Releasing the Past, I Received Unexpected Gifts

Aside

2013 was a year of releasing.  I found myself cleaning out closets and storage areas, throwing out old decorations and recycling scrap metal that had lived in my junk pile for ages.  I was on a mission, and nothing was safe..from my kitchen cabinets to my toiletries.  All this was brought on by the passing of my spouse’s Grandfather.   We had the task of cleaning out a house that had been collecting stuff for 40-plus years.  What an eye-opener!  Anyone whose ever been tasked with something like this knows it can be a great inspiration to downsize and clear out the clutter at home.

In that spirit, I began going through some old papers to make room in an ill-used file cabinet.  Now I know, this sounds like something we all need to do but NEVER find the time to do.  But as I pressed on, I came across my Creative Writing journals from college.  Procrastination opportunity!  I sat down on the floor to page through them.

 

I was fortunate to attend Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, a small haven for the Liberal Arts.  Wanting to tap into the wealth of published English professors on faculty, I took several writing classes with some very bright authors.  We were required to turn in a weekly journal of ideas, poems, stories and general observations.  Being a prolific journal-writer already, it was no hardship for me to faithfully deliver my pages each week.

 

I anticipated insight and brilliance in those long-forgotten spiral bound journals.  I first noticed the doodles and quotes that decorated every space on the covers, recalling those heady days of optimism and freedom that epitomized my college experience.  The more I read, however, the more curious I became.  This wasn’t the buried treasure I expected to unearth.  Who was this person whose emotional life was so raw and overwhelming?  Was this really the roller coaster of my life at that time?  My emotions were huge and seemed so very real, and reaction was the name of the game for me at that time.  I thought that was the only way to be, ruled by relationship ups and downs and angst of every kind.  The person who scrawled those verses and prose was deeply hurting and confused.  She really bought into these changing emotions and acted on them as if they were solid and real.

 

One thing I have learned since that time is that emotions, thoughts, and life itself are not at all solid or fixed.  If we wait a moment, these tough emotions will pass.  If we pause to breath, the overwhelming anxiety calms down, so we can tap into our innate wisdom and understanding and know what to do.  I don’t think I would have been able to hear any of this back then.  Time, experience, and truth-seeking has helped me to see that I can live a more peaceful and authentic way.

 

So there I was, smarting with recognition of my old self smacking me in the face, when one page slipped out of the nest of hand-written notes.  For some reason, it caught my eye, and I realized I was looking at a letter to my future self.  Here’s what it said:

 

THERE IS NOTHING TO FEAR (this in caps)!  Take off!  Start your own mission of finding you! Remember – that which you are seeking is causing you to seek.  If you didn’t already know the secret to your fulfillment, contentment or inner harmony, you wouldn’t be searching for it in the first place.  It’s already there – complete and ready – and you are on the right path to it.  Don’t rush it.  Every step in the process is there for a reason.  Learn from everything you encounter.  And if you find yourself despairing in a situation, reach for an old, proven comfort, be it family, religion, books, meditation, art or writing.

 Above all, be kind to yourself. People love you, but you should love yourself most of all.  If you are compassionate you will understand that every part of yourself is there for a reason.  Don’t berate yourself for your negative points.  Don’t keep antiquated images of yourself alive.  Embrace every aspect of yourself as yours.  You don’t have to be perfect.  You don’t even have to be real good.  All you have to be is you.  That’s the first step of your journey home.
 
 

 

Wow.  That stunned me.  I realized the truth that we all have great wisdom, even when it’s hidden deep inside our neuroses and pain.  It was exactly what I needed to hear that day.  I kept that one piece of printed, lined notebook paper, along with some finished stories, as reminders of that creative time in my life, and I let the rest go.

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I gathered up those old journals and took them down to our fire pit.   I started a little fire with kindling and a few pages, then I fed those words of fear and confusion to the flames.  As the smoke circled me, I knew that I was releasing some deeply held hurt from those past days.  I had been carrying it around with me all these years like dead weight.

