“Hindsight is 20/20”
“Perspective is everything”, they say. I have to agree. Just this morning, I was talking with an old friend. We were discussing her daughter’s anxiety and inability to be flexible in times of change. This mother is intense, caring and nurturing. She has sacrificed so much to be available and have the resources to help her children. It has been beautiful to watch over the years.
A story from my life seems to pop up when a change in perspective is necessary; when I know a friend or child is struggling to see something that might help in the moment. When I have needed to feel loved, held, and seen, I know the 30,000-foot view becomes essential.
At age 38, I sat in an office with a therapist; a therapist who treated PTSD. After decades of worsening anxiety, failed adrenals, and a neurological system that was fed up, I was desperate and scared. I had friends who were therapists. They never saw the signs. I had family who had seen me struggle for all of those years with little compassion or understanding. This isn’t to say they didn’t do their best. They did. I had a husband who, as much as he might have wanted to help, did nothing but make me feel guilty for costing him so much money and shamed me for my anxiety, even blaming the dog’s anxiety on me. To say the very least, it was not helpful.
My anxiety was based in a singular moment of childhood trauma, then snowballed as my needs were not met as a married woman, mother, and caregiver. No one person was to blame for this, but I learned that I certainly wasn’t. My job, as a human being, is to take care of myself and I did my very best to do that, regardless of what was offered freely. But we cannot always meet our own basic needs.
Sitting with that therapist might have been one of the most life-altering experiences of my life. The way we visited hard times in the past, talked about them, and found “variations on a theme” emerge from them was a gift. What I see now was nothing like what I saw before that pivotal ten weeks with her.
One instance stands out. We had worked through the trauma of my youth. I understood it, my body understood it, and my brain had reprocessed it. I was no longer confused or angry. She wanted more weeks with me because she saw the apparent abuse I was experiencing in my marriage. But the money was gone. At my last appointment, she had me work through one last experience.
I was 20 years old, pregnant and oversees, working as a nanny. According to the calculator, I was 14 weeks along. But according to the doctor, the baby had died at least a week earlier. Devastated, I left the hospital to grieve, scared to death of what was going to happen to my body as it did what it was meant to do; clean up the sad mess.
That night, I began to bleed. It was not just bleeding, however. I was hemorrhaging. I hurriedly got dressed and the sweet woman who employed me drove me to the women’s clinic in the nearby town. My husband at the time, who was with me oversees, came as well. We arrived, but I don’t remember anything but laying on the operating table for just a split second, the doctor yelling to my boss, and then everything going dark.
I awoke in a bed next to a beautiful African woman, in a room with two others as well. I never knew why they were there; what their health issues had been. I don’t remember how I passed the time. I know they fed me well, I cried a lot, and they took a lot of blood for testing. I was there for several days until my counts were where they wanted them.
My husband at the time, came to pick me up in my boss’s car. He drove my very weak body home, my spirit not quite engaged. I walked down to the basement where he got me settled and told me he had to leave and go to a meeting. The house was empty. My boss was at work, the children had been farmed out to friends for the school day. I was going to be alone and that was not okay in any world I could imagine in that moment. He ran out, late for his meeting, and left me. I saw the car drive away as I reached the top of the stairs and collapsed in a heap, sobbing.
As I sat on the couch at the therapist, that’s all I remembered. I remembered being left alone and abandoned in the hardest moment of my life thus far. I had lost a baby, something that I had been told was the most wonderful thing in the world and was expected of me in every facet of my culture. I had fallen in love with that little being, as strange as that may be.
Instead of staying in that place of pain and sadness, she asked me a risky question. “What happened next?” I told her I didn’t know. A minute later, I saw a vision of myself on my bed in the basement, crying. I was not alone, however. I was being cuddled by my neighbor woman. She had crawled into bed with me and was holding me as my body convulsed in sobs. This was not a strange thing, though. She was my “adopted Austrian mom”. She had been my mentor and friend for months. I knew she loved and cared about me. And that’s all I needed.
In Maslow's hierarchy of needs, our basic needs-safety and bodily-are at the foundation level. When those basic needs are not met, we can experience trauma. My body and mind had processed that memory as a lack of basic needs. There was no safety in that moment. What if I started to hemorrhage again and no one found me? What if I could not get to the bathroom, or get a drink? When would anyone be home? These were the days before cell phones. And I was not strong enough to go anywhere.
But when she asked that question, I took the time to remember, and the space was safe and trusting, everything shifted. I saw that my needs had been met. I saw that they always had been, but the abandonment I had experienced had won out in the way my traumatized mind processed information. In that moment, the actions of my ex were not redeemed, but the moment was. The way that God showed up for me in the form of a woman was no surprise. God often shows up in the form of woman.
