A Song for Summer

The cicadas have finally returned to the embrace of my sacred oak trees, which stand sentinel at the edges of my yard. Their chatter makes me giddy. They have always represented the sound of summer to me. The return of afternoon thunderstorms adds to the joy that rises through every cell of my being. I love these evenings, as I walk to and from my parents’ home for our evening tuck-in ritual.

There is a gentle breeze that brings the wind chimes into song, and I wave to neighbors who are on their porches or chatting with others in a driveway, as I go by. I left my folks watching a new series of short films on Netflix called Homemade, which were created by people around the world while in Covid Quarantine. Each episode reminds me of the importance of community. I am grateful for the art that is coming to birth during these difficult days.

Speaking of birth… one of my dearest friends is expanding his family. His beautiful wife is expecting their daughter by early August, so their precious new being won’t technically be a quarantine baby, but virus related layoffs and pregnancy-related health concerns certainly complicate this new beginning. I would give anything to be nearby in order to offer support and help boost morale, but we are distant by geography. So, I aimed to pull us closer energetically.

Because my friend lives over 800 miles away, I have not yet been blessed to meet the woman who stole his heart several years back, other than through social media. But I have been witness to their love, to the birth and growth of their children, and so she is already planted firmly in my heart as sacred.

When I sat down to write a letter to a woman whom I’ve never met and who is earlier on her life path compared to my position, further ahead… I started with an introduction, but was delighted by what rose to my fingertips, when I asked the gift of words to flow. She gave me permission to share. I’m changing their names for privacy. I googled ‘mythical good husband and father’, so that’s where I’ll start… Hector and Andromache (don’t read anything into the choice beyond that, because nobody in mythology that I’ve studied had an ideal ending… [maybe I should have gone with Harry and Ginny]. Anyhoo…

Dear Andromache :

Hello love! Mother Goddess, sacred vessel of new life, beloved of my beloved. You’ve been on my mind and in my heart. I wish geography would allow us a kinder distance. Alas, we are forced to get to know one another and care deeply, from afar.

You probably know that your Hector and I met when we were young. Our lockers were nearby in high school… and we shared a class, but our friendship grew after he graduated, a year ahead of me. Here’s what I can tell you about that younger version of the man you love: He has always been authentic. He has always been the kindest, most caring being you could ever meet. He has always been compassionate, considerate, supportive, smart, talented, and loving. Another thing? Vulnerable. He was always courageous enough to speak his truth. Yes, I know you realize that you have captured a rare jewel of a man… and I know that he treasures you, Andromache.

So far, I’ve been witness to your glowing and growing family only through social media. I know that you are a devoted partner, a loving mother, and a gifted artist through the medium of photography. I asked Hector to tell me more, and he shared that you have both been walking a spiritual path that is earth-based. So, here’s where I tell you a little about me.

I grew up Unitarian Agnostic, but discovered an earth-based spiritual path when I was 23. I attended a women’s conference hosted by Margot Adler (one of the movement’s American foremothers) and then took a 6-month class on feminine spirituality. In 1993, I called together a group of beloved beings, and together we birthed a goddess group. We met weekly for 20 years, in varying numbers- as loved ones moved away.

Those early years, though, were blessed with focused intention, as young women transitioned from maiden to mother and older women from mother to crone. We celebrated rites of passage as Tribe sisters married, got pregnant, gave birth, as tribe legacy reached the one-year mark there were blessings for our babies, and when blood stopped flowing and wisdom kept growing, we celebrated the transformation of our sacred crone.

During those years, I often wished that every woman could have what we had. We were learning about ourselves and the goddess archetypes that we embodied, and we were honored and celebrated by other women for all of our similarities and all of our differences. It was glorious!

I know that you have been facing some complications with your current pregnancy, and I wish that I could call upon a circle of sacred souls to surround you and to hold you close. And since my spiritual understanding has grown through these many years, formerly a skeptic in all things until proven, I realize that I actually can.