And you know what?  I began to feel lighter!  The smoke seemed to purify me.  Then I took the left-over ashes and spread them in my garden so they could become part of the cycle of life and renewal.  Is there something you need to let go of?  Try it…it feels great!
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Building our labyrinth


imageOver Thanksgiving weekend 2 years ago, we spent a few humid days (it’s Florida after all) in our back yard finishing the construction of a beautiful 7-circuit labyrinth. In the years since, we have walked the labyrinth in prayer and meditation, enjoyed the aesthetic of its sacred geometry, and worked to make it a seamless addition to our garden, where native plants and wildlife flourish.

When researching how to design and build the labyrinth, I scoured the web and our local library. I found a lot of different information, just not all in one place. So on this two-year anniversary of its long-anticipated completion, I would like to share the story of our labyrinth’s journey into being. If you are thinking of building a labyrinth in your yard or community, I hope this will be a helpful resource for you, and I wish you many blessings in planning and building your own labyrinth. For everyone else, I hope this blog will inspire you to create or find sacred space in your life and environment.

Creating our labyrinth was a spiritual practice for us from day one. I had the niggling idea to build one for several years before actually acknowledging that I wanted to do it. It wasn’t until my partner and I visited the lovely Glendalough Valley Unknownin Ireland that the voice of the labyrinth became too loud to be ignored. Under the direction of Mary Meighan, our Celtic spiritual guide, we walked this replica of an ancient pilgrim’s labyrinth every day while there, and I truly felt  our labyrinth call itself into being. I just had to be willing to listen.

Every step of the way, we tried to ask our labyrinth what it wanted. When we got bogged down with decisions or details, we would stop and ask the ancient spirit of the labyrinth for help.  When we got stuck in any part of the planning, we would ask for guidance, and new ideas always came. When we were constructing it in the Florida heat and bugs and we found ourselves arguing or grumpy, we would take a break and come back later, resolved that every step should be taken in peace and love.

Seven circuit labyrinth

Research I suggest that anyone interested in building a labyrinth starts by learning how to draw one. Here is a website that offers instructions on how to draw the 7-circuit labyrinth: http://www.labyrinthbuilders.co.uk. This helped me get the feel for what I was creating in my mind, heart and hands. I drew many, many labyrinths before I ever began planning the one in our backyard.

The best resource I found for actually constructing the design is: http://www.labyrinth-enterprises.com/tape-71.html I will refer to this web resource several times in the description below. It can help you determine how much space you need, how wide your paths should be and how to go about construction. I also loved the book Exploring the Labyrinth : A Guide for Healing and Spiritual Growth by Melissa Gayle West.

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Planning We measured our area to determine how much space we had. Then we calculated how wide our paths would be and how large we wanted our center to be. We choose to create our labyrinth paths using the lovely Florida ground cover that naturally grows in our back yard, not wanting to fight with the inevitable encroaching weeds. We already had a fountain garden in the middle of the lawn, and the labyrinth fit perfectly between this bed and the landscaping near our house, thus eliminating even more mowing. Yippee!

DSC01556For the border, we used paving stones (alternating 6” X 6” X 2” and 9”X 6” X 2”), which we stood up on their sides and buried 3” into the ground, leaving 3” high and 2” wide borders. Our paths are around 15” wide, and our center is 4.5” across. Our overall measurements are 25’ across by 21’ deep.  

Supplies – here’s what we used:

  • Marking rope: long enough to reach from the center point to the edge of the labyrinth
  • Tent stake or post to mark center point
  • 100 or so 4” nails (decking nails or other construction nails that can be left outside)
  • 100 or so Clothes pins or metal clips
  • 200-300’ of rope
  • 2 cans outdoor marking spray paint (bright orange or red)
  • Wooden dowel or marker cut to the width of your path
  • Wooden marker to measure depth of your border (if using paving stones)
  • Edger
  • Shovels, trowels, buckets for moving dirt, wheel barrow

Let’s Build It!

