I’ve had several experiences recently that have lead me to reflect on the different dimensions of health. At first, I thought this was purely personal musing on my part, not necessarily something worth mentioning in my blog. Then, I realized that it was a “teachable moment,” so I decided to share.
I’m in the middle of a year-and-a-day cycle of profound change. The first outwardly visible sign of this cycle was my spontaneous decision to start jogging every day for the next year and a day. Since I was inspired to start this jogging on Samhain, the Celtic New Year, I knew that it was probably part of a deeper cycle of change in my life. And so far, the changes in my life have born out that perspective. In fact, I am convinced that this cycle is the final stage of my transformation from Justin Patrick O’Neill into Treesong.
I know that not everyone who reads this blog shares my spiritual beliefs. If any of what I’m about to say doesn’t make sense to you, or doesn’t seem believable to you, I encourage you to take it with a grain of salt and see it as a colorful metaphor for a process of psychological development. But this is my blog, so I’m going to describe my experiences in the way that I experience them, and you can draw whatever conclusions you like.
I changed my name to Treesong because my move to Southern Illinois and my involvement in various environmental groups triggered a profound personal transformation. To be honest, I’m tempted to say that I was “born again” as a Pagan since it feels like I’ve reincarnated without dying. Whatever you want to call it, I became a new person â€” possessing many of the same core qualities as my former self, but experiencing and manifesting them in new and different ways.
Becoming Treesong has been an intense, amazing, and ultimately rewarding process. I really feel that as Treesong, I’ve come closer to embodying and embracing the best of the core qualities that have defined both Justin and Treesong. I’ve come to realize, though, that I never fully completed this process.
My journey to Idaho for a summer of forest defense work was the first step in this process. My studies at the Barbara Brennan School of Healing were an important turning point in this process. And at first, I thought that my initiation as a Wiccan Priest was the completion of this process. And on some level, it was. But somehow, this new identity â€” this new way of experiencing my core essence and manifesting it in the world â€” didn’t fully take root.
Really, it’s hard to say why. To be honest, I’m sure it had a lot to do with the fact that Southern Illinois really doesn’t have a lot of people like me, and I didn’t have the material and social support at the time to foster me through the final stages of this transformation. In any case, I encountered heavy resistance (both inner and outer) to my efforts to create a new life as Treesong. I was feeling the intensely active and creative energy of my new life, but caught in the patterns and circumstances of my old life, leading to a downward spiral that almost made me lose sight of who I am.
When I encountered the Real Life Superhero movement, it snapped me out of this downward spiral. Suddenly, I had a new way of understanding and explaining my life’s calling. Activism had become depressing to me because it focused on all of the tragic and often soul-crushing problems in the world that needed to be solved. But this concept of becoming a superhero was inspiring to me because it focused instead on my own personal power to act in the world.
And so, I became a Real Life Superhero. This breathed new life into me, improving my personal attitude and giving me the energy I needed to return to a life of community involvement. In my first year as an RLSH, I had some wonderful experiences, including helping out with dozens of local projects and traveling to Superheroes Anonymous 4 in Portland for an intense weekend of both personal training and public service.
When I came home from Portland, though, it was clear to me that there were still some serious barriers in my life left over from my time of low energy and low activity. My physical health and fitness was still in a sorry state; my income was virtually non-existent; and I was still caught up in a few patterns in my personal life that I simply couldn’t seem to shake because they were coping mechanisms for the fact that my tremendous inner fire was being actively dampened down by my life’s circumstances.
And so, as I fumbled around trying in vain to figure out what to do, the answer came to me spontaneously, without effort or warning, through the wisdom of my body and my heart rather than some keen mental insight or brilliant strategy.
I started jogging.
I felt stuck, I felt frustrated, and I didn’t know what else to do. But I felt an intense desire to do SOMETHING. So I put on my boots, stepped outside, and started jogging.
The first few laps were extremely rough going. I could barely even jog a lap around the block at that point. But somehow, jogging made me feel better. The inner fire that used to burn me up inside was suddenly transformed into a healthy physical activity that would heal me rather than hurt me. I jogged another day, and another, and soon I realized that I had made an unspoken commitment to jog for the next year and a day.
The jogging, though, was only the beginning. I also realized that this was a time to break all of the remaining unhealthy patterns in my life.
When I felt like a community activity was draining my energy without actually providing a meaningful service to the community, I would do my best to change the pattern. If I couldn’t change the pattern, I would step back and look for a new perspective on the situation, or find some new way to be involved in the community.
When I felt like I couldn’t be open and expressive with someone, I would do my best to change the pattern. If they were mere acquaintances, I simply spent less time with them, or stopped caring whether or not they wanted me to be genuine around them. If they were someone closer, I sought to find some way, any way, to break the pattern and express myself more fully in their presence. If they understood, and liked what I had to share, our friendship deepened. If they didn’t, then at least our differences became clear, offering us both the opportunity to reflect on them and work through them rather than failing to understand or acknowledge each other’s differences.
These past few weeks have been tough work â€” physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. But when the going got tough, I got tougher. When I felt tired, instead of just dragging my feet and not getting much done, I rested deeply for a while, then found the energy to do something productive and inspiring with my life. When I felt depressed or discouraged, I reminded myself that it was okay to feel that way sometimes, and embracing it with a healing response rather than denying it allowed me to move through it that much more quickly.
And so, while my outward circumstances really don’t seem that much different, I find myself in an entirely new place today. I’m still jogging every day, and now I jog a mile almost every day. I’m filled with all sorts of creative energy, including new ideas for stories, inspiration for my novel, and academic inspiration for my work with the Center for Spiritual Inquiry and Integral Education. And I know that if I can sustain this uplifting pattern for even just a little while longer, my major remaining physical and financial and personal hurdles will start to shift dramatically, and the whole process will take on a life of its own.
