HILDA LABRADA GORE: Dr. Kelly Brogan is a holistic psychiatrist, bestselling author and founder of the online healing program Vital Mind Reset. Kelly invites us to grow in self-awareness and do the inner work that will enable us to better love others and ourselves. Kelly, I have noticed that you often say, “Own your self.” That was even the title of one of your books: Own Your Self: The Surprising Path Beyond Depression, Anxiety, and Fatigue to Reclaiming Your Authenticity, Vitality, and Freedom. What do you mean by “own your self”?
KELLY BROGAN: I was recently listening to a show of an inspirational businesswoman. She said, “You’ve got to come up with your tagline. What are you?” I thought, “Maybe I’m the ‘own it’ queen.” That has been so much of what I have devoted my public message to, which is, “What are the vital ingredients to this experience of freedom, vitality, joy that we deeply know is our birthright?” That’s why experiences that are out of alignment with that expression—depression and anxiety—feel bad. Not only has it been my public message, but my personal work for the past decade has been to come into a greater experience of personal responsibility for that which is unfolding in my midst.
I have not pleased everyone with that message because sometimes it can sound like shaming or blaming the victim. “Aren’t there just bad things that happen?” It’s all about your metaphysical narrative. I prefer to live in a world where I have God-creative power. I am awakening to that. I came here for the delight of experiencing the contrast of my own somnolence, my own sleep, with the awakening to love and the awakening to my own divinity. The scariest one is the awakening to my own power because it’s the dimensional hugeness of our personal power that is terrifying. It’s terrifying to us because we were conditioned in our childhoods to associate the expression of that will, authority, power—even that heart energy, our divinity—with unsafety. We were conditioned by a hierarchical society that conditioned our parents, who conditioned us.
We are in this beautiful process of recognizing that that’s an old set of instructions. We are the ones now who are in charge of determining what our life experience is going to be. It’s daunting and overwhelming. Once you start it, you can’t go back. There’s no crawling back up into the womb. This is a journey—I call it a spiral path. We revisit over and over again these patterns until we are ready to alchemize them.
We alchemize them in our bodies. Emotions are not something that happens in your head. That’s what I was trained to believe as a psychiatrist. They are energies that move around your body. Your nervous system has to get to the point of being able to hold those energies; you won’t do the deeper work that is awaiting you until you are ready to do it. That’s why I’m a big believer in Maslow’s hierarchy [of needs] like the order of operations. First is the body temple. You learn what it is to exercise your power of choice in the realm of lifestyle. You awaken that sense of, “I do have a lot of power in my choices. What do I have for breakfast? What water am I drinking?”—whether I’m eating this or drinking that, or going to bed at midnight or 7:00 PM.
You also begin to send your nervous system the signal of safety [and engage in] the experience of looking where you have not wanted to look emotionally in your life, exploring toxic dynamics, recognizing that your job is unfulfilling, looking at all of the ways that the experience of your family of origin is holding you hostage. You will be able to courageously move into that work because your literal vessel will be able to hold the energies that come up when you think about somebody not liking you, or when you think about allowing another person in your world to think that you are wrong or bad.
When you’re about to expand, you will choose to lose something that you formerly thought you would die without. We were conditioned to imagine that these experiences would literally kill us. The feeling then that comes up in our heart, our chest and our shoulders is a cue that says, “You are about to die.” If we can learn to feel these feelings, we see the alchemy at work because you can feel rage. It can move into a sadness that moves into a deep grief that then moves into laughter. That can all happen in six minutes if you have the wherewithal to set that container for yourself. This process becomes quite a journey home to yourself.
HG: My friend’s kids were fighting. She sat down with the kids—with one in particular who was very mad—and she rubbed this child’s back and said, “It’s okay. I also have big strong emotions.” She did all this acceptance and it sounded so beautiful. She waited patiently for the daughter to process her own emotions. She asked, “Do you want to hear a story of when I was little?” Her kid didn’t say anything at first, but then later, she answered, “Yes,” to the point where she crawled into her mom’s lap out of gratitude. I thought, many of us still need that permission so that we are empowered to “own it,” as you have said.
