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)

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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)

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My Favorite Tomboy

She was four and I was five, the little tomboy who lived around the block.  We met in kindergarten – the afternoon class with Miss Carlyle.  Things I remember about that particular new beginning are:  being walked to school by my Mom and our basset hound, Biggy…  crying from fear, as my mother prepared to abandon me to this place filled with strangers in a hallway that smelled of mimeographed pages.  It may have been less frightening to me, had I realized that in this tiny classroom I would find a true and lifelong friend.

Forty-four years have passed, but there are pieces of our shared history that could never fall through the holes of my memory.  Riding my yellow bike with the banana seat and training wheels around the block, where I discovered the little tomboy outside in her front yard.  Graduating to an adult bike, with a bar that taught me to toss both legs over the side for a running dismount, rather than risking losing my breath to the smarts of feet not reaching the ground and the bar crashing into a place you wouldn’t have guessed was attached to your lungs.  Sun drenched days, playing and riding our bikes, jumping over the mound of dirt that never did get moved into the backyard to build a garden.  And then there were the days spent on the floor of the bedroom she shared with her sister… a four-poster bed, a small record player with a stack of 45’s, playing barbies or ‘pancake kids’ as I called the Flatsies she had, and singing songs that children probably shouldn’t sing, but it doesn’t matter because to us, ‘afternoon delight’ was exactly what we were doing… spending the afternoon playing with the little girl who will surely be by your side until the very end.

After all of these years, I know this to be true… that we will be one of a significant few required to be present at the end of our days, may that end be eons from now.  There is a moment in time that we share that was marked by trauma, and that we survived it adds depth to our soul-connection today.  This story is significant in my journey of overcoming and becoming… from self-loathing to self-love.  I was reminded of it in 2005, when I happened to sit next to a Medium from California at a Broadway Play I was attending with friends.  I wrote about it in my not-yet-published book, the name of which I will someday reveal here, about the way that the Archetypal Feminine plays a role in my life.

Over the years, Artemis has continued to make her presence known to me.  She came through loud and clear in 2005, and that was possibly the biggest shift forward in my labyrinth of transformation.  I had gone to New York with friends, specifically to see Tim Curry on Broadway in Spamalot, but we decided to add another show to the itinerary to make the weekend trip worthwhile.  The show we selected was 700 Sundays with Billy Crystal.  It was there that magick happened, again.

There were three people in my party, an empty seat, and then a party of four in our row.  As we waited for Billy Crystal to grace the stage with his brilliant energy, a woman slid into our row and sat down next to me.  It was obvious she was on her own, so I struck up conversation.  She said that she had come to NYC from California specifically to see this show, that her family thought she was crazy for doing so, and that she was going to do some work while she was here.  Then, the show started, and Billy wowed us with his incredible gift of storytelling.  He talked about the remarkable life he lived in his youth, with his father and his uncle, who owned a record label.  His father was busy with work, but they had his undivided attention every Sunday.  They lost him too soon, and so Billy assessed that he had him in his life for about 700 Sundays.  The stories were incredible, and he was engaging.  Then, at the intermission, I continued talking with the woman to my right.  I asked her what it was that she does that allowed her to work on either coast.  She said that she was a medium, and started to explain to me what that was.  I stopped her and told her that I had been doing psychic development with my Tribe, but that I just couldn’t seem to receive.  She said:  “That’s because of what happened when you were nine.”  She continued, “Your Dad was yelling at you, and that’s when you shut down.”  She asked if my Dad yelled a lot, and I replied that he had a big voice, but that I never really felt he yelled AT me.  I asked the west coast medium (wish I could remember her name) what I could do about it, and she said: “All you have to do is fall in love with yourself, AND IT WILL ALL FALL AWAY.”  I stared at her and assured her I had received that message before, but that I was never sure of how to interpret the guidance.  So, here’s where the big aha moment for me appeared; my very next thought was… how can I fall in love with someone I loathe?  So, before I even left New York, I had written a list of common phrases that my inner bully beat me with, and when I got home, I called my therapist and engaged her in the endeavor of continuing the work that Artemis was patiently waiting for me to complete.

When I met with my therapist, I arrived with my list, and I talked pretty solidly about the message I had received, about the inner dialog that had plagued me for so long, about where it came from and how the only one responsible for perpetuating it was me.  We worked together for a few sessions, but I pretty much set my own plan for recovery, while she validated my journey.  I determined that anytime a voice inside my head said something negative, I would replace it by saying something positive aloud.  Most importantly, I declared that I would never say anything to myself that I would never say to someone I love.  And so, that’s how my path out of self-loathing continued… one step at a time, with constant vigilance and occasional course recovery.

When I got home from that fateful trip to NYC and recounted that conversation with the medium to my life-long friend, whom I’ve known since kindergarten, with eyes wide, she said, “I bet it was MY Dad who yelled at you!”, which totally resonated with me.  I recognized that there was a moment in our shared history that quite possibly had damaged something in my psyche.  Her dad, unlike mine, was rather intimidating, and we were both rather afraid of him.  I have a ridiculous sense of recall on this particular day, though I cannot tell you what I did yesterday without checking my calendar.  My friend and I are not sure of our age, because we felt younger than nine, but it probably fits. 

I can’t tell you if it was summertime or a weekend, but it was a warm sunny day in my childhood, when my Mom said she would take me to get lunch at Arby’s.  I asked her if my friend could come with us, and she said yes.  I told her I would run over to her house, and that we would be right back, if she could come.  She lived around the block from us, and I can’t say why I didn’t just call her on the phone.  For whatever reason, I walked, and quite possibly skipped around the block, past the ditch that ran between our streets, and up to her house.  When I got there, she wanted to go with us, but wanted me to ask her dad.  So, I held my breath and walked out to the Florida room where he sat in his recliner, and I asked him if his youngest daughter could come with my mom and me to Arby’s for lunch.  He looked at me, and asked, “Is it okay with your mother?”  I answered him, and we took to the task of getting her ready to go.  When I realized it was taking longer to get back home, I called my mom, and asked if she would mind picking us up.  When I hung up the phone, my friend’s dad was standing in the doorway of the Florida room, glaring at me.  He said, “I thought you said it was okay with your mother.  You lied to me!”  I stood there dumbfounded and in shock.  Did I lie to him?  Is it possible that I could have told a lie to a grown up?  What just happened?  My brain went fuzzy.  As my mom was pulling up outside, my friend’s father removed his approval for her to join me for lunch, and he forbid us to play together ever again.  I don’t recall what happened after that.  I really do believe I was in shock.  I don’t know why I didn’t engage my parents to argue for me, or stand up for my nature which was never to lie to a grown up… or for that matter, why I couldn’t stand up to my friend’s dad in the first place and simply speak the truth… that I hadn’t lied, and that what had changed was that we would not walk back around the block, but ask my mother to pick us up instead.  What I did realize, looking back at that moment in time, was this:  This event was very likely when self-doubt began.  To this day, I refer to my mind as having swiss cheese memory because it seems that I can have a memory, for example, that I had a conversation with someone about a certain topic, but I can’t recall any of the details about it, as if they had fallen through the holes.  I’ve always said that I am an amazing secret keeper.  Your secret is safe with me, because if I remember that we spoke, I definitely won’t recall many details.  This obviously does not bode well for the future, as I age.  

But seriously, it’s a shame that grown-ups are oblivious to the damage their words and actions are committing against the children in their lives.  Wounds may scar over, but the healing could take a lifetime.  As you know, my life-long friend and I did get to be friends again, but it was after about a year of being forbidden to play together.  She is an introvert, and didn’t have many playmates, and so her mother finally demanded an end to our exile.  My next memory of her dad was much different… he was dying.  He seemed much less intimidating by then, and he smiled when he saw me.  I didn’t get an apology, but we resumed our friendship, and he died in our 6th grade year.  I would get my apology many years after he was gone, either in a dream or a meditation.  To this day, my friend and I reflect on these moments that shaped us, and together, we stand committed to the overcoming of our perceived obstacles.  Like I said, it requires constant vigilance.

In the years that followed his departure, we were at times distant and close.  Through high school we had different classes and consequently, different friends.  In fact, after kindergarten, despite having attended the same schools through thirteen years of education, we never had another class together.  Weird, right?  But we eventually found our way back to the lap of our connection.  Even if a month should pass without seeing one another when life gets in the way, we are eternally bound by this childhood, shared.  She IS the sister I never had.  She jokes that I am an old soul, and that she, as a young soul, is just following my lead.  But the truth is, she is wiser than she lets on.  She has a gift of mindful reflection that enables her to see both sides of a story, and though she is passionate about her views, she is able to use her words to express herself without lashing out against the views of another.  I may have the gift of words, but this is not one of my strengths.  I tend to remain silent on the topics by which I am most affected, for my level of rage does not permit me such grace.  She claims that empathy is not her strength, as it is overwhelmingly one of mine, and yet her beautiful heart nearly bleeds for the suffering of any animal, be it field mouse or elephant.  Her beautiful heart dispels any false rumor she may be spreading about the age of her soul.

