Sacred Ceremony

I was first introduced to sacred ceremony in 1992 at a workshop on feminine spirituality.  In my circle it is also referred to as ‘ritual’, but since those unfamiliar with the practice may have only heard the term followed with the word ‘sacrifice’, I prefer the above.  Sacred ceremonies you may be familiar with would be a child’s christening or a wedding.  If you consider how important these rites of passage are for the child / the couple, and their community, understand that there are many moments in all of our lives that deserve to be marked and celebrated… and that the act of doing so will make the milestone or accomplishment more sacred.  At times, there are obstacles to overcome, like a great loss, heartbreak, or regrets that get in the way of our own progress.  This is when I find the art of ceremony to be most rewarding, and deeply healing.

We lost a beloved member of our community to leukemia in November.  In December a conversation with her widow revealed that she wasn’t sleeping well, and that she was having trouble dealing with emotions of anger and bitterness toward an organization that had mistreated her beloved a few years before her death.  The betrayal our dear one suffered led her into a spiral of depression and a crisis of identity from which she never really recovered.  I assured my friend that her love left behind all of those worries with her body, and that she carried them no longer… which is what she surely would wish for those who survived her.  I offered suggestions for cutting off from that energy and asked her to let me know if she needed support in doing so.  At our next check-in she affirmed her desire for help in letting go.

So, we came together at the dark of moon.  Lakeside and surrounding a brilliant bowl of fire, we set an altar of our reverence with a photo of our beloved’s beautiful smiling face – radiant with sunshine, along with a few sacred symbols and her guitar, with which she had formerly serenaded us all at campfires past.  With the couple who had eagerly introduced our beloved to her wife a quarter century before, and another couple from their shared inner circle, this gathering was not a memorial for we had done that exceptionally well in the fall.  This was an intentional ceremony of release for those who remained to face life without the presence of a sacred soul held dear.

These were the words that stated our purpose and intention for this ceremony:
“We gather to reconnect this sacred circle, and to support one another in the process of letting go.  As we let go of that which does not belong to us, or that which no longer serves us… we are lighter and liberated for the work of mapping the path forward.  We honor the darkness, for it was surely illuminated by the light of love.  We have lost a great light in our lives for whom we grieve, but we find that while in the physical world there was rarely enough time to deeply connect… and now… beyond the confines of the body… we are able to commune with her spirit without interruption.  Lynn is no longer limited.  Our beloved is not gone from us, she is right here in this sacred space, and in our hearts.  Her smile is brighter than this flame, and her laughter and her song are lifted upon smoke and breeze.  The process of letting go allows us to pull her closer, as walls and barriers crumble and fall away.”

As I led our circle through a guided visualization, we journeyed into an ancient passage tomb where we would become aware of all that we carried from which we would now seek freedom and release.  As we emerged into the light and back to our circle, we each took the time to write down every thought and realization discovered.  We listed our regrets and our fears, our feelings of bitterness and sorrow, along with any words left unspoken to be carried to the expansive and ever present being of our beloved… no longer in human form.  When every last word was written, they were carried to the flames and set alight with our heart’s desire for transformation… each page burning into ash within a small stone basin, then carried to the water’s edge.  There, we symbolically cut cords attached to people who no longer would have ownership of our spiritual real estate, as we reached to the essence of water Herself… the Lady of the Lake… asking for Her mercy and Her love to receive our words, cleansed and purified by fire, to be blessed and consecrated then transformed and transmuted as dust became fluid.

We returned to fire circle, and we shared stories and sang songs… after all, this was one of her very favorite things… and then we concluded our work with these words:
“With open hearts and untethered spirits, we cast our nets forth into the wisdom of all that is, anticipating the limitless abundance the Universe delivers with grace and ease, for which we are eternally grateful.”  And so, we are.

I know that our ceremony was blessed with great love and that the one that we can no longer see with our eyes remains ever present.  She is in the garden with her love, she is at the fireside with dear friends, and she is sitting across from me as I write.  Her laughter rises on billows of incense, and the flickering candle is the twinkle in her eye.  It is not that we miss her any less than we did when the great void was opened that terrible day in Autumn, it is simply that we have chosen to carry her with us as we carry on.  We were so blessed.  We ARE so blessed!

