Monday, December 21, 2009

Living a Hand Crafted Life

This is the first of a monthly series of a column entitled "Living a Hand Crafted Life" published in our local newspaper, the Hendersonville Times-News.
“Don't ask what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Harold Thurman Whitman
This is a powerful passage, one you may have read before. I’ve seen it often and I believe it’s because the desire to do what we truly love resonates with each of us.
This is a new column to explore and encourage what it might mean to create a life of one’s dreams. I think a lot about how important it is for each of us to express who we are. The act of self-expression occurs in myriad ways: in our work, our families, our art, our volunteer efforts, our community. Our strongest form of expression is related to our passions.
Take a moment to consider the question, “What are you passionate about?”
Studies have shown that the amount of control we have over our lives directly corresponds with our mental health: the more control, the better our mental health; the less control, the poorer our mental health.
These times are difficult and many find their lives out of control. Their passion then focuses on survival. This is completely appropriate. So how can we enrich our lives even though we are not in control of our surroundings?
Unemployment is high. I know: I was laid off from my full-time job less than a year ago. And while my logical side repeated, “Get a job! Make a paycheck!”, there was a constant small voice saying, “It will be ok. Do what you love.” And while I loved the work I had been doing, it was time for a change. I wanted to create a “crazy quilt” livelihood of all the things I love most. And unemployment was a blessing in disguise that gave me the opportunity to explore my passions.

The thought kept drifting through my head, “When a door closes, a window opens.”
I found that with time for myself, I reconnected with one of my greatest passions: creating art. We are all creative. Our main hindrance is that we don’t give ourselves the time and space to explore our creativity, our unique form of self-expression. With my new schedule, I was able to dive into the art that had been pushed to the back burner, and it was a wondrous and prolific time.

In the spring, I was invited to submit entries in a Recycled Art exhibit at Hand in Hand Gallery. Within days of receiving the invitation, I found a box of old brass window escutcheons (you know, where you put your fingers to open old, wooden, weighted windows) my dad had purchased in the 1960s from an old hardware store going out of business. (Being a child of a Depression-era parent, I could not get rid of these.) Intuitively, the recycled art idea came together, and I joyfully created a mixed media necklace using the escutcheon as a pendant holding words I’d cut from a vintage book “When a door closes a window opens” and adding brass chain, charms of pictures of closed doors and open windows encased in mica, glass lampwork beads, and a small key.
Oh, I don’t deny it: times are tough. But today’s challenges demand that we live our lives differently – more creatively – than we have in the past. A hand crafted life is when one follows one’s inner voice – that inner compass – in order to create a more self-satisfying and fulfilling life.
What hopes and dreams do you hold dear? What are you passionate about?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Serendipity of Three

Three Rules of Work:
Out of clutter find simplicity;
From discord find harmony;
In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.
-- Albert Einstein
I really admire Einstein. I know that's an understatement... and that I'm certainly not a maverick in this. I barely understand even the simplest of his theories. We all learned E=mc2 in grammar school (Imagine, the generation before mine didn't even study that!) Energy = mass x the constant speed of life squared. I was a good student and learned those phrases, even if I couldn't wrap my head around them. Well, I'm not alone in that, either. I have a wonderfully thick book on Einstein's life waiting by my bed to be read... where it has been for at least a year. (I promise I'll return it, Roy!) The first photo of the genius in the book is of him riding a bicycle! Einstein... while he spoke with the Universe, never let go of his inner child.
So this morning I received a daily message from CharityFocus which began with his Three Rules of Work. While I've been distracted from writing in my blog, I've also been waiting to have something worth actually writing about. This morning gave me that serendipity of three. Thanks, Albert!
Also, one of the newest crop circles in England is three circles connected and flowing one into the other with a smaller circle in each center. A beautiful graphic, but what's most interesting is that each of the center circles has a different lay of the grain, a different weaving, each as beautiful as the next. I've been fascinated by this intentional difference, wondering what the Energies were symbolizing in this variation of designs. (Or were they just having fun and showing off?) So, in honor of three's, I'm connecting each message to the other.
1. Out of clutter find simplicity
For a few months now, I have been distressed by the clutter in my life. I know that when my physical surroundings are in chaos, my mental state is disorganized. I've also been reminded time and again in various ways about the importance of Feng Shui and how our physical surroundings affect our own energy. I know that this physical clutter represents internal clutter. The greater the external chaos, the greater the internal chaos. So, with Andrew and Allen's help and a pull-myself-up-by-the-bootstrap effort on my part, I have started slowly nibbling away at all the clutter. (How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time...) It is all so overwhelming! I have written before what a packrat I am. But enough is enough! It IS time to lighten up. (Connie, thanks for your "electronic cow-prod" nudge!) My feelings are reflected in this quote from DailyGood: Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. -- William James. Boy, ain't that the truth!
I have been focusing on creating my jewelry over the past couple of months in order to meet some goals and timelines (shows, requests, etc.). This is an abundance of blessings for sure, but I have ignored other parts of my work in doing so.

