First Harvest – Lammastide

On Saturday, I led my fifth workshop in a series of eight. I’m making them up as I go, but they are inspired by the cycle of the sun and ever changing seasons marked by the calendar of the ancient Celts.

The beginning of August marks the halfway point between the Summer Solstice (the longest day) and the Autumn Equinox (when day and night are equal). In farming cultures, this was when certain seeds (like wheat and corn) we planted at Imbolc (February) had grown to fruition and were ready for scythe and bundle.

It is from this tradition the song John Barleycorn was originally sung, which tells of a symbolic sacrificial king. We harvest most to sustain us through the coming winter, but some must be returned to the land to ensure next year’s harvest and survival.

Steve Winwood performs Traffic’s version of John Barleycorn Must Die

This reminds me of how we, as caregivers, simply cannot give every bit of ourselves to others. We must hold back something that remains ours alone. If we give it all away, whatever will we grow next year? How can we bake bread to nourish ourselves, if we have already offered every grain for the benefit of others?

Since I spent last year studying death and dying, this felt like the perfect timing to begin the discussion of death. My goal was not to dive into fear and sorrow, but to overcome it.

The one guarantee we are given at birth is that we will also die. And yet, many of us fear that eventuality to the point of denial. Loved ones pass with or without warning having never discussed the topic of inevitability. And those who remain are left in their greatest moments of shock and sorrow to guess what those they held sacred might have wanted to occur when their bodies were left behind and their light returned to the collective.

So, I shared with my Sacred Gardeners (my workshop attendees) the story of my friend Brian. His confession of a terminal diagnosis with metastatic prostate cancer last February inspired my year of study. I told them of how I asked him: “Brian, you’ve been given a deadline. What is your joy?” And how he went home to think about it, nearly died when a trial treatment started shutting down his organs, and then texted me his answer a week later. His husband is his joy!

Throughout the year, we talked about making arrangements that would free his husband from the many tasks that would overwhelm him upon the loss of his love. And in September, when the cancer spread into lymph nodes… we discussed how he could make living in his joy his main focus and priority. He had been working because he figured he needed the health insurance, but his prognosis promised care through hospice. So, he informed his job he would be going out on disability and has been living his days to the fullest, ever since.

Brian did everything he could do to ease his own transition and to prepare his husband for the easiest possible survival through grief. Now, there is nothing left for them to do, but to live more fully with joy and intention.

Since I like to offer a meditation or grounding technique at the start of each workshop, I chose to share with my Gardeners a meditation I wrote to be a part of my own farewell ritual to be performed when I am gone.

In the visualization, I ask those who are mourning my loss to offer me their burdens, that I might take them away with me – so that they no longer need to carry such heaviness. And when they opened their eyes (and some wiped away tears) I asked them to write those burdens down and drop them into a ‘box of surrender’ that I had previously crafted.

Each of us spoke these words: “I surrender this burden to the light of love. I know that all is well in this moment. I trust that all shall be revealed in divine timing. “

Those burdens will stay in the box until we burn them at the Winter Solstice, but I can imagine from the words of introduction shared by each as the workshop began, that we are all carrying heaviness in our hearts that no one can imagine at a glance.

Next, I handed out copies of the Florida approved form for Advance Directive, a handbook on making end of life decisions, and a sample of the ‘Five Wishes’ document, which offers suggestions which are helpful when one cannot imagine their own end of days.

We talked about what is important to consider, and about what we’ve experienced through the loss of those we have loved. We found comfort in knowing that when we carry an umbrella, it rarely rains. And so we understand that once we have done the work to prepare for our peaceful ending, we have nothing left to do but to be like Brian, and live more fully in our own joy.

After lunch, and after sharing the deep discussion of death and dying and preparedness, we moved into the creative / artistic portion of our gathering. Everyone decorated and dedicated their own boxes of surrender. Tosha Silver refers to this in her book Outrageous Openness, as a ‘God Box’. The idea being that we get nowhere by worrying over what might be coming, be it something we want or don’t want, and that having a tool for release can be liberating. Some would say: ‘Let go and let God’, but some of us are less comfortable with the term, and so we offer our fears, our hopes, our burdens, our concerns to the light of love.

I provided wooden boxes, already primed, with paint, glue, glitter, and various bits and gems so that each Gardener could put into this ‘intention’ their own creative energy. Let me tell you, they are works of pure beauty. When they open the lid to enter their handwritten worries, they are greeted by the words: “Surrender to Love”, and “Resolved for the Highest Good in Divine Timing”.

My hope is that my beloveds will acknowledge that which weighs heavy on their hearts, honor them, and then lay them down with the knowledge and belief that, all is well in this moment (which is all we really have), and to rest in the belief that everything will be okay (even when answers don’t arrive on our preferred timetable).

It was a long and wonderful day. I stopped in to check on my parents and Mom reported ‘another’ mass shooting being reported Saturday evening. And on Sunday morning, when I went over to set them up for the day, Mom said… Melissa, there was ANOTHER mass shooting. At first, I thought she might have forgotten she had already told me. But then it sunk in. Two mass shootings in one 24-hour period. Another harvest. Another sacrificial king. Another tragedy to build on so many others, for which nothing has been done beyond inciting more of the same. Heavy sigh…

My book group met Sunday afternoon. We discussed how thrilled we were that though we read another book about slavery, it turned out to surprise us with the uplifting courage of two sisters who lived in Charleston, SC in the 1800s. Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings WOWed us the way that her first novel, The Secret Life of Bees had done many years before.

My friend and co-worker invited me into her book group about 16 years ago to add diversity. So, as the only white girl in the circle, I had to bring up my curiosity for how my dear friends were feeling. My only burden is that of white privilege, and I feel overwhelmed by the blatant racism that is being spewed, celebrated, and even protected by the GOP. I can only imagine how my friends might be feeling, and so I inquired.

My friend who is black, but grew up in Barbados, it turns out, does not carry the weight of discrimination as one might expect, though she could tell a story of living in NYC and having a frequent caller stop calling after meeting her in person to discover the color of her skin. And my friend who is of Indian decent and grew up in England, remembers a child calling her family names as they exited a tour bus, but acknowledges that someone silenced the kid and they went on about their day. But we all cried as our friend, who is Latina and whose husband is black, told us of how she and her husband cried at the news of the latest massacre, and the manifesto that was revealed by the white nationalist terrorist before his shooting spree. We cried with her for the awareness that she and her beloved would be a target of such senseless violence. We cried for those who WERE the target of such hatred. We cried for all that feels lost to us in our beloved country.

After my book group selected the next book and put a date on the calendar, I hugged each a little tighter. Then at bed time, I wrote onto a piece of paper: Keep Them Safe, Stop the Violence, Deliver Peace, Comfort Fear. As I placed it into my own Box of Surrender, I said these words: “I surrender this burden to the light of love. I know that all is well in this moment. I trust that all shall be revealed in divine timing. Please let it be soon. “

If you’d like to read more about creating your own end of life plan and designating your own advance directive, you can find good information at this site:
https://www.nhpco.org/patients-and-caregivers/advance-care-planning/advance-directives/downloading-your-states-advance-directive/

Thank you for walking this path with me. Now, hand me your burdens and let them go. I will carry them away with me into the light of love.