So, it may have been the worst of times. But it was also a time that opened up my eyes to see how loved I was. It was a time that provided perspective into who would show up for me. It was liberating and revelatory. These are the times we learn what we are made of and find gratitude for good people and we can see the other beings of the earth convene to our benefit. We see the wisdom in the trees, the clarity in the skies, the relaxing flow of the mountain stream. And they teach us how to live. We see love in a friend’s touch, kindness in a stranger’s smile, or find safety in the arms of a lover.
These…these are the best of times, my friends.
There is so much to say about the Sophia, that I hardly know where to start. Years ago, I delved into learning about the Goddess. I wanted to know everything about her, from the carvings of the Neolithic goddess, the Venuses, Gaia, the Shekina, and all the goddesses of Hinduism. The richness of all Goddess cultures has worlds to teach those of us who grew up inside sterile patriarchal structures. And yet, to have the benefit of a perspective inside modern Western culture, I feel blessed.
There has been much written about the Goddess and I will write more in days to come, but today, it is the Sophia. The long-ulcerated-about decision of basing my work on her name, image, and story, found a resting place just this Spring and has continued to flesh out over months that have followed.
My Jewish mentor, John, and I have long talked about a female-based creation story, the Midrash, and discussions around what that might have looked like. The Sophia and Shekina both come from that tradition. Sophia, according to some legends, was the twin sister to Jesus in the premortal realm. She did everything with him and under the direction of the Father. One day, for some reason, she had the audacity to make a decision on her own. And as a result, she was cast out of the heavens. Out of her body, the earth was created.
This legend is a perfect analogy of how both the female body and female have been and continue to be a threat to men. When I first understood this and all of my trauma around this topic, I felt angry. I felt angry for having been made small because of the weakness of boys and men. I felt angry for having been told to make my skirts longer and cover my body in order to NOT be a temptation. I felt angry for never having the last "say"; that I ever needed permission to speak and not paraphrased afterward by a man.
I was a smart girl. I saw and felt so much. I knew there was something awry, but never had words for it until I studied feminism in its many forms. The Sophia is not simply feminism, but eco-feminism-in action. Her body was cast out. Like so many of our female bodies, it was not welcome there anymore. But in that act of being discarded, she created something amazing-the Earth that we live on. And her feminine divine wisdom is embodied in it.
We are part of that Earth. We are made of her substances, our bodies formed in the womb of our mothers using the miracle, magic, and translation of nutrients, calories and energy into life itself. To cast out the female body and disregard her is the greatest sin of our modern culture. The intuition, innate love, and desire a woman's body encases should be one that all seek after.
And that...that is why Sophia Speaks was created. For us to cast off the epigenetic-deep patriarchal structure and come in contact with our own deep feminine intuition (men included and needed) we must respect and revere what is truly holy. That, what is holy, is not "out there". She is inside us all. Please join us in welcoming what emerges as we do the work of opening our hearts and minds, enduring and learning from the shadows, and embracing what is truly real.
The piece of artwork above was created by Alise Sheehan, an artist in San Diego California. The piece has been aptly named "Sophia" and resides in my home in Indiana. I awake to her daily, the crown of her head to the earth, reminding me that I have all that I need in my relationship with the Earth herself and her inhabitants. Please find Alise on Instagram and Facebook. Her gift has blessed me and many more.
Last Sunday, I gave a sermon on the Light of Christ. But before I gave the sermon, I sent a draft to the pastor for edits and additions. Like a good mentor, he began with the strengths and encouragement. But, he said, there was something missing. It was clear I needed to add a section on charismatic people leaders, manipulation and coercion. Before he said anything, I had considered it, but I wanted to keep it light and you know....Christmassy!
We all welcome the close of this year-the year that felt like twenty. The level of pain caused by people in power, people who control the information, and people who do not understand or embody the interconnectedness of all life, has been excruciating. We, as members of a planetary system, have all suffered. Those that found the bandwidth to be productive, we applaud you. But most of us have felt like we cannot quite get close enough to air to breathe comfortably, let alone the long, deep breaths needed to be productive and do inspired work. Our lights have been shining, but in ways we perhaps don't even recognize. The light of Christ has been at work inside us. For me, 2020 began with the greatest pain I had ever encountered, followed by the most intense feelings of abandonment. My light dwindled because of that pain, I expect. As the year progressed, opportunities arose and people emerged who continue-to this day-to help me fill my source of light, my oil lamp, my fire. I have so much to be grateful for.
I feel that this year, I have not only witnessed the re-boot of my light, but I have also been shown witnesses of my light, repeatedly. Some of you that might read this are those that have shared with me how I have impacted your lives. I still don't really understand how that works, but I am grateful. I am grateful I was there when needed, and even more grateful that I have support where and when I need it as well. Your lights have re-lit mine, over and over.
It reminds me of the Bible school song, "This little light of mine". Such a sweet song with many memories, that one is. It also reminds me of the parable of the 10 virgins. I feel like I was, perhaps, one of those 5 without enough oil at the beginning of this year. What 2020 has taught me, though, is that we are not islands. We are loved beyond what we know. There is enough love to get us through whatever we are going through, if only we accept it. And, sometimes, the hardest thing about getting through is just that...the accepting of love and support.
