The Power of Non-Judgement

More learning on the bus….
Last night, I was on a crowded bus  when a schizophrenic man got on. He was pretty volatile and shouting out profanity. I thought for sure this was going to escalate because I could feel some of the folks around him getting ready to fight. I checked inside and decided to use one of my shamanic tools to see if I could shift the energy. I kept him in my line of sight and without looking directly at him, started sending aloha to him. I acknowledged his essence in my mind and after he settled down, I started sending aloha to the other peoples’ essences on the bus. After about 5 minutes, he stopped pacing and came and sat down right across from me. He was silent for the rest of the trip. It was such a great lesson on how non-judgement and compassion can really shift a situation that could turn nasty. He was being belligerent, but it was obvious that he had a mental illness. Compassion goes a LONG way. And I didn’t have to say a word or intercede physically.  Another great experiment and lesson!

Sometimes Parenting Requires Ruthlessness

I just watched a young dad fiercely defend his 10 year old autistic son on the bus a foot away from me. Wow. His love for his son brought some tears to my eyes. The boy was in the seats reserved for elders- doing no harm looking out the window happily- when an older man walked on and started yelling at him to get off the seat and didn’t he know who those were for. The thing was, there were free seats all over that section and it was like he was just angry and picked the nearest kid to take out his frustrations on. The dad stood in front of his son and yelled at the man in full voice: “Do not talk to my son that way.” He was almost growling and I thought for sure it was going to go to fistacuffs. He matched that older man’s energy until he backed down and went to find another seat. The bus was silent. When the man and his son got off the bus, his gentleness with his son, who was non-verbal, was palpable as he softly redirected his son when he was going the wrong direction: “This way, babe.” It saddens me that adults feel they have a right to speak to children in this manner when most would not dream of approaching another adult in this way. I’ve seen many parents back down, apologize for their children, or then yell at their children in response to such bullying from other adults. It was so refreshing to see a parent take a stand for their child without apology. I was so honoured to be present to witness this act of being ruthless in the light on behalf of another human being who could not stand for himself. So thank you to that man and his lovely son. What a powerful lesson today.

Plant Medicine: Radio Show

Last month on Going Shamanic, we spoke with Janis Silver Owl on the topic of Exploring Plant Medicine.

Check out this great show with insights on how you can work with plants to guide you on your life’s journey:



On Being Alive

Life sometimes demands:

Furious flying,

Rapturous play,

Creative unfolding,

Calm waters,

Moving among chaos,

Singing full voice,

Trance dancing,

Emotional flow,

Endless grace,

Mountain climbing,

Careful descents,

Free falling,

Sacred irreverence,

Conscious building,

Focused destruction,

Collaborative energy,

Fierce solitude,

Courageous action,

Unwavering intent,

And an adaptive stance- all within the same moment.

A paradox and possibility at the same time.

The challenge and thrill of being alive in a human body.

Are you up for it?


-Jen Engracio

The Joy of BEing

I went to visit my grandma the other day at her care home. She is turning 96 this year and has pretty advanced Alzheimers. Although she is not able to carry on a conversation that makes sense (to me), she looked into my eyes and recognition came over her. She knew my spirit and I could feel the delight rising in her. I spent an hour massaging her arms, legs and hands while she relaxed and looked out the window at the trees and the spring sunshine. At one point, she gave me a leg that I’d already massaged and said, “Faz. Faz.” which in Portuguese means “Do it. Do it.” I laughed and gave her what she wanted. I barely said a word to her the whole hour I was there. We did this somatic and spirit dance that was intimate and loving; we said more in that hour of not speaking than in one hour of talking. And I thought, “What a gift to just be able to BE together.” It was a relief to not feel like I had to chatter away. All of my earthly titles, degrees and achievements didn’t matter one iota. All that mattered was two humans connecting. Sometimes when I struggle with the predominant worldview we live in of achievements and titles, I think about what will matter to me when I am readying to die and reflecting back on my life. I doubt my university degree will be on my mind.

Reflections on Costa Rica

Costa Rica changed me with her wide open oceans, teaming with life.  The wall of heat persistently sank deeper into my bones each day I was there until I relented and relaxed into the flow of life.  Each night, the ancestors of the land greeted me in my dreams and taught me how to surrender to living in the present.  I watched the natural fires that blazed across the mountainside in amazement that they just went out without much intervention at all from the local people.  Fire is representative of Spirit in the Medicine Way I study.  It is clear that these people have a good relationship with the spirit world.

I saw the fishermen on the beach each day catching tuna by hand with only a reel and a hook.  They said that “pura vida”- the Costa Rican saying- means “pure living.”  The Costa Ricans still live mostly off the land.  They are dreamy, unstressed people who work in a steady, rhythmic way.  They know how to conserve energy.  Attention to beauty and simplicity is everywhere you look- the décor, the meals, and the dress of the people.  The generosity and open heartedness of the land is also echoed in the people who live there- willing to lend a hand and offer local knowledge without strings attached.