In my heart, I’ve been Treesong for years. But now, over the course of my current year and a day cycle, I’m changing all of the outward physical, emotional, relational, and financial aspects of my life to better reflect who I am and what I’m doing with my life.
This has been a bumpy process. My mood and energy levels have been somewhat irregular as my physical, emotional, and mental patterns change, releasing much of the pain and confusion of my previous life. A few of you have ended up not hearing from me as often simply because I’ve been busy, and a few others have chosen to step back because they didn’t understand what I was going through, or don’t have as much interest in the person I’m becoming. But for the most part, the people in my life seem encouraged and inspired by these changes. I’m certainly becoming healthier, and for the most part I’ve been much happier, too. I’ve had a few friends comment on how I’m starting to look more healthy and vibrant, and a few others congratulate me on my renewed interest in my personal training and my creative writing.
Ultimately, this entry has been about my health journey rather than my original point. But I’d like to draw this to a close by getting back to my original point.
Health and personal empowerment work is very complex. We all carry our wounds in unique ways, and the journey from illness to wellness is complex, difficult to understand, and different for everyone. I’ve known this for a while now, but it really sunk in for me yesterday as I was making a video for my upcoming Kickstarter campaign.
The video itself is fairly simple and to the point. I introduce myself, talk a bit about my project, and encourage you to support the campaign. What really served as food for thought, though, was watching myself in the monitor for an extended period of time.
It was an eye-opening experience. Reading other people’s body language, quality of eye contact, etc., is second nature to me. With little or no effort on my part, I receive a wealth of information about people that supplements the more intuitive and esoteric experiences that I have of their personal energy and character. However, I had never really taken a good hard look at myself in this way to consider how other people who are sensitive to such cues would “read” me.
What a strange experience! In just a few minutes of watching myself on a computer monitor, I learned more about myself and other people’s opinions of me (both good and bad) than I had in years. I was reminded of how dull and lackluster my eyes can be when I’ve been pushing my body to its limits, and how talking excitedly about something or someone is often the only thing that can bring back that brilliant shine. I saw how stilted some of my movements look to an outsider. I noticed what it looks and feels like when I don’t hold eye contact and don’t have a warm expression on my face. Basically, I saw myself as someone would see me if they were only paying attention to my body language and quality of eye contact rather than hearing and seeing the deeper cues about who I am and what I’m like on the inside.
And in those few minutes, so many things became clear to me. It became clear to me that the way I hold myself physically (and often emotionally) is still closer to Justin’s clashing anxiety and depression than it is to Treesong’s balance of exuberance and steadiness. It made me understand why someone who does body-oriented work for a living still sees me as a wounded soul in need of healing rather than an incredibly strong and beautiful person to love and cherish. It made me understand why a manager would doubt my ability to do customer service work effectively, especially on my most exhausted days. It made me understand why friends and acquaintances sometimes think I’m tired or in pain even when I’m feeling wonderful.
Ultimately, it made me realize that unless someone knows me well, or is actively looking to discover my spiritual side, or both, my outward appearance and mannerisms really do make it hard for them to see the incredible passion and inspiration that I bring to my life. Yes, even my inner fire sometimes wavers â€” but it’s burning far more brightly and steadily than anyone would imagine if they’re simply looking at coarse physical cues.
This really made me think about the different levels on which hurting and healing take place. Yes, there is a general tendency for inner health to invigorate the outer body. There’s also a tendency for inner hurting to lead to physical sickness. I’ve experienced both. But psychological and spiritual patterns can change much more quickly and deeply than physical processes and structures. So you can’t get a full picture of someone’s current emotional and mental state simply by examining their physical fitness and energy levels. That may give you clues into how they’ve held their energy earlier in life, but it doesn’t necessarily tell you what’s going on inside of them today.
Someone who looks very healthy on the outside may be in the midst of a profound downward spiral of emotional and mental distress that may ultimately erode their physical health. And someone who is plagued with the outward signs of exhaustion and emotional holding may in fact be experiencing a profound emotional liberation that will ultimately improve their physical health. Even for highly empathic people, it can take a bit of conversation and exploration to figure out what differences there may be between outer appearances and inner realities.
A part of me wants to go back and explain all of this to about two or three dozen people in my life who I feel have had a hard time understanding what’s going on with me because of the differences between my outer body and my inner experience. But then, I came to a liberating realization.
I don’t have to tell them. I’m going to show them.
My jogging, yoga, and personal process work is already starting to shift how I hold my body, and how my muscles and the coloring of my face look, and whether or not there’s a glimmer in my eye. One or two people close to me have already mentioned the difference, and I suspect others are noticing it without even mentioning it. It’s a bit more subtle now, but it’s only going to get more noticeable as time goes on. By the end of the year and a day cycle, I fully expect the change to be so dramatic that even people who pay no attention to my energy or body language will recognize it.
This is a dramatic realization â€” and an inspiring note to end on. It’s been a long road, and the drain that this journey had on me in the past is still visible in my body. But my heart and spirit are full of passion and vigor, and my body is starting to catch up. I’ve reached the point where physical exercise and activity are actually invigorating, and exciting, and something that I feel naturally drawn to. This being the case, I have great confidence that by the end of this year, I’ll be a much more integrated and empowered individual, with the energy of my body rising to meet the energy of my heart and spirit, making me ready to take my healing journey to a whole new level and change my community and my world for the better.