An Unusual Harvest

Today is Lughnasadh, or Lammas, in the northern hemisphere. On the Celtic calendar, it is the cross quarter holiday that marks the midpoint between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox. When we lived in farming communities, it was considered the first harvest.

Since some of us were born with brown thumbs and outside of farming communities, as many do in the current era, we can still find value in these calendar pages through the power of metaphor. And so, once again, I ask… What’s in your harvest?

My Sacred Gardeners and I met in February for the annual workshop on intention setting. At Imbolc, we planted our figurative seeds of intention. Even with a brown thumb, intentions can grow when nurtured with mindfulness and attention.

We anticipated gathering again at the end of March, for the Spring Equinox, and even had a Beltaine retreat planned in my beloved Blue Ridge Mountains. It was to be a weekend dedicated to falling in love with ourselves, right down to a commitment ceremony with rings and circlets of flowers for our heads.

But sometimes, something happens in life that takes our attention away from the garden. A loved one dies, a job is lost, the path forward becomes less clear and uncertainty enters like a thick fog. 2020 has certainly been that kind of a year, ten-fold.

But every eight weeks, the wheel of the year turns to remind us to come back to the cycles of nature. Everything changes. All life is temporary. We remember that though these days are challenging, frustrating, disappointing, sad… they, too, are temporary. This pandemic will come to an end. This physical distancing from those we love will come to an end. This financial insecurity and horrific failure of leadership will come to an end. In the meantime, we are free to set our fears and worries aside, to come back to our gardens of intention.

So… this would be the time of year, the midpoint Imbolc and Winter Solstice, to assess the status of our intentions. What is ready to be harvested and stored to sustain us through the long winter? When I look back at my own lifechart completed with my gardeners, I can reflect on the key words I chose to adorn my candle of intention.

I realize that what I might have pictured to be a result of these intentions may not have manifested in the ways I had intended, but I can usually see that the Universe conspired to bring them to fruition in glorious and unexpected ways. The beauty of the garden is always found in the eyes of the beholder. One gardener may prefer something tediously manicured, while another may delight in allowing Mother Nature to do Her own thing.

What I have found is that my word for the year is RECIPROCITY. and I have found it in the ways that love is offered and returned, as friends and community respect and care for one another. We wear masks, we connect by phone, text, and Zoom. We don’t take personally the necessity of our distancing. We do what we can to deliver kindness, compassion, and togetherness in new and innovative ways.

I wanted to EMBODY TRUST. Which was not just to be the friend and daughter that those I love could depend on to hold their truth with gentle reverence, but that I would do the same for myself. That I would trust myself completely. That I would hear the sacred voice of my own intuition, and never doubt it.

I intended to continue to HEAL AND GROW this year, and I certainly have. Gratefully, much of this work can be done out in the world, but is even more succinct when done in solitude or isolation. In silence and without distractions of others, we can hear the cries of the oppressed, and ask ourselves what we don’t know. How is my silence harmful? How might I do better and be better as a trusted friend and ally? Oh, yes! I have learned so much… and I am still learning.

To CULTIVATE JOY was an intention, and I can see the many ways this has grown. Right before our world shut down, I was reunited with the boss who loved me, at the occasion of her son’s wedding. When he later wrote me, he said that it was so obvious to him how much she and I loved and cared for each other. And even though that was the last time I’ve gathered in a room with others… I have continued to find joy in the beautiful moments of each and every day… in a brief chat with a neighbor, having a giggle with my parents, witnessing the bats fly over my head as I walk home from tucking them in. So much delight can be found in living a small and simple life.

I wanted my year to be GROUNDED IN LOVE, and though there are many days when anger and outrage rise to greet the news of the day, it is always love that grounds me. Primarily, self-love. Each time I enter my home, after caring for my parents or doing the bi-weekly grocery run, I greet my kitties, and I walk through a mist of homemade balancing spray. As I do, I feel my shoulders drop, and my whole body relaxes. I can feel my roots reconnect to the earth through my sanctuary of home, and all is right with the world.

The final word on my candle of intention makes me laugh. Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, always reminds me to be careful what you wish for. The word is RETREAT. Well… my intention was to host TWO retreats this year, in those sacred mountains. At first, we thought we would just lose the opportunity in May, but now… as my home state has skyrocketing Covid cases, it is clear that none of us will be traveling in October, either. But still… this intention surely did manifest. Just… not as imagined.