Step 1: We found the center of our labyrinth and put the tent stake there. We tied the measuring rope to the stake, then tied knots in the measuring rope as indicated on the web resource: http://www.labyrinth-enterprises.com/tape-71.html. The first knot marked the diameter of the center, the remaining knots measured the width of each circuit.

Step 2: From the center, we stretched the measuring rope towards the top of the design and place a nail where each knot fell. Then we moved the rope a foot or two to the right, marking each knot with a nail. We were careful not to move the rope too far so we could easily connect the nails later. We continue moving the rope and putting in nails until we were 90-degrees from the center line. Then we went back and did the same thing on the other side. Following the directions on the web resource, we marked the two bottom half-circles in the same way.

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Step 3: When all the nails were in place, we tied the rope to one “dead-end” and began to thread it through each clip (you could use clothes pins). There are 4 dead-ends, so once we come to the end of the first line, we had to cut the rope and start again at the other side.

At this point, we waited a while to make sure the labyrinth was in the right spot. We walked it, using the ropes as the borders and tweaked the places where it had gotten a little skewed in the rope-knot stage. I believe this extra time saved us a lot of aggravation once we started construction.

Step 4: When we were ready to move on, we went through each path and made sure all rope lines were as close to perfectly spaced as possible, using the wooden dowel.

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One of us took up the rope section, while the other sprayed the grass with the spray paint, going right over the nails. We ran out of spray and had to improvise with some old black stuff we found lying around. Lesson learned…don’t skimp on the spray paint!

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Once the spray paint dried, we took up the nails, and voila… a painted labyrinth. We had some areas that were not exactly perfect, but it felt like such an accomplishment! And we were able to make small adjustments later when we buried the border stones.                                                        

                                                      Step 5: Now the hard work began. Using an edger, we cut the sod, first on one side of the spray-painted line and then on the other. This worked out perfectly for our 2”-wide border. We used a flat shovel to remove the sod, then a hand trowel to dig out the soil.

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We used the wooden dowel to measure  and correct the width of our path as we went. We also used a wooden depth marker to make sure the stones would be buried about the same depth.

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We placed in the stones and packed dirt around them.

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Now the ground cover has filled in and the stones have mellowed with age. We’ve watched the bunnies hop the labyrinth’s pathways and the birds rest on the stones.

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 The bench we placed in the center has been a perch for squirrels and a burial place for small animals that have met their demise in our yard. Our friends have helped us dedicate it, and our nephews have raced each other to see who could get to the center first. We have stood in the center under a full moon and felt the magic of the sacred space we built right in our own back yard.

photoHappy two-year anniversary labyrinth!


A Quick Trip Can Still Be A Memorable Journey

I recently got a chance to add a Mother/Daughter journey to my life, and I thought I’d record it here in my blog. A few folks have commented on how long it’s been since I’ve added an entry, and I can only say that the whirlwind trip I’m about to describe pretty much sums up my life this year. Thanks for hanging in there, and may this inspire you to do something fun with your own Mom or someone special to you.

Mom and I spent a fun couple of days together in New York City last week to celebrate her 69th birthday. I had some time between work obligations in the Philly area, a Wednesday afternoon through Friday evening, and I thought it would be fun to take the train to the city for a few days. Since school had just started back, I got a very reasonable rate at the Edison Hotel, an historic icon on 47th St, right off of Time Square. I arranged for Mom to fly up for a quick birthday trip. Her lovely,  super-supportive husband, Steve, was instrumental in making it all come together. From the moment I called to run the idea by him (on the sly of course), he said “Go for it!”

I was concerned about Mom being in the Big City several hours before I could get there, due to my work schedule, but she was fine, eating lunch at the little cafe in the hotel and even venturing out for a quick look at the bustling city. She couldn’t believe the traffic! I took the afternoon train from Philadelphia’s 30th St. station to Penn Station NYC, and I was at the hotel and ready to start our adventure by 5:30.

