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I’ve been M.I.A. for about a month now. Big things and big changes have been sweeping through my life, and most of what I’ve been writing has been in my journal (home for all the news that’s not fit to print).

One of the big things I’ve been dealing with is this:

At about five in the morning on December 21st, my dad collapsed (a couple of times), and they took him to the emergency room. After about seven hours of running every conceivable test that you can run on a body, they finally pinpointed what was causing the trouble – he had 80% blockage in his ‘widow-maker’ artery (runs along the front of the heart – and isn’t it nice that it’s named that & that the doctors and nurses actually call it that in front of you? Neat. Thanks. We weren’t scared enough) and 60-70% blockage in one of the arteries that runs alongside his heart.

He went from feeling fine and fit the day before, to facing open heart surgery the next morning. My dad is a 57 year old non-smoking, non-drinking, daily bran-eating, daily walker with a physique that could be featured in medical texts as ideal for the male of the species.

He also has a family history of high cholesterol that is unaffected by diet or exercise (as in, didn’t matter how many bran muffins my dad snarfed down, or how many miles he walked, he was going to have to deal with this anyway). His father died of a major heart attack at age 65, again somewhat unexpectedly – a fact which was forefront in all of our minds during this.

So, we were all thrown for the proverbial loop. And it called all sorts of things into question, made each of us face and deal with things that we’d been burying or looking away from. And I’m grateful.

I played the ‘what-if’ game about it all (I am the uncontested champion of this game), and no matter how I ran the scenarios through in my head, they did not turn out nearly as prettily as reality did. And so, I couldn’t be anything other than grateful. Grateful that it all happened, and grateful that it all went precisely the way that it did.

In the intervening weeks, dad’s done a lot of healing physically. I’d been more worried about his mental/emotional healing – when you discover the body’s ability to betray, you end up feeling whammied, and I was worried about how he’d handle the whammy. I shouldn’t have worried – I should have just trusted. Dad’s coping well – and he has a lot of time for introspection, since he’s in enforced low-activity for at least six weeks following the surgery.

I went over there this week to help them denude the house of all the Christmas hoopla, since pop can’t lift more than 5 to 10 pounds. And dad turns to me and says, “You still plan on taking me grocery shopping today?” And I, of course, said, “Absolutely!” when I was really thinking, “Hunh? Didn’t remember that…but okey dokey.”

I was probably the best one to bring – I let him have his way and do things his way…until he shouldn’t. I’m not shy about calling people out, and we all know it. So, I was the perfect policeman. We had a great talk the whole way there, and the whole time we were shopping.

And on the way home, the talk turned to how he was dealing with his recovery, and some of the things that were starting to glimmer in the murk for him. I mentioned that Dave (my brother) was probably having the hardest time with all of this. And dad, in typical understated fashion, said, “Well, he probably thought I was dying in his arms, so I suppose he would be.”

And I told him that wasn’t the reason. It was because when Dave was young, he hungered for my father’s attention (which for a variety of reasons, wasn’t available), and then when Dave got older, my dad hungered for more connection with his son…and now Dave is mulling all of it over, and wanting to deepen their relationship. But they’re both the stoic and stubborn products of our Austrian ancestry (which seems to cancel out the Irish in the worst possible ways…), and they don’t reach out well. So, I dropped my pebble into that still pond, and trusted that the ripples would wreak whatever changes to the shoreline that they were meant to – or not – and I let it go.

And then I turned to him and told him that I’d had a hard time with all of this, too, but not for the same reasons. I said that I just wasn’t ready to lose my father yet – I was greedy and wanted many more years together. He smiled. And I said that I felt like he and I were square, that we’d done all the reconnecting and that we had a good relationship, and that I didn’t have regrets – only the greedy desire for more of it. I asked him if he felt the same, and he smiled and said, “Yeah Carolyn, we’re good.”

I know how lucky I am to be able to have that conversation with my dad, and to know deeply that it’s true. I also know that I made my own luck there. I reached out to him in my typically tactless and blunt fashion when I was done being an angsty teen and told him I didn’t like the vibe we had and that I wanted more…and what I wanted it to look like. And then we built it.

In the course of our grocery shopping conversation/excursion, I told him that I regretted nothing about my life. It didn’t strike me until right now, that he’d looked at me kind of oddly, and said, “Really?” with the kind of incredulity that implies sincere and invested interest in the answer. No, dad, I regret nothing. Because all of it brought me here, made me who I am now in this moment. Even the worst stuff shaped me (and I’ve gone through some muddy and bloody trenches in my short life) – and is, perhaps, what I ended up being most grateful for since it affected the deepest and most lasting change.