I shudder to think what might have happened if her Dad had been any different.  Without trauma that binds us, she might have been like any other neighborhood kid, fearless of the future and led far away from this place where geography keeps us close.  Our shared wounding in youth left me filled with self-doubt, and I believe her wound is similar.  Her father insisted that if she couldn’t do something right, she shouldn’t do it at all.  Therefore, her living room sat empty for the first ten years of her marriage, because she could not risk choosing the wrong furniture.  This is the core of many of our deep-dive discussions of overcoming.  Mine has been a long journey of seeking.  Through life-altering experiences that were fearful to start, but ultimately joyful at outcome, I have learned to have faith that the Universe is leading me along a path of discovery that will surely be for my highest good.  She has vowed to follow my lead, and year-by-year I am witness to her growing courage.  Next year we both turn 50.  I have no doubt that she is on the verge of her own fearless becoming.  After all, she WOWs me every day.  One day soon, she is going to WOW herself… and I’ll be right here holding the torch and cheering her on.  Oh, how I love and adore that little tomboy of my heart, now as girly as they get.  She is stunningly magnificent, and I am blessed to be in her tiny circle.

(as I imagine our future / Garden Afternoon by Marcelle Milo Gray)

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Holding Space

Since leaving the corporate world in October, the Universe has presented multiple opportunities for me to be of service to my beloved community.  On one hand, I wish that no one in my sacred circle had cause for suffering or need for support through the struggle of poor health or hardship, but on the other hand… I am so very grateful that this moment of freedom has allowed me the ability to be completely present.

The last several years in the working world were filled with traumatic change and overwhelming grief.  Survival was no easy task for an empath.  I recall having a friend in need for whom I could not be wholly present, because at the end of the day… I had nothing left to give.  I feel as if the Universe is giving me the opportunity to rebuild the karma of those lost opportunities through this sabbatical.

In the book I am writing, I begin with an explanation of what brought me to the path of studying to become an end of life doula.  That story begins with what leaving a toxic workplace gifted me… it gave me the world!  And best of all, it presented me with a sense of purpose.  I never really knew what I was meant to do with my life, the way that some people seem to graduate high school with a final destination in mind for college and career.  My mom chose my electives in school, which included typing and word processing, so that I would have ‘something to fall back on’, and so… I fell into secretarial work, when I decided the hospitality industry (you know, because I’m a people person) wouldn’t offer me a 9 to 5 job with weekends off.

But I was lucky in that regard, you know… in settling.  A friend shared my typing speed with the manager of the processing department where she worked, and they asked me to come in, and I was immediately hired.  Within a year or so, a secretarial position opened and I was promoted.  It was in that role that I was blessed to support someone who could see my light, and she nurtured my growth as my mentor for ten years, until the Universe guided me to what was next.  That particular bit of guidance is a different story, entirely!  But where it led me was to support someone who seemed to really need my particular energy and light.  He had worked with five assistants in nine years when the planets aligned to bring us together.  Sometimes I think that what he needed most was kindness, compassion, patience, and a smile that would inform him that everything would be okay.  He was under enormous pressure, some of which was self-generated.  I did see the side of him that made the others seek other work, but we worked through it.  I would ask if he was okay, and he would say, “I’m not sharing my stress am I, because I don’t mean to.”  And at the end of each day he would say, “Melissa!  Thank you for a great day!”  That made everything worth it.  We were together eight and a half years until he retired.  I was blessed to work with his chosen successor until her retirement, six years later.  She was a tiny woman with a powerful mind and a giant heart.  My blood pressure normalized during those years.  She suffered weekly migraines during the last couple of years, and I was there with honey-tea, with ice pack, and reminded her to put down what was stressing her soul and to feed her body.  I introduced her to a friend who commented to her about how positively I speak of her, and her reply was, “Oh, Mel and I just love each other.”  That’s not often heard in the corporate world, but I was blessed to have that.  I remain in touch with these three beloved work partners to this day.  I wonder if I was happy there for so long because they each allowed me to utilize my strengths to serve them.  I provided a little something that eased the stress of whatever they were dealing with.  In a way, I think I was holding space for them to do their work.

Now free from the enormous stress of a corporation, these days more beholden to shareholders than to their employees and the communities they serve, I have the opportunity to hold space… to bring comfort and support healing.  This is where my future lies.

During these days of freedom, I have been able to spend a magickal day with a beautiful friend who showed me what grace looks like at the end of life.  I have been the communications director for another friend at the beginning of her cancer journey, and only five minutes away, remain on-call for her assistance through chemotherapy and recovery.  I have been patient advocate and wheelchair maiden to dear friends, who are life-long support to one another, but are both facing health issues at the same time.  I’ve been able to be more present for my parents who are slowing down and needing a little more support these days.  Since my brother lives a few hours away, I’ve even been learning the art of PC and Tablet support, skills which may elude your average 80 year old.  And after the death of my beautiful friend, I was able to hold space for the healing of her heartbroken wife.  As I said, I wish that dear ones had no need of my presence in these ways, but I am grateful and heart-filled to have had the freedom and ability to serve.

Tonight I am working with a friend to bring expressive arts to a group of women in her circle.  The goal is to release what no longer serves us, and with burdens lifted to put focused energy into the art of manifesting the future we each desire.  A year ago, I was fearful of what life might look like without the burden of a job that I no longer loved.  As I look back at that time, I fear what I would have missed if nothing had changed.  It’s funny how perspective can be altered just by looking at something from a different level.  Spiral in…  spiral out.

Thanks for walking this labyrinth with me, dear ones.  May all of your burdens be lifted, and may all of your hopes and dreams be made manifest with grace and ease.

(photo found on pinterest w/o credit)

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The Love of a Good Cat – Part Two

