I woke up this morning at 5am. It was Saturday and I should have rolled over and went back to sleep. But something was whispering in my ear, "get up, there is something you need to write." I wasn't totally clear what it was so I closed my eyes and invited my Spirit Tribe into my space. I quietly prayed and meditated for a few minutes. I got up and put some wood in the stove and watched the flames ignite. I plugged in the tiny lights that laced my plants, made a cup of dandelion tea, wrapped myself in my sheepskin blanket. I could feel the prompting as it started to take form, the thing I needed to put into words. It was the evolution of my beliefs. This is a post for myself and my own growth, and for anyone else who finds it.
I am beyond grateful for my beginning. My parents were the first ones who set me on my spiritual path, demonstrating a belief in something they couldn't necessarily see. As a preacher's kid I was immersed in many tribes of love and community. That, in itself, can be enough to carry one through life. I am a scholar in the ways of the church and the Bible and who I was told God is. But I was also a seeker, thirsting constantly for deeper spiritual meaning. I desperately wanted it all to be connected in a real and authentic way. Instead I found myself eating off of the "silver platter "of the beliefs that were offered to me. I ate and digested and ate and digested some more.
A SUBTLE SHIFT
When I was 12, I lived on a dead-end road with little access to my friends who lived in town. My dad bought me a guitar and I regularly packed it up, along with my journal, and headed out to find a piece of earth to sit on. I mostly wrote songs about my life. This was a place where I could be true to my own shifting thoughts and beliefs.
When I was 16, sermons were ringing empty and shallow and questions were coming at me like rain. When I was offered the silver platter of beliefs, I accepted, but consumed them with caution. In the years that followed I felt a growing unrest, there was a disconnect between what had become true for me and the beliefs I was "supposed to be" digesting. I knew, at that point, I needed to decide which items, from the silver platter, were really yummy and which ones it was time to decline. I could only live from my pure, authentic experience and my deep truth.
NO MORE PRETENDING
When I lost Chloe, all of my questioning and searching and ability to even think went into a locked case. I could only feel...and not feel. Laying on the forest floor, my body being absorbed into the earth, trying my hardest to disappear, I didn't know what I believed. I could only feel every raw wound. When I started waking up, I realized that I was bare, transparent and naked. All that used to be neatly controlled and understood, had just split open. I looked down and saw myself in the deepest, truest sense. I felt like I had just hatched from an egg and was stepping into myself for the first time. I wasn't even capable of pretending, or living anyone else's life. But with that birth, came life. A freedom so wild and intense and pure. The word "should" started dropping out of my vocabulary. If my heart didn't say YES, then is was a clear No. Guilt, shame, feeling apologetic for my shifting beliefs were gone. More of life was a mystery and I became good with not needing answers or justifications. It became apparent to me, that many of my prior beliefs were based in fear and all that would happen if I didn't act, say or do what I had been taught. My heart was beating louder and becoming a true compass.
EVERYONE HAS A STORY
Although my childhood beliefs have been somewhat rearranged, I am extremely intrigued by the stories and beliefs of others. I have a high respect and value for how people move through life and how they have come to embrace the Universe and all of its divine and magnificent workings. One of my favorite activities is "coffee and conversation." I love hearing people talk about their lives, what moves them and what they believe. I try to keep my heart wide open and away from the dangerous "I'm right, you're wrong" mud-hole . I actually believe that everyone holds a piece of the puzzle of truth. If we would take the time to truly listen to each other we would have more pieces to construct a beautiful picture. But instead we hang on tightly to our own piece, trying to prove ourselves to the world. I find that to be a waste of time and life. If we could all just sink into our own hearts and follow the pure, authentic call of its powerful beat our deepest spiritual experience would unfold.
FIFTEEN JOURNALS LATER
I have been married to my journals for years and, on my most recent birthday, I bought a new journal. Now I have sixteen (because fifteen is not enough). I will forever be in pursuit of the Mystical and Divine within me. I weigh all beliefs, religions and thought against my own heart compass. That is the center of where I live and what has become true for me.
This time. This impending darkness. This loss. When the light diminishes out of sight. Grief comes creeping into my bones. I drive up my lane looking for the lush green pastures and singing Aspen trees. But all is quiet, and brown and bare. I fight to hang onto the energy of the summer light. Frolicking through the mountains, laying on the warm earth and this year, roaming through the pastures of the English countryside.
In September I learned about joy, deep joy. Sitting in the belly of Nectar's Glen in England, feeling the energy entering me through the portals of the waterfall, I became fully aware that the place where joy enters is the place where I am deeply wounded and deeply healed. There is a powerful intersection there. I didn't want to lose that experience.