Costa Rica’s indigenous people are named after this ethos of peacefulness and giving.  One of the tribe’s names literally means “those who run.” The ancients simply moved when other tribes came in and took over their territory.   At first glance, this may seem to some to be capitulating but it seemed to me to be a strategy that saved them energy. Horses do this too; they avert confrontations that are unnecessary by fleeing from predators.  When they have to, they fight predators off vehemently.  The Costa Rican government today finds creative solutions to border disputes with neighbouring Nicaragua. Today, Costa Rica has no military and puts her funding into protecting the environment and serving her people.

One Costa Rican lady was sincerely perplexed at why Canadians and Americans seemed so stressed all the time and had no patience.  I saw many foreigners lose it on local people when they didn’t get their way or when something didn’t go as they had planned it- despite the service being fantastic, timely, and thoughtful all across Costa Rica.  It was a stark contrast to the natural fluidity of the land and her people.  A masseuse on the beach noted that this tension is deeply felt in the bodies she works on.  This is in contrast to the local bodies.  I noticed that after massaging clients, the ladies would work on each other restoring their own bodies back to balance.  Balance, in fact, seems to be a really important value to Costa Ricans.  This is evident in the way they protect their ecosystems.

Costa Ricans also value the elders- not only in their own communities but also across cultures.  I was struck by the way the Costa Rican airport officials pulled all the elders out of the customs line up when we arrived and put them through first so they didn’t have to wait.  This simply would not happen in Canada.  Could you imagine the uproar if anyone jumped queue?

Because I work online, I was able to work in the evenings while I was there after a day of exploration and fun.  I had a fear that if I allowed myself to enjoy life and have fun that nothing would get done and the bills would not get paid.  What I learned in Costa Rica is that enjoying myself and having fun made me much more efficient and inspired when I did sit down to do my work with the kids.  Last month, I interviewed Saida Desilets, PhD on Going Shamanic.  The topic was “Sacred Sexuality” and we ended up discussing why experiencing pleasure was so important for humans.  She said that pleasure unlocks our creative genius.  If we don’t allow ourselves to live from a place of pleasure, we don’t create the neural pathways in our brains that will allow us to fully evolve as humans.  This went through my whole being while I was in Costa Rica.  It’s not that I didn’t experience pleasure in my life before the trip but I feel that I can relax into this way of being in the world more fully now.  And I began to understand the brilliance behind play as a way of learning.   Kids know this intuitively- if it is not fun or intrinsically interesting to them, they will not pursue it.  Far from being a threat to learning, I’ve found that this enthusiasm-based way of learning means that kids delve much deeper into the areas they study and come away with a knowing of how to apply concepts successfully in everyday life.

I asked Saida why more people don’t live from a place of pleasure when it is evident that they have all their basic needs met.  Her response was telling: “It’s not fashionable to be happy.”  When she said this, I thought of how many times I’d been told in my life that I could not be happy and responsible at the same time.  What if it is more irresponsible not to tap into the happiness and joy within us?  What if neuroscientists and spiritual traditions are correct in postulating that this is the one thing that will allow our species to survive and thrive in alignment with life?  How can each of us commit to adding more pleasure to our lives each day in ways that do not harm others, the Earth, or ourselves?  I wonder how the world would be different within this new paradigm and what novel solutions we could find to the world’s most pressing issues.

To listen to the show with Saida, go here:

Costa Rica Take Two

A cashew fruit.  The nuts are in the green stem.

A cashew fruit. The nuts are in the green stem.


Howler monkeys.

Howler monkeys.

This little one is 2 months old.  An orphan that is being cared for by humans.  Such gentleness and love in his eyes.  I wanted to take him home.

This little one is 2 months old. An orphan that is being cared for by humans. Such gentleness and love in his eyes. I wanted to take him home.

Michelle with a baby boa constrictor.

Michelle with a baby boa constrictor.


Jaguar mask.  Oh how I love jaguars.

Jaguar mask. Oh how I love jaguars.

Michelle and I ziplining.

Michelle and I ziplining.


Jellyfish graveyard on the beach in Potrero.

Jellyfish graveyard on the beach in Potrero.


Look at how huge the carrots are there!  Just like the insects- super size!

Look at how huge the carrots are there! Just like the insects- super size!


snail trails in the sand.

snail trails in the sand.

Coco Loco- favourite eating spot of ours.

Coco Loco- favourite eating spot of ours.


Sunset on Playa Flamingo.

Sunset on Playa Flamingo.

Crazy Lemonade- lime, ginger, mint, sugar, crushed ice.

Crazy Lemonade- lime, ginger, mint, sugar, crushed ice.

cycling along the beaches.

cycling along the beaches.

IMG_1789 IMG_1792 Copying IMG_1795

Mosaic designs on Costa Rican Catholic Church.

Mosaic designs on Costa Rican Catholic Church.

IMG_1799 IMG_1800 IMG_1805

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