HeatherAsh Amara: Becoming an Artist of the Spirit
Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today, my guest is HeatherAsh Amara. HeatherAsh is the founder of Toci—the Toltec Center of Creative Intent, which fosters local and global community and supports authenticity, awareness, and awakening. She is dedicated to inspiring depth, creativity, and joy by sharing the most potent tools from a variety of world traditions. She brings an openhearted, inclusive worldview to her writings and teachings, which are a rich blend of Toltec wisdom, European shamanism, Buddhism, and Native American ceremony.
With Sounds True, HeatherAsh Amara has created a new online course—The Warrior Goddess Online Training: Becoming the Woman You Are Meant to Be—an eight-week online training series filled with teachings, meditations, and healing practices along with two live question-and-answer sessions with HeatherAsh Amara. The Warrior Goddess Online Training program begins on April 4, 2016. You can visit SoundsTrue.com for more information.
In this episode of Insights at the Edge, HeatherAsh and I spoke about what she calls “stalking yourself,” and how to discover the freedom and power of choice that lies beneath every challenge. We talked about her decision to be vulnerable as a teacher and to love all of it—including the discomfort. We talked about how important it is for women to speak out even when fear is present and to develop an intimacy with ourselves—including our bodies—no matter what the shape or size. Finally, we talked about HeatherAsh’s work as a firewalking instructor, and how firewalking helps us break through limiting beliefs. Here’s my conversation with the warrior goddess HeatherAsh Amara:
HeatherAsh, you were an apprentice for many years with don Miguel Ruiz, the bestselling author of The Four Agreements. To begin our conversation, I’d be curious to know how you met don Miguel Ruiz and—if you could—summarize for us: what were the main things you learned studying with him?
HeatherAsh Amara: Great question. I was apprenticing with someone else and I had a dream. In that dream, I remember waking up and realizing, “There’s someone else I’m going to study with. There’s someone coming into my life that’s going to completely change my life.”
I thought to myself, “Where am I going to meet this man?” I lived in a really small town in northern California, and there were not a lot of shamans running around up there.
About a week later, someone came into my office and said, “Oh my gosh, you have to meet this man.” My whole body froze and I knew this was him.
My first thought was, “I’m not ready.” It actually took me about a year to feel like I was ready to meet don Miguel. When I first walked into the room where he was speaking, I immediately fell in love with the community, with the depth, with the dedication that I felt—and also with Miguel. I was really blessed because the next month he took on a group of apprentices. So, I was able to step right in at working with him very closely for the next six years.
TS: And the key things you learned in that period?
HA: To really pay attention—a deep awareness—and the willingness to stay steady with what was going on in my mind. So, I learned that I was not my thoughts. I was not my mind. I learned how to witness both my emotional body, my physical body, and my mental being; to not take myself personally; and to really go deeper into what the beliefs and agreements [are] that don’t serve me.
And [I learned] to what we call “stalk.” So, stalking is that capacity to track our thoughts and to follow them back to where the agreements [that don’t serve us] originated.
TS: Can you give me an example of stalking and how it works? It’s the first time I’ve heard that phrase. How does that work?
HA: Stalking comes from—if you watch large cats stalking their prey, they stalk their prey over days and they know where their prey sleeps, where it feeds, where it eats. They’ll wait until there’s the right moment before they go for it.
When we’re stalking ourselves, it’s the same thing—that we are watching ourselves with that same incredible patience and presence. So often when we see something about ourselves we don’t like or there’s something that we want to change, we immediately want to fix it, change it, or make it different. Stalking teaches us to stay steady with ourselves and to look at how our agreements affect our actions. How do our agreements affect our life?
And instead of trying to change it immediately, we wait and see how [it is] all held together before we go in to start to dismantle it. I found that to be incredibly effective in creating transformation.
TS: Can you give me an example of a stalking experience that was really important during that period of time for you—how you did that inside and what you found?
HA: I would say one of the biggest experiences I had was when I made a decision to go into silence for 40 days. My desire to do that was from wanting to quiet my mind.
The first week was so difficult, and I got to see how really crazy my mind was—how loud my mind was. That was one of the first big stalking experiences that I had, because I couldn’t escape. What happened is that, as I stopped talking, the voice in my head became louder and louder. I couldn’t avoid it. There was nowhere to go. It taught me to get quiet and just watch the voice go by. The voice is what I now call “disaster mind.”
So, what I noticed about my mind is that it would live in the past or it would live in the future, and that there was a lot of fear running. The first time I really saw it, I was driving to work down this little, windy road where I lived. I heard this voice. It sounded something like this: “Oh my God, you’re late to work! You’re late to work! He’s going to be really mad at you. You’re doing the silence and he’s already going to be upset with you that you’re doing this silence. Now, you’re going to be late. He’s probably going to fire you. What’s going to happen? Did I turn the oven off? I can’t remember if I turned the over off. I should go back. I should probably turn around and go turn the oven off. No—keep going. Remember that person [whose] oven was on and the house burned to the ground and they lost everything? And I’m going to be homeless because I won’t have a job. Then I’m going to go to my friend’s house and nobody’s going to love me anymore.”