If we are healthy individuals, we likely enjoy being on the giving end of things. It is far more difficult to accept help. On this solstice night, I want to share a few example of how my light has been fed this year, even on its weakest of days. I write this to honor my beautiful friends, but also in encouragement to all who read this and might doubt that your gift is insignificant. It is not. It is not!
In January, I removed myself from my home for a little over a week to spend some time with a friend. With that soul sister, I could cry when I needed to, take a walk when I needed to, or sit and work when I could. All was accepted and I knew it would be. She sat with me, listened and loved me in every way I needed for those days. Those days were a blessing to me in so many ways, but also in that they were the last few days of her grandfather's life; the same grandfather she was a caretaker for. The privilege of witnessing those last few days has been a great and enduring gift. As she cared for him, my light was nurtured and cared for as well. I left feeling fed.
That same time and up until the current moment, I have another dear friend who has shown up for me in ways that I never would have imagined. At first it was a phone call to check in. Then it was a morning text. Over the next week, it became a daily text; usually a morning sunrise, an afternoon fire or a sunset. It was a gesture of love, thoughts, prayers and for me...all of those things told me I was not forgotten. I had not been forgotten although life was upside down, my home-life was upended and my income base was no more. Despite all of that, I felt loved.
I feel like we are in a time where we must shift. We can allow ourselves to get caught up in the distractions that surround us, or we can allow ourselves to see where there is light peaking through the cracks, snatch it up and love the world with it. This year has taught us so much. May we all take those learnings and create a more beautiful world.
A cross-stich I made on linen for my grandmother 25 years ago, Psalm 23
I was going to write for the 2nd Sunday of Advent today, but in lieu of what is going on in my personal life, I’d like to focus on a different set of scripture. Instead of Psalm 85, I am going back to number 23.
A sweet Jewish friend of mine says he does not like this Psalm; that it seems to flacid and not “real”. A shepherd with sheep, still waters, green pastures…they all seem a little too “make believe.” I usually agree with him, understanding the problematic after-effects of having unethical and ungodly leaders and realizing that life is not all unicorns and rainbows. But today, I beg to differ. My grandmother passed this morning and this was my her favorite Psalm. Yes, she was from another time, with very different societal and cultural expectations and norms. In some ways, she fit those norms. She stayed with my grandfather who was verbally abusive. She dedicated much of her life to serving him and her family. She was a small-town Midwest girl who grew up to live on a farm and do all the cooking and cleaning. She raised three boys and one girl. We had all holidays at her home and treasured them. Those memories will forever be a part of us. She knew how to create a home and make us all feel loved.
There were the things that were not quite so “normal”. She worked full time, was part of a women’s prayer group that was ecumenical and attended their conferences. She went to conferences for her job as a hairdresser and was always knowledgeable about the latest fashions in her dress and hair. She was a stark contrast to anyone else her age that I knew in those regards. She took me and my girl cousins on trips to Colorado to see my aunt, hike and camp. She loved the woods, the wetlands and the mountains.
But the one thing gramma knew best was how to love. I think that is why she loved this Psalm so much. Aside from the obvious references to the natural world, there is a certain peace in it; the kind of peace you feel when you are truly loved. There is a deep stillness. There is the sensation of intense rest. There is unrelenting trust. There is no fear that cannot be cast out. There is a knowing that all will be provided; that one’s enemies will not prevail; that there will always be grace offered when we are ready to receive it. Gramma knew these things.
As I get older, I see how she loved, not just that she loved. She loved no matter. She loved the ill-behaved child, the person with a different skin color than she had, the person with differing ideas about sexuality and gender, the person with different cultural traditions…and they knew it. We, her family and friends, saw that she loved everyone. She did not judge. She knew it was not hers to judge, but to love. Many people know that. But very few can actually do it. She did it.
Psalm 23 tells us of being led by a loving person; someone who wants us to be comforted and comfortable, finding rest for our weary souls. It tells us of a person who stays with us through the hard and dark times, granting us all that is required so that we feel no fear of demise. It speaks of a person who knows how to nurture us, care for us, and peaceably put up a defense against our enemies.
What else could we want from a friend, a lover, family member, or even a God? Because of my gramma, I know the color and texture of God’s love. I know the intensity and relief of forgiveness and grace. I know the kind of trust that is not blind, but based on lived experience. I know the redemption of the sunrise, the relief of the sunset and that all that happens in between will be well. Maybe not today, but it will be, indeed.
May we all notice the presence of someone like this in our lives. If that person is lacking, then let us be that for others. The example that gramma lived daily is forever in the minds, hearts, and bodies of as many as knew her. Her singing voice, her strong body, her determined spirit and her beautiful smile will be missed, but not forgotten.
