My Turn to Stay
By the time we'd wrapped the Jordan almonds in circles of tulle tied with pink ribbon, the smile on my mom's face had faded into the blank emptiness I knew so well; that scared me and made my stomach hurt. The lights were on but the room felt dark. No more joking around ~ putting tulle on our heads or laughing about how awful the candy covered almonds tasted, hoping no one would break a tooth biting into one at the reception. Would Aunt Margaret’s dentures come loose? All the giggles stopped in a heartbeat~ and mom went into her bedroom. I put 150 tulle wrapped Jordan almonds into shoeboxes, carefully labeled and taped a 3x5 index card on each one and stacked them on top of the punch bowl box.
My brother was getting married on Saturday.
I was only seven but I was used to these dark places mom lived in. I lived there too. When you’re a kid you have to, there’s nowhere else to go. We weren’t like families on TV or any family I knew in our neighborhood or heard about at school. Two things were clear ~ we kept to ourselves and you learn that not everything is as it seems. There was a silent language, an unspoken radar needed to navigate the crazy ~ required if you were to stay in Mom’s good graces.
It happened slowly ~ this absorption into mom’s ideas, moods and rules for being in the world, or not being in the world. The not wanting to be in the world was the dark place that I didn’t know how to keep her away from.
I wore a pink dress to the wedding. It was the prettiest dress in my closet. Mom kept it wrapped in a plastic bag from the dry cleaners, but I’d sneak into the closet and stick my fingers through the bottom of the bag and run my fingers over the soft fabric ~ seeing myself twirling, spinning round and round like a ballerina with a crown of flowers and ribbons like wings. Everything I wore that day was new. New black patent leather shoes with cleats ~ those little pieces of metal that were nailed into the heels of dress shoes ~ they were supposed to keep the heels from wearing down ~ I liked them because I liked the tap tap tap sound when I walked. My anklets and gloves were edged with lace and I had new underwear. I was the oldest part of the outfit. All this fuss and finery was because I was the flower girl in my brother’s wedding, a task I took very seriously. I took everything seriously. I had so many questions and asked as many as I could before knowing I’d reached the limit of my mother’s patience. Zero was her preferred number.
It’s hard to know anything when you can’t ask questions. When so much of what I needed to know was off-limits. I felt desperate for information. If I knew what was wrong I could fix it. I really believed I could fix it ~ the dark place Mom lived in so much of the time. Because when Mom was there, so were we. My dad and me. We were like two planets that orbited Mom’s sun. She was the center of our chaotic universe, where the pendulum would swing from chaos to confusion and back again. While not a stable force, her magnetic cords for keeping us in tow were unbreakable. We were along for the ride until just as suddenly, all would be back into some sense of normal. My relief was immediate and I’d go full steam into doing all I could to maintain this happier place, laughing too loud and trying too hard. Each time thinking I could make her happy and keep her from going into her bedroom. I tried. My heart aches to remember how hard I tried to stop the pendulum from swinging.
My brother was fourteen years old when I was born. Being only seven, I was too young to know what life was like for him. I do know he was kind to me and carried a sadness for me that I was only beginning to know the why of and far from being able to have words for. Our age difference didn’t allow for comparing notes. That came later.
I didn’t fully understand that after the wedding vows were spoken, the cake cut and the rice thrown, my brother would leave. Really leave. That our house would become quieter still, the outside world retreating further from our door. No more of my brother’s friends stopping by, bringing with them their smiles and laughter, oblivious of the house rules, shifting us into “normal” and charading them with cookies and lemonade. All’s fine here everyone. Though the fun didn’t last beyond the slam of the screen door when they left, I felt that life could be different.
When my brother left, the glimpses of lightheartedness and hope of something normal disappeared. And he knew it would.
The car was parked at the curb; suitcases and me on the sidewalk waiting for the bride and groom. My parents standing on the front porch steps, mom’s face held in a grim smile, I was glad to be two flights down, out of arms reach. Not yet. No. There was still more happy in this day. Bags stowed in the trunk, my brother slid behind the wheel of the Ford Starliner, and with the windows rolled down, the car pulled away from the curb.
I ran alongside the car, wanting them to see how fast I could run...I would beat them to the corner. Laughing, smiling...running as fast as my legs could carry me. Out of breath, I stopped, I’d won the race. My brother turned the corner and kept going. I stood still and waved. I waved and shouted goodbye until I couldn’t see them anymore. I knew then he wasn’t coming back.
