Witness to Grace

A High King Ascends to the Summerland

It was 45 years ago that my favorite tomboy entered my life. She brought with her a lifetime of creativity, play, laughter, joy, and sharing. She has shared many vacations with me, of course many memories, and significant to this tale, she has shared with me… her beloved family.

On Thursday, my life-long friend and I hopped on a plane to Huntsville, Alabama. I don’t believe either of us, while envisioning which path to take on our annual art-cation adventures, would have chosen this particular place as a destination (two progressive feminists went to Alabama…), but after this past weekend, I can assure you that it will be a part of future road trips.

Nearly a decade ago, my buddy introduced me to her cousin through facebook. Their mothers are sisters, but they did not grow up together, so it was a family reunion that brought them together as adults. And through connecting online about family heritage and sharing memories, they found like-minds in one another. Further, my friend could see in her cousin… a bit of me.

It’s funny how we are able to connect through writing and sharing on social media to find something much deeper than words and photos. Somehow, if we are really lucky, we manage to find communion. Not one person I met over the past four days felt like a stranger to me.

The reason for our journey north was one of pilgrimage. We arrived with open hearts and serving hands to honor the memory of a soul who departed around this time last year. Once again, he was a man that neither of us had the pleasure to have met in person, but through this sharing medium and from the heart of this lady that we love, he became legend.

Our kindred spirits were partially connected through common ground… A spiritual path, a world view, a love of ancient history and myth, and for the Emerald Isle, where we had both previously traveled. Connected by the web of life and the world-wide-web, we shared photos and our stories. Then one day, the story took a dark turn. Her husband suffered a life altering spinal injury in a car accident, and the lives of many would be dramatically affected through an epic journey of survival for the next seven years.

Being so far away, the best that my life-long friend and I could do was hold space and send the light of love, healing energy, and our desire for the very best possible outcome for this gentle giant and those he loved. And when his earthly body was ready to surrender his larger than life soul into the light of truth, we committed to being fully present to offer support and to celebrate his life. After much needed rest and recovery, and with the nearing first anniversary of his loss, it was time.

Looking back on the weekend I just left behind, it seems funny to consider how we walked into this woman’s world and felt immediately at home. Though they are cousins, my favorite tomboy only has memory of meeting in person this daughter of her mother’s sister once. Any previous meeting would have been at an age before memories were kept.

Since I have had front row seats in her life, those we met and the lives they discussed as they reviewed memories and tales of their individual and shared histories, I never grew bored, for even those I had never met were characters with whom I was familiar. After all, I had partially grown up in her home with her people, too. Amidst the connectedness, the laughter, and the enlightenment (as blank pages in family awareness were being filled), we prepared for the celebration to come.

Last year, as I studied the path of end of life doula, I was instructed to consider this part of dying… how do I wish to be remembered? If I were to write my own memorial service, what would that look like? I have to tell you… these people… they know how to throw a party! I may write an addendum to my own parting plan.

As our hostess went to the airport to fetch her sister (friends at age eleven, who became sisters when one’s mother and the other’s father fell in love and married), my buddy and I were given the task of putting together one facet of the table decorations. We laughed at how perfect it was for us to receive this assignment. Lovers of Mother Earth, the party planners had collected earthen pottery and lichen laden sticks of oak for table center pieces. We delighted in examining each limb and cooed over the sweetness of tiny green tufts of fluff that called these fallen twigs home. “Look at this one!” “Awwww… so cute.” “Which one do you think will go best with this taller stick?” “This one! NO. THIS one.” With smiles of agreement and sighs of adoration for these tiny bits of beauty, we gleefully completed our first task.

Later that night, we were given our second task. We went to the home of our dear one’s best friend. We became acquainted around the same time as our initial facebook connection, as a nod to those kindred details mentioned above. We were immediately smitten with our new/old friend and her magickal home which was filled with creative wonder. I brought with me a meditation I had written, which felt appropriate for grounding and connecting for the work ahead. It was a guided visualization to journey to the edge of the underworld to meet with loved ones lost. We went home with bits of plaid cloth to unravel, for the art of fringed edges. These tiny details would be woven into a stunning tribute.

The next day, after coffee and a bit of unraveling, we were delighted to be delivered and guided through a local treasure, Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment. To our surprise, we had wandered into an impromptu art-cation! Our mystical guide led us through rows of interesting and wonderful art galleries throughout three floors of market space. We got to meet several artists, and had a bit of a shopping frenzy with one artist who WOWed us with the beauty of her work. We also got a sneak peak at a bit of art in chocolate that would be a sweet focal point of the celebration. Handcrafted chocolate truffles sealed with a kiss from our sacred celebrant. His signature was pressed into a crowning coin of chocolate (like sealing wax on an important royal document), then dusted with gold. Seriously, this man must have lived well to have been so loved.

That night, we gathered with more family and friends in the home that had been prepared for his comfort, though he died just days before the planned move, they had hoped to ‘come home’ to a space outfitted for the many needs of a paraplegic. We met people whose names we had seen attached to loving comments on the page that we watched with dedication for the hopeful delivery of miraculous news, which sometimes offered triumphs and finally… heartbreak. We did not know their faces, but we knew the depth of their devotion. These were the ones who never left, even when things got hard. They served in every way possible, a man whose body was broken and his wife whose courageous heart moved through back-breaking days and sleepless nights to ensure his safety and survival. These people whom we were blessed to meet, exceed the definition of friendship. Over a seven-year saga of trial and tribulation, losing a home to the burden of medical bills, packing and moving more than once, not to mention all that goes into supporting the needs of someone whose body no longer can do what was once expected, a loving community encircled this sacred family and did whatever was needed to allow them to focus on the important work required.

Then, the big day arrived. Together, we went with new friends and (re)claimed family to meet and dress the sacred space that would hold the intention of honoring this sacred soul. My favorite tomboy and I loved getting to be a part of nurturing the vision dreamed up with great detail by this group of goddesses. Onto each round table went a black cloth that draped to the floor, a grey square of felt topped by hand-fringed flannel in green, black, and grey plaid, with an earthen vase of moss covered sticks encircled by seven white candles and a ring of green and white sea glass. As we worked on the tables, another friend arranged homegrown pale green hydrangeas for the altar, and smaller clusters were added to the stick vases.

There were so many delightful details involved in this mindful manifestation. There was a sweet slideshow of a life well-lived projected onto a freshly painted wall, which was to the left of the altar which held rich fabrics adorned with a huge arrangement of hydrangeas, his glasses and watch encased in a dome of glass, a white candle – a beacon to call his spirit home, and a shot of Irish whiskey as a sacred offering. The altar sat beneath a portrait of Himself, painted by a friend after his passing. It depicted a scene captured in a photograph during their journey to Ireland, when he stood regally upon the Hill of Tara, where the High Kings were once crowned.

We lunched and rested, then returned to the venue to greet the guests. A trio of musicians enchanted the hall with Celtic music and Irish folk songs throughout the evening. And once those who had gathered in memorium had settled in with snacks and beverages, we learned more about the man we honored. The evening’s emcee was a friend who had searched, purchased, and literally furnished the home of her friend, whose energy went entirely into enforcing the safety and well-being of her husband until his final day. The Huntsville Feminist Choir performed two songs dedicated to the memory of one of their biggest supporters. Friends and family members stood up to speak about a man they respected, admired, loved, and deeply missed. Energy was raised in laughter, as we learned of pranks and puns. Everyone in the room was brought to tears by the words of gratitude expressed by one of his final caregivers. She told us of how she insisted on giving his family a much needed break – despite his protests, and as she bathed and nurtured his body, he fortified her esteem and encouraged her efforts to further her education. As she lifted her eyes to the heavens and announced to him the educational grant she just won with gratitude for his support, our eyes released the emotion we’d all been holding.

This last tribute reminded me of my dad’s stay in rehab last year. He told me about one of his attendants, who recently immigrated for a better life. She had been worried about an English test she would have to pass to move forward with her education to become a nurse, and Dad had offered words of encouragement and to help her practice. The day he told me the story, with tears in his eyes, he was announcing that she came in to tell him she had passed the test. I know that we all hope to feel like we’ve made a difference in the lives of others, and I know that the man we honored that night would have been enormously proud of his caregiver, and he would have understood the multitude of ways that he made a difference in the lives of many.

Though we never knew him, my favorite tomboy and I got to know him through stories shared. Most of all, we understood his strength of character, his warmth of compassion, his generosity of kindness, his wicked and wonderful sense of humor, and purity of integrity through witnessing such grace in those we got to know, whom he loved.

At the end of the evening, we gathered into a circle and raised a parting glass, filled with a shot of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey. The Celtic Trio played that well-known tune as we held up our offerings of remembrance and respect. We held sacred space for his devoted wife, still weary but growing stronger, his three heartbroken and adoring sons, two by birth and one by choice. We held space for his grandchildren and family present and those who wished to be there, but could not. And we held space for this remarkably loving and supportive community who held this family in their safe keeping through many difficult days and years, until peace was found at the High King’s crossing into the Summerland.

“Here’s to cheating, stealing and drinking. For if you cheat, may you cheat death. And if you steal, may you steal a maiden’s heart. And if you drink, may you drink with me!”
~ Irish Blessing

We shared another day of restful togetherness before my life-long friend and I got back on the plane to come home. It was a surreal parting, for we had come to feel as if we belonged there, among these remarkable and loving souls. How special, for a woman in her grief to make us feel so welcome and at home. Of the lifetime of memories that my favorite tomboy and I share, I am certain that this holy weekend when we were witness to true grace, will remain one of our favorites.

Somewhere in the conversation of these four days, I reminded her that I intend to go first, for I cannot fathom living a single day without her. How lucky am I? To have been given the profound gift of her friendship, and that she should share so generously with me the honor of knowing and loving her family, too.

At 1am, I walked into my parents’ home, having come straight from the airport. I emptied my father’s catheter bag and helped him into his pajamas, gave him his evening pills, stood with the spit cup and the rinse cup while he brushed his teeth, and made sure all of the doors were closed and locked before making my way up the street to my house and my waiting cat. As I climbed into bed, I reflected on the years of service our cousin/friend had devoted to the man we had just honored. I smiled with gratitude for the blessing of being able to do the same for my parents (wishing that I could do so as well as she), and for the love and devotion of our own community who are presently holding space for all of us. We are so blessed.

Thank you for walking this path with me. I’m so happy you are here. If I could, I would share one of those intoxicating truffles with you. Cheers!