Verses 32-33 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.”
As a child, I read these and the surrounding verses and found myself filled with a sort of existential fear. The not knowing was paralyzing and anxiety-causing. I was an obedient child, always wanting to be of service and found great joy in doing so. Even then, the idea of the second coming of Christ-Christ coming at a “thief in the night”-was not comforting.
I loved Jesus. I loved reading and studying the scriptures. I had a thirst for knowledge that was healthy and then went a little further toward a mild obsession. If I understood everything about Jesus’ coming again, the signs of the times, we called them, I would be ready and prepared. So, I read Isaiah and Revelation. I drew pictures and made a timeline of what I would look for in the news to tell me when I needed to be ready. I hoped and prayed that somehow things would be in order at that time.
Over time, the shelf holding all of these and other heavy and frightening beliefs broke. Frankly, I have no desire to find a place to put them. They landed on the floor where they belonged and I have since swept and mopped innumerable times to rid my home of their influence. There is still more work to do, but this is the work of life.
What has taken the place of these beliefs is something very different; something full of comfort and compassion for the state of humanity I find myself and my fellow humans in. Reaching further into the non-human world, I finally realized the meaning of these scriptures as they applied in my life.
To “beware, keep alert” is wise. It does not mean the “hyperaware and alert to danger” style of life I had led previous to my shelf breaking. “Keep alert” I now translate as to stay open, to live life, ever searching with heart and eyes wide open, looking for God or the Divine, rather, in all. This way of looking for the coming of Christ has brought me to a place where I can find God in every place I find myself, every day.
The first monumental shift in my thinking on this topic, I experienced as an adult (outside the births of my four children) was on a walk in the woods on a cold May day in the mountains of Massachusetts. Since my childhood, the plague of anxiety was nearly always my companion. That day was no different. I was far from my children, my home, and was way outside my comfort zone. As I walked, I could not help but be open. My senses were alive and alert, watching and listening for whatever clues I might receive to teach me about where I was and how I was doing.
A leaf scratched the beech tree ahead on the trail. My eyes were drawn to the sound. As I walked more closely, I felt the need to remove the leaf from the tree. As I did so, I was drawn to holding the leaf in my hands, cradling it, holding it ever so gently. The forest was again quiet, and I continued my walk. As I reached the top of the mountain, the trail curved, opened, and the sun shone in. With the leaf in my hand, I stopped in the sunshine. The thought came to my mind to open up my hands to the wind and allow the leaf to fly. Without judging the thought, I did so. The leaf flew with the wind, high above the trees and disappeared.
At that moment, something happened to me. I realized the hearing, holding, walking with and letting go of the leaf was directly related to my anxiety and discomfort. With the flight of the leaf, my whole demeanor changed. I had no idea if it would stay that way or not. I felt in most ways that I had no control over my anxiety-when and if it reappeared.
For the most part, it has gone. Life has been more or less the same, with its cycles of ease and difficulty. 2020 has taxed me more than I ever would have imagined. I imagine everyone would be in that boat with me.
To recognize the divine in all of these moments does not always present ease. The leaf taking flight on the mountain that day did. Seeing the divine comes in the difficult moment of putting my grandmother to bed, the bones of her legs and arms covered in skin being the remains of her once vibrant and alive body. She, of all people, was open to seeing God every day. She was not waiting for any kind of second coming. Hers was a life full of seeing the divine in all. It seemed simple for her. Full of memories, I put her to bed, her spirit fully intact. Her smile and wit are diminished, but present.
May we be ready and be open to meeting God today and every day going forward. May we look back in our lives and see God’s hand throughout. May we not await a day that something outside us comes to change everything but know that God works from the inside out. Christ emerges from all of creation when we open our hearts to that kind of seeing.
Even if we feel we are living in the wilderness of life by choice or by the choices of others, the voices of the tamed world have the ability to follow us. It seems unfair that they don’t check themselves at the threshold and stay where they belong. And sometimes, they are the reasons we needed to leave in the first place. The stories the world had for us about who we were and what we were to become did not match those that we knew in our minds, hearts and bodies. Some of the voices were people that we trusted with our whole selves; people that we had no reservations with, like parents and spouses, lovers and best friends. Sadly, these voices at times, are not accurate depictions of who we truly are. Their voices often project the image of what they want or “need” us to be for them or for others; not for ourselves.
I have had voices tell me I should settle for a satisfactory marriage; voices that say that I am selfish; voices that tell me that I am strong and that’s why no one ever offered help (darn me for trying so hard); voices that say I’m beautiful and need to be more careful about the attention I draw (as if that is my fault); voices that tell me I need to slow down and take longer to do school because everyone needs more of me than I can give while I am in school; voices that told me I should not homeschool; voices that told me that to vaccinate the kids the way it is ordered is the only safe way. It is endless.
