Honoring Those We’ve Lost

In a couple of hours, I will gather with friends to celebrate the life of a dear one, recently lost. He left this realm on a day when the veil between the worlds was thinnest – stepping peacefully into the mystery of what comes next. As I prepared a sacred ceremony for friends who had lost significant loved ones in the past year or two, I held those suffering this immediate loss close, as well. Too soon for them to venture into the underworld, I chose to carry them with me.

As we began, at water’s edge around firelight, we called the names of those we have loved and lost, and invited them to stand with us in a sacred circle. In our mind’s eyes we could see each beloved step in to take our hands, heart to heart… love flowing in a sphere of gratitude and protection.

Next, we called to the elements – acknowledging their gifts which surround us and flow through us. When we call to air, fire, water, and earth, we are connecting to the love that resides within.

Into the East we cast our gaze to be witness to the dawning of the light of remembrance. We breathe deeply the clarity of the element of Air, that our loved ones may appear in mind’s eye unhindered. With open hearts and with gratitude, we honor the Air.

Into the South we cast our gaze upon ancient embers. Burning from the beginning of time, the element of Fire inspires us to go within and to reach out to those who have gone before. Illuminated by the beacon that calls our loved ones home. With open hearts and gratitude, we honor the Fire.

Into the West we cast our gaze upon the watery mist. Through floating drops of love and memory we focus upon the veil to witness the arrival of those we love as they step toward us. All fear and regret is washed in the element of Water. All that remains is the purest love.  With open hearts and gratitude, we honor the Water.

Into the North we cast our gaze upon the lush green lap of the Mother. Grateful for the strength she gave us to survive great loss, we eagerly await her generous return. Our loved ones have been nurtured in the embrace of the Earth, and we are grateful for Her care. With open hearts and feet firmly planted in gratitude, we honor the Earth.

Next, we invited divine energy in the feminine archetype of nurturer and guide, which also surrounds us and resides within each of us:

We call upon the maiden of flowers and the goddess of the Underworld. Persephone, whose sacrifice to the dead brings a mother’s grief and a blanket of cold upon the earth. Persephone, whose great heart and deep love offers the rich red seeds of welcome to all who seek entrance into the world beyond that which the living may see. With reverence we reach to you with hope and gratitude, for the honor of perhaps connecting with those we love once more. We ask to be anointed by your sacred oil of clarity, that our third eye may be fully opened to greet them with the ability to see them and hear them clearly.

Persephone of the Underworld, our hearts are open to receive your blessing. We bid thee hail and welcome.

As I wrote the words that would state the purpose of our gathering, I was once again astonished by the wisdom that flowed through me:

Tonight we gather as the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest. We stand ready to receive our loved ones who are lost to us in body, but ever present to us in their energetic form. We wish to remind them of our love and devotion, and to show them that we have chosen to carry them with us into the future with reverence, and without regret, With joy and without sorrow.

We know that they left us early to remind us of the importance of living fully now. We are here to make that contract with them, to affirm that their loss TO us was not lost ON us. We each have chosen to step to the edge of the Underworld tonight, to take their hands and look into their eyes, to hear their words and receive our commitment.

I next led my sweet friends through a meditation where they would each meet with those they longed to see. It is difficult to know when to proceed from a pause in such a journey. One hesitates to interrupt an important conversation when unable to see the progress of the connection. But when it felt like the right time, I brought them back for acknowledgment and closure:

We know that time moves differently in the Underworld, and that though we long to be with our loved ones, we know that now is not that time. Tonight is a moment when time stands still, and here we were blessed to connect between the worlds.

But time will move on and we shall go with it. Much like when we connect in the realm of the living, it feels as if no time has passed… so will be the day when they come to greet us and take us from the temporary realm to the eternal.

Until then… we honor them by choosing to live in joy and happiness. It would be an insult to their sacrifice not to.

Finally, we said farewell to the spirit of the Universe that took form so that our consciousness could find connection.

Beloved Persephone, goddess of flowers and bones. Thank you for granting us crossing to the edge of your shimmering veil. Thank you for bearing our beloveds through initiation and into the freedom of limitlessness. We will carry your light within us through the long winter, until your return in the spring brings the bursting of color and fragrance upon the earth.

And to the energy that surrounds us and becomes us:

Spirit of Earth, elements of the North, thank you for your gifts of strength and stability, for wisdom and prosperity. Thank you for holding us close through every stage of our becoming.

Spirit of Water, elements of the West, thank you for your gifts of cleansing and emotion, for healing and fluidity. Thank you for washing us clean of fear and regret, nurturing our path forward.

Spirit of Fire, elements of the south, thank you for your gifts of purification and illumination, for direction followed by action. Thank you for lighting the chamber of our connection to those we love, and for keeping the flame alive until we meet again.

Spirit of Air, elements of the East, thank you for your gifts of clarity and new beginnings, for awareness and ideation to guide our future footfalls. Thank you for the breath that fills our lungs for singing the songs of our loved ones’ memory.

And so, our sacred ceremony was complete and we were grateful to have had a few precious moments with those we can no longer see with the eyes, but only feel with the heart.

I know that the loved one we celebrate today will be felt in the same way. And if you are missing someone dear, I hope that in some small way, these words may bring them a bit closer to your awareness. May you honor them as they would have you do… by living fully and in joy. It would be rude not to.

Thank you for walking this path with me. May your every step be sprinkled with bliss.

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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!

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Love Unlimited

Last weekend, I drove nearly four hours each way to see a girl about a wedding.  Some may feel this would be too great a burden and wonder why a phone call wouldn’t suffice, especially for someone who is not a blood relation.  Those people probably don’t have a Tribe.  We made a commitment to one another beneath a full moon in February 1994, and that contract maintains our connectedness regardless of time and distance.  We are bound by more than love.

While I chose not to have children of my own, I have been blessed to have several extraordinary children in my life.  They are the daughters and sons of members of my Tribe, and I am referred to, by some, as their faery goddess mother.  My eldest goddess baby is currently a music education major in college and is now busy planning her wedding, to be held at the Winter Solstice this year.  Before she was born, I dubbed her Starlet… and I would sing to her through the mystical cocoon of her mother’s belly.  The chant that I found most soothing, at that time, went like this:  “The river is flowing, flowing and growing.  The river is flowing out to the sea.  Mother, carry me – your child I will always be.  Mother, carry me out to the sea.”  Think about it… she was encased in a saline ocean of her mother’s love and care… a sacred being on her way into the light of the world that would be made more sacred with her arrival.  This weekend, I wondered aloud what that tune might sound like on the cello, her instrument of passion and choice.  My heart did a little dance when she dashed upstairs to grab her cello and a blank page.  I sang to her that old familiar tune, and her pitch-perfect ear deciphered the language of the voice into the music of soulful strings. (I recorded the outcome, and you can hear it here:  https://youtu.be/N4Mpa1YLfko )

Unfortunately, due to geography I had to miss much of our Starlet’s growth and becoming.  She and her mom moved to be near her grandparents when she was about four years old.  I was sad to lose them from my weekly life, but I am grateful that they made that move.  She was blessed to have her grandparents in her daily life until they each departed the living realm within recent years.  I can count the times I got to see her in person on my fingers, over those years… but there’s a certain kind of magick wrapped around this sacred Tribe of mine, and somehow it is woven around our ‘legacy’, as well.  Our Tribe first met at the end of 1993, and we were committed to meeting weekly.  Each week we were devoted to mutual spiritual growth and diving deep into the mysteries of womanhood and our own becoming.  Pregnancy never really interested me, but I have to say that I learned quite a lot during the ‘baby years’ of our connectedness.  Here’s my favorite and most quoted tip for nursing mothers:  When you are painfully engorged with breast milk, you can place cabbage leaves in your bra, and find relief as the milk recedes.  Is that not amazing?!