One of those neglected areas is my bookbinding. I love binding books and creating journals, but there is no way to create jewelry and books in the same space: they require totally different tools and materials. So I haven't had the fortitude to put away all my jewelry work to indulge in my journals only to bring all the jewelry work back out once I've finished a couple of journals. So we have turned an adjacent room in our home into my book studio (talk about an abundance of blessings!). I'm very thankful for this space so I can indulge in both of my passions! Andrew and Allen have both helped me to start that shift. But, of course, that creates more clutter (it gets worse before it gets better). Further, I've been wanting the room arrangement to be comfortable from a practical and an energetic standpoint, and it has taken some time for the Muse to whisper what that set-up might be. But I know how I need the room arranged now... and now I need to go through all the accumulation to make that happen! (I'm not going to post a photo of THAT challenge!)
Yesterday morning, I woke up early with the Muse whispering "Get up and straighten up!" So I spent some time organizing my jewelry studio so that it would be conducive to finding what I am looking for. Whew! What a difference! I feel so much better now when I'm in here now! Cleared desktops, files in order, leg room, notes where I need them. Ahhhh! Now I feel pride and relief when I walk into my jewelry studio, which encourages free-flowing energy and creativity. Next is my book studio (as soon as I finish this post)!

2. From discord find harmony

One of the mental wrestlings I've been having is about attaining balance in my new business: balancing creating (jewelry and books) with marketing (blog, website -- still to be completed -- writing, etc.) with R&D (yes, even small businesses need to develop new ideas and learn new skills!) with inventory (purchasing materials for my art) with general paperwork (accounting, correspondence, etc.). No wonder I have felt overwhelmed!
So I arranged an hour phone call with life coach Adair Cates , author of Living with Intention which covers 6 areas of life and 10 steps to feeling fulfilled by them. Adair sent me a form to complete prior to our phone call so we'd have somewhere to start our dialog. Being a good student, I completed it... but wasn't really pleased with what I came up with. During that conversation with Adair, she suggested I consider using the term "harmony" instead of "balance". And what a difference that makes!
In some ways, I know balance is a moving target: one needs strong sea legs to maintain balance, shifting with the currents of life. And balancing the numerous roles we women play in life has been a focus of mine for a while now. What a challenge! It's like forgiveness: a one-shot effort doesn't do the trick, it's an on-going process. And on-going, and on-going. And I'm pretty rigid when it comes to how I'm approaching balance. (I know, that sounds like an oxymoron, but there you are.)

And while harmony is a challenge, too, it doesn't seem (to me) to be quite so structured, so demanding as the idea of balance. I like that; it gives me a break, a little wiggle-room. I don't know why there's a difference in my connotation of the words, but there is. It's as though harmony is inside and outside and flowing, while balance (as in scales) is more structured, more leveled. Maybe Justice is blind because she prefers harmony over those equally balanced scales she's holding....

So, now I am seeking to find harmony in what I do in my business. And the most recent way I have found balance was to rearrange my studios. And what harmony I find in my jewelry studio now (and my book studio very soon)! Ahhhhh....

3. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.

This has been a difficult few months. Husband Andrew being away from home with his work, me becoming unemployed, son Allen leaving home (then returning after being arrested), and daughter Paige leaving home (that chapter is still unfinished).
However, there has been great opportunity for growth and learning in these times.
Andrew is looking for a job that will allow him to be home full-time. It's not easy, but it will come: the perfect work at the perfect time.
I have started my own "crazy quilt" business where I am incorporating the things I am most passionate about into what I offer to others: my artwork, my writing, my teaching, and my facilitation. I have been very blessed by the response to The Cre8tive Flow, and I am very thankful. And I am fulfilled with what I am doing (and learning how to be harmonious with it, too).
Allen had 180 degree turn-around after his return home from his 3-week adventure in March. He is accepting responsibility for his choices, and continues to grow. He has completed high school by earning his GED. He is driving now and looking for full-time work. He is compassionate for others (I could learn from him), respectful, kind, and thoughtful. He is strong physically and mentally. He is looking before he leaps. I'm proud of him and enjoy being around him.
Paige chose to go live elsewhere in May, and is making choices based on the most fun she can have right now. I send her prayers of safety and clarity whenever I think of her. Obviously, this is the path she needs to walk right now in order to learn the lessons she needs to learn, whatever they may be.
The main lesson I've learned over these past several months is to let go of control, and trust Spirit. This is The Big One for me. I certainly don't know or understand all the dynamics at work in my family of souls. I do believe that we are all together in this lifetime to help each other learn the lessons we -- at a soul level -- agreed we needed in order to grow closer to the Divine, and our own Divine Selves. A la Caroline Myss's Sacred Contracts. And the mystery and miracle is that learning my lesson somehow coincides perfectly with my loved ones learning their lessons; the lessons complement each other. Now THAT is mind-boggling. Wonder what Einstein would have to say about that?
Another lesson I've learned is that everything happens in perfect timing. I don't see the big picture, but Spirit does. And while I don't believe in predestination, there is a Divine Plan where Divine Timing works. That's another part of the mystery: we have free will, and it is in miraculous harmony with the Divine.
My mind is starting to feel fireworks and go "boomboomboom" as I start to try to comprehend what I've written, so I'm going to stop here so I can be practical and move into my book studio.
I hope you find simplicity, harmony, and opportunity in your day today.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Dragonflies in the Summer

