Global Fam-demic

I wonder what beauty you may be finding during these difficult days.

For me, life is not much different. I had already made my world very small, by choosing to live simply, while serving my parents. The biggest change for us, is that I now do all of the shopping, with great care and more frequent hand-washing.

There has, of course, been great loss… in the form of up-close connectedness. I miss hugs more than anything on this planet, and what I know for sure, is that it is the one thing I will miss when my body is done and my spirit moves on.

But there have been many extraordinary developments that add light to this shadow. For these gifts, I am grateful.

If I start with what is really close to home, it would be a continued growing affection between my parents and myself. Our commitment and care for the wellness of one another is now our primary focus. There are few distractions from this imperative intention. We are not ready to lose each other, therefore, we will continue to do whatever science and healthcare leaders recommend to keep ourselves safe and well. And we will also do it to help keep others well.

To open the circle a little wider to our surroundings, there is the delight of getting to know my neighbors. I’ve lived in this house for nearly 25 years, and because we were all working outside of the home, there has been little to no interaction. We might know we had neighbors simply by the presence or absence of a car in the driveway, noticed in passing.

I’ve been around full-time for a couple of years, but now that they are home, as well… we are not just waving as we pass, we are stopping to say hello and check on our mutual emotional well-being. And we are eager to offer kindness, in the form of a text to say one of us is going to the store – is there anything you need?

The other day, the guy across the street noticed tree branches brushing my roof, and offered to cut them back. He even took the cuttings to the curb, and blew away the leaves that had gathered. I thanked him with a gift-card and two pints of his favorite ice cream, and he gave me a bag of avocados he’d picked up in plenty from a nearby store. Seriously, anyone would be blessed to have a neighbor like mine. He once witnessed a fallen tree branch hit my roof in a rainstorm, and climbed up before I got home, to be sure there was no damage or to secure a tarp for protection.

Then there’s the lady who was out one day, as I walked up to my folks’ house, who had been here for 29 years – and I’d never seen her once. She started watching for me, and stepping outside to take a walk with me. Yesterday, she texted and said… “I know you can’t walk tonight, but I got you something, and I can’t wait to give it to you.” It was a few minutes before my online meditation group gathering, but I met her half-way. I opened it late last night, and then used the illumination of this warmly given flashlight, as I made my way back up the street for bedtime ritual with Mom and Dad.

I learned that she worked for our local grocery store for 30 years, and that on Monday, she is having her port removed, because she has defeated cancer. So glad that she will now have another neighbor cheering her on.

Then there’s the neighbor across the street, who is there because I begged the homeowner to let me pick his next renter. He is in his 70s and on furlough (because for many, social security is not enough to live on). He has not been able to file for unemployment in the last nine weeks, because we are in Florida, and the Governor who created the system is a criminal. The other day, I asked my lawn guys if they could cut his lawn, and today, I helped him to file for the benefits he needs and deserves.

Expanding my reach even more, there are the circles of friends whose hugs I dearly miss. Some of us would have been seeing each other every 8 weeks in my workshops for mindfulness and creativity. I remember asking them if they would be interested in meeting more often this year (imagining a small gathering in my home, as needed), and now that we cannot gather, we are even more connected than before. We have a weekly video conference scheduled, and I’m using some of the skills I’ve learned in a course I’m taking to facilitate a safe and brave space, where everyone is heard and held for every joy and concern.

In fact, I have multiple circles like this. One with a spiritual, intuitive focus. One to nurture a loving bond, of a group that has met monthly for decades, to cook together and raise a glass, as we share the depth of what is happening in our lives. Now, we are having a monthly virtual happy hour, instead… and we each offer a toast to the camera with our gratitude for the safety and wellness of each sacred soul.

And then… there’s the community of remarkable beings with whom I have been meeting weekly since the end of October. We have lately remarked on how we felt drawn to this online course for reasons unknown… until now. Now, we can see the guiding hand of the Universe, that led us each to sign up for Heather Plett’s Holding Space Leadership Program last fall (or spring for those of us in the southern hemisphere).

In the beginning, we were told that we numbered about 50, and were given a pinpoint map of the world to show where each of us are physically located. We are in Canada (east and west), we are all over the United States, we are all over Australia, we are in Japan, Singapore, Norway, and Belgium. There are other countries on the map, but I’m not sure I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a few people that are learning and growing with us.

Through five modules and seven months of weekly connectedness, we have experienced so much. We started by learning about the basic concepts and symbolism in Holding Space, then moved into learning how to hold space for ourselves. We did a deep dive into the foundation of The Circle Way, as one form of the container we can create for the courage and vulnerability of others. Next, we moved into the module to which I most looked forward… Holding Space in Complexity. Friends…. I learned this lesson years ago when I asked Ganesha to remove my obstacles and had to leave my job of 10 years the next day… BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR.

Right before this module started, we were holding space for our friends and classmates in Australia, for their country was burning. With them, we prayed for rain and an end to the nightmare, while listening to their fears and concerns without judgment, deepening our skills for holding others in a space where we know we cannot fix it… and understanding the power of remaining present, rather than looking away from that which we cannot control.

In the months before, we were sharing our stories with depth, honesty, and vulnerability, in groups of 20, groups of 4, and one-on-one. We were finding resonance with these stories, and reaching out away from the class meeting time and separate from the homework, because we wanted to know more about each soul who was speaking to our own. Slowly, the news was shifting focus, from the natural disaster down under, to classmates in corporate roles who were preparing for pandemic.

And then… it happened. The whole world shut down. Only, we were not just seeing it in the news. We were witnessing it through the stories of our new friends and classmates. We found gratitude in seeing each face in a tiny Zoom-square every week, with a breath of relief – thank goodness she/he/they are safe.

Talk about complexity! We thought the hardest part would be unveiling our implicit biases, and peeling back our privilege. But imagine being in that deep dive and learning that so much death is occurring in places denied the privilege from which you benefit… like on Reservations and in black communities. It’s a painful process, but worth the effort. It might just free you from inertia and give you the strength and courage to do more.

But wait… there’s more. Some kind of magick occurred in this process. Our remarkable and big-hearted teachers and facilitators, who are on their fifth go-round with this annual class, have informed us that this level of bonding has not happened before. They had not previously seen members creating new groups of their own – like our Thursday meditation circle that meets before class. They wonder if we can pinpoint the factors that supported this cohesiveness. I’m not sure if we have an answer. It feels spiritual to me, as if Mother Earth commanded it.

Let me tell you, this love runs deep. There is something powerful about vulnerability. When we have the courage to go deep, and to peel away the layers of pretense, daring to speak our truths, and to be held and heard by others with respect and caring… falling in love is inevitable. This is where we find belonging. Together, we have learned that when we show up for one another, even in the silence of meditation, the strands that are the fiber of our beings become interwoven. We have no doubt that this bond will only grow stronger. With two weeks left of class, we have already committed to continue.

I’ve had trouble writing this year. My words normally flow easily through the simple action of placing my fingers on the keyboard, but lately… the flow has been blocked. Whether it is because of my body’s fight or flight response to the constant pounding and vibration of nearby construction or the empathic space holding of fear and chaos for what is happening for the collective, I am unsure. But what I do know, is that I didn’t want this time to go by undocumented. I don’t want to forget, should the world normalize in any way, what magick we’ve created in this liminal time.

I’ve been thinking about this pandemic, and how it has affected the world. It rapidly spread across continents and changed everything in an instant. But when I seek the good in the situation, which I always do, what I acknowledge, value, and treasure is the way that when our personal lives have gotten so very small… our love has gotten so very big.

The family that I am working to protect started as three people in two houses on one block, and has spread across the entire globe. It’s a fam-demic!

I have no doubt that if so much love can be nurtured and expanded through a series of sacred circles, it can surely ripple out across the world. And really, loving one another is the only thing that can bring this suffering to an end.

I love you enough to wear a mask. I love you enough to wash my hands. I love you enough to keep my distance. I love you enough to offer my care. I love you enough to help where I can. I love you enough to show up, even if virtually is the best way, for now. I love you enough to speak my truth. I love you enough to honor your truth. I love you enough to hold this space for you with the light of love. Thank you for walking this path with me. I love you more.

New (Sur)Reality

The funny thing about this crazy development of social distancing and societal quarantine is that… I’ve sort of been living this way since I left the corporate world at the end of 2017. For me, aside from my excessively fierce protection of my father’s safety and wellness (wearing a mask and washing my hands three times more often), not much has changed in our tiny universe.

If it weren’t for the very real threat that is lurking nearby and ready to pounce, it might feel as if the rest of the world was finally catching up to our grand discovery. If I could ignore the ‘why’ of the situation – the risk to mortality and the heartbreaking financial implications that come with it, I might be happy for those who may be closer to learning what I have learned… that we really can live simply and be joyfully content and peacefully happy, with less. Less shopping, less spending, less working, less eating out, less driving, less square footage, less stress.

Three times a day, I walk up the street to my parents’ house to ensure that all is well. I give Pop his pills, refill his cup, fix him breakfast, and if Mom isn’t up, I’ll start the coffee. The first visit is just before noon, as their sleep habits are off. I come back again around 5pm to see if Pop is hungry. Sometimes he is, and sometimes he isn’t. I don’t push it. I offer options, but if he is not swayed by an offer of a sandwich, chips and salsa, or a piece of cake, I do a quick rotation of small tasks, then walk back home.

Around 9pm, I head back over, and don my mask before entering. This time I stay a bit longer, as the routine has multiple tasks. I check his blood pressure and oxygen level, give him his pills (without the blood pressure elevator, if his numbers were good), prepare and serve his dinner (if he’s hungry), and then the dogs have their day. They each get their treats, Sunshine gets her pills with peanut butter, Tina gets to finish what’s left, I ensure there is a safe path to the bathroom for Pop (no dog toys to trip over), lock all of the doors, wish everyone a good night, and then step outside to walk home, having immediately removed my mask.