For each of these life altering events, we would celebrate with a rite of passage… a blessing before the birth to protect mother and child, to grant gentle passage from the womb and into the light, and a special blessing of each child as s/he reached a year of age.  After a while, my beloved Tribe scattered to the winds, due to marriage or career opportunities.  None have managed to find what we had before.  But no matter how much time passes between meeting – together or one-on-one – that magick remains deeply intact.  When we meet, it is as if no time has passed at all, even though many have been gone a decade or two.  I sometimes wonder if our souls have continued to meet weekly in a sacred circle in another realm.  That would certainly explain how time has managed to stand still.  Of course, to see our babies today… well, you’d know that time hasn’t stood still at all.  They are ALL so remarkable, amazing, talented, brilliant, compassionate, caring, and kind.  I always knew they would be special, being born from my most sacred personal goddesses, but seriously… it can’t be that I am just biased… I know they are spectacular beings of light.

Last weekend, we explored a whole new rite of passage, as far as our ‘legacy’ is concerned…  a handfasting (a traditional Celtic ceremony of union from which we gained the term, tying the knot).  How is it possible that one of our babies is even old enough to be getting married?  Sheesh!  How time has flown.  Our sweet girl met her beloved in high school.  She was a senior when he was a junior.  Since I am so far away, I have only met him once.  It was at the memorial service for her grandmother a few years ago, that I first learned that she was smitten.  I won’t lie.  It totally tickled me that she introduced me to him as her faery goddess mother.  Of all of the titles I have held in my lifetime, this is certainly one of my favorites.  I have to admit that I am astonished that she could feel such a bond with me when I have been so far away for most of her life… even if I have loved her every single day of her existence.  Technically, since I loved her Momma before she was conceived, I have loved her even longer than that.  Even more amazing, and a great honor to me was that she wanted me to perform her handfasting  and ring ceremony… this is actually a ritual that falls just short of a wedding, as when we gather, they will already have been wed.

You see, this young man who has stolen Starlet’s heart was raised Mormon.  In order to move forward into a future with him, she has chosen to convert.  On one hand, it feels impossible to relate to this decision, as I cannot fathom making the faith of another my own.  On the other hand, I can recall that moment in 1992, when I experienced energy rising through the soles of my feet and into my heart, and was offered an introduction to how uplifting and soul-filling it can be to find a spiritual path that fits my own deep truth.  What I know for sure is that my truth will not be the same as your truth… and I wouldn’t want it any other way.  Starlet was raised to be a free-thinker, like her Unitarian Mom.  When I asked her if the study involved to be adopted into this religion made her feel anything that might be considered a spiritual experience her reply was affirmative.  Coupled with the fact that this young man seems worthy of her love and devotion, as they’ve had the two years of his distant mission trip to get to know each other through verbal and written communication alone, this goddess mother feels pretty good about her choice.  In other words, due to a geographical divide, chemistry and hormones have not been able to get in the way of really getting to know one another.  This feels like a lovely alternative to the instant gratification culture to which we’ve all become accustomed.

Since only Mormons can attend the actual wedding ceremony of this young couple, Starlet’s family and friends will be invited to attend the ring ceremony on the day that follows their union.  I learned a great deal about this unfamiliar faith as we discussed creating an outline for this joyous event.  Together, we created a general plan for the ceremony, and when her beloved is home from his mission, they will help me to fill in explanations of symbolism that might be different from our own customs.

I’ve begun building the words that will convey the deep meaning and purpose of our Solstice gathering.  My ultimate hope is that my darling goddess daughter and her new husband will feel unconditionally loved and supported by their new families and the community that surrounds them.  A difference of religion should not be a factor that divides a community.  If love is at the core, it can only be made stronger by the rich diversity and mutual respect for the choices we have each made for ourselves.

If I can manage to do right by these two young darlings, I may just find further illumination on my own path forward.  Perhaps I am not becoming an end of life doula, but a transition doula.  If needed, I may accompany souls from one path to another… from single to married, from old life to new life, from endings to beginnings, from loathing to loving… from healing to thriving…  the way is only limited by the boundaries of the mind.  May we all be unlimited!

My Post (11)

Your Light ~ Required

On a normal day devoted to writing, I typically sit down at the keyboard, empty my mind and ask for inspiration to come.  Words flow from my fingertips without a conscious direction… my writing is a mystery that is revealed to me as it comes.  It reminds me of the metaphor my soul-daughter has used for my current path:  She says that I am on a long, dark highway and I can only see what is illuminated by my headlights.  The road is safe, and my GPS is leading me to where I need to be, and my car is safe with a full tank of gas.  All that is required is to keep driving forward, pay attention to what is being revealed as I go, and know that I will be informed when it is time to stop driving.

On these days that I am focused on writing, I am often reaching into my past for a story to tell, through which some level of insight or self-healing may be revealed.  Today is different.  Today, I am writing about something from my future, and I’d like to engage your support.  I promise that it will not cost you more than a moment of thought, and what I know for sure is that the light produced by your mindful awareness will add to the light of mine, and together… we may just permeate the darkness descending upon a sacred soul.  Now, the soul of whom I write is specific, but together – our reach may be more broad.  Each of us may be just a drop of quenching rain, but together we can be a monsoon of healing light, a tsunami of love.  The holy one of whom I write is the beloved sister of a dear friend.  In this year of transformation, she has selflessly offered her gifts to me, as she does to anyone in need, asking for nothing more than the pleasure of my company in return.  She, herself, is a warrior of overcoming – and she has reached to me with a request to grab my bow, and lead this Tribe of loved ones through a circle of healing.  The invading predator is fierce – ALS invades the body and robs it of its strength to move, and eventually… to breathe.  You see… this is why I need you today, and your stunning, radiant inner light.  My love is great and enveloping, but OUR love?  It is all consuming… a cloak of comfort on a cold dark night.  Please take my hand and share your light… I can see it growing brighter as you approach, and it is sweetness to behold – love made manifest.  Further, I hope you would not consider it greedy to ask that you share this post with others.  Imagine the power of our light when it is passed from one sacred soul to another!  We are each torchbearers… passing our light from one to another, until the whole world is aglow with a radiance more powerful than the sun.

For the purposes of our focused connection, I am going to refer to our sacred vessel as Juno.  For clarity, if you are reading this after the date of this gathering to which you are contributing… know that time is not linear, and your light will still make a difference.  Also understand that if you are in need of healing light, you may pull it from this cosmic gathering, and when you offer your own healing energy, you are never depleted, for this is a divine force that moves through you… you cannot help but receive through the giving.