Ed Glynn (pictured here: on the Hill of Tara) has taken his seat among the High Kings in the Summerland. We honor his memory. We give thanks for the many blessings he delivered to this sacred earth. A warrior among men,
we bid thee hail and farewell.

First Harvest – Lammastide

On Saturday, I led my fifth workshop in a series of eight. I’m making them up as I go, but they are inspired by the cycle of the sun and ever changing seasons marked by the calendar of the ancient Celts.

The beginning of August marks the halfway point between the Summer Solstice (the longest day) and the Autumn Equinox (when day and night are equal). In farming cultures, this was when certain seeds (like wheat and corn) we planted at Imbolc (February) had grown to fruition and were ready for scythe and bundle.

It is from this tradition the song John Barleycorn was originally sung, which tells of a symbolic sacrificial king. We harvest most to sustain us through the coming winter, but some must be returned to the land to ensure next year’s harvest and survival.

Steve Winwood performs Traffic’s version of John Barleycorn Must Die

This reminds me of how we, as caregivers, simply cannot give every bit of ourselves to others. We must hold back something that remains ours alone. If we give it all away, whatever will we grow next year? How can we bake bread to nourish ourselves, if we have already offered every grain for the benefit of others?

Since I spent last year studying death and dying, this felt like the perfect timing to begin the discussion of death. My goal was not to dive into fear and sorrow, but to overcome it.

The one guarantee we are given at birth is that we will also die. And yet, many of us fear that eventuality to the point of denial. Loved ones pass with or without warning having never discussed the topic of inevitability. And those who remain are left in their greatest moments of shock and sorrow to guess what those they held sacred might have wanted to occur when their bodies were left behind and their light returned to the collective.

So, I shared with my Sacred Gardeners (my workshop attendees) the story of my friend Brian. His confession of a terminal diagnosis with metastatic prostate cancer last February inspired my year of study. I told them of how I asked him: “Brian, you’ve been given a deadline. What is your joy?” And how he went home to think about it, nearly died when a trial treatment started shutting down his organs, and then texted me his answer a week later. His husband is his joy!

Throughout the year, we talked about making arrangements that would free his husband from the many tasks that would overwhelm him upon the loss of his love. And in September, when the cancer spread into lymph nodes… we discussed how he could make living in his joy his main focus and priority. He had been working because he figured he needed the health insurance, but his prognosis promised care through hospice. So, he informed his job he would be going out on disability and has been living his days to the fullest, ever since.

Brian did everything he could do to ease his own transition and to prepare his husband for the easiest possible survival through grief. Now, there is nothing left for them to do, but to live more fully with joy and intention.

Since I like to offer a meditation or grounding technique at the start of each workshop, I chose to share with my Gardeners a meditation I wrote to be a part of my own farewell ritual to be performed when I am gone.

In the visualization, I ask those who are mourning my loss to offer me their burdens, that I might take them away with me – so that they no longer need to carry such heaviness. And when they opened their eyes (and some wiped away tears) I asked them to write those burdens down and drop them into a ‘box of surrender’ that I had previously crafted.

Each of us spoke these words: “I surrender this burden to the light of love. I know that all is well in this moment. I trust that all shall be revealed in divine timing. “

Those burdens will stay in the box until we burn them at the Winter Solstice, but I can imagine from the words of introduction shared by each as the workshop began, that we are all carrying heaviness in our hearts that no one can imagine at a glance.

Next, I handed out copies of the Florida approved form for Advance Directive, a handbook on making end of life decisions, and a sample of the ‘Five Wishes’ document, which offers suggestions which are helpful when one cannot imagine their own end of days.

We talked about what is important to consider, and about what we’ve experienced through the loss of those we have loved. We found comfort in knowing that when we carry an umbrella, it rarely rains. And so we understand that once we have done the work to prepare for our peaceful ending, we have nothing left to do but to be like Brian, and live more fully in our own joy.

After lunch, and after sharing the deep discussion of death and dying and preparedness, we moved into the creative / artistic portion of our gathering. Everyone decorated and dedicated their own boxes of surrender. Tosha Silver refers to this in her book Outrageous Openness, as a ‘God Box’. The idea being that we get nowhere by worrying over what might be coming, be it something we want or don’t want, and that having a tool for release can be liberating. Some would say: ‘Let go and let God’, but some of us are less comfortable with the term, and so we offer our fears, our hopes, our burdens, our concerns to the light of love.

I provided wooden boxes, already primed, with paint, glue, glitter, and various bits and gems so that each Gardener could put into this ‘intention’ their own creative energy. Let me tell you, they are works of pure beauty. When they open the lid to enter their handwritten worries, they are greeted by the words: “Surrender to Love”, and “Resolved for the Highest Good in Divine Timing”.

My hope is that my beloveds will acknowledge that which weighs heavy on their hearts, honor them, and then lay them down with the knowledge and belief that, all is well in this moment (which is all we really have), and to rest in the belief that everything will be okay (even when answers don’t arrive on our preferred timetable).

It was a long and wonderful day. I stopped in to check on my parents and Mom reported ‘another’ mass shooting being reported Saturday evening. And on Sunday morning, when I went over to set them up for the day, Mom said… Melissa, there was ANOTHER mass shooting. At first, I thought she might have forgotten she had already told me. But then it sunk in. Two mass shootings in one 24-hour period. Another harvest. Another sacrificial king. Another tragedy to build on so many others, for which nothing has been done beyond inciting more of the same. Heavy sigh…

My book group met Sunday afternoon. We discussed how thrilled we were that though we read another book about slavery, it turned out to surprise us with the uplifting courage of two sisters who lived in Charleston, SC in the 1800s. Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings WOWed us the way that her first novel, The Secret Life of Bees had done many years before.

My friend and co-worker invited me into her book group about 16 years ago to add diversity. So, as the only white girl in the circle, I had to bring up my curiosity for how my dear friends were feeling. My only burden is that of white privilege, and I feel overwhelmed by the blatant racism that is being spewed, celebrated, and even protected by the GOP. I can only imagine how my friends might be feeling, and so I inquired.

My friend who is black, but grew up in Barbados, it turns out, does not carry the weight of discrimination as one might expect, though she could tell a story of living in NYC and having a frequent caller stop calling after meeting her in person to discover the color of her skin. And my friend who is of Indian decent and grew up in England, remembers a child calling her family names as they exited a tour bus, but acknowledges that someone silenced the kid and they went on about their day. But we all cried as our friend, who is Latina and whose husband is black, told us of how she and her husband cried at the news of the latest massacre, and the manifesto that was revealed by the white nationalist terrorist before his shooting spree. We cried with her for the awareness that she and her beloved would be a target of such senseless violence. We cried for those who WERE the target of such hatred. We cried for all that feels lost to us in our beloved country.

After my book group selected the next book and put a date on the calendar, I hugged each a little tighter. Then at bed time, I wrote onto a piece of paper: Keep Them Safe, Stop the Violence, Deliver Peace, Comfort Fear. As I placed it into my own Box of Surrender, I said these words: “I surrender this burden to the light of love. I know that all is well in this moment. I trust that all shall be revealed in divine timing. Please let it be soon. “

If you’d like to read more about creating your own end of life plan and designating your own advance directive, you can find good information at this site:
https://www.nhpco.org/patients-and-caregivers/advance-care-planning/advance-directives/downloading-your-states-advance-directive/

Thank you for walking this path with me. Now, hand me your burdens and let them go. I will carry them away with me into the light of love.

Caregiver Respite

Yesterday, I drove eleven hours to reach my nirvana. Before chosen as a somewhat popular band name, this was the transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self – the final goal of Buddhism. In the symbolic sense, I find these things not at ocean’s edge (only an hour from my home), but on mountain top. In the Blue Ridge Mountains, my soul finds peace, renewal, and rebirth.

My parents and I have fallen into such a lovely routine of presence and connectedness, that it was difficult to find the right timing for my absence, but as it often does, the universe conspired for my highest good and everything fell into place. My friends with a Bed &Breakfast in Banner Elk, NC had one bed available, my brother planned a weekend visit with the folks, and suddenly my worries about abandoning my cat and my parents were lifted.

I once dreaded a long drive, even with a friend, for the tedious nature of the journey… trying to stay awake, stopping to pee in a public restroom, the way the body rebels from prolonged sitting / riding. But in recent years, I’ve learned to love such a journey, even solo. Yesterday, I enjoyed eleven hours of introspection.

I listened to an audiobook on spirituality, then needed more stimulation, so I sang along with the cast of Hamilton, and then spent some time with Alexander Hamilton’s biography (also on audiobook), which informed Lin Manuel Miranda’s epic Broadway show. I found myself wishing there had been such art available in my youth, for learning about history would have been even more interesting to me if I could hum the tune.

I am grateful that I am able to find just as much joy in solitude as I do with great company. Maybe I have become the change I most wish to see in the world.

I arrived at The Pointe B&B at North View just before dinner time, after leaving home at 6:06am. Oh, the glory of walking into open loving arms after a long drive. I was informed that four of the seven other guests were teachers and one was a childhood friend of our hostess. They had grown up together and had gone all the way through school, but had not seen each other in thirty years. This ‘business’ has delivered the prosperity of reunion to my dear friend. The peace in her heart is tangible, and I am grateful.

After dinner, I learned more about the teacher-guests. They live near the DC area, and if you’ve ever seen video footage of the T-Rex protesting the President in front of the White House, well… you’ll know that I have been blessed to meet a few remarkable and energetic beings who carry humor for protection during difficult times, this weekend. It turns out that this group of friends drove down to attend the Scottish Highland Games on Grandfather Mountain. And of course… we learned that we share a common world view, spiritual path, and even world travel experience. We are kindred. It was difficult to turn down the invitation to join them for the games, but I reminded myself that I have come here to reconnect with the spirit that lives in the woods. Men in kilts will have to wait for another day.

I am sitting in a napping porch swing with my laptop, looking out at a mountain range, listening to the wind in the leaves and various bird call, bearing witness to bees and chipmunks in the yard. It is glorious. This is how my soul finds renewal… in the majesty of Mother Nature, in Her form of ancient, voluptuous, undulating mountain curves and folds. She allows me to sit in Her lap as She gently strokes my hair, and I am at peace. There are grey clouds above and I am hoping to add the sound of mountain rain to my weekend soundtrack.