But now, I feel it slipping away and I am left grasping, chasing, clinging to my recent joy-filled days. I resisted the anniversary of the loss of Chloe, refusing to cry and bleed. "I won't do that, I will only feel exuberant life and joy," I told myself over and over. I was determined. The refusal to honor my heart's cry left me physically sick, without appetite and losing weight. Mid October, I woke up on a Saturday morning and felt my heart take over. It said, "enough." This is the season to be with the darkness, to step into death and loss and pain. To let it be. So I allowed the longing and the absence of it all. I cried.
This week I leaned fully into the darkness and saw it as one of life's powerful rhythms. That is how the light returns. It is only in true authenticity, that joy can be present. This time, this darkness is a gift. Activity in the earth slows and prepares to rest. In this darkness, this quiet period, I am also allowed to rest, to sit with the fire, to read, to write to go inside, to rest. Today, sitting in this coffee shop, drinking tea and watching the flames dance in the stone fireplace I am at peace with Winter's gift., leaning into the arms of darkness.
Embracing Abundant Life
Walking along Main St toward the coffee shop, I felt the magical sweetness in the air and saw the glittering lake before me. I felt light, and the world was promising. I was drawn to the pure blue sky and I was an eagle, majestic and free. No bars, no cages, and in this moment, there were no parameters. So far from captivity, so far.
I settled into my chair and set my coffee on the wooden table at Salto Coffee Works. I breathed and reveled in the Americana/Folk music coming out of the speaker above me. I felt the freedom in my bones, the freedom I have worked so hard to attain, have been so brave to pursue.
But freedom from captivity does not fall easily into my lap. I pursue my freedom fiercely, running from captivity- screaming at it, rejecting it, embracing it. I give up and revel in its comfort and safety for a moment. And then, I get up and put on each piece of my armor carefully and intentionally. I prepare for battle. Who are my enemies? The voices, the words, the people that warn me of the dangers and failures of releasing all that I am captive to, the tears and loneliness I may encounter. But still, I cannot live with the alternative- a life of captivity, living a life meant for someone else, not me.
We are all captive to something, a failing relationship, a job, old beliefs, a worn-out identity, our children, our parents, a location or a loss of a loved one. Anytime we feel we are in one place but are drawn to another, we are being held captive and life loses its flow.
Captive to Grief
I didn’t begin to understand captivity until I lost Chloe. But slowly and subtly, it was as if the door to an ornate cage was unlocked and I walked in. I didn’t know I was in there at first, but I needed to be there. I lay on the floor of the cage in deep collapse and wept with little space for breathing. The cage kept me alive and safe. It was strangely comforting. But gradually I lifted my head and looked around. As I gained strength, the comfort faded and I began to feel imprisoned, confined. I shook the cage and screamed to get out, but, instead of being rescued I heard a voice that said, “you have the key.”
As the fog of my grief began lifting, I was feeling the pain, even sharper now. I clutched to “all things Chloe.” Her possessions, her room, pictures, baby clothes and toys. Her books, her clothes, her blanket, the house, her dog, scraps of paper, poorly knitted scarves and pillows with threads hanging out, her journals, hats, her piano, her car. Clutching and gripping as if I were holding her. I rolled her soft gray blanket up as tightly as I could and climbed up on a rock that sat high above the forest. I held that blanket and felt myself holding her. And I wept, and a bird sang beside me.
I sat for days with her journals, moving even closer to her than I had ever been before. Knowing her, who she was, who she is. I started moving toward her and away from her “things.” In my move toward her, where she was and who she was now, I kept getting tripped up by her material possessions, the places she had been, the house that she lived in with us. I realized I was living in captivity, holding on to these things as if they were Chloe herself. I started being aware of myself and the movements of my heart, my feelings and emotions. I learned about the places that held darkness and the places that held light. I knew, in order to release myself into the light, I had to let go of the darkness. I had to stop re-writing history and telling myself that if only I still had her as a child or a teen that life would be better and I would be happy.
And so, we made the decision to give her piano away and move out of the house. A move out of captivity into freedom. But that particular freedom didn’t come without tears and physical exhaustion. But freedom? Oh, it came. I no longer walked into her room and felt the descending dark cloud. Her belongings were packed up and placed in a little room in the garage. I saved a few things to hold, the orange beads she had made, her little posable cat that often mysteriously changed position, a few items of clothing and a few pictures sitting around.
