The Joy and the Sorrow

If 2018, for me, was about LETTING GO of my former self… the ‘me’ I had been for 25 years, in a career of supporting the wellness of two corporations, then 2019 will surely be about BECOMING the ‘me’ of my future self.

I have to say that being officially retired and thrust into daily care for my parents who are aging and facing struggles with body betrayal and memory loss, has offered the total immersion that has allowed my subconscious to sever the bonds that once tethered me to that former identity.

I no longer worry that I will have to return to that world or what it is that I should be doing with my time and energy. It seems that my time and energy, for this moment, is meant to serve my parents.

Full disclosure, as my 50th birthday approaches this weekend, there are times that I feel a little sad about where we are. I mean, I had once dreamed with childhood friends who also reach this milestone birthday in 2019, that we would make a celebratory trip to Greece or back to Ireland together. But retirement living offers a different budget and being that far away for a length of time feels impossible.

But then… I come back to gratitude. I asked the universe for prosperity that would allow freedom from the corporate world, and it provided in an unexpected blessing (in the form of the IRS 72T loophole). I thought I would still need to work a full time job (for less pay), but it turns out that I can live simply and have all I need on a quarter of my former income (for now).

I asked to be guided toward a meaningful purpose, and I thought I was led to becoming an end of life doula. Now, I’m not so sure that was for a path of prosperity as it was a path to peace. Spending a year studying death has brought me into a respectful relationship with what once was feared.

A doula is ultimately a transition / transformation guide – one who holds space for and supports those who are moving from one phase of life to another… a birth doula walks with the maiden as she becomes a mother, and the death doula walks with the mother who has become the crone as she makes her way back to the mystery of what comes next. (fill in the masculine phases as well, of course)

I recently made the mistake of looking up the meaning of doula online, and the Greek origin of the word means ‘female slave’. I am currently seeking a different word.

My family’s new year is not off to a particularly joyful beginning. On new year’s eve, I brought my 81 year old father back to the emergency room for an issue that has been ongoing since October. He was admitted, and then after a procedure, he went back to Rehab for strengthening his ability to stand and walk. Nine days later, my 77 year old mother was t-boned by a careless driver while on her way to the store. So, back to the emergency room we went. Gratefully, major bruising was the extent of her injuries. Well… and serious trauma, of course.

The fact that I am childless, single, and retired means that I have the freedom to be fully present for my parents. A lovely consequence is a deepening of our relationships with one another… A healing of old wounds, and a more patient and compassionate communication style. I feel that the three of us are learning and growing together in this period of transition. But to be clear… this is hard!

I am not really living for myself at the moment, but this is temporary. I have taken on multiple roles – sometimes nurse, sometimes accountant, manager, booking agent, driver, housekeeper, etc. I am working as hard or harder than I did in the corporate world, but without a paycheck… and yet, feeling valued and appreciated by my parents feels like a great reward.

Somehow, the universe will guide me to finding balance. I will learn about other resources to assist us on our journey, and I will learn how to surrender to the kindness of others. I will be available for the care of my parents, and I will not abandon myself and my own needs to a former belief that everyone else’s comfort is more important than my own. I will continue to open to the mystery of receiving, which was not available to me as long as I was always giving. I will meditate, take hot baths, and nap when I need to, because the energy that I give to others must be replenished. And somehow, I will create opportunities to do a little bit of living for me.

There is great sorrow in the obvious decline of our parents, and in the sense of loss of ourselves as we serve others. There is an overwhelming sense of alone-ness (not always loneliness) at the end of the day, lying in bed awake with the worries of what lies ahead, without a companion to remind [some of] us (me) that everything will be okay.

But there is also great joy in the way that we are reminded that we are not walking alone in darkness, as those who love us are standing by, ready to shine their beautiful inner light of wisdom and support to illuminate the path forward, and to give us a good squeeze when we feel that our guts might spill onto the earth below. There is incredible peace in realizing that everything we need is provided, falling into place with divine timing and often great surprise. And enormous gratitude that things should be turning out exactly as they are, because this moment… in all of its darkness and light, trauma and recovery, solitude and togetherness, is somehow terribly and wonderfully perfect.

Thank you for walking this path with me, dear ones. I can feel you surrounding me, and I hope that you can feel me in your circle, as well. I love you more.

Sowing Seeds of Intention

So, I’m going to lead a workshop at the beginning of February, and the thought of it makes my spirit come alive. You see, this will be the first in a series, and it is also a statement to the universe of my mindful new beginning. It will be the very first seed that I plant in sacred ground for the coming harvest in the fall.

To be honest, I have a brown thumb when it comes to literal gardening. But the figurative kind? This is where my world comes into full blossom.

For example, at the full moon in December 1993, I nurtured fertile earth to plant a dream for building my own goddess group. It was a rainy day, but all twelve people invited climbed the steps to the place I called home at that time, and together, we began the work of building our sacred garden.

We decided that we would need a name, that we would make a commitment to meet weekly, and that we would not work within a hierarchy… we were a group of kindred souls who would bring to this plot of land, our own individual beauty to be shared and distributed freely.

Watching this garden grow has been, for me, the most joyful work of my lifetime. As Tribe Mother, I have been witness to the blooming of each gloriously unique spirit, as they chose career paths, life partners, and some bore the fruit of children who have become such remarkable young people, always choosing to come back to themselves, nurturing and celebrating the divine feminine and masculine within… moving through the phases of maiden/lover, mother/father and crone/sage.

Over the years, these sacred beings have moved away to nurture new land and grow in different plots of holy ground. I suppose I long for that kind of deep connectedness and mutual growth, once more. So, I am returning to Mother Earth to offer her my seeds of intention, trusting that whatever comes to blossom will provide a bountiful harvest of joy and happiness throughout the year ahead.

You may ask about all of this gardening metaphor, and I will gladly share how it has become meaningful to me… an otherwise uninterested landscaper.

I grew up Unitarian, which to me is a religion that is not about dogma, but about karma… and community (be kind to and care for all beings and the planet upon which we dwell). At 23, I was introduced to earth-based spirituality, which offered me an understanding of symbolism and archetypes as another way to relate to what was happening within me and around me.

In Tribe, we used the cycle of seasons (the Celtic wheel of the year) to guide our path forward. At Imbolc each year, which is February 2 in the northern hemisphere, those who lived off of the land would light fires in the field and drive their cattle through the coals to burn away the muck and dis-ease that gathered on hooves through the cold, damp months of winter, and they planted the seeds that would later become their harvest.

So, we would do the same, symbolically. We would declare it a day of rebirth, and we would recommit to our Tribe, that we would offer each other our intention for another year of learning and growing, of nurturing and becoming, of healing and thriving, and it would begin with letting go of what was no longer working for the group – that which no longer served us.

This annual practice allowed us to be mindful throughout the year, rather than just once, like those new-year resolutions that fall flat after the second week back at the gym. We would plant the seeds of our intentions, and then come back to the garden each week to water them with meditation, with deep reflection, healing conversation that reminded us we were not alone, and from one another we learned about how we might tend our lives differently, to develop more color and more blossoms of comfort and peace.

This practice brought us so close that even with individual gardens now planted around the globe, our roots have grown so deep that we remain ever connected in the core of the earth and in the ether, where every circle we ever cast still stands.

As for my little workshop next month, I have no idea how many will make a commitment to gather, but what I know from experience is that it will be the right people… be it 5 or 15. It will be a day that marks a moment of rebirth for each person present. We will burn away old ideas, former identities, labels that were placed upon us by others, and limitations that were once perceived, but are ready to fall into glowing embers and turned to dust. And into the fertile earth each will plant the seeds of their intentions, to be nurtured and supported, watered and nourished, loved and cherished… all the way to a bountiful harvest.

As this tiny tribe gathers to clear individual plots of land, they will lend a hand to those who might have a boulder that needs adjusting, and in return someone will shine a light to reveal the very best spot for new life to grow. This whole life thing… it really is a community effort. How lucky are we to have all we need to blossom into fullness?

Thank you for walking this path with me, dear ones. You are among the brightest, most colorful bounty this garden has to offer. I am grateful.

Forget those temporary resolutions.
Plant seeds of intention and watch your garden grow!

Take My Hand

This morning I woke with an image of connectedness. With the awareness of our mutual suffering, and that of Mother Earth choking on the waste of our shortsightedness, I felt a yearning for us to move beyond this primal ache that resides somewhere between hearts and bellies, and into the healing light of transformation.

There are days that I have checked the reach of my writing to discover that right here, within this sacred circle, are beautiful beings from all over the world. In truth, if you are reading these words, know that you are here beside me being held within this emerald green light of my heart’s devotion. I am grateful for your presence in my life.

In this reading, if you feel safe and moved to do so, I wonder if you would imagine taking my hand into yours. If so, I would have us gather with every beloved heart that I know, that you know, and that those who have joined us here know… be they still upon the earth, or those who have passed into the mystery of what comes next. Let us stand within this circle, connected through hearts and hands, a circle so broad that it could encapsulate the world with the luminous light of love.

With the power of our togetherness, we elevate the vibration of the waves of energy that we cannot see with our eyes. The atmosphere that surrounds us has become muddled with so much oppression, fear, loathing, and unkindness that we can barely breathe. As we mingle our energy, and hum a soothing Om into the atmosphere, the walls that were being built by intolerance and self-hatred cannot withstand the reverberation of loving kindness and come crumbling down.

