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…

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?!

First Harvest – Lammastide

On Saturday, I led my fifth workshop in a series of eight. I’m making them up as I go, but they are inspired by the cycle of the sun and ever changing seasons marked by the calendar of the ancient Celts.

The beginning of August marks the halfway point between the Summer Solstice (the longest day) and the Autumn Equinox (when day and night are equal). In farming cultures, this was when certain seeds (like wheat and corn) we planted at Imbolc (February) had grown to fruition and were ready for scythe and bundle.

It is from this tradition the song John Barleycorn was originally sung, which tells of a symbolic sacrificial king. We harvest most to sustain us through the coming winter, but some must be returned to the land to ensure next year’s harvest and survival.

Steve Winwood performs Traffic’s version of John Barleycorn Must Die

This reminds me of how we, as caregivers, simply cannot give every bit of ourselves to others. We must hold back something that remains ours alone. If we give it all away, whatever will we grow next year? How can we bake bread to nourish ourselves, if we have already offered every grain for the benefit of others?

Since I spent last year studying death and dying, this felt like the perfect timing to begin the discussion of death. My goal was not to dive into fear and sorrow, but to overcome it.

The one guarantee we are given at birth is that we will also die. And yet, many of us fear that eventuality to the point of denial. Loved ones pass with or without warning having never discussed the topic of inevitability. And those who remain are left in their greatest moments of shock and sorrow to guess what those they held sacred might have wanted to occur when their bodies were left behind and their light returned to the collective.

So, I shared with my Sacred Gardeners (my workshop attendees) the story of my friend Brian. His confession of a terminal diagnosis with metastatic prostate cancer last February inspired my year of study. I told them of how I asked him: “Brian, you’ve been given a deadline. What is your joy?” And how he went home to think about it, nearly died when a trial treatment started shutting down his organs, and then texted me his answer a week later. His husband is his joy!

Throughout the year, we talked about making arrangements that would free his husband from the many tasks that would overwhelm him upon the loss of his love. And in September, when the cancer spread into lymph nodes… we discussed how he could make living in his joy his main focus and priority. He had been working because he figured he needed the health insurance, but his prognosis promised care through hospice. So, he informed his job he would be going out on disability and has been living his days to the fullest, ever since.

Brian did everything he could do to ease his own transition and to prepare his husband for the easiest possible survival through grief. Now, there is nothing left for them to do, but to live more fully with joy and intention.

Since I like to offer a meditation or grounding technique at the start of each workshop, I chose to share with my Gardeners a meditation I wrote to be a part of my own farewell ritual to be performed when I am gone.

In the visualization, I ask those who are mourning my loss to offer me their burdens, that I might take them away with me – so that they no longer need to carry such heaviness. And when they opened their eyes (and some wiped away tears) I asked them to write those burdens down and drop them into a ‘box of surrender’ that I had previously crafted.

Each of us spoke these words: “I surrender this burden to the light of love. I know that all is well in this moment. I trust that all shall be revealed in divine timing. “

Those burdens will stay in the box until we burn them at the Winter Solstice, but I can imagine from the words of introduction shared by each as the workshop began, that we are all carrying heaviness in our hearts that no one can imagine at a glance.

Next, I handed out copies of the Florida approved form for Advance Directive, a handbook on making end of life decisions, and a sample of the ‘Five Wishes’ document, which offers suggestions which are helpful when one cannot imagine their own end of days.

We talked about what is important to consider, and about what we’ve experienced through the loss of those we have loved. We found comfort in knowing that when we carry an umbrella, it rarely rains. And so we understand that once we have done the work to prepare for our peaceful ending, we have nothing left to do but to be like Brian, and live more fully in our own joy.

After lunch, and after sharing the deep discussion of death and dying and preparedness, we moved into the creative / artistic portion of our gathering. Everyone decorated and dedicated their own boxes of surrender. Tosha Silver refers to this in her book Outrageous Openness, as a ‘God Box’. The idea being that we get nowhere by worrying over what might be coming, be it something we want or don’t want, and that having a tool for release can be liberating. Some would say: ‘Let go and let God’, but some of us are less comfortable with the term, and so we offer our fears, our hopes, our burdens, our concerns to the light of love.

