Embodied Transformation & Evolution

What’s Holding You Back? ~releasing the courageous creativity of the soul

Posted by on Jan 30, 2018 in Featured Writing, Lifeletters & Articles | 5 comments

What’s Holding You Back? ~releasing the courageous creativity of the soul

I work with a lot of people who struggle with feeling held back in their life. I listen to them speak of a deep sense of being called into a new and unfamiliar way of being– how difficult it is to say yes to this, as if something stands in the way of entering into this deeper current in their own being. As we get older, a sense of urgency about this can accelerate–the sense that life could be over, and we missed the chance to respond to this living impulse arising from somewhere deep inside.

This mysterious impulse calls me to adventure. It asks me to break free of the rules I have been following, to admit that what once gave me meaning doesn’t ignite me any more, doesn’t really touch my heart. Behind the impulse is often a longing, which can be both painful and liberating to feel. A longing to share myself, to know what intimacy and passion are, to participate fully in life. A longing to surrender, to belong to something much larger than myself.

What holds us back, when these beautiful, passionate impulses and longings arise in us? When they keep us awake at night, when they enter our dreams? When they disturb the known and habitual rhythms of our lives?

What really holds me back is not what it appears to be. This risking, this movement into unknown territory, evokes all kind of protective responses from my survival system, my egoic structures. Within this dance of protection, the mind becomes a trickster, spinning all kinds of tales about why I cannot follow the deep and true impulses of my soul. These reasons and objections seem very real. They carry the ring of truth, and we are wrapped up in their logic before we can blink twice. At times like this we need a wise friend, an ally, to walk with us, to care for us, to challenge our loyalty to these old voices we still hold allegiance to. We need this guidance so that we can wake up from the spell cast by this voice that belongs to that eternal trickster, the mind.

When I came back to Canada after twenty three years in the Himalayas, I started a coaching and facilitation business. To say that I was facing major challenges is an understatement. When I first came back from India, I didn’t know how to use a bank card, or fill my car up with gas. I was awash in culture shock. I knew I needed help, so I worked with coaches, teachers and mentors. One of them, a coach named  Michael Neill, was a well known, successful and expensive coach, more expensive than I could really afford. I hired him anyway, and I’m glad I did. He had a lot of fierce clarity which he delivered to me cheerfully and without apology.

At one point my partner and I moved into a house I had purchased, and began a renovation process. For the first year we were there, the house was in total chaos, and I could not afford to rent an office for my work.

“How will I work?” I asked Michael. “I don’t have an office anymore. All I have is my bedroom, and I can’t coach in my bedroom.”

“Why not?” he said.

“Who is going to come and work with me, if I am coaching in my bedroom?” I asked him.

“Who knows?” he said. “I just know that it’s not a good enough reason not to do your work.”

“What do you mean?” I asked him.

“Well,” he said, “I’ve noticed we dream up all kinds of reasons to explain why we aren’t doing the things we really want to do. But if we really want to do what we say we want to do, why should those reasons stop us? Why are you waiting for everything to line up perfectly for you? That’s not how life works–you’ll wait forever. Just do what you want to do, right where you are. Things will keep unfolding if you take action. Nothing happens if you don’t.”

“Okay,” I told him. “I get your point.”

My bedroom was actually kind of lovely, with a gable roof and a window looking out on our back garden. I set it up for coaching, and continued with the work I had already started. People showed up for sessions in my bedroom, instead of in my office. They continued to come, for many years. I saw a lot of people in that bedroom–our renovations took much longer and were more complicated than we thought they would ever be. We almost built ourselves a whole new house. During all those years of coaching in my bedroom, I kept imagining just how wonderful it was going to be when I had my very own office.

Finally the moment arrived. The final stages of preparing my office involved a strenuous painting project: it took eight coats of paint to turn one wall of my office Chinese red.

On the day it was ready, I took my client, a man I had been working with for some time, up the stairs to my new office. It was right across the hall from my bedroom, so he was not expecting to turn right instead of left.

“Oh,” he said, “We’re not going to sit in your bedroom?”

“No,” I said, “I have a real office now.”

“Great,” he said, sounding much less excited than I was.

At the end of the session, as he was leaving, I walked with him into the hallway.

“How did you like working in my new office?” I asked him.

“Do you really want to know?” he asked.

“Of course,” I told him.

He looked wistfully across the hall. “I liked it a lot in your bedroom.” he said. “The office is okay, but there’s something really special about that bedroom.”

“Are you kidding me?” I asked him.

