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.

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.

Mountain Magick

Sunday morning, I woke with the rising sun. My host was already up preparing breakfast for the guests who were departing after a full day at the Scottish Highland Games. I took my coffee onto the porch to greet the misty mountains. I wanted to sing them a song, and was reminded of the Cherokee Morning Song that we recorded with Amulet Choir in the late nineties. It felt appropriate, being so close to the Cherokee National Forest. I bowed to the majesty of these ancient motherly mountains. My affection for this land is boundless.

Sing along with us!

I spent some time listening to the birds that responded to my choir. I love the diversity and the joy. Sometimes it sounds as if they might be telling a joke when another replies with a twitter. (Ugh… that word has taken on new meaning these days, and it kind of turns my stomach. Sad.)

Sitting down to breakfast with a group of travelers and kindred spirits is so heartwarming. If you have the opportunity to stay at a Bed and Breakfast in lieu of a hotel, I hope you will take the time to connect with your fellow guests. You will surely be reminded of the goodness in the world, despite the chaos and sorrow presented by each newscast. What a blessing.

The GPS offered three routes from Banner Elk to Asheville, NC, and I chose the path that took me through the most greenery. The path wound through roads canopied with sheltering trees, through farmland, and small towns featuring waterfalls and antique shops. The ninety minute journey delivered me to my favorite art city, and there I found three of my favorite humans from Tennessee waiting at Malaprop’s Book Shop.

Two of we four ventured to Asheville for the first time in 1993 on a mountain retreat, and we both fell in love with the energy, the art, and the culture in this sacred place. Our first stop was at Woolworth Walk, where an old dime store has been converted into a gallery for multiple local artists. I have a few favorites there, and make it a priority to see what new creations are on display and for sale.

Though this trip was randomly scheduled based on best timing to be away from my parents, divine timing would, for the second time in two years, find me in town for “The Big Crafty” art festival in Pack Square. What a blessing to find my favorite local artist there in person! Though my art budget is smaller than it once was, I could not resist selecting a few pieces of her whimsical folk art to come home with me.

My artistic ability is limited to words, so I have such reverence for those who have the ability to literally paint a picture that captures the heart. Deona Fish is the mother of Sleepy Little Dreams Studio, and her spirit is as nurturing and kind as the art she creates. I learned that she follows my blog, and we planted seeds of a partnership of words to mirror and inspire her magickal creatures. Oh, how I long to work for art!

The boys and I had lunch at Moose Cafe and stopped at the farmers’ market out back. The food is good country cooking with portions that could feed you for days. I left with a box and enjoyed my meatloaf again while back on my mountain porch later that night. It was such a gift to have time with these people I adore.

As I prepared to return to Banner Elk, I confirmed with another friend an address and timing for a visit. This is where the beauty of facebook comes in. We were colleagues from back in 2004 when he supported an executive search for my boss. I knew he had a home in the mountains, but never dreamed that we might be here at the same time. Further, I had not realized that his summer home was in the same place as the friends with whom I am staying. It was an extraordinary treat to be able to spend a few hours sharing our mutual stories of respect for one another and those we have served, while looking out over the most beautiful landscape I’ve ever known.

As much as social media has complicated the world, with a certain kind of screen addiction and the burden of having bad news and poor behavior broadcast into the palm of your hand, it has also been such a gift of connectedness. I announced my safe arrival, and he reached. Two souls blessed to care about one another were reunited and joy was shared. To me, any complaint fades for this gratitude. I texted the two retired leaders we both supported with a photo to let them know we were speaking fondly of them. Each texted back with their regards and photos of their own. Now retired five years and ten… after sacrificing so much to a corporation, they are living fully in the moment enjoying the company of their families. We couldn’t be happier for where each of us are right now. I am grateful.

Shortly after my return to the B&B, my hosts entered with family members who had arrived earlier for a weekend visit. Once again, I was delighted by the love one can feel, even in a room of new acquaintances. This is clearly what our world is missing, this kind of mindful connection. We need to gather in living rooms rather than chat rooms, and we need to share stories that make us laugh and cry. We need to give and receive hugs and bear witness to the divine truth of one another. We need to reach out to Mother Nature and feel Her embrace.

Monday delivered a glorious visit with another friend who lives atop a mountain nearby. I love the way that we feel safe and free to speak our thruths and be authentic, despite the passing of time and the burden of distance. If you have even one friend with whom you can be real, without judgment and feel affirmed, you are blessed, indeed.

After four nights away, it was time to drive home to my beloveds on Tuesday. It was difficult to leave the lap of nurturing that I found in Banner Elk, but I knew that I would be back in just a few months. My ten hour drive was surprisingly pleasant. I really do enjoy my own company these days. Who would’a thunk it?

My mom told me that they realized while I was away just how much easier I have made their lives. So, more than respite was found in my brief escape to care for the caregiver. I was so happy to see their smiling faces when I walked through their door. It made me feel even more grateful for the blessings we share at this moment in our lives. And then, there was the love-fest that ensued upon entering my own front door. Morgan, my little-old-lady-kitty greeted me with great affection, and all was right with the world, once again. Sometimes it feels like we are holding our breath, but didn’t know it until we are reunited with those souls that make us who we are, doesn’t it?