Fruition Unfolding

Yesterday was one of those days that felt like a mixed blessing. It was spent in service to the health of my father. There were parts that were difficult for both of us, but throughout each moment, I was aware of my gratitude.

It started with a trip to Longwood to exchange his broken CPAP machine, then back to help him with his bath – washing his hair and scrubbing his scalp. Helping him dress, giving him his meds with a bottle of Ensure, feeding him a late breakfast with strong coffee, then getting him safely into the car and off to the hospital for an afternoon of testing.

If I were still in the corporate world, my Friday in service to my father would have been taken as a personal day or an accrued vacation day. I would have been moving through each task with thoughts of what I would have to make up for at work on Monday, for having been absent today. I am certain that such awareness would have made me less present in caring for my father. So… even through the parts where he and I had to struggle through a task, for his body betrayal requires assistance for tasks that might be simple for others, I was mindfully happy to be there in the struggle with him.

I wish that my father, at nearly 82, could have the strength and dexterity to provide a simple urine sample to prepare for next week’s urethral stricture repair (a four hour surgery), but getting up from the wheelchair and onto a toilet seat in a restroom that lacks enough room and support bars in the right places is tedious. So, collecting a simple urine sample requires strength, compassion, and patience.

He is frustrated by the limitations of his body, burdened by severe bilateral neuropathy after a lifetime with epilepsy, and muscle loss. All I can do is offer my assistance and let him know that I am sorry for his struggle, and how I wish I could make it easier for him.

By the time we got home from the pre-surgery appointment at the hospital, we were both exhausted. I got him settled into his recliner, and went home for some light reading and a nap.

I read an article that my mother posted about death and dying, and I shared it with my workshop attendees. On August 3, we will honor the cycle of seasons at the Celtic calendar’s first harvest, a cross quarter holiday referred to as Lammas or Lughnasadh. We will begin the discussion of death, but not in the sense of sorrow… as death is as much a part of life as eating and sleeping. My plan is to help us find comfort in preparedness, for when we carry an umbrella it is less likely to rain. So, if we have a departure plan ready, all that is left for us to do is to live fully in the NOW.

The article spoke of the five parts of a conversation that will allow us all to ‘Die Well’. They are: Please forgive me; I forgive you; Thank you; I love you; Goodbye. I was already familiar with this ritual, as it was written in my required reading for a course on End of Life Doula I started last year.

Another article I read was my own blog post from this time last year, called: Homecoming. Last summer I was more at ease about being away for a couple of weeks, and this post was about my return from the mountains. This year, four nights away felt risky and selfish, but it also felt necessary to offer my soul respite.

As I read what I had written, I realized that much of the uncertainty that I was experiencing at that time, and the hopes that I offered up to the universe, had actually manifested over the last year, with grace and ease. And here’s the thing… none of it was within my imagining. I resolved to allow the universe to surprise me, and that – She did.

Here’s the link to that post: https://beethelight.blog/2018/07/24/homecoming/

In fact, reading that post inspired me to walk over to my parents’ house to ‘tuck them in’ for the night. As I stepped off my sidewalk and onto the rain dampened street, I looked into the darkened sky to see one of our neighborhood bats fluttering about for an evening snack. I always feel blessed by a bat-sighting. When one lives in the city, connecting with nature can feel like a rare opportunity.

When I entered the home of my folks, Mom paused the movie she was watching and rewound a scene and asked me to watch. The movie was “The Bad Mother”, and a daughter was reading to her comatose mother from her journal. She read off a list of resentments for a multitude of wrongs she felt her mother had done to her in her youth. Then, my Mom paused the scene and asked me if the things this character expressed to her mother were things I felt toward her, my own mother. She felt sure that I had every right to feel many of the things spoken (except for the hitting part – that was not a part of our shared story, thankfully).

As I paused to reflect, not only on the scene, but on my life and childhood, and also on the articles I read before coming over – I was taken by mindful awareness of the gift of this very moment. I acknowledged certain experiences that left wounds and resulted in false self-belief, but I also shared the discoveries made in my own personal development and healing. The knowledge that she had poor parental role models for her own mothering. Understanding that some of the wounds I received were wounds she carried from her own childhood.

Then, she said: I’m so sorry for all of the things I did that harmed you. And I assured her that I let go of resentment long ago, and also that I forgive her. I asked her for forgiveness for the things that I have done that hurt her, as well. She said that she forgives me, too. And then… she showed me a photograph of a hairstyle that she’s considering with her next haircut.

I made sure that the doors of my parents’ home were shut and locked, and that my canine-siblings were well-loved. I made sure that Dad had all he needed for the night, and told everyone that I would see them tomorrow. I walked home with happy tears leaking from my eyes, and great peace in my heart. I realize that for my parents and myself… all that is left for us to do is to live as fully as our earthly bodies allow. All is right with our souls.

This morning, Dad used ‘Alexa’ to call me for assistance. Mom was asleep and is hearing impaired, so she couldn’t hear his call. I helped him up off the floor with mechanical assistance (IndeeLift is one of many purchases we’ve made in the past year to enable better living for my father), got him settled into his chair, and served him a bagel and coffee. A new day of being of service has begun.

I can use my words from this time last year to conclude this post, with only slight adjustment… though I am no longer in the mountains, I am still surrounded by overwhelming grace and beauty… and though I have not yet won the lottery or determined how a future income will present itself (72T and my retirement fund presented this answer in October 2018), I am not fearful of the future and I know that divine timing will allow all that is needed to fall into place exactly as it should (much already has, and I am open to whatever awaits), and for all of this… and I mean all of it (including that which divine timing will later allow)… I am eternally grateful. Thank you for walking this path with me.

Witness to Waning

I watch her from across the room and see her stumble. She seems a bit wobbly this week, and I feel helpless. I pick her up and shower her with kisses, as I smooth out the water trapped in the fur of her forehead, spreading it into the fur of her neck and shoulders – an impromptu bath. I noticed this trend of dipping her head in the stream of water coming through the spout of her water fountain about the same time that the head tremor appeared. She is the fifth cat for whom I’ve had sole responsibility in my adult life, and I still crave the understanding of KSL [kitty sign language].

The workshops that I am developing and sharing this year are based on the changing seasons and how, just like nature, we humans move through cycles in our lives. It is a practice in mindfulness, to take notice of what is happening around us and what is happening within us. Using the garden metaphor, our year takes us from planting a seed, to sprouting and growth, to blossom and fruit, to harvest, and finally to rest – before the cycle begins again.

Much like the seasons move through a rise and fall throughout the solar year, so does the moon through the lunar month.

In the life of a beloved pet (in my case, a sweet cat named Morgan), the new moon would welcome a suckling kitten – brand new and filled with sweetness and hope. The two weeks that fall between the new moon and the full moon are the waxing time of life, as they become feisty, playful, adventurous, curious and a little destructive. When the moon is full, the cat is a healthy adult. This phase feels like it shines for a good long time, until one day… the light gradually begins to pour out of the cup of the moon. In the waning phase of moon and cat, things begin to change. They start to lose weight and you can feel the sharpness of bone through their fur. Health issues start to appear. Getting them to eat well is a struggle. And suddenly, you realize that you are only months, weeks, or days from dark moon.