I know he’s on his own road to reconciling his regrets and healing relationships. I know I can’t do it for him, and I wouldn’t if I could. All I can do is let him see me, and the way I’ve chosen to deal with life as a teacher, and rejoice that he still has the opportunity to choose to engage in it…or choose to let it fall away again.

It may appear that I am lackadaisical about all of this – I assure you I’m not. It’s more a matter of having put out the blaze, and looking at the smoldering foundation, and knowing that there’s both time and opportunity for the owner to build anew. And being grateful for it.

 


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I should probably follow her example....

Aaaah. Mercury Retrograde, we meet again. Every machine I use at work has been doing the impossible, the unexplainable, the unfathomable – at the most inconvenient moment possible. My smart phone is acting stupid. My computer is schizophrenic, and my internet access is uber dodgy.

To top it off, it’s like someone took a front-end-loader to my psyche and unearthed a whole bunch of debris and effluvia and garbage and yuck that I thought I’d killed and buried. It’s like zombieland in there – the dead have risen – and it’s, apparently time to burn ‘em down or feed ‘em.

Relationships are going wonky – upended, and flipped inside-side out. I am wrong-footed, and even more tactless than usual. Everything is coming out wrong, and I’ve had to repeat myself so often I’m beginning to wonder if I only think I’m talking, but nothing’s really coming out.

Mercury – the fleet-footed messenger of the gods – goes AWOL a few times a year, leaving all of us asking, “Now, where’d that little b@$tard make off to?” He rules communication – and by extension technology, among other things.

Re-treat • Re-peat • Re-examine • Re-visit • Re-imagine

Re-purpose • Re-vise • Re-assess • Re-connect • Re-lease

Re-think • Re-do • Re-sume • Re-solve

I made a decision earlier this year to stop allowing Mercury Retrograde to throw me for a loop – and to just roll with the energy of it instead. Go with the flow, and do and be and pay attention to what was coming up.

I made a decision to stop saying, “Why is this happening to me right now?” Instead, I look at whatever comes as a little present – it’s here and it’s happening because this must be the perfect time to deal with it – whatever ‘it’ is.

What’s been interesting, and rather unexpected, this go-round is that things are being revisited (as in, “I know we’ve been by here before – I recognize that Laundromat.”) – which I expect – but they’ve also transitioned. Things are shifting and changing in my life in ways I hadn’t anticipated – in big ways. I’m trying to hold an attitude of welcome – because (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…) you can do a thing with grace, or you can be pulled toward it on your face. Because some things just are, and some things have to happen.

I am determined to maintain that attitude. Because I’ve learned this: I may think that what I’m being served is a shit-sandwich, but I always end up being grateful for the meal. So, here’s to cleaning my plate, and hoping that I address it all now, so that I don’t end up dealing with it all over again. And again, and again, and again…..

(Mercury Retrograde strikes again! I accidentally posted this when I meant to preview it! So, I apologize if you subscribe and got it twice!)

Part of an altar card I made.

I had an astrological conversation this morning with a friend that got me thinking (again) about my own celestial pie. I’ve got quite the messy soup of contradictions in my “top three” astrologically.

There’s a part of me that is inescapably Aries. It’s my rising sign. That’s the part of me that you shake hands with – it’s how people view me. A gal I went to college with even told me that she’d thought I was “formidable” (yeowtch) ….until she got to know me better.

Formidable? Yeah, maybe. I can come on kinda strong. I know that. In recent years, I’ve even tried to temper that with some of the other attributes that I carry around on me. But most of the time, resisting that Nike-like “Just do it” impulse is like swimming against the current. And I’m not sure I should try to temper it as often as I do.

The older I’ve gotten, the more I realize that even though I’ve been perpetually torn in opposite directions by that astrological mish-mash, it’s also been my saving grace.

My Sun sign is Sagittarius – the zodiac’s idealistic, philosophical dreamer (watch out – this zodiacal model comes complete with a soap box, and they’re not afraid to use it!). It imbues me with an impulse to learn, learn, learn, learn…and learn some more (the scholar of the zodiac, I alternate between periods of monkish rectitude and study, and the firey impulsiveness of animal side of the Centaur). It also gifted me with a superhero complex – as in, hey world, I am totally here to save you (um…whether or not you particularly want to be saved).