Each of us have these voices in our heads. Some of us have an easier time of letting go of them; leaving them at the threshold. Others of us have them live in our bodies as these voices have been the impetus for so many of the choices we have made in our lives; the choices others before us have made and we are expected to live into as well.
The voices leave us sometimes when we break cycles of those same choices. Then others we trust use those same words, bringing back all of the previously cut-out words like a wash. It is truly cruel sometimes.
Grateful for the voices?
What if we could take the voices into the wilderness as gifts? What if we took them as reminders of what we left behind, and as fuel for our journey? That journey is simply to find our own voice; the only voice that matters in the end.
Mary Oliver says in The Journey:
But little by little
As you left their voices behind,
The starts began to burn
Through the sheets of clouds,
And there was a new voice,
Which you slowly
Recognized as your own,
That kept you company
As you strode deeper and deeper
Into the world,
Determined to do
The only thing you could do-
Determined to save
The only life you could save.
It was almost three years ago when my mentor read that entire poem to me one starry night in a campground north of Toronto. I wasn’t ready to hear it. It made me sad and a little angry. I didn’t want to step into the change that my life was requiring of me. I wanted things to be happy; to work out as they were. But he knew that Mary Oliver’s words would sink in eventually. And they did.
And life changed as it needed to. It continues to surprise me. The wilderness is an exhausting place at times, and ecstatically joyful at other times. It is a place to sort and sift through the voices and leave them in an altar here and a campfire there; washing them off in the river and allowing the wind to carry them away as it calls to them.
Finding and claiming our own voices is the practice of a lifetime. May we travel the wilderness together, filled with the fire of our intentions and the desire to truly live our lives.
How have the voices shifted for you over the years? Which voices do you hear today? Can you find your own in the mix? We would love to hear your thoughts.
To begin, I need to say that my choice to become a mother was one that required many thresholds. The most complicated piece was a miscarriage at age 20 that ended in 4 days in a hospital with blood transfusions, in Austria. The recovery took months physically, but psychologically took years. At 25, it was far enough away to address seriously. I became pregnant with no problem and had Joe 9 months later. He forever changed my life. He was followed by Hannah, Eva and Elizabeth, all separated by two years, give or take.
It was a hard choice to step into. I had helped raise six of my mother’s children and having my own almost felt unnecessary. And I wanted to be an opera singer. How would I do that and raise children? There were questions I had no answers for. In the end, I knew having children was the right thing for me to do. In this blog I want to touch on a few things about being a mother that I have learned these past 20 years, with my gleanings from being a big sis as well.
At Wild Communion, we have talked about how the wilderness is a feminine space; a place of the unknown, uncontrolled, untamed and unpredictable. It is also a place of breathtaking beauty, peace and deep relationship. It feels a little bi-polar, and it is all that and everything in between.
To choose motherhood-whether we are able to have our own children or not-requires a heart that is open to the unknown, able to take risk and look at everyday as an adventure. There are beautiful moments inside eternal days. There are years of chaos we barely remember (and we are grateful we took pictures because we would have completely forgotten). There are a million books out there about motherhood and I feel like I read about half of them. But in the end, I realized that what I needed to do most was listen to my heart with regard to raising my children.
They each needed attention, but what kind of attention did they need? Did they need firmness or softness; tough love or a cuddle…or both? After years of doing it right and wrong every day, I came to a place that I could begin to trust what I knew in my body.
Mothers know when to create space for growth and expansion, how to say no to the world’s many offerings and have a quite night at home. They know when to put away the computer, sit and watch a movie or play a game with everyone. They know how to boost the family morale with laughter, games, dancing and song. Every family is different. We did a lot of jeopardy-style quizzing at the table. We were a homeschool family and every minute was for learning. We also sang a lot and continue to make music and the accompanying messes together.
What I did not glean explicitly from my years assisting my mother and raising my own children was the understanding as to where deep respect and adoration for the mother originated and belonged. Raised as a Mormon in an evangelical hometown, there were only a sprinkling of Catholics. It was my relationship with Mother Mary and Mary Magdalene that helped me to see the worth of the feminine in relationship to the white-haired male God of my childhood. It was also fed by my studies in theology and the Goddess Kali Ma and the Black Madonna. These were strong women; women who endured the fire and pain of grief, shame, and misunderstandings. They were women who said yes; yes to incredible hardship, but the accompanying pain as well. The Black Madonna represents a purity that only comes by going through the fire, not averting it. Kali Ma is the creator and destroyer; a representation of the cycles of life itself in an embodied form.
There is so much that has been said about these dominant archetypes of the Mother. Being able to identify them in myself has changed a lot for me. It has allowed for my energy to wax and wane, my strength to be fed and feed, my love to be sweet and fierce; all without the label of bad or good, right or wrong. Just understanding the power in the cycles of life has released the shame of feeling inadequate or the fear of failure.