He couldn’t take me with him and it was his time to leave. He was supposed to leave. He needed to leave. And I had to go back home. There was nowhere else to go. It was my turn to stay. I walked back to the house, the cleats on my patent leather shoes tapping a slow beat up the stairs.
Sometimes you can’t outrun what’s waiting for you.
photo by Lyndse Ballew
I watched my in-laws’ tidy bedroom closets fill with suitcases and clothes after each of their parents died.
Add to this the odd table, chairs, hutches, and antique Victrola that migrated to the basement family room, which transformed into a maze you’d see in an episode of Hoarders – the couch piled with boxes, the TV pushed into a corner and covered with grandma’s quilted bedspread. The remote lost forever.
Everyone is different when it comes to living with material things. When family treasures are involved, it is especially important to respect our differences; they don’t define who we are as human beings.
For instance, I’m easily overwhelmed when surrounded by too many things. A minimalist by nature, I function better with fewer things in my life.
Others find comfort surrounded by things that hold memories of those they loved. Neither is right or wrong. There is no moral high ground.
There is a Tipping Point, However
Too often, we keep things tucked away in storage boxes only to think we can forget about them. Out of sight, out of mind, right?
Sorting through a loved one’s belongings can evoke an undercurrent of delayed grieving or guilt. We may end up thinking we’re a terrible person if we choose to say we actually don’t want to keep Aunt Myrtle’s coffee table or porcelain figurines.
There are some heavy “shoulds” that arrive with the boxes and furniture, however. And, there comes a time when it serves us to question why we’re hanging onto stuff that sits somewhere in our house and might get looked at once a year. Maybe.
Our Hearts are the Memory Keepers
In the midst of tending to the treasures, it’s important to remember that our hearts hold our memories forever. To recall how that person made us feel, the echoes of time spent together, and what they handed down doesn’t need to take up space with things.
Our hearts hold their memory – the legacy of who they were and who we are because of them. The true treasure of who they were to us. And what we were together.
It’s important to hold this truth and give yourself permission to let go of what was left behind in terms of material possessions that have become burdensome.
Here are my 5 tips for tending to the treasures:
Pick a Favorite
You may have a family member who collected multiples of the same items to dust, illuminate, and delight in. Think Hummels, collector plates, teapots, salt & pepper shakers – you name it.
Consider saving a favorite item from a collection and let the others go – to a relative or someone who you know will enjoy them.
Take Photos of Objects as a Remembrance
Instead of keeping lots of items from your dearly departed, take photos of the objects they cherished the most. Those photos can be shared with other family members and can be stored online freeing up space in your home and theirs.
There are companies (or a tech-savvy relative) who can digitally archive your family photos, slides, and old videos.
Make It an Event
Gather family members to go through the photos, boxes, and closets through an event to share memories, laughter, and even tears. Everyone can leave with a fresh reminder of their connection to each other, having had a time to remember those who shaped them.
Connect via FaceTime or Zoom with those too far away to attend and have a box ready for any items they may want sent their way. Others can leave with boxes in hand. You know they’ve had their chance to take what was meaningful to them, making it easier for you to pass along what wasn’t wanted.
Take Time to Think About the Person
As you remember your loved one, you may be inspired to think of creative ways to find new homes for their things. If they loved animals, then perhaps donate their things to a local thrift shop whose proceeds support PAWS or other animal rescue facilities.
Take Your Time, But Vow to Begin
If you have a lot to tackle, and feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume to manage, remind yourself you don’t have to do it all at once. Determine a good starting point. Something that feels less daunting.
Set aside time on your calendar and set a timer for an hour (or even less) and begin. One closet shelf, one box, one drawer. Reassess how you feel when the timer rings. Give yourself permission to stop, or, if you’re feeling good, set the timer again and keep going.
Give yourself permission to let go of the stuff. It’s okay to let go of things. Really. Let go of feeling guilty or judged by others as being uncaring, ungrateful, or cold-hearted if you don’t hang on to things.
Let go of feeling like you have to take keepsakes because yours was the logical place for everything to go. Make room for what is actually yours.
A friend shared the story of his father-in-law shipping most of the furniture from the family home to theirs as he was down-sizing. Asked how they liked the furniture, my friend said to his father-in-law, “Well, our place looks just like yours now.”
We need room for our own tastes and likes to be in our homes. Keep the true treasures that you absolutely love and will take pleasure in having.
Use the fine china, the silver, the gold rimmed drinking glasses deemed special-occasion-only status. Let other pieces take root and enhance someone else’s life.
Trust your heart to hold the memories.