This amazing crop circle appeared in England a couple of weeks ago.

The circles this season seem to be quite different than in past years. This dragonfly (as well as the jellyfish which appeared around the same time) and other recent circles have amazing details that I've not seen in previous circles. Notice the wings of the dragonfly. While the wings are symmetrical and geometric, the lines within the wings are delicately different. So are the tentacles of the jellyfish.

And the body from this "tadpole", (for lack of a better descriptor).

And then there's this circle image of an egg being sought after by 8 sperm (again, my own label).

Now check out this latest circle: while swallows have been the design for other beautiful circles, this newest one is unique with what looks like code floating behind the swallow! I wonder what secrets those glyphs hold? And why are they associated with the swallow/bird? It looks like a kite taking flight. Bewildering and exquisitely mysterious!

For more crop circle info, check out Crop Circle Connector and/or Temporary Temples.

Summer is not my favorite time of the year. Heat and I are not good friends (and hormonal shifts don't help that relationship, either!). Andrew and I moved to the NC mountains from Charleston, SC, because we wanted to live in these green mountains as well as where there were four seasons. In Charleston, there were only 2 seasons: hot and hotter!

Even this recent crop circle seems to recognize the hot weather with a fan designed with crescents! Or maybe it's referring to our upcoming 3 summer eclipses.

A few years ago, I decided to create an altered book depicting the things I love about summer: the ripeness, the abundance of scents and flowers, the birds and the bees. An "altered book" is a book on one topic that you alter the pages/cover/etc. to make it about another topic. I found a wonderful book on the sun at a thrift store entitled The Fire of Life, published by the Smithsonian and re-titled it "Summer Solstice". Some of the pages I left alone because they were about the summer solstice (astronomy, legends and myths about the sun, etc.). Other pages, I altered by covering with decorative papers, rubber stamp impressions, photos, postcards, calendar art, etc. I even took multi-page articles from magazines (such as on the Monarch butterfly from an old National Geographic) and made them into booklets so that I included books within the books. It was a labor of love, and made the heat more tolerable.

Dragonflies played a role in that book, and they hold special images for me that associate them with summertime and warm weather. I remember as a young girl going with my mom once a month on a Saturday morning to the cemetary where her mother was buried. While she trimmed around the gravestone (and I'm sure "talked" with her beloved mother), I walked, skipped, and ran along the sidewalks criss-crossing the large, open land, reading the grave markers and stopping at the statues overlooking the grassy blanket of ground. I remember always seeing dragonflies hovering and flying around a large statue of an open bible. They were so beautiful and irridescent in the richest colors imaginable! They could hover, zip forward, glisten in the sun, and dart wherever they wanted... they were magical. Nature gifted the dragonfly with very special paint colors!

As an adult, I remember being led by dragonflies down a country road in Tennessee. Andrew and I were looking for mountain land to buy to retire to; this was outside of Nashville and dragonflies literally led us down the road to the entrance to the property. While we didn't buy that property, it was a procession to remember!

A few years ago, I was swimming in a nearby small, man-made lake. Dragonflies and damselflies of all colors were darting just above the surface of the water. After my swim, I sat on the dock and spent some quiet time looking into the water just below. There were fish languidly suspended below the water while dragonflies were flitting above the water; and then there was my reflection on the water's surface. It was appropriate that my reflection was between the languid, relaxed and the active, darting images.

In Native American medicine, Dragonfly symbolizes "Illusion". According to "Medicine Cards" by Jamie Sams and David Carson, "some legends say that Dragonfly was once Dragon, and that Dragon had scales like Dragonfly's wings." Can you imagine how beautiful Dragons must have been?

Also, "Dragonfly is the essence of the winds of change and the illusory facade we accept as physical reality.... messages of wisdom and enlightenment, and connection with the elemental world and nature.... If you feel the need for change, call on Dragonfly to guide you through the mists of illusion to the pathway of transformation."

