain, my own insecurities, for quite some time before I can let go. For now, at least, I’ve found my way out, my own path to freedom.
Songs I danced to while writing this: Madonna – Living for Love, Ariana Grande – Break Free, ODESZA – Say My Name, Calvin Harris – Outside
 In my post Everything is Now, I write about the process of ‘becoming’ – instead of thinking of development as time-based, recognizing all the pieces and parts that have to come together to make something what it is, or – from a different vantage point – someone who they are
Walking Home: A Pilgrimage from Humbled to Healed; Choquette, Sonia; Hay House; September 2014 –kindle location 199
 Walking Home: A Pilgrimage from Humbled to Healed; Choquette, Sonia; Hay House; September 2014 – loc 193
 Walking Home: A Pilgrimage from Humbled to Healed; Choquette, Sonia; Hay House; September 2014 – loc 1036
 Walking Home: A Pilgrimage from Humbled to Healed; Choquette, Sonia; Hay House; September 2014 – loc 3409
 definition from dictionary.com
 I want to also note – that to allow is not to be a doormat – it is not to ‘let someone walk all over you’ or let you walk all over you. Rather, allowing is about being and awareness; surrendering an imagined sense of control to an observation of how things come to be what they are. Also – a recognition that they might change, and that’s okay.
 I use this word with the same intention in my post “Trickster Makes This Road” when I say, “we need to allow him to remain uncategorized.” I hope to develop this concept more fully in an upcoming ‘dances with books’ post featuring the book Thanks for the Feedback – but, in a nutshell, what I mean here is that we need to stop engaging in behaviors that pigeon-hole others and ourselves, that make it difficult for ourselves and others to change.
 Walking Home: A Pilgrimage from Humbled to Healed; Choquette, Sonia; Hay House; September 2014 – loc 4638
 once they are in the subconscious, they attract the Trickster influence to cleverly trap us in such a way that we cannot escape without engaging with them. As Sonia writes, As Sonia writes, “It’s frustrating when you are possessed by a pattern because you can’t really see it until it becomes so obvious that it smacks you in the face.” See my post Trickster Makes this Road for more about this.
 Walking Home: A Pilgrimage from Humbled to Healed; Choquette, Sonia; Hay House; September 2014 – loc 4753