Donald Hanson Overview
A Little Background
When I walked into my first 8-day intensive with Donald in Thailand in March of 2009, I was not sure why I had said yes. I was on sabbatical from my regular life, trying to recover from severe burn-out after three years of really exhausting community-building work in New England, and a whole life of “trying too hard” to get where I thought I was supposed to go. My health had fallen apart, and my body had gone on strike, leaving me feeling chronically fatigued. Unable to continue to do “more of the same,” and swim upstream through will power, I finally decided to step out of the rapid. I was determined to take a few quiet months to meditate and rest, take a 360 look at my life, and look for a different way forward that would feel more ‘in the flow.’ Through a series of synchronicities, I landed on Haad Tien, a little beach on the island of Koh Phagnan in South East Thailand that can only be accessed by boat. And I nested there from January to March. I had no interest whatsoever in sitting in a personal growth workshop. I was in a phase of my life where I felt overdosed with everything that involved efforting, and that included ‘trying to grow.’ I was relaxing in my own gentle meditation and yoga practice, and spending quiet days sleeping, reading novels and resting, learning to enjoy being in the moment, with nothing to do and nowhere to go. And I was finding great relief and peace in the simplicity of all that. So, when my new friend Jildaz first told me about Donald’s upcoming week-long intensive, and added that he thought I really “belonged” there, I just laughed and gave him one of these dismissive “thanks, but been there, done that!”
And yet, over the next few days, I found myself increasingly intrigued by the fact that nearly half of the lively tribe of gypsy souls who had also taken refuge on Haad Tien beach were all planning to attend Donald’s workshop. Those who had already worked with him were raving about him, though no one could really ‘explain’ to me what his work was about. The very palpable wave of enthusiasm washing over the whole Bay eventually dissolved my resistance, and out of curiosity, I decided to dip a toe in the water, thinking I could always walk out of the workshop after a day or two, if it wasn’t for me.
To my surprise, Donald’s workshop turned out to be about everything I was desperately looking for at the time… developing an intimate connection with Spirit, learning to live in the flow, reconnecting to one’s joy and passion, recovering one’s health and vitality, playing and having fun. I felt so enlivened and transformed by that first experience that I ended up following Don to Bali two weeks later to do another intensive training I then flew to England to attend a third intensive in June. These three trainings have profoundly changed my life and their aftereffects continue to do so.
It is not easy to concisely capture what Donald has to offer because his work is both very subtle and multi-faceted. While he himself describes what he does as “Transforming Cellular Memory,” I personally feel that it is about a great deal more than that. Since I returned home to Cape Ann in July of 2009, I have been busy digesting and practicing all that Don has taught me. And because, as a writer and linguist, words have always been a big part of my own embodiment process, I have felt compelled to develop a conceptual map of what I learned, in order to help me understand, integrate and apply these learnings in my daily life. As it has turned out, this “map” has also proven helpful in sharing my experience with the various people in my life who have been wanting to understand what I have been up to. And it eventually occurred to me that it might also help other people who have studied with Donald, and want to develop and strengthen their personal daily practice. My hope is that it may also inspire people who are considering doing this work to check it out.
What I am sharing here is based on my own personal experience, and not claiming to provide an objective or even comprehensive overview. I would actually love to hear from any of you who have also studied with Donald and have learned things that are not covered here or differ from my own experiences (firstname.lastname@example.org. I also imagine that Donald would probably welcome having that feedback as well.
An Overview of What Donald Teaches
There is nothing remotely formal or academic about Donald’s teachings or his style, and very little structure involved in the whole process, beyond the creation of a container that invokes Spirit presence. But if I were asked to develop a “curriculum” that captured what Donald typically addresses in his trainings, it would include seven primary themes: (1) feeling and following energy (energy literacy); (2) becoming intimate with Spirit; (3) healing trauma and becoming a clear vessel for light; (4) opening to love, intimacy, joy, bliss and passion; (5) claiming one’s power while surrendering to a greater power; (6) becoming an embodiment of human potentiality; and (7) embracing one’s inner teacher and master. Here is what I personally learned in each of those ‘courses’:
Becoming Intimate with Spirit
Relating to God or Spirit as an energy that is benevolent, caring, all around us and within us. This is very different from various religions’ tendency to portray God or Spirit as a distant, intimidating, judging or punishing energy (or entity) outside or above us. For the secular minded, this involves shifting from a Newtonian to a Quantum understanding of the universe -- seeing the universe as a living entity buzzing with invisible energy, aliveness and intelligence, rather than seeing it as a barren and inhospitable place comprised almost entirely of non-living matter and empty space (See The Living Universe, by Duane Elgin). This is also about experiencing ourselves as an integral part of this cosmic energy field of aliveness and intelligence, made of that same substance, and inherently connected to rather than separate from it.
Honoring the stream of subtle energy / vibrations / sensations coming through my (physical and emotional) body at all times, and trusting it as the language through which Spirit / the universe communicates information and shows me where I am meant to go.