I've been talking with a lot of different folks about the need for change and flexibility in these times. Yesterday, I heard some shocking statistics: worldwide, extreme poverty means that a family lives on less than $2 per day; moderate poverty means that a family lives on $3 per day. In the US, poverty levels are those where a family lives on $40 per day. Also, in underdeveloped countries, a person uses 20 liters of water per day on average. In the US, each person uses 600 liters of water per day! Indeed, these are times for change and for breaking through the illusion that we haveunlimited natural resources as well as the entitlement to use them all up! Dragonfly seems to be a suitable symbol for the changes we all need to make, and the illusions we all need to release.

One more dragonfly story: on Monday of this week, my son Allen was driving us somewhere and a dragonfly bounced into our car windshield and slid down into the windshield wipers. Allen asked if he should turn on the wipers to help set it free. I said I thought that might injure it more. So we pulled into a parking lot and Allen got out and gently helped untangle the dragonfly from the wiper. We were thinking it was already injured, so Allen had intended to place the dragonfly on the ground in the shade of a bush. But as Allen lifted the dragonfly from its entrapment, it lifted up out of his hands, hovered a bit, then flew off. The look of wonder and joy on Allen's face was a beautiful sight. I'm so thankful for dragonflies!

I hope today brings you positive change full of beauty.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Blessed Summer Solstice!

Today is the Summer Solstice, the day of the year which has the longest daylight. Imagine how the ancients celebrated having so much light! The Dark Time of the Year was Winter Solstice, the day which was "the birth of the Sun", when the Sun began increasing in the number of hours it appeared to warm the cold places. Nowadays, our Sun heats our places and summer weather seems longer while winter season seems milder than when I was younger. Even living in the mountains.

To me, the solstices represent extremes: the most or least number of hours of daylight. This certainly seems appropriate this year. Often life in general seems to be on the edge... of disaster or breakthrough. While I'm very thankful for all of our blessings and abundance, I am also aware of the fragility of every aspect of our lives.

I have quoted Donna Henes' book Celestially Auspicious Occasions before, and I will do so again, because I think she says it so well:

The seasonal ascent of light and temperature is not -- despite popular belief -- due to our distance from the sun, but to the degree of directness of its rays. It would be logical... to assume that in the summer the earth approaches closest to the sun, and that we are farthest away in the cold dark of winter. Wrong! The earth reaches its perihelion, the point on our orbit that brings us closest to the sum, in winter (usually around Jan 2 or 3); and conversely, during summer (July 5 or so) we attain our aphelion, the farthest reach of our range from the sun.

Though the distance from the sun is greatest in the summer, it is at the Summer Solstice that the sun sits highest in the sky. The steep path of its rays is angled vertically
overhead. Its energy is aimed arrowlike straight down on us.

The Summer Solstice is the height of the glory of the season of the sun. It is at this point that the dark must begin to creep back.... For several days before beginning its descent, the sun stands sentinel at dawn. It seems to stand stark still in the sky, which is what solstice means: "sun stands still". (Just) As we celebrate the birth of the brand-new sun at the Winter Solstice, we
salute its vibrant maturity at the solstice in the summer.

In megalithic times, people began to create structures that would enable them to track the course of the sun, the source of life. These solar observatories were specifically designed to give precise determination of the days of the solstices... that are the times of greatest extreme. It was necessary to calculate the longest summer day, since it serves as a signal light, a warning sign for changes in light and weather to come.

Indigenous Europeans... built many such sun shrines. Stonehenge, the most famous standing stone circle, has its main axis in perfect alignment with the Summer Solstice sunrise. Strikingly similar monuments to the movements of the heavens were built by the ancestors of the tribes of the Great Plains of the northern US and Canada... positioned in exact orientation to the solstice sunrise. There are more than 50 knowing medicine wheels, some dating back 2,500 years.

Summer Solstice is a holyday celebrated with fire and flame. Bonfires are lit in honor of the sun, perhaps the most universal of the celebrations. It is the ultimate act of flattery by imitation.... And at the same time, the light and heat of the fire serve to soothe and affirm that, though departing, the sun will surely return.

In ancient Egypt, the Summer Solstice was celebrated by the Burning of the Lamps in honor of Isis, Queen of Heaven. In Rome, the day was dedicated to Vesta, known as Hestia in Greece... guardians of the public hearth and altar. The Norse goddess Sol, Sul, or Sulis drove the chariot of the sun. Ancient Buddhist texts speak of the sun chariot as the Great Vehicle or the Chariot of Fire. The ancient Greeks pictured the Sun carried across the daytime sky in a golden chariot steered by Apollo (Artemis' twin brother; she was goddess of the Moon and the hunt).

The Hopi Summer Solstice ceremony perfectly describes this seasonal shift in terms of a transferal of our spiritual reliance on divine illumination to the realization of our own personal response-ability.