I provided wooden boxes, already primed, with paint, glue, glitter, and various bits and gems so that each Gardener could put into this ‘intention’ their own creative energy. Let me tell you, they are works of pure beauty. When they open the lid to enter their handwritten worries, they are greeted by the words: “Surrender to Love”, and “Resolved for the Highest Good in Divine Timing”.

My hope is that my beloveds will acknowledge that which weighs heavy on their hearts, honor them, and then lay them down with the knowledge and belief that, all is well in this moment (which is all we really have), and to rest in the belief that everything will be okay (even when answers don’t arrive on our preferred timetable).

It was a long and wonderful day. I stopped in to check on my parents and Mom reported ‘another’ mass shooting being reported Saturday evening. And on Sunday morning, when I went over to set them up for the day, Mom said… Melissa, there was ANOTHER mass shooting. At first, I thought she might have forgotten she had already told me. But then it sunk in. Two mass shootings in one 24-hour period. Another harvest. Another sacrificial king. Another tragedy to build on so many others, for which nothing has been done beyond inciting more of the same. Heavy sigh…

My book group met Sunday afternoon. We discussed how thrilled we were that though we read another book about slavery, it turned out to surprise us with the uplifting courage of two sisters who lived in Charleston, SC in the 1800s. Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings WOWed us the way that her first novel, The Secret Life of Bees had done many years before.

My friend and co-worker invited me into her book group about 16 years ago to add diversity. So, as the only white girl in the circle, I had to bring up my curiosity for how my dear friends were feeling. My only burden is that of white privilege, and I feel overwhelmed by the blatant racism that is being spewed, celebrated, and even protected by the GOP. I can only imagine how my friends might be feeling, and so I inquired.

My friend who is black, but grew up in Barbados, it turns out, does not carry the weight of discrimination as one might expect, though she could tell a story of living in NYC and having a frequent caller stop calling after meeting her in person to discover the color of her skin. And my friend who is of Indian decent and grew up in England, remembers a child calling her family names as they exited a tour bus, but acknowledges that someone silenced the kid and they went on about their day. But we all cried as our friend, who is Latina and whose husband is black, told us of how she and her husband cried at the news of the latest massacre, and the manifesto that was revealed by the white nationalist terrorist before his shooting spree. We cried with her for the awareness that she and her beloved would be a target of such senseless violence. We cried for those who WERE the target of such hatred. We cried for all that feels lost to us in our beloved country.

After my book group selected the next book and put a date on the calendar, I hugged each a little tighter. Then at bed time, I wrote onto a piece of paper: Keep Them Safe, Stop the Violence, Deliver Peace, Comfort Fear. As I placed it into my own Box of Surrender, I said these words: “I surrender this burden to the light of love. I know that all is well in this moment. I trust that all shall be revealed in divine timing. Please let it be soon. “

If you’d like to read more about creating your own end of life plan and designating your own advance directive, you can find good information at this site:
https://www.nhpco.org/patients-and-caregivers/advance-care-planning/advance-directives/downloading-your-states-advance-directive/

Thank you for walking this path with me. Now, hand me your burdens and let them go. I will carry them away with me into the light of love.

Kindness Matters

I’ve been struggling lately. It’s an old wound that seems to heal, then fester. Body image. Self worth. Self loathing. Fear-based thought. Acceptance. Struggle. Being mindful makes it better… and worse. And being post-menopausal, well… Sigh…

In 2012, I took a drastic step in an effort to see if metabolic disorder could be overcome via surgical intervention. Nothing else had, up to that point. No one would have believed that I consumed fewer than 1200 calories a day and could weigh over 250 lbs.

The first time I did Weight Watchers at age 18, I weighed 154 lbs. In my mind, I was HUGE. I felt shame over thighs that touched and a belly that wasn’t flat.