(Psyche Weeping by Kinuko Y. Craft)

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Learning to Listen

Trust has been a life-lesson for me.  It even says so in Dan Millman’s numerology book The Life You Were Born To Live, A Guide To Finding Your Life Purpose.  For those of us whose birth date adds up to seven (7), he writes of our purpose being ‘Trust and Openness’.  The chapter opens with these words:  “Individuals working 7 as their life purpose are here to trust the light or spirit within them, in others, and in the process of their lives so that they feel safe enough to open up and share their inner beauty with the world.”  He writes (and I summarize) of the challenges we ‘sevens’ face in our personal evolution, as an early tendency to collect opinions from friends and family and to fill our libraries with books, as seeking guidance from the wisdom of others helps us to measure our own instinct against outside advice.  He writes that our primary fears are of being misunderstood and betrayed, and how our subconscious ultimately attracts those experiences.  He even uses Charlie Brown’s trust of Lucy to be true to her word ‘this time’ as an example… which explains why I cannot stand to sit through any holiday productions of the cartoon I thought I loved as a child.  In recent years I realized that I am no longer willing to be witness to Chuck’s choice to surround himself with so many people who simply did not deserve to sit within his light.

In truth, I have been betrayed… probably more than my fair share.  As a child, there was a neighborhood acquaintance, a friend of a friend, who stole the baby from my ‘Sunshine Family’ doll set, and I can recall being alone at the Saturday movies, and trusting two girls I didn’t even know to save my seat, leaving my bag of candy behind – returning to the story that some older kids came by and stole it.  In high school, a boy I had known practically since we were born and considered a close friend, orchestrated an all out attack on my home – toilet papering the yard, cookie-ing my parent’s windshields, and taping lesbian pornography on my bedroom window with slurs against me and my mother.  I was away that weekend, and my mother cleaned it all up without telling even my father.  She stayed quiet until the rumor had gotten to me, and I shared it with her – amazed at the silliness of it all… then, when I was on hold with that boy, she told me to just hang up… that the rumor was true.  At age 20, the boy I lived with who had won my heart chose to crush it when he came home from a college event with hickies on his neck.  I tried to find trust, but a few months later I moved him out – and frankly, never trusted men after that. Looking back, I realize it was in that same time frame that a childhood friend had stolen credit cards from my wallet, revealed when my mother called me to address the unauthorized use of her account, which I carried for emergencies.  The card was still in my purse, which revealed that someone had removed it and replaced it, after use… handwriting analysis of the receipts made identity simple to secure.

Analysis of these childhood wounds did offer me great wisdom, when I had gained the maturity to seek peace through forgiveness.  I realized that in each of these indiscretions, the offender was acting out of inauthenticity… they were pretending to be something they were not – a curse of the young or fearful.  It is much easier to release past hurts when we realize that the damage inflicted was never really about us – the recipient of harm, but about the one who acted out.  With this understanding, we may not be completely shielded from acts of betrayal, but we can definitely accept the circumstances, remove ourselves from the situation, and move forward with our lives, rather than dwelling in the pit of despair over what we must have done to deserve being lied to, stolen from, cheated on, etc.  Forgiveness does provide some level of inner peace.  In certain situations, the betrayal may feel too great to offer forgiveness, and if so, consider forgiving that it happened to you, until you can develop the possibility of compassion for someone who would act out in ways that seem to have such disregard for the respect and care of your soul.

I can see now how these life experiences kept me from trusting my own inner voice.  During one period of Mercury Retrograde a few years ago, I can remember coming to a huge aha moment.  I was talking to a friend about how I would never find true love, because I didn’t trust men… and suddenly it hit me like a bolt of lightning.  I realized that the truth of the matter was that more difficult than finding a man I could trust, was my ability to trust myself to choose well.  Talk about closing the subconscious doors of opportunity.  And so, I set forth on a path to rebuild that trust… in myself.