KB: I have found approval to be the most immediately soothing. There’s this insipid option, which is acceptance. “I accept reality as it is. I accept what I’m feeling or what somebody else is feeling.” That’s great if you can get there instead of fighting with it. Byron Katie often talks about how the root of suffering is insisting that reality should be something different than it is.¹ Approval invokes heart energy. It’s this empathic bridge—sometimes to yourself, or to another or to everything that’s happening—that says, “There’s wisdom here. This makes sense. I see why it has to be this way. I would feel the same way if I were you.”
Let’s say I do something in my life. I make a choice that somebody else doesn’t like, and they say, “How dare you? I can’t believe you did this.” All of a sudden, my shame is triggered. I think, “What did I do? I did something so stupid.” Immediately, if I can say to myself or feel, “It makes sense that I did what I did,” or if we can offer that to our children, even as they are narrating or expressing differently than we would like, if we can offer them—“That makes sense, it’s meaningful that you feel the way you do or are saying the thing you are saying, I want to learn more about your experience”—we break the cycle right there.
I have been doing inner work and shadow work for years. As a part of some reparenting I was doing on my own, around relationships, I decided to ask my two daughters two questions. First, I asked them, “I want to know about a painful memory that you have of me, something that I did that when you think about it now, still hurts you.” Number two: “I want to know what do you need that you are not getting from me now?” I’m a pretty cool cucumber, I can handle a lot of stuff—that’s part of my trauma response, I disconnect very easily from my emotions and I don’t feel much of anything and I can handle it. I have been working on that and allowing my emotions to exist and become a container for my experience. It was tested big-time with this inquiry. They both decided to respond in writing.
My eldest daughter is like a spiritual guru and teacher for me (and so is my younger daughter in a very different way), she teaches me how to feel feelings. My eldest daughter’s name is Sofia; she is a goddess of wisdom. She said, “I remember that before we moved to Miami, there was a lot of conflict in the family.” This includes my family of origin. She had very unsavory memories of my role. My story about what happened was that I was the victim, but she has a story where I am the villain. I read this while not in her presence, and I was hysterically crying. My children do not typically trigger me. This caught me off guard. I recognized I was secretly attached to my children. It’s called a “narcissistic extension.” My children are experiencing all of the psychospiritual work that I have done as 100 percent positive. If my children see me as something other than I would like to see myself, I can’t handle it and I feel like I have failed. , “I have failed in my one mission in this life,” which is to end these cycles of abuse and trauma in my family line.
In my despair, I recognized this little voice saying, “No, Kelly. This is the moment where you end the cycle.” When I sat down with Sofia, I recognized that my story is irrelevant. I did not say one word about my version of the story. I simply crossed the bridge to explore her experience. That one day evolved our relationship like a quantum leap. Not that it was problematic to begin with, but I noticed within days she was more affectionate with me. I felt so proud of myself that I could do that.
I had to hold myself. My inner girl was terrified that I have been called “bad” and “wrong.” My inner girl was having a crazy freak-out inside me, saying, “We are about to die. Mobilize the defenses.” I had gotten to a point where finally I could barely hold the container and say, “No, I’m here now. I’m an adult woman. It’s okay. I can handle this. We can handle this. I’m driving the car. I hear you. I see you, little girl, inside. It’s okay if somebody thinks these things.” And isn’t that everything?
HG: What if what we think feels like dying is the birth of something better?
KB: It almost always is. That’s the hallmark, the signature that I have found. This is my biased perspective. When you are about to expand, you will choose to lose something, relinquish something or walk away from something that you formerly thought you would die without. That has been the hallmark of every vaginal canal I have passed through in my personal rebirth. In this lifetime, I have had a dependency, an attachment, an experience of hidden victimhood and hidden disempowerment that was cloaked in a, “Everything is fine. If I keep this going, it will be okay.”