For me, the mountains are magickal. They help me to breathe deeper, and they remind me of the plethora of beauty that nature provides. Having the opportunity to disconnect from responsibility and reconnect with friends who remind us that we are much more than the roles we may fill in the mundane moments of our daily lives is absolutely necessary for our wellness.

Be WELL, dear ones. Whatever makes you feel connected and full awaits your time and notice. Make the wellness of your sacred soul a priority. You are so worthy. Thank you for walking this path with me.

Amulet Choir Music is Here: https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/amuletpaganchoir?fbclid=IwAR1FadEI1FTZY4QPFoUwJjJ6GnI8EsY33ANLFwhaNjAceR-tPhRXGr_Fjnw

A wonderful B&B in Banner Elk, NC is Here:
https://www.thepointebandb.com/

What an extraordinary backyard!

Caregiver Respite

Yesterday, I drove eleven hours to reach my nirvana. Before chosen as a somewhat popular band name, this was the transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self – the final goal of Buddhism. In the symbolic sense, I find these things not at ocean’s edge (only an hour from my home), but on mountain top. In the Blue Ridge Mountains, my soul finds peace, renewal, and rebirth.

My parents and I have fallen into such a lovely routine of presence and connectedness, that it was difficult to find the right timing for my absence, but as it often does, the universe conspired for my highest good and everything fell into place. My friends with a Bed &Breakfast in Banner Elk, NC had one bed available, my brother planned a weekend visit with the folks, and suddenly my worries about abandoning my cat and my parents were lifted.

I once dreaded a long drive, even with a friend, for the tedious nature of the journey… trying to stay awake, stopping to pee in a public restroom, the way the body rebels from prolonged sitting / riding. But in recent years, I’ve learned to love such a journey, even solo. Yesterday, I enjoyed eleven hours of introspection.

I listened to an audiobook on spirituality, then needed more stimulation, so I sang along with the cast of Hamilton, and then spent some time with Alexander Hamilton’s biography (also on audiobook), which informed Lin Manuel Miranda’s epic Broadway show. I found myself wishing there had been such art available in my youth, for learning about history would have been even more interesting to me if I could hum the tune.

I am grateful that I am able to find just as much joy in solitude as I do with great company. Maybe I have become the change I most wish to see in the world.

I arrived at The Pointe B&B at North View just before dinner time, after leaving home at 6:06am. Oh, the glory of walking into open loving arms after a long drive. I was informed that four of the seven other guests were teachers and one was a childhood friend of our hostess. They had grown up together and had gone all the way through school, but had not seen each other in thirty years. This ‘business’ has delivered the prosperity of reunion to my dear friend. The peace in her heart is tangible, and I am grateful.

After dinner, I learned more about the teacher-guests. They live near the DC area, and if you’ve ever seen video footage of the T-Rex protesting the President in front of the White House, well… you’ll know that I have been blessed to meet a few remarkable and energetic beings who carry humor for protection during difficult times, this weekend. It turns out that this group of friends drove down to attend the Scottish Highland Games on Grandfather Mountain. And of course… we learned that we share a common world view, spiritual path, and even world travel experience. We are kindred. It was difficult to turn down the invitation to join them for the games, but I reminded myself that I have come here to reconnect with the spirit that lives in the woods. Men in kilts will have to wait for another day.

I am sitting in a napping porch swing with my laptop, looking out at a mountain range, listening to the wind in the leaves and various bird call, bearing witness to bees and chipmunks in the yard. It is glorious. This is how my soul finds renewal… in the majesty of Mother Nature, in Her form of ancient, voluptuous, undulating mountain curves and folds. She allows me to sit in Her lap as She gently strokes my hair, and I am at peace. There are grey clouds above and I am hoping to add the sound of mountain rain to my weekend soundtrack.

On my drive, I was thinking about a sweet friend who is facing some health concerns. She has been having trouble sleeping lately, and reached out for support. On that road I drove, which sometimes presented obstacles, I started writing a meditation for her in my mind. What was to be a 9.5 hour drive (per google maps) ended up being an 11 hour journey. Most of the road was smooth and delightfully free-flowing. But once in a while there were obstacles. Some stops were just to empty my bladder and keep going, but then there was… South Carolina. It is the only stretch of I-95 I’ve driven that instantly changes at the border… shrinking down to two lanes in each direction. An accident that didn’t even block the road cost all drivers an extra 40 minutes as everyone slowed down to look, and there was nowhere for a non-nosy driver to pass.

When my friend was given a diagnosis and learned surgery was required, an obstacle was presented in the form of a heart concern. So, she has been momentarily diverted and things have slowed down to ensure she stays safe. But soon, the obstacle will be behind her and the road ahead will be free-flowing once again. She may need to stop for gas or to empty her bladder, but the road will patiently await her eager return to the path of discovery and freedom.

What a blessing it is that we all get to share our sacred journeys with the hearts of others. How lovely to seek healing and respite and to find it in the embrace of those we love. What wonder to be nourished and nurtured by a joyful welcome, deep sharing, caring inquiry, and in the honor of holding space for one another. In my heart, I know that THIS is the meaning of life. We are the universe made manifest in human form for the delight of being touched.