It was three months before I could bring myself to consider bringing new love into my life.  Whenever I imagined adopting, the first thoughts that came to mind were those of suffering and sorrow.  But one day, it happened.  I thought about having a new furry companion, and the fear did not come.  I posted that awareness on facebook, and got an immediate reply.  A friend had two cats that needed rescue.  They were not littermates, but had grown up together, two strays adopted by an elderly couple who could no longer care for them.  I saw the photos and learned about their story.  I wasn’t sure I was ready, but as I drove to the grocery store, I imagined that I would change their names to Morgan and Arthur, in honor of one of my favorite tales of ancient Camelot.  Driving home, I was arguing with myself about the prospect, and when I settled in to watch the next episode of a series I was watching, the episode that played featured a character that believed he was King Arthur.  Then, that same evening, while scrolling through my facebook newsfeed, I saw a painting that my friend had posted… it was Morgan Le Fey bearing Arthur back to Avalon with his mortal wound.  And so it was… I went to meet Morgan and Arthur, and there the three of us fell in love.  Released from their protective cages, he circled around me and stepped into the nest of my ‘easy pose’ crossed legs and curled up, closed his eyes and purred.  She walked around me and gave me a ‘wap-wap’, which is what I came to call her hip-bump gesture that is like a love nip, but gentler.  The carriers were on the floor and open, and she walked right into hers.  So, we closed the door, and placed Arthur into his carrier, and we were off!  They were both pretty skittish for a while, but they warmed up to their new home pretty quickly.  Within a couple of days, we were family… though it would take some time for Morgan to remain out in the open whenever an outsider would enter her domain.  If there was a knock on the door, she would run into the bedroom and hide under the bed.  That really didn’t change until Arthur was gone.  You see, Arthur was madly, possessively in love with me.  We had a morning ritual, and he would sit in my lap as I did my hair and makeup before work.  Whenever I was seated, he was there.  He had this way of curling into my lap or on my chest, if I was reclining, and he would look up at me with these eyes that are so difficult to describe.  Perhaps people who have had that deep kind of soul-love would recognize my meaning… but I had never felt so loved and adored as I did through his eyes.  I often wondered if he had come into my life to show me how it would feel when it arrived, and not to settle for anything less.  My new babies were already six years old when they came to live with me.  Morgan was extremely laid back, and very passive, while Arthur was the opposite.  He was much like the Winnie the Pooh character, Tigger.  He had springs in his toes, and he had boundless energy.  He would be lounging in my lap and then suddenly dart across the room, with my belly as his springboard.  If Morgan was ever on my lap when he arrived, she would quickly get the message and move out of the way.  I hated the way she was so submissive to him, but she wouldn’t go far.  He would be close to my heart, and she would be right by my side.  Then one day… everything changed.  It was February in Florida, and the weather was beautiful.  I had carefully stepped out the front door to get the mail from the box, and as I stepped back in, closing the door behind me, I announced to Arthur that I was going to open the window.  We called it cat tv, because the sound of it rising would bring both of them immediately to the window for their inspection of the external world.  Always.  I mean that Arthur would NEVER not come to the sound of the window being lifted… until this day.  It took only a minute for me to feel that something was terribly wrong, and my brain went completely fuzzy.  I think of it like the old days of television, when you would flip channels and there would be those that were empty, and only grey and black dots would appear, and the sound of white noise would ring out through the speaker.  That’s what happened to my brain when Arthur did not take his place at the open window.  Morgan didn’t come either, but she was asleep in the window seat in the library, where she is at this moment of writing.  I ran through the house looking for him, because it was absolutely impossible that he could have gotten out of the house.  I literally looked into the refrigerator three times.  Seriously… static and white noise.  I posted my panic on facebook:  “I CANNOT FIND ARTHUR AND I AM TOTALLY FREAKING OUT!”  My parents were buying a house up the street from me, but at the time they still lived 45 minutes away.  I called my mother in tears, as I walked up the street calling his name.  She asked if she should come, and I told her it would be okay.  The weird thing about my exploration outside of the house was that, although there were several stray cats on my block, not a single one of them was about.  I did not find Arthur.  As I was walking back to the house, my massage therapist was arriving for a previously scheduled appointment.  She offered to help me look for him, but I felt so sure (still fuzzy) that when I climbed onto the table, Arthur would appear at my feet, as he always did, to purr through my healing session.   But he didn’t.  A missed phone call and a knock on the door while I was on the table, revealed my knight in shining armor, Jim.  He saw my post, and put his nearly blind mother into his truck, and drove to my house to help look for Arthur.  He knocked on the door and said, he thought he might be in the side yard, and I dressed and stepped out to look.  There was a grey tabby cat in my side yard, and he looked quite panicked.  I called his name, but I think that what was happening to me must have been happening to him, as well.  I looked at him, never having seen him outside before, and my brain could not definitively be sure that this cat was mine.  The static just grew louder.  As I slowly tried to approach, his eyes grew wider, and he turned and dashed through a hole beneath the fence that is between my side yard and the elevated highway that runs beyond it.  The highway is a story above my land, so he was not in any danger, but there was no way to go after him, because there was no gate.  Jim had driven around to confirm, and then returned to my yard.  He was in my backyard when he saw Arthur, crouched down as if in a hole, his head peeking out, and panting.  Then he jumped and dashed.  As I was sending off my massage therapist, Jim came to the door and told me he thought he could see him, and led me to the side yard fence.  There, just on the other side of the fence at the base of a tree, was Arthur.  He was very close to a hole in the fence, as if considering to come back through, but he was no longer breathing.  He was dead.  I screamed and wailed the anguish of one whose heart has been yanked from her body.  Two hours had passed since he mysteriously escaped and the weird static moved into my head.  He was never in danger of being hit by a car, but he was gone.  I called my parents, but my mother was en route to my house, and my father had to listen to my cries for help.  I asked him to call his brother, Uncle Mike and to have him come with wire cutters.  I couldn’t get to the other side of the fence, and I had to get to him!  I tried calling Uncle Mike, but he did not answer.  Then, as I had reached my hand through the hole in the fence, I realized that I could touch his hind legs… therefore, I could pull him through to me.  And that’s what I did.  I tugged his hind legs, and I pulled the lifeless body of my sweet boy, the most profound and pure love I had ever experienced in my life, through the hole in the fence and lifted his body onto my breathless chest.  My whole body heaved with my sorrow.  None of this made any sense.  Jim and his sweet Mama endured my sobs, as they drove me to the place where we could take my beloved for cremation.  Eula had run her own funeral home for decades, and Jim had grown up knowing how to care for those who were grieving.  It’s as if exactly the right caregivers were delivered to me at my most dire time of need.  I was numb by the time we returned to the house, and I was grateful that my mother was there to greet us.  Morgan was safely inside, and I’m unsure of her awareness of her brother’s departure at that time.  Over the days that would follow, though, she began to blossom in the absence of Arthur’s oppression.  And though I loved him dearly, I was glad for the opportunity to see the side of Morgan that he would never let shine.  I was heartbroken for the loss of his love, but she and I came to fall in love deeply over the weeks and months ahead.  She eventually took his place next to my face at bedtime, when previously she had been relegated to sleep by my feet.  He was such a bully to her.  Without his presence, she became even more courageous upon the arrival of friends, and now she doesn’t hide for anyone.  We have our own morning rituals now, though they are different from the ones he and I shared.  Morgan climbs into bed, and next to my face, where she proceeds to give me my morning facial.  Then she climbs over me, to the back of my neck, and presses one paw against my skin, poking me like Simon’s cat (a popular animated character) until I give in and get up to feed her, be it 4am or 7am.

It took me quite some time to recover from the shock and horror of that awful day.  We were in a very uncomfortable era at work, as my beloved boss had stepped down after the takeover of our board of directors.  My new boss did not have empathy in her top strengths.  I cried as she unfeelingly expressed the death of her own family dog, and I knew she would have no patience for my inner turmoil that still plagued me three months after Arthur’s death.  So, I engaged a therapist who specializes in EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing) to overcome my trauma.  After two sessions I was able to recount the story of Arthur’s loss without bursting into uncontrollable sobs, and I was finally able to fall asleep without my mind going to that place at the side of my house, where his body lay lifeless and my heart was ripped from my being.  Remembering one of the ‘signs’ I received two years before this moment, I searched for the image I had seen when I was talking myself through fear of illness and loss.  It was the painting of Morgan Le Fey directing the boat that would carry her wounded brother back to Avalon… where the mists would heal and protect the once and future king.

To comfort my grief, I spent the weeks following Arthur’s death doing meaningful retail therapy.  I had a ring engraved with “Arthur – King of My Heart”, and I ordered another ring with a pink stone called Morganite, that was coincidentally a stone for healing trauma, though I bought it for her namesake.  I already had a ring that I had made when Nightshade died, that had her name next to Gwydion’s.  And finally, I had each of their portraits printed on canvas and hung them in a place where they would be viewed by all who visit this sacred space… and it will always be known that THEY are my ‘happy’.

Upon mention of my need to write about these important losses, a friend affirmed that the loss of her cats were a far greater blow to her soul than those of her parents.  We both agree that there is something to the daily commitment, the unconditional love, the complete responsibility we have to our pets, and the inability to communicate with them to clearly understand their wants, their needs, and their suffering.  Without this ability to know for sure, we may make the mistake of selfishly holding onto them longer than is morally correct.  I definitely felt that way about Gwydion’s ending… I kept him too long.  It strongly effected how I dealt with Nightshade’s end of life, as she had not stopped eating when I chose to let her go, but she was waking soaked in urine fairly regularly, and it seemed beneath her great dignity.  Some would say that it may have been Arthur’s time to die, as many cats will leave their humans, to die alone – away from their sorrowful view.  But he was so young and energetic, I have not yet let go of the awareness that he would likely still be with me today, if he had not stared out that window for two years, thinking how AMAZING it all appeared from that safe and limiting place he was perched, only to find out that it was vast and terrifying to be on the other side of the window.  I feel that his heart couldn’t take the expanse, and I own some of that responsibility to this day.  As my fifth and only surviving cat, Morgan is probably the best cared for of them all.  I have learned a great deal about what to do, right and wrong, for their care.  I only wish I’d known twenty-five years ago what I know today.  Each furry soul has touched my heart in a special way… they are never far from reach.  Nightshade, especially, shows up in my dreams on a regular basis.

As I wrap up this chapter of loss, Morgan is standing before me, at the edge of my computer, awaiting my undivided attention.  Time to move forward…

(oil painting by Sandra Bierman)sandra bierman twobabes

The Love of a Good Cat – Part One

I am currently in the  midst of a deep dive of self discovery, which requires a review of my personal experience with death. I thought I had completed the task remarkably unscathed when another question in the curriculum was posed about comfort in receiving emotional support, such as a hug, from strangers.

At first, I couldn’t think of an instance… until I realized that I had only written about the humans that I have lost, and had not written about my beloved pets.  In my adult and independent life, in other words, since I moved out of my parents’ home, I have loved, nurtured, and cared for cats.  Of five furry babies that have blessed my life, I have lost four.  Each loss was devastating.  When I compare these losses to my human ones, I recognize that the suffering at their loss was extensive.  I imagine the reason is multi-tiered, and multi-teared.  First of all, I was completely responsible for their care and well-being.  If they suffered, it was because of my neglect or inability to understand their needs.  If only they could speak, or I could understand their language.  That leaves a world of opportunity for self-flagellation.  Secondly, unlike the people I have lost, my pets have been with me every single day, through prosperity and hardship, anywhere from two years to nineteen years.  Finally, unlike most relationships in life, they loved me without condition, even when I felt unlovable… and they each played an important role in nurturing my identity, and possibly my self-worth.

I must start at the beginning, though the first cat-love that I lost was not by death.  Stevie came into my life at precisely the moment that my whole life was changing, and in fact, she was a catalyst for some of that change.  I was living with four roommates, when this Sterling Persian beauty found her way into my parents’ backyard.  We figured she had been abandoned when someone moved away, but now that I reflect on how she appeared to us, and how she disappeared from my life four years later, I wonder.  My living situation at the time was up for renewal, and when Stevie appeared, it was clear that my roommates were not agreeable to bringing a house cat into the fold, and so it was that this tiny angel entered my life to change the trajectory of my youth.  I was 23 that year, and my parents co-signed for me to buy my own condo.  That condo was not just our home, it was the birthplace of my Tribe, the hub of my new spiritual journey, a meeting place for my young adult group, a nest to welcome a loving partner, and a safe place for dear friends to rest their heads when they were in need.  That level of independence enabled my freedom for growth and community building, which never could have happened while sharing a home with multiple people on different paths.  I shall always believe that Stevie arrived for that purpose.