Often, there’s a dynamic in there of what I refer to as “trying to buy eggs from the hardware store,” where it’s like, “Keep trying. Eventually it will work. Eventually you will get the feeling of love, connection or empowerment,” or whatever that you are looking for from this place that cannot offer it to you. It’s the same thing I observed with all of my patients before they would come to me. They had that experience of awakening to the reality that they were “trying to buy eggs from the allopathic medical hardware store.” The “eggs” were their own experience of a meaningful embodiment like meaningful selfhood because they knew that something was being delivered through these symptoms that they were having. What they ultimately concluded after working with the conventional system was, “It must be the affirmation of my wrongness. I am this messed up. I am this broken.” They only found their way to me because there was another part in them that said, “Hold on a minute. There’s more to the story, and that story can’t be completed at this place we have been going to. We’ve got to go elsewhere now that we know what we want,” which is transmutation, transformation and alchemy. It’s the light that shines through the wound. It’s not the festering, septic, systemic infection that comes from the wound.
HG: Kelly, you are using terms that may be new to some of us. I am not sure I get this concept. What do you mean by “shadow work”? What do you mean by “inner work”?
KB: Here’s the easiest way to explain it. We were all raised in a society, no matter where you were raised in the world—maybe there are some indigenous exceptions—but where there is a binary consciousness, a dual consciousness, where there is such a thing as “good” and “bad.” Good is good and bad is bad and because of that, you learned through social conditioning and often very elaborate systems of enduring reinforcement, like intermittent conditioning where sometimes your mom had a freak-out if you left a crumb on your dish and sometimes she didn’t. This somewhat crazy-making but ultimately learnable system of reward and punishment was in place in most of our households. Even if you were not physically beaten or punished in seemingly measurable ways, there was maybe a withdrawal of love.
Maybe my daughter comes in when she’s two years old and is so excited because she found a caterpillar outside. She’s got it on her finger. She says, “Mama!” and I’m on this super important phone call so I say, “Sofia, stop!” That’s all it takes for her to learn and imprint, “My expansion, my happiness and radiance is a problem for my mom.” She is a helpless, dependent individual. The loss of love, even if it’s that subtle, withdrawal of love is existentially problematic for the human mammal. We spend our “fourth trimester” outside of the womb. We are dependent. Children are not able to make the choice that we can make in a bad marriage where we get up and leave. What happens is you end up strategically curating the aspects of your persona, this mask, to present to the world so that you can secure love, approval and connection.
You get to the point that Carl Jung refers to as the individuation process,2 where you recognize that it’s not working. You did all the things— you’ve got the job, the relationship, the body—or maybe you are still struggling to do everything. All of the ways that you have been going to the hardware store to buy eggs over the years, yet, “I still don’t feel okay, let alone joyous or living every day in bliss, pleasure and ecstasy. I’m not okay.” So, what do we do? We develop addictions and all sorts of workarounds. Addiction is not a pathology. It is a very necessary way to meet needs that you don’t have another way to meet. Pharmaceuticals are nothing other than that. If the needs are for love, to diminish a sense of unsafety or to feel some level of security, we have these needs and they don’t go away. We meet them in manipulative and strategic ways until we get to the point where we recognize that it’s not working.
That’s when the awakening process and your journey can begin. You start to make these courageous choices to look at how you have responsibility for your suffering. In that way, you meet dimensions of yourself that you couldn’t otherwise have tolerated knowing— and we all have this. If I think of myself as a nice person, in my shadow is my selfish, mean, manipulative person—always. Every person has this dynamic. Or I might think of myself as a selfish, mean, manipulative person, and then in my shadow is my docile, sweet, compassionate, kind angel. Whatever it is that my self-concept encompasses, in my shadow is the opposite.
