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Dig it – today I am trying to emulate Hildegard of Bingen and be as “a feather on the breath of God.”

I’ve struggled my entire life to find the right balance between two totally different outlooks, and unable to cling to one or the other. Either I adhered a little too tightly to the preferred outlook of those who had a huge hand in the way that I was raised: “God helps them who help themselves.” Or, I clung a bit too tightly to that whole “the lilies of the field” outlook: neither toil nor spin.

There’s gotta be something in between those two things. Something manageable, something I can maintain.

I’ve always been a planner, and that’s served me well in so far as I’ve gotten far and done a lot in the relatively few years I’ve been kicking around the world. I’ve asked myself more and more lately if getting far is as important as ending up where you hoped to be.

Because I’m not altogether certain I have.

And that’s okay, in a way. I wouldn’t take any of it back. Not even the most craptastical parts. (Which then begs the question that maybe wherever we end up, is exactly where we were meant to be, whatever it is. Which is like the chicken and the egg, and makes me feel like I can literally feel my brain turn inside out).

But that’s not really what ol’ Hildegard is getting at. She’s talking about letting go of all the anxiety we create around the idea of having to get anywhere, and letting go and trusting that you’ll end up wherever it is you were meant to be at the right time.

Because what really creates that anxiety? Nothing that really comes from within me – it’s all stuff I internalize that comes from without. All the shoulds and oughtas. All the expectations of those around me, spoken and unspoken.

So, yeah. Every single time I start to feel all wiggy about where I’m supposed to head next, I’m going to think about being that feather, just floating on the breath of God. Knowing I’ll get there – wherever there is – just when I’m meant to. And not a second sooner. No matter how much anxiety I generate about it.

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Your absence has gone through me

Like thread through a needle

Everything I do is stitched with its color.

Separation, W. S. Merwin

I am watching someone go through a hard time. Except, I have always been watching this someone go through a hard time. She is the best architect of her own downfall, time and again. What do I do with that, when I love her?

I watch, and I stand back, and when advice rushes up my throat and bites at the back of my teeth, begging for expulsion, I swallow it bitterly down again. Because advice does not help. Guidance does not heal. Suggestions do not bridge the crevasse opening at our feet.

So I stay silent, and I hear her story. Again, and again, and again. The facts of the story change, and the faces in it come and go, shift, depart, return. But the story? That stays the same.

And I am finally coming to a place where I can honor the fact that it is her story. That if I can only love her, and let her have her story, I will find peace with all of it.

I am finally coming to a place where I can accept that my advice is really like unasked-for editing of a story that she is comfortable living. I need to let her have her mixed metaphors and incorrect tenses, because this is her story and she its author.

I am finally coming to a place where I can recognize and act on the knowledge that the choice to read that story with her is mine. I do not have to pick up the phone and hear the next chapter and verse of a plot which never thickens, and characters who behave in ways I predicted on page two. I can let the phone go unanswered, and preserve my peace when it suits me.

I do not have to allow her thread to be the color I paint my emotions with, my reactions with, my mindset with. Her presence, for so long, has dictated climate, and I finally know how to move out of that weather pattern kindly and compassionately.

I am finally able to see the thread stringing boldly through her own story, and though I don’t care for the color or the pattern she’s choosing, I can just let it be hers. I pick up my own needle, choose my own thread and color my days in way that I prefer.

My mistake was always in believing that we wanted the same color thread. My mistake was in believing that it was natural that she would want to sew me into her heart and her life in the way that I delighted to sew her into mine. My mistake was in thinking that we wanted the same story, that we longed for the same thread to color our lives, that we looked out upon the world and saw the same things.

We don’t, and we won’t. And I am finally able to cut the thread that bound me up so tightly in what she wove, and be at peace with it. I can finally know that I can love the beauty of the one who weaves, even if what she’s weaving is discordant with what I choose to create.

And when, inevitably, I find myself snagged up and tangled up in the old habit of matching my stitching to hers, I am going to pull out this blog and read it again and remind myself of what I know is true.

Hindsight provides new eyes. (Wayne W. Dyer)

One of my greatest downfalls has ever and always been being too future-oriented. In plain-speak, I think way too much about tomorrow, and not enough about where the heck I am right now, this minute. I’ve been making some headway on that lately, and it feels good.