Mom and I set out to see Time Square, amidst the noise and excitement of the afternoon crowds. First, we stopped at the Starbucks on the corner of 47th and Broadway, which has been expanded and beautified over the years. Jill and I have frequented that store on nearly all of our trips to the Big Apple. We walked along Broadway and turned off to visit the little street market on 46th and 8th. We didn’t buy anything, but it was fun to look at the scarves and bags on offer in the kiosks. We spotted a neat looking restaurant called Brasserie Athenee. Upon closer inspection, it seemed just the place for dinner, and like so many places in New York it ended up having delicious food and a great atmosphere. We handed off our coffee cups to the Maitre de as he seated us at a window table. We feasted on Niçoise salad and grilled seafood, with crème brûlée for desert. The waiter and I sang as Mom blew out the little, pink candle, and a neighboring table clapped at the end.

Then we were off to the theatre. One of the reasons I wanted to go to New York this fall is that my friend, Kelly Moore is in an off-Broadway play called Me and Jezebel, where he plays an aging Bette Davis (in drag, of course). He’s been doing the show for years and  was thrilled to spend a few months playing the role at the Snapple Theatre, the home of the longest-running Off-Broadway show, The Fantastiks. Jezebel runs on off-nights, and it is witty, outrageous, really fun, and Kelly’s portrayal of post-stroke icon is mesmerizing. The writer plays herself in the true-life story of when Ms. Davis came to spend a night and stayed a month. She and the producers invited us next door for a drink after the show. It was fun to visit with them over Gaelic coffee and martinis. My friend Cathy Grier, NYC Subway Girl herself, came by for a quick visit too.

We got back to the hotel around midnight, and I spent the night listening to the sirens and trucks rumbling by. The next day, the Euro Cafe was able to offer sustenance, getting us going with strong coffee and New York Bagels. Then we took the subway down the yellow line to Cortland Street, where we emerged in the Financial District. Signs led us to the 911 Memorial, where Mom made a donation on our behalf, and we each got a white bracelet as a memento. The security is amazing, almost like the airport, though we got to leave our shoes on! The park is a lovely memorial of that tragic day. Two fountains descend into the ground at the foundation sights of the felled towers, making the largest man-made waterfalls in the US.

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Names of the victims are etched into the black marble walls, where a white rose is placed on each person’s birthday. The grounds are landscaped with small trees and benches, with lots of space for strolling and sitting.

After that moving experience, we re-entered the subway, wandered around Fulton St. Station looking for the Blue line. A friendly subway worker helped us find our way to the lower level, where we caught the train uptown for 14th St. Lunch was in order, and once again the perfect spot appeared before our very eyes. The Chelsea Ristorante, an Italian cafe with open-air seating offered a respite from the warmish day and a rest for our tired feat. We had sparkling water, luscious bread, crisp salad and half portions of homemade pasta.

From her landscape architecture class, Mom had learned about an urban garden that had been created on a reclaimed railroad bed in the Chelsea area. Friends had also recommended this walk to us, and it truly is a remarkable example of urban renewal. The tracks are raised above the city street, and after the trains stopped running, nature began to take over. Concerned citizens renovated it, and the High Line was born as a park and  garden. It is a lovely addition to the lower West Side, and we walked along enjoying the flowers and landscaping from 14th to 23rd St. As weariness began to set in, we walked back to the subway and headed to the hotel for a rest.

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On our way, however, we needed tickets for another show. On our way from the 50th St. subway to the TKTS discount ticket booth, we happened upon a beautiful, Victorian-inspired bar. Only in New York! It was completely decked out in antiques and stained glass, with a marble bar and hammered tin ceiling. We had a quick glass of Prosecco, while Mom texted with her Broadway-aficionado friend, Cathy. Armed with her recommendations, we set off for TKTS, much revived by our bubbly wine. We stood in line, enjoying the beautiful afternoon: blue sky, 70-something and breezy. Our first pick, Jersey Boys was sold out, but we got 4th row seats to see Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.

