Friday, December 13, 2013

New Friends I May Never Meet

         One of the extraordinary things about social media is that I get to "meet" interesting people from all over the world, places to which I will likely never travel. One of these is Catherine Meyers, a woman with a big heart and creative soul. She lives is Apple River, Nova Scotia. The photos of the land surrounding her home are stunningly beautiful. Catherine is an artist. I have the sense her creative energies express themselves in a myriad of ways. Two I have seen photos of are her hand woven baskets and her paintings. She also loves to write hand-written letters, something we rarely see or experience anymore. My mother used to send cards on a regular basis with notes of love and encouragement scribbled inside. Catherine however, writes letters. Letters with pages, all written by hand. I have one.

I asked Catherine to write a blog post for me to share. She is unabashed and vulnerable. I hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as I have. 

Introducing Catherine Meyers:

Having reached the age of being a Crone, I decided to write a post about rites of passage, and examine what the term means to me personally. I believe it is about transitional change.  I continue to learn what this means to me, and hopefully I will always welcome change with courage.
 In particular, I strongly identify with traditional First Nation people's outlook, and philosophy regarding   rites of passage.

People are always changing. We are either moving forward, or regressing, regardless of  the pace or situation. The one thing that stays the same, is that life is always full of transition, from birth to death.
 My life transitions are particular to me of course, but like most folks, many did not come easily, were beyond my control, and some were of my own choice, and decision.

I don't think it much matters what my experiences were, so much as what my attitude was when they happened, and what I gleaned from these rites of passage. The lessons learned, helped me to become a better human being. I always reflect and paraphrase what I heard Angela Davis say during an interview, when asked about her time in prison; when you go through difficult times she stated, these times either break you, or you get stronger. 

My attitude toward rites of passage was, and is everything. I had to find the positive, courage, faith, and trust. When I couldn't find these within myself, I borrowed them from some one else. I had to leave put my false pride aside, reach out to others for help, and put my faith in God.

I certainly understand that much of my behaviour was already hardwired in my personality due to my parental upbringing that determined in part, who I would become as an adult woman. 

I have had many rites of passage, and I am still connecting these to myself, as a spiritual being, having a human experience, who has recently transitioned into being a crone, now reaching the age of sixty. When I think about this, it causes me to reflect over the course of my life up until the present, and to take a kind of inventory of these rites of passage.

I have listed the most significant rites of passage in my life.
   The first transition in my life came at the young age of five, when my brother developed multiple sclerosis.
   I would be directly effected by two diseases. MS and alcoholism.
  At the age of 13 my father left my family, and my brother had a mental breakdown at the age of 23.
  My mother and I returned to Nova Scotia without my brother, and this point I began to get more seriously involved in substance abuse.
  My brother returned to Nova Scotia. I quit high school, and went to vocational school in order to help me get into art college. I decided I wanted to study art.
  At 17-18 years of age I moved out of my mother's home and lived on my own for a period of time in Halifax.
  At 21 I got accepted into NSCAD ( Nova Scotia College of Art and Design ).
  In 1981 I married the love at my life. Four months later, he was dead from a complications from schizophrenia and brittle diabetes, that tragically took his life in 1981 at the age of 26.
  I married again to an abusive, alcoholic man in 1986.
  I got pregnant twice, and miscarried both times.
  In the late 80s I re-united with my father after having no contact with him for 26 years.
  Joined Al-anon in 1988, found myself in Transition House, and divorced in 1991.
  After meeting an Art Therapist, and she introduced me to The Artist Way. I quit my Youth Care Worker profession to go riding horses at 40  for  a period of approximately two years, and I got sober.
  In my second year of sobriety my mother died. My father and mother came to my first year  anniversary.
  Suffice to say, without going into the messy details, I was out in orbit for the first four years of sobriety, until I started to work the 12 Steps, and then things began to improve. I truly had turned my life, and will over to the power of God as I understood.
  I got involved with Mediterranean dance ( Beledi )  which means folk dance, or commonly known as belly dance.
  My father died eleven years ago, and two months later, MS took my big brother and I was a mess, but I stayed clean and sober.
  At 56 years of age, I went back to University and graduated with my Bachelor of Fine Art from Mount Allison University in 2012.

I hesitated a bit in making this list, as part of my post being so personal, and to some may seem very negative. Yes it's true, much of it was negative, but in retrospect, all of these experiences, and events have helped me to become, and to accept who I am mind, body and spirit. I choose not to let my rites of passage define me in a negative way. I became a resilient, whole person, that learned to take responsibility for my own health and happiness. I've learned to accept the things I can not change, to change the things I can, and to know and discern the difference.
I am grateful for each, and every day of my rites of passage, for my contented, happy, sober life. Especially I am forever grateful to those who helped me along the road.

