As a part of my series about “Connecting With Yourself To Live With Better Relationships” I had the pleasure to interview Donna Henes. Donna is a spiritual leader specializing in rituals and writing in support of personal and planetary transformation. She is an internationally renowned urban shaman, contemporary ceremonialist, spiritual teacher, award-winning author, popular speaker and workshop leader whose joyful celebrations of celestial events have introduced ancient traditional rituals and contemporary ceremonies to millions of people in more than 100 cities since 1972. Henes composed the first and only satellite peace message orbiting in space. She has performed a Purification Ritual for Obama’s first inauguration, a Blessing of the Fleet for New York’s Quadricentennial, and leads the annual Greenwich Village Halloween Parade with blessings. She has published five books, a CD, an acclaimed Ezine and writes for The Huffington Post, Beliefnet and UPI Religion and Spirituality Forum. A noted ritual expert, she serves as a ritual consultant for the television and film industry. Mama Donna, as she is affectionately called, maintains a ceremonial center, spirit shop, ritual practice and consultancy in Exotic Brooklyn, NY where she offers intuitive tarot readings, spiritual counseling and works with individuals, groups, institutions, municipalities, and corporations to create meaningful ceremonies for every imaginable occasion.
Thank you so much for joining us! Let’s Get Intimate! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.
I have been on this spiritual path since my early childhood. Actually, I believe that my work in this life is a continuation of my path through a succession of incarnations.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?
I am working on a new book: A Woman’s Guide to Power: Claim it! Embrace it! Use it! This is a follow up to my book, The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. A Woman’s Guide to Power speaks to the feminist concept of individual and collective egalitarian empowerment, rather than the patriarchal version of power as control and dominance over others. The goal is to help women feel comfortable being powerful and using their power to support their self-esteem, reach out to others for mutual encouragement and support and promote a culture based on caring and sharing.
Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self-acceptance?
A. I spent my entire 40s in what I called “the hospice zone.” I had been living in a very close and mutually supportive community of friends and colleagues and never had to deal with life’s traumas alone. But then, one by one, all of the men who I loved as brothers died of AIDS. During this period, my mother who lived 500 miles away was diagnosed with breast and then lung cancer, and my son became terminally ill, as well. My lover and many friends abandoned me in my grief because most people do not want to deal up close with the realities of death and dying and did not want to be around pain and suffering. I was suddenly alone without the loving support system that I had had for so long.
I did what needed doing to care for all of my dear ones. And little by little I learned how to manage without help and without anyone to turn to for succor. This took a great amount of time, energy and determination. I was exhausted and emotionally drained, but I was also discovering my own strength and courage. And in the process of rising to the challenges of that decade from hell, I realized that I liked and respected and was even proud of myself. From this newly achieved self-esteem and self-care. I finally and at long last, found self-love.
According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?
What a sad state of affairs! What a shallow culture we live in that allows our healthy self-esteem to be sabotaged by the unrealistic ideals promoted and promised by the fashion and cosmetic industries and the publications that glorify them. If people actually liked how they look, they would not buy into the false images of beauty and would not buy all the beautification products that they do not need.
How we feel about how we look is connected to how we feel about who we are. The more we focus on what we do, the more forgiving we are to perceived physical imperfection. The more we like ourselves, the less we care about standards that are not our own.
As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?
It is our job to know what we want and what we like, and it is
Completely up to us to articulate our needs in such a way as to give them every chance of being met. It is so important to be able to ask for what we want rather than challenge our lover to intuit our feelings. Expecting someone else to know instinctively what we desire and what we need in any moment is very unfair and doomed to disappoint
Taking the responsibility for our own happiness and fulfillment is a great gift to give a lover who, presumably wants to please and satisfy us — or else why would we want to be with him/her anyway?
Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?
There are probably as many reasons to remain in a relationship that does not serve or support or please us as there are mediocre relationships:
· Lack of self-esteem — the feeling of not deserving anything better.
· Lack of courage to go it alone. Feeling that anyone is better than no one.
· Lack of incentive or laziness. Wanting to be taken care of despite the price.
· Lack of positive role models growing up. Expecting it to be unsatisfied.
· Lack of resources to support a family without help.
My advice is simple, if not necessarily easy: There is only one person in the world guaranteed to stay by our side until the day we die and that is us. So we better learn how to understand, nurture, love, honor and cherish ourselves so that we may know how to cherish and be cherished by another.
When we take the time know our self intimately and embrace all the parts of our being — body, mind, heart and spirit — whole-heartedly, unconditionally, with compassion and no judgment attached, we can be a sovereign lover — not dependent and not beholden. How glorious would that be?
