Sacred Gardeners, is how I refer to the beautiful souls joining me this year for a journey of intention. As I embrace the role of priestess in service and devotion to the divine beings who are my parents, I also require a creative and spiritual outlet which fills me up. These beloved beings have generously signed on to explore the Celtic calendar and cycle of seasons as it manifests within themselves.
We are a part of nature, and so we, too, are in a state of constant change. We are connected to the earth and effected by the sun. Just as the planet goes through a transformation from winter to spring, and summer to fall as the earth orbits the sun (though less pronounced in places like Florida), we are subject to the coming of sorrows that cause us to go within (like a bear to her den) and to the great joy of new beginnings (like the emergence of the first daffodils when all else is grey and covered in snow – also not in Florida).
By the end of December, I will have created a full curriculum for this journey around the sun, as I am allowing it to develop intuitively, one high holy day at a time. If we are living in the now, how can we be caught up in what the future may hold? Nature cannot be rushed, so why should we? We plant our seeds, offer them water and sunlight, and stand witness to their unfolding.
The spring equinox inspired finding balance. We worked with techniques to feel more grounded, and creating and connecting with the joy and treasure in our lives to bring equilibrium to responsibility.
As I looked ahead to Beltaine, which is the cross-quarter holiday that falls between the spring equinox and summer solstice, I considered the state of nature in the northern hemisphere and the mythology that was written to offer symbolism for understanding. This time of year is all about sensuality and fertility. We are witness to the Sun’s love warming the earth below as flowers rise and open to His touch. I could have developed a workshop around our relationship with others, but I felt more strongly served by diving into the necessity of loving ourselves.
My gardeners were given an assignment of mindfulness. Pay attention to the words you use with your own reflection. What does your internal dialogue sound like? Would you say these things to someone you love? If not, why would you ever say them to yourself?
For our creative project, we would take a canvas and write down all of the negative things we spoke to ourselves (my hope being that my gardeners would have nothing to write), and then we would do acrylic pour and stir our positive thoughts into the paint before releasing it to cover and transmute what once was there.
We discussed Dr. Emoto’s water study, and how it has been proven that our thoughts effect water, and since our bodies are mostly water, how our thoughts effect our mental and physical health. (What are our words manifesting?)
And since we were clearly dedicating this sensual holy day to the element of water, our physical activity was a lesson in veil belly dance. Our silk veils, shipped all the way from Virginia by my Tribe Sister, flowed like water on wind, as we shimmied and twirled – connecting with our own sensuality.
Inspired by “The Shakti and The Shiva at the Center of the Human Heart” from The Storyteller’s Goddess, reminded of the love that resides within, we wrote love letters to ourselves, as if we were writing to our most beloved being. I collected the sealed and addressed envelopes to be mailed in the future, and received with surprise.
What I love the most about these gatherings is the deep, authentic, sharing of our individual truths. I always go first, because I believe that one should be willing to be vulnerable before expecting others to do the same. I believe, and have been witness to, the way that burdens are lifted when a story is shared, honored, and validated. Especially when a dozen people speak their truth and you hear your own truth in the words of many. It is enormously liberating to know that we are not alone.
There is more to the story, but what happens in sacred space stays in sacred space. I can share that though I have been practicing a mindful reprogramming of harmful thoughts and words toward myself for several years, I did find through this process that there is far more compassion in the tone that I carry. I’ve gained a bit of weight in the last two years (body shame being a core wound I’ve carried since childhood), and now when shame rises it is met with loving kindness, rather than harsh self-hatred. I feel this is huge progress which requires constant vigilance. I also feel that I am worth it. Life is short, and I have wasted far too much time in self-loathing. Joyfully, I move forward holding my inner child, rather than shunning her.
What loving words do you have for your most sacred being? Consider writing a love letter to yourself. “My favorite thing about you is… I love the way you… Thank you for… I love you most!”
I love these Sacred Gardeners, I love that you took the time to read my words and story, and I love myself for taking the time to connect with the great lover that resides within. Thank you for walking this path with me.
What a blessing to have good friends with similar passions and interests. Recently, my lifelong friend (read: my favorite tomboy) and I drove north for our annual Artcation adventure. The destination – Savannah, Georgia.
We started this tradition about five years ago (we both struggle with the memory thing – so, that’s just a guesstimate). When we have more time to escape, Savannah is just a stop on our journey, but with my father’s various appointments during the week, a weekend trip felt more feasible. So, this time our focus was singular.
We love this whimsical walking city that is filled with history. We appreciate the architecture, the series of squares that offer parks and monuments surrounded by luscious canopies of oak trees throughout the thoughtful grid of cobblestone streets. But what we love the most… is the art. More so, we love the artists. Unlike many of the extreme-art cities we visit, Savannah has a good number of local artists who are working in the community, either in their own studio galleries or in a co-op setting.
Each year upon arrival, we check into our hotel and park the car. We then walk directly to one of three destinations to see what’s new by the artists we adore, and to see if a new (to us) artist can be found.
Our most joyful visits to Savannah are those that allow us the opportunity to spend a little time getting to know the artists that we have come to value. This year, we were blessed to have some time with three! Just one more favorite would have been like hitting the jackpot, but alas… our timing was off.
Our hotel this year was ideally located (for us), and it was just a two minute walk to get to City Market. This is a part of the historic downtown area that is always hopping. There is live music in the square, several restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating, shops and boutiques, and of course… oodles of art galleries.
As always, we asked our hotel manager for a lunch recommendation. We like to try something new (to us) in the culinary department each visit, as well. So, this time, we enjoyed our lunch at Belford’s Seafood and reveled in the glorious art of people-watching from the patio.
