Staying Empowered Through The Winter Blues With Harry Sherwood
Getting through the winter blues means more than just singing a holiday cheer or hiding under your Christmas shopping spree. In this episode, meditation and mindfulness expert and Consciously co-founder Harry Sherwood joins host Jennifer Whitacre to teach how you can take charge and stay empowered through this rough season. They get to the bottom of why you have the winter blues and how it relates to your inner self. Discover the universal truths that will open your mind and move you to live a life that you can get excited about—away from the social stigma and dysfunction that you were molded into. Learn practical ways you can turn your blues into enlightened views and make the most of winter.
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Staying Empowered Through The Winter Blues With Harry Sherwood
Our guest is Harry Sherwood. Harry Sherwood’s dedication to following his heart led him to travel the world. Over the last decade, he lived with and learned from monks, yogis, martial arts masters, professors and psychologists. Harry practiced thousands of hours in meditation and received a Religious Studies degree from the University of Michigan. Along the way, he studied Tai Chi, Qigong, Kriya Yoga, meditation, mindfulness and psychology. Harry also took part in shamanic ceremonies, tribal ceremonies, plant medicine ceremonies and funeral ceremonies ranging from China to Ghana to Indonesia to California. The combination of these experiences led Harry to found Consciously.org where he and Melanie McDaniel guide people into fulfillment, transformation and expanded awareness in mind, body and spirit.
Harry is here to have a conversation with me about the holidays and the winter blues. We hear people a lot of times who struggle through the holidays and who struggle and suffer from emotional pain and distress throughout the winter. It seems to be a hard time of the year for people. Much of what we read in articles is incredibly disempowering for people and it keeps us in a state of victimhood. Harry and I are going to have a conversation about how you might be able to pull yourself out of the victimhood and be empowered even in the midst of the struggle. Just because you’re having a struggle in life doesn’t mean you can’t be empowered through it. Harry, welcome to the show. I’m honored that you’re here to have this conversation with me.
Thank you for having me on. I’m excited to be here and to have a great conversation and hopefully add some value.
Harry, tell us a little bit more about yourself and about Consciously.org and a little bit about what you do, so the audience can get a better feel for who you are.
A quick background on myself, several years ago, I started learning meditation. I felt suffocated in Western society and in my own life and the life I had been leading. Long story short, I wound up traveling to China and studying Tai Chi and Qigong with Shaolin monks for four months, then came back to the States, moved into an ashram and lived with monks and yogis. For the next six months, it changed my life and that year was the beginning. I went and got my Religious Studies degree with an emphasis in consciousness studies. I came back to work for a little while and back to the ashram for another stand of time. I was making a decision whether I wanted to live there for the rest of my life because it had been so impactful and because of so many different factors that we might get into. That took place over about five years. The second half of that decade that you read about was much more boots on the ground back in the world.
I met Melanie McDaniel, my partner. She had come to the healing path to the personal development or spiritual path. The trauma and healing from trauma had been in and out of Western therapy since she was nine. Years and years, I learned from her and she learned from me. We started to study some more things, sat and plant medicine ceremonies, sat in Vipassanā. We actively engage in different cultures and learning about different ways of life to expand our own experience, to expand our own perspective and bring that to our clients. With our clients, we utilize meditation, whether it be secular or spiritual. We utilize plant-based nutrition and emotional release. That’s Melanie’s expertise in the area and then lifestyle coaching is where do you want to be in 5 years, 10 years and how do we get you there? We mix and match all of those and we bring in a very spiritual perspective with it all and help people dive deeper, connect deeper and understand themselves on a level to where that knowledge helps them find life and live a life that they love and they’re connected to.
Thank you so much for that explanation. To add to that, I met Harry and Melanie in person in Arizona. Harry, I was blown away by the wisdom that you and Melanie both hold as such young people. You don’t see that level of wisdom in somebody your age. It usually takes a few more years of life experience and getting beaten around by life to get to that level. It is quite impressive for the age group that you’re in. It’s a pleasant surprise to meet young people with such wisdom and peace inside of you.
A story about old souls. I appreciate that. On Mel’s side, she has been through the wringer at a very early age. On my side, I went seeking and along the way, I’ve met some wonderful people that taught me a lot about life. At the ashram, one of the monks used to joke of what people used to say to him, “You’re an old soul.” He’s like, “Don’t tell me that.” They said, “Why not?” He says, “It’s that because I’m getting something wrong. I keep coming back if that’s the case.” I always thought that was a funny little anecdote or story around that.