I’ve been doing the ‘work’ of changing that way of thinking, and being consistent in it — when I catch myself in the act of robbing the joy of the moment in thought and deep contemplation of how much further I need to go, I take a breath. And then another. And I think, “You will not pass this way again, Carolyn. Enjoy the scenery. Smell the roses. Savor the moment.” And like a dreamer pulling away from the lingering tendrils of the dream, I look around and discover that right where I am, now, in that moment, is beautiful. Precious.

It’s funny how I always seem to end up saying to someone else just what I need to hear most. Tonight I facilitated another awesome Reiki Share (that’s not me tooting my own horn — it’s me touting the benefits of Reiki Share *smile*). At the conclusion, we were all talking to a newer traveler about her impatience to get somewhere else on her path.

I turned to her, and seeing myself, I told her that I did truly know exactly how that felt. But having trudged a bit longer, I’d discovered something. That, yes, we do continue to long for some greener pasture, some benchmark that we set for ourselves, no matter how stringently we attempt to live in the moment. That’s part of being human — the desire for more, to be more, to have more, to grow more, to feel more.

But that there would come a point for her, when she’d reached her own self-imposed benchmark and looked backward. That someday, she would look back at this self, this now self, and she would be nearly unrecognizable to who she had striven to become, who she had become. And that even though in the doing it felt like it was taking forever, it would happen in a blink of an eye. A moment.

I am my own worst critic — like most people. I am my own nasty whip-wielding slave-driver — like most people. But I had that moment, and it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given. I had that moment, where I looked backward down the path I’d been walking and saw myself at the start of the journey, and felt who I was at this point in the journey. And the self I sprung from felt like a fond stranger.

Meeting myself this way, through time and distance, had an unexpected effect. It let me relax. I could finally look at myself and realize that all of that change and growth happened, and I almost didn’t know it. All that way traveled, and me so intent on where I had yet to go, that I didn’t even see how far I’d come, how much I’d changed.

It made me think about all the selves I’ve had. It made me think about myself at, say, nineteen. (I’ve gotten a new perspective on the nineteen-year-old lately, since I’ve been working with some of them, and the proximity has driven home a few interesting lessons about the gifts of time, age, and challenge.) At nineteen, I had the temerity, the naiveté, and the rose-colored glasses to see the world as this big realm of possibility. Overwhelming, boundless possibility.

In some ways, I still do. But the naiveté has been tempered with wisdom, and the temerity with patience and compassion. I’ve traded in the rose-colored glasses for something with a little clearer outlook, and find that I like the view just fine.

The biggest gift? Knowing myself. Knowing myself so, so much better and deeper than I ever could at nineteen. Loving myself enough to stand up for myself in the way that almost none of us can manage to do well or consistently at nineteen. Respecting myself. Having compassion for myself.

Knowing that it starts right there, with me. I didn’t know that at nineteen — that before you strap on that cape and well-meaning smile, and set forth to save the world from itself, you’d better have saved yourself first.

Walking the path of mastery isn’t for the timid. Not if they want to stay timid. For every flat, even stretch of smooth sailing, there are periods of rocky, uphill climbs. Parts where you fall. Times when you crawl. And the whole time, you’re being given a gift — the one you asked for. To be made new. To be formed by life so that you can shape your life.

I’ve got a lot of affection for that wide-eyed gal I was. I love her to pieces. She was so full of illusion and romance, strutting along with a swing in her step and a chip on her shoulder. A saunter and a smile and the godawful hubris to think that she knew so darn much about so darn much.

Without her, I wouldn’t be standing here, right where I am now. And I love now. I love the possibilities I see from this vantage point, which that girl could hardly have dreamed of. I love that instead of thinking I know so much about so much, I realize how little I do know. That I can accept that it isn’t always necessary to know.

Looking back helped me embrace my now, which in turn, will make my future a whole lot brighter. Funny that it seems to have to work that way.

I’ve pretty much decided that the person I most need to ‘hug it out’ with … is me. (For the uninitiated, ‘hugging it out’ is to end an argument or dispute with a hug showing that the ill will is over). The person I am the cruelest to … is me. The person I am most frequently at odds with…is me. The person I am the hardest on…is me.

Not a real comfortable thought. Pretty crappity, actually.