Very often in my work, in my career woman life in New York, I would get very triggered by women that I felt were disorganized and incompetent for whatever reason. That was annoying to me as qualities in women. I had to meet as a part of this integration process the part of me that is disorganized and incompetent. She is terrified. She has all of these protector parts hiding her because if she’s ever exposed she will lose love. That’s where the portal to your own self-integration is always going to be—through your judgment and resentment.
HG: Maybe this is why I have heard people say, “Everyone around you is a mirror.” If I’m triggered or annoyed by someone, I need to take that emotion, observe it, not judge myself but realize it may be that something in that person is very much in me. That is using that person to shed light on something that I have within me, that I might need to learn to accept.
KB: I would go so far as to say that is true 100 percent of the time, if you are upset about something, there is a projected and disavowed part that you are being introduced to at that moment. There are different parts inside us that have been split off because of this strategic approach to life. If there is upset, resentment, disappointment, blame, judgment, condemnation, that is the activation of a part that is holding an old story that wants to be alchemized, felt and allowed to play different parts and expand the definition of who we are. Life becomes lighter. It becomes like a magic carpet ride, but it requires the capacity to be seen as bad and wrong. I have people in my life who imagine that if the public were to know about their transgressions or perceive something negative about them, it would be so bad. I make stupid mistakes all the time. I’m at the point where it does not threaten or bother me any longer that anyone would think badly of me—because I don’t take it personally.
It’s not enjoyable necessarily, but it also helps me to see, “There’s not maybe a great connection here. Moving on.” Their upset is their invitation. If I’m upset about their upset, there’s my invitation. This radical responsibility model for emotions is the only way because otherwise, even on the geopolitical scale, we can be manipulated and leveraged based on the projection of our own shame and judgment onto others—and then we get divided. What happens? We get conquered.
In the dimensions of the psyop, there has been a leveraging of this idea of the “good citizen.” What does the “good citizen” do? It has been in many ways leveraged in spiritual communities because most people follow spiritual gurus and look to spirituality because they want to feel better and experience themselves as “good”—because they’ve got a lot of beliefs that they are “bad.” They are twisted up by their darkness. They engage in something called “spiritual bypass,” which is the avoidance of anything that feels bad, flight into the light and transcendence. They are sitting ducks for this psyop that says, “If you are a good, virtuous, compassionate, caring individual, you will wear your mask and get your prophylactic injection.”
I believe in something called “sacred selfishness” as defined by Bud Harris.3 I love that concept because, without a deep focus on self-awareness, you will never know what it is to care for another person, let alone love them. It’s not possible, because you will be engaged in this endless projection of parts that you are unconscious about. You will either idealize those people and attach to them, or you will vilify them and be engaging this war on the outside. I like to joke, “You are funding both sides of the war, and it’s inside.” Any conflict that I have in my real life—and this includes with government and all the secret agents of the universe I used to live in around activism—is inviting me to reconcile those parts within and to make informed choices about what I want to do with my energy.
Without getting too occultist about it, the harvesting of fear is a very real thing. Emotions are incredible, a precious resource that can be tapped. The experience of fear is something we are not taught to hold or to alchemize. It’s very real and active. When we can get to this place where we experience fear, dialogue with it and get to know it—“What is it trying to tell me? What’s happening within me? What am I afraid of?”—we can recognize that often what we are afraid of is our likeness. We don’t know how to feel so alive.
Even a good thing that happened to you—an exciting, cool thing that happened—I’ll bet that feeling didn’t last very long because we start to habitually contract again. We look for conflict. We start a fight with our boyfriend. We start to focus on the bills or whatever, because that experience of expansion is something (as “somatic experiencing” practitioners would say) that we have to “titrate into.” We have to take little steps to hold our power and hold our aliveness.
HG: I feel like it is what we have gone through these past few years. We could decide, “Am I going to live in fear or am I going to embrace the unknown of my own power and personal responsibility?”
