HeatherAsh Amara: Putting your True Work at the center of your life

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. HeatherAsh 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 along with European shamanism, Buddhism, and Native American ceremony. With Sounds True, HeatherAsh has created a new audio learning program called Awakening Your Inner Fire: A Step-by-Step Course to Ignite Your Passion and Create the Life You Love, where she invites us to take a pause from our familiar time management and productivity strategies to attend first to the core of who we are.

In this episode of Insights at the Edge, HeatherAsh and I spoke about the unconscious agreement many of us have made to equate our worth with productivity and outer achievement, and the paradigm shift that comes when we decide to unravel this agreement and recognize our inherent value as human beings. We also talked about what it means to both awaken and stoke our inner fire at three different levels: our belly fire, our heart fire, and our spiritual fire. We talked about sacred time management and how to bring the sacred into everything we do. And finally, we talked about true work—not our work in the outer world, but a type of inner work that is a way of being that is our unique contribution to the world, and that we can choose to put at the center of our lives. Here’s my conversation with HeatherAsh Amara:

Your new audio training series, Awakening Your Inner Fire, has a lot to do, HeatherAsh, with how someone can change their relationship to time and work and busyness—being busy, busy, busy all the time. And to begin with, I’d love to know, in your own life, how this transformation in relationship to busyness happened. What was going on in your life? What required you to make this kind of change?

HeatherAsh Amara: Well, what happened is that I had created what I wanted to in terms of my work life. I was running a center in Berkeley, I was training teachers that were traveling all over the country and holding circles. We had a really vibrant community. And one day, I realized that I was completely stressed out, and that even though I’d created my dream, I wasn’t—it wasn’t that I wasn’t happy, because I was happy [and] really grateful, but I also saw that my own patterns around work had really affected the organization—that people within the organization were unhappy, that we were stressed out, that I was always running behind.

So, it [was] a lot of tension that was building in the organization, and I started at first blaming everybody else—it’s that my teachers, they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, or my staff. One day, I just sat down with myself and got really quiet, and recognized, “No, it’s me—I’m the issue. I’m the one that’s in charge and holding the container for this community, and it was my patterns and my old beliefs that had then embedded themselves in the culture of the organization.” So that really set me on a quest to find out how to slow myself down.

I actually—we closed the center and I actually went on the road for a couple years, and stopped writing, stopped teaching pretty much. I was teaching a little bit, but just really went inside to start to listen to myself and ask that question, “What is it that I need to shift inside of myself so that when I engage in work, I’m engaging from stillness, from more presence, and from joy?” And that was the beginning of the journey.

TS: One of the things that occurs to me right off the bat is I think most organizations take it for granted that we’re going to be very busy and that there’s going to be a lot of stress in our work. I mean, isn’t that status quo for being part of an organization?

HA: It’s definitely true that there’s—but I see it as different kinds of stress. There’s stress because you’re excited because there’s a deadline and everyone’s working together—and that brings a sense of accomplishment, it brings a sense of fulfillment, it brings a sense of creativity and curiosity. And then there’s the kind of stress where everyone’s getting drained, people are starting to fight with each other, and there’s just struggle that’s happening. I don’t think that needs to be inherent in an organization.

TS: One of the things that I’m so excited to talk to you about related to this—we could say—transformation of busyness has to do with what happens for some people when they stop for a period of time. Maybe they work work work work, and then they go on a vacation for a few weeks, and they can really start to see how there are patterns of addiction, if you will, as part of their busy life—that there’s something going on that’s a little fishy. And I wonder if you could talk some about this, because I know this pattern both in myself and also in people that I know—close friends of mine—where there’s this sense like we’re keeping ourselves this busy for some reasons that need to be investigated.

HA: Yes. What I’ve noticed is that for many of us—I know this is true for me—is I’ll go on vacation and the first three days are the unwinding and still thinking about things, and then slowly [things get more] still. It’s at that point that we can start to go, “OK. What have I been doing?” And just like you said, something is fishy about this because, so often, we don’t recognize that even if we’re totally passionate about our work, it’s really easy for these old patterns to start coming through—these patterns of a feeling sense of “I’m not good enough so I need to keep busy and show that I’m a valuable member of society,” for example.