Hopefully, for all of us, this is the last go-round and we can level up and have fun. When I sat through your presentation at the retreat, I was impressed with your wisdom and your knowledge. It was so evident to me in your presentation that you’re not out there teaching spiritual hijacking. You’re not teaching bypassing, you’re not teaching a bunch of BS. You truly get what it takes to heal. That’s what I would like to talk about and apply it to the wintertime. I live in Ohio, in the Midwest where we’ve got a high of nine degrees or a low of nine degrees. We’re in the twenties and then it gets warmer for the next few days. We’ve got a week-and-a-half of upper 30s and 40s ahead of us.
One of those anomalies where it’s a little colder than normal and people can get down on themselves. They can get depressed and it’s easy to get stuck in that victimhood to be almost victimized by the weather from the area that we live in. I’d like to talk a little bit about how can we stay empowered? How can we get through the winter blues? How can we survive the holidays when we are emotionally struggling inside of ourselves and maybe even shift the language away from surviving the holidays or beating the winter blues into something that’s a little more empowering to get through that? Practices that are more empowering to get through these tough times because we all have tough times. It’s part of life.
The first and last thing you said, I’m going to put together because that’s the key, which is if we look at the cyclical patterns of the weather of the Earth, of our own hormonal fluctuations of life. If we understand going to the root of reality very quickly, most things are energy. If you look at energy, it acts in a specific way. Most energy is in a frequency or a wave pattern. If we look at that wave pattern, and I understand that even Newtonian physics tells me that my body is mostly made of energy and empty space. If I understand that all things are energy and I understand what does energy happen and it has a peak and it has a trough. What spirituality teaches us is to recognize the nature of life and to find our peace in that. One of the reasons that I feel a lot of people struggle with their emotional turbulence is because we’re stuck in a state of resistance and rejecting of that emotional turbulence. It’s natural to have emotions. It’s natural to have low emotions. It’s natural to not always be happy, but we reject it and resist it.
We judge it either consciously or subconsciously as we’re going through that, instead of saying, “What time of the year is it?” There are animals that go into hibernation for months. It’s very natural for us to slow down, for us to be a little bit more effective by the weather and understanding that and stepping into, “Can I accept first and foremost that my body is slowing down? The natural season of R&R, Rest and Recuperate, is happening. It’s very challenging for people, especially in Western society where we live in a place where it is constantly moving, going, achieve externally, create external success. Having to present that to family members or other people during a time period where everyone comes together like the holidays. There are so many layers of what’s going on here? The truth is if we were to immediately accept our emotions for what they are and whatever form they show up, and that is step number one. It’s almost a leap. It’s so impactful and so important to say, “Sometimes I’m sad, sometimes I don’t feel good.” That’s okay.
One of the important things that you said especially toward the end, was that external focus. Many of us are conditioned in society to be externally focused on, “What’s mom going to think if I don’t show up for Christmas dinner? I don’t want to be with my family. I know it’s going to be a struggle. I know it’s going to be a crappy show because we’re all dysfunctional and I don’t have the capacity to go through it. What’s mom going to think? I have to be there and I have to go through this and I have to do that.” We convince ourselves through this sense of obligation to please other people that we have to do certain things. We’re living up to somebody else’s expectation instead of accepting ourselves and what we’re going through. The difference between expecting and accepting can be the difference between your empowerment through the struggle or your suffering and the extenuation of the suffering that you experienced inside yourself.
Even with Melanie and myself, my birthday is at the beginning of November, so we had my birthday and then Thanksgiving pretty back-to-back. I had a small birthday dinner, mostly family. Afterward, I was like, “That wasn’t very fun. It was a very surface-level conversation the whole time.” There was dysfunction going on in my family. This person is not talking to this person. These two people are passively-aggressively doing the thing. These two people over here are having a weird conversation. Afterward, I was like, “I don’t want to choose this again.” Thanksgiving was different. We split up some stuff. Christmas is going to be different for us as well. We were like, “Why are we doing because we have been doing something?” It’s been the last couple of years. Mel and I were like, “No, what do we want to do?” We want to wake up at our own place. We’ve got three cats and a dog. We want to spend some time with the three cats and our dog. We want to wake up with some hot chocolate or maybe throw on a Christmas wish.