Learning to communicate directly with that intelligence / energy as one would communicate to a very close friend or lover, in a variety of simple ways (by acknowledging its presence, opening one’s heart and love, silently or vocally calling for its guidance or support in particular situations, listening deeply to what it has to say, directly expressing gratitude for all the blessings one experiences). This involves practicing a very intimate and spontaneous (rather than formal, rigid, or ritualized) form of dialogue with Spirit, sprinkling a good dose of warmth and humor over it all.
Making the depth and strength of my relationship to Spirit (this all-pervasive friendly cosmic energy) the foundation of all my relationships, and seeing it as the deepest source of my love, joy and blessings. In Don’s words… this is the practice of building one’s house on rock!
Feeling and Following Energy (Energy Literacy)
Practicing tuning into my body and noticing / feeling the subtle sensations that arise moment to moment, in response to different life situations: tingling, buzzing, currents of heat or coldness, feelings of numbness or aliveness, of expansion or contraction etc.
Learning to relax and open the body to become receptive to the loving presence and intelligence that is part of the energetic field in which we are constantly bathing.
Keeping one ear in my gut as I listen to what others say or read what they write, tracking the energetic impact of their words and / or way of being on myself and others, and learning to distinguish between what mentally ‘sounds’ right but leaves me cold from what ‘feels’ energetically true and makes me come alive.
Following the ‘yes’ (the feeling of expansion) and walking away from the ‘no’ (or feeling of contraction), and trusting that compass for small or big decisions.
Healing Trauma and Becoming a Clear Vessel for Light
Letting go of the habit of numbing or controlling my experiences, and giving myself permission to feel the feelings and sensations I have been resisting, however scary or challenging that may initially be
Cleansing cellular memory by feeling and releasing ancestral and childhood trauma as well as cultural mindsets (around polarizing issues… race, class, gender, nationalism etc.). This involves releasing unhelpful energies and beliefs trapped in our body and psyche, very often, unbeknownst to us.
Replacing my inherited tendency to contract, defend and protect in the face of what I fear with an openness to trust and expand through curiosity and joy. I have learned that my greatest protection comes from building my body of light and strengthening my energy field (by clearing it from fears and traumas), rather than from putting us walls and shields and armoring around me, which is what we instinctively tend to do.
Letting an energy infinitely smarter than any mental strategy of mine rebuild my body and rewire my nervous system so that I can become a clear vessel for light and love.
Opening to Love, Intimacy, Joy, Bliss, and Passion
Feeling Spirit’s love in my body by directing my intention and attention to opening to it and feeling it.
Giving myself permission to feel and express my passion by clearing the ancestral or cultural fears and judgments of the power of ecstasy. This is about freeing the bliss body!
Connecting deeply with other human beings and developing real intimacy through being energetically present and open with one another, and honoring what has energetic integrity for each of us rather than bypassing our energetic truth for the sake of upholding mental models of what things ought to look or be like between us.
Giving myself and others permission to be exactly where we are, free to unfold in our own organic way and timing, without trying to interfere with or control each others’ experiences and choices.
Welcoming and appreciating the blessings that come with relationships, but not getting attached to them.
Knowing when it is time to let go of the gifts (friends, lovers, relatives, homes, jobs etc.) we have received, cherished and enjoyed at some point in our life to make space for what is next. Learning to accept these losses as blessings in disguise, however painful they may be in the moment.
Claiming my Power while Surrendering to a Greater Power
Finding that sweet spot between (1) doing my part (by showing up and taking personal responsibility for my experiences and choices), and (2) letting go of control (by surrendering to spirit and remaining attuned to how energy wants to unfold in my life).
Walking into my fears to free myself from them (by allowing myself to fully feel and then release what comes up when I go there)
Letting go of all inherited or self-inflicted forms of self-abuse (guilt, shame, victim consciousness), and taking responsibility for changing course and walking a healthier and more fulfilling path.
Walking through challenging emotions, fears or resistance, without either pushing or holding back.
Expressing my truth and creative (including sexual) essence without censoring and judging myself.
Giving myself permission to feel like a mess, make mistakes and ‘get it wrong’ as I let my repressed emotions find their voice, and learn to speak my truth in a conscious way.
Getting out of my own way by learning to distinguish between what my ego-mind wants and what Greater mind is calling for, and learning to align the former with the latter by deepening my listening for that greater intelligence. This involves learning to let go of the mind’s need to understand everything, as the kind of information or knowing that is available to us is never fully graspable through the mind, and our attempts to understand and make sense of things often bottleneck the kind of insights that are actually available to us if we learn to take them in a different way.
Becoming an Embodiment of Human Potentiality
Learning and practicing all these alchemical tools for transforming lead consciousness into gold consciousness (see details in The Alchemical Process section of this document);
Strengthening my psychic abilities by becoming increasingly energetically attuned to the energy and intelligence that pervades and connects all things, and to which we all have direct access;
Becoming a connector in the deepest sense of the word -- learning to connect myself and others to the deepest part of who we are.
Realizing our “golden Buddha essence” and destiny, and fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy that “this and more we shall do.”