On my drive, I was thinking about a sweet friend who is facing some health concerns. She has been having trouble sleeping lately, and reached out for support. On that road I drove, which sometimes presented obstacles, I started writing a meditation for her in my mind. What was to be a 9.5 hour drive (per google maps) ended up being an 11 hour journey. Most of the road was smooth and delightfully free-flowing. But once in a while there were obstacles. Some stops were just to empty my bladder and keep going, but then there was… South Carolina. It is the only stretch of I-95 I’ve driven that instantly changes at the border… shrinking down to two lanes in each direction. An accident that didn’t even block the road cost all drivers an extra 40 minutes as everyone slowed down to look, and there was nowhere for a non-nosy driver to pass.

When my friend was given a diagnosis and learned surgery was required, an obstacle was presented in the form of a heart concern. So, she has been momentarily diverted and things have slowed down to ensure she stays safe. But soon, the obstacle will be behind her and the road ahead will be free-flowing once again. She may need to stop for gas or to empty her bladder, but the road will patiently await her eager return to the path of discovery and freedom.

What a blessing it is that we all get to share our sacred journeys with the hearts of others. How lovely to seek healing and respite and to find it in the embrace of those we love. What wonder to be nourished and nurtured by a joyful welcome, deep sharing, caring inquiry, and in the honor of holding space for one another. In my heart, I know that THIS is the meaning of life. We are the universe made manifest in human form for the delight of being touched.

I look up to see two souls at play, a small bird and a chipmunk at the edge of the yard. What a shame it would be to be in the presence of such grace and miss the point.

For the moment, I am comforted to know that my most important beings are caring for one another back home, while I am doing the necessary work of caring for the caregiver (that’s me). When I get home, we will get dad ready for a surgery that will hopefully bring comfort, but will also require closer care through recovery. I am recharging my battery and will be ready to serve with presence, patience, reverence and grace. (so mote it be)

I’m planning to close this sacred writing tool and relax on the napping swing for a while. The meditation for my friend, to help her rest, will solidify in my mind to be written and recorded, and later, my hosts and I will ride down the mountain to share a meal. We are all eager to hear the Highland Tales of my fellow guests around the fire this evening. Until then… Slainte! (Gaelic – “To Your Good Health!”)

Thank you for walking this path with me. I’m so happy you are here.

If you’d like to join us, you can book your stay at: https://www.thepointebandb.com/

View from The Pointe B&B at North View, Banner Elk, NC

Kindness Matters

I’ve been struggling lately. It’s an old wound that seems to heal, then fester. Body image. Self worth. Self loathing. Fear-based thought. Acceptance. Struggle. Being mindful makes it better… and worse. And being post-menopausal, well… Sigh…

In 2012, I took a drastic step in an effort to see if metabolic disorder could be overcome via surgical intervention. Nothing else had, up to that point. No one would have believed that I consumed fewer than 1200 calories a day and could weigh over 250 lbs.

The first time I did Weight Watchers at age 18, I weighed 154 lbs. In my mind, I was HUGE. I felt shame over thighs that touched and a belly that wasn’t flat.

With a diagnosis of poly cystic ovarian syndrome and metabolic disorder in my mid-twenties, and with each diet I tried, my body became a vessel of holding. Even after having 80% of my stomach removed in 2012 via vertical sleeve gastrectomy (no malabsorption as my intestines remain intact) my body never became thin. I cannot consume more than a cup of food in a sitting, and I can still manage to put on weight with grace and ease.

Obesity is a disease that effects the body, but breaks the heart. At every turn, you are reminded by society that you are not worthy. Sticks and stones won’t break my bones, but the judgment of others will be internalized and carried like cancer in the bones. All consuming.

After surgery, I did get to a lower weight than I’d been able to before, but two years into menopause, my body is resistant to letting go. Despite a greater sense of self-love and a decade of reprogramming and altering internal dialog to love language rather than fear language, weight that had stayed off for some time has begun to return.

I know that we manifest what we think about, and so in an effort to stave off old fears of never-ending expansion, I decided to find focus for overcoming.

Someone had recommended using Marianne Williamson’s A Course In Weight Loss for self-discovery a couple of years ago, and I already had it in my Kindle library, so I opened it up. Honestly, I have a resistance to the term ‘God’, thanks to the oppression of the patriarchy over the last 2,000 years (I tend to be against anything that uses violence to ‘encourage’ belief), and so I also felt a resistance to her work. But I decided to move forward, using a different noun. I appreciate a good workbook to encourage an emotional deep dive, after all.

In the first chapter, we are encouraged to identify with a list of emotions and write whatever comes up. Then, we ask the Universe (in my case, Great Spirit) to take each burden from us. As I wrote, I incorporated a technique from ThetaHealing. I believe that we gather wisdom from many sources, and may use whatever resonates to build a mindful practice.

There’s a really long list of items to address, and I addressed them all. I don’t feel that I felt anything I wrote consciously, but words (as they often do) rose easily through my fingertips and onto the page. Shame, Injustice, Anger, Protection, Fear, Pride, Unforgiveness, Selfishness, Judgment, Jealousy, Disdain, Greed, Excess responsibility, Laziness, Separation, Pressure, Dishonesty, Exhaustion, Arrogance, Burden, Inferiority, Stress, Embarrassment, Heartbreak, Self-abnegation.

She ultimately is suggesting that we let go of the ‘weight’ of these burdens… the emotional ‘weight’ we carry in our minds. I won’t ‘burden’ you with the whole story, but will share one piece as an example of the work. FEAR is such an obvious one, isn’t it? So many of us are limited by this emotion. This is what I wrote on that.

I am afraid that I will never be adequately loved. I am afraid I will never have true intimacy in my life. I am afraid I will never be someone’s priority. I am afraid my truth will never be seen. I am afraid I will never meet someone worthy of knowing my truth. I am afraid that if I open my heart to another, I will be betrayed. I am afraid I will never attract someone who is authentic and honest. I am afraid I am not worthy of such partnership. I am afraid I will never know what it is to feel completely safe with a man. I am afraid I will never cross paths with a man who has worked as hard as I have to be vulnerable and authentic. I am afraid that the truth is I am unattractive to men. I am afraid no one has been attracted to me because I am fat and ugly. I am afraid that no one will ever be attracted to me because I am fat and ugly. I am afraid that those who have claimed to be attracted to me just saw someone they could use. I am afraid I will be the cause of someone’s suffering. I am afraid that my actions or inaction will allow others to suffer. I am afraid I will never share mutual attraction and adoration with a man, and that I will never know the kind of love and support I have witnessed in couples I admire. I’m afraid that my body will never release excess weight and that it will keep rising without cause. I’m afraid of how my body will look if I do lose the excess weight. I’m afraid I will never love my body as it is… in any shape or form. I’m afraid no one else will love me as I am in any shape or form.

Great spirit, all that is, beloved angels: I surrender my fear to you. Please take it from me. Thank you. It is done.

The next step she refers to as ‘Reflection and Prayer’. For me, it is about connection and visualization. So, I took her suggestion, and grounded and centered, then walking through my mind into meditation… this is what came forward.

THE VISUALIZATION

I sent my energy into the earth and brought the core of light back into my being. I brightened and aligned my chakras and pulled the light from above into my being – expanding my golden light of protection.

I stood looking at the wall that I have built – broad and high. Great spirit in the form of a woman with flowing white hair stood beside me. She affirmed the strength and beauty of what I had built, but also how it kept others out. Together we assessed each cobbled brick and how it was no longer needed. Together we disassembled the wall. Behind me was a neglected and dying garden, and before me – beyond the confines of my former wall, was a vast, open field of lush, beautiful, decadence in green and pink – like wildflowers rising from softest long grass.

As I stood beside Great Spirit, I could see someone walking toward me, stepping over tall grass. He says that he has been looking for me all over, and is relieved that I have finally been revealed to him. He reaches for my hand, and I take his without fear or trepidation. Together, we forge a new path in our togetherness, he swings the scythe for clearing the way, as I lay down the bricks which once made up the wall that contained me, to pave the road ahead.

I smile back at Great Spirit, and she blows me a kiss. She is happy for me and my liberation.

The next phase is letter writing. She suggests that the ‘thin-you’ addresses the ‘not-thin-you’. The two sides of your identity that are either healthy and healed or traumatized and suffering. She uses a sample letter as an example that starts, “Dear Fat Ass,”… and my first discovery for this part of the work is that I am grateful that I long ago learned that kindness matters. Even with the shame I carry for the size of my frame, I could never in a million years address anyone, even my self, with such hateful words. This is what came up for me when I got over the hurt in my heart for the words one of MW’s clients would use to address themselves.

LETTERS TO AND FROM LARGER THAN LIFE ME

Dear Larger Than Life:

I see you. I see the pain and suffering that you’ve carried since you were small. I feel the ache of unworthiness throughout this body and being. I’m sorry you’ve had to work so hard to protect me, these many years. I’m sorry that you have spent so much time building walls rather than paving paths. I’m sorry that those walls kept you isolated and invisible rather than connected and out among the beauty of all that is.

I can remember those moments of feeling unsafe in our youth. Having a boy stand too close or stare too long. Hearing cat-calls while walking to a friend’s house to play barbies. Wishing that boys wouldn’t like me, so that I wouldn’t have to hurt a friend when I didn’t feel the same. What was the true point of this sacrifice? Not wanting to be hurt, or not wanting to hurt others?

It seems there is so much to fear when we are maiden. Will we be worthy of our parents’ love? Are we so different from others that we cannot find communion? Are the bullies right about me? Am I too ugly to stand among others? Will I ever be worthy of being loved? If I don’t fit in here, will I fit in anywhere? If I don’t have a boyfriend, does that mean I am unlovable?

But then, one day… we realize we are no longer the maiden. From the perspective of the crone, we are all-seeing – all knowing. We see the error of our ways, and we know that there is no more time to waste.

We understand that we were always worthy of our parents’ love, not because of a college degree or a career path, but because we are the symbol of their love made manifest. That was always enough. We were always worthy of love. Our differentness is what makes us so welcome in community. We allow others to see the world from a new perspective, and that has great value when so many are wearing blindfolds. The bullies were never really telling you that you were ugly… they were telling you that they felt ugly. That you chose to never hurt others as you had been hurt was a part of the lesson. This is where compassion gained foundation. Those stones, rather than building a wall, built a bench where we could sit with another to share comfort.

We who have not had the love and loyalty of a good man are not less worthy than those who have. We were fortified with a different kind of strength, in our ability to stand on our own, to manifest our own hopes and dreams, and to pave a safe path without compromising the integrity of our own core values. Rather than being one half of a couple, we have always been one whole – even when we felt too fractured to realize it. In our aloneness, we had the freedom and clarity to be present and focused for many, rather than just one. We merged with the Artemis archetype and became warriors!