People come from all over to enjoy the culture of this historic downtown. We were witness to at least three bachelorette parties, and dozens of children dancing with ice cream, while their parents snacked on fresh made pralines. Oh! The pralines… sigh.
After lunch, we made our way upstairs to one of the artist centers. We were delighted to find Sabree in her gallery, which was in a different spot from our last visit. We were most drawn to a few large paintings and were introduced to the Gullah representations of Yemaya and Oshun. We adore the style and vibrant color of Gullah art, and even more lovely was the inspiration for each piece as channeled through this beautiful artist. I think she was a little shocked to learn that I was not only familiar with the Orishas, but had recorded a song dedicated to them, back in the nineties with a pagan choir. I had the song saved on my phone and was able to share it with her. It was one of those moments of sharing that felt as if it were made of pure magick.
Next, we made our way over to see what Brian MacGregor was up to. In the past we’ve stopped by to find him working on something grand and powerful, and this time we were thrilled to discover a plethora of new creations and offerings. He has been rather busy over the past year.
I especially enjoy Brian’s art for the intention and symbolism behind each piece. He keeps a journal hanging outside of his gallery / studio and invites visitors to write down their dreams upon the pages within. Not the dreams that one considers hopes for the future, but the nocturnal kind. Inspired by Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious, Brian takes ‘our’ dreams and places them upon canvas to become one with the dreams of others and his own. These dreams are written in the handwriting of hundreds and in at least a dozen different languages. He then mingles these sacred notes with images from nature or from imagination, infused with celtic knotwork and oil paint. Each piece is unique and stunning in passion and purpose.
We spent some time learning about his current focus and endeavors, and when I told him which new piece was calling to me, he shared the story of its becoming. The piece is called The Four Seasons, and it spoke to me for obvious reasons. I shared that I am creating a year-long series of workshops that focus on the changing seasons and how our lives mirror the cycle of nature. Originally four separate works of art, he has mingled them into one for a print on canvas. My art budget took a huge cut when I retired, but when I was offered the powerful symbolism, my friend and I knew it would be coming home with us.
In this piece, there are four women and four seasons. In the Spring, a woman with short golden hair and arms raised overhead to cup the returning sun, wears a yellow sundress and is framed by a circle of spring flowers which sits at the top of the frame. In the Summer, a woman with shoulder length red hair holds her arms up and open with flames in her palms with the sun at its peak, her dress is strapless and slightly lower in the frame sits a circle of green leaves. In Autumn, a woman with longer brown hair stands with her arms down and away from her body, she wears a dress with short sleeves, while the sun above her is growing further away, the circle of falling, colorful leaves is further down in the frame. In the Winter, a woman with long, curly, dark hair stands in a long-sleeved dress with her arms down at her sides and touching her hip and thigh, while the sun is barely seen above and the circle of bare branches sits at the bottom of the frame. There is so much mindful symbolism within these images, which includes the different phases of the moon drawn at the top of the dream pages that Brian has chosen for each season.
I shared with him my current incarnation, learning to live more simply so that retirement allows my presence for my parents. A few years ago, I wouldn’t think twice about purchasing any piece of artwork to which I was drawn, along with a few others as gifts. But my budget just isn’t what it once was, and my freedoms are different. I have the freedom of time and availability, but less-so the freedom of financial whimsy and generosity. My friend and I left the gallery that afternoon with a plan to figure out how this artwork would find its way home with us.
We next made our way down to the River Walk, and to our other favorite gallery in town… 209. We have a favorite artist there, whose work we seek at each visit. We love to see what new creatures have come to live in her section of the cooperative space. We fell in love with her style and whimsy on our first visit to Savannah, when we learned she was creating a book of children’s stories. Olivia Beaumont is a fine artist who dresses woodland creatures in renaissance themes, creating characters that stir the art lover’s imagination.
The book was available on our last visit, and to our great joy… the artist herself was available on this visit. The local artists represented within this gallery also work for this gallery. Olivia is a ray of sunshine, and we spent a good hour talking with her and exploring her available offerings. Sadly, the piece that needs to come live with me was not available in print that day. I am certain that the Owl posed with a quiver of arrows on his back and his talon placed upon a wooden longbow will be waiting for me to fetch him on our next journey north. My friend added two new creatures to her collection.
Seriously… I don’t miss eating out frequently, or shopping for clothing I don’t need… but being art-limited is really, really hard! TRUE CONFESSION: My name is Melissa, and I am an art-a-holic.
The next morning, I was talking myself out of The Four Seasons, just because it didn’t seem prudent. My friend and I took off on foot to various events around town that Saturday. There was a Maker’s Festival on one side of town, and the SCAD (the local art college) sidewalk art festival in one of the park squares. College and high school students were given their own squares on the sidewalk to decorate, and the art was vibrant and creative. The college mascot is a BEE, so you can imagine how delighted I was by many of the original creations of chalk on concrete.
We made our way from one side of town to another by foot, as we walked over to the famous Pirate House restaurant. By then, we had walked way more than the recommended 10,000 steps, and I contemplated whether to drink the cold cider or pour it on my aching feet. As we made our way back down to the River Walk area to see a favorite jewelry vendor, I had pretty much convinced myself that I couldn’t afford to purchase that coveted piece of art. But then my phone alerted me to a text message, and Brian was just checking in to be sure he hadn’t missed us – having arrived later than intended. Always one to listen to signs from the Universe, I replied that we were on our way.