As I’m driving, I’m watching this whole scenario play out in my head. I realized I was making it real by the way that I was believing it. So, as the silence progressed, I was able to start separating myself—to just watch what my mind was doing so that thoughts were not affecting my emotional body.
Before, when I wasn’t conscious of my thoughts, what would happen is a thought would arise, I wouldn’t notice the thought, I would have an emotional reaction to the thought, and I would find myself in fear or in distress or in confusion—and sometimes not even know why. One place that it really also stood out—and why stalking is so important—is that when we start to witness what our mind is up to and how it’s triggering our emotional body—and start to recognize it’s not true—we’re at choice then to choose to feed that thought or not feed that thought, and to train ourselves to stay in the present, in the stillness, in the moment. Rather than following the train of the thought, we come back into the present—that we stay in the stillness and the moment—and teach our mind how to stay here rather than going into the past or going into the future.
TS: Now, I read in your book Warrior Goddess Training that the word “Toltec” means “artist of the spirit.” I absolutely love that phrase—being an artist of the spirit. I wonder what that means to you and if you can make a link between what you’re talking about here—what you learned with don Miguel Ruiz—and becoming an artist of the spirit.
HA: I love the word “artist” because it’s about creativity. And it’s about using all of our life as our art.
So, we look at the raw materials of our life—which is all of our experiences—the wonderful experiences, the painful experiences, the challenges, and the gifts—as part of our art. We can begin to craft how we want to live our lives.
One of the biggest things I learned from working with don Miguel is that we can open to being curious and excited about everything that arises. So, before I worked with Miguel, what I noticed was that when a difficult thing arose or if there was something about myself that I didn’t like, I would immediately go into judgment and into resistance. “I don’t want that. I don’t like that. I want that to be different.” There was a lot of negative self-talk and also looking at what was negative outside, and trying to push it away.
What I learned is that when we’re artists, we’re openhearted with everything that arises because it’s bringing us information about what our old beliefs are and there’s a way now. Things will arrive in my life that are super-challenging, and I’ll go, “OK, this is going to be a good one,” because I know [that] behind every challenge there’s freedom.
TS: OK, I’m going to need to have a little bit more explanation there. How is it that behind every challenge there’s freedom? I think most people find themselves feeling quite constricted when there’s a challenge, and kind of cornered in a certain type of way.
HA: When we have challenges arise in our life, what we’re witnessing is our belief system—is our agreements. The world mirrors our agreements to us. When we begin to open ourselves from that place of curiosity [and] not from the place of, “I did something wrong, therefore this difficult thing is happening,” or, “I’m being punished.” That’s not what we’re saying at all.
But, from a place of curiosity, “This thing is happening. What belief might I be holding that would cause me to react the way I’m reacting?”
And again, it’s that awareness that then allows us to feel into, “Do I want to keep this? Do I want to shift this?”
TS: Again, I think it would be useful if you could give me an example in your own life of a tough situation in which you found freedom—how that happened.
HA: I’ll share about something that just recently happened to me—which was I just moved, and I sat down and calculated how many times I’ve moved in my life. This is my fortieth move in my life.
TS: Holy—! Whoa.
HA: Yes. Whoa. That’s what I said too.
So, we moved around a lot when I was a kid. As an adult, even though I lived in the same college town for 12 years, I moved 13 times in that period. I’ve moved a lot ever since.
What I recognized about ten years ago is how much trauma—every time I moved, I had a lot of trauma. It was really difficult. Before then, I hadn’t really noticed it because I’d forced my way through and pushed my way through to make it happen. But, as my awareness started growing, I realized how hard it was and that the challenge of leaving places I loved over and over as a child was still in my body.
So, I started playing with how to make moving easier for myself. So, I played with a couple different ways of doing it over the years. And this last move was the easiest move I’ve ever made. It was joyful, it was fun, it went really smoothly. Then, the day after my move, I crashed and was really upset, felt really heartbroken, was depressed—which is not something that normally is in my life.
I sat with it and really opened to, “What’s going on?” At first, I wanted to [be] like, “I have a new house! I should be happy.” So, I just stopped and got quiet, and listened. What I recognized is that that old trauma from the moves was just up. I didn’t need to feed it. I didn’t need to repress it. I just needed to be with myself and honor that there was an emotion that was up.
And then look at what the agreement [is]—what’s the belief? So, the old agreement and belief—every time we moved—what the belief was: “I have no control.” That was true. But also, “I’m going to lose everything,” because that happened over and over again.
So, I got to really look at and feel into, “I made this choice to move. It’s a great move. And you’re not going to lose everything, sweetie.” So, I was able to shift it—but it just took some time. I spent part of the day in bed, hung out with myself, and then, eventually, I was able to really stay with myself in such a way that it shifted. I found that that’s what’s really important with working with ourselves—when we bring gentleness and love and compassion for ourselves around what agreements or what trauma we might have from the past, we’re then able to really listen to, “What do we need to transform?” And we stay with ourselves—with where we really are—rather than abandoning ourselves by looking at where we think we should be or what should be happening.
So, it’s a really different way of being in relationship with ourself.
