Take Back Your Gold

Last Monday, after a typical Colorado October snowstorm, my sons and I drove into town to serve dinner to the homeless. Consistent with this time of year, the snow started to melt just hours after it fell, and what was left was a stunning display of beauty where the golds and reds of autumn kissed the snow-covered foothills in the foreground with the pure white Rocky Mountains jutting up above it all. The juxtaposition of colors took my breath away and shook off the last shroud of the gray morning that had settled into my soul. As the sun broke through and added another layer of gold to the landscape, my heart did the same.

As we drove through the breathtaking beauty and I thought about the meeting of autumn and winter, I pondered for the thousandth time why I love working in the realm of transitions. It’s because these breaking and renewal points bring us into direct contact with the essentials of being human – the pain, yes, but also the ineffable beauty that permeates and infuses our existence – and these times in our lives, when met consciously, bring an unparalleled sense of aliveness. As you know if you’re familiar with my work, I see little difference between the pain and the beauty as I understand that one is wholly dependent on the other: we cannot have joy without pain; we cannot have a stunningly clear day without the gray and fog. And it’s at life’s junctures – the bigger ones of birth, adolescence, getting married, death and the smaller ones of dusk/dawn, the end of the week, holidays, birthdays – where the cracks between the worlds reveal themselves and in a kaleidoscopic display of color birth and death tumble and tussle in divine play. We cannot birth without dying and we cannot die without being born. During transitions, the pain and the joy clatter up against each other like two cymbals and shake us out of our complacency. In this awakened state, we’re offered a hand out of our numbness and presented a window into the state of aliveness that everyone longs for.

While bathed in this state of gold, Robert Johnson’s phrase “taking back our gold” came to mind. It’s a phrase I often use with my clients and course members to talk about the process of reeling back the belief that someone else or something else – some other city, job, partner, car, house – will bring us fullness and aliveness. It’s one of the prominent mindsets promoted by our culture, yet nothing could be further from the truth. The only thing that brings true fullness and aliveness is to fill our well of Self, which means connecting to our own internally derived sense of wellness, direction, and wisdom. In other words, there’s nothing “out there” that will bring equanimity. In essence, filling our inner well of Self is a process of taking back our gold; they’re one and the same.

In Western culture, we mistakenly seek this aliveness in the arms of a romantic partner. We believe that if we find “the One” we will be lifted out of the doldrums of our life and elevated to a godlike state where the pain of life can’t reach us. We believe that it’s our partner’s job to give us purpose and meaning. As Robert Johnson writes in his autobiography, “Balancing Heaven and Earth”:

“The alchemical gold has been processed differently in other cultures and other era. In the medieval period, people had a local saint or hero or at least a relic to hang onto. If you couldn’t have the saint around to hold your projection of the divine, at least you could have a bone or a piece of his or her clothing.

“In today’s secular societies, while we are channeling the religious impulse and projection of the highest value onto romantic love on the individual level, we are at the same time channeling it into celebrities at the collective level. We worship not only the would-be gurus but also the Sunday afternoon sports heroes, the movie stars, and the latest rock ‘n’ roll bands. We create Hollywood and Disneyland to carry our projections of greatness. But as a society we are putting ourselves at risk in this process, for a celebrity may not be a true hero. As the great mythologist Joseph Campbell once pointed out, the celebrity lives only for his or her own ego, while the hero acts to redeem society. We have many celebrities but few true heroes these days. Modern Westerners have evolved psychologically to the point where we are placing our gold on living beings rather then dead bones, as was done in medieval times, but it remains to be seen whether we can learn to carry our own gold and find heaven within instead of without.” (pp. 66-7)

And then:

“Probably the next important evolution of Western humankind is to find a proper container for religious life so that we do not unrealistically expect another mortal human being to carry this high value. In short: don’t ask a human to be God for you.”  (p. 65)

What Johnson is saying (and is the essence of his book We: The Psychology of Romantic Love) is that the aliveness we seek must be found in our own religious experience, whatever that means for you. For some people, that might mean a traditional religious devotional practice of following the prayers, rituals, readings, and customs of their lineage. For many others these days for whom religion has lost its luster, a religious or spiritual experience may come through creativity, connection to nature, working with dreams, meditation, or through their own innovative prayer practice. What matters is that we stop projecting our gold onto other humans – real or imagined – and instead reel in the projection and claim what is rightfully ours. The gold is our aliveness. The gold is our magic. The gold is our purpose. The gold is the voice that says YES and WOW and HALLELUJAH. The gold is our compass: how we know ourselves and trust ourselves. The gold is our passion. The gold is what makes every day worth living.