There’s a lot of unconscious agreements around work that are passed down from our ancestors that are part of the culture, and that really invite investigation—to get really curious about what matrixes inside of us have we woven into our work situation that really don’t serve us or the people that we’re working with. It takes a lot of courage and a lot of perseverance, and a tremendous amount of patience to start this unraveling process because it’s usually deeply tied to self-worth.

TS: Talk more about this idea of discovering our unconscious agreements about work. I know that you teach within the framework of Toltec wisdom, along with bringing in teachings from other paths as well, but this idea of identifying our unconscious agreements seems so important on the Toltec path, but also specifically in relationship with these unconscious agreements maybe we’ve inherited from our family or from our culture about work.

HA: Yes. There’s so many places that we take them on, and I sometimes think that as little kids, we’re like sponges—that it doesn’t matter necessarily what our parents are saying to us, [but] what their actions are have a lot of weight. So, we take on beliefs and agreements without even realizing that we’re taking them on.

What I see is that every agreement that we’ve ever made in our lives—and there’s conscious agreements and unconscious agreements, so I’m talking about unconscious agreements right now. Every unconscious agreement that we take on takes energy to keep it alive. An example of an unconscious agreement is [one] that I feel like carries through for a lot of us at work, which is the Protestant work ethic—that there’s a belief within—really, the people that founded this country brought this in—which is that if you work really, really, really hard, then maybe you’ll get into heaven. That was the belief system of the folks that founded this country.

TS: That’s not true, HeatherAsh? We don’t live in some kind of meritocracy?

HA: [Laughs.] You just have to prove yourself and then your life will be fine! We all come in perfect; there’s nothing to prove. But that’s such a deep agreement that we don’t even recognize that almost every action we take is based out of that.

So, to undo that one, it’s huge. I talk to many people—and this was my fear too, because that’s such a deep agreement, and there’s many others, but that’s a great one to look at in terms of work. The fear is: if I let that agreement go, then I will become lazy, then I won’t work, then I’ll become unmotivated, then no one will love me. There’s a lot of fears that get wrapped up around this. That’s part of what I ran into when I was untangling this, and it’s still in progress; I’m definitely not completely free for sure. [I’m] still in wonderful progress with it all. And it’s good work.

TS: Now, I mentioned the Toltec wisdom path that’s part of your training and part of your background, and this word “agreement” is a big part, it seems, in the communication of Toltec wisdom. It’s an interesting use of the word—really? I made an agreement to this? I think I just kind of absorbed it, even an unconscious agreement. What do you mean that I agreed to this?

HA: When you shake hands with someone and you make a physical agreement, you’re sealing it. What I see is that the unconscious agreements, even if we don’t realize that we’re doing it, we’re shaking hands and saying yes to something—even when we don’t realize it, because there’s also a lot of things that happen that we don’t agree to.

I remember once talking to my dad around something, and he made a comment around something that—something about my appearance that I remember at the time thinking about, “Huh. Well, that’s a really weird thing for him to say,” and I had no reaction about it. And I was really reactive toward my father; like, I always felt like I needed to be perfect for my dad. So, later, I went back and I was like, “Wow, I didn’t agree with him. There was no resonance in my body, so I had no reaction to what he said.” Or if he had said something else, I would have had an agreement of like, “Oh my God, maybe he’s right and I need to do something different.”

The story that I like to tell around this is if you imagine—this is a fun story—but if you imagine that you’re raising a family that had blue-haired children and green-haired children, and all the blue-haired children were told, “You’re going to succeed in everything you do. You’re fabulous, you’re wonderful; everything you do, you’re going to succeed.” And you agreed to that, and you believe, “I’m going to succeed at everything I do.”

But if all the green-haired children were told, “You’re never going to succeed, you don’t have what it takes,” you could agree to that or not agree to that. Many of us would agree to that. I’ve witnessed kids with their parents being super upset with them, and the kid’s not having any reaction—the kid’s just looking at their parents being like, “Wow, you’re upset.” They don’t agree with what their parents are telling them.

