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?!

Witness to Grace

A High King Ascends to the Summerland

It was 45 years ago that my favorite tomboy entered my life. She brought with her a lifetime of creativity, play, laughter, joy, and sharing. She has shared many vacations with me, of course many memories, and significant to this tale, she has shared with me… her beloved family.

On Thursday, my life-long friend and I hopped on a plane to Huntsville, Alabama. I don’t believe either of us, while envisioning which path to take on our annual art-cation adventures, would have chosen this particular place as a destination (two progressive feminists went to Alabama…), but after this past weekend, I can assure you that it will be a part of future road trips.

Nearly a decade ago, my buddy introduced me to her cousin through facebook. Their mothers are sisters, but they did not grow up together, so it was a family reunion that brought them together as adults. And through connecting online about family heritage and sharing memories, they found like-minds in one another. Further, my friend could see in her cousin… a bit of me.

It’s funny how we are able to connect through writing and sharing on social media to find something much deeper than words and photos. Somehow, if we are really lucky, we manage to find communion. Not one person I met over the past four days felt like a stranger to me.

The reason for our journey north was one of pilgrimage. We arrived with open hearts and serving hands to honor the memory of a soul who departed around this time last year. Once again, he was a man that neither of us had the pleasure to have met in person, but through this sharing medium and from the heart of this lady that we love, he became legend.

Our kindred spirits were partially connected through common ground… A spiritual path, a world view, a love of ancient history and myth, and for the Emerald Isle, where we had both previously traveled. Connected by the web of life and the world-wide-web, we shared photos and our stories. Then one day, the story took a dark turn. Her husband suffered a life altering spinal injury in a car accident, and the lives of many would be dramatically affected through an epic journey of survival for the next seven years.

Being so far away, the best that my life-long friend and I could do was hold space and send the light of love, healing energy, and our desire for the very best possible outcome for this gentle giant and those he loved. And when his earthly body was ready to surrender his larger than life soul into the light of truth, we committed to being fully present to offer support and to celebrate his life. After much needed rest and recovery, and with the nearing first anniversary of his loss, it was time.

Looking back on the weekend I just left behind, it seems funny to consider how we walked into this woman’s world and felt immediately at home. Though they are cousins, my favorite tomboy only has memory of meeting in person this daughter of her mother’s sister once. Any previous meeting would have been at an age before memories were kept.

Since I have had front row seats in her life, those we met and the lives they discussed as they reviewed memories and tales of their individual and shared histories, I never grew bored, for even those I had never met were characters with whom I was familiar. After all, I had partially grown up in her home with her people, too. Amidst the connectedness, the laughter, and the enlightenment (as blank pages in family awareness were being filled), we prepared for the celebration to come.

Last year, as I studied the path of end of life doula, I was instructed to consider this part of dying… how do I wish to be remembered? If I were to write my own memorial service, what would that look like? I have to tell you… these people… they know how to throw a party! I may write an addendum to my own parting plan.

As our hostess went to the airport to fetch her sister (friends at age eleven, who became sisters when one’s mother and the other’s father fell in love and married), my buddy and I were given the task of putting together one facet of the table decorations. We laughed at how perfect it was for us to receive this assignment. Lovers of Mother Earth, the party planners had collected earthen pottery and lichen laden sticks of oak for table center pieces. We delighted in examining each limb and cooed over the sweetness of tiny green tufts of fluff that called these fallen twigs home. “Look at this one!” “Awwww… so cute.” “Which one do you think will go best with this taller stick?” “This one! NO. THIS one.” With smiles of agreement and sighs of adoration for these tiny bits of beauty, we gleefully completed our first task.

Later that night, we were given our second task. We went to the home of our dear one’s best friend. We became acquainted around the same time as our initial facebook connection, as a nod to those kindred details mentioned above. We were immediately smitten with our new/old friend and her magickal home which was filled with creative wonder. I brought with me a meditation I had written, which felt appropriate for grounding and connecting for the work ahead. It was a guided visualization to journey to the edge of the underworld to meet with loved ones lost. We went home with bits of plaid cloth to unravel, for the art of fringed edges. These tiny details would be woven into a stunning tribute.