The parallels in the health of my cats and the health of my father are not lost on me. Gwydion was with me for thirteen years, and in his waning year, my father was suffering an undiagnosed B12 deficiency. Several trips to Mayo clinic failed to recognize the elephant in the blood work, and by the time a local neurologist discovered it, permanent nerve damage was done. That was in 2008. The same year that Gwydion developed some kind of cancer, and as we were boosting Dad’s B12 to help him grow stronger, I was coming to terms with letting my boy go.

Now, in 2019 I see my kitty stumble, and reflect on the state of my father’s struggle to stand and walk without falling. Once again, the cup of the moon pours out Her light… and I can feel darkness descending.

The lives of our pets are fleeting in comparison to our own lengthy stay upon planet Earth. So really, my father is in the waning part of the year… maybe late autumn, while Morgan is in the waning part of the moon, like the waning crescent. Somehow it helps, I think, to view our lives this way. A continuous cycle of change. I know each year with the emerging spring, that winter will come again. (In Florida, that can be enormously comforting.)

With all of the reading I’ve done on death and dying, and with greater understanding of the way that energy and consciousness (that which we are beyond this earthly shell) moves through space and time, my approach to nurturing both Morgan and Dad is more mindful.

If either of them does not want to eat, I offer an alternative. If they refuse that option, I let them be. I will treat for comfort, but I will not put either of them through anything that will be traumatic with the intention of prolonging life. Great clarity was attained in my reading of Stephen Jenkinson’s Die Wise, and the painful awareness of his palliative care patients who ultimately felt resentful for prolonged dying. His style is poetic and blunt, so it’s not the easiest read, but it is honest and insightful.

Dad and Morgan can both be quite stubborn. Getting Morgan to take her medicine or eat her food is often a struggle, while she is quite good at water consumption. I don’t have to worry about dehydration, at least. Dad, on the other hand… consumes very little liquid, because getting up to empty his bladder requires so much effort. At least I can easily get him to tip his head back while I dump a hand full of pills into his mouth. I remind him every once in a while that dehydration means a hospital visit, but then I drop it.

Learning to have healthy boundaries means respecting the autonomy of others. My approach to caring for my waning beloveds is more about presence and holding space than fixing things. When it is time for each to go… they will go. We are all meant to go at some point, after all. I can do nothing to stop them. What I can do… is love them. I can love them when they are sweet, and I can love them when they are cranky. I can love them when they move easily to my will and good intentions, and I can love them through their resistance.

My personal practice of mindful presence is to do my best to take notice of changes, to ask for help if I need it, and to offer pathways toward comfort and peace. At least in Dad’s case, I can ask him if something we are doing is helpful or bothersome. Most of the time he isn’t really sure, but there is always comfort in knowing you are not making it worse.

With Morgan, it is harder. Bargaining with a cat is complicated, and the only way I can determine if something is helping is if her behavior changes. When she turns her nose up at the same food she ate with gusto yesterday, I don’t know what has changed or how to make it better. There are days when I have five different kinds of food down for her and dump it all the next day, barely touched. I consult with her doctor periodically, and I try each suggestion. At the end of the day, we don’t seem to be making much of a difference. And so I return to my practice… and hold her close.

Imagining the beauty of the moon in the night sky, even at the noon hour, I love the way She makes me feel. She reflects the radiance of the Sun and illuminates the darkness. I guess that’s what our pets do for us, isn’t it? They illuminate our personal darkness. They are bringers of light. They add beauty and magick to our lives like nothing else my mind can gather. Even when the moon is dark, I know that She is there and I can feel her pull my internal tides… just as I sit in the living room now, while Morgan is at the library window… I can feel her pulling my heart ever to her own. I will hate to see her go.

Even facing the inevitable, fifth great loss in 27 years, I wouldn’t change a thing. It turns out that it really is better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all.

When Morgan’s brother died four years ago, our veterinarian sent us a card, sharing our grief. The quote within captures this feeling so well:

“We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way. We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan…”

The Once Again Prince, from “Separate Life Times” by Irving Townsend

Being of service has always been my joy. Getting to serve my most beloved beings throughout their waning phase of life is not only my joy, but also my privilege and great honor. Their immortality is assured in the radiant fullness of my cherished memories.

Thank you for walking this path with me.

Dancing at Beltaine

Sacred Gardeners, is how I refer to the beautiful souls joining me this year for a journey of intention. As I embrace the role of priestess in service and devotion to the divine beings who are my parents, I also require a creative and spiritual outlet which fills me up. These beloved beings have generously signed on to explore the Celtic calendar and cycle of seasons as it manifests within themselves.

We are a part of nature, and so we, too, are in a state of constant change. We are connected to the earth and effected by the sun. Just as the planet goes through a transformation from winter to spring, and summer to fall as the earth orbits the sun (though less pronounced in places like Florida), we are subject to the coming of sorrows that cause us to go within (like a bear to her den) and to the great joy of new beginnings (like the emergence of the first daffodils when all else is grey and covered in snow – also not in Florida).

By the end of December, I will have created a full curriculum for this journey around the sun, as I am allowing it to develop intuitively, one high holy day at a time. If we are living in the now, how can we be caught up in what the future may hold? Nature cannot be rushed, so why should we? We plant our seeds, offer them water and sunlight, and stand witness to their unfolding.

The spring equinox inspired finding balance. We worked with techniques to feel more grounded, and creating and connecting with the joy and treasure in our lives to bring equilibrium to responsibility.

As I looked ahead to Beltaine, which is the cross-quarter holiday that falls between the spring equinox and summer solstice, I considered the state of nature in the northern hemisphere and the mythology that was written to offer symbolism for understanding. This time of year is all about sensuality and fertility. We are witness to the Sun’s love warming the earth below as flowers rise and open to His touch. I could have developed a workshop around our relationship with others, but I felt more strongly served by diving into the necessity of loving ourselves.

My gardeners were given an assignment of mindfulness. Pay attention to the words you use with your own reflection. What does your internal dialogue sound like? Would you say these things to someone you love? If not, why would you ever say them to yourself?

For our creative project, we would take a canvas and write down all of the negative things we spoke to ourselves (my hope being that my gardeners would have nothing to write), and then we would do acrylic pour and stir our positive thoughts into the paint before releasing it to cover and transmute what once was there.

We discussed Dr. Emoto’s water study, and how it has been proven that our thoughts effect water, and since our bodies are mostly water, how our thoughts effect our mental and physical health. (What are our words manifesting?)

And since we were clearly dedicating this sensual holy day to the element of water, our physical activity was a lesson in veil belly dance. Our silk veils, shipped all the way from Virginia by my Tribe Sister, flowed like water on wind, as we shimmied and twirled – connecting with our own sensuality.

Inspired by “The Shakti and The Shiva at the Center of the Human Heart” from The Storyteller’s Goddess, reminded of the love that resides within, we wrote love letters to ourselves, as if we were writing to our most beloved being. I collected the sealed and addressed envelopes to be mailed in the future, and received with surprise.