So, there is a place where—there’s a lot of factors, I believe, of why we make these unconscious agreements, and sometimes why we don’t, even when there’s a ton of pressure from the outside. And these agreements then go forward into our lives, obviously, and have big impacts when we become adults.

TS: You mentioned that unraveling this unconscious agreement to earn your worth through work has been a process for you. I wonder if you can share more about some of the milestones, if you will, in that process because I think this is so endemic—that so many of us have this sense that our worth is tied to our productive work in the world.

HA: One of my big milestones was that I went on a retreat one year and it was a weeklong retreat. It was on my property; my husband and I at the time had driven around for a year in this bus and then we had landed in Texas and parked it, and I was still in the process of really learning about my relationship to work. I decided to go on a silent retreat in the bus on our property.

A couple days in I went into the house, and my husband was on the phone with somebody, and I could hear that the person that he was on the phone with was really upset. And my whole body was like, “Oh my gosh, I have to get on the phone with this person. I have to break my silence, and I must get on the phone with them to take care of this.” And I watched my reaction and how strong it was, and then I went back and sat in the bus and just sat with the emotions.

What I recognized is that my body was in 100 percent emergency mode. My mind was telling me, “You are the only one that can handle this. You have to handle this.” And I took no action, and that was huge because what I recognized—I finally disconnected that emergency impulse, “You have to take action,” from the action. And I just sat with the discomfort, and I realized how much I had taken action throughout my life from this sense of emergency. So, that was the big milestone—to start to then pay attention to what my body and my mind were telling me was not true.

I started, then, playing over the next couple years that when I had that feeling in my body, I chose to not take action. Sometimes I still did, and I would go back and backtrack and go, “OK, what happened when you took action from that place?” But I really practiced when I felt that particular feeling, my response was no action until I could come back into center and into quiet, and then I would take an action again.

I think that the most recent milestone was—like right now, I’m in the middle of moving to New York, launching a new program, all sorts of other things are happening simultaneously. There’s just been this really lovely sense of peace even when it got really busy and it was stressful and there were multiple things happening. Every time I check in, there’s this baseline of peace that’s new, which I’m really grateful for.

TS: How would you help someone unravel their own investment in busyness? Let’s say someone’s listening and they’re like, “Whenever people ask me how I am, I notice that I say ‘Busy,’ and I’m suspicious about this. I’m always busy, busy, busy, busy. There’s something going on; I’m not having this kind of peace that HeatherAsh is describing. I’m busy. How do I get to the bottom of what’s going on for me?”

HA: One way is to start to slow down and do less, and start to say no to some of the things in your life. Just that, just starting to say no, is going to probably kick up whatever’s underneath that sense of, “I need to stay busy.” I always love to tell people, “Take a different action than you would normally take.” So, if part of why you’re busy—of the busyness—is that you work really, really late hours, then make a commitment that you’re going to stop at a certain time. Or if part of why you’re busy is because you’re volunteering for anything that comes along, take some time to stop volunteering.

Pick one area; first, get curious about where the busyness [is] happening, and is it really necessary? What our mind tells is everything’s necessary. So, when you stop and get quiet and look again, you’ll start to see, “OK, actually that’s not necessary. I like it or I feel like it’s important, but it’s not necessary.” Then when you make the change, pay attention because that’s where the information comes in. Once you make a shift, it’s not that you make the shift and you’re done. For me, you make a shift and then the real work begins, because what is going to show up is the old pattern—that is what’s keeping you busy. So, if we open our awareness and we say, “OK, I’m going to say no to any new thing that comes into my world,” then you’ll get to watch yourself and see. What do you start telling yourself?

Often, the things that seem the most ludicrous that you’re thinking are usually the really deep beliefs—the voices that say, “All my friends are going to abandon me if I stop volunteering.” [The response] is then, “OK, why? What’s the fear?” and to go towards the feeling sense of the fear rather than trying to analyze it—to find that curiosity of, “Can I just sit with the fear and invite my body to take me back to where this originated from, from the feeling level?”