I want to offer you my love, as well. But first, I must offer you my deepest regrets. I am sorry that while feeling unlovable, I did not love you enough. I am sorry that the unconditional love I offered others, was withheld from you. I am sorry for the nights that I lie awake in bed, feeling all of your ‘extra-ness’, that my thoughts were filled with such unkindness. I am sorry that I learned from the bullies to be compassionate toward others, but was rarely compassionate toward you. I am sorry that in your endeavor to keep me safe, that I chained you in a dungeon of darkness.

You deserved freedom and light! Today, I offer you the key to freedom. I would unlock those chains, but the truth is… you are the strong one. You, great warrior woman, need only to rise… and those chains will all fall away.

There are five things that we should say when we are ready to leave one world, being liberated from the body, and into another. As we move forward into a new world, free from the suffering of old wounds which no longer serve us, I offer them to you: Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you for keeping me safe. I love you. Good bye.

Sincerely yours, Simply Me

Dear Simply Me:

I have waited so long to receive this message from you. Thank you for finding the courage to let go. What a relief it is to finally release an attachment to fear. What a great burden to carry. It is far heavier than even this Larger Than Life earthly body.

 It is fear that leads to hatred. It is fear that leads to loathing. It is fear that leads to hurting. It is fear that causes us to harm ourselves and others. It is fear that builds walls. It is fear that casts stones. It is fear that keeps us from growing into authentic glory. Let’s be done with it!

I can see how much effort you’ve put into personal development and emotional growth. I honor your hard work and dedication with my own form of letting go. You no longer need protecting, for you have grown fierce with your own sense of belonging. You don’t need layers of protection to render your body invisible, for you finally understand that it is not only safe to shine, but it is necessary for better living and for the good of all.

I am so proud to witness that instead of writing to me with harsh words of blame and accusation, you chose compassion. I believe the understanding earned through suffering delivered the greatest lesson on kindness. I am enormously proud of your choice to be kind and caring toward others, and I am so pleased that you have learned to offer yourself the same.

Here’s the thing, dear one… everything you wrote to me is truth. You and I are ready to move forward into the light of new beginnings. Hand-in-hand, we leave behind regrets of the past. The horizon offers the dawning of hope and the illumination of love. How lucky are we, to have realized that we were never alone in our suffering? We have always had one another, two parts of one sacred whole. Today, we seal old wounds with gold, and we are made more valuable. We are a vessel of holding, and we are filled to overflowing with sparkling wisdom and the healing fluid of divine love.

We are so blessed. Thank you. I love you. It is done. Blessed be.

All the best – always, Larger Than Life

Once again, we are instructed to ask for assistance to overcome and heal this relationship with ourselves. Nearly 5500 words have been written so far, and I’m only at the end of Lesson 2. It doesn’t feel like a waste of time to have this written conversation with myself. I have grown to appreciate my own company in recent years, and I have no patience for shallow, meaningless talk with anyone.

If my struggle feels familiar to you, I hope you will find inspiration for healing. If you, dear reader, are that person who has never had to diet, but has judged others as lazy or gluttonous due to the cellulite they carry, I hope you might come to understand the level of suffering that resides on the inside of those who don’t look like you.

May we all find our way back to nurturing kindness for ourselves and others. That’s what will save this world from (self) destruction. Thank you for walking this path with me.

A Pride of Warriors

Where I live, the month of June carries a great deal of weight. The most
obvious, here in the State of Florida, is the arrival of oppressive heat and
torrential rain. Many of us are grateful for those daily downpours, as they
often manage to lower the temperature from around 99 degrees to somewhere around 88 degrees, if we’re lucky.

June is also Gay Pride month (not just in Florida), and celebrations occur
at various venues throughout the month. You’ve probably heard of Gay Days at Disney, which is loads of fun in a sea of red and rainbow. Today, my former workplace raised the rainbow flag in front of the corporate office, to proudly fly a commitment to diversity, honoring the dignity of ALL. The induction of the Pride Alliance into the employee networks several years ago was monumental, even if it felt ridiculously overdue. It’s never too late to get it right.

But the other thing about June… that which makes it not just hot, but also
heavy, is a certain anniversary. A horrific, terrible, nightmare in memorial.
In the early morning hours of June 12, 2016 a domestic terrorist entered the Pulse Nightclub, right at the heart of one of our Central Florida
neighborhoods, and murdered 49 sacred members of our beloved community.

Oh, how we long for the days that our theme parks made us special. No city on the planet wants to be a member of the mass shooting club!

Pulse was a gay nightclub, where friends could gather for dancing, for
laughter, for music therapy, and stress relief. It was a place where those who walked through the entrance doors could feel safe to be their authentic selves. It was, for many, a homecoming to acceptance.

They tried to tell us that the shooter was angry about something happening across the globe, but the truth was far more disturbing. He was angry with his culture, his religion, and our society, who would have him carry his unspoken truth inside, never to be fulfilled. He wasn’t allowed to be who he wanted to be, and so he took it out on those who could.

A world of harm comes from pretending to be something you are not, while
swallowing shame placed upon you by others. It is the most bitter poison one can ingest. It can only lead to turmoil and destruction, whether it be to one’s self, or to a room filled with sacred souls.

I don’t really understand the societal repression, oppression, and
aggression that seems to come from patriarchal religions toward those who are LGBTQ. Especially, since the big three of the patriarchy claim that God is love, that God created everything and makes no mistakes, God is the only judge, etc. And don’t forget the ‘golden rule’ – do unto others as you would have done unto you. Seems like a really big disconnect, if you ask me, when they would have the rights of others limited or removed altogether.

Gratefully, I’ve not seen or heard this ridiculous cry from anyone in my
personal circle, but THIS is why there is no ‘straight pride month’, people!
Society does not force straight people to bottle up their truth inside walls of protection in lieu of living an authentic life. They get to live each day, out in the open, holding hands with the one they love. They don’t have to worry about being beaten for wearing the clothing that makes them feel confident and comfortable. Their family members are less likely to disown them for being who they really are. Some might say… they are lucky.

I grew up in the Unitarian Church, and my parents’ best friends are a
lesbian couple who have been together for decades. So, when I fell in love with a woman in my mid-twenties, I didn’t hesitate to share the news with my parents. My relationship was embraced by my family and by my friends, and I wasn’t in a situation where I had to dance around pronouns when I spoke of my partner. But I do recall feeling fearful of public displays of affection, like holding hands while walking down the street. I had been bullied and taunted for not being thin, and so I understood the mean spirit of broken people. Standing up to adversity requires courage. In public, I felt the need to be cautious in order to stay safe.

We were together for eight years, and we remain friends, to this day. My
therapist told me, back in the day, that I was the only client who had ever
expressed shame and regret for discovering that I was NOT gay. I mean,
really… if I could flip a switch, I would, because the men in my romantic
life have been a real disappointment. But that’s another story.

I have friends who have loved one another for decades, whose lives are
completely entwined, and yet they were only recently able to legally marry. And I have a friend who is transgender, who after years of this awareness and self-discovery, is beginning to step out into the world donned in garments that make her feel more at home in her skin.

Can you imagine what that is like? To have gone to work every day dressed like someone else? To look in the mirror and see an impostor? To reply to co-workers, when they ask about your weekend plans, while creating language to dance around the truth of the person that you will share it with, and whom you cherish the most in all the world? You know what? You don’t have to be an empath to know that it feels fake, false, empty, lonely, and sad. NO ONE SHOULD HAVE TO FEEL THAT WAY!

Let me tell you something. The beautiful LGBTQ souls everywhere are great
warriors, one and all. Whether they have found the strength and courage to be authentic and live an out and about reality within our judgmental and often hateful society, or if they are carrying their truth on the inside – longing for such freedom, they have my respect, my admiration, and my undying support. I am just aching to be asked to be a stand-in Mom at a wedding, for someone whose own parents were too broken and close-minded to love their own children for being honest and seeking happiness. I have more than enough love to go around.

This weekend, I watched the sequel series on Netflix for Tales of the
City
by Armistead Maupin. It is set in San Francisco and the nucleus of
the story is a transgender woman named Anna, and the beloved community she has created and nurtured over many years. This updated series takes us back to Anna’s courageous and heartbreaking ‘new beginning’, transitioning at a time that was even less inclusive than now. It also shows us details of the relationships of the other residents of Barbary Lane (the home Anna opened to others as a safe space to thrive), who are gay, straight, bisexual, and transgender.

As a friend and ally of the LGBTQ community, I watched every episode with a sense of deep caring for these characters. I wanted to protect them from the ignorance of others, and I wanted them to know that I have felt rejected and abandoned by love, too. I have stood in the mirror willing my body to look different than it does. I have sometimes had the courage to put myself out there again, in order to find the love that I deserve, and I have also locked my heart inside a closet in order to keep it safe.

One thing that occurred to me as I watched each episode, exploring self
discovery and actualization, affection, sexuality, and sensuality in many
forms, I could remember how strange it felt, long ago, to see two men kissing on screen for the first time. I’ll admit, that as a young person, it made me feel uncomfortable, but only because it was not something I had seen before. I love that movies and television are finally beginning to reflect the real world. Perhaps the more we see loving relationships between caring people of all genders and identities, the rest of the world will get over its fear and discomfort with what once felt unfamiliar, and get back to focusing on their own happiness, and allow others to do the same. You know… as they would have done unto themselves.

It’s hard to imagine that reality, right now, with so much bitterness and violence being nurtured and celebrated by the so called ‘President’… but I do believe we will get there. I have no choice but to believe in the probability of peace and the power of love to overcome this darkness.

I doubt that any of us imagined we would celebrate marriage equality in our lifetimes, and yet many of us have either been attendants or guests at gay weddings over the last few years. Or as I like to call them… weddings.
Someday the silliness of the distinction will be obsolete.

In the meantime, we celebrate how far we’ve come. We wave our multi-colored flags, not as a sign of defeat, but as a symbol of freedom. There
is a quality of fierce assertion required to stand up and declare one’s
authentic spirit to the world, and so I think of this remarkable community as a Pride of Lions. A fellowship that learned it must protect their own.

But to be who you are truly meant to be, when the world would have you be just like everyone else – fitting inside the limitations of smaller minds, one must stand with the sureness of a warrior.