We want to do it our way. We’ve done it other people’s way for so many years because the obligation of this person might be alone or this person that. We’re going to create our own space. If we want to have a separate time a couple of days before, a couple of days after, where we meet and we do something fun and functional. We did and it was great because it was a smaller grouping. It wasn’t the whole grouping and it went well. It was one of those things where it’s, “What do I want?” Honestly, in a selfish way. That’s okay because self-care is selfish as well. Everyone thinks themselves and not everyone. A lot of people think of selfish as this negative term, but what’s your heart desiring? Are you someone who loves holidays but you haven’t loved them in ten years because it’s been, “Let’s make it through.” How do we redesign this period of time to be something that you’re like, “That sounds good for once?”
Self-care is so important. I love that you said that about how you are shifting your holidays and how you’re shifting your traditions within your little unit with your family. With you, Melanie, your cats and your dog. That’s important to thine own self be true. Shakespeare, he was one of the wisest philosophers that we’ve had if we would look at his writings. That’s what he’s talking about is look within and to thine own self be true. Self-care, in my humble opinion, is knowing how to honor what’s happening inside of you instead of living up to somebody else’s expectation of you. I had this conversation with somebody else about fitting in and belonging. Fitting in comes from a dysfunctional need and it’s often trauma driven behavior and belonging comes from a sense of self-acceptance. Settling into what feels good and where it feels good to be. I’ve done this my whole life, I have struggled and I have gone out of my way with many dysfunctional, perfectionistic, procrastinating, self-defeating behaviors to try to fit in with my family instead of accepting, “If I weren’t born into this family, I wouldn’t have consciously chosen it for myself because when it comes down to it, these aren’t my people.” I can go out into the world and choose my people. My son and I did the same thing around Thanksgiving. We had a conversation the day before and we chose sanity over family.
It was a conscious choice. Wednesday morning and we’re like, “I don’t want to make that drive.” My family made a reservation at a restaurant and I found out later the whole meal was in and out in less than an hour. It was a two-hour drive one way for us. If I had driven four hours round trip for a less than a one hour meal, that would have ruined my whole day. Instead, we had a fantastic day, we didn’t leave the house. I don’t think I even took my PJ’s off and not dressed for real. It’s learning to honor yourself and do what makes yourself happy. Experiencing the joy that comes with it because we did, we both experienced a lot of joy that day without even leaving the house, whereas we knew it would have been a whole different scenario. I like to shift the conversation from your opinion, Harry, and your experience. How does a person come to that level of awareness where they start to realize that they’re honoring themselves and accepting themselves instead of trying to live up to somebody’s expectations? How do you help people make that shift?
A large part of the beginning of us working with someone is a self-inquiry process. We give them a list of questions that allows someone to think about things that they might not have thought about before. What is it that I want from my time with you? That could be transferred into what is it that I want out of this holiday season or out of this winter season? I don’t know can be an answer. That’s okay. Let’s sit with that. Let’s try to come up with a couple of things that might sound good or that might sound something that would be growth-oriented or whatever draws someone in. We always follow that up with why? Why do you want that? That’s a powerful question to start gaining some deeper clarity. It can come down to whether or not we find the root cause of something. We don’t necessarily need to, but if we’re seasoned at that practice, we can. It’s powerful to find out because what winds up happening, nine times out of ten with clients of mine that as we’re doing some life work and in life coaching and can we set these five goals over the next six months.
As time goes on, 2 or 3 of those goals start to fall away and they’re like, “I’m failing.” I said, “No, what’s happening is you don’t care about those goals.” The truth is that it was someone else’s goal. Someone else should that you adopted along the way, whether that happened 5 years ago or 35 years ago. It’s now subconscious and you think that you have this need to fulfill some external and some level of career, some level of fitness, some level of relationship, the same thing with holidays. It needs to look a certain way. I have to be with my family because it’s a time of family. I have to spend all this money on all these people and all these gifts. There are a lot of shoulds around it. The immediate action step that I would say is ask what do you want and why do you want it? Get clear on that why. Is this mine or is this society’s because this is what society tells us? The clearer that we can do to get around that, the more we can be like, “I’m doing the exact opposite of what I want to do.” “This is pretty in line with it. I’m going to do this. This sounds good.” It gives us direction.
The only thing I’d like to add in here is sometimes we have to add the layers of ‘why.’ You ask why the first time, don’t just settle with the first answer. Keep asking why like a little kid, “Why is the sky blue?” You give an answer about why and eventually you run out of ‘whys.’ It’s like, “Shut up.” Sometimes we have to go within and do that inside of ourselves to dig deep into that ‘why.’ Sometimes that surface ‘why’ is coming from the conscious mind and it’s not digging down into those subconscious core beliefs that motivate the stories that we created with our conscious mind.