And then stay with yourself. It’s so much about staying with the discomfort from love and knowing that it might take time. I feel like what happens is we get more skillful in intimacy with ourselves, and we get more skillful at sitting with the discomfort and loving ourselves through it to the other side. And that’s where we can change our actions in a deep way.

TS: You mentioned that for many people, our addiction to busyness has to do with trying to earn a sense of worth. If we’re starting to say no as an experiment and we hear voices inside like, “You’re a slug. The world is going to pass you by. You said no to all of these events and everyone’s going to forget about you. You might as well be dead,” I could go on and on. This kind of talk [is] so uncomfortable, to feel like a waste product, just nothing. And you’re saying then that I’m going to stay with that feeling? It’s a pretty terrible feeling.

HA: It’s an awful feeling, and it’s a lie. It’s a deep lie. So, the pathway of going through the lie to the other side—you can think about it as that if you’re crossing a river and you get to the middle of the river, that’s where it’s the most intense and it feels like you should back up. To really make change in our lives, we need to be willing to wade into that river and get to the center where the voices are super loud and it feels like the best thing to do is just to go back and get to the safe shore where I know how things work. The voices are saying, “If you keep going forward, there’s no shore on the other side. No one’s going to love you. It’s going to be terrible over there; at least you knew what was behind you.”

To have the courage to say, “I’m ready to do something different and I trust [that] even if I can’t feel it, I trust there’s possibility of something new on the other side.” And if we then take the next step forward, things start to open in a new way and we start to recognize, “Oh wow, that isn’t true. I have inherent worth.” And that’s what we’re working towards—is to recognize that every human has inherent worth not from their actions, but from their being. It’s a big, big rewire.

TS: Now, help me understand the connection between this rewiring to our essential worth that’s underneath our busy activity, and what you call “awakening one’s inner fire.” Where does the inner fire come in?

HA: Our inner fire is our unique essence. In the Native American traditions, some of the tribes talk about that we’re each here to find our own song and to sing that song. In the Toltec world, we’re each a unique ray of light and we’re here to shine that light into the world. Connecting to our inner fire is about reconnecting to that inherent worth, that we are precious beings that have gifts just from our existence—not from anything we’re doing—and that that light is amazing.

So, to come back into relationship with that inner fire and just start to explore where are the places that we dampen, sabotage, try and diminish or give away our inner fire. There’s ways that we feel like, “Oh, I shouldn’t shine so brightly,” or, “I need to give my light, my fire away to other people.” We don’t then have that solid core inside of us.

For me, awakening your inner fire is turning your attention back towards that core flame that each of us has, and find[ing] a new relationship to it so that we’re deeply nourishing it and tending it over time so that it grows. And that means our energy grows, our capacity grows, our creativity grows, our presence grows. We get deeper, and that has a huge impact on everyone around us. [It’s] some of the most important work that we can do.

TS: HeatherAsh, you talk about three different kinds of fire. You talk about belly fire, heart fire, and spiritual fire. I wonder if you can describe each of them.

HA: Yes. I love each of these different fires. The belly fire is really about presence in the physical body. It’s about our connection to a sense of grounding, a sense of presence. When we have low belly fire, then we’re often incredibly scattered. We are fearful around change and we’re often grasping at things outside of ourselves. So, that’s the belly fire.

The heart fire is about our capacity to love. When our heart fire is strong, we feel connected and open, and there’s a sense of innate joy that comes. When we’re dampening our heart fire, what we often are doing is we’re closing and armoring ourself, and that diminishes the fire. People that have low heart fires often are really judgmental towards themselves or towards other people and are afraid of intimacy, and really often are much more mental- than heart-centered. So building that heart fire, again, connects us back to the sense of, “I’m safe, I’m loved, and I can share love in the world.”

And then our spiritual fire is our intuition and our connection to spirit. That fire, when it’s bright, we feel aligned and we listen deeply to impulses that come from a higher place than just our day-to-day minds. Those places of deep, deep knowing—what in the Toltec world we call “silent knowledge.” When our spiritual fire is dim, we often feel like we have to figure everything out by ourselves. There’s a sense of the mind taking over and saying, “I have to figure this out—how to keep my human safe and how to make everything work.” And I sometimes think about it [as] like a child that’s been disconnected from their parents and is lost, and the child then decides, “OK, I have to take care of everything. I have to figure out how to manage this world by myself.”