A couple of years later, I brought home a tiny black kitten, that I named Nightshade.  Attention:  Never name a pet after a poisonous herb… it may just live up to the title.  Ha!  This girl was a tiny terrorist.  She was constantly getting into trouble.  I have heard mothers of toddlers repeatedly urge their energetic child to stop what they are doing, and Nightshade was my source of empathy for them.  I don’t think they ever really became friends, but Stevie tolerated the tiny tornado… for a while.  When we moved out of the condo and into a house, there was a hole in the wall where the dryer would vent.  We assessed it and foolishly believed there was no way they could get out, and in the morning, I was devastated to find that Stevie was gone.  She had been in my life for four years, the entirety of my time in the condo that housed my becoming.  I searched the neighborhood for her to no avail.  I sobbed and wailed for my loss and abandonment, and for my failure to keep her safe.  When I reflected on her time with me and why she had gone, besides the fact that I was sure Nightshade had pushed her through that hole, I determined that she was the resident angel to get me through that four-year period of transformation and growth, and that there was someone else in need that she was meant to serve.

In my grief for Stevie’s loss, came my partner’s desire for my comfort.  Interestingly, I ran into a former co-worker I had not seen in a couple of years, since I adopted Nightshade from her.  She shared that her daughter was moving back home, and that she had a kitten that she would not allow her to keep.  Enter Gwydion.  He was the yang to Nightshade’s yin… our bringer of light.  She was mischievous and he was curious.  She was independent and only allowed herself to be loved on her terms, and he was pure love and affection.  Nightshade was a black domestic short hair and Gwydion was a Norwegian Forest Cat with long white with black and grey fur.  The markings around his face, as a kitten, gave him a look that made you think of Barbra Streisand (I don’t know how, but I wasn’t the only one who could see it).   As a baby, my goddess daughter could lean on him and he would not move or run, but just sit patiently in her support.  After I had gone to bed, I swear he would call out to me, “Mama!  Mama!”  He would lie down next to his food dish and pull out one crunchy morsel at a time onto the floor, and only once out of the bowl would he consume his meal, which made for an adorable companion to Nightshade’s ‘water dance’, a funny way that she would tap her front and hind feet before she would drink from the water fountain.  At twenty pounds, Gwydion wasn’t a lap cat, I think he was aware of his mass, and so he would only sit beside you to receive your affection.  In his later years, I was finally able to convince him to sit on my lap.  He would come to my feet and look up at me with love and expectation.  I would lift him onto my knee, and he would sit, like a tiny human leaning against the arm of the comfy chair, with his elbow perched just so.  From this vantage, I could rub his fluffy belly, and he would purr with delight… as would I.  He liked to lie on the hardwood floor with his belly exposed, which is why my brother dubbed him – Throw Rug.  It was in his thirteenth year that everything went wrong.  It’s disturbing to me how many things I had missed in his decline.  We tend to think that they are just getting older when they slow down or start to limp… must be arthritis.  I had witnessed him lying down to pee once or twice, but his doctor and I assumed the typical male cat issue with UTI, and we treated with antibiotics.  I should have taken him in for x-rays immediately, but his doctor came to the house, and I felt I was saving him the stress of being carried outside of the home and into a strange office with other animals.  It wasn’t until I was sitting on the floor one night, stroking him as he sat upon the ottoman at eye level, when I slid my hand down his hind leg.  There beneath white fluff, was a swollen mass above his ankle joint.  My heart stopped.  I called his doctor, and she arranged for him to be seen the next day at our local hospital.  The tests reflected my worst fears… cancer.  The only logical solution for a young cat would have been amputation, but Gwydie was not young, and there was something happening in his belly that couldn’t be determined without further testing, but it was likely the spreading cancer, hot to the touch.  I am sickened to think about all of the things I could have done differently for his care.  I struggled to get pills into him, and so I often didn’t force it.  He couldn’t stand to pee, so I just kept papers on the floor.  It was only ten years ago, why didn’t I have liquid pain meds and absorbent pee pads?  My anam-cara, a soul friend I met that August in Ireland, had a friend who could psychically communicate with animals, and she sent me a written recording of what she received from her connection with Gwydion, as I sought his guidance for what to do for him.  I would have given anything to hear his voice in a way I could interpret and understand.  The following is what Mary transcribed:

“11/19/2008 pm / Communication with Gwydion for Melissa

I’ve been waiting… my person Melissa talks to me all the time.  I’m one lucky cat.
Q:  Are you in pain?  A:  Discomfort is a better description.  My kitten days are long gone.  This is my path now.  I am like a butterfly – metamorphosis is what I am doing.  Tell Melissa to notice butterflies, especially yellow ones.  I am like that.  I began as a cute kitten – became a loving cat – and now I am aged.  It is natural.  It is the design.  I will be like the butterfly one day – I will be light and free and I will fly away.  I’ll not be away from Melissa but I will fly away from this physical body that you see – handsome as it is.  Its time has almost come.  We’ll walk a few more trails together and face a few more trials together and then I’ll metamorphose.
Q:  Is walking difficult?  A:  This body cannot do all it could but it still serves me.  I do okay.
Q:  Ok if Melissa carries you?  Touches you?  A:  Love in any form is what I absorb.  I try not to cause sadness.  Now I am taking on a lot of Melissa’s sadness.  It is heavy for me.  I do not wish to bring her sadness.  It is the way of things.  I hear her tears and know she does not fully understand / grasp this metamorphosis.  I’ll be here until she does.  The shift will come and I will be free like the butterfly.
Q:  Message for Melissa?  A:  We journey together.  We always have.  We always will.  There may be a kitten in her future – sent by me (smile).  But I must save that surprise until later.  Blinky. Blinky. (note – no idea what this means and no clues were provided)
Q:  Do you want Melissa to help you move onto spirit?  A:  She has lots of helpers.  When the time is right, I’ll go on.  It may be spring – like the butterflies.  It doesn’t really matter that much – time – physical – cycling.  It is time now for me to slow down.  I don’t mind.  Business as usual, for now.
Q:  What can Melissa do for you?  A:  She is already doing everything for me.  I am warm, well fed, and happy.  This body will not last but I will.  Melissa and I will always share a special warmth – our hearts beat together now and in spirit.  WE are love.  That is our language.  Time for sleep now.  G’night.

Another intuitive friend at work told me she connected with him, and that he said I would know it was his time to go when he no longer cared for his food.

When that day came, I was terrified.  I tried liquefying salmon, but he refused to eat.  And when I came home from work that night, he was sitting beneath the Yule tree, and looked back at me as I entered from the kitchen.  I walked over and picked him up, carried him to the paper so he could release his bladder.  Then, I carried him to the water bowl for him to drink.  This was when I realized that the cancer in his leg had severed the bone.  His foot flipped in an unnatural position.  I screamed and cried, and called his doctor.  She would come the next day, but couldn’t arrive before 2pm.  I carried my beloved boy to bed, and there we would stay, our final spooning love fest.  On December 11, 2008, I sent an email to friends and family and attached a picture of my boy.  This is what I wrote:

“I let Gwydion go yesterday.  It was time… We had a love fest in bed for about 18 hours… we talked about our many blessings… we cuddled and caressed, and both felt completely enveloped by our love for one another, as well as the love of our family and friends.

Dr. Martinez came to us in my room at 2pm.  My parents and Julie (his beloved cat sitter) were there in person, and VJ, my Tribe, and others were there in spirit.  I curled my body around his, and placed my arm so my hand was over his heart and my heart was mournfully beating against his back, as I whispered ‘I love you, I love you, I love you’ into his ear with kisses.  He left his body in my arms at 3:32pm.  I was so lucky to have such a beautiful parting with him… not in some cold, bright office, but in the warmth and soft comfort of my bed… where I was safe to wail and sob, clutch and kiss him all the way to the other side.

I reflect on how he came into my life… and know that he was a gift from the Universe, and that somehow… our souls had chosen one another.  I am so lucky he chose me.  And we are so lucky that all of you love us… and we are grateful.  Now Nightshade and I are finding a new way to exist.  It is sad and quiet in our house… and so we invite you to stop by anytime to help fill the emptiness.

With great love and abundant gratitude for your love and support, Melissa”

I received dozens of supportive replies from family and friends.  All were compassionate, caring, and offered their loving support to help Nightshade and me through the darkness.  My sister-in-love often commented when visiting that last year, about how she witnessed my care for Gwydion in his infirmity.  In her email, she affirmed, “You gave Gwydion (she actually called him Gideon, and often called Nightshade Lampshade, but I found that terribly endearing) so much love… more love than I’ve seen humans give each other sometimes…”  I hope he felt it, because he deserved the world for all of the love he delivered.  When he was gone, and because Nightshade was so limited in her affection, I realized what a love-sponge he was.  I could pour everything I had into him, and he would receive it and reflect it back to me.  Life was a great deal lonelier in his absence.  But eventually, my girl and I found our way.