That kinda meshes with the Aries Rising – it helps me take that tactless Sagittarian energy and impulsiveness and make it, well, worse, actually. It also keeps me believing that I truly can go out there and make a difference for myself, and for others, in the world. Mostly because I don’t always stop to see the logical barriers to my idealistic plots before I set out to make them happen. I’ve gotten my heart broken that way more than once. But the nice thing about Sagittarius is that it figures that even though it may not have worked out well this time, there’s always another opportunity lurking around the corner.

And my moon sign? Pisces. And it’s in my twelfth house. For the uninitiated, that pretty much means that I am among the most ridiculously emotional, empathic, and tender little spirits out there. But no one knows that – not right off. And sometimes they never know it. Moon in Pisces people are so sensitive that they can literally feel the emotions of people around them – and then have to figure out if it’s something that comes from themselves, or if it’s just atmospheric. They have extremely high expectations for others (due in part to a nature that lends itself to extreme idealism and hope), and even higher ones for themselves. On top of which, you’ve always gotta be careful with Pisces – it tends toward illusion and delusion, it tends toward rose-colored glasses and naiveté. So you must perpetually ask yourself if the landscape that you’re looking at represents reality, or if it’s tainted by emotion, delusion, hope, or fear. Yeah, wow. That sounds like a freaking barrel of laughs.

Compounding that, is the fact that my moon is in the twelfth house – the realm of the underground, of death and rebirth, of Pluto/Hades. Of the hidden, the obscured, the murky. The unspoken. The intensely intuitive. The shadow realm. My emotion-based moon sign of super-sensitive Pisces hanging out in the shadow world of deep inner knowing and revelation. Sounds like a blast, right?

It hasn’t been. It has been perplexing, disturbing, contorting, and upsetting. It has also allowed me to become intimate with the unseen, the forgotten, the disenfranchised – and to love that side of humanity.

My outlook on astrology itself is complex (as is everything when you have this kind of make-up). Aries thinks, “What utter bullshit. Get over it and get going.” Sagittarius thinks, “There might be some use in this – let’s learn everything that we possibly can about it, and then we’ll tell everyone about it…whether they want to know or not.” And Pisces thinks, “That is so totally true. Deeply true. All of it. Now, how can I use this to set my personal standards for myself even higher….and to better understand my fellow human beings?”

I’ve learned to become grateful for this particular configuration, though. It’s taken me down some odd back alleys, and into some strange places, but I wouldn’t have ended up there, if I hadn’t had the inclinations that these three signs give me toward those things. And every step has led me here, to this place.

So, I’m happy to keep letting Aries do my blocking for me, and Sagittarius do my learning and philosophical meandering for me, and Pisces to do all of its agonizing and rhapsodizing, beneath the radar. The trick is to just let them all mesh and blend and smear into one another – to temper themselves, essentially. Still working on that bit.

Well, I suppose that’s enough navel-gazing for one day (that would be the Aries talking, just in case you wondered – it gets impatient). I’m off to conquer the world, save the world, and bleed for the world – all in one breath – again.

Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. (Samuel Ullman)

If that’s true, I’ll never have a wrinkly soul. To my delight (and sometimes to my chagrin), one of the ways that people tend to describe me to someone I haven’t met yet is thus: “Carolyn? Well, she’s, um…enthusiastic.” Like a terrier (which is what they kindly leave off).

When I was a little girl, I truly remember thinking that life was going to be way too short to do all that I hoped to, to feel all that I longed to, to take part in all that I dreamed of. The result was that I ate life up with two spoons instead of one, and gobbled all that I could, whenever I could. When I start to recount where I’ve been and how I came to be standing in front of a newer friend, invariably, they say, “Just how old are you?”

Good. That means that I’ve crammed a lot in there. And all of it was fueled by enthusiasm. It was fueled by gusto. It was fueled by passion, longing, desire, and interest.

I’ve found that with each passing year, there are two things I’m most grateful for. The first is that with age, comes a refining of where I want to spend that currency. Even I possess finite amounts of energy, vigor and enthusiasm (even though I don’t like to admit it), and I become less and less inclined to waste it on things that don’t inflame me, invigorate me, invest back in me, and intrigue me. The second is that I am infinitely grateful for whatever that year held – even if it’s not right away.

I would not change a moment of what I’ve done, what I’ve said, what I’ve chosen. Not even the ugly ones, because some of them have led to the most unanticipated and beautiful outcomes.