There’s a sense of underlying anxiety that happens when our spiritual fire is low. So, nourishing that so we feel held again, we feel part of something greater, and we recognize that we’re part of a very large web of life and information—that there’s always information available to us when we tune in.

TS: HeatherAsh, let’s say someone’s listening and they’re checking on their own inner fire as they’re listening, and they’re like, “Well, you know, my belly fire’s a little low,” or, “My heart fire’s a little low,” or, “My spiritual fire is a little low.” Maybe one’s strong, two are strong—how do we make blaze those that are not as strong—those fires that are not as strong in us?

HA: Bring our awareness to whatever area we feel like could use some energy and support. It changes over time; some of us have some areas that are weak, but what I’ve noticed is that it shifts depending on what’s going on in our life. The best gift we can give ourselves is that as we scan and get curious, and then realize, “Ooh, my heart fire’s low,” is to spend more time in that area and ask that area—say, “Hey, heart fire, what do you need? What would help you to burn more brightly? How can I nourish you? How can I support you?”

That question of asking these different centers, these different areas of our body—and using that visual of fire, which is such a yummy visual because we know what it feels like to feed a fire, and we also know what it feels like to dampen a fire. It’s a great way to communicate with your body, and your body can then show you, give you some goals or information to say, “This is how you’re dampening that fire, and here’s how you can build it.”

All of us, we have such immense wisdom inside of us. It’s simply about going in and starting this dialogue with these different energy centers, and then taking action in a new way—to feed rather than dampen.

TS: OK. The belly fire, the heart fire—it’s obvious in my body where they are. What about the spiritual fire? Where’s that?

HA: I perceive that [at the] third eye—so crown/third eye, between the eyebrows and crown is where I perceive that fire.

TS: You mentioned that in the Toltec framework, we’re each a ray of light from the sun. Of course, people hear spiritual teachers all the time say, “We each have a purpose, we each have our own way of spreading light in the world.” I wonder if you can address that person who doesn’t feel like they know what their—what you call “true work”—is. They don’t know what their true work is. They hear this, but they have questions about their own ray of light-ness.

HA: One place to start is to look around, look at other people. So often, it’s really easy to look at someone else and say, “Oh yes, they have a particular vibration or particular ray of light. They have a gift that they’re giving.”

So, to start—this is for someone that really doesn’t feel like they know what their gift is or what their light is—is to look and just notice different people—and not to judge or to compare, but just to get curious of like, “Oh yes, this person feels really different from this person. And this person feels really different from this person.” Just doing that can be helpful to start to remind your being that people express their light really differently. We all have a really different expression, and there’s no better, worse way; there’s this incredible, beautiful diversity that we’re part of.

Then, to turn that back on ourselves—to say, “OK, so, let me begin to ask myself, ‘What’s my gift?'” And this isn’t from the mind; because what wants to happen is the judge wants to get in there and say, “I need to figure [it] out and get it right—figure out what the right thing is, and it’s supposed to look a particular way.” So to just drop all this idea of, “I’m supposed to have a purpose”—I’m going to in a way contradict myself, but this is the pathway in, to let go of all the ideas of what it’s supposed to look like. Like, “I’m supposed to have a purpose and it’s supposed to feel this way,” or, “I’m supposed to know exactly what my gift is.” To let that go and then to instead say, “What am I here for right now? What do I feel like I want to explore and experiment in my life?” And it might be just for right now.

This is what I call our true work. The jobs that we do, the careers that we have—whether we love them or we just like them, the roles that we take on—the role of being a mother or a business owner or a woman—that none of those things are who we truly are. They’re things that we take on temporarily that we might get great joy from and we might very much dislike, but none of those are who we truly are.

My belief is that each of us has a particular flavor of something that we’re working to deepen in our life. That’s our true work, and that true work is something that we can do when we’re at work and also when we’re picking up dog poo. It’s something we do—we’re practicing all the time. And it’s simple; it’s not complicated. And it’s a feeling sense. So, this is why I say let go of all the ideas of what it’s supposed to look like and start coming into, “What is it that I want to feel more in my life?” or, “What do I want to share more in the world? What’s important to me?”