I haven’t had regular television in 15 years. I never see commercials, political ads, or the news. Except… when I go to my parents’ house. The news is almost always on. This isn’t a problem in the sense that we have differing beliefs, because gratefully, we are of similar values and minds. For me, the problem is simply that I am physically sickened by what is happening in our country, and I can feel my blood pressure rise every time the news proves that it really can get worse. While my Mom feels it is important to know what is going on, I don’t disagree, and yet… it feels physically impossible to torture myself with reality sometimes.

And yet, it is the news that informs me it is time to reach out to friends and loved ones and keep them close… from a distance. It is the news that alerts me to the probability there is more happening in some people’s lives than making their lives small and hunkering down. In my distant Tribe alone, we have one beloved who is a Physician Assistant for an outpatient clinic at a large hospital. She is now in charge of one of five Covid-19 Testing Tents in her city, and she is doing everything she can to stay safe and avoid taking something home to her family. Another one of our beloveds is a microbiologist, who is working in a lab to benefit our nation and her community. And another one of our beloveds, who has had a persistent cough and recent pneumonia diagnosis, is awaiting test results to determine if her illness is related to this virus (originally told it would take 72 hours, and now has been told it will take 7-10 days to get results). One of our beloveds was poised to visit us with his family from Japan, when all flights were cancelled. Together, we felt the disappointment and relief, to know our reunion would be delayed while they were being kept safe from current risk and chaos.

I don’t know how to begin to comfort those who are losing their jobs. When it happened to me twice before, the shock and sense of betrayal of forced freedom eventually led to something better than previously imagined. I can only hope for such an outcome for others.

Since last year, I have been supported by a tiny portion of my retirement savings through 72T, and I am choosing not to look at the losses in my portfolio. While I am sure it will recover in time, I really don’t know what this means for my future and my ability to remain fully present in caring for my parents.

What I have decided is that fear-based thought is detrimental to my well-being, and if I allow stress and worry to affect my health, I will not have the strength to keep my parents and myself healthy and safe while our nation’s healthcare warriors fight tirelessly to slay the beast.

It seems our grocery stores are starting to recover from the panic hoarding that recently occurred. My neighbor just texted me to share that our local grocery has “a crap load of toilet paper” this morning (ha!). I’m not going to rush out to buy some, because my parents and I have enough for now, and we want to be sure that it is there for those who need it.

And there’s the crux of this situation. How have we become a people who would choose to buy more than we need, keeping necessities from others? What is the psychological hole we are trying to fill by spending our hard-earned income on stuff we don’t need? I don’t mean the bulk buying, like our memberships at Costco which save money in the long run. After all, that’s why we don’t need toilet paper during the tp-apocalypse. But when I started living small, after leaving the corporate world 2.5 years ago, I realized just how wasteful my spending had become. Living on a quarter of my past income informed me that I really could live with less and be quite content. Ultimately, the human desire for more, more, more is what got us into this mess, where viruses carried by animals whose habitats have been stolen are finding a way into the lives of those who were not content with ‘enough’.

One article I’ve read was very informative on this topic:
http://nautil.us/issue/83/intelligence/the-man-who-saw-the-pandemic-coming?fbclid=IwAR3pEvda_3cL5qbBKZJ8EogMqNrCU73UA0yNa1KFNkvAqzqXRSVBE8QCA8M

Staying home and caring for my parents altered the size of my circle. My whole world revolves around a tiny section of my geographic location. I can walk to their house, and it is a short drive to the two grocery stores we frequent. Dad’s doctors are all a short distance from home, and we’ve been lucky that he hasn’t had too many needs to leave home since last summer, beyond regular check-ups and getting new glasses. So, this self-isolation thing we are facing now feels like our normal, with the exception that I am now insisting to do all of the shopping that Mom once handled herself.

The weird part is experiencing the world around us starting to calm and quiet. Where we live, traffic is a constant. Whether it be the main road that borders our neighborhood, or the major highway that cuts through it… our surroundings are nearly always inundated with multitudes of people in a rush to get somewhere. I remember how strange it was to experience silence after 9/11, when the skies and roads were desolate, as we cried together or alone for the unknown and all that had been lost. It wasn’t unlike the silence that comes with a storm curfew during hurricane season, as bands of chaos threaten to topple trees and spawn tornadoes, and we hold our breath until it passes.

But a two week stay-at-home order will begin in our county tomorrow night, and I’m beginning to imagine how surreal our days and nights will become. I suspect our world will get oddly quiet. I didn’t see highway construction to be listed as an essential service, so I’m curious to see if my house will be vibration free for a while, after years of constant work on this expansion project. I’m kind of looking forward to actual stillness.

The thing I’ve learned about silence is that it invites self-reflection. Since choosing this simple way of life, I have had the time to dive into old wounds and lift the source of suffering. Once on the surface, I could offer the light and love that it deserved, to bring healing. I have studied death and dying, and have made peace with the bringer of our mortality, and now find nothing to fear. I have nurtured a mindful practice of writing and centering with meditation and breath work. And now, I am conveniently in the midst of learning how to hold space – for myself, for my community, and next week, we begin learning more about how to hold space in complexity. That seems like divine timing, if you ask me.

So, perhaps, if you are finding that you have time on your hands without the regular distractions of typical daily living, you might consider going deep. Hold space for your frightened inner child, and offer that sacred being the loving support it has always longed for. In solitude, we are offered the gift of discovering that we really are stronger than we previously imagined. Don’t be afraid of the darkness. Be courageous enough to ask others to sit with you there. We may be separated for a while, but we are never alone. Speaking our truth in vulnerability is our super power right now. Don’t hesitate to reach for what you need. Someone else is sitting in their own darkness seeking purpose, and you might just be the light they need.

Interestingly, the tools that have become our escape mechanisms enabling us to disconnect from the real world, through computers and smart phones, now offer us what we need to visually connect with what is really important… our loved ones. Explore them! You can meet face to face through Messenger, Zoom, Skype, or 8×8, to name a few resources for free video conferencing.

If you are frightened or worried, I am holding space for you, and asking you to see that you are not alone. We are beginning to receive news of fatalities related to the viral reach in our own part of the world, and knowing someone who knows someone who knows someone… makes this spreading darkness finally feel real. One day soon, the degrees of separation could be zero.

Each day, I feel fear rise, and I honor it, then let it go. I offer my shadow self the same love and compassion I give the outward parts of my being. It is the one thing I can control, for now… how I respond to uncertainty. I can be of service to others by remaining present in this moment, while focusing on the unknowable future serves no one.

May you find peace in the cycle of seasons, which show us year after year how nature blooms and falls away, then blooms again. This season of cold discomfort will pass, and we will emerge stronger and better than before. It is the way of nature, and (to quote my Tribal Crone) we… are all just mammals.

Wishing you and yours safe and WELL during this surreal moment in our shared history. Thank you for walking (at a safe distance) this path with me.

Impossible Choices

I am blessed to have a number of remarkable male friends in my life, and I trust each of them completely. My father and brother, among them. But the places where I have always felt safe and held with great care, have been in circles of women.

In the age of Trump, I am finding it horrifyingly difficult to settle for a candidate who will hopefully knock him off of his golden toilet (a great metaphor for how he treats our land and humans, alike – stealing the gold and shitting on the rest). My entire life has been spent settling for men unworthy of my love, and I have every intention of being done with this lesson the Universe has been presenting with consistency for three decades. This is the year that old patterns die.

Every man in my life who has entered in a romantic nature, has proven to be a disappointment, in one form or another – pretenders, cheaters, liars. I’ve written about them before, so I won’t bore you with outdated stories of woe. Enter the age of Trump… and I am triggered by his lies and bullying on a daily basis. His emotional instability, inability to speak the truth and his constant attacks on all that is good in this world, including the planet herself, make me feel like my own personal darkness has been made manifest in a single being, and is doing its best to swallow the light. As if to say, here you go! Have your fill of men who lie and be done with it! Be determined to set a healthy boundary, refuse to settle for less than you deserve, it is past time to move forward. We will make it impossible to tolerate this behavior any longer by saturating the world with it.

I am finally well enough – in recovery from unworthiness – to declare that I deserve better. WE DESERVE BETTER!

At the depths of my soul, I believe that it will take the strength of women’s hearts to right this world. I can no longer put stock in white men to get it done. They have failed us for centuries. They failed us the first time they heard a religious leader spew the words that women are the root of all evil, and didn’t stand beside us to say, “fuck that shit!” Instead, they stood by and watched us burn.

You’ve probably guessed that I voted for Hillary Clinton for president, and you are correct. I voted for her the first time, because I felt she had a plethora of experience that made her the best candidate for the role. She was well-educated in the law of our country, she had met more world leaders at the side of President Clinton, than any other President in history, and she fought hard for our country to provide healthcare for all, though the battle was lost because the effort was led by a woman.

When Barack Obama received the nomination, I could easily get behind him, because he was brilliant, a constitutional scholar, and my soul connected with his authentic goodness. But also…he,too, has been lied to his whole life. People lied to him about disrespecting him, not for the color of his skin, but some other made up bullshit. When he asked Hillary to be his Secretary of State, I applauded his choice, for all of the reasons above.

I voted for Hillary when she ran again, not because she was a woman, but because I felt she was the best candidate with the most experience in international affairs, as well as domestic care and concerns. I sobbed to see a racist, fascist, rapist being handed that position, because so many Americans could not stand to see a woman in the White House. Women are too emotional to lead, they said. Hillary was too polarizing, they said. But none seem to offer comment on the insanity of emotional rants and tweets from the current occupant, or how hate crimes have risen since day-one of his reign. Our country is surely suffering a greater division than we’ve experienced in my lifetime. Polarizing? Not her fault. This one’s on the white man in the White House.

I was thrilled to see so many people stand up to run for President in this election. The diversity and wisdom of each was inspiring and comforting. I felt that we would surely have the opportunity to elect someone who could make us proud. I was immediately drawn to Elizabeth Warren. At first, it was an intuitive feeling, much the way I am drawn to people whose energy resonates with my own. That feeling is what built my Tribe 26 years ago. That energy sustains me and delivers light in times of darkness.