My friend and I worked out a plan for a responsible purchase, and as I gaze up at where The Four Seasons are perched in my sacred space, I have absolutely zero regrets. Art makes me so happy. I was not blessed with the ability to create art that is pleasing to my own eye, though I am grateful for my gift for words. I sit surrounded by the creations of many, for whom I am grateful. Each artist, known and not yet met, living and dead, brings a sense of emotion and whimsy to my sanctuary. Their energy flows from their work and envelopes my beloved home with the light of love and inspiration. I cannot fathom choosing a minimalist style with barren walls, void of color and passion. This is the air that I breathe!
Wouldn’t it be amazing if I could offer my words in exchange for art? My love is far more valuable than any currency, and words can bring abundance.
I sometimes wonder, when I am sitting in silence and contemplating my current situation, if I should be more actively seeking employment or income. The workshops I do bring in a little extra cash, but mostly it pays for the things I want to share with those who attend. I love the connectedness I find there, and that is the intention I manifest more than anything else.
When I walk out of my parents’ house, just seven doors west of my own, I know that my choice to be present and available for their comfort is far more important to me than the former income I left behind.
For now… I’m just going to plant the seed in the magickal soil of the universe that I “WILL WORK FOR ART”… in whatever form that may take. I no longer hold a specific vision of how anything in life should look. I am open to the probability of being WOWed by the manifestation of wonder beyond my ability to imagine.
Thank you for walking this path with me. If you are interested, I am placing links below to a few of our favorite artists whose work can be found in Savannah.
Thursday was our final session in our expressive arts journey with our friend who was completing her certification. Let me tell you that each of us entered free from expectation, and parted ways transformed.
As someone who grew up with some level of art-trauma and a real sense of being completely incapable of artistic creation, this realization is no small wonder. No, really. My elementary school art teacher intimidated me like you wouldn’t believe. Looking back, I don’t think he was actually mean to me, but he had a big voice, and I just felt inadequate. I think I judged myself compared to others, rather than feeling judged by him… but alas, that is a memory that rises when I consider my art-disability.
Through every step of this journey, we were faced with photographic evidence of our former selves. We were asked to consider that being and where she was, who she was, how she felt about herself and then move into some random art form, most of which were completely new to us. Actually, I’m not sure that we were even prompted to be that thoughtful about the image looking back at us. I suspect it was the way that our minds simply got out of the way when we moved into the flow of each art form. In many cases, the conversations we had with our former selves took place on a different level after the physical artwork was done.
I’ve written about EMDR (eye movement desensitization rhythm) being like magick, too. It uses an alternating buzz, tone, tap while considering a trauma to help rewire the connections in the mind, touching on the different hemispheres of the brain. It feels so simple, and impossible to have effected change, and yet… you suddenly realize that you no longer burst into tears over a memory or cry yourself to sleep with fear and sorrow.
Expressive Arts Therapy offers a similar kind of magick. (By the way, when I write magick with a ‘k’, it is to differentiate that which is an art of illusion from that which is a kind of miracle that presents itself for your notice.)
For our final session, we gathered to read the Living Eulogies we’d written for ourselves. We discussed whether or not they were difficult to write, and how we felt about the words that rose for our individual celebrations of life. Most were really uncomfortable with the process, as it felt so unfamiliar and inappropriate to speak so kindly of one’s self. You know… the way we are taught not to be proud, because we should be humble. Otherwise, we may be considered by others to be stuck-up or a snob.
What a travesty! To be forced to go through life dimming our own light. I spoke of how easy this process felt for me, which was an indicator of my own evolution. I lived with self-loathing for so much of my life, this process should have been a Herculean task. And yet… the reprogramming that I started in 2005, when a medium repeated a message I’d received once before seems to have finally taken hold. She was telling me that “all I had to do [to move forward with my spiritual growth] was to fall in love with myself, and it would all fall away”. “Well”, I said, “how does one love someone she loathes?”
What I shared in our sacred circle was how I worked to overcome that ridiculous need to keep myself small. I decided that I would consider whether or not I would say to a friend the things I spoke to myself in internal dialogue. If not, I would have to wonder how I could possible say something to myself, so unkind, mean, belittling? Shouldn’t I offer my own being the same kindness, respect, compassion and love that I would offer another? Of course. Yes. More than anyone… I deserve my own loving kindness.
So, possibly the process of writing my own living eulogy offered me that gift. Though I still struggle with my own inner-bully… that bitch is finally starting to lose her voice inside my head. Ha! I’m kidding. I would never call anyone names… even her. She is receiving the loving embrace that she deserves, and the result is healing her wounded heart, as well.
For our final art project, we were presented with three pieces of paper, a white crayon, a pencil, a set of watercolor paint, a candle, and a mirror. We were shown three ways to create our own self-portrait, and instructed to create, then write words to go with each art piece. Talk about intimidated! I could feel Mr. Veblin (my elementary art teacher) over my shoulder ready to judge. But you know what? He wasn’t mean at all. He was there to support me. He didn’t say a word, so not to frighten me with his booming voice. He simply held space for me. And guess what else! I didn’t hate the results. I mean… I am not growing into an artist of any skill… but I do believe I am growing into a woman of greater courage.
The words that I wrote at the bottom of each creation were: “Radiant with the Light of Hope”, “Grateful for the beautiful way she is seen by others”, and “Every curve and curl a delight to behold”.
We were then instructed to take a post-it note to add our thoughts to the art of others, including our own. These are the words my artwork received: “Melissa, Love is far more freeing than loathing. So glad you found your way.”, “I see happiness in each of these self portraits.”, “I see creative flow, divine light, and freedom.”, “I see happiness. You are shining so BRIGHT!”, “Beauty radiates from the depth of your soul, and it shows in your portraits.”, “So joyful and full of hope. Shine on!”, “You inspire. You inhabit light. You are a leader.”