And how did I come to this bit of wisdom?? By getting slapped upside the back of my head with it via the Universe. I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I choose to pay attention – and when some issue comes up for me in separate instances in quick succession, I figure that it’s being brought front-and-center for a reason. I choose to believe the reason is because it’s something I must be ready to look at or deal with.

On Monday, in two separate instances, I was forced to confront the fact that I have an absolutely impossible time saying anything good about myself in a true and real way. And I don’t mean that I can’t admit that I do things well – but that’s surface stuff. I can’t say nice things about who I am as a being. And that sucks.

The first slap? During our art journaling group, where the page topic was “I am beautiful and sacred because…” People, I had nothing. I looked around at my friends who were busily listing out the ways they knew they were beautiful and sacred, and I sat there frozen like a deer caught in headlights. I actually felt my brain do that open-mouthed, fish gasping, um-um-um, thing. I finally picked some stuff that I felt like I could convince myself was true and put it on my list. And somewhere in the back of my mind, the justifications started, “That was just hard because you weren’t focusing. It’s nothing. You know all this stuff. Blah. Blah. Blah.”

And I went about my day. That night (as I wrote about in my last blog), I attended a ‘floating salon’ where we were talking about our womanness and what it is to be a woman, etc. One of the things that we were encouraged to do as a part of embracing our juicy selves was to brag. About ourselves. Again, the deer-in-headlights, fish gaping reaction. My brain panicked and just kind of stuttered.

As you all know, I am verbose. Loquacious, even. When asked to come up with even one brag, I had nothing. And as much as I’d like to say it’s because I am some paragon of modesty, up for sainthood or something, I can’t because I’m not.

What I am is a product of my upbringing – the child of Midwestern parents whose genealogy includes a whole lot of stoic folks. Talking about yourself is pretty much a no-no. When you’re asked how you are, the proper response is “Fine. And you?” And then they say, “Fine.” And then you talk about the weather. Bragging? That’s anathema.

I can admit that’s a convenient ‘out’ for me – when you become an adult and make your way in the world on your own, it’s on you to iron out the wrinkles that are inherent in any upbringing (different upbringing = different garment = different wrinkles – but no matter what, we’ve all got wrinkles). Once you’re out there on your own, I figure you don’t get to point at your mommy and daddy and say that’s why this or that is screwy with you. What you get to do is sit with your wrinkle and figure out why you’re still hanging onto something that obviously doesn’t work for you anymore. And replace it with something a bit healthier, or with a better fit for you.

And the reason I’m clear on the fact that I can’t simply point to my Midwestern upbringing, shrug my shoulders and let it go is because this was the second time today that I needed to be able to say something good and positive about myself, and it was the second time I was utterly stymied by that simple task.

What’s one good thing I can say about myself? Well, it’s another ‘easy’ one because it’s about something I do, not something I am. I am an awesome cheerleader for people – I am awesome at telling other people how awesome they are. It’s absolutely effortless for me to see their good stuff and tell them about it.

Why in the hell can’t I do that for myself? I am okay at telling myself the things I am good at – I can at least acknowledge it. I am utter crap at telling myself the things I am. You know, I don’t even know if I am clear on what I am. What I embody. What I shine forth.

I’ve thought about this for a couple of days now, and I think it has to start with stopping something. I have to stop telling myself all the ways I fail. I have to stop pointing at all the missteps and small mistakes and flogging myself with them. I have to stop telling myself perpetually that there is something wrong with me.

A few weeks ago, one of my dear friends posted a video on her blog. And I found myself going back to watch it again and again. It was called “There is nothing wrong with you.” I watched it, and I cried. Because no matter how much self work I’ve done, no matter how much excavating I’ve done inwardly, no matter how many books I’ve read or classes I’ve attended, I still believe that I am something to be fixed. To be improved. To be healed. To be amended, appended, adjusted. That I need to improve, remove. That I need to tweak and pull and twist myself continually in the aim of finally achieving…what?

And you know what? It’s not true. I am not broken. I am not faulty. I am not sick. I am not damaged. I am not a screw up. I am not a failure. I am not something to be fixed.

There is nothing wrong with me. There is nothing wrong with you, either, by the way, though you think there is.