After a rest and quick trip to Starbucks for sustenance, we walked up Broadway to the Theatre bearing that famous street’s name. The show was magical. Sumptuous costumes and sets, beautiful songs and singers, first-rate dancers, and a classic love story with a slightly modernized twist. We loved it, and it was the perfect show for Mom to have her first Broadway experience. Classic! We needed some dinner after the show, and finally settled on a bar on 8th St. that had comforting pub food. Back at the hotel, we reminisced about the day, as if a week had gone by instead of just a handful of hours!

Friday morning, we had a quick bite at the hotel cafe, then set out on sore feet to see Central Park. We were accosted by barkers looking to take us on a pedicab ride, but we persisted in our refusals. Mom got some photos of the entrance at Columbus Circle, and we strolled around, visiting the Carousel, the sheep meadow and walking past the Tavern on the Green, which is under construction. Heading back to the hotel, we felt the bitter-sweet joy of being exhausted from a busy and fun trip, one we will never forget. As I put Mom in a cab heading for the airport, only 47 hours after her arrival, I made my plans to take the train back to Philly for another day of work, grateful we both snatched this chance to be together in this captivating city.

Celebrate the Divine Feminine on International Women’s Day

Today is a very special day. Not too many people in the US know about it, but it is a holiday observed around the world.  Since the early 1900’s, this has been a day set aside to honor women.  International Women’s Day started in the US (originally called International Working Women’s Day), and spread to many countries throughout the world.  Wikipedia says, “In different regions the focus of the celebrations ranges from general celebration of respect, appreciation and love towards women to a celebration for women’s economic, political and social achievements.  The UN theme for 2013 is “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women.”

In addition to being my partner’s birthday, which makes it a very special day indeed, I like to celebrate this day by honoring the beautiful, strong women in my own life.  And so I was thinking about Mary Alice Watkins this morning.

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My maternal grandmother was an interesting person.  Most people wouldn’t see her as an example of the ideal modern woman we might honor on a day like today.  She was one of those people who never really seemed to grow up.  She stepped to her own drumbeat, and imbued her world with whimsy.  She had her own special view of life, and that certainly didn’t include the advancement of women’s rights!  However, I learned a lot from her life.  She was a person who lived on almost complete faith.  Some people might have considered her choices naïve or downright silly, but she lived on her own terms, at least during the time that I knew her. 

Her home was a trailer, and her income consisted mostly of her social security check.  I remember her putting 50 cents of gas in her car at a time.  She would not have been considered a success by our modern standards, but this woman raised eight children.  In later years her husband left, so she worked at Belk’s department store until back pain caused her to retire.  She made her own clothes and wore the same purple (yes, purple) lipstick & nail polish for as long as I knew her.  She was a character, a deeply Christian woman in a modern world she didn’t really understand.  She helped me see that a person can live by her own rules, as long as she is willing to accept the outcome of those choices and celebrate the life she creates.  Isn’t that what International Women’s Day is all about?

So I ask myself today, “How am I creating my life? How am I using the example of my ancestors, especially the strong women to masterfully build a life that works for me and contributes to the world?  How does my life reflect the deeper aspects of Divine Feminine energy, and how can I express them every day?”

I can be strong and soft at the same time.  I can hold a place in my life for whimsy, for my own expression of faith, for making choices that others might not understand if they are right for me.  I can put aside the incessant need to get ahead, to achieve or acquire, which has been the norm in our modern world.  I can practice just being.  I can delight in the small moments everyday that bring joy and wonder, just like my Grandma did.

Today I honor the past, look to the future and celebrate the Divine Feminine in everyone I meet.  How will you observe International Women’s Day?