Going back to our conversation about how hard it was to write and speak positive things about ourselves, I am reminded of when a good friend said to me many years ago, “Oh, Missy… I wish you could see yourself the way others see you.” At the time, I thought that would be a wonderful gift, indeed. For I could not see the light and beauty she claimed to witness in my company. But with the words that flowed from my pencil, and the words added by these remarkable women who joined me in this work, I could feel the fruition of my friend’s blessing. It makes me realize that the good wishes from others don’t go away, even when we think we don’t deserve them. They remain vigilant, standing firmly planted at the edge of those walls we built around ourselves, just waiting to squeeze in through a tiny crack in the mortar. We thought we were protecting ourselves from harm, but while we were busy blocking out the possibility of being hurt by others, we were hurting ourselves… for love also requires an entrance.
We finished our time together by dancing with our shadows upon the wall, and of course… a group photo. I wish we had taken a before-photo, as well. Without a doubt, the transformation of this group of courageous souls would be visible to the eye. I can see it, not only in our smiles, but in the energetic aura that surrounds us… as if in the process of becoming more fully ourselves, we have also become ONE with each other. What a gift!
Thank you so much for walking this path with me. It has been a glorious garden of discovery. If you ever have the opportunity to venture into the Expressive Arts, I hope you will love yourself enough to know that you are worth it. Courage is the act of moving forward, even when you are afraid. Take that step, dear ones. You won’t regret it. I promise!
I’ve returned to complete my homework assignment for tomorrow’s final Expressive Arts project… a living eulogy to the final (most recent) photo of the six selected. This picture is from last year… and it was taken by the extraordinary woman who has led this series. I can’t really say if this is a complete representation of a life well-lived, so far… for SHE is possibly more than I can yet comprehend. However, she does deserve my devotion, my reverence, and my words. May they do her justice.
Her parents almost named her Samantha, but it was MELISSA that stuck. She never imagined how she would grow into her name.
Melissa means honey bee in Greek. Thirty years would pass before she understood the significance of such a moniker. It would take even longer for her to own it.
In ancient Greece, those who were priestesses dedicated to nurturing the temples of the Goddess were called the Melissae. They tended the eternal flames, chanted the sacred words of healing and devotion, and they served their sisters with loyalty and reverence.
In her own way, our Melissa has been dedicated to service, as well. She reveled in service and sisterhood to her most beloved Tribe for twenty years. She worked in service to Maxine, Don, Dan and Daisy for what combined to equal a quarter century. Through them, she found purpose and partnership that delivered validation, until she learned to value herself. Retirement at forty-nine allowed her to be of service to her parents when it felt like the very best use of her time.
To Melissa, friendship has been such a gift and among her greatest treasure. She was blessed to meet her first true friend at the early age of five. She has important friendships from every decade of her life. Each are unique gems that she carries in her heart at all times, so that her love may never be far from those she adores and holds sacred.
Though Melissa chose not to have children, she has loved many as her own. She was even present for the birth of five. Certainly, she was present in spirit for all the rest… the legacy of her Tribe.
She once cared for a beloved 18 month old, when she was most in need. For one month, with a little help from friends, she made that sacred being her greatest priority. It was the most terrifying thing she ever did – being responsible for the well-being of a tiny human, and she considers it the most important.
Into her life, five beloved beings pounced and purred. The first one brought her liberation and independence. The second taught her how to love without condition – she was her familiar. The third was a big fluffy ball of light who taught her how to be a caregiver. The fourth showed her how it felt to be adored and how to survive traumatic loss. The fifth is showing her what pure, angelic goodness feels like. These are her children. No one else has shared her life so intimately.
First with her parents, then with friends, and even on her own, Melissa has enjoyed the pleasure of travel. She has a passion for walking with other cultures and touching ancient history. By the time she was twenty, she had been to every state on the US east coast, to California, Nevada, and Arizona, Mexico, England, France, Scotland, Turkey, and Finland. The latter trip, a second-place prize for a senior year writing contest. She holds certain parts of the world so dear that she has returned, more than once, to England, Scotland, and Wales. At the age of 39, she declared she would stop waiting for someone else to make her dreams come true, and she traveled to Ireland on her own. Living there or in Cornwall for a portion of the year is a dream she longs to manifest.
She has never been married, but has never lived without extraordinary love in her life. She has made poor choices, but has no regrets. She has learned and grown with gratitude, instead.
She has been a loyal and dedicated partner and secret keeper. She is a beloved and appreciated daughter and sister. She is a compassionate and caring friend. She is a Priestess of Artemis – a warrior woman whose weapons are words… they AIM to heal.
She is a woman who spent her life searching for someone to love her enough. Until one beautiful, miraculous, glorious day, the search was over… SHE FOUND HERSELF!
Week five of six of our Expressive Arts workshop arrived last night. I felt a little sad to realize how close we’ve come to the end of our shared story. As we went around the circle to express our feelings about the work, it was obvious to all that this process is transformative. The energetic shift and emotional healing we’ve witnessed in ourselves and others is nothing short of extraordinary.
Earlier that afternoon, I received a box from one of my Tribe Sisters in Virginia. It was filled with silk veils and belly dance music. I plan to use this art in my own workshop in May, to help us connect with the divine feminine in a form of movement that would be connected with the element of water, to symbolize sensuality and flow synonymous with the season of fertility and vibrant blossoms bursting forth.