That is 100% where we have even on our sheet we say, “Once you’ve answered why, ask it again.” Be a child. That’s beautifully said.
How can you help people know the difference? I see this all the time with clients that I work with and with each client it’s a little bit different of a challenge. Helping the client realize when things that seem to be good practices might have become distorted and become ways that we avoid and hijack. For example, beating the winter blues, one of the things they say is, “Go outside and exercise. Put your shoes on and go for a run. Go to the gym and work it out.” How do we know when that’s benefiting us versus an avoidance tactic like, “I’m starting to feel sad?” I don’t want to feel sad, so I’m going to avoid this feeling that’s coming up by going out to the gym. How can we determine that inside of ourselves?
You’ve even said it within that and it’s 9 times out of 10, I believe that we know. It’s as simple as asking ourselves, “How am I feeling and am I trying to avoid this?” That comes from, “I’m going to throw in a movie,” because in truth, you’re feeling lonely and you don’t want to feel lonely. I’m going to avoid that feeling by putting something else on. I’m feeling sad or low energy. I’m going to go to the gym. Can those things be healthy at times? Absolutely. A movie or the gym inherently is not a bad thing, but it’s also inherently not a good thing. We fall in categories sometimes. The simplest thing is to tune into your emotions. Become aware of what’s going on. If you’re not feeling great, sit down, take a breath and become aware in a powerful practice as if you close your eyes and you’re tuned in to whatever you’re feeling. Try to find it in your body. Where is this in my body? This one peaks in my heart, but it goes down my spine and then it wraps around into my pelvic floor. This one is in my throat. There’s something I want to say to someone, but it’s not coming out. I might not even know that. I might feel frustration or anger and I feel it in my throat. Wherever it is, tune into it, feel it out, sit with it. The number one thing is don’t avoid. There’s a lot of bypassing. Once you’ve gone there, interact with it. You can say, “What do you need?” Your body is either subconscious intelligence, higher intelligence is like, “There will be an answer that comes up.”
If you’re quiet and you listen, “I need to be safe. I do not feel safe around this person. I need to be seen. How can I start to see myself a little bit more? I need you to take better care of me because you’ve been eating McDonald’s for twenty days in a row and I’m about to whatever it is.” Listen to your body’s innate intelligence and it will tell you things. If we keep avoiding feeling that way, feeling whatever way we want to avoid feeling, we start to suppress, we start to avoid, we start to bypass. That’s when we wind up not liking the holidays. We wind up storing all this emotional pattern, whether there’s a conscious thought process along with it or not, but there are this emotional response and pattern that might’ve been from several years ago. We might not know, but let’s say it’s from this time around. We’ve then stored it and created a neurological connection that when this comes up, guess what’s going to be triggered? That emotional pattern. It’s one of those things where it’s like the people might think consciously or subconsciously why. “I’m going to toss this aside in truth.” That tossing aside, it’s always going to stay there until you sit with it. Sitting with it, not avoiding it, being with it. If you need someone to support or to help, finding a friend or finding someone who you trust, watching an awesome show and you’re like, “I like your stuff. Maybe I can reach out to her.” There are resources, but how can we sit with what’s going on instead of always running from it?
Sometimes it does take a skilled practitioner who knows how to hold space to help by example, by holding space for us while we are experiencing these difficult emotions. Sitting with somebody who knows how to do that can help us learn how to do it for ourselves. That’s why I believe it is important to find a skilled practitioner that can help at least in the beginning phases to teach you how to do this for yourself. The teaching is by example. It’s not something we can put in a workbook or a workshop and teach because my process for holding space is similar to yours. There’s a framework that I can teach people and at the same time, the actual execution of it comes from experience.
That’s very well said. I do want to echo and mimic that to anyone reading this, which is there has been over time a stigma around asking for help. While I understand where that might’ve come from once upon a time, it’s not only a courageous act to act for help, but it’s a good practice and self-care. If you want to create change in your life, whatever category that person falls under, coach, counselor, therapist, psychiatrist, wherever it comes from, whatever you’re drawn to experience it. Learn the tools to be able to hold space for yourself eventually and ideally. Another thing is that some of my clients or friends will say, “Harry, it seems like you’re even-keeled most of the time. How did you overcome emotions?” I said, “I didn’t overcome them. I experienced them and I no longer avoid them so that when they come up, I know how to hold space for myself.”