These days my practice includes paying attention to signs and synchronicities, so that if I cannot clearly hear my own intuitive voice, I can at least follow the direction in which the Universe might guide me.  An example would be the way that I found myself feeling this time last year, much the way I had felt 16 years before.  In my beloved workplace, I found myself feeling fearful, paranoid, depressed and distressed with the arrival of a new boss.  It was clear that she didn’t like me from the get-go, as I struggled to try to make her happy.  After multiple years with outstanding performance, I was suddenly declared completely unprofessional and inept. This sensation nearly left me fetal and unhinged, until…  my intuitive life coach asked me to reflect on when I might have felt this way before.  She indicated that for those of us who are empathic, we often receive information from our inner guidance through the way our bodies feel.  When I stopped to reflect on that sensation as something familiar, I realized that I had felt this way before.  In fact, it was the feeling that brought me to this place.  A very similar experience had unhinged me from my loyal seat in the company I was dedicated to for ten years.  Same scenario… new boss, lack of resonance despite beloved reputation throughout organization, deep dive of fear, self-loathing, depression and a sense of being hit by a bus, because the platform of love was suddenly gone and there was no one around to save me.  Fast forward sixteen years, and though I find myself reliving a nightmare of the past, I am suddenly thrust a life preserver… but not from someone else who had come to my rescue… it was my higher self!  She was right there, reaching her hand to me saying, “Okay… calm down and breathe.  Remember when this happened the last time?  Remember how you were frightened of what would happen to you?  Remember how you spent weeks drowning in self-doubt and fear of the unknown future?  Now, remember how it all turned out.  Remember that that moment of discomfort prepared you for something extraordinary.  Remember that you would never have left that place of mediocrity to find this place of wonder.  Remember how you were blessed to serve those who really needed you, and how greatly you were rewarded for providing your special brand of care.  Now, remember who you are.  Offer gratitude to those who would set you free from your own self-limiting beliefs, even if their methods were careless and unfortunate.  Forgive yourself for waiting so long to see the truth of your light.  Know that you are completely safe and protected.  Now, step out into the brightness of your being, and take all of the time you need to decide how you will choose to shine into the future.  Brilliance cannot be rushed, it must be cultivated.  Write it all down and then write some more.  Keep writing and speaking your truth until your truth becomes your path.  Then… when you are ready… you can stop following and start leading.”

As I near the one year anniversary of my liberation from that workplace, I find myself at the edge of a new path.  I still don’t know exactly where this path is headed, but I know one thing for sure… I trust myself to lead the way.

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Second Sunday Sensations

Bliss, joy, happiness, comfort, healing, sighs of relief, deep belly laughter, tears of shared sorrow, and the ultimate level of gratitude for these shared sacred days.  Many people get dressed each Sunday and make their way to a house of worship that meets their spiritual needs, and there, if they are really lucky, they find community.  I was raised Unitarian, but I’ve never really been a church-goer.  To me, the service was never as fulfilling as the community connectedness that would follow.  Long ago, I chose to cut out the middle minister.  There are still times when I may find solace in having that sacred place in which to connect.  On the afternoon of September 11, 2001, for example… I found myself numbly making the drive to our sanctuary, seeking comfort within a room of like minds and warm hearts.  Minutes from an executive airport and an international airport, I will never forget the eerie vacancy of the skies that could be seen through horizon windows.  I recall very little about what was spoken, but felt a sense of shared shock, fear, heartbreak, uncertainty, and dismay.  I do recall my own words… for my sorrow was mingled with joy.  On this terrible, horrible, tragic, no-good day, my Tribe sister was in Colorado giving birth to sweet Whimsy.  To me, she was a symbol of hope in the darkest of times.  In just three months she will be seventeen, and she couldn’t possibly shine more brightly… always our beacon of shining brilliance and great pride.