                                                 Myself As a Crone by Catherine Meyers

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

One Fine Thing

(Image by Jade Beall Photography)

My new friend and kindred, Catherine, generously invited me to write a post to share on her blog. I thought to myself, “If there were only one thing I could say (to women), one thing I could share, what would it be?” I would say, “You can know, just how magnificent you are.” I don’t mean when; when you lose 10 pounds, when you get that promotion, when you accomplish whatever it is you think you “should” do.
No, I mean right now in this present moment, you can know the magnificence of the beautiful and the not-beautiful within you. 
I turn 56 in less than 3 weeks, and if there is one thing I now know like I know like I know, it is that all that I have ever longed for, searched for, felt was missing or just not quite right in my life was addressed with one primary relationship - the relationship with self. Yeah, I said it. Do you have a visceral reaction to it? Do you have little voices in your head that whisper words like selfish, self-centered, self-absorbed, egotistical, narcissistic, unattractive, unspiritual, wrong, bad? Tell me how did “self” become such a dirty word? It’s like the word “no” for women. Nice girls are always loving and giving… to others. From the time we are little girls we are taught to focus our attention outward and away from ourselves toward others. We are taught to focus our time, attention, energy, love, commitment, generosity, patience, and compassion to other. This is done often out of balance and to the exclusion of our self.

How many women do you know who are very comfortable with giving to others their time, attention, love and acceptance, but feel uncomfortable and undeserving when it comes to giving that same thing to themselves? How many women do you know who are just as comfortable with receiving as they are with giving? I have been facilitating women’s soul work since 1997, and I have met and know a lot of women. I would have to say in response to this question, very few. What I have discovered is that as women, this is one thing we seem to share universally. I don’t think it’s limited to the U.S. because women from all over the world respond to my women’s Facebook page, and it is certainly broader than American culture.

The problem with the message that self is bad, and the resulting impact, is that women disconnect from their bodies. This is a grave problem because our bodies house our instincts and intuition. Our bodies tell us the truth about when we need to say yes and when we need to say no. In fact, our bodies will tell us exactly what we need at any point in time if we will but listen. Sadly, we have been taught to fear this. We have been programmed to see our body as the enemy. Most women believe that if they listened to their body tell them what they need that it would destroy them with its voracious appetites. But that, Dear Girls, is a lie. Our magnificent bodies are an exquisite resource.

Most of us have come to believe that if we accepted ourselves exactly as we are in this moment, we would become lazy, complacent, unmotivated to create positive change. We have come to believe that our harsh inner critic is what motivates us and keeps us from becoming something undesirable. Is that really true? Think for a moment about how humans thrive. What results would you get if you said to a child the critical things you say to yourself? Would that child thrive? Would that child be motivated to risk, to step out of their comfort zone, to learn new things? Or would that child become fearful, distrusting, hesitant, lacking confidence? 

This is true of any human. If the inner critic actually worked, wouldn’t we all be in a very different place by now? The truth is that constant criticism enlists our lizard brain, the part of our brain that responds with fight or flight. When we are threatened or under stress (criticism), our bodies produce cortisol, a stress hormone. When the body feels consistently threatened or attacked, the long-term effects of cortisol can have a negative effect on our overall health. The body, when under this constant internal stress, in order to protect itself, will eventually shut itself down. Depression follows. When a person is depressed, there is little motivation. So a deeply ingrained pattern of self-criticism is actually de-motivating.

All that garbage you have been telling yourself all these years does not help you. It does not expand your life or nourish you in any way. It is counter-productive, diminishes your health, and impedes your joy. You deserve joy. Period. Commit to the act of Embracing. Synonyms for Embracing: Acceptance. Approval. Agreement. Implementation. Yes, practice it. Get up every morning and say yes. Yes to this belly, yes to these breasts, yes to these hips, thighs, waist, arms. Yes. Look at your body in the mirror and begin the practice of loving and accepting yourself right here and now, all of you. Reconnect with the wisdom of your body. It has so much to tell you. Look into your own eyes and begin to build a relationship with yourself that is honoring and respectful.

The self is not some ugly, anti-god monster. The self is our soul-self, that rich, dark fertile soil of the psyche. What is there drives our actions whether we know it or not. We can live from an unconscious, self-defeating place or a conscious loving place. It is a choice, but it is not an event. Tending soul is like tending a garden. It needs love, nourishment, and nurture. When we make that commitment, we get to reap the harvest. 