Great Spirit, Mother / Father God, Universal Force of Creation, Powers that Be, Elements that surround us and flow through us, All That Is:  Allow this sacred circle of beautiful beings to become a combined vessel of your love, filling up and spilling forth with an abundance of healing light energy.  Allow the light of love to flow freely, without obstacle, and let it drip down the healers’ hands, washing away our sorrows, our fears, our hunger and thirst, our aches and pains, self-doubt and false limitations.  As we are made of celestial matter, we contain the healing power of a thousand suns, and the distant light of a billion stars is ever present in the combustive force that warms us from within.  Let this divine energy rise up through Earth’s core and crust, through saline ocean, and forest floor, through the soles of our feet, rising up through the roots that are our legs, lighting up our energetic being as it is filled – (red) root, (orange) sacral, (yellow) solar, and into our (green) hearts contained by strong and resilient trunks, and let this molten, healing light flow through arms to hands that are our branches, through (blue) throat, (purple) mind’s eye that sees what is not visible, and (white) crown through which we connect easily with all that is… rising up and out to deliver exactly what is required, be it for the good of all.  Amen, So Be It, Blessed Be.

If it is difficult to connect with the soul of someone you do not yet know, think of someone you do know who has made you feel completely loved.  Hold that beloved being in your heart and radiate and reflect that love back to her or him.  As you feel that radiance shared between the two of you, allow that light to expand to encapsulate others in your circle – family and friends for whom you feel a sense of affection.  Now, expand that light even further, beyond those you know well and out to acquaintances, and then to people you don’t know in your community, in your city, in your state.  Let your light of loving compassion grow and spread beyond the boundaries of country, continent, planet.  Let your love reach and grow into the darkness of space, surrounding the galaxy, and then every galaxy – known and unknown.  Know that your light is expansive and boundless. You are one with the universe and all that is.

Now, bring your focus back into your center.  Visualize this place that is in a realm that is not limited by what we know in this world.  In this place, there is plenty of room for all of us to gather.  We are each standing in our own strength, prepared to share it freely with one another.  If you once felt alone in this space, feel the arrival of other light beings, as the palms of your hands are filled with the palms of two others.  As each of us arrive in this sacred circle, a pale blue light radiates from each being, and as hands are linked, the light begins to pulsate and grow stronger as it flows gently in a clockwise motion, from heart to heart and hand to hand.  As the circle is made complete, you look before you and see Juno seated at the center, enveloped in the pale blue light of your loving presence.  Let Juno be represented by that being who has made you feel most loved and cherished, and let that love be reflected back to her.  She is surrounded by Universal light delivered through sacred souls from all over the planet.  You may be holding hands with someone from America, from Canada or Ireland, from India or from Africa… your light is mingling with the light of people from countries whose names have never crossed your lips.  We are all one, and there are no barriers here.  We are all here for one purpose… to bring divine healing light to the soul of another, in whatever form is needed.  When we offer our healing energy, Reiki, Theta, our thoughts and prayers, it must be unattached to outcome, for we cannot know the destined journey of one’s soul.  We can only trust that exactly what is needed to bring healing to that sacred soul, in any form, will be delivered by our care.

As the light surrounding Juno grows and pulsates, it is like a magnet that is pulling from her body any residue of past harm, be it betrayal, fear-based thought, denial of success or personal worthiness, food-born or environmental distress or illness.  As all remnants of negativity and dis-ease (mentioned and unnamed) are removed from her body, her energetic being, her DNA, and her beautiful soul, all areas of exit are filled and sealed with golden light.  The pale blue light, which has grown in strength as each new soul enters the circle, becomes a beautiful emerald green.  As Juno has been emptied of what no longer serves her, she has become an open vessel to receive the light that we offer, as well as the sparkly white light of creation that flows from above.  We are grateful witness to the arrival of this light, and are awed by the beauty that illuminates Juno’s own beauty as she is filled with this light that is like the golden light from a holiday sparkler, or a downpour of luminous glitter.  This light fills every cell of her body with divine healing energy, as it delivers strength and fortitude for the road ahead.  Juno is receiving through her open heart, the wisdom of the universe, the strength of earthly ancient mountains, the air to fill her lungs and speak her truth, the fire to move her muscles and accomplish every task she seeks to fulfill, the water to wash her spirit clean of fear, anger, bitterness, and regret.  Juno is filled with divine light and soothed by the love that surrounds her.  Whatever is required for her peace, comfort, and transformation in the form that her soul has chosen will be provided with grace and ease.  She is one with all of us and we are all one with the Universe.  Together we transcend the limitations beholden to the confines of the human body, through the power of the mind, which is greater than our understanding.  Once again, we place our trust within this truth… that assistance is given to those who reach.  Together we reach beyond what we can see, feel, understand, and know that this mystery is received and freely given through the love that resides within each of us.

Finally, in this sacred place where we have gathered, we raise our hands toward Juno, and send golden light energy from heart to palm and into her being, so that she may carry the love of this circle within her through all of her days upon the earth and into the mystery of what comes next.  And when you feel that you have given what she needs, place your hands upon your own heart, and receive that same energy that flows through you and each sacred being within this circle.  Allow your own body and energetic being to be filled with this Universal Light Energy.  Feel the light and love of this vast community surround you and enter your heart.  Know that you carry this love within you, and that it seeps through every pore with a radiant light that brings healing to old wounds, and attracts an abundance of goodness to your life.

When you are ready to return to the place where you are sitting, reading these words that have somehow come through my fingertips and onto this page, I hope that you hold onto my gratitude and my love for the light that you have offered, and for the healing it has provided.  You are loved and valued beyond your previous imagining.  Hold onto that and let it grow in your awareness.  Your light will illuminate your path, and beauty surrounds you, every step of the way.

Thank you!  I love you!  It is done!

PS:  If you can please like and share this post, it will multiply the intensity of our combined healing light.  As I was lying in bed this morning, thinking about ‘Juno’, I could feel a heaviness and shortness of breath that was overwhelming.  I could feel the fear of those who suffer, and the sorrow of those who would give anything to be able to help.  I was strengthened by the thought of touching your heart, that you might touch the heart of another, and so on.  You can help.  We can help.  Somehow, in a place beyond our understanding… we shall rise…  warriors – all!

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The Enlightened Heart

One thing that has been a delightful surprise and enormous blessing about this journey of discovery through end of life studies, is the willingness and courage displayed by others who have been moved to share their own stories of loss.  Of course, the required reading provides stories from the perspective of hospice doctors, nurses, and palliative care providers… but the truth that is shared by a friend, of their own experience as a witness to a loved one’s departure is far more meaningful to me.  These sacred moments of vulnerability and raw emotion are so deeply personal that I consider it a great honor and privilege to be given the opportunity to hold space and bear witness, not to the dying in these cases, but to those who remain.  I feel as if I am being offered a gift from a friend who shares their experience, as I am offered a reflection of grace that might just be a guide for me when my darkness comes.  At the end of our days upon the earth – the path onward splits, as the survivor has no choice but to step forward in a new direction, as they create their new normal.  What a privilege to see how sorrow leads to strength and strength leads to becoming in the heart of a friend surviving the loss of a love.  The one who has died has given up all of their earthly belongings, and those who love them have lost the physical presence of someone dear.  These moments are woven into the tapestry of our individual mythology, and they are important tales of our own evolution.  I am honored to hold these sacred moments in the light of truth and with the warmth of love.

I just finished reading the fourth and final book of required reading for this course, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche.  If you are interested in reading it and enjoy audiobooks, I found it on youtube.  I find that spoken words will allow pieces that feel important to me to rise up, and then I can find them in the book and deepen my focus where I have been drawn.  Within the six and a half hours of listening, I found my draw at the halfway point… just over three hours in.  Interestingly, the first three hours were on the topic of living, while the last three hours were on dying, death and rebirth.  These pages are filled with pathways to compassion.  They offer instruction through meditation – which kind of speaks my language.