As posted in Sixty and Me
Life on Life's Terms
"All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy. Because what we leave behind is part of us. One must grieve for what has gone, before starting something new" ~ Anatole France
What day is it? I ask myself each morning. I’m serious. And I have to think carefully before answering. I’m not always right, which is unsettling. I’ve thought about ordering Day-of-the-Week Panties to help ~ I remember having those as a kid. But then, folding them into the mix would require energy I don't have right now. Do I need to know what day it is? Not really. Delete the DOTW panties from the online shopping cart. I let it go.
We’re doing a lot of letting go these days.
We’re not able to physically spend time with people we love. Or people we don’t love. We’re working remotely if we’re lucky enough to be working at all. Opportunities lost. Serious, uncomfortable conversations about how to pay the bills. So many have to adapt to new ways of shopping, educating their children, and communicating virtually. Now, for the first time in my life, I find I'm in a high risk demographic ~ a further step away from youth. And, six feet has become the new degree of separation ~ above as well as below the ground.
True to form our “feel good” culture was quick to shift the Social Distancing phrase to Physical Distancing. I understand the shift of phrasing in the desire to point out that we can still stay in touch, we can still connect with friends and family. We rush in to save ourselves from feelings we don’t want to feel, and from the grieving as we let go and adapt to change and loss.
I’m fascinated by how quickly we want to feel good even when we don’t.
How quickly the “shoulds” show up in our feel good, grief resistant culture ~ a steady stream of Facebook posts telling me what I should do and how I should feel. I don’t like being told how I should feel. I feel what I feel and it fluctuates throughout the day. I’ll feel calm, optimistic, hopeful when I do, and I’ll feel disappointment, helpless, anger, grief, and fear when they come to me.
I’m well able to let them flow through me. Emotions are like weather fronts that will pass. What matters is to not resist them, or rush in with an upbeat bandaid. What’s the emotion I’m feeling trying to tell me? If I engage truthfully with what I’m feeling, walk with my fear, the intensity of the feeling will ease and, guess what? I feel better, genuinely.
I will get to the bright side of the road but I need to do it my own way, in my own time.
When we’re inundated with well-meaning positivity, we become numb to it. It comes from the outside and not from our own experience, and because of that there is an insatiable compulsion to seek more ~ the quick fix only leads to needing more quick fixes.
I believe there is value in expanding our ability to tolerate feeling uncomfortable, of being with the unknown. We learn about ourselves, who we are as humans. I’ve noticed my concerns shift. What made me anxious two weeks ago, no longer does. Our way of being in the uncertainty changes as we discover what we need to keep and what we need to let go of. Learning to trust our heart more than believing in the fear.
I advise my clients to keep it real ~ I encourage them to allow themselves to feel how they feel. Just because you feel anxious or disappointed, doesn’t mean you don’t feel grateful for people you love, the roof over your head, food on your table and deep sympathy for those who have lost a loved one to this virus, for those who died alone. One does not negate the other.
Here’s how I’ve found myself moving through the uncertainty, the feelings and the letting go of life as we’ve known it. I do what helps ground me, what keeps me breathing into the day, and offers me as much ease as possible. I choose projects that allow me to focus on what I can control, what I can create and keep me engaged and hold a sense of purpose. Sometimes I just want to turn my brain off, so I stare out the window. The good dishes we bought in Ireland brought me back from the windowsill one morning. I bake using what is in our cupboard. I curl up on the couch with a book I don’t have to work hard to read, take gentle walks, watch movies. We’ve de-cluttered every nook and cranny in our small apartment. I wish someone were here to see how nice it looks and feels. Tea and toast, dark chocolate and music are essentials.
What grounds us may be different for everyone. What is similar is that by discarding the comparison coated “should” card and giving ourselves permission to do what we want ~ without judgment ~ we are better able to adjust to or embrace a new way of being in a genuine way, which means less stress. We conserve our energy to deal with the aspects of our life that have been impacted ~ loss of income, healthcare, children’s needs, caring for elderly parents, the list is long for many. If you need support to discard those “should” cards you’re holding, I'm here to help.
This time will unfold into the next chapter. There will be opportunities waiting for us. I hope we approach opportunities with wisdom we’ve gained in the letting go, building on the genuine, born of our hearts.
Until then, we live in the uncertainty of where this virus and our leaders will take us. The uncertainty is real and we are not in control. We can only respond from the information we gather to make the best decisions for ourselves; be kind to ourselves and others, love where we can and allow life to be what it is. Life on life’s terms.