I come from a long line of strong women. I learn from them daily, even after their passing through the veil to the next life. They will forever be my teachers. The archetypal mother is as beautiful as a rainbow after a storm, as forceful as a hurricane, and as soft as a fluffy cloud-filled sky. To be a mother is to desire the best for not only our children, but all of the children, human and non-human; all the beings of the earth.
How do you feel your ability to step into the mother archetype has fed your abilities as teachers, mentors, lovers, coaches and workers? Please share your comments below.
We, at Wild Communion, had a post on Instagram a few days ago by Joseph Campbell. It said, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” We had a comment from a sweet follower and very short conversation ensued. I began to think of the way that fear had forced its spindle-thin fingers into nearly every facet of my life at one point. Those were nearly impossible years.
It was September 11, 2001. I was pregnant with my 2nd child and extremely ill. I had no idea what was wrong. The doctors did not know what was wrong. My cervix had tilted so much so that the growing little one inside me was crushing my organs, more and more each day. Malabsorption was a way of life and weight loss, weakness, and a hyper-emotional almost neurotic worrying state were just part of the deal. It started out as a beautiful day. I was living for the time with my parents in the rural farmlands of Indiana. There were horses down the road a ways and they were a welcome distraction for me and my then almost 2 year-old Josef. On sunny days, the horses would run along the fence line and play with each other in the pasture. We both loved to watch. However in the same moment, I ached for my life back in Prague that we had just left behind and was waiting for the day we could find a place of our own here in my hometown, even though it was the place I never wanted to come home to.
We walked up the lane, only to see my mom run out or the front door and scream something, very distressed. I ran with the stroller, grabbed Josef and headed inside where we watched the replay over and over of the planes entering the buildings, the bodies of people falling from the twin towers, the smoke rise and the chaos reach ever greater heights with every minute. I felt my body melt, weeping and desperate for something or someone to come save the day. Of course, we all know how that ended, as if anything like that could every truly end. 2,606 people tragically died that day and we as a global community, stood by and watched. There were so many heroes who sacrificed their lives that day among that number and we cannot begin to imagine the grief felt by their families and friends.
That day, something changed inside me, as it did so many others. The paranoia and terror that we felt continued and seemed to grow exponentially with the scare of anthrax through the postal system and additional bomb threats. I felt so paralyzed by my sickness, having a 2-year old, living in my parents home, and now, in a world that I felt was unsafe. I was unsafe going to large venues. I was unsafe simply getting the mail. I made a lot of false assumptions, but my mind was not about to be soothed. This is where the climax of fear was felt in my life thus far. Fear and its accompanying chemical consequences had been my drugs of choice for many years.
As a child, anxiety was the norm. After the occurrence of abuse, I became a hypochondriac, paranoid, anxiety filled, and in a state of being alert to an extreme that a 12-year old should never be. My ability to take in information increased in order to keep myself safe from unknown. Although at this point, I feel that this is a pretty great quality to have in life-calculating and mindful planning and choosing-a child should not be doing this. The neurological patterning in my brain had depth and breadth. I found myself able to be afraid of everything. During one rather manic phase in college after getting married, it was so bad that I was afraid to open the door when people would come to visit. The complication of extreme loneliness in my marriage was icing on my many-tiered cake of fear. The only times I felt a release from this was when I performed my music. I played piano, violin and sang. I accompanied and immersed myself in a life that just felt safe and good. I played some fiddle, but Bach felt good on the violin, Beethoven was my favorite on the piano and Puccini, Verdi and Mozart were my voice’s preferences. I had found my comfort zone and place of sweet rest. The performing arts were my life and I knew it. It had chosen me. I had hardly chosen it.
Over time, I noticed that there were places I felt a relief from the fear. They were always away from home: college until I got married, Austria as a nanny, and Prague, teaching English. Home represented something I had not been able to come to terms with. In many ways, healing has occurred, but in others, I have had to find to help me continue down the path toward healing.
We don’t always get a location change to do a reset. We often don’t get to choose the people we live with and work with to do a reset. We have to work within the parameters of what is present. After 10 weeks of deep trauma therapy and a couple of years of integrating the new patterns, I found the practice of forest therapy. This practice gave me a whole new skillset, with the accompanying side effects of understanding the role of the sense and the body in accessing and storing information. I have also learned to honor all feelings, that there are no good or bad feelings. They are simply ways we are responding to certain challenges in our lives, and each of these responses need to be observed and validated. Fear, after many years has become this: a bodily awareness that there may be struggle or growth ahead. I also learned my body has an ability to teach me about myself in ways I had never been able to acknowledge before, because of strict ideologies and the socio-cultural norms of my homeland. This knowing has allowed for a release of deep shame and an increased understanding of my intuition and its power in my life and the life of others.