Imagine my delight, when our beloved facilitator informed us that our first expression of the evening would be in the form of ecstatic dance! It was an even greater surprise to have recognized the music, a guided journey into the self, through dance. Many years have passed since my Tribe worked with the music of Gabrielle Roth. The sound transported me back in time, while also propelling me further into healing.
I wanted to be able to explain the process with greater clarity, since my memory is like swiss cheese, and I didn’t write down everything we learned last night. I was trying to be in the moment, after all. So, I found a few interviews with Gabrielle and made some notes to share with you. The five rhythms of dance that Gabrielle Roth developed is a healing process using percussive rhythm and dance to move through an initiation of sorts.
She explains that the first rhythm is one of FLOWING, and it is the unconsciousness or wallflower stage that helps us connect with Mother Earth, the divine female energy, and our own flow. The second rhythm is STACCATO, which is focused movement that moves us into the divine masculine energy. The third rhythm is CHAOS, where we find freedom from what we carry, which is the female and male energy unified. The fourth rhythm is LYRICAL, where we become lightened and fall into harmonious flow with the language of the soul. The fifth rhythm is STILLNESS, which is a sort of electrified stillness, where we become one with all that is, finding inner peace.
This entire process lasts about thirty minutes. We were in darkness, and only followed the guidance we received from Gabrielle’s voice, and the voice within. Our bodies moved through the process as directed. We began with resistance and unconscious awareness, through self-conscious movement, into freedom and liberation, into a dance with the divine lovers that we cannot see with the eyes, but sense with the heart, and into electrified stillness. Which is a perfect description of how one feels at this point. You are slowing movement, but your entire body is snapping and tingling with sensations that inform us we are not who we were when we started.
Before the dance, we were limited. Limited by our own beliefs and the restrictions we’ve had placed upon us by society – we are embarrassed and ashamed to be taking up space, let alone moving wildly in ecstatic dance. But when we come through the other side of this process… this gift… we have been liberated from the confines of our former tiny boxes. As Gabrielle Roth says… we have been given permission to be real.
When we came back to earth and the lights came on, we were instructed to write an “I AM” statement, based on how we were feeling at this moment – post 5Rhythms.
THE LANDSCAPE OF ME… (before the dance, these statements might have felt contrived or forced – a desire to be these things, rather than a knowing that I AM these things)
I am a well-grounded, radiant, glorious being of divine light, and I am open to receive the great wisdom and abundant blessings of the sacred Universe!
I am ALL me!
I am expanding beyond former limitations into my final becoming!
We worked with pastels to depict how we were feeling after the dance. One drawing each to depict mind, body, and spirit. For me, the spirit of the dance was ecstatic and colorful. I saw myself in the dance enveloped in flames like a phoenix rising, every energy center of my being expanding and taking flight. My body felt grounded and energetic, as if earth energy was rising and the elements were available at my reach. My mind and emotions felt as if they were flowing in a peaceful back and forth, in and out… collecting and gathering sensations of loving kindness.
We moved around the room to read and honor what others had written and drawn, and we offered up words of affirmation based on what we witnessed. The words I received were: Joyous Warmth, Shining Star, Radiance of Bright Light, and Beacon.
You know… I’ve been on this deep-dive journey for half of my life. The work that we’ve done, aside from much of the art forms with which we’ve experimented, has not been unfamiliar territory for me. I was able to easily reach in and pull out of my soul the old wounds and dark shadows, because I have been exploring these parts of myself for a really long time. What has been most exciting to me, has been to hold space for others and witnessing their courage to reach, to find, to honor, and to release these things for themselves. In some cases, for the very first time.
When I am introduced to new forms of healing, such as Expressive Arts, I always ask the question: “How might my life be different today, had I found this resource when I was younger?”
I guess the answer to that question is obvious. We come to the form of healing that helps us to heal, grow, and move forward… when we are ready for it. Healing comes at exactly the right time.
There are many things that have developed for me in the last couple of years that might have been less impactful, had I not yet learned to embrace myself as a writer. Though my gift for words has always been present, I have not always had the confidence to own it. I guess I should add that to my I AM statement list…
I am a writer!
We left our meeting space feeling a little overwhelmed, I think. I am certain that we are all grateful and a little sad, as we face only one more homework assignment. In the week ahead, we are to write to the image of our final photo… the most recent version of ourselves… a Living Eulogy. I think of it as what I would say about myself if I were to throw myself a living wake. My end of life doula studies required that I consider how I want my end of life to proceed, so I had already envisioned a living wake, should I have a diagnosis – rather than an unexpected departure. However, I had not considered writing something for myself. I have written something for those I leave behind, actually. So… this feels like something that can be added to the book I started writing last year, on that topic.
I’m going to save that for another day between now and our final gathering, next week. I sure hope I can do her justice. She deserves to be seen by her own heart and soul, the way that others see her. May it be so.
Thank you for walking this path with me. It has been quite an unexpected journey.
Week four of our Expressive Arts program was centered on the beliefs upon which we are each built. These foundations are created by life experiences, messages from others, and how we (or our subconscious mind) choose to interpret and integrate them (or not). They are not necessarily the truth… but they do become ‘our truth’, at least for some time.
The photo that I am working with this week is one from the early days of my spiritual journey. I was twenty-three years old. Life was finally getting good.
Our work began with creating a timeline of life events that felt life altering. This was easier than it sounds for me, since my Tribe had dedicated some time several years ago to a workbook on numerology based on the tarot (Tarot for Your Self by Mary K Greer). Starting with the year you are born, you map out the numerology of that year (based on your birth date) and determine which major arcana tarot card represented the lessons of that year. As you review each year going forward in time, you can see how certain years may bring a particular kind of energy. The patterns are fascinating!