I remember the first time I tried to meditate.  It was 1992, and I was taking a class on earth based spirituality.  One of my teachers had a passion for meditation and offered a Saturday morning practice.  I remember sitting on the floor of a darkened room, receiving soothing guidance with eyes closed.  When we were instructed to open our eyes at the end, I was simply frustrated.  We were going around the room, each person sharing what they had visualized on their journey within… and let me tell you these visions were magickal.  As for myself, however, I felt that I had failed to go anywhere… and simply could not push the mundane out of my mind.  My teacher asked me what I had seen, and the truth was that I was balancing my checkbook in my mind.  Ugh… nothing spiritual about that.  He then asked me to close my eyes now, and prompted me to say aloud what I could see.  I can’t actually remember the results of that exercise, but I could see that there was potential if I could just get out of my own way.  My teacher died in 1996, just ten days after his 32nd birthday.  A couple of days before his passing I sat at his bedside, held his hand, and sang to him the healing chant that ultimately led me to his circle (I wrote about that in my blogpost:  A Spiritual Path Less Taken.)  His was the first memorial service that I planned and led, a gift to his grieving beloved.  He was pagan and his surviving partner was Catholic, so it was a service that was beautiful, loving, and diverse.  He loved to sing (though he was tone deaf), and had been a member of a pagan choir called Amulet, which had recorded an album of earth based / goddess centered chants (which you can find on cdbaby).  This group was the healing salve between the words of sorrow and celebration throughout the service.  He taught me early on that raising our voices in song is a powerful way to connect with the spirit of all that is.  I never leave home without a song in my heart, thanks to him.

It was after he was gone that my Tribe dedicated a year to meditation.  Each week we gathered and we rotated responsibility for sharing a meditation with the group.  At this point in time, our lack of experience led us to share meditations written by others.  It was a year well-spent, because at some point I did finally get out of my way and learned to travel.  I offer gratitude for this accomplishment to my friend and teacher, who surely helped guide me there through his energetic form.  In April of this year, my soul-daughter wanted to practice her mediumship skills and engaged my support.  Before she arrived, I wrote down the names of those I have loved and lost, without attachment.  It was this friend who came through.  I knew it almost immediately.  Her first words were that this guy isn’t shy, but this is the first time he has communicated with a medium.  He said he was not related, but a friend.  His energy was smooth and calming, she said.  She compared it to being on a date with him… he said, “You know, I’ve never done anything like this before…”  His energy was smooth and calming, welcoming and kind, charming, strong and firm.  He described to her how he saw the world in a positive way – like everything was beautiful.  I told her that he literally wore rose colored glasses.  Ha!  She uses metaphor when she reads, as her guides show her visuals that she can interpret.  He showed her an obnoxious yellow VW bug to describe his personality… it would be quirky, bright, stand out and something you wouldn’t see every day.  He showed her that his energy was quirky, gentle, delicate, calm, but with a big personality at the same time.  He was not calm, but his energy was.  He made a joke with her, by dusting off an old book and dusting off his shoulders, reflecting that it had been a long time since he and I had connected this way.  She said that he used symbolism to communicate with her, with a lot of imagery, in a very poetic way.  This is how meditation flows, so this makes perfect sense to me.  I could go on and on about what I learned from my friend on the other side of the veil, but that would take more time than you have interest.  She felt as if he was teaching her.  He did so for exactly one hour and eleven minutes – 1:11.  Perhaps I will transcribe his wit and wisdom to share one day.  Until then, he informs me that we will continue to connect through nature… and meditation.  As if affirming my acknowledgement, I just looked out the window to see a single feather floating downward from the oak that stands sentinel in my front yard.

The art of compassion and how to serve is the foundation of the Buddhist structure shared within the pages of this book… a temple of healing with the power of the mind.  We are reminded to touch the suffering of another with love, rather than fear.  Fear leads to pity, while love leads to compassion.  In order to activate and mentally direct this compassion we may consider the following:

Close your eyes and take a deep cleansing breath.  Visualize a green light coming through your breath and into your heart, where it brightens and expands with each rise and fall of your chest.  As this light shines more brightly, it illuminates the wise ones who surround you.  You may see them and name them as your own spiritual path allows… be they ascended masters, angels, guides, God, Universal Energy, Spirit, ancestors, etc.  Ask for their guidance to allow your words, thoughts, and actions only to benefit and bring happiness to others… to support their transformation from suffering to peace.  Direct the compassion you possess, by positive action and spiritual practice, to the dedication of the welfare and enlightenment of all beings.  Know that your own attainment of these goals will be for the benefit of all.  And with this breath of compassion and enlightenment – we breathe in the sorrow and suffering of others, and we breathe out kindness.  We breathe in the panic and fear that surrounds us, and we breathe out happiness.  The black smoke of suffering is replaced with the green light of the enlightened heart.  The art of Tonglen is to transmute pain and suffering by giving and receiving.  I receive your suffering, and give you my happiness.  I receive your grief, and I give you my peace of mind.  All of this occurs through the breath.  This is a simplified explanation of the practice that is detailed in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.  I feel that a daily practice will be developed from these pages, and I hope that my heart light may be a comfort to you when you are in need.

Like my teacher before me, I have gone on too long.  Know that you are loved, and that I am grateful to have you walking beside me.

In the spirit of connectedness, I am sharing below a few links: to my first professionally recorded meditation to release your inner warrior by letting go of the false burdens we carry; to the recordings made by the choir to which I refer above; and the contact page for my soul-daughter, should you be interested in experiencing her divine gift, first hand.

https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/melissabaker1

https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/amuletpaganchoir

https://www.facebook.com/Jillianthemedium

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Transformation Dawning

My grandniece stayed with me last week, and though we ultimately had a ‘staycation’ (for me, anyway), I still consider it to have been a glorious escape.  My brother and his family live a few hours away, so we shared the burden of driving and met half way.  I fetched her on a Saturday and gave her back on the following Saturday.  This was the longest period of time we have had alone since she was 18 months old.

13.5 years ago circumstances were such that I felt compelled to offer my support and provide her with a safe place to grow between Thanksgiving and Christmas, while her grandparents met work obligations out of state and dealt with some obstacles at home.  I will never forget the sound of relief in the voice of my sister-in-law, when I somewhat jokingly commented on how cute she was and that she should just leave her with me… “Oh, Melissa… I would be so relieved.”  With wide eyes I looked at my parents who said they would help, and I cried all the way to the airport in the rain to fetch my Tribe brother.  I cried as I told him what I was considering, both of us single and childless at the time, he understood the importance of the task and the sense of overwhelm, too.  Neither of us would have imagined then that he would be married with three children of his own now.  That night I sent an email to friends about the crazy commitment I was considering, and by morning I had been offered all of the support required to make it possible.