The day that came forward in my memory, with the question of how I feel about receiving comfort from strangers was a few years back when Nightshade died.  She had been with me for nineteen years, and she was a cat that only a mother could love.  She looked so inviting to pet, but then she would most likely snap and growl if you tried.  She would follow my friends into the bathroom, but then hiss at them when she realized they were not me… and then she would hiss at them when they were feeling most vulnerable, if you know what I mean.  She also had a thing for sharing her disdain with me by peeing on things.  Seriously, no one taught me more about unconditional love and co-dependency than Nightshade.  If she wasn’t happy, I wasn’t happy.  Ha!  She was an integral part of my identity, as I saw it.  When it was time to let her go, she was nearly two decades upon the earth, and had lost her vision and her continence.  I finally found the courage to have her doctor come, when she was waking each morning soaked in urine.  That was no way for a goddess, as she recalled the Egyptians to have worshiped her, to live.  Unlike my experience with Gwydion, I felt that this should be a more intimate release.  Nightshade really didn’t like other humans very much, and so it felt right for it to be just the two of us at the end.  She growled when the doctor arrived, she was never a big fan of her visits.  She received her shot, and I pulled her onto my chest as her breathing stopped and only one broken heartbeat remained.

The next morning, I woke and felt overwhelmed by the emptiness of my home.  She was so small, and yet she took up so much room.  I couldn’t breathe inside the vacuous space of her absence.  So, I got into my car and I drove.  I figured I would just go somewhere for breakfast, but it was difficult to focus.  I drove to one place, and they could not seat me… and so I drove to the opposite side of town, where I found a table and sat down.  It was difficult to prevent my tears from falling, and throughout my dining experience, I would find composure and lose it again multiple times.  Looking back, I feel sorry for the burden that must have been to other diners.  However, it was in this place that I experienced incredible kindness and humanity.  One woman came to my table and said to me, “If you would receive it, I would like to offer you a hug.”  I couldn’t speak, but I accepted.  She hugged me in a way that was not foreign or guarded.  This perfect stranger held space for me, and she literally held me in my grief.  When it was time to pay the check, I learned that a different couple had paid my tab as they departed.  It was one of those moments that was life affirming.  I know that had I reached, a whole host of friends would have come to my door to provide the love and support that I needed.  And yet, I was so lost and confused in mourning, that I could not manage the thought required to do so.  The Universe still managed to deliver exactly what I needed at that moment… a bit of kindness and compassion.  What a beautiful world.  So, to answer the question about my comfort in being hugged by a stranger… I am completely comfortable with the kindness and compassion of another’s embrace, be they old friend or new friend.

all-you-really-need-in-life-is-the-love-of-a-good-george-boot

The Beauty of Pilgrimage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

monicamoment

A Spiritual Path Less Traveled

I have been asked on more than one occasion about the sense of comfort and calm that I carry.  One co-worker asked me if it was my spirituality that made me such a peaceful and happy soul.  I tend to think that my demeanor would be the same regardless of my spiritual path, and yet I surely would not be who I am today without it.

I started my spiritual journey at age 23, at a time when I felt unfocused and unsure of my future direction.  I was raised Unitarian Agnostic, so had an openness toward learning about world religion and alternative paths of spirituality.  I had gone to church with friends while growing up, and had experienced multiple denominations of Christianity, but was never able to find a connection there.

As a teenager, and an adoring fan of a certain chiffon cloaked songstress, I developed an interest in learning about Wicca.  I recall asking my brother one day, “They call her a witch, but her music is uplifting and makes me feel good… so how can she be bad?”  His reply was that she wasn’t bad, she was a Witch to Wicca, as a Catholic is to Christianity (providing clarity to a non-religious kid). 

In the mid 1980’s, there was little to be found in the library on that topic.  I found a brief outline in an encyclopedia that I photocopied, but it didn’t do much to help my understanding.  It felt too foreign and strange, and so I dropped my inquiry. 

Then, in February of 1992, my Mom signed us both up to attend a workshop at our church, called “Women in Religion – A Walk in Many Worlds”.   It was a weekend of experiential learning about Feminine Spirituality, hosted by Margot Adler.  I can still vividly recall the Saturday morning ritual that was simple in nature, but powerful.  There were 120 women in attendance, and Margot (the late NPR Correspondent, and granddaughter of famed psychiatrist, Alfred Adler) invited any woman who was going through some kind of trauma or sorrow to enter the center of the circle.  When I looked around, there were not enough women left in the outer ring to be able to clasp hands.  For me, it was a moment of empathic clarity to understand the prolific suffering of others. Prior to this gathering, I had not yet come to understand that what people display ‘on the outside’ does not necessarily reflect how they feel on the inside.

As we joined voices for my first healing chant, there was an unmistakable energy rising.  It came up through the soles of my feet and poured forth through the tears in my eyes… there was so much suffering in this circle.  I longed to hold every woman in sacred space. 

These are the words that we repeatedly chanted:  “I am a circle, I am healing you.  You are a circle, you are healing me.  Unite us, be one.  Unite us, be as one.”  I still find this chant to be powerful and incredibly moving, whether in a circle of three or three hundred. 

At the time of our gathering, I knew one woman in the circle, but when I would later reflect on that moment that changed my life for the better, I would realize that a good number of those present would become my people. 

Aside from the healing chant, there is one thing that really stands out in my memory of that weekend. We were all invited to bring an item to place on the altar, and had a chance to explain the symbolism of our offering.  Margot spoke of the item she brought, which was a replica of a Neolithic age goddess image known as the Venus of Willendorf.  She dates back over 30,000 years, and here’s the thing… she is not a stick figure.  Willie is actually rotund by current standards.  She is full, and round, and fertile, with hips meant for childbearing.  Margot said that when she learned to see this ancient relic through the eyes of those who created her… with a sense of awe and reverence… she could begin to see herself that way.  Can you imagine – realizing that someone who looked like you was once considered divine and worthy of worship? There really might be something here for me, after all, I thought.

After the workshop, my mom found an ad in the paper for a six-month class on Wicca.  Again, she signed us both up.  Mom left the class when she knew I was safe (i.e., not getting involved with a cult), as this path was not for her.  I continued my weekly commitment from March through August of that year.  We learned about different mythological pantheons, sacred ceremony, herbalism, astrology, divination (such as tarot and runes, etc.), and more. 

It’s funny to come from the perspective of skepticism and open mindedness.  It takes a really long time to move through disbelief and prove-it mentality to genuine knowing – even when you’ve been witness to real magick and minor miracles.  It helps to be a highly committed individual; you can just keep trying, until it clicks.  It also helps to have others with whom you feel safe to explore.  When the class was over, I was initially not sure I would do anything with what I’d learned.  There were parts that resonated, and parts that did not.  But, as fate would have it, I was invited to join a small group of classmates to continue this exploration.  These people valued my authentic nature, and did not judge my lack of education on the subjects into which we would grow.  With their confidence and support, I began to blossom.  I was their ‘maiden’, and the tarot card that symbolized my place on the path at age 23 was The Fool…  a curious soul at the beginning of an unknown and exciting adventure.

For me, what was most profound in this exploration was the ability to finally find myself in the divine.  For on this spiritual path, through Margot Adler’s introduction and the class on Wicca, I met the Goddess.  Before this, the only expression of divinity I’d been shown came in male form, and quite frankly, having been betrayed by a male at age 20 to whom I had given my heart, well… I just wasn’t interested.  How could I trust Him?  And so here, in the proverbial lap of the Goddess, I was ready to make my home.

Over the last 25 years, my personal definition of spirituality has fluctuated. I remain committed to a permanent state of evolution, as I allow life and experience to alter understanding. I am an eternal student gathering insight from many paths, traditions, and religions. I find focus and strength in the archetypal feminine via Jungian psychology. I am grateful to have been raised with an open mind, not tied to a single belief system or dogma.

I love that we all have the freedom to explore and ultimately define what it is that makes us feel safe, supported, transformed, fulfilled. 

For me, an earth based, goddess centered path still resonates most clearly… but my understanding of consciousness continues to evolve, and today I define myself as spiritual, but not religious – hesitant to limit my own possibility for growth and expansion. 

What I’ve gathered from every single path I’ve studied… is that symbolism is powerful.  We can find commonality in the Earth’s path around the sun through the changing seasons, and the cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth of nature.  And just as Mother Nature sheds her leaves each fall, we too can choose to drop what no longer serves us, be it an attitude, a toxic relationship, or a path that no longer meets our needs.

Whichever path you have chosen, and however you define it, dear ones, I hope that your own sacred journey is paved with love and healing light, and that you are surrounded by a community of supportive, loving, compassionate friends who will take your hand when you need guidance through moments of darkness.  Knowing that I am never alone, and that I am surrounded by so much love has always been a great blessing to me… and from the center of my being, I wish the same for you. 