With a diagnosis of poly cystic ovarian syndrome and metabolic disorder in my mid-twenties, and with each diet I tried, my body became a vessel of holding. Even after having 80% of my stomach removed in 2012 via vertical sleeve gastrectomy (no malabsorption as my intestines remain intact) my body never became thin. I cannot consume more than a cup of food in a sitting, and I can still manage to put on weight with grace and ease.

Obesity is a disease that effects the body, but breaks the heart. At every turn, you are reminded by society that you are not worthy. Sticks and stones won’t break my bones, but the judgment of others will be internalized and carried like cancer in the bones. All consuming.

After surgery, I did get to a lower weight than I’d been able to before, but two years into menopause, my body is resistant to letting go. Despite a greater sense of self-love and a decade of reprogramming and altering internal dialog to love language rather than fear language, weight that had stayed off for some time has begun to return.

I know that we manifest what we think about, and so in an effort to stave off old fears of never-ending expansion, I decided to find focus for overcoming.

Someone had recommended using Marianne Williamson’s A Course In Weight Loss for self-discovery a couple of years ago, and I already had it in my Kindle library, so I opened it up. Honestly, I have a resistance to the term ‘God’, thanks to the oppression of the patriarchy over the last 2,000 years (I tend to be against anything that uses violence to ‘encourage’ belief), and so I also felt a resistance to her work. But I decided to move forward, using a different noun. I appreciate a good workbook to encourage an emotional deep dive, after all.

In the first chapter, we are encouraged to identify with a list of emotions and write whatever comes up. Then, we ask the Universe (in my case, Great Spirit) to take each burden from us. As I wrote, I incorporated a technique from ThetaHealing. I believe that we gather wisdom from many sources, and may use whatever resonates to build a mindful practice.

There’s a really long list of items to address, and I addressed them all. I don’t feel that I felt anything I wrote consciously, but words (as they often do) rose easily through my fingertips and onto the page. Shame, Injustice, Anger, Protection, Fear, Pride, Unforgiveness, Selfishness, Judgment, Jealousy, Disdain, Greed, Excess responsibility, Laziness, Separation, Pressure, Dishonesty, Exhaustion, Arrogance, Burden, Inferiority, Stress, Embarrassment, Heartbreak, Self-abnegation.

She ultimately is suggesting that we let go of the ‘weight’ of these burdens… the emotional ‘weight’ we carry in our minds. I won’t ‘burden’ you with the whole story, but will share one piece as an example of the work. FEAR is such an obvious one, isn’t it? So many of us are limited by this emotion. This is what I wrote on that.

I am afraid that I will never be adequately loved. I am afraid I will never have true intimacy in my life. I am afraid I will never be someone’s priority. I am afraid my truth will never be seen. I am afraid I will never meet someone worthy of knowing my truth. I am afraid that if I open my heart to another, I will be betrayed. I am afraid I will never attract someone who is authentic and honest. I am afraid I am not worthy of such partnership. I am afraid I will never know what it is to feel completely safe with a man. I am afraid I will never cross paths with a man who has worked as hard as I have to be vulnerable and authentic. I am afraid that the truth is I am unattractive to men. I am afraid no one has been attracted to me because I am fat and ugly. I am afraid that no one will ever be attracted to me because I am fat and ugly. I am afraid that those who have claimed to be attracted to me just saw someone they could use. I am afraid I will be the cause of someone’s suffering. I am afraid that my actions or inaction will allow others to suffer. I am afraid I will never share mutual attraction and adoration with a man, and that I will never know the kind of love and support I have witnessed in couples I admire. I’m afraid that my body will never release excess weight and that it will keep rising without cause. I’m afraid of how my body will look if I do lose the excess weight. I’m afraid I will never love my body as it is… in any shape or form. I’m afraid no one else will love me as I am in any shape or form.

Great spirit, all that is, beloved angels: I surrender my fear to you. Please take it from me. Thank you. It is done.

The next step she refers to as ‘Reflection and Prayer’. For me, it is about connection and visualization. So, I took her suggestion, and grounded and centered, then walking through my mind into meditation… this is what came forward.