We have retreated into our homes, to keep our loved ones safe. I am in a daily retreat, really, as each day when I return from caring for my parents, I enter my home, and come back into myself… each day a little deeper. I can remember hearing about silent retreats or going on retreat alone, and thinking it had no appeal. And yet, I have found myself here over and over again, not just this year, but in the two years prior, as I endeavored to create a life beyond the corporate world I’d always known.

What I’ve found here, is that though I may be alone, I love the one I’m with. There is no one I’d rather be secluded with when the world is plagued with a potential plague. That’s kind of a pleasant surprise, for the girl who searched long and hard for a love she deserved… to have found it within herself.

Finally, all of these intentions manifested in the form of a new kind of togetherness. With our worlds becoming so small, during self-isolation and continued extreme caution until a vaccine can be discovered and broadly shared, some of us have chosen to see more of each other. Since March, I have been virtually meeting weekly with a Thursday night group of International friends from a course we took together, a weekly Friday night group of intuitive friends, a Saturday morning group with my Sacred Gardeners, and a Sunday night group with my goddesses.

So, I no longer meet people for lunch, but I do take an occasional masked-walk with a friend, with a hip-bump greeting instead of a hug. I write random letters and send them the old fashioned way, in the mail. My friend, who lives on the opposite corner of the country, and I have become pen pals, and last week she sent me sealing wax and a spoon for melting – so our letters are both sealed with more than just love.

I don’t know what I thought I’d find when I decided to walk through my garden of intentions, but I have to say, I’m pretty darned pleased with what I’ve found here. I allowed Mother Nature to do her thing, and as always, she has WOWed me beyond belief.

I hope that you and yours are safe and well. I hope that despite the unexpected twists and turns of an unusual and extraordinary year, it has been kinder to you than realized. I hope that your personal harvest is filled with light, love, and laughter that nourishes, nurtures, and sustains you throughout the coming seasons. Thank you for walking this path with me. I love you more.

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

Solar Salutations

Today is the Summer Solstice. Opposite that which marks midwinter in the southern hemisphere… it is the longest day.  It is also referred to as midsummer – think Shakespeare and a playful band of faeries.  When we look at the wheel of the year from a symbolic perspective, from where we started to where we are headed… this is the halfway point of our manifestation.  We planted our seeds at Imbolc in February, saw the early sprouting of our desires in March at the Spring Equinox, consecrated our passion in May at Beltaine, and now we are seeing our intentions beginning to bear fruit.

Well… this is a rather unusual year, as you know. My Sacred Gardeners and I gathered to plant our seeds of intention in February. We would have met again to nurture those intentions in March, but alas… the world went into quarantine. So, we adjusted the light and shade to nurture our seeds in a virtual setting, instead.

The sun is at its height on this day, so it is a great time for healing.  Be sure to take a walk in nature and soak up some vitamin D.  Goodness knows that the road ahead is long and bumpy, and our best defense against this virus is to build our immune systems for better health and if infected, a better chance of full recovery.

From this day forward, the days will begin to grow shorter, as we slowly turn toward the Autumn Equinox.  The energy of the sun is expansive, so consider in what areas of your life you’d like to shed a bit more light.  Does your soul require a bit of rest while reading a good book at the edge of the ocean, or would it be best served by playfully flying a kite in a grassy, green field of freedom and delight? The sun reminds us to shine brightly!  If you’ve been taking care of everyone else throughout the first half of the year, remember to care for the caregiver, and practice extreme self-care.  You deserve your own love more than anyone! 

Speaking of A Midsummer Night’s Dream… I am reminded of the year that my Tribe (goddess group) decided to celebrate the day with the faeries in a local park we call the ravine.  It is a lovely surprise near downtown that you can walk down into, and find yourself surrounded by azalea bushes and oak trees.  We figured that we would gather there at twilight to leave offerings, and see if anyone would come out to play with us.  Alas, it was only the local police that showed up, but they were not playful AT ALL!  Ha!  So… we left behind our offerings of flowers and berries, and had to wait for the faeries to find us in our dreams.

The following is a meditation that came through me when I put my fingers to the keyboard and asked for a vision of Midsummer to go with an image that crossed my screen from an art page on social media. The words just flowed through me and onto the page without much thought or direction. At one point, when the purpose of the journey was revealed to me, I literally gasped aloud. It was a moment of pure magick I hope I will never forget.