I think that somewhere along the way, I stopped focusing on what the path of mastery is supposed to be about and started getting stuck in fixing all my foibles. That is not the path of mastery. The path of mastery is noticing. It is attending. It is being present. It is noticing who you are and what you do, and how it makes you feel – and then knowing that the path continues beyond that point of notice, offering you opportunity after opportunity to make new choices. Nowhere in that is there any inherent judgment. I slapped the judgment in there all by myself.

It’s reflective of that distinction that good parents make when correcting a child – to make sure to say that it was a bad choice, or a naughty thing to do, but to never tell the child that they are bad or naughty. Somewhere along the line, I stopped making that distinction for myself, and started telling myself that I was wrong, that I was broken, that I was bad. And I forgot that it was the things I did – which can always be changed, and new choices made – which could be judged, if judging is even necessary.

I’m sharing the video on here again, because I need to watch it again. There is nothing wrong with me. I cannot hear that enough times, and maybe neither can you.

Language…has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone. (Paul Johannes Tillich)

I have always and ever been a study in contradiction – I am always both this and that. That’s part of being human, I think – the complexity and the changeableness.

I have always really identified with the mythos of the phoenix – the cyclical nature of it, the circularity, the rise and the fall. That’s me. I am both outgoing and personable, and reclusive and introverted. I am just one or the other at different times, cyclically. To everything there is a season, and a time for all things under heaven has been one of the strongest ideals / ideas in my makeup.

Lately, I find myself daydreaming about going to a hermitage. I always find myself thinking – at first – that a week would do it, and then the longer I entertain the daydream, the longer my ideal stay stretches. I’ve even scouted out places for hermitages – looked them up online, and priced them out and everything. One day, I’m strongly attracted to the whole no-phone, no-internet, no-tv, cabin-in-the-woods scene, and another day, I want to go up to a nice place I stayed once in Phillips, WI and enjoy all of those things, and the aloneness, too.

If I were a phoenix in fact, I would now at this moment be in the ashes stage of things – having already had a period of great growth and productivity, having allowed all that was unnecessary or outgrown to burn out of me. I have been so content in quiet. I have been so content in solitude.

I go through this cycle frequently – the first part starts with burning enthusiasm, and I just take in, take in, take in – absorbing everything that comes my way. Snapping it up and moving forward and doing so with energy, enthusiasm and verve. This sometimes coincides with the next part of the cycle – where I put out, produce, share, interact, and make things or formulate ideas, write blogs, write in my journal. Sometimes I flip-flop back and forth between these two phases for awhile – and the whole time, it feels pretty good – I feel alive and vital and invigorated.

And then I enter a phase like the one I’m in now. Where I wanna go all Thoreau and retreat to a cabin in the woods somewhere and just be. Not think, not do, not take in, not produce – just be. And I’m finally realizing that this is just a part of who I am – and that it’s a necessary part. Without the solitude, I burn out. Without the ability to just sit and be, I simply flame my way through life without taking things in deeply enough to make them true and lasting parts of who I am.

I’ve given thought to whether or not this is a depressed state – maybe, in a way, it could be considered one. I suppose that my other natural state of ebullience and enthusiasm so contradicts this one that it seems so. But there’s no real sadness, just quietness. There’s sadness when I’m flying high, too. There have been times of my life when lying in the ashes for too long has grown into a depression, but I know what that looks like now, and this is not it.

I like the fact that I can live in both worlds – the outer one of bustle and product and learning and interaction, and the inner one of synthesis and quietness and meditation and peace. I like the fact that I can be both things – and maybe, I am just getting better at putting words to the feelings of each and getting better at honoring each part of the cycle. The time when I haven’t done this, when I’ve denied myself a part of this, I’ve suffered. I’m really not interested any longer in making myself appear to be in certain mood or a state in order to put others at ease. It does me a disservice – and really, I think it does others a disservice.

Where in God’s name did we ever get the idea that we had to be forever happy? That if we weren’t, there would be a pill to “fix” that? Why did we ever move away from just letting things be in their natural state, in the natural progression and cycle? It’s become systemic in this society to “fix” damn near everything with some pill. Ugh. You know, it’s totally natural to be quiet. To not produce. To not be eternally and perpetually connected or available. To just be. To be in solitude. For a while.