Experiencing the deep bliss of living in the flow and the present moment
In a word, experiencing Heaven on Earth, and becoming a conduit and catalyst for others to do so as well.
Embracing my Inner Teacher and Master
Last, but most importantly, this work, for me, has been about getting to know and trust my inner teacher and master. I feel that I ‘graduated’ from Donald’s course when, after my third intensive with him, I sought guidance from Spirit as to whether I should attend a 4training in Ireland… As I sat in silence, awaiting insights, I suddenly heard Spirit’s voice in my head reply (with humor)… “Now, why would you sit in yet another workshop with Donald when you can now learn directly from me?” Developing an intimate relationship with Spirit and trusting and following my inner guidance was what I had set out to learn when I left for Asia in January of 2009. This has been Donald’s great gift to me, and what I feel he successfully taught me within a few short weeks. Since June, I have been intentionally sitting in Spirit’s classroom every day, and practicing all the tools I learned from Donald, and others I’m now learning directly from Spirit.
Let me be very clear that I know I still have an enormous amount to learn from Donald. He has years of experiences with this path that I’m just beginning to walk. But he has also taught me that no one can guide my steps better than Spirit. And so I feel it is now essential for me to take responsibility for using the enormous gift I have been given, in the form of a simple but really effective practice for calling forth and surrendering to spirit’s guidance, instead of relying on people who have already mastered that skill. It’s not coming from arrogance, or feeling that I could not use Donald’s (or others’) help, and I will of course continue to seek his wisdom whenever that feels right. Instead, it’s coming from the commitment to honoring Donald’s teachings and taking them all the way home!
The Alchemical Process
A Few Preliminary Comments
In watching Donald work with many different people over the course of a few months, I started noticing that the healing journey through which he guides people typically involves five different steps, though they do not necessarily unfold in a sequential / linear order, and are not always all included. Donald’s style in both workshops and one-on-one sessions is very fluid and extemporaneous, because it is first and foremost about listening energetically, in the moment, for what will facilitate the greatest healing and flow of energy, and letting that intuition guide how to proceed. What that looks like will therefore vary greatly from one situation to another.
And yet, even the most amazing piece of improvised music is ultimately created out of chords. In my experience, the five steps I map below are to the improvised dance with Spirit (that Donald teaches), what chords are to a Jazz guitarist. I have personally found that understanding these five different steps and their purpose has greatly helped me to apply Donald’s tools to various situations I face, and find my own dance. But as you read what follows, please remember that this work is not about ‘applying some technique’ (which is the mind’s usual strategy for staying in control), but is really about learning to let energy show us what is needed for healing. The five steps are the underlying structure that allows for that spontaneous unfolding… but applying them intuitively, rather than mechanically, is the doorway to the magic kingdom!
Lastly but most importantly, I believe that, for most of us, the very best way to learn how to practice these steps by ourselves, is to start by doing some in-depth work with Donald or one of his senior students to get an energetic experience and transmission of what this healing and alchemical dance with Spirit feels like, at its most graceful and transformative! Something within you will let you know when you are ready to dance on your own.
Five Steps to Healing and Freedom
I really can’t emphasize enough that invoking Spirit’s presence and partnership in each step of this process is the magical ingredient which sets this work apart from a lot of seemingly similar processes out there. Without involving spirit, one will likely miss out on the depth or impact that this work can offer. I don’t have a way to ‘prove’ this… but it has been my consistent personal experience that something very different occurs in meetings and gatherings when we consciously invoke a vastly greater intelligence than our own to inform and hold what we are exploring. In Donald’s trainings, every session begins with a meditation which is immediately followed by an invocation of Spirit’s presence along the following lines:
“Great Spirit, we ask that you please step into this container that we have created here today, that you fill our beings and hearts with light, and that you help us shed what is in the way of fulfilling our greater potential. We also welcome any beings who have already realized the divine love affair.”
This is the preliminary step which lay the foundation for the following five, which are:
Awareness – Becoming mentally, emotionally, and energetically aware of one’s feelings and behavioral patterns, and their origins, through opening to Spirit’s guidance, as well as self-inquiry, and feedback from others.
Acceptance – Confessing and embracing one’s feelings and behaviors by “owning” them without resisting, judging or defending. Allowing oneself to feel these feelings fully.
Detachment – Dis-identifying from our feelings or thoughts (while fully owning them) by acknowledging and seeing them as “programs,’ not who we really are.
Calling Upon the Healing Power of the Light – Energetically opening our body and whole being to the alchemical / transmuting power of the light, and asking for the release of whatever trauma, limiting beliefs and thoughts we want to clear.
Surrendering to Spirit – Allowing the healing to take place and letting that healing unfold in its own way and timing without trying to control or speed it in any way.
