The Art of Self-Love, Inner Peace and Life Purpose

It is just pre-dawn. The new moon is high overhead and I am the first one out of bed here at the villa in Ojai, where I have just spent 4 nights and days with 11 other women who have come to this retreat called

The Midlife Calling. The women have flown in from all over the country. Many do not have the time or the money to be here (who does these days)? And yet they came and they took time out to join with 11 other women they’d never met, hoping – hoping against hope in many cases – to find some glimmer of inner peace, self-acceptance and purpose.

It is an awesome thing to watch 11 strangers, each with fear and self-doubt and questioning just what the heck they’ve gotten themselves into, arrive with that taut smile bravely (and a little too carefully) applied over a heart tightly wound with hesitancy, expectation, and fear. I welcome each woman with a sense, yet again, of utter amazement at the courage it takes to enter into a retreat designed to face the stories of pain and suffering and fear that stand as guardians of the gate to our aliveness and the truth of our hearts

Most of these women say on the first day of our retreat that they feel lost, dead, unsure of themselves, out of balance, caught up in the outside hectic responsibilities. They say they are here hoping to find themselves but not having any idea how to go about it. They just know that they cannot go on like this any longer. There is despair, hope, exhaustion, and dread — dread of what they might have to face if they really look into themselves. Fear of what they may find….or fear of what they can’t find. There is a palpable nervous heaviness in the air that makes it hard to breathe. Indeed many of the women, when they first speak, find their voices caught, trapped somewhere they can’t reach.

It is in these first few moments that I turn inward to myself, and wonder at the audacity of what has become my life path. Sitting here in the first moments of our retreat, I too face the fear-voice that says: “What are you doing here?” “What if the fears and significant life traumas and hurt dreams in this room run too deep?” And I sit in my chair at the head of our circle. Candles lit; a sacred intention and an open-willingness to sit empty and ready to meet what is here from a place of soulful stillness and shared human suffering. I wait and I listen in and we begin….

And so, here I am at the early dawn on the last day, watching the sun rise over the mountains. I’m starting to hear sounds of stirring; coffee grinder, bare feet on tile floor. These women and I have spent the last 4 nights and three days living together in this home. We have lived the intimacy of sharing bread and wine, the preparing of meals, the little daily things of life. And we have shared and seen each other’s deepest fears, hopes, and sufferings. When you listen underneath the story, you hear the truth: you hear the depth of heart and love hidden beneath the self-protective facade cracked and brittle from the strain of holding back the fear of being annihilated by pain.

The pain and the stories range all over the board:*: a corporate executive with the fancy home and dead marriage; a woman who has just lost her athlete husband to a sudden stroke; a woman well-walled and dying inside from the traumas of early childhood abuse; a woman who has never been away from her husband for a night by herself; a burned-out radiologist who has lost heart for the job; an empty nester looking for purpose; a gay couple living in a fundamentalist town in middle America; a single grandmother raising 3 children; a seeker who has done everything from Reiki to church group to swimming with dolphins… This is our assorted crew of tender-hearted brave souls who enter into a home together and sit in circle each day, to bare their inner truth, and so take the journey that sets them free…

In Western terms, we are here in profound deep prayer (“where two or more gather”… and so enter into the sacred crossroad of seeing forgiveness and reclaiming resurrection). In Eastern terms, we are awakening to the realization of our Essential Nature through the stillness of seeing the layers of illusion, smoke and mirror. In Shamanic terms we are engaging in the art of walking into our darkness to reclaim the innocence of heart and the healing medicine of our soul’s own wholeness.

And so we speak in turn using a “talking stick” (a large antique key I have brought for this purpose) and express our longings, ask our questions and expose our fears into the light of the room. But this is not “talk therapy”! It is fundamentally more powerful and transformational …and here’s why: We honor our inner seeking through a process of engaging in artful, playful, reverent, and abundantly alive inner dialogue, which I call SoulArts. We engage these longings, questions, and fears through a creative act of non-judgmental listening and discovery.

Want to know something VERY relieving in today’s psychotherapeutic/positive affirmation-driven culture? …We don’t have to either deny (on the one hand) OR muckrake (on the other) over “our issues” to try and fix or overcome them…or prove we’re somehow above them! We merely have to be willing to meet them “eyes wide open” from a gentle heart of curious art-making inquiry and inner dialogue. When we playfully engage in our issues or questions from a kind of curious open-mindedness, everything starts to MOVE in our life! And our own inner art becomes our teacher and our guide. The most amazing discovery for people is this: Engaging in one’s “issues” by putting them “out on the table” in a symbolic and playful inquiry with a curious sense of discovery, opens the door to the “Sacred Current” of our own inner wisdom and guidance that lies within!

All during the creative SoulArts process, the noisy mind (which is actually what blocks our access to our inner truth) is simply stilled through an artfully engaging style of meditation that has become the cornerstone of my work with people. In this process we butt up against our own longings, questions, pains and fears in a VERY new way and from a VERY wise place in ourselves. Tears emerging here do not reinforce the holding grip and self-made prison of our life dramas and mental projections, but provide a freeing release and healing renewal of self-discovery and self-love through inner realization and the dawn of Seeing. In this magical process we discover, as Gandhi once said, that “our life is our message” and we learn how to bring all our life ingredients to the table in a new way of masterful art-making! It is a true life-healing, life-redirecting revelation when a person discovers (remembers actually) one’s inherent and creative self…and comes to know the inner truth that sets life free to express one’s unique purpose and meaningful inner peace.

It is always such a huge (often audible) relief when people in one of my SoulArts retreats discovers this profound Wisdom Way of self-honoring dialogue! The act of symbolic art-making that we invoke, is itself, the path to listening and learning from one’s own soul. The art-making inquiry of inner dialogue takes us out of the quagmire of being victimized by our own “issues” and struggling confusion, and steps us right smack dab into the heart of our wise and observant Self.

The irony? This way of awakening is very “Zen like”: When we pull our problems or stories outside of our “not so merry-go-round” mind, and give these issues a physical, creative, and symbolic outer form from which to engage them, they reveal the truth of what lies beneath the projected masks of an issue. As is revealed, what lies underneath the circular antics of our cleverly seductive and self-trapping mind-projections, is always a realization of gentle compassion, self-love, reclaimed wholeness (some would call this a spiritual healing) …and the freedom way of being one’s true Self. It’s an extraordinary miracle to experience… And it’s the most ordinary and elegantly simple self-realization in the world when it is seen! (How’s that for Zen?)

When one learns to See and honor the inner self, it becomes brilliantly apparent that truth lies right here within… and that this truth sets you free…

It is with tremendous heartfelt love that I offer this writing to all who pick up their longing for a fuller, more peaceful life of meaning and purpose. It is an amazing moment of transformation and great freeing relief when one finds that it was really only ever the fear of fear itself that cast such a big illusory shadow over one’s own clarity and truth of heart! May you too come to stand in the knowing of your own unique expression of Divinity through the artful honoring of your life’s humility…

– R. LaRue

Finding Yourself