When my Tribe sisters were full-bellied, we had a birth blessing ritual that included an art project. We would follow the guidance found by our Crone, words would be spoken, and then our sacred vessel would get naked and we would slather her with Vaseline and plaster. Once well-dried, we would have another gathering to paint and decorate the belly-cast. When our last local tribe-legacy was born, I actually arrived at the hospital before Mom & Dad, and the staff let me enter the birthing room to wait. I was able to cast a circle and invite the elements and Artemis to guide and support this final journey, as my friend had decided this would be her last daughter.

Artemis had come into our lives in 1999, in a really big way, and She is the goddess of childbirth – protector of women and children. If you welcome it, I would call upon Her to do the same for you.

I thought I would also share the words of The Blessingway Ritual that we would do before each birth. I’m afraid I cannot tell you from where the original guidance came {I will add here when I find it!}, or even which words are ours and which words were found in another source, for we have made them our own. In the time of pandemic, your health and safety is paramount. I wish you could have a circle of friends gathered for this rite. Perhaps Hector can read these words to you, as you sit with eyes closed, envisioning the circle I am calling to surround you.

Andromache’s Blessingway

The Beginning

The most holy one created the world like an embryo, as an embryo grows from the navel, so she began to create the world by the navel, and from there it spread, grew, multiplied in all directions… she was both seed and flower, both primordial and final. The first vibrations of the egg of the world, which unfold to the edges of the universe, are both expanding and contracting, emerging from the source and pulsing outward to disappear into a spherical vortex. The still center (the heart) is the axis of creation – universal continuum perpetually unfolds, pulses outward, contracts – perpetually spinning through its own center.

The Meditation

Three cleansing breaths, release and relax.
See the egg divide, become the fetus, and grow inside the womb.
The fetus develops and becomes a child.
She is born, grows into yourself, grown up.
The cycle starts again with a child in the womb of Andromache.
Ask the child for a message.
Send her blessings and love.
Wish her well in her beginnings and come back to now.

Take time to share and write the messages you receive from your daughter.

The Blessing

We are here to honor Andromache, who will become mother to a new being. She is the Mother Goddess, and we kneel before her in reverence. We are here at the edge of the waxing moon to invoke the gifts of Artemis with Her blessings of protection for a safe birth, guidance for a strong, healthy child, strength and wisdom for happiness and fulfillment in motherhood.

The maiden lays a green cord across Andromache’s womb and says:  I am Maiden. I was the secret you carried inside you in the beginning, when you belonged only to yourself. Long before you could feel life inside your womb, and long before others would look upon you and know, it was I who danced lightly in your heart. When you dreamed your dreams of youth and renewal, it was I who was there to dream with you. Though I have changed, I have never left you.

The mother lays the red cord across Andromache’s womb and says: I am Mother. When the life inside you was growing, and you began to feel it stir, I was there. As all the world watched and tried to feel with you the mystery of new life, I whispered in your ears and helped to comfort your deepest fears. My kiss placed a gentle blush on your cheeks, and my hand held yours when the child within cried out. Time has passed, and now you know me in yet another form. I have never left you.

The crone lays the gold cord across Andromache’s womb and says: I am Crone. As your time approached, it was I who helped to prepare you. My strength sustained you as the wheel turned on. In order for you to understand the beginning, I taught you about the ending. As your grandmothers before have always been midwives to their daughters and granddaughters, I stood by you. Slowly you came to understand that for your child to be born, a child inside of you must give way. I allowed you to cut your own cords to your past, as your inner child’s cord was cut when new life began. Though I have done my job, I wait for you in dreams. I have never left you.

The Tribe (maiden, mother, crone) places their hands upon Andromache’s womb and speak words of commitment: “We have never left you. We have been with you from the beginning, and will be within you always.

A symbol of gentle birth is charged with healing, protective energy and placed upon the altar. (I’ve enclosed a malachite rubbing stone that is already charged with my energy. Consider having the girls and Hector add theirs, as well.) And loving symbols are painted on the belly in essential oils or henna. Then celebrate with milk and cookies.

The Closing

We offer our gratitude to the element of air, which will deliver our daughter’s first breath upon the light of new beginnings; to the element of fire, which will warm her perfect body and rise through cries of the announcement – “I am here!”; to the element of water, which has enveloped her and kept her safe from the very beginning; to the element of earth, which aches to feel her feet and hold her close for all of her days. We are grateful to Artemis, who guides and protects mother and child as they transform from one being who holds a sacred seed, to two beautiful beings, each Her own unique magnificence. Ever be with us on our spiritual journey. WE bid thee Hail and Farewell.