So, at the occasion of a month dedicated to the celebration of individuality and fabulousness, and at an anniversary of a horrific moment that my beloved community will never forget, I salute this Pride of Warriors!
I pay tribute to their courage to be who they want to be. I honor their divine perfection, because though I am not religious, I know that who they are is not a mistake. And I bow my head in sorrow for our fallen warriors, and our beloved survivors whose dreams are surely haunted.

As for those who are struggling with the concept of acceptance, respect, and loving kindness for ALL beings (yourself included), consume these wise words from one of our favorite New Yorkers (Ms. Cyndi Lauper):
YOU’LL CHANGE THE WORLD WHEN YOU CHANGE YOUR MIND!
Thank you for walking this path with me.

 

Dancing at Beltaine

Sacred Gardeners, is how I refer to the beautiful souls joining me this year for a journey of intention. As I embrace the role of priestess in service and devotion to the divine beings who are my parents, I also require a creative and spiritual outlet which fills me up. These beloved beings have generously signed on to explore the Celtic calendar and cycle of seasons as it manifests within themselves.

We are a part of nature, and so we, too, are in a state of constant change. We are connected to the earth and effected by the sun. Just as the planet goes through a transformation from winter to spring, and summer to fall as the earth orbits the sun (though less pronounced in places like Florida), we are subject to the coming of sorrows that cause us to go within (like a bear to her den) and to the great joy of new beginnings (like the emergence of the first daffodils when all else is grey and covered in snow – also not in Florida).

By the end of December, I will have created a full curriculum for this journey around the sun, as I am allowing it to develop intuitively, one high holy day at a time. If we are living in the now, how can we be caught up in what the future may hold? Nature cannot be rushed, so why should we? We plant our seeds, offer them water and sunlight, and stand witness to their unfolding.

The spring equinox inspired finding balance. We worked with techniques to feel more grounded, and creating and connecting with the joy and treasure in our lives to bring equilibrium to responsibility.

As I looked ahead to Beltaine, which is the cross-quarter holiday that falls between the spring equinox and summer solstice, I considered the state of nature in the northern hemisphere and the mythology that was written to offer symbolism for understanding. This time of year is all about sensuality and fertility. We are witness to the Sun’s love warming the earth below as flowers rise and open to His touch. I could have developed a workshop around our relationship with others, but I felt more strongly served by diving into the necessity of loving ourselves.

My gardeners were given an assignment of mindfulness. Pay attention to the words you use with your own reflection. What does your internal dialogue sound like? Would you say these things to someone you love? If not, why would you ever say them to yourself?

For our creative project, we would take a canvas and write down all of the negative things we spoke to ourselves (my hope being that my gardeners would have nothing to write), and then we would do acrylic pour and stir our positive thoughts into the paint before releasing it to cover and transmute what once was there.

We discussed Dr. Emoto’s water study, and how it has been proven that our thoughts effect water, and since our bodies are mostly water, how our thoughts effect our mental and physical health. (What are our words manifesting?)

And since we were clearly dedicating this sensual holy day to the element of water, our physical activity was a lesson in veil belly dance. Our silk veils, shipped all the way from Virginia by my Tribe Sister, flowed like water on wind, as we shimmied and twirled – connecting with our own sensuality.

Inspired by “The Shakti and The Shiva at the Center of the Human Heart” from The Storyteller’s Goddess, reminded of the love that resides within, we wrote love letters to ourselves, as if we were writing to our most beloved being. I collected the sealed and addressed envelopes to be mailed in the future, and received with surprise.

What I love the most about these gatherings is the deep, authentic, sharing of our individual truths. I always go first, because I believe that one should be willing to be vulnerable before expecting others to do the same. I believe, and have been witness to, the way that burdens are lifted when a story is shared, honored, and validated. Especially when a dozen people speak their truth and you hear your own truth in the words of many. It is enormously liberating to know that we are not alone.

There is more to the story, but what happens in sacred space stays in sacred space. I can share that though I have been practicing a mindful reprogramming of harmful thoughts and words toward myself for several years, I did find through this process that there is far more compassion in the tone that I carry. I’ve gained a bit of weight in the last two years (body shame being a core wound I’ve carried since childhood), and now when shame rises it is met with loving kindness, rather than harsh self-hatred. I feel this is huge progress which requires constant vigilance. I also feel that I am worth it. Life is short, and I have wasted far too much time in self-loathing. Joyfully, I move forward holding my inner child, rather than shunning her.

What loving words do you have for your most sacred being? Consider writing a love letter to yourself. “My favorite thing about you is… I love the way you… Thank you for… I love you most!”

I love these Sacred Gardeners, I love that you took the time to read my words and story, and I love myself for taking the time to connect with the great lover that resides within. Thank you for walking this path with me.

Rage Containment

Being a practitioner of mindfulness in a time of American History when works of dystopian fiction are manifesting in reality at a rapid pace, has its challenges. I have long recognized that scifi equals prophecy, and I don’t want to acknowledge the same for the above genre. But… here we are.

It took me a lifetime to overcome body-shame, and now I am facing the hurdle of country-shame. It’s one thing to hold space for the irreparable damage caused by our ancestors to the First Nations people of this continent and to those stolen from their homeland and forced into slavery – a permanent stain on the soul of this country. It is something entirely different to stand witness to similar offenses of oppression. It is hard to swallow what the GOP is forcing down our throats, feeling helpless while wanting to bite down hard enough to make them all bleed out.

A part of my mindful practice is that I do not watch the news. I started this intention during the Dubba-yuh administration, and I am certain that my personal level of peace has been greater than those who feel the need to watch every moment of footage of this train wreck. But, of course, that does not mean that one can avoid the news altogether. Certainly, since the clearly fucked up election of 2016, rage rises and mindfulness is confronted rather often.

I feel my heart begin to race, and I remind myself to breathe deeply and let it go. I am not an activist by nature, which sometimes feels shameful, too… but I have chosen to let that go, as well. My intention is to come into awareness of the darkness in our world, and with every ounce of my being… send it light.

When I hold onto anger, it causes me bodily harm. I deserve better. And so, I visualize that darkness like the black smoke from the 90’s animated film, Fern Gully, which was voiced by the deviously divine Tim Curry. In my mind’s eye, that villain of poisonous corruption is captured in a vacuum of pink crystal, where it is dissolved and transmuted – becoming harmless to myself and others.

But still, there are times when I simply feel the need to raise my fist into the air and scream obscenities aloud, so that the powers-that-be are clear on my feelings about what is happening around me that feels beyond my control.

Right now… is one of those times. I am angry and outraged by absolutely everything that is happening (or not happening) within the US government and in many of the individual states, as well. As we near the anniversary of the Pulse shooting, which recalls a night of terror in my own beloved community, absolutely nothing has been done to prevent such horror of gun violence befalling the beloved communities of others in this country. Our government has long been dick-whipped by the NRA, and it is shameful.

The fact that many ‘conservatives’ said for eight years that President Obama brought them shame, but not because of the color of his skin, has been gloriously proven false by the blatant, violent racism that has been given free-reign, since the Racist-and-Mysogynist-in-Chief took office in January 2017. The treatment (and/or neglect) of immigrants, migrant workers, LGBTQ, Muslims, Jews, People of Color, disadvantaged women, children, and animals (his kids enjoy trophy hunting, you see) is shameful. Not to mention every effort to rape and pillage the very planet that gives them life! WHAT THE FUCK, PEOPLE!

There are days when mindful, loving kindness escapes me and I simply pray for our immediate destruction. For I know that Mother Earth will survive us. When we have destroyed ourselves, She will have a million years to clear away our pollution and poison, eventually becoming whole again. It’s like my mantra of letting go of that which no longer serves you. Once upon a time, before the white man came to this part of the world, the Earth was revered as Mother, Healer, Goddess, Bringer of Life… and She was treated with the utmost care. Now, as She cowers in a dark corner awaiting the next blow… She is defenseless. Held hostage by ignorance and greed. She should take back her power and just walk away.

Please forgive us, Sacred Mother.
We are helplessly treading toward your rescue, and hoping to save ourselves. They believe that suicide is a sin, and yet they are holding a dagger at their own throats… pitiful fools. Sadly, they will take us all with them.
We will miss you when we are gone.
Such a blessing it has been to behold your beauty and magick.

But then, I return to myself and the practice. My breath connects me with the core of myself and of the earth. She reminds me that I carry a vibration that can harm or heal. I choose healing. I face the rage and anger, and I bow to them both. I validate my authentic emotions, as they mean that I care deeply for the rights of ALL. I come back to the goodness that surrounds me, as there is far more good in this world, than evil.

I remember the owl that attended my last sermon, informing me that change is on the way. I remember that everything moves in cycles, and that recovery is not just possible, it is probable. I am reminded that throughout written history, oppressive and hateful power has slowly risen, and it has quickly fallen. It is that memory of liberation that I hold onto.

Finally, I look toward ARTEMIS, the feminine archetype of the mighty huntress. She still carries a quiver of arrows, and She does not take kindly to men violating the safety and freedom of women.
I return to my breath, and
WATCH HER RISE!

WILL WORK FOR ART!

What a blessing to have good friends with similar passions and interests. Recently, my lifelong friend (read: my favorite tomboy) and I drove north for our annual Artcation adventure. The destination – Savannah, Georgia.

We started this tradition about five years ago (we both struggle with the memory thing – so, that’s just a guesstimate). When we have more time to escape, Savannah is just a stop on our journey, but with my father’s various appointments during the week, a weekend trip felt more feasible. So, this time our focus was singular.

We love this whimsical walking city that is filled with history. We appreciate the architecture, the series of squares that offer parks and monuments surrounded by luscious canopies of oak trees throughout the thoughtful grid of cobblestone streets. But what we love the most… is the art. More so, we love the artists. Unlike many of the extreme-art cities we visit, Savannah has a good number of local artists who are working in the community, either in their own studio galleries or in a co-op setting.

Each year upon arrival, we check into our hotel and park the car. We then walk directly to one of three destinations to see what’s new by the artists we adore, and to see if a new (to us) artist can be found.

Our most joyful visits to Savannah are those that allow us the opportunity to spend a little time getting to know the artists that we have come to value. This year, we were blessed to have some time with three! Just one more favorite would have been like hitting the jackpot, but alas… our timing was off.

Our hotel this year was ideally located (for us), and it was just a two minute walk to get to City Market. This is a part of the historic downtown area that is always hopping. There is live music in the square, several restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating, shops and boutiques, and of course… oodles of art galleries.

