Growing Into Authenticity Part One

Over the last year, while designing and leading workshops meant to nurture the personal and spiritual development of my attendees through the symbolism of tending our lives as a garden and honoring the changing seasons and our changing realities, another path was revealed. A few of my sacred gardeners (including myself) experienced profound growth a decade ago with a friend of ours who created a strengths-based program she dubbed ‘Moving Forward’, and as we referred back to that work again and again, we each thought it would be cool to see that offered once more, for the benefit of others.

Now, the brilliant woman, who developed such a meaningful program which she shared with friends and her beloved community, had since become an ordained Unitarian minister and moved across the country to nurture and lead a congregation of her own. But when I asked for her blessing to ‘move forward’ with her torch, her reply was, “Oh, yes! We’ve got to spread that shit everywhere!” (Ministers who say ‘shit’ have a special place in my heart, you know.)

Around that same time, I saw a post from a woman I recently started following on facebook at the suggestion of a friend who saw us as doing similar work in the world. She posted about a process from a book she had worked with three years ago to develop a mission and vision of the future, and how she had just come across what she’d written to discover her vision had indeed been made manifest.

I thought that sounded amazing and ordered the book through addall.com (a great way to find used books). As I reviewed the author’s process, I thought it would flow nicely into the program my friend had created. So, I spent some time weaving together a workbook that would invite a seeker to own their strengths, identify their skills, create their core values statements, define a mission statement, and plant the seeds of a future vision.

Seven weeks ago a group of friends stepped onto a path of discovery with me, and it has been a delight to witness and honor the process for each. We were each in a place of questioning. Either wondering where we might go next, how to move forward from a place of paralysis, or how to find more meaning in each moment, wherever we are. In the early weeks of our work, we lost two of our authentic gardeners to illness and grief. It is difficult to go deep when we are lost in the fog, and so each will return to their respective plots of land when they are ready to once again turn the fertile soil of their souls.

Of course, what happens in any of my workshops stays within that sacred and trusted space, but I can share a bit about my own discoveries of self-awareness, as I chose to recommit to this process with my fellow travelers. After all, eleven years is a long time and I am not the same person I was in 2008. Also, the inspiration to add the mission and vision work to the process arrived so close to the start of our first meeting, I had not yet done what I was asking my friends to do. So, I would do the homework and share my discoveries with the group, hoping to encourage and inspire their own.

First of all, I love the format that our friend created for this work. It is a great deal of solitary homework, but it is fortified in the group setting, as we receive encouragement and inspiration from the courageous vulnerability of others. When we speak of our obstacles and perceived limitations, there is always great insight and possibly a deterioration of those barriers when we are able to learn from the life experience of another. Not to mention how our esteem may be bolstered by the loving support of respected members of our community. I love the platform of growing within community. It makes me feel alive.

I was first introduced to Clifton’s StrengthsFinder through an HR Leader who had challenged my boss to ‘discover his strengths’ and share them, before he would accept an executive job offer. At the time, I assumed it was a leadership tool, and since I didn’t consider myself to be a leader, strengths did not receive my embrace until friends started discussing the workshop they’d attended. So, when she was offering it again in 2008, I jumped at the opportunity, and I brought my life-long friend along for the ride.

The creators of this tool utilized thousands of Gallup interviews to determine that there are 34 strengths themes, and that those who are moving through the world utilizing their top five strengths are happy and successful. In other words, they are using in their daily work their inherent talents, rather than trying to fit into roles which require them to become something they are not.

My strengths profile, after completing the online tool, affirmed my top five strengths to be Empathy, Developer, Connectedness, Input, and Responsibility. Some of my friends have recently redone the module to see if their strengths have changed, and they each found slight differences. But for me, the strengths results from eleven years ago actually feels more true for me now than ever before. What has changed is the opportunity to actually use them.