I look up to see two souls at play, a small bird and a chipmunk at the edge of the yard. What a shame it would be to be in the presence of such grace and miss the point.

For the moment, I am comforted to know that my most important beings are caring for one another back home, while I am doing the necessary work of caring for the caregiver (that’s me). When I get home, we will get dad ready for a surgery that will hopefully bring comfort, but will also require closer care through recovery. I am recharging my battery and will be ready to serve with presence, patience, reverence and grace. (so mote it be)

I’m planning to close this sacred writing tool and relax on the napping swing for a while. The meditation for my friend, to help her rest, will solidify in my mind to be written and recorded, and later, my hosts and I will ride down the mountain to share a meal. We are all eager to hear the Highland Tales of my fellow guests around the fire this evening. Until then… Slainte! (Gaelic – “To Your Good Health!”)

Thank you for walking this path with me. I’m so happy you are here.

If you’d like to join us, you can book your stay at: https://www.thepointebandb.com/

View from The Pointe B&B at North View, Banner Elk, NC

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.

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

Bedtime Story

A dear friend is completing her internship for the Expressive Arts program she’s been studying for the last year and a half, and I am grateful to have been invited to play a tiny role in her sacred journey of becoming.

Several of us have signed on for a six week program that will conclude with her course completion and certification. We were instructed to bring six photos from different stages of our lives, and an open heart. For some, just the process of exploring the archives and selecting this assortment of memories was an emotional journey. As we gathered last Thursday for our first session, finding chairs in a circle dressed with 9×12 sketch pads and writing utensils, with a box of tissues in the center… we knew we would be going deep.

What happens in circle stays in circle, of course, but I can tell you that when asked for a word to describe how I was feeling… my word was: EXCITED! Seriously, I love this shit. To me, life is not worth living on the surface. I want to dive deep into the poetry and meaning of every little thing and solve the complex mystery of my own truth.

I don’t want to give away everything that we did in our first session (because you are definitely going to want to attend your own workshop series with my friend – the certified expressive arts facilitator), but I thought I would share, as I so often do, parts of my own vulnerable deep dive.

This first week was dedicated to the photo of our youngest selves. My youngest photo was a tiny Melissa passed out in her crib, wearing a cloth diaper, sprawled out over Mrs. Beasley in repose. Bright red birthmark on her upper calf that caused people to gasp in horror (What happened?!) for many years to follow. As I glance at this photo now, I imagine reading her a bedtime story right before she smothers her patient and devoted dolly. So… this is what I wrote…

Dear Sweet Melissa ~
I wish I could hold you in my arms and make you feel loved enough, safe enough, cherished enough.
I wish I could teach you that the happiness of others is not your debt to carry or your problem to fix.
I wish you could be blessed with a vacation incarnation where joy and laughter come easily and shame and regret would only be found in works of fiction.
I wish I could build you up with love and pride and never consider harming you with hurtful words and unrealistic expectations.
I wish I could protect you from those who will betray and abandon you. I wish I could teach you to give your precious heart only to the deserving.
If I could take you into my arms today, I would hold you and love you most of all – for no soul in all of creation deserves my full care and devotion more than you, sweet, beautiful, being of perfection.
I would rock you and kiss your sacred crown with every blessing the Goddess of Abundance grants upon every vessel of Her creation. And you would know, without a doubt that you are a sacred child of the universe and a radiant, treasured gift to this world.
I love you most of all, Me
PS: You will be blessed to have such remarkable friends in your life. Be sure they know they are sacred to you.

To be clear, this child has a pretty extraordinary life ahead of her, but there will be moments that are challenging and heartbreaking, as well as those which are life altering and affirming. I think it would serve her well to understand that everyone has insecurities and lacks a sense of belonging at times. And even when she feels lost and alone, she will later reflect on the truth that she was always exactly where she was supposed to be, and she was always supported by an enormous amount of love from sources known and unseen.

I can’t wait to see what’s in store for elementary aged Melissa. I’m going to embrace the heck out of that beautiful little being of light.

Have you ever considered writing a love note to your younger selves? I wonder what you would have to say. Thank you for walking this path with me, dear ones. In case you missed the message… YOU ARE SACRED TO ME.

Take My Hand

This morning I woke with an image of connectedness. With the awareness of our mutual suffering, and that of Mother Earth choking on the waste of our shortsightedness, I felt a yearning for us to move beyond this primal ache that resides somewhere between hearts and bellies, and into the healing light of transformation.

There are days that I have checked the reach of my writing to discover that right here, within this sacred circle, are beautiful beings from all over the world. In truth, if you are reading these words, know that you are here beside me being held within this emerald green light of my heart’s devotion. I am grateful for your presence in my life.

In this reading, if you feel safe and moved to do so, I wonder if you would imagine taking my hand into yours. If so, I would have us gather with every beloved heart that I know, that you know, and that those who have joined us here know… be they still upon the earth, or those who have passed into the mystery of what comes next. Let us stand within this circle, connected through hearts and hands, a circle so broad that it could encapsulate the world with the luminous light of love.