Welcoming the Light

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A few days before Christmas, I was reflecting on what the season mean to me.  Like a lot of people, the holidays have always been a mixed bag for me, emotionally.  As a child, I was mesmerized by the magic of the lights, the music, the promise of the Christ child.  I would lie under the tree in our living room, gazing up through the glimmering branches and dreaming of the magic of the season.   But as I got older, and slightly less idealistic, the season began to take on a painful aspect of unmet expectations.  It must be coded into our very DNA, or at least in our cultural awareness, that the holidays should be spent in a certain way, and that we should be happy and joyful during them.  That’s not the case for so many of us!

So I’ve been asking myself, “What can the holidays mean for us as spiritual seekers?”  Beyond the decorations and gifts and gatherings with family and friends, beyond even celebrating the birth of a child that started a world religion?  The concept of the Return of the Light at this time of year appeals to me.  It is an image that has been adopted by Christianity, but its roots go much further back.  Ancient cultures celebrated the Winter Solstice and Yule, when the great Goddess once again gives birth to the new sun in the darkest and longest of nights.  Just as the sun begins to become stronger, little by little, each day after the solstice, so our own lives are cyclical.  Joy and sadness are intermixed, and nothing stays the same for long.  This may seem scary to us, but it can be a relief too.  The darkness of winter and the promise of spring each year can be a potent reminder that life is always waiting to offer us a new beginning.

Our world desperately needs a new beginning now.  December 21 came and went this year without fulfilling any doomsday prophecy associated with the end of the Mayan Calendar (come to find out, it was merely the end of a cycle, not the end of the world).  Whether we knew it or not, what we all experienced on that shortest of days, was the coming of a new kind of light.  Many of us are welcoming not just the returning sun this year, but also the return of the feminine divinity that has been in hibernation for thousands of years.  The masculine principle has ruled and brought with it much good but also much suffering.  We can see this in the way our world is mired in greed and materialism, in the way we’ve polluted our mother earth, and in the way that we as humans have forgotten how to really relate to ourselves and one other.

This is a wonderful opportunity for us to look inside and see where we have abandoned that feminine part of our own being.  Where have we propagated aggression in our own hearts?  Where have we chosen righteous indignation and fear over forgiveness and compassion?  It’s not about abandoning the masculine energies.  Instead, we can focus on balance.  How can each one of us bring ourselves into a yin/yang balance that allows us to live fully who we are…genuinely good human beings that care about our world and others?

Thinking along these lines at the end of the year, I began to rise up out of the despair of our dark times.  No matter what appears to be going on in the world at large, I can use each day, each encounter, each experience to practice being part of the change.  I can remember that transformation is afoot, and it’s not always going to be easy.  I can encourage the light of my own soul to shine into the world.

I can welcome the Light in 2013!

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Into the Silence

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How much time do we really ever spend in silence? Our days are full of noise, chatter, TV, music and all the wonderful things that make up our busy lives. But do we miss out on some of the peace our ancestors might have had when life was a little quieter?

The very idea of being silent, getting still and tuning into my innermost self has always been a little daunting for me. What will I find? Will I really like it? In the west, we are taught the idea of original sin, which colors our entire lives whether we know it or not. It is a concept very foreign to our eastern neighbors, who can’t imagine what it means to dislike one self. But for me, the process of befriending myself has been a terrifying and exhilarating journey.

So I felt both excitement and trepidation in contemplating the 5-day silent retreat I planned to attend this past June. The Southern Dharma Retreat Center is idyllically situated on a tree and rock-strewn mountainside with flowers, meadows, a trickling stream and sacred statues scattered around the grounds. It is a Buddhist center that reveres silence in mindfulness practice, as the signs along the paths indicate. It is steeped in the beauty and majesty of its natural setting and the people who have practiced here for decades. To get to it, one must drive up a steep, gravel road with lots of blind spots. That’s kind of how I feel about this spiritual path…driving blind around the curves of self-discovery with no idea what might pop up around the corner.