I have a different relationship with them. Sadness is no longer something that I reject and judge myself for. Anger or depression are no longer things that I try to avoid because that’s not what a spiritual person does. I allow them to come, I honor them, I sit with them, ask them what they need. If it’s an old wiring, then that’s great. I’m going to shift out of it because I’m a new person or this is telling me something. This is pointing something out to me. This is telling me that this situation I’m in, I’m not in alignment with, and this is how it’s showing up. Emotions are fantastic indicators of something else going on. They can be some of our greatest teachers if we allow them to. If we give them the space to speak.
I see emotions very similarly. It’s our internal guidance system. If you think about the role that emotions play, emotions like fear, anger and sadness, that’s how we interact with our environment. When we walk into a room, you can feel that there’s tension. If the people in the room are angry and arguing, they might look at you and smile and say, “Come on in. Everything’s great.” You can cut the tension with a knife. If you’re in touch with your emotions, sensations and what you feel and experience inside your body. If you’re not in touch with that internal guidance system and you miss it, you can put yourself in situations that you don’t want to be in because our conscious mind can override all of that and we can easily talk ourselves out of what we’re feeling and what we’re sensing.
The emotions like anger, for example. Somebody does something and that anger comes up. Anger is letting us know that somebody crossed the boundary. It’s time for us to do something. What happened within me where I lost the establishment of that boundary because I believe boundaries are for ourselves? It’s trying to keep things out. They can hurt us. Emotions like joy and euphoria, those are things that feel good inside of our body. We do, we want more of that. We want more joy in our lives and less anger and less fear. If our emotions are trying to keep things out that are maybe harmful or not good for us and let things in that are good for us. It sounds very similar in function to our immune system. It’s almost the immune system for our psyche. It’s that non-verbal immune system.
We go to a much deeper layer and we look at the suppression, and I love that you brought up the suppression of emotions. This is a time when people like to suppress, avoid and not honor their emotions, not sit with them like you were talking about. The more we resist them, the more they persist and the more they try to come up. The more we try to suppress them, there is a direct connection between our emotional body, our mental body, our spiritual body, and our physical body. The suppression of those emotions will manifest as some chronic illness in our physical body if we continue to ignore them which almost makes sense that they’re tied in somehow with our immune system.
That’s well-said and that’s the holistic approach. That’s recognizing even biologically the function of being with our sympathetic nervous system kicked up and being in fight or flight mode because there’s so-and-so that we interact with on a daily basis or within the time of the holidays. Our brain goes into the same mode that we would have if it had seen a predator, a lion trying to hunt us 2,000 years ago. If we’re kicking up that sympathetic nervous system, we’re dis-balancing or creating an imbalance in our cortisol levels and the immunoglobulin on the other side of things. It throws off our entire immune system. A lot of people do recognize the holistic connection. There’s a lot to it. It doesn’t need to be complicated. It can be as simple as what you said, which is why it’s so powerful. It’s just, “These are all connected?” Emotions are one of the most powerful ways to be in tune with how we are doing and whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. How are we doing? Emotions teach us, tell us and can guide us to a healthy state of being.
Harry, I know that you talk a lot about our societal conditioning. How we are conditioned and programmed from the environment, the world, and the society that we live in? There’s the family unit, then there’s the local unit, there’s our friends, the collective consciousness of the world around us. That collective consciousness, especially in the United States, teaches us that emotions are something we should be afraid of. Experiencing fear, it’s okay to have depression and go take a pill and take an SSRI for it. That’s more okay than admitting that, “I’m sad and I need to have a good cry.” I would love to know your input on encouraging people may be to go against the grain. There is a lot of discomfort that comes with that, with realizing that, “I am not in the flow with mainstream society anymore.” People experience a lot of fear about that belonging and fitting in like, “If I go my own way, I’m not going to fit in. I’m going to lose friends. I’m going to lose family.” Could you talk a little bit about that? Tell people get that in alignment on, “If I’m going to sit with my emotions, I’m going to be the unicorn in my group of friends.” How’s that going to work?