The last community trauma did not lead me to church, though many did gather there for comfort, for support, for counseling, to find someone – anyone who could help hold a shattered soul together until healing could someday be found.  It was two years ago this week… I remember that I had been visiting a friend in North Florida that weekend, and for some reason that Saturday night, I felt restless and chose to drive home rather than to stay another night.  I don’t know what was on my mind during that three hour drive, but if my thoughts were troubled or petty they would soon be completely annihilated… along with 49 sacred souls.

For more than a decade, a small group of committed friends within my circle have gathered for Second Sunday Supper.  Each month we assemble in someone’s kitchen, and there we cook together and wine flows into glasses, while our hearts are filled and overflow with pure love and adoration for the grace and beauty of our togetherness.  I believe that if there was no food present, we would still feel well-nourished at our parting.

Two years ago, we gathered in the home of dear friends who have since moved away.  That morning we had all risen with the most tragic news, and though we had a commitment to brunch together, we had to ensure we could still gather – as one of our hosts was a member of the police department.  In a different role, and gratefully never in harm’s way, he had not been called in, and we all felt it especially necessary to gather our hearts into one place, a group hug from which we would wish to never emerge.  Upon arrival, words were difficult to share through throats swollen from primal screams and flowing tears.  Reports were coming in from comrades…  20 confirmed dead…  23 confirmed dead… 30… 35…  42….  breathless and shattered… 49 monumental losses to our beloved community.  Tears would dry and fall again.  Together we waxed on about shared dreams of a world that celebrates the authentic beauty of every individual, where self-hatred and familial denial of one’s truth could only lead to such a violent atrocity in books of fiction, and the reality of an automatic rifle in the hands of a civilian was as far-fetched as Marvin the Martian’s ray gun, pointed at Bugs Bunny on the surface of Mars… only to be found in a world of cartoon fantasy.  A convoy of refrigerated trucks would never be required, for the inadequacy of space in the county morgue.

Gratefully, most of our Second Sundays are free from such horror and sorrow.  Music plays, friends gather, food is prepared, wine is poured, bloody marys are built, stories are shared, laughter is raised, and hearts are soothed and refilled with enough love and light to carry us through the next four weeks, until we recreate this glory in another kitchen.  These people are the sacred tenders of our communal hearth fire.  Embers could never be darkened with their careful commitment.

Today we will gather in my home, and I hope that tradition will serve the quote of a friend who once said:  “Walking into Melissa’s house is like walking into a hug.”  Each guest will be greeted with more than welcome… with more than nice to see you, but with overwhelming relief as pieces of hearts are reunited and once again made whole.  We are a tiny community, madly in love with the souls of one another.  Together, we are facing a battle with cancer and ongoing treatment, the continuing grief of a dear friend lost suddenly and way too soon, we will be missing friends whose home now requires a flight or a long day’s drive to reach, we will wait for the arrival of a friend in his 70’s who went back to work to make ends meet, we will provide updates of the health and wellness of our aging parents, as well as our own aging bodies and the surprises that arise in midlife, and possibly share stories about workplace drama – or the lack-of-a-workplace bliss, as the case may be.

But all of this seriousness will be soothed and comforted by the smiles, hugs, laughter, plans for a destination wedding in the fall for two of our beloveds, and the rapt attention of each sacred being who helps to fill this space, my personal house of worship, with the love that we seek, the commitment we sustain, and the light that we share.  Oh, yeah… and by the food and wine, too.  🙂

Wishing you a Second Sunday filled with your own personal version of soul-filling, heart lifting, voice raising, complete and utter bliss.

(The First Supper by Jane Evershed)

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Holding Space

Since leaving the corporate world in October, the Universe has presented multiple opportunities for me to be of service to my beloved community.  On one hand, I wish that no one in my sacred circle had cause for suffering or need for support through the struggle of poor health or hardship, but on the other hand… I am so very grateful that this moment of freedom has allowed me the ability to be completely present.

The last several years in the working world were filled with traumatic change and overwhelming grief.  Survival was no easy task for an empath.  I recall having a friend in need for whom I could not be wholly present, because at the end of the day… I had nothing left to give.  I feel as if the Universe is giving me the opportunity to rebuild the karma of those lost opportunities through this sabbatical.