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I came here for the first time almost by accident during college, when my sister and I stumbled upon it as a place to stay on the way to a family wedding. They offered an open weekend introducing the practices of meditation, yoga and silence to the uninitiated. Though it was all very interesting to me, my legs fell asleep during the short meditation, and we giggled and whispered through the one evening of silence. I couldn’t have known that I would return here again and again to experience that very silence that seemed so strange to my young self.

When I retuned for my first silent retreat a few years ago, I was indeed driving blindly because I didn’t realize we would actually spend several days in “The Noble Silence.” Being a communicator by nature, I thought surely I’d never make it almost a week without speaking. Maybe I could sneak away if it got too tough. The first two days, I felt like my head might explode. It seems like my mind was frantically chattering, trying to make up for all the talking it’s so used to engineering. Eventually, the mental noise began to subside, and I realized a calm deeper than I had ever experienced before. It was after that first silent retreat that I made a very important discovery. Deep silence frees my truest inner voice, allowing me to hear my own guidance.

So I arrived at the center this June knowing what to expect while trying not to have any expectations, for every retreat has its own challenges and blessings. The culture of silence so beautifully engendered at Southern Dharma frees the spirit to turn inward. I didn’t have to worry about what others were thinking because we were all committed to this path of soul exploration.

In the depths of that inner silence, I began to enjoy my own company. And the strange thing is, the more I befriended my own inner world, the more patience and respect I had for everyone else. I began to notice the beauty and dignity of the other souls who were sharing the journey with me. Spontaneous bows and unexpected bursts of tenderness began to bubble up for people I had never even spoken to.

I also began to see the natural world with new eyes. The morning dew twinkled on feathery leaves as they fluttered in the breeze. The water sparkled on wet rocks as the stream busily gurgled by. The fireflies danced in the meadow as the days slowly died. The stars never looked so bright nor the grass so green. Being deeply in the silence opened up all my senses to fully experience everything around me. It becomes crystal clear that we are all connected in that source of all that is. I yearned to take this awareness with me back to my real life.

I’d love to say that I’ve carried that sense of wakefulness with me every moment since coming home, but that isn’t true. The past few months have been full of the busyness, stress, and noise of everyday life. Sometimes I can’t see the beauty in myself and in the world around me that I rediscovered up there. I fall into the traps of habitual patterns of behavior and thought. I forget to practice mindfulness. I sometimes complain and find fault. But I also carry the gifts of the silence in my heart, and they spring up at unexpected moments to sustain me.

Taking a walk in the woods the other day I was reminded. Listening to the birds singing and the breeze moving gently through the trees was a balm to my soul. It felt like good medicine to spend that half hour away from human noise and activity, and it showed me that I don’t have to go on retreat to receive the benefits of the silence.

I encourage you to take a few moments of quiet each day. Give yourself the gift of silence and discover what blessings it holds for you.

May all beings benefit. Namaste.

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Tale of a Tattoo

My new tattoo

Hi folks. Thanks for tuning in to Waking Journey, my blog about different aspects of my spiritual pilgrimage. I hope it will bring you inspiration and help us all hold onto hope and compassion in these uncertain times.

I am writing this first entry on my 41st birthday. Forty was an incredible year for me, but it had a rough lead-up. I was terrified of the big 4-0, starting back at the not-so-scary 3-9. That year was fraught with emotional ups and downs, many of which had to do with my fears about becoming older. I began to face up to the fact that I won’t be young forever. Like all of us who are lucky enough, I will grow older, no matter how much I might resist. That’s not so easy in a world in which youth and beauty is the currency of our time.

But you know what? I had the most magical 40th birthday. Last June 6th I was drinking a Guinness with my spouse at a pub in Doolin, Ireland. Two super-friendly locals had adopted us for the night, and they informed the band about my impending big day. At midnight, the entire pub sang the traditional Happy Birthday song to me, complete with Irish flute, fiddle and concertina. We even saw a double rainbow earlier that evening while touring an 11th century castle ruin. It was an auspicious beginning to say the least!