If you are troubled or care for someone who is suffering, consider stepping into the center of this circle of human kindness to be filled with the light of love.

I carry this image in my heart of standing in the center of darkness, surrounded by those who love and support me without condition. There is firelight beyond them, which illuminates their profiles, but keeps their faces in darkness. They remind me that though I stand in shadow, I am not alone.

As you imagine yourself standing in this shadow of winter’s introspection, can you make out the silhouette of those who surround you? Can you sense their presence, their adoration, their love as it flows through you, surrounding you with the light of hope? Even if you are geographically distant, without a doubt, you are still enveloped by their love.

Imagine, if you can, walking toward each sacred being and reaching out for their embrace. Spend some time here, and consider who stands firmly within this circle. They may be members of your family, your tribe, or they could be loved ones who have passed beyond the veil, or even spirit guides and guardian angels (energetic beings of universal wisdom) whom you have never seen with the eyes, but whose presence has been evident when you thought you were alone, and suddenly felt the warm glow of comfort and loving kindness.

Let each embrace be held at heart’s center, imagining chins over left shoulders as heartbeats come into unison and knowledge is exchanged without words. When you have connected deeply with each sacred soul, choose a spot within the circle where you would like to stand, and take the hands of those beside you.

As you make this palm-to-palm connection a golden light begins to flow in a clockwise motion around the circle. This light expands to encase all who gather. But it doesn’t stop here. It continues to grow like waves upon sand, slowly reaching further, leaving a glittering glow as it retreats and then surges beyond previous reach.

Witness the glowing expansion as it presents itself to loved ones who may also glory in the return of light. See their faces awash with radiance and reverence.

Let this light be carried into every dark corner of the earth, and let every heart be healed. Love this light into ancient soil, and nourish and revitalize the Mother who gave birth to all life. This human experience is only made possible by her love.

NOTE: I was writing this yesterday, when my computer decided to take a break on me. As I toiled through troubleshooting on how to fix the issue with my brother and pc support guy three hours away, my phone rang. My mother was in the hospital following a car accident. Gratefully, she was relatively well, considering the appearance of her vehicle, which was t-boned by a large vehicle… but we spent the rest of the evening in the ER running tests – just to be sure. It was not lost on me that SHE is the mother who gave birth to my life, and that MY human experience was made possible by her love.

This, folks, is another one of those moments of gratitude in awareness. I am aware that the universe conspired to set me free from the workplace in 2017, and enabled an early retirement income so that I could live simply and be fully present for my aging parents. As for this particular piece of writing… I have needed these virtual hugs more than anyone could possibly know.

The day before the accident, my mom and I set in motion the work necessary for me to handle financial matters on my parents’ behalf, when the time comes that I can assist further with their care. As I sat in my own living room last night, having settled mom into hers, I reflected on how things might have gone differently… how our intentions might have missed their mark. I’m so grateful that, for today – having just heard her voice on the phone, informing me that she is awake and well – everything will be okay.

I hope that all is well with you and yours, also. Thank you for walking this path with me. I can see you bathed in golden light, and I’m so glad that you are here.

My Crone and Me at Sunrise on Amelia Island, FL / Photo by Dawn Dirks

The Road Behind and the Road Ahead

This morning I woke to the awareness of closure. Several hours from now, we will close the door on the year 2018. I have friends who do an annual letter to summarize the year for themselves and their families each Christmas. For someone with swiss-cheese memory, where huge chunks of what happened yesterday tend to fall through the holes, the thought of reviewing the year seems like a herculean task.

So, I called to mind the metaphor with which my soul daughter gifted me in a reading this year. Each time I asked my psychic friend what I should be doing with my life, she assured me that I was already doing it. She said that my guides were showing her a long dark highway. She saw me in my car with a full tank of gas. My car was safe and my GPS was guiding me forward. On this safe but unknown journey I could only see what was illuminated in my headlights. My only need was to pay attention to what may be revealed in that glow without worry of what lies ahead. My instructions were to just keep driving.

When I consider this metaphor for the year that I leave behind, I see that road as a highway with big green signs overhead. In my mind’s eye, I am driving through 2018 from start to finish, as I drive beneath the signs of direction which I followed without hesitation, signs for rest areas where I received love and healing, signs for nourishment which came through more than food, but also through sharing art with others, and signs of arrival and departure as I made new friends and let go of people and clutter that littered my highway.

Every time I sit down to write, I start with a blank mind and blank page, and wait to see what my fingertips reveal to me. I can’t wait to see what I find at the end of this imagined ‘road trip’.

I finished 2017 having departed a beloved workplace of nearly 16 years, and then working briefly for a company that felt toxic enough to inspire me to take the rest of the year off. I entered 2018 having no real direction beyond overcoming fear and seeking a job that would bring more of the same. After all, what does one do with a 25 year resume in a single role?

So, the new year started with an updated resume and the encouragement and support of seven executives I had cared for, in one form or another, in years passed. I received daily notification of job postings, but none bore any appeal, and worse, the very review of tasks involved turned my stomach. After a few months, I was determined not to work somewhere that would feel like a betrayal to my soul, and cashed in my employee stock savings into which I had invested for a decade and a half.

While determining what I was NOT willing to do, I continued to be grateful for what I was now free and available to do… to rest, reflect, recover, revive, and to serve my beloved community. When a full-time job was in the way, it was difficult to find the time and energy to be of service to others. I was already giving nearly everything to a corporation, and for the last few years I was there, the stress consumed so much of my life source that my social life was malnourished.

In this new beginning, I was able to serve my parents with more presence, and assist friends who were dealing with serious health issues. I became an occasional driver, wheelchair maiden, medical witness and scribe, communications director, and healthcare advocate. While I wish that my parents and friends had no such need for support, I am grateful that I could be present… holding space for each challenge and celebration of overcoming.

Looking back, I wonder how I ever had time to work a full time job (kidding / not kidding). There was so much living to be done, and I was missing it. I ran into one of my retired executives earlier this month who said practically the same thing… “Melissa, I had no idea what I was missing while being so devoted to my career.”

Each day of this year, I have been thankful to the powers-that-be for expelling me from that job I thought I loved. The truth I have found is that it was always about the people, and once those people were gone, so was my reason for being there.

When I look in my rear-view mirror of 2018, I see the sign posts for things I have chosen to leave behind. I have driven beyond the need to be validated by a boss, a job, a title, or a salary. Living simply, I no longer feel the need to fill my home or my closet with objects that serve no purpose but filling an unacknowledged void.

The excursions I took as I followed the signs of synchronicity were far more important than I dreamed they might be. My friend Brian’s terminal diagnosis led me to the study of End of Life Doula, which has taught me a great deal about how to plan for the future that is certain, and to live more fully with uncertainty.

The invitations I received to travel with friends were accepted without hesitation, since I didn’t have to accrue vacation time, or ask permission to leave my desk. Each trip taken allowed me to connect deeply with friends who own real estate in my heart. The signs I followed took me to New York City on two occasions to see Broadway shows and experience the city from different perspectives… once from Astoria in Queens, and once from Harlem. We saw Kinky Boots in April, and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in May. Back home, I was blessed to enjoy the theater with friends. This year we saw Lion King, Hello Dolly, and thoroughly enjoyed Aida, the Musical and Elf, the Musical at the high school where our friend runs the drama department. With each of these rest stops, I was reminded of the importance of making time for arts and culture in our lives. The energy and efforts of artists, of any medium, delivers a unique experience of joy… and they are doing it all for us! How could we possibly fail to receive the gift of such heart and soul from another?

Two trips to Georgia – first for a brief art-cation with my life-long friend, and second to visit the boss who raised me as she performed in a play with fellow retirees – were paths joyfully taken. Signs also led me to Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia in the summer, and back to North Carolina in the Fall. These journeys allowed me to connect with friends rarely seen beyond social media, and to nurture my relationship with nature, which had been too long neglected. With each of these blessings, I was reminded of the importance of connectedness. Breathing deeply and sending energetic roots into the earth to feel the comfort and love from Mother Nature and from those who love us without condition, is absolutely necessary for our survival.

There were dark roads illuminated by moonlight, as I planned and led sacred ceremonies for connecting with loved ones lost, for healing through friends’ worrisome diagnoses, and for deepening connections with the Universe as one grows closer to becoming one with all that is. For me, meditation and ritual provides a space for letting go of that which no longer serves us, for mindfully gathering intentions for moving forward, and a deep healing of mind, body, and spirit. The grand finale of these events this year was writing and officiating my goddess daughter’s handfasting ceremony. The handfasting bound the souls of two lovers, and the commitment of their community to support their marriage. What an honor to behold. This brought the arrival of extended family, and the departure of a young couple at the jumping off place of their new beginning.

The longest, darkest road this year has been the bumpy, unpaved path of my father’s declining health. He was in and out of the hospital, each time for over a week, and then in rehab for an entire month. Though he is now at home, it is obvious that he grows more weary and frustrated with the betrayal of his body and loss of strength, each day. I have learned that I can only care for him to the best of my ability and hold space for his suffering… I cannot bring him happiness that he could not find for himself. I have also learned that my empathy for him is very physical. I often feel his pain in my body, and realize this is a skill I will need to explore further in an effort to either use it to benefit others, or shield myself better with stronger boundaries.