As always, we asked our hotel manager for a lunch recommendation. We like to try something new (to us) in the culinary department each visit, as well. So, this time, we enjoyed our lunch at Belford’s Seafood and reveled in the glorious art of people-watching from the patio.

People come from all over to enjoy the culture of this historic downtown. We were witness to at least three bachelorette parties, and dozens of children dancing with ice cream, while their parents snacked on fresh made pralines. Oh! The pralines… sigh.

After lunch, we made our way upstairs to one of the artist centers. We were delighted to find Sabree in her gallery, which was in a different spot from our last visit. We were most drawn to a few large paintings and were introduced to the Gullah representations of Yemaya and Oshun. We adore the style and vibrant color of Gullah art, and even more lovely was the inspiration for each piece as channeled through this beautiful artist. I think she was a little shocked to learn that I was not only familiar with the Orishas, but had recorded a song dedicated to them, back in the nineties with a pagan choir. I had the song saved on my phone and was able to share it with her. It was one of those moments of sharing that felt as if it were made of pure magick.

Next, we made our way over to see what Brian MacGregor was up to. In the past we’ve stopped by to find him working on something grand and powerful, and this time we were thrilled to discover a plethora of new creations and offerings. He has been rather busy over the past year.

I especially enjoy Brian’s art for the intention and symbolism behind each piece. He keeps a journal hanging outside of his gallery / studio and invites visitors to write down their dreams upon the pages within. Not the dreams that one considers hopes for the future, but the nocturnal kind. Inspired by Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious, Brian takes ‘our’ dreams and places them upon canvas to become one with the dreams of others and his own. These dreams are written in the handwriting of hundreds and in at least a dozen different languages. He then mingles these sacred notes with images from nature or from imagination, infused with celtic knotwork and oil paint. Each piece is unique and stunning in passion and purpose.

We spent some time learning about his current focus and endeavors, and when I told him which new piece was calling to me, he shared the story of its becoming. The piece is called The Four Seasons, and it spoke to me for obvious reasons. I shared that I am creating a year-long series of workshops that focus on the changing seasons and how our lives mirror the cycle of nature. Originally four separate works of art, he has mingled them into one for a print on canvas. My art budget took a huge cut when I retired, but when I was offered the powerful symbolism, my friend and I knew it would be coming home with us.

In this piece, there are four women and four seasons. In the Spring, a woman with short golden hair and arms raised overhead to cup the returning sun, wears a yellow sundress and is framed by a circle of spring flowers which sits at the top of the frame. In the Summer, a woman with shoulder length red hair holds her arms up and open with flames in her palms with the sun at its peak, her dress is strapless and slightly lower in the frame sits a circle of green leaves. In Autumn, a woman with longer brown hair stands with her arms down and away from her body, she wears a dress with short sleeves, while the sun above her is growing further away, the circle of falling, colorful leaves is further down in the frame. In the Winter, a woman with long, curly, dark hair stands in a long-sleeved dress with her arms down at her sides and touching her hip and thigh, while the sun is barely seen above and the circle of bare branches sits at the bottom of the frame. There is so much mindful symbolism within these images, which includes the different phases of the moon drawn at the top of the dream pages that Brian has chosen for each season.

I shared with him my current incarnation, learning to live more simply so that retirement allows my presence for my parents. A few years ago, I wouldn’t think twice about purchasing any piece of artwork to which I was drawn, along with a few others as gifts. But my budget just isn’t what it once was, and my freedoms are different. I have the freedom of time and availability, but less-so the freedom of financial whimsy and generosity. My friend and I left the gallery that afternoon with a plan to figure out how this artwork would find its way home with us.

We next made our way down to the River Walk, and to our other favorite gallery in town… 209. We have a favorite artist there, whose work we seek at each visit. We love to see what new creatures have come to live in her section of the cooperative space. We fell in love with her style and whimsy on our first visit to Savannah, when we learned she was creating a book of children’s stories. Olivia Beaumont is a fine artist who dresses woodland creatures in renaissance themes, creating characters that stir the art lover’s imagination.

The book was available on our last visit, and to our great joy… the artist herself was available on this visit. The local artists represented within this gallery also work for this gallery. Olivia is a ray of sunshine, and we spent a good hour talking with her and exploring her available offerings. Sadly, the piece that needs to come live with me was not available in print that day. I am certain that the Owl posed with a quiver of arrows on his back and his talon placed upon a wooden longbow will be waiting for me to fetch him on our next journey north. My friend added two new creatures to her collection.

Seriously… I don’t miss eating out frequently, or shopping for clothing I don’t need… but being art-limited is really, really hard! TRUE CONFESSION: My name is Melissa, and I am an art-a-holic.

The next morning, I was talking myself out of The Four Seasons, just because it didn’t seem prudent. My friend and I took off on foot to various events around town that Saturday. There was a Maker’s Festival on one side of town, and the SCAD (the local art college) sidewalk art festival in one of the park squares. College and high school students were given their own squares on the sidewalk to decorate, and the art was vibrant and creative. The college mascot is a BEE, so you can imagine how delighted I was by many of the original creations of chalk on concrete.

We made our way from one side of town to another by foot, as we walked over to the famous Pirate House restaurant. By then, we had walked way more than the recommended 10,000 steps, and I contemplated whether to drink the cold cider or pour it on my aching feet. As we made our way back down to the River Walk area to see a favorite jewelry vendor, I had pretty much convinced myself that I couldn’t afford to purchase that coveted piece of art. But then my phone alerted me to a text message, and Brian was just checking in to be sure he hadn’t missed us – having arrived later than intended. Always one to listen to signs from the Universe, I replied that we were on our way.

My friend and I worked out a plan for a responsible purchase, and as I gaze up at where The Four Seasons are perched in my sacred space, I have absolutely zero regrets. Art makes me so happy. I was not blessed with the ability to create art that is pleasing to my own eye, though I am grateful for my gift for words. I sit surrounded by the creations of many, for whom I am grateful. Each artist, known and not yet met, living and dead, brings a sense of emotion and whimsy to my sanctuary. Their energy flows from their work and envelopes my beloved home with the light of love and inspiration. I cannot fathom choosing a minimalist style with barren walls, void of color and passion. This is the air that I breathe!

Wouldn’t it be amazing if I could offer my words in exchange for art? My love is far more valuable than any currency, and words can bring abundance.

I sometimes wonder, when I am sitting in silence and contemplating my current situation, if I should be more actively seeking employment or income. The workshops I do bring in a little extra cash, but mostly it pays for the things I want to share with those who attend. I love the connectedness I find there, and that is the intention I manifest more than anything else.

When I walk out of my parents’ house, just seven doors west of my own, I know that my choice to be present and available for their comfort is far more important to me than the former income I left behind.

For now… I’m just going to plant the seed in the magickal soil of the universe that I “WILL WORK FOR ART”… in whatever form that may take. I no longer hold a specific vision of how anything in life should look. I am open to the probability of being WOWed by the manifestation of wonder beyond my ability to imagine.

Thank you for walking this path with me. If you are interested, I am placing links below to a few of our favorite artists whose work can be found in Savannah.

Patricia Sabree at http://www.sabreesgallery.com/

Brian MacGregor at https://brianmacgregor.net/

Olivia Beaumont at https://oliviabeaumont.com/

David “G-Sleeve” Gildersleeve at http://www.gsleeve.com/
http://www.athun.com/david-gildersleeve.html

Melissa Moss at http://www.melissamossart.com/

Samantha Claar at http://finefolkgalleries.com/

Melissa with Sabree on the left and Melissa with Brian MacGregor on the right.

Expressive Art-Magick

Thursday was our final session in our expressive arts journey with our friend who was completing her certification. Let me tell you that each of us entered free from expectation, and parted ways transformed.

As someone who grew up with some level of art-trauma and a real sense of being completely incapable of artistic creation, this realization is no small wonder. No, really. My elementary school art teacher intimidated me like you wouldn’t believe. Looking back, I don’t think he was actually mean to me, but he had a big voice, and I just felt inadequate. I think I judged myself compared to others, rather than feeling judged by him… but alas, that is a memory that rises when I consider my art-disability.

Through every step of this journey, we were faced with photographic evidence of our former selves. We were asked to consider that being and where she was, who she was, how she felt about herself and then move into some random art form, most of which were completely new to us. Actually, I’m not sure that we were even prompted to be that thoughtful about the image looking back at us. I suspect it was the way that our minds simply got out of the way when we moved into the flow of each art form. In many cases, the conversations we had with our former selves took place on a different level after the physical artwork was done.

I’ve written about EMDR (eye movement desensitization rhythm) being like magick, too. It uses an alternating buzz, tone, tap while considering a trauma to help rewire the connections in the mind, touching on the different hemispheres of the brain. It feels so simple, and impossible to have effected change, and yet… you suddenly realize that you no longer burst into tears over a memory or cry yourself to sleep with fear and sorrow.

Expressive Arts Therapy offers a similar kind of magick. (By the way, when I write magick with a ‘k’, it is to differentiate that which is an art of illusion from that which is a kind of miracle that presents itself for your notice.)

For our final session, we gathered to read the Living Eulogies we’d written for ourselves. We discussed whether or not they were difficult to write, and how we felt about the words that rose for our individual celebrations of life. Most were really uncomfortable with the process, as it felt so unfamiliar and inappropriate to speak so kindly of one’s self. You know… the way we are taught not to be proud, because we should be humble. Otherwise, we may be considered by others to be stuck-up or a snob.

What a travesty! To be forced to go through life dimming our own light. I spoke of how easy this process felt for me, which was an indicator of my own evolution. I lived with self-loathing for so much of my life, this process should have been a Herculean task. And yet… the reprogramming that I started in 2005, when a medium repeated a message I’d received once before seems to have finally taken hold. She was telling me that “all I had to do [to move forward with my spiritual growth] was to fall in love with myself, and it would all fall away”. “Well”, I said, “how does one love someone she loathes?”

What I shared in our sacred circle was how I worked to overcome that ridiculous need to keep myself small. I decided that I would consider whether or not I would say to a friend the things I spoke to myself in internal dialogue. If not, I would have to wonder how I could possible say something to myself, so unkind, mean, belittling? Shouldn’t I offer my own being the same kindness, respect, compassion and love that I would offer another? Of course. Yes. More than anyone… I deserve my own loving kindness.

So, possibly the process of writing my own living eulogy offered me that gift. Though I still struggle with my own inner-bully… that bitch is finally starting to lose her voice inside my head. Ha! I’m kidding. I would never call anyone names… even her. She is receiving the loving embrace that she deserves, and the result is healing her wounded heart, as well.