With the power of our togetherness, we elevate the vibration of the waves of energy that we cannot see with our eyes. The atmosphere that surrounds us has become muddled with so much oppression, fear, loathing, and unkindness that we can barely breathe. As we mingle our energy, and hum a soothing Om into the atmosphere, the walls that were being built by intolerance and self-hatred cannot withstand the reverberation of loving kindness and come crumbling down.

If you are troubled or care for someone who is suffering, consider stepping into the center of this circle of human kindness to be filled with the light of love.

I carry this image in my heart of standing in the center of darkness, surrounded by those who love and support me without condition. There is firelight beyond them, which illuminates their profiles, but keeps their faces in darkness. They remind me that though I stand in shadow, I am not alone.

As you imagine yourself standing in this shadow of winter’s introspection, can you make out the silhouette of those who surround you? Can you sense their presence, their adoration, their love as it flows through you, surrounding you with the light of hope? Even if you are geographically distant, without a doubt, you are still enveloped by their love.

Imagine, if you can, walking toward each sacred being and reaching out for their embrace. Spend some time here, and consider who stands firmly within this circle. They may be members of your family, your tribe, or they could be loved ones who have passed beyond the veil, or even spirit guides and guardian angels (energetic beings of universal wisdom) whom you have never seen with the eyes, but whose presence has been evident when you thought you were alone, and suddenly felt the warm glow of comfort and loving kindness.

Let each embrace be held at heart’s center, imagining chins over left shoulders as heartbeats come into unison and knowledge is exchanged without words. When you have connected deeply with each sacred soul, choose a spot within the circle where you would like to stand, and take the hands of those beside you.

As you make this palm-to-palm connection a golden light begins to flow in a clockwise motion around the circle. This light expands to encase all who gather. But it doesn’t stop here. It continues to grow like waves upon sand, slowly reaching further, leaving a glittering glow as it retreats and then surges beyond previous reach.

Witness the glowing expansion as it presents itself to loved ones who may also glory in the return of light. See their faces awash with radiance and reverence.

Let this light be carried into every dark corner of the earth, and let every heart be healed. Love this light into ancient soil, and nourish and revitalize the Mother who gave birth to all life. This human experience is only made possible by her love.

NOTE: I was writing this yesterday, when my computer decided to take a break on me. As I toiled through troubleshooting on how to fix the issue with my brother and pc support guy three hours away, my phone rang. My mother was in the hospital following a car accident. Gratefully, she was relatively well, considering the appearance of her vehicle, which was t-boned by a large vehicle… but we spent the rest of the evening in the ER running tests – just to be sure. It was not lost on me that SHE is the mother who gave birth to my life, and that MY human experience was made possible by her love.

This, folks, is another one of those moments of gratitude in awareness. I am aware that the universe conspired to set me free from the workplace in 2017, and enabled an early retirement income so that I could live simply and be fully present for my aging parents. As for this particular piece of writing… I have needed these virtual hugs more than anyone could possibly know.

The day before the accident, my mom and I set in motion the work necessary for me to handle financial matters on my parents’ behalf, when the time comes that I can assist further with their care. As I sat in my own living room last night, having settled mom into hers, I reflected on how things might have gone differently… how our intentions might have missed their mark. I’m so grateful that, for today – having just heard her voice on the phone, informing me that she is awake and well – everything will be okay.

I hope that all is well with you and yours, also. Thank you for walking this path with me. I can see you bathed in golden light, and I’m so glad that you are here.

My Crone and Me at Sunrise on Amelia Island, FL / Photo by Dawn Dirks

The Road Behind and the Road Ahead

This morning I woke to the awareness of closure. Several hours from now, we will close the door on the year 2018. I have friends who do an annual letter to summarize the year for themselves and their families each Christmas. For someone with swiss-cheese memory, where huge chunks of what happened yesterday tend to fall through the holes, the thought of reviewing the year seems like a herculean task.

So, I called to mind the metaphor with which my soul daughter gifted me in a reading this year. Each time I asked my psychic friend what I should be doing with my life, she assured me that I was already doing it. She said that my guides were showing her a long dark highway. She saw me in my car with a full tank of gas. My car was safe and my GPS was guiding me forward. On this safe but unknown journey I could only see what was illuminated in my headlights. My only need was to pay attention to what may be revealed in that glow without worry of what lies ahead. My instructions were to just keep driving.

When I consider this metaphor for the year that I leave behind, I see that road as a highway with big green signs overhead. In my mind’s eye, I am driving through 2018 from start to finish, as I drive beneath the signs of direction which I followed without hesitation, signs for rest areas where I received love and healing, signs for nourishment which came through more than food, but also through sharing art with others, and signs of arrival and departure as I made new friends and let go of people and clutter that littered my highway.

Every time I sit down to write, I start with a blank mind and blank page, and wait to see what my fingertips reveal to me. I can’t wait to see what I find at the end of this imagined ‘road trip’.

I finished 2017 having departed a beloved workplace of nearly 16 years, and then working briefly for a company that felt toxic enough to inspire me to take the rest of the year off. I entered 2018 having no real direction beyond overcoming fear and seeking a job that would bring more of the same. After all, what does one do with a 25 year resume in a single role?

So, the new year started with an updated resume and the encouragement and support of seven executives I had cared for, in one form or another, in years passed. I received daily notification of job postings, but none bore any appeal, and worse, the very review of tasks involved turned my stomach. After a few months, I was determined not to work somewhere that would feel like a betrayal to my soul, and cashed in my employee stock savings into which I had invested for a decade and a half.