Darkness was always sprinkled with light. Time with friends in summer alerted me to the awareness of a financial planner who would remove the road block of having to figure out what I would do for a living. He revealed to me the ability to collect a monthly income from my retirement fund, without penalty. In October, I collected my first check! Also, I am assisting three strong women with their private businesses, utilizing my intuitive wordsmith ability and administrative experience. I yearn to create healing retreats for women in the future. Beyond that, I continue to see only what falls within sight of my headlights, and know not where my GPS ultimately leads.

Throughout this year, the highway that has transported me without incident has been my writing. I wrote a book of seasonal guided visualizations (I even recorded one for sale on cdbaby.com). I wrote a book about my journey through self-loathing to wholeness alongside the archetypal feminine, and started working on a book about thoughts that rise in the study of end of life doula work. And of course… since writers need a following in order to be published… I started a blog. Aside from the healing and self-discovery I’ve witnessed in my headlights, I have loved seeing the tiny flags that represent readers from around the world who have offered their valuable time to sit in my passenger seat for a while. I’m so grateful for your company!

As for the road ahead, the year 2019… is surely paved with magick. When I turn 50 at the end of January, I will move into a ‘twelve’ year (in tarot numerology). In the graph of my life chart, wonderful, amazing, life altering things have occurred in these years. In my first twelve-year I found My People and planted the seeds that would become a Tribe. In my second twelve-year, I went to work for a man who needed my light and saw my value (this partnership ultimately enabled my early retirement). In my third twelve-year, I traveled back to Avalon on a healing retreat to Glastonbury and Cornwall, where I got to reconnect with the land of my ancestors and check ancient goddess sites off of my bucket list.

2019 will be my fourth twelve year. I have no idea where that road may lead or what signs will be posted along the way, but I have the faith and wisdom to know it will be extraordinary! My plan is to keep on driving, enjoy the grace that is illuminated in my headlights, and anticipate with patience the moment that my GPS informs me that I have arrived.

My passenger seat is open. Would you care to join me for a stretch?

Wishing you an abundance of joy and everything your heart
and soul may require to thrive in the year ahead.
HAPPY NEW YEAR, DEAR ONES! I love you more.

Honoring Those We’ve Lost

In a couple of hours, I will gather with friends to celebrate the life of a dear one, recently lost. He left this realm on a day when the veil between the worlds was thinnest – stepping peacefully into the mystery of what comes next. As I prepared a sacred ceremony for friends who had lost significant loved ones in the past year or two, I held those suffering this immediate loss close, as well. Too soon for them to venture into the underworld, I chose to carry them with me.

As we began, at water’s edge around firelight, we called the names of those we have loved and lost, and invited them to stand with us in a sacred circle. In our mind’s eyes we could see each beloved step in to take our hands, heart to heart… love flowing in a sphere of gratitude and protection.

Next, we called to the elements – acknowledging their gifts which surround us and flow through us. When we call to air, fire, water, and earth, we are connecting to the love that resides within.

Into the East we cast our gaze to be witness to the dawning of the light of remembrance. We breathe deeply the clarity of the element of Air, that our loved ones may appear in mind’s eye unhindered. With open hearts and with gratitude, we honor the Air.

Into the South we cast our gaze upon ancient embers. Burning from the beginning of time, the element of Fire inspires us to go within and to reach out to those who have gone before. Illuminated by the beacon that calls our loved ones home. With open hearts and gratitude, we honor the Fire.

Into the West we cast our gaze upon the watery mist. Through floating drops of love and memory we focus upon the veil to witness the arrival of those we love as they step toward us. All fear and regret is washed in the element of Water. All that remains is the purest love.  With open hearts and gratitude, we honor the Water.

Into the North we cast our gaze upon the lush green lap of the Mother. Grateful for the strength she gave us to survive great loss, we eagerly await her generous return. Our loved ones have been nurtured in the embrace of the Earth, and we are grateful for Her care. With open hearts and feet firmly planted in gratitude, we honor the Earth.

Next, we invited divine energy in the feminine archetype of nurturer and guide, which also surrounds us and resides within each of us:

We call upon the maiden of flowers and the goddess of the Underworld. Persephone, whose sacrifice to the dead brings a mother’s grief and a blanket of cold upon the earth. Persephone, whose great heart and deep love offers the rich red seeds of welcome to all who seek entrance into the world beyond that which the living may see. With reverence we reach to you with hope and gratitude, for the honor of perhaps connecting with those we love once more. We ask to be anointed by your sacred oil of clarity, that our third eye may be fully opened to greet them with the ability to see them and hear them clearly.

Persephone of the Underworld, our hearts are open to receive your blessing. We bid thee hail and welcome.

As I wrote the words that would state the purpose of our gathering, I was once again astonished by the wisdom that flowed through me:

Tonight we gather as the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest. We stand ready to receive our loved ones who are lost to us in body, but ever present to us in their energetic form. We wish to remind them of our love and devotion, and to show them that we have chosen to carry them with us into the future with reverence, and without regret, With joy and without sorrow.

We know that they left us early to remind us of the importance of living fully now. We are here to make that contract with them, to affirm that their loss TO us was not lost ON us. We each have chosen to step to the edge of the Underworld tonight, to take their hands and look into their eyes, to hear their words and receive our commitment.

I next led my sweet friends through a meditation where they would each meet with those they longed to see. It is difficult to know when to proceed from a pause in such a journey. One hesitates to interrupt an important conversation when unable to see the progress of the connection. But when it felt like the right time, I brought them back for acknowledgment and closure:

We know that time moves differently in the Underworld, and that though we long to be with our loved ones, we know that now is not that time. Tonight is a moment when time stands still, and here we were blessed to connect between the worlds.

But time will move on and we shall go with it. Much like when we connect in the realm of the living, it feels as if no time has passed… so will be the day when they come to greet us and take us from the temporary realm to the eternal.

Until then… we honor them by choosing to live in joy and happiness. It would be an insult to their sacrifice not to.

Finally, we said farewell to the spirit of the Universe that took form so that our consciousness could find connection.

Beloved Persephone, goddess of flowers and bones. Thank you for granting us crossing to the edge of your shimmering veil. Thank you for bearing our beloveds through initiation and into the freedom of limitlessness. We will carry your light within us through the long winter, until your return in the spring brings the bursting of color and fragrance upon the earth.

And to the energy that surrounds us and becomes us:

Spirit of Earth, elements of the North, thank you for your gifts of strength and stability, for wisdom and prosperity. Thank you for holding us close through every stage of our becoming.

Spirit of Water, elements of the West, thank you for your gifts of cleansing and emotion, for healing and fluidity. Thank you for washing us clean of fear and regret, nurturing our path forward.

Spirit of Fire, elements of the south, thank you for your gifts of purification and illumination, for direction followed by action. Thank you for lighting the chamber of our connection to those we love, and for keeping the flame alive until we meet again.

Spirit of Air, elements of the East, thank you for your gifts of clarity and new beginnings, for awareness and ideation to guide our future footfalls. Thank you for the breath that fills our lungs for singing the songs of our loved ones’ memory.

And so, our sacred ceremony was complete and we were grateful to have had a few precious moments with those we can no longer see with the eyes, but only feel with the heart.

I know that the loved one we celebrate today will be felt in the same way. And if you are missing someone dear, I hope that in some small way, these words may bring them a bit closer to your awareness. May you honor them as they would have you do… by living fully and in joy. It would be rude not to.

Thank you for walking this path with me. May your every step be sprinkled with bliss.

remember

Homecoming

I drove home from Tennessee on Saturday.  It was a nearly ten hour drive that was fueled by my desire to squish my kitty after two weeks of abandonment… hoping as each mile passed that she would welcome my arrival and not remind me of the betrayal with a cold shoulder attitude.  Instead of the career focused reading on palliative care that got me to the mountains two weeks before, I chose to listen to one of my very favorite fiction novels on the journey home.  Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees never lets me down.  If you’ve only seen the movie, you’ve missed the most important feature of the story… the divine mother.  She comes through in a thousand beautiful ways, if you know what to listen for.

With Lilly, Rosaleen, and the Calendar Sisters’ company, the long drive was made even more picturesque.  Driving along highway 26 through the Blue Ridge Mountains is always my favorite part of the journey regardless of direction… coming or going.  The saddest part of going is when you are about to enter South Carolina, and you see the last glimpse of those beautiful mountains in the rear view mirror.  I don’t know how to explain how this particular mountain range affects me, but it is something akin to coming home to the lap of the most nurturing embrace.  I have visited other mountain ranges that may be beautiful, but they’ve got nothing on these ancient and wise, healing mounds of rock and blue-green earth.  It is always a bittersweet departure.

I’m sure I had a hundred thoughts on writing during my long day’s travel.  I started out at 9am, and at 3:42pm I looked at the GPS to see that I had 342 miles left to drive.  I did stop to buy lottery tickets in two of the states through which I traveled… because I have decided that if I didn’t have to worry about an income, I could simply be of service to those I love and those in need, without making a business out of it.  That’s one of the questions in the end of life doula study… if you didn’t have to worry about an income, what services would you most like to provide?  The truth is, it would look something like what I’ve been doing since I left the corporate world.  I would walk through the world of uncertainty with those who are facing new challenges in health or in life, delivering comfort, listening with great care and without judgment, advocating for the patient’s best interest, hand holding, wheelchair pushing, driving, reminding, recording, and above all… holding sacred space throughout transition, transformation, and healing.

My soul-daughter and I had a video conference while I was away, and her epiphany was that I was her end of life doula, as she transitioned from her former life where she grew up, into her new life where she will continue to grow in a city where everything is new to her.  For the two months prior to her move, I listened to and affirmed her plan – even when others couldn’t understand a young woman following her inner guidance which might have defied logic at times, I helped her pack up the old apartment, and was with her when she found her new apartment, being witness to the magick that kept showing her that she was on the right path.  I made a trip over to see her when she was all settled in, and remain connected to learn about all of the wonderful things she is manifesting in her new life.  What a gift she is to me!  We are gifts to each other.

As I drove onto my street, somewhere around 7pm, I was excited to stop at my parents’ home, which is seven houses away from my own.  I carried in mountain gifts of tomatoes, apples, and pickles (Dad’s one request), and visited briefly before heading home to squish my cat.  Here’s the really good news…  she wasn’t mad at me.  She was at the door as I walked in, and when I pulled her into my arms, the love fest began.  I didn’t want to leave her until she felt adequately adored.  Eventually, I did feel I should bring in things from the trunk of my car.  That’s when it happened…  Not when you’d think it would happen, while lifting my 26 inch suitcase up and out… no.  The snap in my lumbar occurred as I simply turned and lifted the lid of the trunk.  It was that simple.  One moment you are feeling fine… and the next… excruciating pain through lower back and hip.  Oy!  Hence, the radio silence since homecoming.  I have found it really difficult to concentrate on anything resembling coherent thought since Sunday morning.  I asked the Universe why I needed to be going through this right now, and the answer I received was… empathy.  My reply was that I really feel like I’ve got this one down already.  After all, empathy is at the top of my list of top 5 strengths from StrengthsFinder.  I guess I need to listen harder to find another reason.  This is what I decided… I shall move through this pain and suffering, reminding myself that there are many living with chronic pain on a daily basis.  I am reaching out to the healers in my community, and remind myself that we are never alone and that there are people in our lives who hold wisdom and possibility in the palms of their hands.  With each form of treatment, I find some relief and some agitation as healing moves through bone and muscle, fascia and flesh.  Earlier today, pain came while walking and this evening it was walking that brought relief, as I headed over to see my folks – feeling badly about coming home and then disappearing again to nurture my wound.  So I know that tomorrow will be twice better than yesterday… reminding myself that suffering is temporary and that this, too, shall pass.

As I walked home tonight, twilight was bathing my surroundings in that magickal light.  The waxing moon was reflecting the radiant sun no longer in view.  I thought about how I am already missing the fireflies that danced through my friends’ yard… here in Florida we spray for mosquitoes, so firefly sightings are extremely rare.  But as I looked around me, I was thrilled to recognize that the magick and beauty of nature that I could see, hear, smell, and feel in the mountains can also be found right here at home.  As I looked up at the radiant moon, I saw our beautiful bats in exuberant flight – dashing to and fro in a dance of joyful mosquito consumption, and I could hear the cicadas screaming their deafening chant of summer evening delight (our cicadas sing a different song than the one heard in Tennessee – and I love that sound, which reminds me of summertime in childhood when the streetlights came on and it was time to leave friends and head home).  It had rained in the late afternoon, so the earth was moist and I could smell the color green that pours forth through lush trees, plants, and grass, and the air was delightfully cool as a result of that earlier precipitation.  As I walked along the familiar path between the home where my parents live and the home where my grandparents once lived, I realized that though healing in my back is not complete, it is in progress – and though I am no longer in the mountains, I am still surrounded by overwhelming grace and beauty… and though I have not yet won the lottery or determined how a future income will present itself, I am not fearful of the future and I know that divine timing will allow all that is needed to fall into place exactly as it should, and for all of this… and I mean all of it… I am eternally grateful.

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The Journey Inward

Yesterday I visited a nearby mountain park to get an added dose of nature before I head home at the end of the week.  I hadn’t really thought it out very well, because I stepped onto the Lakeside Trail in my traditional open-toe shoes, instead of something more trail appropriate.  I could have turned back early on, but the path kept calling me forward… and so forward I went.  The ‘lake’ was more of a reservoir, and was not round like many lakes back home, but more like a wide river with end caps.  I started my journey, like most adventures in life, without expectation or awareness of what I might find or experience along the way.  At the beginning of the trail, as I traveled counter-clockwise on the map, I found a bench at water’s edge, and so I sat for a moment to contemplate the beauty before me.  The water was filled with all sorts of plant life, and there were trees that had fallen on the bank and into the lake, that were left to become a part of the landscape, creating homes for the creatures that live there.  As I sat there, I would occasionally hear a sound that informed me that something was moving in the water, but each time I heard it, I would look and see nothing more than a slight ripple.  It reminded me of how we often assume that a situation is how we perceive it, based on what we can see on the surface, but how reality is that there is often something of greater depth actually going on beneath the surface.  I took a moment to honor all that was present which I could not see, and then I continued my walk.

Next, I came to a boardwalk structure that crossed the water, and before I was half way across, I gasped to see a young deer with antlers grazing on plant life in shallow water.  This is not something we get to see where I come from, and the sight took my breath away before it brought me to tears.  A couple who were hiking in the opposite direction came upon us, and respectfully stood quietly for a few minutes before gently passing.  I thought about how magick happens throughout our lives, if we are open to it, and how special it can be to have it all to ourselves at times, and also to be blessed to share it with others.  I could have stayed all day to simply stand witness to such grace and beauty, but I decided to offer my gratitude for this moment, and asked to be WOWed again somewhere along my journey.  I was not disappointed.

As I moved forward on the path, having no idea where it would take me, or if I would regret not having turned back for better hiking gear, I couldn’t help but think about my personal life experience with the Artemis Archetype.  After all, the stag is one of her most sacred symbols, and the mountain forest is her realm.  I might turn a curve along this winding path and see her in the distance drawing back her bow.  I thought about how alone I felt on this path, as I could hear no human sound at this point.  I realized that my footwear could betray me on a path filled with tree roots and loose stones, or how I might slip and fall somewhere on this journey and that no one would be around to see me, hear me, or come to my rescue.  It made me think about how unprepared I have been throughout life for the obstacles that would appear in my life, leaving me hurt or disappointed by the actions of others.  But then I realized that my travels with Artemis have always been that way.  I may have had the support of my band of nymphs that I call my Tribe, but the work that I did to move through self-loathing to find my true self-worth and value was always a solitary journey.  It never mattered how emphatically others would assure me of how worthy they found me, I could never find it to be true until I felt it for myself.  And every betrayal and wound I’ve received has always led to learning and the positive evolution of my soul.  And so…  I chose to continue… believing that I was well protected, and that I would find more moments of magick if I simply refused to give up on myself.

As I moved further into the forest, and away from view of the lake, the feeling of solitude grew more profound.  I realized how similar this world that belongs to Artemis resembles the world that belongs to Persephone.  In the non-patriarchal version of her tale, she has chosen to go into the underworld to welcome the souls who have transitioned from the world of the living and are now seeking passage through the veil.  On this lonely mountain path, I could feel the isolation of one’s journey from human form into the mystery of what comes next.  There might be loved ones present to hold your hand for a while, but at some point… you must move forward on your own.  But then I realized through much of my hike that I would hear a recurring sound that was lacking form.  I imagined that it might be the sound of hooves on forest floor, an unseen squirrel or chipmunk, or a bird taking flight in the canopy above.  The message that I received from this awareness was that our perception of aloneness throughout our sacred journey is an illusion.  Even when we cannot see others around us, the truth is that we are never alone.  Whether it be the consciousness that we can step into to deliver strength in a moment of weakness – becoming the warrior and rescuing ourselves, or the presence of guides and loved ones that some of us may never connect with and recognize without the support of a medium, or at the end of life – as witnessed by Hospice Nurses again and again, as their patients acknowledge days or moments before death, alerting them to call the family, for departure time is near.

As I walked the Lakeside Trail, wondering if it would ever come to an end, I walked through fear and kept going.  I walked through solitude, and realized I wasn’t really alone.  I walked through self-doubt and negative self-talk about the foolishness of being ill-prepared, and I kept moving forward.  I walked for three hours straight, and never grew weary.  I acknowledged that my twice-weekly time in the gym had been time well spent, as my legs were strong enough to carry me up hill and down again without complaint.  I passed an occasional human, and while I was glad to see them and smiled as they passed, I was also grateful to continue on my own.  I realized that walking with Artemis brought me to this place… where being alone with myself is a wonderful place to be.  Once filled with self-loathing, I now feel that I make for really great company, and I was so happy to be walking with my own best friend… ME.  As I began to hear the sound of traffic on the mountain road upon which I entered the park, I was pleased to be coming full circle.  I had hoped to be shown the blessings of nature, and I was rewarded with three different deer sightings, each bringing me to tears.  For three hours, I was honored to walk beside two Goddesses who are ever present in my life, and I bowed my head to Persephone in reverence for the guidance and comfort she provides as I explore the path to the underworld, hoping to be one of her torchbearers in the future… holding the hands of those transitioning from human form, until they are finally able to see those who shall greet them on the other side.

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The Light That Pierces Shadow

Today I was blessed to spend time with a dear friend with whom I feel safe to go deep.  We found each other at the beginning of my tenure at the workplace I left last June.  I had a certain bumper sticker that alerted her to a kindred spirit on the grounds, and I was delighted to find her business card tucked into my car window that December afternoon.  When I responded to the note she was already gone for the holiday, therefore our destined meeting was delayed.  We set a lunch date upon her return, and on that day I walked into the building and got onto the elevator with a stunningly beautiful, petite woman of color and between us a kind of electricity resonated.  Somehow, though we had only exchanged a note through email, we knew that we had just found each other without even trying.  This is how our story goes… time passes and we reconnect, deeply sharing and caring, mutually delivering epiphany and expansion… without even trying.