So, I already had an idea of my big event timeline, and it goes something like this:
When I was three, my mother warned me not to swing on the pool ladder railing. I lost my two front teeth when I fell.
When I was five, I met the little tomboy around the block. 45 years of continued friendship, shared trauma and growth are significant.
When I was nine, the little tomboy’s dad accused me of lying to him, and forbid his daughter to play with me. A trauma with lasting effect.
When I was thirteen, my brother broke his back in a car accident. He was only 20. We were all very lucky it was not worse.
When I was fourteen, my school was rezoned, and I was transferred to a school I feared for its reputation. It was a good place to grow.
When I was fifteen, I met my first and only teenage boyfriend. We were together six months. Unaware of lies he told his parents (boys lie), in their eyes – I was to blame. They withdrew him from school to get him away from me. When he returned, his friends began taunting and bullying me. This lasted throughout high school. I felt unsafe and dreaded going to school.
Throughout puberty, as my weight fluctuated, I was warned that ‘no man wants to marry a fat woman’. I believed I was fat when I was a size 10.
When I was twenty, I met my second boyfriend. We were together one year. In month eight, he came home with hickeys on his neck. (boys lie)
When I was twenty-three, I attended a conference on women’s spirituality, I took a six month class on the same, and I joined the young adult group at the Unitarian Church. I had finally found my people… and a sense of belonging.
When I was twenty-five, convinced no man could love me or be trusted, I fell in love with a woman. She remains a trusted friend to this day.
When I was thirty-two, and again when I was forty-eight, long-time jobs became so uncomfortable that I had to leave. Each time, life improved.
When I was thirty-seven and again when I was forty-seven, I tried dating again. Each man pretended to be something he was not. The stories they told did not match the facts. (boys lie)
When I was forty-nine, I thought I would have to get a job doing what I no longer loved. Instead, I learned I could retire and help my parents through difficult times.
From these life experiences, we were asked to determine the beliefs that we have carried. To be clear, I have been aware of some of these false beliefs, and was already committed to their reprogramming. But in truth, these are the pillars of my early foundation. Some have been tremendously limiting, but they have also contributed to who I am today.
BELIEFS I AM BUILT ON – Strong and Tattered Threads
I am fiercely independent. Mother’s advice is intended to keep me safe.
I am a good friend. I attract good friends.
I cannot trust my own memory. I doubt myself.
Life is uncertain – tell them you love them.
I may not belong everywhere, but I do belong somewhere.
I cannot trust men. I cannot trust myself to choose well.
In a circle of women, I feel safe, seen, heard, and healed.
The Universe helps us move forward when fear keeps us immobile.
Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.
The shape of my body makes me unworthy of love. I am unlovable.
Life gets better if you keep moving forward.
Being of service and feeling needed makes me feel worthy of love.
When we finished our event timeline, we listed these beliefs, and since this is an expressive arts course… we sat down to create. Onto watercolor paper, we painted one pre-cut strip for each event, and on the opposite side, we wrote the belief. Each strip was then lifted over and under another strip, until the original page was once again whole… and yet, forever changed. Perhaps we are the same. We feel as if traumas and hardships take away parts of ourselves, but in reality… the fabric of our being is just made more interesting by the changes in color and texture.
I do wonder how my life might have been different, had I taken any of those life experiences and decided differently on what belief to carry. What if when my friend’s father had accused me of lying to him, instead of wondering if he was right, and searching my mind for what I must have done wrong (after all he was the grown up, and I the child)… I had the courage to stand up to him and insist that I had not lied, and asked my mother to come inside to support my truth? What if I carried forward the belief that I can trust myself, that I am honest, a good friend, and worthy of being loved? I wonder if my memory issues would have been so prolific, or just age induced like everyone else. (Ha!)
I don’t even know how to re-frame the belief on men. I certainly don’t believe that all men lie. I am blessed with a number of remarkable friends of the masculine gender. I have just been unfortunate enough to have had the few men in my romantic life back-up that belief again and again. (Imago therapy would say that my subconscious mind was attracted to them for the purpose of healing a childhood wound.) The gift in that has been that I also carry a belief that I do not need a man in my life to feel happy and whole.
Perhaps I can simply move forward with a new belief…
I trust the men in my life, and attract friends and lovers of great integrity who are honest, authentic, trustworthy, responsible, caring, and kind.
From my current perspective… when I look at this photo, of the young woman I was who is seeking her own truth and just beginning to make her way in the world, this is what I see:
She is a good friend, worthy of the love she has and so much more. She is a gift to the community that claimed her. She reflects the light of those she meets, showing them their own greatness. She knows that the darkness through which she walks is an important part of her becoming. She is perfect exactly as she is. She is courageous, beautiful, and wise. She is a light in this world! She is the glue that binds us all. She is LOVE incarnate. She is lovable. She is loved.
My goodness… these six weeks are stripping us bare. We are revealing to ourselves every fiber of sorrow and regret, joy and wonder. We are blessed beyond belief to have the courage to go deep and face the shadows. We are lifting the veil of our former limitations, and revealing the clarity and truth of our divine and glorious selves.
Thank you for walking this path with me. Together, we have nothing to fear.
Tonight is week four of the six week Expressive Arts workshop I’m attending for my friend’s internship and certification. We were not given a writing prompt for last week’s picture, and there was no homework.
And yet… I find myself reluctant to leave this girl… the one in the third photo. Her image was taken at the junior prom in high school. She is alone in the picture, though she did have a date. That’s a part of the holding.
Two friends who had not been asked by someone exciting had decided to go together. That’s not an insult to her date, to say that he wasn’t exciting… for she was not exciting to him, either. You see… she would have loved being there with someone who wanted to be there with her – another boy. While he would have loved being there with someone who wanted to be there with him – also another boy.