While determining what I was NOT willing to do, I continued to be grateful for what I was now free and available to do… to rest, reflect, recover, revive, and to serve my beloved community. When a full-time job was in the way, it was difficult to find the time and energy to be of service to others. I was already giving nearly everything to a corporation, and for the last few years I was there, the stress consumed so much of my life source that my social life was malnourished.

In this new beginning, I was able to serve my parents with more presence, and assist friends who were dealing with serious health issues. I became an occasional driver, wheelchair maiden, medical witness and scribe, communications director, and healthcare advocate. While I wish that my parents and friends had no such need for support, I am grateful that I could be present… holding space for each challenge and celebration of overcoming.

Looking back, I wonder how I ever had time to work a full time job (kidding / not kidding). There was so much living to be done, and I was missing it. I ran into one of my retired executives earlier this month who said practically the same thing… “Melissa, I had no idea what I was missing while being so devoted to my career.”

Each day of this year, I have been thankful to the powers-that-be for expelling me from that job I thought I loved. The truth I have found is that it was always about the people, and once those people were gone, so was my reason for being there.

When I look in my rear-view mirror of 2018, I see the sign posts for things I have chosen to leave behind. I have driven beyond the need to be validated by a boss, a job, a title, or a salary. Living simply, I no longer feel the need to fill my home or my closet with objects that serve no purpose but filling an unacknowledged void.

The excursions I took as I followed the signs of synchronicity were far more important than I dreamed they might be. My friend Brian’s terminal diagnosis led me to the study of End of Life Doula, which has taught me a great deal about how to plan for the future that is certain, and to live more fully with uncertainty.

The invitations I received to travel with friends were accepted without hesitation, since I didn’t have to accrue vacation time, or ask permission to leave my desk. Each trip taken allowed me to connect deeply with friends who own real estate in my heart. The signs I followed took me to New York City on two occasions to see Broadway shows and experience the city from different perspectives… once from Astoria in Queens, and once from Harlem. We saw Kinky Boots in April, and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in May. Back home, I was blessed to enjoy the theater with friends. This year we saw Lion King, Hello Dolly, and thoroughly enjoyed Aida, the Musical and Elf, the Musical at the high school where our friend runs the drama department. With each of these rest stops, I was reminded of the importance of making time for arts and culture in our lives. The energy and efforts of artists, of any medium, delivers a unique experience of joy… and they are doing it all for us! How could we possibly fail to receive the gift of such heart and soul from another?

Two trips to Georgia – first for a brief art-cation with my life-long friend, and second to visit the boss who raised me as she performed in a play with fellow retirees – were paths joyfully taken. Signs also led me to Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia in the summer, and back to North Carolina in the Fall. These journeys allowed me to connect with friends rarely seen beyond social media, and to nurture my relationship with nature, which had been too long neglected. With each of these blessings, I was reminded of the importance of connectedness. Breathing deeply and sending energetic roots into the earth to feel the comfort and love from Mother Nature and from those who love us without condition, is absolutely necessary for our survival.

There were dark roads illuminated by moonlight, as I planned and led sacred ceremonies for connecting with loved ones lost, for healing through friends’ worrisome diagnoses, and for deepening connections with the Universe as one grows closer to becoming one with all that is. For me, meditation and ritual provides a space for letting go of that which no longer serves us, for mindfully gathering intentions for moving forward, and a deep healing of mind, body, and spirit. The grand finale of these events this year was writing and officiating my goddess daughter’s handfasting ceremony. The handfasting bound the souls of two lovers, and the commitment of their community to support their marriage. What an honor to behold. This brought the arrival of extended family, and the departure of a young couple at the jumping off place of their new beginning.

The longest, darkest road this year has been the bumpy, unpaved path of my father’s declining health. He was in and out of the hospital, each time for over a week, and then in rehab for an entire month. Though he is now at home, it is obvious that he grows more weary and frustrated with the betrayal of his body and loss of strength, each day. I have learned that I can only care for him to the best of my ability and hold space for his suffering… I cannot bring him happiness that he could not find for himself. I have also learned that my empathy for him is very physical. I often feel his pain in my body, and realize this is a skill I will need to explore further in an effort to either use it to benefit others, or shield myself better with stronger boundaries.

Darkness was always sprinkled with light. Time with friends in summer alerted me to the awareness of a financial planner who would remove the road block of having to figure out what I would do for a living. He revealed to me the ability to collect a monthly income from my retirement fund, without penalty. In October, I collected my first check! Also, I am assisting three strong women with their private businesses, utilizing my intuitive wordsmith ability and administrative experience. I yearn to create healing retreats for women in the future. Beyond that, I continue to see only what falls within sight of my headlights, and know not where my GPS ultimately leads.

Throughout this year, the highway that has transported me without incident has been my writing. I wrote a book of seasonal guided visualizations (I even recorded one for sale on cdbaby.com). I wrote a book about my journey through self-loathing to wholeness alongside the archetypal feminine, and started working on a book about thoughts that rise in the study of end of life doula work. And of course… since writers need a following in order to be published… I started a blog. Aside from the healing and self-discovery I’ve witnessed in my headlights, I have loved seeing the tiny flags that represent readers from around the world who have offered their valuable time to sit in my passenger seat for a while. I’m so grateful for your company!