It is printed below, and you can also listen to it by clicking on the YouTube link. Keep in mind that I am self taught in all things technical.
https://youtu.be/Jf9z1xL6hgs

MIDSUMMER MEDITATION

Close your eyes, adjust to your comfort, and breathe deeply. 

Find yourself in an open field of the softest green grass on the edge of twilight.  The air is warm, and filled with the scent of sweet grass, and fireflies hover and dance.  It’s as if the stars that will later shine in the night sky, are temporarily twinkling upon the earth.  A gentle breeze caresses your skin and plays with your hair.  In the distance, you can see a stand of old trees, and you feel called to seek their shelter.  

As you leisurely stroll through field and green, take notice of what you see here.  Someone may appear to join you on your stroll… maybe a spirit animal, or guide.  Each step brings you closer to the wooded edge of the field.  As you come into close proximity, an opening or archway created by the bend and limbs of trees informs you of the entrance, and dancing in the middle of that arch is a glowing light. 

You assume it is a firefly, though its glow has a slightly different hue. It beckons you to follow, and you comply.  You step into the woods, and find the light here to be dim, but plenty for navigating safely.  The tiny ball of light is ahead of you, dancing and bobbing, guiding you forward.  There is nothing to fear here, as you feel guided and protected on this mysterious journey.

Now, you begin to see a brighter glow ahead.  The light is drawing you to a giant, ancient tree in the center of the wood.  It is illuminated from within, as if there are windows along every level of its height, emanating a blue-white luminescence.  You are led to the base of this magickal tree, and onto the staircase that spirals upward around its trunk. 

Following the orb, with grace and ease, you move up one flight of stairs, turning clockwise around the trunk… you move up a second flight of stairs, around the luscious curve of sparkly bark… you move up a third flight of stairs, catching hints of lavender and jasmine on your breath… you move up a fourth flight of stairs, feeling a sense of longing in your solar plexus… you move up a fifth flight of stairs. 

Though there is still more tree above and steps to climb, this is where the guiding light has stopped.  From here, you have an incredible vantage for viewing the mystical wood that surrounds, and you can see all sorts of woodland creatures.  On the ground there are deer and 7-tined stags, rabbits and hedgehogs.  In the branches of the surrounding trees there are raccoons, birds of many colors and songs, and squirrels. 

As you turn back to face your glowing guide, you gasp in wonder to see that the tiny ball of light has transformed into a stunningly beautiful woman with wings.  Take a moment to gather her features, for the Queen of the Faeries looks different to each of us.  Breathe in the radiance of her skin, the shimmering colors of her dress, the shape and sheen of her wings, and the warmth of love on her face… as she gazes adoringly into your eyes.

She brought you here to offer you words you’ve been longing to hear, a message of comfort, reassurance, healing, and hope.  Listen for the words she is gifting you, as she leans in to whisper, like a lullaby, into your ears and open mind.  (long pause)

Message received, you look up into her eyes, and find that her words were so loving, so sincere, that a single tear is sliding down her cheek.  It sparkles with the same luminescence that surrounds, and she plucks it from her cheek… the crystalline gem the size of a seed. 

Reaching out to you, she takes this faery seed, now glowing green, and plants it inside your heart chakra.  The glow radiates from your chest, and slowly turns from a deep shade of emerald green to a lighter shade, and then… into a pale pink, the color of rose quartz.  The glow of this gift, now deeply planted inside your being, expands to light and warm your entire body.  You are filled and overflowing with a sense of love that you once knew, but had forgotten.  This is divine love, complete love, unconditional love… and it is ALL yours.  It is ALL YOU! 

You ARE divine love.  You were never separate from it, the mundane world just got in the way and disconnected it from your knowing.  But now it is back, and no one can take it from you.  You did this work, you followed your intuition and your guides, you climbed the steps with focus and determination, and you stood with reverence and awe as your own light was reflected back at you. 

Yes, that’s right… the light you followed was your own north star.  The image that looked back at you was the embodiment of your own heart.  The wisdom you received was from your own higher self.  You were never alone, and you have never… not for one moment… been unworthy of love.  YOU. ARE. LOVE! 

Knowing that your purpose here in this magickal place has been fulfilled, you hug your heart… your own true faery queen, and turn to descend.  Though the sky above is now only lit by stars, you have no need for a guiding light, for you are illuminated by the pink glow of your own self-love. 