Photo by Alexander Ant
A Meditation ~ to ease fear
On March 1st, I had the pleasure of speaking at Body Bliss Yoga Studio in Camus WA as part of the Ripple Wellness Sunday Meditation Series. I spoke about the importance of releasing fear, lessening our anxiety, and living with a heart-centered focus in times fraught with uncertainty and stress. Introducing an approach I call “vigilant presence” -- essentially awakening to the present moment through being responsive as opposed to being reactive. I shared supportive suggestions and techniques including creating a meditation practice that brings you to a safe place in your mind that you can access any time, of listening to music that shifts your energy, creating a life that you love ~ that you don’t need to escape from, and viewing every action as a prayer.
To close our time together, I led the group in a guided meditation I've posted here.
Relax, listen and enjoy.
Photo by Dingzeyo Li
"I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within.” ~ Lillian Smith
Travel saved my life. Or to be less dramatic, travel opened my eyes. Then I made changes to save my life.
My mother was an alcoholic. 12 years between me and my nearest older sibling, I was raised practically as an only child, with the burden of responsibility I felt for my mother and loads of fallout landing on my narrow shoulders. I felt trapped in my relationship with her.
Later, as an adult, mother of two, my world was still not my own.
The joys and responsibilities of raising my own ones were often overshadowed by daily phone check-ins or obligatory visits with mom. I was never certain how I’d find her, always on pins and needles, anxious as to what my next encounter with her would be. How it would end, how I would feel.
My responsibilities felt overwhelming most days, as did the anticipation of not measuring up with my mom, no matter how hard I tried.
I Had Lost Myself in the Day-to-Day
In 1999, I felt called to join a retreat in Ireland. In my younger years, I had traveled a bit with my brother but traveling on my own was new to me.
With the help of a dear friend, I was able to arrange the logistics to allow everyone at home to be cared for – to allow me to step off a plane in Shannon on a soft April morning, rent a car, and find myself driving to a tiny village in Co. Clare.
There I settled into a surreal rhythm of gentle days – an ease that held me as I sank into re-discovering my long lost self. For 10 days, I was nothing to no one. For the first time in my life, I tended only to what I needed or wanted. My eyes opened to a new way of seeing things. I was on a pilgrimage.
The Journey from Head to Heart
A pilgrimage involves heeding or feeling a call, separating from the familiar, making a journey – often through hardships.
Upon arrival at our destination, through intention and contemplation, we can come face-to-face with our truth, our heart’s wisdom, the resolution we’ve longed for. A resolution that was, perhaps, right before us all the time, but was freshly brought to our attention through the journey.
This journey within – this pilgrimage toward self – is an opportunity to listen to what your heart wants to say. We’re so comfortable with, or distracted by, the daily rhythm of our lives, we don’t always know what our spirit wants us to hear.
Seeing new places, paying attention to the unfamiliar, sparks our imagination and creativity. We glean new insights and are able to shift our perspectives so as to see situations and experiences in a new way. A way that is aligned with our genuine selves.
Seeing the Moon on the Other Side of the World
I wasn’t prepared for how I felt, the contentment that came so easily as I walked the ancient Burren stone.
I felt the Moon above me as I walked the moonlike landscape, taking in all that surrounded me – the winding roads in the distance, a tender wildflower blooming at my feet against all odds. I saw myself in that flower.
Standing at the Atlantic’s shore, the horizon stretching forever, the wind began to clear the cobwebs from my mind and the inner voices of judgment and criticism that made me feel small were lifted away.
From a still point within, I began to hear the inner whispers of my own voice guide me into new territory. A voice I liked. I began to feel like me.
For two weeks, I stayed in this place of wonder and wisdom. I found myself unable to sleep at night, unable to stay within the cozy cottage walls. I needed to be outside. I sat on a stone bridge to feel the air, see the Moon, watch the dark shapes of the night. Every night I went there, wandering back to the cottage before dawn. I didn’t need sleep. I needed to be awake to this genuine self that had been buried by life.
I didn’t want to leave. I walked across the tarmac and up the stairs to board the plane. I stood at the top of the stairs breathing in and feeling the soft Irish air that I’d come to know so well – that had stirred so much inside me and held me in its embrace until the flight attendant closed the door.
I vowed to take home with me the friends I’d made, the wisdom gleaned, the clarity I needed to shape my next steps in becoming the daughter, mother, wife – woman – I longed to be.