But they are not Chloe, they are just things. I began spending more time pursuing my relationship and love for Chloe. I live in the present with her, not the past. I release her to do her work and I do mine. Sometimes we sit together and I talk to her about the future, my hopes, my dreams. Tears are a natural part of my life but I am no longer captive to my grief. I embrace freedom and allow joy.
If freedom is so desirable, why do we often remain in captivity? Why is movement in a “life-giving” direction so difficult? Two words encompass this entire experience- FEAR and COMFORT. I’m speaking as an expert here. I am the Queen of Fear. Fear, especially rears its head with the thought of moving out of my comfort zone. I resist it as a cat resists a bath. Neale Donald Walsch says, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
The tigers circle around me and voices fill my head,
“that might not be safe”
“you might get lost or sick”
“people won’t agree with you”
“you won’t be the same person you were, your identity will change”
“you’ll have to find a new tribe”
“someone might get hurt”
“your experience is too tragic, you can’t leave this pain behind”
“you won’t have any money”
I have had to confront all of these fears in my life, from releasing a friendship, letting my children go, new jobs, moving on from old beliefs that just didn’t work anymore, and the loneliness that comes with moving and leaving your tribe.
I am quite adept at entertaining thoughts of loss instead of anticipating joy and freedom. It all begins in my mind- the stories I tell myself. That is where the shift into freedom begins. It is necessary to create a new story, a new expectation and vision. My husband often says, “you get what you expect.” It is simple, but powerful and if you are close to him you will hear it often. On different occasions, when my children have left home, I have seen him place his hand on their heart and say, “you have everything you need right inside you.”
In the end, we all know what to do to release ourselves from captivity, we know where our heart is leading. Trust in the divine Spirit that lives in and around you.
“Every day is divine. If you seek the sacred treasure you will find it.”
Lailah Gifty Akita
Loss Through Death
I woke up this, Mother's Day morning, and checked in with my heart. It was light and somewhat sparkly as I was anticipating some family time at the local coffee shop. I was surprised that I was not a pile of tears, thinking about the absence of Chloe on this day, but I was also filled with gratitude.
The sun was radiant and the sky was blue. I grabbed a blanket and a water bottle and headed to the woods to spend a little time with Chloe. I got settled in and closed my eyes, letting the sun warm my face. I felt peaceful, but also missing Chloe. I didn't feel the ache and the tears were surprisingly far away today. After talking to her a little, I began my meditation and visualization to bring her into my space. I invited her to be with me and saw her walking down the lane and up the hill to sit beside me. I sat in this silent exchange of existing together and sharing deep love.
The Sacred Ritual of Connection
This sacred ritual is something I have learned to do over the years and brings Chloe from that "far-away, over-there" place to the close, "right-here" place. It also keeps me in the present, in the relationship that exists now. Photographs and memories often propel me into the past, but being present in spirit is that place where I am able to be in the "now." This is a powerful way for those who have lost loved ones to move absence to presence, which heals the heart.
Loss Through Abuse, Neglect, Disrespect or Abandonment
Death, however, is only one face of the loss of Mother's Day. This day can be painful for many other reasons- being estranged from adult children, having a mother with whom a child did not share a warm relationship, abuse, neglect, disrespect or abandonment. It is often necessary to have a professional help to work through the many layers of pain, but there are other ways you can move through painful days and holidays. Distraction and busyness are always options, and helpful at times, but generally temporary. The loss of Mother's Day, in any form, often requires us to get out of our heads and into our spirits and physical bodies.
Meditation, Visualization and Connection
Our mothers or children exist in our own energy fields, whether they are alive or have transitioned into spirit. I like to think of it as a spider web (stay with me). We do not all exist in our own, isolated web, but are connected in one. When we shift our thinking from being separate, to being connected, it is easier to understand how close we all are and how we can continue to be together and to heal distressing relationships. While it has been one of the most healing experiences in death, for me, it is also possible to meet that living parent or child through meditating, and visualizing the love that you want to share. This seemed like a reach for me at first, but when I started working with it, I found it to be powerful. I had an intuitive sense about what I needed and then a book or two found its way into my path and it lined up with what I was experiencing. I found the most crucial part was, not that I could change my circumstances or loss, but that I could transform the condition of my heart in relationship to my loss. That is what creates healing.