What I love the most about these gatherings is the deep, authentic, sharing of our individual truths. I always go first, because I believe that one should be willing to be vulnerable before expecting others to do the same. I believe, and have been witness to, the way that burdens are lifted when a story is shared, honored, and validated. Especially when a dozen people speak their truth and you hear your own truth in the words of many. It is enormously liberating to know that we are not alone.

There is more to the story, but what happens in sacred space stays in sacred space. I can share that though I have been practicing a mindful reprogramming of harmful thoughts and words toward myself for several years, I did find through this process that there is far more compassion in the tone that I carry. I’ve gained a bit of weight in the last two years (body shame being a core wound I’ve carried since childhood), and now when shame rises it is met with loving kindness, rather than harsh self-hatred. I feel this is huge progress which requires constant vigilance. I also feel that I am worth it. Life is short, and I have wasted far too much time in self-loathing. Joyfully, I move forward holding my inner child, rather than shunning her.

What loving words do you have for your most sacred being? Consider writing a love letter to yourself. “My favorite thing about you is… I love the way you… Thank you for… I love you most!”

I love these Sacred Gardeners, I love that you took the time to read my words and story, and I love myself for taking the time to connect with the great lover that resides within. Thank you for walking this path with me.

Writes of Passage

That’s not a typo, by the way. Eleven days from now, this blog will be one year old. It was birthed at the suggestion of a publisher insisting that their authors come with a following. And so it began.

The funny thing is, I do believe my writing has improved in the process of blogging. So, I guess it was a gift, to be rejected. (Isn’t it always?) I’ve learned that my particular style is essay, like David Sedaris, but less neurotic. (That’s not an insult. He owns his authentic chaos.)

There have been weeks when I felt moved to write almost daily, but over the last couple of weeks, I have been out of sorts, and sitting down to write just didn’t happen. Quite frankly, I’ve been moving through some severe back pain, and although movement and activity would surely have been helpful, I found myself binge watching documentaries and napping a lot.

Deep thoughts have been flowing through my mind, but they don’t seem to stick. I am more and more aware of that memory issue I’ve written about – a blessing and a curse. I still maintain that my swiss cheese memory (some things fall through the holes) allows me to be more present and fully in the moment… as I am not holding onto any thoughts that might have come before. But it is seriously annoying to realize how many projects have been started and forgotten, not out of reluctance, but through distraction.

The other day I was at my parents’ house, doing my usual daily set-up for Dad’s comfort. Rinsing his cup, filling it with ice and ginger ale, being sure he’s taken his morning meds, etc. I asked Mom if I could have some dishwasher pellets, and she told me where to find them, then started telling me that Dad was complaining about how I had forgotten to clip his nails. I looked at him and said that I had just clipped his nails (Seriously, all three of us are a mental mess.) and he agreed that I had, but that it took me a few days. He wasn’t wrong, but in my defense, I really wanted to have my glasses on so not to clip his skin. I don’t always have them with me… so it did take a while to remember to arrive with them in hand. Thirty minutes later, I was in my own living room, sending Mom a note: “To Dad’s point, I came home without any dishwasher pellets.” Her reply: “I’ll bring some right over.” And she did.

Some of the thoughts that are not fleeting are those filled with gratitude. Every single day, my recurring thought is how grateful I am to have this time of dedication to my parents. My ability to access a small portion of my retirement savings has enabled me to be available for their support. I wrote about how happy this makes me in Mom’s Mother’s Day card. All three of us take pleasure and comfort in our daily interaction. Everything has fallen into place so nicely. They chose to move closer to me five years ago (which I happen to recall because the company I worked for was in the midst of a hostile takeover in 2014), and two years ago a change in management urged my departure from the job I once loved. Well, this job doesn’t pay anything, but I love it far more. (hold that thought while I run up the street to help Dad get ready for physical therapy)

I must confess that I have been feeling a little disconnected lately. Not just from people, but from myself, as well. I spend a great deal of time alone these days, and I’m a people person.

I revel in the days leading up to one of my workshops. I have a group of 12 to 15 people who are allowing me to lead them through a year of connecting deeply with themselves and the cycle of the seasons. The curriculum is inspired by the Celtic calendar of solstices, equinoxes and cross-quarter markers, and one session writes itself only after the last one is complete.

I find that creating these events and sharing them with others utilizes my top five strengths of Empathy, Connectedness, Responsibility, Developer, and Input. I can confirm what Marcus Buckingham and Tom Rath assert, which is that the happiest people are those who are utilizing their top five strengths in their work. I feel most alive when I am blessed to dive deeply with other courageous souls into vulnerability and personal development. Now that I think about it… my writing fits that moniker, as well. Assuming anyone reads it. (Thank you for reading this – it makes me feel connected.)

I’m trying to come back to myself this week, after a week of accomplishing very little. Perhaps my body and brain needed a complete shutdown and reboot. Actually, I believe that we should all take the time to do just that. I am choosing not to chastise myself for a week of do-nothing-ness. I choose to honor myself, instead, for retreating to the underworld to refill and recharge…even if all I did was nap and watch documentaries. One of the benefits of living alone is that no one cares if the dishes pile up (not a big problem for someone who doesn’t cook) or if you wait until you run out of clean underwear to do the laundry. (I have a lot of underwear.)

Yesterday, I decided to make my way back into the world of the living. I went to tai chi class in the morning, and I returned to ‘church’ aka my evening walk around the neighborhood. As I was nearing the end of my two-mile circuit, I was blessed to be joined by an owl who landed on a power line just before I turned onto my own street. I stopped a while to stand witness to her grace.

The owl can be known to be a harbinger of death, but not necessarily the literal kind. They can fly into your life to make you aware that life is about to change. Okay, mother-owl… I am rested and ready!

Just as I was preparing to finish this piece – when the system froze and didn’t save the last four paragraphs I’d written (heaven knows what I’ve forgotten) – I looked up to see a white butterfly dancing past my living room window. Also a symbol of spiritual change and protection, I can’t wait to see what the universe has in store. Hopefully there will be time for another nap. Care to join me?

Owl at Dusk: Harbinger of Change

WILL WORK FOR ART!

What a blessing to have good friends with similar passions and interests. Recently, my lifelong friend (read: my favorite tomboy) and I drove north for our annual Artcation adventure. The destination – Savannah, Georgia.

We started this tradition about five years ago (we both struggle with the memory thing – so, that’s just a guesstimate). When we have more time to escape, Savannah is just a stop on our journey, but with my father’s various appointments during the week, a weekend trip felt more feasible. So, this time our focus was singular.

We love this whimsical walking city that is filled with history. We appreciate the architecture, the series of squares that offer parks and monuments surrounded by luscious canopies of oak trees throughout the thoughtful grid of cobblestone streets. But what we love the most… is the art. More so, we love the artists. Unlike many of the extreme-art cities we visit, Savannah has a good number of local artists who are working in the community, either in their own studio galleries or in a co-op setting.

Each year upon arrival, we check into our hotel and park the car. We then walk directly to one of three destinations to see what’s new by the artists we adore, and to see if a new (to us) artist can be found.

Our most joyful visits to Savannah are those that allow us the opportunity to spend a little time getting to know the artists that we have come to value. This year, we were blessed to have some time with three! Just one more favorite would have been like hitting the jackpot, but alas… our timing was off.

