Tag Archives: transformation

The Chapel

Thank you, Divine Mother, for my beautiful chapel, for my red bench pew, for my pine tree altar, as I am attended by the soul birds around me.  (Is it an accident that angels are depicted with wings?)

Sitting on my red pew, drinking my rich brown, morning coffee in the flowered chalice offered by my daughter, I am at one with the Divine, the Good Earth, the way of peace.

IMG_1557The tiny kinglet darts back and forth above my head, playing in the dusty green leaves of Florida’s fall.  The red-capped chipping sparrow eats peacefully at the feeders, unperturbed by my presence.  And far off, the winter-brown bluebird sings, his voice, at least, not camouflaged by the long nights and short days before winter solstice.

Back inside, I light the candle on the piano altar, and two other candles around the room, warming this “inside chapel” of my living room with spirit light.  Gently, my fingers touch the two feathers next to the Tibetan bell, a tiny bluebird feather, a richly colored cardinal feather.

And I smile with the joy of waking up, waking up to the pleasures of the spiritual life, of the clarion call, of the golden circle, of the blank pages of the day.

To love morning.
This is to be alive.

Here.
In the garden.

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Women Writing for (a) Change: Why Here, Why Now

IMG_1188Tonight at dinner, when I mentioned the Divine Mother during a prayer, my son said, wryly, “So, it’s all about female gods for you now, is it?”

We then proceeded to have a very interesting conversation about Greek mythology — which he loves — and the origins of the female goddesses, then the shift to patriarchal models. He thought that perhaps this evolution was due to men’s superior physical strength.

I explained that the first figures worshipped and represented in cave drawings were women, because of their mysterious capacity to create new life. We then traced the evolution of that worship (for various reasons) from woman as Goddess to woman as property, given the right to vote in the United States just a short time ago.

“Did you know,” he said, rather seriously, “that in some countries today it’s forbidden for women to even speak in the presence of men?”

As Dave Barry says, I am not making this up.

A few years back, I started a blog called “One Brave Voice.” I wanted to express my feelings about politics at that time. The blog was short-lived; it quickly devolved into an argument with one particular person.

Maybe, my sister said to me afterward (a bit thoughtfully), maybe the blog was just your own still, small voice, trying to get your attention.

Hmmm.

After my marriage dissolved, I found my voice in the pages of my journal. I wrote, constantly, and the clean white pages were a container for my grief as well as my growth. Over time, the pages changed from dark lines of dense black ink to colorful, looping letters inside journals covered with birds, flowers, and butterflies. Each page was an opening into my own soul, my interior acre, my spiritual garden.

My journal listened to my inner voice, cultivated it, and nurtured it.

IMG_0670Last spring, I went on a field trip with my daughter. She’s an intelligent, lovely person and a budding biologist. As we ate lunch, I overheard the woman next to me, a biology teacher, talking about how, on another school field trip, she had directed two young girls to read some scripture out loud. She went on to say that her son had gotten up and walked away, and, when she had asked him where he was going, he reminded her that their church teaches that women cannot be spiritual leaders.

“What? I asked, incredulously.

“Oh, yes,” she said, blithely. “It’s true. It says that in the Bible. In Timothy.”

I could not believe my ears. Here was this woman, a teacher herself, actually defending this position, in today’s day and age. The message for me was, my daughter was not the equal of her son. That her voice was not as valuable as his.

I was outraged.


This summer, I studied Conscious Feminine leadership at the Women Writing for (a) Change school, founded in Cincinnati 20 years ago www.WomenWriting.org. After three weeks, I knew that opening an affiliate site in Jacksonville was my next step.

I don’t want to argue about politics.
I don’t want to argue about religion.

What I do want to do is create a space in Jacksonville for any woman, young or old, to feel welcome, honored and listened to, through the medium of writing and creative self-expression. It will be women writing for (a) change. And someone will be listening.

I live my life by several quotes these days. One is:

“If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?
And if I am only for myself, then what am I?
And if not now, when?” (Hillel)

The other is,

“I will do what I can,
where I am,
with what I have.”
(Theodore Roosevelt)


wwfc-logo-box-final2Women Writing for (a) Change, Jacksonville, is simply the place where I am called. It’s where my “deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” as Frederick Buechner said.