That starts with a basic understanding of cultural programming or cultural conditioning. It’s very similar. Understanding how that typically works in the way that a snapshot of that is from the moment that we’re born, those that care for us begin to program us. It’s not good or bad, it’s the way it is. The first thing that we start to be programmed with is language. That’s both body language as well as vocal language. As time goes on, based on the culture we’re born into, remember 100 years ago in Ghana versus 500 years ago in China versus now in the US, it’s going to be different. I start to learn about society. I start to learn about religion. I start to learn about the education system and politics. I get a world painted for me and within that, based off of whoever’s caring for me, I start to learn the right way to be and the wrong way to be. I start to learn what’s acceptable and what’s unacceptable. I start to learn what’s rewarded and what’s punished based off of my own experiences with the people caring for me. As time goes on, this starts to come in from multiple angles, from my peers, from my teachers, from social media and media and literature.
It’s coming in from all these angles. What often happens is then I start to form a view of the world and a view of myself and how I should be. In order to fit the cultural paradigm of what I’m born into, it winds up affecting my beliefs in my belief system and winds up affecting my emotions, my thought patterns. It starts affecting my actions. It starts affecting my preferences. It starts affecting everything. What can happen is that if we feel a certain way that doesn’t fit the box, then what? What do I do? What happens is there’s a fear response to both biologically as psychologically that comes up. It’s very simple which is 100,000 years ago or however long ago. If I was in a tribe or a group, I had a higher level of chance that I would survive because there are less predators that could attack me if in a group of 30 versus a group of one. It’s my brain trying to protect me by keeping me in a group, even if the group is unhealthy. We add the cultural conditioning on top of that and the cultural perspective of how I should be fitting into this group. I get all of my own internal opinions and judgments and all these things going on and then my own emotions. All of these things that adds on top of this biological need to fit in. It’s no wonder that people are afraid of conflict, are definitely afraid of being alone. There is such a stigma around being alone in our world. I always say, “Being lonely and being alone are two different things.” They do not need to be connected.
That being a base understanding, fitting in or stepping out of a social setting, a social group can be very challenging. I’ve done it multiple times. In fact, I wind up changing. I had a very strong tight-knit group of friends in high school from before then that I was going a different way in life and I wind up going to China, the ashram and all those things. That was the beginning of our diverging. There’s a fair amount of them that don’t understand why I wind up going my own way of life. I still think that I judged them because I didn’t want to be around them. They have their own stories and that’s okay. I needed to be true to myself. I needed to step out of that situation. I needed to be healthy. I couldn’t keep being around the same mentality, around the same energy, around the same drama, around the same fill in the blank. I couldn’t keep being around with all of these things that we get trapped into because we have a biological and psychological need to fit in.
If we can have the courage to recognize this is not healthy for me anymore. If it’s not, and to step out of that and to maybe start to find people that are of my tribe, are of a little bit more whether that’s through a meetup group through following specific podcasts, through reading specific types of books. They are out there even though they might in a smaller portion in a group. We are conditioned to feel the need and to have a should that we should be a certain way because around the holidays, you’re with family. That’s a belief. It’s not a universal truth. Recognizing that is very empowering in saying, “No, I do have a choice here. I can create the holidays in a way that feels in alignment with me.” The first couple of holidays are the first 1 or 2 times, however long it takes to get there. It might be a rocky start as are a lot of things in life. As we’re stepping out into the unknown like, “I know I don’t want to be around them, but I don’t know what to replace it with.” It might take a little bit of time to get the ball rolling, but that’s okay. I wouldn’t say take that as an affirmation that you should be with those people. It’s, “I have a blank canvas. What do I want to paint?” It’s playing around and finding out what masterpiece you want to create with your time in your life.
Harry, that’s a brilliant answer. There’s so much going on in what you said. One of the things that I do want to point out for the audiences that you said that’s so important is as we’re growing up as children, we are taught what’s good and bad and what’s right and wrong and acceptable and unacceptable. There is a punishment and reward system for us when we are children. When we grow up in a family that indoctrinates us into a certain religion, religion in general especially Christianity. I’ve got to be honest, there are some other religions, I don’t know a lot about. The big ones, they promote the ultimate reward and punishment system. It’s the ultimate reward and punishment system is, “If you do A, B, C, D, E, F, you’ll go to heaven. If you don’t do these things, you’re going to go to hell.” That is the ultimate reward and punishment system. If you buy into that belief system, then it creates this state of almost inner suffering inside of ourselves. I am such a proponent of letting go of labels.