TS: What you’re describing is reminding me of a quote that I pulled out of your Warrior Goddess Training book that I really liked. Here’s the quote: you write, “As a warrior goddess, your strength is in embracing the challenges of life, loving all of you—including your weakness—and in saying yes to discomfort.” I thought, “Wow, this is a very unusual approach to finding strength.” I thought we could talk just briefly about all three of these different aspects of warrior goddess strength. The first, “embracing the challenges of life.” This is really what you’re describing. If you just want to maybe say more about that, and we’ll go through each one of these.
HA: It’s really a gift to ourselves when we recognize there’s always going to be challenges. As long as we’re in a physical body and we’re on this planet and we’re breathing, there are going to be challenges. How I see it is that, as we’re moving through our lives, we set intent, we set goals, we have desires. What happens is either we manifest those intents—they manifest because we’re ready and there’s nothing in our way—or every obstacle that’s between us and what we want starts to show up.
That’s not a bad thing. I see it as a universe—we say to the universe, “Hey, universe, I want this new thing or I want a new job or I want to have more self-love.” What happens is then every place that we’re not in self-love starts to show up. The universe is like, “Great! You want this? Then this needs to be cleaned up. There you go.”
So, if we can see [that] the challenges are the offering of what needs to be cleaned, then when things arise, there’s almost an excitement that starts to happen because we know when I clean this up, I’m closer to what it is that I want to create in my life.
TS: That’s definitely a different view. I think most people, when a challenge comes up, it’s something they push away or they think something bad’s happening. That’s what I like about this quote—is that you’re turning things on their head.
The next one, you say that as a warrior goddess, our strength is in loving all of ourselves, including our weakness.
HA: Yes. And if it worked that women hating themselves brought more peace, then we would all be incredibly peaceful at this point because what I’ve seen is that the level of self-hatred, judgment, and criticism that we have towards ourselves is so high. We somehow think that, “If I just criticize myself enough—if I judge myself—then I will grow and become a better person.” Sometimes we even take on a spiritual judge that is still the judge—it just is now wearing a different outfit and is saying, “Well, if you were really good, you would be meditating much more. If you were really spiritual, you would be loving much more.” It’s still our judge.
So, this idea of turning towards our weaknesses—turning towards the places that we’re in fear, turning towards the places that we are judging ourselves—and instead of trying to push through or force, to start to love all aspects of ourself. Pushing away what our experience is or what our weaknesses are doesn’t serve anybody. But, being courageous and brave enough to face them, to name them, to find out what the gifts are within them—because with every weakness, there is a gift.
What I’ve found so often—I find this with myself and with the women that I work with—when we’re willing to learn—and it’s a learning—to shift from judgment to gratitude, to shift from self-rejection to accepting—we might not like it, but we can practice accepting this is what is. Then we actually have much more space and capacity to change things. We’re much more able to be the artist of our life when we’re bringing in compassion and presence.
It’s counterintuitive, but I can say it works.
TS: I noticed, HeatherAsh, when you shared that in the midst of this new house move that you’re in, you spent half a day in bed really being with yourself and being with the fact that there’s still a part of you that was triggered—a trauma that was triggered—from moving for the fortieth time. Part of me was like, “Wow, she’s sharing that. She’s just sharing that—that she spent half a day in bed. That’s very unusual. Most teachers might not want to confess, ‘This is how I spent the day before yesterday,’ or whatever it was.’ ” I’m just curious to hear about that—your willingness to just be transparent and vulnerable in that way.
HA: I’ve found that I learn best from people that are sharing where they’re at. I just made a decision a long time ago that I could be a teacher that was trying to be something that I thought people wanted. There was a point in my life where I really had a fork in the road—we could say—where [there was] a very challenging situation. I was faced with, “Do I want to be where I’m at and be honest and truthful for what’s going on with me? Or, do I want to pretend that I’m in a different place than I am—and what’s needed here?”
I really got, “I want to stay with myself and use myself as a role model of being in the middle of a process.” I know I’m not done. I don’t expect that I’ll ever be “done.” I don’t think there is a “done.”
So, to be honest about what my experience is I hope will help other women to not judge themselves or compare themselves or feel like there’s a goal that we reach if we’re really, really good—or, if we’ve written a book, or if we’ve been on a spiritual path for a long time. It’s to really support all of us, myself included, in staying with ourselves and loving all of it—being with all of it.
Sometimes it’s messy and sometimes it’s graceful. One of my wishes is to help all of us to stop creating differentiation between, “This is good,” and, “This is bad,” but to really show up with, “This is,” and, “How do I want to bring myself towards it?” How can I bring love and grace and presence even when it’s messy and snotty and uncomfortable?
TS: Which brings us to this third point from this excerpt that I pulled from the Warrior Goddess Training book, which is, “As a warrior goddess, our strength is in saying yes to discomfort.”
HA: We spend so much of our lives trying to avoid discomfort and creating great suffering by doing that. Often, discomfort can mean that we’ve hit the edge of what we know. When we feel safe all the time, what that means is that we’re staying in the box of the known. We’re staying within our agreements and what we’ve learned who we should be.