That month was probably the most traumatic for all of us, as some navigated separation anxiety and heartbreak, while I spent each day in fear of getting something wrong.  Above all other worries, I feared for her the abandonment issues she would surely have to face in therapy (waves flag of abandonment issues – yo!).  I took my responsibility to her so seriously that I was determined to do anything I could to ensure she would not feel abandoned by me.  I remember one weekend that my Mom came over to offer me a break and an escape, but even when I left the room she would begin to cry, and I simply could not bear to leave.  I remember friends and co-workers saying to me… “Oh, Melissa… this is going to change your mind about having children.”  Well, it didn’t.  Not because she wasn’t precious, because she was.  And not because the work of caring for a child is thankless, because I know without a doubt that that month of my life was quite possibly one of my most important and greatest accomplishments of this lifetime… after all, I managed to keep her alive for an entire month!  She had never been around other children, so of course she immediately caught a cold from daycare, and she also cut a couple of molars during the time that I had her.  Every day I would drop her off and she would cry, and every day I would cry all the way to the office.  Did I mention that empathy is my number one strength?  I would tuck her into bed each night, and collapse in a heap in the silence of the living room, hoping to have a moment to myself, but feeling too exhausted to do anything else, and not wanting to make any noise that might disturb my sleeping angel.  I remember waking each morning and hoping that I could run to the bathroom before she woke up, so that I could tinkle without having to have her on my lap while doing so (because if she was awake, and I left the room… she would cry – and I could not allow her to feel abandoned by me).  Good golly, people!  How on earth can you possibly choose to be responsible for the entire life and well-being of another human?  What a horribly overwhelming task.  I remember how I would hear her cry and it would feel like my heart was beating on the outside of my chest.  I recall the  mornings when I would hear her stir in the makeshift crib that was next to my bed, and I would look over and smile to see her standing up and holding onto the edge, with her beautiful tuft of light brown curls, greeting me with a smile – that and when she tossed her head back to take the medicine for a cold or teething always reminded me of a baby bird.  I would have done anything to keep her safe, healthy, and happy.  Her happiness was my joy!  One night, I pushed past fatigue and put up the Solstice Tree, and delighted in the look on her sweet face the next morning as I carried her into the darkened living room lit by those magickal lights.

I have to admit, having a 15 year old in my guest room was much easier than having an 18 month old beside my bed.  I just caught myself wondering why we had never done this before… and remembered that this, too, is a gift of the year of time and reflection I’ve given myself.  Not beholden to anyone to grant me time off, I had the freedom to ask… and to receive.  It was pretty awesome.  She cooked for her great grandparents and me, and we shopped for school clothes.  She attended an event I co-hosted… a sort of female empowerment and expressive arts evening with friends.  She WOWed me with her openness and authenticity.  She spoke her truth and shared her vulnerability, knowing that she was in a safe place.  Her courage to share encouraged the same in others.  I introduced her to the art of acrylic pour, and she suggested that we do a project together, each creating a piece that would be symbolic of how we felt about each other or what we meant to one another.  Into the colors I chose – each as vibrant and rich as her stunning brilliance and personality – I stirred my hopes and dreams for her… to see her own true value, to seek her own truth and follow her own north star, to be filled with utter joy, and fulfilled by purpose and passion.  When it was dry, I wrote on the back of her canvas:  “Beloved – This painting contains my love for you, and symbolizes the beauty that you are and that which is on the horizon for you.  Love, M”  In turn, what she created for me contained many shades of green, with an additional image that she brilliantly added into negative space, which started as a Stag (sacred to Artemis, you know) and became a tree.  She told me that in meditation the forest is her safe place, and that I, too, am her safe place.  On the back of my canvas she wrote:  “To a GORGEOUS Goddess – You deserve the care you provide for everyone else.  You will get all that you need and want because you’re a beautiful soul.”   (I hope you’re listening, Universe!)

So, all of this was pure delight, and I loved every moment with my girly, but one of my favorite parts was meeting her request to enjoy a bit of nature together.  A friend of mine had suggested taking her to one of our local springs, and that is what we did.  We grabbed another friend of mine, and headed off for adventure.  We packed some snacks, put on bathing suits, and traveled just 30 minutes from home to reach a piece of paradise, Wekiwa Springs.  Knowing that the water would be shocking to our delicate systems (we Florida girls aren’t used to diving into 70 degree water), we chose to take a hike, so that the (literally) breathtaking plunge might feel even more welcome.  We traveled along the path and boardwalks, and delighted in the flora and fauna, as well as several winged creatures that were surely faery folk in the guise of dragonflies.  We saw them in many different colors, including green, silver and blue.  The presence of dragonfly informs us that transformation is dawning on the horizon – and I do believe all three of us can feel it coming.  As we completed the trail and began to hear the sound of others splashing in nearby water, we determined we were definitely ready for a swim.  This was the first time my grandniece had ever been to a spring, but this adventure brought back memories for my friend and for me.  My friend recalled many wonderful visits shared with her beloved, whom we lost to leukemia last fall… and having been away from this glory far too long, my own memories were of trips to the springs with my parents and brother when he and I were young, when we could dive for fossilized sharks teeth and swim until our lips turned blue.  I even remember a time when I was maybe 4 or 5 and my parents swam next to me – atop a raft, and there were people up on a bank who were tossing marshmallows into the water to feed an alligator.  I may have to check this memory with my folks to determine if that particular recall is based in fact or childhood fantasy.  Anyway, we swam for a while, and I began to worry that my toe rings would fall off, because the usual swelling of heat and gravity was totally lacking in this element… and they started to feel rather loose.  So, we each made our way up the hill to the shaded spot with our blanket and snacks.  We reflected on the connectedness we experienced with nature (and with the boy my grandniece met at the edge of the spring – oh, to be fifteen again), and after a while, we determined our needs had been filled.  We finished off the afternoon at my friend’s house with a few rounds of cards.  It was a perfect day!  Ever since, I’ve been asking myself why I had taken these gifts of nature for granted… feeling like I had to drive ten hours to find a piece of heaven, when it was right here… just a short drive from my front door.  I feel as if I will need to make up for lost time, and spend the next several weeks escaping to a local spring to dance with the dragonflies and swim until my lips turn blue.

As I summarized this delightful week to my soul-daughter, sharing how I felt badly for having shirked my responsibility to the end of life doula study… she once again reminded me, with that wisdom-beyond-years way that she does, that though I may have spent fewer hours at the computer or reading a book on death or palliative care, I had most certainly been ‘doing the work’.  You know what?  She’s right!  I am less sure today that my path is to become a doula, but more certain that there is purpose and meaning in doing this work.  Every single day of this sabbatical has been filled with a certain kind of mindfulness and gratitude that comes with the absolute knowledge that our time here is limited.  If the beauty of a natural spring doesn’t bring a sense of homecoming to your soul, you are denying the importance of the element of water in your very existence.  I mean…  you are made of mostly water!  The Earth is bubbling with this cooling, soothing salve for your tired and aching spirit, and She invites you to enter her healing embrace.  The cicadas are singing for the resonant pleasure of your eternal spirit – reminding you of the freedom of summertime on a hot afternoon, how could you fail to recognize their tune?  And everywhere you turn, the dragonflies are bobbing and dancing, then gently perching upon branch and limb, hoping to get a closer look at your vibrant being, knowing that the symbolism of the human body is to be reminded that you are looking upon the Universe itself – in which all of the elements, air, fire, water, earth and spirit, are contained.  The dragonflies know this about every human they pass, why must so many of us fail to recognize this truth, whether passing another on a trail, or seeing our own reflection in the living waters?  There is so much tragedy in what we fail to see.