Please join me in the WWf(a)C mission: To nurture and celebrate the individual voice by facilitating supportive writing circles and by encouraging people to craft more conscious lives through the art of writing and the practices of community.

You can support this community in several ways: 1) SIGN UP today for the sampler series starting Oct. 9 at Re-Threaded; 2) HOLD THE SPACE if you can’t attend but would like to sponsor another woman from Re-Threaded’s staff to attend in your place; or 3) FORWARD this email to someone you know who would value this experience.

This event is a fund-raiser for Re-Threaded, which provides safe, viable, and dignity-giving work to survivors of the sex trade: www.rethreaded.com. I share the values of this organization, and want to support it as best I can. My goal is to raise $1,000 with this effort.

All the details are on my website: www.WomenWritingJacksonville.com. Thank you for listening and for your support. Even if all you do is simply hold the space for this dream to come to fruition, I would be most grateful.

Here.
In the garden called, Women Writing for (a) Change.

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The mama bluebird nestles

In the photograph, the mama bluebird nestles into the nest box.

Beauty, is my first thought.
How lovely she is!
Large, black eyes.
Beautifully aligned beak.
Her perfectly symmetrical head,
covered with the light and the dark.

Blue feathers.
Purple nest.
Brown wing tips.
Small, round opening from behind allows the light.

a143b0682ae811e3bc2222000a1f98f9_5I remember watching her build this nest on the “bird cam” we set up.  At first, she collected bits of the long, pine straw needles and laid them in the bottom of the box.  Eventually, she would hop into the box, lay dawn a straw, then twist and turn her little body, her tiny claws scratching an opening that was softened by the curve of her breast.

Over and over, she entered, nestled, and flew out again. It seemed a bit of an invasion of her privacy, but I hoped for her forgiveness.  I was learning so much, about how to build a nest, how to make a circle.

The nest box squared the circle.  Inside the edges, a universe opened up. And in this cosmos, the bottom of the nest, the chalice, the darkness, the center, the circle…she laid an egg.  And then another. And another. And another. Each sky blue oval was another universe, the infinity of the possibility of creation, the yoke inside — the golden circle — a place of infinite growth.

It was a lovely process to watch.

The first time I saw her enter the nest box, I hollered for the kids. ‟She’s in there, she’s in there!” I called.  They came running.  And when  first egg appeared, they were both thrilled.  (At least, that’s the way this mama bluebird chooses to remember it.)

To find my center,
I scratch with my feet a little,
and hunker down,
and rub my chest into the rough spots,
smoothing them with my love,
my patience,
my faith in the miracle of the circle.
A miracle of holiness.
A miracle of wholeness.

Here.
In the garden.

— from a journaling prompt, to describe a photograph, at the Women’s Circles, Women’s Stories writing retreat at the Center for Journal Therapy, Denver, CO, July 18, 2013

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Fall Equinox: I am a Leaf

Today is the day when the night and the day are split equally — a perfect balance of dark and light. Masculine and feminine energies, creative incubation and beautiful manifestation.

Balance.

During this time of year, of course, the chlorophyll in leaves fades, taking the green with it.  Therefore, the “true colors” of the leaves begin to emerge, in rich earthy tones of red, brown, orange and yellow.  Even here in Florida.

As I’ve come into a more natural balance these past few years, I’ve been able to learn a bit more about my own true colors.

I am a leaf.
I have an edge.
An outline.
A skin.

A particular shape, held by that skin.
Hemmed in by that edge.
 
I am a container, and I am contained.
A unique chemical mixture.

Changing with the changed.


Friday morning, my son caught a ride to school with a friend.  Could this be, after all these years, the end of an era of me driving him to school? If so, what will I do with this opening, this change in the composition of my day?

Already, my heart aches a little, thinking about it — even though I am cautiously optimistic about this being a good thing.  For example, he’s a lot more motivated to get up on time!  He actually got to school four minutes early (as opposed to four minutes late, our usual pattern.)

IMG_2538So there are other questions: As I enter the fall of my life, the harvest season, what true colors will be revealed? How will I let go, like a leaf, and fall, in this era of post child-bearing years?