So, as women, to grow—to get beyond the box that we have put ourselves in or that the society—I’m going to say that again because it didn’t sound right.
So, as women, in order to grow [and] in order to expand, we really want to find where our edge is and stretch ourselves so that we’re stepping into discomfort, because that means that we’re getting into the edge of what we know. We’re starting to push against those old agreements.
If we just stay comfortable, then nothing’s going to change. It’s in the willingness to say, “Yes, I will move towards the discomfort and stay with myself to the other side of it,” because the other side is the mystery. Living in that place of mystery means that all things are possible and that we can change who we are [and] how we’re in relationship to the world.
It’s not easy. It’s definitely not easy. And, it gets more comfortable. My community sometimes laughs at me. We say that discomfort is the new comfort, because there is a way that you start realizing, “Ah, discomfort. OK, good. Here we go. There’s something moving. I’m bumping up against something that’s been limiting me, and now I’m about to break through it.”
TS: I’ve never heard that before. It makes me want to join your community and hang out. “Discomfort is the new comfort.” That’s where I belong—with a bunch of comfortably uncomfortable people.
HA: Exactly! [We] have a tremendous amount of fun in our discomfort.
TS: Yes. Now, you said something interesting, HeatherAsh, that I just want to understand better. You said finding freedom in the midst of challenges of life—that this is something that you’ve learned and it’s something very important to you. Tell me more about the freedom.
HA: Freedom means choice. When we’re free, what that means is that in this moment, I can choose where I want to put my attention and my energy. That, for me, is the definition of freedom.
So, the freedom within challenges—of moving through challenges—means that I’m looking at the places where I’ve limited myself—the agreements that I’ve taken on. And sometimes the agreements we’ve take on come from our parents, they come from our ancestors, they come from the society that we’re in.
Examples of places that women haven’t been free [are] that a lot of us were told, “Don’t speak up.” Girls don’t speak up. You have to be quiet. You have to be nice all the time. And while being a nice person is a wonderful attribute, holding, “I have to be nice all the time” is very detrimental and a place that we limit ourselves, for example. Or, holding our voice back because we don’t think that our voice is important. I feel like [this] is part of what’s gotten us into the mess with the planet that we’re in right now.
So, women bringing their voice forward is so important—and looking at what the other agreements [are] that we’ve carried forward that cause us not to be free internally.
TS: Now, I think it’s true—as you point out—that for many women, speaking up is quite challenging—really being a truth teller in many, many situations. I’d be curious to know, first of all, why you think it’s so hard. Why is it so hard, and particularly for women? And then, secondly, how do you help women become outspoken truth tellers?
HA: I think there’s a lot of reasons why it’s challenging for women to hold their voice. There’s a long history of belief that women have a very particular role to play, which is having kids and raising a family. That’s an old—what we call “domestication” —it’s the way that we’re trained. And it’s something that’s been passed down.
Even now, in the modern age where women—especially in the United States—have a ton of freedom—we can have any job that we want pretty much, we can decide who we want to mate with, we can vote. But, that hasn’t been true for many, many years, and is still not true for many women around the world.
So, that old mindset that women don’t have a voice—that women are not really to be counted—has just come through even to today. So, there’s an energy that gets passed down through the generations that we still carry.
And that’s part of our work as warrior goddesses, I believe—is to shed the old beliefs that don’t serve us [and] to really consciously recognize, “I don’t need to carry this forward.” And to then bring our voices into the mix, knowing that we’re important.
But, it’s really uncomfortable and also shocking sometimes for women to start to look at what they believe by looking at their actions rather than what they think about themselves—to watch what our actions are. I find this with myself—that I consider myself a pretty outspoken woman. And yet, there’s places where I’ll find myself suddenly getting shy, suddenly thinking, “Oh, I don’t want to offend anybody,” or, “I don’t want to make anybody uncomfortable.” I have to really stop and go, “Sweetie, is that really true? Is that really what you want to hold? Is that you or is that from something that you’ve taken on from the past?”
So, that mindfulness of what we’re telling ourselves internally is so important—so that, again, we can be at choice. Freedom doesn’t mean those old voices go away completely. It means that even when they arise, we’re able to stop and choose what’s in alignment and integrity for ourselves rather than just defaulting to that old voice.
TS: I’m curious what your counsel would be in working with a woman who might say something like, “You know, what I notice is a deep fear of being burned at the stake, at being some kind of outspoken heretic in my time. That fear comes up—this tremendous fear—and I keep quiet. I don’t speak up. I don’t raise my hand. I don’t write the book or make the recording or speak in the meeting even though I have something to say. I hear what HeatherAsh is saying—that I need to drop these agreements—but they feel so strong. I’m so afraid.”
HA: Yes. That’s a great question, and I hear that a lot because the fear is so strong. It can be really, really intense when we start to step out and when we start to cross that line where our being says, “This is safe and that is not safe.”
So, whether it’s from past life, whether it’s from collective unconscious, whether it’s from experiences that you had as a child of being hit or being shut down in any way, that trauma that we hold in our body—we want to attend to it in the same way. It doesn’t really matter where it came from. What we want to do is, first, just acknowledge the fear, be with the fear, and to not feed it.