I am growing more certain with each passing day that this sacred journey upon which I embarked last fall is really about learning to truly see.  I am learning to see what has always surrounded me… that beauty is before me, behind me, above me, below me, and within me.  I am learning to sense what I cannot see with my eyes, allowing energy to be felt with my heart and words that are not heard through my ears to flow with grace and ease through my fingertips and onto this page.  Through the study of death and dying, I am learning how to truly live.  Every time I wish I could see the future and how my financial security will evolve from something I no longer care to do into something I was born to do, I am reminded that I don’t need to see it to know it is on the way.  I don’t need to define it to be able to manifest it.  I am already in the spring and it is carrying me forward, and I have no choice but to stay open to receive and appreciate all of the rich beauty that awaits, as I mindfully and joyfully go with the flow.

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The Umbrella Principle

There are five things, according to Dr. Ira Byock who wrote Dying Well, that can bring comfort and closure at the end of life.  In each of our relationships, as we near the end of our days, we may pass through the veil without regret if we are able to tell those we love the following:  Forgive Me, I Forgive You, Thank You, I Love You, Goodbye.  My study of end of life doula work has opened a portal for conversations with others about their own experiences with death, and I am grateful for these opportunities.  There is obviously overwhelming heartbreak involved in each story, but there is also a call to mindfulness, and at times… grace.

But what about the relationships that never have such closure, because those who were departing did not exactly plan to leave their bodies behind quite so soon… or because they were too fearful to broach such topics with those they love?  If life is filled with lessons, perhaps unexpected loss is a reminder to each of us that such endeavors need not wait for the clarity of a terminal diagnosis.

Though my parents and I hope to be in each others’ lives for years to come, we have taken time here and there to discuss our thoughts.  With their recent update to their “Last Will and Testament” documents, which came with buying a new house up the street from me, Mom and Dad each completed the “Five Wishes” form, which provides a format to help us consider our end of life wishes.  A few items for consideration are who can speak for your healthcare needs when you are not able to speak for yourself, in what situation would you deny life-saving efforts, who would you like at your bedside as your spirit returns to its original energetic form (that’s my wording, of course), and how you’d like the body you’ve left behind to be cared for at that time.

As my friend and I connected from opposite corners of the country to discuss her experiences, I shared with her the memory of the departure of a mutual friend of ours in the late 90’s.  He was only 32, and though he had a serious diagnosis, a side-door illness swooped in and took him from us with unexpected haste.  I can see his final days, dimly lit, in the back of my mind.  He had refused to discuss his wishes with his partner, and as we set to the task of planning and arranging his memorial service, the grief seemed greater for the fear of getting something wrong.  At the time, my (then) partner and I were only 28, but within weeks of our friend’s celebration of life, we celebrated our own with official documents that stated our wishes should one of us be lost to the other without warning.  As for the stories my friend shared with me, she suffered a few tragic losses in her youth, but one that was expected was that of her grandmother.  Now, her grandmother had been incredibly mindful of her wishes, and was mostly clear… mostly.  She had planned and even executed her entire funerary arrangement… right down to purchasing the flowers for her casket and securing transport of her body from hospital to funeral home.  Her loved ones would not need to do anything but grieve at her loss.  However, her advance directive left for her doctors to follow was not so clear, and there was some confusion.  In other words, if you are ready to go, but you’ve not declined life-sustaining treatment with your healthcare providers (and your health surrogate), they are honor bound to provide them.

I know that the end of life is a difficult subject for most of us to consider, but I wonder if it might be easier to think about it a little differently.  You know how it seems to rain when you don’t have an umbrella, and how when you are mindful enough to carry one, no matter how dark it gets the rain never comes?  Well, that’s how I see this form of preparation.  Not that having these discussions with loved ones and securing official documentation of your preferences will keep the inevitable at bay… after all, it is the one guarantee in life that is presented on the day we are born.  But I submit for your consideration that if you have done the work of mindfully caring and sharing your authentic wishes for a peaceful transition from this world to the mystery of what comes next, you will gift yourself and those you love great freedom to live each day fully present.  I updated my own documents before my last trip abroad, in case I were to fall off of a cliff in Ireland, and I recently wrote a ritual of departure for such an occasion though I’m not sure of when I will next enjoy such adventure.  It was a surprisingly cathartic exercise.

All of that said, I would like to take a moment to tell you that if I have ever wronged you or caused you harm in any way, I am deeply sorry and I hope that you will forgive me.  If you ever wronged me or caused me harm in any way, I have come to understand from my own deep regret that such actions likely came through suffering of some kind, and I forgive you.  For your presence in my life and for even the tiniest expressions of kindness and care, I offer you my gratitude.  For the love that you have offered so freely, not only to me but to your family, your friends, your community, our planet and all of Her beloved creatures… I love you more.  There’s one more thing… but I’m not quite ready to say goodbye (I hope).  For now, I’ll bid thee hail and farewell until we meet again.

If you are interested in learning more about determining your own advance directive, you can check out this link:
http://www.caringinfo.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3277 , you can also google Five Wishes.

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Transmute and Transcend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Release and Receive

Next week I will go back into the studio to record more of the meditations I’ve written over the years.  As I was reviewing and selecting which ones I would share, I recognized a common theme… releasing, banishing, or letting go of what no longer serves us.  If each of these meditations relates to a Celtic holy day, that means that at least eight times a year I am asking my listeners to just let it go already!  Of course, if my listeners are anything like me, they may just need the reminder.

On the way to finding self-love, if one has spent a lifetime reciting a list of accusations and false claims about one’s appearance and worthiness of deserving good things, one might take a while to break such habits, especially if one is nearly a half century along in said habit.  As for me, I have been vigilant about reprogramming negative self-talk, and yet every once in a while, I find myself berating my body for not being the size or shape of what American structure dictates to be acceptable.  And every time I catch myself falling back into this despicable behavior… despicable because if I were ever witness to someone saying these things to someone I loved, I would stand with the power and passion of mother bear to demand they consume their own words, and dare them not to choke on them… I must go back to the beginning and do it over in a way that is loving and kind.  Constant vigilance.

Though the Celtic New Year is at Samhain, which is October 31, I consider the cycle to begin at Imbolc, which is February 1.  Since the Celtic culture revolved around farming communities, the symbolism is based upon our relationship with the land.  Imbolc is when seeds are planted, and for me it seems like a logical place to start… first, we decide what we wish to bring to harvest in the coming year, and then we plant that intention.  If we were actually to plant something in the ground, as I witnessed my friend who doesn’t have a brown thumb do for my parents this evening, we would first have to prepare the soil by removing any obstacles that may be in the way.  We pull weeds and till the soil… as we must in life… remove those limiting beliefs and open our hearts to receive what can only come our way in this state.  If our palms are tightly clenched, there is no way to receive the treasure being offered.  Being open is key to receiving.  For this reason, I find myself in a perpetual state of letting go.

With the Celtic Wheel of the Year being conveniently spaced out in eight week increments, it seems like a perfect opportunity to remind ourselves to take stock.  If we planted symbolic seeds to start a new career, we can reflect on our progress and decide if we’ve been procrastinating or slacking on our commitments.  If our intentions were to build community or create a tribe, but we haven’t left the house since Imbolc… well, we need to make some plans and get out into the world at the Spring Equinox.  The thing about planting seeds is that they need to be watered, and if weeds have begun to choke our precious sprouts, they must be liberated from such obstacles.  Our minds work much the same way.  How can we attain the joy and happiness we desire if we are allowing negative thoughts to own real estate in our minds?  Bitterness and regret are the weeds that crowd our sacred garden, and if we allow them to flourish, our harvest will be bankrupt.  Do you want to harvest sun flowers or poke weed?  If you never do the work of clearing your field, you won’t have the freedom to plant your desires.