As for the road ahead, the year 2019… is surely paved with magick. When I turn 50 at the end of January, I will move into a ‘twelve’ year (in tarot numerology). In the graph of my life chart, wonderful, amazing, life altering things have occurred in these years. In my first twelve-year I found My People and planted the seeds that would become a Tribe. In my second twelve-year, I went to work for a man who needed my light and saw my value (this partnership ultimately enabled my early retirement). In my third twelve-year, I traveled back to Avalon on a healing retreat to Glastonbury and Cornwall, where I got to reconnect with the land of my ancestors and check ancient goddess sites off of my bucket list.

2019 will be my fourth twelve year. I have no idea where that road may lead or what signs will be posted along the way, but I have the faith and wisdom to know it will be extraordinary! My plan is to keep on driving, enjoy the grace that is illuminated in my headlights, and anticipate with patience the moment that my GPS informs me that I have arrived.

My passenger seat is open. Would you care to join me for a stretch?

Wishing you an abundance of joy and everything your heart
and soul may require to thrive in the year ahead.
HAPPY NEW YEAR, DEAR ONES! I love you more.

Elephant Parade

If anyone has noticed my limited connectedness since early October, it is because I gifted myself with an investment in learning. It happened at the behest of synchronicity, which I consider to be the voice of my internal guidance system. Within one week it was suggested by two unrelated friends that I should consider writing for Elephant Journal… the second recommendation came with a link for Elephant Academy. The Academy is a quarterly online school for writing, editing, and social media. I didn’t hesitate to apply when I received the link. It was as if I was on autopilot.

I confess that I argued with myself about the cost, being newly retired and exploring the possibility of living simply enough to avoid returning to work. Ultimately, I decided that personal development and spiritual enrichment is worthy of every penny spent. Also, I figured I might meet some lovely people of like-mind.

I definitely hit the jackpot on that last expectation. I love it when hope is rewarded! Don’t you?

The first several weeks included a writing assignment that could be published in Elephant Journal. The gift of this process was the opportunity to receive guidance and feedback from editors. Either they would accept your work and make it elephant-ready, or they would provide two rounds of support, to help you get it there.

What I hadn’t counted on was that my 81 year old father would end up hospitalized after a fall, and spend the next month in rehab. Talk about synchronicity. Every ‘voice’ I followed this year led me somewhere wonderful… including the guidance that led me to a financial planner who enlightened me on 72T (detailed in a previous post). This retirement income has enabled me to be fully present for my parents during difficult days. If I had to work a full time job as well, the stress would have been overwhelming. I do not take for granted this great blessing.

My first article was published, and my last (thesis) article was published, but with daily visits to rehab, I chose not to spend more time on the articles that required editing. Perhaps they weren’t meant to be seen. One of them was extremely vulnerable, and I might just be relieved that it didn’t fly. Ha!

I feel that I have learned a great deal during my weeks in Elephant Academy, but far more valuable to me has been the relationships birthed and nurtured. The nature of writing for a journal dedicated to mindfulness leads to a kind of vulnerability and openness that one does not often find in community.

When we have the courage to be authentic with one another, we have no choice but to fall in love, just a little. It’s like exposing your fears and flaws to a room full of people who are willing to look you in the eye and say, “We see you. We accept you. You are one of us, now.”

The courage to be vulnerable is a gift to everyone in your orbit. Don’t you know that we love to see you twirl? We are points of light surrounding the globe, and we shine more brightly for the illumination we bring to one another.

And so, for the third time in my life, I feel as if I have found my people… my Trunk Tribe.

It may not be a journey for everyone, but for those who choose to accept the challenge – be it to strengthen your writing, find your voice, or learn more about navigating the world of social media, I have a feeling that falling in love will be in the cards. The people one meets will be extraordinary. It will feel like money well-spent.

If you are interested in reading what my classmates and editors helped me bring to birth on Elephant Journal, I will post links below. And should you choose to look around while you are there, I guarantee you will be moved by the strength and courage of the other writers in this beloved community.

Thank you for walking this path with me. You are the light that guides my way on.

https://www.elephantjournal.com/2018/10/a-samhain-practice-to-fill-you-as-the-nights-grow-long/

https://www.elephantjournal.com/now/walking-the-labyrinth-a-tool-for-healing-a-metaphor-for-life/

https://www.elephantjournal.com/2018/12/when-death-came-to-dinner-taught-me-how-to-live/

trunktribe2

[Photo from Gregory Colbert’s Ashes and Snow Exhibit]

Journey Into Sacred Space

The purpose of the next few minutes of our time together is to step out of the world where we are responsible to others, and remember that we are especially responsible to ourselves. I’ve written this as a guided meditation that I would speak to you, but understand that you may still ‘go within’ through reading, even without being able to close your eyes.

Our wellness and self-care is more than the concept of taking care of the body that is our temple… it is also a gift that we give to those who love us.