Sadly, most people lose touch with their gold early in life. We’re so conditioned to follow the rules and conform to other people’s needs and rhythms that we forget what it means to feel our feelings and listen to our dreams. One of the great joys of parenting for my husband and me has been watching the early sparks of interest in our sons grow over the years into passions and, likely, a career. I wrote about this experience in this post. Yet for many children, these early sparks go unnoticed or, worse, are squashed and diverted into another form. Think about the boy who loves art but is forced into sports or the girl who loves science but is culturally funneled into design. Neither our collective parenting nor our education culture has learned how to get down on the floor and watch our children closely enough to listen for and honor their sparks, their interests, their rhythm, their temperament, and their most basic needs. Instead, we expect that a one-size-fits-all approach will work for every child. The result is a widespread phenomena of children losing touch with their original compass until they grow into adulthood with only a vague sense of who they are. The gold is buried beneath the expectations of others, and then becomes projected onto others, leaving them feeling lonely, empty, bored, and apathetic and susceptible to falling into the belief system that someone else or something else will fix their malaise.

In order to reclaim your gold, you must learn to listen for that original spark, which is now embedded in your inner world waiting to be lured into light and re-awakened. It’s in there, I promise. I’ve guided hundreds of people down the path of re-claiming what is rightfully theirs, and I look forward to doing the same with you through my ninth round of Trust Yourself: A 30 day program to help you overcome your fear of failure, caring what others think, perfectionism, difficulty making decisions, and self-doubt. This round begins on Saturday, October 21, 2017, and I look forward to meeting you there.

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P.S.: If you struggle with relationship anxiety and one of your spikes is, “What if I learn to trust myself and I realize that I need to leave my relationship?”, please read this post.

27 comments to Take Back Your Gold

  • CT

    That is a beautiful post ! Thank for that. But i must say i dis get spiked. I reread the article what a linked in the end. I know that i have break down so many times crying and saying to myself that I don’t want to leave ,I don’t want to loose my partner. But 2 weeka ago i had a thought that maybe if im not anxious i feel i want to leave and that thought didn’t make me anxious like it normally does and the fact that it didn’t make me anxious scared me and now I think that bc that thought must be true. And im so scared now 🙁 now im scared bc o feel if i turn inward im gonna find out that I actually wanna leave. 🙁

    • Have you taken the Trust Yourself course, CT?

      • CT

        No i haven’t . I do have break free and conscious marriage one.
        Omg im so scared now 🙁 does it mean now that i actually wanna leave if im calm state :S ?

        • No, it doesn’t mean that AT ALL. As you know from doing the other courses, there’s a common course that anxiety takes, and one of the stages is often calm/numb. Eventually your mind become desensitized to the same thought and it stops responding in the same way. This doesn’t mean that it’s your truth.

          • Carmen Triisa

            Thank you so much. your response litterly made me cry so much right now. I can’t be grateful enough for for your kind words and wisdom!!!

    • ScaredyWife

      I have felt this way too CT. I knew if I did inner work on myself it was going to show me that I could only be happy if I made the choice to leave my husband. I actually found that with the work, I was able to feel and show MORE love for my husband. You’re not alone and you’re not crazy (I thought I was). Trust in the work! ❤️

      • Frances

        “Eventually your mind become desensitized to the same thought and it stops responding in the same way. This doesn’t mean that it’s your truth.”

        I very much needed to be reminded of this. Thank you a million. X

  • Bob Holdsworth

    Thank you for this insight. It came at a time where I rededicated myself to looking within (again!). I took this weekend off from the normal busyness I choose and meditated and journaled about the roles and stories I take on to feel loved and to protect myself. I recently wrote a friend about what seemed to be the “dark decade of the soul”. I see where I was reliving all my negative thoughts and actions. But I never spent enough time looking at what is my truth – what does it really mean to accept who I am; to live from love and not fear.
    I see where my spiritual practice – call it prayer or meditation – opens my awareness. My self imposed busyness feeds my outer ego to be accepted and valued. I must be willing to trust myself and show compassion when my fears crop up in thoughts and actions. In the past I withdrew, which was another strategy of fear to protect myself – I/we need community so I just need to maintain balance by defining my intentions and boundaries. Your post provided additional support – Thanks!!

    • Well done and articulated, Bob. It’s so essential that we take these breaks from the normal busyness of life to reflect and turn inward, and yes, it’s so much more effective when we can do this in community!