For our final art project, we were presented with three pieces of paper, a white crayon, a pencil, a set of watercolor paint, a candle, and a mirror. We were shown three ways to create our own self-portrait, and instructed to create, then write words to go with each art piece. Talk about intimidated! I could feel Mr. Veblin (my elementary art teacher) over my shoulder ready to judge. But you know what? He wasn’t mean at all. He was there to support me. He didn’t say a word, so not to frighten me with his booming voice. He simply held space for me. And guess what else! I didn’t hate the results. I mean… I am not growing into an artist of any skill… but I do believe I am growing into a woman of greater courage.

The words that I wrote at the bottom of each creation were: “Radiant with the Light of Hope”, “Grateful for the beautiful way she is seen by others”, and “Every curve and curl a delight to behold”.

We were then instructed to take a post-it note to add our thoughts to the art of others, including our own. These are the words my artwork received: “Melissa, Love is far more freeing than loathing. So glad you found your way.”, “I see happiness in each of these self portraits.”, “I see creative flow, divine light, and freedom.”, “I see happiness. You are shining so BRIGHT!”, “Beauty radiates from the depth of your soul, and it shows in your portraits.”, “So joyful and full of hope. Shine on!”, “You inspire. You inhabit light. You are a leader.”

Going back to our conversation about how hard it was to write and speak positive things about ourselves, I am reminded of when a good friend said to me many years ago, “Oh, Missy… I wish you could see yourself the way others see you.” At the time, I thought that would be a wonderful gift, indeed. For I could not see the light and beauty she claimed to witness in my company. But with the words that flowed from my pencil, and the words added by these remarkable women who joined me in this work, I could feel the fruition of my friend’s blessing. It makes me realize that the good wishes from others don’t go away, even when we think we don’t deserve them. They remain vigilant, standing firmly planted at the edge of those walls we built around ourselves, just waiting to squeeze in through a tiny crack in the mortar. We thought we were protecting ourselves from harm, but while we were busy blocking out the possibility of being hurt by others, we were hurting ourselves… for love also requires an entrance.

We finished our time together by dancing with our shadows upon the wall, and of course… a group photo. I wish we had taken a before-photo, as well. Without a doubt, the transformation of this group of courageous souls would be visible to the eye. I can see it, not only in our smiles, but in the energetic aura that surrounds us… as if in the process of becoming more fully ourselves, we have also become ONE with each other. What a gift!

Thank you so much for walking this path with me. It has been a glorious garden of discovery. If you ever have the opportunity to venture into the Expressive Arts, I hope you will love yourself enough to know that you are worth it. Courage is the act of moving forward, even when you are afraid. Take that step, dear ones. You won’t regret it. I promise!

Expressive Arts Session Six / Final Project – Self Portrait

Living Eulogy to Her Becoming

I’ve returned to complete my homework assignment for tomorrow’s final Expressive Arts project… a living eulogy to the final (most recent) photo of the six selected. This picture is from last year… and it was taken by the extraordinary woman who has led this series. I can’t really say if this is a complete representation of a life well-lived, so far… for SHE is possibly more than I can yet comprehend. However, she does deserve my devotion, my reverence, and my words. May they do her justice.

Her parents almost named her Samantha, but it was MELISSA that stuck. She never imagined how she would grow into her name.

Melissa means honey bee in Greek. Thirty years would pass before she understood the significance of such a moniker. It would take even longer for her to own it.

In ancient Greece, those who were priestesses dedicated to nurturing the temples of the Goddess were called the Melissae. They tended the eternal flames, chanted the sacred words of healing and devotion, and they served their sisters with loyalty and reverence.

In her own way, our Melissa has been dedicated to service, as well. She reveled in service and sisterhood to her most beloved Tribe for twenty years. She worked in service to Maxine, Don, Dan and Daisy for what combined to equal a quarter century. Through them, she found purpose and partnership that delivered validation, until she learned to value herself. Retirement at forty-nine allowed her to be of service to her parents when it felt like the very best use of her time.

To Melissa, friendship has been such a gift and among her greatest treasure. She was blessed to meet her first true friend at the early age of five. She has important friendships from every decade of her life. Each are unique gems that she carries in her heart at all times, so that her love may never be far from those she adores and holds sacred.

Though Melissa chose not to have children, she has loved many as her own. She was even present for the birth of five. Certainly, she was present in spirit for all the rest… the legacy of her Tribe.

She once cared for a beloved 18 month old, when she was most in need. For one month, with a little help from friends, she made that sacred being her greatest priority. It was the most terrifying thing she ever did – being responsible for the well-being of a tiny human, and she considers it the most important.

Into her life, five beloved beings pounced and purred. The first one brought her liberation and independence. The second taught her how to love without condition – she was her familiar. The third was a big fluffy ball of light who taught her how to be a caregiver. The fourth showed her how it felt to be adored and how to survive traumatic loss. The fifth is showing her what pure, angelic goodness feels like. These are her children. No one else has shared her life so intimately.

First with her parents, then with friends, and even on her own, Melissa has enjoyed the pleasure of travel. She has a passion for walking with other cultures and touching ancient history. By the time she was twenty, she had been to every state on the US east coast, to California, Nevada, and Arizona, Mexico, England, France, Scotland, Turkey, and Finland. The latter trip, a second-place prize for a senior year writing contest. She holds certain parts of the world so dear that she has returned, more than once, to England, Scotland, and Wales. At the age of 39, she declared she would stop waiting for someone else to make her dreams come true, and she traveled to Ireland on her own. Living there or in Cornwall for a portion of the year is a dream she longs to manifest.

She has never been married, but has never lived without extraordinary love in her life. She has made poor choices, but has no regrets. She has learned and grown with gratitude, instead.

She has been a loyal and dedicated partner and secret keeper. She is a beloved and appreciated daughter and sister. She is a compassionate and caring friend. She is a Priestess of Artemis – a warrior woman whose weapons are words… they AIM to heal.

She is a woman who spent her life searching for someone to love her enough. Until one beautiful, miraculous, glorious day, the search was over…
SHE FOUND HERSELF!

Expressive Arts ~ Week Six / Finale

Permission To Be Real

Week five of six of our Expressive Arts workshop arrived last night. I felt a little sad to realize how close we’ve come to the end of our shared story. As we went around the circle to express our feelings about the work, it was obvious to all that this process is transformative. The energetic shift and emotional healing we’ve witnessed in ourselves and others is nothing short of extraordinary.

Earlier that afternoon, I received a box from one of my Tribe Sisters in Virginia. It was filled with silk veils and belly dance music. I plan to use this art in my own workshop in May, to help us connect with the divine feminine in a form of movement that would be connected with the element of water, to symbolize sensuality and flow synonymous with the season of fertility and vibrant blossoms bursting forth.

Imagine my delight, when our beloved facilitator informed us that our first expression of the evening would be in the form of ecstatic dance! It was an even greater surprise to have recognized the music, a guided journey into the self, through dance. Many years have passed since my Tribe worked with the music of Gabrielle Roth. The sound transported me back in time, while also propelling me further into healing.

I wanted to be able to explain the process with greater clarity, since my memory is like swiss cheese, and I didn’t write down everything we learned last night. I was trying to be in the moment, after all. So, I found a few interviews with Gabrielle and made some notes to share with you. The five rhythms of dance that Gabrielle Roth developed is a healing process using percussive rhythm and dance to move through an initiation of sorts.

She explains that the first rhythm is one of FLOWING, and it is the unconsciousness or wallflower stage that helps us connect with Mother Earth, the divine female energy, and our own flow. The second rhythm is STACCATO, which is focused movement that moves us into the divine masculine energy. The third rhythm is CHAOS, where we find freedom from what we carry, which is the female and male energy unified. The fourth rhythm is LYRICAL, where we become lightened and fall into harmonious flow with the language of the soul. The fifth rhythm is STILLNESS, which is a sort of electrified stillness, where we become one with all that is, finding inner peace.

This entire process lasts about thirty minutes. We were in darkness, and only followed the guidance we received from Gabrielle’s voice, and the voice within. Our bodies moved through the process as directed. We began with resistance and unconscious awareness, through self-conscious movement, into freedom and liberation, into a dance with the divine lovers that we cannot see with the eyes, but sense with the heart, and into electrified stillness. Which is a perfect description of how one feels at this point. You are slowing movement, but your entire body is snapping and tingling with sensations that inform us we are not who we were when we started.

Before the dance, we were limited. Limited by our own beliefs and the restrictions we’ve had placed upon us by society – we are embarrassed and ashamed to be taking up space, let alone moving wildly in ecstatic dance. But when we come through the other side of this process… this gift… we have been liberated from the confines of our former tiny boxes. As Gabrielle Roth says… we have been given permission to be real.

When we came back to earth and the lights came on, we were instructed to write an “I AM” statement, based on how we were feeling at this moment – post 5Rhythms.

THE LANDSCAPE OF ME…
(before the dance, these statements might have felt contrived or forced – a desire to be these things, rather than a knowing that I AM these things)

  • I am a well-grounded, radiant, glorious being of divine light, and I am open to receive the great wisdom and abundant blessings of the sacred Universe!
  • I am ALL me!
  • I am expanding beyond former limitations into my final becoming!

We worked with pastels to depict how we were feeling after the dance. One drawing each to depict mind, body, and spirit. For me, the spirit of the dance was ecstatic and colorful. I saw myself in the dance enveloped in flames like a phoenix rising, every energy center of my being expanding and taking flight. My body felt grounded and energetic, as if earth energy was rising and the elements were available at my reach. My mind and emotions felt as if they were flowing in a peaceful back and forth, in and out… collecting and gathering sensations of loving kindness.

We moved around the room to read and honor what others had written and drawn, and we offered up words of affirmation based on what we witnessed. The words I received were: Joyous Warmth, Shining Star, Radiance of Bright Light, and Beacon.

You know… I’ve been on this deep-dive journey for half of my life. The work that we’ve done, aside from much of the art forms with which we’ve experimented, has not been unfamiliar territory for me. I was able to easily reach in and pull out of my soul the old wounds and dark shadows, because I have been exploring these parts of myself for a really long time. What has been most exciting to me, has been to hold space for others and witnessing their courage to reach, to find, to honor, and to release these things for themselves. In some cases, for the very first time.

When I am introduced to new forms of healing, such as Expressive Arts, I always ask the question: “How might my life be different today, had I found this resource when I was younger?”