What I’ve found is when we pick one word that represents our true work and then take that one word into a feeling sense, we can use that as an anchor and start to practice bringing that true work, that word that’s anchored into a feeling sense, and exploring, “How do I bring this through everything that I do, no matter how mundane or how spiritual?” That true-work word might be “compassion,” or “love,” or “presence,” or “joy,” but it’s something that is coming from your center that you can emanate out. It doesn’t mean it’s something you’ve nailed how to do; it’s something that you’re using everything that you do in your world to explore.

TS: What is the word that you use for your true work at this point?

HA: Love. To love.

TS: Now, help connect this for me, Heather: This conversation we’re having about having the fire inside of us—our belly, heart, and spiritual fire burning bright, having a sense of what our true work is, and how that changes our relationship to being busy-busy all the time.

HA: What happens is that rather than entering work in order to prove something to ourselves or others, which is what often happens, we begin to use our work as a place to play. And that creates a lot more spaciousness inside. So then, instead of the focus being busyness—and again, that stems from whatever the old agreements are—we’re anchoring inside of ourselves, “I’m going to focus on this.” What we start to recognize is you can’t keep high levels of busyness out of proving something, we’ll say, and do your true work. It just doesn’t—they don’t go together. Something’s going to have to shift.

I want to say this too, Tami—is that the goal isn’t to [be] like, “I’m just always going to be totally Zen, mellow, quiet in everything that I do.” That might not be what your essence is. Like, my essence is super fiery; I move really quickly. I love moving quickly. It’s super fun for me. So each of us has a different expression of our fire. Some people’s fires are slower and they’re like deep coals, steady fire. Other people’s fire burns really hot. It’s about learning who we are and taking the busyness from fear out, and putting in engagement from love, action from curiosity—whatever your engagement was from whatever your true work is.

It means you still might be busy, and if you’re running an organization, you’re going to be busy. But it’s a different type of busy, because you know that it’s—there’s a peace that runs through it. Also, you can unplug at any time. That’s what I’ve noticed for me that shifted the most—I’m still busy, and I also have the capacity—and again, I’m so still in progress with this. But, what I’m noticing is I’m now starting to gain the capacity to be engaged in something and I can then stop and let it go and step away. And I’m not dragging it with me everywhere; I’m not feeling bad that I’m not doing it. I’m like, “OK, I’ve done enough. Now I need to go rest my body. Now I need to go for a walk,” or “Now I need to—” and I’m listening [to] what does this being need rather than giving myself the message over and over again [of] “I have to be busy to be OK.”

TS: You have this term, “Sacred time management—” you wrote a book and called it Sacred Time Management. Talk about that—what you mean by sacred time management.

HA: The idea is that—I love the idea that we’re bringing the sacred into everything that we do. For me, the sacred is around conscious presence and awareness, and really honoring with gratitude this incredible body that we have, our connection to something greater than ourselves or what I think of as spirit or the sacred, and that we’re not disconnecting—which so many of us do. There’s this idea that there’s spirit and there’s work, and that they’re separate. But I see that they’re the same thing—that when we see that our time is incredibly precious and bringing this idea of true work through, that means that my time that I’m spending picking up dog poo in the backyard is just as sacred as the time I’m spending teaching.

So, we start to manage our time in a different way; rather than “work is the most important thing,” which a lot of us have gotten wired to believe that that’s true—that everything else is—like I’ll get to go on vacation, but I’m going to end up coming back to work, into the real world. We have this idea that that’s not the real world, this is the real world.

Sacred time management is recognizing everything is the real world. Everything is precious, everything is beautiful in its way. When we bring our awareness and our presence to everything that we’re doing and start to erase the lines between “this is work, this is vacation, this is family”—to start to erase those lines so that the common denominator between all of those things is our attitude and what we’re bringing to each of them.

TS: I know there are some concrete tips that you offer to help people with sacred time management—how to deal with things like your email inbox and when you feel really overwhelmed. I wonder if you can share what some of the tips are that you use for sacred time management on a regular basis.