Our hotel this year was ideally located (for us), and it was just a two minute walk to get to City Market. This is a part of the historic downtown area that is always hopping. There is live music in the square, several restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating, shops and boutiques, and of course… oodles of art galleries.

As always, we asked our hotel manager for a lunch recommendation. We like to try something new (to us) in the culinary department each visit, as well. So, this time, we enjoyed our lunch at Belford’s Seafood and reveled in the glorious art of people-watching from the patio.

People come from all over to enjoy the culture of this historic downtown. We were witness to at least three bachelorette parties, and dozens of children dancing with ice cream, while their parents snacked on fresh made pralines. Oh! The pralines… sigh.

After lunch, we made our way upstairs to one of the artist centers. We were delighted to find Sabree in her gallery, which was in a different spot from our last visit. We were most drawn to a few large paintings and were introduced to the Gullah representations of Yemaya and Oshun. We adore the style and vibrant color of Gullah art, and even more lovely was the inspiration for each piece as channeled through this beautiful artist. I think she was a little shocked to learn that I was not only familiar with the Orishas, but had recorded a song dedicated to them, back in the nineties with a pagan choir. I had the song saved on my phone and was able to share it with her. It was one of those moments of sharing that felt as if it were made of pure magick.

Next, we made our way over to see what Brian MacGregor was up to. In the past we’ve stopped by to find him working on something grand and powerful, and this time we were thrilled to discover a plethora of new creations and offerings. He has been rather busy over the past year.

I especially enjoy Brian’s art for the intention and symbolism behind each piece. He keeps a journal hanging outside of his gallery / studio and invites visitors to write down their dreams upon the pages within. Not the dreams that one considers hopes for the future, but the nocturnal kind. Inspired by Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious, Brian takes ‘our’ dreams and places them upon canvas to become one with the dreams of others and his own. These dreams are written in the handwriting of hundreds and in at least a dozen different languages. He then mingles these sacred notes with images from nature or from imagination, infused with celtic knotwork and oil paint. Each piece is unique and stunning in passion and purpose.

We spent some time learning about his current focus and endeavors, and when I told him which new piece was calling to me, he shared the story of its becoming. The piece is called The Four Seasons, and it spoke to me for obvious reasons. I shared that I am creating a year-long series of workshops that focus on the changing seasons and how our lives mirror the cycle of nature. Originally four separate works of art, he has mingled them into one for a print on canvas. My art budget took a huge cut when I retired, but when I was offered the powerful symbolism, my friend and I knew it would be coming home with us.

In this piece, there are four women and four seasons. In the Spring, a woman with short golden hair and arms raised overhead to cup the returning sun, wears a yellow sundress and is framed by a circle of spring flowers which sits at the top of the frame. In the Summer, a woman with shoulder length red hair holds her arms up and open with flames in her palms with the sun at its peak, her dress is strapless and slightly lower in the frame sits a circle of green leaves. In Autumn, a woman with longer brown hair stands with her arms down and away from her body, she wears a dress with short sleeves, while the sun above her is growing further away, the circle of falling, colorful leaves is further down in the frame. In the Winter, a woman with long, curly, dark hair stands in a long-sleeved dress with her arms down at her sides and touching her hip and thigh, while the sun is barely seen above and the circle of bare branches sits at the bottom of the frame. There is so much mindful symbolism within these images, which includes the different phases of the moon drawn at the top of the dream pages that Brian has chosen for each season.

I shared with him my current incarnation, learning to live more simply so that retirement allows my presence for my parents. A few years ago, I wouldn’t think twice about purchasing any piece of artwork to which I was drawn, along with a few others as gifts. But my budget just isn’t what it once was, and my freedoms are different. I have the freedom of time and availability, but less-so the freedom of financial whimsy and generosity. My friend and I left the gallery that afternoon with a plan to figure out how this artwork would find its way home with us.

We next made our way down to the River Walk, and to our other favorite gallery in town… 209. We have a favorite artist there, whose work we seek at each visit. We love to see what new creatures have come to live in her section of the cooperative space. We fell in love with her style and whimsy on our first visit to Savannah, when we learned she was creating a book of children’s stories. Olivia Beaumont is a fine artist who dresses woodland creatures in renaissance themes, creating characters that stir the art lover’s imagination.

The book was available on our last visit, and to our great joy… the artist herself was available on this visit. The local artists represented within this gallery also work for this gallery. Olivia is a ray of sunshine, and we spent a good hour talking with her and exploring her available offerings. Sadly, the piece that needs to come live with me was not available in print that day. I am certain that the Owl posed with a quiver of arrows on his back and his talon placed upon a wooden longbow will be waiting for me to fetch him on our next journey north. My friend added two new creatures to her collection.

Seriously… I don’t miss eating out frequently, or shopping for clothing I don’t need… but being art-limited is really, really hard! TRUE CONFESSION: My name is Melissa, and I am an art-a-holic.

The next morning, I was talking myself out of The Four Seasons, just because it didn’t seem prudent. My friend and I took off on foot to various events around town that Saturday. There was a Maker’s Festival on one side of town, and the SCAD (the local art college) sidewalk art festival in one of the park squares. College and high school students were given their own squares on the sidewalk to decorate, and the art was vibrant and creative. The college mascot is a BEE, so you can imagine how delighted I was by many of the original creations of chalk on concrete.

We made our way from one side of town to another by foot, as we walked over to the famous Pirate House restaurant. By then, we had walked way more than the recommended 10,000 steps, and I contemplated whether to drink the cold cider or pour it on my aching feet. As we made our way back down to the River Walk area to see a favorite jewelry vendor, I had pretty much convinced myself that I couldn’t afford to purchase that coveted piece of art. But then my phone alerted me to a text message, and Brian was just checking in to be sure he hadn’t missed us – having arrived later than intended. Always one to listen to signs from the Universe, I replied that we were on our way.

My friend and I worked out a plan for a responsible purchase, and as I gaze up at where The Four Seasons are perched in my sacred space, I have absolutely zero regrets. Art makes me so happy. I was not blessed with the ability to create art that is pleasing to my own eye, though I am grateful for my gift for words. I sit surrounded by the creations of many, for whom I am grateful. Each artist, known and not yet met, living and dead, brings a sense of emotion and whimsy to my sanctuary. Their energy flows from their work and envelopes my beloved home with the light of love and inspiration. I cannot fathom choosing a minimalist style with barren walls, void of color and passion. This is the air that I breathe!

Wouldn’t it be amazing if I could offer my words in exchange for art? My love is far more valuable than any currency, and words can bring abundance.

I sometimes wonder, when I am sitting in silence and contemplating my current situation, if I should be more actively seeking employment or income. The workshops I do bring in a little extra cash, but mostly it pays for the things I want to share with those who attend. I love the connectedness I find there, and that is the intention I manifest more than anything else.

When I walk out of my parents’ house, just seven doors west of my own, I know that my choice to be present and available for their comfort is far more important to me than the former income I left behind.

For now… I’m just going to plant the seed in the magickal soil of the universe that I “WILL WORK FOR ART”… in whatever form that may take. I no longer hold a specific vision of how anything in life should look. I am open to the probability of being WOWed by the manifestation of wonder beyond my ability to imagine.