The next day, after coffee and a bit of unraveling, we were delighted to be delivered and guided through a local treasure, Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment. To our surprise, we had wandered into an impromptu art-cation! Our mystical guide led us through rows of interesting and wonderful art galleries throughout three floors of market space. We got to meet several artists, and had a bit of a shopping frenzy with one artist who WOWed us with the beauty of her work. We also got a sneak peak at a bit of art in chocolate that would be a sweet focal point of the celebration. Handcrafted chocolate truffles sealed with a kiss from our sacred celebrant. His signature was pressed into a crowning coin of chocolate (like sealing wax on an important royal document), then dusted with gold. Seriously, this man must have lived well to have been so loved.

That night, we gathered with more family and friends in the home that had been prepared for his comfort, though he died just days before the planned move, they had hoped to ‘come home’ to a space outfitted for the many needs of a paraplegic. We met people whose names we had seen attached to loving comments on the page that we watched with dedication for the hopeful delivery of miraculous news, which sometimes offered triumphs and finally… heartbreak. We did not know their faces, but we knew the depth of their devotion. These were the ones who never left, even when things got hard. They served in every way possible, a man whose body was broken and his wife whose courageous heart moved through back-breaking days and sleepless nights to ensure his safety and survival. These people whom we were blessed to meet, exceed the definition of friendship. Over a seven-year saga of trial and tribulation, losing a home to the burden of medical bills, packing and moving more than once, not to mention all that goes into supporting the needs of someone whose body no longer can do what was once expected, a loving community encircled this sacred family and did whatever was needed to allow them to focus on the important work required.

Then, the big day arrived. Together, we went with new friends and (re)claimed family to meet and dress the sacred space that would hold the intention of honoring this sacred soul. My favorite tomboy and I loved getting to be a part of nurturing the vision dreamed up with great detail by this group of goddesses. Onto each round table went a black cloth that draped to the floor, a grey square of felt topped by hand-fringed flannel in green, black, and grey plaid, with an earthen vase of moss covered sticks encircled by seven white candles and a ring of green and white sea glass. As we worked on the tables, another friend arranged homegrown pale green hydrangeas for the altar, and smaller clusters were added to the stick vases.

There were so many delightful details involved in this mindful manifestation. There was a sweet slideshow of a life well-lived projected onto a freshly painted wall, which was to the left of the altar which held rich fabrics adorned with a huge arrangement of hydrangeas, his glasses and watch encased in a dome of glass, a white candle – a beacon to call his spirit home, and a shot of Irish whiskey as a sacred offering. The altar sat beneath a portrait of Himself, painted by a friend after his passing. It depicted a scene captured in a photograph during their journey to Ireland, when he stood regally upon the Hill of Tara, where the High Kings were once crowned.

We lunched and rested, then returned to the venue to greet the guests. A trio of musicians enchanted the hall with Celtic music and Irish folk songs throughout the evening. And once those who had gathered in memorium had settled in with snacks and beverages, we learned more about the man we honored. The evening’s emcee was a friend who had searched, purchased, and literally furnished the home of her friend, whose energy went entirely into enforcing the safety and well-being of her husband until his final day. The Huntsville Feminist Choir performed two songs dedicated to the memory of one of their biggest supporters. Friends and family members stood up to speak about a man they respected, admired, loved, and deeply missed. Energy was raised in laughter, as we learned of pranks and puns. Everyone in the room was brought to tears by the words of gratitude expressed by one of his final caregivers. She told us of how she insisted on giving his family a much needed break – despite his protests, and as she bathed and nurtured his body, he fortified her esteem and encouraged her efforts to further her education. As she lifted her eyes to the heavens and announced to him the educational grant she just won with gratitude for his support, our eyes released the emotion we’d all been holding.