KB: As an activist, I have had some very humbling moments. First of all, a lot of people are drawn to activism because they have very significant unexplored trauma. They are playing the rescuer role in the Karpman Drama Triangle.4 There’s a villain, a victim and a rescuer—but they are all in victim consciousness, which is feeling disempowered and empowering the enemy. It’s so funny because in victim consciousness, you have this very intimate relationship with your enemy, where their energy is always up in your body.
When you are the rescuer—the activist, the healer or the helper—sometimes, not always, there is this dynamic where you are implying that the person (maybe it’s the anonymous victim like that person who you imagine is going to not get a vaccine because of reading your blog or whatever), you are reifying this concept that they can’t figure it out for themselves, empower themselves or do it without you. That’s not true.
We all have this native power. Nobody needs rescuing—but that doesn’t mean we don’t need, deserve and require support. That is a different thing. This concept of “rescuing” is a hierarchical power dynamic. It also doesn’t mean that we don’t each have our gifts. However, when you are the rescuer, what can happen is that you end up moving your way around that triangle. That’s why Nietzsche said, “Be careful in fighting the monster that you don’t become him.”
I have seen this to be true and brushed with it myself. I got to a place in my own activism where I recognized that without this level of conflict and fight against the “bad daddy” and “bad mommy,” I wasn’t sure I would have meaning. I wasn’t sure I wanted things to get better, if I was honest with myself. In this more beautiful world, what is my role, because I’m this valiant warrior? If I’m not doing that because there’s no fight, then who am I? What if I don’t matter because I can’t help anyone? What if that means I’m not lovable?
Whatever you are feeling is perfect. It’s all already okay. That’s the big reveal that I have had in my own life. There’s nowhere to “get to,” nothing to heal. There’s nothing that has to change. It’s already, here and now, totally okay. Why? It’s because of this fundamental premise, which is that it’s happening this way because you want it to be this way.
When I say “this way,” I mean how you are narrating it. One of your superpowers as a human being is your power of narration. You get to tell the story of what’s happening. I could feel victimized in a given relationship dynamic where I say, “He did this and that, I can’t believe it.” There are a lot of feelings that come up with that victim’s story. Those are super important. Let them ride the train of your “poor me” story so that you can feel those feelings, approve of them, explore them. Let them move in your body. Literally, move your body around to see what these feelings do. Without many words added to them, they are sensations. It’s a racing heart. It’s a tight stomach. For me, when I feel afraid, it’s like leaf rakes, those big, green prongs. It’s almost like one of those rakes is in my chest. The bottom stick of the rake is plunging down into my stomach. That’s what it feels like to be in my body when I feel upset about what somebody has said or done. When I watch that rake, within a minute, I can’t find it anymore. Maybe an hour later, it will come back. The point is, it’s very kinetic.
When you ride that victim story to allow the liberation of your feelings, you also can play with it a little. You can say, “I wonder what’s in this for me. I wonder if this is going to bring me to an experience of awareness and choice that couldn’t have been available otherwise.” It’s like, “This is why I wanted it to happen this way. Maybe I wouldn’t have designed it this way if I were in charge, but I can see why it needed to happen this way for me to awaken to this other dimension of me that I would have never met.”
It’s our cardinal fear. I have been living— which is a big part of my activism—with a cardinal fear that men can kill me. Jordan Peterson says, “Women are afraid that men will kill them. Men are afraid that women will laugh at them.” I found that to be very wide and deep. It’s one perspective.
However, as somebody who has developed quite an arsenal of defenses, intellectually and otherwise, attitudinally, what is this defense saving me from? Humiliation? Maybe, but no, it’s bigger. This is existential. Maybe even I’m carrying that fear for a lot of collective women in my work or whatever my chosen role. If I don’t experience that fear through these various things—these very personal experiences that come up in my life—I go into it and I talk to that fear. I meet that part of me. I meet all the parts of me that are protecting that fear. I thank them for doing their part. I liberate that fear to play. That’s what’s happened. That’s why I have started to de-secret my sexuality and why I have started to liberate so many aspects of my relationship with money and my choices in my life and my mothering. It’s because I went into that fear, and I recognize that it’s not appropriate any longer for who I am and what I am now. It’s a fear from many decades ago.