A few years ago, Marcus Buckingham released a new strengths based book called Stand Out, which also offers an online tool for discovery. My results informed me that I was a Teacher / Connector. At the time, working as an executive assistant with zero opportunity to do anything but serve and support my partner, this insight was impossible for me to see. However, now that I’ve been liberated from that past life, and through my own creative inspiration to design, deliver, and lead groups through workshops of self-discovery, I am ready to own those defining themes.

So, my first instruction for Growing Into Authenticity was to sit with your results for a while. Even if they don’t feel true right now, it may be just a matter of opportunity to shine that will reveal the full potential of one’s inherent strengths. And if they still don’t resonate, decide which strength feels true and replace the one the tool falsely offered. After all, many factors may affect the results of an online test on any given day, but the insightful and self-aware human should know themselves better than any computer. Also, forcing yourself to own a trait that feels really wrong does not nurture authenticity.

One of the gifts of StrengthsFinder, for me, was getting to own Empathy as my number one strength. Previously, though I knew that I could feel the emotions of others, and was often confused about whether my emotions were my own or belonged to someone else, I figured that was an esoteric kind of thing that would sound wacky to others. But once I saw it in print in my own personal profile, I no longer felt it necessary to downplay that ability.

Another cool thing about the tool is that it will take your other four strengths into consideration to inform you of how each strength makes you stand out. In other words, though my best friend and I both have Responsibility in our top five strengths – hers reads differently than mine because our other four strengths are vastly different. Here’s what that looks like:

Responsibility in MY Strengths Profile
“Chances are good that you choose your friends with care and caution. Like you, these individuals have a reputation for honoring their commitments. Like you, they do exactly what they say they will do. Your most enduring friendships are built on a foundation of mutual trust. (All true. I have the very best people.) Driven by your talents, you may wish to have a broader range of control and accountability on the job or in your personal life. By nature, you have a strong sense of commitment. It motivates you to make sure that things are carried through to completion even when difficulties arise. Instinctively, you are held in high regard because of your dependability and consistent values. You are someone upon whom others often rely. Why? You do exactly what you said you would do.”

Responsibility in my BUDDY’S Profile
“Your Responsibility theme forces you to take psychological ownership for anything you commit to, and whether large or small, you feel emotionally bound to follow it through to completion. Your good name depends on it. If for some reason you cannot deliver, you automatically start to look for ways to make it up to the other person. Apologies are not enough. Excuses and rationalizations are totally unacceptable. You will not quite be able to live with yourself until you have made restitution. This conscientiousness, this near obsession for doing things right, and your impeccable ethics, combine to create your reputation: utterly dependable. When assigning new responsibilities, people will look to you first because they know it will get done. When people come to you for help – and they soon will – you must be selective. Your willingness to volunteer may sometimes lead you to take on more than you should.”

The strength that I once thought kind of boring and questionable was Input, but now I see how wonderfully it serves me… and others. The definition is, “someone who craves to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.” At first I felt it resonated because I collect books that I have not read, but like to keep as a sort of reference library to share with others who are seeking more information. For example, I am not an herbalist, but my small collection of books on the topic (which I’ve never read) supported my friend’s first published book, Nettie’s Tea House. And on a trip to Ireland, when the tour guide failed to share information on the places we were going, and because I spent six months preparing for the trip by reading and watching documentaries on the places we would see, my fellow travelers would say, “Melissa, tell us about the Druids!” And of course, the workshops that I create and share now are each offerings of little bits of knowledge, wisdom, and creativity that I’ve gathered over the years through an inclination to explore and gather experiences that fill my soul. Perhaps something I share will fill the soul of another, and that would make my Empathy, Connectedness, and Developer very happy!

I think what I love the most about Strengths work is that we each have the opportunity to take a deep dive into our own innate talents to really have a good look in the mirror to see how valuable we truly are. For a former self-loather, that is no small thing!