Elizabeth Warren feels safe to me. She has the life experience that informs me she knows my suffering, and during her time as Senator, dealing with the likes of Mitch McConnell, she has proven herself to be a warrior. She does not tolerate a bully, and won’t allow those still finding their feet after trauma, to be beaten into the ground. She has plans that can improve our current situation, and is not too egotistic to allow input to improve them. She is the wise counsel leader in a sacred circle, who offers heart and time for all to be heard and held. She resonates with my own traumatized soul. And when I plugged my own beliefs into the candidate identifier program, she rose to the top each time.

So, as we near the end of the primary season, and we see that all women and people of color have been conveniently removed from our list of choices, I am finding it difficult to settle. My beloved country having to settle for a sociopathic toddler in the last Presidential election felt like the last straw. And yet… it seems certain that I must, as my personal history dictates, betray myself for the good of all. But… but… I DESERVE BETTER, UNIVERSE!

Yeah… I know that I’m not alone, as many of us have lost the opportunity to vote for someone we can easily believe in. I will vote for whichever white man my party presents to be deemed capable of defeating the tyrant, but I refuse to stop supporting the women I wish to have in my circle. I will take a moment to grieve and wail, as the banshee announces another death in the lifelong dream of women being considered truly equal. Then, I will gather hope into a resonant belief that we shall overcome, and that circles of authentic women and men will gather and forge a new way forward.

If Trump was the pendulum swing that resulted from a brilliant, black president who delivered respectability to our country in the eyes of the world, I had hoped that the misogyny and tyrannical terror of Trump would swing us toward our first female president as a salve for the emotional and psychic wounds we’ve endured.

Perhaps the Universe has something in store that is better than we can currently imagine. Or perhaps it will call forth that mighty meteor that will wipe humans off the earth, so that regeneration of the scarred sacred earth may finally begin from the destruction we’ve fraught. Choices. Possible?

However this particular chapter ends, may we successfully elect a leader who will put the needs of all life on planet Earth before the greed of wealthy men. May we elect a leader of strength and integrity who can restore all that has been lost, and deliver something better than we ever dreamed possible. Make it so, dear Universe.

Revealing the Light

I have a morning ritual of looking at my ‘today in history’ posts on facebook, as a kind of gratitude review. Today, I found a post from 2014, that seemed to rise up to speak to me in the current era. I was going to share it, with my thoughts on fb, but it started to feel like a blogpost, so here I am. Let’s see what comes up.

February 20, 2014
“If it feels like cracks are forming in your life, those cracks may be what is needed for the light within to reveal itself.” ~Heidi DuPree


I have found inspiration to be elusive lately, during a time of unsettling uncertainty. I don’t think I’m alone, by any means. So, today I want to reach out my heart and hands to touch your spirit to remind you that I do see your light, and that mine is still here, too, shining brightly through the fog. We will get through all difficulty together, with the courage to keep smiling and to believe that ALL SHALL BE WELL. With our combined light… everything is illuminated. I love you! 

I wrote this in 2014, when life at work had become less joyful. Sitting in an executive suite when you’re an empath means that you can feel even what isn’t being spoken. At that point in time, very little was being shared with the administrative staff. My boss was very mindful of my caring heart, and she protected me from much of what was happening. It didn’t stop the post-event suffering, but I suppose it did keep me from suffering in silence longer than necessary (should I run into a friend in the cafe whose name might be on a list). But even when I didn’t know what was going on… I could feel an energy that was enormously stressful and somewhat heartbreaking. And the hardest part was that I was in a role that prohibited discussing it with anyone. Hence the ‘vague-booking’ post above.

We had been through the company’s first layoff months before, and I’m not sure if they were discussing the sale of a flagship company openly at the time, but by July, that sale would be complete and by October of that year – we would see the hostile takeover of our board of directors.

Before that first ‘staff adjustment’, as they call it in some corporations, I would wake with inspiration and share a positive quote with loving words of my own to put a little light into the universe, but afterwards… it felt disrespectful to those we’d lost to even suggest there was any light out there. And frankly, as one who values authenticity, it felt fake to force positivity. I understood the depth of their bitterness and sense of betrayal, for a place to which they’d offered many years of service and loyalty. (Imagining myself in the shoes of others is my number one strength, after all.) For those who had to leave and to those who got to stay, what once felt like the security of ‘family’, suddenly felt unsafe, and it was very difficult to find hope or joy.

The truth is, things were painfully difficult for a while. We saw the sale of the company that enabled the birth of all the rest, and our fellow employees were split into groups of must go / can’t stay and stay here / rebuild. I know that those who had to go felt abandoned and expelled. In a place where we all felt like family, it was excruciating. The sense of betrayal was a physical beast covered in barbed wire, that walked the halls. Whether you were staying or going, you couldn’t help but bump into it and be left bloodied and sore.

A great deal of change occurred over the next 3.5 years until my own departure, and the arrival of a new board dictated the departure of the executive team. Which also wiped out much of the beautiful diversity in leadership that had been nurtured over the previous decade.

I can’t help but see some parallels between the transformation of that beloved company and our beloved nation, and the internalized turmoil I am experiencing now. It certainly feels as if Russia is the ‘activist investor’ placing their own CEO at the head of OUR corporation.The guy who bought the role of Chairman for a time (by purchasing enough shares of company stock to tip the balance), ousted the African American CEO who had effectively changed the face of the company, bringing it into the 21st century. He may not have been perfect, but he was certainly a man of integrity.

The funny thing was, conversations with members of the new board informed us that what they found once they got in to review how things were being managed, they really didn’t find anything wrong. A year or two later, the bully Chairman moved on to bully someone else, and life started to normalize. And it turned out, there were some things that did improve when he was gone. Mainly, the stock price. But also, it woke some of us into reality, to recognize that we could finally let go of the illusion of ‘once upon a time’, as that chapter had closed. The company we started working for, was not the same company we were working for now.

I remember hearing people say that they thought having a ‘business man’ as president of our country would be a good thing. As someone who was in a front row seat for the growth and expansion of a large corporation, I knew better.

I’ll tell you what was lost in efforts to please the shareholder. The creator of the corporation believed that the employees were the most important advantage of the business, next to the community being served. As a consequence, a sense of loyalty and familial bliss among employees and community was most evident. But as times changed, and Wall Street became more important, the support and care for employees and community were diminished. That is what tragedy has befallen our beloved country. People no longer matter, benefits shrink for the one struggling while they grow for those who could easily pay their own way. Only the bank accounts of those who are not living paycheck to paycheck and have money to invest in the stock market will find any benefit in this world order.

So… as we, as a country, are drowning in darkness, with criminal activity being openly supported by the GOP, how on Earth can we find any light?

Perhaps we are being awakened to the truth that what we once believed we had was never really there, at all. And with this information, we must light our own torches, and step up to the task of rebuilding, now that it has all been torn down. Maybe we can forge a new nation, not one where, as the founders dictated that all ‘men’ are equal (which really meant white men who came to this continent from other places), but one where all BEINGS are created equal.

And while we’re in the process of tearing down the walls of illusion and false belief, we can certainly reach out to those who have been struck by the rubble and offer them a little more love and compassion.

So, today I want to reach out my heart and hands to touch your spirit to remind you that I do see your light, and that mine is still here, too, shining brightly through the fog. We will get through all difficulty together, with the courage to keep smiling and to believe that ALL SHALL BE WELL. With our combined light… everything is illuminated. I love you! 

Building a Strong Foundation

I woke the other morning, realizing I had been dreaming about spiders. Now, normally, that would have informed me that my subconscious was working out some kind of stress. I have a phobia that has played out in spider nightmares my entire life. The irrationality of my fear must be connected to a past life, because even the tiniest eight legged being, spinning from my rear view mirror, could cause some screaming and hyperventilation, if not an accident. Silly, I know.

What was different that morning, was my sense that whatever had happened in my dreams, this time it was not focused on the fear or the havoc caused, but on the strength of the weave in carefully threaded webs. What I can recall was a tiny, armored being wrapping a thread between two poles over and over and over, until it formed, at once a supportive cradle and a powerful slingshot.

In the past, when I have had spiders show up (for real) in my life, I have asked the question to the Universe: “Why are you making me feel unsafe? What are you trying to tell me?” I have heard the reply: “What do you fear most?” Then, I could reflect on what false belief I was holding onto.

The words I heard in my mind this time were: “building a strong foundation”. What comes to mind (thank goodness something came to mind, because my brain has been too fuzzy to write for some time), is community. Not just the cliche ‘we are the web’, but in the way that we come together and pool our energy and resources to catch someone we love, rather than allowing them to fall or fend for themselves.

I’ve been doing some extra caregiving since January. A dear friend went through knee replacement surgery, and I was able to offer some needed support for her (age 75) and her wife of 40 years (age 83). With severe memory issues, it is difficult for her wife to navigate the hospital alone, and I had the flexibility to stand-in until her daughter could be available.

These women are also pillars of our Unitarian church community, and the recipients of much love and support from many others, in one form or another.

While at home healing from the knee replacement, my friend fell while getting out of bed, and somehow broke her femur. Yes. It sounds unbelievable, and she is pretty pissed off about the whole thing. It meant another hospital stay, another surgery, and this time, she had to go to rehab to learn how to maneuver without putting more than 20 lbs. of pressure on the healing leg.

Folks, the state of rehab care I’ve witnessed in the last two years has been an eye opener. That’s not to say that those who are caring for our loved ones in facilities are negligent (though some are clearly more skilled than others), it is that the carer vs. patient ratio is terribly deficient. When Dad was dealing with health issues, he ended up in the same facility twice. The first time, the space was brand new and beautiful. Not a bad place to recover. But the second time, he went to a different floor, which was not new, and conditions upon arrival were not acceptable. Both times, it was nearly impossible to find someone on staff to assist, and I shudder to imagine what he might have endured without my advocacy. (His version of self-care is to shrug his shoulders and say: “Oh, well.”) Both my father and my friend, were forbidden and physically unable to get out of bed alone, and yet response time to the call-button was often longer than 30 minutes. One in this position simply has to cast-off their sense of dignity and pride. It’s pretty awful.