“No,” he said. “I mean it. I’m really going to miss that room.”

I felt the presence of Michael Neill hovering over my left shoulder, whispering, “See what I mean?” and I wanted to kick him. Over the next month, I heard the same response from many of my clients. None of them seemed to be impressed by my new office. They all struggled to explain to me that there was something very special, an energy, a feeing in my bedroom, that was missing in my office.

Luckily I like to laugh at myself, because in this case, the joke was on me. It feels important to remember how wrong I was about what I really needed at that time, in order to do the work I love. Sometimes I feel awe about how endlessly creative the mind can be, when it is trying to protect us. That protection from our early survival system can keep us whirling around on the surface of things, so that we never get to the root; we never discover what is really going on.

Whats holding you back

Things are not as they appear to be on the surface of life, on the surface of our beings. What holds us back from embodying the courageous, creative, brilliant energy of the soul is not what our little mind tells us. If we dive deeper, we’ll find fears that have never been met. Fear of being stupid, incompetent, the fear of not belonging, the fear of being powerless, the fear of failure, the fear of being a fraud, the fear of being alone. Most of the time we are only dimly aware of these fears, and when they surface we try to escape from them, or push them right back down where they came from.

These deep hidden fears are often what is holding us back. But the energy of fear is not the problem, it is our movement away from this energy, the tendency to contract around our fear. The pathway into a new life, a life lived from our deeper current, lies in learning how to meet these fears, even if we have spent a lifetime trying to avoid them. The good news is that we can learn how to actually stay present with the energy of our fear. Our evolution is asking us for this, to discover an entirely new relationship with these fears.

This new relationship begins with understanding that the movement away from fear, the wish to avoid it, was entirely natural at an earlier stage of life. We can actually respect and appreciate where this conditioned tendency came from—it was my own best attempt to care for myself, to survive. But now, our perception needs an update, or our current understanding will be impacted by the innocent mistakes of our younger self. To believe that ‘fear is the absence of love,’ as so many spiritual teachings proclaim, is to misunderstand the nature of love. If we want to heal, evolve and awaken we need to question such teachings. We need to find the courage to listen to the depths of our own heart. Is it really true that this is the nature of love? If we really deepen into this question, we might be very surprised at what arises. I don’t believe that love is the absence of anything. My experience shows me that love is what includes it all, embraces it all. It’s the living presence of love that allows me to stop moving away from my fear.

I’ve written about this before: Transforming our relationship with fear: Meeting the dragon at the threshold.  Learning to metabolize the energy of my fear has been a big adventure for me. and it’s not over. I took up many spiritual practices in an attempt to transcend my fears. I meditated so long and so well that I didn’t even know they were there.  Until life threw me a few curve balls and I was face to face with them again.

Curve balls come along, sooner or later, and the path of avoidance leads to a lot of suffering. Life is ultimately not designed to accommodate our desire to avoid. May we find the strength, clarity and ongoing support to keep turning toward whatever is still waiting for our presence, our attention, our full embrace. As we learn to stay here, right where we are, we begin to trust in a way that seemed impossible before this.

It’s not magic; it isn’t a trick.
Every breath is a resurrection.

~Gregory Orr


with love,



Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Sandra

    Thanks Shayla finall’y took a moment to catch up and read some of your life letters. They inspire and help me find my way during moments of uncertainty and making challenging decision. Big thank you for your open heart and sharing experience

  2. Joanne Phillips

    Thanks Shayla… I too am experiencing a “turning of the corner” so to speak in my life. I want so much to do the things I have always wanted to when I was younger and did not have the courage . I feel that the old voices of reason are challenging me now, as a senior, to endeavor to try some of the things I’ve always wanted to try but as previously mentioned, did not have the courage to do so.

    Your letter is so supportive in explaining the fears that evolve and how we can best deal with them. Feel the fear, touch the fear and do it anyways will be my motto. Now I will be able to reach out more to others for support.

  3. Janis Kirker

    Once again your writing brings down the essence from the Ethers for me and grounds it beautifully. I think the last paragraph in particular is so helpful in pointing out our internal guidance system in negotiating our need for touch and intimacy .

  4. mary

    Your writings are profound truth for me, I read them slowly and feel the words resonate deep inside.
    There is a movement toward truth that I feel so many people are experiencing now. I am choosing to hold my fears with love. Thank you Shayla for sharing your deepest knowing through words for us to read, feel and heal.

  5. Carol Noble

    Thank you Shayla

    As always your words are inspiring and confirming. From the heart to the heart.

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