That doesn’t mean it’s extinguished and that, if I were to walk down an alley in the Bronx, I wouldn’t be on guard. It’s not about that. This is a story line of my life, and I get to rewrite that story line anytime I am courageous enough to sit down with its component parts and learn about them. The point is, if you are feeling something, it is an invitation. You do not have to take the invitation. You will take it when you are ready. I have made a lot of courageous choices in my life, and I was not ready the second before I was ready. The moment you are ready, it will feel like jumping in a cold pool, and you will get through that fear wall. On the other side, you will realize, “I’m still alive,” and you are a new you. At that moment, you are a new you. You will never go back to the person you were, who believed the things you were, who was holding yourself small in this little cage of your own design. That’s the big reveal. It’s like we are our own captors. There’s no one holding us in this cage but ourselves.
HG: I know someone whose wife basically told him to get out. He said he felt like he was in a canoe and tossed out of the canoe into the water and then went over a waterfall. He thought he was going to die, but he found himself bobbing up. This reminds me of what you are saying—that the best way out is through. It’s awareness. It’s taking the invitation to explore parts of ourselves that may be frightening at first but that will help us realize our potential.
KB: “Frightening” is often an understatement because when that happened to him, it probably brought up in him the terror of a child who thinks he is about to die. That’s the signature of when you are about to do major league alchemy. All you have to do is be willing. It’s like childbirth. To give birth to a child, you don’t have to do much of anything. You have to be willing to capacitate the energy and sensations moving through your body. That’s weirdly it. You have to be willing to hold the emotions in your body.
I’m a believer in my own program, Vital Mind Reset,5 which sets up your body to hold these emotions. I don’t think that’s a trivial dimension of it. However, you have to be willing and able to hold these emotions in your body, and then you get to offer yourself that meaning, that approval. You get to say, “There’s something in this for me. If I simply agree not to fight with reality, if I simply agree not to say no, this can’t exist.” It already exists. It’s already happening. This is even true on the international scale. This is happening. However, I’m seeing it as it’s happening. However, I’m narrating it. “This is happening. What’s in here for me? What am I upset about? Can I go into that feeling and learn something?”
I’m a big fan of what is called “Parts Work.”6 There are many ways to do it but essentially you can do it with practitioners of Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy. It’s essentially a way of having a dialog with the different aspects of yourself. In your example, there’s going to be a part that is blaming his wife: “How dare she? This is crazy. We need to get the best lawyer, and we need to do this.” There’s another part that’s like, “Calm down. Be a man. It’s fine. You are going to be fine.” And there are parts that are reacting to those parts. Deep down inside is that fragment of the child that is holding the fear—that intense emotion of rejection, abandonment, betrayal. The conscious adult can interact with that child, validate that emotion and reclaim that part. That’s when the expansion happens—so that you understand yourself to be so much bigger, more free, dimensional, lighter than you would have ever been, had you not been introduced to that part through the challenge in your life. We are not enculturated to appreciate that challenge yields growth and empowerment. It’s not like, “I’m going to get through this.” It’s like, “I get to meet myself on the other end of this,” whatever that is.
HG: I am concerned for those who can’t see the invitation and feel like the only way out is to take their own life. I have seen that darkness in different friends’ experiences, and it becomes so painful that they think that’s the best way out. How can they move through that feeling?
KB: This framework is probably the best preventive psychiatric medicine people can offer themselves. I worked in practice for many years where probably 30 percent of my practice at any given time was actively suicidal. I consider it to be one of the psychospiritual and even biological sequela of being on psych meds for more than two or three months. The process of coming off of them can be that harrowing physiologically. Part of the reason you took meds was not to feel what you were feeling, then those feelings don’t go away. They’re still in us decades later. Researchers like Candace Pert believed—and, you could argue, she proved—that they are stored in our tissues.7 They come back, and we have no tools and no context for integrating them. It feels like it’s going to kill us, so we want out. That nihilistic impulse of pressing the reset button makes a lot of sense in certain contexts where we don’t have a greater understanding for the nature of emotions, why they exist, what they are here to show us and how it is the case that there is always a gift. It’s always a gift on the other side of so-called negative emotions. That’s another reason why I like Pert’s work and specifically IFS—because there are not many modalities that can hold suicidality.