To crave solitude and to find ways to embrace that need and fill it are healthy. To step back, to assess, to become still – these are all healthy things. When they stretch on and on, they’re not so healthy – but the need for solitude is something that I believe is innate. The need to engage in a period of rest is innate.

What a commentary on civilization, when being alone is suspect; when one has to apologize for it, make excuses, hide the fact that one practices it – like a secret vice. (Anne Morrow Lindbergh)

If we never stop moving, if we never go inward and engage our own soul, that is unhealthy. If we are unable to or uncomfortable with being alone for fear of what we might just find within, that’s unhealthy.

There’s just so much to see and read, to take in, to learn, to engage with, to be available for, that there are honestly times I just get plain old world-weary of it. We live in the most connected society ever. It’s tiring. I, for one, remember life before the advent of the cell phone – and I loved it. I loved going off the map for awhile without there being this strange and unnatural unspoken expectation for you to make yourself available to all others simply because you are in possession of a cell phone. That is unhealthy.

I’ve been digging this alone-time thing. I’ve been digging being quiet. It’s not that my head is empty or that my heart is empty – it’s that they’ve been so filled that I need time to discern what gets to remain and what doesn’t. This past year and a half has been so utterly full of changes – and most of them awesome ones – and so full of movement and doing, that I truly haven’t had the time to make meaning into a meal – it’s been taken in snack-sized bites.

I’ve come to a time where it was necessary to sit alone and break bread with myself. To go inward and feel all the feelings I didn’t have time to feel before. To draw together all of my experiences and all the thoughts that go with them and to see them in connection and conjunction to one another. To play with ideas, or to just let them sit there in my mind and see what happens. To dwell. To be quiet enough to hear the answers to all the prayers I’ve prayed in the past year and a half.

It is only when we silent the blaring sounds of our daily existence that we can finally hear the whispers of truth that life reveals to us, as it stands knocking on the doorsteps of our hearts. (K.T. Jong)

I’ve grown adept at staking out my corners and letting the world know that I am okay…that I just need to go off the map for awhile. For the most part now my friends, my family, my loved ones understand it and respect it. It’s not so much that they give it to me, but more that I took it whether they were going to give it or not, and they’ve just gotten used to it. They maybe even see the benefit of it – because just like all work and no play make me a dull girl, all interaction and no solitude makes me a crabby one.

By all means use sometimes to be alone. Salute thyself; see what thy soul doth wear. (George Herbert)

I’ve given some thought to how this might play out if I ever have children. Once you’re a parent, your rights change. There’s a different order to things, and a different set of responsibilities that have to be attended to. One of the hopes is that I’d be able to show my children the value of solitude, and teach them to be calm islands in the river of life around them. To show them the value of all ways of being: the furor of fire, the flexibility of water, the stability of earth, the peace and purpose of air. The depths of spirit.

I grew up in the era before children had online calendars and their parents scheduled play dates and became glorified chauffeurs. I grew up hearing, “Bored? There’s no such thing. There’s plenty to do, and if you can’t find something, just sit there. Eventually you will.” And subsequently, I know how to have and enjoy downtime, as well as knowing how to occupy myself and engage with others. How to do both.

For now, I’m enjoying quiet. I’m enjoying naps. And I’m enjoying solitude.

A room without books is like a body without a soul. (Cicero)

I am a bookaholic. There should be support groups and 12-step meetings for people like me. I’ve always taken Cicero’s adage to heart – the result being, that there is no room in our apartment that doesn’t have at least one book in it.

When we moved in, I did what I always tend to do: get them on the shelves, without really worrying about what goes where. This past week, the apartment has felt small (it’s not), and confining. I’ve been going out onto the roof to breathe and feel space around me.

I didn’t want to feel driven out of the apartment – it’s supposed to be our sanctuary from the outside world, not something that drives us out into the outside world.

I decided that some ‘restructuring’ was in order – and I started with the books. I have never actually gone through my entire book collection – I didn’t want anyone to point out that I had three copies of a title or that some of them looked fit for the trash heap. I didn’t want to have to part with a single, solitary volume. I can tell you (pretty much) where I got each one, and why I bought it. I can tell you which ones were gifts and from who. I can tell you where I was when I read most of them, and what I first thought as I turned those pages or closed the covers at the end.