It is so radiant and infectious that the woodland creatures that witness your journey downward watch with fascination and awe.  Slowly you make your way down the fifth flight of stairs… counter-clockwise you spiral – down the fourth flight of stairs… extending your own light as a glowing egg of protection – down the third flight of stairs… remembering the message you received – down the second flight of stairs… knowing that this sacred light you carry will heal and lighten the hearts of those you love – you descend the first flight of stairs to forest floor. 

Feeling joyful and lighter than ever, you practically float out of the ancient wood… glancing back at the iridescent faery tree, you carry forth gratitude – knowing that anytime your light feels dim, you can return to this sacred place to be refilled.  Feeling clarity like never before, you step into the open field and bathe in milky white light of the moon and one last time, breathe in the sparkly white light of the stars.  Every cell of your body is filled with this sparkly white light, and you feel amazing… as you… open your eyes.

Thank you for walking this path with me.
I am grateful for your warmth and light.

Weaving Dreams of Summer

In the northern hemisphere, on May 1 (and throughout the month of May), we celebrate the fertility of Mother Earth. With gratitude, we dance… for the flowers that bloom, for the wheat that stretches toward the sky that later becomes our bread, for all that sustains us and heals us.

In this merry month of May, which begins with the Celtic holy day known as Beltaine, may your life be woven with that which comforts you, heals you, sustains you, brings you peace, and prosperity. May love and light ever bloom within your personal world and the vibrant, beautiful world that surrounds you.  We are rapidly nearing summer, and the earth is alive and bursting with glory.  Can you feel it?

Beltaine was the holy day that later became what many of us know as May Day, when the May Queen was crowned and flowers were gathered and delivered in reverence by the children of the village.  And of course, there was that sacred dance.  I remember dancing the May Pole in kindergarten, donned in a lovely hat made from a paper plate and decorated with flowers and ribbon. 

In case you are not familiar with the symbolism of the May Pole… a wooden pole is carefully erected in a freshly dug hole in the earth, ribbons are tied to the top, with a wreath of flowers placed carefully atop the colorful strands.  Dancers are staged in a circle, half facing clockwise, and half facing counter-clockwise, each with a ribbon in hand.  As they move in their given directions, they weave their ribbons over and under each dancer that passes, weaving their desires into a colorful braid that wraps tightly around the pole.  As the dance progresses, and the braid moves down the shaft, the wreath slides downward, gently penetrated by the woven pole.  If you haven’t guessed it… it is a symbol of the sacred marriage of the divine feminine and masculine. (A rude awakening to learn such detail related to a childhood memory. Ha!) Dancing the Maypole is a group effort to energetically ask for abundance and fertility for the earth that sustains us, in the lives of those who dance, and the communities they represent. 

I wrote this meditation while visiting a friend in Amelia Island, located in northeast Florida.  He has a beautiful home on Fernandina Beach.  I took an early morning walk to greet the sun, and was filled with delightful memories of a few summers prior when my Tribe gathered there for reunion.  Sisters flew in from Virginia, North Carolina, and Colorado.  It’s difficult to express that feeling when we gather… 16 years or more have passed since some have moved away, and yet togetherness brings tears, joy, laughter, and a sense of relief that can only be found with people who know your soul.  Ah… there you are! 

In this sacred space by the Sea, we got caught up on each other’s lives, cried together, cooked and dined together, gathered seashells, and when night fell, we danced at the edge of the ocean, and played with bioluminescence in the waves.  Some of us rose at 3am to sit on the beach to behold the host of shooting stars that moved across the sky with the Perseids Meteor Shower.  It was pure magick! 

The following words flowed from sweetest memories of deep devotion. From the Greek Pantheon, Aphrodite embodies the sensual dance of love, and Dionysus delivers wine-soaked reverie to match Her passion.  More than anything I’ve written… this meditation is dedicated to my beloved Tribe.

Beltaine Meditation ~ Honoring Our Beloved Community

With your eyes closed, make yourself comfortable.  Breathe deeply, expanding your belly with the color of the ocean.  Exhale the blues and greens, feeling tension washed away.  Inhale the color of sunrise and let it fill your being.  Breathe out yellow and orange as your shoulders release all tension.  Breathe in the color of twilight and let it expand your mind.  Exhale deepest purple as you open to receive all the universe has to offer. 

Imagine the feel of sand beneath your feet, and gentle waves licking your toes.  The night is warm, and the breeze that skims the surface of the ocean dances across your skin, leaving you with a sense of being gently caressed.  The cool, salty water, which reminds us of our very beginnings on the earth – mother’s womb, rises up from the waves, in celebratory effort for the sheer possibility of landing on your lips to be licked away by your tongue.  The ocean ebbs and flows, thrusts and retreats, yearning and longing for you to step gently into her waters, so that she may envelope your tender toes in a sensuous tango of step and sink, step and sink… urging you toward temperance and release.