When I talk about self-love and understanding I don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?
I had just spent a grueling decade-long eternity on the deathwatch, losing nearly everyone and everything that I loved and when it finally ended, I was struggling to climb up from the dismal abyss of my multi-layered grief. I had lost my family, friends, pets, my communal community, my emotional support system of spirit sisters, many of my precarious sources of income, my equilibrium, my figure, my youth, my confidence, and whatever control I thought I had exerted over my life.
It was now time to reclaim some order to my existence, some joy, some sense of self. Out came my long-neglected journal, my trusty witness and guide to inner knowledge, understanding, acceptance, and growth. Through my own intentions and concerted efforts, by constantly questioning and reconfiguring, by struggling to mourn and then release what was irrevocably lost, I was recovering my own misplaced vitality, interest, and energy and I began to feel the tiniest inkling of the exhilarating force of a life well-lived.
Some helpful questions:
· Who am I?
· Am I fulfilled?
· Am I happy?
· Do I like myself?
· DO I have a vision of who I want to be?
· What am I doing to become her?
So many don’t really know how to be alone or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?
Whether we are married, dating, divorced, or single, it is crucial that we learn how to cherish being alone without being lonely. Solitude is a gift of love that we give to ourselves. If we can manage to enjoy our own company, to entertain and please ourselves, we will not feel dependent upon someone else to make us happy. If we can soothe and support ourselves, offer ourselves understanding and insights, we release ourselves from the need for outside affirmation.
How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?
Knowing that we don’t need someone else to complete and fulfill our lives affords us new confidence in our own ability to cope and flourish. This, in turn, relieves us and our present and future partners of a great deal of pressure, as it allows us to participate in our familial and friendly relationships on more equal footing, with fewer unrealistic expectations and cause for recriminations and disappointments.
In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?
People need to retreat occasionally to turn inward and society, education, families, art, and culture need to inspire, encourage, support and reward individuals who pursue this route to self-knowledge.
What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?
I have been doing all of these practices for decades, although not necessarily all at once. But they are there when I need them and I cannot imagine my life without them:
1. Keep journals. These keep track of your life and keep you on track spiritually. I keep dream journals, birthday year in review journals and even an anger journal.
2. Meditate. This time out of time clears your mind allows for flashes of inspiration. I meditate every morning for just 10 minutes before I get out of bed. It sets me up for the day.
3. Take a walk alone. Keep your eyes and ears and mind open to see, hear, or feel the signs and signals and messages the universe is sending you. I love this one. Walking in nature is ideal, but even the city offers inspiration insights. I always see some sign that resonates with me on some level.
4. Bless yourself. The more you bless yourself, the more you believe it. The more you believe it, the more you embrace it. The more you embrace it the more you project it. The more you project it, the more you receive it in kind. Self blessing saves me in many situations: it gives me confidence, courage, love and inner support.
5. Keep a pet. Bringing an animal of any kind into our hearts enriches our lives immensely. They bring out the very best in us: affection, compassion, comfort, and fun. These nonhumans enhance our humanity. During my life, I have had four monkeys, four fabulous dogs, lots of cats, a rabbit, and two extraordinary cocktails. Each one has opened me, taught me and raised my consciousness infinitely.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?
Here is a mix of what inspires me.
1. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman — I am inspired by his love and respect for people and nature. The holiness and joy of living that he expresses is contagious.
2. The indigenous peoples of the planet who live lightly on the earth with respect and reverence.
3. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. She is a loner, a scientist, a student, a teacher, a seeker a sage. Her observations are so clear and insightful. Full of both knowledge and wisdom, understanding and awe.
4. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. A stunning study of how to create a life of fullness and abundance, a life of integrity and beauty, friendship, comfort, and self-expression using nothing and everything. A lesson in creating your own reality and making your own luck.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…
The ultimate goal of my work is a transformation of our sense of personal and communal response-ability that comes from the realization of the complex and inexorable interconnectivity of the universe, and hence, hopefully, our protection of this, our only planet-home.
I believe that the only thing that can save our Earth from our own shortsighted and selfish attitudes and actions is for us to start thinking of ourselves as the planet. It is time for us to join together as interdependent partners, as inter=connected members of our families and communities, as co=existent inhabitants of the Earth, and as co=creators of our mutual future.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by?
Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?
I love this quote from an unidentified African American old woman:
“If the mountain was smooth, you couldn’t climb it.”
This tells us that every test is a gift. Every challenge, every setback, every hardship, every tragedy is an opportunity for attaining perspective, understanding, wisdom, and enlightenment.
Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!