So, what I counsel people is to begin to separate the emotion from the story. So, the story will feed the emotion. What we’re used to doing is having an emotion, telling ourselves a story about the emotion that intensifies the emotion, and then we get stuck. We often start to cycle. Or, we just go, “Oh my God, too much. I’m just going to repress this.”
And so, the pathway out is to begin to be with the emotion and breathe through it and show up with it—and separate the story out. So, [to] do our best to not start telling ourselves the story about the emotion, but just show up with curiosity. “OK, I have fear.”
Just like yesterday when I was in bed, I was like, “OK, I’m feeling depressed and flat and heartbroken. Aaah. I can make up a whole bunch of stories.” I mean, I could have gone into the past and justified why I felt this way, and looked at all the experiences that I’d had, and then start telling myself a story about what a mess I was that I’ve moved so much and what was wrong with me. “I should be settled.” We can spin stories and keep emotions going forever.
But, when we can just stay with, “I have fear,” period; “Fear is arising,” period—and then just breathe into the fear, notice [where it is] in our bodies, how [it makes] us act, and in a way befriend the fear—I like to think that if we stand next to it and say, “I’m right here. I’m not going to shut you down. I’m not going to feed the fire. I’m just going to stand right here with you.” And if we can bring our calmness and our presence to that fear, then things start to shift.
So, that’s part one. Part two is to start taking little risks. So, what I support all of us in doing is taking baby steps when we’re making change. So, instead of saying to ourselves, “I’m going to always speak my truth no matter what,” which is a big step, to say, “OK, today, with a stranger I’m going to say something that’s true for me.”
So, we take it into something really small and we run it as an experiment. I love experiments. Experiments are so fabulous, because it takes out the whole, “I have to do it right. I don’t know how to do it,” and puts it into the context of art. “I’m experimenting, I’m exploring, I’m creating.”
So, we then begin to experiment. In some small way, how can I bring my voice forward? When we tap into our wisdom and we’re willing to show up with our emotions, what also happens is we start being able to listen to our wisdom as well. Our wisdom will say, “Oh, here’s a perfect place. Speak your truth right here.”
Or, we can look at a place that would be a great place to practice [and] that’s small. So, we don’t start with the biggest thing in our lives. The best place to start is probably not, “I’m going to tell my boss exactly what I think,” or, “I’m going to go call my father and tell him all the ways that he hurt me,” but instead to say, “OK, with my best friend, can I say something that I’ve been withholding? Can I call her and say, ‘Hey, remember when I said I wanted to go to that movie with you yesterday? Well, I really don’t want to see that movie.’”
Even something that small—or saying at lunch when someone asks, “What would you like to have for lunch?” and you usually say, “Whatever. I’m fine with whatever everybody else wants,” to practice saying, “I want Italian.” The first time that we use our voice—or the first few times that we use our voice in this way—it’s going to feel awkward. It’s going to feel scary. But, we’ll grow our power and our capacity through taking those little actions and staying with ourself—again—through the discomfort until it becomes natural [and] until it becomes the new habit, to speak our truth.
TS: That’s good. That’s very helpful. Now, HeatherAsh, I’ve been referring several times to your book, Warrior Goddess Training, and you’ve created a new online training program with Sounds True that’s on this warrior goddess material. I’m curious to know this phrase, “Becoming a warrior goddess.” Can you talk me through a little bit—the warrior part and the goddess part?
HA: Absolutely. I’m so excited about the online course and sharing these teachings around “warrior” and “goddess,” which are so powerful for women today. So, the warrior energy is about our clarity, our focus, and about our one hundred percent yes. That warrior energy says, “I’m in. I’m committed. I’m here.”
The goddess energy is about opening. It’s about surrender, receiving, incredible creativity, and bringing our pleasure and our joy forward.
So, the warrior energy says, “I’m going there. I will do whatever I need to do to get there.” It’s that dedication. And the goddess energy says, “Aaah. I’m going there. How shall I make it as pleasurable as possible? And how can I bring as many of my friends along with me [as possible]? And how can I do this in a creative way?”
We need both of those energies. We need to cultivate more warrior commitment presence as well as we want to cultivate more surrender, opening play. It’s not that we’re trying to balance, “I should be 50 percent warrior and 50 percent goddess, and then I’ll have the right mix.” It’s that we’re wanting to find what our blend [is]. Some people are naturally more warrior-oriented. Some people are more goddess-oriented.
We want to be able to be fluid to use each of these qualities where they’re needed, and also honor what our natural state [is]—what’s true for us as we also shed the old layers. Sometimes, we create shells or armoring that is like a warrior armoring, which is not our true state. It’s something we’ve taken on to make us feel safe. We can do that with the goddess energy as well—use it as a shell rather than as our authentic expression.
We want to be willing to get to know ourselves. I see this path—the warrior goddess path is a path of self-intimacy. It’s a path of getting to know ourselves and becoming our own best friend—becoming a cheerleader for ourselves; becoming a calm, present, peaceful ally to ourselves.