In the Dakota tribe, the Sun Dance was the most powerful observance of the year. According to Russell Means, a leader of the American Indian Movement and a survivor of the armed occupation at Wounded Knee in 1973 on the site of the Pine Ridge Reservation massacre of 1890, during the Sun Dance "we want to get in touch with the female, so we create purification ceremonies for boys and men to bring us to an understanding of what it is like to give birth.... During those four days and nights we do not eat or drink water so we can try to begin to understand the suffering of pregnancy.... On the fourth day we pierce our chests, maybe even our backs, to understand the pain and the giving of flesh and blood the woman goes through.

(Russell Means is also an actor who has played in many movies, including The Last of the Mohicans as the Mohawk father Chingachgook.)

Summer Solstice is a time of fertility and abundance (in the Northern Hemisphere, that is). The green of the plant world around us is riotous, as are the sounds of insects, birds, chicks, and thunderstorms. The heat and the rain collaborate to encourage astounding growth. The plants grow, luxuriating in the hothouse created by the weather and the insects feed on the plants and the birds feed on the seeds and the insects. It is the circle of life: birth, growth, decline, and rebirth.

I have found for myself and with friends that our lives often feel overwhelming and overabundant at this time of year. I think this is a reflection of the natural cycle going on around us. I also think that right now, there is so much going on in the un-natural world (based upon man-made decisions, changes, cultural habits, etc.) that it creates a chaos that all of us (human, animal, etc.) feel energetically, at a subtle but powerful level. Just watch the news or read the headlines and feel how your body is responding. Conversely, light a candle and sit and breathe quietly and notice how your body feels. Fragmentation vs. focus.

I hope you have had a chance to enjoy the sun and the peak of the light today.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Time for Celebrations... Commencement

Last night, our 18-year-young son Allen participated in the graduation program for GED graduates at Blue Ridge Community College. While Allen didn't really want to participate because he was nervous about being on stage, he did participate (guess who suggested that he did?). After the commencement exercise was completed, he said he was glad he did.

That's what rituals are about: a physical manifestation of a rite of passage, a stage completed (or entered into), a tangible ceremony around an intangible process. Whether it's a wedding, a graduation, a baptism, or a funeral, ritual helps us acknowledge and better grasp what process has been entered into or what covenant has been made.

And commencement is so well named; it IS the beginning of the rest of these young people's lives. There were 46 graduates (out of over 200 for the past year) who walked the stage. While any form of academic graduation is important, I think this ceremony really was special. All the students who enroll in the GED program have been through some tough times in regular school, and their courage and tenacity to take this step is really something I admire. Allen enrolled and successfully earned his GED in 3 weeks! His instructors said that he was one of the fastest students they've had! And he was labeled a poor student in public school. While I was a public school teacher (decades ago) and I support public schools, the way school funders (government and public alike) consider the lack of value of the school system is obvious in the funding they allocate (or willingly pay via taxes) to the schools. And while throwing money at something doesn't always guarantee improvement or success, it will help. And when our schools have more funding, they can reduce the number of students in each classroom, and give the students the individual attention they need. *sigh* Don't get me started!

So we are really proud of Allen for deciding he was going to earn his GED in record time, and then doing it!

The most impressive part of the ceremony last night, however, wasn't the keynote speaker or the College speakers: it was when three of the class' graduates spoke about their experience and desire to enroll and complete the GED course of study and testing. Those stories brought tears to my eyes. All of them said how much they appreciated the encouragement and support they received from their parents and the course instructors. Two of the graduates are mothers (one of a 2 month old and one of a 5 year old) and being parents also spurred them on to accomplish this goal in order to be a better role model for their children. That's what responsible parents do: they try their best for their children.

I watched all the graduates who walked the stage last night, and felt pride for each of them. I'm sure some of them are the first in their family to graduate from high school. There are over 15,000 adults in our county who do not have their high school diploma. Hard to believe nowadays, but it's true.

I love the bumper sticker: "Think education is expensive? Try ignorance!"

Allen wants to go on to community college, and I hope he does. He has a couple of goals he has set for himself to complete before he enrolls in a program. And his parents will be encouraging and supporting him.

Here's a toast to all of us who have achieved a goal!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Jellyfish and The Light of Forgiveness

This phenomenal crop circle appeared recently in England. Spectacular, isn't it?

What makes it even more interesting to me is that I had just seen Seven Pounds with Will Smith a week before receiving notification of the appearance of this crop circle. I'd not seen Seven Pounds before, and I really respect the roles that Will chooses (no, we're not on first-name basis, but he seems like such a regular, family oriented guy... someone you could have a beer with off-screen, you know?), so I wanted to be sure to see it when it came on cable.

What a powerful movie! I knew that Seven Pounds had to do with paying debts, and when I looked up the reference to that, it was old "Willie the Shake" who made it famous: it comes from Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice", where a wager is set and the debt to be paid if unfulfilled will result in '7 pounds of flesh' being taken. Its literal meaning these days is that no circumstances will prevent the debt from being repaid, whether it results in devastating circumstances, or even loss of life.