  • Jazzmin

    I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten sucked into a loop. I’ll get stuck thinking that If I made this crazy leap and moved to New York from my small hometown in California or if I left my loving boyfriend then somehow all this anxiety would just disappear. It is so convincing sometimes, and often the urge to do it is not even the act of “finding myself” but more so just doing it in order to stop wondering if it’s my truth. Sometimes I think that the only way to find my truth is to experience something, but I’m learning now that we can find our truth sometimes without having to lose everything first. At least, I’m hoping that’s what I’ll find. 🙂 My biggest challenge is to learn that anxiety and feeling anxious, especially in the face of transitions does not mean something is wrong or “off” in any way, but rather just small fraction of what it means to be human.

    • We can absolutely find our truth without having to lose everything first, and it sounds like you’re getting the first inklings that this may be true. And yes, anxiety, especially around transitions, is part of being human. Once we remove the “what’s wrong with me” overlay, things become a lot easier.

  • Julia

    Wow Sheryl! Wow! Wow! Wow! I’ve recently reduced my work schedule and the “free time” instead of being liberating has me feeling “stuck” (the opposite of alive), and my mind has been landing in negative places,and I really didn’t know why. Similar to grieving. Being in the negative space has been frightening and my response is to find a distraction or to get into the busyness of life. The insights in your post were so helpful. I loved the line,” I see little difference between the pain and the beauty as I understand that one is wholly dependent on the other: we cannot have joy without pain; we cannot have a stunningly clear day without the gray and fog.” Instead of running from my thoughts what if I worked with them? And you gave the recipe for that: “The only thing that brings true fullness and aliveness is to fill our well of Self, which means connecting to our own internally derived sense of wellness, direction, and wisdom.” Beautiful. I realize that I have been happily “out in the world” for the past few years without much attention to my inner landscapes,however now in my thoughts are the transition to retirement, which is 2 years away. I think you answered what’s going on for me: ” During transitions, the pain and the joy clatter up against each other like two cymbals and shake us out of our complacency.” It’s a call for me to fill the well of Self! You’re beautifully written article was affirming and a reminder of what is real renewal … that death and life hold hands and go round and round together! Thank you so much for sharing this!

    • Wow, Julia! What a fantastic comment! Impending retirement is absolutely a call to fill your well of Self, and I love that you’re seeing this with such clarity. This insight will change your transition process completely.

  • Greenlane

    I love this!!!! Recently I was offered a job with a tempting paycheck, which my family has been adamant that I take. I was set to sign the contract but was struggling with old feelings of doubt and hopelessness. I felt no YES when I thought of taking the job, no spark. Thanks to the prompting of a few good friends and the tools I learned in taking Trust Yourself last year, including dream work, I was able to dig down and listen. I am choosing to trust myself and turn down the offer. I am choosing to reclaim my gold and choosing faith over fear. I feel excited about the possibilities for the future again and, even better, a newfound sense of strength and confidence in myself, bolstered by some very affirming dreams since I made the decision. To me, that is worth more than any paycheck. Thank you for the work that you do.

    • This is fantastic to hear, Greenlane! I can hear your self-trust through this comment, and I love that you’ve incorporated dreamwork into your life. It’s such a rich part of the program, and was especially juicy in the round that you were in. x

  • Yvonne

    So I came across something earlier today when I was doing what I know I shouldn’t be (googling) and it spiked me pretty bad. This girl said that she had been with her ex partner for 5 years, they had a house together and everything and it took a lot for her to admit it to herself but basically for the whole 5 years she had never been in love with her partner. She then went on to say that he was her best friend but she didn’t get the butterflies when they kissed anymore if they hadn’t seen one another all day and a few other comments. Most of what she said is obviously what I struggle with. I guess I am finding it hard to believe that love is not how I thought it was supposed to be. I always thought you’d know when you love someone because you would FEEL it, you’d know when you loved someone because you’d miss them all the time & when you’re not with them you’d think about them all the time. Whilst typing this I can kinda see how tiring that would be if that was the case. Me and my partners relationship isn’t like that at all, he is my best friend & we never argue (we have our tiffs here and there but never anything major), I don’t always miss him when I’m at work etc, sometimes when we are speaking on the phone and he will be like “I miss you” and I don’t really know what to say back because I’m not really missing him when I’m at work because I guess I’m so busy to even think about it, whereas he spends the majority of his day driving around so gives him more time to think. I have the odd moments here and there when we could be watchhijf a film and I’d turn to look at him and just feel a big sense of warmth brush over me and happiness just filling me. But when I am always asking myself if I love him, i don’t have the feeling there. I don’t want to lose him but I also feel bad for him because I feel like he doesn’t deserve this. Surely he deserves someone who knows they love him and not someone who knows sometimes and sometimes has days where I am struggling to know what love even is and how you even know? I’m scared that what if I realise 5 years down the line that I’ve never loved my partner.. what even is love? If it’s not a feeling then how do we even know if we love our partners? I always act in a loving way but I can’t seem to shake the thought that love should be a feeling. Today the thoughts are really harsh and really trying to make me feel that I don’t love him and I should let him go but I don’t want that. Not at all. I don’t want to never see him again, never hug and kiss him again. I don’t want to be with anyone else despite what my thoughts might say and I don’t want him to be with anyone else either. I want us to be together. It’s just so hard living with these thoughts. 🙁