So, on Saturday night (notice that it is Wednesday already), at about a quarter to midnight, I got up off the couch and started denuding our bookshelves and piling them in the front room. I started categorizing, and dividing. I took a moment with each one, rubbing my hand over the cover or opening to a page and reading a sentence or two.

I wasn’t really intending to do this on the sneak, but I also didn’t announce my intention, and this is why: at some point, Jeremy became cognizant of what I was doing (he’d been wearing his headphones and working on his computer), and with a look of dismay said, “Um…babe…whatcha doin’?” I said, “Do you really want to know?” and he just shook his head and affixed his earmuffs back over his ears. He hates clutter and disarray – well, in this case, I needed to make a mess in order to clean one up (seems to be the way it always goes, doesn’t it?), and it was just better if he didn’t watch (go to your happy place Jeremy).

The piles of books in the picture amount to about one quarter of my entire “library.” I was still pulling books off shelves when I took it, and was only about halfway done with what’s in our apartment. The others are still at my parents’ house, languishing.

And that is what drove me off the couch at nearly midnight – the fact that I am tired of not knowing what I do or don’t have, that I’m tired of having things scattered to hell and gone in storage and whatnot. I want to surround myself with the things I treasure and shed the rest. I want there to be some kind of purpose behind the way that my books are displayed. I want, for perhaps the first time ever, to be able to look around and know what I’ve got, and where it is, and to be surrounded by them the way I’ve always wanted to be.

This may sound a bit psycho, but it’s been a little emotional for me – giving away a book is hard for me. In fact, if a friend would ask to borrow one, I’d tell them I wasn’t quite through with it, and the next time I saw them, I’d have purchased a copy to give them instead of loaning them a treasure that they might never return. Yeah, I know how sick that is.

When I was ten or twelve, my mom bought me a bookmark with that quote from Cicero on it. Even at that age, I got it. Now, I want to live it – differently. If a room without books is a body without soul, then a room with books is a room with soul – and for the first time in my life, I am starting to think about what kind of soul I want my rooms to have. For the first time in my life, I am feeling okay with shedding what I’ve outgrown or moved past. I feel okay with shedding the multiple copies of things. I feel okay with passing these treasures onto others.

Because if I can’t let go of what no longer fits, there is no room to gather in what does.

When we moved, I purged a LOT of things, and it felt good. I felt less burdened. I never made it to the books, because I didn’t want to face that part of it yet. And now, the books feel like the beginning. Once I’m through with them, I’ll sweep through the rest of the house again, letting go of all the things that I’ve hung onto, afraid to let them go.

And when I’m done, I’ll sit in the middle of our rooms, and enjoy the soul that fills them.

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.

Tonight, I took a rare night off, and did NO work. Lately, that just never seems to happen and I was long overdue.

I came home from the shop, bagged up the library books from under the coffee table, and piled on the kitchen chair, and next to the bed. I walked the two blocks to deliver them – intending to head right home like a good girl and get to work.

The moment I stepped through the door, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. They called to me like they always do. All the books, all the shelves upon shelves of books. All the stories. And I walked down each aisle, not really on a mission for anything in particular. Just enjoying the silence, and the atmosphere. And I decided to check out only fiction – only completely frivolous books. No philosophical tomes, no spiritual texts. No art books. No books that had anything, whatsoever, to do with work – I haven’t done that in too long.

I meandered home, enjoying the heat and watching the people sitting outside the restaurants and walking from shop to shop.

I plopped the books in a glorious pile on the end of the kitchen table, and made myself a tall cold glass of extra-chocolatey milk. I took my time reading the book jackets, choosing which would be my first.

I curled up on the couch under my favorite blanket – the thin blue one I bought at Summerfest one year, and used as a ground cover for the Tom Petty concert. For once, our cat chose to let me have some space instead of immediately leaping up and demanding attention. I sank into the story, losing all track of time, every once in a while shifting position. Riveted.

I left the book half-read (I’m a fast reader), and pulled out my art supplies. The story triggered something, and I finally knew how to finish an art journal page I’d been mulling over for a week. I yanked stamps out of binders, lugged the ink case onto the table, poured gesso onto a plastic bag, grabbed a brush, and started working. After all the mulling I’d done, it came together quickly now…just how I wanted it to look. Just how it looked in my heart.