TS: One of the interesting aspects of becoming our own best friend that you address in The Warrior Goddess Online Training is something that I think many women find challenging, which is developing a relationship to our bodies is friendly instead of critical and judgmental. I wonder if you can talk some about that—how you help women free themselves from prevailing cultural ideas about body image and instead turn toward intimacy.
HA: Yes. It’s a big piece of it for us as women, because what’s mirrored to us—if we look at the media and magazines and advertising—there’s a very particular look of what we should be like. Very few of us are actually like that.
So, what I encourage women to do is to begin to really look at other women’s bodies. Instead of basing everything off the magazines, go actually look at other women. What do other women look like? What you’ll find immediately is that we are all so incredibly varied.
[We have to] bring a willingness to look with new eyes because we’re so trained to look through those eyes of the perfect body. And yet, we can train ourselves—just like we were trained to look at ourselves a particular way—we can retrain ourselves to be curious about what’s true.
And what’s true is that our bodies are amazing and incredibly varied. So, every time you look in the mirror, you can notice, “What part of myself am I judging?” And then ask yourself, “Why am I judging that part of my body? Where did I learn to judge that part of my body?” Because you were not born judging that part of your body. As a child, you did not judge your body. You were in it. You loved it. It was this incredible tool—this incredible playground.
We want to get back to that truth of the joy we can have in our bodies when we are living inside rather than judging ourselves from the outside. So, when you notice you’re judging things, then look at, “OK, how do other women look?” And don’t look at the magazines. That doesn’t count. Those are Photoshopped. It’s not real. It’s not even a real reflection.
What I’ve found is that, over time, we can start retraining ourselves. But, it’s always going to be a challenge—I think—for most women. The body image piece is always going to be someplace that we have to come back to, reminding ourselves, “Stay with me rather than look at who I should be.”
So, it becomes a worthy awareness practice to keep coming back to our experience from the inside over and over again rather than our judgment.
TS: But, let’s say our experience is [that] I’m looking in the mirror at myself and I just feel bad about what I see. I know I can look at a lot of other women, and some look the way I wish I looked and some don’t. But, I want to look the way I wish I looked.
So, what do I do with those feelings?
HA: Be with them and experience opening to, “Where do they really come from?” What are you really wanting?
So, we’re craving something and we’ve been told that what you’re craving is to have this particular body. But, that’s just a surface thing. So, underneath it, what are you really craving? What are you really wanting?
And if you start to be willing to pull the layers out—to start to go deeper—this is where the intimacy comes in to tell yourself the truth and to keep going deeper. What you might find is that, at first, it’s, “I want to look a particular way because I want people to like me. I want to be attractive. I want to feel good about myself.”
And if you keep going deeper, what you might find is, “I’m only going to love myself if I look a particular way.” Or, “Everyone’s going to ignore me unless I have the body that I’d like to have.” Or, “I’m going to be abandoned if I don’t lose 40 pounds.”
So, as we start peeling the layers back, we start getting to the core of what’s actually happening. It’s never what it appears to be. When we get to the core—so, if there’s a fear of abandonment or there’s a fear of not being taken seriously—then we can begin to explore what action we can take for ourselves so that we take ourselves seriously [and] so that we don’t abandon ourselves—to bring it back to our relationship with ourself.
Then we can be at choice. Then we might feel, “OK, I do want to lose 40 pounds.” Then the motivation is for ourselves, not because we’re trying to get something from that. Or, we might feel, “Oh, I want to start working out. I want my body to be stronger,” which is from a very different place than, “I hate my body and I want it to be different.”
It’s not easy. The body image thing is such a strongly, strongly domesticated piece—that we have to be willing to make the change. The truth is that some women aren’t. They’re not going to be willing to make the change. They’re going to spend their entire lives judging themselves and their bodies.
But, if you have a little bit of willingness, then you can start following different pathways and being creative in your relationship with your body—and listening to, “What do you actually want and how can you give that to yourself?”
TS: It’s interesting, HeatherAsh, that you’ve used this phrase, “domestication,” and that even buying into a collective view of body image is a form of allowing ourselves to be “domesticated.” What exactly do you mean by that word?
HA: We domesticate humans the same way that we domesticate animals. That’s through a series of rewards and punishment. So, the reward is love and acceptance, and the punishment is withdrawal of love and acceptance. So, example: if you are a young woman that’s in school and you look a particular way, you’re going to get accepted.
We domesticate each other. There’ll be certain situations in our lives where we do something that we really want to do that feels like, “Yes! This is what I want to do,” as a kid, let’s say. And our parents then withdraw their love from us. We learn, “Oh, I’m not supposed to do that. I’m not supposed to speak my truth. I’m not supposed to sing out loud.” Whatever it is.
Domestication is important. We want to domesticate our kids. So, I always say it’s helpful to know which fork to use and that you don’t stick peas up your nose and to stop at red lights. Those are all agreements that we’re making—that we domesticate ourselves around—that we learn, “This is how we are humans together.”
And yet, there are many things that we learn that don’t serve us. They may have served us as a kid, but as adults they can become harmful.