I would like to fall gracefully, beautifully, having served a worthy, life-giving purpose: to have nurtured my own beautiful children and allowed them to learn their own true colors.

Not that I’m ready to give it all up quite yet!  I do have the next 40 years of my life (at least!) to better learn my own true nature, and to watch, to wait, and see how my children’s colors will emerge.

Last night, at 2:02 a.m., my daughter texted me from college: “I love you Mom.” As my son left Friday, he turned and gave me a quick, kind glance. I am grateful, very grateful, today, to have two such lovely children, who are learning about themselves and what they truly value, in a loving, balanced, and kind way.

As am I.

Here.
In the garden.

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Digging In The Dirt

Just for fun, here’s an interview with me that my colleague and friend, Jean Rowe, wrote for The Center for Journal Therapy last fall.  Some good dirt on me!  (Jean is the Program Manager and Oncology Certified Social Worker at Young Survival Coalition in Atlanta, and leads journaling workshops for young survivors.)

What is your relationship between actual gardening and journaling?

My garden is both a metaphor for my life and a literal experience, where I can connect with myself and the earth. In my journal, I write about both experiences. In the process, I learn a lot, about myself and about the world. Plus, I often write IN the garden. I have a bench in my front yard, tucked under a tree and near my bluebird nest box, and it is a delightful spot to journal in the early morning, among the birds and flowers.

What have your harvested from the garden that is your journal?

Stability. It’s an anchor, a root system, one that keeps me grounded. I write in my journal every morning, without fail, and often throughout the day. It’s how I find out what’s going on with me, how I process the events of my life, and connect with my spiritual self. These are all activities I did not do very well until recently.

Here’s the link for the rest of the article: http://twinstitute.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/C4JT-E-Zine-Autumn-2012-smaller.pdf

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The bluebirds are back!

Daddy and Mama Bluebird survey their new domain.

The other day, my son Matthew woke up not feeling well, and complained that his throat was hoarse and swollen.  As I glanced at his nearby iPad, I wondered briefly if he was just overtired, and felt the tug of guilt.  Was he not getting enough rest because I was letting him use his electronics too much? Was he up late on his iPad?  Did he just not feel like going to school today?

But sometimes I need to just believe him. So, I did,  And, in fact, when he woke up later, I could tell he was genuinely quite sick. However, by mid-afternoon, he was feeling better, and happened to be standing in my office with me when we noticed the bluebirds flying around the nest box.

“Mom!’ he said.  “We have to set up the camera in the nest box!”  Forgetting he was not well, he wanted to go out immediately and hook up the wires.  I know from experience that if my kids want to do something with me, especially in the garden, I better hop to it pronto! So I said, “Yes.”

Blue back, red breast, on the alert.

We looked around for the power cord after setting everything up, but it could not be found.  Impatient to know what to do, Matthew called the bird place himself, and found out that I could pick up a power cord the next day. “Mom, you gotta make sure you go tomorrow!” he stressed.  “It’s free, too!” he assured me.

But the next day he was still sick, so he asked if we could go together to get the cord.  He took the lead, going into the store first and talking to the guy.  By the time I followed, he had already gotten what we needed. “He’s a very mature young man,” said the store owner, smiling at me.

Of course, we fixed up the power cord at home, fussed with the focus, and finally, voila!  There was the mama bluebird!  She had already started building, and we could watch as she brought bits and pieces of pine straw, leaves, grass and moss inside the box to fill the nest, using her body to press and “schootch” them into place.

The mama scooches down into the nest with her belly, making a snug hollow for the eggs.

I’ve been sitting out on the front bench most mornings since, feeding the bluebirds and watching them go in and out of the nest box.  I’ve taken photos and had little conversations with them, to make sure they are comfortable with me sitting out there.  The show has been terrific.  The other day, the male bird “saluted” me!  And I’ve had fun posting photos on instagram.

Salute!

As we’ve watched on the monitor for these past few days, the nest has gotten much thicker and much softer. No light shines through the bottom anymore, and the surface looks soft and fine, not just pine straw as it was before.

And last night, on the Spring Equinox, I saw something else.  “Quick,” I called out to Matthew and Camille. “Come see!” They both came running. I’d seen something new in the nest box: two sky-blue eggs.

Sky blue.