You have likely heard the term coined by Carl Sagan, that we are all ‘starstuff’. The particles that come together to make up this human form are the same as those found in all that surrounds us, including the Universe which may seem beyond our reach. The truth is… we ARE the Universe. All we need to do to connect with that larger than life energy is to simply go within.

Creative visualization is a tool that allows our minds to release our worries of the future and our regrets of the past. It takes us on a journey that is at once outside of ourselves and deep within. It provides a sort of guidance along a path which our minds may travel, in order to find focus and nurture intention as we create a foundation for the reality we desire for ourselves. Guided visualization doesn’t require that you go where the reader takes you, but that you follow the voice to find the path that you wish to blaze.

Consider that you are being given a metaphor or a story outline into which you have the opportunity to fill in the blanks, or to create your very own tale of becoming.

So now, I invite you to find your comfort, whether seated or reclining. If you choose to lie down, be sure that you are not too close to needing a nap. Though, should you suddenly wake to find you have slept through parts of this journey, know that you have not done anything wrong. Your mind and body will take you exactly where you need to go.

We will begin with deep breaths that make your belly rise. And then we will allow our breath to settle into a normal flow, In through the nose, and out through the nose. If you have sinus congestion, breathing through the mouth is fine, but having your tongue pressed to the roof of your mouth behind your front teeth, while inhaling and exhaling through the nose is recommended.

Our breathing connects our mind and our body in a rhythmic flow which allows us to journey beyond the confines of the room in which we are seated. Being mindful and connecting with gratitude for that which we take for granted can be a simple way to connect with the energy of all that is.

Breathe into your belly the element of air which fills your lungs and delivers oxygen, and exhale with a prayer of thanks for the expansion of your chest as you receive the light of love and release the burden of tension.

Breathe into your belly the element of fire which warms your body and delivers healing where needed, exhaling with gratitude for the inner flame of metabolism and energy that powers your body’s machinery.

Breathe into your belly the element of water which washes through your body with cleansing and quenching fluidity, exhale with a prayer of thanks for the blood and saline liquid that delivers life through the body and back into your beautiful heart.

Breathe into your belly the element of earth which creates the foundation for all other elements to flow and grow, exhaling gratitude for the strength of your bones and the whole of your body which holds and nurtures your sacred soul.

We come to nature to be reminded that we are not separate from all of life, we are one with it. We can connect with our breath and imagine sitting on a boulder of granite, warmed by the sun on the edge of a mountaintop, or in our mind’s eye see that boulder turn into a billion grains of sand, washed by the vastness of the ocean as our feet sink in and waves rise and fall upon the beach where we stand.

When you think of a place in nature that makes you feel calm and connected, be it ocean’s edge, mountain view, or a tree you climbed in childhood, which made you feel safe and held within an embrace you did not yet understand, consider making this place, real or imagined, your meditation safe place. This is where you may go to connect with your breath and enter sacred space.

Sacred space is a sanctuary. It can be any place that allows you to feel safe and loved. It can be a physical place, like a church, a temple, or your living room, and it can be inside your mind, which is so powerful that it can create for you a safe place in which to dwell. The beauty of creative visualization is that you are not limited by physical surroundings. In this realm, you may swim in a pool of starlight and be held in the embrace of the being who has made you feel most loved in this lifetime, regardless of your ability to do so in the physical world.

If you have in mind your sacred space, take yourself there now. Experience in your body all of the sensations that come with feeling safe, feeling free from distraction, feeling present, feeling at ease, feeling loved. Know deep within your bones that this is truth, you are enveloped and protected by the light of love.

From here you are able to connect more deeply with the energetic force that surrounds you and flows through you. Imagine that from where you are, your energy reaches like tendrils of light, downward into the earth and through saline water, through rock, mud, and crust into the molten core coursing with the fire of passion. Gather that source and pull it inside of you, allowing the lava to soothe aching joints as it delivers healing light.

Now, sense the sparkly white light of creation raining down on you from above. Imagine the crown of your skull opening like a funnel to receive this light, which spirals downward through your body to mingle with the light you’ve pulled from below. This is your connection with your higher self, the wisdom that you have carried with you from a time before memory.

This swirling light of gold and silver moves through your body to deliver comfort and peace that calms a worried heart and allows you to see with clarity your best path forward. Let it expand beyond the boundaries of your body to encapsulate your auric field, which extends a few inches further than your body’s full height and wider than your outstretched arms.

This is a sphere of protection that you can invoke at anytime with a simple deep breath. When you are here, you can imagine pushing out all thoughts, emotions, and energy fragments that do not belong to you or no longer serve your highest good. You can also command that nothing may enter your sphere of protection other than pure love and healing energy.

Once you have declared this sacred space and the gathering of earth, body, and universal energy… sit for a while to feel this love filter through every cell of your being. If you are seeking answers to your own heart’s wondering, you may ask here and listen. [long pause before continuing]

It is time for our journey inward to come to a close, but know that this space is always safe and waiting for you at the close of your eyes and deepening of your breath. When you are feeling frazzled or disconnected, you can come here for renewal and to reconnect.

Picture your energetic being, as if you are outside of yourself, or perhaps looking into the reflection of a mirror. Allow the brightness of the light to fade into the scenery of your sacred space in nature, but know that you shall remain protected and safe.