When we are older, compounding these circumstances may be our sense of body betrayal and feelings of regret, fear, and overwhelming emotion which bottles up and spills over onto the people upon whose care we rely. And it’s especially difficult when we have grown old with a partner who has age-related difficulties of their own. My parents have been together for nearly 60 years, and while one has mobility and memory issues, the other has hearing and memory issues. There is not a whole lot of patience between them, but when I remind them that their partner is living inside their own world of challenges and fears, it seems that a bit more compassion rises for the other.

So, yesterday, I picked up my friend from rehab and brought her home, after a two week stay in what she has dubbed ‘hell’. We arrived home to her wife, who had already made some adjustments to make life easier. I had a plan for how we could get her onto the porch and into the house, which would have involved a series of maneuvers. But we ultimately decided to call for a non-emergency lift assist with our local fire department. These people are amazing, generous, and kind. Several friends from church had offered support and shared resources such as a wheelchair (until the prescribed chair arrives), a shower chair (from a friend who went through his own difficult recovery after knee surgery), a new shower head installed by a friend who also helped remove the bathroom door for easier access, and a sister-friend RN arrived just in time to help us get our healing-being settled safely into bed. They have more friends from church who are delivering meals and fellowship. Seriously, if you are dealing with some shit, it is a beautiful thing to be in such a caring circle.

Beautiful Beings from Orange County Fire Station 66

Every once in a while, my friend and I have a conversation about the ‘why me’ of it all. Neither of us believe that things always ‘happen for a reason’, so we choose to seek the ‘what may I learn’ from this current challenge. What comes to mind for me is that body betrayal allows those who have served others to finally receive a karmic return on investment. My father was a Vocational Rehab counselor and supervisor for the bulk of his career, and my friend was a mental health counselor. They supported many grateful beings in times of need. Now, they are each being supported in theirs.

And, perhaps their individual challenges will lend a sense of patience and understanding for the struggles of their partners. But what I hope for the most, is that they each learn to forgive the betrayal of their own bodies, and to love them unconditionally for the strength and support they’ve always provided, as the sacred containers of their precious souls.

Caring for beloveds through this process of aging and supporting them through physical challenges is surely a message to me from the Universe, as I am reminded to offer myself the kind of care and attention I offer others. I have a whole list of things I would like to be doing for myself, including using a year-old gift card for a massage. What the hell?! How can I urge anyone else to self-care when I am not walking my own talk? Well, I’m getting there. I scheduled my well-visits with the doctor and imaging center, and got blood work done. Step by step, I will keep loving myself a little more, offering my body her own karmic reward. Hopefully, she’ll recognize my efforts and allow forgiveness over defeat.

Today, as I showered, I offered my body heartfelt gratitude and as I dried off, I sang to my own reflection. Oh, how we all deserve to be loved and cherished… especially by our own sacred selves.

So, the words I heard that morning were ‘building a strong foundation’, and I reflect on what meaning might be found. We are blessed with an unbreakable net woven with golden strands of individuals in our beloved community. Our friends, caregivers, hospital staff, physical therapists, and firefighters are among those who offer a cradle or hammock of nurturing protection. Our partners (if we are blessed to have one) are the home we get to return to, again and again. And the tenderness, compassion, and unconditional love that we offer ourselves is the beacon of warmth and healing light that we offer the world in reciprocity for this extraordinary earthly experience.

If you, dear one, are facing challenges in your own life, I hope that you are feeling held in the light of love, and that you are gently pouring unconditional love onto every wound and sorrow. Let that love spread throughout your physical and energetic being to soothe every ache and anxiety. Let peace settle into your bones, and witness joyful gratitude rising to the surface. And may that joy outshine fear and longing. Let that gorgeous light of yours become a healing balm that comforts you and those around you, as you witness the vision of your own transformation and new beginning. I’ll be right here to cheer as you emerge!

Thank you for walking this path with me. I am grateful for your care.

Decade in Reflection

So much can change in a year. New Year’s Eve is often the prompt for such a review. Considering what we were doing this time last year, for our family, it seems we have a decent year to celebrate. After seeing a movie with the entire family, I rushed my father to the emergency room on the eve of 2019. It was then that a problem we’d dealt with since October was finally diagnosed and in the months that followed a urethral stricture would find repair.

In 2019, unlike the year before, Pop has been at home, rather than in the hospital or rehab (save for the stricture recovery). He also had a procedure to repair the entropion in his left eye, which started while in rehab the year before. This was my first full year as a parental caregiver. It pays very little (I’m living on a tiny fraction of my retirement savings), but offers great reward. I know that my parents are safe, cared for, and that they both feel loved.

There’s much more to review for the year, but I’ve been reminded that we are not just at year’s end, but at decade’s end, so I’ll take a moment to journey through time. This time, ten years ago, I packed up the office of the boss who needed me, and watched him drive away from the office for the last time. 8.5 years earlier, he hired me to be his assistant, and that partnership changed both of our lives for the better. That’s really a story for the previous decade, but I can reflect on how different my life would be now, had the universe failed to align in our favor for a fruitful partnership. This early retirement to care for my parents would have been impossible, had he NOT chosen me in the early part of the decade that came before. I am eternally grateful for the way my life fell apart and came back together.

In my personal life, the beginning of this decade saw the end of an important friendship and a crack in the foundation of my Tribe. Trust was lost and never rediscovered. I’m certain that this soulmate life lesson was about learning why we don’t put people on pedestals, about the destructive nature of shame, and understanding how betrayal can make one feel like they have lost their mind (very useful experience for learning to hold space for others without judgment). Also affirmed, when someone leaves our lives, though it feels catastrophic for the loss of a future we once imagined, in time, our hearts do heal, and we fill that void with different experiences. Not better, not worse, just… different.

In 2012, I made a decision that brought a new group of people into my life, whom I adore. Having struggled with self-loathing and metabolic disorder since my early 20’s, I chose to have weight loss surgery. A woman I met in the support group I joined, became one of my best friends. We have held space for one another through difficult days, which is an important chapter in each of our healing journeys (read my blogpost “Witness to Healing”). The surgery may have been a temporary fix, since my metabolism remains broken, but the purpose of that path was clearly to bring us together. I wouldn’t change a thing.

2013 was a difficult year. It marked the first layoff in the corporate history of the workplace many of us loved. I witnessed so much heartbreak as people who would have chosen to stay forever had to leave. Then 2014 came along and I had a front row seat for the hostile takeover of the board of directors. I do not recommend any of this level of drama for an empathic soul. At the core of these two years was the heavy emotion of feeling helpless and unsafe. This was a period when I felt lost in darkness and could not find my inner light.

In 2015, I realized that sometimes things don’t go the way we planned, but it doesn’t mean they won’t go well. It was up to me to plan and execute more executive retirement events that year than I care to count. There are two positives to note with these changes delivered by so called ‘activist investors’. One is that every executive that I’ve run into since saying farewell at the event I organized on their behalf has reported that they are enormously happy. One I ran into last year said to me, “Melissa, I had no idea what I was missing!” And of course, my greatest loss in 2015 was the boss who loved me. I texted her on her birthday ten days ago, and she replied with photos from the travel adventure she and her husband were returning from with news of the one they were about to leave for with their adult children. Her migraines, a weekly if not daily occurrence while working, are a thing of the past. The other positive is that the company stock performance exceeded the lofty expectations of the guy who felt more like a terrorist in those early days of the takeover. (Again… a boon to my early retirement.)

The next two years swim with memories of tolerance, really. The place I once loved to work felt foreign in energy and culture… but still I couldn’t imagine that life could be better elsewhere. Then, in 2017… a new boss delivered liberation. Her former assistant who now sits at my desk of 16 years, told another she was told just to wait 90 days. I nearly danced out of the building that day, walked out by one of the leaders I supported, the way so many others departed in 2013. I did not feel unsafe, though. I was a little surprised by the sense of relief I felt. Instead of my world collapsing, it was falling into place.

The next year confirmed the sense that I could never return to that corporate world. I started writing and learning and growing, and have not stopped. I spent a year studying death and dying – and learned how live more mindfully. I spent time learning to write and edit for a popular online journal, and decided I prefer to write in my own style, for myself, knowing that comfort or inspiration may be found for those who bless my words with their valuable time and attention. I no longer wish to bend myself to fit the expectations of others.

This year, I planted metaphoric seeds which have grown into a glorious garden of lush connectedness, colorful healing, and bountiful beauty for myself and the sacred gardeners who have traveled this path with me. Eight seasonally evolving workshops and one mountain retreat brought together a new community of remarkable beings who care deeply for the wellness of one another, as they cultivate greater authenticity and joy in their own lives. To me, it feels like the birth of a new Tribe.

In this decade, I have lost friends to cancer, I have celebrated with some the news of remission, and with others, who continue the path of metastasis, facing challenges and overcoming them, I am committed to holding space, either bearing light or sitting in the darkness, with hope they will at least not feel alone. They are great warriors who continue to teach me about surrendering to grace, resting when the body commands, and opening to receive the kindness of others.

As I’ve focused on recreating myself and my world, I have walked with others whose lives have also changed through the death of a loved one or a former career, through aging – either of self, partners, children, or parents, and a host of other types of transformation induced by the unavoidable and unexpected. What has been fortified on this pilgrimage is that we are stronger together, and that we are never alone. Though we are nurturing different dreams for ourselves, we still glory in the manifestation of peace and comfort in the lives of those we love.

I’ve reflected on a decade of loss, but there has also been great adventure. Since 2010, I have been blessed to travel. Many adventures were with my life-long friend, and best travel companion (see my blogpost: “My Favorite Tomboy”). We started the decade with a trip to England, and birthed an annual Art-Cation tradition. Wherever we go, be it in driving distance or via flight, to see family or friends, or to touch the mysteries of history, we seek and find the local artists whose gifts reach through canvas to touch the hearts of others. In 2011, a trip to Scotland with anther friend delivered more magick and new friends. (European travel, for me, was a luxury that a few years without a car payment allowed.) I cannot fathom a life firmly planted. I am grateful for the wanderlust my mother seeded in me.