I still have fears. Most of my fears now are around our ability as humans to misunderstand each other so greatly. I try to work within the parameters of what is present. I attempt to see life as a gift daily, struggles and all. I want to learn and stretch, see success and learn from failure, allow old ideas to become memories and make new and exciting goals and work toward them. Fear is now not a way of life but has been a learning tool that has helped form the life I live today. I am not angry for the stolen years, because they were not stolen if I continue to choose to see what was being taught. Because of fear I know I am strong and determined and I hope to use what I learn to serve in any way that is presented to me. My learnings from fear have been shown as a wisdom that only could be revealed by entering the cave. And that cave had many tunnels; having children, homeschooling, going through therapy, doing my forest therapy training, going back to school, starting a business, and working toward healing the many past and current relationships I have had in my life. What are your tunnels? How has life offered a way to escape from and see your fear in a different perspective. Please leave your thoughts and comments below. We look forward to learning from you.
Last summer, I was only home for short stints between work travel. The days I was home, I often guided walks for different local organizations. The people who show up are always such an amazing source of joy. Not joy because it is always happy, but joy as in like we feel really supported by each other and the forest in our experiences during the time we share. Here in Indiana, I love meadows and wetlands in the summer because there is often a breeze and less irritation from the insect beings. It was in late July and time that a new animal being showed up to teach me something.
The first intimate encounter with the serpent had been a year before. It was in a wetland-a private property-and I was guiding a forest therapy walk. We walked slowly along the path and out of nowhere a 3-foot long snake slithered across my feet. In summer, my Teva sandals are my shoes. The scales of the snake were a shocking sensation on my toes as the snake moved over my feet..both of them. It just went on its merry way. Not concerned by the type of snake it was, I simply saw the experience as an anomaly and gift.
Another walk, this last summer-alone this time-the very same thing happened. From the left, a large snake appeared and I hardly noticed before it was on my feet, moving across, not even seeming to be in a hurry. I simply watched in awe. That was twice.
The third time it happened was on another guided walk, in a meadow area. Everyone had been sent out for 20 minutes to sit or wander alone. I wanted to do the same. But before, I needed to set up our tea ceremony, which was to come next. When I finished, I walked slowly through the meadow. As I walked, I suddenly heard a sound. It was a very alarming sound, like something was calling out for help. I thought at first it might be a cicada being eaten, but this was a very different alarm. It was, however, a small animal sound. As I wandered toward the sound, I found myself a little hesitant. I knew I needed to see what was happening.
I walked into the meadow, clearing the grasses and flowers in front of me with a long stick. As I got closer, the volume increased. It was most definitely a cry for help. And there they were; a snake eating a bright green frog. The frog was in distress, of course, and the snake was very focused on his lunch. The frog was trapped, back legs already inside the unhinged jaws of the snake’s mouth. And there I was, alarmed and extremely disjointed by the sound the frog was making. The two voices in my head began. “You should just observe. This is just nature at work. Leave it alone.” The other voice was not a voice really. It felt like, “You have to save the little frog. He called out. You heard him. It is right that you follow your heart and save him.” Being the empath that I am, I really had no choice. I used the stick to move the grasses to uncover the area as moved closer. My actions agitated the snake, but I stayed as far away as possible. He reared up and “stood” up about a foot high with the frog still deeply in his mouth. He would not let go easily. I agitated him a little more, just moving the stick at the ground close to him. Retreating slightly, he stayed as reared up as possible, holding tightly to the frog. Eventually, the snake felt threatened enough to let go and leave the scene. I felt a real struggle there, in myself. I wondered why it was I needed to stop that natural process, but I did. The snake was over 4 feet long, but a simple garter snake. I felt relieved at the cessation of the sound, but also regretful about having upset the built-in miracle of the food web in the meadow. The feeling of relief was primary, though.
The allotted time was complete for that part of the guided walk and I called everyone back to the circle. We sat at our tea, shared our stories, snacked and just basked in the sunshine and the smell of the warm grasses in the meadow.
As we left the forest I met the serpent again. Walking on the path back to the parking lot, a snake slithered over my bare feet. I was walking just ahead of the participants and just allowed myself to stop and breathe in the moment. I felt a smile come across my face and a feeling of sheer surprise and mild shock fill my body. I could not help but talk about this experience with my new friends. Luckily, they all were interested enough not to think I was losing my mind and were quite curious about it.
I drove home pondering the morning’s events. The visitations from the snakes were all too much to ignore, once again. I needed to look some things up. As I sat at my table, after showing the kids the video I took of the frog and snake, the significance of these encounters became apparent. I had had a summer filled with encounters with the color red, Mother Mary and other revelations of the divine feminine, the salmon spawning, artwork that made my body just light up with excitement, feeling validation of my journey just through my coming face to face with it all. Here was something to pay attention to yet again.
The snake means many things and is found within so many ancient cultures’ belief systems. Encountering a snake can represent healing, transformation and a surge of life force and primal energy. The snake-think Garden of Eden-can symbolize spiritual guidance. One site states that snake might appear when we are stepping into the unknown and ready to experience significant personal growth. It also has been defined as the carrier of divine feminine energy and the possibility of the release of old ideas that no longer serve.
