Decade in Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Solstice & The Becoming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAPPY SOLSTICE!