    • Yvonne: I see that you’re posting a comment every week, and I understand how deeply you need reassurance, but as I’ve been saying to you it’s really time that you sign up for the Break Free course as this blog isn’t meant to be a place to receive regular reassurance. It’s time for you to do your own inner work so that you can break free from your anxiety and learn the tools that will help you heal.

  • Natalie

    I loved reading this post Sheryl. Thanks to you for sharing Robert Johnsons’ words, they were truthful and comforting. I am really looking forward to this course, and so glad I registered. I am very much looking forward to reclaiming my gold. 😌

  • Nikki

    Hi there Sheryl,

    This came at such an interesting time. I have bought the trust yourself course and lately I have convinced myself that if I move back home and leave my partner that I will no longer feel depressed. My fear pips up about whether I don’t trust myself to leave to be able to be happy at home or if it’s me just running from where I’m living and not trusting I can handle the uncertainty of where my partner and I will live in the future? Any words of advice?

  • PaintedFlowers

    Hi Sheryl,

    I feel like this post relates to me quite directly even though at first I thought t would not. I’ve been feeling a bit of unease and underlying anxiety the last week or so. As always my first thought is that there must be something wrong with my relationship, that these feelings were God telling me that my relationship is wrong (my biggest trigger). Of course, I’ve come to realize over and over this is not what those feelings mean, and I believe I’ve had some spiritual experiences that have helped me see otherwise. This morning after reading your post and fearing God disapproved of my marriage I said a different kind of prayer than I usually do. I realized that right now my unease and unsettled feelings are likely because of a big transition that is happening. Last year I was a student and my husband was the breadwinner. Now he is about to go back to school, and I will be the supportive working spouse. This is a big flip for me. I get comfortable in my routines, and now we are waking up and going to sleep earlier to accommodate our shifting schedules. He will be going to school and I will be working. He is also applying for the fire department in my city and he has been accepted into the pre-screening process. This could be another major life change on the way. After sitting and realizing that my anxiety is not about the feared wrongness of my relationship, but rather the shifting schedules and changing winds of life, I feel calmer. I think I must’ve come to the right realization because I don’t feel as unsettled anymore. I feel that if I do my meditation and prayer and work hard and enjoy life with my husband no matter the changes, it will all be okay.

    • This is IT:

      “After sitting and realizing that my anxiety is not about the feared wrongness of my relationship, but rather the shifting schedules and changing winds of life, I feel calmer. I think I must’ve come to the right realization because I don’t feel as unsettled anymore.”

      The anxiety is the same but it’s your interpretation that changes. And when you arrive at an accurate understanding instead of one based on fear, you feel calm.

  • Katherine

    This speaks to so many themes I have been pondering of late. Thank you, as always, for sharing your beautiful work, Sheryl. Reading your words has helped me open so many fear doors that have led to exploration, gratitude, and joy. I am finding my way, and your work has touched me in more ways than I can even explain. Thank you.

  • Meredith

    Dear Sheryl, this came at a great time (and I am in a better headspace than I was two weeks ago when I commented). I had just returned from a great vacation to Austin and I could definitely see myself living there someday. My husband and I live in NYC, and both of our families are in the area, so leaving for Texas is not very practical right now. Plus I think I have more of the wanderlust than my husband has. All this to say, I was feeling bummed last night that I might be in NYC for the foreseeable future, which isn’t a bad thing, but as you know, letting go of a dream is hard! I found myself thinking, “How would I know that we should leave NYC and go chase a new life in TX? What would that look like?” Then I started thinking about what you always say: “As long as there are no red flags, hang on” and to breathe into the imperfection. My guess is that it’s the same logic. Is that right?

  • Pam

    When I read this I thought of a relationship I recently left because of how I felt around him. he loved me and respected me, but I had a lingering sense of being inferior when I was with him. I was constantly wondering if I was expecting too much from him OR was I giving away my gold and allowing myself to feel inferior?

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