The encounters with snake were powerful outer witnesses for what was happening in my life. The gratitude I feel for these experiences really cannot be put into words. The support of the more-than-human world is so generous and validating. The mirror of nature is honest, perhaps more honest than our reflections from the human world.
Thank you, dear humans, though, for traveling this path with me.
Please share your experiences in the comments about your encounters with the natural world, questions you might have about it, or ideas you’d like to see us explore!
When the Serpent Appears-Part 2
Between Mother’s Day and the talk with the bishop, there was a month of work travel overseas and a week of family vacation in northern Michigan. These weeks were full to the brim with beautiful people, places and all the best “feels” possible.
My family has been vacationing in a coast guard cabin in the north of Michigan since I was three years old. I have only missed a few years, and those I was usually in Europe working, so didn’t miss out too badly. This cabin and the surrounding landscape, the water and sand, are full of moments of connection for me. This has been a sacred place to me for many years. The soft smell of the hemlocks, the relentless wind off of the lake, the bite of the hot sand on my feet all have a special place in my heart. My grandmother found and rented this place for us all when I was young. My cousins and siblings ran wild for the entire week, only coming in for food and to steal a cookie from the enormous pail of monster cookies. Monster cookies were only available for that one week every year, and we all took advantage of it.
This past year, it was a little different. I was 44 years old and not running wild, per se. I was pondering the imminent changes in my life, taking long walks in the dunes, forests and on the beach. This is the one place I am used to being alone in the natural world. Something has always reassured me that I was safe there. It has held true to this day, thank goodness.
On the last morning, I walked from the cabin to the beach for one last morning stroll next to the water. Looking down almost constantly, I searched for pretty stones; stones with stories of the past. There are such special fossils there and only there, to be found. At one point, I looked into the water next to me. I was walking at a slow pace and noticed that there was movement in the water, going at the same pace I was. I had just done a semester-long project for school on the invasive Asian carp and their potential influence on the area’s waterways. I was afraid to look too closely. But my curiosity won out..like it often does. What I saw was something I could not explain. Next to me were at least twenty salmon with pink bellies, moving at the same pace I was, rolling over and over each other. We, the salmon and I, were traveling south from the cabin toward Frankfort. There were no immediate rivers nearby; where they might have come from. Never before had I seen them next to the shore. I could have reached out and touched them as they were no more than 4 feet from me.
They remained at my side for over 10 minutes, moving at my pace. Some would leave for a bit, then come back to join the others. At one point, they all disappeared and I worried that our meeting was over. But they came back and I had plenty of time to pull out my phone and record this event, getting close enough to show their behavior as they swam. I took over four minutes of footage in order to ask a local fisherman (whom I would find later that morning) about it.
They came and went, with a mass of them staying with me. Nearing the end of my walk, before I came to the point where the lake prohibited my going further, it seemed they had all left me. But, looking more closely, I noticed one remained. One single pink bellied, Coho salmon. She was beautiful. She remained with me until I had to turn back. I walked back alone in my thoughts about what I had just witnessed.
Getting back to the house, packing and cleaning, I made a plan to go into town and find someone before leaving. I put gas in the car and drove down toward the fishing docks. Finding two older fishermen, I asked if they would watch my video from my phone. They did. Both of them looked at each other, then to me again, asking where I had been when I had filmed this. According to both of them, it was extremeely abnormal behavior for the salmon to be that close to the shore and for them to be spawning in the lake. So that’s what they were doing! That idea had crossed my mind, but the location didn’t match the behavior, so I put it out of my mind.
Because the woodpecker had all but disappeared from earshot that past month or so and I was aware of it, I wondered if these salmon were trying to say something to me. What was the medicine of the salmon and did it apply to where I was in my life in that moment? Spoiler alert! They had a lot to say. 😊
According to the website dreamsandsleep.com and others, the Salmon represents many things as a totem animal. Salmon represents adaptation and change, rebirth and happiness, eternal life and femininity. Its appearance can be a support of the change happening in your life and witness that it is allowing progress in a good way. It also witnesses to a person that they do not deal with monotony well, they get “bored easily” (I have said this many times about myself), and that travel and exploration is vital for them. It’s focus on femininity and reproduction can mean several things. One being that families are very important to them; that they get a lot of meaning and fulfillment from their relationships with their families. It also speaks to having a large family, but that it represents deep creative power is more of an accurate description. They also represent infinite wisdom and prophecy; that a person is guided well by their own intellect and knowledge.
As I reflect on the timing of my experience with the salmon, all of these totem messages ring true. Focusing on the gift of witnessing the spawning of the salmon demonstrates to me that the creative journey I am on is indeed valid and worthy of the energy and life-force it requires. It also reflects to me the fierceness and commitment in my mothering and my deep love for my family and need to be seen by them. Indeed, all of the other messages are true as well, but I’ll save them for another time…another blog.