THE VISUALIZATION

I sent my energy into the earth and brought the core of light back into my being. I brightened and aligned my chakras and pulled the light from above into my being – expanding my golden light of protection.

I stood looking at the wall that I have built – broad and high. Great spirit in the form of a woman with flowing white hair stood beside me. She affirmed the strength and beauty of what I had built, but also how it kept others out. Together we assessed each cobbled brick and how it was no longer needed. Together we disassembled the wall. Behind me was a neglected and dying garden, and before me – beyond the confines of my former wall, was a vast, open field of lush, beautiful, decadence in green and pink – like wildflowers rising from softest long grass.

As I stood beside Great Spirit, I could see someone walking toward me, stepping over tall grass. He says that he has been looking for me all over, and is relieved that I have finally been revealed to him. He reaches for my hand, and I take his without fear or trepidation. Together, we forge a new path in our togetherness, he swings the scythe for clearing the way, as I lay down the bricks which once made up the wall that contained me, to pave the road ahead.

I smile back at Great Spirit, and she blows me a kiss. She is happy for me and my liberation.

The next phase is letter writing. She suggests that the ‘thin-you’ addresses the ‘not-thin-you’. The two sides of your identity that are either healthy and healed or traumatized and suffering. She uses a sample letter as an example that starts, “Dear Fat Ass,”… and my first discovery for this part of the work is that I am grateful that I long ago learned that kindness matters. Even with the shame I carry for the size of my frame, I could never in a million years address anyone, even my self, with such hateful words. This is what came up for me when I got over the hurt in my heart for the words one of MW’s clients would use to address themselves.

LETTERS TO AND FROM LARGER THAN LIFE ME

Dear Larger Than Life:

I see you. I see the pain and suffering that you’ve carried since you were small. I feel the ache of unworthiness throughout this body and being. I’m sorry you’ve had to work so hard to protect me, these many years. I’m sorry that you have spent so much time building walls rather than paving paths. I’m sorry that those walls kept you isolated and invisible rather than connected and out among the beauty of all that is.

I can remember those moments of feeling unsafe in our youth. Having a boy stand too close or stare too long. Hearing cat-calls while walking to a friend’s house to play barbies. Wishing that boys wouldn’t like me, so that I wouldn’t have to hurt a friend when I didn’t feel the same. What was the true point of this sacrifice? Not wanting to be hurt, or not wanting to hurt others?

It seems there is so much to fear when we are maiden. Will we be worthy of our parents’ love? Are we so different from others that we cannot find communion? Are the bullies right about me? Am I too ugly to stand among others? Will I ever be worthy of being loved? If I don’t fit in here, will I fit in anywhere? If I don’t have a boyfriend, does that mean I am unlovable?

But then, one day… we realize we are no longer the maiden. From the perspective of the crone, we are all-seeing – all knowing. We see the error of our ways, and we know that there is no more time to waste.

We understand that we were always worthy of our parents’ love, not because of a college degree or a career path, but because we are the symbol of their love made manifest. That was always enough. We were always worthy of love. Our differentness is what makes us so welcome in community. We allow others to see the world from a new perspective, and that has great value when so many are wearing blindfolds. The bullies were never really telling you that you were ugly… they were telling you that they felt ugly. That you chose to never hurt others as you had been hurt was a part of the lesson. This is where compassion gained foundation. Those stones, rather than building a wall, built a bench where we could sit with another to share comfort.

We who have not had the love and loyalty of a good man are not less worthy than those who have. We were fortified with a different kind of strength, in our ability to stand on our own, to manifest our own hopes and dreams, and to pave a safe path without compromising the integrity of our own core values. Rather than being one half of a couple, we have always been one whole – even when we felt too fractured to realize it. In our aloneness, we had the freedom and clarity to be present and focused for many, rather than just one. We merged with the Artemis archetype and became warriors!