Through the work of Tom Holmes [author of Parts Work] and Dick Schwartz [founder of IFS], I have watched their ability to enter into pretty severe symptomatology like suicidality and explore it (although I don’t entirely agree with all their beliefs). In psychiatry, I was taught it was a bad, dangerous thing happening. People were either voluntarily medicated or involuntarily medicated, believe it or not. That was that—because death is bad and wrong, symptoms are a problem, there’s no meaning in it.
When you explore what’s in there, there’s something very sensical at the root of that feeling. These emotions are so huge, and they are tagged with mortal danger. The experience is like, “I’m out. I can’t do this. I don’t know how to do this. This feeling is going to kill me anyway. I’m going to start over.” It’s important to explore the terrain with the understanding that the body, mind and spirit make no mistakes—there’s no such thing as a mistake in my world. One hundred percent of things are a direct reflection of what is already existent inside.
Our experiences show us that. We can look if we want or we don’t have to look. That’s everyone’s prerogative. However, I do think that we can create a culture that says emotions are meaningful; you can learn how to feel them. It starts with healing your nervous system and your body. It goes into dimensions of practices that can support the real-time experiences of emotion, which honestly, do not need to be that complicated.
The next time you feel something in your body that feels uncomfortable emotionally, drop everything. Find a quiet room for two to three minutes. Sit down and put your hand on your heart. You put your hand on your belly, over your face and you literally explore the sensation like you are an anthropologist. For example, you might say, “It’s sharp. It feels fiery. Maybe it’s like a red ball in my chest. Now, it’s moving down. It’s almost like electrical shocks. Now it’s in my stomach. That’s interesting.” It doesn’t need to be some fancy thing. Once you do that, it moves, and then you have a little psychological freedom where you can start to inquire. Curiosity is the most powerful tool that we have because it is the antidote to fear; either you are going to freak out, or you are going to ask why. You can start to say, “What’s here? What part of me is bringing forth some learned old material that I have the opportunity as a conscious adult now to organize and reallocate?”
I have done parts work. I will soon post a very vulnerable interview that I did with Tom Holmes with him doing parts work on me. Every time I meet a part that is holding a burden of an old story, once that part is liberated, all she wants to do is dance and play with her kittens and run around outside.
I have that energy reclaimed for myself, but this alchemy is not a part of our collective consciousness. It is to some extent growing, where there is this idea that emotions have an arc. Even when we cried as kids, what were we told? “Stop crying. You’re fine. It’s fine.” We never learned, “If I cry, eventually, I will stop on my own because new energy will come into my body.” We never learned that. That’s why now, many of us have this feeling sometimes that if we start crying, “I’m never going to stop. I don’t want to cry because the dam will break.” It’s an old program that came from a childhood where we never learned that emotions have an arc, but we can learn that as adults.
It takes only one experience. Once you have one experience of feeling an emotion—you need to write that email, you need to break something, you need to take that med, have that drink, you need to fix it—once you have one experience of holding it and seeing that it will move if you do nothing, then you can’t unknow that. You are empowered in a way that unfortunately the vast majority of humans are not. They imagine that there is a way to avoid feeling the bad feelings—projecting them, fighting with them on the outside, maintaining this shame wall of their badness and wrongness that they never want to encounter or experience, and so they never learned to “own themselves” (it’s coming full circle).
In many ways, what we came here to recognize is that in self-ownership, in self-knowledge and self-discovery, we reconnect to the divine. We reconnect to that channel, to infinite consciousness, to our creative empowerment, and it is nothing but bliss. That’s all that’s available through that channel. It’s this awe that we get to have this experience. We choose this experience.