On the horizon, you can see that light is dawning, as the sun is rising slowly, where water meets the sky.  As you stand with your feet in the water, you can see the light in the distance glowing orange, and illuminating the surface of the ocean.  You ask Aphrodite to fill you with Her light, and she eagerly replies by sending the light on the undulating surface, across vast water and wave, washing onto the shore and over your toes… effectively delivering a glow of healing light to wash over you.

You close your eyes, as if to find focus on your endeavor, and you see the images of your hopes and dreams materialize within your mind’s eye.  As you consider the steps required to bring these dreams to fruition, you feel a gentle touch upon your shoulder, and another upon your arm, then another reaches for your hand… and you realize that you are surrounded by a loving, supportive community… each adding all of their energy, good wishes, positive thoughts, and affirming guidance to the healthy gestation of your desires to be realized and brought to birth.

Stand here, for a moment, and listen to the sound of the ocean’s song.  Release….  Receive….  Release…  Receive…  Consider what you’ve been working to manifest in your life, and listen to those who have arrived to take your hands, support your steps, and urge you forward on your journey.  What messages do they have to share?  Release…  Receive… Release…  Receive…  Feel the coming of a deep, genuine knowing.  For what we seek, we need only to affirm it – as if it is already reality.  When a woman is pregnant with a child, she is not focused on doubt or fear, she is focused on the beauty that awaits.  This is how we create our reality, focusing on beauty that awaits… with a deep knowing that it is already here, just on the verge of being born into our lives.  Release…  Receive… Release… Receive…  Gasp…  Sigh…

Aphrodite and Dionysus are here, too, at the edge of the ocean, to offer their love and fertile abundance to bring life to your passion and desire.  All acts of love are the rituals of Aphrodite, and that includes self-love.  She gently caresses the soft skin of your cheek and smiles warmly, gazing into your eyes.  As she sets a circlett of roses at your crown, she offers you a message.  What does she say? 

As she turns away, Dionysus steps toward you with a passionate gaze.  You feel his body heat as he moves closer, and raises a bundle of red, bulging, sun-ripened grapes to your lips, and as you consume his offering the succulent fruit bursts in your mouth, spilling the juice of a generous and gracious god for your sustenance and great pleasure.  He leans forward, and as you close your eyes, he whispers into your ear.  What does he say?

As you open your eyes, you find our divine beings have vanished, leaving behind the sweet scent of wine and rose.  You know that the blessings they each offered have blessed your hopes and dreams with a seed of light and life.  And all that is left to do… is to offer gratitude for the divine energy that resides within you and around you, and for those in your life who support and celebrate your beauty and presence in their lives with unconditional love… and finally, to bring your desire to birth, celebrating your manifestation with joy and jubilation.  LOOK WHAT I’VE DONE!  I love it with all of my heart, and shall cherish it, as I nourish and care for myself.

Feel that smile radiating upon your face, and the glow that fills your body…  and when you are ready…  return to this sacred circle, and open your eyes.

Thanks for walking this path with me.

Decade in Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Solstice & The Becoming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAPPY SOLSTICE!

Centering Our Souls at Samhain

Part Four of a Manifestation Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessing for a New Beginning by John O’Donohue

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

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

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

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

Persephone’s Passage

A Journey Into the Underworld

Part Three of a Manifestation Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Misty mountain morning…

Relinquishing Regret at 80

Part Two of a Manifestation Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First… you’ll need a Tribe.

INVOKING THE ELEMENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STATING THE PURPOSE

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

THE KEY TO SURRENDER

Our Crone enters sacred space with dedication to the five truths

QUESTIONER STATES:
These five truths cannot be denied:

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

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

OWNING IT

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

She then Drops pages into flames.

She lies down with coat closed.

Someone sings or speaks:

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

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

THE HEALING

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

Someone reads:

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

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

Chanting: By stone and flood we banish all bad blood  

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

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

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

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

SAYING FAREWELL WHEN THE WORK IS DONE

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are enormously blessed!

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

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

Final Harvest

PART ONE OF A MANIFESTATION STORY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cold night, warm hearts

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

Growing Into Authenticity Part Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing Into Authenticity Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waves of Sorrow and Bliss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adapted from the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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