Will's character, Ben, has -- by a momentary, careless mistake -- lost what he loves most -- his wife -- as well as causes the death of six others. He has a "seven pounds of flesh" debt to repay, and does this by literally giving of himself to those who are in dire need of it. Ben is intense and urgent and driven by inner demons and flashbacks. One of these flashbacks is as a young boy when his father took him to the aquarium and the two of them watched ghostly and graceful jellyfish which his father told him are the most poisonous animals on earth. Ben gets one as a pet and keeps it in a cylindrical tank in his room. I took it as a reminder of happier times with his dad, before the gravity of adulthood took over. The jellyfish crop circle looks exactly like that jellyfish!

So the story (I won't tell the ending) is about mistakes made and debts paid. Underlying all of this heavy drama is the undercurrent of the need for forgiveness. Ben needs to forgive himself for a foolish yet fatal mistake. The movie haunted me for a few days (and still does, I guess) and I can't help but wonder how often each of us needs to practice that forgiveness... of ourselves and others. How often do those inner demons keep us from seeing clearly the need to forgive? Those dark demons are intent only on making us feel empty, worthless, evil. While the Light shows us that we are spiritual beings having a human experience, loved beyond measure by Spirit, and are constantly trying to do our best in any given moment to become closer to our Divine Self. While those demons torment, the Light nurtures. Why is forgiveness so hard for us? And while we may forgive others, why can't we forgive ourselves?

I am wading through the bitter disappointment of our 16 year old daughter Paige leaving home for the second time in a month. In our last exchange, she told me of wounds I had caused her when she was little. I apologized for my behavior... and now we both are tormented by those memories and wounds. Neither of us has forgiven me, not me nor her. Now her absence echoes like a drop of water in a hollow cave. Paige has had her own self-destructive behaviors over the past few years -- which have grown in magnitude -- which have made it hard to have her at home. So she needs to learn some lessons on her own, but I worry about her immaturity and lack of judgment and foresight in keeping herself safe. I pray for her safety. And for both of us to forgive, ourselves and each other.

I hope you find forgiveness in your day today.


Friday, June 5, 2009

Planting and Nurturing a Garden

I have been getting to know Sherry Rambin, a nurse administrator by day and a photographer by heart, in Asheville. What an adventure! Sherry loves life and photographing it, and her joy is contagious.
The other evening, she and I discussed the various roles of a Gardener, comparing them to the types of people one meets.

There's the Cultivator, the person who prepares the ground for planting. I've met several Cultivators over the past few years, especially in the non-profit area. Savie Underhill is in her upper 80s and now living in Boston near her daughter. During her career days, she lived around the world with her ambassadorial husband, Francis (she also worked with Eleanor Roosevelt, one of my "sheroes"!). Francis and Savie would move to a country, and when Francis would head for the embassy to do government work, Savie would head into the streets to see what the people needed. Then she tilled the soil to help make it grow into reality. When they first moved to the Hendersonville area, she -- with another Cultivator, Fran Schneider -- prepared the soil for the Dispute Settlement Center, the non-profit organization I proudly represented for 6 years which offers alternative dispute settlement processes and education to our community. Twenty-five years later, there have been lots of people who have experienced transformative mediation and how to have a respectful conversation with another around a contentious issue, thanks to these two women. (I want to be like them when I grow up!)

Then there is the Sower, the person who intentionally plants each seed in carefully prepared soil so that it will grow into a strong, beautiful, nourishing plant. I have had the privilege of knowing Seed Planters, too. Those people who are passionate about an idea and do what they can to make sure it is planted where it has the most potential for growth.

And there are the Waterers. These are the Nurturers of all things, delicate and strong. They are the ones who nurture newly planted seeds so that they can root deeply and leaf generously in order to successfully grow into strong plants. They also nurture old trees to ensure its continued health and strength.

Sherry first raised this whole series of roles by referring to me as a Fertilizer (no, not full of manure -- although some folks might say so! -- but instead one who fertilizes the plant). I love this analogy, because my heart's work is about building community (in addition to my art, which is my heART's work...). For someone to see me as a catalyst for positive growth and change is very exciting to me!
There are also the Weeders, those who lovingly go through the garden, thinning the seedlings and removing what is detrimental to the good of the whole. I once read that weeds are just plants that are growing where you don't want them to be. And in every community, we need Weeders, people who intentionally work to keep the garden healthy and thriving without unwanted weeds and pests causing damage to it. There are some non-profits in our area which are not receiving the funding that they previously have -- which is sad, indeed -- but they may not be as effective as others in providing the services that are needed now (more than ever). In this respect, funders (individuals and groups) are the Weeders, deciding who to support in their missions during these lean times. (That is all of us, folks!)
And then there are the Reapers, the ones who harvest the fruits of the garden to nurture others. This is true for edible fruits and veggies and herbs as well as non-edible (at least to us) flowers that feed our senses while providing sustenance and nectar to butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and others. I think of our local Council on Aging non-profit and their corps of volunteers who provide transportation for their Meals on Wheels program. Every day, nutritious food is prepared by the COA and volunteers pick up their clients' meals and deliver them to their door. Often, volunteers are the Reapers who offer the wealth of the harvest to clients. Most of our mediations at the DSC were provided by volunteers, who found great satisfaction in providing a safe place for folks to work through a conflict. Where would we be without Red Cross volunteers? Or Humane Society volunteers? Or Literacy tutors? Freely giving a part of yourself is a reward in and of itself.