A decade of reflection could probably go on for just as long. So I’ll come back home to current gratitudes. My parents and I are closer than we have ever been, and not just because they bought a house up the street five years ago. My involvement in my father’s daily care since the last quarter of 2018 has nurtured an intimacy we never had before. And my mother and I have talked through old wounds and healing has been found. I laughed on my way home from setting Dad up with breakfast, to realize that instead of commenting on my weight, my mother complemented my butt. This feels like a good omen for the future. Ha!

Finally, in this decade I have welcomed four cats into my life. One died two years after his arrival, a freak tragedy that he probably thought might be a small adventure, and the other died in my arms in September. It was difficult to give words to the love and affection each of these magickal beings offered me (see my blogposts: “The Love of a Good Cat, Parts 2 and 3”). And last month, the other two beings of fluff and light came into my life and home. We are all still getting to know each other, but I predict a grand love affair in the decade to come.

To bring this reflection to conclusion, acknowledging a million other important things that occurred which I’ve failed to list, I would be remiss not to mention this blog. For many years, I was told by others that I had a gift for writing, and that I should do something with it. I once could not imagine how that might manifest. What on earth would I write about, and who would want to read it? But here we are.

A year and a half of writing about life has taught me a great deal about the power of introspection and sharing – about vulnerability and authenticity. I have been blessed to receive from others the acknowledgment that they found resonance in my words, they have sometimes been introduced to a new way of looking at things, and best of all, they have at times seen themselves on these pages, and found comfort in the reminder that we are all one.

As this decade comes to a close and you move through your own review, I hope that you have found balance. If there has been great change and loss, I hope there has also been great discovery and joy. If your health has been a primary focus, I hope that you have received the love and resources that support your path to acceptance, healing and wellness. I hope that the hardships can be seen as lessons, and that you can see clearly the beauty of your own evolution. I hope that you have found compassion and kindness for nurturing yourself, as well as others. I hope you have found forgiveness… for those who have harmed you, if possible, but more importantly, for yourself, be it for poor choices or for never having made a choice.

With this old decade, I am choosing to leave behind the ‘tradition’ of measuring my worth by how much weight I’ve lost, and my value by the size of my income. Three decades of not-enough-ness is quite enough, thank you!

Into this new decade, I shall only measure my goodness by the love that I give, and my fortune by the love that I receive.

Happy New Year, dear ones. Thank you for walking this path with me. Wishing you an abundance of blessings in the decade to come. May you have all you need and want all you have. You are so loved!

Winter Solstice & The Becoming

In October, I committed to an 8-month course on Holding Space Leadership. The first module was on the basics of Holding Space, and yesterday marked its conclusion.

As I reflect on this introduction and the pending Celtic Holy Day, which marks another turn of the wheel of the year in the ever changing cycle of seasons, I can’t help but contemplate Heather Plett’s notes on Liminal Space. It feels like the Winter Solstice (now happening in the northern hemisphere) is a perfect example of this concept.

She uses the caterpillar to butterfly metaphor in great detail, which makes it so easy to understand the middle ground of a transition cycle. I hadn’t realized the process of transformation of these magickal creatures until I read Martha Beck’s Steering by Starlight in 2018, when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, since my past life felt finished. That’s where I learned that the caterpillar doesn’t just sprout longer legs and wings while cloaked in mystery… it actually ceases to exist in its previous form. It becomes a liquid before becoming solid again, in a brand new way.

From this course, I have learned that when we are in the process of un-becoming – casting off a former self, while not yet stepping into a new, final form… we are in liminal space. There is no time limit on transformation. We can be in this space for a year or a decade. It takes however long it takes. No pressure. No judgment. No shame.

What I took from Martha’s notes on this transition, is that if someone were to try to help (or force) the butterfly out of its safe place, it would ooze out and cease to exist… never to emerge in that glorious form. So, we come to understand that when we are in liminal space, it is our gift and responsibility to do the work of transformation. No one can do it for us. And from Heather’s notes on this process, I realized that as one who is holding space for someone in transition, it is not our responsibility to force their becoming, but to provide the safe place for this transformation to occur in their own time and on their own terms.

Now that I’ve been given language for it, I realize that this time of year, between one holiday and another, and another, and another… is like being in liminal space.

When I was in the corporate world, everything shifted the week before Thanksgiving. There was a sense of limbo to living, as everyone moved into some kind of chaotic survival mode. Either coming alive with anticipation of time with family, vacation, decorations, gifts, etc… or conversely, killing themselves to get it all done, or wanting to – for the stress of it all, with the enormous discomfort and despair it might bring for a host of reasons. This feeling of clouded disconnection would take root and hold on until the second week of the new year.

This is my third holiday season without co-workers, so I’m no longer witness to the excitement or tension. My family and I have moved away from the stress and chaos of holidays dictated by expectations. I didn’t put up a tree or purchase presents this year. It’s funny how simplifying one’s life can feel so liberating.

Even without all of the trappings of the holiday season, this time of year still feels like liminal space… a time of reflection and transformation.

This year, we are not only facing the end of another year, but the end of a decade. In reflection, we may review this time to see where we’ve been and what has changed. In 2010, the boss who needed me had just retired, and the boss who loved me was growing nicely into her new role. I loved my job, I loved my workplace, and I loved the people. I was still learning how to love myself. I hoped I would always get to be there, in that job. But the universe had other plans. Thank goodness.

I think I moved into liminal space when the boss who loved me retired in 2015, and the rest of the decade has been spent in peeling away all of the layers that had turned into something ‘unbecoming’ to me. My soul took flight when I realized that I didn’t have to stay in that form that always felt a little false. I looked and felt completely out of place in the corporate world, where making money for shareholders was more important than nurturing and stoking the light of love in every individual. Yet, I don’t regret the work of the caterpillar that delivered the abundance of savings that became the chrysalis of transformation. In fact, I am grateful for that former self in that past life.

I remember when I started writing in 2018, how I would refer to that former life, wondering where I might go next and what I might do with the time remaining. I simply decided to follow inspiration and my IGS (internal guidance system) to see where it would lead. In the last two years, I have studied End of Life wisdom, writing and editing, and have started on the path of Holding Space Leadership (something I already do, but don’t know what I don’t know). My favorite exploration has been crafting and facilitating workshops and retreats focused on mindfulness, creative expression, sacred ceremony, and joy manifestation in the form of self-awareness and intentional living.

I am not the same person I was before the universe wrapped me in a cloak of transformation. I am no longer the caterpillar, but I am not yet the butterfly, either. I’m somewhere in the goo, tossing out what doesn’t belong, picking out colors and textures that will suit my new wings, when I am ready to take flight.

I challenge you, dear reader, to determine where you are in your own sacred cycle. If you feel as if you are in liminal space, even if it feels like years have passed while you’ve been here, embrace your beautiful gooey self and keep doing the work of transformation. Don’t be afraid to let go of what no longer serves you. Just chuck it! You’re going to need that extra space to build your wings.

I wrote a meditation for my goddess group Solstice gathering that was inspired by this work, and I recorded it for sharing. Keep in mind that I’m not a professional – I am exploring tools that I’m figuring out as I go, and it is far from perfect. I guess it is liminal, too. Also, it was written for a specific gathering, so please forgive the gender reference at the end.

A Meditation Inspired by Rebirth at Winter Solstice, Liminal Space, and Chakra Alignment

So, tomorrow the sun will set and we will experience the longest night of the year. It is the perfect time for reflection and introspection. Move into that glorious darkness and give your gooey self a good swirl. Glory in your blessed opportunity to recreate yourself as the days begin to grow longer, when your divine spirit is reborn along with the radiant sun.

For those who find this time of year to be difficult or painful, know that I am holding space for you in my heart. Wishing you sweet memories to be cherished of the past and new memories to be made and revered in the future.

HAPPY SOLSTICE!

Centering Our Souls at Samhain

Part Four of a Manifestation Story

At the heart of this retreat was the myth of Persephone. When I started studying death last year, as a part of the End of Life Doula studies, I dedicated my learning to Her in the role of Goddess of the Underworld. But here’s the thing… I have chosen a version of the myth which is not tied to patriarchal brutality. I am not interested in perpetuating or celebrating a relationship based on abduction, rape, and entrapment. There is another telling that I prefer. It was one I learned from another, so I cannot verify the source – but I suspect it comes from Dr. Pinkola Estes or another goddess-mother of feminine spirituality. The version that my swiss-cheese memory recalls goes something like this…

Persephone was in a field collecting flowers to make a circlet for her mother’s hair, when she came upon a lost soul who could not find the doorway to the underworld. She returned to her mother, the Goddess Demeter, and told her that she must go into the underworld to guide these lost souls and offer them initiation. Though She did not want to let her go (the plight of most mothers), Demeter watched Persephone’s descent and immediately longed for her return. As she mourned the absence of her daughter, the world fell into a stark, quiet version of itself as a blanket of snow fell and the flowers receded into the earth.

Meanwhile, Persephone took Her place at the crystal doorway to offer seeds of transformation to those who no longer walked upon the earth. Initiation involved consumption of a pomegranate seed, and these garnet seeds would light the inner flame of those moving into a new way of being. When Persephone returned from the underworld to visit her mother, Demeter felt such joy that the earth burst forth in blossoms of celebration, as life and color bloomed once more.

Here we have a story of creation and of changing seasons, mothers and daughters, of love and loss, of passion and responsibility, of transformation, death and renewal. This is a version of an ancient tale I can relate to.

My current belief (current – because I am ever evolving based on my own life experience) about the transformation that death brings is that we are all energetic beings, and in human incarnation we are able to learn and grow through emotions that are not experienced beyond the confines of the body. So, once we have gathered these lessons and intentions, we are free to leave the body behind, as we return to energetic form. Those we love and have lost in body to death, remain ever present in energetic form. My intention for connecting with our lost loves at Samhain, was to use the tool of creative visualization or meditation to sit with them once more.

And so it was Persephone who manifested within the cave of sacred memory to offer us initiation and safe passage. When we reached the central chamber, which was warmed by firelight, with walls donned with portraits of our ancestors and dear ones lost, we sat upon a crimson couch and welcomed whomever chose to step through the doorway veiled in magickal moonlight.