So today is another birthday. And I’ll celebrate it in my usual fashion – quietly and without a lot of fuss. I’ll look forward to eating dinner at my folks’ on Sunday (the usual request – spaghetti and meatballs and chocolate cake with chocolate frosting). And I’ll make some wishes and dream some dreams.

I wish that the coming year is

Joyful

Full of new friends

Deepens relationships with treasured friends

Brings me wisdom

Brings me two scoops of life for every one I have requested

Full of passion and enthusiasm

Just as beautiful as every year that’s come before, and every year I hope to follow.

Mostly, every year I wish that I never stop loving life. I wish that I am never weary of people – but that I continue to be endlessly fascinated by them. I wish that each experience deepens me in some way. I wish that all the joy, sorrow and triumph of my days leaves its mark on my spirit. I wish for a life that is round and full and burgeoning. And, I wish to remember that (in the immortal wisdom of the Stones): You can’t always get what you want, and if you try sometimes you find you get what you need.

I had to work on Thanksgiving Day from three-thirty to ten-thirty at night. By the time I had been there for an hour or two, I had a real good case of the saddies and was well into one of the best pity-parties I’ve thrown myself in a long, long time.

For the most part, I attend all the family celebrations and stuff – it’s always been important to me to do so. I don’t ever want to look back and say, “I wish I had….” when I have the ultimate ability to stop that from happening right now, today.

So, anyhow, I was well into a really sticky pity party. I was getting truly morose, and feeling pretty justified in it. I was up to my ears in it, when I started thinking about my parents. They always make sure that there’s a place for all of us to gather together for holidays. What would happen when they weren’t here anymore? (I make myself face this unpleasant eventuality from time to time, trying to get myself mentally prepared, even though I’m pretty sure no one is ever as mentally prepared as they think they are).

So what would happen if they weren’t here to issue the invitation and the space and time to get together, to sit around a table with one another and break bread? (The ‘What If’ game is such a lovely and effective addition to any good pity party. Guaranteed to suck you even further into the mire). I am extremely unoptimistic about either of my siblings taking up the mantle and organizing and holding any kind of gathering, so it would probably have to be me. Then I started thinking about how that would all shake down without my parents around as buffers and referees. Not pretty. Not the stuff from which hazy firelit memories are made. The stuff of nightmares, really.

Then I started thinking about what that would mean, if I didn’t get together with them anymore. If it was just me. If Wittler and I didn’t get married, and/or didn’t have kids. If I was truly all alone on Thanksgiving and on every other major occasion for gathering together with family and friends. (See, I told ya – this was a grade-A pity party I was throwing myself here).

And then, it shifted. And I started to think about how that wasn’t the case for me. I had people with whom to gather, though I was unable to for this specific holiday. People who would throw open doors and arms if I appeared today on their doorstep. But other people didn’t have that.

And that’s when I had to scrap the whole mood I’d been cultivating. There is nothing like choosing to walk the ‘Path of Mastery’ that will put the kibosh on a good pity party. You can’t stay in it when you start thinking about what it’s like out there for everyone else.

I started wondering about the really elderly lady who lives a few units down from us. I only ever see the home care nurses – no family – come and go from her apartment. Who did she gather with yesterday? I started wondering about the man who came to my counter – he made sure to tell me that he was alone by choice on Thanksgiving, how he didn’t want to gather with a ‘bunch of strangers’ and keep talking about how the turkey was great (valid). But he lingered there, at the counter with me, unwilling to leave. Wanting me to hear him and see him. Wanting connection.

I started thinking about them, and all the people like them, who are alone on days like Thanksgiving. Who are alone so much of the time. Of those who, perhaps, did not even have the memory of pleasant times gathered together with others the way that I did (warts and all).

As I broke off pieces of my cold pop-tart dinner, I knew that my mom was tucking away leftovers for me to take home with me tonight, when I go over there. I knew that they wished I was there, just as much as I wished I was.

Yeah – you can’t have a good pity party when you’re on the ‘Path of Mastery.’ You can’t keep feeling sorry for yourself, when you know that there are so many others who suffer worse than you do. Standing for a moment on another’s path, wearing their pinchy shoes, has a way of putting all your trials and tribulations in perspective.

Today, I am grateful that I have the ability and the inclination to do this. I am grateful that every single time I get myself well into a good pity party, there is something that taps me on the shoulder and says, “I know you feel bad, but look over there. Think about how that must be for them.”

