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  • Writer's picturenancy willbern

Updated: Jun 15, 2022

I have three figurines that sit in a row on my bookcase. Although they look as if they have always been together, they did not originally come to me as a set. In fact, two were given to me over a period of years as gifts by a close friend and the third by my daughter. One day, out of the blue, I saw them as connected, metaphorically representing a developmental progression of the self. The process goes like this:

This little Humpty is the first in the series. He represents the self in Stage 1, the self we are most identified with most of the time. By around age 7, we have adopted him as our favorite sense of self. In psychology we call this identity the ego or the programmed self. (I always call it the Egg-O.) This is the self -image that we unconsciously created when we were little in order to bring us the experience of safety and security, some sense of power and control, and to win us affection and esteem. Assuming that our authentic self, the one we were born to be must be unseemly or unacceptable in some way, it's as if we fashion a little papier-mache facade, paint a happy face on it and then step inside to hide our truer nature. Over time, we forget all about that original self and just toddle around as the imposter. This false identity usually works for us pretty well through the first half of life, although the timing on this can vary greatly. But for many of us, at about mid-life we begin to feel as if our favorite forms of coping aren’t, in truth, really bringing us safety or control or affection, after all. This is usually experienced as very disturbing.

Sometimes this is a gradual dawning, as if waking up from a deep sleep. This feels really uncomfortable. Other times, this waking-up is abrupt and extremely painful. Either something disastrous has happened on the outside– like losing a job, a romantic break-up, being brought down by addictions, contracting a life-threatening illness or the loss of someone we are close to – OR – Something inside of us begins to feel suffocated, boxed in, completely out of synch with ourselves. This shocking disruption comes in a myriad of forms, but what they all have in common is that we can’t hold ourselves in the wrapper anymore. We lose all of our cherished touchstones that in the past gave us a sense of a consistent, familiar place on the planet. And when this happens, that childhood plan for safety and control and happiness cracks wide open. We are left in a no-man’s-land, neither here nor there. A crack in our shell is what we had been guarding against our whole lives. It leaves us feeling shocked, confused and all alone, untethered. In the midst of all this confusion, the one thing we know for sure is that this terribly disturbing thing that has catapulted us out into the great unknown should never have happened – OR – Some wonderful thing that we always assumed would happen, should have happened by now has not.

Not realizing that all eggshells are always only meant to be temporary containers, this disaster launches us into Stage 2 of the progression – the identity crisis. It is right about here I might add, when clients come in to see someone like me. In this transitional phase of the process, we are caught between clinging to our old identity which is falling apart, and feeling the urge to breathe in new air. Unseen forces are pulling at us in two directions at once. This is very disorienting. To the part of us that is still identified with the outer covering, nothing could be worse than a splintering crack. But to the more authentic-self cocooned inside, the rupture can feel like freedom. This is what I call the choice-point.

It is at this very juncture that the Life Force lets us decide where we go from here. We can either continue to kick and scream in the face of this very-unwanted-thing that has happened while scrambling to tape ourselves back together. Or, we can admit we don’t really know anything about who we are, what Truth is, what Love is or for that matter, anything about the essence of Reality. And then, very importantly we can call upon a deeper Wisdom to emerge into our awareness, even if we don't have any idea what or who that deeper Wisdom is.

Our capacity to decide how to respond to this very-unwanted-thing in our lives is an extremely vital part of the progression. This choice-point in fact is the height of both the privilege and the responsibility of what it means to be human. For out of all living creatures, we are the only ones who get to consciously participate in our own continued evolution. We can join it through deep humility and let it have its way with us or we can continue to fool ourselves in believing that we are in control.

If we ultimately surrender into the acceptance of what is, as painful and heartbreaking as it may be, we will be taken into a whole new universe that is governed by completely different laws -- a universe that we could never in a million years have imagined -- one that greatly values the capacity of our analytic mind, but no longer holds it as sovereign. And although we may continue to feel the loss of that something we greatly valued, although we may always wish it had never happened, ultimately we can grow into the experience of both greater freedom and greater connection just past the boundary of all we have ever known.

And that, my fellow travelers is what makes me love my job.

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  • Writer's picturenancy willbern

Updated: Jan 7

I am a hole in a flute

that (God’s*) breath moves through.

Listen to the music.


In my last blog post, I wrote about the connection of George Floyd’s final words: “I can’t breathe,” to the deleterious effects of the Covid-19 virus on the lungs of its victims, to the underlying sense of our collective loss of Soul. In that piece I talked about the Genesis story of the temptation of Adam and Eve as mythical representations of all of us, as humans – and how their (our) deciding to act and think on their own has, over the centuries taken us to a place of soul-less suffocation.

I also mentioned that there would be a Part Two to this discussion. If I left you forever with the proposed conclusion that it was only our collective decision to separate ourselves from our Creative Source in order to think on our own as the basic problem here, I would be leaving you with only half of the story.

Breaking the rules is a requirement for every step towards expansion.