Thank you for walking this path with me. If you are interested, I am placing links below to a few of our favorite artists whose work can be found in Savannah.

Patricia Sabree at http://www.sabreesgallery.com/

Brian MacGregor at https://brianmacgregor.net/

Olivia Beaumont at https://oliviabeaumont.com/

David “G-Sleeve” Gildersleeve at http://www.gsleeve.com/
http://www.athun.com/david-gildersleeve.html

Melissa Moss at http://www.melissamossart.com/

Samantha Claar at http://finefolkgalleries.com/

Melissa with Sabree on the left and Melissa with Brian MacGregor on the right.

Check Your Treasure

Yesterday was a day of service and recovery. My sweet 81 year old Pop had an early morning appointment to FINALLY have the entropion on his left eye repaired. It developed one day while he was in rehab last November. I walked in for our nightly visit, and he looked like he had pink-eye. But when I took a closer look, I could see that his eye lashes were rubbing against his cornea.

In my past life, I was paid to assist the needs of executives. It was stressful work, at times, but there were perks, too. For one thing, if my executive wanted something done, I could reach out to others and say, “the Chief ‘whatever’ Officer, wants this done immediately!”, and it would get done immediately. In my new life… there is very little power. I tell doctors, hospitals, rehab facilities, etc. that my 81 year old father needs something immediately, and after five months of suffering and struggle… we might be lucky enough to bring one nightmare to conclusion. It’s maddening, really.

So, yesterday, though mornings are difficult for him, we were both up by 5:15am to get the day started. We had to report to the eye institute by 6:45am. We were there 30 minutes early. We were NOT going to let anything get in the way of getting this done. Since it started, he says that he feels like there is a fishnet hanging over his left eye. It impedes his vision and his balance. He didn’t really need any help with the balance thing. He has neuropathy from toes to knees in both legs, and severe weakness on his entire left side from 80 years of epilepsy related nerve damage. WTF Universe? Don’t you think he’s had enough to deal with in this lifetime? Sheesh!

This morning, I was out of the house by 6:30am to make a store-run for provisions. I walked into my parents’ house and stocked the bathroom with my father’s needs, put a few breakfast burritos in the freezer, refilled his water cup, placed an ice pack on his bruised and swollen eye, turned out the light, and slipped back out the door.

These moments of tenderness never cease to surprise me. I chose not to have children, and while I have loved my goddess babies deeply, it was never mine, to feel this particular sense of affection, patience, devotion, and care. Indeed, at times, supporting my father is like taking care of a child. He has tiny temper tantrums for the frustration of his body not cooperating with what his mind is asking. He grumbles under his breath about how my mother doesn’t wear her hearing aids. Sometimes I have to remind his inner grouch that it is not easy, for mom or for me, to do all that is required to keep him safe and at home. “So, be nice!”

But then there are the moments like this morning, or when I am helping him wash his hair or put on his socks with the grippy soles, and brushing the hair out of his eyes… I get an overwhelming sense that this must be how mothering feels. This must be the contented-heart reason for all that mothers choose to endure.

It occurred to me the other day, that I won’t stay in retirement forever. The workshops that I am facilitating are enormously fulfilling, as they feed all five of my strengths (empathy, connectedness, responsibility, developer, input), they offer me a creative outlet in the design and execution, and they give me a place to put all of the spiritual growth and self-healing work I’ve done over the last 27 years, for the benefit of others. But at this moment, I can’t see clearly how to mold this work into financially sustaining work. So, I am believing that the Universe will deliver the guide, the means, the opportunity, when the time is right. And for now… my priority remains the care and comfort of my parents, with the added bonus of ample time for nurturing the love that resides within.

I couldn’t be more grateful for all that has transpired in order to make all of this possible. I spoke to my friend Brian yesterday, while out on an errand to have dad’s glasses repaired. He was calling to check-in. To tell me that, despite his terminal diagnosis, he is doing well. He is ‘Marie Kondo-ing’ his home (much to his husband’s shagrin), and practicing extreme self-care. As I filled him in on my world, he reminded me how happy he was that I left that toxic workplace. He wanted to be sure that I was living my joy! He considers me to be the most important catalyst for his new beginning… devoting all of his remaining days to HIS joy. I carry Brian with me through all of my days. He has been my teacher, as much as I for him.

Getting to be fully present for my parents right now is my joy. Being blessed to have friends, old and new, join me on a journey of personal growth, healing, and development for a year-long series of workshops is my joy. Quality time with loved ones is my joy. Having the gift of words to share with you is my joy. Being awake and aware of the many synchronicities and blessings that fall before me on a daily basis is my joy.

Though my income may be only a fraction of what it once was (technically, it is my savings – already hard earned), I feel richer today than ever before. The relationships that bless my life are more valuable than gold and diamonds. I can see clearly that every one of these blessings are finite, and I shall not take a single one for granted.

This reminds me of the conversation that concluded my visit with my soul daughter on Monday. She had come over from St. Pete for an appointment, and made time with me a priority. She had also connected with friends from a former workplace, but when it was time for her to meet with them, there was no immediate reply. While I knew that I would always adjust my plans to include seeing people I care about, she was figuring out (at 23) that she was not willing to sacrifice her precious time for those who do not make her a priority. At this young age, she has already figured out that she is meant to be treasured. I’ll confess that it took me a bit longer.

It’s never too late to check your treasure, dear ones. Take a look around you now. Who do you see? Remind yourself of the great bounty you possess. Then… go out there and live your joy! Thank you for walking this path with me. I’m so happy you are here.

Original Artwork by the Writer

Conversations with Trees

One of the seeds that I planted in my Seeds of Intention Workshop last month was to move more. Since my words come through my fingertips, rather than through spoken word, I tend to spend a great deal of time at the keyboard, and though I have not had to report to a 9 to 5 kind of job in the last year, I have been terribly sedentary for the tasks of writing, reading, editing, and re-reading.

I thought I would commit to going to a yoga class with one of my workshop attendees, but with my father’s appointments and my own standing commitments, I found it difficult to make that happen in the right timing.

Last weekend, I drove up to Tallahassee to spend the weekend with one of my Tribe Sisters to celebrate her birthday. It was there that I found inspiration. Her significant other has taken up walking each morning and evening. Despite having the wrong shoes, I joined him for ‘church’ as he calls it.

One of the symbolic tasks of planting our seeds in the garden of manifestation is to come back to the garden to see what needs more care. When I thought to commit to something that failed to manifest, it was up to me to pull some weeds and decide what else I could plant in its place.

So, with my friend’s encouragement, I started my own church… a congregation of one. I have committed to walking morning and night, and delight in checking in with him to discuss the beauty of our ‘sermons’. You see, for him… walking has become a form of devotion. Each day he exits his home into the predawn darkness and he walks into the light. At the end of the day, he walks the setting sun down the aisle and welcomes back the night. It is his own form of prayer and extreme self care. He glows with the joy of salted holy water that rises through his pores.