So. Spring has sprung.  The potential of the world is captured in two eggs, a snug nest, and a full heart.  Happiness is available to us, despite the sadness in the world.  Here.  In the garden.

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Feng Shui

My February intentions collage, for The Happiness Project.

So. For my February “Happiness Project” work, I thought I would spend some time de-cluttering. In her book, The Happiness Project, Gretchen talks about various forms of clutter that drain your energy, like household clutter, closet clutter, “freebee” clutter (hand-me-downs) and “nostalgia” clutter (relics of the past that you’ve been holding on to.) Of course, it’s just like weeding a garden; a necessary step so that healthy plants can thrive. And I do want to thrive.

The nostalgia clutter in my house right now is thick.  My house is full of reminders of a life, an era, a person that is gone.  Oh, I’ve moved some things out and other things around, but there is so much left over. So many reminders of the past.

My sister came to stay with the kids last fall for a week, and she said she felt like there was a lot of negative energy in the house. Maybe it’s because she sat in the red chair in the living room and stared at the photos on the piano (also my altar), which still include a photo of The Four Of Us from another era, back when I was more aware of “Looking Good” than “Feeling Good.” Sigh. (I noticed when I came back that she had moved the photos around, so that particular picture would not keep staring at her.)

I mentioned this problem to a friend of mine, and she suggested that I call in a Feng Shui expert.  Someone who could help me assess my situation and shift around that negative household energy. That intrigued me. So, I found an expert who said she not only could do some household blessings but also make recommendations for how to improve the energy “flow” in our house. Good.  A bit hurriedly, I hired her. Let’s do this thing.

When she came, we sat and talked, and then we did the blessings, mixing rice and liquor and Cinnabar powder in a bowl and tossing it in nine special areas of the property.  We chanted the chants, we reviewed the bagua she drew, we walked through the house and she made recommendations to keep this and throw away that. She looked at me searchingly, and said, “You know, you don’t have to keep something, just because somebody gave it to you.”

The effect was not quite what I expected.

After she was gone, I looked at my house with my new “Feng Shui eyes,” and I was sad.  Overwhelmed.  I thought about how each piece of furniture in my house tells a story, either because it came from my grandmother, my aunt, my mother, my mother-in-law, or from the early days of setting up our married household.

Which of these things is not authentically me? Which is just baggage, cluttering up my life and draining my energy?  Which is somebody else’s story, masquerading as mine? Which is an old story, that I don’t want to read anymore because it’s too sad?

For my collage, I had found a Georgia O’Keefe quote that said, “I decided to start anew, to strip away what I had been taught.” I knew I needed to look, for myself, at what I had been “taught,” and decide what to keep and what to let go of.

As I lay on the gold couch in the living room one Sunday afternoon (from my parents’ living room 50 years ago, and also the preferred spot for my occasional Sunday naps), Camille came in to lie down with me, just for a few moments, as only a teen-ager who has once been a little girl will sometimes do.  She let me wrap my arm around her as she surveyed the house from that vantage point.

At my daughter’s birthday party this month. She is almost an adult!

“Do you think we’ll always remember this?” she said. “The way the pictures look on the piano?  The way the books on that shelf look over the TV?  The art on the walls?” I thought I heard a message: “These things are important to me, Mom.  I find comfort in these everyday household objects.  They tell me I am Home.”

I learned in a support group that I can “Keep what I like, and leave the rest.” I don’t have to take anything wholesale. A wise friend further clarified: “Here’s the test. When you look at an object in your home, does it bring you comfort, or pain? What is comfortable to you?  What story does each object tell in the present?”  If, when I look at an object, it brings a smile to my face, no matter what its past history is, no matter whose it was, then I can keep it. And if it brings me pain, I can let it go.

Or, as that infamous photo on my piano reminds me, “Does it merely LOOK good, or does it FEEL good?” If it just looks good, but feels bad…I need to let it go.

What a concept!  What a test for life!  What empowering freedom! Am I comfortable with this thing, whatever it is…a household object, a personal situation, a business decision? I must learn to notice how it makes me feel. And I need to STOP doing — or holding on to — what DOESN’T feel comfortable to me. Even if it might displease someone else. And guess what else? I don’t have to decide all  these things at once.  It’s a discovery process. And it’s going to take some time to sort it all out. I can do that.