The more I saw this working, I wondered if it applied to other separations such as physical distance from a loved one who is living. One time my daughter, Hope, was out of the country and I had a strong need to make contact with her, but I wasn't sure if she had phone service or if she was just electing to go off the grid. I did a brief meditation of stating my intention to make contact with her. At night she came in a dream and I could feel her presence. The next day I was getting ready for work and was hoping to just get myself to work on time, let alone have time to escape into meditation, visualization, energy fields and spider webs. So I said a quick, "Hey Chloe, could you have Hope contact me?" Within five minutes I heard the ding of my phone and looked down to read a message from Hope. I began to see that both of my daughters were a part of the same, expansive field and we always have access to each other through our connection in that field. This connection is possible because we are all spiritual beings whether on the physical or spiritual plane .
By now you are either eager to make this happen in your life, thinking you might table it for later, or just chucking it altogether. Any response is understandable. If you do feel this would provide you some healing and connection with the loves in your life, I'll give you a brief description of how I work with this. You can adapt it according to your specific needs and beliefs.
Connecting On The Spiritual Plane
Connecting On The Physical Plane
When September comes and the weather changes and summer begins to fade into the horizon, I feel it. It permeates my bones and my cells even before it enters my mind or my heart. I feel my body tremble and shake. Without even looking at the calendar, it knows. It works its way up to my heart and I begin slipping away with a sudden urge to sprint to the woods and hide, waiting for it to pass- that day in October that Chloe left this world.
Last year I had a deep desire to take back October. I spent my days around trees touching their trunks and their leaves, feeling the cool, crisp air. I picked up my pencils and paints and created October. I dove right into its center.
But this year I went into a deep freeze, not able to feel or see its beauty. I wanted nothing more than to get to the other side of it. I cried every weekend and became like a China teacup balancing on the edge of a shelf. Only the slightest movement sent me hurling to the ground and breaking into pieces. I vacillated between trying to "fix" myself to just letting it be. I felt the earth calling me on a deeper level so I headed to Caribou Open Space and began to walk. There were too many people on the trail and so I deviated from the trail into a grove of trees and a grassy meadow. I found a place in the sun, somewhat secluded and lay down on the ground. Once again, it did not disappoint, but held me, wrapped me up and infused me with its healing energy.
On another day, I found myself with an extra long lunch break at work. Resisting the temptation to work through lunch, I honored my new priorities to immerse myself in nature, and I went for a walk to a nearby open space. As I was walking down the street I was again, faced with the trees, the beautiful trees clothed in their brilliant hues of fall. I could see their colors but I couldn't feel anything.
There was no breaking through the numbness I felt in my heart. But as I kept gazing at them I heard a voice say, "it's not our fault." This simplistic phrase caught me off-guard, but it kept playing over and over in my head. It's not the season's fault, nor are the trees to blame. I have come to believe that there is an order and purpose to the events of the universe, even if I do not fully understand or cannot see it in its entirety. So, if there is no one really to blame then I needed to look deeper into how I could move through this time. I needed to acknowledge my sadness, allowing it as much space as it needed, but to separate my sadness from the season, as if that is what was causing me pain.
And so, today, I am headed out to find a patch of grassy meadow that has turned from green to brown. I will lay there for as long as it takes to ease my ship-wrecked heart. I will wrap myself around the trees, smell their trunks and touch their leaves. I will go on a "treasure hunt" and see what gifts the earth is offering me. And maybe I will paint. And maybe I will see beauty again.
My favorite summer activity is camping. This year I bought my own tent and headed off to Women's Wilderness Summit. The only thing that was missing from that experience was a campfire ring. I am addicted to campfires. If there is a fire ban, I don't go camping. I have a growing collection of photographs and videos of campfires, most of them from my own experiences.
Gazing into the mesmerizing flame on a recent camping trip, I was reflecting on what I love so much about that experience. A fire is hot, it is alive it is burning. Even without the flames, when it burns down to embers, it is calming. But the flame, my flame, what about that? How do I keep it alive. What is it that causes my fire to go out, my flame to die? When is my flame at its strongest?
I have discovered a few of my personal "fire blockers."
What fuels your fire? What are your "fire blockers?" Once you become aware of them, you will be less likely to lose that beautiful flame that energizes and drives your purpose.
Four years ago I began working with an Equine Therapist. It began with grooming the horse. This required standing next to this big, magical energy. Then, touching the horse, stroking its body with my hand and then the brush. Lifting the leg to clean each hoof. This was an act of trust. Would this strong, muscular leg decide to kick or stomp, but I proceeded with trust? And then, the ride.