We had to eat from that forbidden tree in order for us to grow into what it means to be human. If we hadn’t and instead had only obeyed the rules of the ultimate rule-maker, Jehovah we would have missed out on the most glorious tip of evolution – the privilege and responsibility of being human. Our sitting on the top of the animal kingdom (and I may be being anthropomorphically ego-centric, here) with the development of the frontal lobe provides us with a most cherished gift – the gift to participate in our own, collective as well as individual development. We, as conscious creatures get to choose whether to stay in our seemingly-safe-habituated patterns of thought and behavior – or – choose to risk moving into unknown, unexplored territory. That’s what Adam and Eve’s fateful taste of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil brought to us – a capacity for choice, for independence. They chose to risk even death in order to experience the freedom to think on their own. And that is a gift of inestimable value.

The problem is, as I see it is that we have taken that gift too far. With that first fateful bite, we were launched into a whole new experience of personal-power. And we have gotten lost in a heady, but going-nowhere-maze of our own making. That ultimate gift that comes with being human brings with it a hidden paradox. The gift of decision-making which establishes our independence, if used from the position of greatest potential involves freely choosing to maintain a relationship to the Source of Life that connects us all. When we make that choice, the choice to be the flute, our stale recycled air is forever refreshed and our Souls are once again enlivened. The solution is both/and – claim our birthright of personal freedom, but use it to turn back into right relationship with the Whole with which we are still a part.

I think we are sitting on that choice-point right now. And how we respond to it, both individually and collectively will determine either an enlivened Soul-filled future or more struggling to breathe in our own stale-air.

PS. After I wrote this draft, my son, Jake and I went for a walk on the hike and bike trail around Town Lake. A daddy and his itty-bitty daughter came walking towards us from the opposite direction. This tiny little peanut looked up at us with pure delight and squealed, holding her little hands outstretched while opening and closing her fingers in a toddler-style wave. I smiled back at her, mimicking her waving and said, “Hi! Hi! Hi!.” She squealed again, so thrilled that she had sparked the attention of a new friend along the way. And in that one, unexpected JOY-filled-connected-moment, this little stranger had become the hole in the flute allowing the breath of God *to flow through all of us like music, filling our Souls to the brim.

*(If the word, God carries off-putting or antiquated connotations for you, fill in the space with your own term that best expresses Universal Love. Although Hafiz was a Sufi, in his original poem he actually uses the word, Christ. I never want language to stand in the way of a deeper, truer essence that exists beyond the level of words.)

Image credit: Photo taken from article entitled: "The Bamboo Flutes of Japan's 'Monks of Emptiness'" on

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  • Writer's picturenancy willbern

Updated: Jan 7

Pneuma (πνεῦμα) is an ancient

Greek word for breath.

It also refers to the vital spirit, soul or creative force of a person.

Listening to or watching the news these days is overwhelming -- the years of desolation in Yemen, the thousands of displaced refugees across the world, wars, famine, territorial feuding, the rise of authoritarian dictatorships, the continued race disparity here in our country, along with our current debilitating political polarization. The news-hour comes to a close and I ask myself, “What in the world can I do about any of this?” I have no idea. I am left feeling powerless and heart-broken. The magnitude of all of it literally takes my breath away.

Last week, I listened to an interview with Jungian analyst, master story-teller and myth expert, Michael Mead. In the course of his sharing he spoke of a not-so-obvious but relevant relationship between George Floyd’s now iconic final words, “I can’t breathe,” to the deleterious effects of the Covid-19 virus leaving its victims also gasping for breath. In recent times, there has also been much talk about our loss of Soul. I don’t think this is a mere coincidence that these three phenomena are occurring at the same moment in history. I think they are inextricably intertwined. Each is a symptom of an underlying crisis, a crisis of separation.

In the creation story as relayed in Genesis, God creates all of the heavens and earth, all of the creatures of the land, air and sea, including humankind. And then He breathes his breath into Adam and the man became a living Soul. And there it is, the first connection between breath and Soul.

It wasn’t long after that that Adam and Eve were tempted to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which according to the serpent, the one with forked tongue, would make them as wise as the gods, able to decide for themselves, to think on their own. God, however had told them that eating from that particular tree would surely lead to their death. Disregarding God’s warning, Adam and Eve decided to go it alone and take their chances. With that fateful first bite, it’s as if they decided to breathe on their own, cutting themselves off from the creative Life-Force that birthed them into existence and their very Soul-connection.

We, those of us living at this particular moment in history are suffering the long-term consequences of that original severing. It is no wonder that we are surrounded by victims of suffocation. We have lived too long breathing in our own stale, recycled air. We have lived too long disconnected from each other, our earth and our animating Source. Without those connections, we are left lost, empty, overwhelmed and embattled. We are left Soul-less.

Trying to come up with solutions for national or global problems is overwhelming. We can’t do it on our own. It’s all too big. But there is something that we can do. We can realize all the gifts that have come from our ability to divide and sort, categorize and evaluate, to know our own minds, but now at this juncture, in our time, we can turn around and gather in all that has been divided. We can choose to reconnect to the Creative Life-Force that breathed us into existence and kindled our sacred Souls.

For more on practical suggestions for how to do this, stayed tuned to Pneuma: Part Two

Image credit: Gerd Altman on Pixabay

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