So, now you’ve been initiated as an honorary member of my Tribe. You can call upon this sacred circle, which resides in the ether, whenever you are seeking warrior strength and support through overcoming any obstacle. Oh! And here’s my favorite factoid, learned while my people were having babies… when your milk comes in and your breasts feel engorged, you can place a cabbage leaf in your bra to reduce the pressure. I’ve never been pregnant, but I’ve heard it works. I love to share that sweet morsel of wisdom. [Seriously, this fascinates me!] I hope you don’t need it, for the flow that your daughter calls shall always come with grace and ease.

Andromache, I know you don’t know me, but I hope you feel cherished and loved. I am grateful for the joy and unconditional love you have delivered (figuratively and literally) into the life of my sweet friend. He deserves this kind of love, and I’m so glad he gets to share his remarkable goodness with you.

I am also enclosing a book from my own library. Our babies are all grown now, and it would only remain as a resource to offer others, so I’d like you to have it. I hope you can get good use of it with your own tribe of little women. Circle Round by Starhawk offers music, activities, sacred ceremony, and wisdom for raising children on an earth-based path. There is also a poem that we would read to our babies upon arrival and at a one-year ceremony, which would offer our dedication to their emotional wellness for this lifetime.

Know that you are always surrounded by the energy of those we cannot see with our eyes, but feel with our hearts. I look forward to watching the evolution of your family from afar, and I hope that we will one day be able to safely gather for a celebration of rites of passage, either for you and Hector, or for your girls.

Love and brightest blessings…

And the poem…

Thank you for walking this path with me. If you are feeling isolated or alone during this challenging time, may you find yourself surrounded by loving community that holds you close… even from a distance. You are so loved.

Mother Goddess Belly Cast and Emu Egg

The Great Unbecoming

I feel as if the world is in a state of transformation. Global pandemic feels like a symptom of the rising perception of separateness over the past many years. Countries (including my own) that I once admired for what I imagined to be inclusiveness, being so called melting pots of many beautiful and rich cultures, somehow accepted exclusion. They allowed fear and greed to close their borders to people of certain religions or skin tones, and locked children in cages. They voted everyone off the island, so they could have it to themselves. With every news story over the last four years, many of us have asked, “What have we become?”

When forced to go within, as we have all been asked to shelter-in-place for the mercy of our healthcare workers and community members who are at greatest risk, life has become quiet enough to hear the cries of the oppressed. That’s why the world showed up for the murder of George Floyd. They were less distracted by the incessant busy-ness of the world. We have all heard the reports of black people dying in police custody for decades and brown people being caged at our borders, but it was too easy to look away, toward board meetings and soccer matches, and the mind-numbing endeavor to do more, have more, be more. It makes me wonder if this is when we get to ask, “What are we unbecoming?”

I have such curiosity about the emptiness one must feel to insist on spending their lives working so hard to ensure they can buy more things, at the detriment of others, who would be grateful just to have enough food to fill their bellies. Hoarding newspapers and hoarding dollars are really no different, they are both symbolic of filling a hole. When people who don’t pay their fair share of taxes have more money than one can spend in a lifetime (or many lifetimes), while other humans are becoming homeless because they cannot pay their medical bills, we are witnessing crimes against humanity.

To be honest, I can relate to a time in my life when my rising income felt like an affirmation of my worth. It actually wasn’t that long ago. When I left the corporate world and chose to live more simply and care for my aging parents, it took some time to move through the fear of less. This choice has made my life look very small from the outside. I am more mindful of how I spend my savings, and I no longer live beyond my means.

In the process of unbecoming who I thought the world expected me to be, I discovered the rich beauty of who I already am. My income does not define my worthiness of love, it is the actions of my heart that does so. From the inside, my life looks vast and expansive.