I am grateful for empathy. I am grateful for the choices I’ve made, and the people who’ve chosen to walk a stretch of this path with me. I am grateful for perspective and sympathy. I am grateful.

If the only prayer you said in your life was Thank You, that would suffice. (Meister Eckhart)

I, like most people, tend to give notice to all the P.I.T.A. (Pain In The A$$) parts of life without even thinking about it. They’re there, and they prompt an emotional response, which – like one of Pavlov’s dogs, I droolingly provide.

I’ve been retraining myself to make it less ‘work,’ and more instinctive to recognize the moments of grace or kindness or joy in my life when they happen. To give them the same or better billing that the P.I.T.A. moments get. So far, it’s working.

Those P.I.T.A. moments are always going to be there. They’re a constant. To be human is to suffer, and that’s just life. But to be human is to also experience extraordinary moments of joy or clarity or beauty or love.

This was originally going to be a post thanking the myriad folks who’ve done me a solid somehow over the course of my life. And I started to make the list. But what I noticed was that the things I remembered best, and wanted to thank them for were all the intangibles, all the small things. Sure, I’m grateful for all the things that people have done for me or given to my physically, but more, it’s the acts of kindness, the small gestures, the smiles, the laughter, that have stayed with me.

I am grateful today for everything that has ever happened. I am grateful today for all that’s been said (and not said), for all that was done (and not done). It has brought me to the very place I stand today, and it’s a good place to be.

Wishing all of you the kind of peace that comes from liking where you are, and knowing that everything that happened was meant to get you there.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Dublin Doorways

In 2003, I went to Ireland for three and a half weeks over the Winterim through a program offered by Mount Mary College. We had to choose one of three courses to take during our stay — I chose Irish Literature, no surprise there. I’d have taken theoretical mathematics and failed it miserably if it meant I could go to Ireland (thank God it didn’t come to that).

I had wanted to go to the British Isles ever since I could remember. And at the start of the semester, I walked into school, and saw the flier taped to the wall: Winterim in Ireland. My heart absolutely stopped. I marched straight down to the office and made an appointment to find out just what I needed to do to get there. They only had two spaces left, and they needed a deposit today in order to hold my place. I wrote a check, asking that he give it a day or two for the deposit I’d need to rush home and make to clear in my account.

I didn’t discuss it with my parents. I didn’t consult my then-husband. I didn’t tell anyone about it. I just did it.

The Liffey River, Dublin

I think now and then about all the what if’s — what if I hadn’t had that overage check from tuition socked away in my underwear drawer? What if I’d consulted my parents/then-husband and they’d tried to talk me out of it? What if I hadn’t seen that flier? What if I had and the trip had already been filled? But that didn’t happen.

What did happen was that I told my friend Char V. about the trip, and she signed up. We went together on an adventure that cemented a friendship into a sisterhood. I fought a little bit with both of my parents about going so far away — something they didn’t really like, because they didn’t really understand my need to do it. And then I went out and got my passport. I fought with my then-husband, knee-deep in the ashes of our failing marriage, a day before I left to go, after no protest from him whatsoever for four months. And then, at one in the morning, he helped me finish packing.

Ate, drank, and laughed here.

I cannot describe to you what it felt like for me to just go off and decide this, to follow through with it, despite all of the opposition. I’d been such a good daughter, and such a good wife. Always looking to please others. Making this decision, and going through with it was the first hammer-blow to the chains I’d bound myself with. I left here a girl, and came back a different woman.

The moment we landed in Dublin, we boarded a bus that would take us to our lodgings for the first week. There was something flapping wildly in my chest — which I thought then was just a reaction to the way that the busdriver was navigating the busy streets of Dublin (he, and everyone else I saw, drove as though they were driving a tank at breakneck speeds on open roads…even when they weren’t).

Discovered silence and sanctity here. (Glendalough)

That feeling wasn’t a result of being imperiled by a rogue busdriver. It wasn’t nerves, or fear. It was the most powerful sensation of coming home that I’d ever had in my entire life – to a place I’d only ever been in my dreams.

The moment we got our room assignment and toted (by hand) our incredibly heavy bags up the two flights of narrow stairs, I grabbed Char’s hand and said, “Let’s go!” To which she replied, “Where?” Anywhere! I wanted my feet on the ground. I wanted to smell the air. I wanted to stand there, knowing I was in Ireland, feeling the fluttery joy of homecoming in my chest.