A few times you’ve mentioned good and bad and you said, “It’s not necessarily good or bad.” That is so true. If it’s good or bad, who’s to say? What seems good on the surface could end up for you personally being a decision that takes you down a path that increases your suffering later in life. I believe we get to determine for ourselves what’s good or bad for us. I don’t believe we get to tell other people what’s good or bad for them. Those labels, at least that’s how I approach life. I get to tell myself, “This is a good thing for me. I’m going to do this right now. This feels right. This feels good. This feels okay. This feels beneficial.” I don’t get to tell that to other people. They have to make that determination for themselves because when other people make that determination for me, that’s them. You’ve heard the saying should-ing on somebody. Don’t should on yourself and don’t should on other people.
That’s another highlight of it because it is so important because in reality, whether it comes from religion or some other place, a lot of the rights and wrongs are perspective. It’s relative, it’s cultural programming. I’ve spent time in Ghana and I can tell you that their Christian religion versus someone in Michigan’s Christian religion, they’re not the same thing. They’re very culturally dependent. That gets into a cultural relative conversation. Even within, if we talk about Christianity, when we talk about the Ten Commandments and we talk about the do’s and don’ts, how does that feel for you? Is this right for you like you were saying and being able to find your own path? No matter how many Christians or Buddhists, pagans or whatever it is there are, every single one of them is going to walk a different path because it’s always an individual process of unfolding.
Finding out what fits with your alignment in your heart, what feels good going back to emotions and feelings what feels good to you, finding out, sitting with those feelings, understanding and being guided by them. What can happen if we don’t do that and we just fall into someone else’s paradigm and box as what you were saying? It can bring up shame. It can bring up guilt. It can bring up the feeling that I’m never going to be enough because I never feel I’m ever going to measure up to someone else’s measuring stick. We live our lives trying to fulfill someone else’s need for me.
With the topic that we’ve been talking about, how to get yourself through some of these challenging months in the winter? There’s also this societal expectation of that whole misery loves company. If you’re experiencing seasonal affective disorder and I’m experiencing seasonal affective disorder, we can stand around the water cooler at break and we can bitch about it together. There’s the connection. There’s that victimhood that connects us with other people, which is also part of our societal conditioning. How do you encourage people to break out of that?
Brené Brown, I’m sure you’re familiar with her work. She has a book and one of the chapters of her book is, “Stress and overwork is not a status symbol.” The idea that while I work myself eighteen hours a day, so I have more of a reason to complain than you do. It’s the same thing, it’s like when misery loves company. It’s almost like we’re comparing or we’re competing around who’s more miserable or has more reasons to be exhausted or tired, but it creates this status symbol like I won. Mel and I sit there and when people ask us how you’re doing, and our answer is, “I’m fantastic.” I’ve designed a life that I love. I work with people that I genuinely love working with. I have a family that I have taken years to set up in a way that I enjoy three cats and a dog, all rescues. I’m doing great. Thank you for asking. It’s almost this, “It’s nice to be you.” I’ll say, “Thank you. I’ve taken a long time to create this. I appreciate that.” The beginning of the answer is if you find yourself falling into the drama circle or into the victimhood circle or into the matching someone else’s negative energy because you feel that’s how you need to connect with them. Pause, take a moment and say, “If I changed nothing, where am I going to be in five years? Do I want to be here in five years again?”
If the answer is no, it’s in that moment that you begin to shift. It’s in that moment you begin to disrupt an old neuro connection that says drama and then you can start making new decisions like, “I don’t want to feed this conversation. I want to connect with this person but at what cost to myself?” Being aware as the holidays come on, your emotional patterns, other people’s emotional patterns and not judging them for it. If that’s where they are, that’s where they are. It’s okay. Do you want to be there? Make the decision for yourself. Change in yourself, set boundaries for yourself and follow them. You can begin overtime to create a life that you wake up being excited about. Even when you’re in the troughs, you’re existentially content. Your existence, your content with it. You carry this centeredness with you. It doesn’t mean you don’t have anger, frustration or whatever it may be, but you’re centered and those things come along. It starts in seasons because these are the opportunities to become aware of what’s going on beneath the surface.
This is an opportunity to start to self-examine. We go through these seasons and these cycles and it’s like the season of winter is a gift that’s handed to us. We do have this opportunity to go within and to do a little hibernating away from the rest of the world and away from society to go within and do some self-exploration. I loved your answer. The only thing I would add to that is I believe we have to ask ourselves, “What am I gaining from this chronic complaining? What does it give me because sometimes it does? It gives me that connection with somebody else. Oftentimes, this is false sense of connection because a lot of times that connection is rooted in some dysfunctional behavior. Complaining is dysfunctional behavior.
