Magic Can Be Found in the Darkest of Places

IMG_9623

This is one of my favorite sunflower pictures. I was in Upstate New York at Old Stone Farms, an inn near The Omega Center. It was a healing journey that August after getting my family (all five) through a cataclysmic transformation that left me emptied of who I was, am, and would become. My kids would be away from me for two weeks; an incomprehensible amount of time in any scenario but especially this one. It was a nightmare I desperately wanted to wake up from. I couldn’t wait for them in the house where there had been magic a lifetime ago, moments ago.

Through the poisonous fog and acid rain, I reached out toward the only thing I could do – write. Despite my past career in marketing, a graduate degree in business, and an ambition that used to propel me through the narrowest of passageways, my soul gently told me to write books about people, everyday traumas we unintentionally inflict on each other, and relationships starting with the parent and child, my dad and me. I traveled thirteen hours by car, airplane, train, and a night in Manhattan to get myself to a memoir workshop where Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, would be speaking among others. I spent five days at this lovely inn, mostly numb in my exquisite room, a blend of old and new. On the door was the word Spirit.

The ones who managed the inn were soft and loving, made me feel like I belonged right there on the other side of the country from home. They checked in on me when I didn’t come to dinner. “Are you okay? We were concerned about you. Can I bring you something?” the woman asked. Equestrian therapy, massages by a goddess (a young single mother with a singing voice like an angel and a spirit for listening), walks, yoga, reading, seclusion filled my days until it was time to move to the more austere Omega Center for the five-day writing workshop.

This photograph, half blue sky and the other a dense forest with a bright, golden sunflower in the center, reminds me of how far I’ve come. Writing was but a seed three years ago, it was the only direction I could go, and now my book is in its final stages of being completed. I have walked through the darkest forest and come to the other side where blue sky and bright clouds can be seen again.

This trip was magical and not in a euphoric, picture-perfect sense like life used to be. It was magical because I was on my knees like I’d never been before; because I allowed sadness to overtake me and because I allowed the kindness and concern of others to envelop me at a time when I couldn’t meet them at that place. I could only receive and say thank you. It was magical because there was love. It was the love you feel for someone who has done something brave and courageous, it was the love I have for my girls. I allowed myself to love and care for me, for maybe the first time in my life, and it made all the difference.

Stop. Listen. Rest. Repeat.

BW hammocks

Life is an ebb and flow…

When we forget and go full speed, with all of our energy, attention, and force without rest or compassion or grace for ourselves, we face what people call burnout. The flame is dulled, the fires of the heart numbed, and things start to go wrong… yet we keep g-o-i-n-g (why do we do that?). A weekend, a vacation, a kind-hearted friend, retail therapy, or even a run might provide balm temporarily but at some point deep rest will be required. We get a choice until it’s too late, until our body, mind, and spirit have spoken without answer for far too long and then the tsunami overtakes you without notice. It seems like everything that could go wrong does. Why does it all happen at once we say. Really we say. Why is it all happening to me we say. I can’t take anything more we say.

I prefer to do things the hard way. It’s just easier. When the tsunami hit I kept going despite body, mind, and spirit going under like a battered ship. This can’t be happening I said. I can fix it I said. Everything is going to be okay (meaning just like it was) if I just keep trying I said. It took almost 6 months before I let go; before I let the waves wash over me as I laid in the sand face down, barely breathing, choking on the lies, the unfelt cruelty, the waterlogged dreams I thought were my life.

And now I know how to listen to my voice and when I need deep rest. Now I know where to find stillness and how to float on the waves of my own spirit. Only now do I know how to give my whole self grace, stillness, love. It took more than a tsunami, hurricane and an earthquake to get me to let go — at least that’s what my astrology chart said for that year. If only I had known. 

Our lives are almost too much whether in celebration or grief, abundance or need, happiness or sadness, good fortune or bad. Listen to the sound of your own heartbeat. Listen closely and sufficiently. Allow for stillness often whether sitting in meditation, on a beach, in the mountains, by a river, a tree or in your bed.

And when it’s been awhile, an antidote to our abundant lives, that causes what they call burnout, is as follows:

“And the antidote to burnout is, symbolically, a return from adventures, from trials and tribulations, to the womb, to an inner sanctum where we can relax completely and finally, once again, experience vulnerable, wide-open love. Then and only then may a deeply feeling sigh of relief come, like rain on a parched field.” ~Waylon Lewis

The Love Experts

1000px-MeetMyFamily...LOL

The movie Frozen is my favorite. It just is. LOVE this movie. There are so many layers of truth in almost every scene – which is why it is the highest grossing animated film in history.