The following section provides a more detailed overview of each of the five steps, with specific examples intended to help folks who are, like me, working to strengthen their self-facilitation skills. I have tried to stay as faithful as possible to Donald’s own wordings. If these words work for you, use them as presented. If you feel that different words might hold greater energy for you, trust your intuition, and feel free to customize this process for your own unique purposes. I’ve never been a big fan of the word God (although it’s now growing on me!), and so I typically use Great Spirit or Beloved (two words that Donald also uses regularly). But, in my own practice of this process, I also regularly call upon the Great Mother energy, as it feels distinctly more feminine to me than Great Spirit, and depending on what I’m working with, it feels like a better fit. In the end, the specific words you use don’t really matter. What matters is that you find the words that have the strongest energy for you, and will allow you to connect with divine intelligence most powerfully and authentically.
It is your destiny to see as God sees,
To know as God knows,
To feel as God feels.
~ Meister Eckhart
Once you have identified the pattern or situation in your life that you want to address, the first step typically involves calling for Spirit’s help in bringing insights out from the background, and in revealing the hidden origins or layers of the challenging feelings, behaviors or situations you want to work through.
Great Spirit, please go very deep in my soul memory and bring to the surface the source of my current overwhelm and anxiety.
Great Spirit, please show me the origins of my tendency to feel disconnected from you and go through life as if I were separate and all alone.
Great Spirit, please unlock from my cellular memory…
…this feeling of fear that comes over me when I am around conflict or
this feeling of guilt I feel about taking care of my own needs when my family’s (or friends’) demands on me leave me feeling drained
any belief that it is not safe to speak my truth etc.
Great Spirit, please bring out all the layers in the open or show me everything that has been in the background, hidden from my awareness
Energetic and Emotional vs. Mental Awareness. The most critical aspect of awareness in this process is bodily awareness (of one’s emotions and energy), the felt sense in one’s body of what a particular issue or pattern feels like. The objective is not to understand (with the mind) where a pattern came from or what it is about, but rather to feel its presence and energy in the body, and be open to receiving insights and knowings about it. There is no ‘figuring out’ involved. In our culture, people are often conditioned (through psycho-therapy) to seek to understand and analyze their patterns, and that conditioning typically makes it harder to connect with the deeper truth and insights that are available when one bypasses the mental mind and connects with the whole body-mind.
This is why Donald will often say…
“Great Spirit, please show me through feeling what I have been holding”
“Great Spirit, please let me feel in my body what has been passed on to me by my ancestors 30 generations back”
“Great Spirit, please bring this feeling of (numbness, shame, fear, judgment, guilt, disconnectedness) from the background and amplify it 10 times so I can really feel what I have been carrying.”
Waiting. After these invocations, it’s important to pause to really allow time to feel any feelings or receive any insights that come as a response to what was asked.
Going Deeper – Often, if he intuits that there are a lot of layers to what needs to be surfaced, Don may go through several rounds of this particular step, asking Great Spirit to make that feeling 10 (and then 50, 100, 500, a million) times stronger. Between each of these requests, he will allow a significant pause, to give the person time to feel what is actually happening in their body. I have learned to do the same in my own self-practice, especially when dealing with issues where I’m finding it hard to feel what is going on.
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
~ Leonard Cohen
Owning up to / embracing / exposing one’s shadow experiences, challenges and demons and holding them up to the light is what allows for the possibility of healing. This step is about undergoing an inner shift from ignorance, denial or resistance to acceptance. Confessing one’s challenging experiences, feelings and behaviors involved in the situation at hand is usually an important part of the process (especially if we have been in denial and resistance), but it has nothing to do with the self-shaming and self-judgment tradition of certain religions! This is a practice of bringing up one’s feelings and behaviors to the light for healing, by exposing them. Spirit cannot heal what we seek to keep hidden, or what we struggle to deny. [Quick check-in: are you keeping in mind that we is meant by Spirit here is not ‘external’ to us but is the deeper intelligence within and beyond us?]
Confession can also be an important way to assert one’s power where one had previously suppressed it, as in “Dear dad, I have been pissed off with you for years and I have been terrified to do anything about it. But I have now had it with all the blaming and shaming you have been dumping on me all this time, and I’m not taking it any more.”
Confessing to Disconnectedness from Spirit. Great Spirit, I confess that I have frantically been looking for love from everyone except you. I have been behaving as if you did not exist, and have nothing to offer me.
Confessing Selfishness “Great Spirit, I confess that it’s been all about me and what I have been needing. I pretend that I am about helping people when I’m really trying to get love and approval.”
Confessing Neediness! “Oh my God, God, I confess: I have needs!” I need gentleness, affection, attention, loving touch, listening, support in learning how to play, permission not to be perfect, permission to be ok with being a mess, to over-share, to be self-centered, selfish, angry etc.
Confessing certain feelings… “Great Spirit, I have been confused, unable to trust my own gut, and judgment, not knowing what to do; I have been feeling ashamed of my negative feelings, feeling scared and anxious, feeling separate and unable to connect with others, feeling alone with my burdens, feeling sad and inadequate, feeling resigned and hopeless, feeling resistance, feeling defensive etc.”
I am a mess!”
Practice: as you become aware of feelings or habits about which you feel uncomfortable, you can practice confessing by vocally addressing whoever you feel most need to hear this (whether they are present or not).
Great Spirit, I confess…
My friends, I confess…
Dear dad (or Mary, or John), I confess…
This critical step is about remembering not to make our emotions and beliefs real, but regarding them as ‘programs’ that have been running us, and masking our deeper essence. It is about maintaining or reclaiming our witness consciousness, and keeping it actively engaged as we move through the layers of emotions that are surfacing and getting released, so we don’t get all caught up in them.
Great Spirit, This feeling of guilt (or shame or fill-in-the-blank) is not who I really am. Who I really am is pure energy, pure light.
This step is often merged with the following one.
Calling Upon the Alchemical Power of the Light!
This step involves asking for Spirit to clear the trauma or pattern that is not serving… but beware of clearing something too soon, before it has been felt… or you may end up contributing to avoidance rather than genuine healing. This step always involves inviting the light in the body, and into the specific parts of the body which Don/you intuit have held that pattern or energy.
Great Spirit, I want you to fill my body with light the color of the sun and let it dissolve (that feeling / pattern / belief / karma) now in the name of the holy spirit. It is not mine. [Note… In this example, “It is not mine” is the detachment piece discussed above (step 4) which is combine here with Step 5].
Great Spirit, please remove all the armoring and shells, all the toxic energy or fears out of my heart, the back of my heart, my shoulders, my stomach, my organs, my glands, my cells…
Great Spirit, please wash light through my body and massage me with light from the inside out, all my muscles, all my bones, all my joints… in the name of the holy spirit.
Great Spirit, the shame, the guilt etc. burn it out with light right now in the name of the holy spirit.
Please touch (me / my ancestors/ my parents) with your light and with pure love, and clear any feeling of shame out of our blood etc.
My experience is that there is something very powerful about bringing awareness to various body parts, organs, glands etc… Don usually takes the time to go very in depth in different parts of the physical body. I have incorporated this clearing process into the daily shaking practice which I learned from Balinese Shaman Ratu Bagus in Eastern Bali. As I shake, I go around the mandala of the body and I ask Spirit to be filled with light… “Great Spirit, please fill my heart with light, my kidneys, my ovaries etc.”… It’s amazing the effect that has. By the time I am done, I feel high on light!
One of the hardest things for me to learn was to let go of the willful part of me that really wanted to force the pace of the clearing process, forcefully wanting to pushing things out of my body. Don taught me to trust Spirit to do that part. I had to learn to let go of trying to ‘control’ my own transformation process, and wanting to be in charge. I had to surrender to the division of labor which requires that we do our piece but then trust that healing actually happens in its own timing.
Donald’s Gifts and Medicine
I would like to talk a bit about Donald’s qualities as a man and as a teacher, because for me, experiencing his way of being was a big part of learning how to practice and trust the process he teaches. This process is not about going mechanically through certain motions: it’s first and foremost about channeling and embodying a certain kind of energy, and doing so with commitment and willingness, but also with a great dose of acceptance, love, humor, and playfulness, and above all, a deep understanding that Spirit is the magical ingredient. These qualities are actually all fairly accessible by anyone who is willing to get out of their own way, and that’s the beauty of watching what that looks like in another person: getting to the realization that “Oh, my God, I have that in me too! I could do that too.” Embodying these qualities is not about becoming someone else, someone we are not, it is who we all are when we let go of who we are not (the fear-based, controlling, guilt- or shame-ridden parts of our personalities).
So, here is what I most love and value about Donald as a teacher:
He radiates love and joy. I have to say that after years of studying with different folks, this is now at the very top of my list of what I value and look for in a teacher… their ability to be deeply caring and compassionate, and to speak the truth, however challenging, from the heart. It makes me sad to see dear friends learning from teachers who do not hold this most vital and alchemical ingredient, and I sometimes see them suffer a great deal at the hands of teachers who are very gifted but not very loving, and therefore not particularly helpful in the end.
Is is not clear
An apprentice needs a teacher
To reveal its wonders inside his cup.
Happiness is the great work,
Though every heart must first become
To one who really knows about love
He does not allow people to give their power away (to him or anyone else). Donald sees himself as an instrument of Spirit, and does not personally claim credit for what he successfully facilitates. If praised, he will tend to give the credit back to Spirit, or mirror people’s strength back to them. This is someone who is very comfortable with being a student to his students, and not threatened by their gifts or wisdom. In fact, he’ll be more likely to acknowledge and call upon their mastery. He is definitely not a master in the old-fashioned (hierarchical) sense of
the word, and treats his students as peers, even while he maintains healthy boundaries.
He teaches from experience, and by example. There is great congruence between what he teaches and how he lives his life. He does not speak from dogma or theories: he walks his talk, and draws upon his own experience. This work is as grounded as it gets, in down to earth stories and examples.
He is a human being before he is a teacher, and, thankfully, he ain’t trying to be a Saint. There is no pretentiousness, or spiritual arrogance about him, no need to be perfect. There is also a willingness to make himself vulnerable and share his own mistakes and learnings.