So, if we recognize it’s not personal—that the domestication is simply a way that we as humans have learned to, in a way, keep each other in line—as much as it might be misguided. We’re domesticated through our schools; we’re domesticated through our church; we’re domesticated from our peers, from our parents—and our parents were domesticated by their parents, who were domesticated by their parents. So, it gets passed on.
My favorite story about this is a story of a woman who was talking to her grandmother and asking her grandmother, “How come you always cut off the ends of a pot roast?” Her mother had always cut off the ends of the pot roast, and she always cut off the ends of a pot roast. And one day she asked her grandma, “Why do you do that?” And her grandma says, “Oh, I used to do that because the pan wasn’t big enough.”
So, it has just been passed down. It made sense in one generation for a particular reason, but now it doesn’t make any sense at all. And yet, we’re still living from it.
We then start to domesticate ourselves. So, if we’re told, “Don’t sing. You don’t have a good voice,” or we’re told, “You have to be a nice girl,” for example—we’ll go back to that one—then what happens pretty quickly is we start talking to ourselves and saying, “You have to be nice. You have to be quiet.” So, we then become our own judge. There isn’t anybody else telling us how to be. We’re now telling ourselves how to be.
The good news about that is that means, once we realize what we’re telling ourselves, we come back to choice of, “Is this really what I want to believe? Is this really how I want to be talking to myself?” And we can start to shift it.
TS: One thing that I think is an interesting thread throughout our conversation has to do with the agreements we’ve made and that we can uncover what those are through this tracking practice and inquiry practice—I might use that word—that you’ve been helping point to and illustrate. I’m curious: what do you think about all of the unconscious agreements we have? It seems like so many of us—our lives [are actually] being run by agreements we don’t even know we made early on. Very, very early on—perhaps even in the first couple years of our lives, even. Ways that we invested in certain beliefs and agreements.
How do we uncover unconscious agreements?
HA: It’s so true that we have a tremendous amount of unconscious agreements. I see it as that the conscious agreements are the tip of the iceberg, and then—for all of us—underneath that is this huge mass of unconscious agreements that are really what we’re living from because the unconscious agreements are often linked to emotion, which means that they’re very strong. We don’t even recognize that we’re acting from them.
So, the way to begin to bring the unconscious agreements up into our consciousness is by looking at our lives and how we react to things that happen. So, to be really honest with ourselves.
Our unconscious beliefs show up in our actions, show up in our thoughts, show up in our reactions to other things. Any time that we’re triggered, what’s happening is an unconscious agreement is starting to go to work, we can say. So, if we can stop and say, “OK, what’s the unconscious belief here? What might I believe to make me react in this way?” then we can start to get a sense of what our unconscious agreements are.
But, it takes a willingness to be honest, because often we want to not see it. We want to make it about the other person. It’s their fault I’m feeling this way. Or, “If my life had been different, then this wouldn’t be my experience. ”
So, it takes courage to turn and say, “OK. I’m having an emotional reaction. What am I telling myself right now?”
TS: Very helpful. Thank you.
Now, HeatherAsh, when I was reading your bio in preparation for this conversation, I discovered that you are firewalking instructor—that you have led and continue to lead people on fire walks. I’d love to know how you got involved and what you’ve learned from firewalking.
HA: I love firewalking. I love fire. I was blessed to go to a fire walk before I met Miguel. It really changed my life.
What I learned from that first firewalk is that my spirit, my soul, my body knew more than my mind did—because the first time I walked, my mind was going, “This isn’t possible.” And yet my body knew one hundred percent, I didn’t have any doubt that I could walk. And in fact, I could.
So, I really learned right away my mind isn’t as trustworthy as I thought it was. Actually, my body knows a lot.
Pretty soon after that first firewalk, I got an invitation to become a firewalk instructor, and jumped at the chance. Leading firewalks—and I now train instructors as well—has been one of the just greatest gifts of my life because what we’re doing is we’re working with the element of transformation, which is fire. One of the first agreements that we learn is that fire burns. As little kids, you’re told, “Don’t touch. Hot.” We learned really young [that] fire burns.
So, the first time you watch somebody walk across 1300-degree coals—whether you walk or not; it doesn’t matter—the first time you just witness someone walk across a bed of hot coals, that agreement shatters because you see [and] you realize it’s not true that fire burns all the time. What happens is every agreement you’ve ever made since then suddenly becomes suspect and suddenly opens your mind to new possibilities.
I’ve seen people go to firewalks and then do radical changes in their life because suddenly they’re unlimited. They realize how powerful we are as humans. And it’s a very physical, visceral, joyful experience.
It’s something we as humans have been doing for thousands and thousands of years—really, as long as we’ve been relationship to fire, we’ve been walking on it as humans. It’s also a beautiful ritual and ceremony that brings us back into relationship with the elements.
TS: Now, how many seconds am I spending walking on top of 1300-degree coals?
HA: It depends on how you’re walking. So, I’ve seen people walk very quickly. I’ve also witnessed people dance across the coals, spin around the coals, stand on the coals.
TS: But, are we talking three to five seconds? Are we talking a minute? What are we talking about?