HA: Yes. One of my favorites is that there’s always a part of me that’s looking at what structure needs to be put in place to create more ease in anything that I’m doing. I feel that if you look at water and—if you have some water and there’s no structure, water tends to flood things. So, if we look at these different structures that we’re creating, [they’re] creating the flow of the water, where we want that water to go.

The water is a representation of energy and now of information, because what most of us are dealing with at work is the flow of information and stuff. A lot of it now [is] digital—is information. So, places where we feel overwhelmed, when we feel like we’re drowning in too much stuff, for me that’s an invitation to start looking at what structure is not in place that’s causing things to overflow. Then there’s other places where we can see there’s stagnation; where the water has stopped and the water’s getting stinky and stagnated. Most of the places we procrastinate on things, where there isn’t flow any longer—again, because there’s not a structure in place.

So, when we start to live this way, it’s really cool because what happens is that we stop blaming ourselves or others. That blame thing that we can get into of like, “Oh, you just dropped this project, it’s your fault,” or, “Oh my gosh, I screwed up, I’m procrastinating, I’m to blame,”—when we shift out of that—because the blame can get really heavy and really sticky—and start to instead say, “OK, what happened? What structure wasn’t in place? Where wasn’t there communication, or where wasn’t there a way that was clear about what needs to happen here?”

Just to make it really practical, stuff like email: if you don’t handle your email and it just keeps coming in, it’s going to get flooded. It’s going to feel completely overwhelming. If you create a structure for yourself where you—and this is where we get to be creative, what works for us—where you delineate how you’re going to play with your email and you experiment to see what works best for you, then over time, as you stay with it, you’ll find what serves you. And you also can change it mid-stream if you realize it’s not working any longer.

There’s a gazillion books out there around different types of structure, and what I always tell people is—you know, I offer a lot of them in Awakening Your Inner Fire, of different structures. And they’re all ideas of things that have worked for me or worked for other people. But, in the end, we all get to feel into becoming intimate with ourselves and asking over and over again, “What works for me? What could serve me?” We can get ideas from other people, but then we need to put it into practice in such a way that the structure is creating the flow that we want.

TS: You know, there are lots of different books and teachers who talk about different ways we can manage our time, different techniques. I think what’s unique about your Awakening Your Inner Fire approach is putting our true work at the center of how we organize everything else. I wonder if you can speak to that—what it really means to put your true work at the centerpiece of your life?

HA: That’s exactly it. I recognized I didn’t want to write a book or do—offer more to the world around how to do stuff, because there’s plenty of how to do stuff. What I see lacking more is this idea that we need to come back into our center and put our true work first. That’s more important than any structure we create [or] any new tool that we get because any of those structures—like the newest way to organize—there’s a core missing foundation. It’s like we’re putting icing on top of something that’s rotten.

So, I’m saying let’s go towards the old beliefs, the places where there’s something that’s not working at depth, and heal that—to put our energy and our focus towards healing that. Then we can figure out what color [and] kind of icing we want, and then it’s going to actually stick and taste good. It’s a longer process—it feels better to say, “Oh yes, I just bought this new organizational tool and it’s going to fix everything!” But how many of us have read all the books and gotten another tool, and we’re still not using it, or it still feels like something’s missing?

What I’d like to do is for all of us to do both: to keep looking at what tools and support systems will help you at the same time that you put a really strong emphasis on going towards this relationship with your inner fire and strengthening it. Know that it’s going to take time; it’s not a quick fix. I mean, I thought when I went on the road for a year that I was like, “OK, well, I’ll just do a study for a year and I’ll figure it out, and that’ll be good.” And 15 years later, I’m still deeply in process with it, and deeply studying myself and learning as I go along. I recognized a couple years in, “This is big work. This is significant.”

For all of us, it’s not a quick fix because what we’re transforming is one of the deeper paradigm shifts, I believe, that there are in the Western world. Really, the Western world is based around this idea that of work equals worth. To transform that when you’re surrounded by the paradigm is really warrior’s work.