In scene after scene I saw myself as Anna from falling for the absolute wrong guy to going in after someone to my own detriment and even, struck in the heart and slowly freezing. Layers, many layers. My name is even quite close, don’t you think?

However, lately I have been thinking about the Love Experts, Christophe’s family, the rocks, the trolls. Actually, I think these are my people or at least who I aspire. Grounded and connected to this earth, to each other, this group of people do not concern themselves with the fancy people at The Castle or what they may be doing. Most would not call them “fun” or exciting, but instead honest, compassionate, and loving. They help those who, through a connection, find them where they are because they certainly don’t advertise their ability to play matchmaker or rid one of a frozen head and heart. They live simply in a quiet enclave in the forest and when strangers come, they remain rocks until they feel positive energy. These Love Experts have crystal necklaces but will never go to the Ball at The Castle; they would be excited to see you go though. They joke and laugh, are serious and loving and they probably bicker and roll over each other’s toes now and again. They are real, authentic and the masks that many at The Castle wear are nowhere to be found among the Love Experts.

Over the last few months I have been adding color, lots of color to our home; art (mostly kid’s), photographs, healing crystals, candles, flowers, quote cards, and even painting. I hear about parties or (certain) people doing fancy things with “ubèr-fancy” people. Anna would be so eager to go and meet as many people as possible and maybe even THE one. She might even be sad or jealous to not be on the guest list anymore. No, I am creating my enclave of love with my girls. Fancy anything doesn’t sound as good as snuggling in with my girls, our dog and cat, watching a movie, holding our new crystal rocks, with candles flickering… I trust that God will bring to me those who I should know in good time. Yep, I think I just might be a Love Expert…despite all evidence to the contrary! Ha!

Life at the Speed of Life

Harbor 2

This week I had two of my three girls home for Spring Break. Since they were tiny, we have always traveled to Sun Valley, Idaho to catch the end of ski season and the beginnings of spring in the Rocky Mountains. However, this year is the first year our family of five is a family of four and we are all feeling less like butterflies and more like a caterpillars ensconced in chrysalis. Staying home was a chance to do life at the speed of life.

My younger girls are what I call Pioneer Girls (my preteen is a pioneer-girl-in-training, I call her my book girl) because they like to get their hands dirty and would prefer anything that has to do with real life than the entertainment most kids would go for. We had a ball sewing blankets and pillows, baking, gardening, cleaning our house, bike rides to the park, play dates with friends, and a few movies thrown in for extra snuggling on the couch after sleeping in and hanging out in our PJs for at least half the day. It was balm to my soul. It was life at the speed of life for all of us.

This year has been one of the most difficult (okay, actually the MOST difficult) years of my life, but at the same time has been the most peaceful, filled with extraordinary ordinary moments that have changed my perspective on life forever. Instead of breakneck speed of shuttling three kids to, well, everywhere, traveling and keeping everyone in a family of five happy (not easy when one was hell bent on being unhappy), our lives have now become grounded in our tranquil home with candles, flowers, flute music, healing crystals and art, lots of art. Sometimes the activity schedule gets disregarded, school breaks are spent at home and our lives are now filled with color, kindness and love.

The vibration of life has changed dramatically. I am noticing all that is quiet and lovely. When you slow life down to quiet, your inner self can come out of your head and you notice all the people who are doing the same ordinary, beautiful things you are: taking their kids to school, going to work, the grocery store, walking their dog, planting flowers, reading the newspaper, helping their parents or grandparents, nursing a hurt knee or teaching a child how to ride a bike or fix a flat tire. You revel in small conversations with the woman at the check out counter or the veterinarian or the man helping you at Home Depot. Kind people living life at the speed of life, who go home to their families, make dinner, go through the mail, let down their shields in the only real place that any of us can; at home, our sanctuary.

We Belong Wherever We Are

Image

You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you. ~Frederick Buechner

My family has lived in Small Town, Idaho for one year. How do I summarize the experiences of each of us as a collective? It is impossible, even as just one part of the whole. What did I learn? What am I taking with me? What added to my spirit moving forward?

I belong. I understand this simple fact with a depth I hadn’t known before living at the base of the Rockies for one year with my husband and three girls. Like the branch of a Willow tree I have been bent in ways that cannot be straightened. I have been stretched, molded and shaped this year by the place, the seasons, the people who have come upon my path and most of all, by the four spirits who have been chosen to walk with me.  My family.