Neither of us left that place of business (after nearly two decades) by choice, though her departure preceded mine by a few years.  I remember something she said to me, as I was still recovering from the shock of my own forced leaving.  She shared with me a truth that is known only to those who have escaped the corporate world and managed to find their own way on the outside.  She said that in that place, they would reward us one moment and tell us we weren’t good enough the next, and that if I should choose to create a life for myself outside of that tyranny, I would discover that I am not really a failure, or not quite cutting it, or that I excel at one thing but disappoint elsewhere.  If I had the courage to create a future for myself that was beyond those confines, I would discover the glorious truth of my being… that I am quite emphatically… enough.

Today we chose to have lunch at our favorite bohemian spot downtown, before heading over to the ravine for a walk in nature that remains one of our city’s best kept secrets.  Something happened, that one would not expect in such an establishment, where most guests dine because there are no animals harmed in the production of one’s meal.  A woman entered the crowded entry and cut in line.  It was forgivable, since it seemed more like a mob than a line, but the weird thing was this woman’s behavior towards us… and more so toward my friend.  When she suggested that my friend should give up her designer purse to raise money for the homeless, and my friend gently declined (assuming she was joking), she was accused of not being Christian.  Now, neither of us happen to be Christian, but I would argue that she and I are certainly more Christ-like than this poor soul.  When my friend shared with her that she felt she was being inappropriate, she pulled out her phone and threatened to call the police.  It was the strangest thing I’d ever witnessed.  My first assumption was that this woman was mentally ill, but when I had a moment to reflect on my friend’s ability to stand up for herself… I realized that this behavior is something she has had to deal with her whole life.  This, my friends, is called white privilege.  In my lifetime, I have had the privilege of NOT having to deal with the poor behavior of racists.  Fat shamers, yes.  Racists, no.

When we sat down to share sustenance, I was expressing to my beloved friend my sense of rage, outrage, anger, and shame for what is happening in our country.  Not that this behavior is anything new, especially to those with skin tones beyond the shade of beige.  But the climate nursed by having a racist fascist regime in the White House is clearly giving rise to behaviors and atrocities that are also not new to this world.  In fact, we’ve seen this behavior within the last century.  It is sickening to me to be witness to this downward spiral of our beloved country.  Day after day our senses are being assaulted by sheer hatred and vapid ignorance.  One doesn’t have to be sensitive or even psychic to be able to see where we are headed. It is just so incomprehensible to believe that this goes on and gets worse each and every day, and that it feels as if there is no end in sight… until the day comes when they come for me… and there is no one left to speak.

I have struggled with the concept of not wanting to add negative energy into the mire of our destruction, feeling that my best action is to send it light and love with every fiber of my being to remind the Universe that there is still purity and peace on this planet, and that if we can all raise our vibrations in songs of love, rather than in screams of anger, we might just manage to overcome this darkness.  I expressed this inner turmoil to my friend, because the truth is that I am over the moon with rage, my anger could fuel a thousand suns, I could melt every weapon of death and destruction with my repulsion to their very existence… but I just don’t know how to express all of these things in a way that could possibly add positive energy to the pool of possibility.

Now my friend is very wise, and she assured me that I would find a way.  She reminded me of the ‘me too’ movement and how so many women remained silent for so long, and it only led to the harm of more women.  I have always hoped and believed that if I had been of age during the civil rights era that I would have linked arms with other humans to stand for what is just and right, because the truth is… we are all one.  And so, I find myself arguing with the me that longs to feel a sense of peace within her soul, and the me that wants to rise up with the force of every mother with fearless hearts throughout history who would stand up like Molly Weasley and say, “NOT. MY. DAUGHTER. YOU. BITCH!”

So, I may continue to focus on the light that I can bring into the world and try really, really hard not to allow the venom and cuss words that keep rising to tongue’s-tip to escape in a way that is damaging to my veneer of sweetness and light.  However, let it be known that what is happening in this country, be it bigotry, misogyny, racism, violence and discrimination against LGBTQ, or Muslims, or Immigrants, or Blacks, or Hispanics, or Jews, or ANYONE having a say about what I choose to do or NOT do with MY uterus IS NOT OKAY!!!!  And I am putting the patriarchy on notice!  THE GODDESS IS RISING AND YOU HAD BEST NOT MESS WITH THE SACRED BEING WHO GAVE BIRTH TO YOUR GOD!

Also, I am breathing deeply of the love that still permeates this great land of ours.  I am reminded that we can often take the light for granted when we fail to honor the darkness.  And so I want you to know that I see you, darkness.  I see you and I honor your will of destruction.  For if there is one thing I have learned through the study of the divine feminine it is this…  we must destroy what is no longer serving us in order to create something fresh, beautiful, and new.  So, finally…  here’s to the new beginnings, dear ones.  May we all survive to see the dawn of a new day.  So mote it be.

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WTF Menopause?

Since the day I got my period, when I was twelve years old and in the sixth grade, I have been counting the days until menopause would grace me with its presence.  I’ve waited 37 years for this, and now… you are failing me.  I have always held the strong belief that fertility should be a choice, something that if you really wanted the burden of childbearing, you would have to take a pill or flip a switch to endure.  I know this is not a popular belief, as there are actually some women who have gladly exchanged this inconvenience for the blessing of children, and others who would choose to bleed every day if only they COULD be so blessed.  But seriously, why should someone who never wanted children be forced to face month after month of discomfort, inconvenience, mess, and expense?  Nearly four decades later, and I am still rather miffed about this evolutionary slap in the face.

You’d think I would feel differently, having discovered the goddess path in my early twenties, but alas… no.  I would hear women talk about their ‘moon cycle’ or their ‘red tent’ moments, and try my best to adopt a positive view of what always felt like more of a curse.  “The curse has come upon me!, she cried… The Lady of Shalott” (makes me wonder what Tennyson knew about either bleeding or having children forced through a tiny hole in his gut)… now I think I’ll go lie down in the boat and wait to bleed out.  Sheesh!  I did find it funny to realize that in a certain faith, men and women were expected to give up something each year as a symbol of reverence and commitment to honor the sacrificial king, when women were literally giving up their life’s blood at the drop of a hat, or rather the drop of an egg.  Clearly, men should get to do a forced blood letting on a monthly basis in order to keep up with the species that is always giving more than their share.

Perhaps I would feel differently if the religious right felt the seed of man was as ‘holy’ as my own, and regulate and limit ‘his’ right to choose how he would spill his semen upon the earth.  But no… pregnancy by rape or by love, though unwanted is demanded to be carried as a stain upon a woman’s soul, while no burden or shame shall ever be placed upon the penis that put it there.  If you think I feel bitter and outraged, you are right!  I have been free from this bloody curse for an entire year… until the fall of midnight on the morning of June 11.  F you, menopause!  Now, the glorious countdown to freedom has to start all over again… and I hate math!

I guess I should be relieved that the gut wrenching pain I suffered several days back was not actually my body being empathetic to two friends having abdominal surgery that day, and that my nipples haven’t been aching because I’ve developed some kind of bilateral, fast moving breast cancer.  Shew… it’s not cancer, it’s just the f*ing curse of fertility, back to torment me… like Buffy being ripped out of heaven and brought back into the demon dimension of hell on earth.    Too soon?

Perhaps I would feel less bitter if I’d not lived most of my life feeling a sense of body betrayal and self-loathing.  With a diagnosis of poly cystic ovarian syndrome in my early twenties which blessed me with rapid weight gain and insulin resistance, I put on a hundred pounds in four years without ever consuming enough calories to put weight on the most sloth-like being.  Despite a hundred different programs, pills, and even surgery… my body never lets go of her claim on the fat cells she harvested through these lumpy ovaries.

Sigh… but alas… I have spent the last several years cultivating self-love.  I have worked hard to reprogram the negative voice that once lived inside my head, constantly reminding me that I am not good enough, that I am not thin enough, that I am not pretty enough, that I am not smart enough, that I am not working hard enough, that I am not sacrificing enough, that I am not worthy of being loved, that no man will love a fat woman, that I don’t deserve the happiness of others whose bodies never betrayed them, that never ending barrage of hateful, unkind, unloving language that would never roll off my tongue to harm another living soul… only mine.  That old voice has been silenced, finally.

So here’s how I shall interpret the swelling of my belly and the shedding of dark flesh from inside my womb.  I am transforming!  I am becoming something new.  I am leaving behind that which no longer serves me, and it is being scraped out from the inside… flushing away from this sacred vessel, cleansed by water and transmuted by Mother Earth, into something healed and refreshed.  In April, the shedding occurred on the outside, through an angry dermatitis, and now… the work is just being wrapped up, on my behalf.  Here you go, dear… let’s just be done with this bit of outdated flesh.  It can’t hurt you, if you just send it love!