And of course, none of these roles is exclusive of the others. Often, we find ourselves with a passionate project we want to create, plant, nuture, and harvest. Each of us -- whether it's as a parent, as an artist, in a professional role, or as a friend -- can fulfill each of these tasks. But I do believe that we each have a tendency to lean naturally to one particular role.

Which is your favorite role? Are you nurturing that in yourself?

Don't ask what the world needs.
Ask yourself what makes you come alive
And then go do that.
Because what the world needs
Is people who have come
-- Harold Thurman Whitman

I hope you have the opportunity to fulfill your most passionate gardening role today!


Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dirt Therapy

Yesterday, I spent almost all day trimming potted plants on our back deck and planting herbs in pots and in our south-facing herb bed. Mmmmm... the delicious scents that swirled around me all day! The honeysuckle vines are rampant in our backyard (I am a gardener of the Romantic persuasion) and their rich, scents seduced me all day long. It's like music for your nose.

By the way, this crop circle just appeared this past week in England. It makes me think of music and how interconnected and intertwined all our spheres and links are. It is in a young field of barley and is the 15th one reported this season. To me, it holds the central symbol of the sun as well as sylized yin-yang symbols on either side connected by lines and circles to create a repeating loop of energy. Isn't it exquisitely beautiful?!?

(Back to North Carolina...)
We also have ligustrum shrubs blooming now, with their cone-shape clusters of small white blossoms that have a fresh scent much greater than the blooms promise. I remember as a little girl we had a hedge of ligustrum along one side of our yard and my dad had pruned them so that they looked like one big long bush. Well, inside those branches were cubbies between the trunks of the bushes, a perfect place for me to crawl in, curl up on the cool dirt, and watch the world from between the leaves. This was in summer when the blooms were burgeoning, so whenever I smell that fresh scent, I flash back to hiding from the world surrounded by green smells and the soft buzzing of busy bees.

(Sometimes I still want to do this, you understand. Instead, though, I just sit outside and sniff after days gone by.)

The butterflies were enraptured with the blossoms, too. One kept fluttering its wings as it sucked nectar from honeysuckle blossoms. I'm sure it was so she would stay where she needed to be, but it sure looked like she was trembling with excitement about all the sweetness around her!

The herbs I bought last weekend at the Garden Jubilee in downtown Hendersonville were great to play with, too! I bought several scented geraniums, and potting them was just a cornucopia of lovely smells! If you don't know scented geraniums, you need to check them out (scientific name, Pelargonium, but google scented geranium and you'll find plenty of resources). They are not as showy as the more common geraniums you see everywhere, but those don't smell good at all (in my opinion). The scented ones have a soft fuzz on the leaves which hold oils so that when you rub their leaves, you can smell rose or lemon or an assortment of other relaxing scents. Nature sure knows her purfumes.

I also bought a bay tree which needs to be potted here in the mountains since it gets too cold for them to winter outside (so I understand...). And I potted some basil for pesto (yum! Andrew calls pesto "husband repellent", so I eat it when he's not around...) My son Allen helped me plant a curry plant, two tarragons, a lemongrass, a thyme, and two big pots of sweet woodruff (check out the recipe for May wine in an earlier post). So now our deck steps are lined with lovely plants that when you brush against them they will send out welcoming scents! And we have new perennials in our herb bed for pickin' and cookin'. The sage planted a couple of springs ago is going nuts, as is the fennel and lavendar, and a couple of varieties of mints. Time for mint tea. Mmmmm...
The birds are ecstatic nowadays... there was song all around me yesterday. I laid in the hammock for a while, breathing in the smells, watching the sight of the sun shining through the feathers of outspread songbird wings flying above me from tree to tree; ppssttt-pppssttt-ppsssttt-ing so the birds would come closer to check me out so that I could check them out.

It's amazing what loud notes can come from such small bodies! If only humankind would sing to claim our territory instead of go to war... wouldn't it be a lovely world?

So now our back deck looks lovely and welcoming. (Isn't it wonderful when you accomplish something that's been on your mind?) And last night we ate on the deck, and were joined by a couple of friends so that we sat well into the darkness talking and catching up. The honeysuckle sent out its welcome the entire time. What abundance!