Travel to Stay Present
Now, a couple decades later, I travel for many reasons – to satisfy my curiosity about places and the people who live differently than I do. To feel part of this beautiful world we live in, beyond the walls of my home and daily routine. To wake up. And to renew the journey from head to heart.
From the minute I wrestle my suitcase out from the deep recesses of my closet, I feel my heart quicken and my spirit is already at 35,000 feet.
Traveling demands our presence. We step into the unknown. We can’t operate on auto-pilot; we must pay attention. If we don’t, we miss our flight, make a wrong turn, or lose a passport. Even if we travel with another person, we are called to listen to ourselves. We are vulnerable and through that portal of vulnerability we are called to be present to ourselves in a very real way.
There is a quiet within us that holds an invitation to be who we genuinely are and take steps to do whatever is required to embrace the world within.
Are you ready for your journey?
As posted in Sixty and Me
The Meaning of Legacy
(Hint: It's Not a Resume)
As a stay-at-home mom, I used to dread meeting new people at social events. After initial pleasantries, so often the exchange would come to an awkward, grinding halt when they asked me “...and what do you do?” Though I loved raising my children at home I found this occupation to be an immediate conversation stopper. I grew to anticipate the polite smiles, knowing nods, protracted sips of wine and eyes darting for the nearest exit. I became an expert at vanishing in situations where “what I did” was more important than who I was, what I thought, how I felt. I have never regretted the choice to stay home and raise my children ~ though, to be sure, I could have used the equivalent of Conversation Hints from Heloise for Moms. Yes, I was a Mom. And I knew I was so much more.
In our culture ~ where we are often defined and identified by what we do ~ it’s easy to lose sight of who we are and how we want to be remembered.
Time to Redefine
As large swaths of our lives shrink further into the rearview mirror, each of us has an opportunity to define ~ or redefine ~ our lives and what we want to be remembered for. More than ever, in our sixties and beyond it’s important to feel relevant, to feel that we matter, to mine the gems of our brief history here so that the “who we are” comes before the “what we did”. This can be an exhilarating time of liberation from labels.
Often retirement and legacy are terms that go hand in hand. We take stock of where we’ve been and wonder what lies ahead. Many of my clients facing retirement come to me with an overwhelming sense of identity loss, having been defined by their jobs or professions or labels for decades. One of my clients put it this way, “Retirement is great and all, but when I was a teacher, I felt like I was somebody. Like I had a purpose. Now I feel like a nobody. Like I’m invisible.” She’s not alone.
The key is to recognize that you’ve been you all along. Your career accomplishments are an outward manifestation of the personal qualities you hold as an individual. A long list of achievements is admirable and certainly something to be proud of. Yet, it is how you achieved your success that people will remember ~ how your legacy is shaped.
If you worked for a company, you were required to toe the policy line and, depending on what those rules were, you may have felt restricted in how much of “you” could show up in different situations. Often managers cannot interact in a personal way with those they are responsible for. I’ve discovered those in charge often feel the most isolated ~ needing to hold boundaries while their employees are able to talk with each other freely.
Whether you were an employee, manager, or owner, each position held certain limitations. Stepping away from specific roles offers immense freedom to discover our essence and live from an unrestricted genuineness of spirit. Your personal qualities aren’t left behind at your desk, they follow you into creating your next steps beyond the workplace.
Legacy or Resume?
We remember people for their stories, for how we felt being with them, for their successes, their frailties, for the obstacles they overcame, for the very human qualities we relate to; we remember them for who they are. While we may be drawn to all aspects of a celebrity or a public figure’s life including the details of their resume, a person’s legacy is less about what they did than who they were. We can choose to bring the strengths that we brought to the workplace into how we live our lives each day.
How we choose to live our lives each and every day creates our legacy.
Memoir as Legacy ~ A Tip to Get Here from There
A memoir can be viewed as a written account of an event in your life that had meaning for you--what’s important is how it made you feel, what lessons you may have taken away, how your life was shaped by the event. Author Abigail Thomas writes that, “Memoir is the story about how we got here from there.” Agreed. Compelling memoir is honest, relatable, a window into how you have embraced your life. As such, it can become a legacy for your children, siblings, family, friends, a glimpse into your humanness...and a way to recalibrate your sense of self.
I urge my clients to write about times in their lives worthy of a second look. This time around with a sense of curiosity ~ as an observer. Thinking back without the charge of emotions surrounding an event can offer a renewed and more objective perspective that opens the door to understanding, wisdom, empathy, and--ultimately--healing. A re-awakening of what’s most important to you ~ to fully step into your power, your authentic self, and create a legacy worthy of you. A life well-lived.