He’s extraordinarily intuitive and skillful at finding the transformational acupuncture points in people’s stories or personalities, and identifying what most needs to be brought to light, acceptance, and transformation. Of all his gifts, this is probably the one that involves most mastery, and one of the reasons why studying with someone like Don opens up opportunities for accelerated transformation that would be much harder to access on one’s own, especially in the beginning.
He is super compassionate and models how to bring acceptance to the darkest corners of people’s lives, without ever regarding them as other than masters and divine beings. Another way to say this is that Donald has a huge amount of compassion for people’s pain and trauma, but does see their painful feelings or experiences as the deeper truth of who they are, and therefore does not make them real, or lets them hold back someone’s unfolding. I think of Donald when I read these words by the 13Century Sufi master and poet Hafiz
“When you sit before a Master like me,
Even if you are a drooling mess,
My eyes sing with Excitement –
They see your Divine Worth”
~ Hafiz, in I Heard God Laughing
His emotional and energetic range is exceptionally wide, and he can be as fierce and straightforward as he can be compassionate, patient and nurturing, and as serious as he can be funny, depending on what energetic medicine is needed in the moment. Another way to say this is that he is able to go many places, and is not stuck on any particular energetic chord.
The depth, beauty and intimate nature of his own connection to Spirit is as inspiring as it is contagious, and witnessing it up close over the course of several days offers a powerful sense of what is available to each of us if we open to that
connection ourselves. If you spend enough time around it, it will definitely rub off you!
And last but not least, he’s wonderfully playful and light-hearted, and brings great humor to the whole process and makes it fun. If, like me, you are someone who has had a tendency to take personal / spiritual growth a little too seriously, it’s very healing to learn how to lighten up and enjoy the ride!
I deeply love, admire and respect Donald, and I feel blessed to know him, and immensely grateful for all I have been learning from him, and all I have yet to learn. And yet, I want to be clear that I do not feel I hold him on a pedestal. I have had a number of opportunities to see his own learning edges, and it has taught me to have a lot more compassion for my own limitations, and helped free myself from the drive to be perfect, which is truly one of the most exhausting patterns one can hold. Perfectionism stifles our spontaneity, our willingness to take risk, and our ability to be creative, to stay open, to be vulnerable… and makes it very, very hard to enjoy the ride. I have also learned along the way that what triggers me or what I would have previously regarded as flaws or weaknesses in others is actually calling me to work more deeply on the parts of me that would wish these behaviors away for my own comfort, because I just don’t like how they make me feel! I am now choosing to relate to what I judge or dislike as an opportunity to experience unwanted feelings, and practice acceptance, or practice speaking truth in the face of fear, and sometimes, practice walking away from what does not energetically feel right and congruent with what I need.
And last, I don’t think that Donald is necessarily the right teacher for everyone. As with everything else, the best barometer of that is what the energy in your belly has to say about it. As Don would say: “Trust your gut. It will never lead you astray!” I knew he was the right teacher for me because of the way my heart opens and stretches in his presence, and how energized, inspired, nourished, fed and empowered I feel by what I learn from him. But you would have to check this all out for yourself : )
Seven Life-Changing Practices I learned from Donald
#1 - The Secret Path -- Grounding in the Experience of Divine Love
Drink from this cup whenever you are thirsty
Or crave to be refreshed in the essence of life.
Know that this ambrosia is available to you
Everywhere, for the universe is made out of it
~ The Radiance Sutras
The practice: Allow yourself to fully relax into the feeling and experience of being loved by the universe / God / Spirit, and let your heart merge with the one heart.
Donald calls this practice the Secret Path, because it is the simplest and most direct way to access our natural state of bliss and connectedness, the one thing we ought to remember to practice if we forget all else. And speaking for myself, I have to say… it is astonishing how powerful this practice is! Grounding (or bathing!) in the experience of divine love is about learning to open to Spirit, mentally, physically, emotionally and energetically, allowing for the possibility that every inch of our being can be nourished by a larger (loving) force if we let it in. In Donald’s workshops, every morning and afternoon session starts with a 15-30 minute meditation during which we steep ourselves deeply in that energy. We physically anchor in our bodies, emotionally anchor in our heart, mentally bring out attention and intention to receiving the light coming in, and energetically feeling it. It is a blissful practice!
If I have a challenging meeting or a tough conversation ahead of me, I first meditate in this way until I feel saturated with love, and feel ready to carry that energy into where I am headed. Depending on where I am and how I feel, I do this practice while sitting, lying down or standing/ shaking. I imagine cosmic energy raining into every cell of my body and filling them with love and light, illuminating and transforming my heart, my organs, my thoughts, my spine and nerves. When rotating my consciousness in this way around the mandala of my body, organs, and chakras, I typically start feeling great very rapidly!
You who are the source of all power
Whose rays illuminate the whole world
Illuminate also my heart
So that it too can do your work.
~ The Book of Runes
My other favorite practice is to lie on the ground, with my belly pressing directly on the earth, and bring my awareness to the fact that I’m lying on the Great Mother’s belly, totally held and surrendered in her warm embrace, and soaking in the nourishing and loving energy of her magnetic field, her soils, her waters, and her inner fire.