This weekend is, for me, about getting some of my to do list done: tasks that are constant reminders of what I haven't done yet... like planting herbs, trimming potted plants... and next is de-cluttering and organizing my studio so I can create without distraction (or wondering "Where did I put that....?") I'm halfway there!
I hope you are having lovely, sensual outdoor experiences with Nature, too!


Friday, May 29, 2009

A Journal for the Journey

It's been quite a while since I've posted. I've missed writing, but wanted to wait until I had something to say. So here I am, finally...

Yesterday, I attended the 5th Annual Conference for Women offered by Mountain Bizworks here in the WNC area. Over 150 women in one room! What a celebration of estrogen! What energy! I met some wonderful women, and ended up sitting at a table that boasted mostly artists (and we made a lot of joyful noise, too!). Jen Salar creates handmade invitations through her Soulstice Invitations. She also works at Random Arts (a 3-D artist's den of iniquity!) in Saluda. Abbie Doyle, owner of Garden of Beadin (a beader's cornucopia of delights!) here in Hendersonville joined us, as did Lori Garcia-Hernandez who owns Fitness SOULutions, a women's fitness center here focusing on the body-mind-spirit connection. Barbara Stock is a PMC artist and designer who owns Wren's Nest Precious Metal Designs. All of these women are community builders with amazingly generous spirits. I also met two Asheville artists: Sherry Rambin is a gifted photographer with a bright and joyous spirit; and Melissa Clonch, owner/designer of Gift Baskets by Melissa, has a quiet, sweet and open presence. And Hendersonville's own Angela Vaughan was recognized as the "Entrepreneur of the Year" for all the good work she's done since opening her business, Fitness Masters, to support people in "mastering a balanced, healthy lifestyle". You go, Angela!

There were so many other wonderful women there, including keynote speakers, BizWorks presenters, and BizWorks "staff/family" members who provide information, support, and encouragement to anyone in their own business (or considering a business of their own).

One of those "staff/family" members is Susanne Walker-Wilson, wife of Greg Walker-Wilson, who has been the Executive Director of Mountian Bizworks for over 13 years. He is leaving the non-profit so that he and his family (Susanne and their 2 boys) can assume a three-year volunteer assignment with the Mennonite Central Committee in Colombia, South America, a dream they've had for many years. Whew! What courage!

I was contacted a couple of weeks ago by Melinda Knies, gallery director of Mountain Made gallery, the retail shop connected with Mountain Bizworks and who carries my journals. She said the staff of Mountain BizWorks wanted to give Susanne a special thank you gift for all her years as a deeply connected volunteer and heart-centered supporter of the staff. Melinda asked me if I would create a journal for Susanne. What an honor! YES! (While I'd not met Susanne, I knew Greg and was sure he had great taste in women.) So Melinda sent me some info and gave me the freedom to create a journal for Susanne's journey.

At the conference yesterday, the staff presented Susanne with an award recognizing all her support through the past 13 years, and gave her the journal. I was so proud when I was asked to stand as the artist of the journal. Creating this journal for someone who is so community-oriented was an honor for me. Susanne and Greg are the folks who walk the talk... who promote positive change in their neighborhood and in the world.

The process of creating it was -- as always -- a magical one for me. I sat still and listened to the Muse and let my fingers do the walking over my various leathers, papers, and books. The process is one of listening and -- literally -- feeling my way through the creation. I'm thankful I have a stash of possibilities because the end result was nothing like I had originally thought it would be. That's the difference between "thinking" and "intuiting": one makes sense, the other touches deeply. Each signature I sewed was twice knotted, and each knot holds blessings for Susanne as she begins this new chapter of her life.
The green leather wrap cover is soft but strong. Green symbolizes growth to me, as do seeds which is why I chose the inside wrap paper for this journal. I gleaned the endpapers that line the leather from a 1963 oversized Reader's Digest World Atlas; the inside front cover focuses on Colombia. Four dividers throughout the pages are made from other maps from the same book and are folded to create pockets where Susanne can insert pictures, notes, etc. The clasp is an antique mother-of-pearl buckle, a circle that connects to the ocean as well as the mothering and nurturing that Susanne is committed to. The inside back cover holds a small booklet where Mountain Bizworks staff members could write their own notes for Susanne to keep with the journal.

After she received the journal, I had the opportunity to meet Susanne, and was so struck by her depth of spirit and positive intention that it brought tears to my eyes. Now I am even MORE honored than ever to have created something for her to take on this brave journey from the people that she has so intimately affected. I know this clear-eyed intention and integrity will bless the people she and her family come in contact with in their work in Colombia. What courage, to leave all that is familiar and certain and move their family to a culture in upheaval and uncertainty. I truly admire that kind of commitment and dedication to peacemaking and community-building!

Whether it is in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our work, or in our world, we all are on missions -- aware or unawares. I hope your days are filled with community and peace-building opportunities.