Okay, then.  I’m marking my calendar, and unlike in my youth, when I prayed that my period would come… I’ll say a little prayer that the lining of my uterus and I will never have to meet again.  I shall commit it to holding.  Not holding the loathing and distaste of old, but of something much healthier.  Let her hold onto the light of my love, and the healing red of root and orange of sacral chakra energy, and from there… let her energy bring birth to creativity, with words that flow freely rather than blood, and new projects that bring enlightenment, empowerment, and prosperity for self and community.  I will take this life blood and pour it onto the earth as my prayer, as I did at the full moon in May of 2000 in dedication to Artemis, with a promise to “open up and let a piece of myself fall away”.  Okay, great lady.  I hear you.  I am allowing this last remaining bit of false belief and bitterness to fall away from my body, never to be entertained again.  I promise.

Beloved vessel of loving expression, I commit to you that all of my words shall come to you with love.  Body of the universe, I vow to hold sacred every curve and every curl.  Sacred being, I promise to love you, cherish you, hold you close, to always be honest and express my truth, and will never ask you to endure suffering from self or others, for you have done your time, and I am choosing to set you free.  With this freedom, I find a release of tension in my belly, and I am finally able to breathe, and perhaps to sleep.  The rage has passed, and we have earned a dark chocolate reward.  May peace be with me, and also with you.  Amen and Blessed be.

(The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse – my favorite non-living artist)

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My Favorite Tomboy

She was four and I was five, the little tomboy who lived around the block.  We met in kindergarten – the afternoon class with Miss Carlyle.  Things I remember about that particular new beginning are:  being walked to school by my Mom and our basset hound, Biggy…  crying from fear, as my mother prepared to abandon me to this place filled with strangers in a hallway that smelled of mimeographed pages.  It may have been less frightening to me, had I realized that in this tiny classroom I would find a true and lifelong friend.

Forty-four years have passed, but there are pieces of our shared history that could never fall through the holes of my memory.  Riding my yellow bike with the banana seat and training wheels around the block, where I discovered the little tomboy outside in her front yard.  Graduating to an adult bike, with a bar that taught me to toss both legs over the side for a running dismount, rather than risking losing my breath to the smarts of feet not reaching the ground and the bar crashing into a place you wouldn’t have guessed was attached to your lungs.  Sun drenched days, playing and riding our bikes, jumping over the mound of dirt that never did get moved into the backyard to build a garden.  And then there were the days spent on the floor of the bedroom she shared with her sister… a four-poster bed, a small record player with a stack of 45’s, playing barbies or ‘pancake kids’ as I called the Flatsies she had, and singing songs that children probably shouldn’t sing, but it doesn’t matter because to us, ‘afternoon delight’ was exactly what we were doing… spending the afternoon playing with the little girl who will surely be by your side until the very end.

After all of these years, I know this to be true… that we will be one of a significant few required to be present at the end of our days, may that end be eons from now.  There is a moment in time that we share that was marked by trauma, and that we survived it adds depth to our soul-connection today.  This story is significant in my journey of overcoming and becoming… from self-loathing to self-love.  I was reminded of it in 2005, when I happened to sit next to a Medium from California at a Broadway Play I was attending with friends.  I wrote about it in my not-yet-published book, the name of which I will someday reveal here, about the way that the Archetypal Feminine plays a role in my life.

Over the years, Artemis has continued to make her presence known to me.  She came through loud and clear in 2005, and that was possibly the biggest shift forward in my labyrinth of transformation.  I had gone to New York with friends, specifically to see Tim Curry on Broadway in Spamalot, but we decided to add another show to the itinerary to make the weekend trip worthwhile.  The show we selected was 700 Sundays with Billy Crystal.  It was there that magick happened, again.

There were three people in my party, an empty seat, and then a party of four in our row.  As we waited for Billy Crystal to grace the stage with his brilliant energy, a woman slid into our row and sat down next to me.  It was obvious she was on her own, so I struck up conversation.  She said that she had come to NYC from California specifically to see this show, that her family thought she was crazy for doing so, and that she was going to do some work while she was here.  Then, the show started, and Billy wowed us with his incredible gift of storytelling.  He talked about the remarkable life he lived in his youth, with his father and his uncle, who owned a record label.  His father was busy with work, but they had his undivided attention every Sunday.  They lost him too soon, and so Billy assessed that he had him in his life for about 700 Sundays.  The stories were incredible, and he was engaging.  Then, at the intermission, I continued talking with the woman to my right.  I asked her what it was that she does that allowed her to work on either coast.  She said that she was a medium, and started to explain to me what that was.  I stopped her and told her that I had been doing psychic development with my Tribe, but that I just couldn’t seem to receive.  She said:  “That’s because of what happened when you were nine.”  She continued, “Your Dad was yelling at you, and that’s when you shut down.”  She asked if my Dad yelled a lot, and I replied that he had a big voice, but that I never really felt he yelled AT me.  I asked the west coast medium (wish I could remember her name) what I could do about it, and she said: “All you have to do is fall in love with yourself, AND IT WILL ALL FALL AWAY.”  I stared at her and assured her I had received that message before, but that I was never sure of how to interpret the guidance.  So, here’s where the big aha moment for me appeared; my very next thought was… how can I fall in love with someone I loathe?  So, before I even left New York, I had written a list of common phrases that my inner bully beat me with, and when I got home, I called my therapist and engaged her in the endeavor of continuing the work that Artemis was patiently waiting for me to complete.

When I met with my therapist, I arrived with my list, and I talked pretty solidly about the message I had received, about the inner dialog that had plagued me for so long, about where it came from and how the only one responsible for perpetuating it was me.  We worked together for a few sessions, but I pretty much set my own plan for recovery, while she validated my journey.  I determined that anytime a voice inside my head said something negative, I would replace it by saying something positive aloud.  Most importantly, I declared that I would never say anything to myself that I would never say to someone I love.  And so, that’s how my path out of self-loathing continued… one step at a time, with constant vigilance and occasional course recovery.

When I got home from that fateful trip to NYC and recounted that conversation with the medium to my life-long friend, whom I’ve known since kindergarten, with eyes wide, she said, “I bet it was MY Dad who yelled at you!”, which totally resonated with me.  I recognized that there was a moment in our shared history that quite possibly had damaged something in my psyche.  Her dad, unlike mine, was rather intimidating, and we were both rather afraid of him.  I have a ridiculous sense of recall on this particular day, though I cannot tell you what I did yesterday without checking my calendar.  My friend and I are not sure of our age, because we felt younger than nine, but it probably fits. 

I can’t tell you if it was summertime or a weekend, but it was a warm sunny day in my childhood, when my Mom said she would take me to get lunch at Arby’s.  I asked her if my friend could come with us, and she said yes.  I told her I would run over to her house, and that we would be right back, if she could come.  She lived around the block from us, and I can’t say why I didn’t just call her on the phone.  For whatever reason, I walked, and quite possibly skipped around the block, past the ditch that ran between our streets, and up to her house.  When I got there, she wanted to go with us, but wanted me to ask her dad.  So, I held my breath and walked out to the Florida room where he sat in his recliner, and I asked him if his youngest daughter could come with my mom and me to Arby’s for lunch.  He looked at me, and asked, “Is it okay with your mother?”  I answered him, and we took to the task of getting her ready to go.  When I realized it was taking longer to get back home, I called my mom, and asked if she would mind picking us up.  When I hung up the phone, my friend’s dad was standing in the doorway of the Florida room, glaring at me.  He said, “I thought you said it was okay with your mother.  You lied to me!”  I stood there dumbfounded and in shock.  Did I lie to him?  Is it possible that I could have told a lie to a grown up?  What just happened?  My brain went fuzzy.  As my mom was pulling up outside, my friend’s father removed his approval for her to join me for lunch, and he forbid us to play together ever again.  I don’t recall what happened after that.  I really do believe I was in shock.  I don’t know why I didn’t engage my parents to argue for me, or stand up for my nature which was never to lie to a grown up… or for that matter, why I couldn’t stand up to my friend’s dad in the first place and simply speak the truth… that I hadn’t lied, and that what had changed was that we would not walk back around the block, but ask my mother to pick us up instead.  What I did realize, looking back at that moment in time, was this:  This event was very likely when self-doubt began.  To this day, I refer to my mind as having swiss cheese memory because it seems that I can have a memory, for example, that I had a conversation with someone about a certain topic, but I can’t recall any of the details about it, as if they had fallen through the holes.  I’ve always said that I am an amazing secret keeper.  Your secret is safe with me, because if I remember that we spoke, I definitely won’t recall many details.  This obviously does not bode well for the future, as I age.  

But seriously, it’s a shame that grown-ups are oblivious to the damage their words and actions are committing against the children in their lives.  Wounds may scar over, but the healing could take a lifetime.  As you know, my life-long friend and I did get to be friends again, but it was after about a year of being forbidden to play together.  She is an introvert, and didn’t have many playmates, and so her mother finally demanded an end to our exile.  My next memory of her dad was much different… he was dying.  He seemed much less intimidating by then, and he smiled when he saw me.  I didn’t get an apology, but we resumed our friendship, and he died in our 6th grade year.  I would get my apology many years after he was gone, either in a dream or a meditation.  To this day, my friend and I reflect on these moments that shaped us, and together, we stand committed to the overcoming of our perceived obstacles.  Like I said, it requires constant vigilance.