#2 - Keeping One Ear in the Gut at All Times and Following the Energy
The Practice: Stay tuned to the energetic sensations in your body and keep following the road of expansion. When you feel your energy contract instead of expand, or you find yourself in a situation or conversation that has no energy, change course! Just walk out of energy drains! As you consider a decision, always choose the path of greatest expansion.
I have learned to pay attention to my energy as I’m listening to someone or trying to decide what to do. Am I feeling drained or energized by the conversation, or by the prospect of going a particular place or meeting a particular person? Is there energy (and truth) actually coming through the words of someone who appears to say all the right things, or is my energy feeling flat, and their words leaving me cold? Am I tingling and buzzing or feeling increasingly numb, restless or shut down? Our mind may get dazzled by what someone has to say, or it may convince us that we need to do something or go somewhere, but our energy body never lies and is the true barometer of whether the situation we are in or the decision we are contemplating is truly beneficial. Tracking our (and others’) energy moment to moment is also what allows us to notice whether we are in the flow or have moved into (energetic) disconnection, numbing ourselves out through food, alcohol, work, inauthentic words, or something else instead of honoring our energetic truth and taking the healthier road which may involve confronting someone, or walking out of particular situations, like a draining job or relationship. Trusting the intelligence in one’s gut may requires refraining from doing something for which our energy does not give us the green light. And if you suddenly notice that you can’t tell how you feel inside, you need to slow down and take the time to tune back in... if you have lost your compass and are now at risk of getting lost!
Follow your gut
It will never lead you astray!
#3 - Talking to Spirit instead of Talking to Yourself!
The Practice: Whenever I catch myself in (unproductive) mind chatter, I immediately switch over to talking to Spirit instead, and I have found that it radically shifts the nature of the conversation!
I usually start by acknowledging (silently or out loud) how I feel, or what is bothering me (as if I were talking to a friend) until I've gotten everything off my chest. And then I ask for what I feel I need: clarity or emotional / energetic support or whatever. And then I stay quiet and receptive for a while to feel what happens! Somehow having the universe's intelligence as my conversational partner, rather than my little ego, seems to bring a lot more wisdom and maturity in my communications, and a lot more insights as to how to proceed! I have learned from Don that we can get an energetic answer to just about any question we ask, including: “Great Spirit, we just got an invitation to go to this event, do you want to go or not? “Great Spirit, what do you want to have for lunch today?” Pause and listen for what your energy body has to say! As you consider different options, feel into whether or not there is any energy in it for you in that moment.
#4 - Receiving Feedback -- “You are absolutely right!”
The Practice: When told that you are being “angry, needy, selfish, this, or that…,” practice taking in that feedback fully rather than energetically closing down or verbally defending and reacting. One of the ways to short-circuit our tendency to defend is to surrender totally to the feedback by allowing ourselves to fully feel how it lands in our body, and then answering “you are absolutely right!” Note that energetically opening to someone’s feedback requires receiving the energy of their communication (e.g. the anger, the frustration, the pain etc.), rather than staying fixated on what they are saying.
“But, but, but… what if you feel that what is being said is not actually true?!!”
What I have learned from Donald and what I have watched in workshop after workshop is that there is something very medicinal and transformative about learning to embrace the fact that “we are everything” (including needy, insensitive, and all these other things we typically don’t want to be and judge unacceptable). Many of us are very attached to being “this way” but not “that way,” and then work very hard to defend our attachments and identities, desperately trying to control conversations and situations so we can come across the only way we find acceptable. Learning to take in someone’s feedback (even and especially if tainted with their own projections) will show us what we might be trying to hide, or not wanting to feel, and gives us an opportunity to shed the armoring around our typically over-protected egos, by surfacing what requires healing, rather than continuing to let these feelings rot and fester under the protective layers.
If the feedback is totally off, it will just wash over you, so you don’t actually have to worry that taking it in may ‘damage you.’ When we get triggered by feedback, find ourselves internally outraged by its unfairness, or feel dumped on or projected upon, that ‘all up in arms’ response is typically a sign that the feedback (accurate or not) has shot past our protective shields and touched some internal wound that requires our attention, acceptance and love. Our tendency to immediately react and shut down to feedback that triggers us, or want to dismiss it altogether (for some seemingly legitimate reason or another), often causes us to miss the healing opportunity altogether.