There is a bounty of joy, compassion, peace, freedom, and personal empowerment waiting for each of us. It starts right here at home, this relationship with myself. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Being IN My Body

In my work with women on weekend retreats, in sacred circle, at workshops, etc., I have heard women speak of distrust of other women. I have heard fear of judgment and criticism, fear of being talked about behind their backs, experiences of betrayal.

I myself grew up in a family of 6 women. My father traveled much. My mom mostly raised us, me and my four sisters. Although I have some good memories, I also experienced it as very cruel, critical, and viciously competitive. My relationship with women was bittersweet. It contained both fun and laughter, and the cruel as well. I learned not to trust women... or to trust that they would betray you and stab you in the back, say mean, biting things in front of others, ridicule you in an attempt to raise themselves up, etc. Now, consider this:

I,   I,   I    am   a   woman. 

So it stands to reason that if I believe that about women, I also believe it about myself. I learn to reject myself, not trust myself, etc.

As little girls, we learn about our value and worth as a woman from the most important woman in our lives, our mother. If our mother is wounded on a soul level, or if she is cruel, critical, abusive of the feminine; then we learn, by model, to do that to ourselves. So, long after that parent is even on the planet, we continue to do that to ourselves because we now carry that critical parent within our own psyche. My mother carried a deep wound around her own femaleness, her own sexuality. She was raised in a strict Southern Baptist family with a hyper-critical mother. While she was away in nursing school, my mother got pregnant. Her mother pressured her to give the baby up for adoption. Mom carried the pain of that all her life. This was also kept a secret until I was more than 30 years old. The shame and pain she carried about herself influenced me as a woman and how I saw my own womanhood. How could it not?

I believe this is part of why women's work has become such a passion of mine. I want to heal my relationship with myself as a woman... and in doing so, I open the door to heal my relationships with other women.

What I have learned in my own path toward healing is just how profoundly we are creatures of perception. My awareness today is knowing that when I perceive someone outside of myself to be judging me, it is often because I am already judging myself. Even if they actually ARE judging me, it is only a problem if I also believe it. Think about that. Say someone "judges" me to be Scandinavian, for example. If I have no judgments about being Scandinavian, and if I know that I am not Scandinavian, then it doesn't bother me if that person thinks that. It is only when I already believe that to be a "bad" thing and believe I am that "bad" thing, then it becomes a problem.

This whole judgment thing comes up quite frequently in my women’s work. In fact, when we create sacred circle and women speak what they need in order to feel safe, there has never been a time when at least one woman (usually more) ask that they not be judged. EVERY. SINGLE. CIRCLE. And I‘ve sat in a lot of circles with women. What that tells me is something I already know; we ourselves carry a pretty harsh judge within us. Our own inner critic is the place where healing is needed. My inner critic has kept me from wearing the clothes I wanted to wear, having sex when I wanted to have sex, kept me from going places and attending events I wanted to attend because somehow I wasn't thin enough, fit enough, pretty enough, sexy enough.

I remember a time when I was a teen... it was one specific summer that stands out in my mind (there are others, but this one for now). We lived in Dunwoody. There was a neighborhood pool and they had a large swim team with swim meets. It was a big deal and a large community. Competitive. My dad had a real respect for the water. When we were very small, he made sure all of us took swim lessons and knew how to handle ourselves in the water. He insisted we also be on the neighborhood swim team. Every summer, my sisters and I spent most of our time hanging out with friends at the pool. This particular summer, I had gained some weight. But in my mind at the age of 16, I believed I was so hideous, so unacceptable, that I couldn't bear to go out. The whole summer when my sisters would go to the pool, I would stay at home, ashamed to put on a swim suit and be seen in public. And truth be told, I wasn't even that big. It was my *mind* that tortured me.

When I sit in circle with women today, and we pass a hand mirror; as each woman takes a moment to look into her own eyes and really *see* herself, it is a difficult task. Most often she speaks her criticism out loud. That’s a good thing, I believe, because it creates connection through compassion. There isn’t a woman in that room who hasn’t felt the same thing. Now imagine doing that same mirror exercise with a full length mirror where the woman can see her whole body. And now imagine standing in front of your own full length mirror in your bathroom or some place you feel safe. Imagine yourself loving yourself *naked*. Yes, naked. Right now. Just as you are. Not 20 or 30 lbs, or even 5 lbs lighter. Not younger, not thinner, smarter, prettier, more successful, whatever. Right now. This body. This *you*. Can you love HER? *Will* you love her? 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

This Precious Life

“How can people close to tragedies make sense of them? Religion provides an answer for that… It is consoling to believe that when a child dies they go to be with Jesus and the angels. In fact, what are you really grieving about if you think that the one you love most in this world is now in a better place and you’re going to be rejoined with her in the twinkling of an eye? I think we can admit that atheism doesn’t offer real consolation at this point… The thing for which there is no real substitute is total consolation in the face of death. 
At some point, we as humans have to deal with this fact. 