Now, see the image of your sacred space within your mind begin to fade, bringing you back into the room where you are. Carry with you, into the here and now the awareness of the messages you may have received, and the shield of protection you created for yourself. It will continue to protect you throughout your day. If you begin to feel uncomfortable or out of sorts, you can take yourself through an abbreviated version of this journey to recharge those boundaries.

When you are ready… you may open your eyes and resume your day. Thank you for walking this path with me.

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

sacredspace

A Woodland Wedding

Early Friday morning, I headed to the airport with a few of my favorite people.  It was still dark when we arrived, but the sun was dawning on this new day as our flight departed the 90 degree south and set forth to the 60 degree north.  We were invited to stand witness and help celebrate the marriage and handfasting of two people we adore.

These two beloveds are among the couples I know that make me envy their togetherness.  You can see each light up at the sight of the other.  Their love is effervescent and warm… almost innocent with the obvious open-heartedness they hold for one another… as if neither has ever been hurt by another.  What a beautiful mystery… fearless love at 40.

Lovers of all things created by Mother Nature, the venue was a campground in Bar Harbor, Maine… recently closed for the season.  Not a camper, I found a beautiful spot across the street – a seaside cottage with two bathrooms and a fireplace.  This provided the best of both worlds, as far as I’m concerned.  One of the brides is the co-founder of our monthly Supper Club.  Five members were able to attend, and in this cottage we stayed… along with my life-long friend, who is my favorite adventure buddy – and my +1.  Together, we were one tenth of those gathered to hold space and reflect the light of love back at these two beings who capture the hearts of all they meet.

Our favorite Unitarian Minister presided over the sacred ceremony, though she would argue she won’t be ordained until January – she has always held this sort of role… a spiritual guide… for many of us.  The brides chose to be handfasted, which is a Celtic wedding tradition from which we get the term ‘tie the knot’.  I was asked to seek the blessing of their guests before the ceremony began, and carried the cloth that would bind their hands and their love to each guest and informed them that we are infusing this cloth with our blessings and good wishes for the marriage of our brides, so that their lives together would be eternally woven with the beauty and wonder that we each would bestow upon them.  Each loved one placed their hands upon the cloth, closed their eyes, and said a silent prayer.  When our Minister took her place between two trees, beneath a magickal chandelier, the Celtic cloth that contained our love was upon the marriage altar.

The first bride entered the clearing through a wooded path, revealing herself to be like the faery queen emerging from her hidden realm.  She was stunning in white chiffon and lace… and with the sight of her we had no choice but to fall into this dream.  The second bride entered the circle from the opposite side of the clearing, donning a navy blue suit and bare feet – an homage to her betrothed, whose feet are rarely oppressed by the burden of shoes.  She was lit by the internal flame of joy that is ever present when these two make eye contact.  The entire circle was aglow!

Each bride honored their families, those they came with and those with whom they were becoming one, and returned to the altar of their new beginning.  Their hands and hearts were bound by the minister, vows of wisdom and wit were shared with the glide of rings onto fingers, and tear-filled eyes met their tearful, grinning congregation.  A cacophony of joyful noise escorted the happy couple as they exited the circle, once alone and now together, back into the faery realm from which they came.  But the dream didn’t end there… it continued nearby with a whimsical reception beneath a canopy of white.  Tables were set with mismatched china collected and shipped by the brides, all to be donated to charity upon departure.  Table assignments were identified with names on postcards from the region in which we gathered, dating back to the 30’s.  The tables were marked with the names of pets rescued and cared for by our faery queen bride.  Imagine my dismay when I learned the ‘Oprah’ table at which we were seated was dedicated to the memory of her dearly departed tarantula!  The error was quickly remedied with a switch of spider name to doggy name… she loves me that much.  Ha!

With practically zero light pollution in the area in which we had gathered, more stars than I have seen in one place in my lifetime filled the sky as nightfall joined the party.  The Milky Way didn’t want to miss the celebration.  A large carpet placed upon the grass became a dance floor and the trees that hugged this clearing danced with sparkling lights projected to bring the starlight a bit closer to our reach.  My life-long friend and I used to go dancing as teenagers in the late 80’s, and feeling the youthful vibration of love and red wine, we made our way to nature’s dance floor to dance among the stars.  This is where we spent most of the evening… with old friends and new… like whirling dervishes in ecstatic devotion to the mystery and majesty of love openly expressed and shared.  These moments of celebration are when the divine is truly made manifest in our lives.

On this weekend made possible by the love of two nurtured by many, we were delighted to make new friends and grow our intentional community.  I love the way that joyfully authentic people attract more of the same, and how the blessing of being invited into a circle of such kinship envelops all who take the hands of those gathered.  Regardless of geography from which each traveled, whether the years upon the earth are many or few, if we’ve known each other for 40 years or 4 days… we have become ONE.  And we are grateful!

So, here’s to our beloved brides!  Here’s to bountiful blessings of love, light, laughter, joy, happiness, peace, prosperity, good health, longevity, moonlight and magick upon their marriage.  May we all be blessed to know such love within this lifetime, and gather in a circle of belonging to bear witness to the beauty of Mother Nature who holds us lovingly in her embrace.  We are so blessed!

WoodlandWedding