When the shutdown for Covid-19 started, I felt a sense of excitement alongside feelings of dread. I imagined that when other people had the opportunity (even when not by choice) to make their worlds small, they might choose to go within. I hoped that they would find the beauty of simplicity, and that even without the ability to dine out daily, and to show the world how worthy they are to be loved, by the cost of the car they drive or the overpriced iProducts they carry, they might realize that life is incredibly beautiful and that being in caring community is an enormous blessing. (This lesson did not arrive for me, until the pandemic insisted that my neighbors stay at home. Most of us have been on this block for 20 years or more, and we are just now learning each others’ names.)

And I do believe that is happening for some, at least in my virtual circles. But what is also happening, as I live in a state that opened too soon and is now seeing a distressing rise in Covid infections, is that living simply and making life small was too uncomfortable for many. The truth had become impossible to believe, and so they imagined themselves immune without regard for those who might not survive their contamination.

I’ve heard some of those people say that they refuse to live in fear, and therefore will not wear a mask, and they will not stop living the life to which they feel entitled. But I wonder what is lost in that inability to place the concern for others above their own perceived pleasure.

I would argue, based on my own life experience, that fear enters our lives to alert us that it is time for change. When I have felt most unsafe and most fearful, or rather when I was on the other side of fear – looking back, I realized that the fear was announcing that great, life-altering transformation was near. I learned that I could see the fear rise, and hold it close, then comfort it and wait patiently for new beginnings to arrive.

It reminds me of being present for the births of three of my goddess daughters. Each time, when their courageous mother, who had chosen natural childbirth, announced in panic that she “could not do this”, her body was telling us that the girls were about to leave the darkness of the womb to be welcomed into the light. I know that those moments felt frightening, but there was no going back, it was too late for numbing medication, and there was untold, remarkable beauty about to be birthed. That beauty, born through fear, made our lives and the world a better and brighter place to live.

We do have a sense that things will get harder and that darkness will grow. Covid-19 continues to surge in America, and it is rising elsewhere. The toll on world economy will surely be overwhelming and deeply unsettling. I have no doubt that fear will be seeded in the hearts of many.

But what I hope will also happen is that the light of truth will rise even higher and shine even brighter. As sacred souls go within for reflection, they will discover what is truly important (that things are not among them) – their health and wellness is important, as is the health and wellness of every being upon the earth, as is Mother Earth Herself.

I hope we can all see that it is not what we’ve accomplished, or what we drive, or where we live, or how we travel that makes us worthy of being loved, but our very existence that makes us so.

I hope that on the other side of fear, a new world is brought to birth, and that we will look back on this pandemic and social justice uprising as labor pains that brought into the world the beauty of humanity, humility, equity, and peace.

May we hold space for this better future without expectation of timing.
Let us commit to doing the labor without looking away or going numb.

May it be so. So mote it be. Blessed be. Amen.
Thank you for walking this path with me. I love you more.

We Are Grey

 I’m about to share a quote from a tv show that aired a quarter of a century ago, but I hope you’ll bear with me. I’ve been hearing it in my head for some time now, so I know there must be a reason. I mean… I can’t remember what I watched or heard yesterday, and yet… these words remain etched in memory.

“I am Grey. I stand between the candle and the star. We are GreyWe stand between the darkness and the light.” ~ J Michael Straczynski (1994)

This line has been rising into my mind with growing frequency. It is from the SciFi series from the mid-1990s, called “Babylon 5”. Joe Straczynski has said that the entire five-year story arch manifested in his mind one day, while taking a shower.

There is so much goodness to be gathered from this series, but what feels especially poignant at this moment in history is when darkness threatened to swallow the Universe, an alliance was forged to nurture a path of peace that would lead them all back into the light.

The character of Ambassador Delenn was always my favorite. She is seen in the video above, breaking the Grey Council, which was made up of representatives from each caste from her planet. She will later, after enormous sacrifice, rebuild the council with greater fairness. But long before this scene, at the end of the first season, without understanding what was to come, Delenn goes into a Chrysalis and in Season 2 emerges transformed. Ultimately, she becomes a bridge between the human race and her own. She changes in appearance, and she also endeavors to gain an understanding of who humans are and to teach humans more about her own race.