[When a person comes face to face with their own mortality or the death of a loved one, there are regrets] It’s not just what they did with their time, it’s not just that they spent too much time working or compulsively checking e-mail. It’s that they cared about the wrong things. They regret what they cared about. Their attention was bound up in petty concerns, year after year when life was normal. [For all of us there will] come a day when you’ll be sick or someone close to you will die and you’ll look back on the kinds of things that captured your attention and you’ll think, ‘What was I doing?’ These things only make sense in light of eternity. There better be a heaven if we’re going to waste our time like that… so unlike religious people, we atheists really have a good reason to make the most of life, to make the most of the present moment.” 

~Sam Harris

If I allow myself to sit with the belief that this life is it, there is nothing else; no after-life, no reincarnation, no heaven, no hell, no “being with Jesus or the angels”, then the problem is no longer death. The problem is Life. What am I going to do with this one precious and beautiful life? 

Sitting with this probability that there is nothing after, forces me to take responsibility for my life. 

No excuses.

… And as for death? 

"There is no total consolation in the face of death. And there is no need for it as far as I am concerned. Instead, I want to live my life fully, with my eyes awake and all of my feelings fully intact and in full expression. No dampening with platitudes or mythical stories. I rather seek to create a space large enough and deep enough to hold my grief and the magnitude of life and death. There is a way to sink into the present moment and find it sacred and to, in that living moment, cease to have a problem." SH

Monday, January 21, 2013

Would You Like Your Milk in a Bag?

My mom's death last month hit me harder than I thought it would. I didn't expect it to call up the little girl in me the way it did. And, I have many loving and supportive family and friends in my life, so I could feel myself healing. I was being very conscious and intentional about what my body needed and how best to give that to myself. In fact, this past Friday night, I drove up with my best friend to spend some time in nature at a cabin in the woods. We had a delicious dinner, built a fire, and settled in for the evening. Then Michael called. My black lab, Max, was sick. He had diarrhea then vomiting and could not walk up the stairs after going out to pee.

That night when I arrived at the emergency animal hospital, I learned that Max had a cancerous growth larger than a grapefruit in his abdomen. That's why he was losing weight; something we had noticed in November when we had him washed and cut. The growth had pushed all his organs aside. There was no room for anything in there but the tumor. He was in extreme pain. The vet said this wasn't uncommon in these larger breeds. Said she'd seen it before. Surgery wasn't really an option.

It was without hesitation that I made the decision. Not even a month earlier, I watched my mother suffer in horrible pain. There was no way I would let Max suffer any longer than he had to. So we let our beloved Max go. My friend and loyal companion for more than a decade, I said goodbye.

The hours that followed have been full of tears. The grief of losing Max re-opened the grief of losing my mother. She was the first person I thought to call that night. Then I remembered I couldn't call her. There are so many little seemingly mundane things that remind me of my loss, things that bring up the grief again and again, raw and palpable. This afternoon I went to the grocery store to pick up a few items to bake cookies. Baking. That's a good sign. Anything creative, actually. And baking is creating. Birth, death, and birth again. Not to mention the fact that fresh baked cookies are comforting to me.

So, I pick up my items and wander aimlessly around the store... drifting, really. I notice that's what I'm doing and make the conscious choice to check out and head home. I place my basket on the belt as the cashier totals my purchases. Another young woman begins bagging, and as she places her hand on my gallon of milk she says, "Would you like your milk in a bag?" I freeze. A string of thoughts runs through my brain. You see we've always saved the grocery bags. Years ago our vet advised us that since the dogs used the same spaces over and over to poop, we needed to clean up after them every time to prevent them from getting pinworms. We have been intentionally asking for our gallon of milk to be bagged because we used those bags for the dogs. The topic of dog poop may sound gross to you, and it is, but in that moment I remember Max, and how I wouldn't need the bags for him anymore. I remembered my Max, and I said "yes."

After all, we still have Sasha. She is Michael's dog. Michael got her about 4 years ago because he said, "I want a dog to love me the way Max loves you." That she does. She has been a healing force for both of us, and I am grateful. But, she's not my Max, and I miss him. He would be comforting me in the grief of my mom.

It's late in the evening for me. Tomorrow is an early day back to work after a long weekend. The long weekend where I said goodbye to my beloved friend, Max. As I crawl into bed and lay my head on my pillow, I hear the thump of his body in my memory as he curls up and drops into his place on the floor beside the bed. "Good Night, Sweet Max. Sweet dreams, Buddy. You're the best dog. I love you."