In the years that followed his departure, we were at times distant and close.  Through high school we had different classes and consequently, different friends.  In fact, after kindergarten, despite having attended the same schools through thirteen years of education, we never had another class together.  Weird, right?  But we eventually found our way back to the lap of our connection.  Even if a month should pass without seeing one another when life gets in the way, we are eternally bound by this childhood, shared.  She IS the sister I never had.  She jokes that I am an old soul, and that she, as a young soul, is just following my lead.  But the truth is, she is wiser than she lets on.  She has a gift of mindful reflection that enables her to see both sides of a story, and though she is passionate about her views, she is able to use her words to express herself without lashing out against the views of another.  I may have the gift of words, but this is not one of my strengths.  I tend to remain silent on the topics by which I am most affected, for my level of rage does not permit me such grace.  She claims that empathy is not her strength, as it is overwhelmingly one of mine, and yet her beautiful heart nearly bleeds for the suffering of any animal, be it field mouse or elephant.  Her beautiful heart dispels any false rumor she may be spreading about the age of her soul.

I shudder to think what might have happened if her Dad had been any different.  Without trauma that binds us, she might have been like any other neighborhood kid, fearless of the future and led far away from this place where geography keeps us close.  Our shared wounding in youth left me filled with self-doubt, and I believe her wound is similar.  Her father insisted that if she couldn’t do something right, she shouldn’t do it at all.  Therefore, her living room sat empty for the first ten years of her marriage, because she could not risk choosing the wrong furniture.  This is the core of many of our deep-dive discussions of overcoming.  Mine has been a long journey of seeking.  Through life-altering experiences that were fearful to start, but ultimately joyful at outcome, I have learned to have faith that the Universe is leading me along a path of discovery that will surely be for my highest good.  She has vowed to follow my lead, and year-by-year I am witness to her growing courage.  Next year we both turn 50.  I have no doubt that she is on the verge of her own fearless becoming.  After all, she WOWs me every day.  One day soon, she is going to WOW herself… and I’ll be right here holding the torch and cheering her on.  Oh, how I love and adore that little tomboy of my heart, now as girly as they get.  She is stunningly magnificent, and I am blessed to be in her tiny circle.

(as I imagine our future / Garden Afternoon by Marcelle Milo Gray)

uswithtea

 

A Spiritual Path Less Traveled

I have been asked on more than one occasion about the sense of comfort and calm that I carry.  One co-worker asked me if it was my spirituality that made me such a peaceful and happy soul.  I tend to think that my demeanor would be the same regardless of my spiritual path, and yet I surely would not be who I am today without it.

I started my spiritual journey at age 23, at a time when I felt unfocused and unsure of my future direction.  I was raised Unitarian Agnostic, so had an openness toward learning about world religion and alternative paths of spirituality.  I had gone to church with friends while growing up, and had experienced multiple denominations of Christianity, but was never able to find a connection there.

As a teenager, and an adoring fan of a certain chiffon cloaked songstress, I developed an interest in learning about Wicca.  I recall asking my brother one day, “They call her a witch, but her music is uplifting and makes me feel good… so how can she be bad?”  His reply was that she wasn’t bad, she was a Witch to Wicca, as a Catholic is to Christianity (providing clarity to a non-religious kid). 

In the mid 1980’s, there was little to be found in the library on that topic.  I found a brief outline in an encyclopedia that I photocopied, but it didn’t do much to help my understanding.  It felt too foreign and strange, and so I dropped my inquiry. 

Then, in February of 1992, my Mom signed us both up to attend a workshop at our church, called “Women in Religion – A Walk in Many Worlds”.   It was a weekend of experiential learning about Feminine Spirituality, hosted by Margot Adler.  I can still vividly recall the Saturday morning ritual that was simple in nature, but powerful.  There were 120 women in attendance, and Margot (the late NPR Correspondent, and granddaughter of famed psychiatrist, Alfred Adler) invited any woman who was going through some kind of trauma or sorrow to enter the center of the circle.  When I looked around, there were not enough women left in the outer ring to be able to clasp hands.  For me, it was a moment of empathic clarity to understand the prolific suffering of others. Prior to this gathering, I had not yet come to understand that what people display ‘on the outside’ does not necessarily reflect how they feel on the inside.

As we joined voices for my first healing chant, there was an unmistakable energy rising.  It came up through the soles of my feet and poured forth through the tears in my eyes… there was so much suffering in this circle.  I longed to hold every woman in sacred space. 

These are the words that we repeatedly chanted:  “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.”  I still find this chant to be powerful and incredibly moving, whether in a circle of three or three hundred. 

At the time of our gathering, I knew one woman in the circle, but when I would later reflect on that moment that changed my life for the better, I would realize that a good number of those present would become my people. 

Aside from the healing chant, there is one thing that really stands out in my memory of that weekend. We were all invited to bring an item to place on the altar, and had a chance to explain the symbolism of our offering.  Margot spoke of the item she brought, which was a replica of a Neolithic age goddess image known as the Venus of Willendorf.  She dates back over 30,000 years, and here’s the thing… she is not a stick figure.  Willie is actually rotund by current standards.  She is full, and round, and fertile, with hips meant for childbearing.  Margot said that when she learned to see this ancient relic through the eyes of those who created her… with a sense of awe and reverence… she could begin to see herself that way.  Can you imagine – realizing that someone who looked like you was once considered divine and worthy of worship? There really might be something here for me, after all, I thought.

After the workshop, my mom found an ad in the paper for a six-month class on Wicca.  Again, she signed us both up.  Mom left the class when she knew I was safe (i.e., not getting involved with a cult), as this path was not for her.  I continued my weekly commitment from March through August of that year.  We learned about different mythological pantheons, sacred ceremony, herbalism, astrology, divination (such as tarot and runes, etc.), and more. 

It’s funny to come from the perspective of skepticism and open mindedness.  It takes a really long time to move through disbelief and prove-it mentality to genuine knowing – even when you’ve been witness to real magick and minor miracles.  It helps to be a highly committed individual; you can just keep trying, until it clicks.  It also helps to have others with whom you feel safe to explore.  When the class was over, I was initially not sure I would do anything with what I’d learned.  There were parts that resonated, and parts that did not.  But, as fate would have it, I was invited to join a small group of classmates to continue this exploration.  These people valued my authentic nature, and did not judge my lack of education on the subjects into which we would grow.  With their confidence and support, I began to blossom.  I was their ‘maiden’, and the tarot card that symbolized my place on the path at age 23 was The Fool…  a curious soul at the beginning of an unknown and exciting adventure.

For me, what was most profound in this exploration was the ability to finally find myself in the divine.  For on this spiritual path, through Margot Adler’s introduction and the class on Wicca, I met the Goddess.  Before this, the only expression of divinity I’d been shown came in male form, and quite frankly, having been betrayed by a male at age 20 to whom I had given my heart, well… I just wasn’t interested.  How could I trust Him?  And so here, in the proverbial lap of the Goddess, I was ready to make my home.

Over the last 25 years, my personal definition of spirituality has fluctuated. I remain committed to a permanent state of evolution, as I allow life and experience to alter understanding. I am an eternal student gathering insight from many paths, traditions, and religions. I find focus and strength in the archetypal feminine via Jungian psychology. I am grateful to have been raised with an open mind, not tied to a single belief system or dogma.

I love that we all have the freedom to explore and ultimately define what it is that makes us feel safe, supported, transformed, fulfilled. 

For me, an earth based, goddess centered path still resonates most clearly… but my understanding of consciousness continues to evolve, and today I define myself as spiritual, but not religious – hesitant to limit my own possibility for growth and expansion. 

What I’ve gathered from every single path I’ve studied… is that symbolism is powerful.  We can find commonality in the Earth’s path around the sun through the changing seasons, and the cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth of nature.  And just as Mother Nature sheds her leaves each fall, we too can choose to drop what no longer serves us, be it an attitude, a toxic relationship, or a path that no longer meets our needs.

Whichever path you have chosen, and however you define it, dear ones, I hope that your own sacred journey is paved with love and healing light, and that you are surrounded by a community of supportive, loving, compassionate friends who will take your hand when you need guidance through moments of darkness.  Knowing that I am never alone, and that I am surrounded by so much love has always been a great blessing to me… and from the center of my being, I wish the same for you. 

Thank you for walking this path with me.

Snake Woman Shedding Her Skin

In April I developed a dermatitis.  I can’t really remember ever having a rash before this development.  It was pretty fierce and seriously uncomfortable.  In my circle, when we have a physical ailment arise, we remind one another to ask ourselves – that would be our higher selves, guides, the consciousness that provides wisdom if only we know to ask – what does this mean or why am I experiencing this discomfort?  When I asked, the answer I received was loud and clear… “snake woman shedding her skin”.