It may be difficult to figure out where I’m going with this… but there is a bridge. I have been learning how to become an antiracist. When I reached out to my friend, when the protests began to insist on justice for the murder of George Floyd, she asked me not to be silent. She and I had been together a couple of years earlier, when I was confronted with my own white privilege, as a woman threatened to call the police because my friend would not give her her designer purse. I wrote about it in my blog post called The Light That Pierces Shadow. I had been so nervous about getting it wrong. I knew that I had a lot to learn about being an ally, and the last thing I wanted was to cause more harm. But she trusted me to get it right.

I’ve only just begun to read Ibram X. Kendi’s book How To Be An Antiracist, and already I can feel the importance and the truth of it. He opens by sharing a speech he gave in his youth, and then unpacks it from his current vantage point. He acknowledges that his words at that time were colored by “internalized racism”.

I recently learned the term ‘internalized patriarchy’ during Heather Plett’s Holding Space course, as we explored holding space for ourselves. And it felt like being struck by lightning to understand that my own self-limiting beliefs and self-loathing (which I’ve spent most of my life trying to overcome) were symptoms of societal indoctrination. We have been taught, unknowingly (or not) the patriarchal view of what girls and women, boys and men should be, and how they should behave, and how they should serve… none of which have anything to do with nurturing and celebrating their unique strengths and authenticity. Realizing that women have a numbers advantage on men in the world, and yet there are so few women in American government leadership roles became a punch in the gut, because of course that means that women are not voting for women. This must mean that there are a lot of women out there who believe themselves and other women to be inferior to men.

So, when Dr. Kendi, confesses to feeling pain and shame around his own beliefs expressed in his high school speech, having been tarnished by systemic racism, it eases my own guilt and shame when I ask myself why it has taken me so long to do this important work. When I realize that by internalizing patriarchal dogma, I have oppressed myself, it allows me to relate to those whose lives are directly impacted by white supremacy (even though I can never know how it feels to be black or brown). What I can know and understand is that it is never too late for any of us to rise into the light of truth, and change our programming.

When my friend asked me not to be silent, she also asked me, “Why do they hate us?” The answer that arrived was basic psychology. What bothers us about others is often a reflection of ourselves.

How heartbreaking it is to witness such hatred and to realize that those capable of such belief and behavior must truly loathe themselves in order to view any being in such a dehumanized way. The malignant system that has been in place since my friend’s ancestors were stolen from their homeland, has programmed people to fear what they imagine to be different. I have no doubt that the true fear is based in the belief that if white people become the minority (which will happen), they might be treated the way they have treated others.

In my eyes, the best way to avoid that outcome would be to start treating others with equity, fairness, and loving kindness. We don’t have to believe and behave the way our ancestors did. They were lied to, as well. If we feel defensive when we are confronted with these difficult questions about how we are affected by racism and how our words and behaviors affect others, that is likely the rise of shame within. Shame is the most destructive emotion there is, so the best way to face it when it appears, is not to shake a finger at it, but to hold it close and to love it back into a place of forgiveness and compassion. Then, keep going.

Maybe these immortal words of a beloved Science Fiction writer have surfaced to invite me to stand with the discomfort of this evolutionary and revolutionary moment – in the in-between of our unbecoming and our becoming. If the black crayon and the white crayon make the color grey when combined, perhaps the message and metaphor is that we are all ‘grey’ on the inside. As Jane Elliott says, “There is only one race – the human race.”

I am Grey. I stand before the racist structure to which I have been ignorant and complicit, and aim my intentions toward supporting the creation of a foundation for justice and equity. We are Grey. We stand before false beliefs about ourselves and others and reveal the truth of our oneness. I am Grey. I shed the shame and insecurity that once kept me in silence. We are Grey. We don the robes of forgiveness, understanding, and new beginnings.

Now is the time to break the scepter of white supremacy, take the time to unpack everything within us that was planted with poison and toss it onto the burn pile, and then reconvene to form a more perfect Union.

I saw this statement on a sign at one of the Black Lives Matter protests, and it moved me deeply. “I’m sorry I’m late. I had a lot to learn.” I am still learning, and really, I suppose I am actually UNLEARNING. I am unpacking everything this society has taught me, and I am deciding what needs to go.

If I got anything wrong in this post, I hope you will forgive me. I promise not to be silent. I promise not to give up on myself, for I know I can do better… and change must begin with each of us going into our own chrysalis of reflection, so that we may be transformed.