How does this work? We usually know the healing and transformative benefits of feedback that we experience as accurate, so I will focus here on the situations when we don’t. Let’s say that someone tells you that you are being selfish or petty for what you see as legitimately taking care of your own needs. If you are not fully at peace with taking care of your own needs, and have hidden guilt about it, opening to that person’s feedback, verbally and energetically, will likely cause you to feel all your stuff around, say, having grown up in a home where no one took responsibility for their own feelings and experiences and expected that you take care of them. Feeling how the feedback lands on you will give you an opportunity to feel all the feelings of frustration, grief, anger, guilt or overwhelm that you may have been suppressing all these years, and give you an opportunity to surface them for healing. I have watched a rather amazing thing happen several times in Donald’s workshops, which is that people tend to attract the kind of feedback that is required to find the wound… so for instance, someone with an history of abuse who has built very strong protective walls will attract pretty brutal and forceful feedback in the workshop, because that is what will manage to get through the wall, and send that person in the very feeling place which had traumatized them in the first place, but also show them a whole new way of responding to that experience. If we go back to the 5 steps I outlined above, opening to the feedback is one of the ways that we access step 1 (‘awareness’) and step 2 (‘acceptance’)… the other steps is what facilitates the healing.
If your mind gets all caught up at the level of mentally figuring out whether the feedback is true, as mine did for years, it is typically because you are using your mind as your protection… but that will keep you in a separate and defended state rather than heal the source of the problem. It’s usually much better to let your mind out of it, and choose to drop into the feeling body instead, to feel how the feedback (whether accurate or not) lands in the body, and what emotions or sensations it activates. That will reveal to you any place of defense and contraction within you requiring your attention.
If you are open and receptive to feedback, and it truly has nowhere to land, it will just gracefully move through… either because you will see how right it is, or else it will not feel relevant on any live. And, in that second case, answering “you are absolutely right” will simply be your acknowledgment of the truth of someone’s experience of you, even if totally different from your own.
#5 - Walking into Our Fears: the Path to Liberation!
This is the simplest but, in my personal experience, hardest of all the practices. Ask yourself “What do I most fear?” And then allow yourself to go there, and let yourself fully feel what comes up when you face that fear! Most fears are simply confining demons longing to be tamed. Our greatest gifts are typically on the other side of our greatest gifts.
Of all seven practices, this is the one I have least played with… so I’ll be expanding this section when I have more to say about it : )
# 6 - Gratitude
i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
Thanking Spirit upon starting and ending my day for the great and small blessings in my life, has been one of the most transformative practices I have taken on since doing this work. Noticing one’s blessing not only shifts one’s experience of reality, but it also opens the heart wide and brings great joy and contentment. It’s truly magical! I have learned from Don that there is something especially healing about learning to feel deeply grateful for what I have enjoyed but lost (a friendship, a lover, an opportunity, a home) and expressing faith and trust in what is to come next.
Upon returning home in July of 2009 after six months of travels, I had the totally unexpected experience of having one of my closest friends in the whole wide world terminate our friendship without as much of an explanation, and in a way that was totally out of character, and made no sense to me. What got me through the grief and pain and confusion of this ‘twilight zone experience’ was to repeat, like a mantra, my own version of a practice I had learned from Donald in Thailand… “Great Spirit, thank you for all the countless blessings I received through this friendship, and for all the ways it has inspired and nourished me. And Great Spirit, thank you for taking it away. It has taught me so much about letting go. And I cannot wait for the next present!” What I learned from Donald is how essential it is to enjoy life’s presents while we can but also let them go so we can receive the next ones. Our attachments to past presents is what prevents us from remaining in the present moment and being available for the next presents!
# 7 - Energetic Cleansing & Healing
This practice is about being your own healer, by directly calling upon Spirit, to work with you through whatever physical or emotional trauma you experience at any given time. The example below, drawn from one of my trainings with Don, is a generic practice, but you can adapt it to any specific emotional or physical challenge.
I ask that you please work with all my ancestors, including my grand parents, and parents. Bring light to every soul in my lineage and release from them any tension, trauma, pain or suffering that they may be carrying. Dissolve them in all of us, in the name of the Holy Spirit. Burn out all of our ‘demons’ and replace them with love right now in the name of the Holy Spirit. Please touch all of us with light and pure love as many generations back as needed. Release from my ancestors’ souls anything they may have taken on and passed down to me and my family. Shine light through all of us and dissolve the karma held in my family in the name of the Holy Spirit.
Please unlock any tension or disconnection that I have absorbed or acquired in this lifetime or previous ones. I ask you to bring up all my current and past life trauma out in the open from my soul memory and dissolve it with light and in the fire of purification in the name of the holy spirit.
I want you to fill my center, my belly, my pelvis with light the color of the sun. Intensify this light a million times stronger. Please radiate it into my lower back, my hips, my hip sockets, my thighs, my lower legs and feet. Shine light throughout my pelvis and dissolve any trauma or tension I may be holding. I want it completely released and replaced with love right now.
I want you to work inside my brain and spinal chord and my nerves and nerves endings, and all the cells of my body… work with all my glands (from my pituitary to my ovaries) to release all the tension and trauma that I hold. Wash light through all of it. Please take over my immune and hormonal systems in the name of the Holy Spirit. Please rebuild my brain, spinal chord, nerves and nerves endings and all the glands and cells of my body with light.
Now Great Spirit, I want you to unlock from my cellular memory any numbness or exhaustion, burn it out with light right now in the name of the Holy Spirit. Please, wash light through my body and massage me with light from the inside out, all my muscles, all my bones, all my joints, in the name of the Holy Spirit.