This last tribute reminded me of my dad’s stay in rehab last year. He told me about one of his attendants, who recently immigrated for a better life. She had been worried about an English test she would have to pass to move forward with her education to become a nurse, and Dad had offered words of encouragement and to help her practice. The day he told me the story, with tears in his eyes, he was announcing that she came in to tell him she had passed the test. I know that we all hope to feel like we’ve made a difference in the lives of others, and I know that the man we honored that night would have been enormously proud of his caregiver, and he would have understood the multitude of ways that he made a difference in the lives of many.

Though we never knew him, my favorite tomboy and I got to know him through stories shared. Most of all, we understood his strength of character, his warmth of compassion, his generosity of kindness, his wicked and wonderful sense of humor, and purity of integrity through witnessing such grace in those we got to know, whom he loved.

At the end of the evening, we gathered into a circle and raised a parting glass, filled with a shot of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey. The Celtic Trio played that well-known tune as we held up our offerings of remembrance and respect. We held sacred space for his devoted wife, still weary but growing stronger, his three heartbroken and adoring sons, two by birth and one by choice. We held space for his grandchildren and family present and those who wished to be there, but could not. And we held space for this remarkably loving and supportive community who held this family in their safe keeping through many difficult days and years, until peace was found at the High King’s crossing into the Summerland.

“Here’s to cheating, stealing and drinking. For if you cheat, may you cheat death. And if you steal, may you steal a maiden’s heart. And if you drink, may you drink with me!”
~ Irish Blessing

We shared another day of restful togetherness before my life-long friend and I got back on the plane to come home. It was a surreal parting, for we had come to feel as if we belonged there, among these remarkable and loving souls. How special, for a woman in her grief to make us feel so welcome and at home. Of the lifetime of memories that my favorite tomboy and I share, I am certain that this holy weekend when we were witness to true grace, will remain one of our favorites.

Somewhere in the conversation of these four days, I reminded her that I intend to go first, for I cannot fathom living a single day without her. How lucky am I? To have been given the profound gift of her friendship, and that she should share so generously with me the honor of knowing and loving her family, too.

At 1am, I walked into my parents’ home, having come straight from the airport. I emptied my father’s catheter bag and helped him into his pajamas, gave him his evening pills, stood with the spit cup and the rinse cup while he brushed his teeth, and made sure all of the doors were closed and locked before making my way up the street to my house and my waiting cat. As I climbed into bed, I reflected on the years of service our cousin/friend had devoted to the man we had just honored. I smiled with gratitude for the blessing of being able to do the same for my parents (wishing that I could do so as well as she), and for the love and devotion of our own community who are presently holding space for all of us. We are so blessed.

Thank you for walking this path with me. I’m so happy you are here. If I could, I would share one of those intoxicating truffles with you. Cheers!

Ed Glynn (pictured here: on the Hill of Tara) has taken his seat among the High Kings in the Summerland. We honor his memory. We give thanks for the many blessings he delivered to this sacred earth. A warrior among men,
we bid thee hail and farewell.

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

The Joy and the Sorrow

If 2018, for me, was about LETTING GO of my former self… the ‘me’ I had been for 25 years, in a career of supporting the wellness of two corporations, then 2019 will surely be about BECOMING the ‘me’ of my future self.

I have to say that being officially retired and thrust into daily care for my parents who are aging and facing struggles with body betrayal and memory loss, has offered the total immersion that has allowed my subconscious to sever the bonds that once tethered me to that former identity.

I no longer worry that I will have to return to that world or what it is that I should be doing with my time and energy. It seems that my time and energy, for this moment, is meant to serve my parents.

Full disclosure, as my 50th birthday approaches this weekend, there are times that I feel a little sad about where we are. I mean, I had once dreamed with childhood friends who also reach this milestone birthday in 2019, that we would make a celebratory trip to Greece or back to Ireland together. But retirement living offers a different budget and being that far away for a length of time feels impossible.

But then… I come back to gratitude. I asked the universe for prosperity that would allow freedom from the corporate world, and it provided in an unexpected blessing (in the form of the IRS 72T loophole). I thought I would still need to work a full time job (for less pay), but it turns out that I can live simply and have all I need on a quarter of my former income (for now).