I’m a trauma specialist who focuses on developmental and intergenerational issues. Chronic complaining oftentimes does stem from developmental trauma. Sometimes it happens pre-verbally that we’re not even aware of. It’s a conditioned response that we learned from our parents. If you have people in your family who are chronic complainers, do you recognize that in yourself? Is it something that you learned from your environment, from your nurturing? Nurturing seems like such a wonderful word, but sometimes nurturing, it’s not good or bad. It takes that turn and that leads us into dysfunction. We can be nurtured into dysfunction.
Depending on one’s definition of dysfunction. I would argue that even if that majority is only 51%, I believe it to be more than that. I would say that the majority of people in one way or another are nurtured into dysfunction, which is why the world is in the state that it’s in. There’s never been more mental health disease, physical diseases and environmental challenges. Throw a dart in some direction and you’ll find something that’s going on. A lot of that has to do with how we are reared and how we are developed over time. This what we’re talking about is saying, “Hold the phone. We can change this.”
There is a better way and that better way is I believe to stop looking outside for validation and to go inside to find that self-acceptance. To learn to belong to yourself. If you belong to yourself, it doesn’t matter where you go. It doesn’t matter whether you fit in, you’ll always have a sense of belonging in the world.
That’s the heart of the alone versus alone with the conversation. I’ve been alone a lot in my life. When I finally found that inner acceptance, I was never lonely after that. Your choice might be alone but it doesn’t mean you’re going to be lonely because you’re whole in yourself. You’re at home in yourself.
Harry, for any of our audience who might want to reach out to you and get in touch with you, what is the best way for them to do that?
Going to Consciously.org and the Contact Us sheet. It’s very simple. Type in, “This is who I am. I checked you on this show. I would love to talk.” It can be that simple or we can be more specific of course. If you want to do a one-on-one conversation, there will be free consultations and sometimes those turn into good conversations and a new connection is birth. It’s the quickest and easiest way.
Harry, it’s been a pleasure and an honor to have you on here. My audience know that I’m not into the crap. When I bring a guest on, I bring people on who I’ve done some prescreening with. I know that they’re the real deal and I can attest to you, I’m into Melanie that you’re both the real deal. I would talk to you about possibly having you on again to talk about if you and Melanie are open to it, possibly having a plant medicine or a psychedelic medicine conversation.
I would be honored. Mel will definitely be a great person on that subject. I would be more on the side than her. That’s a very powerful conversation. I’m honored that you had me on. I want to shine a little gratitude on you quickly. It’s these conversations that can create change and can create shifts. We can create that moment of, “Things can be different.” The fact that you are hosting this consistently and in a no BS way is powerful. I want to honor you for the work that you’re doing in this conscious conversations alone, let alone all the other work you’re doing as well.
Thank you, Harry. I appreciate that and I appreciate you. I appreciate the work that you’ve done on yourself and the gift that you’re giving back to the world as a result of what you’ve done for yourself. Do you have any final tips or bits of wisdom to leave with our audiences?
A great quote that I always go back to is, “You are the one that you have been waiting for. You are the one.” Whenever you’re ready, take that step and it’s the beginning of your next phase. Your journey is already going, but it’s the beginning of the next chapter. That’s the biggest change that you’ve ever had or the smallest, but mountains are climbed one step at a time and it takes you so you’re the one you’ve been waiting for.
Harry, thank you so much.
If you want more information about me, please go to JenniferWhitacre.com. Please subscribe and go to iTunes and leave a review. Feel free to reach out to me. I’d love to hear from my audiences. For all of you, I’m glad you were with us and I will see you all next time.
About Harry Sherwood
Harry Sherwood’s dedication to following his heart led him to travel the world. Over the last decade he lived with and learned from monks, yogis, martial arts masters, professors, and psychologists. Harry practiced thousands of hours of meditation and received a Religious Studies degree from the University of Michigan. Along the way, he studied Tai Chi, Qi Gong, Kriya Yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and psychology. Harry also took part in shamanic ceremonies, tribal ceremonies, plant-medicine ceremonies, and funeral ceremonies ranging from China to Ghana to Indonesia to California. The culmination of these experiences led Harry to found Consciously.org, where he and Melanie McDaniel guide people into fulfillment, transformation, and expanded awareness in mind, body, and spirit.