The other treasure to be found here is acceptance. I can now accept that I do not have discipline in my top 5. In fact, it is probably number 34. And I can also accept that those who do not show up on time or even 15 minutes early, as I do, are not being disrespectful or uncaring about the value of my time. They simply do not have Responsibility and Empathy in their top 5. Understanding my own strengths helped me to understand that I don’t have to take the behavior of others personally. Like me, they are operating to the best of their ability with the talents they were given.

And finally, I can accept that those things which do not come easily for me because they are way down on my personal strengths list, are things meant for others. When the boss who loved me was preparing me for her departure, she suggested that I work to develop my analytical skills so that I might offer a future executive budget planning and management. The thought of that made me feel sick to my stomach. My reply to this sweet woman who cared deeply about my future was, “I would be miserable in that work. I would rather leave than try to become something I am not.” And I did leave, when a leader came along who wanted to be managed rather than supported, and chose not to see my authentic value. (Thank the gods!)

Through the process of owning my strengths (though it took me a long time to get here) I have figured out how not to betray myself by remaining where appreciation and mutual respect are lacking. I have learned to be Responsible for my own happiness.

Empathy and Responsibility inform me that this post is now over 2,000 words, and that because I care for those who are so generous as to read what I have taken the time to write, I should share more about what blooms in this blossoming garden at another time. Next time, I’ll write about Skills and Core Values.

Thank you for walking this path with me.
My unique Strengths honor and affirm YOUR unique Strengths,
and I bow to your glorious authenticity with reverence.
Isn’t it great to know that you are perfect exactly as you are?!

Waves of Sorrow and Bliss

I have been feeling a little lost, as of late. Oh, I’m doing my usual routine… wake early and marry a quote to a photo for some kind of inspirational and positive message to share with others, get out of bed, make coffee and check in on the world through social media, then check on Pop to give him his pills and feed him breakfast. But then, I come home and… that’s kind of it. I feel as if I should be doing more with my time. I have managed to write a blog post or work on a mission statement to guide and support others (a part of the homework for a workshop I’m facilitating), and I’ve written a meditation for my upcoming Samhain retreat, but I am also sleeping… a lot.

More than one friend reminds me that I am grieving. Odd that one would have to be reminded. The day after tomorrow will be exactly one month from when I placed Morgan on my chest and held her for twenty hours straight, until she took her last breath, and I finally let her tiny sacred vessel leave my embrace.

I don’t necessarily feel that I’m thinking about it all the time, but I am certainly feeling her absence. I still open the door carefully to see if she is there to greet me and to be sure she doesn’t get frisky and try to dash outside. And every time I enter the kitchen, I look down to be sure she hasn’t magickally appeared behind me, so not to step on her.

If you have been here before, you might notice the quiet where her drinking fountain once trickled, but you might also still expect to see her in her favorite spot – at the window seat in the library. You see, I have not been able to bring myself to vacuum. The blanket and brush she and I curled up with on that final day, remains right where we left them. The tiny stool she would perch upon for tiny cat naps is covered in fluff. I know that normal people would have done this particular housework weeks ago, but I am not ready.

Today, my friend asked me to run by his house to pick up a package that was delivered. Morgan and I had stayed there for a few days at the end of August. I had been terribly stressed about taking her out of the house while work was being done – her safe place, but she surprised me. I let her out of her crate, in which she did NOT wet herself from anxiety of travel (for the first time ever), and she explored my friends’ home with curiosity and without fear. I would come back from checking on my parents and enter the home to find her napping on the third step up the stairs. It felt as if we were taking our first vacation together. It’s a nice memory to have between us.

As I drove to my friends’ house, I thought about our little vacation, and that spot upon the stairs, and the tiny tufts of white fluff that I meant to return to vacuum up, but then… she died… and time stopped and sped up, all at once. I think I lost days in my consciousness. I considered going inside to see if I could find any signs of Morgan within, but decided against it. My next visit will have to be when the boys are back with their three pugs, because two houses without Morgan is just too much emptiness to bear.