I guess the answer to that question is obvious. We come to the form of healing that helps us to heal, grow, and move forward… when we are ready for it. Healing comes at exactly the right time.

There are many things that have developed for me in the last couple of years that might have been less impactful, had I not yet learned to embrace myself as a writer. Though my gift for words has always been present, I have not always had the confidence to own it. I guess I should add that to my I AM statement list…

  • I am a writer!

We left our meeting space feeling a little overwhelmed, I think. I am certain that we are all grateful and a little sad, as we face only one more homework assignment. In the week ahead, we are to write to the image of our final photo… the most recent version of ourselves… a Living Eulogy. I think of it as what I would say about myself if I were to throw myself a living wake. My end of life doula studies required that I consider how I want my end of life to proceed, so I had already envisioned a living wake, should I have a diagnosis – rather than an unexpected departure. However, I had not considered writing something for myself. I have written something for those I leave behind, actually. So… this feels like something that can be added to the book I started writing last year, on that topic.

I’m going to save that for another day between now and our final gathering, next week. I sure hope I can do her justice. She deserves to be seen by her own heart and soul, the way that others see her. May it be so.

Thank you for walking this path with me. It has been quite an unexpected journey.

Expressive Arts – Week Five (body, spirit, mind) The Landscape of Me

This Girl

Tonight is week four of the six week Expressive Arts workshop I’m attending for my friend’s internship and certification. We were not given a writing prompt for last week’s picture, and there was no homework.

And yet… I find myself reluctant to leave this girl… the one in the third photo. Her image was taken at the junior prom in high school. She is alone in the picture, though she did have a date. That’s a part of the holding.

Two friends who had not been asked by someone exciting had decided to go together. That’s not an insult to her date, to say that he wasn’t exciting… for she was not exciting to him, either. You see… she would have loved being there with someone who wanted to be there with her – another boy. While he would have loved being there with someone who wanted to be there with him – also another boy.

I think about how far we’ve come, and wish that he could go back and have that special prom date. The one who made him want to dance into the night. I wish that for her, too.

When I look back on 17, I see mostly darkness. Which is why when my friend prepared for last week’s event by asking us for the photo we would use and a color that represents how the photo made us feel, the color I chose was… BLACK.

We arrived to our sacred space that night to find the work tables set with enlarged photos of our then-faces and styrofoam heads painted in various colors. Not to give away what happened in circle, but mine was not the only one in black. This was my first clue that these years were difficult for many.

We were instructed to walk around the room and collect random decorative supplies with which we would adorn our heads. And then, the music began, and we moved through the room and followed our inner guidance for the act of adornment.

This girl was seventeen. It was the year after her first and only high school relationship came to a melodramatic end. It was the mid-point of three years of torture and taunting by said ex-boyfriend’s friends. To be clear, their words were unkind, and she felt unsafe.

This was the year that a friend had lied to and betrayed this girl, and when she said she no longer trusted her and needed time apart, retaliation came in the form of her home being vandalized horribly by that friend, and others, which included a boy she had known nearly every day of her life. She knew nothing for some time, as her mother cleaned it all up without even telling her father. (It would be 23 years before that boy would find her to apologize and share his deep regret – he knew he had lost the best friend he had known. None of the others ever bothered.)

This girl wore a beautiful gown, hand-sewn by her mother, who wished for her every dream fulfilled… especially those she never found for herself. Her mother admitted to living vicariously, but boundaries were borderless back then, and every betrayal suffered by the daughter, also pained the mother. So much that the daughter learned not to share with the mother, to spare her the anger and bitterness that would follow. It was hard for the daughter to move forward, when the mother was still holding on to the past.

This girl was once told that ‘no man wants to marry a fat woman’, and since she believed she was fat… she knew there would be no fairy tale ending for her. This girl, with all of her sorrows, surrounded by bullies, chose not to go to college because school made her feel unsafe. It was where the mean people were, after all.

You’re probably wondering how that head-in-darkness turned out once decorated with random findings. Well, she is quite interesting. She makes me feel fascinated, sad and a little disturbed, all at once. She wears a mask (with one eye from the portrait revealed) and one eye covered with a star (she never stopped dreaming of something more). Her smile (also from the portrait) is literally pinned on. Letters around her neck spell out U N W O R T H Y. She has a circlet of flowers at her crown, which show how she wanted to feel or maybe how she actually felt… if you consider Ophelia’s end. She has butterflies for ears, because she allowed the unkind words of others to transform how she felt about herself. She has warm fuzzies to represent how she wanted to make others feel, while further down she wears stones, which she threw at her own reflection. She has patchwork and buttons to represent how she tried on different styles and personas, hoping to find one that would be accepted by others. She has the words LOVE ME in red glitter, because that is all she has ever wanted… for someone to find her worthy of such goodness.

I wrote a book last year that has not been published. It opens with a dedication to my grandniece. My book is about overcoming self-loathing. While I could not fathom how this beautiful girl before me (barely 15) could be struggling with her very will to live at such a young age, I was able to recall that life in high school was indeed difficult for me, as well. I looked at my own reflection and found only flaws.

The review of this girl’s world at 17 reminds me of just how dark that time felt, and it leads me to wonder how many others felt that way, when I was certain I was suffering alone. I guess I’ll never know. I mean, when I look at that photo, I’m pretty sure I am the only one who sees the darkness within. I guess we are pretty fucking magickal when we are teenagers. Thank the gods. This is where the warrior path begins… surviving high school.

So, tonight the story continues… the photo will be of a 20-something Melissa. I can’t wait to witness and honor her truth. This process may not be a path paved in pleasure, but it is certainly one I am grateful for taking. Thank you for walking this path with me. I’m so glad you are here.

Expressive Arts – Week Three

Check Your Treasure

Yesterday was a day of service and recovery. My sweet 81 year old Pop had an early morning appointment to FINALLY have the entropion on his left eye repaired. It developed one day while he was in rehab last November. I walked in for our nightly visit, and he looked like he had pink-eye. But when I took a closer look, I could see that his eye lashes were rubbing against his cornea.

In my past life, I was paid to assist the needs of executives. It was stressful work, at times, but there were perks, too. For one thing, if my executive wanted something done, I could reach out to others and say, “the Chief ‘whatever’ Officer, wants this done immediately!”, and it would get done immediately. In my new life… there is very little power. I tell doctors, hospitals, rehab facilities, etc. that my 81 year old father needs something immediately, and after five months of suffering and struggle… we might be lucky enough to bring one nightmare to conclusion. It’s maddening, really.

So, yesterday, though mornings are difficult for him, we were both up by 5:15am to get the day started. We had to report to the eye institute by 6:45am. We were there 30 minutes early. We were NOT going to let anything get in the way of getting this done. Since it started, he says that he feels like there is a fishnet hanging over his left eye. It impedes his vision and his balance. He didn’t really need any help with the balance thing. He has neuropathy from toes to knees in both legs, and severe weakness on his entire left side from 80 years of epilepsy related nerve damage. WTF Universe? Don’t you think he’s had enough to deal with in this lifetime? Sheesh!

This morning, I was out of the house by 6:30am to make a store-run for provisions. I walked into my parents’ house and stocked the bathroom with my father’s needs, put a few breakfast burritos in the freezer, refilled his water cup, placed an ice pack on his bruised and swollen eye, turned out the light, and slipped back out the door.

These moments of tenderness never cease to surprise me. I chose not to have children, and while I have loved my goddess babies deeply, it was never mine, to feel this particular sense of affection, patience, devotion, and care. Indeed, at times, supporting my father is like taking care of a child. He has tiny temper tantrums for the frustration of his body not cooperating with what his mind is asking. He grumbles under his breath about how my mother doesn’t wear her hearing aids. Sometimes I have to remind his inner grouch that it is not easy, for mom or for me, to do all that is required to keep him safe and at home. “So, be nice!”

But then there are the moments like this morning, or when I am helping him wash his hair or put on his socks with the grippy soles, and brushing the hair out of his eyes… I get an overwhelming sense that this must be how mothering feels. This must be the contented-heart reason for all that mothers choose to endure.

It occurred to me the other day, that I won’t stay in retirement forever. The workshops that I am facilitating are enormously fulfilling, as they feed all five of my strengths (empathy, connectedness, responsibility, developer, input), they offer me a creative outlet in the design and execution, and they give me a place to put all of the spiritual growth and self-healing work I’ve done over the last 27 years, for the benefit of others. But at this moment, I can’t see clearly how to mold this work into financially sustaining work. So, I am believing that the Universe will deliver the guide, the means, the opportunity, when the time is right. And for now… my priority remains the care and comfort of my parents, with the added bonus of ample time for nurturing the love that resides within.

I couldn’t be more grateful for all that has transpired in order to make all of this possible. I spoke to my friend Brian yesterday, while out on an errand to have dad’s glasses repaired. He was calling to check-in. To tell me that, despite his terminal diagnosis, he is doing well. He is ‘Marie Kondo-ing’ his home (much to his husband’s shagrin), and practicing extreme self-care. As I filled him in on my world, he reminded me how happy he was that I left that toxic workplace. He wanted to be sure that I was living my joy! He considers me to be the most important catalyst for his new beginning… devoting all of his remaining days to HIS joy. I carry Brian with me through all of my days. He has been my teacher, as much as I for him.

Getting to be fully present for my parents right now is my joy. Being blessed to have friends, old and new, join me on a journey of personal growth, healing, and development for a year-long series of workshops is my joy. Quality time with loved ones is my joy. Having the gift of words to share with you is my joy. Being awake and aware of the many synchronicities and blessings that fall before me on a daily basis is my joy.

Though my income may be only a fraction of what it once was (technically, it is my savings – already hard earned), I feel richer today than ever before. The relationships that bless my life are more valuable than gold and diamonds. I can see clearly that every one of these blessings are finite, and I shall not take a single one for granted.

This reminds me of the conversation that concluded my visit with my soul daughter on Monday. She had come over from St. Pete for an appointment, and made time with me a priority. She had also connected with friends from a former workplace, but when it was time for her to meet with them, there was no immediate reply. While I knew that I would always adjust my plans to include seeing people I care about, she was figuring out (at 23) that she was not willing to sacrifice her precious time for those who do not make her a priority. At this young age, she has already figured out that she is meant to be treasured. I’ll confess that it took me a bit longer.

It’s never too late to check your treasure, dear ones. Take a look around you now. Who do you see? Remind yourself of the great bounty you possess. Then… go out there and live your joy! Thank you for walking this path with me. I’m so happy you are here.

Original Artwork by the Writer