Questions for reflection:
How do you see framing your life...as a detailed resume of what you did, a rich tapestry of who you are, or a compelling memoir embracing both what you did and who you became as a result? How would you like to be remembered? What times in your life deserve a second look through the lens of memoir?
As posted in Sixty and Me
Write Your Memoir in Ireland
Leading tours to Ireland with my husband came as a result of a happy coincidence.
I’ve organized, led, co-led, and facilitated retreats, tours, conferences and seminars along the West Coast, and many in the West of Ireland. In my practice as a transition/life coach, I love the transformations that magically come forward on retreats when one opens to possibilities, to fresh eyes looking at old ways, to allow the heart’s wisdom to lead ~ when we stop pushing on the door and realize it opens inward.
A door that opened inward for me was the notion of combining elements of two of my greatest loves ~ Ireland and writing ~ into a 10-day memoir writing retreat in Ireland. Though it happened by accident, the nudge was unmistakable.
As part of their preparation for a tour to Ireland, I’d been asked by a Unitarian church choir to share my experiences of working as a personal assistant to an Irish poet/author and to speak about traveling in the West of Ireland.
I didn’t need to be asked twice ~ the only thing I know that feels better than sharing my love for Ireland is being there. I met my husband in Ireland ~ a musician from America in love with all things Irish. Drawing from our rich experiences traveling in Ireland we created a half hour presentation for the choir, sharing stories, songs, and poetry accompanied by a steady flow of lovely Irish landscape photos in the background.
After the presentation we mingled with the crowd. Each of us was asked the same question by different people. When will you be running your next tour? And, will you take us with you? On the way home we compared notes and seized the idea in the moment. Looking back, it’s a wonder neither of us had considered it before. So we began leading tours to Ireland.
I encourage my clients to reflect on chapters in their lives that stand out in some way or represent moments to overcome -- sweet, bitter, or bittersweet. Given the gifts of time, distance, and perspective it’s possible to examine our lives from a more dispassionate or objective place. Through writing ~ pulling the words out of our heads and onto the page ~ we can liberate thoughts that may be holding us captive.
Memoir provides us the lens to put aspects of our lives into clearer perspective ~ the process can result in a legacy for family members or a catharsis for the writer or a glimpse of shared wisdom for the rest of us. At its best, good memoir serves as a touchstone for each of our lives, a way to relate and foster compassion and insight for ourselves as well as others.
There is something about Ireland. Whether it’s the stunning landscape, the rich history of its people and their interwoven mystical traditions, the deep respect for language and the written word, or a combination of all the above, there is something about being in Ireland that stirs my soul and supports my journey. They say the veil between worlds is thin in the West of Ireland. I know this to be true.
I have felt the song of the land course through my body as I’ve walked the landscape, felt the steps of those who have walked before me, and anticipate with each return trip the strong sense of coming home. Whether the land, the people, or the thin veil, Ireland supports a transformation, an opening, an invitation to tap into things that matter, including re-visiting the worthy events in our lives.
Memoir Tours was our happy coincidence ~ what presented itself as a conversation turned into a retreat/tour to help others mine their pasts for gems of memoir, while held in the embrace of the West of Ireland. We’ve assembled a lovely group of mentors to help us craft memoir and find our way through the untamed Mayo landscape...heeding our heart’s wisdom in the heart of Ireland.
Photo by Heaven McArthur
In the Shape of a Heart
“There must be always remaining in every life, some place for the singing of angels, some place for that which in itself is breathless and beautiful.” ~ Howard Thurman
If I chose one earthly thing that I’ve delighted in my entire life it would be window boxes filled with flowers. I hope they exist wherever I’m going next. Maybe there is a “flower dimension” in the afterlife. If there is, my father will be there.
Every spring, like magic, I would come home from school on a sunny day and find all our window boxes planted with pink and red geraniums. My winter-naked bedroom window was fully accessorized from May to October. He broke the rules, my father. Planting red and pink flowers together was a definite Cosmo “don’t” in the gardening world. In all other ways, my father played by the rules, yet when it came to flowers, all bets were off. He turned a blind eye to the norm. No one put pink and red together. But my father did. Unapologetically so. A small act of rebellion in a war he could not win.
My father lived a life that held only brief glimpses of happiness, a life that didn’t unfold in the way he’d hoped, despite his continuous efforts to appease. He had a gift of seeing life in an uncomplicated way ~ there was a great blessing in his way of being. He appreciated the little things in life and found happiness in the beauty of the natural world around him. The grace of an ordinary day was not lost on him.