In the book I am writing, I begin with an explanation of what brought me to the path of studying to become an end of life doula.  That story begins with what leaving a toxic workplace gifted me… it gave me the world!  And best of all, it presented me with a sense of purpose.  I never really knew what I was meant to do with my life, the way that some people seem to graduate high school with a final destination in mind for college and career.  My mom chose my electives in school, which included typing and word processing, so that I would have ‘something to fall back on’, and so… I fell into secretarial work, when I decided the hospitality industry (you know, because I’m a people person) wouldn’t offer me a 9 to 5 job with weekends off.

But I was lucky in that regard, you know… in settling.  A friend shared my typing speed with the manager of the processing department where she worked, and they asked me to come in, and I was immediately hired.  Within a year or so, a secretarial position opened and I was promoted.  It was in that role that I was blessed to support someone who could see my light, and she nurtured my growth as my mentor for ten years, until the Universe guided me to what was next.  That particular bit of guidance is a different story, entirely!  But where it led me was to support someone who seemed to really need my particular energy and light.  He had worked with five assistants in nine years when the planets aligned to bring us together.  Sometimes I think that what he needed most was kindness, compassion, patience, and a smile that would inform him that everything would be okay.  He was under enormous pressure, some of which was self-generated.  I did see the side of him that made the others seek other work, but we worked through it.  I would ask if he was okay, and he would say, “I’m not sharing my stress am I, because I don’t mean to.”  And at the end of each day he would say, “Melissa!  Thank you for a great day!”  That made everything worth it.  We were together eight and a half years until he retired.  I was blessed to work with his chosen successor until her retirement, six years later.  She was a tiny woman with a powerful mind and a giant heart.  My blood pressure normalized during those years.  She suffered weekly migraines during the last couple of years, and I was there with honey-tea, with ice pack, and reminded her to put down what was stressing her soul and to feed her body.  I introduced her to a friend who commented to her about how positively I speak of her, and her reply was, “Oh, Mel and I just love each other.”  That’s not often heard in the corporate world, but I was blessed to have that.  I remain in touch with these three beloved work partners to this day.  I wonder if I was happy there for so long because they each allowed me to utilize my strengths to serve them.  I provided a little something that eased the stress of whatever they were dealing with.  In a way, I think I was holding space for them to do their work.

Now free from the enormous stress of a corporation, these days more beholden to shareholders than to their employees and the communities they serve, I have the opportunity to hold space… to bring comfort and support healing.  This is where my future lies.

During these days of freedom, I have been able to spend a magickal day with a beautiful friend who showed me what grace looks like at the end of life.  I have been the communications director for another friend at the beginning of her cancer journey, and only five minutes away, remain on-call for her assistance through chemotherapy and recovery.  I have been patient advocate and wheelchair maiden to dear friends, who are life-long support to one another, but are both facing health issues at the same time.  I’ve been able to be more present for my parents who are slowing down and needing a little more support these days.  Since my brother lives a few hours away, I’ve even been learning the art of PC and Tablet support, skills which may elude your average 80 year old.  And after the death of my beautiful friend, I was able to hold space for the healing of her heartbroken wife.  As I said, I wish that dear ones had no need of my presence in these ways, but I am grateful and heart-filled to have had the freedom and ability to serve.

Tonight I am working with a friend to bring expressive arts to a group of women in her circle.  The goal is to release what no longer serves us, and with burdens lifted to put focused energy into the art of manifesting the future we each desire.  A year ago, I was fearful of what life might look like without the burden of a job that I no longer loved.  As I look back at that time, I fear what I would have missed if nothing had changed.  It’s funny how perspective can be altered just by looking at something from a different level.  Spiral in…  spiral out.

Thanks for walking this labyrinth with me, dear ones.  May all of your burdens be lifted, and may all of your hopes and dreams be made manifest with grace and ease.

(photo found on pinterest w/o credit)

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