As Alan Watts said in one of his lectures, “We want it this way. If you could dream any dream you want when you go to bed at night, the first night you are going to have amazing sex, lots of money and a beautiful body. By the seventh night, you are going to say, ‘I liked it the way it was where I don’t know but I designed it, yet I’m pretending that I’m not the one who designed it.’”
This is the play. We are playing hide and seek with our own divine consciousness. We came here for this experience. This is not easy to remember when you are in the throes of conflict, fear and all the horrible things about life in the world. It’s a practice of remembering that, of choosing to engage that and balancing out all of the body signals of danger, harm and unsafety with this meta-awareness, that love is present even when we can’t see or feel it.
HG: I have witnessed what you are describing among tribal elders, indigenous people and older people who have gone through so much. They understand that timeless phrase, “This, too, shall pass.” They understand that we can sit with grief and with terror. We can make it through so much because they have lived it and know it. It takes us time to get there, but it sounds like there’s beautiful vitality along the way and in the end.
KB: That’s the word I love—“vitality.” That’s why it’s in all of my products. It’s our birthright, and we know that. That’s why we have these signals of suffering whenever we are out of alignment with our power to generate that vitality and the conditions associated with it.
HG: This has been amazing. This inner work is rewarding work—but it is work!
KB: It is, and it can feel like, “I did not sign up for this job,” but you did. You love it secretly, even though it’s not always apparent. I have to imagine the work-play balance, that feeling of “this grind,” starts to recalibrate over time where the hidden dimensions of you become fewer, and then you start to play with life because you realize, “This is a fun game, even the experiences that I say I don’t like.” I know that’s a stretch, but that’s where we get to. I’m getting there. I’m not there, but I can see incrementally that even as I am struggling, I can say, “There’s some part of me that sees why I would have created this. Maybe even there’s some part of me that weirdly likes this.” It’s the way we like roller coasters and horror movies. We have some funny sensations.
HG: If listeners want to get started on shadow work, what would the first step be?
KB: I was at a silent retreat right before the plandemic in March 2020. The teacher asked this question that has stuck with me ever since. I ask myself this question all the time as a self-accountability, self-exploration prompt. “If there is one thing that you wish you could unknow about yourself—your life, your choices, your lifestyle—what is that thing?” Somewhere in your intuitive realm is already an awareness of how you are self-betraying and experiencing that as random conditions of disempowerment in your life. The self-betrayal is that you know that something is not working, or you know that you have to leave a job or a relationship, or you know that you’ve got to stop drinking, or you know that you want to be living in a nicer house. You know that you are charging your clients one hundred dollars, but why aren’t you charging them five hundred dollars? You are ashamed of it, and it’s uncomfortable. You don’t even want to look at it.
You wincingly acknowledge that you have this intuitive awareness inside. That can be the beginning of aligning with your power, even though it feels like a shame portal that you do not want to walk through. If we recognize that ultimately experiences of betrayal on the outside are reflecting our betrayal of our own inner intuition, our own inner knowing, that is the beginning of connecting to choice and the power of our choice. The choice can be so simple. For example, “I know I shouldn’t be sending my child to school in a mask and I’m fighting the district.” The truth is that you can homeschool. You may be telling yourself, “No, I can’t. I have to work, and I have to do this,” but you have that choice. You are not making it because you are in this loop where you imagine that you don’t have a choice. That’s always an illusion. We always have a creative choice. I choose to live in that world where I believe that. Still, it’s okay if we don’t make the empowered choice right away because at one point, we will be ready and we will.
- Harris B. Sacred Selfishness: A Guide to Living a Life of Substance. Daphne Publications; 2015.
- Holmes T. Parts Work: An Illustrated Guide to Your Inner Life. Winged Heart Press; 2007.
- Pert CB. Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine. Simon & Schuster; 1999.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2022🖨️ Print post