When we emerge into the light of love, our new perspective will deliver us into a new world. Thank you for walking this path with me. I love you more.

Retrograde Restoration

Today is the beginning of Mercury Retrograde. This occurs about three times a year. It is an astrological event, simply explained, when it ‘appears’ that the planet Mercury is moving backwards in the sky. Of course, it isn’t really going backwards, it is just a science and math thing that I’m not going to pretend to understand or explain. But, if you’re inclined to relate to our relationship with the other celestial bodies in our universe, you might take note of how this particular planet is said to rub our energetic being. Below is an article about the current astrology.

https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2020/06/9869190/mercury-retrograde-june-2020-meaning-effects

Mercury is the planet of thought and communication, so when it is retrograde, we can experience a surge in misunderstandings and other complications. Sometimes it is a relief to have this planetary scapegoat to explain why things feel really hard. But some of the best advice I’ve seen is to consider what not to do vs. how to best use this time. For example, do NOT sign any contracts or start new relationships in Mercury Retrograde, for the final outcome may not be as you had hoped. But it is a great time to do ‘RE’ things, like reflecting, reviewing, realigning, reassessing, and reconstructing, just to name a few retro-actions.

I have chosen RESTORATION as my verb for this particular moment in time, and the first action I’ve taken is to REMOVE myself from social media. This is no small effort for an extrovert with ‘connectedness’ in her top 5 strengths during self-exile in a global pandemic. I’m only five waking hours into a three week fast, and I can already feel the absence of the many like-minded friends who have nurtured my hyper-focus on seeking truth, understanding, and revolution (another great ‘RE’ thing) during extraordinary times. (I often think of that curse that is worded like a blessing, these days… “May you live in interesting times.”)

My intention, from June 18 through July 12, is not to stop caring about the importance of current affairs, but to RETURN myself to the center of my world, REFINE the manner in which I initiate self-care, and REESTABLISH a relationship with my creative nature, which is most easily REFLECTED through my writing.

My blog marked its second anniversary at the end of May, and I realized that while I averaged six posts per month for the first year and a half, I’ve only managed to write six posts in 2020. I’ve been working on one blog post since March, and I can usually get that done in two hours.

I’ve speculated about what has happened to my inner-scribe this year. It feels multi-tiered. One thing is that empathy is my number one strength, and the world is suffering on a global level. (I have literally found it hard to breathe, at times.)

Another probable cause is the construction that has been going on in my side yard since January. There have been days when my body felt it would crumble from the trauma of earth shattering pounding of pylons that rocked my tiny home, and on other days, it feels as if I’ve put a quarter in the bedpost, as the whole house trembles with vibration.

Another layer was my focus on learning how to Hold Space through complexity, which morphed into actually living with complexity, as the country shut down and then tragically reopened while people are still infecting each other and thousands are dying from Covid-19. And while we were looking for something to do with our downtime, we witnessed a murder that shook the world, not unlike my tiny house has been shaken by large equipment of destruction and replacement.

And I’ve just stumbled upon another metaphor for what is happening in the world to accompany the multi-year, multi-million dollar project to improve the main highway that runs through our community. They are taking away old structures that no longer serve us, and replacing them with something better. It is disruptive. It is inconvenient. It is sometimes painful. But it is absolutely worth doing the hard work.

So, here I go. I will continue the hard work of dismantling racism and demolishing the patriarchy, while keeping my parents safe from this virus, but I will start by RECOMMITTING to my own mental and physical wellness. I can see the enormous importance of this moment in our shared history, and I know that we all have a significant role to play in RE-IMAGINING a better future for the greater good of ALL. I also know that I will be stronger if I take the time to REFORTIFY my body, mind, and spirit by providing the nurturing and care that I freely offer others.

I don’t know what the days ahead will hold for me, but I will gladly share my REFLECTIONS, as I allow the universe to REVEAL itself to me – as it always does – in divine timing.

May you find many blessings woven through this Mercury Retrograde. May you find RENEWAL, REJUVENATION, and a REFRESHING new outlook on the other side. Thank you for walking this path with me. I am grateful that you are here.

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.

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.

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!

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

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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.