So, here we are at the Summer Solstice and in just eight weeks we will greet the first harvest, known as Lughnasadh on August 1.  I think about the seeds I have planted and I wonder if I have been caring enough to ensure their safety.  Have I sufficiently cleared out of my life the negative influences that would stunt their growth?  As a new obstacle was discovered in my field of plenty, was I able to lift the burden from tender roots to reintroduce their sweet limbs to the radiant source of light?  I hope so!  And I wish the same for you, dear one.

May the glorious healing sun bring blessings of abundance into every area of your life.    May any perceived limitations or obstacles be easily released and removed from your sacred field of fruition.  May the coming harvest season bring all of your hopes and dreams into magnificent manifestation.  Know that your presence on my journey is among my most valued and precious yield.  HAPPY SOLSTICE!

SUNFLOWER

Thanks Universe!

There is this really cool thing that seems to happen with some level of consistency.  The Universe delivers exactly what I need or who I need at just the right moment, to ensure that I do not have to suffer a crisis of faith.  Doesn’t this happen to you?  Don’t you love it when it does?

For many years, for more than a couple of decades in fact, I was in a position of clarity.  I knew with a sense of certainty that I was in the right place doing the right thing.  I loved my work and I felt an overwhelming sense of being loved at work.  It sounds strange, I know, but if you believe that what goes around comes around, well… that was my truth.  I loved what I did for a living and I adored and respected the people with whom I served.  Over time, things changed and the joy and the love were not as clear… and the Universe delivered a message which I could no longer ignore.  It said to me, “Melissa, now that you’ve got this whole self-love thing in the bag… you don’t need to keep a job that no longer serves your spirit for the purpose of validating your self-worth.  It is time to seek and fulfill your life’s purpose.”  And then the Universe, which can sometimes be an asshole, left me hanging with no immediate clue as to what the purpose might be.  But I’ve learned a thing or two over the years about being patient, paying attention, and that purpose was slowly revealed to me… one miraculous clue at a time.

What I can tell you about this discovery is that even when it seems obvious that the correct path has been revealed, one can still have moments when clarity is lost and the struggle of insecurity and self-doubt creeps back in.  Self-doubt is an old nemesis from my days of self-loathing, and though it has been cast out it continues to lurk on the outskirts of my existence, threatening to return with all of its darkness to try once again to snuff out my light.  But alas, the Universe, not always an asshole, tends to step in just in the nick of time to deliver a booster shot of confidence to bolster the new paradigm that supersedes that former false belief of limited potential.

Today I received a text message from a dear friend I’ve not seen in several months.  “Hello.  You up for a couple visitors tonight?”  And so it was that our months of unintentional separation were ended, and the three of us were reunited with a warm embrace.  I hadn’t realized how much of my personal evolution was missing from my friends’ awareness.  I’m pretty much an open book in the world of facebook, so even my mother’s friends know what I’ve been up to, but I guess I can’t expect everyone to be checking in on my shared revelations through the world of social media.  Reflecting on more than 20 years of friendship, with most of that time seeing me in the same job with not much to report, I have probably been more of an inquirer and a listener for most of our acquaintance.  I love to know how friends have been faring and receive updates on the growth and progress of their children, and if they still love or hate their jobs, or how they are overcoming obstacles.  If I ever perceived myself having obstacles, it wasn’t very likely that I would want to ‘burden’ others with the details, and more than likely, I was in denial about having any obstacles in the first place.  Our friendship dove to new depths several years ago when he went through divorce.  Oddly, we both experienced a sense of betrayal and our friendship grew stronger through sharing the darkness through which we each struggled, and celebrating our individual journeys back into the light.  This experience, I believe, created a sense of kinship which invites deep connection, even when our time together is sparse.

When he and his girlfriend arrived, I was delighted to see them both, and we began discussing a topic about which I had inquired through text message about a week ago.  He is a branding genius, and I have found myself in the uncomfortable position of self promotion.  If you were to scroll down to my very first blog post, you would understand that I wrote a book earlier this year, and that a publisher had replied with intrigue, but required that I create a following and inquire again.  I’ve only been doing this writing thing since November, so the fact that I sat down and wrote a book from start to finish, with a complete table of contents that wrote itself and then allowed the systematic completion of each chapter within two months was pretty astonishing on its own… but now you want me to write a blog… and create a following?  Craziness!   And now, I’ve become a recording artist, having professionally produced my first guided meditation and published it through cdbaby, which released last week… and now that needs to be advertised through social media, too?  Until a few weeks ago, I had nothing more than a single page on facebook.  Now I have a whole host of sites that require titles, user ids and passwords… but now what do I do with them?!  Sigh…

So, that was how our conversation began.  What I found as I was explaining my needs and concerns was that somewhere in the fray of daily overwhelm, which comes with scrapping your entire former identity and seeking, developing, and solidifying a new one, I felt kind of unsure of where I was going.  The gift from the Universe arrived as our conversation continued.  He wanted to know what else I had been doing, you know… besides the blog… and I told him about the book I wrote about my journey from self-loathing to self-loving, and I told him about the meditation released last week, and how I had designed a series of meditations to correspond with the chakras, and oh, yeah… I’ve started writing another book based on my studies to become an end of life doula, and how it is a sister to the previous book.  Now, the recordings interested him, because he is also a musician – a collaboration, perhaps, and because he has ‘maximizer’ in his top five strengths, he was able to rattle off a list of ideas, each met with my already written plans for such endeavors.  Each time another piece of my story was ready to unfold, I would pull out something I had written which could explain where I’ve been and how I’ve gotten this far with great detail and eloquence.

All of these pieces coming together were affirming.  Perhaps I haven’t been wasting my time, after all.  Maybe I am on a path toward future success and happiness.  But it was in the conversation about end of life studies that we deeply connected, tonight.  His thoughts mirrored my own, about the way that the end of life is a natural part of living, and it seems a shame that it is feared rather than revered.  It was funny how he would make a statement about his wishes, and how mine were similar and already written down within the early pages of this new book.  All three of us want to be cremated rather than buried, and no open caskets.  He and I both, if we are given a deadline, wish to have a living wake before we go… because neither of us would want to miss a great party.  I talked about what I had learned from my studies about finding peace before departure.  The five things required for relationship completion, as listed in the book Dying Well by Ira Byock, M.D. are this:  I forgive you.  Forgive me.  Thank you.  I love you.  Good bye.

For my departure, if there is time to plan, I would want a gathering place with comfy seating and dim lighting, with the magick jukebox set for random play, to ensure a lovely mix of Fleetwood Mac, Loreena McKennitt, and KIVA (just to name a few of my favorites).  He and I would both want to have enough time to connect with each person in our lives… and I affirmed his request with a plan for each discussion.  Aside from the ‘five things’, we would each tell each other what we recall about our first meeting and about a moment in our shared history when we made a difference in each others’ lives.  It was not difficult for me to pull up these moments, and since we never really know how many days we have remaining, I leaned over and took his hand and told him, “When I first met you, your hair was down to your shoulders, and I thought you were absolutely amazing.”  And, “One of the times you made a real difference in my life was on that one terrible, horrible no good day, when the rug was yanked from beneath me, and I felt as if my world was tumbling down.”  As I cried on the phone to my Mom, her response was to have me hang up so she could call my Tribe.  The call she made was to his wife (at the time), and though she was tied up with a work commitment, she reported that HE was on his way, and would be there soon.  And he was… he arrived within the hour bearing cone cake from the local Chinese bakery.  I can’t recall exactly what he said to me, as we consumed our sponge cake made with rice flour, but whatever it was… it was exactly what I needed to hear.  Of everyone who had offered support that day, it was his presence and his words that brought me peace.  I could name a hundred other moments when his friendship and devotion really wowed me, but I think I’ll save that for couch time when one of us is preparing for departure, forty years from now.