The results of meditation differ, based on experience. Someone who is well-practiced may have honed the ability to get out of their own way to let vision come and judgment or expectation fall away. But one should never negate the vision or experience they find in the sacred space of the powerful mind.

JK Rowling, I feel, captured it perfectly in The Deathly Hallows, when Harry asks the ghostly image of Professor Dumbledore:

“Tell me one last thing,” said Harry. “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?”
“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

Some of us had very clear, even life-altering conversations with one or more people on that comfy couch. Some of us saw ourselves surrounded by smiling loved ones who were present, without words. As for me, I found an opportunity to seek forgiveness and receive acceptance at the edge of the underworld.

I had no expectation of my own personal journey, since I had written the meditation, led the visualization, and was ultimately holding space for the experience of others. However, as I provided the silent pause for those on this journey to find connection, someone came through the veil for me.

In January of 1993, I volunteered in the buddy program for Hope & Help, a local resource for people living with HIV. I was introduced to my first and only buddy somewhere around my 24th birthday. I was the first ‘stranger’ his parents left him with, so that they could go to church together. When they left, he told me that he was being punished by God. This broke my heart and made me angry, all at once. I am not a fan of religions that lead people to believe they are worthy of abandonment and abuse from a supposed all-powerful being. He was a young and passionate choir leader for his gospel church. He had a blood transfusion during a surgery after his appendix burst. He died in November of that same year, a week before his 28th birthday.

It was Kirby who came through the veil for me. He was smiling and happy to see me, and the feeling was mutual. A part of my guidance was to consider the conversations we never got to have… the ones where we have the opportunity to say to our loved ones: Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. 26 years have passed since Kirby left this earthly realm, and he came through so that I could tell him something I needed to say.

When I was 24, I had not yet learned about life, let alone death. I had minimal access to my gift for words. When I sat with him, whether in his home or in the hospital, I felt a complete lack. I did not know what to say or how to say it. I sat and held his hand and looked into his eyes, but I always felt that I provided little comfort. But here’s the thing I’ve carried… shame. When I held his hand as he lay in his hospital bed, lung capacity too weak to push out words, I was not fully present. As I held his hand, I thought about the fear I carried for a disease on which I had been well-educated. I knew that holding his hand was zero risk for my wellness, and yet I can recall leaving the room and washing my hands with urgency. The only real threat was to him… my germs could compromise his health, and not the other way around. I would give anything to be able to sit with him again with the presence, compassion, and understanding I now possess.

I asked Kirby for his forgiveness, and even now, I can almost hear his voice. “Oh, Melissa. There is nothing to forgive!” As he tilts his head, glances at me with compassion, and offers me that gorgeous grin… tears flow, and I know that this is happening inside my head, and also that this is real.

When I lead a meditation, my main worry is whether the silence I offer is long enough for a message to be received, or so long that I lose the mindful attention of those I’m hoping to lead. When Kirby faded into the veil, I ended the silence with these words…

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.

We made our way out of sacred space the same way we came in, and we shared the stories of our experience. We cried together, and we amazed one another with knowledge of healing offered and received between the worlds.

The next day, a meditation informed everyone of a gift from Persephone. We were all given a garnet pomegranate seed, in the form of a teardrop bead attached to a small silver ring. The symbolism was that we would be offered safe passage any time we wished to connect with our loved ones, and when our time comes, we, too, will be received and initiated by Her love.

We then took the gift we were given, and selected a series of other beads to encircle our wrists in the form of a bracelet that would forever remind us of this time we’ve shared at the edge of the underworld.

The final piece of the remembrance portion of the retreat was to write the names of those we had invoked onto gathered autumn leaves. We drove to a nearby river, walked to the center of the bridge, and blew kisses into the wind, as our leaves floated down and around, returning our beloveds to the eternal flow of the river that separates us.

When we returned to the mountain house we now recognized as home, some of us stepped into the kitchen, and continued the preparation of a true Thanks-Giving meal. When my hosts suggested a full turkey dinner with all the sides, I thought it sounded great, but I hadn’t really considered the symbolism.

We were at the end of our time together. We twelve had chosen to be vulnerable and authentic. We supported and celebrated transition and transformation. We cried together, and we built a bond that transcends time and space. We agreed that we wanted to do this again. And we gave thanks for all of it.

The day before these gorgeous beings gathered, I started a seven month course on Holding Space Leadership, and our course creator and guide, Heather Plett, shared with us a poem. As she read these words, I understood that I would share them, too. They are perfection. So, before we sat down to our final full-togetherness, I read these words to my courageous and wonderful guests, and now… I offer them to you.

Blessing for a New Beginning by John O’Donohue

In out of the way places of the heart
Where your thoughts never think to wander
This beginning has been quietly forming
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire
Feeling the emptiness grow inside you
Noticing how you willed yourself on
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the grey promises that sameness whispered
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

Each farewell the next morning took away a little piece of my heart, in the form of longing and protection. And by noon, we were three again. We set to the task of breaking the set, and packing it up. Our journey down the mountain would come the next morning, and there was much to do.

Gratefully, the universe rewarded me with a little more time with my dear hosts, who drove over from their daughter’s home. I was pleased to share my gratitude for the remarkable journey we had all shared in this beautiful space that held us all in warmth and love. And because it is what sacred gardeners do, I planted seeds of intention for two retreats in 2020. My life-long friend took notes during our eleven hour drive home, on our ideas for how to manifest more self-love at Beltaine next May. I can’t wait to light that candle and dedicate that hearth to bless, once again, the journey we will share.

Thank you for walking this path with me. I’m so happy to be here with you for this brief moment in time. May the season of light bring you an abundance of blessings.

Persephone’s Passage

A Journey Into the Underworld

Part Three of a Manifestation Story

When the sacred ceremony for our beloved Crone was complete, we shared a delicious meal that our hosts had prepared for us, and when we were warm and well-fed, we gathered at the heart of the house, beside the hearth fire.

I spoke of my gratitude for this remarkable gathering of those who have been walking this path with me all year, and those who walked with me long ago. I lit the candle of my intentions, with the word RETREAT front and center. I asked my travelers to close their eyes as we grounded ourselves into the present moment, and then we moved our minds into a sacred grove of trees to which we would return throughout the weekend. This circle of ancient beings held space for each of us as we remembered those we have loved and lost. They reached out their branches to us and begged to hold symbols of our love, as we pulled photos and trinkets from imaginary pockets. Into each tree our love and longing was gently placed. And then, we opened our eyes to dedicate these intentions to the Ancestors’ Altar before us. We each pulled out photos and placed them upon the mantle and hearth, as we called the names and shared stories of those we love beyond the veil.

And as we felt the honor and arrival of each soul into our circle, we bid them a warm welcome, and eventually made our way into warm beds and deep sleep.

Saturday morning brought the sunshine and a report from our Crone that she slept soundly without the burden she once carried. Once we were all awake and ready to return to our work, we circled at the hearth once more. As I was preparing for this retreat, I thought of our intention to journey into the underworld to spend some time connecting with our lost beloveds. What came to mind for me at the thought of gathering with my ancestors was the idea of which I’d read, that we can choose to heal what had been passed down the family line, and effectively heal that wound in both directions – past and future.

In my Mabon workshop, for the Autumn Equinox, we did a cord cutting ceremony. We cut the cords that remained tied to those who had harmed us, or to ideas of who we SHOULD be based on the beliefs of others. When we were done, many felt that we could spend more time on this, because there were more cords to be severed. So, it was an easy decision to make this a part of our retreat. I loved the idea of sitting with my grandmother and letting her know that I had chosen to heal this familial trauma for myself, for my mother, for her, and for all of our relations throughout time.

This ended up being more powerful than I had imagined. It turns out, some of us are really conscious of what is holding us back, and can easily see how it may have been passed down through generations.

The ceremony took some time, because it needed to be focused for each and every one of us. I cut the cords for one of our Tribe members, and then she stepped forward to wield the sword of surrender for all others. As each sacred soul stepped forward, they were asked:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the sword of surrender waved through the air that surrounded each of us, it symbolically cut away our attachment to the stories of betrayal, abandonment, abuse, unworthiness, not-enough-ness, unlovableness. We cut the cords of mental illness, of addiction, of perfectionism, of estrangement, of drama, and poor choices we’ve made, as well as those made by others which caused us suffering and turmoil. We cut and cut and cried and cried.

And when everyone had been freed from these bonds, I became “Someone’s Priority” once more, and the words were spoken and the sword was wielded for me.

Suddenly, as the work was done, I was surrounded by the embrace of this Tribe. This marriage of old and new had become one in the understanding of our sameness.

We can never look upon a single human and believe that we know the perfection of their lives. Every one of us carries a burden, tied to a past of longing. We each long to be free from suffering, and often believe we are alone. We carry the shame in silence, because we fear the thoughts and expectations of others. And yet, it is through the sharing that we are able to witness our similarities, and it is through being truly seen that we understand that the only shame is what we ourselves carry. When we have the courage to share in a safe space, it is as if each person present lifts a stone that once pressed down upon us, and we are once again able to breathe deeply and rise into our wholeness.

I was so honored to stand witness to the severance of cords and release of these beautiful beings. With tear stained faces, each fell into my embrace, and I was so proud of the hard work they had been willing to do for themselves. I was teased for making them cry, and I replied that my work was done! I only think a movie was good if it made me cry – because it means that it managed to touch me deeply. And so it is with sacred ceremony.

And another intention upon my candle was harvested… PASSION. This work is my passion. Holding space for others to do the work of their own healing is my passion. Standing witness to the beautiful and painful truth of my beloved community is my passion. Knowing that they each feel safe, seen, heard, held, and loved… is my passion.

There is still a bit more to tell, but I am emotionally spent on this glorious memory. I hope you’ll come back for more. Thank you for walking this path with me. I’m so glad you are here.