It has continued to be an incredible year of new insights, friendships, music, laughter, growth and love. Turning 41 today could almost be a let down after the expansion of my 40th year, however I feel the adventure is just beginning. So in order to commemorate this momentous passage from youth to middle years, I did what every rational woman does…I got a tattoo. OK, so maybe not every woman or even very many woman at that, but that’s what I did.

The art of the tattoo has been used by many cultures, dating back to ancient Egypt, where tattoos were discovered on mummies from the second millennium BC. They were introduced to the west by eighteenth century explorers to Polynesia. In fact, tattooing is one of the unifying factors for many indigenous people throughout the world’s history. In Papua New Guinea, Australia, the Koita people begin tattooing at the age of 5, adding on each year to create intricate patterns commemorating the stages of life. According to Wikipedia, many tattoos serve as rites of passage, marks of status and rank, symbols of religious and spiritual devotion, decorations for bravery, among other things.

I have a small flower tattoo in my inside right ankle. It was a graduation gift from my college roommates, a design I doodled on all of my notebooks, back when we took notes on actual paper. That was a right of passage for sure, and it reminds me of that specific time in my life every time I look at it. OK, sure. Tattoos are something we might have done at college, or say on a trip to Key West when we were young and daring, like my sister and aunt. “Why now?” you may ask. Why would I want to get a tattoo at this point in my life, especially a brightly-colored one with a strange symbol inside?

My story starts a few years ago when I came across a necklace that caught my eye. It was a simple and elegant triple spiral design. The card said it was a Triskele. The Pre-Celtic symbol has many different meanings, including the goddess, Trinities from various religions, and oneness of body, mind and spirit. I was captivated and bought it. When in Ireland last summer, we saw similar triple-spiral etchings, most notably at the Newgrange passage tomb. It was that ethereal, ancient setting that might have sparked the idea of getting a 40th-year tattoo. The notion niggled at my mind for months.  I kept saying, “If it’s right, I’ll know what it’s supposed to be.” I had dreams about the Triskele design, I drew it all over my journals, and I knew it was the symbol for my tattoo. But the time never seemed right.

Then in February, I had the good fortune to be able to attend a week-long program led by David Newman, a Bhakti Yogi and Kirtan musician. He taught us a lot about the art of singing Sanskrit prayers and names of God, in the ancient Bhakti tradition. Unbeknownst to him, he also gave me a gift. Almost as an afterthought one day, as he showed us how to write a few words in Sanskrit, he drew the symbol for the Divine Mother. As I watched the word take form, I felt the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

You see, all year I have been working with the concept of helping to hold space for the Divine Feminine in our world, a view of forgiveness, compassion, gentle strength and self-control that seems to be missing in so much of our modern culture. That word, written in an ancient, holy language now lives at the center of a sunrise-colored triskele on my left upper back. It will forever be a physical reminder of my oneness with the divine, and my desire to remember that unity for the world.

Today I turn 41, which is how I found myself at the tattoo parlor 2 weeks ago, sitting still for more than an hour while a Buddha-tattooed tattoo artist repeatedly poked needles into my back. As he worked, I held my thoughts to the words of a Sanskrit prayer I recently learned:

om, asato ma sadgamaya, tamaso ma jyotirgamaya, mrtyorma amrtam gamaya

             From the untruth lead us to the Truth. From darkness lead us to the Light.                      From the fear of death lead us to Immortality.

I prayed these words for all of us. When I was able to keep my mind focused on them, the pain became much farther away. I felt I was joining the ranks of seekers through the ages who find inspiration through and in spite of the pain of this life.  I began to see beyond my own small self and glimpse the unity of the great Oneness, of which we are all a part.

A rite of passage indeed.

May all beings benefit. Namaste.