It was not about seeing the glass half empty or half full. For my father, It was enough to believe there was a glass at all. When you come from a hard love home it’s tricky to know where to find the good things you’ve taken away that have shaped you as an adult. Sure, you’re a survivor having made it through the trauma, but what else? It’s easy to stay in the story of how hard it was and to list all the “bad” things that happened. To wear the armor of protection around our hearts forever. Grace and freedom come in discovering gifts that were also part of what was handed down.
They come in the shape of a heart.
When my father planted his window boxes it wasn’t an act of rebellion. The complete opposite in fact; it was one of the only times I saw him smile, not a “lips together slight turning up at the corners”, no, a full on teeth showing smile. Flowers were his heart’s delight, his passion, a touchstone of joy. No one else had a say or played any part in the planting...from flower choice to soil to tending to the care of these beautiful plants through the summer. They were all his in a world where very little else was.
He made the world more beautiful. In the simple act of planting flowers he made my life brighter and the neighborhood and those that lived there a little happier. He took pleasure in the neighbors slowing their hurried steps to look at the flowers and in the compliments that followed; the hours spent fertilizing, watering and fussing over tender new shoots, delighting in every leaf and bud. He took comfort there and made a difference in the world around him.
All from his heart.
From doing something that was his own, that meant something to him, that he did because he couldn’t not do it. I can imagine it as his way of trying to find something to feel good about, to take a bit of pleasure in being alive and affirm his faith in something greater. He did it for himself. He did it to save himself. And it was a blessing and gift to others in a meaningful way.
I’ve stared at my deck for most of the summer with a few fits and starts at trying to make it feel better. The air conditioning unit under the window and typical tight urban deck dimensions left me uninspired. I bought a rug for under the table and chairs and it was too small ~ it’s still too small. I didn’t return it. I planted a couple pots of flowers only to have them struggle in the hot sun. I did my best to let it go ~ saying I’ll try again next year.
Then last week happened.
I’d noticed the occasional window box on other apartment deck railings and thought about doing the same, but with no follow-through until finally putting it in the “next summer” mental file. But something kept niggling at me last week and I couldn’t shake the idea, even though it’s the end of summer and my mind swirling with the rational ~ what would I plant and it doesn’t make any sense to do window boxes in September...all the leaves are turning, everything would rot in the rain, and, and, and….these thoughts followed me all the way to the store where I bought half-price window boxes designed for deck railings. They still needed to be customized to fit, but my ready and willing other half was quick to step in and do his magic creating the sturdiest, most secure window boxes imaginable. All without bungee cords or duct tape, which would have been my go-to remedies.
Boxes in place, we hauled home potting soil and plants that I hope will survive for at least a couple months. I spent the morning planting, feeling my fingers in the dirt, tapping, scooping and tucking the winter pansies, oregano and coral bells into their new home. Smudges of dirt on my cheeks and dirt under my fingernails I felt alive and happier than I have in a long time. Like, beside myself happy. I can’t take my eyes off these flowers. I can’t get enough of how I feel when I see them. I check on them first thing in the morning and watch them as the sun sets. I need them. I needed my father, too. And the truth is, there wasn’t much room for either of us to take root in each other.
Once the boxes were finished, I couldn’t stop, didn’t want to stop, so we potted more plants outside our entryway and re-potted a lavender tree. Neighbors who we haven’t heard boo from in the nine months we’ve been here have asked where we purchased the window boxes and others have bought large pots of chrysanthemums, ornamental kale, and dusty miller. Autumn wreaths and corn stalks grace doors and porches. All since the window boxes happened on our deck. It’s been a bit of magic and it happened from my heart, from a place my father gave me.
Today I feel like my father’s daughter. A place for the singing of angels.
Photo by Roman Kraft
Air Water Fire & Earth
"They both listened silently to the water, which to them was not just water, but the voice of life, the voice of Being, the voice of perpetual Becoming." ~ Hermann Hesse
These days I seek what comforts me; today, I didn’t have to ~ the rain came to me. Waking to the splashing sound of tires parting water, the smell of thirsty sidewalks. I felt my body relax, a respite from the heat and outgoing, life of the party nature of summer. Not my season. Thank you rain for soothing me today. I roasted a chicken with onions, potatoes, and carrots, the oven at 425 degrees. I sipped hot green tea. I opened the front door and windows and practically skipped to the mailbox. I glared defiantly through the open deck door at the merest hint of sun. Don’t you dare.