Misty mountain morning…

Relinquishing Regret at 80

Part Two of a Manifestation Story

Once I had finalized the itinerary for the Retreat I had dubbed Persephone’s Passage, I shared it with my travelers. I then received a pretty urgent message from my beloved Crone who is also an original member of my Tribe. She didn’t want to interfere with the flow of the retreat, but she wanted to seek our assistance with some work. So, one day a week or two before our journey north, I picked her up and brought her home to hear her story and nurture a plan.

I have her permission to share, and though I won’t offer specifics, I imagine her story will not be unfamiliar. She was carrying a heavy load of darkness. In her life, like many of us, she had some sorrows and regrets. She felt haunted by portions of her life that were woven with naivete and poor choices. Though these things were stitched and resolved a half century ago, through counseling and mindfulness, she would wake at night to rub her fingers over those prickly threads, and she was exhausted. She said to me:

“Melissa, I am eighty years old! I may only have twenty years left. (Her Mom recently died at age 99.) I don’t want to carry this burden any longer.

So, she shared with me the raw and naked truth of every ounce of shame and regret that she carried. She had each one written down on small pieces of paper that she kept in a sacred box she crafted nearly 30 years ago, when we first met. She provided her thoughts on building a sacred ceremony to banish what haunted her, and I started a ritual outline. After I took her home, I came back to my laptop to weave in my own words, and shared a final version with her. She was pleased. So, we engaged those who would be joining us at the edge of the Underworld, and let them know that if they were interested in assisting our Crone with this important work, we would set the timing to be inclusive.

She arrived on Thursday with a second wave from Florida. She was there to witness snowfall on the mountain, and to prepare mentally and emotionally for the next day. Since there was still snow on the ground by the time everyone had arrived on Friday (and because it was basically FREEZING to this bunch of Floridians), the part we had envisioned of her lying upon the grass had to be re-imagined. We moved the ritual indoors, next to the fireplace.

I reviewed the outline and handed out assignments. The sacred vessel into whom we invoked Artemis in a Drawing Down the Moon ceremony in 1999 was present, so we were honored to have her invoke Artemis for this rite. Others were invited to call into our sacred space the elements of air, fire, water and earth, and everyone would take part in the healing.

Some of the words came right from the ceremony I wrote for the occasion of my own death, as a part of my End of Life Doula coursework last year, and some were adapted from the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Some traditions used by our Crone were from her own spiritual journey with Starhawk and her peaceful protest platform, plus others gathered on an eclectic path when she was in her sixties and seventies with our Tribe and others.

What I know for sure is that when we come to our twilight years (or in our Crone’s case, mid-life), body betrayal is enough of a burden to carry, we should not have to also carry treachery of the mind. For that reason, my Crone and I wanted to share our combined words and ceremony with those who might, at any age, be seeking symbolic and emotional release.

First… you’ll need a Tribe.

INVOKING THE ELEMENTS

Spirit of Earth, Beloved Elements of the North – We call upon your solid essence to bring to our circle your gifts of strength and support.  May our heartfelt gratitude for the body that sustains us bring rise to the arms of the Goddess to wrap us in Her embrace as we support the work of surrender.  Divine rock and bone, we bid thee hail and welcome.  

Spirit of Water, Beloved Elements of the West – We call upon your fluid essence to bring to our circle your gifts of healing and sweet flowing emotion.  May our heartfelt gratitude for sentiment bring rise to calm sensation as we wash away the pain and the sorrow of regret that Our Crone carries.  Divine flood, we bid thee hail and welcome.  

Spirit of Fire, Beloved Elements of the South – We call upon your radiant essence to bring to our circle your gifts of energy and inspiration.  May our heartfelt gratitude for the warmth bring rise of the Mother’s molten core through the roots of our beings as we offer healing flow to aid Our Crone’s release of sorrows.  Divine flame, we bid thee hail and welcome.  

Spirit of Air, Beloved Elements of the East – We call upon your luminous essence to bring to our circle your gifts of remembrance and new beginnings.  May our heartfelt gratitude for the light bring rise to the sacred sun as we breathe deeply and witness the death of the old and rebirth of the new through Our Crone’s surrender.  Divine breath, we bid thee hail and welcome.  

CALLING THE GODDESS (at my memorial, there will be two – and so it is)

Holy Maiden, Beloved Artemis – Goddess of Forest and Stream, we ask for your presence in our sacred circle, as we send what burdens our beloved sister to meet you beyond the veil for healing and transmutation.  Great Warrior Queen, we honor your spirit of courage which long ago pierced the soul of Our Crone, when her devotion to you was immediate and fierce.  Through you, she finds strength, courage and determination to be wholly unto herself.  We ask that you stand with your torch burning brightly, to guide her way to surrender.  We bid thee hail and welcome!

Holy Maiden, Beloved Persephone – Goddess of flowers and darkness, we ask for your presence in our sacred circle as we send what burdens our beloved sister to meet you beyond the veil for healing and transmutation.  Great Queen of the Underworld, we honor your spirit of initiation and ask for a gentle death for the life of regret Our Crone wishes to leave behind.  We ask that you offer her your garnet seeds of pomegranate that she may surrender to you what has haunted her memories and spirit.  We bid thee hail and welcome!

STATING THE PURPOSE

To honor and release that which haunts the memories of Our Crone, to be banished and resolved for all time with the support of her beloved community and Tribe  

THE KEY TO SURRENDER

Our Crone enters sacred space with dedication to the five truths

QUESTIONER STATES:
These five truths cannot be denied:

  • Anything Can Be Healed
  • Artemis knows the patterns of regeneration
  • The trip to the Underworld must be made alone
  • Turn prayer into promise
  • That which you give to her, you must relinquish

“Are you committed to these truths and are you ready to enter the underworld?” Our Crone says, “YES.”

OWNING IT

Our Crone briefly describes what is going on in her head – pulling pages from her sacred box of holding, and acknowledging without words what haunts her, and what she commands to be banished.

She then Drops pages into flames.

She lies down with coat closed.

Someone sings or speaks:

“In the places that wreak of impossibility the serpent of life coils. She crawls upon the swollen stone, she crawls upon the swollen stone, she crawls upon the swollen stone and loosens her only garment.”

She opens her coat and expands her reach to become the embodiment of the sacred pentacle.

THE HEALING

Participants gather around Our Crone’s prone body, each holding a stone in their commanding hand, guiding banishing energy from her center, where fear and anxiety gather, away from her body while focusing the intention into the stones they hold.  

Someone reads:

Through the blessing, grace, guidance, and power of the light that streams from the embodiment of truth: May all of Our Crone’s negative karma, destructive emotions, obscurations, and blockages be purified and removed. May she know herself forgiven for all the harm she may have thought and done. May Our Crone accomplish this profound practice of phowa, surrendering now what haunts her spirit, and when it is her time, may she die a good and peaceful death. And through the triumph of her death when her time has come, may she be able to benefit all other beings, living or dead.

May all who love this sacred soul see her being illuminated and encased in this radiant light, as Our Crone is received with loving kindness by the embodiment of that which receives us and renews us. May all stand witness to the cleansing and purification of her negative karma, destructive emotions, and all that may have caused her suffering or suffering to others. May all see the light of Our Crone’s heart rise in rays of emerald green toward the golden light of compassion above her. As her soul feels the absence of all suffering with the gift of forgiveness, no longer held to the realm of regret, Our Crone’s being melts into light, and merges with the blissful presence. When that time comes to pass, may all find peace as she becomes one with all that is.
Blessed be.

Chanting: By stone and flood we banish all bad blood  

All continue chanting and directing energy into the stones until Our Crone opens her eyes and says: “Thank you. It is done!”

We help her to her feet, and she releases remaining energy through the Kali Breath and says: “I surrender this burden to the light of love. I know that all is well in this moment. I trust that all shall be healed in time.”  

She is adorned with a pendant charged with this reminder, as these words are spoken:

“What you have given to Her for healing, you must relinquish!”    

SAYING FAREWELL WHEN THE WORK IS DONE

ARTEMIS AND PERSEPHONE
Courageous and Compassionate Ladies of our hearts, Artemis and Persephone, we thank you for your presence in our sacred circle, and for your bright welcome to the former, haunted self of our sister Our Crone, as she surrendered and released old bonds.  Ever be with us on our spiritual journeys.  We bid thee hail and farewell.

THE ELEMENTS
To the great elements of Air, Fire, Water, and Earth – Elements of East, South, West and North – That which surrounds us and that which dwells within us – We offer our gratitude for your presence and support in this sacred circle and for the transmutation of old wounds into new beginnings. Ever be with us on our spiritual journeys. We bid thee hail and farewell.

OPENING
“All is over, all is done. What has been must now be gone. What was done by ancient art, merry meet and merry part.”

TO THE RIVER
Transport stones to the river to be tossed in, cleansed, and transmuted for the healing of Our Crone and Mother Earth.

What you give to Her for healing, must be relinquished.

This sacred ceremony was followed by a love-fest for the vulnerability and courage our Crone offered to us. For nearly thirty years, she has taught us so much about grace and reverence. After all, this is the role of our Crones in community… to show us how it’s done – this aging thing. Letting go and moving forward. Forgiving ourselves and settling into a place of peace.

We are enormously blessed!

Cherish your elders, dear ones. Listen when they speak their truths and if you are trusted with their burdens, help them toss those fuckers into the river.

Can you believe this was only the beginning of our retreat? Y’all, we did some serious work last weekend! There is so much more to share. Thank you for walking this path and following this flow with me. I’m so glad you are here.

Final Harvest

PART ONE OF A MANIFESTATION STORY

A year ago, I planted a seed. It was a morsel of a dream. It was a possibility of something new to me. It was a hope for manifesting a remarkable moment in time. It was a fantasy of retreat, reunion, respite. It was an ideation of a fruitful harvest. It was made manifest the first weekend in November, and I am still overwhelmed by the affirmation that we reap what we sow.

Last year I wrote about “The Long and Winding Road” that led me to my friends’ home on a mountain in Banner Elk, North Carolina. It was during that visit, as they were renovating a newly purchased house to become a home and bed and breakfast, that an inkling arrived. I mentioned that this would be a lovely place for a retreat, and the reply I received was, “I hoped you’d say that!”