At a holy well in the mountains near Derry, after our bus almost went over the side of the mountain.

From that first foray, through the entire trip, I struggled to swallow that feeling. I couldn’t understand it. I’d grown up in Wisconsin. I felt at home at my parents’ house. I loved it there. In the intervening years I’ve learned that some things aren’t meant to be understood. They’re only meant to be felt or experienced, without attaching reason to them.

The president of the college — a woman who I had a bit of hero-worship for – had married an Irishman, and used those contacts to craft a truly incomparable journey for us. At one point, she told me that I looked like I’d been born there, I fit in so well. I’d seen that myself — no one knew I wasn’t Irish until I opened my mouth and my Midwestern accent flowed out, exposing me.

Early morning walk around Inch Island, near Derry. Even in January, it was still so green.

I savored each minute. I took 33 rolls of film. I went to every single talk and presentation we were offered, and went along on misadventures with our smaller group of cronies every night. I barely slept – I didn’t want to miss a minute of it.

And there are times now, here, when I walk out the door and something about the day triggers a deep and inconsolable sense of loss and homesickness. Something about the moisture in the air, or the freshness of the breeze, or the quality of light shining through overcast skies. And I could just weep.

Char & I huddling under about the 13th umbrella we bought. They don't stand up well in the wind.

I don’t though. I swallow that longing, and store it away. Because I know that someday, I’ll go back. Someday, I will stand on the shores of the home of my heart, and feel that fullness again. Someday, I will stand on a bridge spanning the Liffey, and look around at the low buildings that feel so familiar and know that they’re mine. Mine, whether I’m there on the Liffey, or here in Wisconsin longing for them.

I was feeling nostalgic today. Something about the way the air’s so fresh coming in our apartment windows. Enjoy the pictures. And wish me luck on, someday, getting back home.

One of Ireland's many secrets hidden in plain sight.

The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself. (Alan Alda)

Today, I had the opportunity to be a part of something grand and rare and fine – a group of women who came together to celebrate, explore, and rediscover their creative selves. A group of women who were unwilling to play small anymore. A group of women who were unwilling to make the artists within them play second fiddle to duty for one moment longer.

Today was the first meeting of HeART & Soul, a women’s art journaling group that Dani and Martina devised, at Three Sisters’ where I work. I loved watching everyone walk into the back room, art kits in hand – looks of excitement and trepidation on their faces. Art is not for the meek, people. And maybe, the trepidation was appropriate – for some of us, declaring ourselves ‘artist’ feels like stating that we’ve become something dangerous and sketchy (haha) and to be looked at askance. Because, honestly, society says so.

It is a brave thing to open a dialogue with your own beautifully messy soul – because when you open that door, you know that what comes through might not be ‘neat’ or ‘acceptable’ or ‘proper’ – and because you know that in order to do this thing right, to go all the way…you need to, well, go all the way – and that means you need to not care if it’s messy or imperfect or ‘unacceptable’ to anyone but you.

Today, these women were a part of a guerrilla art movement (and not like the surreptitious knitted coverings of trees or murals that appear overnight, which is its own thing) – guerrilla forces move among us, unnoticed. They look like you and me, but they’re agents in a revolution. Today, I had the chance to be a part of that revolution – of women awakening to their own innate creative power.

I do tend to think of things kind of militaristically – I’ve noticed that I tend to return to combat metaphors a lot in my blogs. I do see myself as warrior. I see each and every one of those women as warriors. Gentle ones, fighting the hardest battle they’ll ever fight against the most wily opponent they’ll ever face: themselves.

We are our own worst enemies. We are the ones who tell ourselves how wrong we are, how broken, how strange, how unacceptable. We are also the ones who have the supreme power to end it. To stop lying down and taking it. To place a flower in the barrel of the guns leveled at us by the inner critic. To scream at the top of our lungs, “ENOUGH!”

We are the only ones who have the power to claim our own beauty, our own majesty. We are the only ones who have the power to claim our own strength, our own imaginative prowess, our own unique vision. No one can give it to you. And no one can take that away, unless you let them. Today, thirteen women came in testament to their unwillingness to go to bed feeling as though a piece of them had gone missing, like a sock lost somewhere between the washing machine and the dryer. They arrived in testament to their unwillingness to move through another day with this part of themselves left unexplored.