This morning, as I walked the streets of my neighborhood, I found myself in conversation with every tree that lined my path. Here in Florida, we experience a dance with the seasons on any given day. Lately, we have been waltzing with spring and summer with temperatures moving through the seventies and into the nineties, and I’ve heard we will have a day or two of winter this week, with temps falling into the forties at night. You never know what you might wake up to around here this time of year.

Consequently, the variety of trees that offer us their beauty are in varying states of annual evolution. Most noticeable are the oak trees, which thrive in nearly every yard. I have two in my front yard that stand sentinel and feel like great protectors of my property. As one appears to be at death’s door nearly bone bare for the loss of leaves, the other is expressing joyous rebirth in the green freshness of new life emerging from every branch.

There are also the flowering trees and shrubs like the Azaleas, which are currently screaming pink and purple at everyone who passes, and the Tabebuia trees have already passed their prime and have littered flowers of lemon yellow in yards and onto streets that surround. And we simply cannot forget the oak pollen, the film of powdered yellow-green that is painted onto every surface, as if to insist we look up to from whence it came and witness the fertility and abundance of the sacred sanctuary of our squirrels and the joyful birds that sing our welcome into each new day.

As I walk through this church of life and rebirth, it is not lost on me the way that nature and humanity mirror one another. When we witness the blossoming of new beginnings in the lives of our loved ones and feel that we have lost all of our leaves, it is not ours to grieve – but to celebrate. There is joy to be shared in the abundance of others, just as hope springs forth in our own lives. That blanket of pollen we are sprinkling onto our hopes and dreams for the manifestation of bright green new growth is only moments from being pulled back to reveal extraordinary expansion.

Just when it seems all is lost, with leaves scattered and browning upon the earth, we look up from that perceived devastation to find the glory of our own new beginnings. So, pay attention dear ones. You may think that your garden is going nowhere, but I’m willing to bet that those sprouts are rising and are about to burst forth into the sunlight of your own self-care, delivering an abundance of color and new life to fill your days with a kind of peace and happiness you have not previously imagined. I can feel it! Can’t you?

Thank you for walking this path with me. I don’t even mind the pollen when you are here. Love, love, love…

[Mucha’s Four Seasons Personified]

What Is Your Joy?

My friend Brian called from Oregon this morning. He wanted to thank me for the Valentine card I mailed last week. As we were catching up on the details of the lives and loves of one another, he made a suggestion.

We talked about the toxic workplace in which we met, and about those who are choosing to leave for their own mental health… and of course, celebrating our own choices to leave. For each of us, leaving was one of the best things we’ve done for ourselves.

As I shared with him the workshops that I am creating to share a sense of mindful manifestation with others, he exclaimed, “You make such a difference in the lives of those who know you. You should share my story! I’ll never forget what you asked me that night that we had dinner together, while my organs were literally shutting down. You said, “Brian, What is your joy?” That one question changed everything!”

I have told this story before, in an article that I wrote for Elephant Journal, and in another blog post called More than Grateful. Frankly, Brian has no idea how significant his story is and how often I share it, but I’ll share a brief version here, as well.

Brian was one of the first people I met in the company I went to work for after being liberated from my long-time workplace in 2017. It was love at first sight – you know, the way you meet someone and you instantly feel you’d like to know them better? Well, we had little opportunity to do so, since he would be working remotely and only coming to town periodically. But as fate would have it, we managed to find time to make a connection.

Of the many executives I worked with, he was the only one who seemed to be heart-centered. Sharing a meal with him during his visits was the one thing work related to which I looked forward. We loved our time so much that we continued meeting for dinner even after I left the company that October.

It was at dinner in February that he shared with me his diagnosis and prognosis. He had prostate cancer that had metastasized in his bones. That was when I looked deep into his eyes, refusing to react with tears or pity, and asked, “Brian, what is your joy?”

It was not lost on me that this sweet man had been given a deadline, and here he was risking his health by getting on an airplane each month to come into a workplace who obviously didn’t care for his well being. Exposing an immunosuppressed sacred being to the hazards of viral and bacterial boxes of in-flight holding is criminal.

His immediate reply to my query was, “Melissa, no one has ever asked me that before.” He promised to go home and think about it. It turned out that he flew home early, and went right into the hospital. An experimental medication his oncologist was giving him had begun to shut down his organs.

I almost lost my dear friend before he was able to answer this all important question. If that alternate reality had come to pass, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I never would have understood the magnitude of my great loss. In as many ways as I have blessed his life and brought about a more mindful existence… he has done the same for me.

Brian’s courage to share his truth with me that day brought forth that morsel of wisdom that came through me. Ask the question, to help someone find their own solution.

His reply came to me on Valentine’s Day, ten days after I posed the question. He wrote to me: ” My joy: spending as much time with Derek as possible.” It was then that he told me he had been in the hospital for a week after returning home, but I was not yet aware of the close call he survived.

It has been a year since Brian made this declaration, and it has been three months since he began pursuing his JOY full time. When the cancer started spreading again in September, I convinced him to start working on an exit strategy, so that every moment of the time he has left can be dedicated to soul fulfillment.

He shared today that his last check up was pretty good. He feels good, and he is filling his days with more joy and less stress. This makes my heart so happy.

As for me, my joy is getting to connect deeply with others. That kind of surface connection just won’t do. I want to know what makes your heart happy. I want to know what makes your soul sing. I want to know… if you were to be given a terminal diagnosis tomorrow (heaven forbid), how you would choose to spend the rest of your days.

I was blessed to be able to take an early retirement of sorts, so that I can be present with the extra care that my parents need at this time in their lives. But as all caregivers should, I feel it necessary to find more balance in my life. Knowing that they are safe and well is gratifying, but there are days that are more difficult than others, and I need to have something that fills my needs while I am filling theirs.

The workshops that I am facilitating is a part of that plan. In fact, my next workshop is dedicated to finding just that. As the wheel of the year turns, and we greet the growing daylight in the northern hemisphere, we will celebrate the Spring Equinox. Twice a year, day and night are equal, and we are reminded that our needs are not unlike those of Mother Earth.

At my second workshop on March 30, Persephone Rises – and we will be Finding Balance at the Equinox. Just the thought of it makes my heart push through dark, moist soil toward the expansion of the sun. We shall throw off our cloaks of winter and don the brilliance of springtime.

The intentions that we developed in February should be starting to take root, and it is up to us to ensure their freedom to grow.

I know that for me, finding balance means ensuring that I am creating ample opportunity to refill and recharge. Spending time with those I care about brings me joy, as does listening to live music – so I’ll be having more of that. Also, I’ve dedicated to doing one of these workshops every 8 weeks or so for the year, and even the planning brings me joy. Honoring Persephone as she emerges from the underworld makes me squeal with delight! But then… there will be the time spent with others who are willing and eager to seek something deeper for themselves and to become the joyful gardeners of their own lives. More than anything, I love to be witness to the growing glow of others.

So, tell me dear ones… What is your joy? I really want to know.

May the words in this graphic that I designed be a blessing upon all of your days. Thank you for walking this path with me. Your presence is also my joy.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Over the weekend, I led a workshop dedicated to the art of manifestation. Fourteen sacred souls joined me with intention, and I do believe that healing was found.