So, at the beginning of this year, as I was seeing the possible future of facilitating workshops for a mindful journey through the wheel of the year, that would touch on our relationship to nature and the changing seasons, I booked a weekend for retreat in that beautiful mountain sanctuary.

At the time, I didn’t even know if anyone would be interested in attending the workshops, let alone a retreat that would come after an eleven hour drive. So, I made first mention to my distant Tribe. This is my spiritual family that was birthed at the end of 1993, with whom I share a deep bond that transcends time and space (years and geography). Over the decades, they have scattered to the winds, and it had been a while since we had gathered beneath one roof. The response was positive, so I figured I would at least host a Tribe Reunion, if no further interest was found.

I spent the year focusing on one season at a time, as I created a mindful journey for those who would attend my workshops. We started at Imbolc in February, which in the Celtic farming culture was when the fields would be tilled, debris would be burned away, and new seeds would be planted for a future harvest. We wrote down what no longer served us and weighed us down, then we burned it. We offered the ashes to a nearby garden for transmutation. We assessed every area of our lives and where we found the lowest ratings or least pleasure, we made a commitment and set a goal for improvement. We planted our seeds in the fertile soil of our hopes and dreams to be brought to fruition.

I really didn’t think much about what we would do next, until each workshop was finished. I knew there would be introductions to methods of grounding, mindful meditation, an introduction to movement, an art project or creative exploration, and sacred ceremony. The only firm plan I had for retreat was that it would be the first weekend in November, and the theme would be final harvest (thanks-giving for how we’ve grown this year), and Ancestors’ Night (remembering and connecting with loved ones on the other side of the veil).

In that first workshop in February, we crafted candles of intention. We wrote on the glass of seven-day-candles words that represented that which we hoped to manifest in the year. We would light our candles as a reminder of our dedication to turning dreams into reality. Onto my yellow candle (which was for the element of air and the solar plexus chakra – clarity of thought and taking responsibility for one’s life) I wrote: Laughter, Passion, Balance, Playful, Someone’s Priority, and RETREAT.

Here’s a lesson on manifestation, dear ones. Be careful what you wish for, because you might just get it. The thing is… it might not turn out exactly as you imagine. It might turn out BETTER than you imagined.

A part of me had hoped for love to enter my life. The kind that comes with a commitment, presence, and authenticity with a shared desire for togetherness. But as I lit my candle once more at the opening ceremony of my first RETREAT, I read these words and looked into the faces of those gathered, and realized… it was all here. This work is my PASSION, these people, my sacred gardeners, have delivered and shared LAUGHTER, getting to do this with others brings BALANCE to the priority of caring for my parents because it fills me up. Together, we PLAY with different mediums of arts and crafts that allow us to reconnect with an inner child or innocent version of ourselves. And just when I thought the one thing that had not come to birth was to have SOMEONE in my life who cared enough to make me their PRIORITY, I looked into the eyes of friends who have not missed a single one of my workshops, including a Tribe Sister who drives four hours each way every eight weeks, just to tend this sacred plot of land.

By the time all of the RSVPs had been sorted out, we had a party of twelve committed to making a journey into the Underworld. It was half distant Tribe and half Sacred Gardeners (some of which are both). Beloved beings traveled from Orlando, Tallahassee, Deltona, Charlotte, Colorado and Tennessee to gather in Banner Elk. It reminded me of the first time a group like this walked up the steps to my money-pit condo on a rainy day in December 1993, when I was 23 years old. It was a moment of excitement that was filled with hope. In fact, if I were to check the Tribe archive, I believe I would confirm the number that day to have been an even dozen. Further, that group was a merging of my two worlds at that time – those I’d met through a class on feminine spirituality and those I met through the young adult group at the Unitarian Church. Huh… I love that symmetry.

I drove up a couple of days early with my life-long friend, who is also my sounding board, and creativity partner. When I have an idea about a craft or art form to share in a workshop, she and I get together in advance to experiment and be sure it can be done in a reasonable time frame within my agenda. She is also my art-cation travel partner, and so upon arrival, after seeing off our amazing hosts who crafted my menu, did my grocery shopping, and pre-cooked multiple meals for our nourishing enjoyment (Talk about bountiful blessings! These friends had gone above and beyond in more ways than I could count.), we set to the task of turning this lovely home into a fall fiesta.

The two focal points were the fireplace mantle and hearth and the dining room table. We draped them both in gorgeous ribbon spiraling with autumn leaves and colors, and warm white faery lights. We removed amenities from boxes and tied them in ribbons. Each guest would receive a warm autumn throw in which to wrap themselves on these cold nights, a goblet adorned with swirling fall leaves with their names painted on the stems, and a handwritten note of gratitude for their presence in my life.

That night, after an eleven hour drive that began at 6:30am, we collapsed in a heap. We had the whole house to ourselves that Wednesday night, but as we’ve done since we were in kindergarten, we each took a half of the upstairs king bed and didn’t wake until morning. The next day would be a travel day and we would welcome more friends from Florida.

There is so much more to tell, but this post already feels a bit long. I really want to tell you about what happened on Friday, when we performed a sacred ceremony as a special request for our beloved 80-year-old crone.

But if you can’t wait to book your own retreat in this divine sanctuary, I’ll add a link below. I hope you’ll join me later for a continuation of this unfolding fireside story. Your presence is the flame that lights my way. Thank you for walking this path with me.

Cold night, warm hearts

https://www.facebook.com/thepointebandb/

Growing Into Authenticity Part Two

Once we have developed a healthy relationship with the strengths or innate talents we were introduced to through StrengthsFinder, we ‘Move Forward’ with identifying our top five skills. The tools my friend offers for discovery are three-fold. We can make a list of the many things we know how to do, we can use lists of mental, physical, and interpersonal skills (nearly all of mine are in this last category – I am pretty useless in the other two areas) to sort through what resonates, or we can use storytelling for discovery.

Storytelling is my favorite method. When one of my authentic gardeners tells me a story of triumph from their past, I can easily visualize the remarkable abilities that shine through in their mythic journey, retold.

I’ve already told some of my stories within this blog, like when I took in my 18-month old grandniece, when I became the successful, long-term partner to an executive who had five assistants in 9 years, being a trusted friend who held space for another and witnessed her healing, becoming a homeowner, or birthing and nurturing a Tribe for twenty years.

When I did this work in 2008, a friend helped me find a word for the way that I am able to pull inspiration from thin air, to offer an impromptu toast, or invoke an emotionally moving vibe in sacred circle. That word is: extemporization. Before doing this work, I had not realized that words did not come easily for everyone. They flow through me much of the time. When I read something I’ve written, I am often amazed to see what has fallen upon the page, and wonder… who wrote this? It might be considered a strength, except for the work that went into honing this ability… which comes with a responsibility to use proper grammar and punctuation. (If I miss something, my mother will surely advise edits.)

So, what’s the difference between a strength and a skill? Strengths are innate abilities we can recognize manifesting in our youth, while skills are abilities we’ve honed through practice.

Here’s my 2019 revision of skills (as always, subject to change)
– Being of Service / Providing Comfort with Presence and Words
– Holding Space / Making Others Feel Safe, Heard, and Valued
– Wordsmithing / Using Words Expressively
– Designing and Delivering Spiritually Mindful Programs for Growth
– Bringing People Together / Establishing and Nurturing Groups

Once we’ve identified our skills, we venture into the depths of true-self knowledge… our core values. This is the part that requires some exploration and a process of refinement. Before ‘Moving Forward’ with my friend, I was aware of core values in the process of defining the principles that drive a corporation, but hadn’t really considered the process of defining my own. But let me tell you… this is worthy work. We take a look at our passions, our joys, and our concerns. What makes us come alive and what makes us want to stand up and fight? Within this pool of possibility we are able to find clarity and clues about our purpose.

When I think about what is happening in the world right now, I must temper my outrage when the reproductive rights of women are threatened, when the inherent dignity of any being is held in disregard, when blatant racism and discrimination goes unchecked and justice seems to be missed and integrity lost. I know that I value truth and honesty, fairness and kindness, authenticity and individual freedom to live, love, work, and thrive in a world that offers plenty when not hoarded by a few. Friendship, travel, and ART are all things I simply must have in my life, or it would not be worth living.

Our core value statements are to be written about US, and not how we would have others behave. I was reminded of this in my first draft which stated that I wanted others to speak their truth (because I value their genuine thoughts and feelings), and edits were made. They may be altered over time, and I did decide to make adjustments to those I had crafted in 2008. Here’s the 2019 version:

Authenticity is key. Speaking my truth with integrity sometimes requires great courage. I trust that those who love me will honor and value my inherent dignity, nurturing my freedom to be ME.

All beings are sacred. From the earth upon which we stand, to the air we breathe, the sun that warms our skin, and the water that quenches our thirst, we are connected and interdependent. It is a moral imperative to move through this world with compassion and kindness for all.

I receive great joy and fulfillment through deep, committed relationships. Appreciating the unique and remarkable qualities of others helps me to see those things within myself. When I bond with others on this deeper level, I feel connected and valued.

I devote a good portion of my time to expanding my spiritual awareness. Through understanding and celebrating the archetypal feminine, I have come to know my own power as Woman. This journey toward enlightenment and personal development has enabled me to become the woman I’ve always wanted to be. I am still growing into the light.

Art and Travel fill my soul. The beauty to be found in a foreign town or local gallery reaches beyond the aesthetic of art and architecture. I glory in the stories which manifest in these sacred places – the people, the culture, the craftsmanship. Traveling to places distant and near allows me to touch history and offer my reverence for such influence that has brought me to this place in time. Collecting artwork that carries a bit of an artist’s heart blesses my home with the essence of passion, patience, and love.

The next part of our ‘Growth’ spurt will take us into determining a mission statement or personal purpose, followed by a vision of the future which is made manifest only when we are living our mission.

Thank you for walking this path with me. I appreciate and value your authentic presence and willingness to consider for yourself – what makes YOU come alive.

Growing Into Authenticity Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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