I asked to be guided toward a meaningful purpose, and I thought I was led to becoming an end of life doula. Now, I’m not so sure that was for a path of prosperity as it was a path to peace. Spending a year studying death has brought me into a respectful relationship with what once was feared.

A doula is ultimately a transition / transformation guide – one who holds space for and supports those who are moving from one phase of life to another… a birth doula walks with the maiden as she becomes a mother, and the death doula walks with the mother who has become the crone as she makes her way back to the mystery of what comes next. (fill in the masculine phases as well, of course)

I recently made the mistake of looking up the meaning of doula online, and the Greek origin of the word means ‘female slave’. I am currently seeking a different word.

My family’s new year is not off to a particularly joyful beginning. On new year’s eve, I brought my 81 year old father back to the emergency room for an issue that has been ongoing since October. He was admitted, and then after a procedure, he went back to Rehab for strengthening his ability to stand and walk. Nine days later, my 77 year old mother was t-boned by a careless driver while on her way to the store. So, back to the emergency room we went. Gratefully, major bruising was the extent of her injuries. Well… and serious trauma, of course.

The fact that I am childless, single, and retired means that I have the freedom to be fully present for my parents. A lovely consequence is a deepening of our relationships with one another… A healing of old wounds, and a more patient and compassionate communication style. I feel that the three of us are learning and growing together in this period of transition. But to be clear… this is hard!

I am not really living for myself at the moment, but this is temporary. I have taken on multiple roles – sometimes nurse, sometimes accountant, manager, booking agent, driver, housekeeper, etc. I am working as hard or harder than I did in the corporate world, but without a paycheck… and yet, feeling valued and appreciated by my parents feels like a great reward.

Somehow, the universe will guide me to finding balance. I will learn about other resources to assist us on our journey, and I will learn how to surrender to the kindness of others. I will be available for the care of my parents, and I will not abandon myself and my own needs to a former belief that everyone else’s comfort is more important than my own. I will continue to open to the mystery of receiving, which was not available to me as long as I was always giving. I will meditate, take hot baths, and nap when I need to, because the energy that I give to others must be replenished. And somehow, I will create opportunities to do a little bit of living for me.

There is great sorrow in the obvious decline of our parents, and in the sense of loss of ourselves as we serve others. There is an overwhelming sense of alone-ness (not always loneliness) at the end of the day, lying in bed awake with the worries of what lies ahead, without a companion to remind [some of] us (me) that everything will be okay.

But there is also great joy in the way that we are reminded that we are not walking alone in darkness, as those who love us are standing by, ready to shine their beautiful inner light of wisdom and support to illuminate the path forward, and to give us a good squeeze when we feel that our guts might spill onto the earth below. There is incredible peace in realizing that everything we need is provided, falling into place with divine timing and often great surprise. And enormous gratitude that things should be turning out exactly as they are, because this moment… in all of its darkness and light, trauma and recovery, solitude and togetherness, is somehow terribly and wonderfully perfect.

Thank you for walking this path with me, dear ones. I can feel you surrounding me, and I hope that you can feel me in your circle, as well. I love you more.

Transmute and Transcend

Today has been a difficult day.  Not really for any good reason… it seemed like an energetic thing.  Kind of like an indescribable ‘ick’ that sits thickly within one’s surroundings.  I sat down to my end of life studies and found no drive.  I opened the book I penned earlier this year, and I had no will to read.  I glanced at my blog, and had no words to share.  My soul-daughter reminded me that Mars goes retrograde tomorrow (in my own sun sign, no less), and that it means we will all be reviewing the past… so that we may then be free to move forward.  This is our chance to slow down and consider past actions and patterns, and how they have served us… and what habits might be hindering our progress for the evolution of our higher selves.  Sigh… if I get it all done today, can I just go on vacation from the hard work for the next two months, until Mars goes direct at the end of August?  Please?!  Well, no… my goddess girlie assures me that we will all get to face these old issues for the next two months, so let’s just plan to get through it… feel all the feels, and be prepared to move forward along with the perceived trajectory of Mars.