For several years, Bob and I contemplated moving to Sun Valley. I resisted because it scared me. I grew up in the vast strip-malled suburbs of an airport pass-through town and found the anonymity comforting. I could come and go without anyone noticing. I could spend days without anyone knowing where I was or even wondering for that matter. I could get in my car and drive to the water, mountains or to Seattle on a whim. What would I do in a small town where there is one road in and out, the same people at the grocery store, school, church and post office? Would they like me? What if they didn’t? That was the fear – what if the people that I saw everyday didn’t like me. What if I didn’t fit in? What if I didn’t belong?

It is hard to say what erased that fear once I put my feet in the Big Wood River, but it never materialized. Gone. I took one step at a time up the vast trails surrounding the Valley in nature, in beauty, in acceptance. The grasses, wildflowers and Aspens didn’t care how long I have lived here or whether or not I was staying. They whispered, Welcome.

As summer transformed into fall and then winter, my girls started school one mile from our house. Happy, curious children smiled and asked, “Do you want to play?” The teachers asked, “Can you help?” We became part of a wonderful church community. We asked, “How can we serve?” This is a ski town so naturally there are a lot of people that like the outdoors and having fun while they’re at it. I joined two women’s ski groups where I found many lovely ladies who asked, “Do you want to hike…ski…bike?”  Wow. All that is needed is to show up. Show up with an open heart, an open mind and a sense of adventure. You can choose to join the collective energy or not. I chose to belong.

Although we committed to one year, tough decisions needed to be made. In my youth the choices were 1) the hard road but opportunity for big pay off; or 2) the easy path with the promise of the status quo. Of course, I always chose the hard road or the hard road was chosen for me, not sure which one. It is in my DNA, the pioneer spirit. I think I have finally grown up because the answer did not speak to me. Both options are good but the criteria for choosing did not line up. After a childhood of not belonging—perception is everything—I finally felt connected to this Earth, to humanity here in Sun Valley, Idaho. This connectedness did not have anything to do with friends, acquaintances or groups that accepted me, but instead a deep understanding that I am a part of the collective consciousness. I am a part of my family and they are a part of me. We are connected like Aspen Groves growing along the rivers and streams that stem from the tops of mountains and the rain clouds overhead.

The call to return to our roots is stronger than I thought possible. We need to return to where we were planted among our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and ancestors. The mountains, the Aspens whispered to me this year. The strength and fortitude of nature showed me my purpose. I have been realigned to the sun and upon leaving will never be the same. Never again will I wish or search to belong. I have learned that I can just show up with an open heart and an open mind. God will do the rest. He told me on the hiking trails in the summer time and while soaring up the ski lift in the winter. Welcome.

The Power of Nature. The Power of Us

IMG_2349

The absolute power of the ocean waves takes me by surprise as soon as I reach the end of the trail. The waves crashed on the hard surface of the lava rock at the same time as the soft, malleable sand beneath my feet. Every breath of the salty air, heavy with moisture grounds me a little more. The sound of the waves so loud that I have to get closer to hear the voices of my children. You can feel the sheer power of nature standing on an island beach in the Pacific Ocean. The waves collide with the earth, while the aftermath trickles in covering and taking anything left behind.

In the Rocky Mountains of the West, there is another example of nature that appears more delicately but equally powerful. Springtime brings new life into the hills, only a few weeks ago covered in snow and ice. On a recent hike I was struck by the familiar scents of summertime. Sage plants have new growth to which I pluck a small piece and rub between my hands to release the vibrant, invigorating smell that I have come to love so much. At the top of the mountain, smooth silken grass has muscled its way through the dense, rocky earth to bask in the rays of the afternoon sunshine just as I am. This power is slow and steady. A person cannot witness the formidableness of these tiny plants coming to life from a meer seed but instead we can imagine the potential of what is to come. A seed was planted and had to wait in the frozen, rocky ground through the unrelenting winter months until the temperatures rose and moisture was able to penetrate the earth. Only now can we witness it’s sheer potency.

I have recently been learning about Ayurvedic Medicine and went to a conference led by Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. Andrew Weil. “Ayurveda is the most ancient natural healing system of India . The word Ayurveda means the science of life. It is to do with healing through herbs and natural means. This system is a part of Vedic science and goes back to more than 4000 years B.C.” (http://www.ishwarcenter.org/) We, as in all of us on earth, are a part of the natural ecosystem, we are powerful in our own right. Although sometimes (or quite often) our inner voice gets drowned by past scripts playing through our minds, marketing campaigns aimed at convincing you that you need something to be who you already are, and even our friends and acquaintances at the ready to recommend what worked for them. We have forgotten that we already have all that we need, that our grandmother’s wisdom and remedies are our most important methods of healing, that we are whole. But we have to pay attention because rarely is our power as obvious as the crashing ocean waves but instead it is the potentiality that exists within us and that requires patience, strength and fortitude, just as the mountain grasses coming to life in the springtime.