In June of last year, I left my 16 year career with the arrival of new management.  I was immediately discovered and hired by another company, but it did not resonate with me so I departed after a few months and took the rest of the year off.  In January I put myself back on the market, but three months into the tedium of receiving multiple emails every day with job postings and recruiter reaches I had developed a sense of repulsion at the review of each job description.  In rapid succession the following events occurred:  I finished writing a book, I submitted the first three chapters and a synopsis to four publishers, I declared that I could not return to the corporate world, I could no longer stomach doing what I have done for the last 25 years, I discontinued every single recruitment tool from entering my inbox, and decided to devote my time to becoming a certified End of Life Doula.  And then…  my skin went into a flaming rage.  This is what I wrote about it:

It started small, in a place beneath my belly that never sees the light.  It spoke to me of nurturing, and I did it wrong.  I caused harm instead of healing.  I didn’t mean to… I promise.  I love you.  The wrong I had done grew with rage, and expanded the hurting beyond its meager beginning, angering everything it touched.  Bellies are meant to expand in order to bring new life to birth.  My belly expanded decades ago, and brought only shame and strife.  I looked at her with disappointment and longing… to become something she was not.  I degraded her with my thoughts at each passing of the mirror.  I didn’t mean to… I promise.  I love you.  Skin is the largest organ we possess, a full time job of holding.  How can it possibly work so hard for so little reward?  From the time we be-gin, until the time we cease-to-be this sacred container embraces every cell, every bone, every heartbeat, every thought – for better or for worse, the ultimate supporter.  Seriously, she deserves a bonus!  That anger is contagious, you know.  What started at the belly expanded to the thighs.  Then it just ran screaming, enflamed, throughout the body, from upper arm to lower ankle… as if the skin cells had been spreading rumors.  Can you believe what she did to the belly?, they said.  No love. No pride. No respect. No compassion. No tenderness.  Just shame and regret.  Well, we’re not going to stand by and witness such disregard for her own perfection.  We shall rise with the burning desire for loving kindness.  We shall itch and pull to the point of discomfort, so that sitting still is no longer an option.  When every thought of loathing and distaste has been burned away, a fresh, new beginning will be revealed.  The entire body, belly, thighs, and all will be loved and nurtured in this very form… exactly as she is… deserving of soothing caress, and quenching delight.  Outdated perceptions and false belief will be shed and left behind, as the former assumptions have grown too limiting, and no longer fit.  She is becoming something better and deeper than before.  I really mean to… I promise.  I love you.

The book I had just finished was about my own journey through self-loathing to self-loving, and I am quite sure that this burden was a kind of test.  For nearly twenty years I have been strongly influenced by the archetype of Artemis.  She is a Greek goddess of the hunt… the archer.  Her realm is mountain and stream, and she is fiercely protective of women and children.  One who is devoted to such a character of strength might ask herself in a moment of suffering, what would Artemis do?  Well, I can tell you that she wouldn’t bury her head in shame, and she wouldn’t punish herself for the behavior of nature, she wouldn’t pretend to be something she is not, and she wouldn’t suffer in silence… she would reach to her sisters for guidance and support.  And that’s what I did.  I am blessed to have a soul-sister who is a healer and practitioner of Chinese medicine.  In case you wondered… acupuncture can cure a rash, just so you know.

I believe I passed my test.  I chose to love my body through her discomfort, rather than to degrade her for what I would have formerly dubbed another episode of body betrayal.  Today, I love her even more than before.  I have shed the skin (the identity) that had grown tight and unbearable.  I have slithered into a new beginning that is shiny and smooth. I feel liberated, joyful and free.  I am hopeful for the future for the first time in years, and I cannot wait to receive the bounty the Universe has been holding for my discovery.  If I needed a sign from the Universe of my confidence, it came the other morning in the form of a black snake traveling from west to east across my front yard.  I was so excited to see her, and I rushed to get a photo before she disappeared into the brush.  In the Animal Dreaming Oracle by Scott Alexander King, it informs us that SNAKE is about Transmutation.  It reads, in part:  “… While embracing the promise of new life, the Snake can be seen as representative of the healing we must accept if we intend to move into the next phase of our life in a complete and fertile way.”  “… Snake encourages us to look at our baggage, our burdens and our pain and transmute them into new opportunity and new life.  She offers us the chance to physically rebirth ourselves by strengthening us emotionally and deepening our relationship with Spirit.”

Dear ones, if you find that your current situation has begun to rub you the wrong way and is making you want to crawl out of your skin, I wish for you the emancipation for which your spirit longs.  The unknown future may be scary, but it is also exciting… an adventure that beckons new friends, new vistas, and healing, glorious, delightful new beginnings.  I’m so grateful that I managed to find you here upon my new path, taken!

mysnake

 

Witness to Healing

It was exactly six years and two months ago that one of my soulmates entered my life.  You may know that a soulmate is anyone in your life who speaks to your soul and helps you to grow… they are not always a romantic partner, but sometimes, if you are really lucky, they may become a life partner… one soul you would choose to have at your side through all of the ups and downs, highs and lows of this great journey we call life.

She was kind of a mess at that time, but you wouldn’t know it to see her… as she was a master of disguise, much like many survivors of childhood abuse.  Whether it was my empathic gift or our souls’ recognition of one another, she had the great courage to remove her mask whenever we were alone.  The very first time she came to my home, we sat together on the couch and she looked at me with fear in her eyes, because she could not believe that she was confessing to me all of her deepest, darkest secrets of her childhood horrors.  She said that it had taken her eight years of weekly therapy, to get past the crushing silence and tears of her shame to speak of these things to a professional… and there it was, spilling forth from her being like a flood gate had opened.  It was a great honor to me that she trusted me with her truth, especially since she didn’t actually know me, at that point in time.  Here’s one thing I know for sure, if you have the courage to go deep with someone, to share your truth, be authentic, and vulnerable… you will have no choice but to become bonded.  Know that I am not betraying her trust by writing of my courageous, warrior soulmate here, because she has given me permission to share.

Here’s the really amazing, wonderful, miraculous thing about my joyful sharing of this piece of our shared history… my beloved friend and soulmate, who once would go fetal at the mere thought of her abuser, or who would lose her shit over a tragic anniversary, or who might punish herself with self harm of any sort, because she was drowning in the tidal wave of shame, fear, and self-loathing… is now completely healed.  It wasn’t a spontaneous lightning bolt of healing, it was several years of dedicated hard work on her own behalf.  She saw a therapist at least twice a month, and every week, if she needed it.  She took her medication religiously, and never stopped her practice of self-care with her daily vitamin regimen.  She sought and engaged a therapist who practices EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), which is pure magick that reprograms the way the brain deals with trauma and PTSD.  She is Christian, and so she engaged with groups at church that were focused on healing and coping.  And most of the time that she was really struggling… she would reach out to me, and we would talk through it.  When I asked her to see a psychiatrist to help with her chemistry, she made a promise and followed through.  It wasn’t easy for her to do all of these things.  Even making a phone call, or answering the phone was a hardship, at times… but she always found the strength and courage to accept that lifeline.

One of those days that she reached to me for assistance was when her group therapist assigned each survivor of childhood atrocities to write a letter of loving support to herself.  Though I have no doubt she could have done that for someone else, at that time, she simply could not find the words for herself.  So, she engaged her friend with a gift for words.  This is the letter that I wrote for her.  She told me that she shared it with her group, and that another member of the group asked if I would write one for her… and so she took my letter and adjusted the greeting.  It went like this:

Dear [Friend]~

Have I told you lately how very proud I am of you?  You are a warrior woman, goddess incarnate.  The word victim has no place in your personal vocabulary, for you are a survivor.  Heartbreaking atrocities occur every day, but it is not every soul who chooses to stand up and fight for her freedom from internal conflict and for wholeness.  YOU are that woman. 

At times, as you face these nightmares from the past – with your inner child, you may feel alone and helpless.  The truth is… you are never alone, for we are all one.  When you are in the midst of darkness, I shall be your torchbearer… shining a light on your truth, that you are whole, worthy, valued, loved, adored, and perfect – exactly as you are, until your own light is able to shine more brightly to illuminate your path of enlightenment.

I, too, have been through the darkness, in my own small way.  As you know, I dwelled in self-loathing for over 25 years.  Until, one day I decided that I deserved to be treated with loving kindness and respect, by myself as well as by others.  It takes constant vigilance to choose the right words for one’s healthy self-talk, instead of the negative, nasty words we learned from others.  It is absolutely worth the energy, time, and commitment to ourselves.  We deserve what we accept… and we teach others how we deserve to be treated by our own actions…  by what we tolerate.  Never, ever tolerate abuse, disrespect or a lack of kindness… especially from yourself.  Ask yourself, when you are speaking to your own reflection – would I ever say “this” to someone I love?  If the answer is NO, then you MUST replace that thought or statement with something loving and kind.  This is what I learned, and how I continue my own practice of self-respect and loving kindness.

With this important work you are doing, with such commitment and dedication, you are moving beyond being a survivor… you are becoming a THRIVER!  Darling, precious, sacred friend…  I can see your light and I look forward to seeing it shine more brightly.  Go on – remarkable woman of strength and healing…  SHINE ON!

Here’s my challenge for you…  I dare you to make yourself feel as loved by you, as I do.  I know that you have it in you, because you make me feel valued, appreciated, loved and adored.  And the truth is… you deserve your own love and compassion more than anyone in the universe.

Love, blessings, and awe… 

If this letter resonates with you, I hope you will fill in your name where [Friend] is written.  The one for whom this letter was originally penned no longer needs it, though I know she holds it among her healing treasures.  One day last winter, she received news footage of her childhood home, and the room that was hers… a virtual hall of terrors for one beautiful little girl, had burst into flames.  She sent me the footage, and told me what I was seeing.  My reply:  “Oh, wow!  Do you know what this means?”  Her reply:  “Yup!”  This image, the symbol of her childhood trauma engulfed in flames, was her sign from God (the Universe) that her healing was done.  That wounded past was being cleansed and purified… like when the forest floor is set alight to clear away old debris, and allow the pine cones to break open and spread their seed of new beginnings.  Today, she no longer struggles with depression, and as of this morning, she is off of medication, after months of weening with her doctor’s and therapist’s guidance and support.  She is my great symbol of hope.  In her new beginning, she has become MY torchbearer.  She has informed me that if I never give up on myself, and if I am willing to remain committed and focused on attaining my goals, someday… I might just become a writer.  😉

Fireplace 11-20-2013