TS: You helped us in this conversation [to] start a process of identifying what our true work might be, and you shared that yours is a beautiful word, “love.” I wonder what suggestions you have for people—how do they keep their true work front and center? Like, “Yes, as I’m listening to this conversation, I identified my guiding word, but then I forget about it all the time and just get all mixed in with everything I have to do.”

HA: Yes. Of course. What I do with myself and what I suggest to people is that [you] write it down everywhere and then link it—whatever your true work is, create as many reminders as you can in your world. I have a bracelet that’s a reminder for me; every time I look at the bracelet, I come back to my true work. When I do my practice in the morning, that’s part of Awakening Your Inner Fire—there’s a prayer that’s a beautiful way to start your day, to remind yourself and anchor in, opening to enter work from a different point of view.

Also then, in every gap in your day, to start to train yourself to go back to your true work. It takes repetition. So, it’s just like if you’re learning to play the piano, you play the chords over and over and over again before you can really improvise. To create a structure, my favorite place is to do the gaps. The gaps are on the way to work when you’re driving, walking down the hallway to the bathroom, waiting in line at the cafeteria—to take a little bit of time, to take a day or two to investigate where the gaps [are] in your life, where there’s just space. When you’re walking to do the laundry, when you’re picking up dog poo in the backyard—I love the dog poo one because nobody loves doing it, but it’s a great place for practice!

Just find where the gaps [are], and usually what you’ll notice is probably that you fill the gap. What most of us do is there’s a gap and we’re thinking about what’s going to happen next. We’re thinking about what went wrong. We’re plotting our day, the next day. So instead, in each of those gaps, just start to insert true work.

So, as I’m waiting in line for my coffee in the morning, I go back to the feeling sense of my true work, and I breathe into that feeling sense. Let it be physical—bring it into the physical body. Not a mental concept; it’s, what does that feel like? And then practice holding that true work every time there’s a gap. You’ll forget, then you’ll remind yourself; over time, it’ll become second nature that any time there’s a space, your body will drop into your true work.

Then what will happen is then it’ll start blending into everything that you’re doing. It takes time, but one day—it’s so fun—one day you’ll be in the middle of a work day and you’ll recognize, “Oh wow, I just responded in a totally different way. I responded from my true work rather than my programming.” And that’s really exciting to see. Often, it looks like nothing’s changing for a long time, and then suddenly boom, you recognize, “Oh, now it’s different.”

TS: You mentioned a prayer that you do in the morning related to this. Can you share what that is?

HA: Yes. It’s a five-stanza prayer, and I created it to work with each of the different aspects of ourselves: the mind, energetic body, emotional body, and physical body. I feel like one of the big pieces that we want to rectify about our relationship with work is the place that we split off our emotional body, our physical body. So, to really honor and acknowledge that we want to bring all of ourselves—our mind, our energy, our emotions, and our physical body.

So that prayer is really simple:

May I clear my mind of all thoughts and focus my intent on stillness.

May I clear my field of busyness and connect to my deepest faith.

May I open my emotional body and allow healing flow.

May I honor the physical form,

And may I walk with gratitude for this precious time.

Very simple!

TS: A very, very beautiful prayer. Thank you. I’ve been speaking with HeatherAsh Amara. She’s created a new audio training series with Sounds True. It’s called Awakening Your Inner Fire: A Step-by-Step Course to Ignite Your Passion and Create the Life You Love. She’s also created with Sounds True The Warrior Goddess Training Program, and she is a participant in our Year of Ceremony digital subscription, where different teachers lead worldwide participatory rituals each month. You can learn about the Year of Ceremony, as well as this new audio series Awakening Your Inner Fire, at SoundsTrue.com.

HeatherAsh, thank you. I know in the Toltec tradition they talk about “stalking”—it’s a term you introduced me to—where we are given a chance to really look deeply at our own unconscious issues; we stalk ourselves, we investigate and follow the thread deeper and deeper. And every time I talk to you, I feel like it’s a stalking conversation. So thank you. Thank you so much.

HA: Thank you, Tami, and thanks for all your fabulous questions. I always love going deeper with you.

TS: SoundsTrue.com: Many voices, one journey.

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