It was a beautiful thing to be part of – I am grateful to have had the opportunity to act as witness. Any time someone stands up to an oppressor (even if that oppressor is within), there should be someone to bear witness, to honor them and their experience. Thank you everyone, for sharing yourselves today. Thank you for coming – thank you for choosing to explore the unmapped depths within you. I look forward to the next time when we stand together on the line, and face down our worst critics: ourselves.

There is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. (Martha Graham)

I think that the majority of the Midwest took a collective breath, and sigh of relief yesterday. The oppressive heat and humidity that for weeks had been turning us all into vaguely damp and listless shadows of our former selves has finally broken.

I was able to turn off the air conditioning for the first time in weeks (thank you, thank you God – our checkbook, which absolutely flinched at the last utility bill thanks you, too).

I was able to throw open the windows and draw in cool, fresh air – the kind of summer air that lights, soft as a kiss, upon your skin (as opposed to what we had before, which was air that lay on your skin like some kind of wet tarp, smothering you).

I am such a lover of fall! Every year, at about the end of May, I start to look forward to September. Some people, like my fiancé, not only enjoy the summer and its hellish barrage of heat, but revel in it. He loves it. He wallows in it like an otter in a river. I fade. I go utterly transparent – all my sass and fire melt out and pool around my feet. All my ambition runs out, all my joie de vivre dissipates. And I spend the summer months (especially this summer, which according to the forecasters, has been the hottest summer in a decade) longing for fall.

I love fall. I cannot be alone in this: people loved this season so much, they christened it twice: once descriptively (fall), once poetically (autumn). Mmmm. Autumn. (Imagine Homer Simpson drooling over a doughnut…that’s how I feel, anticipating fall!!)

This morning, with the windows thrown open, has felt like a benediction. Like a promise, a foretelling. Like a lifeline, telling me to just hang on a bit longer, because soon every day will feel like this.

I love the clear cloudless blue skies of fall – I don’t think that they look quite the same any other time. I love the crispness of the air, the freshness. I love that it feels like something to be appreciated, since you know what’s coming after. I love the way the leaves always seem to turn all-of-a-sudden. Every year I watch and watch, trying to make sure that I catch the trees segueing from one palette to the next. No dice – somehow, I always seem to walk out the door to a world awash in brilliant sunset colors, having somehow missed the turning.

I love the mood of fall – a little bit pensive, a little bit joyful. I love pumpkins. I love tall fields of cornstalks rattling their dry and dusty bones in the crisp fall wind. I love leaves bunching, blown into corners and doorways. I love them carpeting streets with brilliance and jewel-toned color. I love the crunch they make under my feet. I slosh through them, kicking them up, like a kid.

Today, I am loving exactly what is: sweet summer air wafting into the windows, filling the house with the best of summer (wildflower smells, soft sunshine). Today, I am cherishing this brief reprieve from the kiln of summer’s torments. Hope the rest of you are enjoying it, too!!

When we pray to God we must be seeking nothing – nothing. (Saint Francis of Assisi)

Tonight I facilitated another Reiki Share, and walked out of there feeling like a brand-new-gal. These gatherings have been one of my greatest joys as a Reiki practitioner (for about a bazillion reasons). Tonight, we got to talking about prayer and prayerfulness. It’s something that’s been on my mind lately, and I was so glad to get the input and thoughts of others as I muse over, ponder over, and chew on the whole concept of prayer, and the attitude of prayerfulness.

God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer. (Mother Teresa)

I have had a complicated relationship with prayer, I think. Maybe most people have – I don’t know. All I know is that I was raised as a Catholic, and that was my religious foundation for a great deal of my life. I don’t even want to get into that whole phenomenon of Catholic anger, or the idea of the “recovering Catholic.” That’s not what I’m driving at here, and I don’t really identify with either of those things. My Catholic upbringing – and my specific exposure to that perspective – gave me one conception of prayer, one way to live prayer, one way to act in prayer. And for a long time, that was the only way I could think about praying.

I believe I am finally in a place where I can actually appreciate the meaning of the word prayerful for the first time in my life. Of sensing the necessary openness, instead of expectation. And I came to it through Reiki.

One part of Reiki is actually providing yourself and others with treatment – that’s the part that most people are familiar with. They’ve seen it on the news, they’ve seen it on Dr. Oz, they’ve read about it online. And, all of that exposure? It’s great. I love it. But it neglects so much.

It’s the other part of Reiki that seems to be unseen, unacknowledged, and undiscussed. The inward part – the part where the practitioner (the one who practices) commits to walking a spiritual path. The part of Reiki that is the act of living prayerfully.