Nurturing a belief in everything falling into place perfectly – had the seventeen who had RSVPd in prior days kept their commitment, we would have been short on table space. As fate would have it, I set fourteen spaces and fourteen arrived to fill them.

Another belief was that the right combination of remarkable beings will gather to provide a sense of connectedness and wisdom through courage and vulnerability, sharing insights gained through similar circumstance. And… so it was.

Together, we were loving and exhausted caregivers who were seeking a sense of hope, balance and self-care, and we were sacred souls who had lost spouses – learning how to move forward through the confusion of loss and freedom, after decades of togetherness and compromise. We were hoping for a brighter future in career change, and we were adjusting to career changes we had not sought… or leaning-in to a new way of life in retirement – longing for direction and a meaningful new beginning. We were beings filled with gratitude for the relationships with which we are blessed, and we were also souls longing to be so blessed. Each of us entered sacred space hoping to connect more deeply with our own true selves.

When we started the day, we were feeling scattered and rushed, tangential and transitional, excited and hopeful. When we finished, we were feeling encouraged, segmental, determined, peaceful, prepared, plan-full, and… lighter.

Through meditation, we entered the garden of clutter and neglect, and with clarity we plucked every weed and withered vine and cleared away self-doubt, unwanted expectations of others, limiting choices, and harmful tolerance. We wrote it all down and then committed our burdens to the flames until all was naught but ash. When cooled, we sprinkled them upon hallowed ground in the church garden.

We walked the labyrinth to honor that which we released, for through every burden we have carried, we have grown stronger and more fully into ourselves.

Once free from that which no longer served us, we were ready for the work of defining the path forward. When our goals are too many and too broad, a sense of overwhelm can be the obstacle that keeps us from making progress. So we spent time reviewing every area of our lives for a sort of high or low rating of our contentment with our status or relationships with family, friends, significant other, career, finances, home, etc. – we soon had an idea of where we’d like to focus our intentions and plant our seeds. Where we found a lower rating, we found our desire for something more.

We meditated on the progress of our garden, ready to welcome the seeds of new beginnings. With courage and vulnerability, just as we had shared our burdens and regrets, we offered our truth to one another to be honored and validated, and to receive feedback and support for each commitment we chose to make to ourselves. We crafted a symbol of our devotion to ourselves and our dreams, and also selected a word for the year. I would share those with you… but alas, what happens in sacred space – remains in sacred space.

As for me, this gathering was already a dream-come-true… and there is evidence of new growth rising. Maybe that should be MY word for the year.
RISE!

To be clear, there are things I missed and things I would do differently… but not much. For a very first event, I surprised myself with my fearlessness and organization. This shows me how much I have grown. It helped to have many of the faces at my table familiar ones, who love me without condition. What a blessing, to be surrounded with open hearts and open minds. I will surely learn and grow with each exercise of connectedness. I’m choosing to love myself for my courage and accomplishment, rather than to chastise myself for imperfection. For this is the healthy garden in which we may all blossom and bear fruit.

For now… I shall return to the garden of manifestation and nurture the soil that tenderly holds my dreams. Thank you for walking this path with me. Your presence is like a radiant blossom in my heart. You have no idea what you mean to me…

Writer’s Vacation Photo / Blue Ridge Mountains

Sowing Seeds of Intention

So, I’m going to lead a workshop at the beginning of February, and the thought of it makes my spirit come alive. You see, this will be the first in a series, and it is also a statement to the universe of my mindful new beginning. It will be the very first seed that I plant in sacred ground for the coming harvest in the fall.

To be honest, I have a brown thumb when it comes to literal gardening. But the figurative kind? This is where my world comes into full blossom.

For example, at the full moon in December 1993, I nurtured fertile earth to plant a dream for building my own goddess group. It was a rainy day, but all twelve people invited climbed the steps to the place I called home at that time, and together, we began the work of building our sacred garden.

We decided that we would need a name, that we would make a commitment to meet weekly, and that we would not work within a hierarchy… we were a group of kindred souls who would bring to this plot of land, our own individual beauty to be shared and distributed freely.

Watching this garden grow has been, for me, the most joyful work of my lifetime. As Tribe Mother, I have been witness to the blooming of each gloriously unique spirit, as they chose career paths, life partners, and some bore the fruit of children who have become such remarkable young people, always choosing to come back to themselves, nurturing and celebrating the divine feminine and masculine within… moving through the phases of maiden/lover, mother/father and crone/sage.

Over the years, these sacred beings have moved away to nurture new land and grow in different plots of holy ground. I suppose I long for that kind of deep connectedness and mutual growth, once more. So, I am returning to Mother Earth to offer her my seeds of intention, trusting that whatever comes to blossom will provide a bountiful harvest of joy and happiness throughout the year ahead.

You may ask about all of this gardening metaphor, and I will gladly share how it has become meaningful to me… an otherwise uninterested landscaper.

I grew up Unitarian, which to me is a religion that is not about dogma, but about karma… and community (be kind to and care for all beings and the planet upon which we dwell). At 23, I was introduced to earth-based spirituality, which offered me an understanding of symbolism and archetypes as another way to relate to what was happening within me and around me.

In Tribe, we used the cycle of seasons (the Celtic wheel of the year) to guide our path forward. At Imbolc each year, which is February 2 in the northern hemisphere, those who lived off of the land would light fires in the field and drive their cattle through the coals to burn away the muck and dis-ease that gathered on hooves through the cold, damp months of winter, and they planted the seeds that would later become their harvest.

So, we would do the same, symbolically. We would declare it a day of rebirth, and we would recommit to our Tribe, that we would offer each other our intention for another year of learning and growing, of nurturing and becoming, of healing and thriving, and it would begin with letting go of what was no longer working for the group – that which no longer served us.

This annual practice allowed us to be mindful throughout the year, rather than just once, like those new-year resolutions that fall flat after the second week back at the gym. We would plant the seeds of our intentions, and then come back to the garden each week to water them with meditation, with deep reflection, healing conversation that reminded us we were not alone, and from one another we learned about how we might tend our lives differently, to develop more color and more blossoms of comfort and peace.

This practice brought us so close that even with individual gardens now planted around the globe, our roots have grown so deep that we remain ever connected in the core of the earth and in the ether, where every circle we ever cast still stands.

As for my little workshop next month, I have no idea how many will make a commitment to gather, but what I know from experience is that it will be the right people… be it 5 or 15. It will be a day that marks a moment of rebirth for each person present. We will burn away old ideas, former identities, labels that were placed upon us by others, and limitations that were once perceived, but are ready to fall into glowing embers and turned to dust. And into the fertile earth each will plant the seeds of their intentions, to be nurtured and supported, watered and nourished, loved and cherished… all the way to a bountiful harvest.

As this tiny tribe gathers to clear individual plots of land, they will lend a hand to those who might have a boulder that needs adjusting, and in return someone will shine a light to reveal the very best spot for new life to grow. This whole life thing… it really is a community effort. How lucky are we to have all we need to blossom into fullness?

Thank you for walking this path with me, dear ones. You are among the brightest, most colorful bounty this garden has to offer. I am grateful.

Forget those temporary resolutions.
Plant seeds of intention and watch your garden grow!

Take My Hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Road Behind and the Road Ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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