Being only a little stubborn and wanting to get the show on the road… as she headed out – I started my journey in.  On Saturday, a few members of my spiritual community gathered to celebrate the Summer Solstice.  The meditation guided us through a honeycomb beehive of past mistakes and regrets, and when we emerged we focused those morsels of restriction into honey and beeswax candles to be transmuted and transformed… into the sweetness of life, which only occurs when we are able to acknowledge how far we’ve come, and how much we’ve grown.  “Last night, as I was sleeping, I dreamt that I had a beehive here inside my heart.  And the golden bees were making white combs and sweet honey from my past mistakes.” ~Antonio Machado

This evening I continued that process, and I lit my beeswax candle along with some sage and dragonsblood incense.  I called upon that which I cannot see with my eyes, yet is always present, and moved into the sacred art of flow.  I set pen to page and awaited the words.  They came as they always do, in curving lines of surprise.  Who knew THAT was still in there?  A list of names unworthy of her love and affection (save for one) – that girl I used to be, going back three decades… the pattern identified as giving at a deficit of receiving.  All she ever wanted was to be loved enough… but she didn’t even love herself.

Words written in the color of blood, she poured out of her heart every ounce of bitterness and sorrow, then sealed it up with smoke and flame.  Five pages consumed by ink, and then by fire…  into the bowl of banishment.  Ashes smoldering then doused by the sacred waters from the heart of Ireland… St. Brighid’s and St. Brendan’s wells.  Then taken to that place in the side yard, near where her sweet Arthur was lost – has it been three years passed?  Asking her beloved boy to help with the transformation from ash to resurrection… delivering the kind of deep-soul-love that his adoring gaze once made her feel.

Sage and incense still permeate the air, but it does feel less heavy… the ‘ick’ is gone.  The candle has only moments of flame remaining, the light flickers in the base of its holder, the stick no longer exists.  Transmutation is complete.  Thank you.  I love you.  I love me.  It is done!

Dear ones, should you find yourselves in deep reflection of your personal past over the next several weeks… please be kind to your heart.  It was doing the best it could.  Your soul appreciates the lessons and remains unharmed.  These are lessons in forgiveness.  Forgive yourself for the ignorance of youth and for every lesson that arrived ‘the hard way’.  With mindful awareness, we do have the freedom to move into the future with an intention of continuing the process of growth and evolution, asking the Universe to deliver each ‘the fun and loving way’.  That is MY intention, anyway.  Make it so!

(St. Gobnait – Patron Saint of Bees and Beekeeping – Gougane Barra, Ireland)stgobineta (2)

The Beauty of Pilgrimage

Ten years ago this summer, I took a trip abroad that was quite life altering and life affirming.  I was finishing up my third decade with an epiphany; I am no longer going to wait for someone else to make my dreams come true.  I realized that I was missing opportunities to follow my bliss, because I was waiting for a companion to come into my life or for a friend to have the funds and vacation time available to join me for adventure.  I decided that year that I would wait no longer.  I booked a trip in February to be taken in August.  I thought about returning to England or Scotland, places I had been before and loved, but realized that I really needed to go to Ireland.  Through an online search I found a few groups that did tours that were geared toward Celtic spirituality.  I was not interested in wasting a single day doing something that did not resonate with me.  I didn’t want to be in this sacred country of my ancestors, and have to spend a day in the Waterford Crystal factory, when I could be spending that time among ancient sites that predate the pyramids.  The company was selected by the travel date that didn’t interfere with a corporate board meeting, and I was set for a solitary adventure.  I had nearly 6 months to plan, and I set about learning more about the sites I would see.  At the time, I knew very little about the country, beyond my love for their native traveling hit, Riverdance.  I was so glad to have the time to know more before landing on sacred ground.  I was given an alumni guide to the history of the island, that went back to the actual land formation around the ice age.  Here’s a little morsel of wisdom:  There were never snakes in Ireland.  They did not cross over the land bridge before the ice melted and turned it into an island.