I know.  This might not seem too revolutionary to some people.  (Duh!  Of course, Jennifer!) But for me, this is a challenge.  Frankly, I have a hard time even thinning radishes!  Can you believe, I feel sorry for the little radishes that won’t grow? Sigh.

I guess, in retrospect, it’s not so surprising that in high school I was named, “Most Sentimental.” Back then I couldn’t imagine what they were talking about. But perhaps they were right, after all. And maybe that’s something, of myself, that I will hold on to.

Here. In the garden.

Beautiful things are blooming in the garden, including this lime tree.

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The Happiness Project

This year, I spent New Year’s Eve in Sedona. It was a reunion with friends I met last year on New Year’s Eve, when we were all licking our wounds from various traumatic events in our lives.

On the way to our reunion, in the airport, I noticed that book (again), called The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. This time I picked it up and made note. Even took a picture! But I did not buy it. Just left it on the shelf, thoughtfully.

The next morning, we took a “wall yoga” class (Have you tried it? Really cool. You hang from a strap on the wall! We always try to do something new and different when we get together.) The instructor announced that “letting go” was the theme of the class. That seemed appropriate! Then, at the end, he read an affirmation that really caught my attention: “I affirm my ability to have a happy life.”

Can I do that? Can I have a happy life? Can I let go of the sorrows of my past, honor them, and then step lightly into a new life filled with happiness and joy?

We had a sparkling New Year’s Eve black-tie dinner party that night with a lovely group of Danish friends. I drank champagne, ate tasty raw oysters and fragrant cod, did some ballroom dancing, and deliciously, took a nap by the fireplace until the ball started to drop!

And the next morning, as the brilliant sun rose over the beautiful Sedona rock formations, I woke up happy.

So. I’ve decided to make 2012 my own personal Happiness Project. I decided to do things every day this year that will make me happy. For example, I made an artsy collage of my intentions for the month of January. I played ping pong with my son even though it was bedtime. I bought three new books and started reading them: The Road Less Traveled, The Happiness Project, and A Life of One’s Own. And I spent a few hours last Saturday in the garden, trimming old branches and cleaning up debris.

I even created a Meetup.com group for people in Jacksonville called “the Happiness Project — Jacksonville.” It’s live! Invitations will go out to the general public in the next day or so!

http://www.meetup.com/Happiness-Project-Jacksonville-FL/

So. Not sure where this will lead. I’ve been journaling a lot, focusing on all that I am grateful for, but also acknowledging the difficulties in my life. And there are a few of them. However…this too shall pass. I don’t think it has to ruin my happiness. In fact, it may even be necessary for my happiness, to feel the pain and walk through it, and get to the other side.

I just read this lovely passage in Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Your True Home:

The goodness of suffering is something real. Without suffering there cannot be happiness. Without mud there cannot be any lotus flowers. So if you know HOW to suffer, suffering is OK. And the moment you have that attitude, you don’t suffer much anymore. And out of suffering, a lotus flower of happiness can open.

Here. In the garden.

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Bluebird of Happiness

A bluebird of happiness was at my front door today.  Actually, two of them, a male and a female, visiting the nest box we put out on the front yard a week or two ago.

There I was, innocently laying down pine straw in the beds early this morning, in the sparkling sunlight, when I heard an unfamiliar bird call.  I looked over my right shoulder, and spotted a male bluebird, flying toward me, closely followed by his mutely colored mate.  They rested a minute on the box, then the male lifted his right wing, just as they say they do, sort of as a salute.  He hopped over to the entrance hole and ducked inside, while the female kept guard on the roof.  Then out he popped, and in she went! Their tails ducked in and out, as they apparently ate the dried up mealworms I’d been sprinkling inside. Then they flew off, ready to start their day.

I can hardly believe it.  If you build it, they will come.

And this means Matthew was right, he probably DID see the bluebirds last week.

Last summer, I took a much-needed break and went to the mountains of North Carolina, staying at a lovely place called the Cataloochie Ranch. The name of my room in the ranch house was “The Bluebird.”  And in fact, there were several bluebirds on the property, which I enjoyed watching immensely.