I shared with my friends the alternative plan for my departure, which will be executed should I not have time to plan, and read to them the words that I plan to record to be played at my parting ritual.  And as they prepared to head home, we hugged a little bit tighter, a little bit longer, and once more for good measure.  And as I’m sitting here, committing this memory to the ether, I am taken aback by the realization that should I die tomorrow, I will have made manifest one of my dying wishes… to be able to share with someone who made a difference in my life the glorious reflection of his divine being.  If he didn’t recall that awful day on which he brought me such comfort, I hope that he will remember THIS day, and what a blessing we are to each other.  His enthusiasm for my writing and my work elevated my confidence level, and enabled me to sit down and share words that may inspire, or at least help someone fall asleep.

I’d love to hear about your end of life wishes, if you’d like to share.  And in case you’d like to travel with me through meditation, you can acquire a copy of “Release the Warrior Within” at cdbaby or iTunes (see links below).  I’ll figure out this self-promotion thing, eventually.  Love, love, love…

https://store.cdbaby.com/Artist/MelissaBaker1
https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/1399828129

(a manifestation candle made with my friends’ wishes for my 49th year)

friendshipcandle

Sacred Ceremony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Psyche Weeping by Kinuko Y. Craft)

psycheweepingkycraft

WTF Menopause?

Since the day I got my period, when I was twelve years old and in the sixth grade, I have been counting the days until menopause would grace me with its presence.  I’ve waited 37 years for this, and now… you are failing me.  I have always held the strong belief that fertility should be a choice, something that if you really wanted the burden of childbearing, you would have to take a pill or flip a switch to endure.  I know this is not a popular belief, as there are actually some women who have gladly exchanged this inconvenience for the blessing of children, and others who would choose to bleed every day if only they COULD be so blessed.  But seriously, why should someone who never wanted children be forced to face month after month of discomfort, inconvenience, mess, and expense?  Nearly four decades later, and I am still rather miffed about this evolutionary slap in the face.

You’d think I would feel differently, having discovered the goddess path in my early twenties, but alas… no.  I would hear women talk about their ‘moon cycle’ or their ‘red tent’ moments, and try my best to adopt a positive view of what always felt like more of a curse.  “The curse has come upon me!, she cried… The Lady of Shalott” (makes me wonder what Tennyson knew about either bleeding or having children forced through a tiny hole in his gut)… now I think I’ll go lie down in the boat and wait to bleed out.  Sheesh!  I did find it funny to realize that in a certain faith, men and women were expected to give up something each year as a symbol of reverence and commitment to honor the sacrificial king, when women were literally giving up their life’s blood at the drop of a hat, or rather the drop of an egg.  Clearly, men should get to do a forced blood letting on a monthly basis in order to keep up with the species that is always giving more than their share.

Perhaps I would feel differently if the religious right felt the seed of man was as ‘holy’ as my own, and regulate and limit ‘his’ right to choose how he would spill his semen upon the earth.  But no… pregnancy by rape or by love, though unwanted is demanded to be carried as a stain upon a woman’s soul, while no burden or shame shall ever be placed upon the penis that put it there.  If you think I feel bitter and outraged, you are right!  I have been free from this bloody curse for an entire year… until the fall of midnight on the morning of June 11.  F you, menopause!  Now, the glorious countdown to freedom has to start all over again… and I hate math!

I guess I should be relieved that the gut wrenching pain I suffered several days back was not actually my body being empathetic to two friends having abdominal surgery that day, and that my nipples haven’t been aching because I’ve developed some kind of bilateral, fast moving breast cancer.  Shew… it’s not cancer, it’s just the f*ing curse of fertility, back to torment me… like Buffy being ripped out of heaven and brought back into the demon dimension of hell on earth.    Too soon?

Perhaps I would feel less bitter if I’d not lived most of my life feeling a sense of body betrayal and self-loathing.  With a diagnosis of poly cystic ovarian syndrome in my early twenties which blessed me with rapid weight gain and insulin resistance, I put on a hundred pounds in four years without ever consuming enough calories to put weight on the most sloth-like being.  Despite a hundred different programs, pills, and even surgery… my body never lets go of her claim on the fat cells she harvested through these lumpy ovaries.

Sigh… but alas… I have spent the last several years cultivating self-love.  I have worked hard to reprogram the negative voice that once lived inside my head, constantly reminding me that I am not good enough, that I am not thin enough, that I am not pretty enough, that I am not smart enough, that I am not working hard enough, that I am not sacrificing enough, that I am not worthy of being loved, that no man will love a fat woman, that I don’t deserve the happiness of others whose bodies never betrayed them, that never ending barrage of hateful, unkind, unloving language that would never roll off my tongue to harm another living soul… only mine.  That old voice has been silenced, finally.

So here’s how I shall interpret the swelling of my belly and the shedding of dark flesh from inside my womb.  I am transforming!  I am becoming something new.  I am leaving behind that which no longer serves me, and it is being scraped out from the inside… flushing away from this sacred vessel, cleansed by water and transmuted by Mother Earth, into something healed and refreshed.  In April, the shedding occurred on the outside, through an angry dermatitis, and now… the work is just being wrapped up, on my behalf.  Here you go, dear… let’s just be done with this bit of outdated flesh.  It can’t hurt you, if you just send it love!

Okay, then.  I’m marking my calendar, and unlike in my youth, when I prayed that my period would come… I’ll say a little prayer that the lining of my uterus and I will never have to meet again.  I shall commit it to holding.  Not holding the loathing and distaste of old, but of something much healthier.  Let her hold onto the light of my love, and the healing red of root and orange of sacral chakra energy, and from there… let her energy bring birth to creativity, with words that flow freely rather than blood, and new projects that bring enlightenment, empowerment, and prosperity for self and community.  I will take this life blood and pour it onto the earth as my prayer, as I did at the full moon in May of 2000 in dedication to Artemis, with a promise to “open up and let a piece of myself fall away”.  Okay, great lady.  I hear you.  I am allowing this last remaining bit of false belief and bitterness to fall away from my body, never to be entertained again.  I promise.

Beloved vessel of loving expression, I commit to you that all of my words shall come to you with love.  Body of the universe, I vow to hold sacred every curve and every curl.  Sacred being, I promise to love you, cherish you, hold you close, to always be honest and express my truth, and will never ask you to endure suffering from self or others, for you have done your time, and I am choosing to set you free.  With this freedom, I find a release of tension in my belly, and I am finally able to breathe, and perhaps to sleep.  The rage has passed, and we have earned a dark chocolate reward.  May peace be with me, and also with you.  Amen and Blessed be.

(The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse – my favorite non-living artist)

waterhouseshalott

Second Sunday Sensations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(The First Supper by Jane Evershed)

janeevershedsupper