The rain washed away all that was throwing me off center. I lit candles and sat quietly with my cup of tea, smelling the good smells from the kitchen, feeling the cool breeze through the windows. With my feet planted firmly on the floor delighting in the day, I felt the blessedness of water, fire, air, and earth ~ their ways of offering a free pass to connect to the peace of simple pleasures and sacred presence.
I’ve long recognized the elements as portals in deepening my connection to that “something bigger” we all long to belong to. Air, water, fire and earth and their symbolic meanings are cornerstones as I coach my clients to bring their mind into their heart. Reconnecting to the elements and their constant presence can be like finding new walking companions as we step out of our comfort zones and all that is familiar to find a little truth.
Isn’t truth what we are looking for, now more than ever? In this time of fake news, gaslighting and ghosting? How do we know the truth of who we are, where we belong, who we are supposed to be? What’s holding us back? Are we ready to love all of who we are; even the parts we’ve kept hidden from ourselves? Where do we find our answers and the guidance to inform our decisions? Can we live a holy life in our seemingly ordinary days?
These are the questions I ask. And are often the focus of conversations I have with my clients.
There are many ways to invite a deeper connection with the elements and their reminders on how to live our lives. Air that clears mind and heart, that whispers wisdom. Water that reminds us to go with the flow of our ever-changing lives. Fire that ignites passion, life force and holy flame. Earth that roots us ~ steadies us.
Here are a few suggestions you may wish to consider as ways to intentionally bring your awareness ‘round to say hello ~
These are a few simple ways to bring the beauty and power of the elements into your life. There are many ways the elements can support us in feeling connected to the natural world as part of our daily rhythm. You don’t need money, special clothing or gadgets. Only your attention and imagination.
There is more. So much more. This is a place to begin. The elements and their symbolism are an easily accessible brass ring to claim as one way of saying “yes” to exploring your connection to God, Source, Creator, Universe, whatever name you choose.
It’s Love. It’s all Love.
Find your faith. Live your days ~ even the ones that throw a curveball ~ from a place of quiet connection to what’s true and beautiful. Breathe into each day with gratitude and acceptance. Allow emotions to move through you instead of unpacking for a long-term visit. Allow your heart’s voice to be heard. Trust it. Trust yourself. Our heart, the home of tranquility and conviction, is the sanctuary we do well to spend time in. The quiet, still place of peace, wisdom, our divine nature ~ our joy. The elements lead me there.
This is the comfort I seek.
Photo by Nikita Velikanin
Trust Your Heart
“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.” ~ May Sarton
After spending three months in Ireland and two months finding and settling into our new home in Mill Creek, WA, I’m back at my desk again. My “desk” is a comfy down chair with an ottoman. I’m sitting here with my feet up, my laptop balanced on my thighs, a cup of tea and my phone within easy reach.
I can’t tell you how amazing these past months have been. The time in Ireland worked me to my soul’s core. Challenging me beyond anything I could have imagined. I’ve learned so much about myself and what’s important to me at this time in my life.
It hasn’t been easy.
Not that I expected being alone with myself to be easy. I didn’t. I was anticipating and prepared myself for the usual suspects—shame, regret, and inadequacy—to have a field day making their opinions known as if for the first time. Those voices are not strangers. And, they didn’t disappoint, being the first to greet me as I stepped into the quiet.
I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.
With nowhere to go, no schedule to keep, no Internet or cell service, I was forced to stay present and learn to tolerate feeling uncomfortable with myself for more than five minutes. My vision of writing by the fire, rain lashing at the windows didn't happen. It was sunny most of the time. I went outside. And there I found what I was looking for. What I needed most.
I needed the sound of the distant ocean waves. I needed to feel the soft breeze on my cheeks. I needed to sit and watch the crows, gulls, and herons and listen to their voices. I needed to smile and say "hello" to fellow passersby. I needed the cup of tea with friends. I needed ten hours of sleep at night. I needed to not do a single darn thing.
I had to let go of feeling disappointment in myself for not writing as much as I'd hoped, and not living up to my expectations of what I thought I would accomplish while in Ireland. That my time there didn't shape itself in the way I'd imagined. Instead, the gift was found in a deepening of knowing myself by connecting with the natural world around me.
I re-ignited my passion for the work I do.
And, while I could choose to spend the rest of my days sitting in front of a peat fire, reading, and sipping tea, I am instead feeling an enormous desire to step more fully into my work supporting others in finding their deep wisdom, trusting themselves to know what they want and guiding them to live from their heart.
We don't have time for anything else.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.