Thank you for walking this path with me.

Snake Woman Shedding Her Skin

In April I developed a dermatitis.  I can’t really remember ever having a rash before this development.  It was pretty fierce and seriously uncomfortable.  In my circle, when we have a physical ailment arise, we remind one another to ask ourselves – that would be our higher selves, guides, the consciousness that provides wisdom if only we know to ask – what does this mean or why am I experiencing this discomfort?  When I asked, the answer I received was loud and clear… “snake woman shedding her skin”.

In June of last year, I left my 16 year career with the arrival of new management.  I was immediately discovered and hired by another company, but it did not resonate with me so I departed after a few months and took the rest of the year off.  In January I put myself back on the market, but three months into the tedium of receiving multiple emails every day with job postings and recruiter reaches I had developed a sense of repulsion at the review of each job description.  In rapid succession the following events occurred:  I finished writing a book, I submitted the first three chapters and a synopsis to four publishers, I declared that I could not return to the corporate world, I could no longer stomach doing what I have done for the last 25 years, I discontinued every single recruitment tool from entering my inbox, and decided to devote my time to becoming a certified End of Life Doula.  And then…  my skin went into a flaming rage.  This is what I wrote about it:

It started small, in a place beneath my belly that never sees the light.  It spoke to me of nurturing, and I did it wrong.  I caused harm instead of healing.  I didn’t mean to… I promise.  I love you.  The wrong I had done grew with rage, and expanded the hurting beyond its meager beginning, angering everything it touched.  Bellies are meant to expand in order to bring new life to birth.  My belly expanded decades ago, and brought only shame and strife.  I looked at her with disappointment and longing… to become something she was not.  I degraded her with my thoughts at each passing of the mirror.  I didn’t mean to… I promise.  I love you.  Skin is the largest organ we possess, a full time job of holding.  How can it possibly work so hard for so little reward?  From the time we be-gin, until the time we cease-to-be this sacred container embraces every cell, every bone, every heartbeat, every thought – for better or for worse, the ultimate supporter.  Seriously, she deserves a bonus!  That anger is contagious, you know.  What started at the belly expanded to the thighs.  Then it just ran screaming, enflamed, throughout the body, from upper arm to lower ankle… as if the skin cells had been spreading rumors.  Can you believe what she did to the belly?, they said.  No love. No pride. No respect. No compassion. No tenderness.  Just shame and regret.  Well, we’re not going to stand by and witness such disregard for her own perfection.  We shall rise with the burning desire for loving kindness.  We shall itch and pull to the point of discomfort, so that sitting still is no longer an option.  When every thought of loathing and distaste has been burned away, a fresh, new beginning will be revealed.  The entire body, belly, thighs, and all will be loved and nurtured in this very form… exactly as she is… deserving of soothing caress, and quenching delight.  Outdated perceptions and false belief will be shed and left behind, as the former assumptions have grown too limiting, and no longer fit.  She is becoming something better and deeper than before.  I really mean to… I promise.  I love you.

The book I had just finished was about my own journey through self-loathing to self-loving, and I am quite sure that this burden was a kind of test.  For nearly twenty years I have been strongly influenced by the archetype of Artemis.  She is a Greek goddess of the hunt… the archer.  Her realm is mountain and stream, and she is fiercely protective of women and children.  One who is devoted to such a character of strength might ask herself in a moment of suffering, what would Artemis do?  Well, I can tell you that she wouldn’t bury her head in shame, and she wouldn’t punish herself for the behavior of nature, she wouldn’t pretend to be something she is not, and she wouldn’t suffer in silence… she would reach to her sisters for guidance and support.  And that’s what I did.  I am blessed to have a soul-sister who is a healer and practitioner of Chinese medicine.  In case you wondered… acupuncture can cure a rash, just so you know.

I believe I passed my test.  I chose to love my body through her discomfort, rather than to degrade her for what I would have formerly dubbed another episode of body betrayal.  Today, I love her even more than before.  I have shed the skin (the identity) that had grown tight and unbearable.  I have slithered into a new beginning that is shiny and smooth. I feel liberated, joyful and free.  I am hopeful for the future for the first time in years, and I cannot wait to receive the bounty the Universe has been holding for my discovery.  If I needed a sign from the Universe of my confidence, it came the other morning in the form of a black snake traveling from west to east across my front yard.  I was so excited to see her, and I rushed to get a photo before she disappeared into the brush.  In the Animal Dreaming Oracle by Scott Alexander King, it informs us that SNAKE is about Transmutation.  It reads, in part:  “… While embracing the promise of new life, the Snake can be seen as representative of the healing we must accept if we intend to move into the next phase of our life in a complete and fertile way.”  “… Snake encourages us to look at our baggage, our burdens and our pain and transmute them into new opportunity and new life.  She offers us the chance to physically rebirth ourselves by strengthening us emotionally and deepening our relationship with Spirit.”

Dear ones, if you find that your current situation has begun to rub you the wrong way and is making you want to crawl out of your skin, I wish for you the emancipation for which your spirit longs.  The unknown future may be scary, but it is also exciting… an adventure that beckons new friends, new vistas, and healing, glorious, delightful new beginnings.  I’m so grateful that I managed to find you here upon my new path, taken!

mysnake

 

The Once and Future Son

At the end of 2015 my soul-sister and childhood friend embarked on a healing journey.  She is such a beacon of positivity and light that you would never know the darkness through which she has come.  Her heart is so big and so open, you could not imagine that it had once been mishandled, manipulated, abandoned, and betrayed.  Her generous heart just keeps shining, giving, expanding.

She is one of my great heroes, and without a doubt, a soul with whom I shall always resonate… together, we create a kind of harmony.  She came into my life when we were ten years old, and though there have been separations of time and distance, when we come together, it feels as if no time has passed, because clearly… we are always together… hearts singing to one another over the miles.

Our favorite pastime is what we call ‘couch time’.  This is when and where we go deep.  The season that her healing began brought us ample couch time, as she was staying with me while working on a project in town.  She engaged the support of an intuitive life coach during this visit, and it was from her first session that our assignment was delivered.

I never wanted to have children of my own, though I’ve always been grateful for the faery goddess babies in my life, that are the sacred legacy of dearest friends who have nurtured my presence in the lives of their children.  I’ve witnessed the joy, pride and glory of motherhood through many of my girlfriends, and I’ve witnessed the sorrow and heartbreak of some whose longing for such a blessing did not come to fruition.  This is where our story begins.

Being separated by distance sometimes does not allow us to be witness to the suffering of loved ones.  With 2,000 miles between us, I fear that, at the time, I was aware of my dear one’s miscarriage, but perhaps failed to be present with her at the time of her loss and grief.  I was grateful to have the opportunity to make up for my failure, when she shared with me the task before her.

The very first mission of her healing journey was to make peace with the loss of her son.  It was suggested that the work would be most powerful and effective at the Winter Solstice.  It was early December and she was about to return home, but she asked me to help her with this endeavor, and booked a flight to return for couch time later that month.

My own spiritual path of the last 26 years spirals around the Celtic wheel of the year, and the significance of a ritual to greet her son on the day that the ancients celebrated the rebirth of the Sun was not lost on me.  I set forth to create for her a sacred space in which to find celebration and closure.

The following meditation was inspired by my journey to Ireland in 2008.  As I walked into the passage tomb known as Newgrange or Bru Na Boinne, it was clear to me that we were walking into the womb of Mother Earth.  It can be seen from everywhere in the Boyne Valley, and this is where the people of this region would bring the cremains of their loved ones.  There is a window box over the only doorway through which the rising sun enters only once a year… on the Winter Solstice.

It is my strong belief that they were longing for the rebirth of their beloveds, along with the rebirth of the Sun, as this is the time of year (in the northern hemisphere) we see the longest night… from which point the days begin to grow longer.  This is the journey that my friend and I shared on the longest night of 2015.

The journey into darkness has been a long and difficult spiral inward.  You have come to this place, upon a frosted, moonlit valley, to seek healing, comfort, and to lay down your burdens.  In your mind’s eye, you travel over the river… the surface alive with movement – spirals ascend as if to caress the face of the moon. 

You  journey upward, to that ancient place on the hill… the earthen mound that can be seen from anywhere in the valley… the womb of the Mother.  As you approach, following the path that leads to the curb stone that marks the entrance, an Irish Hare pops up from the landscape, and dashes off, into the night.  You arrive at the portal stone and run your fingers over the petroglyphs left upon the stone more than 5,000 years ago… clearly symbols of the river that brings bounty to this valley, and the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

Now, you step forward and walk into the doorway, surrounded, as you move forward, by megalithic stones that form a passage, protective walls, and ceiling.  It is dark here, and you step with intention, guided by the feel of the protective granite, but it is safe, and you can breathe with ease, knowing that you are safe in the belly of the Mother.  As the wall begins to curve, you know that you have reached the center… slightly up hill from the ground from which you entered.  Here, you take a seat… and wait.