HA: Yes, I’d say three to five seconds for most normal walks. I’ve also witnessed 50-foot fire walks. They spend a significant amount of time on the coals when you’re doing a long walk like that. That’s not something we do with the public.
But, I have literally witnessed people standing on the coals for like 30 seconds—bright, red-hot coals—before they then step off. It really is about our energy and our relationship to the fire, which is part of what we teach in the workshop—how to be in relationship with the fire in a new way.
TS: So, you’ve walked down a 50-foot fire walk yourself?
HA: I have, yes. I think the longest firewalk was 1500 feet.
TS: Have you done that?
HA: No, I have not done that. But, I watched a video of it—this person walked back and forth [over] a 100-foot firewalk. He walked to one end, turned around, and walked back. Turned around, walked back. He was quite impressive.
TS: What’s the secret in terms of your mental orientation in order to make it? I can imagine the three to five seconds. That doesn’t blow my mind. But, even getting to 50 feet starts to blow my mind a little bit. What’s happening inside of you mentally before you step out and do that?
HA: The whole piece with firewalking is around energy, and that what we’re doing is we’re raising our energy to match the energy of the fire. So, that’s one of the things that we teach people to do—is that our bodies are incredibly wise. If you tell your body, “Hot coals raise your energy,” then you merge with the coals, basically.
I’ve also witnessed people that have raised their energy and brought so much energy into their being that when they walk over the coals, they literally put the coals out because—
TS: Come on. Come on. Come on. You’ve seen that?
HA: [Yes.] I have witnessed that. There are so many crazy stories around firewalking that the brain just goes, “What?”
There was a man who witnessed women in India—firewalking is from Tibet and India, as far as we can tell—walking across hot coals with their saris dragging behind them on the coals, and their saris didn’t catch on fire. So, he decided—he was trying to figure out, “What’s really flammable that I could run this experiment with?” And so he put pantyhose on and did a firewalk—and he was fine.
So, it’s something beyond physics. Physics can explain why we wouldn’t feel the pain or the heat, but it can’t explain why we don’t burn and how we can do things like walk on fire with pantyhose and nothing happens.
I’ve walked on fires with Band-Aids on my feet and the Band-Aids were fine. Then I peeled them off and put them on the coals, and they go, “Thwoomp!” So, there’s something else going on in firewalking.
TS: OK. I just want to ask you—I want to experience it. I hope I get the chance. You and I talked about that, so I think it would be wonderful for—HeatherAsh—you to come to Sounds True and let our company firewalk. I hope we get the chance to do that this year.
Just two more questions for you: In the beginning of your book, Warrior Goddess Training, you pay tribute to don Miguel Ruiz’s mother, Madre Sarita. You pay tribute to her for the way that she guided you and has worked with you in bringing forth the Toltec lineage even after her death. I was curious to know more about that—about your relationship with Madre Sarita.
HA: She was such an incredible woman and an incredible force of nature. I was blessed to meet her and to get to work with her when she was alive. What I found was that after she died, I still felt a really strong connection with her. She will come to me in my dreams sometimes. She’ll pass information on. And every year, when I’m down in Mexico in Teotihuacan, there’s a little shrine to her. I go and do my offerings and prayers to her, and just feel like there’s the spirit of the feminine that’s been passed forward in my relationship with her.
I’m really honored to take forward the Toltec lineage. She was Miguel’s teacher, and now she’s my teacher as well—and continues to support and guide me with her love.
TS: And then, finally, HeatherAsh, you talk about the warrior goddess movement—that this actually could be [and] is a movement of some kind. Warrior goddesses joining together. Tell me what your vision is for “the warrior goddess movement.”
HA: It’s so fun because the reality has already so exceeded my vision, which is so delightful. When the book came out, I had this feeling that it’s time for women to have an inner revolution and that we need community. We need sisters. We need inspiration.
And so, what’s happened with the book is that women on their own started creating book clubs and circles. There are now circles all over the world of women that get together once a month—some of them once a week—to go through the chapters of the book and to talk about their experience, and to support each other.
I’m also in the process of training warrior goddess facilitators to teach and bring the teachings more deeply to people. That place of community—of women coming together—is so vital that we really need each other. Whether that’s in person—if we can do it face to face, that’s wonderful. But, there’s also a lot of different opportunities online through Facebook. We have an incredible warrior goddess tribe on Facebook that keeps growing. It has a life of its own. Women supporting each other—not trying to fix each other, but genuinely showing up to support each other and inspire and cheerlead each other.
TS: I’ve been speaking with HeatherAsh Amara. With Sounds True, she’s created a new program that’s called The Warrior Goddess Online Training: Becoming the Woman You’re Meant to Be. It’s an eight-week online training series. It includes two live question-and-answer sessions with HeatherAsh Amara, and it begins on April 4—an eight-week online training series. The Warrior Goddess Online Training.
HeatherAsh, thank you so much for being a guest on Insights at the Edge. Thank you, and thanks for all the brave work you’re doing. And I can’t wait to firewalk with you!
HA: Me too! Thank you so much, Tami, for everything.
TS: SoundsTrue.com. Many voices, one journey. Thanks for listening.