I want to offer you my love, as well. But first, I must offer you my deepest regrets. I am sorry that while feeling unlovable, I did not love you enough. I am sorry that the unconditional love I offered others, was withheld from you. I am sorry for the nights that I lie awake in bed, feeling all of your ‘extra-ness’, that my thoughts were filled with such unkindness. I am sorry that I learned from the bullies to be compassionate toward others, but was rarely compassionate toward you. I am sorry that in your endeavor to keep me safe, that I chained you in a dungeon of darkness.

You deserved freedom and light! Today, I offer you the key to freedom. I would unlock those chains, but the truth is… you are the strong one. You, great warrior woman, need only to rise… and those chains will all fall away.

There are five things that we should say when we are ready to leave one world, being liberated from the body, and into another. As we move forward into a new world, free from the suffering of old wounds which no longer serve us, I offer them to you: Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you for keeping me safe. I love you. Good bye.

Sincerely yours, Simply Me

Dear Simply Me:

I have waited so long to receive this message from you. Thank you for finding the courage to let go. What a relief it is to finally release an attachment to fear. What a great burden to carry. It is far heavier than even this Larger Than Life earthly body.

 It is fear that leads to hatred. It is fear that leads to loathing. It is fear that leads to hurting. It is fear that causes us to harm ourselves and others. It is fear that builds walls. It is fear that casts stones. It is fear that keeps us from growing into authentic glory. Let’s be done with it!

I can see how much effort you’ve put into personal development and emotional growth. I honor your hard work and dedication with my own form of letting go. You no longer need protecting, for you have grown fierce with your own sense of belonging. You don’t need layers of protection to render your body invisible, for you finally understand that it is not only safe to shine, but it is necessary for better living and for the good of all.

I am so proud to witness that instead of writing to me with harsh words of blame and accusation, you chose compassion. I believe the understanding earned through suffering delivered the greatest lesson on kindness. I am enormously proud of your choice to be kind and caring toward others, and I am so pleased that you have learned to offer yourself the same.

Here’s the thing, dear one… everything you wrote to me is truth. You and I are ready to move forward into the light of new beginnings. Hand-in-hand, we leave behind regrets of the past. The horizon offers the dawning of hope and the illumination of love. How lucky are we, to have realized that we were never alone in our suffering? We have always had one another, two parts of one sacred whole. Today, we seal old wounds with gold, and we are made more valuable. We are a vessel of holding, and we are filled to overflowing with sparkling wisdom and the healing fluid of divine love.

We are so blessed. Thank you. I love you. It is done. Blessed be.

All the best – always, Larger Than Life

Once again, we are instructed to ask for assistance to overcome and heal this relationship with ourselves. Nearly 5500 words have been written so far, and I’m only at the end of Lesson 2. It doesn’t feel like a waste of time to have this written conversation with myself. I have grown to appreciate my own company in recent years, and I have no patience for shallow, meaningless talk with anyone.

If my struggle feels familiar to you, I hope you will find inspiration for healing. If you, dear reader, are that person who has never had to diet, but has judged others as lazy or gluttonous due to the cellulite they carry, I hope you might come to understand the level of suffering that resides on the inside of those who don’t look like you.

May we all find our way back to nurturing kindness for ourselves and others. That’s what will save this world from (self) destruction. Thank you for walking this path with me.

Dancing at Beltaine

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.

WILL WORK FOR ART!

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.

Patricia Sabree at http://www.sabreesgallery.com/

Brian MacGregor at https://brianmacgregor.net/

Olivia Beaumont at https://oliviabeaumont.com/

David “G-Sleeve” Gildersleeve at http://www.gsleeve.com/
http://www.athun.com/david-gildersleeve.html

Melissa Moss at http://www.melissamossart.com/

Samantha Claar at http://finefolkgalleries.com/

Melissa with Sabree on the left and Melissa with Brian MacGregor on the right.

Expressive Art-Magick

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!

Expressive Arts Session Six / Final Project – Self Portrait

Living Eulogy to Her Becoming

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!

Expressive Arts ~ Week Six / Finale

Permission To Be Real

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.

Expressive Arts – Week Five (body, spirit, mind) The Landscape of Me

Life’s Tapestry

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.

How’s that?

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.

Week Four of Expressive Arts – the beliefs upon which we are built