I think about how far we’ve come, and wish that he could go back and have that special prom date. The one who made him want to dance into the night. I wish that for her, too.
When I look back on 17, I see mostly darkness. Which is why when my friend prepared for last week’s event by asking us for the photo we would use and a color that represents how the photo made us feel, the color I chose was… BLACK.
We arrived to our sacred space that night to find the work tables set with enlarged photos of our then-faces and styrofoam heads painted in various colors. Not to give away what happened in circle, but mine was not the only one in black. This was my first clue that these years were difficult for many.
We were instructed to walk around the room and collect random decorative supplies with which we would adorn our heads. And then, the music began, and we moved through the room and followed our inner guidance for the act of adornment.
This girl was seventeen. It was the year after her first and only high school relationship came to a melodramatic end. It was the mid-point of three years of torture and taunting by said ex-boyfriend’s friends. To be clear, their words were unkind, and she felt unsafe.
This was the year that a friend had lied to and betrayed this girl, and when she said she no longer trusted her and needed time apart, retaliation came in the form of her home being vandalized horribly by that friend, and others, which included a boy she had known nearly every day of her life. She knew nothing for some time, as her mother cleaned it all up without even telling her father. (It would be 23 years before that boy would find her to apologize and share his deep regret – he knew he had lost the best friend he had known. None of the others ever bothered.)
This girl wore a beautiful gown, hand-sewn by her mother, who wished for her every dream fulfilled… especially those she never found for herself. Her mother admitted to living vicariously, but boundaries were borderless back then, and every betrayal suffered by the daughter, also pained the mother. So much that the daughter learned not to share with the mother, to spare her the anger and bitterness that would follow. It was hard for the daughter to move forward, when the mother was still holding on to the past.
This girl was once told that ‘no man wants to marry a fat woman’, and since she believed she was fat… she knew there would be no fairy tale ending for her. This girl, with all of her sorrows, surrounded by bullies, chose not to go to college because school made her feel unsafe. It was where the mean people were, after all.
You’re probably wondering how that head-in-darkness turned out once decorated with random findings. Well, she is quite interesting. She makes me feel fascinated, sad and a little disturbed, all at once. She wears a mask (with one eye from the portrait revealed) and one eye covered with a star (she never stopped dreaming of something more). Her smile (also from the portrait) is literally pinned on. Letters around her neck spell out U N W O R T H Y. She has a circlet of flowers at her crown, which show how she wanted to feel or maybe how she actually felt… if you consider Ophelia’s end. She has butterflies for ears, because she allowed the unkind words of others to transform how she felt about herself. She has warm fuzzies to represent how she wanted to make others feel, while further down she wears stones, which she threw at her own reflection. She has patchwork and buttons to represent how she tried on different styles and personas, hoping to find one that would be accepted by others. She has the words LOVE ME in red glitter, because that is all she has ever wanted… for someone to find her worthy of such goodness.
I wrote a book last year that has not been published. It opens with a dedication to my grandniece. My book is about overcoming self-loathing. While I could not fathom how this beautiful girl before me (barely 15) could be struggling with her very will to live at such a young age, I was able to recall that life in high school was indeed difficult for me, as well. I looked at my own reflection and found only flaws.
The review of this girl’s world at 17 reminds me of just how dark that time felt, and it leads me to wonder how many others felt that way, when I was certain I was suffering alone. I guess I’ll never know. I mean, when I look at that photo, I’m pretty sure I am the only one who sees the darkness within. I guess we are pretty fucking magickal when we are teenagers. Thank the gods. This is where the warrior path begins… surviving high school.
So, tonight the story continues… the photo will be of a 20-something Melissa. I can’t wait to witness and honor her truth. This process may not be a path paved in pleasure, but it is certainly one I am grateful for taking. Thank you for walking this path with me. I’m so glad you are here.
Last week’s Expressive Arts evening was amazing. We gathered in a circle and selected the next photo from our personal history, and placed her in the center. With our younger selves before us, we were invited to give her a nickname. You know… if you were able to give your inner maiden a name, rather than a name given to her by others… what would it be?
I looked at the photo of little Missy, right around the age she would be preparing to go to kindergarten, and the name that rose to mind, inspired by her tanned skin and nearly white hair, bleached by the sun… was Desert Moon Flower. We introduced our younger selves to our sacred circle, and we danced to the glory of her existence.
We then spent some time with a technique called touch drawing. I consider myself to be well-gifted in the art of writing, but not so much in other mediums, but let me tell you… this form of art was seriously fun, and gradually… liberating. It involved oil paint rolled out on a slick surface, with tissue paper gently placed on top. Then, touching the paper, however you were moved, and pealing it up to reveal your creation. I made eleven. One of which you will find below.
Our homework for this week was to finish a story. All we were given was… “Once upon a time”. So, here it is…
Once upon a time, there was a young maiden whose skin was darkened and freckled, with hair bleached nearly white by the radiance of her heart, which shone like the sun. They called her Missy, but I knew her as Desert Moon Flower.
She loved deeply and trusted everyone. One of her strengths was to see the good in others, and that was the seed that grew into unconditional love.
She roamed the neighborhood on her yellow bicycle with training wheels (which made her feel just a little more courageous than she really was), while wearing a faded red bathing suit, in which she felt as confident as Wonder Woman, even without bracelets of submission. On her travels, she would befriend those she met. To each, she offered kindness, compassion, and friendship. To be sure, there were villains in this story, but she eventually figured out the truth… that those who could not accept her offerings simply lacked the blessing of a life experience that taught them that kindness could be genuine and worthy o f trust. They learned to bully their way through every meeting to avoid the humiliation of betrayal. They learned to hurt others in hopes of not being hurt themselves.