The difference in being a tourist and a pilgrim is profound.  A tourist travels with a mission that carries a bit of expectation and stress, while a pilgrim is on a spiritual journey with the intention of experiencing wonder and being open to the magick of synchronicity and ‘allowing’.  Rather than scrambling to make things happen, one may simply allow the unfolding of the beauty and mystery that surrounds.

There are so many wonderful and amazing things that I was blessed to experience on that sacred journey, but I woke up this morning thinking of one particular moment that I’d like to share.  I call it my Monica moment.

We were about half-way through our two week tour when we made our way down to the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry.  It was on the itinerary that we would see, among other things in this beautiful area, the Gallarus Oratory.  In my initial reading, prior to arrival, it was written to be a 12th century church of stone on stone (no mortar) construction that appeared in the shape of an upturned boat.  If you look it up online now, it has a few interpretations for its use by different archaeologists over the years.  One speculation I admire is that it might have been a shelter for foreigners, or another possibility of being a funerary space for the family that owned the property.  I rarely spend much time worrying about the truth of an ancient structure, and tend to simply be grateful that it remains standing for my witness centuries after its construction.

When we arrived at the Oratory, our entire group of 13 entered, and with hands clasped, we could stretch our circle to be touching the walls that encapsulated us.  There was no more than a doorway on one side of the structure and a window on the other.  This was a spiritual tour, therefore, everyone traveling with us had some level of interest in Celtic history, mythology, or were otherwise energetic healers of some sort.  At the time, I was struggling with my identity, and the best I believed I could offer was a passion for singing chants that I had learned over the previous 16 years.  So, I was asked to lead the group in a healing chant, and that I did.  I closed my eyes, and twelve voices joined mine to sing the first chant I had learned, which moved me enough to choose this path of feminine spirituality for my soul’s enrichment.  Raising your voice in an ancient place with fellow pilgrims is a powerful thing.  I can’t tell you how many times we moved through those words, but it was possibly five rounds.  When I opened my eyes, I looked up and found a face in the window looking in at us.  I said, “Oh, look!  We’ve attracted an Angel!”, and I snapped her picture.

I lingered inside the small structure for a few minutes, and when I stepped back into the light, I found my anam cara, a new soul-friend that I met on the tour, talking with the woman from the window.  I heard her say, “You should talk to Melissa, she’s our chantress!”  I walked over and smiled, as the Angel from the window spoke with a foreign accent.  “Hello.  My name is Monica.  I was so moved by your song.”  I replied, “Hi there.  My name is Melissa.  That song really moves me, too.  Would you like me to share it with you?”  And she nodded her head, and she and I clasped each others hands.  We looked into each other’s eyes as I sang: “I am a circle, I am healing you.  You are a circle, you are healing me.  Unite us, be one.  Unite us, be as one.”  As I sang to this sweet stranger whose spiritual path had just crossed over my own, tears poured from her eyes.  When the chant ended, she thanked me and we hugged.  It was quite possibly one of the most powerful moments I have ever experienced.  A decade has passed, and it is still crisp in my mind’s eye, that moment of shared magick.  I am so grateful that I was mindful enough to snap that photo.  Monica still peers through to me from that ancient window whose image is perched in my library.  Sitting at my computer now, I wonder if she ever thinks of me… or if she tells a similar story to her friends and family about this amazingly wonderful thing that happened on her way to the Oratory.

When I reflect on that memory, I wonder why it is we rarely have these magickal moments at home or at the grocery store.  It seems such a shame to have to travel to a foreign land to allow the open heart and open mind to attract such an interaction with people we don’t know.  I think I will set my intention to attract more of this brand of magick wherever I roam, be it ancestral homeland or Trader Joe’s.

If you are blessed with the opportunity to travel beyond your home base, whether it be foreign or domestic, I hope that you will go forth with a pilgrim’s heart.  Be open to receive whatever blessings the Universe has in store for you, and if you ever have the chance, I hope you’ll take the hands of a perfect stranger and sing to her with genuine caring and love.  It will leave a permanent stamp on your soul that will bring you hope and healing even as it becomes a distant memory.  I promise.

monicamoment