In college, I read Dorothy Day’s biography, and the quote that most struck me was when she said, “I could not go to God on my knees.” For such a long time, I really thought that was pretty much the only option I had – to be penitent, knees bent, head bowed, staring downward.

Prayer is not merely an occasional impulse to which we respond when we are in trouble: prayer is a life attitude. (Walter A. Mueller)

In the intervening years between reading and identifying with that quote and today, my conception of prayer, and my understanding of what it means to be prayerful, has grown and blossomed. Yes, there are times I go to God on my knees, but I let it be in reverence, and not in shame. There are also times I go with arms held high, feeling joyful and embraced. Feeling jubilant.

Eddie Izzard, a rather unconventional comedian, does quite a few skits on religion. (I love his comedy – it’s intelligent and quick and wry.) In one particular skit, he says that one of the things that’s always bewildered him is the way that so many Christians manage to sing praise songs in a dirge tone. That was my experience growing up – attending church each Sunday and watching the congregants sing Alleluia as though they were going to the gallows. And I prayed dirgefully. Uck.

Reiki has brought me a new way to experience prayer – something which I did not expect. I’ve talked about this quite a bit in Reiki Shares and in other gatherings, but not here on my blog. For me, providing treatment for someone becomes a prayerful experience. I tell clients that it feels almost as though the entire session becomes one long prayer. There is peace, and silence, and the space for them to heal and to find resolution. For me, there is inner quiet, and a meditative state that is something quite different than the state I’m in when I grocery shop or watch tv. There is an attentiveness and openness on the part of both myself and the client. We each enter the session with hopes (a form of prayer) and intentions (a kind of petition) and openness (the willingness to hear and receive the results of those hopes and intentions).

Prayer gives a man the opportunity of getting to know a gentleman he hardly ever meets. I do not mean his maker, but himself. (William Inge)

I try to bring more of that into my day (with varying degrees of success). I try to bring myself into a state of mindfulness more often in my everyday life. I try to think prayerfully, walk prayerfully. Be prayerful.

Being prayerful, for me, has come to mean:

  • Being soft like water – able to bend with the flexible and changing world around me.
  • Being passionate like fire – able to feel all the things that it means to be human with depth and meaning.
  • Being open to new ideas, new ways of thinking, new ways of behaving.
  • Being mindful of all the world around me, and the deservingness of everyone and everything to be treated with the reverence that is due one of God’s creations.
  • Being mindful of my speech, knowing that the wrong words have such ability to harm.
  • Being mindful of my attitudes, knowing that I (like everyone else) tend to get “stuck” in them.
  • Being mindful of my part in all things – that even when I feel as though I’ve been wronged, there is something in that experience that is mine, and that I need to own.
  • Open arms. Open hands. Open heart.
  • More listening, less talking.

My intention this month was to work at being more prayerful in my daily life. I want to embrace all the ways that prayer has been a blessing to me in both joy and sorrow. I want to walk, knowing that with each step I take, I have an opportunity to walk prayerfully. With each breath, I have an opportunity to breathe prayerfully. Each word, each thought, each action – is an opportunity to be prayerful.

I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. (Abraham Lincoln)

It is of course possible to dance a prayer. (Terri Guillemets)

I wrote about this tonight because it’s occupying my thoughts, and I wanted to write about it to see where I was with it. I fully expect my feelings, thoughts, and ideas about prayer to change and grow – I welcome it. When I “write to discovery,” as I intended to do tonight, I tend not to be as eloquent as when I feel sure of what I’m saying – thanks for bearing with that.

I’d love to hear about what prayerfulness means for others. How do you experience prayer? How do you live prayer in your life? What things have you had to heal about prayer in order to get where you are today?

Part of walking the path of mastery is picking up all the pieces of your life one by one, like stones on the riverbank, and holding them in your hands. Turning them over and over, examining them. Seeing them again and for the first time. My growing relationship to prayer is another of those stones – one which I know I’ll cup thoughtfully in my palm many times as I walk forward.

Come have a look through my kaleidoscope eyes. Come walk with me, as I make my way down the Path of Mastery (complete with fits and starts and pitstops and potholes). Our very impermanence is what makes us burn so brightly, and struggle so valiantly, and feel so deeply – it’s what makes us seize the day, and the moment. Come in, settle in, share a moment with me.

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"Who are YOU?" said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, "I--I hardly know, sir, just at present-- at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then." (Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 5)