Unfortunately, the villains were many and persistent. But instead of teaching Desert Moon Flower that she should hurt others before they could hurt her… she learned to hurt herself, so they wouldn’t have to. She never stopped offering kindness, compassion, and friendship to others… but she did stop offering it to herself. The bullies were her best teachers. They taught her what it felt like to receive cold, prickly energy from others, and that she would refuse to allow others to receive it from her. So, she internalized it all. Better to hold it in than to let it out and wound another. It’s too bad the lesson was lost on her… if someone shows you how not to behave towards others… why on earth would you behave that way toward yourself?
As the years passed, Desert Moon Flower gradually dimmed her light, and her skin grew pale and her freckles faded… her hair darkened and dulled. She witnessed her body changing over time, and instead of being her friend, she became her bully. She put away the faded red bathing suit with bitterness and shame. She faced the mirror and chastised her body for all it was not – she had offered compassion to others, but kept none for herself.
She was a friend to many, no matter their social status, but she was never a friend to herself.
As she stood in the mirror and told herself she was fat and ugly, her body complied… for a while, only in her mind, but with persistence… her body manifested extra pounds as if to say, “Okay, I believe you!”
Over the years, Desert Moon Flower gathered friends into a sacred bouquet, nurtured by her attention and fresh water, but decades would pass before she would realize that she deserved the same care.
At age 50, Desert Moon Flower is still offering kindness, compassion, and friendship to others, but what has changed is that she now offers the same to her own reflection.
You may not see her riding through the neighborhood in a red bathing suit, but you may see her dancing with the wind as she attends nature’s nightly sermons. You can tell that her inner light has returned, as the hair at her temples has been bleached white and though her skin is still pale, it is in reflection of the moonlight in which she lovingly bathes, which caresses with adoration, every curve of her beautiful, beloved, sacred body. If you see her, trust that you will have a good friend in her, and don’t be afraid when her light grows to illuminate and reveal your own glorious truth. That you, too, are lovable, beautiful, and worthy. Desert Moon Flower is still out there, and she can’t wait to see you shine!
This is where the writing stops (for now), but it is definitely not the end. For Desert Moon Flower, as for all of us, every day brings rebirth, so…
Thank you for walking this path with me. This week’s session is dedicated to seventeen year old Missy. I can’t wait to see what healing awaits, can you?
A dear friend is completing her internship for the Expressive Arts program she’s been studying for the last year and a half, and I am grateful to have been invited to play a tiny role in her sacred journey of becoming.
Several of us have signed on for a six week program that will conclude with her course completion and certification. We were instructed to bring six photos from different stages of our lives, and an open heart. For some, just the process of exploring the archives and selecting this assortment of memories was an emotional journey. As we gathered last Thursday for our first session, finding chairs in a circle dressed with 9×12 sketch pads and writing utensils, with a box of tissues in the center… we knew we would be going deep.
What happens in circle stays in circle, of course, but I can tell you that when asked for a word to describe how I was feeling… my word was: EXCITED! Seriously, I love this shit. To me, life is not worth living on the surface. I want to dive deep into the poetry and meaning of every little thing and solve the complex mystery of my own truth.
I don’t want to give away everything that we did in our first session (because you are definitely going to want to attend your own workshop series with my friend – the certified expressive arts facilitator), but I thought I would share, as I so often do, parts of my own vulnerable deep dive.
This first week was dedicated to the photo of our youngest selves. My youngest photo was a tiny Melissa passed out in her crib, wearing a cloth diaper, sprawled out over Mrs. Beasley in repose. Bright red birthmark on her upper calf that caused people to gasp in horror (What happened?!) for many years to follow. As I glance at this photo now, I imagine reading her a bedtime story right before she smothers her patient and devoted dolly. So… this is what I wrote…
Dear Sweet Melissa ~ I wish I could hold you in my arms and make you feel loved enough, safe enough, cherished enough. I wish I could teach you that the happiness of others is not your debt to carry or your problem to fix. I wish you could be blessed with a vacation incarnation where joy and laughter come easily and shame and regret would only be found in works of fiction. I wish I could build you up with love and pride and never consider harming you with hurtful words and unrealistic expectations. I wish I could protect you from those who will betray and abandon you. I wish I could teach you to give your precious heart only to the deserving. If I could take you into my arms today, I would hold you and love you most of all – for no soul in all of creation deserves my full care and devotion more than you, sweet, beautiful, being of perfection. I would rock you and kiss your sacred crown with every blessing the Goddess of Abundance grants upon every vessel of Her creation. And you would know, without a doubt that you are a sacred child of the universe and a radiant, treasured gift to this world. I love you most of all, Me PS: You will be blessed to have such remarkable friends in your life. Be sure they know they are sacred to you.
To be clear, this child has a pretty extraordinary life ahead of her, but there will be moments that are challenging and heartbreaking, as well as those which are life altering and affirming. I think it would serve her well to understand that everyone has insecurities and lacks a sense of belonging at times. And even when she feels lost and alone, she will later reflect on the truth that she was always exactly where she was supposed to be, and she was always supported by an enormous amount of love from sources known and unseen.
I can’t wait to see what’s in store for elementary aged Melissa. I’m going to embrace the heck out of that beautiful little being of light.
Have you ever considered writing a love note to your younger selves? I wonder what you would have to say. Thank you for walking this path with me, dear ones. In case you missed the message… YOU ARE SACRED TO ME.