I didn’t make dinner. I ate spready cheese and Ritz crackers and a dark chocolate candy bar. I pulled out another art project that just needed a few finishing touches, and added them, trying not to think too much. Just letting it come.

I never really write about this kind of stuff – these small things, small rituals that make up my days – not even in my personal journal. Today, it felt important – I’ve been busting my butt, and immersing myself in the work that goes into bringing a dream into being. Today, it was important to do what I wanted to do for no other reason than I felt like doing it.

When I get so focused, I get so much done, and it feels really good. A line of checkmarks marching down a to-do list is one of my favorite sights. But one of the parts of walking the path of mastery is to recognize areas of imbalance – and all work and no play makes Carolyn a dull girl.

For the rest of the night? I’m updating this blog (cause I feel like it) and my art blog (cause I feel like it), and then I’ll watch the rest of Two Mules for Sister Sarah with Jeremy and the cat, and head to bed. Cause I feel like it.

Here’s hoping that all of you make time for play – too long without it, and the joy leaches out of life!

I attended and graduated from Mount Mary College in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, and I – like every woman to pass through those hallowed halls of learning – was required to take a course entitled ‘Search for Meaning.’ The class was four credits – two of which were philosophy-oriented, and two of which were spiritually-oriented. We had two instructors – translation: we had two times four credits of homework for the class, and we ended up christening it all sorts of things like ‘Search for Sanity,’ or ‘Search for my Lost Social Life.’

And despite the workload, it was one of the best classes I’ve ever taken. It was a deeply important part of the formation of my growing spiritual and philosophical nature.

Every student to pass through Mount Mary was required to take that course, and despite the differences in content for each section, one requirement never wavered: we all read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. (Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who’s path led him to witness and endure some of humanity’s most horrific acts against its own members (the Holocaust) – his suffering and the suffering of those around him inspired him upon his release to write it out and send it out into the world anonymously. At the last moment, a friend talked him into at least putting his name on the title page. And this short book stands as a testament to humanity’s quest to discover the meaning of life, even and especially amidst great suffering.)

I’ve found myself thinking about that book on and off in the years since I took that class, since I graduated, and a lot of life happened, and a lot of change happened. I found myself thinking about it for a few weeks, so I finally dug it out and I’ve been curling up with it for a few minutes a day since I unearthed it from the depths.

It’s interesting to see the places where I marked the pages. What I underlined then, what I underlined now. The differences in perspective. The ability to see deeper than before, and to catch nuance and meaning in things that all those years ago, I didn’t know would become important.

I thought I’d share a few of my favorite parts with you tonight. I’ll let them stand alone, because they speak for themselves.

“When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude. A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how.’”

“…the meaning of life differs from man to man, and from moment to moment. Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. ‘Life’ does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are real and concrete.”

“Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it….The prisoner who had lost faith in the future – his future – was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay. Usually this happened quite suddenly, in the form of a crisis, the symptoms of which were familiar to the experienced camp inmate. We all feared this moment – not for ourselves, which would have been pointless, but for our friends….He simply gave up….and nothing bothered him anymore.”

“We who lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

“What you have experienced, no power on earth can take from you….human life, under any circumstances, never ceases to have a meaning, and that this infinite meaning of life includes suffering and dying, privation and death.”

I’ve been going through some tough stuff lately, and learning some hard lessons. Revisiting this helped me put things into perspective, and to remind me of some of the things I believe in. It helped me refocus on the core of what I hold to be true in what sometimes feels like a world gone mad. Hope you found something here for you, too.

Um... Yeah. It looks kinda like that for all of us. The comfort is that I'm pretty sure it's supposed to 🙂

The Winding Path

The only substance properly so called is the soul. (Henri Frederic Amiel)

Beware lest you lose the substance by grasping at the shadow. (Aesop)

Man is a substance clad in shadows. (John Sterling)

 

When I started this blog, my hope was to tell a real story. To say real things. To capture real moments. To talk about struggle and about joy in a real way, saying real things. To reveal all the stolen moments, and bits of life that make up our days and all the minutes and seconds and parts of seconds that weave themselves into a life. That culminate, someday, in a legacy of some sort. Yeah. That’s kind of a heavy goal, I suppose.