On the longest night, you find peace in the darkness.  You have come here to reconnect with the one you thought lost, the one who tried his best to come to fruition as the child of your womb…  the son of your heart.  It is here, in this ancient, sacred place… that you are finally able to give him a name.  Here, before you, a shadowy image begins to emerge and take shape in the darkness.  Outside, the very edge of the top of the sun is kissing the horizon, and a tiny ray of light has begun to journey toward you, across the cool stone floor.  The pale light allows you to see that there is a large stone basin in the center of the chamber, and the small being that is emerging from the darkness is a young boy… who bears a striking resemblance to someone familiar. 

As the light continues to gather in the chamber, you are able to see more clearly now, and the boy before you holds out his hands, reaching for you, and as you lean in… you feel the small, dry, warm palms upon each side of your face.  As you look deeply into those eyes…  YOUR eyes, gazing lovingly back at you…  you are finally able to have that conversation that your soul has longed to share.  Greet him by name…  and take the time you need to speak with one another.  Say the words that float from your heart to wrap him in mother’s love… and wait to hear his reply.  There is no need to rush, in this sacred place…  you are both, for this moment…  timeless.

When words have been shared, tears have been shed, and laughter has tickled the tips of your toes…  you look again, into those familiar, beautiful eyes that reflect all that is perfect in this world… the one who has never let you down…  recognizing YOURSELF as great warrior of your own story, you are able to release the feeling of loss and sorrow, feeling in your heart, that it has been replaced by gratitude and joy.

By now, the bottom of the sun has gently caressed the horizon, and its beams of pure, radiant, healing light are streaming through the window above the doorway to the passage… and the altar stone, upon which your sacred child is seated, is enveloped with a golden light.  As you gaze upon his beloved being, you gasp to realize that HE has become the light.  Every cell of his body has begun to shimmer, like sparkling gold.  He reaches for you again, and you take him into your arms for a final embrace. 

When you both have shared the comfort of touch, and are ready to say… farewell, for now…  you loosen your grip, and his shimmering being pours through your body with a warming, glow of golden light.  He has been released from this world, and his radiance leads you gently out of the ancient mound, and back into the full, warm light of the sun.  It is a new day, and you feel refreshed and light.  You are ready to emerge from the passage… and for the new opportunities that you shall bring to birth in the days and months ahead. 

We are the earth. We are the womb.   Come rising sun.  Lead us from the tomb.  

Beautiful being… welcome to the light! 

Through these words, and upon this journey within, my friend found the closure she sought.  She made peace with her sorrow and regret, and found a way to have a relationship with a soul that she cannot see, but that surrounds her and moves her, despite the limitations of an earthly body.

If you are aching for the loss of a loved one, whether or not you knew her or him in a form made manifest, know that my soul-sister and I are holding you close.  We invite you to take this journey into yourself, and there, we hope you may find comfort and deep peace.  Love and brightest blessings shine brightly upon your sacred journey.

solsticesunrise

Witness to Healing

It was exactly six years and two months ago that one of my soulmates entered my life.  You may know that a soulmate is anyone in your life who speaks to your soul and helps you to grow… they are not always a romantic partner, but sometimes, if you are really lucky, they may become a life partner… one soul you would choose to have at your side through all of the ups and downs, highs and lows of this great journey we call life.

She was kind of a mess at that time, but you wouldn’t know it to see her… as she was a master of disguise, much like many survivors of childhood abuse.  Whether it was my empathic gift or our souls’ recognition of one another, she had the great courage to remove her mask whenever we were alone.  The very first time she came to my home, we sat together on the couch and she looked at me with fear in her eyes, because she could not believe that she was confessing to me all of her deepest, darkest secrets of her childhood horrors.  She said that it had taken her eight years of weekly therapy, to get past the crushing silence and tears of her shame to speak of these things to a professional… and there it was, spilling forth from her being like a flood gate had opened.  It was a great honor to me that she trusted me with her truth, especially since she didn’t actually know me, at that point in time.  Here’s one thing I know for sure, if you have the courage to go deep with someone, to share your truth, be authentic, and vulnerable… you will have no choice but to become bonded.  Know that I am not betraying her trust by writing of my courageous, warrior soulmate here, because she has given me permission to share.

Here’s the really amazing, wonderful, miraculous thing about my joyful sharing of this piece of our shared history… my beloved friend and soulmate, who once would go fetal at the mere thought of her abuser, or who would lose her shit over a tragic anniversary, or who might punish herself with self harm of any sort, because she was drowning in the tidal wave of shame, fear, and self-loathing… is now completely healed.  It wasn’t a spontaneous lightning bolt of healing, it was several years of dedicated hard work on her own behalf.  She saw a therapist at least twice a month, and every week, if she needed it.  She took her medication religiously, and never stopped her practice of self-care with her daily vitamin regimen.  She sought and engaged a therapist who practices EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), which is pure magick that reprograms the way the brain deals with trauma and PTSD.  She is Christian, and so she engaged with groups at church that were focused on healing and coping.  And most of the time that she was really struggling… she would reach out to me, and we would talk through it.  When I asked her to see a psychiatrist to help with her chemistry, she made a promise and followed through.  It wasn’t easy for her to do all of these things.  Even making a phone call, or answering the phone was a hardship, at times… but she always found the strength and courage to accept that lifeline.

One of those days that she reached to me for assistance was when her group therapist assigned each survivor of childhood atrocities to write a letter of loving support to herself.  Though I have no doubt she could have done that for someone else, at that time, she simply could not find the words for herself.  So, she engaged her friend with a gift for words.  This is the letter that I wrote for her.  She told me that she shared it with her group, and that another member of the group asked if I would write one for her… and so she took my letter and adjusted the greeting.  It went like this:

Dear [Friend]~

Have I told you lately how very proud I am of you?  You are a warrior woman, goddess incarnate.  The word victim has no place in your personal vocabulary, for you are a survivor.  Heartbreaking atrocities occur every day, but it is not every soul who chooses to stand up and fight for her freedom from internal conflict and for wholeness.  YOU are that woman. 

At times, as you face these nightmares from the past – with your inner child, you may feel alone and helpless.  The truth is… you are never alone, for we are all one.  When you are in the midst of darkness, I shall be your torchbearer… shining a light on your truth, that you are whole, worthy, valued, loved, adored, and perfect – exactly as you are, until your own light is able to shine more brightly to illuminate your path of enlightenment.

I, too, have been through the darkness, in my own small way.  As you know, I dwelled in self-loathing for over 25 years.  Until, one day I decided that I deserved to be treated with loving kindness and respect, by myself as well as by others.  It takes constant vigilance to choose the right words for one’s healthy self-talk, instead of the negative, nasty words we learned from others.  It is absolutely worth the energy, time, and commitment to ourselves.  We deserve what we accept… and we teach others how we deserve to be treated by our own actions…  by what we tolerate.  Never, ever tolerate abuse, disrespect or a lack of kindness… especially from yourself.  Ask yourself, when you are speaking to your own reflection – would I ever say “this” to someone I love?  If the answer is NO, then you MUST replace that thought or statement with something loving and kind.  This is what I learned, and how I continue my own practice of self-respect and loving kindness.

With this important work you are doing, with such commitment and dedication, you are moving beyond being a survivor… you are becoming a THRIVER!  Darling, precious, sacred friend…  I can see your light and I look forward to seeing it shine more brightly.  Go on – remarkable woman of strength and healing…  SHINE ON!

Here’s my challenge for you…  I dare you to make yourself feel as loved by you, as I do.  I know that you have it in you, because you make me feel valued, appreciated, loved and adored.  And the truth is… you deserve your own love and compassion more than anyone in the universe.

Love, blessings, and awe… 

If this letter resonates with you, I hope you will fill in your name where [Friend] is written.  The one for whom this letter was originally penned no longer needs it, though I know she holds it among her healing treasures.  One day last winter, she received news footage of her childhood home, and the room that was hers… a virtual hall of terrors for one beautiful little girl, had burst into flames.  She sent me the footage, and told me what I was seeing.  My reply:  “Oh, wow!  Do you know what this means?”  Her reply:  “Yup!”  This image, the symbol of her childhood trauma engulfed in flames, was her sign from God (the Universe) that her healing was done.  That wounded past was being cleansed and purified… like when the forest floor is set alight to clear away old debris, and allow the pine cones to break open and spread their seed of new beginnings.  Today, she no longer struggles with depression, and as of this morning, she is off of medication, after months of weening with her doctor’s and therapist’s guidance and support.  She is my great symbol of hope.  In her new beginning, she has become MY torchbearer.  She has informed me that if I never give up on myself, and if I am willing to remain committed and focused on attaining my goals, someday… I might just become a writer.  😉

Fireplace 11-20-2013

Sunday Service or Faery Fantasy?

Have you ever had an experience, that when over, you look back and wonder if it really happened?  My memory is rather selective.  I call it Swiss Cheese Memory, because it seems I may remember pieces of a story, while other bits fall through the holes.  But there is this one magickal day, though buried beneath twenty years of mundane history, which offers me remarkable clarity when plucked out to be shared.  I keep this memory planted in a tiny pocket behind my heart, and am always grateful to be able to return to that very moment… as if to prove time travel a reality.