To be continued…

I am grateful to receive a SMILE

I recently had a conversation with a friend about Givers and Receivers. Of course my friend and I were both Givers. The alternative seems so selfish. This concept has perplexed me because we need both in life don’t we, as who would Givers give if there weren’t any Receivers receiving? Yet we do not want to think of ourselves being a Receiver, of being selfish.

Actually, I believe we all have the potential to be Givers and Receivers and it is a continuum that should have fluidity to go back and forth. Another bell-shaped curve. The happiest among us are able to freely move within the bell-shaped curve to Give and Receive and to reside in a neutral position on a daily basis. However, we are not a world or even a country full of shiny, happy people are we? In fact, there are many that really are just Givers or just Receivers and they usually attract each other.

I am learning to reside in the middle, at neutral and not to be only a Giver attracting only Receivers. Once again we learn how to Give, Receive or reside in the middle by our families of origin, by our parents. Our attachment patterns when we were younger provide a framework for us to connect with others. When we become aware of our own patterns, we can be more fluid in how we reach out or accept others who might be reaching out to us. We can feel comfortable that by residing in neutral position we can still connect with others in a more flexible way.

My family and I just moved to a very small town in the mountains of Idaho. In the past I would have been very motivated to connect with others by being extra friendly and outgoing even though my core personality is more on the introverted side. I now understand this knee-jerk reaction that I have and am free to choose how I will connect and with whom to connect. Being friendly is still very important to me as I have figured out that with a smile and a hello to a passerby I am BOTH giving and receiving. I am in neutral and within the bell-shaped curve. But I can choose to be friendly to strangers AND choose to connect with those that are important to me – like my family. These two concepts are separate. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It is healthier to reside in the gray area.

I went trail running yesterday and about six women in their mid-forties came racing down the mountain on bikes. As each one went by me they had big smiles and said “Hello”. Wow. It felt so good to be the receiver of friendliness. I, of course, smiled and said, “Hello,” back. Later I passed another woman mountain biking where I was the one who smiled and waved. She didn’t smile or say hello. I smiled again.

I am grateful for my dad

Image

I am grateful for my dad.

This weekend my girls and I saw the Disneynature movie Chimpanzee. It is a documentary on the beginnings of a baby chimpanzee named Oscar, deep in the tropical rain forests of Africa. The story starts out as Oscar begins chimpanzee “preschool” with his mom learning how to find food, use tools and bond with other chimpanzees through grooming. Towards the middle of the movie Oscar’s mother is killed and he is left bewildered on what happened to her. He searches for her, tries to find food, tries to remember what she has taught him but he begins to lose weight and lose grasp of his happy life that he once had among his tribe of chimpanzees. The other mothers and young were hostile towards him now that he didn’t have a mother to protect him. It looked bleak for Oscar. There was one last chimpazee that Oscar hadn’t asked for help and that was the alpha male and head of the tribe. The most unlikely chimpanzee as he had never paid any attention to the young, his job was to protect the territory and his members. He was good at it. Oscar started to follow him around and copy everything he did from opening nuts to scanning his fur for bugs. The alpha male took notice and started to give him food and allow him to snuggle close. By the end of the movie little Oscar rode atop of this giant alpha male’s back just as he had with his mother. Oscar was going to be fine.

My mother left us when I was four and my brother just one year old. There were several stepmothers who should have taken me under their wing to show me how the world worked, how to make friends, bond with others and how to be in a family but somehow couldn’t. I can remember following my dad everywhere, watching his every move. He was very young himself, only 25 years old at the time but seemed to be far more adept at caring and bonding with his children than our mother ever could have.

My dad was dependable, consistent, and resourceful. He was not perfect but he showed up. Everyday. Like Oscar, I didn’t get the millions of moments of love that only a mother can fulfill BUT I did fully experience all the millions of moments that only dads can give. Luckily, I have a very keen ability to watch and learn as well as an innate curiosity of life. I have filled many of those cracks that were started when my mother left by watching others, reading, experiencing life, relationships with family and friends and most importantly by being a mom to my three girls. God has filled my life with a wonderful husband, three beautiful girls and a dad. I am going to be fine.

I am very grateful for my dad.