I wanted to talk about what it’s really like to walk a path of mastery. I think that people have the illusion that mastery is a goal, with an endpoint. The substance of the journey is that you fill your life with substance. That you fill those moments, and the quest for mastery with the substance of life. That you pick up in your hands, and turn over like stones, all the bits and pieces of what it means to be human – and what it means for you to be human – and you look at them (really look), and ponder it. Maybe you come to the conclusion that there is no conclusion to come to – that contemplation was the important thing, after all. That, and the willingness to engage the flexible world around you.

And yesterday, my dear friend Queen Dani passed on the award for A Blog with Substance… to me! A high complement (Queens have discerning taste, doncha know…it’s right in the job description). In Her Majesty’s words:

I will buckle down and choose to pass on this award to……… Carolyn – a young woman, wise beyond her years, who shows up in life each day and opening her heart a little wider than sometimes even she thought it could go, leaves this world a better place for her having been in it. I love her and everything about her. I love what she stands for, what she stands up for and what she speaks up and out for.  I love her style of writing, her words, her art, her “sassytude”, her courage and her strength. She reminds me of me at her age, and in doing that, she is a touchstone and an inspiration- also reminding me of what I came here to do, especially on the days I forget and/or stumble.”

Wow.

One of the most unifying desires of humankind (something I stumbled onto while on this path of mastery thing…), is the desire to be heard, to be seen. I never expected to win any awards for this blog, but the recognition is great. Thanks for hearing me, and seeing me!

The irony of it is, that the gratitude is mine – I am deeply grateful to have made the acquaintance of Queen Dani at the moment I most needed her depth, her soulfulness, and her unique talent for bringing the fuzzy into acute focus. I am the one who’s grateful for her willingness to share with everyone around her the deep spirituality she’s cultivated throughout her life, for her willingness to share her own stories of struggle to light the path for others, for her deep commitment to serving others and to the example that she provides for so many to follow. For opening her heart to me, and to so many others like me. Thank you, Queen Dani, for reminding me who I am every day, and giving me the gift of myself through another’s eyes.

So, in order to keep this going, I need to follow the ‘rules’ of the award:

1.) Thank the person who awarded it to you.
2.) Pass it on to other blogs which you feel have substance.
3.) Sum up your blogging philosophy in 5 (five) words.

 

If you do read my blog, you’ll know that I’ll definitely have trouble with the last directive…brevity has never been one of my strong points! And, I’m taking the second directive literally, and awarding this to three separate blogs – the substance of which, and the authors of which have enriched my days and my journey. The first goes to Ebb Tide, (and to poetblogger Sarah Whiteley) for her bravery in putting her poetry out into the world for all to read, to examine, to critique. For putting into words the longing of the human heart, the nuances of the human experience. For bravely sashaying out into the internet jungle armed only with her poet’s soul and sensibilities, and planting her flag. For your bravery, your beauty, and your talent, I salute you.

The second blog I want to recognize is Living Out Loud (and the author, the Great Martina). Her continuing exploration into what it means to live joyfully is brave in a world which forgets to value joy. Her daring and her moxie for climbing back onto her pedestal, despite the detractors rattling away at the base of it, inspires me. For refusing to be silenced, for refusing to accept less, for refusing to allow her crown to be usurped, I grant you this award!

The third blog I would like to recognize is morethingsithink (and the author Faerian) for her uniqueness – for her willingness to be someone who is brave enough to “reach beyond the ordinary.” For being a joywarrior, for inspiring me to claim the same for myself, for putting out into the world your musings and your explorations. For sharing with all of us your beautiful spirit, your creative spark, and your journey to embrace your own beautifully messy soul, I salute you.

And now the hard part. To state my blogging philosophy in five short words. Since my blog attempts to reflect the way I live, that’s really a life philosophy. (*gulp*) Only five words, hey? Okay, here goes!

SEEK ● FIND ● DARE ● EXPLORE ● LOVE

Yeah. That about sums it up, actually – and my Sagittarian nature is probably pretty apparent in that micro-manifesto!

Thank you for seeing me, for hearing me, and for reading this blog. I can assure you that it is I, fellow bloggers, who is the one enriched by all of you and the bravery with which you show up each day and tell your stories. Namaste.

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)