Another friend lost her beloved Mother this week. It was such a rapid decline, I can imagine she must feel a strange combination of shock and relief. The diagnosis which explained a drastic and worrisome change in her behavior this summer, was a brain tumor which had previously worn a costume of Alzheimer’s Disease. Once the curtain was dropped and the truth was revealed, her Mother was placed in the angelic care of hospice and transitioned peacefully within a week. A blessing, I believe, when the brain and body are no longer communicating effectively. My friend has been very ill for the past two weeks, and I hope that she is finding comfort in healing, and peace in the knowledge that the one she loves no longer struggles with that conflict.

When her Mother went to hospice, I adapted the Phowa Practice from the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying for she and her husband to recite throughout transition. If you are willing, consider saying these words aloud to help this sacred soul along her journey.

Adapted from the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

It is such an odd thing, the way that a being goes from being physically in your life everyday, to being completely absent in an instant. We are left to fill the void they’ve left behind, and yet our minds cannot fathom bridging that chasm. I think that’s what this feeling must be… this strange space of going through the motions without getting much done. We are in this cat shaped hole, or mother shaped hole, without a clue as to how to fill it, so that we can climb back to the surface.

Here’s the thing, though. I love the darkness. As we move into the dark part of the year with waning daylight, I welcome the cloak of Mother Darkness to wrap me in quiet, in peace, in introspection, in healing, in comfort, even in alone-ness (which is very different from loneliness), for this is where transformation resides. When we who grieve are ready, we will fill the holes our loved ones have left behind with the light of joyful memory, and when the time is right, we will emerge from the darkness – renewed. The sorrow and the bliss will be woven together, as is life, and we will don our new cloaks of love-cherished with a sense of pride and gratitude for the love we were so blessed to know, and the love we are still blessed to share.

So, if you come by for a visit any time soon, expect to see some white fluff about. For now, it reminds me of her terrible absence, but it also reminds me that she was once here. And I won’t stop listening for her tiny voice. I was certain I heard it this morning as I stepped into the shower.

Finally, we have signs in our neighborhood that warn about urban coyotes. In fact, my two neighbors with cats who have been outdoor cats (by choice) for more than a decade reported they were both lost within weeks of each other. Every time I see that sign, I think of how lucky I was to hold Morgan right through to the end.

It rained all night last night, and when I walked out to my car this morning, I saw paw prints on the sidewalk. They were larger than the usual suspect (I have seen cats, opossum, and raccoons in the area), and I gathered this was the closest I would get to a coyote sighting. So, of course… I looked it up. And here’s what it says:

The coyote spirit animal makes itself known when you feel like you have lost your way. The coyote symbolism signifies the answers to your problems that often come in ways and forms you least expect.

Perhaps I have lost my way, for a little while. But this is temporary. I am sitting with the silence and honoring this moment. If I look for her in my mind’s eye, she is everywhere all at once. She is in the library window seat and she is in the kitchen. She is marching up the steps to my bed and she is right next to me on the couch. There is evidence of her on every surface, so I know that she was just here. When she’s ready, she will climb back onto my chest to purr, and I will wrap her in my cloak of love-cherished and new beginnings… and perhaps we’ll take a nap.

The art of Freydoon Rassouli is featured in Alana Fairchild’s Rumi Oracle. This image reminded me of the cloak that is currently on the loom in my soul.

Letting it All Fall Away at Autumn Equinox

Yesterday was my sixth workshop in a series of eight that are inspired by the changing seasons of the earth and the cyclical nature of our lives.

I’m making them up as I go, and once I finish one workshop, I start ruminating on the next, hold myself open to receive inspiration, and then wait for things to fall into place.

The title of the workshop was obviously shaped by the activity that moves the season, the changing colors and falling leaves. Twice in my life I received this very message channeled through two different sacred vessels. The first time was in 1999, during a drawing down the moon ritual with my Tribe. The message I received was to “open up and let a piece of you fall away.” The second time was in 2005, when I sat next to a medium at a Broadway show in NYC. The message that finally hit home was, “All you have to do is fall in love with yourself and it will all fall away.” That set me on a path to learn to love someone I had loathed. I had to cut the cords attached to a false belief planted long ago.

One of the themes that recurs in these workshops is that we move through a constant dance of gathering in and letting go. Since one of my Sacred Gardeners had mentioned a resistance to the idea of having love in her life again, after losing her beloved to cancer two years ago… inspiration was found. We knew that her wife would want her to find love again, but that the way she felt was likely connected (corded) to her own vow of loyalty and dedication. So, our task for the Autumn Equinox was clear… to cut some cords and let them all fall away.

The first step, is to identify the cords we carry and to whom or to what they are attached. The following is the meditation I wrote to lead us toward discovery.

MABON CORD MEDITATION

In the tarot, the Death card symbolizes change or transformation. It reminds us that everything changes… one season passes into another, the mother becomes the crone… without the dying leaves, we would fail to witness the rich beauty of autumn, which briefly awes our senses with a multitude of colors and textures before each leaf falls to the ground, transforming into rich fertile ground that will feed the roots of the tree from which they’ve fallen.

Throughout our lives, we come to our own autumn season – when it is time to reflect on the beauty and the darkness of what has gone before… to honor those moments and lessons, to give thanks – even for the darkness (for it has shown us the light), to let them gently fall away, and to prepare for what is yet to come. Remember that once the leaves fall from the tree of life, there is a period of rest, followed by the surprising POP of new growth, so vibrant and stunning, stark contrast from the nakedness of dormancy, that we cannot help but celebrate the utter joy of new life being presented.

Before we are able to witness the freshness of spring, like the trees release the parts of themselves which no longer serve them in original form, we must let go of what we have carried far too long. We must take the time to review each wound, each situation, each trauma within our personal history. Then, we can choose to drop the hurt, the heartbreak, the diagnosis, the disappointment, the false identities, and let them all fall away.

So, lets go deep for a moment and see what we can find. Find your comfort and close your eyes. Breathe in the light of love, and exhale apprehension. Inhale the warmth of love, and release the tension your body is holding. Fill your belly with the divine breath of life, and push out any worries that keep you from being fully present.

Now, picture yourself in the center of a lush forest at the peak of Autumn’s full color. The trees that surround you are diverse and precious, just like each of us. They send their roots deep into Mother Earth, and we follow their lead. The roots of our feet reach into the earth below and glide downward through rich soil, through quenching aquifer, beyond the protective crust and into the molten core. We feel a surge of strength and warmth rise up from this sacred place, as it fills every cell of our bodies with a golden glow of healing light.

From above, the sparkly white light of all that is falls gently upon your crown, and you open to receive the light of wisdom which easily flows into you, spiraling and mingling with the golden glow from below. Your entire being is alight with insight and inspiration. And as the light expands outward from your body, you become aware of ethereal cords that are coming from the trees that surround you, and are attached to your being. How many can you see? Are there many or few? Are they radiant or dull? Are they different colors? To what parts of you are they attached? Are they pulling at your heart, like past betrayals by others, or worse… unfortunate moments when you betrayed yourself? Are they pulling at your sacrum, like false or limiting beliefs about who you really are that were planted by the accusations and expectations of others? Take some time to recognize, acknowledge, and name the people, the experiences, the moments that allowed you to give away your own power, to accept something less than what you deserved, to be harmed by another – physically or emotionally. See the cords that have left you fearful or insecure, feeling unsafe or not good enough. Are they attached to a parent, a teacher, a childhood bully? As you follow the cord from where it is attached to your body, follow the sight of it as it moves through space and into one of the trees that surrounds you. Now, allow that tree to take the shape of the one who is corded to you.