In college, I took four semesters of American Sign Language.  That’s not to say that I ever had the confidence to do anything with it, but I can still spell out the alphabet and offer you my gratitude, my love, and inform you that I have to pee without speaking a word. 

My classmates were far more confident than I, not limited by a false belief of not being good enough, my old wound – now healed.  So, when a total immersion opportunity in St. Augustine arose, I joined them for the weekend trip, but did not attend the course.  As they headed back to the college for the deaf on Sunday for their final class, I got in my car and drove along the waterfront to find a parking spot.  My thought was that I would find a tree beneath which I would read a book before meeting up with the ladies for lunch.  On this particular day, the sun was shining, the breeze was beautiful, and there was not a single place to park.  So, I kept driving. 

Soon I found that I was no longer in familiar territory.  I ended up in an old neighborhood, and thought I should probably turn around and go back the way I came, so not to be lost (in an era before GPS and cell phones).  When I pulled over to get my bearings, I found myself in front of quite a sight.  I pulled out my journal to write about what I saw, scribbling imagined emotions to go with the vision before me. 

Surrounded by a chain link fence, was a small cinder block structure that was covered in small white crosses, some atop blue hearts.  There was no roof, floor, windows or doors on this house, and with all of the crosses, I imagined a whole family having died there (morbid, I know), as it resembled many roadside memorials I’ve seen. 

When I looked up from my writing, I noticed a car to my left was inching slowly past, with two women eyeing me with suspicion.  As they parked in front of me, and got out of the car, I rolled down my window and they approached, each dressed to the nines, pillbox hats, and all.  I told them that I was intrigued by this house and had to stop, and asked them if this was a place of pain for them.  One woman replied:  “Oh, no honey.  This is our church!”

The next thing I knew, I had been invited to worship with two elderly black women somewhere off the beaten path of historic downtown St. Augustine. 

Of course I accepted their offer, and I helped them carry items from the car into the curious structure that was sacred to them.  Together, we transported a canvas bag with a few hymnals, a battery powered keyboard, and a Christian bible.  As we passed through the gate to enter the property, one of my hostesses placed a halfway deflated balloon at the gate, and turned a sign around to show anyone arriving late that church was now “In Service”. 

We entered the ‘sanctuary’ through the unhindered doorway that faced the road, stepping onto beautiful green grass.  There were randomly placed cinder blocks and a few planks of wood that leaned against the wall.  By their guidance, I helped rearrange these items to become a pew and a keyboard stand.  Next, I was guided through a side-doorway, and found that there was a small wooden closet with a lock, from which was pulled a small wooden lectern.  It looked more like a plant shelf that had been painted blue with a white wooden cross added as a symbol of its importance… to cradle the holy book for reading.  There was a porcelain heart-shaped box that sat on the shelf, behind the cross.  With this final placement, in the front of the room, facing the single pew, and to the left of the ‘choir’ section, we were ready to begin the service.

One woman took her place at the keyboard, and the other behind the lectern.  I took my place with hymnal in hand, respectfully, upon the pew of block and wood.  The service proceeded in the usual fashion… a bit of music, followed by words of scripture.  At each phase of the service, I was informed of their traditions.  “This is where we do the meet and greet.”  And the three of us stood, and I introduced myself to Vondelin and Petronella, two sisters, both in their seventies.  They called each other Von and Pet, for short.  Their mother had taught at the local school for the deaf, and it was a fire in the nearby historic district that sent embers aloft to burn down their family church. 

We returned to our assigned places to continue the service.  I was invited to read something from the ‘Good Book’, and not having a Christian background, I asked Von to select a piece for me.  As she took my previous place on the pew, I looked out over my congregation, and delighted in the sight.  When I finished my reading and returned to my seat, Pet asked if there was a song I’d like to sing.  I told her that I was not familiar with this hymnal, and the only song I could think of that might be appropriate was one performed in the church scene from the movie, Corrina, Corrina with Whoopie Goldberg. 

And so, the three of us moved to the music of the keyboard and we let our little lights shine!  Next, it was time to do the offering.  Von pulled the heart-shaped box from the lectern shelf and informed me of this part of the service.  When I told her that I had left my purse in the car and offered to run out, she handed me two dimes, and said:  “No, no, honey… too much money just invites thieves.”  And so I placed the two dimes she gave me into the box, and Petronella did the same, then Vondelin returned the box to the safe place beneath the bible. 

Again, we all returned to our designated roles, and I listened to the completion of our service.  As I sat there, in this simple structure with my feet in the grass, looking up at blue sky and lush green treetops, and then looked back at these two, lovely, authentic, open-hearted women… my heart experienced such bliss.  When the service ended, I helped them return the space to the state it was in upon arrival.  We locked the lectern and porcelain box in the closet outside the side door, and removed the planks of wood from the cinder blocks and leaned them against the wall.  I helped them carry the keyboard and hymnals out to their car, and thanked them for sharing their Sunday Service with me.

As they drove away, I sat in my car, as I had done just an hour before… looking over at this curious structure, and wondering to myself…  Did that really happen?  I eventually drove away to find my friends, whose voices had been liberated over lunch before our drive back to Orlando.

At work on Monday, still affected by the wonder of it all, I shared my experience with co-workers.  One who often prayed for me and my Unitarian-pagan soul, said:  “See!  I knew you would find your way to the one true path.”  And I looked at her and said:  “Oh, no!  Don’t you see?  As much as I was in their church… they were in mine!  With words of worship and song, we had our feet upon the earth, and the sun upon our skin, the breeze danced through the trees to caress our faces, and we were all one.”

When I later shared this magickal tale with my Tribe, we all wondered if I had slipped into some kind of faery realm.  But it was all confirmed when, several months later, my friends went to St. Augustine to celebrate their wedding anniversary, and they followed my vague instructions to finding my magickal church. 

Not only was the structure still there, but it had new windows in the front.  They attended the service with my not so faery friends, and learned that they had been raising money to refurbish the church, and were doing so, literally one window at a time.  That made me a little sad… that they were working to remove nature from their sanctuary. 

Several years passed before I made my way back north to St. Augustine.  When I made that drive around the waterfront and into the old neighborhood, I did not find the church.  I don’t know if it was torn down or rebuilt to be unrecognizable to me… or if it finally passed through the veil into the faery realm, after all.  I do know that I will forever be grateful, for my curiosity to stop, and for the kindness of two sisters to invite me in.

I hope that if you ever find yourself at the doorway of a magickal threshold, that you will accept the invitation… and enter.

naturecross

Embracing Your Inner God/dess

Several years ago, while working in a large corporate office, one of my co-workers invited several executive assistants to a dinner with a theme.  It was called ‘Girlfriends Night’, and we were each to bring a wrapped gift for a type of white elephant gift exchange.  In other words, the gift would not be given to someone specific, but would be selected, randomly, by someone at the gathering.

I decided that I would not bring something that I thought someone else would love, but more importantly, to share something that I loved.  The goal was to share a part of myself with the recipient… and I guess, it may have been about being seen and heard.  After all, how often do we get to be our authentic selves in corporate America?  When I read the letter that I had placed with the gift, it occurred to me that I was practicing vulnerability long before Brene Brown became a household name.  Here’s what I wrote:

 Dear Girlfriend:

Symbolism plays a major role in my life.  I find strength and wisdom in the ‘signs’ I interpret as the divine affecting my life.  Artemis, a Greek Goddess, the archer, carries significant symbolism in her archetype.  As a hunter, she actively seeks her desires, with her Bow, she stands firmly planted / grounded on the earth and with clarity of vision takes aim, with strength of will she pulls back her bow, and with faith in attainment she then sends her silver arrows flying swiftly toward her goals. 

I wish for you to see your true path clearly illuminated.  That you have a vision for what brings you bliss.  That all of your arrows fly swiftly toward your goals.

This gift I have selected with purpose.  I have spent many years of my life feeling inadequate.  After years of self-loathing, I finally had my awakening just about two years ago.  Now I realize that like all women, I too am a sensual being.  This music touches my soul, and connects my being with that misplaced sensuality.  I invite you to dim the lights, light some candles, and bathe or dance or receive/give a massage to this music.  Let it remind you that everyday, you are a woman of great beauty, desire, grace, wisdom, healing, and sensuality.  You are a goddess.  I kneel before you in reverence.

Brightest Blessings…

So, now… I address this message to you, dear friends – female and male – regardless of spiritual path… may you recognize the divine that resides within you, and allow it to glow so brightly that it illuminates the path that surrounds you.  May you find clarity in this present moment, and allow your inner voice to lead you to the important work of cultivating joy and happiness in your life.  May all of your hopes and dreams be made manifest with grace and ease, and may all be well with your soul.  You are stunningly beautiful to behold, exactly as you are… and I kneel before you in reverence and gratitude for sharing this sacred moment with me.

vasofferings