I wrote in my journal in that room for seven days straight, trying to untangle the mystery that my life had become.  I woke up every morning, and looked out to the Smokey Mountains, their blue tops far away, a place where God waited for me.

At night, I surrounded myself with my books on the quilted bed in the safety of the Bluebird room, reading and writing, until the answers came.

Happiness, it seemed, was available to me.  But first I had to let myself out of my self-imposed prison, a cage of my own construction. I had to get free of my own false belief systems and my self-imposed fears.

Fly free, the bluebirds said.  Fly free, Jennifer.

And now, here it is…the bluebirds have come to roost, right in my own front yard.  Happiness is right here with me, as I gently do my work, in the garden.

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Painted Bunting

Yes, that is a painted bunting.  In my garden.  First spotted by Camille on a feeder, then photographed by Matthew on the orange tree.

I think I first fell in love with birds at Mrs. Andes’ house (my piano teacher, in West Newton, Pa.)  She had a wonderful, well-maintained, neatly enclosed backyard, with bird feeders stationed all over it, including pine cones hung with peanut butter and seeds.  When I completed a piece as a little girl, she placed a bird sticker in my music journal, where she wrote her notes each week.  (I got to pick which bird from a sticker set.) And if my mom was late picking me up, and the next student came, I could spend time in her yard, watching and wondering at the order, at the grace, of a simple backyard of an elderly couple with no children, a small paradise for me and several lovely little birds.

We were standing at the kitchen counter tonight when Camille spotted the first painted bunting.  “Mom, Mom!” Urgent.  I always feel like I go into slow motion when she says that…can’t move quickly enough to see what she wants me to!

And there it was.  A painted bunting, on the feeder right outside the kitchen window, hanging on the hook-and-line contraption that Dad set up for me the last time I was here, so that I could raise and lower the feeder as needed off the pergola.  I was stunned, not quite sure what I was seeing.  Then Matthew said, “It’s a painted bunting, Mom!” And he picked up the Peterson’s bird guide that happened to be sitting on the counter, and there it was, right on the front cover. I couldn’t believe it.  Camille has always had extra sharp eyes.

Matthew got right to work, looking up the details on the bird in the book.  “There it is, Mom,” he said, as he showed me the migratory patterns, and pointed out that the little fleck of color on the tiny map meant that we would see buntings throughout the summer.  Wow.  The most glamorous bird I’d seen on that feeder before was a tufted titmouse last week, and I thought that was pretty darn exciting!

Of course, ol’ sharp-eyed Camille had also recently spotted two bluebirds checking out the nest box I had casually set on the baker’s rack on the back porch.  (Put that box up in the front yard last Saturday morning…more on that later.)

Matt decided we should always keep the camera handy from now on, and set it up with the long focus lens. And I decided we should start keeping a bird-spotting list.  I got a blank journal from my mini-stash (one with birds on it, of course), and documented the sighting.  Camille moseyed out from her room briefly to see what was going on, and Matt went outside with the camera.  All was quiet for a few minutes while I finished cooking, then Matt came in with his announcement: He’d seen several more male painted buntings, as well as a pale green female, and had the photos to prove it!

So, we set up for some more bird watching.  The kids set the table outside, under the pergola, while I finished up our dinner of breaded chicken cutlets, mashed potatoes, and a salad of sliced red tomatoes, purple onion, balsamic vinegar, and green basil leaves picked from a container on the back porch.

Then Matthew read his favorite prayer from the Book Of Gratitude:  “Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs.” And Camille said the follow-up prayer: “Help us to be grateful for everything we have, to remember to be kind, loving, and thankful, and to have a positive attitude about everything.”

And then we spotted another painted bunting, this time on the feeder at the far end of the yard.  Then he was gone, and back.  And gone and back again! Finally, two appeared at once, and rested in the cypress tree. It was quite a show, while we finished our dinner, the kids enjoying swishing the cutlets around in their ketchup (horrors).  “Why don’t you like ketchup?” Camille asked me for the thousandth time.

Then she hesitated, considered going inside, and instead pulled her latest English book, Lord of the Flies, from behind her on the chair. “Want me to read this you guys?” “Yes,” I said.

“You can learn a lot by reading books,” she pointed out, the understatement of the evening.

And by hanging out together, in the garden, watching birds.

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