Know that you are completely safe in this sacred space, and that you are well-grounded within the earth and protected by the light of truth. As you look into the eyes of those to whom you are corded, consider what you have learned from this connection. Take a moment to speak aloud what comes to mind. How have you limited yourself through this bond? How have you grown? {long pause}

For each cord you find coming from your body, follow it to a different tree, a different wound, a different situation, a different experience, a different person… and address each one with clarity and confidence. Realize that you have grown stronger with each insight. [long pause]

Now that you have identified what has bound you and held you back from expansion and forward momentum… feel your spirit lifting with a sense of lightness. Turn to each tree standing around you, bearing a cord that moves through you, and thank it for the lessons learned, for the protection each wound may have built, for the kindness you learned to offer others because you didn’t want them to hurt as you did, for the caution you learned which might have prevented future harm. Let each know that you are grateful for these moments which once bound you or propelled you, and through that cord that comes from your being, send the healing light of love and wish them well. And as that light reaches each tree in your circle of cords, which looks something like a web, witness each tree losing its leaves, as they change from shades of green, to red, to yellow, to brown, and allow peace to come as each leaf floats gently to the ground. Know that what goes to ground becomes fertile earth from which you will grow more fully into the divine being you were always meant to be.

So here’s to the coming of autumn… to the beauty, to the sorrow, to the gratitude, to the slumber, to the waking, and to the rebirth. Gather it into a great big cushy pile and fall back into it. Bury yourself in the memories… and finally… emerge with a smile, brush yourself off, and move forward… into the light.

When you are ready, open your eyes and return to this sacred circle.

As we emerged from the meditation, a few Sacred Gardeners shared that they were surprised to find so many cords and to discover multiple layers. They spoke of cords that were attached through generations of a family line. I led the meditation and my focus was on holding space for others, so what I shared was what I had first learned about cords from an intuitive life coach a few years ago. She could see that the circumstances of my first adult relationship kept me tightly bound to the man who had cheated on me while we lived together when I was twenty. There were at least ten cords that she could see, and though I had once been a skeptic of things I could not see with my eyes, I could easily identify the many attachments I had carried for nearly thirty years.

Attached to that betrayal was a belief that I could not trust men, that I could not trust myself to choose well, that I did not deserve the loyalty of a man, that I was not worthy of being loved, that I was undesirable, and a whole host of other bullshit that just got heavier and heavier each decade. As soon as I was alerted to the presence of these cords, I set to the work of severance. So, I wrote a ritual to help my Sacred Gardeners to do the same for themselves.

SEVERING THE TIES THAT BIND US TO THE PAST

Here we stand in sacred circle, in which we dwell in perfect trust. Healing light surrounds us and sustains us. Here we are held with love. We stand firmly planted with roots sown deep. We are connected to the core of Mother Earth and we are protected by source energy which surrounds us and flows through us.

We call upon creation, the energy of all that is, great spirit, god, goddess, universal light energy, elementals, spirit guides, ancestors, animal totems, angels, the energetic source that is all we are, all we see, all we feel, and all we imagine and cannot fathom.

We each stand confident in our intention of cutting the invisible cords that keep us tied to the past, to unhealthy relationships, to false beliefs, to fear based thought, to physical, emotional, and spiritual traumas that hold us in a state of wounded protection – and we ask for your presence, your guidance, and your support in safe and complete severance.

All that you are, all that we are, and all that is beyond our imagining – we bid thee hail and welcome.

Each Gardener stands in center of circle addressed by the sword of surrender:

Are you ready, willing, and able to sever, release, and retract any and all cords attached to people, places, events, emotions, feelings, fears, traumas, and unknown and unseen forces that bind you and keep you from living fully present and in joy? “I AM!”

Do you who are holding space in this sacred circle offer your loving support and positive energy toward the safe, healing endeavor of our dedicant, for her highest good and for the good of all? “WE DO!”

Will you allow and receive the loving assistance and positive energy of those surrounding you who are holding space for you in loving light, who offer their energy for the highest good of you and for all? “I DO!”

Do you wish to name aloud or silently those people, places, events, emotions, feelings, fears, traumas? “SAY THEM ALOUD OR STATE THAT YOU ARE DOING SO IN SILENCE”

As I wield the sword of surrender to symbolize the cutting of these cords – be they many or few – see in your mind’s eye the cords being swiftly cut with grace and ease, and then witness each cord being retracted into your being and simultaneously into the being or representation of what formerly bound you. As each cord recedes and retracts, send it with love and with gratitude, for each of those cords represented a lesson and a growth opportunity. Let that being or representative know that you are finished with this lesson, that you are no longer holding on, and that you wish them peace.

Space Holders Chant:  And it all just falls away. And it all just falls away.

When she feels it is finished, dedicant says: “Thank you. It is done!”

Once each dedicant has released and severed their cords, we all circle up for a healing chant. As we sing, we each visualize a golden healing light sparkling over the surface of our bodies, as the opening within our energetic beings which carried the cords are healed and sealed. As we chant, we can see our own healing, and we pass our energy clockwise around the circle to assist with the healing of others – as we receive the same from them.

I am a circle. I am healing you.
You are a circle. You are healing me.
Unite us, be one.
Unite us, be as one.

We offer our gratitude to creation, the energy of all that is, great spirit, god, goddess, universal light energy, elementals, spirit guides, ancestors, animal totems, angels, the energetic source that is all we are, all we see, all we feel, and all we imagine and cannot fathom.

We walk in your light and feel your presence even through darkness. For the purposes of this healing circle, we bid thee hail and farewell.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. It is done, it is done, it is done.

There is nothing like standing in a circle of women while being held in loving intention. As I symbolically swung the sword to sever the cords for each of my Sacred Gardeners, I was focused on the freedom and liberation of each. I noticed with the circle’s progression that I could sense a tingling energy against my upper arms right before she announced that the work was done.

When the circle was complete, some announced an immediate lightness of being, feeling a sense of sitting taller and feeling lighter. It was glorious to witness such an immediate affect.

Once we had cleared the field and created an open space for more goodness to enter our lives, we set to the work of attracting what comes next.

What comes next for me is a good night’s (or morning’s ) sleep… so that part of the tale shall have to wait for another day. Thank you for walking this path with me. I am so happy to have you near. HAPPY EQUINOX!

The Love of a Good Cat – Part 3

Every joint in my body aches this morning. I cannot get them to relax. That would require informing my body that she is gone, and that there is nothing left to hold onto. Perhaps it is my empathy out of balance, and rigor has set in, like the rigid nature of her sacred vessel that I carried in for after-care as soon as the doors opened, five hours after she left me. Like three times before. “Can you please help my baby get to Greenbriar?” (the crematorium for pets)

Yesterday was an excruciatingly long day. I left her for only moments, to tend to my father a few doors down. Otherwise, there were only a couple of times that I let her escape my embrace.

She had stopped eating, and the medication the doctor gave us didn’t help. My home looks like triage, with failed attempts to save a life scattered everywhere. IV fluids hang on a hook next to the couch, a syringe with water to stave off thirst on the ottoman, six different plates and bowls on the floor offer unconsumed food remnants that begged for an appetite. “Okay, how about filet mignon? No? Then, let’s try scrambled egg with your favorite cheese. No? Well, how about…”

I spoke to her doctor that morning, and learned that though she had delivered peace to two of my darlings in years passed, she could no longer bear to be the bringer of death. She referred me to another, who happened to be out of the country. So… the Universe had spoken. We would be doing this the old fashioned way. With patience, with reverence, and with so much love.

So, I gave Dad his morning meds and served him breakfast and informed my parents I would not be back unless they needed me. I walked in the door, and she did not run to greet me. So, I ran to greet her, instead. I picked her up and returned her to my chest, where we would remain until the end.

When I wrote about my experiences with death last year, as a part of a death doula curriculum, I introduced my readers to Morgan. She came to me six years ago with her brother, Arthur. He died tragically four years ago, and since then, Morgan and I have lived a peaceful and mindful existence.

She blossomed when he left us, for he had been the alpha cat (I guess). He was a bit of a bully, really, and I hated that she was submissive to him. She and I fell madly in love in those days that followed, and I’m not sure I have ever known a more kind and gentle soul than she. She would greet me at the door upon entering, and when I would pick her up, she would place her paws on each side of my neck and rub her cheek against my nose. She would mark me for all to know that I belonged to her. I was her human.

She would wake me in the mornings by climbing over me and settling next to my face for my cat tongue facials, which I referred to as Morganderm Abrasion. I would turn my face to be sure she didn’t miss a spot. If I didn’t rise by the time she was through, she would walk over me to stand behind me and poke me with her paw until I gave in. She didn’t always have an empty plate, either.

Morgan had grown thin over the last year following some kind of stroke like event that left her with a slight head tremor. This is when she seemed to forget how to drink properly from the fountain, and she would dunk her head beneath the running water. I would see her with ruffled brow, and slick back the water in her fur to help her with a little impromptu bath. There was a change in the sound of the falling water whenever she did this odd bow, and I heard that noise prolonged the day before I knew she was leaving. It was my portend of what was to come.

As she lay in my arms, nearing her final breaths, I scrolled through photos of when I first brought her home with Arthur. I couldn’t believe how full she was. I nicknamed her my Squishy. In the mornings, as she stood at the corner of my bed, I would lean over and envelope her with my arms and bury my face in her fur, kissing her cheek a hundred times. I could hear her protest, as if to say, “Oh, mother. Too much love. Give me more.”

She was 17 pounds after a year in my care, and this year… she was down to 7. I could feel her shoulder bones the way that I feel my father’s shoulder bones, and I can see how we are at times larger than life, and as we near the end, our bodies let go of old baggage. Perhaps it makes us easier to care for, the lighter we become. It was an odd thing to stop worrying about feeding each too much, to start wanting them to eat more of anything that might add weight.

It is a mean thing that nature does to us, to bring into our lives such sacred beings who don’t get to stay very long. Six years was not enough Morgan for my aching heart. I need a hundred more!

She was my comforter through so much loss (Arthur, the boss who loved me, my former identity). And now my only comfort is knowing that I served her well. I loved her completely. I held her tiny, sacred being in my arms for nearly 20 hours. I was her doula as she transitioned from my world into the light of all that is. I instructed her on where to go and who to look for, and I asked forgiveness for the things I failed to do because I did not understand her language and couldn’t see what was going on inside that precious water-soaked head.

Morgan came into my life when her elderly owner could no longer care for her. It was three months after Nightshade died, and she had been with me for 19 years. My only regret, is that I was not ready sooner, for I could have had more Morgan and more Arthur, and my life would have been even richer.

I know that I will rescue again, and without a doubt, I will be rescued in return. But first, I will take time to sit in solitude with my sweet angel kitty. When she shows up, I don’t want to mistake her energy for that of another. She was given wings at birth, you know. Morgan was a Turkish Van cat. Their distinct markings are a mostly white body with ears and tail of orange or black, with a spot between the shoulders that is called the Mark of Allah. Morgan’s mark was a pair of orange angel wings. She lived with purpose and fulfilled her mission. And she has taken flight… returning to the light of truth.

Oh, how blessed we are to be chosen by these furry beings of love and light. They were given the power to dispel darkness, and they so freely share their magick with us. This truth is what encourages us to break our own hearts over and over again. We would dwell in the dark without their light. With that kind of love… everything is illuminated.

This ache is all consuming. I wonder how long it will stay with me. My muscles and joints feel as if they are still holding on. I guess I must get to the work of letting go. As I said to her, “It’s okay to let go. You are safe. Mom’s not going anywhere and she will miss you every day of her life, but she will be okay, too.” Into the light of truth, we go…

Art by Sandra Bierman

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