I was surprised when the very first instruction in my riding lesson was to breathe. The first ten minutes of every session were spent walking the horse and breathing, relaxing into its body and feeling the tension in my own body dissipate. As the lesson continued I expected to learn strong commands to direct the horse, but the next instruction was to "look the way you want to go." I was amazed. I turned my head and my body in the direction I wanted to turn and the horse followed that subtle intention. When I learned how to pick up the trot and then the faster canter, I was afraid of falling off. Instead of a technical instruction, my instructor said, "are you breathing?" Trust, there it was again. I wanted to "hold on," to reach for a saddle horn or strap, but there was none. I had a choice, trust or fear. My trust would become the horse's confidence. My fear would become the horse's anxiety, resulting in a bigger, unsteady energy and ride. Although the fast pace of the canter was initially frightening, if I relaxed and let myself be carried I was supported by the horses's strong body underneath my own.
The magical energy of my experience with horses has translated into some important guidance for my life. When confronted with a big event, challenge or fear I begin by breathing. Then I go back into the experience with the horse of choosing trust or fear. Fear meant the lesson was over. Trust resulted in healing and peace. I breathe into trust, even when I'm not sure if it will result in injury or heartbreak. I close my eyes and go into the canter, feeling the up and down support of the horse's body under me. It is like riding a gentle wave, like an infant being rocked in its parents' arms. I am soothed.
Another guiding lesson came from that first riding lesson. "Look the way you want to go. Create an intention for your experience." It has become a mantra of sorts, keeping my eyes and intention set on the life I want. I tend to focus and obsess on the "what ifs," the "what isn't." Staring into the fear that arises and breathing into trust moves my focus into that place that brings me the most joy and peace.
Look the way you want to go.
I have a strong belief that the soul has no gender, race, color, brain size, weight, age, etc. I work daily to look directly into the souls of people and value them for their hearts and not their outer package. And yet, I have become increasingly aware that I am sometimes pretending that I am comfortable with everyone. I can value the soul but yet feel discomfort with who they are, what they believe or the choices they have made. I feel some shame in this, and yet, I have to be honest and confront my discomfort.
I live in a place where people seem to pride themselves in their "forward-thinking," possibly progressive beliefs and lifestyle. If I find myself with a feeling of uncertainty or discomfort, I want to make sure I don't articulate it, it is better to hide it, or I will certainly be labeled as narrow, unfeeling, cold and inflexible. I have married into some Amish roots. I often hear these people referred to as having a very "black and white" and narrow belief system. But the truth is, in my "progressive" community, there is also one right political belief system, one right response to food and response to religion. While I live here because I resonate with many of these beliefs, we are often blinded to that fact that we, too, are narrow at times.
But all I really want is honesty. We need to stop pretending that we have no discomfort with each other. So what is the solution to this? Not to lock ourselves into limiting beliefs or experiences, but to engage in conversation. We need to do "the dig"-into our hearts and minds. Drawing each other into our stories until we are no longer standing on opposite shores, but until we have built a bridge of understanding. It is only when we stand on this bridge, where our discomfort melts, and we develop our beliefs and opinions based on true understanding. This will never happen if we stand on that distant shore and look across the water and say, "I don't really get that person. They make me uncomfortable, so I'll just hide and not admit my feelings." Move....move toward each other. Talk...tell your story. Create a true bond of understanding, and then, formulate your true beliefs.
How to Move Through Life When the Sky is Falling
On an otherwise beautiful day, Chicken Little was walking along when suddenly an acorn fell on his head, sending him into a frenzy. Without stopping to gather information, access the situation or even to take a breath, Chicken Little runs off dragging his friends into his own hysteria. Chicken Little's strategy of choice was "flight." Because he did not stop to reflect on a possible "game plan" to help him in his time of crisis, he and his friends ended up in the the deep, dark jaws of the fox.
Recently I have watched several friends enter crisis mode and I've suddenly found myself observing this process, watching to see how they will emerge or move through the wild panic that accompanies these life events. I am approaching it, somewhat, as a research project, gathering information to help me in these times that I will certainly continue to navigate.
The first stages seem to be ranting, crying and attempting some kind of action to control the situation. When it becomes impossible to control the circumstances and the pain becomes unbearable, a pain-numbing substance may also be used.
The same initial reaction happens when terror strikes our hearts, when the saber-tooth tiger pursues us, sneaking in for the kill. There came a point in my life when I felt like I just couldn't go through life without any strategy for these times. I felt myself becoming a mangled mess whenever these times would strike. I've observed my own patterns and have developed a "sanity strategy" which at first I attempted weakly, but, with practice, I'm getting better at. I'm outlining my journey through crisis here and believe every piece is equally as important as the other: